Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Annals of the UFT - On Democracy in the Current and Past UFT Delegate Assembly - Norm Scott

More than 2,000 elected school reps joined the January meeting by phone, a 40-percent increase over participation last spring that undoubtedly reflects a craving for information in circumstances that remain so fluid. However, the UFT delegate assembly was meant to be more than an information session. .... --- Solidarity Caucus Letter of complaint in letter to The Chief, posted on ICE Blog:
March 31, 2021 -- 

My next to last pre-pandemic day in the city before heading back to Rockaway was March 11, 2020 when I attended the last in person UFT Delegate Assembly. Outside the meeting a chapter leader of one of the largest schools in the city told me his school had more cases than the DOE or UFT was admitting to and his complaints to the union were landing on deaf ears and he was thinking of going to the press. (I think he did and those articles put pressure on the DOE and UFT). Earlier that day my wife and I had attended almost empty classes for retirees at 52 Broadway that were cancelled for the rest of the year, it was clear things were going bad. The night before, March 10, we went to a crowded Broadway play - Broadway shut down 3 days later. Schools were shut shortly after though teachers were required to come in the next week without children for "training." Over 70 ended up dying. And the Delegate Assembly has only met remotely since then.

OK, that's some background but the intention here is to open a discussion on democracy at the UFT Delegate Assembly, currently and in the near and distant past. John Lawhead, one of the authors of the Solidarity letter, has been running a UFT history study group which has been fascinating and I've gotten a good handle on how a very democratic institution was turned into what it is today. Look for follow-up posts.

What is the Delegate Assembly?
It consists of the elected chapter leaders and delegates from the schools and functional chapters, where there is a 60-1 ratio, meaning a school with 300 UFT non-functional/classroom chapter members, gets 5 delegates. Large functional chapters get a load, like retirees with 70,000 members, get 300 members of the DA. 
Retiree Advocate running a slate vs Unity in chapter election
I'm working with Retiree Advocate to run a slate against Unity in the upcoming chapter election - if you are a retiree and want to run let me know - we won't win and Unity will claim winner take all despite us getting around 20% of the vote - which in a democratic institution would give us 60 delegates - we actually asked Unity for a measly 5 seats to at least represent that 20% and they said NO.

How many delegates?
Do the math and you can see there are probably over 4000 people who can attend a DA but in person the room only holds a max of 850, with a few breakout rooms.

But the reality is that there are often less than 600 in person - for from a quorum which makes meetings technically illegal, but who's counting? And Unity caucus people naturally dominate the crowd, especially when you add in retirees even if only 100 attend.

A key feature of the DAs, especially since Randi Weingarten took over have been long filibuster president reports that often take up to an hour and eat up time.

So by its very nature, DAs are undemocratic in practice. The pandemic has changed things and the union has had to adapt. 

The current situation is that many more people are attending the DA - I think I saw some 2000 at the January DA. Imagine zoom meetings with thousands and electronic voting which they have no way of controlling.

How do you do democracy in that environment? Most importantly, the number of eyes on the DA is itself more democratic and that has made the union leadership very nervous, even though they can easily shut people they don't want to hear from out. But I think the transparency is a bigger threat to them and I bet they are dying to get back to normal smaller DAs. But they have figured out a way to restrict democracy even further.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Take me home, West Virginia - How will Red for Ed respond as Extreme Voucher Law passed to decimate Public Ed?

I see some of my colleagues salivating over the state teacher strike in West Virginia. Don't hold you breath here in NY. Maybe when the conditions of teachers ... Ed Notes, 2018 -

March 29, 2021 by Norm Scott

There was much hope here in Mudville about a trigger of militancy in NYC -  but I pointed out teachers in West Virginia were eating pet food - don't forget  - it's the economy, stupid, not the ideology.

[ See Diane Ravitch comment:West Virginia Passes Sweeping Voucher Bill].

One of my fave warriors against ed deform, Jennifer Berkshire with her writing

partner Jack Schneider, authors of Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door were interviewed today with one of my fave podcasters, Sam Seder, on Majority Report - listen to the wide ranging discussion of how ed deform got into the door and where it intends to take us to the end of public ed  - ( But let me focus on just one aspect of the interview.

