Sunday, January 25, 2015


It's close to the end for public education as we know it in New York State. The corporate money backed, anti-public education Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking to kill off what is left of teacher, parent and student rights with his diabolical agenda for the schools.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew accurately stated that Cuomo wants all things Bloomberg in a year.

The reaction from the UFT and our state union NYSUT to the governor's proposal to annihilate the education landscape has been to say we are at war but will the unions fight on the right battlefield?  So far, we have been waging a political fight for more education funding. Instead, we should be working with parents and students on a strategy to save public education in this state in a way that just might succeed.

Let's summarize the political situation as it stands today:
  • Cuomo wants to kill off public education by doing the following: using student test scores on one exam for half of each teacher's evaluation while most of the other half would be based on a classroom observation from an evaluator from outside our schools (this would neuter principals too), taking over, closing and privatizing more schools, making it easier to open charter schools, giving state money to private schools, raising from three to five years the time it takes for teachers to get tenure, weakening tenure, and imposing merit pay.
  • The State Legislature is in disarray because of Speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest. Since Silver is our closest ally in the Legislature, this may strengthen the governor's hand in bargaining. Relying on the Assembly to save us probably won't work.
  •  The NYSUT and UFT leadership response so far has been to focus on getting more money for districts. The strategy has already backfired as Cuomo responded by linking extra state funding for districts to passage of his anti-public education agenda.
Many would argue we are done and let's just agree to do the best surrender terms we can get. I disagree and so do many activists across the state and the country.

Now is the time to starve the data beast.
There is one way out of this mess that might actually work. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told us at the Caucus of Rank and File Educators Conference in 2013 that in order to stop the testing madness, we must starve the data beast.  Think about that for a second or two. 

We have the power to deny the people at the top the data they need to bludgeon teachers, students and schools with.  Remember, it is up to us to supply the state with the student data. We administer and grade the exams. Our pupils take them. We could make a mockery of the horrific testing system for sure.

  • What if no students took the inappropriate, invalid/unreliable common core state exams?
  • What if teachers refused to administer/grade them? 

Our friend Beth Dimino from Port Jefferson Station is refusing to administer the exams.  And so is Jia Lee, a New York City teacher. *  Dimino famously accused former State Education Commissioner John King of child abuse in 2013 because of Common Core. Is it wrong for all of us to have nothing to do with tests that we consider to be child abuse? It's time for us to turn this movement against high stakes testing into an avalanche against the governor's education agenda.

As a first step, every union local in New York State should be passing the New York State Allies for Public Education resolution to starve the data beast.

Resolution to Support “The I Refuse Movement” to Oppose High Stakes Testing

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely prepare that populace for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the state assessments are not transparent in that–teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that NYSUT opposes standardized high stakes testing that is currently pushed by the Federal and State governments, because this testing is not being used to further instruction for children, to help children, or to support the educational needs of children; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding standardized high stakes testing and its impact on students; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will lobby the NYS Board of Education to eliminate the use of high stakes testing; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will ask that all of its members have their own children refuse to take the Grade 3-8 assessments: and be it further  

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to high stakes testing; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution will be sent to the NY State Board of Education, the Governor of NYS, and all members of the NYS legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that after this resolution is passed by the YOUR LOCAL’S NAME Representative Council, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the AFT July 2015 Convention and to NYSUT for consideration at the 2015 RA.

If this resolution lights a spark and is supported around the state, we may just change the terms of the education debate.

Don't get me wrong, however, passing this resolution will not be enough to stop the Cuomo machine but it certainly would be a great way to change the focus of the education discussion.  We would then need to galvanize our supporters to further starve the data beast.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is calling for an emergency meeting with community allies on Tuesday and then the UFT will be having an emergency Delegate Assembly on Wednesday.  We support these meetings. Is the UFT capable of pivoting from a political fight for more funding to actually mobilizing our membership to do more than just make some phone calls or send some tweets? 

The UFT-NYSUT need to wage a war with the governor on a front where we can emerge victorious. Let's unite to starve the data beast. Don't give Cuomo and the State Education Department the data they need to hang public education with.

*We are not in any way shape or form advocating for individual teachers or groups of teachers to commit acts of insubordination by not administering or scoring exams. We are calling for our unions to lead this fight and find a way for all of us to be legal conscientious objectors.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


MORE-Change the Stakes teacher Jia Lee went to Washington DC yesterday to testify before a US Senate committee discussing reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.  Jia gave powerful testimony in opposition to high stakes testing.

