Teaching Profession

Teachers’ Contract Hinders N.Y.C. Principals, Report Says

By Caroline Hendrie — June 23, 1999 3 min read

New York City’s book-length teacher contract is snarling principals in red tape, compromising their ability to lead their schools in an age of increasing accountability, a report by a university scholar argues.

The study by Dale Ballou, an associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, points to a series of provisions in the 204-page contract that he suggests are holding schools back. Among them are seniority rules and other constraints on hiring decisions; grievance procedures influencing teacher evaluation and discipline; and work rules governing job assignments.

For More Information

The report, “The New York City Teachers’ Union Contract: Shackling Principals’ Leadership” is available online at www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_6.htm.

Such constraints are particularly worrisome at a time when city school leaders are pressing to end tenure for principals as a means of holding them more accountable for student performance, Mr. Ballou’s report says. The principals’ union and district officials have been at loggerheads over that issue for months as they have unsuccessfully tried to agree on a new contract.

“Current efforts to hold administrators responsible for educational outcomes will fail to achieve the intended results if administrators are not given more authority over critical personnel decisions,” argues Mr. Ballou, who has been critical of teachers’ unions in the past. As matters stand, he says, “the contract perpetuates a situation in which authority is divided, lines of responsibility are unclear, and reforms can be stalemated as various interest groups check one another.”

Leaders of the city’s American Federation of Teachers affiliate last week portrayed both Mr. Ballou’s research methods and his conclusions as one-sided.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, contended that the researcher had overlooked or mischaracterized contract provisions that enhanced principals’ flexibility. She also accused him of interviewing an unrepresentative sample of principals as part of his study. Those unnamed administrators appeared to hold “a top-down, factory-model view of education,” she said.

“Basically, you have principals here who don’t know how to lead and manage, and instead of managing a staff to get the best out of them, they just want to blame the contract,” Ms. Weingarten said last week.

Impeding Improvement?

Mr. Ballou suggested that the union’s real complaint was with his topic: whether the contract impedes school improvement. “There are going to be people who are going to think it was a hatchet job no matter what I say,” he said.

The report concludes that various contract provisions stymie principals’ ability to remove poorly performing teachers, to pick the best people for various supplemental tasks, and to promote teamwork within the staff to meet student needs.

Among the contract’s biggest drawbacks, the report concludes, are the limitations it imposes on principals’ latitude in selecting staff members. The contract, which was ratified in 1996 and is set to expire in the fall of 2000, directs that half a school’s vacancies be reserved for transfers, chosen by seniority, with the other half filled by the principal.

That system allows “ineffective teachers [to be] passed from school to school,” the report asserts. "[I]t takes only one or two of these teachers to poison the atmosphere in an entire school.”

Staffing Method Questioned

Mr. Ballou also contends that an alternative, “school-based option” for filling staff vacancies, put in place under the current contract, has proved disappointing. That method allows all hiring decisions to be made by school-based personnel committees, a majority of whose members are chosen by the school’s union representative.

The report says the alternative method actually diminishes a principal’s say in hiring, has sometimes proved too time-consuming, and has led to burnout among committee members.

The study was released this month under the auspices of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

Ms. Weingarten complained that the 11 principals Mr. Ballou interviewed had been “handpicked” by the institute, which she called hostile to the union. Mr. Ballou said it was the Center for Educational Innovation, which recently spun off from the Manhattan Institute, that found principals who were willing to talk with him.

In the report, he says the principals shared an “activist” bent and therefore were not necessarily representative of those systemwide.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 23, 1999 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Contract Hinders N.Y.C. Principals, Report Says


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP