Tuesday, September 19, 2017


I guess I wasn't the only Teachers Retirement System member who had trouble trying to use their website this weekend. TRS last week encouraged UFT members to up our TDA contribution rate for the October 16 check which will include12.5% of the money we are owed for raises most other city employees received from 2008-2010 that we are receiving in interest free installments through 2020. Many TRS members attempted to increase their TDA rate so the TRS system couldn't handle the volume. TRS, to their credit, sent this email out yesterday.

Dear TRS Member:

We know that many of you experienced difficulties with our website over the past several days, either when registering for the first time, logging in and being prompted for a verification code, or receiving confirmation emails from online transactions. An unusually high volume of users during this period compounded the problems, and many members were justifiably frustrated.

We sincerely apologize for the problems our members experienced, particularly while they were attempting to increase their TDA contribution rate in advance of the September 16 filing deadline. Due to the website issues, TRS has worked to extend the filing deadline to Thursday, September 21, at 9:00 AM.

Members who file for a rate change prior to Thursday at 9:00 AM will have their new TDA rate take effect on the October 16 payroll (which will include a retroactive payment under the UFT contract for many members). New TDA rates will take effect on the October 31 payroll for members who file after 9:00 AM on September 21 through October 1.

Remember, your new TDA contribution rate will remain in effect until you change it, so you'll probably want to make another online rate change in time for the following payroll.

Thank you for your patience—and your participation in the Tax-Deferred Annuity Program.


TRS Member Services 

Monday, September 18, 2017


This email came from Carol Burris yesterday. The first in a series of short films defending public education has been released. It features Diane Ravitch. You can view the film here and spread it please. 

One of my former students, Kimberley Walcott, will be featured in a later release. Attending the filming was quite enjoyable for me.

Dear James,

Thank you again for playing a crucial role in the promotion of 8 Powerful Voices in Defense of Public Education.  We delayed release of the first film due to the hurricane, but we are ready to go.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Looking through the UFT's Weekly Chapter Leader Update (see the first three stories below) shows editor Peter O'Donnell has no sense of urgency about a union and union movement that are both in peril.  The UFT's funding is at stake as the US Supreme Court could take away mandatory union fees for non-members in the public sector in the case of Janus v AFSCME. I don't even see the case mentioned at all in the Update and I didn't see anything last week either. Maybe I missed it. Overall, it looks to me as if it is business as usual down at 52 Broadway. Since I gather editor O'Donnell gets his marching orders from the leadership, it was most likely not totally his decision to not mention Janus.

To their credit, the Union does have a photo showing members at the Labor Day Parade ready to vote no on the Constitutional Convention but then there are two lead articles telling us this is just another school year starting.

First, the Union is telling us they are opening up a Welcome Center at 52 Broadway. That is the lead story to tell Chapter Leaders in the first full week of the school year? This is hard to believe.

Then, the Union advises us to use our Chapter Committee Consultation Committees to resolve issues with principals. All good and well but not exactly urgent when the Union as we know it is in jeopardy.

Third, they ask us to donate for Hurricaine Irma relief which is at least an action.

Buried down in about the 33rd item is news of a rally on Monday afternoon down at City Hall in support of IBEW Local 3 workers who have been on strike against Charter-Spectrum (formerly Time-Warner Cable) since March. These workers need to be a higher priority than in the 30's on the list of weekly news stories.

Here are the first three paragraphs in this week's Update:

Photo of the Week

UNION PROUD: UFT District Representative Jessica Harvey (center) and members from District 2 schools get ready to march in the Labor Day Parade on Sept. 9. 

This Week's Focus

UFT opens Welcome Center at 52 Broadway

When our members arrive at union headquarters, we want them to feel welcome and we want them to receive top-notch service from their first interaction with us. That’s why the UFT opened a Welcome Center in the lobby of 52 Broadway on Sept. 5. From Monday through Friday from 3–6 p.m. when school is in session, members coming to 52 Broadway will first visit the Welcome Center, where they’ll be greeted by staff and a union officer. We’re taking this step to help ensure that members find the services they’re seeking and are directed to the appropriate department to answer their questions and address their issues. Members may travel to union headquarters to attend a workshop, obtain information on member benefits or follow up on a grievance. Whatever the reason, we want each and every member to have a good experience.

Use our school consultation committee summary tool to stay on track

Principals are required to meet with their school’s UFT consultation committee once a month according to Article 19, Section H3 of the UFT-DOE contract. As you prepare to hold your first meeting with your principal, we wanted to let you know about a new resource we’ve created to help you stay on track and to ensure that your district representative can support you as effectively as possible. You can fill out the UFT’s new online Consultation Summary Form (you must be logged in to the UFT website) to report resolved and unresolved issues at your school to your UFT district rep. When you fill out the form, you will be emailed a summary of your school consultation committee meeting that you can share with members of your chapter. The form also lists possible topics for discussion, which may be useful to you when creating your meeting agenda. Your district rep will receive a copy of each summary form you submit. Your district rep, after checking with you, may add your school’s unresolved issues to the agenda for his or her consultation meeting with your school district’s superintendent. Reach out to your district representative if you need help forming a UFT consultation committee at your school or if you are encountering any issues with consultation, including a prinicipal’s refusal to meet with your committee.

