Thursday, February 11, 2016

One Hit Wonder

 Nah, it's not about the guy in the picture, though I kind of wish it were. That song was pretty catchy. I saw him sing it on the Today Show, and it was pretty cool. He speaks our language very well.

I'm not quite so sure about the guy who wrote The Battle for Room 314, which some publisher sent me for free. I mean, he speaks English, but seems very removed from the language of the classroom. I get the feeling he wants to be thanked for stepping off his pedestal and favoring us with his ruminations. And indeed, perhaps this book will find favor with people who'd never set foot in a public school under any circumstance.

Here's a capsule review from a public school teacher, based on the little I was able to get through--it is one of the worst pieces of crap I’ve ever come across. Before putting the book down, I found multiple comparisons of students to 1940s movie stars. I guess that's where the writer comes from, culturally or somehow, but I can't help but think familiarity with things that happened in the worlds of the kids we serve, say, in the last half century, may have better prepared him for teaching.

The author appears to have been terrible teacher, lacking the common sense of a number two pencil. His dealings with difficult students, which comprise the first chapter of the book, are simply abysmal. He considers freaking out in front of the class, and appears not to realize, even as he's writing this dubious memoir, that he has already freaked out in front of the class.

Quite early in the book, he trots out impossible stereotypes about bad teachers. Right after I read about the guy who sits and reads a newspaper in front of the class I knew I would not be reading the entire screed. He also labels this guy as telling a class that automobiles appreciate in value. This is a cartoon, not a character description. Unlike cartoons that are amusing, appealing or funny, this one appears to be based on stereotype rather than truth. Were it about a racial or religious group rather than teachers, it would be considered offensive and unacceptable. For the record, I consider it pretty much the same thing.

Another of his teachers simply lies in the face of a student who questions something she said in class. I find this possibly feasible, in the case of someone who's terribly insecure, but not remotely typical. I can think of one or two teachers who may have done something like this, at some time, but it's really an aberration. I don't know about you, but when someone proves me wrong I'm pretty full of mea culpa. That's absolutely the best way to deal with mistakes, unless perhaps you're Donald Trump or a bigshot in the Unity Caucus.

Maybe there's gold hidden in the pages of this book, but after reading about all the fancy people who he mixed with before landing in some horrible public school, after reading about the wonderful Bill Gates program that created the school he reviled, after reading the awkward similes and attempts at self-deprecating humor, I'm not reading any more. There is, of course, the obligatory moment where the teacher actually helps a kid despite all these obstacles, but really, you could watch Freedom Writers or some other insipid teacher film and save yourself some time.

The icing on the cake, in my view at least, is that this writer musters the audacity to add a chapter of recommendations to help public schools.This is a guy who taught for one year and failed. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. I have a lot more respect for those who hung in. But this is one of many collections of insights from one-year wonders who couldn't hack it.

Clearly the publisher saw something in this. Whatever it was eludes me completely.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Secret Sauce Revealed

No one knows how to "fix" schools. After all, a prime reason they are "broken" is that many kids come from homes of poverty. Many parents have to work multiple jobs and haven't got time to spend with their children. Then, of course, folks like Joel Klein cry out that the schools suck and teacher heads must roll. It's the tenure that explains why everyone is failing! It's those step raises! Why can't we just fire any damn teacher whose salary gets too high? The bastards.

But Satellite West Middle School has found a solution. They're gonna change their name and move to a new building. Impressive, huh? Oh, and they're also gonna start being selective about who they let in. No more of that "community school" nonsense. They're gonna try and select more "gentrified" folk. After all, those folk might not want to mix with those, you know, other folk, so let's make sure we get all the right folk in place. Well, it worked for Carmen Fariña, and now she's chancellor.

So, while other schools struggle over how to get better test scores and avoid closures, this one just follows the charter school playbook. Well, not exactly. Charters have to go through the motions of a lottery, then interview those who win and let them know what's required. If parents have to go in and do work, or show up to meetings, or get on buses with Eva Moskowitz, well, that's just what it takes. And if they suspend your kid dozens of times until they withdraw you, well, there you go. Or if they place your kid on a "got to go" list, well, your kid's gotta go. Oh, and when they dump those kids back into those awful public schools, they don't have to replace them.

