Saturday, August 27, 2016


Our friend Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is asking people to write letters demanding the Department of Education in New York City comply with the law by lowering class sizes. Class sizes were supposed to average 25 in the high schools and fewer in the middle and elementary levels by 2011.

EdNotes picked up on Leonie's criticism of AFT President Randi Weingarten not even mentioning lower class size as a part of the program to improve schools. Norm says the UFT abandoned the lower class size fight forty years ago.

This blog wrote about lower class size last November and at other times over the years. Nothing changes on class size so below we are repeating our piece from 2015.

The ICE-Blog asks readers to write to the city to tell the mayor and chancellor it is time to start complying with the law and lowering class sizes. You might want to send a copy to Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten too. Union leadership has basically abandoned lower class sizes too.


To settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit where parents successfully claimed in the 1990s that NYC schools were chronically underfunded by the state, the Contract for Excellence was agreed to. Class size limits in this 2007 state legislative settlement for NYC were supposed to average 20 for grades K-3, 22 for grades 3-8 and 25 for 9-12 by 2011.  This is the law.

Before the settlement, lower class sizes were also a goal put in the UFT Contract in Article 8L which says in part: "With regard to the long term recommendations of the 2005 Fact Finders made subject to adequate CFE funding, the parties shall establish a Labor Management Committee to discuss the following issues:...d) a program for the reduction of class size in all grades and divisions."  Absurd parts of Article 8L such as school wide merit pay have managed to come and go since then.

Remember lower class sizes for the city were supposed to be achieved by 2011 according to the law. Why haven't class sizes been lowered anywhere near CFE levels?

The fiscal crisis is long since past as the city and state budget surpluses show. Certainly, paying those paltry raises of 10% over 7 years for teachers and other city workers isn't causing the city to go broke. The main reason class size levels are way too high in my opinion is that our not so brave UFT leaders won't do anything more than give lip service to lowering class size. The Union calls it progress when there are only 5,485 classes over the traditional class size limits that range from 32-34 in grades 1-12.  My daughter's grade one class has 28.  This is outrageous.  Kids get very little individual attention in these huge classes.

The reality of life in 21st Century America is that laws are for "little people" like teachers and public school students in the city.  Teachers must be evaluated using ridiculous cookie cutter Danielson rubrics and invalid/unreliable student test scores.  If we object, the law is thrown in our faces by the UFT. Our students must sit in large classes because when it comes to lower class sizes, leaders like Dennis Walcott, Joel Klein and Carmen Farina can just take the law and ignore it.  And what does our union do? Ask us for more COPE money so public schools can continue to be mistreated by the politicians.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


We finally know the dollar amount teachers get to spend for Teacher's Choice this year. It is $148. Save those receipts. You can spend the money between August 1, 2016 and January 15, 2017.

Last year we were entitled to $121. It is funny how the UFT is claiming a 27.5% increase in the program in their article on Teacher's Choice but their text to us says we are receiving 21% more as compared to last year. A comment yesterday pointed this out on this blog.

Are we just that ungrateful?

In October when you remember you will not be getting another dime back from the huge loan we gave to New York City of money other municipal union workers received between 2008 and 2010, just know your union worked so diligently to get you a $27 increase to spend on supplies this year.

We can surely wait another year to get another 12.5% of our money back from the loan we made to our beloved city and be patient until 2020 to be paid back in full with no interest. We can take pride in the fact that the city has so much extra revenue. Maybe they can use some of the money to hire more lawyers to up the number of teachers they fire or fine.

What a system? Please allow me to put the sarcasm aside and wish I had a union fighting for us rather than telling us the city is broke and we are lucky to have a job.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


The Gallup people just made the not so remarkable discovery that we don't measure students properly in schools.

From an article with the title "Bringing Education Back to Its Roots."

We've created a system for stuffing things into students -- facts, figures and content -- but not pulling things out -- their innate potential, the things they want to do and be. We are what we measure, but are we measuring all of the things that we value?

