a done deal

Teachers get pay bump, evaluation tweaks, and more in $5.5 billion contract deal

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.

A proposed nine-year contract deal between the city and the teachers union would increase teachers’ pay and simplify the way they are rated, free some schools to design innovative schedules, provide parents with more opportunities to meet with educators, and allow the city to more easily fire teachers who are deemed incompetent or accused of misconduct, officials announced Thursday.

Teachers’ pay would grow by 18 percent by 2020 through spread-out raises and back pay, and they would receive a $1,000 cash bonus when the deal is ratified. The contract between the United Federations of Teachers and the city would expire Oct. 31, 2018, and would preserve teachers’ existing health-care benefits while saving the city $1 billion in health care costs over several years, the officials said.

All told, the deal will cost the city $5.5 billion by the time the last payment is made in 2020, the city said.

At a celebratory press conference on Thursday afternoon, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor Bill de Blasio both praised the deal as a historic agreement representing a new vision for education reform in a large urban school system.

De Blasio is betting that the path to higher student achievement is through cooperation with the union, raising teacher morale and increasing parent involvement. But some of those changes came at the cost of extra learning time for the city’s low-performing students.

His collaborative vision for the school system marks a sharp break from that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who viewed the teachers union as a barrier to educational change.

“This is what partnership and equal operations look like,” de Blasio said before he embraced Mulgrew at the podium. “This is what respect engenders. Respectful relations allows us to get to the results that our people deserve.”

[If you missed it, we broke the news here and here; live-blogged today’s announcement; analyzed the issues here (backpay and excessed teachers) and here (evaluations and training). If you’re looking for even more context, check out this timeline of UFT contracts over the last 20 years.]

The UFT’s 110,000 members have been without a contract since 2009, and the deal grants them retroactive pay raises similar to those that other city workers got in previous years. An umbrella group of other municipal unions must still approve the deal, which is likely to set a pattern for the raises that they will receive in their own contract negotiations with the city. A committee representing UFT members must also ratify the new contract.

The contract has not been finalized and questions surround some of the changes that officials touted Thursday.

For instance, officials were not able to immediately say where savings came from in changes to the union’s health care benefits. And there is a legal question about whether a new process to remove educators who are deemed unfit to teach will have teeth.

The expedited process would be focused on terminating ineffective teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of about 1,200 educators who are on the city’s payroll but lack permanent positions in schools.

The contract deal says the city must send those teachers to schools that still have vacancies by mid-October in positions they are qualified to teach, according to the union. Fariña said that the teachers are being vetted by the department, “And if we don’t feel they’re ready, we don’t send them out to interviews [with principals].”

Principals have the right to send those teachers back to the pool. If a teacher is sent back twice, a truncated termination process will be triggered, city officials said.

The deal amends a new state-imposed teacher evaluation system that has been criticized for judging some teachers based on the performance of students they do not teach and for overwhelming principals who must now observe and rate teachers multiple times a year. Now, principals will have to consider far fewer criteria when rating teachers — a plan the teachers union opposed when the evaluation system was first being negotiated. Educators who teach grades or subjects that do not take standardized tests will have the option of being evaluated based on their own students, though it was unclear what measures that will involve.

Meanwhile, the city will find it easier to remove teachers for sexual misconduct, which now includes more behaviors, such as inappropriate texting.

Both sides said the agreement is also intended to spur innovation by freeing up to 200 schools from certain city regulations and contract provisions. That would enable those schools to experiment with their schedules, add time to their days or years, or give teachers more input in hiring decisions.

De Blasio framed that piece of the contract similarly to the way he has said he wants charter schools to interact with the rest of the school system.

“Innovations will be shared,” de Blasio said, adding, “and we know it will be easy.”

The deal also rewards teachers for taking on leadership roles or tough assignments, and gives them more professional development time.

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

All teachers will now spend 80 minutes every Monday in school-based professional development, and 35 minutes each Tuesday collaborating with colleagues.

To foster closer ties between schools and families, teachers will get another 40 minutes each Tuesday to communicate with parents through emails or phone calls, meetings, or a class website or newsletter. And parents will get more face time with teachers: Two additional parent-teacher conferences will be added to the school year, and each will last 30 minutes longer than in the past.

Those minutes were reallocated from the 150 minutes a week that schools have previously set aside for tutoring struggling students, thereby reducing instructional time for some.

“It’s a historic day because it is, first and foremost, a great day for children and their families,” de Blasio said.

Wake up to a comprehensive round-up of New York City education news by signing up for our Rise & Shine newsletter here.

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede