Saturday, June 30, 2007

Atlantic Yards – and the UFT

An article on the massive project in Brooklyn in today's NY Times points to the release of documents that were only obtained through a lawsuit.

"Critics have long suggested that the project is a taxpayer-subsidized bonanza for the developer, the project’s promised jobs and subsidized housing a kind of Trojan horse for the thousands of high-end apartments that come with them. But the developer, Forest City Ratner, and state officials overseeing the project have resisted divulging much information about the project’s financial structure, confining those criticisms to the realm of speculation." [My emphasis.]

From purely an education point of view, though there is no mention of this point in the Times article, Leonie Haimson and other critics have been pointing to the fact that with all this building, there is no provision for schools. Our May 4 post "Bloomberg Vision: A Childless NY" with a link to Leonie's comments addressed that issue.

But I always come to the question: Where is the UFT on the refusal to divulge crucial information or the no-schools issue or on the enormous amount of public money being pumped into the project? Just as the UFT took an initial position supporting the Jets stadium until they jumped on the bandwagon when public sentiment turned against it, the UFT, being part of the power structure, goes along with what the power structure wants. That is the "new unionism" - a partnership, lining up with the real estate and corporate interests – have you heard of any criticism over the enormous tax breaks for corporations while telling the members there is no money for class size reduction or new schools and relying on decades old CFE suits and phony petition drives on class size?

Well, it's not really all that "new." A new book on Al Shanker backed by the UFT's best friend, millionaire Eli Broad will connect even more of the dots, green, pink or whatever. Sean Ahern has been off and running on this one already and we'll get to that in another post.

What a farce.....

We get letters:

A teacher who asked for help with a friend who is fighting to keep her license wrote:
All the NYSUT lawyers say to either pay the fine or resign. It's time for a coup d'etat at the UFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Another teacher posted the message below to ICE-mail. She was U-rated by the infamous Jolanta Rohloff and embargoed from working under her high school license. She is trying to regain the license. What does the system have to lose in letting her keep the license if there are principals willing to hire her? A pound of flesh is not enough. At least she is currently working in the NYC system under a different license.

As for the UFT's role...ugh! Instead of focusing on keeping the school open, they focused on getting Rohloff removed so they can claim a pelt on their belt. Weingarten herself said the school should be closed. An ICE person, who had also been U-rated by Rohloff, tried to get the chapter leader to address the school closing, but as a Unity Caucus clone, he had his own agenda and attacked the ICE guy as being anti-union. Jeff Zahler and Leo Casey must be writing his material. I bet he makes out pretty wel in the closing while the ICE guy was excessed into ATR'dom.

One side story. This teacher got a now-defunct UFT transfer after 4 years of teaching in the Bronx (she lived in Brooklyn) before Rohloff took over at Lafayette that summer. In August, she decided to go to school and introduce herself. The very first words out of Rohloff's mouth to her were, "Don't you think I should be able to hire my own people?" Welcome to the school. Within the first weeks she was being given U-observations, clearly one of Rohloff's chosen pre-determined targets. Rohloff had stated on her first day at the school there would be a rain of U's.

Her assignment to Lafayette as principal even caused smiles among her colleagues at the Leadership Academy, who had clearly seen in her performance there that she would not be appropriate as a principal. It's pretty interesting that even people in the belly of the beast speculated that Rohloff got the assignment because it was clear that her difficult personality would finish Lafayette off. Now the Tweedles have targeted Manhattan Center on the upper east side as Rohloff's next victim, another school that will driven into closure to make room for charters. Teachers there are already passing around petitions.

Here is the teacher's letter. Hard to decide whether to place more blame on the DOE or the UFT. Maybe a tie?

My hearing with the DOE to argue my discontinuance regarding my high school license was held in February ( I was at Lafayette High- 'nuff said).

Though clearly evidence regarding my discontinuance was in my favor (again, those that know of the goings on at Lafayette would agree), the LIS has decided to uphold the discontinuance. This I expected, as I feel the DOE rarely reverses itself, regardless of the justice or injustice of a situation.

Today, I called the UFT. I was told that no further appeals can be carried out by the UFT. I must obtain a lawyer myself to initiate an Article 78 proceeding, if I wish to appeal the DOE decision. After researching what I need to do, it appears that the process is quite lengthy and costly. Again, basically, I was told: "Tough luck"...

WHY doesn't the UFT undertake such appeals on behalf of its' members? Isn't that WHY we have a union in the first place, to protect the members in the case of such events? The UFT rep that I spoke with could not even recommend a lawyer!

More and more, I see the futility of the UFT as a viable organization designed to represent teacher issues vis- a- vis labor problems with the DOE. WHY do we even HAVE a union in the first place, if the Union does not even fulfill its' most basic functions, that of representing
the members in the face of unfair management and labor practices?

What a farce.....

Jobs' Jabs at Teachers in Unions

ET, IPhone Home.
Or, ET TU, Steve?

"I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."
"This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy." Steve Jobs, Founder and CEO of Apple, Inc.

As a loyal Apple user, and one of so many unionized, tenured, lifetime teachers Jobs is talking about who did so much to help build Apple's business in the schools, this attitude is very disappointing, to say the least. But I'm pretty sure Bill Gates, the esteemed leader of Apple's competition feels the same way Jobs does and has actually put his money where his mouth is to bring his faulty new vision into effect. Linux, anyone?

Check out Murray Bergtraum Chapter Leader John Elfrank's great rant on Steve Jobs' statement on teacher unions at his blog

Some excepts:
Steve Jobs seems to have had an epiphany regarding what ails education. It's the slacker teachers who enjoy tenure and seniority through union contracts. They stifle innovation and creativity; the kind we would see in the great Man of the Century, Albert Einstein, whose image Apple has exploited in its "Think Different" campaign.

However, there are a few things Mr. Jobs doesn't know. 1. Albert Einstein was a founding member of the Princeton, New Jersey chapter MY UNION: The American Federation of Teachers. He believed strongly in unions and thought intellectual workers especially needed to belong to them.

"I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field." Albert Einstein

The second point of Mr. Job's ignorance is that he presumes teachers are so coddled that they remain in the profession for a lifetime. The truth is that the job is so stressful teacher turnover is rampant. A CNN story shows the teacher supply problem is a myth. The challenge is keeping them in the classroom. More at John's blog.

A Parable

Joel Klein was challenged by his counterpart in Tokyo to a canoe race between the highest performing schools on standardized tests in their respective school systems. The race would be held on the Hudson River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

Klein decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A senior management team from Tweed was formed to recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.

Feeling a more professional study with statistics was in order, Klein hired the Alvarez and Marsal consulting company, paying $15 million for a second opinion. Their conclusion: too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing, but it would take another $15 million for them to come up with a solution.

Klein gladly paid, telling critics of the high fee that the people at Tweed just didn't have the expertise needed and besides, these critics were just afraid of change and that a victory over the Japanese was essential as a demonstration of the success of his Children First initiative. A&M recommended that the rowing team's management structure be totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

Tweed's top management implemented a new performance system that would give the one person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program.' The program included after school meetings, new rowing standards and free pens to motivate the rower. Suggestions from the school to get new paddles, canoes, and extra money for practices were rejected on the grounds that "just throwing money at a problem does not lead to a solution."

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Klein blamed whatever was left of seniority protection in the teacher contract for the loss and the rower was U-rated for poor performance. All capital investments for new equipment was cancelled and the money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses and the next year's racing team would be staffed from a Charter School jointly managed by Green Dot and the UFT.

Thanks to Benna G. and Beth K.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Connecting the Green Dots

(Links to full articles posted on the Norm's Notes blog)

Why Weingarten's deal with Green Dot dovetails with the general attack on public education

Following up on her Screw ball toss at the Brooklyn Cyclones game, Randi Weingarten has taken the screwing metaphor to a new level in today's announced deal with Green Dot charters. It is not just teachers the deal screws, but with all other the news today about Charter schools, her actions aid and abet the screwing of public education.

First we have a link to the LA Times version of the story where LA teacher's union president AJ Duffy rejected a deal with Green Dot. But not Randi. Watch the Leo Casey and crew at Edwize justify this one. As the NY Times version says "but their contract would be simpler than the citywide contract." Let's see how simple: "Rather than dictating the number of hours and minutes teachers must spend at the schools, it would just call for a “professional workday,” they said. The contract could also eliminate tenure, but would set guidelines for when a teacher can be dismissed."

Heard of fuzzy math? Child play compared to fuzzy contracts. NYC Educator goes into much greater detail on the contract so let's focus on other aspects. I won't even go into the issue of union democracy, where if the UFT weren't run like the Roman Empire under Augustus, there would actually be a serious discussion taking place. But the mandate given Weingarten by the 78% of working teachers who did not vote will have a long-lasting impact. By the way, has anyone seen a word mentioned about class size in this contract?

“We have never been against increasing charters, but we were against the anti-union animus in some charter schools,” Ms. Weingarten said. The Times says, "Green Dot is heavily financed by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad."

If one looks at Broad's agenda in San Diego (and many other places) where Anthony Alvarado got to do his magic, which was almost totally replicated in NYC by Bloomberg and Klein, which Weingarten was supposedly so critical of - and you understand why I see her as such a duplicitous collaborator whose interests dovetail more with the BloomKleins, Broads, Gates, etc. When she criticizes them it is mere rhetoric. Always follow the mantra uncle Normie lays down: Watch what Weingarten does, not what she says.

Pay attention to the very relevant David Herzenhorn piece "Patrons' Sway Leads to Friction in Charter School," also running in today's Times.

This article points to the pitfalls of the benefactor model of charter schools. While the rich Reiches gave a lot of money to Beginnings With Children school, Pfizer (across the street) donated the building. But I bet most money still comes from the public sector. Should the Reiches have such total control? What about parent and teacher roles?

Herzenhorn writes:

"The clash has exposed fault lines of wealth and class that are perhaps inevitable as philanthropists, in New York and nationwide, increasingly invest in public education, providing new schools to children in poor neighborhoods while making communities dependent on their generosity.

"And for those lucky to have such benefactors, the situation raises core questions: Who ultimately controls charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but often rely heavily on charitable donations? Do the schools, which operate outside the control of the local school district, answer to parents, or to their wealthy founders?

"At Beginning With Children, many parents and teachers say that the Reiches’ main interest is to burnish their reputation as advocates for charter schools, and that the school’s original purpose, of catering to each child’s individual needs, is now secondary to drilling for exams in an effort to elevate scores and the Reichs’ credibility.

"The Reichs said the problem was that the board was “constituency-based”...... Among those told to quit were five parent and faculty representatives."

Well, there you have it in a nutshell. We no want constituency-based input. Sound familiar?

I have a little background with the school, which is located in District 14 in Williamsburg and was once a public school but not under control of the district (a good thing). But it did function under the UFT contract. The chapter leader used to attend the district CL meetings.

I visited a couple of times and was impressed. They were adding a grade a year and had a very progressive model of education.

But the Reich's have the same agenda as so many other"benefactors" like Broad – to take public schools away from the public – and the school became a charter school. In order to further their political agenda the school moves away from the progressive model and towards test prep.

Note in the Herzenhorn piece how quietly we find out that the Courtney Sales Ross' charter school relocated at Tweed after they failed to force their way into the NEST school and has had 4 principals in a year. In the belly of the beast with all the Tweedles running around. We don't get any Tweed press releases telling us about that. Hey, I have an idea. Instead of running around the city telling everyone how to run schools, let Klein or Chris Cerf become the principal of the school and show how it should be done. Deck chairs on the Titanic, indeed.

If we connect the Green Dots to Weingarten's deal with Steve Barr, she is treading in dangerous territory with the future of public education. When a major union spokesperson basically accepts the philanthropic model (Broad gave the UFT $1 million,) it seriously weakens the case calling for full funding of public education and gives enormous power and sway to people with a narrow agenda that goes beyond the interests of the kids.

"If you really actually believe in kids and believe in their success, those of us in education, we really shouldn't be in the sandbox fighting with each other. We should be … trying to figure out how to work together," Weingarten said.

Does she really believe this stuff? People behind Green Dot have had so many negative effects (witness the DOE/Tweedles) and she wants to sit down in the sandbox with them? I'm sure that if she taught just a bit longer than 6 months she would have a slightly different perspective. Are they sitting down in the sandbox in Long Island schools or Scarsdale, where there are no charters but schools are fully funded, as NYC Educator has pointed out numerous times about the suburban school system his daughter attends?

That Weingarten will soon be spouting this stuff nationally as AFT President is a scary prospect indeed for the future of public education. Luckily, at this point, the NEA has taken a stronger stand and this issue may pop up in merger talks when Weingarten will hope to one day lead the entire national teacher movement into oblivion. Though AFT member AJ Duffy in LA took a politically correct stand when commenting on Weingarten's deal with Green Dot, the hope is that the LA Teachers Union will lead some kind of national resistance to Weingarten's turning the AFT into a shill for the attack on public schools by wealthy benefactors with narrow agendas.

As one of the first people in the UFT to advocate for Charters as a way for teachers to take over and run schools, I had conversations with Weingarten almost 10 years ago (Tom Pappas told me "You lost 50% of your support because you favor charters.") At one point in the conversation when I was pushing the idea from the point of view of teacher power, Weingarten made a rare, but revealing, slip, saying something like, "How can we trust these people" – meaning the teachers. Realizing what she said, she shut up and said no more. But it was a rare slip, my first inkling as to which side Weingarten is really on.

(Thanks to DB for the picture.)

Why I Have Indigestion

Thirty years ago, many of our friends got involved in making a film directed by Mark Rosenhaft, now the co-owner of Central Vision Care in Cedarhurst, Long Island (plug, plug, plug - and they take the UFT plan). We took a long hiatus, but Mark and I have been working on a few film ventures recently, our most current being "Dispatch" about a car service in Rockaway, working alongside filmmaker Robert Sarnoff (a retired NYC teacher), whose boxing movie "The Irish Ropes" is getting a lot of buzz.

The original 30 year old film, naturally called "The Rosenhaft Chronicles," shot in Super 8, has been making a comeback and segments have been popping up on you-tube. Here's one - grainy, but if you can peer through the grain, check it out:

That famous chef, Julia Grownup, makes my favorite dessert, Chocolate Mouse. That she happens to be my wife explains why I sometimes have indigestion. I play the mouse trap.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Randi tosses out ball

Randi Weingarten was to throw out the first ball at the Brooklyn Cyclones game Tuesday night. Teachers who have become ATR's, older, higher salaried teachers, younger and older teachers left without contractual protections, teachers doing lunch duty and potty patrol, you fill in the blanks ______ have no doubt she threw a screw ball.

Another Year is Done

Posted to The Wave for the June 29th edition:

As I write this on the morning of the last day of the school year for teachers and students, I have no sense of joy at the days to come. I am not floating two feet above the ground. The chirping birds do not sound louder. And the roses do not smell any sweeter.

You see, I am a retired teacher and I no longer get to celebrate this wondrous day - my biggest regret at being retired. Though I may join still working friends later at The Wharf [a waterfront joint in Rockaway with great views] to help them celebrate and congratulate them on their 2-month annual retirement, I will have just a touch of sadness at not being able to truly share in the euphoria.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really liked teaching, especially the close to twenty years I spent teaching in the self-contained classroom. We were with the kids up to the last moments of the school year (high school teachers slap their foreheads in disbelief when they hear this) and it was sad having to say goodbye to the kids and the little community we had built over the year. But a few minutes after they were gone, followed by an hour or two cleaning up, there was the announcement “the checks are in” and I joined the snaking line of teachers (some had lined up the night before) turning in keys, roll books, record boxed and whatever other stuff we were asked to bring along before we could get our checks. And off we went for another summer of recuperation.

