Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The Buffalo Federation of Teachers earlier this month endorsed Zephyr Teachout for governor in the Democratic Primary against the ethically challenged Andrew Cuomo. 

Cuomo is turning into just another politician who is fodder for late night TV comic Jon Stewart.

As for our state union NYSUT, when is the NYSUT revival coming?  I thought Karen Magee's Revive NYSUT campaign literature said they were "Against Cuomo."

Embedded image permalink 

Magee has been in power since April as NYSUT President.  This is the leaflet featuring her slate's campaign promises.  It would be nice if they kept a few of the major ones.

Monday, July 28, 2014


I am no fan of the Wall Street Journal.  However, today's article with NYC teacher tenure trial statistics is somewhat interesting reading because there are some actual, although incomplete, figures presented. 

Looking inside the numbers, it is clear that teachers who choose to go to a hearing, rather than settle beforehand, usually receive a fine. That seems to fit in with anecdotal information we have heard over the years.

However, the Journal does not put in their big chart (copied below) and barely mentions that out of 826 cases filed by the Department of Education, "Hundreds of cases settled, often with teachers agreeing to resign or retire, and hundreds haven't been resolved."  Their chart shows only 261 decisions out of 496 resolved hearings. That leaves 235 which they agree are often resignations or retirements.  Add say 150 resignations or retirements to the forty terminations and their chart would look completely different. See how statistics can be played with.

The Journal is obviously trying to lowball the numbers on how many teachers are no longer working in the system so they can prove how hard it is to terminate a tenured teacher.  This shows their anti teacher prejudice. If someone resigns or is forced to retire, they are no longer teaching in the system.  I gather that in private business many employees are urged to resign or retire rather than be fired but showing these statistics for teachers would not fit in with the Journal's preconceived notion that the Department of Education can't get rid of us.

They also neglect to note how many teachers are completely exonerated in the 3020a process. That number from what we have been told is so small that to print it would make the union look weak and that would also not coincide with the right wing myth on how strong the union is.

Remember all of these cases were heard under the old evaluation system.  Under the new evaluation system's weakened due process provision that will start in 2015 in NYC for most teachers, there will be a presumption of incompetence after two ineffective ratings.  The burden of proof will shift to teachers to prove we are not incompetent if a validator upholds an ineffective rating. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014


A pivotal turning point in labor history was in 1981 when Ronald Reagan fired air traffic controllers who went on strike.  Thirty three years later the downward spiral for organized labor in general and public employees in particular has not been reversed.  Believe it or not, those controllers, who Reagan portrayed as greedy, had public support a decade earlier when they were fighting against forced overtime.  It was an airline safety issue.

Now that basic collective bargaining rights are either gone or under assault in the public and private sectors throughout the country, labor needs to take a look at why strikes were successful before the 1980s and revive the militancy weapon wisely.  For those of us who work for the government in New York, it is almost unimaginable to think of a job action but they used to happen with some degree of regularity throughout the country.

As Joe Burns noted in a recent Labor Notes essay on the history of public sector strikes: "Winning public employee strikes, then and now, depended on a union’s ability to frame the issues, garner community support, and thereby exert political pressure on policymakers to settle."  This is very difficult in the age of the media barons and unlimited money from billionaires flooding political campaigns but it is not impossible as recent teacher job actions and/or credible threats have shown.

Striking is a fundamental worker right.  Public employees in New York State have basically given up that right because we are fearful of the harsh penalties of the Taylor Law (we are fined two days pay for every day on strike) but without the strike weapon, we are engaging in, as Burns put it, "collective begging" with our employers. There is no need for management to negotiate in good faith and we pretty much have no recourse.*

We should be seeking common ground with the public to show that it is in the general public's interest to have a strong labor movement.  Then we can exert pressure on politicians so they know that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they don't stand with us on important issues.

For our union, the United Federation of Teachers, we  could easily start with the Comptroller's Report released earlier this month showing how one in three NYC public schools are overcrowded.  Lower class sizes/building new schools (instead of shoving schools inside of existing ones) should be at the forefront of the UFT's agenda moving forward. We can rally our members and the public around these issues.  Reasonable class sizes should also be a contractual demand for sure.

Opposition to Common Core should also be a no brainer for our union.  The public is with us here too.

A revival of the UFT and many other unions must start at the grassroots level and requires person-to-person organizing.  We cannot depend on the detached union hierarchy to lead as they are far removed from the work place so they are not impacted by what they negotiate.

If we don't get it together soon, we will continue to spiral downward until all of us will be at will Walmart style employees.

*The Triborough provision of the Taylor Law keeps NYS public employee contracts in effect, after they expire, until there is a new one.  However, at the end of any mediation, non-binding arbitration or other process, workers need to be able to have the legal option to withhold their labor until there is a new agreement. For some unions the process ends in binding arbitration.  For NYC teachers, it just ends after non-binding arbitration.  Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was successful in just waiting the teachers out and subsequently we accepted an inferior agreement where most of us won't be paid in full until 2020 for monies owed to us from 2009-11 (some won't be paid at all and are suing) and many of us have had our due process rights weakened.

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 stated 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 further declared, "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:

"...it 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: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/12/3931765/tenure-ruling-affirms-Everyone 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.