ch-ch-changes

City unveils new steps designed to make path to tenure tougher

For more than 6,000 teachers, the path to tenure this year will be different and, the city hopes, tougher.

City education officials announced a new rubric today that will guide principals as they make tenure recommendations this year. The “effectiveness framework” places teachers in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, parent feedback, and other factors. No single element is meant to be weighed more heavily than the others and principals still have the ability to pick and choose what goes into their final decision.

Principals will be encouraged to give tenure only to teachers they believe are effective or highly effective, city officials said today. Teachers who are “developing” will have their probation extended, giving them another year in which to improve. This extension can occur again and again until a principal makes a final decision or the teacher leaves the job.

In the past, granting tenure meant checking a series of boxes in an online form. Was the teacher dressed appropriately? Check. Did she have good classroom management? Check. Principals who wanted to deny tenure had to offer a brief justification, but granting it didn’t require a principal to give her rationale for doing so.

This year, school leaders will have to write a few paragraphs explaining their decisions. City officials said today that they expect the new rubric will lead to higher rates of tenure denial and probation extension, which have increased in the last several years, but have not set a goal to meet.

At a meeting with reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Deputy Chancellor John White called the new rubric “a culture shift.”

“This is a culture shift away from guesswork and toward rigorous decisions based on evidence,” he said. “If we’re going to offer someone a lifetime job, we had better be sure that that teacher is going to be effective for a long time.”

Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern said the city is hoping that the pressure on principals to boost their students’ performance will lead them to take the new rubric seriously.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said that if the new rubric is a culture shift, it’s a long time coming.

“Every time the DOE needs a cheap headline, they make some pronouncement about teacher tenure, conveniently ignoring the fact that the process for granting tenure has always been within the DOE and the Chancellor’s control,” he said. “We’ll be reviewing this latest process with the hope that it can help solve the system’s real problem — the huge numbers of teachers who leave of their own accord before their probationary period ends.”

The city is also trying to make tenure harder to earn by giving principals hiring incentives if they deny it. Principals looking to fill a position vacated by a teacher who has been denied tenure will be freed from the city’s hiring freeze and will be able to hire teachers who are new to the city’s schools.

The memo that the city is sending to school support networks and principals explaining the changes is below, followed by the rubric that will guide tenure decisions.

Teacher Tenure Decision-Making 2010-11

We know that the most significant factor in a student’s performance is the quality of his or her teacher. Yet, currently, we have few ways to recognize outstanding teaching. Unlike professions where mastery is rewarded with accolades, growth opportunities, and additional compensation, teaching is still organized like a factory model – with teachers rewarded primarily for longevity, regardless of effectiveness.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the tenure decision-making process. For too long, we have granted the same tenure distinction to our most effective teachers as we have to our least effective. Along the way, we have forgotten that tenure is actually a high honor: a commitment for life, awarded to those who have demonstrated they can perform at a high level for the duration of a career. Our current approach demeans the teaching profession and does nothing to help our kids.

Last month, Mayor Bloomberg laid out a new vision for how tenure is granted to teachers. From now on, only teachers who demonstrate significant professional skill and meaningful, positive impact on student learning will receive lifetime employment. The City will transform the awarding of tenure from a right, granted practically by default, to an honor bestowed upon our outstanding teachers. We will reconceive how tenure decisions are made and introduce a set of tools intended to establish tenure as a distinction to be earned. Improvements include: (1) introduction of a 4-point effectiveness framework for use in decision-making; (2) expanded performance data for probationary teachers; (3) streamlined decision-making; and (4) a set of hiring policies aligned to our tenure objectives.

More broadly, this new approach is intended to help schools build a culture where teachers receive regular feedback and support for their professional growth; and to establish the tenure decision as a milestone in every teacher’s development. The DOE will ask that schools take this opportunity to implement what many successful principals already do as standard practice: meet personally with each tenure-eligible teacher to review his or her work well in advance of the tenure decision. These conversations provide needed support for teachers up for tenure and an opportunity to personally acknowledge strong performance.

This memorandum provides further information about the tools and policies that will apply to the teachers in your school who are up for tenure this year.

TENURE POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION

1. 4-point Effectiveness Framework

For the first time, a 4-point effectiveness framework will be used to aid in making tenure decisions. The framework measures teacher practice along multiple dimensions – impact on student learning, instructional practice, and professional contributions – and requires multiple measures of each over more than two academic years in order to demonstrate effectiveness. Additionally, special consideration will be given to gains demonstrated with special populations, including Special Education students, English Language Learners, and students who are over-age and under-credited. A copy of the framework is attached to this document.

2. Expanded Data

The Tenure Notification System (TNS) will provide principals with centrally available data on their probationary teachers, including the following indicators:

§  previous U-rating

§  poor attendance

§  particularly strong or weak teacher data report indicators

§  ATR status

§  limited time teaching at their current school (less than 1 school year)

§  probation previously extended

To assist superintendents, additional data will be available to manage tenure decisions, including:

§  duration of principal tenure in building

§  school QR scores

§  school PR scores

3. Clear Steps for Tenure Decision-Making

In January, principals will be asked to enter an early (preliminary) recommendation using the 4-point framework for probationary teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June.

