Liz Davis

A remote memorial for my former colleague, fellow union member, friend and ally, Elizabeth Davis, is scheduled for May 6.

(Apparently I recorded an incorrect date. For details and to register for the on-line event, go to the website of the Washington Teachers’ Union.)

(If you didn’t know, Liz was the president of the WTU until her tragic death in a car crash on Easter Sunday. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.)

During my very first year teaching, Liz and I happened to be posted at the same school, a big new open-space building almost as far south as you can get and still be in DC.

Interesting times — there was a teacher strike that year, and we both were definitely doing our best to be on the left, progressive, anti-racist side of things. Looking back, I feel that I mostly made a hash of it. Liz was much more of a fighter than I was, frankly.

I haven’t been to a general membership meeting of the WTU since I retired in 2009, and I unfortunately don’t have a good reading on how well she was running things.

I only recall one serious disagreement with her, which I should explain later, but in hindsight on the event, I see we were both partly right and both partly wrong. Long story. I should write it up.

My Panel Discussion: Has Ed Rhee-form in DC Been A Success?

Recently I chaired a televised panel discussion on the legacy of eliminating democratic local control over public education in Washington, DC and turning it over to the mayor and his/her chancellor. We looked at the National Academies report on the results of that major change, and found that the results were rather dismaying.

The other panelists were, in alphabetical order,

  • Thomas Byrd, long time education and civil rights activist and host of We Act Radio Town Hall;
  • Adell Cothorne, former DCPS principal and a current adjunct professor  (see here for a bit of background on her bravery);
  • Elizabeth Davis, veteran and award-winning DCPS teacher, currently head of the Washington Teachers’ Union;
  • Denisha Jones, assistant professor at Howard University’s school of education;
  • Mary Levy, an independent analyst of education finance and policy.

The show aired several times on DC Channel 8 is airing on www.dctv.org or DCTV (Comcast channels 95 & 96, RCN channels 10 & 11, Verizon FiOS 10, 11, & 28).

You can view it on YouTube at the link I gave you above or else here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyrdXO-1Ev8&feature=youtu.be

Watching the hour-long discussion will give you an opportunity to hear some people who have been laboring in the trenches to try to improve public education in Washington, DC, and who have been ignored, or opposed, or worse by the powers that have run DC public education for a long, long time.

Many thanks to Willie Brewer for organizing this and helping with the filming and production, and to my guests for tolerating my very first attempt at leading this sort of panel discussion. I think all of the panelists did a great job. Let me point out that two of them (Mary Levy and Thomas Byrd) were specifically thanked by the authors of the report (on page ix) for being among the 13 official reviewers thereof. Thus, they know what they are talking about.

If you actually read the text of the National Academies report on the results of what is often called educational Rhee-form in Washington, DC, you will find over and over again language indicating that the data was simply unavailable to the reviewers, which is sad, considering that Michelle Rhee, our first Chancellor, said that she was always driven by data. Also: after many, many millions of dollars were spent on devising new accountability schemes for teachers, driving many of them to retire early, and turning the education of 45% of the students in DC over to charter schools (dozens of which have failed and closed), there has been no improvement in closing the gap between affluent white students and their less-affluent black and brown peers.

PS: (12-25-15) I gave the wrong channel before, and I thank Willie Brewer for notifying me. Also, I was told that the Youtube link for some reason was ‘private’; I hope it has now been fixed. Please let me know if you can or cannot see it.

WaPo Editorial Board Denounces Democracy in WTU Election, Again

As could be expected, the Washington Post’s editorial writers have denounced Elizabeth Davis, the newly elected leader of the Washington Teachers Union, because they believe she won’t sell out like George Parker or Nathan Saunders did.

The writer of the editorial was probably Jo-Ann Armao, semi-official DC representative of the Billionaires Boys Club who run public education these days with help from ALEC, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, various educational entrepreneurs, millionaire hedge fund managers, Wendy Kopp, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and so on.

I will reprint the editorial in its entirety and follow it by the comment I wrote. You may want to add your own comments.

