Tag Archives: Movement of Rank and File Educators

MY GROWTH INTO A UNION ACTIVIST: A TRAGEDY IN THREE ACTS

Even the smartest people can be stupid sometimes. It takes a special kind of stupid to remain ignorant for more than 10 years.

Even the smartest people can be stupid sometimes. It takes a special kind of stupid to remain ignorant for more than 10 years.

ACT I: A (DIM) STAR IS BORN

It is said, by whom I do not know, that parents set the tone for all of the future relationships their children will have. Fathers set the tone for all male relationships. Mothers set the tone for the female relationships. My teaching career, born in the year 2000 when I was 21 years of age, was raised by two parents who shaped the educator I became both inside and outside of the classroom.

My first principal, the man who gave me my first big break, the father of my career, was Old School in every sense of the word. Not only did he approve of and nurture my traditional style of teaching, he was the type of mensch who looked a man in the eye and told the truth. One of the first persons to whom he introduced me was my United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader, the mother of my teaching career.

My first UFT Chapter Leader was certainly old, just not Old School. The principal introduced her as “the person you go to when you are in trouble with me.” It made sense. When father is angry with son, mother should temper his ire. Mother would come into my classroom from time to time. On some occasions, she would ask me a relatively trivial question. On other occasions, she would just show up and stand there at the back of the room, arms folded in grim observation. This type of behavior just seemed natural to a greenhorn like me.

On those occasions when I was not teaching, I would sometimes catch mother in the principal’s office speaking to father with the door closed. They were talking serious school business, I gathered, the types of things that I might one day understand when I became an adult. When father would have man-to-man conversations with me regarding the birds and the bees of my teaching, he seemed awfully knowledgeable about what went on in my classroom in the moments he was not there. What an intelligent and perceptive man he was. I surely was one lucky teacher-son.

It was not until a few years later that I realized my principal was not the omniscient creature I thought he was. After a few of the remarks I made to my mother in confidence got back to father, not to mention other members of the extended family, I finally realized that my union mother was nothing more than a snitch. Meanwhile, my principal father showed a genuine interest in my career and let it be known on many occasions that I had what it took to one day become Teacher of the Year. These family dynamics from my formative teaching years forever shaped my style as an educator, colleague and employee.

Specifically, I came to think that the job of a Chapter Leader was to inform on the staff. She was the administration’s eyes and ears. As a result, I learned not to confide anything to whoever held that role. Conversely, I came to think of the principal as the guardian of my career. He brought me into profession and he could take me out of it. I might not be his friend but I could take him at his word, since he just wants what is best for me and the school.

Over the course of the next few years I would have many principals and many Chapter Leaders. Day in and day out I would close my classroom door and work on being that Teacher of the Year my father had seen in me. Perhaps I was partially motivated by a desire to earn a father’s respect, especially considering that I had grown up without a real father when I was a real kid. No matter what types of principals I had, whether they were men or women or white or minority, I did everything they ever asked of me. They were the bosses. My place was not to sabotage or question the boss’ decision. My job was to teach and that is exactly what I did.

On other hand I saw the Chapter Leaders, whether they were men or women or white or minority, as nuisances. Regardless of who they were, I just assumed they were out to get as much dirt on me as possible. There were teachers who had gotten in trouble. For whatever reason, the Chapter Leader was always there with the embattled teacher. It was not a great leap of faith for me to assume that they were in trouble because of the Chapter Leader.

At the end of the day, none of this was my concern. Teachers would complain to me about this administrator or that administrator. I assumed that these teachers were just crazy, lazy, incompetent or all of the above. Why was I able to lock myself away in my classroom and teach how I wanted to teach while these other teachers were always in trouble? It must have been their fault. As my first principal showed me, administrators are always fair, honest, upright and want what is best for their staff. How could you have trouble with such perfect people?

So, maybe you can say I was warped by my early career experiences. Although I do not believe these things anymore, the innocence (or stupidity) of these perceptions kind of makes me wish I did. I was always an island of a teacher. Never would I attend union meetings or bother to inform myself of union goings-on. At staff meetings I would keep my mouth shut. Every day I would come to work, close my classroom door and teach. My students passed. My students learned. I worked hard to earn my living. Then I went home, usually to do more work before it was time to get to sleep. It was not until relatively recently that I was snapped out of this stupidly innocent way of life, and what a rude awakening it was.

At some point, the opportunity to be a chapter leader had presented itself to me. It was not because there was a groundswell of colleagues who supported me. Quite simply, nobody else wanted the position. I was a veteran teacher at this point. Up until then, I had been a dean, senior advisor, after school coordinator and countless other exhausting things that brought little reward. Chapter Leader was about the only thankless position I had not held down during my career, so why would I not take the job?

ACT II: CANNIBALS ALL!

There were other, more personal, reasons why I decided to become Chapter Leader. My upbringing had demonstrated that Chapter Leaders were nothing more than informants. No matter what else I did while holding down this position, I made a vow that I would not inform on any of my colleagues. It would be my way of compensating for the failures of my career mother. Things were really as simple as that in my mind. Unfortunately, being a Chapter Leader proved to be anything but simple. It would change me from a mere teacher to an assailed teacher, the very same assailed teacher you see before you right now.