When principals enter final recommendations in TNS, they will (1) provide feedback using the 4-point framework and (2) using a new Tenure Recommendation Form, they will be required to provide a rationale for their tenure recommendation, explaining the evidence they’ve collected which led to the recommendation of granting or denying tenure, or offering an extension of probation. As in the past, principals will enter their final recommendations in the Tenure Notification System (TNS), and Superintendents will review principal recommendations and issue final decisions.

4. Improve Hiring Policies

In an effort to ensure that tenure recommendations are made based on a teachers’ ability to positively impact their students’ educational outcomes and their contributions to the school, the following incentives have been put in place:

§  In the past, principals may have resisted denying or extending tenure because of a fear of creating a vacancy that could not be filled with a newly hired teacher of their choice. This year, principals who deny tenure (or discontinue prior to denial) can backfill the position with a teacher new to the system, provided that (1) the school has the FY 2011 budget to afford a teacher in the position and (2) there is not a layoff condition making implementation impossible under legal and contractual rules.*

§  If schools are compelled to excess teachers for whom they have recently granted tenure, networks and then clusters are responsible for identifying an appropriate placement for that teacher.

NEXT STEPS:

  • Principals can access a current list of probationary teachers with upcoming tenure decisions via TNS and will be able to produce one-touch data reports for those teachers through TNS starting in January
  • As outlined above, principals will be asked to make preliminary recommendations of effectiveness using the attached 4-point framework (for teachers whose tenure decisions are due in May and June starting in January.)
  • Schools should work directly with their CFN to implement the policies described in this memo.
  • Training materials will be available beginning in mid-December.

*This applies only to vacancies in the same grade and subject as the one held by the denied employee.

state of the union

New York City teachers union braces for Supreme Court ruling that could drain money and members

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
UFT President Michael Mulgrew (standing) met with teachers during a school visit in 2014.

A few dozen labor leaders gathered recently at the the headquarters of New York City’s 187,000-member teachers union to hear a cautionary tale.

In a glass-walled conference room overlooking downtown Manhattan, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew settled into a chair facing a colleague from Wisconsin. He asked the state teachers union president, Kim Kohlhaas, how her members have fared after an aggressive rollback of labor’s bargaining power there.

She described rampant teacher turnover, fewer job protections, and ballooning insurance and pension costs. In short, a union’s worst nightmare.

For the UFT, Wisconsin is a harbinger of what could result from a Supreme Court case known as Janus, which revolves around the ability of public unions to collect mandatory fees. Oral arguments begin on Feb. 26, and the decision, which is expected in a matter of months, could dramatically alter the landscape for unions across the country.

The impact will be felt especially by the UFT, the largest union local in the country. If the court rules that teachers are not required to pay for its services, the union is likely to shed members and money — a war chest that has allowed the UFT to be a major player in New York politics and to secure robust benefits for its members.

“This is dangerous stuff we’re getting into now,” Mulgrew told Chalkbeat. “They’re trying to take away people’s ability to come together, to stand up and have a voice.”

While the case deals with different issues than Wisconsin’s anti-union policies did, New York City labor leaders say the limits on their membership and funding would weaken their ability to fight against further restrictions on their organizing and bargaining power.

In anticipation of the ruling, union leaders have reportedly already considered downsizing their operations. And they have undertaken a preemptive information and recruitment campaign to hold onto members — who, soon, may be free to choose whether to keep supporting the union financially.

“Much as I oppose Janus, it’s kind of a wake up call for entrenched union leadership,” New York City teacher Arthur Goldstein blogged recently. “People need reasons to pay, and it’s on leadership to provide them.”

At issue is whether public unions can continue to charge “agency fees,” which are payments collected from people who are not members. Sometimes called a “fair share” fee, it is meant to help unions cover the cost of bargaining contracts that cover all workers, regardless of whether they are union members. Only a fraction of New York City teachers currently opt out of the union and pay the agency fees rather than dues — but experts expect many more teachers could leave the union if the Supreme Court bans the fees.

Mark Janus, a government employee in Illinois, is challenging the fee on the grounds that it violates his right to free speech. The Supreme Court deadlocked on a similar case in 2016 after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. With Neil Gorsuch now on the bench, observers expect a conservative-leaning court will side with Janus. If that happens, workers covered by unions — including the UFT — will be able to opt out of paying the fees that help keep the unions in operation.

“What that means is there will be a lot of teachers — potentially a lot of teachers in New York — who do not invest in the union,” said Evan Stone, co-founder of the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence. “There will be potential growth in free riders who are benefiting from the work of the union without contributing to it.”

