Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How NOT to Tear Up the Union Contract

I've gotten a lot of heat for criticizing Matt Polazzo, whose destructive piece in the Daily News advocates getting rid of the UFT contract and giving administrators total power. I've been accused of trying to protect bad teachers and of offering no solutions. I beg to differ.

It is Polazzo who offers no constructive solutions whatsoever. He also would never surrender his union membership and live up to his "ideals". Despite the attacks on me, I have actually offered solutions many times. See here and here. See in part below:

1. Reinforce the idea of tenure. Principals have three years in which to decide whether a teacher is acceptable. I could tell you in three days who belongs. If principals change their minds after three years, they better be damn well able to prove a teacher incompetent.

2. Create a meaningful curriculum with the input of teachers (this is done at my school, and you'd be amazed how much teachers want to do justice to the curriculum when they have a hand in creating it). If any teachers fail or refuse to teach the minimum skills agreed upon by their respective departments, they should be put on the hot seat. Divas would be no more--they would have to teach certain units at certain times just like everyone else.

3. We all know that a principal can get his or her admin buddies from other schools to do so-called "impartial" observations, which is nothing more than a way to bolster a case at a 3020 hearing. How about we create "observation teams" of highly qualified teachers to observe teachers outside their own schools instead of admins? These teachers, who truly have no stake in the outcome other than justice and the education of children, would be a better barometer of the truth than the principal calling his friends in to give U ratings to people being targeted

There are other ideas for reforming schools. Some of them have merit and some are awful. Mr. Polazzo's idea has no merit whatsoever. It is purely destructive of schools and the dedicated professionals who work in them.


Miss Eyre said...

#3 is very much like my idea about having observation teams akin to "juries"--teachers selected at random from an eligible pool for a couple of days throughout the school year to travel throughout the district, borough, or city to conduct observations of teachers in their subject area and/or grade level. I like it!

What's with the constructive suggestions here, Mr. Talk? Thought we teacher bloggers were all about hurling unfair accusations and defaming people's character. ;)

Pissed Off said...

Great ideas, too bad no one will care enough to use them.

Chaz said...

I believe that a real independent investigation needs to be done and should include all parties, not just the administrators and the DOE investigative services who are out to get the hapless teacher.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually rather unhappy about the quality of what "criticizing Matt Polazzo" seems to be. In the post, you mostly attacked his character, and didn't seem to do enough research about his fan page, or his article as shown by the comments.

Not to mention some parts of it were unnecessary, such as the entire fifth paragraph. Your changes sound promising, but you are basically saying that your ways are better, not his, which is all a matter of opinion, but frankly, I think a more professional attitude could've been taken.

Steven said...

First of all, your criticism of Matt Polazzo regarding the fact that he'd be unlikely to surrender his union membership is irrelevant and entirely moot. Polazzo's argument is not that there should be no protections for teachers by the UFT, but rather that the current system offers too much protection for teachers to the point where those who are not fulfilling their duties face either no ramifications for their lack of ability or relatively small consequences compared to the punishment that incompetent workers would receive in any other work environment. The long, convoluted process that must be undertaken to fire a tenured teacher grants too much protection to a profession where excellence should be the standard.

This brings up the first of your 3 points. The fact is that teachers can easily achieve tenure in a school with a lackluster administrator, then later work in a new school where it is clear he does not possess the ability to properly educate his students. The new administrator must go through an unreasonable convoluted process in order to remove this teacher from his staff, which may take several years during which a more qualified teacher could be teaching students.

I think your other 2 points are valid solutions to ongoing issues. To say that Polazzo's ideas have no merit, however, is blissfully ignorant and a sad attempt at stirring up controversy instead of trying to seek common ground.

Mr. Talk said...

Steven, I hate to fan the flames here, but there is a word for someone who tells others to do things he would not do himself--hypocrite. If Mr. Polazzo would like me to surrender my union protection, surely it isn't too much to ask him to surrender his first.

You can deny what Polazzo said all you wish, but here is his EXACT quote from the Daily News: "The contract must allow administrators to fire bad teachers, give them the power to hire any teacher they want, and give administrators flexibility in setting the pay of their teachers."

