Thursday, October 11, 2012

Full-Time UFT, Part-Time Voice

It's tough getting doors slammed in your face. Yet if you're a UFT activist, it's hard to imagine how to avoid it. You could sign up and join Unity, if, unlike the overwhelming majority of teachers,  you get yourself invited. Yet, if you do that, you have to agree never to speak up against Unity positions. So, as an activist, you'd sign up to support, for one example, mayoral control, which has brought nothing but misery to working teachers.

You also sign up to support VAM, or value-added evaluation for teachers. UFT played a role in the state law that now requires a portion of our evaluation is determined by the all-important junk science without which Washington will withhold federal funds. That's part and parcel of Race to the Top, the brainchild of Arne Duncan, who decided to take his miserably failing Chicago programs national.

The discussion in the union is now largely over how much VAM we will use. Staunch Unity voices have said 20%, though I'm now hearing some say it can go up to 25. Others argue the local measure can bring it up to 40, though that, for now, has to be locally negotiated. Still others say it can be 100, since you can't get a passing grade unless you do well in it. Anyone who's actually studied this process knows the optimal percentage is zero.

It's okay, in my view, to have this discussion. It's okay to disagree. I understand the argument that our system gives us less crap than some others. It's indeed possible this was the best result, though I'm not persuaded.

What's really not okay is having a large faction of membership, some of the smartest and most active teachers in the city, absolutely shut out of consideration. I know some great people in Unity. I also know brilliant, well-informed, passionate individuals who are either part of the opposition or who have chosen not to sign the pledge not to speak their minds in public.

I don't get it. How can you be an activist if you won't speak your mind in public? How can you be a leader if you aren't free to question?

Why on earth won't UFT leadership open the doors to a large group of the most passionate unionists in the city? Isn't it time already?

One way or another, we will be heard.
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