Now this school can't dump kids so easily, being ostensibly public, so it's decided not to bother with any of that lottery nonsense. We'll just take who the hell we please, thank you very much. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the much sought-after secret sauce. It's not charter schools, or vouchers, or tax credits. It's not Campbell Brown, or what's-her-name who runs that parent union. It's, "We'll take these kids, the ones who get high scores and everyone else can just go to hell."

No more improverished kids who've developed learning disabilities. No more kids who don't speak English. No more behavior issues. No more of those inconvenient special education children who need smaller classes and more attention. None of those classes that require two teachers at a time. It will be just like a private school that's gotten rid of all those bootless and unhorsed, and you don't even have to worry about all that riff raff that moves into the neighborhood, because no one gets in until you damn well let them in.

That's how you beat that test score game. Let all those other schools who have to take everyone worry about it. Your asses are covered and that's pretty much all that matters.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Charters Outspend Us, While We Spend Millions Praising Cuomo

It kind of freaks me out to read that Eva Moskowitz and her reformy BFFs have outspent union on lobbying. And by quite a bit, too:

In all, labor groups and their key allies on education issues spent $8.3 million on political activity in 2015. Charter schools and their influential lobbying arms spent a little over $9 million, and tax credit advocates, $5.7 million, according to the lobbying and campaign finance reports.

So they're outspending us on two fronts. First, on charters, which is a great way of getting public money into private hands. They have great commercials, telling us to support the noble and principled Andrew Cuomo as he struggles to fire all those crappy unionized public school teachers. After all, the test scores are down, and that's what matters. Who cares if the tests are all new and we've set the cut scores to make everyone fail? That's not in the commercial, so no one knows it anyway.

The second front, of course, is the tax credits that will pay for John King to send his kids to a Montessori school, thus sidestepping the awful programs and tests he's imposed on everyone else. And if you want to send your kid to that school, well, that's fine as long as you can pony up the difference. This is another great way to help rich people have more money to invest, always a priority for the politicians they've bought, like Cuomo and King.

Now I've watched NYSUT and UFT celebrate for the last two year that we didn't get this tax credit/ back door voucher program. While they didn't achieve anything good, at least they've put off one bad thing for another year. Problem, of course, is that every time you cut off one reformy head, another grows in its place. Last year, for example, they didn't get the tax credits, but they did get a teacher evaluation system that's even worse than the one we have now, and we did take away the right of unions to negotiate much of it. Now that we have that, and Michael Mulgrew has thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for it, they can push even harder for the tax credit.

What really bothers me, though, considering that unions have spent all those millions, is that we've spent two or three of them on glitzy commercials congratulation Andrew Cuomo for coming to his senses on education. Unfortunately, it's plain that while Cuomo gives lip service to change, things are fundamentally the same. If you teach above grade 8, things haven't changed at all. And giving kids unlimited time to torture themselves with developmentally inappropriate tests was not precisely a victory either.

If you think Cuomo is a friend of education, you need look no further than his insistence that his idiotic tax cap be adhered to. Schools are allowed to raise their budgets by a whopping 0.12% this year, and no matter how high inflation gets it's capped at 2%. This comes from a man who musters the audacity to label himself a "student lobbyist." I listened to current NYSUT leaders discuss all the clever ways they'd get around the cap, and thus far they've failed to deliver, instead opting to spend member dollars telling the world what a swell guy Andy Cuomo turned out to be.

It's time for UFT and NYSUT leadership to get out of the ass-kissing, seat-at-the-table, Cuomo-praising business and start advocating for not only those of us who they ostensibly represent, but our students as well.

Monday, February 08, 2016

What if the Unity Gravy Train Is Derailed?

SCOTUS appears poised to deal us a loss in Friedrichs. But what will a loss look like? Will they simply decide that there are no more agency fees? That could be inconvenient for 52 Broadway, which has a machine to maintain. Will they be able to continue to send 750 rubber stamps to AFT conventions? Will they have to stay at Motel 6 instead of the Marriott? Will they have to buy in six packs instead of drinking the $14 beers at the Hilton?

Actually, things could get even more inconvenient. Will union members have to opt in, or opt out? It would certainly be easier if the default position were in. Of course, even in an organization where fewer than 18% vote in elections, some people will manage to get their grubby little paws on a card that saves them $1300 a year. Even if UFT leadership can't deal with people opting out of developmentally inappropriate tests, it's gonna have to face the possibility of people opting out of dues.

