The UFT contract agreement has been the buzz in the educational blogosphere this week.

Much of the comments simply take note of the agreement and the discussion here at Edwize, as Education at the Brink does.

But there are some interesting commentaries and developments worthy of note.

Ms. Frizzle runs through the highlights of the agreement, taking note of the parts she likes [the lead teacher, the limits on micromanagement], and the areas where she has serious concerns [letters in the file, Circular 6R]. We have already addressed some of her concerns here, and will take on these topics again in the coming days.

Joel Klein made a cameo appearance in the blogosphere to comment on the contract settlement. A September 30 analysis of contract negotiations in the New York City civil service paper of record, The Chief, noted how Klein had scuttled a contract agreement a year ago because he was unable to eliminate from the collective bargaining agreement “work rules,” a code word for teacher voice and due process rights. Klein attempted the same maneuver in this round of negotiations, which The Chief described as “stamping his feet again,” but was unsuccessful. In the wake of the settlement, the Chancellor brought his Rumplestiltskin act to the Politicker blog to announce that he had, indeed, vanquished the “work rules” foe, because the lead teacher program was a form of “merit pay.”

That line may have worked with a person who does not know the particulars of the program, but it does not withstand minimal scrutiny. The lead teacher program has long been advocated by the UFT, and it has been a centerpiece of teacher career continuums developed by more progressive teacher unions around the nation. [See, for example, this excellent report on the lead teacher program pioneered by the teacher union in Rochester, NY.] The pilot program in the Bronx was started at the initiative of parent activists in the Bronx, the Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools [or CC9], with the full support and cooperation of the UFT. Lead teachers are selected through a collaborative process involving parents, teachers and DOE officials; in exchange for a differential of $10,000, they agree to work in a low-performing, high needs school, serving half-time as a classroom teacher and half-time providing mentoring and professional development for new and novice teachers.

From the UFT’s perspective, the lead teacher program is important because it creates positive incentives for experienced, accomplished teachers to move to low-performing, high-needs schools, and it provides career avenues and opportunities for teachers who do not want to leave teaching. It has nothing to do with “merit pay,” no matter how loosely defined, and everyone in education recognizes this fact. That is why, when the New York Times looked at “merit pay” programs in education across the US yesterday, New York City was not mentioned. One could hardly imagine such a survey overlooking such a “merit pay” proposal here, if it actually existed.

But for those desperate to find arguments for a vote against this contract settlement, the argument that the lead teacher program is a form of merit pay is now being made. Such a remarkable convergence between the Chancellor and contract opponents on the very same completely wrong, entirely implausible description of the lead teacher program leads inescapably to the old existential question a teacher confronts when two tests come back with the same answer, ‘The Civil War was called civil because they didn’t use any violence’: “Who copied from whom?” Write in your methods for discovering who actually thought up this scatter-brained line of argument, and who just copied it off the blog next to him, to BLOG@UFT.ORG. Note that we belong to the old school of educational thought on the subject of marking, and would give both bloggers a grade of zero.

And speaking of scraping the bottom of the barrel for arguments to oppose the contract settlement, did you notice the argument, all in CAPS, that one of the reasons for voting ‘no’ was that this contract contains a ‘zero tolerance’ clause on teacher sexual misconduct with students? Here at the UFT, we are proud of the fact that it was Randi who first proposed a ‘zero tolerance’ policy: teacher unionists come into teaching to nurture, not exploit, the youth entrusted to our care, and we believe that a teacher who is found to have sexually abused a student should be removed, without exception and as quickly as possible, from the schools and from the teaching profession. It is also essential that teachers who are falsely accused of sexual misconduct are made completely whole, and that the individuals who make false accusations are appropriately punished. That is why Randi and the UFT team negotiated those protections into the ‘zero tolerance’ clause. But with those protections present, there is absolutely no reason for teachers of integrity to provide anything but full support to a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ of teacher sexual misconduct with students. You won’t hear anything less from here.

UPDATE:

On the very subject of "merit pay," Chester Finn’s Gadfly sends out this nugget on the contract:

According to frequent critic Andrew Wolf, Chancellor Klein was the big loser. "Two weeks ago, at a conference in Washington, Mr. Klein boasted of a ’second term’ strategy that would provide for comprehensive merit pay differentials…[but] none of these merit pay proposals is incorporated in the contract."