D.C. superintendent puts teacher tenure in crosshairs

The Oklahoman Editorials Modified: August 2, 2010 at 6:07 am •  Published: August 2, 2010

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.

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