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It Will Take More Than Well Paid Teachers

Earlier this week, Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of the DC public schools, was trying to sell her plans to reform the city school system in the pages of the Post Op-Ed section.

The core of her proposal is to provide a large boost to teacher salaries in exchange for them giving up tenure and agreeing to tie future pay increases, and employment, to student achievement (aka test scores).

But pretty much from her first day in the District, Rhee has pissed off teachers and the unions, and quite a few other people, with her efforts to transform the DC schools.

So this piece in the paper was also an attempt to make nice with the teachers she has to work with.

I am often asked to name the most important factor in this district’s success. It is teachers. It is their classrooms and what happens there, the expectations they set as they push students to go further. Teaching is the toughest job there is: Doing it well can keep you up at night thinking about your students, their stories and your role in their lives. But as teachers know, this work is also sure to surprise and reward. Teachers deserve recognition and respect for their efforts.

In the news the following day, it was clear that Rhee’s plans will have to be scaled back due to the economy.

However, it really doesn’t matter.

Certainly teachers are an essential factor in student learning but not the only one.

And, in a city with high levels of poverty and violence against children, a miserable educational infrastructure, and generally poor leadership, probably not the most important part of the equation.


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  1. Hi Tim,

    Did you read this by Diane Ravich in the Bridging Differences blog?


    Even if higher pay, equaled higher quality, Ravich questions where all these “great” teachers will come from.

    I just don’t know that many teachers for whom a higher salary would make them “improve.”

    All the best,


  2. Tim

    Thanks for the link to Diane’s piece, Doug. I agree that just paying more will not unleash all these hidden great teachers. There are too many factors to the mix and that’s the biggest problem with Rhee’s plan. She isn’t paying a lot of attention to anything beyond pay and tenure.

  3. I think Rhee may be learning some very hard lessons, namely that which gets you your first headline may not get you much further. The question now for her is whether or not she is willing to eat some crow and do the hard work of reaching out to constituencies she’s upset and rebuild some bridges. I’d guess that she’s not going to be able to repair the damage she did with the teachers, and therefore, she won’t be able to affect much change in the district.

    It’s still an open question of what she believes — and she may not know for sure herself anymore.

  4. As a teacher in the District, I have come to take anything Rhee says with a large grain of salt. Since her arrival she has made the news a lot, but done very little in the way of making changes in the education the students are getting. I guess I just keep going in each day hoping that I can make a small difference – even if I do feel as if I have been set up to fail by the system.

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