Monday, November 26, 2007

Candles In The Wind

Tonight the United Federation of Teachers will hold a candlelight vigil outside of the Department of Education headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.

The vigil, which will be led by UFT president Randi Weingarten, is the first public protest by the teachers' union against the NYCDOE and Mayor Bloomberg's reforms in months.

Ms Weingarten explains in today's NY Sun just why she is holding the candlelight protest downtown:

Today, teachers rightly feel that the school system still has little respect and appreciation for all their hard work making a difference in the lives of children. They will express their dissatisfaction this evening at a candlelight vigil at Department of Education headquarters in lower Manhattan.

What's behind their frustration? A growing sense that, after getting the school year off to a promising start, the department is relying on an unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive management style that is intended to create a climate of fear, rather than collaboration, in our city schools.

Weingarten goes on to explain that the city's announcement of a "teacher performance unit" - what she calls a "gotcha squad" - headed by a prosecutor and staffed by lawyers that will assist principals in ridding schools of "bad teachers," was the last straw that caused her to return to an aggressive stance with the city.

Weingarten claims that just a few weeks ago a different tone was coming out of Tweed and City Hall. She says that when she and the mayor agreed to bring merit pay to New York City schools back in October, she says she "touted this as a model of what can be achieved when unions and school management work together as equal partners toward common ground."

But now she says that Bloomberg and Klein are back to being hard-asses and she can no longer sit on the sidelines and let them run with the "'blame the teacher' routine."

What a joke Ms Weingarten is.

Does she really expect thinking members of her union to believe this candlelight vigil and her opinion piece in the Sun means she's looking out for us against the city?

After Ms. Weingarten helped Mayor Bloomberg gain total control of the schools in 2002 without having to be accountable to any other entity, after Ms. Weingarten conceded days in the '02 contract, after she conceded days, time, a sixth class, grievance rights, and seniority rights in the '05 contract, after she conceded health care "cost containment initiatives" (future health care payments by UFT members) in the '07 contract, after she signed off on the change in school financing that helps principals get rid of costly veteran teachers for less costly and more pliable Teach For America missionaries who will be around for a few just a few years, after she helped exile hundreds of good teachers into the abominable ATR system, after she ignored the hundreds of teachers in the DOE rubber rooms who have been taken out of their classrooms without knowing what charges have been levied against them, after she helped Mayor Bloomberg bring merit pay to the New York City school system, thus ensuring that the very issue which the NEA and the AFT opposes has received a stamp of approval from the nation's largest urban teachers' union, after she helped bring in the odious Green Dot education management organization to run charter schools in the city...after all this, she wants UFT members to believe that tonight's candlelight vigil and today's protest in the Sun signals a new era of UFT/Tweed confrontation.

Oh, pleeeeeaaaseeeee.

This is just another Weingarten dog and pony show to make it look like she's doing something aggressive against the mayor and the DOE while behind the scenes she continues to work with Uncle Mike and Uncle Joel to dismantle decades of benefits and job protections the UFT has won from the city.

As Whitney Tilson, education reformer/hedge fund manager, tells the NY Sun,
this vigil is an attempt by Ms. Weingarten to pacify her members - it's not meant to be a serious challenge to the mayor or to Tweed:

"Let them have their vigil, and then sanity will return," he said.

"Sanity" for Tilson and many of the other so-called education "reformers" means collaboration between the UFT and the city in dismantling the decades of hard-won UFT job protections and rights as Bloomberg continues his ideology-based movement to privatize the city school system and turn it into a quasi-corporation with principals/CEO's, quarterly standardized test balance sheets, annual performance bonuses, and a gutted, toothless union.

Never mind that as I posted here yesterday, students and teachers cannot be treated like industrial output if you want to have an effective education system.

Education is not just about test scores and data charts, no matter what Bloomberg, Klein and their corporate backers think.

Children are human beings and good educators know that we teach to the whole person - intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually - not just to a blot on a standardized test sheet that can be collected, collated and analyzed.

It's a shame that Ms. Weingarten has not done more to fight the damage Bloomberg, Klein and their ilk have done to the system.

This is not to say that there were not problems with the school system before Bloomberg gained total control.

There were.

But to totally blow up the system three times over, to continually reorganize and continuously add and subtract curricula, to increase the number of standardized tests per year by ten so that education becomes perpetual test prep, to create two different accountability methods - the school report cards and the school quality reviews - that are so antithetical that a school can do exceptionally well on one while receiving a failing grade on the other is not helping to create a better New York City public school system.

Instead, it's throwing ideas and plans at the wall and seeing what will stick.

As I said before, it's a shame that Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership have collaborated with Bloomberg and Klein in creating this mess.

But they have.

And holding a candlelight vigil tonight outside Tweed will do nothing to change that collaboration.

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