Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eva Doesn't Need No Stinking Rules

Eva Moskowitz is pissed off that mean old NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is demanding she sign a contract over her pre-K classes. So what if 277 other pre-K programs have signed it? She's Eva Moskowitz, dammit, and rules don't apply to her. If you, a lowly public school teacher, made kids sit in chairs until they peed their pants, you'd be subject to CR A-420, corporal punishment, and if you kept treating kids like that you'd find yourself fired.

But those rules don't apply to Eva. In fact, chancellor's regs don't apply to any charters. They can make their own rules. Verbal abuse? No problem. Harass families until they withdraw their inconvenient low-scoring kids? That's fine, and an added bonus is their low scores can be counted against those awful public schools. You know, the ones with unions and stuff.

So now Eva is reaching out to reformy MaryEllen Elia, our esteemed education commissioner, and letting her know she's had it with all these stinking rules. Now it's one thing to apply them to public schools, but quite another when they come to her and her BFFs. For example, mayoral control was a fantastic thing when Michael Bloomberg was in charge. Eva had a hotline to Joel Klein, and could push for whatever she needed back then.

When that Bill de Blasio came in, though, things got ridiculous. First of all, he was elected. That sucked, because Joel Klein was appointed by Mike Bloomberg, who pretty much gave Eva carte blanche. Second, he ran on a platform of support for public schools and opposition to charters, and those stupid NYC voters actually chose him overwhelmingly. Who the hell do those people think they are?

Eva was having none of that, so she went to Governor Cuomo, who had taken millions from her reformy BFFs and had had it up to here with that "democracy" nonsense. Cuomo pushed a state law saying that de Blasio would have to either approve Eva's schools or pay rent for them. Now the whole mayoral control thing was no problem. De Blasio could make decisions one way or the other, but they made no difference to Eva, the only person in New York who mattered.

But then there were those troublesome regulations, and that nasty de Blasio didn't even ask Eva before making them. A contract? Now how in the hell can Eva Moskowitz do what she wants, how she wants, when she wants, with whomever she wants if she has to sign some flipping contract?

Fortunately, MaryEllen Elia is a pawn of Governor Cuomo, who's clearly beholden to Eva and her reformy BFFs. Things are looking up.

Friday, January 29, 2016

On Marking and Marginalizing

I'm getting field reports from my friends in exile. They're off grading Regents exams in schools that are Far, Far Away. They keep asking me how things are on the home planet. I've been proctoring and sitting in the reserve room. I even got to go out to lunch, once, but I can't count on lightning striking twice in the same place.

Of course they're away because here in Fun City, teachers are assumed to be worthless layabouts who sit in classrooms reading the New York Times all year. Toward the end of the semester, they try to make it look like they're actually doing something, so what they do is falsify results on Regents exams, instruments so precise they are the only valid measurements of how kids perform. For example, as a teacher of beginning ELLs, it's assumed I'd give each and every incoherent scribble an excellent grade because the students draw breath.

That's not an offensive assumption, is it?

In most of the state, they deal with the perfidy of teachers by swapping exams, i.e., you grade my class and I'll grade yours. But in New York City, we're scrupulous about ethics. That's why we insist on perfect leadership and you never, ever read about administrators being arrested for drug possession or having sex on official DOE property. It's those filthy, cheating, unscrupulous teachers to blame for it all.

So we don't swap exams. We're so scrupulous that we don't let teachers even grade tests from their home schools. We either send them packing to other buildings or pay them hourly to grade tests. After all, why shouldn't we pay people extra to do what they've always done as a matter of course? That's a worthwhile expenditure, isn't it?

In fact, we've taken it one step further. My colleague reports that she and another teacher at our school are not permitted to grade together. This, of course, is because they would surely conspire to pass everyone. Or fail everyone. Maybe they'd conspire to pass some and fail others. It's tough to say. The only thing of which we can be certain is that each and every element of this plot is diabolical. Thank goodness the great minds of our city have come together to prevent such an outrage.

The takeaway, though, is that teachers are cunning and ruthless, utterly self-serving, and must not be permitted to get together and hatch their evil plans. No doubt that's why the powers that be are so intent on crushing our unions over at SCOTUS.

Surely that will teach us a valuable lesson.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Punchy Mike's Plan

Hi it's me, your old pal "Punchy" Mike Mulgrew! I'm here to let you all know about my new plans to help out the UFT after we lose Friedrichs! Actually I can't tell you what the plans are because they're secret, but trust me, we are very smart, and very strategic. We have calculated what we have to do, crossed every t, dotted every i, and as soon as we're good and ready we'll let you know.

But there are some things I can tell you right now. At a time like this, we have to stick together. Now sure I said that when Bloomberg was mayor. And sure I said that when Cuomo came out with all those bad plans. But now I really mean it. Now don't go listening to those subversive bastards who say we didn't oppose Cuomo in the primary. That was strategy. Do you know what strategy is? No? Good, because I'm not gonna tell you. It's a secret. And also, don't listen to those dirty bastards who say we didn't oppose him in the other primary, or in the general. Yup, you guessed it. Strategy.

Anyhoo, the whole sticking together thing, let me watch how I say this because my priest just gave me a haircut, and he doesn't like my filthy vulgar disgusting language, so I'm gonna try to be nice here, but let me tell you, James Eterno? A rat bastard. Norm Scott? Another rat bastard. Jia Lee? Don't  even get me started. I actually talked to her, you know, walked around ant talked to her. I even nodded my head and acted like I knew what the hell she was talking about with her blah blah blah about opt-out or whatever. Do you think I do that for just anyone? How's she gonna do me like this? Mike Schirtzer? Another rat bastard. Who the hell does he think he is, coming into my DA and being taller than me? I should've beat the crap right out of him the first moment I laid eyes on him, but, you know, the new me, not using bad language and beating the crap out of everyone (Note to whoever writes the stuff I read out loud--possible campaign slogan there).

And those bloggers, the ones I never read? There's a special place in hell for those scumwads. Let me put it delicately--they traffic in myth. You see how I did that? A few years ago I might have called them filthy stinking lying rat bastards, because that's what they are, but I've been practicing subtlety. You know, diplomacy and stuff. So whatever crap they write, whenever I hear it, I just spit on the ground and think about PUNCHING THEIR FACES AND PUSHING THEM INTO THE DIRT, because that's what we did in my neighborhood when I grew up. I resist the urge and eat a Chunky instead. Because that's the kind of guy I turned out to be.

So anyhoo, here's the thing. While we're facing Friedrichs, which is not at all our fault, you need to remember that all our opponents have to offer is platitudes, and we have solid advice. Stay the course. Don't change horses midstream. Keep going. Persist. Leave no stone unturned. Keep driving. See it through. Hang tough. Leave no stone unturned. A penny saved is a penny earned and a stitch in time saves nine. Nuf said?

In the old days I might have physically threatened you to do what I want, but these days I prefer to just give you a gentle nudge, or a free trip, or a patronage job. Not sure how we're gonna pay for them post-Friedrichs, so listen. Vote for Unity and pay dues. Don't listen to those naysayers when they talk about loyalty oaths. What the hell have they done for you lately anyway? Don't we vote their asses down every time they bring anything up at the DA?

So you vote for us. You can rely on us to keep doing whatever the hell we've been doing for the last decade. Ask yourself, are you better off now? If you are, vote for us. If you aren't, don't vote at all. What the hell, your vote makes no difference anyway and a whole lot of you are too young to ever have used a mailbox. Why bother? The retirees are gonna drown you out anyway. (Note to self--host breakfast in Florida office.)

So remember, vote for us, not the rat bastards, God bless America, God bless the United Federation of Teachers, and a Thousand Points of Light.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Everything But the Truth

That's what I see in this article from the NY Post. It's so pointed I almost cut myself reading it. That mean old UFT is attacking charters, and holy crap, it's about time. Where the hell were we when Moskowitz imposed rent for charters upon NYC? Of course, we aren't fighting that (moderation in all things when you want that seat at the table), but rather the percentage of high-needs students in charter schools.

