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While D.C. & Teachers Spar, MoCo Wins Quite A Deal

The contrast could hardly be more stark: As D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee ratchets up the rhetoric in her battle to break the District's teachers union and force a merit pay plan on the city's classroom instructors, Montgomery County last week announced that its public schools have reached a deal in which the county 22,000 teachers and other school staffers will forgo a promised 5 percent pay raise so the schools can try to muddle through the financial crisis without increasing class size or sacking teachers.

Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast, speaking on today's edition of Raw Fisher Radio (the show streams at noon today and will be available all week here on the big web site), didn't want to comment on the comparison between his methods and those of his colleague in the District. But Weast said he was able to cut a deal with the union because he has worked closely with union leaders for a decade, raising academic standards and providing less than successful teachers with extensive training and support to bring them up to par.

"If you treat people like you want to be treated," you will get better work from them than if you blame them for failure, Weast said.

Montgomery County Education Association president Bonnie Cullison put it more bluntly: "You cannot make it happen in a district where you set up conflict." The union chief said that in the District, Rhee has sent a clear message to teachers that "You're not doing the job. As opposed to our 'Let's work together to create a system where every teacher is supported" to do the best possible job with children.

Weast said he has made getting along with the union a priority from day one, and that has allowed him to work out quieter ways to rid the system of teachers whose performance remains poor even after training and other efforts at improvement.

Cullison and Weast agreed that the raise that the teachers are giving up this year will come back to them at some point in the future, though the superintendent said he is preparing for the economic downturn to last quite a while. If the dramatic decline in state and county revenues continues for more than a couple of years, Weast said cuts that have a powerful impact on the classroom experience could be unavoidable, but for now, the combination of postponed pay raises and cuts in central administration and other spending should allow Montgomery to maintain class size and keep teacher staffing close to current levels.

The superintendent and the union chief were also united on this point: No matter how affluent Montgomery's image may be, the fact remains that teachers, who earn an average salary of $66,000 and who start their careers at $45,000, can barely afford to live in the county. Many commute from great distances and many others share apartments. Forgoing a five percent raise is an act of goodwill and sacrifice, a symbol of commitment to the children they teach, but it's also money that the teachers, reasonably enough, expect to have returned to them at some point down the road.

By Marc Fisher |  December 9, 2008; 8:08 AM ET
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Comments

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Is it possible the major difference between Montgomery County and the District was already defined in your previous post. When you stated "When the history of home rule in Washington is written, the puzzle of Marion Barry will loom large: How could someone so talented have been so self-destructive, historians will ask. How could a great leader who was so committed to grasping power for the downtrodden have come into office and then abused the public trust by turning the District government into a hiring hall for cronies and con artists?"

You see, MoCo doesn't have the level of cronies and con-artists to eliminate from the school system.

The District does, and Chancellor Rhee is using an approach that has had much success in the past.

It's payback time, and the cronies and con-artists of Mayor Barely are screaming to any fool who will listen to try and stop her.

Posted by: SoMD1 | December 9, 2008 8:40 AM

Thank you SoMD1.

I am at a great school right now, but my kids' original DCPS school was filled with Mayor Washington hires who gamed the system to get a generation of unqualified daughters and nieces Barry political patronage jobs. None were qualified and other teachers called them "the worst of the school" to my face!

People from outside the District literally have NO IDEA how bad the DCPS teachers are. The sad truth is that even few parents get a chance to see what goes on in a suburban school and talk to suburban teachers and then go into a DCPS school. It's scary. I can tell you that no outsider is EVER going to see the real side of a teacher like a parent who hears a 50 year old teacher complain about a hangover on a monday morning. (That would get you sent to an intervention program where I work.)

Marc Fisher's opening paragraph is bizarre in its inaccurate description of the problem. It's literally upside-down from reality.

There is no reason to try to encourage an unqualified teacher wit shaky academic credentials and failure to pass Praxis to succeed- they just need to be let go and replaced by the dozens of new teachers with real academic degrees who pre-passed Praxis. I don't want my tax dollars wasted trying to bring a teacher performing at 35% effectiveness brought up to 50% effective when there are young masters degree students right now who will be ready to start in the fall with exciting new technologies and can hit 75% effective on their first day.

Posted by: bbcrock | December 9, 2008 11:56 AM

Marc Fisher should go interview MOCO students about their teachers. I bet they can regale him with stories of incompetent teachers who are tolerated year after year. Rich county school systems are carried by their students and their students parents who augment rather modest schools with tutors and SAT prep courses and many other extra academic supports.

