Tag Archives: Unity Caucus

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.

UNION MEMBERS: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE GHOSTS OF ’68

What can we learn from the UFT Strike of 1968? How does it point the way to our future? I don't know but I pretend to in this piece.

What can we learn from the UFT Strike of 1968? How does it point the way to our future? I don’t know but I pretend to in this piece.

PART I (BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE ’68 STRIKE)

New York City was undergoing major demographic changes in the 1960s. For the previous 20 years, the manufacturing sector that had formed the bedrock of the city’s economy was being hollowed out. Jobs that employed most of the unskilled white workers of the city were moving to other states, then to other countries. At the same time, blacks from the south and Hispanics from the Caribbean were entering the city in search for those very same factory jobs. The city’s people, both white and minority, would be doing battle in a new type of economy: the service economy.

Unlike the manufacturing economy, making a living in the service sector required having an education. The city’s post-war mayors put programs in place to help people get their educations. A steadily booming economy, combined with federal programs like the GI Bill, allowed the city to invest in such programs. In a sense, this could be seen as a continuation of the old Tammany Hall tradition of providing social welfare services to otherwise underserved people. Tammany helped provide these services to immigrants, provided the immigrants voted Democrat on election day. The post-war mayors, serving in a post-Tammany New York, provided services to the children of immigrants.

These second-generation Americans were divided into different ethnic and religious camps, the two main camps being Jewish and Catholic. The education programs put in place after the war were designed with these groups in mind. They appealed to the values and sensibilities of these groups, requiring good marks on standardized exams and proof of dedication to college work. Looking back now, the city was successful in helping the children of immigrants move up into the middle class in the new service-sector economy.

On the other hand, New York’s newest minority residents were largely left out of these helping hand programs. That is not to say there were no programs in place for them. Red lining, urban “renewal” schemes and bad old fashioned racism helped isolate black and Hispanic residents in ever-expanding ghettos. While the children of European immigrants moved up into the middle class, the city’s minority population was trapped in what seemed like hopeless poverty.

By the 1960s, then, New York City was a place of upwardly mobile whites and oppressed minorities. Nowhere did these two groups converge more directly than in the city’s public schools.

Teaching had become a popular path to the middle class for these whites, especially Jews. Many of them had been educated in the CUNY system that supplied teachers to the public schools. As the years wore on, the students they served were increasingly drawn from the expanding minority population. These students, in need of an education so that they too could hope to find their way in the service sector economy, had high rates of failure, dropping out and illiteracy. Naturally, many observers blamed the teachers.

There was a sense that the teachers did not respect or understand their minority students. A clash of cultures provoked many daily tensions in schools around the city, especially schools located in the most blighted inner city areas. These tensions finally came to a head in 1968.

One of the plans for improving the performance of minority students was called “community control”. It was thought that turning over control of the public schools to local school boards would lead to an education more tailored to the experience and sensibilities of minority students. Community control was a key part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty programs. During the last year of his presidency in 1968, the mostly minority Brooklyn neighborhood of Ocean Hill-Brownsville tried their hand at community control of the public schools.

Right from the start of the community control experiment, the Ocean Hill school district sent letters to a several dozen teachers informing them that their services were no longer needed. The teachers that got these letters were mostly opposed to the idea of community control. They also happened to be very active in the new teachers’ union, the UFT. While Ocean Hill might not have had a need for these teachers, they were told to report to 110 Livingston Street for a new assignment. This shows that the teachers were not fired, just involuntarily transferred. It sort of sounds like a 1960s version of an ATR.

What happened next would rock the school system, the union and the city for decades to come. UFT President Albert Shanker called for a strike. In his mind, or at least his rhetoric, Ocean Hill had violated the contract. He essentially was willing to shut down the entire school system to protest a violation of the contract in one small part of the city. Shanker believed that allowing Ocean Hill to hand out involuntary transfers would set a bad precedent. The community control experiment came to an abrupt and ignominious end. Jews and blacks, groups that had been allies throughout the Civil Rights Movement, had a wedge driven in between them in NYC. According to Jerald Podair’s brilliant book about the strike, Jews would increasingly cast in their lot with the Catholics of the city, identifying themselves as “white”. Racial polarity in NYC was complete.

