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Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Gotcha Squad and How the TPU Charges Teachers Without Any Factual Data (And NYSUT Lawyers Agree With This)

To the New York State legislature: 
please review and change the 3020-a/grievance/U-rating Appeal process! As it exists right now, this process is not fair, balanced, factual, rational or beneficial to children who need to have good teachers in their classrooms.

Thank you.

Betsy Combier

With the talk about evaluation and teacher performance coming to the deadline for getting $millions here in NYC, I am listing the documents which I have posted on my website ( and this blog that are important to the argument that teachers have not been fairly assessed, and tenure rights have been generally ignored under the umbrella of a sham version of "due process".

The RMC Contracts and Training Manual for the PIP+, TAC memos, Performance Management document, and the Office of Labor Relations' Disciplining Teachers are all now available to anyone.
These documents reveal that there is, actually, no data being used to assess teachers, and observations are simply a higher-up's opinion, or hearsay, and are not final determinations (Elentuck v Green). According to the case McPherson v NYC DOE this hearsay is not enough to prove that the process is arbitrary in a federal court, and I think that observations without data (such as test scores, student grades and IEPs, OORS and SOHO reports) are not enough to prove by any standard that a teacher is not effective.
A few guidelines: Do NOT, under any circumstances, sign up for PIP+. This program is designed to get you terminated. PIP+ is in the CBA as "approved". If you turn it down as I suggest (I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice) and you are brought to 3020-a, the DOE's argument will be that you turned it down because you will not recognize how bad you are as a teacher. Your argument is that the PIP+ process is designed to create the necessary documentation to terminate you, and you will not succumb to a set-up where the principal gets the observations and can change them before they are given to you. Or something along those lines. All the documents below are used by the Gotcha Squad to get rid of tenured teachers, who are already defined as "incompetent". Notice I say "defined" as opposed to "determined". The bizarre fact of the incompetency hearings are that if a principal says you are an "ineffective" teacher", this suddenly is transformed into a fact. 

Unfortunately, at 3020-a, NYSUT has not brought in any factual data that would help support another argument, and the teacher is terminated on the basis of hearsay. Ask your NYSUT attorney when you meet with him/her how many cases he/she has won. There are many reasons why NYSUT Attorneys do not win their cases (the arbitrator makes a difference as well - there are strong, fair arbitrators on the 3020-a panel, and weak unfair as well).

 When a principal finds Just Cause to terminate you, the NYC Department of Education takes this as not as hearsay/opinion, but "Fact". And here's the problem: UFT and NYSUT believe the opinion of a principal is a fact, too. 

The denial of rights started with this:
Letter to the U.S. Department of Justice from NYC Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo
 Pages index -11
Pages 12-25
Pages 26-41
Pages 42-58
Pages 59-80

 Editorial: The New York City DOE is a Sham and Mike Bloomberg is the Flim-Flam Man
David Brodsky
Education Law 2590-h (The NYC Chancellor MUST have a contract)
  PIP+ Peer Observation and Evaluation
The Administrative Trials Unit (ATU) has hired a team of lawyers who work in a new ATU subgroup called "Teacher Performance Unit". Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, calls them the "Gotcha Squad". The use of TAC (Technical Assistance Conference) memos in the preparation of charges to prefer against allegedly incompetent teachers is an outrageous process that I hope, with this exposure, will end.

In New York City, tenured teachers are being removed from their classrooms and positions by Principals and administrators suddenly and, in many cases, without probable and/or just cause. In fact, the entire structure of the New York City Department/Board of Education is intertwined with the General Counsel and the lawyers working in the Office of Legal Services. It's hard to separate the two, and this is one of the biggest problems with Mayoral control as it now stands in New York City. The New York City Board of Education ("NYC BOE") keeps all documents and information secret under the description "Attorney Client Privilege".

However, the BOE gladly gives journalists all the information he or she wants, to "prove" by a preponderance of the evidence that a teacher is guilty of something. Steve Brill's article in the New Yorker magazine is a great example of this.

A teacher may be accused of "verbal abuse" or "corporal punishment" in the same way as being charged with "incompetence" - see the story of Glenn Storman, his complaint in federal court, and the decision in New York State Supreme Court where Judge Kornreich said the OSI investigation and the New York City BOE were "irrational". But this did not stop the NYC BOE, PS 212 Principal Josephine Marsella, OSI investigator Dennis Boyles, and Deputy Chancellors Andres Alonso and Marcia Lyles, both of whom have left New York City. We might ask Joel Klein if Alonso and Lyles were forced out because of this case. Read the Report and Recommendation filed by Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck and you will get a very good summary of the "Gotcha Squad" at work.

