Weingarten to Rhee: Save the advice on N.Y.C.
The D.C. teachers' contract may be all but signed and sealed, but Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and AFT president Randi Weingarten continue to argue about what it actually means. The latest exchange is in the form of dueling op-eds in The New York Daily News, whose publisher, Mort Zuckerman, has ponied up big money to support New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, a Rhee ally.
On Sunday, Rhee urged Klein and the New York teachers' union leadership to replicate what she called the "revolutionary bargain" she struck with the Washington Teachers' Union. The pact includes includes provisions for bonus pay, personnel decisions based on performance over seniority, and regulations that free principals to decide how to staff their schools.
"The contract is groundbreaking in many ways, and can serve as a roadmap for other districts - including, I hope, the largest and most important public school district in the country, New York City, where teachers have been working without a contract since October," wrote Rhee, who serves with Zuckerman and Klein on the board of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which trains and recruits executive talent to run urban districts. Broad's philanthropic arm is also helping to fund Rhee's performance pay plan.
Rhee also called for Weingarten's intervention into the New York talks, calling her someone "very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in and the fact that unions need to be a part of the solution."
Weingarten responded Thursday with her own op-ed which said, in essence, that Rhee's victory lap was unwarranted and naive.
"It's all well and good that Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who just negotiated her first labor contract, has a first-time bargainer's pride of ownership and....is offering unsolicited advice to New Yorkers about how to resolve the current teachers contract impasse," she wrote. "But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and so is trying to apply simplistic lessons from the D.C. contract to New York."
Then she added a not-so-subtle dig at Rhee's commitment to standardized testing.
"Doing so is akin to doing test prep instead of teaching and learning: It ignores context, only touches on the facts and provides a quick-and-easy fix instead of a real solution."
Weingarten says Rhee is ignoring the three collective bargaining agreements that she negotiated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg when she was president of the United Federation of Teachers, contracts that she says have strengthened schools and improved student performance.
"In Washington, the approach to education has been to flirt with fads and cure-alls. Instead of tackling systemic problems head-on, the city often has relied on a kind of magical thinking," she wrote. "Vouchers, charter schools, mayoral control, the power to "abolish" individual teaching positions and chancellor-controlled teacher evaluations -- all of these have been part of the school landscape in Washington for years. Even the latest national fad, dismissing the value of teachers' experience, is nothing new to Washington. Yet despite these changes being in place for years, D.C. schools did not dramatically improve -- because the changes weren't sustained and systemic."
She argued that the District pact is not a revolutionary document but one that codifies powers Rhee already had to hire and fire. What the contract adds, she said, are protections establishing checks, balances and transparency in how and when teachers can be removed.
"What it does is take the reality...and codifies it in contract language that actually gives teachers some ability to push back on capricious actions," she said.
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