Contract For Student Achievement
November 1, 2011
Dear Minneapolis School Board and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers:
We passionately believe in public education as a democratic institution that requires public investment and community trust.
The teachers’ contract you are currently negotiating represents almost $240 million in annual wages and benefits and directly controls who is teaching our children in the classroom. This is in addition to the district administration costs of $19 million annually.
All of this is paid for with our public tax dollars.
In the past, teacher contract negotiations have been treated as exclusive talks between private parties. Unfortunately, the result has been a legacy of contracts that repeatedly put the needs of adults over the academic needs of students—causing a breakdown in trust between both the community and the MFT and the community and the district.
Today, our schools work very well for some of our students while completely failing others. Minneapolis has the largest achievement gap in Minnesota, with white students more than twice as likely to pass state tests than their black, Latino and American Indian peers and with less than 35 percent of our students of color graduating on time. This human crisis represents an enormous loss of talent, creativity and income for individuals, families and our entire city.
We all have a moral and economic obligation to address the long-term issues of opportunity and equity that contribute to this mass academic failure to thrive.
So we call on the district and the MFT to negotiate a different kind of contract---one that recognizes the academic crisis in our schools and makes student achievement the top focus.
As you continue negotiations for the 2011-2013 teachers’ contract, we call on you to ratify a contract that recognizes the power of effective teaching and will:
1. Shift to performance-based staffing.
Make effectiveness, not seniority, the chief criteria for teachers’ hiring, placement and lay-off decisions. Further, tie staffing decisions to a transparent teacher evaluation process that include student growth data, classroom observations by trained evaluators, student surveys and feedback from parents.
2. Allow every Minneapolis school to hire from the widest possible talent pool.
School leadership teams need the authority to choose the licensed teacher they believe will be most effective with their students, whether or not the candidate currently works for the district. End the practice of forcing schools to hire from the limited pool of tenured or excessed MPS teachers.
3. End forced placements of teachers in schools that do not choose to hire them.
In the last two years (2009-2010), 118 teachers were forcibly placed in Minneapolis schools even when the site leadership teams did not believe these teachers were an appropriate fit for their school or students---at a cost of over $10 million in benefits and wages. Under our current contract, all tenured teachers are guaranteed a job if there are any openings that fit their licensure--even if no one wants them.
This must stop.
Under our proposed open hiring system, tenured teachers who are not selected by any school should be given alternative work assignments for one year. If after one year they are still unable to find work within MPS they should be released with the right to re-apply at any time. Taxpayers should not have to continually to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers that MPS schools do not want to hire.
4. Extend learning time for those who need it.
Successful schools have realized the benefit of increasing opportunities for students to learn by extending the time they receive quality instruction. The district has the right to give underperforming schools extended instruction time; the teachers have the right to be compensated for it.
5. Remove poor performers.
Simplify and shorten the process for discharging chronically ineffective teachers to under 12 months.
According to The New Teacher Project’s study, only one percent of tenured MPS teachers are referred to the Peer Assessment Review process (PAR), which under our current contract rules is the proscribed method for dealing with under‑performing teachers and can take up to 18-24 months. Out of this one percent less than half are dismissed, resign, or retire. That means under the current PAR criteria 99.5 percent of our tenured teachers are considered effective. This isn’t credible for any profession. The PAR process either needs to be scrapped or drastically changed.
As active parents, citizens and stakeholders we call on you to put student achievement at the center of contract negotiations.
The five proposals above are based on sound research and best practices from school districts across the country. They align with the district’s own strategic plan and the recommendations of The New Teacher’s Project report on MPS staffing.
Last August, School Board Director Dick Mammen eloquently spoke about the need for more transparency and conversation before decisions on staff contracts were made. He called on fellow board members to “be more open about this…. to talk truth to each other, it’s time to turn on the lights, open the windows, and the doors.”
In this spirit, we hope the negotiations continue to be open to public observation under the state’s open meeting laws.
We also call on our elected school board members to push for a contract that puts the needs of students and families first and honors the public investment of taxpayers.
Contract for Student Achievement Public Supporters
To sign on as public supporter of the Contract for Student Achievement, please register here. Your public voice will give others the courage to stand up for reform. You can also register to get e-mail updates and learn more how to support Put Kids First Minneapolis.
And please send an e-mail to Minneapolis School Board members and tell them you support the Contract for Student Achievement. They are far more influenced by e-mails than by signatures to a public letter. We will not get these changes without public pressure, so they absolutely need to hear from you. Your message doesn't have to be long or eloquent. One group e-mail is fine. Here are their addresses for easy cutting and pasting:
You can also send a copy to the Superintendent of Schools at