Five Questions On NYC’s New Teacher Contract

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced that they’d struck a deal on a new contract for the city’s 75,000 teachers. Teachers will get the retroactive raises they’ve been seeking and total increases of 18 percent over nine years.

Though most of the headlines will be about dollars and cents, the big question is whether the contract will help more students in New York City get the great education they deserve. We think it all depends on what happens after the handshakes and the congratulatory press conferences.

There’s a lot to like in this contract, in theory:

  • It reaffirms the city’s commitment to mutual consent hiring, which gives principals the final say in hiring teachers who want to work in their schools.
  • It creates a new career ladder program designed to award bonuses to outstanding teachers who take on extra responsibilities.
  • It would provide bonuses to teachers who work in high-need schools.
  • It simplifies the city’s teacher evaluation rubric, which should make the evaluation process more manageable for principals and more valuable for teachers.
  • It promises a streamlined dismissal process for teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool—many of whom have earned unsatisfactory ratings or been brought up on disciplinary charges—if they are unable to find and keep permanent positions.
  • It gives schools an easier path to requesting waivers from certain regulations and contract provisions, so that they can try out innovative ideas.
  • It creates dedicated time during the school day for teachers to call, email or meet with parents (though students will pay the price for this change in the form of less instructional time).

Whether any of these provisions will ultimately make a difference for students, however, depends on the details—few of which are spelled out in the press releases announcing the contract. Here are the questions everyone who cares about education in New York City should be asking in the months and years to come:

  • Will principals have the freedom to hire the candidates of their choice outside the ATR pool or will they be “encouraged” to hire teachers from the ATR pool by being barred from hiring others?
  • How much evidence will be required for low-performing ATR teachers to be dismissed through the new streamlined hearing process?
  • Will principals be able to use the new teacher career ladder positions to retain their great early-career teachers (who, our research shows, are leaving in high numbers)? Or will selection be dictated centrally or with eligibility standards that favor senior teachers? This is an especially important question given that the bulk of the raises in the contract are being awarded to senior teachers without regard to performance.
  • Similarly, will the bonuses at hard-to-staff schools be reserved for effective teachers, or will the city also award bonuses to ineffective teachers at those schools? After all, retaining chronically struggling teachers is the very worst thing that can happen in hard-to-staff schools.
  • Will more schools take advantage of the opportunity to waive regulations and contract provisions? The current contract already gives schools this ability through the school-based option provision, but few have ever used it for any kind of bold innovation.

We wish the mayor would’ve gone further in some areas, like raising starting salaries for teachers and allowing great teachers to move up the salary scale more quickly. But we’re also encouraged by his efforts to address some pressing issues, like promoting more parent engagement.

Now it’s time to see if he can deliver results for the city’s students and families. We’ll be watching.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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