Tag Archives: collaboration

Collaboration or Conflict: Can the New UFT Teacher Contract Change the Role of School Leaders and Teachers from Adversaries to Collaborators?

As a nation we have been struggling for decades to improve academic outcomes for children, especially for children in poverty and children of color. We acknowledge factors external to schools impact academic outcomes; for example, childhood poverty in the United States is higher than all the countries in Europe, and, issues within our control go unaddressed, another example, school segregation.

We do know that in the teaching/learning process, the interaction among teachers, between supervisors and teachers, including parents, in the school decision-making process, requires collaboration in order to improve academic outcomes, the evidence is overwhelming.

In New York City parents, teacher and students fill out surveys  every year, and, not surprisingly schools with high levels of collaboration as evidenced by the survey have better academic outcomes.

While there are many definitions of collaboration the definition below encompasses many other definitions.

Collaboration – the sharing of effort, knowledge and resources in the pursuit of shared goals – plays a central and partially hidden role in the achievement of student learning outcomes.

 Professional collaboration is deeply embedded in the culture and organization of … schools. It is used to support, sustain, evaluate and refine professional learning about teaching and learning strategies. Using collaboration to access expertise, data and relevant practice is an essential part of … daily practice. Local collaboration with other schools, universities, employers and community organizations also plays an essential role in providing the structure, resources and expertise for student achievement.

 Unfortunately too many schools and school districts are paramilitary organizations, the superintendent or principal at the top of the pyramid gives an order and everyone down the pyramid is expected to salute and comply. Common planning time required in some districts, included in some collective bargaining agreements, is the time spent fruitfully, or, an opportunity to bitch and vent? In my union rep days I used to suggest to principals that their faculty conferences should mirror the type of instruction they want to see in classrooms, interactions between the principal and the staff not the “sage on the stage.”

Labor relations in the United States has a long history of conflict, management guarding their “prerogatives” and viewing unions as opponents, as the enemy.

The German model is far different,

 The German [labor relations] system is more democratic and far more respectful of worker rights. Instead of the relentless union-busting and virulent anti-labor propaganda common in US industry, German labor law requires consultation and collaboration with workers in the Betriebsrat, or works council—people directly elected by the employees, blue-collar and white-collar alike. At a minimum, German workers are guaranteed a voice in corporate decision-making.

 The recent Janus SCOTUS decision is just one example of a nationwide, well-funded attempt to disempower teacher unions rather than working with unions to improve student outcomes.

 Union-management labor negotiations have been, and in many arenas continue to be a struggle over power. The elected Los Angeles school board (LAUSD) hired a former hedge fund manager with no education experience as superintendent and the second largest school district in the nation is edging towards a strike as both sides publicly attack each other.  The just concluded New York City tentative union agreement is moving in the opposite direction, with a number of educational initiatives that will require a new level of collaboration at the school level.

Read summary of tentative contract and full memorandum: http://www.uft.org/our-rights/contract-2018

The crucial question is whether labor and management can move from decades of adversarial relationships to collegial relations on the district and school level.

We have had islands of collaboration going back to the 60’s with the creation of alternative high schools, a few, very few, school districts jumped onboard the School-Based Management/School Based Decision-making (SBM-SBD) trend in the 90’s, individual schools, under the radar worked out interesting programs, in one large school teachers selected the department head and teachers could voluntarily opt into a non-evaluative peer observation system in lieu of traditional observations. Currently well over 100 schools in New York City are PROSE schools, schools that have “innovative” approaches outside the constraints of department and union regulations; sort of  charter-like entities within the school system.

The new contract sets up a Bronx Collaborative Schools Plan,

This model is a joint effort to help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration. Attracting and retaining staff is a priority of this model. Up to 120 schools, mostly in the Bronx, will participate.

  • Eligibility is based on criteria including teacher turnover, staff retention/attrition, academic achievement, persistent vacancies, repeated use of shortage-license-area waivers, student demographics and enrollment, leadership turnover, transportation issues and/or state identification. Both the chapter leader and principal have to agree to be part of the model.
  • A central committee composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the UFT president and the chancellor will oversee the pilot.
  • Each school will form a school-based committee composed of between six and 12 people; 50 percent of the committee members will be UFT-represented employees selected by the UFT. These committees will receive joint professional development on collaboration, facilitation, shared decision-making, “Speak up Culture,” DOE data dashboard and other topics.

How will the school staffs acquire the skills to address these issues? In the past the “solutions” came from the chancellor or the superintendent, and, rarely were sustainable. The current theory of action: school-based decisions with external supports can achieve goals and become embedded in school cultures,

School cultures are firmly embedded; moving from top-down to school-based is a substantial task.

The worthy programmatic goal, “help students achieve their highest potential through a transformation of school culture based on genuine collaboration,” will require major shifts on the union and management sides.

Many other sections of the memorandum address collaboration between the parties. Words are just words, they are not actions. Labor/management agreements can look fine on paper, how will they work in the schools, and, will the collaborative efforts translate into more effective schools?

The collective bargaining agreement, the contract, requires monthly consultation meeting between the school leaders and the school union representative, and, the union spends a great deal of time training the school reps about their roles at the consultation, the meetings can get argumentative.

A recent school-based consultation meeting:

The union rep raised an issue and the principal asked the union rep how s/he would resolve the issue: the union rep replied, “That’s your job, you just have to resolve the issue to my satisfaction.”

How do you move from conflict to conciliation to collaboration?

A principal confided to me, “I’m responsible for school outcomes, too many teachers just want to do less work, they use the contract to avoid responsibility, use it was a weapon.”

Teachers in another school bemoan that every time they come to the principal with an idea, a proposal, s/he rejects any without reason.

We have s long way to go, the union and the chancellor and his underlings have to be fully committed to changing decades of suspicion, trust is only built through actions.

I was sitting at a School Leadership Team meeting, as a guest, the teachers and the parents were advocating for changes and the principal was arguing “it’ll never work,” after a while he relented, “If you want to do it, I’ll support it, I just want to know how we’re going to assess it, how will we know if it’s works?”   Is there a collaboration gene?

With charter schools and online learning and who knows what else hovering it is essential that “both sides of the desk” put aside traditional conflicts and begin to work together to create and achieve common goals.

Why is the Chancellor Re-Igniting the Reading Wars? The Best Educational Decisions Are Made by Principals and Teachers at Schools, Not in Washington or Albany or at Tweed Headquarters

For the last four years of the Bloomberg administration teachers, principals and parents disliked and frequently despised the educational bureaucracy; for two decades none of the chancellors had been teachers or school leaders, initiative after initiative seemed to be punitive and ill-conceived.

Board headquarters, Tweed, became a “dirty word;” the deputy chancellors were inexperienced, and the teacher union and advocacy organizations were at war with Gracie Mansion.

The appointment of Carmen Farina, a forty-year veteran who worked her way up the ladder from teacher to deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was greeted with joy. The negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement after five years without a contract, new promotion requirements that gave principal judgment more credence, and visit after visit to schools and meetings with teachers, it seemed to be a new day

It is surprising, and does not auger well, that the chancellor intends to resuscitate her favorite reading program, the Lucy Calkins Teacher College Reading and Writing Project.

To the extent possible educational decisions should be made at schools by principals and teams of teachers, the role of the superintendent and network leader should be to guide and support decisions made at schools.

Decisions made in Washington or Albany are looked upon with suspicion, and, usually fade away. Chancellor Farina and Calkins are close friends, its “uncomfortable” when a friendship drives education policy rather than research-based programs.

