Thursday, February 12, 2015

Two UFT DA Reports From MORE

In addition to our previous report, here are 2 from MORE members to their staffs.




Francesca Gomes
UFT Delegate
MS 443 New Voices

I have broken this into sections so members can skip to their areas of interest.

1. Opinion Re: Standardized Testing
2. DA: President's Report
3. DA: Resolution on Opt-Out
4. Opt-Out Movement and Jia Lee
5. Appeal for Chapter Leaders and Delegates in Other Schools

1. Opinion Re: Standardized Testing

First of all, I want to acknowledge how many of us have been feeling -- that, all around this country, meeting the requirements for test prep and following the Common Core standards with its demands that rule out the truly creative work we used to do with our students has been putting their education in serious jeopardy. I have found that my own students are far less excited about their classes than students in the past. While it's tempting to say several years of students in a row "are different," it gets more difficult every year for me to use that excuse.

The fact is that the increased weight placed on test scores hurts all of us -- even those of us lucky enough to work at a school with a great principal who values the arts. No school is immune. It even hurts teachers here and all over the city who don't teach state-tested subjects, as the tests and test prep decrease the love of learning and the overall motivation of our students.

The scores are also being used to close schools and replace them with non-union charter schools in which teachers cannot collectively bargain for contracts, become burned out by the requirements placed on them, and therefore have a higher turnover rate than teachers in NYC public schools, which is already high. This idea that "anyone can teach" devalues our professionalism as educators. As many members of our own chapter have said, "Our profession is under attack."

2. DA: President's Report

Tonight's DA started out, as always, with the President's Report. Pres. Mulgrew said that our interests are too different from Gov. Cuomo's to make an acceptable deal. He said we will have to fight via the budget process, but he also predicted that the Governor will use an "emergency" executive order to pass a budget that will exclude any ethics provisions. Mulgrew also pointed out that while New York State has a surplus of $5 billion, billions of dollars are owed to NYC under the Contract for Excellence which is earmarked for reducing class size. The President said that if that money is not included in Cuomo's budget, "We are going to court."

3. DA: Resolution on Opt-Out

Members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators put forward the resolution at http://www.nysape.org/resolution-to-support-the-ldquoi-refuserdquo-movement.html. It essentially asks the UFT to join a group of other school districts in New York State (who have already passed the resolution in their own locals) in submitting a proposal to the AFT and NYSUT to take various measures (lobbying the legislature and NY State Education Department, surveying teachers, and organizing) to develop improved curriculum and assessments instead of using high-stakes standardized tests.

The original motivator was supposed to be Jia Lee, who recently spoke before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBev5SQhVRE; Jia starts speaking at 1:30). Jia had received assurances from the UFT Executive Board that she would be called upon to speak to the resolution. She was not called upon, but another member, my friend Mike Schirtzer, was allowed to raise the resolution instead. He spoke in detail about how the tests hurt our students, their parents, and us. He described all the cuts that have been made in favor of test prep in schools around the city, and he stated that the tests "sap the joy from teaching," and that "the kids are miserable." He also spoke about how, if the Governor is going to use the tests against us, we need to step up our game and take the scores away from him to protect ourselves.

Unfortunately, when a confused member asked whether the UFT had the power to pass a resolution on behalf of NYSUT, Pres. Mulgrew said no, we could not, and therefore the resolution was faulty (which is untrue -- if you read the last item on the "resolved" list, you will see that it expressly states that this is a group resolution to join with other districts in pressuring NYSUT to take more action).

Then an Executive Board member of the Unity caucus spoke out against the resolution, saying that these standardized tests offer valuable feedback to students, parents, and teachers. (As an anecdotal side note, I doubt this gentleman has been in a classroom for some time -- Math, ELA, and Science teachers have not seen actual item analyses combined with standards and the wording of test questions for quite a few years. I was unable to understand his argument that these tests help anyone.) He then stated that "This body has passed resolutions against testing in grades K-2," and that this "goes too far," as it "forces" parents, students, and teachers to reject the tests (I don't see that on the resolution).

