Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On Class Size--Pay More, Get Less

That's what's happening in Fun City today. Even as the Daily News complains payroll is up by $159 million, we might not be seeing a concurrent improvement in services. Actually, even the article admits that's a 1.57% increase, so I'm not sure why it merits attention. Teachers just got a raise, a good portion of which we earned a decade ago, but it's so recent it's probably not reflected in even this modest increase.

The fact is that this money pays for fewer classroom teachers. Back when Emperor Bloomberg ruled New York City, he decided to stop frittering away money on classroom teachers. At first he huffed and puffed and tried to blow up seniority rights. He threatened to fire a whole lot of teachers. After Bloomberg failed to remove them, he was faced with firing new teachers, you know, the ones who aren't evil like those of us with experience. UFT made a deal to forestall firings, and Bloomberg simply didn't bother replacing teachers who left.

This might seem like a win-win, but it depends where you look and who you ask. For example, if you asked the folks at Tweed, the ones who place Children First, Always, they'll tell you this is the best of all possible worlds, we live in the best of all possible times, and our kids are in the best of all possible classrooms. I guess if you ignore Brexit, Trump, kids learning in closets, bathrooms, trailers, hallways and elsewhere, you might be in agreement.

But there's something that teachers on the ground see that the idealists haven't picked up on. The UFT Contract has not substantially changed on class size. In fact, it hasn't evolved in over half a century. But as far as I can see, maximum class size has pretty much become the norm. I have spent an awful lot of time with our 50-plus page master schedule this year. Classes are 34, 34, 34 and 34. Of course there are exceptions, particularly in gym and music, where they are 50, 50, and 50. And there are exceptions. You'll see 33, 32, 49 and 48. But they're now the exceptions.

Is it any wonder that we have thousands of oversized classes? I've spent all year fighting oversized classes in my school, and mine is far from the worst. Despite an arbitrator's ruling that all class sizes be fixed, when that proved to be too much trouble, we had a "compliance call." This resulted in extra teachers licensed in the subject area being assigned to assist. It's not ideal, but better than nothing. Yet still now, with only a handful of days left, not all classes are in compliance with even that modest demand.

At the UFT Executive Board, Unity members are outright indignant at any suggestion that our class size regs need improvement. They formed a committee, they say, they're discussing it, and that ought to be good enough for anyone. We gave up money for these class size regulations, they say, even though virtually no one in the room was teaching at the time these regulations were established.

Actually, the amount of money the Daily News bemoans is a relative drop in the bucket. If we're really gonna focus on what the public wants, we need look no further than the parent surveys, consistently ignored by the DOE. When offered the option, what public school parents want is lower class sizes. As a teacher, I couldn't agree more.

But what we end up getting from the people who muster the audacity to claim they put "Children First, Always," is education on the cheap. Pack 'em in, hope for the best, and blame the teachers if they fail. We have a cookie-cutter rubric to rate teachers and class size plays no part in it whatsoever.

Do you want to know who really places children first? First there are the parents. Those of us who actually send our kids to public schools care a lot about what goes on. Secondly, there are the teachers. Of course we care about learning conditions, if for no other reason than learning conditions are our teaching conditions. We get up every morning to serve these children, and for that we are treated like criminals by administrators and periodicals right up to the New York Times and our pussy-grabbing President.

If NYC wants value for its dollar, it will demand that newly-progressive Governor Cuomo cough up the money for class size reduction mandated by the CFE lawsuit, Otherwise, putting children first is nothing but more lip service.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Will NYSUT and UFT Leadership Endorse King Andrew?

It's good that NY will help students pay for school. It's certainly an improvement over students not being able to afford school. Personally, though, I don't trust Andrew Cuomo as far as I can throw him. I understand that he's not being openly hostile to teachers at the moment. Despite that, this is a man without convictions, a man with no moral center, a man who puts his finger up to the wind and goes whichever way blows toward the Presidency.

Andrew Cuomo, having watched the results of the 2016 Presidential election, has decided the way to go is becoming Bernie Sanders Lite. And lite he is, given that he ran for the Governorship on a platform of going after unions. He's taken all sorts of money from charter school enthusiasts, and had no problem speaking at one of the Moskowitz Academy rallies. He's imposed junk science ratings on every teacher in New York. He's introduced Tier 6 to government employees. He's imposed a tax cap that means municipalities can't raise their school budgets by more than 2% without a super majority, and bribes residents with a tax refund for failing to invest in their schools. He's also failed to comply with the CFE ruling to give sufficient funds to city schools.

Nonetheless, that's not what he wishes to be known for. Right now, he wants to make tuition free for a lot of students, and I believe he actually stood with Sanders somewhere. Of course, it's not precisely a free ride. You have to be in school full time and complete it within a prescribed time frame. And you have to live in New York for as long as you receive the scholarship. Cuomo has now relaxed those rules a little. If you're in the military, or if you face extreme hardship, you get a break. Of course, if you do have to pay the money back, it's interest free. That's a better deal than I got.

All in all it's a definite improvement. It will help a lot of kids who I serve. So you take this, along with the "moratorium" that Cuomo's imposed on certain 4-8 state tests, and you could conclude that he's a new man. Of course, you'd need to disregard Tier 6, APPR, CFE, the budgets, and the state reg that NYC has to pay rent for charters whether or not it approves them. You'd have to assume he isn't still bought and paid for by "Families for Excellent Schools" and all the various astroturf orgs that hate us and everything we stand for.

I'm afraid I can't make that assumption. What really bothers me is that UFT and NYSUT leadership will perhaps make it anyway and endorse him next election cycle. I think that would be a mistake. Just because a self-important, self-serving, disingenuous, morally bankrupt politician makes a few moves toward evident lucidity doesn't mean that he's changed.

Even before Cuomo started pretending not to hate us, we kind of gave in to him. Who can forget our failure to support Zephyr Teachout in the Working Families Primary? Who can forget our failure to support her in the Democratic Primary? And who can forget our failure to oppose Cuomo in the general? I was not a fan of his GOP opponent, who had pretty words for us but opposed the Triborough Amendment that kept our contracts in force after they expired. I did, however, vote for Green Howie Hawkins both times Cuomo ran.

All in all, the man is a loathsome reptile. He will turn on us at any moment he deems convenient. It would be an enormous mistake for us to ignore that. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Puerto Rican Teachers on Notice

This is a letter that teachers in Puerto Rico received. It says they're going to be reassigned, somewhere.Where? Who knows?

This is something that once happened to us. It was before I started teaching. I remember hearing about it at a borough meeting. We had a fiscal crisis in NYC and the contract was basically a quaint memory. Teachers were fired en masse. Those who remained were sent wherever to do whatever.

Of course, as big as NYC is, getting around there is just a matter of time. Maybe you spend too much time traveling, but Puerto Rico can be worse. There are more mountains, for example, in Puerto Rico than NYC. I don't think there's a subway and ferry system, or a lift to cross mountains with, but you can correct me if I'm wrong. There also aren't a whole lot of job opportunities these days.

I often heard stories about purged teachers in NYC who went into business and were successful. Some of my former colleagues would tell me they were jealous. I'm sure that wasn't 100%, of course, and there weren't any studies about what happened to all the former teachers. Puerto Rican teachers face worse prospects, unless they can figure out how to skim off the vulture capitalists who are sucking the lifeblood from their island.

Of course there are people of conscience, and few forward-thinking people want to see their schools drained of resources. There are not many people who want to see pension promises reversed, although we see that here on the mainland as well. There are just not a whole lot of great prospects over there right now.

This leaves one option for those with the means, and that's leaving the island. Maybe they can join the UFT. Who knows? That may solve the issue for a few, but what about those who remain? They're still stuck paying back predatory loans to people who have no regard whatsoever for their welfare. Unlike our President, who declared bankruptcy multiple times, they haven't got that option. And for some reason I don't envision the Trump administration bailing them out either.

I hear they've already experienced a whole lot of loss. I don't know--maybe if everyone just left, the vampires would have far fewer bones to pick.  Should we encourage them to come here? Should we somehow make it easier for them to get bilingual and/ or ESL certification so they could help us out in their time of need? Should we maintain our focus on trying to help the people that remain? Would it be possible to do both?

