Tag Archives: AFT

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: Has the President and the NYS Board of Regents Accepted Responsibility for Years of Failed Education Decisions? Has Fear of Parent Electoral Anger Motivated the Electeds? Or, Just Hoping We Go Away If Tempted With Sweet Words?

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, colloquial translation, “My Bad.”

In the summer of 2008 I sat in the audience at the AFT Convention just after the nomination of Barack Obama and watched a 12-minute Obama campaign video – it was odd, it failed to address core educational issues.

Two years later I sat with a room full of principals and watched David Coleman perform his lengthy rollout of the Common Core – a detailed analysis of the Martin Luther King “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” interesting, and, once again, odd. At the end of the performance, Coleman answered a few questions from a group of teachers – one asked, “How does this differ from what we’re already doing …?”Coleman snapped, “…compared to other nations (PISA Scores) we’re not doing well at all.” Not exactly the way to gain buy-in from teachers

The President was at a Town Hill meeting and a teacher in the audience asked why he was supporting high stakes testing and punitive teacher evaluation – Obama challenged the teacher – you admit there are teachers in your school who shouldn’t be teaching, was bullying a teacher building teacher support?

The Association for Better New York (ABY) sponsors a breakfast every spring, a high profile speaker, an audience filled with the movers and shakers in New York City/State. Randi Weingarten was the speaker, with NYS Commissioner John King in the audience; Randi called for a moratorium on Common Core testing – to no avail – King and most of the members of the Board of Regents endorsed immediate Common Core testing, no moratorium, and cut scores that resulted in two-thirds of test takers scoring “below proficient.”

For seven years the President was wedded to the Duncan mantra: choice, which means charter schools, the full implementation of the Common Core, high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluation based on pupil growth scores (Value Added Measures, aka VAM). In spite of teacher and parent angst, in spite of millions of hits on the Diane Ravitch blog, the Duncan playbook was the Obama playbook, until it wasn’t.

The New York Times reports,


Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, … “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Why has it taken seven years for the President to realize they were on the wrong side of history? Why did the announcement come a few weeks after Duncan’s resignation?

Unfortunately the decision-makers today are lawyers and economists, not historians.

George Santayana, the early 20th century philosopher wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Harold Howe, a former United States Secretary of Education muses, ” … sometimes the unforeseen effects, of concepts for change like ‘restructuring’ schools, ‘systemic’ approaches to changes in schools, and the pros and cons of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ prescriptions for what to teach and how to teach it. My own sense of this new vocabulary about school reform is that to some extent it has assumed the same role as the prayer book of the Episcopal Church — by repeating the words you are supposed to be improving yourself and the world around you.”

Almost twenty years ago David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform,” (Read a superb summary/review here). The authors peruse the seemingly endless school reform initiatives over the last century and conclude that, regardless of the quality of the reform the initiative must have the support of teachers and parents; change, or reform, only, grows from the inside. In other words, reforms driven from the top down, unless accepted in classrooms will wither; new ideas may be planted from above, they must be fertilized and cared for in the classrooms and in the homes.

A few days ago the leader of the Board of Regents acknowledged the intense criticism of the newest iteration of the teacher evaluation law in New York State.

Newsday reports,


One of New York’s top school policymakers called Monday for potentially revamping a controversial law that allows student scores on Common Core tests to count for as much as half of teachers’ and principals’ job evaluations.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told about 500 school board members attending a state convention in Manhattan that the toughened law, pushed through the legislature in April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is “full of problems.”

The chancellor said lawmakers should “reopen” a section of the law that increases to about 50 percent the maximum weight that local school districts can assign to so-called “growth” scores in judging teachers’ classroom performance. Such scores are based on student performance on English language arts and math assessments, and are generated by a complex formula that many analysts consider statistically unstable.

The New York State Commissioner of Education has begun a review of the Common Core and the Curriculum Modules, the widely criticized units that drive instruction across the state. If you want to comment on the modules click here: https://www.engageny.org/content/curriculum-feedback-form

If you want to comment on the Common Core click here to go to the State Ed Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NYStateEd?fref=ts

Does this mean that sanity is beginning to return to the school system in New York State; or, to schools across the nation, or, is all this pomp and circumstance a trompe d’oeille, a facade to lull us into complacency?

This is considerable cynicism.

We’ll see over the weeks and months ahead. In New York State the Governor and State legislature are leaning on the Board of Regents and the Commissioner – make parents happy, or, at least happier. Stem the Opt Out tide; erode the 200,000 parents who are potentially ready to vote for change at the polls.

