Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Campbell Brown's Law

I try to help kids every day, but they're all different. I'd like them all to pass, but they don't. It's funny because I feel very bad for many of those who don't. Yet NY State assumes that I want to pass them all for no reason and thus does not allow me to grade their standardized tests.

On the other hand, I was once at a meeting where we brainstormed ways to pass everyone. It was ridiculous. It's somewhat understandable, because when you instigate a culture in which you close schools based on test scores, in which you send teachers out as wandering subs, Campbell's Law says corruption will ensue.

But Campbell Brown's Law is different. Campbell Brown's Law says whatever goes wrong in school is the fault of the tenured teachers. If you fail, it's because the teacher had tenure and therefore failed you. Absolutely everyone is a great parent, so that has nothing to do with how children behave. Campbell Brown's Law says parents have no influence whatsoever on their children. If parents have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, that will have no effect. If they provide no supervision because they aren't around, that won't affect kids either.

Campbell Brown's Law says kids themselves are not responsible either. If they don't study, that isn't their fault. The teacher should have made them study. If they fail tests because they didn't study, it's a crime and the teacher should be fired. Under Campbell Brown's Law the only obstacle to studying is if the teacher has tenure. This is unacceptable and it is therefore the reason that the parents work 200 hours a week. It's also the reason the kids didn't study. The kids figured they didn't have to study because their teachers had tenure.

Campbell Brown's Law is demonstrated in charter schools, where teachers don't have tenure. All kids excel in charter schools, except for those who don't. That explains why, in some charter schools, that all the students who graduate are accepted to four-year colleges. It's neither here nor there if two-thirds of the students who began ended up getting insufficient standardized test scores and getting dumped back into public schools. That's not the fault of the charter teachers, because they don't have tenure and are therefore blameless. Campbell Brown's Law says so.

In fact, as long as the teachers don't have tenure, it's OK for kids to fail in charter schools. And once again, all kids pass in charter schools, except for those who don't. That's why charter teachers, like students and parents, have no responsibility whatsoever. Also, under Campbell Brown's law, the charter owners aren't responsible either, and may continue to collect their half-million dollar salaries. That's not part of the problem because it's important for charter school owners to hobnob with the well-to-do. You can't just waltz into an Eva Moskowitz gala fund raiser in some tux you rented from the Men's Warehouse.

And you'd better watch out if you teach ESL, like me. If your kids don't speak English and arrived in the United States five minutes ago, that's your fault too. Of course if you're a charter, you almost certainly don't accept kids like that so you're blameless. It's not Eva Moskowitz' fault she doesn't take those kids because she, after all, is not a tenured teacher and therefore earns every cent of her 500K salary. She can expand as much as she likes because Governor Cuomo says so, and not only does he not have tenure, but he also fires anti-corruption committees at will just because he can. 

In short, if you're a tenured teacher, you are an impediment to Excellence. The only way you can help children is by getting rid of your tenure, standing up straight and walking to Arne Duncan in Washington DC and saying, "Please sir, I want to be fired for any reason. Or for no reason. I want to take personal responsibility for all the ills of society. Neither you, society, poverty, parents, nor children themselves are responsible. I'm ready to be dismissed at the whim of Bill Gates or the Walmart family and I agree with you that Katrina was the bestest thing to happen to the New Orleans education system."

Me, I'm still a tenured teacher. And as terrible as that may be, I'm still relieved to never have had students so hopelessly stupid as Arne Duncan or Campbell Brown.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Random Families File Lawsuit Demanding Bazillion Dollar Raise for Teachers

Exclusive--Seven families have filed a lawsuit in Albany claiming that their children received an excellent education due to teacher tenure. The parents are claiming that if the teachers had not had job protections they may not have taught their children. They further claim if their children's teachers did not have the freedom to make decisions regarding the education of their children the quality of education may not have been the same.

"There's no reason my kid should not receive an excellent education," said one of the parents. "The law should be changed to give teachers a larger voice in policy. Why should we tie their hands with Common Core nonsense when we could let teachers work with our kids depending on their individual needs?"

