Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Can Democratic Party Be Reformed?

I've been thinking of shifting my political activity from the UFT to reform efforts in the Democratic Party. I just signed up with the New Queens Democrats. James Eterno and I have talked about getting involved, given the current situation with the opposition in the UFT, an opposition that has given up on the idea that Unity can be defeated.

Here is an article from September in the Daily News by Errol Lewis showing the embedded corruption in the Dem Party. The NY Times has also been covering the story in Queens and Brooklyn.

Memo from the RTC: Rockaway Takes to Serious Drama

Memo from the RTC:  Rockaway Takes to Serious Drama
By Norm Scott

“I just like to go to musicals but I heard this was so good I had to come and I’m so glad I did.” Overheard from a theater goer at the finale of “A View From the Bridge” at the Rockaway Theatre Company last Sunday. I did go back once again for the closing performance and was able to videotape it from up front in the orchestra pit --- lucky this wasn’t a musical or I would have had a problem. I  got to see the actors’ faces close up through the lens and this was ACTING. I must mention once again how amazing was the performance of Jodee Timpone, in her first drama.

I think this may have been one of the highest attended dramas, with some performances nearing sell-outs. Next year when Director Frank Ciaiti springs his October surprise for a drama, the theater will be overflowing.  (I sort of know what’s coming next year but as usual if I tell you I will have to kill you.)

As one of the RTC videographers and member of the construction crew I get to go to all the cast parties and this one was fun as I got a chance to chat with some of the actors (and their friends and significant others). I was looking forward to talking to Guido Corno, the native of Milan who so powerfully played the Italian illegal immigrant Marco who exacts revenge on Eddie, the main character who turns him and his brother in to the immigration authorities. Eddie (an amazing Robert Wilkinson) is driven by jealousy over the relationship between Marco’s brother Rodolpho, played masterfully by Mathew Barrera, and Eddie’s niece Catherine (a lovely Melanie Mahanna).

Well, I finally cornered Guido not just to chat about the play but about his other life outside acting (he studied at the famous Stella Adler Studio) as an environmental activist in support of the Paris climate change agreement (see my School Scope column on the subject. Guido holds a PhD in biological oceanography and has worked with the United Nations on climate change and given the just released report on the impending dangers of climate change, Guido’s work is important. Guido’s goals is to combine his twin passions in bridging art and science. I will continue to track him on his journey.

I left the party around 7PM and the entire cast was on stage – the tilted stage we built – dancing away. Later I heard they went to the beach to frolic and some didn’t leave until after 10 PM. The next morning I joined Tony Homsey’s demolition crew to take down the set and prepare the stage for the upcoming John Gilleace-directed Pippin, opening November 16 and running for 3 weekends. We had begun building the stage in early August over a two week period. It all came down in less than two hours as we had a very large crew working. Frank Ciaiti was there to take part in the deconstruction of his brain child.

We were joined by Robert Wilkinson fresh from his decompression of playing the lead role of Eddie Carbone. After seeing him in such a powerful role so many times I was having trouble getting used to Bob as a regular person. His performance was so awesome I had assumed he was a professional actor. So I was pretty surprised when he told me he has been reading my Ed Notes blog for years as a public school teacher and he thanked me for my advocacy for his school which had suffered under an abusive principal. Due to the policies of the Bloomberg-Klein years, Bob had faced some of the negative impacts of these policies. He now seems set in teaching drama to some very lucky high school kids. Bob had been with the RTC about 15 years ago and I think we will be seeing a lot more of him again for the lucky play-goers in Rockaway.

Let me just say a quick word about some of the supporting cast who had very small roles,. Michael Whelan who has had starring roles in musicals schlepped in from Staten Island just to be part of this production. He was joined in his trek by the always amazing Fred Grieco (he blew us away in last spring’s Lovers and Other Stangers.) And Brian Sadowski who has been in every play at the RTC since he first showed up a year and a half ago. And long-time Rockaway actress Ruth Graves. And other long-timers ensemble members Phyllis De Pierro, Cathy Murfitt and Krista Cederstrom. As always, kudos to behind the scenes essential superstar Adele Wendt. 

The cast takes their bows

Dancing up a storm at the cast party

Director Frank Ciaiti and Bob Wilkinson deconstructing the set


Monday, October 15, 2018

Climate Change -- Growing Right Wing Nationalism Spells Doom

With the election in Brazil going far right, one of the main bulwarks against climate change, the rain forest, becomes an endangered species.

The recent U.N. report has caused a stir. I've been writing that the political climate at a crucial junction is a tipping point on climate that will push us over the edge into runaway greenhouse territory.

Let's take the example of Australia where the crucial barrier reefs are disappearing based on two adjacent articles in the Oct. 9 NY Times:

New U.N. Climate Report Says Put a High Price on Carbon

Here is one interesting paragraph:
... a carbon tax that directly increases the price of gasoline at the pump or electricity rates brings more obvious pain, and hence is more likely to garner opposition.

A case in point: In 2012, the Australian government enacted a cap-and-trade program that effectively set a price on carbon of $23 per ton. Emissions fell nationwide under the program. Yet the policy faced a fierce political backlash from industry groups and voters, and when the nation’s more conservative Liberal Party swept into power in 2013, it quickly moved to repeal the program.
On the opposite page in that edition of the NY Times is this article which discusses the economic impact of the death of corals in Australia that will go far beyond the costs of a carbon tax:

Australia’s Other Great (and Threatened) Coral Reefs
MELBOURNE, Australia — The United Nations issued a dire alert on Monday, warning that many of the world’s coral reefs could die as soon as 2040 as a result of climate change.

Already, warming waters have bleached more than two-thirds of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, which covers more than 130,000 square miles and is visible from space.

But the Great Barrier Reef, despite its status, is not the only unique or threatened marine ecosystem in Australia.

