Monday, February 29, 2016

Purveyor of Myth in Chief

Michael Mulgrew stood up at the New York Hilton in front of hundreds of UFT Delegates and said that bloggers trafficked in "myth." He fancied himself generous for calling us liars in a manner he deemed subtle. This, of course, was in response to blogs he claims not to read. Then he told us our health care wouldn't be cut.

Let's be clear. In a way, those who say America has the best health care in the world are telling the truth. All you have to do is pay for the best doctors in the best hospitals, and you get the best care. You can have private rooms in hospitals. You can even have them bring all those machines to your home. You get what you pay for.

And UFT members have a great deal of choice. The only difference, of course, is they will now pay more to exercise it. They need only reach a little farther inside their wallets, and they can have the same choices and level of care that they'd previously enjoyed. How much, exactly, was laid out over at  the JD2718 blog.

Emergency Room 200% ↑
Urgent Care  233% ↑
All Specialists 50%↑
Blood Work  33% ↑
MRI 233%↑
Physical Therapy 33% ↑

So let's be clear--it was not the bloggers who lied. This blog released a piece that a Capital NY reporter had gotten a hold of,  a piece a UFT source later told me was rejected in negotiation. But it's pretty obvious that we still haven't got a paper contract, and we still don't know exactly which changes we will and will not see. Mulgrew rolled the dice and is hoping for the best, I suppose. At his salary, a few bucks here and there in co-pays won't make a whole lot of difference anyway.

I'm gonna quote a little further language cited over at JD2718:

H. Healthcare Savings
a. The UFT and the City/DOE agree the UFT will exercise its best efforts to have the MLC agree to the following:
i. for fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015), CONTRACT AGREEMENT 2014 there shall be $400 million in savings on a citywide basis in health care costs in the NYC health  care program.
ii. for fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016), there shall be $700 million in savings on a citywide basis in health care costs in the NYC health care program.
iii. for fiscal year 2017 (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017), there shall be $1 billion in savings on a citywide basis in health care costs in the NYC health care program.
iv. for fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018), there shall be $1.3 billion in savings on a citywide basis in health care costs in the NYC health care program.
v. for every fiscal year thereafter, the savings on a citywide basis in health care costs shall continue on a recurring basis.
vi. The parties agree that the above savings to be achieved on a Citywide basis are a material term of this agreement.
vii. In the event the MLC does not agree to the above citywide targets, the arbitrator shall determine the UFT’s proportional share of the savings target and, absent an agreement by these parties, shall implement the process for the satisfaction of these savings targets.

In case the implications are not clear enough, we've signed a blank check. GHI is a hugely popular program among city workers because it gives a great deal of choice, unlike HMOs. But now members who exercise this choice will have to pay more for it. There is simply no other explanation.

Now I will grant Mulgrew is not a blogger. Our President cannot be called a blogger by any stretch of the imagination. He doesn't blog, and in fact he killed the only blog the union even had.  He doesn't tweet, he doesn't do Facebook, and he doesn't even answer email.

But however many self-satisfied smirks he affects, he lies right to our faces. This is indeed a degradation of health care, and those of us who find the now ubiquitous urgent care centers convenient will find them a little less so. And every single loyalty oath signer, likely as not your chapter leader, is bound to support those lies. We've signed a blank check and we have no idea whatsoever what further compromises will be made in our health care.

And lest you forget, we did so only to have the money FDNY and NYPD got, the money they got with no givebacks, but to get it full of givebacks ,and a full eleven years after they did. We sacrificed the ATR teachers and left our health care in the hands of faceless and nameless bureaucrats. In return for this, we negotiated the lowest pattern increase in my living memory, 10% over 7 years, imposed not only on us, but on all our brother and sister unionists.

This, my friends, is what Michael Mulgrew sold to the UFT. This is the deal for which he literally shut down opposition voices at the Hilton. After years of nothing, UFT members were so desperate they voted for it. It's very sad that people were so beaten down they saw no alternative, and even sadder that they were sold it by Mulgrew's appeals to fear, e.g. there's no God-given right to retro, and we'll move behind 151 other unions if we don't just take it.

A few facts are evident here. One is is it's hard to imagine any of the 151 other unions doing a worse job of negotiating than Michael Mulgrew and the people he constantly refers to as "very smart." Thus, we may indeed have been better off waiting.

The other is someone is indeed lying to the UFT, and it ain't a blogger

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Will Obama Sacrifice Labor for a SCOTUS Pick?

I have some friends who support Hillary. Passionately. In fact, some of them support her so passionately that they cannot bear to hear that some of us will not vote for her. The biggest argument is Supreme Court nominees. Evidently, if we don't support Hillary Clinton, Scalia will be infinitely cloned and SCOTUS will continue to make insane, anti-democratic rulings.

Of course I'm just as unhappy as they are with that prospect, and there's no way I'm gonna vote for Donald Trump or any of the GOP gang. But I've pretty much had it with Democrats who don't support working people. Obama enabled the very worst education policies I've ever seen, managing to outdo GW Bush. He failed to enact card check for unions or find the comfortable shoes he said he needed to walk with us. His shoes were so uncomfortable he never set foot in Wisconsin as Walker decimated union.

So I'm understandably wary of Clinton, who seems more of the same. As if that weren't enough, she blurted out the idiotic notion of closing all schools that weren't above average. That means closing half of all schools all the time. She then said we would never, ever get single payer. More recently, she advocated longer hours and school days, emphasizing quantity over quality. If kids aren't happy now, or even if we judge schools via reformy test scores, more of the same isn't gonna make anything better.

Now I read that Obama is considering GOP Governor Brian Sandoval for SCOTUS. Evidently he's aligned on certain issues with the President. However, he's known as anti-labor. Were he to be confirmed, what would that mean for the Friedrichs case? Is President Obama ready to sell public unions down the river in order to confirm a nominee? Or is he just trying to embarrass the Republicans by demonstrating they'd reject one of their own simply to avoid cooperating with him?

Either way, were Obama to nominate someone like this, it means he didn't deserve our votes. This whole triangulation strategy was created by Bill Clinton, and Obama seems to be following in his footsteps. The prime mode of following appears to be throwing teachers and public unions under the bus. I, for one, have had it with this nonsense. I declined to vote for Obama during his second term, and I'm not voting for Hillary this time around. If she beats Bernie I'll probably vote for the Green candidate, or find some other third party candidate who appears not to be insane.

It appears that Obama, who we supported twice, may not even meet the low standard of appointing a Supreme Court justice who shares our values. If that's the case, I expect Hillary is ready to follow in his footsteps, even as she criticizes Bernie Sanders for failing to sufficiently embrace Obama. For the life of me, I can't figure why our leadership supports people who are so eager to stab us in the back. I can't understand why we endorse without asking for anything in return.

But this teacher no longer votes for people who don't support public education. It's time for union leadership to wake up or get out of the way.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Power of No

I teach a lot of students from China. Sometimes I ask them "Why?" and they reply, "No why." It's a mysterious thing, but it's a great answer as far as they're concerned. They can pretty much use it anytime, and it sounds a lot better than my standby, "I don't know." Of course a lot of people have trouble saying that, for reasons that I will never quite fathom.

But once my students get started in the negative, it's tough to turn them around. My afternoon class is usually pretty cooperative, though a little quiet for my taste. Yesterday I wanted to do an activity in which they get up and ask each other questions.  I improvised a lead-in that, in retrospect, was an absolute disaster. I said, "How come I always stand up and you always sit down? Let's do an activity where I sit down and you stand up."

They were having none of it. "No," came the response, from various corners of the room. Heads shook in resolute refusal. I decided to explain that I would stand too, but at that point it no longer made any difference. It was no, no, and no, and that was that.

In the midst of this, someone determined the room was too cold. "Close the window," she said. I told her she could close the window if she wanted it closed that bad. "No," she replied. All of a sudden, everyone wanted the window closed. "Close the window," demanded the shyest girl in the class, the one who almost never says anything.

"Listen, you are all healthy and 15 years old, and I'm an old man with one foot in the grave," I said. "If you want the window closed, get up and close it."

"No," said many voices, though not quite in unison.

The shy girl repeatedly demanded I close the window. I had finally gotten her to talk, and just for this. I said, "OK, I'll close the window if you guys get up and talk."

I closed the window. "Okay, now get up and start asking questions."


I should have known. I said, "OK fine. Don't get up. You can shout at one another. But there are 12 questions and you have to ask 12 different people. Good luck."