"Who the hell is Campbell Brown and what the hell do we need her for?" asked another. "She's clearly a publicity hound who doesn't know anything about our kids. How the hell can she consider using a parent who's on the payroll of Students First?  We trust our teachers."

When asked about news stories regarding the Campbell Brown lawsuit, another parent picked up the paper and read the following:

The complaint does not name the allegedly incompetent educators, but argues that tenure laws lead to bad teachers, a claim supported by some research.
"First of all, these claims are just hearsay. There's no evidence whatsoever to suggest these stories are true, and even if they are, there's none to suggest that only teachers are responsible. Even worse, the reporters just write 'a claim supported by some research.' They don't say what research. Is the 'research' the unsubstantiated stories told by the kids in the lawsuit? Who wrote the research? Who funded it? Is the research credible? How do we know the reporters didn't just make it up, or take the word of Campbell Brown? Where does Brown get her funding?"

Since the reporters have seen fit to neither address nor answer any of these questions, it's a mystery. But since the word of seven carefully-chosen families is apparently sufficient to change laws, the lawsuit demands that teacher tenure not only remain on the books, but also that all teachers get a bazillion dollar raise.

When your correspondent pointed out that bazillion was not a real number, a parent replied, "Campbell Brown is not a real public school parent. We don't know who's in her group and we don't know where she gets her money. There are a bazillion reasons we don't need her or any of her uber-wealthy pals claiming to care for our kids. We need them messing with our schools even less."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NYSYUT President Karen Mageee Explains How Common Core Enables Life, the Universe, and Everything

In recent debate over the Common Core, NYSUT president, Karen Magee, said:

"I pose the questions to you today: If not standards, then what? A free-for-all? Everyone does what they please? No common base? No common method to look at what they're doing? ... The implementation of the common core in New York was absolutely an embarrassment; we were testing before we were teaching; the materials were not developmentally appropriate. That being said, we have an opportunity."

Magee is absolutely right.  The roll out of the Common Core in NY State was an "embarrassment" of grand proportions.  And, as we all know and can easily agree, we never had standards before the Common Core was handed down to us.  In fact, in delving into my archives, I discovered a picture of our planet pre-Common Core, barren, desolate, dry of ideas and pathetically "standardless."

The Educational Landscape Pre-Common Core:

Common Core made civilization possible.  Now, look how far we have come.

Civilization as it Stands Today, Many Thanks Owed to the Common Core:

Here are some pro-Common Core testimonials to further prove my point:

Testimonial #1:

Testimonial #2:

Testimonial #3:

For these, and many more testimonials in favor of the Core, visit the web address:  illtakebillgatesgrantmoneybutitwontmakemeanylessimpartial.com

Friday, July 25, 2014

If NYSED Were a Teacher...

Here is the rub:  If the New York State Education Department were a teacher, parents would be on the phone and NYSED would soon be called down to the principal's office.  In the hands of an apt administrator, NYSED would be sternly advised to change or denied tenure.  As it works out though, parents protest in great numbers (i.e., in Poughkeepsie), but instead of having any impact, future forums are cancelled and parents are dismissed as dupes.

NYSED continues its policies which violate basic teacher protocol.  If NYSED were a teacher, these policies would be completely unacceptable.

First, any tests that fail 70% of a class, let alone of NY's entire test-taking body, is a failure in itself.  The test makers, or those who set the cut scores, are out of touch with reality or, perhaps, too much in touch with some ugly political agenda. While politicians fail us, children will have their failure impressed upon them from a very early age.  They are the sacrificial lambs.

Second, the tests have "visceral" effects.  I do not see how this differs from child abuse, given modern definitions.  The tests cause children to become anxiety-ridden, agitated, possibly wee on themselves and/or throw up.  At the Success Academy, come testing time, teachers are given packets, including deodorizing powder to clean up vomit spills.  What kind of world have we created for young people?

The tests, and the required prep, take dear time away from students learning to enjoy art, music, social interaction, gym and life, in general.  It takes away from the ability of students to pursue their own interests.  Instead of choosing a library book to enjoy, students must open the same Pearson review book and set the "stopwitch" for timed practice.

