Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Class Size Matters Director Leonie Haimson gave the mayor an earful on class sizes at an education town hall in Queens last week.  She reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing off of his campaign promise to lower class size.  The mayor denied this. He told Leonie budget surpluses are being squirreled away in case there is a future economic downturn. What about the increase in state aid? How much of that money is getting to the classroom?

Leonie's full report on the frustrating evening with the mayor is here. She documents the increase in class sizes in NYC schools here.

It is also interesting to watch the video of the town hall. In it Carmen Farina says that teachers should be rated up to 30% based on student test scores.  De Blasio also trots out the same old nonsense about losing federal aid if too many students opt-out of state exams.  Question for the mayor: Which districts have seen their aid cut because of opt-out?

In other news, New York State Allies for Public Education has a Common Core survey that everyone should take.  It is easy and only takes a few minutes.

Meanwhile, down in Washington it looks like the House and Senate are very close to passing a New Elementary and Secondary Schools Act.  Instead of calling it No Child Left Behind, they have come up with the not so creative Every Child Succeeds Act.  I want to be optimistic but remain somewhat skeptical about the revised law because schools will still be sorted and the bottom 5% will still face state sanctions which means horrible programs like receivership that abrocate union contracts could still move ahead.  Here is how Education Week described the House-Senate compromise bill:

The deal would consolidate a number of smaller programs into a block grant, a big priority for (Representative John) Kline.  And it would take direct aim at what (Senator Lamar) Alexander called the "National School Board" by prohibiting the U.S. Secretary of Education from interfering with state prerogatives on teacher evaluation, testing, standards, school turnarounds and more.

Sounds positive.

Hold on and don't dance in the streets because there's more:

But the compromise includes some key wins for the White House and Democrats, including a requirement that states turn around the bottom 5% of their schools (an idea borrowed from the administration's NCLB waivers).

And it goes further on accountability than either the House or Senate bills to overhaul the ESEA Academic factors--such as test scores, graduation rates, and English-language proficiency--would have to make up at least 51% of a school's rating.

It looks like there will be flexibility for the states but the new law basically allows the states to continue their test and punish policies. There will be less DC micromanagement so the privitzers will have to move their operations to state capital cities. In Albany, they have found plenty of friends. However, the Bill de Blasios of the world will have to come up with a new argument to justify their pro-standardized test approach to education. They will no longer be able to say we will lose federal aid if we don't attach high stakes for teachers and students to standardized tests.

There is some hope for better days ahead in this legislation but room for doubt remains.

The actual language is here for policy wonks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


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.

Monday, November 23, 2015


My family, including my wife and two young kids, all came to last Saturday's MORE meeting in Manhattan.  MORE is the Movement of Rank and File Educators.  It is the main group opposed to Michael Mulgrew's majority Unity Caucus.  MORE is working in a coalition with long standing caucus New Action for the 2016 UFT election.

Oftentimes as MORE was growing the last few years, MORE meetings were little more than exercises in frustration. Many of were quite skeptical if the various different viewpoints within the organization could be reconciled to make a coherent movement.  My wife and I stuck with it and after Saturday's gathering, we could pretty much say on the way home that the group is maturing.  We didn't walk out in frustration; it was a productive meeting where there was a fairly healthy exchange about both process and product concerning the 2016 UFT Election.

MORE had divided into divisional committees (Elementary, Middle School and High School) to choose its candidates for the Divisional Executive Board and Vice President slots in the UFT Election. This after the caucus had already democratically decided that Jia Lee (conscientious objector to high stakes testing; Chapter Leader the Earth School)  would be the standard bearer to run for UFT President. South Bronx School is the latest blogger to support Jia.

The process for picking the rest of the top slate was a healthy way to vet candidates and then choose who the group wants to represent them in the election. At the end of the committee presentations, MORE voted on the candidates. The next step is to present them in committee to our coalition partners at New Action and allot the seats.  Since nothing is finalized yet except for the presidential candidate, I am not revealing anything about any candidates here in public.

The very difficult task of deciding a party platform was also tackled at the meeting.  While I am not happy with 100% of what was approved, I am happy with about 95% of the document which mixes traditional trade unionism with a social justice focus so that if MORE is elected, it would lead to a stronger union and a better school system.  Members were given a chance to look at the document which a committee put together in advance and propose amendments which many of us did. Again the process of trying to please the many constituencies within MORE was not easy but it was done quite democratically and openly. The debate at the meeting I thought was quite healthy.

