please sir

NYC teacher discipline model praised, but Walcott seeks change

The city needs changes in state law to speed and ease teacher firing procedures, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told members of the State Senate in Albany today. He asked legislators to change who judges teacher discipline cases and also the legal standard those cases must meet.

Yet the city’s rules are actually the toughest in the state and in many ways are a model for reform, state and union officials told the senators during a hearing on the state’s 3020-a process, the legal process that governs the discipline of tenured teachers. Districts that want to terminate a tenured teacher must prove their case in a 3020-a hearing.

The hearings process has long been seen as unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive. Statewide, cases routinely take as long as two years to be resolved and some principals choose not to bring cases against teachers rather than have to take on the long and burdensome 3020-a process, senators said.

“I really haven’t met anyone who thinks it’s going swimmingly,” said State Sen. John Flanagan, who convened the hearing.

Until recently, New York City was a case study for how 3020-a hearings could drag on. By last summer, the city was paying more than 700 teachers under investigation to report each day to “rubber rooms.” But after Mayor Bloomberg turned his attention to the rubber rooms, the city and teachers union reached an agreement to close them by speeding up the hearing schedule, paying neutral arbitrators to work more days, and rotating cases randomly among the arbitrators.

The backlog was cleared of all but 16 cases in just four months, by the end of 2010, and the accelerated timeline remains in place.

Valerie Grey, the State Education Department’s chief operating officer, cited New York City’s experience to prove that the timeline set forth in the current 3020-a regulations, which suggests five months from when a teacher is charged to when his or her case is resolved, is reasonable.

“New York City did it in four months,” Grey said. “It can be done.”

But Walcott said today that additional changes would streamline the hearing process further. “Even with that resolution 3020-a remains a cumbersome process,” he said. “We need a system that is fair, cost-effective, speedy, and the results are consistent.”

Describing two teachers who faced similar charges but received different penalties after two different arbitrators heard their cases, Walcott focused his proposals for change on a desire for more consistent outcomes of teacher discipline trials. The best way to improve consistency, he said, would be for the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to take over 3020-a hearings from the independent arbitrators. OATH currently decides disciplinary cases against employees of other city departments, as well as MTA employees. With a salaried, full-time set of lawyers judging teacher discipline cases, costs would be contained and a uniform standard for judgement could be applied, Walcott said.

City officials have long pushed OATH in discussions with the union, United Federation of Teachers spokesman Dick Riley said. A DOE spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, declined to comment, saying that negotiations with the union are confidential.

The union will not accept using OATH officers instead of impartial hearing offers, testified Carol Gerstel, the UFT’s chief counsel.

“We don’t think that hearing officers who are employees of the City of New York are ones that our members would feel comfortable that they were getting an impartial decision,” she said. “We think that a fair and expeditious process can be had using impartial arbitrators — hearing officers — as we are doing in the city right now.”

Walcott also asked lawmakers to change the law so that instead of the city having to prove it has “just cause” to remove a teacher, teachers would have to prove that their discipline was “arbitrary and capricious.” The city included this change in a list of contract demands that was leaked last year.

“He would get consistent decisions, because everybody would get terminated because the people who are bringing the charges will be upheld unless they are arbitrary and capricious — a very difficult standard to reach,” Gerstel said.

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.”