Former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee released a policy agenda for nationwide education reform Monday that criticizes tenure and teachers' unions while lauding Rhee hallmarks like merit pay and Teach for America. Although no one is particularly surprised about Rhee's agenda, plenty of education traditionalists are already fuming over the document from StudentsFirst, the nonprofit education-reform advocacy group Rhee founded last month.
Rhee's 24-page agenda includes 35 policy recommendations for state and local officials. Chiefly, she recommends that teachers' evaluations be based at least 50 percent on student test scores and that these evaluations should drive staffing decisions; that states should relax laws that cap charter schools and alternative-certificate teaching programs; and that schools should be more open in releasing performance and budget data to parents and taxpayers.
Of course, the agenda bucks tenure -- perhaps Rhee's biggest criticism of adults protecting "vested interests" at the expense of student learning.
"Every day, school systems quietly place into classrooms a number of teachers whom they already have identified as ineffective. Districts claim they have no choice, and they are relieved that they can do so without embarrassing any adults," she wrote.
Rhee suggests separating the development of teacher evaluation tools from contract negotiations with teachers' unions, saying their leadership has a "conflict of interest" because of "fiduciary responsibility to their organization to enhance unity and protect low performers."
Rhee has said she views union officials as a "vocal minority" of teachers' opinions.
But Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders said the agenda is "seen by many educators as de-legitimizing the teaching profession" as "Rhee consistently used teachers as scapegoats."
"I urge lawmakers to seriously examine Rhee's policy agenda especially as it relates to teacher evaluations and the reliance on student test scores," said Saunders, an opponent of Impact, the D.C. teacher-evaluation system that weights 50 percent on student scores and the rest on classroom observations.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Rhee's agenda "presents a false choice" between supporting students and supporting teachers.
"Rhee's plan talks about valuing teachers and empowering parents, yet she did quite the opposite as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor," Weingarten said.
Rhee resigned Oct. 13 after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost in the Democratic mayoral primary to City Chairman Vincent Gray in an election seen as a referendum on education reform.
During her 3 1/2-year tenure, Rhee fired 165 teachers rated ineffective under the Impact evaluation.