Teacher Evaluation: The Union, the Mayor, the Tea Party and Michelle Rhee

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?


23 responses to “Teacher Evaluation: The Union, the Mayor, the Tea Party and Michelle Rhee

  1. So it’s the worst thing in the world for Mayor Bloomberg to say the UFT is like the NRA but it’s just fine to compare those who oppose Mulgrew’s appeasement policies (the Movement of Rank and File Educators MORE) to the tea party when nothing could be further from the truth.

    Is your Unity Caucus so afraid to stand up to a lame duck mayor and a governor who has designs on the White House? You are fully aware the $250 million increase in state aid we would lose if there is no evaluation agreement is not like defaulting on the national debt and would not cause great difficulty in the school system. While the money is nothing to sneeze at, it could easily be absorbed and the UFT could expose much more than $250 million of waste within the system.

    Your post ignores some of what the new evaluation system mandates. We already know the new law requires more observations for veteran teachers than the current system. More importantly, the burden of proof in incompetence 3020A hearings is shifting from the Board of Education to the teacher. That will effectively end tenure as we know it.

    The concessionary unionism that your Unity Caucus practices is the real problem. It brought us the 2005 disaster of a contract that created the Absent Teacher Reserve pool along with other horrible givebacks. Unity Caucus created the huge mess with closing schools when they agreed to eliminate preferred placement for members when a school is closed back in that agreement. People from Unity ran around selling that pile of junk as a great victory.

    Then, in 2010 your caucus inexplicably backed the change in the law to allow our ratings to be based in part on value added, otherwise known as junk science, to get your hands on some race to the top pennies. Some states didn’t want the race to the top money which is a drop in the education budget bucket. Now you are running around telling us not to worry again because this evaluation system is basically unworkable.

    Some poor teacher, maybe me, will get fired and have to go to court and you say we need not worry because “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 would rather not find out and use what the experts say to try to change the law now particularly since it appears we are giving in on evaluations without getting a contract. The law ties the two together (although it doesn’t mandate it); the union in Yonkers just used the evaluation deadline to secure a contract.

    Your piece then states, “When the economy improves, new job opportunities are created, will candidates line up to teach? I doubt it.” Isn’t the job of a union to improve our salary and working conditions? We’re not here to accept concessions, knowing they won’t work, and maybe fix things later. Is that your strategy?

    Didn’t UFT/NYSUT candidates do quite well in the recent election? Why can’t we take a stand? Are you afraid of Andrew Cuomo? Most people feel he has presidential aspirations. Isn’t he a Democrat? Taking on unions, particularly teacher unions, may play well in a Republican primary but not a Democratic primary.

    I don’t advocate a strike at this point because we are totally unprepared but Chicago proved in 2012 that fighting back is better than just giving in. We need a different kind of union that fiercely defends our rights and the rights of students not to be test taking machines.

    Where have you gone Charlie Cogen, Roger Parente and David Seldon?


    • If you think the UFT has not been fighting for its members you clearly choose not to see. Instead of trying to create divisions how about trying to help? Let’s get the education candidates elected. Is it Unity’s fault that Scott Walker and his friends all over the country are destroying unions? It is only BECAUSE OF the UFT that this has not happened in NYC. and NY State. Is it Unity’s fault that Wall Street caused these problems? With so many people living in poverty (many of our students), and in a time of an almost depression you think we should strike to get big raises? We can not afford to alienate the public. We need them on our side. We must tread carefully.
      Your solutions ( blame the UFT) are exactly what the Mayor would like from us. Your radical and reckless views help the mayor’s cause.
      With friends like you, who needs enemies?


  2. Here’s another Yogi Berra…it’s deja vu all over again. I love Unity apologists who work their spin to such a fever pitch the membership must be grateful for losing basic rights of tenure. “The freedom to transfer to any school” didn’t the freedom to apply to any school and get rejected over lower paid entry teachers. “ATRs keep their pay” didn’t say how they would be harassed and forced to migrate throughout districts giving up their rights to be teachers. And now we are Teabaggers because the whole system will cave if we stand up for our rights. Shame on you.


    • It bears mentioning that schools districts east of Queens and north of The Bronx don’t have an ATR system: you’re laid off. Being an ATR may not be the most ideal working conditions for some, but it is better than the alternative. Jobs are protected versus lost. In addition, if you’re referring to open market, it’s just that: *open* market. Positions are open to everyone who applies.


  3. I see no simple or painless way out of the endless concessionary bargaining strategy that has been followed by the Unity caucus leadership for the past 40 years but this is the issue at hand and ridiculing the messengers of this fundamental fact is a disservice to teacher unionism and the communities we serve.

