This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.
“More than bad politics, it’s madness” declared yesterday’s Washington Post. The political debate surrounding recent teacher layoffs involving DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the Washington Teachers Union, the DC city council, and Mayor Adrian Fenty rages on. The 18-hour hearing on October 18 was supposed to address the reasons behind Ms. Rhee’s request to fire “nearly 400 school personnel — including 266 educators and 122 support staff — to help close what she has described as a $43.9 million budget shortfall.” Instead, it degenerated into a mud-slinging marathon. As the Washington Post aptly summed up, “It’s time the District’s leaders stopped acting like children and started thinking of them.” Earlier this school year Chancellor Rhee hired nearly 900 new teachers. She committed a cardinal sin, however, when she recommended firing 266 others “based on who added least value to schools.” That is, the Chancellor is not bowing down to one of the public-schooling establishment’s biggest sacred cows, namely basing staffing decisions on teacher tenure (first hired, last fired). Chancellor Rhee’s reasoning is simple: “There is not always a direct correlation between teacher effectiveness and years of service. Research backs her up. In fact, many public school teachers report high levels of job dissatisfaction and are counting the days until they can retire with their full benefits. Even so, according the DC Public Schools own website (#10), only 7 percent of teacher who’ll be let go have been teaching 25 years or more. Most (54 percent) have been teaching 10 years or less. The next DC Council hearing will be Thursday, October 29, when Ms. Rhee will have the opportunity to explain the recent lay offs and her expectations for the upcoming year. As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is fond of saying, “Never waste a great crisis.” This is a time for the Mayor, Dc Council members, and the community to support the Chancellor in her efforts to achieve common-sense education reform.