Tag Archives: Al Shanker

Does the Hybrid School Re-Opening Need a “Pre-Season”?

Mayor League baseball players gather a month before the first game for spring training, the NFL players have been practicing for a few weeks before the early September first game.

In spite of mounting pressure from the unions representing teachers, principals and other school workers the mayor and the school chancellor refuse to move to a phased, aka, delayed, school opening in order to assure safety protocols are in place.

Other large cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami and others are beginning with a fully remote opening.

In New York State the Big Five have delayed reopening; Yonkers will be fully remote until early October, Buffalo is battling with teachers over the re-opening plan, Rochester is beginning remote with a phased re-opening  and Syracuse will begin with a hybrid model for elementary/middle schools and fully remote for high schools.

The hundreds and hundreds of smaller districts have a vast array of models. Read the Westchester/Rockland plans here.

New York City is struggling to create blended aka hybrid models and have ignored the phased re-opening pathway: begin remote and move slowly, step by step to a hybrid model.  Schools were given a number of choices, alternate days (M-W-F in-person, T-Th remote, flipped the following week, or, M-Tu in-person, W-Th remote with F flipped. The models are both confusing to parents and makes arranging for childcare difficult. Teachers don’t know what class(es) they will be teaching.

The major issue is safety, for children, for staffs, for parents and for others living with children and staff.

The COVID rates by neighborhood vary widely are New Yorkers from the highest COVID zip codes choosing to be tested? The unknowns outweigh the knowns. The city has an agenda: open the schools so that parents can go back to work and recharge the economy, school personnel feel they are being needlessly sacrificed, being unnecessarily put at risk.

Is the motivating factor for the mayor “the good of the students” who need full time teachers? Or, recharging the economy? Or, the reputation and legacy of a mayor who has watched his star dim.

In spite of frequent testing baseball has had a positive COVID test almost every week and professional sports are playing to empty stadiums.

The mayor, boasting about extremely low COVID testing has been threatening, principals and teachers are fearful and worried that schools won’t be ready and the promised protocols will not be in place. The teacher union (UFT) has been preparing members for a possible strike.

A phased re-opening would appear to make sense, in-school training days for teachers, begin the year remote, slowly phase in hybrid in-school/remote instruction, with variability in high schools depending on the size of the school. Allow the data drive the school re-opening calendar.

Why are the mayor and the chancellor adamant about beginning the hybrid model on September 10th?

Mayor de Blasio is term-limited, the June, 2021 primary will select the democratic candidate, and, unless a republican with deep, very deep pockets emerges, the winner of the primary will become the next mayor. Scott Stringer, the current Comptroller, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Boro President, Cory Johnson, the current leader of the City Council are already running and we can expect three, four, five other candidates. The election will be the first time Rank Choice Voting will be the method of choosing the winner.  Potential candidates are criticizing the performance of de Blasio,

The enmity between de Blasio and Cuomo is unrelenting, and, one-sided; the governor has defanged de Blasio, a permanent detumescence.

Does de Blasio perceive re-opening schools as some sort of a victory?  Fighting for families and children? Preparing for his post-mayor role?  A “hero” who opened schools in spite of the opposition of supervisors and teachers?

Supervisors report to work in a week, (August 31st) and teachers are due the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 8th.

Possible scenarios:

Supervisors and teachers announce a “safety strike,” and offer to continue to work remotely.  The mayor could invoke the Taylor Law, public employee strikes are illegal and the Public Employee Relation Board (PERB)/court-imposed penalties are steep, loss of a day’s pay for each day on strike, fines for the union and the loss of dues check off for a period determined by the courts. On the other hand the courts could sustain the union claim that the schools are unsafe.

Under the Taylor Law any “concerted action” (sick-outs) is considered a strike with Taylor Law penalties accruing.

The governor could intervene.

Current legislation empowers the governor to “temporarily suspend” any statute, local law or rule “if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster” upon declaring an emergency order.

Can the governor temporarily suspend mayoral control law and appoint an acting chancellor to run the school system?

Under his emergency powers can the governor order the city to move to a phased re-opening?

In 1975 the city, without warning and in the midst of contract negotiations laid off 15,000 teachers, the union immediately went out on strike, and, rapidly realized that the strike was funding the city deficit. After five days on strike the union worked out a complex settlement, delaying raises and loaning the city pension fund dollars preventing the city from defaulting.

Layoffs are looming, the state and the city financial situations are dire, teachers and supervisors are frightened.

A vaccine, at best, is a year away,

Most people in the US should be able to get vaccinated by the second half of 2021 according to the US’s top health officialDr. Anthony Fauci.; other researchers have doubts that the vaccine will protect us over time

With each day the city moves closer to a supervisor/teacher strike, with each day the city moves closer to layoffs, the mayor seems unwilling, or unable, to negotiate a settlement acceptable to supervisors, teachers and parents.

