Not often can Oklahomans look to the nation's capital for sensible ideas. So here's a rare opportunity.
Last month Michelle Rhee, superintendent of the Washington, D.C., school system, fired 241 teachers. Most of the teachers had fared poorly under a new evaluation process that included student test data and classroom observations by an administrator and an outside educator. Other fired teachers had licensing problems.
The firings, while controversial, were momentous. Teacher protection is a hallmark of American public education. Firing teachers because they do a poor job of teaching children isn't exceedingly common. Often, poor teachers are tolerated or at least passed around from school to school. The problem is partly one of leadership, with administrators unwilling or ill-prepared to do the extra work it takes to fire bad teachers. But much of the blame lies with a status quo system that puts the job protection of teachers above the needs of students.
We hope recently approved education reforms in Oklahoma will lead to the promised development of an evaluation system for teachers and principals that shows ineffective educators the door while rewarding standouts. Meantime, we'll keep cheering for Rhee.
"Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this city," Rhee said in announcing the firings. She also pointed out more than 700 teachers could lose their jobs in a year if their performance doesn't improve.
Substitute Oklahoma or any other state in that statement, and it's still true. Children deserve the best teachers states and communities can find — not simply those we're willing to tolerate.
"No joy can be taken in knowing the hardship caused to individuals who likely are nice people and good neighbors," The Washington Post noted. "But if there is outrage to be felt, it should be directed at a system that has enabled, even rewarded, poor teachers." Amen.
Too often, critics of the antiquated seniority-based system are cast as disliking teachers or having disrespect for the profession. The opposite is true. Good teachers — especially the really good ones — should be applauded and receive the lion's share of rewards and attention. But that's not today's reality.
Today, tight finances mean good teachers often lose their jobs in favor of inferior educators. And what of students? Many of those who could most benefit from a good teacher are still waiting.