Now if the default meant people had to opt in, that would be even tougher. People would have to actually lay their hands on a piece of paper, fill it out, and say yes I want to send Michael Mulgrew $1300 this year. I want to make sure he can bring all of his minions to some convention where they cheer for Bill Gates the week before he attacks teacher pensions. I want to make sure he gets a gold plated seat at the table where he negotiates laws that ensure teachers are rated via junk science. Not sure everyone would jump up and down at that possibility.

Or they could insist on another model, where union ratification votes took place annually. That would mean that Mulgrew, who has never even been on social media, would have to be in perpetual sales mode. That would be a big change for a guy accustomed to interacting only with those who've signed loyalty oaths, a guy generally surrounded by a comfortable entourage with whom he exchanges in jokes, even when in public.

Mulgrew said at the January DA that if we lost Friedrichs, we'd have to spend a lot more time organizing. This left me scratching my head why leadership hadn't spent the last few decades doing precisely that. One answer is they like a system in which members are so cynical and disenfranchised they can't even be bothered to vote, a system in which the actual vote is dominated by retirees who have absolutely no skin in who negotiates contracts for working members. I mean, if people will keep electing leaders who negotiate substandard contracts rife with givebacks, why bother even trying to do better?

Will a loss in Friedrichs wake up the aloof, elite Unity Caucus leadership? That's doubtful. With typical and predictable arrogance, the last Unity handout at the DA declared that Unity is UFT. Who cares if most members don't even know they exist, let alone the fact that they are shut out of virtually all union decision making? We are the UFT, and the overwhelming numbers of rank and file, uninvited and unaware, are not.

What is Unity gonna do when the gravy train can no longer be taken for granted? Do you imagine the folks who sit in Albany steakhouses and send back the quail they bought with our COPE funds are gonna degrade themselves by actually mixing with lowly teachers? We got a glimpse at Unity's idea of organizing at last week's DA. They handed out buttons that said, "Union loud and proud," right before Mulgrew announced we were technically not allowed to wear them at school. I guess I'll wear it to the supermarket, so the woman beside me squeezing oranges can know exactly how I feel.

On the brighter side, those who don't pay dues won't get to vote in union elections, not that they ever did anyway. If we lose 25% of working members, the turnout could be just as pitiful, but will appear inflated since the percentage will come strictly from duespayers.

It's gonna be a new world. One thing's for sure--Unity leadership's love of reforminess and concessions helped embolden our enemies and usher in this nonsense. So much for the smart and visionary leadership Mulgrew's always boasting about.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Sexism, Sanders, and Lee

Are you sick of hearing how you're a misogynist because you favor Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton? Tired of being called a "Bernie bro," whatever the hell that is? I am. I read a lot of things like that in social media, and a lot of it comes from Randi Weingarten, who I follow on Facebook and Twitter.

After all, that's kind of a straw man. How does anyone know why we support Bernie, or indeed anyone, unless they ask us? For me, I always liked what Sanders said better than what Clinton did. Sanders seems like a staunch advocate for a middle class and for working people. Hillary takes millions from banks and health care companies. The thing that really pushed me over the edge was when Hillary started talking about closing schools that weren't above average. I've personally decided not to vote for anyone who supports school reforminess anymore. And when Hillary said we were never, ever going to achieve single payer universal health care, that made the choice to support Sanders even easier.

But hey, if it's sexist to support a man over a woman for a political position, I say let's make it work for us. For example, I think Jia Lee ought to be the next President of the United Federation of Teachers. Now a lot of people disagree with me, and favor Michael Mulgrew, who is a guy. Clearly they are a bunch of sexist bastards and ought to be disparaged at each and every opportunity. But the whole "Michael bro" thing doesn't really resonate. The alliteration is completely off.

But there are other similarities, like vested interests. For example, a whole lot of Mulgrew supporters have signed loyalty oaths to make sure they get, you know, free trips and patronage gigs. They run around and say whatever they're told to say. They show the six-minute Mulgrew re-election video that masquerades as information about Friedrichs. And then, most importantly, they go to NYSUT and AFT conventions and vote any damn way Leroy Barr tells them to. And let me point out, in case it's not apparent, that Leroy Barr is also, indisputably, a man. As far as I know, he doesn't even try to hide it.

