UFT Strikes Again

If you listen to the folks who run the United Federation of Teachers, their union constantly has the best interests of New York’s million-plus public school children in mind.

They adhere to outdated work rules for the sake of the children. They resist innovation for the sake of the children. They demand lifetime job security for the sake of the children.

And now, for the sake of the children, the UFT has foiled efforts to install a proper evaluation system, costing New York City’s public schools $240 million in state aid.

A blown opportunity. Gone. For the sake of the children.

And here’s the best part: the union’s devotion to the city’s children is so strong that is willing to sacrifice hundreds of millions more rather than agree to a reasonable plan to evaluate UFT members.

Yes, it’s all about the children, all right. It’s all about the resources the children will not receive as a result of the union’s scandalous intransigence. It’s all about the opportunities the children will be denied because the union refuses the most basic sort of accountability.

Here’s the background: in order to qualify for federal funds as part of President Obama’s Race to the Top program, New York’s 700 school districts had to have in place a proper teacher evaluation system by January 17. The city and the union were well aware of the stakes involved. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had made it clear that increases in state school spending were tied to the implementation of evaluation systems. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted more than a year ago that the city and other districts around the state were lagging behind in efforts to implement evaluation systems. And Mr. Duncan made it clear that districts without such a system would lose out.

The deadline came and went without an agreement in New York City (and in three much-smaller districts). According to Mayor Bloomberg, the UFT walked away from talks. Federal officials now say that the entire state may suffer as a result, with about $700 million in Race to the Top money endangered statewide.

The union, of course, has always resisted accountability. Its leaders loved the old system of evaluation, which sounds like something invented in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon—everybody was above average. A more-rigorous system threatens the union’s comfort zone.

The sticking point now is the union’s demand that a new evaluation system come up for renewal—or possibly brought to an end—in 2015. As the mayor rightly noted, it takes several years to evaluate a teacher’s performance. It would be, as he said, a cruel joke to implement a plan that would do little or nothing to bring accountability into the classroom.

The state Education Department informed the city that if it doesn’t come to an agreement with the UFT by Feb. 15 and begin implementing an evaluation plan by March 1, the state could begin to redirect state funds currently designated for the city. That’s no empty threat. The city could lose out on more than $250 million in Race to the Top money, and in a worst-case scenario, nearly $1 billion in state grants.

So it’s up to the UFT now. Will it accept basic accountability, or will it sit by while the city’s school children are denied extra funding?

For once, you’d think the union really would put the children ahead of its reactionary agenda. But don’t hold your breath.