At the UFT Executive Board last week, we passed a resolution of support, though we seemed to limit it to one union. Also UFT supports collective bargaining but not collective action, the notion of which was entirely alien to at least one hand-picked Unity Executive Board member. Those in FMPR is 32,000 according to Wikipedia. However, I hear that AMPR is exclusive representative, that teachers were not permitted to select FMPR, and that FMPR is now really around 4500. FMPR is not officially recognized by the government for their rabblerousing. It's not recognized by AFT, I suppose for disaffiliating with AFT. Nonetheless, 4,500 people is a pretty large group to have no representation nowadays. (Actually 20,000 NYC high school teachers have no representation in NYSUT, NEA or AFT, so I kind of know how they feel.)

This notwithstanding, we on the high school executive board supported the resolution. I spoke in favor of it. I continue to be mystified as to why we can't give blanket support to all our brother and sister teachers. This is a crisis, and I know how I'd feel if I got a letter like this. Time for Puerto Rico, and for us, to get over our sibling rivalry and offer full-throated support to all teachers.

Thanks to Aixa

Friday, May 26, 2017

Restorative Justice? Maybe Sometimes, but Not Always

I don't oppose restorative justice. I'm for whatever works. I read with interest this piece on using it, and I suppose, particularly at an elementary school, it's best not to use punitive measures where they aren't called for. I also wonder, though, whether sometimes this is pushed at the expense of issues like suspension, which I think needs to remain an option for us.

A few weeks ago, we administered the NYSESLAT in my school. My job was monitoring the test. I'm gonna say right here that proctoring is one of my least favorite activities. To me, it's like watching paint dry. Of course, there are those little moments that spice it up.

A young man walked into the auditorium talking on a cell phone. I immediately walked up to him and told him he had to leave. His response was to repeatedly instruct me not to touch him. I found this odd because I had no intention whatsoever of doing so. I have no idea what gave him any impression otherwise.

I told the young man the auditorium was full of English Language Learners, and that they were taking a standardized test. He said, since they didn't know English, that his talking wouldn't disturb them. That was pretty clever, I thought. Less clever, though, was his repeatedly calling me a moron. I followed the young man as he walked through doors and outside. I've been working in this building 20 years and never realized we had doors on that side, so I guess the young man knew the building better than I did.

I just kept walking with the young man, and talking to him. He refused to identify himself and kept reminding me that I was a moron. I had no plan but just kept talking. Luckily, one of my colleagues noticed our discussion in the auditorium. Actually, I suppose everyone did. But a few minutes after I got outside, a dean walked out, spoke the young man's name, and I instantly walked back into the building and wrote the whole thing up.

I later learned that the young man had blown past two of my colleagues outside the auditorium. Evidently they were not crazy enough to follow him. I was, and I'm glad I did. The student was suspended and I'm not losing any sleep over it. As much as I hate these tests, my kids have every right to take them in peace without undue distractions. To me it was unconscionable to show such disrespect for these kids.

Hey, if there's some method that works, if there's some circle to sit in, if they want to do whatever it's fine with me. But I really felt that not suspending that kid would have sent a message that anything goes, you can do whatever you want, and that admin would sit by and let it happen. I'm glad that mine didn't.

I'm open to better ideas. Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

May 22 Executive Board Takeaway--Chutzpah on Parade

There were both good and bad moments last Monday. My favorite was when CPE teachers presented Howard Schoor with their t-shirt. I asked him to wear it and indeed he did. He spent the rest of the evening with a green CPE 1 shirt over his shirt and tie. This was an indisputable victory, and of course it merited celebration.

Another bright spot was Janella Hinds, who told us she was meeting with DOE to bring back Regents grading to high schools. Visiting other schools has been disastrous for lots of my members, and our administration, among others, has tried scheduling midterms exams and even classes during January Regents week, with miserable results. It's ridiculous that the Board of Regents doesn't trust us to grade our students, something we do all the time. It's even more ridiculous that the city doesn't trust us to grade students in our buildings, and spends millions that could be used to reduce class sizes to pay us for what used to be part of our job.

I'm afraid I was less enthusiastic when Schoor suggested that Michael Mulgrew was solely responsible for the CPE 1 victory. I don't mean to diminish Mulgrew's role in this. He may have worked a lot for it. But it's outrageous to ignore the contributions of CPE 1 faculty, parents and community. They came together, stayed together no matter what, reached out for help everywhere and anywhere they could, and didn't give up when the odds were against them. I also have to say that we in the high school exec. board supported them in every way we could.

This notwithstanding, it's not really good policy to attach all success to one single person. Was Mulgrew solely responsible for the atrocity of Moskowitz moving in to JHS 145? I'd argue no, he wasn't. But if you're going to singlehandedly take responsibility for success, you also have to shoulder defeat. We are union. Theoretically, at least, we stand together as one. We share responsibility both in success and failure. The Unity MO, taking 100% credit for success and zero responsibility for failure, is preposterous and unsustainable. We rise and fall together, that's the most fundamental concept of union, and that's why we need to work together for our common goals.

Sadly, that's not how leadership sees things. The next major item on our agenda was a resolution to support our struggling brother and sister teachers in Puerto Rico. Of course I support that idea, along with our entire high school exec. board. I spoke in favor of it. But I didn't feel qualified to do so until I did a little research. I asked my friend Aixa Rodriguez what I could say and she put me in touch with Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico. The situation sounded pretty dire. Based on what she told me. here's what I said:

If we’re gonna be public school proud it means standing up not only for ourselves, but also for our friends and neighbors.  I spoke to Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico, who tells me another few hundred schools are to be closed to raise millions of dollars to pay the criminal loan sharks who’ve purchased the debt. Tens of thousands of teachers are facing pension loss, and also furloughs which will mean immediate cuts in salary. In Puerto Rico, vulture capitalists have converted human misery into a financial bonanza.

Puerto Rican teachers face criminalization of protests and years of jail time if they strike. In fact it’s likely they will do just that, and they need our support. Allowing this in Puerto Rico is tantamount to allowing it everywhere. It behooves us to do everything in our power to stop it dead right there. I urge support.

Mike Schirtzer then said we ought to add FMPR to the resolution, and also add "collective action" to our support of collective bargaining. Evidently, though, there is a history with this union. FMPR broke off from the AFT, and are therefore unattached to our parent organization. The question then becomes does that mean we can't support them? When Mike told me about this early in the evening I tried to imagine on what grounds they would oppose it. I couldn't come up with anything.

But I didn't have to wait long to find out, because LeRoy Barr stood up and said we had to clear these things with the AFT. I don't really know what that entails, but the fact that this union had specifically pulled out of AFT indicated to me that chances were somewhere south of excellent.

What really shocked me, though, was when a Unity Executive Board member got up in front of God and everybody and asked what collective action was. I mean, collective means together, and action means to do something. I was in Lawrence last week, picketing with teachers from various unions, including UFT. That's collective action. As Mike Schirtzer said, the various strikes in which UFT participated were collective action. In fact, the UFT theme these days, Public School Proud, is also collective action. Our Immigration Forum was collective action. Opt-out is collective action. Electing Christine Pellegrino to the NY State Assembly is collective action. In fact, having the union meeting itself is collective action.

Everything we do as a union is collective action, yet this particular handpicked Unity Executive Board member was entirely unfamiliar with that concept. Perhaps a better question would be what do we do that is not collective action. For my money, one example is having one person make all the decisions, going along with them without question, and hoping like hell to keep that after school gig answering phones or whatever the hell you do, and therefore shutting your mouth when it's high time to speak.

With the specter of "right to work" hanging over the United States of America, we've got a lot of work to do, and we need all the friends we can get. Maybe, instead of dwelling on our political squabbles, we should look to expand collective action and solidarity with all our brother and sister unionists, including FMPR. This is particularly true when their cause is our cause. Otherwise, I don't know how we're gonna weather Donald Trump and his band of faux-patriotic alt-right slimeballs gleefully trying to lead us on some coal-powered airplane back to the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Student Perception Survey 2017

1. How high do you jump up and down every time you go to this teacher's class?

a. very high   b. high  c. somewhat high  d. a little bit  e. I don't jump at all. The teacher sucks.

2. What do you say when you raise your hand in this class?

a. OOH! OOH! OOH!  b. OOH! OOH! c. Ooh. d. Blah  e. I don't raise my hand. The teacher sucks.

