Watch the howling commence

Anne Tolley is going to get a lot of shit thrown at her for even talking to the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. The teachers union and their elected functionaries in Labour will micro-manage a caterwauling unlike any seen before.

Michelle has got a lot of publicity in the US for actually being willing to take on the teachers union and the education bureaucrats and tell them it is not good enough. She has also told quite a few of them to get new jobs. Newsweek does a wonderful article on her, including how she has taken a big stick to the vest interests that are holding back our kids, and our country.

Some pointed comments about the teachers unions generally getting in the way of educational achievement, which really means life time achievement for many citizens.

She says she wakes up every morning with a “knot in my stomach,” and that she is “angry,” though “angry in a good way.” She is angry at a system of education that puts “the interests of adults” over the “interests of children,” i.e., a system that values job protection for teachers over their effectiveness in the classroom. Rhee is trying to change that system. In a way that few realistic observers thought was possible, she has a chance to succeed, not just in Washington, but also around the country. She is entering into a struggle with the local teachers union that will test whether an urban school district can weed out its weak teachers?a profound threat to politically powerful teachers unions nationwide.

Rhee also reckons we should stop making excuses for kids from tough backgrounds.

In the demoralized world of inner-city schools, it is easy to become resigned to poor results?and to blame the environment, not the schools themselves. Broken families, crime, drugs, all conspire against academic achievement. But Rhee discovered that teachers could make the critical difference. “It drives me nuts when people say that two thirds of a kid’s academic achievement is based on their environment. That is B.S.,” says Rhee.

Obviously National would need to have big steel balls to take on someone not politically correct like Rhee, exactly as DC Mayor Fenty had:

At first Rhee said she was not interested. “It’s not a job you would want,” she says. “You have your hands tied. You have to deal with school boards. It’s all about politics. You can’t get anything done. It’s an impossible job.” But Fenty managed to convince Rhee that he was serious. Skeptical (she says she was “not wowed” by the mayor at first), she asked him, “What would you be willing to risk at the chance of being able to transform the schools?” According to Rhee, he “didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘Everything’.” Rhee warned him that she was not politically correct and was sure to cause him political pain. (Last week Fenty told NEWSWEEK, “I don’t want to look back on our time and say we were careful, we did the politically correct thing.”)

It will take some radical action from a strong person backed by a strong minister to sort out the muppets at the teachers unions though.

Rhee is the seventh person to run the D.C. schools in the past 10 years. Most of her predecessors were, according to Rhee, “smart and worked hard and wanted to do the right thing for kids,” but “they didn’t get a whole lot done.” The reason, she says, is that they “caved in” to the city’s educational establishment, whose talk of reform was just that.

Who believes in accountability.

But the other PTA co-chair, Claire Taylor, told NEWSWEEK, “Rhee’s making decisions that should have been made years ago, and she’s accountable for those decisions. And that is what is so disarming to parents who have been traumatized by this school system.”

And also believes in paying teachers properly, just like Michelle Rhee:

Rhee’s toughest fight, by far, is coming up. She has proposed a new contract for the union that would undermine tenure, the teachers union holy of holies. The carrot is money. By tapping Mayor Fenty and private philanthropists, she is hoping to make D.C. teachers the best-paid in the country. Current teachers would actually have a choice. If they are willing to go on “probation” for a year?giving up their job security?and can successfully prove their talent, they can earn more than $100,000 a year and as much as $130,000, a huge salary for a teacher, after five years. If not, they still get a generous 28 percent raise over five years and keep their tenure. (All new teachers must sign up for the first option and go on probation for four years.) Rhee predicts that about half the teachers will choose to take their chances on accountability for higher pay, and that within five years the rest will follow, giving up tenure for the shot at merit pay hikes.

Wouldn?t it be refreshing to hear someone from Labour say this?

As she spoke, late in the day (but only in the middle of her workday), she was becoming uncharacteristically wound up. “We do not have a nation right now where every child has an equal chance in life, because poor black kids don’t have an equal shot in life, because they go to crappy schools, and the Democratic Party is not tackling this issue, which I think is one of the biggest problems that exist.”

In Time Magazine:

Whats the bet the teachers will tell us that we cant do what Rhee has done as NZ is not America, and we are a special case. Fixing kids educations in poor areas sounds like exactly the kind of thing John Key would be right into.

Each week, Rhee gets e-mails from superintendents in other cities. They understand that if she succeeds, Rhee could do something no one has done before: she could prove that low-income urban kids can catch up with kids in the suburbs. The radicalism of this idea cannot be overstated. Now, without proof that cities can revolutionize their worst schools, there is always a fine excuse.

They would be scared that someone like Rhee might actually hold them to account.

In the year and a half she’s been on the job, Rhee has made more changes than most school leaders–even reform-minded ones–make in five years. She has shut 21 schools–15% of the city’s total–and fired more than 100 workers from the district’s famously bloated 900-person central bureaucracy. She has dismissed 270 teachers. And last spring she removed 36 principals, including the head of the elementary school her two daughters attend in an affluent northwest-D.C. neighborhood.

And wouldn?t it be refreshing to hear a shirt lifter from the Labour Party say something like this:

Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,'” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

Last time I looked the three Rs didn?t include creativity, something that seems to have escaped the modern educationist, perhaps because they havent realised creativity really needs a solid foundation of reading, writing and arithmetic to start with, and rather obviously starts with a C.

It would also be refreshing to have someone from the Labour Party say something like this:

She frequently sounds exasperated. “People come to me all the time and say, ‘Why did you fire this person?'” she says. The whiny voice is back. “‘She’s a good person. She’s a nice person.’ I’m like, ‘O.K., go tell her to work at the post office.’ Just because you’re a nice person and you mean well does not mean you have a right to a job in this district.”

Looks like Rhee is in favour of National Standards:

Rhee says she does not expect all kids to move up the charts at the same rate; the important thing is to demand that most do move up. “This is a cultural shift,” says Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s deputy. “For years, there were no data, and you were a good teacher because the parents or your principal told you so. And so this is a scary thing.”

Back to the stuff article:

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld ….?No idea should be discounted out of hand, but it needs to be put in the New Zealand context.”

If ?the New Zealand context? means paying homage to the combined forces of the teachers unions, worshiping the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of our education system, rigidly adhering to the principle that all teachers are equal so should be paid equally and refusing parents choices of schools then I am sure Anne is going to get along fine.

Our education system will continue to be rooted though. If she rocks the boat, cleans out the Ministry of Education, appoints a radical like Michelle Rhee to give the whole system a good shake up, she will probably face mock lynchings from teachers unions patch protecting, but win a lot of votes for John Key from middle New Zealand. Maybe Anne could send Allan Peachey to run the Ministry of Education, because he has done sweet eff all in parliament but is just the bloke to take on the fifth column that is the education establishment.

It’s a shame we can’t just find a fiscally neutral solution, cut the Ministry of Education’s budget in half, give this to top performing teachers & principals and actually start achieving in our schools. Like Michelle Rhee has advocated paying teachers properly for getting results.