Chancellor Michelle Rhee fires 226 D.C. teachers
Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools (Photo Credit: CC BY angela n./flickr)

The Washington Post reports that District of Columbia Chancellor of Public Schools Michelle Rhee has fired 226 teachers who received poor peer evaluations. In addition, another 737 teachers are on notice because of borderline marks and must improve within one year. This barrage of cutbacks stems from a new evaluation system called IMPACT, which D.C. public school officials will use on a yearly basis to determine whether teachers are performing to expectations.

D.C. teachers union claims punishment is too severe

Washington Teacher’s Union President George Parker classified Michelle Rhee’s actions as “punishment-heavy and support-light,” reports the Post. Rather than helping teachers improve through coaching, the teacher’s union takes the position that IMPACT plays the role of a corporate efficiency expert. That it was instituted on a large-scale basis rather than being tested in a smaller pilot program first didn’t sit well with the D.C. teachers’ union. The organization plans to contest the 226 teacher firings.

‘Every child has a right to a highly effective teacher,’ says Rhee

Chancellor Rhee affirmed that District of Columbia Public Schools is committed as an organization to providing children with top-quality education. “Today, with the release of the first year of results from IMPACT, we take another step toward making that commitment a reality,” said Rhee via a written statement. The 226 D.C. teacher firings – as well as the warning notice for 737 more – come after the chancellor laid off 266 teachers in the fall of 2009 during what was described as a budget crunch. However, the Post reports that the fall firings came right after a spring and summer in which 500 new teachers had been hired. Rhee’s office maintains that instructor quality was a factor in the decision.

Pay for performance

Last month, the D.C. teachers’ union and D.C. Council agreed upon a new contract that raised teacher salaries by more than 20 percent but took away seniority-based protection programs. “Performance pay” bonuses were instituted, which set aside $20,000 to $30,000 annually for teachers who met various growth and test score benchmarks. These measures have come after D.C. Public Schools moved to the forefront of the Obama administration’s $3.4 billion “Race to the Top” grant competition. The intensive evaluations required for participation fit with the aggressive, no-nonsense style of administration for which Michelle Rhee is known.

How IMPACT works

The Post indicates that D.C. teachers receive five 30-minute classroom peer sit-ins during the school year. Observation scores are measured against a nine-category “teaching and learning framework” that includes such things as how  instructors manage class time, how clearly they present the material and their efforts at ensuring that students across different levels of ability understand the lesson. Results are placed into a scoring system that determines the ultimate administrative evaluation.

The IMPACT upon teachers

A sample poll of 1,000 D.C. teachers (conducted by the teachers’ union) found that 52 percent did not understand what was required of them by the IMPACT system. Three-quarters of respondents claim they “were not provided adequate examples” of what a high-scoring performance looks like. A similar proportion said they didn’t receive extra support in areas where they received low marks during initial observation.


Interview with Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools

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