Teachers union president Randi Weingarten today signed her name to a work contract free of the word “tenure” — and then heralded the contract as a model for American schools.
The contract is for a new charter high school in the Bronx run by Green Dot Public Schools, a California-based organization that manages charter schools. In a twist from most other charter school operators, Green Dot encourages its teachers to be represented by unions, and the United Federation of Teachers is representing teachers at the new Bronx school.
The agreement itself — all 29 pages plus appendices of which you can read here — is also a departure from typical practice. Charter school leaders often shun teachers unions’ involvement as hurting their schools’ ability to focus on students, while labor leaders fight against charter schools, accusing them of union-busting.
Weingarten and Steve Barr, the leader of Green Dot, said they came together because they both believe that students can only learn more if teachers are treated as professionals. They said that unions help make that possible. “We need to grow up politically,” Barr said, referring to charter school leaders. “If we’re going to actually … respect the idea that this is the civil rights issue of our time, we’ve got to get rid of this adult dysfunction.”
Weingarten said that while she supports the concept of tenure, it should never be mistaken for “lifetime job security.” She said the contract should become a “national model.” “I love signing this contract!” she said while penning her name to the document.
At 29 pages plus three short appendices, the contract differs from many traditional urban teacher contracts, including the New York City teachers’ contract. In addition to not guaranteeing teachers “tenure,” the contract does strictly mandate class sizes, and it does not set the length of the school work day. Instead, it promises that no teacher will be fired without a principal proving he or she has “just cause” to do so, and it sets a cap on what is known as “student load,” offering more flexibility on class size. It also raises teacher salaries to 14% above the city contract levels.
Teachers at the school, which opened last fall to ninth-graders and will expand to tenth-grade this fall, served on a committee that negotiated the contract.
Teachers on the committee said their professional lives would be improved by the lack of strict tenure protections. “Tenure was never ever on the table,” an eighth-year English teacher on the committee, Frances Sora, said. “I’ve worked at plenty of schools where tenure actually hurt the environment.”
Sora said that tenure allowed poor teachers to stay in the classroom, lowering the quality of the entire school. “Here, the teachers are part of a hiring committee, and they work on hiring other teachers,” she said. “I feel like our just cause in the contract is more than reasonable for any kind of employment.”
The New York City contract is based on the same principles behind contracts for Green Dot teachers in California. Barr said yesterday that in 10 years of operating, Green Dot has only fired two teachers and four principals.
The full contract: