The members of the Washington Teachers’ Union, other school employees, students and their families know the start of a new school year brings energy, excitement and hope. Working together, teachers, parents and students will continue to overcome any challenges—pandemic or otherwise—to ensure our students receive the best possible education. This culture of resilience gives all of us a terrific launching pad for the 2022-23 school year.
WTU members will do everything we can to make this a great school year for each and every child. We are committed to building on last year’s success.
Thanks to a grant from the American Federation of Teachers, the WTU helped schools restart school gardens, schedule school trips, hold proms, produce school plays, open school libraries, provide a new book for every child who got vaccinated and hold end-of-school activities.
But we must do even better. And we can do better.
To do better, we must face facts and be honest with the public and each other. District of Columbia Public Schools has one of the lowest retention rates for teachers in the nation. According to a 2020 D.C. State Board of Education report, “on average 25 percent of public school teachers leave their school annually, compared to a national average of 16 percent and 19 percent in other urban cities.” This unacceptably low retention rate has terrible consequences for our students. And this report came out before the pandemic and today’s teacher shortage that is sweeping the nation.
The 2020 report identified the main factors for the district’s high teacher turnover, and things haven’t changed since then. It said the top-down teacher evaluation system has “created a polarizing environment and has become one of the leading drivers in teachers exiting. This evaluation system has left teachers frustrated and scared.” The report also mentioned burdens with work culture and workload, lack of support for teacher safety and mental health, and tensions with school leaders.
There is no better example of that tension than the fact that the WTU teachers’ contract expired nearly three years ago. In this time of high turnover, teachers have not had a cost-of-living increase or changes to improve their working conditions. The small increases that only some teachers receive don’t come close to keeping up with inflation. School leadership needs to stop stalling negotiations with unreasonable requests and remember who actually teaches the students—teachers. To keep teachers, the district will have to do better.
Other areas that the WTU will focus on this year include:
· Continuing our work to reduce opportunity gaps, including to improve literacy, especially in underserved areas. We’re thrilled that—working with city leaders—every school now has a librarian. But that funding runs out at the end of the upcoming school year. Given the importance of the work of school librarians, we will work to ensure that funding school librarians is an ongoing budget item.
· Expanding community schools. Community schools should be much more prevalent in the district. They offer students in-school wraparound services—often provided by the city, non-profit groups or businesses—to help overcome consequences of poverty. Depending on the schools’ needs, these could include health clinics, programs to help with social and emotional needs, food and clothing banks, tutoring and after-school enrichment programs. Community schools are extremely successful in helping students overcome challenges and be able to concentrate on school.
We have a lot of work to do this year. We pledge to work with families and communities to help ensure that every student gets the education they deserve.