Shanker had flexed his muscle. The strike alienated the UFT from many of the communities they served. Instead of relying on legitimacy from community partnerships, the UFT would from now on rely on the city, the Board of Education or, quite simply, “the “establishment”. Over the course of the next few years, Shanker would win many rights for his rank-and-file. The destinies of the UFT and “the establishment” became linked as never before. In return for “the establishment’s” largesse, Shanker would have to keep quiet about many economic and social justice issues for which he had fought early in his career as a socialist.

In the years following the strike, the city was brought to the brink of financial ruin. All of the programs put into place after WWII had cost the city money that they just did not have anymore. A shrinking tax base and the unwillingness of banks to continue lending to New York City unless it paid its debts would lead to an era of budgetary belt-tightening. Indeed, New York City would practice austerity a few years before the rest of the nation. What would become a fundamental part of the Neoliberal coup of the late 1970s-early 1980s got its start in NYC.

And while everyone’s belts were tightening, Shanker’s UFT reached its zenith. Teachers would get better protections, pay and benefits while most of the rest of the city was left to fight it out in the Neoliberal world that lived by survival of the fittest. The group hurt most by this would be the city’s poor minorities. During a time when they were most in need of a helping hand, the same type of helping hand that previous groups had received, they got little more than the cold shoulder. Neighborhoods like Ocean Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the South Bronx would become national symbols for urban blight, reinforcing in the nation’s mind the belief that the people who lived in these places were beyond hope and undeserving of any type of government help.

There is certainly much more to this story. However, from this we can start to pull out the lessons of the 1968 strike and its implications for the current education system in NYC.

PART II (RECKONING WITH THE GHOSTS OF ’68)

Shanker’s willingness to ally his union with management served him well in the short term. In return for being a good Neoliberal soldier, he was able to win for his union many of the benefits NYC teachers continue to enjoy. Indeed, part of the vitriol directed against teachers by the public today is the result of jealousy. You can hear it in many of the comments that are made, erroneously, about teachers: “Why do teachers get to have tenure?”,”Why are teachers not held accountable?” “Why are they entitled to a pension?” These are the words of a labor force ground down by a ruthless Neoliberal work environment, one hostile to unions and the public sector in general. Instead of asking themselves “how can I get that at my own job?” or “what’s wrong with the non-unionized workplace?”, they gain more delight in seeing others suffer just as much as they are. This is proof of victory for Neoliberal propaganda that seeks to get working people to believe that what is good for the billionaire is good for themselves or, more frequently, the billionaire’s suffering is the suffering of all of us. Americans today have been trained to “Pity the Billionaire”, in the words of Thomas Frank.

Unfortunately, the long-term implications of Shanker’s decisions have been disastrous. What the establishment giveth the establishment can also taketh away. NYC teachers would enjoy their protections as long as mayors and governors adopted a sufficiently friendly posture to the UFT, a posture born out of the union’s ability to make substantial campaign contributions. However, as time has gone on, union contributions have increasingly been drowned out by corporate contributions. Since Shanker, political leaders have seen less and less of a reason to fear upsetting the UFT. This becomes much worse if, within this environment, we get a mayor who is independently wealthy enough to not need anyone’s contribution. We have had this in NYC with Michael Bloomberg. He has shown us how easy it is for the establishment to cut off its life support for public school teachers. The uneasy alliance that nurtured the rise of the protected, decently-paid teacher has broken down.

