NYSUT announced today that is is bringing suit against the New York State Education Department for violating the Taylor Law and teachers’ collective bargaining rights with the implementation of the the new teacher evaluation rules established in the Education Transformation Act (the law that was passed last April). The lawsuit focuses on two particular elements of the new evaluation regulations.

Teacher improvement plans
Until now, TIPs have been subject to collective bargaining. Under the new regulations, TIPs are mandatory for teachers receiving ineffective or developing ratings and are to be “developed by the superintendent or his or her designee in the exercise of their pedagogical judgment,” thus completely overriding previously negotiated agreements.

Monitoring of APPR Plans 
The second area addressed by the lawsuit concerns a provision in the regulations that allows the state to take “corrective action” on a district’s negotiated APPR plan if it is not “rigorous” enough (e.g. if the number of teachers identified as developing or ineffective does not correlate to the number of students showing insufficient growth).  This could include requiring the district to implement additional professional development, the use of independent evaluators to review the evaluation system, or actually mandating that the district make changes to the negotiated agreement.

The suit claims that these regulations “interfere with rights protected by the Taylor Law by imposing restrictions on the negotiation of TIPs, which are a mandatory subject of bargaining, and by purporting to give SED the power to require changes in collectively bargained agreements.”

While the lawsuit does not go after the full Education Transformation Act, this is a hugely significant step. Not only are these two elements of the law potentially harmful in-and-of-themselves, their very existence on the books undermines the power of public sector unions and sets precedent for the further erosion of our basic rights as employees.

This is a multi-faceted battle that will be fought on many fronts. While there is nothing to be done but watch and wait for the court case, we are hopeful that there will be a push on the legislative side as well. Meanwhile, NYSUT is asking for everyone’s support in fighting the recently revised backdoor voucher scheme as well as in making amendments to the tax cap.


Take Action

Two new action items have been posted on the NYSUT MAC page:

Amend the Tax Cap
Until we’re able to help the general public recognize that the tax cap is undemocratic and ultimately damaging, there doesn’t seem like much chance of getting it repealed. So for now the best hope is to get it amended to fix some of the worst provisions. Specifically, NYSUT is calling for the following changes:

  1. modify the allowable tax levy limit to 2 percent or CPI, whichever is greater
  2. eliminate the supermajority requirement
  3. eliminate the possibility of negative tax levy limits
  4. allow for exemptions to include items such as increased enrollment, spending on school security measures, BOCES capital expenses, and include PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) in the tax base growth factor determinations

Please CLICK HERE to send a message to legislators that this needs to be fixed.


Say NO to the Parental Choice in Education Act
The Parental Choice in Education Act (part of the 2016-17 Budget) contains two objectionable components: the Education Scholarship and Program Tax Credit and the Family Choice Education Credit.

The Education Scholarship and Program Tax Credit is designed for wealthy individuals and corporations. Under this proposal, individuals and corporations would receive a tax credit equal to 75 percent of their authorized contributions to an educational scholarship organization, a local education fund, or a public school entity, up to a maximum annual credit of $1 million. Under the Family Choice Education Credit, tax credits would be given to families who pay tuition and choose to send their children to private schools. These bills are thinly disguised private school voucher schemes offered under the guise of charitable giving for education purposes. Individuals and corporations will be able to reduce their tax bills by sending what they would otherwise owe in taxes to a foundation or educational scholarship organization that will turn the money into a private school voucher or will subsidize tuition at both religious and non-religious private schools.

If enacted, up to $140 million in tax credits would be allowed to be used for “qualified” schools and local education funds in 2017. “Qualified” schools include private schools and public schools; however, the tax credits are geared towards private schools

Please CLICK HERE to tell your legislators to say NO to the Parental Choice in Education Act.

APPR Update

As reported before the break, the Common Core Task force released their report on December 10th, which included a recommendation for a moratorium on the use of  Common Core tests in teacher evaluations. Four days later, the Regents adopted an emergency regulation which accepted that recommendation and states that there will be “no consequences for teachers and principals related to 3-8 ELA and mathematics state assessments and no growth score on Regents exams until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.”  Most recently, NYSED released a FAQ about the transition which gives guidance to districts on implementing and negotiating APPR in the face of the new regulations.

On one hand, the recommendations in the report are a positive sign – the persistent push-back from parents and educators has forced the Governor and State Ed Dept. to respond and to acknowledge that the system is broken. It is an opening that, with sufficient effort, we can turn into positive change. But as NYSUT’s statement says, “there is more hard work to be done,”  and unless we come together to do that work, these new regulations will wind up doing more harm than good. Here’s a quick summary of what that harm is or may be:

More, not fewer, tests

Commissioner Elia insists that there will be “no additional testing,” but this is just not accurate. The regulations require that all teachers be given a growth score based on student achievement, so districts (like ours) which do not already have final exams in all grades would need to create (or use commercially produced) final exams, thus adding additional testing to the year. Because it will be necessary to create “pre-” and “post-” local tests, students in grades 3-8 may find themselves taking three times as many tests each year. For now, districts that have been granted a waiver for 2015/16 do not need to add additional tests (allowing those teachers to be evaluated solely by observation), but that would be for this year only (nearly all districts in the state, including SWR, applied for, and were granted, waivers). Also, although the statement in the first paragraph seems to make it clear that Regents exams cannot be used for evaluations, the FAQ document appears to say otherwise (see question 9).

More, not fewer, test-based ratings

Although they don’t count for students or teachers, the state tests will still be given, and teachers will still be getting a score based on them. The score just can’t be used for employment decisions (e.g. tenure, dismissal, putting a teacher on a TIP).  In other words, teachers whose scores were based on state tests will now be getting two evaluation scores, a “transition score,” which does not include state tests, and an “original composite score,” which does. So if your students don’t do well on the state tests, you will still have the pleasure of being labeled as developing or ineffective – although the rating can only be used for  “advisory” purposes (whatever that means).  It will also be shared alongside the transition score if parents request a teachers’ rating.

Students (and teachers) are still being assessed on Common Core

As noted, the moratorium is on STATE common core tests. But the requirements continue to call for testing, and since our math and ELA curriculum is still based on the common core, then obviously our local tests will need to be as well (unless we’ll be testing students on something other than what we’re teaching them). So even though the commission found serious flaws with the Common Core that necessitate it being revisited and revised over the next few years, it will still be used for evaluation.

A false sense of security

The way the press has been reporting this story, along with misleading statements from Commissioner Elia (e.g. “Now that we’ve put the use of assessments for evaluations on hold…”), make it seem that, at least for the time being, things are just fine. Obviously, they are not, and the big fear is that just as we need to get people involved and active, they will become complacent and will not push for the legislative change that is needed. Along with the the issues above, we need to remember that all the other negative aspects of the Education Transformation act (diminished due process, unrealistic tenure requirements, school takeovers, etc) remain in place.  The longer this law stays on the books, the more difficult it will become to swing things back.


A strong, organized, push will be necessary to bring people together to fight for change. We hope that people respond. We will keep you posted.

Friedrichs Recap

Oral arguments began today in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. A lot has been written on this but if you need a recap, here’s a very short summary, followed by some links for greater detail and more analysis.

What this case is about

Current law (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 1977) says that while public employees may refuse to join unions, they can still be required pay for the cost of representation (although this varies by state, as noted below). This makes sense as public employee unions are required to negotiate on behalf of ALL employees, and any employees who don’t contribute to that cost are, essentially, getting a free ride courtesy of their co-workers.

Workers who do not wish to support the political activities of a union are required to pay only an “agency fee,” an arrangement designed to protect the First Amendment rights of those who don’t agree with the union’s political activities. (Note that in New York, all political activity is funded through voluntary VOTE COPE contributions and no dues are used for this purpose).

What the plaintiffs in Friedrichs are claiming is that since public unions negotiate with public entities, ALL of their activities are inherently political. For example, when a union negotiates for salary and benefits with public school district, that impacts how taxes are spent and the employees themselves may not agree with that. If you cock your head to the side and close one eye, I suppose you can see a certain logic to this, but it falls apart pretty quickly.

The stakes

Currently, twenty-seven states are so-called “right to work” states, where public employees can not only decline to join unions, they can refuse to contribute to the costs incurred for their own representation. In these states, unions have less influence and union workers earn less and have fewer benefits. And as a number of studies have shown, it isn’t just union workers who lose out – the decline of unions negatively impacts all workers.

If the court rules for the plaintiffs, then, in effect, every state will become a “right to work” state. It is a bit of hyperbole to say (as some have implied) that such a decision will destroy public sector unions. What will actually happen will depend on how union members respond. Will members put their own short-term interests (i.e. saving a few dollars on dues) ahead of the long-term needs of their colleagues and their community? If enough do, across the country, across the state, and within SWRTA it will significantly impact the union’s ability to effectively do its job. And while it may not have ramifications for our next contract, it will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the following one.

What’s next

There is no telling when a decision may be reached. It might go all the way to the Spring. The general consensus in the press seems to be that the most likely scenario is a ruling against unions, and an article in today’s New York Times on today’s proceedings definitely leans that way.

We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, If you’d like to read more,  check out the links below.

Friedrichs for Dummies (a no-nonsense summary from the Curmudgucation blog)

How Friedrichs v. Calif. Teachers Association Could Actually Be a Boon for Unions (An interesting perspective from In These Times)

State and Union Rights are at stake (Another interesting take on the case from USA Today)

The American Bar Association Journal’s article on the case

New Threat to Public Employee Unions (SCOTUS Blog)