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An Agenda In Search Of A Supporting Argument: The Story Of The New Teacher Project’s Unintended Consequences Report

Two weeks ago, a Washington DC educational policy think tank, the New Teacher Project, issued a report entitled Unintended Consequences to great fanfare. The report demonstrated that staffing rules in union contracts were “bad for kids,” Eduwonk proclaimed to the blogosphere. So we decided to take a careful look at the claims. And here’s what we found….

What is remarkable about Unintended Consequences is the extraordinary disconnect between the illness it is claiming to cure – the unmet need for quality teachers in urban schools, especially low-performing schools serving high poverty communities – and the medicine it is proposing we take

The report leaves no doubt that its target is “staffing rules in urban teacher union contracts.” The term ‘staffing rules’ suggests that the report is examining the entire range of ‘human personnel’ policies, from initial recruitment and hiring to placement and movement within the school district, from staff evaluation, especially the granting of tenure, to the retention of accomplished and experienced teachers. But it quickly becomes apparent that the report is concerned primarily with movement of teachers within the school district, in the form of “excessing” [district initiated movement, in the new placement of staff which are deemed “in excess” of the numbers needed in a particular school to which they were initially appointed] and “transfers” [staff initiated movement].

The complaints against the staffing rules for ‘excessing’ and ‘transfers’ are four: that urban schools “are forced to hire large number of teachers they do not want and who may not be a good fit for the job and for the school”; that “poor performers are passed around from school to school instead of being terminated”; that new teacher applicants, including the best, are lost to late hiring”; and that “novice teachers are treated as expendable regardless of their contributions to their school.” Taken together, the authors of Unintended Consequences assert, these four complaints “significantly impede the efforts of urban schools to staff their classrooms effectively and sustain meaningful schoolwide improvements.”

There are huge flaws in this diagnosis, of the sort that suggest it is based on selective readings of the available evidence. Some symptoms of illness in the patient are highlighted; others are passed over without comment. More importantly, the diagnosis remains fixed at the level of isolated symptoms, while studiously ignoring the underlying systemic diseases. Since one of the districts studied, the “eastern district,” is transparently New York City, we will focus on the study’s treatment of ‘staffing rules’ for ‘excessing’ and ‘transfers’ here.

The issue of ‘excessing’ is emblematic of Unintended Consequences approach, and consequently, of its flaws. The report focuses on ‘the symptoms,’ what takes place after staff have been declared “in excess” in a district like New York City, and never even examines ‘the disease,’ the reasons why so many teachers are regularly excessed. In New York City, the reasons for regular massive ‘excessing’ relate directly to longstanding policies of the Department of Education which give priority to narrowly conceived, ‘bottom line’ economic concerns at the expense of educational goals. These are policies which have been consistently criticized by the UFT, and which the state Department of Education has consistently pressured the city to change – to no avail.

New York City high schools, which experience the greatest excessing, are organized on a biennial basis, and budgeted on that basis. There is a fall term budget, based on October 31 student registers, and a spring term budget, based on March 30 student registers. For a high-performing school with fewer students living in poverty, such as Stuyvesant High School, the method of calculation is immaterial; the student registers are remarkably stable, and there is very little fall-off in the budget between the fall term and the spring term. With those minimal shortfalls easily absorbed by spring term sabbaticals, a school like Stuyvesant is rarely forced to excess staff.

Consider, by way of contrast, a low performing high school serving a large number of students living in poverty. First, it is significant that the budget is calculated on the basis of student registers two months into a five month term; if it were calculated on the basis of student registers at the start of the term, it would be significantly higher. The date of calculation is based on the unwritten understanding that there will be a significant drop-out rate in the first two months of the term. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: in schools that are already, as a rule, the most severely overcrowded, and where students are easily discouraged, the school and classes are started with many more students than it is anticipated they will have by October 31. As students drop out, in no small part in response to classes where they can not even find a desk, the school diminishes to its October 31 target. Student attrition continues throughout the fall term and the first two months of the spring term, and a number of students graduate at the end of January, off track [it took them longer than the standard four years to meet all of the graduation requirements], so the March 30 student register is significantly lower than the October 30 student register. Consequently, the spring budget is considerably smaller than the fall budget, the school is not able to hire the same number of staff, and a number of teachers are placed in excess – in the middle of the school year.

