The camaraderie among the mayor, senior administration officials and UFT leadership was evident at Thursday's big announcement. Praise flew every which way; UFT boss Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Fariña hugged.
What was not so clear was what, exactly, they had agreed to. Inexplicably, the city focused on the pomp and circumstance of the agreement but has not released its language. This much we know: Mayor de Blasio gave in to the union's demands for sizable raises but got very little in return - no premium sharing of health-care costs, no higher co-pays, no guaranteed dismissals for ineffective teachers who don't even teach full time, no changes to the rigid seniority-based salary schedule, nothing.
For all the talk of a fair deal for students, the union did not make a single meaningful concession.
Make no mistake: I support the generous raises in the new contract agreement. Teachers deserve to be paid like the professionals they are. But rather than use substantial salary increases to drive groundbreaking reform, the de Blasio administration tinkered around the edges, by and large preserving the status quo.
If the mayor had been willing to cause some friction with his union friends, he could have used the new contract to drive reforms that would have enhanced the quality of teaching and had real impact for kids. Yes, it's difficult to stand up to powerful and wealthy special interests, but across the country there are mayors and superintendents showing precisely this type of courage.
For example, in Harrison County, Colo., school officials worked with their teachers union to put in place an "effectiveness and results" pay plan that uses educators' classroom performance - rather than simply their seniority - to make school placement decisions and salary increase determinations.
In Cleveland, Oh., public school leaders did away with the outmoded salary scale that gives raises based on only on tenure and college coursework and replaced it with a more modern system that gives raises based on performance and specialized qualifications. The Cleveland contract also changes how layoffs and recalls are handled, with performance and qualifications taking precedence over seniority.
In Washington, D.C., where I was chancellor, IMPACT teacher evaluations are among the strongest in the country and have helped that school district go from the worst urban district in the country to the one making the biggest gains in student achievement.
In Newark and Hillsborough, N.J., teachers receiving an "unsatisfactory" or "needs improvement" rating will not be eligible for salary increases for the next school year or for any pay raise until they receive an overall satisfactory evaluation.
San Jose also chose to deny automatic raises to unsatisfactory performers.
The contract governing educators in a group of schools run by Green Dot, in Los Angeles, calls for teachers to devote the necessary time and effort to fulfill their professional obligations. Though high-performing teachers typically work long, unpredictable hours, traditional teacher contracts both set strict limits on hours and are extremely prescriptive about what responsibilities can be assigned within those limited work days.
This civil-service approach leads to significant negative outcomes, from parents having two-minute conferences with teachers, to new teachers being told not to work late because it will make veterans look bad. Green Dot's simple language has helped transform the culture of teaching at these schools.
Each of these gains in the contract happened with unions and districts working collaboratively.
These are just some of the ideas that could have been replicated in New York City to benefit students. And a nine-year agreement with generous salary increases would have been the exact right mechanism to do it.
Bob McManus of the Post also hammered the deal today, calling it "catastrophic" for the city, though he was focused more on the cost and the little in "health care savings" that he wanted out of it.
While I think there is much to dislike about the agreement, this much is true:
Salary steps are preserved and continued, unlike in some teachers contracts around the country in the last few years.
In fact, had Christine Quinn won the election, you can bet she would have pushed for a contract that eliminated automatic salary step increases and promoted so-called "performance pay" as the primary mechanism for raises.
Same goes for Anthony Weiner - who also said he would push for city employees to be part of a universal city health care system and force teachers to pay "at least 10% of their health care premiums."
The UFT even put out a trial balloon last year about what a contract without automatic step increases might look like through Unity caucus member and Ed in the Apple blogger, Peter Goodman, something I posted about in March 2013.
While this de Blasio contract has a merit pay proposal in it, it doesn't replace steps as the primary mechanism for salary increases and while it does call for some fuzzy notion of health care savings, both the city and the UFT claim that teachers will not be paying part of their salary toward health care.
I've seen some criticism around the Internet that claims this is the worst deal ever, Bloomberg's wet dream, etc., but the truth is, it's not even the kind of deal that Quinn or Weiner would have sought, let alone Bloomberg or Rhee.
By all means, scrutinize and criticize the deal, point out the problems with the delayed compensation, the "retro pay" that isn't really retro pay at all, the merit pay stipulation, the ATR changes and the 200 schools that can dispense with parts of the contract if 65% of their staffs agree to it.
But don't overdo it because this UFT/de Blasio deal is nowhere near as bad as some deals we've seen around the country recently (like the one Rhee lists), nor is it anywhere near as bad as what you might have seen had Quinn or Weiner been elected.
That doesn't mean I think it's a good deal - I think there are major problems with it and I know why people are pissed about it.
But make no mistake, it could have been a lot worse than it is, as Rhee points out in her Daily News piece, and I think it's important to take that into account as you talk to your colleagues about it.