A tremendous thank you to Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for alerting me on Twitter of the most recent podcast by Education Next. The recording features my new friend George Parker, past president of the Washington Teachers’ Union and now senior advisor, school support for the National Alliance, and Ms. Michelle Rhee, who needs no introduction. The two engaged in a highly fascinating conversation regarding the groundbreaking union contract the two negotiated when Ms. Rhee was Chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s traditional school system in 2010. The contract would eventually lead to Mr. Parker being voted out of his position.
At the start of the discussion, moderator Paul E. Peterson, Education Next senior editor, explains that following the implementation of the labor agreement, DCPS, as measured by Mathematica, experienced substantial gains in reading and math for fourth grade students, and rising standardized test scores in reading in eighth grade pupils, but not a corresponding increase in math. Mr. Peterson asked Mr. Parker to characterize the contract. “It was the first union contract that was focused on the child and the teacher,” Mr. Parker intoned.
As background, please recall that this contract was truly groundbreaking in that for the first time in the history of public education a teacher’s performance evaluation was tied to student academic results. Moreover, it did not play an insignificant part. Fully fifty percent of the final rating was dependent on standardized test scores. In addition, instructors could earn substantial pay bonuses, up to $20,000 a year, for rises in academic marks. The agreement also reduced the power of seniority regarding job transfers and made it simpler to terminate a poor performing teacher.
When is was Ms. Rhee’s turn to speak, Mr. Peterson was most interested in the factors that created an environment in which it was possible to obtain such significant changes in the working relationship between teachers and management. Ms. Rhee recalled the unique educational ecosystem of reform present at the time. She said that the District had one of the bravest politicians she has ever seen in Adrien Fenty being elected Mayor. Soon after coming into office Mr. Fenty was able to achieve mayoral control of the regular schools. Ms. Rhee discussed the additional resource allocation the system was able to realize due to closing of under enrolled sites. She revealed that the sector received new philanthropic dollars to support the new pay for performance. Then, eight minutes and twenty seven seconds into the discussion, she dropped the bombshell.
Ms. Rhee explained that there was a strong choice dynamic in place. There were charter schools and there was the federally administered private school voucher program. She asserted that even for those who did not want change, people realized they had to do something because with these options available for parents “in ten years there will be no D.C. public schools.”
So there you have it. You can listen to the statement yourself. While there has been a highly intense debate in education circles as to what led to the strong academic achievement prior to COVID in PARCC and NAEP scores for students in public schools in the nation’s capital, we now have irrefutable proof of the cause. No one had a closer front row seat as to what took place in classrooms than Mr. Parker and Ms. Rhee.