Monday, November 23, 2015

Reports of the MORE Meeting: A Maturing Organization Plus How Jia Lee Helped Rescue MORE

There are two bogger reports out on the MORE meeting this past Saturday by
Caucus building is a long and winding road
These positive reports on the state of MORE are somewhat remarkable as they come from people who a little over a year ago were not happy with the state of MORE and either had left or contemplated withdrawing. They were joined by other blogger critics and I too felt I was on the ropes with frustration. 

We actually held an ICE meeting attended by 25 people, including many non-ICEers where people vented their frustrations.

We knew that MORE, as a multi-year effort to pull many of the disparate elements involved in the UFT (ICE, TJC, GEM, NYCORE plus non-affiliated) together into one group, would be the only sustainable game in town over time and turning it into a viable organization was worth putting effort into.

People went back to their corners to lick their wounds while things cooled down. One new person who walked into the storm emailed me to suggest that why don't people in MORE just work on the issues that interest them? That opened up the idea that MORE could use some open internal space for people who might not agree on everything to pursue their aims using the structure of MORE - an attractive idea to building a caucus that wanted to not be Unity. If you have an idea and others are with you and you aren't going so far off the reservation as to violate core principles then JUST DO IT. MORE began to focus more on some core stuff like supporting chapter leaders by running training and a powerful listserve as a helpline when people in their schools ran into trouble

Of all the people in MORE, one particular person held her cool and worked across the lines to put things back into order: Jia Lee. I, as one of the hotheads, received encouraging missives from Jia as did many others. Jia tirelessly - remember she is a single parent of a now 12-year old - put herself out there to find ways to make this endeavor work. 

Only a tiny sliver on the fringes of MORE saw this as an opportunity to do their own self-promotion rather than try to help put Humpty Dumpty back together again as Jia did. 

Which is just one reason why the majority of the long and short term fighters against Unity are supporting Jia Lee for UFT President.

James Eterno points to the maturing of MORE - and that is such a wonderful point. So many of us were not thinking that little babies like MORE had to go through its tantrums before learning how to work with each other or if you can't work with certain people there should be enough space for them to to their thing.

Peter Zucker's piece is also a powerful statement from someone who barely know Jia but sat next to her at the MORE meeting on Saturday and has an account of his conversation with her. Peter also saw something James and I saw - where MORE general meetings had at times been difficult, and this one had a patch of rough road too - which I will get into in a future post -- the democratic process was such a breath of fresh air given how we see the UFT operate - really an exhilarating breath of fresh air.

Peter saw what we have seen in Jia since she and Lauren Cohen walked into a More Than a Score event GEM held on testing almost 4 years ago. That event, which included Leoine Haimson, Carol Burris, Gary Rosenberg (Stuy teacher and major blogger about TFA) and Arthur Goldstein (NYC Educator)- who was supposed to attend but due to a death in the family had his statement read by the chair person of that meeting: a 7 month pregnant Julie Cavanagh who 6 weeks after giving birth accepted the MORE nomination for its first presidential candidate in the 2013 UFT elections.

Is there any better sign that MORE can go from Julie to Jia without missing a beat?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Revisting Bloomberg Closing School Policy and UFT/Unity Complicity as They Sends Hacks to Schools They Helped Close Down to Talk Friedrichs

by Jeff Kaufman

Far Rockaway, NY Nov. 19. 2015. 

A UFT Special Rep led a union meeting held with the teachers of QIRT in which he demonstrated that the UFT, in its present condition, has little regard for us.

He began the meeting with a bizarre explanation of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case currently pending in the United States Supreme Court in which non-union teachers have complained that they should not be forced to pay union dues. The case is significant and will, if the plaintiffs win, completely alter labor management relations in the public sector since teachers and others will probably not want to pay dues for unions they believe are not helping them win significant contract rights.

The UFT’s very existence is at stake but why would the Special Rep talk to us about this? Is there anything we could do about a case pending before the US Supreme Court?

This is a significant time to organize ourselves and select representatives who will actually think about our members and not their own pocket books. While there is no question that our Union must survive informing a Chapter about this case shows how ineffectual the Union leadership is.

The Special Rep continued to talk about the grievance procedure, lesson plans and unit plans; items which are clearly not issues for our Chapter.

● Where was the Union when they destroyed our grievance procedure and took away the right to grieve letters to the file?
● Where was the Union when Danielson was implemented?
● Where was the Union when testing was and still out of control?
● Where was the Union when the Union gave up any credible influence in the educational process?

The Union was and continues to be complicit. We need a Union that puts its members first; not for some misguided leaders.
Jeff Kaufman
We can add to Jeff's list - like where was the union when they started closing down large high schools in the earliest days of the Bloomberg admin? Let me focus on that issue here.

When the UFT/Unity send people to your school to talk about the Friedrich's case which may allow teachers to stop paying dues they are clearly concerned about the damage to the machine that may incur when people who have been poorly served by the union choose that option. Given UFT partnership with the deformers for decades, there is a lot of anger out there at the leadership.

How about starting with reforming the union constitution to allow the disenfranchised to have a voice? Like currently, the UFT Exec Board is 100% Unity Caucus endorsed and in the coming election about the best the opposition will do is to capture the 7 high schools seats out of 100. Do we think that only 7% of UFT members don't support Unity?

One of the union's major failures was their cooperation in the closing of large schools until it got so bad late in 2009 that they tried to respond with too little too late.

The issue of the closing of large high schools and breaking them into small schools was a topic of conversation when I had the pleasure of having lunch with Jeff Kaufman earlier this week - he is teaching at a school at Far Rockaway HS campus. For newbies, Jeff was a major opposition voice in ICE and the UFT and he and James Eterno led the charge when we had UFT High School Exec Board seats from 2004-2007.

There is no little irony that Jeff's school had a visit this week from one of Unity's all-time slugs, Washington Sanchez to talk about Friedrichs. Poor Washington - who I caught leaving derogatory anonymous comments on blogs - he may have to go back to the classroom one day.

But really, a union should be talking to people about Friedrichs and the danger it imposes. But an autocratic union that turns so many people off?

Jeff, a former cop and lawyer, was Randi's worst nightmare when he was on the board, challenging her when she talked legal -- really some of the funniest moments in UFT history. And also - Jeff was the most notorious person rubber roomed while he was on the Ex Bd when he was chapter leader at Riker's Island. And I know there are some people out there who think they invented the wheel but after we got Randi to give time to speakers before EB meetings began, Jeff began to bring his friends from the rubber room to these meetings to speak. Jeff and James (and others) also led the charge against the 2005 contract over the creation of ATRS in that contract by ending seniority rules.

And oh yes, we all also spoke up against the UFT going along with closing schools - they did not begin to wake up until Bloomberg took a massive shot at them by trying to close down 19 schools at one time around 2009. I know this comparison may be looked at askance but it is akin to the misjudgements made by our government as ISIS took hold.

It was good to catch up with Jeff and get an insider's perspective on how things are going at a former large school that was broken up.

Far Rock was closed down so small schools could open and the UFT and its toxic Queens office was pretty much a partner with the DOE by putting up no resistance. Ed Notes was on the case:  Ed Notes Online: Where's Waldo – er– the Union at Far Rock?, Dec 26, 2006 and I was invited by some outraged teachers at the union to come to a union meeting after school to talk to the staff and one of the teachers who invited me was eventually fired by the DOE. One of the charges against the teacher? He invited me to the meeting.

Far Rock and other "campuses" like my alma mata Thomas Jefferson have seen the schools that replaced them but don't attract the top students struggle as much as the bigger school did - but with much less resources to offer any of the kids.

Leonie Haimson has a report on her blog debunking a recent "study" that pointed to success for the Bloomberg school closings:  Yet another unconvincing report on the results of Bloomberg's school closure policies.
Nor does the report mention the issue of soaring discharge rates at the closing schools.  In fact, the word "discharge" is never used in either the report or the technical appendix.  In the report Jennifer Jennings and I wrote on the DOE's rising discharge rate between 2000 and 2007, we found this problem especially evident at the closing schools, with rates as high as 50% for the last two graduating classes at closing schools.
Usually one school out of the 4 manage to attract/capture the top performing kids and rises above the rest on these campuses - until some other school in the area competes and starts stealing the top kids and then that school begins to go down -- it is a dog eat dog world in education now. But I've had fun when some of the principals of the "good" school brag how they brought up the grad rate of their school and compare it to the old large high school. Shael was always doing that - when in fact the same percentage of kids who were succeeding at the old large high school - sometimes 25-30% -- were just now concentrated in one separate school.

Jeff filled me in on his new school at Far Rockaway HS Campus, QIRT (Queens HS for Information, Research and Technology - I have to pause for a laugh at these long school names). He likes the school and the principal, who himself is a Far Rock grad. But on the whole the campus is like most of the former large schools - all of the small ones competing for the best kids.

He has only been there 3 months and at the end of this year it will be worth getting his analysis of the state of the Far Rock campus schools years after they closed down the big enchilada.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

One Flew Over Cuckoo Nest Has Themes Galore for Educators

School Scope: One Flew Over Cuckoo Nest Has Themes Galore for Educators
By Norm Scott

I began to explore some of the themes of the play we are performing this weekend at the Rockaway Theatre Company production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in my RTC column. I want to delve into some of the larger issues in this column. The question of authoritarian governing structures, the nation-state level down the school and an asylum run by an authoritarian Nurse Ratched, a iconic figure in fiction who represents state authority. I have one big speech in the play as the so-called doctor in charge who is in reality under the thumb of the nurse. I explain the concept of the so-called “therapeutic community” we are supposedly running. “This ward is society in miniature and sine society decides who is sane and who isn’t you MUST measure up,” I explain to the new patient, McMurphy, who is clearly not insane but acting like he is to escape the drudgery of the work farm where he was imprisoned for various transgressions, including statutory rape. An interesting concept that society decides who is sane. I then tell McMurphy that “our aim is a completely democratic ward governed by the patients working to restore you to the outside.” McMurphy either seems to take this seriously or else plays along to milk the system to undermine it by calling for the patients to take a vote on a fairly trivial matter like watching the 1963 World Series which Nurse Ratched clearly won’t allow because doing so will threaten her control over the patients. And thus the battle is joined between McMurphy and “Miss Rat-Shit” as he refers to her.

How modern is this play in today’s world? As a teacher I was also an instrument of the state working to control the inmates and often forced to repress certain behaviors that threatened my control of the classroom. So was I and other teachers a version of Nurse Rat_shit? As a somewhat free spirit I fought against the suthoridy of my at times Nurse Rat_shit principal and an undemocratically run UFT. So I often found myself playing the part of both protagonists in the play.

I won’t go any further this time but will get back into it in my column after the play closes this weekend.

Norm rails against authority daily on his blog

Memo From the RTC: Flying Over the Cuckoo Nest

Photo credit: Danielle Rose Fisher/John Panepinto

The Wave for publication November 20, 2015

Memo From the RTC: Flying Over the Cuckoo Nest
By Norm Scott

The epic struggle between Nurse Ratched and Randle McMurphy played out in the novel, movie and play of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has become legendary in all 3 mediums. There are so many themes and strands, the audience of all three almost sold out performances leaves not only with thoughts that they saw a another great production from the RTC but also “what did it all mean?”

Lynda Browning playing Ratched, was thrilled when she was booed by all three audiences last weekend when she took her bows. She had done an amazing job as an actress. Meanwhile womanizer, gambler and foulmouthed wild man and rebel McMurphy, played by the remarkable John Stillwaggon, turned into a Christ-like figure, gets rabid cheers and a standing ovation. Clearly, we know where the sympathy of the audience lies. Going to the theater is not all “let’s sit back and enjoy without dwelling on the issues being put on the table and a play that forces the audience (and the cast) to think deeply about the range of these issues takes theater to another level.

