Thursday, August 5, 2010

Elena Kagan Brothers Take Stands as NYC Teachers

Some take more pride in the work of Irving and Marc Kagan than their sister. Count me as one of them. At least they leave a public record. From what I read about Marc in particular, he is much needed on the front lines of the resistance to the ed deformers.

With Elena Kagan due to be appointed to the Supreme Court as early as today, let's take a look at the tale of Kagan's two brothers, Irving and Marc, both NYC high school teachers.

Hours after the principal’s address, a committee of Hunter High teachers that included Ms. Kagan’s brother, Irving, read aloud a notice of no confidence to the president of Hunter College, who ultimately oversees the high school, one of the most prestigious public schools in the nation.

The above quote is from today's NY Times front page article on the lack of diversity at Kagan's alma mata, Hunter College High School, where Kagan's mom taught, as does her brother Irving. The article delves into the tensions between the school's faculty and the Hunter College president Jennifer Raab and how the teachers at the school are the ones pushing the most to diversify the school which currently is 3% black and 1% hispanic. It is Raab who has resisted which I find interesting given that the State Ed commissioner David Steiner comes out of the Hunter College top admin ranks - where did he stand? Steiner along with his boss at the State Board of Regents Meryl Tisch, are two of the bigger hypocrites around.

Good for Irving Kagan for taking a stand.

Also in the article is an important discussion on the Hunter admissions test.
The events fanned a long-standing disagreement between much of the high school faculty and the administration of Hunter College over the use of a single, teacher-written test for admission to the school, which has grades 7 through 12. Faculty committees have recommended broadening the admissions process to include criteria like interviews, observations or portfolios of student work, in part to increase minority enrollment and blunt the impact of the professional test preparation undertaken by many prospective students. 

As has happened at other prestigious city high schools that use only a test for admission, the black and Hispanic population at Hunter has fallen in recent years. In 1995, the entering seventh-grade class was 12 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic, according to state data. This past year, it was 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic; the balance was 47 percent Asian and 41 percent white, with the other 8 percent of students identifying themselves as multiracial. The public school system as a whole is 70 percent black and Hispanic.
When Justin Hudson, 18, stood up in his purple robes to address his classmates in the auditorium of Hunter College, those numbers were on his mind. He opened his remarks by praising the school and explaining how appreciative he was to have made it to that moment. Then he shocked his audience.
See after burn following this post for the statement made at graduation by Justin.

 How I found out Marc Kagan ran on the ICE/TJC slate for AFT/NYSUT Delegate

I never made the connection until it was pointed out to me by a reporter from the AP who called the ICE phone number listed on the election blog.

She was calling to find out more information about Marc Kagan.

"Who," I said?

"Elena Kagan's brother, a teacher at Bronx High School of Science," she said. "His name appears on your web site as a candidate for some kind of union election."

I recognized the name from the slate but had never made a connection. The reporter proceeded to fill me in on Kagan's background as an activist in the transit union. How he was elected to the leadership on a reform slate with Roger Toussaint, had a falling out with him and ended up becoming a teacher as part of the Teaching Fellows program in 200

I was intrigued, but cautious. I didn't know anything to tell her (later I found out who in ICE had asked Kagan to run and the dots started to connect).

Sensing my reluctance, she prompted me to give her more info. "Marc Kagan's background is sure to come up in the Senate hearings [it didn't as far as I know] and it all might as well come out now."

I envisioned a southern senator drawling as he questioned Elena:

"Is your brother's running with ICE-TJC an indication that you might be in opposition to sell-out dictator-like Unity Caucus leadership, without the cooperation of which the Obama/Duncan/BloomKlein assault on education could not be successful?"

Darn, I would have paid to see that.

I did share with the AP reporter the situation at Bronx High School of Science where numerous people had been harassed, including Peter Lamphere the chapter leader and much of the math department. I speculated on where Kagan stood in this battle. A few months later I heard he attended the rally by Bronx High teachers at Bloomberg's house.

The Marc Kagan story did emerge later on in these articles in the Village Voice and the NY Times:

Elena Kagan and Family: Best of the Upper Left Side, with a Pro-Union Brother

The Kagan Family: Left-Leaning and Outspoken

Here's hoping we see more of Marc Kagan in the movement to save public education.

