Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BOMBSHELL: Over 2/3 of Portelos' Charges Were Dismissed or Withdrawn

Amid the renewed public debate over teacher tenure (the 'right' to have due process before being fired) a post from Francesco Portelos that is absolutely shocking when taken into full context of the debate: 68% of the charges filed against him by his employer had been either dismissed or withdrawn during his hearing.

In California, Judge Rolf Treu found that hearings for teachers were more 'due process' than other civil servants received. In his decision, he said that being given written notice of the allegation and notice of termination was enough. He said that if teachers wanted an impartial fair hearing of the allegations, they should turn to the courts after being terminated. Of course, what he did not mention was that the teacher would not be paid during this time (which usually lasts years, not months).

What Francesco shared today, that 22 of the 38 allegations made by the employer were not enough to hold muster during an actual hearing, proves a very important point: An employer (any employer, really) can make whatever allegations they want -even allegations they would later choose not to fully prosecute.

Of course, Francesco's 'great crime' was making his employer extremely upset on a great many levels. He did this by engaging in the actions of a concerned whistleblower employee (because he was, you know, concerned about some things he had observed). In doing so,  he exercised free speech in a manner that agitated the employer and, when the employer expressed agitation, he exercised free speech all the more. That's really what was at the heart of the Portelos incident.

Although that employer (who, again, I adore and wish to continue to work for) was outrageously angry, as things turned out, Francesco -literally- didn't do half of what he was accused of doing.

Actually, he didn't do over 2/3 of the things he was accused of doing.

So, under Judge Treu's decision, would an angry employer be able to simply provide written notice and let the employee go?
Answer: Yes.

Even if the employee didn't do half of what he was accused of doing?
Answer: Yes.

But what if he is a fantastic teacher? But what if he is a charismatic union organizer? But what if everything he does in the classroom and with the kids in places outside the classroom like his robotics club, turns to gold? Under Judge Treu's decision, would the employer still; be able to fire that guy?
Answer: Yes.

So what saved Portelos? Well, tenure, of course. The simple courtesy of a person to defend him or herself from allegations of a RRREEEAAALLLYYYY angry employer before being fired. This, perhaps, is why his series is appropriately entitled A Case for Teacher Tenure. Part 1 was today.

And this is what makes the sentiment of commenter "paulvhogan" on this post from MORE so simplistically accurate: Tenure supports free speech. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Allegory of the Coffee Shop

The following conversation actually took place today before work at the local coffee joint.

Colleague: (walks in) Heyyyyy man!! I told you dude! I told you it was going to pass! I don't know why you didn't listen.

Me: Yeah, man. Yeah. You said it.

Colleague: Look, man. When it comes right down to it, people want their money! I know how you feel about the percentages, but, yo that's a good raise!

Me: I don't know, man. If you say so.

Colleague: I told you from the get go this thing was going to pass, dude. I don't know why you put yourself through all that! No offense, man. But I'm just saying. You're looking at a good contract with good raises, man (gives me the long stare as he slaps my chest with the back of his hand). How could you turn down good money like that!?!?

Me: Well, it's just a question of expecting more. I knew they could have done better if pushed to ...

Colleague: No man. You don't understand. Five years without a contract! That money looks good to them! And you think more? (pssst) C'mon man!

Me: Yep. Yep (staring at the coffee girl to save me with my coffee). Well, if it worked for you, I'm glad you voted for it.

Colleague: Of course I voted!!! I voted for that puppy, baby!!

Me: (breathing deep) Honestly, man I'm just glad it's over. It's been a pretty long month and I'm pretty exhausted.

Colleague: Yeah, I'm tired too, man. Pretty soon! It'll all be over soon!

Me: (pausing for a moment) No I mean it's just been tiring. I've been doing this while working six days a week, you know. And now the group I'm working with wants to meet on Saturday. I honestly just want to crash.

Colleague: (chuckles) yeah, man. One thing I have to say, you do take on too much. You're always taking on too much! Wait, what's that group you work with again?


Colleague: Oh. Oh, yeah, Oh, that's right!!! Ok, so tell me now...What are we getting?