Near the end the audience is laughing at watching the inmates having a fun party set up by McMurphy. For a brief time in their lives, McMurphy has helped free them from feeling trapped by their illness. We know it won’t last but even though I’ve been through weeks of daily rehearsals I still find myself hoping.

Even the actors backstage are often talking about these issues. Why did he do that? Why didn’t McMurphy just leave when he had the chance? Once I am done with my lines as the doctor I go to the back of the audience and watch the ending and I want to scream – LEAVE. But Stillwaggon puts his arms out wide (looking like a cross) and it is clear that he won’t. He has gone from rugged individualist to someone who now takes responsibility for the others. The inmates who had been deep into their own personal miseries and were attacking each other before he came, are now a team truly working to help each other “restore each other to the outside” – one of my lines - and pompous lies - as the inept doctor. Obviously the people running the asylum had clearly been failing at curing anyone and in fact had made them worse.

Why did the RTC do a play they already did a decade ago? I got to watch a DVD of the RTC production from 10 years ago and the production levels of the RTC in terms of sets and lighting and sound has grown a hundred-fold to the point that RTC is capable of producing Broadway quality shows. Way beyond community theater. The contrast from the 2005 version is stark. Many people commented on the realism of the set designed by Frank Caiati (who played/plays Billy in both versions) and executed by Tony Homsey. One 5-year old commented: Is this a hospital?

Of course if you haven’t seen it, this weekend is the final chance – until 10 years from now. Friday, Saturday at 8PM and Sunday matinee at 2PM. Check the hotline 718-374-6400 as demand is high.

Note on RTC Patron Noni Ostrow Signoretti
Many people in the Rockaway community are almost speechless at finding out Noni had died of cancer at such a young age. My last memory of her at Brown’s hardware was behind the counter on early Sunday morning the day before Sandy as people lined up to get supplies. She never came back to Brown’s after the storm and moved to California. But we got to see her when she came back when Hayden was in shows on Broadway and we saw her in August when she gave us a backstage tour. We had no idea that she could be gone just a few months later. RTC had a special place in her heart and at her overflowing memorial last Sunday it was revealed that she requested all donations go to RTC. The show is dedicated to Noni and as the program says: “A dear friend and devoted member of the RTC. She is mourned by the entire Rockaway community. Like the content of this play, her untimely death is both tragic and surreal.”

Next time Norm will try to make the case for Nurse Ratched, which may be a harder sell than Johnny Cochran made for OJ Simpson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fair test: Opt Out numbers top 500,000 - press release


National Center for Fair & Open Testing                                                                                               

for further information:

Bob Schaeffer       (239) 395-6773

Lisa Guisbond      (617) 959-2371                                                           

for immediate release Wednesday, November 18, 2015





     Around the U.S., well over half a million public school students refused to take standardized exams during the 2015 testing season, according to a preliminary tally released today. The count by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a leader of the national assessment reform movement, is based on news reports and detailed surveys by local activists. 

Among the largest state opt-out figures (with sources):

-  240,000   New York (news reports and New York State Allies for Public Education counts) 

-  110,000+ New Jersey (Save Our Schools New Jersey)

-  100,000   Colorado (Chalkbeat Colorado and SEEK for Cherry Creek)

-    50,000+ Washington State (news reports) 

-  ~20,000   Oregon (news reports)

-  ~20,000   Illinois (More Than a Score)

-    10,000   New Mexico (news reports)

-       ?  ?     Other states not yet reporting


“The opt-out movement and other assessment reform initiatives exploded across the country this year as more parents said ‘enough is enough’ to high-stakes testing overkill,” explained FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill. “If anything, the estimate of half a million opt-outs in 2015 is low because many states have denied requests to make test refusal data public. This intense grassroots pressure is beginning to force policymakers to roll back standardized exam misuse and overuse.”  


FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer concluded, “The assessment reform movement is energizing ever-growing legions of parents, students, educators, school administrators, and community leaders. In the 2016 testing season, we expect many more families to refuse to take part in unnecessary testing, which undermines educational quality and equity.” 

- - 3 0 - -


- for details about local assessment reform campaigns:

            New York -- Lisa Rudley 917-914-9190 or Jeanette Deutermann 526-902-9228

            New Jersey -- Susan Cauldwell 908-507-1020 or Julie Borst 201-693-3808

            Colorado -- Ilana Spiegel  303-523-0711 or Stefanie Fuhr 303-483-1196

            Washington State -- Jesse Hagopian 206-962-1685

            Illinois  -- Cassie Creswell 716-536-9313

- to reach assessment reform organizers in other jurisdictions, see the state-by-state list of contacts at:



- FairTest’s recent report “Testing Reform Victories 2015: Growing Grassroots Movement Rolls Back Testing Overkill” is online at:

Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Executive Director, FairTest; P.O. Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130617-477-9792; Donate to FairTest:

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Jia Lee and Mercedes Schneider – On Counterpunch Radio

Jia Lee and Mercedes Schneider – Episode 24

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

This week, Eric sits down with two amazing and inspiring teachers tirelessly working to defend public education from the neoliberal assault being waged against it. First, Eric welcomes to the program Jia Lee, an educator, activist and candidate for President of UFT (United Federation of Teachers) representing the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). Eric and Jia discuss why she became a conscientious objector to standardized testing, the importance of democratizing and radicalizing the teachers union, and the ways in which public schools have been attacked, undermined, and corporatized.