The vote was called, and the resolution was voted down. It is, however, worth mentioning that the Delegate Assembly has a great deal of members of the Unity caucus, each of whom has to, as a provision of being a caucus member, sign a "loyalty oath" stating he or she will not vote against the direction of a Unity Executive Board member. Therefore, I think had circumstances been different, the resolution could have passed and placed us in a unified position with other districts around the State.

4. Opt-Out Movement and Jia Lee

Even without this resolution passing the DA, the "Opt-Out" movement is growing, with parent groups like Change the Stakes, as well as others, gaining popularity and increased membership. A fact sheet published by NYSUT on the current recommendations for dealing with opting out can be found here: http://www.nysut.org/~/media/files/nysut/resources/2015/january/factsheet_150127_optout.pdf?la=en

Jia Lee is an experienced advocate of the opt-out movement. I would ask Jia to come speak to us at a meeting, but she is a hard-working teacher, herself and can't do outreach during the school day. But if staff members are interested, we can try to schedule a happy hour so NVMS members can speak to her.

5. Appeal for Chapter Leaders and Delegates in Other Schools

If you know teachers in other schools who might be interested in becoming a Chapter Leader or Delegate, please speak to them! We need more independent thinkers in the Delegate Assembly -- members who will not sign loyalty oaths but will instead vote as their staff and opinions tell them. In order to defend our profession, we will need a strong fightback.

If you have any questions about anything in my report, please feel free to ask!

Best,
Francesca Gomes
UFT Delegate
MS 443 New Voices

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John Antush, Delegate City As School High School, District 2

UFT Delegate’s Assembly Minutes February 11, 2015
Notes

Introduction Our union has different “caucuses” within it. Every president of the union has been a member of the “Unity Caucus.” I feel the Unity Caucus is not democratic, is too compromising, and exerts too much top-down control over the union. I’m a member of an opposition caucus called Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). We feel the union should be run more democratically, more from the bottom up and that members should get to together through the union and use solidarity to take a stronger stand on contract conditions, testing, and other issues. These notes highlight some aspects of the struggle within our union.
One GOOD thing that is happening right now is that leadership is encouraging chapters to take actions with the schools in their area -- protests, rallies, surrounding schools, etc.

