Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Say Teacherpreneur, I Say Teacher, But Let's Not Call the Whole Thing Off

I was recently invited by one of the Teacher 2030 book authors to participate in a webinar exploring the concept of the "teacherpreneur." My first thought was, how nice to be thought of. My next thought was, what in God's name is a "teacherpreneur" and how do you say it?

The term troubled me in a way that I felt it shouldn't given how much I respect the educators who are writing the book. I saved the e-mail and decided to send a response once I figured out why the term made me so uneasy.

A few days later, coincidentally, veteran teacher and no-nonsense Education Week blogger Nancy Flanagan wrote a post pushing back on the concept, and articulating exactly why the term bothered me. The entire post is worth a read, but this part especially summed it up for me:

"Don't get me wrong. I'm all for productive change, for highly creative teachers sharing their dynamic ideas about practice and policy. And I think teachers should be paid well for their expertise. But I would call that 'teacher leadership'--the principle that promising innovations should be elevated and distributed, for the benefit of all children and their learning. As Michael Fullan points out: 
Teaching at its core is a moral profession. Scratch a good teacher and you will find a moral purpose. 
An entrepreneur 'acts as a catalyst for economic change.' Plenty of systems in our political economy run on entrepreneurial, market-based models. During the national conversation on health care, people better-informed than me regularly noted that a "free-market ideology is wholly inappropriate to health care issues." There is plenty of evidence that justice can be bought--and sold. Our banking system nearly caused a global economic meltdown--and millions of Americans are suffering under the results of entrepreneurial lending and house-flipping.
Maybe there are some things that shouldn't be controlled by the markets and consumerism. Is good teaching a commodity--or a principle-driven aspiration for community good?"
To me, the answer is clear: teaching is a principal-driven aspiration for community good.

But Nancy's insights don't represent my only problem with the term. To me it sounds new agey and gimmicky. Furthermore, it implies that being "just" a teacher is not enough. A commenter went on to defend the term and provide a further explanation of it here.

In short, the commenter says that teacherpreneurs as she interprets the term are meant to engage with students and families, share their expertise with students and other teachers, and adjust their practice and curricula as they grow and learn. My reaction to that comment is: Isn't that what, say, regular teachers are already supposed to do? Then the teachers who are especially good at what they do become teacher leaders or mentors, right? Why the re-branding in creepy corporate, self-actualization seminar speak? Will this somehow make corporatists accept teaching as a profession or take it more seriously? Why should we define our profession on their terms?

The need to resort to such a term also reveals the chip that education professionals often have on their shoulders. I agree that people who share a profession need a common language, including technical terms, to talk about their trade. I agree that educators deserve to be treated like professionals. But "teacherpreneur" and other such terms go beyond this. I remember some of this from when I was in ed school. "Students don't respond as well to being yelled at" became the "Negative Response to Vocal Cord Amplification Stimulus Theory." Of course there is science to teaching and education research, but the jargon does not make it science. At times, this way of talking about teaching and education seems more like a quest for legitimacy and respect than it is an essential way to communicate ideas.

Of course, it's not the end of the world if some opt to become "teacherpreneurs" and this post may not have convinced anyone who uses that term to abandon it. But I'll remain a proud and confident "teacher," thank you very much.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beyond Erase to the Top: Under Rhee the Bureaucracy Grew

(This post has been specially created as a link for the previous post, which can be found here.)

Washington Post education beat reporter Bill Turque published this article about the expansion of the DCPS central office under Michelle Rhee. In it, DCPS responds to this circumstance:
"Peter Weber, deputy to DCPS chief of staff Lisa Ruda, said Levy and the school system seem to have definitional differences. 
Weber said the agency defines central office employees as those who don’t work directly with students, teachers or principals. There are other people carried on the central office budget, but who spend most of their time in schools, Weber said. These include “master educators” who conduct classroom observations for IMPACT, Head Start staff and mentor teachers. Weber also said that the $100,000 employees cited by Levy actually make that amount in salary and benefits combined. There are 402 DCPS employees at that level, and that 80 percent of them work in the schools, he said."

In response to Weber's claims, Mary Levy sent the following to Bill Turque (which so far he has not reported): 

1. DCPS is mistaken about the $100,000 number being a combination of salaries and benefits. All apart from the fact that the column in the PeopleSoft listing is clearly labeled Salary, I had checked numbers there against salary schedules. They are salaries, not salaries plus benefits.