Stretching 27,000 square miles along Australia’s southern coast, this life-sustaining seaweed forest could be decimated by the end of the century, according to a recent study. The researchers found that warming waters could kill up to 100 percent of the reef’s kelp species, which provide a habitat for sponges, crustaceans and fish. The reef also supports two of Australia’s most valuable commercial fishing products: abalone and rock lobster.

Together with tourism at the Great Southern Reef, these fisheries contribute roughly 10 billion Australian dollars, or about $7 billion, to the Australian economy per year. (By some estimates, this is more than the revenue generated annually by the Great Barrier Reef.) And though about 70 percent of Australians live within about 30 miles of the southern reef, many have never heard of it.

“The southern coastline is one of the most species-rich, temperate ecosystems in the world,” said Thomas Wernberg, a senior lecturer in marine science at the University of Western Australia in Perth, and the lead author of the recent paper. “It’s important to not forget these other ecosystems.”

Shark Bay

Shark Bay, on Australia’s west coast, is the largest and most diverse sea grass ecosystem in the world. These seagrasses provide habitat for fish, endangered green turtles and dugongs, the only vegetarian marine mammal, which rely on the sea grass for food. Shark Bay is also one of only two places in the world with living ancient deposits of algae, called stromatolites.

But in the summer of 2011, a huge ocean heat wave killed off roughly a quarter of Shark Bay’s seagrasses. Aside from the loss of a valuable ocean habitat, this die-off also meant the release of up to nine million tons of carbon dioxide, according to a paper published earlier this year. It was an “unprecedented event,” said Oscar Serrano, a postdoctoral research fellow in marine ecosystems at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, and one of the study’s lead authors.

“It’s a big loss, but the oceans are dynamic and sea grass meadows have the capacity to adapt,” he added. “What worries me the most is these heat waves are predicted to increase both in magnitude and length. If there is another big heat wave, this may have a more severe impact.”

Ningaloo Reef

Every year, hundreds of whale sharks congregate at Ningaloo Reef, off the country’s west coast. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is a near-shore reef: “You can just snorkel off the beach and see coral in a few minutes,” said Verena Schoepf, a research fellow in marine science at the University of Western Australia.

So far, Ningaloo has escaped the kinds of bleaching events that have devastated the Great Barrier Reef and left the coral there weak and susceptible to attack by crown of thorns starfish. But global warming puts Ningaloo at risk of a die-off, according to the United Nations report, and rising sea levels may also reduce the reef’s capacity to protect coastal communities from waves and erosion.

Gulf of Carpentaria

The Gulf of Carpentaria, in Australia’s Far North, is a remote and sensitive ecosystem of mangroves, coral, sea grass beds, mud crabs, fish and shrimp. The mangrove trees — which grow in salty water — provide a nursery habitat for fish and wildlife and help prevent shoreline erosion.

But in the summer of 2016 — the same summer that the Great Barrier Reef experienced one of the worst bleaching events in history — extreme heat, drought and low sea levels led to an unprecedented die-off of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in which about 6 percent of the forest was lost. Like seagrasses, mangroves also sequester carbon, and during the die-off, millions of tons of carbon were released into the atmosphere.

“The view has been that mangroves are tough and resilient and survive most things and indeed they can, but there are limits,” said Norman Duke, a professor and mangrove ecologist at James Cook University in Queensland. “It’s a wake-up call,” he said.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

George Schmidt – In Memoriam, Who Will Educate the Educators? By Sean Ahern, NYC teacher

A great piece by Sean.  See more tributes to George at Substance: http://www.http://www.substancenews.net/.

George Schmidt – In Memoriam, Who Will Educate the Educators?
 By Sean Ahern, NYC teacher
I met George only about 10 years ago but we were fellow travelers from the 1960’s/early 70’s movements, he in Chicago and I in the NY/NJ metro area.  He was from a working class family in Northern NJ who went to college in Chicago and merged into the anti-war, GI and working class resistance movements in that great City.  I from a working class family in NYC merged into the movement as a high school student, being some 7 years George’s junior.  We were shaped by the era and George notably bore witness to the struggles on the education front through his many years of reporting, rank and file organizing and editorship of Substance for over 30 years. 
I came late to teaching and George was one who early on opened my eyes to the true nature of the education reform and introduced me to the critical literature that was struggling to be heard through all the neo liberal and neo conservative chatter lauding “A Nation At Risk”, mayor control, high stakes testing, “value added” accountability schemes, charter schools and school closings in Black and Latino neighborhoods. I read Bracey (What You Should Know About The War Against America’s Public Schools), Berliner and Biddle (The Manufactured Crisis) and Emery and Ohanian (Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?) at George’s suggestion. I know from personal experience that George influenced rank and file initiatives in the UFT in New York City. George remained a staunch defender of teacher unionism even while the leadership of these unions were falling over themselves to maintain their “seat at the table” by accommodating themselves to the corporate education “reform.”

UFT Contract Update: Rush to Judgement - Why?

Contract voting to begin this week in schools, voting must be completed by October 31 - since it is Halloween you must wear a costume - preferably a Mulgrew mask - to make your ballot valid.  Ballots due at AAA by Nov. 2. I assume count will begin Nov. 3 or 4. In 2014 when MORE mounted a NO Vote campaign, I and others observed the count. With the MORE contract convention set for October 27 - a mystery to me why with all the news of an impending contract MORE and the obvious conclusion that what was needed was prep for a NO vote campaign rather than the original agenda established last April for a campaign for a “good” - or in the old parlance - a just Contract - MORE wasn’t better prepared. So there will be a 2 week window to organize something. Predict th usual about 75-80 percent YES.
The UFT/Unity Caucus leadership has gone to extra lengths to rush this through. Why?

Saturday, October 13, 2018

UFT Contract: Delegate Assembly Approves

The uft engaged in a bum’s rush to judgement. I’ll go into my speculations why the rush later. But here is a report from a ch ldr on the MORE listserve.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ednotes Exclusive: What Psychological Screening in New Contract Will Look Like

As the UFT Delegate Assembly votes overwhelmingly in favor of the new contract after being given 5 minutes to read 50 pages after a 2 minute speed reading course, Ed Notes has learned what the DOE and UFT will be looking for from potential teachers in the psychological screening.

The most important factor will be the ability to follow orders without questioning them followed by showing a willingness to support UFT president Michael Mulgrew no matter what he says.

Recruits will listen to hours of Mulgrew reports to the Delegate Assembly and have to pass a multiple choice test and screened based on their level of agreement.

For the DOE section they will be given supplies and told to clean the toilets and graded on their abilities. Anyone questioning the order will be eliminated from job consideration as psychologically unfit to work for the DOE and sent to the nearest Saudi Arabian consulate for further testing.

School Scope: Trump and Kavanagh Takes Us Beyond the Tipping Point on Climate Change

Published in The WAVE October 12, 2018

School Scope: Trump and Kavanagh Takes Us Beyond the Tipping Point on Climate Change
By Norm Scott

My thesis in this column is that the election of Donald Trump and the control of all three branches of government by the Republican Party, the party of climate change deniers and the party of pro-business anything (even if the policies result in environmental disasters) is the “horse is out of the barn” moment when it comes to reversing the impact of climate change

The Guardian reported on October 8, 2018:  'Tipping points' could exacerbate climate crisis, scientists fear.  
The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Following devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, the IPCC makes clear that climate change is already happening, upgraded its risk warning from previous reports, and warned that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact.... The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Following devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, the IPCC makes clear that climate change is already happening, upgraded its risk warning from previous reports, and warned that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact.

The Republican Party is one of the tipping points and with the chaos massive flooding and other changes like the impact of the destruction of our food sources when farmland is turned into a dessert, will go down in history as major perpetrators. If there is a history, since the extreme outcome of a runaway greenhouse effect is turning the earth into a Venus-like atmosphere where no life can exist. Remember, Republicans before being captured by aliens who are scheming to take over the earth when we are gone, supported the idea of global warming due to human activity until about 30 years ago when climate change was weaponized politically.

The IPCC report says that we only have a little over a decade before it is too late. I laughed out loud over the idea that this train could be stopped, given that we are the biggest contributor to global warming. The major party in control of government mocks climate change. And even in the alternative Democratic Party, which accepts the climate change concept, there are internal squabbles over how pro-business to be. Remember, both major parties support a pretty loose system of capitalism and the driving force in capitalism is profit and growth, not concepts compatible with the ability to take on the massive worldwide attempts to control climate.

I've been reading a 10 year old book called Six Degrees (by Mark Lynas) making a bunch of predictions (including a scary Sandy storm 4 years before it took place) that have begun to come true since he wrote this in 2008 and the IPCC report issued last week did not surprise me at all. (Lynas talks about Cat 6 Hurricanes to come.)

Climate change deniers tell us climate has changed numerous times over millions of years but they miss the point of the speed with which climate has changed in the past. An ICE age doesn't just hit us one day but takes tens of thousands of years to take effect. And we may one day have another ICE age. The last one has been in the act of ending for about 12,000 years -- and the end of the ICE age coincided with the rise of civilization over 10 millennia, a very short time in the history of earth.

Under normal conditions, the glaciers might well melt anyway but would take thousands of years to do so and we would have time to adapt. But due to fossil fuels, we have compressed a thousand years into a century and now decades.

What deniers don't get is the feedback loop where carbon trapped in the oceans and in rocks and methane trapped in permafrost will be released due to even a rise of a degree or two, which will then further accelerate more carbon release. Just the shrinkage of the Brazilian rain forest, which has acted like a massive carbon sink removing CO2 from the atmosphere, is a tipping point.

The Paris climate accord, which Trump has withdrawn us from, was a somewhat feeble attempt to get this monster under control. An extreme pro-business anti-regulatory Supreme Court will guarantee that even if the Republicans lose power in 2020, the Court will put on brakes while even the Republicans as a minority will continue to obstruct.

Now excuse me, I’ve got to go catch that horse and hitch a ride to higher ground.

Norm will blog even while riding a horse at ednotesonline.com.

Lynas takes us through the climate changes we have had over the millenia based on each degree rise in temperature C. from One to Six and the impact of higher temperatures on creating desserts, drought, mass extinctions in the ocean, massive losses of land due to rising oceans, etc. Lynas calls a 6 degree rise The Sixth Circle of Hell since there are few comparisons in the earth's history.

Now there are the climate change deniers who tell us climate has changed numerous times over millions of years but they miss the point of the speed with which climate has changed in the past. An ICE age doesn't just hit us one day but takes tens of thousands of years to take effect. And we may one day have another ICE age. The last one has been in the act of ending for about 12,000 years -- and the end of the ICE age coincided with the rise of civilization.

Under normal conditions, the glaciers might well melt anyway but would take a thousand years to do so and we would have time to adapt. But due to fossil fuels, we have compressed a thousand years into a century.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Antonucci Still Predicting LA Teacher Strike Despite Getting Date Wrong

Posted: 10 Oct 2018 07:33 AM PDT
I’m happy to tell you when I’m right, so I should take my lumps when I’m wrong.
United Teachers Los Angeles won’t be going on strike this week, as I predicted it would back in August.
Head over to LA School Report for the details of where things stand now. 
Mike Antonucci | October 9, 2018

If you lost your ranch, I apologize.

Back on July 31, I predicted with confidence that United Teachers Los Angeles would strike in October — more specifically, the week of Oct. 8, this week. And while there are still a few days left in the week, and a few weeks left in October, it looks as though UTLA is committed to waiting out the entire impasse procedure before walking out.

“There is a legal process that we are respecting, meaning we don’t strike until after the fact-finding report,” wrote UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye in response to a Facebook post.

UTLA and the district have had two mediation sessions so far, and a third is scheduled for Friday. There is no limit to how long mediation can last, but once the mediator decides it is fruitless to continue, and that fact-finding is appropriate, either side can request it, and then the clock starts.

Each side has a maximum of five days to select a representative to the fact-finding panel, and a maximum of five days after that the state Public Employment Relations Board selects a chairperson. The three-person panel then has a maximum of 30 days to submit a non-binding report. That completes the process. The district will then be free to impose its last offer, and the union will be free to strike.

Even if the fact-finding process commences immediately after Friday’s session, it might be Thanksgiving before a strike can be legally called. The latest rumors are that UTLA will wait until January before initiating the strike.

I thought I had accounted for the entire process when I made my prediction, but there were details of which I was ignorant.
State law says that after being appointed, the mediator “shall meet forthwith with the parties or their representatives.” If “forthwith” is a word you don’t use regularly, it is defined as “immediately; without delay.”

Clearly UTLA thought that’s what it means, because union officials have been complaining for weeks about the 56-day wait between the appointment of a mediator and the first mediation session. What I didn’t know, and still can’t find a basis for in state law or PERB regulations, is that the district was allowed to unilaterally choose the date of the first mediation session from a PERB list.

Mediation does not necessarily have to be a long, drawn-out process. In fact, the mediator is empowered to call for fact-finding as early as 15 days after his appointment, which would have been a date in mid-August.

But ignorance is no excuse. If I had checked, I would have noticed that PERB appointed a mediator in Oakland at the end of May, and the first mediation session didn’t occur until Aug. 31. The district and the Oakland Education Association are still in mediation, and have two more sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Oct. 23.
I am still confident that a Los Angeles teacher strike will occur, based on the obvious lack of positive movement toward a settlement. The district’s last “insulting” offer of a 3 percent increase and an additional 3 percent if financial conditions permit, is in line with the agreements it has made with its other unions. In January 2017, UTLA asked for a 7 percent raise retroactive to July 2016. Its last offer reduced that to 6.5 percent. That’s not much movement in almost two years, which suggests the union is not inclined to split the difference with the district.

I have examined 58 recently concluded teacher contract agreements in California, and in only six cases did the union receive a wage increase of 6.5 percent or more. Each of those covered a period of one to three years, and none was retroactive to 2016.

The bones of a deal are there. The district would have to remove the conditions on the second 3 percent, and punt on its three-year financial forecast, while the union would have to forget about raises retroactive prior to 2017. If the money issues are settled, the others will fall into place or be held over as fodder for the special school board election in March.

Short of a complete fold by LA Unified, the strike will come first. I won’t make a second prediction as to when, except to repeat that soon after payday, which is the fifth of each month, will maximize the amount of time teachers can remain out before feeling any financial pinch.

If a strike doesn’t happen, I’ll be as happy as anyone — happy enough to write another apology with a smile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

UFT Opposition Update: Not All Peace and Harmony as 2019 Elections Approach

Representatives of MORE and New Action met recently to discuss running in the UFT election and from what we hear the coalition would not include Solidarity Caucus.
With the disagreements between some people in ICEUFT and MORE many ICEers do not want to work with MORE/NA in the election.
And there is a faction of New Action that will ONLY be involved in the election if Solidarity is included. A crucial vote in New Action will take place at the beginning of November. Some members of New Action are threatening to leave the caucus if the anti-Solidarity faction prevails.
MORE doesn't meet until October 27 and there are people in MORE supposedly who do not want to run in the election. And further, Unity has been doing some recruiting among the people they see as disaffected from all the caucuses.
Are you confused? It is time for me to do a series of blog posts (or maybe a book) about the history of the opposition and the current state of opposition politics in the UFT and why I and others have basically given up on the idea that we can affect much of a change in a UFT dominated by the too big to fail Unity Caucus. 

Is it worth the enormous amount of time and energy it takes to even run in a UFT election just to possibly win 7 high school seats on a 100 member Executive Board? Is it worth the time and energy to print up leaflets and go to a Delegate Assembly just to make a point in a sea of Unity? If I saw something bubbling up in the schools, maybe it would be worth it.

I had hopes for MORE -- until a year ago. I'll get into why I no longer have faith that MORE can ever challenge Unity in follow-up blogs over the next few months as I report on UFT internal politics.

I had envisioned MORE as a big tent caucus that everyone in an interest in beating Unity could coalesce in. That is no longer true as MORE has morphed into a group that knows it cannot win but instead wants to use its organizational initiatives to push certain ideological positions on the UFT leadership --- a lobby/pressure group of sorts.

After 6 years of life what I see are still very few schools with real activity based on MORE initiatives. In fact, I think MORE has less schools now than it did 6 years ago. And yes Virginia, size does matter in terms of ability to influence the direction of the union.

James Eterno has an optimistic report on last Friday's ICEUFT meeting attended by people connected to the various grouplings within the UFT that would be termed "the opposition."


James says:
.... the groups seem to have much more in common in wanting a powerful union than what divides us. The leaders of the various opposition groups might not always agree on the general direction for the movement but I learned at the ICEUFT meeting that there is plenty of common ground.
James is hoping there will be opportunities to work together in the upcoming contract ratification vote and in the UFT elections in 2019.

After almost 50 years of being part of opposition politics in the UFT, I'm not as hopeful. Being optimistic is not a bad thing - as long as we have a dose of reality tossed in.

James pointed out that
ICEUFT was joined by members from New Action UFT and Solidarity caucuses. Since some of the people in ICEUFT are still part of MORE (the Movement of Rank and File Educators, all of the opposition groups to Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten's Unity Caucus within the UFT were represented at the ICEUFT meeting..... http://iceuftblog.blogspot.com/2018/10/iceuft-meeting-brings-together-members.html
Why are there so many grouplings and factions in the UFT?
In fact there was only a faction of New Action since there are some splits brewing over the UFT elections and who to run with. And there was only a faction of MORE present. I don't know enough about Solidarity.

When asked why the different caucuses and the non-aligned who oppose Unity Caucus in the UFT don't join together I answer with a question of my own:

Why is there a MORE, New Action, Solidarity, ICEUFT?
Given the relative small size of the number of activists, why is there more than one caucus? And not only that, why are there factions within caucuses? I guess the answer to the 2nd question explains the first. Unless a caucus - or any political group - understands that factions will exist and makes provisions for that, there will inevitably be splits and the formation of other caucuses. And when they are so weak they combine (see below for the 1995 NAC creation and the 2012 MORE creation as a result of mergers of sorts.)

And in the UFT where there is a dominant one party system of control under Unity, not having one opposition caucus under one tent spells ultimate doom for the opposition. That has proven true over the 50 years of opposition politics.

Since the first opposition caucus formed - Teachers Action Caucus (TAC) after the 1968 strike --- they were people who opposed the strike ---- there has never really been a time where there was just one big tent caucus in opposition to Unity. There were coalitions of caucuses that came together for UFT elections, but went their own way otherwise. In effect they were competing for the same few potential activists at the expense of the other caucuses.

New Directions merges with TAC
ND was a group that split off from the group I was in in the 70s -- Coalition of School Workers (CSW) which basically stopped functioning around 1981 but came back to life as ICE in 2003.

New Action came the closest to being the one opposition caucus in town when TAC merged with New Directions in 1995 after having had electoral success as a coalition of caucuses and independents in the 1991 election when they won 13 Ex Bd seats.

What is funny is that the current issues in NA run along the TAC people vs the ND people -- and ideology plays a role.  That's 23 years later and there are still latent issues.

NAC made their deal with Unity in 2003 in prep for the 2004 UFT election where they did not run a candidate for president against Randi Weingarten after she "guaranteed" them the 6 high school Ex Bd seats.

That led to the formation of two caucuses to fight against that deal --- Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) and Independent Community of Educators (ICE-UFT). TJC had already been around for a decade but not as a caucus. The 2004 election was their first foray. We formed ICE in late 2003 because many independents did not find TJC conducive to being a truly democratic caucus but under the control of a few sectarians with a definitive ideological position that left little room for dissenting opinions.

There was immediate friction between ICE and TJC that never went away even though we won the high school seats in 2004 and ran together in 2007 and 2010.

Both caucuses were withering away with no growth - actually they shrank. Some of us in ICE saw that and organized a non-caucus -- GEM in 2009 that was non-sectarian and looked beyond internal UFT politics. GEM attracted enough people who began to think that a non-sectarian open caucus was possible.

Thus was born MORE in 2011-12 where the members of TJC and ICE came together with others. But the political tensions that had existed between ICE and TJC since 2003 never went away. And the recent splits in MORE represent those tensions where the TJC faction over the past 6 months to a year gained ascendancy and has tried to push the ICE people out. Many have abandoned MORE over the ideological differences.

So when James points to MORE people being at the ICE meeting, it is actually the ICE people still involved in MORE but at as an inconsequential level of influence.

Factions in caucuses

Unity Caucus does not seem to have factions. It runs by democratic centralism -- where even if you disagree, you must support the will of the majority or be forced out. Now some people in Unity have been talking behind the scenes that there is a faction in Unity that wants changes as a way to recruit people aligned with the divided opposition. I heard that line from Randi and crew back in the late 90s. It is just blowing smoke.

I believe that recognizing factions and holding debates on where people are divided so as to forge some common agreements is a healthy thing for a caucus and a union.

At the organizing meetings for MORE In 2011, all factions were there and sent 2 reps to each meeting. I brought up numerous times that we should explore what divided ICE and TJC as a way to resolve future issues. I was told we should only focus on what unites us not divides us. I saw this as a way to fluff over and stifle opinions.

At the very first large MORE organizing meeting in February 2012 I warned about the factions among the founders of MORE and said they must be taken into account --- ie.  make sure there is diversity of opinions and have the factions represented. But whenever you have sectarians in an organization, they will move to control the group and shut out or purge dissident voices.

Sadly, MORE has moved in that direction. The direction Unity follows, where those who disagree with policies set by the dominant faction are invited to leave the caucus - there is no longer a steering committee or any clear lines as to who are making decisions in MORE -- top down leadership so eschewed by social justice caucuses ----

As one former MORE member who left in disgust said: If MORE is going to have Unity Caucus like loyalty oaths why not just go to Unity which at least has all the toys?

Is there a way forward for the opposition and more historical context coming in future posts.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Fred Smith:“Kids were stupified by these questions,” Fred Smith, a former test analyst for the city Department of Education, told The Post.

The UFT pendulum has now swung back to the middle, with President Mulgrew writing a Daily News Op-Ed last week, using words like "of little or no use"  "flawed" and affliction to describe the testing program.  But, then he never really offers to do the obvious: organize and join with parents to wage a successful campaign against the system.  In fact, he shamelessly says "Finally tens of thousands of parents pulled their children out of the process, joining teachers in rebelling against the test-and-punish regimen..."  That's not the order in which I remember it occurring.  With him, it's always about so-called leadership that values political leverage above truth or principle.  So the Union's decades of hedged positioning on important issues and raising false hopes leads us not to expect sincere support ..... Fred Smith
I'm leading with this comment on the UFT from Fred who dropped this through my transom after the Jets game --- Note for his final comment --- Fred works as a statistician for the NY Jets. Give him the credit for every victory and ignore the losses.
Norm, thanks for everything you do to stay ahead of the curve and inform your astute readers.

I hope you can use this from Sunday NY Post and link below it to study I did with Robin Jacobowitz, director of education projects at the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives (SUNY New Paltz).

That is, I hope you can use it to drop another shoe on the pernicious nature of an essentially covert testing program.  The work I did with Robin Jacobowitz at SUNY New Paltz should not go unnoticed for what it means to New York City.  We, in the City, for many reasons have been unable to mount a large opt-out movement.  Two of the reasons have been Mayor deBlasio and former Chancellor Farina.
Now we have a chancellor who seems to get it.  That remains to be seen.  But immediate investigation of the impact of the latest exams furnished by Questar, Inc. under a 5-year, $44 million contract with NYSED, is warranted and would be a good test (no pun intended) of where he stands.  We know the parents and guardians of 440,000 students in the citywide test population love their kids as much as any mothers or fathers outside of NYC.  But, down here, they have been kept in the dark, confused and fearful, by City Hall; too busy coping with the struggles they face each day to make testing resistance a priority; and thwarted from engaging in unified action by a insurmountable, dysfunctional school system that has an impenetrable structure.
Perhaps, the stars are aligning to challenge the testing status quo.  Who knows?  Chancellor Carranza has taken a strong stance against the value and influence of the Specialized High School Admissions Test.  He's not afraid of stirring the pot.  But when it came to questions about testing kids in grades 3 - 8, he was quick to characterize opting out as an "extreme reaction." Indeed, he would allow results on the 7th grade statewide tests to be entered into murky composites to somehow reach fairer admissions decisions.
But I digress.  If we truly believe that mass annual testing has poisoned education and caused harm to children, teachers, classrooms and schools--then as a vital first step toward recovery, I would urge parents and readers of Ed Notes and others to petition, in writing or in person (City Council Education Committee Members, in particular), to urgently seek data on how the 2017 and 2018 exams functioned.  This is a no-risk/high-reward step.  And even if we can't promptly rally our representatives to respond to the cause it remains a no-risk action for parents to pursue the information.
In a rational world, the information would be available for review to better understand how the Questar test material--reading passages and items--worked.  The focus would be on how the tests performed in practice, not on assurances that they were soundly developed and valid, the usual spin we get from Albany and City Hall about how good the tests looked on the drawing board. It's the actual evidence that we must no longer be denied--evidence that provides insight into the content of the test and quality of the questions in operation.
When we finally secured the data, uur study found that the Common Core-aligned tests, developed by Pearson and administered statewide under a five-year contract with SED (2012-2016 at a final cost of $38 million) had a crushing impact on our kids--particularly the youngest in grades 3 and 4, as well as on ELLs, students with special needs and minorities.  We can't afford to let the State and City pull the wool over our eyes again.  We have every right to the information without delay, and I believe it is our obligation to engage NYC parents in this matter.
But, I am not an organizer, Norm.  So, I'm hoping you will lend your cutting edge Ed Notes to those many discerning folks in your audience who are equally concerned about doing what's best for NYC's children, parents and schools.  Perhaps, we can set up a mechanism or forum to gain feedback and suggestions.  And I trust our collective judgment to come up with an effective course leading to the timely transparency that is needed. Whatever path we choose--Count me in!
(PS: The Jets won a laugher.  If that can happen, maybe there's hope for all of us.)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

School Scope: Test Scores from Spring ’18 Released - Oct. 5

School Scope: Test Scores from Spring ’18 Released
By Norm Scott

In case the news passed you by, the New York State reading and math tests students took last April and May were released last week, tests that are no use to students, parents or teachers so long after the school year ended;  expensive tests that have distorted education at every level from pre-k through high schools are fundamentally useless. But they are used to rate part of teacher performance, also useless since that practice has also been discredited. They are also used to rate overall school performance and as an excuse to try to shut down public schools whose buildings are coveted by well-funded charter school chains.

Testing mania is not a new thing. I remember how standardized testing (as opposed to teacher or school-wide tests) was important in my elementary and middle schools in the 1950s and regents test-driven in high school in the early 60s. And as an elementary school teacher from the late 60s through the late 90s testing was a driving force. But it was used mainly to address the outcomes of children and we received the results before the school year ended, still too late to do much with them. (I advocated that tests be given in September so teachers could actually use the outcomes to assist their students.)

With the No Child Left Behind Law pushed by the Bush administration with the support of Democrats in the early part of this century, testing became a political cudgel used to attack entire school systems, close down schools, and punish teachers and students. The punishment put careers of educators and politicians on the line and that drove us to the present hysteria.

Along side that has grown a vast educational-industrial complex forming a testing industry that makes enormous profits from the tests and to ensure those profits there has sprung up a pro-testing lobby funneling money to politicians who control the state education departments. Our own NY State Education Department (NYSED) has pushed hard on tests and I suspect this is more about politics than education.

There has been a counter reaction against testing – the opt-out movement to have kids sit out the tests. Despite enormous attacks against opt-outers by educational bureaucrats in NY City, the opt out rate in NYC was slightly up to 4.4 percent, a .4 percentage point increase from last year. Statewide the numbers are still around 20%. The highest refusal rates have been in the wealthier/whiter districts with District 15 (Park Slope) leading the pack with 12% opt-out.

NYSED has tried to lure opt-outers back by making cosmetic changes in the test along with reducing some testing time. But this has not affected the many schools that focus on the tests with enormous test prep time that takes away from curriculum.

You  can read Fred Smith, a major critic of the testrocracy, who takes apart the tests on my blog: Fred Smith: Opt-out movement is viable and capable of growth in NYC - https://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2018/09/fred-smith-opt-out-movement-is-viable.html.

It’s all about politics
You may have noticed that I have focused more on politics than education recently. As you can see from the above we can’t isolate educational policy from the politics and politicians behind it. Both political parties are responsible for bad education policy – Obama’s Race To The Top funneled billions  to schools based on some of the worst policies we’ve ever seen. But what about local politics? Our local electeds and the political machines that back them say little or nothing about bad ed policies. It is time to hold them accountable.

Norm Races to the Bottom at ednotesonline.com.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Is Questioning Why Teachers Don't Fight Blaming the Victim?

I rarely disagree with my friend Arthur at NYC Educator but there is something his recent post 
(NYC Educator Sit Back or Fight Back?) that is nagging at me.
I left this comment:

Arthur - Good advice - for your school with a not terrible admin and a great CL who knows how to use the levers of power. But this is rare.

The position of the leadership is-- that it's up to members to fight back. Blame the victim -- like asking why Dr. Ford didn't say anything for 35 years. How can we support her and not think there is trauma for teachers under attack?

It seems easy when you are in a school like yours. You left John Adams and missed the assaults by admins 15-20 years ago that created a climate of fear. One good teacher I know who did fight back was hounded and fired. Others too who contacted me to help.
UFT was helpless and in fact was complicit with the admin according to reports. When the Jim Callahan with the NY Teacher wrote a story going after the principal, the Queens HS Dist Rep threatened him and said he would hurt the principal's career and she went to Randi and the story was killed. So yes do fight back but you can't do it until the UFT/Unity people have made it clear the above won't happen which it still does all too often.

And while you say sit or fight back you ignore the 3rd option which the UFT often uses --- run to another school -- which is what you did many years ago.

When Peter Lamphere was CL at Bronx HS of Sci and that awful AP who ended up as princ Townshend the UFT parachuted him out of there, leaving the chapter at her mercy when an all out assault was needed -- thus allowing the DOE to put her in another school to ruin.

I will remind everyone that it wasn't the UFT that led the fight against her at Townshend but Peter L's op ed printed on this blog that exposed her and led the students to read it and lead the fight. The union joined in later as its in their DNA to not go head to head with principals until others lead the battle. That gives them political cover with the CSA. (Check out situations at Art and Design and Fashion Ind and complaints about the UFT support - even charging complicity with the principal).

Right now that is what I would advise anyone in a school with a weak chapter and awful principal who can escape - do so.

Monday, October 1, 2018

School Scope: Some Thoughts On Climate Change - Norm in The WAVE

Published Sept. 28, 2018 at www.rockawave.com

School Scope: Some Thoughts On Climate Change
By Norm Scott

I’ve been reading two books on climate change. “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas was written in 2008 and has a chapter for the kinds of changes the earth will see based on each degree rise in temperature. By the time I got to the final chapter on the impact of a 6 degree (centigrade) rise I was sweating bullets over the future of our species. And Lynas doesn’t predict a massive impact will all take a very long time. Basically he said our last chance to stop the runaway climate train would come around 2015. Uh-oh, I think that train has left the station. [See the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T9IjSEqT74].

UFT Update: Three Meetings and a Rally - Why Do I Go?

I wish I had an easy answer for the title question, Why Did I Go?

Over a 5 day period I attended a UFT Chapter Leader, an UFT Ex Bd, and a MORE, with a rally at Union Square for Puerto Rico on the anniversary of the hurricane thrown in (I don't do rallies anymore but since it was right after the CL meeting this one was easy.)

Why did I shlep into the city on beautiful days in Rockaway? 

The other day I saw on FB a comment from a long-time ed activist  who wrote:
"If I'm honest, I'm not really interested in fighting anymore. At least not for a while. Disillusionment is real. I think movements need to think long & hard about what builds us up and what knocks us down. I'm knocked down."
I know some of the sources of her disillusionment through private communications, which I won't share. She is disillusioned by people who are supposedly on our side. I responded that I'm having similar feelings. In my case I'm no longer sure who we're fighting when we end up fighting with people who we thought were on the same side.

I still have to sort everything out given the battles we've been in with --- the UFT/Unity Caucus, the DOE, ed deform privateers who want to destroy public education.

Wait-- let me hit pause -- I'm fighting the DOE -- a public ed institution and the people who want to destroy it -  the UFT leadership  and conflicts within the supposed opposition to the UFT --- I mean at some point you have to ask exactly what is the point? Even my enthusiasm for doing this blog is running down, though the other day someone I didn't know approached me on the subway platform, asking, "Ed Notes?"

But then I have examples like Leonie Haimson who never stops fighting. And so many others too.

So while I figure all of this stuff out I still go to meetings so I don't lose touch completely and for the social interaction with people I feel I can work with.

Last Monday I was working on building a walk-way in my backyard and was not going to go to the Ex Bd meeting unless I finished what I was doing. Then I happened to see a post from a para in a teacher group on Facebook about the conditions teachers work under in she has seen in so many schools.

I thought about how all we hear when UFT officials report are happy stories and my blood began to boil. It's like they are blind to reality or if they are aware they just cover their eyes and ears and act like this is not going on.

So I finished up quickly and went in to meet with the crew from New Action, MORE and beyond before the meeting. I called Howie Schoor's office at around 5:15 when I got there to ask for speaking time even though I know it is a waste of energy. I've spoken numerous times over the past decade at open mic and it is always about abusive principals and the power the union has allowed principals to accrue without push back from the union. I had no notes but did read the comment from the para ---

Luckily, Arthur Goldstein reported on UFT Ex Bd meeting, Sept. 24): Open mic before meeting began -where since no other speakers were present I was given 5 minutes.
Norm Scott—Thanks God he’s retired. Was first speaker when Randi instituted process. Always about school conditions. Likes reports from districts, which are always positive. Good to know people are doing great stuff. Also things not going right. Please tell us, seems that’s avoided.

Facebook—para on chat list married to teacher, current environment teachers treated poorly, micromanagement, ludicrous demands, spiteful admin, teachers in fear. Not all schools this way. In Detroit they said UFT was strongest in country. Is it not that way anymore?

I feel these comments, coming from many places, are danger to union. You have to make show of force that you are there for teachers. You have to go into the schools and principals need to know someone is opposing them. Principals call lawyers, teachers don’t have that kind of support. Must inundate and counter this.
I tried to emphasize in my final point, that unlike my previous appearances where I attacked the shit out of them, this time I was there as kindly, friendly Uncle Norm urging the union to show more force -- to battle back against those 300 DOE lawyers the principals consult. The idea I was trying to put forth was that they are committing suicide of they remain tone death.

They looked at me blankly. Tone deaf. And Howie Schoor topped it off with this comment:
Schoor—Agree reports from districts have gotten better since 2016.
No Howie, they have not gotten better --- not when I hear district reps doing happy talk when I know full well there is mayhem going on in their districts. When I spoke last year I was hostile -- they need to hold themselves accountable just as they want teachers held accountable. The outcome then was that Leroy Barr defended the wonderful work of the district reps. So I tried nice this time. I should have stayed in Rockaway.

I guess that after almost 50 years it's in my DNA. (I just "celebrated" by 51st year as a UFT member). I just need to find more hobbies and alternate volunteer options.

I like the pre-meetings in the UFT lobby with New Action people, Mike S, Jonathan, Arthur, Ashraya from MORE and anyone else who shows up.

I no longer feel I have much to offer in terms of building an opposition to Unity Caucus -- in fact I no longer believe an effective opposition can be built. And in my many discussions with other long-time opposition activists in the UFT I see them beginning to come around to that point of view too.

Especially since the breaks within MORE over the past year shunned and shut down the point of view of many long-term UFT activists who were pushed out or left on their own volition because they did not think the MORE blueprint had long-term sustainability.

Yet we all keep clinging to the cliff with our fingertips because it is in our DNA.

Last Thursday (Sept. 20) I went to the CL meeting to hand out the ANOTHER VIEW leaflet I helped write because I felt it important to share that message with people even if they are not listening.

After the meeting my pals Gloria and Lisa were going to Union Square for the rally for Puerto Rico a year after the hurricane. I had a lot of fun talking to people seeing some heavy political celebrities rousing the crowd. After a group of about 10 of us went out to eat, including the first guy I met in the UFT who was an activist -- we were close for 5 years from 1970-75 until there was a political break -- it was good to reminisce again but also be reminded that there will always be political breaks among people who are passionate about their politics --- but also an endemic weakness on the left.

In fact I had a conversation at the rally with a well-known activist who told me he felt that the Democratic Socialists would suffer a split at some point due to a group of sectarians -- the same old song that has played out over 150 years of left politics.

Then on Saturday, Sept. 22,  I had mixed feelings about going to the MORE meeting since I play an inconsequential role in MORE -- (and yes there are sectarians in MORE). I'm much more of an observer now. The dislocations based on last spring's events and the push outs of people from ICEUFT wing of MORE has cemented MORE's morphing back to the programs pushed by the old Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) caucus which ICEUFT merged with, along with others, to form MORE. We in ICE always used to view TJC as a sectarian caucus. In fact that was one reason we formed and used the word Independent as a sign we would not be taken over by sectarians.

Seeing some old-time TJC people at the MORE meeting was a sign of that. TJC was barely functioning as a caucus and when MORE formed and it went defunct. Now MORE is under the control of people who were involved in TJC and pushing a similar message - I guess because they think that the teacher revolts make the time ripe -- my push back is that this is the world of the UFT/Unity, not West Virginia or even Los Angeles or Chicago where there is no Unity Caucus in power for 60 years.

In MORE I don't feel people would listen to me any more than UFT/Unity people do so I am trying not to try to offer views that make them uncomfortable ---- I have learned that even in so-called opposition caucus, just as in Unity/UFT, dissenting opinions are not welcome.

But who knows what is in store for us in the age of Janus? I'm keeping my toe in the water with an open mind. In fact at Friday's ICEUFT meeting we expect some people from New Action and Solidarity. Maybe there is something bigger out there than narrow viewed caucuses.

Arthur has reports of the UFT meetings
James Eterno comments


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fred Smith: Opt-out movement is viable and capable of growth in NYC

I believe the opt-out movement is viable and capable of growth in NYC--even though we have a Mayor and chancellor who are advocates of mass testing in grades 3-8.
The Grade 6 ELA results for New York City are screwy.  They strike me as a weak link in Questar’s testing chain.  The percentage of students deemed proficient this year is 48.9%.  It was 32.3% last year.  That’s a 16.6 difference– or a shift of from nearly one-third to one-half of (65,000) sixth graders who are now “proficient.” In no other grade is it more than 8.0.
Surprisingly, differences of the same magnitude hold for all ethnic groups.
[I know we were warned not to compare the 2018 results directly with the 2017 results. Still that’s a singular difference since the same publisher, Questar, produced both tests under a $44 million, five-year contract with SED.]
NYC ELA Percent Proficient by Grade
3 - 8

NYC Grade 6 ELA Percent Proficient x Race/Ethnicity
And how does this useless testing program serve educators who are judged by such inexplicable data and who must design programs to meet the academic needs of students–based on such shaky (as in meaningless) information???
An outcome like this is an example of why we need to have timely information about how the items on the examination functioned.  Yet, SED and DOE have not provided data at their disposal that would shed light on the matter.  Instead, NYC parents are expected to march their children off to the deadening testing drumbeat for the next three years uninformed about the workings of the exams.
We must figure out a way to demand and obtain the information hidden behind the curtain of the test questions.*  If SED and the DOE are unwilling to disclose the facts, this would give impetus to a citywide campaign that builds on the reported four percent (4%) opt out rate and escalates it in 2019.
*The information consists of item-level statistics that SED and DOE routinely keeps.  It would allow multiple-choice items and constructed response questions to be studied to see how students answered them.  For M-C items, we should have classical item analysis data on the percentage of students selecting each option.  For CRQs, we should have the percentage of students receiving each score from trained raters.  Having both sets of information would give us a picture of the response and scoring distributions generated by students and lead us to evidence-based insights into the quality of the exams. Not only must SED and the City already have such overall data, they also have—or should be able to produce it by subgroup—i.e., for ELLs, students with disabilities and for students by race/ethnicity—that would give us further understanding.
(If you agree, please post and share the above with allies and potential allies in places I am incapable of reaching.)