Friday, February 23, 2001

It has been nearly six years since anyone ruffled the feathers of the Washington Teachers’ Union. For the most part that hasn’t happened because unions convinced policy-makers that quantity was more important than quality that is to say pupil-teacher ratios and the number of instructional materials available to them were more important than the quality of the District’s teaching corps. Not everyone has bought into that argument, including school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Superintendent Paul Vance.
“In the District, historically, you haven’t had A-tier teachers,” Mr. Vance, superintendent of Montgomery County schools, told The Washington Post the other day. “You have what we would call in other school systems B- and C-tier teachers. When you’ve got a C-tier teacher, they are teachers who could not get jobs anyplace, so they hired them here.”
Just how many of “them” are there in the District’s classrooms? Mrs. Cafritz told The Post, “It’s a large percentage it’s probably around 50 percent. We have a lot of teachers who are good teachers in terms of performance before a class. But they’re not masters of their content. And so no matter how good you are in getting your point across, if you don’t own the point it doesn’t matter.”
So let’s see. Let’s do a little simple goes-into. There are 5,660 teachers, and Mrs. Cafritz says half of them are incompetent. That would be 5,660 divided by 2, which equals 2,930. Hmm.
Now let’s evaluate the class-size theory by dividing the number of students by the number of teachers. There are 69,000 students and 5,660 teachers, which brings us to a citywide ratio of 12.19-to-1. Doesn’t seem too unreasonable.
Now let’s try again to give the union the benefit of the doubt. Barbara Bullock, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, says the problem isn’t just the number of teachers but compensation, so let’s do a comparison. Starting pay for D.C. teachers is $31,982 vs. $33,416 for teachers in Montgomery County. Everyone knows that Montgomery County students outperform D.C. students on standardized exams, in the classroom, on “It’s Academic,” at annual science fairs. Does Ms. Bullock really expect us to believe Montgomery students are smarter because their teachers make $1,434 more than their D.C. counterparts?
Still, get this: The union also claims D.C. students are underachievers because principals are incompetent. Yet everyone knows that argument doesn’t wash either because most D.C. principals are former D.C. teachers. So the beat-the-blame game goes on, and the cycle continues to beg a critical question.
School officials long ago raised the bar on students, ended social promotions, made schools safer, gave teachers raises, bought new textbooks and technology, decentralized the system, instituted school-based management, created charter schools, increased parental and community involvement, replaced the superintendent, restructured the school board, increased the school budget, brought most school buildings up to code, added more challenging academic programs and hired more teachers.
Moreover, the four goal posts for principals and teachers have remained constant since 1996, the first time (hint, hint) an honest evaluation of D.C. schools had been undertaken in decades. At that time, the control board evaluated every aspect of D.C. Public Schools and concluded that the longer a child stayed in DCPS the worse off he was academically. To reverse that trend school officials, with the help of the advocacy group Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, established four goals: improve student achievement, ensure high quality school staff, increase accountability at individual schools and restructure citywide.
Even the casual observer can see the point of nail No. 2 has yet to be hammered home.

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