3. Does the teacher give you candy?

a. always   b. usually  c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

4. Does the teacher come over to your house and do your homework for you?

a. Yes. b. Yes, but only for his class. c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks

5. How often does the teacher make you explain your answers?

a. always. The teacher sucks. b.  Usually. The teacher sucks. c. Sometimes. The teacher sucks.
d. Rarely. The teacher sucks.  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

6. How much do the teachers stupid rules cramp your style?
a. always. The teacher sucks. b.  Usually. The teacher sucks. c. Sometimes. The teacher sucks.
d. Rarely. The teacher sucks.  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

7. Does this teacher control the class well enough, or does she suck?

a. She controls the class well enough. b. She controls the class well enough, but she sucks anyway.
c. She doesn't control the class well enough, so she sucks. d. She sucks at controlling the class.
e. She sucks at controlling the class, and she sucks in general

8. Does the teacher roll out a red carpet every time you enter the classroom?

a. always   b. usually  c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

9. How often are you so thrilled to be in the class that you don't think about food, sex, video games, or your iPhone?

a. always   b. usually  c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

10. Is the teacher always bugging you to do stuff?

a. always. The teacher sucks. b.  Usually. The teacher sucks. c. Sometimes. The teacher sucks.
d. Rarely. The teacher sucks.  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

11. Does your teacher jump up and down because she's so viscerally excited to teach your class?

a. always   b. usually  c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

12. When you're with your girlfriend or boyfriend, how often do you focus on this teacher's class instead of one another?

a. always. This teacher is ruining my life. b. often. Man I wish this teacher would get out of my face. c. Sometimes. This teacher really sucks. d. Rarely, but only to make jokes about her. e. Never. Why would I think about that moron?

13. When the teacher makes you do some ridiculous impossible crap, how often does he insist you finish it no matter how stupid it is?

a. always. The teacher sucks. b.  Usually. The teacher sucks. c. Sometimes. The teacher sucks.
d. Rarely. The teacher sucks.  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

14. How ignorant is this teacher?

a. very   b. really  c. extremely  d. a whole lot  e. This teacher sucks.

15. How boring is this class?

a. very   b. really  c. extremely  d. a whole lot  e. This teacher sucks.

16. Will this teacher give a golly gosh darn what you are doing three years from now?

a. No  b. Nah  c. Uh-uh  d. Nyet  e. Fugeddaboudit

17. How often does this teacher tell you how much you suck?

a. always  b. too much  c. every day  d. continually  e. a lot, but the teacher sucks more

18. Does this teacher genuflect when you enter the room?

a. always   b. usually  c. sometimes d. rarely  e. Never. The teacher sucks.

19. How bad is the teacher at controlling crazy students? We don't mean you, of course.

a. terrible  b. no good  c. negative  d. horrible e. awful

20. How hard is it to understand the stupid things this teacher says?

a. really hard   b. very hard   c. impossible  d. forget about it  e. The teacher sucks so I don't listen.

21. How good is this teacher at pretending to care about you?

a. not very  b. not at all  c. doesn't even try  d. Who cares? e. This teacher sucks.

22. Does this teacher care if you understand?

a. no  b. no   c. no  d. no  e. all of the above

23. Does this teacher write individual lesson plans for each of her 170 students?

a. no  b. no   c. no  d. no  e. all of the above

24. How awkward do you feel talking with this weirdo teacher?

a. very   b. really  c. extremely  d. a whole lot  e. This teacher sucks.

25. If you walked into the class upset, the teacher would...

a. ignore you  b. scream at you  c. throw a cheeseburger at you  d. make it worse  e. all of the above

26. Would you rather be with this teacher or a cute puppy dog?

a. Are you kidding?

27. How much have you learned from this teacher?

a. nothing  b. less than nothing  c. diddly-squat  d. nada e. The teacher sucks too much to listen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

UFT Executive Board May 22, 2017--Good News at CPE 1 y Problemas en Puerto Rico

Howard Schoor, Secretary calls Anika and Cindi from CPE 1, they thank us for our support. Principal asked to step down. Two teachers returned to classroom as of tomorrow. Giving CPE t-shirts for people in dais.

Schoor—CPE 1 great success for UFT, for our work, very proud. Day Marilyn went back he was there, parents were celebrating, great response from kids. Jackie Bennett was there today. Howard wears CPE t-shirt.


Aixa Rodriguez—on resolution for support for Puerto Rican teachers. Asks that all unions be named and FMPR be included. President coming in June, would be great gesture of solidarity to include them. Super important to create sense of unity with all parents, kids and teachers. Situation worsening daily. Would mean a lot if we stand with them regardless.

Schoor—says we’re with you.

Fran Meyers
—Adult ed.—says union members unite to fight abusive administrators—says adult ed. principals and APs have been abusing powers to give U ratings. Says they are impossible to fight, rigged at 99% rate for principals. Defines grievance as per article 22. Says admin needs to be honest. We shouldn’t be told we can’t grieve it due to post-ob. Supe Mills handpicked cronies who abuse powers. Reports written to denigrate teachers. Standards used as battering ram, applied without regard to level. We have to fight for this before we are fired. Day to day methods for individualizing instruction should be left to teacher. Many U ratings and unjust firings. Irrational and abusive use of observation system must be stopped to preserve dignity of profession. Asks union support grievances as per article 22, before teachers lose jobs.

Catlin Preston—CPE 1—Thanks UFT leadership, especially Howie and Ellen Procida. He is exonerated. Was long 14 months. Was reassigned as CPE 1 fight happened. Speaks of teachers languishing in reassignment, a twilight zone with no clear path forward, no guidance. Can be dispiriting, especially when you don’t know what you’re accused of. I am proof administrative abuse takes place, and that there are real consequences.

My exoneration indicates that charges were not substantial to begin with. Extremely grateful for due process rights, for salary, pension but dignity, professionalism were assaulted. Thought about quitting. I was found not guilty. I also have feeling of wanting more from UFT, ground level support, my mind stays with those teachers, They were dedicated professionals. We shouldn’t apologize for abusive admin. We need to balance investigatory power of admin.


Mulgrew arrives 6:15—

Schoor—only one person at UFT responsible for CPE 1. He made sure our members were made whole.

Mulgrew—AFT says they have none of those rights and are gone for allegations. Doesn’t mean it’s OK because we have these rights. You wanted your school back, you have it. Make it run, make it shine, and show everyone that’s why we do these fights.
Betsy DeVos giving speech, many cuts, charters vouchers, tax credits. PD cut. In our city we are the place that shows what public ed is. We will always have challenges and always learn something new. They have screwy ideas—they have ability to reassign but someone needs to monitor those who make the decisions. When it’s done from abuse, that’s why it’s in their interest to do better. If we’re all fighting DC, if LA controlled by “reformers,” that’s what we’re dealing with.

When I talk to city I tell them we’re in it together, and this is not good for public ed. Hoping there will be more changes. Was an enlightening process. We have to move forward. Will see what happens in DC. Thinks we can block but we may have to mobilize. Mayoral control now tied to tax credits. I am not involved because we don’t like this version. Was very smart to not tie to charters, to appeal to upstate. Working on good things up there.

To CPE 1, it’s your school, you have it back, do what you always wanted. We’ll make sure everyone sees that’s what happens when you treat ed. well.

Mulgrew is given CPE t-shirt, leaves, 6:22.

LeRoy Barr—Spring conference May 13, crowd applauds Dr. Barber. On May 15, immigration forum. Thanks E. de Jesus, Ashraya Gupta. Tomorrow Shanker scholarships 5:30. DA June 14, EB June 5. May 25 prom event. 3K dresses and suits, handbags, shoes, jewelry. Wed. in Bronx UFT.


Arthur GoldsteinMORE—We have now seen both Marilyn Martinez and Catlin Preston brought up on charges. Despite the fact that they seemed to have no validity whatsoever, and were in fact determined as such, OSI saw fit to take them both out of their classrooms. It seems like they will support just about anything that comes out of a principal’s mouth. Clearly, what with the various Principals from Hell we’ve been hearing about at these meetings, that is an issue. No one wants our members dragged through the mud for no reason. How many teachers are currently reassigned, and are we dealing with the abuse of the investigatory process by OSI and their friends at DoE legal?

Schoor—We will get number. We are looking at process. Found principals make decisions. If there is a complaint, OSI seems to ask principals. Seems to be problem. We will look at it.

Mike SchirtzerMORE—HS Applied Communication members continue to face attacks. Culture of fear. Looking for any help. What steps being taken to remove principal?