The amount of time spent in physically testing students seems abusive as well, six days of long sitting.  Some children cannot sit this long.  Some children cannot focus this long.  I would argue childhood is the most important stage in a human's development.  And, it is, undoubtedly, compromised, if not ruined, by educational deformity.    No wonder these "deformers" won't practice what they preach upon their own children.  It is of little use to call your school's principal, Commissioner King, Mr. Obama, or even Mr. Gates, in this matter.  The government, instead of providing for the common welfare, is providing the Common Core--whether you like it or not!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Land of a Thousand Rubrics

I've been attending curriculum development workshops all week. We're looking at Common Core, without which no sentient being can function, and one of our sub-categories is rubrics. Yesterday we created some of our own.

I'll be frank. I have never liked rubrics. The first time I saw them was when a new, two-day, four-composition English Regents exam came out. I read the grading rubrics and got a general idea of what levels 1-4 meant. From then on I marked more or less holistically. I used to know one teacher who treated the rubrics with great reverence and examined them quite thoroughly. It was very rough partnering because by the time you finished a class set of essays this teacher would be on number 2 or 3, if you were lucky.

I've been teaching for 30 years. I'm pretty good about reading papers. I comment on them and offer advice as needed. One of the most frustrating things, to me, is watching a kid look at the paper, or not, and then crumple and toss it away. More motivated kids tend to reflect a little more. My question is this--after I spend time writing a rubric, who's to say kids wont toss them away too?

I kind of understand the thinking. There's got to be a way to get a good grade. What the hell is this teacher looking for? And it's true there are conventions, and mechanics, and standard usage. I like paragraphs and organization, and I like being able to easily understand things. But during the presentation I kept hearing words like "grapple" and "complex." The word "simple" is used as a pejorative. I think Pete Seegar said, of iconic American songwriter Woody Guthrie:

Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes a genius to attain simplicity.

People don't still sing This Land Is Your Land because they want to grapple with complex ideas. They sing it because it's direct and simple, because it hits you like an arrow to your heart. Still, dedicated Gates-o-philes want to measure things with lexiles and make kids read train schedules instead of To Kill a Mockingbird.

If I'm forced to use rubrics to rate my kids' essays I'll do it. I do, after all, get paid for this stuff. But I'm more comfortable issuing general checklists, which kids understand better, and then demanding particular and different things from particular and different kids for rewrites. Isn't that actually the elusive differentiation of instruction we hear about?

And, in fact, the essays and projects are fine, but we still have tests that overshadow and override them. No matter how many projects they do, my students, who don't necessarily know English yet, can't graduate until they pass an English Regents exam that tests very little of what it is they actually need to know. Grappling with complex text is not their first priority, and I'd argue it ought not to be the first priority of native-born kids either. That's what you do way better after you learn to love and appreciate reading, and something you do when you need to. It's not remotely how you teach. 

How can we differentiate instruction if the test is always the same, and the evaluation is always the same? In the quest to quantify everything, we're producing a lot of rules. It's hard for me to see, though, how we're producing critical thinking or better-equipped kids, unless our ultimate goal is to make them take more and more standardized tests.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remediating the Remediators

Rockville Centre Principal Carol Burris has a whole series of pieces in the Washington Post, one better than the next. In her latest, she examines the odd formulas for figuring whether or not students need remediation. One is perhaps better than the next, but none appear to be anything worth jumping up and down about. Then she says this:

 Two studies found that student GPAs were a far more accurate predictor—reducing severe placement errors by about half. Another study of remediation found that nearly 25 percent (math) and over 33 percent (English) of remedial course placements in one urban system were “severe under-placements” due to the COMPASS test. In short, lots of kids get placed into remediation who really do not need it.

Teacher judgments are more accurate than the various standardized test-based formulas that were dreamed up by the various geniuses who dream up such things. And this is valid even now, in an era where teachers are pressured to pass as many kids as possible in order to avoid the draconian high stakes attached to student failure.

