Monday, March 31, 2014

Why Don't Contractual Rights Apply to Our UFT Representatives?

 By special guest blogger Arwen E.
Eight-hundred delegates from UFT-Unity will attend the 2014 NYSUT convention this weekend.  If some don't regard the Loyalty Oath as morally null and void in this day and age and follow the dictates of their conscience or of their constituencies, then Mulgrew alone might as well hand deliver his eight-hundred pre-slugged ballots and dispense with the charade of democracy.
I love Article Two--Fair Practices in our last contract.  What I don't love, however, is the paragraph missing after #3.
Our NYC Teachers' contract (October 13, 2007 through October 31, 2009) stipulates in paragraphs one and two that neither the Union, nor the Board, will discriminate against persons based on "race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, handicapping condition or age or membership or participation in, or association with the activities of, any employee organization."


The third paragraph states, "The Board agrees that it will not require any teacher to complete an oath or affirmation of loyalty unless such requirement is established by law."
Sadly, there is no paragraph to affirm that UFT-Unity will not force its members to complete an oath or affirmation of loyalty.  In fact, they do force their delegates to sign the following UFT-UNITY LOYALTY OATH before they can be admitted into the ranks and the doors to potentially tens of thousands of dollars in extra income and free trips with spiffy accommodations magically open before them:
·       To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;
·       To support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums;
·       To support in Union elections only those individuals who are endorsed by the Caucus, and to actively campaign for his / her election;
·       To run for Union office only with the support of the caucus;
·       To serve, if elected to Union office, in a manner consistent with Union / Caucus policies
and to give full and faithful service in that office;
Loyalty Oaths were wrong at the time of World War I.
Loyalty Oaths were wrong as part of the witch hunts of the 1950s.
Loyalty Oaths were wrong at the time of the Vietnam War.
Our Union recently pressed to have retiree votes weighted more heavily in Union elections based on the claim that it would make elections more democratic.   Yet, as long as leadership stays in power, it seems to care little that less than 20% of the currently-employed membership votes.   Disenchantment runs high.  Democracy is on its deathbed.

Loyalty Oaths are still wrong today! 

Given that I try to teach people how to think, not what to think, I object strongly to the demands of UFT leadership that its delegates, eight-hundred strong, vote as drones or as mercenaries given highly-paid Unity jobs.  Given that Unions are the lifeblood of the common people, our representative must listen to our voices (as a delegate) or their own conscience (as a trustee).  Nothing less than this will do. 
Leadership can argue that they listen to all opinions and then make the best decisions.  Yet, it irritates me to no end that some delegates are hushed by fears of reprisals and others who operate free of Unity's shadow find themselves restricted from speaking at meetings.  Is our Union a bully pulpit for but one point of view, claiming to represent all? 
For those who charge that I am sowing the seeds of divisiveness by raising the issue of the Loyalty Oath, I would say this is no better than saying an American who questioned the wisdom of the Vietnam War was un-American.  I am American and I will faithfully remain, in the best tradition of Woody Guthrie, a "Union Maid."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Opt-Out Rally---Where's the UFT?

Here are some of the presenters at the opt-out forum that took place yesterday in Comsewogue. I got to meet and speak to a few of them. Second from the right is Beth Dimino, the intrepid President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association. All the way to the left is Mercedes Schneider. In the center is Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella.

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino was in attendance. Astorino spoke of his opposition to Common Core. He somehow forgot to mention his opposition to gay marriage or legal abortion, or his fondness for charter schools, and still mustered the audacity to accuse Cuomo of dancing around the issues. I certainly hope there is opposition to Cuomo, but I won't be casting votes for the likes of Astorino on this astral plane.

Rella spoke of a tribe in which the overarching question is, "How are the children?" This, to them, reflected on the community. In our state, according to Common Core testing, 70% of our children are failing. This, of course, is an unacceptable and invalid portrait of our State's kids. Rella, when I met him, likened himself to the conductor of an orchestra. He said the teachers were his musicians, that he didn't actually know how to play their instruments, and that couldn't do his job without them. For someone accustomed to the likes of Joel Klein, talking to him was revelatory.

I've read Mercedes Schneider's blog, and noticed her impeccable research. She told us she opposed Common Core standards because she had personal standards, and then called Common Core toxic for its failure to create a knowledge base. Then she told stories of how she'd give her high school kids said knowledge base via telling them stories, and it was very easy to believe. She's got a soft Louisiana accent, and I do believe I could listen raptly while she read a telephone book. But she's also ridiculously intelligent, and that's apparent to any and all who speak to her for more than one minute.

Beth Dimino is rapidly becoming one of my personal heroes, as she is a woman of action. She does not let the grass grow around her feet, and when NYSUT leadership was challenged for the offense of exercising their collective conscience, she made sure to stand up and help. Not the least of this included recruiting me to run against coup leader Andy Pallotta. As UFT was entrenched in supporting those who'd bend to the will of leadership, she found and recruited members from MORE, the UFT opposition caucus, to oppose those who favored the status quo.

And yet, at this event full of brilliant and moving speakers, the sole representative of the UF of T appeared to be me. No one from leadership showed up. I sat in front of NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi, and two seats to the right of NYSUT Secretary Treasurer Lee Cutler. Two seats to my right was head Badass Teacher Mark Naison. I didn't see anyone from the so-called Revive NYSUT either, now that I think of it.

But even more disturbing than the UFT leadership's absence on this event, and relative silence on opting out was their incredible lack of reaction leading up to the awful budget deal hammered out in Albany yesterday.  Certainly it's important to raise the threshold for estate taxes, because Bloomberg and Cuomo always tell us incredibly rich people are so delicate they'd likely break if you were to touch them. But what was really disturbing were things like this:

...the budget also provided a major victory for charter schools, many aspects of which the mayor has long criticized.

Most significantly, the legislation would require the city to find space for charter schools inside public school buildings or pay much of the cost to house them in private space. The legislation would also prohibit the city from charging rent to charter schools, an idea Mr. de Blasio had championed as a candidate for mayor.

Let's take a look at that. Mayor Bill de Blasio actually ran on the plank of charging rent to charters that could afford it, and won overwhelmingly. Yet that didn't stop Moskowitz and her BFFs from giving at least $800K to Governor Andrew Cuomo. And though they couldn't afford to pay rent, they managed to scrape up millions of dollars to air misleading commercials to drum up sympathy for corporate-backed charters.

Now, it's whatever Eva wants, Eva gets. If de Blasio denies her space in your school or mine, she can simply find whatever space she sees fit and charge taxpayers rent. You see, under Andrew Cuomo, mayoral control is fine as long as it favors his well-heeled BFFs. When NYC elects a mayor who didn't buy the election with 100 million from his own pocket, all bets are off.

I got the chapter leader newsletter last Friday night and it contained not one word about it. Though it was parent teacher conference day, I found the time to call several legislators and urge them not to approve the budget. Though Mulgrew spoke against it after the deal was in place, I find it hard to believe that Shelley Silver was able to approve it without at least his passive consent.

UFT leadership has got a massive email bank and made no effort whatsoever to have members contact legislators. It's certainly done so in the past. There was no call to phone banks, and no significant pushback, if indeed any, to the Moskowitz budget.

And it's likely many teachers and students will suffer its after-effects for years to come. Personally, I'm outraged my kids have to sit in a trailer while Moskowitz can just go out and rent the Taj Mahal for hers, if she sees fit.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Representation in NYSUT for Hilton Guests Only

If you follow this blog, you may know that I'm running for Executive Vice President of NYSUT. You're more likely to know that I object to the UFT method of bloc-voting, which I consider neither representative nor democratic. I'm more or less an acolyte of Diane Ravitch, who opposes VAM, Common Core, and mayoral control. All of the above are supported by UFT leadership, and based on speaking with working teachers every day of my life, I don't believe rank and file support any of these things.

Of course, when only 14% of working teachers deem it worth their time to fill in an X on a ballot form, it's hard to say. What I do know is that I represent one of the largest schools in the city, that my members selected me to represent them, and that neither they nor I get a voice in our state or national unions. Meanwhile, chapter leaders who represent 12 people get a vote if they signed the UFT-Unity loyalty oath, promising to represent leadership whether or not it reflects the will of their members.

Over the last few weeks, I've traveled all over the state, and I've spoken with a lot of representatives of smaller unions. One cornered me, and told me that the issues we were discussing meant little to him. That surprised me. Common Core was not a big deal where he came from. What bothered him was lack of representation. I'd just heard that UFT represented about 28% of membership, yet had about 34% of the vote at NYSUT. When I asked for an explanation of that, I learned this was because many small locals simply could not afford to sent representatives to the Hilton in Manhattan. Thus, UFT earns 20% more representation. I can only assume that's more or less true for every union that can afford to show up.

Does this mean that at least 20% of NY, a state as large as England, does not get a vote in NYSUT? It would stand to reason.

Can you imagine if the vote for governor were like that? NYC would get a large voice, but you'd likely hear little from the suburbs around Buffalo. It costs $400 a night to stay at the Hilton, and it wouldn't be my first choice to stay overnight. Nonetheless, the UFT is sending 800 people there for the weekend, despite the fact that for many, it could be a subway ride away. How much would UFT save if they issued metrocards rather than hotel stays?

More importantly, how can anyone rationalize squeezing out smaller or poorer locals? Shouldn't they have a voice in who runs their state union? It would be very easy to open up satellite voting stations and hook them up by video. Perhaps it would be even easier to issue ID numbers and allow everyone to vote via computer. That's not my area of expertise, but it seems easily accomplished.

And maybe, just maybe, NYSUT could use a secret ballot, and even UFT reps could vote their minds or conscience rather than whatever they're told by leadership. In Saratoga Springs last Monday night that idea came up, and it sounded like a very good one to me, at least.

Personally, I'm bullish on democracy. How about you?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Are Electronic Gradebooks Changing the World?

So I was sitting in the library with my laptop. I don't usually bring it, but the fact is Skedula works abysmally on my iPad. We won't even discuss their iPad app. 

The laptop version is hard to scroll, does all sorts of unpredictable things, and requires multiple extra steps to get pretty much anywhere. That's okay for me, but I figured the parents of my students deserve better. So I brought the 15-inch laptop I'm using now, ran around early in the morning to ask the tech guys to get me online, and I was all ready.

This was be the first time I could pull all the grades up on my computer rather than inside my grungy gradebook. And I had two trusty monitors to help me, except they kept running out of the room to take care of some important business entailing I have no idea what. (They got very excited when one of their friend's parents showed up, sat very close for the discussion, and were sorely disappointed when I told them to take a walk.)

But none of that mattered because I had this electronic gradebook, and everything was going to be calculated to the hundredth of a point. No more guesswork or wild estimations. The parents would be dazzled by my incredible efficiency.

The only issue, as far as I could determine, is that the parents were not actually coming. There I was, watching my colleagues converse rapidly with all sorts of people, but there was no one here to see me. Had I done all this electronic grading stuff in vain?

After about a half-hour, I had no more time for reflection, as I got quite a few visitors. Here's my takeaway. The electronic gradebook looks a little better, but doesn't make a whole lot of difference. Parents are happy when they see good grades, and not quite so happy when they see bad ones. That's not a whole lot different from looking at grades on paper.

Personally, were I looking at grades of my own kid, I'd feel exactly the same. The biggest advantage, aside from having to wade through handwriting as incomprehensible as mine, is that you don't show the grades of anyone but the kid in question. I've gone to quite a few parent-teacher nights myself, and once when my kid got a grade I considered mediocre, I looked at the marking book to see everyone else seemed to have even worse grades. That made me wonder why the whole class was doing so poorly. I didn't ask the teacher, though. I asked my kid and we worked it out.

In conclusion, I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference, and despite how cool it looks to me, I basically told parents exactly the same things I'd have said if I didn't have grades online. I'm pretty sure I'd have given roughly the same grades whether or not I had the mathematical calculations in front of me, but I can't be absolutely sure.

All in all, it basically does the same thing in a slightly different way. It's good if the parents keep up on the grades and their kids, but what I saw is that the same parents who were going to take an active role did, and those who didn't, didn't. I won't go into more detail than that. But while I'm going to stick to putting everything online, I don't honestly think it will make much of a difference.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

UFT Leadership Sends Us Charter Ad

Over the last week I've been approached by multiple members who've received a mailing from UFT offering jobs at "University Prep" charter school, formerly "Green Dot New York" charter school. They want to know whether or not their dues money is being used to send out these mailings. I don't know, but I've got issues with it regardless.

Green Dot was the swell company that had an LA school vote to have it take over, then fired 70% of them. It was started by Steve Barr, who seems to mistake Eli Broad for deity, and says things that would get you or me fired. Now the Green Dot name is going away, and our partner Steve Barr has moved on to undermine public schools via the parent trigger movement.

How many times has UFT leadership sent out advertisements for your school? And why does this fabulous school, which pays "a very competitive salary well above the DOE-UFT pay scale" need administrators, teachers of English, math, science, social studies, special ed., Spanish, PE,  and SAT prep? Why do they need counselors, secretaries, and teacher's aides?

What sort of workplace is it that has that many openings at one time? Why are so many people leaving?

After all, they have, "significant collegiality" at their school. It must be a fantastic place to work. So maybe it's the "extended school day." Perhaps people tire of working 200 hours a week. Who knows? Or perhaps they don't go for the contract. Oddly, this mailing made no mention of the fact they have an entirely different contract than that of public school teachers. Can you imagine going to work and finding you no longer had tenure, or that dismissal for just cause meant dismissal "just cause" they felt like it?

I've inquired at multiple levels of UFT to ask how many Green Dot teachers kept their jobs as a result of just cause provisions, and thus far have gotten a straight answer from absolutely no one. In fact, a very reformy friend of mine, several years ago, assured me that teachers were quietly "counseled out" of Green Dot, and that they never needed to use their just cause procedures.

Back when it was Green Dot, they boasted of how their teachers didn't have tenure or seniority protections. Of course they had a union contract, but calling it that does not make me jump up and down to work there, no matter how many times they label it as such.

And then there are the typical charter boasts of 100% graduation and 100% college acceptance. I've read so many stories of charters getting these stats that I find them ridiculous. What percentage of their freshman class made it to their senior class? How many local high schools got bad grades or faced closure, at least in part, due to the test scores of Green Dot's castaway students?

And while the school boasts of 30% special ed. or ESL students, what level were they? My school takes everyone, and I teach new arrivals. How many beginning ESL students are at this charter school? What kind of special education students do they take? Are they kids who simply get extra time on tests, or are they alternate assessment students? Actually we know they aren't alternate assessment students, because these students do not graduate with Regents diplomas. But my school takes them all.

Again, I can't be sure whether or not the union paid for this mailing, but even if it didn't, placing the UFT logo on the envelope implies an endorsement of this school's leadership, its co-location, and its advertising claims.

The last time UFT leadership sends out ads for my school, one of the largest in the city, was never. And we don't have dozens of openings, but rather dozens of applicants for each and any opening.

Why do you suppose that is? And why do you suppose we're urging teachers to work at this other place?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Three Laws of Robotics*

by special guest blogger Arwen E.
A Robo-Voter Weighs the UFT-Unity Loyalty Oath 


Why are 800 UFT-Unity minds, representing very diverse constituencies, supposed to vote according to a single set of fallible dictates?  (See UFT-Unity Loyalty Oath above.)
Why do 800 democratically chosen chapter leaders lose their democratic voice when they sign on to UFT-Unity?  Why must 800 Unity members promise to vote as they are told?  (See Loyalty Oath above.)
Why are eight-hundred highly intelligent minds beholden to loyalty oaths reminiscent of those opposed by the AFT in the 1950s?  (See Oath above.)

 How can union employment opportunities be withheld from those members who refuse to sign on to this loyalty oath?  Should they be based on merit (like ability to serve or help) or simply blind loyalty? (See your non-Unity Chapter Leaders.)
How can educators raise generations to think when they, themselves, are asked to robotically vote as told? 
How can democracy thrive when Unity representatives can lose positions, all opportunity for service or advancement, and become pariahs simply for speaking and voting their honest opinions?

There can be no honest discussions of issues when Unity members are told how to vote and potentially silenced by fear.  Honest discussion can only begin when the Loyalty Oath has been torn away from its purse strings.  If you value democracy, shred the oath and then begin to open minds to a truly free and unfettered competition of ideas. 

*With apologies to Isaac Asimov 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Sad Tale of UFT-Unity's Robo Voters

-->   By special guest blogger Arwen E.

Welcome to the NYSUT Convention in NYC. Your UFT-Unity representatives were programmed after last Wednesday's Delegate Assembly, and will be arriving at the appointed time.

April 4th-6th, 2014, Mid-Town Manhattan


The Unity Caucus, representing about one third of NYSUT's convention votes, will send approximately 800 robo-delegates to vote according to the dictates of the Unity leadership, rather than the dictates of conscience or the dictates of a democratic representation of constituencies.  It is a sad and sorry fact that although our Union is the most powerful tool we have to defend the rights of teachers, students and public schools, it has made some very poor decisions in the recent past, including support for mayoral control in the Bloomberg era, Common Core State Standards which have blighted student populations and V.A.M. which will threaten careers based on junk science and simultaneously lead to endless lawsuits.  Will our Union continue to support union-bashers as well as policies to squash students and schools?  Let us take an imaginary look into the Hilton during the first weekend of April to understand some very real threats.
--> The Mid-Town Hilton Pool:  Saturday Afternoon, April 5, 2014  
Poolside, Saturday Evening:  Delegates Must Not Bend!

Robby Converses with Robby in the Lobby 


A Breach of Security Sunday as the Convention Winds Down 

Will this potential breach to security be contained? Will our heroes be contaminated by rogue programming? Or will leadership thwart this dastardly plot from their magical and trusty seat at the table?

Tune in next time for another exciting adventure of UFT-Unity Caucus and their zany antics.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Timeliness and Learning

I apologize to regular readers of this little blog for not posting as frequently as usual. I'm sure you know I'm a full-time teacher. In addition, I've been running for Executive VP of NYSUT these last few weeks.

Last Tuesday, I went to a forum in Manhattan. On Wednesday, there was one in Newburgh. On Thursday, there was another in Mt. Kisco. And then, of course, there was my job. These forums pop up with short notice, and I'm all in.

Our opponents favor forums like the one in Mt. Kisco, where there was no interaction whatsoever. My direct opponent reads very well (though that can't be said for everyone on his slate). In Melville, they did not look good, as they had to face not only unexpected questions, but also unwelcome and inconvenient contrary opinions. In Lake Placid, they tossed about sleazy and transparent innuendo, winning over no one.

In Newburgh, they didn't even bother to show up, and sent out a ridiculous email explaining they are grassroots working teachers. I'm a grassroots working teacher, and I don't have the UFT-Unity machine behind me. I drove over two hours through the most miserable rainstorm I've ever seen to get home, and went to work the following day. In fact, Port Jefferson Station Union President Beth Dimino is also a working teacher, and managed to come all the way from the Far East of Suffolk County.

In any case, since I got more involved with union matters I've come to value teaching more than I once did. When I first started as CL, and dozens of people were coming up to me with questions for which I had no answers, it was very challenging. When I stepped into the classroom, I realized I really knew what to do there.

I knew what to do in the classroom because I'd gotten a lot of help. I've had very good teachers. Sometimes I had very good supervisors, and I've always had great colleagues. If you have an unhelpful supervisor, your colleagues are the best resource there is. When you've got an issue, any issue at all, it's likely that one of your colleagues has had the same issue and knows how to deal with it. In time, you build a repertoire, and you can make snap decisions that work well. To my mind, "rigor and grit", and the other crap spouted by corporate reformers does not represent our primary challenge. Knowing what to do at the moment is very tough, and simply does not come instantly. When you face 34 teenagers, you'd better be able to think fast, and more accurately than, say, CC architect David Coleman, who dismisses student feelings as crap. In the classroom, you do that at your peril.

This, of course, is just one reason why misguided corporate reformers are wrong to rely on instant and replaceable teachers. It's one thing when you are making burgers at McDonald's, but quite another when you are shaping young minds. I'd risk an overdone burger much more readily than a cynical or unhappy child.

I guess it's the same with any demanding job. I've gotten great support from any number of people since I became chapter leader. I've met chapter leaders from all over the city, and have benefited from their experience. I've met great people from the press, who early on got the word out and helped save our school from the overcrowding that threatened our very existence. A UFT leader helped us get a meeting with Tweed, Bloomberg and Klein actually acknowledged us on network TV, and we managed to reverse the overcrowding trend. We're still overcrowded, but my kids are no longer sitting on windowsills. (Of course the trailers don't have windowsills.)

You quickly learn who gives worthwhile advice and who invents nonsense on demand, and proceed accordingly.  Despite my frequent criticisms of the Stepford Wife Unity mentality, I know great people in the UFT. I know others who slavishly follow without question, and for whom original thoughts would die of loneliness. Several times people from the UFT have called to demand I do this or believe that. One told me how intelligent I was, and I asked, "If I'm so intelligent, how come you've never asked me to be part of Unity Caucus?" Happily, I haven't heard from that person since. Another got all Tony Soprano with me, and got nowhere. If you haven't signed up to believe what they tell you, they simply can't tell you what to believe. And if you aren't part of the caucus, threats to kick you out mean little indeed.

Anyway, posting may be spotty for the next few weeks, so please bear with me. To partially compensate, I promise you something special from a guest blogger tomorrow. It will pop up at 4 AM, in case you want to get the first look.  I'm off to New Jersey now, as sometimes in life one must go to New Jersey. I hope I don't run into Chris Christie (but if I do, it will certainly be something worth blogging about).

Friday, March 21, 2014

They Need to LIKE Us

There is this pernicious philosophy that runs from the top of the AFT all the way down to the deep thinkers at Revive NYSUT.  This philosophy has really flourished right here in our own UFT, where in 2005 we decimated seniority privileges and enabled a mayoral school-closing spree.We need to get a seat at the table. Otherwise they won't like us.

Now, of course, when NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi declares the IDC a detriment to progress, Revive ringleader Andy Pallotta detects "nothing negative" in their relationship with teachers. Who cares if they push bills that enable and promote charters at the expense of our public schools, our public school children, and our union members?

We have to make nice. Then, maybe we can get invited to some gala luncheon after they take yet another step toward decimating union. And besides, if we don't support them, maybe they won't like us.

Diane Ravitch says mayoral control is a tool so folks like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart family can do whatever they wish. We've just lived through a decade of mayoral control. We've been to school closing hearings. We've stood with entire communities, people who spoke passionately about their schools. We watched Joel Klein and his minions play with their blackberries and ignore us. We watched almost every comprehensive high school disappear to be replaced by charters and little academies, often as not with no union presence.

But we got our seat at the table. So, when mayoral control came up for renewal, we pushed for changes, failed to get them, and then supported it again anyway.

Should we make nice with IDC so Rochester and Yonkers can experience the wonders of mayoral control? If we give it to them, maybe they'll like us.

Let's invite Bill Gates to the AFT convention. So what if he turns around and condemns teacher pensions? So what if he starts a small school initiative, later admits it doesn't work, but we're still saddled with a bunch of small schools, likely as not basket weaving academies with no basket weavers. It's the thought that counts.

Hey, let's participate in Bill Gates MET, measures of effective teaching. Then he can turn around and tell Arne Duncan to impose junk science on the entire country. When the abysmal and invalid results are out, Bill can write a column in the NY Times to deflect the blame.

But we have a seat at the table. And he likes us. Several times he's appeared with Randi Weingarten, and he never pushed her down the stairs or anything, at least not literally, so he must be a great guy! (Of course he pushed a film that made her look like the antichrist, but that's just a little harmless fun between friends.)

Let's get a seat at the table with Andrew Cuomo. We'll be good guys and sit out the endorsement. That way AFL-CIO can endorse him, since we didn't vote no.

So what if Governor Cuomo imposes a crushing GEA that means less money for our kids?

So what if he concurrently imposes a tax cap that makes it impossible to compensate for the GEA? So what if NO votes to kids count more than YES votes in NY State?

We have a seat at the table. And he likes us.

Here's the truth--Bill Gates is not an education expert. We are education experts.

Andrew Cuomo is not a student lobbyist. We are student lobbyists.

And they don't need to like us. They need to respect us, our students, and their parents.

And they will never do that as long as we grant them unconditional support even us they fight us and everything we stand for.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Is There a Revive NYSUT?

There are a lot of stories floating around the net about this. There's a grain of truth to some of them. Many of  them revolve around Governor Cuomo. They say that NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi wanted to order three tickets for Andy Cuomo's thousand-dollar-a-plate birthday party, and that Executive Vice-President Andy Pallotta not only bought an entire table of ten, but also gave seats to several of his Revive running mates. Iannuzzi then made any outlays of more than 5K subject to a vote. That's true.

There is of course the myth that Pallotta, a product of UFT Unity and a long-time UFT District Representative, wanted to stir up the state union, because he didn't deem it active enough. Pallotta, the sitting Executive VP, is in charge of legislation. On his watch, we've seen not only a crippling tax rule, but also a Gap Elimination Adjustment that cuts state aid. So districts get less state money, and can't raise taxes to compensate for it. This has cost plenty of NYSUT jobs, and has also saddled hapless kids with higher class sizes.

There's then the story that NYSUT leaders belong to some super-exclusive club, and blogs overstating the membership fees. There are ridiculous contentions about one of the VPs, who doesn't play squash, playing squash there. I always thought squash was a vegetable, but regardless, this club was used as a place of business. People tell me there are Revive tweets suggesting they should have done business at McDonald's. Maybe the blogger in question didn't know the membership was 30 years old, or that neither of the officers were working there 30 years ago. I don't know.

What I do know is that Andrew Cuomo came into office promising to go after unions. I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I found that so repulsive I voted for a third-party candidate, for the first time ever. And the first time Cuomo ran, NYSUT sat out the election in AFL-CIO, which resulted in the AFL-CIO endorsement of Cuomo. Personally, I'm mystified as to why union would endorse someone openly hostile to us, but as NYSUT declined to vote, they let it pass.

What I'm hearing, though, is that NYSUT is no longer prepared to sit idly by, what with abundant evidence that the governor values charter schools dearly, and public schools not at all. If NYSUT were to vote NO on Andrew Cuomo, that could cost him a labor endorsement he values. (We, of course, are public school teachers, and he couldn't care less about us.) And were that to happen, we could stand to lose our much-coveted "seat at the table."

Thus, UFT-Unity raised Andrew Pallotta has put together a group of people to challenge everyone but himself, and the rest of the NYSUT officers decided to run for their jobs. This was a very good deal for Andy Pallotta, as he could not lose. However, someone went and decided to challenge him, and that would be me.

I've been awakened by writing this blog, by running for chapter leader,and by watching my union create an inner circle of people who signed loyalty oaths to support whatever they were told to support. That included things that hurt teachers--mayoral control, VAM, Common Core, and a contract that decimated seniority privileges. Personally, it's hard for me to understand how an education activist could support causes like those, and I'm still mystified as to how any of those things benefit teachers or students.

And spreading this program statewide would be a huge error in judgment. We simply can't have it. The Revive candidates protest too much, claiming repeatedly they are not beholden to UFT leadership. Yet only last year Pallotta sent NYSUT staffers to campaign for UFT fave Bill Thompson. Perhaps Mr. Pallotta was unaware NY mayor is not a state position. It's odd that when asked point-blank in Melville whether or not he'd support Cuomo, yes or no, he hemmed and hawed until the crowd dragged out of him the statement he would not personally support Cuomo. I don't know a single member who supports the atrocious anti-education, anti-union, pro-corporate policies of Andrew Cuomo.

But the member who supports Cuomo, whoever he or she may be, should vote for Revive, in the unlikely event he or she has a vote. NYC voters are all members of the Unity Caucus, and cannot vote for Stronger Together (or me) under pain of expulsion from the caucus, a proud tradition initiated 50 years ago when members were ejected for opposing the Vietnam War. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

On the other hand, if you don't support Cuomo, tell your chapter leader you want him or her to vote for Stronger Together. Stronger Together will fight destructive policies rather than enabling or supporting them. Stronger Together will work for educators and NYSUT members, and Stronger Together will altogether halt the myopic and misguided policy of begging for a seat at a table on which we are the meal.

And on the first weekend of April, hundreds of locals will elect Stronger Together. From thereon in, no one on the staff will spend time orchestrating coups rather than working for members. We will find ways to improve conditions for working people in New York State, and if our corporate, privatizing pals don't like that, too bad for them.

We are the union, we were here before Andrew Cuomo was here, and we'll be here after he and his mad presidential ambitions are nothing more than a gladly-forgotten memory.

And the answer to the question in the title? Revive NYSUT exists so that Andrew Cuomo can get the AFL-CIO endorsement again. They will tell you many other reasons, but that's the only one that counts. UFT leadership is used to getting what it wants.

This year, they'll have to make do with democracy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Skedula Still Sucks but Online Grading May Not

I'm on a UFT committee to study online grading. Since we're supposed to discuss it, I figured I'd better start doing it. It's something I've thought about, but put off. A lot of my colleagues do it. Many favor other programs. Some use spreadsheets, but most people I know who love it use Engrade. However, my school is set up to use Skedula. I don't have a whole lot of love for Skedula, as it's awkward, unreliable, and counter-intuitive, but I have to evaluate what my school uses, so that's what I did.

Skedula is enormously popular with administrators because it plays nice with STARS, the DOE record-keeping program they use. I'm told there is a process that very quickly uploads info from STARS onto Skedula. It used to take maybe a minute, but the geniuses at DOE found some way to inhibit it, so now it takes maybe five minutes. That's a big advantage for administrators who don't feel like sitting around uploading files.

Everyone in my school has an iPad, and Skedula has an iPad app that most of us have deemed unusable. I have a keyboard case, so that helps me with the web app, but it places a nag screen for the iPad app every time I open it. And while my keyboard works with everything, sometimes it simply does not work with Skedula. Also, Skedula forgets who I am on an almost daily basis, despite the fact that I ask it to remember my email. When I entered report card grades on my iPad, twice, Skedula failed to record them. I had to find a computer and enter them for the third time.

Another questionable feature of Skedula is that on the report cards, comments do not appear. I finally found out you have to hover over the grades to see them. You have to do so very deliberately, because if you don't do it just right, they don't appear. I had to ask my principal what happened to my comments. I have no idea how parents or students are going to know that, since there are no instructions whatsoever available. I'm very happy admin at my school decided to issue paper report cards this semester.

On the positive side, I love that my kids can see their grades so easily. I was being observed a few weeks ago, and a girl stood up for no particular reason and asked, "How come you only gave me 85 for participation?" Maybe I should have been upset, but I was thrilled. "Wow. You actually looked at it?" Now that this girl, and perhaps her dad, will know every time she misses the homework, I'm hopeful she'll miss less of it. It turns out she was right about her participation grade, and I raised it. I don't mind getting complaints about things I'm wrong about. It might be better if students would wait until I'm not being observed, but what can you do?

For me, I'm going to keep doing it. I like the back and forth about grades with my students who've decided to keep track, and I'll encourage others to do so as well. On parent-teacher night, I'll be able to pull up an online gradebook that shows grades of only the student in question. That will be good.

But there are a few things I've learned---one is it certainly takes longer than using a gradebook (which I still do, just in case). I cannot rely on Skedula not to crap out, and I'm not sure about reliance on school internet either.  If I'm not collecting homework, I can walk around and check it with a book. I can't count on Skedula and my iPad for that.

Here's what I really wonder--why can't a grading program that does not suck figure out a way to quickly and seamlessly hook up with STARS? That would give principals an incentive to offer a better program, and could possibly make a whole lot of profit for a company interested in helping out the largest school district in the US of A.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Contract Rumors and Mayor de Blasio

After going five and a half years without a raise, half a dozen people come up to me almost every day and ask when we're gonna get a contract. It's not entirely up to me, actually. But the NY Times today says de Blasio's people are trying to work out a nine-year contract with us, and perhaps in thus doing to set a pattern for the other unions, most of whom are one contract ahead of us.

It's just talk now, of course. But if we set a pattern that's crap, there's always the off-chance other union members will come burn our houses down and stuff. And there is, of course, the 4 plus 4 pattern other unions got, which is very tough to justify not getting. It seems to me that if the UFT did not get that, other unions could argue there was no more pattern, and the next time some union accepts less than nothing, we and other unions could say sorry, but there's no pattern and we want more than nothing.

Blogger Chaz sheds light on the loose talk I've been hearing about service credit in lieu of retroactive pay. And Juan Gonzalez says the city can afford to pay us, that there is a will, and there is a way.

The Times article indicates that PERB is waiting on a deal. I can't remember how long I've been hearing that PERB will issue a recommendation any minute.

So will UFT teachers get a little more money, so when our children complain we can mend their tattered little shoes? Let's hope. Bill de Blasio's in a funny place, with Moskowitz millions vilifying him at every turn for the unforgivable offense of keeping a few campaign promises. Doubtless the tabloids will be up in arms vilifying the profligate lifestyles of teachers if we commit the sin of earning an extra dime for our work.

I'm on a road trip today, and I'm sitting in a Dunkin Donuts somewhere outside of Albany writing this. But even though I'm driving a Prius, the price of gas is pretty high. It would be great if the city would show it values public school teachers. Personally, I'd like to see Mayor de Blasio take a tough stance, telling the world that he supports not only public schools, but also those of us who teach 94% of the children in NYC, and 97% of the children in NY State.

One of the egregious errors David Dinkins made after giving us a 5% raise one year was hemming and hawing rather than standing up and saying, "I support our teachers." That year, he turned his back on us. At the Labor Day parade that year, we wore black t-shirts that said "Shame on City Hall" on the back, and planned to turn our backs on him when we passed him. Mayor Dinkins surely knew what was coming, and ran off to a tennis match.

Dinkins, who had won election over Rudy Giuliani by a whisper, lost the next election to Rudy by another whisper. We then sat through 20 years of abuse and corporate nonsense that was most certainly not beneficial to schoolchildren.

I'll stand with Mayor de Blasio. If I were him, I'd make it a point to stand with the United Federation of Teachers, and all our brother and sister unionists as well.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Common Core Good Enough to Judge Teachers but Not Students

So says Governor Andy Cuomo. You see, since kids are not prepared for Common Core, since the tests are unreliable, since no one has ever tested Common Core itself, and since NY State has made its feelings known, Governor Cuomo has to do something. He has to take decisive action. And that action will perhaps indicate to anxious parents that he, the student lobbyist, will prevent their kids from being hurt by low test scores.

Once parents know that, maybe they'll feel better. After all, those scores won't keep the kids out of college. They won't matter that much. In fact, maybe parents will tell the kids they don't matter. Why study for tests with no consequences? Would you study for a test with no consequence to make a moral statement? I'm not that sure I would.

On the other hand, Andrew Cuomo has no problem using these scores in teacher evaluation. What? The kids put their heads down and slept for 90 minutes because they knew the test scores were meaningless? There must be something wrong with the teacher. Let's rate her ineffective. And since the kids have the same deal next year too, let's do it again.

Sometimes people say children first, students first, or whatever, and they invariably mean teachers last. But sadly, folks like Andrew Cuomo don't call themselves a student lobbyist because they care so deeply about our kids. I mean, if that were the case, where's the money from the CFE lawsuit that ought to enable lower class sizes for the city? Why has Andrew Cuomo pushed and passed a punitive tax cap that prevents districts from raising their own budgets without a super majority? Why does Andrew Cuomo give more weight to people who say NO to children than those who say YES? And why has he pushed a Gap Elimination Adjustment that leaves districts with less state aid than they had six years ago?

He's got us coming and going. Teachers and school personnel are losing jobs and class sizes are rising. Andrew Cuomo pays lip service to delaying a few test results and hopes we won't notice. But to Andrew Cuomo, a tool that may help him fire teachers is invaluable. It could be those tens of thousands from DFER, and who knows how much more from their deep-pocketed pals. Or it could be that $800,0000 from the Eva Moskowitz traveling show. It was pretty clear where the governor's loyalties were when we saw him up there on stage with her.

What New York needs is an alternative to Governor Cuomo. I don't think the GOP will present us with one. Rob Astorino bills himself as pro-charter and anti-taxes, and personally I fail to see how those positions differentiate him from Governor Andy. Nonetheless, he's got a history of taking down sitting Democrats. I'm not sure he's ever taken down a Democrat with a 33 million dollar war chest, but that remains to be seen.

If we want to fight a bully like Andrew Cuomo, the only way is by putting out a more effective message than he has. Eva Moskowitz is breaking hearts all over with her commercials. But public schools all over the state are suffering too, and it's time we let NY State know it. Instead of going from bad to worse, maybe we could go from worse to bad.

Because then and only then could we move from bad to good--and that's what parents and teachers all over the state want for public school children. A real student lobbyist couldn't ignore 97% of the state's students.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paper Report Cards a Thing of the Past?

In our school administration decided to stop giving out paper report cards. They say they've received only 5 requests for paper report cards, and that they've printed them. And yet, virtually every teacher I know opposes this. I understand that admin wants to lure parents and students online so they can experience the wonders of the internet, but I'm not at all persuaded this is a good idea.

For one thing, I've spent a few days in the auditorium this year, as it's tough to get to the trailers when there's three feet of snow, or a sheet of ice, or whatever lurks out there on harsh winter days. One day, I asked my kids whether or not they'd seen their report cards. I teach two double period classes, so I don't have that many students, but out of my small sample, only one had seen the report card. I showed the grades to every other kid, which is kind of a pain in the neck on Skedula. The geniuses who wrote Skedula have the default report card as the current semester, which is of course blank, so after you find your way to it you have to change not only the marking period, but also the cycle. It's big fun.

Now there are people who disagree. They say that a lot of kids don't show their parents report cards anyway, and that those kids still won't show them. That's indisputable. But what about kids who don't even know they're there? What about kids who haven't bothered getting a password, or those who haven't used it in so long they've forgotten what it is? My kids are from other countries, and don't speak English that well. Nonetheless, they're likely as not to know more about technology than I ever will. But do they use it to look up their schoolwork?

What about kids with other special needs? I can't speak as expertly on them as I can about my kids, but I wonder how this will affect them.