Schoor—Carmen Alvarez has been in school. Many special ed. complaints. Janella going next week—says DR in school weekly, we are in constant communication.

—What are we doing right now. They are under constant attack.

Hinds—collecting info, visiting.

Rona Freiser
—another meeting today. 30 members in schools. Dealing mostly with two or three. Working with CL. Trying to figure what’s best for all. We are on top of everything and working with CL. Recall for CL didn’t pass. Many people going in building.

—We can’t just say principal is terrible. We need facts, can’t generalize. Will take time we will get there.

Jonathan Halabi
New Action—Tremendous day when we can overturn something like this. Supe, Estrella, temporarily removed. If I have a friend, do I say you now work with decent person, but other returning. Bad supes real issue. This is not normal. Elaine Lindsay in Queens is not. When they show abuse, direct abuse, our strategy doesn’t work. What do we do with abusive supes?

Schoor—We have been looking at supes. We will be doing something. Stay tuned. We expect full membership of UFT to get involved.

Kuljit S. Ahluwalia
New Action—Seems to be concern over what’s going to happen in September to ATRs. What can you tell us?

Schoor—Still meeting, but don’t yet have agreement. Would be unfair bargaining to say now. City and we want agreement. Maybe next meeting.

Ashraya Gupta
MORE—Proud at immigration forum. Randi said we were no longer in control of populism narrative. What strategies are we thinking of applying? How are we reaching out to members? Forum was people already with us.

—We discuss everything, working with NYSUT, AFT, everything connected, Will have something members can partake in.

Marcus McArthur
MORE—PD hours—what should teachers do to get CTLE hours they now need. They are registered but now want to know how to get hours.

Evelyn de Jesus
—Members need 100 hours. ESL need 50 in ESL, others 15. UFT in summer and September will have series of workshops, and we can go to your school and offer hours. We can do L or special ed. hours. Training people to turnkey in summer. DOE now provider. If you go to DOE workshop make sure there is approved provider.

Report from Districts

Pat Crispino—SVA grad, Bennie Lye, killed in head on collision. Moment of silence. Asks for gofundme contributions.

Dolores ?—Ed. liaison for Manhattan—There are many things union does—Ed. liaisons in every borough, help with licensing and certification. Have been able to reduce number of teachers in danger with support.

Janella Hinds—met with DOE about Regents scoring. Are awaiting response. Will share.
Missed name—12 annual scholarship dinner SI—raised funds for summer camp, tech devices.

Margaret Dalton—Thanks Manhattan staff for support with para day of learning. Gives Evelyn de Jesus thanks. Thanks Ellie Engler and presenters.

Mindy Carter B.—Thanks people for coming to speech and hearing month. Displayed in UFT lobby. 11th year.

Helen Greisen
—Spoke of Public School Proud celebration of arts. Been in many schools. Seen incredible things from children and teachers. Friday we had 7 or 8 schools perform. Will be video. Ended with Public School Proud chant led by supe.

Evelyn de Jesus—Thanks Queens office for visiting Lawrence Teacher Association. Issues with community, private schooling, tremendous turnout. Everyone thanked us. Attack on them is attack on us.

Political report—Paul Egan
—tomorrow is election day in AD 9—Christine Pellegrino running. If you live there, voter for her. 1K UFT members out there. Low turnout. With exception of 2 districts, all budgets passed. Thanks people on continuing basis for school visits to City Council offices.

Schoor—City Council members were here, hearing about programs we want them to continue funding.

Evelyn de Jesus—resolution about Puerto Rico, cuts in services, ed., health care, at heart of our unions. Been there 4X, 33K active teachers,48K members. Asked for help. 378 school closings. 3K teachers came to mainland. Average salary 17.5K. 6.25 gallon for milk No social security for teachers. GOP offering no help. This association shares our values. These are our people Puerto Ricans US citizens. 3.5 million.

Arthur Goldstein
MORE—If we’re gonna be public school proud it means standing up not only for ourselves, but also for our friends and neighbors.  I spoke to Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico, who tells me another few hundred schools are to be closed to raise millions of dollars to pay the criminal loan sharks who’ve purchased the debt. Tens of thousands of teachers are facing pension loss, and also furloughs which will mean immediate cuts in salary. In Puerto Rico, vulture capitalists have converted human misery into a financial bonanza.

Puerto Rican teachers face criminalization of protests and years of jail time if they strike. In fact it’s likely they will do just that, and they need our support. Allowing this in Puerto Rico is tantamount to allowing it everywhere. It behooves us to do everything in our power to stop it dead right there. I urge support.

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Motion to amend. Wants to add FMPR to resolution in various places. Asks we add “collective action” to demand for collective bargaining. We know there are divisions among teachers.

Stuart Kaplan—Point of info—Can you clarify what collective action is?

SchirtzerMORE--aware of divisions, but when teachers under attack we have to show solidarity with ALL teachers. Students and professors have led boycotts, strikes, occupations. Talking about what George Altomare always talks about when he celebrates union. We must recognize and respect what happens in Puerto Rico.

LeRoy Barr—Speaks against amendment. There were emails about this with President Mercedes Martinez. Convo was she has to go through AFT. We do things through AFT for national issues. We come out with positions as they relate to NYC. When we invite others we always coordinate with agent responsible for bargaining or who has relationships at those levels. It’s AFT and NEA. Was back and forth. It was with President of the organization. Told them it has to go through AFT. Speaking in favor of all people in Puerto Rico. Against anyone making low wages, but this goes through AFT.

Jonathan HalabiNew Action--With all due respect, standing in solidarity means only we can speak. AMPR has relationship with us. We should find a way to reach out to brother and sister teachers.

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—Are we going to add collective action to our resolution?

(Evidently it is included in what Unity is voting against.)

Motion fails.

Original motion passes.

We are adjourned.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Screw Thy Neighbor

It's probably true that no matter how bad things look, there's always someone worse-off than you are. In no less than the alleged bastion of liberalism The New York Times, there's a piece by reformy Kevin Carey, extolling the virtues of value added. And while Carey pays lip service to the American Statistical Association, nowhere does he mention their key finding--that teachers affect the test scores of their students by a factor of 1-14%.

That's fake news, right there in the Times, on the topic that tortures working teachers more than any other. Peter Greene pointed out on Facebook (and now on his blog) that, despite the professed hope for more teachers on the right of the value-added bell curve, it could never actually happen, you know, because it's a frigging bell curve! Equally vexing, for reasons I will never fathom, our union leadership seems right there with Carey.

Exhibit A that things could be even worse is Lawrence, New York, where a bunch of parents who send their kids to religious schools have taken over the public schools. Screw the teachers, they say, as they deny them a contract for seven years. Screw the children, they say, as they demand reversals in class size restrictions. These people, in a town populated by veritable mansions, want to keep their taxes low, ensure services for their own children, and everyone else, evidently, can go to hell. They're building on the East Ramapo model, which ensures transportation for their own kids, and starves the schools full of other people's children to keep their tax rates down. This may or may not be exacerbated by the reprehensible Cuomo tax cap of 2% or rate of inflation, whatever is lower.

And while I was shocked by what happened in Lawrence, I'm even more shocked to see this model attempted elsewhere. I've received several letters now of failed attempts of school board takeovers in various New Jersey towns, but one is the most disturbing I've received, and I'll post it below. It's about an election takeover attempt at Ramapo Central:

They didn't get on the board but people are panicking. Our tax base is shrinking fast. We were afraid that they would get in as write-ins at the last minute. They've been buying up houses in the area and renting them. They have proposed a 2000 student yeshiva across from our school building on Cherry Lane Avenue. The Ramapo supervisor, who just got convicted yesterday enabled the permits for this monster on a two lane road in a residential neighborhood. When the district decided to curtail their insane bussing needs, they flooded our board meetings and accused our board of anti-Semitism. We all fear that it is a matter of time before they try to take over our board. We have asked the State to allow us to change our name to Suffern Central to attract people into the district and differentiate ourselves from East Ramapo. We are fighting this but it feels hopeless! Thank you for any help you can give us.

It looks like East Ramapo is a model they wish to spread. While I studied religion as a child, I must've missed the Commandment to Screw Thy Neighbor. But there is indeed an explosion of private school students in need of busing, along with concurrent demands for enhanced services. I guess you can call it democracy when a locality decides to enforce policies that favor one ethnic group over others. You can look away from the outright bigotry inherent in such policies and say this is what the people want.

