Can the New Teacher Contract Change School Culture? Can the City/Department/Union/Principals/Teachers Move from Fight to Collaborate? and, Will a New Relationship Produce More Effective Schools?

My colleague Andy Schnure had the unique ability to turn a new contract agreement into charts and graphs, union reps raced around to the schools armed with Andy’s charts meeting with teachers and explaining the new contract. Excellent lessons: teachers would turn to each other and ask questions/share comments, “turn and talk,” “pair-share,” there’s nothing like highly motivated students.

Towards the end of one meeting a teacher blurted out, “I don’t understand any of this!”

Perhaps unkindly I said, “At the end of the meeting we’ll all take a short test reviewing the charts, if you don’t pass you don’t get the raise.”

The teacher, complaining, as her colleagues suppressed smiles, “That’s not fair.”

In our cyber age I’m sure the union has distributed Excel charts, summaries of the proposed contract and the union reps are fanning out across the city explaining/answering the intricacies of the agreement.

The NY Daily News gives the agreement a “thumbs up,”

… the de Blasio agreement with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew achieves a big win in protecting the city’s books from what could have been a ruinous hit: from the billions in overhang from retroactive raises of 4% for 2009 and another 4% for 2010.

By spacing out that back pay from 2015 to 2020 — a full decade later — de Blasio and his negotiating team squared the circle of delivering hefty pay hikes to 100,000 teachers without busting the budget

Unquestionably the opinions of members will vary, some will carp that the union should have held out longer and fought for a larger slice of the budget pie, others look to the non-budgetary sections, the simplification of the teacher evaluation system, the easing of paperwork burden and the new titles created in the contract and cheer.

Next week the union’s legislative body, the Delegate Assembly will cram into union headquarters for the first step in the contract ratification process. The opposition political caucus will probably oppose the contract, passionate pleas both supporting and opposing this and that, and numerous questions asking for clarifications and after a few hours a vote.

If the delegates approve the contract (retirees are delegates but don’t vote on contracts) the contract will go to a membership referendum – usually in the schools – a secret ballot election conducted by the chapter leaders.

The contract does contain a ratification bonus – a thousand dollar payment upon contract ratification – a nice touch!

The proposed contract “borrows” from prior concepts. The Lead Teacher title is twenty years old, a $10,000 salary bump for a teacher who works with other teachers – surprisingly few schools took advantage of the title; schools that used the title were commonly schools with more collegial teacher-driven environments. The new contract creates a number of “lead” or “master” teacher titles. Turnaround schools funded with State Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars had a number of these titles, the agreement embeds the titles.

The Chancellor’s District provided 10% additional salary for teachers, a variant is included in the newly proposed contract, a decade ago Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern created an Autonomy Zone; schools were given wider latitude, a sort of “thin” contract; the new agreement proposes a school innovation zone.

Michael Mulgrew wants to move the union from a “fight” mode to a collaboration mode – a major cultural shift. The union, for decades, has played the traditional role, filing grievances, defending member rights as defined by the collective bargaining agreement, organizing parents and community organizations, lobbying at the city and state levels, and advocating for education.

The union did run innovative programs: the Dial-a-Teacher program, kids and/or parents can call from 4-7PM with a question and speak with an expert teacher and these same expert teachers can run workshops for parents and an anti-bullying hotline

For the last decade the union has been at war with an increasingly snarky administration. Battle after battle, thousands of “actions,” local demonstrations, fighting back, the union became very good at defending members and attacking the administration.

The union has not been good at changing cultures in schools.

There actually are a few hundred of schools under the radar (there are 1800 schools in the city) in which teachers and school leaders work together. Schools leaders have programmed teacher-led common planning time, a few high schools moved to a trimester system, there are twenty schools with waivers from the state to substitute portfolios and roundtable in lieu of Regents exams; unfortunately most schools are overburdened with ukases from on high and too frequently principals drive data collection over instruction.

In the early nineties the state required School and School District Leadership Teams in all schools. While the union jumped on board they did little to support efforts locally – a few districts were totally involved with enthusiastic local union endorsement, the policy at the top, from both management and labor, was benign neglect and SLTs and DLTs faded away.

A year ago at a Delegate Assembly Mulgrew asked, “How many people would support peer review (teachers playing a role in assessing other teachers)”? Only a few hands were raised.

Last week at the union’s Spring Conference Mulgrew asked, “How many of you feel comfortable with another teacher in your classroom?” Only again, only a few hands were raised.

Mulgrew continued with what has become a union mantra: “the answers are in the room” – in other words, we don’t need outside experts, the Aussies,’ the Teachers College Writing Project, etc. To his credit Mulgrew continued – we have to get used to working together, observing other teachers and having other teachers observe us.

For decades the teaching culture has been to close your door and teach and from the central level to collect data and issue memorandum requiring this or that – ultimately leadership/supervision by compliance tools.

School leaders have become much better collectors and monitors of data than instructional leaders – how many school leaders actually ever teach a class or sit with teachers to discuss kids. A very senior old timer had a sign on his desk – “If there is no learning there is no teaching.” Tweed agreed, and chose to determine learning by test results rather than on the ground, in classrooms, working with kids and teachers.

De Blasio, Farina and Mulgrew are all on board – they are committed to creating a far more collaborative environment at the school level – convincing school leaders that leadership means “getting dirty,” spending most of their time in classrooms and working with teachers and convincing teachers that inviting a principal into their room or looking forward to sharing new ideas with colleagues is perfectly acceptable, a sea change.

The months of intense negotiations were the easy part – actually making contract language more than words on a page of a challenge.

The best way to fight the naysayers, those who believe unionized schools can never provide adequate instruction will only be squelched by creating more effective schools.

Hopefully a year or so down the road the union newspaper will not have to feature a chapter fighting against an abusive principal and feature a school-based effective reform.

“Participation reduces resistance” is a core principal of personnel and organization change. The window is open – whether the union and its members can seize the day is the challenge.

Read a summary of the contract from Chalkbeat here

If you have a question you can help build the soon-to-be-posted FAQ here


3 responses to “Can the New Teacher Contract Change School Culture? Can the City/Department/Union/Principals/Teachers Move from Fight to Collaborate? and, Will a New Relationship Produce More Effective Schools?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    This contract represents the Mayor’s biggest achievement to date.


  2. Finally a contract that is about teachers as professionals, and about teaching as a profession.


  3. roma giudetti

    For once, I have no complaints.


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