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Monday, September 29, 2014

A Public Policy of Extortion: Teachers Forced into Settlements

I had an OMG moment this morning, sunday september 28, 2014, when I saw the headline in the print version of the NY POST article  "Bad Teachers 'Pay To Stay'" by Susan Edelman.

First, who are bad teachers? I have written before and will keep writing that I certainly do not know who a bad teacher is, in most cases where this term is used. I know that whoever did not care about or teach anything to any of my four daughters was, in my opinion, not a "good" teacher, but I cannot speak for any other person, parent or student. See one of the latest posts on Diane Ravitch's blog about Adam Urbanski and the complicated process of evaluating teachers.

I certainly did not know that I would be quoted under that headline.

The online edition of the sunday NY POST had a better headline - see the article posted in full, below..

What I told Ms. Edelman was that when an educator is charged with misconduct or incompetency, and sign up for a NYSUT attorney, in many cases the NYSUT Attorney tries very hard (sometimes, in my opinion, abusively) to get the educator to resign, retire, leave town, or settle. Anything but go to a hearing. I believe the NYSUT Attorneys know how much of a due process disaster the hearings are, from the viewpoint of defending an educator's rights. After watching the attorneys work at 3020-a for almost 8 years, 2003-2011, I thought there was a better way to defend, and started as a paralegal advocate in defense of Respondents brought to 3020-a in 2011. No one who is innocent of charges should be forced into a settlement of any kind. You can win a 3020-a.

The shocking clauses in all settlements are the give-backs, ie agreement to pay thousands of dollars and/or take many hours of Professional Development (PD) on classroom management, lesson planning, Common Core, etc. Where does this money go? No one seems to know. I wrote a FOIL request to the New York State Education Department. No information there. I wrote a FOIL to the New York City Department of Education. No answer.

If the educator really has done something terrible, then a settlement is a good idea. But if an educator is threatened, yelled at, and disrespected for no reason, and the charges are not valid (made up by a hostile administrator) and then is told he/she will be terminated if he/she doesn't settle, then there is something very wrong. This is, in my opinion, extortion. Educators who know they are innocent just should terminate any representation by anyone who is abusive or disrespectful, and hire someone else. Also in all settlements are clauses which say the signer of the agreement cannot ever sue the Department for anything that has happened to bring about these charges.

Really? My suggestion is this: the minute you receive your charging packet with your specifications, write and file a Notice of Claim. Notarize your signature and send to the NYC Comptroller's Office as well as the Corporation Counsel via certified mail, return receipt requested. You then have a year and 90 days to sue any public agency personnel who have harmed you.

And, my quote in the article below does not refer to the so-called "bad" teachers, but refers to all the "good", innocent teachers and employees who are threatened, accused of things they did not do or did not intend to do, and are considering leaving their jobs. This is not good for the children in the classes of those excellent, often veteran tenured teachers, because learning needs continuity. The Department of Education doesn't care about the kids. This is obvious. I wonder if NYSUT Attorneys or Reps care, either, but that's another post.

Betsy Combier

Teachers accused of misconduct keep jobs in secret settlements

The city Department of Education secretly settles with most teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence, letting them pay a fine and return to classrooms — but leaving students and parents in the dark.
Teachers yanked from schools for abuse of students, poor performance and many other offenses get charges dropped if they admit to some lapse, pay thousands of dollars in payroll deductions and take a class or workshop, documents obtained by The Post show.
“All they want is your money,” said paralegal Betsy Combier, who helps defend teachers. “It doesn’t matter what happened to the kid — it’s kind of frightening.”
In the past two school years, the DOE has brought charges against 826 teachers, it said Friday. Though 340 cases remain open, the majority of the rest — 381 — ended in a secret settlement. Settlements obtained by The Post include:
  •  A Queens teacher who denied squeezing a kid’s neck and throwing an object that struck another kid was offered a $10,000 settlement, but bargained it down to $2,500 and returned to the same middle school.
  • A Brooklyn teacher rated “unsatisfactory” three years in a row saved her job by paying the DOE $6,500 and taking workshops on lesson planning, instruction and classroom management. She was put in a pool of unassigned teachers who substitute — and kept her $100,049-a-year salary.
  • A Brooklyn social worker making $82,147 a year, who billed the DOE for service to kids she didn’t provide, kept her job by paying $3,000.
  • Bernadette Camacho, a former teacher at the Gateway School of Environmental Research and Technology in The Bronx, agreed in May 2010 to pay $6,500 and see a shrink for a year to keep her job after emotional outbursts with students. Her case became public later when kids accused her of cursing and insulting them at Hillcrest HS in Queens. Finally, an ­arbitrator approved her firing.
Former DOE officials involved in efforts to fire weak or abusive teachers say settlements have ballooned because they skirt the long and costly hearings that state law requires to dismiss tenured educators.
The city not only has to prove a teacher’s wrongdoing or incompetence, but make the case that he or she can’t or won’t improve.
“The real problem is that the legal standard does not prioritize the best interests of kids,” said Dan Weisberg, the DOE’s former chief of labor policy.
In a recent case, shocked parents at PS 101 in Forest Hills, “The School in the Gardens,” learned that science teacher Richard Parlini returned this fall after repeated student complaints against him. The DOE said it had substantiated six instances of verbal abuse and corporal punishment since 2010.
Mom Laurie Townsend said her son, Nakia, 11, was brave enough to face Parlini and testify. The boy said Parlini pushed him in second grade after telling the class to sit down. In sixth grade, he said, Parlini “grabbed his shoulders and shook him to the point where it made him cry.”
But when Townsend and Nakia arrived downtown for Parlini’s hearing last June, it was called off.
“They told me he settled,” she said.
The DOE let Parlini pay $2,500 and take six hours of training to keep his $75,092-a-year job.
“It’s outrageous that he can just pay a fine, get a slap on the wrist and go back to his paying job, while the kids have to see him ­every day,” Townsend fumed.

Adam Urbanski: Teacher Ratings Are Nonsensical
by dianeravitch
Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester, Néw York, teachers' union, is struggling to make sense of the state's teacher and principal evaluation system, which varies wildly from district to district. Scarsdale, perhaps the most affluent and high-scoring district in the state, had no "highly effective" teachers. But Rochester, one of the districts with high poverty and low scores, had many. The reality is that none of the formulas for reducing teaching to a number make any sense. Teaching is an art, a craft, and a bit of science. A great teacher may be great one year, not the next, or great with this class but not another. (APPR in Néw York is the Annual Professional Performance Review.)
The ratings in Néw York are referred to as HEDI: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective. A commenter on the blog recently said that "Developing" is considered a low grade but she hoped that she was "developing" every day as a teacher.
This is what Adam wrote to his members:
"The Rochester Miracle?"
"Each year, we re-negotiate our APPR agreement with the District to do all we can to make it less damaging to our student and more fair to teachers.
"We are making progress in reducing the number of Rochester teachers (be)rated as Developing or Ineffective (40% in 2012-2013 but 11% in 2013-2014) and increasing the number rated as Effective or Highly Effective (60% in 2012-2013 but 89% in 2013-2014). Just one year ago, only 2% of Rochester teachers were rated as Highly Effective. This year, that number increased to 46%.
"Why such a huge fluctuation? Maybe it's because we re-negotiated the agreement; or because teachers set more realistic SLO targets; or because the NYS Education Department adjusted the cut scores in ELA and Math; or because huge fluctuations are typical of invalid and unreliable evaluation schemes. Who knows? In any event, we continue to press for the total abolishments of APPR.
"Meanwhile, we are negotiating a successor agreement that would further diminish excessive testing of students and wrongful rating of teachers."