In an April article Chalkbeat reports Calkins’ antipathy to the Common Core is evident,

[Calkins] … described a model lesson by Common Core advocate David Coleman where high school students are asked to pore over the three-paragraph Gettysburg Address for several days, parsing the meaning of the individual words and phrases in the speech … “To me, it basically represents horrible teaching,” Calkins said

In a letter to Farina Calkins wrote, “Please, Carmen, protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it that are people’s interpretations of it.”

But some critics say that parts of Calkins’ approach and the Common Core are incompatible. The prospect that Fariña’s ascension could expand Calkin’s influence over the school system has already unsettled some of them, including New York University education professor Susan Neuman. “I think that’s scary,” Neuman said, “and devastating.”

While you philosophically may support or oppose the Common Core, it does drive state tests and regents examinations.

A few days ago Chancellor Farina announced her intent to increase the number of schools utilizing Calkin’s methodology. The New York Times writes,

… balanced literacy is poised to make a comeback in New York City classrooms. The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, wants more schools to adopt aspects of balanced literacy, including its emphasis on allowing students to choose many of the books they read.

The city’s Education Department turned away from balanced literacy several years ago amid concerns that it was unstructured and ineffective, particularly for low-income children. And Ms. Fariña is facing sharp resistance from some education experts, who argue that balanced literacy is incompatible with the biggest shift in education today: the Common Core academic standards.

But after several years of experimentation, the department moved away from balanced literacy. School officials grew concerned that students lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to understand books about history and science. In 2012, a study found schools that used balanced literacy lagged behind schools that used a differing approach known as Core Knowledge.

When the city released a list of curriculums it recommended under the Common Core standards last year, it omitted balanced literacy, amid worries that it was not sufficiently comprehensive to be labeled a curriculum.

While there are loyal adherents to the Calkins’ approach, the Columbia Teachers College Teaching and Writing Project, with the retirement of Farina the city abandoned the approach and the state did not include the program in the approved Common Core curriculum, Sol Stern writes,

[Farina] became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’ constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.

Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology.

On one hand we have a new chancellor who is a firm supporter of collaboration, who is advocating sharing successful practices among schools, a chancellor of a school system that just negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that is encouraging schools to go beyond perceived limitations of the contract and department regulations, to experiment and create and innovate, and, a chancellor who wants to reclaim a widely discredited reading program.

Unfortunately it appears that the chancellor is repeating mistakes that are all too commonplace, assuming that a program that we “liked,” or seemed to work for the kids we taught, or is in vogue, should be the approach used for all kids. Principal Farina led PS 6, an elementary school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an atypical school with a high achieving student body. The vast majority of students in New York City are children of color with parents who struggle in a city of inequality. Decisions as to which program to adopt must be based on sound research, not the whims of school and school district leaders.

School districts jumped on the technology bandwagon. The key to bridging the achievement gap was technology, if we flooded schools with the latest technology; if we taught kids how to use technology as a learning tool we level the playing field. Unfortunately the unintended consequence was to widen the achievement gap,

… the introduction of computers might “level the playing field” for the neighborhoods’ young people, children of “concentrated affluence” and “concentrated poverty.” They undertook their observations in a hopeful frame of mind: “Given the wizardry of these machines and their ability to support children’s self-teaching,” they wondered, “might we begin to see a closing of the opportunity gap?”

“The very tool designed to level the playing field is, in fact, un-leveling it,” … With the spread of educational technology, they predicted, “the not-so-small disparities in skills for children of affluence and children of poverty are about to get even larger.”

While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.

Mathematics instruction is another arena where there is a sharp divide between the advocates of direct instruction and advocates of a more child-centered, discovery approach, not dissimilar to the Calkins approach,

A recent study supports a direct instruction methodology, especially for struggling learners in first grade classrooms,

Pennsylvania State University researchers Paul L. Morgan and Steve Maczuga and George Farkas of the University of California, Irvine analyzed the use of different types of instruction by 1st grade mathematics teachers, including teacher-directed instruction, such as explicit explanations and practice drills; student-centered, such as small-group projects and open problem-solving; and strategies intended to ground math in real life, such as manipulative toys, calculators, music, and movement activities.

