Tag Archives: New York Teacher Evaluations

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.

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Towards A New Activism

History does not often repeat itself. While the gap between the wealthy and the poor has widened to a degree not seen since the Gilded Age, the reasons for those gaps each arose out of their own peculiar circumstances. This means that it is tough for those who want to fight back against what is happening today to look for historical models. Instead, a totally new approach must be conceived.

Start first with President Obama’s payroll tax “holiday” from this past Friday. Even though it does not destroy Social Security, it shows the way to its destruction. Social Security has always been self-funded. The only problem it ever faced was that it worked too well, causing the federal government under mostly Republican administrations to raid its surpluses in order to pay for the bonehead policies of today, like tax cuts for the wealthy and imperialist war. This “holiday” will temporarily cut off the revenue stream to social security, necessitating that Congress approve the funds to make up the shortfall at a later date. This gives Congress the authority, if they so choose, to deny those funds. In essence, it sets a precedent of putting the continuation of Social Security in the hands of Congress. The supposed “firewalls” that protected the program are being chipped away.

The fact that a Democratic president oversaw such a plan is blasphemous. Social Security is one of the last bulwarks of the New Deal, put into place by a president who shaped Democratic values for generations to come. Now we have a Democratic president who has sold those values out every chance he has gotten. It is tough to see what new values he has put in their place aside from those of the Republican Party.

The public schools in New York got another taste of Obama’s values this past Thursday with the new teacher evaluation agreements. These agreements arose out of New York State’s application for Race to the Top funds, the school reform program instituted by President Obama. Despite Obama’s assurances that RTT is a break from the Republican No Child Left Behind Act, it is merely an acceleration of its standardized testing, charter school-opening vision. The closing of 23 public schools in New York City will surely give birth to more privately run charters. The new teacher evaluation system will give rise to a massive testing and rating regime handled by private corporations.

That has been the common theme of everything Obama has done as president. Whatever benefits the corporate is good. What is good for workers, including the working poor, is destroyed.

Part of the condition of New York receiving RTT funds was that it had to institute new teacher evaluations. As of Thursday’s agreement, those evaluations will be based 40% on the test scores of their students. Subjects and grades that do not currently have testing will need to have them, a boon to the testing companies. The ratings of each teacher will need to be calculated and compiled by outside companies, like Rupert Murdoch’s Pearson, which will surely turn educational statistics into a new boom industry. This is the real Obama stimulus package: sell off parts of the public sector in order to create new industries in the private sector.

Despite the fact that only 40% of teacher ratings will be based on test scores, a teacher will be rated ineffective overall if found deficient on that 40%. Two ineffective ratings will be grounds for termination. You read that correctly. Thanks to Obama, not only is Social Security on the road to extinction, but tenure for New York teachers has been effectively destroyed. Seeing as how New York usually serves as a template for the rest of the country, this will surely mean the destruction of tenure for teachers in other states as well. Obama did what Scott Walker in Wisconsin was trying to do for so long. All Walker needed was a Democratic president to help him.

But of course, Obama could not have done any of this alone. He faces an intractable Republican opposition that has veered so far to the right that Mussolini himself would be jealous. In New York, his RTT could have never destroyed tenure the way it has done without the active complicity of the teachers’ unions. It was Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT, who lauded the new teacher evaluations as a great deal. What he got for his teachers in that deal remains a mystery. For teachers in New York City, he agreed to allow only 13% of teachers rated ineffective to have access to any sort of due process. Those lucky teachers will most likely be chosen by the union, allowing the Mulgrews of the world to destroy any teacher that challenges the hegemony of his Unity caucus over the UFT.

The Democratic Party and labor unions, institutions that were supposed to have the backs of workers through thick and thin, have put a giant knife through those backs instead.

There really is no precedent for any of this in American history. Those of us who wish to fight back cannot look to historical models to guide a current plan of action. At a fundamental level, the protestors at Occupy Wall Street sensed this. They were not all about marching in the streets like the radicals of the past. Instead, they built a community from scratch based upon open debate, enlightenment and sharing of resources. Their method was an opting out of the profit system. As the walls close in on the American workers all around us, opting out is becoming their only option.

For teachers, a national opt out movement against standardized testing is already afoot. In their book Tinkering Towards Utopia, David Tyack and Larry Cuban sought to explain why so many education reforms of the past have failed. Their conclusion was that these reforms never had the support of classroom teachers. Even though laws were passed and policies were instituted meant to bring about reform, they went nowhere once they filtered down to the classroom level. Either they were impractical or so removed from reality that teachers had no choice but to opt out of them. This, I think, is the only hope of the new teacher evaluation regime being defeated.

The new regime promises to put all curricula and all ratings (students, teachers and schools) in the hands of private companies. Instead of ceding this type of power to the Murdochs of the world, what if teachers threw their bodies on the gears, so to speak, and said “No”? What if they refused to prep their children for standardized exams in favor of teaching kids how to think? What if they told their students and parents to stay home on test days? What if, instead of building the data factories that Obama has mandated, teachers turn their schools into the types of places of learning that they want to see? What if the testing companies had no answer sheets to scan and, therefore, no way to compile data on “effective” and “ineffective” teachers?

Something as bold as this cannot be done through the union. They will never allow teachers to organize communities to this end. Instead, teachers must work outside of the union. They must build their own apparatuses and institutions that allow a grassroots type of organizing. They must build a regime within a regime, one more in touch with the needs of students, teachers and even administrators, so that the union itself becomes irrelevant. Throughout the past 35 years, the Democratic Party and labor unions have been shaping circumstances that leave workers behind. The only solution is for workers, starting with teachers, to shape circumstances of their own in order to leave the people who have sold us out behind.