After burns

Here is part of the Voice piece on Marc:
Then there's Kagan's brother, Marc, who was a transit worker and union reformer in Transport Workers Local 100. Marc Kagan was one of former Local 100 leader Roger Toussaint's top aides until the two had a falling out in 2003. That's par for the course for the Upper Left Side, where if you can't launch two feuds before lunch, the day's a waste.
Marc Kagan became a teacher and he's no less a fierce supporter of union rights in his new union. In a letter in last week's Chief-Leader, he takes a swipe at schools chancellor Joel Klein's notion that seniority rules shouldn't apply to upcoming teacher layoffs. He goes on to offer a full-throated defense of unionism, one that's likely to light up the eyes of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell as he looks around for something to throw at the new White House nominee.
Here is Marc Kagan's letter to the Chief:
A Larger Issue for Unions

I write in response to your editorial, “Klein’s Imperfect Logic” (April 30 issue). Of course, I agree with your conclusion, that Teacher layoffs should be based on seniority. But I am troubled by part of your rationale. It seems to me a symptom of how unions — and supporters of the idea of unionism, such as The Chief — have ceded ground to our opponents.

You correctly write that the Bing-Diaz bill is flawed because Teachers would be subject to victimization, particularly those at higher rates of pay. I would add that many would have little chance of finding new employment at the DOE, since each Principal essentially now has an NBA-like “salary cap” that militates against hiring senior staff.

But you also suggest that the DOE proposal is simply no better at determining who is a good Teacher than the seniority system. That’s dangerous ground; what if it was better, or claimed to be? As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Soon enough the DOE will start to churn its data machine to “prove” that younger teachers teach to the test better, or teach 8th grade Earth Science better, or spin on their heads better. They’ll send Post and Times reporters scurrying after this or that second year Teach for America superstar. [Disclosure: I was hired as a Teaching Fellow, a program for which I personally am very grateful].

Moreover, I don’t care if it’s a “better” system. Here’s a heretical thought: the actual purpose of unions is to improve workers’ lives by challenging the free market: to win a higher than “market” wage, to make it hard for the employer to change working conditions or fire the higher-paid worker. We shouldn’t hide these ideas under a rock like we’re ashamed of them; just the opposite. When unions won the 8-hour day, or the weekend, or pension plans, unions defended the idea that working people’s lives and rights were socially more important than employers’ profits and rights. And we said that those victories would tend to spread, even into nonunionized sectors, and generally make people’s lives better. And that was true, for decades.

Today we are playing this movie backwards. As people in the nonunion sector have faced big roll-backs in wages and benefits, we hear them complain that unionized workers should also “give back.” It’s an indication that we have, at least temporarily, lost the battle of ideas in this country, that we can’t successfully explain to our fellow workers that it is in their interests too if we are able to hold the line somewhere, rather than engage in a frantic race to the bottom.

In some ways, we have been reminded in recent months that unregulated free markets can make a handful of people money at the expense of the larger society. In 12th-grade Economics class we have a term for this: Negative Externality. The classic example is the polluter who saves a few bucks by fouling the drinking water for the whole town.
Goldman Sachs is a Negative Externality. And we should make the case that so are Joel Klein and Jonathan Bing. It’s morally and ethically wrong to take away the jobs of people who have worked hard for decades simply because a cheaper body can be found. It is a spiritual pollution of the values that we should uphold. It is another step away from civilized behavior toward the idea that only might makes right. If we can make this case to the public we can win; otherwise, scratch and claw as we will, we will be fighting an ultimately losing battle.< Finally, I would just add that if the “for the students” mantra is successful, it will open up the door for attacks on every public union in the city that has some kind of seniority pay grade. I’m sure the city can “prove” that 23- year-old studs make better Sanitation Workers than 38-year-olds. Or that 42-year-old Firefighters have lost a step or two compared with their first year brethren.

We all tend to fight our own battles and try to preserve our resources otherwise; my union, too. In the short run, this makes complete sense. We’re all concerned about what we need in the next five minutes or the next three months or, at the longest in our own next contract round, even though we are all stuck in this pattern-bargaining contract system where wages are largely pre-ordained before the bargaining begins.

Management, whether private or Mayor Bloomberg, thinks hard about how its labor strategy will unfold over the next 10 or 20 years; if we could learn to do the same, we might have a brighter 2030. And that would be a really good thing.

UFT member

Here is some great stuff on Marc Kagan from the June 20 NY Times piece:

WHILE a student at Princeton University, Elena Kagan made reference to her older brother’s “involvement in radical causes” as an inspiration for her senior thesis on the Socialist movement in New York.
After attending two of the nation’s most exalted educational institutions, the Dalton School and Yale, Marc Kagan appeared to purposefully descend the class ladder. It was as if he needed to join the proletariat in order to raise it up.
In 1984, he became a mechanic at the 207th Street subway yard in Upper Manhattan, operating a forklift, among other responsibilities. “We did not know he was a Yale graduate,” said Joe Fernandez, a former co-worker who still works at the yard. “He was very low key.”
A former colleague of Gloria Kagan’s, Robert E. Mason IV, said that “she was wondering how long he would do that.”
Mr. Kagan’s union involvement grew during the 1990s, and he joined a movement called New Directions that was challenging the leadership of the Transport Workers Union local. When one of its leaders, Roger Toussaint, was elected union president in 2000, Mr. Kagan became his special assistant, or chief of staff.
But Mr. Kagan, now 53, had misgivings about the 2002 contract that he had helped negotiate, said Alan Saly, director of publications for the local, and he let some of his former co-workers know it. Among other issues, he objected to the fact that the contract relied on a bonus of $1,000 in the third year, rather than a raise, so it would not count toward workers’ pensions or future salary increases.
Mr. Kagan was fired from the union, as were several associates. “Roger didn’t like dissent,” said Mr. Saly, who was later forced out himself by Mr. Toussaint, only to return. “His opinion was that a deal is a deal and you should get behind it.”
Mr. Toussaint, who now works for the national transit workers’ union, denied that Mr. Kagan’s departure was related to “issues or differences around the contract,” but he would not elaborate, citing the family’s privacy. Mr. Kagan, who had married his Yale sweetheart, LeeAnn Graham, and has two children, became a teacher, working at A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in Harlem before moving to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science.
Students say he is devoted and demanding in his course on world history, which spans 8,000 years. Mohammad Nauman, a senior, recalled Mr. Kagan trying to find ways to energize the class, like ordering students to run up and down stairs when they studied the concept of horsepower.
But others, like Aja Colon, a 16-year-old junior, saw a stricter side of Mr. Kagan, who also serves as a disciplinary dean. During an event last fall called Freshmen Fridays, Mr. Kagan tore stickers off students’ shirts that bore labels like “fresh meat” and other inappropriate phrases. “He yells,” Ms. Colon said. “He definitely yells. He’s a fan of that.”
Mr. Kagan has also pressed the Bronx Science administration to make sure teachers have time for professional development, said a colleague, Gary Hom, a physics teacher who described Mr. Kagan as “always on the side of teachers.”
This spring, in a letter to The Chief-Leader, a civil service employees’ newspaper, Mr. Kagan compared the attempts by Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, to end teacher seniority protections to Goldman Sachs’s alleged misdeeds. The letter had the crusading, poetic feel of a lawyer making closing arguments. “It’s morally and ethically wrong to take away the jobs of people who have worked hard for decades simply because a cheaper body can be found,” he wrote. “It is a spiritual pollution of the values that we should uphold. It is another step away from civilized behavior toward the idea that only might makes right.”

Justin Hudson at the Hunter College HS grad
Then he shocked his audience. “More than anything else, I feel guilty,” Mr. Hudson, who is black and Hispanic, told his 183 fellow graduates. “I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you.” 

They had been labeled “gifted,” he told them, based on a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance.” Beneficiaries of advantages, they were disproportionately from middle-class Asian and white neighborhoods known for good schools and the prevalence of tutoring. 

“If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city,” he said, “then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights. And I refuse to accept that.” 

The entire faculty gave him a standing ovation, as did about half the students. The principal, Eileen Coppola, who had quietly submitted her formal resignation in mid-June but had not yet informed the faculty, praised him, saying, “That was a very good and a very brave speech to make,” Mr. Hudson recalled. But Jennifer J. Raab, Hunter College’s president and herself a Hunter High alumna, looked uncomfortable on the stage and did not join in the ovation, faculty members and students said. 

Wasn't Raab and Hunter also involved with Joel Klein in trying to take over the site of the Julia Richman complex where many schools co-exist in peace? Let's hope Raab continues to look uncomfortable.

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