It’s been nearly a year since Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010, founded the bi-partisan, education reform organization, StudentsFirst. Using the grassroots energy of a diverse group of parents, students, teachers and other committed individuals, StudentsFirst is dedicated to the improvement, indeed the rehabilitation, of the United States educational system.
On target to reach its goal of 1,000,000 new members by the end of the year, StudentsFirst does most of their work at the state level, usually working through state legislatures.
“We’re pushing a policy that says when teacher layoffs are necessary in times of budget shortfalls that they be based on quality instead of seniority,” Rhee says. “In many school systems, if you’re the last hired you must be the first fired. And you end up firing some of the most effective teachers. It disrupts most classrooms and negatively impacts the lowest performing schools because they have the newest teachers. Teachers at high performing schools have been there for years. They don’t have new teachers in affluent schools, and inner city schools can have 50% new teachers. We don’t like the idea of budget cuts and layoffs, but you have to make decisions that are the best for kids. Lay off the ineffective teachers.”
“One of the things we have to do is put in place new evaluation systems,” Rhee says. “When I ran the D.C. public school system, only 8 percent of the 8th grade level students were on grade level. That means 92% weren’t on grade level, but 78% of the adults were rated ‘excellent.’ You have to hold people accountable. Not everybody is great.”