April 8, 2022 - Editorial by Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, President, Washington Teachers’ Union
Nearly one-third of D.C. schools had heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that were not working properly earlier this year. Students in some communities didn’t receive computers until weeks into the school year. The city took months to fill vacant covid-19 coordinator and substitute teaching positions. School communities struggle with budgets that fail to provide the basics for their students. Educators were not provided funds to purchase needed classroom supplies until December. These examples should be enough for D.C. to consider changes to mayoral control of our public schools.Read more
“They said they’re trying to make improvements on repair and response time but some things are an emergency,” Lyons said.
“Elevators aren’t working, which means you have concerns about moving classrooms to where students and staff with special needs have access,” she added.Read more
Thanks to all our teachers who took the time to participate in the DC Educator Survey.
The demands on educators are through the roof, and our teachers are in distress. EmpowerEd and WTU conducted a survey with over 600 DCPS and DC public charter school teacher responses across all wards, which shows that a staggering 81 % of educators say morale has worsened from previous years. 14 % say they are considering leaving their posts before the end of the school year, with another 18 % seriously considering leaving at the end of the year and 14 % saying they are somewhat seriously considering leaving. Only 23 % say they would definitely stay.
DC already has the highest teacher turnover rate in the country, with 25-30 % of educators leaving their schools yearly- compared to the urban average of 16-19 %. While many have pointed to figures showing DCPS keeping teachers they rate as “highly effective”, 57 % of the teachers who have left in the past seven years were rated either effective or highly effective. DC also lost more Black educators than any city in the country in the 10 years following the implementation of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system- which was found by a study commissioned by the District to be racially biased.
The number one ranked solution educators say would keep them in the classroom is flexible scheduling, with hundreds of educators noting in comments the overwhelming hours and impossible demands being put on teachers to make up for “learning loss”. Educators see their peers in other professions gaining additional job flexibility since the pandemic, but education has not innovated in the same ways. Many note working 10-12 hours and again on the weekend, feeling forced to choose between their profession and their commitment to family and their own well-being. One of the key things highlighted in our survey, is the demands on educators who are also parents- managing unsustainable hours. One educator said “I have a child and for most of her life I have been exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally because I typically work 65 - 75 hours a week (often giving up one to two full weekend days a month). She deserves better.” This sentiment was echoed across the survey.
Teachers also noted higher pay, less focus on standardized testing, more professional autonomy to do their jobs and additional classroom support as key shifts needed to retain them.
Importantly, educators made clear that they are leaving primarily due to city-wide and system-wide policies, not challenges working with students. 59 % identified city-wide and LEA-wide policies as the primary culprit, while only 14 % pointed to challenges working with students. (24 % blamed school level policies and only 4 % noted challenges with colleagues).
See the full results of the survey along with notable quotes from educators on morale, how the pandemic has changed their perception of teaching as a profession and what would keep them in the classroom!
President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons has signed an MOA on the impacts & effects of Mayor Bowser's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
- WTU successfully bargained for Teachers to receive sick leave for getting vaccinations or boosters. Specifically, the MOA requires DCPS to grant each Teacher three (3) hours of sick leave per injection for a vaccination or booster against COVID-19. In addition, the MOA provides each Teacher with eight (8) hours of sick leave for getting fully vaccinated or a booster.
- WTU also fought hard to secure concessions from DCPS to provide COVID-19 testing for Teachers to help keep our school communities safe.
- The MOA protects Teachers who have submitted and are awaiting a decision on a request for a medical or religious exemption by providing that those Teachers may continue to test weekly in lieu of complying with the mandate.
- The MOA also provides that Teachers who choose to resign or involuntarily separate from DCPS as a result of the vaccination mandate shall have their personnel records expunged of any disciplinary actions taken on the basis of their vaccination status.
For Immediate Release
October 13, 2021
Jacqueline Pogue Lyons
WTU’s Frustrations Boil Over with No-Confidence Resolution
Membership Upset Over School Reopening Concerns, Protracted Contract Negotiations, No Action on IMPACT Evaluation Changes
WASHINGTON—Frustration with District of Columbia leadership over school building safety, protracted contract negotiations and inaction on IMPACT evaluation changes boiled over this week with Washington Teachers’ Union members voting that they have no confidence in city leaders.
“This is what happens when teachers raise legitimate concerns that affect students and teachers, but then time passes and nothing gets done. We need a relationship with city and school district leaders built on respect and mutual trust, and that means addressing problems together in a timely way,” said WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons.
