UFT Rank and File Says King’s Evaluation Plan Bad for Teachers, Students
While Michael Mulgrew launches a campaign to convince the membership that the new teacher evaluation system is designed to help teachers improve and give them a professional voice, Bloomberg is proclaiming victory. The truth of the matter is, this evaluation system is bad for educators and the children they serve: the system requires a tremendous amount of additional work with no compensation, time or otherwise. It will create an even greater climate of fear and effectively ends tenure as we know it; putting all educators who partner with parents to advocate for the best policies for children at risk. This system places too much value on testing and is flawed in its high stakes premise. Educators are best positioned to evaluate and assess our students and teachers, not imposed tests, not junk science, not pre-packaged rubrics. Julie Cavanagh, Elementary School Teacher & Chapter Leader P.S. 15 Brooklyn
The day has finally come. State Education Commissioner John King has imposed a new teacher evaluation deal on New York City. UFT president Michael Mulgrew’s attempts to claim a victory in the face of defeat are hardly convincing. In his letter to the membership Mulgrew says “Here is the bottom line: The new teacher evaluation system is designed to support, not punish, teachers and to help them develop throughout their careers. That is what we will be fighting for as this plan is implemented.” Given the enormous amount of money the DOE has spent trying to fire our colleagues over the last few years, it’s credulous to suggest that this system will be about “supporting” teachers. The media has honed in on the point that Mulgrew wants to avoid: tenure has been seriously weakened, and it will be easier to fire teachers who are seen as “ineffective” based on flawed standardized tests.
We knew already from State Education Law 3012-c, which was supported by the UFT leadership as part of Race to the Top, that two years of ineffective ratings means a teacher is presumed to be incompetent. In the new termination process for tenured teachers, the burden of proof will shift to the teacher, unlike the current system where the burden of proof is on the Department of Education to prove incompetence.
King’s release states: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall. Teachers who are developing or ineffective will get assistance and support to improve performance. Teachers who remain ineffective can be removed from classrooms.” In other words, there will be more testing for our students and tests will be the ultimate determinant of a teacher’s effectiveness. According to the outline of the plan, “Each school will have a committee comprised of an equal number of teachers and administrators who will determine, along with the principal, which assessments each school will use,” however the plan states that principals may reject this committee’s recommendations and apply their own default measures. In many schools, this is exactly what will happen.
Only 13 percent of all ineffective ratings each year can be challenged on grounds of harassment or other matters not related to job performance. Is the UFT comfortable trusting that the other 87% of ratings of “ineffective” will be based solely on teacher performance? Given the new principals Tweed is pumping out of the Principal’s Academy and their “fire your way to success” mentality, our union leadership has left us in an extremely dangerous situation.
The union leadership is pleased that the rating system will be using “the complete Danielson rubric, with all 22 points.” The potential for abuse of this complex and multifaceted rubric is enormous.
“This system will lead to educators teaching to a rubric,” says Mike Schirtzer, UFT Delegate at Leon M. Goldstein High School in Brooklyn. “Pedagogy is a craft which no two teachers do the same, yet can still be equally effective. This new scheme will limit teachers creativity in the classroom and our ability to differentiate styles in order to reach a diverse set of learners. Our greatest concern is the amount of time this will take from teachers to properly prepare for their classes, due to all of the assessments and/or SLO’s that need to be created, the committees need to be formed and countless hours of professional development dedicated to Common Core and Danielson, two directives that have no scientific evidence of increasing learning.”
In addition to the onerous micromanagement of the Danielson rubric, observations will be more frequent and at least one will be an unannounced observation. This is problematic, as without pre- and post-observation conferences, administrators will likely be unaware what scaffolding the teacher has done beforehand, and are likely to penalize teachers because they don’t have this information. Mulgrew says this is not a “gotcha” system, but in practice it most certainly will be.
The new system also includes a pilot of student surveys. This encourages grade-inflation and a lack of discipline in the classroom. Research shows that student surveys don’t work in high-stakes settings. The use of such surveys poisons the relationships between teachers and students, who now in addition to their test scores bear even more responsibility for the future of their teachers’ careers.
Crucially, this agreement will not include a sunset provision, unlike districts in other parts of the state. The sunset provision was a key sticking point in negotiations, as the UFT was hoping it would be able to renegotiate the terms of this plan under a new and presumably friendlier mayor. The current deal is in place for the next four years at least, and can only be re-negotiated in collective bargaining within the framework of State Education Law 3012-c.
The mayor and his henchmen have been gloating effusively. The mayor’s statement said “Commissioner King has sided with our children on nearly every major point of disagreement we had with the UFT’s leadership, while also rejecting the UFT’s long-held demand for a sunset provision.” Dennis Walcott said he was extremely pleased with the commissioner’s announcement today and we look forward to implementing it.” Bloomberg advisor Howard Wolfson bragged on Twitter that the UFT was “shut out on nearly all their demands.” No matter how the UFT leadership tries to spin it, this is a major defeat for teachers and students.
The dropoff in voter turnout in the recent UFT election was already a sign of a disengaged and passive membership. The new evaluation system and the way it was imposed are likely to further demoralize the rank-and-file and increase their cynicism toward the union. The UFT surrendered our collective bargaining rights by turning over the key issue in the next contract to the State Education Department, calling for a biased state official to impose evaluations on us.
MORE campaigned for a membership vote on this evaluation system, and presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures to the December Delegate Assembly. Unity opposed submitting this to the membership since they knew it would be deeply unpopular. The fact that this has instead been imposed by the State Education Department means Mulgrew and the Unity leadership will have an alibi for what will now certainly be a deeply concessionary contract. We must expose the leadership’s circumvention of membership in this process, and their contempt for the voices of their rank-and-file.
June 12 will be the day that city workers come together to demand fair contracts. In light of the new evaluation system, one wonders what’s left to negotiate. The key concessions, the biggest change to our working conditions in at least a generation, are already in place. It will be crucial for UFT members to attend and discuss the magnitude of this sell-out, and the undemocratic way in which it was imposed on us. Our next contract will inevitably include the new evaluation system. It will also be the first time in this process that the membership has been consulted at all. A campaign to vote no on this contract would send a signal to the leadership that the membership rejects this plan.
Everybody agrees that the key to this will be implementation. Teachers must build active chapters that can be vigilant in calling out abuse of the new system. A coordinated grievance campaign around particular issues of implementation can help us make the most of the 15 extra arbitration days to deal with systemic abuses. MORE will be campaigning in the fall to organize and train chapter leaders, delegates and school activists to be effective in defending their colleagues and organizing strong chapters.
Teachers also need to unite with students and parents to call for an end to the high stakes testing regime that is central to this new evaluation system. Students will now not only be taking high stakes state tests or PARCC assessments, but also regular “performance assessments” designed to assess teacher effectiveness. Campaigns like the MAP test boycott in Seattle show the power of a community uniting to fight the standardized testing regime.
What this whole sad story tells us is that we can’t rely on our union leaders to deliver on our behalf. They have conceded everything, and may now even prove unable to win us retroactive pay for the years we’ve spent without a contract. It’s only by rebuilding the union from the bottom up, school by school, classroom by classroom, that we will begin to stand up to the corporate assault on our schools. MORE is dedicated to a different kind of union, one where democracy and accountability replace backroom deals, where the members make the decisions that matter in their professional lives. Join us!
 If a DOE-appointed validator disagrees with the principal’s rating, the DOE keep burden of proof. However, validators are likely to be retired principals, in the PEP+ system, which is currently used to help fire teachers.