Sunday, August 27, 2006

An attentive class size of three

Ednotes Online - August 31, 2006

Edited by Norman Scott
cell: 917-992-3734

(Ednotes Online is a newsletter addressing issues of concern to the educational community in the New York City area. If you wish to be removed from this list reply to this email by typing remove in the subject area.)

Coming soon (if I get out of the hammock):
An ednotesonline blog and the web site. And look for the 4-page newsprint edition of Education Notes, due out at the end of September.

Welcome to the new school year — a few days earlier than usual — but at least you can get the depression out of the way early instead of Monday. Losing the final Labor Day weekend as part of the summer vacation really hurts as it feels five days were lost instead of two.

Some of the gang in the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) have put together a back-to-school flyer which I have attached as a PDF. Please download it and share with your colleagues if it works for you. The flyer points out that there are 190 days this school year, a record. Oy! You can check out the text at the ICE blog:

The ICE website contains articles with greater depth:

The following items were covered at the ICE Aug. 22 meeting:
Elections, update of meetings with TJC
UFT survey
Implications of court overruling Judge Motley in PAC case – the teacher licensing issue
Leaflet for new teachers
Mexico teachers in Oaxaca – report from Gloria who had been there
Ideas for ICE election platform
AFT Peace and Justice Caucus formed at convention in Boston
General discussion of issues a caucus like ICE should address: focus on trade union vis-à-vis larger scale issues that might have an impact on education
(A more detailed report of this meeting will be sent to ICE-mail, a subscription list)

New teacher leaflet distributed by ICE at Brooklyn Tech meeting, Aug. 23
About a thousand new teachers attended and we had a chance to chat with people and introduce them to the idea that the union was not just Unity Caucus. The text of the leaflet is available on the ICE blog. Check it out and share with new teachers you make contact with.

New chapter leader leaflet distributed in July at UFT reception
There has been a big turnover in chapter leaders and we had a chance to reach about 350 people. The text of the leaflet is available at the ICE blog in the July archives. Unity has been recruiting every chapter leader they can as a way of assuring a limited distribution of opposition literature and some will join not realizing the restrictions they will be under.
Unity will use chapter leader training (some took place this week) and the weekend in Princeton to do more recruiting.
If you are a new chapter leader and wish to get a balanced viewpoint, touch base with some of the new chapter leaders in ICE and TJC. They have a very different point of view on the role chapter leaders can play. Plus a source of a lot of knowledge.

Have a question? Join the ednotes chapter leader and delegate email list and get access to many experienced chapter leaders, including some progressive Unity people. (We like to trash Unity but there are some very dedicated union people we work with.)

School Daze
I was passing by my old elementary school on Tuesday. There were at least 10 teachers still there in the building after 3pm.

We heard the argument during the contract negotiations "we're in school anyway, why not get paid?" We pointed out that in elementary schools where setting up a room (crucial to many teachers before the kids arrive on the day after Labor Day for the first time) will not be what they are doing on Thurs & Fri before, they would end up coming in even earlier. And so they did.

Running in UFT Elections

I’m not going to go into details of the damage Unity leadership has allowed to occur to the contract and the membership. Most of you live it every day. The more they can monopolize power with little checks and balances, the more damage they can do. The upcoming UFT election is an opportunity to draw a line in the sand. If you feel you cannot run (you have until late December to decide) you can help by distributing literature in your school and making sure people vote when the ballots are sent out in March. In the last election 70,000 active members DID NOT VOTE. We need you to remind people at that time to return their ballots.

The ICE leaflet mentions the alliance ICE has formed with TJC for the upcoming UFT elections this winter. A full slate will take 800 people and a decent sized vote for the slate would send a message to the leadership that the members will not tolerate a sell-out of more of the contract next time.

The odds of winning much are long due to the fundamental undemocratic nature of the UFT. But viewed form a long-term perspective, running in the election helps build up a force for change in the UFT even if it doesn’t fully occur this time. Remember that less than 3 years ago ICE didn’t exist and TJC was a small group in its 10th year of existence. Spurred on by the election in 2004, both groups have solidified and grown in influence in the last two and a half years. Capturing the six high school Exec Bd seats and providing an opposition voice to the 80 plus Unity Exec Bd members has been important.

Remember though, Unity did not run for these 6 seats in 2004, leaving them to New Action in their unholy alliance. With New Action not revealing their intentions at this time other than to give strong indications they will not run with the ICE-TJC slate despite an offer that was made to have them join the slate, there is an opening for them to play a spoiler for Unity by dividing the opposition vote and allowing Unity to regain control of 100% of the Executive Board.

Of course, New Action could choose not to run at all but without some statement from New Action affirming that position, ICE-TJC must now go on the assumption New Action might agree to be a stalking horse for Unity. ICE-TJC welcomes individuals in New Action who wish to run with them.

If you are interested in running with the ICE-TJC slate send me an email. People are signing up like crazy. Don’t get shut out.

There is even a rumor that a Unity chapter leader has resigned from Unity and will run with the ICE-TJC slate. Cracks in the monolith are beginning to show.

The Survey SAYS… Class size not really a priority to UFT

The UFT survey of members’ attitudes towards contract negotiation priorities contains an interesting anomaly. On a rating of 1(most important) to 11 (least important) teachers were asked about issues that clearly cost money: improved medical benefits, adequate equipment and supplies, improved facilities, on whether the city should provide more money for health care benefits, and so on. In not one case were any of these issues framed in a form of a choice as to whether teachers were in favor of any of these issues if they came out of salary raises.

