NYC Teacher Contract Ratified!! The Hard Work Begins, Can the Union and the Mayor Create a Model for Urban Education? or, Is the Contract a Charade?

With over 90,000 union members voting the UFT contracts passed with 77% of the vote.

The applause and back-slapping should be brief.

Polices hatched at the US Department of Education and think tanks have guided educational policy for the Bush and Obama administrations. The bi-partisan No Child Left Behind legislation requires annual high stakes testing and the Race to the Top exchanges dollars for commitments to teacher evaluation, expansion of charter schools, the Common Core, rigorous testing and harsh interventions. We have moved from the constitutional principle, education is reserved to the states (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States …”) to what amounts to a national education policy.

In cities public education is in jeopardy, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Kansas City are moving towards charter school systems. Los Angeles is dysfunctional; in Chicago teachers are at war with their mayor and the school system faces severe deficits.

Teacher labor contracts routinely contain some iteration of pay-for-performance with reductions in tenure rights for teachers.

The New York City teacher contract is the exception – it includes a range of new initiatives to address lingering issues:

* a differentiated staffing plan whereby teachers can move into training positions for additional remuneration.
* a higher pay scale for teachers in “hard-to-staff” schools
* a pathway to the classroom for teachers who have been excessed from closing or over-staffed schools
* the recruitment of up to 200 schools that can modify the union contract to fit the needs of the school.
* expedited procedures for dismissal of teachers accused of serious misconduct.

Sol Stern, a longtime critic-commenter on education, sneers.

But what’s most striking about the “historic” deal is how much it remains the same old, same old. Is this really the best the city can do for students?

Like its predecessor agreements, the new contract undermines excellence in the schools — and thus strengthens the reformers’ critique of resistant-to-change urban public school systems.

200 pages full of mind-numbing bureaucratic restrictions…

It also retains all of the irrational and counterproductive provisions regarding teacher compensation and work schedules. It’s amazing that a so-called labor agreement still gives no clue about how the city — i.e. management — might monitor employee productivity…

The elaborate salary schedule for teachers remains arbitrary, fiscally wasteful and unrelated to the city’s presumed goal of providing children with the most talented and knowledgeable classroom instructors…

De Blasio and Mulgrew tried to put lipstick on this pig by trumpeting a few fancy sounding new initiatives, like the new Ambassador, Model and Master teacher roles — which mostly duplicate the existing role of lead teacher while giving it new titles that sound as if they came from a credit-card company’s marketing wing.

Stern admires Albert Shanker, the former leader of the UFT – sometimes remembered for leading strikes, (see Woody Allen clip from “Sleepers,” and has no confidence in the new school system leadership.

Shanker was an education intellectual who rejected progressive education fads. He supported high academic standards and a coherent, grade-by-grade, content-knowledge curriculum…

… Chancellor Carmen Fariña has already signaled that, despite the lack of evidence supporting their efficacy, the constructivist reading and writing programs her friend Calkins developed will soon be returning to the city’s classrooms.

And the UFT under Mulgrew is not likely to care about what its members teach in the classrooms, as long as the distorted pay scales in the contract are honored.

The highest aspiration of Mayor de Blasio’s political progressivism is to narrow the gaps between the city’s rich and poor. The most salient fact of the educational progressivism favored by Fariña and Calkins is that it has never been able to narrow the academic achievement gaps between children from poor families and those from the middle class.

Someday this contradiction in progressivism will become self-evident. But by then lots more of the city’s poor children will have been left behind.

Former Chancellor Harold Levy disagrees with Stern,

Sol Stern’s critique of the new teachers’ contract (“Failing to learn,” Op-Ed, June 1) undervalues the importance of the changes achieved. It is just unrealistic to think that a single contract will wipe away all of the constraints on management that mayors and chancellors have conceded to union leaders over the years. Change is necessarily incremental.

Most important, in this agreement the City established the proposition that schools can write their own rules – if they get 65% buy-in of their teachers. This is precisely the way to build collegial decision-making, encourage reflective practice and elevate the professionalism of the teaching force. Closer tracking using accountability metrics is losing support among reformers because there’s little evidence that it works. Our real problem in the public schools is that teachers feel disrespected; as a result over 50% leave the profession by their fifth year of teaching. Until some of the changes made by the new contract, we have not even had an effective way to acknowledge the superior competence of truly master teachers.

The sad truth is that with the exception of the Teaching Fellows program, we are still hiring new teachers from the bottom quartile of college graduating classes. That means we are filling a leaky bucket with poorly qualified new recruits … The city’s goal should be to fix the high teacher churn rate and address its inability to hire the brightest college grads, by making teaching more desirable and the profession more respected. We also need a longer school day, shorter summer breaks and more cutting-edge education technology. And all that costs money. Until we make those commitments, however, we are just dealing with footnotes.

The curmudgeonly Stern is a “glass half-empty” guy … he has seen educational fad after fad imposed on teachers and children and one can understand his views; the current contract is just a way to fiddle around the edges and collect dollars for teachers.

The union and the Mayor may have bought four years of labor peace – and four years down the road the Common Core may be gathering dust on a back shelf, and maybe de Blasio’s progressive platform will have successfully addressed the lack of affordable housing, pay inequality, housing and school segregation, and on and on. The contract did buy an ally – the teachers union and its membership will always be keys in any election.

On the other hand if the “innovative” sections of the contract are a charade, if Sol is correct, a mayoral candidate on the right can trash de Blasio and the contract and make the mayor the first one-term mayor since David Dinkins.

The union has a daunting task – to move teachers from passive players – nodding at each edict from on high, doing the best they can in the classroom, to active players, participating in writing curriculum, working closely with colleagues, in essence moving from renters to owners.

The Bloomberg-Klein crowd, for whom Sol has no love created over 200 gifted schools and programs, schools in which principals selected their own students, a two-tier school system. Schools with kids from “better zip codes” flourished while schools in high poverty zip codes were closed. What is so distressing, actually criminal, is the Bloomberg crowd simply ignored what goes on in classrooms – they never asked a simple question: what curriculum works?

The job of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was eliminated.

Chancellor Farina has resuscitated the position and selected an experienced, highly regarded principal – hopefully to begin turning the ocean liner, the massive million pupil school system in a different direction.

Stern (“The Redemption of E. D. Hirsch” is an avid supporter of E. D; Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum – a content-rich approach to teaching, and, I would not be surprised if Stern and Mulgrew are on the same page!

Moving the debate from charter schools and teacher evaluation to “balanced literacy” versus Core Knowledge is at least changing the dialogue.

If the contract is a trompe d’oeil, an illusion, the Megatron reformer will sweep across the landscape.

I’m a glass half full type of guy – a combination of progressive policies to address poverty, i. e., community schools, combined with reinvigorating teachers and the schools can make a difference.

Can de Blasio turn around the Tea Party, conservative attacks on progressive policies? Is de Blasio really Optimus Prime?

The next four years may set a new national path for urban education, or, the question: which path?

8 responses to “NYC Teacher Contract Ratified!! The Hard Work Begins, Can the Union and the Mayor Create a Model for Urban Education? or, Is the Contract a Charade?

  1. Marc Korashan

    Yes, Ed is correct that the hard work of making the “teacher voice” sections of the new contract begins now. The real problem in modern education is not the lack of accountability. Teachers are accountable to their students every day and when they fail to come prepared, their students let them know it by opting out of poorly planned lessons and engaging in off-task behavior.

    The reformers, who notably have not spent time in classrooms or have, as Joel Klein claimed, a dismal, minimal teaching record, have tried to use metrics to replace that kind of accountability. Their metrics are badly flawed and often work against real, meaningful teaching and learning (teaching to the test is not the same as teaching students to think and giving them things to think about).

    This contract is an opportunity for teachers to exercise some voice in the way their schools plan for professional development as well as in the rules that will determine how programs are created.

