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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

By Kathryn Tolbert  |  January 17, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Next: D.C. Mental Health Says It Has a Plan, But Where Is It?


Who cares about teacher morale. Chancellor Rhee is attempting to get results. Teachers are not used to accountability. If I suddenly had to work for a living after years of skating, it would lower my morale.

Posted by: swordboat | January 17, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Swordboat -- perhaps you could consider that students notice - and suffer - when morale is low among adults; that purposely lowering the morale of employees is not a good way to increase productivity among current employer or to increase the desire of others to join the team; that the teachers mentioned above did not in any way deserve the treatment they received.

Posted by: efavorite | January 18, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Go Michelle! The students have had 50 fifty years of high teacher morale and terrible student performance. Maybe it's time to turn the tables.

Posted by: jy151310 | January 19, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Why do you assume morale was high? It never was. Among the idiots, yes - that goes for politicians, administrators, downtown Barry placements - but among the teachers? Many have persevered under terrible conditions. We want change but not the way Rhee is performing it, acting as if none of the teachers in the system have any value. That is why morale is low.

And just what is she changing. These teachers were rated at the highest and put on 90 day plans because they spoke out, not because they were poor teachers. What is going on here is a disgrace. YES our schools need change but not the way she is performing that change. Firing teachers like Canady is shameful when our system NEEDS teachers of this quality. You say go Michelle Rhee as if this is some sporting game. Time to turn the tables - do you realize at all what you are saying? I feel you must have no children to be spouting such idiocy. Morale is bad among the good teachers. The GOOD teachers NOT the ones you think have ruined the system - the ones that have persevered through the awful times trying to keep the faith of the children, trying to make things better. Rhee has brought this about through despotic methods, methods that belong to the outgoing president's administration - secrecy, selfishly motivated reasoning and a blind adherence to her own thinking. Your mentality is pathetic.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 19, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

That's it: morale is low even among good teachers. Those of us who are not TFA or DC Teaching Fellows, which is to say, veteran or career teachers, feel that Rhee doesn't value our work. In fact, she thinks career teachers are just not as good as her 2 year veteran TFA wonderkind. She wants to replace us with them and it makes for very low morale. But we have to keep our heads up, focus on the children, bring to class tomorrow the wonderful teachable moment that this election is.

Posted by: chelita | January 20, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Kaya Henderson said, "I expect that some people will be frustrated with the rate and pace of change..."

We are not frustrated with change. We are frustrated that schools do not have the staffing, resources, support and training necessary to work with many troubled students. No internet? We don't need to be bullied by someone who was only able to teach in the classroom for three years and then jumped ship.

Rhee is using her teacher bashing rhetoric for political purposes. Politicians and school leaders have been inserting politics into schools for years and this is one of the main reasons why our schools have so many problems. Blaming dedicated teachers is an easy way to score political points.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | January 20, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Change is necessary for DC's children. Rhee has good ideas but they are shrouded by hate, maliciousness, arrogance and utter hubris. Her methodology, as well as some of the people she is surrounded by, has a lot to be desired. I pray President Obama and Secretary Duncan see what is really going on in the District of Columbia Public Schools and intervene in some way to do something about it. The city is being led by an arrogant, inexperienced charlatan who wants to 'rule' by fear and expects those around him to do the same. Rhee has taken his charge with an obvious zeal. Our President values consensus, collaboration and cooperation. D.C.'s chancellor has said all three are overrated on more than one occasion. How can anyone take a person seriously who is so mean-spirited and callous? What kind of true leader is cowardly enough to dispose of people like garbage instead of working alongside them to initiate real rheeform? It is time for change but that change must be more galvanizing and less hateful.

Children do indeed suffer from low morale among teachers and their parents; we are the people they look to for security and support. Imagine how many more employees of the District of Columbia government feel alienated and abused across all agencies!

We cannot allow this dehumanizing machine to continue to cut people down like dogs. Change is only sustained when it is done in a true spirit of consensus, collaboration and cooperation. Hopefully someone will save DC from all of the ills plaguing it, to include DC Public Schools and the way people are being treated across all of its agencies. People are human beings, not dogs or other such characters where an inexperienced, demonstrably NASTY leader can say "Off with their heads!" and "Let them eat cake!" without being chastized and stopped. When will someone stand up in DC government and stop this destructive force?

Posted by: southyrndiva | January 20, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Change is not the enemy here and I don't believe that any of the teachers would suggest that change is required. However, the method of effective change requires transformational leadership through transactional relationships between all of the stakeholders. Rhee has to engage and transform the environment within the school system to get those stakeholders she needs to buy into her plan. She simply cannot fire all the teachers or silence the one's that call out for improvements in their schools.

Gray is absolutely correct:

"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."

Many a great corporations had to learn that the hard way. change must be managed. There is no way around that. Rhee must do a better job at this. No matter how good her plan (or dare I say Janey's plan) to work, is to transform the system by building trust and loyalty to the plans vision from the low end of the organization through the top.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | January 22, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

We're in the midst of a recession! Millions of people, in all types of organizations, all over the US, are suffering through insecurity and diminished morale. Why should it be any different for some teachers here in DC?

Posted by: IHeartDC | January 22, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

What are you saying, IHeartDC? That because people across the country are suffering because of the recession, that it's OK for DC teachers to be mistreated? This is quite the non-sequitur.

Would that apply across the board, e.g. because there's a recession, it's OK to mistreat any employees in the country for any reason. In fact, it's open season on abusing employees, thanks to the recession.

Posted by: efavorite | January 22, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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