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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."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 26, 2009; 7:04 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Perhaps there was some basis of trust and mutual respect in order to get this done? Just sayin'...

Posted by: terpteacher1 | October 26, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

One thing I hope Arne Duncan understands is that poor school districts have less resources. They usually have more behavioral problems in the classroom also. It's much harder to get academic progress in a poor district than in a rich one.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 26, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Gee while she was flying all around the country bashing teachers, and firing principals, New Haven was working, negotiating and ratifying a contract that could be a "national model" sanctioned by the Secretary for Education. That speaks volumns and in only 4 months.

Sounds like New Haven has a real leader, a professional, an educator, an expert on teaching and learning best practices, an evaluation that seems to be fair and acceptable to teachers and has the trust of all stakeholders. The leader is not on the cover of magazines but has gained instant fame in a positive manner. The leader is obviously an efficient manager of time. Negotiations took 4 months?

DC has an unqualified person called a chancellor, who disrepsects the work force, fires teacher and principals, mismanages the budget, clueless on teaching and learning, evaluates teachers differently(depending on the testing grade and/or subject),spends more time not working and out of town promoting a personal agenda. There is no trust from any stakeholder. She lies about successes. She is obviously an inefficient time manager. Contract negotiations: 3rd year and counting!

Posted by: candycane1 | October 26, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Since it only took 4 months for New Haven to settle a contract, they probably don't care as much about the kids as Her Chancellorship.

Posted by: GoDoZo | October 26, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Individual teachers should be recognized for their performance. What's wrong with that?

Posted by: Smore | October 26, 2009 11:01 PM | Report abuse

"they probably don't care as much about the kids as Her Chancellorship."

Thanks, GoDoZo, for the good laugh.

I also enjoyed something the Chancellor said. It didn't make me laugh, but it had an uncharacteristic sheepish sound that gave me hope.

"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."

"Folks?" "Wonderful?" I'll have to check my compendium of Chancellor quotes, but I don't recall those words being part of the Rhee's usual vocabulary.

Posted by: efavorite | October 26, 2009 11:38 PM | Report abuse

BTW, how is the private funding for Mrs. Rhee's incentive program coming along?
And, Bill, did she ever answer the 15 questions?

Posted by: edlharris | October 27, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

There will be no contract in DCPS with Rhee. She has destroyed all trust she ever had with teachers. Even her "new hires" have already seen through her vindictive tactics. What a shame. We could have been a model for the country had she listened to and partnered with here corps of teachers. All she was interested in doing was flushing the system out of what she thought were ineffective educators. Had she taken the time to get to know the people she was trying to lead, she might have found that we are a bright, educated, dedicated, competent, hard-working group of teachers who love our students, love teaching, want reform and are willing to make some concessions. What characterizes the system now is chaos and confusion, anxious teachers, unhappy parents and students in larger class sizes. It's the worst I've ever seen DCPS. Great job Michelle! For those of you who want to point to test scores, please examine the data closely. Test scores were already on the rise before Rhee came on board. Credit Clifford Janey, her predecessor. Fenty should have left him in place. He was qualified, knew what he was doing and respected his teachers something about which Michelle Rhee knows nothing.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | October 27, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Rhee: "If the folks in the district think it's heading in the right direction, then I think it's a wonderful thing."

Question: Since the majority of folks in this district think we're falling down a bottomless pit, does that mean you concede that you are a horrible thing?

Posted by: candycane1 | October 27, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller - about those new hires - they may be young and idealistic, but if they're also as smart as claimed, they can quickly see through the chancellor’s methods. Really, it doesn’t take high-order thinking to notice and analyze that the management-induced chaos going on around you is bad for students and teachers.

Perhaps the chancellor, as smart as she is, didn’t realize she’d lose the support of new teachers. Maybe she presumed that they’d bought into her vision of the hero teacher as much as she had and thus it didn’t occur to her that a negative reality could intrude upon that vision.

I know from my reading about Teach for America that some recruits who wash out assume it’s their fault – that they just weren’t cut out for the demanding task of teaching disadvantaged kids. I suspect that Rhee’s obviously poor handling of the RIF has made it abundantly clear to new hires that the problem isn’t them.
Candycane says: “Since the majority of folks in this district think we're falling down a bottomless pit, does that mean you concede that you are a horrible thing?”

Thanks for another good laugh. Who would have thought there’d be so much humor to pull out of this mess?

Posted by: efavorite | October 27, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Some excerpts from today’s New Haven Register article about their new union contract:

Randi Weingarten, President AFT:
“D.C. was about the mayor and chancellor trying to win, as opposed to helping kids do better. Here, you have everyone focused on student achievement.”

“[Mayor] DeStefano conceded Monday he had initially considered ‘shoving’ reform ‘down people’s throats,’ but adopted a more collaborative approach after watching progress stall in D.C.”

City Union President Cicarella: “We finally get to have some true input. The contract clearly calls for our participation, our input, our decision making. ... We’re with the kids; listen to us, we truly do have the expertise, and we can get this done.”

“The four-year contract was ratified earlier this month in a sweeping 842-39 vote.”
Please note, Superintendent Reginald Mayo was on the panel where the other officials made the comments above, but the newspaper did not quote him. Perhaps he is the strong silent type.

Read the whole article at:

Posted by: efavorite | October 27, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Yes, there is a message to Rhee and here it is:

If you want educational reform, don't forget to include the major stakeholders.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 27, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

The mayor of New Haven decided to take the collaborative approach?

Well if everybody's watching DC, then Rhee's personal agenda of being nationally recognized will be fulfilled after all. She will be the expert across the United States pushing her new book: "The 7 Habits of Ineffective Leaders" or " The Complete Handbook When Faking Leadership"

Posted by: candycane1 | October 27, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Gee the big unions and their big Democratic allies agree that it is a great contract. How could Michelle fail to get the message? Here's some questions for you. How does such a contract improve Michelle Rhee's leverage? How does such a contract help the students? After 50 years of disaster what credibility do the unions have? How much credibility do they deserve?

Posted by: jy151310 | October 28, 2009 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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