One would think that the UFT or, more specifically, the Unity Caucus that controls it, would adapt their strategy to this changing environment. Instead, they have blindly carried on in the path that Shanker delineated 45 years ago. They continue to hitch their wagon (as well as ours) to the establishment’s star. Their justification is “well, if we don’t bend then we will be broken.” It is why the UFT supports mayoral control, charter schools, testing and other hallmark programs of Neoliberal education reform. The only problem with this is, whereas before the Neoliberals had a use for the UFT as a campaign contributor and even legitimizer of Neoliberal policies, the establishment now has absolutely no use for the UFT. That is why charters and online learning have gotten such a push. The goal is our complete destruction. The fact that our leadership continues to ally themselves with the establishment boggles the mind. They are helping guide the knife towards their own throat.

Therefore, the only other alternative is one that also might have been available to Shanker 45 years ago. The UFT has to unhitch the wagon from the establishment and start hitching it to the communities we serve. Unlike in Shanker’s day, the communities we serve today are almost entirely poor minority. Unity, not to mention every other teachers’ union with the exception of Chicago’s, have allowed the Neoliberals to beat them to the punch in dressing up their aims in the language of civil rights. The privatizers want to close the “achievement gap”, provide better “outcomes” and ensure that teachers “add value” to their students. As we know, this is merely doublespeak to mask an ongoing quest to destroy public education for good. It is the same type of doublespeak that has gotten the American worker to Pity the Billionaire.

However, the million-dollar question is how to hitch our wagons to the communities we serve. In 1968, the answer could have been to accept community control of school districts. Indeed, this seems to form part of the MORE platform. Giving parents and community members autonomy over, or at least a say in, the education of their children is a sensible approach to truly improving “outcomes” for our neediest students. At least, that is what it seems like on the surface.

Upon further reflection, community control may not be the answer. It may be part of an answer or it might not be part of it at all. Community control failed for more reasons than the UFT Strike of ’68. It failed because its justification rested on a group-oriented, tribalistic outlook about race that alienated many of its white supporters. This is the part of MORE’s platform that will cause them the most trouble. We have already seen it with the criticisms of UFTers like Chaz who fear that their social justice causes are eclipsing their teacher protection causes. Despite the righteousness of many of MORE’s stances, they will not get off of square one without the support of the UFT rank-and-file first, a rank-and-file that is still overwhelmingly white.

Furthermore, race in the 1960s is not the same as race in 2013. It is not just poor blacks and Hispanics who have been hurt by the Neoliberal school agenda. NYC schools have seen an increasing influx of Asian, Eastern European and African students, all of whom stand to lose out if public education disappears. To a large extent, these “new immigrant” groups also face tremendous poverty. With the exception of maybe Eastern Europeans, their skin colors do not allow them to benefit from the white supremacist assumptions that still undergird many of our institutions. On issues that relate directly to these students, students who represent groups that do not fit into the neat black/white dichotomy that we like to take for granted in the United States, both Unity and MORE are silent.

Community control in 2013 just might mean allowing each ethnic enclave in the city to control its own public education destiny. There can be schools for African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Filipinos, West Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Indian and so on until we are atomized into numerous cultural groups. The question is, however, do we really want to do this? This leads to another, more important question: should our union advocate for African-American causes, causes that might nobly seek to right many of the wrongs of a past with which we still live, to the exclusion of every other ethnic group?

Of course, most people would answer “no” to this question. This, then, brings up the next important question: should our union, no matter which caucus is in control, combine the interests of all of these groups into a vague “minority” platform, or do we advocate for the interests of each of these groups as their own groups? The former will cause resentment by subsuming everyone’s unique ethnic identity under an amorphous “minority” idea that might have no legs to begin with. If it is the latter, how do you balance these claims without making any one of these groups feel marginalized?

Another of the justifications for community control was that schools controlled by poor minorities would reward student behavior that the wider community valued. The values of hard-work and factual knowledge served the middle class whites of the 1960s well because society rewarded them for those traits. On the other hand, values in the minority community like peer loyalty and collaboration are not rewarded in the wider (and whiter) society. Community control would allow minority students be rewarded for the “currencies” they already brought to the table, rather than trying to force them to adopt middle class values.

