Tuesday, April 28, 2015


The UFT did not respond to our letter faxed on April 13, 2015 asking for time at the next Executive Board meeting to make our case on why Absent Teacher Reserves and Leave Replacement Teachers are entitled to a UFT Chapter. We belong to no UFT Chapter and need representatives of our own choosing because of our unique status within the union.

The next scheduled Executive Board meeting after we sent our letter was Monday, April 27, 2015. This was the last meeting before May Chapter elections.

It is no surprise that we did not hear back from President Michael Mulgrew but AFT President Randi Weingarten did reply. She told us the AFT had to wait to see what the UFT did. ATR John Silvers spoke during the open microphone period at the Executive Board but we have heard nothing officially regarding our letter.

Since the UFT has ignored our pre-election complaint, it is on to the AFT.

Here is our email to Randi that was sent on Monday.

Update: Please read our follow-up post on how the UFT did respond but the email did not come through because an extra s was added to my email address. We have informed everyone involved.

Good day Randi,

Absent Teacher Reserves and Leave Replacement Teachers in the United Federation of Teachers sent the attached letter to UFT President Michael Mulgrew on April 13, 2015 as an official pre-election complaint.  The letter was sent via fax and email.  The letter was faxed a second time on Friday, April 24, 2015 requesting time on today's agenda to discuss our complaint.

Tonight, April 27, 2015 the UFT Executive Board is meeting.  This will be the last Executive Board meeting before Chapter Elections begin. There is one item on supporting a parade on the agenda that should not be controversial and there are other routine items.

There certainly could have been time for ATR's to make the case for a Chapter.  However, our letter requesting time at the next meeting has inexplicably been ignored by President Mulgrew.

As the Executive Board decides electoral disputes within the UFT and Chapter Elections can begin on Friday, May 1, we are asking the American Federation of Teachers to intervene immediately to resolve this dispute.  We believe our duty to fair representation has been violated.

Please get back to us as soon as possible.  Our democratic rights are at stake.


James Eterno,

Francesco Portelos

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Last week we urged people to run for Chapter Leader or Delegate in the upcoming UFT Chapter Elections taking place in May or June.  For those thinking about a run for office at the crucial school-chapter level, we have copied below the UFT's Election Guide and Bylaws.  Please read them closely and email us any questions.

If NYC teachers are determined to change the UFT, now is the time to step forward and lead.  It will basically be impossible for us to make any moves in a positive direction if we don't elect a healthy number of new independent Chapter Leaders and Delegates who will not sign the Unity loyalty oath. Unity Caucus is Michael Mulgrew's political party.

Unity requires their members to sign an obligation stating they will support leadership positions in union and public forums.  Unity representatives vote as they are told and then go back to their schools and repeat the Unity party line. Busy rank and file members either accept it or become cynical and detach themselves from union involvement.

Do you believe leadership when they call the teacher evaluation system a victory for us?  It isn't; it is awful and getting worse. Question your Unity Chapter Leader/Delegate on this. I also recommend asking every Unity Chapter Leader if they voted against a strong resolution to support the parent opt out revolt against common core testing that is occurring throughout NYS?  Unity voted it down.

You can be sure your Chapter Leader/Delegate belong to Unity Caucus if they are heading this week to the NYSUT Convention in Buffalo. One has to run on the Unity slate to get a chance to get free trips to the AFT and NYSUT conventions.

Good people can no longer sit on the sidelines. 16,000 teachers voted no on the contract last year with its meager 10% raises over 7 years.  That contract will also make us wait until 2020 to be made whole for money most other city employees received back from 2008-2010.  The best way to stop the top-down mismanagement of the UFT is to elect independent Chapter Leaders and Delegates who will represent you and not Michael Mulgrew.

Chapter Election Procedures
Election of chapter leader, other chapter officers and delegates to the Delegate Assembly shall be conducted by secret ballot under the supervision of an election committee.

The Election Committee may be designated by the chapter leader with the approval of the chapter, or may be elected by the chapter.  Candidates for chapter leader and DA delegate may not serve on the Election Committee.  If the chapter conducts an election, there must be clear notice of the process posted or discussed at a union meeting.

The duties of the Election Committee shall be:
 1.  To choose the chair of the Election Committee.
 2. To prepare a Notice of Election. This notice shall contain:
 a. A list of the positions to be filled.  In addition to the chapter leader, the notice shall state how many delegates are to be elected: one per 60 teacher members or major fraction thereof. The school printout provides the number of DA delegates. The chapter may include other chapter positions exclusive to the school.
 b. A procedure for nominations.
 c. An election calendar.
 d. A procedure for appeal.
 3. Preparing the ballots and the ballot box and determining eligible voters on the basis of UFT-  established rules.
 4.   Conducting the actual election.
 5.   Counting the ballots.
6.  Certifying the election to the UFT Membership Department on the appropriate form.
7.  Keeping the ballots and the ballot box in a safe place for at least one month, in case of a challenge to the results.

A copy of the Notice of Election with the Election Calendar must be distributed to each chapter member through the school mailboxes, including those in annexes and school sites, and shall be posted on the UFT bulletin board at least three (3) school days prior to the date of nominations in each site and annex.

The Election Calendar must include the following information:
·       Date of Nominations  This date must be at least 3 school days after the distribution of the Notice of Election.
·       Date of Election
The actual elections must take place on one day. This date must be at least 5 school days following the distribution of the Notice of Election.
·     Time and place of voting
This schedule must be suited to the school so as to give all UFT members an opportunity to vote.  The schedule must make provision for all school sites and annexes.
      An election calendar
Sample election calendar:  Thursday, May 7th:  Notice of election distributed; Thursday, May 14th: Nominations close at the end of the school day; Thursday, May 21st: voting.