Jennifer (also check out their podcast - Have you Heard) pointed out that West Virginia legislature passed the most oppressive voucher law you can imagine which fundamentally can kill the entire WV public school system and turn the state into what happened in New Orleans. I've been worried since the pandemic began that this will be an opportunity to tie a noose around public school systems - and watch all the people who are screaming about how important it is for kids to be in school jump ship to virtual learning when it becomes convenient. Jennifer pointed out how fundamentally this is all about saving money and since labor is the major cost of education, de-unionizing and de-skilling teachers is the goal. Since teacher unions are one of the major bulwarks of the Dem Party, I see the threat of killing our unions as greater than the voter suppression movements by Republicans.

The West Virginia story also got mentioned in the libertatian anti-union publication of Mike Antonucci - with maybe a bit of glee with the snarky Remember West Virginia?  But you know I still like Mike's coverage because it takes me out of the bubble and also feeds my own libertarian and cynical streak.

I get the snark since the left made such a major deal about the Red for Ed movement that began in WV and spread to other red states - Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona. The teacher unions in these right to work states are fairly weak and without a grassroots movement spanning left and right, the ability to resist Republican moves to destroy the movement will be weak if there is an resistance.

My thoughts went back to how a red state which gave Trump his biggest per centage victory despite a long pro-labor history had a wildcat teacher strike that closed every school in the state. There are no charters in WV and at the time I thought the powers that be will never allow teachers to wield such power again. And the recent voucher law was retribution.  

The question is what will be the response and if there isn't one does that mean red for ed is wounded or dead?

The West Virginia teacher strike action three years ago (see wiki) and the New Yorker take) led to all kinds of speculation and inspired entire books, even from the Unity caucus resident leftist Leo Casey has a book  - and an interview with Randi - The Teacher Insurgency: A Conversation with Leo Casey and Randi Weingarten. but even more so from groups to the left of Leo - Labor Notes, Jacobin - see links at the bottom.

I covered the strike as did James on the ICE blog and started searching links on Ed Notes and google but there is so much out there I realized why I don't blog so much anymore - providing full context takes work. Do a full seach for West Virginia in the search box on top of the side panel and you will get loads of stuff but here a few quick hits:

West Virginia: Do-It-Yourself Class Struggle - Jacobin. One lesson from the West Virginia teachers' strike is clear: nobody is coming to save us. We'll have to do it ...

West Virginia Mountain mamma, take me home ... - Ed Notes Online

And I wrote: I see some of my colleagues salivating over the state teacher strike in West Virginia. Don't hold you breath here in NY. Maybe when the conditions of teachers ... [fill in the blank  along the lines of SUCK AS BAD.

Given that many teachers in WV were probably Trump supporters, the strike made for some interesting analysis and we did hear that socialists and DSA played a role in the organizing efforts. Also interesting was the role the state and national unions from the AFT and NEA played both in the level of cooperation and cmpetition. I talked to some teachers at the time who told me some school had members of each and they do compete for members. But as usual, they were tailing behind the rank and file - both right and left and center wing in militancy, often urging caution. 

One of the outcomes of the strike was the formation of a statewide rank and file caucus - WV United Caucus - along the lines of other left DSA type caucuses like in Chicago, Los Angelos and MORE in the UFT. (I had intended to write about them when I first heard of them). They seem to have been somewhat quiet and we would expect some reaction to the voucher law.

Mike Antoucci also covered the red for ed strikes from the libertatian-right and here is his take today where he mentions that the caucus didn't win any positions in the state union elections but I imagine those elections are not very democratic. 

Here is his full piece today - with a bit of the usual cynicism.

Remember West Virginia?

We haven’t heard much from West Virginia since teachers there launched the 2018 strike that inspired the #RedforEd movement. It looks as though when the shouting stopped, there wasn’t anything to write about.

Most of the educators who ran for office in 2018 lost, and those that won were mostly incumbents. The group that organized the strike didn’t fare any better in internal union elections. The WV United Caucus has been silent for months.

The press moved on to other pastures, leaving Jayme Metzgar of The Federalist alone to report this:

Last week, with very little noise or fanfare, the West Virginia legislature passed the most expansive Education Savings Account program in America. While ESAs in most states are only open to a small percentage of children, the new West Virginia Hope Scholarship will be available to 90 percent of schoolchildren in the state. Every child currently enrolled in public school is eligible, plus those newly aging in.

“The unions don’t like the bill, but our phones aren’t ringing. We aren’t getting emails. It’s nothing like last time,” said the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

There has been little follow-up to the changes, or lack thereof, in the #RedforEd states. Is no news good news?

 And some links from the left:

Apr 26, 2019 — Review of Red State Revolt, by Eric Blanc (Verso, 2019). There has been a tendency to mythologize West Virginia's nine-day education strike.
Mar 9, 2018 — By: Eric Blanc. West Virginia's historic wildcat strike has the potential to change everything. West Virginia teachers, students, and supporters hold signs on a Morgantown street as they continue their strike on March 2, 2018 in ...
Feb 20, 2019 — By: Eric Blanc. Within hours of going on strike, West Virginia educators defeated a dangerous education privatization bill. They've again ...
May 15, 2019 — In his new book Red State Revolt: The Teachers' Strike Wave and ... writer and former teacher Eric Blanc details the history of these teachers strikes while ... As rank-and-file West Virginia strike leader Emily Comer told Blanc, ...

The DSA's dishonest and self-serving account of the US ... › articles › 2019/08/08 › reds-a08
Aug 8, 2019 — A new book by Democratic Socialists of America member Eric Blanc reviewing the role of the DSA during the teacher strikes in West Virginia, ...

Red State Revolt: The Teachers' Strike Wave and Working ... › Red-State-Revolt-Teachers-Politics
55 Strong: Inside the West Virginia Teachers' Strike by Elizabeth Catte Paperback $19.18 ... “Eric Blanc's compelling new book, Red State Revolt, is a thoroughly ...

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The scams of private equity firms revealed (buried in NYT piece) in article on the Märklin model train company in Germany

The company started producing windup model trains in 1891, and continued to be owned by different branches of the family until 2006, when it was sold to Kingsbridge Capital, an investment firm. But the company was losing money and had to lay off many hundreds of employees, and in 2009 it filed for bankruptcy protection. Then, in 2013, the Simba Dickie group, a privately owned German toymaker, bought the company, trying to salvage what it saw as an important brand.  .....‘A Perfect World’ Around Every Miniature Bend - NYT

The above reveal is buried in this article in the business section of the Monday (March 22, 2021) Times caught my eye with this subheading

The pandemic has helped Märklin, a 162-year-old company that makes model trains, discover a new audience.

So I couldn't resist reading the article and came across the above paragraph - imagine a 162 year old company - actually 147 in 2006 when it was bought taken down in three years. But no surprise as it happens very often and has happened since the Reagan years. [See the 1991 Danny DeVito movie "Other People's Money" where he plays Larry the Liquidator --].

I've been fascinated by trains since I was a kid when I always made my parents sit in the first car so I could look out the front window. I still do  - or did- it until recently when I could even though the way subway cars are designed now with double glass make it weird looking. But how about rising out of the underground as the train gets into Yankee Stadium territory? What a thrill seeing the ball park come into view - at one time you could stand on the station and watch the game. And how about that train system in Europe - I once did a section of the Orient Express. And riding the bullet train in Japan a few years ago was fabulous. 

But I also love model trains since I saw my cousins' set when I was about 7 - yet have never had a set of my own. My good friend recently used his grandkids as an excuse to set one up with all kinds of doodads - he even bought one of those old train engineer hats. And every year I go to the transit store in Grand Central to watch the model trains for the Xmas setup.

But I've strayed from my purpose, which is to point to the lead item about the Märklin company founded in 1859 and run by the family until it was bought by an investment firm in 2006 and it took only three years to drive the company into debt, lay off numbers of people -- read the article and find out how talented the employees were -- and send it into bankruptcy.