Quite simply, whatever answer the UFT comes up with on how best to engage the communities we serve will have to be a “post-racial” strategy that breaks out of the simplistic black/white paradigm. This is not because racism no longer exists, since it obviously does and in even more insidious forms. This is because our understanding of race is undergoing a major shift. With the continued increase of interracial families, the lines between all of the groups mentioned above will continue to blur. Unity does not speak on race at all and MORE’s racial speech is caught in the quaint 20th century. Tribalism is and should be much less prominent now than it was in the 60s.

How to achieve a post-racial strategy without submerging all of these unique groups under amorphous rhetoric is difficult. Trying to retain that streak of ethnic tribalism without atomizing and alienating each other is also difficult.

For now, I would be happy to see my union leadership engage their communities using the language of class until a true post-racial strategy can be conceived. We live in an era when the Great Recession seems to be on a permanent low hum in the background. Poverty will continue to worsen as the economy stagnates under the weight of the low-wage jobs that the media tells us herald our “recovery”.  Failing to address issues of class continues the Albert Shanker path of acquiescence in the Neoliberal agenda.

One thing is for certain: we are still wrestling with the Ghosts of ’68. Many of the chickens from that time are now coming home to roost. Our union and our school system are unprepared for what will follow, since what will follow will be new and different. The quaint handles we use now, handles that were devised in the days of Albert Shanker, are just not going to cut it anymore.

Examining the ’68 strike shows us why so much has gone wrong over the past 20-30 years. Learning its lessons will show us what strategies and handles are useless for us now in 2013. Although it will not give us solid answers as to what needs to be done, it will perhaps point the way towards where an answer might start to be built.

SEVEN WAYS TO DEFEND UFT LEADERSHIP

It's not the Superbowl. It's the dime defense of the UFT.

It’s not the Superbowl. It’s the dime defense of the UFT.

MORE’s recent post about the origins of this new teacher evaluation system is a good primer for those who are unaware of how our union has failed to protect either us or the students we educate.

The most interesting parts of the post are the responses it has been getting. Many Unity supporters are coming out of the woodwork to defend Mulgrew tooth-and-nail. Their responses shed a great deal of light on the type of thinking that prevails among our union leadership.

I post the following comments from the MORE blog as a way to draw out some of the underlying assumptions of many Unity supporters. This is in no way a personal attack on them. In fact, I thank them for expressing their points of view. I will be sure to address only the points made below without resorting to ad hominems. Anyone who happens to see their comments posted below are free to respond on this site.

Taken together, we can see that there are 7 main defenses of UFT leadership.

DEFENSE #1: The “Be Thankful For What They Didn’t Do” Defense

Comment from “Dolores”:

No one has fought more for TEACHER and STUDENT environment than President Mulgrew. What you fail to point out is the fact that the evaluation proposal included major improvement on teacher working conditions. Mulgrew realizes that teacher needs are important and directly related to student performance. OTHERWISE, HE WOULD HAVE ACCEPTED THE DOE PROPOSED EVALUATION. BUT HE DID NOT!!!

Keep in mind that Dolores is responding to an article that is crammed with facts. The lack of facts in this post makes it a relatively weak defense of Unity, in my opinion.

The last sentence here is telling. We will see that this is common to many impassioned defenses of Unity. It is the old “but he could have accepted something much worse” defense. This is what I call a non-defense, since it gives credit to Mulgrew for something he did not do. We are all in trouble if the only thing that could be said in Mulgrew’s favor is “hey, he could have done worse.”

Defense #2: The “Stop Dividing The Union” Defense

Comment comes from “Gloria”:

Instead of impugning Mulgrew, who is working so diligently on our behalf we should be working together. Name calling isn’t helpful to anyone and it is disappointing how easily we turn on each other.
I did not hear a “championing of arbitration” at the DA. What I heard is that negotiations are/will continue and that arbitration would only be in Sept. should we fail in the intervening seven months,
Vigorous debate is good. Honest disagreements exist. Let us respectfully agree to disagree where we can and work TOGETHER at this critical and difficult time.
I am sure those whose true agenda is the dismantling of public education, unions, and all community endeavors that we have,( in favor of privatization) are happy to read all this vitriol and hostile negativity from teachers about their own Union leadership.
Let us agree to disagree and express ourselves to each other with respect, and solidarity. We ARE in this together

Many of the comments refer to “name-calling”, supposedly done on the part of MORE. If you read the article in question at no point was Mulgrew ever called a name. Was he criticized? Sure. Criticism is not the same as name-calling.

