Originally posted April, 20 2011, on the Columbus Examiner. Written by John Michael Spinelli.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – Although she was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Michelle Rhee, the firebrand education leader who is focusing her talents and the resources of her new national group on tearing down status quo rules that protect bad teachers at the expense of good ones, spent her wonder years in Ohio. An announcement Tuesday from StudentsFirst, Rhee’s new national education advocacy group, says she’s headed back to Ohio, where her campaign to save great teachers at the expense of entrenched public sector teacher unons will find a friendly face and a helping hand in Gov. John Kasich.
Education paladin Rhee eyes Ohio as next battleground for StudentsFirst campaign
Rhee earned her spot in the national dialog about education when she was appointed Chancellor of the long-troubled Washington D.C. school system. As Chancellor to the District’s school system, Rhee’s sober assessment of what works and what doesn’t in America’s contemporary education system, combined with her unapologetic style of management that pitted her against entrenched teacher unions, made her an educational paladin who righted wrongs entrenched in and defended by public teacher unions, whose antiquated seniority rules of ‘last in, first out’ [LIFO] sacrificed new energetic teachers in order to protect longer serving teachers whose skill set needed updating or whose motivation had long gone.
Rhee has set up an Ohio Action Center online at StudentsFirst’s website. “We’re working to pass laws that will give Ohio’s schools the power to identify, reward, and retain great educators, and give Ohio parents the choice they deserve to ensure their children receive a great education,” she wrote.
A 1988 graduate of the Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, in Lucas County in northwest Ohio, Rhee’s corrective curriculum identifies three key areas: save great teachers, fairly and accurately evaluate teachers, reward effective teachers.
In recent weeks, Rhee spoke at the Cleveland City Club and joined new Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Columbus for a showing of “Waiting for Superman,” a movie contrasting public sector schools with private ones, that prominently featured her as a change agent to be reckoned with.
In her message, Rhee says she’ll be part of education reform coming to Ohio that puts students’ interests first. Because Ohio, like other states, is facing historic budget shortfalls, Rhee predicts that massive teacher layoffs are likely. She observes that the state of Ohio currently mandates that teacher layoff decisions be based solely on seniority.
“This archaic policy, known as LIFO means the last teacher hired is the first teacher fired regardless of performance. Under this policy, Ohio will lose some of it’s best teachers and Ohio students will suffer,” she says in a message supporters are to send to friends, family, politicians and anyone else concerned about education in the Buckeye State.
Her role as an Elliot Ness of sorts when it comes to busting down the doors of status quo educational systems that place the interests of students last, Rhee’s brilliance as a reformer came under fire recently, when impressive teaching performance claims made during her three-years as a recruit for Teach For America in Baltimore, Maryland were shown to be exaggerated at best and false at worst.
Gov. Kasich, who mentioned “Waiting for Superman” in his State of the State address, asked Rhee to join the discussion in Ohio about education. Her policy positions are now well known:
* When teacher layoffs are necessary, the best teachers should stay in the classroom. Layoffs should be based on performance, not on seniority.
* We should be able to distinguish among great, fair, and poor performance of teachers and principals. At least 50 percent of teachers’ and principals’ evaluations should be based on how much academic progress their students make.
* Teachers deserve professional-level salaries, and the more effective they are the more they should be paid.
Sign of the times: Southwest Ohio teachers give up salary, step increases
In a separate story that nonetheless highlights the effect Gov. Kasich’s $3.1 billion in state support for local school districts is having on Ohio’s 612 school districts, unionized teachers in one southwest Ohio district agreed unanimously to rescind a planned 2 percent pay raise and to freeze salaries or “step” increases over the next two years to save the district $1.1 million on its
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the decision by Reading Community teachers mean there will be no layoffs or cuts to academic programs this year. Superintendent L. Scott Inskeep said told the Enquirer that voters won’t be asked to raise taxes for schools this year or next.
The teachers union agreed to rescind their raise for the 2011-12 school year, to accept a 0% increase in base salary through 2013-14, and to take no step increases through the 2012-2013 school year, according to Enquirer reporter Denise Smith Amos.