Tough-Love Education Reforms Produce Results; Teacher Performance Standards Give Kids a Real Chance

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tough-Love Education Reforms Produce Results; Teacher Performance Standards Give Kids a Real Chance


Byline: Leslie Grimard , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Last year didn't hold great news for District of Columbia public schools. Less than 20 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in either math or reading. Only 61 percent of District high school students made it to graduation.

Any city with levels of poverty like Washington (as many as 70 percent of students are low-income) is facing struggles that the suburban districts can never imagine. These are daily struggles for basic necessities, neglectful home situations, poor nutrition and the like. Yet is any city's socio-economic status a reason to give up on 4 out of every 10 students?

Michelle Rhee didn't think so. Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of the District's public school system, appointed by Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007. Ms. Rhee refused to accept D.C.'s poverty level as an excuse for failure. As she recently wrote in the Huffington Post, Expectations of academic success for a child should never hinge on the circumstances of his or her birth.

As a recent PBS Frontline special drove home, Ms. Rhee's reforms were controversial, to say the least. She tied job evaluations to performance. In her three years, she closed nearly two-dozen half-empty schools, fired at least 36 principals, sacked 121 employees in her central office, and let go - while ignoring seniority - 400 underperforming teachers.

Ms. Rhee's tough-love reforms came with results. For the first time in nearly 40 years, District students made more gains in math and reading than the gains of the nation at large. In Ms. Rhee's three years as chancellor, elementary students' reading proficiency was raised from 37 percent to 49 percent. Their math scores shot up from 26 percent to 49 percent as well.

There was similar upward movement with high school students' test scores. Where reading levels were at 29 percent, by the end of Ms. Rhee's term, they were at 41 percent. Math proficiency among the high school students increased from 23 percent to 40 percent. …

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