Thursday, July 31, 2008

Teacher Quality and Working Conditions

I have issues with the very expression "Teacher Quality" because people all too often view TQ as digital - either you are or you aren't a QT – while I view it as analog - on a scale of say 1-10 that can vary depending on school conditions, the year, the time of day, a particular kid that bugs the hell out of you, a butterfly flapped its wings in Brazil, and who knows what else?

I also object that the phony ed reformers only want to look at TQ in terms of results on narrow high stakes tests. They have recently changed the vocabulary to "teacher effectiveness."

In the great debates with Teach for America teachers that we had here and at Chancellor's New Clothes, I noticed how so many of these newly minted current and already gone TFA teachers use the "teacher effectiveness" expression. TFA's certainly have all the jargon down.

I've been reading comments on various blogs from Nancy Flanagan, a long-time teacher, now retired, who thinks out of the box. She works with teachers on teacher quality issues and I promise to take a closer look at some of the work she is doing with the Center for Teacher Quality. Take a look at the link to working conditions.

Nancy recently left a comment at this Ed Notes post "Teacher Quality in Context".

Thanks for your acknowledgment of the excellent work done by the Center for TEACHING Quality, in North Carolina. CTQ is an organization dedicated to the idea of putting the teachers' voice into the policy-making process. That concept is played out in their sponsorship of the Teacher Leaders Network (see TEACHER magazine and EdWeek for lots of TLN teachers' essays and blogs)--as well as some great research (like the working conditions studies). One of their crown jewels is Teacher Solutions, a policy creation model where diverse groups of actual teachers come together to study key issues and issue reports and recommendations.

I emphasize "Teaching" because a lot of the issues you're discussing in this post turn on the distinction between selecting presumably good teachers vs. improving practice--teaching--in the teachers who are already in place in high needs schools. Making working conditions and professional learning better might go a lot further in fixing schools than sorting and selecting in the teacher pool. [my emphasis]

Nancy blogs at Teacher in a Strange Land.

I am interested in the focus on working conditions in many inner city schools. Some of my colleagues in buildings where charter schools have been put in place have pointed to a difference in working conditions. The teachers at Jamaica HS in Queens called it "educational apartheid" when 100 people showed up at the monthly meeting of what passes for a joke of a NYC Board of Ed (known as the PEP, but is actually the PEPLESS) to protest the difference in resources being given to a college prep school being added to their building while they were being starved. (See Gates Foundation Supports Apartheid from our post in May.)

I saw this occur when I did computer support at JHS 126 in Greenpoint in Brooklyn in the 90's when Bard HS took over the 4th floor which underwent a million dollar plus renovation while the junior high school's grades 7-9 were squeezed into the rest of the building. After a few years, Bard wanted the 3rd floor too and when denied, they left to push into a struggling elementary school on the lower east side. JHS 126 was left with a 4th floor full of half classrooms that could not fit a full public school class into them. We told that story back in November.

Here are a some comments on working conditions from a few blogs of young NYC teachers.

A 2nd year NYC teacher comments on working conditions at Miss Brave Teaches NYC:

...while on vacation last week I met up with a friend of mine from graduate school who now teaches at a private school in a wealthy suburb. She teaches for only two and a half hours a day, so the rest of her day is free for planning and grading, which means she never takes work home with her. She has no more than fifteen students in each class. She has an office with a computer provided to her by her school, which also paid for her to fly cross-country to national educator conferences. Her last day of school was at the beginning of June and she doesn't go back until after Labor Day, which means she gets a full three months off. And, most jaw-dropping of all, there is a chef at her school who cooks a delicious lunch for the staff every day! And to think, the teachers at my school are practically foaming at the mouth when we get a bagel breakfast twice a year. I was nearly salivating just listening to her describe those working conditions. When I told her that I'd had 420 students on my roster this past year, she exclaimed, "That's a school, Miss Brave! You were in charge of a whole school!" At one point, I inquired as to whether her school had a security guard; in response, she laughed at me.

As a chapter leader, I often asked my principal to hire a chef.

Mildly Melancholy is leaving a public school for a charter in Brooklyn:

What I do know and love is that the school has adequate facilities, and it has excellent resources. The teachers' room has a free copy machine (at my previous school, teachers had to buy a copy code [cheaply, but still] AND provide paper) and shelves of books, just sitting there (not stashed away in a secret room in a secret stairwell, covered in asbestos dust). Plenty of money for classroom books and supplies. Plenty of schoolwide expectations and reinforcement systems. A longer school day and a longer school year (several mandatory weeks in summer for students and teachers), but also a 10k raise.

Jeez. A copy machine in the teachers room.

I'm sure these gals are high level teachers no matter where they teach. But a career of bad working conditions take a toll. I can't tell you how much time and effort it took to navigate the "system" to get resources. The road blocks take a toll over time. I found myself beginning to wear down sometime in my 17th-19th year, almost totally as a self-contained classroom teacher in grades 4-6, especially with an administrator who had only an interest in test scores and actually discouraged any creativity.

Probably why I took a sabbatical to get an MA in computer science around my 20th year.

When I came back, she maneuvered me out of the self-contained class and into a cluster, which I turned into a computer job. I loved building a computer program from scratch for the next 10 years.

But my best work as a teacher was behind me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Carnival of Education is Up and Running

Hosted this week by our buddies at The Chancellor's New Clothes and a great job by Learners Inherit the Earth, whose partner in crime, A Voice in the Wilderness, is off traveling in the wild.

Gary Babad Aims to Rule the World

When NYC parent Gary Babad announced on the NYC Public School Parent blog July 18 that his GBN News was acquiring the NY Times, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

His press release stated:
"It is unclear just what effects this takeover will have on the Times reporting, or their staff."

Sure Gary. Barely 2 weeks into your tenure as owner of the NY Times, you get this puff piece about you planted in a newspaper YOU CONTROL.

Just another outrageous abuse of power by the megalomaniacal Babad, who just a month before was awarded an exclusive no-bid contract as the sole distributor of NYCDOE press releases.

"Given the size of the DOE public relations budget, industry experts speculate that this contract alone could have financed GBN’s takeover of the Times,"GBN News reported at the time.

The ugly rumor around the street is that Babad's next move will be to buy Bloomberg L.P.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Michael Fiorillo Challenges David Brooks

In this post to ICE-mail, Michael Fiorillo (Chapter Leader at Newcomers HS in Queens) takes a crack at today's op ed ("The Biggest Issue") by NY Times columnist David Brooks, who channels the corporate ed reform agenda when he addresses education reform issues. Ed Notes criticized Brooks back in June when he wrote a ridiculous piece supporting the Klein/Sharpton/Rhee vision of ed reform, as did NYC Educator.

Michael ties economic forces to educational ones and ties up the concept of runaway corporations who avoid taxes and high labor costs.

I would add the irony of the Brookses and other ed reformers pointing to teacher union contracts and tenure as the culprit.

Yes, close the achievement gap by all means, but make sure jobs in teaching and other sectors are as low paid as possible by shutting down unions' ability to fight for their members.

I don't have the exact numbers but I remember hearing that only 27% of the jobs in the next decade will require a college degree. The corporate world is rushing to support the market forces ed reform movement to close the achievement gap just enough to provide workers who can operate a cash register.

Thus, when the achievement gap is closed - of course, only when every school is a KIPP school and we rotate a new teacher corps through TFA every 2 years - we will have, as Michael points out, a nation of educated cab drivers.

I can see the day when American college grads are driving cabs - in bangladesh.

Hello All,

This op-ed by Brooks is a well-condensed example of the ideological points that are driving corporate school "reform." According to this model, education drives economic development, and apparently there is no relationship between investment and economic conditions. I would suggest that anyone who believes that education is the primary factor in economic development take a few taxi rides in NYC and get into a conversation with their driver. Ask them about their backgrounds, and you will be astonished at how many highly educated people - engineers, architects,doctors etc. - are driving cabs. However, they still had to immigrate here: why? According to Brooks and his ilk, they and the nations they come from should be prospering. But they're not; they're driving cabs in NYC.

The reason is that, while their levels of educational achievement may be high, in their countries there has been no corresponding level of investment that would supply them with gainful employment. This is what the corporate reform crowd refuses to acknowledge: ironically, these "business model" characters refuse to admit to the relationship between supply (educated workers) and demand (investment in industries and jobs that pay middle-class wages or better). These folks believe - or at least the more ignorant/gullible/opportunistic among them - that education magically translates into improved living standards. Obviously, it's an important factor, and as a teacher I won't let these characters trap me into contending that it isn't. However, we're fooling ourselves if we think that investment patterns - among other factors - are not a major factor influencing economic conditions.

For the past generation-and-a-half, the US has been de-industrializing, allowing domestic production in some industries - basic steel, for example - to collapse, shipping others - auto - overseas or to non-union environments in the US. Along with this de-industrialization has gone the extreme income polarization we experience now. It's entirely predictable, since Bureau of Labor Statistics show the country increasingly polarized between high paying jobs in FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and poverty-level jobs in services such as retail, restaurants, etc. For a generation, these have essentially been the only two sectors where jobs have grown.

Not so long ago, it was possible to lead a relatively secure life with a high-school diploma and a unionized job in manufacturing or transportation. Those jobs are gone now, and even the income premium that college grads have enjoyed is now declining. As teachers fighting the privatization of the schools, we must throw this back in the faces of these sons-of-bitches. They have the audacity to simultaneously ship the productive capacity of this country overseas- literally in many cases, where they disassemble entire factories and send them to China, Vietnam, etc. - and then blame teachers for the resulting decline in living standards.

I personally think that, with the accelerating collapse of the neoliberal economic model, we will have a opening to make this argument. Let's be ready.

Michael Fiorillo

Sean Ahern added this comment:
Well said! remember the Coleman report? There was a time, before Ravitch et al brokered the Nation At Risk, when the economic condition of students and their families was broadly acknowledged to be the singe most determining factor in student achievement. That said some accounting should be made: How have we fallen so far? and How may the people regroup? How may we as teachers contribute to this in our schools in conjunction with the students, parents and communities we serve?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teacher Quality in Context... Eduwonkette's place.

I have so much to say about the teacher quality issue that I can never properly organize it into a coherent piece and end up putting bits and pieces in various comments. Some day ... when it's not beach weather. But thank goodness there are people who are coherent out there.

One of the things ya gotta love about 'Wonkette is that she gets it about teacher quality. You knew that on her first day of blogging back on Sept. 23, 2007 when she was still at Blogger. (Is it not even a year when she seems to have been around forever?)

Her first week's posts are worth rereading:

Tunnel vision syndrome - The teacher effectiveness debate focuses only on a narrow set of the goals of public education, which may endanger other important goals we have for our schools.

No teacher is an island - The teacher effectiveness debate ignores that teachers play many roles in a school. Experienced teachers often serve as anchoring forces in addition to teaching students in their own classrooms. If we don’t acknowledge this interdependence, we may destabilize schools altogether.

Ignoring the great sorting machine - If students were randomly assigned to classrooms and schools, measuring teacher effects would be a much more straightforward enterprise. But when Mrs. Jones is assigned the lowest achievers, and Mrs. Scott’s kids are in the gifted and talented program, matters are complicated immeasurably.

Overlooking the oops factor - Everything in the world is measured with error, and the best research on teacher effectiveness takes this very seriously. Yet many of those hailing teacher effectiveness proposals missed out on Statistics 101.

Disregarding labor market effects - The nature of evaluation affects not only current teachers, but who chooses to join the profession in the future and where they are willing to teach. If we don’t acknowledge that kids that are further behind are harder to pull up, we risk creating yet another incentive for teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

She followed up on Jan. 31 soon after moving over the Ed Week:

Today she adds a piece on Jim Spillane's research with this intro:

The current policy discourse about teachers and teaching in the U.S. emphasizes the recruitment and retention of “high-quality” teachers, defined either by the teachers’ credentials, or their value-added influence on students’ achievement, or both. It has not, in skoolboy’s view, paid sufficient attention to the ways in which the school serves as a context for teachers’ work, shaping the conditions under which a teacher might be more or less successful in advancing students’ learning. Teachers don’t teach in a vacuum; the ability of the leaders in a school to set a direction, secure resources, facilitate professional development, and build a culture for teachers to work in concert has a lot to do with whether a teacher can be successful.

