Friday, October 22, 2010
Ed Notes Report to the October UFT Delegate Assembly
When I woke up Wednesday morning I had no intention of handing out Ed Notes that day. But realizing not doing so would make me miss my 15th anniversary and also that there might be a whole new batch of delegates and chapter leaders (there really wasn't) I decided to put together a document chronicling the history of Ed Notes. It kept growing from one page into a second before I had to stop or go to 9 point type to get it all in.
I had been intending to write something like this since the summer when Ed Notes online completed its 4th year as a blog but never seemed to have the time. The time pressure of writing and getting it printed on the morning of the DA forced me to focus for a change and it was done in about 2 hours. There is a lot more to say but I need a deadline of sorts to actually get it done.
I remembered the push-button issues for me that got me re-started as a union activist (I had been active in the 70's): lower class size, high stakes testing which drove me out of the self-contained classroom, being under attack by my principal for being chapter leader, and union complicity or being oblivious to all of it.
Education Notes at the Delegate Assembly: October, 2010
As we begin the 15th year of Education Notes at the UFT Delegate Assembly and the 5th year of Ed Notes as a blog, there is much to reflect back on. When I began publishing in 1996 I was in my third year as a chapter leader at an elementary school in District 14 in Williamsburg. Facing a hostile principal who threw a hissy fit and punished the entire staff for “allowing” me into office, I threw myself into trying to organize the chapter into an effective force (with clearly mixed results). I made great use of the power of the press, putting out an enormous amount of material, aided by my little laptop that I took to all meetings to take notes. The output was enormous and my chapter was probably as well informed as any in the city as during the 1996 school year I put out over 45 newsletters, all of them with a few jokes (remember in the early days of email jokes flew around the internet) but none sent to me by Carl Paladino.
A brief history
The principal took over in 1978 and instituted one of the first high stakes testing/test prep-all-the-time regimes. As a progressive educator I fought her all the way through the early to mid 80’s, fighting to teach my way to my self-contained classes (4th, 5th or 6th grade) over the years. Eventually she wore me down and from 1985-87 I took time off to pursue an MA in computer science. Yes, I was thinking of leaving teaching after 19 years. Of course, needing one more at least to make a pension magic number of 20, I went back in ‘87 and remained in the school for another decade (I turned out to be a lousy computer programmer). But my years as a self-contained classroom teacher, which I loved, were over. You see, she didn’t want teachers who would not go along with the test prep regime to endanger her scores. So I became a computer cluster, which I also loved doing, but those intense relationships I had developed with children and their families in my 17 years as a self-contained teacher were over.
Over the next 8 years or so my relationship with the administration had ebbs and flows. I was openly critical of the school policies but not being directly involved in the testing program, I was able to stand aside. I guess things heated up when it was time to appoint an AP and her pal who was acting was clearly going to get the position. I ran for the committee and the principal spent 2 days going around the school lobbying (and threatening) people to vote against me. I got the highest vote total by far. That got me to thinking about running for chapter leader. When the principal crossed the old chapter leader he threatened her. He would stand aside and let me take over to make her life miserable. And so he did. And so I did (make her life miserable - my principal friends told me she would get up at meetings and say she had the chapter leader from hell).
Over the next 3 years I faced threats of retaliation - not in terms of my job - one thing about my principal – she didn’t go after people and in today’s world I would run over and hug her - but against my ability to build a computer program. When I appealed to the District 14 union leadership, I found they were tied in with the district admin, in essence, an alliance between the UFT and the people running my district. When I finally left the school in 1997 after 27 years for a district computer job (I always felt the only reason I was offered the job was to get me out of her hair) she told my new boss, “My car was stolen today but this makes up for it.” That she was thrilled to lose a teacher who put a lot of time and effort into the school in favor of a lackey who knew little made it clear that loyalty was valued over education. I saw that unfettered power in the hands of a principal was dangerous for teachers, children and parents (she constantly manipulated the PTA elections).
As chapter leader in those 3 years, I learned that you couldn’t get people organized unless you first give them the information they need to make a balanced decision. On school issues and beyond. They were getting one side from my school administration and on bigger issues from the UFT.
I had been an activist delegate throughout the 1970’s as a member of the opposition to Unity Caucus, the ruling party in the UFT since its inception in the early 1960’s, but had lost interest through most of the 80’s. I had also been part of an activist group of teachers in District 14 through those years, attending school board meetings to challenge the ruling powers, an alliance between local politicians and the UFT (the UFT District Rep eventually became the Superintendent as he built an unassailable machine. My principal came out of that machine, so our relationship was strained from the day she came to our school.)We put out a newsletter called "Another View in District 14" and were viewed as Public Enemy #1 throughout the 70's as we raised issues over the use of funds for political favors instead of going towards reducing class size. Sort of just like the BloomKlein regime.
Becoming chapter leader in 1994 brought me back into the fray both at the district and citywide level. I started attending school board meetings and Delegate Assemblies after over a decade of absence.