In 1975 a behind-the-scenes power broker, Jack Bigel and Al Shanker crafted a settlement (Read the absolutely fascinating account here) that averted an immanent city bankruptcy.

Is there a “hero” out there to put the pieces of the zig-saw puzzle together?

A “safe” process leading the way to school re-opening and averting layoffs and devastating reductions in city services.

This week is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens, “Don’t Call Me Names”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_oHAqTbbs

Should the New York State Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Accountability Plan Punish Schools for High Rates of Chronic Absenteeism?

In the summer of 2013 the state released the Common Core state test results, students moved from 2/3 proficient to 2/3 “below proficient,” aka, failing the test. The public outcry was loud and sustained, the commissioner decided to travel across the state on a “listening tour.”  The tour began in Poughkeepsie, a standing room only auditorium listened for a while, began to interrupt, the meeting became raucous. (Watch the highlights here) Commissioner King was booed off the stage.

As the “tour” moved from city to city the meetings became more and more disorderly and were discontinued, the New York Times wrote,

In a series of public forums across the state, John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, has become the sounding board for crowds of parents, educators and others who equate his name with all they consider to be broken in schooling today. Some blame him for too quickly imposing more rigorous academic standards tied to what is known as the Common Core. Parents call him deaf to the misery of pupils taking standardized tests and too open to commercial involvement in the system; teachers blame him for sapping what joy they had left in their craft.

This school year, after months and months of meetings the new commissioner presented a draft of the federally required Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) school accountability plan. The first listening/public comment meeting took place Thursday night in the Half Hollows School District on Long Island. About fifty in the massive auditorium, eleven speakers, eight in favor of the plan,  Newsday writes,

Thursday night’s turnout by about 50 educators and parent activists was quiet and mannerly — a marked contrast to the crowds of angry teachers and parents who showed up at state conferences in 2013 to boo Elia’s predecessor, former Commissioner John King Jr.

The Common Core/King induced anger resulted in 200,000 parents opting their kids out of the state tests. Now, a few years later, the massive restart, the ESSA plan, is treated with a yawn.

Read a 60-plus page summary of the ESSA plan here. The first section of the plan creates metrics to measure school performance and moves from NCLB test scores only to the ESSA plan, a combination of test scores, growth and a non-academic metric combined on a dashboard. The second half of the plan describes how progress is defined for schools in the lowest five percent.(Read pages 24 – 26 in the summary for you eduwonks!).

The plan is aspirational, in the perfect world the plan would bring all schools to proficiency; however, as Regents Brown, Young and Johnson have raised again and again, how does the plan deal with equity?  The property tax-based funding formula embedded in state law is grossly inequitable. The ESSA plan acknowledges the inequities; however,  the law does not allow for desegregating metrics. We can’t measure different schools by different metrics.

The non-academic metric the plan chose was chronic absenteeism.

I abjure.

Obviously coming to school is essential. In the fall of 1968, a 40-day strike, later in the school year kids took citywide tests, and the scores dropped. The media asked Albert Shanker for  comment, “Thank goodness.”

Over the last few years studies have tracked the impact of absenteeism: guess what? Kids who are chronically  absent, defined as absent more than 10% of the school year: higher dropout rates, higher “everything negative” rates.

Read articles here and here.

Yes, attending school regularly is crucial; however, punishing schools for high absentee rates is akin to punishing people because they’re poor.

Ed Week writes,

… as states put a largely untested policy idea into practice on such a large scale, implementation is everything. If states select indicators that can’t be accurately measured or influenced by schools, or if they fail to provide schools with the resources they need to carry out new mandates, the indicator requirement could lead to unintended consequences or pushback from educators, K-12 groups and researchers have warned.

In 2010 in New York City Mayor Bloomberg convened the “Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement,” (Read the detailed description of the Task Force here). I was not a fan of the ex-mayor’s education policies, his interagency approach is an exception. Reducing chronic absenteeism must involve all the social service and health agencies that impact the family.

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a superb report that is the basis of the Bloomberg interagency approach.

Read a summary of the report here and the full report here.

I urge you to read the report, aptly entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About New York City’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.”

The report identifies 18 Risk Load factors that impact chronic absenteeism:

Measuring A School’s Total Risk Load

School Factors:

  1. Students eligible for free lunch
  2. School’s with children in temporary housing
  3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration
  4. Students in Special Education
  5. Black and Hispanic students
  6. Principal Turnover
  7. Teacher Turnover
  8. Student Turnover
  9. Suspension Rate
  10. Safety Score on Learning Environment Survey

Neighborhood Factors:

  1. Involvement with Administration for Children’s Services
  2. Poverty Rate
  3. Adult education levels
  4. Professional employment
  5. Adult male unemployment’
  6. Public housing in school catchment area
  7. Homeless shelters in school catchment area

The report contains interviews with school leaders, many who are doing “all the right things” with their schools showing little or no improvement.