But when people want racist and bigoted policies, well, they kind of need to be stopped. History is replete with examples of oppressed minorities and I'm not even gonna try and enumerate them here. It's curious, to say the least,  that one such minority would think about it and determine the solution is to populate one small space, become the majority, of voters at least, and then decide to oppress others.

I guess that's one way to approach the situation. And these days, with an administration in DC whose watchword is "ethics-shmethics," it seems par for the course. Much as I believe in democracy, though, I don't think it trumps human rights or fundamental decency. I don't think there are many things more fundamental than educating children. While we've managed to screw up royally with health care, that's not justification for moving backward on something we've gotten right for the most part.

We as unionists are in a very precarious place, with national "right to work" a virtual certainty over the next year or two. There are several areas we'll need to assert ourselves in order to not only support our members, but also keep them within the fold. To me, this certainly looks like one of them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sitting Here in Limbo

Yesterday, after calling in all week, Nassau County finally told me to report to jury duty. While my co-teacher gave a test we'd prepared, I drove in to parking lot 14 of Supreme Court Drive and reported. I went through the metal detector, filled out a form, and sat myself in a big old room looking at what appeared to be a judge's bench.

Actually, though, it was some sort of prop to make us feel the gravity of our situation. Above the bench was a huge screen that rolled down so we could learn about what a trial was. I watched the video, but I've also watched a lot of Law and Order. All due respect, the TV show explains the same process just as well, but more dramatically. I rated the video developing.

Then there were a lot of calls to our sense of civic justice. You would want to be judged by someone objective, like you. It was nice that they gave me such credit, not knowing me from a hole in the wall. It's important you do this duty, they said. It will just take a few days, usually, unless of course it takes longer. If your employers have more than ten employees they need to pay you the 40 bucks a day you earn, but just for the first week. I wasn't clear whether the county would pay you the daily 40 bucks after that, but I was pretty glad to have a union job where I get my full salary.

I watched the people around me. I had brought a book called Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen.  Hiaasen writes about Florida, about the outrageous people who live there, and about the incredible self-serving deeds they perform. I got a pretty good start to that book. At first I seemed to be the only one in the room who'd brought a book, but eventually I noticed two others.

Maybe some people were reading books on their phones, but most I saw seemed to be on Facebook. Naturally I too got on Facebook to make these vital observations. An hour passed. Another hour passed. I got on Yelp to see if there was any good place for lunch. They guy who spoke to us said 12:30 was lunch time, but that they wouldn't pay for our lunch or transportation. He suggested we go and eat in their basement lunchroom, but I didn't see any rave reviews on Yelp.

At 12 I started to wonder what was going on. As the minutes ticked by I began to become curious whether anyone was going to call us. 12:16 passed by. 12:26. At 12:27 a guy got on the microphone and said lunch would be delayed. I was disappointed because I had found some sort of cajun/ BBQ diner a few blocks from the courthouse worth checking out.

But the message was one of hope. Evidently, there was nothing whatsoever happening for us in the courthouse, and they were going to send us all home. Our jury duty entailed sitting around in a freezing fake courtroom for two and a half hours, and they weren't calling us again for another six years. They sent us to a smaller room and gave us all certificates.

I actually had a date to go out to a cool Korean BBQ joint in Queens with my department, and my friend Jia came all the way from Manhattan to join us. Before that, I actually reported to my school and helped my co-teacher grade our test. Well, it was in the neighborhood.

Today my wife, my daughter and I are taking a defensive driving course at our library, which means we'll all sit around in some room for six and a half hours. This should be yet another day of big fun, punctuated by a thirty-minute break during which I shall drive home very fast, walk my dog, and drive back very fast.

I guess, as a teacher, I will refrain from bringing my book to the all-day funstravaganza. I don't think I'd like it if someone did that to me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

East Ramapo Comes to Lawrence, Long Island

You've probably read or heard about East Ramapo, where a bunch of private school parents took over the public school board and essentially decided to strangle the public schools to death, or drown them in a bathtub or something. They just had their budget rescinded by the state because they planned private school busing on days public school doesn't meet.

I had no idea this sort of thing was happening 20 minutes from where I live.  UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus asked if I would come out and stand with the Lawrence teachers, who've now gone over six years without a contract, and I did. I've been a UFT member since 1984, and I certainly remember various times we went years without a contract. So of course I sympathize. But after speaking to teachers on the picket line I realized this was more than just waiting on a hostile mayor.

Evidently the Lawrence school board is now populated entirely by parents who send their kids to yeshivas, private religious schools. And these religious parents appear to have determined that the needs of their children supersede the needs of the rest of the riff raff living there. So why not close down a few of those useless public schools and save a few bucks?

As for the teachers, the last time they got a contract, they had friends on the board. But those days are gone. I mean, a contract usually entails more money, and why should the current board give a dime for community? That would mean, you know, paying taxes and stuff. Do you have any idea how much it costs to maintain even a modestly sized McMansion nowadays?

One of the stumbling blocks to reaching an agreement is class size. A teacher told me the new board wants to raise it. Evidently they can't waste time even pretending to care about the children of their neighbors. The teacher told me that once they raised the class sizes they could then fire all the teachers they didn't need, which would leave more money to bus their own children and provide more services to the yeshivas, wherever they may be located.

Randi Weingarten got up and gave a speech about how basic tenets of Judaism entailed caring for members of our communities. I'm not very religious, but that's certainly a value I share. I respect people who are religious in general, but I'd deem people who say, "I've got mine, screw everyone else," to fail the spiritual litmus test, whatever it may be. I don't know what the school board members would've said to Randi's speech, but I also don't know how they sit in temples and expect God to respect them. In fact, I don't even know how they sleep at night.

I had another question, though, and this one bothered me even more. How on earth could this be going on maybe 15 miles from where I live without my even having heard about it? Why isn't this story plastered all over our local rag Newsday? Why isn't there an op-ed in the Times about it?

This is an outrage, and word has not really gotten out. Please consider this to be word one. I'm hoping to see more words about it elsewhere. I saw reps from unions all over the island today. I think it's a good start but it's not enough.

I'm more than happy to support my union when we do the right thing, and I was glad to be there. That's me with that big UFT banner, wearing red for public ed. For Lawrence teachers to get a contract, we're gonna have to do more than wear the correct-colored shirt. We're gonna have to drag that miserable school board into the limelight and let the whole world know what they're doing.

I'll let you know right here if they take another action, and maybe we'll call our friends in the press and let them know too. Nothing disinfects quite like sunlight. Honest to God, I haven't got the faintest understanding how anyone could consider themselves religious and treat their own community like garbage.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but at least he doesn't pretend to be interested when he has to go to church. He states his concerns openly--chocolate cake, ogling his adult daughter, and pussy-grabbing. When he talks about the bible, or values it's hard to imagine even his supporters not recognizing that as empty lip service. But who knows? As Lily Tomlin said, "No matter how cynical you get, you just can't keep up."

Despicable people tend to remain that way no matter how frequently they sit in church, or temple, and pretend to be otherwise. If there's anyone around my neighborhood rivaling the "ethics-shmethics" level of Donald Trump, it's the Lawrence school board.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CPE 1 Victory Is Model for Us All--Garg Out, Marilyn and Catlin Back

 Update--All charges have been dropped against CPE 1 UFT Delegate Cailin Preston.

The NY Times, though its coverage is kind of terrible, features the remarkable victory of CPE 1. From this article, you'd have no idea that Principal Garg placed the UFT chapter leader on charges for no reason, according to an arbitrator's ruling. You'd have no idea their delegate is still sitting around cooling his heels in some rubber room somewhere.

What readers of this blog will certainly notice is the difference between how teachers and principals are treated in this system. Garg will retain her salary and title of principal, but will have no school to run. She won't face charges. No 3020a for her. She won't have to worry about making some deal with the DOE to retain her job, she won''t face suspension, and she won't face a fine. There is clearly a double standard at the DOE.

The larger story, though, the one the Times does not seem to grasp, is the incredible activism of the CPE 1 community. They stood strong against an abusive and power-hungry principal. They never wavered, despite ridiculous pressure placed on their teachers and even their parents. Not content to simply remove teachers for no good reason, Garg banned several of the parent activists from the school, making it difficult or impossible to meet their children, some of whom had special needs, at their school. I can understand doing this in extreme cases, but this appears to be nothing but abuse of power.

