Sunday, April 05, 2015


The new education law that passed as part of the New York State budget process is a complicated piece of legislation that will have details filled in by the State Education Department which currently does not even have a Commissioner. 

There is a portion of the law (the second part of the student performance portion of the teacher evaluation system) that needs to be negotiated with each union local and the school district to be fully implemented.  Here is what the law states:

The local collective bargaining representative shall negotiate with the district: A. Whether to use a second measure, and, in the event that a second measure is used, which measure to use, pursuant to subparagraph two of paragraph A of subdivision four of this section and
B. How to implement the provisions of paragraph B of subdivision four of this section, and associated regulations as established by the commissioner, in accordance with article fourteen of the civil service law.

Forget the legal mumbo-jumbo of most of this; it appears to mean teacher unions have a say in how this law is carried out with regard to the second part of the measures of student learning portion.  This part is only a small piece of the huge monstrous statute but it opens the door to giving us a say.

Which brings to mind this question:

What happens if the unions don't do our part in implementing the law?

The answer is that in order to receive most of the increase in school aid from the state, each union and district must have an agreement on this part of the new evaluation system in place by November because the evaluation system has to be fully implemented by then.  Here again is the language of the law:

Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of law, no school district shall be eligible for an apportionment of general support for public schools from the funds appropriated for the 2015-2016 school year and any year thereafter in excess of the amount apportioned to such school district in the respective base year unless such school district has submitted documentation that has been approved by the commissioner by November fifteenth, two thousand fifteen, or by September first of each subsequent year, demonstrating that it has fully implemented the standards and procedures for conducting annual teacher and principal evaluations of teachers and principals in accordance with the requirements of this section and regulations issued by the commissioner.

If I read that correctly (I am no lawyer just a humble teacher of social studies and union activist), it means the piece of the law on the new evaluation system doesn't go into effect until our unions agree on a certain provision.  Doesn't that give each union local some real bargaining leverage?  The consequences of not implementing the law fully are no increase in school aid, not thirty years in jail.

I'd like to dream a little bit here if I may.

What if we just say no?

  • What if we literally put our money where our mouth is and tell Cuomo and the Heavy Hearts Club Legislature we don't want their blood money?

  •  What if a whole group of teacher union locals refused to agree to the second part of the local assessments so the law could not be fully implemented? (The UFT held out for a while in trying to negotiate the current evaluation system with Mayor Michael Bloomberg but then inexplicably supported a process to allow then State Education Commissioner John King to impose an evaluation system on city teachers.)

  •  What if those superintendents who were with us in this battle to save public education before the law was passed agreed to help us resist? 

  • What if those principals who will lose some of their authority agreed to support a just say no to Cuomo's deform law movement? 

  • What if people in NYC understood that the increase in school funding will more than likely not find its way to the classroom so why worry about it?

  • What if teachers, rather than go willingly into this horrific new world where we have even fewer rights, finally said "That's enough" this time?

I can hear the naysayers already. 

  • We will get bad headlines that we are denying funding to the children. We will lose the public relations battle.  Cuomo and the ruling elite can hold out and make us look like greedy teachers.
Response: Polls say the public is on our side in the education debate.  If we were smart, we could win a public relations battle. If Cuomo called the Legislature back to strike the provisions that give us power, we could lobby for real change with the so called Heavy Hearts Club in the Legislature that knew the law was poor legislation but voted for it anyway. In a special Legislative session, the govrnor could not threaten to impose his will through stop gap budget measures.
  • We risk a Taylor Law violation (job actions are illegal for public employees in NYS) if we don't negotiate in good faith. 
Response: What if both sides (management and labor) refuse to negotiate? We don't know what would happen then.

 Reality check

It is unfortunate but we really don't have a real teacher union in NYC or at NYSUT any longer. The leadership of both groups will not be impacted by any of this new law so will probably have us make a little noise but ultimately go along as it is no skin off their apples.  The law only directly harms people who work full time in schools, the students and their parents.  We should not expect much, if any, help from the UFT or NYSUT leadership on any of this.

Any movement to kill this law would have to start with the smaller locals and the rank and file.

