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Boston Teachers Union contests ratings

The Boston Teachers Union has filed a grievance with the School Department over its teacher evaluation system, asking school officials to rescind the "offending evaluations and improvement plans" and to stop discriminating against employees on the basis of race, gender, or age.

The union announced the grievance Tuesday morning in its weekly newsletter. The School Department fired back in the afternoon, issuing a press release and posting tweets that called the grievance an attempt to "block reform."

The clash came months after the union first raised concerns that teachers who were African-American, Latino, male, or older were more likely to be rated "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory." Those ratings are the lowest of four possible marks under the evaluation system, which was implemented during the last school year.

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The union was swayed in the last few weeks to take formal action after the School Department released an analysis of teacher evaluations that revealed patterns of potential bias based on race, gender, or age.

"The Boston Teachers Union expects and wants great teachers in each classroom," Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, said. The union "also expects that the School Department will not punish teachers on the basis of race, sex, or age."

"We are not arguing against good performance evaluation; in fact, we welcome healthy and constructive feedback," Stutman added. "But the evaluation process must be done in a way that does not discriminate."

In all, 272 teachers regardless of race, gender, or age received a "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" rating last school year, representing 7 percent of teachers. About 30 are no longer in the classroom.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said it was too soon to determine whether bias or discrimination exists, given that there is only one year of data. He said the School Department, in response to the concerns raised, is devoting more attention to bias prevention.

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But McDonough said the union has taken the issue too far, demanding jobs back for poorly performing teachers.

"That is totally unacceptable," he said. "Under no circumstance are we going to rehire poor-performing teachers."

Under the grievance, which is dated Dec. 2, the union in its request to rescind the offending evaluations and improvement plans demanded that "affected teachers be made whole."

Stutman said in an interview that the union has not decided which members would be covered under the "class-
action" grievance. But he emphasized that the union is not seeking return of poorly performing teachers, but trying to ensure fair treatment for all.

The disparity in ratings among teachers of different backgrounds was quite wide in many cases. For instance, 9.7 percent of all black teachers received a needs-improvement rating, compared with 4.1 percent of white teachers; male teachers were almost twice as likely to receive that rating as female teachers; and 11.3 percent of teachers 60 and over were deemed needs improvement, compared with 5.6 percent of those in their 20s.

Tension over teacher evaluation is one of two simmering issues between the School Department and the union. The two sides also have been clashing over a School Department proposal to give principals more autonomy in hiring teachers, prompting the union to file a separate grievance.


James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.