Wednesday, July 24, 2013


As a member of the opposition to the United Federation of Teacher's ruling Unity Caucus since 1995, I am used to disappointment. The UFT has set up an electoral system that all but guarantees that the ruling party will remain in power until the union is dissolved.

After spending this past school year fighting against the repulsive new teacher evaluation system that will rate teachers on unreliable student test scores that have huge margins of error (junk science), while waiting in vain for a decision on a lawsuit that the UFT filed in 2011 to save my school and many others from being closed, and also running in yet another futile UFT election bid, I decided I needed a couple of weeks to recharge my batteries this summer before thinking about going back to school to figure out how to deal with being rated based on Commissioner John King's junk science and the sadness of being in a 121 year old school that will be in its final year.

Unfortunately for teachers and other working people across this country, the news this summer has been quite gloomy.

Philadelphia is laying off thousands of school employees including many teachers. Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel is exacting revenge on the Chicago Teachers' Union, who had the audacity to exercise their right to strike last year.  Rahm is closing many schools and laying off 4% of the teaching staff. He is blaming pension obligations but the Chicago Teachers Union argues that the pensions are not the cause.  North Carolina's legislature reached a deal that would end teacher tenure (NY has weakened tenure but some protections still exist). To top it all off, Detroit is in bankruptcy proceedings.  This is the largest city in the US to go under.

Michigan's constitution is supposed to protect pensions but federal bankruptcy law may supersede the state constitution so Detroit may be leading the way for the greedy elite, who are out to destroy the public sector, to set a precedent by cutting public worker pensions.  This country has virtually eliminated defined benefits pensions in the private sector and now the austerity crowd has their eye on the public sector.

I don't think our public sector pensions in New York are in any imminent danger. I agree with economist Paul Krugman that the state and local government pension problem is totally exaggerated for political purposes. In addition, we are not facing layoffs in New York City as in other places however it is clear working people across the land are under a vicious attack and our unions are the best hope for a unified push back.

Since New York City is still somewhat of a union town and teacher unions, while far less powerful than in the past, could potentially have some real sway if we mobilized our collective strength properly.  Is our union at the local and/or national level, leading that fight for dignity in the workplace?

In a word the answer is no.

About ten years ago when I was on the UFT Executive Board, then President Randi Weingarten took to the podium at a meeting and from the chair launched a nasty tirade directed at my friends Ellen Fox, Ed Beller and me.  She told us that we didn't understand the forces we are up against.  She chartered a course for the union to be conciliatory so we would not be crushed. Ten years later teacher unions are being annihilated and unions in general are weaker than they have been in my lifetime but Randi, now heading the national American Federation of Teachers, is still trying not to alienate the teacher bashing crowd.  On Monday, she told an AFT gathering in a speech that we have to get rid of bad teachers. How about defending us Randi?

As for her successors at the UFT, they continue to rave about how wonderful it is for New York City teachers to be rated on junk science in the new evaluation system. Jackie Bennett, who I was lucky enough to win an award with in 2011, is now the person designated by the ruling Unity Caucus to defend the indefensible teacher evaluation system.

She spends many paragraphs in a UFT's Edwize blog piece telling us how having ineffective scores from 0-12 out of 20 points total is a great gain for NYC teachers from Commissioner John King's recent decree on evaluations because in the rest of the state the ineffective scores are 0-2 points on the two 20% parts of our annual rating that will be based on student learning measures.  40% of our rating in theory will be based on student test scores or other growth measures; the other 60% will be based on multiple observations. Then Jackie writes this paragraph:

"One last question remains: Why did the state set the problematic cut scores for the rest of the state in the first place?  Basically, the state wanted cuts that would make it impossible for teachers who were rated Ineffective in two different learning measures to overcome that rating, even if that teacher received all 60 of the observation points.  The statewide cuts do that, but they also create the potential for many additional Ineffective (ratings) that simply can't be justified in any system.  For NYC, all of those additional Ineffectives have been eliminated, but the state has still included language to the effect that a teacher who was rated as Ineffective both learning measures must be considered Ineffective overall, regardless of the score.  That is an outcome that would have affected us in the previous system and would affect us in this one as well."