“In general education there’s been more focus on approaches that are student-centered: peers and small groups, cooperative learning activities. What can happen with that for kids with learning difficulties is there are barriers that can interfere with their ability to take advantage of those learning activities. Children with learning disabilities tend to benefit from instruction that is explicit and teacher directed, guided and modeled and also has lots of opportunities for practice.”

Moreover, neither struggling nor regularly achieving math students improved when using manipulatives, calculators, music, or movement strategies; these activities actually decreased student learning in some cases. Ironically, a regression analysis of the classes found teachers became more likely to use these strategies in classes with higher concentrations of students with math difficulties.

Unfortunately too many educators, in colleges and in schools are wedded to a philosophy rather than exploring well-researched, peer vetted methodologies.

Scattered around the city we find successful and ineffective schools, sometimes within blocks of each other and sometimes in the same building. The chancellor intends to “pair” effective and struggling schools hoping the struggling schools can “learn” from the successful schools.

The rage in the nineties was school-based budgeting: I traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, the school district that was the model, sort of the Finland of its day. When I returned I was asked, “Will it work here?” My answer was, “If you bring back the Canadians.” Edmonton was a different culture, highly competent principals working closely with their staffs in schools that had wide discretion over instructional approaches. The supervisors and teachers were in the same union, the district office staff and principals frequently changed jobs, parents were heavily involved in schools, and, the district was generally middle class. Success of a school usually depends on school culture; not reading programs, the success of the school depends on the quality of the school leadership and the quality of the staff – the synergy of leadership plus staff results in excellence. Yes, in high quality, highly effective schools the analysis of instructional approaches, the input that goes into decisions, the process results in the product.

School district leadership should “support” a range of programs with proven records of success. For example Core Knowledge or Success for All or Reading Recovery all have track records, school district leadership should be prepared to support proven programs in schools, not advocate for one program over another. And, if a school is not successful take the lead in selecting programs that suit the needs of the students. Too many school leaders selected under the previous administration lack leadership skills, and, the new guys” will have to retrain or replace the ogres.

Unfortunately “pair-a-school” approach has no research legs. What works in school “A” may fail in school “B.” The chancellor should be asking: what are the qualities of the school leader and the staff? What in the culture of the school results in higher student achievement?

The window is open; we can turnaround the largest school district in the nation, for the chancellor it seems that old habits are hard to unlearn.

I was an invited guest at a school leadership meeting – I forget the issue but after a lengthy discussion the principal jumped in … “I totally disagree with the approach – but – the teachers and parents are clearly committed to it – show me I’m wrong – make it work.”

We need more principals like Jeff Latto.

Will the Proposed New UFT Contract Change the Direction of Education Policy Across the Nation? From “Duncan Voice” to Teacher Voice?

Teacher contracts around the country have followed the Gates-Broad-Duncan model: merit pay based on student performance as measured by a Value-Added Metric (VAM), tying tenure decisions to VAM scores, eroding tenure and due process procedures and a heavy dose of compliance. A few contracts delink seniority from step/longevity increases and offer the potential of larger raises if teachers jump into the pay for student performance plans.

An example is the highly touted Denver ProComp Plan, negotiated by the union and the school district,

• Rewards and recognizes teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations
• Links compensation more closely with instructional outcomes for students
• Enables the district to attract and retain the most qualified and effective teachers by offering uncapped annual earnings in a fair system

The glitter of the Denver plan turned to dross – the enthusiasm waned and Denver did not become nirvana; however, the enthusiasm for the elements remain as similar contracts were negotiated in Cleveland and Baltimore.

