Op-Eds

The union wants an evaluation deal

City Hall has blown up negotiations

[This op-ed was originally published in the New York Daily News.]

Does Mayor Bloomberg really want a new teacher evaluation system? Is it going to be possible to put such a system in place before Gov. Cuomo’s deadline of Sept. 1?

The mayor’s recent actions make me pessimistic.

After negotiations broke down last week, he vilified the union, denied that his administration had blown up a deal and said the United Federation of Teachers had, at the last minute, put on the table a two-year “sunset” provision that would have negated the effects of the evaluation process.

Over the last few days, ignoring the fact that John King, the state education commissioner, has publicly contradicted the mayor’s statements about why the deal fell apart, Bloomberg has stayed on the offensive. He recently denounced the tentative deal we reached with his subordinates as “a fraud,” added that the union will always “put its own interest ahead of the interest of kids” and said that he will sign an agreement only on his terms.

All of this suggests that, in fact, it is the mayor who doesn’t want a deal, perhaps because new and more difficult state tests are being given this year. Particularly since teachers have yet to receive a curriculum from the city Department of Education to help students meet the higher academic standards of these new tests, scores are likely to nosedive.

If things don’t go well, the mayor will need someone or something to scapegoat for that failure.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Bloomberg has denied the UFT’s charge that he blew up the deal at the last moment. But the principals union said — in writing — exactly the same thing about their negotiations that had been going on at the same time.
  • Bloomberg said a proposed sunset provision, under which a deal would have to be renewed after a set time, would have prevented the system from removing bad teachers. But King, whose office approves the new evaluation system for every district in the state, pointed out that hundreds of other districts have precisely these provisions, and that such provisions do not prevent the districts from getting rid of teachers who don’t measure up,
  • And, in direct contradiction to Bloomberg’s assertion that the sunset provision was a last-minute demand by the UFT, King affirmed that the city’s Department of Education had been talking to the state about such a clause well before the deal collapsed.

To me, all this is evidence that Bloomberg may have decided that it is not in his interest to have a new teacher evaluation system in place when he leaves the political scene at the end of this year.

But that isn’t true for the UFT, which went to Albany and Washington to lobby for the creation of such a system and has been working toward one even as the Education Department has not.

King has said that the city’s Education Department “has not prepared effectively for implementation of the evaluation system.” To meet that need, which we discovered when we surveyed teachers earlier this year, the union has on its own sponsored briefings in the new evaluation methods for hundreds of both teachers and principals.

We are now working on a framework of best practices that the Education Department can use as part of the training system it must outline to King by Feb. 15 if it wants to avoid the loss of even more state and federal funds.

And we are willing to sit down to negotiate the new teacher evaluation system by the governor’s new Sept. 1 deadline.

The UFT is not the obstacle here. We believe the current evaluation system is inadequate. We want a new one that provides educators more nuanced ratings that give them the chance to grow on the job — and, yes, remove those who consistently underperform.

But if we are going to be successful, we will need people on the other side of the table who are interested in creating a system that will truly help teachers improve, not in leaving a legacy of blame.

Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers.

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