Monday, June 14, 2010

D.C. teachers' contract holds benefits for students and teachers

A spot-on editorial in the Washington Post about the bold new teachers contract in DC:

D.C. teachers' contract holds benefits for students and teachers.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

OVERWHELMING approval by D.C. teachers of a new contract caps nearly three years of high drama marked by bitter negotiations, political recriminations and budget uncertainty. But rather than an ending, the labor pact -- which still must be approved by the D.C. Council -- represents what could be a beginning in building and retaining a more effective teaching force. That's a credit to the tenacity of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and also to the willingness of the union's rank and file to embrace her aggressive but common-sense reforms.

Members of the Washington Teachers' Union voted 1,412 to 425 to approve the agreement that would give them generous pay raises while modifying long-held prerogatives. Seniority and tenure would no longer protect bad teachers; effectiveness in the classroom would be the standard by which teachers are judged. The fact that the vote was so lopsided in favor of the contract should serve as a rebuke to those who saw Ms. Rhee as unwise in her pursuit of the changes. It raises the question of why union leaders took so long to allow these issues to be voted on. Undoubtedly teachers welcomed the 21.6 percent base pay increase over five years, with the possibility of more for those who volunteer for a merit pay program. But we'd guess many teachers also share the goal of righting a troubled system and welcome a framework that rewards quality and hard work.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said he will urge his colleagues to follow the teachers' lead and give final approval as soon as possible. The $140 million, five-year contract comes at a fiscally challenging time for the District -- other employees are being asked to forgo step increases. But Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has made education reform a bulwark of his administration, rightly set aside the funds needed for the contract, while Ms. Rhee managed to raise money from private foundations willing to underwrite the early years of the merit pay program.

The generous pay provisions in the contract unfortunately have engendered resentment in some parts of the charter school community, where there is a belief that charter schools are slighted when public money is apportioned. We were glad to hear charter school leaders recently distance themselves from talk of possible legal action to upend the contract; the reforms embodied in the pact are too important to become subject to a turf battle. Charter leaders are right, though, to point to inequities in how funds are appropriated, particularly for facilities. Smartly, the D.C. Council is moving to establish an independent commission on public education financing to examine this issue.

Here's more on the DC contract, courtesy of Natasha Kamrani in Houston:


a) Last week, Washington, DC teachers decisively ratified a groundbreaking new teacher contract (  Excerpts from the Washington Post's coverage:

A new voluntary performance pay program to begin this fall could add $20,000 to $30,000 to teachers' salaries, based on significant improvement in student test scores and other yet-to-be specified criteria….total compensation for some top-rated instructors could reach $140,000, officials estimate. While other cities such as Denver have had incentive pay programs for several years, none promise the kind of money Rhee says she is prepared to pay. For teachers who enter the plan, it means no longer having to invest 10 to 15 years in a lockstep pay schedule to command a significant income.

…. It allows principals to use job performance, instead of seniority, as the chief determinant when reducing staff due to declining enrollment or program changes. Under the "mutual consent" clause, displaced teachers who used to be assigned to new schools -- whether principals wanted them or not -- will no longer be guaranteed spots in the system and must find administrators willing to take them. Teachers with good evaluations who are unable to find a job have a year's grace period, at full pay, to continue the search. They can also opt for a $25,000 buyout or early retirement with full benefits if they have 20 or more years of service.

b) Newsweek Magazine weighs in as well on some of the more interesting details of the contract (

As a result of a revolutionary new contract, teachers in Washington DC who are rated incompetent can be fired immediately—a practice common in industry but unheard of in American public schools.

While the contract, closely watched by reform advocates and school officials across the country, has gotten considerable media attention as it was ratified this week, the extent of the reforms detailed in its 120 pages have clearly been underestimated. Tenure and seniority have been largely obliterated, and student test scores will have a bigger impact on a teacher's evaluation than in any other school district in the country. Meanwhile, the contract allows for highly effective teachers working in the city's toughest schools in the hardest-to-staff jobs to earn pay and bonuses that will top $140,000 a year. The result could be a district undergoing the biggest shakeup ever.

c) Jay Matthews, the well-regarded education columnist for the Washington Post, weighs in with his view on who the real winners (including a nod to Houston!!) are in a column entitled, "D.C. contract is just the tool to let creative, renegade teachers soar," (

The new contract ratified by D.C. teachers has inspired speculation about who is going to get the most out of it. Will Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee be able to impose her test-driven evaluation system with no more teacher resistance? Will the American Federation of Teachers, and its president, Randi Weingarten, garner new prestige and influence for endorsing reform?

That's not it. This is not about District or union leaders. It is about teachers, particularly the innovative ones who have been taking jobs in city schools and joining Weingarten's union in large numbers in the past several years. The new contract in the District and related developments in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Houston and elsewhere give this new bunch an opportunity to prove that their creative and aggressive teaching will help inner-city children realize their untapped potential.

d) AND as we all know, the real winners of holding adults accountable for their impact on children will be the students.  I find this article on DCPS's enrollment increasing for the FIRST time since the 1970s to be the greatest testament to the work being done to reform the District (

Enrollment in D.C. Public Schools is projected to increase next year for the first time since the early 1970s, due in large part to an influx of the youngest students.  More than 5,200 3- and 4-year-olds are expected to fill public school classrooms in September, up nearly 30 percent from about 4,100 in 2001, according to enrollment figures from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. About 4,700 3- and 4-year-olds attended D.C. public schools this year.

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