Over the past year, in conjunction with the local union, the District has adopted one of the nation's most ambitious teacher evaluation systems, revamping how the city administers, compensates and removes teachers from their jobs. In doing so, the District has become a leader in the growing movement to evaluate teachers more rigorously based on student achievement.
Just last month, union members and the city agreed on a contract that increases teacher salaries by roughly 22 percent while allowing teachers to be evaluated and rewarded based on classroom results rather than traditional seniority rules. The contract also includes a performance pay system that provides up to $30,000 in bonuses to effective teachers.
Last week D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that she had fired 261 teachers, many of whom had received poor marks under the new evaluation system. The Washington Teachers' Union is contesting Rhee's decision.
When D.C. was named as a finalist in the second round of the Race To The Top earlier this week, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, adamantly opposed the decision.
"The centerpiece of Race to the Top is meaningful teacher evaluations developed with teacher input and focused on student learning… Logically, then, Washington, D.C.'s application, which includes an evaluation system developed and implemented solely by the chancellor, without regard to considerable criticism this year from frontline educators, should have ranked among the lowest. By naming D.C. a finalist, the Education Department is sending a message that is completely opposite to its earlier calls for states to engage all community members, including teachers, in the effort to improve schools," Weingarten said in a statement on Tuesday.
Petrilli disagreed. "You have to keep in mind union politics," he said. "The union leadership has felt like they've had to push back against these firings because that's what they do… At the same time 80 percent of the teachers in D.C. voted for that contract. The rank-and-file actually were willing take this deal and say 'yeah, we're going to get a lot more money, our salaries are going to go way up, and we know that some of our weaker teachers are not going to be protected.'"
Race To The Top has also come under fire recently for only impacting students in a few select states.
The first round of the competition awarded funds to only two states, Delaware and Tennessee. A report released earlier this week by the National Urban League in conjunction with six other civil right organizations, said that just 3 percent of the nation's black students and less than 1 percent of Latino students were affected by the first round of the competition.
The unions have also expressed concerns about the narrow reach of the competition. "While we encouraged our local and state affiliates to be involved in every aspect of Race to the Top, we have always been troubled that this competition, by its very construct, leaves out millions of students across the country. Rather than picking winners and losers, our education policies should represent a comprehensive approach focused on preparing every student to succeed in college, work and life," Weingarten said earlier this week.