breaking

Partial teacher evaluation deal clears way for improvement funds

After months of negotiations, the city and teachers union announced a deal today on a set of reforms that will allow the state to claim millions of dollars promised to struggling schools.

The announcement comes a week after the state ramped up pressure on the city to finalize its plans for how to improve its lowest-performing schools. The state’s deadline to complete its application for federal School Improvement Grants is just two weeks away. New York City is eligible for up to $65 million to help 33 “persistently low-achieving” schools undergo one of four processes over the next two years.

The 33 schools will undergo one of two revamp options, “restart” and “transformation,” according to the agreement. Those models are the least aggressive and also the least objectionable for the teachers union: They do not involve removing teachers or asking them to reapply for their jobs. “Restart” assigns a new management organization, and “transformation” replaces the principal and brings in additional resources.

Decisions about which model each of the 33 schools on the list would undergo will be made “over the next week,” according to the city’s press release. Last year, 11 city schools underwent the “transformation” process, and nine schools are undergoing the restart process this fall.

The city’s press release is long on relief but short on specifics other than that the city and union have agreed to implement the state’s new teacher evaluation model — but only in the 33 struggling schools.An impasse over the evaluations had caused the months-long holdup in negotiations. A key sticking point was whether teachers would be allowed to discuss their observations with their principals: The union wanted meetings built into the agreement, but the city said the extra step would add unnecessary delay to the evaluation process. The issue is absent from the city’s press release but union officials said it had been resolved.

Supporters of the state’s toughened teacher evaluations said today’s agreement could be a blueprint for the rest of the city’s schools.

“This agreement is a good first step towards placing highly effective teachers in every classroom, but I urge both sides to institute this evaluation system across the board immediately so that every child has a chance to learn from the city’s best educators,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

The city’s press release also heralds a performance pay program for teachers at the struggling schools that was finalized more than a year ago. That performance pay program will now be aligned with the state’s teacher evaluation law, and only teachers who fall into the highest of four tiers will be able to occupy higher-paying “master teacher” and “turnaround teacher” positions.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew looked only to the future in the city’s press release. Reiterating the union’s concern that the city has inadequately invested in struggling schools in the past — a concern that fueled the union’s lawsuit to halt 22 school closures — he said the priority is to direct the new federal funds to needy schools and their students.

“This agreement helps lay the groundwork,” Mulgrew said. “Now we have to focus on providing the resources these struggling schools need to make a real difference in the lives of their students.”

AGREEMENT BETWEEN DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND TEACHERS’ UNION WILL HELP SECURE $65 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDS FOR STRUGGLING SCHOOLS

DOE-UFT agreement also includes a new, 4-category teacher evaluation system in these schools

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew today announced an important agreement that will help secure up to $65 million over the next two years in federal School Improvement Grants, a U.S. Department of Education program that provides funding to help transform our nation’s struggling schools.  The funding will go to implement either “restart” or “transformation” at 33 City schools identified by the State as persistently lowest achieving (PLA) and therefore at risk of being closed.

“With this agreement, we will be able to bring millions of dollars in federal funding to these struggling schools and recruit top quality teachers to help students succeed and mentor other staff,”  said Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “I also want to thank Michael Mulgrew for his commitment to working with us to implement a more effective and meaningful teacher evaluation system to in these schools.  I believe our collaboration on matters like this is critical to student success.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “This agreement helps lay the groundwork.  Now we have to focus on providing the resources these struggling schools need to make a real difference in the lives of their students.”

In the 33 schools, the DOE and UFT have also jointly agreed to implement a new teacher evaluation system that is aligned with the State’s new teacher evaluation law.  The evaluation system in these schools will be based on a four-category rating system of highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective, instead of the current system that simply gives teachers a rating of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Federal guidelines identify four models for school improvement—a “transformation” model, a “turnaround” model, a “restart” model, and a “closure” model—each  involving different strategies to improve low performing schools.  Last year, 11 of these 33 schools were chosen for “transformation.”

Under the “transformation” model, the principal of the school is generally replaced, and the schools will be able to hire new teachers in the categories “Master Teacher” and “Turnaround Teachers.” A Master Teacher working in a PLA school will receive 30% above their base salary and is expected to serve as a mentor for other teachers in the school, working an additional 100 hours per year.  A Turnaround Teacher working in a PLA school will receive 15% above their base salary and open their classroom up to other teachers to learn best practices, working an additional 30 hours per year.  To remain eligible for either position, teachers must maintain a rating of “highly effective.”

Under the “restart” model, schools will be teamed with a non-profit educational partner organization (EPO) that will work with the principal and school staff to make recommendations on specific interventions to raise student achievement. This model does not require leadership or staff changes, but also allows for the hiring of master and turnaround teachers.  All proposed changes from the EPO will need to conform to collective bargaining agreements.

The City will work with the schools over the next week to determine which model suits the 33 schools best.  The following is the full list of schools:

02M460           WASHINGTON IRVING HIGH SCHOOL
02M500           UNITY CENTER FOR URBAN TECHNOLOGIES
02M615           CHELSEA CAREER AND TECH ED HS
05M685           BREAD & ROSES INTEGRATED ARTS HIGH SCHOOL
08X405           HERBERT H LEHMAN HIGH SCHOOL
08X530           BANANA KELLY HIGH SCHOOL
09X022           JHS 22 JORDAN L MOTT
09X339           IS 339
09X412           BRONX HIGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
10X080           JHS 80 MOSHOLU PARKWAY
10X391           MS 391
10X660           GRACE H DODGE CAREER AND TECH HS
14K126           JOHN ERICSSON MIDDLE SCHOOL 126
14K610           AUTOMOTIVE HIGH SCHOOL
15K136           IS 136 CHARLES O DEWEY
15K429           SCHOOL FOR GLOBAL STUDIES
15K519           COBBLE HILL SCHOOL OF AMERICAN STUDIES
16K455           BOYS & GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL
19K166           JHS 166 GEORGE GERSHWIN
20K505           FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL
21K540           JOHN DEWEY HIGH SCHOOL
21K620           WILLIAM E GRADY VOCATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL
22K495           SHEEPSHEAD BAY HIGH SCHOOL
32K564           BUSHWICK COMM HIGH SCHOOL
24Q455           NEWTOWN HIGH SCHOOL
24Q485           GROVER CLEVELAND HIGH SCHOOL
24Q600           QUEENS VOCATIONAL & TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOL
25Q460           FLUSHING HIGH SCHOOL
27Q400           AUGUST MARTIN HIGH SCHOOL
27Q475           RICHMOND HILL HIGH SCHOOL
27Q480           JOHN ADAMS HIGH SCHOOL
30Q445           WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT HIGH SCHOOL
30Q450           LONG ISLAND CITY HIGH SCHOOL

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”