Saturday, May 20, 2006


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?


Anonymous said...

Which side is Randi on?

Her own of course. She may scream, Let Teachers Teach, but didn't you notice the wink she gives Klein and that her fingers are crossed behind her back?

If these tests are like Princeton Reviews, it is unfair to judge teachers because many of us do not follow the math calendar because it just doesn't make sense.

Norm said...

Coming out of the DA on Wed. I could only think we saw a clear example of the merger of the DOE and the UFT. Let's call the new corporation DOFT, to be led by WeinKlein.

Talk about hostility is only talk. When you scratch below the surface you find all sorts of things crawling around.

Let's start with the UFT not having to pay rent for its charter schools, housed in public school space. If they were enemies would the DOE have just given this space without a quid quo pro? What else lurks beneath? Chip in with your best guesses.

dump Randi now said...

The institution of Taylor's principles in the factories replaced craftmanship with product production. In industry, the worker began moving away from being the direct creator of a product to one who operates a machine. Can it be any clearer what is happening here? Why would Randi allow teachers to loss their opportunity to practice their craft? Pretty soon our kids will be leaving school with a tag on them saying "Inspected by 4926." Our students' development cannot be mass produced. Our interactions with them should allow us the opportunity to practice our craft. If Randi does not see this, we should not wait until next Spring for a change in leadership. Too much damage has already been done.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Fiorillo for helping me to understand what is happening to our education system and why I feel bad when I leave my school nearly every afternoon.

Anonymous said...

This post is very Mussollini like-control the info- and when the union tries to get management to be accountable- by telling our leadership what they are doing- you guys are critical- if the members didn't want it- they could have voted no in changing the agenda- or voted to extend the agenda.

Chaz said...


I am no fan of any union faction. However, I question the priorities of the Unity faction in giving DOE people a forum to spew their spin.

The DOE is the enemy of the classroom teacher. One is just a Klein stooge who tells us that he believes in teacher control while the DOE practices just the opposite, micromanaging the classroom. The other is famous for having his school evade Regents and using phoney portfolios for graduation. In other words a snakeoil salesman.

How about having a meeting where the classroom teacher is the main issue?

Thank Heaven for Tier I said...

The inmates are running the asylum.

One can anticipate the outcry when the results of the first round of kindergarten assessments arrive in the empowerment schools in the fall.

Will there be categories such as "below proficient" at tying one's shoes?

Can't you just see the N.Y. Post headline: "Tykes Flunk Tying."

Do any of the moronic, laughingstock non-educators who are in charge at Tweed understand that there are no reliable standardized tests at the early childhood level?

You also have to love it that 10 per cent of the principals of empowerment schools can be Welched, er, fired for poor results on these ludicrous assessments that Klein and his toadies are trying to sell us as accountability measures?

Attention lemmings: cliff directly ahead; forward, MARCH!

northbrooklyn said...

The best assessor of a student's progress is the classroom teacher.Anything else is just a waste of taxpayer's money.

Dump Randi said...

Why can't we impeach Weingarten? She has proven herself to be our worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are so busy with their micromanaged jobs that union politics are an afterthought. Barely anyone knows that Randi's a representative of the Unity caucus much less that ICE and TJC even exist and stand in opposition to her. If the UFT is to survive as an organization of power to counter the robber-baron tactics of the new Gilded Agers then it is the job of every union delegate in every school of the city to galvanize members into collective action and to teach them their history, their hard-fought victories (and losses). It is every teacher’s obligation to know exactly what it is they're giving up- historically- for minimal wage increases every 5 years or so. Roger Toussaint for UFT president!