Tag Archives: UFT

What Might This Mayoral Election Mean?

Is Bill de Blasio a symbol of an age of political transition?

Is Bill de Blasio a symbol of an age of political transition or is he something else?

The post-mortems on the New York City Democratic mayoral primary have been pouring in, despite the fact that the election is not over yet. Democratic voters had choices from Christine Quinn (Bloomberg’s 4th term), Bill de Blasio (a city liberal of the old mold), Bill Thompson (who staked out a third way between Quinn and de Blasio) and Anthony Weiner (who might have had a chance if not for his personal foibles, which are many). A de Blasio victory in these primaries might presage a new era in American politics.

In 1977, a Democrat named Ed Koch won his party’s nomination and then the general election running a campaign promising law and order and fiscal responsibility. Three years later, Ronald Reagan was elected president after running a campaign that touched upon similar themes. The late 1970s up until today has been an era defined by Reagan’s program, a program ratified by Clinton and the New Democrats of the 1990s and continued by Bush and Obama in the new millennium.  Both Koch and Reagan appealed to young voters. Teenagers and 20-somethings of that era had come of age at the moment when America’s great experiment in liberalism, the New Deal, was falling apart. The era of Vietnam, urban riots and dishonest government was ripe soil for a new generation of voters receptive to something different, something that repudiated the programs that gave birth to the rotting world in which they had been raised. In 1977, it was the voters of New York City who were the bellwethers of a changing national mood bent towards conservatism. In 2013, many on the left are hoping the same scenario is playing out conversely here in NYC. (This article is a compelling read of this prospect.)

The general election will, presumably, feature the Democrat Bill de Blasio against Republican Joe Lhota. Lhota will be a tough candidate, especially if Bill Thompson is able to secure a runoff election. A Democratic runoff is already conjuring up memories of 2001, when Bloomberg won his first term as Pharaoh partially due to the internal wars of city Democrats. But runoff or not, Lhota’s strategy against de Blasio will be predictable: paint him as an irresponsible liberal who will return the city to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. The message will certainly resonate with older New Yorkers, not to mention the younger business-minded voters on Wall Street.

But political futures are not made on old voters, a lesson the Republican Party nationwide has been slow to learn. De Blasio has tapped into the same vein of young voters as Obama did in both of his elections. The late teen and early 20-something of today is more likely to be part of a minority group and tolerant on social issues like gay marriage and marijuana than the young voter of 35 years ago. They also have been coming of age in the world of the conservative revolution and that world is just as rotten as the liberal world of the Koch and Reagan ascendancies. Their overall liberal views on issues of class and culture make them less susceptible to the fear of class and culture warfare preyed upon by conservative candidates. In short, the past 10-15 years have been ripe soil for future voters who reject the Reagan Revolution.

Perhaps a Bill de Blasio mayoralty will be a laboratory for a new national political program, a role New York City has played many times in its history. A good way to discern how much of a laboratory the city might be with de Blasio is to look at what he does on education. Many educated people are hoping and predicting that the de Blasio victory means that Democrats at least reject Bloomberg’s corporatization of public schools that has erroneously been dubbed “education reform”. Their hopes have some foundation considering de Blasio’s generally friendly history towards labor in the city, not to mention his out-and-out rejection of most of Bloomberg’s legacy as the “education mayor”. He consistently took the most anti-Bloomberg stance whenever he was asked about education policy, famously saying that “there is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent” when asked about charter school co-locations. Those types of quotes were probably good enough to pry many teachers away from Thompson and give heart to the defenders of public education, me included.

However, promises in the primaries and promises in the general election are two different things. And promises in general compared to action while in office is something else entirely. Education reform has been a sharpening stone on which politicians of both parties, but especially Democrats, have honed their credentials for national office. Cory Booker and Andrew Cuomo have become up-and-comers largely owing to their school reforms, which included taking on unions and injecting the private sector into education. In order for Bill de Blasio to truly set himself apart from the rising New Democrats (who are not so new anymore) in the Clinton/Obama mold, he must keep singing his current tune on education throughout the general elections and then in office. As mayor of New York, de Blasio would be in the national eye. Bold leadership on his part might point the way to a new path in American politics. Will he sacrifice a bold education policy that respects schools as public institutions to bold reforms in other areas on which he might make more headway? If he does this, the new road he paves will make corporate school reform a reality for at least another generation. This is why Democrats can be much more dangerous to the American left than Republicans.

Just as instructive as keeping an eye on de Blasio’s education policy in the coming weeks and months is keeping an eye on how the UFT reacts to him. The union endorsed Bill Thompson early in the campaign season, mostly because he seemed like the only potentially successful alternative to Christine Quinn. This was back when de Blasio was polling in the single digits and Quinn was presumed to be the nominee. As usual, the UFT backed the person who did not win, although all of the money and resources they poured into Thompson’s campaign surely helped in smacking Quinn down to the three spot, where a runoff is out of reach for her. However, they continue to back Thompson even when it is clear that he would not win in a runoff, a runoff that would do nothing but allow Joe Lhota to consolidate his resources for the general election. Perhaps Mulgrew is pressuring Thompson behind the scenes to concede. The sooner the Democrats get behind Bill de Blasio, the better it will be for them come the general election.

If de Blasio does become mayor, will he cap charter schools? There are billions of reformy dollars coursing through this city and they could launch a massive propaganda campaign against education policy that threatens their share of the increasing education “market”. If it really does come down to a case of the reformers vs. de Blasio, I am not at all sure where the UFT would stand on most issues. If the UFT feels that de Blasio might lose in a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, they might cast their lot with the Rhee crowd just so they avoid the “obstructionist” label that unjustifiably dogs them. In short, the question might come down to: will the teachers’ unions be on the front lines of a new leftist direction in American politics or will they try to temper any such development? This will not be the first time this question is asked in NYC, the 1968 strike especially being a moment when the UFT actively stood against a leftward turn in education policy.

