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.
* 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.
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.
High School Progress Reports, which the Department of Education released on Nov. 26, have yet another new way to measure schools: the college and career readiness index, which now counts for 10 percent of a school’s grade.
As if the 2011 reports, at 205 columns of Excel data per school was not enough, the 2012 reports arrived on a 305-column spreadsheet, boasting 39 new columns of college and career readiness data points. That doesn’t count the “additional information,” 72 columns of supplemental data, in case the first 39 didn’t quite get at everything you wanted to know about college readiness.
Give them points for trying. But some of this data is going to wind up in “deleted items” and never get crunched.
Even the DOE didn’t try. It didn’t put out PowerPoint slides or anything that summarizes (or spins) the information.
So here are some general findings — calculations in most cases are by UFT, not DOE.
The three parts of the college readiness index show
29 percent of students graduated “college ready” in 2012, meaning they scored at least 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the math, OR got at least 480 on their SATs. That is up from 25 percent last year.
34 percent of students passed a “rigorous” exam, such as an AP, advanced Regents or CTE test.
50 percent of recent graduates had enrolled in college after six months and 55 percent had done so after 18 months.
The DOE boasts that the new high schools created under Mayor Bloomberg have higher grades than older high schools. Using data on 170 new schools created since 2002, we actually found college readiness is much higher in the “old” schools — 30 percent compared to 20 percent in the new schools — and the college and career readiness index was a full grade higher in the old schools.
While the DOE boasts that the new schools have higher progress report scores, the difference is slight. In addition, the graduation rate was slightly higher in the old schools this year by our calculations. (We excluded the separate transfer high schools list from our analysis.)
Comparison of Schools Created under Bloomberg and Older Schools
% Students College Ready
College/Career Ready Score (Grade)
Progress Report Overall Score
Finally, one very encouraging finding: though the official graduation rate won’t be out for months, it looks like the city came very close to a 70% on-time graduation rate for 2012, up from 65.5 percent in 2011, including August grads.
As for the remaining 300 or so Excel columns, data geeks can go here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/tools/report/default.htm
The best thing to happen to democracy in recent years may be the popularity of blogs. They’re especially influential in politics and education. Anyone can access everyone these days. The marketplace of ideas is wide open. Edwize is, of course, the UFT’s blog. But the views contained in the following piece are solely those of the author and are independent of the UFT’s positions and policies.
Remember Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and unflappable former front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination until he blew his chances during a debate by plumb forgetting the name of the federal agency that he had sworn a thousand times to destroy? It was a helluva “aw shucks” moment for the supporter of state-sponsored murder.
But last year he showed leadership, for better or worse, in a way that is both highly uncharacteristic and typical of him. He signed into law a bill that extended rights to teachers but at the expense of their students. Whether that trade-off is fair is the question I pose to you.
That law requires that law enforcement agencies provide superintendents with criminal histories of students and that the details, including those of parolees and juvenile records (which are confidential in most states), be shared in writing with teachers.
According to the Texas Youth Commission, around 300 of the more than 4, 200 violators who were paroled from the state juvenile system to enter Texas public schools had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault or robbery.
What is the more compelling priority: safeguarding teachers from an epidemic of violence or allowing students the chance to break free from the scars and stigma of their past and move on to a productive future? More »
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson gets it. He’s has enough of the teacher bashing that passes for education reform in some quarters.
It has become fashionable to blame all of society’s manifold sins and wickedness on “teachers unions,” as if it were possible to separate these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix the schools.
He goes on:
The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher “effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a much more important variable: family income.
Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.
For the 27 years I have worked in New York City public schools, the best part of my day has been the time spent in the classroom, teaching my students. When I engaged young people in the dialogue and discussion that is the heart and soul of learning and intellectual awakening, I felt a sense of meaning and purpose unlike anything I experienced in other work I have done. That’s why teachers are so passionate about the work we do with our students.
In an age when the denigration of public service and teaching by the wealthy and powerful has reached a fever pitch unimaginable only a few short years ago, the time we spend teaching our students provides us with a daily reminder of the amazing grace that is our teaching vocation. Every day, we create and nurture significant educational relationships with our students and with each other. Every day, these relationships save lives that would be otherwise lost. Every day, these relationships allow our students to realize untapped potential and explore new possibilities. The redemptive power of these educational relationships gives us the fortitude and the wisdom we need to overcome the vicious assaults on our labor and our schools. We know the truth of our work as teachers in ways that no vain and self-involved politician, no shallow Hollywood movie and no campaign of disparagement and demoralization can ever undo.
In the five years I have served as a vice president of the UFT, my time in the classroom has become even more important to me. In the negotiations and meetings that have taken up much of my time as a union officer, the denizens of City Hall and Tweed have invariably approached the issues before us from a political — not an educational — perspective. From the mayor and his deputy mayors to the chancellor and his deputy chancellors, they have focused on a political agenda, a brand of “education reform” that seeks to remake public schools in the image and likeness of private, for-profit corporations. In their dystopian vision of an educational future ruled by monetary incentives and profit-making enterprises, there is no place for authentic teacher voice rooted in our classes and our schools. My own daily experience in the classroom provided me with a moral authority to challenge those who want to silence teacher voice. And my students provided a welcome haven from the so-called reformers’ cynical politics. The wonderful thing about teenagers is that there is little artifice and guile in their communication: They let adults know very quickly and directly how they feel and why they feel that way.
