Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The NY Teacher trumpets every time there is a rare grievance victory. BloomKlein just laugh and refuse to enforce even sustained grievances. Weingarten brags about the pamphlet “Know Your Rights” but when you do stand up for your rights you find the union behind - far behind.
A little over a week ago I got a chilling phone call. It was from a former colleague who taught across the hall from me for a decade. That day (Thurs, Feb. 15) she was arrested and taken from her school in handcuffs based on a bogus charge made by a parent. She was not told the reason or told her rights. Most egregious was the actions of the school administrators. The AP came up to her room and told her she was wanted in the office. Not one other word that there were 5 cops waiting for her to arrest her. 5 cops! I guess there are no other crimes to solve in this city. But I do not blame the police for this.
The former Leadership Academy principal, who is close to the parent, was smiling ear-to-ear. She had finally found a way to remove a teacher who was a thorn in her side (the teacher ran for chapter leader last year and lost by a slim margin.) It was certainly within her power to convince the police that this case did not warrant an arrest.
What kind of monsters do we have running our schools?
How do we know the charge was bogus? While the teacher sat in the police station until 7pm, the police investigated at the school and the child was taken to the hospital by the police and found to not have a mark on her. When they returned to the station, the cop said it was all “nonsense” and they rescinded the arrest. They had looked at her 22-year record and found not one mark against her. “People we spoke to had good things to say about you,” they said. Someone from child support services told the teacher that the parent, who was at the station, said that if the teacher offered an apology, “this would all go away.” “Hell no,” the teacher said. For escorting a child to her seat after she had run out of the room twice? “Hell no!”
The teacher will now spend months or longer in the rubber room. We are efforting to help her find a lawyer to sue everyone involved. Maybe one day she will own the school building where she was so humiliated. And hopefully, the principal’s house.
The principal can keep smiling ear-to-ear, for now, having removed the one person who stood up to her. What a lesson to the rest of the people in the school, which has undergone enormous turnover in just a few years. Ask people if things are not worse than when the principal arrived.
Now, where does the blame lie for this fiasco? The principal? Sure. But I also blame a union leadership that can be so weak, helpless or worse, not consider that this can happen to any teacher in the system at any time, a high priority issue to address.
Why not, you might ask? I should put it in terms of they are more concerned about the bad public relations that might result from a teacher that is guilty than they do about the innocent teachers who have to be put through this. When I told some union officials about the case, they said, “Why didn’t she call the union?” The teacher has no faith in the union and when she did call the district rep the response was not exactly immediate. The UFT will say, “She should have read the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet in their "blame the victim" mentality.
I went to the rubber room at 25 Chapel St. Monday, Feb 26 and videotaped a statement from the teacher as she came out at 3pm. Then we went to the UFT Executive Board meeting where we both spoke. “We have a policy,” was the response. “We get a lawyer to assist you.” What is left out is what they don’t assist you with. The legal assistance is limited. I asked why doesn’t the union take this to the top level of the police department so cops will be alerted that these cases are all too often “nonsense.” The response: “People are guilty too. We’ll get them a lawyer.”
Thus, the UFT has the same response whether the teacher has committed a crime or whether there is a vendetta on the part of a principal or parent or even a child. This attitude is what is undermining the union at the basic level – the school.
There are no repercussions for anyone at the DOE because the teacher is left to fend for herself. If she wants to sue for false arrest, the burden is on her to find and pay for a lawyer. Then if she wins after spending an onerous amount of her won money, the union will trumpet the victory as theirs.
Oh, she might even win her way back into the school from hell after the DOE investigates after months in the rubber room. But what of the image children, parents and colleagues have of her removal in handcuffs?
I can point to case after case where Randi Weingarten has protected principals and superintendents, not wanting to interfere with cozy political arrangements.
When Jeff Kaufman, one of the ICE HS reps on the current Exec Bd and himself a former lawyer made a resolution last June calling on the UFT to provide more support to teachers in this position by hiring paralegals to do their own investigation apart from the DOE—questioning witnesses, etc, Weingarten and the Exec Bd were opposed. After all, they have to use the money for more insipid commercials. This is one of the reasons why Weingarten is so anxious to get Kaufman and other ICE-TJC reps off the Board.
At the Feb. 26 Exec. Bd meeting, Jeff and others in ICE gave the teacher a sense of support she does not get from the UFT. Jeff told her what she would have to do and gave her a lot of advice. At the end of the meeting, long-time Unity hack Sandra March, one of our 3 pension reps, attacked me, typical of the standard Unity response.
Because ICE raised this case to such a high profile, we expect the UFT to respond with a higher level of attention than the average teacher would get.
If ICE-TJC had more influence, we would call a press conference in front of the school and parade the teacher as the poster girl for teacher abuse. We would help her find a lawyer and make the DOE pay to such an extent they will think very long and hard before letting this happen to another teacher.
There would be consequences for allowing this to happen to an innocent teacher. The law will take care of the guilty. The UFT should stand up and deliver for the innocents.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Teachers committed to social justice often avoid having anything to do with their union for a variety of reasons. Whether curious about individual professional rights or how to build a large-scale movement, we invite New York City public school teachers to learn about the radical roots of the United Federation of Teachers, ask questions for veteran UFT activists to answer, and find out why rank and file involvement is key to mobilizing for social change.
Megan Behrent has been a high school teacher for eight years and is a UFT delegate. She ran on the Teachers for a Just Contract slate in 2004. She was on the city-wide UFT negotiation committee in 2006 and was one of the few to vote to fight for a better contract on that committee. She is also an active socialist and has been involved in UFTers to Stop the War.
