Tag Archives: Optimus Prime

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

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

The applause and back-slapping should be brief.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

200 pages full of mind-numbing bureaucratic restrictions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Chancellor Harold Levy disagrees with Stern,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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