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Wilson teacher alleges transfer was retaliation

Updated: 10 a.m.

Erich Martel has never been reluctant to call out those in power when he thinks there's a problem. In 2007, the veteran A.P. U.S. history teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School triggered an investigation by the D.C. inspector general when he found evidence that students ineligible to graduate were receiving diplomas. The probe substantiated some of his allegations.

Martel, Wilson's building representative to the Washington Teachers' Union and a member of the WTU executive committee, has also been outspoken in his criticism of the IMPACT evaluation system, especially its requirement that instructors teach to accommodate "multiple learning styles," a concept questioned by some neuroscientists. He was at odds with principal Pete Cahall when he decided to use two versions of the same test--in smaller print--to thwart cheating. Cahall thought this amounted to lowering his expectations of students by assuming that they would cheat if they could.

This spring, Martel told Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that Cahall allowed students with failing grades and numerous unexcused absences to take a senior class trip to the Bahamas while school was in session (April12-14). Martel said data he gathered from other teachers showed that of the 88 students who went on the trip, eight had more than 200 class absences and another 10 had more than 100 unexcused absences.

How Rhee responded to the charges is not known. What is known is that Martel was told in June by instructional superintendent John Davis that he was being transferred to Phelps Architecture Construction and Engineering High School. The reason, Davis told Martel: "significant educational philosophy differences with the Wilson H.S. administration."

Martel is fighting the transfer, which he described as "transparently fabricated," and illegal retaliation for his disclosures. He is calling for an investigation of the spring trip and other matters on Cahall's watch, including allegedly ineligible players on sports teams and extra salary payments to "favored individuals."

He said that a failure to hold Cahall accountable--and Cahall's failure to hold staff accountable--has poisoned the school's atmosphere. "At Wilson H.S., that failure has resulted in cronyism, and private arrangements which have had a depressing effect on student learning and a chilling effect on teacher morale," Martell said in a letter to Rhee last week.

Rhee said Monday that, ""There is no merit to his accusation."

Reached by e-mail Sunday night, Cahall said: "I cannot comment on Mr. Martel's allegations for personnel reasons...I hope by now that you have found me to be open...honest...and transparent...I have nothing to hide...simply...I am here to serve the students and parents...I will leave if I am not producing."

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By Bill Turque  |  August 30, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
 
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Comments

Not that he was dumped but where he was dumped. He [Martel] will now report to the premier high-school for career-tech an application only high school with high expectations. If he thinks Cahill was a stickler...then watchout for the new principal.

Rumor has it that John Davis is leaving and Cahill is the next in-line candidate to become the instructional superintendent.

It just seems when Martel brought out similiar allocations against Tarason and Bonner he [Martel] was teflon, Now that he has burnt Cahill...it seems the fire extinguisher named Rhee has dampened the fire and removed the debris.

Where there's smoke there's fire, I guess.

Posted by: PowerandPride | August 30, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Martel is (I am disinclined to say "was") one of the smartest teachers at Wilson HS, not to mention one of the only teachers who is willing to hold the principal and the administration accountable. As on of Mr. Martel's former students--as someone who has witnessed firsthand his dedication to the school--I am inclined to believe all of his claims. He is being transferred because he is one of the most astute and caring teachers at Wilson who refuses to turn a blind eye to the administration's many questionable actions. Punishing those teachers who have somehow retained their vigor and morals throughout all of this Rheeform is absurd to me. Martel has given so much to Wilson; I would hate to see the school lose another of its assets. Thank you so much for the story, Turque. These atrocious stories need to be told, especially before the upcoming election.

Posted by: dcstudent5 | August 30, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Note Mr.Cahall's response - "I have nothing to hide...simply...I am here to serve the students and parents...I will leave if I am not producing." What, be damn the teachers? I thought he is there to serve the teachers as well. He is a jerk!

Posted by: Unbelievable6 | August 30, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Rhee said Monday that, ""There is no merit to his accusation."
how can u say thay withouth providing proof

Posted by: JeroRobson1 | August 30, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The quote "There is no merit to his accusation," is both transparently stupid and belied by the actual reason cited by the DCPS for the transfer.

