Friday, January 20, 2017

DA Takeaway January 2017

This month's DA was notable for several reasons. One is the positive campaign Mulgrew intends to run. It's a great idea, but I'm skeptical because it's only words. I regularly approach the Executive Board with the argument that it is us who represent New York City's children, and it is us who should stand for them. They roll their eyes. Last month they rejected a class size resolution that certainly had input from public school parents. They did this on the basis of our having sacrificed to place class sizes in the contract.

That's an absurd assertion, since it happened 50 years ago, and we still haven't shut the holes in it, which are so large you can drive a Mac truck through them. Maybe we'll get that the "plans of action" cannot be used indefinitely, and maybe the new negotiation process will help a little, but the ultimate decision is with the arbitrators. For my money, they don't give a crap about the real issues of class size and until they do, there's no evidence UFT does either.

As to the DA itself, it was remarkable that James Eterno could be treated with such contempt by leadership. James stood and asked that we work toward a minimum of two rather than four observations, and also mentioned that many state locals work under that understanding. He cited discontent among rank and file with the number, and my experience suggests that he's dead on. He also cited the fact that his wife Camille is currently being railroaded over at Humanities and the Arts Magnet High School. He concluded by asking that the person who speak against his suggestion be someone who is actually rated by the system.

UFT Secretary Howard Schoor got up and angrily told James he doesn't get to pick who speaks against his motion. Schoor, who is not rated by Danielson, who has never been rated by Danielson, and who will almost certainly never be rated by Danielson then proceeded to signal the Unity Loyalty Oath Signers that they were to vote this proposal down. Of course he couldn't just do that; he had to also give an argument.

Here's the argument--There are fewer people rated ineffective now than were rated unsatisfactory under the previous system. Here's what's wrong with that argument. For one thing, it treats those rated developing as though they were rated satisfactory. As someone who's spent a lot of time meeting with, representing, and counseling people rated developing, I can say with 100% certainty that's not how they feel. Sure they don't face the consequences of an ineffective, but that's cold comfort for them.

Another problem with that argument is, as always, leadership conveniently forgets that two ineffectives means the burden of proof is on the teacher at 3020a. That's a hell of a mountain to climb, and no one had to do it before the advent of this system. But the very worst problem with Schoor's argument is this--No matter how few people are rated ineffective, there is no argument whatsoever you can possibly make that will make a single one of them feel better. I do not tell people who are rated ineffective, "Well, it happened to far fewer people so you might as well feel good about it." That would be, and is, idiotic. Remember that Schoor made this statement directly to James, whose wife, again, is currently facing these ratings and being raked over the coals by Danielson.

But the overarching problem with the argument is that making it at all underlines just how out of touch leadership is with membership. It's amazing that people who are not even touched by Danielson can muster the audacity to lecture those of us who are. And this imperious and preposterous attitude bodes ill for the next coming of Friedrichs.

And despite all this, that was not the most striking thing I heard at the DA. The most amazing thing I heard was the statement by Michael Mulgrew that UFT asked for two observations. This shocked me for several reasons. One is that I've been to chapter leader training and the Executive Board, and I've heard about the new system from the best experts the UFT had to offer. The argument I heard, not once but several times, was that more observations give teachers a better chance of doing well. I also heard that CSA, the principals' union, wanted fewer observations.

Now if UFT had asked for two and was rebuffed in negotiations by the DOE, why the hell didn't they just say so? And why on earth would anyone give James Eterno a nasty answer to a very real problem when they could've just said, "You know, we wanted that too, but we couldn't get the DOE to agree to it." If that's the truth, it's a hell of a better argument than any I heard, and I've heard the arguments on at least three occasions, including the DA.

So what's the truth? Is Mulgrew telling it? And if so, why don't all of them tell it? Why haven't they told us before? Have they been lying to us to make us think that they controlled negotiations better than they did? If so, doesn't that suggest that's what they do as a matter of course?

With leadership like that, is it any wonder we're facing DeVos, ready to dismantle public education but ever vigilant about protecting us from grizzly bears? It's amazing that we had to listen to Mulgrew talk so much about transparency, and that leadership nonetheless sits up there on that 14th floor posturing as though they're on Mount Olympus, talking down to all us non-deities below.
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