Today, the New York City Department of Education began to inform schools on the “Persistently Low Achieving” [PLA] list of the New Y0rk State Education Department that they will either be placed in a Restart Model or in no category at this time.
This announcement is an official acknowledgment of the DoE that negotiations with the UFT over the Transformation and Turnaround Models have broken down. Since both of these models required changes to the collective bargaining agreement, they can not be implemented absent an agreement between the DOE and the UFT to make changes.
What New York City public school educators will find absolutely stunning is the issue on which the negotiations floundered. The Transformation and Turnaround Models require changes in the teacher evaluation system, and last spring the UFT and DOE began negotiations to establish a pilot teacher evaluation in these schools which would follow the framework of the new New York State law on teacher evaluations. Within that framework, when a supervisor observes a teacher’s lesson, he rates it highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, with the last category of ineffective signifying that the lesson was substantially below standards of good teaching. Repeated observation ratings of ineffective lead to annual evaluations of ineffective, and most often end in the discontinuance of service.
Educators from the UFT and DOE were able to reach substantive agreement on what the standards of good teaching would be, using the best educational practices developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the work of Charlotte Danielson. But negotiations broke down when the DOE lawyers intruded themselves into the educational decision-making in the most negative fashion: they took the position that a supervisor must be able to rate a teacher’s lesson ineffective without having to meet with the teacher and explain what was wrong with the lesson and how it needed to be improved — the universally accepted best practice known as a post-observation conference. The DOE even conceded that it was best educational practice to hold post-observation conferences for lessons rated ineffective, but their lawyers refused to mandate that they take place. It was clear to the UFT negotiators that in order to uphold their one guiding dogma — completely unfettered discretion and power in the hands of the principal — DOE lawyers and the Deputy Chancellor involved in the negotiations were intent on creating an evaluation system which lacked fundamental educational integrity. We would not agree to such a system.
Imagine a teacher who gave a student a failing grade on an essay or a paper and was preparing to give a failing grade for the entire course, but would not meet with the student to provide feedback on how she could improve her work and bring it up to standard: this is exactly what the DOE lawyers insisted supervisors be able to do with teachers.
At the end of the day, it was non-educator lawyers, concerned not with the quality of education but with calculations of raw power, that determined the DOE’s position on this crucial question. Whatever educators remain in the top ranks of the Tweed bureaucracy have become simple window-dressing, without any meaningful voice in the most important educational decisions.