In the second part of the show, Eric sits down with educator and advocate Mercedes Schneider who is the author of two important books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who in the Implosion of American Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. Eric and Mercedes examine the rise of charter schools, the de-professionalization of teaching, the insidious effect of Teach for America on the profession, and much more.
Musical interlude: "Chicago Teacher" by Rebel Diaz
Intro and Outtro: "Freight Train Rollin'" by David Vest

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Katie Lapham (MORE, CTS): Testifying at Cuomo Common Core Task Force and Goes Head to Head with Deform Slugs from Students Last and E4E (Hii Evan!)

One of the things I love about working with people in MORE is that they see the big picture. Katie Lapham certainly does and she shlepped over on a Friday after school with her daughter to make sure the deform slugs would not be the only voices heard. She was joined by other MOREs/CTS - David Dobosz, Fred Smith, Nancy Cauthen, Jane Maisel. Here is a link to Nancy's testimony: New York City Common Core Listening Session

And Katie's full report from her blog.

Testifying Before Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force in Queens, NYC

Last night I testified at one of NYS Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force (aka Farce) sessions. The New York City event took place at LaGuardia Community College in a hard-to-reach section of Long Island City, Queens. Incongruously, it was held in the cramped Poolside Café, located deep inside the college building. Afforded to us, while signing in, were glimpses of swim team practice. It was as if Cuomo’s team deliberately chose an inconvenient time and location for the event in order to deter people from attending. To the best of my knowledge, there was no media presence at LaGuardia Community College. Unlike the Long Island session, which was covered in today’s news, I saw nothing reported about the NYC session.  Therefore, I will try to be as comprehensive as possible, but my six-year-old was with me so, unfortunately, I was unable to give all the speakers my full attention.

About 25 people testified; a balance, more or less, of Common Core opponents and supporters. I was speaker 18. MORE-UFT and Change the Stakes members shared the front row with pro-Common Core Educators4Excellence (EFE) teachers, including its founder Evan Stone. High Achievement NY, a coalition of businesses and education deform organizations such as E4E, was represented by its executive director, Stephen Sigmund. The main message of the Common Core supporters was that the standards are good but the tests need to be tweaked. They repeatedly used the term “opt-in” and recommended computer adaptive testing for students with special needs.

As a critic of the Common Core package, I was happy to see so many MORE-UFT and Change the Stakes allies (and friends!) who had shown up despite the challenges of getting there on time: David Dobosz, Fred Smith, Jane Maisel, Alliance for Quality Education‘s Zakiyah Ansari, blogger Peter Goodman, a Class Size Matters representative who read a statement by Leonie Haimson, and sociologist/public school parent/blogger Nancy Cauthen all testified. My apologies if I inadvertently omitted someone.


Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, and Kishayna Hazlewood, 3rd grade teacher at P.S. 156 in Brooklyn, chaired the event. Hazlewood was mostly stoic while Nolan shared with us – from time to time – her personal views, citing a recent conversation she had with Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Fund. Nolan seems to get it. NYC City Council member Danny Dromm opened the event with a statement that was critical of Common Core.
Dromm in foreground listens to David Dobosz’s testimony; seated at the table are Nolan (on left) and Hazlewood (on right). Photo by me. 

As was the case when John King came to NYC in 2013 on his “listening” tour, StudentsFirstNY bussed in a large group of charter school parents who sat in the back as audience members – not speakers. This time, it seemed StudentsFirstNY wanted Educators4Excellence teachers, not parents, to do the testifying. Interestingly, after corporate education deform critics Dromm, Smith and Dobosz spoke, the StudentsFirstNY parents all rose and left the poolside café en masse. I asked four parents why they were leaving, but not one had any idea what was going on. Finally, a woman told me, “This isn’t for us. We support Common Core.”


The quick and confusing departure of StudentsFirstNY parents. Photo by me. 

Once it became clear that well-informed, dissenting voices were being heard, StudentsFirstNY organizers instructed the parents to leave immediately. Presumably they didn’t want their brainwashed parents to be contaminated by the opposition. The exodus puzzled the young Cuomo staffers so I told them what was going on. One of them, David Contreras Turley, director of Constituency Affairs, gave me his card and told me that the governor’s office was neutral on Common Core. I challenged him by pointing out Cuomo’s support for education deform and charters. David did not respond. I was grateful to Cuomo’s representatives, though, because they were very accommodating of my restless daughter and the dozens of math manipulatives strewn all over the floor.


After the departure of the charter school parents, a Queens mother passionately testified that the Common Core had brought anguish and frustration to her home and that her son had gone from a level 3 to a level 1 student in math. Immediately after her testimony, Assemblywoman Nolan reminded the audience to be respectful. Apparently, an Educators4Excellence teacher had laughed at and/or made faces at the mother while she was delivering her moving testimony. Nolan even got out of her seat and confronted the teacher who denied out loud that she was misbehaving. Nolan also gave High Achievement NY’s Stephen Sigmund a look that said “watch it, Buster.” I did not witness their alleged crimes.
Here is my testimony, which I also intend to submit online. If you were unable to attend one of these task force sessions, consider sending your statement to the task force via their website. Let’s inundate them with our message.

November 6, 2015
I’m a NYC parent but today I’m speaking to you as a NYC teacher. I stood before John King in 2013 and got no reaction from him. I am more hopeful today and feel compelled – once again – to speak up on behalf of NYC educators and students who are suffering under corporate education deform.
We detest what the Common Core package has done to instruction. This July 21, 2009 quote from Bill Gates will clarify what I mean by package:
Bill Gates said, “We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards. Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests–next generation assessments aligned to the common core. When the tests are aligned to common standards, the curriculum will line up as well–and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better…”
We are given poor quality, scripted curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate. Education deformers have turned critical thinking and rigor into an extreme sport, frustrating and boring teachers and students to the point where – for example – a large number of us dread teaching math. Close reading has become tedious and is killing the joy of reading. The chief purpose of schooling nowadays is to teach skills that kids will need to know for the Common Core tests. Independent reading, through which students experience joy in having the freedom to discover a wide range of books regardless of level, is now viewed chiefly as a tactic to build students’ stamina for the absurdly long Common Core tests.
Our freedom to teach and to facilitate the development of whole child is curtailed. Due to the high-stakes nature of testing, those of us who work in a Title I school face immense pressure to raise test scores. Virtually every decision made at the school level is done with testing in mind.
No educator I know finds any value in the Common Core ELA and math tests. They are poorly constructed, developmentally inappropriate, decontextualized, confusing and deliberately tricky. Equally flawed is the new Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT, which is an ELA & content assessment, not a language test. Not only does the NYSESLAT fail to consider cognitive development stages but it also disregards what we know about second language learning. Our English-language learners, in particular, are being subjected to excessive testing that does not accurately measure what they can do. These bad tests are an insult to our intelligence.
Parents – please know that teachers – like myself (and there are many of us) – support your right to opt-out. We would opt-out of administering these tests if we could. In fact, a few bold teachers have. We hope that in 2016, opt-out numbers will reach 500,000.

