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, January 6, 2013

How To Break a Teachers Union


The Newark Teachers Union has apparently sown the seeds of its own destruction:
As Newark’s landmark teachers contract begins to be implemented, only about 20 percent of district teachers who can opt to earn bonuses for exemplary evaluations and service in hard-to-fill slots have actually decided to do so. 
"Opt" is the key word here. New teachers and those with only bachelor's degrees are automatically enrolled in the program -- defined in a new salary guide -- which pays up to $12,500 in yearly bonuses. 
Under the groundbreaking Newark contract, however, teachers with advanced degrees -- about half of the city’s teaching force -- can choose to stay with the traditional salary guide, which rewards teachers according to experience and academic degree. 
With the last of the selections completed at the start of the new year, district officials said this week that roughly 80 percent of those who could stayed with the traditional guide. [emphasis mine]
So 40% of the Newark teachers are now under a separate agreement than the rest of the workforce. What does that mean?
Joseph Del Grosso, the president of the NTU, also said that many teachers were sticking with the familiar as the new contract was being put in place with a host of changes, including a new evaluation system that incorporates peer review.
“I think they felt more comfortable on the traditional guide, and in some cases the raises were better,” Del Grosso said in an interview yesterday. “They made individual decisions based on their own finances.” [emphasis mine]
Which is exactly what the Broadie-infested NJDOE - and the corporate reformers who finance them - want: a union membership with differing interests. The teachers who didn't get to make a choice between the two systems will likely resent the teachers who did get to choose. The teachers who receive bonuses under the merit pay system (if there are any) will have a different attitude toward continuing the system than teachers who don't. Teachers who teach a grade or course that is subject to ratings based on standardized tests (Grade 3 through 8 math and reading) will have different interests than teachers who don't (everyone else).

To make matters worse, the union, which is supposed to represent the teachers interests, will also be helping to facilitate the evaluation system that determines some of their members' pay:
Among the next steps is putting in place the peer review process that for the first time will include teachers in the evaluations themselves and create teams of fellow educators to serve as “validators” in case evaluations are contested.
“We still need to decide what exact role they will play, whether it will be required that they observe or evaluate, and will they be those with credentials in administration and supervision,” Del Grosso said. “All of those things still need to be worked out.”
Yes, it's being worked out now - after the contract was signed and approved. As I said before, I think this is incredibly damgerous: there is a conflict of interest when a union is a facilitator of teacher evaluations and an advocate for the teachers who face sanctions under that system.

I am really worried about the future of the NTU following this contract. Powerful forces have amassed to take over the city's public school system and turn it over to private contractors. A disturbing "bended model" of charter school is taking root (more on this in a bit). California billionaires make all the important decisions and leave local citizens out in the cold. DOE Commissioner Chris Cerf and Governor Christie have unapologetically said they are looking to cut funds to the district.

One of the few groups that had the ability to stand up to this was the NTU. Now, it's being divided from within. I hope I'm wrong about this, and the union stands strong against the spread of the corporate reform virus in Newark.

But I'm afraid I'm not.

I'm invincible!

UPDATE: I should say that I am still working out in my own mind the proper role of unions in peer evaluations. I remain convinced there is a conflict of interest here; I'm just not sure how to resolve it.


ed notes online said...

Excellent job. Note how the AFT Leader Randi Weingarten was a major negotiator on this divisive contract. Which side is she on?

giuseppe said...

Unions are an endangered species in this country. 93% of the private sector workforce is NON-union. The last bastion of unions, the public sector, is under constant attack. The average American seems ignorant of the importance of unions, is indifferent to them at best and too many are hostile to unions, the very people who would benefit from having a union.

ed notes online said...

Can we say "The average teacher union president seems ignorant of the importance of unions"?

When the pres of one of the 2 national unions promotes a contract that leads to an endgame for the union that explains a lot about why we are in the position you describe.