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D.C. teachers cast a vote against teamwork

By Editorial Board, Published: July 16

RECENT DEBATE about the future of school reform in the District has focused on a series of legislative proposals being championed by the chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee. Getting less attention, but having perhaps as much potential to impact education, is the change in leadership of the union that represents D.C. school teachers. It’s not a good sign that the new leadership won on a platform that painted the incumbent as too compliant with reform initiatives being pushed by Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

 

Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders was defeated in a July 1 runoff election by a veteran teacher and union activist who promised to push more effectively against school system management. Elizabeth Davis, who received 459 votes to the 380 cast for Mr. Saunders, takes over Aug. 1 as head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which represents about 4,000 public school teachers.

 

There’s some irony in Mr. Saunders’s defeat. He won election in 2010 by fiercely criticizing then-incumbent president George Parker for too easily going along with reforms — notably changes in how teachers are assigned and evaluated — instituted by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Once in office, though, Mr. Saunders forged a cooperative working relationship with Ms. Henderson, and the two were reportedly close to finalizing a new contract proposal that Mr. Saunders called “groundbreaking,” with provisions for a longer school day and school year. What helped influence his thinking, Mr. Saunders said, was the 43 percent of public school students in charter schools and the growing numbers clamoring to get in. “No kids in [traditional] public schools means no teachers,” he told us. Mr. Saunders’s cooperation became a liability in his bid for another term, calling to mind Mr. Parker’s verdict about his own defeat in 2010: “I think any union president that is pushing and getting in front of reform, you take a risk.”

 

Ms. Davis rejected that notion. “I am not playing to the stereotype of what unions are supposed to be about. . . . I won’t have us boxed in as anti-reform,” she told us, stressing that reform needs to be done right and teacher input is important. She wouldn’t comment about contract talks, saying she needs to read the pending contract language. She expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of a longer school day in boosting student achievement and opposition to Ms. Henderson’s push to get chartering authority for system schools; she also supports a cap on charter schools. Most troubling is her belief that teachers at charter schools should be unionized, a move that would threaten the flexibility that has allowed these independent schools to create new ways of getting disadvantaged students to achieve.

 

This was an election decided by a small percentage of those eligible to vote and an even smaller proportion of those who are purported to be represented. The question that now confronts Ms. Davis and the new leadership team is whether to stick with what makes for an effective campaign — what Mr. Saunders called the “fire and brimstone stuff that looks good, sounds good” — but fails to bring about improvements in the city’s schools.

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My comment (one of many, most of the comments more or less agreed with me, but there are a few writers who feel the need to demonize teachers at every turn).

TexasIke59
9:43 AM EDT
 
 
That’s garbage. Teachers in DC have been doing their best to teach in difficult circumstances for many decades. They continue to be demonized by the wealthy few who profit from the de-facto segregation of our school system. I worked at the same school as Liz Davis for one year and have followed her advocacy work in the classroom, getting students to do outstanding writing and agitation for better schools and other reforms as part of the curriculum. 
 
We need leaders like that, not active sellouts and thieves like George Parker or Barbara Bullock, or leaders who simply ‘went along to get along’ like Saunders ended up as. 
 
Hopefully, she’ll be able to enlist more teachers to take an active part in union affairs and to get parent organizations to resist the idiotic mandates loved by WaPo management, the Walton family, Rhee/Henderson, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and all the rest of the destroyers of public education. 
 
Charter school teachers could certainly use a voice in setting policy at their schools — where the vast majority of teachers are gone after three years, not five, because they are burned out by impossible, conflicting demands, even worse than in the regular public schools. (And let’s remember that the main reason the DC charter schools have slightly higher scores than the regular public schools is because of the enormous attrition – pushouts and dropouts of low-achieving and hard-to-discipline students, who are sent back to their neighborhood schools!) 
 
I certainly hope the Davis administration actually follows through on organizing the charter schools. It’s a measure that has been repeatedly approved by votes of the union membership, year after year, but neither the Bullock, Parker, or Saunders administrations ever took up that mandate.
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