And while there may have been five requests for paper report cards, how many parents didn't make the request? How many parents didn't even know to ask? A lot of my kids have very hard-working parents. To tell the truth, they sometimes work so hard they don't pay nearly enough attention to their kids. Now I know, we had it tough. Our grandparents came here with nothing and raised us to be perfect. They walked 20 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways and never complained. They worked 200 hours a week but still had time to come home and read us books.

I think we still need to give paper report cards. I think report cards are important.

What do you think? Am I wrong? I'd like to know why.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What About the War on PUBLIC Schools?

Everywhere you turn it's poor Eva Moskowitz. How can mean old Bill de Blasio treat her so shabbily? After all, the woman has to scrape by on 499K per annum, and that's only 99K more than President Obama earns. It was certainly poor judgment for Carmen Fariña to say the kids were on their own, but she's since bent over backwards to accommodate.

Yet for 12 years I've watched school after school close. I don't think there's a single comprehensive high school left in the Bronx. All over the city neighborhood schools have disappeared, replaced by little academies, or charter schools. When one school fell, they'd move the high-needs kids to another, and soon it was a game of dominoes.

When Sandy hit my town, we gathered in the local high school to hear our mayor, and a lawyer from New Orleans told us about handling reluctant insurance companies. Do you suppose some neighborhood will gather at the new Michael Bloomberg School of Basket Weaving to discuss some community issue?

I've faced Mayor Bloomberg's war on public schools. Like hundreds of other community members, I spoke at PEP meetings. I spoke at school closing hearings. I watched a two-minute stop watch tick the seconds away as I spoke truth to Mayor Bloomberg's minions, who ignored me, parents, clergy, students, politicians, and countless other teachers. I don't recall any news reporters getting out of sorts about this. Mayoral control, as Mayor Bloomberg liked to say, meant just that. Sometimes the minions played with their Blackberries and didn't even pretend to listen.

James Eterno and I wrote a column about the false stats with which they were closing Jamaica High School.  Though no one contested our stats, they went ahead with bad ones and closed it anyway. They took what they determined to be the best part of a historic school, broke it off and started a new one. There were no outraged news reporters.

And now, Governor Cuomo has imposed a tax cap on districts outside NYC, a cap that's choking our neighbors outside the city. If anyone wishes to raise aid to their children beyond 2% or the rate of inflation, whatever is lower, they need a super-majority of 60%. Essentially Andrew Cuomo, the man who publicly calls himself a "student lobbyist," has declared that people who say NO to public schoolchildren get more of a voice than those who say YES. And if anyone wonders who says YES to public schoolchildren, that would be those of us who want the best for them, and those of us who want a better future for them. Sadly, that does not include our illustrious governor.

There's also another great New York program called the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, that cuts State aid to public schools. In Freeport NY, where I live, we've gotten cut by 30 million over the last four years and lost over a hundred teachers and school employees. We lost 7 million this year alone, and my kid got a thousand dollars less than she would have. I talk to her guidance counselor, and she doesn't know whether or not the electives my kid wants will be around the next year. In fact, she doesn't always seem sure she herself will be back the next year.

But you don't see NBC 4 screaming about that. The war on public schools did not end with the exit of Emperor Bloomberg. It's alive and kicking, and every single time a brain-dead talking head blathers about the "war on charters," you'd better believe you're seeing the real war, the war against those of us who serve every child no matter what, up close and personal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Statement of Candidacy for NYSUT Executive Vice-President

I’m very proud to teach ESL at Francis Lewis High School, one of the largest schools in NYC, where I am also UFT chapter leader.

When repeatedly failed schemes, like merit pay, are promoted by Governor Cuomo, NYSUT needs strong leaders. NYSUT needs to represent all teachers, whether or not they support mayoral control, VAM, or Common Core. I’ve written in the NY Daily News and elsewhere against all these corporate reforms, and as a result, have been shut out of participation in NYSUT and AFT by UFT leadership.

Former AFT President David Selden wrote that teachers were expelled from the invitation-only UFT-Unity caucus for opposing the Vietnam War. A half-century later, little has changed within UFT-Unity. Our elections are winner-take-all, and all our NYSUT and AFT reps are hand-picked by UFT-Unity, which demands a signed oath to publicly support its positions. I can’t and won’t support baseless, counter-productive corporate reforms. I’ve opted to use the press instead.

UFT-Unity twice failed to oppose mayoral control in NYC, where it’s amounted to mayoral dictatorship. Nationally, mayoral control has enabled people like Gates, Broad and the Waltons to foist their anti-union notions upon public schools.

We know Common Core has never been tested anywhere. We know teachers, parents, and students all over NY are suffering due to its developmentally inappropriate expectations. John King labels vocal parents and teachers special interests, but sits mute when corporate-backed Students First NY monopolizes forums to shut parents, teachers, and students out.

VAM, as Diane Ravitch writes, is junk science. AFT President Randi Weingarten now says, “VAM is a sham.” Rather than co-write laws that can enable our brother and sister teachers to lose jobs over junk science, we should work toward crafting something supportive and research-based. In NYC, leadership boasted we’d negotiate a fair evaluation system, but we ended up having one forced on us by John King.

In fact, John King is right about one thing. We are a special interest. Our special interest is the children of New York State. Despite media voices proclaiming otherwise, we want our students to have the very best teachers and learning conditions. We want to foster readers and thinkers, and we won’t achieve that by restricting instruction to corporate-designed learning modules and script-reading, clock-watching teachers.

We want our kids to think freely and independently. Let’s set an example by promoting free and independent thought within our own union.