Several of my students started shouting at one another. Some actually got up, eventually, and started asking each other questions. But it was pretty scary standing there with all those kids in full mutiny. Who would've thunk a bunch of relatively quiet kids could muster such determination?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mulgrew and the Secret Sauce

When I read articles like this one, by Campbell Brown, I feel a little like Michael Mulgrew were a contortionist, busily painting targets on his own back. The best part about this article is the Post's description of Brown's group as "nonpartisan." For someone who isn't partisan, she's certainly got a pretty extreme opinion. I'm certainly partisan. I think she's a tool of those who wish to destroy us, and that's why she (or whoever writes for her) writes such blather.

But the fact is, along with Mulgrew, we're also to blame for this. The reformy playbook says schools are failing and need to be fixed. It says the problem is the teachers, that we have too many job protections, that we are awful, and whatever else the papers constantly berate us for. The solutions, of course, are to rate us by rubrics, give tests, and get rid of the teachers whose students don't do well enough on said tests.

Bill Gates, guru to the reformies, has pretty much admitted that poverty is too much for him to tackle. Instead, he imposes his will on schools by waving money around. He encourages charters, junk science ratings, Common Core, and endless testing. To Bill Gates, a test score is the only indication of progress. For him, it's something we should all be striving to improve. And via targeted money he and his reformies enabled Race to the Top, which pretty much compelled the entire nation to submit.

Our leadership, unfortunately, buys into this narrative. That's why they started UFT charter schools and actually co-located them just like Eva Moskowitz does. Brown, of course, condemns UFT for not taking a representative portion of high-needs children, though she has not one word of objection when Moskowitz does precisely the same. I haven't heard a peep from her about the blatant abuse of children in Moskowitz schools, recently available on video. So much for her "non-partisan" nonsense.

Now I may have a discouraging word or two about Mulgrew and his pals in leadership, but I don't think they'd condone the sort of abuse that goes on in Moskowitz schools. Well, too bad for them, because that's how you play the charter game successfully. We ought not to be in in at all. We ought not to be emulating those who want us to disappear. We ought to recognize the value of public schools and advocate for programs that help all the kids we serve, rather than placing band aids here and there and hoping for the best. It's particularly egregious because the charter game, as played these days, is designed precisely to enable invidious comparisons between public and private schools.

As if that's not all, I've been hearing from Mulgrew for months about his plans to turn around so-called failing schools in the city. Despite his inability to resuscitate ailing UFT charters, he musters the hubris to proclaim he has the secret sauce that has eluded the reformies forever. We bought their faulty premise and are playing their rigged game. That's why we fail to step up and support opt-out, the most powerful support for NY students at this time. That's why, when ESL students are robbed of instruction by Part 154, UFT leadership does absolutely nothing to help. That's why we give Campbell Brown ammunition to make faulty arguments proclaiming that the UFT Contract is the source of school failure.

I have a message for you, Michael Mulgrew. The people you call smart and tactful each and every month are not nearly so smart as you think. That's why we are where we are. If you were smart, you'd stop playing the reformy game, which is rigged even more than the upcoming UFT election.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Lesson I Learned Outside the Classroom

Someone on Facebook asked me about a lesson I learned outside the classroom, and it reminded me of this story. I wrote it for the first time when I was taking some ridiculous 6-hour licensing exam called the NTE, as best I recall. They asked for the same thing.

It was around 1985, and I was teaching English at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. I was just coming in one day. It was my second year teaching. JFT is a big building, and I think it had escalators. I came up one and saw a terrible fight between two girls. I saw what looked like bloody tufts of hair on the floor. One girl was on top of the other, and it looked to me like one of them was going to die.

A small crowd had gathered, and was watching. No one was doing anything to stop the fight. I tried to pull the girl on top off the one on the bottom, and it didn't work well. When I picked up the top girl, the bottom one came right up with her. And they were still fighting. There was a really big guy across from me, a student I suppose, and he looked to me like Mike Tyson. We kind of looked at each other, and he came over to separate the girls.

I was feeling pretty confident this drama was coming to a close, but the girl I was holding was full of surprises. While I was holding her and she was pummeling her hapless victim, Mike Tyson ambled over and she kicked him right on his ass. Within moments, security arrived. I was shocked but not hurt. I never found out what happened to anyone else.

But later that day, I got called into the principal's office. This, in my view, was not a good thing. For one thing, the principal was always introducing himself to me and telling me how he loved to meet the new teachers. Fortunately, he never, ever remembered who I was. I was fearful our relationship would take a new turn, and he'd start remembering me. That didn't happen, but here's what did.

He looked at me very seriously. He asked me if I had tried to break up a fight. I copped to it. He said that it was not my job to break up fights. He told me that if I had gotten hurt my health insurance would not have covered me. I wasn't much of a hero to begin with, but I never broke up a fight after that. And that's what I learned outside of the classroom.

And the picture? That, evidently, is how I appear to my students today.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Democracy--AFT Style

I just read a retweet from Randi Weingarten. It was some teacher in Texas (or somewhere) who voted for Hillary and wrote about how proud she was that her union had endorsed Hillary. Now that's fine. You can be proud of anything or anyone you want, and as long as you don't try to shove it down my throat I won't give you any grief about it.

Here's the thing, though. I represent the largest school in Queens, one of a handful of the largest schools in the largest district in the country. I was not asked who I wanted AFT to represent, and I don't know a single other person who was either. I'm told there was a scientific survey, but I'm not sure exactly what it means. For one thing, I haven't seen a single question on this survey, and for another I have no idea exactly what sort of science we're discussing here. Is it the same kind that rounds out my teacher rating?

And who exactly filled out this scientific survey? Again, not I or anyone I know. In fact, time after time I read survey reports saying teachers support Common Core, or Hillary, and I wonder why the surveys show that teachers support whatever leadership does. Personally, I can't think of a single working teacher who supports Common Core. I know some very smart teachers who've found ways to deal with it and ways to help their students do the same, but I haven't heard a word of enthusiasm about it even from them.

Months ago when AFT began its exhaustive search for whom to endorse, I was invited to be part of a conference call featuring Randi Weingarten. At this call, supposedly, we could push a button or something and get to speak our minds. I couldn't help but notice the first person who spoke was this NYS Unity guy who wrote a column about me. The guy called me a part time union leader and a part time teacher, and said I was obsessive over having lost the NYSUT race for EVP, all of which is ridiculous.

Randi, of course, posted a link to this blog (I won't), and kept it up, saying what I great blog it was. I was kind of surprised at how impressed she was by a combination ad hominem/ strawman personal attack. Nonetheless, when I pointed out to her that the characterization of me as a part time teacher/ part time unionist insulted not only me, but also every working chapter leader in the city she took it down.

Anyway, I decided whatever pearls of wisdom this NYS Unity employee had to offer were probably not worth my time, and turned it off. Of all the hundreds of people on this call, it was absolutely impossible that guy's call happened to be first by coincidence. So in Democracy, AFT style, you get in this long queue, and they call on whoever they're gonna call on.

And then there's the UFT winner-take-all system, which means anyone who disagrees with Punchy Mike Mulgrew gets no voice whatsoever in AFT or NYSUT. It was pretty obvious that AFT was gonna endorse Hillary, just as it was obvious that UFT was gonna endorse that mayoral candidate, what's his name, who told the Daily News the city just couldn't afford to give teachers the raise everyone else got.

We have a shot at changing that this May. It's usually in April, but in a typical quirk of UFT-style democracy, May happens to be when a 3.5% raise kicks in. So May it is. I'm sure that decision was made just as democratically as our decisions to endorse Hillary, to support Common Core, to support junk science ratings, to support mayoral control, and to allow Reformy John King the right to arbitrate our rating system. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fixing the ATR--We Lag Behind New Jersey

Reformy Chris Cerf has put a bunch of unassigned teachers to work in Newark. This is ironic, because he was part of Joel Klein's band of fanatic ideologues, and likely as not had a hand in the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve. The ATR was one of the many hideous creations of the 2005 contract. The now-dead Edwize reported it was a temporary thing, failing to anticipate that Klein would hire new teachers while current ones remained in limbo.

Here in NYC, we have hundreds still in the ATR pool. Reformy Chalkbeat NY reports 1,083 ATR teachers currently working. This, of course, fails to consider the hundreds (or thousands) of provisionally appointed ATRs working all over the city, and hoping for appointments. Alas, the permanent appointments are few and far between. In my school, a few veteran teachers have been permanently appointed, and we hope this trend will continue. Some of us worked very hard to make this happen. Nonetheless this appears to be far from the norm.

Here's the thing--Bloomberg and Klein are gone, and de Blasio won by a huge margin running as the anti-Bloomberg. So why on earth can't he and the UFT come to an agreement about placing the ATRs somewhere? Now that there's precedent, in New Jersey under Cerf for goodness sake, you'd think we'd be able to work something out.

