Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

© Paynich

© Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.


The career ladder:






Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1


Level 2

Level 1


  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉


Congratulations to Mayor Rahm Emanuel!

I’ve been so busy this month I didn’t get a chance to acknowledge Mayor Emanuel’s re-election in Chicago. After all the commotion over Chicago school decisions and the teacher protests and the pledge of the national teachers unions to oust Mayor Emanuel, it didn’t happen. Stand for Children in Illinois had this message for the Mayor:

What a day! Election Day in Chicago saw a spirited last push from Stand for Children advocates and volunteers with their dedicated work to ensure that Mayor Rahm Emanuel got re-elected to another term in City Hall. On behalf of Stand for Children Illinois and our members across the city, I want to congratulate Mayor Emanuel on his victory. We look forward to working with him over the next four years to see that the education gains we have seen in Chicago are solidified and to improve education outcomes for all students.

As you know, the Stand for Children IL PAC endorsed Mayor Emanuel in January and its members were actively engaged in supporting his re-election. In his first term, Mayor Emanuel made difficult decisions that produced positive results for Chicago’s public schools.

I am particularly proud of the thousands of hours our members invested in our supporting the campaign efforts. Whether they were phone banking, canvassing, door knocking or otherwise reaching out to voters, Stand members were admirable representatives of our commitment to supporting education champions who support policies that put our students first.

Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions to make positive changes for our kids and Chicago has accepted and rewarded Mayor Emanuel with a win!

Keep standing up for what’s right and you will be rewarded!

New Tests? Old Tests? What you need to know

This is a great graphic from StanSFC-Academic-infographic-FINAL_0d for Children about how to tell what a good test looks like. I agree with everything they state below, especially that every student needs to be held to the same standard nationwide so we can ensure they are receiving a great education.

I wrote previously about a colleague of mine who thought she was getting a great education at the top of her class, only to find out she had to complete remedial courses.

To all those who are upset that their students aren’t doing well on the “new” tests – I say get to work improving your standards. No one wants to admit that what they have been doing, or teaching or knowing that their kids have been receiving a subpar education. The obvious response is to blame the test. But in reality, their education wasn’t up to par. They should be grateful that their kids are going to be getting a better education because of these tests.

I appreciate that the tests are going to be more critically engaging and less hunt and peck for one answer. The tests should also be designed to assist teachers in their ability to assess student weaknesses and provide appropriate support. Parents should have a clear idea of what the results mean for their child.

Go to these pages to see more of these infographics:

Parents! How to identify a “good test”.

What does a good test look like? Decide for yourself:

Too much time on who is ‘winning’ and ‘losing’

In Diane Ravitch’s latest talk in TN she mentioned one more thing…

Ravitch, pointing to something she believes isn’t discussed enough, said that poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores — it’s not an excuse, she said, it’s the reality.

Here is a a great recent article about how those of us in the education reform movement are addressing poverty, although Diane can’t seem to admit anything positive about it. Quite elegantly Jonah Edelman begins with:

We’re spending way too much time focusing on who is ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ debates over education, and not enough on implementing proven solutions.

Diane, when you are ready to rejoin the rest of us, instead of lurking in your corner deciding who is a “hoax” and who is creating “public enemies” we’re waiting for you. BTW, you might start by unblocking me on twitter.

In full disclosure and I think it creates more validity for my statements, I worked for Stand for Children MA from 2012-2013. The only reason I left was because my life partner received one of those job offers way too good to turn down, alas here I am in Atlanta, GA. Stand for Children started out as a children’s advocacy organization, advocating on a variety of issues. Over time, they realized that education was a focus where they could make a stronger impact. And they spent years helping to advocate for education funding across the country.

Let me be clear. Education reformers do want to spend more on education, we just want to make sure its being spent effectively. After years and years of advocating for education funding successfully, Stand realized that the achievement gap was not closing, even though they had helped to secure millions of dollars in education funding.

In the 2009-2010 years Stand spent time convening 15 different white papers discovering the ways that Stand could help close the achievement gap, while continuing to advocate for education funding. Here is a brief version of what Stand for Children stands for.

Jonah Edelman continues:

As a parent, a mentor, the son of a civil rights leader turned child advocate and a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, and an advocate for children for nearly twenty years, I can tell you this with confidence: when it comes to helping underserved students succeed, there’s no silver bullet or quick fix. But there are real solutions.

Two of my favorite:

A smart and fair approach to school discipline and meeting students’ social and emotional needs that keeps kids in school, promotes positive behavior, and creates an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.

Systems and staff to ensure all students take the classes they need to graduate ready for post-secondary education and that students who are lagging behind don’t fall through the cracks.

He continues:

Unfortunately, rather than centering on these solutions, the debate around public education too often highlights “sides” and “conflict” and which grownups are “winning.” That’s why I’m writing this column: to shine a light on how to help more students growing up in poverty get the education and support they need to graduate high school and go on to college or career training.

The reality is that growing up poor, in chaotic and sometimes traumatic environments, places tremendous roadblocks between children and academic success.

Removing those roadblocks takes smart policies that actually get to classrooms, adequate funding that’s spent wisely, sustained and effective leadership, and great work every day from capable, committed, and caring teachers, principals and school staff.

It’s not easy and it’s not simple.

But it couldn’t be more important to make progress. Of the 16 million children growing up in poverty today, only 1 in 12 will graduate from college, and close to half of the students in school today in high poverty communities won’t even graduate from high school, which is economic suicide in today’s skills-driven economy.

We have to address the educational opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots and we must interrupt the pernicious school-to-prison pipeline that starts with black and brown boys being disciplined excessively and harshly, causing them to think of themselves as “bad kids.” This is the number one civil rights issue of our time.

He ends with a plea:

Major progress—which lifts students out of poverty and changes generations to come—is indeed possible.

But it won’t happen if vitriol and polarized politics win out and practical problem-solving and partnerships are cast aside.

That’s why it’s so important for all of us who value equal educational opportunity to become informed about what actually works to help students succeed and then stand up for it.