There is a January 17th deadline imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for union locals in the state and the Boards of Education to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system or lose an increase in state aid. New York City's share of the increase is said to be around $250 million. Most other districts have reached agreements and the research I have done shows that most have contracts also. Teachers have not had a contract in New York City since 2009. The law ties together evaluation systems to new contracts but does not mandate a new contract to get an evaluation agreement.
It is no secret that the UFT and the DOE have reopened negotiations and are attempting to hammer out an evaluation agreement before the Governor's arbitrary January 17 deadline. On the other hand, there is no evidence that there is anything new on the contract and the chances of it being settled with the evaluation system are not good.
That is what we know so now let's investigate what likely is going on behind the scenes.
It is pretty clear the UFT is prepared to accept huge concessions to reach an evaluation agreement. We attended a High School Committee meeting on Wednesday and were told to expect major changes in how we are evaluated because our new system must conform to state law which bases 40% of each teacher's evaluation on student learning and 60% on traditional factors such as observations.
What the 40-60 split means varies depending on who I talk to. A teacher must get 65% out of 100% to get a passing annual rating but if someone does not get at least 5% in the student growth portion, then it is impossible to get a 65%. Some tell me not to worry about this but others say it will be used to attack teachers.
I gather that it would also be impossible to get a 65% if a teacher receives a full 40% on the student growth portion but the teacher only gets 24% in the other part. As for using the Danielson framework for observations, it is something I am not totally familiar with. Let me just say the teachers I know who have been rated under Danielson do not like it at all and believe it will be used to play "gotcha" against unpopular teachers.
At the High School Committee meeting this past Wednesday, there was a lengthy discussion with many Chapter Leaders expressing deep concerns over the potential new system. I was pleased with the way new Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds conducted an open discussion and just let people express themselves. Many Chapter Leaders were very worried about how the new system could be easily abused by incompetent and/or malevolent administrators.
It was up to the desperate UFT District Representatives to defend what will more than likely be an indefensible new process. The Unity (leadership caucus of the UFT) spin on whatever is negotiated is basically going to be that this is the best we could come up with because of the law; being evaluated 40% on student test scores is not as bad as other states; the Danielson framework for observations will allow teachers to grow and the current satisfactory or unsatisfactory system is flawed as the principal can rate anyone unsatisfactory and there isn't much teachers can do but under the new system there will be multiple measures to rate teachers so if a principal doesn't like someone, that teacher can use student data to improve his/her rating.
There was also a debate about the difference between a growth model and a value added model which went way over my head so I will defer to NYC Educator on this one. Both growth and value added seem like inaccurate junk science to me so basing 1% of a rating (forget 20-40%) that will impact someone's livelihood on junk is 1% too much.
Although this was not stated at the meeting and I have no first or secondhand knowledge of the negotiations, I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that what the DOE and UFT are probably negotiating are details such as how many times teachers will be observed, whether or not teachers can have a pre-or post observation conference with the observations, what will be the pre-tests that determine the baseline for the student growth portion of teacher ratings, what can teachers do do if they are not happy with observations and will the system be used this year to rate pedagogues highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective instead of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
Basically, the Unity officials are right as we are constrained within the framework of the law. We already gave up most of the store when we supported the change in the law back in 2010 that allows the burden of proof to switch from the Board of Education to teachers in the new system in hearings when tenured people face dismissal for incompetence. In the new system, anyone with two consecutive ratings of ineffective will be presumed to be incompetent. Teachers will have to prove they are competent which will be next to impossible.
The UFT says we need not worry since they hammered out an appeals process last year and put it into state law. 13% of NYC teachers rated ineffective will be chosen by the UFT to be able to appeal their rating before an independent three person panel and the other 87% will get a review by an independent validator. Most people I talk to are not at all convinced that the validation process will be fair since the current Peer Intervention Plus program is supposed to give teachers rated unsatisfactory the help of an independent reviewer but instead sources such as Chaz tell us around 90% of teachers receive negative ratings from the "independent" reviewers. Subsequently, they have no defense in termination hearings so they are fired or have to resign. This is the future under the new system. Tenure in many cases will basically be a two year delay process instead of a guarantee to a fair hearing before dismissal. (This blog wrote about this when the deal was struck on the appeal process in 2012 .)
There are only four variables that will save many teachers. First, there will be an enormous amount of paperwork involved in rating teachers ineffective which many administrators won't want to do and then they will have to set up Teacher Improvement Plans which will be another headache. Read the NYSUT literature on the new system to see how complex everything is. Expect the DOE to make loads of procedural mistakes. Second, some principals truly want to work with teachers and will not buy into the new nonsense. Third, if administrators go forward to hang as many teachers as they can, they will find that there aren't enough arbitrators around to finish off so many people so inevitably there will be huge backlogs that will save some people. Fourth, arbitrators cannot terminate everyone as that would appear to make them biased so a few teachers will be able to prove they are not so bad and will keep their jobs.