I haven't heard a peep from Mulgrew or his minions about this, but I do know that they're fine with reporting only the number of ATR teachers lacking even provisional placement. They're also fine with dumping seniority privileges which would have enabled teachers at closing schools placement in other schools. Mulgrew gets up in front of the DA and claims this is a victory because there are more transfers under his Open Market system than under previous ones. Mulgrew doesn't take into account that principals may be eager to hire lower-paid and more compliant new teachers than those with experience.

The current system is labeled one of mutual consent. Oddly, this means the principal can pretty much turn down anyone but teachers must take assignments. In fact, ATR teachers who miss two interviews can be and are fired. This is a real money saver for the city. They send out notices via the cumbersome and inefficient DOE email, and if you miss two messages they can dump you. That's pretty much it, and this firing system has proven more efficient than even the second-class due process that Mulgrew championed. Mulgrew is happy to suggest that any ATR who twice shouts in the hall ought to face a one-day 3020a process, but I've yet to hear of that being used. Why bother, when the city can pick them off for missing email?

It's time to end this charade. It's time to stop stereotyping people for the crime of working in closed schools. I'm sick to death of reading baseless assertions that ATR teachers are no good, and even more sick of seeing them judged by roving supervisors, at least one of which I've personally observed to be borderline insane. It's ridiculous, in fact, to observe teachers subbing and judge their merit. They have no chance to build bonds that longterm teachers have, and it is in fact these bonds that make classes what they are.

I know it's tough for Mulgrew to admit failure. In fact, he never does. What Mulgrew does is take new positions and pretend the old ones don't exist. For example, Mulgrew enjoyed a great victory when he negotiated all 22 areas of the Danielson rubric be observed. Bloomberg only wanted a few. Mulgrew enjoyed another great victory when he negotiated only a few.

So why not work toward getting all ATRs permanent placement? Mulgrew could pretend he never supported any other position and declare yet another great victory. The city could save millions of dollars. It's a win-win, and since Mulgrew never reads blogs, he could say he didn't hear about it here.

We need to let all our teachers teach. If the city wants subs, let them hire subs. Let's put all the ATR teachers back to work, let's have the ATR counselors offer much-needed help to our children, and for goodness sake, let's give the ATR assistant principals brooms and mops and let them do something worthwhile for a change. Everyone needs to contribute.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Reformy John King--Hypocrite of the Year

In a headline that appears to belong on The Onion, New York's own Reformy John King is "trying to repair the Obama administration's frayed relationship with teachers." This is kind of incredible. First of all, if President Obama wished to score points with teachers, he would not begin by appointing someone who appears to hate us and everything we stand for. And yes, that would be King.

In New York, King held hearings on Common Core. When he found himself criticized, the King called public school teachers and parents "special interests." He then canceled all subsequent hearings until an outraged public forced him to come out of his office and face the music. King passionately supported the miserable Common Core, and became indignant when New Yorkers asked why he placed his own children in schools that did not use it.

In one of his first major speeches as acting U.S. secretary of education, John King apologized to teachers for the role that the federal government has played in creating a climate in which teachers feel “attacked and unfairly blamed.”

It is borderline surreal to read these words. King himself championed the New York junk science rating system. It never bothered him that value-added teacher rating had no established validity. He totally ignored NY State principals who said that this was the wrong way to go. When the American Statistical Association declared that teachers affected student scores by a factor of 1-14%, King did not raise a whisper of acknowledgement.

Another disappointment is the reaction of NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia:

“We definitely hear something new coming out of Dr. King,” she said, adding that while his words “mean a lot to us,” teachers are now interested in seeing how he backs up those words with actions.

The fact is she ought to know better. Candidate Barack Obama went to the NEA and promised to do things "with" teachers, not "to" us.  He followed that up by appointing Arne Duncan Secretary of Education, racing to the top, and imposing junk science ratings and Common Core on most of the country via a gun to its head. When Arne said Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education, Obama didn't chastize him at all. When Arne made his idiotic remark about soccer moms' kids not being so smart, based on ridiculous Common Core tests, Obama said nothing.

Making John King Duncan's successor was a slap in the face to working teachers. It's very disappointing neither Eskelson Garcia nor Weingarten would come right out and say so. Of course, they're both busy campaigning for Hillary Clinton, who has promised to close any school that isn't "above average."

King would have us entirely forget his own tenure in New York and make believe we trust him. I certainly hope we aren't stupid enough to fall for that.

Friday, February 19, 2016

UFT Then and Now

I'm on a mailing list from a UFT rep who goes around to schools organizing for the union. He sends an email every week or so. Sometimes there are interesting bits. The one I just received certainly caught my attention. Here's a little piece of it.

Thank You, Senior Members!

         I hope you all enjoyed your midwinter break.  Now that you are back in your school, be sure to thank your senior colleagues, those who were working in Spring 1991, twenty-five years ago, for paying for it.

         That’s right.

         Back then under Mayor David Dinkins the city, in financial crisis, asked each and every UFT member for a loan of $500*.  In exchange we got

         -a liberalized sabbatical and leave policy

         -a buyout for Tier I members


         -the midwinter break.

         It wasn’t free.  It didn’t come from Kris Kringle, Befana the Witch, or the Tooth Fairy.  Your colleagues and your union paid for it.

         Be sure to thank them. *Happy ending.  Everybody got paid back in three years at 6% interest.

Now consider that. I was working when Dinkins was mayor, and I certainly lent the city that money, so it's nice to be appreciated. But I don't expect young teachers to thank me anytime soon. For one thing, I don't see any buyout for them, and there hasn't been one for many years. For another,  they likely as not have never even met a Tier One teacher, and there's no buyout for them, let alone anyone else right now. A whole lot of them are on the far inferior Tier Six. In fact, for them, even the 25/55 we got via the grab bag of goodies we gave the city in 2005 is now gone. I like the midwinter break, but I'm pretty sure it entailed a shuffling of days.

The most egregious omission here, though, has nothing to do with any of the above. It's the failure to note that the most recent contract, the one new and not-so-new teachers are actually working under, entails a significantly larger, longer-term loan to the city. I can't say exactly how much newer teachers are deferring, but I know I myself have deferred in excess of forty thousand dollars, not for three years, but rather eleven. I'm not gonna see the money I earned in 2009 until 2020. I'm not getting 6% interest on that, but rather the 0% cannily negotiated by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his crack team.

If I were a new teacher, knowing this, and knowing I lent a whole lot more than $500 to the city, I'd find this comparison fairly upsetting. And if I were, say, on leave for some reason (maternity is a big one), I'd be pretty pissed off that I got zero retro and had to wait two more years for the big magical chest to open again. And as for rewards for this contract, aside from the lowest pattern bargain in my living memory, the only one that pops into my mind is the second-tier due process rights we got for ATR teachers. Hardly something worth boasting about, if you ask me.

I suspect this was reaching out to try and get new members to appreciate union, given the Friedrichs case. I'm pretty surprised it failed to take into account the death of Antonin Scalia, which pretty much stops Friedrichs in her tracks (for now at least). Friedrichs' principled Koch brothers-financed quest toward more work for less pay has certainly been slowed.

Of course, on Scalia's death and its consequences, we've heard only crickets from UFT leadership. Doubtless it will be painted as a victory, just as every time UFT leadership blows its nose is a victory. But exactly what sort of victory it is needs to be considered by those who run 52 Broadway. They are very smart, as Michael Mulgrew reminds us on a monthly basis, and need to consider how to paint this for membership. After all, we aren't that smart, sophisticated, or knowledgeable. Many of us have yet to realize, for example, that the only reliable source of information, since Mulgrew axed Edwize,  is NY Teacher. A whole lot of us still rely on dubious sources like Diane Ravitch or opt-out activists, despite what the very smart people in leadership have decreed.

Anyone who compares then and now is not going to take a favorable view of the comparison. Personally, I'm not sure it was a good idea to reach out with this.  This is a pretty elementary comparison to make, and leaves me thoroughly unimpressed with the progress of UFT leadership.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fewer Teachers? Lapsed Morale? Mulgrew Says Everything's Coming Up Roses

Lohud reports there are 13,000 fewer teachers in NY State than there were five years ago.  I know there are thousands fewer teachers in NYC alone, though I can't say offhand just how much of that figure it represents. We know that in NYC, Emperor Bloomberg had a habit of allowing teacher ranks to drop through attrition. Retiring? Fine. One more person I don't have to pay, figured Emperor Mike, and screw the inevitable larger class sizes they'd cause.

For the rest of the state, there is the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which Cuomo now proposes to end, but which has still cut state aid for drastically for many districts since 2009. Couple that with the Cuomo's tax cap of 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower (a measly .12% this year, if I recall correctly), and districts all over the state are strung out for cash. Cuomo, who fancies himself a "student lobbyist" has set it up so districts need a super-majority to aid their children. This, in fact, gives more power to those who'd deny students than those who'd support them, let alone "lobby" for them.

