Lessons from DC for keeping good teachers
Here's Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0470905298/tilsoncapitalpar), with lessons from Rhee's experience with trying to buck the LIFO system:
With federal stimulus money dried up, many school districts will have to lay off teachers. Nearly everywhere when this happens, the newest teachers, rather than the worst ones, lose their jobs. Political leaders would like to get rid of last-hired-first-fired policies so that the best teachers stay on the job, but that means taking on the unions, which can feel like political suicide.
That's surely what it looked like in Washington, DC, where former chancellor Michelle Rhee dared cross that line. She laid off 266 teachers in 2009 — for the most part the worst, not the newest — and that move was one of the biggest reasons former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty got bounced from office and Rhee resigned as chancellor.
Does that mean mayors such as Michael Bloomberg should ignore their instincts on what's best educationally? Not at all.
What happened to Rhee in Washington may have been a public-relations and political debacle, but as a policy decision it was hugely successful. She got rid of some her worst teachers and swapped in better ones, a strategy that accounts for the significant academic gains Rhee made there.
For once, education researchers are spot on: Effective teachers mean everything. Today, despite all the fallout, Rhee has no regrets about that decision. She'd do it again.
By RICHARD WHITMIRE
Last Updated: 5:04 AM, February 6, 2011