Every school is entitled to elect a para-professional representative and the vote may take place at the same time as the chapter election. Only paraprofessionals may nominate, run and vote for paraprofessional representatives.

The UFT Constitution does not provide for co-chapter leaders. If a chapter chooses to have a co-chapter leader, it may only be on an informal basis. Only one name may be submitted as chapter leader of record.

The chair of the Election Committee must verify that all nominees accept their nominations.
Provision will be made for members who are not on the school’s table of organization but eligible to participate in the chapter’s election to nominate and be nominated.

Conducting the Election
The ballot box must be secure and monitored at all times by the Election Committee.

Provision will be made for members who are out on official school business—e.g., a class trip or conference—or who are not on the school’s table of organization, but eligible to participate to cast ballots before the close of balloting.

Members must vote in person; no absentee ballots may be cast.

Voting must take place by secret ballot on the date announced in the Election Calendar.

In cases where positions are not contested (only one candidate has been nominated for a particular role), those candidates can be confirmed without a formal vote.

Time and Place for Counting Ballots
The count shall take place on the day of voting, and provision must be made to include the vote
of all school sites and annexes with the school count.

A supervised ballot box must be provided at a specific location. A membership roster must be available, and is to be initialed by the voter at the time the ballot is cast. Each chapter leader will have a membership printout and a chapter certification form. The printouts should be checked immediately by the Election Committee for errors or omissions.

Members who were not on the school’s table of organization but were assigned to the school on the first Monday in May will be added to the roster.

An individual whose name is not on the printout, but who claims membership and can display evidence of UFT membership—such as a NYSUT membership card or check stub with proper dues code (“-U”)—should be allowed to vote.

The ballot, however, is subject to challenge and must be sequestered. 

Ballots shall be counted at the time and place announced in the Election Calendar. Candidates or their observers may be present at the count.  Election shall be determined by the highest number of votes.  Challenged ballots shall be set aside and, if their number could affect the outcome of the election.

The Election Committee shall place an announcement of the results on the UFT bulletin board immediately after the election.

All ballots and election materials shall be retained by the Election Committee for at least one month to allow for review of results.
As soon as results have been certified by the Election Committee, the Committee Chair must complete the Chapter Certification Data Form and send it to the UFT Membership Department, 52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004, 11th floor.

Procedures for appeals
Appeals of elections must be made in writing to the UFT borough representative, with written notice to the chapter within five (5) school days following the election. In the event that a challenge to the election is successful, the borough representative shall establish an expedited election procedure.

Any full-time member may nominate, run for a position and vote in a school’s election if he or she is on the school’s permanent table of organization or assigned to the school on the first Monday in May of an election year.
Only teachers are eligible to nominate, run for and vote for school DA delegate, provided that they have signed the union card at least 60 days prior to the election. 

Secretaries, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals and other functional chapter members are represented in the Delegate Assembly through their functional chapters and may stand for election as delegate from their functional chapters. 

District 75 and District 79 members nominate and are nominated for chapter leader in their District 75 or 79 school.  District 75 or 79 members and others who are permanently housed in the school building may vote in that chapter leader election.

Agency fee payers may not nominate, run or vote in chapter elections.

Schools with Multiple Sites: To facilitate communications and service, schools with multiple sites often have liaisons at these sites. These liaisons are not chapter leaders nor are they DA delegates unless they specifically run for those positions in the school’s election.

Persons on split assignment shall vote in their payroll school. Like others, these members must vote in person; no absentee ballots may be cast.  F-status substitutes (those with regularly scheduled part-time assignments) may vote in their school election.

Friday, April 24, 2015


The Wall Street Journal reported the other day on how companies in the ever noble private sector are having second thoughts about giving competitive ratings for employees. Some are even moving away from the policy.

This section will make more than a few teachers nod their heads:

Plenty of managers like ratings for the same reason employees loathe them--the grades are informed less by data than by the boss's judgment.  The irony is that ratings remain subjective as companies have more ways than ever before to track staff performance.  At Deloitte LLP, the company recently overhauled its performance-management system after realizing that ratings revealed more about the manager assigning the ratings than the employees themselves.

Is anyone now saying Duh? This conclusion seems kind of obvious.

The article carries on with this little gem:

Some executives worry that figuring performance measures such as time it takes for restaurant workers to take an order into reviews might lack context. I have a real love-hate relationship with data," said Kevin Reddy, the CEO of fast-casual restaurant chain Noodles & Co. "You can get a false sense of security if you zero in too closely on a rating system."

So there is actually some sanity in the world?  Observations of teachers and student test results need to be put in context too.

It is time to use some of the information gathered from the private sector as part of our fight against the new evaluation system that even Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch wants to postpone until September 2016.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Several groups are backing a rally-press conference outside of Tweed (50 Chambers Street in Manhattan) this afternoon (Thursday) from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm.

Non tenured teachers have been discontinued at a rate that exceeds the Blommberg years under Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina. Some want to fight back and tell their stories. This blog says we should listen closely and support fellow educators.  Many were dismissed for trivial reasons.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Do you want to fix the United Federation of Teachers?  Do you really seriously want to be involved in repairing the mess that our union has become? If the answer is yes, then right now is the time to step up and be a part of a movement for change by running for a Chapter leadership position.

We all know President Michael Mulgrew and his ruling Unity Caucus are in bed with management now that a Democrat, Bill de Blasio, is mayor. Unfortunately, their collaborative relationship has not led to improved teaching and learning conditions in most schools. The mayor's Chancellor, Carmen Farina, has done little, if anything, to advance the teaching profession in NYC.