Cuomo gives lip service to moves he's made toward a less insane system, like his so-called moratorium on Common Core testing. This is much ballyhooed not only by Cuomo, but also by UFT leadership, which placed it on the cover of the most recent copy of NY Teacher. In fact, this affects only the scores on state ELA and math tests in grades 3-8, so for most of us, it's meaningless. In fact, it's not even clear whether these scores are entirely not going to be counted in future years.

With all teachers about to be rated 50% via test scores, an entirely invalid measure, it's getting harder to encourage newcomers to go for this job. We now know that we are to be observed by "independent" observers, since of course school supervisors may be prejudiced in favor of the people with whom they work. What an outrage. This follows, of course, the state's brilliant move not to allow teachers to grade their own students. After all, we're just a bunch of thieving, unscrupulous, self-serving bottom feeders who will do anything to look good. We'll never be paragons of integrity like Andrew Cuomo.

We're looking at an insane law, a law for which UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanked our Heavy Hearted Legislature, and a law which neither UFT nor NYSUT appears poised to reform. Mulgrew told us that he'd decided to focus on funding rather than reasonable evaluation. Doubtless, as he always says, he has very smart people with very smart reasons why we should not fight the increase in junk science evaluation for working teachers.

So while UFT declares victory on the cover of NY Teacher, we're looking at yet another evaluation system. This is becoming an annual event in NYC. Once you get a little bit used to the nonsense used to rate you, Cuomo decides not enough of us are being fired and makes up some new and more draconian BS for the teacher-hating charter school enthusiasts who give him so much money. To try and appease the opt-out people who frighten the crap out of him, he proposes a few changes, including the "moratorium" and nebulous promises to adjust Common Core.

UFT leadership declares victory, as it always does no matter what, and opt-out promises to keep up the fight. Again, we are on the wrong side doing the wrong thing, just as we were when Mulgrew promised to punch our faces out if we touched his precious Common Core. Of course, now it's a victory that Cuomo is doing just that, and he spend $1.4 million on a commercial telling NY State what a great guy we thing Cuomo is.

It's hard for me to believe these words as I write them, but that's pretty much the way it is. It's time for our union to get on the right side of history, whether Michael Mulgrew likes it or not. Fortunately, there are teacher groups who notice this and are urging leadership toward sanity.

It makes me kind of wish the UFT election were not rigged, so that it weren't dominated by retirees, so that high school teachers could select their own VP, and so that the winner take all system didn't mean absolutely every delegate to NYSUT and AFT were a loyalty oath signer bound do do Any Damn Thing Leroy Barr Says.

But I'm a dreamer. I'm a teacher and it's my job to see potential and act on it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Still Not Feeling the Love for Hillary

Lately I've been getting attacked pretty frequently on Facebook by a few people who insist I vote for Hillary Clinton. When they get really upset, they start telling me how stupid I am. I'm unfamiliar with high school civics. I don't understand how things work. What about 1972? Didn't we lose in 1972? Sanders is Ralph Nader. He's a spoiler.

When you tell them that Sanders has pledged to support the Democratic nominee, they are not happy. It doesn't matter. Sometimes they accuse me of supporting the Republicans. If I don't vote for Hillary, I'm supporting Donald Trump. How do I feel about that?

They don't seem to understand the meaning of democracy. If, in fact, I want to vote for Donald Trump, I can. I don't, but still I have reasons not to vote for Hillary. For one thing, I voted for Barack Obama the first time he ran. I was pretty horrified as he enacted the worst education policies I've ever seen. I regretted my vote, and when he ran for re-election chose Jill Stein from the Green Party. So when Hillary said she would close schools that weren't above average, I decided that was enough for me.

But she followed this up by saying we would never, ever get single payer. Evidently those of us who think America should have universal health coverage are wild-eyed dreamers. Now I've been sick, and even with excellent health insurance I recall wading through complicated, virtually incomprehensible bills, and spending hours calling my medical insurance company, and my hospital insurance company, and actually visiting the hospital to try and clear things up. This was a process that took months.

But that's nothing.

Sometimes I play fiddle in bluegrass bands. It's kind of my hobby. One Saturday night, I was playing in a Pennsylvania theater, in a band that opened for someone who was fairly well known in our circles. It was a pretty nice gig. We had a dressing room, and the theater sent us to a nearby restaurant for lunch and dinner.

I remember I ate with the banjo player from the main band. He ordered a Reuben sandwich, and so did I. I don't remember much of what we talked about. I do remember, though, that he was the only member of the other band who looked under 300 pounds. That's why I was pretty surprised to hear that he dropped dead the following Tuesday.

Evidently he'd been having chest pains and didn't want to go to the ER. After all, an ER visit can cost 3,000 bucks, and that's after the negotiated discounts your insurance company has. This banjo player had none of those discounts, and in case you didn't know, banjo playing is not generally a well-paying job. I'm not even sure if he was the regular banjo player. But banjo players, regular or not, like all Americans, deserve better than this.

My friend's father had to sell his house to pay his wife's medical bills. He moved into the basement of his son's house, where one Christmas Eve he blew his brains out with a gun.

America needs universal health, not excuses from self-serving politicians who care about nothing but winning the election. And for those of you who want to lecture me about the Supreme Court, if Hillary needs my  vote in NY State so desperately it's that pivotal, she is toast anyway.

You vote for who you like. I'm voting for Bernie in the primary, and I'm not voting for a reformy politician who wants to fire me, or any of my brother and sister teachers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How I Won Friedrichs and Jia Lee Didn't

Hey it's me again, "Punchy" Mike Mulgrew, here to give you an important update on the thing that's been keeping some people up nights, the Friedrichs case. OK, it hasn't been keeping me up nights, because I have very smart people to worry about this stuff so I don't have to. They calculate and strategize, and measure each and every bit of data. They have slide rules and everything. Now I can't explain their thinking, because it's secret, and I don't understand it anyway, but the point is they think about this stuff and figure it out, so that should be good enough for anybody.

What's indisputable is this---under our leadership, Justice Antonin Scalia has died, and unless he comes back as a zombie or something, it looks like that pretty much rules out his vote on Friedrichs. We figure, even if Obama doesn't get to appoint a new justice, it doesn't matter because it's gonna be 4-4. That means the lower court ruling holds and Friedrichs loses. Everyone has to pay, members and non-members, and we won't have to bother with all that organizing and stuff it looked like we might have to do. Sheesh, that's a relief. I really didn't feel like doing that, not that I was gonna do it anyway. Of course I have people for that.

So here's the thing. I keep hearing about this Jia Lee character who seems to want to run against me. Can you imagine? I have to control my base instincts so as not to use bad language right now, but who the hell does this character think she is? I'm even hearing that newspapers write about her. Can they even do that?  I'm the President, dammit. They run my picture and quote her. What's up with that? This is just one more case of the NY Post running some radical point of view without coming to me, the reasonable center, who could have one of my people make up some quote or something.

So let me ask you this. Do you think, under the leadership of someone like Jia Lee, that Scalia would have died and we'd have won Friedrichs? Of course you can't say that. What you can say, with 100% certainty, is that under my leadership, with the input of all the smart people who write my op-eds and tell me what to say, that we dealt with this. All those of you who made jokes about our contingency plans can go screw yourselves. There are reasons we can't tell you what our plans are. And it doesn't matter what you say because the fact is that we won this one, and we win them all.

Now sure you can vote for Jia Lee and all the disloyal bastards she represents. But the next time we're in a crisis, can you be sure the Supreme Court Justice will die before the case gets heard? Of course not. That's why I'm telling you not to change horses in midstream, and to elect me again. We now have a history of Supreme Court Justices dying before they could enter judgments that would harm us. Can MORE say that? Of course not. And just remember if there's some odd confluence of events and Friedrichs comes up again, it isn't my fault. Who could predict things like that, or Bloomberg winning, or his third term?

I'd just like to say one more thing. I'm sick and tired of hearing about the blogs, the ones I don't read, saying that our Unity members sign a loyalty oath. Let me make this very clear, once and for all. It is not a loyalty oath. It's simply an agreement that they will all do whatever we say they're gonna do.  We make our top secret decisions via a very fair process, with our elite, handpicked members. I can't tell you what that process is because then I'd have to have you killed, and there's a whole lot of paperwork in rubbing people out and attributing the expenses to caterers of gala luncheons. But I have very smart people arrange all this stuff, so it's OK.

Anyway, I want you to get on social media, on Twitter and MySpace, or whatever the hell it is you kids do nowadays, and tell everyone what a great job I'm doing, and not to vote for that Jia Lee character. I hear she hangs around with, you know, bloggers and other lowlife characters. I don't approve of blogs, and that's why I killed Edwize. Sure no one read it, but that's not the point. The point is I don't want you reading any blogs at all. The only info you need is in NY Teacher.