Donate to help your fellow educators affected by the hurricanes

Take action Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Gulf Coast. Hurricane Irma has caused massive destruction in the Caribbean and in Florida. Our fellow educators and retired UFT members in Texas and Florida need our help. Make a donation to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund to help them recover from the hurricanes. Donations will go toward disaster relief for affected members of Texas AFT, affected UFT members in Florida and public schools in Texas and Florida. Use our online form to make a donation by credit card. If you prefer to donate via check, make your check payable to UFT Disaster Relief Fund and put Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the memo line. Mail your check to UFT Disaster Relief Fund, 52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004. 
Here is the item to to support the striking workers:

Political Action

Take action Support striking union members at a rally and march: We must stand united at this moment when our rights as unionized workers are under siege. Help us support a fair contract for striking Charter/Spectrum members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3. Sign up to join the UFT contingent at 4:15 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, at Foley Square for the rally in support of these workers. Protesters will be gathering at 3 p.m. in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn and marching over the Brooklyn Bridge and then walking to Foley Square. At approximately 4:15 p.m., local and national union leaders, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, will address the protesters at the final staging place. Almost 2,000 Spectrum workers are five months into a job action against the cable giant to keep the company from destroying their retirement and health benefits, unfairly disciplining workers and threatening job security.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


When someone thinks of powerful labor unions in the USA, the Teamsters often come to mind. New York Teamsters have just had their pension cut by almost 30%. These cuts are for current retirees. Future retirees will see a19% cut.

From the Daily News:

Pension payouts to retired Teamsters in New York will be cut by roughly 30% starting next month.

The draconian move is a last-ditch effort to keep the New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund solvent — and it was taken following a vote among its 34,000 members.

The Teamsters fund covers nine local unions, mostly in upstate New York.

The average cut for those who retired with 30 years of service will be about $2,000 — taking most retirees to $3,550 from $5,000.

The rank and file vote on the cuts was strange to say the least.

From the Daily Gazette:

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday announced that active and retired Teamsters across upstate New York had voted against big pension reductions by a more than 2-1 ratio.

But since most of the 34,000-plus eligible Teamsters didn’t vote — and under federal law, an unreturned ballot counts as a “yes” vote — the cuts are approved, and will take effect Oct. 1.

UFT officer-executive board elections are done by mail balloting and the vast majority of members don't vote in these UFT elections. Even with a gigantic pension cut at stake for the Teamsters, less than half voted. The Gazette reported that over 34,000 ballots were mailed out but only 13,869 were returned of which 9,788 were against and only 4,081 were in favor. The 20,767 non-returned ballots were counted as yes votes. My take is this is further evidence that mail in ballots lead to low turnouts.

The Teamsters are in a tough situation with declining workforces but anyone who thinks pension cuts cannot happen with public sector employee pensions is just plain wrong.

What is occurring with the Teamsters is just another reason why we must vote to protect our pensions by voting NO in the general election on November 7 on a Constitutional Convention (Proposition 1). A convention could put reductions to our pensions on the table.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Since we are getting back the second interest free payment (12.5% of the money we are owed) from the loan we gave to the city of the raises other city unionized employees received  from 2008-2010 on October 15, 2017, UFT members will need to up their TDA contribution rate by Saturday, September 16 for it to be included in the October 15 check.

Anyone who is not maxing out their TDA could up their contribution temporarily to lower their taxable income for 2017 and add to their TDA. Remember to switch back to the lower rate for the next payroll or the new rate will continue.

Here is the email from TRS:

Dear TRS Member:

As you may know, a retroactive payment under the United Federation of Teachers contract is scheduled for the October 16, 2017 payroll. According to our records, you may be receiving this retroactive payment.

TRS is contacting you because we know that members receiving such a payment often choose to increase their contributions to TRS' Tax-Deferred Annuity (TDA) Program in advance. The retroactive payment provides a rare opportunity to make a larger one-time deposit into their TDA account.

If you are interested in increasing your TDA contribution rate for the October 16 payroll, TRS must receive your rate election by this Saturday, September 16. To change your TDA contribution rate, log in to the secure section of our website, choose "TDA" in the main menu bar, and use the "Change Rate" feature by September 16.

Remember, your new TDA contribution rate will remain in effect until you change it, so you'll probably want to make another online rate change in time for the following payroll.

