Sunday, June 13, 2010

Teachers voting on whether to accept new contract

From the PG:


Questioner said...

From the PG article:

"Mr. Roosevelt, 54, said the performance pay model that the district and union officials agreed upon -- to apply to only new teachers -- reflects general ambivalence in education circles towards the efficacy of performance pay.

"We looked all over the country for a model we could [adapt], and what we learned is that the policy is ahead of the research on this issue," said Mr. Roosevelt.

Research, he added, does not back the conventional wisdom that an outright merit-pay regime imposed on all teachers at once significantly boosts student achievement."

- So does the research show that a gradual merit pay regime significantly boosts student achievement?

Anonymous said...

This article was just more PPS/PFT propaganda. When this contract is up 5 years from now, PPS will be in an even bigger mess than it already is. Tarka, Gensure, and co. will be retired so what do they care?

It is interesting to note that the PFT ballots are being counted around 4:00 and a few hours later at 7:15 the BOE already has a meeting scheduled to ratify the contract... Talk about being sure about a vote! Won't it be funny if the teachers vote the contract down?

Just Passing Through said...

I would like to make a comment about the word "research" as used by Mr. Roosevelt in the article.

School administrators across the country often refer to educational "research" when rolling out new initiatives. I really do not fault them for this.

But what the general public needs to know is just how vague and limited educational research is.

It is not at all like scientific research!

In science, research projects tend to complement each other.

For example, suppose a scientist published a report on the weight of a molecule. Unless this scientist made a gross error, future studies of that molecule would tend to confirm, then refine, the first study.

This is not at all like educational "research!

I've been to in-services where the afternoon speaker's "research" directly contadicts the morning speaker's "research".

I've read educational journals where the the second article directly contadicts the first.

Example: First article: "Research shows that students do better when grouped by ability, as the class can move at its own pace."

Second article: "Reseach shows that students do better when not grouped by ability, as students can help each other."

That is rather rare in science. Where scientists often argue about theory, it is quite unusual to see directly contradicting experimental results.

Sorry for being so long-winded here, but the general public needs to know that educational "research" is better thought of as educational "opinion."

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with following an educational opinion. But it should not have the same weight or confidence level as true scientific research.

Anonymous said...

This article should have been printed side by side with this article:

There is currently NO research that states merit pay or performance pay helps improve test scores or student achievement.

The implication behind merit pay is that if you pay a teacher more, they will do better work. That is just absolutely not true. Also, Tarka and Roosevelt speak as they are leading the pack in creative ways to improve test scores. There is nothing new or creative about this. In Florida, there has been a debate going on about this for years. Notice the date in the article – 2007.

Tarka and Roosevelt are not innovative. They should have been researching things like this to see the impact of what they are proposing. They certainly are aware of what has been going on in Florida the past several months where the state was trying to pass a bill about performance pay for teachers.

What they do not tell the public is that if they want access a lot of the federal money floating around out there, they have to do this. Again, it is not about what is best for the students. It is about MONEY. It is disgusting. They (Tarka & Roosevelt) are disgusting. This article explains a little more about that.

The NEA (National Education Association) opposes merit pay. Here is an article showing another branch of the AFT that does NOT support performance pay for teachers and why.

Since this is so long because it has me so angry, I will end with this final article. It is the most recent “research” that shows Performance Pay did NOT impact student performance in Chicago.

Roosevelt – Go back to business – You have no “business” being in education.
Tarka – Just leave.

Questioner said...

It is interesting that administrative salaries and bonuses (except for principals) have not been tied to PSSA or SAT performance. Maybe we can look more closely at how merit bonuses have worked for principals, before extending it to teachers.

Anonymous said...

Just passing, the research and opinion info/conflict is exactly why many, not all, parents just cloud the issues. We only live the portion of education covering our own kids, yet many of us rely fully on what is presented to us ad nauseum, and accept it. Then repeat it. It is almost as bad as listening to a blowviator malign the teaching profession and pass what he says along as facts. It is not too late to ask the kids, recent grads, what was most valuable to them.

