a done deal

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

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, 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.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.