Once MORE publishes the platform, we will print it in this space.

Contrast this group that is growing up with the state version of Unity Caucus, the majority political party in both the city and state teacher unions.  Apparently, one of our union's leaders could find nothing better to talk about at a NYSUT Board of Directors meeting than this blog post which criticizes Unity in no uncertain terms. MORE is moving ahead while one the people who runs our state union is worried about what a blogger is writing. These are interesting times.

Friday, November 20, 2015


The other day I was told there were officials from the UFT who were coming to Middle College High School to meet with us "to answer any Union issues or concerns."  Well, like everything with our union, one has to be a little skeptical. We only had a short time at lunch but I came to the meeting to listen to my colleagues who I heard wanted to address what we can do since we are a PROSE school. However, instead of the UFT listening to our concerns, most of the time was used for them to pitch for us to contribute to the union's political arm--COPE (Committee on Political Education).

UFT members pay mandatory union dues and then can volunteer to contribute additional money to COPE.  The really sad part about the union COPE sales job is it sounded so stale that I don't even know if the union people believe their own rhetoric any longer.  It appears the main goal of the UFT is still to turn the State Senate back to the Democrats when there will be higher turnout in a presidential election year in 2016.

Newsflash: There are enough Democrats in Albany who could care less about us and they will side with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to see to it that little changes in our favor. I am a long time Democrat but I also have my eyes open enough to see that the Democratic Party can not be counted on to support teachers or public schools. The Republicans in State government aren't any better and in many ways are worse on education issues so starting to solve our problems needs to be done at the grassroots level with parents. Only by working with the communities will our lobbying efforts have real leverage behind them.

I did tell one of the UFT officials that the UFT needs to stand behind the parents in support of the growing opt-out from testing movement as most union locals and even NYSUT are doing.  Opt-out is weaker in NYC compared to much of the state and I believe that if the UFT was on board, the movement would have huge growth here in the city.

As for COPE, there is no need to once again repeat the UFT's long list of failures and elected official betrayals since the three mayoral endorsements blew up in our faces in 2001.Our continuing lack of political insight is well documented.  Some quick examples are us backing mayoral control of the schools in New York City twice; not supporting Bill Thompson when he ran against Mike Bloomberg for mayor in 2009 and of course giving money to Andrew Cuomo and not supporting Zephyr Teachout's bid to unseat him last year.

We have had some victories in local races and in the presidential elections but what have we gotten for our support?  I would argue that working conditions have deteriorated rapidly in schools so our political wing has obviously failed.  Asking us for our money now instead of listening to the membership is precisely why this union is in trouble and will more than likely lose tens of thousands of members if there is an unfavorable Supreme Court decision in the Friedrichs case.  If we lose Friedrichs, teachers will no longer be required to pay union dues (agency fee) if they are not union members.

The UFT"s COPE sales pitch seemed to go over at Middle College about as well as a tray of Big Macs being served at a Vegan convention. While I believe a union needs a political arm and I do contribute some small change (literally) to COPE each month, I would not encourage others to make even token contributions under current circumstances.  The money could be better spent by giving to plenty of worthy causes that are out there including MORE (caucus opposed to Mulgrew's Unity) or Stronger Together (statewide opposition caucus to Unity) or Leonie Haimson's Class Size Matters.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


There were three clues at last Wednesday's Delegate Assembly that just added to the mountain of proof that the UFT no longer exists as an independent trade union but is merely an arm of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration. President Michael Mulgrew's answer to a question on abusive principals and two resolutions in support of absurd de Blasio education proposals just added to what has already occurred since de Blasio became mayor and the UFT ceased battling city hall.

We really didn't need any further proof of the UFT-de Blasio marriage after the  2014 contract with its paltry raises of 10% over 7 years and UFT members having to wait until 2020 to receive money (4%+4%) that most other city workers received from 2008-2010.  Throw in healthcare savings that have mostly not yet been implemented for city workers but will in the near future (after Mulgrew's reelection?), lack of improvement in working conditions, weaker due process rights for Absent Teacher Reserves and we have a union that jumped fully into bed with management. When the city's huge budget surpluses the last few years are taken into account, the city hall-UFT marriage leaves UFT members scratching their heads. Last week's DA showed once again how our union continues to be a shill for management.

