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Celebration glosses over fine print on bonuses

My invitation to last Friday's Union Station reception for the 663 "highly effective" DCPS teachers must have gotten hung up in The Post mailroom, which happens from time to time. So I can't offer a first-hand account of the event, thrown by DCPS to honor educators who scored in the top echelon of the new IMPACT evaluation system. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said that after so much turmoil and unrest involving firings and layoffs, she wanted to do something that focused on the best the school system has to offer.

"I want the media and other people to focus on the fact that we have hundreds and hundreds of great people in the system," Rhee told WPFW's Pete Tucker, another uninvited reporter who showed up anyway.

Rhee used the reception to formally announce the first round of bonuses under the new performance pay system, dubbed "IMPACTplus." Teachers can earn annual bonuses of up to $25,000 for improving student test scores at high poverty schools, as well as base salary increases that could raise annual pay to $130,000 after nine years. That's compared to about $87,500 after 21 years under the old salary structure.

Not explicitly acknowledged by Rhee was that under the terms of the new labor contract approved in June, teachers who accept the bonus money waive their rights to certain considerations if they are excessed -- or lose their jobs because of enrollment or program changes at their schools. Other teachers in good standing who are "excessed" can take a $25,000 buyout, early retirement with 20 years service, or a full year with pay and benefits to look for another position in the system.

While it's in the contract, Eaton Elementary teacher Chris Bergfalk, one of the highly effective instructors, said he's not sure that teachers are clear on the conditions attached to the money.

"Teachers don't understand when they take that check they are giving up their rights," said Bergfalk, who is also running for president of the Washington Teachers' Union. "To me that's disgusting."

Rhee said Monday that before teachers receive the payments, "They'll have to sign something that affirmatively acknowledges they understand the conditions."

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By Bill Turque  |  September 14, 2010; 12:42 PM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee , Test scores , Washington Teachers' Union  
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Next: Gray on keeping Rhee: "We'll see"


So by taking that money, the teachers have to operate under the same rules as pretty much every other job in the DC area. They don't get unreasonable benefits like a lifetime pension or a years pay instead of two weeks.

Why is this something we should be concerned with? I wonder how much the union pays you to write this blog.

Posted by: Natstural | September 14, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

You should be concerned if you want good teachers in DCPS schools.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 14, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if people realize that civil service workers (mail carriers, librarians, firefighters, social workers) all get job security and good benefits in exchange for modest wages. This "contract" is acceptable to the general public so long as times are good, but in a recession these public sector jobs (which include teachers) suddenly look good to people in the private sector. Resentment often ensues. If teachers gave up the benefits they have now and became civil servants, would the benefits be better or worse? In one respect it would be better because employees would become "permanent" after six months, but I'm not sure about other aspects.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 14, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I would like to know what percentage of the "Highly Effective" teachers were in the Group 1 Value-added category. These are the teachers for whom test scores are 50% of their IMPACT evaluations. Not a single Group 1 teacher at my school received a "Highly Effective" rating despite growth that averaged higher than the mythical group of "students like yours" used to calculate that portion of the evaluation. Before test score data, I had a 3.9 (out of 4.0) placing me at the safe end of "Highly Effective" but despite growth that was significantly higher than "students like mine", I was not considered "Highly Effective". Does this make anyone else want to flee to a non-testing grade? Maybe then I can get more money...but we're not in it for the money right?

Posted by: still_love_teaching | September 14, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

AMEN to Still_love_teaching!!! This makes me angry...yet all the guidance counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, etc. got their highly effective rating. The guidance counselors and such don't even get observed by a master educator! Their scores are given by their principals! I wanna run from this IMPACT thing! It is so unfair to the teachers that are working so hard to make our school system the best it can be! My school was one of the only elementary schools in DC that made gains this year and NOT ONE ET-15 made H.E! There is something wrong here. (I was also on the highly effective side before test scores came in) I would think that Jason "the genius" Kamras could figure this one out. It is an unfair system... another PPEP! Makes ya wanna vote for GRAY!

Posted by: edjook8tr | September 14, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

We had Group 1 teachers at my school who had 3.8 and 3.9 on their value added (test scores) yet still didn't get highly qualified. Tell me how you can move your students that much and NOT be highly effective?

Posted by: pat1117 | September 14, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, that should have read "highly effective" not "highly qualified" which, by the way, they are.

Posted by: pat1117 | September 14, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

"teachers who accept the bonus moneyive their rights to certain considerations if they are excessed -- or lose their jobs because of enrollment or program changes at their schools"

Thank you for warning teachers, Mr. Turque! Thank you for understanding teachers also.

Posted by: jlp19 | September 14, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse


The private sector needs more protection! To help the middle class, you don't take protection away from those who have some degree of it. You help those without protection get it.

I think it is cruel and vicious the way people are treated in the private sector.

Posted by: jlp19 | September 14, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

to still_love_teaching: I agree with you. I'd like to see that data as well. I am a DCPS teacher who was rated "highly effective." However, I am a special subject teacher and my overall evaluation is NOT based on student test scores. My rating comes primarily from the 5 observations. I totally agree that it is UNFAIR. IMPACT cannot be applied equitably at all. It's a flawed evaluation system.

to natsural: Actually, our "lifetime pension" is paid for by us. Money is taken from our pay each pay period so we're not getting a pension we haven't earned nor paid for.

As for all the "other jobs in DC area," I know many people in the private sector and the federal govt. who make much more money than I do, don't work nearly as hard or as many hours and aren't as educated as I am (2 master's degrees). They also have much better health benefits that what DCPS offers.

Yes, many in the private sector are "at will" employees. But teachers give up higher pay, settle for not so great health insurance and work longer hours for a little job security. Not a job for life, but "due process" is all we ask when terminating us.

But this isn't really the point of contention for me. What I'm steamed about is that both the union and the chancellor marketed these payments as "bonuses." A bonus is extra money for going above and beyond your job--which is what "highly effective" means. There are no strings attached to bonuses--not in private industry nor the federal government. I have a sibling who works for the Dept. of Defense and she has received a bonus several times and NEVER has it come with any strings attached. She was speechless when I told her what we found out about our bonuses.

This is just more evidence to indicate that Michelle Rhee cannot be trusted and she does NOT respect her own teachers. As for the union, I'm as equally disappointed in them as well. The details of this "bonus plan" should have been worked out and made public BEFORE we voted on the contract. This is exactly why I voted "No" for the contract because I knew it was too good to be true.

I'm hoping for a Gray victory and for Rhee to be on her way to Sacramento. She's done a miserable job in DCPS. Test scores are down after a decade of rising, the achievement gap is widening under her leadership, morale among teachers is the lowest I've ever seen and all we do with our students is "drill and kill." I'm glad I don't have children in DCPS.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 14, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

More of the same with Rhee-- hiding information manipulating the facts. I am so disgusted at this point.

I do have kids in DCPS and will be looking for other options if Rhee stays. The 'drill and kill' test prep that Urbandweller talked about is cruel and exposes children to way too much stress and a super rigid learning environment.

It is not a healthy setting for anyone including teachers and children.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 14, 2010 11:07 PM | Report abuse

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