The new teachers contract in Newark has caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.
If state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.
The history of urban school improvement efforts, however, suggests that we might temper our enthusiasm. The side of the road is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.
Yet if state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.
The new contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors. It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved evaluations and enables change in the lowest-performing schools. It allows for greater school-level decision-making and removes bureaucratic barriers to reform.
The district will now be better positioned to attract and retain the best educators. District leaders will have the flexibility to make decisions that meet kids’ needs. New Jersey residents will have greater confidence that state, local and philanthropic funding will be spent in the right ways.
Accordingly, the agreement has spawned a remarkable degree of strange-bedfellow harmony, bringing together management and labor, left and right. Local
We’re about to enter the all-important fourth phase of the evolution of educator evaluations.
Phase 1 was the national advocacy that spurred action. This is best represented by the now-famous TNTP report “The Widget Effect,” which convinced so many that one of the tallest obstacles to improving student learning was the low-quality evaluation systems that seemed to exist in just about every school district around.
Phase 2 was the Race to the Top era, during which the federal government, through the enticement of huge grants, compelled states to enact far-reaching reforms that affected policy and practice. (I wrote about Uncle Sam’s carrot and how states responded in this article for Education Next).
I can attest to the yawning gap between policy and practice and how challenging it is to bridge.
We’re currently in Phase 3, during which state and local leaders try desperately to implement the big-promise policies that, by any fair accounting, got way out ahead of practice. As a recovering state policymaker, I can attest to the yawning gap between policy and practice and how challenging it is to bridge.
Phase 3, however, has also been marked by a number of smart people in the research and policy-analysis world trying to figure out and describe what this flurry of activity amounts to and then make recommendations for future action.
The first contribution in this area was TNTP’s short, straightforward “Teacher Evaluation 2.0.” If you’re new to the subject or want to
After weeks of Sandy-induced delay and reports of discontent among union membership, Newark teachers approved a “groundbreaking” new contract Wednesday,1,767 to 1,088. The new deal includes bonuses for high performance, an important first step for performance-related teacher pay in a state that has historically been a bastion of union strength and intransigence. Its value from a reform perspective, however, is mostly symbolic: Heavily subsidized by private donors (see Zuckerberg, Mark) despite Newark’s already-breathtaking per-pupil spending, the agreement would offer yearly awards of up to $5,000 to educators rated “highly effective”—a designation that would factor in fellow teachers’ evaluations. A traditional compensation option would also be available to teachers who prefer the status quo: hardly a transformative or replicable model.
The new Newark contract is hardly a transformative or replicable model.
Even still, approval was far from certain: Despite the strong support of media-darling Mayor Cory Booker and the blessing of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, many rank-and-file union members expressed strong reservations about the deal—one caucus within the union even warned that “it means indentured servitude for education workers.”
The union membership was right to take the deal. As Weingarten said, it is “a win for students, a win for teachers and a win for Newark.” National and local AFT chiefs deserve plenty of credit for making it happen: Reformers often gloss how challenging it must be for open-minded union leaders to persuade teachers to overcome decades of dogmatic resistance to the
One of the many reasons I’m a fan of TBFI is that it conducts two types of policy research that are in short supply. The first, which I will talk about today, is in-the-weeds analyses of subjects that others have glossed over. (The second, studies on subjects we didn’t even realize were important, will be discussed in a future post.)
TBFI's latest in-the-weeds analysis is on teacher-union strength; it goes deeper and reveals far more than the conventional wisdom.
Lots of people talk about the value of tough standards; heck, the “transformative nature” of Common Core has become something between a ubiquitous talking point and Gospel for the reform community. But many of those proselytizing, unfortunately, can’t tell you a whit about what’s actually in these supposedly sacred texts.
Well, TBFI gets into the weeds of standards; they’ve been doing this for ages, even before Common Core was conceived and birthed (yes, it’s true, academic-content standards existed before CC!). In recent months, they’ve analyzed the rigor, meaning, and cost of CC, shedding much light on an important but under-investigated matter.
They’ve done similar digging in on the use of school funds and tech advancements—issues that, like CC, have been given a cursory and laudatory treatment by many. See here for my take on the ed-tech research.
The institute’s latest installment in this area is the very good report on state-level unions. The study goes deeper and reveals far more than the conventional wisdom, which holds—simplistically—that unions are omnipotent and
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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