Friday, October 18, 2019


The more I read about the Chicago Teachers Union strike, the more respect I have for the teachers out there and their union leaders. They are striking over class size and staffing levels as much as raises. Salary and benefits are all that they are legally allowed to strike over but I don't hear calls for injunctions over what could be construed as an illegal strike.

The public looks like they have the backs of the teachers. I have done some more research and it is clear to me that Chicago teachers are not bad off financially but they can't be bought off with an offer of a decent raise. This is encouraging but as teacher militancy is now a national movement, we have to wonder why there is zero, absolutely zero militancy in NYC even though we have plenty of reasons to fight for a better deal. Let's do a little comparing.

Right now according to Chalkbeat, Chicago teachers start out at a little over $56,000 a year and max out at $108,242 per year after only 14 years (NYC teachers do not get to maximum until after completing 22 years). Factor in the cost of living which is 42% lower in Chicago compared to NYC and Chicago public school teachers earn a decent living. Add to this that the city is offering the teachers 16% salary increases over five years. The starting salary, if they just say yes, will be $64,960 a year in Chicago by 2024. That would be higher than the $61,070 starting pay New York City teachers will earn when the current contract ends in 2022. We would need two years at 6% total in NYC to catch up with their starting salary. The last time the UFT achieved two consecutive annual 3% increases was a while ago. The Chicago teacher maximum salary would rise to $125,561 if the union accepts the city's offer. Remember, top salary only requires 14 years of service to reach. After 14 year in NYC, a teacher with a Masters +30 credits will make $104,145 in 2022. Strike or no strike, Chicago will really not need the lower cost of living to beat NYC at almost all of the levels.

Any way you slice it, Chicago teachers, where teachers insist on a militant union, are doing better in terms of salary than the passive NYC teachers and our "do little" union.

Let's now look at the class size issue, a major focus of the CTU strike. When we examine contractual class size limits, Chicago before the strike doesn't look bad compared to NYC. In NYC, the contract says 25 maximum in kindergarten, 32 in elementary schools, 33 in middle schools and 34 in high schools except required music and phys ed which are permitted to go to a maximum of 50. There are of course exceptions to these ridiculously high limits that are easy to use and if the Department of Education routinely violates the limits, the remedy is determined by arbitrators. Resolutions have included one less professional period for the teacher with an oversize class. I have no idea how that helps kids.

For Chicago, this class size information comes from Patch:
Chicago's class size cap is 28 students in kindergarten through fifth grades, and 31 students in middle and high school. If a K-2 class has 32 or more students, the district must provide an additional teacher assistant, a demand won in the last contract. A joint district-union panel reviews classes exceeding the caps and seeks ways to mitigate the crowding.

Except for kindergarten, their limits are lower than NYC and Chicago teachers are striking over these caps and other staffing issues (more librarians, social workers, nurses). They want it in writing in the contract. They are demanding lower class size maximums and strict enforcement. Wow! Watch Jennifer Johnson if you have Facebook. 

I am not stating any of this to say that the CTU should be happy with what they are being offered so they should take the money and run. No, their union is doing right by their membership and their students. The rank and file is out on the picket lines and the streets rallying. I support them 100%. They will have better salaries, teaching conditions and learning conditions when this ends. I also hope they get a provision so if the district retaliates against them for striking by closing schools, they cannot fire the displaced teachers. 

What about the teachers here in NYC? We complain anonymously on social media about how terrible conditions are and some foolish individuals are dropping their union altogether so they can save union dues. Judging by what I am seeing out of Chicago and around the rest of the nation, we would be doing much better if we demanded a better union, not an end to the union.

Chicago average teacher salaries compared to other big cities from CBS Chicago. Notice the media spin against the teachers. I think their NYC figures are a little out of date but our salary schedule moves up very slowly so averages are low.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Yesterday there were meetings of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates and the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly. There are detailed accounts of both meetings on the internet. In Chicago, they voted unanimously to go on strike today even while they are being offered 16% salary increases over 5 years.

In NYC, the UFT Delegates voted to support the CTU strike and the UAW strike against General Motors where there is a tentative agreement. (Update Friday: The UAW strike will continue until ratification vote.) The UFT also welcomed three City Council members as guests: Mark Treyger, Danny Dromm and Speaker Corey Johnson. President Michael Mulgrew said this according to the minutes from Arthur Goldstein after Speaker Johnson spoke:

Mulgrew—We have a lot of enemies looking to destroy our system. They say if NYC comes down entire country will fall. DeVos wants vouchers. We’re doing better than ever on achievement and dropout rates. Never hear enough. With city admin on way out, how do we move forward? NYC is under corrective action, can be used against us. What do you think we should be doing this year to move forward? How do we motivate DOE to stop power games and stupidity?

