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The Corruption of Power: How The DOE Blew Up Negotiations For Transformation and Turn Around Schools

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.




  • 1 Paul Winston
    · May 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Nice piece, Leo.

    When will there be a PLA list for mayors and departments of education?

  • 2 retired educator
    · May 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Just because Bloomberg could hide in his office on 5/12 doesn’t mean he can or should evade responsibility forever in all venues.Make his Memorial Day weekend particularly memorable by coming out to the College Point Memorial Dat Parade in NE Queens(near the Whitestone Bridge, a Target/BJs shopping center w free parking) and lots of friendly folks) Sunday 5/29 @1PM starting @ College Point Blvd. + 26th Ave., proceeding N to McNeil Park.College Point was home to the dearly missed Helene Orenstein, who died while Mikey was checking on the state of his lootings in Bermuda during THAT snowstorm. Let’s all us unbooted and horseless hoi polloi show him the great welcome to which he has proven himself eminently entitled!

  • 3 concerned educator
    · May 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    We need to support either John Liu or Anthony Weiner for mayor in 2013.

  • 4 Marc
    · May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    The DOE position should not have been a surprise. It is the position they have taken on all observations as they deny grievance after grievance where there was no post observation conference (or pre-observation conference when required) even though Teaching for the 21st Century and existing DOE memoranda state that these are required elements.

    The UFT is stating that the new teacher effectiveness system must have evidence based observations. The central question to be answered is what constitutes evidence? Is it merely the say-so of the administrator. “I saw a poor lesson because…” or will the new system provide some meaningful examples of what is evidence of ineffective teaching. The rubrics being developed describe it, but where is the rule that says there must be something standard of proof that what the supervisor says s/he observed is actually what took place, that the observation was of sufficient duration to encompass all the points being rated, that there is clear agreement on what the terms in the rbric (e.g. student engagement) mean and that the meaning is shared by the administrator and teacher. Without on-going discussion and the results of the discussion included in the observations (i.e. a real post-observation conference) none of this can exist.

    It seems clear that the DOE is less interested in improving education than in defending managerial prerogative. I suspect that what they are really afraid of is that the principals will be asked to model and demonstrate good teaching practice. As Leo points out there are now so few real educators left in the system that this would be a monumental task for them.

    The UFT is right to hold the DOE to higher standards, but everyone must be mindful that this is still jsut the beginning of the fight.