What the Post sees is that percentage is going up, but it doesn't focus on the clear fact that it still is not the same as that in public schools. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out, but you do have to be a critical reader. (Of course neither I nor anyone else reading this cuts the mustard because we haven't been Common Core trained in close reading.)

Anyway, no matter how good we may or may not read, there's some critical info sorely lacking in the Post piece. Let's make one utterly hypothetical example. Bill has 100 ELLs in his school, and Eva has 100 ELLs in hers. (I know, hard to believe, but humor me.) Bill's ELLs get miserable scores on the NYSESLAT, while Eva's are through the roof. The NY Post has orgasms and writes about it every day for a week, and harps back on it endlessly.

But if we take a closer look, there are things we hadn't noticed, and probably because no one saw fit to tell us. Most of Bill's students came here from, say, El Salvador recently, escaping particularly ugly times, and a whole lot of them have missed a lot of formal education. Most of Eva's students, while ELLs, are not newcomers. They already speak English and have been here for several years. Apples and naranjas?

Let's look at the special education students. Again, Bill has 100 and Eva has 100. Bill's students are alternate assessment. In fact, Bill knows the moment they enter his school that they will never graduate with Regents diplomas. Not only that, but they will be counted against his stats come graduation time. Eva's students just need a little extra time on tests, which is just dandy, because Eva is pretty much all testing all the time anyway. And who's to say that just because Eva starts with 100 ELLs or special ed. students she will end with them? In fact, who's to say she will even release those figures, or that they'll be valid when she does? 

The thing is, when you look at percentages, charters were behind, are behind, and will remain behind. But if you look at the actual students they've taken, you'll find that even those percentages don't show the whole picture, let alone an accurate one. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Careful What You Wish For

There are an awful lot of complaints about schools being open yesterday, and in fact there was a petition asking Mayor de Blasio to close the schools yesterday. It garnered over 40,000 signatures. Several of my members sent it to me. I work in Queens, where plowing streets is just a pipe dream, and I could see cars parked in all sorts of odd places yesterday. I could see students walking the middle of streets. It probably was not a good idea, and a whole lot of my colleagues, being smarter than I am, didn't show up at all.

My students, being ELLs, mostly showed up. There were only two students absent from my morning class of 28. Other teachers I spoke with told me they had 8 or 10 kids in their classes. The trailers, of course, were closed so we had hundreds of kids sitting in the auditorium, a place so strangely fixed for sound that I find anything resembling teaching to be impossible. So there are a lot of reasons it would've been a good idea to close the schools yesterday.

But there is one other consideration that may have eluded a lot of people, and I reminded my members who emailed me the petition. Because we are now off for both Eid and Lunar New Year, the NYC school calendar can only allow one snow day before we have to start making days up. So if yesterday were the day, that would be pretty much it.

I've gotten mixed reactions from the members who complained and sent me the petitions. Most said they were glad we didn't burn the day, as they were not inclined to use vacation days for things other than vacation. One said she would prefer coming in on a day when driving weren't hazardous, when kids weren't at risk, when she didn't have to fight hundreds of people for a parking spot, when she didn't have to improvise one that the happy-go-lucky school-based cop may or may not ticket her for.

I guess I voted by showing up. I won't argue with anyone who says those who didn't are smarter than I am. I'll just say that, after an entire day of shoveling snow, much of which was turned to slush after the inevitable street flooding we enjoy in South Freeport, I felt I needed to get my money's worth. I needed to pull my car out of that cleaned driveway and take it somewhere, i.e., to work. After all, sometimes in life, a man has to make the supreme sacrifice and go to work.

A better alternative, IMHO, may have been to utilize the delayed opening. You know, that's the thing we negotiated some time during Mike Bloomberg's tenure as Emperor, and used precisely once, during the transit strike. The thing is, when there are hazardous conditions, that makes sense. Expecting sense, of course, here in Fun City may be beyond the pale. A guidance counselor told me it took her almost a half hour to find a spot, and was on the verge of turning around when she finally nailed one. Like me, she came in an hour early. A teacher told me he skidded into a red light camera and was expecting a ticket for it. Told him to fight it via internet, but who knows?

What do you think? Would you rather we'd placed safety first, like reasonable people, and closed the schools? Would you do absolutely anything to protect your days off? Or is there a middle ground?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Staying Ahead of the Curve

I don't  know much about the writer of the quote at left. Oddly, I found it on Facebook, posted by the writer himself. I'm wary of people who quote themselves, but I love this sentiment. Look at Andrew Cuomo, with no moral center, doing any damn thing his contributors want. He only rolls it back when his popularity is swirling the bowl, and even then, not nearly enough to change much of anything. NYSUT and UFT leadership appear not to notice, and spend millions of our dues dollars on what appear to be pro-Cuomo commercials.

Thinking teachers and parents are paying close attention, though, and don't buy the "moratorium" nonsense that rolls back just a little bit of the test-based drek that passes for teacher evaluation in New York State. Our kids are still taking the same number of tests, including the ones that now seem to count for nothing whatsoever.

It's surreal that we live in a country where Bill Gates can dictate that test scores dictate the life and death of schools (not to mention the careers of teachers). Yet Gates sends his own kids to schools that aren't subject to his whims and caprices. Reformy folk like Gates, Rhee, King, Obama, Cuomo and Bloomberg opt their kids out of programs they impose by opening their wallets. When we do the same by declining to allow our children to take the tests, it's an outrage. The taxes we pay for our children's schools can be withheld, they say. Our children will suffer, they say, because we didn't conform. That's not taking care of those in their charge.

Of course, the folks above appear interested in taking care of only their own children. Otherwise, why would they impose a system they deem unfit for their own children on our kids? Of course there is hope for our kids. Opt-out is burgeoning in New York State, despite the druthers of test-happy zillionaires and the politicians crawling through their pockets. Parents and teachers aren't blindly accepting this nonsense anymore.

Classrooms don't need to be test-prep factories. Classrooms can be windows of kindness and encouragement in a tough world. A test-obsessed America makes that tougher each and every day. How can you be kind to children when you're gonna lose your job if they fail that test? It's an awkward balancing act, and every thinking teacher I know feels that pressure pretty much every moment.

Despite that, most of the kids know whether or not we care about them. Most of the kids know whether or not we have their interests at heart. It's harder for us, of course, because we're subject to all sorts of external pressures that have little to do with their welfare (not to mention ours). I can't imagine being a new teacher today, and trying not only to learn a very complex job, but concurrently dealing with all the red tape and nonsense that make actually doing the job a near impossible dream.

It's a balancing act, a juggling act, and it's really getting tougher to maneuver every single day. It's too bad we can't just do our jobs, help our students and give them that little bit of guidance they need. It's too bad these kids will lose so many people who could help them due to myopic to outright hostile leadership.

But we stand, we stay, and we care. How we broadcast that message over the Gates-propagated noise machine is just one more issue for us.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Let's Not Start Partying Just Yet

There's been a lot of interest in this article, suggesting a silver lining to the Friedrichs case. It now appears SCOTUS is poised to deliver a tough pill to public unions, saying that automatic dues collection is a violation of free speech. Friedrichs and her pals feel all workers have the absolute right to do more work for less pay and have had it with those nasty unions demanding otherwise.

The silver lining, according to the article, may be that our free speech includes the right to strike, long gone in NY with that Taylor Law, which takes two days pay for every day we stay out. This has proven a pretty effective deterrent, though the transit workers went out anyway a few years back. For this, they lost their dues checkoff for a year, which resulted in only 75% of them actually paying union dues.

Consider that this scenario occurred under a newly elected activist leadership. For us in UFT, we have the entrenched and clueless Unity patronage mill, which hasn't bothered to organized seriously in decades. 75% would be fantastic for them. But that's not the only issue, even if they could organize, strike, or whatever (which I doubt).