The New York City proposed contract moves in a starkly different direction, according to the UFT website,

New teacher leadership positions, with extra pay, will foster idea-sharing by allowing exemplary teachers to remain teachers while extending their reach to help others.
Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The website Chalkbeat adds,

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

The proposed contract is taking on the essence of improving schools – changing school cultures. High performing individuals may impact students in their own classrooms, they do not impact schools. Teachers working in collaborative settings, none of which are necessarily superstars can create higher performing schools.

For twenty years, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (1993) has been the bible in corporate America – every large corporation organized themselves into a team structure.

A summary of the book that is the Talmud/Ten Commandments of organization after organization,

Lessons we have learned
• Significant performance challenges energize teams regardless of where they are in an organization. No team arises without a performance challenge that is meaningful to those involved. A common set of demanding performance goals that a group considers important to achieve will lead, most of the time, to both performance and team…
• Organizational leaders can foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a team-promoting environment alone.
• Discipline-both within the team and across the organization-creates the conditions for team performance. For organizational leaders, this entails making clear and consistent demands that reflect the needs of customers, shareholders, and employees, and then holding themselves and the organization relentlessly accountable.

Team Basics
• Small enough in number. Can convene and communicate easily and frequently. Discussions are open and interactive for all members. Each member understands the other’s roles and skills.
• Goals are clear, simple, and measurable. If they are not measurable, can their achievement be determined? Goals are realistic as well as ambitious.
• The approach is concrete, clear, and really understood and agreed to by everybody. It requires all members to contribute equivalent amounts of real work. It provides for open interaction, fact-based problem solving, and result-based evaluation. The approach provides for modification and improvement over time. Fresh input and perspective is systematically sought and added, for example, through information and analysis, new members, and sponsors.
• There is a sense of mutual accountability.

From Google, (“Redesigning Google“) to Harvard Business School teams are the expected organizational structure, except in schools.

Schools and school districts traditionally have been top-down organizations, each step down the ladder to the classroom everyone salutes and not much changes. Teachers close their doors and do what they have been doing for decades – new ideas; “innovations” come and go: from homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping of students, the Workshop Model to the Common Core Learning Standards, the culture of schools are strong and firmly embedded and schools become skilled at shedding ideas that require change.

The feds acknowledge the power of culture in their turnaround strategies: replacing the principal and/or 50% of the staff, converting the school to charter or closing the school; in other words, the only way to change the culture is to change the school leadership and/or the teachers who are not onboard. The turnaround efforts, in spite of huge dollar inputs have not shown lasting success – in my view because the plans are punitive (“change or else”), are put in place far too late in a school’s downward spiral and are imposed from the aeries of all knowledge, the hallways of Washington, Albany and Tweed. Turnaround schools are persistently lowest achieving Title 1 schools – the lowest 5% in a state, waiting until a school is far beyond a “tipping point” is a failed strategy.

The winter 2013-14 edition of the American Educator is devoted to the question collaboration,

In recent years, rigorous studies have shown that effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships between administrators and teachers.

It is no surprise that collaborative relationships within schools, between teachers and school leaders and among teachers lead to more effective schools. Begrudgingly even the US Department of Education agrees,

While real differences must be acknowledged and agreement among all stakeholders is neither a practical, nor a desirable, end goal in itself, the U.S. Department of Education believes that in the long run, the most promising path to transforming American education is student-centered labor-management collaboration.

In the early nineties New York State adopted regulations requiring schools to create School Leadership Teams (SLT’s), school districts complied, and the SLT’s languished; for compliance purposes the teams met to sign Comprehensive Education Plans or other required documents; it was the rare school that actually engaged in a collaborative relationship among staff members.. “Mandating collaboration” is an oxymoron – school districts and school leaders must model collaboration in their day-to-day operations – not cede leadership, not forgo the power and responsibility of their office – they must engage, and, collaboration is a two-way street, teachers must learn to engage both with the school leader and with each other.

The American Teacher points to caveats at the outset.