  1. The President’s Report
Mulgrew said on the Federal level, both Dems and Republicans are stepping back from mandating testing as part of Teacher evaluations. Republicans oppose all federal ed mandates. Democrats support testing, “especially the Civil Rights community” because it has spurred “conversations about the achievement gap.” They want evidence to set funding priorities, so they support testing. But Dems agree that testing should not be part of teacher evaluations. Unfortunately, they will never agree on new federal education policy anyway.
But it makes Cuomo the “biggest outlier” in country on how tests should be used.
Mulgrew said we need testing so we can get diagnostic information about students. Mulgrew ‘s position is that tests must be used correctly. “You don’t use a hammer to put a screwdriver in the wall.”
At the City Level, Mulgrew said teachers are already taking actions at their schools and leafleting across the city. He said this grassroots educational information “is absolutely working.” The Assembly in Albany now has “real info in their hands.”
He mentioned in passing: “I’m fully expecting a decision form the arbitrator about retroactive paychecks imminently.”
“Carmen” (Chancellor Farina) is moving forward with seven field offices. Former network employees will staff them. All budgetary, human resource, payroll, special education compliance, and you can request things for schools from them. “We like this very much.”
At the State Level - yesterday he did webinar to address questions about the Cuomo situation. He said the rumours that he’s been meeting with Cuomo were untrue. “There is no cutting the baby in half on this stuff. There will be no deal…. This is bare-knuckle raw politics. If he gets all the things in that budget we are going to get dramatically hurt.”
Of course, he assured us that, “We’re running a large campaign. Friday night. Syracuse. 1,000 parents got together…. The fact that the governor put it into an extortionary scheme, and even in this scheme we will not be funded correctly.” The governor is ignoring the court and “breaking state law.” We have to “work with the assembly.” He testified last week. The UFT had a reception in Albany last week. “They all came. They were great.”
He said, “I do not expect an on-time budget.” Cuomo will then use Executive Orders to get what he wants. “If it gets to that point… we know what that means. That means we are in full scale combat, nasty ugliness at all times.”
“If all his ideas get through the educational system of New York will fall dramatically. And we’ll get to say this was because of the governor’s ideas.” But, Mulgrew opined, we don’t want to get there. So, he said [contradicting what he said earlier about not meeting with the governor - John] we’re having conversations with “the second floor, the Governor’s staff.”
We may have to spend the “next three years doing to Andrew Cuomo what we did to Michael Bloomberg.” That is, he explained, let the people of the country know he’s done the worst thing to education “of any governor of the state of NY.”
“He’s going to do the whole Bloomberg thing. Pervert teachers…. And the public buys into that. He’s going to say we don’t want to be accountable.” Mulgrew pointed out that Cuomo asked “Where in the United States do people evaluate themselves?” But then Mulgrew pointed out that Cuomo is advocating a system in which the “management does not evaluate the employees” because it will be outside observers.
What are Mulgrew’s alternatives? “We need early intervention. We need an early warning system…. We need teaching and learning conditions to become part of the debate…. Everything they’re talking about is about us and us only.” We need to talk about learning conditions, what will be best. “Why do we not fund correctly? Why is class size not a big issue all over the place?” Regarding the introduction of Common Core tests before any curriculum was made available, Mulgrew observed, “the idea that you can change an entire industry and not train the people how to do the work” -- that shows that you want that “industry to fail.” How can we help new teachers? Do we have curriculum? If we’re transitioning education, there should be “real voice from educators.”
Mulgrew urged us to speak up at the UFT’s community forums. We need to talk about how we’d like to do more if we had more support. Talk about how large class sizes hurt the kids. Lack of materials that line up to what you’re supposed to be teaching the children.
“We worked through some of the worst times in this school systems history.” Things were getting better. But now, “The governor wants to drag us backwards and destroy public education.” We need to say, we want to improve teaching and learning in NYC. On the social media “we have to keep going.” THe UFT is working with NYSUT. We’ve had multiple forums inside and outside the city.
“On the week of March 9th we want grassroots actions across the city.... We’re going to surround schools and hold hands. We’re going to surround the state building holding hands. We’re not just surrounding it for education, we’re saying our government is not for sale to billionaires.” We should plan actions at our schools.
The UFT will provide postcards to mail in.
He also assured us that the UFT leadership is doing “all kinds of other things. You know how we keep those things quiet.”
2. Assistant Secretary Leroy Barr’s Report
Leroy thanked teachers for all the great school actions that have been happening across the City. He said to send photos to UFTPHOTOS@Gmail.com.
Teachers Choice - 2/28 is the last day for spending; March 2 the last day to submit.
3. Q & A Period
Q:What is our plan after April 1?
