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Teacher "Welcome Back" Rally a Little Hot and Cold

This morning's "Welcome Back" rally at the Washington Convention Center for 5,000 returning D.C teachers started with cheers, cash prizes for schools that pulled off big gains in test scores, and inspirational words to launch the fall term that begins Monday.

But warm-and-fuzzy quickly gave way to bread-and-butter as Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and union president George Parker turned the subject to the proposed pay package that has roiled the city's teacher corps.

Rhee has offered teachers a "green tier" pay plan that would boost many of them over the $100,000 mark in salary and performance bonuses, in exchange for surrendering tenure protections for a year and going on probation. Teachers who want to retain tenure can opt for the "red tier" with lower, but still significant, raises and bonuses.

"I've heard all the rumors," Rhee said. "Rhee is trying to get rid of the veteran teachers. Rhee is trying to get rid of the black teachers ..... ...I understand the anxiety."

"What I need is for you to have trust, in me and in the school district," she said, as a rustle of skeptical murmurs passed through the ballroom. "I know that trust doesn't come over night, and I have to earn that trust."

Parker, who said he has been pelted with messages pro and con on Rhee's plan, is wrestling with whether to bring it to a membership vote, even if it contains provisions -- such as the one-year probationary period -- that he finds noxious.

"One of the things my mom told me is that if you ever want to go from point A to point B, you've got to through some stuff. Some messy stuff," Parker said.

"What this boils down to is...What kind of contract do we bring to you to ratify?" Parker said, before asking for a show of hands -- for and against.

The results? Kind of depends on who you ask. From the stage, Rhee said, she saw many teachers who didn't raise a hand either way, suggesting that there is still a lot of confusion over the proposal.

Parker said sentiment appeared to run about 2-to-1 against a vote, roughly mirroring the results of a recent poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers. From other vantage points, the margin looked a little closer.

Parker said he would call a membership meeting for next week before he makes a final decision.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  August 22, 2008; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Come on Bill don't be such a FENTY man you didn't notice the BOOING of the mayor!!!! or No Comment?

Posted by: at the rally | August 22, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I too was there and I support the plan and would vote for it (and then go red). However, I'm well aware that there is great opposition to it even coming to a vote. But this back to school rally was really a typical DCPS waste of time and we've had them in the past under various superintendents. What most teachers wanted to do was stay in their schools and continue to get their classrooms ready for the children coming back on Monday.

But from where I was sitting, Rhee seems to be making progress in gaining teachers' trust, which she by no means has now. I didn't hear any loud booing or groaning when she came up to speak.

Posted by: Sasha | August 22, 2008 7:41 PM | Report abuse

So what happens if there is no vote? Do they still start school? Do they go out on strike? Are they working under a contract? How much do they get paid?

Posted by: JY | August 22, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Sasha, you are sadly mistaken. Rhee is hardly making progress in gaining teachers'trust. Despite her pleas today, those of us who are "wise to the game" will not trust her or her plan. This "wolf-in-sheep's-clothing" proposal WILL NOT come to a vote!

Posted by: No Way | August 22, 2008 10:54 PM | Report abuse

No Way,

What are you and others who are against the proposal so scared of? I don't understand why you wouldn't want it to come to a vote. Don't you want to exercise your rights and make your voice heard? Or, actually have the opportunity to fully comprehend the plan? We can't even find out the details of the plan unless it comes to a tentative agreement.

Have you been so swayed by rumors, fear, and manipulation, that you are unwilling to consider the facts? There is an INCREDIBLE amount of misinformation out there. If I hear one more person tell me that the plan means we'll all get fired and lose our tenure, I'll scream! It's just not accurate!

We need to move the proposal to a tentative agreement (vote) so that we can GET all the facts and start speaking truthfully about what's on the table and stop engaging in fear-mongering.

Posted by: New2DC | August 22, 2008 11:23 PM | Report abuse


Your name says it all. I've been here for 25+ years and am very knowledgeable about District--and national--politics. For you to presume that my not wanting the pay proposal--as presented--to come to a vote is due to fear and/or the manipulation and swaying by others is an affront to my intelligence. Contrary to your implication, I can not only read and comprehend the printed word, but the message that is NOT printed, as well.

Why are you so willing to accept a tentative agreement without knowing specific parameters (criteria for merit pay and significant academic progress, source(s) of funding, etc.). Should not these details also have been included in the information packet disseminated last month? Rhee & her minions obviously believed we'd go ga-ga over the "promise" of a big payday and toss our wisdom to the wind. Not in this lifetime.

Also, New, until you have worked in this system for at least 10 years and experienced principals who have axes to grind (often unrelated to a teacher's job performance), you would not understand the need for personnel protection. It would behoove you to suppress your arrogance in matters of which you apparently know little.

