Talent Management Rocks In the DC Public Schools… Well, Sorta…

Jessica Lee Culture, Driving Productivity, Engagement and Satisfaction, Jessica Lee, Leadership, Performance, Recruiting, Total Rewards

Washington D.C.’s public schools are a hot mess. Here in your nation’s capitol where you have a hub of amazing intellect and oodles of movers and shakers, the school system has been failing for years. You might ask why, as an HR pro, I would blog about this. First, I’m a proud DC resident. But second and more relevant to you, what’s been happening in DC’s schools is an extremely interesting case study from a talent management standpoint.

The buzz surrounding DC schools has become louder and louder in the past year under the leadership ofKotter the new chancellor Michelle Rhee. A recent history of what’s led up to this point, including a mayoral takeover and dissolution of the DC Board of Education, can be found here, or watch a recent Charlie Rose interview with Rhee here.

With an end goal of improving the delivery of education of DC’s kids, many of the steps Rhee is taking to turn the schools around have had to do with getting the right talent in place to teach kids, lead teachers and manage schools.  Beyond that, she’s been out to create high performance standards for her educators and put in place systems to reward great performance.

Sound like basic stuff? For you and me, yup – we live and breathe talent management everyday, all day… yet all of these new fangled concepts have been creating waves of controversy within DC. In her arsenal of weapons:

-Infusing a New Culture Via Executive Placements, Rhee brought in some fresh blood at the top by handpicking 45 new principals who are said to share her vision and culture of operating in a data-driven mode and using differentiated instruction.

-Chasing At Will Status. Putting aside educators, Rhee has also moved to make nonunion staff at-will, giving her the ability to make swifter decisions on poor performers. Will you quickly see people ineffective at their jobs move out? Yes, said Rhee. And so far, 98 have been let go.

-Pay for Performance. Here’s the big kicker. DC’s teachers + TAs are unionized with contracts that mean tenure/seniority rules. Rhee is proposing/in negotiations with unions for a new comp structure where teachers would choose to be part of one of two pay tiers. Tier one would mean traditional raises based on tenure and degrees, not much different from what’s in place now; tier two would allow for teachers to receive bonuses (reportedly of up to 20K per year) and raises based on student test scores and other evaluation measures, regardless of degrees. Tier two would require teachers to give up their seniority rights and tenure however, and enter into an initial probation period.

-Imagine! Job Requirements + Performance Expectations. Further reflecting the culture of accountability, 250 teachers and 500 TA’s were terminated for failing to meet deadlines for obtaining certifications that would meet the federal No Child Left Behind law. Enough was enough, and Rhee showed that she meant business when it comes to meeting expectations.

But it doesn’t end there. Rhee has also terminated 34 principals and offered buyouts to 700 more teachers. Having put in my time doing HR for the public sector, I know the difficulties Rhee is facing in the talent management realm. It isn’t easy to create a culture of innovation, high performance and accountability when you are guaranteed raises and have seemingly endless job protections. But for all of her changes? She’s being called a dictator with comparisons to Hitler. Yet for every step Rhee makes, I’ve got to say, I think she’s doing it right. With the education of DC’s kids at stake, how could she not take such “drastic” measure to make things right.