- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

The national school-reform spotlight is again shining on D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and, as with her other efforts, teachers are again on edge.

This time, the issue is how she grades teachers.

One-quarter of the 4,000-member teaching force in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) could be kicked out of their classrooms by the end of the next school year if they fail to measure up to a new evaluation tool that plays a major role in President Obama’s education-reform plan.

The president’s plan calls for innovative reforms that redesign teacher evaluation and pay packages, and turn around chronically underperforming schools, among other things.

Ms. Rhee, who is competing with her state counterparts to receive federal money for her reform measures, is dismissing teachers based on the DCPS evaluation program called “Impact”: 241 teachers felt its impact on Friday, when Ms. Rhee announced they were fired because of poor ratings or licensing issues. Hundreds more are under the gun.

Assessments are based on how effective a teacher is; and teacher seniority — a job-security factor long favored by unions and still employed in school districts across the nation — is not considered.

The Washington Teachers Union, which criticized Impact as punitive when the chancellor rolled it out last fall, is threatening to appeal each dismissal.

Ms. Rhee’s efforts to turn around one of the nation’s worst school systems has made national headlines since she came to Washington in 2007. Highlights of her reform initiatives include firing teachers and principals because of poor performance, partnering with charter schools to help turn around dozens of traditional schools that failed to meet academic and safety standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, and creating a contract with the teachers union that includes a groundbreaking merit-pay proposal, but scrapped seniority as a factor. She also is considering using taxpayer-funded vouchers for special-education students.

Teacher evaluations were always part of Ms. Rhee’s five-year plan. Announced in October 2008, the plan specifically says that teachers must “focus students on lesson objectives,” “deliver content clearly,” “assess student progress” and, if necessary, “re-teach.”

Impact uses master educators who employ several instruments to measure teacher performance, including student test scores and how a teacher gauges whether students are grasping topics and instructions. Evaluators make five classroom visits before rating teachers on 22 factors. The point scale is from a low of 100 to a high of 400.

Highly effective teachers will be considered for merit raises.

D.C. Public Schools began implementing this new assessment tool early last school year, before firing 400 school workers, including 266 teachers. By the end of the 2010-11 school year, an additional 737 teachers already rated minimally ineffective this school year by Impact could face dismissal if they do not improve. That means one-quarter of the teaching corps — including teachers hired by Ms. Rhee — could be gone by next summer.

The prospect of losing job security doesn’t sit well with the union.

“While the WTU wants teachers to be held accountable, teachers should also be evaluated fairly with a fair instrument,” President George Parker said Friday. “D.C. Public Schools has yet again found a subjective way to fire teachers, many of whom were not evaluated fairly. We look forward to an independent evaluation of the Impact evaluation system as agreed to between WTU and DCPS in the new contract.”