I have an answer: Have a militant union whose members, more so than their leaders, are demanding action.

Councilman Mark Treyger, a former NYC teacher and UFT Delegate, followed Mulgrew. I thought he made this very interesting point.

From Arthur's minutes of Treyger's remarks:
Special ed. is non-negotiable. Dealing with mandates. We need someone in DOE who knows rules. Their own person came to my hearing. I ask questions. Have DOK knowledge chart. Asked how many IEPs they have translated. They didn’t even know there was federal requirement. Let’s start with people who know what they’re doing. Let’s empower people who know more than them.

Well yeah, is the UFT going to demand or even promote and stand up for teacher empowerment?

On class size the UFT is claiming victory. From Mulgrew's report via Arthur's minutes:
We asked you to engage. At this time last year 400 schools 2K classes. Day ten this year 350 schools 1500 classes. At next level, we bet superintendents wouldn’t want this going above them. Were able to make it major issue. Ten days went from 350 to 105. We used to have this going on for seven months. Today only 87 schools with oversized classes. Lowest number of oversized classes in October in history of UFT. Will get rest done by Thanksgiving.

I recall when the UFT went to direct arbitration after the first ten school days as part of the 2002 contract. It was touted as a great victory to take the Superintendent and Chancellor out of the class size grievance process. Now, putting them back into the process is another big gain. While I applaud fewer oversize classes because they are resolved before they get to arbitration, the UFT allowed the DOE to make a mockery out of the class size grievance process. Also, what happens if there is again leadership at Tweed or City Hall that doesn't care about oversize classes? Putting the Superintendents in the process won't mean anything then. The long term solution is to force the DOE to follow state law on lower class size (I don't know why the UFT did't join the parent lawsuit on this issue.) or to make it a contract demand to lower class size or at least to close the loopholes that the DOE can drive a truck through. We haven't put lower class size numbers in the contract in about fifty years.

In Chicago, they are striking today over the class size issue as well as staffing of other positions such as librarians and nurses. 

Here are some of what the Delegates at their House of Delegates meeting stated yesterday as reported on by George Milkowski in Substance News:
At this point he (CTU President Jesse Sharkey) started to go through an 8 page summary of the CPS proposals and CPS responses, if any. He said delegates may ask questions with a five minute time limit on each page. No one asked questions. Everyone but one delegate who went to the mic had some strong comments, among them were:

Sue Sebesta – We cannot agree to a five year contract.

Alix Gonzalez – We need to expand sustainable community schools.

Tom Lalagos – He serves on the class size panel and will resign if class sizes are not reduced. He doesn’t want to be part of a sham. One delegate stressed that veteran teachers are at the top of the pay scale in 14 years and hence have not had a raise. She said we need more steps. The Ravenswood School delegate said that elementary prep time has to be gained. Without it, it is a deal-breaker. Frank McDonald said that if we have to still deal with REACH (evaluation system), then we need a 5% raise per year as compensation

Regarding REACH, the Fulton School delegate said teachers are required to provide documentation as part of their evaluation but the evaluators are NOT required to read any of it. Our proposals are that the evaluators be required to read it but CPS responded that the evaluators would not have time to read all that material.

Delegate Oscar Ortiz asked about how are teachers to deal with kids who are incorrigible. Jesse said that this comes down to proper staffing in the schools. CPS proposes to increase the number or nurses, social workers, or clinicians by 20%, but that a school would only get one new person of those possible positions. It would be up to the principal to decide on which type of position to fill.

At this point a motion passed to move the agenda and the House voted unanimously to start the strike tomorrow.

From this morning's CBS local news in Chicago:
Chicago teachers went on strike on Thursday after failing to reach a contract deal with the nation's third-largest school district.

Both sides have been negotiating for months over salaries, class sizes and the number of support staff in schools, such as librarians and nurses. Teachers began picketing in front of schools Thursday morning, calling for the district and city to give in to their demands.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


This was sent to me by a reader. It is from the Chief Leader.

The City Council is weighing a package of bills that would create a city agency to help senior citizens find jobs and require the city to investigate age discrimination in the workplace.

