Sunday, February 19, 2012

Public School Teacher Unions Starting to Work to Improve Quality of Education – Cooperating on Teaching Evaluations in New York and New Haven

What! – That Cannot be Right - According to Conservatives They Only Care About Themselves

One of the better columnists for the New York Times is Nicholas Kristof, and what he writes frequently reflects what the rest of would like to say, if only we had his skill and ability to communicate.  Here’s his opinion of public education teachers.

I lost patience with teachers’ unions when union officials in New York City defended a teacher who had passed out in class, reeking of alcohol, with even the principal unable to rouse her.

Not to mention when union officials in Los Angeles helped a teacher keep his job after he allegedly mocked a studentwho had tried to commit suicide, suggesting that the boy slash his wrists more deeply the next time.
In many cities, teachers’ unions ensured no one was removed for mere incompetence.  If a teacher stole or abused a student, yes, but school boards didn’t even try to remove teachers who couldn’t teach.

Yep, all of us who have either experience stuff like this directly, or read about it over and over again agree.  But Mr. Kristof documents at least one success story, in New Haven, Connecticut where the teacher’s union is working with school officials to put objective teaching criteria into evaluations, and to get rid of non-performing teachers.

New Haven may be home to Yale University, but this is a gritty, low-income school district in which four out of five kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Eighty-four percent of students are black or Hispanic, and graduation rates have been low.

A couple of years ago, the school district reached a revolutionary contract with teachers. Pay and benefits would rise, but teachers would embrace reform — including sacrificing job security. With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out.
Roughly half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.

Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year.

And getting praise is the national and local teacher’s union.

Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn’t object, but acknowledged that many of them didn’t really belong in the classroom.

“We all use the same litmus test: Would we want our kid in that room?” says David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the local union. “We all recognize that we need to do something. Tenured teachers who are ineffective — that is an issue. We want to do something about it. But it’s not fair either to blame all teachers.”

Mr. Kristof still has his wait and see attitude,

If the American Federation of Teachers continues down this path, I’ll revisit my criticisms of teachers’ unions. Maybe even give them a hug for daring to become part of the solution.

But at least now there is something to wait and see about.

And in neighboring New York there has been a huge breakthrough of a similar nature.  There school officials and the teacher’s union have also reached an agreement on how teacher’s will be evaluated,

The agreement, announced at a news conference in Albany, allows school districts to base up to 40 percent of a teacher’s annual review on student performance on state standardized tests, as long as half of that portion is used to analyze the progress of specific groups of students, like those who are not proficient in English or have special needs. It also offers other options: base 20 percent of the score on state test results and the other 20 percent on exams developed by the districts or by a third party, provided that the exams are approved by the state.

The remaining 60 percent of a teacher’s score is to come from subjective measures, like classroom observations and professional development projects.

Prior to this agreement the union and the school administrators were at each others throats, and in court.  Now they are all celebrating.

“Historic,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “is probably not too strong a word to use.”
The mood at the Albany news conference was festive; everyone made sure to thank Mr. Cuomo.

“It would not have been possible to get to this day without the governor’s extraordinary leadership,” Mr. Iannuzzi said.

Notice that all of this is taking place in states that are controlled by Democratic administrations.  Yes, it doesn’t have all the drama and the confrontation and the political bile where Republican Governors have taken on the teacher’s unions and are trying to destroy them, but it does have one thing those states do not have.  Accomplishments.

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