Columbia Heights: A Case for Teachers Unions

In today's educational debate, much is made about the obstructionist tendencies of teachers unions.  They stop sensible policies from being implemented; they keep bad teachers in the classroom; they demand too much money for their members; and the list goes on.  Opponents of teachers unions will often grant that unions once had their place, specifically back when female teachers were routinely treated worse than their male counterparts.  However, these critics often argue that the time for teachers unions is long gone, that teachers have it made these days, that schools and districts are capable of treating teachers fairly, and that it's time to rid ourselves of the unions in the name of progress.  I would agree, if all that were true, but it's not.  It's true that unions often pose significant barriers to real and potentially positive change in the world of educational policy and practice.  It's also true that unions often fight to retain ineffective teachers.  But sadly, many teachers are still so horribly mistreated  by administrators that unions are still a necessity in many places.

Columbia Heights Educational Campus is a perfect example of a school that demands a union.  Teachers at the school are routinely bullied.  They are expected to do nearly twice as much work as teachers at other schools with no extra compensation because the school is so interested in demonstrating to the outside world that it's doing ALL the best practices in education at once (so that it can rake in money from various non-profits - see Fight for Children) that it doesn't have time to support or listen to teachers' challenges.  Teachers are provided very little voice in the decision-making process at the school and very little support.  Administrators have been accused of sexual harassment, engaging in physical confrontations, lying on IMPACT evaluations, and consistent verbal abuse of teachers and students.  However, because teachers fear the school's politically well-connected leadership will retaliate against them if they file charges or speak out, almost no teachers are brave enough to write letters to the union or human resources explaining their reasons for leaving.  And filing lawsuits requires significant documentation of alleged abuses, the kind that teachers who are so overworked simply have little time for (although, despite this, some courageous individuals have managed to take at least some union action against administrators who have lied on teacher evaluations).

To provide some insight into the kinds of people that teachers at Columbia Heights are dealing with, I'd like to show you what one of the administrators wrote on my Filthy Teaching blog back in March:

"Show your face, don't hide behind the white hood of your blog. You are a Neo-Nazi coward, disguising yourself as an educator.
You are from Seattle, right.
I bet you have a dog-eared version of "The Turner Diaries" on your nightstand. Charlatan. Faux education journalist/ policy guru. You give white folks a bad name. From your bio--"I wanted to know what it was like to teach in a dysfunctional system", to the stick figure images of students, to I shaved my head bald to intimidate students, everything about you smacks of white entitlement and bigotry. I know your former school is ecstatic that you are gone.
I mean, come on, be original, how many young white teachers move to DC, have no knowledge of the city, no cultural competence, let alone no teaching skills, but envision themselves teaching for two years, and then heading for the Ed Policy hills, armed with the street credibility of working in urban education. (a buzz word for working with black and brown students.  You and your cynical ilk , get away from our students. Go and mis-educate your own kind." 

Additional hateful comments were posted by the same administrator on the blog of another teacher at CHEC:

"You are FIRED!
You need to be fired, you unwashed cochino. I guaran-tee, you don’t spend as much time planning, as you do writing this juvenile blog. Anyone who despises students, despises learning as much as you do, should have a group of black-suited commandos (all of the students you have screwed-over) strap you to the white board, and beat you with the teachers’ editions of the ******** and ****** textbooks you deprived them of. All the while you’ll be babbling ” But I showed you guys ********.

You typically don't expect administrators to incite violence against colleagues over the internet, but that's CHEC for you.

The situation at Columbia Heights has gotten so bad that multiple letters have been sent not only to Chancellor Michelle Rhee, but even to Mayor Adrian Fenty.  These letters describe the abuses of teachers and the lives that many of them are forced to lead, which often includes feeling physically ill to go to work.  In the social studies department alone, FOUR teachers have quit just since November (one just this week), and all but a few of them plan on leaving in June.  Despite the constant turnover, administrators refuse to acknowledge that teachers are leaving.  They ignore the fact in staff meetings and often don't even respond to letters of resignation.

One recent letter to Chancellor Rhee reads as follows:

"Dear Chancellor Rhee,

Some numbers for you:

19 teachers have taught in this department since the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.

6 of those 19 remain or have not formally resigned effective at the end of 2009-10.

4 of those 6, that I know of, are actively seeking employment elsewhere for next year.

 Our department is fully staffed with 9 teachers. Even if the 4 who are hoping to leave come back, that gives us a 144% turnover rate over these two years. If they leave, our turnover rate is 189% for two years.

 I could add to this many opinions, anecdotes, rumors and all manner of other details that could shed light on these numbers. They would all be colored by my own biases and I know much of what I have to say has been well-documented in the past. So I will hold these thoughts for now and stick to the numbers. 

In the name of data-driven decision making and what is good for students, I submit that these numbers indicate that something is deeply wrong with this department."

The mess at CHEC has prompted one thirteen-year veteran (a national board certified educator and one of the most well-known and well-respected teachers in all of DCPS) to finally decide to leave the school at the end of the year.  When he informed the administration, they chose not to acknowledge it and, instead, sent an administrator to formally observe him the day after his announcement (and if you want to know how those observations go, read this post)  Additionally, this teacher chose to exercise some leadership of his own and has begun to boycott department meetings (with the possibility that an entire department may begin boycotting meetings as a result of failed leadership on the part of the administration).  The same veteran managed to organize a meeting scheduled to take place today with a representative from the chancellor's office, the union, the department, and the school's administration to discuss this failure.

The sad reality about this whole situation is that it's nothing new.  This kind of abuse happens in a lot of schools across the country (here's an example in NYC).  Often, these horrendous conditions endure because teachers simply quit and a whole new batch of fresh-faced newbies comes in to fill the void.  JD2718, a teacher's blog in NYC, has an entire section devoted to schools teachers should stay away from (see Do Not Apply).

What will it take for Rhee and the central office to remove awful administrators from a school they consider to be one of their jewels?  Jay Matthews would say that it doesn't matter how horribly teachers are treated, education is about students; so as long as test scores are rising, that's all that really matters.  I would disagree. It shouldn't take a genius to figure out that you shouldn't treat people like this simply for human decency's sake.  But if that's not enough for you, then I would also point out that there is no way for students to get a solid, unified curriculum from a school that turns almost fifty percent of its staff over every summer.  Additionally, the outrageously high stress levels of the teachers at schools like CHEC undoubtedly influence the quality of instruction in the classroom.  Teachers in these environs face the double challenge of working with kids from impoverished backgrounds and disadvantaged communities on the one hand while fighting a corrupt and often incompetent administration on the other.

And so it is, and will be, that unions have an appropriate role to play in bettering the educational opportunities for our students.  Although the WTU has been less than effective at solving the problem at CHEC, practically no noise would have been made about the situation at all had it not been for the union.  

Rather than demonize teachers and their unions, it might be more effective to first ensure that teachers are treated fairly enough that they don't fear working without a union.  Maybe then teachers and their unions would be less resistant to changes in policy and practice.


  1. Did Rhee respond to your letter? If so, what was her response?

  2. It wasn't my letter, so I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything back from the teacher that sent it.

  3. It seems you have joined the ranks of the viral anti-school reformers. That is very sad.

    You had a tough time at the school, judging by the excerpts you publish. Do you think that shades the general judgments you make? Whatever happened, if anything, to the vile, deranged administrator? Did you fight back?

    And what do you make of the racism against white teachers? How common is that across the City, in your view?

    And you are applying to come back to the DCPS?

    Please do not confuse this Anonymous with the Anonymous who comments on TWT blog.

  4. I've heard plenty of stories from people about what is going on at Columbia Heights, and without exception they confirm the general tone of what Reflective Educator is saying.

    I suppose that it is possible that 50-60 teachers are all lying about the abuse they are taking, and are willing to leave a school in a bad economy just because they don't want to work. However, doesn't it seem more likely that there is at least some truth to the comments and stories of multiple teachers?

    Just because every teacher at CHEC doesn't have a blog to tell their stories doesn't mean it isn't happening.

    As for administrators being held responsible for their actions, that is unlikely since this is DCPS. If the principal is favored, as is the case here, then any abuse will be labelled as discontented teachers who are rocking the boat. The only way anything would happen to an administrator in that situation is if it got bad press, in which case all bets are off.

  5. >It seems you have joined the ranks of the viral anti-school reformers. That is very sad.

    This struck me. The term 'school reform' could mean anything. How could I be anti-school reform, when I want schools to be changed? Ahh, this reform isn't what I had in mind. I want schools that honor the students and their teachers.

    Anonymous, Why would it be sad that someone is arguing against the 'reforms' that are wrecking the schools? Standardized testing, and 'accountability' are causing so much pain and ugliness.

  6. Sue VH--I agree that reform is in the eyes of the beholder. Let's just call it: needed change, for now. Things like installing a system to evaluate teacher performance. Unfortunately, that is revolutionary in the District. And it has been hotly opposed by many teachers.
    If we want to "honor the students and their teachers" I hope that does not mean lifetime employement for the latter. We had been in a race to the bottom in terms of teacher quality. DCPS teachers, in slightly unguarded moments, say some pretty strong things about their colleagues. Most parents I know are dissatisfied, to put it politely, about teachers, and too many kids are not learning. We pay enough in the district, but the quality has been going down. Michelle Rhee's actions--the good ones and the bad ones concerning teachers--have been aimed at reversing that. Time will tell, and it won't be measured by tests alone, that is for sure.

  7. The treatment of staff at CHEC is appalling, and would have been called out if it had occurred in any other professional environment. What ever you think of Rhee, you should not be condoning or rationalizing this behavior. Do you really think I'm going to think Rhee has the best interests of the students in mind if this abhorrent behavior is allowed to continue and the constant blaming of the teachers in infantile. This crusade that she's on, except before there was money to be made nobody gave a damn about poor inner-city black kids, so get off your high-horses. And when the money is no longer there, or when TFA is no longer a fashionable sexy "between jobs" internship/stepping stone to the real world of work (law school), the majority will not be working in the trenches with our kids. I'm so sick of Rhee and her supporters, it's all just so pathetic.

