DCPS, More Problems Than Individual Teachers Can Possibly Handle  

Negotiating as a group isn’t easy. As individuals we often can want things that are in our own bet interest but not necessarily in the interest of the entire union. Case in point are the current negotiations underway with the Washington Teacher’s Union (an AFT member union) and Michelle Rhee.

Rhee is offering some interesting proposals. Currently, teachers are “tenured” after 2 years of service. Tenure means specific grievance rights, priority in new assignments (transferring or staying in specific schools), new assignments or sometimes after school programs (this depends on the school district and I’m not positive this is part of DC’s tenuring), etc..: Basically, what we’re talking about here is that you can’t just be fired if you don’t get along with the principal or if the kids in your class have behavior issues, don’t show up or fail (and there are combinations of these factors). So, here’s what is being reported in the Post about Rhee’s offer:

Under the "red" option offered by Rhee, teachers could retain tenure rights in exchange for a 28 percent raise over five years.

Under the "green" option, the annual salary and bonuses for a teacher with five years of experience could go from $46,500 to as much as $101,000 by 2010. Pay for a teacher with 10 years of service could jump from $56,200 to as much as $122,500.

Okay, that doesn’t really seem all that bad. It’s an interesting approach, however the Post goes on to note this:
But in exchange for a pay schedule that would make D.C. teachers among the best-paid public school instructors in the country, they would have to spend a year on probation, exposing them to the possibility of being fired.

Probation. What she’s looking to do here is removed teachers who are not performing but what does that mean?

- Does it mean that the kids aren’t coming to class?
- That they’re in the school but not in class?
- Does this mean that kids are not meeting their “yearly progress” for No Child Left Behind?
- Does it mean that the teacher who has 30 kids who have good study habits is competing with teachers who have 18 kids with terrible habits? How will kids be assigned to these classes?
-Will they be putting high performing kids in one class while sticking the “under performing” teacher with the under performing students?
-Will classes be co-mingled with excellent students and poor students?

I suppose I have a lot of questions, huh?

I think this really is the crux of the problem, there is no formula.

As a teacher, you don’t have the ability to cherry pick your students. After years of service, in other districts, kids are often tracked to have high performing kids singled out and teachers with more tenure are able to request those classes. If you do not get on with the principal at your school, you may also be saddled with students who come from difficult backgrounds where education is not cared about and where school is treated like a kids dumping ground.

I’m talking from experience here. Not as a teacher but as a parent of a child that grew up in DC public, Cleveland public and Richfield public schools.

I’ve had the very great experience of being a part of my kid's education. A partner with the teachers and administrators in the Cleveland and Minnesota schools, but in DCPS, it felt as if the teachers didn’t get the support they needed, the administrators didn’t get the resources they needed and where children roamed the halls all day, disrespecting the teachers, staff and administrators not to mention all the parents that happened by the school.

Cleveland is an urban district that happened to be in State receivership the year my daughter attended. There were 35 kindergarteners in my daughter’s class. When she went to Green Elementary, she was 1 of 18 students in her 2nd grade class. And yet, her kindergarten class had parent volunteers and an assistant teacher. For a winter program during the day, we filled the auditorium despite the broken seats. At Green in DC, for open house and conference days, I was usually 1 of 2 parents to show up despite night time events as well as day time.

In Minnesota, every parent showed up to the open house and we were reminded that there were a lot of volunteers signed up to be room parents and that maybe we should think of another way to participate in school, they simply had too many to accommodate all of us.

At Green, my daughter was spit on, threatened, kicked, pushed, pulled, hair pulled and all around bullied. She’d tell the teachers and playground monitors, but there were so many of these instances that her best solution was to simply stay near the teachers. She began volunteering for lunch duty so that she wouldn’t have to go outside.

I was forced to pull my child from DCPS and send her over to a charter school when her principal was beaten by 2 fourth graders. They broke an arm and at least one rib of this man in his 50’s. Even when she went back to DCPS for 8th grade (our charter school had no science education and the DCPS school did), I had to fight tooth and nail to get her into Algebra and advanced English courses. At Jefferson, they told me that they didn’t divide kids based on their abilities, however, she was in a class of kids who taunted her, where several had criminal records and would walk out on class in the middle of a lecture. Her history teacher and science teacher strongly suggested that I get her into a different class grouping because she needed to be with better students who were advanced. I was able to only get one of the classes changed, English, and I made arrangements with the teachers to allow her to come in for lunch time tutoring to keep her on grade level.

All of the issues that I’ve experienced at DCPS haven’t been issues related to teaching. Every one of the teachers my daughter had were good, dedicated people. What I ran into were parents who treated the school system like a babysitter, playground or dumping ground. Parents who didn’t come to the school except to register the kids. Until Rhee can come up with a plan to re-invest parents in their kids, I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to make a difference in the lives of these kids. As if stands now, tenure seems like the only thing available to make it worth being a teacher at DCPS and giving it up, just doesn’t seem to be worth the overall cost of losing it.

"The tenure issue is what provides due process, and that's what makes it so important to our members," Parker said.

On this point, I totally agree with Parker.

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