Tag Archives: Social Justice Unionism

The DOE’s Future and MORE’s Winning Strategy

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I became a tenured teacher in 2003. Between September of 2000 and June of 2003, I would walk into the main office of my school to see my name on the list of probationary teachers. These were the teachers who had yet to receive tenure. Then, at the start of the 2003 school year, my name was off the list. I did not throw myself a party nor did my principal make any type of to-do about it.

However, I think receiving tenure in the New York City Department of Education today is an accomplishment that calls for the throwing of a party, like a Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation. In fact, I cannot remember the last time a teacher with whom I have worked has received tenure. There is an excellent and dedicated teacher at my school who is in her 4th year and, not surprisingly, got her probation extended another year last year.

This is a trend happening all over the city. Teachers are being denied tenure one or two years in a row before they are unceremoniously herded out of the system. How dedicated or effective a teacher is matters not. Principals are obviously under pressure from the DOE to deny tenure as much as possible. Even worse, tenure is not what it used to be, especially with the Race to the Top evaluation system now in place.

Many veteran teachers, myself included, have expressed outrage over the lack of ownership demonstrated by NYC teachers over their profession and their union. The vast majority did not even bother to cast a vote in the most recent union elections.

Yesterday I ran into a former colleague who retired last year. She looked very rested and happy. I saw on her face the joy she must have felt for not having to be evaluated by exam scores or implement a set of ill-conceived standards. My words to her were “you got out at the right time” and she totally agreed.

This is a teacher of the baby boom generation, that massive sector of the American workforce who is starting to collect Social Security and Medicare. Many baby boomers in the DOE must feel as if they are sprinting through a mine field, hoping to make it to retirement safely before a bad evaluation hobbles their chances of a peaceful dotage.

With the exodus of the baby boom generation, as well as the revolving door of Gen Xer and Millennials brought about by the rampant denial of tenure, we should wonder no more as to why teachers in NYC are not taking ownership of their working conditions. The fact of the matter is very few teachers in the system look into the near and distant futures and see themselves working inside of a DOE school building.

So voting in union elections, going to union meetings, attending protests of the Panel for Educational Policy and the rest of the things that activist teachers do must seem like a whole bunch of useless work to young and veteran teachers alike. They cannot be blamed for this. There surely are many young teachers who intended to make education their life’s work, or many older teachers who would have wanted to stay on just a little bit longer, but cannot do so due to the efforts of Pharaoh Bloomberg and his Queen Consort, Dennis Walcott, to turn public school teaching into a temporary gig.

And then there is that other group of younger teachers who are working on their administrative licenses. Generally speaking, they tend to teach non-core or non-academic classes, tend to not be very dedicated to what they do inside of the classroom and tend to not be very good at whatever it is they do inside of the classroom. This is just what I have seen from my experience. I am sure there are plenty of exceptions. This young crop, many of whom are more likely to get tenure if they do not already have it, may not be longed for the DOE either.

With the prospect of a Bill de Blasio mayoralty starting in 2014, many people are expecting big changes to Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse. De Blasio has never really been a fan of Tweed. I hear stories everyday through the grapevine of Tweedies and people from the various DOE networks jumping ship to other jobs in anticipation of the de Blasio era. There seems to be a general sense that he is going to clean house once he inhabits Gracie Mansion, which is certainly welcome news to teachers who care about public education. If this is indeed the case, where will these young people with administrative hopes go?

Years ago there was a young teacher at our school who fit the description of the bureaucracy-climber described above. He taught with us for one year before getting an assistant principal’s job somewhere else. He was an AP for around one year before going off to work at Tweed doing God knows what. From what I saw of him, the only skill he mastered was the ability to kiss the right posteriors, and he mastered this better than most anyone I have ever seen. What will become of him and those of his ilk? Will the ass-kissery that is their stock-in-trade be less of an asset (no pun intended) in de Blasio’s DOE?