The life of a teacher has its own distinctive rhythms, its own calendar. The most important season, our time of hope and expectation, comes in those first days of September when we begin anew the process of teaching and learning with new classes of students. For 27 years, I have lived this season of hope in New York City public schools, from Clara Barton HS to Bard HS Early College. But in the coming year, I will be leaving New York City schools and my position as UFT vice president for academic high schools to take on new work as executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute at the American Federation of Teachers. This is not a change that I make easily, or that I make without regret — most important, the regret of beginning this school year without standing in front of a new class. But the prospect of leading the AFT’s policy think tank is a unique opportunity to promote teacher voice and union voice in educational policy debates. Today, our impoverished public discourse on American education is dominated by those who never taught an actual class or led a real school and those whose brief journeys through the world of teaching did not last long enough to even discover what they did not know. Proud in their ignorance, they pass uninformed judgment on our work and advocate policies that can only do harm to the students we teach and care for. The voice of teachers needs to be heard in that educational policy world, and that will now be my work.
The UFT is an extraordinary community of educators, dedicated to public service and acting in solidarity with each other. It has been an honor to represent that community as an officer of this union. And I will be proud to be your tribune in the debates over the future of the nation’s public schools.
Recent days has seen a nasty tweet fight break out, as Mayor Bloomberg’s proxies – Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, StudentsFirst honcho and former Bloomberg Albany lobbyist Micah Lasher, and former television anchor Campbell Brown – have used the 140 character forum to launch a vicious slander that the UFT protects sexual predators, defending their return to the classroom. Their argument is that since arbitrators who decide dismissal hearings against tenured teachers are jointly selected by the Department of Education and the UFT, they split the difference in decisions and do not fire teachers who have engaged in sexual misconduct or sexually inappropriate behavior. The only solution, they argue, is to overturn tenure and give the DoE the power of judge, jury and executioner.
The UFT has a position of zero tolerance on sexual misconduct, and we have negotiated in our contract the strongest penalties for sexual misconduct in any collective bargaining agreement in the state of New York. If an adult violates the trust that is at the heart of the educator-student relationship with an act of sexual misconduct or with sexually inappropriate behavior, dismissal is the only appropriate response.
The Mayor and his proxies know this well, and yet they have still mounted this campaign. More »
Another gem from The Onion. This point/counterpoint piece begins innocently enough with the earnest testimonial of an alumna of a TFA-esque program. It’s then completely upended by “fourth-grader” “Brandon Mendez” who “writes”:
You’ve got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don’t have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn’t know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.
I have some terrific news to share with you. We have blocked the Department of Education’s attempt to circumvent our contract and members’ rights in the 24 “turnaround” schools. The city’s political maneuver was doing untold harm to our students and school communities.
The DOE has tried to “close” these schools and immediately re-open them under new names. We never believed these were new schools and never believed this “closure” process was a viable way to improve these schools. It was clear to us that the mayor was advancing his political interests at the expense of the students, staff and parents of these schools.
The principals’ union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was our partner in this fight. After months of difficult litigation, an independent arbitrator ruled today that the DOE violated the UFT and CSA contracts, validating our belief that the “new” schools the DOE claims it was creating were in reality not new schools. The DOE was attempting to remove half the staff in each of these schools. The arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled that all members working in these schools in June have the right to stay or return to their schools in September.
This hard-won victory is a testament to our strength and unity. Parents, students, teachers and supervisors all came together in this battle. We beat back the mayor’s best efforts to rip these schools apart and vilify their teachers. These 24 school communities will now have the opportunity to continue the hard work of helping their students reach their potential.
The arbitrator’s decision is focused on the question of whether or not the city’s actions violated our contracts. The larger issue, though, is that the centerpiece of the DOE’s school improvement strategy — closing struggling schools — does not work.
Parents, students and teachers need the DOE to fix struggling schools, rather than giving up on them. The UFT will continue to support these schools in every way possible.
Thank you again for everything you do for your students — and enjoy your summer.
Watch this powerful video of Chicago parent and lawyer Matt Farmer addressing the Chicago Teachers Union at a rally last month.
Farmer cites an interview with Penny Pritzker, Chicago billionaire and board of education member, in which she says Chicago public school students are “entitled to get the skills in math, reading, and science so that they can be productive members of today’s work force,” and apparently not a curriculum rich in arts, music, foreign language and physical education like her own children enjoy at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
We have good teachers, like the ones who are leading New York City’s Democracy Prep. Because of them, kids from the city’s poorest community are outperforming children from the wealthiest. Last summer, these teachers took over the worst elementary school in Harlem rather than let it shut down. Democracy Prep is a testament to good people who refuse to give up on our kids or leave our cities without a fight.
Trotting out the apocryphal quote attributed to Al Shanker: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”
It does not matter how many times this false attribution is killed and buried, the zombie quote comes back to life again and again in the hands of the union-bashing right. When you are guided by ideological dogma, the truth of the claim is unimportant.