But the teachers I know and read on the internet are hopeful that a de Blasio mayoralty will mean a new contract and a renegotiation of the evaluation system. The real dreamers have hopes for retroactive pay and an opting out of New York City from the state’s inclusion in the Race to the Top program. These are the issues by which teachers will largely judge Bill de Blasio. We hope that he is able to recognize how deep the Bloomberg school reforms go. It is not just about charter schools. It is also about the deskilling of the profession and the autocratic line of command that runs through the system. A complete dismantling of the Bloomberg Way in public schooling in favor of a more democratic approach would certainly be a major blow to the nationwide school deform movement.

We cannot be sure if the left here and around the world is resurging or if this is just a tempest in a teapot. We can only be hopeful. In that hope, we have to be mindful that we are living in exciting times where things are shifting and do what we can in our own lives to help shift it in the right direction.

WHAT IS BINDING ARBITRATION? SOMEONE ENLIGHTEN ME.

10c_Collective_Bargaining

The last post highlighted the exchange between me and UFT Vice President, Leo Casey. Leo Casey explained that Cuomo’s proposed evaluation system would be a form of binding arbitration. To buttress his point, he cited a recent decision where the UFT won payment for hours some of our members worked from binding arbitration.

He also explained, or at least intimated, that MORE and myself either do not know what collective bargaining is or are purposefully misrepresenting the facts. There is a lively discussion on the MORE blog where many Mulgrew supporters are saying the same thing as Leo Casey.

Maybe he is right that I don’t know what collective bargaining is. The case Leo Casey sites was an example of an independent arbitrator’s decision. I have read in detail about other examples of binding and non-binding arbitration before. All of those examples were from independent arbitrators.

Cuomo and the State Education Department and the state legislature are not independent. In fact, they are our bosses. They are bosses under a great deal of political pressure from groups like Students First to hollow out all of our rights as teachers and the education of our children.

My question is: how common is it to have management play the role of “independent arbitrator”? Is the UFT under Unity leadership really upholding our collective bargaining rights by allowing management to act as independent arbitrators?

Someone with a fair view of the matter please enlighten me. This is not a loaded question, I really would like to know.

UFT members: do you feel comfortable with trusting Cuomo with the fate of your school system? Unity’s stance is “trust Cuomo”. Is that appropriate?

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.

CTU, UFT, MORE and Rahm

We are moving towards the 11th hour in Chicago. If the CTU and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel cannot agree to a new contract by Monday, 30,000 Chicago public school teachers will go out on strike.

The happenings in Chicago have been, and will continue to be, instructive to public school teachers across the nation. Chicago has been a laboratory for many of the schemes associated with the destructive force erroneously known as “education reform”. Many of us who take the long view of events are hoping that education reform will meet its doom in the city where it all started.

It is the place Arne Duncan made his metamorphosis from retired athlete to education hit man. His friendly basketball games with a community organizer named Barack Obama ensured his spot as United States Secretary of Education when Obama became president. Obama’s 2008 electoral mandate, along with a generous Department of Education budget, helped Duncan become the most powerful Education Secretary in U.S. History.

The result has been a metastasis of Duncan’s Chicago education philosophy across the country. It is a philosophy that celebrates Hurricane Katrina as the best thing to happen to New Orleans public schools, one that seeks to first wipe out and then corporatize all of the nation’s public education systems. Under his watch, the school systems of Philadelphia and Detroit imploded. Children of those cities will henceforward be instructed by deskilled minimum-wage teachers and computer screens. Duncan’s is not so much an education policy as it is a scorched earth policy for public schools.

As Duncan’s handiwork manifests itself nationwide, the teachers of Chicago help point the way to a cure. They are up against a mayor whose ties to both Obama and Duncan are stronger than any other local politician in the nation. If he gets his way, Chicago goes the way of New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit. After that, New York and Los Angeles cannot be far behind. Part of the CTU’s cure is a work stoppage, a withholding of the only bargaining chip any working teacher across the nation has left: their labor.

Those of us in New York City must take time to thank and support the CTU and their courageous leader, Karen Lewis. They are fighting an advanced campaign against Duncan’s scorched earth policy. They are manning the gates of the city while those of us in New York and Los Angeles hunker down and hope they can fight off the corporate horde. If they cannot, if the walls are breached, the horde will surely ravage our schools to a degree we have not yet seen.

How we can help:

Brian Jones and Norm Scott say Wear Red on Monday.

Donate to the CTU Solidarity Fund.

Visit the Network of Teacher Activist Groups to voice your support.

While I fully support the CTU, part of me is jealous that it is the Chicago teachers that get to be on the front lines and not those of us in NYC. Our union, the United Federation of Teachers, has been effectively mute throughout all of the high drama in Chicago. Yet, keeping in the spirit of finding silver linings, I am happy that we at least have the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). MORE will be at today’s Labor Day Parade and you can read the details and meet-up info here.

Unfortunately, the fact I am being kicked out of my childhood home means I will not be able to make it there myself. Hopefully, many others will show up so I will not feel too much guilt.

Teachers of New York City have needed a presence like MORE for a very long time now. While the CTU mans the gates of the city against the reformer onslaught, the UFT has been sharing secrets and street maps to our attackers.

Just imagine if Chicago was saddled with the UFT. How would the last two years there been different?

June 11th 2010: An upstart organization of teachers called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators wins all of the key officer seats in the citywide Chicago Teachers’ Union elections. Karen Lewis of CORE is elected president with a 60% vote. CORE’s platform proposes investment in public schools over school closings and charters; the preservation and expansion of enrichment programs over the myopic obsession with testing; and a professional teaching force with the protections, salary and benefits to reflect it. CORE’s victory was the result of years of organizing teachers, parents and students against the weapons of corporate education reform. They passed around copies of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in order to educate people in the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the education reform movement. People who were otherwise disengaged became activated once they realized that the goal of Chicago reformers like Emanuel and Brizard is nothing less than the dismantling of public education in their city, with the pieces to be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder.

If the UFT were in Chicago: The ruling caucus known as Unity won another term to lead the Chicago Teachers’ Union, winning a whopping 95% of the officer seats. Their president, Michael Mulgrew, won an overwhelming victory by garnering 43,276 votes out of a total of 32,674 votes cast. Despite rumors to the contrary, Unity leaders assured the press that this mathematical impossibility is indeed possible. The fact that Unity people count the votes had nothing to do with it. Unity’s platform calls for conciliation with the Mayor, whom they supported in the most recent election despite the fact that the he called Unity leaders “hacks” and said they have “less spine than an éclair”. Unity leaders sit on the Boards of Director of various charter school networks and assured their membership that “the tireless work of handing public money off to private millionaires will continue unabated”. They also have promised to work with the Mayor on an evaluation system where 40% of teachers ratings will be based on student standardized exam scores. Yet if they receive a poor rating on that 40% portion, they will be rated “ineffective” overall. According to Unity officials, “this is the best agreement we can come up with without trying.”An opposition caucus called New Action won the remaining 5% of officer seats. They are furious over Unity’s stance on the evaluations. A New Action official today said “40% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on tests? That is preposterous. We will fight to get that percentage down to 39.” Unity officials said that New Action’s proposal is “radical” and suggested that New Action’s leaders “go back to Canada with that socialist agenda”.

Summer 2011: Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children lobbied for, and succeeded in passing, legislation through the Illinois legislature that would require the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and only the CTU, to get at least 75% to agree before calling for a strike. He brags about how shrewd he is while speaking at a convention of billionaire reformer types in Aspen. On top of this, his lobbying allowed local school districts in Illinois to further denude teacher tenure,tie teacher evaluations to standardized exam scores and paved the way for an extended school day. He tried to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers, but that law was defeated, although it served its purpose according to Edelman. Many people, especially Edelman himself, believed he pulled a fast one on Karen Lewis. This idea was swiftly dissipated one year later.

If the UFT were in Chicago: UFT officials locked themselves away in a smoke-filled room in Springfield with state lawmakers and Jonah Edelman. It took days, but UFT officials came out of the room with big smiles on their faces. “We got Cubs tickets!” The union was able to get box seats at Wrigley Field for all 30,000 Chicago teachers. In return, they agreed to an evaluation system where teachers get fired if even one of their students fail a statewide exam, due process for tenured teachers is eliminated and the school day was increased by two hours. Edelman, sweat pouring down his brow, said “It was tough getting them to accept the deal. I originally wanted the requirement to be two students have to fail before a teacher gets fired, but they just insisted on making it one. I also wanted some form of kangaroo court for due process hearings, sort of like they have in NYC, yet those Unity guys insisted that even the appearance of due process was unnecessary. The school day was about the only thing we were in agreement on. Teachers will not be paid for the extra time, of course.” House Speaker Michael Madigan said of the negotiations “I felt bad for the union. Edelman is not even a particularly tough negotiator, it’s just the Unity guys are that bad. It was my idea to offer them the Cub tickets. I felt they should have gotten something.” Later, the Unity guys realized they had been had. The Cubs tickets offered by Speaker Madigan are for October, and everyone knows the Cubs never play in October.

Spring2012: Rahm Emanuel directs his puppet Board of Education to cancel the last 4% raise contained in the city’s contract with CTU. To justify his decision, Emanuel cries poverty despite the fact that millions of dollars meant for the public schools never get there and end up right back in the pockets of the city’s millionaires. In response, Karen Lewis mentions the possibility of a strike and promises that there will be a new contract to replace the one that Rahm broke, which was set to expire June 30. For good measure, Rahm explains that Chicago’s public school teachers are horrible people who fail half of the city’s children and do not deserve a raise. Rahm was steeled by the idea that the CTU would never be able to muster the 75% necessary for a strike. Karen Lewis knew that Rahm was stirring up the beehive of teacher discontent in Chicago, making 75% an eminently doable goal.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Unity leaders pretend to be disgusted by the mayor’s arrogance and viciousness. Articles are written on the union website explaining that the mayor is a spoiled sport and pooopyhead. They reassure the membership that they will do “everything they can” to get that 4% raise. The possibility of contract negotiations are not even mentioned, let alone a strike, dooming the teachers of Chicago to an indefinite period of continuous wage losses as the cost of living competes with the national debt for the fastest-growing dollar value in America. To soften the blow, Unity hacks throughout the internet leave comments on blogs about how teachers should be thankful to Unity for health benefits that were negotiated 30 years ago. They also remind Chicago teachers that their salary allows them to “buy food” and maybe “go to the movies once a year if you are good with money and do not mind three-dollar Wednesday matinees featuring Buster Keaton films”. Teachers should be thankful to their union for being able to live the life of a member of the lower middle class. In the next election, the union supports Rahm for reelection and still, no contract. Unity claims that “no contract is better than no contract at all.”

Summer 2012: Rahm Emanuel and his incompetent lapdog CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, unilaterally announce an extension of the school day. What will go on in that extra time they do not say. They announce that teachers will not be compensated for the extra time they work, which includes not only the time they intend to tack on to the day, but the time needed to prep for that extra time. Karen Lewis again mentions the possibility of a strike. In order to prevent a strike, an independent arbitrator is called in to make suggestions for a new contract. In his report, arbitrator Edwin Benn said teachers working the extra day should get a 15-20% pay increase for the first year, and a nearly 39% raise over the next four years. Emanuel is stunned that someone would want to pay workers for their work. Emanuel again cries poverty and exhorts the arbitrator to consider the city’s financial straits. It is apparent someone has to, since Rahm cannot be bothered to both run the city and ensure it has money.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Union leaders have had enough. They are sick and tired of their membership having to be paid for every single thing they do. It is so selfish. Educators should do this job for nothing if they are so dedicated. After the mayor reveals his plans for a longer school day, Unity leaders hold a press conference where they explain that the union will not fight to be paid for the extra school hours. “We think it is important to be on the right side of school reform.”, said the union vice president. The teachers of Chicago seem upset. Many we spoke with say they are getting tired of the union selling them out. “Oh, they always say that.”, said the VP, “they will calm down, where else are they going to go? We’re the only game in town.” Even the independent arbitrator said that Chicago teachers need more pay, to which the union VP says “Poppycock. What needs to happen is that we need to score points with the mayor so he could give us a good job after his term is up. It is not about schools, it is about us.”

Fall 2012: The CTU goes on strike.

If the UFT were in Chicago: Do not ever use the “S” word….. Taylor Law, Taylor Law, Taylor Law, are you nuts?

