By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, following through on promises to dismiss teachers deemed ineffective, has fired about 250 tenured and novice instructors this week for poor performance or failure to obtain a license, union officials said yesterday.
Teachers began receiving termination letters Tuesday, the day after the school year ended. George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said figures provided to him by school system officials showed that about 60 of those terminated were first- or second-year teachers on probation. About 80, Parker said, were experienced teachers who had been placed by administrators on so-called "90-day plans" that gave them about six months (or 90 school days) to improve or face termination. The rest, he said, had failed to obtain proper licensing.
School system spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway declined to discuss the numbers but did not dispute Parker's account.
The dismissal of 80 tenured teachers is a landmark of sorts for the school system, which historically has fired only a handful of instructors each year for poor performance. The 90-day mechanism has been on the books for years but seldom used because it was considered cumbersome and time-consuming. Instructors can be placed on the plan if a principal's classroom observation finds them deficient in at least six of 17 categories, including content knowledge and classroom management. Teachers on the plan are supposed to be assigned a "helping teacher" for a program of improvement, which also requires a series of conferences and scheduled and unscheduled classroom visits by administrators.
Last fall, Rhee promised aggressive use of the plan after she was unable to secure concessions from the union in contract talks to give her wider latitude in reassigning or firing educators. Rhee told the D.C. Council late last year that 157 teachers were placed on the plan.
About 3,500 classroom teachers work in D.C. public schools. Rhee, who begins her third year as chancellor this month, initiated a similar turnover last year, firing 250 teachers and 500 teachers' aides who were unable to meet a deadline to obtain certification as required by federal law.
By comparison, Montgomery County officials report that 31 experienced teachers in their schools are resigning or being dismissed this year. All received poor evaluations during the 2007-08 school year and spent this year in a peer review program.
Parker said the union would appeal the firings in instances in which it believes teachers did not receive adequate support on the 90-day plan. The first step would be an appeal to D.C. school officials, followed by a session with an independent hearing officer. If neither results in a reversal, the cases could go to an arbitrator. The process can take four to 12 months. In the past, Parker said, the union has been able to secure reversals of about a third of the handful of dismissals.
Parker said the union disagrees with the school system about the status of probationary teachers. The union contends that if a teacher on probation receives a satisfactory evaluation, he or she should be hired permanently. Last year's firings of probationary teachers are the subject of a court fight, and Parker said he intends to pursue a similar remedy this year.
School officials say they can fire such instructors at will.
Staff writer Daniel de Vise contributed to this report.