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Jan 222013

During the Summer, 2011 the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducted a national study on the strength of teacher’s unions and their role in shaping or reshaping education policy.  The Executive Summary is outlined below and the full  report can be found here. 20121029-Union-Strength-Full-Report

Executive Summary

In recent years, debates over school reform have increasingly focused on the role of teacher unions in the changing landscape of American K–12 education. On one hand, critics argue that these unions, using their powerful grip on education politics and policy to great effect, bear primary responsibility for blocking states’ efforts to put into place overdue reforms that will drive major-league gains in our educational system. Such critics contend that the unions generally succeed at preserving teacher job security and other interests, and do so at the expense of improved opportunities for kids.

On the other side, we find union defenders who stoutly maintain that these organizations are bulwarks of professionalism in education, that their power is greatly exaggerated, that their opposition to misguided reforms is warranted, and that they couldn’t possibly account for achievement woes—considering that highly unionized states perform at least as well as any others (and better than many) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other indicators.
This debate has taken on an international aspect, too, as critics of U.S. reform initiatives (and defenders of unions) point out that teachers are unionized all over the world, including nearly all the countries that surpass us on comparative achievement measures such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Both sides agree that, for better or worse, teacher unions look out for teacher interests. This study sheds light on how they use politics to do this, by measuring teacher union strength, state by state, more comprehensively than any other study to date.

It sought answers to three questions:
1. What elements are potential sources of a union’s strength (i.e., inputs)?
2. How might unions wield power in terms of behavior and conduct (i.e., processes and activities)?
3. What are signs that they have gotten their way (i.e., outcomes)?

We do not limit the answers to those questions to routinely-studied channels of union strength such as membership density and bargaining status, though we do include those. We also include such other measures as alignment between state policies and traditional union interests, union contributions to political campaigns, and the impressions of union influence held by knowledgeable participant-observers within the states. We chose to focus on state-level unions rather than local ones, because the state organizations are apt to affect education policy on a large scale.

To gauge union strength at the state level, we gathered and synthesized data for thirty-seven different variables across five broad areas:

Area 1: Resources and Membership: Internal union resources (members and revenue), plus K–12 education spending in the state, including the portion of such spending devoted to teacher salaries and benefits.
Area 2: Involvement in Politics: Teacher unions’ share of financial contributions to state candidates and political parties, and their representation at the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Area 3: Scope of Bargaining: Bargaining status (mandatory, permitted, or prohibited), scope of bargaining, right of unions to deduct agency fees from non-members, and legality of teacher strikes.
Area 4: State Policies: Degree of alignment between teacher employment rules and charter school policies with traditional union interests.
Area 5: Perceived Influence: Results of an original survey of key stakeholders within each state, including how influential the unions are in comparison to other entities in the state, whether the positions of policymakers are aligned with those of teacher unions, and how effective the unions have been in stopping policies with which they disagree.

Using these data, we rank the relative strength of state-level teacher unions in fifty-one jurisdictions as compared to one another (fifty states plus Washington, D.C.). To do this, we score the state separately on each of the five areas and rank the states according to those scores. We then average the five area scores and re-rank the states accordingly.


Nov 052012

On November 3rd, a State Department of Education Arbitration Panel rendered its decision and award in the collective bargaining agreement between the Norwalk Board of Education (BOE) and the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) for a successor agreement to the existing contract following the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Both parties met 3 times for direct negotiations and after that with a mutually agreed mediator, on 2 occasions, but failed to resolve outstanding issues and so the collective bargaining agreement went into arbitration.   Below is the decision and award in its entirety along with the BOE and NFT  Briefs.  Also included are exhibits that benchmark Norwalk’s contract items against other teacher contracts  in cities and town around Connecticut.

NORWALK 2012 11 AWARD (3)



Norwalk Teacher Arbitration Brief 2012 FINAL 10-19


Norwalk BOE Exhibits 1 thru 18

Norwalk BOE Exhibits 19 thru 37

Oct 212012

Arbitration hearings were held last weekend, Friday October 12th- Sunday October 14th between the Board of Education and Norwalk Federation of Teachers at City Hall.

Attached  is a  report prepared by Tom Hamilton, Director of Finance regarding  City’s Financial Capability Relative to Collective Bargaining Agreements.

Our school budget is likely to be further constrained going forward.  Additionally, any shift in taxes, resulting from the forthcoming revaluation may well exacerbate the City’s budget.  All this points to the need for a strong Superintendent and  much better supervision of the public school system by the Board of Education.

