Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Thoughts on the Proposed WTU Contract

On Wednesday, April 7th I attended the WTU informational session on the proposed new contract. Two things that jumped out immediately were the large pay increases and the assurance that tenure would not be removed. I was happy to see that we have moved beyond the false notion that tenure means a job for life, when in actuality it serves as protections for basic due process.

We received an overview of the proposed new contract, but I am looking forward to reading the details. I have a few questions that need to be answered.

1. Involvement of School Stakeholders

  • Fortunately, contract language increases the involvement of LSRTs and other school-based committees in school management decisions. Will teachers, parents, and others in the school community have a real say in improving the school?
  • Will these changes be enforced or remain on paper like previous attempts at school community involvement?
  • How will the changes ensure that LSRTs have meaningful input in decision making at all schools?

2. Merit Pay

  • Although the merit pay program is voluntary, why would we, as educators, reinforce the idea that tying teacher pay to student achievement will lead to improved teaching?
  • Is there clear evidence that merit pay increases student achievement?
  • What will be used to accurately determine student progress and achievement in the classroom?
  • Will this lead to more teaching to the test or pruning of poor performing students from classes?
  • Too many students are already "dumped" from non-neighborhood schools because of truancy, behavior problems and poor academic performance. In a similar fashion, will it lead to students being removed from classrooms when teachers recognize they are adversely affecting their chances for merit pay?

3. Removing Ineffective Teachers

  • Streamlining DCPS's ability to remove ineffective teachers is a good thing as long as it is done fairly. What will be the exact criteria for determining "ineffectiveness?"
  • Currently, many teachers do not get the basic supports they need to effectively teach. At the same time IMPACT holds teachers to extremely high, and in some cases, unrealistic expectations. Is this the system we want to use to determine teacher effectiveness? (I realize that teacher evaluations are a nonnegotiable issue in the contract, but there needs to be a discussion about these important issues.)
  • Will IMPACT be revised so that it becomes less subjective and reflects the realities of classroom teaching?

4. Foundation Money

  • Will the $65 million in donations influence DCPS education policy in areas beyond pay raises?
  • Can we really expect these private funders to give money without any strings attached?
  • Do we want to promote the practice of a small group of wealthy donors using their private money to influence education policy (e.g., Gates' money used for small high schools)?

The contract can be an important tool in improving the quality of teaching and education in DC. However, we must ensure that it addresses the fundamental problems existing in many schools. I am reserving judgment and hope to have my questions answered soon.

Kerry Sylvia


Mark Simon said...

Great questions, Kerry. It strikes me that you're looking at the contract for its potential to improve the culture and ownership at each school, and the teaching and learning in DCPS. In that regard, what do you think of the professional development components? It seems like there's a big investment in that, joint committees for implementation, which seems good.

The other thing I like about your response is that its almost like you're viewing the contract as a challenge to both the WTU and to Rhee to be better than they are, because so much depends on implementation. They're both going to have to be engaged with teachers in schools like never before. I suppose that's why you have a bit of a wait-and-see attitude.

But what's the bottom line? Is the contract a step forward? It feels a whole more like it is, to me, than what was on the table a year ago. Once you study the details, I'd love to know how you're going to vote.

Lindsey said...


There are so many unanswered questions here in addition to the ones I have of my own. For instance, what's up with Article 40? This is an all new feature to the contract and seems a little suspicious to me. Why is it needed?

Also, what's with the penalty for not informing DCPS that you won't return the following school year? In the past, you were rewarded for informing them--never penalized for opting out.

And, although you didn't mention it, doesn't it concern you in the least bit that we now have another new feature of side letters attached to this contract, which BTW, we have not seen (not posted on the wtu website yet) and which we cannot even refer to as being a part of the contract (aka "it's unenforceable)?

I have read the 103 page document from the wtu website and I can tell you that there are far too many unanswered questions. Even after 3 years of waiting, I would have preferred having a completely developed document to vote on and not one in which significant parts "will be developed later."

incredulous said...

It is so much too bad that phrases like "fair and balanced" have been debased. I would say that as sincere comliment.

About private $ to pay not for specials,but for fundamentals --teacher salaries. Everyone is right to be concerned. There is likely a ton of serious scholarly literature on the conditions under which $ at the margin can drive policy. That it can it does so is what every funder at the margin hopes for. It's not just the twofer or threefer matching gift challenge;its the expectation that the impact can be fifty fold. It is not in criticism of Reach for the Top that I note how much some states were willing to pledge in order to gain funds which are not very large as a proportion of their total budget. There was much the same effect of NCLB. Even relatively well off school districts were / are willing to test children in ways that they think are invalid or even harmful, lest they be accused of leaving $ on the table, unclaimed.

The undergraduate college I attended did not for a long time --maybe never -- get accredited for National Defense Student Loans. For much the same reason -- desire to be clear of entanglement.

All of this written with no disrespect to the WTU negotiating team. I don't think they are fools or knaves, just that they made a different judgement about this than I would have accepted.