  8. "Things like installing a system to evaluate teacher performance. Unfortunately, that is revolutionary in the District. And it has been hotly opposed by many teachers."

    That is patently untrue. You are either ignorant or lying. There has always been a teacher evaluation system in the District and it was teachers who wanted a new and better one.

    IMPACT was Rhee's answer to this - an untested system that measures teachers' actions over a 30 minute period five times a year. If teachers don't do the right song and dance while the evaluator is observing, they're rated as ineffective and can be fired.

    Or, as RE has experienced, a teacher can be rated as ineffective simply by getting on the wrong side of an dishonest administrator.

  9. To the 728 commenter on Saturday morning...As a teacher you know damn well that the evaluation system you refer to was variously unused or ill used, and worthless as it gave the obviously false impression that the vast majority of teachers were doing a wonderful job. This is what one expects in a unionized, public sector environment. Only problem--the kids were not learning. The old system provided no bases for professional development or greasing the path to give ineffective teachers their walking papers. The District has always taken an inordinate time for repeated remediation of failing teachers, and then still did not terminate all but the very worst caught in unprofessional or even criminal conduct. This traditional lack of effective evaluation was just the protein-enriched leading edge of ironclad job protection in place before Mrs. Rhee showed up. As you probably know, the City Council, plus parents in all wards have hardly demanded that Rhee stop teacher replacements. Indeed, the Council has been mostly supportive. Parents from all over the city, whenever you take the trouble to ask or hear or read their views, support this strongly. The present system (IMPACT--tailored to DC as M. Barry demanded) needs continuous improvement, no doubt, but taking 3-5 years to get it right would just be a major and successful teacher stall. We do not have that time; we will make it better as we go. There has been no groundswell of teacher support for a new or better one, that is for sure-- from WTU or any ad hoc group of educators. What are you smoking? You may be either ignorant or lying.

  10. To anon at 523: I'd take serious issue with being labeled a "viral anti-school reformer." I am a reformer who's against schools? I'm not really sure what this means, but I suspect it means that you think that I would like to see nothing change in public education, which is certainly untrue. I thought I made it pretty clear in the post that I see the cons of unions and I understand why people criticize them. What I'd like to point out to their critics, however, is that schools like CHEC are largely why so many teachers would be unwilling to work in a non-union school. And I don't really know what's so hard to agree with about that. All I really wanted to do with this post is to increase awareness of an atrocious work environment.

    I think one of our biggest collective problems in this whole national debate is an unwillingness to accept valid points from the other side. "It is the nature of ideology to preconceive reality." Let's try to be pragmatists. Yes - many schools have always been fucked up. Yes - far too many teachers were given passes on their evaluations. But surely that doesn't mean we should swing the pendulum so far the other way as to treat every teacher like shit, to the point of placing them in environments where they suffer sexual harassment and physical/verbal abuse.

    Does my experience bias/shade my understanding of education? Of course it does. We all have biases. I've seen much of the worst of an inner-city school in DCPS and would love for much of that to change.

    What happened to that vile administrator? Did we fight back? Oh......if you only knew. People have been fighting this administrator for years. Last year a document was presented to the administration that was something like 34 pages in length detailing this administrators transgressions on behalf of MANY teachers (although not all of them as many were too afraid to add anything and many others had left the school long ago). However, the person in question seems to have a close relationship with the principal and although teachers were told that the administrator was going to be "disciplined," nobody ever knew how or whether it really happened. Even if discipline occurred, there was no change in behavior. From man-handling students to berating teachers in front of students, this administrator has done nothing but continually demonstrate unprofessional and often criminal behavior. Couple that with incompetence and you have a recipe for extraordinarily high staff turnover. Teachers have given up fighting. That school will be a revolving door for teachers until something real changes in the administrative team.

  11. The administrator in question is a very menacing man. 0% of the staff like or respect him. He seems totally unstable emotionally. The most experienced and most effective teachers at CHEC are leaving directly because of this man's behavior. Does the administration not care about that? It's a total embarrassment for the school that he's still there.

  12. If you believe the behavior is criminal and you can document it, you might consider going to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. Just an idea if you believe DCPS management is deaf to this problem. If you fear recriminations, prosecutors may be able to keep things under seal until an indictment or other charging document is handed down. You would need to testify in court, though. Again, this is if you want to make a criminal case out of it. Note: I am not a lawyer, just a citizen sympathetic to your plight. Best of luck in dealing with the mistreatment you describe.

  13. To Anon at 10:40 -- You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. In a way I’m flattered that you came back so hard and with so little substance, because it suggests that people like you are running scared –and actually think that the strong arm tactics used by the Rhee administration and the Washington Post editorial board will have any influence with the people who read this blog. It just makes you look desperate.

    To Anon at 5:23 – Ditto.

    To RE: Congratulations - the “anons” who troll the Washington Teacher blog have discovered you and are very, very afraid.