Now this column is clearly aimed at teachers, but those not in the profession who accidentally stop by may scoff at this summer off business. “Hey, we get two weeks vacation, four at most.” Yeah! Well I won’t go into the details but think of teaching as being in a play that opens in September and closes in June, where the teacher is the actor, director, writer, custodian, ticket-taker, etc. No one resents actors taking a little time off between plays. ‘Nuff said.

I did not dread going back to work in September. But the end of two months of freedom was a dreadful counterpart to the fabulous end of June. No matter how many years you taught, the butterflies were always there on the night before you saw the kids for the first time.

Come this September, there will be no twitch of sadness when the gang troops back to the trenches and I get a double dose of the euphoria I am missing out on today.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Canarsie High School Rallies for Principal David Harris...

.... Monday, June 25th at 4 PM.

at Region 6 Office
5619 Flatlands Avenue
(Between East 57th and East 58th Streets.)

Seventy five parents, teachers and students attended a preliminary rally on Sunday at 11am at Canarsie HS to defend David Harris, their principal for the past year, against what they say is his unjust removal by the Region 6 officials, especially since the Region and the people who made the decision will no longer be active in the affairs of Canarsie HS after this Wednesday when all Regions will be abolished. The letter to remove Harris was signed by Wendy Karp, who will have a new position in Queens under the DOE reorganization.

Today's rally is expected to be considerably larger with most of the school staff, many students and an organizerd group of parents joining in. That an entire school community would rally for a principal is somewhat remarkable in today's world of DOE political maelstrom. Canarsie is the only large school left standing in southeast Brooklyn after it was announced that Tilden, South Shore, Jefferson (sadly, my alma mater) and Wingate have, or are in the process, of being closed. It is expected that Canarsie will get many of the more at risk students who will not be accepted to the new small schools being opened in these buildings.

Canarsie is a School Under Registration Review (SUR) and the Registration Review prepared by the state ed department recommended that Harris be allowed a few years to turn the school around, a fact many of the protesters claim has already began under Harris' brief tenure. When informed of his removal, an anonymous State Ed Department official expressed surprise and dismay that the recommendation to retain Harris was ignored.

Teacher Thea Platt 917-754-0171
PTA President Reginald Murray 718-809-6529

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The CEO of a Major Corporation....

... decides he's had enough of being a captain of industry.

So he does something meaningful with his life. He becomes a NYC Teaching Fellow. That is the fastest way to get into the classroom with certification. And get part of your Masters paid for. He is assigned to a large high school where the notorious Mr. Ogre, renowned for his ability to humiliate and destroy teachers he doesn't care for, is principal. Does Mr. CEO know that going in? Even if he did, he probably thinks his background and credentials will do him good, even with Mr. Ogre. But MR. O is never happy with having another Alpha Male around, especially one with this high level background who will easily see through some of the games he likes to play.

About a month into the term, Mr. CEO is having the usual struggles new teachers have. Nothing catastrophic. With some experience and administrative support things will work out - eventually. But the word "eventually" doesn't exist in Mr. Ogre's vocabulary. He calls Mr. CEO in for a conference and reams him out with a withering attack that is totally humiliating. Mr. CEO emerges and says in all his years in industry he has never been subjected to or witnessed this type of behavior. He packs up and quits. After one month, saying that he has no interest in continuing to work in a system that will tolerate the Mr. Ogre's of this world.

Who are these people...

... and why is that guy lurking in the rear right?

I've been out of touch for a few days. Been up in Manchester, NH for a meeting at FIRST HQ where people from all over the nation and from Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Denmark and other places I can't remember, who are involved with robotics, gathered. The guys from Japan are running an Asian Open FLL tournament in Tokyo in April '08. I already signed up as a volunteer. Konichiwa to you.

We had some NYC teachers who were released by their schools with us. (Some very interesting conversations between teachers in their 20's and the 60-somethings, where we managed to solve most of the world's problems.) The whole gang gathered in front of the hotel to watch the shuttle and space station pass by one night. And we got to tool around in the parking lot on a Segway.

A rare treat was a visit to FIRST founder Dean Kamen's (that's him in front) house for dinner - for 70. We ate in the helicopter hanger. The rest of the house? Oy vey!


June 21, 2007 (Gadfly News) In a surprising twist in the city’s increasingly tense struggle over the direction of its schools, a coalition of 313 New York City public school principals have banded together to offer Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein a schedule of cash payments if the two agree to rescind recent changes instituted by the Department of Education.....

Another gem from Jan Carr on the NYC Public School Parents blog

Denied a transfer? Let us know!

Jeff Kaufman reports on ICE-mail:

Just read the UFT weekly update and was caught by this line,

“Denied a transfer? Let us know! We are asking members who have been denied a transfer to click on the “denied a transfer” link on the UFT Web site and give us the details.”

Wow, I thought, the UFT and Stamatis have finally designed a computer program that actually does something. Click on the link and you will get a job. Well, after about 2 hours of clicking on the link it still says to click on the link.

It’s funny the more I look at the link the more it looks like the link for safety violations, class oversize complaints, U-ratings and micromanagement.

Thanks, guys!


The funniest line in the update?
"We are particularly interested in hearing from members who were told, explicitly or not, by the principal or other school official that salary played a role in the denial of the transfer."

Hope they bought along a tape recorder.

A follow-up from a teacher:

Denied a transfer? What transfers? There aren't any. I found out yesterday I interviewed for a job that was already filled. They wasted my time, not to mention left me feeling like a total idiot.
The interns at my school have more job offers than they can handle and I have 8 years seniority and can't get a transfer to a school down the block from mine.
I give up.

Principal's Weakly

An elementary school chapter leader writes:
"Getting the Principal’s Weakly has been more helpful to me as a chapter leader than any of the crap I get from the UFT. I feel that they never make sure I get important info like the stuff in your email. Thanks so much."

Even Unity CL have asked to be on this list (which says something about the priorities of the leadership). Join the Principal's Weakly
subscription list (thanks to Jeff Kaufman for the homonym) and read what Joel Klein says to principals in his weekly updates, or I should say - weakly updates - by sending an email to

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New Appointee on Panel for Educational Policy a Noted Klein Critic

Special to The Wave
by Norm Scott

Patrick Sullivan, co-founder of the NYC Public School Parents blog that has been extremely critical of many of the initiatives of Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg, has been appointed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as the Manhattan representative to the Panel on Educational Policy. The PEP is the successor to the Board of Education that was eliminated in the shake-up that brought mayoral control of the schools. Each borough president gets to appoint one rep. The mayor appoints the rest of the panel.

Sullivan, who was sworn in at the PEP meeting at Murray Bergtraum HS on June 18, has been a board member of Class Size Matters, the organization founded by Leonie Haimson, a noted parent who has been critical of Bloomberg and Klein, often due to their resistance to addressing the high class sized in New York City, which are as much as 30% larger than the rest of the state. She reported to her listserv on June 18th:

At tonight's PEP meeting, Patrick immediately became the most incisive member on the panel, with pointed remarks to [James] Liebman and Klein about the interim assessments and the so-called "fair funding" reforms. He pointed out that Liebman's claim of no-stakes tests had been contradicted by the recent announcement that kids would be paid for acing the tests; Liebman also admitted that schools might choose to count the results of these "no-stakes assessments" in students' grades.

To Klein he pointed out that under the FSF proposal, about half of failing schools would have had substantial budget cuts if fully implemented-- and instead would see no extra funding at all. He also asked why the funding changes would not undercut the professional status of teachers, encouraging principals to try to get rid of their most experienced staff.