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education and Workforce Development at Gallup, raised this question in his keynote address on June 30 at the Education Commission of the States' 2016 National Forum on Education Policy.

Busteed discussed how we focus on simple metrics -- grades, test scores and graduation rates -- but this doesn't capture the full picture of success. We aren't paying attention to the other things that equate to success; it's not all explained by test scores, but we teach our students and parents that they are all that matter.

His solution, unsurprisingly, is not more testing but project based learning.

For those who want to read how the public feels about education these days, Gallup has a poll.

Some commentary on both of the above pieces can be found here.

As for test scores, ACT results are down. In my limited experience I can say students who do project based learning aren't necessarily the best SAT/ACT test takers as they don't do much test prep. Therefore, I don't see the country going far in the project based learning direction in the near future. However, students who don't concentrate on standardized testing can still do very well in college.

Monday, August 22, 2016


The California State Supreme Court in a close  4-3 decision has let stand an appeals court decision that keeps tenure and seniority rights for teachers in the state.

In the original Vergara case, a trial judge ruled in 2014 that tenure and seniority rights for teachers were a violation of the California State Constitution but on appeal the deicision was overturned by a unanimous 3-0 appeals court judgment this past April. The California Supreme Court refused to hear the case thus keeping tenure and seniority protections for teachers. This was a significant case as the right wing has copy-cat cases in other states including New York.

Tenure and seniority protections have been weakened in New York but I would probably be unemployed if they didn't exist as my school was closed in 2014. I have spent most of the last two years as a provisional teacher.

Teacher unions have now dodged the bullet twice this year with the California courts upholding tenure and seniority along with the Friedrichs US Supreme Court decision where mandatory agency fee payments for non-union members were upheld by a split US Supreme Court in a 4-4 vote. If Justice Scalia didn't die last February, we almost certainly would have lost and we would be in a different world now. 

A ninth Supreme Court justice needs to be appointed and another will more than likely retire soon enough so the presidential election is quite important. Since the judges Donald Trump said he would nominate would more than likely be anti-union and anti-public education, voting against Trump is a no-brainer if ever there was one for public school teachers and parents. 

Like it or not, liberal judges tend to be a bit kinder to us. 

The people who want to destroy us aren't stopping. They have lots of money and will just pop up somewhere else.

"This decision falls short of the binding mandate for change that California voters, students, parents and educators had hoped for, but the issues at the heart of Vergara are not going away - and neither are we, " Students Matter said in a statement.

This quote came from The74, an anti union site.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


One of the most controversial programs Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina have implemented in schools is restorative justice. This is where students who violate the discipline code can talk about what they have done instead of being punished.

For a positive look on the process, see here.  There is an altercation but instead of suspending the kids who fight, they meet to talk about what happened with a trained mediator to try to reach an understanding.

Critics complain this is "touchy-feely alternative punishment."  Not Surprisingly, this quote is from the NY Post. They argue schools are less safe under this approach and cite national statistics to make the case.

What does this have to do with Walmart?

The retail giant with their short staffing business approach has a major crime problem at many of its stores. Walmart is a huge drain on local police resources in numerous communities. Their solution is restorative justice. I am not kidding. This is from Time:

To combat crime and ease the burden on law enforcement, Walmart has begun a novel experiment: deal with shoplifters internally by meting out its own version of law and order through an initiative called "Restorative Justice." The idea is to give some accused shoplifters, such as first-time offenders, the option of completing an online remedial program designed to deter through education, rather than jail time.

The program, which offenders must pay an undisclosed sum to take but doesn't involve the police, employs an approach sometimes found in schools and prisons, which emphasizes rehabilitation and reconciliation between offender and the community. Walmart spokesperson Brian Nick says the initiative is reducing police runs requiring officers to come to Walmart and "hopefully giving people a second chance."

Restorative justice is a favored policy of some on the left while Walmart epitomizes the right. The left and right have actually come together here on an alternative to punishment.

Oh the irony! Is this the ultimate Kumbaya moment?

