Washington Post Chastizes DC Teachers Union

October 4, 2008 | Blog

Today the Washington Post editorial board weighs in on the on-going saga between DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the DC Teachers Union.

WITH CONTRACT talks apparently going nowhere, D.C. teachers ought to be asking whose interests their union leaders are tending to at the bargaining table. They certainly aren’t defending those of the system’s many dedicated and qualified teachers, who apparently won’t even get the chance to consider a bold pay plan that would net many of them six-figure salaries.

The two-tier salary system proposed by Ms. Rhee would require teachers seeking the top pay levels to go on probation for a year; apparently union leaders found that unpalatable. Yet Ms. Rhee was offering teachers a choice: No one would be forced to give up tenure, and those opting for the lower pay level would still get — another fact overlooked — a 28 percent salary boost over five years, plus $10,000 in bonuses.

Amen. I’m no union basher, far from it, but it is clear that the interests of all the teachers — sometimes the most talented, often the younger generation — is often not represented by older generation, often status quo-oriented union leadership. Such appears to be the case in the Nation’s Capital.

The traditional steps-and-ladders compensation system for teachers needs to change in order to recruit a broader set of candidates to teaching — individuals who are not necessarily in it for their lifetimes and who want to receive compensation based at least in part of their demonstrated impact on students and on their school communities — and to retain individual educators who are making a real difference for kids.

It is also important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that such new compensation systems should be developed in partnership with teachers and the associations that represent them. Now, if those groups are unwilling to come to the table or to bargain in good faith, then that presents a problem, because I believe that there is a growing consensus that teacher pay needs to change. But that isn’t necessarily the norm.

Models such as Denver’s ProComp are beacons in this on-going dialogue that follow the principle of engaging teachers and jointly developing a new system. The Joyce Foundation (which also funds my employer) is also funding some thoughtful work to recommend new ways of paying educators. Both initiatives are worth a look.

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