Old Timer said...

It's funny to me that government officials have press officers that contact the media for coverage of various events and meetings, et al. We have strayed so far from investigative reporting in this country that reporters simply pass along the info without question. And the public swallows it.
The PG is certainly in line with this modern thinking, and it speaks loudly about the demise of journalism in the US.
Here is an instance in which PPS and the PFT have invited the PG to write an article perfectly timed to act in concert with a crucial vote. They have also contacted local TV. Clearly, they are not only trying to sway teacher votes (it's a bit too late for that as the vote is largely in the mail already) and they are trying to garner public support.
It's funny to me how few people understand what has been taking place before their very eyes over the past two decades with regards to news reporting. We're in a time period that almost squelches the idea of individual thought on issues and we see it nationally and locally. Many people spend a great deal more time on the sensational news, the sports, the Hollywood angle.
I knew we had reached Orwell's vision of human existence long ago, but this type of article--written by a PG reporter but hatched on Bellefield Ave and South Tenth Street--brings it closer to home.
I will again invite any reader or any member of the general public to sit down with any teacher who writes here to get a feel for what he or she goes through on a daily basis. Try to understand the dedication involved, the planning, the foresight. And try to get a feel for the stress being handed down by PPS administration--individuals not in the classroom and people who'd rather jump out of a window than work with your kids.

Again, no PPS teacher with a modicum of self respect would vote for this contract proposal. Simply put, it is an insult, as are the words of Mr.Tarka and Mr.Roosevelt.

Questioner said...

We have to wonder if the gradual merit pay approach was chosen not because it is backed by research, but because it is the only way enough votes might be obtained. Most of the new teachers the model will apply to haven't been hired yet and don't have a vote.

Just as there was a rush to replace existing principals with new principals once PELA was in place, we can expect a rush to try out the new model and put in as many new teachers as possible. A concern would be that just as we lost good, experienced principals we may lose good, experienced teachers.

(Sadly) Watching the Ship Sink said...

Questioner, your 2:02 posting is right on target, especially your concern that we may lose good, eperienced teachers.

There are a more than a few excellent teachers in my building who are updating their resumes. The convoluted, unrealistic polices from Oakland are driving them out.

I also know of fine, older teachers who are looking at early retirement for the same reason.

And there's another thing to consider.

Two student teachers in my building separately told me that their university mentors have advised them not to apply to the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that Mr. Gensure was mentioned prominently in the PG article. Found it interesting that his age was mentioned, as if to underscore that he has plenty of years left to serve the union in at least a role appropriate for an employee of the union. Or could it have been included to point to the possibility of a retirement in the future? The superintendent's age also being mentioned gives it a level of "just reporting the facts" but really the age of either was not relevant, at least to me. Couldn't the board meeting scheduled just as likely have been planned as a first step in the back to the drawing board process?

Old Timer said...

Questioner, thanks for your comment. I have to think that you see the light in all of this. Unions necessarily must be adversarial with corporate leadership, and not under the sheets with them. Tarka's comments about "mediocre teachers" probably destroyed any hopes he might have had at winning over his rank and file. Wow. Who would have believed a union head would say such a thing.

As for losing teachers, understand this (and Eleanor Chute's article makes it clear): once you have reached step 10 in PPS, you basically are locked into the district. You would have to opt for a pretty incredible pay cut, and most prospective employers at other districts wouldn't even offer you the job in full knowledge of this.
Sad times for teachers. The Pitt comment is logical. Admissions even scoffs at students who have great grades in the district's PSP area.
Roosevelt and Tarka continue to prove that you can still fool the multitudes of people.

Anonymous said...

Questioner, it is very true that the PELA and principal incentive pay have no track records. What happens when we have more PELA grads than positions available for them? What happens if so many want to travel career ladders that kids miss out on great teachers? What happens when the Office of Teacher Effectiveness is so big they slow down the learning process?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to thank the people who obviously didn't even read the proposed contract for sticking us with five years of "to be determined."