In addition, our union's leaders did almost nothing to put a halt to Governor Andrew Cuomo's anti-public school agenda and now UFT officials are not lifting a finger to assist parents as close to 200,000 students statewide are boycotting invalid, abusive Common Core exams.

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, other social media and complaining in the teacher's room about how awful the union leadership is can be helpful but it's not enough. Right now is the time for each and every UFT member who has seen our profession come close to being destroyed to do something about it.

Chapter elections are coming in May or June in every school.  These are the really important UFT elections since the Chapter Leader and Delegate basically control the flow of information from the union leaders to the rank and file. Many UFT members are too busy to follow the day-by-day workings of the union. They count on their Chapter Leader and Delegate to help them understand what's occurring.

Sadly, however, too many Chapter Leaders and Delegates belong to Unity Caucus, Michael Mulgrew's political party, that has dominated the UFT for half a century.

Unity requires its members to sign an obligation compelling them to support caucus positions in public and union forums. Critics call it the Unity loyalty oath. In exchange, they get free trips to conventions where they endorse whatever the leadership wants, even if it is harmful to teachers.

Unity Chapter Leaders and Delegates return to schools after union meetings to spread the Unity party line no matter how horrific it is for the rank and file. Examine the contract with its paltry raises or the anti-teacher evaluation system that changes every year that Unity always claims is a victory.  We know conditions are rapidly deteriorating but Unity paints a rosy picture so they can stay in power.

Many members hear the Unity nonsense and become apathetic. Some wish to ride out the perpetual storm in a low key way until retirement. The indifference is understandable but it is not the answer to our problems.

If we ever are to change the union and improve working conditions in the schools, we need at the very least a few hundred independent people to take Chapter positions away from the Unity Party. We must stand up to the leadership when necessary instead of having what one Unity member once called "blind faith" in the UFT president.

It is not that difficult to be a  UFT change agent.  A Delegate has only nine meetings a year to attend and then report back to the Chapter on what goes on.

Chapter Leader is a more complicated position but groups such as ICE and the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) contain within their ranks experienced Chapter Leaders who can provide a great deal of support.

Email us if you or someone you know wants to help rescue our union from its current pathetic state.

Step I is taking back the Chapters one-by-one.

Remember, the U in union stands for you!

Monday, April 20, 2015


A parent group called NYC Kids PAC has given Mayor Bill de Blasio some very low grades on how he has run the New York City schools.  The mayor received five grades of "D", three "F's" and three grades of incomplete out of a total of fifteen areas where he was scored based on how his time in office has compared to his campaign promises.

The Mayor's "F" grades were for class size, transparency and accountability as well as diversity, "D" marks were for co-location and space planning, parent engagement and input, busing, special education and privacy,

I personally think the parent group was a little too generous.  They actually gave de Blasio an "A" for not closing schools. While de Blasio has stopped closing schools, his plan for what to do with so called failing schools is to get rid of the teacher and make them reapply for their jobs.  This has much of the same devastating impact on the school communities as shutting schools down.

Some of the most stinging criticism dealt with class sizes. The amazing Leonie Haimson did not pull any punches in her critique:

The Mayor gets an "F" on class size, because he has fulfilled none of his promises on this critical issue, the top priority of parents according to the DOE's own surveys.  Despite his commitment to reduce class size significantly, and if necessary, raise funds to do so, class sizes remain at a fifteen year high in the early grades, and the administration has taken no action in this area or indicated that they intend to follow through in any way.  In fact, the Chancellor has repeatedly ignored the concerns expressed by educators and parents, and has stated that class size is not a problem that needs to be solved, despite the decision of the state's highest court that NYC children are denied their constitutional rights because their classes are too large.

I can give some anecdotal evidence to support Leonie's point.  I worked as an Absent Teacher Reserve at a school for a short time that had many classes over the legal limit of 34.  It matters; large class sizes do hinder the educational experience.  I am currently employed at a school where lower class sizes are important to administration and my experience has been so much more positive.

For some media coverage of the report card, go here.

It would be interesting if the mayor polled the teachers on his education record.  My guess is he would do as bad or possibly even worse than he did with the parent group.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


A couple of weeks back we wrote a piece on how awful receivership would be for teachers because of changes made in the education law. The State will basically be telling districts to turn over schools deemed failing to receivers. Receivers will have plenty of power but it looks like they will not have authority to lay off NYC teachers.

The receiver will be authorized to set up a personnel committee that has to rehire at least half of the "qualified"staff. Those not rehired cannot bump other teachers so it looks like they will be laid off and have to wait until a job opens up in their district to be employed again. This applies outside of NYC.

NYC Educator put out a detailed New York State United Teacher analysis of the new law.  NYSUT's analysis shows there is a distinct provision of law for New York City teachers and supervisors on layoffs on the books. Layoffs in NYC are covered by Education Law 2588 which mandates layoffs based on who the junior person in a license area is.

The new education law does have language in the receivership section that says notwithstanding any other provision of law so it looks like 2588 survives. My guess is that staff from schools put into receivership in NYC will probably end up as teachers sent to schools on a year to year basis like the new agreement for Boys and Girls and Automotive. They are a kind of Absent Teacher Reserves who do not rotate weekly. This beats layoff for sure.

Outside of NYC, it looks like layoff is the policy if a receiver takes over a school according to the NYSUT analysis. Hopefully some good lawyers will find some loopholes to save these teachers.

