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Teacher debate over contract heats up

Twenty percent over five years is the best we're ever going to do. Yes, there are problems, but let's sign and move on.

Private donors such as the Walton Family Foundation are not to be trusted. They'll be gone, along with their money, the moment Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee leaves.

The deal is a trap, because it does nothing to limit the IMPACT evaluation system, which is a disaster, or to protect teachers from the kind of layoffs Rhee instigated last October.

This, in paraphrase, is some of the conversation among teachers over the tentative contract agreement announced last week. If District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi certifies the funding commitments of the four foundation donors as sound, the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) will mail out ballots to begin a two-week voting period. This week, WTU president George Parker begins a series of informational meetings for teachers to discuss the proposed deal. The sessions, which all start at 4:30 p.m., will be Tuesday at McKinley High School, Thursday at Woodrow Wilson, Monday, April 19, at Ballou and Wednesday, April 21, at Spingarn.

In e-mails I've received and in posts to Candi Peterson's The Washington Teacher blog, here is some of what teachers are saying:

"I'm voting yes for this contract," said Tracy, in a posting to The Washington Teacher. "The changes we don't like, such as the evaluation system, are inevitable. That train has already left the station. It just left DC first, but it's leaving the station in other cities next. As for private funding, if we were to rely on public funds, we'd have no increase. Remember, other districts are cutting teacher pay."

Jennifer Miller, who teaches at Wheatley Education Campus, wrote to me: "I just wanted you to know there are many, many, many of us DCPS teachers that love what the tentative agreement is saying! We are looking forward to the contract passing. We are voting YES... I would love for you to spread the word that there are teachers that are voting YES and we want this contract to pass!"

In The Washington Teacher, "Classic" wrote: "Teachers be very careful. Read between the lines. I have a problem with the fact that my raise comes from a private fund. This is just Green/Red under a different name. Look at the language for RIF's, excess teachers and teacher evaluations. The Union gave up everything. Due Process is 'streamlined' that means no rights. New teachers do not have the protection of the Union if they get fired there is NO due process for them....Michelle Rhee has given herself a great storeroom full of weapons to get rid of teachers and we have little or no recourse. What is a 20 percent raise if I am going to be fired in July under IMPACT??? Please read carefully and don't let the money fool you."

Bill Rope, who teaches at Hearst Elementary, wrote to me: "Until we see the actual contract, it's impossible to know for sure. On the surface, it seems like a very good contract; and, as the last one did (without much recognition in recent years). It puts WTU on the side of sensible reform in a way that is fair to teachers and good for stability in the school system. It is also responsive to Rhee's desire to try out performance pay. Parker did a great job of getting this much money for teachers at a time of tight budgets. He also got fairly good protections against more arbitrary RIFing and strengthened the previous contract in many ways. The RIFing rules and other due process protections won't prevent DCPS from letting teachers go, but it will constrain Rhee's ability to do it dishonestly and without transparency. I am doubtful that teachers will go for performance pay, for which, in any case, they must "qualify." It's the kind of thing I would have gone for in a heartbeat a couple of years ago (and that I may still go for). However, having learned what Rhee's idea of a sound evaluation program is (IMPACT), which evaluates teachers on how well they do following a horrible approach to teaching (Teaching and Learning Framework), even I will scrutinize it carefully."

"I_educ8" told The Washington Teacher: "This is a farce. No way I'm voting for this contract. After 3 years, you'd think they would've come up with something better than the proposed agreement. But when you think who the major players have been--Rhee and GP--maybe it should not be much of a surprise, after all. I don't trust the donors, and should Rhee leave, I think the dollars will, too. Where's the iron-clad guarantee they won't? Another issue I have is that the playing field is not level for all teachers. Schools west of the park have more resources and a lot of the students come from more affluent homes, thus more exposure, variety of experiences, greater probability for significant academic growth and a greater chance for these teachers to earn bonus money that MAY be available."

I'd like to hear from more teachers over the next couple of weeks.

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By Bill Turque  |  April 12, 2010; 12:21 PM ET
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Here's is the link to the contract for anyone who is interested, whether they are a DCPS employee, parent, student, someone who pays DC taxes (including sales tax), those who pay federal taxes and those who buy at Wal-Mart (where part of the profit from the sale will go to the foundation and eventually a DCPS teacher, if this goes through).

Posted by: edlharris | April 12, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

There's not a lot in the tentative agreement that deals with working conditions. And this is for the simple reason that most of DC teachers' (and I am one) working conditions have to do with the new teacher evaluation system and little else. IMPACT, as it's called, is our working condition, and there's little the union can do about it, except try to not let it run rampant over every facet of our professional lives. As it stands now, IMPACT can do more to wreck havoc in our lives than the new contract. We suffer through 5 observations in one school year, where in the past, some of us who were seen as effective and in control, were left alone by our principals and maybe observed once or twice a year. It's all new with IMPACT. So I'm voting for the tentative agreement and am doing what I can to keep my IMPACT score respectable, above a 3, and adapt my teaching techniques to it. IMPACT worries me far more than any paranoia about the contract.

Posted by: chelita | April 12, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

You better go back and view the council hearings. As of yesterday there is no money to fund the raises. Even the CFO for DCPS says there is no money. There has been no information given to the council on private donors. The council is not going to sign off on a contract that cannot be supported with the dollars. Be very careful teachers! Know what you are voting for. Everybody wants the raise, but make sure that there will even be one. The mayor stated that all other DC employees will have their step and longevity raises frozen. Clearly there is no money. The chancellor has got to come up with the money(private) because the city can't afford it. Be careful, Good luck.