Anonymous said...

The vote needs to be contested. Before the mail-in ballot, teachers had to attend a ratification meeting to vote. Only active union members were admitted to the meeting by showing their ID. These votes are not reliable and should be invalidated.

Questioner said...

Here's the PG article:

Old Timer said...

I am going to steer away from commenting about the vote after tonight. It's counterproductive, and the people have spoken. Our union has changed a great deal in the past 20 years and people willing to fight for better conditions for teachers have largely come and gone and "old timers" like me are all that's left.
The paltry pay increase was one thing. I'm more concerned about it being open season on teachers. But you know, this contract will carry me into retirement, God willing. If the rank and file is unconcerned about the future, then why should I worry? It is what it is.

Lastly, the little voice in my head all along basically told me this contract would pass. I look at it this way: $40 million in Gates money, another $40 million in matching funding, Promise money, a state payday upcoming....well...I am sure the idea had to be that the house had to be in order from a teaching staff standpoint.
In the end, this was all about the money and the kids were an afterthought.

Anonymous said...

I am no longer a PPS parent and I have no reason to comment except that I live in the city. I have no experience with unions and contracts. I do know kids. If parents do not start demanding answers and state their clear expectations kids will suffer. The entire format of PSCC meetings should revolve around safety. The discipline committee should report at every PSCC meeting following the same format as the board all the suspensions and other disciplinary actions. This upcoming year, more than ever before, parents can make the difference. Don't stand around the bus stop complaining to other parents. Go to the people who should be able to fix your kids scheduling problem. Not the front office in your school, the people who tell them what to do. If we don't complain, everyone thinks all is well.

Anony-mouse said...

Seconding anonymous above. Call the parent hotline, go to the BOE, call your board member and tell everyone you can think of about the problems. Bring the parent hotline number and your board member's email to the bus stop!

I hear of too many principals who tell each parent "this is the first I've heard of it" implying that no one else has noticed discipline problems -- or academic problems.

Some of us parents are tagged as troublemakers and written off, so it's up to those of you who they think of as contented to make your concerns known!

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how few requests there are for feedback. Probably every parent can make positive suggestions for how their child's school or the curriculum can be improved and more likely to be considered by other parents for their kids, but we are rarely asked.

Anonymous said...

Can someone who voted for the contract tell us all what you liked best about it?

Anonymous said...

Old Timer,
I am not close to retirement, only half way there. Though,I have paid my dues in some tough schools. I am with you on this one. I too thank those who have stuck us with a five year contract of "to be determined". And what ever happened to ironing out the issues that we do and will contniue to face? Nothing in the old contract was revised that needed to be. Sarcastically I am glad our pay will now be left in the hands of adminstrators who may or may not be having a good day when they evaluate you. Oh and I have been waiting for about 5 months now for my return call from Mr. Gensure on an evaluation matter.

Anonymous said...

Mark Brently spoke for a lot of parents when he questioned whether or not the city could afford the contract. Note that I said CITY, because sooner or later, a large portion of the funds will go away to cover the costs. Foundations move on to other projects, gov't dollars are redirected like we saw with the ARRA money, etc. This "design it as you go" thing is in use far too much here. The EET and CTE plans for two examples. Seriously, the thought that "this is public education and what we get is all we deserve" has got to go away.

deegazette said...

A+ Schools came out in strong support for the contract. I don't know enough about it to have an opinion, but I don't think incentive pay will prove to help my child. What I do think will help kids involves capping class size at about 22, adding more support teachers to mainstream classrooms, giving teachers the time to reach out to parents with less phone tag, increasing security in the buildings...

Questioner said...

Dee's suggestions make perfect sense. It would be great to see them tried out even for a single year in a single building.

Anonymous said...

This is a sad day in education. It is a very sad day in PPS.

To all of the PPS teachers out there: good luck. You will need it.

Anonymous said...

deegazette - The issue of school security keeps coming up. You mentioned it at the end of your post.