That’s why the UFT is kicking into action. The union has trained scores of members to knock on doors and talk to fellow teachers about the case. In about two months, the union estimates its members have knocked on 11,000 doors, sharing stories about how the union has helped them and hoping to convince teachers to keep financially supporting the work, even if the courts decide they’re no longer required to.

Union leaders are also launching “membership teams” in every school. Tasked with “building a sense of unity,” the union is asking the teams to engage in personal conversations with members, and plan shows of support for the union. Stone said his organization is organizing focus groups across the city to inform members about the case.

New York City teachers automatically become union members. They pay about $117 a month in dues, while social workers, paraprofessionals, and members in other school roles pay different amounts. Members can also choose to contribute to a separate political fund, which the union uses to lobby lawmakers and support union-friendly candidates.

About 2,000 educators opt-out of the union and pay agency fees instead — which are the same amount as regular dues, according to a UFT spokesman.

Ken Girardin, who has studied the potential fallout of Janus for New York’s unions as an analyst for the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy, said the number of agency-fee payers is low compared to other unions. But the Janus case could change that.

Girardin looked at what happened after Michigan enacted a “right to work” law, which forbid mandatory agency fees. The result: The Michigan Education Association, among the state’s largest unions, saw a 20 percent drop in dues and fees. Among full-time teachers, membership declined by 18 percent.

Girardin estimates an equivalent decrease in New York would mean the state’s teachers unions would take a $49 million hit annually. The UFT relies on dues and agency fees for about 85 percent of its $185 million budget, according to federal documents.

“It means they’d have to make up a course change,” Girardin told Chalkbeat, referring to the potential impact of the Janus decision. “They would have to treat their members like customers instead of people who are going to pay them regardless.”

Behind the scenes, the union is reportedly making contingency plans to deal with the potential budgetary fall-out. The New York Post recently cited unnamed sources who said union leadership is considering reducing the staff at some of its borough offices and cutting back on discretionary spending.

Girardin said public-sector unions in New York have already begun to fight for state legislation that would make it harder for members to drop out — a potential work-around in case the court sides with Janus.

Some UFT members say the threat of Janus is already being felt. The union recently voted down a resolution to support Black Lives Matter after leadership said it was a divisive issue at a time when the union can’t afford to lose members, according to an NY1 report.

Rosie Frascella, a Brooklyn high school teacher who helped organized Black Lives Matter at School events across the city, said she was disappointed in the leadership’s decision. But despite those internal disagreements, she said the threat posed by Janus should compel all teachers to speak out in support of their unions.

“You need to be in a union because it protects your right to teach,” she said. “And it stands up for our students and it creates the schools our children deserve.”

after parkland

As Trump doubles down on call to give teachers guns, the growing #ArmMeWith movement offers an alternative

Counselors, time, diverse classroom libraries, money — these are some of many things American teachers say they need in their schools instead of guns.

The pleas are coming via a social media hashtag, #ArmMeWith, that has spread quickly this week as teachers grapple with the aftermath of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Some lawmakers and advocates — including President Donald Trump — have responded to the shooting by arguing that teachers should be armed. That idea has drawn scorn from educators who argue that more guns in schools would make students less safe and do little to address the underlying issues that contribute to violence in schools.

Now thousands of those educators are offering an alternative, using a template that two teachers shared on Instagram on Tuesday. Olivia Bertels and Brittany Wheaton already had substantial social media followings when they asked others to join them in starting a movement.

“My friend @thesuperheroteacher and I think that we should find more practical solutions than giving teachers guns,” Bertels wrote on her post with the template, where she asked to be armed with school supplies. “I hope you’ll take the same stance.”

More than 5,000 people so far have done exactly that on Instagram, and the hashtag is also trending on Twitter, bringing educators together in a cross-country conversation.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” wrote one Texas teacher, HowsonHistory, in a comment on a Rhode Island teacher’s post. “But am so glad that so many teachers are. Maybe soon we will be listened to.”

Here are some of the posts that have caught our eye.

“We, the teachers, have a few ideas.”

“#armmewith not guns, but counselors who do not double as test administrators and more than one overbooked, crowded therapist option for families with Medicaid and social workers without overloaded caseloads.”

“#armmewith the liberation of our students, a microphone to speak out against the policies you make from people who aren’t teachers, resources to empower our children, and love to keep our babies safe. We refuse to be armed with guns. #teachingwhilemuslim”

“Because there are so many other things to be arming ourselves with that will do more good than harm. I choose to #armMeWith kindness not violence and teach my students to do the same #jointhemovement”

“I took my first teaching job the year Sandy Hook happened. And the thing is, in that year and in all the years I have been a teacher since, I have stood in my classroom too many times and wondered where I would put my children if someone came into my classroom with a gun. I have stood on playgrounds and in hallways with dozens of students and wondered what would be the best action to take. I have sat through too many of my lunch breaks with my colleagues hashing over the best strategy for protecting our students. There has to be change. Teachers and students deserve to work and learn in peace. #armmewith #thingsteachersshouldnothavetosay”