Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I was a bit concerned yesterday as I was sent to a new school as a rotating Absent Teacher Reserve. I am pleased to report I have hit the jackpot for a second time in a row by being sent to Middle College High School.

This school operates nothing like Aviation, the fine school I was assigned to for seven weeks but it is a great place to work.

If Aviation produced culture shock for me due to all the kids coming back to the building after a period 9 fire drill, at Middle College the culture is so friendly so it almost doesn't feel like a high school. At times I think I am in a college because the students basically act so grown up.

I'm also having the pleasure of working again with two colleagues from Jamaica who teach here and rolled out the red carpet welcome as well as a former Jamaica Safety Agent who is here. The administration is professional as is the Chapter Leader who is an old friend.

I hope I don't jinx myself by writing about my luck in my first two ATR assignments but based on what I have seen, I would stay at Middle College in a second if this school wanted to hire me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


(This post is dedicated to the students and staff of Aviation HS.)

I began my Absent Teacher Reserve journey in September after working for twenty-eight years at Jamaica High School, a school that phased out in June.  I was somewhat apprehensive as a new ATR as so many people who had been previously excessed from Jamaica cautioned me how the life of an ATR is so different from that of a regular classroom teacher.

For the first seven weeks of the school year, I was assigned to Aviation HS. I had a positive experience at this excellent school working with wonderful kids and caring adults but thanks to the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers, I am now forced to move on to a different school.

When I arrived at Aviation on September 2, I was somewhat surprised to discover a few people knew me through my UFT work so I felt somewhat at ease.  During the first few days, the staff - including the Chapter Leader, teachers, support staff and the administration - was very welcoming and then the students were kind too when classes began.

I told the administration that I ran the College Office at Jamaica so they immediately gave me a professional assignment to assist in that office. I felt useful being able to develop trusting relationships with students and adults. Helping students with SAT applications, the Common Application, the SUNY, CUNY online process, Aviation's College Night and more was very fulfilling. I was told pupils started asking for me when I was out of the office because I had classes to cover or was sent by the DOE on one of those useless mandated interviews in other schools.

Covering classes at Aviation was not bad either. The kids usually behaved appropriately and would give me a chance to actually teach them something. The Principal noted how he saw me working diligently in his travels around the building. Unfortunately, I was also informed how the school budget is tight so they wouldn't be able to keep me there.

I have heard from several other ATRs in various schools since yesterday that they were given a similar message about how school administrators liked their work but they currently don't have a position. It does not matter how well an ATR is doing in a school, we are going to be rotated to different schools starting on Monday.

In addition, thanks to the always efficient operation of the Department of Education (sarcasm alert), ATRs received emails saying our next assignment was only for the following week while on the Excess Staff Selection System it says we will be at our next school for three weeks! Go figure. You can forward my mail to Middle College HS as that is where I am headed on Monday.

The ATR rotation system - whether for a week, three weeks or a month- is insane. How are we supposed to develop relationships with students and staff in such a short period of time? Why establish bonds when we know we will be gone in a week or a month?

The most ridiculously absurd part of this entire debacle is when people talk about school budgets as opposed to the overall DOE budget. Money to pay for a teacher is not going to magically appear on a school's budget because a school likes an ATR. Aviation cannot afford to keep me on their school budget so they have to tell me to move on.  However, the taxpayers of New York City will still be paying my salary whether I am at Aviation, Middle College or some other school.

Questions for the DOE and Chancellor Farina:

1-Why can't a school keep an ATR if that person is a good fit for a particular school?

2- Is your goal to find us schools or just to frustrate us?

Thursday, October 16, 2014


This is from the AFT.  Please sign and spread it far and wide.  Karen is one of the truly great people fighting to save public education and unions.


Our union's strength is our members—your passion, dedication, commitment and courage.
Get well soon graphicNo one understands that more than Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has made a career of harnessing that passion to support learning and growth—from her days as a national board-certified chemistry teacher to her masterful leadership of the CTU strike in 2012 and so much more.
Today, we're asking you to help us support Karen. Earlier this week, Karen underwent emergency surgery for a serious illness. The surgery was a success. Now we want to help Karen recuperate by showing her how much she means to us.

Will you sign our get-well card to CTU President Karen Lewis and show her how much she means to all of us?

Karen is a remarkable leader. She understands how to bring together a community around a vision, and how to inspire people to be their best, every day. Even her detractors and opponents respect Karen's leadership. Today, the Chicago Tribune—which has not always spoken favorably of Karen or our union—wrote, "We look forward to tussling again, on your side of an issue or some other. You've brightened Chicago."

While Karen recuperates, let's come together with one voice and brighten her days with an overwhelming show of love and support.