For more information, please read the related news bulletins on our website. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017


Mayor Bill de Blasio easily cruised to a Democratic Primary victory the other night. It looks like the under-funded, not well known Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis does not have that great a chance to upset the Mayor in November although you never know it could be a closer election than people think.

What does de Blasio cruising to reelection mean for those of us who work in the NYC schools?

 It's probably more of the same with Chancellor Carmen Farina or one of her deputies following her if she retires. The war on teachers in too many schools will more than likely continue. On the other hand, maybe the mayor goes in a different direction in his second term in office.

Time will tell but the UFT's early endorsement does not seem to matter one way or the other in how the schools are run. Teachers seem to be taken for granted.

I don't see much improvement in working conditions but what does everyone else think?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Yesterday was a good day to look at some statistics on education.

Education Week covered a survey done by the federal government on who the public and charter school teachers in the USA are. Here is some of what they found:

Teachers tend to be white, female, and have nearly a decade and a half of experience in the classroom, according to new data released Monday by the federal government.

1. The Teaching Force Is Growing and Getting Slightly More Female

The 2015-16 survey estimates that there are 3.8 million public school teachers in the U.S. That’s up from about 3.4 million teachers four years ago, when the last survey was administered. About 3.6 million of the teachers today work in traditional public schools, while about 218,500, or 6 percent, work in charter schools.

About 77 percent of teachers are women—up slightly from 76 percent in 2012. In primary schools, nearly 9 in 10 teachers are women. In high schools, less than two-thirds are.

The average age of teachers is 42, down slightly from 43 in 2012.

The average base salary for a teacher these days is $55,100. Those who earn additional money for leading extracurricular or other activities tend to add about $2,600 to their pay.

This is a mostly white female profession. I think we all knew teachers were mostly women but there are more males in the high schools. I would guess the gender ratio is somewhat similar, although slightly less white, in NYC. Teacher unionists need to understand the needs of our rank and file. Hence the push for paid maternity leave.

Most teachers also said in the survey that they still have some autonomy in the classroom.

The federal government also found charter school teachers are less experienced than public school teachers. Charter school teachers are less likely to have a Masters Degree.

In other statistical news, the AFT did a poll on what parents want. It looks like the parents agree with the teachers on education for the most part. Here is an example:

Parents Want Quality Neighborhood Public Schools More than Choice.

With which statement do you agree more?

I want a good quality neighborhood public school I can send my children to: 71%

I want to have more choiceof which schools I can send my children to: 29%.

Those numbers include urban and non-urban parents.

Just some statistics to look at in the middle of the week.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Everyone who reads this blog should head on over to NYC Educator to read High School Executive Board member Arthur Goldstein's comrehensive report on the first UFT Executive Board meeting of the year.

My interpretation of his minutes is that the membership at large is in difficult situations in many work places yet it's business as usual over at UFT headquarters.

Several speakers came to complain about management in Adult Education. Any UFT member can speak once a term at the Executive Board. Solutions from UFT seem like same old, same old answers.

From Arthur's account of President Michael Mulgrew's report:

This year will be challenging. Constitutional Convention and Janus, and we have to move public ed. forward.  Concerted efforts to weaken workers rights and destroy public ed. alive and well. They want to weaken us to when workers were just pawns. Wednesday you will see people come out for CC, same people who fund Janus. They want cheap, no benefit workers.

Told DOE we have to move forward. We can't have blowups at certain schools. CBA gives us right to consult. We have to put things on record. Thanks Adult Ed. We are holding DOE accountable, but we all have to do this. CL can now go online and share consultation with principal. If things aren't worked out at school level, district has to do it. Things resolved via paperwork complaints. Bad principals don't want info out. We have to use tools in contract. We will get involved when things aren't resolved at school level. Contract is agreement and they agreed to it.

Further down in the report Mulgrew says:

If this local is greatly weakened, public ed. will go bye-bye.

News flash President Mulgrew: This local already is greatly weakened. By not proposing any collective union-wide actions to help our many colleagues who are under attack, we will continue to fight a few battles but will lose in many other schools where members see no hope in going to the UFT.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Over and over people reading this blog have complained that there are no consequences for students who commit disruptive and often times criminal acts in the schools in both classrooms and the halls. I happen to agree that disruptive and criminal behavior is not acceptable. The contract, believe it or not, covers disruptive student actions.

Here is Contract Article 9:

The Board agrees that the pro cedures and policies concerning the problem of disruptive children, embodied in the Special Circular which is reproduced in Appendix B following this Agreement, will not be changed during the term of this Agreement, except that the Chancellor may modify the circular, provided that the Union finds such modification acceptable. The provisions of the circular shall be subject to the grievance procedure and to arbitration only for the purpose of determining whether there has been a failure to comply with the procedural steps prescribed in the circular.