Sally Lee is a former teacher and a core member of NYCoRE (New York Collective of Radical Educators). She founded Teachers Unite to support teacher-activists and progressive educators with resources that develop community leadership and social justice pedagogy.
Norm Scott spent thirty-five years working in the NYC school system, thirty of them as an elementary school teacher. He was a UFT delegate for much of that time and a chapter leader from 1994-1998. He started publishing Education Notes, a newsletter for NYC teachers in 1996 and was a founding member of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a progressive caucus in the UFT in 2003. He writes a blog at http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (the West Side Highway)
between Bank & Bethune Streets
Subways: A, C, E or L to 14th Street & 8th Ave; 1, 2, 3 or 9 to 14th Street &
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Sam Lazarus, Chapter Leader, Bryant High School, is running for one of the 6 high school UFT Executive Board seats. These are the most "electable" positions in this election for ICE-TJC but they face both New Action and Unity who have cross-endorsed their candidates in an attempt to wipe out the lone opposition voice on the Executive Board. See his video.
Peter Lamphere is a union activist and teacher at the Bronx High School of Science. Previously, Peter was a UFT Delegate from Columbus High School where he led a rare UFT victory to stop his school from being closed completely. The fact that there is a Columbus High School at all that is still in existence is due in no small part to Peter’s organizing ability.
Sam Lazarus has over twenty years experience as a teacher. He currently works at Bryant High School where he is in year four as chapter leader. Sam organized his school and region in leading a Region 4 protest rally that successfully put a stop to Region 4 micromanagement. Teachers in Region 4 are no longer required to use the “workshop model” in all of their lessons thanks to Sam’s organizing and his ability to organize the UFT to join the fight. It was Sam’s idea that the UFT should combine with other unions rather than accept the horrible giveback laden 2005 Contract.
Marian Swerdlow was educated in NYC public schools, and has a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University. She is the author of "Underground Woman: My Four Years as a NY Subway Conductor." She has taught at FDR H.S., Brooklyn since 1990, and has been a UFT Delegate for twelve years. She has presented many resolutions at the UFT Delegate Assembly including many attempts to persuade the Union leadership to actively engage the rank and file.
Nick Licari is the longtime chapter leader from Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan where he teaches. Nick helped to elect the only two independent, non Unity District Representatives back when there were elections for that position. Nick is a strong advocate for his members at Norman Thomas and he has led several demonstrations to protest conditions at his school. Nick was the Teachers for a Just Contract candidate for President in the 2004 UFT election.
James Eterno is a twenty year veteran social studies teacher at Jamaica High School who has been chapter leader for 11years. He has been elected to the UFT Executive Board for ten years, seven in New Action and the last three as an ICE-TJC representative. Eterno left NAC when they decided not to run against Randi in 2004. He has authored numerous resolutions that have become Union policy including a recent proposal to demand that the UFT oppose the closing of schools. He argued against Mayoral Control of the schools as early as 2001 when Randi first argued in favor of it.
Jeff Kaufman is the Chapter Leader of Rikers Island Academy. Even though the Department of Corrections along with the Principal at Rikers conspired in 2995 to have Jeff removed from the school because he was helping a student, his chapter still overwhelmingly reelected him as their chapter leader. Kaufman was completely exonerated by the DOE and has taken his case to return to Rikers the State Public Employees Relations Board. Jeff has questioned Randi on numerous occasions at the Executive Board where he has served for the last three years. Jeff made a demand that the UFT hire staff to do our own investigations when teachers are removed from schools. Why should we rely on special investigations people to make the only record of any incident?
James Eterno (left center) and Jeff Kaufman (right) at Oct. 2005 rally at UFT HQ calling for a NO VOTE on the 2005 contract.
Jeff and James also led a vociferous opposition to the Fact Finding report that led to the Draconian givebacks of the 2005 Contract. First, they warned Randi in 2004 not to go to fact finding because they knew we would lose based on precedent of 1993 and 2002. Randi ignored them. Then, they told Randi to reject the Fact Finding Report when it was released and to start all over. She again reacted with anger. Finally, when the final Contract was agreed to, they pointed out all of its flaws and made the case the Contract would be a disaster for UFT members. Randi’s reaction has been to attend fewer Executive Board meetings and when she does show up, she usually is only there for part of the meetings. If she can’t face tough questions from UFT Executive Board members, then how can she stand up to the Mayor?
80,000 teachers in schools.
20,000 non-teachers (paras, secretaries, social workers, guidance, nurses, etc.)
Total: 155,000 members
If you break down the UFT election into categories, you can see the inherent lack of democracy built into the system. All 11 officer positions are voted on at-large — the entire membership, which includes 55,000 retirees. Even the divisional Vice Presidents -- elementary, high school, middle schools and vocational schools - are included. They used to be voted on only by their division but Unity changed the rules to assure they will never be threatened with having even one opposition member on the AdCom (Administrative Committee.) All 11 officers are also members of the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly.
Using at-large voting is the key to control, since retirees make up 1/3 of the union membership and vote overwhelmingly for Unity.
What about the other 78 members of the Executive Board?
42 members are also elected at-large. So far, 53 (42 + 11) for Unity.
14 functional (non-teachers, including retirees) are as good as at-large: make the total 67.
The 22 remaining members of the EB come from the 80,000 teachers actually working in the schools: Elem (11), Mid Schl (5), HS (6).
So let's say the majority of people actually teaching in the schools vote for ICE-TJC. Let's take an extreme case and say 75%- around 60,000 teachers vote to elect ICE-TJC in these three divisions. That would give the representatives of the 80,000 teachers in the schools only 22 out of 89 seats on the Executive Board, leaving Unity with over 75% of the EB seats.
If this scenario ever occurs (even with a 51% majority), the opposition would have a very good case to make with the members that there must be fundamental change in the constitution that can allow such blatant manipulation. We can guarantee Unity will respond in ways to try to maintain control. One way is to dilute the % of working teachers in the UFT by adding nurses, home workers, etc., a process that is already in the works. Thus, the United Federation of Teachers may one day be a union where teachers are a minority.
Unity Caucus will organize banana pickers to solidfy its reputation as running the biggest banana republic in North America.
So far, the opposition has been able to win the 6 high school seats on a fairly consistent basis and once won the middle schools. They have never gotten close in the elementary schools. When New Action, which had been winning these high school seats went over to the dark side and joined with Unity in the 2004 elections, that spurred TJC become active in elections for the first time, while leading to the formation of ICE in response to the New Action sell-out. The result was that the ICE-TJC high school candidates defeated New Action.
But holding 83 out of 89 seats is not enough control for Unity. This time they are endorsing the New Action candidates for high school Ex. Bd. so that a vote for the Unity or the New Action slates will count as a vote for the New Action candidates. If they win in the high schools there will be no ICE-TJC members of the Executive Board. In addition, Unity has guaranteed New Action at least 5 seats on the Board by running 5 New Action candidates at-large.
Commercial, commercial, commercial
That is why it is so important for high school teachers in particular to vote the ICE-TJC slate (DO NOT VOTE ONLY FOR INDIVIDUALS). The six ICE-TJC people running have a lot of experience as part of the opposition to Unity for many years.
James Eterno (Current EB member, and a member for many years, CL Jamaica HS)
Jeff Kaufman (Current EB member, CL Rikers)
Peter Lamphere (Teacher at Bronx High School of Science, former Delegate. Columbus HS)
Sam Lazarus (CL at Bryant HS and the instigator of the Region 4 rally against Reyes Irizzary.)
Nick Licari (CL at Norman Thomas HS for many years, TJC Pres candidate in 2004)
Marian Swerdlow (Del, FDR HS and active in the opposition for 15 years.)
(More extensive biographies will be posted soon.)
Election these 6 people to the Executive Board will preserve some vestige of representation for opposition voices to Unity.
A list of ICE-TJC candidates for officer and executive board can be found at http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/
Saturday, February 24, 2007
See Gene's video.
Gene Prisco was a teacher for 33 years, a member of the local school board in Staten Island for five years and has been a community activist for many years.
In 1998, he ran for Congress as the Democratic nominee against right-winger Vito Fossella. Fossella had a near zero rating from the AFL-CIO.
Because Gene has been outspoken on issues within the UFT over many years, the UFT refused to support him.
Fossella has supported all of Bush's policies and has been one of the most anti-labor members of Congress.
Lack of support for Gene typifies what is wrong with the UFT's political strategy through COPE that often results in supporting enemies of teachers while denying support for friends of teachers.
Gene is running for one of the UFT Executive Board At-Large positions in the UFT elections.
Click here to see why she is running for one of the top eleven officer positions with the ICE-TJC slate.
Friday, February 23, 2007
This supervisor is really not much of a has-been, but more of a definite won't be.
When she opens her mouth, it seems it is only to change feet.
He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.
This supervisor has delusions of adequacy.
He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.
This supervisor is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
This supervisor should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better.
She's got a full 6-pack but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together.
A gross ignoramus --- 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.
He doesn't have ulcers, but he's a carrier.
I would like to go hunting with him sometime.
He's been working with glue too much.
She would argue with a signpost.
He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room.
When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell.
If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he's the other one.
A photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on.
Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming.
I still can't believe he beat out 1,000,000 other sperm.
Some drank from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.
A principal, known for his long faculty meetings, noticed a teacher leave in the middle of his presentation and come back right before the meeting was over. When asked where he had been the teacher said “out getting a haircut.”
“But why didn't you get one before?”
“I didn't need one before.”
The INEPT program will guarantee teachers will be monitored constantly. “Clearly, the problem with our school system lies with a lack of supervision over an inadequate teaching staff,” said a DOE spokesperson.
“Our goal is to have a supervisor/ teacher ratio of one-to-one. No teaching experience will be required for a job as an administrator. We actually prefer to recruit people from the business community. Our experience with Chancellor Klein has shown that people with no clue about education and a great PR staff can fake it enough to make it look like they know what they are doing. Better yet, they don't carry the baggage of having taught, an experience which might engender sympathy for teachers and children and interfere with our business approach to education.”
The DOE is claiming such success for this program, NASA is adapting it and will henceforth hire people from the Agriculture Department to build the next generation of shuttles.
Read press release at Norm's Notes.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
by Norman Scott
They say traveling to far away places can be broadening. But sometimes the longest journeys are not measured in miles.
An invitation to attend a luncheon sponsored by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research required preparations worthy of a trip to the Himalayas.
Generally perceived as being right wing supporters of privatization efforts and often leading the attacks on public schools and teacher unions, their mission statement is “to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.” The lead quote on their web site is by Rudy Giuliani. Better get the full battery of shots.
The luncheon featured Christopher Cerf, the Deputy Chancellor for Organizational Strategy, Human Capital, and External Affairs for the NYC Department of Education. That mouthful of a job description tells you a lot. As an educational writer I have criticized and satirized Cerf, the former CEO of Edison Schools, a for-profit company that milks money from the public schools. Cerf has been featured recently in the press for all kinds of fun things, like trying to hide not selling his stock in Edison and only doing so surreptitiously when it became clear this fact would be revealed. I had published a photo on my blog of Cerf seeming to be dozing at one of Joel Klein’s press conferences. Klein is his boss. I better bring a food taster.
The luncheon was being held at the University Club on 5th Ave. and 54th St. Always prepare for journeys by reading your travel guide. Mine said:
“Designed by Stanford White this is the city's grandest clubhouse. With its deep rustication, grand proportions and superb craftsmanship, it is the city's finest Italian Renaissance palazzo-style structure. As impressive as its exterior, the interior of the building is splendiferous with rich marbles, gilded columns, fine woods and excellent murals by H. Siddons Mowbray. The three most impressive rooms are the reading lounge on the elevated first floor overlooking Fifth Avenue, the magnificent third-floor double-height dining room that stretches the length of the building's side street frontage, and the enormous, vaulted library. In 1987 the club admitted women.”
Hey! Change takes time in far away places. I better get a 2nd set of shots.
I dressed carefully. Digging out my best and darkest corduroy jacket, I desperately searched for a pair of matching corduroy pants that would give the rough impression I was wearing a suit. I found something. It was black. Sort of. I put on a black button down shirt worn over a black tee-shirt with white lettering that said “Quantum Samurai Scorpions” given to me by the robotics team at Aviation high school. In case of violence, I would rip off my jacket and shirt and use the scorpion on my shirt to back them away. But I would be helpless if they resorted to blowguns that shot voucher darts. I added black sneakers disguised as shoes for quick getaway and I was ready to go.
On my way down the street, my feet began to slip on the ice from the storm the day before. Back to the house to change into my tan-with black-border waterproof hiking boots that I had bought for last year’s trip to Costa Rica but hadn’t worn since. I could kick my way out of there if attacked. My outfit complete, I was off to the B train with a change for the V at 47rd St. I practiced my moves in the subway.
I approached the University Club with stealth, searching for a way in. I used my passport to get past the outer-borough-denizen filtering system. Then past the next six doormen — after a brain scan designed to seek out alien thoughts — like any inclination to oppose the conversion of every public school in Manhattan into condos.
I approached the next barrier, a man in a red jacket whose first words were, “You need a jacket and tie,” looking at me like I had just been scraped off his shoe. I opened my coat and said, “I have the jacket. One out of 2 ain’t bad.” He didn’t smile. “The invitation didn’t say anything about a tie,” I whined. “We have ties in the back,” he said, looking down at my hiking boots.
I was going to ask him where I could change money since I heard they used a currency I was not familiar with — millions. I’m pretty much a ten and twenty man. I thought better of it.
I went to the cloakroom to check my dark, down coat, which left feathers clinging to my corduroy. I tried to cover up the ketchup stains still lingering from last night’s fries. The guys at the checkroom sent me to the back to pick out a tie from a rack of rejects. I chose a lovely school tie – blue field with yellow markings, some of which looked to be moving. I made the tie in the mirror in the lobby while sneering people passed me by. Finally, I was ready for combat.
The Manhattan Institute luncheon was on the 7th floor, not one of the three grand rooms, but c’est la vie — maybe next time. I got off the elevator and approached the lady at the entry desk sitting with a pile of nametags in front of her. I expected mine wouldn’t be there, sure the people from the Department of Education, who’ve have been tracking my every move, would try to keep me away. But there it was. It had a safety pin on the back. I looked around to see where other people attached their tags so I wouldn’t make myself stand out by having a nametag out of place. For a moment, I thought of showing my defiance by putting it where it was guaranteed to get noticed. Not a good idea. Damn safety pins.
I entered the room. Lots of wood and twenty-foot ceilings with painted angels hovering over clouds, looking down with looks on their faces like they had to pee. I was one of the first ones there even though it was 12 o’clock. I forgot to be fashionably late. There was a table with drinks. Wine. A glass of red would calm me down and then I could stand in the corner and observe the species, getting in touch with my own Jane Goodall. Mingling was not going to be happening for me today.
The lady in front of me asked the server what the white wine was. “Chardonnay” was the response. She snorted and said, “I’ll take red.” “Red for me too,” I echoed. She turned and smiled. I said, “I really want Merlot but am afraid to ask since that wine movie trashed the Merlots.” “I like Merlot too,” she laughed. We spoke about wine and schools for the next ten minutes. Turned out she was also a fugitive from NYC schools, but had risen considerably higher than I, becoming one of the rulers and shakers before she retired to become CEO of a company setting up charter schools nationwide. We exchanged contact info and I was off to my corner to listen and observe. I heard lots of breathless, “We’re just waiting for the charter schools cap to be lifted.” The public Ed gravy train will be long indeed.
I become a mingler after a glass of wine on an empty stomach takes effect. I floated around looking at nametags. There was the former CEO of one of the major financial firms in the world. Dismantling public schools is hot with the corporate types — they can say they served humanity. I saw two reporters I knew. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Norm, good to meet you. I feel like an alien.” It was JB. We knew each other from a common listserve we are on but it was the first time we had met. There were other aliens whose names I recognized. It turned out there were more people there for the free lunch than I imagined. We banded together like Custard’s army at the Little Big Horn.
Finally, we were called to lunch. Chicken and dessert. And a roll. Not top shelf. The wine had gone to my head. I sat at a corner table with someone I knew from years before. Cerf made his outrageous presentation to much clucking from the audience. I disagreed with 99% of it. When the question period came, I raised my hand in vain. Just as I was about to rip off my jacket and shirt and start using Quantum Samarai moves, I got called on for the last question of the day. Needless to say, there won’t be a next time.
This article was originally written as a travel piece for the LostWriters web site and can be accessed at: http://www.lostwriters.net. It also appeared in print in The Wave on Feb. 23, 2007.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Higher salaried teachers are in this predicament due to the Unity Caucus' bargaining strategy over the last 30 years which has deepened the division between those at the top of the pay scale and the median salaried teacher.
