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Knowledge IS Power


There were almost as many journalists as there were teachers at the protest at the Washington Teachers' Union headquarters this morning, which was organized by supporters of the two-tiered pay-reform plan proposed by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. I'll come back to that in a minute.

The crucial sticking point has been that under the plan, teachers electing the green path, in exchange for much higher pay, would revert to probationary status and lose some of their tenure protections. They could, in essence, be easier for prinicipals to dismiss.

Washington Teachers Union President George Parker told reporters today that teachers who elect this pathway must still have "due process" protections against arbitrary dismissals. He said he believes Rhee will agree to some type of appeals process in the contract negotations.(No word yet from Rhee's camp on whether she's willing to support such a process.)

I queried Parker: Are there really that many arbitrary firings by principals?

"It happens all the time," Parker responded. "Anytime you have the human element in decisionmaking, there's human frailty."

This year, he said, 78 teachers in probationary status have been dismissed, and the union is examining whether those decisions were legitimate.

So if that issue is fixed, is the deal a go? Don't bet on it.

Take a member of the union's board of trustees, Candi Peterson. She says the national American Federation of Teachers has commissioned a legal study of the plan and that elements relating to teacher excessing and seniority, in both the red and the green path, violate sections of the D.C. municipal code. (Excessing is when the building reduces slots and a teacher loses her job there, but is still employed by the district.)

I've put in a request for that document, but haven't heard anything back yet.

I asked Parker about these potential legal problems. His answer: "We're certainly going to ensure that the union and D.C. Public Schools are in compliance with the law. Period."

Given these types of internal divides within the union, I have to ask the question: What is your average rank-and-file D.C. teacher hearing? And from whom? I think it's possible that this contract could be swayed by the quality of information teachers have, and its source.

Parker said most teachers he's heard from want more details on how the tiers will operate. He said he expects to submit a tentative contract to a member vote "sometime before early September."

The teachers who came this morning, most of whom support the green tier, seemed buoyed by the promise of this vote.

I'm wondering if it will be enough for the 4,500 other teachers in the district. This morning's low attendance could be a sign that they're reserving judgment for now, or that they've already made up their minds.

(Guess who else wants to know? The national AFT has commissioned a poll of WTU members to determine where they stand on the contract. Parker said he didn't have the results yet.)


"This morning's low attendance could be a sign that they're reserving judgment for now, or that they've already made up their minds."

While both of these things could be true for some teachers, I imagine that the less than 24 hours notice of the rally and the fact that it was only publicized on a couple local blogs are probably more responsible for the low turnout. New teacher orientation was also in progress that morning.

Firstly, look at this issue in the context of your previous posts. What sort of mentroing would happen in a school divided between labor loyalists, "free riders" who took the Green contract, and the virtual scabs who camapigned for it?

Michelle Rhee’s proposal for dual contracts has split teachers along generational lines.
A thirty year old teacher told The Washington Post that she supported Rhee because, “I'm secure with my teaching practices and my pedagogy ..."I know that even if the growth of my students was questioned, I feel I would have enough data and anecdotal data to back it up." It took just two sentences for the young teacher to use the word "I" four times, and the word "my" three times.

The issue, however, is not her performance. The issue is divide and conquer. Maybe she can accept her “pieces of silver” and not get screwed. But shift from “me” to “we,”and think of other good teachers would have their careers destroyed arbitrarily. If Rhee wanted a fair process, why wouldn’t she allow for a “neutral party” to play a role in due process, as proposed by the reformist union president?

A pro-Rhee blog post showed that it is not only young teachers who focus on “What’s in it for me?” “With my current administration I would have no problem being on probation for a year. Then six more years and I retire.”

We can not just blame young teachers, or the schools that failed to teach them economic and labor history. Back in the day, the ethics of a corporate intrusion into workers’ deliberation were debated around the dinner table, in Sunday School, and in Union Halls.
Teachers must not forget sorry story of the de-industrialization of America. The dual contract proposal is just the same “bait and switch” as in the 70s when workers in the South sacrificed collective bargaining rights, undercutting Northern unions’ wages. Now factories are shuttered all over America, driving down wages, and contributing to the cycle of poverty that devastates inner city schools. Rhee is just a front woman for the de-professionalization of teaching and broader attack on the remaining unions.