Leo Casey Sets the “Record Straight” on the Appeals Process

Leo Casey finally released his long awaited explanation of the appeals process under the new New York State teacher evaluation agreement. The process is certainly as convoluted as the rating system itself. There are some serious concerns we all have about the process that will, hopefully, begin to be fleshed out in this post.

First, Leo Casey is confident that the appeals procedure secures “the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.”

He summarizes the protections we had before the Bloomberg regime. There were essentially two processes available to teachers. The first was the ability of all teachers, tenured or not, to appeal an end-of-year “U” rating to a hearing officer within the DOE. Before Bloomberg, 10-15 percent of these ratings were overturned through this process. After Bloomberg, around .5% of appealed “U” ratings were overturned. Essentially, Bloom-Klein-Walcott indiscriminately upheld the “U” ratings of principals, giving them unprecedented power.

The other process, available only to tenured teachers, is the 3020a hearing. This is the “going after the license” hearing consisting of an “independent” arbitrator who hears arguments from both a DOE and union (NYSUT) lawyer. Just like a trial, the “defendant” (teacher) must be charged with specific misconduct (incompetence, felony, child abuse, etc.). The lawyers present their cases and the arbitrator decides on a binding outcome.

As we know, there are serious problems with the 3020a process, problems that Leo Casey does not touch in his article. First, 3020a arbitrators are appointed to one-year terms and must be agreed upon by both the DOE and UFT. This motivates arbitrators to split the baby in most cases, giving a little to the union and little to the DOE. It must be made clear that arbitrators have a range of decisions they can reach: termination, heavy fines, letters to the file and others. Therefore, in around 96% of 3020a cases, the teacher was found guilty of something. Their punishments can run the gamut, but the fact is that very few of them are ever exonerated.

And these are just the cases that make it to 3020a. Around half of all teachers charged choose to settle instead, where they then incur any of the penalties available to the arbitrator. It is more accurate to say the teacher’s lawyer chooses to settle. When a teacher first learns they are facing a 3020a, they are given a choice between a private and public hearing. Private hearings allow the arbitrator and lawyers to work out settlements in peace. Since lawyers and arbitrators are linked, the fear is that they go over their list of cases and decide who gets fired and does not. We do not really know because these proceedings are, after all, private. There used to be a time when teachers would be able to choose their own arbitrator. Now, they are randomly assigned.

After the 3020a hearing, a teacher can appeal the decision of the arbitrator to a court of law (3020a hearings are not actual courts).  According to former NYSUT attorney Brian Glass, more decisions than ever are being “bounced” (overturned) by the courts. This shows that there is something wrong with the city’s 3020a process. The arbitrators are motivated to find teachers guilty, but stop short of termination in order to split the baby. The private hearing procedure allows lawyers to decide who gets terminated and who does not. This means that an individual teacher’s case might not be decided strictly on its merits, but on the relative severity of the infraction compared to other cases on the docket. Ever since the Bloomberg regime began, and especially after the 2005 contract, the 3020a process has been skewed more and more against teachers.

Here is the first big point: the new teacher evaluations do nothing to change this 3020a system. This is a shame because, as you will see, the 3020a process will play a crucial role in the new evaluation regime.

Speaking of the new regime, Leo Casey describes “two different procedures which, in combination, guarantee a fair teacher evaluation process with educational integrity:

First, there are those cases where a teacher has been targeted by a principal who abuses his authority, and is given an ineffective rating for reasons entirely unrelated to his/her teaching performance, such as retaliation for advocating for students or engaging in union activism. In these cases, the UFT will be able to challenge the ineffective ratings before a three person board comprised of one UFT member, one DoE member and a third neutral member who serves as chair. Up to 13% of all ineffective ratings in a year may be brought to this board by the UFT.[4] By a majority vote, the board will either overturn or uphold the ineffective rating, and its decision is final and binding.”

If I understand this correctly, this means that the UFT can appeal up to 13% of all ineffective ratings in a single year. These will be the retaliatory ineffective ratings that principals give to teachers for things like “advocating for students or engaging in union activism”. The 13% percent ratio is based upon that 10-15 percent of overturned “U” ratings of the pre-Bloomberg years to which Leo Casey earlier referred. The appeals will be heard by a three-member board: one chosen by the UFT, one chosen by the DOE and one neutral chairperson.

There are two major questions (if not more) that arise from this: first, how will the UFT determine which ratings are retaliatory? It seems that the variegated evaluations procedure gives administrators ample opportunity to fudge and justify ratings based purely numbers. A particularly shifty administrator can make a vindictive ineffective rating look totally objective. They can throw up their hands and say “hey, I am just going by what the numbers say.” I am sure the UFT will need some sort of evidence outside of numbers to determine which ineffective ratings are retaliatory.

My concern with this is that this gives the UFT tremendous power over our careers. Now, if we had to choose between the UFT and DOE having that type of control, I am sure most of us would opt for the former. This does not mean, however, that the UFT will be immune to favoritism in its own right when choosing which cases to appeal. What about members who are outspoken against the Unity caucus? Will the UFT go to bat for them? Will the UFT automatically choose to appeal all ineffective ratings for chapter leaders on the grounds that they must be retaliatory prima facie? Would this not eat up a healthy percentage of that 13, leaving the rest of us to fight over the remaining scraps?

The second major question is: who will choose the third “neutral member” of this panel? Will they be chosen in the same manner as 3020a arbitrators? It seems like a pretty important question, since we can assume how the other two members will decide. If that is the case, I can imagine these all-important “neutral” members splitting the baby once again, voting to overturn ineffective ratings roughly 6.5% of the time. While this is certainly fairer than the automatic denial of all “U” rating appeals currently in place, it does not seem like a fair system by any stretch, let alone one that upholds “the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.”

