Administrators who order that some students be given passing grades by their teachers to insure their promotion to higher grades are doing more harm to the D.C. school system than the quality of the system's teaching force, the president of the Washington Teachers Union said yesterday.
William H. Simons, the union president, added that statements by school Supt. Vincent Reed asserting that the union has blocked the school system's effort to get rid of bad teachers is "nonsense."
Simons' remarks came in an interview and echoed view he had expressed earlier in the day in a press conference. They were triggered by a recent story in The Washington Post that disclosed that two students at D.C. Teachers College were graduated this year despite deficiencies in mathematical skills.
"There is always a great hue and cry against the teachers in the schools," said Simons. "But they never say a word about incompetent administrators who provide an atmosphere that is impossible to work in . . .
"Our contract specifies that teachers will be the sole determinants of grades," he said. "But we have had situations where a principal has said that this child will be promoted no matter what and later there are complaints that the children can't do this or that."
Yes, we've got people (teachers) that need help," Simons added. "But it doesn't help morale to say that everything wrong with the schools is cuased by the teachers."
Simons said some principals at D.C. schools "quite frequently" overrule teachers who fail students after protests by parents, or because too many students are failing at their school.
"It happens even more frequently than we are aware of," he said. "Many teachers say, 'What the hell, let it go.'"
William Treanor, a member of the school board, told a reporter later that the union was sniping at the school board for trying to raise teacher certification standards and require written examination regularly for D.C. teachers.
"This whole thing started with the news that some people were getting out of D.C. Teachers College without knowing their fractions," Treanor said.
My reaction (to the teacher's union statement) is so what," Treanor said, "so what if we have incompetent administrators. I don't believe pointing the finger at the other guy is any solution. It is just an attempt to muddy the waters . . . We want good teachers and good administrators."
Carol Schwartz, another shcool board member said she has heard reports of principals who order change's in student grades to issue that some are promoted, but said she did not have proof of a specific instance.
"I agree there are some incompetent administrators," she said. "But I'm not indicting the whole school system. There are some capable teachers and administrators, and some incompetents.
"No one should put the entire onus of the school's problems on the teachers, or the administrators," she said. "Everyone - the teachers, the administrators, the school board, the parents and elected officials who don't give us any money - have to shoulder the blame."
Harold Fisher, a field representative for the union, said he knew of specific instances of principals overriding failing grades given by teachers.
"In one situation, a principal changed a grade from an F to a C because the student's parents said there had been a death in the family," said Fisher. "And now the parents want the grade changed to a B."
Fisher told a reporter that another principal tried to persuade a teacher to give students an exam tailored to what the students actually had completed studying instead of one based on what the full course entailed. The principal later withdrew the request, Fisher said.
Teachers and principals named by Fisher could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Simons also responded to allegations that the union is hampering school system efforts to weed out incompetent teachers.
"That is just pure nonsense," he said. "We demand due procedure for terminations. If asking for proper procedure is blocking the school system from improving itself, then that is the way it will have to be and we're going to do it everytime."