The aftermath here is tough to say. Will UFT Unity take complete credit for this? Probably. That's what they did for Townsend Harris. The fact is we from MORE/ New Action spent hours meeting with the CPE 1 community and tried to address their concerns. We were part of it. Unity was part of it too, but they were also the part that applauded someone who trash-talked the activist parents and teachers at last week's Executive Board.

The fact is that primary credit should go to the CPE 1 community. I spent a lot of time listening to one of the parents in particular, and I rarely see the sort of passion and dedication that came from both them and the activist teachers combined with the relentlessness it took to sustain this. The parents and  teachers who undertook this are fantastic role modles. Many of us are understandably disheartened and disillusioned, and unwilling to take a stand. Perhaps it's natural that many of us need a crisis like this to bring us to our feet. I saw much the same from Jamaica High School a few years ago, though Bloomberg's abuse of power ensured they did not win that fight.

Nonetheless, there is a fight and we are under assault on multiple fronts. Hopefully, your principal is not an insane vindictive lunatic. Maybe your principal is supportive and understanding. But even if that is the case, we are under attack from the lunatics in the Trump administration, who not only want to cut all the federal money that goes toward reducing class size, but also want to privatize public education. Just because that doesn't work in prisons, with health care, or even in education is no reason for them to halt the profits of their BFFs.

And while Governor Andrew Cuomo has been doing his very best impression of Bernie Sanders lately, the fact is he's imposed a vindictive and idiotic rating system on all of us. Who cares if the American Statistical Association says teachers affect test scores by a factor of 1-14%? Cuomo wants to fire more teachers and be a tough guy. And let's not forget Tier 6 or the tax cap. UFT leadership may be warming to him, but he has no moral compass and will say or do absolutely anything to become President. His ambition is the only thing that matters.

And the city, alas, is no bargain either. While it's come around on Garg, and while it can be pressured, the fact is it needs to be pressured. Common sense didn't work. Looking at the situation objectively didn't work. Relentless pressure and news coverage seems to be what finally took the Arg out of Garg.

And that, my friends, is exactly what we need to practice more of. I'm ready.

Are you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

UFT Immigration Forum May 15th

UFT Educational VP Evelyn DeJesus welcomes us, welcomes panel. Says you can see Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from here, reminders to immigrant history. Says in NYC our kids speak 150 different languages but tonight we speak in one. We are family now.

Introduces UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Mulgrew welcomes us, thanks Evelyn. Says this is simple for us. We heard what happened in Queens last week, trying to get actual story. Says we’ve spoken about it a lot here. Very proud of diversity. Hard to find a teacher who doesn’t have dreamers in classroom. Fact that we are dealing with this is surreal to us.

We always hear attacks on teachers, but every teacher knows we’re responsible for kids in our classroom. We will not stand aside. We protect and educate. Proud that we are doing this, in national debate this is big issue.

We have no idea what will be in the news. So much uncertainly. For a child to deal with this is absurd, immoral, wrong. Introduces Juan Gonzalez, moderator.

Praises Gonzalez for his writing. Says he found truth in his columns, as opposed to alternative, fake news, or lies.

Gonzalez—Tells UFT he is now member of AFT. Retired from DN, still hosts Democracy Now, but is not Professor of Journalism at Rutgers and union member.

Pleased to discuss this topic. Recognizes his HS social studies teacher, George Altomare, from Franklin K. Lane. Didn’t know he was union activist, but remembers his lessons.

Immigration critical issue with admin that wants a wall and to deport people. Human rights watch says 10K parents of immigrants being detained by ICE each year in CA only. Reported about man in Austin who as teenager marched with parents, now councilman in Texas, arrested last week sitting in while they were outlawing sanctuary cities in Texas. Arrested in protest of law that would have him arrested for enabling sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary cities and feds on collision course. One side must persevere. Crime rates in sanctuary cities lower than in others.

Nisha Agarwal—Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs—Bridge between city govt. and diverse communities. Mission to promote programs that improve well-being of immigrants. Feel more strongly now, since election.

Immigrant inclusion should be DNA of city life. Example is Municipal ID program, ID NYC, available to all, free. Important to get into schools, open bank accounts, over 1 million signers. Do pop up enrollments with schools. Emergency contacts on back for parents.

Access to justice—free, safe immigration legal services w schools. Action NYC based in schools. Students, faculty parents get services. Know Your Rights Forums established. Have done 100. Makes school safe place.

Advocacy—Can just be having right policy at right time. Protocol for non-local law enforcement. SSA must call principal and lawyers. Without warrant they are removed. Happened Thursday. School followed protocol, turned them away. School are place where children are protected, safest place for kids to be. Credit to educators.

Steve Choi—NYC Immigration Coalition—Umbrella agency for state orgs. President ran most anti-immigrant candidate in US history. Wants pointless stupid border wall, Muslim ban, declared war on immigrant communities. Disheartening he’d do that, but heartening that so many allies said this is not USA, not NY.

One week after he took office, signed Muslim refugee ban. Later we heard people were detained at JFK. Started hearing more and more being detained. One was Hamid Darwish, Iraqi translator who put life on line for us. Plane in air when order was signed. Kept him for 18 hours until Congress reps got him out. Hundreds, thousands came to protest.

At some point, they wanted to capitalize on this. They asked people to come to Battery Park next day. 30K people showed for rally and march. Still, President doubles down and attacks, but there is incredible response.

How can we protect immigrant community? Schools are the most trusted places. Thought about how to keep them that way. Weren’t pleased with original guidance from mayor. Wanted to make sure teachers and principals didn’t have to deal with ICE. To mayor’s credit, they listened. Said ICE agents were not to be let into schools.

But we can see there is more work to be done. Want schools to be trusted places, teachers and principals to be allies. There is still a lot more we can do. Mayor and city council have been champions. Need state to do more, need it to be sanctuary state. We can do that but have not yet. Cuomo can do it. This is critical in next few years.

Carlos Menchaca—City Council, Brooklyn—Chair of council on immigration—Today is important, but hopes it sparks dialogue. The sailboat we’re on, in tumultuous waters, that are dynamic and changing—we need to have trust. City Council reaffirms us as sanctuary city, is vision card for future. We’re not there yet. Hopes Trump is impeached, but meanwhile we need open dialogue.

Beyond legislation, wants people to have access to health care, legal service, education for all including adults. Wants to invite people who have been marginalized. Asks about participatory budgeting, says schools have benefited from it. Now there are more smartboards, more tech. This is what we can do to move forward.

We have to participate at local neighborhood level, block by block. In Sunset Park people are opening homes because some are scared to go elsewhere. This is where Know Your Rights sessions are happening.

José Luis Perez—Deputy General Council, Latino Justice—45th year of fighting for civil rights for Latino community. Big issue is increased immigration enforcement. President may have ideas, but can’t do it alone. Feds can’t do it alone so they pressure localities. Have succeeded in creating fear.

We are in communities and immigrant families are afraid to walk children to school. Says they are staying in more. “Sensitive locations” where ICE may be, want to restrict their presence. They may go to schools and hospitals, courthouses, though they should not, as they are emboldened. Says government must take stand against that.

Immigration warrants are not criminal. We ask that they follow constitution. ICE takes rogue actions. We saw them go into homes, but immigration warrants permit only consensual entry. They point weapons and take that as consent. 14th amendment says equal protection for all, not only citizens. At this time I’m happy and proud to be a lawyer.

President stopped for most part in courts. We will sue when we have to. Looks forward to engaging.

Tania Romero—School Social Worker, Flushing International High School—We are one of several international schools in city and country. Thanks us for being here and for our work. Says we have power to shift society.

Her students come from over 45 countries, speak over 25 languages, very diverse. Recent policies had huge impact. AT least 50% undocumented, and growing. Young people come for safety, to pursue dreams, but now all at risk. Big fear level. Hard for parents to come to workshops—they are afraid.

Academic impact as students drop out. They leave and save money in case they are deported. Level of trauma increased, even after what they’ve seen in home countries. Now facing more discrimination and oppression. Task is huge and will get bigger.

How do we move from crisis management, fear, to place of action. One is education. We need to train ourselves, attend staff development, understand how to serve diverse students. We need to know their history.

How do we move into action? We use counseling and groups, offer socio-emotional support. We want to move from fear to empowerment.

