As a member of the Contract for Student Achievement (CSA) I’m monitoring teachers’ contract negotiations in Minneapolis and working with community members to support a public dialogue about school staffing issues.
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Our birdseye view of the process has been maddening, inspiring, and boring. Still, we persist knowing that real children face real consequences if we do nothing.
We’re now a few months into this negotiation cycle and it is clear that student achievement isn’t the central focus for all parties. This round of talks looks and sounds dreadfully close to previous years. Though the Minneapolis Board of Education’s talk about “collaboration” sounds like a plan to unite stakeholders toward urgent, positive, and collective goals; the reality inside the negotiation room is that the incessant culture of complaint prevails.
This is why we believe the public should be present and the process should be open. After so many years of “it takes a village” rhetoric we’re all be clear that the community is collectively responsible for our civic institutions. Collaboration should mean we all have a voice, especially when a primary institution is idling far off course like the MPS.
The CSA belief is that schools need several freedoms so they can serve students’ unique needs. Those freedoms are needed now, and they are needed across the entire district so all students benefit.
We’re proposing a teacher contract that empowers school sites with the authority to build and protect teaching teams best suited for their programs and students.
More specifically, we want a contract that…
1. Ties employment decisions to effectiveness so that schools can keep teachers that are impacting student achievement.
2. Allows every Minneapolis school to acquire high-performing teachers from the widest possible talent pool.
3. Ends the practice of forcing schools to take teachers they do not want or need.
4. Extends the amount of time students receive high-quality instruction as a strategy for raising achievement.
5. Expedites the process of releasing the lowest functioning teachers.
These proposals aim at producing more stable, inclusive, and co-creational schools that better serve students and parents.
The MPS board is proposing a soft version of our recommendations, but only for a handful of poorly performing schools. Under their proposal 16 “high priority schools” would gain protections for less senior teachers; an extended school day and year; mandated professional development; a 3 year commitment from teachers to stay with the program; additional funding for teacher support; marginally lower class sizes; and an end to “forced” placement of teachers in these schools.
Of course we’re delighted the board’s position is similar to ours. But there is one major flaw with their plan, and one problem it is encountering.
First, the flaw has to do with scope. Protecting 16 schools from staffing instability will make the better performing majority of schools in the rest of the district more vulnerable. The board is thinking small. Too small. Currently the contract provides protections in a piecemeal scheme where certain programs or ethnicities are protected over others. This is wrong, unjust, and creates academic inequities. The right thing to do is to empower all schools equally so the entire district is healthy.
Second, the big problem facing the board’s proposal is that the MFT’s response has been a flat out “no”.
That’s “no” to protecting for less senior teachers that are effective with students; “no” to ending “forced” placement of teachers nobody wants; and “no” to increasing instruction time for students that need it most.
How is that for “collaboration”?
The board is betting the bank on the idea that saying “collaborative” a million times will be the alchemy that unleashes a giving spirit. This inexperienced – and frankly, youngish – worldview is obstructing their ability to even pass their meager 6 inch proposal for addressing 12 foot problems.
And this is where we, the voting taxpaying public, have an issue. At a time when we need transformative leaders, big visions, and systematic changes that improve the academic lives of children, we have officials compromised by old school ideology, misguided campaign promises, and a gullible focus on pampering adults as a strategy for helping children.
On the MFT’s side of the table there is little reason for change. The contract they currently have is the result of three decades of adult-centric collusion (which today is being repurposed as “collaboration”) and an absence of stable, courageous, or transformative leadership. Most of the MPS’ managerial prerogative was negotiated away years ago. Any attempt to regain managerial control is met with contempt, mistrust, and the recollection of a million minor offenses that are relayed with the predictable histrionics.
The MFT narrative is that teachers are victims – always (in fact, the union says things are so bad 63% of MPS teachers are taking anti-depression drugs to cope). Students are mentally ill, behaviorally unsound, and too poor to learn. Administrators are incompetent and “807” is useless. The “district” has done nothing right – ever.
And teachers are the only experts that warrant an opinion on anything school related.
That is what the board has to work with, and like overly permissive parents attempting to locate a spine the union this board attached itself to before being elected is now problematic.
We are learning that the process for staffing schools is broken and it is a problem that impacts how schools function; but a bigger proverbial elephant is dancing in the living room. That elephant is one of leadership. The question it presents is whether or not it is sufficient given the enormity of our educational crisis?
If the current cycle of teachers’ contract negotiations is any indication, the answer is a sad and unacceptable one.