D.C. Teachers Might Actually Get Paid More for Doing a Good Job, Fired for Sucking

When I interviewed D.C. school Chancellor Michelle Rhee for a feature in the current issue of Reason, I asked if she thought she'd ever reach a deal with the teacher's unions. After well over two years of fighting, she surprised me when she said she thought the "tides were turning."

I quietly concluded that this otherwise hard-nosed lady had gone a bit soft in the head. To an outside observer, the chance of a compromise between Rhee and the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, seemed vanishingly small. The two were talking a lot of smack about each other in public, and their positions remained worlds apart.

Rhee wanted to implement merit pay for teachers, greater hiring and firing power for herself and her principals, and an overhaul of the use of seniority in hiring, plus voluntary abdication of tenure protections by teachers looking to earn more money. Weingarten seemed unwilling to let D.C. become a test case for any of those reforms, lest similar changes go sweeping through the nation, undermining the power of the union.

But I was wrong about the texture of Rhee's skull. Because today The Washington Post is reporting that a deal has been reached. What's more amazing, the deal seems to preserve many elements of Rhee's original proposal:

The agreement includes a voluntary pay-for-performance program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for student growth on standardized tests and other measures of academic success. It also calls for dramatically expanded professional development opportunities for teachers -- including school-based professional development centers -- and mentoring and induction programs for new educators.

The pact, if approved, will also afford Rhee and her school principals more latitude in deciding which teachers to retain in the event that budget cuts or enrollment declines force the closure of some schools....

The other major piece of the deal would allow officials more freedom in deciding whether to retain teachers who are "excessed" when schools are closed because of budget or enrollment issues. Under the proposal, teachers would be cut according to a formula that gives greatest weight to the previous year's evaluation. Seniority would receive least weight.

Rhee didn't get everything she wanted. Once the 103-page deal is made public, we'll see where she gave ground. And it's not all rubber stamps and roses from here on out. A lot of that cash Rhee is throwing around comes from private foundations, a fact that is sure to be controversial. Especially since some of the money is coming from known union busters, including the Walton Family Foundation (read: Wal-Mart money). There's a contested election for local union leadership coming up as well.

But massive bribes were built into her plan from the start, and boy-oh-boy did the teachers go for those. Everyone's getting bonuses! Plus she's buying off teachers who can't find jobs in the system:

Those unable to find new positions in the system could take a $25,000 buyout, or retire with full benefits if they have at least 20 years of service. They could also spend a year searching while still on the payroll, although they would be subject to dismissal after that.

That last bit might sound insane in any other industry. But in education, it's a big step toward a more normal hiring and firing process. Which means a big step toward better teachers and better schools.

UPDATE: My D.C. school feature is now posted online. Read all the gory details here.

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  • ||

    But I was wrong about the texture of Rhee's skull.

    If you said her head was going smooth, "texture" would be correct here, but I think you mean "solidity". Of course I went to a publick school, so what do I know.

  • Chicken George||

    Yeah, I would have chosen the word "composition" over "texture."

  • Joe Biden||

    But look at those tits!

  • ||

    I guess I was wrong about the "texture" of the Lieutenant In Chief's _____

  • ||

    No, you're not. :-)

    Chancellor Rhee is quite attractive.

  • Kinda late...but.||

    This shit made me laugh.

  • ||

    True! Beside her brain, her mouth and her perseverance those are two more reasons to love her!

  • ||

    "Density" would have been mine. Texture would be of concern to a phrenologist.

  • ||

    Dear Randi Weingarten-

    You suck.

    Throw yourself into a volcano.

    Hurry.

  • ||

    Highly unlikely that Ms. (Mrs.?) Weingarten is a virgin.

    The volcano would forcibly expel her.

    Now the The Sarlacc OTOH.....

  • matt||

    I'm glad to hear about anything that cramps the union, but:

    The agreement includes a voluntary pay-for-performance program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for student growth on standardized tests and other measures of academic success

    Standardized tests are still killing education by making children automatons, and this will only incentivize teachers to help their kids cheat even more.