 2. As of last October there were an additional 110 employees making over 100,000 who do work in the schools, all but 6 of them principals.

 3. About the amount of salaries plus benefits, it’s hard to say. DCPS has a long history of overestimating benefits (the overage is used to cover overspending elsewhere in the budget), and the payroll data I have don’t include any estimate or actual data on benefits. 

I think that transferring people elsewhere in the government doesn’t count as cutting them (come on!). Of the 925 central office people in 2007, 358 were performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out. That’s why I went back to prior years and re-analyzed them to exclude people performing those functions. The remaining 626 included the professional development, mentor teachers, etc.

The definition of central office staff that I’ve used all these years, often  with the agreement of DCPS officials, is people who do not work directly with  children. This system was modeled in part on the In$ite education cost  accounting system developed some years ago by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and  Coopers & Lybrand, which made its main division between site-based and central. I expanded site-based to include some people who are not site-based but work directly with children, such as social workers, visiting teachers. But I haven’t counted people who work only with teachers and principals.

For example, there are 41 master educators who travel around from school to school observing and rating teachers, and I classify them as central office because they don’t work with children. For that matter they don’t have ongoing  relationships with teachers or principals, since they only observe each teacher  in their own subject area for 30 minutes twice a year. Likewise the central  office professional development staff. There are also about 100 instructional  coaches who belong to local schools, and relate to children as well as teachers, and I classify them as school-based. (How many of these people do we need?) I count the Head Start social services staff as school-based.

This is actually an in-between position. The National Center for Education  Statistics sorts school employees into two bins -- teachers and aides (classroom)  and everyone else; people then look at their numbers and call everything else  administration, which is misleading. The question I’ve been asked by parents and ommunity for 30 years is how many people are in the classroom? I tell them that many people not in the classroom work directly with students,  for example, librarians, counselors, speech therapists, etc., and that some people who work directly with children are paid from central accounts, but still, they work with children, in schools, and that’s the question that they really should be asking.

Beyond Erase to the Top: The Myth of Michelle Rhee Continues

Much to my surprise, USA Today produced a solid piece of investigative journalism reporting on the likely chance (not surprising) of widespread standardized test score fixing in DC Public Schools under the leadership of Michelle Rhee. I'm not going to expand on that piece because everyone and their mom are. Rather, me and my mom are going to address another myth of Rhee's reign that continues to be repeated: that she came in and fixed a "corrupt" and "dysfunctional" bureaucracy.

In this piece, based on this testimony by civil rights lawyer, school finance expert and longtime DCPS activist Mary Levy, Bill Turque reports that under Rhee, central office expenditures and staff increased. I have created this post with Levy's written response to the assertions made in Turque's article by DCPS Special Assistant to the Chancellor Peter Weber.

Around the time that Turque's piece came out, Richard Whitmire wrote a piece for the Huffington Post where he repeats the notion that Rhee came in and cleaned out a bloated central office full of black incompetents:

"For starters, race played a big role in explaining how the school's central office Rhee inherited was both bloated and poorly run. That dates back to former Mayor Marion Barry, who over the years padded the city payrolls with ever-more appointees, partly as a civil rights gesture for those who in the days of white-run Washington were frozen out of city jobs but also for political reasons. 'It was the political machine's way of hiring folks and securing votes,' one veteran school administrator told me. 
Not only was the central office crowded, but many appeared to have little guidance on how to do their jobs. When Rhee arrived and began trying to fire the worst of the central office staff, her initial legal advice was: here at DCPS, we don't fire people for incompetence."
For my hearty refutation of Whitmire's assertions and assumptions, see this previous post.(Also see UPDATE I below for what else Whitmire got wrong here.)

Soon after that, I read this thoughtful piece by Shani Hilton in DC's City Paper, "Confessions of a Black Gentrifier." Immediately after reading it, I had the thought that Hilton should have included more perspectives from those already living in the DC neighborhoods being gentrified. However, upon second thought, I realized that the piece was more of an essay, and I thought she did a great job exploring her and her peers' perspectives without speaking for those she didn't interview. I found it refreshing to read something about urban gentrification that didn't, on the one hand, pass judgment on the occurrence of gentrification itself or cast it as a purposeful policy, but, on the other hand, didn't take on the attitude that the gentrifiers were coming in and saving or civilizing the natives. This is in stark opposition to perspectives like Whitmire's (and it seems of Rhee herself) on the "reform" of the DC Public Schools.

