Michelle Rhee’s teacher evaluation system has shown itself to be effective in D.C. public schools and has left the teachers unions on the sidelines…for now.
Back in 2010, the Washington, D.C. public school system (DCPS) introduced IMPACT, an evaluation system whose goal was not only to identify and retain good teachers, but pay them bonuses. At the same time, it aimed to enable the school district to get rid of its poor performers. (Just like employers do in the rest of the working world!) Michelle Rhee, who implemented the plan, began her reign as chancellor of DCPS in 2007 and left the district in October, 2010 just as the new system kicked in. (Rhee saw the handwriting on the wall when Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost a primary bid to run again.)
To state the obvious, the Washington Teachers Union was outraged by the plan. In fact, it was blasted by organized labor from coast to coast. Every teacher union leader who could get their hands on a microphone or the ear of a willing education reporter spewed vitriol at Rhee. In brief, they said the program, which included a component that rated teachers by how well students do on standardized tests, was unfair because tests “evaluate students and not teachers.” Translation: union bosses don’t want teachers held at all accountable if their kids don’t learn. The unions see teachers as interchangeable widgets, all of whom are competent… to one degree or another. To differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers by what their students actually learn would necessitate doing away with industrial-style work rules like tenure and seniority – perennial union-mandated protections.
The National Education Association and other unions prefer to subject teachers to “high-quality professional development.” These classes, intended to teach teachers how to teach, are made necessary because of the lousy job that many of our schools of education do. What the unions never get around to mentioning is what to do with teachers who can’t cut it even after they have had any number of “high-quality professional development” classes.
When it comes to teacher accountability, the California Teachers Association is Astaire-like at the evasion dance. Former CTA president Dean Vogel is on record saying that the union “will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms….” (H/T Richard Rider)
Okay, “qualified” and “experienced” sound good, right? But there’s much more to teaching than having the proper certification and being on the job for x years. Is the teacher effective? Does the teacher get results? Are the students learning? Mr. Vogel becomes a wallflower when this music is played.
Well, lo and behold, just last week a study conducted jointly by the University of Virginia and Stanford examining the DCPS IMPACT program was released.
One of the study’s authors, Stanford’s Thomas Dee, writes, “We found that a disproportionate share of low-performing teacher exits are from high-poverty schools. Our results indicate that DCPS is able to accurately identify low-performing teachers and consistently replace them with teachers who are more effective in raising student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools.” (Emphasis added.)
The Washington Post’s Emma Brown writes, the departure of teachers who score poorly on IMPACT is beneficial “because student scores on math and reading tests tend to improve substantially after such teachers depart….” Brown adds that “student scores tend to drop slightly when high-performing teachers leave their assignment for another school or district, presumably because it is difficult to find replacements who are as effective. But overall, “because of the strong positive effect of exiting low-performing teachers, turnover under IMPACT led to an improvement in average student achievement, the study found.”
Additionally, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the researchers find that 46 percent of low-performing teachers in D.C. leave each year, “which is more than three times the attrition rate of high-performers. It turns out that the mere threat of removal encourages many low-scorers to quit or shape up, and those who leave are generally replaced with better teachers.”
The authors of the study acknowledge concerns that high-performing teachers in D.C. may leave because of “the stress of high-stakes evaluation.” But James Wyckoff, the study’s other author said, “While these are reasonable concerns and in some situations this may occur, overall our analysis suggests they don’t hold true at DCPS. This likely reflects IMPACT’s design to retain more effective teachers and encourage low-performing teachers to leave.”
The unions have been uncharacteristically silent in the week since the report has surfaced, just as they were in 2013 when a study revealed similar results. But I’m sure they are busy at union command-central figuring out how they can negatively characterize the retention of good teachers, paying them well and unloading dead weight. The spin on this one could leave us all in a vertigo-like state.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.