Tuesday, May 21, 2013

UFT Does Have New Contract: It's Danielson and VAM-Based Evaluations


There has been much discussion of how New York City teachers, under representation by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), have not had a new contract in the nearly four years since 2009, that is, not since outgoing president Randi Weingarten installed Micheal Mulgrew as her replacement, ratified by the UFT executive board. (How interesting it would be to see what a roll call vote would have looked like. Did the New Action members dissent from Weingarten's hand-picked choice?) The no contract angle even made a front page notice in the Chief, in the context of Mulgrew's getting re-elected in spite of producing no contract during his tenure.

Yet, teachers need to keep in mind that we do have a new contract. It exists in the extra-contractual give-backs that the UFT under Unity/Mulgrew's leadership.
Along with these points, we must note: it is a mistake to slip into the dichotomy of saying that Mulgrew is strong whereas Weingarten was weaker for us. When we look at the severity of the give-backs, we must ask, on what grounds are people asserting that Mulgrew better?

Weingarten set the cast for the current era UFT. She perennially said that new times called for teachers to concede and for unions to collaborate. She has always couched this position in language saying that teachers have to find ways to work together and so on. So, Mulgrew has followed in this position. He has only avoided clearly enunciating the collaborationist position. Whereas Weingarten would wrap her surrenders in statements calling for professionalism and cooperation, Mulgrew just concedes, without the rationale. The buzz-cut hairdo and portly physique has conned us to ignore that he has made giant concessions out-side of proper contractual procedure.

Let's look at the record, at the points by which Mulgrew has created a new contract. It must be noted that none of these items was ever presented to the membership for a ratification vote. These are priority matters to overturn, to protect our working conditions.

Teaching in New York has experienced a sea change in recent years. Unannounced observations are routine. Informal observations are treated with the weight of formal observations. Practices that would have been rejected out of hand in the past are routinely tolerated, with no systematic UFT fact-finding and push-back. Teams of network observers enter and disrupt classrooms with intrusive poking in and interrupting teacher-student interaction with questions.

As I've argued elsewhere at greater length, the union promoted this back in 2011, promoting this as helpful to teachers. Yet, as practiced in New York City, this is a nit-picking tool that can assail any but the super-human, hyper-organized teacher. In use, expect it to be used in a subjective manner, with sympathetic supervisors being fairer and biased principals to separate their friends from the pariahs. It will be rolled out officially in fall, 2013, a contract-quality change in our evaluative process, but it never faced a membership-wide discussion or vote.

It has been roundly documented: value added modeling is junk science. (For example, see here and here; test results correlate with school district poverty indices.) Again, supervisor bias can creep in. The low-totem pole teacher could get the challenging assignment; the favored teacher could get the easier classes. Last fall, the MORE caucus campaigned for a membership vote on the evaluation process. The UFT leadership (Unity) resolutely squashed the motions for a membership vote.
[UPDATE: This May 27 post at NYC Educator shows that already principals are using VAM against teachers, in one known instance, to deny tenure.]

Arguably tangential to a contract-quality job concession, but extremely influential upon teachers' working conditions, in a detrimental way, has been the Race to the Top. It has triggered many of the evaluative changes:
* Mulgrew conceded to Race to the Top. He joined in with New York City and State to endorse the state's application for Race to the Top. The stipulations of RTTT have brought forth increased numbers of school closures, an expanded number of charter schools, and test-based teacher-evaluation systems. Yet, the California Teachers Association has denounced it as hurting students; and at least 80 Ohio districts have rejected it, recognizing that the administrative costs out-weigh the benefits.

There is so much that Mulgrew has given away between 2009 and now. Strategically, in coming contract negotiations, this year or next, it will be very difficult for the union to reverse the practices. The city will be unlikely to give back on colossal encroachments it has made in the recent past.

Let's not kid ourselves. This is a terrible we find ourselves in: a de facto new contract, reached outside of proper protocols of what should happen in a union workplace. This is backroom deal-making with no membership vote. This must be challenged.