D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who didn't fuss when a PBS interviewer asked if she was a "benevolent dictator," made clear again Monday that she was more than comfortable with the her-way-or the-Beltway approach.
"I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it's that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated," she told the Aspen Institute's education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.
Rhee, who is trying to negotiate a new labor contract that would award huge raises in exchange for weakened tenure provisions, said her dealings with the Washington Teachers Union were a good example.
"People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that," she said. "It's important for us to lay out on the table what we're willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can't come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way and we're absolutely going to do that."
And no matter what kind contract emerges from the talks currently underway, D.C. teachers can expect a new, more rigorous system of evaluation to be in place by next fall--one that will lead to ineffective instructors being shown the classroom door, according to a top deputy who joined Rhee in a roundtable discussion about school performance.
"We are going to transition out low performers. That is our obligation to our kids," said Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year for his work at Sousa Middle School. "We want to insure that the high performers are surrounded by like-minded folk."
Rhee has yet to explain in detail how she plans to measure teacher effectiveness. But she delegated Kamras, who said he spends his days trying "to figure out how to get highly effective, as opposed to highly qualified teachers into every classroom," to offer the first broad outlines.
He said that for teachers in grades where students take the DC-CAS standardized test (3 through 8 and 10 for reading and math) an evaluation model would be built around growth in scores. For teachers in areas not covered by the DC-CAS, it would involve close observation by principals.
This is supposedly how the District's current evaluation system works, but seldom does.
Kamras said principals would be trained to use a new "very rigorus rubric developed on observational framework" to assess teachers.
After the session, Kamras referred all questions to Rhee, who declined to comment.