One thing that concerns me is the insistence of Unity supporters to call an SED-imposed evaluation system “arbitration”. The MORE piece contended that calling state education policy “arbitration” might set a dangerous precedent, especially because the issue they intend to arbitrate affects our contract.

The issue here is not so much Mulgrew throwing up his hands and allowing SED to save the day. It is the fact that he so eagerly signaled his willingness to acquiesce in whatever the SED hands down. If Mulgrew is still negotiating with the city, fine. Why does he have to comment at all about what the SED might do? I mean, that part is so far in the future, right? Just because a reporter asks him about the possibility of an SED-imposed evaluation does not mean he has to comment on it, let alone enthusiastically support such a move. It is just plain not smart from a political standpoint.

Another thing common to many of these defenses of Mulgrew is the insinuation that MORE is some sort of traitor group. On the one hand, Gloria wants “vigorous debate”. On the other hand, she doesn’t like divisiveness in the union. My contention is that MORE is trying to have that vigorous debate and Unity is trying to beat them back into toeing the party line by calling them divisive. How can you have a vigorous debate when one side can’t speak up without being accused of being divisive?

Defense #3: The Straw Man Defense

This defense of Unity is an extremely long comment from Woodruffw1980. Rather than quote the entire thing, I will merely address what I see are the representative points:

The stance of MORE to refuse to negotiate at the table no matter the situation, is kind of like on the play grounds at any of our schools when a young child says “If you don’t play my way I am taking the ball and going home.” If the child does not make good on their threats they loose credibility with their peers. If they take their ball and go home they loose out because the other kids just find something else to do to enjoy their time.

Classic straw man argument that assumes MORE’s position is to “refuse to negotiate at the table no matter what the situation.” Nowhere in the article does it say or even hint at such a stance. Again, this is another classic Unity defense. They would like MORE to ask them “why should we play ball at all?” This assumes that the only two options are playing ball and not playing ball. The fact that there are infinite options in between these two points seems to be lost on them.

Defense #4: The “It Could Be Worse” Defense

This helps explain the rest of Woodruffw1980′s post where he both argues against the straw man he has set up and gives us the well-worn explanation of why the UFT has to “play ball” with the education deformers:

Education laws are not passed with union rhetoric. They are passed by traveling to Albany and working with legislators to get your point across. This is something that the militancy and hard lined ideology that MORE seems to embrace leaves out completely. Michael Mulgrew and the UFT leadership had an obligation to be front and center at that negotiating table along with our brothers and sister from across the state. If they had refused to talk, or to participate in the plans then surely what would be imposed on us would be very much worse as Bloomberg, Student’s First, the large privatization companies and ALEC as well as their allies would have received everything they wanted. They would have gotten MORE testing, less job security, and eroded public education even MORE. I applaud Mulgrew and the UFT leadership for not sitting back but going to Albany and working to negotiate instead of just whining that things didn’t go their way. By doing that they did what was expected of them.

I call your attention, once again, to the classic “it could have been worse” defense. Indeed, if the UFT didn’t play ball according to Woodruffw1980 we would have been stuck with “MORE testing, less job security, and eroded public education even MORE.” The great thing about this argument is that it does not have to be proven. It excuses the person saying it from doing the messy work of factual analysis and synthesis.

In Woodruffw1980′s mind, it is either play ball or be railroaded by the wave of education deform. Better to hitch our wagons to the star of education deform since that it where the political winds are blowing.

Here is my problem with this argument: it totally ignores the role nay, the duty, of the union to shape those political winds. This is just like when reformers and even educators say we should make our classrooms technological because it is “the future”. We should just accept it. No use of spitting into the wind.

