D.C. Contract Previsionist History!

I have a great deal of respect for Larry Cuban and his important work, but this blog post on Michelle Rhee reads like boilerplate applied to a situation that it doesn’t fit.

For starters, when you actually read the new contract (pdf) you’ll see that Rhee didn’t compromise a lot away, she basically got everything she wanted –  including tenure reform.  If there is a lesson in the contact timeline and resolution it’s far less about compromise than about fortitude.   Cuban says that the teachers got the raises they wanted.  OK, sure.  But Rhee wanted those, too!

The AFT’s Randi Weingarten deserves a great deal of credit (which so far she hasn’t gotten in the media in my view**) for signing a contract that effectively ends tenure and addresses layoffs in a respectful but cost-sustainable form, but the spin that this was a give and take deal evaporates when you actually read the document.  It’s precedent setting in some key ways.*

Second, I don’t know where Cuban gets his 5 percent figure on the number of ineffective teachers in D.C.’s schools but while the percent can certainly be overstated in the public debate you’re hard pressed to find anyone with firsthand experience in the D.C. schools or around them who does not peg that number higher.  I was a charter trustee in D.C. for seven years and have spent a lot of time in both sector’s of the city’s public schools and would place that figure higher than 5 percent  in a lot of the city’s charter schools, too, by the way.  This just isn’t something the field does well yet.

Finally, to say that Rhee divides teachers into young and old is to ignore both her words and actions.   She frequently says, explicitly and in my view rightly, that young does not axiomatically equal effective and old ineffective.   It’s her critics who play the age and race cards. And although it didn’t get a great deal of coverage at all, in the layoffs on Rhee’s watch young teachers, including some Teach for America teachers, were laid off, too.

Rhee’s made some mistakes, sure, but hold her accountable for those (and whether or not she learns from them) not for what gets relayed by a hyperbolic and deeply misleading public debate.

*This includes big things like what happens to teachers who can’t find jobs (no more force placement or non-working reserve pools as in New York City), and smaller but important things about what aspects of performance evaluations can be grieved and appealed, where the city can act without the acquiescence of the unions, etc…in short, it addresses the general imbalance of power you see in these things.

**Update: Right after posting this someone sent me a New York Daily News editorial on this exact point, worth reading.

9 Replies to “D.C. Contract Previsionist History!”

  1. According to the New York Daily News “Gov. Paterson, the Legislature and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch would be wise to work with New York’s teachers unions in an effort to incorporate Weingarten’s milestone reforms into New York’s renewed application for as much as $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding.”

    I believe that is what Mr. Cuban meant. Wise man. (However, there IS a lot of money to be lost by “reformers” who ignore teacher input.)

    A person who truly cares about the nation’s children would never denigrate their teachers.

  2. Rhee’s made some mistakes, sure, but hold her accountable for those (and whether or not she learns from them) not for what gets relayed by a hyperbolic and deeply misleading public debate./i>
    Excellent use of the passive voice.

  3. I liked the Cuban article for pointing out that the chief shortcomings of Rhee’s superintendency are based on rhetoric (a rhetoric that aligned with a small percentage of teachers, but flew in the face of the majority.) But maybe the result of the new contract that contains most of what she wanted indicates a route that is more important and effective than connecting with teachers.

  4. Rhee’s made some mistakes,
    Teachers union leaders angrily accused D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee of unethical behavior Tuesday by failing to disclose the discovery of a $34 million surplus in the school system budget in February, three months after laying off 266 teachers because of what she described as a budget…

    The Rotherdam classroom (or household) must be an interesting place to visit…..

  5. No matter what rhetoric is used to sugarcoat it, the reality is that many ed reformers, policy makers, and politicians have contempt for teachers. They mouth a sentimentalized teacher respect and put them on pedestals, and then castigate them for their inabilities to live up to this ideal. Driven by their self-righteous indignation, they point fingers at individuals, unions, districts, etc. Somehow, between college, certification, and classrooms, teachers became incompetent.

    So whose fault? The union? Teachers? Maybe, just maybe, we need to point fingers at us–a society that doesn’t know what it wants education to do. We treat it rather like a Supreme Court statement on pornography–I don’t know what it is (or what it’s for), but I’ll know it when I see it. Educational issues are sociological, pedagogical, economic, medical, and on and on. In many ways, they stem from our approach to what matters most–people or property. What I wonder is, if we’re so upset by INCOMPETENT TEACHERS and ADMINISTRATORS, why aren’t we looking more closely at universities that educate them and certify them as ready to teach or administer and at the vision of education that drives them? I’ve worked with humanities teachers who haven’t read Shakespeare in college and don’t know what historiography is. How did that happen? Maybe the teacher “problem” is much larger than rubber rooms and tenure?

  6. JSP:

    You said it very well: the problem of “ineffective” teachers is a social one, greatly exacerbated by citizens who show contempt for the people who choose to teach our young. Whose “fault” is it? That’s difficult to say, but I would suggest that every time a citizen speaks harshly about teachers, there is a son, daughter, neighbor, friend, student who listens and decides “that’s not for me.”

    Who are the biggest advocates of education? That’s easy: involved parents and the men and women who enter our classrooms each day to do their very best to educate the nation’s children.

  7. The problem of ineffective teachers is probably no different from the problem of ineffective workers anywhere, doing anything.

    Scary isn’t it? Do you think that 30 percent of think tank personnel are not bothering to think? ROFL

    There is absolutely nothing as entertaining as listening to people who sit around doing nothing talk about how many people sit around doing nothing. Particularly while *I* sit around doing nothing. /sarcasm (For those who take everything too seriously.)

  8. You go, JSP. I think we do not really even know what we want schools for. Somehow this generation of education critics got an education during a time when education critics were decrying the state of education.

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