The D.C. school system is taking several steps that officials hope will improve the quality of city schools, including bringing tough demands to the bargaining table scrutinizing principals more closely, and introducing standardized tests that students in Anacostia will have to pass before they can be promoted or graduated.
Board members, administrators and teachers' union representatives all said the school system is trying to make obvious moves to improve the schools and their image.
". . . What's happening is that we've made several changes because it's no secret that we're not doing a very good job of educating our students," said school board president Conrad Smith.
"Parents who pay taxes and our children deserve a quality education," Smith said. "That means having strict accountability for every school employe, from custodians to teachers, to principals, the whole administrative staff . . . It's not 'get tough,' so much as it's common sense policies."
Among the measures the school system has taken are:
Proposing in contract negotiations with the teachers' union that teachers work an extra hour every day and a longer school year. Under the board's proposals teachers also would be required to attend more parent-teacher meetings. And the board wants to reduce the authority of the teachers' School Chapter Advisory Committees, which now work with principals to set administrative policies governing individual schools.
Proposing, that teachers be able to file grievances against principals and other administrators only for direct violations of the teachers' contract, giving administrators clear reign over teachers.
Making principals the focus of closer surveillance by board members and the superintendent's staff, leading to the dismissal of at least three principals. Seven other principals have been transferred or have resigned because of board dissatisfaction with leadership at schools, according to school board members.
Introducing standardized testing procedures for students in the Anacostia section of the city. The tests set uniform goals of achievement for students in every grade. Students cannot be promoted from grade to grade or be graduate from high school if they fail the standardized tests. By next year the school system is scheduled to have a citywide standard formula for classroom instruction.
In addition, Carol Schwartz, vice president of the school board, had proposed that students spend an extra hour in class every day, lengthening the students' day from five to six hours.
In some cases, the school system's proposals have met with angry opposition.
"They need to crack down on themselves," said William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union. "You just ask teachers what they think about giving up what they've gotten in the past, giving up their rights. They'll give the same answer they gave the board Oct. 3 (when the union threatened to strike). If those 11 stupid people think the teachers will kowtow to them, they're going to get the same answer as before."
Reaction to increased attention to principals in the school system has met with natural opposition from affected principals. Some of the principals have charged that the board's concern is political and amounts to empty gestures, aimed at placating persons who are condemning the school system.
R. Calvin Lockridge, school board representative from Ward 8 where the new standardized testing has started, said the testing program is largely supported but there has been some small opposition to it.
"Some parents don't like it," he said. "But that's because the system hasn't been properly explained to them . . . We have to let them know that the promotional policy is the best thing for them. I expect people to pass. I don't expect people to fail. But I know a lot more will be left back. People will scream but they have to realize we have to start somewhere."
The centerpiece of the school sysyem's push to improve the quality of schools quickly was unveiled last Wednesday when the board made public its proposals for a new teachers' contract.
The proposals make it clear that the board wants teachers and students to work longer hours in school and it wants them to follow the administration's orders for what activity goes on in the classroom. The contract policies suggested by the board also show that the board wants teachers and students out of administrative decision-making in schools. Administrators are given a free and powerful hand to manage a school, under the proposals.
The board is taking the stance, through the contract proposals and talks by its members, that the teachers' union has become too powerful and has allowed teachers to prosper at the expense of better educational policies that would make teachers work harder.
Smith has said that the board feels it is not getting full value from the money it pays teachers. Teachers in the District are the highest paid in the metropolitan area, work the shortest day and the shortest year. Smith offers the contrast of the teachers' high pay with the low scores that D.C. students earn on nationwide tests. In addition to their low ranking on such tests, the District's students also rank low in comparsion to scores in other urban centers.
Smith has said the board will be bargaining to get back some of the concessions made to the teachers' union in the past. It will be handicapped in any attempt to gain concessions from the union, however, because the board does not set teachers' salaries. The city council and the mayor usually control teacher salaries.
In addition to lengthening the school year to 200 days instead of the current 186 and adding an extra hour to the school day to make it 7 1/2 hours for teachers, the board will seek to make it easier for administrators to get rid of bad teachers.
The board wants the union to agree to a new, shorter, grievance procedure that will speed the dismissal of teachers whom administrators find incompetent. The board also wants to remove the teacher evaluation procedure from contract negotiations to allow the board to set new, tougher standards unilaterally for evaluating teachers.
Meanwhile, the teachers' union, which submitted only part of its contract proposal Monday for tactical reasons, according to union president Simons, is asking the board to give teachers more job security and better supplies to take to the classroom.
"We're saying, 'provide us with the tools and we'll get the job done,'" Simons said last week.
In its partial submission of proposals, the union asked for a speedier grievance procedure to handle teachers' problems with administrators without sacrificing any of the safeguards teachers have against dismissals. The union also asked for easier transfers from school to school for teachers and for an "agency fee," which would dues even if they don't belong to the union.
The union is now gathering information, Simons said, to refute the board's contention that teachers in the District are too highly paid. Although base salaries may be higher in the District than in surrounding areas, Simon said, teachers in other school systems get fringe benefits that District teachers do not receive.
Simon said the union will not agree to the board's proposal of a longer school day and a longer school year.
The board and the union are negotiating under a 90-day agreement that was set Oct. 3d when a strike, called for the next day, was averted.