Thompson: Extreme Candor
The online Washington Post Magazine that featured Michelle Rhee also includes a video where she is asked whether there should be a limit to her candor and whether she had reached it. Rhee laughed as she replied "no."
Rhee's "standard line" denying any political benefit in her relationship with Kevin Johnson may or may not be candid. Jay Mathews believes Rhee when she said that the hiring of 900 teachers just before the economic downturn which would require layoffs was not a way of skirting the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The state superintendent apparently believes that Rhee’s lack of curiosity about elevated erasure levels on standardized tests in 45 of the district's 150 schools in 2008 is not a lack of candor. But how are we supposed to believe that the 200+ page "Teaching and Learning Framework" is not a tool for bashing teachers?
According to the "Framework," "inappropriate and off-task student behavior has no impact" on increasing student performance so "if a student is crying at her desk, the teacher approaches the student, attempts to calm her, and returns to learning without disrupting the rest of the class." If a student does not follow instructions regarding magic markers, the best practice response is "when I give you a marker and you leave the cap off, I end up with fewer markers for my other classes. I feel like you do not value my materials." Another response to class disruptions is to "place sticky notes with messages on the desks of students when they misbehave."
Under Rhee’s system, "a highly skilled teacher should never have more than five instances of "inappropriate or off-task behavior" by students within a half-hour of class time." Disciplinary interventions should be rare because the "Framework" is full of Venn Diagrams, Learning Style charts, "T messages," "RightBrain-Left Brain Notes," "KWL charts," "Clock Buddies," and "equity sticks" that assist in engaging instruction.
Despite the public declaration that teachers are supposed to handle more discipline problems in class, avoiding suspension, teachers sometimes can call for administrative backing. For instance, if a student walks out of class rather than turning over a cell phone or directs an obscenity at a teacher, that is a Tier #2 infraction. The 6th step on the tier could be In-house suspension. Possession of a dangerous controlled substance, fighting, or bullying are Tier #3 infractions, and Step #10 could be short-term suspensions. Persistant harrassment based on race, color, religion, etc., or fighting that creates a substantial risk or results in injury is Tier #4 which calls for short-term or long-term suspension. I’m assuming that principals have the discretion to jump to the appropriate step within the tier when infractions are serious enough, but the thrust of the document is clear. There is no lack of candor when the district says it wants to" hold teachers accountable for keeping more students in the classroom." And in order to reduce the suspension rate which has risen by 72% since 2006, the district is even investing in "Respect Centers" in schools where they can afford it.
Come to think of it, the unveiling of such a utopian scheme raises the question of how candid was Rhee when she admitted last spring that she had tried to change too much too quickly. - John Thompson