Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Damned if You Do

I've got a lot of disagreements with AFT President Randi Weingarten. But I very much respect that she engages people on Twitter and elsewhere, myself included. In contrast, I've sent UFT President Mike Mulgrew a few emails, and he's much too busy to respond, though I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens. Given that, when I've got something to say to the UFT President, I copy it to the blog so someone will actually see what I'm doing.

Sadly, Randi presides over a broken system, which I'll get to later. On Twitter, she's pushing the notion that we can decouple testing from Common Core. That's a great idea, but given the AFT and UFT-approved APPR, it's a high bar. Most Americans are not aware VAM is nonsensical junk science, and the papers, NY Times included, cry in unison that it's necessary. We'd extracted a promise that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo would delay Common Core-related junk science while rating teachers, and he simply broke it. Screw teachers, screw NYSUT, and screw Randi Weingarten, says Governor Andy.

So while we may, in fact, be able to reduce the number of tests, or the stakes they represent, we aren't addressing the central issue--that Common Core is baseless crap that ought to be abandoned and replaced by something that will help our children. There's always some reason from union leadership to put it off. Sure, you don't like junk science, but let's talk about this right now. Sure, Common Core is developmentally inappropriate, but if we have fewer tests it will be better. Sure the standards are based on NAEP standards that will fail 70% of our kids, but we'll fail them less often this way. It's never, "Let's take a cold hard look at this situation and face it head on."

When I complain about our support of Common Core, Randi points to the debate at the AFT Convention, notable for Mulgrew's offer to punch its opponents in the face. Whatever the strong points of this debate, its outcome was a foregone conclusion. 800 UFT loyalty oath signers know that they are the only ones Mulgrew can really threaten. If they vote against Common Core, it's exile from the Unity Caucus, no more trips to California on my dime, and no more part-time work at UFT HQ. Worst is the fact that the Holy Grail, a UFT gig that entails no work in those nasty old classrooms, will be forever out of their grasp.

Consider that the UFT dominates NYSUT. Though it holds 28% membership in the state union, it controls 33% of the vote. Last year UFT dumped NYSUT leadership, with the exception of reliable Andy Pallotta, and installed hand-picked, utterly reliable folks who know they serve at the pleasure of Michael Mulgrew. There will be no more inconvenient limits on how much money Andy Pallotta can spend on fundraisers for Andrew Cuomo. Consider that NYSUT is the largest group in the AFT, and there's not a whole lot of doubt how AFT debates will end. Honestly, does anyone think real teachers would tolerate Bill Gates as a keynote?

The key to total control, of course, is the UFT's insistence on a loyalty oath that has all 800 of our delegates voting lockstep. You'd think every UFT member adored Bill Gates. You'd think we were all jumping up and down screaming Common Core now, Common Core forever. You'd think we all loved school closings, charter colocations, junk science ratings and every reformy thing our leadership has enabled and stamped with its approval.

In fact, given the way UFT leadership has rigged elections, and given that it's deliberately shut out every independent voice from NYSUT and AFT, it's outrageous that we're compelled to pay dues to these organizations. This is the taxation without representation we were taught about as schoolchildren. Unless you sign a loyalty oath to UFT Unity leadership, neither you nor your school has any voice whatsoever in NYSUT or AFT.

Here's the kicker. If you do sign the loyalty oath, you still have no voice. You can only vote as told and your vote makes no difference whatsoever. This is the tail that wags the dog, and our union, the United Federation of Teachers, precludes democracy not only for all city teachers, but also for all state teachers, and for every member of the AFT.

It's quite a system. And it's quite durable. The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but Unity Caucus is still alive and kicking each and every one of us.
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