Sunday, May 31, 2009
There's credit recovery so students need not pass a test or do homework all year and they can still get course credit. There's watered down summer school. There are annualized courses so if a pupil fails in the fall, don't worry, he/she just passes in June and receives credit for the whole year. In addition, part of a Chancellors' Regulation that requires 90% attendance to graduate is apparently being ignored. The high school diploma is being rendered meaningless.
At Jamaica High School, we often joke that each school is soon going to have a "drive through window" so anyone who drives by will get a diploma. From what we have heard, Jamaica is playing catch up with other schools that are ahead of us in the credit recovery and annualization games.
Since school grades and principal as well as teacher bonuses are now based on student standardized test scores, promotion and graduation rates, it has ironically led to a new era of social promotion.
Is this the system the state legislature really wants to continue?
We are not saying that there are never extenuating circumstances when a student needs some extra assistance to get through. Unfortunately, with high stakes decisions about a school being made based upon student statistics, it looks as though adults are doing what they have to do with the numbers to protect and advance their positions. We're given a scary choice to either push students through or push them out so school statistics look good. How about offering lower class sizes in every class and reasonable guidance caseloads as an alternative?
If something isn't done, we will be causing incalculable damage to a generation of young people by calling them high school graduates and handing them meaningless pieces of paper. We also risk devaluing the hard earned diplomas of the many pupils who actually attend class and work hard to graduate from high school without being pushed through.
There has to be a better way than this to educate our next generation.
Friday, May 29, 2009
We read with great interest the recent New York Times story about Glenn Storman, a guidance counselor at P.S.212 who won a major victory in New York County Supreme Court when a judge ordered his "U"- rating reversed. While Javier Hernandez did an excellent job describing the frustration that Storman has endured we were left with more questions about the story than we had answers.
In the article Storman is quoted that the ordeal has been very costly to him. In his petition to the court to overrule his "u"-rating he asked for $100,000 in damages due to the DOE's denial of per session activities, including summer school and its affect on his pension benefits. This was denied by the court.
Additionally, where was the UFT in all of this? The reporter describes the appeals and two court actions, including a trip to the Appellate Division, in this tragedy but no where does he describe any involvement by our union.
Storman, according to his lawsuit, was not represented in court by union lawyers. It appears that he had to go to personal expense and hire his own lawyer, no doubt adding to his unreimbursed damages.
We applaud Storman in his fight but we are left wondering….what about the rest of us?
Monday, May 25, 2009
by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School
UFT President Randi Weingarten and Francis Lewis High School Teacher Arthur Goldstein have written contrasting pieces in the last few days on mayoral control of the schools.
Weingarten's op-ed was in last Thursday's NY Post. MAYORAL CONTROL 2.0
Not surprisingly, Weingarten has already backed off of her moderate proposal to slightly alter the school governance structure .
The original proposal was in a Governance Task Force report issued by the UFT earlier in the year and would have denied the Mayor a majority of the appointments on the Board of education but still allowed him to pick the Chancellor and keep operational control of the schools.
Randi's new vision has only four minor modifications to the current dictatorial system we now live under. As we see it, not much would change for teachers, parents and students under Randi's new proposal. These are Randi's ideas:
1. Appointees on the PEP (Board of Education) would serve for fixed terms instead of at the pleasure of the Mayor.
2. The panel would be required to hold hearings on the school system's expense and capital budgets.
3. Policy proposals would be made in public in advance of panel meetings, complete with a list of pros and cons about the issues being voted on.
4. Meetings would be structured to allow for more public discussion and they would be broadcast and archived online.
That's all folks. Some new hearings and fixed terms for people that can easily be worked around when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the schools. Fundamentally, Randi is now supporting a continued mayoral dictatorship over us.
Her strategy in staking out the UFT's position with the state legislature on school governance is similar to her Contract negotiating strategy. Back in 2003 she asked for a few gains while the City and Chancellor demanded to obliterate our Contract. The city, by making unreasonable demands, totally changed the center of gravity to suit their needs so when the compromises took place in 2005, it came from their positions. See the major givebacks from 2005 for proof.
Contrast Randi's view on mayoral control to Arthur Goldstein, a teacher at Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Goldstein wrote a piece in Sunday's Daily News.
He tells the public that mayoral dictatorship has been a disaster for the schools. He describes teaching "in a crumbling trailer, with no technology and often no heat in winter."
That's the reality in most schools as far as we can tell. Goldstein ends his piece with this statement: "Four more years of this system guarantees the privatization and destruction of public education in New York City. That's a prospect we should all oppose."
We agree that four more years of the mayor running the schools should be opposed. What will it take to convince our Union's leadership and the State Legislature that we need to do more than tweak the current system?
All are welcome to look at the ICE Minority Report on school governance for some excellent ideas on how the school system could work with democracy and real checks and balances.
If the UFT followed our model, we would ask for what we think is an ideal system rather than a compromise proposal right from the start. Then, we could work from a totally different center of gravity and maybe actually make some gains.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
GRIEVANCE DIRECTOR PAINTS ROSY PICTURE ON LETTERS TO THE FILE COMPARED TO THE PAST; DA REPORT PART III
Let’s take apart the Power Point slides he showed us piece by piece. First, Solomon displayed a totally deceptive comparison of grievances on letters in the file from before and after the 2005 giveback laden Contract. Solomon claimed that before the 2005 Contract, the UFT lost 95-98% of letter in the file grievances in arbitration. This is called selective, misleading use of data.
The base year that Solomon used to prove his point was 2004-05. What he neglected to mention was that it was in the 2002 Contract that the UFT started their “Givebacks R Us” strategy when they initially modified the letters in the file provision. Let’s look at Contractual Article 21A5 before 2002 and then compare it with the 2002 version.
1995-2000 Contract Article 21A5
Material will be removed from the files when a teacher’s claim that it is inaccurate or unfair is sustained.
2000-2003 Contract Article 21A5 approved in 2002
Material will be removed from the files when a teacher’s claim that it is inaccurate or unfair is sustained. However, effective September, 2002, material that a teacher claims is inaccurate or unfair may be rewritten so as to be accurate and/or fair only by agreement of the parties or upon the order of the arbitrator mutually agreed upon to hear grievances arising under this provision, pursuant to Article 22C.
You see ladies and gentlemen the UFT began modifying our Contract to our detriment earlier than is widely believed. That is why Solomon’s Power Point presentation last week used the 2004-05 school year to make the case that before 2005 we lost most of the arbitrations on letters in the file. We lost them because the Unity negotiating team weakened Article 21A5 back in 2002. In 2005 and 2006 they merely finished us off and left us almost totally at the mercy of administration.
The current Contract Article 21A5
Members may not grieve material in file, except that if accusations of corporal punishment or verbal abuse against a UFT-represented employee are found to be unsubstantiated, all references to the allegations will be removed from the employee’s personnel file.
However, the teacher shall have the right to append a response to any letter. If disciplinary charges do not follow, the letter and response shall be removed from the file three years from the date the original material is placed in the file.
This provision is totally useless. Teachers don’t get a letter for the file if corporal punishment charges are unsubstantiated. In addition, who cares if someone can remove a letter after three years if there are no disciplinary charges? After three years, material is not normally admissible in 3020A hearings (the process to terminate a tenured pedagogue) unless something is criminal. For untenured teachers, after three years, someone can already be terminated in a million different ways. Why do you think so few teachers are clearing out older material from their files? It’s a waste of time basically.
The new 21A5 leaves us almost completely vulnerable as we must fight letters based on other Contractual articles which means we can only battle file letters in a much more limited procedural way.
To elucidate the argument that before 2002 Article 21A5 carried some weight, we must return to 1997-98, the second year I was Chapter Leader at Jamaica High School. That was the year Circular 6 was implemented for the first time.
At the time the principal of Jamaica High School decided that she was going to show how tough she was by making the new C6 professional assignments rigorous. She had the assistant principals call in every teacher to go over the expectations for their professional activity period and then she had the AP’s put letters in every teacher’s file based on their C6 expectations. We immediately cried foul. This is not what the self directed professional period or teacher files were for.
21 teachers filed grievances and the District Representative at the time, Danny Foceri, said that we should handle each grievance separately as they were distinct letters. I’ll never forget scheduling 21 Step I conferences. We lost each grievance at Step I but before they went to Step II, UFT Special Representative Howard Solomon, yes the same Howard Solomon who now runs the Grievance Department, was called and intervened on our behalf.