I felt I could slide by without being a schoolhouse snitch. After all, I had decent relationships with everyone on the staff, including administrators. I was not known, nor have I ever been known, as a rabble-rouser. The goodwill I had built up over the years would allow me to be a positive bridge between teachers and administrators. Through cooperation, perhaps I could help the school attain heights it had never seen before. This is what all administrators wanted, just like my career father had taught me, and it was exciting for me to think that I could play a role in it.

Then the rubber roomings started. One of my closest friends and colleagues was slapped with charges that I would label as bogus. The next year, another one of my close friends and colleagues was rubber roomed for even more bogus charges. These events gave me a glimpse into a side of the system that I never knew existed. I often wonder how things would have turned out for me if I remained the isolated teacher I had been for most of my career. Instead, unbeknownst to me, my foray into union activism was just beginning.

The rubber roomings taught me that the system is ugly. There seemed to be an entire sector of the Department of Education whose purpose it was to rob teachers of their livelihoods. On the way to robbing them of their livelihoods, it also sought to rob them of their dignity, identity and sanity. It was not enough to merely fire a teacher. Many people get paid good money to ground good, hard-working teachers into dust. They do it with such a clear conscience, thinking no more about taking food off of someone’s table than they would swatting away a gnat.

All I could think of were those colleagues from my past who had tried to warn me of the evil in the system, the same teachers who I had written off as insane malcontents. If these people were such good teachers, I used to think, then why would the system want to get rid of them? “Children first… always”, are they not?

I could have kicked myself for such stupidity. All along I had been a cardigan-wearing company man. Here I was, a teacher who had taught students about Hannah Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil as a warning against merely going along with the flow, and I had been unable to take the beam out from my own eye. How many good teachers had I written off in my lifetime simply because it was convenient for me to do so?

This was only the beginning of my reeducation. Now that I was bearing witness to what the system was capable of doing, it was my job as the Chapter Leader to bring the full brunt of the United Federation of Teachers down on the evildoers. Finally, all of my years of paying union dues, all of those years of never burdening the union with my problems, all of those years of suffering through duplicitous Chapter Leaders without so much as uttering a peep was going to pay off. Ooh, did I relish the thought of serving some just desserts. Evildoers beware: I was going to dust off the UFT contract and use it as a bludgeon against anyone complicit in trying to destroy good, hard-working teachers; good hard-working union members.

It was time to make some phone calls. There were plenty of high-powered people down at 52 Broadway who would be shocked to hear about the injustices that were going on. My tone over the phone was “can you believe that? I know, it’s crazy, right?” The response I received was going to take the wind out of my sails forever. Every single person I spoke to at the UFT, all of these six-figure salaries, told me things in the tone of “well, yeah, the teacher really should not have done that” or “so what?” or “who the hell are you and why are you calling me?”

What I gleaned from my flurry of phone calls to the union was that their job, my job, was to ensure that this thing called “due process” was being followed. That means I would have to brush up on certain parts of the contract that I thought I would never need. All of the clauses from these sections start off strong with promising-sounding provisions like every teacher shall have this, be protected from that, shall not be subject to this and so forth. Then, in the very next breath, these clauses say if the DOE sees fit to do this, if investigators find that or if administrators do not want this. Literally, every single step in due process exists at the whim and privilege of the Department of Education. The loopholes were big enough for Mack trucks to penetrate, and the DOE was flying jets through them.

Even worse, when the teachers whose careers were on the line called the UFT themselves, they would get yelled at. If they were not getting yelled at, they were being ignored. If they were not being ignored, they were being told that their careers in the DOE were over and they should look for new jobs. This, apparently, was “due process” in action. It is a way to keep teachers quiet as they are shepherded out of the door.

How many teachers have been lulled into a false sense of protection by their union as they were told that their “due process” rights would be honored, only to be met with a termination ruling for the most trivial of charges? How many of these teachers have come to me at some point in my early career, way before I was a Chapter Leader, to try to warn me about how the system works? How many of these teachers did I write off as kooks, incompetents and loudmouths? I had been blind, stupidly blind, for many years. Perhaps there was something I could do to atone for my stupidity while also helping my friends who were in trouble.

The world needed to know about this. Despite the fact that I had not written anything worthwhile in years, I created a blog. As Francesco Portelos has said, sunlight would be the disinfectant for all of the filthy goings-on in the DOE and UFT. That would have them concerned. Maybe they would protect my friends’ due process rights a little better if they knew eyes were watching them.

ACT III: RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION

So I started writing. Before I really got going, I did tons of reading. There were blogs from teachers, parents and other activists from all over the city. Many of them were discussing some of the same types of situations that were horrifying me in the DOE. Could it be that the destruction of so many teachers’ lives was a well-known secret? Could it be that I was the last one in the city to find out that the system has been set up to fail teachers, students, parents, taxpayers, everyone?

For most of my career I have been incredibly stupid.

The rest is pretty much history or, more accurately, recent history. The UFT, the DOE, they have been getting away with this because people have allowed them to do so. Through this blog I was able to fall in with the MORE Caucus and here we are today, ready to take on the UFT leadership next month in a battle for the soul of our union. In a few short years I went from being Mr. Teacher who thought of nothing but educating the students on my roster to Mr. Teacher and Mr. Union Activist.

After everything I have seen and all of the stories I have heard, I suppose I should not be surprised by anything anymore. Being involved in this current UFT election campaign, however, has turned me on to a whole new strata of wrongdoing by our union. Through research I learned that, while the Unity Caucus has won many of the protections teachers in NYC currently enjoy (enjoy?), they have also been furiously bargaining away those same protections. Despite this fact, and despite them being on the wrong side of issues like mayoral control, charter schools and Race to the Top, Unity will stop at nothing to maintain its stranglehold on power.

MORE does not have the funding or the infrastructure Unity has. What we have, however, is a core of motivated and intelligent teachers who have been pounding the pavement in order to build a true grass-roots movement. These teachers have been working feverishly to get the word out that not only should our colleagues vote MORE, but that an entity called MORE exists and that there are elections coming up in April in which MORE will be running.

And while the organizers at MORE have been using people power, the Unity folks have been using brute power. Thanks to the fact that the UFT’s District Reps are chosen instead of elected, most of them have proven to be firm allies of Unity. They have access to listservs containing the email addresses of hundreds of Chapter Leaders around the city and have been using this privileged access to campaign for their caucus. When members of MORE ask for equal time and equal opportunity to do the same thing, they have been denied. There have been stories, recent stories, of District Rep meetings where Unity Caucus literature has been distributed. All of these actions give the impression that the Unity Caucus is entitled to hold power. They have the listservs. They have the power to call district-wide meetings. They can organize major events like the upcoming Lobby Day. When they mix campaigning with these things the message is “we have the power and the influence, who else are you going to vote for?”

It does not stop with the UFT, however. The Unity Caucus has produced every single one of the American Federation of Labor’s Presidents: Albert Shanker, Sandy Feldman and Randi Weingarten. Randi herself has proven that she is not above throwing her weight around in defense of Unity. A few nights ago on Twitter Katie Osgood, a teacher in the Chicago Teachers’ Union, expressed her support for MORE. It was obvious that Ms. Katie was speaking for herself, since she clearly stated as much in her tweet. Randi Weingarten, taking a swipe from her national perch, questioned Ms. Katie (admonished her is more like it) for presuming to speak for the Chicago Teachers’ Union. This was Weingarten’s way of ensuring that Ms. Katie would clarify, once again, that she is speaking just for herself. It was a heavy-handed way for Weingarten to isolate the tweet as well as send the message to any other AFT member outside of New York City that any message in support of MORE will be monitored and the person duly chastened.

As for this lowly high school teacher, one who only speaks for himself on this blog, it is the worst of all possible worlds. My teaching career started with me thinking that my union is out to hang me and my administrators wanted to nurture me. It was an impression I learned during my upbringing as a young man whose career was born in the year 2000. Today, I now know that my union is not necessarily out to hang me. Instead, they would not mind if I were to hang. If it came down to a choice between them maintaining their stranglehold on power or me keeping my neck, they would opt for the former without even thinking.

The DOE, instead of nurturing me, probably would love an opportunity to fashion my noose. It was my misfortune for starting my career under a principal that gave me reason to have faith in the system. That faith sustained me for many years, over a decade, before I finally grew up. There is no such thing as “Children First… Always.” From the mayor on down to all of his little Tweedies, the only thing that comes first, second and last is themselves. Anyone who has no talent, no heart, no brains, no morals can find a well-paid job in the Department of Education. DOE lawyers, as I have been told by many personal friends who practice employment law, are notorious in the litigation community for being incompetent. The same could probably be said for many, if not most, if not all, of the so-called leadership positions at Tweed. What function do they serve aside from finding ways to hand tax money out to any company owned by a friend of Pharaoh Bloomberg in the form of no-bid contracts? Of course, in order to do this, they need to squeeze money out of existing areas of the system, namely veteran teachers who make “too much” money. They need to squeeze art, music and enrichment programs. They need to squeeze 40 children into a classroom. This is what “Children First” means to the likes of Bloomberg.

It has been a hard lesson to learn. It has been unnerving to think that I could have been so incredibly, mind-bogglingly, stupid for so long.

I once was lost but now I’m found.

Find MORE’s first campaign video, which will be proudly hosted on this site throughout the entire campaign season.

CALLING ALL NYC TEACHERS: MORE WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU

more

CLICK HERE TO SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH “DANIELSON” WITH THE MOVEMENT OF RANK AND FILE EDUCATORS.

Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching has been pushed by education reformers around the country, not to mention Danielson herself. Teachers in New York City are familiar with the FFT, or “Danielson” for short. The term “Danielson” has come to take on an ominous meaning over the past year. Many teachers have a sense that this framework is a bludgeon and not a tool to assess our effectiveness as teachers.

Who is this Charlotte Danielson? Accounts of her teaching experience are hard to come by but this short biography gives us a clue:

Charlotte Danielson is an educational consultant based in Princeton, New Jersey. She has taught at all levels, from kindergarten through college, and has worked as an administrator, a curriculum director, and a staff developer. In her consulting work, Ms. Danielson has specialized in aspects of teacher quality and evaluation, curriculum planning, performance assessment, and professional development.

Ms. Danielson has worked as a teacher and administrator in school districts in several regions of the United States. In addition, she has served as a consultant to hundreds of districts, universities, intermediate agencies, and state departments of education in virtually every state and in many other countries. This work has ranged from the training of practitioners in aspects of instruction and assessment, the design of instruments and procedures for teacher evaluation, to keynote presentations at major conferences. Clients for the development of materials and training programs include ASCD, the College Board, Educational Testing Service, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Charlotte Danielson has a rich and varied educational background. She holds a BA in history from Cornell University, and advanced degrees (in philosophy, economics, and educational administration) from Oxford and Rutgers Universities. She is based in Princeton, New Jersey, and has taught at all levels, from kindergarten through college, as well as working as an administrator, a curriculum director, and a staff developer. In her consulting work, Ms. Danielson has specialized in aspects of teacher quality and evaluation, curriculum planning, performance assessment, and professional development.