Posted by: No Way | August 23, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I didn't say that Rhee had won over the teachers; not by a long shot. She has made progress. Just like schools who made significant DC CAS increases, like going from 14% proficient to 33%, the gains are great, but they're still not there yet. I used to feel quite negatively towards Rhee. I truly believed that she wanted to get rid of veteran, especially black teachers or those who are career teachers. I felt that she preferred TFA or DCTF people. After listening to her and speaking with her, I honestly believe that she only wants to get rid of teachers who are not impacting student achievement. It's not about my job; it's about what I do for students. I am not threatened by the proposal (plan, whatever) and believe it should come for a democratic vote. If y'all who are so against it are the majority, it won't pass. Why are y'all afraid to vote on it? If you're so strong, the plan will be defeated.

Posted by: Sasha | August 23, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

You are terribly mistaken sasha. Rhee does prefer TFA and DCTA, google fastcompany and read the article. She is attempting to get as many as she can to "enter the ranks"! TFAs are not veterans and most aren't black! Remember that a tiger doesn't change its stripes, words are just words; wait for the actions.

Rhee's main goal is to union bust she doesn't know how she is going to sustain the salary but its not going to make a difference once the ink dries.

Posted by: at the rally | August 24, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Sasha -- What do you make of Art Siebens's firing from Wilson and Rhee's refusal to reinstate him after students lobbied hard, eloquently, and persuasively that he shouldn't have been let go? The test scores clearly indicate that we was one of the most effective HS science teachers in the whole system.

How can you believe Rhee claims that all she cares about is student achievement when you see what happened in this case?

Posted by: innocent bystander | August 24, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Was the science teacher from Wilson not hired back in a new, restructured Wilson, or actually terminated from the system? I know many teachers from closed or restructured schools (Merrit, Meyer, Clark, Rudolph, Truesdell) who had to reapply for their jobs (restructured schools) or get picked up by a new school or be placed by the system. It was a very unfortunate situation. But through the memo of understanding, those teachers not rehired were placed throughout the system where there were vacancies.
I do not doubt Rhee's dedication to the improved student achievement of minority (mostly black) children and youth for one minute. This is her life's calling, first when she started out as a TFA teacher, then when she founded the New Teachers Project, as an offshoot, and now as chancellor. The inequity in both achievement and quality education for minority youth is what motivates her. She really believes in those core principles that were listed at the back to school rally. And so do I, along with hopefully most of my colleagues. That is why we teach.
At first, I didn't like TFA or the teaching fellows. I found them too young and inexperienced, yet thought they were smarter than the rest of us. After I was able to work with some, I was challenged as a veteran teacher to renew my love for the children, which is why I became a teacher in the first place. I am not threatened by their level of education, because I also went to first tier universities, not a teachers' college. Sure, many don't stay in the field, but how many non-TFA teachers fresh out of school stay in DCPS or even in teaching? For a while, my school was like a revolving door for teachers. The job is hard. And back to the proposed contract: Rhee wants to reward teachers who are making strong gains in achievement, so count me in.

Posted by: Sasha | August 24, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

He was terminated under the cover of restructuring but it was a restructuring that only involved replacing 20% of the faculty. The remaining 80% certainly didn't have a better record with respect to student achievement. And the original justification offered for his firing was "he doesn't fit in."

Rhee has adopted a strategy of treating every form of dissent as vindication that she's on the right track -- and what a bold and visionary track it must be. But her actions don't match her rhetoric. She's getting so much pushback because she's making some really bad decisions, in part because she's eager to make do something dramatic and less concerned with doing something right.

Siebens's story is a cautionary tale for good teachers. In this Rheegime it's all about loyalty and fitting in rather than performance. And your situation will only become more precarious when you're both the easiest group to fire and the group who is being paid the most.

I'm a good teacher too (and a teacher of teachers) and I went to first tier universities (and taught in few). But there's not a chance in hell I'd work for Rhee. Notice that, despite a nationwide search, most of the new principals are locals and not stars in their previous systems. Her approach is not one that will attract folks who aspire to or achieve excellence.

Posted by: innocent bystander | August 25, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I think it is interesting that those who have spent so little time in our schools are so willing to go for the gold without proving they are worth a plug nickle. Earlier this week when asked what they would do to improve schools, a student commented that she would make sure that every student had an experienced teacher. Students and their parents want folk who know what they are doing or at the least are willing to invest enough time in the profession to becom good at their craft. Revolving door staff rosters rob schools of the opportunity to develop school climate and a sense of community.
It is no surprise that there is a split between more experienced teachers and those new to the system regarding the proposed contract. I would prefer a workforce who is unwilling to trade my child for 50 pieces of silver.
With respect to Rhee's concern for improving the quality of education for this city's poor and minority children, whe will need to to some fast budget magic. Her draft budgets provided significantly higher resources to schools in some of the wealthiest communities in DC while shortchanging some of this city's poorest kids. Explain that Sasha!

Posted by: Informed | August 28, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

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