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Oklahoma City teacher union pushing for reforms

The Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers has presented a district improvement plan that calls for changes to teacher evaluations, as well as asking for external help for struggling schools.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND Published: June 21, 2011

Across the nation, school districts and teacher unions are drawing battle lines for reform initiatives, particularly when it comes to how teachers are evaluated, retained and compensated.

In Oklahoma City, the local teachers union unveiled a “blueprint” Monday that encourages the 40,000-student district to begin negotiations on several controversial education reforms that for many teacher unions are non-starters in collective bargaining.

“I know the majority of our teachers want a reform union and not a union stuck in the past,” said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers. “The whole blueprint does two things. It makes teacher quality better and focuses on improving student achievement.”

The “Shared Accountability and Responsibility Blueprint” was delivered to the district late last week, and calls for five key points of reform or discussion.

The document asks the district to review seniority rules that ensure a last-in, first-out firing practice when there are layoffs. It encourages teacher evaluations to be based on “multiple measures,” including to some extent student growth as shown on tests or other measures.

Issues divisive

Those two issues — seniority and student achievement reflected in teacher performance — are hot-button issues across the nation.

In Los Angeles last week, one of the nation's largest teacher unions filed an injunction to prevent a new teacher evaluation system based on student performance from taking effect.

In New York, the mayor and the head of the teacher's union have simply stopped communicating following a push by the city to do away with the last-in, first-out layoff practice that rewards seniority.

“If everyone operates in their own little world, then you'll get injunctions, you'll get people not talking to each other,” Allen said. “Our relationship has never been better with the district. (Karl Springer is) the best superintendent I've ever worked with, but our problems are bigger than ever.”

Oklahoma City School District Deputy Superintendent Sandra Park said there weren't any surprises in the blueprint and added that because of the national and state climate this may be the year to enter into more extensive contract negotiations.

“I think it's great that the union is being proactive,” Park said. “The more people can see us as a partnership, the stronger we're going to be as a district.”

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