Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Remember the New York State United Teachers election this past spring.  The first promise made in the campaign literature of Revive NYSUT, the victorious but now defunct caucus, was that they were against Common Core.

As NYC Educator reported last week, that pledge has been openly broken by the recently elected NYSUT President Karen Magee. 

Here is part of her floor speech at the AFT Convention taken from Education Week as she rose to support Common Core with minor revisions: "I pose the questions to you today: "If not standards, then what? A free-for-all? Everyone does what they please? No common base? No common method to look at what they're doing?"  She goes on by adding how the implementation was botched but the Common Core is a real opportunity. 

However, in her Revive election literature it says point blank that her slate was "against Common Core." 

Promise made-promise broken.  That didn't take long.

Our friends in the Chicago Teachers Union had an AFT resolution to oppose the Common Core as these are not standards but a way to make money for corporate education privatizers by testing kids and teachers to death.  The UFT dominated AFT defeated this resolution in committee.  Funny how Magee backed the UFT position and abandoned her pledge on Common Core because her literature says, "We are not puppets of the UFT."  Have they disagreed on anything of any substance yet? 

Then again, maybe it's not so funny because she needed the guaranteed bloc of 34% of the votes that come from the UFT to be elected NYSUT President.  Those voters were of course bound by caucus obligation to do as President Mulgrew and the other leaders of Unity Caucus told them to do so they voted for Revive.

They are also bound at the AFT Convention to do as Mulgrew tells them so they make up a huge voting bloc in the national union too and thus supported Common Core.

Revive also claimed they were "against Cuomo."  Anyone think NYSUT will support Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary for governor in September?  I doubt it too.

Revive was against Gates funding too.  Anyone believe they are pushing on that issue?

You get the idea.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


The inane decision by a California judge to say tenure for teachers is unconstitutional in that state has not even been implemented, pending a very winnable appeal, but it has received widespread media attention and now a NY copycat suit. 

However, why not the same coverage for a recent judicial decision in the more conservative state of North Carolina affirming tenure?  This more rational judge would not permit the State Legislature to diminish teacher due process rights, which is all that tenure for K-12 teachers really is.

The NC Legislature last week even dropped a proposal to tie teacher pay raises to voluntarily surrendering tenure.

Check out this editorial from the News and Observer in Raleigh.  The problem throughout the country is not firing teachers, it's teachers leaving on our own. This is the line from Raleigh that caught my eye:

" is irresponsible lawmakers, not incompetent teachers, who must be held more accountable."

Summing it all up perfectly is our friend Arthur Goldstein in the Daily News. Everyone should read his defense of tenure from Wednesday's newspaper to see how it protects good teachers.

See also Norm Scott in the Indypendent.

And thanks to Reality Based Educator, here are two more pieces defending tenure from this past week over at Salon.

Read more here: should read Arthur Goldstein's defense of tenure from Wednesday's Daily News to see how it protects good teachers.the-right.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has basically rejected the findings of two non-binding Presidential Emergency Boards that called for 17% raises over 6 years for Long Island Railroad workers.  This has set the stage for a possible LIRR strike on Sunday

The MTA, it seems, would more than likely accept these terms if the workers would agree to force employees not yet hired (the unborn) to agree to an inferior pension tier as well as higher costs for healthcare.  Most new government employees in NYS have already been forced to settle for diminished retirement benefits (Tier VI).

My guess is the MTA is counting on workers not going on strike to protect yet to be hired union members.  Management probably believes union members will sell out the unborn.  However, if two sets of arbitrators appointed by the President agree to one set of numbers and the union doesn't get that money, then the union has essentially lost so they will rally members over that issue.

As for comparisons with what city teachers just settled for, clearly 17% over 6 years on the table for LIRR workers is substantially better than 18% over 9 years that the UFT agreed to in May. In addition, teachers already have the Tier 6 concession and the evaluation system givebacks so our contract terms are much worse than what arbitrators proposed for the LIRR employees.

I know, I know LIRR workers aren't covered under the Taylor Law that bans most strikes in NYS by government employees.  We would suffer draconian penalties if we engaged in a job action.  All the more reason why we should be fighting strongly to restore our basic human right to strike.

