Rockin' the Schools
This is the dream team for "urban school reform." Michelle Rhee, current Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor, not yet 40, was raised in Toledo, a classroom teacher in Baltimore for three years and founder of The New Teacher Project. Al Sharpton is a long-time community activist and radio commentator, often controversial but not previously known for much advocacy on education.
Joel Klein, the former federal prosecutor and corporate lawyer, is the longest-serving NYC schools chancellor over the last fifty years. But he is loath to be considered part of the Education Establishment. As a self-styled "reformer" he has a lot of contempt for the school system he's charged with managing. That sentiment was on display during his propaganda tour with Sharpton to Washington, D.C. this month.
Teacher Unions are the Target
On Martin Luther King Day Klein and Sharpton led a rally at a Washington D.C. high school. They attempted to garner moral authority with lots of references to Dr. King, while heaping scorn on Washington's public schools. But while they preached for change and prophesized destruction, not everything they said was gloom and doom. Washington, D.C., despite being what they call among worst school systems in the nation is right now closer than most places to the promised land of deregulated, teacher union-free schools.
In an article published this month in The New Republic, Klein and Sharpton called Washington "a mecca" for charter schools. They praised Dr. King as someone who would have rejected any "inchworm gradualism." Their suggestion was that King would have given a cheerful endorsement for the new shock therapy being practiced on the schools of Washington and New York City. It's arrogance on a scale that must give serious pause. But let's also consider the wrongs being done to the living.
Michelle Rhee has declared she will rid the D.C. school system of a "significant share" of its teachers, according to the Washington Post. Her plan calls for outright firing of teachers with provisional certification, buy-outs, and placing a large number of teachers on a so-called 90-day plan of evaluation. She is also attempting to unilaterally impose a plan in which teachers can choose to give up tenure in exchange for the chance at a huge lump of merit pay. The Washington Teachers Union has refused to negotiate this plan. Rhee threatens with direct appeals to the membership. As a recent resolution of the Detroit Federation of Teachers rightly declared, the D.C. teachers are "fighting for all of us." [continued other side]
Independent Community of Educators
Praise for Weingarten
Meanwhile, Klein and Sharpton praise Randi as a welcome contrast to the "intransigence" of WTU leader George Parker. They approvingly singled out Randi's statement in November of last year that "With the exception of vouchers...no issue should be off the table." The School Reform Team is mightily cheered by such an open prospect, especially by Randi's willingness to negotiate over tenure and differentiated pay. That and the proliferation of charter schools is the shape of the battle today. (The last public test of school vouchers was the defeat of California's Proposition 38 by a 2 to 1 margin in 2000. What can we do to bring Randi up to date?)
Shock and Awe for New York Schools
The Bloomberg Era has brought the destruction of dozens of neighborhood schools, replaced with theme-based academies that have turned away the neediest students, including those with IEPs and English Language Learners. The new small schools have very rarely been a magnet for racial or ethnic diversity and are often more "ghetto" that the schools they replaced. Whites and Asians still flock to the specialized schools (which have declining minority enrollment) and large stable schools in "safe" neighborhoods. This year it is mostly elementary and intermediate schools that were closed (at least one to be replaced with a charter school) but the pattern remains the same. In September principals are gagged by the DOE from making a public comments about the school grades. Autumn passes with no public hearings, community input or advance warnings. In the dead of winter another round of closings. A principal in one large Brooklyn high school got the news from the school's chapter leader. A teacher in a the Rockaways, Queens, though being rehired a few years ago when her school was reorganized now finds her school is closing again. Newly expanded schools closed. Bonus-winning schools closed. The beat goes on.
Teacher Recruitment Still Going Full Throttle
Klein's strategy has been to create a surplus of teachers, competing for scarce positions and accepting worse conditions with diminished protections. As of February 3, any newly hired teaching fellow who has not yet obtained a permanent position is gone. Scores of newer teachers will be impacted. The UFT has been telling us since 2005 that the Absent Teacher Reserve clause, that replaced the seniority and SBO transfer plans, guarantees excessed teachers the right to a full- time Absent Teacher Reserve position and that it is therefore a de-facto no layoff agreement, unless the city declares a financial emergency. This turns out to be another myth. The teaching fellows were forced to sign a pre-employment letter saying they would obtain a permanent position by December 5, 2008 or face termination. The UFT grieved saying there is a job security clause in the Contract that supersedes the pre-employment letter. In a letter UFT President Randi Weingarten sent to the fellows earlier this month, she said: "We contended that the job-security clause in the UFT/DOE contract protected teaching fellows from layoffs, but the arbitrator rejected that argument." Meanwhile, the subways are bristling with teacher recruitment ads.
ICE Calls for a Stronger Response
The Independent Community of Educators is commited to an sustained effort seeking justice for ATRs and an end to school closings and we call on you to join us. We recognize that there can be no resolution of the ATR issue until we reverse some of the disastrous consequences of the 2005 and 2006 contracts. We demand a hiring freeze until all ATRs and RTRs are placed, and a return to school budgets based on average teacher salary applied to each school to prevent discrimination. Join us in this fight!
The ATR/School Closings Committee of ICE will be meeting Wednesday, February 4, 5 p.m. at the Skylight Diner on West 34th Street (9th Avenue). The next general ICE meeting is February 6. See our website for details.
Independent Community of Educators
P.O. Box 1143 www.ice-uft.org iceuftblog.blogspot.com
Jamaica, NY 11421 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel.: 718-601-4901