There's an underlying belief that we are dishonest, that we are worthless, that our judgment is clouded, and that belief is underlined by the stupid Regents-induced law stating we can't grade our own students on standardized tests. Clearly I will just pass everyone for no reason, and consider myself a genius for having done so. And so will you, of course. We are all worthless dogs. The law says so.

Sometimes when we complain about the junk science evaluation system, UFT leaders say, "But it's the law!" The implication of that, of course, is that it's the Ten Commandments, it's written in stone, and it will never, ever be changed. They forget, of course, that they had a part in writing the law. Will that law be on the books forever? Will the law that implies we're all a bunch of crooks be on the books forever?

More importantly, if we're all so crooked that they need to hire banjo players from Kentucky to grade tests for 8 bucks an hour, how did any of us get hired in the first place?

Here's the point--the test-writing geniuses are not geniuses after all. We're not geniuses either, but we are teachers. We do know our students. We know their strong points and weak points. We know where they need help, and when to leave them alone. And despite our not being geniuses, we're not vain enough to design one test for every kid in the state, the country, or the world and say, "Anyone who fails this test is not good enough, and anyone who passes is."

I'm a public school parent. I assumed all my kid's teachers to be good unless I had reason to believe otherwise. On those rare occasions, I called the school, talked to people, and worked out whatever needed to be worked out. Sometimes I was right, and sometimes I wasn't. But I went and found out. I don't expect teachers to be perfect. I don't expect them to be geniuses. I expect them to be reasonable.

And reason is the one thing I never seem to find in the people who make decisions about how public schools are run. Teachers are the scapegoats, but we're not the problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pay Up, Mayor de Blasio

To my mind, the worst thing about the 2005 UFT Contract was giving up seniority transfers and the UFT transfer plan so that veteran teachers could become ATR teachers. Rendering them week to week wandering subs a few years back made that even worse. And the cherry on that cake was giving them second-tier due process rights, the very worst thing about the 2014 UFT Contract.

The second worst thing about the new UFT Contract is kind of a toss-up for me. But right up there in the running was screwing the members who resigned rather than retired. After all, they did the work. Maybe if we'd gotten a timely contract some of them would still be doing the work. Who knows? But now some of them have a lawsuit demanding back pay, and there is no reason on God's green earth they don't deserve it. Cops, firefighters, DC37 members, and just about everyone else got it already.

I'm not a lawyer, so maybe there's something I'm missing here, but why are they suing the UFT? Is the union financially liable for negotiating a substandard contract? If so, they're liable to be tied up in litigation for decades. Perhaps the UFT should know that union means we are one, and that people who can no longer vote in elections ought to be entitled to whatever everyone else was entitled to at the time. But to me, this seems more a question of definition of a word, or fundamental ethics.

It seems to me the city should be liable to pay the prevailing rate for actual work done. I have no idea why UFT, which does not pay salaries, ought to pay salaries. But if I were UFT I'd be very wary about these cases, because if one person wins, every single other person will be suing them too. I don't know how much money that cost, but they may find themselves wondering whether it was a great idea to send those 800 rubber stamps to Los Angeles when they could've just sent one person to vote however leadership decided.

On the other hand, the whole "ethics-shmethics" tone of this contract was bound to become problematic. Still, it's the city who should pay every single person who worked when the contract was in force. Maybe they can pay them over 20 years or whatever, like they're doing with us, but they have to pay them nonetheless. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Deformer Formula for "De-Motivating" Kids

testunderduress (2)
In all the discussion of higher standards, I doubt the "reformers" have given much consideration to the complexities of motivation.

Some "reformers" seem to think that students who fail will seize the day.  They will harness their inner grit, work harder than ever and power their way to success.  Some may.  Most will not.  Many will wonder what is the purpose of trying.  Many will grow resentful.  Some will shut down their young minds.  These tests and the people who make them do a disservice to humanity.

I learned my first year on the job that a classroom test which fails nearly everybody represents a failure on the part of the teacher who created the test.  Teachers must deal in realities, meet students where they are and try to raise them up.  It is no good to aim far over students' heads to try to smugly prove one's own "smarts."  When NY State sets cut scores to fail 70% of its 2013 Common-Core test takers, the State turned a blind eye to reality and, itself, failed.

