Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Strong Union Embraces Diversity

UFT has just scored a victory against Mayor4Life, conclusively establishing that even those as rich as Bloomberg need to listen to voices other than those in their heads. CTU has just provided proof that a determined and cohesive union can negotiate a win-win. However, there's work ahead on both fronts. In NY, it's likely an embittered mayor will move toward more traditional school closings, because he needs what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. And Chicago, just like NY, still has not agreed upon a new contract.

A time like this is a time for us to stand firm, and stand together. Yet in Detroit, UFT will be represented only by leadership-selected members who have signed an oath to support what they're told to support. This includes mayoral control, the prime source of city school closings, and also value added methodology, now embedded in NY State law. Value-added has been vigorously opposed by a bold group of New York State principals, and also by prominent education historian Diane Ravitch. It's largely regarded as junk science, and that it can cause teachers to be denied tenure, or even be fired for no good reason.

Yet this weekend, at the AFT convention, there will be not one single solitary vocal critic of VAM from the UFT. Can it really be that 100% of UFT members support junk science? Again, it's because every UFT rep has promised to support what leadership supports, good, bad, or indifferent. Regrettably, that's not the sort of thing that strengthens us. Rather, it encourages and increases the sort of cynicism that keeps all too few of our members from active participation. There's a good reason why fully three quarters of UFT members don't even bother to vote in union elections.

As for VAM, the debate within UFT is not whether or not we will be using VAM, but whether it will entail 20%, 40%, or indeed 100% of the final evaluation. That's an interesting conversation, but it ought not to be the one and only one.

As I've repeatedly suggested, the optimal percentage of junk science in any evaluation should be zero, and it's unfortunate this merited no previous discussion, and that there will be no UFT member in Detroit to point that out. I'm very confident large numbers of our members, given enough info (the kind largely unavailable in MSM), would strongly agree. There are not a whole lot of teachers I know who strongly advocate for junk science--I can't think of a single one, in fact. Yet dissenting voices, in a group that applauded for Bill Gates, will get no consideration whatsoever.

UFT leaders need not agree with us. They need not adopt our positions. But again, they ought to entertain them, reason with us,  rather than simply shut us out altogether. Winning hands, like the one just blooming in Chicago, are not achieved by erecting brick walls across the paths of passionate and active unionists.

To be continued...
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