Read it all here.

And check out some of the stuff at the center for teacher quality (though on a cursory look I probably have some issues with their positions. However, their work on working conditions and how they affect TQ looks interesting.

I'm looking for a grant to do some research on how teacher effectiveness dropped when Bloomberg forced every school to install Snapple machines. Would I have to drink the stuff myself?

Bill Cala: High-Stakes Tests Push Kids to Streets

Susan Ohanian writes:
Longtime educator William Cala points out that in the face of the high stakes pressures, cheating is inevitable.

Bill Cala was a super superintendent who retired a few years ago from Fairport, NY. He ran the Rochester schools as interim superintendent last year but declined to take the job full-time as he and wife Joanne have been doing some great work in Africa (Joining Hearts and Hands - donations welcome.)

We all got to hang out (Susan O and John Lawhead too) at a high stakes conference at the World of Opportunity (The WOO) in Birmingham back in 2003 and I kept thinking that this guy is like no other school superintendent I've ever heard of. We had the most fun talking about the inept NY State ed department under the mis-leadership of Richard Mills, a man who eagerly signed off on Joel Klein's waiver to be chancellor. (Check Mills' work in mis-managing the Roosevelt, LI schools which were taken over by the state.)

When someone like Bill Cala is tapped to run the state education department will be the beginning of true reform in education. Or chancellor of NYC schools. (I can hear his howls of laughter emanating from the halls of Tweed.)

Read the entire article but here are a few excerpts from this gem.

High-Stakes Tests Push Kids to Streets
William Cala
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Full article here

What is the purpose of public education? Historically, it has been to make good people, to make good citizens and to nurture the individual's talents and skills. However, over the past 100 years, these noble principles have been kicked aside in lieu of a sterile testing agenda set by politicians that has ignored the needs, wants and dreams of students, families and local communities.

If schools do not reach certain numeric benchmarks set by bureaucrats, they will be closed. Is it any wonder that we find that social studies tests given in rote, repetitive practice drills in the City School District became the final exam without alteration?

How widespread is this type of corruption? I suspect that this is the tip of the iceberg.

We are test-prepping our kids into the dropout line (fewer than one-half of minorities nationwide are graduating). School is becoming irrelevant.

Pupils need and want to be a part of democracy, not the target of bad politics in disguise as democracy.

The pressure to use tests as the only means of educating children has dramatically increased teacher anxiety and depression, and is driving good teachers out of the profession.

It is said that tests are meant to improve education and enable children to achieve higher standards. However, dropouts have increased since the onset of high-stakes testing (especially among minorities, English-language learners and special education pupils).

Sadly, schools have been dumbed-down to absurdity. Do we really believe that 30 out of 87 correctly answered questions on a high-school math exam "meets standards"?

Cala is a professor at Nazareth College and former interim superintendent, City School District.

Things I Wish I Could Have Said or Done As Effectively...

Do not miss NYC Educator as he nails Rhee to the wall.

And kudos to Gary Babad at GBN News for scooping even The NY Sun's Elizabeth Green on this one.

Bloomberg LP to Acquire Major Snake Oil Company

And finally, Eduwonkettes' request for data from NYCDOE's David Cantor, who oversees a cast of thousands in the Tweed public relations department, led to this PR booboo of a response:

From: Cantor David
To: eduwonkette
Date: Sun, Jul 27, 2008 at 11:42 PM
Subject: Re: Requesting scale scores

I've thought about it and decided i don't want to give out information to someone asking anonymously.

I'm sure you'll have no difficulty finding what you need.

A little touchy David over our gal's ripping BloomKlein claims to closing some gaps (anything but the achievement gap - maybe it was traffic) to shreds?

Cantor was right as "Wonkette posted this Update: Matthew Tabor is my hero. Read his FOIL request here.

Gee, David, if you need some advice on how to handle PR situations like this, just call.

Planning to Change the World

True ed reform will take a merger of Teach for America like fervor with social justice oriented teachers who see solutions lie way beyond the narrow "all we have to do is get better teachers and close the so-called achievement gap." Add a dolop of those who want to reform teacher unions (not the phony ed reformers who see unions that agree to do away with tenure and teacher rights as "progressive")so they battle for full funding of education and stop looking the other way when money appears magically for wars and bailouts. (Excuse the truncated version.)

Don’t forget—
Order your plan book by Friday, Aug. 1 to receive a discount price.

Cover Edited.jpg

Planning to Change the World:
A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers

A NYCoRE and Education for Liberation Publication

Dear NYCoRE Member,

Planning to Change the World continues to excite educators nationwide, with almost 900 books ordered in less than three weeks. Educators from Hawaii to Canada, New York to Puerto Rico are buying this unique resource. You still have time to pre-order yours at the discount price of $14 plus shipping and handling. Orders placed by August 1 will be shipped in August.

Please remind your friends and colleagues that this special offer expires in less than a week. After August 1, the price increases. All proceeds from the sale of this book support the work of the Education for Liberation Network and the New York Collective of Radical Educators.