Student Faiza—Senior from Pakistan. Part of school’s dream team and various clubs. Says school is friendly. Whenever she’s lonely she can go to any teacher. They are friendly and supporting. They do circles and advisories due to political climate. They also do projects. Students focus on rights and share messages, for example.

Caremer Andujar—President, UndocuRutgers—Started it to provide resources for undocumented students. Had to appear before ICE on Tuesday. Was afraid, and was during finals. Interview May 9th, one day after last final given to accommodate her.

Came here at 4, does not know home country, English her best language, struggles in Spanish. Considers America home and wants to help others in her situation. Believes being undocumented shouldn’t hinder people. Majoring in chemical engineering.

Gonzalez—She got enormous support from AFT and NJ US Senators.

Randi Weingarten, President, AFT—When Caremer’s hearing was over, at AFT Executive Council meeting, I got an email saying you were out and not detained. Whole room applauded. What’s happening in AFT is your fight is our fight.

Met Carlos at JFK on line, lawyers inside kept telling us those of use who were outside were heard inside. Says of all protests she’s attended, terminal 4 at JFK was most important. People asked what they could do, and they went. Uber lost business when taxi drivers were in solidarity and Uber exploited it.

Trump knows what he’s doing, May not look like it, and thank God for lawyers, independent judges, AGs who take on flawed laws, but he spent a long time finding way to scapegoat.

Wants people to stand up if they are first generation American. 2, 3, 4, 5—Almost everyone up. Says if you were Jews coming from Germany in 1939 you wouldn’t have gotten in because of rules. When we say never again, we’ve already had this experience.

Scapegoating and demagoguery are about division. What’s happening now has happened to everyone who’s stood up. As educators we need to know this history. It’s not criminal malfeasance, it’s scapegoating intended to divide for political reasons.

People here care or wouldn’t be here. We must make others care to. I can talk about what we do, and we are doing things like training, preparing families, telling rights, pushing cities and communities to be sanctuaries, but also trying to educate.

Sanctuary city means community policing more important. Not about harboring criminals Fox 5 demonizes rather than educates. We are country of immigrants. Those of us who have been here, and have climbed ladder of opportunity, have obligation to lay it out for others.

We need to be there for our students to deal. We have to debunk scapegoating and demonization. Many newcomers worry rights will be taken away at any moment. Last admin said we need to protect those kids. This nation of immigrants cannot turn its back on this generation of immigrants.

Gonzalez—To members of govt.—on NYC ID—whose idea to give discounts, and what about attempts to grab documentation and use it to target immigrants?

Agarwal—Has been collaboration among communities, but wants to make sure NY residents all get ID, and are all members of NYC. Also, to democratize access to culture, we offer discounts. We have more than a million cards, half million who used it for discounts.

Was lawsuit asking for personal documents. Case moving through courts, but we won state Supreme Court decision. Still will go through appeals. We also changed policy to evaluate whether we hold on to copies. Now info is not even stored. ID card still in demand.

Menchaca—Wanted to build strong legislation, energy around ID came from grassroots. De Blasio and others had political will to do this. Came from community.

Gonzalez—looming collision between sanctuary city and feds—what are you doing to preempt?

Menchaca—outspoken commitment, on budget side, we are all doing several things. Making sure they have ed. and health care. Wants a good rainy day fund just in case. Thinks there is no constitutional ability for 45 to remove funding. Think it will be court battle, will be won.

Perez—Have already been court battles, bluster from 45 to throw fear into communities. Hollow promises and threats that they will remove funding. Will not happen, We must be outspoken, demand Cuomo do right thing and make NY sanctuary state. This is the Empire State.

Detainers are a request. Local law enforcement need not comply. Lawyers will be busy.

Weingarten—US Senators from NY and NJ, and Pelosi, say Senate could stare down obsessions and keep funding for sanctuary cities.

Gonzalez—Spoke to AFL-CIO Prez—expected to keep Trump out. In aftermath how do you feel?

Weingarten—Our membership voted 80% for Hillary. Notion that people are monolithic, but you have to earn trust. In election, what Trump did was run as populist but govern as corporatist. Those who don’t know him, how much did people put their own aspirations and hope into Obama? Think about when NYC voted against him by 95%.

Most people know Trump only from Apprentice. Got letter from member who regretted voting for Trump. Thought he would do something for economy, and asked for help. Thinks what we’ve been embarking on is talking about how elections have consequences.

GOP has effectively swift boated candidates. You need high level of trust. Comey’s actions hurt. When Trump can act like anti-free trade guy and labor is dismissed it’s about values and trust.

Gonzalez—Asks students—Conversations you’re having as you see dragnets, what are you talking about?

Andujar—When I initiate convo, people say, “Wow, you’re undocumented.” When I say I’ve been here since four it changes perception. We come for better life, create jobs, businesses, and go to school. People must see me as peer. They don’t know how many people they know who are undocumented.

Stereotypes are not true. I don’t fit, but I tell them I am. Much of what’s being said isn’t true. Many people set on notion we broke law, but don’t understand that sometimes law is unjust. They ask why I wait so long. But if there were way, I would have done it. Our system needs reform. People think it’s flawless and don’t understand gray areas.

There are no means for us to become documented. Our goals are the same. You don’t want undocumented people in your country and I don’t want to be undocumented.

Let’s fix this system. It needs reform.

Fazia—We speak about feelings and Regents. We are stressed. I always have this fear about how media shows Muslims. People wary when I don’t like school food. They think it’s because of my religion. Makes me angry when my religion or family is blamed for my mistakes, but I have to deal with it.

Gonzalez speaks of new book. Speaks of progressive movements and progressive people elected in cities.


Don’t think anyone on panel didn’t mentioned fear—What can we do to avoid predatory legal services—where can people go.

Menchaca—City agencies cracking down, and we also have to get word out. Some communities hard to reach, including Asian and Latino. Gap we need to fix.

Choi—Action NYC, free legal, call 311. Office of New Americans on state level. 1 800 566 7636.
Critical resources.

Romero—council says we can’t ask but school counselors may know and can help. We have partnerships with non-profits. They come during parent-teacher conferences. They are perfect space. Translation important.

Q—We underestimate Trump in NYC, when 48% of us didn’t vote. How do we combat it?

Perez—We need to galvanize. Most who voted for him aren’t in his tax bracket. We must get out the vote, before they try to further erode our voice.

Choi—90% of city voted for Hillary, but every other county, almost, voted Trump. Many people don’t live with immigrants. They are susceptible to stereotypes. We are not getting our message out, have to do better job. This is hard task.

Q—Undocumented mother, to combat community problems, begins with parents. She’s been working in her community. It’s difficult, especially with fear they have now. I would like to keep working as volunteer, but it’s difficult without support or resources. How can we fix that? Forum isn’t enough.

Menchaca—We need to focus on what each community needs, we will connect you with your council member. Changes in each neighborhood.

Q—I understand if ICE shows with no documentation it’s one thing. What is proper?

Agarwal—Judicial warrant. DOE’s lawyers have to accept warrant. Says it’s high bar. Says principal would call lawyer while they wait outside of school. Sometimes they have administrative warrants. Confusing for people who don’t know.

Marjorie Stamberg—UFT committee in her school to defend immigrant students. We have to mobilize, not just GOP, 5 million deported under Obama. Doesn’t think judicial warrant is adequate, we must keep them out of schools. NYPD with broken windows defines crimes and criminalizes poverty. Has to be ICE out period.

Menchaca—agrees, everyone must have legal access. How we navigate will require ingenuity.

Gonzalez—Thanks us for being here, thanks panelists.

Evelyn de Jesus—AFT has outstanding training on immigration. On September 14th we will do that workshop. We had clinic in Bronx with lawyers to help people. Doing different things. Check UFT website. We are here to help. Thanks Gonzalez, panel.

Says dreamer told her, “I might not have the right papers but I have the right values.” Urges us to get involved.

Menchaca—June 26 ten AM hearing on dreamers. Asks us to come to city council chamber.

Weingarten—says there are really courageous people around country. Says city is ensuring it puts DOJ through all hoops in terms of probable cause. Difference between civil disobedience we will train people to do, and ensuring cities do all they can do to repel ICE. What city is doing is pretty terrific and we should give them some honor for it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Never Ending Class Size Saga

Our school is the largest in Queens, and one of the largest in the city. At one point, we were able to come to an agreement with the city to reduce enrollment. That's probably the best thing we could've done, but alas, the numbers soon exploded again. It's open warfare walking the halls at peak times. I avoid certain hallways and calculate shortcuts to make it to my classes on time.

