When D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee signed a contract with the teachers union last April that boosted their salaries while allowing them to be fired under a new evaluation system only when lack of funds or low enrollment caused school closings that created excess teachers, I called the agreement a poor “compromise.” To me, it looked like Rhee had caved in order to help her protector, Mayor Adrian Fenty, in his tough re-election battle.
Here’s why I may have got it wrong. Rhee has just fired 241 teachers, 4% of the teacher total. Apparently, D.C. is closing schools, thus kicking in the contract provision I thought would go unused.
Rhee has also put another 737 teachers on notice they may go next year. Taken together, the total number of teachers potentially affected is 25% of D.C.’s 4000, a serious share of the workforce. Moreover, her contract allows Rhee to reward those at the top end of the evaluation process, an additional major step toward differentiating among good and bad teachers. Finally, Mayor Fenty, still locked in a tough battle for re-election, is totally behind Rhee’s actions, suggesting he thinks his efforts to improve D.C. education might work for him politically. If Fenty wins, the Rhee-Fenty combination may start to shake the unions’ nationwide grip on teacher firings.
That would be big news.