My opinion for what it's worth is restorative justice can only work in schools if teachers buy in and if kids still know there are real consequences if they misbehave. Once students know restorative justice can be used to play the system and even to blame teachers, it will fail. Forcing restorative justice on schools is a mistake.

As for Walmart, they hate the government except when they use and abuse it. I will leave it to Time again:

There are questions about Walmart's role in the crime at its stores. The company has expanded over the years with a deliberately lean staffing model, potentially leaving the stores vulnerable to shoplifting, says Burt Flickinger, managing director at Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm. The company has historically tried to keep labor costs as low as possible, an approach that goes back to the store's founding, and Flickinger says that has meant relying heavily on local police departments for store security. He estimates that there are 400,000 fewer Walmart workers in the U.S. today compared with 10 years ago, potentially leaving stores even more vulnerable to crime.

Carmen Farina and Walmart certainly have short staffing classrooms and stores in common.

Further down Time reports on the third party that administers the restorative justice at Walmart:

The San Francisco City Attorney is currently suing one of Walmart's third-party vendors responsible for administering restorative justice courses-Corrective Education Company-for overcharging people accused of shoplifting and falsely imprisoning them while they're taking the course. The lawsuit alleges that some retailers take suspected shoplifters "to a secluded area in the back of the store" to show them a video produced by CED. One woman was reportedly asked to pay $500 to take CEC's course after she was accused of stealing items worth $6.97 from a Goodwill Industries store.

Oh well I guess Kumbaya may have to wait a little longer as Walmart is still trying to stick it to shoplifters while the Department of Education uses restorative justice to mistreat staff. Since Walmart certainly agrees with mistreating employees, maybe there is room for some collaboration between the two in this area.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Here at the ICEUFT blog, we have a diverse readership which covers the political spectrum. It still surprises me somewhat that there are conservative teachers who comment here as the right considers public education and teacher unions to be a major adversary and my perspective is obviously pro-union.

In spite of our rank and file political differences, we still need to be unified where we can be because the forces that want to destroy public education and unions are working diligently to privatize the system thereby finishing us off. We have been on defense for years. I truly believe that only by standing together as a militant union in pursuit of common goals can we save our profession. Unfortunately, we are stuck with an unaccountable UFT leadership that controls our union so getting members to support a militant union is an uphill struggle. It still has to be done somehow.

Why is it so necessary? Union power comes from a fully engaged rank and file willing to do what it takes to advance our interests. Leaders without a membership that is willing and able to stand up for ourselves are toothless. Democracy is an essential ingredient in strengthening the unions by empowering members to feel their voice matters. Alternet's Simon Greer and Andy Potter describe it this way:

Inside their unions, working people build a place where the left and the right, the radical and reactionary and the liberal and conservative elements of our society coexist, and out of them a new politics can be born. It is a common good politics that contends we are better together and at our best when family, work and place are at the center of our shared commitments. This comes out of the real-life union experience of deeply held values passed on from generation to generation

It is in unions that a communal spirit wins out over a narrow self-interest. In unions, working people hone a sense of obligation to one another. In unions, working people build a fierce loyalty to a vision of a shared economy that honors and respects them, and where labor is treated with dignity.

This is why unions are public enemy number one to the modern conservative movement. As Corey Robin states in his thoughtful piece on conservatism:

Modern American conservatism, I've long held, has succeeded. It essentially destroyed the labor movement, which was, in conservatism's most recent incarnation in response to the New Deal, its original enemy.

We will not be holding the so called liberal Democrats blameless for union weakness either. This quote from Blue Collar Buzz in Labor Press sums it up nicely:

“Stockholm Syndrome” is the very disturbing psychological phenomenon where victims come to bond with their abusers over time — and according to Andrew Tillett-Saks, an organizer with Unite Here Local 217, it’s a great way to describe Labor’s dysfunctional relationship with Democratic Party elites who continually come up short for American working men and women.

Unions are in trouble but are we done? Let's take as a given that both major political parties are not our friends and the minor parties are not electable. However, bringing the camaraderie back that Greer and Potter talked about is certainly possible as the Verizon strike showed in the private sector earlier this year.

