Thursday, July 28, 2011

There Is Power In A Union

I went to see Billy Bragg last night at Lincoln Center's Big Busk.

The show, courtesy of corporate sponsors Bloomberg and Pepsico, was quite good, with lots of people playing their own guitars and singing along to great busking material like "Tracks Of My Tears" and "Cecilia".

In the middle of all the busking music, Billy threw in his own "There Is Power In A Union," a song with the following lyrics:

There is power in a democracy, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is a power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities to the farmlands in the trenches full of mud
Cuz war has always been the bosses' way sir

The Union forever defending our rights
Let's fight the Right Wing, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a Union

I couldn't help but think of the irony of Bragg singing a song about the power of union members sticking together to fight the bosses at a show sponsored by ace union-buster and NYC Boss, Michael Bloomberg.

I also couldn't help thinking about the irony of all those union-busting Educators4Excellence members who were denied tenure at the end of the school year because the NYCDOE and the man who runs it, ace union-buster and NYC Boss Michael Bloomberg, made a political decision to deny tenure to as many young teachers as possible to make a strong political statement about the tenure system.

The NY Times reports that Bloomberg bragged at a press conference at Tweed yesterday about how 42% of teachers who were up for tenure were not given it.

Most of those teachers were not denied tenure outright, but they were extended for another year.

The mayor says this is because these teachers "are not up to our standards yet," but the Times reports some teachers denied tenure this year say the process was flawed and unfair:

Some teachers complained that the evaluation standards were unclear. At one middle school in Manhattan, for example, teachers were given two weeks to prepare portfolios of students’ work, with little guidance.

One math teacher who has a business background said she had rushed to put together a three-inch binder of student work to submit along with other data, including a number of satisfactory evaluations. But she may have been penalized, she said, because her students’ standardized test scores dropped in her second year. Speaking anonymously because she feared retribution, she said that a decision on tenure for her had been deferred. Only about 15 percent of those who qualified for tenure at her school got it.

The Times also reports that Michael Mendel, the secretary of the UFT, stated that principals were told to deny tenure to teachers if they did not get a chance to observe them enough or if the principals were new to the school.

In addition, Teacher Data Reports were used for tenure decisions for teachers of math or ELA in 4th-8th grade.

Gotham Schools reports that if a teacher was not rated effective or higher on this report, they were not granted tenure no matter how glowing an evaluation they were given by their principal.

The value-added methodology used to create the evaluations for these reports, btw, has a large margin of error, perhaps as high as 36%, so it is quite possible that lots of teachers who received glowing reports from their principals were denied tenure because a flawed test score data system was unfairly used to evaluate them.

And that's how I would term a system with a 36% MOE being used to evaluate people for high stakes career decisions - "unfair" and "flawed".

In addition, many excellent young teachers may have been denied tenure because word came down from Tweed that Boss Bloomberg wants low tenure numbers this year so he can give a big speech about how he has transformed tenure into an Ironman competition that only truly "excellent" teachers can pass and pontificate about the same on Meet The Press the next time Fluffy invites him on the show.

It seems to me that a political decision was made to screw lots of teachers out of tenure this year and then the data and paperwork were manufactured to back that decision up.

Which brings me back to the Billy Bragg performance of "There Is Power In A Union" I saw tonight.

As he was singing it, with the logo Bloomberg emblazoned all over the stage, I couldn't help but think of all those Educators4Excellence members who may have been denied tenure not because they are bad teachers, not because they don't deserve tenure, but rather because the mayor made a political decision to screw them and then the DOE minions in the TDR department and the principals in the schools created the numbers and "data" to back that decision up.

I remember back during the layoff battle how many of those E4E members argued in the media that "objective data" like Teacher Data Reports should be used to decide who gets laid off and who gets to stay.

I remember saying then that there is no such thing as "objective data" in the hands of dishonest people like Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, or Cathie Black, that they will manufacture data and make it fit whatever political or economic decisions they have already made and screw the teachers they feel like screwing.

During the layoff battle, when Bloomberg wanted to lay off expensive veteran teachers, especially ATRs, the data would have been fiddled with to make that point (and help out the E4E's.)

But with tenure, the mayor wants to screw younger teachers, so the data is skewered in such a way to back that story up (and hurt the E4E's.)

Now if all teachers stuck together - young, old, veterans, newbies - and fought Boss Bloomberg as one big entity rather than turned on each other like the Educators4Excellence have (with the help of lots of funding from the hedge fund criminal class and the Gates Foundation), maybe the mayor would have a harder time justifying these jive-ass political decisions that have nothing to do with reality but simply help him make his political points (in this case, that teachers suck.)

I do hope some of the Educators4Excellence and other young teachers denied tenure this year come around to see that there is indeed power in a union and that if workers don't stand together and fight the bosses, they will continue to be exploited and screwed and beaten down, as Bloomberg is doing with the tenure process, as he does ever year with the layoff threats.

After the show last night, I bought a couple of cds and had Billy Bragg sign them for me. I told him I was a member of a teachers union and was heartened to hear him sing "There Is Power In A Union," especially since it been such a bad few years for union members.

He nodded and said "You've got to stick together and you've got to keep the faith, mate!"

And that's what I would say to my young teacher friends who were denied tenure this year for no other reason than that the oligarch who runs things wanted it that way.

We teachers have got to stick together and we've got to keep the faith.

It's a powerful message and there is history to prove that it works when it's followed.

It's a powerful song too and here's part of the performance of "There Is Power In A Union" by Billy Bragg last night from Lincoln Center:

If you listen carefully, right at the end, that's me yelling "Screw Bloomberg! Screw Bloomberg!"

The rest of what I said, though it is cut off on the tape, is this:

"He's a unionbuster! He's a unionbuster!"

That's a powerful message too and there's history behind that as well.

In fact, more of that was made during Bloomberg's tenure speech at Tweed yesterday.

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