Saturday, April 21, 2007

A unique opportunity has been missed

by Norman Scott

The May 9th demo scared the hell out of Bloomberg and would have made a national splash and focused attention on so many of the awful policies as a result of his control of the school system.

In addition, it looks like the back of the coalition forming to stand up to him may have been broken. Divide and conquer, used to perfection. With the cooperation of the UFT.

But the major parties involved are only interested in short-term solutions. Bloomberg hopes he's heading for Washington and so does Weingarten. Probably Klein too.

Andy Wolfe's analysis makes some good points:

"The mayor is intent on neutralizing his opposition and may now have succeeded. Political aides to the mayor fear that the education issue could undermine his nascent presidential bid.

The turmoil over the mayor's education initiatives also has led to serious questions being raised by key leaders in the city's business and philanthropic communities, up to now the mayor's strongest supporters..... In trying to sell the agreement to the uncomfortable parent groups, speaking on a conference call, Ms. Weingarten termed officials of the Department of Education as "absolute and complete assholes" who "can't be trusted."

Just the usual Weingarten rhetoric, words without substance. In the last 10 years I've had the occasion to use this expression so many times: Et tu, Randi?

Wolfe's point is right on:

"many parent leaders believed "we've got them where we want them," wanting no concessions, and preferred holding out for the state Legislature to modify — or eliminate — mayoral control. To them the mission was not to protect the interests of senior teachers looking to retain their ability to move about the system, but to "put the public back in the public schools."

One can't say this enough times. A unique opportunity has been missed.

The NYTimes today says this on the funding plan "compromise":

"The change means that when a veteran teacher paid nearly $100,000 a year retires, a principal can hire a similar teacher or hire a rookie for about $50,000 and use the remaining $50,000 for other expenses."

If this is true, will a principal chose a senior teacher or take the 50 grand? This seems like little change in reality.

The agreement still affects teachers who want to transfer, as that issue is still in grievance, and if you look at the rate of grievance victories (low single digits) that has little chance. With so many teachers already forced into retirement, the transfer issue is just as important. To have left this to the grievance process is a capitulation. People will say, "well in negotiations, there is give and take."

There has never been any give from Tweed, only take. That they sat down at all is a sign of weakness. Instead of negotiations, there should have been take it or leave it demands. The May 9 demo was long overdue.

The basic idiocy of the reorganiztion  plan is still in place (ok, gang, everyone compete, total power in the hands of principals (all too many power hungry and pathological) - except they need permission of the district Superintendents).

The fact that the continued idiocies that will result from mayoral control seem guaranteed to continue in perpetuity. Nothing has changed for the people in the school community who have suffered over the past  the past 5 years.

On class size, I don't care what they say or what committees they form. They do not believe that reducing class size will have the same impact spending money on professional development will. That is their mantra, inherited from Anthony Alvarado. They will say one thing and do another. To put any trust in Tweed given their record is a mistake.

It is funny that Tweed can say they are going to do A,B,C,D horrible things and when they modify D, everyone cheers like it's a victory.

From the very beginning, the focus on the reorganization rather than the entire package of control of the schools by big city mayors and its impact on the schools has made a deal like this likely. And when the leader, the UFT, is always looking to make a deal, the entire movement seemed doomed from the beginning. The groups left out of the process were used and will be very reluctant to get involved in the future. An historic opportunity to bring forces together to become an educational force has been lost. But long-time observers of how the UFT operates are not surprised.

From day one of BloomKlein, the UFT wanted a seat at the table and seems to have gotten it. They also are and will continue to support mayoral control. Their candidate Spitzer confirmed it today.

The strength of any coalition is in the numbers they can bring to the table.

As pointed out, "CEJ is one of the many Community Involvement organizations financed by the Annenberg Institute of Social Reform at Brown University,  headed up by Norm Fruchter, formerly of NYU."

How do they get to be considered representative of local parent groups while groups actually elected (and which had passed resolutions against the reorganizations, no small reason why they weren't at the table) are left out? Who does Fruchter, who has supported much of what Tweed has done, represent?

Where was the "transparency" in these negotiations so many people on this list have been calling on the DOE to show?

The proper way to go about the process would have been to get reps together of all groups to decide on a strategy. But the UFT is always looking to make a deal even at the expense of some of its allies.

A unique opportunity has been missed.

Or has it?

There still is a need to hold a demo at Tweed. People opposed to this agreement should go to Tweed on the afternoon of May 9th and hold a silent vigil.

For more, check my blog:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Comments on UFT High Stakes Testing Task Force



The members of the Task Force have done an excellent job of explaining the problems caused by high stakes tests. Speak-outs were held in each borough so that teachers, parents, and community members could voice their opinions on this issue. This was a great way for UFT members to be heard. ICE supports most of the recommendations, in particular the concept that the major purpose of standardized tests is that teachers should use them as a guide to make educational judgments about individual children. However, we do have a few reservations.


Unfortunately, the report does not call for an end to sanctions for schools that are deemed in need of improvement. This should be a priority. Schools don't improve by punishment; they improve with support and resources. The only legitimate function of NCLB is to identify areas of need and provide help.


The UFT must emphasize the role high stakes tests have in lowering rather than raising standards. By eliminating curriculum that doesn't appear on tests, "dumbing down" the actual exams, emphasizing tricks to get the right answer instead of mastering skills and knowledge, stifling creativity, fostering a cynical attitude toward learning, high stakes tests have the effect of providing an inferior education in both the short and the long run.


Expanding the role of the nationally based NAEP (the proficiency levels are set very high for the political purposes of bashing schools) as a random assessment can be mis-used by those calling for a nationally based high stakes test.


UFT members must know they will be supported by the UFT for speaking out against the over-use and, at times, abuse of testing in our schools. Teachers need whistle blower protection.


NOW we need a call to action. If NCLB is not changed, our schools will face more sanctions and will increasingly be turned into test prep factories. The Task Force report calls for forums for educators and meetings with the DOE, State Education Department, and the AFT. That is excellent. But now is also the time to activate UFT, AFT, and NEA members around the country to organize and let the politicians know that teachers do NOT support the reauthorization of NCLB in its present form. Ted Kennedy is Chair of the Committee that will reauthorize NCLB. At this time he does not support changing the high staking testing provisions in the Act. Senator Kennedy says he is a friend of our union and he spoke at last year's national AFT convention. Let's make sure he hears from us.


Issues to ponder: Will administrators continue getting bonuses for test scores? Will whistle blowers continue to be harassed and persecuted? Will the UFT refrain from political uses of the numbers game (i.e. trumpeting gains on tests to validate salary increases)? Will teachers who refuse to teach to the test face insubordination charges?


If you want to read and become more involved locally and nationally on these issues, here are a few resources.

ICE has set up a blog for the posting of articles and comments of interest at:


Time Out From Testing: NYC group against high stakes testing:

Fair Test, the national center for fair and open testing:

Rethinking Schools:

Susan Ohanian Susan is organizing a national teacher protest at the Educator Roundtable: Join almost 30,000 teachers who have already signed the petition.