With the recent passage of the new rating system for classroom teachers and principals (nothing in the law about other titles) a thorough review of the new provisions is in order. Additionally we must examine why our duly certified bargaining representative agreed to this (and more than doubling the Charter cap) on the hope that our application for $700 million from the feds will win this ridiculous competition.
First, some general observations.
The most important, if not the only, reason for a union's existence is to provide protection to its members that individually any single member could not provide. Seniority rules and tenure were developed to protect teachers from administrative discrimination by giving administrators enough time to evaluate new employees and recognize that employees become more valuable (and should be paid more) as they become more experienced.
Nothing could be more anti-union than the erosion of these basic rights. Yet, time and time again our Union, in order to protect its own interests, has sacrificed ours as experience becomes a liability and in this recent legislation the protections from arbitrary dismissal are significantly weakened.
The New Rating System
Within the next two years our current system of Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory ratings will be replaced by a scheme that will include "measures of student achievement." While much of the details will be forthcoming in NYSED regulation-making and UFT-DOE labor negotiations it is clear that decisions for employment, promotion, retention, tenure, termination and merit pay must be made on this student data. (UFT Q &A erroneously states that this new law does not impact tenure). This data, depending upon the availability of tests, is based on "student growth" which is defined as the change in student achievement for an individual student between 2 or more points in time.
Teachers will now be rated "Highly Effective," "Effective," "Developing," and "Ineffective," with the bottom two ratings making the teacher subject to a "Teacher Improvement Plan," which will be unilaterally imposed by the DOE. (The UFT Q&A erroneously states that this plan will be negotiated between the teacher and the principal but that language was not in the law).
The Teacher Improvement Plan must be implemented within 10 days of the start of the new school year and identify needed areas of improvement, a timeline, the manner in which the improvement will be assessed and differentiated activities to help the teacher to avoid termination.
The law provides for an appeals procedure which appears to be a mirror of the current appeals procedure yielding little, if any, substantive rights.
After two consecutive "ineffective" ratings and appeals affirming those ratings the DOE must bring an expedited termination hearing where the fact of the two consecutive ineffective ratings will be treated as "very significant evidence of incompetence" constituting "just cause for removal." While the Teacher Improvement Plan can be raised as a defense the DOE need only show that the plan was "developed and substantially implemented."
The expedited hearing requires that the hearings be completed within 60 days and must start within 7 days of the pre-hearing conference.
An Additional Tidbit (Where Did This Come From?)
Although nowhere mentioned in the media the new legislation includes a provision to permit private, profit and non-profit, organizations to take over the role of superintendent over failing schools. The new law allows the school district to enter into 5 year contracts to allow these organizations to turn around failing schools. While there are minimal protections to teachers in these failing schools (the collective bargaining agreement is still in effect and the teachers still work for the school district) it is unclear what these outside organizations will do to the schools and their staff to turn them around.
Without the regulations and the results of the negotiations it remains to be determined just how this new litigation will impact teachers. The UFT website heralds the new law as replacing a system that "doesn't work for us" with one that "embeds professional development."
How doesn't the present system work for us?
When a small percentage of employees are dismissed for incompotence you either have a competent group of teachers, an effective and protective union or both. The fact that there are not large numbers of teachers being fired means that someone is doing their job. Why do we want to fix this system? It doesn't appear broken.
Embedding professional development?
What happened to all of the peer intervention programs and the failure to negotiate meaningful terms. Does the Union believe that they will do better now after we have given up these rights?
Measurement of student data is not only a slippery slope it is the entrance to a cesspool. Despite the evidence demonstrating that short term individual student data does not correlate with teacher effectiveness we have bought, hook, line and sinker the notion that this is a proper measure of our abilities. While many teachers are rightfully concerned about the low achievers the higher achievers have to reach new heights in order not to get you fired as well.
Despite the hype in the media, tenure is a protection against arbitrary and discriminatory DOE action. The hearing that tenure provides requires the DOE to prove that a teacher charged with incompetence is, in fact incompetent. Teachers so charged are permitted, through counsel, to test every aspect of the charge. Our new rating scheme creates a statutory presumption (a legal term meaning there is nothing to prove) and shifts the burden to the accused teacher of establishing that their ineffective rating was not very substantial evidence of their incompetence. With the tightened schedules the teacher rating will be given almost dispositive proof of the teacher's incompetence; a significant change from our current system. Currently U ratings are only one factor to be considered by the arbitrator. This is perhaps the most egregious part of the new legislation.
Our Union, Once Again, Knows What's Better For Us Than We Do
The UFT has the audacity to spring this new system without membership, DA or other meaningful consultation and approval. Perhaps they know as well as we do that this scheme is a significant erosion of a previously well protected right and no one in their right mind would agree. It is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy to shove this legislation down our collective throats.
Yes, the present (er, former) system is subjective. And yes, in some instances, it has worked to hurt some teachers, but in the final analysis this system does not change the fundamental nature of subjective evaluation and only provides a quicker and more certain route to the unemployment line.
Oh, by the way, if we lose Race to the Top do we get our rights back?