Vote Davis Slate for WTU
Liz Davis /Candi Peterson
WTU Can Be Better!
One by one, Cardozo Senior High School teachers and school staff were called down to the Principal's office today to receive pink slips. Just a week ago, DC's Cardozo High School staff were notified that 100% of our staff would be reconstituted and required to reapply for our jobs, with the exception of the school's principal. Later on in the same week, 90 staff members had to submit to abbreviated 5-7 minute interviews and answering three questions by the school's principal.
Today was a solemn day for all at Cardozo High as teachers and staff waited with baited breath to learn of their job status. Many speculated who possibly would get the axe. Even some of the DC contractors described having to observe the process of pink slipping staff bordered on cruel and unusual punishment. It was hard to go own with the business as usual of teaching and learning, despite your best efforts.
Having written about former Chancellor Michelle Rhee dating back to three years ago, I knew all too well that the education plan of Rhee and now the current Chancellor Kaya Henderson administration had been to get rid of a significant share of our education workforce. I have frequently written about how Rhee prided herself on creating a revolving door workforce and was adamant that teaching was not a career. I have known for some time that Chancellor Michelle Rhee was out to get me due to my political activism, representation of DC's teachers/staff, whistle blowing and writing this popular education blog which helped to expose her.
Today at 2:40 pm, The Washington Teacher blogger (AKA Candi Peterson) was given the axe. If you play the lottery, I recommend that you play that number 240, it just might pay off great dividends. I'd figured I'd be excessed and had been anticipating my demise. As a long time whistle blower, I'm well aware that I've had a bulls eye on my chest for some time. I'd do it all over again, if it helped to rid our schools of the likes of Michelle Rhee.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out when the powers to be are out to get you. After I had a disagreement in 2011 with Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) President Nathan Saunders, Chancellor Kaya Henderson willingly revoked my leave of absence as the elected WTU General Vice President. When Saunders approached Chancellor Henderson and Human Capital Chief Jason Kamras, stating he (Saunders) no longer needed my services full time, Henderson agreed to illegally revoke my previously approved leave from the school system. Anybody who knows anything about elected union officers knows that the only way an elected official can be removed is through a successful recall. Had I not returned to an assigned position within DC Public Schools, as then DCPS Human Resources Director Regina Youngblood indicated I would be separated from DCPS. In layman's terms that means terminated.
So in the words of Cardozo's former principal, "Don't Cry for Me." I am exactly where this road trip led me to be. My favorite aunt always says: "if someone is aiming a machine gun at everyone, you're bound to eventually get shot."
What bears our critical attention now is not my personal story but what has been happening to our public school system and the purposeful demise of qualified teachers, school staff and principals otherwise known as 'teacher churn'. I urge all of my colleagues to open your eyes and take stock that the yearly pink slipping of DC Public Schools staff should be a wake up call to all. By definition, teacher churn is the turnover of teachers through excessing, reduction in force (known as RIF), yearly Impact terminations, and voluntary separation. The churning in and out of teachers.
Mark Simon, educational analyst and former DCPS parent wrote about this in an Op-ed in a June 15, 2012 Washington Post edition, titled: "Is Teacher Churn Undermining Real Education Reform in DC." This piece called attention to the rate of turnover of both teachers and principals as a huge education reform. Simon argued the turnover rates are so high, we're losing a lot of our best teachers and creating a hostile culture in too many schools.
Here are some interesting facts from that story. Simon notes: "Three aspects of the Michelle Rhee-Kaya Henderson reforms contribute to higher rates of teacher churn: unstable school budgets from year to year; greater freedom for principals under the IMPACT evaluation system to identify teachers for dismissal or transfer; and school closings."
Notwithstanding school reconstitutions like the ones that were ordered at Cardozo High and Patterson Elementary have not proven in years past to yield any statistically significant gains in student achievement, despite staff turnover.
When we analyze the data, DCPS is has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the country. Mark's article revealed that "In DCPS, by contrast, 55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years, according to an analysis by DCPS budget watchdog Mary Levy. Eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year. That means that most of the teachers brought in during the past five years are no longer there. By comparison, in Montgomery County just 11.5 percent leave by the end of their second year, and 30 percent by the end of year five. DCPS has become a teacher turnover factory. It has a hard time keeping teachers who are committed to their school and the community it serves."
Another significant study which Mark's article referred to is one conducted by researchers Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, Matthew Ronfeldt of the University of Michigan and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia “How Teacher Turnover Hurts Student Achievement.” These researchers concluded that, separate from the relative quality of teachers who may be brought in to replace those who leave, teacher turnover itself harms a school. Turnover affects morale and the professional culture at a school. It weakens the knowledge base of the staff about students and the community. It weakens collegiality, professional support and trust that teachers depend on in their efforts to improve achievement."
So the next time a DC Public School is up for reconstitution, I say we change the formula since the research clearly supports that reconstituting staff does not equate to gains in student achievement. Who should we reconstitute? Let's begin with DC's Mayor Vince Gray and work our way down to Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her minions. Certainly they bear responsibility for some of the failure of DC Public Schools.