Once again I would like to point out that I am a teacher and not a lawyer so this is a layman's interpretation of a complex statute. If anyone can correct us, we will update the posting.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


NYC Educator provided a comprehensive report from the April 15 UFT Delegate Assembly. I recommend that everyone head on over there to read his minutes. For a very quick summary, it was once again reinforced that UFT leadership will not do anything to assist parents throughout the state who are starving the data beast by having their kids refuse to take Common Core exams.

Mulgrew's reasoning is that we will lose federal funding if 95% of students don't take the exams. This view is refuted by Fair Test.

Mulgrew says he is being "smart" putting the union's weight behind trying to pass a new federal education law instead of supporting the parent rebellion taking place statewide against the Common Core tests. How can the biggest teacher union basically sit this out?

This is just further proof, though it is not really needed, that the UFT is really now a subsidiary of the NYC Department of Education and not an independent trade union.

For more on refusing the test, go to New York State Allies for Public Education.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Parents across the state are sending a powerful message by opting their kids out of the Common Core grade 3-8 state reading exams. Comsewague reported an astonishing 82% opt out rate and many districts on Long Island and upstate were not far behind.

Read the latest from Buffalo.

Here in NYC the union is not helping opt out as this report from the Executive Board shows.

Monday, April 13, 2015


April 12, 2015

Michael Mulgrew President
United Federation of Teachers
52 Broadway
New York, NY 10004
Via Fax and email

Dear President Mulgrew:

There will be UFT Elections coming up in May or June for Chapter Leader and Delegate positions in every Chapter.  This election is denying Absent Teacher Reserves (ATRs) and Leave Replacement Teachers the right to serve as a Chapter Leader and/or Delegate because ATRs or Leave Replacement Teachers belong to no UFT Chapter.

As you are well aware, ATRs have sought to establish a specific Chapter so that our unique needs can be met.  Despite numerous requests for a Functional Chapter, the UFT leadership has consistently rejected them claiming that all of our union representation needs can be met within the schools we rotate in and out of by Chapter Leaders in those schools. 

Fundamental to our Union’s Constitution, our history and the Labor Management Disclosure and Reporting Act (LMDRA), it is incumbent upon our union leadership to protect the voting rights of members and our rights to qualify and hold elected union positions. 

Recently, the UFT Executive Board promulgated new provisions and a bylaw which, while attempting to give ATRs and Leave Replacement Teachers some kind of voting rights, falls well short of allowing us equal rights to hold union office and will still deny some of us our right to vote.

According to the UFT Constitution, in Article 5, Section 8 on page 6 it states:  

The UFT Executive Board shall supervise all elections in the manner provided for by the Constitution and shall decide all disputes arising out of such elections. 

Please view this letter as a formal protest of the upcoming Chapter Elections. The Election Guide and Bylaws approved at a recent Executive Board meeting do not permit full voting rights and full rights to hold union office for ATRs and Leave Replacement Teachers.

The remedy we seek is to: 

1-Permit the organization of an ATR-Leave Replacement Teacher Functional Chapter to authorize the election of Chapter Leader and Delegates by and for ATRs and Leave Replacement Teachers in the same manner as provided for other Functional Chapters.

2-Amend the recent Executive Board action to allow ATRs and Leave Replacement Teachers to run for Chapter Leader and Delegate by guaranteeing that we will be able to serve in those positions so long as we remain ATRs or Leave Replacement Teachers. 

Some of us were Chapter Leaders and Delegates in schools we worked at that either phased out or we were removed from our Chapters for other reasons.  We would like to have an opportunity to serve again in office to be able to have a hand in making UFT policy at the Delegate Assembly (DA).  According to UFT publications, the DA is the highest policymaking body in the UFT. 

The UFT Constitution states in Article VII, Section 6 concerning the DA: 

The Delegate Assembly shall have the power to legislate all matters except for those pertaining to the admission, suspension or expulsion of a member of this organization. 

According to federal labor law, since the DA has a policymaking role in this organization, the Delegates must be elected.  Federal regulations gives every member of a union an equal opportunity to vote and to serve in union office.  The Landrum Griffin federal regulations say this concerning eligibility to be candidates and to hold union office: 

Every member in good standing is eligible to be a candidate and to hold office subject to reasonable qualifications in the union's constitution and bylaws that are uniformly imposed. 

As mentioned previously, the UFT Executive Board approved an Election Guide and Bylaws at a recent meeting.  The Guide says in a Section called ELIGIBILITY: 

Any full-time member may nominate, run for a position and vote in a school's election if he or she is on the school's permanent table of organization or assigned to the school on the first Monday in May of an election year. 

This provision means that Absent Teacher Reserves who rotate on a weekly, or biweekly or sometimes monthly basis from school to school would vote in the school they are at on the first Monday in May this year.  However, constitutionally Chapter Elections can take place at any point in May or June so many ATRs might not be in the same school when the Chapter holds its election as they are at on the first Monday in May.  The Election Guide prohibits absentee balloting so some ATRs will be completely disenfranchised. 

As for Leave Replacement Teachers, this group of teachers are filling in for up to a year for teachers who are on approved long term leaves.  Leave Replacement Teachers will be voting at the school we are temporarily assigned to.  However, some Leave Replacement Teachers and Absent Teacher Reserves would like to serve as Chapter Leaders or Delegates (Chapter Leaders are also members of the Delegate Assembly).  The Chapter Election Guide says we can nominate, vote and run for a position but it does not say we can hold office. 

As Leave Replacement Teachers and Absent Teacher Reserves, we have no right to a job at a particular school once the person we are replacing returns from their leave or when we rotate to the next school so it is highly unlikely that we will still be at the school we are temporarily assigned to after June when a term of office for Chapter Leader or Delegate would begin. 