Here is one response to Sean. What do you think?
Monday, February 19, 2007
ICE-TJC won top spot in the lottery for the order on the ballot and in the NY Teacher in 2 separate drawings. Bob Astrowski represented Unity and in both instances he picked the ICE-TJC slate number 1. I chose 2nd and in both cases picked Unity. New Action came up last by default -- they had no rep present -- probably too busy with their UFT jobs.
Astrowski is being sent to run the retired teacher chapter in Antarctica.
Oversight Hearings on the DOE's Small Schools Initiative
February 16, 2007
Good morning. I'm
Tilden has a large population of recently arrived immigrants. We have students from Latin American, the West Indies and
A couple of days ago at the start of one of my afternoon classes I observed a group of Haitian students standing by a window. They were completely entranced as they watched snow falling into the street outside. Their sheer awe and the silence in which they stood watching the event amused me and I started to joke about their innocence. One boy protested, stepped away from his classmates, and said that he'd already seen snow -- sometime last week.
Yesterday the mood had changed. The students were sullen about the weather. They were surprised at how quickly the snow had turned hard and ugly. There was even the sense of a general disaster. During the morning, Nancy and Jude, a brother and sister in the same class, arrived very late and out of breath. There were wearing visitors' badges from
I'm not here to complain about the bad weather my students are experiencing. They are living the brave life of immigrants. I want to speak about the kind of educational welcome they receive in this city and how the new schools initiative that is being implemented at Tilden shows an abhorrent lack of planning to meet their needs.
The planned phase-out of
Tilden itself experienced the effects of other large schools closing and the deflection of incoming 9th graders to neighboring zoned schools. Some of our current students come from neighborhoods where other bilingual programs were dismantled, such as Wingate and the Erasmus campus. A few years ago Tilden made news when its population increased by 20 percent as it accommodated students from other parts of
What does it mean to lose bilingual education? By this approach recently arriving immigrants benefit by learning new subject knowledge and skills in their native language while also learning English for a substantial part of the day. Bilingual education puts students' previous knowledge and reading skills to ready use. Research has shown that when students are receiving good instruction in their native language, they get new background knowledge that helps make the English they hear and read more understandable. As a result the use of the students' first language accelerates their learning of the type of English they need for school.3
For adolescent youth bilingual programs provide a basic psychological support. On a personal level they are gratified to be able to use their native language for academic purposes. It allows them feel more like the adults they are becoming rather than babies who must grope for basic words and structures of English the entire school day.
Teenagers who have recently immigrated need such support. Adolescence is typically a difficult stage of life. Young people experience many new inner conflicts during their teen years as they strive to develop integrated personalities. They have a need to share what they know and who they are fluently. Granted this is not always possible for immigrant children of every language background. But it makes no sense to destroy a program that does provide such opportunities and support, especially when nothing even remotely similar has been proposed to take its place.
Immigrant teenagers need stable schools with caring teachers. They also benefit from the cross-cultural experiences that are possible in a large school. I'm glad to have my students in a school with students of different language backgrounds, include many native-English speakers. Tilden affords them the chance for social interaction with American-born peers in many settings.
To single out one instance, some of my students and former students are on Tilden's varsity football team. Sidney Lowens, Kerby Janvier and Lominy Pompee formed part of starting offensive line and special squads last fall. Lominy also served as kicker. Their great blocking and hustle helped carry the Blue Devils into the city playoffs under their coach Peter Waterman. There are other students in the football program of Haitian and West Indian background. The three I named are recent immigrants with low to high intermediate-
The interaction of students and school community is a two-way street. As students who often have a strong intrinsic motivation to learn recent immigrants provide a good influence for other students in the school. I'm often stopped by teachers of the mainstream content areas who tell me what great contributions the former ESL students are making in their classes. At Tilden the ESL students participate in book clubs, art exhibits, dance shows and science fairs, collaborating and sharing their talents with American-born students.
Our school benefits students who are learning English in many ways which the city doesn't bother to track or elicit views about. There is much available data collected by the school from the moment families arrive with over-the-counter students. Parents and guardians of students identified as English Language Learners are given a mandated orientation that requires they view a video presenting both bilingual education and the English immersion approach. The parents are then given a survey to confirm their preference of instructional approaches. These steps were established under Chancellor Harold O. Levy and were meant to gauge the extent to which bilingual education might be substituted for by English immersion. Each year the parents of new students at Tilden have been unanimous in choosing our bilingual program.
The plan to phase-out Tilden beginning September 2007 shows an marked indifference to available DOE data with regard to the success of Tilden's bilingual program. The recent School Quality Review described a school with a new principal that was making great strides in improving the school. They praised the principal for her good use of data to adjust and change the schools academic programs. They also noted that the school was meeting New York State Standards for English Language Learners as shown by scores on the Regents exams that were 16 percent better than the citywide average. As noted above, there are also many other indicators of success that could be found in a careful evaluation of the school.
It is clear that given the overcrowding of many neighborhoods
But these newly designed schools deserve their own buildings. It is sad the way small schools planning teams are being used as pawns in a process to close large schools. It is time to question what the real agenda of the small schools initiative is. New Visions for the Public Schools which has overseen the funding of the small schools initiative claims that “local partnerships” are an essential component of successful new schools. In fact, not only has there been no community input into the decision to phase-out Tilden, there was not even any planning for such participation. The date the announcement was made to close Tilden followed by a week and a half the deadline for submitting proposals for the new schools that would replace it. Since 2001 New Visions has shown itself to be a conduit for private corporate funding always and a seeker of community partnerships seldom or never.
