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DC Teachers contract settled

Update, 8:47 p.m.:
For details, see the union's Q&A here and highlights here. (Both are pdfs.)

Original post:
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union have reached tentative agreement on a new contract, ending more than two years of closely watched and often-rancorous negotiations, union and District officials said Tuesday.

The proposed pact, which must be ratified by union members and approved by the D.C. Council, provides teacher salary increases of more than a 20 percent over five years, with much of it to be paid for through an unusual arrangement with a group of private foundations that have pledged to donate $65 million.

The deal gives Rhee some of the tools she said she needed to raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools long ranked as among the nation's worst, but perhaps more importantly it brings her labor peace as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty he heads into an election-year battle with Council Chairman Vincent Gray and perhaps another candidate. The negotiations also have been viewed as a test of the strength of both union forces and reform advocates pushing for aggressive revamping of the nation's schools.

"It took a lot of courage to get here," Rhee said in an interview. "We really have done something that frames evertything around performance for kids and making that the really core tenet of the agreement."

The changes in the contract include a merit-pay program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for the improvement of student performance on standardized tests and other measures of academic success. The pact, if approved, will also afford Rhee and her school principals more latitude in deciding which teachers to retain in the event that budget cuts or enrollment declines force the closure of some schools.

But the 103-page agreement is significantly different from Rhee's original vision for a collective bargaining agreement, which she promised would "revolutionize education as we know it" when she first developed it in 2008.

"We really hit on something that can move kids forward," said teacher's union President George Parker.

The deal first was reported by the City Paper's Web site.

Rhee garnered national attention from school reform advocates with a two-tiered salary proposal that offered experienced educators a chance to make as much as $130,000 annually in salary and performance bonuses. The plan required teachers who aspired to the top pay range to give up tenure protections for a year, essentially exposing them to dismissal without appeal.

Rhee's effort to weaken tenure protections, which she called the "holy grail" of teachers unions, won her rock stardom from segments of the educational reform commnity that regard teachers' unions as the main impediment to improving public education.

It also helped win her what she said was $200 million in funding commitments from private foundations. But it touched off a furor among District teachers and union leaders, and languished at the bargaining table.

By Washington Post editors  |  April 6, 2010; 8:09 PM ET
 
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Comments

Quote: "The changes in the contract include a merit-pay program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for the improvement of student performance on standardized tests and other measures of academic success."

Merit pay based on student performance on standardized tests is not sound. I have a class that includes a large cluster of gifted/high achieving students. Should I get more pay because my students will do better on the state test next month than my neighbor across the hall who has a number of students with learning difficulties? I don't think so!

Also, this will encourage teaching to the test rather than teaching students to think and to develop the skills they need to be sucessful as students and in their life.

I can also see a potential for schools to be less than honest in administering tests.

The only way I can see merit pay being at least a little fair for teachers is if the students are given a diagnostic type test AT THE BEGINNING of the school year. This would have to be a test that gives the teacher a comprehensive picture of where the student it at and what they need to learn. Then the teacher is given the tools to teach to the student's specific needs rather than a scripted program where all students are put through the same program regardless of their current skill and knowledge level. Then the students would be given a similar test at the end of the year. Performance would judged by HOW MUCH PROGRESS a student had made that year.

Even this is not fail proof. Teachers have to deal with students who move, students who miss many days of school, and students who have family issues that disrupt their learning.

Quote: "The pact, if approved, will also afford Rhee and her school principals more latitude in deciding which teachers to retain in the event that budget cuts or enrollment declines force the closure of some schools."

And who is going to see that the principals are fair in their decision on who goes and who stays? I have seen situations where the "principal's pets" get away with being poor teachers.

One of the reasons why unions have fought to protect teachers is because there has been a lot of abuse of power over the years.

Posted by: Jutti | April 6, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

"It took a lot of courage to get here," Rhee said in an interview. "We really have done something that frames evertything around performance for kids and making that the really core tenet of the agreement."
+++++++++++++++++++++++++

"evertything"?

Is that Michelle Rhee's typo?! Or Bill Turque's?! Normally, i don't weight typos too heavily, but in this context, it's pretty embarrassing for someone. Anyone care to take ownership?

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | April 6, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

I guess if it came from an interview, and not a press release, it's Bill Turque's typo. Too busy to spellcheck?

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | April 6, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Plesae give Bill a break, it's a news blog, not an standardized test. And "Mayor Adrian M. Fenty he heads into an election-year battle" mite get cleaned up in another edit... but seriously folks...

Many teachers know where the most efficient student performance gains can be made in their classrooms. Some teachers may be blessed with students that are on the brink of self-motivated learning. This is a point of child development that may have been fostered earlier by many good teachers who were not fortunate enough to be there when the light bulb suddenly clicked on above their head.

The quest for the highest test scores can be an incredibly bad incentive for the teacher. Let's assume that we have a great teacher with strong morals, so cheating is not an issue. Still there are moral questions facing this teacher that put certain students in their classroom at a disadvantage.

Such a great teacher friend of mine told me that he was advised to let the bottom dwellers go, because the time spent and and risk of failure was too high... and just concentrate on 3-5 kids who can make the greatest gains on test scores in the class. Likewise, he told me that the potential for improvement for really high achieving kids is also not worth the effort if your goal is to raise the average class test score. Consider that, no matter how you incentivize the test score game, it is a game that will sacrifice some in each class for the good of the whole... test score that is. And money is their reward.

Good teachers who care about all their students are the best teachers, and they need support to reach each student based on their developmental level. Any simplistic system that does not allow the teacher to be evaluated on the specific challenges that their class of individuals presents is a bad system. This means that the supervisor or principal in charge must be an expert educator to effectively evaluate teacher performance. And unfortunately those test scores put their futures at risk too, so understanding what makes a great teacher may not help anybody; not administrators, not teachers, and not students. How can anybody who understands these serious limitations believe our children are well served by this business model for classroom success?

Posted by: AGAAIA | April 7, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

". and just concentrate on 3-5 kids who can make the greatest gains on test scores in the class."

The bump Kids is another term.
Just give them a little extra attention to bump them into proficient.

There were schools I know of (not DCPS) that did that a few years back.

Posted by: edlharris | April 7, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Wow, here's this really great news and DC's Laziest are out in force trying to run it down. It just goes to show you that the angry, the lazy and the malcontent will never be happy. People stop listening to the teachers who cry wolf.


Posted by: bbcrock | April 7, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Well, there goes the theory that union contracts only protects bad teachers. When is the contract up renegotiation? When is mid-term bargaining available?
When are changes in the agreement allowed to proceed?

Posted by: PowerandPride | April 7, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Ah, bbcrock, the EDUCATED man has typed.
All bow before His superior knowledge.

Posted by: edlharris | April 7, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

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