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$64.5 Million: The New D.C. Curriculum!

$64.5 Million: The New D.C. Curriculum!

The battle is over! After almost three years of fighting, Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Washington Teachers’ Union announced on Wednesday that they have reached tentative agreement on a teacher contract. This may sound like no big deal, but at times since June, 2007, when Rhee took office, the wrangling got so nasty that most people believed an agreement could never be reached. The proposed pact still has to be ratified by union members and approved by the D.C. Council, but how did it even get this far?

One important factor is $64.5 million, the amount contributed by four private sources: the Eli and Edythe Broad, Laura and John Arnold, Robertson and Walton Family foundations. I’m guessing that there will be some scrutiny applied to these private funding sources by both teachers and D.C. council members. A quick look at the Walton Family foundation, for example, reveals that this was created in 1987 by Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, and that it has also donated significant amounts of money to non-unionized charter schools, raising concerns that its agenda is the privatization of public education. Exactly what strings are attached to the D.C. money?

As a result of all this private funding, the pact provides teacher salary increases of more than 20 percent over five years. Teachers in the D.C. system can currently make a maximum of $87,000, but under the new system, that would rise to $147,000. Pretty attractive!

“We’re really talking about being able to offer salaries that would compel people to become a teacher because they know they’re going to be compensated at the right level,” Ms. Rhee said at a news conference announcing the deal.

Another contributing factor is the compromises made on both sides. Rhee gets to remove ineffective teachers, but teachers get to keep tenure, a huge sticking point in the negotiations. And while teachers get their big pay increase, Rhee gets her merit pay plan.

When Rhee took over in 2007, she set out to entice teachers to give up tenure in exchange for more pay. But the union bitterly opposed the idea. Now what the two sides have agreed to is a voluntary pay-for-performance plan to reward teachers whose students show academic improvement on standardized tests and other academic measures.

D.C. teachers will be anxious to see what those “other academic measures” are. Merit pay based on performance on standardized tests is wrong for many reasons. Most obviously, why should I benefit if I happen to get a class of high achieving students? Alternatively, why should I suffer if I have students who move, or miss a lot of class, or have social and family issues that affect their
ability to study. I have no control over these factors.  

Still, many states around the country are trying to overhaul teacher tenure, and will be watching to see how the D.C. plan unfolds. Two prime examples are Maryland, with a proposal to delay tenure, and Florida where tenure would be abolished. Ohio enacted a law last year that delayed granting tenure until a teacher has served for seven years.

The teacher tenure system as it stands in most states means that once a teacher gains tenure, generally after two or three years, that teacher has to commit some morally egregious crime in order to be removed. The movement to overhaul this system is a good one, but the devil may be in the details.

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Creative Commons - angela n.
Judy Molland

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35 comments

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2:51AM PDT on Jun 20, 2010

Interesting. Thank you!

7:01AM PDT on Apr 15, 2010

Interesting!

8:10PM PDT on Apr 14, 2010

noted. thanks.

7:40PM PDT on Apr 14, 2010

Appreciate the info.

10:59AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

I have misgivings about private funding and the objectives of a school district. The funding may help, yet if tenure is to be eliminated or more years added before it occurs, then the teachers need to be part of the negotiating process.

Money isn't a resonable trade for tenure or even a teachers organization fulfilling its responsibilities for its members.

7:28AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

Whatever happened to the lottery system that was to take care of all the schools. That is the states that did have lotteries. You don't hear too much about that.
I guess a person can contribute to both public and privatae schools, but the Government should pay zilch for the private schools. As for teachers tenure, That is okay but after say 5 years she is not a good teacher they should be able to oust her and advance a better teacher that does not have tenur.

12:35AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

thanks for posting

9:32AM PDT on Apr 12, 2010

Grat info...thanks.

7:05PM PDT on Apr 11, 2010

the key is to help the kid have more. for me that's all that really matter. i would love it if big business played a bigger role in funding our schools.

5:39PM PDT on Apr 11, 2010

I agree with June. I had one teacher tell my daughter that she would achieve her life's goal if only she becomes a cheerleader! And that was because my daughter had trouble with her times tables. Another time she had a biology teacher tell the class they were a waste of skin. She couldn't even tell my husband, who is a teacher himself, her lesson plan for the day. Another student teacher fell asleep in class. In the 70's my husband, who had an excellent rating and whose whole class passed the NY state regents, was laid-off, and a teacher who had seniority but an unsatisfactory rating was kept on - only because of tenure. Yes there are good teachers and they should be rewarded - but not 147,000 a year reward.

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