New Haven teachers pact: message to Rhee?
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten have been pounding the blackboard in praise of the recently completed New Haven teachers contract, hailing it as a model for what's possible when unions and elected officials collaborate in good faith.
The agreement calls for teacher evaluations that use student growth as one of many measures, flexible work rules to help turn around failing schools and peer assistance for struggling educators. It is also described as a not-so-subtle rebuke to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee over the District's inability to close a deal with its union.
The New Haven contract, approved by membership October 13 by an 842-39 margin, took about four months to complete, AFT officials said. Talks in the District, plagued by accusations of bad faith, are headed for the two-year mark.
"This shows real courage on the union's part," Duncan told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. "These are uncharted waters. This is new territory. What you had, you didn't have any drama. This shows what can happen when adult egos are checked and when adult issues are put aside."
Weingarten, who traveled to New Haven today with Education Department officials to celebrate the pact, said: "Because of the respect and trust between the union and the city, the negotiating parties were able to agree to innovative reforms that will be good for students and fair to teachers. The process was collaborative, cooperative and could become a national model."
But just how much of a breakthrough is the contract?
A lot of the "innovative reforms" actually have been kicked down the road to several joint labor-management committees that will hammer out details over the next six months. These include the exact terms under which teachers will be evaluated, and how student academic growth will figure in the assessments.
Student growth already is a part of IMPACT, the new evaluation system Rhee introduced this fall. The difference, of course, is that Rhee was not legally obligated to bargain it with the Washington Teachers' Union.
The New Haven accord does not include performance-based pay for individual teachers, an idea the union historically has resisted. Instead it calls for all staff to share in bonus pay if a school's students show sufficient progress. DCPS already distributes building-wide performance pay for big gains on standardized test scores.
The New Haven contract allows teachers at individual schools to opt out of work rules to pursue innovative programs, but makes it easy for a small minority of staff to block the changes. In failing schools, a two-thirds majority is required to pursue the programs and 75 percent is needed in more functional schools.
Rhee said Monday she hasn't seen the New Haven contract, so she couldn't say much.
"If the folks in the school district feel like it's heading in the right direction," she said, "then I think it's a wonderful thing."
October 26, 2009; 7:04 PM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , Education
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