We won all 21 cases soon thereafter. In addition, the principal was ordered to remove the letters from the files of the other 68 teachers who did not grieve. Why did we win? The established standards of fairness said that teacher files were not to be used to set someone up on expectations for anything including a self directed professional assignment. Grievance precedent said that files were to criticize or commend a teacher.
Under the 2002 rules, the arbitrator could rewrite the letters. Under current rules, that principal could have easily filled up the files with anything she wanted as there is no rule in another Contractual article that forbids the principal from filling teacher files with expectations about professional activities. To put it another way, all of those arbitration precedents on what the standard for unfairness meant are now gone from the grievance process.
In 1999, a year after the C6 letter grievances, the same Howard Solomon was assigned to Jamaica High School as part of a settlement between the Board of Ed and the UFT, worked out when we took the principal to the Public Employees Relations Board for anti union activities. Howard did a good job back in 1999 by coming to Jamaica on a regular basis to help us reach settlements of some labor-management issues.
One of the issues was that a coordinator was writing observation reports without the principal also observing. This was obviously unfair. Howard worked out an agreement where all of the letters this coordinator wrote were removed from the files because they were unfair. Without the unfair or inaccurate standard, there might not be a way to remove those observations now and if it were untenured teachers, they would be in jeopardy of being terminated.
In those days, at least there was a chance to get something before an independent arbitrator when we could grieve letters and observations. The only changes that could be made in letters were parts could be stricken or the whole letter was removed. If we were successful in clearing out some of the file through the grievance process, then the person had a chance in their review.
Many of us knew of occasions where administrators would back off after going through the grievance process and being worn out or losing. Now untenured people are called “at will employees” by a Board administrator in one of those web-casts for principals on how to attack teachers. “At will” is the term for employees who can be fired for almost anything by management. What is the purpose of having a union and paying dues if our untenured colleagues can be terminated at will?
To further make this point, look at the evidence on how many teachers are now being denied tenure or compelled to extend their probation. DOE figures show huge increases in the number of teachers being denied tenure since the 2005 Contract was implemented. We’ve made it so easy for them to get us.
Randi Weingarten claimed a big victory last year because the State Legislature passed a law saying we can’t be denied tenure based on student test scores. If ever there was a hollow win, this was it. The DOE does not need to judge us on student test scores; they can fire non tenured teachers now based on one lousy observation report according to their web-cast. The UFT has made our members easy targets with the givebacks in recent Contracts. If you want even more evidence, look at how the rubber rooms have filled up in the last few years.
At last week’s presentation, Howard Solomon also told us about how we can no longer be disciplined for bulletin boards, classroom furniture and the exact duration of lesson units. Principals can easily work around this provision and the Office of Labor Relations tells them how to do it in their 2007 Q&A.
Another Power Point slide told us to use Contract Article 1 to ask to speak to a principal with our concerns. This is another exercise in futility because there is no leverage behind a teacher meeting with the principal. In the past, the threat of multiple grievances was one way to keep a principal from getting out of control.
The counterargument the Unity faithful will give is that the incidents at Jamaica that I referred to happened back in the nineties when we had a friendly Chancellor, Rudy Crew, and we wouldn’t win them now under Joel Klein. We knew what Klein’s agenda was by 2005. That is why Randi should have listened to ICE back then and not given an inch in Contract negotiations. Selling off our rights was a mistake. Telling us now how wonderful things are is just as foolish as it provides members with a completely false sense of security.
You’ve heard my evidence. What about your schools? We really would like to know what is going on everywhere. Is Howard Solomon’s rosy scenario reality?
To see the entire power point presentation go to Under Assault.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
She then said the Union must support Chapter Leaders which led to the resolution that she took from ICE, modified and made her own that was presented to the Delegates and carried easily (see story from May 16 on this blog).
Randi then talked about how the recession doesn't feel like what it is: the worst recession since the Great Depression. She said the city and the Department of Education are not aligned on the budget. The city doesn't think there needs to be cuts in the schools but the DOE is talking about cutting school budgets. She added that she expects to see over $400 million in cuts which would be a roughly 5% reduction. She then said that the city reversed itself and now is no longer talking about teacher layoffs. She then stated that the hiring freeze, while helpful for Absent Teacher Reserves, could lead to higher class sizes.
