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Randi: Obama Election Could Smooth D.C. Negotiations

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I attended a forum on D.C. teacher professional development last night sponsored by this group and I'll be writing a few posts on it this week. But first I wanted to report what I thought was the most interesting observation of the evening, made by none other than American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Panelists were asked by one member of the audience (on an index card, so I can't say who it was) how D.C. could agree on a system of teacher supports in the place of what the questioner described as the "punitive" system of teacher-effectiveness evaluation that schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is instituting. Essentially, this system allows principals to put teachers on 90-day improvement plans, after which they can be dismissed.

"I'm going to take a huge risk here and then I'm going to shut up," said Ms. Weingarten, who mostly has refused to comment on the D.C. contract negotiations. "I think with the election of a new president who's going to want to see D.C. present us [with] a model for what can happen, there's probably an opportunity to look at this afresh."

She said the forum discussion, which was meant to stimulate discussion of a "broader" approach to D.C.'s teacher-quality system, might help the district and union leadership find areas to compromise.

"There's an opportunity here, and I would urge you to urge both parties to find that opportunity," she told the group.

Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker was sitting in the front row during all this. I chatted with him briefly after the forum. He said he and Michelle Rhee are still talking through different things, and the contract hasn't gone to impasse yet.

A couple of interesting tidbits: The red-green tier pay proposal (which would allow teachers willing to forgo tenure for a year the opportunity to win bonuses) isn't dead, and discussions are ongoing about how to institute systems for getting teachers the professional development they need.

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The problem with what seems currently on the table in DC is that it amounts to a trade-off between higher pay and less job protection.

Conspiculously absent from the conversation is supports for high quality teaching, or even a definition of what high quality teaching looks like. Weingarten's proposal seemed to be that both sides might take a few steps back and then start the more important conversation. Brilliant.
There are national implications about what constitutes "real reform" and whether the quality of teaching and learning has to be a part of it. I hope President Obama indeed shifts us in that much more hopeful direction.

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