Me, I'm open minded and free thinking. That's why I support Jia Lee for UFT President. Jia's a leader in the op-out movement, and I absolutely believe this movement is what moved Andrew Cuomo to pretend to want to change his awful Common Core programs. Mulgrew tries to take credit in the latest NY Teacher, but it's like pulling teeth to get him and his Unity BFFs to stand up for opt out.

In any case, maybe it's time for us to take a page from union leadership. Let's start calling Mulgrew supporters Mindless Misogynists for Mulgrew. I don't really believe people support Mulgrew because they hate women, but if that's the tactic they choose to defend Hillary, why not use it? Since we already have the better candidate, why not throw in the kitchen sink?

The answer, of course, is because we have the better candidate, we can focus on the issues. You know, just like Bernie Sanders does.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Salesman

There is some sort of fundraising going on in my school. Everywhere they are selling sausages in cellophane. They are kind of like Slim Jims, the sort of thing that may have appealed to me when I was 12 years old but no longer makes me jump up and down. I see kids everywhere eating these things.

Only one kid has approached me about them, though. He comes in when I'm finished teaching my 8th period class. A few days ago, he asked, "Do you want to buy one of these things? They taste really bad, but I have to sell them." I asked him why anyone would want to buy anything that tasted really bad. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and moved on. In fact, he sold a few right in front of my face.

Yesterday he tried again. "Do you want to buy one of these things?" I asked him if they still tasted really bad, and he assured me they did. I asked him how he expected to sell them if he went around saying that. "Well, I have to be honest," he said. Wouldn't it be a better world if all salespeople were like him? No more lemon automobiles, no more used equipment going into new boxes, no more empty promises to get you to purchase some piece of junk...

Can you imagine a world where advertising had to be true? Please come to the Eva Moskowitz Academy so we can discredit public schools and eventually make Rupert Murdoch even richer than he is. Please vote for Scott Walker so the Koch Brothers can pay starvation wages and add on to their already overflowing buildings full of cash, gold, and whatever bodies they stomped across to acquire it... Please continue to vote against your interests and keep tinhorn politicians who don't represent you at all in office...The possibilities are endless.

Anyway, I asked him how much of it he'd sold. Two boxes, he said. I asked him if he was sure they really tasted that bad, and he assured me again that they did. I asked him if he'd tried them and he said he had not. How did he know, then? His friend told him. My thoughts flashed back to Arne Duncan and John King selling us educational programs that they would not use for their own children, and I decided something was not right here.

"I'll buy one of those things, but you have to eat it," I told the kid. He absolutely refused. I tried to appeal to his sense of salesmanship. "Maybe it doesn't taste as bad as you think it does. I see people all over the building eating those things." He wasn't having it. They tasted terrible, and he knew it, even though he had never even tried one.

He might have a future as an education reformer. If Eva Moskowitz or someone wants to hook him up, my email's just to the right.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

UFT Delegate Assembly February 2016

Mulgrew welcomes us. Says he will shorten his report (!). Mentions groundhogs


UFT is everywhere. Retirees are in Iowa, NH, will be in SC.

Michigan—UFT is in Detroit. Industrial hygienists blocked from school entry. Hoping they will get in and show what needs fixing. Mentions man in charge of Detroit schools was also in charge of Flint, glad he’s gone.


NYS UFT standards committee full of volunteers, all school levels, special ed. and ESL represented. Will meet first time tomorrow. Were many volunteers.

Met with company implementing new test next year, Questar. Says teachers will work with them, 60 elementary ELA and 60 elementary math teachers. Asks that applicants email VP Evelyn de Jesus.

Mulgrew testified in Albany last week. 2 major conflicts—

GEA v. CFE, both about school funding. CFE said schools didn’t get enough funding. GEA made cuts to many districts, causing layoffs. Mulgrew says most GEA money doesn’t go to needier districts. When will they fulfill promise of CFE? CLs will be notified how much each school has been shortchanged.

Anti-creaming language v. charters getting more money. Elia just went to charter rally. Mulgrew says UFT not talking charter caps or charter funding. Only wants charters to take same kids public schools do.