I believe the tidal wave of parent anger will be difficult to assuage: Obama, Duncan, Cuomo and the wave of so-called reformers may have created a hydra ( … It possessed many heads … and, each time one was lost, it was replaced by two more. It had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly) and those heads keep growing and spewing electoral poison.

Civics 101: Using The Struggle Over the Reauthorization of NCLB/ESEA as a Teaching Tool

On January 21st the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the long-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, The committee chair, Lamar Alexander is hopeful that the process will actually produce a reauthorized law,

“During the last six years, this committee has held 24 hearings and reported two bills to the Senate floor to fix the law’s problems. We should be able to finish our work within the first few weeks of 2015 so the full Senate can act.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the outcome, the hearing is only one step in the long path from idea to bill to law.

A refresher minicourse: just in case you were daydreaming on that day that your teacher taught “how a bill becomes a law.”

The 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate must pass the same bill and the bill becomes a law when signed by the president. If the president vetoes a bill both houses must override the veto with a 2/3 vote in each house.

If the houses pass different bills, which is commonplace, a conference committee made up of members of both houses attempts to reconcile the bills, if they are able to agree on a single bill both houses must pass the reconciled bill and send along to the President for signature.

Republicans control both houses which allow them to set the agendas; they control the time frame of hearings and the text of any bill. Due to the procedural rules of the Senate a bill requires 60 votes to come to the floor for discussion and an eventual vote. On the Senate side any bill must be bipartisan enough to gain sufficient Democratic votes to reach the 60 vote threshold and the party members do not necessarily vote as a bloc. The required 60 votes, or the negative 41 votes, can contain members of both parties who, for totally different reasons support or object to the bill, or to some part of the bill.

Sometime later in the session the House committee will begin discussions. The Republicans have the largest majority since the end of World War 2 and can pass any bill they choose to pass; however, there are 30-40 members on the extreme right who may not agree with the mainstream Republicans. The Republican leadership will not bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless the bill has sufficient Republican votes, the Republican leadership would not look across the aisle for Democratic votes, to do so would alienate the right wing of the party.

If the House and the Senate pass reconciled bills and pass along to the President, he can veto the bill, in effect killing the bill. It is extremely difficult to override a presidential veto. The repercussions of a veto could impact well beyond the issue, if the bill was a bipartisan bill, vetoing the bill could alienate Democrats in the Senate, who the President needs to pass, or, to block passage of other legislation.

If all goes smoothly, which is unlikely, a bill could be on the President’s desk for signature within a few months. If the process leaks into the fall it will get caught up in the 2016 presidential primary season and may fall by the wayside. A number of senators, on both sides of the aisle are flirting with a presidential run and the reauthorization bill could easily get caught up in the primary politics. Party primaries attract core voters, on the Republican side, the Tea Party, the anti-government voters; on the Democratic side the most progressive wing. Republican candidates may choose to run on an “abolish the entire Department of Education” platform while a Democratic candidate might run on a “protect the civil rights of students at risk” platform, meaning no bill would emerge.

James Madison, in Federalist # 51 eloquently portrayed the roles of the branches of government,

To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. .

… it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

The 387-page discussion draft of the bill begins the political process in the Senate.

Alexander announced the committee’s first hearing this year on No Child Left Behind, and said he would hold additional hearings after conferring with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) He also announced beginning this week bipartisan meetings in the Senate education committee to discuss the chairman’s discussion draft, consider changes and improvements, identify areas of agreement, and discuss options to proceed.

The first hearing included two classroom teachers from New York City, an elementary school teacher who led a grassroots campaign against standardized testing (“Teachers of Conscience”) and a high school teacher from a school that uses a state-approved portfolio/roundtable exam waiver from the state as well as beginning a union contract approved peer review initiative. (Watch hearing here)

The American Federation of Teachers position supports a nuanced position on the use of tests,

We are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. Let’s instead use annual assessments to give parents and teachers the information they need to help students grow, while providing the federal government with information to direct resources to the schools and districts that need extra support.

We’re calling for a robust accountability system that uses multiple measures—which could include factors like whether students have access to art, music and physical education, and whether they have support from specialists like school librarians, nurses and counselors. Such a system should allow for ideas like portfolios rather than bubble tests. We recommend a limited use of testing to measure progress—including what to do if there isn’t progress—through grade-span testing. That means instead of annual high-stakes tests, we’d have tests once between third and fifth grades, once between sixth and eighth grades, and once in high school.