When will we learn our lesson?  We should have just said no to the Race to the Top money from Washington instead of competing for those scraps of cash that did little or nothing to improve education.  The UFT should never have supported legislation to let John King impose an evaluation system on city teachers.

Finally a little more of my impossible dream

True unions would be saying no to the blood money from Albany and would hold out for: an end to any part of teacher ratings being based on student test scores, no receivership for so called failing schools, full restoration of tenure where the burden of proof is on the district and more. 

Why not JUST SAY NO to the new education law so we can revitalize our public schools?


Unitymustgo! said...

I couldn't agree more. It's sad that our union will read this and wonders why you just don't get this is a good deal? Everyone, but those in the pockets of big money consider this a stinker. It's sad that here in NYC Deblasio, Farina, CSA, UFT and Parent Groups can't at least entertain talking to each other. My Principal is a District rep for CSA. She does not describe the relationship between UFT and CSA in kind words. Personally I don't care about the history or what the bad blood is, CSA and UFT should unite against this lame evaluation system. In addition, if this new system comes to pass, then teachers could starve the outside evaluator. The second they walk in to your room switch immediately into independent reading and let the students just read until they leave.

James Eterno said...

I like the idea of what to do when the independent evaluator comes. We need to organize first.

Harris L. said...

James, you are entering into the forbidden territory of non-violent civil disobedience. I say that tongue in cheek because I have often raised NVCD, at least intellectually as a way to force us to broaden our ways of thinking in the face of an unprecedented crisis, and people run away from me like I'd just been skunked.

But unlike your reader's suggestion, NVCD is not a vehicle for causing self-harm: "starving the evaluator" would simply result in a teacher being given a poorer rating than otherwise.

NVCD is intended to bring the point of contention between groups to a "crisis point" by forcing the other side, and the public, to see the issues from a new moral perspective. Opting-out is an early stage version of NVCD and it may have the salutary effect of both screwing up the testing regimen and moving people to throw off the fear that NVCD or other forms of direct action naturally cause when considered INDIVIDUALLY but which can be liberating when considered COLLECTIVELY.

James Eterno said...

I support opt out 100%.

ed notes online said...

I have operated on the assumption that the UFT and CSA had a cozy relationship to the point that the UFT has backed off going after abusive principals. Almost 20 years ago I made a reso at the DA calling for the removal of tenure from principals because they were out enemy and we should not support protecting our enemies. It was turned down of course but Sandy Feldman came over to me after and shook my hand and said she loved what I said but because they were another union they had to support them. I find it interesting that our bosses need to be supported under the union solidarity banner.

Anonymous said...

I agree, look at all the outrageous principals that remain.

Anonymous said...

What if:
We could just opt out of the UFT altogether and go it alone. I dont see how things could be much worse.

Anonymous said...

Sad but true. We are there already without any union protection. ICE is trying to get that protection back.

Anonymous said...

The UFT must file a lawsuit. That is the only challenge a baseless standard to evaluate teacher performance.

If it is not challenged, then it is over!

The union is bleeding away and the corporations win again.

No more talk!


Unitymustgo! said...

Harris, you are correct collective action is needed. Unfortunately that would take willingness by the union to lead. We all know that isn't happening. NVCD lead by our union systemwide with them doing everything they can to be visible in the schools and system trying to protect us could work. Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone expect the union to do something? The rank and file is the union. It is we that must wake up. Mulgrew would lose his status if people woke up. Stop blaming the Union and think about awakening the teachers.

Anonymous said...

Harris, et al, I am with you in spirit.
However, we need to consider the difficult aspects of raising a legal challenge. This law was passed constitutionally.
On what grounds can we make a suit?
The problem is that the majority of the leaders in the political community are thoroughly convinced that these laws and the VAM-based thinking behind them is inappropriate.
Additionally problematic is that we have very few media allies. The media generally are quite supportive of the reformers' agenda. Read Paul Horton's Jan 3, 2015 piece at Living in Dialogue.

Anonymous said...

I meant to respond to Anon of 10:17 am.

Anonymous said...

The answer is to start a union.

John Smith said...

You do not risk a Taylor Law violation if you come to the bargaining table with the "intent" to settle and just never reach agreement. The law mandates you must bargain in good faith not necessarily reach agreement on the issues