Chances are, the field of administrative sinecures at the DOE will greatly decrease in the near future. That means these young teachers either have to be really lucky, really connected or really dedicated to making things work as a classroom teacher. Barring these things, they will have to find another profession or another school system.

That means that the next few months and years will be a time of great flux in the DOE. Current and aspiring Tweedies are going to be jumping ship. Principals will be trying to weed out the probationary teachers to whom they have refused tenure. More baby boomers will retire once they get the chance. And, finally, if the recent Daily News and New York Post hit pieces are any indication, Bloomclot is on one last push to get those teachers awaiting termination hearings out of the door.

So who is left in the system that has the most vested interest in improving our students’ learning conditions? First, there are teachers like me, the veteran 30-somethings to whom retirement is a distant prospect. Second, there are the first-year teachers who have come out of traditional teacher education programs (that is to say, not Teach for America), whose prospects for tenure might be better in three years under a de Blasio DOE than they are now in the Bloomclot DOE. Finally, there are the teachers of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the ATRs, who generally are veterans who continue to rotate from school to school without classes of their own.

If MORE wants a shot at winning the next UFT elections, these are the groups to whom they must appeal. These are the people who will most likely hunker down in the DOE for the long haul. If recent history is any guide the younger generation, the ones who elected Obama and de Blasio and started Occupy Wall Street, will be receptive to the “social justice” aspect of MORE’s platform. Social justice, however, must ride the coattails of bread-and-butter union issues and not the other way around.

MORE must paint for teachers a picture of what the teaching profession can look like. Solid workplace protections, small class sizes, a deemphasizing of standardized testing and a respect for the autonomy of educators as professionals, these are the things that will matter in the upcoming union elections. Thanks to a crop of new principals who have imbibed the Bloomclot method of systematic workplace bullying; thanks to the budget cuts that have swelled the size of our classes; thanks to the Race to the Top evaluations that have institutionalized the standardized testing regime; thanks to the prospect of Common Core that takes so much of the joy and creativity out of education, the imprint of over a decade of reformer philosophy will be felt in our schools for some time. MORE must attack each of these things head-on with an alternative vision of what the teaching profession in NYC can be.

Doing these things will paint MORE as a stark and highly desirable contrast to the Unity leadership of our union that has been complicit in this reformer legacy. They can paint the Unity method of caving to the reformers as the stuffy old status quo. Seasoning their rhetoric with the right amount of social justice will set them up to be the next wave of civil rights leaders, much like the reformers started using the language of civil rights over a decade ago to give their destructive policies a pious sheen into which the general public bought. MORE, by properly tailoring their message what promises to be the backbone of our union in the decades to come, can become a legitimate threat to the Unity stranglehold on power.

MORE will take a step towards building this new union coalition tomorrow with the “Win Back Wednesday” rally tomorrow at 4:00 pm outside of UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway. I will be there and hope to see you there as well.

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.

WHAT DOES SUCCESS FOR THE UFT LOOK LIKE?

So far, this is the only seat at the table that our union leadership has.

So far, this is the only seat at the table that our union leadership has.

We saw that the New York City teacher strike of 1968 revolved around the conflict between union protections for teachers and community control of public schools. The United Federation of Teachers, in its quest to break the community control experiment, allied itself with the establishment. Since that time, the establishment has proven less and less willing to have us as house guests. It is now at the point where the establishment is throwing our clothes out of the bedroom window while we look up helplessly, begging to be let back in.

In order for our union to be viable in the future, we must repair that link to the communities we serve which was severed in 1968. It is clear that this is not the tactic of our current Unity leadership. If left up to them, we will be standing out in the cold in our underwear watching the establishment burn all of our clothes. We will continue to beg impotently to be allowed back into the house right up until the end.

Instead, repairing those ties to the community falls on the shoulders of the MORE caucus. If they can successfully do this, they have a chance of both winning some measure of leadership in the union and saving public education. How to do this is the million-dollar question.

The equation is simple. Education “reform” has gotten so much traction over the past 10 years because it is funded by the wealthiest people in the country. These wealthy people donate to political campaigns. Usually, the politician who is the best funded wins the election. Therefore, politicians bend over backwards to satisfy the reformy crowd so they can be ensured of continued campaign contributions, which ensures them of continued power.

Our union can never hope to match the campaign contributions of the reformy crowd in this age of Citizens United. What the union lacks in money it must make up for in votes. It must be able to punish reformy politicians by taking them out of power. It must be able to reward its supporters by keeping them in power. The only way the union and public education will survive is through the power of votes.

As far as NYC is concerned, this requires a grassroots strategy to engage the communities we serve. Unfortunately, those communities are being divided between those who get the “good schools” (charters) and those “left behind” in the public schools. It is certainly not the reality that charters are good schools, but it is the perception. Instead of advocating for teacher evaluation schemes and bar exams, the union should push for legislation that gives parents a measure of control over their schools. This should be a hallmark of social justice unionism.

One of the reasons why the community control experiment in Ocean Hill Brownsville failed was because the parents in the neighborhood did not vote. The politicians in Albany disregarded them without any fear of reprisal. By extension, the UFT disregarded them for the same reason.

Of course, this strategy is much easier said than done. Many of the communities in which we serve are disengaged from the political process totally. Making them engaged again would require a massive effort.

At the same time, there are communities in NYC who are somewhat more engaged. These are the communities that should be targeted first. Imagine the union pushing for legislation that would give parents oversight of the charter schools in their communities. Imagine the union pushing for legislation that would end mayoral control and empower parents to have a major say over education policy for public schools. Imagine the union being associated with measures that would give parents a true voice in the education of their students. Even if these laws fail to pass, which they are sure to do, they will at least call the bluffs of all the reformers who claim to put “Children First”.

As of now, our union has been going in the completely opposite direction. Through support of mayoral control, Common Core and Race to the Top, the union has been complicit in the progressive centralization of education policy. It has done this in the naive (and mistaken) impression that they will be allowed to have a seat at the table. And yet, despite the fact that the union has supported every measure of centralization over the past 10 years, they find themselves standing on the lawn in their jammies begging to be let in. There is no seat for us at the table after all.

Therefore, it is time for the union to hitch their wagon to the star of decentralization. Legislation is just the start. We have to knock on doors, be at community board meetings, have a presence at the Panel for Educational Policy hearings, sponsor community events, register people to vote and inform parents of their rights through both social media and printed literature. There has to be a sense that the union is on their side.

Of course, this takes a core of dedicated teachers. It requires first that the teaching force be activated. This is the stage in which MORE finds itself now. Much like our communities have been disengaged, the rank and file of our union has been disengaged as well. Unity has never had an interest in activating the rank and file. I myself never even knew that we could vote for our leadership until I became a chapter leader. An activated rank and file is anathema to Unity.

In short, MORE is going to have to compensate for decades of Unity inaction. After this, they are going to have to activate communities that have been disenfranchised while getting the enfranchised ones on their side. This requires patience. Above all, it requires pragmatism. Ideology will be MORE’s worst enemy. An irrational marriage to outdated or quaint beliefs will strangle a very promising movement in its cradle. Community means exactly that: community. The communities we serve are diverse and our thinking needs to be diverse if we wish to reach them.

In my mind, MORE has the potential to be greater than Chicago. They have the potential to bloody the nose of the reformer movement far beyond what the Chicago teachers are capable of. This is not due to any particular flaw in what the CTU is doing. This is due to the sheer fact that the NYC public school system is the largest in the country. Our thinking needs to be large as well.

Anything less will end up with us stomping out the embers of our profession while those who truly have seats at the table laugh at us.