Other groups will advocate for a range of approaches, John King, the former NYS Commissioner will be roaming the halls of Congress supporting the core principles of the Duncan waiver system and the continuation of annual testing that can be used for high stakes decision-making. Others will call for the elimination of any required testing leaving all decisions to the states, and, some will call for the prohibition of the Common Core and a few will call for the disbanding of the Department of Education.

Wade Henderson, who leads a civil rights organization, is wary of eliminating annual testing,

Stepping too far back from testing requirements could strand poor and minority students, said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The bill, as a general matter, bends over backward to accommodate the interests of state and local government entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures,” he said. “Congress must not pass any … bill that erodes the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights in education.”

Elizabeth Warren, although a liberal Democrat, also questions granting states wider powers over spending federal dollars,

“All a state would have to do to get federal dollars is submit a plan with a lot of promises,” with no guarantee of a follow through, she said. “If the only principle is the states should be able to do whatever they want, then they could raise their own tax dollars to pay for it.”

Republican chair Alexander entered a letter in the record from Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who is a sharp critic of high stakes testing, Burris wrote,

“The unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well,”

The Senate side has always be collegial, up to a point; the rules require cobbling together 60 votes, Republicans need Democrats.

It is likely that a bill will reach the floor with commitments for sixty votes.

In the House minority Democrats have no clout; House procedures allow the majority party to set the rules. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is holding its first organizational meeting on January 21st; there are over 200 bills that are sitting in the subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education that were introduced in the last session, the vast majority will die in committee.

James Madison captures the essence, the soul of our governmental process, “… what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The internal conflicts within the individual houses, the conflicts between the houses and the ultimate power of the executive, to quote Madison are a “reflection on human nature.” Legislators are bipartisan when it is in their self-interest, and, for the last few years legislators have resisted “coming together,” ideology is trumping pragmatism.

The passage of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, NCLB) would be the crowning achievement of Alexander’s career.

I am optimistic.

New NEA President Lily Garcia Meets Morning Joe and Fails the Test

Lily Garcia is the vivacious new president of the 3 million member National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher union in the nation. The NEA has struggled since they torpedoed a merger agreement with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 2000, in spite of the support of the NEA president the state federations sunk the plan, and, the NEA has drifted from leader to leader without much of a national presence. These days when you think of a national teacher union leader the only name is Randi Weingarten.

Lily, since her early July election has hit the ground running. She is the first NEA president to address the AFT convention and she very publicly chastised Arne Duncan, especially in regard to his “dumb ideas,” comments which undoubtedly play well with her membership.

Lily was a guest on MSNBC Morning Joe, a network with a left leaning viewership, the perfect audience for Lily. One of the troubling problems is that some of the strongest opponents of teacher tenure and opponents of teacher unions are within the MSNBC audience – left leaning democrats.

Unfortunately, in my view, Lily failed the test.

Watch Lily’s five minutes on Morning Joe: http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/nea-president–end-factory-school-reform-333357123798

The program, as they frequently do, put on the screen a particularly harsh comment from Lily referring to Duncan’s “dumb ideas” and his strong support for high stakes testing of students. One of the program hosts, referring to the international PISA scores complained that as a nation we are doing poorly compared to other nations, and, wasn’t Lily’s objection to testing simply a copout?

Lily’s answer: Instead of testing we should use the number the of Afro-American and Hispanic students who take Advanced Placement courses … and it went downhill … too bad.

How Lily, in view, should have answered:

“Let’s look at data from the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). On the children poverty scale the US places 27th out of the 30 nations that reported data ….we’re better than Mexico and Turkey

childhood poverty: http://www.oecd.org/social/family/43570328.pdf

Denmark 2.7%
Sweden 4.0
Finland 4.2
OECD 12.4
US 20.6

When we compare ourselves with other OECD nations on four year olds who are in school we’re in the lower third.

We have more teenage births than every country except Mexico.

We’re third from the bottom in childhood immunization rates.

We have the second highest family income among OECD nations.

According to the UNICEF measures of child well-being the US scores next to last, just ahead of the United Kingdom.

Of course if we subtract out the 20.6% of children in poverty and compare ourselves to similar children across the OECD we do fine.

These data do not absolve Duncan from “dumb ideas,” did you know that Duncan requires that 99% of children with disabilities must take the annual state tests even though their handicap prevents them from passing the test? Millions of students forced to take and fail tests … clearly a dumb idea.

Did you know that immigrant children must take the annual states tests after they are in the country for one year? Students with only one year of education in the US must compete with all other children … another clearly dumb idea.