Mr. Storman has filed objections to Magistrate Peck's Recommendations.

The Gotcha Squad is empowered by the absolute immunity given to NYC BOE managers and administrators, who are defended in court by the Corporation Counsel, the Law Department of the City of New York...nice free legal help. Additionally, the arbitrators and NYC BOE Attorneys in the 3020-a proceedings ignore the "Labor FAQs" of the collective bargaining agreement policies established between the NYC BOE nd the UFT, all the time. I know, because I have attended the open and public 3020-a hearings of tenured teachers since 2003.

It is obvious that the Mayor has total control over every part of the public school governance structure. A tenured teacher has no rights at all, and can be removed as easily as a non-tenured teacher or any employee. The tenured teachers have holding pens called temporary re-assignment centers or "rubber rooms". There are currently 7 such places located throughout New York City. A teacher may end up re-assigned because a principal may decide that he/she doesnt like him/her, must remove a him/her because he/she is talking about crimes being committed in the school, or must remove a him/her because he/she is earning a salary that is very high due to more than 20 years in the system, etc. The real reason may be that the teacher is too old, too fat, too short, wears red, doesn't wear red, and other such nonsense.

Then, after the Gotcha Squad at 51 Chambers Street in Manhattan have been informed that a teacher, let's say you, are the subject of an investigation, Director Theresa Europe may place you on her "Ineligible/inquiry List". This list is keyed into the computer under your social security and file number, and will prevent any prospective employer from hiring you any time in the future. Theresa Europe gets the last word. In the case of Philomena Brennan, she wanted Ms. Theresa Europe to take her off of the "no hire" list, and had to sue to get her name removed. Ms. Europe removed her name from the Ineligible List rather than have to submit to New York State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger why and how she keeps such a list, and the method she uses to remove names, as Schlesinger ordered.. Theresa Europe wants to remain in control of this career-ending list.

We all must defend our right to know who is saying what to whom. In New York City today, however, I believe that the NYC BOE's secret disciplinary process is unfair and I have posted this story to hopefully find another, more just way to deal with alleged "incompetent" teachers, whatever that term means. (See "Strategic Management of Human Capital")

The Teacher Performance Unit (“TPU”) is a unit comprised of experienced attorneys who litigate incompetence cases against ineffective tenured pedagogues. This unit provides counsel to principals and other school officials in connection with the preparation and litigation of 3020-a disciplinary charges involving allegations of incompetence. TPU’s goal is to help principals improve teacher quality in their schools by bringing and litigating these cases in a thorough, expeditious and effective manner.

The Labor Support Unit (“LSU”) is comprised of education consultants who work in partnership with TPU to provide direct support to principals who are confronted with ineffective tenured pedagogues. The goal of LSU is to work with the principal to help them design support plans for ineffective tenured pedagogues, to provide guidance and general assistance to the principal; to assist the principal in organizing the documentation; to conduct additional observations upon request of the principal; and to coordinate with the Peer Intervention-Plus (PIP+) Program and Teacher Performance Unit. (See Peer Intervention Program)

Marcia Lyles

The problem is, of the problems is: what does "incompetence" mean? Who defines whether or not a teacher is, really, "incompetent"? The No Child Left Behind legislation requires that every classroom have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. The problem with this is, what does the term “highly qualified” mean? Who is a “good” teacher and who is a “bad” teacher? We have no ‘American standard’ to help us define what it means to be a “good” teacher, other than to record the scores on standardized tests of students in each class. There are thousands of reports on how this happens, but in the end, defining a “good” performance is almost always a subjective judgment.

The parents of public school children and the teachers of the public schools in NYC know that Mayor Bloomberg and NYC BOE CEO Dennis Walcott dont want anyone to have any power over educational policy decisions except them, and their people. So they designed a process which I call the "rubberization" process to remove anyone from his or her job for any reason, at any time.

How The New York City "Gotcha Squad" Gets Tenured Teachers Declared "Incompetent", and Placed in a Rubber Room 
by Betsy Combier

Why Substitute Teachers?

David Hedges
I don't want to be accused of suggesting that I don't need a job, nor that I can be worth every penny the taxpayers spend on me as a teacher, but what really happens in a classroom when a substitute teacher assigned to it is very different from what the taxpayers have the right to expect for their hard earned money.