Klein had no convincing answers to any of this, and was clearly flustered by the unaccustomed level of sophistication of the questions. Finally, Patrick was the only member of the PEP to vote against the proposal.

Other than a revolt over 3rd grade retention in March 2004 when dissenters were removed by Bloomberg (known as the Monday Night Massacre), the panel has functioned as a rubber stamp for Klein/Bloomberg policy, rarely dissenting or raising probing questions. Former Brooklyn PEP member Martine Guerrier, the most notable PEP member who questioned some of the policies and the only survivor who voted against the 3rd grade retention, was appointed Feb. 28 to the $150,000 a year CEO of Parent Engagement by Klein. Despite asking some probing questions, Guerrier generally voted along with the panel. It has been surmised that she was under some constraints due to the alliance between Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Bloomberg.

Sullivan, a parent who lives on the East Side, has become an increasingly strong voice in educational circles, building bridges between parents and teachers. He appears to be the first member of the PEP who will provide some level of resistance to the "monkey-see, monkey-do" mentality of the PEP and his appointment may reflect the sense that the Bloomberg/Klein days are waning. The question of the day is: Will Bloomberg and Klein exert political pressure on Scott Stringer to keep Sullivan under control and will they be successful?

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Cashin Lobby Lives - The Wave

by Norm Scott
Education Editor, The Wave
June 15, 2007
(The Wave, published since 1893, comes out weekly in the Rockaway Beach area of NYC.)

Education historian Diane Ravitch, who was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander under President George Bush the First from 1991-1993, writes on a listserv:
“[Kathleen] Cashin's ‘Knowledge Network’ will be training principals to teach the Core Knowledge program, which includes the arts, science, history, geography, literature, and other subjects in every grade, beginning in kindergarten. Many of the teachers don't know what they are expected to teach. The professional development is absolutely necessary to make sure that everyone knows the program. PD is provided, I believe, by the UFT Teachers Center. From my perspective, this is the richest, most coherent program that any of the LSOs have to offer--not just a smorgasbord of disconnected programs, but a coherent, sequential, developed curriculum that adds up to a rich liberal education for all kids.”

At a recent right-wing think tank Manhattan Institute luncheon attended by educators from around the city honoring US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings where Reading First’s Reed Lyon and Ravitch served on a panel, the moderator, conservative writer and education critic Sol Stern made a point of praising the program being offered by Cashin and urging schools to adopt it.

The NY Times had a major article focusing on Cashin in December 2006:
…with studies showing little progress in narrowing the achievement gap between minority and white students, the question of how best to improve schools in places like Region 5 is the most critical issue in American education. And Dr. Cashin has the numbers to stake a claim as the best turnaround artist in town. In 2003, 33.2 percent of her students in grades three to eight could read on grade level and 34.6 percent were proficient in math. Today, 50.6 percent read on grade and 56.9 percent are proficient in math. No other region starting below 40 percent has crossed the halfway mark in either subject. “We are relentless,” Dr. Cashin said in a recent interview. “The secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.” She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month.”

Of course, if you talk to teachers you get a different picture, pointing to Region 5 as not being much different than the rest of the city – lots of test prep and rigidity.

The Times went on to praise Cashin for going against the grain of BloomKlein by preferring traditionally trained principals over Leadership Academy grads and by cooperating with the UFT - the UFT charter schools have space in Region 5. And note who will be doing the training in the Knowledge Network – UFT Teacher Centers, (proving the UFT IS a business.) The Times pointedly pointed to how few of the schools in Region 5 signed up for Klein’s Empowerment schools, his baby.

Despite all the praise, Cashin had the least number of schools sign up with the Knowledge Network, gathering only 7%, while Region 3 Queens Superintendent Judy Chin, got 27%. Chin has been portrayed as the anti-Cashin because she has shown a lot of flexibility in dealing with the schools. Most of Cashin’s schools came from Brooklyn (55) and only 35 from Queens. “You have to be kind to people,” Cashin said in the Times article. “If people feel they don’t have a voice, they are going to strike back at some point.” Hmmm!

Talking to some teachers, they said basically about the Cashin program, “been there, done that.” Overly rigid programs quickly lead to boredom on the part of teachers and kids.

Cashin fans Stern and Ravitch have been amongst BloomKlein’s strongest critics, so there’s certainly some interesting stuff lurking beneath. But worry not! You have Uncle Normie to explain it all to you.

In the Times article, there were signs of sniping at Cashin’s record from some Tweedles. But she was still chosen as one of the four Region heads to lead a Learning Support Network (as chronicled in my alphabet city column a few weeks ago where I listed the acronyms of the millions of options offered to schools). When I attended a press conference at Tweed where Klein introduced the “winners” amongst all the organizations trying to get a piece of the action and told them they all they now could compete, Cashin and the others looked like they were making a hostage tape.

The BloomKlein team has received accolades from around the nation for disrupting the school system and basically ending the power of the UFT at the school level (but don’t feel sorry for the union leaders, as they are doing very nicely leading an organization with a head but no body, while fueled by a massively regressive dues structure.) The withering criticism directed at BloomKlein coming from parents and educators here in NYC has generally been ignored nationally and by the local Ed press. Ravitch has criticized BloomKlein from A-Z as part of Class Size Matter’s Leonie Haimson’s wonderfully informative listserve, consisting of some of the sharpest parent/activists in the city. Led by Leonie, they have been on top of BloomKlein’s every misstep.

But Ravitch’s major focus has been on the BloomKlein supposed “progressive” curriculum. (Using the word “progressive” in the same sentence with any reference to anyone at Tweed takes the non-sequitor to new heights.)

Now keep following the bouncing ball. Ravitch’s web site states, “She led the federal effort to promote the creation of state and national academic standards.” Some high stakes test resisters refer to her Ravitch a “standardista” as they feel slavish devotion to a narrow range of standards help put us on the road to testing mania. Progressive educators are certainly not happy with the role she has played.

Now what do I mean by “progressive” educators? Generally, that philosophy of education has come from the Bank Street/Teachers College at Columbia U where the web site proclaims, “The Bank Street approach, also known as the ‘developmental-interaction approach,’ focuses on child-centered education and improving the quality of classroom instruction.” It often includes non-traditional ways of teaching (the anti drill and kill), whole language, which has evolved into balanced literacy and various workshop models. To implement these approaches adequately one needs small class sizes and critics say that this approach only works with kids who are not struggling academically and is a disaster with kids who are behind.

Manhattan’s Tony District 2 under former Chancellor Anthony Alvarado and Park Slope’s District 15 were the leading lights of this approach - not surprising looking at the neighborhoods. When anointed Chancellor, Klein meet with Alvarado who was in San Diego destroying that school system and adopted Alvarado’s program almost totally, including the Leadership Academy, which was run by Alvarado’s then girlfriend and future wife at a quarter of a mil a year. The “progressive curriculum was then regressively forced down the throats of the entire school system by Klein’s educational guru Diana Lam (who was forced out in disgrace) who was followed by true believer Carmen Farina, the former Superintendent of District 15 and then Region 8 after reorganization #1 (who was told by Tweedles she didn’t have the skill set for the job). Can you guess that the Farina and Cashin educational philosophies were just a bit diametrically opposed? Farina has taken the wrath of critics who I call “The Phonics Police.”

When the counter revolution and the discrediting of the progressive curriculum which was implemented by Lam and Farina in such an insane manner takes place in the wake of BloomKlein’s departure, we will never ever see it again. And it is critics like Stern and Ravitch (and our esteemed editor Howie Schwack) who are leading the attack, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. But I believe they will prevail.

