“Bad Teachers,” How Does the Union Vigorously Defend Teachers and Acknowledge and Support a Law That Will Fire Teachers?

I understand that in the 09-10 school year twenty-four tenured teachers in New York City were brought up on charges of incompetence. There are about 70,000 teachers in the city – three thousandths of one percent of teachers were accused of being incompetent by the employer!

The union will argue, with merit, that about half of all teachers leave voluntarily and thousands of teachers change schools, perhaps a better fit.

Surely there are more than two dozen incompetent teachers, why are so few brought up on charges?

Reluctant principals? Inept lawyers? Some Bloomberg inspired political agenda? All of the above.

Chancellor Walcott announced that 2% of teachers received an unsatisfactory rating in the 10-11 school year, actually closer to 3%, and 37% of third year teachers had their probation extended.

The new teacher evaluation law that awaits the Governor’s signature ironically is supported by the Governor, the State Commissioner of Education, a majority of the Board of Regents (Regents Cashin, Tilles and Rosa voted against) and the heads of the teacher unions and opposed by school districts, principals and many teachers. The law is deeply unpopular “in the field.”

The UFT supports the latest iteration of the law because for the first time teachers in New York City who receive a U-rating will have a review procedure by an outside entity (called validators). The pro-forma hearing before a Department employee will be replaced by a due process procedure. It is a major win for teachers in New York City.

In June of 2015 when the law will probably be fully implemented some teachers will receive their second consecutive “ineffective” rating and the employer will prefer charges under the law. The burden of proof under the new system switches from the employer to the employee. (Detailed explanation of the law here)

If one percent of teachers are found to be “ineffective” under the new system in New York City – that’s 700 teachers.

Unions under provisions of State law have a duty of fair representation. While the union is not required to represent all members the standard is high.

A union may exercise its discretion to determine how far to pursue a grievance in the employee’s behalf as long as it does not arbitrarily ignore a meritorious grievance or process a grievance in a perfunctory fashion. A union is also not required to process an employee’s grievance if the chances for success are minimal

In order to state a prima facie case of arbitrary conduct violating the duty of fair representation, a charging party . . . must at a minimum include an assertion of sufficient facts from which it becomes apparent how or in what manner the exclusive representative’s action or inaction was without a rational basis or devoid of honest judgment.

In practice the union defends virtually all teachers who are charged under the law.

Interestingly the section of the law setting forth procedures for the granting of tenure recommends,

peer review by other teachers, as far as practicable;

Perhaps a handful of schools in the city involve teachers in the tenure granting process.

The new law requires that the actual implementation requires negotiation with the local union. Unions and school districts could choose to involve teachers in the teacher evaluation process – the 60% category requires that 31% be principal evaluations – there certainly is room for teachers to play a role if unions and school districts choose to negotiate a place for peer review.

The union continues to have a statutory duty to defend teachers who are charged under the law (received successive “ineffective” ratings), perhaps defend hundreds of teachers, and have the opportunity to involve their members in the process through peer review.

In 1983 the feds released a major report, “A Nation at Risk” that panned the public school system – the establishment attacked the report and Al Shanker welcomed the criticism and called for major reforms. Shanker became the voice for school reform in the nation, although local unions were reluctant to embrace his ideas.

Randi Weingarten, the current AFT President, in the tradition of Shanker has become a leading voice for reform: multiple measures in teacher evaluation systems, community schools and is a lead partner in the McDowell County West Virginia initiative, as well as supporting flexible approaches in the classroom (see NY Times article here).

Weingarten will tell you that local unions “own” the collective bargaining agreement. She can urge and model, she cannot impose change.

As David Tyack and Larry Cuban tell us in their seminal study, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: a Century of Public School Reform,” change must be embraced at the school level by teachers and parents.

When imposed from the top, i.e., the Duncan approach, “reforms” end up in the educational dustbin.

Will local union leaders follow the legacy of Al Shanker and the leadership of Randi Weingarten?

Can local unions balance defending members and participating in change, including the discharge of members through a union-negotiated due process procedure?

It’s easy to fight, it’s really, really hard to collaborate, especially in a combative climate.

Arne Duncan cannot change classroom practice, you cannot change teachers through threats of firing, teachers will change only if they believe that change will make them more effective teachers.


3 responses to ““Bad Teachers,” How Does the Union Vigorously Defend Teachers and Acknowledge and Support a Law That Will Fire Teachers?

  1. This much is clear to me–the Teachers about to enter the field in New York have just had their pay package slashed by the Governor and the Legislature. When there are more applicants than jobs, an employer gets to choose. Recent economic events have driven young people into education, but their stay is short. Schools in major cities have had trouble staffing for years, even when their pay exceeds the pay of surrounding areas. More jobs than applicants leads to hiring anyone who has credentials, or who is willing to be a “90 day wonder”. I wonder how the schools will improve their effectiveness when the pay package is reduced, the economy improves, and the gap between the need for teachers and the supply of candidates widens? “Beatings will continue until morale improves”, appear to be the strategy du jour. Let’s see how that works.

    Since the schools are now to be run as a business let’s use this business model instead. How about a workload (class size) less than that of surrounding areas, a $40,000 across the board salary increase, coupled with an eight year rise to the top of a salary chart, which ends with a masters degree, and signing bonuses for proven talent? Does that give a school system an opportunity to attract better talent? You betcha!

    OBTW, business models do not use substandard incoming materials to make superior products-they replace their supplier instead (OMG!), and Directors of a company replace a CEO who claims he (or she) can improve the bottom line, fails to do it, institutes multi million dollar technology failures and “cooks the books”.

    Oops, I digress!


  2. Harry Phillips

    Near the end of her tenure as head of the NYC teachers union, Randi began to say that her members didn’t want bad teachers in the schools, implying that an expedited 3020a process would be good. If action had been initiated by the union, I wonder if APPR could have been avoided. APPR is surely counter-productive.


  3. Hizzhonor is doing a great job……… just ask him


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