The factory building is more than a century old, and touring the facility is a trip back in time: a factory floor with skilled manual laborers toiling over workbenches. Ms. Huta and her colleagues often use a microscope to attach tiny details like bells or handrails. The company employs about 1,170 full-time employees in its two locations in Göppingen and Gyor, Hungary.

This is the outrage of private equity - they buy firms, load them with debt which they use for whatever their needs, lay off and liquidate and send them into bankruptcy and often oblivion - see Sears and Toys R Us. 

There ought to be a law - these firms are evil. Luckily they were bought and save in 2013 by a toymaker, people who know the business rather than the vultures of private equity. Check the full article out with great pix. 

By the way, ultimately I believe charter chains like Success Academy have real estate on their minds as they take over entire public school buildings. 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

New CDC Guidelines to Reopen Schools, Based on Outdated, Cherry-Picked, and Misinterpreted Data, Put Students, Teachers, and Communities at Risk

I haven't been a hard liner on keeping schools closed and am trying to listen to science. If we were still at the original COVID I'd say let's go with the low rates for kids and teacher vax but variants are still a wild card and children seem to be susceptible. But consider the article and comments below including long-term lung scarring from even people with mild cases. Every single person I know who had it even a year ago complains of some shortness of breath or being more tired. I may never leave my house again. 

As usual the UFT and AFT are waffling. Do we think the CDC is suddenly not politicized under Biden who has promised to get schools open and viola, distances shrink from 6 to 3 feet.

Naked Capitalism - 

 New CDC Guidelines to Reopen Schools, Based on Outdated, Cherry-Picked, and Misinterpreted Data, Put Students, Teachers, and Communities at Risk

Yves here. Biden repeatedly promised to “follow the science” in developing Covid policies. But as has become the norm in American medicine, the science has instead been distorted in the interest of profits and political expedience. This post provides a devastating takedown of the Biden plan to reopen schools with little in the way of additional protections for teachers and students, particularly more ventilation (how about the simple expedient of opening windows?). It explains why Covid cases among children have been severely undercounted and where population-wide surveys were made, children were vastly more likely to introduce Covid into a household than adults. It also shreds the CDC’s astonishing assertion that distancing as little as three feet would be OK.

On the one hand, parents and children are suffering due to the lack of in-person instruction. Keeping schools closed is politically risky for Team Dem, particularly since it is seen as a staunch ally of the (formerly) powerful teachers unions. But simply pretending that schools can implement hand-wave level measures and everything will be hunky-dory is the sort of wishful thinking that is guaranteed to produce problems down the road, just like our insufficient test capacity and unwillingness to enforce quarantines and mask mandates. As a result, how much luck do you think schools and teachers will have in getting children to wear masks properly (particularly not take them off if they start to cough and keep them over their noses), and how much support will they have from parents if they try to discipline the non-compliant?

Lambert almost immediately challenged the CDC’s recommendations on schools for ignoring evidence on aerosol-based transmission. He also found evidence that they relied on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report that punted on the question of “indoor air quality of schools” because addressing it might mean spending money! In other words, they refused to consider the issue at all, even low cost mitigations. This article confirms his concerns and adds quite a few others.

Your humble blogger also expressed doubts about Dr. Rochelle Walensky as the new head of the CDC, that she had signed up for Biden Administration priorities (as in she appeared not to have attempted to negotiate the agenda), some of which looked like an impossibly big leap for a weak agency, and others looked unconstitutional. Two particular weaknesses look relevant to this fiasco:

Fighting yesterday’s war

Treating better PR as the solution to way too many problems

There’s much more information in this carefully argued and well documented piece, which I hope you’ll circulate widely. As we’ve been saying from early on, it’s the disease dynamics that are in control. Wanting that not to be true won’t begin to make it so.

By Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Machine Learning, The William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary, University of London; Phillip Alvelda, CEO & Chairman, Brainworks Foundry, Inc.; and Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research, Institute for New Economic Thinking and Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Friday, March 19, 2021

#TheJimmyDoreShow Teachers Union President Caught Screwing Teachers & Public Education

I covered the story of Randi helping Schumer send billions to private schools - Outrage at Randi Grows -- Schumer and a Teachers’ Union Leader Secure Billions for Private Schools, NYT -- Oh, the Optics.

Jimmy Dore is commenting on the same issue, asking why would a teacher union leader do something like this? Jimmy clearly hasn't been following Randi's career.

Are Our health insurance plans a scam to enrich HMOs? New York City Over-Pays for Health Insurance. City Workers Still Get a Bad Deal

Why does the city overpay by $1.2 Billion?  Why shouldn’t the City follow San Francisco’s example concerning our well-heeled non-profit hospitals, and negotiate reduced reimbursement rates in return for the generous property, commercial, and income tax waivers it grants them?

It's time to pay attention to our health care plans. I raise the issue as to why our union and other unions refuse to back Medicare for all/Single payer plans which would put an end to these schemes. I do wonder if the industry has some "partnerships" with the unions.

New York City Over-Pays for Health Insurance. City Workers Still Get a Bad Deal. By Barbara Caress

Who is the biggest buyer of private health insurance in the Big Apple? New York City government: Its insurance plans cover some 1.25 million people – roughly a quarter of privately insured New Yorkers – at an estimated cost of almost $9.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

Despite being such a major health insurance customer, however, the City does a poor job of leveraging its market power for the benefit of its workers. The result: It makes excess payments of almost $1.2 billion a year to insurers.

The principal beneficiaries: two insurers that cover 95 percent of City workers and retirees. They are EmblemHealth, a non-profit providing out-patient coverage, which was created from a 2006 merger of two longtime City employee insurers, HIP and GHI; and Empire Blue Cross, which shed its formerly non-profit status 25 years ago, and which covers hospital care for some one million City workers.

The city’s large non-profit hospital networks also indirectly but handsomely benefit from this system.

There are two elements of health insurance costs: premiums paid to an insurance company; and out-of-pockets costs (such as deductibles and co-pays) paid by participants. The City’s employee health benefits plan costs too much in both respects.

The City currently spends $8.1 billion annually for core medical and hospital care for active and under-65 retired City employees. It also contributes some $1.34 billion a year to provide dental, vision, prescription drug, and other coverage to welfare funds maintained by municipal employee unions (and a similar fund for management employees).

This total of almost $9.5 billion compares very poorly with the cost of other multi-employer health plans covering private sector unionized workers in the city. In fact, the two largest such plans (for members of Locals 1199 and 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union) spend roughly $2,600 per covered employee less than the City does for a comparable basket of benefits. That amounts to an excess annual cost of $1.18 billion in City spending.

Municipal unions have long fought to maintain health benefits that don’t require employee premium contributions – a significant benefit for EmblemHealth and Blue Cross enrollees. However, it comes at the price of higher co-pays and reduced benefits for health plan members. Many City employees face resulting out-of-pocket expenses substantially larger than they’d bear if they were covered by either of the two multi-employer plans mentioned above, or by the roughly comparable Empire Plan covering New York State workers, which requires monthly premium co-pays of $90 for individuals and $190 for families.

The table below, drawn from the “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” Federal law requires every health plan to publish, compares expected 2021 out-of-pocket payments for three common health spending scenarios – having a baby, managing type 2 diabetes, and treatment for a simple fracture – and shows how much more New York City employees wind up paying.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Outrage at Randi Grows -- Schumer and a Teachers’ Union Leader Secure Billions for Private Schools, NYT -- Oh, the Optics

"This one is too much - good old Randi and Chuck" - Email from retired teacher

The pandemic relief bill includes $2.75 billion for private schools. How it got there is an unlikely political tale, involving Orthodox Jewish lobbying, the Senate majority leader and a teachers’ union president... NYT

Last year, Ms. Weingarten led calls to reject orders from Ms. DeVos to force public school districts to increase the amount of federal relief funding they share with private schools, beyond what the law required to help them recover.

Randi talking out of five sides of her mouth? I'm shocked there's gambling.