Nothing short of a revolution is needed if we want true education reform. The Common Core package – all of it – has got to go. Revisit the lost standards, have teachers create diagnostic standardized assessments, stop using test scores to evaluate teachers and to punish schools, invest more in social services for our school communities.
Be brave and stand up to corporate education deformers. Let’s all stop being complicit in this costly, wrong-headed experiment that’s designed – in large part – to weed out so-called “bad teachers” and so-called “failing” schools. There are more effective and humane ways to improve our schools and to support the diverse needs of the children of New York State. Start by asking a teacher.
-Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why UFT Elections Are a Sideshow to a Bigger Struggle in the Schools

I've been accused of being a defeatist even by people in my own MORE caucus for saying out front Unity cannot be defeated. I don't believe in magical thinking. I am a realist. While the overall elections can't be won, there is a lot of room for smaller victories through the election process.

For me the key thing to win is an expansion of the network deeper into the schools because an opposition must win the majority of the schools as chapters before it can even consider being a serious contender in UFT elections. How will you know that? When Unity starts losing control over the UFT Delegate Assembly even after packing it with 100 Exec Bd members and 300 retirees plus all the other functional chapter delegates and the school-based Unity faithful. (Unity has around 1000-1500 or more members).

The opposition often points out that the retiree vote is the key to Unity control because they vote in the elections. I disagree. At this point the retiree vote is irrelevant.

Unity Caucus (NYC) is not worried about losing the upcoming elections but more concerned about the total % the opposition - whether one, two or three caucuses run - can get. For me, a critical number is breaking a third - and moving towards 40% where it will begin to get serious.

When we look at the numbers we subtract the retiree vote and look at the 3 divisions for signs - the high school, middle school and elementary schools where there are a total of around 64,000 people. Other than the high schools, which have mostly pretty much voted anti-Unity since the mid-80s, the numbers are fairly bleak. This year the high schools seem to be the only division in play with 7 Ex Bd seats, though given the low totals for all caucuses coming out of the middle schools, if MORE could mount a strong middle school campaign it might move those numbers to create a challenge. Elementary schools is where Unity exerts iron control - especially through the district reps who keep a tight reign on over 700 or more schools. Until the opposition manages to break into the elementary schools in force the UFT elections are pretty much a done deal for Unity. And they know that and they make sure to use their machine to keep that tight reign.

2014 Contract Vote Without Retirees

Retirees do not vote on contracts so the outcome a year and a half ago gives us some data to work from. The contract NO vote was about 25% of the 64,000 the working teachers and about 20% of the functionals - roughly 40-45,000. I don't think we had a breakdown by divisions but that would be interesting.

I'm using very rough figures here -- around 93% of all members voted. Roughly 20,000 people voted against the contract. That does not mean they support a movement against Unity,  but call them the most likely group to draw votes from in an election. But then 80% voted for the contract so if you are using these numbers as a sign for the upcoming UFT elections it pretty much breaks down to what we saw in the 2013 election - Unity 80% and MORE 20% - without factoring in the New Action votes -- which went to Mulgrew and bumped his % up. If the numbers stay the same this time Mulgrew might come in under 80% - and maybe closer to 70% if you add up all the opposition votes.

Now I know people out there think there are miracles. Suddenly thousands of people will turn around over the period of a year and a half. To me it is like a school one year has a 20% grad rate and a year later brags that 80% of the  kids graduated. We roll our eyes - knowing they either cheated or tossed out many kids -- like charters.

So we know that if Unity were ever going to lose we cannot just use complaints on blogs or facebook from hundreds of as a signpost.

Opposition at the school and district level comes before UFT elections
All too often people opposed to Unity use chatter -- like emails about how upset people in their schools are and all are against Unity. When these people tell their chapter leaders and delegates to go to the DA and raise hell we will know that some of this chatter is real. So far, not a lot of signs.

We need to see real movement in the schools -- like entire chapters in revolt against the Unity leadership at the central and district level. You would see raucous monthly district rep meetings with chapter leaders where the Unity line pushed by the DR is thrown right back in their faces. You would see people at the weekend CL training challenging the Unity line instead of being recruited to join Unity.

One of the mantras I have been pushing is that the chapter leader elections every 3 years are more important than the UFT elections, which take place one year later. The October DA following CL elections - in this case Oct. 2015 - is where new CLs -- and according to something Mulgrew said - 40% of CLs are new -- come to their first DA as chapter leader - and many don't bother to come back.

The Delegate Assembly is where the battles must be won before we can say Unity can be challenged in the general elections. So far there are no signs this has happened yet.

But Unity knows that an uprising in the schools is where the real threat lies and the first signs of that will be when the DA starts voting against them. That is why they tried to close down the lobby for distribution as one repressive measure to make it more difficult to reach those CLs who might be wooed by the opposition.

I was traveling in Japan during this past October DA so I didn't get a chance to gauge reactions. My distributing stuff before and after I can get a sense of where things might have moved in the union at the school level.