This is not to say that qualified personnel is needed, and is even in short supply in the school system.  There is an overabundance of inexperienced administrators and teachers who are making the kinds of decisions that they should not be allow make.  The DOE knows this, which is why they have retired principals mentoring and keeping a watchful eye on the young'uns.  Even principals from schools that were closed are coaching the new principals, so extreme the shortage of experienced professionals must be!

A recent experience will help to illustrate my point:

A highly experienced teacher had to be out for a few weeks for medical reasons.  The DOE elected to place a highly experienced ATR in that spot until the regular teacher returned.  The thing is, as soon as students perceive that someone is substituting for their regular teacher, the unwritten code is that that room, or whatever room that substitute teacher is covering, becomes the "free-for-all" room.  And, to boot, every student is given a "get out of jail free" card since no matter how many fights break out between students who either should or should not be in that classroom, no matter how many students pelt the teacher with chalk, rolled paper balls, or threatening verbiage, there won't be any disciplinary consequences or legal remedies.  The students know this because they have seen it in action.  For example, on the second day I was covering this class I asked a student to stop throwing paper balls across the room.  His response: "But I did this yesterday and you didn't say anything."  Had he?  Perhaps he had and I hadn't noticed, since I may have spent those moments asking students to remove themselves from other students' laps, or moving out of the way as students played shuffleboard with chairs and tables.

For several days before the regular teacher left, I observed her class.  I quietly walked around and asked students to write their names on a seating chart and noted their work habits.  By midweek I had learned every students names and seen that they all came to class prepared, had their notebooks open, copied assignments from the board, and in short, had developed the kind of routine one expects of students under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher.  That was true of them on Monday and on Tuesday.  But on Wednesday, when the regular teacher was out and I was there, their behavior changed radically.  The laws of physics don't lie. 

I emulated the regular teacher's style, from the seating arrangement to the way the Do Now was worded on the Smartboard.  The students went bananas.  I had to call in the principal, the dean of students, and both assistant principals.  I was very concerned by the chaos I was witnessing.  Each time an administrator came in I gave him or her then name of the student(s) who were rough housing, or throwing chalk at me, or who were playing shuffleboard with the furniture.  I know you hope that the administrators would have found a disciplinary remedy for the situation, but now, that is not what happened at all.  In fact, there aren't even any "referral" slips, so the infractions aren't even documented.  You see, at the end of the year the UFT Chapter Leader sits with the principal and they tally up the referrals.  If the number of referrals that the administration has is less than the number that had been submitted, there is a problem.  One way of averting any problem is simply to do away with referral slips, or to pretend the infraction never happened, which is pretty much what was going on each time I had to call for back-up.

Students don't take long to figure these things out.  The chaos spread.  Students take it as their right to arrive late, because they wanted to go downstairs and get some water or a soda.  "But you are losing valuable class time," I might say.  Their response: "What difference does it make whether I go before class or during class?"  Perhaps he was right.  Perhaps his last class was closer to the stairwell that takes him to the cafeteria and he saved himself a few minutes by doing it all in one trip.  Smart, right?  Except the collective behavior of a school now makes that the norm.  Even if the better, more efficient decision is right, it is wrong because it causes everyone to presume that it's okay to be late, or play shuffleboard with the classroom furniture, or with the personnel for that matter.

Dummy-down and ego-up is the way school policies are driven.  Where we, in my day, were scolded for social promotion and "enabling" students, now unacceptable behavior is brushed under the carpet so the Superintendent and the Chancellor never get wind of it. 

There are ways of managing classes when a teacher is absent, but the standard approach of the substitute isn't a successful model.  It never has and it never will be. 

There are alternatives: for example, break the class up and reassign the students to classes where other regular teachers are giving lessons.  Even if the student is placed in a trigonometry class when she expects Spanish, the benefits on the child's behavior offset the possible loss of LOTE time.  The help with the overflow, assign the ATR to work with students individually in the library or in the administrator's office.  Temporary rescheduling of a student's program is less harmful than sending them into the "free-for-all" room.  That tradition, the way students behave when a substitute teacher is in charge of the class, is not going to change.  What can change is to recognize the need for pedagogical continuity in the child's life and regroup the students so they won't panic because their teacher is out.

If, however, flexible programming is out of the question, then why not discipline students who act out, instead of making excuses for them and covering up their infractions so the big bosses don't find out?