It seems as if she is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. She has “taught at all levels, from kindergarten to college” in “school districts all around the country.” She has been a staff developer, administrator and has received several degrees from prestigious institutions. Where does she find the time?

How long did she actually stay in a classroom? It could not have been more than a few months here and a few months there, if that. Anything more and she would have had a coronary many years ago.

Danielson may be a very bright person but she is no teacher.

So why is her “framework” being used by principals across New York City to evaluate teachers? Here is an outline of what her framework looks like.

Neat little categories? Check. Nifty little rubrics? Check. Thick educational buzzwords like “reflecting” and “pedagogy”? Check. It’s almost as if a monkey could rate a teacher using Danielson.

Ah, that’s it! Monkeys are using the framework. The monkeys in question are the Bloomberg-era administrators who have spent no more than three years in an actual classroom.

A framework crafted by a non-educator to be used by non-educators in order to judge actual educators. This makes perfect sense in the crazyland that is the NYC DOE.

This is part and parcel of the deskilling of education. Not only are teachers in danger of being deskilled by being subject to Danielson but principals now are being deskilled by mindlessly ticking off a checklist. It seems as if many administrators are embracing this deskilling.

And never forget who helped to bring Danielson into our schools. It was our union and their Unity leadership who allowed Danielson to be used in 33 “struggling schools”. When administrators in other schools started using it, the union cried and complained.

Why did they complain? When you open the window you shouldn’t be annoyed when flies get in.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators want to hear from you, the rank-and-file educators of New York City. What are your experiences with Danielson? How are administrators in your building using and/or misusing this framework to evaluate you?

Danielson is not supposed to be used by these administrators until the city and the union agree to a new evaluation deal. Take a look at what the implications for such a deal are for our schools:

a) Standardized Testing – Deskilling the curriculum for both students and teachers

b) Danielson – Deskilling the practice of educating for both teachers and administrators.

Looks like the flies are getting in and leaving larvae in our brains.

This is just another reason why Mulgrew needs to do nothing during this evaluation debacle.

The Death and Birth of Teacher Unions

USA Today claims that the nation’s largest teacher’s union, the National Education Association, has lost nearly 100,000 members since 2010. That is a decrease of 16%.

The blogosphere is awash with postmortems of the NEA. The explosion of online learning, the rise of non-unionized charter schools, the passage of right-to-work laws in many NEA states, the general disregard for the rights of collective bargaining and the transience of many newcomers to the teaching profession have all been proffered as reasons for the decline of the NEA.

And if the NEA is undergoing such bloodletting, one can only infer that something similar is happening to the other major union: Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers.

Fewer members means less dues collected, which means less money for PACS, which means a decline in their political power. This year, instead of President Obama showing up to the annual NEA convention in order to court their votes, Joe Biden went in his place. Many people interpret this a result of their waning influence.

The destruction of teacher unions has been a major goal of education reform. It now seems that goal is coming true.

The most perplexing question I have about this situation was prompted by the statement Randi Weingarten made recently about instituting a sort of bar exam for teachers. At every turn, Randi has shown herself to be utterly beholden to the education reformers, the people whose goal is the destruction of the union she represents. The same thing goes for UFT president Michael Mulgrew, who sits on the board of New Visions, an organization that seeks to destroy public schools and build charters upon their carcasses.

Why are our union leaders collaborating with the people who are out to destroy our union?

It is an old question for sure. The strategy of our union leaders has been to collaborate on many points of education reform in order to prevent the image of a stodgy, mossback outfit with no interest in educational innovation from sticking. Yet, despite these efforts (their efforts at collaboration, that is), the image still sticks.

In 2005, when Randi was still the president of the UFT, she agreed to a contract with Pharaoh Bloomberg that gave most of our rights away. Her defenders said that this was the best deal that could have been worked out at the time. The winds were blowing in the direction of ed reform and Randi was shrewd to co-opt some of that wind in order to get something for the teachers she represented. After all, it was better to sway with the wind than to stand against it and get blown over.

And yes, even I subscribed to this notion when that contract was first negotiated.

Seven years later and the statistics have made it apparent: teachers unions are literally dying.

Why did the unions do all of this collaborating if, in the end, they were going to die anyway? The whole point of swaying with the wind was to prevent getting blown over by those winds. Yet, we swayed and got blown over anyway.

It does not make any sense to me. Many say that Randi collaborated because she has her eye on public office. The UFT and AFT positions were merely stepping stones to a cabinet post or some sort of national position. Her decisions were self-serving in that she was totally willing to throw her members under the bus for the advancement of her own career. This might be true, but the historian in me says that Randi has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any sort of national office. Despite her efforts, she is still perceived as a shrill union hack. The fact that the union she represents is dying (and I am assuming that the statistics about the NEA’s dwindling membership is analogous to what is happening to the AFT) certainly does not recommend her in any way as a competent public administrator. All of this collaboration just so her union and her career can die in the end anyway.

It is maddening. And the question in my mind still stands as to why.

In my mind, it seems we live in a very non-confrontational age. Unions were forged in the crucible of confrontation, oftentimes violent confrontation, which helped win its members some rights. In order to preserve those rights, the threat of confrontation must always exist. For unions, confrontation usually takes the form of protest or a work stoppage. While a good union need not resort to these things the vast majority of the time, the only thing that gives a union real traction is the threat of confrontation.

However, with legislation like New York’s Taylor Law, with Albert Shanker’s refusal to support a teacher strike in the 1970s, with Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the PATCO workers in the 1980s and the general rise of corporatocracy throughout the 1990s and the new millennium, the threat of union confrontation has become non-existent. The street march, the picket line and the work stoppage have become unthinkable for most workers in the United States, whether they are union or not. (Kudos to the MORE Caucus for picketing with the Con Edison workers yesterday.)

Our union leaders were perfectly happy to acquiesce in this state of affairs. We were assured that our collective union dues garnered enough financial muscle to make politicians consider our demands. It was not through confrontation that we would secure our rights, but through lobbying.

And yet, when the millennium changed, the politicians and the reformers attacked us anyway, despite our mighty union dues. So now it is 2012 and the big bad teacher unions that people vilify as corrupt political behemoths are dying.

The brass of both the NEA and AFT will one day have to answer as to why they believed being Quislings was going to help anyone in the end, themselves included. They may not answer to us, the rank-and-file who they have sold out, but they will have to answer to history, and they will not be able to hem and haw like they do with us. The long eye of history will give them no quarter.

The thing is that our union leaders have always coasted by on the excuse that they had to travel in the direction in which the winds of change were blowing. It is a course of action that most groups, most leaders and, I would even say, most Americans have lived by in our day and age. As a civilization, the last 35 years has been defined by an ethos of being ahead of the curve, of getting in at the ground floor of things. We value the skill of setting our course after testing the breeze. After all, it was always the 80s or the 90s or the new millennium or the digital age or the era of globalization. There was a constant demand on us to not only keep up, but to adapt, to constantly discard and take on new values and ways of doing things because that is what society demanded of us. It was always fly with the wind or get blown over.

Therefore, what the teacher unions have been doing is reflecting the value of the times.

This constant imperative to keep up, to be in tune with the future before it happens, has something of authoritarianism within it. Whether it has been changing our fashion sense, or getting on board with the latest technology, or adapting to a new type of job market or, in our case, bringing education into the 21st century, we are constantly being exhorted to use things and ideas not of our own creation. Our choices have already been made for us, usually by a wealthy organization with the media savvy to market its wares as the latest in sleek efficiency. Something is the future because someone else says it is. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to follow and obey.

The public life of Randi Weingarten reflects this state of constant reorientation. She has no values aside from how far she can ride the current tide. The result for her will be nothing but an underwhelming and sad legacy in American labor history. The result for the rest of us can be seen in the moribund state of our national teacher unions.

For those who wish to save public education, there is no easy fix. Education is about transmitting values between generations. Educators have a duty to transmit these values in a critical way, meaning one that demonstrates to the pupil the underpinnings of those values, their elegance and contradictions. The end goal is not to transmit, but to challenge the next generation to improve upon those values. It is the work of cultural evolution. A teacher union that passively accepts the self-interested values of those in power in hopes of some sort of gain is a teacher union that sells out its mission as teachers, not to mention as union leaders.

Instead of trying to be ahead of the curve, of getting in at the ground floor, of constantly testing the winds, of allowing the rich and powerful to set the terms of education discourse, teacher unions need to be both teachers and unions. We need to teach in that we formulate our own values based upon what we know to be beneficial for the students we teach and the civilization that charges us with doing that teaching. Those values need to be communicated, refined, discussed and debated publicly as a means to educate. It is a not a matter of testing the winds. It is a matter of helping determine where those winds blow from the start.

And we will only be successful in this if we act as a union. Unions were forged in the crucible of activism and confrontation. They must be forged again in the same manner. Only now our society is too authoritarian and atomized to sustain a union strictly of workers. For teachers, our activism must involve not only the teaching work force, but the entire teaching community, which entails parents and students. It means not a union, but a movement. Only a movement can shape the course of the winds, much like labor started as a movement in the late 1800s.

Education reform in its current incarnation is a movement brought about by money, wealth and propaganda. We strive for a movement brought about by community, dialogue and social justice.

This is exactly what the Caucus of Rank and File Educators have started to do in Chicago. It is exactly what the Movement of Rank and File Educators are starting to do here in New York City. These are the eyes of the storm of the next education movement. Around them have been coalescing all of the seething opposition to corporate education reform, and to corporatism in general. It means not only a reclamation of the teaching profession, but a redemption of the entire education system.

Michael Mulgrew sits on the board of New Visions because the winds now say there is profit to be had in education. Yet, the next movement will totally reject the notion of private profit in education.

Randi Weingarten wants bar exams for teachers because the winds now say that teachers need to be held to higher standards. Yet, the next movement will question those who think they are qualified to determine those standards.

Standardized testing is in vogue because it is a boon to testing companies and chimerically measures “learning”. The next movement cares not for testing companies and asserts that learning is a dynamic state of the human mind, not a pile of data.

Online schooling is popular because it is cheap. The next movement cares not for educating on the cheap, because you usually get what you pay for.

Teach for America is powerful because their alumni come from prestigious universities. The next movement believes that the college or suburb from which you came has nothing to do with being a good teacher. Instead, it is where your passion for teaching comes from and how likely it is to sustain you for a lifetime.

Education reformers claim that poverty, community and family life are not factors in the learning process. The next movement will assert far and wide that this is the stuff of the learning process. We will not allow the suffering of millions of children and female-headed households to remain invisible any longer.

It is not about educating for the 21st century. It is about making the 21st century better for all humankind. The future does not happen to us, we happen to the future. The winds of change only blow to where we determine as a people, not to where the rich and powerful tell us it blows.

The next teacher union will be equal parts teacher and union. In that, it will be the next great movement.

New York City and its Teachers Want MORE

New York City’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, has been dominated by a caucus known as Unity. This was the caucus formed by Albert Shanker that rolled all of the old, independent teacher unions in NYC into one (hence the name, “Unity”).

And Unity has had a stranglehold on the UFT since Shanker. The UFT is the largest single chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and, it is commonly assumed, as the UFT goes, so does the AFT.

Randi Weingarten’s tenure as UFT president reflects what Unity’s strategy has been for the past 30 years. She took the lead when the teacher-bashing campaign started kicking into high gear. Bloomberg and Klein were floating the meme that teachers were overpaid union bums whose bloated pensions were burdening government coffers. They had fresh ideas for “reform” and bums like Randi were barriers to “progress”.

Instead of fighting Bloom-Klein head-on, she decided to compromise with them on the 2005 contract, giving them much of what they wanted. It is this contract that created the Absent Teacher Reserve crisis and denuded the tenure rights that Shanker had helped institute decades earlier. In short, Unity in 2005 backpedaled on what Unity throughout the 1970s had gained.

Randi is not stupid. She did this because the atmosphere in 2005 was toxic for teachers, much like it is now. The union she led was the bad guy in the public’s mind. Giving back many of the hard-fought rights of teachers might help rehabilitate the reputation of the union, Randi must have thought. At the very least, it would cause the reformers to call off their attack dogs in the media.

Well, none of that happened. Randi gave back those rights and the attacks merely intensified. Meanwhile, Randi catapulted to the leadership of the AFT. I believe she now has her eyes on national office, maybe Secretary of Education. If Obama is inclined to dump Arne Duncan in his second term, who better to mollify the teachers’ unions than Randi? After all, they will not be able to criticize his Race to the Top program if one of their own is on the inside. Although, it is not like the AFT or the NEA have been overly critical of RTTT as it is.

This explains why Randi was recently quoted praising Joel Klein as a man of “integrity”. She seems to feel bad that Joel Klein’s parent company is embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal. “It can’t be fun for him” she explained in a Clinton-esque display of feeling other people’s pain.

Can she feel the pain of all the teachers who are suffering under a contract she negotiated seven years ago?

So, while I recognize that it was the UFT and Unity that had earned the few rights we have left as NYC teachers, I also recognize that it was Unity who gave most of them back. As symbolized by Randi, Unity will do what is good for Unity.

I have been in contact with teachers in urban school districts across the country and they all sing the same song about their unions: they are collaborators in education deform. Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark and all points in between have produced teachers who feel sold out by their unions.

We might not mind so much if there was some give-and-take. Randi collaborated to improve the union’s image, not to mention her own, but it has not stopped the screws from being put to us in the court of public opinion. Randi still comes off as a shrill union hack on the television screen and teachers are still lazy bums living high on the hog.

Then the Chicago teachers made their move. They deposed their collaborator caucus and replace it with the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators. They got rid of all the bloated union salaries at the top; the sinecures occupied by burnouts who have not taught since the Reagan Era. Maybe this is why they are now able to stockpile money to prepare to sustain their members in the case of a strike?

More importantly, they have drawn a line in the sand against their dictator mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, and his Bloomberg-esque plans for ed reform. They have learned that collaboration gets teachers nowhere. Now is the time for resistance.

It is time for teachers in America’s first city to take cues from the second city.

That is why the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators has been formed. Caucus elections are coming up within the next year. There will be a new box to check, next to which will be the acronym MORE.

NYC teachers, when the new evaluation system gets put into place by the start of 2014, the one that will determine your career and the future of your students by value-added, high-stakes testing; the one that will force you out of the system with virtually no due process if the results of those tests are found lacking; the one that will have principals check little boxes on observation reports which judge you on your bulletin boards and the way you dress; never forget who negotiated that system: Unity.

It was Unity whose brass sat in a smoke-filled room with ed deform officials for days hammering out that system. It was Unity who then turned to us and promoted it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Their line was, “if you think this is bad, you should see what they’re doing in Tennessee.” In other words, this is the best we could hope for in the age of ed deform. In other words, we collaborated so as not to look like barriers to “progress”. In other words, it was Unity business as usual, the same business that saw Randi sell us out in 2005.

Contrast this to MORE. MORE represents that era, hopefully not too far in the future, when people’s patience with “compromise” comes to an end. Compromise has been the Trojan Horse that has destroyed public education over the past 10 years.

No more Trojan Horses. It is time for us to launch a thousand ships against education reform instead.

Or, for now, we will settle for 9:

MISSION STATEMENT (as adopted April 21, 2012)
A – Who we are and why we are forming
1. We are members of the UFT and members of school communities and their allies.

In other words, this is MORE than a caucus. It is a movement in which everyone who has a stake in public education is welcome.

2. We insist on receiving professional dignity and respect, and we insist on a strong, democratic union emerging from an educated and active rank and file. We oppose the lack of democracy and one-party state that has governed our union for half a century. It has conceded to our adversaries’ agendas and has collaborated with their attacks on us, leading to the terrible situation we find ourselves in.

Unity domination means collaboration. This collaboration has been carried out by Unity in an undemocratic way in order to achieve undemocratic ends. It is perfectly in step with the corporate coup that has seized this country over the past three decades. MORE is perfectly in step with the coming backlash against this corporate coup.

3. We insist on a better educational environment for ourselves and for the students whose lives we touch.  Because of this resolve, we have established the MORE Caucus, which will educate, organize and mobilize the UFT membership.

Teachers, through the denuding of tenure and the exaltation of high-stakes testing, have been silenced. This has hampered our ability to speak up for the children, mostly poor and minority, who we teach. In an era when third world poverty is becoming the norm in America’s inner-cities, this is a scary prospect, one that must be resisted at all costs.

B – For an improved contract
4. It is time to end the UFT’s concession to the language and assumptions of the so-called reformers and the wave of concessions and givebacks that result from conceding these assumptions.  We must be prepared to take collective action, if necessary, in defense of our interests, and to achieve a decent contract.

No more Randi Weingartens who, because she has an eye on national office, shares in the data-driven discourse that frames all the discussion around education. Instead of self-aggrandizers who use the union platform to enrich their prospects for power, we need a union that believes that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Instead of corporate unionism that celebrates individual gain, we want MORE social justice unionism that celebrates solidarity,

5. We seek a contract with retroactive pay, that is not obtained by selling off what few protections remain. We insist on defending tenure, due process rights, pensions, and an immediate end to the arbitrary denial of tenure to probationary teachers. We oppose any teacher evaluations based on standardized tests.

When Randi gave away many of our rights in 2005, she tried to soften the blow by saying that we had received raises. Yet, these were merely cost of living increases that we had been forgoing for years. There was a time when COLA was just part of the deal and did not have to be bought by giving up something of ours. It was an abandonment of one of the hallmarks of public-sector unionism.

And these give-backs put us under the thumb of administrators, from principals on up to the mayor, so that they could lay the ground work for corporate ed deform: ending tenure, perpetual probation for new teachers and high-stakes testing.


C – For quality curricula
6. We stand for a union that recognizes that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions and that, after parents, teachers are best situated to understand the needs of young people.

In the world of education reform, non-educators like Andrew Rotherham and Salman Khan are looked to as experts. People from elite universities who have never taught a day in their lives or spent an hour in an inner-city area have set the standard for what poor children should be learning.

Teaching is a profession to which people dedicate their lives, at least this is how it should be. Just like you would not take medicine that an economist prescribes for you, children should not have to attend schools where the major policies are determined by educrats with no education experience at all.

7. We insist that high stakes tests no longer deprive New York City’s children of exposure to foreign language, science, social studies and the arts.  We insist that curricula taught in our schools be mindful and respectful of the needs and backgrounds of our students, that they nurture in them the potential for active, reflective citizenship, and is committed to racial and gender equity, democracy and economic justice.

High-stakes testing is for public school students. Those are the students that just so happen to be disproportionately poor and minority. Staking everything on exams for a limited number of subjects limits the curriculum. Art, history and English are fading away because math and science are seen as the subjects that will “prepare kids for the 21st century”.

The result of this is that the poorest students will never be exposed to the subjects that would cause them to think critically about the world around them, especially the world of oppression and poverty in which they remain mired. Narrowing the curriculum narrows the horizons of children and is a perfect recipe for the perpetuation of what can be deemed a lumpenproletariat.

D – Our communities, our schools
8. We reject the corporate takeover of the public schools, and the wave of school closures in the city, which have particularly affected poor communities with high proportions of people of color.  We insist on a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools.  We seek to end the cuts to education which have led to increasing class sizes as well as inadequate social, health, guidance personnel and services.

Most of the school closings past, present and future have been accompanied by more charter school co-locations. This means that buildings that were once totally dedicated to public schooling are being eroded away to make room for corporate charters. At the same time that public schools are seeing their budgets slashed and vital programs jettisoned, more and more public funding has been made available to charter schools. When you consider that charters skim the best public school students of a community and are able to expel the ones that give them the most problems, it means that more resources are going to kids that do not need it as much as the kids from whom they are being taken.

This is the latest form of segregation. Charters segregate based on family background and ability within communities that are already segregated by race. It is hyper-segregation.

9. The schools should be the people’s schools.  We stand for democratic governance and popular control of our school system that fully reflects the needs, aspirations and diversity of those who make up its parent and student body. Mayoral control, which is inherently undemocratic, must be abolished, and be replaced by an elected people’s board of education which represents the interests of teachers, students, parents, and community.

The people who sing the praises of school “choice” are the same people who applaud big city mayors around the country who dissolve popularly elected school boards in favor of corporate-style, CEO management from the top. It is telling how the whole movement for “choice” has seen a new generation of educational leaders who exercise more power over public education now than at any other point in our history. When is the last time any Secretary of Education exercised as much power as Arne Duncan?

The term “choice” is a subterfuge that masks the fascistic manner in which education reform has been instituted.

MORE is where the real education reform is.

New York City and the Global Backlash

Mark Kurlansky has been known to write some great works of history. 1968 traces the crescendo of the protest era right before its crash and the ensuing backlash. One of the lessons of the book is that the end of liberal protest was a global phenomenon crashing over the planet like an historic tidal wave. In both Europe and the United States, student protestors had overplayed their hands.