It is no educational secret that the high rate of student transience which is associated with living in conditions of poverty is one of the more serious impediments in providing a consistent program of instruction to the students who need it the most. But the NYC Department of Education budgeting and organizational policies for high schools force staffing to mimic student transience, so that the schools with the greatest need for staffing stability receive the least stable staffs, and the schools where staffing stability is less important receive the most stable staffs. And when the DOE institutes budgetary cuts in hard times, this excessing increases and has a disproportionate effect on low performing, high poverty schools. This is Robin Hood in reverse.

The real problem, the real disease, is the extraordinary amount of excessing, especially disruptive mid-year excessing, in NYC schools – not the policies that determine how excessed teachers are placed once they are excessed. Given that we know that a high rate of staff turnover is one of the primary signs of a low performing school, and that this staff turnover creates a self-perpetuating cycle of failure as high turnover prevents a school from developing a solid corps of experienced and accomplished teachers which leads to more staff turnover, the NYC Department of Education’s budgeting and organizational policies must share a major burden of the responsibility for the state of those low-performing schools. It is significant that the state Department of Education has been pressuring the city to move to annual organization in its high schools for years, and that the city has continually resisted that pressure. A decision has been made that it is better to adhere to an economic ‘bottom line’ which allows the DOE to save operating funds from its low performing, high poverty high schools, than it is to follow the educational logic of providing them with a stable annual budget and staff.

So the major problem is that excessing takes place on the scale that it does, and that it is heavily concentrated in low performing, high poverty schools. Indeed, if excessing were a much rarer phenomenon, as it should be, the procedures for placing excessed teachers – good, bad or indifferent – would have little impact. And yet Unintended Consequences is completely silent on the subject of the causes of excessing – a rather telling silence in a report which claims to be concerned with the staffing of urban schools.

There is a calculated principle of selection at work here. The procedures for excessing are negotiated with teacher unions and enshrined in collective bargaining agreements, while the organizational and budgetary policies that give rise to excessing in the first place are the sole domain and province of the district. All fire from Unintended Consequences is trained on the procedures in which teachers have some voice, despite the fact that they are symptomatic by-products, and no fire is trained on the policies in which teachers have no voice, despite the fact that these policies are the crux of the problem.

This is a pattern which appears, again and again, in Unintended Consequences. Take the question of its primary remedy for the problems of ‘excessing’ and ‘transfer’ – that every ‘school’ has a veto over the placement of teachers in it. First, there is a little piece of intellectual ‘three card monte’ with the terminology. Although the report constantly refers to the ‘school’ as the actor, a close reading of its claims reveals that for it, the principal is ‘the school.’ Prior to the recent contract, NYC’s collective bargaining agreement had a school based transfer and staffing option, in which a school-based committee of teachers, administrators and parents was authorized to interview and make staffing decisions over all new hires and all transfers. Any school could opt in to this procedure, with the agreement of the staff and the principal, and by last year, nearly half of the schools had done so. Unintended Consequences refers to the schools using this option as “specially designated” [page 41], as if this were a favored status conferred upon a school and as if there was some sort of bureaucratic or contractual impediment to every school participating in it. It then misrepresents the scope of authority given to the school-based committees to suggest that it had to defer to seniority in selecting applicants.