Thus, enter, or re-enter, Kathleen Cashin, who still has influential people like former Chancellor Frank Macchiarola who was her guardian angel and should exert some behind the scenes influence in the power vacuum of BloomKlein’s departure. There are loyalists among some leftovers in her old District 22 (south/central Brooklyn), District 23 in Brownsville, plus some of the people she brought over to Region 5 with her from Brooklyn, many of whom did sign up with her more out of loyalty than to devotion to the concepts of the Knowledge Network. And fear of her relentless vindictiveness may have played just a tiny role.

As we move toward the end of BloomKlein, expect to see the Cashin lobby’s voices, aided and abetted by the UFT’s cozy relationship with her, grow louder and the possibility of Cashin as a future Chancellor will loom. The Sterns and the Ravitches may see the educational value of the Knowledge Network as the reason, when in reality it will be all about politics, as usual.

Never a fan of Cashin, that I feel a sense of relief at the prospect of having a chancellor who actually taught and ran a school indicates the depth of alienation created by the non-educator Tweedles. I guess it’s the old “devil you know” thing.

Secretary of Education Announces National Non-Testing Day

Susan is a leader in the national test resista movement. She was one of the organizers of the ACTNOW conference John Lawhead and I attended in Birmingham, AL at the WOO a few years ago, a remarkable group of people. Her daily updates are loaded with goodies. This is one of the best. Check out her series of Margaret Spellings walks into a bar jokes.

by Susan Ohanian

Washington, D. C.

In a bold move to forestall the national testing industry meltdown, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, nicknamed the "princess of darkness" by teachers in her home state of Texas, has declared October 21, 2007, as National Non-testing Day for Children in Grades K-3. "This will give our friends at Harcourt and CTB McGraw-Hill a week to clean the vomit off returned tests," announced Spellings. "And minority kids can use a break."

Such a move struck many Washington insiders as a last-ditch effort to forestall a Rupert Murdoch takeover of the U. S. Department of Education. With the imminent Murdochrization at The Wall Street Journal, can the U. S. Department of Education be far behind?

Several key details in the Secretary’s plan still need to be worked out, such as what role Bill Gates and Eli Broad will play during the testing downtime. Gates, busy changing the lightbulbs in his 40,000-square-foot bungalow, was unavailable for comment. Eli Broad, famous for the long hours his employees work, pointed out that a business model should be applied to schools. "If people are golfers and their handicap doesn't go up, they're not doing their job."

"American youth cannot afford to go a day without testing if they are to keep with international competition," warned Harold McGraw III, chairman of the Business Roundtable and Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, McGraw-Hill Companies. "If the U. S. hopes to regain its position in preparing tomorrow’s workers for the Global Economy, kindergartners must learn that life is no bowl of cherries. Schools must maintain rigor and continue to raise the bar."

A spokesman for Pearson Educational Measurement said that top executives are too busy trying to figure out how to buy the Wall Street Journal to comment at this time.

Speaking beyond the grave, longtime American Federation of Teachers leader Albert Shanker pointed out that the AFT has always stood for accountability. "We have, in fact, created a paradigm for accountability." Shanker offered union distribution of incentives for students who work hard during the day of no testing.

Professor Snig Diddleworth, scholar-in-perpetuity at the think tank wannabe Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, pointed to research showing the increased test scores of five-year-olds who were force-fed All Bran when compared to those who eat Lucky Charms. Barack Obama’s campaign office made available his landmark speech on the importance of breakfast, prepared by the Center for American Progress.

Secretary Spellings will moderate a nationally televised debate between 143 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, where each candidate is expected to stake claim to the title of offering the most rigorous school reform agenda.

As a pre-debate special, Education Trust, furthering its mission to help teachers improve instruction in their classrooms, will sponsor a mud-wrestle between Secretary Spellings and presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton.

Saying that it is too early to assess the effects of a week without testing, President Bush reminded the nation of the real question, first uttered in Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000, and still of paramount importance: "Is our children learning?" Bush’s office refused to comment on whether this decrease on testing is a step toward implementing the policy hinted at aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003: "I'm the master of low expectations."

Susan Ohanian, June 16, 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Meet Martine

In response to the Feb. 28th '07 anti BloomKlein rally, on that very day, the cynics at Tweed appointed Martine Guerrier, former PEP (the phony replacement for the old DOE) rep from Brooklyn, who had been billed as a critic of BloomKlein (way, way overrated in that characterization) as the CEO of Parent Engagement at $150,000 a year. No, this does not mean she runs parties when parents get engaged. But she might as well.

We predicted Martine, who we've always thought very highly of, would disappear into the jaws of the Tweed PR machine in our "Say It Ain't So, Martine" post back in March. And so she has. Her coming out party took place at Brooklyn Tech HS Saturday in a "Meet Martine" event. Parent Eugene Falik, a Rockaway resident, posted this report on the nyceducationnews listserv.

Well, it was a standard Education Department show.

Department employees flagrantly violated the "no cell phone" policy which prohibits faculty and staff, as well as students, from bringing such contraband as cell phones and iPods into school buildings.

Parent Engagement staff allowed the police ("School Safety") people and custodian staff to run the show.

Questions were censored, by requiring them to be submitted on index cards.

Brooklyn Tech, as usual, had a host of fire code violations. Requests to Parent Engagement staff as well as Deputy Chancellor Grimm to correct the violations, and render the building safe for the invited public, were met with stony indifference.

Attempts to warn potential attendees of the danger were blocked and shouted down by the NYPD employees. It's easy to see how students confronted with this behavior would lose their cool. It's also a good justification for cell phones because requests to Ed Department staff for assistance, and compliance with the laws requiring the owner of a telephone to make it available for assistance calls had no result; only threats of punishment, including arrest, and assault.

The one good thing that came of the day is that there is now a paper trail that will require the SED to close the school until it is brought into compliance with the fire code.

Eugene Falik

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Only Teacher Left, Has Left

The departure of Andres Alonso from the DOE to head the Baltimore school system (and WOW, it seems he was chosen and will be responsible to a Board of Education instead of a dictatorial mayor) has been viewed by some as sad. After all, he actually was a teacher. Special ed in Newark. They say for a decade before he went on to bigger things. He even became the legal guardian of one of his kids. Now there's a level of intervention. He was a Harvard grad lawyer, then on to Wall St. before he tried teaching. Compared to Joel Klein who once spent about 6 months teaching before running back to law school, Alonso made a difference at the only level where one can have an impact directly on children - in the classroom. That should be enough. But people get seduced by the bigger things. "I can make a bigger difference as a principal, a superintendent, running a school system." Sorry. If you love teaching children, the classroom is the place to be. And even then the teacher's impact is not as great as people think - unless you become the legal guardian of all your kids.

People who came across Alonso found something very likable about him. I saw him at the Javits convention center back in March when he stopped by to see the FIRST robotics tournament. He came alone. No entourage. Something sad and lonely about him.

At PEP meetings or press conferences he would speak at length with an awful lot of EduBabble. Klein seemed oh, so bored and often fiddled with his Blackberry. Some NY ed scene observers (NYESO's) felt he was being used. But I wouldn't let him off the hook so easily. He accepts the "No excuses" argument- in other words, it is the teacher's fault. Hard to fathom coming from a real teacher. Like, does he really believe paying teachers bonuses for getting higher scores is a good thing for kids, teachers, schools, education? We'll measure how much of the EduCrap thrown out by BloomKlein he really believed by what he does in Baltimore. But if he follows the script, expect massive problems with the teacher union. I bet he doesn't have the stomach for those type of confrontations. He just doesn't seem as mean as the likes of BloomKlein. But maybe they'll send him to mean school for a PhD.

It was clear that with the reorganization the Deputy Supt for Teaching and Learning, or whatever they called the job, has no real function. His replacement - Marsha Lyles. Nice lady. My former boss, once removed, for a year. Hope she brings some crossword puzzles to work. They were cheering at the announcement in the offices of Region 8 and in District 16 (do they think she is taking them all with her?), one of the most incompetently run districts in the history of the NYC school system. Lyles once ran that district. But no one could have done very much. Maybe Joe Stalin, who if he were alive today, would be given serious consideration for chancellor of a large urban school system.

