Taylorism Comes to the NYC Public Schools, with the Union's Blessing
by Michael Fiorillo, Delegate, Newcomers' High School
In a new low for the UFT leadership, President Randi Weingarten gave her tacit endorsement to the DOE's upcoming reorganization and accountability - read productivity harassment - program by giving over one quarter of the May 17th Delegate Assembly to a sales pitch by two DOE officials.
On Wall St., a traveling sales presentation is known as a "dog and pony show." That's what UFT chapter leaders and delegates were subjected to at our own union meeting, in which the leadership provided a forum for management to sell a "new" program that calls for testing students every six to eight weeks and holding the teachers and schools responsible for the results.
The opening presentation was giving by James Leibman, the chief accountability officer for the DOE, in which he went to great lengths to persuade those present that management's new organizational structure was "not a business," would "empower" teachers, and would provide equity to disadvantaged students. He opened by saying that he has children in the public schools, which made him a good front man for a regime that has shown nothing but contempt for students, parents and teachers, and which is moving ahead quickly, albeit stealthily, to privatize the system. Manipulating a close vote as to whether Leibman and Eric Nadelstern, who made a pitch for the new "autonomy zones", should be directly questioned by the members, Weingarten succeeded in having a large portion of the union meeting hijacked by management.
Stripped of its comforting tone, cliches and buzzwords, the new program is the application of what are known as Taylorist - not to be confused with the NY State public employee labor laws of the same name - principles of mass production.
Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) was an engineer known for developing the principles of "scientific management." Trained as an engineer who then apprenticed as a machinist, Taylor sought to have management gain full control of what was essentially still the worker-controlled craft of skilled machine and metalwork. Using time and motion studies, he would break down every job into its minutest components, seeking the greatest efficiency and the removal of worker control over the job. These influential studies became the basic template for all production, initially in manufacturing and later extended elsewhere. Embraced by capitalist and Communist overseers - Lenin was a big fan of Taylor - they are now on the verge of reaching the classroom door, and apparently our dues money is speeding up the process.
Taylor proposed five principles of Scientific Management (thanks to Wikipedia for the following):
1. Each part of every task should be broken down and studied and one best way of performing it developed.
2. Choose the best person for doing the job.
3. Train, teach and develop the worker.
4. Give financial incentives for following the methods (and, presumably, deterrents for resisting them).
5. Divide work and responsibility so that managers are responsible for planning the work methods and workers are responsible for implementing them.
Does it sound familiar?
The question is not why the DOE is seeking to implement these methods. After all, they are management, and they cannot help themselves: it simultaneously corresponds to their worldview and extends their authority. The question is why a trade union leadership would provide a forum for legitimizing this among its members. Randi naturally said that she was merely providing this for the purposes of informing the membership, but that was an insult to our intelligence. By giving management an opportunity to sell its latest offensive against teachers, she gave it her unspoken endorsement.
Mr. Leibman of the DOE asked for our collaboration in this process, and Randi apparently is to be his chief collaborator. It leads to the question: which side is she on?