Me: (stares)

Colleague: When do our raises come and how much are they for?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In the Wake Of the UFT Vote

I was only off By 22%! My predictions are getting better every day!!

Here's our new contract!

Money Our raise by this time next year? 5% (2% in the Fall and 3% in the Spring) Projected inflation? 5%!!!! (2.1 this year. 2.9 in 2015). Amount of money "in play" after this mayor leaves office or is reelected? Close to $20,000 (for me). But don't worry, you'll have another thousand bucks to save.

Protections: ATRs can be fired just for being confused about where their assignment is. This is no myth. A "Failure to report" can result from an honest misunderstanding such as listening to a principal who is impressed with you instead of listening to the email from "Central". Two days missed? Immediate "Resignation". Also, the "assumed resignation" path to termination is now open for business.

PROSE No one knows! But New York's 'smartest' voted for it anyway.

Paperwork: There is a committee for that! More to come (maybe) but until then, you keep handing it in.

Scheduling: Many multi-session principals are already planning to keep teachers late for teacher conferences they will not be paid for (there can be no time arrangements in multi-session schools). Look for more than a few nonmythical blog posts about this.

Healthcare Didn't matter anyway. Mr. Mulgrew convinced the MLC to do what they wanted on the afternoon of May 5, 2014. A No Vote wouldn't have undid that.

Oh, and that Differential?  A leader of the New Action Caucus of the UFT commented that it isn't $5,000 but was (somehow) changed to any amount up to $5,000 after the initial publication of the first version of the MLC.

I once mentioned how every single teacher I've spoken with voiced opposition to this contract. Looks like I need to meet more teachers!

Yogi Bera once said, "I tell the kids, somebody's gotta win, somebody's gotta lose. Just don't fight about it. Just try to get better." I love that quote and so:

(But I am going to try to get better at this) 

Why The 5K Differential May Be a Game Changer (What I like About the Contract)

While I'm upset to learn that teachers don't expect anything more from their union than a raise worth just a few percent, there are certain parts of the new UFT contract that I actually like and am looking forward to seeing once it is (probably) ratified today. These are qualified acknowledgements, and I'll try to qualify each one of them the best way I can, but they're acknowledgements nonetheless. Today, I'll take a look at the $5,000 differential for working in hard-to-staff schools

That differential, which pays $5,000 to teachers who continue to work in "hard to staff schools" addresses a problem that has been a part of NYC schools for a very long time. It is a fact of NYC education that young teachers, who have not yet learned their craft, start out in "difficult" schools and, as they learn, move on to 'easier' schools (I remember being a bit startled when Podair mentioned it as a problem way back in the 1960s). This leaves the "difficult" schools in a perpetual state of instability as they staff their classrooms. Teachers are the backbone of any school and if that backbone is constantly changing and in a continued state of 'not yet ready for prime time' (as many young teachers are), any hope for the stability of the school evaporates.

The solution to this over the past decade has been to recruit "microwave teachers" from TFA or the Teaching Fellows program. That these folks stick around for a year or two, then leave, has actually made the problem much much worse as it has institutionalized the instability instead of taking it away.

The sad thing is that these schools typically serve some of the students with the highest potential for success that our city has.  Some of them may require greater academic attention than others, but that academic attention will never occur if these students proceed through twelve years of public schooling in a perpetual state of learning from brand new teachers. This dilemma of staffing schools will not overcome the effects of poverty or of governmental policies that ignore it. But when the issue is satirized in the Onion with such headlines as, "Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?", any sane person should see that the problem of bringing experienced teachers to students of hard to staff schools must be addressed.

Just to be clear: must-be-addressed.

This stipend for $5,000 is not nearly enough of a differential to fix this enormous issue that our students face. It isn't, for example, enough money for one experienced "super teacher" to go into an environment that, at first, may not possess the most ideal teaching conditions. It may, however, be enough for teachers who currently teach in these schools, teachers who would otherwise be moving on when their skills develop (and who currently are)  to do something they've never done before: Not leave. That process alone -not leaving- might be enough for a core group of young teachers to grow in that environment and give the school the chance it needs.  As they mature and develop the stability that more experienced teachers have, the school culture will grow and mature with them. And being part of a school culture that knows how to create a positive environment for children is of great benefit to them.

