The Joyce Foundation is a supporter of FutureEd and this report.
When most people think of school reform in the District of Columbia, they probably remember the Time magazine cover photo of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom in her hand and a hard look on her face. In leading the school system from 2007 to 2010, she was the polarizing public image of a controversial national strategy to improve public education by cracking down on bad teachers.
But in the seven years since Rhee left Washington—and with the national press having turned its attention elsewhere—Rhee’s successors have quietly but persistently continued to pursue change.
With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Joyce Foundation, FutureEd Director Thomas Toch examined the transformation of the teaching profession in Washington, D.C., over the past decade. He turned his research into a compelling story in the Washington Monthly magazine that confounds the traditional battle lines in public education and points to the D.C. reforms as a model for the nation.
Toch found that teaching in D.C., and in public education generally, had long been a low-status occupation marked by weak standards and factory-like work rules. Building on Rhee’s early work, and learning from her mistakes, her successors have effectively transformed it into a performance-based profession that provides recognition, responsibility, collegiality, support, and significant compensation—features that policy experts, including many of Rhee’s harshest critics, have long sought but never fully achieved.
Ironically, Rhee’s successors at DCPS have redesigned teaching through some of the very policies that teachers’ unions and other Rhee adversaries opposed most strongly: comprehensive teacher evaluations, the abandonment of seniority-based staffing, and performance-based promotions and compensation. They combined these with other changes, like more collaboration among teachers, that these same critics had backed, creating an important blueprint for the future of the teaching profession.
Just as notably, the transformation is taking place not at charters but in the traditional public school system, an institution that many reformers have written off as too hidebound to innovate.
About The Joyce Foundation
Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.