Looking to future, education officials imagine next UFT contract

At a panel geared toward current and potential education funders in New York City, city and state officials said they’d like to see some changes that philanthropy can’t produce. City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky and State Education Commissioner John King both said they want to see the city’s next mayor use contract negotiations with the teachers union to give educators time to work together.

“The next union contract needs more professional development time,” Polakow-Suransky said. “One of the biggest mistakes Randi and Klein made in the last contract was removing professional development time.”

He was referring to Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein, who as UFT president and chancellor in 2005 negotiated a contract that traded about two hours a week of teacher training time for more teacher time with struggling students.

The city’s contract with the teacher’s union has expired, as have the contracts of all labor unions in the city, and one of the new mayor’s first tasks will be to negotiate a new one. 

Today’s panel was organized by the new Education Funders Initiative with an eye toward identifying what’s working right now in New York City schools and what policies the next Department of Education should change. It also included an upstate superintendent and the president of CUNY’s newest community college.

Polakow-Suransky brought up the union contract when the moderator, WNYC’s Beth Fertig, asked the panelists what they would do if they were in charge next year. (As a top Bloomberg administration education official, Polakow-Suransky is unlikely to be at the center of contract talks — unless, of course, he is appointed chancellor.)

Referring to the 2005 contract, he said that “making a choice like that with a shift away from professional development was a huge risk, because in order for the extended or regular day to have good stuff going on, you need time to plan.” Otherwise, he said, schools risk making students sit through more mediocre class time rather than using those same hours for training that could improve the quality of instruction throughout the school day.

He said many of the city’s top schools have arranged their schedules to create time during the school day for teachers to meet with each other, plan lessons, and share what’s working and not working in each of their classes. Some schools have done this by scheduling all students in electives at the same time so that the other teachers can meet, he said, but he added that schools shouldn’t have to work so hard to create that time.

“This has to be investment in the next contract, building real time in when teachers can meet together in teams and work on building their skills,” Polakow-Suransky said.

It’s a point that King brought up last month at a Board of Regents meeting — and one that the teachers union is likely to support. Union officials frequently cite a need for teacher collaboration.

“I think one challenge, when contract negotiations happen for the New York City UFT contract, will be to look at the question of professional development and how much time is set aside, how are costs covered, and those kinds of questions,” King said at the time.

King reiterated that stance today. But asked after the panel what else he’d like to see in the city’s next contract with the teachers union, he offered new suggestions that would be less likely to find embrace from the teachers union.

He said he’d like to see city and union officials collaborate to work the state’s new teacher evaluation system — which the UFT has roundly lambasted — into the contract.

“Obviously trying to build on the work of the evaluation system … I imagine that will be an issue explored in the contract evaluations,” King said. “Trying to find strategies to maximize the impact of teachers who are getting great outcomes for the students, and trying to figure out how to position those teachers as teacher leaders, and helping those highly effective teachers play a coaching role with student teachers, with new teachers in the induction period, and with their colleagues that might be struggling, that could be very effective as well.”