What’s Beef?

Newsweek has a provocative cover story this week titled”Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” and there’s a companion piece that examines the ongoing negotiations over the teachers’ contract in Washington DC.  Read both, they’re important, although not much new if you follow this stuff closely.

In any event, “negotiations” has, unfortunately, become a euphemism for “existential media-frenzied battle royale.”  I’m watching this as closely as anyone,* but I urge caution to folks who want to make Rhee and Weingarten – in the DC context – metonyms for their respective sides of the ongoing debate on teacher unionism.  A few reasons:

1) DC is not a typical school district.  Beyond the fact that it is far worse off than most other districts, the governance and history of the DC schools is more complicated and storied than that of most other city districts … particularly in relation to its actual size.  The NYC school system is 20 times larger than DCPS.  Important to keep in mind.  Here’s a sample of districts bigger than DC that don’t have the regular attention of the president of the American Federation of Teachers and routine glossy newsweekly stories: Knox County Schools, TN; Granite School District, UT; Polk County Public Schools, FL.  Granted, they also don’t have Michelle Rhee as Chancellor, but even if they did, I’ll still bet the attention wouldn’t be proportionate.

2) The charter sector is larger – both relatively and actually – in DC than in other jurisdictions.  Richard Whitmire did a great piece last fall on why this is important.  Moreover, the Chancellor does not have the ability to use chartering as a change lever under current law, and the mayor has only tenuous authority over chartering (think the Fed).  This is somewhat asynchronous with the rest of the country’s chartering landscape.

3) The meta-narrative has an inevitable effect on the local negotiations.  Andy said it best at Eduwonk: “What’s the over-under on how many weeks/months/years this adds on to the contract negotiations in DC?” That’s not an abstract concern.  While the DC debate has been remarkable in its ability to highlight the national issue, it’s probably had deleterious effects on the actual local negotiations.

*Full disclosure, I used to work in the Chancellor’s office.

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2 Responses to What’s Beef?

  1. In law they say, hard cases make bad law.

    We’d be so much better off if we could stipulate that D.C. and NYC are uniques cases. Both have seriously poisoned the well nationally.

    You won’t near nearly as much extreme conflict over Boston’s turnaround (or probably those done by Mass Insight). They (you) are outliers on the opposite end of the scale. My theory is that Boston’s history of relative success makes all stakeholders relatively more open to change and risk-taking. Plus they’ve had two or three decades of laying foundations. (two or three decades ago, was there ANY effort to educated the most challenging students in large parts of the country. In my neighborhood in the 80s we saw those kids hanging out in the neighborhood every school day and no institutions had a fraction of the resources necessary to even TRY to reach them.)

    Most districts will be in the middle. If you guys would disassociate yourself with Rhee and Klein (and Gist would disassociate herself and apologize over Central Falls) it would make collaboration so much easier.

    But Duncan, who I respect, hasn’t played out the chess game to this fall, much less further. You guys who have worked at building foundations for transformations MUST look at this from our persepctive.

    Very soon, with no money, large numbers of districts will have no options but the following: They’ll fire half of the teachers in one failing school, and then use them to replace 1/2 of the teachers in other schools. Otherwise, you’ll have classrooms with nothing but subs.

    To get out of that, we must LEGALLY fire more teachers and LEGALLY change collective bargaining procedures, and use new resources effectiely. We can’t continue to waste tens of billions on NCLB-type failures.

    Read the Gates grant proposal for Tulsa, and try to articulate another SHORTTERM solution in this part of the world. To move beyond this shortterm problem, moderates on all sides must unite.

    I know a lot of reformers must have personal relationships with Klein, Rhee etc., but you need to put your loyalty, I believe, in the principles necessary to help kids, and reject those extremes. If Gist could just say “I’m sorry” about overreaching on Central Falls, I bet she would recieve a gracious response. (Without attempting to paint with a broad brush, I saw firsthand how a superintedant from the Broad School, who could have been a superstar, imposed his theories before learning the ropes and did a huge amount of damage in in six month tenure. I’m expecting a repeat when supers try to act on their ill-considered rttT proposals.)

  2. Pingback: Sharing Is Caring: Loose Lips Daily - City Desk - Washington City Paper

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