Knowledge IS Power

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 14, 2008 2 min read
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There were almost as many journalists as there were teachers at the protest at the Washington Teachers’ Union headquarters this morning, which was organized by supporters of the two-tiered pay-reform plan proposed by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

The crucial sticking point has been that under the plan, teachers electing the green path, in exchange for much higher pay, would revert to probationary status and lose some of their tenure protections. They could, in essence, be easier for prinicipals to dismiss.

Washington Teachers Union President George Parker told reporters today that teachers who elect this pathway must still have “due process” protections against arbitrary dismissals. He said he believes Rhee will agree to some type of appeals process in the contract negotations.(No word yet from Rhee’s camp on whether she’s willing to support such a process.)

I queried Parker: Are there really that many arbitrary firings by principals?

“It happens all the time,” Parker responded. “Anytime you have the human element in decisionmaking, there’s human frailty.”

This year, he said, 78 teachers in probationary status have been dismissed, and the union is examining whether those decisions were legitimate.

So if that issue is fixed, is the deal a go? Don’t bet on it.

Take a member of the union’s board of trustees, Candi Peterson. She says the national American Federation of Teachers has commissioned a legal study of the plan and that elements relating to teacher excessing and seniority, in both the red and the green path, violate sections of the D.C. municipal code. (Excessing is when the building reduces slots and a teacher loses her job there, but is still employed by the district.)

I’ve put in a request for that document, but haven’t heard anything back yet.

I asked Parker about these potential legal problems. His answer: “We’re certainly going to ensure that the union and D.C. Public Schools are in compliance with the law. Period.”

Given these types of internal divides within the union, I have to ask the question: What is your average rank-and-file D.C. teacher hearing? And from whom? I think it’s possible that this contract could be swayed by the quality of information teachers have, and its source.

Parker said most teachers he’s heard from want more details on how the tiers will operate. He said he expects to submit a tentative contract to a member vote “sometime before early September.”

The teachers who came this morning, most of whom support the green tier, seemed buoyed by the promise of this vote.

I’m wondering if it will be enough for the 4,500 other teachers in the district. This morning’s low attendance could be a sign that they’re reserving judgment for now, or that they’ve already made up their minds.

(Guess who else wants to know? The national AFT has commissioned a poll of WTU members to determine where they stand on the contract. Parker said he didn’t have the results yet.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.