Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Raise Brought to You By the Broad Foundation

One thing that hasn't gotten a lot of attention about this proposal to "give mid-level teachers (in the Washington DC public schools) who are paid $62,000 yearly the opportunity to earn more than $100,000 -- but they would have to give up seniority and tenure rights" is that, Chris pointed out to me:

The two union members said Rhee wants to use donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Broad Foundation, in part, to pay for the raises and bonuses. Officials from the Gates and Broad foundations would not comment on proposed future funding.

I don't know if any more information than that has subsequently come out (I can't find it easily if it has), but if that's still the plan, it has some rather shocking implications. The DC government would be handing all the contributing foundations a virtual veto on their education policy for at least the next five years, the ongoing capacity to trigger a fiscal crisis in the District at their whim.

Five years, the proposed term of the contract, is a long time to our new power philanthropists. They have a short history, but they've already established a clear pattern of packing up and leaving when things don't go their way, including when the citizens of a city don't vote the way they like, or when democratically elected officials don't see things their way, or when the top down reforms they've imposed simply fail.

Five years is a long time to an urban superintendent. Do you really think Michelle Rhee will still be DC superintendent in 2013? Really? If so, she'll be an outlier among her peers. When she leaves, will the money go with her? It has happened before. Who will get to choose her successor? The District or the foundations?

Mayor Fenty is currently quite popular (I gather), but if I'm reading Wikipedia correctly, he'll be up for re-election before this contract would be up. What happens to the money if he loses the election?

Five years is a pretty lengthy term for a contract, but overall, the one group here for which five years is not a long time is the union. The union and most of its members will still be around in five years. Imagine, if you will, that this contract works flawlessly. The two-tiered system is adopted, the majority of teachers take the high-wage, high-accountability track, the foundations kick in their share, and everyone is happy. Do you think the foundations are going to keep this up forever? Really? They're just going to give DC teachers millions in cash in perpetuity? That does not sound like a safe bet to me.

Look, I agree with Barack Obama and lots of teachers, including strong union teachers, that in the long run we need to move to making a new professional compact that includes higher pay and increased accountability, but the devil is in the details. Trying to pull this off with sketchy funding that would literally sell out the autonomy of DC municipal government is a bad idea. Trying to do it in the context of teacher bashing and union busting tactics isn't going to work either. This is a transition that has to be based around trust.

1 comment:

Gnuosphere said...

Tom, since you clearly cares a lot about education and are interested in what is best for students, I'd like to read a post on how "accountability" would play out in your eyes. Perhaps you have one in your archives?

This "accountability" question has been burning in my brain for a couple of years now, but I don't know if I have anything specific to say. Broadly however, I think that authentic accountability would be more a localized phenomenon rather than a state or federal pursuit. That is, strong funding still needs to come from those wider levels but it must come packaged with a genuine offering of trust through autonomy.