First, while labor-management collaboration is a necessary condition for sustained improvement in school performance, it is not sufficient. The strong relations must extend beyond the bargaining table to a persistent, team-oriented focus on enabling teachers to work more effectively with students. Other, interrelated factors also are crucial, including close ties with parents and community groups, and attentiveness to assessment results to identify areas where students and teachers need more support.

Second, while collaboration can promote a self-sustaining culture that outlives the tenure of any individual superintendent, principal, or teachers’ union representative, it’s also the case that disruptive personnel changes and political forces can torpedo progress built on collaboration.

Third, because collaboration usually requires upending deeply entrenched cultural habits, it is inherently arduous and requires years of effort on the part of all parties. Collaboration is not a “silver bullet” that will eliminate whatever ails a school; rather, it is a shared mindset and an agreed-upon collection of processes that over time enables everyone connected to a school to effectively work together in educating children.

An in-depth study of five high performing school districts explored the reasons for their success,

A high degree of engagement between administrators and teachers in developing and selecting instructional materials, assessments, and pedagogical approaches;
• Embedded time in the workweek for teacher collaboration to improve instruction;
• An openness among teachers to being observed and advised;
• Close monitoring by administrators and teachers of testing data to identify areas where students and teachers needed additional support; and
• Personnel who dedicate time to extensive outreach to parents and coordination with community groups and social service providers.

The proposed contract is an enormous risk for the union. For years the union stood outside the circle peeing in, criticizing initiative after initiative: how can Common Core work if there are no curricula, professional development is absent or insufficient, teacher expertise is ignored, the overuse of outside consultants, principals more interested in silencing teachers than working with them, “reforms” that are destructive of teacher morale; now, for the first time, the union is inside the circle.

The creation of a zone of innovation will encourage teachers and school leaders to create and actually implement their dreams,

Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The PROSE schools are an answer to charter schools, the defenders of charter schools point to freedom from union and management rules, now a cluster of public schools can, if they choose, shed restrictive union and management rules. Under the former contract the School-Based Option section did allow schools to reconfigure, the new zone schools can, perhaps, share these practices. When schools have a sense of ownership the school communities are committed to making their “ideas” work, rather than constantly looking over their shoulder or trying and operate under the radar schools can proudly display what they have accomplished.

The union will have to change, to move from an organization skilled at fighting back to an organization committed to promoting educational leadership among their members. Some teachers will be unhappy, they would rather close their doors and teach; opening their doors to other teachers is frightening. Working together is not natural, some teachers are protective of their lesson plans, sharing is out of the question. The union has to move from filing grievances to mediating disputes among their members.

Union President Mulgrew has taken a risk – he could have simply negotiated dollars and cosmetic changes – he choose to negotiate a contract which may change the entire direction of a school system, he may have negotiated a contract that will resonate across the nation, he may have negotiated a contract that will impact federal legislation.

In my union representative days the Board of Education started a program called QUIPP,

Quality Improvement Program Plan for Special Educators (QUIPP) which provides supplemental professional development opportunities for New York City special education professionals and paraprofessionals at the elementary, middle, and intermediate/junior high school levels. The program stresses design of the professional development program by program participants.

As the union guy I put together a committee of special education teachers to work with the district to design the program. It evolved into a catalog of courses taught by teachers, lectures by experts, a retreat, a professional library in every school, and for me, interactions with teachers who had no interest in fighting and filing grievances; teachers, who for the most part, had never been involved in the union were now involved in an educational project led by the union and the school district.

I would like to think that we are reimagining a time when the union, in partnership with the Board of Education, was the driving force in creating new pathways, from John Dewey High School to City-As-School High School, to School-Based Options to the SBO Personnel Transfer idea.

Maybe by taking the road less traveled we can change the future,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read a summary of the contract from Chalkbeat here

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

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.

Should Teachers Review Other Teachers Performance? Creating a Culture of Collaboration and Ownership

The single book driving education policy, on the surface, is about baseball. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003), posits that decisions in baseball driven by mathematical algorithms will determine winners and losers.

