A reporter commented to me, “I hear 90% of the teacher evaluation issues have been resolved.”
Smiling, I replied, “It’s never over until it’s over.” I would have quoted the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, I feared he wouldn’t know Yogi (“It’s never over until the fat lady sings”).
The current set of negotiations is required by State law and the parameters of the issues are also established by law. In New York City all labor negotiations are overseen on the management side by the Office of Collective Bargaining – a mayoral agency, the same folk who are negotiating the teacher evaluation plan are negotiating the successor teacher union contract that expired in 2009.
Negotiations begin with the “low hanging fruit,” the easier items in the statute and as the process moves forward the differences narrow. The problem always is the amorphous ” last 10%”. The union is firm on point “A,” the city is totally rejects point “A” and is firm on point “B;” finding agreement might mean going back to tweak an already tentatively agreed upon point “C.”
In baseball trades player “A” is offered to be traded for player “B,” both sides are wary, they have to find a player “C,” perhaps a “player to be named” to accomplish the trade.
To further complicate matters both sides are fully cognizant of constituencies. The union must satisfy the membership and the mayor the public at large – especially the print media and the pro-(de)reform factions, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and StudentsFirstNY, the Rhee klaven.
The opposition party in the union will oppose any settlement; they want to use the teacher evaluation issue as the key plank in the upcoming union elections. They argue, “Don’t settle, allow the State to cut $250 million, stand up, reverse the law, and consider a strike.” Of course cutting $250 million could lead to layoffs for union members, the extremely popular governor could sponsor, and undoubtedly pass anti-union bills, i.e., eliminating seniority requirements, and perhaps going after existing pension tiers, no matter, appeal to the frustrated and angry in the upcoming election – reminiscent of the Tea Party who would rather see the nation default on its debts and tumble into a depression than to act in a bipartisan fashion.
On the mayoral side the editorial writers at the NY Post, the Daily News and the Wall Street Journal will pan any settlement short of easing rules to fire teachers. The Rhee front organization is fully engaged in attacking the yet to be agreed to settlement.
The Rhee funded StudentsFirstNY issued a report showing more teachers in Title 1 (high poverty) schools receive unsatisfactory ratings than teachers in higher income schools. What they fail to tell us is almost all of the teachers were hired by principals selected under Bloomberg, brand new principals out of the Leadership Academy programs are routinely placed in “failing” schools.
Bloomberg policy (Open Market) allows any teacher to move to any other school as often as they please; it is standard practice for higher achieving schools, usually in much “safer” neighborhoods to poach teachers from the lowest achieving schools in less safe neighborhoods. The highest teacher turnover rates, in excess of 50% over three years, are in the lowest achieving middle schools. Hiring the best teachers requires leadership skills lacking in many brand new principals and convincing teachers to stay in difficult schools in high crime neighborhoods requires exemplary leadership skills. (“S/he is the principal I want to work for!!!”)
The only Bloomberg response is merit pay, without any evidence that merit pay has worked anywhere; in fact, merit pay schemes have failed in many locations.
In a few locals unions have negotiated contract provisions in which teachers rated exemplary by an agreed upon rubric are paid more for taking on added responsibilities, for example, mentoring new teachers, this not merit pay, we used to call it differentiated staffing. In New York City the Lead Teacher program is an example as well as special titles agreed upon by the union in “turnaround” schools.
Schools in the poorest neighborhoods, frequently high crime, and high unemployment, surrounded by housing projects have the least experienced teachers and principals due to the policy of the Department – gee … the schools stumble.
If teachers hired under Bloomberg receive U-ratings is it evidence of “tough” leadership or a leadership that has done a poor job of hiring and supporting newer teachers? Just thought I’d ask.
Both sides, the union and the mayor, and his proxies, have to satisfy the requirements of the law, their own philosophical principles and the political constituencies to which they are responsible. Not an easy task.
The agreement will change very little in the short run. Teachers will probably be observed at the same rate they are being observed now, the creation of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) will be challenging, or a disaster, and two or three years down the road someone will be fired under the new law for scoring “ineffective” on the 20% test scores and “effective” or “highly effective” on the remaining sections leading to a fascinating legal challenge. If the expert community, including the organization that designed the NYS system, has no confidence that VAM scores should VAM be used to dismiss teachers? I wonder how an arbitrator or a court would rule.
I suspect as the law phases in there will be many tweaks. Ironically the new law may make it more difficult not easier to fire teachers; more teachers may choose to leave voluntarily.
When the economy improves, new job opportunities are created, will candidates line up to teach? I doubt it.
Teacher evaluation laws have gained political traction. The public and teachers accept that “bad” teachers should be removed (and “bad” doctors and dentists and lawyers!!). In our polling driven world electeds from the president to governors to mayors jumped on the political bandwagon. The ultimate culprit is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – who “required” test score driven teacher evaluation systems – and under constant attack backed away to a “multiple measures” system.
When the dust settles New York State will have a teacher evaluation system that will achieve very little. Perhaps lesson observations will take place through the same lens throughout an entire school district. In innovative districts a peer observation/assessment system will include teachers in the process. Talking about teaching on a grade, school and district, will result in more reflective and, in my view; more effective instruction – hopefully a change in culture from “isolated” to “collaborative.” (See Charlotte Danielson, “>Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations“) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqeMKQhTcLQ)
How do we move beyond teacher evaluation and the Common Core and create a national conversation about creating a culture of Community Schools and high quality full day Pre Kindergartens, acknowledging the toxic pyscho-social impact of poverty, in each and every school in low income neighborhoods, urban and rural and suburban?