November 17th, 2009

Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC
Michelle Rhee in DC Series Podcast: The Reduction in Force

( Click here to download the podcast )

Chancellor Michelle Rhee says that she laid off 229 teachers this fall because of budget cuts. Since Rhee tied the layoffs to budget cuts she was able to circumvent union rules. This has caused a controversy in the District with the teacher’s union leading the way by taking the matter to the courts.

In this interview, John Merrow interviews Jodie Gittleson, Eve McCarey, Crystal Proctor and Tina Bradshaw-Smith, four DC teachers who were laid off during the Reduction in Force (RIF).

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I am concerned that Michelle Rhee’s union busting tactics is the start of a trend that will continue in public school districts throughout the country. Unions helped to make this country strong and the power of unions provide a counter-balance to corporate and government power. The middle class is being slowly chipped away with the decimation of unions that were once strong and fought successfully for the rights of workers.

I thought it was interesting that the first teacher interviewed began with “I just graduated from school…I’m highly qualified.” Really? Not sure how she can say that. That is telling of the type of person that was laid off.

Whether Rhee “planned” this or not, it has the same effect as if she had. Letting go of seemingly good teachers while keeping Teach For America is absurd. I have worked with Teach for America as a trainer and I have some background with them. It is also, as a participant says, “backdooring the union.” How about Rhee’s own competence in the overhiring?

To Dale: She said highly qualified, not highly experienced! Qualified means she meets all the educational requirements. These don’t mean the same thing. How can you judge an entire group by that one statement?

Dale, thank you for your comment.

For all our viewers, I would like to clarify what Jodi meant when she identified herself as “highly qualified”, a designation defined by No Child Left Behind:

“To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor’s degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach.”

Learn more at:

Michelle Rhee is on the right track! Teachers unions protect teachers whether they perform well or not. Tenure is a ticket to lifetime security where those who can’t teach hide out! Professional unions need to police themselves much more carefully if they are to be respected.

Mary says, “Michelle Rhee is on the right track! Teachers unions protect teachers whether they perform well or not.”

Please tell me, Mary, how Rhee can be on the right track if she fires teachers in the middle of a school year? If some of these teachers are shown to be very competent.

What exactly is it that respect Michelle Rhee for besides what you perceive to be her stance on unions? That she demonizes teachers? That she thinks stress is good? That she thinks cooperation is over-rated?

You sound like Dale, above, who made a sweeping generalization based on one piece of shaky information.

Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter which is the disrespect for law. You presneted at least one “smoking gun.”

MICHELLE RHEE: In D.C., we actually cannot do that. By law, we can only move a personnel action form forward if there is a vacancy at a school level, and then there is a budget to support that…

JACK EVANS, Council of the District of Columbia: I don’t believe she over-hired, with the intent then of firing teachers that she didn’t want there. I don’t think that’s what happened. And, even if it did, so what? You know, Michelle Rhee is in charge of the schools.

Even if Rhee makes shortterm improvements they can’t be sustained unless they are legal.

Mary writes: “Teachers unions protect teachers whether they perform well or not. Tenure is a ticket to lifetime security where those who can’t teach hide out! Professional unions need to police themselves much more carefully if they are to be respected.”

What unions do is uphold contracts. They are usually pretty good at it, as they invest much time and energy in fulfilling this primary function. The problem is that the administrators upholding the other end of the contract are often overworked and overextended, making it more difficult for them to do the work necessary to remove a teacher. They may also lack good evaluation programs that would have helped them intervene sooner and leave a better paper trail to support a dismissal. They may have written too many positive evaluations of teacher they hadn’t really evaluated properly. They may be hamstrung by the level of protection contained in the contract.

The solutions to all of these problems seems self evident. Improve teacher evaluations. Improve administrative workloads and training. Streamline procedures contained in contracts. None of these solutions require union-busting or unions “policing” their own members. It’s naive to ask unions to compromise and relax on contracts after they’re signed, so improve the contracts and improve the working conditions for everyone involved.

I’m not entirely satisfied with teachers’ unions, by the way. I’m a proud member, but pushing for unions to take a greater interest in the quality of our work by getting more creative in matters of evaluation and professional development. For these things to happen, we need teachers to speak up, and we need districts to come to the table in good faith with something to offer in exchange for concessions.

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