But why would a committee of teachers, parents and supervisors go to the extraordinary effort of interviewing and deliberating on applicants, if they had to defer to seniority in any case? Why not simply remain with the default option, in which applicants would simply be placed on a seniority basis, and forego the school based committee altogether? The reality was that all that was required of the school committee was that it included seniority in their deliberations, giving preference to the senior qualified applicant – with the committee itself setting the qualifications. Such a requirement could hardly be an obstacle to staffing a school with quality teachers; to the contrary, it provided a practical check on inexperienced administrators who advocated that all of the school’s new hires should be novices whom they could “shape.” Nothing is more disastrous to a school, especially a new or struggling school, than the lack of a solid corps of experienced and accomplished teachers, than the absence of balance between the experienced and the novices.

Yet the authors of Unintended Consequences are so hell bent on condemning anything less than complete, unilateral control of all staffing by the principal as ‘an impediment to effective school staffing’ that they distort the school based staffing option beyond recognition. What becomes clear as one reads through Unintended Consequences is that there is an agenda – the expansion of the authority and power of management, and the diminution of teacher voice and input – which underlies all of its argument. It is not enough that there be a school based committee of teachers, parents and administrators with the authority to hire new staff; the authority must be given to the principal and the principal alone.

One does not have to think long or hard about this proposed “all power to the principal” remedy to realize that it will do nothing to staff low-performing, high poverty schools with accomplished and experienced teachers. Without professional and material incentives to take on this challenge, and without some reason to believe that systemic problems in the school will be addressed, accomplished and experienced teachers will not be transferring into such settings. The reality is that low performing, high poverty schools are not significant transferring or excessing ‘importers.’ However, the few accomplished and experienced teachers within such schools have every reason to transfer out of what are largely dysfunctional settings, and there is no reason why the principal of a receiving school would not take such a teacher. It is only the inexperienced, novice teacher and poor teacher who are effectively denied the ‘exit’ option, left behind in the low performing school.

But if the authors and endorsers of Unintended Consequences were to really take on the crucial question of how to staff low-performing, high poverty schools with accomplished and experienced teachers, they would have to address the policies established unilaterally by districts that perpetuate radical inequalities among their schools. And it would require an admission that progressive teacher unions are the leading advocates for the development of policies that would attract and retain quality teachers to low performing, high poverty schools. Such an admission runs directly counter to the agenda of expanding management authority, and limiting teacher voice and input.

Nowhere is the Unintended Consequences’ agenda of unfettered management power more transparent than in its treatment of the ‘poorly performing’ teacher. The report concludes that there is no “viable termination process” for teaching non-performance, because it is so time consuming to make a case where you have the burden of proof. Although the authors of the report contend that they conducted interviews with “human resources staff members, legal counsel, labor relations specialists, union representatives, school principals and teachers,” they did not interview even one union official from the UFT, the union in the largest school district in the US and one of the five districts they are “studying,” and they rely solely upon the commentary of school district personnel and principals, as well as district-supplied data, to reach and support this conclusion.

But we ought not make too much of this total bias in sources, as if more balance would have corrected the problematic conclusion. Would researchers without an agenda need a union official or a teacher to remind them that the supervisors making self-serving claims about how difficult it is to dismiss a tenured, poorly performing teacher are the very same individuals who declared that teacher satisfactory and competent, granting him tenure? Would researchers without an agenda need a union official or a teacher to remind them that in NYC this tenure decision is made after the teacher has taught for a minimum of three years, during which time her supervisors are specifically mandated by the DOE to observe her classroom performance for a full teaching period no less than eighteen times? Would researchers without an agenda need a union official or a teacher to remind them during those three years of probationary appointment, the burden of proof for the dismissal of a tenured teacher does not exist? The authors of Unintended Consequences cite only district officials and principals, and use only district supplied data, because they knew that this is where they would get the answers they were seeking.