Leo Casey then describes the second appeals procedure:

“Second, in those cases where a teacher has received an ineffective rating for reasons related to his/her teaching performance, a number of procedures will be in place both to establish that the teacher is truly ineffective in the classroom and to ensure that the teacher receives the support s/he needs to improve. Following a first ineffective rating on an end of year evaluation, the principal will develop with the teacher a TIP (Teacher Improvement Plan) that identifies both the steps to be taken to correct the shortcomings in his/her teaching performance and the supports to be provided to assist in the improvement. Further, in the year following the first ineffective rating, the teacher will be assigned an independent validator, a licensed educator who will be selected through a joint union-management selection process. This independent validator will observe lessons by the teacher at least three times over the course of the year, and at the end of the year, s/he will issue a finding on the effectiveness of the teacher’s classroom instruction. If the independent validator agrees with the principal’s rating of ineffective, the DoE may then proceed to a 3020a hearing before an independent arbitrator to remove the teacher’s license, with the burden of proof falling on the teacher to demonstrate that s/he is not ineffective. If the independent validator disagrees with a principal’s rating of ineffective, the DoE may still proceed to a 3020a hearing before an independent arbitrator, but the report of the independent validator will become part of the proceedings and the burden of proof is now upon the DoE to demonstrate that the teacher is ineffective. It will thus become extraordinarily difficult to dismiss a teacher for poor performance when the independent validator has found him/her effective….”

To pick up where we left off from in the previous paragraph, let us say that you are one of the 87% of teachers who could not get the UFT to appeal your first ineffective rating. Or you might be one of those 6.5% of teachers who got an appeal and lost. You now must develop a Teacher Improvement Plan (TIP) with your principal. Does this mean that you have input into this plan? Is there anything stopping a principal from unilaterally shoving an unreasonable TIP upon you in order to set you up for failure next year?

So you start the next school year under the tutelage of an independent validator, a licensed educator agreed upon by both the UFT and DOE. (Leo, is there a way you can email me with information on how I can become one of these validators?) This validator will observe the teacher at least three times over the course of the year. If the principal rates you ineffective for that year (your second such rating in a row), you will go through the 3020a process. Now, if the validator agrees with the principal’s ineffective rating, then the burden of proof is on you during 3020a. If the validator does not agree with the principal’s ineffective rating, then the burden of proof is on the DOE during the 3020a.

First, we know these validators will be educators, but will they be teachers? We know that there are loads of administrators out there without assignments doing make work in some decrepit DOE office. Will the validator job merely be a sinecure for these administrators? Can teachers like me apply to be validators? It seems like a major concern. We are working in a system where so many administrators are non-teachers, people who entered the DOE to get the required three years out of the way and move on. Do we really want those people working in the instructional side of education? I suppose Leo Casey’s response to this will be “that is why the UFT will have a say in who becomes validators.” But I guess it all depends on the pool of people who are allowed to apply for the job. If they are all non-teachers, then it really does not matter how much say the UFT has in the choosing of these validators. That is why I am offering my services for this important job.

Once at the 3020a level, all of the problems previously discussed with the 3020a process will kick in. If both the principal and the validator agree that you are ineffective, then it seems that you are pretty much gone. All of the thinking has already been done for the arbitrator up until that point. They will have mounds of paperwork and data “proving” the ineffectiveness of the teacher, paperwork that has been rubber stamped by the UFT along the way. The arbitrator can terminate the teacher without fearing the UFT will refuse to reappoint them for the next year.

The other scenario, one where the validator does not agree with the principal’s ineffective rating, seems a little thornier. It seems as if it will be the same splitting the baby game that currently exists in 3020a. A few will probably be terminated, a few will be exonerated and the vast majority will get some other type of outcome. It is tough to see, however, what this other outcome will be. It would be silly to fine or put a letter in the file of someone rated “ineffective”. Instead, the only other outcome I can imagine is a third year with a TIP and a validator. This will merely stagger the termination until next year, or the year after that. In sum, this entire TIP process seems like the pipeline to termination soon or eventually.

I am willing to allow that certain of these concerns are conjectural. We never really know how something so complex will play out in the realm of human interaction and institutions. However, I do see a lot over which to be concerned. It seems as if the TIP and validator process is an end run around tenure as we know it in New York City.

I appreciate Leo Casey taking the time to explain such a rococo system to the membership. In the end, it seems there is more than enough grey area to cast doubt on the idea that the appeals process secures the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process.

20%: The Difference Between Sucking and Really Sucking

What a difference 20% makes.

So many things being said about our new teacher evaluations here in NYC.

Let us start with what we know:

I. 60% will be based on teacher performance.

A. 31% on principal observations wherein the principal must use a “research-based” rubric like Danielson. Particular rubric to be negotiated in collective bargaining and approved by the State Education Department (SED).

B. 29% will be based on other, non-principal-related evidence of teacher performance. Whatever this will be must be worked out in collective bargaining. Some suggestions that have been floated are peer observations and artifacts of student work.

II. 40% will be based on student learning.

A. 20% will use state-wide standardized exams for every subject and every grade. The teacher will be assigned a grade based upon a value added model.

B. 20% will be based on a local assessment to be worked out in collective bargaining.

A teacher found ineffective on the 40% part will be found ineffective overall.

This has led teachers to wonder what in the world that other 20% will be.

People like me, Arthur Goldstein, Peter Lamphere and others believe it will be a city-wide exam.

Yet, Leo Casey has stated here on this blog that it will not be an exam. Last night on Mind of a Bronx Teacher (which you can still listen to here.), Leo Casey stated unequivocally that it will not be an exam and will not be value-added.

Instead, he was confident that alternative forms of assessment will be used on the local level. Furthermore, he made the claim that, whatever these assessments turn out to be, teachers will be grading it themselves. No outside agency will put a number on it.

Obviously, those of us who fear a citywide exam and Leo Casey who is adamant about having no citywide exam cannot both be correct. Something has to give here.

Everything seems to hinge on this last 20%.

If people on my side are correct, our children will be given over to King Test. The most important part of our evaluations will hinge upon very arbitrary numbers that have proven time and again to be unreliable.

If Leo Casey is correct, it is a whole different ballgame.

Imagine that other 20% being an assessment that we administer and grade ourselves. These assessments would make up an important portion of our evaluations. It could mean the difference between keeping our livelihoods or “selling pencils” as Arthur Goldstein says.

If that is the case, what teacher would ever fail their students? It would institutionalize cheating across the city.

