The Teacher Evaluation Pas de Deux: Dancing Toward a Teacher Evaluation Plan for NYC

Member to Albert Shanker at a  Delegate Meeting: “Al, how much would it cost if we get all of our bargaining demands?”

Shanker, appears thoughtful, seems to be calculating numbers, and replies, “Probably a gold ball the size of the Earth.”

Labor-management negotiations in the public sector are complex and treacherous for all parties. Management has to defend any agreement to the public and against attacks from political enemies as well as the media. Labor has to negotiate an agreement acceptable to the union membership.

Both sides leak their side of the story to the media seeking to gain allies and tarnish the “other side.”

Negotiations move from lobbing hand grenades to floating possible solutions to intractable issues. Attacking the “other side” is an art form – one must take care: when you toss a rock into a pond of feces you never know who is going to get splashed.

The mayor wants to “hold teachers’ feet to the fire” and the union president points out that the mayor has no interest in any settlement – according to the union he simply doesn’t intend to comply with the law.

The current negotiations are constrained by the APPR (principal/teacher evaluation) law. For example, teachers and a range of critics refer to the Value-Added Modeling used to give teachers a “score” based on student growth on state tests as “junk science,” that part of the teacher evaluation law is already established and not part of the current negotiations.

On the management side: the department of education and the mayor. Does the department have the authority to negotiate a settlement? Probably not. The mayor uses the Friday John Gambling Radio program to both besmirch teachers and appeal to the public. The editorial side of the NY Post, the NY Daily News and the Wall Street Journal echo the position of the mayor and poses the union president as devil incarnate.

On the union side: the opposition caucus in the union will trash any settlement and use their opposition to garner support in the upcoming union election.

On the state side: will the governor see the mayor as trying to embarrass him by standing in the way of a settlement or see the union as being overly ambitious and sullying the reputation of the governor?

It is difficult to negotiate with Walcott and his deputies when the final agreement must be approved by a mayor, perhaps more interested in confrontation than achieving an agreement.

The governor needs a settlement – the APPR law is his law and his prestige is at stake, and, he is not shy to pressure all sides. Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch need a settlement – the implementation of the Common Core requires full cooperation with teachers.

I was sitting with a group of supervisors who observe classroom teachers and write “observation reports,” written assessments. None of them have anything to do with the current negotiations. They came up with a reasonable plan – identifying teachers who receive unsatisfactory observations early in the school year, jointly establishing a plan with the teacher, perhaps working with another teacher, observing other classes, submitting lesson plans for review. If the teacher shows no signs of improvement an outsider, maybe jointly selected by the union and the department observe the teacher and finally the superintendent observes the teacher.

Chancellor’s Representatives who hear the U-rating appeals can be jointly selected by the department and the union, perhaps retired principals and experienced teachers.

Sounds sensible; however, settlements can be driven more by the politics than by the merits of the final agreement. A mayor more interested in his public image and his next job may decide that abjuring a settlement is in his self-interest. It’s easy to sit around sipping a glass of merlot musing about a possible plan – actually negotiating a plan another story.

The public position of the mayor is that all decisions dealing with teacher evaluations and appeals are solely determined by management.

On the surface: a standoff, no deal can possibly be reached, in reality parties reach settlements in spite of what appear to be irreconcilable differences.

An encouraging sign is that the recent public letters from chief union negotiator Mendel and union president Mulgrew dealt with the “rollout” of the yet to be negotiated plan – not the plan itself.

Each side needs something, some piece of a settlement to sell to their people. The mayor needs the editorial boards of the print media to praise the plan, the union needs a plan that satisfies their membership and the governor needs an approved plan.

How about Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” in 1969,


2 responses to “The Teacher Evaluation Pas de Deux: Dancing Toward a Teacher Evaluation Plan for NYC

  1. Ed, you missed the whole point of this “disagreement.” While labor relations normally involves give and take and “sale” to “their people” and the public the bottom line is that the evaluation system is being used as an end around the tenure system. The “reformers” will not rest until the right to a due process hearing is gone in public (and private) employment. While the Union and the City haggle over evaluation criteria the Union already blinked when they agreed to using any modification of the 3020-a process to shift the burden of proof to the accused and allow any test to be used to evaluate teacher performance.

    All that the UFT can do now is forestall the inevitable. They can’t say no forever.


  2. Jeff’s comment misses the point that the use of test scores was a tsunami sweeping the country and that NYSUT secured a major victory by limiting tests to 20% of the evaluation in New York State; it is 40% or higher in most other places where it has been enacted.

    The Mayor objected to the 20% limit and continues to object to anything that doesn’t fit his corporate model for supervising staff.

    Jeff is correct that this is an indirect attack on tenure (which the Mayor has tried, unsuccessfully to eliminate through political pressure on the State legislature) and due process, an attack that is rooted in large part on the failure of corporate “reformers” to understand what really takes place in the complex environment of the classroom and how difficult teaching is because of that complexity.


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