Rhee’s Students First gives District education policies a middling grade, recommends further reforms


Former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. (Sarah L. Voisin/TWP)

The report cards rate states according to how well their policies align with those championed by Rhee — such as eliminating teacher tenure, linking teachers’ job security and pay to student achievement and giving parents more school choice.

Rhee is a tough grader— she handed out failing grades to a dozen states, as the New York Times reports today. The highest mark she assigned — to Louisiana and Florida — was a B-minus. Washington earned a middling grade of C+.

“The most powerful way to improve student achievement from outside the classroom is to shape policy and implement laws at the state level that govern education,” Rhee said in a statement. “And when we look solely at policy, it’s clear that we have a long way to go toward improving our education system in America.”

The District won high marks for its controversial teacher evaluation system, IMPACT. No surprise there: Rhee created IMPACT, one of the first evaluations in the nation to make teachers’ jobs contingent upon their students’ scores on standardized tests.

Also worthy of praise, according to Students First: The District’s mayoral control of city schools, its large and growing number of public charter schools and its private-school voucher program for low-income students.

But the city should go further, Rhee’s group says. The school system should throw out the teacher salary schedule that allows for automatic pay increases based on experience and education. Compensation should be solely based on performance, the group says.

Other Students First recommendations for the District demonstrate the kinds of reform Rhee is pushing for around the country:

The city should get rid of its traditional defined-benefit retirement plan and replace it with a “portable” plan, more advantageous for educators who don’t stay in the profession for their entire careers.

Schools should be required to notify parents when their children are placed in classrooms with teachers deemed ineffective, and the city should pass a “parent trigger” law that allows parents to vote to close and reconstitute low-performing schools.

And — in a suggestion that will be perhaps the most agreed-upon by education watchers across the philosophical spectrum — the school system and public charter schools alike should be more transparent about budgets and spending.

Rhee’s approach to reform has found as many fans as critics across the country. A Frontline television documentary to be broadcast Tuesday takes a close look at the impact of her reforms in Washington, including suspicions that turning standardized tests into high-stakes events may have encouraged teachers and principals to cheat.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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