A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
After he blew up the teacher evaluation agreement that had been reached between the UFT and his own NYC DOE negotiating team, Mayor Bloomberg appeared at a hastily calledpress conference yesterdayto spin an entirely fictional account of what had transpired. The UFT had made agreement impossible, he claimed, because of our unreasonable demands for more arbitration dates that would make it impossible to “fire bad teachers,” our “last minute” insistence upon a sunset clause that would have made the entire system a “joke,” and a “middle of the night” effort to change the scoring metrics for teacher evaluation so “no teacher” would be rated ineffective. Each of these claims is a lie, pure and simple. Here I will address the last two of Bloomberg claims, as I was personally involved in the negotiations around them.*
To finalize an agreement over teacher evaluations in New York, two different documents must be developed: a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which lays out in legal language the agreement between district and the union over the new evaluation system, and an application from the local school district to the New York State Education Department which provides scores of assurances that the specific evaluation plans laid out in the MOU conform to state law. Both the head of the school district and the head of the union must sign the local school district’s application. During the last week, as the UFT and the DOE met long into the night in an effort to reach agreement on the terms of the MOU, we asked, again and again, more insistently at each turn, to see the DOE’s draft of their application. It was not until late into Wednesday evening, barely 24 hours before the deadline, that the DOE finally gave us their draft of the application. When we read the draft, it quickly became apparent why they had resisted sharing it with us. Included in the draft were numerous scoring tables and conversion charts which the UFT was now seeing for the very first time. These tables and charts were very important: embedded in them were fundamental decisions about the shape of the evaluation system. By waiting until the very last minute to provide the union with these numbers, the DOE was trying to sandbag us: it was now impossible to properly vet those numbers before the deadline.
The UFT would have been completely justified in ending the negotiations, then and there. But we did not. Our Measures of Student Learning team met with our DOE counterparts and I met one-on-one with Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky in efforts on our part to put together an agreement over the scoring numbers and ratings that would ensure that teachers would receive fair and accurate scores and ratings. Bloomberg’s description of these discussions could not be further from the truth: far from a last minute effort on the part of the UFT to change agreed upon scoring metrics, the union was doing everything it could to rescue the negotiations from a bad faith maneuver on the part of the DOE that could have easily derailed any agreement. We agreed to a three part solution: a joint UFT-DOE committee would have to approve the growth formulas which would be used for all of the measures of student learning; any scoring metric which unfairly skewed ratings would have to be recalibrated; and a special expedited appeals process would be established for final ratings which were not concordant with the different component ratings. On Thursday morning, I confirmed this three part agreement in a telephone conversation with Suransky. Over many years of working with the Bloomberg DOE, through the chancellorships of Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott, I have seen a great deal of cynicism on the part of the mayor and the top DOE leadership, but Bloomberg’s lie that the UFT engaged in an 11th hour effort to undo agreed upon scoring metrics in an effort to protect “bad teachers” is surely a new low in misrepresentation.
The Mayor’s claim that the UFT introduced a “last minute” demand for a sunset clause on the agreement is refuted by the very draft application shared with us. On the very last line ofthis sectionof the draft application, the DOE itself had written that the agreement would only last through the 2013-2014 school year. The preponderance of applications from school districts around New York approved had similar sunset clauses: given the sheer complexity of the new teacher evaluation systems required by New York State law, they reasoned that it was only prudent to revisit their implementation in a year or two. All of these applications have been approved by the New York State Education Department. It was the Mayor who, after an agreement had been reached with a sunset clause, insisted on undoing that clause and blowing up the entire agreement. The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, negotiating for a new principal evaluation, also had their agreementblown upby Bloomberg on the very same issue.
After two years of continuous efforts on the part of the UFT to negotiate a teacher evaluation system which would provide New York City public school teachers with the means to hone our skills and craft, and provide our students with the highest quality education, it is now painfully clear that Mayor Bloomberg has no intention of negotiating such an agreement.
* When the negotiations on teacher evaluation began two years ago, I was a UFT Vice President, and I served as co-chair of the union’s Teacher Evaluation Negotiations Committee. Last September I resigned my position as UFT Vice President to become the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute at the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national union, but I made a commitment to the UFT to see these negotiations to completion and remained involved in them.
Why did the negotiations fall apart at the last minute? A Vengeful Mayor? Next Steps?