“We’re tired of being swept under the rug,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin at an Oct. 8 City Hall rally. “Age discrimination creates a toxic workplace culture that results in job loss, financial strain and perpetuates the myth that when you hit a certain age, you are no longer valued in the economy.”

60% Report Bias

More than 60 percent of workers across the country 45 or older reported experiencing or witnessing age discrimination on the job, according to an AARP survey. A report by the Urban Institute and ProPublica using data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study found that 56 percent of respondents 50 or older said that they were pushed out of a longtime job. Just 1 in 10 were able to find another job paying the same salary.

I am fairly certain that most of the Absent Teacher Reserves who are over 45 and many other workers beyond 45 working in or pushed out of the New York City school system would say they are experiencing or have experienced age discrimination.

Fair Student Funding where schools have to pay more on their budget to have a senior staff and closing or redesigning schools to get rid of senior teachers are examples of age discrimination. It would be helpful if we have more recourse to fight this type of discrimination based on age.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


The New York City Independent Budget Office on October 11, 2019 released its latest public school indicators report. Thanks to Harry Lirtzman for sending it out to me. The statistics are somewhat revealing. I focused on the sections on teachers and principals which mostly cover the decade from 2005 to 2015 so we can see the impact of the Klein-Bloomberg years. The data shows that NYC teachers are much more likely to leave the system than principals. Principals, as we all suspected, have excellent job retention rates.

Let's first examine the teacher retention numbers. The overall turnover back in 2000-2001 was 79% of new teachers survived year one and came back, while after five years only 52% stayed in the system and after ten years it was just 44%.

The 2002, 2005, and 2006 contracts with all of their givebacks, which basically destroyed the job for many veteran teachers, did help with teacher retention as major salary increases were included in all three contracts. (I know, I know that much of the increases were time for money swaps but hey it was still more money.) Here are the retention numbers for teachers hired in 2004-05. 86% were still in the system after a year while 56% made it for five years and 47% lasted a decade. The difference in teachers lasting a decade from 44% to 47% isn't that great but the needle moved.

The numbers for 2013-14 reveal that 60% stayed up to five years.  We have to concede more teachers were staying in the system in 2014 compared to 2001 when teachers maxed out at $70,000 a year.

I guess that those hired at the height of the Great Recession were more likely not to have great job prospects outside of teaching. We have yet to see current five year retention statistics to see how the inferior Tier VI pension system, the stronger economy, the extra year to achieve tenure or the new evaluation system have impacted on teacher retention.

We also learn from the IBO that 60% of teachers in 2014 who went through traditional teacher training programs stayed in their original school after four years but only 41% of Teaching Fellows and a very tiny 24% of Teach for America teachers were still in their original school after four years.  Teach for America teachers truly are mostly temps.

Now we go to the retention statistics for NYC principals. In 2008-2009, at the height of the Klein-Bloomberg principal empowerment years, 100% of principals were still in the system a year after their first assignment. That figure held pretty steady as 99% stayed  over a year by 2013-14. The five year retention rate for the 2009-2010 cohort was 82%.  That is a pretty healthy retention rate.

The IBO report also shows that the number of general ed teachers in NYC went down from 2007 (62,867) to 2015 (54,008) while special education doubled from around 11,000 to 22,000 during roughly the same time period. This is somewhat surprising as it seems special education services were denied or withdrawn much more compared to the pre-Joel Klein years. The overall number of teachers peaked at 78,862 in 2008-09. It dropped steadily but recovered a little after Bloomberg left office. The latest year covered by this report is 2014-15 where there were 75,040 teachers. My guess is the proliferation of charter schools is the cause of the decline.

On the other hand, nobody will be astonished to learn that the number of principals rose from 1,443 in 2005 to 1,726 in 2015 and that principals in 2015 had less teaching experience than in 2005. More small schools means lots more principal jobs.

For anyone who wants to use this data to argue that the unions are not doing their jobs, maybe you should look at the Council of Supervisors and Administrators as a more successful union than the UFT. It pains me to type that.

Friday, October 11, 2019


This is from Yahoo News:

Once upon a time, Americans graduated from high school or college and entered the workforce, typically working for the same employer for a very long time. These jobs offered more than just a reliable paycheck -- they also promised retirement income for life, thanks to company-funded pensions.

In the heyday of pensions in 1980, roughly 38% of workers had one. And though pensions remain relatively common in the public sector (government jobs), pensions have largely disappeared in the private sector. Their return appears unlikely.

Only 18% of private-sector workers had access to a pension in 2017, and just 15% participated in one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over time, the number of private-sector workers who have access to a pension is largely expected to trend toward zero.

This is from CBS from Tuesday, October 8:
General Electric announced it will freeze the pensions of 20,000 U.S. salaried workers, a measure designed to reduce its pension deficit and trim debt. The move will shave GE's pension deficit by as much as $8 billion and its net debt by as much as $6 billion.

Further down:
Like other corporations, GE has been phasing out its pension amid a push toward self-directed retirement plans such as 401(k)s. GE said it hasn't allowed new workers into its pension plan since 2012.

Please look at the reduction in TDA interest from 8.25 percent to 7 percent for NYC teachers and the passage of Tier VI for NYS government employees in 2012 in the context of this anti-worker world we live in.

If the business leaders finish off defined benefits pensions in the private sector, do you think the powers that be will stop? They will come after our pensions in the public sector. Anonymous comments blaming the UFT leadership for everything and dropping your union dues will not help.

Please recall that unions, including ours, led the highly successful campaign in 2017 against the Constitutional Convention which could have put our pensions in jeopardy. Protecting defined benefit pensions is important.

Tier VI is terrible compared to tiers I to V but it is better than nothing. To get actual improvements for the Tier VI teachers, we have to fight collectively as a much stronger union. If we do not, we will not make gains and eventually we could lose our defined benefits pension like they have in the private sector.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


This is from Chalkbeat:
Fewer states are using student test scores to evaluate teachers, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality. As of this year, 34 states require scores to be used in teacher evaluations, down from a high of 43 in 2015.

The decline illustrates the continued retreat of an idea that took education policy by storm during the first half of the decade, but proved divisive and difficult to implement.

Does evaluating teachers based on student test scores work?
A study of a Gates Foundation-funded project showed that tougher evaluations failed to yield any clear benefits in a number of states.

These terrible education ideas just won't go away. A big cause of this is our UFT continuing to support teacher evaluations based on student scores on assessments. We have to change this. Dropping union dues won't do that. Becoming an activist just might.

Our petition to completely overhaul the teacher evaluation system needs to take off again. Tell five or more teachers or friends. Spread the word beyond this inner circle.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


When there is difficulty with students who don't succeed in elementary and secondary schools, often despite heroic efforts from teachers and other professionals, many schools are closed or redesigned and educators are forced out. We are the scapegoats of school reform. We are easy targets.

Students have a right to an education but in the 21st Century, that right has been expanded in certain schools so it seems now there is almost a right to a high school diploma. If too many students fail, even if they do no work or don't show up, teachers are held accountable.

Whether the kids themselves, their parents, the school system, politicians, philanthropists, poverty or institutionalized racism are the true culprits is not my central focus in this piece. I clearly don't believe the vast majority of teachers are responsible for students not ending up ready for college of adult life.  Teachers have been exposing the grade fraud in many schools with the help of NY Post reporter Sue Edelman.

What is clear is way too many students receiving a grade inflated New York City High School Diploma are unprepared for university study. Please don't tell me to look at the college or career ready statistics. Instead, look at how many pupils receive a college degree.

Let's go to the numbers from the City University of New York, where many of our high school graduates in NYC attend college, to see what the on time graduation rates are.

First, the community colleges:
As of the fall of 2018, 9% of students who entered CUNY two year colleges in 2016 had earned their Associates Degree. That's 9% who earned a two year degree in two years. Go to the link above to verify.

How about the four year CUNY colleges?
Of the cohort entering as freshmen in 2014, by 2018 26.7% had earned a four year Bachelor's Degree in four years.

I am not criticizing the colleges or CUNY as an institution for not graduating more students on time. Many of the high school graduates who are entering CUNY, mostly from New York high schools, are not ready for college. Obviously, there are still standards at the City University as students are not pushed through. College degrees still mean something.

Despite these statistics, there is no call to privatize CUNY or turn the colleges into charter schools. I don't think they are retraining all of the professors either or threatening to redesign the low performing colleges by replacing the professors and making them Absent Professor Reserves at other colleges.

I am not advocating for high school to be like college but we do need reasonable standards (for example, we used to have a 90% attendance requirement) and if students don't meet them, look beyond blaming teachers and schools to see what we can reasonably to to change things.