Add to this scenario the disappearance of the Triborough Amendment, something GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino wanted. Imagine if someone like Bloomberg didn't have to uphold the terms of an expired contract, and could do whatever he wished once the thing was over with. Would we be looking at no contract at all? Would we be looking at a unilaterally imposed thin contract, eviscerating job protections, like the one Bloomberg had wet dreams about years ago?

There are possibilities in this. We could, perhaps, energize the membership and be reborn as an actual labor union. But Friedrichs would only be a first step. Michael Mulgrew championed a contract with two-tier due process. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what a union is. And we, under the Mulgrew's appeals to fear (moving back 150 places in line, retro not a God-given right), approved this contract, showing we too have no understanding.

We are many steps away from being an active workforce. Michael Mulgrew is not qualified to lead such a union, and needs to be replaced.  Our loyalty-oath signing patronage mill has to go too--we need leaders, not self-serving sycophants. That's not a quick fix. A friend of mine used to say the UFT has two problems--the leadership and the membership. We're gonna have to fix both before we see the sunny side of Friedrichs.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's Not the Snow

Sandy came and went three years ago, and took a great portion of our home with it. We stayed with relatives for about six weeks. It seemed like a really long time, but actually it was nothing, particularly if you consider how long so many other people were out of their homes. For months I saw home interiors left out on the street as they were replaced, and even now I see homes that haven't been restored.

I don't care how high the snow is, but they say water can rise up to four feet above sea level. Sandy, I hear, was ten feet above sea level. Worst case scenario, for us, appears not as bad as Sandy, in which water took our entire main floor. But our ground floor, which holds our washer/ dryer and boiler could go, and this is a pretty inconvenient time to live in a house without heat.

We've moved two family cars to higher ground and have a 4WD vehicle and a go bag. I really hope we don't have to bail out. I don't much fancy driving to a relative's house in a blinding snowstorm, if that's how things work out.

20 years ago it seemed like a very cool idea to live by the water. In fact, whole civilizations have shared that notion. This weekend it looks like one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life. (I can think of a few that rivaled it, but I'm not putting those on the blog) I just took our little dog out in 1.6 inches of windy snow, and he didn't care for it at all. He dragged me back into the house with all the force his 11.3 pounds could muster.

So keep a good thought for us, and I wish you all a warm and safe weekend! I hope you can stay in and explore the great indoors for every moment of these two days.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Song of the Bigot

It turns out that undocumented immigrants are not the scourge Donald Trump says the are after all. In fact, over the last decade, there have been fewer and fewer of them. That need not bother the Donald, for whom objective reality has little or no meaning. He can still hate them, and his supporters appear more than ready to do so, particularly if they're Muslims. There aren't ever enough forums for people longing to hate, and now Donald's got Sarah Palin, you betcha, to urge them along with him. After all, you can't expect Ann Coulter to do that job all by herself.

In fact it's gotten to the point where so-called mainstream Republicans are trying to distance themselves from overt bigotry. David Brooks, evidently, is reveling in trying to blame Trump and Cruz for the natural evolution of the GOP. Brooks, evidently, thinks the old-fashioned unspoken kind was preferable. Brooks' column more or less sings to me:

Gimme that ol' time racism,
Gimme that ol' time racism,
Gimme that ol' time racism,
It's good enough for me. 

Let's keep our hatred under wraps, pretend it doesn't exist, use the same old code words we've been using since Nixon. Let's talk about law and order instead of actually calling out those groups we hate so much. After all, it really pisses us off to be working crap jobs and have huge medical expenses. In fact, even if the medical expenses have gone down somewhat due to Obamacare, let's keep calling him a Muslim and a traitor. Let's work, therefore, to repeal Obamacare even if it hasn't hurt anyone.

Sadly, the Democrats are not much better. Bigotry flourishes in an atmosphere of oppression, and we always need someone to blame for it. Obamacare, though far from perfect, was the best the President could get in a Congress with obstructionist Republicans who would rather accomplish nothing than help the American people. But Obama didn't take much of a stand for working people, and sat in his office while they were screwed in Wisconsin and all over the country. Now SCOTUS, at the behest of their corporate overlords, is about to deal a blow to public union from which it will be very tough to recover.

Hatred is easily redirected, as Orwell was fond of noting. If you're comfortable because you're white, because you're born in the United States, and you aren't a member of a currently embattled religion, don't get all that comfortable. Another group that repressive societies like to go after is teachers. After all, they're out there telling the truth, no matter how inconvenient that is. In fact, there are a whole lot of teachers right now failing to accept the ideas of Bill Gates. Well, not all of them, but Diane Ravitch, the American Statistical Association and a lot of teachers reject his value-added mantra as junk science.

Make no mistake, we are also a target. We have been, we will be, and things can always get worse. No bigot is a good bigot, and we support the likes of Trump and Cruz at our peril. When Hillary babble inanities about closing schools that aren't "above average," I'm not convinced she's a whole lot better. She's certainly not a whole lot better informed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When in Doubt, Double Down

I am always amazed by those who exclaim we're in crisis, that our teachers suck, that our schools suck, and that we must act now. In New Jersey, because everything sucks, because the reading scores are too low for the pols' comfort level, they've decided that the suckiness must end now. In their particular case, they've decided the conclusive way to end it is to blanket the state in even more suckiness by extending the school day.

That way, surely poverty will end, and by the time these kids get home they will have forgotten that no one paid the electric or heat bill. After all, what with mom and dad working 200 hours a week each at minimum wage, there's no one they can tell about it anyway.

So the kids will sit in the cold and the dark, forget absolutely that the last good meal they had was hours ago in school, and do their homework via telepathy, which they will have acquired via those extra hours in school. This, of course, also applies to the kindergarteners, who will magically learn to read via those two and a half extra hours sitting in that terrible school with the terrible teacher who caused all those problems in the first place.

The important thing to note is it isn't the fault of the people who administrate said schools. From the hyper-local level up, they are blameless. After all, haven't they come out every single year with a new program to lessen the influence of those awful teachers who caused poverty the problem in the first place? And from the state right down to the school, each and every administrator has worked hard to enforce every new policy, every year, and they've worked just as hard to bury last year's failed policies, the ones that were indispensable at the time.

So basically, it's a WIN-WIN. We've done the charter schools, the school closings, the Common Core, the mayoral control, the new evaluation system, the newer evaluation system, the newest evaluation system, and you betcha we're gonna do the one after that as well. We've done just about everything we've been asked, and we've made sure not to engage the rank and file teachers at all, since they suck.

And now, right here in New York, there's some new committee that Andrew Cuomo started, and folks like Mulgrew are kvelling about what great work they do, even though the changes are decidedly superficial, unlikely to change anything, and certain not to discourage opt-out as intended. Now Mulgrew's got street cred, because he endorsed and approved absolutely every piece of crap reform cited in the last paragraph. And after all, why should school administrators listen to teachers when the most powerful union president in the country can't be bothered?

This is a top-down mistake that's passed from the national level, where Mulgrew's AFT endorsed the reformiest President in history for re-election, to the state level, where we couldn't even be bothered to oppose a governor who ran on a platform of going after unions, to a local level, where alleged commie Bill de Blasio managed the lowest pattern bargain in my living memory (with the explicit help of Punchy Mike Mulgrew).

And, of course, this attitude trickles down to your school and mine, where teacher voice is roundly ignored. It's unfortunate that no one thinks to consult with us, the people who actually spend time with kids each and every day, but I understand the phenomenon. There's the widely accepted premise that teachers and students are somehow in opposition, that our goals are somehow antithetical to theirs, and that teachers care only about themselves. That's absurd, of course. Our teaching conditions are their learning conditions, and what we gain or lose is what our kids will have when they grow up.

It's important for us to reverse the reformy canard, but it's an uphill battle to turn around such a widely accepted myth. What we want is for our kids to be happy. It's bizarre that it's so important for so many people on so many levels to spend so much time ensuring that we (and they) are not.