Why did the Mayor v. Mulgrew, aka, City v. Teacher Union negotiation crash at seemingly the last moment?
As I noted in a previous blog “the last 10%” is the steepest part of any negotiation – the parties must address the most intractable issues. In the current set of negotiations over the teacher evaluation plan required by state law the parties had been in almost round the clock talks for a week with a January 17th deadline set by the governor.
The negotiation process is “hurry up and wait,” one side makes an offer, the other side mulls the offer, discusses among themselves and eventually crafts a counteroffer, the “mulling” will take hours. At the end each session that parties agree on what they previously agreed upon.
The goal is to sign off on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and, submit a plan to the state in a rigid template format.
The current teacher evaluation law requires that the parties negotiate the “local 20%,” and the implementation of the 60% based on principal observations.
While critics of teacher evaluation plans rail against the use of assessments based on student test scores, commonly referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM) the New York State law requires that 20% of the score will be determined by the teacher VAM scores, or, in non-tested subjects, school/school district created Student Learning Objectives; the use of VAM is not part of the current negotiations.
The state approved plans are long and complex- most are well over a hundred pages long.
After thousands of hours the parties apparently reached an agreement Wednesday night only to have the mayor veto the plan.
Strangely, the two issues the mayor objects to are not “hot button” issues to the rest of the education world.
The June, 2015 sunset date:
Over 90% of the approved plans, emphasize, plans approved by the commissioner, include a one or two year sunset clause. When asked about the impact of a sunset clause Commissioner King and Regent Tisch both did not foresee an issue. Regent Tisch proffered that the law would undergo changes, tweaks, over the months and years ahead. When the mayor explained that the union will allow the plan to sunset, to expire, thereby undercutting the intent of the law, he is alone, the other 700 plus plans accepted a sunset clause, as well as the state commissioner and the governor.
Is he more perceptive than all others, or, just seeking a reason to reject the plan?
Expedited processes to resolve disputes:
Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process that avoids going through lengthy and expensive litigation. In labor and commercial contracts the parties to the agreement commonly establish a process utilizing jointly selected arbitrator(s); s/he renders a final and binding decision within parameters established among the parties.
The Department, by design, has clogged the current contractual grievance process by forcing the union to take virtually all disputes before an arbitrator – there are so many cases that the process commonly takes more than a year. Once before the arbitrator the Department frequently settles the case – agrees to a non-precedential settlement. The union insisted on embedding a process that would take weeks instead of years.
Expedited arbitrations are commonplace. Under the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan that was part of the contract in the pre-Bloomberg years teachers could file grievances argued before an arbitrator in an expedited process.
The union and the department agreed on an expedited procedure to resolve disputes – an agreement that the mayor refused to accept.
The mayor has attacked the arbitration process – attacked arbitrators – which is outrageous. Arbitrators are jointly selected and can be removed from the panel by either party. To revile an arbitration process is to revile the rule of law.
January 17th has come and gone – the governor will move forward to reduce city school funding by $250m, which will lead to midyear reductions in school funding and, perhaps, the city will threaten midyear teacher layoffs.
The mayor has raised the ante.
The print media will continue to pillory the union.
Next steps: draconian midyear cuts, with possible staffing layoffs creating anger and finger pointing in the school community. Is the union responsible? Are they simply undermining an evaluation plan that is intensely unpopular among union members? Is the mayor, vengefully, going to battle the union each and every day, regardless of the consequences, until his term ends, with the support of the Post, the Daily News and the Wall Street Journal?
Will the governor allow the city and the union to dangle? To wrestle in the mud? Or, will he pressure both sides, threatening to support the elimination of “last in, first out” seniority laws? Or drag the Mikes to Albany … to Canossa … forcing them to pay homage to Andrew and hammer out a settlement?
An irony: a plan would result in supervisors and teachers engaging in a process to measure student growth at the school level – ongoing discussions about the process of teaching and learning – exactly what chancellors and union presidents want. The teacher evaluation process will identify ineffective teachers, more importantly, if implemented fairly and honestly, it will create a dialogue between school leaders and teachers and among teachers – the “talk” that is at the heart of effective teaching.
* Today, “Canossa” refers to an act of penance or submission. To “go to Canossa” is an expression – to describe doing penance, often with the connotation that it is unwilling or coerced