Union Seeks List of Targeted Teachers

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

The Washington Teachers' Union says the District is improperly withholding the names of instructors who have been given 90 school days to improve their performance or face dismissal.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said the disclosure would be counterproductive, but the union said she is obligated by contract to share the information. The issue is likely to be discussed at today's D.C. Council hearing on school personnel practices.

The 90-day plans are part of Rhee's attempt to remove "a significant share" of the 4,000-member teacher corps, which she regards as "not up to the demanding task of educating our youth effectively," according to the long-range action document she presented in October.

She is also expected to offer a buyout program similar to last year's and to aggressively exercise the District's option to fire teachers who have provisional teaching licenses, which make them unqualified under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Rhee has declined to disclose the names or number of teachers who have been placed on 90-day status by principals. George Parker, the union president, said about 90 teachers have contacted the union, but union leaders estimate that the number could be significantly larger.

Rhee said at a news conference this week that the 90-day plan "is not just a process to terminate teachers, but to identify and support teachers who need help."

"We think an overemphasis on all the names and numbers will not help us with the environment we're trying to create," Rhee said.

The 90-day plan has been on the D.C. books for years but has rarely been used. Rhee began to employ it when talks with the union over her proposed salary package stalled. She offered unprecedented pay increases in exchange for tenured teachers' willingness to spend a year on probation, giving the District the option of dismissing them.

A teacher is placed in the 90-day plan after receiving "unsatisfactory" ratings in six or more categories by an administrator who has observed a classroom lesson with advance notice. The 17 categories include organization, behavior management and communication.

According to regulations, the instructor is assigned a "helping teacher" to aid in working out problems. The rules also require three unannounced classroom observations during the 90 days. If a teacher is still judged unsatisfactory in at least three categories, he or she can be fired.

Parker said Rhee is obligated to provide the names, citing a clause in the union's contract with the District that requires disclosure of information relevant to its role as the bargaining unit for teachers.

"We definitely think they are obligated," Parker said, adding that he is consulting with the union's attorney to determine what action to take. The options include filing an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board or filing a lawsuit.

Nathan Saunders, the union's executive vice president, said Rhee may be reluctant to reveal the names because she has disproportionately targeted teachers over age 40. Rhee did not respond to a request for comment on Saunders's charge.

At least one member of the D.C. Council is also asking for more transparency from Rhee. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) has asked for the number of teachers on 90-day status and their years of experience.

In a Jan. 8 letter to Rhee, Mendelson wrote: "I am troubled by reports that the 90 day plan may be disproportionately administered to senior teachers."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company