  14. I'm from Europe, what is so terrible about Unions, what is it you Americans fear? I don't get it.

  15. Most of us don't fear unions; we're WTU members. And the whole point of this post is because of vindictive, even unstable administrators, teachers need a strong union. It's just that the WTU has a history of defending incompetent teachers, as well as good ones whose rights have been violated. As an aside, I was once offered a job at Bell, what CHEC used to be called, and I thank G-d I didn't take it. The above-mentioned administrator is a man, who seems to do MT's dirty work.

  16. To the 5:23 comment from Europe: no more than one in ten American workers is in a union, and more than half of these are in government, where there are already protections to keep most people from being fired. What consumers and companies and others who pay income taxes (less than 1/2 of US households, by the way) believe strongly is that unions raise costs and deliver little value. General Motors was going to go bankrupt because extremely generous health insurance was the largest cost element in building one car. This United Auto Workers insurance is more generous than what 95 percent of Americans have; it is galling that we taxpayers had to bail out this incompetent company with its overcompensated workers who helped destroy it.
    So in this country we do not believe in lifetime jobs as you do in democratic socialist Europe. Public schools here form an obvious area where lifetime employment does not work. And it is the most tragic, too, because these schools condemn too many young people to a poor education at tremendous cost. We have good teachers, of course, but in most large cities, they are a rapidly shrinking minority. And the teachers' unions in most cities, like mine, are a tragic joke--most members think the officers are incompetent and bought off by management.

    Note: please do not confuse this post-er with any other Anon. on this blog or on the WT blog or the WP blogs. This post-er reads them sometimes but refrains from posting because they are mostly hogwash, to use USA slang. The UT blog has more substance by far, except for posts by some of the usual chronic apologists, complainers and defenders of the faith who believe the schools are theirs alone. But all views are welcomed, as one would expect.

  17. Hi axoloti - is that you?

  18. Ms. Europe speaking, I don't believe in lifetime jobs but I do believe in protecting workers rights. Nor am I so ignorant, to think that all union members are about keeping the status quo, you can have progress but still believe in equality. Granted most of the alarmist union comments are on Washington Post and other education blogs; however, there seems to be a "blame the union" slant to the most recent education debates around the country. I hear very little about "blame the administrators". Nor am I naive enough to believe that the Chancellor, who supports a business model of education, is all about what's best for the children. Having worked in government for many years, one of the problems is that administrators are reluctant to fire people using the process that is in place, it is not that it cannot be done, they don't want to put the time and effort into doing it, and instead protest loudly that it is because of the union. Many cases are overturned and won at arbitration simply because administrators did not follow due process. So I get a little tired of this anti-union rhetoric.

  19. Thank you for your coverage on the CHEC story. I do plan to do a reprint of your story very soon. I became aware of the problems last year and was appalled particularly when the building representative was fired only because she was a probationary teacher and outspoken - not due in anyway to her performance. CHEC's building rep. was later re-instated due to speaking out publicly on what was happening which I applaud her for her courage.

    Thank you for bringing these issues to light. Many who don't want the truth to be told about what is happening in our schools will attack you on a personal level. Don't be discouraged by this as it goes with the territory. Keep up the great work.

  20. Ms. Europe: In two cities I can think of, New York City and Washington, DC, I only hear the strongest criticisms of the teachers unions (locals plus the AFT) for being negligent, clueless, deaf to members, soiling union reputations by defending the incompetent teachers (as was said by Anon., above), and criminal behavior. And the list goes on. If it so bad, do we want to call that a union? Industrial unions have much more money, are as incompetent, but have a lot more muscle.

    Anonymous in Black & White

  21. One of the biggest issues with unions, especially teacher unions is that they "protect" teachers who should not be teaching (at least according to some).

    There are more bad teachers in DCPS then there should be.

    However, every teacher is entitled to due process, specifically the right to defend themselves if they are not considered to be effective teachers. In the past 20 years or so the administrators who are required to demonstrate a lack of effectiveness have spectacularly failed to do so, even with teachers who everyone agrees should be let go.

    As a result of this failure, the union is considered the bad guy because it insists that DCPS follow the proper (and negotiated) procedure for getting rid of these ineffective teachers.

    Combine that with parents who seem to think that a teacher is bad if they don't do precisely what they, as non-educators, think should be done, and you have a recipe for union bashing that is pretty unjustified.

  22. Wyrmi1--maybe one of the ways Randi could help Local 6 is to bring the best practices from her NYC experience. She could help DCPS set up a wonderful Rubber Room.
    Since you seem to have the insight, what is your best estimate of the percentage of DCPS teachers who are not effective?

  23. I've always considered it a mark of intelligence to appreciate the subtleties in and among the grey areas of what many people might otherwise consider a black-and-white issue. I appreciate Wyrm1's comments because they usually demonstrate a genuine struggle to get at what's best given a particular context, which I suppose is why Wyrm1 can be attacked on this blog for being pro-union and attacked on The Washington Teacher blog as being a spy from central office.

    If you're not going to offer legitimate points to help further the discussion, then why post (unless you really do have a political motive)? To write people's points off and then mockingly suggest the rubber rooms are a good idea is neither constructive nor impressive.

    We always seem to find ourselves yelling past each other. I'd like to see people be more pragmatic and accept legitimate points of both sides.

