DC schools fire over 200 employees for poor performance

Pat McMahon Contributor

WASHINGTON (AP) — D.C.’s public school system will fire more than 200 employees for poor performance — 4% of its work force — and is putting another 700 employees on notice they will be fired in the next year if their performance doesn’t improve, the school system announced Friday.

The firings are the result of a new evaluation system which grades employees and evaluates teachers in part on students’ standardized test scores.

Washington Teachers’ Union president George Parker said the evaluation method is dramatically different from other evaluation systems around the country and that it is “flawed” and has “many loopholes.” He said the evaluation was a “subjective way to fire teachers, many of whom were not evaluated fairly.” The union on Friday also released the results of a survey of about 1,000 of its members which found about 80% did not understand an important part of the evaluation method. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten also criticized schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, saying in a statement it appears she believes she can “hire and fire” her way to better schools.

“Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher … That is our commitment,” the school system said in a statement announcing the layoffs.

The head of the Washington Teachers’ Union says the union will contest the firings of teachers being laid off based on their evaluations, arguing there are problems with the evaluation system and that it should have been a pilot project in its first year.

The school system says the firings will not affect the start of school on Aug. 23, because a pool of teachers has already been screened for hire. New teacher orientation is scheduled in just over two weeks.

The new evaluation system being used to determine the performance of teachers and employees is called “IMPACT.” For a teacher, five observations conducted throughout the year are part of the score, but 50% is based on students’ performance on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, a test given to students in April. Other school employees are evaluated on their specific jobs.

About 6,300 employees were assessed using the system this year. The 226 employees rated “ineffective” under the four-tier evaluation system, including 165 teachers, are being be fired. Another 729 employees who scored “minimally effective” are being put on notice that they will be fired after the upcoming school year if their performance doesn’t improve. Another 76 teachers are being let go for problems with their certification.

This is the second time in less than a year that the school system has laid off a large number of people. In October, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced the layoffs of 400 school employees, about half of them teachers, citing a budget crunch. That round of layoffs cut about six percent of the work force and was the latest in a contentious relationship between Rhee and the schools. The chancellor was appointed by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007 and promised to turn around the school system.

D.C. Public Schools have approximately 4,000 teachers and 44,000 students.