Here's the thing, though--no matter how overcrowded we get, everyone in our district is entitled to attend. That's not a bad thing. It's great to have a neighborhood school, and every neighborhood should have one. We're one of very few surviving comprehensive high schools, the most requested in the city if I recall correctly, but we're a victim of our own success. There was a lose-lose mentality under Bloomberg--your school was either closed for low test scores, which indicate little more than zip code, or overcrowded as Bloomberg actually instructed students who chose so-called failing schools to attend schools like ours.

Forgive me for repeating myself, but this fall we had dozens of oversized classes, and the arbitrator ruled that this issue could be resolved by teachers missing one day of their C6 assignments. I found this outrageous and indefensible, and raised a little ruckus over it. This got enough attention that someone at DOE pulled about 40 selected seats from our school. That will help marginally, I suppose.

On March 28th, an arbitrator ruled that my school, Francis Lewis, along with Hillcrest, Flushing and Forest Hills, was to come into compliance or create classes so as to enable it. I was very happy about this, and shared it with my staff. This was the "plan of action" called for by the UFT Contract, and it was a pretty good one.  Alas, I then learned that the DOE had yet another step it could make if the "plan of action" was, you know, meaningful in any way.

So there was a "compliance call," a term mentioned absolutely nowhere in the UFT Contract. I don't know what happened at the other schools, but after numerous conversations with my district rep, I suggested that if it proved impossible to fix class sizes, I wanted qualified teachers to help out in oversized classes. That is, I didn't want them sending someone like me to help out in chemistry labs, about which I know nothing, at best.

So now, in our high school, there are a bunch of substitute teachers qualified in the subject areas helping out, Sadly, this will last for only four weeks of the entire school year, and will end when Regents testing begins. It's true we have those two days after all grades are in and recorded, as demanded by former Chancellor Dennis Walcott, but I'm not sure what difference they make.

So here's the scorecard at my school--for nine months administration was able to oversize classes in violation of the UFT Contract. Aside from sitting through a couple of hearings, there was no consequence whatsoever. Imagine what would happen if you or I acted in flagrant violation of the Contract for nine months in full view of everyone and then continued to do so with moderate compromise.

I'm gonna grant that the UFT class size committee helped a little, in that my district rep. took my input on what would be an acceptable settlement if we couldn't reduce class sizes, and that my idea was in fact enacted. I don't know if it makes me a pessimist, but I can't help focusing on the fact we lost 90% of the year as opposed to sort of winning the other 10%. I fail to see how this is much of a win for UFT teachers or NYC students who sat in and continue to sit in oversized classes. NYC already has the highest class sizes in NY State, and exceeding them is an outrage.

That said, UFT tells me that this ruling will color future rulings. Will my administration make sure class size regs are followed next year, unlike the previous eight years I've been chapter leader? Will the arbitrators be guided by this precedent, and/ or common sense in the future? Will Bill de Blasio continue the outrageous policy of dumping kids into public schools whether or not they have space to accommodate said kids? Will they keep surrendering space to Moskowitz Academies even as these insane policies are in place?

Keep watching this space and I'll let you know.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Taking the Arg Out of Garg

As you may have read on the ICE-UFT blog, or EdNotes Online, CPE 1 chapter leader Marilyn Martinez has actually won in 3020a. That's very unusual. I am personally acquainted with only one other such case. Generally the arbitrator tries to find some piddling little thing wrong and give a token fine, at the very least.

Of course, it appears the charges, the ones we've never even heard, were so frivolous that the arbitrator could not even fine her a few thousand bucks. And make no mistake, a principal who reassigns teachers simply because she finds them inconvenient is not acting in the best interests of students, let alone UFT members. This, sadly, does not put an end to the situation. The CPE 1 delegate is sitting around somewhere facing charges as well.

I'm curious as to why this doesn't constitute union-busting. I mean, if you want to be treated like that, why not get a gig at Walmart or Target as opposed to one of the most progressive schools in the city? It's kind of understandable that CSA defends Garg, since it is in fact their job to support their members. It's less clear why Fariña won't weigh in against this outrage, until you consider that she actually hand-picked Garg to run the school.

Me, I'm not sure exactly why Fariña is deemed such a remarkable educator. I'm not sure how turning around a school is much of a miracle when you reject six out of seven applicants. This is the same sort of miracle charters push, when they not only enroll strictly children with parents proactive enough to apply, but also dump the ones who end up inconveniently getting unfavorable test scores. My school takes everyone and I'm proud of that.

Of course Fariña is a remnant of the Bloomberg administration, and as such I have to question Bill de Blasio's vision for public schools. Sadly, he did not clean house of Bloomberg folk at Tweed, and I simply do not see Fariña's vision as sufficiently improved from that of Klein, Walcott, or even What's-Her-Name.  Appointing the short-sighted and vindictive Monica Garg as principal is a case in point.

I have a lot of respect for Marilyn Martinez. She's going back into the veritable belly of the beast, and facing a principal who has no issue reassigning people for no reason. She shows the sort of courage we all need, so sorely lacking these days. Can you imagine how powerful the union would be if we all showed that?

How can we empower members so we all stand proud, just like chapter leader Marilyn Martinez?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Oh Where, Oh Where Have the ESL Teachers Gone?

I'm often amazed by articles like this one, which states that there is a shortage of ESL teachers. This is an ongoing issue. I know because when I started as an English teacher it was almost impossible for me to find a position. When I became certified in ESL I got appointed immediately. I would never have moved except for the fact that my boss wanted to force me to teach Spanish or lose my second job.

Now of course it's a good idea to train and hire more ESL teachers. We have a whole lot of students who don't speak English and they need all the support we can give them. I'm proud to play a small part in that by doing my job every day. Alas, the piece does not, as far as I can tell, really think things through. It mentions a teacher with an MA in English who teaches them global history. Hey, I'm all for teaching kids global history. And the article gets one thing exactly right.

Two years ago, state regulations began requiring that students learning English be taught, at least part-time, by someone specially certified.

But it misses a much larger point. The fact is that these students are learning global history at the expense of direct instruction in English. English language learners, or ELLs, have had their direct English instruction cut by a factor of 33-100%. This is because the geniuses in Albany have determined that language instruction is somehow beyond the pale. Why waste time teaching children English when we can just dump them right into global? That way we can give them a state exam, and if it doesn't work out we can just close the school and give it to Eva Moskowitz. It's a WIN-WIN!

I love teaching ESL and I'd recommend it to anyone. But ironically, one of the reasons I'm free to teach it is that I happen to be certified in English. Because of this, I can teach without a co-teacher. It's different for quite a few of my colleagues, who have to sit with beginners just like those described in the article and help the English teacher while they study To Kill a Mockingbird, or Hamlet, or whatever.

This, of course, is because of Part 154, which degrades the teaching of English as a Second Language. New York State feels language teaching is somehow bereft of content. This is a very odd attitude in a country where few people bother to really learn a second language. To take those of us who actually teach it effectively and render us assistant social studies, science or English teachers is to render us second class teachers.

Teaching is pretty tough nowadays, and the odds are stacked against us in many ways. For decades the papers have vilified us pretty much no matter what. We now have a federal government more hostile to public schools and teachers than I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot because Obama was no bargain either.

So while I love what I do, I have to think twice before advising a young person to follow in my footsteps. There are few things more rewarding than watching the rapid progress of newcomers, but everything I know, everything I've experienced, and everything I've read suggests that dumping them in a global history class upon arrival will impede rather than encourage progress in English.

If NY State really wants to help ELLs, they will not only reverse the insane mandates of Part 154, but also expand direct English instruction. If it were up to me, I'd give every newcomer a year of intensive English immersion and save the state-tested academic stuff for the following year. Language acquisition is not about studying global history. It's about affect, it's about feeling. Imagine how you would feel it you went to China and someone handed you a global history book written in Chinese. That's exactly what the kids this article speaks of will have to do.

Language is a fundamental tool. It's not just something you use to pass a state test. Anyone who feels otherwise is uninformed. And frankly, it's a disgrace that people in Albany, people who are charged to help our students, are so uninformed. If I were that uninformed, I'd be incompetent.

I'm just a teacher. I can't find words right now to describe Regents who are that uninformed.