Back in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed finishing off public education as we know it officially yesterday.

Meanwhile, our top ally in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is reportedly going to be arrested today on corruption charges.  This will probably throw Albany into a little disarray. 

A big news day for sure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Today is the day when Governor Andrew Cuomo will release his plan to radically change public education as we know it in New York State to the detriment of students and educators.

The opposition caucus in New York State United Teachers called Stronger Together has responded in advance with a letter to NYSUT's leaders demanding a fight on more than just the school funding issue.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew revealed last week that the union's main goal in Albany would be getting more money for public schools this year. This looks like it is the plan at the state union level too.

Stronger Together urges a wider battle against Cuomo's education plan. Here are some highlights of their letter to NYSUT's leadership:

While NYSUT’s response to date seems to be centered on fighting economic issues, a bully politician is attacking teachers at the core of our professionalism. School funding is critical. For too long, the
Governor has ignored the glaring funding crisis in our most needy rural and urban schools. We are writing to emphasize that protecting our APPR, as it stands now, with a focus on local control, is a concurrent top priority. Clearly the Governor made changing it his top priority, and likewise, its defense must be our top priority.

As local leaders we are dismayed that the Governor’s letter was sent to the Chancellor on December 18th and a month later we have yet to hear a full-throated defense of the evaluations we have negotiated. More importantly, we have yet to hear a full-throated attack of the junk science behind VAM scoring. We have ceded too much ground to education reformers, by turning over our curriculum and judgment to the representatives of hedge fund managers and charlatans hiding behind standardized tests. And lest we forget, where is NYSUT legal on Cuomo’s libelous statements of convicted sex offenders being in the classroom? That kind of juicy headline yet again demonstrates the lack of truth or gravity behind his assertions; the rank and file is not happy that it has not been aggressively addressed

The rank and file can't be lying down here.  It's up to us to save ourselves.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


I expect the Monday morning quarterbacks to start using their perfect 20-20 hindsight to declare defeat for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and their President Patrick Lynch after the recent PBA job action.  By having a slowdown officers achieved no tangible gains. Mayor Bill de Blasio never apologized to them; they still don't have a contract. In addition, they are now a divided union, as Juan Gonzalez reported on Tuesday, with dissidents ready to challenge Lynch for his job. On the surface this looks like a major PBA setback. 

We desperately need some objective pro-labor analysis of what went on and is continuing.  Reading Daily Kos oppose the job action while criticizing Bill O'Reilly's support for it was more irony than anyone could possibly handle.

The PBA's has been without a contract or raises for years. Their pay lags behind what other police officers in the area earn. The PBA contract dispute is in arbitration and I don't see any possible way they will emerge with anything much better than the uniform pattern setting 11% over 6 years and 7 months that their supervisors agreed to in recent settlements. This is a major issue.

After making these points that point to the futility of the police slowdown, I stand by an earlier posting where I stated that the police showed how a union (albeit a very different kind of union) can pull off an illegal job action even in the current political climate and without much public support (see this Quinipiac College poll; see also Lynch's predictable defiant reaction).  The Taylor law penalties for public sector job actions have not been invoked, nor are they likely to be, against the police who refused to do a big part of their job for weeks. Police Commissioner William Bratton agreed on National Public Radio that there was a protest or job action going on. That was a significant admission.

The problem the police had with their slowdown was they didn't have anything specific they were asking for in public except for an apology from the mayor for being disrespectful. Detailed demands could have easily been leaked to the press but they were not. Everyone had to speculate about what the job action was all about.  It looks like it was a mistake not to ask for something concrete as they have done in past disputes with City Hall.  That seems to be one of the main contentions of the PBA dissidents.

I agree with the dissidents on this tactical failure. I think the city will be generous on items such as bullet proof glass for police cars, new bullet proof vests and upgrading precincts. The police look to be in a positive position concerning making gains to their working conditions.  We can be reasonably certain the PBA will not be asked to take givebacks.  Labor militancy, even if the PBA President went way over the top with his rhetoric against Mayor de Blasio, has left the average officer no worse off in the end than when this started.

Looking into the future, if PBA President Lynch survives a challenge and wins reelection, he may continue to pursue a political strategy against the mayor but his hand here appears to be weaker and that is something progressives can be happy about.  While de Blasio has been a disappointment when it comes to those of us who work in the schools, a Mayor Eva Moskowitz would be exponentially worse.

As for my feelings about the police as part of the working class, I again urge everyone to read former TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint's amazing Portside piece on the police and community.  Roger sees police as workers and links our struggles. 

