Saturday, May 31, 2014

Working Families Party--Maintaining the Status Cuomo

I'm pretty disappointed to read that the Working Families Party is leaning toward a Cuomo endorsement, and even more disappointed to see that UFT is helping to make it happen. The more I observe the zany antics of our insular leadership, the more I wonder what the hell it is they're trying to accomplish. It's not like they're trying to get us better working conditions, as they subject most teachers to 80 minutes of PD every Monday. While FariƱa may find that a great notion, she clearly has not experienced what passes for PD in most city schools.

Andrew Cuomo's proud achievement is a tax cap that limits most school budgets to a cap of 2% or rate of inflation, whatever is lower. Concurrently he's running a Gap Elimination Adjustment that cuts state aid all over the state. Consequently, most districts cannot compensate locally for the budget cuts our "student lobbyist" has imposed. It's disastrous and has resulted in the loss of thousands of teaching and education-related jobs. It's hurt schoolchildren all over the state.

Here in NYC, Cuomo ran roughshod over our democratically elected mayor, Bill de Blasio, who promised a halt to school closings and an end to the blank check given privatizers like Eva Moskowitz. UFT did nothing as the heretofore inviolate mayoral control was stopped in its tracks. In NY State, mayoral control seems to apply only if you're accomplishing the DFER agenda.

The only alternative for us right now is the Green Party, currently running Howie Hawkins and NYC's own Brian Jones. I voted for Howie last time, and I was happy to see they procured themselves a place on the ballot. Unless the WFP surprises us a lot today, that's where I'm going this year too.

I don't delude myself that they're going to win. But don't fool yourself into thinking that Rob Astorino is a good deal either. Right now anti-union icon Scott Walker is doing fundraising for Astorino, and you can bet he isn't doing it because Astorino is a friend of unions.

I'm not entirely sure why we put in our lot with Democrats anymore. It used to be we didn't really need a Labor party, but those days are gone. What's worse is labor itself, as represented by UFT leadership, doesn't appear to support labor either.

Update: Drama is over, and Cuomo is their nominee.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Top 10 Reasons You May Be a "Master Teacher"

Will You Be One of the Chosen Few in NYC to Get that $20,000 Bonus?  

You Might Be Able to Guess That You're a Master Teacher:

10.  when you continue to give Common-Core aligned tests even though 70% of your class hasn't a prayer to pass.

9.  when you've considered giving up your union rights just to work in a charter where starving artists are really appreciated.

8.  when, taking inspiration from the D.C. merit-pay-based, seeming test-erasure scandal, you'd be willing to give a $10,000 kickback for the $20,000 position.  

7.  when you plan all your observations in advance with your supervisor so you can plan student-centered activities in which you roll out lap tops that you will not be using on any other days of the year.

6.  when you wonder how people ever taught before there was technology, but when the technology crashes you stare into the back window of those same people. 

5.  when students doodle on their desks in Latin, quoting Ovid and Virgil.

4.  when a student's phone rings in class, but it's his friend calling to listen in on your teaching.

3.  when the kids who come late to your class sit in for the first five minutes of your next period to see what they've missed.

2.  when students remind you in the beginning of the period that you you forgot to collect their homework, assign them more and give them a surprise quiz.

1.  When the bell rings and students refuse to be moved.  They occupy your class while other students try to enter.  

And, don't forget, you can't be a Master Teacher if you're willing to share with your colleagues without raking in that hefty financial bonus!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How About a Working Teachers Political Party?

I read yesterday that Diane Ravitch will "have a role at Saturday's (WFP) convention."  The Daily News speculated that the Working Families Party might ask Ravitch to run as its candidate for Governor if they fail to endorse Cuomo.  If Ravitch did run, she would help deflect votes from Cuomo who has been unrelenting in his support for Moskowitz's charters (at the expense of the other 90%+ public-school children in NY).  Cuomo has been pounding De Blasio's liberal agenda to a pulp at the same time as he lowers corporate taxes and defends the use of VAM as a weapon against teachers.

What I think we really need today is a new third party, akin to the Populists of the 1800s.  The Populists represented the farmers.  They never won the really big election, but they made gains and more important than anything else they put their views "out there."  Populists' views resonated with a large portion of voters.  Although some ideas fell by the wayside as overly radical, the major parties could not ignore their demands.  It was some time in coming, but the major parties eventually picked up on their ideas for a progressive income tax, the direct election of U.S. senators, greater government regulation of the economy in the name of protecting the people, an eight-hour work day and a greater political voice for women.

Populist Mary Lease was purported to have said (or at least a newspaperman said it for her), farmers  have to "raise less corn and more hell!"  In the past few years under Bloomberg, amid a backdrop of newly created credit-recovery schemes to magically up graduation rates, some "bastardizing" education, I kept thinking "We need to raise fewer grades and more hell!"

If we could form such a party,  we would have to endorse Ravitch for president.  As a teacher, I know Ravitch would help bring light to the issues facing us today.  Although I disagreed with her take on the proposed UFT contract, as did most of those who left comments following her post, I think we all realize that there is probably no other person today who better understands the issues facing teachers and advocates for them in such a thoroughgoing manner.

I have been let down by my Union leadership and all the little people in it who carry out its marching orders.   They accepted mayoral control of education which led to the devastation of the Bloomberg years.  They accepted a demeaning and wasteful system of evaluations which are now enshrined in our proposed contract along with merit pay and a second-class system of due-process for the ATRs.

I think our schools are like ships in the Navy.  We follow the orders handed down to us, sometimes by landlubbers, and try to stay afloat.  We all share a common interest in keeping our ship afloat.  Yet, we must react to strong winds and high tides that bode well for no one.

I am sure many would agree that Chancellor Farina has a much deeper understanding of the issues than former Chancellor Wolcott.  And, I am thankful that she is our Admiral.  Yet, I realize still that much policy is dictated from D.C., and subject to the whims of corporate-backed reformers with much hubris, but little practical classroom experience and an absence of understanding of childhood psychology.

If Ravitch ran, she might be able to generate more conversation about the discourse of educational deformers who identify teachers as scapegoats, over-test children and seek to privatize public education.  In the 1960s, concerned U.S. citizens outright attacked segregation, widespread poverty and war.  Today, these issues are only addressed on the periphery.  Why address them at all when you might have to turn an unfriendly eye towards the rich supporters of so many politicians who would rather use teachers as scapegoats?

I'm not sure how Dr. Ravitch's health is progressing after her knee surgery and if she would truly be in the running on the WFP ticket or a WTP, Working Teachers Party, ticket which could be built from the ground up pretty quickly, I think.  I guess time will tell.  Whatever the case, I think it's pretty clear that a Working Teachers' Party, a.k.a., Working Scapegoats' Party, would have no better ally than Dr. Ravitch.  Let us remember that scapegoats are not "scapesheep."  Each of us has two horns!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We Are the Real Reformers, Says Mulgrew

It's kind of surprising to hear Mike Mulgrew take up the mantra of those who've opposed UFT enabling of corporate reform, but he's absolutely correct that we're the real reformers. Pictured at left are a group of independent activist unionists, regularly excoriated by the elite invitation-only Unity Caucus. They predate Mulgrew's assertion by several years, are wearing real reformer capes and protesting a corporate reform event.