Can union solidarity and militancy be attained at the United Federation of Teachers?

We are a huge local with almost 200,000 members and a leadership that realistically cannot be defeated in an election so has virtually no accountability. The leadership from Unity Caucus requires a loyalty oath from party members to support whatever leadership tells them to support. Unity relies on a top-down system of governance. They keep their members in line by rewarding complete loyalty with union jobs and free trips to conventions. They tell dissenters to leave the caucus. Unity seems more interested in protecting the institution of the union rather than the members they serve.

From reports that come in here, it seems the UFT at the chapter level in most schools is as defeated as Robin says unions are and there is a sense among teachers that there is nothing we can do about contract violations at the school level. Therefore, the UFT is irrelevant to most members unless they want dental forms or something like that. Hiding out until retirement seems to be the best way for teachers to survive in most schools. There certainly are active chapters out there but it seems they are the exception.

Why pay union dues then if it is that hopeless?

That is a question most teachers probably grapple with in New York City and is seen on some of the comments on this blog. Some teachers wanted us to lose the Friedrichs Supreme Court case so they would not have to pay union dues. I was not one of those people as our lame union is better than one that is dead. We survived Friedrichs but we are still too weak to matter much as our defeats on the evaluation systems and the substandard 2014 contract show. We have to rebuild the union from the ground up. We need to reboot at the chapter level, district level and the divisional level (high school, middle school elementary, non-teachers). 

Can the union be repaired so that it can actually mobilize its members under its current structure where the Unity monopoly can't be broken (winning 7 High School Executive Board seats on a 102 seat Executive Board doesn't count)? I have been attempting to work within the system with opposition groups for two decades, including serving for a decade on the UFT Executive Board, and have had only limited success. 

I would certainly appreciate it if readers (left, center, right, apolitical) would help out by telling us how you think the UFT can be mended or what we should do if our union is too bureaucratic to ever be a militant force in the real world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Donald Trump wants school choice, merit pay for teachers, and ending tenure policies that hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers. Oh and he is pushing those charter schools. He says students and parents first. It sounds like Joel Klein.

Let's just repeat bad policy that has not worked and will not succeed.

Any public school teacher who votes for Trump needs more help than this blog could possibly give them. I'm no big Hillary Clinton fan either on education and other issues including foreign policy but at least we have a prayer with Hillary.

See Trump's education remarks for yourself.


The members of the Professional Staff Congress easily voted to ratify their new contract which basically gives them the Mulgrew pattern of around 10% salary increases for 7 years. This piece from Labor Press outlines the terms of the deal and the voting results. The PSC represents teachers at the City University of New York

In terms of beating the pattern, PSC President Barbara Bowen pointed to gains in the workplace:

According to Labor Press:

CUNY will be required to consider all adjuncts who have taught at least two three-credit classes a semester for the last five years for three-year appointments—in which it must pay them or find them alternative work if no teaching spots are available.

Having to "consider" someone for a three year appointment after five years of teaching at least two classes a semester does not seem like a huge gain.

On other issues, Bowen stated:

“We won big structural changes in the workplace.” In addition to the three-year appointments for adjuncts, the contract also gives them fully paid individual health insurance. Professional staff in “non-promotional” positions, such as counselors and financial-aid advisers, will gain opportunities for both pay increases and having their job titles upgraded, the PSC says. And the deal also “includes a binding commitment by management” to reduce the teaching load for full-time faculty by the equivalent of one-three-credit course “by a specific time: the ratification of the next contract.”

The next contract has a reduced teaching load. This sounds good but I wonder if it is cost free as it does not have to be implemented until the next contract is ratified.

The terms don't look that great to this outsider but the PSC members jumped at this deal with 94% of the 13,000 professors voting to ratify and 86% of the adjuncts in the 25,000 member union voting yes.

Those numbers make our 25% no vote by teachers on the UFT contract not look so bad. Then again, I don't see anywhere that  PSC members will have to wait until 2020 to get their retroactive money.