D.C. Teachers Say Morale Is Low
At an 11-hour hearing Friday on the D.C. schools' "human capital" policies, teachers charged that Michelle A. Rhee's quest to reform the historically poor-performing system--which includes a pledge to replace significant numbers of them--has created a culture of fear. Morale, many said, has never been lower.
Seemingly arbitrary and capricious performance evaluations, petty retribution for questioning authority, and just plain bungling were recurrent themes in the discussion with D.C. Council members, headed by Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).
Fred Kamara, a special education teacher, said he worked for several weeks (without pay) before learning that he'd been fired. Kadesha Bonds said the principal never came to observe her classroom work before filling out her evaluation form. She was fired last summer.
Jeff Canady, a third grade teacher at Emery Education Campus in Northeast, received "exceeds expectations" in multiple categories on his June 2008 evaluation, scoring 25 out of a possible 30 points. This fall, he was placed on the so-called "90-day plan," which puts instructors on notice to improve their performance or face dismissal. Canady said he is the same teacher he was last June, the only difference being that he complained to Rhee and other administrators about conditions at the school, including a lack of Internet service.
Speaking in a soft but deliberate tone, Canady said that in 17 years, "I've never had one single principal or individual say anything about my teaching."
Resources promised and not delivered was another frequently cited complaint. Crystal Silvia, a social worker at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School at Parkview, said the school was supposed to begin the academic year with an additional social worker and a psychologist. It hasn't happened.
"I feel like what I'm doing most of the time is crisis management," Silvia said.
Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson told council members she concurred that morale was bad. "I expect that some people will be frustrated with the rate and pace of change," she said. "It makes our job a lot more difficult when people are frustrated."
But Henderson added that Rhee and her team were trying to reverse years of neglect and mismanagement within a short span of time. "If all of our teachers were great and wonderful, we wouldn't be the lowest performing school district in the country."
Henderson said DCPS has been pushing to overhaul its personnel practices. The system's payroll, which had 9,933 employees when Rhee took over in 2007, is now just over 7,000, although only a few hundred jobs were actually eliminated. Most of them, including transportation, facilities management and food service, were off-loaded to other agencies or outside contractors.
A more sophisticated new teacher evaluation system will be rolled out in the spring and implemented next fall, Henderson said. Among the metrics to measure teacher effectiveness will be a new "value-added" category that measures the academic growth of their students year-to-year.
But Gray cautioned Henderson that none of these innovations would amount to much if the Chancellor isn't more effective in fostering trust among teachers and managing the tensions triggered by change.
"If that doesn't change, this thing is going to drop of its own weight," he said.
-- Bill Turque
January 17, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , Education
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