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Snippet of Have You Heard: #12 Rate My Teacher: A Conversation with Michelle Rhee

From Audio: #12 Rate My Teacher: A Conversation with Michelle Rhee

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Have You Heard
Duration: 11:41
Listen to a snippet from a poignant interview with Former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, a controversial and criticized figure in the world of education.
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The highly controversial Michelle Rhee's aggressive style of reform got stuff done, regardless of whether you agreed with it or not. With staunch anti-union sentiments and advocacy for ending teacher tenure, many questions arise as to whether her policies have made it easier or harder for weak teachers to enter positions of influencing our children. Rhee also founded Students First, a nonprofit political advocacy organization. For the full, no B.S. interview, check out the Have You Heard podcast station.
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for those listeners who who don't know what your background is and what you're up to these days, would you give us your your super short bio? Sure, I started my career in education in 1992 teaching 2nd and 3rd grade in Baltimore, Maryland. Um, after that went to the Kennedy School of Government. I got a master's in public policy with a concentration and education policy. Um, started a national nonprofit organization called The New Teacher Project to help recruit um, new teachers to school district's and state departments of education across the country and then went on to become the transfer of the Washington D. C. Public schools, Um, and then found an organization called Students First, which was a advocacy organization. Um, that looked Thio really focus the public on better education policies for our kids and that recently, um, merged with an organization called 50 Can on, And I've been out of the kind of day to day running of that organization for a year and a half now, So Okay, great. And before we launch into other questions, we have to ask how your meeting with Donald Trump went. Yeah, it was it was definitely an interesting meeting. And I say that, um it was it was different from what I was expecting. I think, um, I thought that he sort of come in and have, like, really clear, like, I'm going to do this now. The other thing, are you on board? And, um, I think he was, um, much more kind of open and listening and, um, willing to kind of have his, um, policies. And this use kind of be shaped by, uh, by the person who was in that role than I than I would have thought going into the meeting. Unless, of course, the person who is shaping policy is advocating on behalf of transgender students. I guess I would add, I'm sorry I didn't catch a cushion. Oh, you know, I was just making a snarky comment about Donald Trump bullying his secretary of education into not supporting transgender students using the bathrooms that they would feel most comfortable using. Yeah, I I have been reading a bit about that last night and this morning, and I do think that that's an unfortunate thing. I think that, um, having those title nine protections for transgender youth are It's just incredibly important. I think it's a message to our kids into our schools about what is important. Yeah, eso So the first question that I wanna launch into is about teacher evaluation. Eso That's something that ah lot of people will associate you with in terms of policy advocacy. And the question is about the degree to which you still support the use of student standardized test scores. Uh, thio evaluate their teachers given, um, given the research on that and given Cem broader concerns we might have about the impact on the teaching profession. Yeah. Um, so I still and somebody who, um, thinks that that is an important piece to teacher evaluation. Um, you know, I think I've had conversations with you before. We've we've logged back and forth to each other before about this. Um you know, when I started in D. C. And we had a teacher evaluation system that, um was not linked to student achievement, I think it led thio, um, not having a robust performance evaluation system for teachers where they were getting meaningful feedback, and that we could really differentiate between our most effective teachers and those who needed more support and help. And, um so I do think that it's important, But I also think that it's got to be one component amongst many, Um, and one of the things that I have enjoyed sort of seeing and I'm proud of is the fact that, um, NBC was impact. Um uh, that they have iterated over time What? That looks like, um, and just talk to somebody, um, Sunday who told me that they have been working with the district Thio to add a component in or around students feedback and to teacher evaluations, which I always thought was another important piece to the puzzle. So, um, yeah, I I I remained there, Which is saying that I think that student achievement should be a significant part of teacher evaluations. Um, but it has to be one of many components and that we've gotta continue Thio sort of, um, figure out what the right balance of those things are. And I think that if you look at the if you look at the studies that have been done on impact in D. C. Um, I think that they've shown very clearly that it, uh, that that system results in um, more of the highly effective teachers staying in the system. More of the ineffective teachers leaving the system and student achievement levels rising. So, Michelle, I just wanna push back on that because, you know, there, there, uh, and I don't I don't