Here is Appendex B:

A child who threatens or engages in physical violence to himself, his/her fellow students, or a teacher may be directed by the teacher to report immediately to the principal or other designated supervisor under such escort as is prescribed by the school. Such pupil shall not be returned to the classroom without consultation between the principal and the teacher.

2.  Pupils who so seriously disrupt the classroom work as to impede effective instruction may be reported by the teacher to the principal or other designated supervisor. Such report shall be in writing and shall contain substantiating data on the behavior of the child.

3.  Upon receiving a report of violent or disruptive behavior the principal or his/her designated representative shall make a suitable investigation and shall promptly initiate a course of action that will best serve the needs of the school and the child.

4.  If the problem is not solved in this manner after available courses of action have been taken and the decision has been reached by the principal that the child still so seriously disrupts the classroom work as to impede effective instruction, the child should be referred to other facilities within the school.  If no such facilities exist within the school the principal shall refer the case to the community or assistant superintendent under existing procedures.

5.  Each plan of action should involve the parent, the teacher, the child and other appropriate personnel.  No final decision on placement or care should be arrived at without such participation.

6.  If action by the principal is unduly delayed or if the child is repeatedly returned to the same teacher’s classroom or if a series of actions by the principal does not resolve the issue, the teacher may appeal to the community or assistant superintendent.  The community or assistant superintendent shall set up an appropriate procedure for review and disposition of such cases.  If the community or assistant superintendent finds that the continued presence of that child in a regular classroom so interferes with instruction as to be seriously detrimental to the interests of all the children (including the particular child), he/she shall, if consistent with applicable law, direct that the child not be returned to a regular class and follow appropriate procedures for the proper placement of the child.

7.  There shall be established in each district a panel to hear appeals from the decision of the community or assistant superintendent.  The panel shall consist of a teacher selected by the Union, a parent selected by the local school board from a list of three names submitted to it by the district parents’ council, and a third member selected by the community or assistant superintendent who shall be employed by the school system in the field of psychology or social work or guidance.  The panel shall have the power to make recommendations in writing to the Chancellor who shall make the final decision on the appeal in accordance with applicable law.

During the first year of this circular the Chancellor will render his/her decision within 30 days following receipt of the panel recommendations and thereafter within 15 days.

Most teachers won't touch this clause to take action with a disruptive student or groups of students. The reason is adminsitrators would tie the teacher up with red tape and then possibly retaliate and blame the teacher.

If we were a real union, we would have a collective campaign to use Article 9 to ensure that our members are safe. This could be publicized so teachers know the UFT is fully supportive of classroom teachers collectively enforcing our contract.

Article 10 of the contract is about school safety. There are Chancellor's Regulations and the SAVE law too. Teachers don't use the contract, rules, regulations or laws mostly because many of us are afraid nothing will be done and the UFT will not back us up or has no power to support us. Student behavior is a problem, but the usuelessness of the contract in many schools is a much bigger issue because what is on paper is meaningless.

Go ahead folks; now you are on topic commenting on student behavior.

Saturday, September 09, 2017


By now we should all be aware of the dangers of a New York State Constitutional Convention where everything in the New York State Constitution including the clause that protects our pensions could be put at risk.

We are urging everyone to vote NO in November on the proposal to have the convention. A majority no vote would kill the convention and keep what we have including our pensions. There are better ways to amend the Constitution than a convention that would be controlled by the Albany insiders who have not exactly done a splendid job of governing this state.

People have been asking about how they can make a financial contribution to the campaign against the convention without donating to the political black hole otherwise known as COPE.

NYSUT has listened and there is a dedicated fund to oppose the Constitutional Convention that we all should contribute to.

Here is a link to donate to the NO NEW YORK CONVETION FUND.

Here's the message from the website:

New York's political insiders are throwing a party, and we aren't invited.

In November, voters will be asked to decide if New York will hold a convention to rewrite our constitution. This "Politicians' Convention" would be a multi-million dollar boondoggle funded by our tax dollars... and would give Albany insiders and special interest groups the opportunity to change our state constitution to benefit themselves.

Contribute now to help us fight back! Your contribution to the No NY Convention Fund will help us get the word out about the risks of a "Politicians' Convention" and ensure that New York doesn't make this terrible mistake!

  • Please contribute now!

I will be passing the hat around Middle College next week and everyone who reads the ICEBLOG should do the same in their respective schools.

Friday, September 08, 2017


Parent activist Leonie Haimson sent out this email on mayoral candidate Sal Albanese pouncing on Mayor Bill de Blasio's education record in the Democratic primary debate the other night.

From Leonie:

Check out the question about class size and overcrowding at about 30 minutes in during last night’s Mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Sal Albanese:

Question: Mr. Albanese, the city’s Kids PAC, yesterday gave the current administration grade of “F” for class side and overcrowding, say more than half a million children are affected. What would you do to relieve this today right now?

