Clearly, Rhee is trying to sell the teachers a pig in a poke. On the other hand, these are the same teachers who have had union president's steal millions from them and who readily admit that they wouldn't want their children to attend the schools where they teach . . . and are surprised that anyone would expect them too . . .I'll admit, Rhee's professed goal - giving teachers a big raise and merit pay - is not the traditional opening gambit of a union buster. I do think it's a "pig in a poke" - that the proposed pay structure is unsustainable. But for now, let's assume otherwise. Obviously the goal here isn't to coerce the union into letting its members be paid more. Nobody's talking about expanding the school year. So what's left... oh, yeah....
I'm not sure that busting the Union is a necessary step in the process, but blowing the whole system up and starting over has some theoretical merit . . .
Even when they offer wages comparable to other school districts, or above what other districts pay, school districts like D.C. have a hard time attracting quality job applicants for teaching positions. Why? Because teaching in an inner city school is considered to be a miserable experience. Teaching in a school where, despite your best efforts, you wouldn't send your own child? Where your best efforts, applied every single day, will do nothing to improve the status quo? Where your day is consumed with disciplinary problems and you struggle to maintain classroom order? I have admiration for teachers who can work like that, day after day, without burning out or quitting. But there aren't many of them.
So weak administrators hire weak applicants in order to fill positions, aren't diligent enough (or don't care enough) to ferret out those who don't have an adequate skill set before they get tenure, and the district ends up with large numbers of teachers who really aren't equipped to teach. Rhee supposedly will offer remedial programs for these teachers as part of her secret plan, so that they can in theory avoid being fired, but nothing is stopping her from offering remedial training right now. What she clearly wants to do is to break the tenure system so she can clean house.
I can't say that I blame her. I'm sure she can identify a lot of teachers who should never have been hired, and a larger group that may become highly motivated to improve their skills and performance if they can be threatened with termination. I have sympathy for an administrator who inherits a broken system. But let's be blunt: if teacher's unions were the cause of this problem, D.C.'s system should be typical of the nation's schools as opposed to being among the dregs. The roots of the problem lie in incompetent, unmotivated administration crossed with, in much of the system, what many teachers would find to be an unrewarding, often unpleasant, teaching environment.
Rhee was hoping that the offer of big money would be a sufficient enticement to get the union to voluntarily give up tenure, or allow teachers to opt into the merit system (possibly with the longer-term goal of trying to get the teachers who opted for the merit pay system to vote to decertify the union). But it's difficult to see why a union would regard a promise of an apparently unsustainable pay raise for some as grounds to surrender the largest benefit it has historically provided to its members - job security. And even if you're a good teacher, you have to have some concern about whether you would get merit pay, or have the bad luck of having a particularly bad class and be deemed to be underperforming despite strong efforts.