Getting to the fine print in New York

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We’re beginning to fill in the blanks on the details of the agreement reached last week between the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Some of the most interesting elements of the new contract (to us, at least) didn't make the original talking points.

It’s clear they were not going for a thin contract. While trust has certainly increased with the change in administration, the UFT took the trust-but-verify-through-contract-language approach, just in case.

Let’s look at some of the details they included.

The eight components of the evaluation that remain after whittling down the list of 22 seem like the right ones. While there are always trade-offs, it’s too bad knowledge of content and pedagogy and designing coherent instruction aren't weighed as heavily as the other components. 

The evaluation portion of the memorandum of understanding is essentially written-out business rules for large parts of the evaluation process. Rules on what can be counted in local measures versus state measures and for whom (both teachers and students), the timeline for observations, and the forms to be used are all specified.

The absent teacher reserve (ATR) also takes its fair share of ink in the agreement. Rules lay out when teachers will go to interviews, where they’ll go and the options principals and teachers have when they get there. Most of these rules are aimed at clarifying the expectation that teachers in the ATR will find a permanent position or exit the district, a positive development. One new option for ATR teachers: Those with at least 3 years of experience have the opportunity during a 30-day window this summer to take a severance package and leave the district. Payments vary by years of experience and range from just under $1,000 to almost $20,000 by my calculation using the May 2014 pay schedule.

A clearer timeline on the pay schedule has also surfaced. While teachers will see a “ratification bonus” and an on-going one percent raise this spring, it will be quite a while before they see the benefit of the full 18 percent included in the contract. For those that are still teaching, payments for the raises in 2009 and 2010 will stretch out until 2020.

As for schedule changes, what if a teacher finishes her parent calls before the Tuesday parent engagement time is over? Time set aside for professional development and parent engagement on Mondays and Tuesdays will be used for “other professional activities” if the aforementioned activities don’t fill the entire time. During six weeks of the year this time will be spent on activities related to the Measures of Student Learning, the outcome measures used in teacher evaluations. Having some flexibility could be good if the time is used effectively for more relevant professional development and time to collaborate with colleagues. Hopefully there will be some sort of tracking for the use of time and what schools have to show for it.

With all this detail comes a countdown clock for some changes. Even though the term of the contract goes through October of 2018, many of the provisions expire earlier. Changes to the school day and to the absent teacher reserve revert back to the old contract (the 2007-2009 version) if the union and district do not reach an agreement to extend them by the end of their respective pilot periods.

Stay tuned for additional tidbits to come.