The so-called science of baseball statistics, sabermetrics, is all the rage with a list of acronyms that baseball junkies, as well as baseball executives rely upon as gospel. In a prior age batting averages, HRs and RBIs, now OBA, WHIP, WAR, etc. drive personnel decisions.

If we can predict the value of a second baseman why can’t we use the same methodology to assess teachers?

Teacher selection has been tied to the economy, teacher surpluses in good times and teacher shortages in bad times.

The Great Consolidation, the formation of New York City in 1898 merged the five boroughs into one city, and one school system. As part of the reform movement a Board of Examiners was created, an autonomous body that created competitive examinations resulting in a rank order list – exam scores determined your rank on the eligible list. In the 1930’s during the Depression teaching was a highly sought after job and the Board of Examiners was the gate keeper. In 1950’s and 60’s a burgeoning economy pushed teaching aside, school districts scrambled to fill classrooms.

During the Vietnam War teachers in Title 1 schools were given draft exemptions and a surprising number of males sought refuge as teachers, at the end of the war some left for other professions while many stayed and made teaching a career.

By 1995 17% of teachers in New York City were provisional preparatory teachers (PPT); they accumulated the minimum number of credits but could not pass the low level exams. In hard-to-staff inner city schools teachers left faster than they came – many simply quit, others found jobs in higher achieving schools.

For decades supervisors evaluated teachers, the weak teachers left on their own or were counseled out, teachers were observed a couple of times a year – the vast percentage were rated “satisfactory.”

The New Teacher Project (TNTP), in 2009, issued the “Widget Effect” report,

“When it comes to measuring instructional performance, current policies and systems overlook significant differences between teachers. There is little or no differentiation between teachers, from good to fair or fair to poor. This is the Widget Effect: a tendency to treat all teachers as roughly interchangeable when their teaching is quite variable. Consequently, teachers are not developed as professionals with individual strengths and capabilities and poor performance is rarely identified or addressed.”

Just as Money Ball changed the way general managers viewed baseball the Widget Effect changed the way the feds and the states viewed teacher assessment.

The answer for small market baseball teams and education systems was the analysis of numbers – creating complex mathematical formulas and judge both players and teachers by the numbers.

They both sorely overestimated the use of data to substitute for human judgment.

Arne Duncan pegged Race to the Top (RttT) dollars to creating teacher evaluation plans and states scrambled to create systems anchored in student growth data (VAM) with the end product, a numerical score, a system in which all teachers are rated and compared to each other.

In New York State all 700 districts created plans (view all the plans here).

In October the state education department released the preliminary results of all the districts (with the exception of NYC),

The preliminary statewide composite results, based on data submitted by school districts and BOCES as of the October 18 deadline, found that 91.5 percent of teachers are rated Highly Effective (49.7 percent) or Effective (41.8 percent); 4.4 percent are rated Developing; and 1 percent are rated Ineffective.

The Widget Effect thesis was simply wrong – the algorithm created by one of the most well-respected research institutions in the nation produced a teacher evaluation plan that is useless.

Principals and teachers have no idea what the score means, it is useless as a guide for professional development and the “instability,” the year to year variability puts into question whether the score can serve any purpose.

The threat of a bad rating, the threat of a school closing does not result in teachers improving practice; in fact, it impedes improving practice, and diminishes the effectiveness of all teachers. Fear and test prep is no way to run a school system.

American Institutes for Research (AIR) suggests that teacher evaluation take into account the following factors,

• Student performance on annual standardized achievement tests
• Student performance on classroom tests (e.g., curriculum-based measures)
• Evaluation of student artifacts and work judged according to rubrics
• Unique assessments for teachers in nontested grades and subjects
• Unique assessments for teachers of at-risk populations
• Review of teacher portfolios
• Student surveys
• Parent surveys
• Self-report measures
• Principal evaluation
• Goal-driven professional development
• Classroom observation

In ideal systems communities of professionals, principals and teachers create a rubric, a list of the qualities of effective teaching, and use the list to guide both professional development as well as normative and summative assessments

The one element missing from the list is involvement of peers – of colleagues.