Translation: If the students do not do well on the tests, the teacher will be rated ineffective for the year but that teacher will get more points in NYC as compared to the rest of the state. 12+12+60= 84 which will still be ineffective.  65 was supposed to be a passing grade.

Our national union leader is telling us that bad teachers should be fired while locally the union hierarchy is defending rating teachers based on junk science.  Is a bad teacher someone who is rated poorly based on King's garabage? We need new union heads for sure, which as Reality Based Educator rightly points out, does not guarantee victory, but at least we would be fighting back. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, in spite of the setbacks, recently was reelected overwhelmingly by her rank and file. Teachers in particular and workers in general will step up if given the opportunity to fight back. 

The UFT should be following the example set by the Buffalo Federation of Teachers led by Phillip Rumore. They continue to do everything they can to prevent teachers from being rated based on unreliable student test scores. The UFT, and our state union NYSUT, should be looking to California for advice on how to defy the Obama administration on education policy. The golden state is skillfully pursuing policy that recognizes that poverty, not bad teachers, is the main cause of the achievement gap in education.

When we arrive back at school in September and our UFT officials from the Unity Caucus tell us how lucky we are not to be in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago or North Carolina, tell them how fortunate we would be if we had union representation like they do in Buffalo, Chicago and California instead of our appeasers.

Finally, since Norm Scott wrote about how he spent last week, I'll show you the highlight of my week below. I don't think I have to explain that this was my daughter Kara's birthday party.


Monday, July 15, 2013


Excellent group out in the heat today discussing opposition to the proposed co-location of a new school within Martin Van Buren High School in Queens.

It was encouraging to see the elected officials, community groups, teachers, bloggers and students out there in 90+ degree weather to stand up for a comprehensive high school.

A local Civic Leader addresses the media flanked by the Deputy Queens Borough President, Councilman Mark Weprin, Assemblyman David Weprin and Senator Tony Avella
Here is a link to some video and commentary over at Pissed Off Teacher.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


One of the more sinister methods the Department of Education uses to undermine comprehensive high schools is by opening up new schools within buildings that were not designed to hold multiple schools. This hurts the established school in a number of ways.

The student population of the comprehensive school is reduced to accommodate the new school.  This in turn leads to a huge budget cut in the established school which leads to massive staff and program reductions.

The students in the established school are also made to feel that they are second class citizens in their own school as they see the new school lavished with all kinds of state of the art equipment and facilities in their part of the building as the DOE pours start up funds into the new school.

The DOE can then compare the two schools and find the established one lacking.

Since the DOE lost in arbitration and in court in its attempt to close down multiple large high schools last year, they have responded by co-locating many new schools in these buildings to try to shrink them and then make it easier to shut them in the future.

One such school is Martin Van Buren High School in Eastern Queens.

This school community is fighting back.  They will be holding a press conference on Monday, July 15 at 1:00 pm. at the school which is located at 230-17 Hillside Avenue.  Two supportive elected officials are leading the fight against the co-location: Senator Tony Avella and Councilman Mark Weprin. They will be joined by students, parents and community members.

To get to Van Buren, take the F Train to 179th Street and then it is a short bus ride on the Q43 to be dropped off right to the front of the school.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


There is good video and some media coverage of yesterday's protest at Tweed by the Pan American International High School community demanding a fair investigation of allegations that the principal made racist remarks against staff members she was terminating.

Here is a link to more Channel 7 coverage of this story.

Friday, July 05, 2013


It is encouraging to see faculty fight back when a principal engages in what is clearly unacceptable behavior.  
Below is a press release for a scheduled protest at Tweed on Monday.

The folks at Pan American International HS can certainly add this blog to its list of supporters.  

Click here to RSVP on Facebook:

WHAT? Protest demanding an immediate, rapid and unbiased investigation by the Chancellor's office into allegations that a Queens Principal called African American teachers she was firing "big lipped," "nappy haired," and "gorillas."

WHEN? 12 noon, Monday July 8th. 

WHERE? In front of Chancellor Walcott's offices at DOE Headquarters in Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers St., Manhattan (4/5/6/N to City Hall)

ENDORSEMENTS:  Teachers and staff from PAIHS Elmhurst and around the city, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, Kevin Powell and BK Nation, United Federation of Teachers, Movement of Rank and File Educators, New Action/UFT, Badass Teachers Association, Man UP, Hiphop SUV, Island Voice, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow[List of endorsements in formation]. 