Therefore, as a Leave Replacement Teacher or ATR, we are being denied the right to hold union office because UFT policy has been that once a person is no longer assigned to a particular school, that person is not permitted to represent that school's Chapter in the DA as a Delegate or Chapter Leader.  

Federal regulations say that every member in good standing is eligible to hold office subject to reasonable qualifications.  It is not a reasonable qualification that we are only eligible to serve in office if we somehow manage to stay in a school where we have no right to stay.  Officially, Leave Replacement Teachers and ATRs belong to no chapter.   

Many of us have proposed that Absent Teacher Reserves and Leave Replacement Teachers have our own Functional Chapter as a way to be able to vote and hold office since we are not part of any UFT Chapter.  The ATR position is now imbedded in the contract with a whole section of the 2014 Memorandum of Agreement.  We believe the best way forward is to grant us the status of a Functional Chapter, with an elected Chapter Leader and proportional number of elected Teacher Delegates, as our needs are unique and separate from those of the regular teaching staff.  

We have attempted to work this out amicably with union officials but have received no satisfactory resolution.   

The US Department of Labor's Office of Management Standards has been contacted concerning representation for Absent Teacher Reserves and Leave Replacement Teachers. They have advised us that we can use the union's official internal remedies before the election to try to uphold our democratic rights.   

Since the Executive Board is the body charged by the UFT Constitution with resolving election disputes, we are asking for time at the next Executive Board Meeting to call for the upholding of the rights of Leave Replacement Teachers and Absent Teacher Reserves to vote and to be able to hold union office.  We demand equal treatment which is our right under federal labor law. 


James Eterno
Al Zucker
Francesco Portelos
August Leppeimeier

Leave Replacement Teachers and Absent Teacher Reserves

email copies to: Leroy Barr
Emil Pietromonaco
Adam Ross
Randi Weingarten

C: Robert Rennard Investigator- US Department of Labor
Office of Labor-Management Standards

Sunday, April 12, 2015


There was an extremely comical but still nauseating piece that came out on Chalkbeat NY last week noting how teachers in the so called Renewal Schools were twice as likely to receive low ratings as teachers in other schools.  Well duh. Renewal Schools are labeled that way usually because they have students who have greater needs who are more likely to fail tests.

I have news for Chalkbeat: Teachers in phasing out schools were even more likely to receive adverse ratings compared to those in Renewal Schools because we had an even greater percentage of pupils who had high needs that were basically impossible to meet.

Let's take a look at some of the almighty data from a few schools that were in their final year of phase out last year.  These schools were supposed to only have students who had the potential to graduate during the 2013-2014 school year.

According to the data from the State Education Department, Jamaica High School must have had the worst teachers on the planet as 88% of us received an annual rating of either developing or ineffective.  That is many, many times greater than the average in city schools. 

Now let's look at Beach Channel High School, another school in its final year of phase out in 2013-2014.  Their teachers had no overall composite ratings last year, according to the state, but 75% received developing or ineffective on the state testing portion. Truly shocking?

We'll go out of Queens and head to Manhattan where there were no state or local test scores for the phasing out Norman Thomas High School.  This is very interesting.  How were they exempted from the state law on evaluations? 

Examining some data at another closing school, Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn, reveals that an astounding 30% of teachers were rated ineffective overall last year. That's almost 30 times higher than the average rate for the city.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

Is a Chalkbeat feature coming?  Where are the NY Post, Daily News, NY Times or other anti-teacher publications calling for all the teachers to be immediately fired?  Where are the astro-turf school reform organizations funded by the billionaires?  Lots of teachers to bash here and plenty of meaningless data to back it up.

Before some reporter looks at this and writes another ridiculous story, let us inject some reality about how the data from closing schools illustrates some of the absurdity of the current teacher evaluation system.

The pupils we were teaching at Jamaica High School in the final year of phase out were a mix of a few honors students and regular kids combined with a high percentage of special education, English language learners, students with interrupted formal education and overage pupils who fell behind in credits.  We started the year with under 100 pupils and four and a half rooms in the huge building that we shared with four other schools.

Those kids in the last graduating class at Jamaica were wonderful and a pleasure to work with, even though we knew it was going to be next to impossible to help many of them graduate. Some pupils were programmed incorrectly because we didn't have a sufficient number of students to give them classes appropriate to their levels. These students were lost.  Many were pushed out of the school while others were compelled to sit in front of a computer to make up classes with a teacher who had students taking several different subjects in the same room. Students complained to us that they wanted real classes. 

In spite of obstacles that were thrown in front of them, most who remained all year graduated. Teachers and students did an outstanding job in spite of extremely adverse conditions. I am sure other phasing out schools had similar circumstances.

All of us in closing schools should have been exempted from the new evaluation system because we had so many high needs students and such small student populations.  Therefore, the sampling size for our ratings, including subgroups, was way too small to have any statistical significance.

One of my friends made this argument to the UFT repeatedly.  He told UFT officials we should all just receive satisfactory or unsatisfactory ratings (all of us would have been satisfactory based on observations) but the Department of Education wouldn't move. The evaluation system is truly junk science in so many ways but particularly in phasing out schools. It is no surprise that 88% of us received low ratings but it is basically meaningless.

Looking ahead, I have a not so bold prediction to make that I will try to confirm with the data in September when this year's ratings come out:

The percentage of teachers who taught last year at Jamaica High School who will receive adverse ratings will be significantly lower this year since those of us still in the system are in schools with different student populations compared to last year's final class at Jamaica. 

What will this data prove?  The Cuomo evaluation system tells a teacher a great deal about who is sitting in front of him/her and next to nothing about anyone's ability to provide instruction.

