Tag Archives: MORE Caucus

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.

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.

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.