Why do we need to test every student every year? The National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) progress uses sampling and is not offered every year. The only reason is to enrich test creation companies and, perhaps, to use the data to assess teacher performance, the problem: kids change year to year and the year to year results for teachers varies wildly, from 20 -40%…

Arne’s requirement for annual testing is another dumb idea.

Our kids, schools and teachers, considering the burdens placed on our children and families are doing surprisingly well … it’s our nation that’s in trouble.”

Lily and Randi Weingarten are good friends; Randi’s partner officiated at Lily’s recent wedding. If Lily gets up to speed Lily and Randi may turn Arne Duncan’s “dumb ideas” into meaningful and effective policy for families, schools and teachers.

Will Teacher Unions Survive? Do Teacher Unions Have to Change? What Should Teacher Unions Look Like in a Few Years?

With each year the number of workers belonging to unions declines, and, organizing increasingly targets low wages workers. In the February representation election in the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant workers turned down the union even through the employer did not actively campaign against unionization. Organizing efforts in Walmart and in fast food franchises has made incremental progress.

Highlights from the 2013 data:

In 2013, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
members of unions–was 11.3 percent

–Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.3 percent) more
than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent).

–Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective
service occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 35.3 percent for
each occupation group.

–Black workers were more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or
Hispanic workers.

Part of the decline in a union work force is due to the shrinkage of the manufacturing labor force, traditionally unions represent workers in factories; automation and globalization sharply reduced the potential work force.

Teacher unionism stumbled for decades hindered by internecine warfare, Communist and Socialist factions vied for support of teachers with the vast percentage of teachers disengaged. The merger that led to the creation of the United Federation of Teachers resulted in a militant union – four strikes in the 60’s (1960: one day, 1961: one day, 1967: 13 days, 1968: 40 days) and another in the 70’s (1975: 5 days). As the teacher union grew the unaffiliated union, the National Education Association increasingly mirrored the AFL-CIO affiliated AFT.

Teacher union contracts mirrored the contracts of industrial unions – salary, health and pension benefits and long lists of regulations limiting management discretion.

No Child Left Behind (2002) began to focus more public attention on schools and teacher contracts. The US Department of Education, governors, mayors and education think tanks ratcheted up the criticism of teacher contracts as well as seniority laws, and, now in California, tenure laws.

Teacher unions were on the defensive fending off attack after attack. From Wisconsin to New Orleans, from Detroit to North Carolina tenure laws and pensions and the survival of public schools and teacher unions are in jeopardy. Unions are on the defensive.

What is the role of teacher unions in the current day economy? Is the role the same traditional role of contract negotiator and enforcer, or, has the role changed?

Unfortunately unions who only defended, who tried to maintain benefits, the traditional approach to unionism has begun to succumb to the assaults. Unions that moved to an organizing model, developing relationships with community organizations, unions that lobbied with community organizations attracted wider support.

For example in New York City the teacher union (UFT) is strongly supporting Universal Free Lunch, with the enthusiastic support of the head of the City Council.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a leader in the campaign, said that the growth in poverty in the city has made passage of universal free school lunch more urgent than ever.

“As poverty and income inequality threaten more and more families in New York City, too many of our children are attending school on an empty stomach — hungry, distracted and unable to focus on their education,” she said.

The UFT is also in the forefront of legislation that changes the admission requirements at Specialized High Schools (Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech etc.,) to a multiple measures metric. The legislative Black and Hispanic caucus as well as anti-poverty and civil right organizations support the bills.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which is behind the push, said he thought the administration might get more forcefully behind it, too.

“I do remember candidate de Blasio speaking very eloquently about this issue,” said Mr. Mulgrew. “I’m sure they’ll be coming out shortly, one way or another, now that this is out there and it’s moving.”

On the national front the American Federation of Teachers is part of a major effort to revive one of the poorest counties in West Virginia, Reconnecting McDowell.

The just-negotiated UFT contract is filled with educational and community-oriented sections, from increasing the number of parent-teacher meetings to a school-based professional development committee to the opportunity to join a thin-contract zone to the creation of a variety of different teacher titles to a bonus for teachers in hard-to-staff schools. Although the contract was approved (77%) by a healthy majority members complained, why does the union “waste time” with all of these “education” issues? Union leadership took a risk, convincing membership that while salary increases are great, unless the union is perceived by the general public as caring about the wider issues, caring about the children they teach, they could be begin to lose public support, as teacher unions lost support in too many cities. In too many locations teacher are perceived as caring more about tenure, “protecting bad teachers,” than caring about the kids they teach.