It looks like the LIRR workers will get 17% over 6.5 years but they will have to make healthcare contributions and there is a lower pay scales for the yet to be hired. We will look at the specific details before we give a full analysis

Monday, July 14, 2014


My brother John Eterno and his fellow researcher Eli Silverman are at it again explaining in a Daily News Op-Ed why there should not be an NYPD study on stop and frisk and its relation to shootings. 

Even if there is a 100% correlation between more stops (legal and illegal) and fewer shootings, Eterno and Silverman argue that police must still follow the law.  That is the sound opinion of the authors as police engaging in illegal activities undermines our democracy. 

If you can, please try to get a hold of Eterno and Silverman's book, The Crime Numbers Game.  It's well worth the effort.  You see how government's play with numbers.  Crime statistics are like school test scores: made to dance anyway someone wants them to.


The AFT yesterday passed a resolution supporting Common Core State Standards while the teachers I know basically hate them.  Education Week and Ed Notes have coverage of yesterday's floor debate at the Los Angeles AFT Convention.  The back-and-forth on Common Core ended up being NY v Chicago and the more militant Chicago Teachers Union certainly won the debate in my mind but the UFT had their pro-Common Core resolution carry because of their Unity Caucus discipline.

From Education Week, here is our colleague from Chicago Sarah Chambers summing up why Common Core needs to go:

"These standards are crippling our students' education and their joy of learning.  As a special ed. teacher, I've seen my students transformed from smiling children excited about learning to students who cringe when they're made to read passages several grade levels above their [abilities].  This resolution speaks to the promise of the common core, and this promise is to test, test, and over-test our babies.  Do not fool yourselves: You cannot have the common core without high-stakes testing."

And now for UFT President Michael Mulgrew's view:

"I have heard the stories about how Eli Broad and [Bill] Gates and a flying saucer full of Martians designed these standards. ... Now we have teachers unpacking the common core, and we are seeing the promise. What bothers me more than anything is the idea that the AFT would back down from a fight. Those standards are ours; the tests are ours; we are fighting because they took tests from us, and we're going to take it back from them. It is our profession."

The Chicago response from Michelle Gunderson:

"The common-core standards were not created with teaching and learning in mind. They were created with testing in mind. The College Board got together and decided what their students should look like, not our students."

You get the idea.  Just like at the Delegate Assembly in NYC, the UFT (easily the largest local in the AFT), with their huge loyalty oath signing Unity Caucus bloc of votes), has enough influence to ram anything through so our national union remains supportive of Common Core while those of us who teach are again left wondering why we pay union dues.

Karen Lewis, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union, questions the thinking of AFT leadership:

Karen Lewis @KarenLewisCTU
"I can't believe we would agree to CC$$ because we're worried about bad press. When we present our reasoned arguments, we win."

I think most of us would agree that New Action's Jonathan Halabi, a press observer in LA, sums up the debate on Common Core very well when he says, "Debate is turning into UFT vs CTU.  Embarrassed that my local (UFT) is so wrong." 

Does this mean Jonathan and New Action won't be supporting Mulgrew's reelection in 2016?

In other AFT convention news, new United Teachers of Los Angeles teachers (UTLA) President Alex Caputo Pearl spoke about a possible teachers' strike out in LA.   He stated: “It’s a unionism that is willing to strike. It’s a unionism that is willing to build to a strike and strike if that’s what we need to do.”  I understand Mulgrew was on the same panel when Alex spoke.  It must have been interesting to hear the contrast in approaches as Chicago's Karen Lewis was also on that panel.

The AFT also passed a watered down Secretary of Education Arne Duncan improvement plan.  The other large national union of teachers, the National Education Association, recently called for Duncan's resignation.

Overall, we have appeasement (so what else is new?) from the AFT led by Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew but there are some militant pockets that have emerged in Chicago, LA and other places. 