Some reformers seem to think that everything meaningful must be measured under conditions of time-pressure.  They think students will be motivated to show off their best stuff.  But, many kids can't sit for that long, let alone, for six days of testing.  They have young minds that wander and sometimes their legs need to do so, also.  Words and numbers may swim on the page.  Kids may over think some questions and tune out others.  They may grow nervous, agitated, fidgety and uncomfortable.  The classroom teacher best understands a child's academic strengths and weaknesses, not a cold, cruel and calculating standardized test.  These tests and the people who make them do a disservice to humanity.

Some "reformers" think that students will be motivated by the promise of becoming "college and career ready."  With the price of college and the lack of meaningful careers, however, the promise may prove false.  Reformers tout their own definition of success, measured primarily in terms of test points and, ultimately, salary figures.  It fails to motivate me.  I don't deal in their definitions, nor do most of the people I know.  To do so would be a disservice to humanity.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

UFT Unity Introduces New and Improved Election Procedures

One of the biggest reasons we lowly teachers have no voice in the UFT is because many, many delegates are "at large." In fact, most of the million names on the UFT ballot are AFT and NYSUT delegates. These delegates are chapter leaders, delegates from the DA, or simply people leadership finds useful.

Delegates come from all kinds of schools, and a delegate from a school with 12 members has just as much of a vote as a delegate with 300 members. In fact, for all we know, the school with 12 members could have ten delegates while the school with 300 could have zero. Does that sound fair?

It doesn't really matter, since they are all bound to vote the same way.

Our union leadership loves "at large" voting. That means any potentially insurgent groups are drowned out by more predictable groups, like the retirees who make up 52% of our electorate. If UFT ran the country and didn't like the way New York voted, it would give Oklahoma and Texas votes to correct what it perceived as our misjudgment.

The only thing our NYSUT and AFT delegates have in common is that each and every one has signed a loyalty oath, and each and every one will either vote as instructed or face expulsion from the elite, invitation-only Unity Caucus. While it's true that the UFT could simply send one delegate with 800 votes and save us a ton of money (and why not since we all know in advance how UFT delegates will vote), that wouldn't look good. It looks better to send 800 people to LA and have them vote all the same. That gives a persuasive illusion of democracy and makes most of us think that all these folks somehow represent us.

They don't, of course.

When I first started teaching, I voted for New Action. I don't remember why. One year, a guy from New Action became Academic VP. The UFT contested his election and demanded a revote, in which the guy won by a larger margin. From all accounts, he did a terrible job and was not reelected. Nonetheless, UFT Unity did not care for this. It was unacceptable that high school teachers select their own representative. So they changed the rules, and rigged the election further.

Now the high school VP, and all VPs, are elected "at large." That means everyone votes for them. So we no longer get to choose our own rep. This is precisely because we committed the unspeakable crime of actually choosing our own rep, once. So now we must be punished and this must never happen again.

I've only been chapter leader for five years, but they tell me UFT District Reps used to be elected by the chapter leaders, perhaps even by closed ballot. The whole secret ballot thing does not exist in the "democratic" Delegate Assembly, so if you raise your hand the wrong way and you are Unity, you could be not Unity the next day. Anyway, several groups of chapter leaders had the temerity to elect District Reps who were not Unity. So guess what Unity did?

They changed the rules. Now, committees of Unity members select the District Reps, and guess what? There aren't any more non-Unity District Reps. I think Stalin said it's not who votes, it's who count the votes. But in this case, at least, it's most certainly who votes, and anyone who dares vote the wrong way will be overwhelmed and drowned out by someone more reliable.

What's next? Will Mike Mulgrew hand-pick chapter leaders? Will they pre-slug the ballots to save the expense of counting them? Will they do away with troublesome elections altogether?

Only time will tell.  

Thanks to AS for illustration!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Unity or Non-Unity, You Still Get No Voice in UFT

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about rigged UFT elections, and I will have more about those tomorrow. Today I'm going to focus on our system of appointing chapter leaders to our schools. Whether or not your chapter leader is Unity, a good one should be able to help you within the school building. A good chapter leader should be familiar with the contract and other work rules, or at least able to access them when necessary. A good CL can advise you of your options when you encounter problems within the building.

