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On Valentine's Day, MFT President Lynn Nordgren closed the teacher contract negotiations to parents, citizens and media observers. So this weekend, we aren't watching what will probably be the final wrap-up talks for the 2011-2013 $240 million teachers' contract. MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson opposed the MFT's move and wanted the talks to remain public.  But by law, either party can unilaterally ask for the talks to be moved behind closed doors under state mediation.

Why did the MFT want to move behind closed doors? According to the Star-Tribune, Nordgren said she was tired of being sniped at by outside observers who argued that the district isn't aggressive enough in its push for contract changes. (That would, ahem, be us.) She added that meeting in public also makes it hard for the union to control the flow of information to its own members.

Ding! Ding! Ding! We believe her second reason is the more apt one. In the past, no one covered what was actually happening inside the negotiations. The MFT and the MPS School Board would sometimes jointly issue bland and utterly contentless statements. So neither the public nor the MFT's own members knew the details of what exactly was being traded or even discussed in the talks. This made it easy for either side to blame each other for things that ended up in the final contract---when it was too late to undo the damage.

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As many of you know, we've been watching teacher contract negotiations between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers since early October, under the state’s Open Meeting Laws.

After spending months mostly talking in circles about issues that aren’t actually in the contract, the two sides are finally making specific offers and counter-offers. The St. Paul School Board settled with its union last week, so there’s a sense that MPS and the MFT both feel some pressure to settle soon as well.

Last Tuesday, the district negotiators, acting on behalf of our elected School Board,  presented their latest offer. Here are the highlights---along with our commentary.

From the MPS side of the table:

Our school board is requesting the following staffing reforms, but only at its 16 lowest performing schools: (Specifically: Anishinabe, Bancroft, Bethune, Broadway, Cityview, Green Central, Hall, Hmong International Academy, Lucy Laney, North, Olson, Pratt, Ramsey, Sheridan. Wellstone International High School)

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This sobering essay in Education Week, "A Tale of Two Teacher Evaluations", is about a Chicago public school teacher who joined a turnaround school in Chicago. Her principal rated her as one of the best teacher in the school her first year and then dismissed her as a trouble-maker the next year.

This is exactly the scenario that makes teachers very wary of certain principals' evaluations.

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Michael Diedrich is doing some terrific education writing over at Minnesota2020. I don't always agree with him, but he's always worth reading. Before he joined MN2020, he spent two years teaching high school English in Brooklyn Center, which is one reason why he's such a good education blogger.

Back on Oct. 11th, Diedrich posted about a Milwaukee high school that shut down its 9th and 10th grades because it couldn't find enough certified teachers, especially math and science teachers, to staff the place.

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Democrats for Education Reform just released their new report on the Washington, D.C. teacher evaluation system, which is now in its third year.  The D.C. evaluation program is called IMPACT, an acronym for God only knows what. Doesn't matter. The report was written by Barbara Martinez, a former education reporter for the Wall Street Journal, which means that it's actually pretty readable.

Martinez writes, "To critics, IMPACT is simply the evaluation system that helps fire teachers. This misses a huge point. Perhaps the biggest benefit of IMPACT is for the teachers who stay, not those who go.

"Many DC teachers report that they finally have the feedback and support they – and kids – deserve. The evidence is in the numbers: More than half of the teachers who were deemed to be “minimally effective” in IMPACT’s first year and stayed in the district improved their performance enough to earn an “effective” score in the following year.
This element of the IMPACT system can’t be emphasized enough.

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And if it feels like they just finished negotiating the 2009-2011 contract, it's because.....heck, they really did just finish negotiating the last contract only ten months ago.

Quick back story: the 2009-2011 contract was signed nearly a year after the deadline after talks between the district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers deadlocked and then went into lengthy arbitration. Contracts are renewed every two years, so yes, we are now only three months away from the alleged January deadline for the 2011-2013 contract. Actually, it's quite odd to be starting teacher negotiations in mid--October. In the past, district-MFT talks began in the spring. Veteran observers speculate the late start could be because:

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I don't agree with everything Rick Hess writes. But can I just add a big amen to this whole column, which give four tips on superintendent leadership

I was especially struck by Tip #2:

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........interest-based collective bargaining. The district and MFT are using interest-based collective bargaining for this round, so last night, we watched for two and a half hours as both sides put lots of vaguely-worded, neutral-sounding "issues" on the table.  This is the first stage of what is a long process. We're told the next step is to organize the issues and brainstorm options, etc.

This method is supposed to be far more collaborative, cooperative and possibly more creative than traditional "this is what my side wants" bargaining. So neither side has yet issued any specific proposals for change---after two and half hours, it was still all Uber-Vague. I'm hoping there will be more substance as they start brainstorming options and solutions, etc.

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Tennessee started implementing its new teacher evaluation plan and according to these reports here, and here and here, it's driving everyone nuts

The state's new law requires four official observations for experienced teachers, and six for apprentice teachers every year. There are extensive checklists for everything--for example, there's a three-page checklist just to go over a teacher's lesson plan. So naturally, both principals and teachers are overwhelmed by the paperwork, with principals spending hours at home finishing their observation reports and teachers spending hours writing lengthy, detailed lessons plans for the evaluation process.

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and honest to God, we still don't have a teacher's contract. It's like Waiting for Godot. It's like Waiting for Superman. It's absurd.

Beth Hawkins, Minnpost education reporter extraordinaire, posted this update last Monday:

"Despite their mutual commitment to reform, the MFT and Minneapolis Public Schools have been at an impasse in terms of negotiating a new contract for a year. Indeed, they may never ink a contract for the current cycle. A state-appointed arbiter ruled that the previous contract is still in place, there’s little reason to resume talks until next spring, when negotiations for the next cycle are supposed to begin.


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