Thursday, January 24, 2008

ICE Initiates Phase One of Plan to Fight Back: Win Back the Right to Grieve Negative Evaluations & File Letters

Since December, ICE has been trying to raise a motion at the Delegate Assembly calling upon the UFT to reopen the Contract so we can win back the right to grieve material in our files. Unfortunately, in December the motion period was taken up by another resolution and in January Randi didn't get to the new motion period.

It is essential now that everyone who reads our blog support our call to win back the right to grieve material in our files and to have the right to challenge supervisory judgment. We would like to bring this up at the February 6 DA. It would need a majority vote of delegates to be placed on the UFT DA agenda in March.

Below is the actual resolution and what follows is our rationale in support of our plan.

Independent Community of Educators (ICE)
February 6, 2008 motion

Letters in the File Grievances: Resolution to Reopen the Contractual Provision
For the March 2008 DA

WHEREAS, in selling the 2005 Contract to the members, UFT President Randi Weingarten answered objections to the removal of the right to grieve letters in the file by claiming the Contractual provision eliminating grievances for unfair and inaccurate letters could be reopened if there is a spike in letters to the file; and

WHEREAS, The Chief Leader reported recently that there was a 36% increase in teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings in 2006-07 (the first full year under the 2005 Contract), a 39% increase in tenured teachers receiving U ratings, a fourfold increase in the number of teachers forced to extend their probation and a doubling of teachers denied tenure; and

WHEREAS, the UFT reported that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of teachers resigning compared to just a few years earlier; and

WHEREAS, it is reasonable to conclude that the spike in unsatisfactory ratings and resignations would not have been possible without a huge increase in negative letters to the file; be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the UFT reopen the Contract provision on letters in the file so it can be modified to allow members to grieve negative material in a timely manner and include the right to contest supervisory judgment to an impartial party, in addition to demanding that any material removed from a file can never be used in any proceeding of any kind against any UFT member.

NY Teacher stated the following in the October 20, 2005 issue: “City Labor Relations Commissioner James Hanley wrote to the union that the city agreed to negotiate on the issue (reopening the letters in the file provision) ‘if there is a disproportionate increase in the number of letters to the file.’” The evidence is in and for the first year under the new Contract it is not a pretty picture:

1,333 Unsatisfactory ratings in 2006-07 compared with 981 in 2005-06. (U rating increase of 36%; Source: Chief Leader)

918 tenured teachers rated U last year up from 662 the year before. (U rating increase of 39%; Source: Chief Leader)

The number of teachers denied tenure more than doubled last year compared to the year before. (Source: Chief Leader)

The number of teachers forced to extend their probation increased almost fourfold in 2006-07 compared to 2005-06. (Source: Chief Leader)

The UFT’s own figures show that 4,606 teachers resigned last year, up from 2,544 who resigned just a few years earlier; it is sensible to conclude that many of those 4,606 were forced to resign.

Chancellor Klein in 2007 created a “gotcha squad” of lawyers and retired administrators to help build cases against tenured teachers.

There had to be a disproportionate spike in negative file letters to support all that increased discipline. We have to fight back now. The November 26, 2007 candlelight vigil was a good start but it was not enough. Let’s demand a letter in the file grievance process that is better than what we had before so we can challenge supervisory judgment. This Delegate Assembly should take a giant leap toward winning back our rights by putting this resolution on the DA agenda for February. Tell Hanley and Klein we mean business. Klein’s “gotcha squad” makes it “open season” to hunt teachers; we say close the hunt down now!

Please tell Chapter Leaders, Delegates, District Representatives and the Union officers to support the proposal to reopen the Contract so we can fight unfair file letters.

PS We are fully aware that if a letter stays in the file for three years, you can take it out of the file if disciplinary charges haven't been filed. However, the DOE still keeps a copy and can still try to use it. In addition, three years is too long to wait. Material that is over three years old is not normally admissible in 3020A cases against tenured teachers and the DOE doesn't wait three years to go after us. Finally, non-tenured teachers can easily be terminated at any point in their first three years of service and having a grievance procedure for unfair letters was their only hope for fighting back against abusive administrators.

Monday, January 21, 2008

DOE's Secret Plan for Merit Pay...Without the Pay!

by Marjorie Stamberg, GED Plus, D79

Naturally they had to do it in secret.

Today's front-page New York Times article has caused quite a sensation. It may not have swept the nation, but it sure shook up the world of education in New York.

The Times revealed that that the DOE has a program in which 2,500 teacher in 140 schools across the city are being evaluated on the basis of their students' test scores.

Did you know about this? Of course not. Becaue they've kept it under wraps.

"The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement."

There are actually 280 schools participating in the program. In 140 schools, teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals. In a second group of 140 schools, principals are "subjectively" evaluating teachers, to see how the results match up!

This is really fishy--it flunks the smell test. It proves what we have been saying all along, that the "school-wide bonus pay" is just a wedge to open the way for Mayor Bloomberg calls "performance pay." If these programs go through, it will be a mortal blow to the union and put every teacher at the mercy of the principal or higher-up.
The Time's article saw the connection of these secret program to school "bonus pay" as well. "A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall are all linked to improvement in schools."

The Times said that Randi Weingarten and the UFT knew about this secret program for months and said nothing to the teachers! In a quote, Randi said she could not reveal it because she was told "confidentially" by the DOE and did not know which specific schools were involved. She said she "had grave reservations about the project and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it." (So now it's public--I wonder what she's going to do?)

It's even more outrageous: The secret program is being administered by Chris Cerf, who is deputy schools chancellor. Cerf was hired by the DOE last year. He used to be head of the Edison Schools, the largest for-profit outfit in the country. The Edison schools made an attempt to open up shop in NYC a few years ago, but was defeated by a campaign of the UFT and concerned parents. So Bloomberg and Klein hired Cerf to be deputy chancellor. It's called privatization from within.

So, this brings us to the vote underway in GED Plus on "school wide bonus pay." We are being told by the D79 UFT reps that this is free money, and "why turn down $3,000 for work you would do anyway?"

We have argued that this money ain't free, it's a bribe, it's divisive and it blames teachers for the dire situation of students in NYC. We said, "It's letting the camel's nose in the tent." Well, it's hard to picture Joel Klein as a camel, but more than the nose is now in the tent!

This just underscores how important it is to vote down bonus pay.

But we should all ask our UFT reps what they knew about this secret plan and when they knew it.

As members of the UFT executive board, and as district UFT reps, were they informed about the existance of this program before today? Did they know about it when they were asking us to be part of this agenda? Or did Randi keep it from them as well?

They can't duck this one.

Teachers throughout the system, in every single school, should ask the principals of their schools whether they are part of it and have been secretly evaluated.

Now Randi has a statement out (on the UFT website), calling the secret program misguided and claiming it is in contradiction with the " collaboration and working together.. in the School Wide Bonus Program." No, there's no contradiction--this is all part of the same program and the UFT leadership has acted as enablers.

Hopefully, there is so much outrage now that we, the 130,000 members of the UFT, can stop this privatizing, corporatizing anti-student union-busting now.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January Delegate Assembly Report

Hillary Speaks to DA on the Phone
Teachers will Fight Excessive Paperwork
DA Calls for No Reduction in Parking Permits
UFT Fighting Principals in Need of Improvement
DA Unanimously Endorses ICE Amended Resolution on School Leadership Teams

By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader Jamaica High School

That last headline is not a misprint. In a move that surprised a great many people including the maker of the amendment: yours truly, the UFT Delegate Assembly voted unanimously to support an amendment we wrote asking the UFT to support a parent who has filed a class action appeal to State Education Commissioner Mills demanding that the Principals not be allowed to unilaterally make the final determination on school budgets on School Leadership Teams. Any chance of collaborative working environments was lost in December when Chancellor Joel Klein issued a new Chancellor's Regulation A-655 that gives principals the final say on the work of the School Leadership Teams, thus ending shared decision making. A parent appealed saying this violated State law and now with this amendment the UFT has joined onto the appeal. State law calls for shared decision making between parents, teachers and school administrators.

Hopefully, the teacher-parent coalition that came together last year will unite again so that we can bring to pass true shared decision making at the school level. We'll see what kind of mobilization the UFT puts forth to help the parents on this issue. Also, we would like to thank the UFT leadership for recognizing that this was a necessary amendment to add onto their resolution to make SLT's truly collaborative in every school. We've said it before and we will say it again: when the UFT leadership does the right thing, we have no problem giving them credit on this blog.

In other DA news, Hillary Clinton called Randi on her cell-phone and addressed the delegates from Nevada. Her call was played on a speakerphone at the main microphone so everyone could hear Hillary clearly. The technology was impressive. One delegate jokingly remarked that we were listening to god through those speakers. The Union is clearly making a strong pitch for their endorsed candidate: Hillary. ICE has not taken a position on the Democratic Primaries so further comment is not called for here. Comptroller Bill Thompson also spoke live to the Delegates in favor of Hillary .

Additionally, a resolution was passed calling on the DOE to eliminate repetitive paperwork and another was approved calling for the UFT to be able to find ways to increase the number of educator parking permits, not have them decreased as the Mayor wants. President Randi Weingarten reported that all issues with the 55-25 retirement bill have been worked out and she expects a bill to be passed by the State Legislature this month.

Finally, the Union announced its Principals in Need of Improvement program. This was introduced by new Staff Director Leroy Barr. He called up to the podium multiple members from three schools who told horror stories about principals from hell. The schools were Acorn High School for Social Justice, Susan Wagner High School on Staten Island and PS114 in Brooklyn where a remarkable forty UFT members showed up at the DA. We salute those UFT members for standing together and fighting back at the school level.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Chancellor's Regulation A-655 Changed in Violation of State Law

Parent Complains to the State Education Commissioner

On December 3, 2007, Chancellor Joel Klein released a revised version of Chancellor's Regulation A-655 that effectively ended legally mandated Shared Decision Making at the school level on School Leadership Teams by adding this clause to the regulation: “The Principal makes the final determination on the CEP (Comprehensive Education Plan) and school-based budget.” If the Principal makes the final decision on the School Leadership's Team's work, this renders the SLT powerless and directly contradicts State Education Law and Commissioners’ Regulations that call for “Shared Decision making.” So much for collaboration on School Leadership Teams.

The UFT's reaction to Klein's blatant power grab for principals has been to ask for the DOE to be nice and please collaborate with us. We need to see more done. One parent has taken her case to Commissioner Richard Mills by filing an appeal that the new regulation is illegal. Parent activist Leonie Haimson describes her case below.

We have no idea why the Union is not taking the lead to re-empower our members and our parent friends.

from Leonie Haimson...

On Dec. 31, Marie Pollicino, a parent and Community Education Council member from Queens, filed a class action complaint with the State Education Department on behalf of all NYC public school parents. Her petition says that the new regulations adopted by DOE that strip away the rights and responsibilities of School Leadership Teams to decide on school-based budgets and Comprehensive Education plans are unlawful and unwarranted, and should be reversed.

Her petition also points out that the process of amending these regs was contrary to state law by not involving CECs or any other official parent group, and she asked for a stay, so that the previous regulations that provided real decision-making authority to SLTs should be retained until the Commissioner determines the propriety of the amendments.

Her petition is posted here; it makes a very compelling case. It follows an earlier letter to the Commissioner from the NY State Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan, who made several of the same points.

Please contact the State Commissioner, Richard Mills, with a copy of your email to the Regents, Assembly Member Nolan, City Council Member Robert Jackson, Chancellor Klein and the Mayor, as well as your own elected reps in the Legislature and City Council – whose emails you can easily gather by plugging in your address here.

Why is this important and why is this relevant to class size?

Given more resources and authority delegated to the school level, and the huge pressure put on principals by this administration to raise test scores and spend nearly all their discretionary funds on data analysis and test prep, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, it is more crucial than ever before that parents be able to provide a countervailing force to see that resources are invested properly – on reducing class size and improving learning conditions in our classrooms.

This regulation is yet another insidious way in which the administration is systematically trying to strip any ability for parents to have a voice in the way their children are educated.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Do Teachers Feel the Love?

Randi Says We Don't or Maybe She Says We Do!

The Chief Leader Civil Service newspaper in their December 21 issue did a long "fluff" piece/interview with UFT President Randi Weingarten. Richard Steier's glowing admiration allowed him to revise history by increasing the positive vote to 70% for the disastrous 2005 Contract. (In reality, 60% of teachers and 63% of UFT members overall approved that Contract. )

Steier did ask some good questions and there were some valid points made about Randi's roller coaster relationship with Bloom-Klein. Randi is even quoted criticizing Chancellor Joel Klein for not creating an education culture that respects the work teachers do. She stated, "The most frustrating and infuriating thing is the infantilizing and disrespecting of Teachers, both in New York City and across America."

However in vintage Weingarten fashion, toward the end of the interview, Randi made a statement that contradicts her earlier statement. To avoid quoting her out of context, she was referring to the needs of newly organized home day care workers compared to teachers when she said: "Teachers are more respected than they've been at any time since I've been in education." What Randi? If you can figure out where she really stands, please let us know.

What we do know is teachers are leaving the profession in huge numbers and often cite a lack of respect as a main reason for departing.

In order to clear up our confusion, ICE asks the following question to the educators who read this blog:

Do you feel more respected as a teacher than at any time in the past two decades?

ICE would like to know.