Outside of the building, it's another story. If your chapter leader isn't Unity, your chapter gets no voice in UFT politics. When decisions are made behind closed doors, as most are, your chapter leader won't be there. And when there are conventions, your non-Unity chapter leader won't be there either. So even though you've chosen this person to represent you, UFT leadership has decided that the million-name ballot take precedence over your personal choice.

What may be surprising, though, is that if your chapter leader is Unity, as are most, your chapter still gets no voice in UFT, NYSUT, or AFT. If your CL isn't Unity and someone else in your building is, you also get no voice. That's because every single person in Unity has signed the loyalty oath and will vote as instructed in all union elections at every level. In fact, this precludes representing you at all. What if, say, the majority of your members oppose mayoral control, Common Core, charter schools, colocation, VAM, two-tier due process, or any number of things that hurt working teachers?

Well, too bad for you. If your CL isn't Unity, you get no vote. If your CL is Unity, said vote must support whatever leadership decides.

And while leadership publicly maintains that the DA is the highest decision-making body, almost everything that happens there is determined behind closed doors. If you read James Eterno's accounts of what goes on there, and I've been there to witness a lot of what he writes about, you know that fairness and hearing both sides are not remote priorities. When Mulgrew was hyping the contract he pretty much squelched any and all discussion against it. A young delegate sitting next to me commented, "An elementary school student could see how unfair this is."

So UFT members have choices. They can choose chapter leaders, for now. But no matter who we choose, the fact is our voices are not heard. That's lesson two on the fundamental lack of democracy in our union. Look for part three tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The UFT Million Name Ballot Subverts Democracy

When you tell members of the elite, invitation-only UFT Unity Caucus that you don't like the fact that everyone with a vote in UFT, NYSUT, and AFT has signed a loyalty oath and represents leadership rather than membership, they'll first deny it exists. When you show it to them, they'll say it's just a guideline, or that it's meaningless, or some other such nonsense. When you tell them you're still upset that every rep without exception represents leadership rather than membership, they'll say no, there are elections, and everyone was elected. They'll forget that almost no one in rank and file knows about the loyalty oath.

Get up in public and talk about the oath and they'll shout you down. The truth hurts.

But they are right. There is a ballot, and you can vote. You can place a big X next to Unity, MORE, or New Action. You might know that former opposition New Action now supports the Unity presidential candidate, and you might not. But you almost certainly don't know the thousands of names on the ballot, and it's unlikely you want to split the ballot and pick names one by one. There are some Unity people I really like, but I wouldn't do that even if I found their politics acceptable.

One year I did, though, and it took me almost an hour. About twenty years ago Randi Weingarten came to our school. She came with the then-UFT VP for academic high schools, some guy whose name I forget. He got up and insisted that there was no truth to the rumor that UFT was going to make it 25 years to hit maximum pay, and that anyone who said so was a filthy liar. I raised my hand and asked why, then, did Sandra Feldman send me something in the mail asking me to vote for a contract in which it took 25 years to hit maximum pay.

The VP had no idea what to say to that. Randi quickly stood up and got him off the hook. I have no recollection of what she said but it was a tough question and she did give an answer. I decided she was the smartest person in the room. She also made very vulgar remarks about Rudy Giuliani, which I adored. I went home, voted for her, but everyone else on New Action's slate that year. My Unity chapter leader chided me for not voting for him. I had no idea he was even on the ballot, and like most teachers I had no idea how the small perks given the likes of him motivated so many people to join Unity.

A big issue with Unity is that of voting "at large" and in no place is that more apparent than in the ballot with a million names. Most of the small portion of working UFT members who take the time to vote are Unity, or encouraged by Unity leaders, and thus they get a huge portion of the fewer than 20% of members who are not too cynical to vote.

Here's the thing--this shuts out some of the most active and well-informed unionists in the city. It ensures that our union has no independent voice whatsoever. That's unhealthy, but that's what it's designed to be. It's designed to maintain a stranglehold on power, to squelch debate, and keep a remarkably ineffectual political machine at 52 Broadway.