Mulgrew says state senators now interested in student learning, and that things like portfolios may be used in lieu of test scores. Says there must be specifics, that we are being strategic and pushing this. Hopes to go to NYSUT board of directors and locals and get them to push state toward changes in definitions of learning.

Says state is waiting for teachers to tell what student learning is. Says we must propose alternative to testing.


Mayor’s task force on discipline—went from zero tolerance to zero discipline, and that we’re looking for place in middle. Says zero anything does not work. Says Cuomo has no idea what’s going on because he doesn’t spend time in schools. Says he’s now taking cues from de Blasio, e.g community learning schools.

Mulgrew supports whole school cultural approach.

Family leave

Says negotiations have begun, non-union construct won’t work for us, but we need to decide what to give back for it. Says governor is now in on family leave act. Says we know it will cost, but no one should profit from it.

Midyear report

Mulgrew announces we are halfway through. Says Monday is Lunar New Year. Mulgrew’s advice to those upset about school opening Monday—shovel. Says more schools are being visited to help build functional chapters. Says problem is when school is functioning they won’t let advocates go.

Education and labor institute

Mulgrew says he’s been yelled at, doesn’t specify why. Some classes dropped for snow, but classes have been full, oversized, and he’s adding ten new ones. Says renewal schools program is something to be proud of. Doesn’t know if they will all survive.

Wants us to talk in terms of great problem in public education for 50 years that no one has solved. No one knows how to work with groups of schools that all have intensive poverty around them. Says Title one was just for this and it hasn’t solved it. Says Bloomberg tried to solve it by attacking us in various ways, but it hasn’t worked. Mulgrew says with community learning schools we’re seeing results we haven’t seen before. Says it’s huge piece in bigger picture, and that we have more such students than anyone.

Speaks of renewal retreat, to which 50 schools came. Says dealing with those challenges is probably toughest educational job in the country. Says if we solve that we will have solved the great problem that has never been solved. Says DOE didn’t want to come to weekend, but chancellor came when she found out. 19 principals followed. Says if you mandate it it doesn’t work. Says communities can make things happen, if supported.

Mulgrew says it’s not about passing percentage, but is impressed when traditionally low-performing schools do bettter. Says PROSE schools are about collaboration and trust. Says they’ve accomplished very good things in 5 months.


Mulgrew says this is against his judgment and opinion, but shows video. Complains there is no volume on video he doesn’t want us to see. Mulgrew shows us the six-minute video of him talking to various Unity Caucus members, but the technology fails. Mulgrew decides to keep talking until video is fixed. Says he doesn’t watch NY one, but trails off before telling us about other sources of info he ignores.

Says it’s very simple. SCOTUS can say union members are no longer union members. Says it’s about bad people who don’t like us because we stand up to them and win. Says it’s about people who think we should all shut up.

Says first, we need volunteers to sign up on an action campaign about Friedrichs. Wants members to all get info in February. Asks all DA members to sign up right now to be “activists.” Many phones come out and many clicks are made. Mulgrew says all members on list will be asked to sign. Says we will do “all the grassroots stuff” we’ve been doing before and push it onto our social media platform.

Goal is we start today to push everyone to work in some sort of organized fashion so that by May we have maximized energy.

Union loud and proud buttons are distributed. Mulgrew makes many jokes about who should and should not receive them.

Mulgrew says Friedrichs is much better understood by members, says more people understand. Says phase one is moving grassroots forward, and that we always do that first. Says schools will come up with great ideas. Says in March we will educate members on who’s really behind Friedrichs. Says we’ve beaten them in White House and Congress, and now in State because we now have a governor that loves teachers.

Calls it clever insidious attack. Says these people have destroyed communities across entire country and that they have no remorse. Says we will combine with other unions.

Mulgrew says someone from here will send it out, like always, asks us not to send it out. No idea what he doesn’t want sent out, but it’s clear who he’s attacking.

He says just like family leave we have to figure out how to fund it, talks about discrepancy in pay in right to work states. Says we need to be talking about not backing down, standing up to them. Says if decision goes south, we’ll work really hard to do what we have to do. If not, we’ll go have a drink.