“We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that wrote letters to Congress protesting the carve-out. “The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?”

Among the Democrats who were displeased with Mr. Schumer’s reversal was Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California,

Randi Weingarten, who leads one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, acknowledged that the federal government had an obligation to help all schools recover from the pandemic. 

Oy vay, Randi. You mean those Orthodox communities with some of the highest COVID numbers in the city?  Let's reward them. 

[I know I will be called antisemitic or a self-hating Jew - one day I will talk about working in a school district where a religious community had enormous control and literally swiped millions of dollars out of the hands of public school kids.]

[And on a day where we heard this: Success Academy Charter School Network Ordered to Pay Over $2.4 Million in a Disability Discrimination Case Brought by Families of Five Former Students]

Imagine how those billions could be used so desperately for public schools! The NEA was upset enough to contact the White House:

Mr. Schumer’s move caught his Democratic colleagues off guard, according to several people familiar with deliberations, and spurred aggressive efforts on the part of advocacy groups to reverse it. 
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a powerful ally of the Biden administration, raised its objections with the White House, according to several people familiar with the organization’s efforts.

Contrast the NEA to Randi misusing her position as AFT President to do self-lobbying, emphasizing how our undemocratic union allows the top level people to abuse their positions without repercussions.

Integral to swaying Democrats to go along, particularly Ms. Pelosi, was Ms. Weingarten, several people said. Ms. Weingarten reiterated to the speaker’s office what she expressed to Mr. Schumer’s when he made his decision: Not only would she not fight the provision, but it was also the right thing to do.

Even the Senator from Microsoft was upset:

Senator Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was said to have been so unhappy that she fought to secure last-minute language that stipulated the money be used for “nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐​income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency.  I’m proud of what the American Rescue Plan will deliver to our students and schools and in this case specifically, I’m glad Democrats better targeted these resources toward students the pandemic has hurt the most,” Ms. Murray said in a statement.

It's an ugly story as Chuck sprung this last minute addition on other Dems and some were pretty pissed off. Do a close reading of this one and you see why Dems have so many problems and our own beloved Randi is right in the middle of it. They pulled a dirty deal that has alienated many even on their so-called side. Remember the history of Randi/AFT/UFT with our unions placed squarely on the side of the non-progressive Dems.

NYT headline: Schumer and a Teachers’ Union Leader Secure Billions for Private

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Jamaal Leads the Charge - Democrats split over Biden plan for academic testing during pandemic - Politico

A group of progressive Democrats is pushing the Biden administration to reverse its decision to require states to hold standardized testing in K-12 schools this year, reflecting a growing divide in the party over how to handle academic assessments during the pandemic.  The effort is being led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), vice chair of the House education committee and a former middle school principal. Before coming to Congress, Bowman was a vocal supporter of the testing opt-out movement in New York. .... Politico 
Rep. Jamaal Bowman wears a protective mask while walking.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is leading a group of Democrats to pressure Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to scrap federal testing requirements for all states this year. | Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The other day I wrote about Jamaal Bowman's connecting charter schools to the anti-labor union attacks. I see Bowman as the most advanced political rep those battling ed deform have had in congress, which makes him a very dangerous man for the educational/industrial complex and corporate Democrats.
I feel the Bowman victory is in some ways will have more impact than AOC.
I had a front row seat to the attacks on public education and teacher unions --- Jamaal Bowman.
Bowman called for a national moratorium on charter schools and pushing back against the overuse of standardized testing which has been used as a weapon to close schools and call teachers and schools failing in order to open up charters.
Bowman makes the connections between the attack on education and the general neo-liberal assault on society that you won't hear in congress very often. This makes him a very dangerous man to the corporate dems now in control...
He is the one person elected ever - even more than Bernie or AOC - who I trust on education. Bowman ran middle school classrooms - which are like mini corporations and then took a leap and started a public school - running a middle school in the Bronx may be more difficult than running the country. So he has executive skills.