The DA is prime recruiting ground to get more access to the schools
Since the DA is dominated by school-level Unity Caucus members who are CLs or delegates, they are the ones who come out month after month and thus the DA is not a true representative body but it is the only monthly gathering where all schools can show up and an important place for opposition to try to reach beyond their networks. And I will say that MORE people standing in the lobby after the meetings are getting people to sign up for our mailing lists - but in dribs and drabs -- and I think MORE has neglected doing this on a regular basis with an army of people instead of one or two.

There will be little chance of change in the UFT until a caucus opposing the UFT leadership reaches a critical mass in the number of schools where it has a base. Our pals in CORE in Chicago has a base in most of the 650 schools before they got elected. WE Caucus in Philly is creating a serious challenge because they have a base in a good percentage of schools.

But here in NYC things are not so easy due to the number of schools and the massive Unity machine that uses hundreds of full-time employees working on our dime to exercise control over the union.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Susan Ohanian: Bias at the New York Times on Education Reform

Susan on NYT Common Core coverage:
Let’s start with the June 2010 article announcing release of the Common Core.[5] Longtime reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize (for writing on Iran-Contra and drug trafficking in Mexico) reporter Sam Dillon declared that “The new standards were written by English and math experts convened last year by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.” In the ensuing five years, Times staffers repeat this claim again and again, though no experts are named, other than Sue Pimentel. Dillon gives no clarification here. In actuality, Pimentel trained as a lawyer but is a Standardisto’s standardisto. She got her big start in Standards setting with a 1993 grant in from the Walton Family Foundation and was a co-founder of Standards Work. Her close connection with Achieve put her in prime position to write the Common Core standards in language arts.

This piece introducing the Common Core to America does not mention that the Common Core existed because of a hundred million or so from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Instead, for his opening description of the Common Core, Dillon called on the perennial Times favorite education go-to mouthpiece, Chester E. Finn Jr., here identified as “a former assistant secretary of education who has long called for national standards.”
More at Counterpunch:

Stronger Together Threatens Randi/Mulgrew Power: What is Behind NYSUT Unity Attack on Beth Dimino

..if you are like me and you are tired of your profession being trampled while your union “leaders” compromise and collaborate with coroporate  privatizers who seek to destroy public education, then go ahead and reduce your VOTE-COPE and join STCaucus (open to any NYSUT members).  It literally is about the only say you have in your parent unions.... Unity’s Attack on Dimino & Reducing VOTE-COPE.. Posted on by
PJSTA include link to my Mulgrew punch in face video at AFT14

With Friedrichs on the way, Unity doubles down on repression -  the attack on Beth Dimino and smaller stuff like trying to stop voices of dissent are signs - which you know if you have been reading my recent posts.
There's lots of stuff out there on the attack on Beth Dimino --

NY State's Unity Caucus Launches a Despicable Attack Against PJSTA President Beth Dimino -
NYSUT to Charge Members for Meetings, Not Sure How Much Yet  from
The Pen is Mightier than the Person blog is telling:
Faced with an existential case before the Supreme Court which could make dues optional, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) continues to give its members plenty of reasons not to opt in. On the other hand, renting out its offices to "external groups" might become the norm if and when the Union blows up. 
Just go over to the ICE blog and read the comments on how pissed off people are at the UFT/Unity leadership: ICEUFT Blog
Three are about 5-7 uft members in my school out of about 100 who will voluntary pay union dues if given the option. I'm not one of them. I'll gladly go down with the ship if it means there's even the slightest chance I will get to see Mulgrew and other useless UFT staffers drown first.  
Hey - maybe they just don't care what happens if people stop paying dues. Or they think they have the situation under control.

Chatter has been coming in to Ed Notes about just how much of a threat Stronger Together, the statewide opposition caucus to Unity in NYSUT is viewed by Randi Weingarten and her liege Michael Mulgrew.

Some of this chatter I cannot share but there is serious attention to ST being paid. Let me explain why the threat before getting to the NYSUT Unity Caucus attack on Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station union and one of the leaders of ST Caucus.

Unity Caucus exists on 3 levels - NYC where the power rests, NYSUT where State Unity is controlled by NYC Unity - and the AFT national level where Unity is called Progressive Caucus. The entire pyramid rests on the ability of NYC Unity, which is a third of NYSUT - to control the other two thirds. NYSUT is a massive component of the AFT national -- maybe 30-40% of the membership.

So note how the pyramid can be topped if ST manages to dent NYC Unity control of NYSUT - and with a new election coming up in 2017 - state and city Unity are trying to either buy off or repress the Stronger Together threat. When I say buy off - I mean doing to ST what they did to New Action back in 2003 - and I think there will be people who feel it is better to not attack the machine but work with it - and Unity may be using Friedrichs to try to keep people on board - just as they used the Bloomberg threat to get New Action on board.

Beth Dimino has been the tireless ambassador of ST, reaching out 2 years ago even before ST was formed to MORE and MORE has become a partner with ST, with Mike Schirtzer having a position on the steering committee. MORE has taken its activism to a national level by aligning with other caucuses around the nation, some of whom have already won elections, have come close or about to like in Philly where WE - Working Educators - social justice caucus may actually win - another loss for Randi.

ST is allied with this national movement.

So imagine of ST actually threatens to capture NYSUT or win enough statewide delegates - especially from the other big cities - to challenge NYC Unity control over NYSUT - and then allies with the other national caucuses to create a threat to Randi in the AFT. Now I do not think that will happen this summer at AFT16 in Minneapolis -- but a bunch of us are going to work the rooms to help build that alliance for possible challenge in 2018 - where it may be Mulgrew instead of Randi.