So, in retrospect, don't vote for that weirdo Jia Lee, and remember, under our leadership not only have we won Friedrichs, but we also haven't had a catastrophic natural disaster in over three years. Can Jia Lee and her gang of MORE/ New Action bastards say that?

Of course not. The choice is clear folks. See you at the next DA. I have a lot of hilarious in jokes that none of you will understand, and I can't wait to share them with you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Whatever Eva Wants, Eva Gets

The big story in reformy Chalkbeat NY's Rise and Shine, of course, is Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz is under fire for the documented cruelty of one of her teachers. Alan Singer points out that this teacher is not actually certified but a Moskowitz mentor teacher nonetheless. Moskowitz, who refuses to sign the standard agreement for her pre-K program, can apparently certify anyone she wants however she pleases.

Chalkbeat links to a number of stories stating that this sort of behavior would not be acceptable in wealthier schools. Doubtless that's true. I certainly would not want my child in this teacher's class, and it's hard to imagine parents who feel otherwise. In fact, the NY Times report suggesting students regularly pee their pants rather than asking for a moment less test prep leads me to believe this behavior is not, as Moskowitz claimed, an anomaly.

The fact is Chancellor's Regulation A-421, against verbal abuse, would have landed this teacher in a ton of hot water. In NYC public schools, you simply are not permitted to address children in an abusive or hostile manner. In fact, the wording is such that pretty much anything that makes a kid feel uneasy can be construed as abuse. If you say, "hello," and it makes the kid feel bad somehow, a crazy principal could bring you up on charges.

Nonetheless, I do not condone what this teacher did to this first grader. A teacher ought to be supportive rather than abusive, and anyone watching the video can see what's going on here. Children make mistakes all the time. I make mistakes all the time. We are human and ought to allow for children being human too. In fact, being children, they have a much better excuse than we do for mistakes. It isn't just private schools of the well-to-do that wouldn't put up with this nonsense. No public school principals worth their salt would accept this behavior.

Here's the thing--charter schools are not subject to chancellor's regs. Abusive to children? Well, if it helps you get high test scores that's fine. Traumatized kids? Too bad. As long as Eva gets her test scores it doesn't matter. Does Eva have to follow the rules we do, the ones that say we can't grade standardized tests of our own students? Who knows? Rules don't apply to revolutionaries. After all, she's on a mission to privatize education and get it out of the hands of those nasty unionized career teachers. Certification? Bah humbug. Trained teachers might not know how to terrorize kids into high test scores with all that touchy feely stuff they learned at "college."

At the end of the day, Eva says she's sick of apologizing. Sick of apologizing for her "got to go" list, sick of apologizing for the kids who pee their pants, and sick of apologizing for the downright abusiveness of her staff. Of course she hasn't apologized for her failure to sign the pre-K agreement.

And why should she? Under a law her BFF Andy Cuomo passed, the city has to subsidize her schools whether or not they want them. She didn't get where she was by following rules, and if she has to abuse and terrorize kids to get what she wants, that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Goodbye Friedrichs, Whither UFT?

Antonin Scalia is no more, and with him goes the Friedrichs case. Scalia was the wild card here who may actually have prevented free riders, said leadership. We will never know for sure. Now, worst case scenario appears four justices who are not insane will match the four who likely hate the idea of organized labor having a fighting chance.

UFT leadership is already in the midst of its Union Loud and Proud campaign, which entailed handing out buttons at the DA and having CLs hand out smaller ones to a few people in their schools. I've done that, and it wasn't a bad idea. It just wasn't a complete idea. After all, the Unity Caucus still dictates absolutely everything that happens. In their last DA handout, they declared that Unity Caucus is UFT. While that's hubris, it's not far from the truth. And therein lies the problem.

Unity itself declares that its elite membership is UFT, even as it shuts out all grassroots voices. It sees no problem, and in a way there isn't. After all, they can do whatever they want at the DA. When independent voices become too troublesome, Mulgrew can blather on and make sure anything inconvenient never hits the floor. If it does, Leroy Barr can get up and oppose it, and every Unity CL will vote against it or lose that all-important trip to Schenectady, along with the attendant crème brûlée at the hotel.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that Unity is an elite, invitation only group that demands a loyalty oath of all its members. Personally, I would not find this so objectionable if it took positions that reflected the interests of working teachers. Instead, it's enabled the ATR, mayoral control, junk science teacher rating, and actually thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for making it worse. How can a day to day working teacher rationalize such nonsense?

Perhaps worst of all, it's marginalized those of us who actually teach NYC children. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that fewer than 20% of working teachers deem it worth their time to vote in union elections. While I vote every chance I get, I certainly understand the indifference, frustration and cynicism that moves members not to bother. The mode of election, an envelope in a mailbox, is far from my first choice of communication. We'd certainly get a better turnout if it were done in school buildings, and retirees would not likely overwhelm working teachers in such a scenario. Alas, such are the disadvantages of blatantly rigged elections.

While Friedrichs will pass, for now, the underlying issue will not. Do you think the police or firefighters were worried about Friedrichs? I don't. They know they are brothers and sisters. They have one another's backs. They understand what union is. It's second nature. It's when we look out for one another.

Our union leadership is a cabal, closed off to rank and file. Most rank and file don't even know what the Unity caucus is, and indeed I didn't know much about it until I started questioning the abysmal 2005 contract. We've just got this vague notion that the odds are stacked against us, and that we're wearing targets on our backs. It may or may not be as well known that our leadership, far from actually fighting those who'd hurt us, get excited only when the establishment is challenged.

Still, anyone with access to the Daily News has to wonder why Michael Mulgrew would get all punchy over Common Core opponents. Where the hell was he while we went all those years without a contract, even as NYPD and FDNY had one? Why is it a great victory for us to wait until 2020 for the money they had in 2009? And worse, why are UFT teachers so beaten down they could envision no better alternative?

It's gonna take quite a lot for teachers to have the camaraderie our brothers and sisters enjoy. It's gonna take a new awareness, a sea change. UFT Unity can barely conceive of such a thing, let alone execute it.

Take down that wall, Mr. Mulgrew. Because if you don't, it has to fall one way or another.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Union Going Forward

UFT is doing a kind of pro-union drive with buttons and signs. You can see a sample on the left. The notion is to be proactive. We can't wait until we lose Friedrichs, so we have to begin now.

This is not such a bad idea. A better idea, though, would have been to have started, oh, twenty years ago. I don't think the cops and firefighters are having panic attacks over the Friedrichs decision. They know they are brothers and sisters and have to stick together.

UFT, sadly, is different. I got into a small argument with a young teacher the other day who derided the need for union. (In his defense, he'd just been busted down to co-teacher status via Part 154, about which UFT, to date, has barely devoted lip service.) He said that people who worked for Google, Apple and Microsoft didn't need union. I told him that the Microsoft model of firing the bottom 5% didn't work for them and won't work for us either. I told him the people who worked for Google and Apple were an elite group who didn't represent the overwhelming middle class. This morning I was thinking about the Apple employees who live in Chinese dorms with fences on top to keep people from jumping off and committing suicide due to the miserable working conditions. I'm thinking they could use a union.

I absolutely believe in union. I absolutely believe we are stronger together. Of course, I'm not entirely sure leadership shares this view, despite the cool new graphic. As far as I can tell, the UFT is a top-down hierarchy that runs on patronage and loyalty oaths, and what's good for rank and file is a distant consideration to what's good for leadership. Rules are created to perpetuate power and disenfranchise membership, and that's why there's absolutely no opposition voice tolerated. Whatever Mulgrew (or whoever makes actual UFT decisitions wants, is what happens.

Now if there is to be a sea change in union, if there is to be choice in whether or not to pay dues, agency fees, or whatever, there's also gonna need to be something more than a bunch of chapter leaders wearing buttons. Buttons are fine, and there's one on my coat. But members are not gonna cough up $1300 because of a few buttons. And they're not gonna be swayed by Unity's typical appeals to fear.

There's gonna have to be some movement toward member voice, and that doesn't appear all that likely. For one thing, the union vote is scheduled for May rather than April, when UFT finally gets a 3.5% raise. Unity is counting on people jumping up and down shouting, "Hallelujah!," and praising Michael Mulgrew for the great job he did getting us another miniscule part of the money we've been owed since 2009.  It's a transparent, cynical ploy, and I'm not altogether certain that's gonna happen.

Even if it does, all we would get is more of the same. I don't think Michael Mulgrew understands what an activist union is or does. If he did, he would not be able to muster the audacity to urge us onto social media while utterly avoiding it himself. If he did, he'd interact freely and openly with membership rather than walking around with a flip phone so he didn't have to be bothered.