Schools in the Interagency Task Force initiative did show a modest improvement in rates of Chronic Absenteeism – reductions from 23% to 19%.

“Punishing” schools for rates of high chronic absenteeism or not lessening the rate without acknowledging poverty risk load is simply unfair and smacks of the NCLB “test and punish” approach.  I am betting that student attrition rates in charter schools include many chronically absent kids.

Small numbers of schools are “beating the odds,” usually led by extraordinary school leaders and staffs, sadly, the successes are too frequently short lived.

The community schools project in New York City, and, hopefully around the state offers hope. Community schools engage with the social and health services in the community and this multi-faceted, multi-agency approach has shown progress.

Let’s hope the final ESSA plan does not condemn schools for “poor geography,” and let’s acknowledge the impact of poverty risk load factors. These are not excuses, these are realities. Currently inequality is embedded in the law and I hope the final plan loudly condemns the governor and the legislature for not acting to correct. Highly effective leadership and teaching coupled with support from the district and the state, of course, are essential elements in any plan.

Ignoring inequality is foolish and destructive.

Building Trust: Can the Regents Begin to Regain the Trust of Parents and Teachers Across the State?

It always starts with a woman

I was a young firebrand complaining that the union leadership wasn’t militant enough; Lenore, that woman, challenged me to come to a union executive board meeting, I became addicted (to the meetings, not Lenore, who became a close friend)

Al Shanker, Jules Kolodny, Dave Wittes and the other founders of the UFT; debating, arguing, haggling: should the union take a position on the war in Vietnam, would taking a position destroy the union (the union conducted membership plebiscite – members voted not to take a position); should the union sponsor sending members to work registering black voters in the South (yes), should the union organize supervisors (no, by a single vote), I sat at the feet of union icons, and learned.

As a union rep I learned “to agree to disagree,” to work together on issues as well as to battle over others, to maintain mature labor-management relationships.

Unfortunately John King skipped over the learning steps

King is brilliant with a list of degrees from prestigious universities; he lacks a degree from the university of “hard knocks.”

As Commissioner of Education he intellectually overwhelmed a majority of the Regents, and probably the governor; at times duplicitous, at times arrogant, he jumped onto the (de)form bandwagon: the 770 million in Race to the Top dollars, the Common Core State Standards, the rapid adoption of new Common Core tests, a teacher evaluation plan, new untested higher standards for prospective teachers, one “big idea” after another forced down the throats of increasingly uneasy Regents and overburdened teachers and principals.

Then, the house of reformy cards tumbled.

As anger grew, among teachers, principals and superintendents, among parents, among legislators John King was sacrificed, aka, fired. The governor, angered over teacher support for his primary opponent decided to punish teachers, bubbling anger became a tsunami.

Angry voters results in nervous legislators.

The Democrats in the Assembly sent a message; they refused to reappoint the two most senior Regents and appointed four new Regents, all clearly independent, all committed to change, although “change” is hard to define.

Over the next two weeks the Regents will have an opportunity to rebuild trust.

The much ballyhooed teacher evaluation legislation based on multiple measures including student tests scores was a chimera. In the last year of the former “S” or “U” system in New York 2.8% of teachers received a “U” rating, in the first year of the new plan only 1.6% of teachers were rated “Ineffective.” In the first year of the plan outside of New York City 51% of teachers were rated “Highly Effective.” The teacher scores were statistically unstable; errors of measurement were 20, 30 and 40 percent. At the Education Learning Summit three of the four experts trashed the use of Value-Added Measures.

The governor imposed a new system, a Matrix that blended teacher observations and student performance measures.

In the two months since the budget passed a maelstrom has swirled across the state.

The Regents have an opportunity, a window to rebuild trust with the community.


Acknowledge the American Statistical Association, (teacher impact on students test scores ranges from 1 to 14%), local negotiation is far more meaningful than plans imposed by the state, to the extent possible allow labor-management negotiations to create plans, and, in the first year, minimize the role of the outside evaluator, ask a technical committee to review research and the evolving data and recommend emendations, explore the use of portfolios to assess certain categories of students. Make sure that teachers are not “punished” for teaching the poorest kids, English language learners and students with disabilities.

The governor will trash the plan, his influence has waned, his approval ratings are nose-diving, and his “Preet Problems” continue to grow. The NY Post and the NY Daily News will squeal.

The Regents have to begin to build trust, to show school staffs and parents that the “blame the teacher, blame the parent” days are in the past.

There is a high level of suspicion, the newly appointed Commissioner, who does not take office until 7/6 has been sharply criticized before day one on the job.

Let’s get past teacher evaluation and begin to address the core conundrums: we know that geography, to a large extent, determines destiny (see just released maps here).

