A group of school superintendents have just published a guest column in The Washington Post titled How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders.
One would think that with recent events like the electoral defeat of Mayor Fenty in Washington, D.C. and the subsequent anticipated departure of Rhee and the recent test score fiasco in New York City that some of these superintendents would have gained at least a slight dose of humility.
Not only do they inaccurately state research by saying that “the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher” when, in fact, research shows that family background—aka socioeconomic status—is by far the most influential factor in a student’s academic achievement, they also focus the main energy of the article on the importance of giving them the power to fire teachers. There is literally a “throw-away” line near the end where they say “Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve.” It is a sentence you can imagine one of them suggesting at the last minute to include to show that they needed to sound vaguely evenhanded. As I’ve written in The Washington Post, that kind of emphasis does not inspire confidence among teachers to support changes in the teacher evaluation system.
It seems to me to be a badly written column, a poorly thought-out political strategy, and an unwise message to send to teachers in their districts if they are hoping to develop a cooperative relationship (which you’d think they’d have concluded by now that they’d need).