    Sol Stern and other critics like Eva Moskowitz like to point to the contract and claim it is :”200 pages full of mind-numbing bureaucratic restrictions… ” but don’t take the time to look at what those restrictions are about and why they may have been necessary. Take the simplest one, teachers can only teach three periods in a row. If those are forty-five minute periods, then we are talking about being on one’s feet, interacting with students for a solid two and a quarter hours. When was the last time Stern tried to that. The break at the end of those three periods, may be a preparation period, ;a professional period or lunch, each of which gives the teacher a chance to catch his/her breath, think about what worked and what didn’t in the lessons completed and get ready for the next two or three periods of teaching that day.

    The rules create working conditions that let teachers function at their best and were created in response to administrators who regularly made unreasonable demands on teachers.

    Which brings us to the real problem in education, the nineteenth century, command and control model of supervision. If we really want to reform schools, then we need to create professional communities where all voices count and where consensus and persuasion replace the principal’s dictum.

    This contract takes steps in that direction and if the teachers work together to implement it, it may truly reform education in this city to the benefit of students and parents and the discomfit of all the educational deformers..


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    This contract should be judged on whether student performance improves. If not, we should vote the rascals out on both sides of the negotiating table.


    • Marc Korashan

      Eric, before we vote we need to decide on a meaningful metric for measuring improved student performance. Graduating more students from high school through credit recovery scams gave the Bloomberg administration a number they could spin and sent students to college who needed remedial courses. The drop out rate of this cohort was huge. Test scores in elementary and middle school don’t tell us whether students are reading or can use math in their lives. The tests are not intended to measure whether students are engaged and active learners. What is the goal of education and what metric(s) will we use to evaluate our achievement.


    • Sure, let’s just ignore the grand failure we are witnessing in the backward and gunned implementation of standards and VAM, and in the inundation of uninsightful metrics and matrices truly to the point of organizational mania; a failure to appropriately reshape and assess student performance.


  3. Just having to once again debate the efficacies of balanced literary vs. content curriculum and the effective execution of solid instruction (strong and purposeful aims, a variety of questions that spark a need to know and that engage, close reading, lots of discussion and debate, more than ample writing, feedback to students, tangible learning outcomes, grade level content and intellectual expectations that do not retard student growth but rather promote a more equal field of study) demonstrates the up-hill climb that lies ahead. Thanks to dirty carpets and idiotic approaches such as “I do, we do, you do”, or turn and talk about nothing much other than your opinion with no substance or evidence, generations of teachers and supervisors have not learned the most essential elements of instructional techniques ( see Mike Schmoker’s writings on this topic), and kids have been bored, ignored and the test results, or if that doesn’t wash, a visit to many classrooms reveal the lackluster atmosphere that empowered the reformers and the privatization movement in the first place. If the conversation and the work is not about curriculum and instruction, it’s not about what the profession and the kids need most. The whipping post hasn’t worked; it time to stop the endless finger pointing. And Peter, continuing to blame this on the Tea Party, the conservatives, is just another piece of the misinformation that stifles a positive professional movement and marginalizes teachers as political pawns. Give the teachers the benefit of the doubt – they are fully aware of who initiated the Race to the Top and all of it’s trimmings – just get over it and stop trying to spin this every which way. Time Is wasted on defining the culprits and the good guy progressives. After all, when all is said and done, “what difference does it make?” Let’s get to the real work.


  4. Eric

    Based on what you said then you and your flunkies were a failure. Bogus credit recovery courses, a high school graduation rate that saw over 22% of graduates needing triple remediation courses, and rising class sizes.

    You are a great example of our school system’s failure.


  5. Chaz, don’t forget the phonied up test scores Bloomberg, Klein and his merry men and women in reform touted as proof positive their reforms were working – until the Board of Regents finally revealed how inflated the scores were and the numbers plummeted here in NYC.

    Gotta love a reformer like Nadelstern who’s always focused on accountability and metrics – except when they expose his own failures and incompetence.

    This is the same dude who said Farina has to move the graduation rate from 66% to 100% in five years or be considered a “failure” (link below)

    Well, if she goes back to the credit recovery programs that occurred when Nadelstern was around, and the kids get semester credits for reading a couple of comic books and handing in a few reader-response journals, surely she can.

    In Nadelstern’s world, accountability for others, always.

    Never for Eric.



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