DC schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee took to the pages of the Washington Post on Monday to sell her proposal for a new teacher contract to the public—and maybe to a few teachers too. Her primary message: Teachers are the solution, not the problem. They’re not to blame for the low achievement levels in DC schools. Heck, she was a teacher herself. So she knows the challenges and rewards of teaching. Of course, there’s the pesky case of ineffective teaching, Chancellor Rhee’s version of the Ronald Reagan “welfare queen” rhetorical ploy. “I do not believe that most of our teachers are shortchanging their students,” she writes. “But in the worst cases, we have teachers who put their feet on their desks and read the paper while students run around. Or they use corporal punishment. Or they intentionally abuse their current contract, leaving for three months at a time and returning for the one day that will keep their job active.” Powerful words, but I’m left to wonder how many teachers we’re talking about, and why the current contractual provisions can’t address such problem cases. (Since we’re only talking about the “worst cases,” after all.) Does the Chancellor mean to suggest that the District has no mechanism to remove a teacher who is using corporal punishment in the classroom?
I remember the first time I pulled opened a form letter. Personally addressed to me, the greeting’s clean typeface read: “Dear Mr. Levy.” I felt the same initial rush of enjoyment from when summer camp care packages would arrive. Then I kept reading the letter, slowly realizing by the 8th mindless paragraph that there were thousands of other recipients. I hadn't heard of a “mail merge” yet, but I certainly felt…well, merged with the masses. Strange. A letter that had been personally stamped, addressed, and delivered by USPS must surely meant something to the sender. Yet it didn’t feel that way on my end; it seemed to be a trick to force unnecessary information on me. So when I decided to email merge promotion-in-doubt letters to students this week, I did it with low expectations. I figured that students might pass over the letters, or feel once again feel reminded that they were not meeting expectations. What I didn't predict was that I would receive over twenty emails back from promotion-in-doubt students! Their responses were genuine, and their concern was heartfelt. "Okay Mr. Levy i am going to make u proud"
All school bus drivers would have to be re-trained immediately and citizens could call in concerns about individual drivers to a city hotline, if the city followed a list of demands Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum issued yesterday. The demands come on the heels of reports of school bus abuse, including a 7-year-old stranded on a bus in Queens this month, a four-year-old Brooklyn child stranded on a school bus last month, and a severely disabled 22-year-old left on a freezing school bus overnight January 1. Asked whether the city will follow Gotbaum's demands, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Marge Feinberg, said, "We have an effective policy in place that suspends bus personnel for half a year for the first infraction and decertifies them if it happens again." According to the policy, drivers who leave children alone on a bus have their licenses suspended for 180 days. The licenses are revoked if they commit an error a second time. School officials also pointed out that two of the three most recent cases of abuse happened on private buses, not school buses run by the DOE. (The 4-year-old in Brooklyn was riding a DOE school bus.) In a press release, Gotbaum points out that while cosmetologists in the city have to register 1,000 hours of training, school bus drivers are required to put in just 10 hours of training and two three-hour refresher courses a year. She also cites a 2007 Daily News investigation that found that the Department of Education hid 225 cases of bus abuse, including one case where a bus driver beat a student with special needs. (Since then, the Department of Education has taken steps to prevent hidden abuse in the future, hiring a new chief manager of the investigative unit and a slew of experienced investigators, Feinberg said.) Gotbaum's full list of demands is below the jump.
The city teachers union is accusing the elite KIPP charter school network of waging an intimidation campaign against teachers who are trying to unionize. The dispute began in January, when teachers at a Brooklyn KIPP school shocked the charter school world by petitioning to join the powerful United Federation of Teachers. At the time, Dave Levin, KIPP’s cofounder and the superintendent of its New York City schools, indicated that he was open to working with the union — even though many KIPP supporters oppose working with unions, which they argue block schools’ ability to teach at-risk urban students by imposing strict work rules on schools. (KIPP stands for the Knowledge is Power Program.) Now, the union is accusing Levin of urging teachers not to unionize and painting a bleak picture of what will happen if they do. The accusations are cataloged in two complaints the UFT sent to the state labor board in the last nine days arguing that KIPP is improperly blocking teachers’ ability to unionize. The latest complaint, filed Wednesday, adds to complaints first aired in a Sunday New York Times story reporting that KIPP is resisting the teachers' organizing drive. The complaints accuse a KIPP human resources official of telling teachers that he is concerned that the Brooklyn school will lose its affiliation with the KIPP network if they organize; they accuse the school's founding principal, Ky Adderley, of sitting in the hallway every day to monitor teachers, and they accuse Levin of making a rare attendance at a staff meeting to encourage teachers to reverse their decision to unionize. Levin and a KIPP spokesman did not return telephone messages requesting comment today.
A statistic that Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, and Mort Zuckerman have all recently employed to bemoan the racial achievement gap appears to be wrong. Here's the statistic, as Klein and Sharpton recently summarized in the Wall Street Journal (and Mort Zuckerman used it here): "today the average 12th-grade black or Hispanic student has the reading, writing and math skills of an eighth-grade white student." The problem isn't the principle behind the claim; America definitely has a racial achievement gap. The problem, according to an official at the National Center for Education Statistics, is in the specific way that Klein et al describe the gap. The best available measure we have to compare all American kids is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the NAEP test. But the NAEP test, which is given only to a sample of students across the country, not to every child, does not permit the kind of detailed comparison Klein's statistic would demand, Arnold Goldstein, the NCES official, said. "It would be great if we could. It's kind of frustrating not to be able to make these sorts of statements," said Goldstein, who is program director for design, analysis, and reporting at NCES's assessment division. "But that’s a limitation of the data." I contacted the Department of Education several times for comment but got no response this week. UPDATE: A spokesman, Andrew Jacob, wrote to say that Klein got the statistic from "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," a book by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.
Michelle Rhee touted her red-track/green-track teacher pay proposal last night at Pace University, saying it's made such a splash that Mayor Bloomberg asked Chancellor Joel Klein if they could bring a similar model to New York. The proposal, which is being negotiated with the D.C. teachers union right now, would award some first-year teachers nearly $40,000 raises in exchange for giving up their tenure rights — while others could choose a "red" path where they retain tenure but are paid less. Rhee said the model came up in a recent chat with Klein, who she said she speaks to regularly to share "best practices" and to commiserate. Klein told her that Mayor Bloomberg had asked if they could bring the red/green plan to New York. "Apparently Klein said to him, 'Not even you have enough money to do all of that in New York City,'" she said. Rhee's plan, if passed, will be financed by private philanthropy for the first five years, she said. A spokesman for the Department of Education, David Cantor, said the story is true. Rhee spent part of her talk referencing the divide within the Democratic Party, where some education experts argue focus should be on improving schools and schools alone and others push for a broader focus. Rhee, who is firmly in the first camp, along with Klein, explained her objections to the second group by describing her experience as a second-year teacher.