Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PROSE and Cons Part 2--Return of the Strawman

I had no idea the PROSE programs entailed enabling higher class sizes until the other day when Leonie Haimson tweeted it to Randi Weingarten. Leo Casey is consistently attentive to and protective of Randi, and I told Leonie he would claim she opposed teacher empowerment. I knew this because when my friend Julie Cavanagh opposed the latest substandard UFT Contract, that was exactly what he told her.

A few hours later, voila!

When you misrepresent your opponent's argument, that's called a strawman fallacy. Leonie did not, in fact, say teachers shouldn't be empowered. Nor did Julie. When you oppose a contract containing an agreement for two-tier due process, when you oppose an agreement to wait an extra decade for the raise most unions got before 2010, when you disagree that ATRs should be fired for missing two interviews about which they may or may not be aware, it doesn't mean you oppose teacher empowerment. Who wants to be empowered in that fashion? Not me.

I certainly support teacher empowerment. As far as class size, it would be great to be able to dictate smaller class sizes. Because of what I teach, I've had classes ranging from 15 to the contractual max. In fact, I've had classes up to 50 in ESL, back when I was new and didn't know any better. I've also taught classes of 50 as a music teacher. I know about big classes, and I know about small classes. Class size matters.

Leonie Haimson also thinks class size matters, which is why she's an advocate for public school parents and students. That's pretty much her job. She wanted to know why the School Leadership Team of parents, admin, teachers and students didn't get a vote.

This is pretty interesting. Just last week, Leo was angry at those of us who opposed the Hillary nomination. There was a scientific survey, he said, and we were questioning the results. I still haven't seen the survey, or the pool from which it was given, but how dare I? This week things were different. The fact is, parents do not get a vote on SBOs, be they PROSE or otherwise.

Leo harped on this quite a bit. Evidently, if there is a poll or a vote, you are not to question it. That's the way it is. If you don't accept it, well, you think only you and your friends should make the decision and you therefore don't believe in democracy. If there is not a poll or a vote, however, it's on you to actually find out how people feel, all by yourself.  The standing assumption, evidently, is UFT leadership is always right no matter what. But you know what? There was a vote. In fact, there were several, and they all said the same thing.

Now you could assume, from what I say, that I oppose SBOs. Someone did.

I most certainly do not oppose SBOs. Nor do I oppose teacher empowerment. Like Leonie, I oppose unreasonably large class sizes. If you want to empower teachers, give them the option to have smaller class sizes, even if the city has to pay for it. Don't tell me the only way to reduce what is already the highest class size in the state for some is to dump others into lecture-style classes. Don't tell me that some kids need attention and others do not.

Here's a fact--class size limits have remained the same in NYC for over 50 years, and class sizes themselves have been rising for 8 years. They are at a 15-year high in early grades. While UFT leadership devotes valuable lip service to it from time to time, they have done absolutely nothing to change it. I think some parts of the contract ought not to be messed with. In particular, class size ought to be inviolate. It's too high already.

Looking over some of these PROSE proposals, I note that it may be the teacher's option to teach oversized classes. That is simply a terrible idea. Can you imagine being a probationary teacher and having the principal ask you whether or not you want to teach an oversized class? What are you gonna say? In fact, given the terror many of us feel at the junk science evaluation system, which tenured teacher wants to face that?

There is a good reason why the chapter leader is given the task of grieving oversized classes. Once, I filed a grievance over them, and an administrator approached me. She said she asked Mr. Smith which kid he wanted removed from his class, and he said he wanted all of them to stay. What should she do? I told her it was not my problem, and it was not Mr. Smith's problem either. She overloaded the class, and it was on her to fix it.

When the chapter leader takes care of it, you don't have to pick which kid leaves your class. And you can't be made to feel guilty about it. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about the principal asking you for a waiver so he can dump extra kids in your class. You don't need to be put in the position of having to turn down his request to add students to what is already the highest class size in NY State.

Make no mistake--that is teacher empowerment. Allowing for exceptions to an already inadequate rule is precisely the opposite.
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