Planning to Change the World is a plan book for educators who believe their students can and will change the world. It is designed to help teachers translate their vision of a just education into concrete classroom activities. This unique resource has all the things you would expect in a lesson plan book plus:

  • Weekly planning pages packed with important social justice birthdays and historical events
  • Lesson plans and resources related to those dates
  • Tips from social justice teachers across the country
  • Inspirational quotes to share with students
  • Thought-provoking essential questions to spark classroom discussions on critical issues
  • Reproducible social justice awards for students

…and much more


Title page edit1.jpg

Click Image to View Sample Pages

Praise for Planning to Change The World imaginative and innovative idea in the field of education...something that teachers all over the country who have social consciences will find useful.
—Howard Zinn, author of "A People's History of the United States

A unique and powerful teaching tool that honors students by bringing to the forefront the stories of their communities.
—Lisa Delpit, author of "Other People's Children"

Useful, hopeful and visionary.
—Wayne Au, Rethinking Schools

Planning to Change the World, for me, is an integration of the multitude of elements that I have tried to combine…to make my classroom a transformative environment.
Cristen Chapman, public high school social studies teacher


Planning to Change the World was created by the New York Collective of Radical Educators and the Education for Liberation Network.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rhee, Klein, Kopp, Feinberg in the land of the KKK...

... and by association, Al Sharpton too, in this incisive post by A Voice over at Chancellor's New Clothes over these speakers at the conservative, and possibly racist, American Enterprise Institute. Irony #1 amongst many: Sharpton's role in the attacks by the black community on the Korean grocers in Brooklyn in the 90's.

Educational Reform Wars


The recent online debate between Diane Ravitch and her old buddy Chester Finn has drawn attention to the Klein/Rhee/Sharpton/Ed in 08 narrow vision of ed reform (get rid of tenure and all will be well) and the broader, bolder approach of Rothstein/ et al. Ravitch has joined in with the latter.

Check out these posts on the 2 visions of ed reform from Fred Klonsky at Prea Prez here and here.

Klonsky ends with:

To me there is great value of the emergence of these two clearly defined and clearly different visions. Some, even in our own union movement want to straddle the fence. But this will be hard to do. People will be asking,

Which side are you on?

Readers of Ed Notes will note that in our view, the UFT/AFT has not only tried to straddle the fence but has one foot in the Klein camp. How else to judge their actions in Chicago, New York, and now Washington in signing on to many of the narrow vision schemes like merit pay, extended days, signing on to "we'll help get rid of bad teachers" without strengthening protections for the rest?

After I posted this, I came across this particularly unfair piece from Alexander Russo on the contract negotiations in Washington, where you can take anything out of context. I guess we know which side Russo is on. My comment:

Of course Nightline focused on vending machines instead of negotiating sessions on things like class size. Not to say that if things like basic conditions for teachers weren't negotiated, Rhee would have them using outhouses for bathrooms. Also note who funds Nightline and JohnMerrow: Broad and Gates and all the othe players on the Rhee/Joel Klein team.

With DC's union chief George Parker about to set a dangerous precedent by giving away the store to Rhee, watch the actions of new AFT president Weingarten: silence, fence-straddling or outright support. But don't look for broader, bolder leadership.

Note: Commenting on the Prea Prez blog seems to require one to log on with a word press account, which I don't have. So if you can't comment there, leave one here.

And on a personal note, I recently realized that I met Klonsky's daughter at NYCORE meetings a few years ago. Sometimes it seems there's 2 degrees of separation between educational activists.

Teachers Unite

This past year I spent as much time working with Teachers Unite as with ICE and I was honored to be asked by Sally Lee to join the steering committee. I'll get into more details on why I think that socially committed teachers who see beyond the classroom can be the core of a progressive reform movement, which absolutely cannot occur without a progressive UFT. Of course, 40 years of waiting to see the UFT change into a progressive union is like watching grass grow. Or golf.

Sally is doing great work in reaching out to many of these teachers (as is NYCORE, which is where I met Sally.) Yesterday, I went to have lunch with one of Sally's contacts, a soon to be 4th year former teaching fellow who is not leaving. While waiting for her at a place in the Village, Sally walked out not knowing that was where we were meeting. "I'm not stalking you," I said, "but while you're here, stay around so you can point out who I'm meeting."

After the intros, Sally left us to talk and I learned a hell of a lot from this wonderfully committed teacher, who is already training new fellows, as we talked about small schools, large schools, teaching reading, special ed, the union, etc.

Boy am I getting an education. Old farts can learn new tricks.

Next year we are planning sessions for newer teachers on union-related issues, like "What are your rights?" (At least we can tell them they basically have none and not to expect much support from the union.) One of the potential themes is navigating the minefield of school and union politics, something they don't teach in Ed 101 or in Teach for America workshops (hey, TFA, I'm available.)

Here is an excerpt from the July TU newsletter. (Read the entire edition at Norm's Notes.) Also check out the Teachers Unite web site.

P.D. You'll LoveBlack teachers unite

Are you a teacher looking to:

· grow as an educational leader?

· play a role in grassroots campaigns for social justice where you work?

· participate in community-based Professional Development?

Teachers Unite will be hosting an open informational meeting August 25th (please check back with Teachers Unite for details) where educators can learn more about our growing work with grassroots activists throughout the city.

Teachers Unite is building a movement of public school teachers who play a critical role in working for social justice. Our members contribute their insight and expertise as educators to grassroots organizing campaigns that demand justice in New York City communities, particularly in schools. Teachers Unite seeks to defend public education by rebuilding the relationship between teachers, students, families and communities as partners building power for social change.

Some examples of how teachers can contribute to community organizations:

· lead a workshop about innovative pedagogy and educational issues
· give an educator's perspective on life within a NYC public school
· provide training around lesson- or workshop-planning, tutoring or other instruction
· conduct outreach to neighborhood colleagues about a community issue

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mr. Zahler Goes to Washington....

....but don't expect him to be Jimmy Stewart.
And don't expect any uplifting words on democracy.

For some time we have noticed hits to this blog from the AFT in Washington searching for Jeff Zahler, an unusual sign of interest.

Noted red-baiter and Unity Caucus leader (and hack,) Zahler briefly served as UFT staff director in the fall of 2007 when he replaced Mike Mendel before retiring himself in January 2008.

Apparently, he will be doing the same job at the AFT as Randi takes him to Washington. (Will Zahler still have time to monitor the opposition blogs and leave anonymous comments?)

