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The impact of the D.C. teacher firings

Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A14

Regarding the July 24 front-page article "Rhee dismisses 241 teachers in the District":

I can only applaud the leadership and courage that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has displayed during her tenure. As a native of Michigan, I can attest to what unions should do, as opposed to what they all too often do. In the early years of the auto industry, workers were largely overworked and underpaid, and they faced workplace discrimination as well. Unions were created to protect workers' rights; to make sure they were paid a fair wage for a fair day's work; and to root out the discrimination that was rampant.

But before the recent financial collapse in the United States and the almost total collapse of the American auto industry, the auto union served to protect bad workers and to guarantee ridiculous salaries for unskilled laborers. In short, the auto union went beyond its original charter, protecting those who should have lost their jobs -- much like what is now happening in school districts across the nation.

We can't continue to overpay teachers who aren't teaching, and we can't continue to hold on to teachers who refuse to change their methods after receiving poor evaluations. As it was many years ago when the unions began, teachers deserve a fair wage for a fair day's work, with no discrimination in the workplace. In return for that, they owe the school districts they work for -- and their students -- some results.

Slade Searight, Fairfax

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As a "highly effective" teacher under the evaluation system Ms. Rhee is using to fire teachers, I feel qualified to comment on IMPACT, as the evaluation system is known, and its Teaching and Learning Framework (TLF). True, they are complicated and lack provision for good training and support, but their worst shortcoming is their questionable criteria for assessing good teaching.

In a half-hour observation, IMPACT and TLF require teachers to keep reciting "objectives," though the value of the objectives is never judged. Teachers must teach to five different "learning styles" for which underlying research is doubtful. They must not only praise students repeatedly but make sure students praise one another (e.g., by applauding correct answers). Student work is ignored. One "master educator" told me that reading student essays on my walls would "distract from seeing your real teaching." It's a dog-and-pony show, with little focus on substance.

I don't object to it all, but it's a poor formula for rewarding excellence or weeding out laggards. The old system, which Ms. Rhee never seriously tried to use, was quicker and better. Failing teachers could be put on notice, given support and fired in 90 days if they could not improve. Teachers deserve better. Performance pay cannot erase the sadness I feel.

William F. Rope, Washington

The writer teaches third grade in the D.C. Public Schools and is a member of the executive board of the Washington Teachers' Union.

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Firing 241 teachers and labeling an additional 737 as "minimally effective" is quite a show of force for D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Ms. Rhee. But I think D.C. residents should know the answer to two simple questions before the District labels 25 percent of public school teachers as bad at what they do.

First question: How long does Ms. Rhee intend to stick around to accept the success or failure of her policies? I would challenge the chancellor to promise to stick with the school system until clear and sustained evidence of this great crusade's success has been found. If the mission is not accomplished, she should be willing to accept an entry-level teaching job in the school system. Remember, this is a person with "minimal" classroom time.

Second, how will the District attract "highly effective" teachers for the long term? With the poor economy on Ms. Rhee's side, it may be possible to find enough out-of-work professionals and teachers willing to accept a dismal paycheck. As the economy recovers, D.C. residents can be assured it will be much harder to attract teachers because of the uncertainty of teaching in an underachieving district.

Firing batches of educators is just another distraction from the issue of poverty, which accompanies all failing school districts. If I were a D.C. resident, I would want some sort of tangible warranty or guarantee on this program.

Adam Kushner, College Park

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The July 25 editorial "The D.C. teacher firings" supported Michelle Rhee for ridding the schools of 241 supposedly ineffective teachers and applauded the "precise standards, multiple observations by experts and clear expectations" of her new evaluation system.

Now I think D.C. residents should see the standards the chancellor's team is using to select replacement teachers. This should include a complete and verifiable list of the newcomers' stellar teaching qualifications, including their students' high achievement levels and positive evaluations from previous teaching jobs.

There shouldn't be any rookies among the replacement teachers; the situation in our schools is too dire to leave to beginners.

Linda LaScola, Washington

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Michelle Rhee's dismissal of 241 teachers shows why she should stay out of politics, as Jay Mathews said in his July 5 column. Now her actions are perceived by some as politically motivated.

I favor of getting rid of bad teachers, but the IMPACT evaluation system hasn't been tested yet, and it appears that teachers are being dismissed without any remediation. Did those fired receive interim evaluations? Were they told where they were going wrong? Did they have a mentor to help them change?

Employees need to be treated fairly. If they are bad, they should go -- not for political reasons but for educational reasons, and not to make Mayor Fenty or Ms. Rhee look like they are doing their jobs, but for the benefit of our children.

Peter D. Rosenstein, Washington

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