Sal Albanese: Great question, the tragic number is 63%, 63% of kids graduated from high school cannot do college work. The politically massaged numbers where Bill has shown some increase in math and reading scores, of course leaving out the fact that the poor performing schools are doing worse under his watch.

As a former public school teacher, what I would do is direct resources to reduce class size. That, teachers will tell you that is the best way to get optimum educational outcomes and reduce focus on standardized testing, we are teaching to the test, the kids are coming into the buildings and not passionate about education, they are test takers, I want to move away from that.

I want to produce kids that are innovators, independent thinkers, none of that is happening right now. and those parents yesterday were great because they gave bill the grade he deserved when it comes to public education, an “F.”  He spent millions on renewal schools with terrible results.

Question: Mr. Mayor? almost half of the schools, kids are overcrowded. how do you fix that?

Bill de Blasio:  I will answer after answering this point, the facts are wrong, once again. Listen, that answer you heard a moment ago denigrates the efforts of our educators, we have the highest graduation rate in the history of New York City, test scores have gone up four years in a row, educators are doing extra ordinary things to reach children.

We know we have a lot more work to do, pre-K will be a huge part, 3-K is behind it, a focus on getting all kids on reading level by third grade, something that has never been done before in the history of the city is where we are put investments. To not recognize that steady progress really is disrespectful to our educators and our parents who are working so hard to support their kids.

To the class size issue, we have added a huge amount of additional money, billions of dollars to increase the amount of construction of new school buildings and to expand buildings that we have already with annexes and other facilities, pre-K centers, so we can additionally reach kids in neighborhoods that are overcrowded..

This is another one that will be a long battle because, in fact, in some neighborhoods, the number of school kids ballooned in recent years, we have a lot more to do to catch up. we are steadily investing in addressing overcrowding and making our schools better for our kids….

Then at about 37 minutes in, Albanese said he would legalize marijuana and tax it to pay for smaller classes:

Albanese: I have a very firm opinion that we need to legalize marijuana, as other states are doing it. …there would be places where you can buy marijuana for recreational use, and use the tax money to improve our schools, to make our city, reduce class size.

For those who want to examine the de Blasio education report card Albanese referred to, check it out.

The only ones who have anything to do with the schools who would disagree with these low grades are probably the UFT's leaders and maybe some school administrators.

Thursday, September 07, 2017


I was a bit surprised to read in UFT President Michael Mulgrew's back to school email an honest statement about public sector unions losing fair share fees (agency fee) at the Supreme Court. He starts with his usual approach of the UFT taking credit for everything but that is followed up by a sober look ahead.

The entire email is below.

 Dear James,
Welcome back! I hope the summer break gave you a chance to relax and re-energize. The year ahead offers much to celebrate, but also some very serious challenges.
We are heading into the new school year on solid financial footing from the city and state, thanks to our union’s advocacy in the budget process last spring. Teacher’s Choice got a big boost in the city budget. Funding increases in the city and state budgets for community learning schools, PROSE schools and the Positive Learning Collaborative will also enable us to do more of the innovative programming that gives educators a voice in schools and addresses issues that can be a barrier to learning.
Meanwhile, New York City schools continue to make real progress, as rising test scores and increasing graduation rates show.
But I don’t want to sugarcoat it. We face strong headwinds as public school educators and unionized workers.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues her efforts to push school privatization under the guise of “school choice.” She is defending a federal spending plan that will do great harm to public schools and children from low-income families. We will continue to work with our elected officials in Washington, D.C., to preserve federal funding and to pull back the curtain on her agenda that values the marketplace over children.
We are also opposing a proposal from the SUNY Charter Schools Committee that would allow a person with only five days of instruction and 100 hours of classroom practice to become a licensed teacher in some charter schools. Such “instant” teaching licenses would not only harm the children in charter schools, but do significant damage to the teaching profession as a whole.
In New York State, a high-stakes vote will occur on Nov. 7. New Yorkers will be asked if the state should hold a constitutional convention. We must continue to inform friends and family members about the critical importance of voting “no” on that ballot question. A state constitutional convention would put public employee pensions in jeopardy and would be dominated by the same political interests in Albany now.
Basic workers’ rights across this country are also under grave threat. Corporations and the ultra-rich are trying to take down unions, the one force in this country that has been fighting for the middle class. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Janus v. AFSCME case brought by these union busters. The case challenges the “fair share” fees that public sector unions collect from workers who benefit from a union-negotiated contract but do not join the union.
With the addition of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s appointee, the Supreme Court is expected to rule against unions. We’ll have to stay united as union members if we are going to withstand this threat.
Let’s get to work. I hope you have a great opening to the school year.
Michael Mulgrew

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


It looks like the right to opt out of a union and not pay union dues is the trend for at least the near future in the USA, even in union friendly places like New York. Now that Trump pick Neal Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court, we are fully expecting the unions to lose the Janus v AFSCME case so that union dues will no longer be mandatory in public sector unions in the United States.