Whether we want to accept it or not, all of us have a hand in shaping that future. All of us have a hand in the direction of the political wind. It is an abdication of our responsibility to assume that the winds blow independently of us and that the future is something that happens to us.. The future happens because of us. Does my stance on this make me a militant as well? 

The even more astounding part of Woodrufw1980′s defense is that he is defending our union leaders. He is saying our union leaders are powerless to shape the political winds. He is justifying an impotent, lead-from-behind strategy that has defined the UFT for decades.

Does the fact that I would like my union leaders to try to be out front make me a militant? Does the fact that I recognize our leaders have a duty to, well, lead make me some intractable, bomb-throwing radical? It is a sad day when defenders of our union are defending their strategy of non-leadership.

Defense #5: The “Everything Is Fine” Defense

In a separate comment Woodruffw1980 also has this to say about his dealings with UFT leadership:

I also am a bit confused. MORE claims to want people like myself to speak up about our opinions. They claim that they are open to the ideas of “the rank and file” and that the leadership does not listen. Yet when I have spoken to any one of the leaders currently in place at the UFT they have treated me with respect, and respected my opinion, even when I have disagreed with them. Yet you call me names and accuse me of double dipping into pension.

It is great that his district rep treats him with respect. Was he expecting something less than basic human decency?

Just like Woodruffw1980, I am a chapter leader. My dealings with my district rep and other union brass have been, for the most part, cordial. Heck, my district rep and Leo Casey helped me out last year, something for which I am always giving them credit.

Yet, on a daily basis, I am embarrassed to have to tell members of my chapter that there is “nothing I can do”. There is nothing I can do because there are barely any more rights for me to defend, any more contractual weapons for me to wield. Furthermore, I know that my concerns about the direction of my union and public education in general are of no concern to my higher-ups in the union. To them my concerns are an annoyance, an inconvenience and maybe even a threat. They might be cordial and responsive on inconsequential matters. However, when it truly counts, I know I am on my own.

Defense #6: The “Reformers Are Correct” Defense

This next defense of Mulgrew comes from Dr. John Marvul:

Dr. John,

There was no agreement for a new Teacher Evaluation System because of our Mayor’s insistence on no Sunset Clause ( which helps in altering/modifying the proposed system), and his hatred for teacher ” Due Process.” Any teacher wants to see his/her students grow both academically and socially; otherwise, why would they be in this profession? A pre-test in a discipline at the start of a school year and a post-test in that subject should be what an educator covets. Did my student learn from me? That is what Mulgrew wants. Currently, “U” rated teachers win almost no appeals, but the new system would change that. What are all of you afraid of? Do you want to teach and help kids, or is it just yourself that you are worried about?

Dr. John seems to really believe that this new evaluation system will honestly help teachers and students improve. He believes that testing is a fair measure of a teacher’s worth. There is nothing for me to discuss with Dr. John because we simply do not agree on this. To act as if testing is the only or the best form of assessment for either students or teachers flies in the face of what we know about testing. It is the reason why countries like Finland don’t cram tests down their children’s throats. If the good doctor is such a fan of testing then he really is no better than an education reformer.

What am I afraid of? I am afraid of public school children being subjected to an endless battery of testing that narrows the curriculum while those who have the money send their children to schools with no tests; schools with a broad, rich curriculum. With his question, the doctor is implying that we are crappy teachers afraid of being evaluated.

Contrary to what the doctor thinks, this new system promises to be no more “objective” or “fair” than the one in place now. You want to know why? Because teaching is an art and learning is subjective. It does not matter how sciency your evaluation is or how many numbers, equations, “effect sizes” and checklists in which you dress it. The teaching and learning process is subjective and the information being put into those equations are subjective as well.

The doctor’s comments reveal something very scary about Unity, something that I used to refuse to believe for my sanity: they really agree with the “deformers” more than they disagree with them. Read the doctor’s comment again. It could have easily been written by Michelle Rhee.

Defense #7: The “C’mon, Let’s Have An ‘Honest’ Discussion” Defense

I am going to skip the next few comments since they traverse ground we have already covered. The final comment comes from Khiera:

Members who question MORE’s intentions are no more traitors than those who criticize Mulgrew. What’s scary is that the deformers would have a field day reading the comments section of this blog where there is a proud display of union member in-fighting. Why can’t we put caucus affiliations aside and have honest dialogue about what we can do to improve this dysfunctional school system?

Again, any criticism of Unity is divisive. Here is my question: what about this dialogue is not honest?

Yes Khiera, I am sure MORE is not being serious in their critique. They are organizing, blogging, getting signatures, raising money and reaching out to teachers because they are pulling an elaborate prank to waste everyone’s time.

Here is another question: what makes you say the school system is “dysfunctional”?

There you go: the 7 ways to defend the UFT. With defenses like this, it is tough not be offended.

CALLING ALL NYC TEACHERS: MORE WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU

more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUMORS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED

Happy New Year

My self-imposed internet exile is over. Despite all of the important developments in the education world in the latter part of 2012, I needed to take a breather from it all. All of the talk of evaluation deals, UFT elections and charter co-locations got tiresome when my priorities revolved around rebuilding my life. I needed a place to stay and found one thanks to the help of a guardian angel to whom I am forever indebted. Thanks to the help of some more guardian angels, I acquired and moved the necessary things to get settled into my new place. (Thank you to Christine, Ant and D’Vaughn and a big “up yours” to U-Haul for charging me up the wazoo.). I am now based in a penthouse studio in Astoria, Queens overlooking the Queensboro Bridge and Manhattan skyline. It was not hard for me to decide to forgo the cable service in favor of the fastest internet connection western civilization will allow, complete with Netflix and Hulu accounts. I spent my Christmas break in my recliner watching any and every documentary ever made in an attempt to forget about the fact that this was my first ever family-less holiday season. Finally, I reached a realization that there was important work to attend to. I got tired of sitting on the sidelines and slowly rolled up my sleeves, readying myself to join the fray.

And here I am. So, let’s join the fray, shall we? I think it is best that the contours of this fray be described by our fearful union leader Michael Mulgrew himself in an email sent tonight:

From: Michael Mulgrew [mailto:noreply@uft.org]
Sent: Monday, January 14, 2013 10:25 PM
To: xxxxxxxxx
Subject: A status report

Dear colleagues,

Monday marks the third straight day and night of intensive talks with the Department of Education over a new teacher development and evaluation plan. Although our negotiating team has been able to make progress on some matters, there are still many key issues that remain unsolved.

We will continue to negotiate around the clock in an effort to break the stalemate and reach an agreement that gives you the support and time you need to give students a great education. As of now, the DOE will not commit to such a plan and is once again putting politics above children. However, we will persevere.

We continue to plan for two possible scenarios. If we are not able to reach an agreement, we will have to quickly engage with parents and the community. We will need to make sure New Yorkers understand that it was the mayor and his disrespect for teachers and the work that you do that undermined negotiations.

However, if we are able to reach an agreement and the Delegate Assembly approves it, our priority will be getting clear information out to all of you so that we can combat the fear and misinformation that are bound to come with a new teacher development and evaluation system.

We will keep you updated.

Meanwhile, I personally want to thank the thousands of members who participated in Monday’s leafleting to parents and commuters across the city as we continue to put pressure on the mayor to do the right thing. School-based efforts like these are critical to the work that we do.

Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew

I think this correspondence needs some filtering lest the true meaning of what our union leader is saying is lost. Let’s start from the first paragraph:

Monday marks the third straight day and night of intensive talks with the Department of Education over a new teacher development and evaluation plan. Although our negotiating team has been able to make progress on some matters, there are still many key issues that remain unsolved.