Your chapter knows your chapter leader. Your chapter selects your chapter leader. But if your chapter leader isn't Unity, and beholden to represent leadership rather than you, your chapter leader gets no voice in union.

And that's just the way leadership wants it. That's why those of us who are activists have to concurrently fight on a dual front--the corporate reformers, and the union leaders who enable them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does AFT Merit a Member Boycott?

AFT reps, not a single one of whom represents me or my school, took time out to assemble at a local Staples to protest their use of private workers to replace US Post Office workers. The President of NYSUT cut her Staples card in half to show she meant business. After all, we value union, and we don't want unqualified people handling the mail.

But according to the AFT reps, none of whom represent me or my school, it's OK for unqualified people who aren't in a nurses' union to issue medical care, and so they passed a resolution saying people could get a little training and do the work of medical professionals. Perhaps the AFT reps have determined the work of medical professionals is a lot less demanding than that of delivering packages and envelopes. It's tough to say since none of them consult with me or anyone I represent about anything, ever.

But since one action so mirrors the other, it's only fair that one reaction mirror the other as well. So I guess the only logical thing to do is boycott the AFT. This begs the question--how do we do that?

After all, AFT simply takes money from our paychecks. We have no say on that. Then they hold conventions, on our dime, conventions in which we get no representation whatsoever. I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, and they don't give a golly gosh darn what any of us think about anything. Otherwise, how could they fail to demand the removal of corporate clown Arne Duncan? How could they continue with the preposterous charade that the problem of Common Core is how it was rolled out?

In fact, it was rolled out exactly as it should have, and that's why 70% of our kids failed the tests. It's pretty clear to me, when Arne Duncan slanders suburban moms, that it was designed to make us think all public schools are failing. The problem, for demagogues like Duncan and Reformy John King, is that neither working teachers nor working parents accept their corporate-backed conclusions.

Now here's the thing. Maybe your school has a Unity chapter leader, a chapter leader who actually went to the convention. But if that's the case, your chapter leader has signed a loyalty oath and in fact is not permitted to represent you at all. Your chapter leader must vote as directed or be banished, a longstanding Unity tradition, dating back to when Albert Shanker expelled Unity members for opposing the Vietnam War. We all know how that turned out, and we all know how all the reformy nonsense they support now is turning out.

So, because their actions mirror those of Staples, and because no one in UFT is represented in AFT, it's time to boycott the AFT.

How the hell do we do that?

I actually don't believe union dues should be optional. But representing the largest local in the country ought not to be optional either.

What say you, AFT?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cuomo Is Awful, but Astorino Is No Better

It's sad that New Yorkers have such miserable choices in our two-party system. Lately I've been encountering a sea of "anybody but Cuomo" tweets and anti-Cuomo tweeters, but they seem to regard Rob Astorino as an alternative. In his favor, he publicly opposes Common Core, and is unequivocal about it. But there are issues.

Execrable though Cuomo is, he at least has to pose as a Democrat from time to time. That's not enough to make me support him, but it means he has to think twice before he goes after, say, the Triborough Amendment that keeps our contracts in force until we negotiate new ones. This is particularly important to UFT members who've just gone 6 years without a contract. Imagine what Mike Bloomberg would have done if he'd had carte blanche to impose whatever he felt like. Doubtless we'd be working for 8 bucks an hour with no health benefits and he'd have pulled our pensions to pay for a better penthouse for Cathie Black.

Astorino has no such compunctions. He's not only criticized Cuomo for failing to attack the Triborough amendment, but he's also written an op-ed in the NY Post expressing opposition:

Consider the situation now in Westchester: All eight public unions are now working without a contract — one of them in its fourth year. But wages aren’t frozen at previous contract levels. Workers still get the longevity and step increases built into the old contract — hikes that often equal or exceed “regular” salary increases.

This is the same thing Bloomberg often said of teachers as he denied us a contract. Astorino interprets step increases he agreed to as raises. Actually they aren't. They are agreements between labor and management. Note also that Astorino had allowed all of his union contracts to expire. Does that remind you of a certain NY ex-mayor?