Indeed, the New Teacher Project proudly boasts that its “clients” include a number of school districts – Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami-Dade, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC being the most prominent. One of these paying clients – the NYC DOE – is one of the very same school districts supposedly being subjected to disinterested, objective study in this very report. As a matter of fact, New Teacher Project CEO and President, Michelle Rhee, appeared as a paid witness for the NYC DOE in the fact-finding process earlier this year. This is a longstanding relationship: the web page of the New Teacher Project claims a pre-eminent role in the creation of New York City’s Teaching Fellows program, and describes it in unqualified superlatives. One would search this presentation in vain for even a hint that the program costs NYC more than ten times as much as it spends on recruiting teachers through traditional routes, or that teaching fellows leave teaching in NYC public schools at a much higher and faster rate than teachers who come through traditional routes. And if that relationship between paid researchers and paying subjects was not incestuous enough, who appears as the main endorsers of Unintended Consequences? Those being “studied” – Joel Klein, Chancellor of the NYC DOE [“the eastern district”], and Alan Bersin, past Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District and new California Secretary of Education for Arnold Schwarzenegger [“the western district”].

When all is said and done, then, the story of Unintended Consequences is the story of an agenda – extending the authority of school district management at the expense of teacher voice and input – in search of a supporting argument. Those with a genuine concern in staffing low performing, high poverty schools with experienced and accomplished teachers will have to conclude that this agenda has precious little to do with that important goal.



  • 1 Schoolgal
    · Nov 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Leo,

    Unfortunately I posted a comment for you on Peter Goodman’s post.

    I realized it when I went back to see if you responded since you usually do. I will not rewrite everything here but just get to my questions.
    A new teacher in our school started lunch duty 5x a week 2 weeks ago with the CC’s approval. She still gets her 6 preps.

    Is this legal? Was she supposed to start now or Feb.?

    When can a teacher redo bulletin boards and room reorganization without getting a LIF? I heard Dec. 1st.


  • 2 Leo Casey
    · Dec 1, 2005 at 1:54 pm


    Is this a cluster teacher, elementary school situation? If so, I will need to go to a colleague who works more closely with elementary schools to get an answer I am sure of. There are some important elementary school wrinkles here — most elementary schools which have seven period days do not have professional periods, at all, and so cafeteria duty would be illegal. If it isn’t elementary, I don’t quite understand the 6 preps. In any case, all of this goes into effect February 1, so starting it now is improper.

    The ‘anti-micro-management’ bulletin boards and room furniture clauses are now in effect.

  • 3 Schoolgal
    · Dec 1, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    Elementary school, the 6th prep is the professional period, but I found out she also has extra preps for her program. But she told me she does not understand why she is the only new teacher doing this. She is willing to do this 2x a week and lose those extra preps.

    As of when can we follow our own format for bulletin boards–is it as of today?
    My admin now wants a Flow of the Day and Teaching Point Chart. Do I have to have one?

    During our UFT meeting, our CC told all untenured teachers to follow all the administrations requirements for room and bulletin boards. She got moans from the rest of us.

  • 4 NYC Educator
    · Dec 1, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    The NY Times reports principals are being instructed to triple up the “small class instruction” in high schools, precisely what Mr. Casey previously assured us would not happen.

    Who’s surprised?

  • 5 curious3
    · Dec 1, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    Hey Leo,
    How can I get statistics on the number of NYC teachers that have been terminated based on poor performance (not just moved to another school or an admin post)?

  • 6 Schoolgal
    · Dec 2, 2005 at 8:32 pm


    Still awaiting an answer regarding the lunch duty.

    As for the bulletin boards, the teachers in my school ARE going to follow the admin’s guidelines. Our CC didn’t offer any hope and left us with more confusion. I don’t want to be the only one not drinking from the “spineless well”. I just add a splash of vodka to the water when I do.

  • 7 Leo Casey
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Under no circumstances, can lunch duty be started in any school before February 1. If it is grieved, it will be stopped.

    Further, there can be no lunch duty or any other administrative duty in a 7 period elementary school — which most elementary schools are. Again, grieve it, and it will be stopped.