A DEFENSE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE UNIONISM

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Social justice unionism, from what I understand, is a philosophy which holds that bread-and-butter union issues are inseparable from wider issues of equality for all people. The union and the society are symbiotic. A setback in the union’s working conditions is a setback for equality everywhere. Increasing inequality somewhere else is a setback for the union’s working conditions.

My understanding of what social justice unionism means could be off but this is how I have understood it up until now. Something like this, I believe, is what MORE means when they claim to be the social justice caucus of the UFT. Again, feel free to correct me if I am mistaken.

Recently, some fellow bloggers I respect have raised questions about MORE’s strategy of social justice unionism. One of them has been Chaz of Chaz’s School Daze. I respect Chaz. We are blogroll partners and always will be. In fact, I encourage everyone to visit and follow his blog.

At one point, Chaz made the following prediction for the 2013 UFT elections:

Union Election: Look for Michael Mulgrew and Unity to easily win the election.  Their only competition will be the newly formed caucus MORE.  However, MORE seems to be drifting more and more to the left, no pun intended.  More’s emphasis seems to be “social justice”and not teacher based issues which will cause many teachers who have been disenfranchised by “Unity” to think twice about voting for MORE. Personalty, I would never vote for TJC because of their emphasis on the “social justice” issues.  However, as ICE and TJC have now merged, the “social justice” issues of TJC appears to have won out over the more teacher-centered ICE as the main platform for MORE. I predict that many teachers will probably sit out the election and result in another landslide victory for “Unity” and that is too bad. It will be interesting to see if those “fifth columnists” E4E actually runs in the elections.  It will be even more interesting to see how many real supporters they have?

To start from the end, I totally agree that the misleadingly named “Educators4Excellence” caucus is a “5th column”. They are the resident astroturf group funded by Democrats for Education Reform who, if they had their way, would immediately hand over the school system to the privatizers. Considering their agenda involves inundating our children with high-stakes tests and a revolving door of inexperienced teachers, there is nothing excellent about the way they wish to “educate”. Most E4E people are rookies themselves. One of them should put their money where their mouth is and show the world how “excellent” they are at teaching.  Why not have a teach-off competition with yours truly? I would put my veteran, professional, “sage on the stage” teaching style up against any E4E rookie.

Chaz is also right to assume that E4E will barely register a blip on the radar in the upcoming elections. Unfortunately for E4E, dollar bills cannot cast ballots. Despite their material advantages their message consistently fails to resonate with the rank-and-file. This makes E4E little more than a rump group of social climbers scattered sporadically throughout our sprawling education system. Their inevitable flaccid showing in the upcoming election will be their death knell. If they don’t make headway this year, then when will they ever do so?

So that means the biggest players in this election will be the establishment juggernaut Unity caucus and the plucky upstart MORE caucus. Chaz believes, with some justification, that Unity will dominate. Why wouldn’t he? Unity always dominates. These elections have traditionally acted as rubber stamps for Unity’s stranglehold on power.

Yet, I believe Chaz underestimates the social justice unionism for which MORE stands. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Chaz is correct about MORE’s social justice platform outweighing their concern for the bread-and-butter  issues of teacher rights and working conditions. Even if this was the case (which I don’t think it is), MORE still has a stiffer pro-teacher platform than Unity can ever hope to have. For example, MORE has consistently opposed the Race to the Top evaluation framework to which Unity agreed in negotiations at this time last year. This framework, as I think Chaz would agree, was designed to effectively short-circuit tenure with its “two years in a row of ineffective ratings and you’re out” policy. On top of this, MORE was fundamentally opposed to the un-democratic manner in which Unity handled this whole teacher evaluation fiasco. Not only did they not seek out the input of the rank-and-file, they explicitly stated that the rank-and-file’s input was not welcome.

I think MORE beats Unity hands-down when it comes to standing up for our working conditions and professionalism.