And if we aren't, what the hell sort of role models do they expect us to be? It's a shame our voices are neglected in favor of those of reformies. Between us, reformies are pretty much the worst role models for children I can imagine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

There Are People

Last Saturday I went to a MORE meeting in Manhattan. I was wary, as sometimes I've heard much speechifying over things that boggle my mind, but I welcomed what I saw, and what we can now expect to see. Gone were the arguments about things I could not understand. Kit Wainer, Mike Schirtzer and Jia Lee led the meeting, and they did a very good job. We took a sober look at the APPR system and the UFT election, and I think everyone there came away with just a little more awareness to build on.

Not everyone knows what it is to be a New York City teacher in 2016. I certainly don't get the feeling Michael Mulgrew knows a whole lot about it. But everyone at the CUNY grad center seemed to understand it, even the handful of retirees who were happy not to be living through it. No matter how many times Mulgrew stands up and takes credit for improvements none of us can actually see, no matter how many times he pats himself on the back for the raises that won't hit our pockets until 2020, the ones our brothers and sisters got in 2009, he won't know. It's not like it had any effect on his expense account.

Don't lose hope. There are people who care about our union, about us, who aren't crazy. Jia Lee is just one and she is ready to stand up for teachers and students. There are a lot more of us, and there can be even more. That New Action halted its unholy alliance with Unity symbolizes a new hope and a new day. That we can finally stand together against those who pretend to represent us is remarkable. No longer do you need to settle for people whose motivation is a free trip and a gig doing whatever. No longer do you need to vote for people who want a seat at the table.

We have been patient, and we have been watching. We see what leadership does not. We understand what they refuse to see. We remember who wrote the law that deprofessionalized us, that placed us at the mercy of supervisors who know their jobs no better than Michael Mulgrew knows his. We know that they gave away our right to be innocent until proven guilty at 3020a. We know that they're sloppy and lazy, that they don't feel like pushing grievances for us, that going along to get along works for them but certainly not us.

We have been asleep for decades but we are strong. Michael Mulgrew is one person, punchy though he may be, but we are the union. The election is heavily rigged in his favor, but we need to face the odds with everything we have. We need to tell all our colleagues that this year is our chance. We need to get the vote out for MORE/ New Action this year, and we need to show Unity it can't just sit around the buffet table while rank and file is crying to be heard.

Send MORE five or ten dollars, or whatever you can. We are grassroots. We are the voice of working teachers. Add your voice, tell your colleagues to add theirs and we will topple the Unity monolith one brick at a time.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

We Finance the Mulgrew Campaign

Several of my blogger colleagues have reviewed the new UFT commercial, and deemed it lacking. I agree. I find it misleading and unpersuasive, far too generous to Andrew Cuomo, and far too rosy in its outlook.  I also agree that its overly optimistic tone is calculated to instill faith in bumbling, rudderless Michael Mulgrew.

But this year leadership has another ace up its sleeve. It's sent this video out to chapter leaders and asked them to show it at meetings. It shows Mulgrew with people I recognize as Unity insiders tossing softballs. The UFT President is mostly off camera, in what's supposed to be candid and spontaneous discourse. I've watched Michael Mulgrew many times, and his off the cuff speaking is absolutely nothing like what's reflected in this video.

Now it's interesting to hear Mulgrew tell the story about how well-heeled union-busters set up Friedrichs and her cohorts to kill union. He's right, of course, and you've read it even in mainstream media if you're following the case. To see his outrage, you'd think he wasn't part of the brain trust that brought Bill Gates to be keynote at the AFT convention. You'd think it wasn't Mulgrew himself who helped write the law that first brought New York teachers junk science. You'd think he didn't champion the contract that made senior teachers into permanent ATRs. You'd think we hadn't given them charter schools, mayoral control, and EZ school closings. You'd think Mike Mulgrew himself wasn't the guy who thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for the draconian new evaluation system.

Since so few UFT members actually have dealings with the President, they may believe that guy on the camera is the real Mike Mulgrew. They might believe that the well-organized thoughts coming from the mouth of the off-camera Mulgrew are spontaneous utterances, or that this is simply a random group of teachers having an off the cuff conversation with our open and thoughtful president.

This is a much better video than the one that's airing on TV. It's tightly scripted and paints a whole new Mulgrew, one I've never seen before. There's none of his trademark smirking and private jokes. The tough guy posturing is gone. You'd think you were watching a reflective intellectual or something. And if you were not aware that the Supreme Court is already pretty much in the bag for Friedrichs, you might think that Mulgrew and his crew were actually accomplishing something.

UFT leadership depends on an uninformed and passive membership to stay in power. This is, and has been, our prime weakness. One thing Mulgrew says really strikes me. He says if we lose Friedrichs that the union will have to spend an inordinate amount of time organizing. He holds that out as though it's a terrible thing. In fact, it's likely the thing that Mulgrew and his loyalty oath signing minions have most neglected over the last decade or two. It's what union is largely about, and it's the sort of thing that might have precluded Mulgrew, who's never met a giveback he didn't like, from negotiating two-tier due process and yet another substandard contract.

Now it would be great if Mulgrew were sincere about organizing, but I don't think he has it in him. He's no Karen Lewis, he's largely unavailable to rank and file, and he certainly doesn't speak off the top of his head as he did in that video. What Mulgrew refers to as organizing would likely amount to no more than intensive dues collection. An activated membership would be a dire threat to the Unity machine, one it cannot risk or afford. There's a reason why UFT Unity builds barriers against genuine activists, and it's certainly not because they want a well-informed rank and file. Otherwise they'd be telling us the whole story, rather than painting only half of it and hoping we don't already know the rest.

Every Unity chapter leader will dutifully show this video to staff, and people who don't know any better may buy this week's Mulgrew as real. It's more important than ever for opposition to get the truth out. In light of Friedrichs, it's supremely ironic that our dues are, in fact, financing Mulgrew's campaign for re-election.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Sensitivity of a Number Two Pencil

A year or two ago I had a member in trouble. I don't remember who or why. A UFT employee who was repping the member called my home and spoke with my wife. She's from Colombia and she has a pretty heavy accent. The next day he called me. He said, "Yeah, I called you yesterday, and I spoke to some old lady on the phone." I don't remember what I said to the guy.

What I do remember is that I called my District Rep the next day and said I wanted that guy to rep absolutely no one from my school, under any circumstance. The DR agreed. A special rep who works in the office saw fit to argue with me about it. I found his arguments unpersuasive. To my mind, anyone who speaks about women, about family members like that is as dumb as the day is long, lacks the sensitivity of a number 2 pencil, and is unfit to advocate for anyone I'm concerned about.

A few months later, a young teacher recently arrived in my school had a problem, and I had to help her. Turns out the UFT had assigned the same guy to her, though I can't remember whether it was before or after I got involved. To mitigate the potential stupid, I accompanied her to her first hearing, at which we accomplished little. For the second hearing, after my complaints, someone more senior got involved and her problem was conclusively solved before we even arrived.

On Monday I got called down to the principal's office. I sat down with two people wearing visitor badges, with no idea who they were, so I asked them. The woman told me she was from the Office of Special Investigations. I said, as instructed, "Please give me your card. I'll be happy to speak with you as soon as I have representation."

I looked down and noticed her card was already in front of me. She slipped me a note in a sealed envelope and said, "Here is your 48 hour notice."

The next night I got a call from, you guessed it, my friend from the Donald Trump Diplomacy School. I reminded him of what he said to me, told him I had requested he not represent anyone from my school, and that I would just as soon go by myself as be represented by him. I have a big mouth, but 30 years of teaching have taught me to temper it in some small degree.

I decided to call the woman from OSI and make an appointment to see her. So on this, the one and only time in 30 years I've been called to speak with an outside agency, it seemed my union could not provide me with a representative who is not a moron.