Astorino claims we have no incentive to negotiate because we're already getting raises, and compares demands for retro pay to Alice in Wonderland. If that's not enough, Mr. Astorino is a charter enthusiast. We haven't seen him criticize Cuomo for standing with Moskowitz against our progressive mayor, and we have no reason to expect he'll do so. His positions on women's rights, which he claims are irrelevant, are less than inspiring. He opposes gay marriage and gun control.

If we are to discount his opposition to the Triborough Amendment, most troubling is Astorino's position on taxes. Astorino's got a great point when he points to our illustrious governor as a tax evader, but when he complains of how high NY State taxes are, those are dangerous waters for those of us who support public education.

Districts have been pretty much robbed by the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which cut much-needed state aid. Combine with that Cuomo's limit on raising property taxes to 2% or cost of living, whichever is less, and districts are being forced to do more with less. The reality is many districts can only do less with less as teachers and support staff are laid off and class sizes skyrocket. If that's not enough, ask yourself why Wisconsin's notorious Governor Scott Walker is fundraising for Astorino. Is there a single public school supporter who wants a Scott Walker system in NY State?

If you're a registered Democrat run, don't walk, to support Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu in the Democratic Primary. If that fails, vote for Green Howie Hawkins in November. Neither of the major candidates merits our support, and Astorino appears to be nothing less than an incipient disaster for those of us who actually have to work for a living.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

New NYSUT Leadership Breaks Fundamental Promise

Last spring I was recruited to run for NYSUT Executive Vice President, and I ran all over the state to forums. NYSUT leadership was challenged by a UFT-supported group called "Revive NYSUT."

The first forum, in Melville NY, was the most open. All candidates were asked questions, and all got equal time to answer. At the second, mostly the presidential candidates spoke, which kind of irritated me as I had to travel all the way to Lake Placid to mostly sit and listen. The third had no interaction, and people just read statements. The fourth was in Newburgh, and Revive said they couldn't come because they had to teach. Not all of them did, actually, but I did, both that day and the next. At the final forum, Revive got to speak twice while we only got to speak once on each issue. It was bizarre.

A big Revive message was that they were grassroots. This was odd, because they had the support of the loyalty-oath bound UFT, and thus had 34% of the vote before they even got out of bed on any given morning. It was an uphill battle, and we lost, but I met many passionate unionists, even some on the other side, and many, many people for whom loyalty oath was anathema. People still don't believe it, but there it is.

One of the things I kept hearing was that Revive would fight the power, as it were. They specifically stated opposition to Common Core. In a discussion on Facebook, my friend Leonie Haimson wrote:

Magee said if not standards then what: a free for all? [what about better standards?] added that if the AFT came out against the Common core the tabloids wd attack us.

Please forgive Leonie's shorthand, but you get the idea. I guess NYSUT President Karen Magee thought we'd have forgotten her slate's promises by now. After all, they scrubbed their "Revive NYSUT" website and disappeared into the netherworld, or wherever old websites go. But James Eterno saved their position paper. It said:

Revive NYSUT is...

Against Common Core...

That was their very first point.  Clearly they thought it was important if they made it number one. And now the NYSUT President is implying the only alternative is a "free for all." That's a logical fallacy known as the "black or white" fallacy--suggesting that there is only one alternative when many exist.  In fact, if Karen Magee cannot envision another alternative, she ought not to be our leader. Leadership demands imagination.

In other news, the AFT failed to demand Arne Duncan step down. Instead, as Kevin Glynn of Lace to the Top wrote, they gave him a stern warning, placing him on "double secret probation."

As usual, UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks passionately in defense of Common Core, offering to punch people in the face and rub their faces in the dirt if they pry our precious Common Core from us, or some other such insightful comment. I don't know, because like most UFT members I'm not there. Only loyalty-oath signing invited UFT Unity Caucus members get a vote, and if they're asked to vote for a cheese sandwich for US President, they'll do so gladly.

Such is the State of our Union. Only question standing is what are we gonna do about it?