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.)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Leonie Haimson on NYCDOE Pupil Transportation Scandal

Having worked for 35 years in Brooklyn Williamsburg's District 14 with its massive Hasidic population who block vote as told to, I am never surprised to see the special treatment they get from politicians that amount to payoffs. $8 million "disappeared" in the 1980s and no one went to jail despite an FBI invasion of the district. (The two dead Superintendents - who were guilty - but everyone else escaped.)

This story goes way beyond Pupil Transportation and if more digging goes on they would find the entire DOE is scandal ridden from top to bottom. And let me add that the fact the UFT turns its back on this instead of exposing what is going on borders on supporting it.

By the way, here is a comment from someone about our new chancellor on Leonie's thread:
I said here before after years of experience with Carranza as Supe in SF, this guy is a total scammer and phony. He gets people to support him as a SJW and that shouldn't be difficult in the NYC as in SF, but the fact remains he's an empty vessel. He left SFUSD in a sex scandal, then bailed quickly on Houston for a higher paying job. Carranza is all about Carranza and, like in SFUSD, if you are a parent who want honors classes for students who demonstrate ability, you will be personally labeled a racist by the scammer in chief. Welcome to his party in NYC and you are not invited. I wouldn't wish him on anyone.
Also on the thread is a discussion about how public students were denied busing while Yeshiva kids were OK'd.

Here is Leonie's report on the situation based on reporting by the NY Post's Sue Edelman.
Amazing story by Sue Edelman in today’s NY Post showing that 24 people at the scandal-plagued DOE Office of Pupil Transportation are given cars at city expense – including several who do little but drive it to and from the office each day. 

This includes a Rabbi , a “liaison to yeshivas” who gets both a car and a personal driver! 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

UFT Citywide Chapter Leader Meeting - High Security is an Issue for Some

I was downstairs handing out ANOTHER VIEW at the chapter leader meeting on Thursday, which had been postponed from the previous week - we're guessing due to the primary the next day., which might explain the relatively poor attendance, around 600 is my guess, given that there are around 1800 schools and supposedly that many chapter leaders. But who's counting?

The lines to get in at times were enormous as chapter leaders had to exchange the cards they received in the mail for another one. An announcement was made that this meeting was ONLY for CLs - not even school elected delegates or those like us who have to sit in the visitor's section. So security was tight - with a bunch of people checking cards downstairs and upstairs. After all, we wouldn't want too much info to get out to UFT members.

Luckily Arthur Goldstein was there to report: UFT Chapter Leader Meeting September 20th, 2018

and James Eterno to write commentary at the ICE-UFT blog comments:


I would think that the leadership would aim to be a bit more user friendly, especially to chapter leaders and other school wide electeds  in these times. The UFT needs to focus on a broader base of members than just the chapter leader who can easily get overloaded, suffer under enormous pressure if standing up to the principal or even end up succumbing to that pressure, which leaves the members in deep limbo and subject to entreaties that ask: What is the union doing to protect you from evil principals or dumb DOE officialdom work rules?


Friday, September 21, 2018

School Scope: Rockaway Progressive Women Respond to Trump

Published Sept. 21, 2018  in The Wave (

School Scope:  Rockaway Progressive Women Respond to Trump
By Norm Scott

About 80 people turned out last Friday night for a Rockaway Women for Progress (RWP)-sponsored dinner and performance inside the tent at Bungalow Bar by Me the People, an anti-Trump group of professional actors, who perform topical material – and by topical, I mean TOPICAL – like songs and comedy about up to the minute breaking news. Critic Joel Benjamin wrote: “You’d need a ten ton truck to haul away all the slings and arrows slung and shot at Donald Trump in Me the People: Fire & Fury Edition, the red-hot political revue currently on stage at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.”

The crowd, about 90% women, never stopped laughing for the entire delightful show. The few men in the audience laughed right along.

A scene from the show.
The RWP began to organize around the anti-Trump woman’s march on the day he was inaugurated in January. 2017. The mission of Rockaway Women for Progress is “to develop and implement strategies that uphold democracy and protect human rights. Any women in the Rockaway/ Breezy Point/ Broad Channel areas, who are interested in joining, are encouraged to email “

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Another View in the UFT - Difficult Choices Ahead for UFT Members and Leaders

The first edition of the new school year of Another View. Our aim is to bring deeper and more thoughtful discussion of issues to UFT members - to present a view you won't see coming from the leadership or other caucuses.

