Panel Discussion Focuses on Innovative New Haven Pact

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AFT president Randi Weingarten and U.S. Department of Education officials called the recent New Haven Federation of Teachers' contract a national model for school reform at an Oct. 26 press conference and forum in New Haven.

Weingarten was joined by under secretary Martha Kanter and general counsel Charles Rose from the Department of Education, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., New Haven schools superintendent Reginald Mayo, and New Haven Federation of Teachers president David Cicarella in a panel discussion about the contract and school reform efforts, held at the new Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School.

"Union leadership rolled up their sleeves and got to work with the mayor and superintendent to improve achievement for children," Weingarten said. "This is both a collaborative agreement as well as a process that should be analyzed as a model by virtually all of the public schools and charter schools in the country."

"The credit for this truly goes to our teachers, who supported this contract overwhelmingly," said Cicarella.

The teachers voted 842-39 to endorse a four-year contract that covers 2010-2014, and also approved a side letter agreement that allows them to begin transition steps during the 2009-10 school year. (See earlier story.)

The contract sets out a new teacher evaluation system—one that will include student progress as a component. Only part of that component will be student test results, both parties agree, and the new contract establishes a labor-management committee to determine what constitutes "student progress" and how much weight it should be given in evaluations. The new contract also establishes high-quality intervention through a peer assistance and review program staffed by full-time, union-selected educators, and reaffirms tenure and the principle of fair dismissal for educators.

To provide the flexibility that supports innovation, the contract establishes a process for compensated changes to school working conditions, such as extended school hours, if 75 percent of building staff approve the change. And it authorizes conversion of up to three underperforming schools into union-represented charter schools, with a guarantee of no layoffs and full transfer rights for staff who wish to move to other buildings.

Kanter, of the Education Department, spoke about President Obama's vision for education in our country and the administration's goal of 60 percent of students earning a baccalaureate degree. "New Haven's contract is a model for how to get to that goal," she said.

The district aims to raise standardized test scores to the state average by 2015, to cut the dropout rate in half in five years, and to ensure that all students have the choice to go to college and are academically and financially prepared to graduate.

"You are moving in the right direction," Kanter said. "This is a unique model in an urban school district. Agreements like this should be looked at as models."

Hartford Courant education reporter Rick Green, who moderated the panel discussion, wrote about it in his Oct. 27 blog entry, which also includes links to two news stories and video of the event.

October 27, 2009