Via the Education Sector's blog, the Washington Post has an excellent article up on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee's proposal to create a two-tier pay system to allow administrators to reward teacher excellence in the capital's hidebound public schools.
Rhee's reforms would permit teachers to forgo tenure in favor of higher pay scales based on student achievement, or choose better job security at lower rates of compensation. Predictably, union bosses are fighting the reform tooth-and-nail because it weakens their education stranglehold:
"It's degrading and insulting," said Brocks, to ask that teachers give up tenure and go on probation for a year if they choose the more lucrative of the two salary tiers under the plan, which is at the center of contract negotiations between the city and the Washington Teachers' Union. He said that Rhee wants only to purge older teachers and that for instructors to sell out hard-won protections against arbitrary or unfair dismissal is unthinkable. "For Michelle Rhee or anyone to ask that is like Judas and 30 pieces of silver," Brocks, 59, said.
Apparently it's "degrading and insulting" to demand accountability from a school system that has been wracked by massive corruption scandals and boasts some of the lowest test scores in the country, even when all that the proposal does is allow individual teachers to have one single choice about the terms of their employment. Here's the Government Accountability Office's 2008 report (.pdf) on DC public schools (emphasis mine):
The system serves about 50,000 students and operates 144 schools.1 In fiscal year 2007, its operating budget exceeded $1 billion and the federal government provided funds for about 13 percent of that amount. Long-standing problems with student academic performance, the condition of school facilities, and the overall management of the D.C. school system have been well documented over the last several decades. In particular, the academic challenges facing the District are enormous. In 2007, D.C. public schools ranked last in math scores and second-to-last in reading scores for all tested urban public school systems on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
I particularly enjoyed reading the Education Sector's response to union intransigence (emphasis mine):
There's a certain infantilizing quality to this vision of teacher work, where individuals can't be trusted to make up their own minds about their relationship with management and shouldn't be allowed to make the tradeoff that virtually all well-compensated professionals make: more accountability and less security in exchange for more recognition and compensation.
. . .
So on the one hand you've got an uber-responsive chancellor who reformed the bureaucracy to better support teachers and wants to give them the option to voluntarily enter a system that would pay them a whole lot more money. On the other hand, a union that can't return emails and is notable chiefly for a history of theft and venality so outrageous that it's memorable even by the highly attentuated moral standards of DC municipal government.
Ultimately, this boils down to one thing: union boss control over teachers and their paychecks. If DC teachers are permitted to make their own decisions about their terms of employment, even more DC teachers may discover how unfair it is that they are forced to pay dues to union bosses for "representation" they may not they need or want.