July 20th, 2010

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in DC Series Podcast: A history of Michelle Rhee, George Parker, and Teacher Unions

( Click here to download the podcast )

Michelle Rhee & George Parker

In one of the most closely watched teacher contract negotiations in the country, Washington, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and union leader George Parker finally agree on deal breaking issues such as tenure, performance pay, and hiring and firing policies. In June, district teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new contract, which offers them a 21.6% salary increase as well as performance pay incentives of up to $30,000 a year.

Over the course of the two and a half year-long negotiations, Parker and Rhee spoke candidly with John Merrow about the role of unions, the national implications of the contract, and why it took so long to come to an agreement.
Timeline & Interviews

June 12, 2007

Michelle Rhee is appointed Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

Sept. 30, 2007

Washington Teachers’ Union contract expires. Teachers labor under old contract until a new agreement is reached.

Oct. 9, 2007

Michelle Rhee - Change agent

“I am a change agent. And change doesn’t come without significant pushback and opposition.” - Michelle Rhee

In this interview, Michelle Rhee talks about why Mayor Fenty chose her and why D.C. schools have failed for so long. (15: 26 min / Download Transcript)

Oct. 12, 2007

Mayor Fenty submits legislation to the City Council that would give Rhee the power to fire hundreds of central office workers. Union leaders protest.

Nov. 26, 2007

George Parker - Nov 26

“The union has never been the problem.” - George Parker

In this interview, Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker suggests that Rhee’s reform efforts could threaten union rights. (12:14 min / Download Transcript)

Nov. 28, 2007

Rhee plans to close over 20 under-enrolled public schools which she says would save the district an estimated $23 million.

March 7, 2008

98 central office employees are fired after 390 of the 700 workers are re-classified by the city council as “at-will” employees.

April 10, 2008

Rhee offers buyouts of up to $20,000 to approximately 700 teachers who are about to retire or whose schools are scheduled to close or go through major changes under NCLB.

June 15, 2008

By the end of her first school year, Chancellor Rhee has closed 23 schools, relocating about 3,000 students and 400 teachers. She has fired more than 15% of her central office staff, and removed 36 principals. Contract negotiations continue.

July 22, 2008

Michelle Rhee - Jul 22

“Am I a benevolent dictator? Maybe.” - Michelle Rhee

In this interview, Rhee reflects on her controversial first year, including her relationships with the community, the City Council, and Mayor Fenty. (16:29 min / Download Transcript)

July 22, 2008

George Parker - Jul 22

“We are now a competitive school district, where student achievement may well determine our existence.” – George Parker

In this interview, George Parker discusses a lack of accountability in unions, and updates us on contract negotiations and teacher morale. (13:07 min / Download Transcript)

July 23, 2008

Rhee presents a two-tiered contract proposal that would offer teachers who give up tenure as much as $131,000 a year in salary and bonuses – if students perform well.

Aug. 19, 2008

The D.C. Teachers’ Union files a suit claiming that about 80 teachers were dismissed without warning or specific reason.

Aug. 25, 2008

D.C. schools reopen for the 2008-2009 school year.

Sept. 30, 2008

George Parker - Sep 30

“We are not afraid of accountability” George Parker

Pressure is mounting on George Parker to reach a contract agreement. In this interview, he shares his views on performance pay and tenure, and suggests that an impasse may be close at hand. (6:45 min / Download Transcript)

Oct. 7, 2008

Michelle Rhee - Oct 7

“If we have ineffective teachers in the classroom, the goal is to not have them in the classroom any longer.” – Michelle Rhee

In this interview, Michelle Rhee argues that, without significant changes in the way principals and teachers are held accountable, the “dance of the lemons” will only continue. (9:28 min / Download Transcript)

Dec. 4, 2008

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union, joins the negotiations at George Parker’s request.

Dec. 8, 2008

TIME magazine’s cover image - Rhee standing in an empty classroom holding a broom – fuels unrest among DC teachers. George Parker says the media attention has propelled contract negotiations to a national level.

Jan. 27, 2009

Michelle Rhee & George Parker - Jan 27

“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unionism” - Michelle Rhee

“I think the challenge in this contract is that there is opportunity versus sacrifice” – George Parker

With the national teachers’ union now at the table, contract negotiations take on even greater national significance. In this interview, Michelle Rhee and George Parker discuss the major sticking points which include teacher compensation and tenure. (9:53 min / Download Transcript)

Feb. 3, 2009

American Federation of Teachers and Washington Teachers’ Union announce a contract counterproposal. It does not include Rhee’s “two-tiered” salary plan.

Feb. 9, 2009

Rhee publishes an op-ed piece in the Washington Post stating that she does not blame teachers for low achievement levels in D.C. schools.