This is not a grassroots process. Finding such community partnerships would first of all involve honesty and plain speaking. It would require a thorough evaluation of what is working or not working in existing schools, not blanket condemnation and unsupported promises of sudden success. It would above all necessitate a close examination of the school’s population and its needs.
Instead, the discussion of the reasons for the closing which followed the announcement of closing has been a one-sided promotion of the small schools approach to education, and very selective results, anecdotes and testimony. The Office of Small Schools chooses not to showcase other less flattering aspects of the small schools initiative such as the rampant turnover of the principals and staff of small schools. One press report recently found a small school in which 80 percent of the staff were in their first year. In other words, most of the teachers in that school were still learning how to teach. Instead, it chooses to trumpet preliminary conclusions from a study funded by same organization that brought the small schools initiative to the city in the first place, the Gates Foundation.
All this hype and fanfare brings to mind the Haitian proverb, Move dan gen fos si banan mi. Even rotten teeth can feel mighty when they sink into a ripe banana. In recent years the large high schools have been served a much coarser fare than soft fruit. The larger schools have been burdened with overcrowding, split scheduling, oversized classes, inadequate facilities and budget cuts. They are assigned students with long-term absences, learning disabilities, emotional impairment, borderline intelligence and low English proficiency. In exchange for their effort to educate a broader population these school face official disparagement of their progress, a kind of disownership really, as the mayor and chancellor describe them in the most general terms as inherently unmanageable, complacent and impersonal while this same leadership relentlessly promotes its own pet projects, corporate-style school leadership, small schools and charter schools, which it subjects to minimal scrutiny.
Closing large schools means closing the books on accountability. It means closing the books on the DOE's broken promises to our students that they come first. It lets the DOE distract attention and escape from having to own up to the results of its policies of neglect, which include abysmal citywide drop-out and graduation rates.
My colleague, Deycy Avitia, in her testimony5 to this Council will quote a recent speech by Chancellor Klein in which he rejects “incrementalism.” He suggests that tinkering with programs and looking for gradual improvement is too timid an approach. Instead, he demands bold leadership that makes all the improvement a matter of one fell swoop.
Such a viewpoint is anathema to the work schools do. It demonstrates a lack of interest in finishing what has been started or evaluating what is working and what is not working in the new initiatives. School improvement like real learning is a gradual development.
At Tilden we are committed both to students who thrive at once in our school and also to the late-bloomers who will require more than four years to graduate. “Late bloomer” is educational term and a long-standing concept. It suggests than learning is in many ways a natural process that every human being is endowed with. The buds of flowers do not just open upon command. Educators much have patience to watch them open. As teachers we tend to the flowers and do our best to provide space and appropriate nutrition for young intellects. The real learning that we believe in is not merely a set tricks that one performs for someone else. It's what you do for yourself.
There are teachers at Tilden who believe in real learning and real school improvement. That is the reason we are fighting this arbitrary and devastating plan to phase us out. We have spoken out at many forums across Brooklyn and also in
Mr. Chairman I urge you to support the efforts of the parents, students and educators at
1. 2006-2007 Directory of the New York City Public High Schools, Department of Education of the City of
2. Dewey H.S. Teetering on an Uncertain Future,” Bay News (2-8-07).
3. Stephen D. Krashen, “Bilingual Education Accelerates English Language Development,” 2006. http://www.sdkrashe
4. “Readin’, Writin’ and Rookies. Inexperienced Teachers Fill City Schools,”
5. Testimony of Deycy Avitia, Educational Policy Associate,
6. See also www.allout4tilden.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Saturday, February 17, 2007
My account of the Manhattan Institute luncheon at the University Club (which didn't admit women until 1987) featuring Christopher Cerf and the corporate ed-speak nonsense he spouts. Just about any NYC teacher can challenge this guy to a debate and whip his ass. I am issuing an official Education Notes challenge to the Manhattan Institute to set up a true dialogue with Cerf or anyone else they choose to debate key educational policy issues someone like Leonie Haimson, myself or any number of capable people I can think of to defend public education.
Hey guys, no guts, no glory.
Cerf preparing for the debate. His ideas are even fuzzier than he is.
Note to Unity clones:
Don't even suggest Randi Weingarten to defend our side. I've seen her on panels with these characters and all I can say is - weak weak weak!
But just watch the Manhattan Institute take up the challenge and chose Weingarten to debate Cerf. They know an easy mark when they see one.
Friday, February 16, 2007
He had no response. Naturally.
See the full Chief article at my archive blog, Norm's Notes
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Unity makes sure that they can control the board through at-large voting where the entire union votes including retirees for Ex bd at large (43), functional chapter (14) plus the 11 officers that are members of the Exec. Bd. That's 68 out of 89 leaving the opposition only a chance to win the elem (11) ms (5) and hs (6) EB positions. A very long shot to win all of these though New Action won the MS & HS in the early 90's. If the day comes that these 22 positions are won by the opposition, meaning serious outreach to elementary schools, it would be a sign of significant change in that these 22 positions represent the 80,000 active teachers. But it shows you how even if the opposition won the overwhelming support of the majority of teachers, they would only control 1/4 of the Executive Board.
Unity democracy inaction.
One of the interesting points about the featured activists is that one or both of them have political ties to some people in our local TJC and one of them was once in a teamsters group in California called Teamsters for a Just Contract.
Another is the dicotomy in activist groups over the strict trade union (attention only to meat and potato issues) vs. the social justice questions. We have had that debate in ICE and things flared at one point on the blogs with UTP over the emphasis on some of these issues. The debate is ongoing, one of the best things about being involved in democratic groups, as opposed to being in Unity where your lips are sealed. And all too often, your mind.
