Saturday, May 29, 2010

The New Classroom Teacher (and Principal) Evaluation Scheme: What Was Our Union Thinking?

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.

Questions Remain

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?

Student Data

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.

Just Cause

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?

Early Retirement Law Passed

Yesterday, the governor signed into law a measure which would allow an incentive for teachers to retire early. Under the law the City must agree to the plan to participate which the City has given no indication that it will.

If the City decides to participate it must choose either or both parts of the incentive. The first part (Part A) allows teachers to retire without penalty at 55 with a minimum of 25 years teaching. The second part (Part B) provide an additional month of member service credit up to 36 months, for each year of service. Only those over age 50 with at least 10 years of teaching are eligible for this part of the retirement incentive. (Early retirement penalties will still apply).

The DOE has until July 1, 2010 to "opt-in" to the plan for 55 year old teachers and August 30, 2010 for the additional month up to 36 month plan and must provide a 3 month window for teachers to apply when they do.

Monday, May 24, 2010


The Panel for Educational Policy held their monthly meeting last Tuesday at Long Island City High School. It turned out to be a meeting that was filled with irony as Unity Caucus leaders of the UFT watched in vain as their excellent points were completely ignored by the majority of eight Mayoral appointees on the Panel. Those eight kind of operate like a mini version of the UFT's ruling Unity Caucus where you know in advance exactly what they are going to do before an issue is raised. A sort of parallel universe of phony democracy.

The big issues were co-locations (invasions) of charter schools in public schools and ridiculous expenditures.

As usual, the majority of the PEP ignored what the public school teachers said and voted to co-locate several new charter schools in public schools. In addition, Gateway Secondary School to Health Sciences will also expand to include a grade 6 against the wishes of the Gateway School Leadership Team and the community. This expansion will probably mean even fewer high school seats in Queens as this school will be capped around 800 but the PEP couldn't be bothered with this triviality. Next up on the agenda was expenditures.

The DOE asked the PEP to approve an allocation of $5,000,000 to recruit new teachers while at the same time they are threatening to lay off thousands of us. The excuse given was that DOE has to have teachers for our most needy special education students ready on day one as this is a shortage area. This is a laugh as I pointed out to the Panel when I spoke as Jamaica has special education classes that in May still don't have a regular teacher.

The UFT was in the house and they made a great case on the issue of this ridiculous expenditure. The best speaker was clearly UFT Secretary Michael Mendel who spoke for two minutes of the folly of the DOE's spending 5 million dollars to recruit teachers during these tough fiscal times when they are talking about layoffs. When the PEP chair tried to shut off Michael's microphone, Mendel resisted and refused to leave. He told them they would have to have him removed.

The auditorium, which was pretty much filled with UFTers from Queens and other supporters, howled their approval for Mendel and disapproval for the PEP. The PEP did not want to set a precedent of giving someone more than two minutes of speaking time but after hearing the raucous crowd and an appeal from Manhattan PEP representative Patrick Sullivan, they relented and gave Mendel an extra minute. Michael rose to the occasion talking about the horror of his own experience of being laid off in the seventies and saying how awful it was to pit teachers against teachers as the Chancellor is doing.

Speaker after speaker followed. They lambasted the $5 million DOE boondoggle but in the end it didn't matter. The four Borough President Representatives voted no (Staten Island was absent) and the eight mayoral representatives voted yes. There's another $5 million of our money that will go down the drain.

The irony was hearing the Unity Caucus people decry the undemocratic nature of the PEP by yelling "Shame on you" and "Rubber Stamp" after the PEP voted.

If anyone would know what it's like to be a rubber stamp, it's the UFT's elected Unity Caucus leaders who as a membership obligation require their members to sign an agreement to abide by the decisions of their caucus in public and union forums. They vote lock step to support every misstep large or small that the UFT leadership comes up with. Unity argues if you don't like it you can vote them out once every three years in UFT elections the same as the mayor says you can vote him out once every four years as if these citywide elections justify the day-to-day undemocratic governance structures.

At least the PEP allows members of the public two minutes to vent; the UFT seldom calls on more than one of us dissidents in debate at the DA.

OK, so Unity received a dose of their own medicine but in the end none of us are any better off.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Evaluation Agreement Another Step Backwards

People have asked us to comment on the recent agreement between NYSUT and the State Education Department on teacher evaluations. Basically, the deal is another loss for UFT members and teachers across the state because as of 2011 40% of our rating will be based on student progress. Since there are so many variables that go into pupil progress, most over which the teacher has little or no control, this looks like a terrible way to rate teachers.

UFT spin says that Joel Klein wanted to make 100% of our rating based on student progress on standardized tests and we stopped him. This is ridiculous. It's like saying someone wants to steal $1000 from us but we only gave away $400 so this is a victory.

As an opposition representative said at last week's Delegate Assembly, this agreement is a terrible precedent. It takes us down a road we don't want to go down and is ripe for abuse by unscrupulous administrators.

The new rating system will provide us with four grades and rewards and sanctions will be based upon how we are rated.

At least at the DA Unity/UFT leaders admitted that U ratings and discontinuances are way up. They are way up in large part because of the 2002 and 2005 contracts. In 2002 we allowed arbitrators to rewrite letters to our file and in 2005 we gave up our right to contest the accuracy and fairness of file letters thus opening the door to the full scale attack on our profession.

Basically, last week's May DA was a summary of this agreement with Unity spin and then there was a discussion with mostly Unity people dominating it. The only other subject talked about was the budget.

Here is a link to the State Education Department so you can read about the rating agreement yourself.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Sometimes I feel as if schools in danger of closing are fighting alone with the DOE for basic fairness but tonight I read a story that makes me feel that we are not the lone voices that aren't being heard.

