contract sport

Among city's contract demands: flexibility to lay off teachers

A much smaller pool of jobless-but-salaried teachers and slimmed down rubber rooms are two of the requests on the city’s list of contract demands.

The list of demands, which had been kept secret for months as the city and United Federation of Teachers tried to reach an agreement, was included as part of a legal complaint filed against the city by the UFT. The complaint was sent to reporters yesterday by Department of Education spokesman David Cantor. The union distributed its own list of demands to chapter leaders back in September.

Many of the demands are recycled from years past, but there are several new ones tucked into the three-page document. For years, Chancellor Joel Klein has trumpeted Chicago’s method of laying off teachers, which gives out-of-work teachers a year to remain on salary and find a new job in the schools. Klein’s new list of demands would shrink that window to four months.

Another provision would force any teacher who’s been charged with misconduct or incompetence off of the city’s payroll while their case proceeds through termination hearings, effectively decreasing the rubber rooms’ ranks.

The city’s decision to release its contract demands is yet another sign that the city and teachers union have given up on negotiations and resigned themselves to state mediation. In a letter sent to the state Public Employment Relations Board, attorneys for the city agreed with the union’s determination that the two sides had reached an impasse.

The next step is for the state’s Public Employment Relations board to confirm that talks have indeed stalled and then bring in a mediator to re-launch negotiations. Failing mediation, a fact-finding panel would then be called in to make recommendations for a settlement.

I’ve summarized some of the city’s demands below:


  • The city wants to pay teachers more for working in hard-to-staff schools, in specialties that are in demand, and for having a “proven ability” to raise student achievement.
  • Teachers would have higher raises in the early and middle steps of their careers.
  • The city would institute a career ladder, labeling teachers “apprentice,” “practicing,” “mentor,” and “master,” and would pay them according to their position on that ladder.

Work rules

  • Excessing teachers: the city is demanding an end to seniority-based excessing, which pick off the youngest and least experienced teachers first. Instead, it wants excessing to be based on performance and other factors. Once a teacher is excessed, he will have four months to remain on the city’s payroll while he finds a new job. Once those four months are up, he’ll lose this pay check and benefits. Today, there are about 1,200 salaried teachers who have been excessed, are looking for work in the system, and are working as substitutes.
  • As a result of last year’s months-long controversy-turned-legal-battle over how long new Teaching Fellows  can remain on the city’s payroll without finding work, the city is asking for a line in the contract to cover these teachers. The city is demanding that it have the right to terminate Teaching Fellows who don’t find jobs with 10 days notice.
  • It’s not exactly an eight-page contract (which Klein offered the union back in 2003), but the city does want to create much slimmer contracts for schools that are considered “at risk” of being closed, or in the process of closing.
  • Any employee who is absent for five consecutive days without notice will be considered to have resigned. Currently, that number is 20 days.
  • Under the current contract, K-6 teachers working in K-8 schools have the same teaching schedule as teachers working in regular elementary schools, while those teaching seventh and eighth grades in these schools have to follow the junior high school schedule. The city wants to change the process so that principals can create an 8-period day for elementary grades as well as junior high ones.
  • Under the current contract, monthly faculty and grade conferences have to be held during school hours. The city’s list of demands includes an item that would allow the conferences to last beyond 3:45 p.m.
  • The city wants to eliminate the retention rights of per session teachers — teachers who lead before or after school activities — meaning that the yearbook club teacher would no longer have priority when applying to run that activity in future years.

Discipline and Grievances

  • Teachers who have charges brought against them will be suspended without pay unless they can prove that the DOE is unreasonably delaying the hearing. If they win their cases and are reinstated, the DOE incurs a heavy penalty: it has to pay the teacher time and one-half for the time they were suspended. This would not cause rubber rooms to disappear, but it could sharply reduce their ranks. Only teachers who are under investigation and have yet to be charged would remain on payroll and in the rubber rooms.
  • The current union contract calls for hearing officers to apply a “just cause” standard to all the cases of alleged incompetence that the city brings against tenured teachers. This standard means the DOE has to prove it has a reason for firing the teacher and that its reason is fair. The city wants to lower the standard to an “arbitrary and capricious” one, meaning the DOE’s decision to fire the teacher is assumed to be reasonable and just unless the teacher can prove otherwise.
  • Currently, if a teacher qualifies for tenure and her principal doesn’t submit anything recommending or denying her tenure, then she’s given tenure by default. The DOE wants to make it so that teachers can only receive tenure through an affirmative award. For young teachers who are in the Absent Teacher Reserve — a pool of teachers who’ve lost their jobs through budget cuts and school closings — and become eligible for tenure while they’re looking for permanent positions, this change would reduce their chances of earning tenure.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”