    The UFT under the leadership of the Unity Caucus has amassed considerable assets and supports a large staff under the prohibitions of the Taylor Law but the current membership, the majority of whom will never make it to top pay or retirement, have lost considerable ground and stand to loose more. Compare the median teacher salary adjusted for inflation between 1974 and 2013. Compare the number of years on the job of the average teacher now with that of 40 years ago. There are facts that will not disappear however inconvenient they may be to supporters of concessionary bargaining. The conversation within the UFT should be about raising awareness of the challenges we face and unifying the membership around credible lines of defense of both learning and working conditions. Instead we are facing the prospect of a bum rush, a stampede engineered by our own leadership. This is the space in which the opposition dares to pose an alternative.

    Bloomberg was granted dictatorial control over the school system (with Randi Weingarten’s approval) and he ran it for years when the city’s revenue stream was robust before the crash. What are the facts?

    School closings and charter co locations over the expressed will of the PA, SLT, CEC, UFT C/L, City Council members in the affected districts which are disproportionately Black, Latino and working class. The UFT can put its considerable resources to work in building a city wide, if not nationwide resistance to the corporate education reformers but instead our leaders once again appear ready to cave in.


  4. Patricia Dobosz

    We DO NOT need to pander to Rhee, Students First or DFER. Our union’s responsibility is to it’s members, especially the teachers right now who are going to be creamed by this evaluation system as the DOE wants principals to use it; to our students who will suffer under the testing regime that is coming into play with Common Core and Danielson. That $250 million isn’t going to see the inside of a classroom, let alone the inside of a school building. And now Goodman is turning on fellow teachers comparing us to the Tea Party. What the h———– does he care! He’s retired, not affected by any of this and has been allowed to be a mouthpiece for the union all year. I would like to hear what our “elected leaders” (Mulgrew, Mendel, Robert
    Astrowsky, Karen Alford, Melvyn Aaronson etc.) have to say. Why are they allowing this hack to speak for them? Pretty cowardly taxtic if you ask me. But who am I? Just a teacher.


  5. Peter:

    Your comparison of MORE to the Tea Party is just plain wrong. Teacher opposition to the State evaluation plan is universal. The Hamburg teachers voted 75% to 25% against their plan and if the union allowed a vote I could see the same percentage here.

    Maybe you should question why our union leadership is imposing a top-down undemocratic program that would be voted down by the rank and file instead of the name-calling a legitimate opposition group who,on this issue reflects the will of the members.


  6. Ouch. I would love to hear a rebuttal from Peter…..


  7. Arthur Goldstein

    I have read few things more distasteful or preposterous than your comparison of those who oppose junk science to the Tea Party. Perhaps you’ve forgotten to label Diane Ravitch, a staunch opponent of junk science, who applauded the Hamburg teachers who opposed it, as a Tea Partier too.

    I eagerly await your correction.


  8. I find it ironic that the PR issues you cite (pleasing the print media, Michelle Rhee, DFER, etc) are a direct result of you Unity Caucus failing to use our dues money to launch a counter-attack against these astroturf groups who pretend to put “Children First…Always” when in fact, they are putting “Privatizers and Profits First…Always”. Had Unity led the counter attack though ads, editorials, and actions of its own, this situation would never have reached this level of disastrous. A simple point-counterpoint ad campaign, in print and television, providing the truth about the lies and hidden agenda of the ed-deformers would have likely thwarted much of the worst of this vilification of teachers that has become a public pastime. I would have been proud to see my dues money going to pay for this type of public outreach rather than conventions, lunches, and nice offices for the Unity “elect”.

    But now, Unity stands before the members and says, “We can’t help it – everyone hates us and we have to get them to like us again.” It appears that your caucus is suffering from a case of Stockholm Syndrome. I can only hope that the MORE caucus can bring you in closer touch with reality.


  9. Obviously the UFT political season has begun! All these anti-UNITY commentaries follow a similar pattern….blame UNITY for every political anti-teacher initiative over the past 10 years!
    The great part about interpreting history is that everyone can have their own version of what’s happening and why! The comments here represent the views of groups and/or individuals who could not persuade the majority of the rest of us of their points of view. They always harp on the negatives. They always appeal to the disaffected and disenchanted. They have and provide no vision of where they would go were they to assume leadership. It’s a lot of babble compounding already difficult and confusing times.
    I’ll stick with Mulgrew and UNITY. They provide leadership with a vision, a strategy, and a sense of the needs of the members rather than a rigid and unbending political philosophy.


  10. I’d like to give some perspective to those who think that The UFT under Unity leadership has given away members’ rights. I have been teaching in this system since 1974. Back then, when there was a budget cut teachers were simply laid off. Having ATRs isn’t a give back; while definitely not anyone’s optimum work situation, it is at least a work situation. Employed is better than unemployed. I know, having stood on lines at the unemployment office an awful lot back in the day. Randi Weingarten saved a lot of families from financial hardship by negotiating that. We have a lot more rights than we had fifty years ago, and they were hard won. Read your union history. It takes more than strikes to make changes.
    What the public, and apparently some of the commenters, misunderstand is that tenure only grants the right to due process. State law requires that 3020a charges be answered, but that does not mean that the burden of proof is solely on the teacher. Those who point to Chicago’s use of the strike forget two things: it would take a level of solidarity and planning beyond what we have at the moment to get enough members to stay out long enough to turn the resulting public outcry away from us and towards the DOE, AND Chicago does not have a Taylor Law. Under the Taylor Law our old contract remains in force so long as we don’t strike, and if we do strike we are docked two days for every day we’re out. We would need quite a war chest to afford that. I doubt that the newer teachers would be up for that given the expense of living in NYC.
    As for standardized tests making up 20% of a new evaluation system, New York is the only place in the country where the percentage is so LOW. Given the national climate, having 0% testing in an evaluation system was not an option. It took a lot of work to minimize the amount that it would count.
    Someone remarked that Unity should run TV and print ads. There are TV ads. They’re paid for by all our VOTE/COPE contributions. I will join other UFT members this afternoon in leafletting about the teacher evauation system to inform the public.
    Finally, no evaluation system can be put in place before being ratified by the Delegate Assembly, the union’s governing body.


    • I too have been in the system since 1974. And I know the meaning of due process. But I also know VAM is junk science and whether it’s 1% or 20%, it’s still wrong!! I can also talk about the givebacks in the ’05 contract–one of the worst contracts ever that gave away excessing rights and created the horrible ATR system. I can say that because like you I was also laid off. But Weingarten wasn’t president back then. And if you recall, the UFT leadership made it possible for us to get recertified, I know because I took advantage of that and worked under a math certificate until I was recalled under CETA. So before you go reinventing the past, think twice. During the 70s I was also excessed many times, and each time I was given another position because I had the seniority to bump. I would never have survived as an ATR and I doubt you would have either.

      I also found it interesting that Unity did nothing to promote the SOS Save Our Schools March 2 years ago. Many NYC teachers weren’t even aware of it, yet it had a powerful lineup of speakers. Nor did they back the Wear Red campaign until a year later. They didn’t even back the campaign to take our paperwork to the malls of America. Yet teachers around the country participated.

      I will be supporting Julie in the next election. She is a very accomplished teacher and more than that, her appearances on TV, especially her debate with E4E on NY1 was better than anything the current leadership has put out. Unity has also but down Carol Burris for her petition against high-stakes testing. Many parent groups around the country are fighting this and they are getting the support of their school boards. Unity seems to be a step behind with the rest of the country and more in line with Rhee.

      I am also a supporter of PAR–Peer Assistance Review–as a way to evaluate teachers. It is working in other districts that turned down RTTT funding because it doesn’t use testing. And it’s supported by the local unions and due process is still in place.

      But let’s remember that Mulgrew was behind the state evaluation law that falsely makes teachers believe it’s a 60-40 ratio when it’s not. After the 2nd year, 40% = 100% (you need to read the fine print).

      I haven’t trusted the DA since Randi changed the rules. You may also recall chapter leaders voted for their own DR as well. Democracy is dead thanks to Unity. We need more leaders like Karen Lewis.


  11. Mulgrew and Unity provide excellent leadership with strategies that have worked for the members of this union. Where is MORE when implementing citiwide initiatives for the benefit of communities? Oh wait a minute…they don’t have the know how to do such things. Thank you, but no thank you! I’ll stick to the UNITY leadership that has skills in dealing with officials, coordinating relief efforts, and events for everyone involved!


