Wednesday, May 07, 2014

On the Proposed UFT Contract

 Note: This piece appeared originally on Diane Ravitch's blog.

It’s been almost six years since NYC teachers have received a raise. This was particularly frustrating since most NYC employees received twin raises of 4% in the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining. While they got more money with no givebacks, our leadership helped craft the junk-science based NY APPR law. The entire state got a junk-science based evaluation system. We were told the beauty of it was that it could be negotiated, but when that didn’t work out leadership allowed John King to write it for us.

Now there is an agreement, but UFT members will receive not only the retro money, but also the salary raises almost a decade later than FDNY, NYPD, or DSNY. Being a teacher, I don’t know a whole lot about money. Still, I’m fairly certain that money has more value in 2010 than 2020, when we will finally be made whole. It’s plainly disingenuous to argue we have parity with the other unions.

There are other issues in this contract that are troubling. Paramount to me is that of due process for ATR teachers. The UFT agreed in 2005 to create the Absent Teacher Reserve. The UFT had supported mayoral control, which helped enable the massive school closures favored by Bloomberg, and rather than insist teachers in closing schools be placed in classrooms, it made them wandering subs, covering for absent teachers. They now wander from school to school, week to week. They are vilified and stereotyped in the media on a regular basis.

I’ve worked with and advocated for several ATR teachers. I can assure you, despite the nonsense propagated by self-styled expert Campbell Brown, that those teachers were guilty of nothing more than either being in the wrong school at the right time, or being targeted for no good reason .  Under our new system, any ATR teacher accused by two principals of ineffective behavior will receive an expedited one-day 3020a hearing, after which this person may be fired on the spot. I fail to see why ATR teachers should have fewer due process rights than I do.
As for Ms. Campbell Brown, apparently there is  hat tip in the agreement to her:

The rules also expand the definition of sexual misconduct, which will make it easier for the city to fire teachers for actions like inappropriate touching or texting, officials said.

I can’t really say whether or not this rule is reasonable, since neither I nor anyone who voted on this agreement has actually seen it. Generally, it would be shocking that a 300-member contract committee could approve an agreement it hadn’t seen. However since the overwhelming majority of that committee were members of the elite, invitation-only UFT Unity Caucus, and had signed an oath promising to support whatever leadership told them to, it would not be surprising to me if they had nominated a cheese sandwich for President of the United States.

We’re also looking at a program that strongly smells of merit pay, something that’s been tried and failed in the US for about a century. This is the UFT’s second flirtation with such a program, and like the last one, discarded as a failure, it is presented as not merit pay.

Another mysterious issue in the proposal is this:

Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

This sounds very much like the original concept of charter schools, and we all know where that has led us. I’m wary of anything with “excellence” in the title, because it clearly implies those of us who do not participate somehow oppose excellence. Also, there is a clear implication in such programs that our Contract somehow hinders excellence, which I do not believe.

My experience and observation suggests schools do better with strong principals and strong chapter leaders being adversarial when necessary, but working together when it benefits the school. I’ve also observed schools with little or no union presence having programs imposed on them that are less than productive, and I can certainly envision that happening here.

I’m further puzzled by several things UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote us when he announced the agreement.

The union won major changes, including a focus on eight instead of 22 Danielson components and a better system for rating teachers in non-tested subjects.

I have heard directly from union sources that they'd insisted on focusing on all of Danielson, and that making them focus on all aspects was a great victory. Apparently making them focus on fewer factors is also a victory. We shall see what happens with non-tested subjects.

A more substantive improvement might have been to let supervisors off the hook from so many observations. If a competent supervisor observes a teacher doing a good job, and receives no complaints about that teacher, the supervisor ought not to have to revisit that teacher 3 to 5 additional times that year. Supervisors ought to be focusing their attention on supporting teachers who actually need their help.

We succeeded in eliminating time-consuming teaching artifacts.

Again, union sources have told me directly that the inclusion of artifacts was a great union victory, empowering teachers. Apparently the exclusion is also a victory. When the union does one thing, it's a great victory. When they do the opposite, it's another great victory. I’m troubled by that.

Moving forward, fellow educators — rather than consultants or other third parties — will serve as the "validators" brought in the next year to review the work of a teacher rated ineffective.

In 3020a hearings, in which teachers can be fired, the burden of proof has traditionally been on the DOE to establish teacher incompetence. The validators would have had the option of placing the burden on teachers to establish they were not incompetent, a very high hurdle. Now, though this practice has never even been tested, with no evidence whatsoever, it is deemed to be improved. I would not wish to ever sit in judgment of my colleagues as to whether or not the city should have to establish their incompetence. I would question the motives of any colleague who would.

I fail to see why my brother and sister UFT members deserve any less financial consideration than those in other municipal unions. As for the other factors in this contract, the devil is in the details. Thus far we haven’t seen them, but history suggests a lack of foresight in insular UFT leadership, which has supported allowing teachers to become ATRs, charter schools, co-locations, the NYS APPR law, junk science teacher rating, Common Core, and mayoral control, none of which have helped public school teachers, parents or children.

Finally, I’m not particularly proud that we’re set to impose a pattern for all other city unions that will not allow them even to keep up with inflation for the next 7 years. If the best we can do is worsen conditions for our brother and sister unionists, we’re not doing our jobs very well at all.
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