Next, I read a post on Ta-Nehesi Coates's blog about the decline of the black population in DC in the context of DC Council member and infamous former mayor Marion Barry's comments on the topic. I participated in the comment thread after the post, not to disagree with Coates's thoughts and questions on the matter, but to question some of the other commenters' assumptions that life and governance in DC had "vastly improved" under Fenty's stewardship. I object to the narrative that posits that governance in DC was totally dysfunctional and corrupt under Barry and his predecessors, but competent and vastly improved under Fenty and Rhee.

I don't say that Barry wasn't corrupt, or that as a system DCPS wasn't at all dysfunctional (oh, let me count the ways--I attended and taught in DCPS). Some things in the city and schools are better, some are worse, some are unchanged. But as I argue in the comment thread, Marion Barry is not the big bad black political bogey man and the DCPS central office workers were not his big bad bogey people followers that many of their critics believe them to be. Acknowledging Barry's numerous shortcomings and misdeeds, he's not any more, or more straightforwardly, corrupt than most other corrupt urban machine politicians. However provincial and incompetent at least some of the DCPS central office staff were, they are not markedly different from any other employees of a poorly designed and run school district central office. How Barry and the DCPS central office workers seem to loom in the psyche of their critics is far more ominous and sinister than what they were in actuality.

In her usual comprehensive and thoughtful manner, education journalist Dana Goldstein offers her take on the Rhee testing scandal in DC. But even Goldstein, whose work I respect and admire, got this aspect of the story wrong. She says:
"Rhee deserves credit for . . . . . streamlining the system’s once-corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy."
Arrgghh! I expect Whitmire and the editorial staff of the snookered Washington Post to repeat this, but someone of Goldstein's professional caliber is the last person who should be.

Did Barry and some of his predecessors practice cronyism? Absolutely. Were there more people working in the central office than there should have been? Absolutely. Were some of them incompetent? Absolutely. Were there tremendous amounts of money and resources that didn't make it into classroom? Absolutely. However, replace "Fenty and Rhee" for "Barry and some of his predecessors," and I'll answer "absolutely" all over again. In fact, under Rhee, the central office got bigger and more expensive, with fewer resources going directly to classrooms and students. I don't doubt that it became more functional in some ways. But comprehensively more competent or less corrupt? In light of the vast sum of money the Rhee administration spent on outside consultants (see here and here), the number of non-experienced central office personnel hired, and the implications of the recent testing scandal (Rhee didn't investigate, but promoted the principal of Noyes whom many had suspected was cheating!), I don't think so.

The only real difference is that Rhee filled the central office (and the DCPS teaching corps) with less experienced, younger, whiter, more privileged, and fewer local people. The assumption that those characteristics automatically connote more competence and less corruption implies that the older, blacker, less privileged locals were inherently corrupt and dysfunctional. That is deeply, deeply troubling to me and should be to anyone who cares about the confluence of race, privilege, bias, and social justice.

UPDATE 1: After pointing out various copy-editing errors (thanks, Mom!), Mary Levy added to my critique of Whitmire:
"Barry didn’t have that much opportunity to pad the school payroll, because that was the territory of the school board members and an occasional superintendent."

UPDATE 2: I want to state clearly that I assume that Dana Goldstein's oversight is due to a lack of research and not because of any explicit or intentional cultural bias. For one, she was writing a column, not investigative journalism. The Washington Post has neglected to write about Rhee's tenure with any skepticism or rigor, and they are responsible for their irresponsible journalism. Covering this was and is their job; with the exception of Valerie Strauss and Bill Turque's work, they've failed miserably to do so.

Secondly, part of what I am getting at in this post and in the post in response to Whitmire is that it's not possible to look honestly at the recent education reform efforts, especially those in DC, and the analyses of those efforts, without considering the assumptions being made about race, class, gender, and privilege. Nor do I presume, given the work of Tim Wise and Shankar Vedantam, that I (or anyone else who is a creature of American culture) am immune to such bias.

The necessary struggle is to recognize those biases and to put them to rest using facts and reason.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Teaching Quality Series, Part IV: Class Size & The Fallacy of Trickle-down Teaching

Bill GatesArne Duncan, and some of the other presiding education reform yahoos have started to question the benefits of smaller class sizes. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson deserves some credit for a semi-acknowledgement of the importance of smaller class sizes in this Q&A with Bill Turque. She states that at least some kids should have smaller classes, however she repeats the notion that it's better to have a class of forty students with one effective teacher than a class of twenty students with an ineffective teacher. Now, she's not completely wrong, but I would issue several caveats to go with her generalization.

Henderson's thinking is an example of what I like to call voo-doo education policy. This theory of "trickle-down teaching" says smaller classes dilute the benefits of effective teachers and that an effective teacher's magic, no matter how thinly spread, will trickle down equally to all students before her, by sheer force of her supernatural talents and effectiveness. I would argue that that's the wrong way of looking it, that the larger class sizes get (or total student load for some secondary teachers), the more that a teacher's effectiveness will be diluted.

In my experience, teaching is not like showing a movie in a movie theater where everyone has the same experience no matter how many people are in theater, nor is learning a passive experience. Teaching can be more like being a server in a restaurant: after a certain point, the more tables you have to wait on, the worse your service is going to be, especially if each table is full, with different orders, and even different menus. I don't want my own children going to a school that is modeled after a McDonald's, nor do I want as a teacher to be the equivalent of a McDonald's worker. As my mother, a DC-based civil rights lawyer and school finance expert pleaded once, "Can't our public school leaders at least aim for The Olive Garden?"

In general, smaller class sizes help to increase the quality of education received. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is the guru of the benefits of small classes. Read here for a summary, or here if you want a more extensive list, of the research demonstrating the benefits of smaller class sizes. That being said, there are many factors to consider when thinking about ideal class sizes. Optimal class sizes depend on what's being taught and at what level, who's teaching, who's being taught, and how many teachers or education professionals are serving any group of students at once.

While the research is more mixed for older grades, the research for elementary is pretty clear that in general, twenty-two is the largest a K-3 class should get before the quality of education received is compromised. Even twenty-two students, though, seems large if the class includes students with special needs or other students who require more intensive instruction.

Teaching veteran and Education Week blogger Nancy Flanagan reminded me that at the secondary level, it's important to consider a teacher's total student load. An experienced and well-regarded high school AP English teacher told me he could easily manage a class of thirty to forty (so, Kaya Henderson is somewhat right here) and often has--he is very popular due to his rigorous curriculum and the attention his students receive. However, he made sure to say that it was only really feasible if he is only teaching three sections of that size. Beyond that, his workload becomes unreasonable and the students don't get the feedback or volume of work they need--he assigns fewer essays, for example, and works a punishing number of hours. Teaching AP English, requires significant out-of-class-time: for planning lectures, studying texts in depth, and giving targeted, individual feedback on writing. He also made it clear that a class size of forty is only manageable in a course like AP English, with independent, disciplined students and an advanced curriculum and only after he had been in the classroom for about ten years--larger classes would have been close to impossible when he was learning the ropes. Less experienced teachers, no matter whom they're teaching, should not be broken in with larger classes.

This leads to the consideration of whom a teacher is teaching. For example, I have limited experience teaching larger classes because, with a few exceptions, I have taught ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), either on its own or by way of social studies--what's called Sheltered Instruction or content-based language instruction. Generally, the more fluent the students were, the larger my class sizes were (though still on the smaller side), which is as it should be. However, students' literacy skills and prior education  also determines how much attention they will need; the daughter of a professor visiting from Korea will need different instruction and less intensive attention than the son of a Salvadoran farm worker with limited or no prior schooling. The greater the needs of the students and the more feedback and guidance they require in class, the smaller the classes should be.

We also must consider the difference between class sizes and the pupil-to-teacher ratio in a school building. For example, the ratio may be 22:1 in a particular school, but that doesn't mean that each teacher has only twenty-two students in her class. For one, some employees while identified as teachers, bringing down the building's pupil to teacher ratio, may not be used for actual teaching. For example, because of the over-emphasis on data-driven instruction and standardized testing, many schools are forced to fill teaching positions, not to mention use scarce resources, with standardized testing administrators and data collectors/analyzers . (Yes, all of this standardized testing mania not only deprives kids of meaningful learning experiences but keeps teachers from doing meaningful, and in some cases actual, teaching.) In addition, some employees identified as teachers may be used for tasks such as monitoring hallways or the cafeteria, or for handling student discipline--these are all jobs which should be done and staffed by other professionals.

We should also go beyond the ratios, keeping in mind that some teachers are employed as specialists, and do not teach full-size classes, for example, a reading specialist, special education teacher, or media specialist. Those teachers will often push into classes or pull students out for intensive small group instruction which will reduce the load for the regular classroom teacher. Other K-12 education professionals such as counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, and social workers also keep classroom teachers' work loads reasonable and appropriate to their expertise by using their own expertise to help students and their families to deal with broader academic, social, medical, and psychological issues. When schools lack those professionals, the number of students as well as the tasks those professionals are meant to perform all fall to the regular classroom teacher and to her administrator(s), reducing her and her principal's effectiveness.

To further complicate things, different districts make different allowances for how teacher positions can be used or designated and awards teaching positions to schools using a different formulas.

I saw the difference a reasonable class size can make to the quality of education received when we moved from Oakland, California, to Hanover County, Virginia. My twin sons' kindergarten teachers in Oakland Unified School District were both excellent, just as good as their first and second grade teachers in Hanover County. But I saw a huge difference in the quality of attention my children received. (Besides attending parent conferences, school events and looking over the work they bring home, I volunteer weekly.)

The schools serve similar populations (although at 72%, the school in Oakland has a much higher percentage of non-white students while at nearly 50%, their Hanover school has a higher percentage of free and reduced lunch students), but the difference in resources (and in the levels at which California and Virginia fund their public schools) was astounding. In Oakland, not only were their classes larger at twenty-five (and these were only the kindergarten classes!), but there was almost no other staff. The PTA funded resource teachers in PE, art, music, and library. Otherwise, there was one teachers' aide for the entire school, one administrator, one janitor, one cafeteria aide, and one administrative assistant. The school relied on a steady stream of parent volunteers and constant fundraising just to fund the basics and the occasional assembly or field trip, and field trips could only be taken if parents could serve as drivers. There was no busing at all.

In their Hanover County public elementary school, on the other hand, each class has between sixteen and nineteen students, and the school has fully funded resource teachers for art, music, and PE; reading and math specialists; special education teachers; a gifted-and-talented teacher; a registered nurse; several teachers' aides; two administrative assistants; a principal and an assistant principal; a social worker; a school counselor; a school psychologist; language pathologists; two or three janitors; and an entire cafeteria staff. County school buses transport students to and from school and there are lots of special assemblies, presentations, and field trips. Despite this "lavish" education spending, Hanover County is an extremely conservative district (represented by Eric, ahem, Cantor), socially and fiscally, and is known for its low spending.

In both schools, each of my sons had one teacher who was more traditional but more organized, while the other had one who was more creative but less organized. However, because of the smaller class sizes in Virginia, the teacher who was less creative was able to be more so without sacrificing classroom management, while the class of the teacher who was less organized didn't suffer for it because the class was smaller. Essentially, the teachers in Hanover County were more effective, not because they were more talented, but because they had smaller class sizes, adequate numbers of specialists and other education professionals, two administrators, and in general more support. As a parent, I get much more feedback and direct communications from teachers and see my sons flourish in the much more individualized and targeted instruction and attention they receive. I've often had the experience of the school contacting me about a potential issue before I have the chance to contact them, and believe me, I'm a vigilant parent.

Besides the extensive body of research available at Class Size Matters, Education journalist Dana Goldstein and Forbes education blogger E.D. Kain make the case for why the American public wants smaller class sizes. I would add my voice to that of the American public's. I acknowledge that smaller class sizes aren't a panacea. However, limiting a teacher's total student load, and assigning class sizes according to what age and level they teach, their experience, who and what they teach, and providing a supportive context with knowledgeable specialist teachers and other education professionals all make teachers more effective and increase the quality of education received.

Trickle down economics has failed us and so will trickle-down teaching. The larger the classes and student load, and the more support staff, counselors, school nurses, social workers, specialist and resource teachers' positions are eliminated, the more diluted any teacher's effectiveness will be.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Child Left With a Meaningful Education

The best new education blogger on the block, E.D. Kain, recently wrote an interesting post highlighting this op-ed in the New York Times about student-generated (and teacher guided) project-based learning in high school.

I had been similarly excited by the approach advocated by author Susan Engel and I posted the piece on twitter, stating that education reform should be moving in the direction described by Engel, but that NCLB and the increased amount of testing being advocated by Obama and Duncan was moving us in the opposite direction.

You should read Kain's post in it's entirety, but what he says here was especially on point:

"The current testing and accountability regime does nothing to make schooling and education more self-driven or creative. Instead, it entrenches the idea that kids should teach to uniform, rigid tests and suffer teaching methods that were handed down from the top by inflexible bureaucrats and politicians.
 What Americans have always excelled at is creative problem solving, and this experiment shows that letting kids (and teachers and schools!) have more creative wiggle room, and allowing curiosity to play a larger part in education, can have amazing, if not highly testable, results."

I was in graduate school in education when NCLB and the high-stakes-testing-as-accountability movement was brewing. My professors were all against this as this approach to improving learning was completely at odds with what we were being taught would lead to the most meaningful type of learning: project-based learning such as described in the op-ed.

At the DCPS high school where I taught right out of grad school, we were pushed to do both, i.e., teach to the standardized tests du jour (yuck!) as well as have students develop portfolios which demonstrated project-based learning (yay!). In fact, we were pushed to somehow reconcile them (mix oil with water!).

Now, I'm not saying that all schools should immediately toss everything they're doing out the window and replicate exactly what's being done in that school in Massachusetts. I don't believe in silver bullets or that all approaches can work with all students.

In general--and I believe this is uncontroversial--a teacher should plan backwards from the assessment, meaning take the product you want students to produce (what should students be able to do?) and take the content you want to see demonstrated in the product (what should students know?) and you plan instruction and work backwards from there. The problem now is that increasingly the only product is a standardized test when it used to be any number of things: an essay, a debate, a collage, a poem, a piece of music, a science experiment, or yes, a test.

So now teachers are being forced to plan everything backwards from that one standardized test because the standardized tests are seen as the end all be all of what students need to know and what they need to be able to do as well as what teachers should be teaching and of how they're "performing." All other content (if it's not on the test), projects, products, ways of expressing knowledge and demonstrating skills go out the window and with them, quality teaching and meaningful learning.

Obama and Duncan's solution to this is: create more and better tests. Yes, just when the education reform pendulum couldn't swing any further in the wrong direction, Obama and Duncan decide to take the approach that is bankrupting (in some cases, literally) public schooling and, yes, replicate it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Richard Whitmire Can't Dodge His Own Racism

When I first heard that someone named Richard Whitmire had published a hagiography of Michelle Rhee, that was funded by the same disaster capitalists who had purchased her disastrous education reform policies, I shrugged. There's already so much propaganda on this out there already, what's a little more?  It's probably nothing different from what members of Washington Post editorial staff had already written. What's another journalist taken in by Michelle Rhee? 

Then, I read that he had given a talk about The Bee Eater at the DC bookstore Politics & Prose where he insulted the attendees and refused to answer their questions. So tacky, I thought. That guy's got no class. 

Next, I read Richard Kahlenberg's sharp critique of the book in Slate. Whitmire responded rather huffily and defensively, regurgitating his questionable research. Kahlenberg responded to his response, and Whitmire again to Kahlenberg. What a Brainy Smurf this Whitmire is, I thought. Isn't this what happens when you get a book published--people read it and then write reviews? Why not just ignore them, as most other authors do? Whitmire must really be a true believer or too proud to admit to any mistakes in his work, I thought. When will Hefty come by and chuck him over towards the bushes?

Then, there was this whine-fest in Education Week where he trivialized Ms. Rhee's mistakes and called her critics "birthers." Birthers? I thought. Hahaha! This guy is getting desperate. What a dumb analogy!

Finally (or perhaps not, knowing Brainy), I came across this brazen (and I mean, b-ray-zen) piece on the Huffington Post. I stopped cringing and started seething. It is truly one of the most despicable things I've ever read about race and DC politics and DCPS. It's so awful, I could cry.