Translation: We have been locked in some God-forsaken antechamber deep in the bowels of the Tweed building for the past 72-hours with Dennis Walcott and company negotiating a new evaluation plan for teachers that will completely overhaul the face of public education in NYC. We agree with the DOE on most things, including the urgent need to placate Michelle Rhee lest she bludgeon us with a media-wide smear campaign. However, we are still working on one or two cosmetic face-saving agreements that will enable us to market this deal as “not so bad” to you the teachers, parents and children of NYC.

We will continue to negotiate around the clock in an effort to break the stalemate and reach an agreement that gives you the support and time you need to give students a great education. As of now, the DOE will not commit to such a plan and is once again putting politics above children. However, we will persevere.

Translation: We shall not leave this antechamber until standardized test scores become the end-all, be-all of teaching and learning in NYC. We promise to have it done before this Thursday’s deadline so we can implement it for the upcoming Spring 2013 school semester in order to enable the DOE to fire as many teachers as possible before Bloomberg’s term as mayor expires. If this does not get done Michelle Rhee will pour billions of dollars into a media campaign that will destroy our reputation. Knowing this, the DOE is playing hardball in an attempt to prevent even the most cosmetic of concessions from being worked into this evaluation deal. We are completely toast.

We continue to plan for two possible scenarios. If we are not able to reach an agreement, we will have to quickly engage with parents and the community. We will need to make sure New Yorkers understand that it was the mayor and his disrespect for teachers and the work that you do that undermined negotiations.

Translation: If by some miracle a deal is not reached, I will give a press conference filled with the usual platitudes that we’ve all heard before. At several points during the conference I will be sure to yell into the microphones while furiously waving my hands in the air so that NY1 can play the clips out of context in an attempt to make me look like a crazy union hack who only cares about protecting lazy and incompetent teachers. Meanwhile, Michelle Rhee will run ads with sad-looking children in dilapidated classrooms put to sad music with the headline: “The UFT Did This.” To reiterate: we are completely toast.

However, if we are able to reach an agreement and the Delegate Assembly approves it, our priority will be getting clear information out to all of you so that we can combat the fear and misinformation that are bound to come with a new teacher development and evaluation system.

Translation: Once we work out a deal with the DOE we will quickly bring it to a vote at this Thursday’s Delegate Assembly. Since we, the Unity Caucus, control the DA it will be no problem at all getting it through . Once approved, we know the MORE Caucus will attack it because they have some silly notion that incessant testing is bad for children and teachers. They will probably point out that teachers will no longer want to work with the neediest children and myopically teach to the test as a matter of survival.  This will subject our children to mind-numbing rote memorization disguised as education. They will probably also point out that the deal was agreed to without any input from classroom teachers and foisted upon the membership in the most hurried way imaginable. Because all of these criticisms are true, we will take to Edwize, Shanker Blog, Gotham Schools, Facebook and Twitter in a massive propaganda campaign to make it look like MORE is a pack of unreasonable lunatics bent on bringing the education system to its knees for their own myopic gain. In fact, we have already started this propaganda campaign.

We will keep you updated.

Translation: The next email you get from me will inform you of the new evaluation deal and how it is the best deal that could have been gained considering the circumstances, even though we helped create those circumstances by agreeing to the framework in the first place.

Meanwhile, I personally want to thank the thousands of members who participated in Monday’s leafleting to parents and commuters across the city as we continue to put pressure on the mayor to do the right thing. School-based efforts like these are critical to the work that we do.

Translation: Thank you Unity Caucus for faithfully toeing the party line. Thank you for transmitting the propaganda from us on down to the membership. A union works best when the small cadre of fat cats at the top lay down the talking points for the members to unquestioningly swallow hook, line and sinker. Don’t believe that this is our philosophy? Check out this internal email sent by one our District Representatives to the peons he supposedly “represents”. This is not a democratic union. This is a corporate union where you do as you’re told. Thank you for helping us keep a stranglehold on power.

Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew

Translation: As some kids might say, “‘F’ the haters!”, Michael Mulgrew (your boss).

It feels good to be back in the saddle.

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.