In terms of the opposition in the mid-90’s I wasn’t happy with what I saw (I won’t go into details.) So I began to function at DA’s as an independent voice, especially focusing on teacher rights, protection of chapter leaders, limiting the power of principals and high stakes testing. Mostly I was interested in getting the classroom teacher more influence over educational policy. Frustrated at not being able to get called on at the DA, I converted my chapter newsletter into DA Notes, later changed to Education Notes. By getting my positions out to the delegates before the meeting it wasn’t all that important to get called on. But because everyone seemed to be reading Ed Notes during the meeting, my position was significantly strengthened and I got called on fairly often. And I had a hell of a lot to say. Ed Notes grew over time from 1 page to a full-sized 16-page tabloid during the 2002-4 years. I was able to do that kind of work because I retired in July 2002.
Relationship to Unity caucus and the leadership
Having grown up under the Shanker/Feldman regime, I initially found Randi Weingarten a breath of fresh air. And she reached out to me with late night emails and friendly overtures (even an offer from an emissary to join Unity Caucus), at one point holding up Ed Notes at the beginning of a meeting and declaring, “I love to read Ed Notes.” Thus, from the late 90’s through 2001 I was a friendly critic of union policy but didn’t attack the leadership as my goal was to convince Unity to move the union in another direction, which Randi and her pals were giving me the impression they intended to do.
The education deform movement takes hold
I began to become disillusioned as I watched Randi’s response to the so-called education reform movement. I was connected to George Schmidt, editor of a teacher newspaper called Substance, in Chicago in 2001 and began to see where they stood after 7 years of mayoral control. I tried to bring the results of the assault on public education to the attention of the leadership and the delegates: It not only fell on deaf ears, but I saw a clear move in the same direction of ed deform by the UFT and AFT: support for merit pay, support for NCLB, support for using testing as a measure, support for closing schools based in that faulty measure, support for the concept that teacher quality was the most important element in a child’s education and finally, the breaking point for me: support for giving Bloomberg dictatorial control of the schools and a refusal to oppose the appointment of Joel Klein as chancellor even though he had no qualifications. Thus, Ed Notes beginning in the Spring of 2001 went from trying to nudge Randi and Unity into total critical mode.
Ed Notes goes rogue - the road to ICE and GEM
At the DA, delegates and chapter leaders often stopped by to chat and even contribute money. I invited those contacts to a party I held in the summer of 2003 and that led to a meeting in on Oct. 31 when it bacame clear New Action was selling out to Unity. Thus, ICE - Indepenent Community of Educators - was born as an opposition caucus. Some of those same contacts formed GEM - Grassroots Education Movement in the spring of 2009 with a different focus than the UFT - to defend public education from the attacks of the ed deformers. (GEM has not yet addressed major issues related to the UFT and has even reached out to Unity chapter leaders on the closing schools issue.)
I don’t have to tell you what has happened over the last 8 years as the UFT and AFT have continued to back pedal. We have seen every single issue that I started to raise 15 years ago turn against teachers. And the UFT and AFT have gone along with barely a whimper of objection.
This past July I went to Seattle for the AFT convention and watched the shameful display of Unity Caucus delegates booing the 50 people who walked out of Bill Gates’ speech. (I left a few orange colored leaflets around showing Gates and Randi as Trojan horses.) See the videos I made by clicking on the video tab at the top of the Ed Notes blog.
Charters and school closings are connected
The refusal to call charters what they are: an attack on public education and the union - how can the UFT/AFT oppose them when they have their own charters (which is turning into an embarrassment of ineptness)? The UFT court case was not to stop closing schools on the grounds they are a political assault but a challenge on procedure, which the DOE is certain to follow this year. The onslaught against public schools continues with the new crop of schools have come under assault early in the school year (Dewey, Sheepshead, Grover Cleveland, Jane Addams, etc.)
What has been the UFT response to school closings and charter school co-locations?
While schools cry out for help, the UFT leadership mouths words of support but seem incapable of action. While they turned out an impressive showing for the January 2010 PEP 8 hour meeting at Brooklyn Tech and were able to capture the high ground temporarily, they inexplicably stopped the momentum and relied on the court suit they supposedly “won” but then turned around and made a deal with Klein, who had sent out letter to parents telling them not to send their kids to these schools, to allow new schools in the same buildings. In other words, no challenge to Klein’s attempt to turn parents away from these schools. Now we hear that these schools are going to be further starved into oblivion while the new crop go through the same thing.
Many of us warned many years ago that the intention of closing large high schools in particular was to create a domino effect - a sort of poison pill for the next large schools in the row of dominoes. It has happened in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan and now Queens as one school after another closed and the next in line comes under assault - more difficult children to work with and starved of the resources to do so.
The UFT could have tried to organize all the closing schools into a massive force of resistance but chose to take each one individually on a case-by-case basis. This policy has been a disaster.
The Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) is trying to pick up the ball by trying to gather these schools together at a meeting on Oct. 26 at CUNY (34th St and 5th Ave - rm 5414 - bring ID) to either become a potent lobbying force within the UFT to get the leadership to take strong action or as an independent force if necessary. An advocacy toolkit is being prepared to assist. It is never too late to take action and turn around the Titanic that the UFT/AFT has steered into not an iceberg, but a glacier.
POSTSCRIPT: Well, maybe not all so brief a history but still a lot left out.
Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/