If we lose the dues checkoff, it's gonna be tough for Unity to maintain the patronage mill and keep doing business as usual. We will need people for whom activism is a way of life. That's why I'm voting for MORE/ New Action this year, and that's why I urge you to do the same. It's time we build walls to shield us from our enemies, rather than our brothers and sister who favor the activism we'll need to build union going forward.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

One Hit Wonder

 Nah, it's not about the guy in the picture, though I kind of wish it were. That song was pretty catchy. I saw him sing it on the Today Show, and it was pretty cool. He speaks our language very well.

I'm not quite so sure about the guy who wrote The Battle for Room 314, which some publisher sent me for free. I mean, he speaks English, but seems very removed from the language of the classroom. I get the feeling he wants to be thanked for stepping off his pedestal and favoring us with his ruminations. And indeed, perhaps this book will find favor with people who'd never set foot in a public school under any circumstance.

Here's a capsule review from a public school teacher, based on the little I was able to get through--it is one of the worst pieces of crap I’ve ever come across. Before putting the book down, I found multiple comparisons of students to 1940s movie stars. I guess that's where the writer comes from, culturally or somehow, but I can't help but think familiarity with things that happened in the worlds of the kids we serve, say, in the last half century, may have better prepared him for teaching.

The author appears to have been terrible teacher, lacking the common sense of a number two pencil. His dealings with difficult students, which comprise the first chapter of the book, are simply abysmal. He considers freaking out in front of the class, and appears not to realize, even as he's writing this dubious memoir, that he has already freaked out in front of the class.

Quite early in the book, he trots out impossible stereotypes about bad teachers. Right after I read about the guy who sits and reads a newspaper in front of the class I knew I would not be reading the entire screed. He also labels this guy as telling a class that automobiles appreciate in value. This is a cartoon, not a character description. Unlike cartoons that are amusing, appealing or funny, this one appears to be based on stereotype rather than truth. Were it about a racial or religious group rather than teachers, it would be considered offensive and unacceptable. For the record, I consider it pretty much the same thing.

Another of his teachers simply lies in the face of a student who questions something she said in class. I find this possibly feasible, in the case of someone who's terribly insecure, but not remotely typical. I can think of one or two teachers who may have done something like this, at some time, but it's really an aberration. I don't know about you, but when someone proves me wrong I'm pretty full of mea culpa. That's absolutely the best way to deal with mistakes, unless perhaps you're Donald Trump or a bigshot in the Unity Caucus.

Maybe there's gold hidden in the pages of this book, but after reading about all the fancy people who he mixed with before landing in some horrible public school, after reading about the wonderful Bill Gates program that created the school he reviled, after reading the awkward similes and attempts at self-deprecating humor, I'm not reading any more. There is, of course, the obligatory moment where the teacher actually helps a kid despite all these obstacles, but really, you could watch Freedom Writers or some other insipid teacher film and save yourself some time.

The icing on the cake, in my view at least, is that this writer musters the audacity to add a chapter of recommendations to help public schools.This is a guy who taught for one year and failed. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. I have a lot more respect for those who hung in. But this is one of many collections of insights from one-year wonders who couldn't hack it.

Clearly the publisher saw something in this. Whatever it was eludes me completely.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Secret Sauce Revealed

No one knows how to "fix" schools. After all, a prime reason they are "broken" is that many kids come from homes of poverty. Many parents have to work multiple jobs and haven't got time to spend with their children. Then, of course, folks like Joel Klein cry out that the schools suck and teacher heads must roll. It's the tenure that explains why everyone is failing! It's those step raises! Why can't we just fire any damn teacher whose salary gets too high? The bastards.

But Satellite West Middle School has found a solution. They're gonna change their name and move to a new building. Impressive, huh? Oh, and they're also gonna start being selective about who they let in. No more of that "community school" nonsense. They're gonna try and select more "gentrified" folk. After all, those folk might not want to mix with those, you know, other folk, so let's make sure we get all the right folk in place. Well, it worked for Carmen Fariña, and now she's chancellor.

So, while other schools struggle over how to get better test scores and avoid closures, this one just follows the charter school playbook. Well, not exactly. Charters have to go through the motions of a lottery, then interview those who win and let them know what's required. If parents have to go in and do work, or show up to meetings, or get on buses with Eva Moskowitz, well, that's just what it takes. And if they suspend your kid dozens of times until they withdraw you, well, there you go. Or if they place your kid on a "got to go" list, well, your kid's gotta go. Oh, and when they dump those kids back into those awful public schools, they don't have to replace them.

Now this school can't dump kids so easily, being ostensibly public, so it's decided not to bother with any of that lottery nonsense. We'll just take who the hell we please, thank you very much. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the much sought-after secret sauce. It's not charter schools, or vouchers, or tax credits. It's not Campbell Brown, or what's-her-name who runs that parent union. It's, "We'll take these kids, the ones who get high scores and everyone else can just go to hell."

No more improverished kids who've developed learning disabilities. No more kids who don't speak English. No more behavior issues. No more of those inconvenient special education children who need smaller classes and more attention. None of those classes that require two teachers at a time. It will be just like a private school that's gotten rid of all those bootless and unhorsed, and you don't even have to worry about all that riff raff that moves into the neighborhood, because no one gets in until you damn well let them in.

That's how you beat that test score game. Let all those other schools who have to take everyone worry about it. Your asses are covered and that's pretty much all that matters.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Charters Outspend Us, While We Spend Millions Praising Cuomo

It kind of freaks me out to read that Eva Moskowitz and her reformy BFFs have outspent union on lobbying. And by quite a bit, too:

In all, labor groups and their key allies on education issues spent $8.3 million on political activity in 2015. Charter schools and their influential lobbying arms spent a little over $9 million, and tax credit advocates, $5.7 million, according to the lobbying and campaign finance reports.

So they're outspending us on two fronts. First, on charters, which is a great way of getting public money into private hands. They have great commercials, telling us to support the noble and principled Andrew Cuomo as he struggles to fire all those crappy unionized public school teachers. After all, the test scores are down, and that's what matters. Who cares if the tests are all new and we've set the cut scores to make everyone fail? That's not in the commercial, so no one knows it anyway.

The second front, of course, is the tax credits that will pay for John King to send his kids to a Montessori school, thus sidestepping the awful programs and tests he's imposed on everyone else. And if you want to send your kid to that school, well, that's fine as long as you can pony up the difference. This is another great way to help rich people have more money to invest, always a priority for the politicians they've bought, like Cuomo and King.

Now I've watched NYSUT and UFT celebrate for the last two year that we didn't get this tax credit/ back door voucher program. While they didn't achieve anything good, at least they've put off one bad thing for another year. Problem, of course, is that every time you cut off one reformy head, another grows in its place. Last year, for example, they didn't get the tax credits, but they did get a teacher evaluation system that's even worse than the one we have now, and we did take away the right of unions to negotiate much of it. Now that we have that, and Michael Mulgrew has thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for it, they can push even harder for the tax credit.

What really bothers me, though, considering that unions have spent all those millions, is that we've spent two or three of them on glitzy commercials congratulation Andrew Cuomo for coming to his senses on education. Unfortunately, it's plain that while Cuomo gives lip service to change, things are fundamentally the same. If you teach above grade 8, things haven't changed at all. And giving kids unlimited time to torture themselves with developmentally inappropriate tests was not precisely a victory either.

If you think Cuomo is a friend of education, you need look no further than his insistence that his idiotic tax cap be adhered to. Schools are allowed to raise their budgets by a whopping 0.12% this year, and no matter how high inflation gets it's capped at 2%. This comes from a man who musters the audacity to label himself a "student lobbyist." I listened to current NYSUT leaders discuss all the clever ways they'd get around the cap, and thus far they've failed to deliver, instead opting to spend member dollars telling the world what a swell guy Andy Cuomo turned out to be.

It's time for UFT and NYSUT leadership to get out of the ass-kissing, seat-at-the-table, Cuomo-praising business and start advocating for not only those of us who they ostensibly represent, but our students as well.

Monday, February 08, 2016

What if the Unity Gravy Train Is Derailed?

SCOTUS appears poised to deal us a loss in Friedrichs. But what will a loss look like? Will they simply decide that there are no more agency fees? That could be inconvenient for 52 Broadway, which has a machine to maintain. Will they be able to continue to send 750 rubber stamps to AFT conventions? Will they have to stay at Motel 6 instead of the Marriott? Will they have to buy in six packs instead of drinking the $14 beers at the Hilton?

Actually, things could get even more inconvenient. Will union members have to opt in, or opt out? It would certainly be easier if the default position were in. Of course, even in an organization where fewer than 18% vote in elections, some people will manage to get their grubby little paws on a card that saves them $1300 a year. Even if UFT leadership can't deal with people opting out of developmentally inappropriate tests, it's gonna have to face the possibility of people opting out of dues.

