Bloomberg Takes on the Teachers Union

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mayor Michael Bloomberg took on the teachers union today when he announced that principals will be directed to use student test scores this year when evaluating teachers who are up for tenure. WNYC's education reporter Beth Fertig has been following the story and answers some key questions.

1. The mayor and his schools chancellor have vocally complained in the past that a state law prevents student achievement data from being used to determine teacher tenure. How can they change rules like this?

Bloomberg says that law, which was supported by the union, only applies to teachers hired after July 1, 2008. That means teachers hired in 2007 who are now coming up for tenure can be evaluated with test scores. Tenure decisions are made by principals after three years. About 6,000 teachers are coming up for review this year. More than 90 percent historically get tenure and the mayor thinks that's too many. But Bloomberg says he also wants principals to visit classrooms as they evaluate their teachers.

"Now we all know that great teaching is reflected in more than just test scores," he says. "But we certainly should never dismiss quantitative data in favor of subjective opinions that fit a predetermined conclusion. That might make all of us feel good but it really doesn't help our children."

2. How is this going over with the union? Aren't the two sides already in tense contract negotiations?

Yes, this doesn't exactly calm the waters. The union hasn't said outright whether the mayor's interpretation of the law is wrong, but United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he's prepared to go to court if necessary. And he reiterated his belief that test scores are not a fair measurement of which teachers are most effective. He notes that the state education department has already said it wants to change the tests next year, because they aren't considered very rigorous.

"The state education department commissioner has said the tests are broken and don't work. And the mayor has followed that up by saying I want to use the broken tests that aren't working to evaluate teachers," Mulgrew says.

3. The mayor made his announcement today in Washington. D.C. Was there any significance to that?

Yes. He spoke on a panel about education reform at the Center for American Progress, which considers itself a progressive think tank. Another person on that panel was U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan supports using data in part when evaluating teachers. In fact, he's made that a condition for states that want to apply for billions of dollars in school aid he calls Race to the Top. And there's been a lot of speculation that New York wouldn't qualify for this contest because of the law we referred to earlier. So Bloomberg clearly wanted it to look like he and the Obama administration are on the same side here. He also laid out a bunch of other things he thinks the state should do, like lifting the cap on charter schools, and making it easier to get rid of bad teachers. He said teachers who lose their positions and don't get permanent assignments in a year should be let go. There are now about 1,200 teachers getting paychecks, working as subs, because they lost their positions last year and nobody's hired them permanently. The city thinks too many of those teachers don't get hired because they aren't good so it wants to limit how long they can stay in the substitute pool.

4. How has the union responded to that?

They blame the city for poor management. This is something that is presumably part of the contract negotiations. Some of the other things Bloomberg proposed, like lifting the limit on charter schools, would need approval from Albany. Next year's an election year for the legislature, a lot of these lawmakers depend on the teachers union for support. We'll see if they take on the union in order to help the state get extra money from the Obama administration.


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Comments [3]

Ed Greenspan

This mayor refuses to do anything about class size or reconstitute the 600 schools for disruptive children.
Layoffs by merit, not seniority means that if a principal doesn't like you, au revoir. Period.
A teacher may have a great class one year and therefore "obtain" excellent scores. The reverse can be true the following year.
When is Mr. Bloomberg going to rate the parents? They send completely undisciplined children to school and are ready to blame others for their failures.
Mayor Bloomberg never taught and doesn't understand the rigors of classroom teaching. We must have a committee of active and retired teachers and supervisors running the schools. They know what's going on. Does anyone know that Chancellor Klein taught for 6 months and fled the system? The Academy for Principals is a failure and everyone knows it except the mayor. How can people supervise teachers when they themselves never taught a day?
If it weren't for the bad economy, you would have to go begging for teachers. Even those who come in with high ideals become quickly disillusioned and leave within 5 years.

Nov. 26 2009 01:25 PM

Teachers don't have much control over their students or the public environment. Students watch more television than read or study. The nation spends more on video games than library funding. How are teachers to overcome such obstacles? If we are going to judge teachers, let's judge television programming execs and corporate execs.

Nov. 25 2009 09:27 PM
Paul K

Tests can be manipulated, scrubbed or otherwise and to use IT as a variable for tenure for those in the know, is utterly ridiculous. While "good" schools, or should I say, "specialized" schools as well neighborhood schools in solidly middle upper class neighborhoods attract those who are able to gain admittance. Students in the more marginalized socio economic groups are have little choice but to go to schools that admit them. They often have rudimentary skills and have low reading levels.

Under Bloomberg's changes, principals could decide on the competency of a teacher or the "incompetency" of teachers who have had good ratings for the past 20 years would be found incompetent should the administration decide that they are too expensive to be kept. Populate 5 classes with disruptive students or students with poor attendance and you have an easy way of finding people "unsatisfactory." Much of what has been proposed is what happens in Wall Street where companies are force to strive for higher and higher earnings each quarter and some decide to cook the books.

Nov. 25 2009 08:54 PM

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