Peter Lamphere, peter.lamphere@gmail.com917-969-5658
Kevin Powell, kevin@kevinpowell.net718-399-8149

WHY? Pan American International High School will be without any African American teachers next year, because two teachers have been fired after a Queens Principal, Minerva Zanca, made racist comments about them in closed-door meetings with her assistant principal.  The third African American teacher is leaving the school because of severe budget cuts to her hugely successful Theater program which were racially motivated.

We demand that there is a full investigation into these allegations and, if they are substantiated, that the DOE hold the principal accountable to its zero-tolerance policy against discrimination.  We also demand that the discontinuances of the personnel involved (Teachers John Flanagan and Heather Hightower and AP Anthony Riccardo) be reversed.

Local Councilmember Julissa Ferreras says "The allegations brought against Ms. Zanca are very serious and concern me deeply. As a representative of an extremely diverse district, I cannot and will not stand for this type of behavior."

Kevin Powell, president of BK Nation, adds "It is not only important to have high standards for our public school teachers but we must also support the good ones, like these teachers, who are completely dedicated to their young people. I find it unacceptable that a principal can engage in this kind of conduct without any repercussions. We are not going to stop until due justice and process is served here."

See media coverage on WABC7WNYC , PIX11 for more details. Click here to RSVP on facebook:


Haz click aquí para la invitación en Facebook:

¿QUÉ? Una demostración para exigir una investigación inmediata, rápida e imparcial por la oficina del rector de educación sobre las acusaciones de que la directora de un colegio en Queens refirió a dos maestros afro-americanos como “gorilas",  "de pelo churrusco" y con "labios grandotes.”

¿DÓNDE? En frente de la oficina del Rector de Educación, Dennis Walcott. 52 Chambers St., Manhattan, la sede del Departamento de Educación  (Trenes 4/5/6/N a City Hall).

PATROCINIOS: Los maestros de varios lugares alrededor de la ciudad y facultad del colegio Pan American International High School, Concejal Julissa Ferreras, Asambleista Francisco Moya, Kevin Powell y BK Nation, la Federación Unida de Maestros (conocida como UFT por sus siglas en ingles)Movement of Rank and File Educators, New Action/UFT Badass Teachers Association, Man UP, Hiphop SUV, Island Voice, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. [Lista de patrocinios en formación]

Peter Lamphere, peter.lamphere@gmail.com917-969-5658
Kevin Powell, kevin@kevinpowell.net718-399-8149

 ¿POR QUÉ? El año escolar entrante, Pan American International High School quedará sin maestros afro-americanos porque dos maestros fueron despedidos después de que la directora, Minerva Zanca, hizo algunos comentarios racistas tras las puertas privadas de su oficina con Anthony Riccardo, su vicedirector. Una tercera afro-americana también se aparta de su posición como directora de teatro porque ha sufrido demasiadas cortas a su presupuesto a mano de Zanca, que fueron motivadas por razones raciales.

Estamos exigiendo que haya una investigación a fondo en cuanto a estas alegaciones y, en caso de que salgan verdaderas, que el Departamento de Educación ejerza su política de no tolerancia contra discriminación. También exigimos que las descontinuaciones de los dos maestros, John Flanagan y Heather Hightower, y el vicedirector, Anthony Riccardo se inviertan.

La Consejal local Julissa Ferreras dice "Las acusaciones presentadas contra la Sra. Zanca son muy graves y me preocupan profundamente. Como representante de un distrito muy diverso, no puedo y no voy a permitir este tipo de comportamiento." 

Kevin Powell, el presidente de BK Nation, asegura que, "No solo es importante tener estándares altos para nuestros maestros de escuelas públicas, sino también hay que apoyar a los buenos maestros, como estos, que son completamente dedicados a sus estudiantes. Lo considero inaceptable que una directora pueda participar en este tipo de conducta sin consecuencias. No vamos a dejar de luchar hasta que la justicia apropiada y el proceso adecuado se hayan realizado. 

Vean la cobertura de los medios de comunicación en WABC7WNYC y Noticias PIX11 para más detalles. 

Haz click aquí para la invitación en Facebook: