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Teachers’ low morale plagues D.C. union, school district

Plummeting teacher morale is the new norm for teachers in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile the District of Columbia Public Schools district and the Washington Teachers’ Union are at an impasse on contract negotiations.

Four out of five teachers in the nation’s capital are unhappy with their jobs and point to increased workload and volatile teacher turnover as their main pressure points. But the union’s failure to negotiate a contract with the school district during the past three years looms large in a district where a quarter of the teachers leave the district each year—higher than the national average of 16%.

Without a contract, D.C. teachers did not receive salary raises, cost-of-living adjustments, or other benefits from public union membership. One teacher noted that the lack of a union contract exacerbated stress for teachers, in part due to the aforementioned reasons, “Teachers will get burned out. Young teachers will begin to get burned out. They’ll continue to get burned out.”

During a recent union protest, a union representative urged the school district to meet their demands. “We all know that good working conditions make good learning conditions and great outcomes for our children,” Jacqueline Pogue Lyons said. She added, “The mayor says that she wants this to be a city for educators, we agree… It’s time for action, no more words!”

The school district’s statement emphasized that it “has been negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement”. The teachers’ union contract negotiations began in 2020 and has yet to be resolved, but the school district recently completed contract negotiations with school principals’ union in September 2022.

While the contract impasse with teachers drags on, students’ math and reading test scores in the school district dropped to their lowest levels in five years. 31% of students read at or above grade level, a 6% decrease from 2019. Math proficiency fell 12% in the same time period from 31% to 19%.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.