Now if the default meant people had to opt in, that would be even tougher. People would have to actually lay their hands on a piece of paper, fill it out, and say yes I want to send Michael Mulgrew $1300 this year. I want to make sure he can bring all of his minions to some convention where they cheer for Bill Gates the week before he attacks teacher pensions. I want to make sure he gets a gold plated seat at the table where he negotiates laws that ensure teachers are rated via junk science. Not sure everyone would jump up and down at that possibility.

Or they could insist on another model, where union ratification votes took place annually. That would mean that Mulgrew, who has never even been on social media, would have to be in perpetual sales mode. That would be a big change for a guy accustomed to interacting only with those who've signed loyalty oaths, a guy generally surrounded by a comfortable entourage with whom he exchanges in jokes, even when in public.

Mulgrew said at the January DA that if we lost Friedrichs, we'd have to spend a lot more time organizing. This left me scratching my head why leadership hadn't spent the last few decades doing precisely that. One answer is they like a system in which members are so cynical and disenfranchised they can't even be bothered to vote, a system in which the actual vote is dominated by retirees who have absolutely no skin in who negotiates contracts for working members. I mean, if people will keep electing leaders who negotiate substandard contracts rife with givebacks, why bother even trying to do better?

Will a loss in Friedrichs wake up the aloof, elite Unity Caucus leadership? That's doubtful. With typical and predictable arrogance, the last Unity handout at the DA declared that Unity is UFT. Who cares if most members don't even know they exist, let alone the fact that they are shut out of virtually all union decision making? We are the UFT, and the overwhelming numbers of rank and file, uninvited and unaware, are not.

What is Unity gonna do when the gravy train can no longer be taken for granted? Do you imagine the folks who sit in Albany steakhouses and send back the quail they bought with our COPE funds are gonna degrade themselves by actually mixing with lowly teachers? We got a glimpse at Unity's idea of organizing at last week's DA. They handed out buttons that said, "Union loud and proud," right before Mulgrew announced we were technically not allowed to wear them at school. I guess I'll wear it to the supermarket, so the woman beside me squeezing oranges can know exactly how I feel.

On the brighter side, those who don't pay dues won't get to vote in union elections, not that they ever did anyway. If we lose 25% of working members, the turnout could be just as pitiful, but will appear inflated since the percentage will come strictly from duespayers.

It's gonna be a new world. One thing's for sure--Unity leadership's love of reforminess and concessions helped embolden our enemies and usher in this nonsense. So much for the smart and visionary leadership Mulgrew's always boasting about.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Sexism, Sanders, and Lee

Are you sick of hearing how you're a misogynist because you favor Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton? Tired of being called a "Bernie bro," whatever the hell that is? I am. I read a lot of things like that in social media, and a lot of it comes from Randi Weingarten, who I follow on Facebook and Twitter.

After all, that's kind of a straw man. How does anyone know why we support Bernie, or indeed anyone, unless they ask us? For me, I always liked what Sanders said better than what Clinton did. Sanders seems like a staunch advocate for a middle class and for working people. Hillary takes millions from banks and health care companies. The thing that really pushed me over the edge was when Hillary started talking about closing schools that weren't above average. I've personally decided not to vote for anyone who supports school reforminess anymore. And when Hillary said we were never, ever going to achieve single payer universal health care, that made the choice to support Sanders even easier.

But hey, if it's sexist to support a man over a woman for a political position, I say let's make it work for us. For example, I think Jia Lee ought to be the next President of the United Federation of Teachers. Now a lot of people disagree with me, and favor Michael Mulgrew, who is a guy. Clearly they are a bunch of sexist bastards and ought to be disparaged at each and every opportunity. But the whole "Michael bro" thing doesn't really resonate. The alliteration is completely off.

But there are other similarities, like vested interests. For example, a whole lot of Mulgrew supporters have signed loyalty oaths to make sure they get, you know, free trips and patronage gigs. They run around and say whatever they're told to say. They show the six-minute Mulgrew re-election video that masquerades as information about Friedrichs. And then, most importantly, they go to NYSUT and AFT conventions and vote any damn way Leroy Barr tells them to. And let me point out, in case it's not apparent, that Leroy Barr is also, indisputably, a man. As far as I know, he doesn't even try to hide it.

Me, I'm open minded and free thinking. That's why I support Jia Lee for UFT President. Jia's a leader in the op-out movement, and I absolutely believe this movement is what moved Andrew Cuomo to pretend to want to change his awful Common Core programs. Mulgrew tries to take credit in the latest NY Teacher, but it's like pulling teeth to get him and his Unity BFFs to stand up for opt out.

In any case, maybe it's time for us to take a page from union leadership. Let's start calling Mulgrew supporters Mindless Misogynists for Mulgrew. I don't really believe people support Mulgrew because they hate women, but if that's the tactic they choose to defend Hillary, why not use it? Since we already have the better candidate, why not throw in the kitchen sink?

The answer, of course, is because we have the better candidate, we can focus on the issues. You know, just like Bernie Sanders does.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Salesman

There is some sort of fundraising going on in my school. Everywhere they are selling sausages in cellophane. They are kind of like Slim Jims, the sort of thing that may have appealed to me when I was 12 years old but no longer makes me jump up and down. I see kids everywhere eating these things.

Only one kid has approached me about them, though. He comes in when I'm finished teaching my 8th period class. A few days ago, he asked, "Do you want to buy one of these things? They taste really bad, but I have to sell them." I asked him why anyone would want to buy anything that tasted really bad. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and moved on. In fact, he sold a few right in front of my face.

Yesterday he tried again. "Do you want to buy one of these things?" I asked him if they still tasted really bad, and he assured me they did. I asked him how he expected to sell them if he went around saying that. "Well, I have to be honest," he said. Wouldn't it be a better world if all salespeople were like him? No more lemon automobiles, no more used equipment going into new boxes, no more empty promises to get you to purchase some piece of junk...

Can you imagine a world where advertising had to be true? Please come to the Eva Moskowitz Academy so we can discredit public schools and eventually make Rupert Murdoch even richer than he is. Please vote for Scott Walker so the Koch Brothers can pay starvation wages and add on to their already overflowing buildings full of cash, gold, and whatever bodies they stomped across to acquire it... Please continue to vote against your interests and keep tinhorn politicians who don't represent you at all in office...The possibilities are endless.

Anyway, I asked him how much of it he'd sold. Two boxes, he said. I asked him if he was sure they really tasted that bad, and he assured me again that they did. I asked him if he'd tried them and he said he had not. How did he know, then? His friend told him. My thoughts flashed back to Arne Duncan and John King selling us educational programs that they would not use for their own children, and I decided something was not right here.

"I'll buy one of those things, but you have to eat it," I told the kid. He absolutely refused. I tried to appeal to his sense of salesmanship. "Maybe it doesn't taste as bad as you think it does. I see people all over the building eating those things." He wasn't having it. They tasted terrible, and he knew it, even though he had never even tried one.

He might have a future as an education reformer. If Eva Moskowitz or someone wants to hook him up, my email's just to the right.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

UFT Delegate Assembly February 2016

Mulgrew welcomes us. Says he will shorten his report (!). Mentions groundhogs


UFT is everywhere. Retirees are in Iowa, NH, will be in SC.

Michigan—UFT is in Detroit. Industrial hygienists blocked from school entry. Hoping they will get in and show what needs fixing. Mentions man in charge of Detroit schools was also in charge of Flint, glad he’s gone.


NYS UFT standards committee full of volunteers, all school levels, special ed. and ESL represented. Will meet first time tomorrow. Were many volunteers.

Met with company implementing new test next year, Questar. Says teachers will work with them, 60 elementary ELA and 60 elementary math teachers. Asks that applicants email VP Evelyn de Jesus.

Mulgrew testified in Albany last week. 2 major conflicts—

GEA v. CFE, both about school funding. CFE said schools didn’t get enough funding. GEA made cuts to many districts, causing layoffs. Mulgrew says most GEA money doesn’t go to needier districts. When will they fulfill promise of CFE? CLs will be notified how much each school has been shortchanged.

Anti-creaming language v. charters getting more money. Elia just went to charter rally. Mulgrew says UFT not talking charter caps or charter funding. Only wants charters to take same kids public schools do.

Mulgrew says state senators now interested in student learning, and that things like portfolios may be used in lieu of test scores. Says there must be specifics, that we are being strategic and pushing this. Hopes to go to NYSUT board of directors and locals and get them to push state toward changes in definitions of learning.

Says state is waiting for teachers to tell what student learning is. Says we must propose alternative to testing.


