Monday, April 27, 2015

The High School Teacher's Voice Issue 2 - Share with your staff - Featuring - Fiorillo on Who Controls the UFT?

Unity will never face a serious challenge until the opposition builds a serious ground game that can compete with Unity's ability to use its control of the UFT to reach every school in the city. The schools are packed with hundreds of Unity people pushing the Unity line. Even though most UFT members seem to ignore the message to a great extent, they don't see any alternative views unless they read the blogs. Most clearly don't. Many don't even know what Unity is or that there are opponents.

We started this project a few months ago as a way to reach out to a manageable segment of the schools - the roughly 450 high schools with about 19,000 teachers, to which we must add the thousands of support staff. That's a whole lot of hard copy.

After our first issue back in February, we received feedback asking for some UFT primer stuff. So for this edition we commisioned Michael Fiorillo to write "Who Controls the UFT?" which examines the Unity Caucus machine.

We think this is an important article to share with the people you work with - and beyond. (See below for the text if you want to copy and paste it into an email.)

Our other main article,  Death By A Thousand Cuts, is by a high school teacher pointing out the enormous amount of wasted paper work and other tasks high school teachers are being asked to do - to the distraction of teaching.

We are starting with a limited distribution, aiming at the schools where we have contacts who will put them in the mailboxes as a way to establish the idea to people who may not be aware, that there are critical voices in the UFT. Another goal is to establish a smoothly running distribution network for as many high schools as possible. (We are urging people in MORE in middle and elementary schools to establish district-wide networks.)

While this project has been endorsed by the MORE steering committee, it is an independent venture led by our editorial committee, which maintains editorial control of the content.

Download Issue 2 here:

Please email me if you are going to distribute in your school either electronically or by printing them out yourself - or if you want copies we will get them to you - email me at

This is our 2nd issue (first one is here:

Here is the text of Michael's article. Feel free to share.

Who Controls the UFT?
By Michael Fiorillo, Teacher, Newcomers HS

To most teachers, often overwhelmed by ever-increasing demands that have little or nothing to do with providing the best education for their students, the UFT seems remote from their daily experience. Beyond welfare fund services, when they think about the Union at all, it is often in terms of hefty dues deductions. Rarely so they think the union fighting for them, and with good reason: it rarely does other than little pantomimes of fighting back.

Teachers less and less see the Union as a vehicle for improving their lives at an ever more demanding job where they are increasingly less secure and respected. Higher salaried senior teachers often feel they have a target on their backs. New teachers see achieving tenure as an ever-receding mirage – as an obstacle course as they engage in a 3, 4, or more year endurance contest with their principal and/or local Superintendent. And if they get past that will they survive long enough to get a pension? The silence and impotence of the Union is apparent. How often do we hear exasperated, demoralized teachers asking, “Where is the Union?”

The Union often feels like a distant and largely irrelevant force because of the inbred, anti-Democratic practices of an ever-more indifferent leadership, which often seems complicit with the dysfunction and outrages we daily face in the schools. The UFT’s ruling faction, Unity Caucus, has been in power for over half a century, and suffers from most of the ills of too much power held over too long a time: out-of-touch, unwilling to consider new ideas, and often identifying more with management and so-called “education reformers” than with their own members.

What is Unity Caucus?
Caucuses are the political parties that seek to govern the union. Unity caucus has had sole, unlimited policy-making control since the UFT was founded in the early 60s. The UFT has had opposition caucuses vying for political power over the years, but Unity has structured the UFT in a way to assure them complete control and the creation of an entrenched political machine that has passively accepted, and sometimes actively collaborated with, policies inimical to teachers and students.

The lack of union democracy has very tangible consequences for teachers. Lately, virtually all of those consequences have been negative, and have correlated with declining participation from the rank and file. Less than 20% of active teachers voted in the last election and 52% of those who did vote were retirees. Unity has so rigged the election process, every single member of the 101 member UFT Executive Board is Unity endorsed.

Members must commit to a loyalty oath to ALWAYS support whatever dictates come down from the leadership and NEVER speak against them publicly. Hundred of chapter leaders are Unity Caucus members and if it comes down to supporting the interests of the teachers who elected them or the union leadership most Unity chapter leaders will force feed policies from the top to their members, thus putting the needs of the caucus over their colleagues.

Teachers who attempt to go above a Unity chapter leader to the borough or district reps are stonewalled since these reps have been appointed by the leadership since the UFT ended elections of District Reps in 2002, thus bringing Unity’s centralized, top-down governance to both the school, district and borough levels.

Other than a few exceptions, getting even part-time work at the Union is conditional on Unity Caucus membership, a powerful incentive for closely-policed conformity.

There are many reasons for the scapegoating, disrespect and attacks that public school teachers have been suffering for a generation. One of the reasons they’ve been so successful is that the Union leadership’s continuing anti-democratic practice has made it rigid and sclerotic, dangerously dependent on “friends in high places” – especially since their most important friend, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was recently indicted - and unwilling to tap into the knowledge and energy of its rank and file. Unity Caucus is so wedded to decades of power, so scared of the membership and intent on managing it instead of representing it, that they risk the destruction of the Union itself along with the mission of public education as we know it.

It follows that the survival of public education and teacher unions themselves are bound up with issues of union democracy. The continued entrenchment of the Unity Caucus Machine virtually guarantees the continuing success of attacks on teachers, their benefits, working conditions and dignity. If we are serious about saving public education and the teaching profession, then we must be serious about taking back our Union from the out-of-touch Unity Caucus Machine that controls it.

Death by a Thousand Cuts
Editorial Staff

CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, PARCC, SLT, IEP,  3020a, TPTB,  MOSLs, CPT, Scope and Sequence, cumulative, baseline, interim, final assessments, differentiation, rigor, action plans, DO NOW!  Actionable feedback... 
The ancient Chinese called it death by a thousand cuts.  But in a contemporary New York City high school it is death by a thousand acronyms.  If you understand the above you already know that under the current educational regime, assessment and quantifiability are redefining the practice of education. Danielson, originally designed as a self-evaluation tool, is today being used to put the relation of student and teacher under the constant scrutiny of managers.  The idea is to deploy corporate-style control systems to create self-motivated critical thinkers.  Philosophically, this approach has a basic contradiction at its root, but the problems it creates are far from abstract:
Schools must keep extensive binders of data measuring student scores resulting from the comparison of baseline assessments to subsequent assessments in addition to the end of year city and state assessments.  Student data analysis charts based on data from interim assessments must be included with class action plans based on the overall data to figure out what skills need to be reinforced.
To accomplish the above, teachers bear the weight for providing the information on all their students (as many as 150 over 5 classes). Daily lesson plans correspond to unit plans and both documents must be available to whoever comes into the class to observe. Teachers are expected to regularly assess students’ writing in all classes including math and PE.  They also have to describe how they are differentiating for students at different levels and write up individual action plans for students that are failing. 
Administrators evaluate each teacher anywhere from 4 to 6 times a year based on the “Danielson Rubric,” essentially a checklist that administrators use in their observations.  Everything is documented and written up in a “post observation” that describes all things seen and not seen. The smallest “infractions” must be described so that if the superintendent comes in and sees a single example of errant behavior (ie. a student speaking out without permission) he will also see it reflected in the observation report.
Bulletin boards have to correlate exactly with what is being taught in the class.  Students’ work is posted along with the rubric and “actionnable feedback” notes from the teacher have to be written in the same language as the rubric. Lesson agendas, which include the aim, an essential question and a “Do Now” must be posted at the beginning of every class.   
In addition to all of the above, teachers are expected to meet for common-planning, grade teams, PD sessions plus advisories with groups of students—not to mention all of the work done  after school.  All of this work, on the part of teachers, is shrouded with a blanket of contempt from every corner of society.  Is it any wonder that teachers are counting the years left for their retirement?  

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