It is a major source of stress, drives teacher churn, and inhibits creativity in the classroom. It fosters an unhealthy atmosphere of fear, distrust, and competitiveness in the local school.
Private Money, Public Schools
To help fund the pay increases in the 2010 contract, Rhee and Henderson tapped private sources, not known for their support of unions.
Of the $64.5 million in private funding that went towards the contract, $25 million came from the Walton Foundation, funded by the Walmart-owning Walton family. The charter school-loving Broad Foundation pitched in $10 million, as did the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (recently in the news for funding undisclosed aerial spying by the Baltimore police).
Controversially, the agreement allowed the private funders to back out if Rhee was no longer chancellor, strengthening Rhee's own job security while weakening teachers'.
When this contract came up for renegotiation in 2012, WTU had less pliant leadership and an agreement couldn't be reached. To this day teachers are working without a contract.
This has led to protests. "On one hand our chancellor says she appreciates us, but on the other hand has walked away from the negotiating table," Alex McKeithen, a teacher at Deal Middle School, told WAMU at a May demonstration.
While teachers continue to be evaluated using IMPACT's harsh metrics, Henderson was more lenient in judging her own performance.
At an August press conference announcing the results of a national test, the PARCC, a reporter asked Henderson about two DCPS schools where zero percent of students tested proficient in reading.
"When you are trying to rebuild an entire system, you can't do everything at once," responded Henderson, who'd been at the highest levels of DCPS for nearly ten years.
"When we show you slow, steady progress, you say that's not fast enough," complained Henderson. But "if we had come to you where our scores were off the chain, you would tell us we were cheaters, right?"
Henderson was speaking from experience. After scores climbed under Rhee, an investigation by USA Today found abnormally high erasure rates on tests at more than a hundred DCPS schools, suggesting the possibility of widespread cheating. At one school, noted USA Today, "The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance."
These testing irregularities were highlighted in a 2013 PBS documentary on Michelle Rhee's tenure at DCPS (below).
When D.C.'s leading newspaper looked into the cheating scandal, it found no evidence of widespread cheating and no fault with the chancellor. This wasn't the only time the Washington Post failed to hold Rhee and Henderson's feet to the fire.Through lead in schools' water, a widening achievement gap, and serving kids spoiled food, the Post continued to support the chancellor.
In the case of the spoiled food, Henderson, rather than cutting ties, asked the food contractor for a $100,000 donation to a fund she controlled (the company gave $50,000). Henderson also fired the worker who blew the whistle on the company.