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On the Teacher Evaluation Resolution from the December 2012 Delegate Assembly

December 16, 2012 pm31 2:27 pm

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.

 MORE tried to bring this to the November Delegate Assembly, and was blocked (time ran out). Evidently they  complained directly to the leadership: Mulgrew this time called on Kit Wainer, Chapter Leader at Leon Goldstein HS in Brooklyn and a leading member of MORE, and suggested the delegates support a suspension of the rules to allow speaker for and one against adding the resolution to the agenda, which they did. Kit then motivated, as I mentioned, primarily in the technical aspect, but also brought in the political.

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.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

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.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. chaz permalink
    December 16, 2012 pm31 5:46 pm 5:46 pm

    Good to see you are still blogging. While I might not totally agree with your reasoning, I appreciate the analysis.

    I still believe no teacher evaluation system is the best approach and without a contract would not be acceptable to the membership.

    • December 16, 2012 pm31 11:00 pm 11:00 pm

      Did you know the vacca/vaccine thing?

      And I do think the tide is turning nationally. Not that the good guys have won, but where it looked like a walkover, now there’s a brawl. And we (our side) is holding our own.

      Personally, I can’t see how I’d take money in exchange for this. Can’t see it. But I can see a deal getting through anyhow, maybe with the next administration, with some more protections.

  2. jack israel permalink
    January 19, 2013 pm31 2:12 pm 2:12 pm

    Jon,

    Good piece. The question members at DWC are asking me is why isn’t New Action working with MORE to present an alternative to the “status quo”? As a UFT delegate my only job is to vote at the DA and and attempt in good faith to represent the collective conscience of our mebership. I have worked hard to ask as many members as I could about their view on the eval deal. Most if not all are against it. Jack

  3. Vincent C. Wojsnis permalink
    January 20, 2013 pm31 1:02 pm 1:02 pm

    Jonathan,

    The question of whether the union membership should have the right to discuss and vote on a new teacher evaluation is not an academic issue. In any other year, the evaluation process would have been part of the contract, The membership would have had the opportunity to review it and made the decision to vote on it.

    That’s not what happened here. The union leadership negotiated this agreement behind closed doors, in secret, without consulting the Delegate Assembly or the general membership. I remember being stunned at the DA when Mulgrew asked for a vote AFTER the fact. (So much for “the highest body” of the union!) I also bought into (accepted) that “vaccination” explanation at the time, but I was wrong. This is a horrible agreement and it was made as a consequence of extortion perpetrated by the Obama administration’s Race To The Top.

    Leroy Barr deliberately distorted this issue in his response to Kitt’s (MORE’s) resolution. I would have loved to respond to it but as you know, the debate was limited to “one for” and “one against,” not exactly a robust discussion on such an important issue – Don’t you think?
    We do not abdicate our responsibility as union leaders. As leaders, we have trust in our members and it is their decision to make after they have been presented with the facts.

    Vincent C. Wojsnis
    Chapter Leader, Pantoja Academy and MORE member.

    • January 26, 2013 pm31 3:32 pm 3:32 pm

      Vince, thanks for writing.

      I suppose that the different emphasis reflects the differences between our caucuses. I’m opposed to this evaluation law. I opposed it at the time (never bought the vaccination argument myself, though I understand how others could have been swayed), and I will almost certainly opposed any agreement that comes from this law.

      Where it gets approved is secondary. The bright line needs to be keeping this thing from being agreed to. Once there is an agreement, it will likely be adopted, either by the DA or by a membership vote. So we’ve escaped for now, perhaps only because Bloomberg is a buffoon, but the important thing for our members is that this system is still not in place.

      I supported MORE’s attempt to bring the resolution to the delegates, because I agreed that this is on the line of being contractual. But if this thing is agreed and passes, 2 I’s and you’re out, 1 D and your in the TIP. And where the agreement is approved, DA or membership vote, doesn’t change that.

      Jonathan

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