Posted by: jy151310 | December 9, 2008 7:40 PM

Montgomery County last week announced that its public schools have reached a deal in which the county 22,000 teachers
~~~~

Marc,
Can you explain what is going on, I have read that this deal must be ratified by a vote of the teachers. Is is really a done deal?

Posted by: jzsartucci | December 9, 2008 7:44 PM

Somd1 says, "Chancellor Rhee is using an approach that has had much success in the past."

Please advise - what approach is that? Give a few examples, with supporting data, of its success.

bbrock - good idea to evaluate the teachers on their mastery of their subject material. I'd add grammar and writing skills. I haven't heard Rhee suggest that. So far, the only test scores that matter are those of the students.

It's also a good idea for teachers not to complain about their hangovers and go into rehab. There's nothing stopping principals from handling that right now. In fact, it's the principals' responsibility. Has the Rhee administration put out any directives on this?

Posted by: efavorite | December 10, 2008 8:22 AM

jy151310,

If you're suggesting that I, as a DCPS parent, was NOT asked to contribute $600 annually for my kid's school to hire assistant teachers then you're nuts. My friends in MoCo paid much more modest $200 fees to hire extra teachers. Everything you suggested as a difference between DCPS and MoCo is already being done in DCPS- teachers paid by the PTA, tutors, SAT Prep classes, etc.

Posted by: bbcrock | December 10, 2008 9:53 AM

bbrock - good idea to evaluate the teachers on their mastery of their subject material. I'd add grammar and writing skills. I haven't heard Rhee suggest that.
----

Rhee demanded that all teachers have up to date certifications- we are all aware of that.

Posted by: bbcrock | December 10, 2008 9:54 AM

Certification has always been required. If some teachers did not maintain their certification (once qualified) and were and still allowed to teach, that's an administrative problem, not a teacher problem.

It's also very concrete - you're either certified or you're not -- nothing subjective about it - unlike classroom evaluations done, let's say, by principals who have been given a quota of teachers to put on 90 day plans.

Posted by: efavorite | December 10, 2008 12:28 PM

Sorry efavorite. That all came out during the interview and approval process.

If you want details on Rhee's resume you can search the internet yourself. Stop asking somebody else to do your homework for you. On that note, you graduated from DC schools, didn't you?

Posted by: SoMD1 | December 10, 2008 3:12 PM

SoMD1 is absolutely right in his assessment which lead DCPS to its current crisis.

I have to agree with Mr. Weast; "If you treat people like you want to be treated," you will get better work from them than if you blame them for failure."

Well ....... that’s what (we) parents feel too.

Congratulations on the unified set-off in the MoCo Publics schools, where the teachers choose to forgo a 5% wage increase - good choices.

Chancellor Rhee has a much greater tumultuous task in DCPS. From infrastructure to need heat to crime ridden children in a small town where 95% of all African American children in the DCPS are of women only head of households.

This dilemma is "political" in that DCPS does-not teach to traditional family oriented student bodies.

DCPS children for the most face a trauma at home-out of school, then,(under the old crony system) DCPS administrators places further draconian requirements onto its teaching staff's to teach to too many students who don't care and are very disruptive in-schools.

There can be no adequate comparison between these vastly differnt School districts, and it is unfair to characterize Ms. Rhee as: "Montgomery County Education Association president Bonnie Cullison put it more bluntly:" "You cannot make it happen in a district where you set up conflict." This is an ardently parochial mischaracterization of a very sincere leader of DCPS.

When a prison warden must choose the safety of the institution, do you think the disruptive felons preceding the wardens arrival is a just cause to claim "If you treat people like you want to be treated, "you will get better work from them than if you blame them for failure, as Mr. Weast said? I think not.

Having children in DCPS is no panacea, and, the common opinion is; we are glad Ms. Rhee is here.

Mr. Leggett the Supervisor - or Chairman in Montgomery County has very good credentials, and credit must be given its due. He has a good school system and a reasonably fair government - D.C. does not.

A good article and, maybe a beginning for MoCo Public Schools volunteers to AID D.C. teachers, parents, and, a terrific new DC Schools Chancellor to navigate a dysfunctional political establishment destined to destroy innocent children and parents, and teachers who seeking a to make an education a better experience in the DC Public Schools.

No doubt MoCo has a synergy to emulate - better schools administration and stepping-up to reduce a very troubled budget deficit in MoCO.

Posted by: eglobegus | December 10, 2008 11:40 PM

Michelle Rhee's methods are good PR but there is no doubt that by attacking everyone in the district she is undermining the process of improving the schools. Parents want tough talk in DC because of the conditions, but people have to grapple with the reality that unions, teachers, the DC council, etc are powerful players in DC. They can't be antagonized into doing what Rhee wants. She has to use better tools than a sledgehammer. That's just going to rip everything apart -- the good and the bad.

Posted by: Blackbox | December 12, 2008 11:53 AM

Parents want tough talk in DC because of the conditions, but people have to grapple with the reality that unions, teachers, the DC council, etc are powerful players in DC.
-----

That's not true, in fact quite the opposite. I met some teachers last year who lambasted Rhee and Fenty for these issues, but when I asked them who they voted for in the Mayoral race they looked sheepish and admitted they all lived in PG County. Unless PG County has the right to vote in DC elections, the teachers union will not have the power it had in 1990.

Posted by: bbcrock | December 15, 2008 10:53 AM

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