Says sometimes we take it for granted. Points out he’s saying it nicely. Says this is something, look what happened in Wisconsin, well-prepared unions are OK, others are gone. Says we need to take active role as leaders. Says we will set up Friedrichs teams in schools. We don’t want to be only big union still standing and surviving. Says it is great challenge. He has confidence if things go badly we will be alright. Says we’ve been fighting them for over a decade.

Recalls Bloomberg layoff threats, and seniority threats, says it was multi-million dollar campaign financed by same people. Says we want other unions to join us, and that we are champions for equality.

Ends his report, saying we don’t have to watch the video.

Leroy Barr

—mentions school counselors week, to applause.
—Lobby day March 9th. 
—next DA March 23rd

Mulgrew informs us it’s February, African Heritage Month, CTE month, Groundhog’s Day, Dominican Heritage month, Lunar New Year Holiday, and Valentines Day.


CL—NYT article about pensions in bad shape.

Mulgrew—not in bad shape, doing well. Pension rep says they are solidly invested, very strong. Says there were a few headlines. Attributes results to everything happening in manufacturing today. Says every new comptroller has questions on how to run retirement system for best results. Says for every single person in this room, when they earn their pension, there is sufficient money to pay all because of teacher trustees.

Delegate Sean Ahern—asks about significant decline in teachers of color. What is result of resolution

Mulgrew—says we resolved to advocate, that we’re no longer recruiting from middle America. Leroy Barr—says we’ve been investigating, trying to increase pipeline both short and longterm via organization that follows potential teachers, TSTT, with 600 possible alumni. Also working with DOE, and in last 4-5 months they have a pilot program called Educators Rising. Establishing relationships with CUNY and SUNY. NYC putting $16.5 million toward this, for 1,000 teachers of color in Fall 2017. Says nationally, President running program as well.

CL—Asks if he can give principal button and whether he can wear it during school day.

Mulgrew—Yes, give button, and technically no on wearing it.

Delegate Brooklyn Tech—Says course preferences and assignments are discriminatory—If we uncover these patterns in one school, can we make citywide campaign against racism and sexism in schools?

Mulgrew—This is about school communities, which may handle things differently. These things need to come from schools. Some need outside help while others don’t. Says we have no difficulty dealing with difficult subjects, but must be at school and community level first. Not good when people come in and lecture.

CL—What happened to Campbell Brown case?

Mulgrew—It is at appellate division. Appealing whether it should be dismissed. Says it’s a state legal issue, not a Campbell Brown issue.

CL—Asking about removal of timing from state tests—have there been discussions about implementations.

Mulgrew compares her to Yogi Berra—test shorter but no time limit. We will have to decide whether students making meaningful progress and should continue. Make sure administrator is person stopping test if necessary.


For next meeting—

Mary Ahern—motion should be made, should be seconded, says this is not membership meeting but delegate assembly.

Mulgrew goes to parliamentarian. Says he will present, there will be a second. Will be open for debate.

Workplace bullying—UFT will use its resources to support NY healthy workplace bill to give victims cause of action.

Mulgrew says this has got to stop. Says member is yelling from the floor. Says we will run meeting and move forward.

Leroy Barr—point of order—challenges open debate on motions. Says there is past practice of 30-40 years of how we deal. Says Roberts is great guide, but not everything is in there. Asks that every motion directed to agenda is not open to full debate. Says it’s unthinkable we would have debate about something not on agenda. Asks for ruling from chair. Gets much applause.

Chair, Mulgrew, says we will follow past practices.

Asks for vote of the body, as ruling was challenged. Ruling of chair overwhelmingly approved by body.

Speaker says workplace bullying basically legal, and that this bill provides recourse.

Mulgrew—says he likes title, but would like to vet bill. Asks that legal team work with speaker and that vote be suspended until next month.

Jonathan Halabi—motion to extend 5 minutes. Defeated.


Paul Egan asks for endorsement of Rafael Salamanco. Says he’s endorsed by many unions, was liked in interviews, and Bronx office strongly supports.  No speaker against. Mulgrew moves to close debate. Passes overwhelmingly.

TRS—Mel Aaronson—Regrets retirement of Sandy March. Says our pension system would be different without her, benefits and service would have suffered. Says Debra Penny good replacement. Asks for endorsement. Sandy March speaks, thanks body, says we are luckiest people in the world because our leadership always put pension and retirement security in forefront. She receives standing ovation.

