City Desk

So Long Green Tier?

This morning, thousands of D.C. Public Schools teachers gathered at the Washington Convention Center for a second annual "welcome back" event, ahead of the first day of school Monday. The teachers took the opportunity to tell DCPS and Washington Teachers' Union leaders just how they felt about proposed contract reforms.

The most dramatic moments occurred when WTU President George Parker took the podium to address his members. Parker began by addressing the contract negotiations, acknowledging it has been a tough, protracted process. "When you go from point A to point B, you gotta go through some stuff," Parker said. "Sometimes that stuff is messy."

He moved on to decry incomplete or inaccurate media reports ("yesterday, in the Washington City Paper," he said, "I learned that me and Randi Weingarten are in a fight"), before, in a surprise move, asking teachers to take an informal vote on whether a two-tier contract should be offered to the membership for a ratification vote.

Teachers raised their hands. "I think this poll would be as effective as any other," Parker said. The poll revealed a definite split, with perhaps a few hundred more hands voting not to bring the new contract for a vote, with some of those teachers shouting in the process.

Given the split, Parker told the crowd he would schedule a general membership meeting for next week, allowing teachers to weigh in on the two-tier contract. "I hope you appreciate the challenge that we have," he said. "It is practically an impossible task."

Parker urged teachers to support the final decision, whatever it will be. "We must not split ourselves as a union," he said.

Meanwhile, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was seated next to Parker, not looking happy at all watching thousands of teachers jeer the centerpiece of her school reform package.

Earlier, things had taken on a more celebratory tone, with Rhee running an educational sweepstakes of sorts. Teachers, administrators, and staff at several schools were awarded well over $1 million in bonuses for being among the highest achieving on the yearly DC-CAS tests, funded in part by . Principals earned a $10,000 bonus, assistant principals won $9,000, teachers won $8,000, with instructional support personnel taking home $4,000 and all other employees $2,000. The schools all received lottery-style "big checks."

After the checks were handed out came another surprise. Earlier, teachers had been asked to sign an attendance card, which was collected by staffers—prompting some grumbling from the rank and file about Big Brotherish tactics. Then Rhee announced that the cards were for a drawing to win...a new car!—a Hyundai donated by Eastern Motors.

The winner, Larry Trower from Taft Elementary, took the stage The Price Is Right—style, as dozens of his colleagues broke into the Eastern Motors theme song.

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  • Carol Joyner

    The "Price is Right" was a great show, don't get me wrong. I loved to see the expression of surprise on the winner's face - but come on. The reforms needed in DCPS go beyond ingratiating the union boss to gain political high ground, bribing teachers to break the union and paying kids to learn.

    I would much rather see Rhee spend her time figuring out how to pay for experienced lead teachers on every grade level who can support and assist the less experienced teachers coming into the system. Hey and what about creating a real learning assessment apparatus where there is some logical relationship between the curriculum, reports cards and standardized tests. It would also be great to see the District deal with behavior issues by strengthening the school counseling department, Peaceable Schools and other DC systems that offer support and teach conflict resolution. Why not study the school systems in this country that are struggling to give substance and depth to learning in a NCLB world that only makes time for testing. Actually there are tons of issues to address. I just refuse to believe that arbitrary firings, bribery, and union busting are the values that get us there.

    In reference to the article "Concession Stand", I must add that I am pleased that President Parker is collaborating with Randi Weingarten, AFT, on this contract. Her negotiations with Chancellor Klein in NY, who is Michelle Rhee's mentor for change, seem like a fitting match. We've probably just moved the NYC contract negotiations four hours south.

    I've never been one for quick fixes. They seem cheap, set a bad example for kids and in the end are short lived. These approaches also pit us against one another: teachers against teachers, parents against teachers etc. But perhaps that is what all of this is intended to do. The press, and other local voices can continue their love affair with Rhee. I am holding out for real reform. With hope it will come before my kids graduate. Real reform - "Come On Down"

  • uniongal

    Wow, what an amazing comment Carol. I have to note that not only am I in agreement, I've been wondering the same freaking thing all summer. Reform for Reform sake is short lived at best and toss our children aside to become pretty much a lost generation of kids. I want real reform that makes a difference in the lives of all us DC families. Wonder when that will happen.

  • Adam

    You are wrong in saying that this is reform for reform's sake -- this is reform for the sake of flushing out the entrenched, corrupt elements of DC's school system and eliminating them. Though some parents might be inconvenienced, the brilliance of Michelle Rhee's plan is that it forces, especially, the weakest and most sinister employees of DCPS to stick their necks out. Almost random firings! The fear it engenders, "Who's next?" -- it may be severe, but the birth of a culture of accountability always is. This is finally the sort of reform that can undo the damage caused by the nepotistic and ignorant fallout of the civil rights movement in DC.

    I spent my entire childhood and adolescence in DC public schools, from kindergarten to high school. You mention a "lost generation of kids" -- imagine, if you will, being a gay, white kid in a school whose environment can only be described as hostile to intellectualism, never mind hostile to white people and hostile to homosexuals. I am not talking about the other students, primarily. They, like me, were victims of a system. I am talking about bureaucratic and educational negligence, about a faculty and staff who took morbid delight in reducing everything a student says to 'yes' or 'no'; that is, to obedience or disobedience.

    This is the state of DCPS. You honestly expect a well-crafted counseling program to thrive in a place like that? I do not mean to sound self-pitying -- I've done OK since. I hope only that you'll concede that, as a parent, your point of view on DC's schools is limited.

    As to whether it's crass to offer cash incentives to faculty and students, trust me when I say it is positively classy compared to indulging the current system. As to whether it's effective, well, that remains to be seen. But from 1988 to 2001, I intimately experienced, as a student, the attempts at more organic reforms within DCPS. Hiring better counselors and better teachers is like planting seeds in salt.

    On a less personal note, isn't it interesting that it is an Asian female who is implementing such dramatic reform? Imagine if she had been male, or black, or, God forbid, white. How would people be reacting differently? I am reminded of the photographer Nicki Lee, another Korean female, who takes pictures of herself among dangerous groups of people of various cultures and races. Seeing some of her pictures, one wonders how she got out alive! Part of her point, I think, is that people have a unique perception of Asian females. Throughout all this controversy, I haven't heard racism invoked a single time; this, in the same city where a man was forced to resign his government post for using the word 'niggardly', in the same city that a crack addict has served twice as mayor and is now on the city council, almost entirely because he is black. There is a certain righteous pleasure in watching the public being punished for their unspoken, racially influenced views of Michelle Rhee. That aside, there is an entirely wholesome pleasure in witnessing an aggressive, compassionate purge of one of the most embarrassing institutions in the developed world.