Think about it. The publication of the Teacher Data Reports this past weekend exposed how unreliable and wild value added data is. We know for a fact that this unreliable value-added crap will make up 20% of our evaluations.

If we have so much control over that other 20%, teachers are going to do their darndest to make sure students do not fail it. This includes everything up to and including blatant cheating. After all, if we have no control over the outcome of one 20% chunk (value added), then we will compensate by taking as much control as possible over the other 20% (local assessment).

So we have two visions of what the future of education in NYC will look like. One is all testing all the time. The other is a lot of testing along with incentives to cheat.

I am still inclined to believe that it will be all testing. The only reason we have to believe otherwise is the words of Leo Casey and the UFT. After the 2005 contract debacle (among many other things), rank-and-file teachers have reason to lack faith in what their union leadership tells them.

One thing is for certain: no matter what ends up happening, it is going to suck.

NY’s Teacher Evaluations: The Mystery 20%

Yesterday, Leo Casey was gracious enough to respond to my critique of his defense of the new teacher evaluations here in New York.

What he addressed above all was this part of my critique:

It is difficult to see what can be a district-wide assessment that is not a test. Can it be a portfolio? Are contractors from the DOE going to pour over millions of stacks of portfolios every year in order to assess each individual student? Will the State Education Commissioner approve this?

To which he responded:

Let me simply take up one point of disagreement here which I think is a particularly telling one — your view that the local measure of student learning must necessarily take the form of a standardized exam, and that this is what I must mean when I talk of assessments. In fact, I chose the word assessment deliberately precisely because I wanted to make clear that it was entirely possible and desirable to use assessments that were not standardized exams. There is a strong tradition of authentic performance assessments in progressive education, with prominent educators such as LInda Darling-Hammond and Deborah Meier among its strongest advocates. There is a consortium of high schools in NYC which have a waiver from a number of the Regents exam to do performance assessments. At the point that the negotiations over the 33 Transformation and Restart Schools broke down, we were actually developing performance assessments for the local measures of student learning. I think it is would be a major mistake to assume that these the local measures must be standardized exams.\

And then my response:

Now, for my part, I am working from a few assumptions. First, that these progressive forms of assessment tend to be less efficient from a grading standpoint, in that they take longer to grade than a fill-in-the blank exam. Second, that it is pretty clear that the DOE will not want teachers themselves to grade these assessments. This would mean that some outside agency will have to do it, or that a committee of educators will do it.

If this is the case, how feasible is it to implement progressive forms of assessment for the largest school system in the country? It seems like a logistical nightmare.

Therefore, it would seem that the only assessment that could feasibly be put in place is a bubble-in exam of the traditional type. It might not be what the UFT necessarily wants, but facts on the ground, so to speak, makes testing the default assessment for the remaining 20%.

So, while I understand that you were not necessarily alluding to testing, I don’t really see other assessments being implemented citywide that has the type of broad-based approval politicians like Bloomberg look for other than testing. I can’t imagine Bloomberg unveiling with a straight face to the voters of NYC something like portfolio or other performance-based assessments that have never been used on a scale of NYC.

In short, it seems like testing is the ONLY feasible option, politically, economically, logistically, that could possibly be instituted citywide.

If there is any light you can shed on this matter, it would be appreciated.

This all stems from the mysterious local student assessments that have yet to be worked out between the UFT and DOE. This 20 percent is part of that overall 40 percent that will determine whether or not teachers are found “ineffective”.

Leo Casey asserts that there is a long tradition of student assessments that are not standardized exams. A “consortium of high schools in NYC” have already been using them.

But…

Have any of these assessments been used on the scale of the NYC public school system, the largest school system in the United States?

No

Let us assume non-test-based assessments are out there for every grade and subject. How are teachers going to be rated on the basis of these assessments? Who will grade these assessments in a way that can be worked into the teacher ratings? The teachers themselves? A committee of educators? An outside contractor?

These are the details that must be worked out in collective bargaining.

Can we really imagine Mayor Bloomberg jeopardizing his legacy as the “education mayor” by agreeing to a battery of “progressive” assessments that have not been implemented on this scale before? Will Commissioner King approve of this?

Mayor Mike and Commissioner King are going to push for the sure thing: testing.

Testing is the only performance assessment that has been used on a NYC scale. It is logistically simple and easily translatable into data. There is the added factor of testing being the cash cow that corporations with big lobbyists like Pearson stand to benefit from.

All of the political facts as they stand now point to King Test as the thing that will fill that remaining 20%.

What Leo Casey is proposing runs counter to every political fact surrounding education reform here in NYC and around the country.

While Leo Casey and the UFT might push for progressive assessments that are better for students, we all know what is best for students does not shape education policy anywhere in this country.

Education policy is shaped by Realpolitik.

The only reform feasible in the world of education Realpolitik is testing.

Leo Casey “Sets the Record Straight” on the New Teacher Evaluations

Is the UFT selling us another bill of goods?

Over at Edwise today Leo Casey, Vice President of the United Federation of Teachers, addresses the criticisms of Diane Ravitch and Long Island principal Carol Burris of the new teacher evaluations here in New York State. Mr. Casey acknowledges the complexity of the new evaluation regime, then goes on to say:

“Unfortunately, complexity has provided a fertile ground for commentaries on the New York teacher evaluation framework that reach alarmist conclusions, with arguments built on a foundation of misinformation and groundless speculation. A widely circulated piece by Long Island Principal Carol Corbett Burris, published on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, is in the thrall of this alarmist alchemy. Burris decries the law and last week’s agreement as allowing “test scores… to trump all.” Under its scoring, a teacher could be “effective” in all components of the evaluation and yet still receive an overall rating of “ineffective.” The law, Burris concludes, is creating an evaluation system in which schools and students will “lose great teachers.” At the Bridging Differences blog, Diane Ravitch has now taken up Burris’ argument, repeating her main points as gospel.”

Casey then goes on to explain why their criticisms are unnecessarily alarmist.

