Monday, November 1, 2010

Is the UFT Dead?

Today's headline at Perdido Street blog: The Daily News Declares The UFT Dead. Reality Based Educator then states, "Can't say they're wrong."

RBE was referring to the Meredith Kolodner/Rachel Monahan Daily News piece on the declining power of the UFT. The article titled, "Support for United Federation of Teachers eroding as once-mighty union forced to make concessions " opens with:
In the recent blowup over the release of teacher ratings, the United Federation of Teachers couldn't even rely on the Democratic White House for support.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan sided with the city - the latest blow to the once-mighty union, which has seen public support dwindle and has been forced to make concessions unthinkable just a few years ago.

Teachers unions were painted as villains in the high-profile education documentary "Waiting for Superman."

And the competition for millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funds promoted reforms traditionally opposed by the unions, like charter schools and teacher evaluations linked to test scores.

"Public sentiment clearly has shifted in favor of reform and accountability, and the union has had to adjust," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
I was interviewed for the article and made the case that this viewpoint was taking a wrong approach. I view the UFT as not in opposition to many of the ed deform points but a partner of the ed deformers, playing the role of selling a deform package to the members while trying to preserve themselves in the eyes of the members as their defenders.

Thus, the idea they were forced to make concessions is part of the line they sell to the members and this Daily News article reinforces that line for internal consumption. In other words, the UFT has not been forced to make concessions but tries to sell that idea to the members.

Witness this comment by Peter Goodman, UFT/AFT shill who will justify any policy. Goodman made this "I surrender" ("je me rends" in French) comment:
From Seattle to Boston, from Florida to Chicago, from LA to NY, educational policy is undergoing a sea change. It is supported by the President and the States, it is accountability, core standards, free market driven: testing, ratings/remuneration by student achievement, value-added, charter schools, etc. Diane Ravitch and other scholars strongly oppose, however, the electeds are supportive across the nation. If the Republicans sweep to victory these policies wouldn’t change, the fed dollars would stop flowing. Teacher unions can either vigorous oppose and isolate themselves, they are powerless to change these policies, or, attempt to cooperate and modify policies. It is easy to blame Weingarten or Mulgrew, the same policies exist in every state and every major city.
Externally, they sell the idea that they are really aligned with the reformers, but only if they would please stop the most obvious "blame the teacher" attacks. Witness the fact that they go along with the mantra that the teacher is the most important factor in the education equation, which of course is the root of teacher bashing.

I told the reporter that the UFT in most schools was dead at the school/chapter level where principals have absolute power. But the leadership doesn't really care that much about that factor as long as the situation doesn't deteriorate to the point where their control of the union was endangered.

But not to worry. The UFT/Unity Caucus leadership is more powerful and entrenched than ever in terms of controlling the membership, with barely a glimmer of an opposition. And on the national level, the AFT leadership with the UFT controlling so many delegates was also in control, despite Chicago and possibly Washington upsurges. Unity in NYC controls the deal and they have absolute power at the city, state and national level.

Reality Based Educator follows up with a great summary of the UFT failures, which as I say are not failures from their point of view:
Leaving aside the billions that have been employed by Uncle Joel's billionaire buddies on anti-teacher p.r. that have helped shift sentiment against teachers, I would say that the UFT and the parent AFT have been the biggest reasons why the union is where it is.

Rather than frame issue like merit pay or teacher test scores correctly, they allow Klein and his minions to frame the issues, then try and battle on ceded ground.

It's not actually difficult to frame the issues correctly.

The Vanderbilt study has proven merit pay DOESN'T work. But the UFT, have helped Uncle Joel do a limited merit pay program in NYC, they cannot claim purity on the issue, so whenever they argue against expanded merit pay programs, critics say things like "But you were for them a couple of years ago!"

And those critics have a point.

The same is true of the test score evaluations. Because the UFT caved on RttT and allowed test scores to be tied to evaluations, it gives the scores some validity that they do not deserve.

Same can be said for charters. The UFT runs a couple of charter schools on its own, so anytime they try and point out problems with charter schools, critics point toward their own and say "What about them?"

So the UFT and the AFT leadership have been the driving forces behind the loss of power. Bad decision-making, ill-conceived compromises that brought short-term economic gain but long-term contractual erosion, and just plain pathetic leadership have brought the UFT to the brink of irrelevancy.

Even the supposed victory of the school closure lawsuits will become a defeat this year when the city closes those same schools anyway.
The UFT is not dumb or misguided. Rather, they are Vichy. Or a fifth column.

RBE then calls for new leadership. There are no signs of a new leadership in NYC like we saw in Chicago. Not yet. Before calls for a new leadership we need to see a CORE-like group of activists in NYC that demonstrate an ability to educate, organize and mobilize. It is not the leaders but the group behind them. Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis made that clear - she is chosen by CORE and there were a few choices. The UFT/AFT has always had a maximum leader (think UFT- Shanker/Feldman/Weingarten/Mulgrew - in 45 years.)

I met about a hundred of CORE members at the AFT convention in Seattle, just about every one very impressive. Where are they in this city?

Sally Lee at Teachers Unite is attempting to find and bring these people together. The TU web site says:  Rank and File Leaders will build a new movement within the UFT for educational and social justice. Read more

She has invited CORE member Jen Johnson, who I got to meet (see a video I did of her and a Unity Caucus delegate presenting a joint reso in Seattle), to speak in NYC on Nov. 13th.
Rank and File Leadership Program
(Rank-and-File: Individual members of an organization, exclusive of its leadership)
In several U.S. cities, teachers committed to social justice have mobilized to win the leadership of their unions. Teachers Unite seeks to inspire New York City public school educators to transform the United Federation of Teachers so that it effectively advocates for educational equity. Participants in this program will work on projects that mobilize rank-and-file members to elect new leadership in chapters across the city and in the union itself.
November 13th
11 a.m.
Teachers College
229 Thompson Hall
Enter at 525 W. 120th St. btw Broadway and Amsterdam
Bring Picture ID
Jen Johnson from CORE
What can we learn from Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators or CORE? This new caucus won leadership of Chicago Teachers Union through grassroots organizing, and citywide mobilization. Learn from CORE leaders some keys to their organizing success, and their vision for a new kind of teacher unionism.
Space is limited. Register now! To reserve a seat, please click here and scroll down to How to Register.

1 comment:

Paul A. Moore said...

Reporting from the fourth largest public school district in the nation, Miami-Dade, I can report that the AFT affiliate here, United Teachers of Dade has become irrelevant. If the union disappeared tomorrow none of the teachers would notice.

The UTD was a victim of the concessionary bureaucratic leadership embodied by Randi Wiengarten and found up and down both the AFT and the NEA. They never met a fight they couldn't run away from.

Noticed that in the midst of the threat posed by Michelle Rhee that when the Washington Teachers Union held officers elections hardly anyone cared. 4,000 teachers in the District and Nathan Saunders garners 334 votes and incumbent Chicken George Parker could only convince 313 to bother to vote for him. A couple of candidates together got another 200 votes. So about a fifth of teachers bothered with the whole process. The WTU is clearly irrelevant there too.

Now this assessment of the UFT. Seems like a strategy that involves begging for mercy and crawling across the stage in public debates doesn't work so well so well for unions.