Except for one: class size.

Here is how the class size issue was framed:

Rate on the scale from 1-11

Item 5: lower class size as part of the contract, but not if it takes money from salary

Item 6: lower class size as part of the contract, even if it takes money from salary.

The UFT leadership has consistently for over 30 years taken the position that class size should not be a negotiated item because it will come out of the salary. Almost all current class sizes are based on a contract negotiated in 1972. Would salaries have been higher if these limits had not been negotiated? Did the UFT leadership give members a choice then as to class size or salary?

We never see questions in this format about prep periods, supplies, safety, etc. all of which cost money that potentially comes out of salary. Imagine if a question on prep periods were framed the same way. Or copy machines? Or how important is toilet paper in the bathrooms if it has to come out of your salary?

In essence, this question can be framed in a corollary manner:

How much money would you take in exchange for raising class size? High school teachers, will you take 2 more kids, from 34 to 36, for a thousand bucks a kid?
Would this be much more outrageous than the way the issue was framed in the survey? After all, current class size limits can be viewed as coming out of salaries. Imagine how much teachers could earn with 80 in a class!

The survey reveals the lack of real commitment to true lass size reduction while the UFT leadership pedals a long-drawn out political petitioning gimmick with a supposed payoff by getting the issue on the ballot, a strategy the courts have consistently ruled against. The fact that making an attempt to get class size legislated like in other states has not been attempted. Would such an attempt expose most UFT “allies” in the state legislature as bogus and the UFT legislative program which gets so much attention (those wonderful lobbying days in March) as, - well, bogus too?

They will then justify the predicted responses as a way to ignore class size reduction the next contract.

We believe that class size reduction is not an either or proposition but an issue that parents, educators; community — everyone except the corporate management types running the DOE — can unite behind. Do we stop petitioning he legislature? No. But we must show a true commitment to class size reduction by putting our money where our mouths are and making a serious attempt to use contract negotiations to accomplish our goal.

The Intention is NOT retention — or Burn ‘em and Turn ‘em (over)

BloomKlein truly feel they are doing an amazing job saving the little kiddies from the evildoers — teachers, older experienced teachers especially.

Chancellor Joel Klein laid out his philosophy in a recent speech: "…if we are to truly change outcomes for New York City public school students, I believe we cannot just change the rules and the standards. We must fundamentally evolve, from a culture of excuses to a culture of accountability, from a culture of compliance to a culture of performance, and from a culture of uniformity to a culture of differentiation (based on talent and organizational need)."

To Klein, the problem in education stems from a culture of failure and excuse making. Got 40 kids with enormous problems functioning in schools in a class while a neighboring wealthy suburb has 20 in a class — too bad. Ignore that and suck it up. Klein could morph Al Davis’ “Just win, baby!” line into “Just teach, baby!” Except Al Davis doesn’t care how you win while Klein and his minions want to micro-manage every aspect of teaching. In Kleinspeak, experience doesn’t count and can easily be replaced by constant professional development, often by high-priced private firms. Sort of like letting the medical supply salesmen do surgery.

While Klein supposedly laments the fact that so many teachers leave the NYC system by the 5th year, the retention problem is not of concern in the Klein philosophy. The Klein mantra works like this:

1. Change the culture by driving out senior, higher-salaried teachers many of whom actually believe in a culture that includes a union contract (what is left of it) and with a culture that says you can actually go home when the school day ends — people who get dirty looks in the Klein culture.

2. Replace them with new teachers, many young and without union consciousness, added to the mix of older career changers, often from the business world and therefore also often anti-union.

3. Overwhelm them with professional development while micromanaging the teaching process to an extent that every teacher becomes a mere cog that can easily be replaced.

4. Use guilt, threats, whatever is necessary to squeeze every once out of them even if it leads to burnout, at the same time coming to a realization they may be exploited, need a union and thus become more active in resisting the Klein “culture,” start the cycle all over again.

The city never has to pay a pension and you can raise the top salary after 22 years as high as you want since few will ever reach it. And in an elegant end-run about the state tenure law, few ever actually get tenure. A win-win-win.

Just look at how the teachers who lost their positions from schools that have closed are being treated. The outrageous act of branding them as “untouchables” while making them subs, which many people consider the horror job of the school system, is part of a design to make them so disgusted they will quit. Why worry about tenure?

That the UFT was part and parcel of creating this system by negotiating the last contract takes us into surrealistic territory — unless you have an understanding of just how out of touch the Unity/UFT leadership is with the impact their policies have on the members.

The interesting thing is that “No Excuses Klein” so often uses the excuse that he is prevented from making real improvements because of the union contract, whatever is left of it. When only one paragraph remains defining some clause that gives teachers the right to pee once a day, Klein will be claiming that provision is what is keeping him from improving the schools.

The UFT/Unity machine also mouth platitudes about the poor retention rate but in many ways they gain too. With a regressive dues structure that forces newer teachers to pay the same dues as teachers earning twice as much money it doesn’t make a difference in terms of how much money they collect if older teachers are forced out and if there is constant turnover. They benefit politically as newer teachers usually take a few years to see through the flaws in UFT policy, at which point they become ripe to join with an opposition. Meanwhile the leadership can claim big raises at the top level while BloomKleinWein wink at each other knowing most people will never get there.

By keeping a base at the bottom that has little knowledge about the union and can be more easily manipulated by Unity's monopoly on information, it helps Unity execute their prime directive — to hold onto power.