Saturday, December 27, 2008

WaPo editorial board urging Rhee and AFT to work together

The Washington Post editorial board is urging DCPS and the ATF to work together to break the impasse around the overdue WTU/DCPS contract.
Newly elected as the head of the AFT and its 1.4 million members, Ms. Weingarten delivered her encouraging message for change at a speech last month at the National Press Club. Since then, she has met with Ms. Rhee in an apparent bid to break the high-profile standoff that threatens to paralyze the reform of Washington's troubled school system. Ms. Rhee negotiated for more than a year with local labor leaders of the Washington Teachers' Union and came up with what she believed to be a revolutionary agreement: D.C. teachers would become the country's highest paid but, in exchange, they would surrender tenure rights to allow the system to get rid of ineffective teachers. The bedrock of the proposal was the proposition that teachers would be judged by their effectiveness in boosting student achievement. Union officials -- particularly those in the national organization -- viewed the proposal as an unacceptable assault on teacher seniority, and it's never been put to a vote.

It's sad commentary that the goals staked out by Ms. Rhee have been labeled as "scorched earth." What's so radical about expecting excellence in teachers or in demanding the ability to reward the best teachers while getting rid of the worst? Ms. Rhee has been accused of trying to break the union when, in truth, she rejected a plan to bring in a firm adept at union-busting in favor of working one-on-one with local labor officials whom she believed shared her philosophy that children come first.
ATF president Randi Weingarten responds to the editorial here.


Anonymous said...

Most would agree that good teachers are key to student success. This assumption is supported by extensive research that indicates teacher quality is the most important school related factor affecting student achievement. In a recent analysis of a wide range of empirical studies on the relationship of teacher effectiveness and student achievement, five categories of measurable policy-relevant organizers that reflect characteristics of teacher quality were discussed: 1.) Teacher experience, 2.) Teacher preparation and degrees, 3.) Teacher certification, 4) Teacher coursework and, 5.) Teacher’s own test scores. The analysis revealed the positive effect of teacher experience and certification on student achievement. (Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes, by Jennifer King Rice)

Another recent comprehensive longitudinal study linked teacher certification to student achievement. (Evidence About Teacher Certification, Teach for America and Teacher Effectiveness, by Linda Darling Hammond, Linda J. Holtzman, Su Jin Gatlin, and Julian Vasquez Heilig). The study revealed that certified teachers consistently produced significantly stronger student achievement gains than teachers who were not certified, and teachers who were alternatively certified and Teach For America recruits.

Research has also revealed that there is no direct correlation between salary incentives and long term student achievement. Performance pay reforms have been proposed and implemented since the 1850’s to theoretically retain good teachers and improve teaching practices. (to cite a few of many studies: An Analysis of Merit Pay Reforms in Educational Institutions, by Jared Honeycutt, Steven Loomis, and Andrew Brulle, Wheaton College; A Study To Assess The Relationships Among Student Achievement, Teacher Motivation, And Incentive Pay, by Pamela Anne McKinney)

Based on research, certified, experienced teachers of high quality would be best for the children in DC Public Schools. Defining high quality and measures to obtain high quality has been the charge of many successful school superintendents throughout the nation. Under former Superintendent Janey, teachers in DCPS were beginning to receive intensive mentoring and professional development to improve teacher quality and ultimately student success. Evidence of the effectiveness of this approach was revealed in the improvement of the district's test scores last year, a few months after Dr. Janey’s departure.

Under the current administration, DCPS Central office staff have been informed that the current plan is to 1.) Eliminate tenure, and 2.) To replace all teachers with recruits from Teach for America (or similar short term teacher placement programs). It has been stated that the current administrative philosophy is that teachers lose their effectiveness after five years and should be replaced with new recruits because young, enthusiastic recent college graduates will improve student achievement in DCPS. (Despite the fact that research has proved otherwise) When the teachers union declined Ms. Rhee’s proposal, principals were instructed to place teachers on 90 day improvement plans with the intent of moving toward eliminating teachers not hired under the current administration. In addition, Principals and teachers have been warned that if test scores do not improve this year, they will no longer be employed by DCPS.

The issue here is the need to improve the quality of teaching practices. Research has proved that the best way to improve teaching practices is to provide on-site mentoring and focused and intense professional development. DCPS has many excellent teachers as well as many that need improvement. It is interesting to note that a number of the teachers who have been identified as “very good teachers” have indicated that they have benefited from such dedicated support when provided through specialized pilot programs. Contrary to this method of support, many teachers have been provided with hand held electronic devices they must use to test children and prepare children for district tests. Rather than improving teaching practices, the focus has been on improving test scores by preparing students for the upcoming testing period. Teacher quality and teacher performance is being directly linked to student performance on standardized tests this year.

Evidence indicates that neither an extreme centralized bureaucratization nor a complete deregulation of teacher requirements is a wise approach for improving teacher quality. Based on the research school systems that refine policies and practices used to build a qualified body of teachers in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools; for disadvantaged, special needs, and advantaged students; and for math, science, languages, English, social studies, and the arts hold more promise for improved teaching practices and long term school reform.

If Mayor Fenty, Michelle Rhee and the teachers union truly desire to create a system that improves the quality of education for all children in the District of Columbia, one that ensures long term school success and one that endures beyond the tenure of their position, a different, more thoughtful, intelligent, carefully planned and research based approach is needed.

-An Insider

Anonymous said...

Nicely said. Sounds like Rhee's approach is extreme. Even a little nutty.