If he believes that, he should immediately renounce his union membership and its protections. He should immediately request that his salary be set not by the union contract, his seniority, and his education level, but by the wishes of his principal. Money talks; bullshit walks.

As I showed in my post, I have long been an advocate of revision the current ATR, rubber room, and evaluation systems. I advocate change, not destruction.

Steven said...

I personally don't see this as hypocrisy. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but you and I both know that your request is intentionally illogical. If all teachers had their protections lowered equally I'm sure Polazzo would be unopposed, but to ask him to offer himself as a sacrificial lamb is as ridiculous as you believe his proposed system is. He should not need to martyr himself in order to be allowed to freely speak his opinion on a controversial issue.

If you accuse me of being guilty of misconstruing that quotation, perhaps you must also realize that you are judging it a tad hastily. Neither you nor I know all the details of Polazzo's proposal, as his article was an op-ed piece that was meant to stir up discussion (successfully, might I add) rather than lay out in detail his solution. I doubt he is suggesting a system where principals rule as tyrants; I see it as a more Andrew Jackson-esque expansion of their powers than, say, a King George expansion of powers.

I am not suggesting that you are opposed to all reform, and it's nice to see that you've gradually toned down the hostility of your posts. I just think that to ignore all of Polazzo's ideas is to ignore valid points that could be worked into some sort of substantial compromise.

I'm not inclined towards either position on the issue, but think that both sides of the argument should be fairly considered. You can read more of what I have to say here:

Farro said...

Firstly, Polazzo can't leave the union, it's a closed shop. Secondly, he's not being hypocritical because unlike what you claim he is not advocating that teachers give up all protections.

I also note that you did not answer Steven's point about how easy it is for teachers to start at a school with a lackluster administrator and then move on to a school like Stuyvesant. Stuck?

Mr. Talk said...

Stephen, I don't understand you. Many Team Polazzo commenters have claimed that Polazzo is a great teacher. If he is as good as everyone claims, why should be be hesitant to surrender the protections that he wants the rest of us to give up? If he truly believes what he says, and is as good as everyone claims, there should be no problem at all. Wouldn't his principal keep him on staff regardless? Or is he perhaps afraid that his principal might kind of like the idea of replacing Mr. Polazzo with a newbie teacher and pocketing the 30-40K of savings for something else?

If I don't know all the details of Mr. Polazzo's proposal, perhaps he should have made them clear in his article. As far as I or anyone else can tell, there ARE no other details than to put absolute power in the hands of principals.

Stirring up controversy for the sake of discussion is a poor excuse for rational discourse. And it certainly would never occur to me to stir up discussion by throwing my friends and colleagues under the bus.

Farro said...

Well, the reason why is because, as I said before, that's not what he's arguing. What he said was that prinicipals should be able to fire BAD teachers. Whether or not the principal likes paying him is irreleant because that's NOT what he's arguing. You're continued refusal to rebut this to me indicates that you are wrong.

Farro said...

I would like to add though, that the teachers' juries don't sound like a bad idea, although student input should also be considered. I'm not sure the UFT would like it though...

Steven said...

Ah, then perhaps you would admit that you yourself are a hypocrite, as you are throwing your colleague under the bus in order to stir up discussion. How exactly is Polazzo throwing anyone under the bus? He's pointing out flaws in an educational system that should be striving for perfection but instead is settling for mediocrity and names no fellow UFT members in the process.

To surrender his union protections would be to put him on an uneven playing field with his peers. You know very well that what he is proposing is a system where everyone is evaluated based on merit so that teachers have more of an incentive to strive for excellence, not to inhibit his own chances at continued success. To surrender his rights would be to allow the very teachers he is criticizing for being overprotected to have even more protection relative to himself. This is a direct contrast of the system he strives for, and your continued persistence on this moot point is getting tiresome and still remains wholly unconvincing.

I would love for you to address any of the legitimate issues or concerns I've noted instead of further arguing a nonsensical point into the ground.

Furthermore, if you really think that a radical statement is a poor way to stir up rational discourse then you clearly don't fully understand the concepts of compromise or bargaining chips and have a highly idealized and naive view of the way politics work in our country.

Mr. Talk said...

