Tag Archives: Race to the Top in New York State

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.

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ATTENTION NYC TEACHERS: YOU HAVE BEEN HAD BY YOUR UNION

hoodwinked

I hope all New York City teachers remembered what was happening around this time last year. New York State United Teachers, in conjunction with our own United Federation of Teachers, agreed to a new teacher evaluation system with the state of New York.

I hope all NYC teachers remember that the UFT leadership, in the form of Leo Casey, tried to explain to us why the system to which they agreed was a good one. Here is Leo Casey last year “setting the record straight” on why we the teachers of NYC should support the new evaluations:

And it was essential that the bulk of the evaluations be established locally through collective bargaining, with the law only providing a general framework.

Translation: don’t worry, because your local union will have a say in what the evaluation regime will look like in your district.

Fast forward almost one year later to today. The UFT and the city have not been able to come to an agreement. As it turned out collective bargaining, the thing that Leo Casey said was essential, yielded no agreement. That is where things should have ended.

But Governor Cuomo said today that he might just push an evaluation system through the legislature and impose it on NYC by fiat. In other words, Cuomo said he is willing to override the agreement we came to via collective bargaining, which was no agreement. This is in direct contradiction to the framework to which he and the union agreed last year.

The UFT should be up in arms about this. Our Unity leadership should point out that collective bargaining yielded no agreement, despite the fact that they were willing to meet the city more than halfway. Unity should be fighting to uphold the integrity of collective bargaining, the one essential element of this evaluation framework.

Instead, here is the response of Unity’s own Michael Mulgrew:

Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that he “would prefer a negotiated settlement,” but supported state intervention if talks fail again.

In other words, Mulgrew supports an evaluation system imposed by fiat. Collective bargaining went from being the essential part of the deal to being no part of the deal whatsoever.

What a difference a year makes.

And lest there be any doubts as to how essential collective bargaining was supposed to be to the process, let us look at what Leo Casey said almost one year ago today:

With collective bargaining playing a key role in the shaping of “on the ground” evaluations, teacher unions have the input that will allow us to protect the educational integrity and fairness of the evaluation process….

Now that Unity has agreed to no collective bargaining and no input, does this mean that whatever evaluation process we get now will have no “educational integrity and fairness”?

In all of the complexity of these multiple measures, there is one essential point to remember: 80% of the total evaluation – the measures of teacher performance and the measures of student learning based on local assessments – are set through collective bargaining at the district level. This provides teacher union locals with an essential and necessary input into teacher evaluations, allowing us to ensure that they have educational integrity and are fair to teachers.

So does this mean that Michael Mulgrew today signaled that he is perfectly fine to have a system that doesn’t “ensure… educational integrity and (is) fair to teachers.”?

Remember when Carol Burris criticized the UFT for agreeing to a system that was going to deplete the quality of education in New York State? Here are some of the words Casey used to describe Burris’ criticisms: “alarmist”, “misinformed”, “groundless”, “problematic” and “speculative”. Here is Leo Casey addressing Burris’ point about our schools being given over to standardized testing:

If both components were based solely on standardized test scores, using unreliable value-added models with high margins of error, as Burris incorrectly claims, these scoring bands would have the potential of producing unfair ratings among outlier cases. But with at least one of these two components being a local assessment that, as it is collectively bargained, should be an authentic assessment of student learning, this objection does not hold.

The implication is that collective bargaining will ensure that the assessments will be “authentic” because local districts and unions know best how to assess their students. Now that Unity has signaled that they are fine with having zero collective bargaining, are they also saying that they are fine with inauthentic assessments of our students? Is he also saying that Carol Burris’ contention that these evaluations are bad for schools actually does “hold”?

What else can it mean? If collective bargaining equals authentic assessment, then how does no collective bargaining not equal inauthentic assessment?

Casey continued discussing the issue of student assessment:

In New York City, the UFT has taken the position that under no circumstances would we agree to the use of standardized state exams for the local measures of student learning…

Well, now that Unity has basically forfeited their right to agree to anything what use is Unity’s “position” now, Mr. Casey?

Casey then went on to address Carol Burris in more detail:

Burris’ commentary ignores the ways in which the New York teacher evaluation law turns over the scoring of different components of the evaluation to local collective bargaining.

And as of today, so has Michael Mulgrew.

On the measures of student learning, both the selection and the scoring of the local assessment are the subject of collective bargaining.

This is no longer the Unity’s position. As of today, this has been totally abandoned.

The law thus gives local unions the means to prevent the very sort of scenario Burris plays out in her piece, where a teacher is effective on all the measures of teacher performance and all the measures of student learning, yet still receives an overall rating of ineffective.

Sure, the law did but Unity showed today that they would be willing to allow that part of the law to be violated. Therefore, doesn’t this mean that Burris’ concern that a good teacher will be rated “ineffective” because of junk science has turned out to be much less “baseless” than Leo Casey had us thinking last year?

But Burris simply ignores the collective bargaining requirements and speculates that a scoring range for the measures of teacher performance will be established that, conveniently, produce the results that makes her scenario work. Is it really necessary to note that teacher union leaders with substantial experience in collective bargaining know how to do simple math, and would not agree in collective bargaining to scoring bands for teacher performance that would produce such an incongruous and unfair result?

I suppose it is just too bad that the teachers of NYC will not have the benefit of being protected by the awesome negotiating skills of Unity, since Unity has clearly indicated that they are willing to abdicate their role in this regard. What good are those collective bargaining skills when Unity refuses to stand by collective bargaining in the first place?

While Unity has not totally sold us out yet, Mulgrew said very clearly today that he was willing to do so. All of these promises from Leo Casey mean nothing as of now.

Dear Leo Casey,

We went the collective bargaining route and came to an agreement in NYC. The agreement was no agreement. Now you guys are willing to change the rules, do a complete about-face and trash all of the promises you made to us, your dues-paying members, last year.

Dear Teachers of NYC,

You have been had by Unity leadership. Very clearly, Leo Casey was selling us a bill of goods. They made us think that collective bargaining was going cushion the blow of these evaluations. Now they say they are fine with taking away the cushion. They are not even willing to put up a fight to keep the cushion in place.

You do not have to accept this. As Reality-Based Educator said today, there is MORE out there than a Unity leadership that will stab in you the back.

We deserve MORE than a pack of lies.