However, I disagree with Chaz’s contention that the social justice unionism aspect of MORE is eclipsing their bread-and-butter stances. Like I said at the start of this piece, social justice unionism is also bread-and-butter unionism. From my perspective, the two work symbiotically and not against each other.

For example, MORE is adamantly against charter school co-locations. In fact, MORE is against the opening of any new charter schools whatsoever. Not only do charter schools drain resources from the public schools with whom they share buildings (taking up classrooms, gym space, auditoriums, offices, etc.), charter school teachers are at-will employees with absolutely zero union protection. A stance against charters entails both a stance against taking resources away from the neediest children and a stance against turning the teaching force into low-skill, low-wage employees. Contrast this to Unity’s support for charter schools, their refusal to fight against co-locations and their inability to unionize even a fraction of the charter school teaching force.

The same types of things can be said for most of the rest of MORE’s platform. As urban teachers, Chaz and myself both see how poverty hamstrings many of our children’s efforts to learn. Both Chaz and myself understand that ameliorating poverty would greatly improve the ability of our children to learn. Therefore, MORE’s stance against the specter of childhood poverty in general would also improve our working conditions as teachers. We would not have to compensate as much for the basic materials, skills and knowledge our children lack due to poverty.

Again, not to continually put words in Chaz’s mouth, but I think he would agree with most of what I said here. It seems as if Chaz’s criticism is that MORE has gone so far “left” that they have lost sight of the importance of protecting our rights as teachers. On the other hand, I say that the best way to improve our rights and conditions as teachers is to go in that so-called leftward direction, although I do not subscribe to the notion that MORE is a leftist group.

Finally, there are two other reasons why it might be wise for us as teachers to hitch our wagons to the star of social justice unionism.

First, as a practical matter, MORE’s social justice stance allows them to say that they are truly putting students first. Michelle Rhee and other so-called reformers in control of school systems around the country have been able to gain traction with the public by clothing their reforms in the rhetoric of putting “students first”. Yet, any real insight into the matter reveals that “students first” is just that: rhetoric. The explosion of a billion-dollar edu industry over the past 10 years, manifested in the form of firms like Pearson and Wireless Generation, demonstrates exactly who has benefited from the age of Rhee-esque school reform. Children mired in poverty still struggle in school as badly as they ever did while edu-biz has ballooned exponentially.

So, if “students first” has worked for Michelle Rhee, why can it not work for MORE? MORE has the added advantage of actually meaning it when they say “students first”.

Second, I think teaching is a social justice act by nature. Teachers play a vital role in a complex socioeconomic system. Their influence can either help children accept the world as it is (including the inequalities by which those same children are victimized) or it can give children the foundation necessary to question the world as it is and the audacity to envision something better. In short, teachers who refuse to see their role as part of a larger, unjust system merely end up perpetuating that system by transferring its assumptions to the next generations. As teachers, we all have a duty to defend social justice.

This does not mean that I believe Chaz is unaware of any of this. Quite the opposite, it is obvious Chaz is keenly sensitive to his role as a teacher and cares deeply about the well-being of his students. Honestly, I think the issue here is one of semantics. It is understandable that some teachers might be put off by the language of “social justice”. It conjures up imagery of angry young idealists breathing fire against “the system” or mohawked anarchists shattering windows in a fit of childish “rage against the machine”. Who wants their union run by people like this? Not me and not Chaz.

However, social justice unionism is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is a rational, reasonable, sensitive, pragmatic and just approach to unionism. Just like Chaz, it understands that the lives of teachers and the lives of students are inextricably linked. It understands the realities of poverty being the number one determinant in scholastic achievement.

While I understand that many of my union brothers and sisters might be put off by some of the language of social justice unionism, I think many of them have far more in common with the cause of social justice than they want to admit.

And what is the alternative? The same conciliatory, top-down, corporate unionism that has seen our rights, our working conditions and our schools deteriorate over the past decade? Not only have the corporate unionists who have wielded power for so long seen this happen, they have helped make this happen.