So the attempt to discredit Beth as one of the key components in building these alliances is not just an isolated incident. To get the  full story and response here is the Port Jefferson Station teacher union response:

Unity’s Attack on Dimino & Reducing VOTE-COPE

Telling Comment on How UFT District Reps Favor Principal Friends Over Membership

In the world of totalitarian Unity Caucus even one voice of dissent is worrisome and they put lots of energy into deflecting and marginalizing these voices.
Are UFT/Unity Caucus non-elected District Reps the most insidious people in the UFT hierarchy? This comment was posted by Anonymous on your post "Commentary: Suppressing Democracy at the UFT:
All part of the story of our lazy stupid apathetic membership. We have a very decent CL, Unity affiliated, but asking a lot of questions. It is so pitiful to watch the District Rep come into the building and toss the CL under a truck, even right in front of members. The UFT leadership is trying to push the CL out with taunts and challenges from the friend of a highly placed UFT official. Said UFT friend, is a handsomely paid ($15,000 to 20,000 a year) shill for a principal who buys loyalty with DOE cash. When it came time to pick SLT people, our stupid beyond belief staff voted for this person. You can tell someone not to step off he curb in front of a speeding car, but when they deliberately choose to ignore you, they sort of deserve what they get.
There are so many bad stories about UFT District Reps. These are the key middle management people who ride herd on the chapter leaders in their district to keep the membership in line and undermine any opposition roilings in the schools. They are the key components of the Unity machine. Before 2002 they were elected by the chapter leaders in the district. Unity managed to control this process well enough as to have all DRs in the caucus - until the Manhattan HS teachers revolted in 1990 and elected long-time Chapter Leader Bruce Markens, who was re-elected time after time until he retired in 2000. Bruce was like a giant burr in Randi's paw and as soon as she could she eliminated the possibility this would ever happen again.

DRs hold meetings every month with the district CLs who are mostly cowed into pushing the leadership agenda. Even opposition people seem to avoid confrontation at these meetings. Now some DRs are more skilled than others at keeping order - they tell opposition people one thing while slashing at them behind their backs. In the world of totalitarian Unity even one voice of dissent is worrisome and they put lots of energy into deflecting and marginalizing these voices.

If you are a CL don't take it any more. Don't let them totally establish the agenda. Make them deal with issues in your school that are not addressed. Don't assume all the other CLs in the room who are quiet are happy. Reach out to them and see if you can establish alliances. Even set up an alternate district meeting of even a few where you can address issues of concern.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Commentary: Suppressing Democracy at the UFT: Raw Video Plus Roseanne Letter to Mulgrew

Some people may be surprised by what happened on Thursday when the UFT changed the rules about distribution of lit and some of us made a stand. I've been through this with them for 40 years. I used to put my stuff on their table at times and they tried all kinds of ways to remove it. I would find hundreds in the garbage. I once caught a Queens borough office Unity hack pretend to put her papers down on my stack and them lift it off the table -- she is one of the swines of the earth.
How about this one for lit distribution?

Of course they also made poor Greg Lundahl sand outside with the Unity lit to be "fair" while they had 3 tables of their stuff, branded as official UFT Lit but as we know just another part of the Unity propaganda machine.

Fact is as I point out below in my response to Roseanne McCosh, we should all have a space for people to pick up lit on the way in so we can deal with the so-called "egress problem" they claim there is. Until Thursday I had pretty much my own table on the side -- out of the way where most people won't get the stuff - but at least the Weingarten ruling in 1999 in response to my raising a point of order on how they can conduct business when the DA rules require resos longer than 3 lines to be handed out to everyone -- and by the way that itself was a ruling designed to squeeze the opposition from raising stuff off the cuff. I started doing Ed Notes as my response to that rule.

But when I was a delegate I had to take part in the meetings and since so many people came in late I needed a space to leave my stuff. Then they started tossing my stuff in the garbage and I threw a fit them, even challenging one of the goons to get past me -- until Tom Pappas broke it up and Randi in essence sort of ruled in my favor -- but at that time Randi and Unity were sort of courting me.

I believe people in the opposition have been too wussy about lit distribution at meetings by telling people they don't have the right. I used to demand that right and stood my ground - even at district rep meetings - and every CL in my district used to get my lit at every meeting. DR may not have been happy but my view is he was there to serve me not me him. (Not long after Randi made the position appointed instead of elected -- and I think I actually had a shot at giving someone a run if they had an election in 2002.)

It was suggested that all my scribbling on the video I released (Video: Taking a Stand Against UFT/Unity Attempt to Ban Lit Distribution in Lobby of 52 Broadway) took away some of the impact. So here is the raw video for anyone interested:

MORE Makes a Stand As UFT Unity Tries to Bar Us From Distributing in Lobby from MORE-UFT/GEM on Vimeo. and the embed code at the end of this post.

Here is Roseanne's letter - and I don't need an apology - I need my distribution table back and it should be with all the other stuff they give out.

I just saw the video of your Unity goons attacking and attempting to silence Norm Scott in the lobby of 52 Broadway.  I will be forwarding the video link to the UFT members in my school.  Real cowardly thuggish employees you have... going after a 70 year old man like that.  Egress situation?  Bullshit!  Unity's scared and angry because you can't control the message coming from those who oppose your decision making.  Instead of open debate you seek to silence opposition by trying to intimidate them.   How fascist of you.  I'm surprised you didn't threaten to punch him in the face like you did with those who oppose common core.  But then again, talking tough from a podium while surrounded by people ordered to protect you is quite different than participating in an actual street fight with someone who punches back.  You and that big young goon who tried to put his hands on Norm should apologize to him.
Cc:  PS 8 chapter leader, PS 8 delegate and Norm ScottRoseanne McCosh PS 8X