Posted by: candycane1 | April 13, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

candycane1--you are so right. Without generous outside donor contributions, there will be no raise for DCPS teachers. You should be thanking Rhee for any raise that you get. And voting no probably means no raise. Since money is so important, what are you going to do?

Posted by: axolotl | April 13, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I am actively campaigning against Adrian Fenty. They are closing schools yet again for Emancipation Day- a fictional holiday that no one else celebrates but DC government. Working parents once again are forced to finagle their work schedules to accommodate this freebie to government worker leeches.

Posted by: forgetthis | April 13, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Axoloti: Correction I don't have to thank Rhee for anything. I don't have to vote for a contract. I am however going to vote against Fenty.

Posted by: candycane1 | April 13, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Our students deserve a better public education in DC. I agree that the proposed donors could ebb and flow with the political landscape.

This uncertainty of funding for our school system is one of the many reasons why I support the solution proposed by Save Our Safety Net: preventing further cuts by creating new tax brackets for the highest-income DC residents. Currently, everyone making more than $40k pays the same tax rate. I would like to think that those better off would like to contribute to the economic recovery of our city. Here's the specific proposal to prevent further budget cuts to critical city services:

"The city could raise approximately $50 million in revenue by creating additional tax brackets: 9% for DC residents earning more than $200,000 (a .5% increase), and 9.4% for those earning more than $1,000,000 (a .9% increase). Together, these increases would affect less than 5% of our population -- but they would enable the city to protect safety net programs that keep our communities safe and strong."

-from the Save Our Safety Net Campaign

Posted by: charise_vl | April 13, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Quote from i_educ8 in the article above: "Schools west of the park have more resources and a lot of the students come from more affluent homes, thus more exposure, variety of experiences, greater probability for significant academic growth and a greater chance for these teachers to earn bonus money that MAY be available."

This doesn't make sense to me. If affluent Ward 3 students have more exposure (books, learning games) and experiences (museums, camps) so that nine out of 10 of them score proficient or advanced in third grade DC-CAS, how much "significant academic growth" can you squeeze out of them?

Posted by: gardyloo | April 13, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Please check out Adrian Fenty's budget hearing on DC Channel 32. Fenty, Albert or Dr. Gandhi could not produce any evidences to support the raise of the WTU Tentative Agreement (T.A.).

Read WTU T.A. which states that Congress, DC City Council or private donors are not obligated to fund the WTU T.A. contract.
*Section 40.2 on the WTU Website.

Fenty cut the DCPS budget FY 2011 $22M dollars to $258M. When is the next manufactured Reduction in Force 2010?

More Lies, More Terminations, More Lies, and More Distrust!!

DCPS Teachers: "SAY NO" to the Washington Teachers Union T.A. 2010.

Enough is Enough, Rhee must GO!!

Where is the credibility and accountability?
We Deserve a Superintendent in Education instead of a Wanna BE Superintendent!!

Don't Be Fooled!!! "VOTE NO" for the WTU T.A. 2010!!!

United We Stand for Public Education!
Save our Chidren!

Posted by: sheilahgill | April 13, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

gardyloo--the claim that schools "west of the park" have "more resources" has never been proven, with good reason. Regarding what you call "affluence" and the benefits kids get, can we infer that you would like to over-ride their teachers' Impact scores and other measurements to adjust for this. If so, it reminds me of the parents in one area who wanted to prohibit parents in two schools "west of the park" from donating their time and a few dollars to enrich their kids' experience. I agree completely with the idea of focusing management attention, and certain sources of funds for some purposes on the weaker schools, e.g., for tutoring and certain enrichment of experience--but that sure as heck is not to prop up raises or incentive pay for teachers. Think of the kids, not the teachers' financial benefit. The public schools are run for the kids first of all, not the teachers. Teachers can make a good living in DCPS, but it is not a give away or sure thing; they have to earn it, and the good teachers know that, like anywhere else.

Posted by: axolotl | April 13, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I have read the whole contract. I will be voting "No" for several reasons. Most of all because I will not accept a raise which is financed on the backs of colleagues who were fired under the false pretense of a budget shortfall which now has miraculously disappeared.

I agree that the students in DCPS need reform and a better education. That begins at the top with a chancellor who exhibits some ethical standards and a code of conduct which can be a role model for our students.

Besides all this, there is no guarantee that the private donors won't pull their funding and then the DC taxpayers are holding the bag.

After almost three years, Rhee, Parker and Schmoke should be ashamed that this was the best they could come up with. Among many other things, it is not a fiscally sound document which is par for the course for Rhee and Fenty when creating/manipulating budgets.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | April 14, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse


It seems that you have misread virtually all of my posts, hence your conflating me with efavorite several times.

In the post above, I was challenging the quoted writer's contention that the performance-based bonuses would favor teachers "west of the park." Simply, if your students are already testing at the tippity-top of the curve, how much higher can they go? Performance improvements would seem to be much more achievable at schools where around 50-60 percent of the students are testing proficient or above on the DC-CAS.

I am in favor of student performance being a part of teacher compensation. I am opposed to bad logic, intemperate rhetoric, misuse of statistics, and piecemeal information. I want to know more so I can judge fairly.

I agree with much of what you have to say, and I agree with virtually nothing that efavorite and the Favoritettes say.

So, with that, and the warning that on occasion my posts are sardonic, I wish you happy swimming in you warm Sonoran pond.

Posted by: gardyloo | April 14, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

gardyloo: I am chastened; no excuse but exhaustion from a little conference, now blessedly concluded. Thanks. In my stupor, I need to be watchful when slop is thrown from upper levels, especially by the thoughtful and articulate efav.

Posted by: axolotl | April 14, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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