Today the Black community has an opportunity to take real leadership in ending our cities’ persistent educational crisis. We have an opportunity to change the game by impacting the negotiations that are currently happening between the Minneapolis Public School District and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT).
We can do this by individually and collectively raising our voices in support of the Contract for Student Achievement (CSA).
CSA is a manifesto created by active parents, citizens and stakeholders. It calls on the district administration and MFT to “negotiate a different kind of contract — one that recognizes the academic crisis in our schools and makes student achievement the top focus.”
As stated in the CSA, “The teachers’ contract currently being negotiated represents almost $240 million in annual wages and benefits and directly controls who is teaching our children in the classroom. This is in addition to the district administration costs of $19 million annually. All of this is paid for with our public tax dollars.”
The CSA is not an attack on teachers, collective bargaining or tenure. We love and value our teachers and believe in their right to protect themselves. We also believe that our most effective teachers need to be supported and protected regardless of how much time they’ve been teaching.
The contract changes being requested in the CSA are based on best practices from around the country as well as a wealth of research on school effectiveness. They also align with the district’s own strategic plan.
Here is an outline of what the CSA calls for in the 2011-2013 teachers’ contract focused on the power of effective teaching:
1) Shift to performance-based staffing.
Make effectiveness, not seniority, the chief criteria for teachers’ hiring, placement and lay-off decisions. Further, tie staffing decisions to a transparent teacher evaluation process that include student growth data, classroom observations by trained evaluators, student surveys and feedback from parents.
2) Allow every Minneapolis school to hire from the widest possible talent pool.
School leadership teams need the authority to choose the licensed teacher they believe will be most effective with their students, whether or not the candidate currently works for the district. End the practice of forcing schools to hire from the limited pool of tenured or excessed MPS teachers.
3) End forced placements of teachers in schools that do not choose to hire them.
Under our current contract, all tenured teachers are guaranteed a job if there are any openings that fit their licensure. Each year hundreds of teachers are placed in schools, even if site leadership teams do not believe these teachers are an appropriate fit for their school or students.
This must stop. Under our proposed open hiring system, tenured teachers who are not selected by any school should be given alternative work assignments for one year. If after one year they are still unable to find work within MPS, they should be released with the right to reapply at any time. Taxpayers should not have to continually pay the salaries and benefits of teachers that MPS schools do not want to hire.
4. Extend learning time for those who need it.
Successful schools have realized the benefit of increasing opportunities for students to learn by extending the time they receive quality instruction. The district has the right to give underperforming schools extended instruction time; the teachers have the right to be compensated for it.
5. Remove poor performers.
Simplify and shorten the process for discharging chronically ineffective teachers to under 12 months.
According to The New Teacher Project’s study, only one percent of tenured MPS teachers are referred to the Peer Assessment Review process (PAR), which under our current contract rules is the proscribed method for dealing with underperforming teachers and can take up to 18-24 months. Out of this one percent, less than half are dismissed, resign or retire.
This means that under the current PAR criteria, 99.5 percent of our tenured teachers are considered effective. This isn’t credible for any profession. The PAR process either needs to be scrapped or drastically changed.
On behalf of our children and our community, I am asking you to email, write and call all the MPS School Board members and the MFT president. Tell them that you would like to see the changes outlined in the CSA reflected in the 2011-2013 contract. A full copy of the Contract for Student Achievement can be found at http://csampls.tumblr.com/CSAletter.
And, please go to http://csampls.tumblr.com/CSAsignup to sign your name as a supporter of the CSA. By doing so you will be adding your name to a growing list of individual and organizational CSA supporters such as Tim Baylor and Mike Ciriesi from the business community; Rev. Jerry McAfee, Father Michael O’Connell and Bill English from the faith community; the Urban League and NAZ from the nonprofit sector; Hon. Meg Tuthill and Don Samuels from the city council; former school board members T. Williams, Chris Stewart and Pam Costain; the African American Leadership Forum, MinnCAN and Put Kids First Mpls, three MN advocacy groups; and a host of MPS parents, activists and neighbors.
This is your time on the stage of history to act. By taking action and signing your name as a supporter of the CSA, you can change the educational trajectory of our most vulnerable children.
Sondra Samuels welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.