Farro. I'll try once more, and then I am done. When you give administrators power to fire "bad" teachers, you essentially give them power to fire anyone they choose. "Bad" is a subjective opinion, and can easily become a label for any teacher the principal doesn't like or who makes too much money for the budget. There is no single measure as to what makes a good teacher or a bad one. What makes you think that principals have any special ability to make that determination? Principals were once teachers themselves you know, and more often than not they were not the best teachers. Many left the classroom because they weren't successful teachers and couldn't wait to get away from the kids.

Mr. Talk said...

Stephen, I am in no way a hypocrite. I haven't thrown teachers in general under the bus; I have railed against a teacher who has vilified many of his colleagues. Mr. Polazzo is anti union and want to throw away my protections while refusing to surrender his own.

I am strongly pro-union and I defend the right my colleagues to due process under the teachers' contract and state law. If Mr. Polazzo were brought up on charges or sent to the rubber room, I would defend him 100% despite my strong disagreement with him and his blatant attempts to undermine the very union that protects him.

There are many charter schools that pay as well as public schools and that offer merit pay without giving union protection. If Mr. Polazzo finds the UFT so odious, he should leave and get a job there. Wouldn't a teacher as good as you all claim he is land a job immediately, and get all the merit pay there is? Wouldn't he be unconcerned about job security? So why doesn't he put his money where his mouth is and set the example for the rest of us?

If you're opposed to guns, you shouldn't carry one. If you oppose abortions, you should never have one. And if you oppose the teachers' contract, you should immediately stop befitting from it, resign, and find a job that suits your philosophy. That Mr. Polazzo hasn't done so speaks to his hypocrisy.

Farro said...

Okay, that explains it. Sorry for not getting it before. You are still misinterpreting. I can say for sure that Mr. Polazzo would never support granting arbitrary powers to the administration, he himself realizes that some form of evaluation beyond administrators is necessary (let's be clear here: he is not a friend of the administration).

I'm pretty sure that he meant for there to be some sort of improved evaluation system--I would favor one that includes some sort of meaningful student input, such as a course-end survey (mr. Polazzo does a good one, himself). I also would be in favor of teacher teams. Some administrative review should be allowed, but it should not be the give-all and end all.

From all these sources, it would be easier to form an accurate picture of how well a teacher does, and thus give a somewhat more objective picture of who is "bad" and who is "good."

You'll note I didn't say anything about input from parents. While parents are valuable in running a school, I do not think they really should have much say in evaluating teachers; because they rarely if ever observe teaching directly, it is rather hard for them to 'grade' a teacher.

Mr. Talk said...

Farro, thanks for your response. We are beginning to make progress.

My problem with Mr. Polazzo was, and still is, that he published a piece that is clearly an indictment of his fellow teachers. If, indeed, his aim was to propose a new sort of evaluation system that would stay the hand of reckless administrators and budget cutters, then he should have made that clear in his article. All I have to go by is his words. He did not mention any alternatives to the current system, as I have done repeatedly on this blog. He merely advocated the trashing of the union contract and handing total power over to administrators.

If he meant something else, frankly, he should have written a different article. No one could tell, from reading his piece, that he had anything in mind other than the wholesale evisceration of the teachers' contract. If that is indeed not his position, I believe it is incumbent upon him to say so and clear the matter up. If the News won't print his clarification, I would be happy to post his actual views here, as I'm sure many other bloggers would. Until that time, however, all we have to go by is his own words. Words do mean things, and his were a serious gash in the sides of his colleagues.

Another(Former)StuyStudent said...

The article as I read it is not meant as "an indictment of his fellow teachers," but an indictment of a system that allows bad teachers to teach. I think most people take it as a given that there are many truly dedicated, great teachers out there, but there are also some terrible teachers out there. Mr. Polazzo was not saying that we need to revolt against the teachers because they are ruining our schools, but that instead, we should get rid of a system that makes it easy for bad teachers to keep their jobs. Yes, it is somewhat hard to define a good teacher or a bad teacher, but the system as it is now does not make any halfhearted attempt to do so.

Yes, he says the UFT contract should be "ripped up", but no where does he imply that he wants a contract-less system. He takes it as a given that there would be a new contract, as evidenced by the second-to-last paragraph of the article.

I know there was one point when the article, as it appeared online was missing some paragraphs--I did not see it in that state, so I do not know if it wasn't as clear at that point.