Mulgrew Answer:  If the budget is done by April 1, that is probably good. “If it all goes bad, we all know what we need to do at that moment.” The governor has too much budget power, more than in other states. Testing, merit pay, receivership – these are issues we have to focus on. “Educating, educating, educating and organizing.” That’s what we need to do.
Q: Can we use ethics issues to hurt governor?
Mulgrew Answer:  “Can’t say publicly.” We focus on education.
Q: The extended time pilot is good for some schools, bad for others.  Are we continuing?
Mulgrew Answer:  Do we want to go back to 37 and 1/2 minutes across the board? We need to analyze where and why it didn’t work in some places.
Q: The Gov. says teacher pensions are an issue. What might happen?
Mulgrew Answer:   There is a process where you can open up the state constitution and change it. Teachers wouldn’t be the only ones against doing this. We’re not debating the Governor on pensions. If he actually tries to that, “We’re fighting him.”
Q: The most experienced in my school are miserable due to paperwork Can we do a paperwork stoppage? [This was met with considerable applause and exclamations.]
Mulgrew Answer:  Have you filed complaints with your District Paperwork Committee? If not, that means, as far as the school system is concerned, you are happy. “You can put any contract language you want. If you don’t use it, it’s useless. That’s union 101.”
Q: Are we pulling back attack ads?
Mulgrew Answer:   Don’t trust the Daily News and the NY Post. “We’re not being nice because we’re telling the truth.”
Q: Can the UFT push the city council to get classes longer. Fair student funding is a disincentive to hire experienced teachers. ATRs too. Why can’t teachers transfer schools?
Mulgrew Answer:  Not for ATRS; they’re paid for from central in the new contract if they’re hired. The contract doesn’t cover funding. We’re talking to Chancellor. We push for City Council funding every year. But Bloomberg kept cutting City Council funding. The real problem is Albany. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. [The CFE won a lawsuit against NYS for underfunding NYC schools].  NYS owes NYC Schools $2.6 billion. The majority of the money is for reducing class size. The Chancellor testified in Albany and asked, “Where is CFE for NYC?” The Mayor too. “The courts have decided that the State of NY is not meeting its responsibility for funding needy school children.” The formula for funding is supposed to be based on need. They’re breaking the law. Cuomo has a $5 billion surplus this year. If there’s nothing in this budget about the CFE decision, we’re going to court for our “damn money.”
4. MOTIONS
Mike Schirtzer, a member of MORE (Movement of Rank and file Educators), and Delegate from Leon Goldstein High School in Brooklyn, proposed a Resolution for next month’s agenda for the UFT to support the “Opt Out - I Refuse Movement,” supporting parents’ right to opt out of standardized tests. He pointed out NYSUT Locals across the state passed this exact resolution. MORE brought copies and distributed them to Delegates. The reso says our union does not support high stakes standardized tests. Mike motivated the reso by arguing that Third Graders should not be taking standardized tests. We should be teaching critical thinking; not how to fill in bubbles. It’s taking joy out of teaching. These tests are being used against us. It’s diverting resources. Libraries, civics, creativity, collaboration are all being cut. MOSL is junk science. It’s been proven that you can’t use test scores to accurately evaluate teachers. Students’ home conditions, socioeconomic status, and class size affect student scores. Schirtzer was met with applause and cheers.
A member rose for a point of information about the reso.  He asked how we could pass a resolution on behalf of NYSUT.  Mulgrew said we can’t. [But many locals already passed it.]
Representing the leadership, President of Academic High Schools Sterling Roberson spoke AGAINST putting this “Opt Out” resolution on next month’s agenda. He said the union is against “over-testing,” but testing “is important for parents to know where their child is compared to other children.” Testing can helps parents “ensure their children are getting the quality education they deserve.”  Testing informs teachers where students are. [Of course  analysis of individual student test performance hasn’t been available to teachers for years.]
After this signal was from the leadership, the resolution was voted down.
Mulgrew, shaken by the sizeable minority that voted for the reso -- around 30% of Delegates-- responded to this display of dissent and murmuring by saying, “I agree with a lot of this.... We talk about tests to learn where the child is. Parents just want to see how to compare their child to other children.” He asserted, though, that “high stakes we should be against.” He suggested “a group of people” should craft a new [no doubt watered down] reso.
Francesca Gomes, a member of MORE and Delegate at MS 443 New Voices, in Brooklyn, rose to call a point of information. She drew attention to the last point on the reso, which showed that the reso was calling to propose NYSUT take action, not to vote as if we were NYSUT. Mulgrew, said “This resolution mentions the New York State Board of Education, a body which doesn’t exist [it is actually the New York State Education Department]. You’re out of order. We already voted.”
5. RESOLUTIONS FOR THIS MONTH.
Reso 1 – Mel Aaronson, the first teacher to chair the teacher retirement system, is not seeking re-election. The leadership proposed the DA endorse David Kazansky as Teacher-member of the Teachers Retirement Board of the City of NY. He will oversee our “$70 billion investments of TRS” and dispersal of benefits of retirees. It passed.
Reso 2. Supporting the Restoration of Hearing Screening in NYC Schools – Joels Klein got rid of it. Also we need statewide policy. It also passed.
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