This will only exacerbate next year under Governor Cuomo and the Legislature's crazy reforms that will actually increase the weight of state test scores in teacher evaluations. Cuomo Junk Science 2.0 will be even worse.  My colleague Arthur Golstein calls it farcical.  Examine the simple chart created by Geoff Decker of Chalkbeat (the chart looks accurate unlike Chalkbeat's often biased pro-charter school reporting) to judge for yourself how ludicrous the system is.

Final ratings under a new default evaluation system will be determined by matching ratings from testing and observation subcomponents according to the matrix above.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A SUMMARY OF SOME OF THE LATEST ON OPT OUT (Updated with link to Magee Robocall)

We get a weekly report from the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). We have noted previously how NYSUT President Karen Magee has taken a little bit more of a vocal stance recently in support of parents opting their kids out of state exams which are scheduled to be administered when we return to school for grades 3-8.

This is from Karen's notes from this week's NYSUT Leader Briefing: "This is a crucial time. With tests looming next week, NYSUT wants all K-12 members to be aware of your rights and responsibilities regarding testing. For details, go to NYSUT's Q&A."  Magee also noted how Governor Andrew Cuomo now owns his "test and punish agenda."  While not emphasizing opt out, at least there is some lip service coming from the state union.

In comparison, UFT President Michael Mulgrew has been silent recently on the opt out issue.  A quick glance through the latest city edition of The NY Teacher shows not one specific article on opting out. I could not even find a reference. This is not a surprise to anyone.  (There is, however, a feature on Middle College High School, the school I am teaching at this year, that everyone should read.)

Meanwhile, there is an editorial in Lo Hud Press that is actually sympathetic to opt out.  It says this about the opt out controversy: "The whole thing is nuts," and concludes this way:

It is a sad fact that local students – from little third-graders to eighth-graders – have picked up on the anxiety in their schools over the upcoming tests (Tuesday to Thursday for ELA and April 22 to 24 for math). Some are coming home to ask their parents about the meaning of "opting out." What an education for students – and parents. 

We also hear from Fairport, a district in the Rochester area, about a majority of students opting out of state exams.  In addition, our friend Brian from Port Jefferson Station says this about his district in the comment section over at Perdido Street School: "I can tell you that in Comsewogue, out on Long Island, about 80% have opted out already."

The predictable response from the New York State Education Department is to threaten districts.

The movement to starve the data beast is national and looks to be spreading. It is being led by parents which is great. It is not at all surprising to see the UFT sit on the sidelines while NYSUT is playing only a small supporting role.  Trying to figure out the position of the national American Federation's President Randi Weingarten on this issue is not exactly easy but the AFT has done very little in public in support of opt out as far as I know.  All of this makes any editorials or news stories from the corporate press saying the big unions are leading the opt out movement look all the more foolish.

Here is some information on how to opt out.


Why are NYSUT members outside of NYC getting this robo-call from NYSUT President Karen Magee on opting out?  How about us in NYC?  Nobody inside the city has informed us of receiving this call.  This is all very strange for sure..


Wednesday, April 08, 2015


It was a victory for the Chicago Teachers Union to force a runoff in the Chicago mayor's race but incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel survived last night and beat Jesus Chuy Garcia in that runoff by over 10%.

Sadly, Emanuel, the man called Mayor 1%, had plenty of the old Democratic Party machine support in the runoff against Garcia.  The challenger was endorsed by the CTU which was backed by the national American Federation of Teachers and our own United Federation of Teachers.  The CTU famously took on the mayor with the 2012 strike.  The contract that came after that walkout will end soon.

Emanuel admitted he received a message in claiming victory.  He stated, "Thank you for putting me through my paces. I will be a better mayor because of that."

It would have been a huge deal if he had been defeated. Since he won, was this just another defeat for teachers and their unions?

The union says no.  The CTU reaction is copied in full below.

Election 2015: The movement that changed Chicago’s political landscape

by ctu communications  |  04/07/2015
CHICAGO—For the first time in 20 years, Chicagoans had the opportunity to engage in an extended political debate regarding the city’s future, which created a massive coalition of labor, community organizations, social justice activists, clergy and people of all ethnic backgrounds and from all of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is both proud and honored to be one of the organizations contributing to what was not only a mayoral campaign for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, but a landmark moment for a progressive, democratic movement that is only going to grow larger and more powerful in Chicago politics.  
Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel won a hard-fought re-election campaign, it came only after surviving the first run-off in Chicago’s history. The fact that a number of incumbent aldermen lost Tuesday night and all Progressive Caucus candidates won re-election despite the mayor's efforts to discharge them demonstrates the dissatisfaction and anger felt by countless Chicagoans. Emanuel was able to win re-election by promising to change his approach and be more responsive to the needs of every day residents of our city. If the mayor is truly repentant for his past policy transgressions, this will allow for more substantive contract negotiations between the CTU and the Chicago Board of Education, and transparent discussions about the type of neighborhoods, schools and public services that Chicago’s students and their families deserve.

The day after the mayor closed a record 50 neighborhood schools in 2013, CTU President Karen Lewis said the CTU had three objectives: register 100,000 new voters, run CTU candidates for political office and change the political landscape of the city. We have accomplished each of these goals, but still have much work to do for 20,000 homeless students in our district, a growing epidemic of overcrowded classrooms and 200 schools without libraries. Our ongoing contract negotiations will bring these and many other issues to the fore, and we hope the mayor and his administration will respect the position of our educators, who desire only the best for our students and their families.

“The mayor didn’t win the run-off election in as much as he survived it,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “But we believe that if he is sincere about owning his faults and talking when he should be listening, that the sentiments expressed in his television ads won’t just be conciliatory, but that his ears and his heart will be open and we continue to move forward as a city.”

We congratulate Chuy Garcia for a carrying the torch and providing a voice for the thousands of people who have been marginalized by failed policies of both current and past mayoral administrations. We also congratulate CTU-endorsed winners Toni Foulkes (16th Ward), Derrick Curtis (18th Ward), Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward), Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and John Arena (45th Ward). Through their campaign, Chicagoans have seen what is possible if we challenge the status quo.

We are all winners tonight, because all of Chicago made a difference in this election. We have debated a number of issues in all parts of the city; a number of first-time aldermen will be sworn in as new members of the Chicago City Council; and the people of Chicago have gained the positioning and the right to protest and have a greater understanding of the power of their collective voice.

“This was not just about one election—it was about a movement created by people who have felt relegated to the sidelines for far too long,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “This coalition of individuals and their values and ideas that united around Chuy and our candidates for alderman is going to be a force in Chicago politics for generations to come.”

Sunday, April 05, 2015


The new education law that passed as part of the New York State budget process is a complicated piece of legislation that will have details filled in by the State Education Department which currently does not even have a Commissioner. 

There is a portion of the law (the second part of the student performance portion of the teacher evaluation system) that needs to be negotiated with each union local and the school district to be fully implemented.  Here is what the law states:

The local collective bargaining representative shall negotiate with the district: A. Whether to use a second measure, and, in the event that a second measure is used, which measure to use, pursuant to subparagraph two of paragraph A of subdivision four of this section and
B. How to implement the provisions of paragraph B of subdivision four of this section, and associated regulations as established by the commissioner, in accordance with article fourteen of the civil service law.

Forget the legal mumbo-jumbo of most of this; it appears to mean teacher unions have a say in how this law is carried out with regard to the second part of the measures of student learning portion.  This part is only a small piece of the huge monstrous statute but it opens the door to giving us a say.

Which brings to mind this question:

What happens if the unions don't do our part in implementing the law?

The answer is that in order to receive most of the increase in school aid from the state, each union and district must have an agreement on this part of the new evaluation system in place by November because the evaluation system has to be fully implemented by then.  Here again is the language of the law:

Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of law, no school district shall be eligible for an apportionment of general support for public schools from the funds appropriated for the 2015-2016 school year and any year thereafter in excess of the amount apportioned to such school district in the respective base year unless such school district has submitted documentation that has been approved by the commissioner by November fifteenth, two thousand fifteen, or by September first of each subsequent year, demonstrating that it has fully implemented the standards and procedures for conducting annual teacher and principal evaluations of teachers and principals in accordance with the requirements of this section and regulations issued by the commissioner.

If I read that correctly (I am no lawyer just a humble teacher of social studies and union activist), it means the piece of the law on the new evaluation system doesn't go into effect until our unions agree on a certain provision.  Doesn't that give each union local some real bargaining leverage?  The consequences of not implementing the law fully are no increase in school aid, not thirty years in jail.

I'd like to dream a little bit here if I may.

What if we just say no?

  • What if we literally put our money where our mouth is and tell Cuomo and the Heavy Hearts Club Legislature we don't want their blood money?

  •  What if a whole group of teacher union locals refused to agree to the second part of the local assessments so the law could not be fully implemented? (The UFT held out for a while in trying to negotiate the current evaluation system with Mayor Michael Bloomberg but then inexplicably supported a process to allow then State Education Commissioner John King to impose an evaluation system on city teachers.)

  •  What if those superintendents who were with us in this battle to save public education before the law was passed agreed to help us resist? 

  • What if those principals who will lose some of their authority agreed to support a just say no to Cuomo's deform law movement? 

  • What if people in NYC understood that the increase in school funding will more than likely not find its way to the classroom so why worry about it?

  • What if teachers, rather than go willingly into this horrific new world where we have even fewer rights, finally said "That's enough" this time?

I can hear the naysayers already. 

  • We will get bad headlines that we are denying funding to the children. We will lose the public relations battle.  Cuomo and the ruling elite can hold out and make us look like greedy teachers.
Response: Polls say the public is on our side in the education debate.  If we were smart, we could win a public relations battle. If Cuomo called the Legislature back to strike the provisions that give us power, we could lobby for real change with the so called Heavy Hearts Club in the Legislature that knew the law was poor legislation but voted for it anyway. In a special Legislative session, the govrnor could not threaten to impose his will through stop gap budget measures.
  • We risk a Taylor Law violation (job actions are illegal for public employees in NYS) if we don't negotiate in good faith. 
Response: What if both sides (management and labor) refuse to negotiate? We don't know what would happen then.

 Reality check

It is unfortunate but we really don't have a real teacher union in NYC or at NYSUT any longer. The leadership of both groups will not be impacted by any of this new law so will probably have us make a little noise but ultimately go along as it is no skin off their apples.  The law only directly harms people who work full time in schools, the students and their parents.  We should not expect much, if any, help from the UFT or NYSUT leadership on any of this.

Any movement to kill this law would have to start with the smaller locals and the rank and file.

When will we learn our lesson?  We should have just said no to the Race to the Top money from Washington instead of competing for those scraps of cash that did little or nothing to improve education.  The UFT should never have supported legislation to let John King impose an evaluation system on city teachers.

Finally a little more of my impossible dream

True unions would be saying no to the blood money from Albany and would hold out for: an end to any part of teacher ratings being based on student test scores, no receivership for so called failing schools, full restoration of tenure where the burden of proof is on the district and more. 

Why not JUST SAY NO to the new education law so we can revitalize our public schools?

Friday, April 03, 2015


We were patient waiting for the release of the final language of the budget bill that included the new teacher evaluation rules and much more. The bill passed late Tuesday evening.  It is a complete disaster for public education, educators and students.