    The contract clause prohibiting micro-management of bulletin boards is now in effect, as I write this [Saturday, December 3.] I would have the Chapter Leader file a union initiated grievance on the directions to untenured teachers, if untenured teachers are fearful of challenging it.

    The implementation of this contract is going to be like everything else we have to do with this folks — a struggle every step of the way. It is simply in their nature and being to act like this. They will violate the contract if we let them do it, and they will only stop if we force them to stop. As our old friend Frederick Douglass once wrote, “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those they oppress.”

    If there are problems getting folks to enforce the contract in your school, give me a call during the week [212-598-6869], and we can strategize together.

  • 8 NYC Educator
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    I’m not encouraged by that Frederick Douglas quote, particularly since Unity capitulated to virtually all of PERB’s demands, and failed even to negotiate a cost of living raise in return.

    There’s no excuse for Unity’s self-serving, anti-democratic and deliberate disenfranchisement of high school teachers. They neither represent us nor speak for us.

    Why on earth can’t we select our own VP?

  • 9 Schoolgal
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the response, but you didn’t respond to this question:

    Can a new teacher in an elementary school (with 8 periods) do lunch duty 5x a week (even after Feb. 1)?
    My CCs response to her was to try it for a few weeks because then she may get used to it. Nor, will my CC put through any grievance because she told the new teachers to follow all directives or they could lose their jobs. So that’s a dead issue.

    As for the extended Mondays I have written to you about so many times, and nothing was done, it is now a lost cause.

    My principal will continue to plan these Mondays and my grade will never have a chance to meet to plan for the new ELA and Math tests except on our common prep or lunch period. (and that’s not enough time) A 100 minute block of time would have really helped both our teachers and students. I now have to spend so much time trying to teach myself the new methods of Every Day Math before I can even plan the lesson. It is not an easy program to follow because every unit skips topics instead of staying on one topic. It wasn’t easy preparing for the Social Studies test because few in my class remembered their previous history and geography lessons, could not read a map, table, or time line without my reteaching it and I won’t even go into the essay. It took weeks to get them to use details. On top of that, this year’s test was harder than previous years.

    Leo, get used to the fact that the new teachers have the power to kill the union. They are afraid, CCs are weak, and tenured teachers are not going to fight the battle only to have admins get even in other ways.

    Before the contract you claimed that a YES vote would free us from micromanagement–now you write it will be a struggle to implement. WOW, you guys didn’t see that coming???

  • 10 Schoolgal
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    NYC Ed.

    I think there is a problem with your blog. Comments aren’t going through today.

  • 11 Kombiz
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 6:50 pm


    I think Leo needs to get specific information from you about your school and other information to be able to help. You’re more than welcome to email me your information at blog@uft.org also. I’ve been to several chapter leader meetings at the end of the school year last year, and over the year this year, two in the last few weeks. The blog doesn’t provide a good means of dealing with these issues electronically because it’s open, and because I don’t expect you to reveal who you are to the world. I may know the answer to a question, but I’m reluctant to discuss it in the comments because it may be generalized, and because I don’t know you’re specific conditions.

    Obviously, the fact that we’ve helped people via emails they’ve sent me has given us some information about putting up infrastructure in cyberspace to deal with these questions privately. That’s another issue that some of the people I work for have been working on.

    I’ve helped several people who’ve emailed me get in touch with people at the union to get help, or questions answered.

    Please feel free to email me at blog@uft.org, you don’t have to tell me who you are, but you do need to tell me your school. Leo’s email is lcasey@uft.org.

  • 12 Schoolgal
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks for your help Blogmaster.

    I have sent a few emails and identified myself to my DR, yet I have never gotten a response. Even VP Bodden has failed to email me back when I contacted her in October and November.

    If my own District Rep won’t answer me, and I get action with you, I will be on my DR’s S-list. (I probably am already even though my emails were professional.)

    It’s an easy question: Wasn’t lunch duty supposed to be part of the professional period menu in an 8-period a day elementary school? That to me means one period a week, not five. However this new cluster was given 4 additional preps (probably to keep her happy), but she is not happy with all the lunch duty.
    I am just trying to help this new teacher out. If you tell me that:
    1: she isn’t supposed to start until Feb.1
    2: she is not supposed to do it every day

    then, I can relay that information to her.

    I understand you work for UNITY, and not one of you wants to respond to what my CC said to her. If my own CC tells her to stick it out for a few weeks,(that would bring it to Feb. 1) I would certainly like to hear your thoughts on that.

    Like I said, I will no longer bear the torch for a union that allows a CC to violate our contractual rights. There are many issues that she even admitted she could file on, such as increased amount of paperwork, but has decided not to because she thinks our principal is just fine.

    Do you think a CC should tell new teachers to follow all commands because they are not tenured. She did.

    The best way for me to handle the violations of the new contract is with a stiff drink. I have lost faith with the members of my staff and with this union.
    Damn if I’m going to be the one to fall on the sword for something Frederick Douglas said.

  • 13 NYC Educator
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 8:32 pm


    I noticed that too.

    The problem is probably with Blogger, and probably temporary.

    Thanks for letting me know!

  • 14 NYC Educator
    · Dec 3, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    Seems OK now.

  • 15 curious3
    · Dec 5, 2005 at 10:12 am

    Hey Leo,

    I am still interested in getting statistics on the number of teachers in the past few years that have been terminated due to performance reasons (and not just sent to another job within the system). Do you know how I can get something on this?

    · Dec 16, 2005 at 10:03 am

    […] One of the more negative features of contemporary educational policy debates is the way in which a number of ‘camps’ have adopted a strategy of intellectual non-engagement and avoidance toward differing positions. The martial metaphor of ‘camps’ is deliberately chosen here, since the underlying logic of this strategy is one of opposing armies meeting on a field of battle. The essentials one needs to know in any debate, according to this view of educational policy, is who lines up with your army and who lines up against it – is the advocate of this policy friend or enemy? The substance of the argument made for or against a policy is largely immaterial. Indeed, it is better not to discuss that substance, since a discussion might reveal a weakness in one’s own position, or worse, the strength of the alternative position. All that is important is whether or not the ‘policy’ in question is part of your weaponry, and whether its advocates belong to your army. If the reader suspects that we are demonstrating a weakness for hyperbole here, consider the responses to the publication earlier this year of a study evaluating the academic performance of charter schools and the controversy surrounding the AFT’s release of NAEP data on that subject, The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement. Over at Eduwonk, Andy Rotherham dedicated several column inches to a “review” of the report. He began by pointing out the union connections of the Economic Policy Institute, the progressive Washington DC think tank which co-published the text with Teachers’ College Press and to which a number of the authors were affiliated. He then headed off on a tangent concerning NCLB accountability measures, turned to a defense of his prior characterization of the AFT’s release of the NAEP data as a “hatchet job,” and went on to criticize the method of publication and dissemination of the report. Finally, after eight lengthy paragraphs on such ancillary matters, Rotherham managed to find one facet of the report worthy of a brief discussion, its treatment of charter school demographics. Nowhere did he address the actual question at the core of The Charter School Dust-Up – the academic performance of charter schools. Not to be outdone, Checker Finn produced a “review” dripping with disdain at Gadfly, managing to avoid even a single reference to an actual argument from the text. Every word of Finn’s commentary was dedicated to the propositions that the authors were critics of charter schools, and that EPI had received financial support from teacher unions. That’s all you need to know, in the logic of Finn’s presentation. Sadly, this pattern of intellectual non-engagement and avoidance, this ‘don’t confuse me with any actual arguments’ approach to ideas and policies, is what passes for educational debate in some circles these days. We say sadly, because it is hard to see how educational policy moves forward under the tutelage of pseudo-debates, or how educational ideas are strengthened and improved when they are never intellectually engaged, but simply dismissed as the work of the enemy. What reigns is the most vulgar form of politicization, in which the measure of the value of an educational policy is reduced to its efficacy as a weapon in the great education wars – which, for all too many practitioners of this strategy, is simply a euphemism for the great culture wars. As a consequence, today much of American education is far removed from the republican ideal of a public square, in which ideas and policy proposals are vigorously debated and refined; instead, we have a public discourse that, in all too many quarters, rarely rises even to the level of ‘spin.’ Take the question of the recent report of the New Teacher Project, Unintended Consequences, which targeted school staffing clauses in urban teacher contracts. Here at Edwize we took the time to read the report carefully, and to offer some considered comments and criticisms. We found that its arguments were lacking and that its research methods fell far short of scholarly rigor, and we disagreed strongly with the report’s conclusions. But we thought it important to lay out a serious critique of the actual arguments of Unintended Consequences, to show where they were wrong and where they ignored inconvenient realities, rather than simply dismiss the report because the New Teacher Project has as its paying “clients” the very school districts it was “studying” in this report, and because the main “endorsers” of the report were the leaders of those same school districts. Our readers are certainly entitled to be informed of the connection between the researcher and the researched/endorser, but a due respect for what educational policy debates should be and for the intelligence of those readers required that we address the report’s actual arguments. Unfortunately, the response to that critique of Unintended Consequences from Eduwonk’s Andy Rotherham fits the pattern of “intellectual non-engagement and avoidance.” We read Rotherham’s comments several times, looking for even a hint of substantive grappling with the points we made. But the conclusion we were forced to draw is best captured by the words Gertrude Stein reportedly used to describe Oakland, “there is no there, there.” The issue that the Unintended Consequences and Rotherham claim to address – what must be done to staff low performing schools serving high poverty communities with accomplished teachers – is, without question, an important issue. It is at the very center of efforts to bring a measure of equity and justice to urban schools which are caught in an educational system which is still all too separate and all too unequal. The UFT takes this issue seriously, and we are committed to doing what needs to be done to bring quality teaching to these schools and to the young people they serve. A year and a half ago, Randi Weingarten laid out a comprehensive strategy for an ‘educational enterprise zone’ for low performing, high poverty schools. Among the specific measures in that strategy were unprecedented proposals for changes in our contract, such as a salary differential for teachers serving in these schools as an incentive to attract experienced teachers, and the establishment of a lead teacher position to provide instructional leadership, professional development and mentoring in these schools. Moreover, our school based staffing plan – which was added to the contract at the initiative of the UFT, and which Unintended Consequences had to misrepresent to make its case – meant that any school