We know that English language learners struggle in schools across the state, except in the schools supported by the Internationals Network (see NY Times article here)

The Regents and the new commissioner must begin to deal with the wide range of issues: let’s begin working together: let’s agree to disagree as well as work together to create a student-centered school system across the state. Equitable school funding, deep poverty, new immigrants and undocumented minors, the challenges are daunting.

Listen to Joan Baez: Deportees

Separate But Equal or Ending Segregated Schools: A Conflicted Vision for School Improvement

(Note: Stan Litow, the IBM VP in charge of the Watson Teacher Mentor program clarifies, “no data mining …, says he’ll ‘write it in blood'”” and, a contest for teachers to select a name for the program)

The New School University and the Nation co-sponsored an intriguing event, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, acted as the moderator, Dana Goldstein, the author of the highly acclaimed Teachers Wars (Read NY Times review here ), Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education, Pedro Noguera, NYU and AFT President Randi Weingarten, mused about the future of public education.

The panel was a follow-up to the current issue of the Nation, “Saving Public Education.” Read the Nation articles here, they are excellent.

This is the sixtieth anniversary of Board v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that reversed Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the prior decision that confirmed “separate but equal.” There have been a number of events looking back over the sixty years since Brown and the arc of school desegregation. In the spring NYU hosted a two-day conference, “Brown at 60: Has Desegregation Stalled?”

A Report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA confirms the title of the conference.

Segregation for blacks is the highest in the Northeast, a region with extremely high district fragmentation.

 Latinos are now significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.

 Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.

 Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.

Hayes asked the panel: Are we retreating to a pre-Brown era? Is “Separate but Equal” the new norm in our schools?

Noguera has spoken loudly and frequently criticizing New York City and national policies that foster racial isolation. In an interview prior to the “Brown at 60” event he explained his position,

Q: Many school districts have essentially re-segregated now that they’re no longer under court supervision. Is it time to reconsider legally mandated racial percentages to guarantee integration once again?

A: You need a comprehensive approach. You need to make sure that there’s affordable housing in many communities, and not just concentrate it into certain areas—which reinforces the segregation of schools. But then you also need things like magnet schools and other strategies to produce voluntary integration. We have learned that you can’t force people to participate in a desegregation effort, but you can do things to make it more attractive…

Q: Why are New York State schools the nation’s most segregated?

A: What New York did wrong is it did nothing. People attribute a lot of this to the idea of choice—that individuals are choosing where to live and where to put their kids in school. That’s not an accurate reading of history. We have a history in New York of legally sanctioned housing segregation—so that people of color, particularly blacks, were not allowed to move into certain areas. Those areas have stayed white. And that’s reflected in schools. By not taking those issues on through policy, New York State now finds itself singled out as among the most segregated in the country.

Panelist Zakiyah Ansari disagreed, to paraphrase, why do children of color have to attend a white school to get a good education? With equitable funding, a diverse staff and culturally relevant curriculum our kids can prosper. The panelists probably agree on almost everything, the almost, however, is significant, questions of race and class are the subtext of every conversation.

A few days later the Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosted a discussion of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (2014) by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. (Read book summary here). Gerald Robinson, the former Commissioner of Education in Virginia and Florida was the commenter and David Steiner, the Dean of the Hunter School of Education was the moderator. Oddly the discussion was a continuation of the discussion at the New School.

Kahlenberg reminds us that the charter school concept began with Al Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker saw charter schools as incubators for new ideas, schools freed from school district regulations and union contracts that could experiment and share findings with public schools. In reality charter schools have been established to avoid union rules and create competition for public schools. Kahlenberg, in a book filled with sources for every assertion finds that charter schools at best are no better than public schools and in many occasions much worse. Sadly, there are only a few examples of schools that espouse the Al Shanker vision, schools with significant teacher voice and also that integrate children by race and class,

Kahlenberg backs up his assertion that children of color in integrated school setting are higher achievers. “Research suggests that students learn a great deal from their peers, and it is an advantage, on average, to have a strong core of middle-class peers for a variety of reasons.”

Low income students attending economically diverse schools benefit from the larger vocabularies, greater knowledge and more positive attitude toward learning found, on average, among middle and higher-income peers. It is an advantage to have classmates who are academically engaged and aspire to go to college. Peers in middle class schools are more likely to do homework, attend class regularly, and graduate – all of which have been found to influence the behavior of classmate.

The authors single out charters that both value teacher voice and have created student enrollment patterns that secure both racial and economic diversity, and, encourage the creation of charters that follow this pattern.

Gerald Robinson, the commenter, echoing Ansari, using an almost hip-hop lyric, pronounced, “Its place not race.” Kids are failing in inner city communities of color, that’s where we should place charter schools.

It is fascinating to me that Ansari and Robinson accept that we are living in a “separate but equal” world of schooling and we should move on and ignore the consequences of racial segregation. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor got is right in her fiery dissent in the Michigan affirmative action case.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

Clearly, a post-racial America is far, far down the road.

How Would Al Shanker Feel About the New Proposed UFT Contract?

Read the Contract at a Glance »
Read the FAQ »
Read the Memorandum of Agreement on educational issues »
See the salary schedules »

David Bloomfield begins a Hechinger Report article with, “I knew Al Shanker, Mr. Mulgrew, and you’re no Al Shanker.” David may be wrong, really wrong.

In 1975 Shanker negotiated a deeply unpopular contract and a few months later lent the city millions of dollars to avert a default. In retrospect he saved the city and the union; a default would have abrogated all collective bargaining agreements. Mulgrew negotiated a contract with full, compounded retroactive pay going back to 2009, and crafted paying out the billions over years going forward (see salary schedule above). The city could have simply said the dollars are gone. Additionally the contract addresses other issues at the top of teachers’ agendas: easing the requirements of the teacher evaluation law, dissolving over time the ATR pool and a mundane but important teacher issue: reducing the paperwork burden.

The PROSE schools, basically a “thin contract zone” are a cutting edge reaction to charter schools. The major charter school argument is that both union and management rules impede innovative practices. The new innovation zone will give schools wide discretion, with the approval of 65% of the staff and the chancellor/union leader.

Shanker was the only national leader to support the 1983 “A Nation At Risk,” Report. In the late eighties Shanker supported the concept of charter schools. He was far from the hard-nosed union leader defending contract provisions at all costs.

Mulgrew has taken a substantial risk; the up to two hundred thin contract PROSE schools could change the direction of teacher contract nationally, or, stumble badly.

In the world of social media the ratification process allows teachers and non-teachers to “put in their two cents” on UFT Facebook and on Twitter accounts (over 8,000 on the Facebook group). The world of social media, unfortunately, does not lend itself to informed debate, and, the discussion over the proposed contract was replete with brief snarky, nasty comments and crude back and forths between members.

Too many teachers seem oblivious to the erosion of traditional union contract provisions around the nation.

Teacher unions are in trouble and urbanized urban public schools are in more trouble The post Katrina Recovery Charter School District in New Orleans has replaced public schools, the public school system in Detroit in tatters with court-supported reductions in public employee pensions, the public school system in Philadelphia may not exist in a year or two, Chicago teachers, in spite of a vigorous, forceful union leader continues to be trashed by a mayor in the Bloomberg mold, and in Los Angeles tenure and seniority in jeopardy.

Cities are in trouble – California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, in a lecture at the New School University, paints a bleak picture of cities across the nation,

… the fate of the nation’s cities stands at a crossroads. While cities like New York appear to be doing better than ever, a rising tide of poverty and inequality threatens to undermine their progress. Meanwhile, a large group of second-tier cities, from Detroit and St. Louis to Stockton and San Bernardino, are besieged as never before. How will the mushrooming national debt and looming federal austerity regime affect these trends? Will austerity exacerbate the division between successful and struggling cities?

New York City is one of the few cities that has been growing with a continuing influx of both immigrants from abroad and from around the nation. While the city faces a growing income inequality and higher income New Yorkers are enriching the city’s coffers. with increasing calls to “tax the rich.”

There are uncertainties down the road: will the growing financial sector continue? Will tax revenues continue to increase? Can the city both meet the mayor’s aggressive new policies and fund them? Will the national economy continue to recover?

With a narrow window the union president negotiated a contract that locked in a rich contract with a range of initiatives demanded by union members and embarked on a path of creating a zone of schools with a pared-down union contract.

Teacher unions around the country can reject contract offers tied to increasing student test scores and look to the New York City model.

I think Al Shanker would be jumping up and applauding Michael Mulgrew.

The Hybrid School: Charter Look-a-Likes in the Unionized Public Sector: People, Not Ideology, Makes Great Schools

The charter school was on the top floor of a public school, I whiled away my time at the desk as security eventually called upstairs. As I trekked up the stairs I looked down the hallways of the public school, the teachers were shabbily dressed, loud angry noises from a few classrooms, too many kids in the hallways. As I walked out on the floor of the charter school a student, wearing the school uniform came up to me and introduced himself and asked if could be of assistance.

If I was a parent, which school would I want my child to attend?

We want orderly schools; the tone of a school to me drives the academics, as my superintendent was fond of repeating, “Order precedes learning.”

Networks were a failed attempt to create clusters of schools, affinity groups of schools working together, growing together, and creating a common culture. The department espoused the school leader as a CEO, in reality the system remained a top-down accountability-driven hierarchy. The network leadership was mediocre and school leaders fled to networks and Partnership Support Organizations (PSO) that were “helpful” and not intrusive. Unfortunately too many principals allowed their lives to be dominated by School Progress Reports and Quality Reviews to the exclusion of a laser-like focus on teaching and learning in collaborative settings.

Scattered around the city are highly effective schools, schools that parents fight to get into, public schools, not charter schools.

