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Archive for January, 2013

The Flag and the Hornet’s Nest

Was it a spur to critical thinking or was it an insult to nationhood punishable by termination? Or both? Was it a sacrilegious act or a thoughtless slip of discretion or immature judgment? Or neither?

Is this educator a menace to public sensibilities or an inept and unsavvy practitioner of defensive education who bravely or pig-headedly refuses to play it safe at the expense of intellect-building?

Was it, maybe, stealth propaganda or just a bad joke?

According to the Daily Caller, quoting WIS (a local NBC affiliate), a teacher in South Carolina was yanked from the classroom and consigned to extended administration leave and possible eventual firing for allegedly throwing an American flag on the floor and stomping on it. It is not claimed that he did it as part of a meltdown or fit of temper. What he apparently wanted to do was graphically demonstrate to his students the concept and potential dangers of symbolism and misplaced passion. It was about proving a point.

He had reportedly introduced the lesson by drawing several symbols. including a cross,which, as a segue, he uncritically identified as a symbol of Christianity.

Michael Copeland, parent of one of the teacher’s students, told WIS that the teacher took down the American flag and explained “This is a symbol, but it’s only a piece of cloth. It doesn’t mean anything,” and then proceeded to step on it in order to show, according to Copeland, that “there would be no consequences.”

Inarguably it may just cost the teacher’s job and just as inarguably there are far bigger implications for us all. More »

Caught In Their Own Web Of Deception and Deceit:
Bloomberg, the DOE and Teacher Evaluation Negotiations

After he blew up the teacher evaluation agreement that had been reached between the UFT and his own NYC DOE negotiating team, Mayor Bloomberg appeared at a hastily called press conference yesterday to spin an entirely fictional account of what had transpired. The UFT had made agreement impossible, he claimed, because of our unreasonable demands for more arbitration dates that would make it impossible to “fire bad teachers,” our “last minute” insistence upon a sunset clause that would have made the entire system a “joke,” and a “middle of the night” effort to change the scoring metrics for teacher evaluation so “no teacher” would be rated ineffective. Each of these claims is a lie, pure and simple. Here I will address the last two of Bloomberg claims, as I was personally involved in the negotiations around them.*

To finalize an agreement over teacher evaluations in New York, two different documents must be developed: a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which lays out in legal language the agreement between district and the union over the new evaluation system, and an application from the local school district to the New York State Education Department which provides scores of assurances that the specific evaluation plans laid out in the MOU conform to state law. Both the head of the school district and the head of the union must sign the local school district’s application. During the last week, as the UFT and the DOE met long into the night in an effort to reach agreement on the terms of the MOU, we asked, again and again, more insistently at each turn, to see the DOE’s draft of their application. It was not until late into Wednesday evening, barely 24 hours before the deadline, that the DOE finally gave us their draft of the application. When we read the draft, it quickly became apparent why they had resisted sharing it with us. Included in the draft were  numerous scoring tables and conversion charts which the UFT was now seeing for the very first time. These tables and charts were very important: embedded in them were fundamental decisions about the shape of the evaluation system. By waiting until the very last minute to provide the union with these numbers, the DOE was trying to sandbag us: it was now impossible to properly vet those numbers before the deadline.

The UFT would have been completely justified in ending the negotiations, then and there. But we did not. Our Measures of Student Learning team met with our DOE counterparts and I met one-on-one with Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky in efforts on our part to put together an agreement over the scoring numbers and ratings that would ensure that teachers would receive fair and accurate scores and ratings. Bloomberg’s description of these discussions could not be further from the truth: far from a last minute effort on the part of the UFT to change agreed upon scoring metrics, the union was doing everything it could to rescue the negotiations from a bad faith maneuver on the part of the DOE that could have easily derailed any agreement. We agreed to a three part solution: a joint UFT-DOE committee would have to approve the growth formulas which would be used for all of the measures of student learning; any scoring metric which unfairly skewed ratings would have to be recalibrated; and a special expedited appeals process would be established for final ratings which were not concordant with the different component ratings. On Thursday morning, I confirmed this three part agreement in a telephone conversation with Suransky. Over many years of working with the Bloomberg DOE, through the chancellorships of Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, I have seen a great deal of cynicism on the part of the mayor and the top DOE leadership, but Bloomberg’s lie that the UFT engaged in an 11th hour effort to undo agreed upon scoring metrics in an effort to protect “bad teachers” is surely a new low in misrepresentation.

The Mayor’s claim that the UFT introduced a “last minute” demand for a sunset clause on the agreement is refuted by the very draft application shared with us. On the very last line of this section of the draft application, the DOE itself had written that the agreement would only last through the 2013-2014 school year. The preponderance of applications from school districts around New York approved had similar sunset clauses: given the sheer complexity of the new teacher evaluation systems required by New York State law, they reasoned that it was only prudent to revisit their implementation in a year or two. All of these applications have been approved by the New York State Education Department. It was the Mayor who, after an agreement had been reached with a sunset clause, insisted on undoing that clause and blowing up the entire agreement. The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, negotiating for a new principal evaluation, also had their agreement blown up by Bloomberg on the very same issue.

After two years of continuous efforts on the part of the UFT to negotiate a teacher evaluation system which would provide New York City public school teachers with the means to hone our skills and craft, and provide our students with the highest quality education, it is now painfully clear that Mayor Bloomberg has no intention of negotiating such an agreement.

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* When the negotiations on teacher evaluation began two years ago, I was a UFT Vice President, and I served as co-chair of the union’s Teacher Evaluation Negotiations Committee. Last September I resigned my position as UFT Vice President to become the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute at the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national union, but I made a commitment to the UFT to see these negotiations to completion and remained involved in them.

 

UFT President Mulgrew: Bloomberg “blew up deal” UFT had reached with DOE negotiators

STATEMENT BY UFT PRESIDENT MICHAEL MULGREW:

I am sorry to announce that I have notified Governor Cuomo and other state officials that — despite long nights of negotiation and a willingness on the part of teachers to meet the DOE halfway – the intransigence of the Bloomberg administration on key issues has made it impossible to reach agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.

It is particularly painful to make this announcement because last night our negotiators had reached agreement – but Mayor Bloomberg blew the deal up in the early hours today, and despite the involvement of state officials we could not put it back together.

Thousands of parents have gotten a lesson this week, as the Mayor’s “my way or the highway” approach has left thousands of schoolchildren stranded at curbs across the city by the school bus strike.  That same stubborn attitude on the Mayor’s part now means that our schools will suffer a loss of millions of dollars in state aid.

 

New TV Ad: “Moving Forward”

The UFT on Jan. 4 launched a television ad campaign urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to put politics aside and reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system.

The 30-second spot, titled “Moving Forward,” criticizes the mayor’s education record on topics ranging from misleading statistics and the failing schools opened by the mayor, to hiring Cathie Black as chancellor.

Read the press release »