    For anti-union people: how do we create work environments where management doesn't chip away at workers rights year after year in the name of the organization's progress without unions? I never realized how important they were until I learned people were actually being fired just for speaking out.

    For pro-union people: how do we help positive systematic change move more quickly and affect more desperately deprived students when unions often do much in many districts to block change in the name of what's right for adults and not what's right for kids?

    These aren't easy answers. There's no one comment, article, or book that's going to answer them. So it'd be nice if people could appreciate there's more to this than just their side.

  24. After that deft dressing down, I really want you back in DC schools. You have great skill, RE. Fair points, though. I just find that teachers are totally embarrassed by their union, which has been lame and ineffective, if you buy its mission.
    On the other hand, teachers seem to come across as unionists even without a competent union. As defensive or more so than any occupational group I encounter. I think most people would agree.
    I am concerned, as you seem to be, with the percentage of ineffective teachers. My informal poll of educators suggests at least one-third across the city, but very uneven by school. If the union is just here to perpetuate that by defending incompetent teachers, it needs to be reined in. That is exactly what AFT became so expert at in NYC, thus consigning, say, tens or hundreds of thousands of kids to bad educations.

  25. RE- To your point and Wyrm's, how about *smaller* unions, obviously with a lawyer or 2 on hand as necessary, but primarily run by teachers? As a DC teacher in arguably one of the best DC schools, there are only 2-3 teachers at my school who'd I'd say should go (of around 70). Everyone knows who they are. I'd venture to guess that at most schools, the teachers know who's good and who's not. We could then fight for rights for all, due process for all, but extra attention and perhaps career counseling for the ineffective teachers.

    A side note- recently I attended an IMPACT feedback session with a rep from central office. The poor man had spent (maybe?) 2 years in a classroom (it was hard to tell, as he kept hedging when asked about his experience). If any of you watch The Office, he was reminiscent of Gabe, the gawky young guy trying to establish a modicum of credibility with zero experience. Anyway, what was really striking and disappointing to me was the fact that his response to just about every criticism on IMPACT was, "Well, what about that bottom 5% of teachers.." or "I see what you're saying but that won't work because of a small group of teachers..." or "That piece was put in place because of a portion of ineffective teachers..." Apparently, IMPACT's whole point is simply to do the job of lazy admin and terminate ineffective teachers. Now, this is sorely needed, and I do appreciate Rhee's efforts, BUT the way to go about getting rid of ineffective teachers is TO HAVE ADMIN DO THEIR JOB, not to hide behind what claims to be a system to encourage growth and improvement for the majority of teachers. It IS punitive and it DOES play a "gotcha" game, and this was by design! Was there seriously no other way to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom? Seriously? What about that other 90-95% of us who want a FAIR evaluation system that will help develop us as educators to actually better serve our students? I have long been unhappy with IMPACT, but the fact that it's just a total cop-out because admin can't do their job it unacceptable to me.

  26. I've haven't heard about teachers who are satisfied with the great job the WTU is doing. Nor have I heard of teachers who don't want a union. The whole point of any union is to protect its workers - not to improve the quality of the workmanship (whether it be teaching, plumbing, etc). Improving job quality is the job of management and individual workers.

    I agree that management (i.e., "admin") has copped out on its role of evaluating teachers by just saying it's too hard.

    I think it would have made a whole lot more sense to pour money into identifying the known ineffective teachers and guiding admin through the process of firing them, than to set up this IMPACT system to terrorize all teachers.

    Everyone would be glad to see the truly poor teachers go, and as was mentioned above - everyone already knows who they are - a costly system to identify them is not needed.

  27. Anon at 541 and EFavorite: I think these are excellent points. Although IMPACT was certainly put together by a group of people (each of whom probably thought of its intent slightly differently), it seems that its mission, first and foremost, is NOT to provide an opportunity for helpful feedback, NOT to help teachers improve, NOT to create an incredible teaching force, but instead to play the gotcha game. It's a tool for firing whoever they want to fire because no teacher could really be rated a four on all of the components based on a thirty-minute observation; it would not only be superhuman, but it probably wouldn't be very effective instruction (I'm thinking of changing activities so often to provide for so many learning styles).

    And I LOVE the comparison of this IMPACT spokesman to Gabe from The Office. Gabe reminds me very much of many of the administrators I worked with. Rhee's team seems to loathe those with actual experience in education because they're all stereotyped as being benefits-grubbing status-quo promoters. But in removing all of those people from both central office and the schools' administrations, we're left with a ton of TFA/New Leaders for New Schools types who have VERY LITTLE experience to draw from in terms of effectively managing teachers OR providing them with quality feedback to do their jobs better. Most of them are massive tools for central office myopically identifying "bad teachers" and demeaning them. That was my experience anyway.

    I agree, EFavorite, there's got to be a better way to get rid of bad teachers than IMPACT. I recently read a post from the InterACT blog in CA about improving the evaluation process. I thought it was great. Check it out:

  28. Crazy blog (I mean that in a good way). Just remember that calling for union reform, and calling for the end of unions, are two different concepts. I support union reform but recognize its continued importance. This most recent post helps to reinforce that beleif.

  29. I used to teach at CHEC back in 2008 and I will say that it is a horrible place for teachers to extend their craft. I did resign and will never ever go back to teaching! The administrators (except for 1) have no clue how to educate or keep order in their school. I remember having a meeting with and AP and the Principal...and lets just say they thought that they were going to rake me over the I was smiling at the meeting with my documentation and proof. They were left looking dumbfounded, angry, and stupid! CHEC administrators (except for one) should all be replaced!

  30. I see an opportunity in this crisis. The new WTU after its new leader is installed, should quickly pull together its best methodology for two critical tasks: 1. replace or fix IMPACT so that it is more than a firing aid--although that purpose must be served, along with evaluation for prof. dev., teacher assignment, and perf. pay. 2. propose a change to procedures under the (about to be passed) TA that speeds and eases the process of firing ineffective teachers. I am taken with the notion that "everybody knows who they are." Sure, but that set is probably the bottom. There are probably several times that in place who simulate teaching but who in fact are real bad and who cannot be remediated; this would especially apply to those who have been retrained but are still subpar. It is important that this does not take a year. Sixty days is more like it in order to catch the rosy glow of a new day and political backing. If time is wasted, this will turn into a retrograde disaster. Reactions?

  31. Anon at 1100: I agree that there is certainly opportunity in this crisis. And I also am a little wary of the "everyone knows who they are" approach. I think excellent teaching is such a complex and time-intensive task that requires so much skill and ability to work with people that the only fool-proof way to judge a teacher's effectiveness is by using other people (not just one person) who have lots of experience teaching. I think it also demands a culture of support and honesty. There is simply no way that five 30-minute observations over the course of a year (or even twenty 30-minute observations) is going to tell you everything you need to know about a teacher. Those observations measure how effective a teacher is at direct instruction. But it's very possible that you might have a teacher who's not so hot at direct instruction, but is great at gaining students' respect and creating rigorous projects for them to be working on.

    So what I'd ideally like to see is a collaborative environment where principals informally observe occasionally and engage in constructive conversations about how teachers can work more effectively as a team while teachers observe each other often and have honest conversations with each other about what could improve. Teachers who are persistently uncooperative in the process or seem to be making no efforts to improve could then be put on that ninety-day or sixty-day plan.

    Because I think my ideal is not all that feasible in the short run, what I'd suggest in the now is recruiting and retaining administrators who have significant and proven experience as teachers (at least for those that are going to be evaluating teachers - I recognize the need for administrators in different capacities to excel at different skill sets) to be constantly working with and observing teachers in the spirit of improvement and collaboration, but still be willing to put up with very little in the way of uncooperative team members.

    The climate I dealt with at my school involved a lot of administrators out to get teachers for any little mistake they could find, largely because I think that's what they understood their job to be: to weed out ineffective teachers, not to help teachers grow professionally. Also, even if they wanted to help people grow, it's not like most of them actually could have given their lack of experience in the classroom.

  32. Well, RE, good points as usual, but we gotta remember that MR had decades worth of "weeding," as you put it, to do. No one ever culled the herd of teachers. Estimates that only 1-3 percent are ineffective are ridiculous--at least that is what teachers say in sincere moments. And any cross section of parents would peg it an order of magnitude higher.
    I agree with your points on a better evaluation system than Impact. But those who want constructive change should fear embarking on some social scientist's dream in which, say, five years from now, the new system is put into use. Also, it sounds like the air is so fouled--from both sides (teachers and administrators) -- that any evaluation is difficult. Teachers and Miss Rhee can share the blame for that. Yet, it must go on, I strongly believe, with more care and quality control and a continuous-improvement method. Otherwise, there is a "default" to lifetime employment.

  33. Sorry, Anon 6:21 -- to me, your comments demeaning DC teachers in broad terms with nothing to go on except your own vague pronouncements of what parents say and what teacher really think just sound like the usual DCPS admin propaganda -- an attempt to get the word out that "everyone knows" your point of view is correct, when in fact all you have is your own innuendo.

    Here's mine: I bet there are a lot of Rhee staffers making a six figure incomes at a tender age, with minimal experience, who are trying to justify that the horrendous way they're treating DC teachers by convincing themselves that many teachers deserve it.

    When these idealistic young staffers look at themselves in the mirror, they can't stand to think that they made a terrible mistake and now have sold out, so they come on blogs like these to perpetuate their denial.

    So much for their great hopes of making a difference in urban education. They are now in total self-protective mode.

    So much for the kids.

  34. Some readers may not understand what is demeaning about having a method to measure teacher performance and impact in order to give the kids, whom the 927 commenter demeans by inattention, a decent education. She appears to be looking in the wrong end of the telescope.

    Just look at what top school districts do; in ours, we are embarrassed that the teachers block evaluation with every brick and stick they can pick up. This just goes along with the overall vile image the District has nationwide.

    Rule no. 1, 927 commenter, is: The public schools are run primarily for the kids, not as a protective bastion for teachers, even good ones that we have, to secure jobs forever. That would be totally out of keeping for home rule, democratic government by the citizen taxpayers.

    It would also be truly damaging to the children if you expose them year after year to teachers who are not good enough.

    I accept that you lay this program at the feet of the unnamed "Rhee staffers" whom you hate.
    But your armchair, unlicensed psychologizing of Rhee staff is straight out of the union playbook.

    We know, commenter 927, that Rhee staffers are responding to the strong direction from the Mayor, the City Council majority and the vast majority of parents one could sample in any ward. You darkly call it "innuendo." I call it the people talking.

    And it is clearer as each day goes by that the teachers will approve the tentative contract because they know what's good for the system and for their careers.

    Your desperation seems palpable. And that is sad. Being on the teacher network, one can imagine you are insulated from any representative snapshot of views and are being fed from the firehose of central office hatred by your union "experts."

    One only hopes our many good teachers and others who can meet standards with a little help survive their own union and continue to accept the changes that must be implemented in the DCPS.

  35. Anon at 8:35 - You disregard or twist what I say to go into your defensive rap about what’s best for kids. Talk about “denial” and “palpable desperation.” When you provide such rich fodder, it’s hard not to psychologise. In this case, it’s called projection.

    Keep writing – it’s good to have a record of the mindset of people like you.

  36. Anon at 8:35 - where have you gone? Are you back into your insulated environment at headquarters where you can convince yourself that you're doing something valuable for children? Either that or your six figure salary is a sham. That would be hard to face.

    Please tell us, exactly what "changes must be implemented in DCPS?" Besides firing teachers, and assuming new, inexperienced teachers will make a difference in student achievement, your plans aren't clear to me. Frankly, it sounds self-important and empty.

    Coming on to a site like this, populated by teachers with front line experience in DCPS, you can't possibly be trying to influence them. They actually know what's happening in schools and will not be influenced in the slightest by obvious administration propaganda.

    No, I think you're here, knowing full well that prospective teachers from around the country will come here and be influenced by the writings and comments here.

    You want to provide a counter point of view, to influence prospective teachers just like the type that reflective educator was this time last year -- idealistic and wanting to make a difference for the children of DC, only to have his hopes dashed with the reality of Rhee's disaster of school reform.

    Try to think of what's really fair for children, the new teachers and for you.

  37. 1031 poster -- your acidic trademarks are showing. You care not, as usual, to say anything about impacts on kids except in the throwaway last line. You worry about the Central Office too much and discount anyone without your own, undisclosed experience. So it is hard to know whether to defer or listen to you. Give us your bona fides in some form, em? As long as this is pretty anonymous, you might even give us your IMPACT results.
    You pay some attention to recruitment candidates, and your obvious mission is to repel as many as possible, which is odious in and of itself. But you are still working in DCPS, maybe even looking forward to the big raise after the tentative contract becomes ratified, even though you will vote against it.
    What would be a good set of next steps for change--just one person's agenda, not a DCPS agenda? My personal view is that Rhee, with continued strong backing from the Council and parents throughout the District should:
    1. Continue necessary strengthening of the teacher set through evaluation, standardized testing of teacher knowledge and skills (this simple, step, just getting at booklearning + eperience, would be an eyeopener), better remedial and professional development opportunities, rightsizing the workforce.
    2. Strengthen IMPACT with the active cooperation of teachers with ideas, such as you. And put in place the performance pay program within 4 months, ensuring that it must be earned rather than a give-away
    3. Have the District government, not just DCPS, with expert help, commit to an improvement plan for sped, with the twin goals of a stronger program and spending far less money. Consider spinning it off to a nonprofit corporation or public trust. The key--a smart plan and excellent management, which DC sped has never had, long predating Rhee. She had some good ideas, but not the follow through or the time, with all the other challenges, to promote progress in sped. It still festers.
    4. Close at least 15 more excess schools.
    5. Refine approach to selected privatization of schools and/or programs.
    6. Put in place a strengthened communications plan at the school and parent levels. Establish a professional community with teachers. Because of the odious track record and conflicts, it would be good for the union to play a secondary role here. In the opinion of so many teachers, not to mention other interested parties, it is near worthless and garners scant confidence from its members.

  38. Anon at 11:22. Please call me Efavorite. If you had a moniker I would use it too. Why make an anonymous blog even more anonymous?

    Your writing style which is similar to another I've seen on other blogs. Thus it is accurate, but granted unoriginal, for me to say, "your acidic trademarks are showing."

    You state that I’m a teacher; I wonder if you work for Rhee. Neither of us really knows about the other, but I don’t understand why you ask for details. I think our remarks stand on their own. Any reader can see our distinct points of view, and can see how yours stand out from the others here.

    I agree with your #1 - “getting at [teacher] booklearning + experience” - and have stated it often on blogs, especially regarding speaking standard, grammatical English as the first requirement of an educated person fit to teach children. I think most teachers could pass the test without preparation, and that those who didn’t, could (and should) learn quickly. I think people with college educations who use bad grammar are mostly lazy and could easily change their habits. Those who don’t after remediation, should be let go. Rhee could have instituted that requirement when she first arrived and identified the academically ill-prepared quickly, without public resistance. As a side benefit, even some people at the highest levels would finally learn that “irregardless” is not a word and “him and I” is always wrong.

    As for IMACT, I think it’s a joke and as RE says, a “gotcha” tool. If teachers are financially rewarded with their kids’ scores go up, what happens the next year when the kids’ score dip a little – or a lot? Is that always the teacher’s responsibility? What if that teacher scored in the 90th percentile in English usage and academic preparation and experience (which can be easily and objectively measured)? What if students the second year differed from kids in the previous year in terms of attendance, reading ability, etc.? Should there be a panel to constantly assess performance, with or without regard to student differences, to determine whether to award, sustain or rescind teacher bonuses?

    These are the kinds of issues that would need to be addressed for a bonus system tied to student performance to work, but to my knowledge, have not been. And personally, I (and many others) think such a system is silly and is just another punitive gotcha game, focusing on maligning teachers instead of helping students.

    I don’t know about the other things you mention, except to say, Rhee hasn’t done them and in some cases hasn’t even made an attempt. She’s had plenty of time to make inroads. Instead, knowing full well that many successful school districts have strong unions, Rhee’s main focus has been on busting the union.

    So now for my famous last line – how does that help kids, who (as Rhee says repeatedly) always come first?

  39. fm 1122 poster to Efavorite: Thanks for your comments. I learn from them.
    Am too modest for a moniker and cannot use ones from my actual work role. You will know me, but not necessarily by writing style. And altho my views are in the minority on most public ed-related comment boards, there are many who think like me. (For example, I have thought for many weeks that the Local Six Tentative Agreement will be ratified.) But I am not a teacher, though a close observer of the public schools. And I discount almost entirely what some of your fellow educators say: you can't understand our world or problems unless you have been a teacher. That remains laughable bunk as several have pointed out. One more bit of defensive claptrap that forms a faux wall against change.
    Question for you: what is the evidence that Rhee's main goal is busting the WTU? I got up to speed on your other criticisms of M. Rhee, and share a few, but I don't think anyone can make a good case for that. The union is, it seems, rather self-destructive in just about every way. If you refer to Rhee's moving teachers out by various means because of being excess, unfunded (at the time), or ineffective, that's not one and the same as busting the union. That's part of doing her job and long overdue one because no one else ever has, as far as I can tell. It gets mostly good reviews from parents and the Council, despite a lot of heat. The other part concerning instructional staff includes professional development, remedial work, sensible recruiting, and a good assignment approach.

  40. Anon 11:22 - Anyone can have a moniker - modesty is not an issue. You are making another unsupported statement to say only teachers can understand what it's like to be a teacher. Of course, direct experience helps in understanding any job, but anyone who listens can understand if they're willing. Everyone has experience as a student and many others have experience as parents and have teachers in their families.

    I believe a lot of the education reformers understand what it's like to be a teacher and simply don't care, because their agenda is to destroy the teaching profession and replace it with a temporary job corps.

    Doing that requires busting the union - the only protection teachers have from unfair labor practices.

    Yes, the WTU is a bad union, but it's better than no union at all. George Parker has sold out and I think many teachers who voted for it sold out too, thinking they might as well bet on getting their pack pay before getting RIFd, excessed or fired. Newer teachers are betting on a pay raise for the short time they're in teaching.

    Fine - there's is nothing noble or professional about this kind of thinking and yes, and there's nothing about it that helps children.

  41. I feel your pain, Efavorite. But you have broadened your claim into Rhee "destroy[ing] the teaching profession," not just busting the union. That is very different. But again, what is the evidence that she has been busting the union? She needs the union to negotiate with on a number of upcoming issues, like performance pay, and to do some of the communications to/from teachers she's not good at.

  42. I agree that everyone can understand educational issues and should take an interest in ed policy (everyone is a stakeholder), but it sure helps to be a teacher. When I started teaching, I bought into the load of crap being distributed by the likes of Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee about how the teacher is the only thing that matters and how if you're a good enough teacher you can reach any kids and help them make massive gains. Now that I've been in urban environments, I can see through their bull. I can also see through all these studies on education that rely entirely on standardized test scores in calculating a variable's effectiveness. If you don't understand these realities, you're likely to support ineffective policy.

  43. I've been a teacher for fifteen years. I did not believe in unions and was resentful of having to pay union dues until I came to DCPS. For the first time, I believe in unions and am dismayed that we have such a terrible one that does so little to protect our interests.

  44. As European, what surprise me is the fact that union can be seen as the source of the problems.
    As far as my experience with 2 kids in schools, and in various companies at work, it can see that the bigger the organisation is, and school is a big one, the more space for non optimal professionals.
    In unions, among teachers, in school administration, in cities administration etc. etc. etc.
    suppress the unions and blame the teacher will surely not fix all other areas from which they actually depend to do their job properly.
    I can even predict that any other part that feel now far from the focus and far from blames can disfunction happily and without risk even more than before at the expense of teachers
    I dont know if this sound like a socialist analysis, but it seems to me more like a general observation of any big organisation.


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