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Michelle Rhee, Human Beings, and Teachers

Leonard Isenberg: Using a pejorative word like "antiquated" to describe "last hired, first fired," simplistically ignores at least the arguable logic that those who have done it longer tend to do it better.

The letter below was written by Leonard Isenberg, a veteran teacher with LAUSD. It is addressed to Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools System.

michelle rhee

Dear Michelle,

In response to your video, I always become suspicious when somebody says, "Research shows" and then doesn't cite the research that supports firing more senior teachers in favor of new teachers- especially, since the academics I talk to like Professors Lois Weiner, Diane Ravitch, and others completely disagree with you and they are willing to cite data.

Also, using a pejorative word like "antiquated" to describe "last hired, first fired," simplistically ignores at least the arguable logic that those who have done it longer tend to do it better. Would you like a first year resident operating on your presumed heart or a 20-year veteran that has done the procedure hundreds of times.

Implicit in your comments are the false belief that good and seasoned teachers are not professionals and can be replaced by novices whose idealism is equal to years of experience.

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In LAUSD and elsewhere are school systems where teachers get little support for good teaching from administration. The only reason that low performing inner city schools have a larger number of new teachers is because any teacher with sufficient seniority wouldn't get caught dead in a school where administration is more concerned with Average Daily Attendance money from the state than maintaining an environment where education can actually take place. In fact, LAUSD administration moves in exactly the opposite direction by continuing to socially promote students grade after grade years beyond their subjective ability. What would you suggest a single-subject secondary credentialed teacher with a substantive course to teach and no remedial skills is supposed to do with these students?

Yes, you have to cut more teachers that have more seniority than you would teachers with little or no seniority to balance a deficit budget, but you get what you pay for -- like in ever other profession -- unless you don't think teaching is a profession. A teacher makes $78,000 after 10 years at the top of the salary scale at LAUSD and you favor replacing them with teachers that make $40,000 or less. Doesn't this just perpetuate the 50% plus turnover of teachers within the first 5 years, because as a professional, you cannot make a decent living as a teacher? Why don't you address the cost and instability of no continuity at a school?


Michelle, why is it that you and other Teach for America teachers only stayed a couple of years in teaching to flesh out your resumes, before moving on to greener pastures? Why is it that you don't have a problem with Wall Street and banker types that pushed this country's economy over the edge and make millions a year in salary and bonuses, but have a problem with professional teachers making a fair wage for the grueling job of educating our nation's most precious asset?

While nobody would disagree that some teachers are a disaster and should be gotten out of the profession ASAP, ironically, those are not the ones that corrupt LAUSD administration removes, since they go along with business as usual. We hear a great deal about shared responsibility in dealing with difficult economic times and then we watch the LAUSD Board give the Gates Foundation's John Deasy a $330,000 contract, where no other candidates were interviewed. This is $80,000 more than Superintendent Ramon Cortines got, if you don't count the $150,000 that he got from Scholastics Publishers for 10 years in an open conflict of interest, since LAUSD had a $14,000,000 plus contract with them at the same time. But LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia didn't apply the same standard when she said, "That's okay, Ray."

Why is your criticism reserved only for alleged bad teachers? There is a certain irony to the fact that your simplistic arguments could not stand the rigor of analysis from anybody who had a good public school education that I received from the LAUSD of a different era, but you would like us to believe in the fantasy of the neo-liberal agenda that you can only get good public education with novice teachers- you get what you pay for - but that shouldn't bother you, if you don't mind a citizenry educated to a 7th grade level that works at Walmart and is incapable of being the repository of power in a democracy, than you will not mind a privatized public education where the value goes into the pockets of hedge fund charter promoters and not into the brains of our future citizens.

The richest 20% of Americans went from a combined wealth of $10 trillion in 2000 to a $43 trillion in 2010 - are these supposedly bright people actually living better or worse. We have spent well over a trillion dollars on two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and propose further cuts to the social welfare of this country, while continuing to raise the military budget, but you seem to see no linkage to the "financial crisis" that good professional teachers and students need to subsidize by sacrificing their livelihoods and their futures. Shame on you!

leonard isenberg

Leonard Isenberg