The national union, the American Federation of Teachers publishes a superb journal, the American Educator;
the current issue explores Early Learning,

This special collection of articles in American Educator highlights the importance not only of early learning, but also of what, exactly, young children learn. It begins with an article explaining the research on children’s oral vocabulary development and how educators can effectively support students in learning new words. Acquiring and understanding a significant amount of vocabulary in the early years helps children build the necessary background knowledge that will lay the foundation for future learning.

However; the AFT doesn’t “own” collective bargaining agreements, local unions negotiate local contracts.

At the local level building representatives (in NYC called chapter leaders) have to move from contract enforcers to educational leaders in their schools.

Unions will survive, and prosper, if they move to a new role, not abandoning their role as negotiating salary and working condition, moving beyond their former role to unionists/educators: leading discussions on which textbooks to purchase, what kind of professional development would be of the greatest benefit, leading school leadership team meetings that look closely at issues of teaching and learning.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
― Barack Obama

“Tenure Protects Bad Teachers” and Branding: The Fight for the Hearts and Minds of the Public

We never order a gelatin dessert, we order Jell-O, we don’t ask for a petroleum gel, we buy Vaseline, the advertising gurus successfully brand products. A political application: only dyed in the wool democrats refer to the Affordable Care Act, we call the law Obamacare, branding a law by tying it to an increasingly unpopular president is an effective strategy.

The branding of a product is the embedding of a “sticky idea.”

According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die there are six principles that help you craft a sticky message:

Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories

By Simplicity the Heath’s mean, keep it simple and profound.

“We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission — sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that the individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”

Tap into emotions to convey your point. We’re wired to feel things for people, not abstractions:

“How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something … Research that we are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”

Tell stories to get people to act on your ideas:

“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. … Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps up perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

“Tenure protects bad teachers” has been embedded in the minds of the public, it is a sticky idea. The Silicon Valley billionaire and the judge hearing the case are victims of a successful campaign, they have allowed an idea, a deeply flawed idea, to enter and embed in their subconscious.

Diane Ravitch, in her inimitable fashion, tells us that the data that the judge relied upon is fatally flawed, Jesse Rothstein, in a NY Times op ed (“Taking on Teacher Tenure Backfires” writes,

… Eliminating tenure will do little to address the real barriers to effective teaching in impoverished schools, and may even make them worse.

The lack of effective teachers in impoverished schools contributes to [the achievement] gap, but tenure isn’t the cause. Teaching in those schools is a hard job, and many teachers prefer (slightly) easier jobs in less troubled settings. That leads to high turnover and difficulty in filling positions. Left with a dwindling pool of teachers, principals are unlikely to dismiss them, whether they have tenure or not.

A NY Times editorial (“A New Battle for Equal Education”) supports the decision, and, sort of begrudgingly, supports “reasonable due process rights for teachers,”

Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the public the West Coast teacher unions and the New York teachers unions took vastly different approaches. The California Teachers Association has battled for years to prevent any changes in tenure laws – the California law grants tenure after serving an 18 month probationary period and the procedures for removing tenured teachers are complex and the process lengthy, it can take years. The result: almost every teacher achieves tenure and the dismissal of a tenured teacher is exceedingly rare. The attrition rates, especially in the schools teaching the poorest kids are high – half of new teachers leave voluntarily within five years.

The image of kids failing in high poverty schools and the California tenure laws allowed the “messagers,” the framers of public opinion to embed the sticky idea, “tenure protects bad teachers.”

The New York City teacher union has been led by Randi Weingarten, currently the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and now by Michael Mulgrew.

The AFT has taken a different approach which Weingarten calls “solution-driven unionism,”

Solution-driven unionism is rooted in solving problems, not winning arguments. AFT affiliates are pursuing this approach, and we are encouraging many more to follow suit. We know that this tough climate — marked by increasing poverty, continuing budget cuts, and a recession-fueled resurgence in attacks on unions and public services — can’t stop us from having a proactive quality education agenda. To the contrary — while we will continue to fight for the resources children need, we must also devise innovative, creative and new approaches to help all children succeed.

The UFT has worked diligently with a wide range of citywide and community-based organizations, from the NAACP to parent groups across the city. This type of coalition-building embeds “sticky ideas,” A Zogby Analytics poll,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

In 2009 the NYC Department of Education changed the administrative procedures for the granting of tenure. After a three year probationary period the vast percentage of teachers received tenure, the Department changed the process – principals received data sets linking pupil performance to each teacher, teachers were required to submit “artifacts,” examples of student work as well as a review of supervisory observations.