I readily admit that our union has gained for us many rights over the past few decades for which we should be thankful. The bulk of those rights were won during the 1960s and 1970s, when the political consciousness of the nation was more awakened. There would be no way the union could act corporate and get away with it. But now it is 2013, the dystopian future of urban wastelands and dumbed-down electorates that was predicted in many a 1960s novel. The union no longer has to fear the wrath of a shrewd people. They have taken advantage of this situation by enriching themselves and selling us out in this modern age of reform. In order for the union to make a comeback, to gain the kind of traction it had when it won all of those rights for us, it must help awaken the population again, even just a little bit.

If yesterday’s rally at UFT headquarters was any indication, that awakening is happening. This is why I support social justice unionism

 

Rahm’s Tin Ear and the UFT’s Silent Lips

Mul-Berg marching at the Labor Day Parade……

……While Karen Lewis strikes……

…..And Rahm is like “I dunno”.

During lunch yesterday, I scrambled to the internet for the latest news about the Chicago teacher strike. One quote that came up in many different articles was this from Rahm Emanuel:

As some 29,000 teachers declared their first Chicago strike in 25 years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the move “unnecessary” and “a strike by choice.”

“It’s avoidable,” Emanuel said, “and our kids do not deserve this.”

Sadly, I think Rahm totally believes what he says. Both he and Karen Lewis have said that the parties are pretty much in agreement on compensation. For people like Rahm, as well as the general public, that is the entire issue. Neither he nor many others can wrap their minds around why the Chicago teachers are striking.

If this strike was about compensation, the CTU would have been hiding behind the arbitrator who said CTU teachers should get a 39% raise. That is not what they are doing. Unfortunately, Rahm and many others have a tin ear to the very real and important things at stake in this strike, things that have nothing to do with teacher salary and everything to do with education.

This article goes a part of the way in explaining what those issues are:

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers. Already, the demographics of the teaching profession in Chicago have notably shifted, as the private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities, studies have shown.

This is the same type of evaluation system that our union here in NY foisted upon us with no controversy. As for seniority, our union in NY gave us the ATR crisis.

Money is not the issue in this strike. Hopefully, this is will be an opportunity for the CTU to educate the public in what has been happening to public schools over the past 20 years.

Rahm, for his part, does not speak this language. He is from the world of power politics and billionaires. If it is not about money and power, he is out of his element. This is why in every interview he has been giving, he looks like a deer in the headlights. He literally cannot understand all the fuss about evaluations based upon standardized exams and teachers being treated as professionals. This is why he feels as if this is a “strike of choice” and why some others have said that Karen Lewis called this strike because she has a personal axe to grind against Rahm.

Unfortunately, the union in NYC and other major school districts already sold out their teachers on the evaluation front. How do you think Mulgrew and the rest feel seeing Chicago teachers striking against the very things to which they not only agreed, but sold to us as the greatest thing to happen to teaching? Does this have something to do with their lack of action regarding the CTU? They have not encouraged teachers in NYC to help or show solidarity in any way.

As a matter of fact, while the CTU was preparing to strike, Mulgrew and Bloomberg were walking together at the Labor Day parade. Was this the way the UFT was telling Bloomberg, as well as the rest of the city, “don’t worry, we’re not like those troublemakers in Chicago.”?

There are many teachers in NYC who wish we were like those troublemakers in Chicago. We hope positive winds of change blow from the Midwest, but it will take a change in UFT leadership to make currency of that here.

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.

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

In the spirit of today’s State of the Union conference, which was very heartening to be a part of, here is the Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman in its entirety.

On top of being a good refutation of Davis Guggenheim’s fluff piece, it is also a good articulation of what social justice unionism is about and why teachers should be on the forefront of such a movement.

The popularity of the movie continues to spread. It has had screenings around the country and will only resonate more as the corporate takeover of public education continues.

Show it to everyone you know. Here is the Facebook page for the movie.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V