If we view ourselves as professionals we must begin to take ownership of our profession. I hear constant chirping, you can’t use test scores, principals are unfair and prejudiced, kids vary from year to year, and on and on, all complaints have some validity; however, how do we assess performance, and, more importantly, how do we create a culture of constant improvement, constant growth in practice?

The identification of the 1%, the teachers who are inadequate, must not drive an assessment system for the profession – what must drive the profession is teachers striving, always striving to become more effective teachers. The hardest working athletes are the best athletes, they never rest on their laurels, their goal is the next ring, the next championship, and, improving the team. LeBron James makes the other four players on the court better.

The process of creating a school-based assessment system, a system anchored in on-going professional development, directed by the school leader and the staff, supported by the district leadership which produces desired outcomes.

I believe that peer collaboration, involving ourselves in reviewing our own instructional practices and the practices of our colleagues is the most effective path, we must move away from a factory model to a professional model.

An Annenberg Institute report suggests,

One of the perennial criticisms of public education in the United States is the reliance on the traditional “egg-crate” model of teaching and learning, whereby teachers instruct students within isolated, closed-door classrooms with little interaction or sharing of effective practices. Peer learning among teachers and leaders, when it does happen, has traditionally been scattered and informal, with the exception of some district- and philanthropically supported efforts.

An emerging literature supports the idea that peer networks, both within and across schools, can improve teaching and learning

This lack of widespread formal knowledge sharing is coupled with an increased emphasis on evaluation systems that reward individual teachers and schools for producing higher test scores … the push for these “new teacher-evaluation systems that rely primarily on matching individual teachers with their students’ test scores threatens to exacerbate [a] competitive, rather than collaborative, system of teaching,” a system that does not lend itself to high-quality practice

[The Annenberg report recommends,]

• allow individuals in schools adequate time to learn about and share effective practices;
• build rapport and “safe spaces” for principals and practitioners to discuss challenges openly and honestly;
• understand the importance of building social capital within and across schools, and that teaching and leadership are joint enterprises
• emphasize inter-school collaboration and outward facing approach, rather than the competitive models that are increasingly popular in urban districts; and
• mix both technological and face-to-face interactions to build effective communities of practice.

Not only do these guidelines support collaboration, rather than competition and isolation, they are consistent with recent international research that illuminates the traits of the world’s most successful educational systems (Fullan 2010; Gurria 2011).

The sharing of best practices — across classrooms and schools — are tools that schools, districts, and states can use to create and retain highly effective teachers and school leaders. This recent Annenberg study found that U.S. teachers used peer-to-peer networks when available and found them valuable. But without formal structures and built-in time for such networks — and absent a culture of collaboration and teamwork — they will remain tools never used to their full potential.

The Governor, the Chancellors, both of the Regents and the NYC Education Department and the Commissioner must recognize that no matter how many regulations you pass, no matter how top-down and proscriptive the message, no matter the express or implicit threats we will only improve outcomes by involving principals and teachers, by creating cultures that honor and respect working in teams, and we urge unions to support programs that encourage teachers not to fear a culture of collaboration that includes exposing themselves to the inspection of colleagues.

There is a narrow window to make substantive changes, a new administration that is anxious to put its stamp on teaching and learning and extinguish twelve years of folly; a new administration that must not look to the past for answers; a district leadership that must look to teachers and school leaders, the folks “in the trenches” each and every day.

Windows close quickly.

Read description of a New York City high school peer review exemplar: http://www.wnyc.org/story/303290-teachers-peer-review-would-strengthen-the-profession/

Read articles discussing labor-management collaboration here