  • troi oi||

    Of course on the surface it makes sense to pay people more if they deliver better services. But in the wacky world of public education what this means is paying teachers more who are good at distracting kids from any meaningful sort of education into helping them massage a silly test, designed by idiot-educationcrats, that does little to demonstrate any development of meaningful skills or knowledge. This is no victory, but a further step towards conformist mediocrity

  • West Coaster||

    Disclaimers: I taught in public schools for 12 years; tenure/senority-based staffing decisions suck; standardized testing emphasis does not a good eduacation system make; I believe teachers should be paid more/less based on "delivering better services"; *if* government has to be involved in eduacation (and I don't think it should be), then let it provide *funds only*, not the working infrastructure also.

    Given all that, what would be the criteria used to determine a teacher's pay?

  • ||

    I believe pay should be based on tenure and the number of master's degrees obtained from laughable institions of higher learning. In other words, things are just fine the way they are...

  • SIV||

    Teacher trolls don't like objective measurements like standardized tests.

  • sage||

    Standardized tests are racist.

  • SIV||

    Racist against incompetent teachers of all races.

  • ||

    I disagree. Standardized tests are the best way to measure performance. The problem isn't the test, the problem is the wide spread implementation of "teaching to the test" practices. The real tragedy here is that adopting this strategy actually lowers test scores. It not only doesn't work, it's counter productive.

    Cheating and data fudging are also problems, but these will be problems no matter how you evaluate. They need to be addressed through ordinary regulatory and disciplinary methods.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I've never understood this "teaching the test" criticism. The test measures what the students are supposed to be learning in school. If they're not "teaching the test" then what else are they teaching?

    If the supposed problem is that it leaves them with little time to go into anything other than fundamentals, well, who gives a crap? Kids today have the rest of their lives and the stored knowledge of generations at the tip of their fingers today. It's not going to mean shit to them if they can't read or understand basic math, though.

  • Kroneborge||

    +1

  • not the real jb||

    You are spot-on. I just interviewed a post-doc whose research showed a negative correlation between test-training (teaching to the test) and test scores. The schools with the highest scores (at least in her state) did very little teaching to the test.

    Wiggins & McTighe (2005) pointed to an example: Teachers in New York State saw that the Pythagorean theorem would be on the state test, so they drilled their students on it all year. Then the test presented this problem (I'm paraphrasing):

    "Jose lives three miles east of the school. Maria lives four miles north of the school. How far is it in a straight line from Jose's house to Maria's house? Answer: ___________ miles."

    This was one of the most missed items on the test, even though most students did well on the earlier diagram-based Pythagorean items. The TEACHERS underestimated the quality of the test items and disadvantaged their students.

    You are also right about the problem being the testing POLICY, not the tests themselves. Not all test are of high quality, but the technical reports show objective measures of quality and provide a path for improving the tests.

    A 2009 story on ABC.com talked about Washington state's testing program and the stress it placed on very young students (3rd-6th grades). But the article stated that there was no consequence for the student failing the test until the 8th grade. How was it that students were getting sick from stress from taking tests that could not affect them?

    Their teachers were stressing them out. It wasn't the test that was causing stress, but the fact that policy encouraged the teachers to convey a sense of urgency in their students.

  • ||

    Standardized testing might suck, but how else are you going to tell if the children are improving?

  • not the real jb||

    Also, "standardized" just means the test has a common content, administration protocol, and scoring system. Similar standardized tests are also used in clinical psychology to diagnose and monitor patients.

    I saw an article last month about a Linda Darling-Hammond (who was a finalist for Obama's sec. of ed.) and Bob Linn (a big testing guru) talking up "authentic assessments" to replace the paper-based tests. Even if they succeed, the assessments will still be standardized, and they will not fix the underlying policies that are causing problems.

  • SIV||

    You're not. That's why standardized tests don't suck.

  • ||

    How else to objectively measure students academic success?

    Is there a country that has produced academic success without standardized testing?

  • ||

    Who would ever think the dragon slayer in DC would turn out to be a young Korean-American woman. Makes me feel kind of bulgogi all over.

  • ||

    Once more, I say:

    Teachers should be "at will" employees.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    There should be no public sector unions. Well, there can be unions of public sector employees, but it is not the role of government to make deals with them.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    Translation: at the mercy of their employers.

  • Jordan||

    Yep. If I go to your house, I'm there at your mercy; you can kick me out anytime you want. Nothing wrong with that.

