The new president of the Washington Teachers' Union said Wednesday that he would cooperate with D.C. school officials in implementing the labor contract he vehemently opposed last spring. But Nathan Saunders also said he would be far more aggressive than his predecessor in ensuring that teachers' voices are heard when policy gets made.
Saunders, the former union general vice president, unseated incumbent George Parker in a runoff election Tuesday after a campaign in which he said Parker had failed to take a hard enough line in labor relations with then-Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
The election of Saunders has caused anxiety among supporters of Rhee's reform program. During a one-hour conversation, Saunders made it clear that he rejects the core of the educational world view held by Rhee and her successor, interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who have argued that the disadvantages produced by poverty, crime and family dysfunction can no longer be excuses for failing to raise academic achievement.
Saunders said he opposes the new IMPACT evaluation system because it effectively penalizes teachers for those social conditions. He also said annual growth in student test scores should not be used to make decisions about dismissals, as they are in some cases under IMPACT. Although D.C. law bars the union from bargaining over IMPACT with school officials, Saunders said he is committed to changing the system.
"Ever seen a law you couldn't change?'" he asked.
The teachers' contract, ratified by the union and the D.C. Council in June, includes at least 18 provisions that call for the union and the school system to act jointly. They include the planning and design of school turnaround efforts, the inclusion of special education students in general education classes, and improved teacher mentoring and professional development.
Saunders - who once decried the 21 percent pay increase negotiated by Parker as "blood money," contending that it was financed by the layoffs of 266 teachers in October 2009 - said that although he would collaborate, he would insist on "participation with strength."
"That means when teachers have a point of view, it's actually taken into consideration," he said. If it's not, Saunders said, he would not hesitate to take tougher measures. "Whenever confrontation will lead me to progress for the people I represent, I will engage in confrontation."
Wow - opposing the scapegoating of teachers, being aggressive in protecting the rights of teachers, engaging in confrontation when politicians and administrators run roughshod over teachers in their zeal for "rheeform" (i.e., closing schools, blaming teachers, scapegoating the public school system and those who work in it for all the problems in society)...
I wonder if the UFT leadership are paying attention?