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Teacher Contract Rhetoric Doesn't Match Reality

For several days, the de Blasio Administration has been hiding behind flowery rhetoric in place of real details about the teachers contract. Now that those details are starting to trickle out, we can finally see what they were hiding. This contract is a sweetheart deal for the UFT that comes at the expense of New York City schoolchildren.

Context

On Thursday, May 1st, Mayor de Blasio and UFT president Michael Mulgrew announced a contract deal using soaring rhetoric, but offering little detail. The public and parents were not able to assess whether the deal was in fact good for kids.

On Tuesday night, the UFT posted a link to the fine print of their contract agreement with the City and we now know that the rhetoric does not match the reality. The stark differences between the press announcement and the actual substance of the deal raise real questions about Mayor de Blasio's intentions.

What We Knew Before Today:

  • The City gave considerable raises without getting much in return. In a major reversal of a win from the Bloomberg years, the instructional day for struggling students is now shorter.

  • The City announced major changes to its management of the ATR pool, claiming that ineffective teachers will now more easily be removed from the system.

  • The City touted performance-based bonuses for high performing teachers as a way to keep them in the classroom.

  • The City hailed the creation of PROSE schools, which would in theory be free from the union contract and able to innovate as charter schools have been able to.

  • The City was silent on any changes to the teacher evaluation process.

What We Now Know From the Fine Print:

  • Ineffective teachers in the ATR are headed back into the classroom

    • While the City promised that teachers found guilty of misconduct would not enter classrooms, the fine print of the language in fact shows the opposite:

      • "The DOE, at its sole discretion, may choose to assign ATRs to a temporary provisional assignment who have been penalized (as a result of a finding of guilt or by stipulation) in conjunction with §3020-a charges with a suspension of 30 days or more or a fine of $2,000 or more." (Page 38)

    • While the City promised that ineffective teachers will be quickly removed, the opposite is true:

      • Teachers will not be removed from the classroom for poor performance in the classroom, only for multiple incidents that meet a vague, undefined measure of "problematic behavior." The definition of "problematic behavior" has not been codified and there are no agreed upon "expectations for professionals working in schools." However, we DO know that the UFT has already claimed that this definition does not include poor classroom performance (see their letter to ATRs here). This term will likely be interpreted by arbitrators to mean misconduct, meaning that ATRs will get one free pass for misconduct before they face any consequences. In sum, poorly performing teachers in the ATR pool will continue to have indefinite job rights.(Pages 38-40)

      • While the public was promised that a "pattern" of "problematic behavior" would lead to termination, that is not automatic and is not likely to happen. The fine print shows that the arbitrator can impose any discipline up to and including discharge, i.e. a fine, suspension or reprimand. (Page 40)

      • The UFT gave itself an out clause on the expedited removal process, in case it does result in the termination of too many teachers. The union can allow the process to expire at the end of SY15-16 if the expedited due process results in significant numbers of poor performers being terminated. (Page 40)

      • A large portion of teachers in the ATR pool will not even be subject to the expedited termination process."Rotational assignments or assignments to a school (as opposed to a vacancy in his/her license area) shall not form the basis of an incident of problematic behavior." (Page 39)

  • Teacher bonuses are not based on performance

    • We were previously told that only effective and highly effective teachers will get the bonuses, and now we know that teachers who are rated as "developing," who are not effective, will receive the bonus. Retaining under-performers in hard to staff schools will undermine efforts to improve the schools. A teacher can be rated "developing" if only 30% of their students meet educational targets.

  • Innovation at PROSE schools is severely limited

    • While Mayor de Blasio hailed these schools as a groundbreaking opportunity to innovate, this policy is neither groundbreaking, nor will it allow for the freedom to innovate that has made charter schools so successful.
      • For decades, the City has had a policy in place to allow School Based Options (SBOs). From what we can now see in the fine print, there is little room beyond what is already possible through SBOs to innovate. The difference seems to just be the rhetoric through which this policy was sold to the public.

      • The contract provisions that would allow for the most freedom cannot be waived. So for example, these PROSE schools cannot make changes to compensation, class size, due process, and excessing. Schools won't be able to make changes to how the attract and retain teachers through compensation, they won't have the flexibility to adjust class size to adapt to new models or to afford additional teachers in other subjects, they won't be able to exit low performers, and they won't be able to retain their highest performers in the event they need to reduce positions.

  • The rigorous teacher evaluation system handed down by the State and agreed to by the union has been watered down

    • Mayor de Blasio failed to mention that he had agreed to a number of compromises that weaken the strong teacher evaluation process put in place just this year.

      • Buried in the fine print is the fact that independent validators of teacher evaluation observations have been replaced by "peer validators" appointed jointly by the union and DOE.(Page 24-25)

      • The fine print also reveals that 25 more arbitration dates were added and additional appeals are allowed. (Page 41 and 21-22)

      • Student survey input into teacher evaluations has been pushed back at least one year, according to the fine print. (Page 17)

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