As for Common Core, we'll let education historian Diane Ravitch have the last word.  This is taken from her blog:

No matter how many resolutions are passed at this or any other convention, the Common Core standards are going nowhere. State after state is dropping them or the federal tests or both. The standards ignore the root causes of low academic achievement: poverty and segregation. There is no proof that they will fulfill their lofty goals. They will end up one day as a case study in college courses of the abuse of power: how one man tried to buy American education and bypass democratic procedures. Even in states with high standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are large achievement gaps. Even in the same classrooms with the same teacher, there are variations in test scores.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Norm Scott's ceaseless coverage at Ed Notes of the AFT Convention in Los Angeles should not be missed.

Hearing about AFT President Randi Weingarten talk out of all sides of her mouth that she favors democracy on whether or not the AFT should support a Chicago Teachers Union resolution opposing Common Core, while behind the scenes the UFT Unity Caucus leaders from NYC are making sure to take control of even a committee debate on the issue, is nothing new for anybody who has been to a UFT Delegate Assembly meeting.

Even the normally pro-Randi Diane Ravitch is siding with CTU while acknowledging that Randi has the NYC votes locked up to block anything in the national union.  If the Unity people from NYC want to go to another convention paid for at member expense or see a union job, they will do what they are told and will not oppose Common Core.

If one really wants to see what the AFT leadership is really about, just watch the video linked here

They are up to their necks in corporate school reform and asking them to reject Gates money, as some California Delegates are doing, seems kind of na├»ve . 

The rank and file needs to step up.

Norm we all owe you for your efforts.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


Jamaica High School and Columbus High School may not have been saved but our endings sure have been recognized. Our two schools have a great deal in common.

There is a straight news article that appears in Times Ledger in Queens with full coverage of Jamaica's final graduation.


This video mostly of Jamaica's historic building was produced by physical education teacher Mitch Abramowitz.

Also, there is an enlightening piece in Education Week Teacher by Ilana Garan, a teacher who worked at Columbus and was picked up by one of the new schools in the building.  Ms Garon shows the absolute uselessness of closing schools.

I will move onto something else but it is very hard to get the injustice of what happened to our two schools and many others out of my system.

Sunday, July 06, 2014


George Vescey is one of the distinguished graduates of Jamaica High School.  Vescey is a legendary NY Times sports columnist who also writes a blog.  Last week he gave space on his blog to Jamaica Class of 1994 graduate Kathy Forrestal to write about the last graduation

Comments have been pouring in from the alumni spanning several generations.  Vescey takes the time to respond to virtually all of them and some of the replies are quite intriguing including responses to the two comments printed below where Vescey describes so called "school reform" in some of the harshest terms I have ever seen.  I don't think Vescey is trivializing what Pol Pot did in Cambodia when in power in the 1970s by comparing American school closing policy to some of his goals. 

We have seen in history that attempts to wipe out the past don't succeed and school closings are definitely an attempt eviscerate history and start at the year zero.  Veteran teachers even get sent for re-education (the Absent Teacher Reserve pool) when schools are closed.  Most of their rights and dignity are taken away or they are just terminated (Chicago, DC model).  Students have to travel all over the city to find new schools.

The brutality of school closing is nothing compared to what was done in Cambodia in the 1970s, or during the French Revolution Reign of Terror, or the Cultural Revolution in China but on a very small scale, school reform follows these models of trying to do away with history.

Wally Schwartz
07/03/2014 10:06pm
Who killed Jamaica High? Who killed the Brooklyn Dodgers? The simple answers: Michael Bloomberg; Walter O'Malley.

 I can't say I never liked either Michael Bloomberg or Walter O'Malley. Some of the things each of them did, I liked, a lot. But for just one thing each one did, and we all know what that is, I came to hate them, a lot. 57 years ago, the Brooklyn Dodgers, after a long good run, left Brooklyn, and for that one thing, I, like many others, came to hate Walter O'Malley. Years later, I thought more about it and then I read Michael Shapiro's The Last Good Season, and I came to appreciate that maybe O'Malley wasn't the real or the only villain in the story: the people who stopped supporting the Brooklyn Dodgers were villains, too. Granted, Brooklyn's neighborhoods changed, but the old Brooklynites ran away to build new homes in the suburbs, watched the games on TV, stopped coming to the old ballpark and stopped purchasing the product. It's the same with a television show where after a while the fans stop watching the soap opera or buying the soapsuds. And there are often many reasons why that happens, some obvious, others more subtle.