At the press conference where Klein introduced all the SCHMOS who will be doing what Alonso was supposed to do (and looked like they were making a hostage tape,) he was standing alone looking for some reporter to ask him something. So your intrepid Wave reporter went up to him to chat. "Come, sit down and talk. I have some time," he said. I bet he did.

For a few minutes it was 2 former teachers just chatting - until I tried to tell him what teachers really thought - like how can Tweed implement plans if just about the entire cadre of teachers - the implementers -- were so alienated. He wanted to know even though they make mistakes, if Tweed had done ANYTHING right and how come they do not get credit for what they do right. Like, did he think the NYC press corps, led by the cheerleaders from the NY Times, were against BloomKlein and for the UFT? I didn't have the heart to tell him that when the intention is evil, the result is distorted based on the view of the observer -- sort of Einstein theories applied to the world of Tweedledom.

But the conversation quickly turned into EduBabble as he talked about studies this and studies that, all showing teacher quality is the most crucial element in education., the same line Cerf and Klein and Weingarten throw out all too often. Jeez, I thought, I had an awful lot of stinkers as teachers growing up. I probably would have been an Einstein if they had more PD when I went to school. I tried to tell him that most teachers I came across were pretty good and we learned more from each other than PD. But he was no longer listening to what a teacher had to say. He taught, he left, went to Harvard and the Leadership Academy and is stuffed full of EduBabble.

Good luck Baltimore.

For an extremely favorable piece on Alonso, see the Baltimore Sun:

Alonso gets ahead by putting kids first
New schools CEO works hard on behalf of his No. 1 concern

Friday, June 15, 2007

ICE Strikes Back at the Evil Empire

Based on some input, the post below this on Diane Ravitch has been slightly revised. Check it out.

Over at the ICE blog check out James Eterno's excellent response to the Unity attack leaflet over Jeff Kaufman's comments about the UFT and Green Dot charter schools. Also my post on the June DA where Unity bragged about their overwhelming support and how they got ICE out of the Executive Board. As James points out, the vote actually made the point that to almost 80% of the teachers, the UFT is irrelevant. And now that New Action has replaced the ICE-TJC members on the Executive Board, it will be a complete rubber stamp Executive Board and even more irrelevant, if that is possible. For some time, I have felt that the ICE people were wasting their time and energies at Exec. Bd. meetings where the entire board is on the union payroll. But we did get to eat and schmooze, for all that was worth. And after so many years of Delegate Assemblies, I am getting the feel the same about them. Under Weingarten, whatever shards of institutional democracy there were have been shredded. Hmmm! Shredded shards - a new theme for the UFT.

The WeinKlein combo has turned the UFT into something that reminds me of the Roman ruins I recently visited, with more life in the 2000 year old Roman Forum than in the UFT Delegate Assembly and Executive Board. Attila the Klein and Rhondalia the First have made a devastating team in the sack of the UFT.

Attila and Rhondalia celebrate victory

A few choice excepts from James:
Yesterday's Unity leaflet quotes ICE's Jeff Kaufman in the Sun article saying, "This is the end of the Union." Unity neglected to mention Jeff's next line where he says referring to Randi: "She's going to leave in her wake now a real change in terms of what teachers unions are."

[the] Unity piece reverts to boasts about Randi's election victory saying how Unity's election victory was a "tremendous vote of support from all our UFT members." All of them? What about the almost 78% of teachers who didn't bother to vote? In Chicago recently, close to 2/3 of their teachers voted in their union election. I brought this fact up at the last Executive Board meeting. The UFT is a weak irrelevancy in numerous schools in NYC .

Michael Fiorillo posted this on ICE-mail:

Many good points made in your your blog posting, James.

I'd just like to add that at Wednesday's DA I had hoped to ask Randi about the Green Dot issue, but of course that was not possible, since she filibustered for well over an hour, to the point where questions and other business were an afterthought.

Had I been able to ask her, my question would have been,

"Randi, you've spoken about how "aggressively pro-union" the founder of Green Dot schools is, and that the teachers there are represented by a union. However, in the next breath you said that they are speaking with UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles, the AFT local) about signing a contract. If there's a union at a Los Angeles public/charter school that is not represented by UTLA, then isn't that a COMPANY UNION, illegal under the NLRA, and thought to have been eliminated back in the 1930's? What are you doing meeting with the boss of a charter school that has a company union - inevitably dominated by management - when the practical result is the undermining of a fellow AFT local?

Just thought I'd try to ask, but silly me.

Location for future UFT Delegate Assemblies and Executive Board meetings. The Emperor's box will be renovated but no new seats will be added.

In Defense of Teachers: Responding to Ravitch


Diane Ravitch's defense of teachers in yesterday's NY Sun ("Don't Blame the Teachers") led to some comments on ICE-mail. "Finally, a voice of reason speaking out for teachers about the madness of the education business," said Venice Lady, a teacher who has faced first hand the effects of teacher bashing. (See her full post below.)

I had a similar reaction - at first. But as some critical comments popped up on ICE-mail, I thought more about it. Ravitch seemed to take a narrow point of view of the problem without any political/economic analysis as to the backdrop for the "blame the teacher" syndrome, something that is sorely missing and placed too much blame on students and parents. But this is the NY Sun, a right-wing mouthpiece, (as Sean Ahern points out below) and they don't exactly encourage this kind of analysis.

While the overwhelming majority of teachers appreciate Ravitch's comments, they wonder why their own union doesn't use it's expensive PR machine to engage in a rigorous defence of teachers every day, every minute, at every press conference and in every commercial, which are often so insipid.

But the UFT seems to have different priorities (see my report on the Delegate Assembly in the post below this.) Agreeing to end seniority and take away so many of the rights teachers had is in essence is agreeing that these rules are part of the problem. It's a long road for teachers in NYC when they have to contend with both a hostile DOE and a collaborationist union. You never hear the UFT point out where the money really is when Bloomberg cuts property taxes or gives big tax breaks to corporations, instead selling a bill of goods to teachers that there just isn't enough money to make the NYC school system as good as Scarsdale.

Behind the scenes, they often take credit when these articles appear, trying to make it look like they influenced the writer. (But then again they try to take credit for making the sun shine.) People want to see their union drawing a line in the sand rather than being more worried about how things play out in the press. But when your leader is planning an exit strategy, looking like a reasonable union leader nationally takes precedence.

Teacher bashing/blaming is the only explanation to the so-called right wing ed "reformers." We are not trained. Or the problem is just a matter of our low expectations, as Margaret Spellings so outrageously said to John Stewart when he asked her what is the one thing that would make the greatest difference.

As NYC Educator points out just about every day, all the gimmicks are about an unwillingness to spend the money. Today he says: "And if he [Klein] really wanted to improve schools, he could have tried the whole good teachers/ smaller classes/ decent facilities thing. I guess it's more impressive to follow the longstanding NYC tradition of intergalactic personnel searches."

When Chris Cerf threw the usual bull at the Manhattan Institute about how throwing money at problems don't solve them, he had no response when I pointed out that the DOE hasn't tried to throw money at a school instead of closing it, preferring to spend on gimmicks like $80 million computer systems that will have zero impact. At another recent Manhattan Institute luncheon there were at least 5 mute UFT officials there to feed at the trough.

There were a few points not made or others that were emphasized in Ravitch's piece that nagged at me. Carolyn Eubanks said on ICE-mail: "What about putting the blame where it belongs: on a system that does not care about students and pits teachers and students (and their parents) against each other?"

Ravitch says: "Our children — with too few exceptions — don't have that hunger. It's not the fault of their teachers." Or "if they arrive in school with a closed and empty mind, don't blame their teachers." I agree about the blame part but I saw it as part of my role as a teacher to try to stimulate that hunger. Or unlock those closed minds. I may not have succeeded very often but when I did it was like climbing Mount Everest.