Yes, we are the real reformers, and yes we do whatever we have to in order to help the kids we see every day. Sadly, placing guns to our heads helps neither us nor them, and that's why the fear tactics Mulgrew uses to sell the substandard contract he negotiated are such bad ideas.

Mulgrew condemns the strategy of closing schools, but was part of the UFT leadership that endorsed mayoral control. When it became abundantly clear that school closing was the favored strategy of Tweed, UFT asked for a few changes, failed to get them, and supported mayoral control again anyway. Of course mayoral control's been seriously compromised now that Bill de Blasio tried to use it to slow down Eva Moskowitz. Governor Cuomo feels mayoral control should apply only to mayors who use it in support of Moskowitz, the legislature agrees, and Mulgrew's UFT leadership lifted not a finger to stop them from enabling her.

Mulgrew boasts of UFT lawsuits, and in fact used them when running against Jamaica Chapter Leader James Eterno for UFT President. Despite his words, UFT abandoned Jamaica High School, now set to be closed under the administration of the most progressive mayor in decades. The closure of Jamaica High School, among many others, epitomizes the failure of UFT leadership. It's unconscionable that Eterno himself, for my money the city's best chapter leader, will likely become an ATR subject to second tier due process. Union means we are one, not that some are less equal than others.

Our president bemoans the same charters his leadership failed to oppose with Bill de Blasio. But the UFT has a long history of failure regarding charters. UFT has not only supported charters, but has further partnered up with anti-teacher Steve Barr. Barr not only fired most of the LA teachers he bamboozled with pizza before failing to improve the school, but eventually championed the parent trigger movement. Mulgrew's UFT leadership partnered with Barr to bring a Green Dot school to NYC. Not only that, but the UFT started its own charter school and colocated it. The Post delights in writing about its poor performance. It's remarkable that Mulgrew can now criticize charters with no irony whatsoever.

Mulgrew now criticizes using value-added to rate teachers, but when NY's evaluation law was created, he boasted of his input in it. It was the best thing since sliced bread. We finally had multiple measures, he said. The best thing, of course, was that we could negotiate precisely how junk science would be used to fire us. Of course that never happened, and this was Bloomberg's fault. It had to be, of course, since nothing is ever the fault of UFT leadership. Nonetheless, when agreement could not be reached with the fanatical ideologue for whom we'd endorsed mayoral control, we happily appointed yet another fanatical ideologue, NY Education Commissioner John King, as an impartial mediator.

It's terrible, says Mulgrew, that the city backtracked on its promise not to release junk science scores to the media. He's right, of course. What he forgets is that we already knew Tweed was unworthy of our trust when we agreed to pilot the junk science scores. Also, if we're so opposed to using junk science, why on earth did we agree to fool with it in the first place?

Master teachers I know, and I have a few in mind, help their colleagues as a matter of course. They don't need an extra 20K to do so, and if they did they wouldn't be master teachers. This is not the first time the UFT has agreed to enact merit pay they claimed wasn't merit pay. The last time it was a miserable failure. I've got no reason to believe it won't be this time either. Every time we jump because the corporate reformers claim we need remedies for plagues that don't exist, we move just one step backwards. Though many teachers already feel backed against a wall, UFT keeps allowing us to be pushed.

I won't even bother to discuss the money we may get, if we don't quit or die, six years from now, a decade after most of our unionist brothers and sisters got theirs. 

Mulgrew also praises professional development. This, Mulgrew concludes, will benefit our students. It's been a few years since Mulgrew has been in the classroom, but his experience with PD must be an awful lot better than mine. Mine suggests the overwhelming majority of PD is a waste of time. I fail to see what's been done to improve this, but clearly history plays little part in the decision making processes of the loyalty oath-signing Unity Caucus, the aristocratic clique that rules our union via patronage, threats, and logical fallacies that keep most working teachers cynical and demoralized.

That's too bad, because cynicism and demoralization helps neither us nor our kids, and I don't want our kids treated remotely the way UFT leadership treats us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Mr. Mulgrew, Tear Down Your 'Paradigm'"

I've decided to write this even though I have heard that Mr. Mulgrew does not read blogs and dismisses the opinions trafficking at such sites as pure myth.  

On May 19th, Union president, Michael Mulgrew, held a Question and Answer Webcast to discuss the contract proposal.  Many, but not all, of the questions seemed to be posed by the Unity faithful.  One asked, "How does the proposed contract support the ATRs?"   The question itself seemed to affirm that the contract does nothing but support ATRs.  It allowed Mulgrew to elude the issue of the two-tier due-process system which ATRs find highly unfavorable.  

Another person asked a question in regard to retro, pointing out that he didn't know that we had given the City a loan on our retroactive raises, leading to Mulgrew's seemingly well-rehearsed "God-given-rights" response.  One could sense that people with questions such as these will get the green light in Unity, move up from their after-school jobs of $20,000 or more in union offices and secure more for their double pensions.  After all, who needs a really good contract when Unity has your back?

I don't think anyone could doubt that the webcast was designed specifically to sell the contract to people.  According to Mulgrew, it's going to become "complicated" and ugly if we turn down the contract.  At one point, Mulgrew spoke in favor of "professional dialogue."  But what about a formal debate, the kind which he seems to reject at all the important crossroads?  Or, what about some other format by which people can ask follow-up questions?  Mulgrew attempts to marginalize his opponents by painting them as bloggers of myth, but if this is the case, why should he be afraid to take them head on and expose their myths?  Why would he fear to engage them in a more evenly balanced dialogue?  Why would Unity advise its own caucus members, with the seemingly singular exception of Edwize, to close up their blogs?

I found some quotes from Mulgrew's webcast of last Monday particularly memorable:

1.  "Retro is not a God-given right."  Prior to the Enlightenment, people did not have a sense of natural rights.  Three-hundred years ago, John Locke identified God-given rights as life, liberty and property.  I might ask, Mr. Mulgrew, since he seems to know, "what are our 'God-given' rights today?" 

2.  When asked if the families of teachers who die before accumulating the full retro will receive the lump-sum payments, Mulgrew stated "This has always been worked out.  Nobody's looking to hurt a family in distress.  We'll work it out."  Although, I would have loved to hear a definitive "yes," I believe the Union would step up to protect families of the deceased.  I'm betting many of us will die by 2020.  For peace of mind, it would be nice to know.  Will you be able to guarantee that my family will be protected, Mr. Mulgrew, before I succumb to Death by Danielson (now 8 elements times six observations which still "gums up my works")?  

3.  Mulgrew said something to the effect that "Few locals have class-size limits" in their contracts, besides the UFT.  I believe this is true.  Apparently, thirty-five states place limits on class size.  Oddly, D.C. appears to have no limits.  Some of these limits leave something to be desired though and some seem to be increasingly under attack.  In my opinion, and that of many others, there is no more important path to helping students than reducing class size. I might ask, "Do you agree, Mr. Mulgrew and did you mention it at all to Mr. de Blasio?" 

4.  When asked whether there would still be six observations, Mulgrew stated, "We think of observations as bad.  We love being isolated.  We got to get over it.  Helping each other will make us stronger."  We must "switch paradigms" both ways, meaning teachers and administrators and engage in a professional dialogue in order to learn and help each other. 

I am prepared for my class every day of the year.  I have been all my teaching life.  It adds undue stress to know that six times in the year my administrator is going to walk in with a pad and hold me up to some detailed rubric that may not fit the needs of my students on that individual day.  The rubric puts an emphasis on spontaneous eruption of student discourse.  This works upon occasion, but it cannot work all the time, and it definitely cannot work in preparing students for college settings.  

When administrators have to repeatedly observe teachers who are doing their job, it detracts from the administrators' ability to complete other tasks or help the teachers who need the most help.  When I was a new teacher, I was observed with this high frequency.  This was twenty years or so ago.  I personally find the micromanagement demeaning at this stage in my career and I don't imagine I'll be getting "over it" anytime soon. How can you talk about "empowering educators," Mr. Mulgrew, so long as I and my colleagues are so demeaned?

5.  My favorite quote of the webcast came from a Staten Island teacher.  Without realizing the potential for misinterpretation, she prefaced her question to Mulgrew by saying, "Thank you for your collaboration."  Mulgrew hastily changed the topic and asked her about her ferry ride.  Maybe it was just me, but I couldn't stop laughing.  Did you find that statement or misstatement at all funny, Mr. Mulgrew?

I guess I have a few more questions of my own.  Why didn't Mulgrew ask the rank-and-file what they would like before he began negotiations?  Does Mulgrew think most teachers want a system of merit pay?  Does he think most ATRs want a second-tier system of due-process?  Does he listen to his Unity parrots too often and dismiss the growing opposition?  Does he think just because he can pull the purse strings on his Unity members and tell them to bring in the vote at their schools and scare teachers with stories about going to the back of some line, he can build a strong union?   I say Mr. Mulgrew must listen to all sides of the "professional dialogue" and stop dismissing his opposition as a bunch of ignorant blogging hotheads.  I offer up a challenge and throw down the gauntlet of a growing many, "Mr. Mulgrew, Tear Down Your Paradigm!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

The UFT and the Inability to Admit Wrongdoing

Because the 2005 contract was almost ten years ago, several people in the UFT have spoken to me of its shortcomings. I'm surprised they do that, because when it came up every single UFT rep said it scraped the skies with its unrivaled wonderfulness. We now know that it was a huge mistake.

On the other hand, I knew it immediately upon seeing it. I had just started this blog, with the specific intent of trying to counter the crap I was always reading in the tabloids. I had gotten a few columns in NY Teacher and was interested in supporting the union. I knew almost nothing about union politics. When Edwize appeared, I was excited. I thought this was a great step for the union, and I was getting ready to dump this blog and start writing for Edwize instead.

The 05 contract changed everything. It turned out neither Edwize nor NY Teacher wanted to hear how awful the new contract was. The ATR was just a temporary problem. This was not the first time it had happened. No one in leadership seemed to know that Joel Klein would continue to hire new teachers even as our colleagues lingered as longtime subs. No one in leadership seemed to understand that a raise was doing the same job for more money, or that if you worked extra hours, did extra tasks and received extra money, that this was not a raise. 

The thing that's problematic about our leadership is this--they never make mistakes. While they may admit to doing something wrong ten years ago, that has no bearing on the present. So what if they negotiated a junk science law, the beauty of which was that we could negotiate a good portion of the junk science? So what if, when that didn't pan out, we left it in the hands of fanatical ideologue John King?

It was a great victory when we fought Mayor Bloomberg and made all Danielson domains were part of observations. It was also a great victory when we changed that and made only 8 domains part. It was a great victory when we gave teachers the opportunity to use artifacts in evaluation. It was also a great victory when we removed artifacts from evaluation. It was a brilliant tactic to ensure teachers paid nothing into their health care. It was also a brilliant tactic to subject it to binding arbitration and perhaps have teachers pay into health care.

It's a great victory that ATR teachers will now get a one-day 3020a hearing if they get accused of shouting in the hall by two different principals. According to the UFT President, people acquitted at 3020a hearings often complain of how long they take. What a nuisance it must be to call witnesses so you can't be fired for no reason!

They were wrong in the past, and they're wrong now. What we really need is a leadership that listens to rank and file. The Unity loyalty oath ensures that all leadership hears is the voice of people looking for patronage at the expense of the truth. You can't run a union while sitting under a cone of silence.

It's time to vote for people who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

We can't do that for a while. What we can do now is vote no to a contract that shatters due process for working teachers. We are union. We can't have one process for us, and another for ATR teachers.

That's unconscionable. I can't believe our leadership doesn't see that. Of course, I'm not Unity, so they don't consult me. If I were Unity, I wouldn't be allowed to speak freely.

Ironic, ain't it?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

VAMalot!--the Arne Duncan Musical

More and more statisticians and studies are proving what most career teachers knew from the get-go:  VAM is a SHAM (see here for example).  Still, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, clings to it like a captain aboard a ship which is sure to sink.  

Sadly, the UFT enshrined test-based teacher evaluations in its new contract.  Yes, teachers in non-tested areas will be evaluated only on the test scores of their students, but in subjects which they do not teach.  And, the DOE has promised to create more standardized tests for non-assessed areas.  More tests?  Is it Pearson Envy?  Is it some form of OCD or an expensive habit of pandering to yet more standardized tests?

In honor of VAM's eventual demise, here is a new version of "Camelot, the Reprise": 

Each evening, from September to September,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tests that you remember
Of VAMalot.
Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called VAMalot.
VAMalot! VAMalot!
Now say it out with pride and joy!

VAMalot! VAMalot!

Yes, VAMalot, my boy!
Where once we always prepped till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning class had moaned ...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As VAMalot.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Michael Mulgrew Says Bloggers Propagate Myth

UFT President Mike Mulgrew harped on the theme of myth at the DA as he praised the contract and shut down anyone who dared disagree. At one point, he spoke of blogs as though they were loathsome reptiles. He doesn't read them, but he knows they traffic in myths. He was being nice, he said, as he more or less proclaimed to every UFT delegate in the city that bloggers, unbound by the Unity loyalty oath, were a bunch of dirty liars. Particularly offensive to Mulgrew was the assertion that UFT members might pay for health care.

Mulgrew has a secret plan for health care savings, a plan that absolutely can't backfire. You know, like the secret plan Nixon had to end the Vietnam War, and if you can't trust Dick Nixon, who plainly said he wasn't a crook, who can you trust? The bloggers, who he clearly suggested were a bunch of lying bastards?

Doubtless I'm one of the lying bastards Mulgrew was "nice" to. I received a memo leaked by Capital NY, a memo that implied city workers could pay back 2% of salary to compensate for the grab bag of goodies we're up for in this contract, and I posted it immediately. I was told by UFT sources that this was a leaked and rejected memo, and I duly posted that too. But in fact, the actual language of the MOA does not preclude that from happening, and subjects us to arbitration if we don't meet projected savings. Here's what de Blasio says of that, according to the NY Times:

Aides to the mayor said they had cultivated a newly cooperative relationship between the city and labor negotiators, and they believed the unions would make good on a commitment to reduce their health care costs by $3.4 billion. If not, they said, the city reserved the right to enforce some of the terms.
“These savings are enforceable by arbitration,” Mr. de Blasio said. “These savings will happen. Period.”

I believe de Blasio, and Mulgrew's assurances are not evident in the MOA. In fact this is now overtly acknowledged by UFT:

We have no idea of any limit on these arbitrators, and it's certainly possible they could wipe away not only that whopping 2% raise, but also the thousand dollar bribe bonus. In fact, they could clearly take another thousand bucks from every working teacher next year, when there will be no bribe bonus.

Another thing that kind of disturbs me, as a cancer survivor, is this--what if I walk out the door tomorrow and a piano falls on my head? Will my wife and daughter get the money I've worked 30 years for, or will I be callously dismissed as those who resign? After all resignees can't vote in UFT elections, and neither can corpses, so why should they worry about long-term members who got run over by steamrollers? UFT  has an answer for that too:

That's kind of interesting. I'm an ESL teacher, and as such I actually teach kids how to answer questions. I recognize that instantly as a yes/ no question. I also recognize that it didn't receive a yes/ no answer. While my friends at UFT say they've been able to negotiate that in the past, they clearly are not up to a definitive response.

This begs the question--if they've experienced this in past contract negotiations, why the hell didn't they add unambiguous language in this one to preclude any mystery? Don't they learn from experience? 

Someone is indeed trafficking in myth here. But it's not any blogger I know of.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

N.Y.C.: Power to the Sleeping Giant!

I love NYC.  I'm not the first one to say so, nor will I be the last.  

NYC has been a center of cultural diversity and activism in history.  I cannot forgive the fact that our U.F.T. fails to engage its membership in activism.  

I look to Chicago, Karen Lewis and the C.T.U.  I look to Los Angeles and the recent U.T.L.A. (second in size only to the U.F.T.) election of Alex Caputo-Pearl.  I look to Barbara Madeloni, now president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.  I look to Jesse Hagopian on the rise in Seattle.  Then,  I look to Mulgrew.  I feel he, unlike these other leaders of teacher unions, fears an energized rank and file.  He fears Unity cannot withstand it.  But if Unity does not open its doors and mobilize its membership, MORE will gain MORE and MORE votes.  NYC will not be kept down.

The current war against Educational Deformers demands militant unionism.  Battling corporate agendas that control much of the media, harm children and seek to privatize education largely for profit and large salaries, union memberships have been mobilizing across the country.  They have been working hand in hand with parents and other community activists.  Yet, in NYC,  teachers remain comparatively isolated and paralyzed in a permanent state of low morale.  It is unnatural. 

This situation will ultimately prove untenable for UFT-Unity.  Recognizing the weaknesses of Unity today, I had some questions for Mr. Mulgrew:

1.  Is it too much to ask that the Unity Loyalty Oath and its attached purse strings be scrapped, not only by being removed from applications, but also by being rooted out of the unwritten constitution?

2.  Is it too much to ask that the U.F.T. Executive Board stop increasing the voting power of retirees (whom most unions do not allow to vote at all) in a bid to drown out the voices of the rank and file?  Many retirees, as much as we love them, gain inspiration from them and thank them for the rights we have today, fail to understand the scope of the corporate war against public-education today.  They live with fond memories of Unity's more active yesteryears.

3.  Is it too much to ask why the U.F.T. Executive Board accepts members of its ally, New Action, on its Executive Board, but turns a blind eye towards MORE's candidates who won over 40% of the high school vote?  Is it right that MORE members and/or chapter leaders who refuse to sign loyalty oaths, but still represent large contingents, have no voice in N.Y.S.U.T. and A.F.T. elections?

4.  Is it too much to ask that Delegate Assembly meetings allow debate and divergent opinions without intimidating Unity members from a bully pulpit or shutting down the opposition?  The more you shut down the opposition, I guarantee you, the more they will rise up.

5.  Is it too much to ask that the membership be mobilized to act in unison with students, parents and other community activists to save public education from those who would swallow it alive?  We have natural allies.  Why do we turn our backs on them when the struggle is so great?

6.  Is it too much to ask that contracts not be shoved down the throats of 300-member U.F.T. committees before any document can be read?  The M.O.A. was published for the first time on the eve of the D.A. vote with little-to-no time left for debate.

7.  Is it too much to ask that potential Unity bloggers who are not named Edwize no longer be advised to close up shop for fear that the blogger might give birth to some independent idea?

8.  Is it too much to ask that our Union find common cause with Unions across the City and country and rise up to protect our shared rights?

9.  Is it too much to ask that Unity maintain solidarity at all costs and protect all members equally, including ATRs who now face a separate due-process system?

10.  Is it too much to ask that Unity stop telling its chapter leaders (who run the contract vote) to turn over "yes" votes in their schools seemingly by any and all means at their disposal, including scare tactics.

If Unity fails to foment union democracy in NYC, waken its sleeping membership and mobilize them, I say Unity has paved the path to its own demise.  "Singing Power to the People....  Power to the People, right on."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The UFT and Learned Helplessness

A colleague of mine told me yesterday about an experiment in which dogs were shocked when they tried to leave their cages. After a while, their cages were left open and the dogs didn't leave anymore. She said it was called "learned helplessness." It sounds like a fair description of the 83% of our colleagues who can't be bothered voting against our autocratic and inept leadership. Why bother? The same people always get elected anyway.

I vote every chance I get, and I can't think like that. But I get the strong impression leadership is fine with it. The very first question at the DA when they were pushing the contract was something like gee, Mike, I love standing here taking in your wonderfulness and by the way, what happens if we vote no? The answer was a straight appeal to fear. We'll have to wait in line behind 150 unions and we won't get anything at all. Scary, huh? Maybe we shouldn't try to get out of this cage. Who knows what lurks out there? They toned it down a bit for last night's post-webcast tweet, but here it is again:

Screw the ATR teachers. Who cares if they get second-tier due process? Who cares if there's some vague agreement about health savings? It doesn't matter to me that UFT leadership has backed down from its promise that costs won't go up, and that my whopping 2% raise could get eaten up in fees in arbitration. I can't think about that. It's too scary!

I want to get my 18%, years and years from now, if a safe doesn't fall on my head between now and retirement, and if some future mayor doesn't appeal it as too costly, maybe I will. And if I don't resign I can get the money. Screw all the people who did resign and get nothing. I'm getting money years from now, if I'm lucky, and that's all that's important!

The other notion the UFT is floating, aside from the appeal to fear, is this one:

That's a classic strawman, and I've seen it propagated by other UFT supporters on Twitter. In fact, neither I nor any teacher I know believes teachers shouldn't be empowered.  I have never seen that argument articulated anywhere and it is utter nonsense. But when you're defending a contract that renders some UFT employees second class citizens, when you're describing utterly untested policies as fair, ideal, and maybe perfect, you need to blame someone. Actually, making it easier to fire ATR teachers is not precisely empowering them.

Mulgrew declared it a myth that we might have to pay for health care. But as details of this plan came out, and it was clear that arbitrators can decide what we may have to pay, it may not be a myth at all. It's more like a shot in the dark. Let's vote up this piece of crap and hope we don't lose too much of our increase paying for health care. Let's vote up this pile of garbage and hope we don't become ATRs. Let's vote up this stinking river of bilge and hope not too many ATRs get fired because Leadership Academy principals accused them of shouting in the halls.

Because after all, there's a bribe bonus for me upon signing, or maybe in September, or maybe some other time. And there's that immediate 2% raise that may or may not end up as a contribution to health care. And maybe if I get hit by a bus before 2020 UFT may negotiate my next of kin gets it.

We should put our trust in the people who thought the ATR agreement was the bestest thing ever in 2005. Let's have faith in the people who told us the DOE was way too inept to send them school to school, week to week. Let's hope the people who proudly showed us the junk science evaluation they helped design know what they're doing. After all, it's not their fault they couldn't negotiate it as they promised. It's not their fault they thought corporate ideologue John King was a fair mediator. Why should we blame them for supporting mayoral control in the beginning, and then after it proved to be an abject disaster, yet again?

We need to listen to what they say. To not do so would be risky. It would be stepping out of the cage, and we can't do that.

Can we do it? Can we think outside the cage?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

ATR--A Simple Twist of Fate

Note-This story originally appeared in Gotham Schoools, now Chalkbeat NY.  One of the most disturbing features of this contract is the two-tier due process we've established for ATR teachers. I don't see how we, as union, can justify a different and lower standard for their due process. I could've easily been an ATR for being at the wrong place at the right time. My former school faced closure and managed to stay open by the skin of its teeth. My friends at Jamaica High School, alas, have not been so lucky. Anyone can become an ATR--me, you, and any working teacher. I always remember that.

A lot of people think teaching is somehow a job for life — that no teachers can be fired for any reason, no matter what they do, who they kill, or whether or not they sleep in garbage cans. It’s not true. In fact, the Department of Education tries to take away teacher jobs all the time. I recently read about one teacher who’s up on charges for giving watches to kids who scored 90 or above in his class. Clearly, dangerous individuals like that must be dealt with severely.

Those of us who aren’t up on charges have other worries. For example, we can become “ATRs.” ATR is an acronym for “Absent Teacher Reserve.” When the cit closes a school, it’s required to retain 50% of “qualified” teachers. This translates to fewer than 50% of actual teachers. If the “reorganized” school doesn’t offer French, for example, 100% of working French teachers say adieu, teaching schedule and bonjour, Absent Teacher Reserve.

The ATR situation started in 2005. Tabloid editorial writers were jumping up and down about the new UFT contract. God bless teachers, they declared. Finally, they said, principals could decide who they wanted to hire. It was morning in America again. Several weeks passed before they went back to vilifying us, as tradition dictates.

In any case, teachers would no longer be sent to schools simply because there were open positions. Instead, they’d become ATRs, teaching whatever, wherever, to whomever. From there, we were assured, they’d easily find jobs. Unless, of course, they didn’t. Personally, I’m very glad I transferred when I could. For all I know, they could be closing my former school this very moment. I’d be very unhappy as an ATR teacher, and I’ve met many ATR teachers who feel precisely the same way.

What principal wants to hire an ancient relic like me when she can get a shiny new teacher who’ll do anything she says for less than half the price? And best of all, most of those teachers will be history well before they hit the five-year mark. They’ll never mature enough to question any program, no matter how pointless, wasteful, or illegal, and they’ll never become burdens on society by retiring and collecting pensions. 

Before the ATR situation, displaced teachers could transfer based on seniority. As a new teacher, I was bumped several times by these senior teachers. No one would help me get a job. Not the city, not the union, not anyone. A UFT rep told me that I’d be glad when I was more senior — the system would then work for me. This notwithstanding, I’m more senior than I’ve ever been, and it doesn’t work for me at all.

For a while, there was also a UFT transfer plan. If you worked in a building for a number of years, you could consult a list of openings in your subject area. You could then select from those openings and move to another school.

Judging from tabloid editorials, the UFT transfer plan was evil. From what I’ve read, it was used exclusively by lazy incompetent teachers who moved around to inflict more misery in new and different places. This notwithstanding, I used the plan because I lacked foresight — I failed to throw a sufficient number of kids out of my classes.

In my last school, the Spanish 1 classes were out of control. The teacher sent the AP kids all the time. This one wouldn’t sit down. That one was chewing gum. This one threw a paper airplane. Twice! The AP was spending a great deal of time on this. How could she solve this problem?

Why not take that ESL teacher who didn’t throw kids out and have him teach Spanish 1? It seemed perfect. But I was appointed to teach ESL, and there was that bothersome UFT contract. She couldn’t force me. I’d already told her I’d been offered a 3:30 class at Queens College and she said it was no problem-so I’d accepted. She decided to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

She said, “Mr. Goldstein, I’m going to assign you to teach five Spanish 1 classes in September. If you don’t agree to do it, I’m going to give you a late class and you’ll have to forget about Queens College.”

This was a tough decision for me. What to do? If only I’d thrown more kids out. I was just married, had just bought a house, and I really needed that second job. But I loved teaching ESL.

At the time, of course, there was that UFT transfer plan. If I was at a school enough years (I was), I could transfer to any school that needed an ESL teacher.

I found two schools close to Queens College, Francis Lewis and John Bowne, and neither of them (at the time) had classes after 3 PM. I marked them as choices one and two. I had to get the principal’s signature, and he shook his head grimly, saying, “You’ll never get into Francis Lewis.” Five weeks later, I got a call from the Board of Education to report to Francis Lewis in September.

My new AP at Francis Lewis was wonderful. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone who could handle people quite like she could. One semester, she asked me if I’d mind teaching a Spanish 1 class. I told her sure. I’d have done anything she wished. I’d have put her statue on the dashboard of my car.

She’s gone now, and so is the UFT transfer plan that sent me here. I miss them both.

I hope, if my daughter follows through on her plan to be a teacher, that the job of teaching is at least as good to her as it’s been to me. I also hope there are still some good supervisors around. Many of mine have been excellent, and that’s made a huge difference. I’ve been lucky.

I know teachers who haven’t been so lucky. Their schools closed, they got dumped into the ATR pool, and there they remain. I know one who emailed me regularly, becoming more and more depressed until she finally resigned — a big win for the city, I suppose. I even know one who got tapped for a special mentoring program — a promotion based on merit. When the program closed, that teacher became an automatic ATR.

I love to teach.  It’s exciting to meet new kids and get to know them. It’s even more exciting if you’re an ESL teacher and they come from every corner of the world. I’m very proud I can play some small part in helping them along.

If you take that away from me, I’ll be lost, and that’s precisely the sense I get from ATR teachers I know. I read one writer speculate about how wonderful it would be to not have the day-to-day responsibilities of lesson planning and follow-up, but I’ve yet to meet the real-live ATR teacher who was happy about it.

And whenever ATR teachers tell me their stories, I’m certain of one thing — there but for the grace of God go I.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Will the New Contract Divide and Conquer?

Is the name of U.F.T.'s Unity an oxymoron?  Does Unity fail to see how the new contract will divide and conquer its own constituency or has it intentionally planned it this way?    

A.T.R.s will be separated from the rest of the rank and file by a seemingly second-class system of due process.  They seem to get the short end of the stick.  Unity argues that their expedited 3020a disciplinary process will be beneficial to all involved (Memorandum of Agreement, pp. 38-40).  Perhaps, it may.  That is Unity's opinion.  But, did they bother asking any A.T.R.s first?  Doubt it.  From all I hear, A.T.R.s are staunchly against it.  They are suspicious, and rightly so.  The system has already dealt them a shoddy deal.  Why should their due-process rights be any less than the rest of the rank and file?  In many cases, they are victims of little more than Bloomberg's school-closing policies.

To add to further divisions, there will be a new class of teachers called "peer validators" (M.O.A., p. 24) who will help sit in judgement of all teachers in trouble.  They will receive $15,000 per year.  I can already smell the corruption coming.  Some A.T.R.s may decide to bail out, opting for a voluntary severance benefit (M.O.A, p. 36).

The new contract further divides the rank and file by creating a class of super teachers.  They will be called several things, including ambassador ($7,500/year more), model ($7,500/year more) and master ($20,000/year more).  The process for determining these new classes of super teacher is spelled out, but without much detail.  How, for example, will they decide the number of teachers to be designated as such? (M.O.A, pp.  25-31).  Again, I fear corruption entering into the process.  Could not this money be better spent on reducing class size and hiring more teachers???

The whole idea of a class of super teachers cuts to the heart of union solidarity.  Does Unity mean to buy off the approval of these chosen, "superior" few, perhaps with leadership skills, and further split the rank and file?  I do not like the idea.  David Coleman and his cronies of C.C.S.S. fame may feel uncomfortable with feelings, but feelings have proven invaluable in my life.  I have a very bad feeling about this "merit pay" disguised as something else.

The divisions cut deeper.  An older tier of teachers will be encouraged to take their experience and, perhaps, rancor and retire, leaving the rest of the rank and file behind.  If the contract goes through, these people must decide in June this year whether to retire or not.  If they do, of course, they will get their back pay in one huge lump sum.  It will be as if they hit the jackpot.  This is probably just the modern-day form of a buy-out with the exception that they probably should have already had this money coming to them.

Under the new contract, the U.F.T. will also create P.R.O.S.E. schools to further divide the union.  In these schools, the U.F.T. will encourage teachers to foster new practices, but at a cost.  The teachers will still pay their union dues, but they will be freed from some points of the contract.  Since our union is basically meant to protect workers' rights, I am somewhat worried.  These union-backed schools are supposed to mimic charters without using the word "charter" in their names.  Charters have a history of walking over the rights of their workers.  One hopes for more from a union-backed charter.   

Why does Unity seek to create disunity?  Does it fear a union emboldened and unified?  Unity may feel safe so long as only 17% of its active rank and file vote (as in the 2013 union elections) and so long as its retirees stay loyal.  

The more I think about Unity, the more I am sure it wants its membership to remain inactive.  So many protests occur in which teachers might unite with parents in the name of protecting our children.  Unity turns a blind eye.  I was told Unity even forbid fliers related to such a protest to be handed out around its halls when Diane Ravitch came to speak there.  

Unity seems to fear our power unharnessed, lest it go in directions it cannot control.  We might actually become the new Karen-Lewis-like C.O.R.E. and thrust aside "business unionism" in the name of "social movement unionism," as in Chicago.  Unity might go the way of the U.P.C.

Unity's  own members are discouraged from thinking independently outside of the caucus.   I am sure that such an attitude dissuades independent thought even within the caucus.  Unity members must abide by a loyalty oath.  If they have a blog of their own, and the name is not Edwize, they are advised to cease and desist.  God forbid anyone should have an independent idea of his or her own.  

The scope of issues facing unions in the United States today demand active participation from every member.  Yet, sadly, Unity fears this very thing.  It buys out its own members with handsomely-paid jobs in union offices, trips to conferences, promises of power and prestige.  The purse strings are secure.  

Can we be bought off with a $1,000 signing bonus and the promise that we might, ourselves, become a "master teacher" some day and rake in $20,000 more.  This contract further divides us from the other City unions who find it less than favorable as a pattern for bargaining.  Money buys a lot, but will it buy our solidarity and, if so, at what future cost to our rights?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Rat Squad

Reading the MOA on the proposed UFT Contract, I notice that the "validators," the people who decide whether or not the burden of proof will be on the DOE to establish teacher incompetence, will now be teachers. This is touted as a major improvement over the last agreement, though the last agreement has never once been tested. Oddly, leadership claimed the last agreement was also wonderful and fair. Evidently, with no evidence whatsoever, they've determined this agreement is even more wonderful and fair.

Teachers who choose to be validators will run around observing their peers, declaring thumbs up or thumbs down. If their thumbs go up, the DOE will have to prove teachers are incompetent in order to fire them. If their thumbs go down, teachers will have to prove they are not incompetent, a burden of proof that will be challenging indeed.

I wonder why any non-administrator would want this job. I don't want this job. If I wanted a job like this I'd have become an administrator. I suppose if I wanted to become an administrator a job like this would look good on my resume. But no way would I sit in judgment of my brother and sister UFT members. No way would I determine they need to prove their competence rather than have the DOE prove otherwise. In fact, I would not even do so for the extra 15K a year offered, nor for the possibility of some future gig in admin.

As this is not tested, it's hard to see what will happen. I can't imagine the DOE's intent in giving teachers this job is to have less discretion in firing teachers. And I know current arbitrators tend to "split the baby" by failing to find anyone absolutely innocent. Absolute innocence in a 3020a hearing tends to be accompanied by a fine of a few thousand dollars for charges that do not merit 3020a.

My daughter likes to watch police shows, and I sometimes watch with her. Often I see references to Internal Affairs, divisions that look after corruption in their fellow officers. They are not much admired by their colleagues, and are often referred to as "the rat squad." Sometimes they're portrayed as doing the right thing, and sometimes they aren't.

I wouldn't want this job, since I believe the burden of proof when taking a teacher's career ought to be on the employer. I wouldn't want this job since I'm closely acquainted with teachers who've lost their careers for no reason. I'd be uncomfortable having any part of that. I wouldn't want this job because I'm an advocate for my colleagues, and even if they're wrong I want admin to follow the rules when disciplining or removing them.

I wouldn't want this job because despite what I read in the tabloids, I don't believe there is a zombie-like plague of bad teachers. I don't believe we need to correct problems that don't actually exist.

It's very disappointing to see my union take up the flag of teacher-bashers, and even more disappointing it approves of paying our own to help fire our own.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

Next week we will be voting on a proposed contract. I’m still waiting for ballots that should arrive any time. We will likely vote in the teacher cafeteria.

The elite invitation-only Unity Caucus will give you a handout that focuses on money. Understand that this is money you will get in dribs and drabs until 2020. Understand also that the city, after the contract expires in 2018, will surely have to consider it still owes us 50% of retro, billions of dollars, while negotiating the next contract. Understand that most of our brother and sister unionists have been receiving higher pay for four years while we must wait four years more.

I expected to wait years for retro. I did not expect to wait years for the raise most other unions have already received. I’m also less than proud we’ve imposed a pattern of 10% over 7 years, about 1.4% per year, on our fellow unionists. That’s the lowest pattern in my living memory, and quite possibly the lowest in history.

My primary reservations about this contract are not about money. First, we’ve established a system under which ATR teachers can be fired for two incidents of undesirable behavior. We don’t know what that is, but UFT President Mulgrew gave, as an example, shouting in the hall. ATR teachers will get a one-day removal process. I fail to see how they’d have adequate time to make their cases or call witnesses as they face the loss of their careers. Despite what leadership says, that is a giveback. Why are we giving back when we’re receiving so little? And how can leadership call this “fast and fair” when it’s never been tested?

In the past, when we’ve delayed payment, we’ve received interest or benefits. I’ve been teaching since 1984, and our class sizes have not budged an inch. This would have been a golden opportunity to say, okay, we’ll delay the raises and the money, but we demand to do something to make our schools better places. The only proven step I know is class size reduction.

Instead, we’ve got a few unproven ideas about paying a few teachers more, or tossing out the contract in favor of 5-year charter lite programs that may or may not pay off.

The UFT contract has only been rejected once, in 1995, and as a result teachers reach maximum salary at 22 rather than 25 years. They’ll tell you it’s this or nothing, but history suggests otherwise.

I urge you to reject this contract, vote NO, and send our leadership back to the bargaining table.

Best regards,

Arthur Goldstein, UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School

The Profound Mysteries of the Thermostat

When you work in a trailer, a thermostat is an important thing. The custodians in our school cover them with metal boxes so they can't be tampered with, but they open almost instantly when kids put their minds to it. With the unpredictable weather we've been having, I'm glad. You may need heat in the morning and AC in the afternoon.

The real problem is almost no one seems to know how this machine works. People want to get warm so they turn it up to 95. When they want to cool off they turn it down to 40. You walk in on a cool day and all of a sudden you're in a tropical rain forest. You come in at 7 AM and it's absolutely freezing. It takes time to warm up and a dozen kids are screaming at you. Sometimes it seems the only temperatures are too hot and too cold.

Yesterday I asked a girl from the class that comes in after mine if she knew how it worked. She said no. I told her, what with us being human and all, that 70 degrees was a pretty good temperature for us. I explained that once you set the temperature, the room would be warmed or cooled until it hit that target temperature. I told her that setting it lower or higher would not make that happen any faster. She understood.

I knew I had made the world a slightly better place. But I also know that there are many people in the world, including adults, who don't understand this. I'm going to explain how a thermostat works to all of my students, and if I have time I'll do it today. I think this should be a required topic in school.

But until it is, spread the word. We can only improve the world a little at a time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Retiree-Driven Unionism" and Unity's House of Cards

It wasn't too long ago I received a U.F.T. e-mail from Janella Hinds and Sterling Roberson touting "Educator-driven unionism!"  

I think they really meant "Retiree-driven unionism!"  At present, retirees cannot vote upon contracts, but they can vote in leadership elections.  How long will it be before Unity further increases the voting power of retirees?  Perhaps, someday, in this surrealistic life we are leading, Unity may give its retirees the right to vote upon contracts.  Would you put it beyond them?

The U.F.T. is one of the few labor unions in the United States which allows retired members to vote in its elections.  Since 1989, the U.F.T. capped the number of retiree votes which could count towards elections at 18,000.  In 2012, clearly in anticipation of the upcoming election, the number was raised to 21,813 votes.  It is no surprise that retirees vote overwhelmingly for Unity.  The Unity they remember was active and strong.  It faced its own severe challenges, but nothing in the way of the current assault against public education today. 

Unity's strategy of increasing the weight of retiree votes helped it widen its 2013 margin of victory.  Thirty-eight percent of retirees voted.  Only 17% of active members voted.  It is not a confirmation of the status quo.  No one I know is happy with the current educational ethos, imposed top-down.  Disenchantment and a desperate sense of hopelessness prevail.  

Mulgrew won an overwhelming 86.3% of the vote, down somewhat from his 91% victory in 2010.  The U.F.T. website will thrill you with these facts, but it will not mention that more than half the votes came from retirees.  In my mind, our Union is suffering some potentially fatal illness.  Yet, as long as Unity wins and widens the victory with the help of its retirees, Unity remains unfazed by it all.  Living on Sunset Boulevard, Unity touts "Educator-driven unionism!"  

I find it intensely disturbing...and disheartening.  Given our current war against, let us say "ed. deformers," instead of "reformers," to avoid the politically sensitive error in semantics made by Mulgrew, Unity should be busy mobilizing its rank and file.  I would not attack Unity on every count.  I do admire much that they have done for us over the years.   I do admire the retirees who built our Union into a powerhouse.  

Despite all of this, I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's failure to mobilize its active base.  We will not win a war in which the media is severely slanted unless we can empower a majority of our members, with a voice in every classroom, with a voice in every school, with a voice in every neighborhood, to work for change. 

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's unwillingness to debate.  Unity refused to debate MORE's Julie Cavanagh  prior to the 2013 election and Unity is now refusing to debate the new contract.  It appears Mulgrew silenced debate at the May 2014 D.A. meeting prior to the contract vote.  Mulgrew also pushed the contract past our 300-member contract committee before it even had a chance to read the Memorandum of Agreement.  It might be that Mulgrew feels the contract is God's gift to the working teacher, but if this is the case why does one need to slam one's foot on the pedal, past all checks and balances, as if evading the cops?

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's failure to give non-Unity members any meaningful voice.  Chapter leaders who are repeatedly re-elected by large constituencies in their schools are largely disenfranchised.  In the 2013 election, MORE won 41% of the high-school vote.  Yet, it has no representation in NYSUT or AFT conventions.  

I disagree wholeheartedly with Unity's loyalty oath foisted upon its "faithful" in exchange for lucrative jobs in union offices, promises of free trips to conferences and other benefits.  I disagree with Unity's attempt to shut down, silence and, perhaps, intimidate its own members who realize all too well that the purse strings may be cut.  

Unity has the liberty of slamming its foot to the pedal because it is guaranteed a majority vote of all loyalty-oath abiding Unity members.  Unity's chapter leaders throughout the City are told to go out and bring in the "Yes" vote.  Unity sends its representatives across the City to sell the contract.  No one should be under the false impression that Unity reps. come with an open mind, free of bias.  They will be very helpful in answering your questions, but they come to sell you Unity's vision, free of debate.  Unity is an elite pack, or, depending upon how you look at it, a bully on the playground, relying on its superior force rather than reason to rule.  

I say without any reservations that there is an illness in Unity.  Presently, its members sense only the "stillness in the wind" and they think it will always be so.  They think they can stand without the support of the rank and file.  The rank and file of today will become the retirees of tomorrow and many are intensely unhappy.  I say Unity is living in a house of cards. They may laugh.  And, they may forget that the Berlin Wall has been smashed and the Soviet Union has crumbled.  They may refuse to look to Chicago.  There are lessons to be learned from history.  I would advise them to consider the Windy City before their house of cards tumbles before their disbelieving eyes.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Would You Buy a Yugo from this Man?

My jaw drops at some of the nonsense I'm hearing in defense of the new contract. The first line of defense, of course, is Mulgrew's threat to the DA. If you vote no, you have to wait for 150 unions. Let's be clear. First, there is history here. In 1995, Sandra Feldman told us anyone who thought we'd do better must be "smoking something." Nonetheless, we voted it down. When I hit maximum in my 22nd rather than 25th year, I was very glad we did.

Can I wait for that whopping 2% compensation increase waiting for me, or that thousand-buck pre-tax bribe? Well, yes I can. And even if I wanted it really badly, it would be unacceptable if it cost one of my ATR brothers or sisters a job. And second-tier due process for ATRs, for those of you who don't know what a giveback is, is a giveback.

Isn't due process for one teacher due process for all? Isn't that fundamental to us as unionists? How can Mulgrew call the process fast and fair when he himself now states that arbitrators will set policy? We don't even know what the policy is and we're praising it.

You may have also seen a recent post here trying to organize a free and fair forum so both sides could be heard. A UFT rep got back to me and objected to Geoff Decker of Chalkbeat NY as a moderator. I understand that they may have been upset with Chalkbeat reporting Mulgrew's DA comments. I proposed the names of several other journalists, but the UFT rep expressed concern about UFT inside baseball being reported by the press. This was troubling, as it then became very difficult to figure who could moderate.

What was more troubling, on reflection, was the fact that if UFT was unwilling to allow a journalist to view a two-sided forum, they'd likely be even more unwilling to allow it to be recorded. This, to me, made the entire idea less than worthwhile. While I'd very much like for my members to see both sides of the argument, I'd like even more for UFT members citywide to see it.

The other day I peeked at the comments on Norm Scott's post, largely a mirror of mine. There's a meme being tossed around by Unity faithful, that members should simply read the MOA and make up their own mind. This, of course, comes from the same people who voted it up sight unseen not once, but twice.

I was very clear that both sides would get equal airing, unlike the DA, where Mulgrew spoke for an hour and unceremoniously cut off James Eterno in fewer than 30 seconds. That, to some Unity supporters, represents democracy. But the young UFT delegate to my right watched this and asked me why we even had a union. A former elementary teacher, she said even elementary students could clearly see how unfair this is. Yet a Unity supporter mustered the audacity to tell me the other day that both sides were heard.

The comments on Norm's site indicate that a fair discussion would be a "personal attack" on Janella Hinds, the UFT VP. First of all, no one suggested anything whatsoever personal about Janella, and no one suggested it should be she, or indeed anyone in particular representing the pro view. Another suggests the notion of a forum is to sway and misinform. Yet another suggests the UFT reps are an adequate source of info.

This is simply not personal. I'm friends with a lot of people with whom I disagree politically. I'm not in the habit of calling them liars for disagreeing with me, and I'm routinely shocked at the intolerance of the Unity cult at the DA.

Regardless, one side is simply not enough. UFT members deserve to hear both sides, and the overwhelming majority simply are not. UFT leadership requires a loyalty oath from those who join the Unity Caucus, which you can see right here. They are sworn to publicly support whatever leadership tells them to. They are, therefore, not a reliable source of information. They may be right, and they may be wrong, but they are sworn to say what they're told for better or worse.

If you were looking for the most reliable car to drive, would you use the Yugo dealer as your sole source of information? I wouldn't.

We're teachers. We're role models for the kids we serve.

We don't deserve their respect if we all drive Yugos just because Mike Mulgrew tells us to.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What About the Kids?

With all this talk about how awful this contract is for us, it seems a good time to take a look at how it will benefit the students we serve. After all, the Daily News is interviewing legal expert Campbell Brown again. Of course, she and whoever pays for her to do whatever it is she does are only interested in firing as many teachers as possible. Will this contract do that?

Well, the city seems to be sending out signals it will divest itself of ATR teachers. Union says it won't happen, and that the one-day 3020a process will be "fast and fair." Only time will tell who's right, what with it never having been tested. It will be a tough day for those who get fined thousands of dollars, as are most, and an even tougher day for those who are fired. Since reformy folks are happy to fire teachers indiscriminately so as to cripple the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States, their ideas don't help anyone except those who line their pockets as a result.

So what about our students? Will the new PROSE feature, the one that lets teachers dump the contract in the trash and do whatever for a five-year stretch, help them? Will charter lite be the salvation of our young people? Honestly, I doubt it. Since the secret to all those schools who send 100% of their students to four-year colleges is to get rid of each and every student who wouldn't graduate, I don't see how they do that. Unless, of course, some school wishes to change its contract to take all the rejects from the school in the next town. Can public schools juke the stats as well as charters? Odds are they can't.

And what about class size? I teach two double-period classes right now. One has 14 students and the other has 32. Guess which kids I can give more time to. The NYC class size has been 34 since I started teaching in 1984. This contract continues our proud tradition of doing absolutely nothing about it. I haven't heard a single word from UFT leadership substantively addressing class sizes in contracts in thirty years. UFT says if we reduce class sizes it will somehow net us less money, and of course they negotiated us an almost immediate two-percent raise. In fact, in four years, we'll have gotten the raise everyone else got four years ago. We got nothing back for putting off money for years, and the opportunity to accomplish something truly worthwhile has been unceremoniously squandered by short-sighted negotiators.

Will "master teachers" help our students? They'll be making an extra 20K a year. Have they been holding back their mastery until they get their money? Hope not. Anyway, they're going to help their colleagues. Oddly, great teachers I know help their colleagues as a matter of course. But the new wave of master teachers will be required to have highly effective junk science ratings. It could be that those I'd consider master teachers will not, and given that I place no value whatsoever on junk science ratings, I may not fully appreciate our upcoming crop of master teachers.

Great teachers, in my opinion, would go the extra mile for kids, and I'm not talking about test scores. Great teachers get to know the kids, inspire them to feel better about themselves, and reject nonsense from Common Core architect David Coleman saying no one cares how they feel. They encourage them to pursue what they're good at. They write beautiful recommendation letters and help kids pursue their dreams. They make kids do things they never knew they could do before. But I won't be picking them. Leadership Academy principals will, and they surely know better than we do. And in this new paradigm, what makes a master teacher is not any personal quality, but rather 20 thousand bucks a year.

Will we be creating master teachers by sending them to 80-minute meetings every Monday and Tuesday? I have my doubts.

This contract mostly helps Bill de Blasio. If we vote it up, we've imposed a crap pattern that every other union will have to take, the lowest pattern in my living memory, of 10% over seven years. And he will never have another round of negotiation unless he buys himself a Bloomberg-style third term.

I don't see a single benefit this contract has for our students. And if they should grow up and decide to be teachers, I'm not particularly sure how it benefits them even then, aside from almost keeping up with inflation.