Working Together in the Interest of Kids
By George Parker, 30 year veteran teacher and former president of the Washington D.C. Teachers' Union
While my past differences with Michelle Rhee have been well documented, it is important for me to clarify the many more areas essential to education reform where we agree, rather than disagree.
Despite our disagreements, Michelle and I negotiated a teachers' contract that raised D.C. teacher salaries to become one of the highest in the nation. We also significantly increased resources for teachers, including start-up allocations, computers for recordkeeping, improved professional development and instructional coaches assigned to all D.C. public schools. Although these areas of agreement are not as sensational and controversial as hiring and firing teachers or teacher tenure, they are very essential to improving the quality of education provided to D.C. students.
Many were surprised when I chose to work with Michelle as a Senior Fellow at StudentsFirst in an effort to help improve opportunity for children not just in Washington D.C., but throughout the nation. However, it was my overall experience in working with Michelle, and not simply the magnified areas of disagreement, that made joining StudentsFirst the right decision.
If we are to give our children the high quality education they deserve, then we cannot afford to allow the issues on which we may disagree to prevent us from working together in the areas where our views align. I believe if more educational leaders approached the debate on reforming our education system with an open mind, without predetermined rigid and inflexible views, it would greatly advance the conversation to the benefit of our students.
What Michelle brought to the table in Washington, D.C. was a relentless demand for accountability and high expectations that made me cautious and often resistant as President of the Washington Teachers' Union. However, she was also a catalyst for change that compelled me to think outside my "union box" and confront issues that ultimately made me rethink the question: "Am I truly putting students first?"
***For those interested, I recently addressed this same topic this past October at the StudentsFirst Faith Leaders National Education Policy Summit in front of many of my peers and fellow community leaders: