Pol(l)s Don’t Lie?

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 20, 2008 1 min read

I wrote about the pending “tenure-for-pay swap” proposal in the D.C. schools contract here. About the same time the story went up, a copy of some of the results from the poll conducted by the American Federation of Teachers of Washington Teachers Union members wound up on this Web site.

The findings, on the face value of things, don’t appear to bode well for the plan: 44 percent of WTU members polled expressed unfavorable opinions about the proposal; just 23 percent supported it.That was without hearing any details. When told about the “red” and “green” tier, the percentages were 58 percent unfavorable to 33 percent favorable.

A couple of thoughts on this. First, this poll data isn’t “disaggregated” (the popular, but only quasi-grammatical term for breaking out data) by teachers’ age, tenure status, etc. So it’s hard to tell which teacher characteristics are correlated with stronger support for the contract.

Second, it seems to me there are three big questions about the contract and that the answer to each is much more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no":

1. Does the plan eliminate tenure rights? Yes, for one year for green-tier teachers already in the system, in exchange for the opportunity to earn bonuses. For new teachers, it pushes the granting of tenure back from two to four years. Red-tier teachers’ tenure is unchanged.
2. Would it rate teachers based on test scores? Hard to say, since that part won’t be negotiated until after a contract is set. Both Parker and Rhee say it will be based on student academic growth. It would apply only to green-tier teachers.
3. Does it eliminate seniority rights? Technically yes, but practically, perhaps not, since some argue that the district’s dwindling enrollment has permitted principals to bypass it anyway under a series of emergency rules, lawsuits, and district laws established between 1997 and 2000.

So how does the poll play into these dialogues? Well, Parker said he felt that AFT was justified in doing the poll, but expressed concerns about its accuracy given accusations of push-polling from some observers.

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