I read through much of the actual bill and saw Jessica Bakeman's excellent summary at Capital.  Everyone should take the time to close read (sorry I couldn't help myself common core haters) the legalize and try to understand it for yourself.  In addition, I recommend going regularly to Perdido Street School for updates and reaction.

Overall, it is obvious Governor Andrew Cuomo slaughtered UFT-NYSUT completely with this monstrous law. He got almost everything he wanted to ruin public education and he can complete his annihilation by raising the charter school cap in June. Others have already written on the evaluation system and other parts of the law so I want to focus this piece on the provision on so called "failing" schools, a part of the law not many people are concentrating on.

In reality, a school deemed "failing" is pretty much always one that has a high concentration of students who are living in poverty, English language learners, students with interrupted formal education, special education pupils, overage students or a combination of these kids with the greatest needs.  However, to the bureaucrats and politicians making policy on public schools, who know virtually nothing about education, a failing school is a place where teachers and administrators are doing a lousy job and must be replaced.  This is ridiculous.

I was in a so called failing school last year.  I am the same teacher now in a non-failing school.  I am willing to bet part of my pension that the Measures of Student Learning portion of my rating this year will be better than it was last year because of who I am teaching, not because of how I am teaching.

Keeping this in mind, let's now examine the actual language in the new evaluation law on receivership. Receivership is when "failing schools" are taken over by the district or state and given over to an all knowing receiver to manage.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew in his delusional email Sunday said we kept local control on this issue so we won.  I would like to ask our president this: Whether it is the district that takes your job or the state when schools are redesigned, what's the difference?  We still are likely to be out of a job.  This line in the new law (it's buried way down at the bottom in subdivision 154) is downright frightening:

In accordance with Paragraphs (B) and (C) of this subdivision, to abolish the positions of all members of the teaching and supervisory staff assigned to the failing or persistently failing school and terminate the employment of any building principal assigned to such a school, and require such staff members to reapply for their positions in the school if they so choose.

That language is bad enough. However as we dig even deeper, it becomes worse:

The receiver may abolish the positions of all teachers and pedagogical support staff, administrators and personnel service providers assigned to a school designated as failing or persistently failing pursuant to this section and require such staff members to reapply for new positions if they so choose.  The receiver shall define new positions for the school aligned with the school intervention plan including selection criteria and expected duties and responsibilities for each position.  For administers and pupil personnel service providers, the receiver shall have full discretion over all such rehiring decisions.  For teachers and pedagogical support staff, the receiver shall convene a staffing committee including the receiver, two appointees selected by the school staff or their collective bargaining unit.  The staffing committee will determine whether former school staff reapplying for positions are qualified for the new positions.  The receiver shall have full discretion regarding hiring decisions but must fill at least fifty percent of the newly defined positions with the most senior former school staff who are determined by the staffing committee to be qualified.  Any remaining vacancies shall be filled by the receiver in consultation with the staffing committee.

And if that is not bad enough, there is more:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a member of the teaching and pedagogical support, administrative, or pupil personnel service staff who is not rehired pursuant to this paragraph shall not have any right to bump or displace any other person employed by the district, but shall be placed on a preferred eligibility list in accordance with the applicable provisions of  section twenty-five hundred ten, twenty-five hundred eighty-five, twenty-five hundred eight or three thousand thirteen of this chapter.

*(This post has been updated with links to all of the relevant laws which have also been copied in the comments section for those who wish to do further research.)

I am not a lawyer but this would seem to mean we will be laid off if the receiver doesn't want us and we would have to find a new job in the system on our own. (I will gladly correct this if I am reading incorrectly so please, please someone tell me I am wrong.)

The parallels to the failing schools provision and Article 18D of the UFT contract cannot be overlooked. This is taken directly from Article 18D Staffing New or Redesigned Schools in Section 3:

"If sufficient numbers of displaced staff apply, at least fifty percent of the School's pedagogical positions shall be selected from among the appropriately licensed most senior applicants from the impacted school(s), who meet the School's qualifications.

Does anyone think it is just a coincidence that Article 18D and this new provision in the law look somewhat alike?  I don't. Those UFT lobbyists were there in negotiations for a reason.

Rest assured the receiver will most likely end up with a veto (committee operates on consensus) and will be able to determine most of the teachers from the "failing" school are unqualified. Committees do it all the time in New York City when schools are closed and new schools replace them. 

I have some firsthand knowledge of this as Jamaica High School was phased out and four new schools were phased in starting in 2011.  I am aware of just five former Jamaica teachers who are employed today in the new schools that replaced us even though we had over 100 teachers just a few years back. I personally applied for one of the new schools and only heard back that the position was filled.  I was sent to another school in the building for a mandatory interview but of course was never hired.  I guess I am not qualified.

UPDATE: We wrote a revised post when we read Education Law 2588 which covers NYC layoffs. We are laid off by seniority in license in NYC so it looks like the new law is going to create a whole bunch of Absent Teacher Reserves in the city and layoffs outside of NYC.

Even rudimentary due process is a thing of the past if someone is unlucky enough to work in a "failing" school that goes into receivership.  As NYC Educator pointed out:

Then there is the failing schools model, and it looks like it's designed to create them. When you mandate that the bottom 5% are failures, there will always be failures.

Yes, I know it will take a while before a school goes into receivership but criteria will probably be set so that it happens enough to make a real difference. 

Why would anyone want to work in a school even in jeopardy of failing?

Truly, the people who will lose the most from this new law are some of our most needy students who most veteran educators will need to risk their livelihoods to work with.