Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Parents (and a few teachers) Debate UFT - Do They "Get" What NYC Teachers Don't?

"This is what teachers pay the UFT good money in union dues for.  Given the size of the opposition to the UFT's current leadership, it would appear that they find this situation satisfactory.  The UFT has been complicit from Day One in terms of everything Bloomberg/Klein have pulled off to date and as the teachers' collective bargaining agent, remains fully culpable."
- Dee Alpert, A parent on the NYCEdNews listserve

A few weeks ago a parent leader approached me and asked almost pleadingly, "Norm, why can't you come up with a candidate in the UFT that would actually represent the interests of teachers?" The parent was disgusted at the UFT's inadequate response to the Cathie Black appointment, amongst other issues. "I meet so many teachers who are unhappy at the UFT," he said. "Where are they," I asked? "It does them no good to gripe. They need to get active in the UFT and with organized groups to make a difference." He had no answer. And neither do I.

I won't get into my attempt to explain the Unity Caucus machine in 30 seconds.

Here are excerpts from a debate that took place on the UFT within a mostly parent listserve.

The debate began over a CEC 6 (upper Manhattan) reso (see below the fold) supporting the ed deformers and calling an end to LIFO (last in first out) if the expected layoffs come, an effective end to tenure. Legendary master teacher Deb Meier - who goes one on one with Diane Ravitch on their Building Bridges blog - is someone whose career I have admired and followed since my early years of teaching. The lead in quote was in response to this comment from Deb.
Fired tenured teachers can, but if there is no "tenure".  no grounds for dismissal required etc....then what?  In fact, it's wisest for principals to say very little if they don't want to keep an untenured teacher, to avoid any possibility of appeal on the basis of race, gender, union activity etc.    Tenure requires that there must be a fair process for dismissal.  The teachers in the so-called "rubber room" were there because while a principal can remove a teacher from the classroom arbitrarily, they must bring charges then  to kick in an appeals process.  The union provides a lawyer--so-to speak--to represent them in such a hearing/trial.   Generally there is an equally arbitrary deadline for such charges to be made, and the defendant then has x number of days to respond, etc.  But if no charge are ever made, and no evidence ever collected?   Then perhaps "they" hope the defendant will resign, disappear, etc.  The primary basis for being able to remove a teacher (or, incidentally any school employee including a principal) before charges and evidence are presented is given an accusation, claim, complaint that their continued presence in a class would endanger children or the school.  Is there a better way?  Of course, and the union might be to blame for the fact that it has allowed such an indefensible process to continue year after year.  The union has been insufficiently careful in guarding the human rights of its member, not too zealous!

Having had friends and colleagues who have been victims of this system and, as a result, so have their students and their families, I hope that better means are found.   Fortunately some have had sufficient clout to get heard and whose appeals have reversed charges that were frivolous or invented by an angry colleague, student, parent, or principal.  Unfortunately some have had their lives and services destroyed without any evidence of having done anything wrong.


Well said, Dee; I couldn't agree more.

At this point, I find it extremely difficult to muster any sympathy (and even less respect) for the UFT's past and current leadership.

As a teacher, I was never much of a union person, but I respected their (idealized) role in the overall city/school relationship. Now I find myself only feeling actively pro-union when a situation appears harmful to the children and their educations, but not for the sake of the union itself. Whatever they suffer now, they have no business complaining. They made their own bed; now they can lay in it. I do feel sorry for the teachers and other members who have fought unsuccessfully against the Weingarten/Mulgrew regimes, though.

Steve Koss

How can 80,000 teachers just go along with bad policy?

How can so many paid professionals just allow their principals and union to profit from these reforms that harm kids, communities and ultimately the teaching profession?

Is it because, like parents, teachers are generally overburdened with work/family/economic strain and can only afford to fight the fight when it is personal, and pragmatic to fight back-- attacks on their school, their ratings, their jobs, their kids, etc?

How many teachers are engaged in NYCORE/GEM/CPE/Teachers Unite/ and other organizing efforts?

Where are the tens of thousands of teachers who fight these battles every day in their classrooms and schools?

Without an organized push back from labor how can we hope that sanity and good pedagogy will prevail?

Lisa Donlan

Lisa is right. I am not one to go hard at Mulgrew and the uft, but in this case I believe it is important. Lisa asks, "how can 80000 teachers go along w bad policy." The answer is our union lies to them, misleads them, and does not fully educate them. Our union right now should be educating, organizing and mobilizing, but instead they hold half-hearted, unpublicized rallies for school closures for which they have no cohesive message except that they will hold the DOE to the legal process. NYCORE, GEM, and other groups do not have the reach into schools that the uft has- it is immoral that Mulgrew and the uft are not doing more; they should be offering a vision and a clear message that our schools and our children are not for sale, that we should be fixing schools- not closing them, and that teacher rights, good working conditions, and teacher voice help and benefit our children. Sadly, we are left to fight on our own. Hopefully some of you can join us at cuny tomorrow @ 5 for an ad hoc committee meeting to plan the fight backs that must happen in the coming months... In the absence of true leadership from the uft, educators and parents must stand up, on our own, and hope that Mulgrew et al will follow.

Julie Cavanagh (teacher)
When we spend less time attacking our imperfect potential allies we might find more--but we see to find satisfaction in "I was proved right",, rather than thinking about how else they might respond? Are you for a strike? Let's discuss the details not just pound away at the enemies of our enemies.

But that doesn't mean that I don't find the activism of the folks on this list-serve courageous and important, but I also suspect we are not always representative of those we "represent".... Political education is not so different than school education---people learn best when they feel comfortable exposing their ideas, don[t feel put in a corner as the "enemy" quickly, and are assumed to be well-meaning eve f mistaken. This may sound preachy and I often break my own rules! But let's try.


The UFT has been something other than an "imperfect ally" in the class size and testing issue in NYC (and NYS). It has been complicit from Day One with the folks making these decisions to start with. I would ROTFL if someone told me that the UFT only realized this year that there was something wrong with NYSED's tests and be most surprised to find documentation regarding its exposure of this pervasive scam prior to this year.

In the women's movement in the '70's, before it allowed itself to become co-opted, the principle "only join one-issue, short-term coalitions" ruled. This was extremely effective ... but nobody made the mistake of assuming that any group with which we coalesced on a single issue was actually our friend. That's self-delusion.

Dee Alpert

Dee: I agree w/ Debbie that this shrill one note, repeated criticisms are not helpful, especially when they are not accompanied by any information or facts.

The UFT is far from perfect, but the current leadership has been dealt an extremely bad hand and has been critical in terms of launching lawsuits against the DOE on class size, school closings and a bunch of other issues, when the city refuses to obey the law.

Leonie Haimson

Can we say the UFT was dealt a bad hand when they were asked to cut the deck before the cards were dealt, accepted the offer and stepped on everyone in the union who tried to object?


I don't think it's helpful to maintain illusions about who one is dealing with and why they're there. UFT pretty much does what other unions do. Sometimes that's good for kids, sometimes it's not. Unions, typically, do what's going to make their more senior members happy and will let those with least seniority be laid off ... the latter being the folks who vote less often in union elections. But in terms of its members, one can't begin to count the individual cases in which teachers have been screwed by their school administration and their building UFT leaders have done squat about it. I've just met too many of them. There's the neighbor upstairs. And the other neighbor further upstairs. And ... I'm certainly not confining my views re UFT to the "current leadership."

For how many years did the UFT fail to push class size grievances fully, aggressively and completely ... all the way up? If the UFT had wanted to enforce that part of its contract vigorously, it could have. Didn't. And while Bloomberg's announced massive teacher layoffs, when has the UFT publicly done a snit about the NYCDOE hiring all these sub-qualified IT people and other "staff" (rather than "line") ultimately non-productive but well paid staff, vastly increasing administrative overhead ... and leaving so many line teachers vulnerable to being pushed out the schoolhouse door?


A slavish adherence to “process” just gets you to a bad result more slowly.

The law is bad and it is difficult to believe the UFT just couldn't have foreseen the consequences when they acquiesced to this version of mayoral control. All you have to do is read the law without rose-colored glasses.


Here is the original post from Leonie that initiated the discussion:

Sad to see this document/resolution come from the place where CFE started.  In all the rhetoric about the need for “great teachers” and incentive pay, there is no mention of the problems of overcrowding and  class size – the focus of the CFE case and still a huge problem in D6 and citywide.

I looked up where they got the info  that “about that 1 in 2500 tenured teachers lose their jobs because of performance compared to 1 in 57 doctors and 1 in 97 lawyers;”   

It turns out that this claim, repeated in Waiting for Superman, refers specifically to the state of Illinois,  and was contained in a 2005 series called “The Hidden Cost of Tenure” from the Small Newspaper Group in that state.

Not sure if it was even true in Illinois; the figures for doctors and lawyers sound very high to me.

Diane Ravitch responded:
The 1 in 2500 number is bogus in that it doesn't not account for the 50% of teachers who leave within five years of starting.

Caroline Grannan from SF
The other response about the teachers who "lose their jobs" is that this doesn't count the many teachers who CHOOSE to leave their jobs. Many teachers choose to leave their jobs for other reasons, but some choose to leave them because they know they're not coping well and have chosen the wrong field (a teacher friend of mine described this happening at her school -- midlife career-changing new teacher turned out to be a disaster, finished out two years and left the field voluntarily); some after some kind of coaching/counseling process, etc. That statistic is for teachers who do not leave for any of those reasons and are actively fired, which would likely be a fairly small percentage of the less successful teachers who leave the field due to being less successful teachers.

Deb Meier
What does it mean that a lawyer "loses his job"???  Or a doctor?

Didn't find much current info on the Health Department web site.  It appears that 200-300 physicians licenses are either suspended, revoked, or surrendered every rear.
I submitted a FOIL request for the actual current numbers, and the total number of licensed physicians.
Eugene Falik
I suspect also that doctors and lawyers resort to appeals processes!


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