So Mr. Polazzo is not criticizing teachers in general, but he is criticizing a union that seems to go out of its way to defend bad teachers. I am sure he would be perfectly willing to admit that there are many other things wrong with the system, but that wasn't the point of the article.

I also highly doubt you will get a clarification from him, given that he has avoided reading the comments and other responses to his article (for good reason, given the proliferance of crude ad hominem attacks in those responses)

Mr. Talk said...


You are not the first to claim that Polazzo's article is "an indictment of a system that allows bad teachers to teach." The fatal flaw in that argument is that the teacher's contract is not the system. The contract does not hire teachers--principals do. They have three years to decide whether someone is good enough to retain. If, for some reason, a principal grants tenure to a terrible teacher, you can hardly blame the contract. If a principal refuses to do the work to remove an incompetent tenured teacher, that again is a failure of the principal, not the UFT. Mr. Polazzo's solution to this is to give even more power to the principals who did such a lousy job in the first place. That simply makes no sense.

Henry Lin said...

Mr. Talk, I believe you have some fantastic points here, but, ultimately, the vilification of Mr. Polazzo is ultimately unfair and injust.

The article published is an opinion article in the Daily News - one of Murdoch's many crown jewels. Because of the nature of the article type, as well as the publisher, it seems naive to presume a perfect comprehensive plan with step by step details on just what Mr. Polazzo wants. Firstly, it goes without saying the the DN would probably censor any sort of pro union statement, disallowing "moderation" if you will. Secondly, in an op-ed article it is neigh impossible to present a complex and detailed plan to the audience simply due to the medium and the target audience. David Brooks cannot, Paul Krugman cannot, and frankly, Matt Polazzo cannot. Instead, it fulfills the role of an opinion article to put forth a point for discussion, and more often than not, there is little space for it to be fully justified.

Ultiamtely, this opinion is a general statement about the general state of things and, as is inherent in such generalities, it is susceptible to many attacks because there is little capacity for a proper dialogue.

There is certainly no problem pointing out flaws in arguments or presenting your own ideas (some of which I greatly like the sound of). However, indicting Mr. Polazzo as a hypocrite is both wrong and unfair, and ultimately, I believe that sort of statement is what Stuyvesant students take offense to from bloggers--not the ideas that we more than happily discuss and debate.

Farro said...

Uh, the Daily News is NOT owned by Murdoch when I last checked--it's the post that's Murdoch-owned.

Henry Lin said...

yes that was a slight slip up I just noticed myself. I wish you could edit posts. Point is, in plainer terms, it's not entirely favorable to unions.

Another(Former)StuyStudent said...

You do make some good points, and seem to be no longer coupling them with relatively unrelated ad hominem attacks, which is a good sign. I hope this signifies that you have entered the realm of reasonable discussion, and left behind permanently the world of personal jabs that do not help advance your argument, nor to further the goal of having a reasoned debate.

Moving on...

I agree that principals shouldn't give tenure to bad teachers in the first place. I will readily admit that there are many intricacies of the system that I do not know. However, my impression is that the tenure process is as follows. You teach for some number of years. You put together a few slightly more polished lessons that the principal will observe (that you know about ahead of time), and then unless the principal can find a specific reason not to give you tenure, he is all but required to do so.

Correct me if I am wrong. My impression is that it is quite a hassle to deny someone tenure. Not nearly as much of a hassle as to fire them once they have attained tenure, but a hassle nonetheless.

Still, in a short opinion piece, there are only so many points that can be made. The point that Mr. Polazzo chose to make is that, as I said before, the union seems to go out of its way to protect the jobs of bad teachers.

I am pretty sure he thinks the principal shouldn't tenure bad teachers in the first place, but the fact of the matter is that there are many bad teachers that already have tenure, and something should be done about that. He thinks that the contract does too much to protect the jobs of the bad teachers that are currently employed, and thus says that it should be revised so that it doesn't over-protect the jobs of bad teachers.

Let me make a disclaimer. I talk a lot about bad teachers. I am not saying teachers in general are bad, or most teachers are bad, but simply that there are a lot of bad teachers. There are also a lot of wonderfully inspiring and brilliant teachers. Just because someone thinks that bad teachers should not have job security does not believe that they look down on teaching in some way.