“First, Burris incorrectly assumes that the entire 40 points in the measures of student learning will be derived from standardized state exams. But the use of value-added growth measures from state standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of the total teacher evaluation – and then only for a minority of teachers, those teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics, grades 4 through 8. Standardized state exams can only be used as the basis for the local measures of student learning if the union local agrees to their use in collective bargaining. I know of no significant New York district where the local union has agreed to the use of standardized state exams as the basis for the local measures of student learning. In New York City, the UFT has taken the position that under no circumstances would we agree to the use of standardized state exams for the local measures of student learning…”

Now, I still have some respect for Leo Casey. He has written some very good things at Edwise and has had moments of eloquence in defense of teachers. Unfortunately, his counter-argument here seems to be a matter of splitting hairs.

The key word throughout this entire post is state. 40 percent of the new evaluations will be based on “measures of student learning”. Only half of that (20 percent overall) can be based on state standardized exams. The other half will be local assessments which must be agreed to in collective bargaining. In fact, Casey consistently reminds us that most of the details of the new evaluation framework will be filled in by what local unions and school districts agree to in collective bargaining (more on that later).

First, what is a local assessment? Notice how he does not use the word exam. Also notice that he did not mention that any assessment agreed to in collective bargaining must be approved by the State Education Commissioner. In reality, these local assessments will be more tests. They might be different from the state exams but they will be exams nonetheless. And, remember, all local assessments must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.

Local standardized exams do not yet exist in New York City. Furthermore, many grades and subjects do not have established state exams either. What this amounts to for the children of New York City are two exams, one state and one local, for every grade and subject. This is a mouth-watering prospect for companies that make standardized exams; a stream of millions of dollars in state and municipal contracts.

This new testing regime has been the major criticism of Diane Ravitch. In her vision:

All such schemes rely on standardized tests as the ultimate measure of education. This is madness. The tests have some value in measuring basic skills and rote learning, but their overuse distorts education. No standardized test can accurately measure the quality of education. Students can be coached to guess the right answer, but learning this skill does not equate to acquiring facility in complex reasoning and analysis. It is possible to have higher test scores and worse education. The scores tell us nothing about how well students can think, how deeply they understand history or science or literature or philosophy, or how much they love to paint or dance or sing, or how well prepared they are to cast their votes carefully or to be wise jurors.

Leo Casey never really addresses these arguments. He only responds that half of those tests will be agreed to by the union in collective bargaining (but must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.) I do not see how this is supposed to allay Diane Ravitch’s “alarmist” fears.

What is collective bargaining worth anyway, if the State Education Commissioner can give a thumbs down to whatever was bargained?

And what about that other 60%, the one that deals with “teacher performance”?

According to Leo Casey, this entire 60% will be shaped by collective bargaining as well. 31 of those percentage points must be administrative observations based on a research-based framework (i.e. Danielson) that must be agreed to in collective bargaining. The other 29 percent can be anything from peer observations, lesson plans (wait, I thought the contract said that principals cannot judge us based upon lesson plans?) and “artifacts” such as student work (does this mean the bulletin board police will continue to be out in force?) Whatever this 29 percent ends up being for New York City, it must be agreed to in collective bargaining between our own UFT and the DOE.

Therefore, according to Leo Casey

“…80% of the total evaluation – the measures of teacher performance and the measures of student learning based on local assessments – are set through collective bargaining at the district level. This provides teacher union locals with an essential and necessary input into teacher evaluations, allowing us to ensure that they have educational integrity and are fair to teachers.”

That really does seem like a sweet deal for teachers, but it is misleading. We have already dealt with 20 of this 80 percent, so let us look at the remaining 60.

First, this is a disaster for administrators (where is their union, by the way?) They effectively have had all of the power to rate teachers taken out of their hands. The 31% that they are actually guaranteed to be a part of must use a “research-based” rubric to rate teachers. No longer can principals walk into a class, observe what is going on and know whether or not students are learning. Believe or not, there are still a few administrators in the system who have been veteran educators who know when a class is learning and when they are going through the motions. None of that matters anymore. All of them, from the 20-year pro to the Leadership Academy neophyte who would not know good teaching if it was standing in the front of the room conducting a lesson, must refer to some pre-packaged rubric.

Maybe the account of a principal from Tennessee, where they have already started using some of this research-based stuff, can give a clue to the problem with this:

But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

“It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.

Ever call for tech support for your computer only to end up talking to someone in another country reading from a script in which there is no place for your individual problem? That is what this 31% percent is. No matter what is agreed to in collective bargaining, the assumption will be that good teaching looks the same in every classroom every day. Maybe you forgot to write the date on the board, maybe the aim is not focused enough, maybe the class gets so into a discussion that the original lesson does not get completed, or maybe you just did not wear a tie (or female equivalent) to work that day. No matter what, it all counts. It can all be used against you if your classroom does not look like every other good classroom as determined by “research” done by people who have not been in a classroom since the term classroom was coined.

The other 29 percent is pretty much up in the air and, chances are, whatever is agreed to in collective bargaining will disaggregate that 29 percent into smaller percentages. However, it does not matter in the end because according to Leo Casey:

“At the behest of Governor Cuomo, the New York State Education Department set overall scoring bands for the teaching evaluation system which are quite stringent: very low scores in both the state and local components of measures of student learning (0, 1 or 2 out of a possible 20 in both components) will lead to an overall ineffective rating, regardless of how a teacher scored on the measures of teacher performance.”

So, as has been said on every blog and news column at this point, that 60 percent is irrelevant because the 40 percent can make or break a teacher’s entire rating.

Leo Casey goes on to make this murky point:

“If both components were based solely on standardized test scores, using unreliable value-added models with high margins of error, as Burris incorrectly claims, these scoring bands would have the potential of producing unfair ratings among outlier cases. But with at least one of these two components being a local assessment that, as it is collectively bargained, should be an authentic assessment of student learning, this objection does not hold. Teachers and their unions have always said that we wanted to be responsible for student learning – our objection was to the idea that standardized exams provided a true measure of that learning. With the inclusion of authentic assessments of student learning, student achievement must be a vital part of our evaluation.”

Wait a minute, what is an “authentic assessment of student learning?” Does this mean that me, Diane Ravitch and the rest of the teaching blogosphere who fear that 40 percent (the vital 40 percent) of our worth as teachers will be judged on test scores are wrong? Has Leo Casey put our fears to rest?

