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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Profession Opinion

Klein Tells Me, “Not Quite, Big Guy”

By Rick Hess — June 04, 2010 3 min read
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Regular readers of RHSU know that I like to fancy myself a shrewd analyst of matters political, contractual, and such. But at least one reader would like to offer a second opinion on yesterday’s post.

My good friend Joel Klein called yesterday after reading my take on the new DC teachers contract to tell me I’d missed the boat. Klein, chancellor of the New York City schools, didn’t buy my assertion that, "[DC’s] agreement is expensive and less of a radical shift than Rhee’s initial vision, but it represents remarkable progress in a city where decades of contracts traded big raises for little or no meaningful change.” I saw the deal as a big win for reform, but thought it less dramatic than her initial “red-green” proposal--in which new teachers (and volunteering vets) would switch to a “green” schedule by trading tenure for big dollars.

Klein thought even my generally positive stance is selling the agreement way short, and he took the time to walk me through his thinking. I thought he made a pretty solid case for the significance of the agreement, and that it was worth sharing. Klein’s stance is pretty simple: “I think ultimately the whole red and green tiers concept became too toxic and had to be put aside. However, I think this agreement is better than the initial ‘red’ and ‘green’ proposal because now essentially EVERYONE is green.”

He said, “This deal slayed the three dragons. Seniority. Lockstep pay. Tenure. It got them all.” When asked why this hasn’t been widely understood, he said, “That’s because it’s all in the details, which few have actually read. If you read the contract closely, you’ll see how embedded the language is.”

Asked to clarify, he said, “The old proposal would have eliminated tenure for teachers on the ‘green’ schedule, but they’d still have the right to grieve the decision. Now, in the new agreement, you’ve got teachers being kept not by seniority but by performance. When teachers are evaluated as ineffective, they can be removed. Anybody who’s opted into the performance pay system can be removed immediately if they can’t find a mutual consent placement. Before, there was the 90-day plan applied to teachers who were ineffective. Now, if you get an ineffective rating, or a minimally effective rating for two years in a row, you’re out.”

He emphasized, “The provision about mutual consent is huge. There’s nowhere else in the country where, if a minimally effective or ineffective teacher can’t find a mutual consent placement, the district can remove that teacher immediately. No cumbersome process. If they can’t find a school that wants to hire them, they’re just gone.”

Klein continued, “Another key thing they won is that teachers cannot grieve their rating, they can only grieve the process. Whether or not you agree with an ineffective rating, as soon as you get it, you can be gone. That’s it. All a teacher can grieve is the process. For instance, if they were supposed to get five observations and only got one, they can grieve that. And I think you should be able to grieve that. It’s only fair.”

Of course, much of the heft in this new arrangement rests on DC’s willingness and ability to accurately identify ineffective and minimally effective teachers. As The New Teacher Project (which DC honcho Michelle Rhee founded) has reminded us, districts have often dropped the ball on that score. Klein reports that DCPS thinks they’ll be able to avoid that and accurately identify these teachers. DCPS has rolled out its new teacher evaluation system, which relies heavily on value-added metrics and student achievement when applicable, and then complements those with school-based observations and measures of the teacher’s contribution to the school community. Klein also argues, “DCPS doesn’t have to bargain for their evaluation tool. That’s why they were able to put IMPACT (DC’s teacher evaluation system) in place so quickly. They can implement whatever they think appropriate.”

So that’s Joel’s take--and I strongly suspect he’s been well-briefed by friends from DCPS. In classic Klein fashion, he makes a strong case and argues it well. What do you think? Would be interested to hear reactions.

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