The DCPS cites unspecific "significant educational philosophy differences with the Wilson H.S. administration." OK, I may disagree with that, but that doesn't suggest "no merit" to the accusation. What Rhee should have said, was that "we don't discuss personnel matters." Which would have been a fine answer.

Except she can't say that because of the careless accusations she has previously thrown around about other teachers.

Posted by: dyedwab1 | August 30, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

After seeing how unorganized Wilson has been the start of this school year, I believe Martel. Also, cheating is nothing new at school. Teachers should have the right to administer different test.

All that baloney about schools being ready is garbage.Many teachers just got books for their classes at the end of the first school week. There isn't even anyone answering the phone at Wilson (202 282 0120) what is that about?

Posted by: lois3 | August 30, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that the teacher must have had decent IMPACT scores, or they would have gotten him for being ineffective.

The charge sounds pretty trumped up and quite desperate. He must have something really big on them.

The Principal sounds scared too, through his bravado.

Posted by: efavorite | August 30, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"There is no merit to his accusation."

It sounds like another one of Rhee's classic one line zinger emails of the 10,000 a month she supposedly claims to respond to.

This seems like just another classic case of an administration bullying teachers when questions are asked or real issues are brought up. Yet another example of how teachers are treated so "professionally". Yet another example why many teachers prefer to keep their voices to themselves in fear of administration's retaliation (watch out IMPACT score)!

It's one thing to not "be on board with the educational philosophies" of a school, but it's clearly another thing to call attention to real issues in a school only to have them ignored. Many issues in my former school that were brought forth to the administration received the same type of ignored and cold shoulder treatment. Facing the truth might be hard, but what is worse is dealing with the effects of ignoring the real issues. This can lead to a devastating school culture and climate.

The way that administrators take questions and constructive criticism is as if they are being personally attacked. My former colleagues and I proposed ideas to try to resolve real issues going on in school. We brought important issues to the attention of the administration and 9 times out of 10, our pleas and suggestions were ignored and issues continued to go on and often got much worse. It got to a point, where we were left just waiting for something REALLY bad to happen before the issue would be dealt with. Too bad in most cases, the bulk of the damage had already been done.

Good luck to Mr. Martel and I feel sorry for the students at Wilson who have lost him as a teacher.

Posted by: istheresocialjustice | August 30, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Also as a former Martel student:
Martel might have been a hard ass, in fact he was probably the toughest and maybe most disliked teacher at Wilson. He undoubtedly rubs some people the wrong way, including me, but there is no denying the fact that he's one of the best teachers at Wilson. He simply doesn't put up with bullshit and his students learn. Without question it was the most collegial class I ever had at Wilson.

Posted by: bouncinggorilla | August 30, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

philosophical cleansing

Posted by: Nemessis | August 30, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

During my last years of teaching, when my kids were grown and I no longer needed the job, I discovered the power of the teacher. Whenever I saw an illegal or unethical act (and there are plenty on any campus) I filed a complaint with an authority OUTSIDE the school district. Although I was supposedly "anonymous" the superintendent knew it was me and jokingly called me "you little troublemaker." I smiled back sweetly and faked a puzzled look. Once when I wrote a letter to the editor that was critical of a member of the school board, the principal tried to retaliate but was called off by the district's lawyer after the newspaper was alerted! Perhaps I was having "delusions of grandeur" but during my last year I felt as though I was feared by administration. The principal didn't dare harass any vulnerable teachers, fail to make a child abuse report, cheat the special ed kids out of services, or pressure anyone to cheat on the standardized tests with me around.

Teachers, remember, you don't give up your civil rights when you become a teacher. And the principal isn't the only one who can intimidate. If you play your cards right, you can have him quaking in his boots. And that goes for Michelle Rhee too. By October she's going to know that she messed with the wrong profession.

If all else fails, call Bill Turque!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 30, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

These are the typical injustices are perpetrated on a daily basis by those people who run the school system.

Posted by: marylight | August 31, 2010 5:18 AM | Report abuse

Ballou and Wilson are the largest high-schools in the city. Ballou went through their entire staff and everyone had to reapply. It just seems that it would be "right" for the principal at Wilson to be given the same opportunity to rid staff who are not mission oriented.