If you want to share with others in your schools and beyond email me for a pdf or copy and paste the text below and send it as an email.

Text below:

Difficult Choices Ahead for UFT Members and Leaders

The Janus impact: a threat to the life-blood of the UFT

Public service unions have been under immense attacks, seemingly from all sides, including politicians in both parties on the national, state and local level. We’ve seen attacks in our own schools escalate after years of mayoral control under Bloomberg and continued by de Blasio, chiefly through the empowerment of principals and the bureaucracy at the DOE, with the consequent weakening of many union chapters, leaving most UFT members feeling vulnerable to the whims of administrators. The level of fear among UFT members in the schools is at its highest level. Due to the Janus decision and its threat to the long-time viability of our union, there is also fear at the top levels of the UFT. How the UFT under the leadership of Unity Caucus responds to these fears may well determine the future viability of our union.

Debates have raged inside the UFT over how to assure that the membership continues to support the union by continuing to pay dues. The UFT’s ability to address the fears and concerns of the members adequately may well determine its success in keeping its members.

Let us state right up front. Despite disagreements we have with the current UFT leadership we are urging all members to remain in the union and struggle with others to make the UFT the best union it can be.

In the short term indications are that, other than former agency fee payers, most members will remain. Over the longer term, members’ continued willingness to pay dues may well depend on the level of support the UFT provides on issues such as:

·       Members under attack by abusive administrators;
·       Members in schools with a tremendous lack of resources and support;
·       Members under pressure from unreasonable DOE mandates and inappropriate standards;
·       Members whose job security is constantly threatened, especially those without tenure and older teachers who are targeted because of their higher pay and their resistance to unfair practices by administrators;
·       Continued agreement to four instead of two yearly observations;
·       Allowing the de Blasio-controlled DOE’s debilitating rules and micro-management.

There are many people who are dedicated unionists but believe that the union has not been active in addressing contract abuses and fighting for teacher rights and benefits. They point to the last couple of contracts, back door agreements, uneven and weak challenges to unfair school ratings, school closings, the proliferation of charter schools, etc. There is disagreement among these critics of union policy over whether or not to stay in the union, or pressure the union by withdrawing dues unless and until the union changes.

We don’t have simple answers to people who want to leave the union, but we do believe that thinning out the union ranks among DOE employees will contribute to weakening our union, curtailing our rights, threatening our jobs, and further undermining public education. But staying in the union is not enough. Given the nation-wide attack on public education, we need to build a strong  movement of teachers in alliance with parents, students, and community members. Such a movement would be in a position to pressure and challenge the leadership.

The UFT and educational “reform”

The UFT’s weak response to the damaging educational reform movement has led to an erosion in the fundamental working conditions of the membership. By now we have become accustomed to the devastating consequences of the “educational reform movement” defined by an cabal of pseudo educational experts and supported financially and politically by think tanks, business-funded media, the educational bureaucracy and politicians of both parties. Across the country this has led to widespread school closings, high stakes testing, proliferation of charter schools, teacher firings, and diversion of vast sums of money to educational businesses like testing and tech companies, many of which have proven to offer fraudulent products.    

Instead of resisting these threats to teachers, students, and public education, as they began to unfold 16 years ago, the UFT/NYSUT/AFT leaderships stood by as children lost their schools, teachers began to lose their right to make choices about how to teach, and many lost their jobs altogether. Every year our schools in NYC are deprived of all the money they are entitled to by law, which has meant increased class sizes and loss of valuable programs. A payroll heavy with supervisors and administrators, especially at the DOE, further gobbles up money which is desperately needed in many of our schools. Our union must take on the challenges we face from our deteriorating working life and the threats to all unions from the Janus decision.

We as a Union Need to Change to Assure Our Survival

It's the union's job to make people want to stay; not to help construct barricades to keep them in. Without changes in the way our union relates to the members we fear that over time we will face an increasing erosion in membership from the dual threat from the Janus decision and charter school incursions. The membership must feel the union is willing to stand up for them. Administrators must be convinced that there’s an entire union coming down with full force if necessary.

Union leaders should be meeting with every chapter in the city, starting with schools with weak or inactive chapters. People with healthcare, pension, certification and grievance questions need to know where to start and who to turn to. Union representatives should go into schools concerned and prepared, with specific information about how the union can help.

Chapters without chapter leaders need monthly meetings initiated by district, borough or special reps. Bring in retired chapter leaders, who have the experience and knowledge to run these meetings and have consultations with the administration. Start chapter newsletters focused on what is happening the school, and use them to engage with the administration in discussing school policy and problems. In schools where problems are serious and administrators are uncooperative, use the resources of the union to take the fight to the broader community. We must look beyond a broken grievance procedure. In schools with severe problems: pressure local politicians; use social media and the press; reach out to nearby schools and community organizations.

Rethink the use of our communications, including Facebook and Twitter. We need more open debate about things that are relevant to us. Have a members-only FB page for asking questions and sharing information. Text messaging can transmit news of importance. If the school down the block has a terrible principal and/or AP we need to know about it.

District-wide issues, such as terrible superintendents, require a wide union response. End the cozy relationships some union officials have with these people. Hold meetings in local diners, bars, and coffee shops, instead of invitation-only meetings where there is no give and take. Develop videos that address our rights, for example what to do if our classes are oversized, the most common issue.

A union rep should visit a school where a member has a grievance to help with the filing and preparing, rather than waiting for steps two and three. There should also be meetings with union reps to discuss how successful chapters have used consultation meetings, chapter meetings, grievances, School Leadership Teams (SLT), PEPs and other venues for taking on bad principals. This should include experience with building alliances with parents, students and local communities.

UFT official borough and district meetings must be opened up to chapter leaders to present school problems and get feedback from other chapter leaders. The Delegate Assembly and Executive Board meetings must also address school and district issues that are not resolved at the local meetings. The union must show that it is listening and taking seriously the needs of all its members. Let’s not forget that among UFT members we have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the school system that is there for the union to use at our time of need. Returning the choice of district reps to the chapter leaders within the district would be a step in re-building trust in the union.

Our union leaders preside over a one-party system (Unity Caucus) that does not engage with the membership, puts a tight lid on dissenting opinions, and exerts tight control over union elected bodies. We are more likely to prevent defections from internal critics if members feel there is a fair system with open debate and decision making.

A democratic union is a stronger union.

We are a group of UFT members that want a stronger, more aggressive union to fight back against abusive administrators, politicians and corporations that want to close our public schools and bust our union.   For more information contact

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Great George Schmidt is Gone

From Substance

In lieu of flowers, donations in George's name may be sent to Loop Church, 11 E. Adams St., Suite 1200, Chicago, IL 60603 ( or FAIR, 124 W. 30th Street, Suite 201, New York, NY 10001. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting is the nonprofit progressive national media watch group (

Since we learned a month ago that the serious illness George Schmidt was suffering from would soon end his life, I've been struggling with what I would say when the end came, which it did early Monday morning. George was just shy of turning 72.

As so often these days, my brain is jumbled with so much to say. I am having trouble sorting things out and I often find myself paralyzed. In George's case there is a long history. Too long to get it all down in one blog post.

So I will write a few things over time to fully flesh out what George has meant to the progressive teacher movement nationally and especially in Chicago. But George's influence goes way beyond teachers and education.

We hear a lot of credit being given to the rise of caucuses around the nation that have challenged the status quo inside their own unions while also challenging the people running the system while pushing for a progressive pro-child movement - the so-called "social justice" caucuses, with CORE in Chicago, founded in 2008, being the prototype.

George was one of the main initiators in the founding of CORE and used his widely read Substance (founded in 1974) as a battering ram to break down resistance to the group which was challenging a Unity-type caucus.

George also used Substance in yet another victory over the old guard back in 2001 when he supported Debbie Lynch when she won the presidency. George had Substance delivered into every teacher's mailbox on 3 separate occasions during that campaign.

George was doing social justice oriented union work from the early 1970s though the day he became incapacitated over a month ago. That's over 50 years of work, including running for president of the Chicago Teacher Union more than once, I believe.

A salvaged copy post-Sandy storm
George wasn't only interested in narrow educational issues. In 1978 he wrote the pamphlet "The American Federation of Teachers and the C.I.A." exposing our union as an often tool of American propaganda - backing every war and military action and the massive defense budget. (Vera retyped it and we put it up on scribd a few years ago:

George was always at the center of union action in Chicago. But he went way beyond that. He was the first person I heard of who led the battle against standardized testing from way back in the early 90s and even before that. George took a step that I've seen on one else take -- he published the entire battery of tests in Substance to expose how bad they were and got sued and fired from the Chicago school system for doing so. (I roll my eyes when I hear of some people in the social justice union movement today who brag about how they refused to give a test -often with the approval of the principal -- and faced no repercussions.)

George led the battle against standardized tests
George put his career on the line to fight against standardized tests and the Chicago school system abolished the tests he exposed - though of course they came up with new ones, this time with laws designed to put people who would do what George did in jail. George and the amazing Susan Ohanian cemented an alliance over the testing issue that lasted until George died. Georg'e wife Sharon and Susan are still working together to keep Substance alive.

From Ed Notes: July 4, 2013

A Chicago Teacher's Action Inspires Antitest Crusaders - 14 Years Ago

"He's not going to teach in our system," --Paul Vallas
"What kind of people would do this?"  -- Mayor Daley

The district has brought in university professors to review questions, recruited graduate students to take tests before they are administered and hired a testing-research concern to evaluate its exams. Mr. Vallas says the Substance case hasn't influenced such moves. "We have always ignored Schmidt," he says. ..... Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2001
How come Ed Notes was able to report the Chicago ed deform story that was to spread around the nation as far back as the late 90's - which we did to all the UFT delegates and leadership on a regular basis (leading me to a ---DUHHHHH moment)? Because of George Schmidt and Substance, where I began to read Susan Ohanian for the first time.

I just looked back at the hard copy of Ed Notes May and June 2001 issues and I must publish them online so you will see the full nature of the Unity Caucus sellout.

Susan Ohanian republished the full story of George's career-ending actions in 1999 with this article from those 5-25-01 in the Wall Street Journal.
Ohanian Comment: It occurs to me that since this website was not launched until a year after George Schmidt's courageous Act of Principle, many readers of this site don't know exactly what he did.

Substance cannot survive without the support of people who claim to believe in resistance. We all owe George--big time. Subscribe--and donate--now. Today.
Page One Feature

A Chicago Teacher's Action Inspires Antitest Crusaders

By Robert Tomsho, Wall Street Journal
2001-05-25 - Read more in the original ed notes:
George was the weather vane for the evils of mayoral control, which began in Chicago in 1994 as the first test case for the massive ed deform to come.  He even sent me a special letter to publish in Ed Notes as a warning when Joel Klein became Chancellor in 2002. George was so prescient - he predicted everything that came after. No Child Left Behind? George issued immediate early warnings which I picked up on and published in ed notes, even as our union leaders in the UFT and AFT were supporting this devastating attack on public schools.

Charters? George was there from day one, pointing out the dangers they posed.

George was a life-long socialist/communist who wore those labels like a badge of honor.

Yet you will never see George mentioned in the left-wing press and commentary that fawns over the social justice caucuses or the evils of high stakes testing and other aspects of ed deform.

Why? Because George always told the truth. Above all he was a journalist who never blanched at exposing bad policy and decision making and bad politics even when he felt in recent years it had infected CORE and the Chicago Teachers Union itself. He mocked what he referred to as "social justice warriors" and those who engaged in divisive acts of identity politics. (See my recent post Identity Politics and the Left - Counterpunch which I imagine George would have agreed with.)

For this he suffered attacks on his integrity over the past years for daring to tell the truth. He weathered those attacks as the many people of all races whom he had worked in battling injustice came to his defense.

George had as much influence on my thinking and political and educational development as anyone. At the 2016 AFT convention in Minneapolis I ran into Jackson Potter, one of the founders of CORE and at the time the head of personnel in the CTU. He invited me to join a bunch of CTU staffers and a few others to lunch. Some were curious as to who I was.

Jackson Potter, in introducing me tried to find a few words to describe who I was and what I did. Then, with a bit of hesitancy, apparently due to George's controversial reputation: "Norm is, and I assume he would welcome this comparison, the George Schmidt of New York."

I proclaimed to the group of a dozen people, some of whom rolled their eyes - and maybe moved an inch or two away from me, I was proud to accept the designation of "the George Schmidt of New York." And I hope to carry on George's work, though I could never fill his giant shoes.

I have a lot more to say, so more to come over the next few weeks.

Sharon Schmidt has put up tributes to George at Substance and will follow up with a longer piece on October 1.

Songs about working class and unions

[The following article was originally published on Labor Day, 2011.]

James Eterno also comments on the

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Identity Politics and the Left - Counterpunch

The intersectionality that American leftists increasingly advocate has a narrowing, not broadening effect.... Haydar Khan
Another find by Fiorillo on identity politics and how that can be divisive. Well, I have seen that happen in many groups I've worked with over the years so there is some basis. But I do hear the call of people who have been oppressed and express this through identity politics. I see fallacies in this article but after not eating for 2 hours I am too weak to articulate them.

Set Theory of the Left

I have noticed lately a curious term that appears repeatedly now in political discussions and in the media. It is a sort of leftist battle cry. The pervasive term is “intersectionality.” This term is typically advanced as a positive value. So far as I can make out, it is supposed to describe the way various political constituencies intersect at points of common interest. There seems to be some promise of inclusion, unity, and strength implied when one invokes the presence of intersectionality. Is this so, I have come to wonder. Equally, intersectionality now ranks among the cardinal virtues of “identity politics”—a topic everyone seems to be taking up these days. Is it so virtuous as all that? Are the identitarians, for that matter?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Memo from the RTC: Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge Opening Sept. 21

For The Wave, Sept. 21 edition

Memo from the RTC: Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge Opening Sept. 21
By Norm Scott

After months of preparation the Rockaway Theatre Company of the Frank Caiati directed  production of “Bridge” is opening September 21 for nine performances over three weekends. Written by one of America’s great playwrights, Arthur Miller,  the story is set in the 1950’s in a working class Italian American neighborhood of Brooklyn within sight of the Brooklyn Bridge. The docks of pre-Ikea gritty Red Hook is pretty much the prototype.

I checked on Arthur Miller’s biography ( He was born in 1915 (died in 2005) to a wealthy Jewish family in Harlem that lost all its money in the 1929 depression and moved to Gravesend Brooklyn where he graduated from Abraham Lincoln HS.

Being lazy, let me jump to the Wikipedia description of the play.

“…. an I near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. It employs a chorus and narrator in the character of Alfieri. Eddie, the tragic protagonist, has an improper love of, and almost obsession with, Catherine, his wife Beatrice's orphaned niece, so he does not approve of her courtship of Beatrice's cousin Rodolpho. Miller's interest in writing about the world of the New York docks originated with an un-produced screenplay that he developed with Elia Kazan in the early 1950s (entitled The Hook) that addressed corruption on the Brooklyn docks. Kazan later directed On the Waterfront, which dealt with the same subject. Miller said that he heard the basic account that developed into the plot of A View from the Bridge from a lawyer who worked with longshoremen, who related it to him as a true story.”

Scarlett Johansson won a Tony in a 2010 Broadway revival for the role of Catherine and Mark Strong was nominated for best actor in the 2015 revival. I’ve never seen the play, nor do I know very much about it other than the above. I do know, as I’ve been reporting, that Frank as a certain vision, as witnessed by the poster of the upside down Brooklyn Bridge and the daring set with the tilted stage.

The serious dramas at the RTC are too often overlooked by some of the regular audiences who love to attend musicals.  On the Waterfront is one of my favorite movies and there are echoes and historical antecedents in this play.

One more reason to see the play is to answer these burning questions:
Can Miller, an intellectual left-oriented Jewish writer effectively capture the working class Italian-American experience? Can Frank, an Italian-American 30-something director/actor/scenic designer/set builder capture the essence of Miller’s work 60 years after it was first written?

You are invited to A View From the Bridge
The Rockaway Theatre Company Proudly Presents
A Great American Drama

September 21st, 22nd, 28th, 29th, October 5th & 6th at 8pm
Matinees September 23rd, 30th & October 7th at 2pm

Tickets may be purchased on our website

Ticket Prices:
Adults $20.00
Seniors/Children $15.00

**Please Note: Online ticket purchases close 48 hours prior to the date of each show, but tickets are still available for purchase, at our box office, one hour prior to showtime.