May 29, 2013

Pink Slipping DC's Teachers Does Not Improve Achievement

By Candi Peterson

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.

© Candi Peterson 2013

May 23, 2013

WTU Ballots Have Been Mailed

By Candi Peterson- Vote Davis Slate for WTU 
Liz Davis/Candi Peterson - "WTU Can Be Better!"

Washington Teachers' Union (WTU)  ballots have been mailed and should have arrived at the home of most union members. Remember to vote Davis slate. I'm running on the slate with Elizabeth Davis as WTU General Vice President.

If you did not receive a ballot, please contact Alyssa Limberakis at WTU @
202-293-8600 between 9 am and 5 pm daily.

May 20, 2013

Cardozo Senior High Teachers Get the Axe!

By Candi Peterson - Vote Davis Slate for WTU 
Liz Davis/Candi Peterson - "WTU Can Be Better!"

Update: I was informed that teachers from Patterson in SW Washington, D.C. also were excessed on 5/20/13.

At the end of the school day on May 20, 2013 - Cardozo Senior High School staff were mandated to attend an emergency meeting in the schools auditorium. An important morning and afternoon announcement was made by the schools principal, Dr. Tanya Roane that required all staff to report to the meeting including the schools’ custodians. It felt as though we were being summoned to the guillotine by the principal’s urgent tone and requirement that all staff report.  

Back on December 20, 2012,  I wrote an article for The Washington Teacher blog titled “What’s the Impact of DCPS School Closures on Teachers and School Staff?’ At that time, I warned teachers and school staff about the DCPS School Consolidation Staffing Overview which was provided to teachers at selected schools due to the proposed school consolidations announced by Chancellor Kaya Henderson in December 2012. The three page staffing overview outlined the following: “WTU members at consolidated schools will be subject to the excessing process as outlined in the WTU contract.” When I walked into the school auditorium today at 3:30 pm and saw Mr. Dan Shea, DCPS Instructional Superintendent- I knew it was a foregone conclusion that our worst nightmare was about to be announced.

Mr. Shea announced that all staff would be reconstituted with the exception of the schools principal. Shea stated “staff will have to reapply for their jobs starting this Wednesday with Principal  Roane and interviews will be held beginning this Wednesday (May 22) through Friday (May 23).” In my estimation, that would amount to about 30 staff interviews daily at 15 minute increments if the principal is to meet her goal of interviewing approximately 90 school staff members by week’s end. Shea was clear that the principal alone would conduct all of the staff interviews.

A letter disseminated by a central office staffer in attendance at the meeting had a list of DCPS Reconstitution Frequently Asked Questions. Among the first question  was “What does Reconstitution mean?” As defined by DC Public Schools “Reconstitution is a process by which a school district may address the needs of the school that fail to make adequate gains several years in a row. When schools consistently under perform over a period of time DCPS may choose to take drastic action to improve the schools.”  Those drastic actions may include reconstituting all or some of the staff, converting the school to a charter, bringing an outside organization to be a management partner, turning the school over to be controlled by the state or pursuing another major restructuring such as getting rid of the schools administrators’.

In response to questions from teachers, Instructional Superintendent Shea reported that no other high school in DCPS is being reconstituted this year. Among some of the reasons given for reconstituting Cardozo, Shea said “We looked at 125 schools and Cardozo has gone backwards. Although there has been some growth, it is not at the pace we want.”  A fiery Washington Teachers' Union (WTU)  Building Representative, Deborah Pearman reiterated that Cardozo’s test scores are not as bad as some other DC Public High Schools like Woodson and Dunbar, etc.. Pearman said “I’ve looked at these scores and I know that other high schools are worse than ours.” Shea noted that the district  looked at other data including the number of seniors graduating on time  within four years.

Pearman inquired why the school district gave notice to school staff so late in the year when other schools had been notified prior to April 1. Chief among Pearman’s concerns, the DCPS job fairs have been held and some schools have already hired their staff for the upcoming school year. Another concern Pearman addressed was the District imposed penalty that teachers who are part of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) could face if they now choose to retire or leave the school system. The April 1st deadline requires that members of the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU)  must notify the school district by this deadline in a Declaration of Intent or face a $1,000 penalty.

 In response to a battery of questions and concerns, Shea said “I apologize that I didn’t come one month ago to tell the staff.” Pearman, as a member of the Cardozo personnel committee fired back “I am insulted that I have spent countless hours interviewing people for my job.” Staff were optimistic that excessing would not occur since the local school budget revealed an increase in staff positions due to the consolidation of Cardozo Senior High School and Shaw Middle School at Garnett Patterson, scheduled to take place in August 2013.

When I approached some of my colleagues about their responses, one teacher colleague said “We’ve done this before.” There were many horror stories of teachers having survived being excessed as many as five times during their careers. The difference with the 2007-2012 Washington Teachers Union Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is that excessing under this agreement is likely to eventually lead to a teachers termination, despite a Highly Effective or Effective IMPACT evaluation rating. According to the DCPS  School Consolidation Staffing Overview: “WTU members have 60 days to interview for new placements. After that period, WTU members who are unable to find placements may be eligible for an extra year of employment to find a permanent position that is if they are Highly Effective or Effective. These options are only available to WTU members who are in their third year and beyond and whose most recent IMPACT raring is Effective or Highly Effective. All other WTU members who are unable to find positions will be separated from the system.”

By the way Option 2  in the WTU Collective Bargaining agreement (CBA) which  previously allowed  permanent status teachers with a minimum of 20 or more years of creditable service to retire early is no longer an available option due to a MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) between WTU President Nathan A. Saunders and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, signed in December 2012. The MOA changes the early retirement option and calls for Supplemental Unemployment benefits to be paid to eligible teachers over a five year period.

In closing the meeting, Pearman in rare form requested that Shea deliver the message to Chancellor Kaya Henderson that she (Henderson) needs to meet with Cardozo staff directly and not just send her messenger to deliver the bad news. Shea assured the crowd he would take the message back to Henderson. I agree with Pearman, it’s time that Henderson face her troops.

© Candi Peterson 2013

May 4, 2013

It's Official - I'm Running in the WTU elections!

Liz & Candi
Written By Candi Peterson

"Together, We Are Better!" Liz Davis/Candi Peterson

Good afternoon to all of you. It's official on April 30, 2013- I declared my candidacy for Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) General Vice President again. This time, I am running on the Elizabeth Davis (known as Liz) slate. It's an opportunity for a new start, for new beginnings- a time to take stock of where we've been, where we stand and how much needs to be done for DC teachers and school personnel.
Nothing is more important to me than advocating for teachers/school personnel, students and our schools. I have always been in the forefront of education advocacy and public education reform. My running mate, Liz Davis has always stood for great student-centered teaching, advocating for better teaching and learning conditions, saving our public schools and representing union members' rights. We both stand firmly against the privatization of public education and support a participatory union membership that is inclusive, not a dictatorship. Our styles are similar in that we both are great leaders, good listeners and try to build consensus. We offer transparency and ethical leadership - like I have so often demonstrated in my union leadership and my writings on my education blog; The Washington Teacher, which became an online voice for DC teachers and school personnel during the Michelle Rhee regime.
It pains me to say that life as we all know and love in our public schools – is in danger – and has been for some time. In DC and throughout the US, teachers have become an endangered species. This revolving door of our teacher and principal workforce under both the Rhee and Henderson administration has harmed students, compromised their ability to achieve, sent our public schools into further decline and led to a diminishing enrollment.  

I hope you will join us by supporting the Davis slate in the upcoming WTU elections. It's an exciting and important journey- offering teachers a change in union leadership and doing what needs to be done for the future, our future. We welcome all members and hope to add to our family of followers and welcome every one's ideas. We support our younger colleagues and older veterans because we believe that together, we are better. Pitting the old vs. the young isn't in any of our best interests, particularly our students. 

Let me close by saying that when only a few do better – at the expense of everybody else – well, all of us pay the price. We want so much more and plan to tell you about our plans in the very near future. 

I have missed writing The Washington Teacher blog and I have missed you as well. I do plan to get back to writing about many of the issues that we continue to face in public education. So long for now.
In Solidarity,
Candi Peterson (AKA The Washington Teacher blogger)

© Candi Peterson 2013