If you ask many of the PPS staff and parents, the issue is not getting more but getting the current security to actually do their job.

School security have minimal requirements as far as education goes - high school diploma.

School security has a residency requirement - meaning that they have to live in the same neighborhoods as a lot of the kids they have to deal with. Therefore, I know a lot of them walk a fine line between being friendly with the kids and acting like security. Wouldn't you if you have to go home and your neighbor is the kid you just busted for drugs???

There are many flaws in the current PPS security system that need to be addressed before adding more.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, I asked a number of people in my building today how they voted and did not find one "yes" answer. Odd.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the traitors are afraid to admit the mistake they made. But I do question the validity of the vote results. Tapering with election ballots is a felony.

Anonymous said...

I know of at least two yes votes in my building: one planning to retire -- "this is the best you'll ever get" and another who voted as soon as his ballot arrived, I guess after reading the bulletin points of the contract.

The other 4 votes I know were all no.

Anonymous said...

I'm not from Pittsburgh originally, but live here now and believe in the work the District is doing. I am also a former teacher of 22 years and believe that unfounded frustrations and toxic language in education are exactly what is killing the landscape of the American public school. This is why I left the field and have been fortunate to have lived in Europe for the past 15 years.

The work in Pittsburgh will not be easy, but I believe your officials - including Mr. Tarka and Mr. Roosevelt have made incredible strides. They should be supported, not villainized.

FYI: As if you didn't know - Pittsburgh is in fact getting national and international attention and for all the right reasons. Your district is trying to fix a 50 year old problem - US public education is dying......

Here's a great example from Business Week.

In this article, I agree with Mr. Tarka's comments that "It's really, really easy to start a fight".

The comments on this entire blog are largely just about "starting a fight" not about fixing education. What side would you rather be on?

Questioner said...

There definitely is a lot of emphasis on trying to get national and international attention.

On this blog, though, the emphasis is on discussing the situation we are experiencing, sharing information, and making constructive suggestions- as well as insisting on transparency and effective public participation.

Anonymous said...

Agreed that we're getting a lot of attention.

Unfortunately what I see is that the better the headline or the write-up, the less likely that that's what's really happening in the schools or the larger the gap between the hype and the reality.

I'm a parent who NEVER seriously considered private education. NEVER. But I am now considering. Not planning, not pricing currently, but aware that within the next two or three years if hype and truth don't begin to converge, it will be a necessity. It makes me tear up to write that.

"unfounded frustrations" << what do you see as qualifying under this heading?

Questioner said...

What if the headlines reflected reality, spin free...

Kathy Fine said...

Anon 7:59, you are spot on that the toxic language that is used by some bloggers on this site is detrimental to the process of informed, rational debate and exchange of information, and I, as well as the moderator of the blog have said as much many times in the past. But let's not throw out the proverbial "baby with the bathwater". There are many people participating in this forum that are sharing valuable information and asking thoughtful questions. Part of the reason that the problems with our public schools date back 50 years as you stated is that parents and other stakeholders have had a difficult time having their voice heard, and this forum provides a basis for that process.

However, there are many points in you post with which I have to disagree. The national attention that our school district is getting is reflective of the fact that the current administration has shown a great aptitude in getting money into the district and making the most of the publicity that comes with it. It is not that the administration's ideas are bad, it is the development and implementation of their ideas that has many questioning the current reforms. It is the lack of any real stakeholder involvement (committees with handpicked membership, closed meetings). It is spending millions on CEP when the dismal track record of this company was well documented before we entered into a contract with them.

I have been following the current reforms very closely and I could go on and on, but that would be entirely too long of a posting.

I agree that the job of reforming our schools is tremendously difficult. I was one that was very pleased that we had a mandate for change 5 years ago and that we seemed to have a new forward thinking superintendent in Mr. Roosevelt. I am not turning him (or Mr. Tarka) into a villain, but I do respectfully disagree with the huge amounts of money that is being spent on consultants, CEP, administrative salaries, superintendent's raises, slick marketing materials, and now $30 million in merit bonuses when teachers are running out of pencils at the end of the year. This money should be going in at the grass routes level where it will directly benefit students. I just spoke to a principal that has had to let many paraprofessionals go over the last 4 years! That is the opposite of what we need!