Endorsement carries unanimously.

Mulgrew takes personal moment, calls Sandy a piece of work, but our piece of work. Says she’s always gone after anyone who’d put union in jeopardy, says we owe her a great debt and thanks her.

Mandate relief—Carmen Alvarez—Says in 1995, state wanted to lift limits, but parents fought it. Says we could not prevail on resource room or SETS. Says we went from 5 to 8 to 1. Says we should roll back group size from 8 to 5. Says caseloads should go down as budget crisis is over. We have 963 million dollar surplus. Passes unanimously.
Resolution for mandated enrollment for paras in TRS. S. Abrams speaks of members retiring who aren’t in pension system. Says it’s time for us to bring members on board and we must pass bill this year.

Passes unanimously.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Hello, Heaviness

Rodney Dangerfield used to have a routine about heaviness. It followed him everywhere. He'd wake up in the morning and say, "Hello, heaviness." The heaviness would answer. It would say something like, "You're gonna be drinking early today." Dangerfield, of course, felt the heaviness because he didn't get no respect.

In case you hadn't noticed, teachers don't get no respect either. So we feel the heaviness too. Administrators don't understand it. They're too busy writing up observation reports about things that may or may not have happened. It really doesn't matter, as long as they get enough of them done in a timely fashion.

And you, all you have to do is grade stacks of papers, write IEPs, consult with your co-teacher, consult with your other co-teacher, go to your teacher team, go to PD, call the parents, patrol the hall, go to meetings, keep a record so you don't lose your license, go to another school to mark papers, proctor 500 exams, grade 200 more, reflect on all you've done, ask the kids to reflect on it too, write your class midterm, analyze your department midterm, and intervisit with your colleague to show school spirit. Oh, and you have to write lesson plans. And teach the classes. Did I forget that part? Well, you'd better not.

Anyway, the heaviness. It's the Danielson rubric, don't you know. Can your 30-year-old supervisor give the highly effective lesson he expects from you every time he darkens your doorstep? Who knows? It doesn't matter. He read in the book what it is, and goddam it you'd better deliver, or you're on a one-way trip to Palookaville. What's the matter, can't you deal with a few stinking observations?

Well, here's the thing. If you have a supervisor who isn't insane, it's likely you can. But how many of you can say that? And even if you can, this system was expressly designed to get rid of lowlife teachers like you and me. Cuomo said so when Bloomberg wanted to get rid of LIFO. This will thin the herd, he suggested. Then when it didn't, he called the system "baloney," and worked to make it even worse. 50% junk science, because the current system isn't crappy enough. Wear sunglasses and dress hip because your rating is going through a matrix.

Oh, and by the way, because not only do you suck, but your supervisor also sucks for not issuing enough negative ratings, we need outside observers. That's the only way we can make sure we fire enough of those stinking teachers. And make no mistake, that's what the current system was put in place to do. The only reason the system is changing is because it wasn't doing so efficiently enough.

Are we paranoid? Perhaps. But they are out to get us, they've said so quite openly, so maybe we're reacting entirely appropriately. Still, in any case, there's the heaviness. Every day before we go to work, we say, "Hello, heaviness."

Sadly, it's gonna take a lot of work before we can say goodbye.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Too Bad He Isn't With Us

Over the course of my job I meet a lot of Unity Caucus members. With very few exceptions (I know of precisely one), every single person who works for the UFT is a Unity Caucus member. I'm cordial with pretty much everyone unless they give me reason not to be. I'm not in the habit of striking up political arguments with people without provocation, as I usually hope we have better things to do. But sometimes people know who I am anyway.

A friend of mine went to 52 a few days back and reported he'd met someone who had good things to say about me. I'm always happy to hear that. But then the person added, "Too bad he isn't with us." You could take that a lot of ways, but the way it was meant was, "Too bad he isn't Unity." To some people, that's tantamount to not being union. Now it's kind of odd to imagine I'm not with union. I am, in fact, and I'm more committed than a good number of people who I know are in Unity. I know Unity members with not a clue what's going on, Unity members who get all their info from central. Such people tend to question nothing unless it contradicts what they've been told and can be less than expert in proactive argument.