What the UFT should be doing now is educating the membership in every school about the pros as well as the pitfalls of the new system and calling for a membership referendum on anything they agree to. They rejected this idea at the last Delegate Assembly even though it is an enormous change in the contract. There is a petition demanding such a vote from the MORE caucus that is linked here
If they can't reach an agreement, then they should work with enlightened administrators and districts across the state to demand that the State fix the evaluation law or face a massive educator rebellion. It was only a few years ago that New York State passed a law saying teachers could not be evaluated based on student test scores. That, however, was before President Obama's Race to the Top disaster caused the state to change course to go for federal money and for some inexplicable reason, the UFT and NYSUT in 2010 supported the law linking much of teacher ratings to student test scores.
On the current negotiations, we don't know if the city or union are inserting poison pills to make sure they fail. The UFT is willing to concede on almost everything but Bloomberg's people may make it so humiliating that President Mulgrew would not even get a fig-leaf out of this. On the other hand, the Union could demand real safeguards (a right to grieve any unfair evaluations) so the DOE would reject any agreement. If I were negotiating, I would do this but I don't expect our leadership to be so bold.
I'm not sure I buy the argument that all of this is settled and this is all a kabuki dance. If there was already the framework of a deal in place, then why would the UFT have changed the date of the January Delegate Assembly twice? If they are smoking cigars in a backroom and laughing at teachers who work in the schools, then they would have just signed the evaluation agreement by now. Look at Mulgrew's letter to us that is copied in its entirety below. You can read the tea leaves yourself. My take is the UFT is willing to give in but the DOE is looking at this deal to be the final nail in our coffin.
Finally, by de-coupling the contract from the evaluation negotiations, something the union appears to be doing, the UFT is throwing enormous leverage away. In Yonkers an evaluation system agreement was held up because there was no contract. Guess what, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers just received a new contract along with submitting their evaluation proposal to the state. Their financial situation is not so grand up there.
In NYC, other city employees received two 4% increases without givebacks years ago. NYC teachers have been without a contract since 2009. I have to believe the skeptics are 100% correct here and Mulgrew is conceding that the contract has nothing to do with the evaluation agreement because he knows if evaluations are part of a contract, it would be voted on by the membership and a horrible evaluation agreement (the only kind the city would probably ever agree to) might go down in flames even if there is some money thrown in.
Next Thursday is Governor Cuomo’s deadline for
and other school districts around the state to submit their plans for a new
teacher evaluation system. The governor has said that districts that do not
submit plans by Thursday, Jan. 17, will forfeit state school aid. In New York City ’s case, we
stand to lose upward of $250 million. New York City
The UFT’s position remains unchanged: The current evaluation system is inadequate. Teachers need a new evaluation system — one in which the Department of Education is responsible for supporting the schools, and administrators in the schools are responsible for supporting the work that we do in the classroom.
In the aftermath of the fight you have seen play out in the press, the DOE has come back to the negotiating table. We expect meetings to take place throughout the weekend and into next week, but the outcome of these negotiations is still very uncertain. I am writing to you today so that you and your colleagues can begin preparing for one of two possible scenarios.
If an agreement is reached, we will need to do a lot of work very quickly to stop the spread of myths and misinformation. Communication and collaboration between colleagues will be key. Every school will also need to have a clear understanding about how to proceed.
If no agreement can be reached, it will be because the mayor cannot be brought to accept our position of what a teacher evaluation system needs to be, and he will once again try to blame teachers. If that happens, our work will then center on getting out into our communities to make sure that parents and others know that we, as always, are fighting to make the school system better for the kids we serve.
With all the uncertainty over the negotiations, a lot could happen in the coming days. Earlier today I sent a message to UFT delegates that we have changed the date of our next Delegate Assembly to Thursday, Jan. 17, to align with the governor’s deadline.
If a tentative agreement is reached, it will be up to the DA, the highest decision-making body of the UFT, to decide if we will accept it as a union. If no agreement is reached with the city, the DA will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before.
We have fought very hard for three years in
Albany so that teachers can have an evaluation system that
respects and supports the work that we do. An agreement would mean a complete
paradigm shift for the country’s largest school system, where every
administrator will need to understand that their job is, first and foremost, to
help and support teachers. New
A great deal of work is being done to make sure our vision is realized, but it will not be easy. We will not come to any agreement unless that vision can become a reality for every school.
We will keep you updated. In the meantime, we will be leafleting outside schools and at major transportation hubs throughout the city on Monday to engage parents and the community and put pressure on the mayor to get to a fair deal. Please talk to your chapter leader to see how you can help.