I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, October 28, 2012

UPDATE: The Newark Teachers Contract: My Final Word

UPDATE: So, that promise this was my last word didn't last long...

One thing I've heard but have been unable to confirm is that the contract had to be approved by the end of the month so that Newark could apply for the district-level Race To The Top grant. But Sandy will likely make voting this week impossible.

Will there be more time to work out details? Stay tuned...

Newark teachers were scheduled to vote Monday, 10/29, on the contract negotiated by their union. But the approach of Sandy could delay the vote. Regardless, this should be my final post about the deal.

Once again - and contrary to what some of my commenters here have said - I am not urging anyone to vote either yes or no on this contract. I only ask that every Newark teacher understand what's at stake before they cast their ballot. I also ask you to consider that what you do may very well impact every other teacher in the state. That may not be fair, but it's the truth.

Diane Ravitch put it correctly: the deal gives the reformy ideologues things they desperately want. In exchange, the teachers get a big hunk of private money. There's no doubt in my mind that this money will not be available unless the teachers acquiesce to a merit pay system; that is the trade off. The biggest question teachers need to ask is whether the money is worth it.

Jessica Calefati lays it out in today's Star-Ledger:
Under the contract, teachers can earn annual bonuses up to $5,000 for being rated ‘highly effective,’ $5,000 for working in one of the city’s lowest performing schools and $2,500 for teaching a subject school officials consider hard to staff. For the first time, teachers will have a seat at the table deciding which of their peers deserve the bonuses.
The deal also calls for $31 million in retroactive pay and base salary increases of 13.9 percent over three years, a figure almost six times greater than the average raises negotiated in other teacher contracts settled across the state this year, according to data from the New Jersey School Boards Association.
To get a the bonus pay, teachers must be rated ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective.’ Under all previous contracts, teachers earned raises based on years of experience.
Obviously, the crucial point then is how teachers will be rated. It is reasonable for teachers to demand specifics about this. Are they getting them?
Some key components of Newark’s contract remain unclear. For example, the contract does not define the requirements of a bonus-worthy rating, nor does it identify the specific schools considered the lowest performing 25 percent or the specific subject areas considered hard to staff.
Because these details were not hammered out at the bargaining table, the district and the state are vulnerable to an onslaught of contract-compliance lawsuits, said Rutgers University Associate Professor of Education Bruce Baker. The state is at risk because Newark has been under state control since 1995.
"Contracts with imprecise language are a mess in the making," Baker said. "This contract is not ready for prime-time and not ready to be agreed upon by either party unless you know what constitutes ‘effective’ and ‘highly effective.’"
According to a draft of an evaluation that will likely become the basis of Newark’s compensation system, teachers will be judged on students’ enthusiasm for a lesson, their mastery of material and whether a lesson is tailored to different students needs, among other standards. [emphasis mine]
But what if the students don't give a s#!t?

I post this only half in jest. When did we decide that a teacher's livelihood should depend on whether her students are entertained?

My greater concern is the use of standardized tests to determine who will get bonuses. Make no mistake: if that happens, there will be people who get bonuses who didn't deserve them, and vice versa. There's really no debate about this. And New Jersey's use of Student Growth Percentiles only compounds the problem.

Again, Ravitch is right: the deal is that teachers will get a big hunk of private money to become subjects in an experiment that has never worked before. Only Newark's teachers can decide if there is enough money on the table to justify this deal.

One last thing: there are several issues regarding steps and work hours and service on teacher evaluation committees about which I am not qualified to speak. I don't think any teacher should sign a contract if their questions about issues like this aren't answered to their liking. But that doesn't mean that the people questioning the contract, nor the leadership who negotiated the deal, are operating in bad faith.

As I said before: If NTU president Joe Del Grosso and AFT president Randi Weingarten genuinely believe this is the best deal they can get for their members, they have an obligation to bring that deal to their members. And if rank-and-file teachers like the NEWCaucus have objections, they have an obligation to air them. That does not mean either side is "lying," or "self-dealing," or "in it for themselves."

Know-nothings like the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran would like to see nothing more than a schism in the NTU - and all teachers unions, for that matter. They will try to tell you that there can't be a good-faith disagreement between union leadership and members of the rank-and-file; they'll call teachers who don't line up with their view of the world "liars."

Newark teachers, do yourself a favor: ignore pundits like Tom who opine from a position of ignorance. Listen to both sides, and make up your own mind.

Two final thoughts:

1) If money from an extremely wealthy individual like Mark Zuckerberg has led to a contract Chris Christie says he likes...

... why not tax all of the wealthy and use the money to settle contracts across the state?

2) Christie has said many times he has no problem with teachers; he only has a problem with their unions (that, of course, is ridiculous). Well, if the teachers vote down a contract that the union leadership supports...

... will he still have "no problem" with teachers?

Uh, wait... er... what I meant was... um...


Rod viquez said...

God Duke, this is one of the worst ideas ever and I am surprised that a NJ teacher's union would approve this deal.

This deal is full of loopholes and unkowns. I was wondering who picks the teachers that will be involved in evaluations? If picked by administration, then it is useless and is nothing more than a public relations ploy.

czarejs said...

It will be the teachers they don't want in the classroom and then everyone will hate it. Dividing the teachers are among themselves is exactly what the reformers want to do.

Anonymous said...

I wish more people could be calm and read this post without jumping to hate the "other side". I believe that our negotiating team did the best they could, and that they must be exhausted. Of course they are defensive! I also believe that Gov. Christie initially got into politics because he truly felt that he could do good things for the people. I am tired of fighting.

I continue to come back to what you bring up in this post. Maybe, after all the details are hammered out, I will decide that this contract is the best I can hope for. Heck, if you poll my students, you will see a higher than average enthusiasm for math class. But, if someone who dislikes me, for whatever reason, must decide how enthusiastic my kids are? Well, that is too subjective for me.

This storm has led to an interesting set-up with our vote. In order for Newark to enter the city vs. city Race to the Top, we must apply by the end of the month. Word is we will not qualify for the race if we are without a contract. Many believe that was the reason for the rushed vote, before the contract was complete. Now what?

As much as I don't want to miss out on grant money, it is not guaranteed that Newark will win. My hope is that this storm will end up giving our union and district time to fill in the blanks.

Thanks to everone who is supporting the students and teachers in Newark! ;)

Norma Ray said...

I'm very concerned about the ability of teachers to attain a 'highly effective' rating. Based on the new evaluation system that my successful, suburban school district is piloting (Danielson), it will be next to impossible to attain that distinction. It's setting us up for failure.

Unknown said...

That story from "The Onion" almost made me pee myself (I know, TMI) the first time that I saw it. I LOVE it.