Randi then told us that she wrote a letter saying that the city should reconsider a retirement incentive. She then said that the hiring freeze should be for new schools as well as existing schools and that those who went to college to be teachers and graduated with teaching certification should not have to take a back seat in hiring while Teaching Fellows or Teach for America candidates are hired first.
On school governance, Randi talked about the NY Post fight against us and their goal to scare anyone who wants any kind of changes to the law that sunsets next month that gives the mayor complete control of the schools . Randi then gave us the bad news that there seems to be a consensus emerging to keep mayoral control but in the next few weeks many proposals on parental voice and checks and balances would be discussed. In summary, she stated that we have much work to do as the city budget will be coming soon while at the state level, modifying the Mayoral control law is also on our immedate agenda.
Randi then told the Delegates that another evaluation of Chancellor Joel Klein would be coming to the schools in the next month.
She then reported on a settlement of a lawsuit where the UFT won a lump sum payment for Tier I and II members because of an actuarial error of $160 million.
She followed this up by talking about swine flu and the UFT's reaction. Randi then mentioned her Spring Conference speech where she urged the DOE to stop closing schools and instead have services available in the schools that are needed but poor students don't normally receive them. Randi closed by talking about Harlem parents coming out and supporting public schools. She concluded by saying that when the entire community is involved, we win.
Questions concerned teacher center cuts that the UFT is fighting, seniority transfers which Randi doesn't want to push for because it would mean forced transfers and fair student funding which Randi said should be studied, as it is a difficult system to understand.
A resolution on the Homeowners Bank Protection Act was defeated. At this point, Leroy Barr gave the Staff Directors' Report. He said that we have to hold Chapter Leader and Delegate elections in May or June. He also pushed the rally for Stella D' Oro workers who have been on strike for many months. The UFT supports their rally which will be held on May 30 at 12:30 p.m. There were also a couple of political endorsements that nobody really objected to.
Finally, Howard Solomon gave a Power Point Presentation on letters in the file. You don't know how good we have it according to Howard, the Director of the UFT Grievance Department.
Dissecting the presentation on file letters will require a little bit of research and analysis so keep coming back for Part 3 of our Delegate Assembly Report which will be released soon.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
DA REPORT PART I: RANDI/UNITY TAKES ICE RESOLUTION ON PROTECTING CHAPTER LEADERS & MAKES IT THEIR OWN
Resolution on Teacher Reassignment Centers (Rubber Rooms)
Chapter Leaders and others have been sent to a TRC after asserting members' union rights, questioning and challenging principals on illegal mandates and practices;
In addition to Chapter Leaders, Leadership Academy Principals have also targeted teachers who show independence or otherwise are perceived as threats to authority;
Sending teachers to the rubber room can be a career breaker for teachers, regardless of the merits of the charges;
Threats of rubber room undermine UFT chapters and have a chilling effect on the professionalism and independence of all teachers;
The number of teachers sent to rubber rooms has escalated since the beginning of mayoral control which has led to an increased level of autocratic rule in many schools;
OSI has investigated in a biased manner;
The UFT will set up hotline for Chapter Leaders sent to rubber room and there will be an immediate response, including a demand immediate information about charges against the teacher, immediate legal assistance, a letter to principals putting them on notice that without a substantive emergency reason for rubber room placement there will be counter charges of harassment based on union/age/freedom of speech issues.
After an initial rapid investigation of the circumstances, where there is a determination of harassment, the union will organize a daily picketing of the school until the harassed Chapter Leader is reinstated.
The UFT will come up with a means to monitor OSI investigations.