Sign the get-well card for Karen, and let her know we stand behind her.

Karen has shown us all how to be a leader in the 21st century. Her courage, compassion and dedication have inspired a city—and supporters of public education across the country—to dream big dreams for the future.

And for those of us who know her, Karen has shown us what it means to be a friend. She pushes us to be our best, to challenge our preconceptions, to give everything we can to each other and our cause.

Let's show her that we stand with her now.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten, AFT president
Lorretta Johnson, AFT secretary-treasurer
Mary Cathryn Ricker, AFT executive vice president

Monday, October 13, 2014


In the past I read Bridging Differences.  I found the back-and-forth between two respected educators Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to be enlightening at times.

I guess Ravitch doesn't have enough time these days to keep this dialogue going so she has been replaced by AFT Vice President and one time UFT Vice President Leo Casey

Casey has been dubbed by this blog as the Defender of the Faith as he would defend any union policy, no matter how much it hurt the membership and he would do it in a way that would convince most members that being robbed of their rights and dignity was actually positive for us.  Leo's defense of the indefensible 2005 contract giveaways that he helped to negotiate is propagandist legend.

One 2005 contractual giveback the Union spun as no big deal was the Seniority Transfer System and School Based Option Transfer system being replaced by the Open Market Hiring System, which now leaves all teacher hiring up to principals.

Under the old seniority system, half of the teacher openings in a school were made available for transfer and the transfers were based exclusively on the seniority of the teacher who applied. The remaining vacancies were left to the discretion of the principal. This system pretty much assured schools would have a balance of veteran and newer teachers.  It also gave teachers a safety valve to get out of schools where there were administrators who were difficult to work with. 

Under the SBO system, hiring committees made up of a majority of teachers worked with the principal to decide who would transfer to or be hired in a school.  Criteria had to be fair; teachers could grieve if they were not selected by the hiring committee and they often won.

It was up to each school to decide whether to use the seniority or SBO system for transfers and other hiring.

In the 2005 contract, the UFT inexplicably agreed to replace these two pro-union member staffing systems that covered the whole city. The new Open Market system based on principal choice turned schools into fiefdoms and led to the huge proliferation in school closings because management in New York City knew they no longer had to place the displaced teachers when a school closed.  Instead, they could turn them into Absent Teacher Reserves who have no permanent position but are highly paid substitute teachers.

Leo's spin was the Open Market system would provide many more opportunities for members to transfer.  He saw it as a gain on balance. Here are his exact words from 2005:

"The loss here is that the principal will have final authority but we were able to win language which specifically prohibited a principal from rejecting a transfer on the basis of 'age race, color, gender, sexual orientation and union activities.' The principal will also be required to list all vacancies in his school [only one half of the vacancies are listed under the seniority transfer plan], all caps and limits on the number of teachers who can transfer have been removed and a teacher will hot have to obtain a release from their current principal to transfer, provided that she does so before August 7."

According to Leo, the UFT was able to "ameliorate" what Joel Klein and the fact finders wanted. Note how he says we were able to win language on transfers.  It was a negotiation that the UFT agreed to, not something imposed on the UFT.

In subsequent years, Leo and then UFT President Randi Weingarten would tell us how the number of people moving around the system increased substantially in the new Open Market system compared to the old seniority system. (They never compared the numbers with the SBO system included.) Critics like this blog were dismissed by Leo and others as whiners and complainers who spread myths and disinformation.

Keeping in mind that it takes two sides to make a contract, I was looking at Bridging Differences the other day and much to my surprise here is what I saw: Leo Casey is now blaming the 2005 change in hiring in New York City on then Chancellor Joel Klein and the fact-finders who created the framework for that horrific contract and not the UFT who agreed to it and sold it to the membership.  Here are Leo's exact words from 2014:

"Sadly, in the 2005 contract, this democratic process (SBO Transfer and Staffing) for making hiring and staffing decision was lost.  Then-Chancellor Joel Klein insisted that all power over hiring and staffing be given to the principal alone, and ill-informed fact finders agreed."

The UFT leadership agreed to it too Leo and pushed the change on the members. 

Leo Casey complaining about a loss of democratic rights for teachers as if he had nothing to do with it is quite misleading.  He is leaving out some crucial information. 

The fact finding arbitration process the UFT went to in 2005 was voluntary and non-binding. The UFT agreed to submit the contract impasse to this process. The opposition ICE caucus was on the UFT Executive Board at the time and we strongly urged Leo, then UFT President Randi Weingarten and the rest of the majority Unity Caucus not to go near fact finding with Joel Klein.  We knew we would lose because Klein was insisting that the contract be gutted and the arbitrators, who are trained to give both sides something, would give Klein much of what he asked for. 

Then, when the inevitable negative fact finding report came out, we pleaded with Randi, Leo and the rest of the UFT leadership to reject it as it was non-binding. We were rebuffed. We then led the fight against the giveback laden contract that was negotiated by Leo, Randi and company and not imposed on us as Leo now implies.  

As is just about always the case, Leo and Unity accept no responsibility for the loss of rights members have suffered because of their actions. The UFT Unity leaders agreed to end democratic teacher hiring and transfers in 2005; they urged the membership to vote for principal patronage hiring as a greater opportunity to transfer and promoted better results for years.  Only now, to show he is all for democracy in schools, does Leo Casey bemoan the lack of democratic hiring in schools as if he had nothing to do with giving it away. It was those ill-informed fact finders.

Trust AFT-NYSUT-UFT leadership at your own peril ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Pennsylvania is having their Wisconsin Scott Walker moment as the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia has unilaterally rescinded the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' contract to slash benefits.  If the teachers strike, they lose their teaching licenses so the students have stepped forward to support the teachers.

We salute you Philly kids!

View image on Twitter

The Reform Commission's move to negate the contract is very scary stuff that is expanding across this nation. 

For those who think this can't happen in New York because the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law keeps our contract in full force after it expires until we have a new one, all it would take to change that is an act of the State Legislature to change the law.  Hanging all of our hopes on our New York State Legislature and Governor with their questionable ethics is a bit of a risky strategy for the long term.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Reading Valerie Strauss on education in her Washington Post Blog called "The Answer Sheet" is usually enlightening.  Yesterday, Strauss ran two pieces that caught my eye.

In the first she gives space to the wonderful Long Island Principal Carol Burris to propose ways to fix Common Core.  This is the best part of what Burris said:

No matter what investments in time or materials have been made, here is the bottom line. The Common Core is a lemon and no amount of professional development will make it run right.

That pretty much sums it up.

Strauss also covers some very depressing news out of Philadelphia where the district has just cancelled the union contract with the teachers. We of course stand in solidarity with the Philly teachers.

Finally, Mercedes Schneider, one of our favorite critics of AFT President Randi Weingarten, is out there again exposing our leader's ties to the people who want to privatize public education.  Here is how Merecedes closes her October 4 blog post:

Weingarten wants to *collaborate* with the declared enemies of traditional public education. Sure, she’ll reluctantly step back every now and then, but only so far as her faithful ties to privatization allow her feign dissent.

Mercedes is well worth looking for.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


I like to read Diane Ravitch's blog but usually have a very difficult time keeping up with all she posts.

This morning I found she has a piece calling for Chancellor Carmen Farina to clean house in the legal department down at the New York City Department of Education. Here is part of her post:

Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected as a progressive candidate. Much of his support came from critics of the Bloomberg-Klein regime and its hostility to teachers and even to public schools. The Bloomberg regime never stopped berating the system that it totally controlled for nearly a dozen years.

De Blasio selected veteran educator Carmen Farina as his chancellor, who promised to bring back “the joy of learning.” Unfortunately, the de Blasio administration has been slow to clean house. The Klein regime still controls large sectors of the education bureaucracy, including the infamous “gotcha” squad that is always on the alert for teacher misbehavior. True, the “gotcha” squad completely missed a high school teacher arrested for having sexual relations with several students at selective Brooklyn Technical High School, who is currently suspended with pay.

But the “gotcha” squad bagged a teacher who helped run a Kickstarter campaign for a student with cerebral palsy. This teacher was suspended without pay for 30 days for “theft of services,” having helped the campaign during school hours.

Ravitch then copies a large part of the Times article (linked above) by Jim Dwyer on the suspended teacher. She then concludes her piece this way:

Chancellor Farina, it is time to fire the “gotcha” squad. It is time to replace Joel Klein’s legal team. It is time to clean house and install officials who share Mayor de Blasio’s vision and values.

We here at the ICE blog are usually careful about calling for masses of people to lose their jobs but we also believe that what goes around should come around. Look at how badly Department of Education lawyers have treated teachers.  We certainly question the need for so many lawyers at the DOE and would not be at all upset if there were significant reductions, particularly since the schools are operating on austerity budgets in spite of an influx of state money. 

At the very least, the DOE Office of Labor Relations, Office of Special Investigations and Commissioner of Special Investigations, with their anti-teacher biases, all need to be reigned in and the people at the top should go.

Having seen little, if any, change under the Farina-de Blasio regime, I will not hold my breath waiting for the "gotcha" squad to be replaced but it is positive that someone like Diane Ravitch is catching on how the DOE under de Blasio-Farina is not much different than the Bloomberg-Klein, Black, Walcott regime. If only our union's leadership would choose to figure that out.