2012 Ability to Pay – binding arbitration testimony

Oct 082012

The Norwalk Federation of Teachers Contract Arbitration will take place on Friday, October 12, 10am to 4pm; Saturday, October 13, 10am to 4pm and Sunday, October 14, 1pm to 6pm in Norwalk City Hall, Room 300.

This is a formal hearing before an arbitration panel that will take testimony only from witnesses designated by the Board of Education and the NFT.

There will be no public comments permitted although the public may attend to observe the proceedings.

Agendas for the three day hearings will be published when released.

Jul 152012

One of the weaknesses of the reform legislation passed this spring in Hartford was that nothing was done to move educator quality forward by getting rid of the Last In First Out Policy (LIFO) and the forced placement and  bumping that takes place in the event of a reduction in force.  The poor economy is forcing municipalities across the U.S. to  lay off teachers, administration and support staff.  But in lean times, are the best performers being let go?  What is in the best interests of the children?  Norwalk will be handing out pink slips in the next week or so whereby nearly 90 staff will be let go.  Between the layoffs and bumping procedures, every school will be impacted.

Hopefully, in the next legislative session, the State of Connecticut will introduce other factors for consideration, besides the date of hire, in the event that the economy does not improve the tax base or that Norwalk receives its fair share of ECS revenues and more forced reductions  are required.

We have published the seniority lists of the NPS administration and teachers for parents of the different schools to view, so as to better understand the impact of the LIFO process versus performance.  We will be publishing the support staff seniority list shortly.   We have also included an op-ed from the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. school district.

Copy of administrators seniority512

Copy of teachers72012

NFEP Groups 1_2_4_5_6_7_8

Below is an editorial written by Michelle Rhee is the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools and the CEO and founder of StudentsFirst.org, which advocates teacher evaluations and eliminating tenure and making policy decisions based on students’ needs.

End ‘last in, first out’ teacher layoffs  By Michelle Rhee, Special to CNNFebruary 23, 2011 5:47 p.m. EST

(CNN) — State leaders across the country are confronting some of the toughest decisions they have ever had to make in order to balance their budgets amid a massive financial crisis. As a parent who has worked in education for almost 20 years, knowing that budget cuts will soon hit education is far from my ideal.

A wave of layoffs will likely happen this summer, and my group, StudentsFirst.org, calculates that at least 160,000 teachers are at risk of losing their jobs. What makes this even tougher on kids is that the majority of the country’s states and school districts conduct layoffs using an antiquated policy referred to as “last in, first out.” The policy mandates that the last teachers hired are the first teachers fired, regardless of how good they are. As it stands now, teachers’ impact on students plays absolutely no role in these decisions.

When we fold “last in, first out” policies into the budget crisis, our children stand to lose some of the best teachers in the country unless states work very quickly to erase the policies from the books. Most people know by now that international tests show our kids perform behind other developed countries, and far too many American students are graduating without the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for high-skilled jobs.

One thing is clear: We will not reverse this trajectory or regain our global standing without the powerful work of America’s great teachers. Especially now, the status quo won’t do. We have to be more competitive than ever, not less. Yet in almost every state across the country, the last in, first out policy is softening America’s competitive edge.

In difficult times like this, it may be easier to turn a blind eye to the compelling connection between teachers and our future long-term prosperity. We cannot do this to our kids. If we want to come out on the other side of this crisis with public education stronger, we have to do everything possible to keep our best teachers in the classroom. Last in, first out policies actively work against this goal. Here’s why:

First, research indicates that when districts conduct seniority-based layoffs, we end up firing some of our most highly effective educators. These are the inspiring and powerful teachers that students remember for the rest of their lives, and our nation will lose more of them with every such layoff.

Second, last in, first out policies increase the number of teachers that districts have to lay off. Because junior teachers make less money, schools will lose more teachers and more jobs as long as these policies are permitted by law.

And finally, last in, first out disproportionately hurts the highest-need schools. These schools have larger numbers of new teachers, who are the first to lose their jobs in a layoff. High-income areas have more stable systems and fewer new teachers, and they are less impacted by budget cuts. Students who live in these poor areas can’t afford to lose their best teachers on top of those cuts. Yet last in, first out will drain the school systems of their best educators in the neighborhoods that need them the most.

We cannot afford to ignore the effect that such a policy has on kids. It’s time to act.

The bottom line is layoffs should be based on teacher performance and effectiveness, not seniority — regardless of whether the teacher is new or been in the system for a while. Achievement varies from student to student, and so I support a “value-added” growth model that effectively measures a teacher’s impact on student progress.