As I said, I could go on and on. I would love to sit down with you and further discuss our school reforms if you are so inclined (

Anonymous said...

Factual reporting is a dead art. You cannot believe everything you read in print.

Kathy, again you have demonstrated your keen sense of 'critical thinking.' Parents and community members, including teachers, need to ask the hard questions and demand the truth. If the facts do not add up, then it 'ain't' true. There are many reasons to be concerned with the direction this District is going. The 'European' way is not the model 'Americans' should be trying to emulate.

Anonymous said...
Pittsburgh Teachers, Schools Hail 5-Year Contract
Pittsburgh Teachers Paid-For-Performance
POSTED: 8:01 am EDT June 16, 2010
UPDATED: 8:55 am EDT June 16, 2010
PITTSBURGH -- Call it collaborative bargaining. When the Pittsburgh Public Schools and its teachers' union began talks last year for a new contract, the tone was decidedly different from the usual collective bargaining process. Tense face-to-face meetings, lawyers and demands were replaced with a weekend retreat at a downtown hotel, input from principals and teachers, and discussions.
On Monday, the district and the teachers union ratified a new contract that both sides said was the result of a new way to do business. They hailed the 5-year agreement as historic for its length and the inclusion of new incentives for teachers, including a pay-for-performance pilot program that could see eligible teachers pocket up to $8,000 extra a year.
"In a very strong union town, with a very strong teachers' union, we were able to go into a process of being adults who are charged with a responsibility of improving student outcomes and treat that with respect," Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said Tuesday.
The merit-pay program is voluntary for existing teachers at the top of the pay scale, which is about $77,300 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree in the coming school year. For new teachers, the contract calls for a separate pay scale based on performance.
Called Empowering Effective Teachers, the plan was the basis for a proposal made last year to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation approved the plan and has given the district $40 million for efforts to improve teacher quality.
The district and union worked on the Gates proposal together, and rolled that into contract talks.
"We approached this in a way where we sat down to resolve problems," said John Tarka, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. He said his two main objectives were providing stability to union members and improving the school district.
The contract also includes annual pay raises for the district's 2,900 teachers over five years, bonuses for schools that reach certain benchmarks and extra money for teachers who teach additional classes after school.
The pay-for-performance program follows a few dozen of the country's largest school districts that have adopted similar programs, said Emily Cohen, district policy director for the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Pittsburgh's new contract takes effect July 1.

"a very strong teachers' union..." ha ha! Roosevelt must be laughing - the union is destroyed. Imagine what the next contract will be like? That is if the system survives the next 5 years intact.

Questioner said...

Provisions that are only mandatory for those who don't get to vote (because they haven't hired yet) can't really be called collaborative.

Old Timer said...

I wanted to thank Ms.Fine, Questioner and all of the other good people who have put together PURE Reform and made this blog/message board possible. I want to thank you for allowing teachers to get their thoughts out there and want to thank you for your insights and opinions. Here's my hope that you will all have healthy, enjoyable and safe summers.
I wanted to address the Euro poster's comments briefly: they are so out of touch with the reality of urban education that it is shocking. In saluting an Ivory Tower mentality that is similarly out of touch, once again we see a "comrades in arms" approach to something in which we all should be fighting on the same side.
Detroit closed 32 schools today. Kansas City closed half of theirs in next year's budget. Washington has a superintendent whom one can only paint as maniacal in her methodology. Los Angeles recently pink slipped over 1000 teachers.
The list is endless.

