NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2010

On Friday, Michelle Rhee, chancellor for the District of Columbia schools fired 241 teachers -- roughly 6 percent of the total -- mostly for scoring too low on a teacher evaluation that measures their performance against student achievement.  Another 737 teachers and other school-based staff were put on notice that they had been rated "minimally effective."  Unless these people improve, they too face the boot. 

The mass dismissals follow a landmark agreement Rhee negotiated with the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) at the end of June.  The quid pro quo was this, says the Wall Street Journal: 

  • Good teachers would get more money (including a 21.6 percent pay increase through 2012 and opportunities for merit pay).
  • In exchange, bad teachers could be shown the door.  

At the time, many gave the teachers union credit for approving this deal.  Here's how another New York-based newspaper described the contract: 

"Teachers' unions around the country are realizing that they can either participate in shaping reforms or have others' reforms forced upon them.  The latest example comes from Washington, where the union has wisely negotiated and ratified a contract that gives the city greater leeway to pay, promote or fire teachers based on performance." 

The danger, of course, was always that the taxpayers would make good on the money, but the promised accountability would never materialize.  In this case, however, the accounting has begun.  Apparently Rhee is a lady who means what she puts her name to, says the Journal.  The same cannot be said for the other side: 

  • WTU President George Parker told the Washington Post that the union would appeal the firings -- and he threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the District.
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, accused Rhee of "stubbornly adhering to the destructive cycle of 'fire, hire, repeat.'" 

Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a national voice for charters and school choice, says the responses from union leaders show they are not used to dealing with a chancellor willing to call their bluff.  "The union has been given so much credit for 'coming to the table,'" she says.  "But if you really believe what you signed, you don't then announce to the local paper you are filing a grievance when the other side tries to make good on that contract." 

Source: William McGurn, "Giving Lousy Teachers the Boot; Michelle Rhee does the once unthinkable in Washington," Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2010. 

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