mean this in a in a I don't I don't mean to sound like I'm being contentious here. When I say that, it sounds like the logic is a bit circular around the teachers who are identified as highly effective end up staying because, um, you know, the they have been identified as highly effective at raising student standardized test scores. And so a system that identifies them on that rewards them is going to keep them. Uh and that's that's, of course, what we would expect. And so I guess the place that I would push back is on whether or not that is a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. Because, of course, you know, research tells us that they're spillover effects across teachers and across like grade levels, and that there is non random assignment that, you know, many teachers teach non tested subjects and that you know, the bottom line worth always remembering is that we want teachers to do farm or than just fill their students with the kinds of content that can be tested. And so I'm wondering, how do you think that is? Yeah, that's why that's why I started this by saying, you know, student achievement, um, gains and growth should be one of many factors that should be taken into account. Um, in terms of us student teachers evaluation on. But I think that we have a profession, have toe constantly be thinking about things, the things that you brought up, like spillover effects and the fact that, you know, some teachers are teaching in, uh, subject areas that are not being tested. And yet they can have enormous impact on how much kids learning. All of those things are valid, uh, sort of factors that we have to continue to do better on. But the fact of the matter remains that in, um, lots of school districts across the country, um, where you're looking at, uh, dated around the effectiveness of teachers. There are lots of highly effective teachers who are not being retained, um, at any different levels a Z, the teachers who are not doing as well. Andi, I think that when you have a system that is identifying who was highly effective teachers are, they're recognizing and rewarding those teachers for the jug they're doing, and therefore they feel like they are respected, that they feel that they are sort of being valued for their work. Um, and therefore, they're more likely to stay in the district. I think that's incredibly positive, Michelle. I wanna I wanna pick up on something else that Jack asked about the state of the teaching profession. We we let our listeners know we were going to be interviewing you, and we invited them to submit questions. And as you can imagine, they had many. And so it was very difficult, but we each had toe window down and pick one. And I picked one by somebody who you may know, uh, long, long ago t f a alum named Gary Rubinstein. And he shared with me a letter that open letter he had sent to you way back in 2012. And, um, he was expressing his concern that the students first policy agenda was gonna end up driving teachers out of the profession or really or leading Thio teacher shortages. And it does seem like there are a number of states now that are experiencing severe teacher shortages. I just came back from a week long trip reporting trip in Michigan, and there are billboards on all the highways advertising for substitute teachers. So I just wonder now that you are away from the day to day of students first, how the state of the profession looks to you. And if if you what would you How would you answer Gerry's question today? Yeah, well, you know, the sort of teacher demand and kind of teacher, Um, uh, you know, whether there is there enough teachers or whether there's a teacher shortage tends to be pretty cyclical. Um, when I, um, started the new teacher project in 1997 part of the reason why I started was because it was a huge teacher shortage. There was all the data that we were going to need two million new teachers over the next 10 years. Um, you know, in Texas they were putting billboards up all over the place. It was a similar situation at that time. And so, you know, and then I think that there are sort of evidence close to that. Um, I'd say that, uh, over the last, you know, five years or so, Um, there's certainly been a lot of changes in the teaching profession. Um, I think some of those have been, uh, things that have discouraged people. I think, for example, one of the things that I talk about is the fact that even though I am a proponent of of standardized testing, um, and I think that that is important and we have a need for it I also think that there are many circumstances in which there's an over emphasis on testing, and I think that that's problematic. Um, and that that makes people who are in the teaching profession not excited or as excited as they could be about about working in schools. Um, so I think that in the last five years, things like that have come to the forefront that has forced conversations that I think are important conversations about what we value what we want. Classrooms. So look like what we want the teaching profession toe look like, um, that has caused some people to, you know, not be as interested in teaching or people who were teachers to leave. But I also think that, um it has also, you know, ensured that there are some people out there who understand, um that, like, look, before we weren't differentiating amongst amongst teachers a lot and umm, now that they know that there is more differentiation, I think those people feel like the work that they're putting in, um, and the results that they're getting are being more recognizing values, which I also think it's important.
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