Michael Mendel

New York

As UFT elections get underway, dissenters face an uphill climb

P.S. 15 teacher Julie Cavanagh, speaking to teachers at Murry Bergtraum High School last week, is running against UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this year's union elections. It's been nearly three years since Michael Mulgrew was elected to his first full term at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, which means election season has arrived for the city's teachers union. As would-be candidates work to meet Wednesday's deadline to collect the signatures they need to get on the ballots in April, we'll be keeping you up to date on Mulgrew's re-election bid and about what to expect from the changing union landscape. What is clear is that there won't be much suspense in the race for UFT president, as Mulgrew will almost certainly coast to a second full term. He's backed by the union's longtime dominant party, Unity, whose presidential candidate typically wins by a landslide. Three years ago, Mulgrew received 91 percent of the vote. The unified support that the union's leadership typically receives is one of many ways that the union has remained powerful in the face of threats. In other ways, too, the elections are about more than Mulgrew. There will be hundreds of positions on the ballot, including 90 executive board positions and delegates to the national and state unions, many with significant ability to impact decision-making. The vote totals also offer an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union — and this year, the dissenters are working hard to harness their power.
New York

Student surveys seen as unlikely evaluations element, for now

New York

City's Race to the Top-District bid centered on iZone expansion

Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace. The city is asking the U.S. Department of Education for funds to support additional efforts to "personalize education." Pitting itself against school districts across the country, the city has asked the U.S. Department of Education for $40 million to expand and augment its existing education technology programs. The city's biggest commitment in its application for Race to the Top-District, which city education officials filed last week, is to add as many as 100 schools to its three-year-old “Innovation Zone.” The application also promises to build innovative schools from the ground up and train teachers on how to use technology to improve instruction. Race to the Top-District is the latest effort by the Obama administration to entice state and local education officials to adopt its preferred policies. In the first Race to the Top grant competition, in 2010, New York State netted $700 million to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation programs, and develop a statewide data system. Last year, the state fell short in its bid to win Race to the Top funds earmarked just for early childhood education. The current round — the first open to individual districts — is focused on "personalized education." City Department of Education officials say the Innovation Zone, which this year contains nearly 250 schools, makes the department uniquely positioned to turn federal funds into higher student achievement. "It’s something that we’ve been doing for three years," said David Weiner, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of innovation. "We really believe that that puts us in a great place to capitalize on what we’ve learned."
New York

Unable to show union support, city goes it alone for RTTT funds

Months after a deal to let a handful of city schools receive federal funding, requirements continue to keep millions of Race to the Top dollars off-limits to all but 2 percent of city schools. When New York State won $700 million in the federal Race to the Top competition last year, it put some funds to use on statewide initiatives. But nearly $350 million went into smaller funds with specific aims: to build new curriculum models or train teachers, for example. Now, the state has started opening those pools up to districts — but it has set an eligibility requirement that the city can’t meet. The state requires that districts commit to putting new teacher evaluations in place by next year — with union support. That requirement can be found in several of the Requests for Proposals for Race to the Top-related initiatives that the state has begun releasing. In one application for funding that it submitted last week, the city could not show it had the union's support for the new teacher evaluation system in most of its schools, in the form of a required Memorandum of Understanding, so it only applied for money for the 30 schools that do. Those 30 schools are among 33 included in a partial teacher evaluation deal hashed out this summer, when the union and city saw that federal school improvement grants were at stake. At the time, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he wanted to see the outcome of the pilot before expanding the evaluations to more schools. And as the year has worn on, slow-moving negotiations about the new evaluations have seemed headed for an impasse.
New York

Citing "abuses," teachers union says it is wearying on eval talks

The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn't remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place. The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn't agreed to the change. City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 "persistently low-achieving" schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say. But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven't gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn't be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT's governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson's criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said. Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model. Mendel said the union won't break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.
New York

Why New York City isn't joining Chicago in extended-day uproar

New Yorkers following Chicago’s snowballing union-district standoff over plans to extend the school day may not realize that similar conversations take place inside city schools every year. Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and his schools chief, former New York City deputy Jean-Claude Brizard, are pushing schools to add 90 minutes to their 5-hour-long days, among the shortest in the nation. But they have offered teachers only 2 percent more pay, raising the ire of the teachers union, whose president, Karen Lewis, has said Emanuel is creating "a nightmare" by asking union members to override their union contract. Even though the union has filed a lawsuit over the plan, Emanuel and Brizard decided to shop the proposal school by school, and teachers at at least nine schools have voted to extend their working hours—and the instructional day. The city and the teachers union send out warring press releases each time another school takes a vote. Staff at New York City schools routinely take similar votes, but with less fanfare. There has been no system-wide push for a longer school day in years, and educators do not foresee a Chicago-style showdown repeating in New York. That’s in part because the average New York City school day is already much longer than Chicago’s, and slightly longer than other major cities’, with many students in school for 6.5 hours or more. In addition, the district already struck a flexible deal with the union five years ago to extend the school day by 37.5 minutes four days a week for at least 290,000 city students, mostly those who struggle academically. How that time is spent is, to a large degree, up to each school. Researchers say it is almost impossible to make a good estimate of the length of the New York City school day—something that one Chicago columnist found last week when he tried to tally the numbers—because instructional time requirements vary by grade-level and subject, and principals and teachers can decide together how they want to structure parts of the school day. 
New York

Union: From style to substance, relationship with city improved

New York

Union contract limits options for school turnaround, city says