When I woke yesterday morning, I had a message from UFT that the person to whom I objected would be replaced by someone I never heard of. I've now spoken with that person, and I have to say he seems to not be crazy, which makes for a marked improvement.

I usually remind my members, when contacted by anyone outside the school, to respond as I did--Give me your card and I'll get back to you when I have representation. Now I think I'll have to also have them run the name of their rep by me, since UFT has clearly not seen fit to honor my rather simple request.  What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to hire stupid people who vote as instructed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where's the Good News?

Something great happened at my school this week. A student was being abused, an administrator caught it, and she made sure it wouldn't happen again. While this administrator and I have spent many wonderful hours screaming at one another, I gotta say she should get a medal or something. You won't read this in the media, but I happen to know our UFT social worker was also involved. Also, I'll bet you dimes to dollars they heard about it via a guidance counselor or teacher, who's probably equally deserving.

This story covers it pretty well,  and actually mentions the school intervention, but this one focuses on the sensational and mentions the school only in passing. I wouldn't complain except that every time a public school employee does something outrageous it's all over the tabloids and TV. Often we're stereotyped and I hear people saying things like, "Those people spoil it for the rest of us." I really hate that particular statement. Just because we have the same job, if I do some stupid thing it doesn't mean we all do.

So where's the acclaim for my school? Shouldn't the papers be sitting outside right now asking us what it is that makes us so wonderful and good-looking? OK, honestly they probably shouldn't. The AP was doing her job, and took an extra step to take care for someone in need. That's a great thing. But where's the value for that? In the media all we see tests, tests, and tests. We know who does well on tests, and that's the relatively well-to-do and privileged. Frankly, there are fewer of them subject to the treatment the kids in the story suffered.

And when there are fundamental problems, and when the guardians are not doing the right thing, who's the next best protector for these kids? Well it's us, of course, those of us who work every day in public schools. You won't read a story about a teacher, counselor, or AP who reported a parent for dragging a kid out to deliver newspapers at 4 AM each morning, but nonetheless the person who noticed the kids sleeping in class every day had a part in this. You won't read about any public school employeee who actually found out why kids were absent from school for weeks, and you won't read about how that person made the kid come back, but a lot of us do things like that all the time.

We don't get to see the ACS complaints, and we don't get to see their resolutions, but people who work in public schools are mandated reporters, and  we're generally interested in helping and protecting children. Otherwise, why the hell would we choose to work with them every day? I know there's some stereotype about teachers who sit around reading newspapers while the kids throw paper airplanes.  Not only don't I know anyone like that, but I don't see how anyone survives like that. I don't know how anyone retains anything resembling inner calm with a bedlam-like class environment.

It's very clear to me a great thing happened here. Though this particular thing was extraordinary, readers of this blog likely know both good and great things happen in public schools each and every day. The scourge of reforminess, on top of general media disdain for union, has done a great job of keeping that out of the public eye.

Good things happen when admin and teachers work together instead of against one another. Maybe it's a model for the nation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Problem With Friedrichs and the UFT

My friend Harris emailed me the other day, saying when the transit workers lost their dues checkoff they had to run around asking people to pony up, and they succeeded about 75% of the time. Now that would be out of an activist union that had elected a new leader and gone on strike. The United Federation of Teachers is in a somewhat different place. What happens to chapter leaders when we lose Friedrichs?

Do we become vaccuum cleaner salesmen, like the ones on the old TV shows who throw dirt on the floor and then show how well we can clean it up? Will we be expected to cold call every single person in the school and beg them for money? After all, maintaining 52 Broadway has got to be expensive. There's the DA, and then there are those top-secret NYSUT meetings the loyalty oath signers go to. I wouldn't know, except by the end of the DA I'm usually starving, and some of them come down with sandwiches only for The Chosen Few. Naturally it's a great honor to pay for them.

And then someone has to pay for all 850 of them to stay at the Hilton and vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. And for the AFT Convention we have to send them to California to vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. And then there are the upstate NYSUT conventions where they vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. Then of course sometimes we have to rent the Hilton for contract votes so they can vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says.

And that's not all. Sometimes, people are so good at voting Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says that we have to give them jobs. Whether or not they are knowledgeable or competent is not always important. The important factor is to vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says, or you'd have people like James Eterno giving you advice when you dialed UFT. Me, I have to call James Eterno at home when I need his advice. 

Now I'm not saying there aren't great people who work for the union. There are, but there are also obvious exceptions. You'd hope they had skill and smarts in common, but the only thing I'm sure all UFT employees do is vote Any Damn Way Leroy Barr Says. This appears to be the prime qualification. Otherwise, why would I have members telling me they got incorrect advice when they called? Why would I have to tell them, "Call UFT, but if you don't get good advice come back to me and I'll find you someone who will."

There are people in the union I go to for advice, and there are others I wouldn't call on a bet. You get to know pretty quickly who knows what they're talking about and who will just make stuff up when they don't. Now do you see the contrast here? Can today's UFT get 75% of membership to pay a thousand bucks a year to a leadership that appoints and keeps people for loyalty rather than competence? Can we support a system where incompetent chapter leaders are replaced by those they were supposed to serve but still keep their UFT gigs?

I'll pay. But I understand why others won't want to. There is a fix for this, but what with our heavily rigged election it's an uphill climb, to say the least.  I'm not at all convinced membership understands the implications of union, let alone the implications of Friedrichs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Post-Friedrichs, What Do Leaders Do?

I'm not talking about people like Mulgrew, who will surely continue to draw his salary. I'm talking about leaders of smaller locals and UFT chapter leaders. Are we going to have to continue to represent folks who neither belong to nor contribute to union? Are we supposed to rise above it all if our dues rise because they won't pay their fair share?

I represent almost 300 people. A few are agency fee payers, though some are that way simply because the UFT website signs them up but never registers them. Year after year I have to go to them and tell them they aren't members, and year after year they tell me they've signed up, sometimes right in front of my face. I can't get mad at those people, though they get pretty upset with me for bothering them after they've done what I asked.

That's a much different case than that of free riders, people who have me pay dues so that they can keep the money and benefits negotiated by the union. Because as badly as Mulgrew bungles negotiations, I certainly feel better with tens of thousands of brother and sister unionists beside me. I know of at least one principal who would've fired me if he'd had half a chance, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with how I did my job. I am very grateful to be part of a union.

Some people care only about themselves. For a thousand bucks, they'll stab the rest of us in the back, and if it hurts them long-term, they couldn't care less. Sometimes people like that make bad decisions. So if they get into trouble, why the hell should I help them? Why can't I say, "Screw you, you contribute nothing and you're on your own."

What would the rules say about that? It's tough to say, since I've never been involved with such a situation. I've also never turned down anyone who wanted to be represented, and as long as I have this job I don't suppose I would. I guess if I felt I had to I could step down and represent only people who valued union. You never really know what you're gonna do until you're actually in a situation.

Losing Friedrichs could be a bonanza for the reformies. With union crippled by lack of funds, they could run ad campaigns and court people to support cutting not only their own throats, but those of their brother and sister unionists as well. It sounds counter-intuitive, but a country that buys Fox News will pretty much buy anything. I was in East Berlin in 1984. Someone told me they sold Pravda on every street corner but no one bought it.

There's a sucker born every minute said Barnum (or someone). Maybe the reformies will pay people. If a thousand people will sign a loyalty oath to Unity for perks big and small, why couldn't the reformies buy them off as well? Maybe instead of two conventions a year, they could offer three. And since AFT gives them Bill Gates as a keynote, the conventions might not be all that different.

It's gonna be a new world if Friedrichs passes. I don't believe UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who doesn't answer email, who isn't on Twitter, who isn't on Facebook, who thanks the Heavy Hearted Assembly for passing the very worst evaluation system I've ever seen, is capable of adjusting. I can't confirm this, but someone told me he uses a flip phone. Whether or not this is true, he's got a flip phone outlook in an iPhone world. I don't think he wants to be bothered reaching out to rank and file. Fortunately for his election chances, over 80% of working teachers are so cynical and apathetic they don't vote. Also the retirees he visits in Florida, who constitute more than half of our electorate, adore the status quo.