If you are against charter schools you are against quality education, you are against school reform. Gina Belfante in her New York Times article demurs,

When he was campaigning for mayor, Bill de Blasio had an enlightened formulation — that charter schools, though they educate only 6 percent of the city’s children, had usurped nearly all the conversation, and that this was an unhealthy proportion. And yet since he was elected he has been too lost in the morass to reframe and reorient the discussion.

The mayor has allowed charter school advocates, whose public-relations machine would seem to rival the operations of Paramount in the 1940s, to continue to leave too many people believing that if you are against charter schools you are against “change,” and thus by default a friend of laziness and mediocrity. To even question the motives or practices of charter schools is to be a supplicant in the cult of the teachers’ union, which is its own absurdity, just as it is a disgrace that the term “education reform” has come to refer almost exclusively to the charter movement, belying the innovation that can happen within regular public schools.

If the mayor’s messaging were more robust, determined and aggressive, he might draw attention to hybrid schools, which strive to offer poor children something like the experience of a private education within the context of the traditional public system, using union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation is a consortium of five schools, grades 6-12, with an all Afro-American male student body. The schools are public schools operating under the union contract. 82% of the student body is accepted to college, well beyond the stats for Afro-American males. The students wear white shirts and ties; the school is orderly, a heavy emphasis on mentoring and counseling. The schools look and feel like charter schools – there only real comparison is fund raising. The Eagle Academy struggles to raise money to supplement department of education funding, the hedge fund entrepreneurs who so richly fund charter schools shun the Eagle Academy – their sin: they hire union teachers.

The Eagle Academy Foundation has a much harder time raising money. “A lot of the Wall Street, hedge fund guys are not pro-union guys,” David C. Banks, the Eagle Academy Foundation’s president and chief executive told me. “It’s not the world they come from. They see charters as places of innovation, and that’s the narrative the business community wants to support. I’ve had people say to me, straight up, ‘We’re not just funding a school, we’re funding a philosophy, and that philosophy is anti-union.’ ”

The International High Schools are a consortium of fourteen grades 9-12 high schools, they only enroll student who have been in the country four years or less. The graduation rate far exceeds both the city and state rates for English language learners. The schools are supported by the Internationals High School Network, a not-for-profit that must raise funds to provide professional development for their schools. The schools are all characterized by a high level of teacher involvement in all aspects of school organization – the schools are models of “practitioner lead” collaboration. The schools are department of education schools operating under the union contract. (Read article on page 19 by International Network leader Claire Sylvan)

Generations High School, located in South Shore High School has a 200-day student instructional year – teachers work under the teacher contract – the school worked out an arrangement with union – the teachers work the same number of days as all other teachers.

The anti-union bias is unfortunate – some of the innovative schools/programs engaging the most at-risk students are public schools working under the union contract.

In the 90’s District 22 in Brooklyn fully implemented School and District Leadership Teams and school-based budgeting. The district provided in-depth training for school teams, in classroom setting and tutorials. One school created a school within a school, another used state and federal funds to extend the school day, the district asked the chancellor to designate the district as a charter district with wider latitude over the expenditure of funds – request denied.

As the department moves to redesign itself it must realize the real innovation is bottom up, the antithesis of the current rigid Tweed driven accountability structure.

Hiring the innovators, the best and the brightest, the smartest, the most dedicated leaders, both teachers and supervisors with proven records of success and supporting there efforts will create effective schools.

A message to hedge funders: the absence of unions does not make for effective schools – teachers and school leaders make for great schools, dedicated, smart folks make differences.

The deepest education thinkers of the last century – John Dewey and Al Shanker, were union members.

High Risk/High Reward: The NYC Teacher Contract Negotiations Can Produce a Model for the Nation.

At a union meeting a teacher leaned over and whispered, “I hear we’re getting 4% retroactive.”

I replied, “Don’t get your hopes up … you may be disappointed.”

A new mayor, a new chancellor, why wouldn’t we expect a good contract? The problem: mayors have to deliver for the entire city, for taxpayers as well as teachers, a contract that is “praised” by the elites, the powerbrokers, the New York Times as well as endorsed by union members, a contract that is perceived as “fair” to all sides.

At a recent press conference Mayor de Blasio raised the issue of union contracts – every union contract in the city has expired – many expired three and four years ago – (the teacher union contract expired on 10/31/09) the mayor referred to the absence of contracts, with retroactive pay, as a “crisis.”

Union members, after years without contracts may have high expectations, unions cannot afford to unrealistically raise expectations of their members.

In days of yore the union collected hundreds of bargaining demands from members. At the Delegate Meeting to approve the demands a teacher asked the union president, Al Shanker,

“Al, how much would it cost if we got everything?”

Shanker stepped away from the microphone, seemed to be calculating, and moved back to the microphone, “I’d say a gold ball the size of Earth.”