  12. Dr. John Marvul

    Under the current leadership of Unity, the political capacity that has been assembled is staggering, but not unexplainable. The Caucus controls elections in the city, upstate, and nationally. This was no easy chore, but it was and still remains the road necessary to block education laws that would be disastrous to our Union brothers and sisters. Currently, we covet a Teacher Evaluation System that both supports pedagogues and allows for ” Due Process.” Unity is well aware of these ramifications and is prepared to do what must be done. Strikes are more too often politically damaging and hinder capacity building, so thinking along these lines is political and educational suicide,


  13. The evaluation system that is still being negotiated has not reached a deal because the Union is fighting to protect the rights of teachers to make sure the Evaluation is fair. Mulgrew and the UFT leadership are working to make sure this is an evaluation system that is fair, which is why there is no agreement as of yet. But this new evaluation system if it is passed has the potential help teachers develop, not hurt them.
    It opens up the idea of conversations between Principals, A.P.s and teachers over lessons
    It provides a very low percentage of of much standardized tests will be used to evaluate teachers (now standardized tests can be used on an already subjective evaluation
    It creates a democratic appeals process that allows a 3rd party to step in to investigate whether or not the ineffective or unsatisfactory rating was correct, this allows the burden of proof to fall on the
    DOE not the teacher, what we have now is a system where teachers are given an unsatisfactory and even with the appeals process the chancellor STILL gets the final say.
    The idea of this new evaluation is that it will be objective, it will allow us to have open dialogue with our supervisors but it makes our administration accountable. Those in dissent use politics, fallacies and misleading information to scare people. The information is plain an simple, we all deserve a fair evaluation, one that supports Learning and supports what we as teachers do; give our students an equitable education.


  14. I find it really difficult to read some of these comments with out wondering what reality people are seeing. In the end we WILL be forced to comply with state law that defines the new teacher evaluations system as 60% classroom observation 20% test scores and 20% local measures. This is a very generous system that was written into state law when compared to similar evaluation systems across the country. We are currently evaluated as either good or bad with no recourse for bad evaluations. The new law as written provides for an appeal process, something that was directly pushed by the UFT leadership and NYSUT to protect our members from unfair ratings and principals out to get our teachers. Yes test scores are a part of the evaluation. And while that is a sore spot for most of us, it is a reality that the test scores are going to be used in some form. Personally I prefer saying it can only be 20% of my overall evaluation as opposed to now where a principal can easily say you are u rated because your test scores didn’t move enough and there is nothing we as union members can do about it.
    I also like that there is some accountability for the administrators who are rating me to defend why my rating is great or not so great in their evaluations. If you look at the proposed rubrics used for teacher evaluations the structure is in writing to help improve our teaching is there, it was well structured and negotiated.
    The real questions we should be asking are:
    What is roll out going to look like?
    Is the DOE able to effectively train administrators to use the new evaluation rubrics?
    How can we guarantee that our members are treated fairly under the law?

    These three big questions are the questions that the Union leadership and it’s committees has raised, and why when the chancellor and Bloomberg tried to bully the UFT into agreeing early there was a commercial launch that must have at least made the mayor a little bit angry since his response was to make the silly comparison of the UFT and the NRA.
    The longer I look at MORE the more find their lack of understanding of education law, politics, and the general ideas of education disparaging. How can a group that can’t see the forest despite the trees think they have the ability to lead us in the future?


  15. Here the More Coalition shoots their mouths off again which is par for the course with their negativity and absolute untruths! In case they haven’t noticed, there’s been an anti-teacher movement throughout the country for the last couple of years demanding new teacher evaluations. Our union negotiated the most lenient of all agreements on testing, 20%; this is unheard of anywhere else. They are always calling for a strike as a way to resolve our problems; this would only compound the situation. The Doe would be thrilled for the union to strike; we would ultimately give up two working days for every one; in addition the icing on the cake would be that the DOE could nullify our existing agreement leaving us in a very vulnerable situation. Thankfully, our union leaders know what they’re doing; we’re presently the strongest union in the country and we’re even able to single handedly elect or defeat political leaders. I’ll stick with the Unity Caucus!


  16. What if a principal purposely gives a teacher a class full of the lowest functioning students in the western hemisphere? Why shoud 20% of that teacher’s rating be based on the test scores of such students?


    • Ricardo
      The Value-Added Model (VAM), is based upon the exepected outcomes of the students in your class and measures the actual outcomes and compares you to other teachers – starting with the “worst class in the world” and showing some progress could result in a “highly effective” rating and teaching a top class, with loads of Level 4 kids, who do not make expected progress could result in an “ineffective” score.

      Next month the State will release disaggregated data – I expect the scores will scatter across all levels of kids


  17. Let us not forget …….This whole debacle is a symptom of a society that Glorifies Ray Lewis and demonizes school teachers…. I wonder what his reading level was ?


  18. I have read so many content concerning the blogger lovers but this piece of writing is really
    a fastidious paragraph, keep it up.


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