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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 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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By Bill Turque  |  June 17, 2010; 11:42 AM ET
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That Randi continues to give unions a bad name. Certainly, her own local here gives her little respect, and she was pounded for intervening here to "help" in the recent voting. And she certainly attempted to bask in the rosey glow of the "triumph" of the negotiations of the WTU contract recently approved overwhelmingly by voting members. Of course, close to half of the members did not think it was important enough to vote at all. Randy fancies herself a reformer of some type, but she's fought almost everything Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein have done to strengthen NYPS.

Posted by: axolotl | June 17, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Randi Weingarten is right. DC is too much into fads under Rhee. There is no actual progress going on.

Posted by: aby1 | June 17, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting to hear from Klein about whether Rhee's advice was unsolicited.

I'm sure that last thing Weingarten wanted was a recommendation from Rhee about how friendly she is to reform. Talk about the kiss of death!

I don't think Rhee's editorial could have gotten published without Rhee's media consultant's approval, so it should be interesting to follow the repercussions of it.

Posted by: efavorite | June 17, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Great response by Weingarten. I wish the Post's editorial board would read it.

Rhee is so high on herself for very little reason. Can't wait till the day she leaves DC.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | June 17, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Everyone on here needs to read Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System." It's truthful, insightful, enlightening and paints a real picture of the problems in the American public schools.

As for Weingarten, I agree with her. For years, DCPS tried fads and quick fixes. Rhee is no different and has no clue what she's doing. The emphasis on testing is ludicrous and is not an indicator of student learning. Janey, on the other hand, had the right idea. He was definitely an educator, leader and knew how to manage people and a bureaucracy. Things about which Rhee knows nothing.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | June 17, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

If you read the two op-eds, you're reminded of a 13-year old whose ignorance leads her to believe she already knows everything, arguing with an adult who is experience and informed enough to understand that she still has a lot to learn. But Rhee's actions throughout her tenure in DC (nad most of her life, from what has been reported in the media) can best be termed childish.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 18, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I was up in NYC this week, tying up the loose ends on a loft in DUMBO I was flipping, and I saw Joel--Chancellor Klein--at the squash club. He mostly wanted to talk about the Mets, but he also mentioned that Michelle had told him she was going to be "sending something up his way." He was caught off guard, because he was expecting it to be a Father's Day card.

C'mon now. Of course Randi Weingarten is going to pick apart Rhee's op-ed. To say nothing would only serve to embolden her critics who think she caved in the DC negotiations. And what is this about "dismissing the value of teachers' experience"? They're teachers, not second-growth bottles of Bordeaux. The passage of time does not necessarily confer excellence.

Posted by: gardyloo | June 18, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

gardyloo wrote: "And what is this about "dismissing the value of teachers' experience"? They're teachers, not second-growth bottles of Bordeaux. The passage of time does not necessarily confer excellence."
Nor does the passage of time confer ineptitude which is what so many, including Rhee, believe. Sorry--but experience brings things to the classroom that someone right out of college just doesn't have.

Posted by: musiclady | June 18, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Talk to any teacher and they will admit that they made mistakes during their first few years of teaching. They stopped making those mistakes and their teaching is now more effective. That is why experience is important in teachers.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 18, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

celestun100--I agree completely w you that experience is important for teachers. But it is important for all professions and thousands of other "jobs."

Let's not over-do it. The experience/effectiveness curve flattens out somewhere, and that's probably not as late as 15 or 20 years. Just one non-teacher's opinion.

Posted by: axolotl | June 18, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Joel Klein has bargained with Weingarten before and he needs to send the message to Rhee that his experience with Randi left him knowing that she was no push-over. Rhee is the only one calling it a revolutionary contract to promote who else? Rhee!!!! She is so full of herself that she'll soon explode! Randi was so right to correct Rhee. If you remember when Rhee came to town she announced that she wasn't going to use a negotiating team. She and George would sit down and work it out. That's how green and knowledgable she was about a labor contract. Now she's the expert! That's funny.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 18, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

musiclady, as a parent of a child in a DC elementary school I promise you from the bottom of my heart that the totality of my experiences with DCPS teachers is that the younger ones with less experience are better communicators with the parents. I had one really great 30 year teacher and saw one really great 25 year teacher who was later bumped up to principal at a charter. The remainder of teachers, the ones with 15-25 years in were terrible and had no idea what they were doing. It is unconscionable to suggest that teachers hired under Barry or Kelly (and I knew a teacher hired under Washington too) with the rampant corruption during those years are good for students. Except for two examples, all the teachers I met with that amount of experience were terrible, mean, prejudiced against "newcomers" (whites) and children where the parents don't care (blacks) and children where no one speaks English at home (everyone else). I wouldn't be as angry about this if everything I just wrote wasn't something that I saw with my own eyes.

Posted by: bbcrock | June 22, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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