My response:
You had to remind me I'm 70?  The uft used to use their own unity goons in the old days. Now they use poor security guards who are just doing their jobs but this guy didn't have a clue. The other guard is a very nice guy and I've dealt with him a number of times and is courteous and respectful. We chatted afterwards as I explained the background for my behaving the way he did. Fact is almost 20 years ago I raise this issue at a del ass as a point of order - how can people who want to attend the meeting distribute info especially motions that da rules require to be distributed in advance so people read them and know what they will be voting on can get to do so if we can't put them on the table? So Randi ruled that non official uft lit would go on a separate table and until this meeting whenever I asked for that table they gave me one but off to the side purposely so most people won't see it - but I lived with it as long as I could be in the lobby. In fact if the uft wants to separate other lit from official all they have to do is add one table next to the official ones and clearly label it as non. Uft. But note they won't do that which exposes the real purpose of this ruling. I also object to the ruling that we can't give stuff out in outside borough offices because the space is rented. And then try to suppress people from handing out stuff inside the meetings I rooms payed for with our dues. Also unacceptable. One day I will go to one of these borough meetings and raise the same hell and film it. Unity is trying to hold onto its monopoly on communicating with members. Our younger active oppositionists have not been aggressive enough in this issue. I insisted on handing out my stuff at district rep meetings. It's time to refuse to take no for an answer. Go call the cops. They'll laugh just like they did back in the old days when we handed stuff outside a meeting on the old Lexington hotel and Florence Fidel called them. They identify with rank and file and told her to take a hike - and took one of my leaflets. 

Coockoo Nest Cast Photo by Danielle Rose Fischer and John Panepinto Plus Rockaway Times Story

I made it through opening night and managed to get my  lines straight - and managed to find my old teacher voice. Then went out with the great cast to a diner. Up until 1:30 AM. Now have to go back over those lines for tonight and again for Sunday matinee. No one ever said theater is not hard work even if you have a small part. Due to content no one under 16 admitted without a cast but we have to amazing 13 year olds doing a lot of heavy lifting to make the show run smoothly.

The Rockaway Times - the other newspaper to The Wave here in Rockaway did a great piece on the show and I am quoted. Not the takeoff on the mayor using McMurphy. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Video: Taking a Stand Against UFT/Unity Attempt to Ban Lit Distribution in Lobby of 52 Broadway

Throughout its history, UFT members have been distributing literature at UFT Delegate Assemblies in the lobbies of the buildings or hotels where they were being held. Since the UFT bought its own building at 52 Broadway, we have been using the lobby. Then at the Nov. 12 2015 DA they ordered us outside. I was handing out a MORE resolution for the meeting on I and others refused to move and challenged them to call the police to have us removed. Our dues pay for that building and we shall not be removed from our own property.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Nov 17, 2015 - Teachers Unite Brooklyn Restorative Justice Schools Meetup

Join us for a Brooklyn Restorative Justice Schools Meetup!

Featuring a screening of the new short documentary “Circling Justice

at Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders
Tuesday, November 17th
4:30 to 6pm 
2630 Benson Ave
D to 25th Ave. / N to 86th St. / F to Ave. U

Students, educators, parents, community members—all are welcome!
& There will be pizza.

Questions: email anna [at] teachersunite [dot] net
Flyer attached

Anna Bean
Campaign Coordinator
90 John St., Suite 308
New York, NY 10038

Is the Opt-Out Movement Bread and Butter Unionism or Social Justice - or Both?

...parents in Change the Stakes (CTS) will be out there agitating and also working with MORE teachers to push opt-out -- which MORE will also do in its UFT election campaign -- as a way to not only protect children from test abuse but teachers too.  

There has often been a false dichotomy within and outside MORE over what is termed "trade union bread and butter" and social justice unionism. Many of us have come to see them both under the same umbrella. The Opt-out movement is a perfect example of this fusion.

MORE chose Jia Lee, one of the leading teacher opt-out voices and a teacher once facing off with an abusive principal as its UFT presidential candidate and she is a symbol of the unity between what is so often mistakenly seen as 2 strands.

MORE people look at the entire range of issues facing teachers - salary, preps, class size, general working conditions, testing, race, teacher hiring practices, student welfare, parent interests, principal abuse, teacher workloads, common core, rating teachers based on test scores, ATRs as a creation of ed deform, etc. as interconnected.

Two leading bloggers, both ATRs and strong advocates of teacher rights - also strong advocates of the trade union side of things, recently posted opt-out pieces.
Chaz makes this important point:  75% of the parents "opted out" their child because of the teacher tie-in.

There is social justice meeting trade union head on.

James ties the relative weakness of the opt-out issue here in NYC to the lack of UFT support:
Opt-out supporters will not have an easy time meeting a goal I saw online of doubling this past spring's total of 220,000 students who refused to take exams. UFT support would certainly be welcomed. Opt-out is weaker in so called progressive NYC compared to much of the rest of the state.
New York City has now become in many ways the standard bearer for almost a kind of Status-quo unionism. The UFT leadership is enabling the people who are trying to destroy us by still trying to play the appeasement game. Our leadership continues to call only for modifications of the test and punish policies that are killing public education.
Being on the Change the Stakes steering committee I get a lot of info as to currents related to opt out in NYC schools and there is some movement, though the figures will not hit a crescendo for a while. But parents in CTS will be out there agitating and also working with MORE teachers to push opt-out -- which MORE will also do in its UFT election campaign -- as a way to not only protect children from test abuse but teachers too.

There was some chatter this morning about starting borough opt-out groups where we have resources.

I left this comment on the ICE blog:
Opt out is beginning to take root here in NYC. Don't even consider the UFT as a factor - this must be parent driven. MORE people have been involved from the beginning with Change the Stakes - which is where Jia Lee came from to MORE. Running the most prominent teacher leading opt out for UFT president will get the movement noticed beyond the union. We have principals now working with us - some behind the scenes. We started with 4 optouts just 3 years ago in the city -- look at the rate of growth. The DOE will do anything to can to kill the movement but it is something they can't stop because as long as there are these tests opt out will exist. When you look at the total assault on teachers, their unions and public education and the helplessness so many feel, the only thing that has the potential to protect people is the opt out movement.