Performance bonus

Teachers win money, lose protection in new Green Dot contract

Teachers at Green Dot New York Charter School are getting a raise, a bonus, and a little less job security.

These are some of the modifications that are set to appear in a two-year renewal of Green Dot’s landmark contract with the United Federation of Teachers. Green Dot offered its teachers a 28-page “thin contract” a year after the school opened in 2008, leaving out many of the work rules and policies – including tenure and seniority-based layoffs – that are found in the bulky union deal with the Department of Education.

That contract expired in August and Green Dot and union officials have spent the last few months hammering out a new version. It was tentatively approved by board members on Sept. 26, but details of the contract had not been shared with teachers until this week.

In a statement issued today, the chief negotiators, Leo Casey, a UFT vice president, and Gideon Stein, who serves on the school’s Board of Trustees, shared details of the contract.

Under the new terms, the staff will receive a 3 percent raise each of the next two years, amounting to what will be 20 percent above the current salaries in the Department of Education. Last year’s teachers will also receive a $2000 bonus because of the school’s high performance. The school’s first students are now seniors so graduation data isn’t available, but 95 percent of students have passed the Regents exams they have taken, according to the Green Dot web site.

“The teachers and other staff are being paid more in recognition of being part of a very successful school,” Stein said.

In one concession, teachers will no longer be able to use an independent grievance process in their first year. Instead, they can be fired any time during their first year for any reason. Once the first year is complete, any grievance would return to being handled by an independent arbiter.

“It pretty much gave us what we wanted,” said an employee at the school, who asked not to be identified because teachers are restricted from speaking publicly about the agreement until it is official. “The only area where we had to cave was the protection for first year teachers.”

In another interesting tweak, Green Dot teachers will soon be evaluated based on a system that complies with the state education department’s Race to the Top application. The DOE’s favored system, the Danielson framework, is currently being used in 33 schools, but so far the city and union have not come to an agreement about whether it could spread to the rest of the DOE schools as well.

The renewed partnership between Green Dot New York and the UFT comes at a time when the teachers’ union is making slow inroads at organizing charter schools.

Of the 14 schools in its charter school portfolio, six converted from district schools meaning that by law teachers remained in the UFT. At most of the other eight schools, teachers organized on their own. The UFT’s charter schools opened with unionized teachers.

Five charter schools remain without contracts, including three – Bronx Academy of Promise, Merrick Academy and New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industries – that have been without contracts for more than two years. In an interview last week, Casey said that those schools are in the final stages of ratification and should have contracts in place soon.

“The first contract always takes the most amount of energy in terms of negotiations,”  Casey said. “You’re starting all sorts of things from scratch.”

Two other schools  – Opportunity Charter School and Fahari Academy – only organized in recent months.

Many of the unionized charter schools struggled academically, both before and after the vote to unionize. According to the latest progress reports, eight of the unionized middle and elementary school scored a C or lower.

The latest developments come at a time when the UFT is boosting efforts to recruit teachers working for charter schools. This weekend, it is hosting a conference for charter school educators to discuss the goal of establishing a more of a union presence in charter schools. The event will also feature a panel with Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools.

The contract still has to be finalized, after which it will be brought to the school staff for official ratification. UFT chapter leaders at the school officially recommended that their colleagues vote to approve the contract in a meeting on Wednesday.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”