Mediocrity watch: Our Rhee on Rose!


How to evaluate teachers: The other day, we noted the irony of Michelle Rhee’s campaign against mediocrity in public schools. We noted that Rhee seemed to be quite mediocre, in various ways, as DC school superintendent.

For ourselves, we liked several things about Rhee’s approach—but overall, she was at best mediocre. And if anyone ever doubted that, they should consider her conversation with Charlie Rose last night.

Rhee did a segment with Rose on his eponymous program. In one chunk of their conversation, they discussed the best ways to measure teacher performance.

To call their exchange “mediocre” is to grade on a very soft curve. As they started, Charlie dropped a famous name and Rhee established a principle:
ROSE (2/18/13): Bill Gates was here recently and he talked about teacher performance. How should we measure it?

RHEE: Well, the Gates Foundation has done some amazing work on this front. Because for a long time people said, well, we can’t possibly measure teacher performance, it’s an art and it’s not a science, etc. And what The Gates Foundation has found is that actually you can measure teacher performance.

ROSE: By more than simply test scores of the students.

RHEE: That’s right.
According to Rhee, the Gates people have found that you can measure teacher performance—and not just by looking at student test scores! Expectant, the analysts leaned forward in their chairs.

Soon, they slumped in their seats. This was Rhee’s account of the “amazing work” done by the Gates Foundation:
RHEE (continuing directly): Student academic growth should be part of the equation, based on their research. But you should look at observations of classroom practice, you should look at—

Interestingly, they found that how students rated their teachers correlated very highly to teacher overall performance.
So, so kids really know whether or not they’re in the classroom of a highly effective teacher or not. But the reality is that we have known for a very long time that we could identify great teachers and identify not-so-great teachers.

You walk into any school building anywhere in this country today and you ask parents or kids or other teachers, "Who’s the best teacher in the school?" They’ll tell you. Say, "Who—who is not so good?" And they’ll tell you that person, too.

So there is a way that we can identify you know where, where different teachers are in terms of their, their performance. We just have to have a commitment to doing so.
If you want to know who the good teachers are, you just have to ask the students—or you can ask their parents! This is also a good way to spot the teachers who aren't very good.

Also, “you should look at observations of classroom practice.”

We’re willing to assume that the Gates folk may have come up with more than this. But this really is what Rhee told Rose:

If you want to go beyond student test scores, you can ask the students if their teachers are good, or you can observe the teachers. You can also ask other teachers if a teacher is good.

Charlie listened to this, then moved to another topic.

This exchange doesn’t come within a hundred miles of being “mediocre.” And yet, the Rose program airs on PBS. It is generally bill-boarded as one of our brightest news hours.

Rose was worthless last night, as he usually is when interviewing a Bloomberg favorite. As the week proceeds, we’ll share one or two of last evening’s other exchanges.

To watch last night's segment, click this.


  1. I wonder where the school district is that doesn't make some attempt to "observe classroom performance."

    On thing the Rhees never bother to deal with is the huge bureaucracy that would be required, and the expense, to do the kind of measurement they think they want. That's one reason large-scale replication of all these schemes is so problematic.

    If it is so easy to measure performance and to find the "bad" teachers, then it should be equally easy for administrators to get the bad ones terminated for cause.

  2. How old are these kids who are so good at judging teahers' performances? When I was a pupil, the teachers who were the nicest, gave the least homework and graded the most leniently were the most beloved by us kids. We hated the "mean" teachers, but in at least one instance this mean teacher, a Mr. Clemons, was very old school, tolerated no silliness, rode this students hard, eschewed such modern approaches and "the new math," and was generally feared and despised by anyone who fell under his tutelage or feared they might. But, by cracky, his students somehow managed to learn concepts that remained foggy to those with more beloved teachers.

  3. To add to the mix:
    Different teachers are effective for different students at different times. And students may (or may not) appreciate said effectiveness at the time -- or many years in retrospect.

    Not to mention the "set-up" work that the plodding masses of teachers do for the few teachers who are remembered by their students as gods or goddesses. That is all well and good. But do we then simply fire all the setter-uppers? We'd be left with a handful of super-hero-teachers for thousands and thousands, millions. Good luck to the super-heroes, then.