The choice of Zahler to go to the AFT is interesting, given the role he has played in the UFT as the attack dog of choice in his role of Unity Caucus leader. Zahler's crudely written Unity leaflets, which always make sure to attack ICE merely for existing, rank high on the list of things to laugh at during dull moments at Delegate Assemblies.

Zahler reached the heights with the notorious post card red-baiting Weingarten opponent Kit Wainer (see below) sent to the homes of thousands of UFTers in the 2007 election. The left segment of bought off opposition New Action, which had been red-baited by Zahler and others in Unity for decades in their pre-sell out days, sent off a message to Weingarten protesting (conscience cleared) and she made some lame apology but she winked as Zahler proudly defended his actions at a Delegate Assembly.

So Zahler is an appropriate choice to go to the AFT which for 30 years has been a factor in undermining left/militant unionism around the world. Check Mexico and Puerto Rico for recent events and see if you can find a copy of George Schmidt's 3-decade old pamphlet on the AFT and the CIA. (If you want a copy let me know.)

Here is a reprise of Zahler's greatest hits on Ed Notes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Unity Propaganda Machine Treads in Dangerous Territory

Considering the attack on ICE-TJC presidential candidate Kit Wainer as being old-century, the McCarthyite tactic of branding the opposition as "Reds" seems so old century. But this is an old tactic on the part of Unity Caucus. Ironically, they used this time and again against their current allies New Action, many of whose leaders have strong connections to socialist political parties and are themselves so-called red diaper babies, whose parents actually faced persecution by the real deal, Joe McCarthy himself and have a visceral response to "Red-baiting."

March 29, 2007

Breaking News: March 29, 2007

When a question was raised at the DA yesterday about the red-baiting flyer Unity sent out, Randi as usual cried about how she has stood up to such terrible personal attacks -- like questions about her teaching credentials - like questionning her statement on NY 1 not long ago claiming she taught 5 periods a day for 6 years - it was 6 months, but what's a little slipup amongst friends?

Randi then gave Unity Caucus head Jeff Zahler the floor to engage in another round of red-baiting, saying he was proud of the role he played and read excerpts in a second attack on Kit Wainer. Zahler said accusations of McCarthyism are not true because in those times Kit would be thrown out of the union and not even have a job (Shanker was all for the firing of Red teachers.) He attacked Kit for criticizing Al Shanker for supporting American foreign policy - like the war in Vietnam, which apparently in retrospect Zahler must also support. When Zahler started frothing at the mouth Randi, fearing rabiis, signaled "enough" and he sat down like a good boy.

May 21, 2007

Coming Soon to UFT Staff: Loyalty Oaths?

With his new position as UFT Staff Director, Unity Caucus leader Jeff Zahler will have to give up his dual full-time positions of monitoring opposition blogs and as chief writer of red-baiting leaflets for Unity. In a recent speech at the Delegate Assembly he said he was proud of writing the red-baiting leaflet attacking ICE-TJC presidential candidate Kit Wainer.

Zahler brings a rich background to his new position as a disciple of red-hunter Joseph McCarthy and will be instituting loyalty oaths for all UFT employees.

June 12, 2007

UFT Delegate Assembly Report June '07

Paranoia will Destroya

Randi's paranoia (increasing by leaps and bounds as snitches at the palace at 52 Broadway 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. Someone muttered "we want Michael [Mendel]." Can't wait to see Zahler run a DA."

December 26, 2007

Shuffling the Deck on the UFT Titanic

Students pass state test, principal apologizes to students

He's sorry that he spent thousands of tax dollars on test materials, practice tests, postage and costs for test administration.

Sorry that his teachers spent less time teaching American history because most of the social studies test questions are about foreign countries.

Sorry that he didn't suspend a student for assaulting another because that student would have missed valuable test days.

Sorry he didn't strictly enforce attendance because all absences count against the school on the State Report Card.

He's sorry for pulling children away from art, music and gym, classes they love, so they could And more: Students pass state test, but at what cost to their education?
If link doesn't work, click here.

Union Dues Mandatory in NY State - Not a Great Thing for UFT Democracy

Gov. Patterson made the agency shop a permanent law in NY State, which means people must pay union dues even if they don't join the union (it had to be renewed regularly for 30 years.) The agency shop makes sense in that the union negotiates for everyone. Union supporters, even those in opposition to the leadership, generally support the concept, which goes along with dues checkoff where dues are automatically deducted from the paycheck.

And I still support it.

Sort of...

....when I see the wonderful use of those dues to fuel the Unity patronage machine. And those all expense paid junkets to AFT and NYSUT conventions for 800 Unity Caucus members. (Check those wonderful salaries posted from the 2006 LM2 on the bottom of the sidebar.)

....and when our union is a monarchy, we wonder if there might be a tad more democracy and accountability if the UFT actually had to compete to get people to pay dues.

Sean Ahern has a few more words over at ICE-mail where he points out that transit worker's TWU Local 100 still hasn't had its dues checkoff rights returned since their strike a few years ago, which has caused tremendous stresses in the union. While the dues checkoff is a major convenience to unions, it also functions as a noose and is a major deterence to the right to strike, which means unions have no real weapon in negotiations. The stacked courts can even use job actions as an excuse to cripple a union. I guess truly "permanent" would mean just that, as Sean points out - meaning, dues checkoff can't be taken away.

I'm sure UFT members can come up with variations of this cartoon.

Sean touches on the accountability issue:

The dues stream, the real estate holdings, the insurance plans, the retirement system of the UFT, the city's largest union local, is a web of interests defining the "bottom line" to be protected by the leadership. Our union assumes a corporate identity, another self serving 'special interest', a collection of trade union bureaucrats and hangers on, instead of a mass organization for the advancement of mutually agreed upon goals. Our union today is an institution that can not simply be changed by voting in new leadership. A change in leadership, a strike and subsequent detachment from the dues stream is not a sufficient guarantee that a union leadership will be accountable to the membership.

The UFT has lost dues checkoff in the past and there is no way we will ever see the leadership go near a strike again with that threat hanging over them. Can you just imagine the chaos in the halls of 52 Broadway when people might actually have to go back and work in a school?