Whitmire wags his finger at education reformers, admonishing them not to "duck race issues." African American Washingtonians' "fears of experimentation" were justified. What's wrong with saying that? Well, it's not nearly the beginning or end of what he says. According to Whitmire, Rhee and Fenty should have paid heed to the "fears" of African Americans, but not because there were any actual race issues during Rhee's tenure. Racism in DC is all done now--all that racism and "experimentation" is history and happened 1960s and 1970s. According to Whitmire, black people in DC perceived racism under Rhee, but it was all in their over-sensitive, incompetent little heads.

According to Whitmire, Rhee inherited a "bloated and poorly run" central office filled with "people who had little guidance as to do their jobs." Michelle Rhee inherited all of  these "incompetent" African American "Barry appointees." Never mind that several mayors served between Barry and Fenty. Never mind that the numerous superintendents serving under those mayors also came in and went on similar firing sprees. Never mind that under Rhee, the number of central office employees rose by 20% (and they claim to be understaffed!) as direct services to students and overall enrollment fell . Never mind that at least 100 central office employees now make more than $100,000 a year. Never mind that most of the people Rhee hired to replace the vastly "incompetent" black employees were white and under the age of forty with little to no experience in education.

See, when Fenty spent vastly more money on facilities and playgrounds in the whiter and more affluent Ward 3 and when Michelle Rhee crowded central offices with underqualified and overpaid employees, it's "progress" and "courage", but under previous (black) mayors and superintendents, it's "incompetence," "a jobs program," and a way of "hiring people and securing votes." (And perhaps an understandable response to all of that nasty, isolated racism of the 1970s.)

Yes, according to Whitmire, white people saw Michelle Rhee's firings "based on principal recommendation" as, well, "logical," while misinformed black people saw them as "random." Furthermore, black Washingtonians couldn't handle that testing gains happened under Michelle Rhee, who is Korean-American, and not under her predecessor Clifford Janey, who is African American. Apparently, black residents in Washington, D.C., can't handle success happening to non-blacks. Whitmire is a hair away from crying "reverse racism!" here:
"The fact that Rhee was Korean American, and not African American as her predecessors had been, also proved to be racially troublesome, especially when the district began to show testing improvements. Rationalizing that awkward situation gave birth to a widespread belief among many black Washingtonians that the gains Rhee achieved were the fruits of the black schools chief, Clifford Janey, who preceded her"
Finally, the elections came and Fenty lost because, "the favoring-whites belief proved to be a significant wedge issue in the voting." Those silly black people with their "favoring whites beliefs" and Janey test gain "theories." 

There's so much more I could say about this vile piece. There's so much left that offends. (Please, read it for yourselves.) But mostly, it epitomizes what's wrong with the so-called education reformers' approach: that the problem in public education is not systemic or societal (or even more than one problem), but one of low quality people, in DC's case, mostly black people, who fail to teach poor children how to read. The parents of these kids are also too simple minded, too bound up in perverse race pride to recognize their saviors when they ride in on their broomsticks. When will they realize, as Michelle does, what's actually good for their own children, that what they really need is to bring in high-achieving Ivy Leaguers, so that they, too, don't become low quality people? Who cares if they don't know anything about education or teaching?

In the meantime, DC Mayor Vincent Gray has betrayed so many who worked so hard for him and appointed Interim DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson as permanent chancellor. A chancellor selection advisory panel was appointed, as mandated by a 2007 DC law, but apparently Gray and the panel members decided that democratic processes are one of those "sacred cows" that need to be slaughtered: the only candidate they ever considered was Ms. Henderson. Henderson certainly seems to be more conciliatory and thoughtful than Ms. Rhee was, which is a start, but I'm hearing that so far, that's mostly talk. The community and other stakeholders aren't being involved in decisions and there is still little to no transparency. Furthermore, Ms. Henderson continues to embrace the same wrong-headed policies that Ms. Rhee did.

Not to worry. I'm certain Richard Whitmire will soon write a piece assuring all that now that African-American Kaya Henderson is in charge, that over-sensitive and incompetent African American residents of DC will have no further complaints. According to Whitmire's logic, black folks in DC don't care about the quality of education their children receive, nor do they care about competence; they only care about blackness.

If Richard Whitmire is trying to deflect the negativity people feel from Michelle Rhee on to him (especially now that she and Fenty have stated their support for Scott Walker), he's doing a great job. If anything validates Courtland Milloy's post-election screed, this does.

