A Rash of Studies on Michelle Rhee's IMPACT

October 31, 2013

By John Merrow

Fall brings the World Series, lots of football games, and–it would seem–almost as many reports on education. Here’s my summary of four recent studies, with close analysis of the most controversial, a study of Michelle Rhee’s IMPACT program in Washington, DC.

These reports claim 1) The teaching force is more qualified than it was 20 years ago; 2) The nation is getting tough on teachers and teacher education; 3) The skill levels of many American adults leaves a lot to be desired; and 4) Getting tough on teachers works. With your permission, I will attempt to unravel these threads and, hopefully, find a common meaning.


4. “Getting tough” on teachers works, or maybe it doesn’t. That’s the takeaway from a study by professors from Stanford and the University of Virginia, who asked whether IMPACT, Michelle Rhee’s controversial teacher rating system, was having an impact.

NCTQ was, predictably, enthusiastic: “Yes, says a new study released today. Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT, by James Wyckoff and Thomas Dee found that the IMPACT evaluation system implemented by Michelle Rhee during her tenure as DCPS Chancellor is indeed raising the performance of teachers.”

Current DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson also hailed the research as evidence that IMPACT is working. “We’re actually radically improving the caliber of our teaching force,” Henderson told The Washington Post’s Emma Brown.

Professors Wycoff and Dee report that low-rated teachers were more likely to resign and that highly-rated teachers were more likely to work harder to try to win the financial rewards the system promises. In other words, it’s a win-win: the (supposedly) bad teachers left, and the (supposedly) good teachers got better IMPACT ratings and a bonus.