Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rhee Rules Through Fear 

You may be asking what do I think of all the fuss over the new DCPS teacher's contract negotiations? Well I don't believe, as the editors of the Washington Post do, that it is wrong for certain union officials to be angry that Chancellor Rhee is addressing teachers without a proposed contract in place. It's frankly weird to have a discussion about a new agreement that has yet to be drawn up. Union negotiations are a delicate process and usually involve concessions on both sides of the table. Also, in order to be most effective they demand a unified front with the separate parties speaking with one voice. You can be certain that Miss Rhee is the only one representing management's views but if she is meeting with individual teachers then it is easy to create divisiveness on the other side. No wonder people in the union are angry.

However, I do like the idea that the Chancellor and union president George Parker are trying to something truly innovative with both the contract and in the way it is negotiated. The two tier pay system, one for teachers who strive for protected tenure and another for those are willing to risk their positions in return for the chance to earn higher salaries through pay-for-performance, is the definition of thinking outside of the box. My big problem with the approach is that Miss Rhee has not provided the teachers with even a draft of what the terms of the contract will be. In fact, in today's Washington Post reporter Bill Turque says Miss Rhee has proposed that instructors who reject the protected tenure tract can earn up to a 20% per year in performance bonuses. The only problem is that the criteria for earning this bonus has not yet been developed.

The situation leads me to a new conclusion about the Chancellor. As a DC education watcher I'm constantly asked "What do you think of Michelle Rhee?" Well, if you have been reading this space you know that I believe she started out poorly but is now doing much much better. But I now see something in her management style that makes me uncomfortable.

I think she likes to lead through fear. She started with scaring those at North Capitol Street about job losses. The she moved on to secretive plans about school closures. Next, it was the difficult to obtain information about turning failing schools over to charter management organizations. Most recently the fear has revolved around principal and assistant principal job losses. Currently we have tension over the teacher contract.

Now I know what you are going to say. Change brings fear. And haven't I been the one calling for the biggest changes to DCPS? All true. But there are techniques to mitigate the reactions people have to extremely tough decisions. The biggest way is to treat them as adults. This means keeping them informed about the actions you are going to take and being straight with them about your plans. This is difficult in a political environment, but it is the way you develop stakeholders that you will need to support all you are trying to do.

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