We have absolutely no idea if the Court will write their decision to force members to opt back in a union or if staying in will be the default and people will have to opt out. The NY Post reported on preparations the UFT is making to downsize if and when we lose Janus.

From the Post story:

The United Federation of Teachers is drafting plans to dramatically slash its $182 million budget — anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that would bar mandatory deduction of union dues from government workers’ paychecks to support union activities, The Post has learned.
The ruling could deliver a severe blow to union budgets by reducing membership and revenues by millions of dollars.

The 187,000-member UFT collects $56 twice monthly from each teacher's paycheck via automatic payroll deductions.

Some unions aren't waiting for the Court to make their decision.

In Maine, as our friend Bennett Fischer reported, the unions are conceding on Janus. Bennett reported, "Two of Maine's public sector unions, representing about 950 government employees, voted to throw in the towel - in the face of Janus - and gave up agency fees in return for 6oo 1% raises over two years."

In NYS, we do have the Triborough Amendment which would keep our contract in effect when it expires, even if we were a much smaller UFT or if people use Janus to start a newer union to replace the UFT. The Taylor Law is not an issue in Janus. 

We can see it as a potential knockout blow or as a call to organize.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


Welcome back to what should be a very interesting school year for 2017-2018. In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court will probably take away automatic union dues for non-members (agency fees) which could really change the work place landscape. Maybe teachers will use the time before Janus v AFSCME is decided to think a little deeper about getting more active as far as union representation is concerned.

We will have 12.5% of the money that has been owed to us since 2009-2011 paid back interest free on the October 15 paycheck. The final 2% of the 2009-2011 retroactive 8% raises that other city unions received back then will at last be added to our regular pay next May and in June of 2018 we will see a 3% pay increase. That is the final raise of the subpar 2014 contract which will finally expire at the end of November 2018.

For the record I slept a few hours last evening which normally does not happen on the night before school starts. Either I am optimistic or close enough to retirement that some of the butterflies in my stomach have finally gone away.

As I am now getting to work, I feel some apprehension. The worry feels kind of normal.  I am sure I will feel the same way Thursday when the kids arrive.

Have a great year all!

Monday, September 04, 2017


Did everyone get the same "Dear Teacher" email that I received in my Department of Education inbox on Friday evening?

This is how the DOE revealed our ratings.

Dear Teacher:

It has come to our attention that some employees are having trouble viewing their Advance Overall Rating in our previous email. We sincerely apologize for any confusion this has caused. Your 2016-17 Advance Overall Rating information is detailed below.

Measures of Teacher Practice (MOTP) subcomponent: Effective

Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) subcomponent: Highly Effective

Overall Rating: Highly Effective

Thank you,

-The Advance Support Team

Well you are quite welcome Advance Support Team.

Even if this rating is accurate, I cannot tell you how totally meaningless the rating is or that it gave me one second of personal pride in my achievement. 50% might be based on tests I had virtually nothing to do with and the observation part is from observations that I really didn't exactly spend much time thinking about. (Nothing against the administrator who wrote them up who is a decent guy for sure and has rated me well since 2014.)

The truth is I'm not really sure how the numbers that made up each of the two parts of my rating were calculated.

I do know the American Statistical Association thinks Value Added Models - we may use a Value Added Model for some of us in NYC - are not a good way to evaluate teachers.

This is from the ASA:
VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.  

This sounds very reasonable; doesn't it? But then again, my VAM says I am Highly Effective in that 1-14% range quite possibly on an English Regents I did not teach a class for. I am guessing that is the test they used for my rating since at Middle College we don't give any other Regents Exams. That test I did not teach a class for is worth 50% of my annual rating. Who am I to argue? The kids did well.

My rating in 2017 is as pointless as when most of us at Jamaica High School were receiving Developing or Ineffective in 2014 and we all magically improved the following year.

I have heard of a probationary teacher rated Effective overall who was discontinued. I am also aware that the DOE now subjects tenured teachers to incompetence termination hearings when they are rated Developing. Yes, the burden of proof remains on the DOE but that is how it always was under the old Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory evaluation system in incompetence proceedings. If teachers do ok in their rating under the latest rating systems, the DOE just ignores the rating and acts in a disgusting way anyway when they so desire. So when Michael Mulgrew touts his matrix as the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, don't fall for it if you are Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective.

I gather I can't file an appeal based on the absurdity of the evaluation system. Looking back on last year, I believe I did a good job mostly from the feedback I received from the kids even if certain unruly students destroyed certain classes sometimes. I also heard from a colleague who followed me in a room after one class and told me I always left that room with a huge smile on my face at the end of the period. That good feeling when you know you have had a good class isn't quantified on any of the stupid evaluation systems I have toiled under.

Let us paraphrase William Shakespeare for the final words on Mulgrew, Cuomo and the Legislature's latest teacher evaluation system:

It is a system made up by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

When will the madness end?

No time soon in my opinion.

Saturday, September 02, 2017


One of the joys of writing this blog is the feedback I receive, sometimes from quite uncommon places. Anyone who has read this space for a while knows that two of my union idols are Roger Parente and Sam Hochberg. Roger and Sam were two of the founding members of the United Federation of Teachers who came from the High School Teachers Association. They proudly called themselves militants.

Back in 1959, Parente and Hochberg helped lead the first teachers' strike in New York City history. It was a walkout by evening high school teachers that was so successful that evening school teacher pay nearly doubled. Before the strike, evening high school teachers were paid $12.50 a night for four hours work. As a result of the walkout, pay was increased to $24. That translates to $201.67 in 2017 money when adjusted for inflation. If  the $201.67 is divided by four, it comes to $50.42 per hour. What is the current UFT per session rate? That would be $47.73 per hour.  The strike won those evening school teachers better pay (adjusted for inflation) than what the corresponding figure would be for per session work today.  Not all strikes are won but strikes can be a powerful labor tool if we would just use them or at least credibly threaten them.

In 1965, the evening high school teachers were ready to go on strike again and the UFT, by then fully consolidated in its current incarnation under Albert Shanker, reacted by threatening to break the strike and scab by having UFT teachers take the jobs of the evening high school teachers. The strike never happened and although evening high school teachers came under the UFT umbrella, working conditions never improved and the salaries didn't either. The program was disbanded in 2006.

Militancy in the UFT died as the Union became more bureaucratic and teachers became less active over the last four decades. In this century, it has been mostly downhill for NYC teachers in terms of working conditions. Too many teachers are dreading the first day of school next week.

We did our story on that 1959 strike back in January in response to a feature that Norm Scott and Kit Wainer did on Ed Notes that left out the High School Teachers Association when listing opposition groups to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus (originally the Teachers Guild), both before and during the UFT era.

Six months after Norm and Kit wrote their story in January, totally out of the blue, came a comment at Ed Notes in response to a comment I made about the lack of mention of the High School Teachers Association by Norm and Kit in Norm's posting.

Here are the three comments:
  1. You left out the very important High School Teachers Association, a group instrumental in starting the UFT. Roger Parente and Samuel Hochberg are two of my union heroes. They were called militants and led the first strike by NYC teachers in 1959 (Evening High School Teachers). They also were a big part of the the merger of the High School Teachers Association and the Guild that formed the UFT.
  1. I never viewed them as the same at the other groups because they were a focused narrow self interest group though very important due to strikes. There were also many other groups like them that merged into uft unity. Elem associated and others. 
  1. Thank you for your accurate comment and recognition of my dad and Mr. Hochberg, Mr. Eterno. 'ed notes', they and their colleagues were hardly focused, narrow or self-interested. They sought unity, commitment and inclusiveness among teachers who sought to break free from the old guard, who were indeed the ones guided by complacency and self-interest. Hochberg, Parente and others' interests were for fairness for the hard work of teachers (who were paid less than plumbers at the time of their activism and had no collective bargaining rights - or many rights of any kind), security for themselves and their families and to provide quality instruction for their students.

That final comment is from Dr. Matilde Parente, who happens to be Roger Parente's daughter!

She is so right. That old guard are the people from the old Teachers Guild that ended up starting the Unity Caucus that controls the UFT to this day and certainly they are guided, as Dr. Parente says, by "complacency and self interest."

I have had the honor of a wonderful email exchange with Doctor Parente this summer. I have been rewarded to discover that Roger Parente, who passed away in 2013, and I have a great deal in common. We both saw the need to combat the "old guard" in the UFT. Roger wanted teachers to be militant and so do I. In addition, he came from a high school faction and I too have done much of my work in the high schools. I can't decide if getting to know Roger Parente on a deeper level through his daughter Matilde is serendipity or higher forces at work but emailing back and forth with Roger's daughter has energized me just a bit more to fight for teachers, and to expose the UFT leadership when they are doing an inadequate job defending our rights. Sadly, I have to do that on this blog too often.
I sometimes wonder how Roger Parente would've responded when it came up at a Movement of Rank and File Educators' summer series meeting in 2017 that the 19,000+ high school teachers would be better off restarting the High School Teachers Association as our union and dumping the UFT. The issue has been raised in other forums as well.