And what's with the "teachers don't know what to teach" stuff? Most teachers always knew what to teach and how to teach it - until the Tweedles started telling them they didn't. They just haven't been given the resources.

Leonie Haimson made some additional points on her listserv:

"I agree that the current tendency to blame teachers for the ills of educational systems is ridiculous– but equally absurd is blaming parents and students. The failures of our schools are due to the lack of resources and the low priority that education has, particularly in urban school systems with large numbers of minority students, the misallocation of funds, and the tendency to follow fads, and the ideological fantasies of the moment rather than make the proven reforms that we all know are necessary – like smaller classes -- that every powerful and wealthy person demands for their own children."

And Sean Ahern goes after Ravitch full throttle on ICE mail in his usual inimical style, where he posts articles from the Nation exposing the NY Sun and explores the relationship between Ravitch, Shanker and the UFT. One of the milder statements:

"If you like your pity party heavily laden with maudlin syrupy nonsense then lap it up. Sort of pathetic when so called educators rally round and cheer someone who is tickling them under the chin. Displace real advocacy with phony advocacy."

Phew! There is heavy stuff there, including references to Sean's usual babies - the whitening of the teacher staff, the '68 strike and the Zionist lobby (just the mention of which resulted in some hysterics on ICE-mail). I haven't absorbed all of Sean's points and probably disagree with most of it, but I can be pretty weak when it comes to political analysis and Sean is always provocative and worth reading - you can read it in its entirely at Norms Notes. I do feel he goes too far in his critique of Ravitch. I have more issues with her as a standardista, but I think she has been a real ally and force in the battle against BloomKlein and hopefully, mayoral control and having her voice on this side of the fence is good thing.

Venice Lady loves what Ravitch wrote:
Finally, a voice of reason speaking out for teachers about the madness of the education business. In the four years that I've been with the DOE, it seems to me that teachers are, and have been treated as if we are the "enemy" by administrators and students alike. Somehow, we are supposed to correct all the ills of society by some miraculous teaching in the classroom. Kids sleeping because they are not actively "engaged"? Our fault- never mind that maybe they are not eating properly or getting the sleep they need at home for whatever reasons. Fights in the classroom? Again, it's the fault of the teacher- if we are not teaching wonderful lessons to "engage" the students' attention, we are at fault that students may have hair trigger tempers and emotional problems that they are bringing into the classroom, and are not capable of exercising self control, no matter how wonderful a lesson we have planned on paper or the delivery of that lesson. Why are teachers blamed for all of the problems that are exhibited in
the schools? It's no wonder that so many people leave this "profession" before completing their fifth year. I can think of no other profession where so much blame is laid at the feet of the
people that most try to help those in need by providing an education as the way to get that foothold in society. I hope that the powers that be are listening to what Diane Ravitch is saying, and realize that teachers are not able to correct those problems that students are bringing into the classroom by following some TC methods in the classroom. It's time to lay some responsibility for learning on the students and the parents, too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

UFT Delegate Assembly Report June '07

Paranoia will Destroya

June 13

The June DA's are always poorly attended anyway, so I decided to take a break. No leaflet. Just show up and enjoy the festivities. But why sit and listen to all the Weingarten bullshit for her hour report? The important stuff is going to the pub afterwards. It was almost 5 when I left my house and arrived around 5:40. I felt naked without a leaflet as people were coming up asking me for it. Hey! Over 10 years at just about every DA with something to hand out. I've become a habit.

I picked up an agenda - 7 resolutions to discuss in addition to the usual reports, question and new motion period. Oh! I remember. They didn't get to them at the May 9th DA (remember- the cancelled demo against BloomKlein) because Deputy Mayor David Doctoroff and all the LSOs and SCHMOs from Tweed were given time to speak.

So I go into the visitor section and they're just coming to the end of the 10 minute question period, which is like, the very top of the agenda. Did Weingarten talk all this time? She asks if anyone wants to extend. Marcie Licari, CL of Clara Barton is standing up saying she wants to extend but Weingarten acts like she doesn't hear her. Marcie calls out that Randi said she would call on people from each section so she waited patiently but her section was never called on. "Now Marcie, this is a democratic body and the question was called," the Great Democrat says. Marcie responds that she has been standing for 10 months waiting to be called on.

Now the wheels begin to turn in the head of the GD. "Well this is out of order but I don't want to read about this on the blogs so let's take a vote on whether to let Marcie ask her question." She does and it loses. Sorry Marcie. And sorry GD. I guess you have to read abut it on the blogs, but if you want my advice I would spend less time reading the rantings of us lunatics, as your Unity Caucus leaflet referred to us. Lunacy is catching. But then again if you catch our lunacy you might actually become a union leader who stands up for the members.

I've been here for 5 minutes - jeez.

I'm in the back with TJC's Kit Wainer and Peter Lamphere. Peter has buddies out in LA and will get more info on what is going on out there, particularly in relation to class size.

Peter shows me the Unity leaflet on Green Dot. I howl with laughter at the latest Jeff Zahler work of art which attacked Jeff Kaufman (without naming him) for his quote that charters will be the end of the union (the leaflet rephrases it as the end of the UFT but we know that will never happen -- the Unity machine will always be there to glom off members' dues.) But it is a sign of how sensitive an issue Green Dot is, particularly when a nationally known blogger like NYC Educator has been hammering on Green Dot Randi as she tries to make her national rep in prep for becoming AFT President in July '08. (Strong rumor yesterday that AFT Pres. McElroy will retire, paving the way for Randi.)

ICE lunatic Jeff Kaufman proclaiming charter schools will prove to be the end of the union.

Now Zahler is the new staff director replacing Michael Mendel because to Randi, Michael was not tough enough. He would never write a leaflet like this. But Randi's paranoia (increasing by leaps and bounds as snitches at the palace have been telling us) requires attack dogs while she is traipsing around the country. Zahler, who has been so proud of his red-baiting leaflets, addressed the members and made a less than thrilling impression. He said something about only delegates should be seated - that's it Jeff, show how tough you are by eliminating the 12 seats in the visitor section - maybe a response to the wonderful video I took last time. I heard someone mutter "we want Michael." Can't wait to see Zahler run a DA.

Finally, we get to the 7 motions - gee, they couldn't dig up another Deputy Mayor or more DOE officials? The heavy one comes first - the resolution on military recruitment in the schools. I'm not going to go into this in depth here because I am not up to speed on the nitty gritty details.
I should point out that Leo Casey spoke. He is NOT a delegate. DID you hear that Zahler? But that should be rectified when Casey becomes HS VP when Volpicella retires soon. Now there's a popular choice as even Unity people consider Casey, who will justify any flip-flop by Randi with lengthy historical analysis and name calling of any one opposed, one of the most intellectually dishonest people in the history of humanity. Well, maybe just the UFT.

That no one from the opposition called a point of order galls me. Sometimes I wonder how people expect to organize against Unity if they won't stand up to the heat of Unity attacks at the DA. Kaufman did it consistently (Bruce Markens used to do it, as I did - pat on the back) until Jeff got disgusted with the DA and frankly, there's no one left with the balls to do it.

There is some interesting irony in this debate. UFT'ers Against the War has been the force behind this reso and people have been going out to the schools to oppose the military presence in the schools. Lisa North and Gloria Brandman from ICE have been major players in this organization, with the support of by Megan Behrent and Peter Lamphere from TJC. There have been others involved too.

Jerry Frohnhoefer, CL of Aviation HS gets up to oppose the motion and defend the role of military recruiters. You can hear the oohs! and aahs! from the audience which is clearly for the resolution, as is the leadership. I see some people on the left (politically) looking at Jerry in disgust. The problem on the left is a lack of respect for the point of views of people like Jerry. You may not agree but when principled people have something to say, they should be heard. Of course, not knowing Jerry, they assume automatically he is a hack. I've made that mistake myself about others.

