Ratified Teacher Contract:
The three-year contract ratified this week by the teachers in the Seattle Education Association has put the district smack in the middle of the national debate on how teachers should be held accountable for their work in the classroom.
In an article posted on Crosscut.com, editor David Brewster describes the vote as the arrival of education reform in Seattle and a weather vane for other districts in the state. Below is David’s perspective:
By David Brewster
All of a sudden, Seattle Public Schools have joined the national parade. In a three-year contract just ratified (Thursday night) by the Seattle Education Association, the teachers' union, Seattle is playing catch-up in a few very large steps. After a decade or so of foot-dragging by the union and dithering by the School Board, education reform has arrived, in earnest. And this is a big signal — from the biggest district and the most recalcitrant union — to other districts in the state.
Or almost. The School Board still has to ratify the agreement, which is expected. A school levy has to pass this November, providing funds for the teacher-evaluation reforms. One key reform — dealing with reductions-in-force (RIF) of teachers — didn't get into the new contract. And there is the very discordant note of a union vote of no-confidence in Supt. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, whose toughness in the stretch was instrumental in getting the reform package.
Observers of the closed-door negotiations think that something happened about two weeks ago, after which union negotiators very much got on the reform bandwagon. The district also moved to find common ground. Not only was a strike avoided; the two sides made significant progress in finding a way to join the national tide toward school reform.
Here's some context. A year ago, as a five-year contract with teachers expired, neither union nor school district wanted to face the long-put-off question of how to evaluate teachers meaningfully. So a one-year extension of the contract was agreed to, while both sides wrestled with the issues of evaluating teachers.
The pattern of teacher evaluations is easy to see from many other districts: put in place an objective system for evaluating effectiveness in teachers, reward the best ones with more pay, help the struggling ones, and show the door to the poorest teachers. In most reform-minded districts, a part of the evaluation of teachers is pegged to how well students of the teacher are performing, as measured by tests to determine the "value-added" component by the teacher in one year. These tests have lots of problems; there are all kinds of external factors that need to be weighed. Given the uncertainty and the controversy, it would have been easy for both sides to punt, waiting for more tests of the tests. But this year a unified board, a broad community coalition, and a determined superintendent were bent on facing up to the issue.
Apparently negotiations went along slowly but well. In early August, the SEA union put its proposal on the table, and it seems to have embraced the philosophy of accountability for teachers, but only in some small pilot programs while more studies took place. It's at this point, according to some accounts, that Supt. Goodloe Johnson erupted and made the district's aggressive plan public. The SEA cried foul play, tried to make the not-very-popular superintendent the issue, and sought to rally the troops.
It didn't work. Political leaders such as former Mayor Norm Rice and Richard Conlin and Tim Burgess of the city council issued op-eds in support of the district's reform proposal. Other leaders, like Mayor McGinn, stayed mum. Sadly, no reform group of teachers has been formed locally, who might have shaped the reform package more. As it worked out, all the reforms are being imposed on the teachers, with natural resentment.