In early December, I launched StudentsFirst, a national movement to defend the rights of children in public education. Our first major initiative is the national Save Great Teachers campaign, in which we’re urging states to make policy changes ridding the nation’s public schools of harmful last in, first out polices. Those who want legislators to revise state policies should visit StudentsFirst.org to find out what they can do to help.

Together, we can save great teachers by working to hold districts, boards of education and state legislators accountable. Let’s eliminate outdated policies and give our children the quality education they deserve.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michelle Rhee.


Jan 312012

Last week, the largest teachers union in Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) recommended a new three- tiered evaluation system with no single test score or indicator being used to assess student learning.  The group has been a strong advocate for teachers participating in the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) that has been meeting for over a year.

Following are the weighted percentages for teacher evaluation guidelines:

  1. Multiple indicators of student learning will count as 45% of the evaluation. Half of that 45% weight will come from a standardized test, which would be either, the CMT, CAPT, or another valid, reliable test that measures student learning.
  2. Teacher performance and professional practice will be weighted at 40%.
  3. Other peer, student, and parent feedback will be weighted at 5% with professional activities counting for 10%.

Mary Loftus Levine, CEA executive director said, “It was a compromise by consensus, which was reached after many months of long, tough conversations.  “What the positive consensus shows is that all education stakeholders want the same results. And we and other members of PEAC are pleased to have developed a structure for a fair, reliable, and valid evaluation system with accountability for all. Student achievement is the overarching goal.”

CEA’s consensus is consistent with the goals set out by Governor Malloy and new Commission of Education Stefan Pryor, whereby the teaching profession is elevated, by holding everyone accountable, while producing a system that is fair, valid, reliable, and useful.

Teacher concerns still remain about how to define, implement, and include the “multiple indicators of student academic growth and development.”

The framework for the new CEA evaluation guidelines will be the basis for local school districts to go back and design local plans working with their local teachers unions.  District’s that determine they don’t have the capacity to design their own local plans can have the State Department of Education (SDE) provide a model or detailed template. Those districts that already have exceptional models, will be available to receive a waiver from the SDE.

PEAC is also working on administrator guidelines. CEA will share details as they are determined.


Copies of  the current evaluation process for Norwalk Public Schools administrators (NASA) and teachers (NFT) can be found on the Documents and Reports page of this website.


Aug 072011

This week the Wall Street Journal reported on an internal power point document that brags about the strategies used by the leadership and lobbyists of the American Federation of Teachers’ union to undermine parent groups in Connecticut.  The document demonstrates what parents and reformers are up against in the quest to clean up public school education.  RiShawn Biddle of DropOut Nation first uncovered the document on August 2nd entitled “How Connecticut Diffused the Parent Trigger” and explains how the union did it.   The document has since been taken off the AFT website.

While AFT  President, Randi Weingarten has repeatedly gone on the record as saying that she and the AFT support systemic reform in education and a collaborative approach with the community (she even echoed that sentiment to me directly at a Yale Leadership in Education Conference that I attended this past spring) the power point presentation demonstrates an attempt to kill parent voice in different parent and local communities,  confuse the community on what the educational issues are as well as the power they have over state legislators.

Let me restate that Red APPLES is pro- reform and pro teacher (despite the attacks we get for publishing information and data that we come across)  but  this document  is being posted  because  it provides a small glimpse into the concerted organizational leadership and strategy used by the AFT to slow-down or outright oppose any change that is directed by local communities, parent groups and/or even their own state teacher groups like  the CEA (Connecticut Education Association!)   It’s a bit of a David versus Goliath scenario, and it really doesn’t need to be.  Is education reform really about ongoing teacher development and kids anymore or is it about maintaining power from those historically in charge ?

Now lets examine our own backyard.   Given the  educational challenges Norwalk  faces (like the rest of the nation) not to mention the  personal attacks on the new superintendent or different members of the BoE, who undoubtedly try to serve in the best interests of the children;  can some of our troubles be tracked back to an overall strategy  by union leadership (either teacher or administrator or both ) to keep the community so fraught with chaos that it will undoubtedly slow down any attempt to change or improve the system?  Or are we just that disorganized?   I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and genuinely believe that Norwalk is making great strides with regard to  improving its test scores and 98% of staff are working extremely hard under the most challenging and stressful of circumstances  financially and managerially.  But,  just imagine WHAT could be accomplished, if somehow the various educational leaders in Norwalk somehow behaved as if we were all in this together?  Check out the power point presentation and draw your own conclusions.

Now, more than ever it is important for parent groups, school districts, boards of education and union leadership to come together on local reform initiatives.  Increasingly businesses and foundations will be looking for cities and school districts that have good working relationships with their union leadership as educational reforms move forward.  Let’s hope Norwalk is on their shortlists.