D.C. Public Schools teachers hoping to avoid the fate of their 241 colleagues ousted for ineffective classroom performance would be wise to bear in mind one rule: Be like Rhee.
Whether teachers love her or hate her, Chancellor Michelle Rhee has proven a model of the "highly effective" employee.
Under the schools' new Impact evaluation tool, "highly effective" is the top rank, with the possibility of $30,000 performance-based bonuses. A rating of "ineffective" arrives in the mail with a farewell letter from human resources.
More than 300 employees were fired this year for ineffectiveness, compared with fewer than 100 last year, before Impact's implementation.
"Highly effective" teachers develop "ambitious and measurable" goals, according to details in a 66-page Impact booklet found online.
For Rhee, that goal has been to make D.C. Public Schools the best urban school district in the country. When she began in 2007, it was the worst. For measurements, she has used highly publicized -- and sometimes highly spun -- test scores, from three-year gains on the D.C.-CAS standardized exams, to a steady climb out of last place on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
She broke her goal into shorter-term objectives -- another component of the "highly effective" teacher. Going on the belief that higher salaries attract better teachers, she spent three years entangled in negotiations with the teachers union until arriving at a contract that offers financial incentives to top performers.
She emphasized that gains cannot be made with bad teachers. So in a controversial move last fall, she fired 266 teachers based on a budget shortfall. Combined with the recent firings, she has pushed out the lowest-rated 10 percent of the teaching force.
Mass firings, while a political nightmare, do serve to maximize time -- another component of Impact's highly effective teacher.
"It's pretty amazing that they've had the guts to do it," said Emily Cohen, policy director at the National Council on Teacher Quality. "So often nothing happens to bad teachers -- they're pushed from school to school, and people have to put up with it."
Ironically, Rhee's faithfulness to her goals could be the very thing that costs her the job. If the expected blowback from the recent firings is enough to tilt the mayoral election in favor of D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray, she would almost certainly be the next to hear from HR.
When faced with the possibility, she said it's all been done for the students -- one more point for highly effective.
"[Mayor Adrian Fenty and I] don't look at polling numbers when we make decisions about kids," she said.