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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Does the Newark Teacher Contract Really "Involve Teachers"?

Back to NJ Governor Chris Christie and AFT President Randi Weingarten's love-fest on Morning Joe yesterday. Both are selling this deal as great for teachers, because NTU's members will be "involved" in their evaluations:

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Christie: "It's no longer just seniority or degrees received. But now it's how you perform in the classroom. And that evaluation is not just done by the administration. It's done by teachers who are involved as well."

Weingarten: "It's funny to me that, like, people have focused on the one $5,000 bonus as opposed to the comprehensiveness of this new system. So what has been aligned is your work that you do every day, the experience you carry into the classroom, and input at the school level."

Is this true? Does this contract say evaluations are "done by the teachers"? Is there "input at the school level"?

From the Memorandum of Agreement, taken from the NTU website:
The principal and his/her administrative team – with support from the Superintendent's team – are ultimately and solely responsible for the decisions, content and quality of teacher evaluations. Nothing described in Section I.A, I.B, or I.C of this MOA shall be interpreted as challenging this premise. Nothing in Section I.A, I.B, or I.C of this MOA shall be grievable with the exception of sub-sections B1, B2, B3, B4, and B8. [emphasis mine]
 Here's a key part of teacher "involvement" that is, according to this paragraph, not grievable:
B7. The Superintendent shall not unreasonably withhold approval of recommendations of the
majority of the committee.
That's right: the contract says the Superintendent can't be unreasonable... except that if she is, there's nothing the NTU can do about it.

The Memorandum also quotes language from the new TEACHNJ law that says that teachers already have a role in evaluation; in other words, saying this contract guarantees teachers "involvement" is superfluous because, by statute, teachers are already involved.

A group of Newark teachers who criticized the bill formed a group called the NEWCaucus. Here's their take on teacher "involvement":

First, the proposed contract centralizes power in administrators and the superintendent, especially in regards to the yet-to-be-finalized evaluation system. Peer review, touted as a victory by AFT and NTU officials, only provides a non-binding advisory role for us, an essentially non-enforceable power when one examines the details of the contract. Selection criteria and management of peer evaluators is completely in
the hands of the superintendent. All decisions about the quality and content of our evaluations is in the hands of building administrators and the superintendent. Without a real balance of power in the peer review
process whereby NTU members have an actual voice in who our peer evaluators are and the ultimate fairness in our evaluation’s content and quality, we open up the possibility of subjective and flawed evaluations being used to withhold our increments and even takeaway our tenure if we receive two years of negative evaluations.
Now, it would be bad enough if evaluations this capricious but weren't attached to high-stakes decisions like pay. What makes the Newark contract especially bad is that the entire point of the evaluations is to make high-stakes decisions about merit bonuses.

This contract made the following deal: teachers will be subjected to an evaluations system that hasn't been designed yet, and will have their pay and employment subject to that system. In exchange, they can advise the administration on the system and evaluations - but the administration doesn't have to follow their advice. Does that sound like a good deal to you?

And I don't much care for the idea that both Christie and Weingarten are pushing here: that this contract is "groundbreaking" when it comes to teacher involvement in evaluations. There are districts all over the country where teachers, their unions, and administrators have come together to create effective, professional teacher evaluation systems. There are hundreds of superintendents in New Jersey alone who work every day with their teachers in a climate of mutual respect to develop fair and meaningful evaluations.

None of the professional educators involved needed a bribe from a West Coast billionaire to work together on behalf of our public school students. And the vast majority of union leaders didn't feel like they needed to oversell their members on what the contracts they negotiated actually contain.

I'm beginning to regret that I wasn't more forceful in speaking out about this deal. I still don't think it's right for me or anyone else from the outside to blame a Newark teacher, working for two years without a contract, for wanting to settle.

But as I learn more about this bargain, my doubts grow. And it doesn't help to see Weingarten helping Christie make his case against the NJEA. More on that in a bit.


Rod viquez said...

I am baffled the Newark teachers approved this lemon. Nothing but qualifiers and loopholes to screw teachers out of these so called bonuses

Unknown said...

Weingarten should be ashamed of herself for selling out the Newark teachers.

This contract allows the 1% to go on a witch hunt in Newark. The problem with witch hunts is that they are arbitrary and set absurd standards that teacher's cannot meet.