On the Teacher Evaluation Resolution from the December 2012 Delegate Assembly
MORE brought a resolution to last week’s UFT delegate assembly, calling for discussion of any teacher evaluation agreement to occur in the schools, and calling for a referendum to be taken among the membership in the event a proposed agreement is reached. The reason they offered for sending an evaluation deal to the membership is both technical, and political. In the technical sense, they argued that this would be an agreement that while not in the contract, would control what goes in the contract, and contracts are voted on by the membership. In the political sense, I believe the leaders of MORE would prefer that most major items were sent to the membership for discussion, independent of contractual implications, starting with the “biggest” and this certainly would be big. The resolution made a stronger argument in the technical sense.
Did you know that the word “vaccination” is derived from the word “vacca” – which means “cow”? I worked both words into this post.
Leroy Barr responded for the leadership. He argued that the Delegate Assembly was the correct body to make the decision (technically correct). He did not head-on address whether an evaluation deal would be contractual, but held out as an example the June 2009 deal that gave us back our two August days, in return for concessions related to the pension of future members. In that case, the DA voted without referendum (I don’t recall if MORE’s predecessors asked for one. I do remember that I was the only speaker against the proposal, on the grounds that we shouldn’t sell givebacks for members who haven’t been hired yet. It passed, in spite of my appeal, by an overwhelming margin). In a pitch to the faithful, Leroy addressed the delegates and chapter leaders and said that this body, the delegate assembly is the leadership of the organization. I believe he said “you are the leaders.” As far as involving the membership, he reminded us that we are representing the members in our schools.
I’ve heard Leroy give the appropriate body speech at least once before, but with a different twist – when he argued that the Delegate Assembly, three weeks from the 2009 Mayoral election, should not make an endorsement of Bill Thompson, but instead postpone discussion (he made a motion to table the resolution to endorse Thompson, which I had brought forward). If necessary, he added, the leadership could call a “special DA”, in essence asking the DA to cede decision-making authority to a smaller leadership body (AdCom). The discussion was postponed, never to occur, the UFT sat out the mayoral election, and Bloomberg went on to his third term, winning by a much smaller margin, 4.4%, than anyone had expected.
But let’s get back to the evaluation resolution. Getting the technical details right is hard. Certainly the DA would not be required to cede its authority if an agreement comes up outside of the contract. However the DA has the right, if it chooses, to require a membership referendum. (We did it at least once for restructuring the after school time that today is called the 37 ½ minutes). I thought that possibility was worth discussing, and voted yes to put it on the agenda. Interestingly, a retiree sitting near me declined to vote as it was a contractual issue. Hmm.
There’s a distinction about the Delegate Assembly’s role that is worth bringing up. It is the highest decision-making body of the UFT, though it generally does what the officers suggest. But as we talk about a conversation in the schools, DA attendance is weak. If I said that over 1000 schools are not regularly represented at the DA, I might be underestimating. The Delegate Assembly concentrates activists, members of caucuses, engaged chapter leaders. Even with less attendance than we would like, it really does serve as the highest leadership body. But that does not mean it brings discussion back to all schools, or from all schools back to the Delegate Assembly.
That’s not to say I was delighted by the resolution. There is a conceit that a broad membership discussion is always better. I disagree. It depends on the issue; it depends on the moment. I did not find myself in agreement with much of the “Whereas” language. But I was voting to put it on the agenda, not for it as a finished reso. If it made it there, and somehow was garnering support, it would have needed significant amendment.
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The train has left the station on evaluation. Or the horses have left the barn. Or the toothpaste is out of the tube. Whatever your metaphor, there are people who are saying it is too late to slow this one down. But that’s not so.
The UFT has long had some leaders who supported this sort of thing. For intellectual reasons. For ideological reasons. But then, last decade, it looked like the corporate education reformers had grabbed hold of quantitative evaluation and were using it to punish teachers and local teachers’ unions throughout the country. The UFT, at that moment, came out front, and helped write a law that okayed this, but limited it. The new New York State law keeps testing under 40% of the evaluation, and it puts in some other checks. At the moment that we (UFT) agreed to support this effort, the vast majority of our leadership were convinced that the alternative would be indescribably awful, and would be forced on us if we did not rush a much milder version through the state legislature. It was a form of vaccination. (I’m not saying I buy this, or that I bought this. I am saying that I believe much of our leadership was motivated by a genuine concern to protect our membership. And I think that is important to remember).
That’s what we did. When our leaders say “the new evaluation law” I mentally add (that we helped write).
But what’s happened in the interim?
The national conversation has shifted. It’s not so clear that the corporate reformers will steamroll these laws through every state. There is pushback on charters, pushback on testing (very important), pushback on Race to the Top. None of our leaders are saying this out loud, but at least a few must have questions about finding a way out of this.
The New York City Department of Education has been hilarious. This law will give them a faster path to fire teachers (some, not all. If a deal comes to pass, some people will be well-protected). It will help drive the testing mania that they love. It will fit in with the bogus Progress Reports and Learning Environment Surveys. And these idiots are incapable of striking a deal. The UFT wants a deal. But Bloomberg’s DoE makes it impossible. The idiocy that they insist on is beyond words (and you can read it elsewhere anyway). They are the last people I would expect to sabotage an agreement, but that is exactly what they are doing.
The pause in the national conversation, the shift in momentum, and the DoE idiocy give us a moment, perhaps brief, to reflect.
We helped write the law that took the cow out of the barn. Maybe we should start thinking about rewriting the law to bring the cow back.