Dr. Parente was inspired by her dad's work. My wife Camille and I view him as an inspiration too. In the oped piece below that she submitted to the Wall Street Journal in 2010 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first UFT strike, Parente compares teacher militancy to what is needed to reform healthcare. Enjoy it. Teacher morale seems so low now just like it was back in the days when the UFT was starting. Maybe history can repeat itself and teachers can rise up again.

Teachers and Health Professionals, 50 Years Later

They thought change would never come. They thought funding for the overhaul would never be found. Surely the public would never foot the bill, or support their calls for reform. They were paralyzed by fear – of speaking up, losing their jobs, becoming pariahs. Even though all admitted The System was horribly broken and underserved its clients, most of its workforce was too afraid, too pessimistic or just too beaten down to rise up to heated calls for action.

No, it wasn't today's health care debate but rather a transformative event with deep implications for health care reform. Broken was the New York City public school system, its clients were students and its workers were New York’s teachers. The action they eventually undertook was the monumental New York City teachers’ strike of 1960.

Teachers, administrators and prominent political figures gather in New York City on March 25 to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Federation of Teachers strike. What set the stage for the unprecedented action were overcrowded, underperforming classrooms and appalling working conditions for teachers, then paid at 1930s-level salaries, documented in Stephen Cole's The Unionization of Teachers, a case study of the UFT. To strike activists such as Roger Parente – who led the 1959 evening high school teachers' strike that foreshadowed the citywide strike, the first-ever by organized professionals in the United States – the unparalleled job action was imperative. Yet, as Cole and other historians have noted, bleak conditions faced by underpaid teachers and the need for meaningful educational reform weren't enough to spur teachers to rebel. As Parente, Sam Hochberg and other young Turks understood, it would take an insurgency to propel educators and their tired leadership to flex their power. Until they finally did, educators were too meek and unsure to forge an action plan.

The health care debate has been marked by an odd silence from doctors and other health care workers, much like the silently suffering educators who found their voice during the 1960 teachers' strike. As individuals and in organized groups, health professionals appear resigned to air grievances and opinions in journal articles and editorials. Despite an open secret shared on the front lines of the health care system that quality care is nearly a random event, most medical organizations have bowed out of the debate’s crossfire. Like teachers 50 years ago, they may not see how they stand to win or where to find support for their reformist calls. Strike for their patients? Unthinkable.  

However, health professionals can choose other job actions certain to unleash a tidal wave of change in medical practice nationwide. These changes are powerful enough to immediately defuse the health care reform conundrum to reign in health care costs, improve patient care and enhance safe medical practice.

The job action proposed is doable for every health care professional that belongs to a professional society, from the American Medical Association to specialty societies and allied health groups: Withhold dues. Ditto financial support for political action committees that support lobbying activities that leave major reforms out of sight and undone. Declare that support will resume only when these societies identify and attack three major problem spots in each specialty that, when rectified, will significantly reduce health care costs, improve patient care and commit each organization to take up the gauntlet to greater reforms.
The American College of Cardiology is leading the charge with efforts designed to reform practices in that specialty "from the inside out." Beyond its pioneering work that rolled out treatment guidelines, the ACC has fine-tuned its approach to costly chaos in cardiology care with its Quality First initiative. The ACC's blueprint for reform identifies critical areas that call out cardiologists and medical systems to make major practice improvements that reduce unnecessary procedures, advance patient safety and deliver higher quality care in ways that save lives and significant health care dollars. The blueprint cites pilot incentive programs to tackle laggard areas with action plans designed to 1) Reduce hospital readmission rates for heart failure patients and unnecessary cardiac imaging studies; 2) Promote greater penetration and adoption of electronic prescribing and health information technology; and 3) Improve appropriate medication delivery systems with emphasis on patient compliance and adherence. All are specific, actionable and life-saving.

Every health professional society must make it their mission to identify three areas in their respective specialties amenable to major revision now. As health care professionals know, wasteful, low-yield, high risk: benefit ratio or ineffective measures and procedures are hiding in plain sight. To give teeth to the mandate, societies should follow the ACC's lead and issue specified goals, practice guidelines and deadlines to get the job done. That means target numbers and measurements, two things medical professionals slavishly follow in testing procedures but underutilize with regard to practice, performance and outcomes.

The ACC collaborated with the American Heart Association to decrease deaths from cardiovascular disease by issuing numerical goals, the first practice guidelines and timelines. Other professional societies can follow their lead to advocate for and roll out meaningful, life-saving and cost-slashing quality measures that every practice, hospital and community can achieve across all fields, from neurosurgery to physical therapy and bloodbanking.

The solution proposed will not expose, dissect or revamp other deeply rooted ills in the health care system. What it will show, as did the teachers’ strike, is that yes, it can be done. Even by those tough enough and smart enough to practice medicine but who would rather sit out the health care fight whispering and doodling somewhere in the back row.