State, Not UFT, Screwed Kids Out $250 Million With Teacher Eval Demands

uft_mulgrew.jpg
UFT
UFT Head Michael Mulgrew announces failed talks at news conference this afternoon.
For a sample of the over-wrought backlash that the United Federation of Teachers will face after failing to come to an agreement with the city on a new teacher evaluation system this afternoon, go check out today's opinion section in the NY Daily News.

In an impressive show of mutual-strokage, the News published an opinion piece by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., entitled "A Stubborn Union Blocks Reform," opposite its editorial headlined "Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew is about to cost the city millions in state aid."

Now that the UFT and the city failed to reach an agreement, we will see whether the post-deadline headlines can match the narrow one-sidedness of the stories in the Daily News this morning. Even the most half-assed attempt to assess the situation beyond its most superficial layers should prevent New Yorkers, and highly-circulated newspapers, from heaping all the blame on the union.

"It's an easy sell to the public that we've got to have accountability for teachers and that obviously test scores and how well kids do on tests matters, but if you scratch below the surface at all, I think the public can see that maybe that's not [all there is to the story]," Bruce Baker, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University, tells the Voice.

It's odd that there's no real mention in this conversation about of the billions in funding that the state has failed to provide the city with in recent years. Yet, it had the nerve to hold our public schools hostage with a $250 million ultimatum.

In 2003, the N.Y. State Court of Appeals sided with the Campaign for Fiscal Equality in its case against the state of N.Y. -- finding that the city's public school students were "not receiving the constitutionally-mandated opportunity for a sound basic education."The decision called for the state to set a minimum mark for the amount of money it must allocate to the city to help it meet that constitutional requirement.

Based on the minimum amount the state calculated, which Baker argues was severely low-balled, the court ruled in 2004 that the city should receive an estimated $ 4.7 billion in additional funds from the state. Lo and behold, the CFE is currently considering legal action against the state again for its failure to pay out those court-mandated payments. And, before anyone uses the economic downturn as an excuse, the state had already failed to comply with funding mandate before the meltdown occurred.

"It's a slap in the face for the state to be dangling this," Baker says. "Now the state is saying we'll give you this $300 million as opposed to the $3.4 billion we owe you...but only if you cave to our demands on a teacher evaluation model. I don't think I've seen enough, if any, discussion of that."

Before we go any further, it's important to note that the UFT ultimately has itself to blame for this mess. It agreed to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system in order to help the city tap into the federal funds secured by the state through President Obama's Race to the Top initiative, which forces states to comply with all sorts of ed-reformer goodies if they want additional federal dollars--goodies such as increased teacher scrutiny.

In the union's defense, they were right to fight tooth-and-nail against any teacher evaluation system that calls for heavy reliance on often unreliable and unpredictable testing data.

"My concern would be over the rigidly specified heavy use of things like either the city's value-added measures, or especially the stage-growth measures which the state is kind of mandating be part of the evaluations," Baker says. "They could be less useful than the city's measures. But the big issue is the forcing of rigid decision framework around these measures that really aren't up to the task."

Baker is not opposed to using testing data as a means of evaluation, but agreed that the union was right to avoid forcing its teachers to be bound to an inflexible system of evaluation.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't be doing better evaluations, and that we shouldn't be smartly integrating data into the evaluation, including student performance and growth data," Baker says. "What I am saying about [these] policy prescriptions is they're trying to do it in a particularly dumbass way."

It seems pointless to place blame on Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the failed deal. To paraphrase the words of football coach Dennis Green, "he is who we thought he was." We already know his agenda is to support the ed-reform policies in the city's public school system. Any opportunity to chip away at teacher job security is a welcome one for him.

It was a win/win. Even though he didn't get the evaluation system he would have liked, he can now casually depict the union as the evil empire that cost kids hundreds of millions of dollars--kind of like he did at a news conference this afternoon:

"Unfortunately every time we approached a deal in recent days, the UFT moved the finish line back instead of working with us to tie up the loose ends of this agreement, they continued to insert unrelated extraneous issues into the negotiations," Bloomberg said. "The saddest part is that our students will pay the cost."

Mulgrew essentially called him a liar.

"I just watched the mayor hold a press conference where I have never seen such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts," Mulgrew said at UFT Headquarters this afternoon. "We will have the opportunity 11 months from now where we will be able to work with an administration on making our school system better."

Baker believes that a failed deal might ultimately be best for the city.

"I'm sure they could use the money, but I don't think that's the big issue," Baker said. "I hate to see them have to leave that on the table, but it still might be the better way to go."

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