As Tim Wise says,
"there are two types of racists, the overt racists, such as white supremacists, and the passive racists, who are the vast majority of us who silently collaborate with systemic racism. We don't consciously believe in racial superiority or inferiority, but we've become so used to the existing policies, practices, and procedures that we don't question them. To the extent we don't challenge this system of racism, we are collaborating with it. The second type of racist is actually more dangerous. The first type we can easily recognize, and it doesn't take much courage to condemn them. the second type is like an invisible gas: you don't know it's there until you've been lulled unconscious by it."
Which kind of racist would you say Mr. Whitmire is? I'd say he falls somewhere just between the two.

Teacher, I Mean, Teaching Quality Series, Part III: Teachers Compensation

No doubt about it: teachers' pay should start higher than it currently does. Higher pay would attract more people to the profession who might otherwise go into other fields and it would more fairly compensate those who are currently teaching.

That being said, I don't think that higher or merit pay will lead immediately to better teaching quality. As veteran teacher and Teacher Leaders Network member Renee Moore put it:
I fundamentally disagree with one of the conceptual pillars of most merit pay plans: That teachers can be motivated to achieve better results for our students through pay incentives. The majority of teachers are working as hard as we can and getting little recognition and less support. To suggest that we are withholding our best from our students and would provide that in exchange for a few extra dollars is a slap in the face of every professional educator (not just the "bad" teachers).

In addition, merely raising salaries will not attract more qualified candidates or lower the high attrition rates in public school teaching unless working conditions are also improved. Over-crowded schools, over-sized classes, crumbling facilities, lack of resources, poor leadership, inadequate support staff, too many responsibilities, and not enough time for planning and grading all hinder good teaching, no matter how much teachers are paid. (I will address the influence of those components on quality teaching in future posts.)

Salaries should be raised equally and transparently for ALL teachers and not just for teachers whose students receive higher scores on standardized tests and not because of where the teacher went to school as an undergraduate or what place in their class they graduated. It is not fair to pay someone more because they were privileged enough to be in a position to attend a place like Harvard. Moreover, higher grades or a degree from an elite institution does not make someone a good teacher. It is also unfair to pay someone more because they happen to teach students who do well on standardized tests. Furthermore, higher scores on standardized tests aren't necessarily evidence of quality teaching. Even if you believe otherwise, making the all too common mistake of confusing higher test scores for real student achievement, according to this report as well as this study, merit pay for high scores on standardized tests does not work. In Atlanta, merit pay for high test scores seemed to cause not better teaching but rather more cheating.

That being said, I am not unopposed to merit pay by other means. Rick Hess, for example, has some proposals for merit pay that are worth serious consideration. Once salaries are raised and working conditions are improved across the board, teachers who are ready for increased responsibilities or who want to work more hours, without compromising quality, should be paid more. If a teacher is taking on more students by teaching an additional class, that means he'll be working longer hours planning and giving students feedback. If a teacher leads extra-curricular activities, works on a department-wide curriculum planning project, or becomes a mentor to new teachers, she should be compensated for doing more work. Furthermore, I am not opposed to paying people more who take hard to staff or more difficult teaching jobs. While I reject the notion of market-based education reforms or of running schools like businesses, we can't ignore labor market forces.

Those with masters degrees, PhDs, and additional endorsements, such as National Board Certification, and more experience should be paid more. In general, the longer a person has been doing something, the better and more efficient they get at it, and experience especially matters in teaching. Furthermore, when potential and actual teachers invest time and money to advance their professional development, they should be rewarded for that, just as professionals are in other fields. That being said, there are many ways to skin that cat--education and experience should not be too rigidly defined. Work as teacher's aide? Teach for a year or two in a private school? Tutoring? Substitute teaching? Spent a summer in a program such as this one learning more about your content area? All those should apply in some way as education, training or prior experience.

The norm should not be a teacher working ten to fourteen hour days to do a great or even adequate job for much, much higher pay. The standard should be a forty hour work week with a reasonable amount of responsibilities, good working conditions at a fair middle class rate of pay that increases with more expertise and experience. As teachers get better at what they do and are able to take on more responsibilities or work more hours, then they should be paid more, but standardized test scores should have nothing to do with it.