By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
In what can only be described as another example of proof of the wide gap between the UFT leadership and its membership, the UFT at the Wednesday, November 12, 2009 Delegate Assembly would not go on the record opposing Joel Klein for Federal Secretary of Education. They will only go so far as to encourage members to send our thoughts about the Chancellor to the Obama transition people and they will send results of surveys we did last spring.
The Unity leadership spoke out strongly in opposition to an ICE amendment to a resolution that would share information about Klein and encourage UFT members to contact the Obama staff about Klein. ICE’s Lisa North proposed that the UFT oppose any nominee such as “Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Paul Vallas or any other potential Secretary of Education who supports corporate style, top-down, high stakes test crazed, teacher bashing accountability.” We wanted the UFT to go on the record and declare that twenty-five years of teacher bashing is enough. The UFT leadership declined to join us in saying enough is enough.
Instead, the normally sensible Secretary Michael Mendel gave a powerful speech against opposing Klein. He said that the teachers should be encouraged to make statements, not the UFT because then the battle lines are drawn. If I correctly understood this argument, he basically wants the rank and file to throw the snowballs while the UFT leadership stands back and watches. This way they can say, “It’s them not us Chancellor.” I have one question: Who does the UFT leadership represent?
The corporate style, top-down, test crazed blame the teachers and close down schools if the tests scores don’t go up fast enough accountability system has been a disaster for our schools and our members. That much is clear. Joel Klein is just one of a number of city school superintendents who have bought into the “It’s the teachers’ fault!” accountability. Randi Weingarten has talked repeatedly about how the Federal No Child Left Behind law is the real problem. Even after a favorable election where Randi spoke about how hard the UFT toiled to elect Obama and a Democratic Congress, our Union still will not take an official stand against the “blame the teachers” crowd that now run urban schools in many cities.
As for Klein himself, I have emailed back and forth with the Chancellor on several occasions about Jamaica High School issues. I have nothing against him personally. It’s the policies that try to quantify everything into data driven accountability that I find lacking as well as trying to apply the free market system to schools. It doesn’t work. We need to go in a different direction. If the leader of the UFT-AFT will not move us there, then we are in big trouble. The UFT’s decision to leave the rank and file out on our own to lead the battle against Klein while they stand back and watch from the sidelines might be indicative of where they stand.
After Mendel spoke, there was no suspense about the outcome of the vote. We knew we would lose in the Unity dominated DA, however Michael Fiorillo, the Chapter Leader from Newcomers High School, did suggest that when the UFT encourages teachers to tell the truth about the Klein administration while not directly opposing Klein, it is a distinction without a difference. I have to respectfully disagree with my friend from Newcomers.
For the membership, UFT leaders will say what we want to hear while behind the scenes they can wink and who knows what they are telling the Chancellor. Maybe they are saying they are just letting the teachers blow off some steam. Perhaps they want to be everything for everyone. The amendment to oppose Klein and company was defeated; the resolution to provide information to the Obama team on Klein carried.
ATR’s: Rally or Candlelight Vigil?
Controversy erupted at the DA over the November 24th rally at Tweed in support of Absent Teacher Reserves. The ATR supporters from the Ad Hoc Committee asked for clarification from President Weingarten if this was to be a raucous rally or a candlelight vigil. The latest word from UFT leaders is that this would be a vigil now but the DA in October called for a rally which Randi supported. Yesterday, Randi decided to mock the controversy and belittle the people who want a loud gathering. She said it gets dark early in November and candles would allow everyone to be seen.
ICE’s Julie Woodward took offense at being ridiculed by the President. Julie passionately voiced her feelings to the DA on behalf of the ATRs. At the end of all of this, I’m still not sure if there will be a rally or a vigil but I will encourage the members in my school and those who read this blog to attend either way.
In other DA News, we heard a long report from Randi about Obama’s election, the Democratic Party majority in Congress, control of the New York State Senate, the horrific State and City budget situations, budget cuts for schools in the middle of the year, No Child Left Behind, civil rights, an economic stimulus package that would hopefully include money for state and local governments, the DC 37 settlement that keeps to the 4% and 4% pattern, and possible layoffs. (If the city were to declare a financial emergency, layoffs would have to come in reverse seniority order within license citywide.) She also did not even hint that Bloomberg is close to declaring a financial emergency where there could be layoffs.
There were questions about parking and rubber rooms. Staff Director Leroy Barr reported that things are much better in the Temporary Reassignment Centers than last year. Finally, the UFT will rally in support of UFT members at the Art Institute today and at the Merrick Charter School on November 20.