Think D.C. schools don’t need massive reform? Think again:
Washington is the lowest-performing school district in the nation. Only 12% of D.C. eighth graders are proficient readers, 8% in math. A mere 60% of high schoolers finish in four years with a diploma. The problem can’t be money; Washington’s per-pupil spending is the third-highest in the nation, at $13,000 a head.
In part, the problem is unqualified teachers with lifetime job security. Contracts provide ways to fire incompetents, but unions make the process burdensome. In New York City, it costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher; the city last year dismissed 10 out of 55,000. New Jersey fired precisely 47 (of 100,000) in the 10 years ending in 2005.
The beauty of Ms. Rhee’s tenure reform is that it would use financial incentives to help the best teachers. Unions love to say they are underpaid professionals. Ms. Rhee agrees. Under her reform, teachers willing to be judged on their worth could earn up to $130,000 a year. Her price: Disburse money as is in the real world — on merit.