The hope is that we are now seeing the high tide of the corporate conservative era, the era that had replaced the protests of the 1960s.

France had an important election last week. Socialist candidate Francois Hollande beat out incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been a darling of the corporatists throughout his term. Hollande made it clear that he will not maintain France on the austerity path that has caused so much misery throughout the European Union. The banksters have been sucking Europe dry with the budget-cutting meat axe, aided by the likes of Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Similarly, Greece recently turned many of their austerity hawks out of office. David Cameron’s Conservative government seems to be falling apart in Britain as well.

But the focus in Europe will be the future relationship between France and Germany. They are the two largest nations in the European Union; essentially the nucleus of the whole operation. Their historic rivalry and their shared border has been the source of much European conflict, including two massive world wars. The EU was a way for the two nations to foster cooperation, bury their past animus and pool their economic resources in order to compete with the American juggernaut across the pond. With the election of Hollande, it is clear that the two nations will be embarking on different paths in the near future.

Hollande has signaled that he is willing to compromise with the Germans on austerity. The major test of his presidency will probably turn on how well he straddles the line between compromise and carrying out the anti-austerity mandate he has from the French people. The world will be watching, including Americans who are looking for a sign of hope that the global corporate monolith can be reined in.

There are signs in the United States that corporatism has reached its crescendo as well. The 2010 Tea Party movement was, essentially, an austerity movement that had the same singular preoccupation with budgets as the bankers at the EU. Two years of their presence in Congress has done nothing but bring deadlock to Washington. The American people have seen through it and seem poised to turn the bums out of office come November. Retrospectively, the Tea Party might be what I hoped it would be when it started: the last dying gasp of the corporatists.

A year later, Occupy Wall Street demonstrated that a wide swath of the country yearns for something greater than the corporate welfare that has defined government policy for the past three decades. Rather than an expression of a moribund philosophy, like the Tea Party was, Occupy was the morning star of a new, hopeful era of American politics. It seeks to fulfill the promises of hope that swept Obama into office four years ago. It seeks to fulfill these promises because it is obvious that Obama has not.

Since the eviction of occupations across the country, it has fallen to us to give the nation heart that the era of corporate control is in a stage of overreach. By “us”, I mean those who speak and act against the latest battleground of corporate domination: public education.

It may have started in earnest with the victory of the Congress of Rank and File Educators in Chicago. CORE took the lead of the Chicago Teacher’s Union by standing on a platform that opposed the tools that make corporate education reform possible: mayoral control, charter schooling, high-stakes testing and teacher-bashing. While their grasp on the CTU is not absolute, they have moved themselves into a position that makes effective resistance to school privatization possible.

Pineapplegate served to fuel a United Opt-Out Movement that had been growing stronger every day as it was. It has brought home, in patently obvious terms, the problems with determining a child’s future and a teacher’s career with exams made by unaccountable corporations. The blogs and the news stories that have made their rounds over the past few weeks show that average Americans are pulling back the curtain on what corporate education reform actually means for America’s children.

To be clear, the backlash against corporate education reform will go nowhere without the cooperation of teachers and parents. The victory of CORE and the growth of United Opt-Out are two threads that, at some point, must be woven together.

This is where the teachers of New York City come in. We here in NYC have the privilege of not only working for a mayor and governor who have hitched their wagons to the star of school reform; we also have the privilege of belonging to a union that has done the same. The United Federation of Teachers under Randi Weingarten negotiated the contract that made administrators lords of their own fiefdoms. It also created the Absent Teacher Reserve crisis that, as we speak, demoralizes veteran educators every single day. The 24 schools that will be closed after this year will only further bloat the ATR pool.

It is also the UFT, along with NY State’s union, that negotiated the recent evaluation system that makes high-stakes testing king. Not only does it promise to test every student in every subject at least twice a year, its teacher rating system short-circuits teacher tenure. Pineapplegate would have not become the scandal it deserved to be if it took place in some other state. Teachers, administrators and parents shudder at the thought that we all will be judged by exams mired in stupidity by 2014.

This is why a cadre of NYC teachers have created a new caucus: The Movement of Rank and File Educators. Much like CORE in Chicago, MORE stands against the things that make corporate education reform possible. This includes a union that has been complicit in these reforms.

MORE has the opportunity to take hold at a time when the ground is more fertile than at any previous point in recent memory. This means, most importantly, building those bridges with parents that will make or break the backlash against corporate education reform. Those bridges were blown up with the 1968 teacher strike. Not only that, it can be argued that the strike poisoned the well for the entire idea of local school board control, paving the way for Bloomberg’s dictatorial Panel for Educational Policy.

Those bridges must be rebuilt. As the name suggests, MORE is not just a union caucus, but a movement. Sure, it seeks to restore dignity to the teaching profession in NYC. However, it also seeks to harness the historic tidal wave symbolized by what is happening in France, Greece, Britain and the Occupy movement in the United States. It seeks to be the next progression of the anti-corporatist backlash. This means activating teachers, parents and students. This means replicating what Occupy was trying to do for America as whole (namely, reducing the corporate in favor of the people) within the context of the education system in NYC.

And there can be no more appropriate place than in NYC, the land of Wall Street, Cuomo, Bloomberg and Weingarten. Much like all of the forces of corporatism converge in this one place, all of the forces that will bring corporatism to a halt must converge here as well. Today it is Francois Hollande in Paris. Tomorrow, there is MORE to come in NYC.