Whatever we do at a school level, the leader of the UFT post-Friedrichs will need to get out and activate the membership, something current leadership gave up on long ago. Taking video of a UFT bus at some school ain't gonna cut it. It's now more important than ever to elect a real leader. Because if Friedrichs passes, we're gonna have to relive a whole lot of the struggles of the twentieth century.

We simply cannot let the bastards win.

And if they lose, we cannot let our guard down either, because the thing with demogogues, as we've seen over the years, is every time you cut off one head, another grows in its place.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Restoring Power to the Teacher Means Union Democracy

One of the most objectionable aspects of the Unity stranglehold on democracy is the utter lack of representation we have. I'm fairly certain Karen Magee and Randi Weingarten see it as a great honor that we're allowed to support their organizations with our dues money. They'd probably object when we say we have no representation, but that's certainly the case.

There's only one way for UFT reps to vote at the NYSUT convention, and that's whatever way Leroy Barr says it will be. In fact, at the DA last week, a UFT Unity member reported to me that UFT ballots at the Hilton were not only checked before submission, but also returned to those who made "mistakes."

On Saturday I attended a Stronger Together meeting in Comeswogue. You can see our local delegation, along with PJSTA's Brian St. Pierre, in the photo above. The leader of Stronger Together is firebrand PJSTA President Beth Dimino, who ran for a local position as NYSUT rep back in 2014. Despite having won an overwhelming majority from those in her district, Beth lost the position. Another friend of mine, upstate union President Michelle Bushey, told me the same thing had happened to her. One person told me someone at NYSUT told her the job of these reps was to represent leadership, not membership.

This is due to the phenomenon of at large voting. It means the entire state gets to select local representatives. It doesn't matter if Beth Dimino is enormously popular in her area. All of the NYSUT reps get to vote on every local representative, and because of the overwhelming strength of the United Federation of Teachers, whoever they like gets the job. I say "they" instead of "we" because only the elite, handpicked members of UFT Unity even get a vote. UFT represents 28% of NYSUT members, but because many small locals can't afford a weekend at the New York Hilton, it ends up with 33% of the vote. If they can muster 17% more, which is not all that tough with patronage everywhere, they win.

This lack of democracy is reflected locally with the absolute power of central UFT. Chapter leaders are still elected by individual schools, but that's just a quaint oddity in the system. Whether or not you selected a UFT Unity chapter leader, a UFT Unity person ostensibly represents you in both NYSUT and AFT. Also "at large" are divisional vice presidents. This is most egregious in the high school division, which once committed the unforgivable offense of electing a non-Unity VP. To correct this, Unity made sure all VPs are elected "at large," by all branches, by non-teachers, and by retirees. Thus, the VPs do not, in fact, represent the branches their titles suggest, but rather everyone.

By "everyone," of course, I mean the UFT Unity Caucus, which makes all decisions, tells everyone how to vote, and checks to make sure they play by their rules.  Restoring power to the teacher was the theme of our meeting. This is an issue on multiple levels. We have politicians like Andrew Cuomo, bought and paid for by corporate interests intent on destroying public education. We have autocratic school leaders who make decisions with no regard for those of us who actually do the work (let alone the kids we serve).

It borders on unimaginable that our union leadership would be yet another obstacle to restoring teacher power, but due to their thirst for a "seat at the table" they've pretty much cut the rest of us out of the equation. They've supported candidates like Barack Obama, who made sure virtually all of us would be judged by junk science, and now they support Hillary Clinton, who says she'll close schools that aren't above average. They ask for no concessions whatsoever from these candidates.

Our leaders buy into baseless nonsense to show they're open to reforminess, and are somehow surprised when their BFFs turn around and attack tenure and union. Now, facing Friedrichs, I see no change whatsoever. But there is some awareness here:

If we lose Friedrichs, we'll certainly be "back to basics." We'll have to relive the struggles of the last century. Leadership will have to battle for support, which will not be forthcoming from a group like the UFT, in which fewer than 20% of membership even votes in elections. This is in stark contrast with CTU, which under new leadership has mobilized and energized members.

We're gonna need something better than Michael Mulgrew and his secret plans, none of which I've ever seen come to fruition.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Good Enough for You, but Not for Mulgrew

Below please find the UFT email I just received. UFT President Michael Mulgrew wants me to tweet a bunch of messages about Friedrichs.

So I did. I oppose Friedrichs as much as anyone. If you're on Twitter, I encourage you to do the same. To me, it's anti-American to inhibit the organization of working people.

But Michael Mulgrew won't be tweeting these messages.

Why? It's because, despite his specifically encouraging all of us to engage on social media UFT President Michael Mulgrew is not on Twitter himself. Or Facebook. Or whatever. Mulgrew talks a big game, but doesn't want to spend time having to actually engage rank and file. For him, that's evidently too much to ask. And that's too bad, because even if we win Friedrichs, it will surely rear it's ugly head in some other form. That's how reforminess works. This is not remotely the sort of leader who will inspire people to contribute to union if they don't have to.

It reminds me of the politicians, like Cuomo, King, Duncan, Bloomberg, and Obama who put our kids through test-centered nonsense, but place their kids in private schools where that doesn't occur.

In fact, it's just another case of, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Dear Arthur,

This Monday, labor unions from around the country are gathering outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices hear opening arguments in a lawsuit that threatens the very fabric of our labor movement.

It’s urgent that the voices of union members are heard loud and clear on this important day when the case is in the public eye.

The Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association lawsuit is the latest attempt by billionaire right-wingers like the Koch brothers to destroy labor unions. We need to get the word out to our colleagues and to the general public about just how insidious this lawsuit is. These right-wingers have set out to torpedo the financial structure of public-sector unions.

If you are on Twitter, please help us get the truth out about Friedrichs by clicking through and sending these tweets now:

#Friedrichs is another attempt by right-wing billionaires to bust unions @amworkstogether

Tell @SCOTUS: #Friedrichs is bad for workers, bad for America @amworkstogether

Defend working people and public services – fight #Friedrichs! @amworkstogether

Hopeful #SCOTUS will see #Friedrichs for what it is: a deceptive attack on unions & labor. @amworkstogether

Public school educators stand united against the harmful #Friedrichs political agenda. @amworkstogether

Also, with Friedrichs in the news, let’s use the opportunity to educate our co-workers, friends, family and neighbors about what this lawsuit is really about and how important it is to belong to a union.

Want more information? We’ve compiled a reading list on Friedrichs on the UFT website.

Thank you for everything you do.


Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers • A Union of Professionals
52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 • 212.777.7500 •

Friday, January 08, 2016

DA Takeaway January 2016

Over and over, I watch Michael Mulgrew congratulate himself for not using vulgar language at the DA. Over and over, I watch him say, "Well let me put it like this..." so as to avoid saying whatever the hell is really on his mind. He cites his family members who would disapprove if he were to say whatever the hell it is he is thinking. He coyly looks at questioners, and says he's gonna put it like this, or like that, but of course there's some clever hidden meaning that we would get if only we knew whatever the hell he was really talking about.

Over and over, I watch Michael Mulgrew talk about how clever his team is, how they have secret plans to accomplish who knows what, and how they're gonna negotiate their clever little butts off on our behalf. If de Blasio wants to grant paid parental leave (and Lord knows the people who have to wait two years for the big magical chest to open need a break), we know that Mulgrew's people will negotiate it. These are the same people who endorsed two-tier due process, the ATR, mayoral control, Danielson, junk science evaluations, and the whole grab bag of goodies we've gained over the last decade. While we wait another four years for the money our brothers and sisters got in 2009, what's left to give up?