The poster makes this note, "The work in Pittsburgh will not be easy, but I believe your officials - including Mr. Tarka and Mr. Roosevelt have made incredible strides. They should be supported, not villainized." First off, I am not sure there is a word such as
villainized", secondly, I would invite you to be my student teacher for a year next year. Please leave your email address. Let's see if you can deal with the never-ending amount of demands coming from administration in its efforts to look "progressive" in the eyes of the unknowing public, such as yourself. The kids will be one thing, of course, but the demands are a complete other torture. Work with me a year and then talk about the incredible strides. Here's the point, pal...the teachers and the students are making incredible strides. Not a corporate head and a union hack.

You then add this incredible gaffe, "FYI: As if you didn't know - Pittsburgh is in fact getting national and international attention and for all the right reasons. Your district is trying to fix a 50 year old problem - US public education is dying......"
"Dying"??? It has been dead for decades, killed by individuals who would rather teach kids what to think instead of how to think for themselves. Lose innovation and individual thought, gain drones. What can you be thinking?

The district is getting notoriety these days for Gates grant money that is earmarked because the word is that our teachers are ineffective. Our union leader agrees. We're getting notoriety because we have a fund to help kids pay for college, and a system in which we can inflate their grades to even get them there. We're getting notoriety because we are killing teacher input in the learning process and providing a canned, scripted curriculum which is rife with shortcomings.

It's easy to "villainize" when you're not in the classroom and not even in the country. Perhaps before you condemn the voices here, you should try to walk a mile in their shoes. Apparently, your time in Europe has allowed you to have your head in

Anonymous said...

Experienced Educator recommends reading Education Week:


Please READ the Front and Back page Articles in last week's EDUCATION WEEK____ June 9, 2010
VOL.29 NO 33

Very interesting and revealing as it provides alternate perspectives to the PPS/EET, Gates Foundation. and Broad Foundation Initiatives:

Front Page: "Merit-Pay Model Pushed by Duncan Shows No Achievement Edge" and " Student Progress No Better in Chicago Schools Using TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) by Stephen Sawchuck

Back Page: "Rethinking Teacher Accountability--Before It's Too Late" by James W. Stigler (UCLA-Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching)

Questioner said...

It sure would be nice to have a Board that shows some sign of having read articles like this and to hear deliberations on these issues. Too often what we see in Board discussions is a grab bag of comments and questions, with little discusson or debate about important underlying policy.

Anonymous said...

No disrespect to the Board members, but anyone can run for election. There aren't any requirements needed for the position; not even a HS diploma. And since most Board members have full time jobs, they most likely do not invest much time on issues.

Anonymous said...

E.E. responds:
It is so disheartening and discouraging to become more and more aware of the lack of knowledge, insight, and the possibilities for true reform in our educational system that holds in its hands the future of Pittsburgh's children. (They don't know what they don't know.)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Foundations could provide an OPEN EDUCATIONAL FORUM free to the public that examines more than one side of issues and innovations____some of which would remedy post haste the lack of achievement in PPS.

The Race in America Conference last week at Pitt did that in ways that could be TRANSFORMATIVE. Unfortunately, it was costly to attend even as a member of Pitt's faculty___and cost prohibitive for ordinary citizens.

Mark Roosevelt moderated one session which was incredibly dismaying; however, it did provide "excuses" for PPS lack of significant progress in education for African American students. YET, the session was followed by an African American professor who told us how to get the job done in no uncertain terms. It was sad that M.R was not in attendance and so few of PPS staff and Board were there to hear Dr. Pedro Noguero. He deserved a standing ovation!

Anonymous said...

In today'sPG:

Always partners

The subheadline on the June 23 Perspectives piece "A New Day Has Dawned in Pittsburgh" by teachers union leaders Randi Weingarten and John Tarka left a bad taste in my mouth. The subheadline -- "Teachers and administrators are now true partners in helping our students succeed" -- is not true. Teachers and school administrators have always been true partners in helping our students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools succeed.

Pittsburgh school principals have always gone above and beyond to help all students. Furthermore, the only new idea in the entire article is the career-ladder merit pay raise.

Squirrel Hill
The writer is a retired Pittsburgh Public Schools principal.

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