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WTU Pres. Calls Teacher Evaluations 'Racist' Ahead Of Ratings Release

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Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders.
Washington Teachers' Union
Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders.

In the coming weeks, teachers in D.C. public schools will begin receiving letters with their evaluation ratings, and for some that could mean pink slips. Hundreds of educators who received poor scores last year could be fired if their scores haven't improved this year.

Saunders knows that the Teachers' Union doesn't have the right to negotiate the teacher evaluation tool. But he says as teachers and members of WTU, "we are, therefore, subjected to an unjust law. And to the extent that IMPACT is unjust in the context of racist, of discriminatory, we can strike either the evaluation tool down or certain portions of the evaluation tool."

He says they are making progress, including initiating a court case. Saunders says he expects a ruling from the Superior Court before the next school year starts that will clarify what methods teachers are allowed to use to challenge the IMPACT rating itself.

As far as racism in IMPACT, Saunders points to a portion of the Civil Rights Act that deals with laws that disproportionately affect a group of individuals who are part of protected classes, including women and African-Americans.

"I believe that once we get all of the data in hand, potentially we will see an effect on African-American women schoolteachers that is indirectly related to where they teach, how they teach and things of that nature," he says.

Saunders has used provocative language in the past, talking about teachers' "blood on the floor" and that the WTU "has teeth" and "will bite." He says using that kind of language "is an issue of communication and style."

"The unfortunate thing is, I'm a victim of the media that only wants short bites. So when I say 'blood on the floor,' people pick that up," he says. "Then that causes folks to go into, 'Well, what is he really talking about? In what context?' And so, that's been a good thing."

People were surprised Saunders did not oppose the recent confirmation of Kaya Henderson as schools chancellor. Saunders says he did not support Henderson, rather the Teachers' Union supports the mayor's right to select a chancellor for DCPS.

"You've got to look at your votes," he says. "I've got to make sure in everything that I do the voice of 4,000-plus members are reflected and respected. You've got to have votes. Kaya Henderson won her nomination with 13 out of 13 votes."

He says, to be successful, Henderson should work with the union.

"This is a different ball game. It's not a one-sided team anymore," he says. "She has some tremendous capabilities, but the success of the system will not rest on the shoulders of Kaya Henderson. It's what teachers do in the classroom, and I represent teachers."

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