WaPo on Michelle Rhee and quality teachers

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The keynote for this year’s Better Government Competition, which is focused solely on improving our educational system, is Michelle Rhee. In addition to a recent shakeup in the bureaucracy, she has been closing some schools. All very focused on improvement. Probably more important, as the WaPo notes, are hiring and retention rules for teachers. As noted in the Friday WaPo:

Rules that put the interests of teachers ahead of the educational needs of children must be changed if Ms. Rhee is to succeed in transforming the system.

The contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union, which represents some 4,400 employees, expired last fall. Neither side would discuss what’s on the table or comment on the progress of the talks. It’s apparent, though, that a top priority for the District must be elimination of seniority ­based transfer rules. Under this archaic system, a teacher has the absolute right to any vacancy at any school on the basis of seniority. Talented teachers with fewer years in service are edged out, displaced and discouraged. Principals who are accountable for school performance have little or no say in who is on their team.

A far better system is the open­market process used in New York City, in which the teacher and principal both have to agree on the placement. Not only are principals reporting better results, but teachers ­­ who initially fought the idea ­­find that there are advantages to working for someone who actually wants them. An analysis by a New York union official found that every category of teacher did better under the new rules.

Ms. Rhee, then heading up the New Teacher Project, had a big hand in bringing about those changes. Data she developed helped to persuade an arbitration panel to rule against seniority ­based transfers. So she knows the importance of winning this change. Other aspects of the contract, such as excessive rules for the school day, need revamping. There are exciting ideas, among them teacher mentoring programs­­ being tested in other parts of the country that the District would do well to emulate.

The joys of contract negotiations!