Now the UFT version distributed to Delegates on Wednesday:
Resolution on Teacher Reassignment Centers
Whereas, chapter leaders and others have been sent to a TRC after asserting members’ union rights, or questioning and challenging principals on illegal mandates and practices; and
Whereas, in addition to chapter leaders, principals have also targeted members who show independence or otherwise are perceived as threats to authority; and
Whereas, sending teachers to a TRC can be a career breaker for members, regardless of the merits of the charges; and
Whereas, threats of the TRC undermine UFT chapters and have a chilling effect on the professionalism and independence of all members; and
Whereas, OSI has often investigated in a biased manner; therefore be it
Resolved, the UFT will continue the current practice of assigning a lawyer to a chapter leader in this circumstance as well as a swat team to the school and of monitoring the OSI investigation; and be it further
Resolved, after an initial rapid investigation of the circumstances, where there is a determination of anti-union animus, the union will organize actions at the school in concert with the chapter leader and the chapter until the harassed chapter leader is reinstated; and be it further
Resolved, that the UFT insist that the DOE notify the union in advance of the removal of a chapter leader from a school.
Having read both closely, it seems to me like the UFT looked at the original and removed some of its teeth but the substance is not all that different.
UFT President Randi Weingarten probably wanted to make sure that one of us was not seen by the Delegates presenting a resolution to protect Chapter Leaders where ICE would have to get the credit or Randi would have to come out against it and the Unity faithful would then have to oppose extra protections for Chapter Leaders.
Her answer was to have one of her people write a modified resolution, quickly distribute it so only the people who closely read the literature ICE distributed at the door would notice the “old switcheroo,” while other Delegates would think that this came from Randi’s group. Obfuscation at its finest.
At the DA, she allowed no debate on what was really a substitute motion after it was quickly distributed. There was just one speaker in favor. This was not exactly democracy at its finest or the kind of bipartisanship that Randi often talks about. Randi should have let us present the resolution or ask us to cosponsor this substitute resolution. Instead, she took the resolution from our blog, changed it somewhat and presented it as her own and didn’t even credit ICE directly, just some anonymous blogs.
Meanwhile, Unity distributed literature at the Delegate Assembly attacking opposition without meaning. It’s funny how Unity has no problem taking our work and making it theirs and then attacking us at the same time.
We will post a separate piece on the rest of the meeting.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
As principal power has grown, the devastation of so many school chapters can be traced to intimidation of chapter leaders. When a chapter leader (CL) is sent to the rubber room, shockwaves run through the school. Unfortunately they do not run through the UFT hierarchy. Almost 10 years ago, Education Notes presented a resolution at the Delegate Assembly calling for protections for chapter leaders and an extraordinary response on the part of the union when CLs come under attack. The leadership opposed it, saying chapter leaders already had enough protections and it was overwhelmingly defeated. In June 2006, ICE's Jeff Kaufman at a UFT Exec Bd meeting called on the UFT to initiate its own investigations instead of allowing a biased OSI to do its hack jobs without monitoring. Randi Weingarten opposed it, saying it was too expensive. (Have you checked on how your dues are being spent?) It was turned down by a vote of 80-5.
A case study of a chapter leader recently sent to the rubber room
- Currently teaching pre-k.
- 35 years of teaching. Principal urging retirement since June 2008, and threatening if doesn't do so.
- Every time assisted a teacher, received negative letter(s) in file the next day.
- Resisted principal attempt to institute Lunch 'n Learn where teachers are forced to give up lunch hours.
- Sent to rubber room March 16, 2009. Three weeks later, principal instituted Lunch 'n Learn.
- Received charges from State Education Dept., School District Employer-Employee Relations Unit on March 19,2009. Charges include verbal abuse and corporal punishment dated from the 2007/8 school year, violating the 180day limit.
- Insubordination charges for refusing to sign letter on Feb 1, 2009 voluntarily resigning.
- UFT Response: Sit tight and do nothing. Not time to file an Art 2 (shouldn't tip your hand on type of defense).Also do not share info with fellow denizens in RR. Result: UFT cone of silence serves to keep teachers isolated.
Resolution on Teacher Reassignment Centers (Rubber Rooms)
- Chapter Leaders and others have been sent to a TRC after asserting members' union rights, questioning and challenging principals on illegal mandates and practices;
- In addition to Chapter Leaders, Leadership Academy Principals have also targeted teachers who show independence or otherwise are perceived as threats to authority;
- Sending teachers to the rubber room can be a career breaker for teachers, regardless of the merits of the charges;
- Threats of rubber room undermine UFT chapters and have a chilling effect on the professionalism and independence of all teachers;
- The number of teachers sent to rubber rooms has escalated since the beginning of mayoral control which has led to an increased level of autocratic rule in many schools;
- OSI has investigated in a biased manner;
- The UFT will set up hotline for Chapter Leaders sent to rubber room and there will be an immediate response, including a demand immediate information about charges against the teacher, immediate legal assistance, a letter to principals putting them on notice that without a substantive emergency reason for rubber room placement there will be counter charges of harassment based on union/age/freedom of speech issues.
