Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rhee Contract with WTU Invalid???

Looks like there's an adult in the room. Natwar Gandhi, the DC CFO is refusing to certify the negotiated contract because it is premised on funds that might or might not be there. That's what the article in the Washington Post will read tomorrow. Certification by the CFO is a requirement in order for it to be sent out to the WTU membership for a vote.

It just came to light in the past few days that the Billionaire donors loaded on political conditions, like keeping the chancellor in place, that allows them to pull the money. The implications of donors getting to dictate policies does seem to cross the line in a public school system.

Friday, April 23, 2010

DCPS Budget Mismanagement -- What A Mess!

City Councilmemebers are demanding Michelle Rhee's "report card," and according to the Washington Post's Bill Turque, the unions want a meeting to get answers. All this because Michelle Rhee premised paying for the new teachers contract on a $34 Million surplus that DC Chief Financial officer Natwar Ghandi says isn't there. According to Ghandi, the Rhee administration overspent in the central office by $29 Million, effectively using up the surplus. Given the level of contracting out of central office services, we're not surprised.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Same Budget that Was in Crisis Causing Firings Now Finds $34 M Surplus to Fund Teacher Raises

Teaching asks a lot of teachers. An effective school system is one that inspires teachers to give their all for a life of inspired teaching. A sick school system is one with a culture of mistrust, cynicism, and disrespect. It is one run at the whim of autocrats based on fear. The culture becomes us vs. them. As Diane Ravitch argued on her blog a few weeks back, there are two kinds of superintendents and two kinds of school system cultures, one is professional, the other industrial.

I was hopeful that this new contract, which seems like a good one given the circumstances, could mean a new day. I was hopeful that the Chancellor perhaps has learned that you have to work with and inspire trust from teachers to imporve the quality of teaching, and that the WTU perhaps has learned that a labor intensive focus on the quality of teaching has to be central for the union as well. I still think its a pretty good contract, but...

The cynics and mistrusters are going to come out of the woodwork on this one. In testimony before the City Council, according to the article by Bill Turque in today's online Washington Post, and even harsher pieces in the City Paper and the Examiner, Michelle Rhee tried to explain that the same budget that had caused her to have to fire 266 teachers in the fall now has a $34 Million surplus that can be used to fund the newly negotiated rasies. The explanation? A mistake in math by DCPS. Trust that!!

Whether this will "blow up" the contract ratification, as the City Paper Article implies is open to question, but bad faith it clearly seems to be.

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tentative Agreement Reached in WTU Contract Negotiations!

WTU president George Parker has called a membership meeting for Wednesday, April 7th at McKinley HS, to review the details of the tentative agreement signed with DCPS. Mike Debonis of the City Paper published today a summary of the agreement and a leaked Q & A piece prepared by the WTU. The contract will be retroactive to 2007 when Michelle Rhee's tenure as Chancellor began. Negotiations have lasted for almost three years. At first blush, the agreement looks quite different and much more reasonable than the proposal the administration made public over a year ago. Although the reaction of teachers will be colored by the rhetoric of the campaigns for WTU president, we look forward to commenatry from teacher bloggers on Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform after tomorrow's meeting.