During the question period Michael Mulgrew was asked about abusive principals.  He responded by changing his usual answer from the last two years when he repeatedly answered this question by saying that it is going to take a while for Chancellor Carmen Farina to change the culture in the schools from the Mike Bloomberg years but just give her some time.  The new response is that we have always had abusive principals so this is nothing new. That was a fairly clear admission that the conditions we teach in haven't changed under Farina.

Mulgrew's statement while true is very misleading. I can recall back in the 1990's, when Joe Fernandez was Chancellor, principals were told to settle their problems in house unless they were completely egregious. That policy continued to some extent under Chancellors Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew. Back in those days a letter to the Chancellor from a UFT Chapter meant there would be a full scale investigation from upper level management and that principal could be in trouble quickly.

In addition, there were real attempts to resolve individual grievances in most cases before they went to arbitration.  A principal was considered to be weak if he/she could not settle most problems within a building. Another red flag against a principal was if too many teachers were seeking to transfer from a school.  In the 1990s, when the UFT was still somewhat of a real union, the Union was a check on abusive principals and it functioned for the betterment of the school system.  Toxic learning environments don't help kids excel.

It was only when Harold O Levy, the first non educator took over as Chancellor in 2000, that the pendulum from upper management started to move toward knee-jerk support for principals and against teachers. That pendulum moved further away from teachers and the UFT at lightening speed under Joel Klein, Kathy Black and Dennis Walcott while Bloomberg was mayor. After the infamous 2005 "Givebacks' R Us" contract, teacher professionalism was more or less gone and as Mulgrew admitted in his answer on abusive principals, without admitting it directly, the pendulum hasn't moved back the other way toward respecting teachers and UFT Chapters under de Blasio-Farina.

Honestly, do you think most UFT Chapters would feel any confidence reporting an abusive administration to the Chancellor?

There was more evidence at the November DA that the UFT is just the education wing of the de Blasio administration in the form of two fairly innocuous looking resolutions that overwhelmingly carried at the end of the meeting. Both of these resolutions gave unqualified UFT support for de Blasio education initiatives.

The first one endorsed the hiring of reading specialists so that all children would be literate by the end of second grade. Universal literacy by grade two is a wonderful goal that is basically impossible to achieve in a city like New York which has a huge non-English speaking population and many pupils with extensive special needs.  Saying they are all going to read by grade two is setting us up for failure in the same way that the unions supporting No Child Left Behind in 2002 was a huge mistake because that law said every child would be reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. That was an impossible goal.  The UFT should not support pipe dreams that can boomerang on us. All it does is give our enemies fuel when they want to attack us.  I can see the groups coming out against us when we say we were going to have all children literate by second grade and all of them are not.  They will say it's the teacher's fault.

The last resolution might have been worse.  The de Blasio administration has an initiative where all pupils will have a computer class by 2025.  2025?  Are they kidding?  Every child should have had a computer course by 1995 or at least by now.  This mayor has had two years in control of the system and he can't wire every school.

I raised my card to speak against at the DA but in the Unity style of democracy, a member of the Unity Caucus spoke for the resolution and that was followed by another Unity representative moving to end debate and the rest of them followed in lock step.  Mulgrew occasionally asks for speakers against motions but often times he just ignores the rules and continues his unfair way of chairing meetings. I didn't have a chance to make my points.

After I voted no on the computer resolution, it was interesting to look up and watch Mulgrew note my one vote in opposition.

Some people say Delegate Assembly meetings are a waste of time.  They aren't.  If a union member wants to know the thinking of the union's leadership, one should attend.  I discovered more evidence that we are in many ways a kind of government example of a wholly owned subsidiary. The UFT is a part of the de Blasio administration for better or worse.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


I arrived at this party a little late today but I still feel compelled to jump on the blog bandwagon to defend the indomitable, inspirational and courageous leader of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and Stronger Together Caucus, Beth Dimino.  Dimino was the subject of a completely unjustified attack by statewide Unity Caucus, the political party that controls the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers and pretty much the American Federation of Teachers too.

Here is part of PJSTA Vice President Brian St Pierre's defense of  Beth:

Ms. Dimino's track record as an advocate is fairly well known.  She has been a vocal and visible proponent of the opt-out movement.  She is a conscientious objector, refusing to administer New York State tests.  This video of her lambasting former NYSED Commissioner John King has made her well known in public education circles.  She has spoken all over the state as an advocate for teachers, students, parents and communities.  I am sure Long Island Opt-Out founder Jeannette Deutermann or her friends at NYSAPE would vouch for Ms. Dimino as somebody who works tirelessly for teachers, students, and public education in general.  If you don't believe me you are welcome to ask them.  

Let's now contrast Ms. Dimino's record with that of the Unity Caucus.  Unity Caucus, for nearly the entire existence of NYSUT, has benefited from being the only party in a one party-system.  The caucus has always chosen the presidents and each of the other officers.  When they decided you were out, then you were out, as they have always been able to use the 800 UFT-Unity delegates as a voting block to elect who ever they have wanted to or to enact any changes within NYSUT that have decided to.  You may be wondering why 800 UFT-Unity delegates always have to vote the same way?  Well that would be because the 800 Unity-UFT delegates have signed an oath pledging to vote as they are told to.

Rob Pearl is a Principal in Dimino's district who was formerly a PJSTA VP.  Here is what he said about Beth on the NYC Educator blog in the quote section:

There is no person alive that breathes solidarity more than my closest friend Beth Dimino! An attack on Dimino means they (Unity Caucus) fear her! I fully support and defend Beth Dimino! NYSUT and Mulgrew are afraid of truth!

Norm Scott chimed in over at Education Notes:

So imagine if ST (Stronger Together-Statewide opposition to Unity Caucus) threatens to capture NYSUT or win enough statewide delegates - especially from the other big cities - to challenge NYC Unity control over NYSUT - and then allies with the other national caucuses to create a threat to Randi in the AFT. 

Then there is this from Buffalo's Sean Crowley commenting at Ed Notes:

Couldn't be any happier.  Unity and Co. and their fake union stooge movement lashing out with this errant punch at a real unionist like Beth and a real Caucus like ST can only boomerang on them.  And from what I'm reading the Unity slugs are catching it square in the teeth.

The aforementioned Jeannette Deutermann said this on Twitter:

is a hero & the voice of our children. Parents know who's fighting for our kids&who isn't.

I am not at all surprised by the quality people who are coming forward to defend Beth.  I first met Beth in early 2014 and subsequently worked diligently to convince both ICE and the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) to support Stronger Together both in the 2014 NYSUT election and afterwards in large part because of her involvement.

When Beth asked me to be an observer of the UFT voting room at the NYSUT election, I said I would do it even though I knew it would be about as pleasant as root canal without an anesthetic.  It lived down to expectations as the UFT leadership kicked me out of the room so they could vote without anybody watching in violation of the election rules. I will not soon forget UFT's Ellie Engler screaming out loud for me to leave while Leroy Barr stopped the voting process because I was watching them.  I had to go to NYSUT officials to get back in the room.

Beth persuaded me to file a lengthy formal protest on the NYSUT election and while we did not get the election overturned, the UFT clearly broke the rules and recommendations were made to improve the process in the future.  Beth also invited me to a Stronger Together meeting and I was not disappointed. They are a committed group of sensational trade unionists. I gladly joined and convinced many of my ICE colleagues to do the same.  I urge readers of this blog to spend $10 to join ST.

She has a vision for what the public schools and a powerful teachers' union should be like and she goes about achieving her aims in a way that gets you on board even when she doesn't have a patronage mill of jobs at her disposal.  Beth is the union leader that Unity fears because she is that good at what she does.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

LIVE BLOGGING FROM NOVEMBER DA (Sorry for any errors-Updated and cleaned up a little)

A slow train ride so I am a little late.

President's Report

I got here when Mulgrew was talking a bit about the Friedrichs US Supreme Court case and our opposition to the Court overturning the agency fee shop.

Stated Ed Commissioner Elia has abrogated collective bargaining agreement in five receivership schools. What happened to Taylor Law saying contract stays in effect until new one is negotiated? Imagine if 2015 receivership law was in effect when Bloomberg was mayor.

Problem over ESL services.

Eva Moskowitz
Caught suspending students. Much evidence that her "got to go" list is in all of her schools and not just one. Eva now saying her schools give a safe alternative learning environment compared to public schools.

Oversize Kindergarten Classes
Any class with 26, teacher gets an extra prep.
For 27 in a K class, teacher gets a sub, ATR or Para for half a day.
For 28, teacher gets full time help.

Teacher Union Day
Awards for "schools in action" who did great political action.

Leroy Barr Staff Director's Report
100% attendance at DA have a celebration after the meeting.

Memorial service for Alice Holloway, a District Rep who recently passed away, will be held soon.