May 3, 2009

Michelle Rhee - May 3

“I can’t control what the media says or does.” – Michelle Rhee

In this interview, Michelle Rhee discusses the impact of national media coverage on her relationship with D.C.’s teaching force. (10:36 min / Download Transcript)

May 3, 2009

George Parker - May 3

“It created a culture of low morale…lowest that I’ve seen since I’ve been in DC Public Schools and I’ve been here for 25 years.” – George Parker

In this interview, George Parker reflects on the last 17 months of negotiating with Rhee and talks about a “culture of fear” in D.C. schools, as well as his views on pay-for-performance and special education. (10:29 min / Download Transcript)

April 14, 2009

Kurt Schmoke, Dean of Howard University Law School and former three-term mayor of Baltimore, joins the contract negotiations as mediator.

June 19, 2009

Rhee fires about 250 new and veteran teachers for poor performance or failure to obtain a license.

Aug. 17, 2009

Michelle Rhee - Aug 17

“As long as the Mayor wants me here, I will be here.” – Michelle Rhee

In this interview, Rhee looks back on her time in office, and considers her mistakes along the way. She hopes to reach a contract agreement when teachers return for the next school year. (12:04 min / Download Transcript)

Aug. 17, 2009

George Parker - Aug 17

“There is the pressure of knowing what we do will affect more than just what happens in DC.” – George Parker

In this interview, George Parker and John Merrow discuss pay-for-performance, one of the most controversial issues in the contract. (13:59 min / Download Transcript)

Aug. 24, 2009

D.C. schools reopen for the 2009-2010 school year. There is no announcement on the contract. Negotiations resume.

Oct. 2, 2009

Contract negotiations grind to a halt after 266 teachers are laid off. The Chancellor cites a $43.9 million dollar gap in her budget as the source of the layoffs.

Nov. 17, 2009

George Parker - Nov 17

“I think the Chancellor has lost a lot of respect of some very, very highly qualified and committed teachers.” – George Parker

In this interview, George Parker questions Rhee’s decision to hire 934 new teachers in the spring, then lay off 266 teachers just six weeks into the school year.(7:11 min / Download Transcript)

April 7, 2010

With the help of AFT President Randi Weingarten and former mayor of Baltimore, MD Kurt Schmoke, Chancellor Rhee and union president Parker reach a tentative agreement on the contract.

April 13, 2010

Rhee announces a $34 million budget surplus that she intends to use to fund the contract.   Parker and Randi Weingarten file a lawsuit demanding that the teachers laid off in October as a result of a budget gap be reinstated.

April 15, 2010

The District of Columbia’s Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, states that the $34 million dollar surplus “does not exist”.  Over the next three weeks, the confusion surrounding the surplus and the budget is resolved.  The courts dismiss Parker and Weingarten’s lawsuit.

Read this Washington Post article for more details on the budget complexities.

May 10, 2010

Gandhi certifies the $140 million teachers’ contract as fiscally sound.

June 2, 2010

D.C. teachers vote 1,412 to 425 to ratify the contract.

June 2, 2010

D.C. Council approves the contract. To see the contract, visit http://www.wtulocal6.org/

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Any chance of seeing transcripts of these conversations?

@Marsha: We are working on it!

I believe that an hostile environment has been set up by Michelle Rhee. I do believe there is a more excellent and a wise way she can do and say things. I believe that the teacher morale has gone down, and there have been instances that some her staff can be rude and disrespectful. I believe because of her attitude with teachers particularly with senior teachers people from the central office think they say what they want. I will say this if one disrespects me I will professionally and I will behavior wisely and tell them to stop.

I hope her people one day take training on how to treat people.

I hope the reforms continue and that poor performing teachers are removed from the classroom. I don’t care if Rhee or Fenty stay or go. The kids deserve teachers who teach and the teachers deserve kids focused on learning. How did it get so bad that a teacher who sleeps in the classroom, has no control, and is doing very little teaching but much yelling at young students cannot be fired? Because of tenure and procedures that make it very difficult to fire incompetence. Now THAT is bad for teacher morale. Why didn’t the WTU put the Rhee proposal to a vote and demonstrate the teachers reject such an approach? Because it would have gotten a lot of approval votes too! Don’t be fooled.

DCPS Dad - Don’t you be fooled. Don’t believe that such horrid teachers exist just because Rhee says they do and don’t believe that bad teachers can’t be fired - they can be and they have been.

Are you rally a DCPS Dad or are you a member of Rhee’s staff? Lately, I’ve been noticing more comments from people identifying themselves as teachers or parents who sound more like Rhee puppets afraid that the end may be near.

