Reports from teachers in the blogosphere and in the Seattle Times indicate that the Seattle teachers’  union (SEA) voted by a two-thirds majority to accept the terms of the negotiated contract agreement Thursday night.

According to one teacher I spoke to, others withheld support largely because the agreement still contains some detrimental elements such as tying some aspects of teacher evaluations to the standardized MAP® test which is not designed for this purpose and will lead to teaching to the test.

The teachers were [UPDATE] almost unanimous, however, in their vote of “No Confidence” in the leadership of Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. This echoes the No Confidence votes of 12 schools and hundreds of Seattle parents earlier this year.

Hopefully the teacher’s union will post an update here soon along with the transcript of the No Confidence vote rationale.

So a strike has been averted.

But some issues remain unresolved.

For one thing, it’s being reported in the  Seattle Public Schools Community Blog that some of the cash incentives offered to teachers who buy into certain elements of the contract, plus even more money for the MAP® test, are dependent on the passage of a proposed education levy this fall.

That’s right – the third education levy this year for Seattle. Already a number of parents (including the editors of this blog) opposed one or both of the levies on the ballot this past spring because of the school district’s abysmal track record on financial management (cost overruns, deferred maintenance costs, priorities that seem clearly out of whack like the district funding 110 “teaching coaches” at a cost of $100,000 each, while laying off 165 actual classroom teachers for alleged lack of funds).

Since then, a damning state audit  (Schedule of Audit Findings and Responses, Seattle School District No. 1, King County June 21, 2010) has been released which found that the Seattle School District mismanages resources and funding, ignores the law, and the school board fails in its responsibility to manage the superintendent.

Included in that audit is an item that is most significant for its symbolism, but pretty much encapsulates the shockingly bad judgment and hypocrisy of  district leadership: while laying off much-needed classroom teachers and imposing other painful cutbacks on our kids, claiming fiscal crisis, the superintendent apparently threw a $7,000 retirement party for some district staff members, apparently using the company credit card in the process. (Thank you to analyst/parent Meg Diaz and parent/blogger Melissa Westbrook at the Seattle Schools Community Blog for their public testimonies and follow-up on this particular fiasco.)

So how likely is it that Seattle voters and public schools parents will agree to toss even more money the district’s way this year? Already parents on the SS Community Blog have declared they will vote against it, and one has begun a site opposing it. (I see no reason to support the levy under these circumstances either.)

What does this mean for teachers who agree to be tethered to an evaluation and bonus system that may in fact have zero funding for these promised rewards?  Is the superintendent essentially promising money she doesn’t have? (“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!”) Until this is clarified, teachers should be wary of signing up for anything that can’t be guaranteed. (Frankly, they’d be wise not to sign up for it at all.)

Another issue that comes to mind is the sticky problem created by the school board last year when it awarded the superintendent a $5,280 “bonus”  for meeting only 4 out of 20  goals, as an example of “performance pay.” This was rationalized and touted by the board, namely Board President Michael DeBell, if memory serves,  as the superintendent leading the way to merit pay for teachers by demonstrating performance pay in action. (!) Well, there was such public outcry that even the normally sycophantic Seattle Times recommended the superintendent not accept the bonus:

“Goodloe-Johnson’s bonus is the district’s first attempt at a new performance-pay plan aligning compensation with accomplishment. But the superintendent’s performance this year was more than adequate but less than stellar. The board, at its November meeting, announced that just four of 20 superintendent work goals were met.” –“Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson: Tis not the season for a bonus,” Seattle Times, Nov. 26, 2010

And parents like myself questioned how the board could think of giving even more money to our $264,000+ superintendent at the same time they were closing and splitting apart our kids’ schools and laying off their teachers. (The board gave her the bonus anyway and the superintendent accepted it. But she claimed she would hand over her check to a charity.)

Which leads to this  question: If this is indeed the incredibly low bar the school district has set for “performance pay,” then do Seattle teachers have only to meet the equivalent of 4 out of 20 goals to get a bonus too?

Overall, though changes were made to the district’s side of  the bargain since the superintendent sprung her unacceptable and unilateral 11th hour “SERVE” proposal on the teachers a few weeks ago (which, among other things, would have given the superintendent the unprecedented power to fire any teacher at will regardless of his/her evaluation status), some damaging elements remain, most significantly, the stipulation to use the  MAP® test, a standardized, computerized test designed to help teachers measure students, as a tool for the district to  evaluate teachers.

This is a misuse of the MAP® test for starters, and is wrong for a number of other reasons, which I will outline in a future post.

For now, there is a grain of cheer to be had in the Daily Kos discussion of the teacher’s union beating back at least some of the many misleading and damaging forces of “ed reform.”

But as others have noted, some elements remain in the contract that are very troubling, and are a victory for no one but perhaps test-manufacturers and vendors. Tying teacher evaluations, pay and job security to standardized, trademarked tests will, ironically, quash innovative learning and inspired teaching – the very things the ed reformers claim to be seeking.

— s. peters