Sunday, June 13, 2010

Michelle Rhee Praises Randi Weingarten

D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee says New York must learn from her groundbreaking union deal

BY Michelle Rhee

Sunday, June 13th 2010, 4:00 AM
Michelle Rhee offers New York a solution to building a workable union contract.
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Michelle Rhee offers New York a solution to building a workable union contract.
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For two-and-a-half years, the District of Columbia Public Schools were locked in a difficult negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union. The process has had its fair share of fits and starts, high drama and moments of intrigue. After announcing a tentative agreement with the union on April 6, last week our teachers voted to ratify the contract by an 80%-20% margin, a resounding endorsement of the proposal.

Many doubted such overwhelming support from teachers was possible given the innovative nature of the contract. However, what teachers showed us is that they're ready for change. They sent a clear message that they're willing to be held accountable as long as they are treated like professionals.

The contract is groundbreaking in many ways, and can serve as a roadmap for other districts - including, I hope, the largest and most important public school district in the country, New York City, where teachers have been working without a contract since October. Despite some real improvements achieved over the past few years, New York continues to operate under a contract that is much more focused on arcane rules, seniority and job protections than about how to promote better learning outcomes for kids. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein must change this.

The D.C. contract includes many provisions that were once considered "sacred cows," but as it turns out, were wholly embraced by our teachers. These include:

- Individual pay for individual performance. Our agreement gives the district the ability to implement a pay for performance system - paid for with private money, and voluntary for teachers - that recognizes and rewards our most highly effective teachers for their individual accomplishments in raising student achievement.

- Seniority. When a school undergoes a budget reduction and a layoff is necessary, that decision is made based on performance, not seniority, and it's one that teachers themselves are engaged in making.

- Mutual consent. A teacher cannot be placed at a school unless the teacher and the school principal agree. Moreover, if there are teachers who cannot find a "mutual consent placement," they are moved out of the system.

- The end of tenure as a "job for life." If a teacher is rated as "ineffective," she is immediately terminated from the system. If rated "minimally effective," he has a freeze on his pay raise and after two years is terminated. Further, teachers cannot grieve their ratings, they can only grieve procedural errors.

In exchange for these reforms, teachers are receiving unprecedented levels of support, resources, professional development, voice in decision-making and pay - an increase of 20% over previous salary levels (with additional bonuses making it possible to make twice as much).

We negotiated this agreement with the help of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who used to run New York City's UFT. At its conclusion we all agreed that the new deal is good for kids and fair to teachers.

I completely understand the situation that New York City's Department of Education and the UFT are in now. Based on our experiences, here are the lessons I think can be drawn for the city's contract.

- Get rid of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool. In this time of fiscal crisis, the school district and city have to direct every available resource toward the classroom to student achievement. The city today wastes $100 million a year paying teachers who cannot find a principal willing to hire them. It's time to stop tweaking this system around the edges and end the madness. The union has to stop worrying about protecting these teachers (who have had ample time to find a job) and prioritize putting the money in the classroom with their hardworking members who are doing heroic work every day. The solution we came up with to this problem in D.C. is fair, manageable and affordable. Replicate it.

- Allow quality to drive tough decisions. New York is facing the very same threat that many cities and states across the country are: layoffs. As any effective organization would, the Department of Education has to have to right to conduct layoffs by performance, not seniority. In our new contract, teachers at each school play a part in making these decisions though the final decision rests with the principal. In no other industry or business would decisions be made about employment based only on years of service and not effectiveness. It's time to use common sense.

- Use Randi Weingarten. I don't like to get in the middle of someone else's negotiation and I know that there is a long and complicated history between Weingarten and Klein. However, based on my experiences negotiating with Weingarten, she is very much able to see the direction the nation is heading in and the fact that unions need to be a part of the solution. Both Klein and Mulgrew should lean on her.

- Compensate based on performance. Currently, the base salary for city public school teachers is between $40,000 and $100,000; it has increased markedly under Bloomberg and Klein. The best teachers, in my opinion, should be paid a lot more. However, given the current budget constraints, the only logical move is to base any increases to pay on merit. In D.C., we were lucky enough to have external philanthropic support for raises. That's not always going to be the case. New York should expend all salary resources toward pay for performance starting with taking all lockstep and course credit pay increases and devoting them to bonuses for high achievement.

- Ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. Joel Klein can't say this but I can: We have too ineffective teachers in New York City classrooms; I saw it up close when I led The New Teacher Project, a non-profit devoted to recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in high-need schools. To me, one ineffective teacher is too many. Teachers not meeting expectations should be afforded professional development - but if they can't improve, and some of them cannot, the district must have the ability to quickly move them out. In Washington, we've developed an evaluation system that is robust, data driven and fair to teachers. Building on the work of state Education Commissioner David Steiner, the city should adopt a comprehensive system that strikes this balance. I have my own kids in public school and I know the havoc a bad teacher can wreak on a child's life. I've been called "anti-union" for my stance. I refer to it as "pro-kid." Move ineffective teachers up or out.

After nearly three years we struck a revolutionary bargain with the union. It shouldn't take nearly as long for others to do the same. School district administrators and union leaders can build on the foundation that we've laid and work toward agreements that push the envelope even further. The precedent has been set for the city and the UFT to make a breakthrough. Let's see them do it.

Rhee is chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

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Pissedoffteacher said...

I usually wish people like her painful poison ivy but that would not even come close to inflicting on her the punishment she deserves for this. Weingarten is supposed to be working for us. She should be imprisoned for treason.

Danny Weil said...

She will be taken to task at the AFT convention where Yvette Felarca of By Any Means Necessary' ( will challenge her sorry ass for president.

Weingarten has courtesened with Eli Broad, Rhee and soon Klein. She is a harlot that is working against teachers in the rank and file and assuring that the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind, now known as Race to the Top get implemented.

She will go down as the bridge that allowed the ruling class to destroy public education and teacher's unions. This is why the right wing ruling class likes her, she is reasonable when it comes to their demands and she has shown a cunning in scmeikling her own union.

We best get rid of her and get a new slate of leaders in July. Same with the NEA where the rot is even worse.

See all my work at

Danny Weil