As usual, Sean finishes up by drilling right down to the race issue with his unique single-minded approach.

Read the article and Sean's comments over at Norm's Notes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spellings on Colbert, Who Says "Why Not Just Bomb Failing Schools

Is Mulgrew Really the One?

No reporter tracks goings on in the UFT like the NY Sun's Elizabeth Green. Friday (July 18) she wrote, "Ms. Weingarten named [Mike] Mulgrew the union's new chief operating officer [COO] in a memo sent to union officers yesterday [July 17] evening." Mulgrew will run the UFT while Randi is out of town, but I do not think he will be the UFT president in the foreseeable future for reasons I have laid out in the past. (See the 2-part "Randi's Succession Obsession" in the sidebar on the right. Also read our June 16th post "Unity Tail Wags the AFT Dog.")

Of course, if Elizabeth had been reading Ed Notes regularly, she would have learned of the staff changes in our July 3 posting, "UFT Staff Changes: Mulgrew is the Boss."

She seems to think highly of Mulgrew as she gave him a premature promotion by titling the article, "An Apparent Heir to Weingarten Emerges at N.Y. Teachers Union."

In the old Shanker days, we used to see the heir apparent of the month.

Randi reorganizes as often as Joel Klein
Just note how many staff directors (one of the most stable pre-Randi positions in the UFT with Feldman and then Tom Pappas occupying the job for decades) the flighty Weingarten has run through in the past 3 years since Pappas retired.

I count 6, including the new tripartite Leroy Barr/Ellie Engler/Gary Sprung arrangement, which we also sprung on our readers in our July 3rd post. Sprung was often despised as Pappas' hit man and will play the role Pappas played for Sandy and Randi.

Sprung has apparently survived the Unity critics carping at his talking and joking with me (I think I was the only one who liked him), but he has wised up and now makes sure to ignore me when passing. But Gary is in my age range and we can't expect him to be there forever, though they could embalm him and leave him standing as a statue to continue to scare the staff.

One interesting aspect has been the down-grading of Michael Mendel (who last year was designated as Randi's 2nd in command) and recently resigned elementary school VP Michelle Bodden who for years was viewed as Randi's logical successor. (Ed Notes also broke this story on June 26 even before many people in the UFT knew.) Michelle will now run the UFT elementary charter school.

That these were two of the most liked and respected people in the union hierarchy should not go unnoticed.

Ed Notes has been predicting all along that Weingarten will be very reluctant to hand over the real power in the UFT/NYSUT/AFT.

Once Randi gives up the UFT presidency, she becomes a head without a sure body of support. Shanker was able to do that after 11 years of doing both jobs because he became such a big player on the national scene. The NY Times column played a major role and Randi is trying to establish the same credentials. But she has along way to go until she reaches that status and her notorious paranoia and micromanaging will be a big factor.

In a recent conversation I had with Green I repeated my thesis that with the real power in the AFT and UFT resting on the control of the UFT's Unity Caucus, Weingarten, like Shanker before her, would not let go easily. If she intended to have Mulgrew run for the presidency in March 2010, she should have moved much faster to declare Mulgrew as the heir. We would have to see her resign from the UFT and appoint Mulgrew within the next 6 months to give him an opportunity to function as UFT President. Both Shanker and Feldman resigned soon after they were elected. So the timetable for a 2010 candidacy for Mulgrew must be executed ASAP.

"But didn't Sandy Feldman turn over power to Randi when she became AFT president," Green asked?

"Yes she did," I replied. "But she groomed Randi for almost a decade. Everyone in the union, in the DOE and in the halls of power in the city treated Randi as the heir apparent, so she didn't just walk into the job after Sandy left. Despite that, there were some conflicts when Randi ignored her advice. Randi also moved quickly to replace some of Feldman's people with her own. That is not lost on Randi and with Mulgrew being an ambitious fellow, what would stop him from doing the same thing?"

You can't compare the relationship between Al and Sandy with that of Randi and Mike. There would be no way the same level of trust. Clear signs will be whether Mulgrew gets to run UFT Executive Board and Delegate Assembly meetings, a role Mendel has filled very effectively.

Green says a few interesting things about Mulgrew:
Mr. Mulgrew is known in the union as a "fighter" who stands out for being bold enough to stand up to Ms. Weingarten when he disagrees with her.

Sure. We've seen what happens to people who disagree with her.
"I think he's extraordinarily talented and the right person," a union vice president, Leo Casey, said.

Now there's a good source of independent thinking, Leo Casey, who could find justification for UFT policy even if it included devouring children for lunch. (Can't you just see, "I think Jeffrey Dahmer is extraordinarily talented and the right person," said Casey.)

Green adds:
Mr. Mulgrew seems already to have won the disdain of the union's internal opposition caucus, the Independent Community of Educators, or ICE. An ICE leader, Jeffrey Kaufman, said Mr. Mulgrew allowed the department to get its way in its overhaul of special education schools.

I don't know enough about Mulgrew and have had limited personal contact to hold him in disdain, but give me a chance (see Randi, like I told you 7 years ago, it's not personal.)

In the meantime, you can read more of Jeff Kaufman's take on Mulgrew at the ICE blog, "What Is a Chief Operating Officer Anyway?"

Jeff, I think a COO is the guy who turns off the lights at night.

Or the chief pigeon.

Follow-up: Mulgrew: Effective leader or typical Unity hack?
We'll explore this question in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Great Debate on Teach for America

...over in the comments section at The Chancellor's New Clothes (click here) where TFA's and critics duke it out.

TFA focuses on the narrow educational issues ignoring the other issues such as health and poverty that come into play. Maybe there's a sense that touching on them becomes an excuse. Klein says that all the time. Certainly they never raise the class size issue and the kind of political battle it would take to have an impact. But TFA's supporters are anti-class size reduction as a union ploy to get more members.