These days the union only submits general demands, a 300-hundred member negotiating committee, members from across the spectrum of the union act as a “sounding board” for the union negotiators.

The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) Fact-Finding Report will be released shortly, with a new mayor, a new chancellor and the Report in place serious negotiations can commence. The fact-finding reports in the past have created a framework for a contract agreement.

The PERB process assists school districts in the negotiations. Under state law, called the Triborough Doctrine, expired public employee contracts remain in place until the successor contract is approved. Teachers continue to receive step and longevity increases under the expired contracts and there is no pressure for the school district to engage in serious negotiations. PERB assigns a mediator if no progress is made, the mediator can declare an impasse and PERB assigns a fact-finding panel, arbitrators from a jointly approved list. The process has been highly successful in resolving labor disputes.

The panel receives evidence presented through the testimony of witnesses who are cross- examined by the other side, hundreds of pages of charts and graphs and data to buttress the testimony of the witnesses.

The two key principles are “pattern bargaining,” (what raises did similarly-situated unions receive) and “ability to pay,” (the financial situation of the school district).

In the last fact-finding the union argued that higher salaries in suburbs resulted in the exodus of New York City teachers as well as suburbs attracting the “best” candidates. The city argued that communities vote to approve budgets and in essence voters approve higher salaries and the proper “pattern” should be other large urban centers. The panel suggested that urban centers near New York City, i.e., Yonkers, White Plains, might be a comparison.

The union will point to a summer 2008 fact-finding panel between the MTA and the TWU at which the city agreed it had set aside 4% for upcoming contract negotiations and the city will point to the fall 2008 recession/meltdown that had dire consequences for the city. The union will point to the increasing fiscal health of the city. The city will point to 7,000 teacher layoffs in Bloomberg budgets that were restored by the City Council – arguing that dollars that could have gone for raises were used to save jobs. Increases in the suburbs over the last few years have been very small or non-existent, the union will argue the 2% state-imposed property tax cap does not apply to New York City.

The panel report will summarize all the positions and “suggest” rates for retroactive as well as for rates going forward.

Will the city agree to make the retroactive payments in one lump sum, or divide over a number of budget cycles? Will all of the retroactive be “pensionable,” or will some/all of the retroactive be “non-pensionable cash payments,” or some other configuration? It is unlikely that the city continues the Bloomberg position – “we cannot afford retroactive increases.”

The contracts will cost the city many hundreds of millions of dollars and one percent translates into tens of millions of dollars.

On the non-budgetary side of the contract the usual push-pull will occur – disputes around managerial prerogatives – in what areas do principals have total discretion and in what areas must they consult with the union, how do you define consult?

An issue that both sides want to change is the teacher evaluation plan, a plan imposed by the commissioner when the mayor sank the plan negotiated with the department.

The current plan requires too many lesson observations, both the union and the department agree and the methods for assessing student growth for non-state tested subjects – that’s 80% of all teachers – is obtuse, burdensome, and indefensible. The teacher evaluation plan is part of state law converted in commissioner regulation and whatever plan is negotiated must be approved by the commissioner. After year one of the plan only 1% of teachers in the state, outside of NYC, were found to be “ineffective.”

Critics of teacher contracts claim that contracts are filled with “rules” that impede a principal’s ability to effectively run a school, and, department regulations also stand in the way of creating programs and policies that will spur academic growth, hence, the need for charter schools.

Teachers complain that the contract, however flawed, protects teachers from abusive principals.

For twenty years the union and the department have flirted with a “thin” contract experiment. In the early nineties a principal and a chapter leader came to the union with a plan: exempt the school from seniority transfers, a teacher-led committee would select new teachers. The union accepted the plan, eventually negotiated it into the contract, it became the “School-Based Option Staffing and Personnel” section of the contract, subsequently changed to the Open Market system. The same principal and chapter leader asked the union to support a peer review teacher assessment plan – I believe it still exists in a few schools. (I have a copy!!)

Why not carve out schools, through an application process that can operate under a significantly pared down contract – operate under principles of collaboration.

There is a considerable research supporting collaboration at the school level. (See evidence here)

While the mayor and the union are not fans of merit pay the idea of a bonus to attract teachers into hard-to-staff certification areas, or, into schools in high poverty neighborhoods, or, create titles for teachers with expanded responsibilities with additional pay, usually called differentiated staffing could become an attractive option. Teachers in the Chancellor’s District received higher pay in exchange for a longer work day and year.

As soon as the non-binding fact-finding report is issued, it is a public report; the clock will begin to tick. The mayor wants to work with unions and needs unions to push his agenda in Albany and Washington and wants to show the world that effective local governments and unions are not contraindicated. For unions, Mayor de Blasio is that rare bird, a pro-union, progressive mayor; perhaps a model for the nation, to fail to negotiate a contract might doom public employee unions elsewhere.

