Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

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

Teachers Approve New D.C. Contract: Seizing an Opportunity

By Rick Hess — June 03, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Members of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) officially signed off on the new D.C. collective bargaining agreement yesterday. More than 75 percent approved of the agreement that the union negotiated with D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The final vote was 1,412 to 425, and the agreement now goes to the D.C. Council for what is expected to be a rapid final approval. I’ve previously argued that the deal is a good one, delivering crucial improvements in terms of teacher evaluation, assignment, and compensation. It includes a voluntary, big-dollar pay-for-performance system, one in which teachers could make an additional $20,000 to $30,000 per year. The 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.

Rather than rehash my previous discussion of the agreement, I’ll just offer two thoughts here. The first is that buying teacher support for this agreement was not cheap. As Bill Turque pointed out Tuesday in a sharp Washington Post article, the agreement awards teachers a 21.6 percent salary bump through 2010, boosting average D.C. teacher pay from $67,000 to $81,000 a year. When districts were awarding hefty pay increases in the past decade, it would’ve been nice if they’d used those dollars to purchase some real reform in the manner the D.C. team did here. (On that front, there’s a fascinating story to be told about how Rhee and her team scrambled to find the $30 million-odd needed at the last minute to fund the full deal and get the sign-off from D.C.'s CFO. That’s one tale an enterprising journalist would do well to pursue—I suspect a search would reveal a bunch of eye-opening insights into district budgeting.)

The second thought has to do with the role that the tight budgetary environment played in this. One reason big district investments in contracts in the past haven’t deliver a lot of reform leverage is that teachers and their unions felt entitled to steady, substantial raises. There was no sense that they had to sacrifice for their extra dollars. One of the potential silver linings in the ongoing financial crunch, as Rhee has demonstrated, is that teachers and their unions are suddenly more amenable to some horse-trading. It’s no coincidence that a negotiation that stretched over nearly three years finally got done when districts across the land are dialing back raises and cutting jobs. As Tom O’Rourke, a veteran D.C. history teacher told the Post, “A lot of people say they like [the contract]. They like the money.” Bill Rope, a third grade teacher at D.C.'s Phoebe Hearst Elementary, said, “If you look across the country and see what’s going on ... this union better take the money and run.” Judy Leak-Bowers, another D.C. third grade teacher, opined, “It is probably the best we are going to get. I’m pretty confident that most teachers I know are going to go along with it.”

Reform-minded legislators, superintendents, and school boards: be advised. Whether in the midst of contract negotiations or struggling to find the dollars to protect teachers from cuts in salary or positions, this is the opportunity to ask teachers to meet you halfway. There’s never been a more opportune time to ask teachers to help rethink anachronistic policies governing evaluation, pay, or seniority, and there’s never been an easier time for union leaders to make the case for compromise to their members. This is a win-win opportunity, if the parties seize it. Teachers, policymakers, and district leaders would do well to emulate Rhee and the WTU and not let this moment pass them by.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Shutterstock
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read