in this zone that wanted control over the hiring of their staff could have it. And we have discussed the question of how to staff low performing, high poverty schools at some length here at Edwize, well before the publication of Unintended Consequences. What was so striking about Unintended Consequences was the extraordinary disconnect between the goal it purportedly espoused of staffing low performing, high poverty schools, a goal which we have long supported, and the various proposals for the expansion of management authority and power it proposed. It was remarkable, for example, that the report which was so lavish in the space it dedicated to the symptom – how teachers in urban districts like New York City are placed in a new school, once they are excessed – had not a penny’s worth of a line to give to the underlying disease – why there is so much excessing, especially mid-year excessing, and why that excessing is so heavily concentrated in low performing, high poverty schools. This contrast can only be explicable in the context of the ideology of ‘triumphant managerialism’ that runs like a bright red thread through the report. The issue of placing excessed teachers is one in which teachers have some voice, through the collective bargaining agreement, while the issue of the extent of excessing and its concentration in low performing, high poverty schools is one solely under the discretion of the school district. So if your agenda is about expanding management authority and power, you go after the placement of excessed teachers, and ignore the problem of excessing and everything that gives rise to it. According to Eduwonk’s Rotherham, the wily teacher union advocates are engaged in a ‘misdirection’ ploy when we point to the Unintended Consequences’ studious avoidance of the underlying systemic problem of excessing. But we think our readers are intelligent enough to know the difference between spin and “keeping your eye on the prize,” and are able to recognize when we are doing the latter. If one really cares about the problem of staffing low performing schools serving high poverty communities with accomplished teachers, then one has to diagnose and treat the disease, and not just mask the symptoms. For our part, we are prepared to work with anyone serious about the real problem, and to modify collective bargaining agreements, when the changes address that real problem. Randi Weingarten’s comprehensive strategy for an “educational enterprise zone” demonstrates clearly and unambiguously that we are prepared to walk the walk on this issue. Our record on contractual changes such as school based staffing shows that we follow through on these commitments. Unfortunately, a year and a half after that proposal was made, the NYC Department of Education has yet to even ‘talk the talk.’ On more mundane matters, Eduwonk’s posts on the subject of Unintended Consequences are interesting as a specimen of the strategy of “intellectual non-engagement and avoidance” in action. The writing is rich in techniques, but we will limit ourselves to a few illustrations. The case made for the report includes the fact that the lead author is a “Clinton [administration] alum,” a line that regular Eduwonk readers will recognize as a common refrain from that blog. We would refer Rotherham to Thomas Aquinas, who famously noted that “the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments.” And being a Clinton appointee does not exactly make you the strongest of authorities to begin with. Or perhaps we should now all turn to the writings of a better known Clinton administration alum, Dick Morris, for our moral philosophy. However, we did detect a fine piece of Clintonian linguistic parsing in Rotherham’s announcement that New Teacher Project CEO and President Michelle Rhee was not a “paid witness” for the NYC Department of Education and against the UFT in the fact-finding process.  Given that the New Teacher Project and Rhee publicly boast that the NYC Department of Education is one of their “clients,” are we to believe that this pecuniary relationship is somehow mystically dissolved for the one day she appears as its witness? It must all depend on the meaning of ‘was’ in ‘was a paid witness.’ But we save the best for last. Here is Eduwonk on the method used to publish and disseminate The Charter School Dust Up: Finally, worth noting that the way the book was released was the policy equivalent of a drive-by. A private conference call with a handful of reporters and no advance copies circulated to people being criticized in the book. That’s no way to business and essentially no different than President Bush’s fraudulent “town meetings” on Social Security which have understandably enraged the Left and one can only assume EPI doesn’t support. Guess how Unintended Consequences was published and disseminated? Yes, a private conference call with a handful of reporters and no advance copies circulated to people being criticized in the report. And that is only the beginning. This was a report that ‘analyzed’ the New York City collective bargaining agreement as one of its five case studies, and its authors managed to interview numerous DOE officials, labor relations staff, personnel staff, superintendents and principals – and not a single person from the UFT or the AFT. Better yet, they managed to avoid even quoting the language of the contract they were discussing, a remarkable measure which they defend as necessary to protect the school district’s anonymity. Note that the “anonymity” did not survive even the publication of the report, when Joel Klein and Alan Bersin appeared as its main endorsers. And when asked for their interview methodology and questions, the New Teacher Project has not exactly been forthcoming. The interview questions could be shared, but the school districts have a “proprietary interest” in the data, the AFT was told. One wonders how the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who the New Teacher Project reports funded the ‘research’ for this report, feels about the NYC DOE having a “proprietary interest” in the data. Come to think about it, one wonders how they feels about the quality of the research in Unintended Consequences. Do you think Eduwonk might be able to mount some outrage over the ‘drive-by’ way Unintended Consequences was published and disseminated? Over research so shoddy that it can ‘study’ labor relations, and only interview the management side? Over the way in which The New Teacher Projects refuses to share the report’s data? Don’t count on it. The New Teacher Project is part of his army. […]