Unions…Bullies in NYC Schools?

In his 11th State of the City speech, Mayor Bloomberg announced last Thursday of his intention to form “school-based committees” that would evaluate teachers at 33 struggling schools in the NYC public school system. The city stands to lose $60 million in School Improvement Grants from the state due to the lack of agreement between the teachers union and Mayor Bloomberg concerning a teacher evaluation process. By establishing these committees, Mayor Bloomberg hopes to bypass this dispute and allow the schools to receive the funding. Also at stake are the districts’ share of federal Race to the Top funds, which include several more million for improvements in instruction.

The school district signed a commitment with the grant application promising to revise labor contracts for teachers in grades 4 through 8 and require that personnel be evaluated as highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. Student performance was required to make up at least 20 percent of the evaluation.

Bloomberg said that under the existing union contract, the city has the authority to form school-based committees to evaluate teachers on merit and replace up to half of the faculty in those schools. The President of the United Federation of Teachers asserts that the mayor lacks the authority to set up the committees and start evaluating teachers, noting that this kind of initiative has to be negotiated with the union. Will a legal battle over this issue delay the process even further?

The recent documentary “Waiting for Superman” shed light on the issue of teachers in charter schools, where such teachers generally do not need to join existing collective bargaining units, a sore spot for teachers unions.  However, independent charter schools highlight the fact that they have the ability to make changes in their schools that improve the quality of education for their students by selecting teachers on the basis of a school’s needs, rather than being beholden to unions to employ ineffective teachers. Teachers with tenure, regardless of effectiveness, are given priority in union structures. In turn, the unions object to a system which generally employs teachers on renewable one-year contracts, saying that some charter school managers use the threat of non-renewal to intimidate and drive out good teachers.