The full article is posted on my other blog, Norm's Notes
A radical change for two union militants
The former dissidents, now powerful insiders, shaped the tough tactics that got L.A. teachers more than just a raise.
the deal's details — particularly its mandate for class size reduction and new job protections for union activists — reflect the long-standing emphasis by Pechthalt, Jordan and their allies on broadening UTLA's advocacy beyond salary and benefits.
UTLA's more aggressive stance is personified by A.J. Duffy, the dapper, occasionally bombastic union president who communicates with the membership and tussles with the press. But according to people both inside and outside UTLA, the strategy has been shaped by the little-known Jordan and Pechthalt, self-described "union militants" who now hold key leadership posts.
Jordan, a top staffer, and Pechthalt, a vice president, have long ties to activist politics and to Villaraigosa, a former UTLA staffer who once represented Pechthalt in a grievance against the Los Angeles Unified School District. Along with Duffy and two other allies, Pechthalt and Jordan were unexpectedly swept into power in elections two years ago by a membership frustrated at stalled contract talks.
Their dissident status had been cemented over two decades. They staged demonstrations without the approval of union leadership. They supported bilingual education when California voters didn't, opposed standardized testing as it became popular and questioned whether homework was necessary. They published a newsletter criticizing the labor movement and their own union, particularly its focus on electing school board members to secure power and good contracts.
Instead, they said, UTLA should reinvent itself as the base for a social movement that would engage in aggressive organizing of parents and communities, confront even friendly politicians and use militant tactics rarely employed by staid public employee unions.
"UTLA has never realized its full potential, which is to organize at schools, with teachers, parents and the community," Pechthalt said. "We need to create a broader movement for public education."
But this approach has caused alarm among some in the union and in political circles. Rank-and-file teachers and even other UTLA officers suggest that in their zeal to change the organization, the new union leaders have neglected some of the nuts and bolts of unionism.
"UTLA is a labor union and has the structure and mechanisms and funding and politics of a labor union," said Warren Fletcher, a union chairman at City of Angels School downtown, who has been both ally and critic of Pechthalt and Jordan. "I'm concerned that we're approaching things from the perspective of some sort of grand movement."
We both developed the same sort of emphasis, a first principle that the activity and organizing of the membership of a union, rather than the leadership, is the key to power," Brenner said.
"Joel and I developed a critique of the narrow trade union perspective," Pechthalt said. "With the tightening of the economic pie, the only way to challenge that was to build a broad-based social movement for public education."
During UTLA's last strike, a nine-day walkout in 1989, Pechthalt and Jordan organized a rally in Exposition Park with Villaraigosa's help. In 1992, Pechthalt led a one-hour wildcat strike at Manual Arts High School, which included 30 teachers and 1,500 students, to protest cuts. The district tried to discipline Pechthalt; Villaraigosa guided his successful grievance.
About the same time, Pechthalt and Jordan began publishing A Second Opinion, a newsletter that frequently criticized UTLA. Among their contributors were other dissidents, including Julie Washington, now a vice president, and David Goldberg, now union treasurer.
"We need to once more begin transforming the image of teachers as friendly Caspar Milquetoast do-gooders into a unified, mobilized and proud bunch of unionists," Pechthalt and Jordan wrote in August 2004.
By then, Jordan was running a campaign to take over the board of directors and three officer positions with a slate of dissidents called United Action. The slate did not field a presidential candidate, and did not think Duffy, the only challenger to incumbent John Perez, stood a chance.
Though campaigning for the union presidency on his own, Duffy found he agreed with Pechthalt and Jordan on the need for militancy; United Action endorsed Duffy, and vice versa.
Their timing was good. In February 2005, the frustrated membership elected the entire slate, including Duffy.
See commentary posted on this blog below in "Deconstructing the System, School by School"
Check out http://www.allout4tilden.com/
John Lawhead on the right presents reasons Tilden should remain open.
School psychologist Kimberly Partington
Principal Diane Varano
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
UFT election petitions were turned in this past Monday. Getting this organized is quite a task and thanks to Ira Goldfine, it all got done for ICE. Having TJC as a partner made the process so much easier. ICE and TJC have their own style of working and we haven't wasted a lot of time trying to coordinate the activities of both groups but have been able to easily work things out when we have to.
Getting involved in an election is not a simple thing and involves a major outlay of resources that small groups consisting of mostly working teachers don't always have to give. Many ICE'ers are very active in their schools as chapter leaders with a large membership to serve and others like John Lawhead at Tilden and Peter Bobrick at Lafayette are trying to keep their schools open. Some are active in groups like "UFT'ers to Stop the War." There was a certain reluctance, but once the petitions were out in January, the old election blood began to run. There was really no choice. Leave TJC out there to battle the New Action/Unity alliance alone?
Compared to the last election 3 years ago when ICE was just weeks old trying to form a group in the midst of an election campaign, getting people to run for key positions this time was a breeze. There is something to say for going through a previous experience to learn a few lessons. Having TJC come up with half the candidates made a big difference and coalition building was one of the lessons everyone learned last time. There's still a lot more to learn.
The petitioning process can be tedious but it also gives people an opportunity to engage in conversations with people in the schools. Core ICE'ers went out to their schools and as expected came through. But this time we sent out petitions to people who are not directly involved with ICE, many of them part of the Ed Notes network. The response was fantastic.
When we needed to hold mass signings, people in the schools responded. In some schools there were lots of people willing to give up their lunch hours to sign masses of petitions. Similar events took place at Port Richmond HS, home base of our friends from the UTP, Jamaica HS and PS 193K, where the incredibly popular chapter leader Yelena Siwinski, running on the ICE-TJC ticket for one of the top eleven officer positions, organized things. Seeing how colleagues in her school feel about her was affirmation that with people like Yelena on our side, whatever the outcome, we are making progress in building a progressive alternative to Unity.