Fortunately I know Jerry. When I think about remaining active in union politics so many years after retiring, I think of the wonderful people I meet. Jerry is at the top of my list.

I first met him only a few months ago when he left Unity Caucus to run with ICE as our VP for vocational schools. Now Unity is a black hole -- you go in but never get out, so Jerry is unique. His son is a captain serving in Afghanistan. Many teachers at Aviation HS are vets. Aviation has a large ROTC program for kids. I was there on Saturday for a robotics tournament and was called "Sir" more times than I can count -- not like when kids used to say "Yo! Scotty Boy!"

Jerry made an excellent presentation which I will do justice to and also include points from both points of view in another post. (I just talked to Jerry and he is heading out to Spokane WA for his daughter's graduation with an MA in Fine Arts. Her thesis is based on her 6 years of military service.) One of the people opposing Jerry was Jonathan Lessuck from Progressive Labor Party and ICE who also ran with us in the election.

That ICE had Jerry and Jonathan on the slate may be a sign the Unity leaflet is right - we must be lunatics. Unity doesn't get it. Lunacy is the wave of the future.

Now it is the end of the meeting and the Great Democrat calls for a vote on 6 resolutions all at once. Meeting adjourned. And it's off to the pub - my main man from New Action, Ed Beller, the only one in the responsible opposition that I have a shred of respect for, and that wonderful couple Bob McCue and Alice O'Neal. Bob, one of the best English teachers in the history of the world, has been an ATR for the past year. That he was an active CL at ParkWest HS before it closed won't help him get a job, especially with his max salary. Thanks Joel and Randi.

They are already a few drinks ahead. I should have skipped the DA and gone straight there to get a head start. Maybe next time. But what would the Great Democrat do for blog reading?

LA Dreamin' Part 2

We've been tracking information on the LA teacher union as a basis of comparison to our friends and neighbors in Unity Caucus here in NYC. Note the call to teachers to boycott required after-school faculty meetings and the emphasis on class size as part of contract negotiations, the kinds of actions some teachers in NYC were hoping to see from the UFT. It's hard to make judgements from a distance so if anyone has information pro and con, let it fly.

Labor Notes May 2007:

How Los Angeles Teachers Won a Year-Long Contract Campaign

by Joshua Pechthalt and Julie Washington

[Editor’s Note: Labor activists seldom get a chance to reflect on campaigns in the heat of the moment. In this issue we print the reflections of leaders of the Los Angeles teachers union on their recent contract campaign.]

Members of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union representing Los Angeles public school teachers, ratified a three-year agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) on March 14 by a 90 percent margin. The vote ended a year-long campaign that won gains for Los Angeles teachers and demonstrated the effectiveness of broad, rank-and-file based organizing combined with member mobilization.
The new contract gives UTLA members an across-the-board six percent salary raise for the first year with re-openers for the second and third years. (In a separate agreement a few months earlier, UTLA and the other unions representing classified employees, building trades, and others, were able to maintain health care benefits at their current levels.)
UTLA also won a first-ever class size reduction and a cap on class sizes. Since the early 1990s, the district had unilaterally increased class size during recessions when the district claimed it was in a fiscal crisis.
In addition, the local won protection for union activists by requiring the district to mediate before administrative transfers can take place.

The contract campaign was as unconventional as the contract itself. Beginning last March, UTLA leaders rolled out a campaign to involve the members in choosing and prioritizing their concerns.
Typically, UTLA’s 25 or so standing committees put forward bargaining proposals to the UTLA House of Representatives, which then adopts the bargaining package.
This year, UTLA school chapters were asked to meet and discuss which issues they thought were most important. Then, the union rep at each school fed that information into a central data-base set up through the UTLA website.
Almost 300 schools participated and developed a list of priority issues. Each UTLA area (UTLA is divided into eight geographic areas averaging about 5,000 members each) then used that information to develop the contract demands at their monthly area meetings, the Board of Directors, and finally at the House of Representatives.
An issue developed regarding the salary demand, however, that created problems for the union leadership. While the language in the bargaining proposal stated that the union would wait until after the state budget was adopted before making a salary demand, the proposal also mentioned that it would take a 14 percent pay increase to raise member salaries to be among the highest in the county.
The press jumped all over this, charging UTLA with making an unreasonable demand, while many members thought this really was the demand and were delighted. When the House of Reps eventually adopted an initial nine percent salary demand, some members were ticked off that it had been unilaterally “lowered.”
Lesson? The only figure to put out is the actual demand, not a longer-term goal.

Contract negotiations lagged during the summer and didn’t pick up in the fall, except for the agreement on health care benefits in October. The union and the district accused each other of not taking negotiations seriously.
In response, the union adopted an escalating strategy, starting with weekly Red Shirt Tuesdays, a Class Size Caravan in November, and a mass demonstration at district headquarters in December.
Red Shirt Tuesdays were solidarity-building activities in which all UTLA members at a school would wear UTLA t-shirts and send in a group picture to the union’s monthly newspaper.
The Class Size Caravan, while not a mass mobilization, was an attempt to draw attention to the outrageous class sizes in Los Angeles. With much press fanfare, UTLA rented a school bus to go to different school campuses around the district where teachers met the bus to deliver information on excessive class sizes at their school.
With negotiations making little progress, the stage was set for the December 6 mass demonstration. Up until that time, UTLA leadership had yet to prove to the district that the members were ready to fight.
December 6 proved it and then some, as over 10,000 UTLA members poured into the streets at district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and at another site in the San Fernando Valley. These were among the largest demonstrations in UTLA history, comparable only to those around the 1989 strike.
The success of December 6 was fueled by the intense anger teachers felt about the increasing stress in their jobs and the lack of respect they felt from the district. But some novel organizing strategies also helped.
Two weeks before the demonstration, UTLA released all of its 150 area “cluster leaders,” who volunteer to make contact with the 700 UTLA chapter leaders, for a day-long meeting. But this was not one of those top-down affairs in which the union leadership gives orders from on high.
Instead, the cluster leaders from each area made their own plans about mobilizing their areas for December 6 and even brought in their own ideas for the demonstration. One area leader suggested that UTLA ask members to bring their flashlights to LAUSD headquarters in order to “shine a light” on the huge district bureaucracy. UTLA accepted this proposal and at the demonstration thousands of UTLA members, on cue, shined their flash-lights on the 29-story district-owned Beaudry building, along with a search light rented by the union.

By the beginning of January, however, an agreement was still a long way off. UTLA called on teachers to boycott required after-school faculty meetings. This scared the district so much that it called off faculty meetings for the three weeks the boycott was in force.
UTLA then called for a day of informational picketing, leading up to a strike authorization vote in February. Furthermore, UTLA conducted a massive radio ad campaign emphasizing the broader benefits of the union’s demands for students and their communities, in particular lower class size and local control of the schools.
By now, the district was taking negotiations seriously and called for nearly daily discussions. District officials were convinced that UTLA members were ready to strike and they wanted to avoid this at all costs. The radio campaign helped solidify public support for the teachers, who were championing the needs of students, not just themselves.
This situation led to what UTLA leaders called “the settlement moment” just as UTLA began taking the strike vote on February 12. In the course of a week, the district withdrew all of its concessionary proposals and gave ground on nearly all of the union’s priority issues.
The lessons of this contract fight are clear. UTLA leadership led a campaign based on the wishes and activity of the members and posed the issues in terms of school reform, not just “bread and butter.” This campaign led not only to a far better contract than previous ones, but also created organizing opportunities for the future.

[Joshua Pechthalt serves as UTLA/AFT Vice-President. Julie Washington is UTLA Elementary Vice President.]