I certainly share union opposition to the SCOTUS case in which Friedrichs wants to make the entire nation "right to work." This blog vigorously opposed Bloomberg's anti-union, anti-teacher antics, and I'm sure there are hundreds of posts testifying to that. You'll also find a word or two protesting Andy Cuomo, and a whole lot about charters and school closings. You'll find a pretty consistent anti-reformy point of view here going back almost ten years. I support empowering teachers.

Here's the thing--Unity has been less than steadfast in opposing reforminess. Bloomberg got a grab bag of goodies from us in 2005, and we really haven't come close to recovering. A blog post from Peter Goodman on Edwize (now offline) suggested the sacrifices were short term, and that the idea of 25/55 was well worth it. In fact we've recovered nothing, and 25/55 is no longer available to newbies either.

In 2004, excessed teachers were placed based on seniority, and could even request transfers where there were openings. (I'm very thankful for that, because I actually used it in 1993.) Since 2005, we're looking at the ATR, where teachers are sent to perpetually wander. I had the dubious pleasure of meeting an ATR supervisor last week, and please don't even get me started. The ATR was also presented in Edwize as a temporary setback, and it's been around for a full decade now.

As far as reformies, every concession we make is viewed as an invitation to extract even more. When UFT gave away the store in 2005, a popular rallying cry on Edwize was, "What will the papers say about us if we don't take this contract?" In fact, the papers liked us for about 5 minutes and then went back to the stereotypes and vilification we've all come to know and love.

The only reason I'm not "with" leadership is because they've built brick walls to keep me out. These walls apply not only to me, but also to all of us who adhere to the common-sense, research-based education ideas of Diane Ravitch. The walls are constructed of bizarre election rules designed to keep the Unity machine in total control. They're built of patronage that pulls self-serving people in and keeps them by virtue of perks rather than dedication. They're built of cynicism and indifference, carefully cultivated in a membership that almost utterly lacks awareness, let alone memory, of what a union is.

We're here to tear those walls down, and not so people can be with us. We just want to be us, and we are the United Federation of Teachers.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eva Doesn't Need No Stinking Rules

Eva Moskowitz is pissed off that mean old NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is demanding she sign a contract over her pre-K classes. So what if 277 other pre-K programs have signed it? She's Eva Moskowitz, dammit, and rules don't apply to her. If you, a lowly public school teacher, made kids sit in chairs until they peed their pants, you'd be subject to CR A-420, corporal punishment, and if you kept treating kids like that you'd find yourself fired.

But those rules don't apply to Eva. In fact, chancellor's regs don't apply to any charters. They can make their own rules. Verbal abuse? No problem. Harass families until they withdraw their inconvenient low-scoring kids? That's fine, and an added bonus is their low scores can be counted against those awful public schools. You know, the ones with unions and stuff.

So now Eva is reaching out to reformy MaryEllen Elia, our esteemed education commissioner, and letting her know she's had it with all these stinking rules. Now it's one thing to apply them to public schools, but quite another when they come to her and her BFFs. For example, mayoral control was a fantastic thing when Michael Bloomberg was in charge. Eva had a hotline to Joel Klein, and could push for whatever she needed back then.

When that Bill de Blasio came in, though, things got ridiculous. First of all, he was elected. That sucked, because Joel Klein was appointed by Mike Bloomberg, who pretty much gave Eva carte blanche. Second, he ran on a platform of support for public schools and opposition to charters, and those stupid NYC voters actually chose him overwhelmingly. Who the hell do those people think they are?

Eva was having none of that, so she went to Governor Cuomo, who had taken millions from her reformy BFFs and had had it up to here with that "democracy" nonsense. Cuomo pushed a state law saying that de Blasio would have to either approve Eva's schools or pay rent for them. Now the whole mayoral control thing was no problem. De Blasio could make decisions one way or the other, but they made no difference to Eva, the only person in New York who mattered.

But then there were those troublesome regulations, and that nasty de Blasio didn't even ask Eva before making them. A contract? Now how in the hell can Eva Moskowitz do what she wants, how she wants, when she wants, with whomever she wants if she has to sign some flipping contract?

Fortunately, MaryEllen Elia is a pawn of Governor Cuomo, who's clearly beholden to Eva and her reformy BFFs. Things are looking up.