Thursday, October 08, 2009

Budget Cuts and the D.C. Schools

A newly hired D.C. teacher describes an unfortunate turn of events in a letter to the Washington Post:
Then, on Friday afternoon, I was laid off. In a last-minute attempt to balance the budget, Rhee and the city opted to cut more than 200 teachers during the most critical period of the academic year - just when students were getting acclimated to their new environments.

My immediate concern was about what would happen to my students, because I was the only third-grade teacher at my school. My principal informed me that my students would be mixed in with the fourth- and second-graders. Yes, these are tough economic times, but does that justify providing a poor educational experience for these children? Simply reassigning them in this way will greatly degrade the educational experience for my third-graders, not to mention those in the classes into which they must be integrated.
There are two obvious problems to this approach to a funding shortage:
  • If your goal is to attract motivated, highly qualified graduates to teach in the D.C. schools, laying them off a month into the school year and putting them out of work (or turning them into desperate substitute teachers) for the balance of the year is counter-productive, not just in terms of the new recruits but in terms of whether future graduates fear the same will happen to them.

  • If Rhee can't afford the teachers she has, why should they or their union believe that if they give up tenure and job protections they'll be rewarded with lavish raises? If current staff levels aren't sustainable, how can her proposed compensation scheme possibly be sustainable?

I don't hold Michelle Rhee responsible for staffing cuts made necessary by budgetary constraints, but I do think she now owes us an explanation of how her proposed replacement compensation scheme is even slightly viable. If she has donors lined up willing to subsidize such a scheme, why aren't they helping her right now? If they've decided that they have other priorities for their money, or are only interested in funding a scheme that busts the union, it again speaks to the unsustainability of her plan.

Also, I think this highlights what I mentioned the other day, - lip service, including the strong lip service of Fred Hiatt's editorial page, pays for zero teachers. Where's the Post's call for a school funding increase that will allow schools to sustain their present staffiing levels, let alone to improve them and where does it propose that money will come from?

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