Mulgrew now says UFT will advocate for a complete overhaul of the standards. That was well-received by the crowd. Oddly, his promise last year to punch us in the face and push our faces in the dirt over his support of the same standards was also well-received, and by essentially the same crowd. Because again, when you've signed a loyalty oath and leadership supports something, it's wonderful. When they turn around and oppose the very same thing, it's also wonderful. It's a WIN-WIN!

It was kind of interesting to hear a UFT lawyer go over the history of Friedrichs. I'm not sure how many in the hall did not already understand its implications. Very few, I'd hope. It's really more important to inform those who are outside of the hall, and I suppose better-informed chapter leaders can help with that. Nonetheless, as always, a great deal of time was taken up with the usual suspects doing the usual things. The worst culprit in that regard, of course, is Mulgrew, taking up the great bulk of the meeting with his monologue.

Of course Friedrichs is critical, but aside from the history lesson we heard little new on that front. It's great that we will have people in DC but I'm not wholly confident that will change the minds of judges who hate us and everything we stand for. Notable was what did not happen at that meeting. We did not get to the resolution opposing receivership. We did not get to the resolution support the Chicago Teacher Union. And we did not get to the resolution supporting our LA brethren either.

It's a tough situation. There you are, President of the largest teacher union in the country, facing a pivotal turning point.  How many UFT members will opt to keep a thousand bucks a year rather than send it to someone who, in 2016, doesn't answer email, read blogs, or engage on social media? How many UFT members, their spirits crushed by soulless 30-year-old APs playing God, or Danielson, or both, are gonna send money to those who enabled it?

It's a tough question. I'll pay, even for a leadership that builds brick walls around its most active members, but I don't really know if I'd run around encouraging others to do so.

I'd like to see a real leader. I'd like to see someone with a vision for both teachers and students leading us. I'd like to see someone who can form a proactive argument, someone who knows when to talk and when to stop, someone who believes in building loyalty rather than buying it.

There's only one person this year who fits that description, and it ain't Mike Mulgrew.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

UFT Delegate Assembly January 6th, 2015


Mulgrew wishes us a happy new year, points out we are back to work.

President’s Report

Says he will be at Friedrichs hearing with retirees.

Discusses Regents decision, says it’s temporary but will be made permanent in February. Says we will now have to renegotiate evaluation. Says there are many myths out there.  Says SED has action plan that requires NYS to change or adopt NY standards. Says there must be separate standards for special ed. and ESL students. Says we should have large voice in that since most of them are in our district. Says he wants to form a task force to address this.

Mulgrew says UFT advocates for complete overhaul of standards

Family leave—announced by mayor for non-unionized employees. Says every UFT President has looked at issue but this is first admin that may entertain it. Says other admins suggested women have babies in summer. UFT is negotiating with city. Says any decision will be brought back to “you guys” in Delegate Assembly. Says we will not overpay dramatically, but at negotiating table there is a price for everything. Says leadership is very creative in how they do work.

ICT survey
—says chancellor was shocked at survey response, had thought every school had done this appropriately and all teachers had common planning time. Says it’s unacceptable to pull teachers from ICT classes to sub or not to cover ICT teachers when absent. Suggest money is wasted on APs in smaller schools.

Metal detectors
—UFT doesn’t believe in zero tolerance. Says other extreme is that no one can be suspended, or that insubordination is not suspendible offense. Suggests good school culture is obvious. Says he’s seen some great schools in most challenging areas. Says UFT stresses respectful environment between staff and students. Says some schools fail to report acts and make suspensions look ridiculous. Clearly some students impeded the educational process of other students. We need to establish process to deal with said impeders. Mulgrew does safety and discipline survey, has CLs fill out on spot.

Does school have safety committee?

Does school have a de-escalation plan? Has DOE provided training and info on plan?

Does school have sufficient staff for intervention services for students who act out?

Does your school have a functioning ladder of referral that teachers know how to use?

Is there a location within your school where disruptive students can be safely isolated from others?

Have students in your school lost valuable learning time as a result of other disruptive students?


Priority is we all have more to do on education, particularly funding and CFE. Says union forewent raises to get class size within contract and that city should now fund it. Says no one in state is adhering to class size reduction plan. Says that this session we will push heavily on anti-creaming language for charter schools. Brings up Moskowitz, says she uses safety as argument for tossing low-performing kids. Says non-level playing field is outrageous.

Mulgrew speaks fondly of last year’s plan, says approval rating went down and that governor is now professing love for teachers. Says we’re in a much better place, is more to do, but we have a plan at all times. Says he doesn’t tell everyone what he’s doing in Albany, has a strategy, says this session is expected to be much better.

Says it’s election time at UFT and to let shenanigans begin. Mentions late Passover and that Easter will be Good Friday only. Says we can only afford one snow day this year. Mentions this Friday spending deadline for Teacher’s Choice, and following deadline for form submission.

Mentions Friedrichs case starts next Monday. Understands it’s a problem. Says they are claiming not to hate unions but only want to protect freedom of speech. Points out it’s not being paid for by teachers. Adam Ross, UFT counsel comes up to discuss.

Ross—Most of 19th and 20th century law was anti-union. During height of Depression FDR passes national labor relations act, allowing workers to collectively bargain, but does not apply to public employees. It allows unions and employees to say everyone has to be member of union. Unions became very powerful, had strikes, passed Taft-Hartley Act. It outlaws rule that employer and union can mandate membership. Created agency shop—non union members have to pay for expense of collective bargaining but not political activity.

Taft Hartley says they must be enforced unless state says otherwise, so-called right to work. Calls it bizarre and unusual provision, but there are now 25 RTW states. Public employees not covered. In 1967 NY State law, Taylor Law, guaranteed public employees right to bargain but outlawed string. Modeled after TH, and required pay for collective bargaining but not political activity.

Abood called it unconstitutional, Heard by US Supreme Court which said since you were only supporting collective bargaining, said these arrangements were constitutional, 9-0 decision. All over state contracts are negotiated based on this precedent. Courts resolve conflicts over what is and is not political.

Harris v. Quinn, Judge Alito had multi-page rant on how bad Abood decision was and invited someone to bring case to overturn it. People paid attention and very quickly right wing found people in CA to try to overturn it. Went in, asked for adverse ruling so they could go to Supreme Court. Took it to higher courts in CA, did the same. Gave Alito what he asked for, and at least 4 of 9 judges voted for it. Unusual for court to invite challenge to existing SCOTUS precedent.

Plaintiffs claim it is violation of their 1st Amendment right to have union leaders speak to politicians. Unions claim they don’t pay for that, but rather for collective bargaining. Plaintiffs claim every single thing unions say to employer is political speech. Say they may oppose things unions negotiate.

Ross calls it wrong, cites previous SCOTUS rejection. Says since we have to represent everybody, everyone gets benefits and must pay fair share. From legal perspective, there’s a state’s rights aspect. This circumvents NY State law, says states make decisions, e.g.. strikes, unions, collective bargaining.

Says Justice Scalia may be swing vote.

Says court has no info on what to do with agency fees. Says SCOTUS has no business deciding what’s constitutional until they know what we actually do with money.

Says we are required by law to negotiate, that they are abridging this, and that this is clearly about weakening labor movement.

Mulgrew—Says we know what they’re up to, what it’s really about, and that we’re the last people standing up to the rich. Says the rich feel they have the right to influence policy and law due to wealth, and that we ought not to have voice. Says it might be good thing because this is not “a God-given right.” Says no one has ever given us anything. We fight, we advocate, and then we usually pay on top of that for these things.

Says it’s about union standing up to make things better.

Mulgrew gives results of poll, most schools have not cooperated.

Question period

CL—Some schools have inter-visitations during prep, and are paid. Can staff be forced to do this, and can colleagues be forced to accept visitors? Mulgrew—wouldn’t be appropriate to pay anyone unless it was duty-free period. If someone is being paid, they cannot be forced. Should entail consultation. Says some teachers can be paid for allowing visitors.

