Monday, October 13, 2008

Thoughts on the Letter from the Chancellor

A week ago Friday, teachers received a letter from Chancellor Rhee summarizing what she had given out at a press conference the day before. The letter began with: “Ensuring that our students—no matter what their challenges are—receive the education they deserve is the most important task that we face as a city and a nation.” No disagreement there. That’s why I became a teacher.

But then she got to the point of the letter, the failed contract negotiations. “Without a new contract, we will be unable to reward teachers….” and here is where I have a problem. The Chancellor seems to see bonuses and pay increases as the only route to getting our students the education they deserve. What about the teaching and learning conditions we and our students need – basic classroom resources, quality mentoring for new teachers, books and curriculum, or even a clear definition of what good teaching is? Why can’t these be part of the equation?

I am confident that if you asked most teachers what they need to become better teachers, most would not say bonuses and raises. They would ask for classroom sets of novels, art supplies, copy paper, money for field trips, and opportunities to offer enrichment programs for students after school.

This is not to say that teachers don’t want raises. It’s just that raises are not going to solve the problem of low academic achievement.

The second half of the letter takes a somewhat threatening tone saying that since contract negotiations had broken down, “I will move forward aggressively with the following steps to ensure that an excellent teacher is in every classroom….”

What follows are five bulleted steps all focused on getting rid of teachers that DCPS evidently has the right to do even without a signed contract with the union. The second step involves, “Aggressive implementation of the 90-day plan to remove ineffective teachers, with increased resources to principals in order to support this implementation.” (bold added) The Chancellor is willing to supply “increased resources to principals” to document firing teachers, but fails to offer additional resources to schools for teachers and principals to support quality teaching in the classroom.

Teachers continually write grants for basic classroom resources. Last month I had to write a grant requesting money to buy novels for my school’s social studies classes. My school had no money to buy novels to promote literacy, yet there is plenty of money for this teacher firing campaign.

I was disappointed with the solutions proposed in this letter, and by extension, with the nature of conversation at the bargaining table. It is very disheartening to read that the Chancellor’s main strategy to guarantee quality education in every classroom has been reduced to paying teachers lots of money and firing teachers whom administrators consider “bad.”

“Teachers and parents for real education reform,” a new grass-roots initiative, aims to convince the Chancellor and WTU president George Parker that the problem of low academic performance will not be fixed with raises, bonuses and mass firings. We owe it to our students to get reform right. The system is failing, not some isolated teachers who need to be fired.

Kerry Sylvia

To view the complete letter from the Chancellor, click on the link below to the DCPS website:


Veteran DC Teacher said...

You make some excellent points. In all the fervor to be able to get rid of poor teachers (who is against that??) I have not heard of improving support for teachers. Anyone familiar with DCPS knows teachers have been getting by with scraps for years. This is not excuse making, but how about we provide teachers with dependable access to copiers (and paper!), an occasional opportunity to garner resources other than the textbook, a means for taking field trips in this great city, and ink for classroom printers! (For those of us savvy enough to get printers!)
I could go on but I won't. We all agree DC students deserve and need the best teachers. Can D.C. teachers count on the best, or at least the basics?

lawrence said...

Does Ms. Rhee even know who she wants to fire? Or, will she do as she always does: fire first and then figure out the justifications for the firings?

This sounds like the crazy logic Bush used for the war in Iraq.

-Larry Mullin (DCPS Teacher)

Ame in DC said...

REFORM -- to put into a new and improved form or condition; or bring from bad to good

Firing the "bad teachers" will not change DCPS the way real reform will. Real reform looks at all aspects of the system, not just one.

-What exactly does good teaching really look like, sound like? What are the outcomes? The totally subjective DCPS principal's checklist doesn't cover it. Let's come up with clear standards.

-I'm good. Come on in and observe. But I also want you to look at student/parent/peer evaluations, test scores, portfolios, and more when you evaluate me. Let's come up with a wide range of criteria by which to evaluate DC teachers.

-Provide us with professional development -- all the reading, observing, and discussing I am doing to educate myself in new methods of teaching is one thing --
being taught by a good TEACHER another. Teach me what you want me to teach, DCPS.

-Give me the basics -- texts, copier, computer, printer, classroom library, supplies, and stop relying on my parents (aka taxpayers) to foot the bill. The time I spend scrambling to get all of these things done should be spent assessing, planning, and reflecting. Cough up the stuff (and maintain it!).

Smart, informed teachers are ready to work on REAL REFORM with you, D.C.!

luv2teachdc said...

Is anybody listening now? Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee began their respective positions by listening to the residents of DC. They listened and pledged to work to make things better. As a citizen, I did not hear them say, “Okay, we know what needs to be done, just trust us to do what is in the best interest of children.” However now that seems to be the response to every difficult situation that their reform efforts create.

If you read some newspapers and magazines, you will get the idea that DC is a model of reform under dynamic and passionate leadership. Parents, teachers, and students in many parts of our system see a different picture. We see classes without teachers. We see classes that are much larger than they were just last year even though we are told that the school system has fewer students. Fresh paint that was put on in late August is already peeling. Special education students are placed in settings that do not meet the letter or the spirit of their IEP’s. Teachers with little or no training or support are compelled to accept students with special needs in often full or oversize classes.

The new era of accountability and transparency does not seem to apply to those at the top. People can be fired without explanation or review. Funds can be expended or redirected seemingly at will.

At the beginning, I thought Fenty and Rhee got it. I thought that they understood that public education is a public enterprise, a collaborative effort. Many of the same voices that Fenty and Rhee heard over a year ago calling for change are still calling. They are calling for a return to the grassroots, public engagement approach which won the mayoral election. They are calling for a real voice in policy and decision-making.

The big question: Is anybody listening, now?

sarahand me said...

What really upset me about Rhee's letter was how overtly negative it was towards all teachers. If she wants to fire the bad teachers I say go for it. But why does she have to be hostile towards all the teachers?

Why is she creating such a mean spirited work environment? It just seems like everything she says about or to teachers is overwhelmingly negative.

It really upsets me not only because I know there are a lot of great teachers in DCPS but also I can see it taking a toll on my own kids' teachers.

Candi said...

I would like to encourage your group to also work in conjunction with our WTU elected body- the WTU Excutive Board. The WTU Executive Board meets bi-monthly on the 2nd Saturdays @ 9 am and the 4th Thursdays @ 5:30 pm @ the union office -490 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Suite 7200. I invite all WTU members to regularly participate in our bi-monthly meetings in order to bring their issues and concerns to their elected teacher WTU representatives as well.While I agree that the forming of coalitions are vital - it is also imperative that we also utilize the process from within and as outlined in our WTU constitution. It is incumbent that all dues paying members demand that our elected leaders and teacher representatives - REPRESENT teachers best interests. On the 4th Thursday of October- WTU Attorney Lee Jackson from O'Donnell, Schwartz and Anderson will be present from 5:30 - 6:30 pm to discuss next steps for the WTU. I hope you will attend.

I certainly support your efforts and I too have been encouraging all teachers to make their concerns known about the incomplete tentative agreement that we have seen to date. Please stop by my blog from time to time @ as I post issues of concern as well as real time issues impacting city wide teachers and service providers.

Candi Peterson
WTU Board of Trustee member
WTU Bldg. rep for citywide teachers and service providers

Anonymous said...

No way.No how,No Rhee ! Why work for her and enter your teacher shortage !Radical reform under NCLB and a law not funded.Rhee re-writes educational law as she goes along and has stepped all over teacher's and principle's constitutional rights and don't think her radical reform is working.