Arthur Goldstein, Chapter Leader at "A rated" Francis Lewis, has explained over at in his unique style why the UFT Contract is basically useless at the current time. Even after an arbitrator ordered the DOE to lower class sizes at Lewis, they did not comply and there are no consequences for them.

In a similar situation at Jamaica, the secretaries recently won a grievance that school aides were doing their work and administration just marches merrily along as if nothing happened. Who cares that our data is in disarray and our school was closed based on faulty data?

Speaking of that closure, a judge ruled in March that nineteen schools including Jamaica must remain open and the DOE acts as if the ruling didn't occur and continues to open new schools in our buildings.

I'm guessing there are many parallel stories all over the city of administration outright ignoring decisions that are supposed to have the force of law.

The message to our kids is that laws are there to be broken by Tweed.

Where is the mighty, mighty union that our former president used to refer to as an 800 pound gorilla?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Philip Nobile on the Rubber Room Agreement

Out of the Rubber Room, into the Pyre
By Philip Nobile

The ballyhooed rubber room agreement between the city and the teachers union proves the adage: For every advantage, there is a disadvantage.

Surely, abolition was the only way to go. Wasted millions, wasted labor, wasted careers. The heat was too much. The overpopulated rooms and trailers were a fiasco overdue for oblivion.

But what appears to be a win-win for the DOE and UFT may be a loss for hundreds of teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, social workers and secretaries now banished to Orwellian-named Temporary Reassignment Centers waiting for their hearings.

There is no guarantee that emancipation won’t evolve into Jim Crow, a change of venue without a change of policy and punishment.

Despite the apocalyptic publicity in the tabloids, TRCs were never the real issue. Rather they are the rear end product of the DOE’s discipline system that can reassign a ham sandwich.

Under Chancellor Joel Klein, every teacher was and is a secret misconduct complaint away from sudden job removal followed by a one-sided investigation topped off with prosecution by a bulldog city attorney whose purpose in life is to maul union members. The
agreement merely accelerates these procedures.

Last May the UFT Delegates Assembly condemned the Chancellor’s Ministry of Fear in a resolution accusing the Office of Special Investigations of making inquiries “in a biased manner” and principals of “target[ing] members who show independence or otherwise are perceived as threats to authority.”

True enough, but the resolution was ignored in practice. The UFT has done nothing in the past year to stop the DOE from railroading troublesome teachers. Special UFT Representatives sit in on OSI interviews, but say little and advise clients to keep quiet lest investigators twist their statements. Whatever notes the reps take, even if they include exculpatory material, are withheld from teachers until their hearings. The union’s lack of advocacy in the crucial early stages of investigation has left teachers at the mercy of OSI, not to be confused with the ACLU.

While heavy on deliberate speed and strict deadlines, the purported breakthrough agreement is light on protecting teachers from the frame-ups that flooded TRCs in the first place. For every bona fide oddball, and I’ve met some beauts in my room, there are ten model educators guilty only of having a hostile supervisor who inflated or invented an incident to justify reassignment rubber stamped by OSI. Since the Chancellor’s Javerts remain unmentioned and unchecked in the agreement, the UFT’s passivity seems like a sellout.

The agreement has other serious flaws, all stemming from UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s failure to consult with us, the least of his members, the casualties of this bureaucratic Bay of Pigs.

The UFT’s contract negotiating committee has three hundred members providing diverse input. In contrast, the rubber room pact was completed in total secrecy without consenting intercourse with the people directly affected. A survey of three TRCs in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, where I resided without charges for my first thirty-three months, revealed deep skepticism about the agreement. Asked whether they were happy or unhappy with it, 140 said unhappy and 50 happy. Asked further whether they wanted to meet with Mr. Mulgrew, who has not set foot in a TRC, and discuss the agreement, the response was almost unanimously affirmative.

Here are some of the queries that Mr. Mulgrew needs to answer:

¶ Will you meet with current rubber roommates and seek to renegotiate terms deemed unfair by them?

¶ Do you concur with Brooklyn Borough Representative Howie Schoor’s claim that “most” members have been reassigned “on trumped up charges?” If so, how did the union let this happen?

¶ To guarantee fairness in the future, will you insist that the UFT have the right to conduct inquiries parallel to the DOE’s, assuring equal access to evidence and witnesses before being charged. And will you reverse UFT policy by ordering Special Representatives to vigorously defend members during OSI and OEO interviews and to give copies of interview notes to members?

¶ Why did you grant the DOE 60 days to investigate and charge members with misconduct after reassignment (in addition to unlimited time limit before), but consented to restricted us to just 25 days to prepare our defense (match up with a union lawyer, discover evidence, line up witnesses, etc.) before the hearings begin?

¶ Why hasn’t the UFT demanded that administrators be penalized
for false accusations?

¶ As for misconduct hearings, how can due process be secured
when unprecedented deadlines now govern every step of the way
and all favoring of management? Don’t you think that the Chancellor’s and your joint meeting with hearing officers to pressure them on deadlines can be construed as interference with the legal process?

Philip Nobile was a Social Studies teacher and UFT Chapter Leader
at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies. He was reassigned
to a Brooklyn rubber room in 2007 in retaliation, he says, for blowing
the whistle on Regents cheating.

College Journalism Student Article on Jamaica Picked up at Gotham Schools

For those interested in our fight to keep Jamaica High School open, Shaloma Logan, a journalism student at SUNY Stony Brook, has written a fairly extensive piece on Jamaica that Gotham Schools has picked up. If you haven't yet figured out how passionately we care about our 118 year old school, Shaloma catches the flavor pretty well.