Rather than a major public battle the union provided workshops across the city, every probationary teacher had the opportunity to meet with a union expert to assist in creating their portfolio and well as how to respond in meetings with their principals. While the number of teachers with extended probationary periods increased significantly the percentage of teachers who were denied tenure only increased by one percent.

A just-released study finds, (

“The receipt of tenure had become an expectation for nearly all teachers.’Tenure was rarely based on strong evidence of accomplishment.’

.. the percent of teachers granted tenure dropped from more than 90 percent to less than 60 percent while a substantially greater share of teachers had their tenure period extended. While denial of tenure increased from two percent in 2008 to just three percent in 2012, teachers whose probationary period was extended rose from less than 5 percent to over 40 percent of teachers. Extended teachers were given an additional year to demonstrate effective teaching consistent with the Effectiveness Framework.

Despite not altering the proportion of teachers denied tenure, the tenure reform meaningfully affected the composition of teachers. Researchers found that teachers who were extended were more than 50 percent more likely to transfer to another school within the district or to exit teaching in the district than otherwise similar teachers who were granted tenure. The authors compared the effectiveness of extended teachers who transferred or exited to all teachers entering these schools to assess whether the quality of teachers improves as a result of the policy.

“The extended teachers who leave their schools were less effective than the teachers likely to replace them” said Susanna Loeb, professor of education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, a coauthor. “Likely replacement teachers are much more likely to be rated Effective or Highly Effective than the extended teachers who leave.

The New York State Teacher Union (NYSUT) fully participated in the creation of a teacher evaluation law – moving from a system solely based on principal assessment at the school level to a multiple measures system that involves measuring all teachers against similarly situated teachers across the state. The exceedingly dense system, in the first year, only found 1% of teachers ineffective.

In New York City the union negotiated changes in the teacher disciplinary procedures to expedite the process.

The recent teacher contract received a “thumbs up” from the editorial board of the NY Times,

There was no snarling at City Hall when Mayor Bill de Blasio and the teachers’ union announced a very significant labor agreement on Thursday Dispensing with the unproductive tension that tarnished the Bloomberg administration, the two sides showed that real progress can be made — on both the fiscal and the educational sides of the contract — when there is good will instead of disdain. On the whole, the agreement represents a good deal for the city and its students.

Even the Citizens’ Budget Commission, the self-proclaimed guardian of the City coffers gave the contract a qualified approval.

The tentative agreement between the city and the teachers union resolves major uncertainty surrounding the city’s financial plan and ensures some stability in labor relations with a major segment of the city workforce for the next five years.

It establishes a reasonable pattern for other city workers, but its affordability rests on ensuring concrete savings from health care costs.

Union leadership cannot be guided by the anger of members, in California teacher anger over attempts to modify tenure rules was popular, and a losing position. “Solution-driven unionism,” means pragmatism driven unionism; picking your fights and understanding that crafting solutions is far more effective than a win or lose approach.

Every year the UFT gives a million dollars in scholarships to deserving high school graduates, the UFT is supporting legislation to change the multiple choice test score method for admission to specialized high schools (Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, etc.), which results in only a handful of Black and Hispanic students passing the test, to a multiple measures system, a change strongly supported by the NAACP.

Union leadership in New York City has created a climate in which the public sees the union at the forefront of working to create better schools in partnership with parents, in spite of a snarky barrage of negative articles in the print media. Teacher tenure is not an issue.

Every day, on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs, in computer downloads the battle goes on … the battle for the hearts and minds, in the battle to convince legislators, to convince parents and voters, the battle to brand policies, to embed sticky ideas, the teacher union works to brand themselves as allies and partners of parent and families.

And, no, it is not obvious, the public is overwhelmed with messages, we have moved from a 24-hour news cycle to a 24-second news cycle. The “winners” will not be decided by the best ideas, the “winners” will be decided by those who can change public opinion, to build consensus, to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate.

BTW, eliminating tenure would probably increase a district budget. Howard Wainer, the author of Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, in a brief, powerful paper identified a district that ended tenure for superintendents, over the years after the elimination of tenure the teacher-superintendent salary gap widened significantly. To attract superintendents the district had to increase salaries, when given a choice teachers would clearly choose to work in districts with tenure and the only way to attract teachers would be to pay them more than in non-tenure districts.The elimination of tenure: a perfect example a “misguided education policy.”