It is ridiculous to believe that the big bucks would last for more than a few years, or that school children could somehow benefit. As in previous of episodes of wedge politics, the schools would be ripped apart by bitter labor strife. Before teachers accept data-driven accountability in return for money, they should put a price tag on shortening their life due to the additional stress. The human body could not stand the old piece-work system, and now Rhee wants Taylorism pumped by steroids I do not want teachers to only consider the effects of a greed-driven contract on the health and contentment of adults. How much is your conscience worth? Take Rhee’s offer, and who will speak for the children? Turn your economic future over to arbitrary power, and who will dare to voice their consciences?


Spoken like an entrenched, die-hard, brainwashed union fanatic.

"Now factories are shuttered all over America, driving down wages, and contributing to the cycle of poverty that devastates inner city schools." The cycle of poverty that devastates inner city schools has been in existence long before unions lost their way in the collective bargaining process.

This is not the end of collective bargaining but the beginning of the global economy, and it's been with us now for a couple of decades already. You've read The World Is Flat by Tom Friedman. Thousands of US companies have gone to outsourcing their work oversees because unions in this country failed to see the forest for the trees. It's the unions that have had the "me" complex, probably to a worse extent than the corporate giants.

If you owned a company and could get your work done elsewhere for half the labor costs (or less) our free enterprise system would dictate you outsource the work overseas or get buried by your competition. Not a difficult choice in the business world, especially when your labor costs are so decimated by union greed.

A classic example of how this benefits American consumers in the long run is General Motors versus Toyota. GM has had its bottom line decimated by union demands. The high school graduate (or not) working on the line at GM making $30+ per hour, not counting negotiated benefits, is now looking at a once insurmountable industrial giant getting slaughtered by a Toyota. Of course GM's plight was exacerbated by the company's greed to make exorbitant profits on its fleet of aircraft carriers like the Suburban, the Tahoe, and the Yukon in the 90's and into the first decade of the twenty-first century while Toyota had the foresight to at least to offer intelligent alternatives like the Corolla and eventually the Prius.

So how'd all that work out for the union and the corporate big wigs at GM? GM's siren song of the last century, "Drive your Chevrolet in the USA, America's the greatest land of all," has become its death knell. And it wasn't Dinah Shore that died but the myopic greed that deserved to go the way of GM's gas guzzler mentality right along with its out-of-touch with reality union.

So, how does all this relate to the DC public school situation today? GM versus Toyota is on its way to proving that unions in this country have perhaps outlived their degree of usefulness. Perhaps when GM has to tack on an additional $1500 to every car it produces to cover the FULL costs of its employees health care benefits (instead of each employee paying, say, 50%) then maybe the union has gone too far, asked for too much, flown too close to the sun, or reached its financial breaking point in a floundering US economy.

The NEA and AFT are rapidly approaching the same level of myopia and Chancellor Rhee is offering, not only DC teachers, but the District's consumers and teachers alike, what appears to be, at least on the surface, a pragmatic alternative: If you can objectively demonstrate your students are, in fact, learning to an agreed upon level of proficiency, then we're willing to compensate you accordingly. And oh, by the way, if you decide you don't want to be part of this proposal, that's ok too. You can remain on the red team and be compensated for years in service and level of education.

I have to agree a bit with Paul on this one. I have been watching for unions to find ways to reinvent themselves in response to the current workplace realities. Unions came into being, and derived their power, from the factory system that brought the means of production together under a single factory roof.

Movement towards a knowledge and service based economy have contributed (along with the lack of labor education, as John alludes to) to the decay of union power. Computer based work further contributes to the development of "cottage industries" of (competing)workers who need not even be in the country.

What teachers unions have failed to realize (seemingly) is that many of the rights that they have come to regard as fundamental no longer exist for most American workers--let alone the parents of the children most teach. It is very hard to make an argument in favor of tenure or due process to tax payers who have neither, but will be asked to pay the bill.

The DC school district is also a very poor place to make a case for tenure and protection, given the very poor educational results.

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