  • ||

    Correct. Who else would you suggest - the union steward?

  • cynical||

    At the mercy of democracy, you mean. If you don't like what the majority decides for tax-consuming pencil pushers' compensation, I suggest you go get a lesson on the will of the people from MNG.

  • Chicken George||

    That last bit might sound insane in any other industry. But in education, it's a big step toward a more normal hiring and firing process. Which means a big step toward better teachers and better schools.

    Nah, that's key to dealing with unions. Current members are always willing to screw future members, just as union pensioners are always willing to screw workers. If you take advantage of this, you can do a lot.

  • Tim||

    Is are children learning?

  • Other Tim||

    I done don't sea know problem wit them learnin all what thay needs to done be learnin from them teach.

  • Stereo Apple||

    Your retarded. You meant to say our, not 'are' their. What a idiot.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yeah he's a looser.

  • not the real jb||

    Timmay!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "A lot of that cash Rhee is throwing around comes from private foundations, a fact that is sure to be controversial."

    Without public education, there would be a lot more of this. Right now, there is little incentive for businesses to get involved when the education will just be hijacked by career academians who want to maintain their "scholarly" power and teach bullshit.

  • MNG||

    Well, lord knows that in the private sector everyone is paid exactly according to their merit! No owner's sons paid more for loafing, no pretty secretaries paid for being pretty, no connected folks promoted despite their incompetence. It's a Meritocracy!

    Jesus, have you people worked in the actual world?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    If a private business keeps overpaying incompetent fucks, they lose money and go out of business.

    If the public sector does so, the taxpayers lose money, and lose money, and...

  • MNG||

    Here is a man with little experience in private business! What idealized bullshit.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Sure, the company could waste money in perpetuity and still make a profit. Nothing idealized about it, that's the way it works. As long as its not my money being taken by force (bailouts), I don't give a shit.

    Fuck off.

  • Shorter MNG||

    LIFE'S NOT FAIR!

  • MNG||

    Er, you're the one bitching about something (teacher pay), so isn't it you saying life's not fair?

  • ||

    When some private entity wastes money, it is not my business. When government wastes tax money that I pay, it is my business. Not hard to understand.

  • Jordan||

    Damn private companies. Always holding a gun to my head and forcing me to purchase their products and services and invest in their stocks.

  • MNG||

    In fact, you are asked routinely to decide school matters. They are called elections. Your side just loses them consistently. but you are asked.

  • Jordan||

    Yeah, that's clearly equivalent. 50% + 1 of my peers can't make my shop at Wal-Mart.

  • Jordan||

    me*

  • ||

    Live up to your stated principles. Go away and make us all happy. Unless you think your individual happiness more important than our collective happiness. Selfish to the end.

    Ayn Rand would be very proud of you.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Well, lord knows that in the private sector everyone is paid exactly according to their merit! No owner's sons paid more for loafing, no pretty secretaries paid for being pretty, no connected folks promoted despite their incompetence. It's a Meritocracy!


    How they choose to waste their money is not your business any more than how you choose to waste your money is my business.

  • sage||

    Your examples are the exception, not the rule. In education the opposite is true. This is proven by...standardized test scores.

  • Jeffrey||

    Christ, that is weak MNG. Visit DC, and ask people what they think of michelle rhee and the teacher's union.

  • hamilton (non sctoch version)||

    MNG translation: Stupid shit happens in the private sector, so we should be accepting when it happens in the public sector.

    Try 2: Since other people seem to be OK with wasting their money, we should be ok when someone else wastes our money.

  • ||

    Since some people are corrupt, the only solution is for everyone to be corrupt.

  • Mad Max||

    We must improve the collective farms with better incentives for managers and workers.

    If we fail to do this, the extremists will demand that the collective farms be privatized.

    Is that what you want, comrades - letting private enterprise grow our children's food?

  • MNG||

    Max just wants all the schools to be publicly subsidized Catholic schools...

  • Mad Max||

    Technically, I supported the separation of school and state *before* I joined the Catholic Church. I also earned myself a personal rebuke from Thomas Sowell himself because I wrote to him to *criticize* taxpayer vouchers for private schools (I prefer tax credits, myself).

    Nevertheless, since the facts obviously aren't emotionally satisfying enough for MNG, I will cheerfully stipulate that I am a clerico-fascist with a secret agenda to turn all government schools into Catholic schools, patrolled by packs of nuns who force children to perform the Stations of the Cross.

    And I am conspiring with Opus Dei to cover up the truth about Mary Magdalene and the Merovingians.

    It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

  • Ray Pew||

    The problem with merit pay in public education is the fact that public schools are forced to accept all students regardless of their aptitude or attitude.

    "Special needs" children and older kids who simply don't want to be at school and have authority issues make the job of teachers very difficult. Add into this situation the reality that schools will do everything they can to keep them in school as opposed to expell them and the idea of "merit pay" becomes a nightmare. The "honours" teachers will have the advantage since their classes are already pre-selected for the cream of the crop, whereas other classes are designed to be simple holding cells for kids who have shown that they are incapable of passing.

    Of course there are teachers who aren't worth a shit, but the way the system has evolved, many teachers are simply hindered from teaching properly because of mandatory attendance.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    A lot of kids with authority issues have just been disgruntled over time by social engineering bullshit like zero tolerance, "antisocial behaviors", the childhood fitness hysteria, progressive "equality" nonsense, and academic politicking/fellating.

    Honours classes are not necessarily cream of the crop. Plenty of the suck ups lack real world common sense. Plenty of smart kids know they can get by without doing the redundant work.

  • ||

    Therein lies the elephant in the room: kids, by virtue of raw intelligence and genetics are not equal. Children, as an aggregate, are told that they can be anything they wish to be, but unfortunately, some children are just slow and incapable of learning higher level subjects, no matter how it is presented.

    No well-meaning, loving parent who wants the best for their child wants to hear, "Ummm, your darling little meatpuppet is, well, a moron."

    I submit it is impossible to teach a child that is unwilling to learn, and crime for educators and parents to have unreasonable expectations of a child lacking aptitude. And teaching to a test just so the education establishment feels better that every child is progressing at the same rate in the name of "fairness."

  • ||

    "And so is..."

  • ||

    Live up to your stated principles. Go away and make us all happy.

    You've got it backwards. We must all be a captive audience for his tent-show salvation extravaganza; that makes *him* happy, which is all that really matters.

  • ||

    Ah, but this is the fine edge of my argument. He professes to be a utilitarian, to be guided by what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. His individual delight in our mass discomfort is a direct and gross violation of his own principles.

    If he doesn't live up to his ideals, how can he expect us too?

  • ||

    Precisely why I told him, with the gun to doctor's head argument:

    1) apply to medical school yourself and save the world.

    Or:

    2) instead of shooting the doctor, just shoot the patient himself.

    There is 3) Shooting himself.

    But I doubt his exceptional hubris and self-adulation would permit his depriving the world of all that is MNG. Personally, I think we need his ilk around to remind us why thought processes like his qualify for a pathology.

  • ||

    MaunderingnannyGoat is God's mirror, in which you may gaze upon your wickedness, and be shamed by it.

    REPENT, YE FOUL, SOULLESS FIEND!

  • ||

    "Special needs" children and older kids who simply don't want to be at school and have authority issues

    make good coal miners.

  • Baby Farts McGeezaks||

    School choice. Problem solved.

  • Paul||

    head of the American Federation of Teachers, Rändi Weingärten

    Fixed.

  • Kroneborge||

    I'm fully in favor of standarized testing, I think we should decide what kids need to know, then teach them the subject, then test them to see if they really learned it.

    How else will you find out if they actually learned it???

    I had one economics course where the professor gave out ALL of the midterm and final questions at the beginning of the quater (they were all essay questions).

    He then proceeded to teach on each topic through the quarter. If you wanted to get an "A" all you had to do was thouraly learn each topic, and be able to answer the questions given about the topic.

    Wouldn't work for every class, but the principle is sound I believe.

  • ||

    Tune into NBC Washington's News4 and get tonight's story on what's going on in the DC school system.

    SURPLUS OR NOT
    DC's school chancellor caused quite a flurry of questions from the teachers' union after revealing the school system has a surplus of funds this year. If that's true, the union wants to know why so many teachers had to be fired last October for what was then called financial reasons. We're trying to sort this all out and will have the latest tonight on News4 at 5 and 6.

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