Teachers from Francis Lewis HS hold a signing party.
I joined Arthur Goldstein, ICE-TJC candidate for Executive At-Large, at Francis Lewis HS and the response of people I met in the school to the campaign was wonderful. Their obvious respect and admiration for Arthur makes us proud to have him running with us.
With James Eterno as the popular chapter leader at Jamaica HS, there is no doubt as to the allegiance of the school. The announcement that they will be an Impact School seriously jeopardizes their future, but with James at the helm, the teachers there will have the very best representation they can get.
What can you say about the UTP gang at Port Richmond? They have been a breath of fresh air with their in your face attitude. Joe Mudgett who works with the UTP over there and also has his own point of view at ACT was a great help in getting things organized along with chapter leader Jeff Brace. We are proud to have both of them running for Ex. Bd at-large on the ICE-TJC ticket.
Petitions kept coming in and we went far over our limit. One school gave us 35 signatures and specifically asked us "Will you protect us from retaliation by the union?" It shows the fear there is out there as Unity has allowed the DOE to run rampant and people are frightened of both the DOE and Unity. Does Unity check the petitions to see which schools have helped us to see where opposition strength lies, then target them for special attention with extra visits from District Reps and other union officials to reinforce the Unity line? What do you think? We didn't turn in some petitions from certain schools that support us but want to lie in the weeds.
Not that more attention from the union is a bad thing. Remember — they are basically a PR machine that will dash off to fight what they perceive as a fire and schools that work with us often get better service. But people new to the political game do not know that. Weingarten takes disagreement with her as a personal insult but her response is to try to win people over rather than retaliate. Not necessarily a bad thing and it is what makes her so effective in managing the membership's anger. (Her skill will be hard to replace if she goes to the AFT in the summer of '08. Even if she doesn't give up the UFT Presidency, which is what I believe, she will not be here that often to race around from school to school.)
A perfect example was Ron Isaac, alias Redhog, who ran with ICE 3 years ago because he was so disenchanted with the union and got us most of the signatures for middle school. Soon after the election, he went over to the dark side (or maybe that was his plan all along) and was welcomed with open arms after he became a shill for the 2005 contract and began to worship Weingarten. He ended up with a job with the NY Teacher as Weingarten's personal reporter when she visits schools.
Was Isaac's defection a gain for Unity? Why am I smiling?
To be continued.
Ron Isaac stalking -- er-- covering Weingarten at the SOS Tilden rally on Feb. 6
Jeff Kaufman was punished for assisting an incarcerated student at Riker Island with getting his college credits. Maria Colon for exposing changes in Regent scores by the administration of Kennedy HS. Today, James Eterno is quoted in the Metro section of the Times condemning Jamaica High School's being named an Impact School by the DOE. Another Surge by the DOE.
John Lawhead also appeared in Sam Freedman's column in today's Times. Unfortunately, little of what I am sure John told Freedman about the closing of large schools appeared in the article. (As I've written before, hanging out with John after I met him through Ed. Notes, made the idea of getting a group of similar people together. ICE was the result.)
While Freedman makes some very valid points, the article leaves out so much. John (who has had the most impact on the positions we in ICE have taken on the large school controversy) has been on the small schools/large schools issue for many years, having experienced the closing of Bushwich HS and now Tilden. He wrote an article on the issue for Education Notes as far back as 2002.
The quote used below -- the only one from John in the article --
“Education involves trade-offs; it always does,” said John Lawhead, who has taught English as a Second Language at Tilden for three years. “But those trade-offs, in breaking up the big high schools, should be discussed publicly so you know what’s being lost as well as what’s being gained.”
leaves out all the great stuff John has to say about these tradeoffs. John as part of SOS Tilden is trying to save the school and there is not a hint of that signficant movement in the article. With so many immigrant students who will now have to float around as nomads there will be a massive impact the closing of these schools will have on whatever large schools are left in the area, the DOE version of the domino theory.
Basically, the article endoses the small school policy but is crtical of the way they are going about it. If the DOE hadn't put Roholff in as principal of lafayette and supported her through gaffe after gaffe, the school might have been changed.
Why can't there be a system where Steve Chung could have set up a program within the structure of Lafayette? The DOE (and unfortunately the UFT which basically endorsed the closing of the school and is miffed that the DOE which was supposdly working with them to set up the small schools, reneged) has control of these schools but gets away with saying "we can't fix what we control and the only way to fix it is to destroy it."
The answer is the DOE feels they have to empty out the teaching staff and the students and start all over. It's like old construction where you have to work around things vs tearing it down. It is difficult but doable. (It wan't fun when I had a new kitchen installed but I didn't tear down my house and new people move in.) The DOE doesn't want to do the hard stuff -- only things they can show as PR.
I was in Clinton HS recently - vastly overcrowded and supposedly they are doing small learning communities there now. These are unadvertized options. Small can be good but it can be done in the context of large. I don't see them breaking up Stuvesant and I bet these kids would also benefit from smaller environements.
Some stuff on John on this blog which also includes information from George Schmidt on the Chicago experience with mayoral control and small schools - useful stuff in seeing the big picture -- it's not just BloomKlein but a national movement.
NYC Educator, as usual, hits the nail on the head: Mr. Bloomberg Vs. the Aliens
Leonie Haimson also makes some great points on the article in a much more coherent manner than I do. I am posting them on the blog I set up to archive some of the work being done on her listserv.
Why use such a large picture when so little of what John has to say is part of the article. John comes out looking great but I would have used part of the space to use more of what he had to say. Style over substance.
Tilden has John's back in this photo