Teaching Profession

UPDATED: D.C. Mayor’s Race Has Teacher Policy Implications

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 08, 2010 2 min read
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If you don’t live in Washington, you’d be forgiven for not paying much attention to our mayoral race this fall, but it carries great weight for the education field and particularly for the national dialogue about teacher effectiveness.

As a mayoral-control district, the mayor gets to appoint the city schools chancellor, and after his 2006 election, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed the polarizing Michelle Rhee. She has made major changes in the city’s central office, closed underpopulated schools, instituted a new teacher-evaluation system, overseen a hotly debated collective-bargaining contract, and engaged in some well-publicized battles with the Washington Teachers’ Union and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers.

Running against Fenty in next week’s primary is the chairman of the D.C. Council, Vincent Gray. He has not stated that he will keep Rhee on as chancellor. His campaign literature refers only to having a “strong chancellor” in place. For her part, Rhee has implied that she’s not inclined to stay on under Gray’s leadership.

This has some hefty implications for the city’s roughly 4,500 teachers, as well as for the teacher-quality field at large. For instance, D.C. is unusual in that it does not have to bargain the format of its teacher-evaluation system with its local teachers’ union. Rhee introduced the IMPACT evaluations back in 2009, making D.C.'s system one of the first operational ones in the nation to include individual and schoolwide “value-added” measures, in addition to a series of five classroom-based observations.

While a bunch of other states say they plan to institute similar systems under the federal Race to the Top grants, those promises remain just that at the moment.

The Washington Teachers’ Union and its parent affiliate have condemned IMPACT, particularly for the value-added components and the fact that the “master educators” who perform some of the teacher observations aren’t jointly selected by the union. Would Gray preserve the IMPACT evaluations or seek to make major changes to them? That is an open question, but Gray is said to be more conciliatory to the WTU, which has endorsed his candidacy and run radio ads on his behalf.

Another important teacher-related feature: The performance-pay bonuses in the newly inked contract were to be funded largely by private foundation grants, and are contingent on whether Rhee stays or goes. If Gray comes in, there is no guarantee that they will stay in place.

So far, Gray holds a lead in the straw polls leading up to the primary, which takes place Sept. 14.

For more analysis on the D.C. situation, you can’t do better than the assessments offered by Rick Hess and Andy Rotherham.

UPDATE 9/9, 12:50 pm: Two more perspectives worth reading suggested by readers, one scheduled to be published by Rethinking Schools and one by Bill Turque at The Washington Post.

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