Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teachers are nervous about Michelle Rhee's suggestions because they're afraid other people in power will act like Michelle Rhee

The debate over job security for teachers is often employs an analog of the "If you're not hiding something..." argument in national security. Just as those who are guilty of nothing are supposed to have no reason to object to searches and wiretaps, teachers who are effective and conscientious have nothing to fear from the elimination of tenure and LIFO.

The argument works on two levels: it has a convincing though overly simplistic logic and it casts aspersions on the competence and character of those who object to it.

Of course, it collapses completely if those with the power to hire and fire ignore educators' accomplishments, make arbitrary and opaque decisions, play politics, let small factions gain undue influence over the process.

In other words...

Rhee Dismisses Principal of School That Her Children Attend

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

Oyster-Adams Principal Marta Guzman can recall the ripple of anxiety that ran through some faculty members last summer when they learned that the new D.C. schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, had chosen the bilingual school for her two daughters, a kindergartner and a third-grader.

But Guzman, an educator with more than 30 years' experience, said she wasn't concerned. The dual-immersion program, where native English and Spanish-speaking children learn side by side, has long made the Cleveland Park school among the city's most coveted, with high test scores and a national Blue Ribbon for academic achievement. Every year, parents from outside its attendance boundaries vie through a lottery for a handful of spaces to enroll their children.

"I thought it was a good thing," she said of the Rhee children's enrollment.

This week, Rhee fired her.

Guzman received a form letter from Rhee informing her that she was out of a job effective June 30, one of at least two dozen principals whose contracts for the 2008-09 school year were not renewed. Guzman said she was given no reason for her dismissal, either in the letter from Rhee or at a Monday meeting with Assistant Superintendent Francisco Millet.


Guzman's departure has stunned many Oyster-Adams parents who wonder why, in a city filled with under-performing public schools, Rhee would sack a principal who has presided for the past five years over one of its few success stories. The move has also heightened ethnic and class tensions within the school's diverse community. Eduardo Barada, co-chairman of the Oyster-Adams Community Council, the school's PTA, said Guzman was toppled by a cadre of dissatisfied and largely affluent Anglo parents with the ear of a woman who was both a fellow parent and the chancellor.

"I believe there are some parents who want to control and dominate," he said. "They want to silence the Latinos there."

Claire Taylor, council co-chairwoman, said she "absolutely respects Eduardo's position" but doesn't agree with it. "From what I've seen of Michelle Rhee, she is an exceedingly fair person who wants what's in the best interests of the students," she said.

Taylor added that ethnic and class divisions are the norm at Oyster-Adams. "A leaf falls and there are issues," she said.

Taylor was one of a group of Oyster-Adams parents, both white and Latino, who dined with Rhee in November and aired complaints about Guzman. Among the issues raised with Rhee, who took notes, according to another attendee, were Guzman's alleged lack of organization, reluctance to delegate and sometimes-brusque style.

Asked to discuss the dinner, which was at the home of another parent, Taylor said she was "not going to get into intra-school politics."


The first sign that her job was in jeopardy, Guzman said, came last month, when Millet convened a meeting of Oyster-Adams teachers to discuss her leadership. Guzman, who was not invited to the meeting, said she learned from a teacher that Millet began the meeting by announcing that a national search was underway for her replacement.

She quickly asked for a meeting with Rhee, who told her about the dinner meeting. Rhee said parents were frustrated by Guzman's lack of organization and "not comfortable with her" on a personal level.

Maureen Diner, who has a fourth-grader at the school, said Rhee's silence is not seemly for a chancellor who came into office a year ago promising reform.

"Anybody asked not to return deserves a process, at the very least a community meeting," Diner said. As for Rhee, "she talked about creating a culture of accountability. At the same time, she needs to be accountable for her own actions."
I wish I could say I was shocked to read this, but I can't. I can't tell you that this sort of politics is unusual. I can't even claim that this is my first encounter with a dinner party putsch.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on what is already a damned sharp spike, a group of parents who invite the chancellor of a major metropolitan school district over for dinner will not, as a rule, be poor, simple, honest workin' folk. They will tend to be wealthy, influential and grossly unrepresentative. To accept their invitation at all showed exceptionally poor judgement. To fire one of the district's most effective administrators based on their influence showed none whatsoever.

Of course, under the current system, teachers have protections that principals don't. They can give poor grades for poor work, keep the wooden and the clumsy in the chorus and the second string respectively, write honest evaluations. They can, and often will, be harassed for doing their jobs but they aren't in danger of losing them.

At least for now.

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