He writes:
In New York, some of the very former governors and mayors who gave the police hell to get raises, insisted on underpaying them, leaving them without contracts for years on end are today, once again, claiming to be their best defenders and crusaders. Why is that? Could it be because, they see an opportunity to use the cops to discourage and put down a movement that could help change America and challenge their rape of the country's wealth? Cops and firefighters should think hard about where their better interest lies and who their true allies are. Tomorrow, the attempt to rob them of their pensions will return to the front burner. And when contract time comes they will be left out in the cold and standing alone. Who should their leaders serve? Their members best interests or those of the rich and powerful?

It's more than irony that both the leader of NY's PBA (Pat Lynch) and Eric Garner grew up as sons of NYC transit workers. Not only was Pat's father a lifelong transit worker but Pat himself worked briefly as a conductor. Eric Garner's mother is a retired train operator, his sister is an active duty bus operator as are cousins who serve as active transit workers (train operator). So not only is it literally true that "That could have been any of us," but the loyalty being exercised by the leadership of the PBA to the interests of the rich and powerful, is misguided and misplaced on this count too.

The best way to stop the continuing downward spiral for working people, including teachers, police, transit workers and many others might be for us to combine the power of many unions into militant action. I made a suggestion to then UFT President Randi Weingarten at the Executive Board in 2005 to form a militant alliance of teachers and transit workers before we gave away so many of our rights that year in a horrible contract.  My friend Sam Lazarus was urging me on.  Needless to say, our idea went nowhere and working people are worse off as time has gone by.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Thanks to Arthur Goldstein's Tweets, we have a report from the January Delegate Assembly, the second DA in a row where I could not make it to the visitor's section because of other commitments.

The scariest part of this DA was a portion of President Michael Mulgrew's report when he discussed our strategy to fend off Governor Andrew Cuomo's full scale attack on the teaching profession and public education.  We are apparently only going to selectively fight back.  Here are a few of Arthur's Tweets covering this section.

Arthur explains our dilemma concisely in this one:

Arthur Goldstein@TeacherArthurG Jan 14
Two things-we have to engage because you know what they're trying to do. Cuomo wants all things Bloomberg in one year.

Here is most of Cuomo's wish list in a summary of his aide's letter to the Regents that Perdido Street School publicized in December along with some more indignities thrown in for good measure:

1. The evaluation system would be based 40% on a common core test or a similar student test score.
2. The 3020a disciplinary process would change so two ineffective ratings means goodbye job.
3. Making it easy to terminate some of the ATR pool in NYC
4. Teacher certification requirements would change
5. Probationary period for teachers goes to five years and then renewable tenure
6. State takeover into receivership of struggling schools and privatization of schools deemed failing.
7. Increase in charter schools, especially in NYC
8. Adding more technology to the system, including online classes
9. Merit pay based on student test scores
10. Reforming the Regents appointment process

Now for the UFT President's response that Arthur tweeted from the DA while listening to the President's Report:

Arthur Goldstein@TeacherArthurG Jan 14
Cuomo wants us to fight eval. so he can contend we don't want it.
Arthur Goldstein @TeacherArthurG  ·  Jan 14
We want to fight on issues we want to fight on. We will not be baited into a fight he thinks he can win....Cuomo doesn't want to fight on improper funding, exploding class sizes. 

Time to sum it all up defenders of public education: The UFT will battle for more public school funding because we can win there but pretty much not battle in other areas because Cuomo might beat us. Concessionary unionism at its finest.

Since there is no attack strategy on our side, it means we will lose but declare victory because Cuomo won't win everything he is asking for. (We should demand an end to common core or to scrap the entire evaluation system and more.) In the end Mulgrew will claim what we really wanted was an increase in funding and since we won that we have victory.  Just forget about what we will lose.  That's compromise folks.

Our preferred methods for this epic battle will be the media and social media including a massive Twitter campaign according to Mulgrew.  We're going to stop Cuomo's diabolical education plan by responding with a million Tweets.  The governor is probably missing some sleep tonight because he is so worried about us.

I would laugh now if I wasn't ready to start crying.
Is this the best our union leadership can come up with as the Governor tries to finish us off? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Another month and another safety incident hits the press in the building where I used to work that now houses four small schools.  At least in the press report they are admitting this time that it was the former Jamaica High School without naming the actual school instead of saying it happened at Jamaica High School.  Last month it was intruders and now it's pepper spray at what most likely was Queens Collegiate as it is the only school of the small schools at the Jamaica Campus that has 11 year old pupils.

