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For Rhee, collaboration could be counterproductive

Posted by Apr 21st, 2009.

I have this strange view that education policies should be judged first and foremost by how they affect outcomes for students. That’s why while I may have some policy differences with Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, I respect her tremendously. You know, that Time magazine article in which she spoke her mind? Some of her quotes really made me smile.

Like special education teacher Kathy Kullback, I was disappointed not to be able to attend last week’s Democrats for Education Reform event featuring Michelle Rhee. A keen observer of education policy, Kullback cleanly sums up the Rhee agenda that should be replicated here in Colorado:

First, develop a teacher evaluation process that is non-political and can be used for training, as well as, assessing. She is making the evaluation non-political by having content and grade specialists do the observations several times a year. Next, terminate ineffective principals and teachers. Then offer teachers two different tracks. One eliminates tenure, but increases pay to over $131,000 per year. The other keeps tenure, but offers less salary. Close down ineffective district and charter schools, and finally, place private schools in the mix.


Of course, there’s much more to successful reform than a fine blueprint like this one. Issues of implementation are an ongoing concern.

Being an outspoken, no-nonsense reformer, it’s unsurprising that Rhee elicits a wide range of reactions. In contrast to Kullback’s enthusiasm, a more well known Denver teacher had a seminal criticism for the D.C. Chancellor. From local union president Kim Ursetta in her column for Ed News Colorado:

After listening to Chancellor Rhee, there was one glaring thing missing: Collaboration.

Yes, she talked about meeting with teachers and students, and answering their questions. Rhee has also said in numerous forums that collaboration and cooperation are overrated. Missing from her message in Denver was any deliberate attempt to work with the union around compensation or teacher effectiveness.

At best, the problem here is the difference between nice and necessary. Ursetta acknowledges Rhee has met with the practitioners on the ground (teachers) and the customers being served (students) to get feedback on the reform program. Maybe some think it would be nice that Rhee “collaborated” more with union officials — or career bureaucrats, for that matter. But it certainly isn’t necessary, and may even be counterproductive.

Yes, the situation is complicated by politics. Not including the Washington Teachers Union at the table may end up unleashing various obstructions from an entrenched group.

Clearly, the dynamics in Denver are somewhat different than those in Washington D.C. But if the leading lesson learned from education reform efforts here is the essential value of collaboration among adult “steakholder” groups, then we’re selling the students of Denver short

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One Response to “For Rhee, collaboration could be counterproductive”

  1. [...] Today is a busy day: Lots of playing outside to do … I’m going to the zoo! So instead of a longer post, I’m just going to point you to what my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote yesterday about Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and “collaboration”: [...]

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