I guess Newsweek has bought into the propaganda spewed forth by the media wing of the Business Roundtable. From the Dec. 1, 2008 magazine (found online here):
As president, however, Obama will have a chance to greatly improve D.C. schools-and, possibly, inner-city public education across the country. The chancellor ofthe D.C. system, Michelle Rhee, has proposed an innovative teachers' contractthat could allow her to reward the best teachers and dismiss the bad ones.
Educators everywhere are watching to see what Obama says and does. If he backs Rhee's proposal, he will send a powerful signal to struggling inner-city schools that reform is possible. If he fudges or says nothing, it will be a signal that little will change for the poor and mostly black children in the capital's nearly dysfunctional apparatus.
Where to begin?! President Elect Obama does have the opportunity to greatly impact urban schools, for better - if he selects someone like professor and education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond -- or for worse (if he selects someone who wants to standardize test our kids back to the stone age, bust unions, bash teachers, and privatize public schools). But is fixing D.C. schools the president's job?
Here's D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's "innovative" proposal: Current teachers must make a choice: be a "red tier teacher" at current teacher pay in order to protect their tenure, or be a "green tier teacher" in order to be paid in the six-figures, but give up tenure. Where's the money to come from for higher salaries? Private corporations and foundations. Yeah, that money should be around forever. When D.C. teachers refused to sign up for six-figure salaries and the unions protested, Rhee thought up a plan and she thought it up quick. Ask the Feds to declare a "State of Emergency" so that she can circumvent the pesky union all together.
But my favorite part is Newsweek's assertion that if Barack Obama doesn't back Michelle Rhee's agenda he is letting all poor and black kids in D.C. swing in the wind. That racist bastard!
The education community is badly split on the issue of how to hold teachers accountable. The establishment sees tenure as a shibboleth, teachers' only guard against politics and arbitrary firings. The reformers regard it as the chief obstacle to change, since it is next to impossible to remove ineffective teachers in almost all public systems.
Actually, the education community's split on teacher accountability involves much more than just tenure. But since they've mentioned the T word, let me say this from my experience as an urban school teacher and alum of inner-city public schools. Yes. Many urban schools have The Teacher. The one that probably shouldn't still be there. They're ineffective or worse. But all of those schools have 20-100 (depending on their size) other GREAT teachers. I am tired of the teacher bashing from Teach for America, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, the Business Roundtable and the MSM.
Finally, there's this:
Some union backers were heartened when Obama appointed Linda Darling-Hammond, a Standford professor and a favorite of the unions, as head of his transition policy task force. Reformers view Darling-Hammond as "anti-accountability"
because she is a critic of standardized testing and teachers' performance pay being linked to test scores. She has been very critical of Teach for America,the organization that sends thousands of recent college grads into inner-city schools each year. Darling-Hammond has argued that the answer is not to bring young, eager and untrained teachers into the classrooms, but rather to better train the teachers already there. "People don't want to say anything publicly, because of the 'No-Drama Obama' stuff," says one well-placed reformer with ties to the incoming administration. "But many of us were stunned that Linda Darling-Hammond is still as influential as she is. We see her as very symbolic of the 'old school' of reform." Darling-Hammond responds, "The critiques of being 'old school' are particularly ironic since I have been fighting for a lot of reforms before they were recently on the national radar."
Notice the framing of the issues here. Linda Darling-Hammond/critics of high-stakes standardized testing = union backer, anti-reformists.
Now. As for the "well-placed reformer with ties to the incoming administration". Someone didn't get the memo. See, Obama welcomes and sees the value of having multiple opinions and voices advising him. I'm thrilled. This is democratic policy formation at its best. Linda Darling-Hammond's response is good. But what I wish she had said is this:
"If 'old school' means being an actual career educator; caring about the psychological well-being of my students; wanting to educate my students without teaching to a test; improving the quality of all schools, not just charters; and reforming schools through a DEMOCRATIC process, then I'm PROUD to be called 'old school'! "