Michelle Rhee, controversial former Washington D.C. school district chancellor, was in Raleigh on Tuesday talking about the pay-for-performance contract she negotiated with the DC teachers union in 2007.
Under the contract, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation was based on student growth as calculated using test scores, and 50 percent was based on other factors. Teachers with good evaluations earned big pay increases, while others lost their jobs.
Rhee and the former union leader she negotiated with, George Parker, were the guests of BEST NC, a business coalition focused on education. Brenda Berg, BEST NC’s CEO, said last week that the organization was interested in Washington’s creation of a career ladder for teachers, which gives them more money for taking on leadership roles at their schools. But Rhee and Parker focused most of their comments on the teacher contract.
Rhee said it was clear that teacher evaluations needed to change because Washington D.C. students were among the nation’s worst performers while most teachers’ evaluations indicated they were doing a good job.
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It was “a system that was failing kids and we were telling the adults, ‘you’re doing just fine,’” Rhee said.
It’s important to hold teachers accountable, Parker said, but they also need to be paid as professionals.
“Linking compensation to teacher performance was a tough thing to do,” Parker said. “It has to be fair. It has to be achieveable.”
North Carolina does not have a pay for performance system. The state had planned to consider student growth as a distinct measure in teachers’ evaluations, but the State Board of Education dropped the initiative last year after pushback from teachers. It’s now up to school principals to determine how to weigh student growth in evaluating teachers.
Rhee said 38 states agreed to make student growth a part of teacher evaluations when they applied for the federal education grant Race to the Top during former President Barack Obama’s first term. Some states later dropped the requirement.
It’s hard to make changes, Rhee said. “It’s necessary to push through the hard part, that initial pushback,” she said.
Rhee’s appearance in the state stirred some controversy because her tenure in Washington drew the ire of teachers unions and parents.
The changes Rhee instigated in Washington cost Rhee and Parker their jobs.