This ties into the social justice theme that some TFA's who stay in the system are beginning to take a look at. Fighting the bigger fight while doing your best to address educational needs (believe me, just a focus on this narrow aspect will never be enough) is the next logical step. If TFA truly believed in closing the achievement gap, they would also encourage their people to work to close all the other gaps. But when you are being used as part of a campaign to privatize the schools, while also undermining the concept of teacher unions (think: don't they undermine your individualism) the social justice aspect will never be part of a TFA program.

TFA Rose makes some good points:
I agree that the issues of inadequate nutrition and health care should be addressed, and that resources ought to be spent in finding those answers. However, as an individual and a professional I am not at all qualified to do any of those things. I am not a politician, a doctor, or a social worker. Instead I have chosen to take the path of a teacher to help show my students the opportunities they need to find their way out of poverty.

That Rose considers herself not qualified in other areas but somehow qualified after 5 weeks, is puzzling.

A Voice in the Wilderness responds:
In the years since TFA started, with all of the teachers who have been sent in to schools, has it not occurred to anyone to say to Wendy Kopp-”Look at the conditions of the low income neighborhoods. Look at the conditions of the low income schools. Something needs to be done to improve these conditions?”

If something were done, maybe the conditions that Kopp likes to cite over and over again as being an “injustice” would not be there.

I find it hard to believe that such conversations have not occurred given the amount of intelligent people who are recruited by TFA.

Another aspect of this debate are the traditionally trained teachers vs. the TFA's, who make the point that if they weren't there even for 2 years, classrooms may remain empty.

TFA Sarah has the line down pretty well:
If teaching is to be a respected profession, as so many educators implore it to be, then why shouldn’t teachers be held to similarly high standards as every other profession? In the real world outside of the gripping union contracts, if a person is not adequately performing their job function, she is removed from that position. Why should it be any different for teachers? Who made teaching the one profession where it’s virtually impossible to get fired? And who thought that was a good idea for the students? At least in corporate America, someone sucking at their job isn’t usually affecting dozens of children’s lives.

Anti-progressive teachers: if you want your work to be respected and valued, be willing to hold yourself to high professional standards - and that means showing quantitatively AND qualitatively that your students are learning! If you can’t or won’t do that, then find another job. Our kids don’t need warm bodies collecting a paycheck at the front of their classroom.

Deborah responds:
This is exactly the kind of clueless rhetoric I expected to hear. How miserably disappointing. If you think for one splint second that lousy employees and cronyism doesn’t occur in the private sector, that you truly have lots to learn.

Head over and chime in with a few comments of your own.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Phase Two...GHI/HIP

During the next 4-6 weeks, CAP will ask that every politician in NYC go on record regarding this issue (especially politicians involved in primaries).

If Randi and Mike are reading this, remember it was ICE that took a stand and not the very leaders who are supposed to protect us.

BTW: The AFT has endorsed HR 676........Hmmmm...the AFT endorses HR 676 and our union leaders are lining up for a piece of the pie of the conversion money from the possible privatization of GHI and HIP. Now that's unionism!!!!

Click this link...

State Senator onboard...

John Powers

Planning to Change the World

From NY Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE)

Planning to Change the World, the social justice teacher’s plan book published by the network and NYCoRE, is an enormous success. In the first six days of sales, we have sold more than 550 planners. We are well on our way to making this book an underground hit!

I have attached a flier that you can copy and put in teachers’ mailboxes or pass out at relevant events.
We also have a new Facebook page (

You can help spread the word by checking out the page and becoming a friend. If your organization or school would like to place a bulk order, please contact or

Remember, all proceeds from sales of this planner support the work of the network and NYCoRE, so we very much appreciate your participation in this exciting project.

Bree and Tara

Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers
Order your copy today at

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NEA & AFT Compared

Ed Week blogger Vaishali Honawar had some comments on the differences between the NEA and AFT at her blog.

Compared with the NEA, the AFT's convention looks decidedly less education-focused...

A good number of the [AFT] delegates were from professions outside teaching...

Contrast that with the NEA, whose delegates, after protracted debate at this past convention, refused to admit private K-12 workers into their membership ranks, claiming it would cause the union to lose focus of its mission to improve public schools.

Here in NYC in the UFT, with the recent addition of home care workers and over 50,000 retirees, the percentage of working teachers is now in the minority.

The AFT/UFT is much more about things other than education. Which maybe explains the disaster that has hit NYC teachers.

A. Russo Asks the Question We Have Been Waiting For

How Long 'Til Mayoral Control Falls Out Of Favor?

Not As Long As You Think.

how long... until a mayor (or candidate) in one of those places suggests that things would be better the other way around -- without mayoral control. Chicago might be first. Thirteen years in, much has changed, but the overall situation.

On the day Randi Weingarten came out in favor of it (May 2001), I raised the issue of mayoral control in Chicago at a UFT Exec. Bd meeting (by handing out a leaflet since I couldn't speak.) Chicago had already gone through 6 years and the attacks on teachers were so vicious, they led to an overturning of the structure in the union with Debbie Lynch getting elected. We can echo Russo in NYC after 6 years: much has changed, but the overall situation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Warnings to AFT'ers on Weingarten

AFT members around the nation who might have been impressed with the militancy of Randi Weingarten's words, should examine the impact of her decade of leadership of the UFT which has resulted in a union at its weakest point in well over 3 decades.

A Voice in the Wilderness at CNC in "Dear UFT Leaders" writes

I am a career teacher who has always shown commitment and support to our union. From the time I was a fledgling teacher, I have attended executive board meetings and rallies, organized and assisted with voting, created and distributed fliers, and generally supported our union in any way possible. I will always support the right of the American worker to unionize.

However, with all due respect, I must ask you a question:

What the hell are you doing?

While Under Assault asks if Randi as a teacher union pres. is a fish out of water.

I see a self-serving union president who loves playing in the political pool but who wasn't born a fish. Without the instinct for the job we do, she can't really defend us. Heck, she can't even recognize what's killing us.

See all the Under Assault fish swim.

Ed Note:
Why is Weingarten a fish out of water when her bio says she taught for 6 years at a Brooklyn high school? Context. She taught only 6 months full-time. The rest was part-time. It is important to note that her so-called teaching career was fabricated to give her credentials as the successor to Sandra Feldman.

Weingarten was the perfect Teach for America candidate - but even more short term
Many of us knew as far back as the early 90's - before she ever set foot in a school - that she was the next UFT president when some Unity Caucus members were upset at a lawyer jumping over so many teachers. (I got to know her when I became Chapter leader in 1994 and certainly approached her as the next UFT president.)

Insiders were scratching their heads as to why a lawyer and not a teacher was being tapped to run the United Federation of Teachers. How is someone tapped outside a democratic process? In a monarchy like the UFT and AFT, that is the way it is done.

She was assigned a full-time UFT staffer as a coach to get her through the teaching license procedure and began teaching at Clara Barton HS in Prospect Heights where Leo Casey was the chapter leader. This was a hand-picked "safe" school a few minutes from her home in Park Slope. The much more dangerous Prospect Heights HS, next door to Clara Barton, was not an option.

Friends as Clara Barton told me the entire staff knew Weingarten as a celebrity amongst them. "Wow," said one, "she even did lunch duty one semester." She was given the debate team to coach as comp time and a few classes to teach. The rest of the day was spent as a UFT official at UFT HQ and around the city. She even negotiated the disastrous 1995 contract that was turned down by the membership while supposedly teaching full-time.

With it being clear that Feldman would be moving up, Weingarten put in a 6 month term of full-time teaching to create the sense she was a teacher, not a lawyer.

You have just a slightly different "teaching" exerience when you are a "celebrity teacher." You sort of miss 99% of the stuff that gives you insight as to what teaching career means.

NYC teachers who have been paying attention are painfully aware of the difference and that sentiment is what A Voice and Under Assault have expressed as Weingarten doesn't have the instinctive outrage that teachers feel about what is going on.

All too often I have watched her tepid defense and waffling "yes, we are not afraid of accountability" or "we too want to get rid of bad teachers" without placing all of it in proper context. Real teachers feel the pain of the destructive acts of the phony ed reform movement and know full well Weingarten uses PR to muddle things to give the impression she is somewhere in the middle - supportive of teachers but also supportive of reform.

The result is a misdirection of any teacher militancy that would resist the trend. Even people outraged by what is going on still succumb to the appeal to them as professionals who want to purify their profession. Only the very few like Susan Ohanian and the other test resisters are willing to say the witch hunts to root out so-called bad teachers is just a front for an attack on teacher unions, an attack that Weingarten and her supporters are all too willing to allow to occur.

Jonathan Alter on KIPP: Distortions, Misprepresentations and Outright Lies

This was sent out by Leonie Haimson to the NYC Education Listserve:

Jonathan Alter blusters in a column in Newsweek about what Obama should do to reform our schools:

Here is the response of Caroline Grannam, a SF parent and blogger who is one of the few people to independently assess KIPP’s claims:

In the current Newsweek, columnist Jonathan Alter earnestly claims that 12,800 alumni of KIPP schools have gone on to college. Here's what Alter wrote: At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. The actual number, according to KIPP itself, is 447.

It turns out that that 80% figure was derived from calculating the matriculation rates at only two KIPP schools.

also omits to mention the self-selection process involved in applying to KIPP, well as the rigorous interview process the school uses that discourages less motivated students from enrolling, including making them promise to attend school six days a week and most of the working day. Nor the high attrition rates, with some schools losing 50 percent of their students over three years.

Yet Alter continues to spin wildly:

[Obama] …hasn't been direct enough about reforming NCLB so that it revolves around clear measurements of classroom-teacher effectiveness. Research shows that this is the only variable (not class size or school size) that can close the achievement gap. Give poor kids from broken homes the best teachers, and most learn. Period.

Where is the research base for this? Don’t bother to ask, as there is none.

We don’t even know how to identify potentially effective teachers, not to mention how to make them more effective once they’ve been hired. Aside from treating them like professionals, giving them a smaller class and persuading them to stick around in the profession longer.

More from Alter:

To get there, Obama should hold a summit of all 50 governors and move them toward national standards and better recruitment, training and evaluation of teachers. He should advocate using Title I federal funding as a lever to encourage "thin contracts" free of the insane work rules and bias toward seniority, as offered by the brilliant new superintendent in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee. He should offer federal money for salary increases, but make them conditional on differential pay (paying teachers based on performance and willingness to work in underserved schools, which surveys show many teachers favor) and on support for the elimination of tenure.

What? Surveys, including this one from Education Sector, which generally favors such proposals, show that teachers overwhelmingly oppose basing salaries on performance (read test scores.): “…one in three teachers (34 percent) favors giving financial incentives to teachers whose kids routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. Most teachers today (64 percent) oppose the idea, up 8 percentage points from the 56 percent who opposed it in 2003.”

Nevertheless, Alter continues in this vein:

And the next time he addresses them, he should tell the unions they must change their focus from job security and the protection of ineffective teachers to higher pay and true accountability for performance—or face extinction.

Good luck with that one. I’m sure the NEA and the AFT are quaking in their boots.

As Grannam points out about Alter’s error in reporting the number of KIPP students that have gone to college that could also be applied to his false claims about teacher surveys and class size:

It's ironic that Alter made that rather significant error in a column mostly devoted to blasting and blaming teachers for troubled schools and calling for getting rid of problem teachers, along with eliminating tenure and increasing "accountability" for teachers. I wonder how he feels about more accountability for journalists.

In case you’re interested, Alter lives in Montclair NJ, where no doubt the class sizes are small, and teacher tenure reigns supreme, along with high salaries, and performance pay is nowhere in sight.

But in a school district like NYC, with lots of immigrant and poor students, it doesn’t matter what overcrowding exists or what class sizes they are crammed into. All will be well and teachers will magically be able to reach all thirty plus kids per class, as long as the people in charge crack the whip loud and hard enough and can threaten them with losing their jobs if they don’t deliver.

A sure fire formula for success if ever I’ve heard it.

Comments? Write to; copy to

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters