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Letter: BTU and BPS, Both Sides are Right

One Charlestown resident's perspective on the clash between Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union.

The following letter is a response to recent and about the current clash between Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union.

From my 30 years of experience in education both sides of this question are right.

Let's look at teacher evaluation and the role of unions first. The research tells us that our schools produced better results prior to the formation of unions and that right to work states, where there are no unions, do not perform less well than unionized states. Teacher unions provide an important function in negotiating higher salaries and better benefits, but they also protect the veteran teacher that refuses to evaluate and change his belief system or methods even when research tells us there is a better way. Our public school system is the only working environment I can think of where evaluations are considered a rubber stamp of approval and if there is even one critical point they result in a grievance by the union. As a former school supervisor, grievances were brought against me for asking a male science teacher to give equal time to his female students, for expecting a teacher to inform me when she will be off campus, for asking a teacher to prepare lesson plans, and much, much more. How about the teacher that refused to place a nearly straight A female African-American student in an honors science class because the student made a B- instead of the prerequisite required B. Should this teacher be asked to evaluate his motivation for seeing the prerequisite as an absolute rule in this situation? What if this was your child? Wouldn't you want the teacher to give your child the benefit of the doubt? I've seen principals remove all criticisms from an evaluation to avoid confrontations with the union after a teacher starts the grievance process. I know teachers, who would like to make changes to the system, be silent because of their fear of reprisals from the union. What teacher is willing to go up against the union's policies when they know that in the future there may be a time when they will need the union to support them in their own grievance.

On the other hand, school districts need to have a solid and reliable mentoring system for helping improve our teachers methods and to overcome belief systems that hinder students from achieving their full potential. Every district has professional development days, but often these days are unfocused and truncated to the point of uselessness. Districts that are successful in making great strides in improving teacher performance have organized and highly focused professional development that attacks one or two related subjects each year in a progressive manner rather than random shots in the dark that have no relationship or significance to the teachers' needs. More isn't better. It's focused training that produces results. However, there are veteran teachers out there that will resist change under any and all circumstances. This is the teacher who will sit through classes and PD offerings with her arms folded and a scowl on her face, and announce without hesitation that "no matter what you say, I have no intentions of implementing this $&/! in my classroom." Under our current tenure system this teacher knows that it would be very difficult to help her find a different career.

So, yes, we need to allow evaluations to really serve a purpose other than singing the praises of the teacher all of the time, so that deficiencies are identified without the constant threat of union reprisals. However, we also need to improve our mentoring and professional development programs to help those teachers willing to openly and honestly evaluate their teaching with the goal of improving.

- June Siple, Ed.D.
Charlestown Resident

jshore September 01, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Part 1 of 2: “Veteran Teachers” I can only assume that you have been retired for many years. This is certainly not the classroom or school of today, or the practices of the Boston Teachers Union or, until this current administration, the Boston Public Schools. Your depiction of “veteran” teachers is not true and I find it offensive. As an educator with a doctorate, and one that expressed outrage at racial stereotypes, I would have expected more from you. Stereotypes are dangerous in every way. They destroy confidence and the ability to work and function successfully. They damage relationships, in the workplace and outside. Dr. Johnson and her “team” have systematically demonized veteran teachers in the media for the last 2 years. Dr. Johnson’s agenda is to force veteran teachers, who cost more, out and replace them with “newer, better, creative, innovative, effective, younger,” read cheaper, teachers from BTR and TFA. She has divisively used a “divide and rule” strategy, supporting groups like Teach+ and it’s offshoot the “T3 Initiative of highly effective teachers” suggesting that veteran teachers who have been the front line in educating Boston’s children, are less than! Dr. Johnson has hired inexperienced administrators, with personal agenda’s, who have bullied and excessed veteran teachers with a long track record of success, because of the demonizing climate Dr. Johnson has created in the media. Case in point, The English High School!
jshore September 01, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Part 2 of 2: “Veteran Teachers” Veteran teachers have made a commitment to the students and their school community. They advocated, year after year, principal after principal. They are the teachers who volunteer on School Site Councils, Instructional Leadership committee’s, accreditation teams, and “save our school” initiatives. They are the teachers who keep the bleachers from appearing empty when the school team has a game. They are the people who buy, out of their own pocket, hundreds of dollars in supplies. They are the teachers who advocate for students whose parents are invisible, and who hold principals accountable to parents who are not being informed! At my turnaround school, our new to teaching, 38 BTR and TFA teachers, looked at veteran teachers as if we were the cause of the schools failure. That’s what they were led to believe. They had come in as new teachers to save the children from us. I was chairing a whole staff Faculty Senate meeting to discuss why, in November, the schedule was still not finalized and the hallways were getting dangerous. When a new teacher stood up and said, “we used to think it was you old teachers that were the problem, but now we know it’s them!” It took me a minute to realize that l was one of the old teachers he spoke about! The greatest danger in people accepting these stereotypes is making them “a normative behavior” and that is what is happening in the Boston Public Schools and Dr. Johnson is to blame!
colum whyte September 01, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Dear Ms. Siple: Get Your Facts Straight This biased myopic is littered with inaccuracies. The author contends: "The research tells us that our schools produced better results prior to the formation of unions and that right to work states, where there are no unions, do not perform less well than unionized states." In fact research proves the opposite: Here is the average rank across 4 NAEP tests, next to each state is its average rank: Virginia....... 16.6 Texas......... 27.3 N. Carolina.. 27.5 Georgia.......36.8 Arkansas.....38.9 S. Carolina...38.9 Arizona........43.3 Alabama......45.5 Louisiana.....47.8 Mississippi...48.6 The top (30%)15 states are all union. Virginia is the outlier at 16. The rest fall in the bottom half. Massachusetts is ranked #1. Boston is ranked the #1 urban district in the USA, and despite what policy makers, who never worked a day in the classroom, think our teachers should be lauded and supported for the incredible work that we do. Do you know the vast majority of kids that have vision deficits in "underperforming" classrooms are not wearing them. Here's a professional development lesson and a worthwhile intervention: get glasses for all public school kids that require them. These glasses stay in school. Of course kids are going to behind in both reading and math if they can't SEE.
colum whyte September 01, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Dear Ms Siple (Con't) As far as schools producing better results before unions, that statement is utter nonsense. The USA has never ranked higher internationally than it does today. We have 20% child poverty, which accounts for our ranking, not teacher quality. Before unions, and especially in "right to work" states, schools were segregated, class sizes were unbridled, school safety unchecked, facilities in disrepair with no recourse, and much wider economic and racial achievement gaps existed. Meanwhile, we placed LAST on international tests. No wonder grievances were filed against this ex-administator - she doesn't tell the truth! I am a teacher in Dorchester at a traditional school, which is one of the best in the city. I am also a proud member of the Boston Teachers Union. Talk to Teachers, you might learn something!

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