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March 5, 2013
As UFT elections get underway, dissenters face an uphill climb
P.S. 15 teacher Julie Cavanagh, speaking to teachers at Murry Bergtraum High School last week, is running against UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this year's union elections. It's been nearly three years since Michael Mulgrew was elected to his first full term at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, which means election season has arrived for the city's teachers union. As would-be candidates work to meet Wednesday's deadline to collect the signatures they need to get on the ballots in April, we'll be keeping you up to date on Mulgrew's re-election bid and about what to expect from the changing union landscape. What is clear is that there won't be much suspense in the race for UFT president, as Mulgrew will almost certainly coast to a second full term. He's backed by the union's longtime dominant party, Unity, whose presidential candidate typically wins by a landslide. Three years ago, Mulgrew received 91 percent of the vote. The unified support that the union's leadership typically receives is one of many ways that the union has remained powerful in the face of threats. In other ways, too, the elections are about more than Mulgrew. There will be hundreds of positions on the ballot, including 90 executive board positions and delegates to the national and state unions, many with significant ability to impact decision-making. The vote totals also offer an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union — and this year, the dissenters are working hard to harness their power.
January 4, 2013
UFT calls latest labor conflict over evals a "misunderstanding"
The city and the union continued their back and forth over a labor complaint this week, with union president Michael Mulgrew disputing the city's gripe as misguided. In the latest swipe as the city and union struggle to reach a deal on teacher evaluations, the city filed a complaint with the state's labor board Dec. 27 alleging that the UFT was negotiating in "bad faith." The complaint also accused the union of unfairly trying to tie a deal to perks that were unrelated to the evaluation negotiations, including guaranteed "economic credit" toward a future contract, fewer school closures, and less paperwork for teachers. Mulgrew's reply, in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent yesterday, asked the city to drop the complaint, which Mulgrew said reflected a "serious misunderstanding." Although the union cancelled a negotiation meeting with the city two weeks ago, the UFT still wanted to talk, Mulgrew said. The letter was the latest in a back-and-forth being closely watched by observers who wonder whether New York's largest district will come to a teacher evaluation deal. Governor Cuomo has set a deadline of Jan. 17 for districts to strike deals, saying that those that don't meet the deadline will lose $250 million in state aid.
December 17, 2012
Union official warns that new evals could be 'doomed for failure'
PHOTO: Caroline BaumanUFT Secretary Michael Mendel, at right, told Department of Education officials in an angry email that the union is unhappy about the way some schools are preparing for the likelihood of new evaluations. Intimidating and inappropriate practices in some city schools that are preparing for a new teacher rating system could undermine the system before it goes into effect, a top union official has warned. In an email sent Friday to Chancellor Dennis Walcott and his top deputies at the Department of Education, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel wrote that the union had recently received a spate of complaints about surprise observations by teams of administrators that seemed designed to make teachers uncomfortable. "We have been told, increasingly over the last couple of days by our members from all parts of the city, that the DOE’s roll out of a new evaluation system has been a disaster and that it has created a terrible atmosphere of fear around both the new evaluation system and the Danielson protocols," Mendel wrote in the email, whose subject line was "I'm very Frustrated." Walcott's email address was misspelled, so he did not get the message, according to a department spokeswoman. But the email came through for other top deputy chancellors. This afternoon, Mendel said he had not yet received any response.
November 28, 2012
Student surveys seen as unlikely evaluations element, for now
Inspired by a 2010 study that found that students’ feedback about their teachers helped predict how well the teachers' students performed on state tests, New York City asked some schools last year to test out a student survey that could become part of new teacher evaluations. But if the city and its teachers union agree on a new evaluation system this year, student surveys are unlikely to play a role, according to people on both sides of the negotiating table. The Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching study found that student feedback and teacher observations combined were more closely correlated with teacher effectiveness than observations alone, or any number of other attributes of teachers. The city participated in that study and adapted the survey used in it, called Tripod, for use last year in 10 of the 108 schools in the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot, meant to test possible components of overhauled teacher evaluations. Under the state’s new evaluation law, 60 percent of teachers’ ratings must come from subjective measures such as principal observations and peer reviews. The State Education Department has said student surveys can play a role, too, if districts and their unions agree. The head of the state’s teachers union says student feedback could be a useful element of evaluations. But city union officials say they are staunchly opposed to incorporating student feedback in teacher evaluations.
November 20, 2012
City raids February vacation week to make up time lost to Sandy
This year's midwinter vacation will shrink from five days to two to make up for school days cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, city and union officials announced today. The city closed schools for five days because of the storm, and some particularly hard-hit schools were closed even longer. In addition to interrupting students' schooling, the lost time dropped the city below the 180 instructional days required to receive state school aid. Now, according to a city-union deal, students will attend school on four days they were supposed to have off: Feb. 20-22 and June 4. The February days had been part of a weeklong break that has been part of the calendar since 1990, and the June date had been scheduled as a "clerical day" for teachers and school staff. With four days added back to the calendar, the school year is now set to be 181 or 182 days, depending on what grade students are in. That leaves a slight cushion for snow days, but if more than one day is cancelled, additional makeup days will have to be identified.
November 14, 2012
City's Race to the Top-District bid centered on iZone expansion
Students at Brooklyn's Olympus Academy, a transfer high school, use online learning to move ahead at their own pace. The city is asking the U.S. Department of Education for funds to support additional efforts to "personalize education." Pitting itself against school districts across the country, the city has asked the U.S. Department of Education for $40 million to expand and augment its existing education technology programs. The city's biggest commitment in its application for Race to the Top-District, which city education officials filed last week, is to add as many as 100 schools to its three-year-old “Innovation Zone.” The application also promises to build innovative schools from the ground up and train teachers on how to use technology to improve instruction. Race to the Top-District is the latest effort by the Obama administration to entice state and local education officials to adopt its preferred policies. In the first Race to the Top grant competition, in 2010, New York State netted $700 million to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation programs, and develop a statewide data system. Last year, the state fell short in its bid to win Race to the Top funds earmarked just for early childhood education. The current round — the first open to individual districts — is focused on "personalized education." City Department of Education officials say the Innovation Zone, which this year contains nearly 250 schools, makes the department uniquely positioned to turn federal funds into higher student achievement. "It’s something that we’ve been doing for three years," said David Weiner, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of innovation. "We really believe that that puts us in a great place to capitalize on what we’ve learned."
February 16, 2012
With state's evals deal said to be set, all eyes turn to city's talks
All eyes are on Albany today, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month for an agreement on new teacher evaluations. The deadline is for the state teachers union, NYSUT, to set aside its lawsuit over the evaluations and reach an agreement with the State Education Department over how new evaluations should be structured. The word on the street — and in the Capitol parking lot, which Cuomo exited early Wednesday — is that SED and NYSUT appear nearly assured of meeting that deadline. But the specifics of an agreement remain opaque. Last spring, NYSUT had sued over Cuomo's bid to increase the weight test scores play in the evaluations. Now, attention among the governor's staff has turned to the city's own evaluations impasse. Just a month ago, Cuomo gave the city a year to resolve its conflicts, which have focused on the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings. But he seems eager to be able to announce a statewide sweep of teacher evaluation deals. Whether a sweep is in Cuomo's grasp remains unclear.
October 21, 2011
Unable to show union support, city goes it alone for RTTT funds
Months after a deal to let a handful of city schools receive federal funding, requirements continue to keep millions of Race to the Top dollars off-limits to all but 2 percent of city schools. When New York State won $700 million in the federal Race to the Top competition last year, it put some funds to use on statewide initiatives. But nearly $350 million went into smaller funds with specific aims: to build new curriculum models or train teachers, for example. Now, the state has started opening those pools up to districts — but it has set an eligibility requirement that the city can’t meet. The state requires that districts commit to putting new teacher evaluations in place by next year — with union support. That requirement can be found in several of the Requests for Proposals for Race to the Top-related initiatives that the state has begun releasing. In one application for funding that it submitted last week, the city could not show it had the union's support for the new teacher evaluation system in most of its schools, in the form of a required Memorandum of Understanding, so it only applied for money for the 30 schools that do. Those 30 schools are among 33 included in a partial teacher evaluation deal hashed out this summer, when the union and city saw that federal school improvement grants were at stake. At the time, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he wanted to see the outcome of the pilot before expanding the evaluations to more schools. And as the year has worn on, slow-moving negotiations about the new evaluations have seemed headed for an impasse.
October 20, 2011
Citing "abuses," teachers union says it is wearying on eval talks
The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn't remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place. The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn't agreed to the change. City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 "persistently low-achieving" schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say. But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven't gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn't be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT's governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson's criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said. Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model. Mendel said the union won't break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.
October 14, 2011
Union urges vigilance on glitchy special education data system
The teachers union is telling its members that the Department of Education's expectations around a new special education data system are "unconscionable." By tomorrow, teachers of students with special needs are supposed to enter information about them in a new data system, Special Education Student Information System (SESIS). But the system has been buggy since it went online this summer, and teachers are complaining that they have too little training and time to enter the information by the deadline. A letter to UFT members today urged teachers to push back against unreasonable expectations. “The problems related to SESIS are not your fault, but are a result of the DOE’s total incompetence in managing the school system as a whole and this initiative in particular,” said UFT Secretary Michael Mendel in a letter sent to teachers today. “We recognize your hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, the people in charge of the school system, your employer, do not. They do not value your dedication and commitment to your students.” The union is encouraging teachers to let their supervisors know that the requirements are too burdensome and to track the time they spend grappling with SESIS. Teachers are also being encouraged to file grievances if they are told to enter data into SESIS outside of their work day or if they are punished for not meeting the data entry deadline.
October 7, 2011
Tears, vows to fight back, punctuate school aides' final workday
Santos Crespo, a local president for the DC-37 labor union, denounces layoffs on last day of work for more than 700 school aides. For many parents at Marta Valle High School, Cliftonia Johnson, a school aide, was the first line of defense when their children cut class. Johnson, 48, has spent two years at the Lower East Side School, where she works as a community associate, taking attendance and communicating with families of students who skip school—a job that sometimes requires calling hundreds of parents on the phone each week. She was one of close to 700 public school aides laid off today because of city budget cuts. Speaking this afternoon in front of City Hall at the latest of several rallies that District Council-37 union workers have held this month to denounce the district-wide layoffs, Johnson said her position is invaluable to her school community: “These high school kids barely come to school. It’s tough to get them to go to school because a lot of them don’t believe they’re worthy of an education, and you need someone who looks like them to tell them they are worthy,” she said. Johnson, who is black, echoed union criticisms that the layoffs disproportionally targeted people of color, to the detriment of school communities with substantial minority populations. “If you take our [outreach] away, you’re making it worse. ”
September 19, 2011
Why New York City isn't joining Chicago in extended-day uproar
New Yorkers following Chicago’s snowballing union-district standoff over plans to extend the school day may not realize that similar conversations take place inside city schools every year. Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and his schools chief, former New York City deputy Jean-Claude Brizard, are pushing schools to add 90 minutes to their 5-hour-long days, among the shortest in the nation. But they have offered teachers only 2 percent more pay, raising the ire of the teachers union, whose president, Karen Lewis, has said Emanuel is creating "a nightmare" by asking union members to override their union contract. Even though the union has filed a lawsuit over the plan, Emanuel and Brizard decided to shop the proposal school by school, and teachers at at least nine schools have voted to extend their working hours—and the instructional day. The city and the teachers union send out warring press releases each time another school takes a vote. Staff at New York City schools routinely take similar votes, but with less fanfare. There has been no system-wide push for a longer school day in years, and educators do not foresee a Chicago-style showdown repeating in New York. That’s in part because the average New York City school day is already much longer than Chicago’s, and slightly longer than other major cities’, with many students in school for 6.5 hours or more. In addition, the district already struck a flexible deal with the union five years ago to extend the school day by 37.5 minutes four days a week for at least 290,000 city students, mostly those who struggle academically. How that time is spent is, to a large degree, up to each school. Researchers say it is almost impossible to make a good estimate of the length of the New York City school day—something that one Chicago columnist found last week when he tried to tally the numbers—because instructional time requirements vary by grade-level and subject, and principals and teachers can decide together how they want to structure parts of the school day.
September 16, 2011
Union: From style to substance, relationship with city improved
With the city's Teacher Data Reports now in the past, the teachers union is set to move forward on negotiations that will build on a pilot program that's in place in 33 schools. The controversial reports, which assigned ratings to about 10,000 teachers based on their students' test scores, were championed by former chancellor Joel Klein. Klein said he would release the scores to the public after news organizations filed a Freedom of Information request for them — a move that the United Federation of Teachers quickly opposed in court. But in his first major reversal from one of Klein's policies, Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said he does not think the ratings, which the UFT agreed to in part on grounds that they would remain internal, should be made public. Yesterday, Department of Education officials told the New York Times that they would no longer calculate teachers' ratings according to the TDR algorithm because the state is rolling out a different model. UFT President Michael Mulgrew told GothamSchools today that doing away with the TDRs wasn't necessarily a precondition for the UFT to work with the city on a new teacher evaluation model, required under state law. But he said their disappearance would clear the way for negotiations. "I really do appreciate that Dennis has taken that position, unlike previous chancellors," Mulgrew said. "But it does help that we have a better relationship and we're working together. That helps getting to any deal."
May 5, 2010
Union contract limits options for school turnaround, city says
In an attempt to improve some of the worst schools in the country, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is offering states four methods of turning around their lowest performers. But New York City officials say the union contract here rules out one of the three — the so-called "transformation" model — even though it's the only one that wouldn't cause teachers to lose their jobs. The other three methods either turn schools into charter schools, close them down, or force their principals and at least half of the staff to be fired. "Transformation" calls for the principal's removal, but keeps the school's staff in place. Yet crucially, it also requires that schools use students' test scores as a significant factor in evaluating teachers, that merit pay be put in place, and that teachers whose students don't show enough improvement be fired. Since New York state law bars principals from using student data in teachers' tenure decisions and the teachers contract only allows merit pay for entire schools that perform well, not individual teachers, city officials claim they cannot use it. That's despite the fact that the city actually wants to use the transformation model at some of the 34 schools on the state's turnaround list, a Department of Education official said. He mentioned (but did not name) a small group of schools that are improving and have above-average graduation rates despite their overall-poor performance.
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