Its a shame to hear someone called himself DCPS Dad defending Ms. Rhee. Rhee has no clue on how to run any educational institution other than getting paid to get rid of African-American verteran teachers. If you are sure that people are performing bad or sleeping on the job, pls Michelle Rhee prove it and fire those, not hundreds of dedicated and committed teacher in DCPS you RIF’D because you have the chance to do so.

Are people blind to the fact that business as usual has not worked in DCPS? How long are parents going to be unwilling to accept that a string majority of students are not achieving at the levels set by our cities and government? Take the barriers out of the way for Rhee and give her the chance to do right by the children. She will not settle, and her commitment to staying with this district is unparalleled compared to the past SEVEN supers. Let Rhee make things happen for DC. The barriers do not work.

We can see who supports unions more and more in their posts on the web.. Mob rule, the only refuge is anomninty.

Michelle Rhee and the new mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, are about the only two public officials who seem to be making sense: pay based on performance. The US in its most powerful mode ,afterall, is a MERITOCRACY. Think about it. Congratulations to those who show courage.

The popular assumption is that teachers don’t work hard enough. I’ve taught for 20 years and I teach my butt off everyday! However, if a student doesn’t want to learn or can’t perform on achievement tests, I can’t make them. Student and parent accountability are required also. Apply the same logic. Does it make sense to fire dentists whose patients have cavities?

If we are ever to improve the education of children we must learn to tell the difference between a reason and a excuse.

As a parent of a bilingual science teacher in D.C., I am shocked and concerned that Ms. Rhee is using such Cheneyesque corporate steamroller who is determined to remove an entire generation of teachers, administrators, and district employees. These tactics of course succeed in terrorizing any remaining educators and staff, however it makes the country wonder and cringe. Is it her intention to replace all staff with no one below the age of 30, without children–except herself of course–no social life or repercussions for abusive management and unjust employment practices? Whatever her reasoning, the children of D.C. will be next on the discerning chancellor’s list, of course exceptions will be made for the monied neighborhood schools with acceptable test scores. Ah well, I guess things have not changed very much in Washington D. C. after all, the usual cut and run while Washingtonians will be left to try to pick up the pieces. What is needed is genuine leadership that will use a broader scope of administrative abilities to improve DCPS administration while vigorously pursuing equal access for children to enlightened and updated educational environments.

If you liked Jack Welch (GE) or Ronald Reagan or GM’s Roger Smith, you’ll love Michelle Rhee. Unfortunately, Education doesn’t lend itself to a captialist business model anymore than healthcare does; its a service, a very special service where the teacher is the person who creates value for the student, and the prinicipal should support teacher’s purpose, not control their actions. And student performance is a function of the “system”, not individuals. Until we understand and incorportate these relationships we’ll continue flailing away at “reform”–spending more billions of dollars for continued lousy results.

To all who would like to admonish so called ‘poor performing teachers’ I would like to give you a perspective of a Teacher who invested four years, demonstrated commitment and literally shed blood sweat and tears in a DCPS school with poor administrative leadership. I had 3 principals in 4 years, transition to a new building and countless ignorant racial remarks to students and myself from our ‘leaders.’
I began serving DCPS because I was passionate about turning this school system around, what I found was that I was one of the few whose actions matched my ethics. I came to work an hour early, commuting from Montgomery county, I stayed to teach evening classes and saturday school. I called parents weekly, updated them on their kids, designed exciting lesson plans and made that school a second home.
What did I get in return??? NO support when truants ran amuck in the halls, set fire to the wall outside my classroom, assaulted me, sexually harassed me and female students. I would have stacks of documentation on these events, email and call the administrators but no one addressed the chaos. out of a roster of 20-25 kids only 10-12 wold show up daily, trickling in, disrupting the class, blasting their cell phones and ipods. No help their either, just in consistent electronics policies. My favorite was the time the security was dissolved and we came into work without knowledge of those dangers. Riots erupted all day, food fights, some students were arrested and i had to run to the aid of a girl who was almost trampled by her peers running to see a fight. Colleagues were held at gun point and had their car stolen from the school lot.
These are the issues teachers face daily… no wonder we are ‘poor performing’ we are distracted by basic survival and keeping ourselves and other kids safe.
Oh and by the way I am a highly qualified teacher, who is part of Rhee’s New Teacher Project. I doubt she or anyone could be as committed as I was under those circumstances.
Try having to do this high stress job, with a mountain of obstacles, and then being blamed for it.

I’m also sending the same question to Randi Weingarten. Why after a few years can a teacher acquire tenure so that a teacher cannot be terminated no matter what. No other profession can protect you like that. No wonder our educational system is going downhill compared to other countries. I would suggest paying good teachers more and getting rid of tenure. I’m an 80 year old great-grandma who would really like an answer.

Thank you

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