Unfortunately not. What I fear is happening in the paragraph quoted above is a bit of sleight of hand. The term standardized sticks out here. I take this to mean that Leo Casey believes that because each school district will decide on the other 20 percent (in conjunction with the union) on their own, whatever assessment they agree upon is not standardized. It will be an assessment that is tailor-made for that particular district instead of a “one size fits all” approach for children throughout the entire state or nation.

It is difficult to see what can be a district-wide assessment that is not a test. Can it be a portfolio? Are contractors from the DOE going to pour over millions of stacks of portfolios every year in order to assess each individual student? Will the State Education Commissioner approve this?

Not bloody likely.

The only thing that it can be is something that is digestible in numbers. That can mean either: a) a city-wide exam or b) semester grades. Knowing how Bloomberg loves to crow about the rising graduation rate in New York City, it is possible to imagine him pushing for teachers to be assessed by the grades their students receive, which would pretty much end up institutionalizing the “social promotion” to which he claims to be so opposed. After all, if teachers know they can be fired if enough kids do not pass their class, you can bet that kids will end up passing along to the next grade.

But most likely the other 20 percent will be a city-wide exam. Maybe Leo Casey is setting the stage early for the collective bargaining farce to come between the UFT and Bloomberg. Bloomberg wants a city-wide exam and the union puts up one of their fake oppositions. Mulgrew and Bloomberg exchange mutual recriminations in the media to sway the hearts and minds of New Yorkers. The State Education Commissioner signals his support for a city-wide exam, making the UFT look like a roadblock in getting the new evaluation system finalized. Mulgrew goes silent on the issue for a few weeks, and then emerges from a backroom deal with Bloomberg where he reveals he has conceded the point on the city-wide exams. There will be huzzas from education deformers across the country and the UFT will turn to us and say it was the best possible deal under the circumstances.

As much as I would like to believe Leo Casey’s characterization of the foremost historian on American education’s concerns as “alarmist”, I do not see anywhere in his post today where he silences those alarms. All I see is a dark time ahead for the children and teachers of New York City.

This does not even touch on how the new evaluation regime destroys tenure for teachers. According to Leo Casey, his next installment will address this concern. I can only say I hope it goes over better than his latest defense of this horrid new system.

What is a Plaque Worth?

At one point in my career I made the huge mistake of being the chapter leader of my building. Really, only two types of people become chapter leaders and I am neither. The first is the snitch who sees the position as a way to get comfy with the administration, informing on their colleagues in hopes of securing their own jobs or getting cushy schedules for themselves. The other is the type with the patience to suffer fools (in adult form anyway) and can therefore cut through the din in order to do what they think is right for the chapter. Those chapter leaders are surely better people than I. The biggest fools I had to suffer during my brief stint as chapter leader were not in the teachers’ lounge or the principal’s office. Instead, they were sitting in the United Federation of Teachers office at 52 Broadway.

The building itself is a magnificent structure located in the financial district, not far from Wall Street and Zuccotti Park. The 10th floor is operated by the dues taken out of every NYC public school teacher’s paycheck. It would be here that I would go for the district meetings where there was always an ample spread of pretty good food. I would think for a second that the union actually cares about me, that is until the meeting starts. In short, the meetings go something like this:

Chapter leader from the High School of [Insert fancy BS Bloomberg name here]: “My principal is requiring everyone to work longer hours for free.”

Chapter leader from the High School of Global Research into Something Important-Sounding: “My principal is conducting witch hunts against veteran teachers.”

Chapter Leader from the Academy of Sounds Like a Rich People School: “My principal is going after my license.”

District Rep: “Yeah, good luck with all that. Meeting Adjourned! Oh yeah, be sure to show up to the next ineffectual protest filled with blowhard speeches by union brass who have not won a single right for you in 35 years. If you don’t show up, you’re  a piece of crap parasite who doesn’t give back to the union that protects you. “

After a while I started to realize that the union had no answers for any of the problems brought up by any of those chapter leaders. They had no answers for me either. When one of my teachers, who is a wonderful and hard-working educator, was facing frivolous 3020a charges (the hearings at which teachers face termination), all of the higher ups at the UFT either didn’t pick up the phone or return a message or provide any guidance or encouragement at all. It was as if I was bothering them with my silly questions about how to save a member’s career. Then within a month, another one of my teachers who is also a wonderful and hard-working educator was brought up on even more frivolous 3020a charges. This time, the UFT response was “well, the teacher should not have done that”, the “that” being nothing more than an expression of free speech on private time. The sad thing is that I do not believe the people at the UFT are malicious or mean. Some of them might be but the vast majority are mossbacks who have been in their positions for so long that they are corroded with privileged, bureaucratic rust. They simply forgot what it meant to be a teacher and the rights and protections that teachers need to be professionals. Don’t they use the AFT slogan, “a union of professionals”? It is one of the more absurd forms of double-speak.

But the last straw came the summer after that harrowing school year had ended. I was trying to forget about all the union incompetence and teacher abuse I had witnessed. I started getting missed calls on my cell phone from strange numbers. Only when I played my messages did I find it was the UFT. It wasn’t the usual UFT phone call which was usually a pre-recorded message from Michael Mulgrew, our glorious union president, telling me how to vote at the next delegate assembly. (Where all the “big” union decisions are made, of course). No, this time they added an actual personal touch by sending a real live human to call me. But they did not call to tell me what to think and they damn sure didn’t call to inform me how to help my chapter in any meaningful way. It seems they wanted to make a plaque for the teachers at my school who worked there during the tragedy of 9/11. They called me again and again and then again. They were relentless. They needed to make this plaque and they needed me to help them do it. After the 7th or 8th phone call I felt bile in my throat. I was not against the plaque, I was just thinking of all the union dues I have paid throughout my years of service. I was thinking about all the times I was ignored and dismissed by the UFT when people’s careers were on the line. And now here they are, beating down my door to make a plaque. After that I could never bring myself to represent the UFT in any meaningful way. All of my union dues were apparently only worth a plaque.

The UFT eventually got their plaque, but it came at the expense of one more disillusioned teacher.