Mayor’s task force on discipline—went from zero tolerance to zero discipline, and that we’re looking for place in middle. Says zero anything does not work. Says Cuomo has no idea what’s going on because he doesn’t spend time in schools. Says he’s now taking cues from de Blasio, e.g community learning schools.

Mulgrew supports whole school cultural approach.

Family leave

Says negotiations have begun, non-union construct won’t work for us, but we need to decide what to give back for it. Says governor is now in on family leave act. Says we know it will cost, but no one should profit from it.

Midyear report

Mulgrew announces we are halfway through. Says Monday is Lunar New Year. Mulgrew’s advice to those upset about school opening Monday—shovel. Says more schools are being visited to help build functional chapters. Says problem is when school is functioning they won’t let advocates go.

Education and labor institute

Mulgrew says he’s been yelled at, doesn’t specify why. Some classes dropped for snow, but classes have been full, oversized, and he’s adding ten new ones. Says renewal schools program is something to be proud of. Doesn’t know if they will all survive.

Wants us to talk in terms of great problem in public education for 50 years that no one has solved. No one knows how to work with groups of schools that all have intensive poverty around them. Says Title one was just for this and it hasn’t solved it. Says Bloomberg tried to solve it by attacking us in various ways, but it hasn’t worked. Mulgrew says with community learning schools we’re seeing results we haven’t seen before. Says it’s huge piece in bigger picture, and that we have more such students than anyone.

Speaks of renewal retreat, to which 50 schools came. Says dealing with those challenges is probably toughest educational job in the country. Says if we solve that we will have solved the great problem that has never been solved. Says DOE didn’t want to come to weekend, but chancellor came when she found out. 19 principals followed. Says if you mandate it it doesn’t work. Says communities can make things happen, if supported.

Mulgrew says it’s not about passing percentage, but is impressed when traditionally low-performing schools do bettter. Says PROSE schools are about collaboration and trust. Says they’ve accomplished very good things in 5 months.


Mulgrew says this is against his judgment and opinion, but shows video. Complains there is no volume on video he doesn’t want us to see. Mulgrew shows us the six-minute video of him talking to various Unity Caucus members, but the technology fails. Mulgrew decides to keep talking until video is fixed. Says he doesn’t watch NY one, but trails off before telling us about other sources of info he ignores.

Says it’s very simple. SCOTUS can say union members are no longer union members. Says it’s about bad people who don’t like us because we stand up to them and win. Says it’s about people who think we should all shut up.

Says first, we need volunteers to sign up on an action campaign about Friedrichs. Wants members to all get info in February. Asks all DA members to sign up right now to be “activists.” Many phones come out and many clicks are made. Mulgrew says all members on list will be asked to sign. Says we will do “all the grassroots stuff” we’ve been doing before and push it onto our social media platform.

Goal is we start today to push everyone to work in some sort of organized fashion so that by May we have maximized energy.

Union loud and proud buttons are distributed. Mulgrew makes many jokes about who should and should not receive them.

Mulgrew says Friedrichs is much better understood by members, says more people understand. Says phase one is moving grassroots forward, and that we always do that first. Says schools will come up with great ideas. Says in March we will educate members on who’s really behind Friedrichs. Says we’ve beaten them in White House and Congress, and now in State because we now have a governor that loves teachers.

Calls it clever insidious attack. Says these people have destroyed communities across entire country and that they have no remorse. Says we will combine with other unions.

Mulgrew says someone from here will send it out, like always, asks us not to send it out. No idea what he doesn’t want sent out, but it’s clear who he’s attacking.

He says just like family leave we have to figure out how to fund it, talks about discrepancy in pay in right to work states. Says we need to be talking about not backing down, standing up to them. Says if decision goes south, we’ll work really hard to do what we have to do. If not, we’ll go have a drink.

Says sometimes we take it for granted. Points out he’s saying it nicely. Says this is something, look what happened in Wisconsin, well-prepared unions are OK, others are gone. Says we need to take active role as leaders. Says we will set up Friedrichs teams in schools. We don’t want to be only big union still standing and surviving. Says it is great challenge. He has confidence if things go badly we will be alright. Says we’ve been fighting them for over a decade.

Recalls Bloomberg layoff threats, and seniority threats, says it was multi-million dollar campaign financed by same people. Says we want other unions to join us, and that we are champions for equality.

Ends his report, saying we don’t have to watch the video.

Leroy Barr

—mentions school counselors week, to applause.
—Lobby day March 9th. 
—next DA March 23rd

Mulgrew informs us it’s February, African Heritage Month, CTE month, Groundhog’s Day, Dominican Heritage month, Lunar New Year Holiday, and Valentines Day.


CL—NYT article about pensions in bad shape.

Mulgrew—not in bad shape, doing well. Pension rep says they are solidly invested, very strong. Says there were a few headlines. Attributes results to everything happening in manufacturing today. Says every new comptroller has questions on how to run retirement system for best results. Says for every single person in this room, when they earn their pension, there is sufficient money to pay all because of teacher trustees.

Delegate Sean Ahern—asks about significant decline in teachers of color. What is result of resolution

Mulgrew—says we resolved to advocate, that we’re no longer recruiting from middle America. Leroy Barr—says we’ve been investigating, trying to increase pipeline both short and longterm via organization that follows potential teachers, TSTT, with 600 possible alumni. Also working with DOE, and in last 4-5 months they have a pilot program called Educators Rising. Establishing relationships with CUNY and SUNY. NYC putting $16.5 million toward this, for 1,000 teachers of color in Fall 2017. Says nationally, President running program as well.

CL—Asks if he can give principal button and whether he can wear it during school day.

Mulgrew—Yes, give button, and technically no on wearing it.

Delegate Brooklyn Tech—Says course preferences and assignments are discriminatory—If we uncover these patterns in one school, can we make citywide campaign against racism and sexism in schools?

Mulgrew—This is about school communities, which may handle things differently. These things need to come from schools. Some need outside help while others don’t. Says we have no difficulty dealing with difficult subjects, but must be at school and community level first. Not good when people come in and lecture.

CL—What happened to Campbell Brown case?

Mulgrew—It is at appellate division. Appealing whether it should be dismissed. Says it’s a state legal issue, not a Campbell Brown issue.

CL—Asking about removal of timing from state tests—have there been discussions about implementations.

Mulgrew compares her to Yogi Berra—test shorter but no time limit. We will have to decide whether students making meaningful progress and should continue. Make sure administrator is person stopping test if necessary.


For next meeting—

Mary Ahern—motion should be made, should be seconded, says this is not membership meeting but delegate assembly.

Mulgrew goes to parliamentarian. Says he will present, there will be a second. Will be open for debate.

Workplace bullying—UFT will use its resources to support NY healthy workplace bill to give victims cause of action.

Mulgrew says this has got to stop. Says member is yelling from the floor. Says we will run meeting and move forward.

Leroy Barr—point of order—challenges open debate on motions. Says there is past practice of 30-40 years of how we deal. Says Roberts is great guide, but not everything is in there. Asks that every motion directed to agenda is not open to full debate. Says it’s unthinkable we would have debate about something not on agenda. Asks for ruling from chair. Gets much applause.

Chair, Mulgrew, says we will follow past practices.

Asks for vote of the body, as ruling was challenged. Ruling of chair overwhelmingly approved by body.

Speaker says workplace bullying basically legal, and that this bill provides recourse.

Mulgrew—says he likes title, but would like to vet bill. Asks that legal team work with speaker and that vote be suspended until next month.

Jonathan Halabi—motion to extend 5 minutes. Defeated.


Paul Egan asks for endorsement of Rafael Salamanco. Says he’s endorsed by many unions, was liked in interviews, and Bronx office strongly supports.  No speaker against. Mulgrew moves to close debate. Passes overwhelmingly.

TRS—Mel Aaronson—Regrets retirement of Sandy March. Says our pension system would be different without her, benefits and service would have suffered. Says Debra Penny good replacement. Asks for endorsement. Sandy March speaks, thanks body, says we are luckiest people in the world because our leadership always put pension and retirement security in forefront. She receives standing ovation.

Endorsement carries unanimously.

Mulgrew takes personal moment, calls Sandy a piece of work, but our piece of work. Says she’s always gone after anyone who’d put union in jeopardy, says we owe her a great debt and thanks her.

Mandate relief—Carmen Alvarez—Says in 1995, state wanted to lift limits, but parents fought it. Says we could not prevail on resource room or SETS. Says we went from 5 to 8 to 1. Says we should roll back group size from 8 to 5. Says caseloads should go down as budget crisis is over. We have 963 million dollar surplus. Passes unanimously.
Resolution for mandated enrollment for paras in TRS. S. Abrams speaks of members retiring who aren’t in pension system. Says it’s time for us to bring members on board and we must pass bill this year.

Passes unanimously.