Isn't Cahill the principal of choice when given the opportunity to select a principal? Hasn't the Wilson school community eradicated the so-called inept administration team of the past? Those who remain aren't they the Wilson family who has strength in numbers attitude? If everything is so terribly wrong at Wilson, wouldn't one want to leave and go to an application-only high school where the school population is predominantly African-American?

You don't have to answer the last question, I can assume what the answer.

Posted by: PowerandPride | August 31, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

PowerandPride,
I am not sure why you are using extreme statements like, "If everything is so terribly wrong at Wilson..."

I never read Erich Martel saying that "everything" is wrong at Wilson. He clearly has a history of advocating for rules to be followed and has not been afraid of being outspoken.

Do you think it is okay for students who have excessive absences to go on a trip to the Bahamas causing them to miss more instructional time?

Why are the concerns that Martel is raising translated into him not being the right fit.

Do we really want schools filled with employees who just say yes to everything and do not voice concern when they see troubling incidents??

I don't want my children in that kind of environment.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 31, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Cahill just like Betts is no miracle worker. Cahill is just as mean as Rhee and Fenty.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | August 31, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I think there is a great paper for a journalism student or maybe a future book for Mr. Turque in how the Post has let him keep reporting but let anything that might tarnish Ms. Rhee out of the print edition. As soon as I read this my reaction was "well that is a story that will never make the print edition." I noticed they went to the further extend to not not on the education page that Bill had a new blog post. Bill it could be a great book about problems in education and journalism. Don't forget a section on the connection between the Washington Post and Kaplan.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Mulch5 | August 31, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Rhee and Cahall are both full of it. But TFA trains its cultists to ignore evidence when in contradicts their belief system. No surprise here, just the DCPS version of the gulag-style "Rhee-education camp.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 31, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Several of these comments illustrate nicely that some teachers and their anti-change supporters believe that the DCPS is run primarily for teachers.

Both Fenty and Gray agree that DCPS exists primarily for the children, not the braying unionistas.

Leave No Teacher Behind.

Posted by: axolotl | August 31, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Martel is an excellent teacher of AP history, at least so says one of his former students here - who didn't even like him much!

No way it helps the students, who always come first, to pull him out of Wilson, replaced by a former athletic coach (has he ever taught AP?) and placed at the last minute in a technical school (Has Martel ever taught this kind of student? How much notice and preparation was he given?)

Posted by: efavorite | August 31, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

axolotl:

What are your comments based on? So you agree that Martel should have been transferred? If so, can you answer the questions I asked powerandpride?

You should be commenting on this specific situation not ranting about how anyone who doesn't agree with Rhee is against children.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 31, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

@letsbereal2:

Re the Bahama trip: not ok

M is obviously a strong teacher. Team player, no. Rabble rouser of the unconstructive type: yes.

Do we really want schools filled with employees who just say yes? No. But we have a situation where the unionistas rebel against anyone trying to oversee their performance or evaluate it. The reason is that no prior supt. ever dared to do this. The teacher corps was never screened for quality. There is a connection, a significant one, between the quality of teachers (95 percent good to excellent when Rhee showed up) and the decades-long decline of public school achievement.

Martel is an odd case, nothing to do with reform or Rhee's management. He has his own karma, his own fans, some great accomplishments. He does not know how to make constructive suggestions for improvements. His middle finger is always in the air, figuratively speaking.

If you think Vince Gray is going to deliver improved schools, you are probably in for a bad surprise: the resumption and acceleration of the traditional decline of DCPS.

How low can it go? Leave No Teacher Behind.

Posted by: axolotl | August 31, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for a great article, Bill.
Thanks to everyone for your comments.

To Power and Pride: The two earlier scandals (allegations) were in 2002 and 2006, while Dr. Tarason was principal; he started in January 1999. I made no allegations against Dr. Bonner; so, let's not link her name or my name to something that didn't happen.
Erich Martel


Posted by: ehmartel | August 31, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Unionista here.

Must say I do enjoy reading everyone's comments.
The WAPO has the best education reporting on the Web.
That reporting is heavily supplemented by our thoughtful comments. Seems like a big positive.
And no one even had to pay me to say this. I am really curious to know which of the frequent posters on here are paid contractors.

I rather like axolotl's predictable on message/off topic posts. When she goes off message it's like she's having a private conversation with someone she knows well. Lots of inside info. going back-and-fourth under the radar. This from a poster who as far as I can tell tries to make it seem that she is not in the education business.

On message/off topic
"Several of these comments illustrate nicely that some teachers and their anti-change supporters believe that the DCPS is run primarily for teachers.

Both Fenty and Gray agree that DCPS exists primarily for the children, not the braying unionistas.

Leave No Teacher Behind."

vs.

On topic/off message
"Martel is an odd case, nothing to do with reform or Rhee's management. He has his own karma, his own fans, some great accomplishments. He does not know how to make constructive suggestions for improvements. His middle finger is always in the air, figuratively speaking."

Makes me wonder.

Posted by: stevendphoto | September 1, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

i applaud erich martel!

what a disservice to students these poorly performing principals are doing!
so many teachers are afraid of bringing to light any of the wrongdoing that the administrators do on a daily basis to not only students, but teachers as well.
therefore, these situations seem to perpetuate throughout the schools.

Posted by: cosnowflake | September 1, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

"How Rhee responded to the charges is not known. What is known is that Martel was told in June by instructional superintendent John Davis that he was being transferred to Phelps Architecture Construction and Engineering High School. The reason, Davis told Martel: "significant educational philosophy differences with the Wilson H.S. administration."

Interesting, considering that Rhee's response to edharris' suggestion that she transfer high "perfoming teachers" (based on IMPACT, if you lend it any credibilty, which I do not) to teach the classes of the fired "low performing" teachers was that she did not have the authority. Another Rhee "miscommunication" (lie) perhaps?

Posted by: mcstowy | September 1, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

@Steve, my fan. Glad to entertain you, judging by yo tongue-in-cheek paen. Hey, if I could meet my needs by these Bberry bursts on the run, I'd do it. You can't pay me,though, as I am overextended in my real job, which is relevant to achieving world peace and harmony among all people, ridding the world of pestilence, supporting good government, ending energy dependence, becoming fully green, funding excellence in public education, re-regulating Wall Street, and any other worthwhile cause.

Lastly, if I were in the education "business" or investing in it, I'd be shorting it right now. Unionistas are too influential, eh?

Posted by: axolotl | September 1, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

letsbereal; the extreme statement comes from previous statments made those who support the "tigers." It is a known fact that if Wilson had their way in entirety...we wouldn't be at this point with Martel being asked to relocate, would we? Lets be real...in the most profound way, the students of irritation are predominantly black and there's was an underlying current regarding a group whites who wanted to take a separate class trip...and it was denied. Real is what real gets. You don't want me to bring it...or do you.

Posted by: PowerandPride | September 1, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

powerandpride,

If you have factual information about the class trip or other aspects of Wilson please fully state them. Your comments are vague. This does not help the conversation move forward.

So yes, I want you to "bring it" if that means that you will share pertinent information.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 1, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Readers can judge for themselves whether Rhee's short email is accurate by reading the chilling transcript of Martel's meeting with the assistant superintendent, which I have posted here:

http://www.citizen.org/documents/Transcript1.pdf.

It is quite apparent, because the assistant superintendent himself admits it during the discussion, that Martel is being demoted, not because of any perceived flaws in his AP classroom conduct, but because his expressing disagreement, and acting as a good union rep by encouraging of other teachers to review their IMPACT evaluations carefully was "hindering" the principal.

Free speech and due process are like that, to be sure. They are SUPPOSED to hinder by giving authority the opportunity to slow down and think. But that is not Fenty's strength. Rhee stands four square with him in that regard.

Note that my moniker below is from four years ago; the Post makes it impossible to change your moniker without eliminating your account. It's like kids getting tattoos as teenagers, and growing up to regret it.

Count me disgusted with Fenty (although not ready to vote for Gray, however much displays like this one tempts me to do so)

Posted by: fentysupporter | September 2, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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