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Former WTU Pres. On Working With Rhee's Organization: 'It's About Children'

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George Parker, former head of the Washington Teachers' Union, will be a senior fellow with former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee's organization StudentsFirst for one year.
Kavitha Cardoza
George Parker, former head of the Washington Teachers' Union, will be a senior fellow with former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee's organization StudentsFirst for one year.

Parker will be a senior fellow for a year, writing policy papers, meeting teachers and advocating for education reform.

Some have called Parker a sellout for joining Rhee. Parker says that while he and Rhee do not agree on everything, there are issues they do agree on, including teacher salaries and performance incentive pay.

"If it's about children, then you work with people on those things that you agree upon for the benefit of children," Parker says.

He says he has received more positive than negative reactions from teachers about the move.

"I think as people think about it…it's OK. Having a diversity in opinion is OK," Parker says. "The bigger picture here is, all of us in time of crisis, same as in war, you don't care if the soldier that's on the battlefield with you is white, black, gay, straight, whatever. All you're interested in is, Can you cover my back?"

Parker has said that unions need to change in order to stay relevant. He says unions have to provide an answer to what should be done in education reform, rather than just resisting reform.

"We need unions, collective bargaining, they're a strength," he says. "But I also believe that as union leaders, we also have to look at the consequences of our union-negotiated contracts, and do we have language and do we have policies in those contracts that are going to benefit our students as well."

Teachers, Parker says, "in many cases" are more ready for reform than union leaders.

"Union leadership is somewhat like politics. You're as concerned about the next election as you are about doing the right thing," he says. "And I think that we have to have the courage to do what is right and put our next election on the back burner."

Parker thinks he will be able to maintain credibility with teachers, although he understands there might be push-back.

"The credibility would be speaking the truth," he says. "And the truth is we must change."

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