Bottom line: The $5,000 differential, which pays some teachers more money to work in some schools, is not a solution. But it does, finally, address a problem and may, in fact, be a game changer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Contract Vote Prediction: 55% 45% (Sunday Morning Banter)

Ala fivethrityeight

I'm hearing "Landslide!" "80-20!" "We'll be lucky if get 30% of working teachers to vote against this!" and, oh yeah "Heck yeah, I'm taking the marshmallow!". But the truth is that the contract vote is set against a few facts that really shouldn't be ignored.

Fact: 35 percent of all working teachers who voted in last year's election chose to vote against Mr. Mulgrew's caucus. Here are the working teachers results from last year's election.*

Unity 65.7%     MORE 24.7%

Fact: Almost 30 percent of all working UFT members (school secretaries, paras and others, as well as working teachers) voted against Mr. Mulgrew's caucus as well.*

Unity 69.2%    MORE 20.8%

I think it's safe to say that a vote against Mr. Mulgrew's caucus is a vote against Mr. Mulgrew and will be a vote against Mr. Mulgrew's contract. 

(It is also safe to say that Mulgrew is least popular among working teachers. Because he is most popular among retirees (and they are allowed to vote in the election), the final margin was more like 80-20.)

80-20 was also the final margin of victory in the 2007 UFT election. That election was closer to 70-30 among working teachers (here but do the math yourself).  Two year earlier, during the 2005 contract vote, the margin of victory was roughly 60-40 (thanks media guy from MORE for helping me with that) . That contract called for 4% a year raises, ten more minutes at work each day and major givebacks in terms of union protections (including seniority rights in school assignments which created our current ATR crisis). Suffice to say, that , like this one, there were some blaring disappointments in that contract. Perhaps this is why the vote for the contract was 10 points lower than the working teachers vote for the leadership two years later.

But that contract also called for retro of up to $5,700 for senior teachers to be delivered in a matter of months (here). That was a rather big carrot that this contract does not have (the $1,000 'signing' bonus, which is 1% of the average teacher salary, is about as popular as the $750 bonus was in the 2007 contract settlement. Since not many people don't even remember that (here's a reminder), I'm guessing that it won't affect this vote either). The carrot that this contract has (that it's a 'brand new day for teachers') isn't playing that well among the membership.

And many of these teachers have been through a lot. The experience of these teachers has included increased investigations and '3020' hearings, a higher amount of paperwork and a general higher standard (including not just the CC, but the accountability fixation that our employer has had). Many folks feel that they deserve more.

I see two trends here 1)An unpopular contract garners less votes than UFT leadership (I'll think of it as roughly 10% less) and 2)the popularity of UFT leadership is sliding among the only people who are allowed to vote on a contract.

Don't get me wrong. I think a yes vote will happen. But I also think that the 'yes votes' will be closer. The 60-40 threshold that unpopular contracts, like the 2005 contract, have is a good place to start and I think there will be 5% fewer votes for this then there was for the contract in '05. Here's what makes this contract seem less appealing than the '05 deal:

  • no significant financial incentive that teachers can see
  • no immediate financial incentive that NYC teachers can see (one bonus worth 1% of annual pay is not incentive)
  • raises that, over the life of the contract, are disappointing for most teachers
  • Teachers are concerned over how the effects of PROSE and the ATR settlement may impact their jobs over the life of the contract.
  • Many folks are just plain insulted to be waiting so long for the pay they should have received years ago
My final prediction? Like in '05, the contract will pass, but will be slightly less popular than the election results among working teachers around the same time. I'm thinking somewhere between 55-45 and 60-40. Anything higher than that would just plain buck the trends.

(But hey, I'm just a blogger, I purvey myth. Right, Michael?)

(1) these are folks who voted for the full slate. The numbers for those who split their ballot and voted for individuals are too low to responsibly consider. Also, the remainder of teachers voted with the New Action Caucus.