At a meeting Tuesday evening, WTU delegates passed a resolution of no confidence in city and school leadership, primarily calling them out for reopening schools that were not fully safe. These include reopening schools without fully functional HVAC systems and inadequate filters where students are regularly present, failing to recognize the need for a virtual option despite accommodations made for charter schools, and underfunding mental health and social and emotional support for students and staff dealing with trauma related to the pandemic and record-setting shootings in the city.
Pogue Lyons also said teachers are exacerbated by protracted negotiations over a contract that expired in September 2019 and inaction on changing the flawed IMPACT evaluation system, which research has shown is not helpful, actually hurts teachers’ well-being and is racial biased.
“Our teachers went above and beyond during the height of the pandemic to make sure their students got a quality education. They were excited to go back to school in person this fall despite their concerns regarding the continued spread of the virus, and yet the district is slow-walking negotiations. Teachers feel terribly disrespected and have had it with district leadership. This resolution reflects their deep frustration,” Pogue Lyons said.
She also said that the city is failing to work to resolve a serious teacher shortage and retention problem. “If the city refuses to recognize the problem and work with the WTU to improve it, the situation could turn into a major crisis. This is bad for students and bad for our schools and community.”
# # #
For Immediate Release
Aug. 13, 2021
WTU Responds to ‘Inadequate’ DCPS Evaluation System Fixes
WASHINGTON—The Washington Teachers’ Union today called the District of Columbia Public School’s solutions to fix the IMPACT evaluation system ‘monumentally weak’ and unresponsive to the numerous flaws raised by teachers and an American University report on the system.
DCPS sent a letter directly to educators that outlined its analysis of surveys of teachers and school leaders and the AU report on the IMPACT system.
In the union’s response to members, WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said: “We believe that the DCPS document distorts the data collected from teachers and school leaders and glosses over what the American University research actually found—that IMPACT is not working, is stressing teachers out and is punitive rather than helpful to improve performance.” She also called out DCPS’s “evolutions,” which apparently are solutions, saying they are “monumentally weak and do not adequately respond to the finding.”
Pogue Lyons said: “It’s stunning that DCPS clings to a fatally flawed, unfair evaluation system when there are so many effective models that we could adapt that actually help teachers and students and aren’t punitive or cause anxiety.”
AU’s summary of findings included:
- “Overall perceptions of IMPACT were more negative than positive, but with a great deal of variation in perspectives across teachers as well as school leaders.”
- “Many teachers and school leaders perceived that IMPACT created an unhealthy environment of distrust, fear and competitiveness in schools that trickles down into the classroom.”
- “Subjectivity, bias and gaming the system were all cited as threats to validity in teacher interviews, in school leader focus groups, and in the school leader survey.”
- And it found that “teachers perceived that the high-stakes and anxiety-producing environment may cause them (or others) to leave DCPS.”
Pogue Lyons said DCPS does not adequately address these issues.
WTU has been fighting for years to either comprehensively revise IMPACT or throw it out and start from scratch, with WTU as a full partner in the creation of a new teacher development and evaluation system.
“We need a dynamic teacher development and evaluation system that focuses on continuous improvement of instruction and learning in all classrooms, not a small portion,” Pogue Lyon’s letter to members said. “We need a system that provides ongoing supports dedicated not only to improving academics and instruction but also to lifting up each student.”
# # #
WASHINGTON—Statement by Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, on the new mandate requiring District of Columbia Public School teachers and other school staff to be vaccinated or be regularly tested at the city’s expense and with no penalty for taking time off to be tested:
“The get-vaccinated-or-be-tested mandate is the right protocol for DCPS educators and school staff, though most already have been vaccinated. Now that we’ll be back in school buildings, it’s important for educators to be healthy so they can provide in-person instruction to students five days a week. We also strongly urge all children 12 years and older and their families to get vaccinated. The Delta variant has thrown us a curveball, and we need to do everything we can to keep our school community protected.
“The vaccine policy, as we understand it, will ensure that no employee is subject to discipline as long as they either are fully vaccinated or submit weekly test results. Testing will be available in the workplace or can be done during work hours for employees who need it.
“While we support this policy, the WTU has a right to bargain with the school district over vaccination policies and how they will be implemented, now and in the future. We disagree with the city’s claim that this policy is not subject to bargaining, and we will not hesitate to enforce our bargaining rights if DCPS takes action that is not in the best interest of educators, students and the community.
“It’s been a long year and a half, and we can’t wait to see students and do everything we can to help them thrive in the new school year.”
# # #