Since twelve students were taken to the hospital because of the pepper spray occurrence and the building was evacuated by NYPD and FDNY, where are the calls saying that this is an unsafe campus whose schools need to be shut down or reorganized?

Maybe having one school in the building called Jamaica High School with an excellent team of Deans including Marc Epstein and Miriam Rosenthal working with Assistant Principal for Security Fran Russo was not such a bad way to run the building.  That's how it was done when it was Jamaica High School just a few short years ago.

A few blocks away at Hillcrest High School, a school with a similar student population as Jamaica's campus, there is a fine group of Deans that keeps the school under control.  I know as I worked at Hillcrest as an Absent Teacher Reserve in November and early December.

Perhaps Bill Gates was right (for a change) that breaking up big high schools into smaller ones doesn't actually work. The problem is there is a great deal of collateral damage in terms of lives that have been impacted because of the process.

Monday, January 12, 2015


On a weekend where someone sent out an article telling us how differentiated instruction does not work in the real world, this post is differentiated between the NYPD work slowdown and the reaction from New York State United Teachers to Governor Andrew Cuomo's anti-public education agenda.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton finally had to admit on Friday that police officers in New York City are engaging in a job action. When asked on National Public Radio if there was a police protest or job action under way, Mr. Bratton replied, “There is.”  My source here is the not so pro-union Wall Street Journal

Whether you support the police or not, I personally think former Transit Workers Union President Roger Toussaint's very nuanced analysis hits it on the mark, the reality is there has been a police job action that is costing the city financially as most officers are neglecting a part of their job responsibilities. 

However, there is no call from the right wing press for the penalties of the Taylor Law, which prohibits job actions among public employees in New York State, to be invoked against the cops.  After the police commissioner concedes something is happening and it is being addressed internally, this slowdown should be seen as a precedent by labor in New York State. The hypocritical right wing media is supporting the police protest. Their anti-labor bias is being put on hold for a while. We should file this knowledge away to be used when necessary.

Compare and contrast police tactics and how effective they are to the reaction of the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City and the New York State United Teachers to the true disrespect shown to us by Governor Cuomo who is trying to break what he calls the public school monopoly. Cuomo has recently raised the straw man issue of teacher sex offenders and also the non-problem of the state caring more about teacher pensions than the kids.  The reaction from UFT President Michael Mulgrew has been kind of soft and our state union leader Karen Magee, while starting a little slow, has become more forceful as the title of  her weekly message to members on January 9 is, "Ready for a Fight." 

Are we prepared to fight?

NYSUT is a union with 600,000 members.  I don't expect a call for a statewide slowdown or other job action but what is the membership going to be asked to do? Calling for equitable funding among New York State school districts as some of our allies are doing and sending out some strongly worded letters are nice starts but won't nearly be enough. 

How do we express our outrage over the governor's attempt to destroy our profession?

President Magee's message:

Karen's notes: Ready for a fight

The gloves are off! NYSUT is calling out Gov. Cuomo for reneging on the moratorium bill and for his completely misdirected agenda for the legislative session. On New Year's Eve, NYSUT officers and activists from across the state -- joined by parents, students and community members -- gathered outside the Executive Mansion as Exec VP Andy Pallotta led us in chants protesting Cuomo's recent attacks on public education, pensions and teachers.

This came on the heels of our scathing condemnation of a letter from a Cuomo chief aide to Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch outlining the anti-public ed and anti-union agenda. By the way, if you expected a voice of reason from SED and the Regents, think again. Here is Tisch's 20-page response, agreeing with the governor and, actually, adding fuel to the fire. NYSUT was out front with an immediate response calling the letter from Tisch and King disingenuous and irresponsible. Here are links from The New York Times, the Democrat and Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

The parent-driven Allies for Public Education echoed NYSUT, sending a strong letter to Cuomo, responding in detail to the questions posed in the Dec. 18 letter.
We responded just as forcefully when the governor, out of nowhere, criticized teacher pensions and the legislators who protect them.

Sad to note that in the midst of all this, we all took time to mourn the passing of Gov. Mario Cuomo, an extraordinary figure in the history of our great state. The union proffered sincere condolences to the governor and his family.

But now, it's that time of year when the rhetoric of extremes prompts officials to begin negotiations with outrageous claims and dangerous myths. We will not let posturing, hyperbole and outright lies shape policy. NYSUT is speaking truth to power and we will stand up to the bullies.

They are looking for a fight, and we are going to give them one they'll wish they had not started.