 With our beloved Jamaica High--and I can say with pride that no boy or girl, woman or man, loved Jamaica High more than you or I did--there were many reasons why the old institution went out of business. We didn't need to prove our devotion or dedication, to ourselves or anyone else, but some of us came back often and again over the years, to speak with students, watch basketball games, present awards, meet with principals, plan or attend reunions in the gym, visit teachers or coaches, give out money we collected, attend meetings aimed at saving Jamaica High, or just to drive by, ponder and appreciate what our alma mater did to improve our lives and those of so many thousands of others like or unlike ourselves. We didn't only think or care about the 8:40 to 3:20 PM students who went to class with us from September to June. Beginning back in the late 19th century, about the same time the Brooklyn Dodgers were created, thousands, including your mother and my sister, traveled from one end of Queens or the other by railroad, subway, bus or foot to attend day, evening or summer session at Jamaica. Then, in 1955, the year before we graduated, Van Buren High arose. Next came Hillcrest, the new Edison down the block, Cardozo and Francis Lewis, and too many of the people from Jamaica Estates and other surrounding neighborhoods stopped buying the product and stopped supporting the school or sending their kids to Jamaica High. That was their business, and they each had their reasons, but it was once their school as well as ours.

And, like the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were born about the same time but closed their doors more than half a century earlier, Jamaica High, too, has ceased to operate, although, unlike Ebbets Field, its portals, magnificent edifice and campus will remain open to educate present and future generations. We grieve together with all those who also grieve for the closing of Jamaica High, but how many who pine today cared enough to attend a rally, sign a petition, write a column, make a donation to the union, call an activist, encourage a teacher, hold up a sign or send a kid to Jamaica? They might say it wouldn't have made a difference, and maybe it wouldn't have. But maybe, just maybe, it would have.
George Vecsey
07/04/2014 8:35am

Chief, Jamaica was up against a trend. "They" can do it better by eliminating the past. That's what Pol Pot said, too.
You did what you could. GV
Thor A. Larsen 
07/04/2014 3:04pm
As a classmate with George and Wally among 650+ graduates in 1956, I found that when I went on to Queens College and Columbia University, the foundation I had received at Jamaica High was either equivalent or superior to any of my college classmates. When my children went to high school upstate, I realized again, that the high school education I received at Jamaica High was vastly superior. But, Jamaica High School was much more than a ‘knowledge factory’. The commitment of most of the teachers to the success of their students was very evident. The bonding of classmates remained after leaving Jamaica High School as evident today as some of us have remained connected for many years and still meet once a year. Jamaica High was NOT a ‘knowledge factory’ but a close, supportive community of learning and maturing. From relatively recent reporting by George, it was clear Jamaica High was remained a superior high school. The blame for the destruction of this fine institution lies squarely with incompetent senior school administrators and city officials who simply do not understand how schools can and should educate their youth.
George Vecsey
07/04/2014 3:26pm

Thor, I would add that my experience was mostly visiting honors classes and seeing the world through the eyes of kids headed toward Syracuse, Hunter, Boston Univ., Haverford, city schools and the military...motivated kids from all over the world. I can't speak for all the classes, and clearly there were issues outside. But to arbitrarily send kids scrambling all over the city to find other schools sounds insane. Pol Pot or Mao Tse Tung, turning people out into the countryside. GV

Vescey does not wish the new schools anything but the best as he makes clear in this reply.
George Vecsey
07/05/2014 9:13am

I just want to add that I make no judgments about the educators and systems in the four mini schools in four corners of the great Jamaica building. They may indeed work for young people, and I hope they do. But the city destroyed a piece of history, because of its own failure. I wish only the best for the schools within those walls. GV

Also, we have more local press as the Queens Chronicle has a story on Jamaica's final graduation.

Jamaica salutatorian Sarah Kissoon is quoted in a Chalkbeat piece that is mainly about Columbus High School's final graduation.