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