Saturday, December 19, 2009

Historical Perspective of Education Notes

A short history of Education Notes, its relationship to the UFT leadership, the formation of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) was distributed in the hard copy Dec. '09 edition of Ed Notes at the Delegate Assembly, where I have been handing it out almost every month since 1996. That's pretty much the entire Brazilian rain forest. There is a pdf available for downloading if you wish to share it with someone who has no life. (

I began publishing Education Notes in 1996 at Delegate Assemblies because I was frustrated at the process that allowed the chair, usually the UFT president, almost total domination of the procedures. If you wanted to get the floor to make a resolution they had total control over who got to speak and if you were too outspoken on issues not liked by the leadership, you could easily get shut out. By distributing Ed Notes before meetings, I got to say my piece, whether I was called on or not. Ed Notes grew in size from one sheet to a 10-14-page booklet and then in 2002 when I retired, it became a full-sized 16-page tabloid published 4 times a year.

Having come out of the opposition movement to Unity Caucus in the 70’s (I was mostly inactive in the union from the mid-80’s through the early 90’s) I became active again when I replaced a Unity Caucus chapter leader in 1994 at my elementary school, which had a “my way or the high way” principal for over 15 years and we had butted heads all the time. My becoming chapter leader freaked her out and I began publishing a school newsletter, often once a week. That freaked her out even more and I began to understand the power of the press, even at the most local level.

I took a look at the opposition groups and didn’t find much that appealed to me. New Action was the major opposition caucus and was fairly ineffective though it did win support in the high schools by winning the 6 high school Exec Bd seats on a regular basis. Six out of 89 gave them little leverage and after leading the successful battle against the first 1995 contract to be rejected by the membership, they started fading. PAC, a smaller opposition group was totally focused on the teachers who were losing their licenses when they didn’t pass the teacher exams. Teachers for a Just Contract took positions I agreed with, but I thought they focused too much on a narrow range of issues.

I would attend UFT Exec Board meetings and was so frustrated at the way New Action would deal with Unity, so often cowed into submission. There didn’t seem to be enough fight in them, though a few like Marvin Markman and James Eterno were at times effective. But New Action leader Michael Shulman was the dominant player and so often seemed to throw a blanket over the Caucus.

Thus I figured the only way to create some change in the union was to appeal to what I felt had to be a progressive wing of Unity. At that time, Randi Weingarten was about to take over the union and presented herself as leading that progressive force. She reached out to me, claiming she agreed with me on so many issues, sometimes through late night email exchanges. Her people whispered that she was going to make changes in the union to democratize it and even make changed to liberalize Unity. But absolute power --- you know the drill.

By 2001, it was becoming clear that Randi was not only not liberalizing the union, but also making it more undemocratic than ever. As a small example, the new motion period ever since I became a delegate in 1971, took place immediately after the question period. Suddenly, if Randi didn’t like a resolution I was proposing, she either eliminated the time altogether or pushed it to the end of the meeting. She became more and more of a demagogue. In 2001, I became increasingly restive as she started supporting merit pay schemes and mayoral control, and I became increasingly critical of her and Unity Caucus, seeing that whatever progressive wing there might be (and I had plenty of conversations with people who came off that way) was cowed by Unity Caucus discipline. It became clear that the caucus was like a black hole. Once you went in you never came out.

Many of the positions Ed Notes took in the late 90’s - opposition to high stakes testing and the ridiculous accountability it engendered, unbridled principal power, drastic reductions in class size, support for chapter leaders under attack, a stronger grievance procedure, total opposition to merit pay, a broader curriculum not based on standardized tests began to attract some of the few independent delegates not affiliated with the other opposition groups. People like Michael Fiorillo.

The New Action Sellout
For activists in the union, the dirty deals made between Randi and New Action Caucus in 2003 whereby they wouldn’t run a presidential candidate against her in the 2004 elections and she wouldn’t run Unity Caucus candidates against their 6 high school Ex Bd candidates was a seminal event. Dissidents in New Action who opposed the deal contacted me. James and Camille Eterno, Ellen Fox and Lisa North. They were outraged at the sell-out, especially over the fact that all of a sudden, New Action members were on the union payroll.

Eterno, who had been serving as a New Action Ex Bd member for years, turned down that guaranteed opportunity. We called a meeting of the New Action dissidents and the independents I had been meeting through Ed Notes. Incredibly impressive people like John Lawhead (now chapter leader of Tilden HS), Sean Ahern, Jeff Kaufman and Julie Woodward. Added to that were some of the people who I had been active with in the 70’s: Ira Goldfine, Loretta and Gene Prisco, Paul Baizerman and Vera Pavone.

Formation of the Independent Community of Educators
Out of that meeting on Halloween 2003 came the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), which decided to run a slate in the 2004 elections and challenge New Action for those 6 high school seats, which given the fact that Unity was not running for those seats, we had a chance.

In the meantime, TJC was emerging as another group willing to challenge the Unity/New Action alliance. There were some differences and some ruffled feelings at the time but TJC and ICE united to run one group for those 6 seats, and surprise, surprise, we knocked New Action out of the box by getting more high school votes than they did. This put Jeff Kaufman and James Eterno, along with some strong people from TJC on the Board. For the first time, I saw some fight at these meetings, as Eterno now out from under the New Action blanket, teamed with Kaufman to run Randi ragged. The schlep into the meetings every 2 weeks now became worth it.

By the 2007 elections Randi was desperate to get Kaufman and Eterno out of her hair at these meetings and took her alliance with New Action one step further. She ran a joint Unity/New Action slate for 8 seats, including the 6 high school seats. Thus, every Unity vote would also be a vote for these New Action candidates. Shulman, like a porno salesman with dirty pictures approached one of the former New Action members who was with ICE and offered one of these positions. He was turned down.

Thus, New Action, which actually tells people they have these 8 seats on the Ex Bd without telling them how they got them, tries to claim they are independent. But dare them to declare their independence by running directly against ICE/TJC and without Unity support and see what they will tell you. Shulman actually has the nerve to brag that he refuses to take the double pension from the UFT he could get for his job.

In the upcoming UFT elections, ICE/TJC are running a full slate for the officers and Exec Bd, with an outside chance to win back those 6 high school seats as a beachhead on the Ex Bd to force the leadership to examine its disastrous policies on mayoral control, testing, closing schools, charter schools - you name it, they have been wrong. In response to New Action’s contention its qualified support for Unity has helped the union, I ask them to show us where. By abandoning its historic role opposing Unity, no matter how weak that was, it left a vast vacuum that ICE and TJC have struggled to fill.

ICE/TJC Candidates for HS Ex Bd
There is a superb slate running for all positions, but for now I’ll focus on the six high school candidates, who if elected will have an impact:

Michael Fiorillo is an ICE founder, when Michael speaks or writes on the educational issues of the day, people sit up and listen. He was the chapter chairman at Newcomers HS and is now the delegate.

Arthur Goldstein was recently elected as Chapter Leader of Francis Lewis HS, one of the most overcrowded in the city. Widely published in numerous newspapers and a regular at the Gotham Schools blog, Arthur has established a national reputation as a witty and incisive commenter. In his short time as Chapter leader, he has led the battle to address the overcrowding issues. His commentary on the conditions in the trailer he teaches in has embarrassed Tweed on numerous occasions.

John Lawhead, now chapter leader at Tilden high school, was an ICE founder. He contacted me when he found a copy of Ed Notes in his mailbox at Bushwick HS and wrote some articles. His depth of knowledge on educational issues, particularly on the high stakes testing, is astounding. I went with him to a conference of activists opposing NCLB (remember the UFT/AFT was supporting it) in Birmingham Al, back in early 2003 and hobnobbed with the national resistance to NCLB and high stakes testing. There is not one ICE meeting that goes by that John doesn’t say something that puts things together in a way that makes me say “Aha!”

I’ve known the TJC candidates for years, but I’ll leave it to them to provide more details in their campaign literature.

Kit Wainer, chapter leader of Leon Goldstein HS in Brooklyn for many years, was the ICE/TJC presidential candidate in 2007. Every time I hear him talk at a meeting, he makes complete sense and says it in an amazingly impressive manner.

Marian Swerdlow, who was a long-time delegate from FDR, has been a stalwart of the opposition for almost 20 years. She is as good as anyone I’ve met in breaking down an issue and analyzing it. For years Ed Notes published her awesome DA minutes, which she is still producing. They are not to be missed. If for nothing else, it is worth seeing her on the Ex Bd for those delicious minutes. Imagine the impact Swerdlow, with her ability to think on her feet, would have when Unity tries to pull its shenanigans.

Peter Lamphere, chapter leader at Bronx High School of Science, has been engaged in an epic struggle with a horror story of a principal. Peter was one of the leaders of the 20 math teachers who filed a complaint over harassment. He is as impressive in a public forum as anyone I’ve seen.

Formation of GEM
I must conclude with an account of the origins of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), which has been leading the battle against charter, schools and school closings. GEM emerged out of an ICE committee addressing the ATR issue in Jan. 2009. Spearheaded by John Lawhead and Angel Gonzalez, a recent retiree who had been part of the FMPR group supporting the teachers in Puerto Rico and had come to ICE for help and joined, the committee began to address the issue of the roots of the ATR issue by bringing together NYCORE people who were fighting high stakes testing and people from closing schools (it was Lawhead who put these concepts into a neat package for us). GEM held a conference and a march from Battery Park to Tweed last spring and during the summer worked up in Harlem to support the teachers and parents being invaded by Eva Moskowitz’ Harlem Success schools. In a short time, GEM has become recognized throughout the city as the group to go to for support, since the UFT has left such a vacuum. be continued

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats on 13 years of being very very cranky!