Delegate—How are arts teachers expected to be fit into Danielson, which is detrimental to our rating? Mulgrew—we will discuss what eval looks like this year and next year. Says this will come up. UFT could argue observers must understand subject area. Says Danielson cannot be used if observer doesn’t understand subject area.

CL—What is our pushback when principal abuses budget? Mulgrew—put budget in front of SLT and tell them how principal is using it. Says he did that. Says CL can go to superintendent.

Delegate—In transfer HS, Regents results only counted for June students, wants January efforts recorded. Mulgrew—will make sure January results included also. Says we can do so in February. Repeatedly suggests remark is cryptic, and I don’t get it at all.

Q—How do you handle principal who constantly says he’ll go to legal, but always comes back with answer of no?  Mulgrew says no principal should say he has to talk to legal, and DOE agrees. Says to refer matters to DR, who will then report to superintendent.

CL—Paras are asked to do lunch duty. What is our stance? Mulgrew—paras get duty free lunch, but may be assigned one on one. Still get duty free lunch, not eating with student.

CL—Stories about school segregation—how are we handling this? Mulgrew—We support diversity. Happy that it was teachers from PROSE schools who made plans to integrate schools via admissions process.

Q—Chancellor’s receivership—what is it? Mulgrew—renewal plan set by mayor, UFT working on it. Says state, not chancellor will set benchmarks. Says closure does not fix struggling schools.


Dave Pecoraro—Moves that UFT support PSC in trying to get new contract. Next month. Passes.


Tom Brown Asst treasurer—supports res. against terrorist atrocities. Asks we support victims. Seconded.

Delegate—makes amendment—to add many of our students are terror victims here and abroad,  that we should recognize hate crimes as terror, and also to strike language such acts are “more commonplace every day.” Says it is dubious and weakens amendment. 

Dave P. speaks against amendment. 

Point of information—Asks for additional amendment—Mulgrew says it’s point of order. Asks to cut several whereas statements. Says domestic terror more of a danger here than foreign.

Leroy Barr speaks against second amendment. Says resolution does not identify only foreign terror. Points to World Trade Center. Also speaks against first amendment.

All questions called. Seconded.

Amendments defeated. Motion passed.

Mel Aronson—Resolution on out of control drug prices—says there is a prescription of $1800 per bottle of motrin and pepcid, OTC medicines. Welfare fund had to stop paying for that. Says some meds cost over 100K per annum. Says we need to allow Medicare to negotiate.

Speaker supports, speaks of dire necessity of people to afford medicine. Dave P. calls question. Resolution passes.

Obama Does Something Good

I'm not Obama's biggest fan, and I didn't even vote for him the second time he ran. His education record is abysmal. But he's right about guns. How anyone can oppose background checks for people wanting to buy firearms is simply unfathomable.

Of course the Republicans hate everything Barack Obama does. That, I suspect, is why there's so much right wing opposition to his miserable and baseless education program. When GW Bush was in charge the GOP loved every stupid idea he had. They embraced every ridiculous idea he championed, including the notion that every child would be perfect by 2014 or schools would pay. But when Obama came out with Race to the Top, which was just as stupid, they said the Fed ought not to meddle in education.

I used to be horrified when GOP politicians said they wanted to abolish the Department of Education. Now, after years of Arne Duncan, and after Barack Obama found someone even worse in the form of Reformy John King, I'd be happy to see them blow the whole place up and salt the ground so nothing could ever grow there again. John King has no problem sending his kid to schools that don't use the crappy programs he imposes on our kids. Barack Obama has no problem doing the same. If these programs are so state of the art, why aren't they good enough for their children?

Nonetheless, Obama did a good thing by imposing rules on the lunatic gun lobby. It's outrageous and unconscionable that the GOP presidential hopefuls can oppose such common sense rules. Will Obama's order solve our gun problem? Of course not. But if even one fewer lunatic gets his hands on a firearm, if one fewer person dies, if there's one fewer mass shooting, it will be worth it.

Marco Rubio can stand up in front of God and everybody and say that released felons cannot vote, but have every right to buy guns. For the life of me, I can't figure out why someone who's unfit to select a leader is fit to carry around a firearm. But I'm not privy to the workings of the GOP mindset.

Sometimes it's good when Democrats are Democrats. Sadly, for working people, those times are few and far between. One thing that caused me to vote for Obama the first time was his support of the Employee Free Choice Act. That would've made it easier for working people to join unions. But alas, not only did he not help it pass, but as far as I can tell, he never pushed for it to come up for a vote.

I can't understand how anyone can reasonably oppose Obama's executive action on firearms. From what I read, 90% of the American public support this. It's obscene that the NRA and the gun lobby can supersede the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans, but that's where we are in the USA in 2016.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

If Reforminess Worked, NYC Would Be a Utopia

I read with interest a Daily News editorial rating Bill de Blasio on education. They say the graduation rate is inching up, and paint that as a legacy of Bloomberg. But Bloomberg controlled the city schools for twelve long, long years and despite his uber-reforminess they are not perfect. Of course it's hard to achieve perfection when people are not perfect. Bloomberg was certainly not perfect, or he wouldn't have bought himself a third term. But as a self-serving, self-important megalomaniac with billions of dollars, he had little choice.

The problem is, under Bloomberg and the geniuses who reside in the Ivory Towers of Albany, our students had little choice too. I remember when special education students could take RCT exams instead of Regents exams. I remember when ESL students were exempt from taking an English Regents exam specifically designed for English speakers. In fact, I'm so old that I remember an English Regents exam that expected me not only to have a knowledge of English and American literature, but also to understand English spelling. Spelling is incredibly illogical in English, but fortunately so am I. Personally, I've found the newer versions of the Regents exams to be not only more and more tedious, but also less and less challenging.

The Daily News looks at the graduation rate as something important, and I don't disagree. But now that we fail to differentiate (funny how teachers are expected to differentiate in classes but there's no such thing in assessment), it's tough for a lot of kids to pass required tests. I teach newcomers, and any reasonable educator would give them an alternate mode of graduation. The state's notion that we can replace English instruction with Common Core-laced subject classes via Part 154 is blatantly idiotic, and will result in even fewer ELLs graduating on time. Of course, this is the price you pay for stacking the Regents with people who are utterly ignorant of language acquisition. I'm sure that they don't bother making allowances for other special needs either.

The News, like most Americans, doesn't bother to question the one-size-fits-all reformy agenda. Most politicians are right there agreeing with them. Now here's the thing. There is nothing wrong with our schools. There is nothing wrong with our teachers. Sure, they aren't perfect. But the fact is every so-called failing school, without exception, has a high percentage of high-needs kids. To assume, because these schools get lower test grades, that they are not as good as schools full of affluent students is simply idiotic. And when I read editorials (not the one to which I linked) saying that poor-scoring schools have poor teachers, I'm also amazed. It doesn't take a genius to know that some kids score higher on standardized tests than others, or that income is among the best predictors of who those kids will be.

That, of course, is why the Moskowitz Academies need a "got to go" list. That is why Geoffrey Canada had to dismiss entire cohorts from his charter school. That's why the charters who boast of their 100% college enrollment rates forget to tell us that they've managed to lose 30-60% of the kids with which they started. Where are the ones that left? Surely in the same public schools being vilified for being so miserable.

Here's an idea. Instead of going on about how the schools suck, why don't we do something about the fact that 23% of our children live in poverty? Why don't we raise taxes on folks like Michael Bloomberg and actually help these kids? Because I'll tell you something--when you're hungry, when your house is cold,  when your parents can't afford to take time off from their multiple jobs, when parents have no time for their kids, when you have no health benefits or care, standardized tests become a whole hell of a lot less important.

That's why Bloomberg made no difference (though I don't recall the News or any paper holding him to task over that), and that's why, as long as de Blasio accepts reformy premises, he won't make a whole lot of difference either.