Question Period
Q What are we doing about abusive principals.
A Try to resolve it and then put principal into the needs improvement category. UFT Chapter advocacy is working as we are building strong chapters. There will always be abusive principals. Important to have consultation committee. We put pressure from inside and outside.

Q What is the difference between PROSE school and UFT school
A 126 Prose schools is kind of like a five year SBO and there are other possibilities schools can do that go beyond contract. 3 schools have four day work week. Longer teaching day in those schools. 65% UFT have to vote to go into PROSE.

Q What is going on with Campbell Brown anti-tenure lawsuit.
A We are going to NY State Court of Appeal on our motion to dismiss.

Q Common Core survey too complex.
A SED review of common core. Working on it with NYSUT.

Q Are metal detectors coming out of schools? Multiple knives and guns found recently in school.
A Process to bring in or remove metal detectors is being worked on.  Need a thoughtful process.

Q What are we doing for ATRS?
A Some schools don't welcome ATRS. Treat them as members of school in every way while they are there. ATR pool shrinking.

Q MOSL is subjective for grading teachers.
A Tests have overturned ratings when principal gave 0 points for observations. Tests can't be sole criteria in teacher ratings. We have 700 ineffective ratings. We had 2,000 unsatisfactory ratings under Bloomberg. Change definition of what student learning is. It cannot be just a test.
Some ratings being reevaluated.

Motion Period
Unity and MORE both had separate resolutions supporting Buffalo teachers who could be terminated without any due process because of new state receivership law. Mulgrew suggested we work together to try and reconcile the two motions.  As they were lengthy, MORE suggested we withdraw our motion now so we can work together with Unity to try to come up with a bipartisan resolution we could all support. Unity people agreed.

Resolution saying we want a moratorium on Eva Moskowitz opening up new schools until the Success Academy discipline and retention policies are investigated was added to the agenda and later the meeting was extended a few minutes so it could pass enthusiastically and unanimously.

Special Orders of Business
Resolution opposing Friedrichs carried with an amendment I am sorry I didn't catch because I was working on the Buffalo motion with Mindy Rosier from MORE and two others from Unity.

Resolution to celebrate 1960 strike. It carried unanimously.

Resolution on climate change and TRS so we can mitigate risk posed by climate change in our investment portfolio. A consultant would be hired for this.  This carried.

Resolution supporting Chicago Dyett High School coalition having a voice in the future of their neighborhood's last open enrollment high school carried unanimously.

Resolution on supporting New York City's initiative to ensure all students achieve literacy in the primary grades carried with an amendment supporting experienced reading teachers.

(I didn't like this one because saying all children will be literate by second grade is kind of next to impossible to achieve and sets us up for failure when it doesn't happen.)

Resolution on all students in NYC having a computer science class by 2025 was the last one on the agenda and this also overwhelmingly was endorsed with an amendment to include adult learners and not just K-12 students.

(I thought the computer science resolution was total nonsense as waiting ten years to get every NYC school kid a computer science class is way too long.  They should all have a course in computers by now.  Giving the Department of Education a decade to accomplish this is ridiculous.  I tried to speak against but President Mulgrew went back to his old ways of letting a couple of Unity operatives make motions to call for the end of debate before anyone could speak against the resolutions.  I guess I have lost a step while being away from the DA for a year as I didn't call any points of order on this.)


Hillary Clinton recently made a factual remark  about charter schools that is causing some controversy.  This is from Politico:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded less like a decades-long supporter of charter schools over the weekend and more like a teachers union president when she argued that most of these schools "don't take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don't keep them."

The right wing press is all over the comment with the Wall Street Journal and New York Post blasting Clinton. The American Federation of Teachers backed Clinton for president early on. AFT President Randi Weingarten is now defending Hillary's statement. Here is what Randi said:

"Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That's what she did here, " Weingarten told POLITICO.  She called out that many charters don't take the hardest-to-teach kids or don't keep those with academic or behavioral issues."

Later, the Politico piece quotes the President of the National Education Association who is also supporting Hillary.

It all sounds good, right?

Well, maybe not as the Politico article goes on by outlining Hillary's long time advocacy for charter schools. Her campaign is then quoted as saying that Hillary has "been a strong supporter of both public charter schools and an unflinching advocate for traditional public schools."

Can you have it both ways?  Deciphering Hillary's real education positions, and Randi's sometimes for that matter, looks like a difficult task.

Some of you think it's all about what the donors want and this is just a bone thrown to the Democratic Party public school base. I get that cynicism but perhaps there's something more here.