Teaching Profession

Teachers’ Contract Includes Peer Review

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 28, 2012 3 min read
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A newly ratified teachers’ contract in Newark creates several firsts for New Jersey.

Some teachers will have the opportunity to earn up to $12,500 extra for getting a superior performance rating on evaluations, teaching in a low-performing school, and teaching a high-need subject. Also for the first time, peer reviews will become a formal part of the evaluation process.

Under the three-year contract, approved by the city’s teaching force last month, all new hires and teachers with bachelor’s degrees will be placed on a new “universal” salary schedule that replaces premiums for holding advanced degrees with the opportunity to win the bonuses. Other teachers can choose to stay on a more traditional schedule.

Teachers will also get about $31 million in retroactive pay, covering the two-year period in which they worked under an expired contract.

Regardless of which salary schedule they’re on in the future, though, annual raises for experience will be contingent on earning a satisfactory evaluation rating.

“I like differentiating pay based on performance. I think it’s just good organizational policy,” said Shavar D. Jeffries, one of the members of the 26,000-student district’s advisory board, an elected body that provides assistance to the superintendent but does not set policy on its own. The Newark district has been under state control since 1995.

“I know educators are concerned about politics informing evaluations, so we have to police them to make sure they are accurate and reflect best practices in educating children,” Mr. Jeffries said.

To that end, the contract contains a number of checks and balances introduced into the evaluation system. Among other provisions, it:

• Sets up a joint union/management panel to oversee development of the district’s teacher-evaluation system;

• Establishes school improvement councils, including a teacher representative, in each school, which are responsible for professional development and evaluating teachers; and

• Creates a system of “peer validators,” who will act as a third-party check on evaluation decisions for teachers who received low ratings on prior evaluations.

“We are starting to develop the mindset that we’re professionals, and professionals usually weigh in and evaluate their peers,” said Joseph Del Grosso, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. “It’s a known fact, but seldom spoken, that teachers, when they’re in the lounge, are pretty critical of those who aren’t pulling their weight. They find it demeaning.”

The contract is similar in concept to those signed by AFT affiliates over the past two years in Baltimore and New Haven, Conn. A variety of state and national figures, including Republican Gov. Chris Christie, his handpicked education secretary Christopher Cerf, and AFT President Randi Weingarten, hailed the contract as a model.

Policy Context

The pact also bears the fingerprints of other education efforts in New Jersey, including a teacher-evaluation and tenure-reform bill that passed in August. Under the measure, teachers with a string of low reviews can be brought up on a tenure hearing. Mr. Del Grosso said he fought to get peer review into the Newark contract partly because of such provisions.

How the contract will be financed was not immediately clear. Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson said it would cost some $100 million in new funds. About half that amount was expected to be provided through a foundation created by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social-networking site Facebook. But the remainder is to come from public dollars, potentially a problem for the cash-strapped district, which had to close a $36 million gap for fiscal 2013.

Critics of the contract included the members of a new political “caucus,” or party, within the NTU. Called the New Caucus, the group has argued in documents on its website that the contract doesn’t address social-justice concerns, paves the way for more school shake-ups, and with its two salary schedules has the potential to divide the membership during future collective bargaining negotiations.

Similar groups have arisen in other AFT districts, including the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, in Chicago, and the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, in New York City.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2012 edition of Education Week as Union Contract in Newark Includes Peer Review

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