AN EDUCATION FAILURE
I don’t like Bill Maher. I think he’s obnoxious, pompous and rude. However, just because I don’t like his style doesn’t mean I don’t agree with him on a lot of things. So, despite my dislike for the man, when I heard that he had interviewed “reformer” Michelle Rhee I decided to listen. The interview with Rhee took place on March 15 (not posted as of this writing on the Real Time with Bill Maher site). Below is a amateur youtube of the interview. The visual is not so good, but you can hear the interview.
[WARNING: the following contains offensive language. Don’t blame me if you decide to listen.]
We could choose a variety of places where Rhee spouts incorrect or misleading information, but Kris Nielsen did some of that for me in his @The Chalk Face post titled Michelle Rhee Needs a Head Shrinker…
Neilsen reminds us of the fact that Rhee is a failure at education.
As I mentioned in previously articles, Michelle had a really tough go at it in the classroom. I would even go as far as to say that her teaching career was a total bomb. Then, her rough-and-tumble methods as the D.C. Chancellor got her and her boss fired. In the eyes of several kids and adults, over those five years (or whatever), she was a failure.
Nielsen also reported on Rhee’s almost obligatory anecdote about how “good teachers” can save everyone.
She told some lame, anecdote about how one teacher in a school in a tough neighborhood was so much better than everyone else. Bill even called her on it, reminding her that it was anecdotal.
THE MYTH OF TENURE
At the end of the interview Maher brings up tenure, the basis of one of the biggest myths about public education and “the bad teacher.” Here’s my transcript of the last few minutes (beginning at about 6:10 in the video)…
Maher: I think what bothers a lot of people in America is why do teachers get this…this perk that the rest of us don’t have? We can all be fired. But let me give you an answer that might make sense.
Maher: The Supreme Court has tenure…you can’t fire a Supreme Court justice because they have to make very hard decisions and you wouldn’t want to hold them accountable and say well…we didn’t like the decision…you’ve gotta go. It’s kinda the same thing with teachers. I mean, A teacher has to be able to say to parents, “Your kid is dumb…”
Rhee: [laughing] No, not that.
Maher: …because…and not get fired for it because that’s very often the answer…is that…because to parents, it’s never their precious child that’s the problem.
Rhee: Teachers do have to make hard calls and they have to have protections to make sure that, you know, when they are making those tough calls, the ones that are right for kids, that, you know, they have what they need. The problem in public education is tenure has become a job for life regardless of performance. And so we have some people who are not doing the right things for kids…where kids…you know, children are going into their classroom year in and year out and are sort of losing ground…or you even have here in Southern California, you know, sexual predators, and they cannot be fired.
Maher: That’s the church. You’re mixing the two up.
Maher; Alright, well, I gotta go…
Some basic assumptions here are incorrect…from Maher’s claim that teachers have a perk (tenure) which guarantees them a job for life to Rhee’s incredibly offensive reference implying a relationship between “bad teachers” and “sexual predators.”
Teachers can, and do get fired. Tenure for public school teachers in K-12 education does not mean a job for life…it means due process. Period.
Due process means that a teacher cannot be fired for no reason. The school leaders, school board, or administrators must show that a teacher is either incompetent, immoral or behaves illegally. Monster.com lists 10 ways teachers can, and do, get fired.
Due process, frequently misnamed tenure means that proof of one of these behaviors must be presented before a teacher can be fired. Once that is done, then the teacher can be fired no matter how many years they have taught. If, during my last year of teaching, I decided that I liked the school computer and wanted it for myself so I took it home for my personal use, the school system would have been entirely within their rights to fire me. I would have been within my rights to ask for due process. Just because you might not have this guarantee at your job…and you can be accused of stealing from the company and fired without any proof at all…doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. Due process simply requires school leaders to be fair…and not fire teachers on a whim.
Rhee, as well as other “reformers,” usually focus on bad teaching. Can bad teaching get you fired? Yes, but, again, the administration has to prove it. That’s where we are right now and that’s where there are problems. What constitutes a “bad teacher?” “Reformers” tend to think that low student test scores reflect bad teaching — even though using test scores to evaluate teachers is (IMHO) invalid.
A “reformer” might even agree that due process is good, in theory, “but,” she might say, “in actual practice it takes a lot of time and a great deal of money to get rid of a ‘bad teacher’ and the reason for that is due process.” To that I say…”yes, that may be correct.” My follow up to that, however, is probably different from that of your average “reformer.”
Here’s a plan. Instead of eliminating due process – like the legislature in Indiana did – let’s improve some things.
- Make sure that every person in a supervisory position (e.g. Principals) is an experienced educator with training sufficient to analyze teaching and to fairly evaluate teachers.
- Make sure that supervisors of principals (e.g. Superintendent) are similarly experienced and trained.
- Make sure that evaluations are done when scheduled and/or required by the contract, records kept, visitations documented, attempts to help the teacher improve made and recorded, etc.
- We need to establish fair and effective evaluation methods such as the Montgomery County Maryland’s Peer Assistance and Review evaluation procedure (which has been destroyed by Race to the Top) or procedures described by Linda Darling-Hammond.
- I don’t have any objection to streamlining due process so it proceeds more quickly. There’s no reason for teachers to sit for months or years waiting for a hearing…and there’s no reason a school system has to wait that long to have the option of getting rid, with adequate proof, of a bad teacher. However, I would insist that the procedure be fair and require proof. We don’t want to go back to the era of firing teachers to make room for a state senator’s nephew or a school board member’s cousin, or because the principal just doesn’t like someone.
As long as education failures/faux “reformers” like Rhee continue to promote false myths like “the bad teacher” and “job-for-life tenure” the real work of education will be sidetracked by wasted resources, attacks on teachers, and the continued privatization of public education.