- After an initial rapid investigation of the circumstances, where there is a determination of harassment, the union will organize a daily picketing of the school until the harassed Chapter Leader is reinstated.
- The UFT will come up with a means to monitor OSI investigations.
Ice supports the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) march/rally from Battery Park to Tweed on May 14. Join this growing rank and file movement. Details at http://grassrootseducationmovement.blogspot.com/
Thursday, May 07, 2009
The Chancellor's email contains the following statement that most of us would concur with: "Most significantly, effective immediately, you may only hire existing DOE staff, as opposed to people from outside the system." Great! This could not have happened soon enough. Let's see if it gets implemented. Go on the open market now and see if you can transfer. ATR's might actually find positions for real now.
The Chancellor goes on to say that teacher layoffs are not in the cards. "Teachers: There will be no forced placements or layoffs of teachers. You may only hire existing DOE teachers, as opposed to people from outside the system." It should be noted that new schools are partially exempt from this outside hiring freeze and may hire half of their staff from outside the system and shortage area licenses might also be exempt.
Unfortunately, when we delve further into the Chancellor's statement, it contains other details that are quite scary. He states: "Guidance Counselors, Social Workers: At this time, there will be no forced placements or layoffs of these employees. They will be treated the same as teachers, so you can only hire individuals who are already working in the same titles in our system." "At this time" is lawyer talk meaning right now layoffs won't happen but look out in the near future. By putting out the possibility of future layoffs and bumping, it once again proves that the UFT sold us a false promise when they pushed the 2005 Contracts by saying that they contained no layoff agreements. There aren't any no layoff agreements in our current Contracts. The email gets worse with other titles.
Klein further writes, "School Secretaries, Paraprofessionals, School Aides, Family Workers: We will work to place excesses in vacancies and evaluate the situation to determine if layoffs are necessary." Our secretaries and paras along with school aides have been threatened with layoffs by the Chancellor. As paras learned in 2003, when the ironclad no layoff clause in their Contract expired, layoffs can really occur.
The layoff threat for our people is followed with a job security guarantee and open hiring for assistant principals. The hiring freeze does not extend to assistant principals. In fact, administrators are so important that they can no longer be placed in excess! I'm not kidding; no new Absent Assistant Principal Reserves.
Here are Chancellor Klein's actual words: "Assistant Principals: You may not excess APs. To avoid any increases in the excess pool overall, given the limited number of assistant principal vacancies that we can expect, assistant principals should not be excessed. Vacant positions may be eliminated, and you can fill vacancies under existing procedures with any qualified candidate."
It's what I've maintained for many of the years that I have been in the system: The Board of Ed, Department of Ed or whatever they want to call it is a system run by administrators for administrators. Children first? You must be joking.
Friday, May 01, 2009
In the current case, PS 41’s physical education teacher, Helen Hickey brought an Article 78 proceeding to challenge her principal’s placement of a letter that led to a “U” rating. The letter concerned Hickey’s actions during a May 2008 Field Day. According the Court, “The thrust of the letter is that Hickey did not competently organize and set up the equipment and that as a result, the activities began 20 minutes late. The letter states, among other things, that Ms. Hickey’s conduct demonstrated her incompetence and her “unsatisfactory professional attitude’’ and advises that “. . this incident may lead to further disciplinary action including unsatisfactory rating and charges that can lead to your termination.” (June 3, 2008 letter, p. 2.) Petitioner has alleged, and respondent has admitted that this letter is a reprimand
“Given that the letter speaks of “further disciplinary action,’ the court concludes that the letter is at least, in part, a disciplinary reprimand and not simply a critical administrative evaluation.”
The Court ordered the removal of the letter but would not reject the “U” rating since Hickey’s administrative appeals were not exhausted.
Hickey v. NYC/BOE, Index No. 112353/2008, New York Supreme Court, 1/29/09 Click here for the full decision.