It will require nimble craftsman on both sides of the table with very high stakes – for New York City and the nation.

UPDATE: The new NYC Budget Director, testifying in Albany, stated that the previous administration had no money put aside for retroactive increases and 1.25% going forward for annual increases.

NEWER UPDATE: Comparison of Teacher Salaries in New York State by district.

de Blasio, Dinkins, Teacher Contract Negotiations and Lessons from the Past

The once popular mayor faded in his third term, scandals and public opposition, the archetypical New Yorker, Ed Koch, had become an overbearing politician. The first Afro-American candidate defeated Koch in the democratic primary and faced Rudi Giuliani in the election. With the vigorous support of the teachers union and a broad coalition David Dinkins, a lifelong party foot soldier became the first Afro-American mayor of the Big Apple.

In his just-published autobiography (“A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic”) Dinkins defends his troubled four years and his defeat by Giuliani.

Teachers played a key role in what was an intense and often ugly campaign, interestingly the last time the union supported a winner – Dinkins – was followed by twenty years of Republican mayors in a city with an overwhelming democratic citizenry.

Negotiations for a new teacher contract inched along, Dinkins was cautious, very cautious, and you couldn’t expect him to open the city coffers, even if he owed his election to the union. Weeks turned into months and months in a year and still not a contract. The union moved from demonstrations to radio ads to TV ads urging Dinkins to conclude a contract. Finally, in September, 2003, a contract was negotiated; the union membership would never abide endorsing Dinkins, not after a year and a half of an expired contract. The union made no endorsement and Dinkins was a one term mayor and his mishandling of the teacher contract might have cost him his re-election.

Bill de Blasio will be elected mayor on November 5th.

Today, teachers, four years without a contract, expect a speedy resolution and a favorable contract.

In New York State public employee labor relations are governed by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Under state law public employee expired contracts remain in full force and effect until a successor contract is negotiated. If the parties cannot resolve a contract dispute PERB provides a mediator, if the mediation reaches impasse PERB appoints a panel of three arbitrators who conduct a non-binding arbitration referred to in the law as fact-finding. The current process is reaching a conclusion with a fact-finding decision due in December/January.

(Read the “Taylor Law” explaining the fact-finding procedures here http://perb.ny.gov/stat.asp#con)

The 2002 139-page Fact-Finding Report was the last time the city and the union could not resolve a contract dispute (Read Report here http://www.perb.state.ny.us/pdf/boeuft.pdf)

A major part of the Report will deal with salary – retroactive pay as well as an increase. The fact-finders will consider “pattern bargaining” and “ability to pay.”

This year “pattern bargaining” is a complex issue, there are no recent city labor agreements. In the remainder of the state the 2% property tax cap has basically halted teacher contract negotiations. Districts are struggling to meet day-to-day obligations under the cap. The required pension contributions have increased dramatically and districts are dipping into reserves to balance their budgets.

Additionally Governor Cuomo has appointed a task force to seek ways to reduce taxes in the state.

How will these events impact the fact-finders establishing a “pattern”?

The second “ability to pay” principle in an era of federal sequestration, the furloughing of federal employees and the possible default all impact the city’s “ability to pay.” Four years without contracts has built up an enormous “retroactive” salary problem.

Can the city afford $6-8 billion in retroactive salary payments?

The fact-finders will craft a recommended percent increase going forward as well as “going backwards.” In some prior contracts “back pay,” instead of a retroactive percentage increase was a “non-pensionable cash payment” spread over an extended period of time.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the current negotiations – I’m just speculating based on past practices.

The fact-finding report is only a recommendation, although in the three previous instances the report became the basis for a contract.

Mayors, no matter how favorable to a union, will not open up the coffers.

de Blasio will negotiate – negotiations mean a two-way street.

It is likely he will ask for changes in the contract which may not be palatable to all teachers.

In the early days the union used to submit many hundreds of bargaining demands. At the Delegate Assembly the demands were distributed and debated. A delegate walked up to a microphone and asked Al Shanker,

“Al, if we get everything, what will it cost?”

Al mulled for a while, stepped away from the microphone and appeared to be calculating, stepped back to the microphone and replied,

“A gold ball the size of the Earth.”

de Blasio has to satisfy a union hungry for a “fair” contract; how does one define “fair”?

The union cannot allow negotiations to fester, cannot allow the weeks to turn into months, and neither can de Blasio.

Aside from the key question of salary there are other core issues for the union: eliminating the ATR pool, bringing sanity to the teacher evaluation plan, embedding collaborative planning time in the contract, etc. What will de Blasio “demand” in exchange for union core issues?

Can the union and de Blasio negotiate a successor agreement, a new contract that satisfies the union and its members as well as pass scrutiny with the governor, the media, the public and the scions that run the city from the aeries of power?

The specter of Dinkins’s failed four years should be a lesson learned.