One of the things the press doesn't ever mention about Bowman is how he stood up for true ed reform against the DOE goons. He worked under the Bloomberg and DiB admins and very few principals stood against high stakes testing, favored opt out, stood with teachers -- his first supporters came from the NYC ed activists who had been battling the DOE since Bloomberg came into control. With so many issues on the table I still have hope Jamaal will find time to keep some of the core ed issues front and center (word is he is asking to be on the ed committee). ... Bowman stood up to his bosses which is a very heavy lift. There are some thoughts that the Black Caucus which went in for Engel was nervous about having a voice like Bowman win and push his way into the caucus where he might challenge the hot young thing in the Dem Party, major charter school supporter Hakim Jeffries who has taken ed deform positions. I'm looking forward to that.
The UFT did not back the progressive educator in the Bowman/Engel battle who is not in favor of all the ed deform stuff that hit teachers right in the face.  The unions will make some noise about this issue this year but there is no as much heart in it as Bowman has since the UFT has not supported opt out while Bowman has.

 No matter what they say, always watch what they do - fundamentally the AFT/UFT supports testing.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Jamaal Bowman connects charter movement to anti-labor, anti-union privatization - it takes an educator who suffered the negative impact of charters

One of the things that irk me about Democrats from all wings of the party and progressives to the left is how the charter schools are often avoided in so many discussions - I think that is intentional because they don't want to alienate segments of the non-white community who support charters. 

Those of us who have been involved in fighting ed deform over the past 25 years see charters as the point of the spear aimed at privatization of fundamental public services. Anti union, anti labor.

I'm watching a webinar from the Democratic Socialists with Jamaal Bowman, Naomi Klein and SARA NELSON International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. (Call her the anti-Randi of the progressive labor movement). The goal of the webinar is to link green new deal to labor struggles and jobs by urging passage of the PRO-ACT. Dems who won't support the pro labor act are giving in to their corporate sponsors. The PRO Act gives unions tools to overturn the right to work laws in their states.

Bowman spoke eloquently, as usual, and made that charter school connection and how they must be fought to stop that movement. They are an occupying army. Just today see the duplicitous Eva Moskowitz once again whining about space in public school buildings to the pro-charter NY Post which always shades the stories in her favor.

The charter is pushing for the city to either renew the spot at I.S. 238 — which was never put to use due to the pandemic — or find an alternate location before documentation is required by March 12....The DOE countered Friday the existing space is reserved for special needs students.

“Everyone has been aware of this for the past twelve months—we prioritized in-person learning for our most vulnerable D75 students and we cannot and will not leave these families hanging,” said spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon.

Exactly right. Eva knew full well about the arrangement but as usual chooses to make up stories. Her goal is to occupy and take over entire real estate swaths of the NYC school system. It is time for the progressives in the legislature to rewrite the laws charter friendly Cuomo wrote -- stop the paying of rent and giving free space. Success especially has enormous resources. I would still support smaller mom and pop charters.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Fred Smith/Robin Jacobowitz: Why Biden Admin Support for Testing in Pandemic is Wrong

 Fred is back to our pages with a co-authored screed on the increasingly sellout Ed Dept no matter who is installed at the top - below are ed deform snakes.

Appointees at Ed Dept planning strikes at pubed

Here's our reaction to USDE's push to resume testing this spring.  Please feel free to share with your readers and allies.
Robin Jacobowitz is director of education projects at the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz.

Building Back Better?
by Robin Jacobowitz and Fred Smith - March 2, 2021
This week, the United States Department of Education (USDE) sent a letter to chief state school officers directing them to administer state-level standardized testing in 2021. 
This annual testing, waived in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and has had bipartisan support. It encompasses English Language Arts (ELA) and math tests in grades 3 – 8; science in grades 4 and 8; and one test each in ELA, math, and science at the high school level. These tests are now needed, the federal Department of Education rationalizes, to “understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need.” 
We support the search for understanding the impacts the pandemic has had on our students and schools. But we object to the premise that imposing the tests in 2021 will yield any meaningful answers either about its effect on students and teachers or regarding the numerous ways instruction has been organized and delivered this school year. 
We find no justifiable logic in administering these statewide tests to a population of young people already enduring a year of disruption and hardship. As students and teachers struggle through unmatched upheaval, the USDE is choosing to deprive them of precious instructional time and instead subject them to mind-numbing exams whose worth, as we have previously written, was questionable even in good years
These exams are not needed to tell us what we already know: student learning has suffered this year, and even more so for students from disadvantaged and traditionally marginalized backgrounds. In requiring the tests, the USDE is reverting to old habits in a crisis and failing to exert educational leadership. In 2021, testing becomes a ship without an anchor.
Then there are the practical concerns. 
We object to the loss of time and resources that administering the tests will entail. The conduct of mass standardized testing is not a simple endeavor. There is a multi-million dollar price tag that goes to private vendors who are responsible for test development. Even if the 2021 exams incorporate questions developed but not used in 2020, there are the associated costs of test administration — producing the exams (in print or computerized form) and ancillary materials, and providing for their shipment and security. Added to these are the contractual expenditures paid to testing companies for scoring, data processing and reporting services. 
Beyond that is the immeasurable value of the time and effort that students and teachers invest in test preparation and sitting for the exams — and the toll paid in test anxiety during an already extremely stressful school year. 
Moreover, with testing suspended in 2020 at the federal level, what is the proposed baseline against which to measure pupil achievement, class performance, different learning arrangements and various modes of testing?  In “normal” times, these are legitimate areas of investigation for state- and district-wide test populations, as are investigation of subgroup outcomes and comparison of ways in which instruction is delivered. That’s not the case here.
The USDE acknowledges the complexities of the moment and makes a virtue of necessity by allowing states to have some flexibility — granting discretion in “reducing the length of the tests, offering remote administration of the tests, or extending the window for the administration of the tests, including the possibility of administering the test over the summer or in the fall.” 
To contemplate bringing students and teachers to school over the summer for the purpose of taking a test clearly disregards the weight they have shouldered this school year and ignores the serious financial straits many districts currently face. 
The “flexibility” offered by the USDE renders the process confusing and cumbersome, and in effect, un-standardizes the process. Most significant for a testing regime seeking useful information, this flexibility makes the tests unreliable. 
Such concessions place an even greater burden on administrators as they figure out how to give the tests; on teachers who must adjust their lesson plans to accommodate the exams; and on students who are targeted to take them. They beg questions about what we learn from a scrambled exercise in which participating school districts may follow different procedures. 
With New York and other states balking at the prospect of testing this year, maybe we’ll see a re-awakening of the grass roots opt-out movement. We agree that it is important to understand how our students have fared through this pandemic. But forcing the administration of state-level tests is an impediment to that goal, and does not help us reach it. 
We should turn to our teachers for a frontline assessment of where their students are and elicit their thoughts about how we might address deficiencies and inequities going forward. Instead it seems that Washington D.C. is bent on taking the absurdity of testing to another level. President Biden promised that teachers would have a friend in the White House. USDE’s first step, however, signals business as usual. Is this how we “build back better?

In December of 2019, Joe Biden promised that if elected, he would stop standardized testing. Yet the U.S. Department of Education has announced that states must test students in the midst of the pandemic.  That is a wrongheaded policy that puts data first and children last. Write Joe Biden. Tell him to step in and cancel the tests.

1. Pick up the phone and call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414.

Here is a suggested script.

"My name is (name) from (state). I am calling to ask the President to keep his promise about eliminating standardized testing. Forcing schools to administer annual tests undermines the administration's call to support our students' social-emotional and mental health in this time of crisis. The tests must be canceled. Period."

2. Then pick up the phone and call the U.S. Department of Education at this number 800-872-5327. Press 3.

Here is a suggested script. 

"My name is (name) from (state). I strongly opposed Mr. Rosenblum's recent letter that forces schools to administer annual tests this year. All of our schools' efforts must be used to support our students' social-emotional and mental health in this time of crisis.  Test results will be meaningless. Please tell Dr. Cardona that tests must be canceled. Period."

3. Finally, send an email to the White House by clicking here (letter prepared by our friends at NYC Opt Out).