Friday, October 30, 2009


The following piece was written by ICE activist Loretta Prisco and may give a real hint about changes at the UFT under Michael Mulgrew.

Remember the massacre of the PEP folks who dared to challenge the Mayor about the 3rd grade retention policy? One of the conspirators was Jim Molinaro, BP of Staten Island, who fired Joan McKeever Thomas. Joan now works for the UFT.

Four years ago, John Luisi ran against Molinaro and got 42% of the vote - no money, few volunteers, little help from the party, term limits not an issue, and little name recognition. UFT President Randi Weingarten interceded in the SI Political Action Committee and got John an endorsement. John is running again.

This time he has greater name recognition, took a leave from his job and is getting all over the Island, raised more money, and has more support from the party. Molinaro is well known to the UFT as a pro-charter, pro-private school cheerleader who appointed the owner of a lingerie store (with no commitment to public education) to the PEP, and is a leader in the Conservative Party.

John Luisi is the product of the toughest neighborhood school on Staten Island. He is committed to neighborhood public schools. This Island is getting worse and worse. John, who is with us on all of the education issues that matter, and has a real shot of taking Molinaro down, is not getting the support of the UFT.

The committee interviews were short a few key people. They are going "neutral", which is exactly what Molinaro was hoping to achieve. Does this sound like the old neutrality of the Nixon-.McGovern race?

And they want COPE money?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Parity for Music Teachers: The Time Has Come

by Julie Woodward, UFT Delegate

Anyone who’s read our contracts for a decade or two will know that the UFT continues to throw high school music teachers under a bus.

By agreeing to 50 kids in each class, the union has tacitly accepted the notion that music teachers can achieve the same kind of results with 50 students that other city HS teachers can get with 34 and teachers in the suburbs can get with give or take 25. They have also tacitly agreed to allow abusive principals — or even nice ones just following abusive chancellor directives — to find fault with us when we cannot achieve their notion of classroom management, data input, differentiation, home contact, personal interaction and the like.

General music teachers do the same kinds of things all other subject teachers do.

A chancellor’s directive in 2003 or earlier told all teachers to focus on math and literacy. Music teachers can, of course, do this in spades. What are quarter-notes and eighth-notes but simple math, and what are lyrics if not poems set to music. If Klein had told everyone to teach social studies or science, we could have done that as well: plantation songs speak the history of the heart and human cruelty, and the study of sound at its most basic level is nothing but the study of acoustics.

Why, then, do we continue to get 50 kids per class?

Maybe it was thought “general” music is the same as “performance” music. It’s not though, and everyone knows it. Most music teachers actually want a nice big orchestra, band or chorus — the larger the group, the grander the sound. The numbers don’t matter if the kids want to be there and are willing to practice.

More likely, the DoE is trying to get state graduation mandates on the cheap, and 50 per class is certainly cheaper than 34 (or even less for more specialized arts classes like photography).

I repeat: the union has complied: “Yes, we’ll agree to stick it to the GM teachers. They're lucky to have a job anyway.”

I have brought this up on more than occasion with Ms Weingarten, notably at the Delegate Assembly two years ago when the crowd groaned at what music teachers have to put up with. Her response was something like: “Hmmmm. Maybe we could get some non-contractual relief for music teachers.” That “non-contractual relief” bit was her words, which I thought might mean they'd arrange for us do the extra marking and paperwork as a Circ. 6-R duty, one that principals could not override. But, even if you got those extra 5 periods a week to handle the workload, it wouldn’t be enough. Multiply 147% (50 ÷ 34) times 25 periods/week and you get 36.75 periods a week, 6.75 periods more than the 5 you'd get by letting us do the extra work during 6-R.

Here is what I wrote Michael Mendel just after Labor Day, to which he responded recently: “I am going to push this.”

As always in more than 20 years of teaching music, I have my doubts they even care.

PS: I know that phys ed teachers also get 50 per class and would like a reduction as well. But mostly they're not doing written work or having to worry about behavior when teaching sound or silence.


I meant to write you earlier, but the overload is enormous.

HS Music teachers can be given 50 kids per class. Of course they all do not show up each and every period, but some things are constant:

1. You have to take attendance on a weekly bubble sheet IN ADDITION to keeping your own attendance records. This usually involves Delaney cards because you can't memorize so many kids (250) without a seating plan.

2. If one of these classes is your "homeroom," which requires a daily attendance sheet, that's a third attendance effort.

3. These lists are complicated because (a) they have to be accurate, and you can't do it quickly. Let's say you turn over the Delaney cards to save time. You still have to do the bubbling in your lunch or prep for 250 names per day. And they're not just absent or present. They can be late. They can also be late halfway through the period, which means you have to go back and annotate those too.

4. Talking about differentiation: you get in the same class: grades 9 - 12, spec. ed (learning disabled plus behaviorally challenged), regular ed, self-contained class members (their IEPs allow them to be mainstreamed for the electives), hearing impaired, and ELLs.

5. Absenteeism is erratic. There is little consistency, so some kids are up to date with the work, and lots and lots of others are missing a day here or there each week.

6. Grading: if you care about your job, you give classwork, and it needs to be graded. Grading so many kids is a nightmare.

7. Report cards are another nightmare, because even if they don't show, they all have to get a grade and a comment. This can only be done on a PC, not a Mac, and many music teachers use Macs at home because it was traditionally the best computer for music and art.

8. When they ask us to CALL HOME for every single person absent, try doing that kind of volume. It's only possible to do this on your lunch hour and in your prep. You should not have to do this kind of work at home or on your own time, but one is forced to under these conditions.

9. Now they're asking for PROGRESS REPORTS: they have to be done on a computer for each and every one of the 250 students, even if they aren't coming to school.

10. This leaves no time whatsoever for lesson planning, collaborating with other teachers, fixing your room, making your music tapes and/or class materials. It all has to be done on your own time — which is normal for teachers, but so very much more for us.

11. On top of this you get a Circular 6 duty taking up a period.

Please can you to do something about this terrible disparity. A spec. ed teacher or a RR teacher has 14 kids max each period, gen ed has 34, and we have 50 — that's half again the reg ed class. But admin makes no exceptions in the obligations we must fulfill as subject teachers.

Failing a contractual class size change, please can you get someone to say that Music teachers with these numbers should be given NO other circ. 6R duty than to finish up the attendance, calling home, grading, and school marks.

The remarks above are for GENERAL MUSIC and small music classes like Keyboard. They are not for CHORUS, BAND or ORCHESTRA, which are "performance" groups and many music teachers want as large a group as they can get for better sound. I was most happy in MS with a performance group of 80 or 90 (though I rehearsed them in groups of 32 or so, as well as some lunchtime kids 3 times a week, then combined them all for concerts).

I brought this up two or three years ago at a DA. RW's response was to see if there could be some "non-contractual relief." That never happened.

Best regards,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ICE Statement on the Nov. 3, 2009 Vote for Mayor

by John Lawhead

The election on November 3rd will have lasting consequences for public education and the city. It deserves the attention and involvement of all New Yorkers. The UFT has a long history of candidate endorsements made without any regular process of consultation with the membership and often contrary to members' interests. The decision to sit out the contest between Michael Bloomberg and his opponents speeds us to the brink of more disasters. If appearances are real and the UFT leadership's passive support for the mayor's reelection is a deal for a new UFT contract by deadline, our union is deeply complicit in another landmark defeat for the teaching profession.

Nearly eight years of direct control over the schools have provided Bloomberg with an unchecked opportunity to implement numerous policies premised on distrust and contempt for teachers, students and school communities. Early on with his rush to implement grade retention policy he put the blame on 8-year olds for low reading scores and further worked to make standardized testing a year-round concern. “Weekend, vacations, summer -- time off is a luxury earned, not a right,” he told a radio audience in 2002. Chancellor Klein went to work making testing an obsession for all schools by hanging their fate on it.

His administration accelerated the wholesale closing of neighborhood high schools. Together with a successful assault on teachers' contractual rights this led to the creation of an excess teacher reserve force in the thousands. The result of dozens of school phase-outs deepened the gulf between the two worlds children in New York encounter at the high school level. One consists mostly of large neighborhood or selective schools and is increasingly filled with white and Asian students An entirely different realm awaits black and Latino students consisting mostly of new small schools, stripped of both enrichment programs, IEP services and bilingual programs and plagued with teacher turnover.

The new schools have been staffed with discriminatory hiring through privately-run programs. Just as tens of millions in funding by Bill Gates went to school reorganizations, Eli Broad's millions were used to train principals to see teachers as antagonists. In recent years Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have extended the agenda of privatized education by embracing charter schools, displaying a marked preference for the chain operators. Their favoritism towards the charters has allowed them to invade neighborhood schools and shrink them.

For educational activists the past eight years have meant not only palpable damage but also lost opportunity for positive and progressive change. The Bloomberg monopoly of power has excluded local participation in decision making, eliminating a common entry into politics by Black and Latino New Yorkers. It has also preempted meaningful discussion around educational goals and policy. What should be the goals of a public education? How can schools do more just provide an exit from the poorest communities? How could schools be part of a collective effort to improve neighborhoods and increase democracy?

Bill Thompson has played an important role as city comptroller in exposing Bloomberg-era fraud and mismanagement. His supporters are waging a spirited fight against a billionaire mayor with lopsidedly less resources. It is difficult to offer Thompson unqualified support when he has thrown support to mayoral control and supports much of the underlying corporate agenda for education. The mayoral race this year also attracted Tony Avella (who Thompson defeated) and Billy Palen who is running as the Green Party candidate. Both advocated a more grassroots response to the current mess and it's a shame Thompson didn't adopt some of their policies in his campaign against the mayor.

Despite these differences anything other than energetic rejection of the Bloomberg monopoly is the wrong choice for our union. We urge all readers to vote against Bloomberg!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


The Wednesday, October 14 Delegate Assembly meeting was highlighted by chapter leader Jonathan Halabi introducing a resolution calling for the UFT to endorse William Thompson for mayor.

Halabi motivated his resolution by telling the assembly how bad Mayor Bloomberg has been for education. The Union brought out the big guns to oppose Halabi. Political director Paul Egan said that we shouldn't throw ourselves on our swords because Bloomberg was basically a shoe in to win with his money, his endorsements and with labor split. He added that Contract negotiations would end immediately if we supported Thompson.

The debate on this motion continued with staff director Leroy Barr proposing that we postpone the vote indefinitely on this motion. He said this would give us the option of raising it again within the next couple of weeks if we were to decide to endorse. After some further discussion and some parliamentary procedural questions about whether or not the president was trying to alternate between speakers for and against the resolution to support Thompson, Barr's motion carried so the UFT has postponed the decision indefinitely.

In other news we heard a report from President Michael Mulgrew on the sad state of the budget, the flat NAEP testing results, and how principals can get points on their Quality Reviews.

He also talked about the new school governance law that gives more power to School Leadership Teams to make their school's Comprehensive Education Plans. He said that having a functioning SLT in most of our schools was an important UFT goal for this year. He added that he had talked to the new State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, about the state having a quick review process.

There was a question about ATR's and Mulgrew answered by saying the DOE has to manage the schools better and our ATR's would remain on the job.

The only other news to come out of the meeting was that visitors were not allowed in the auditorium but instead were relegated to watching the proceedings on television on the 19th floor. Anyone who comes to a DA to watch it on TV is truly dedicated. Why not just make the proceedings available as webcasts to UFT members so any member could watch them?

Monday, October 12, 2009


Our friend John Elfrank got to ask President Mulgrew a question about low turnout in UFT elections at a recent "Meet the President" gathering in Manhattan. Read all about the president's response here.


For those interested in a well thought out political platform, go to UFT Elections 2010 where you can read the ICE-UFT platform in its complete form.

Thanks to the many ICERS who donated their time to see this effort through.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


The DOE could care less about most laws and now they are being taken to task by Councilman Robert Jackson and parent activist Leonie Haimson in this brilliant letter to the new state education commissioner. We urge everyone to go to the New York City Parent blog and sign on quickly as Oct 8 is the deadline for comments on the city Contract for Excellence plan.

To Commissioner Steiner:

We urge you to require the city to start reducing class size now, according to the terms of its Contracts for Excellence (C4E). Smaller classes remain the top priority of NYC parents, according to the Department of Education’s own surveys, and the state’s highest court said that our children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education in large part because of excessive class sizes.

In return for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state funds, the city promised that class sizes would be lowered each year until the citywide average would be no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3 and 23 in all other grades by the fall of 2011. Class size reduction is now a state mandate, and yet last year class sizes increased last year by the largest amount in ten years; and there are widespread reports of further increases this year.

In addition, the C4E process for public participation has been deeply flawed, as the city failed to hold any public hearings this past June, as recommended by the state, and has refused to hold any borough hearings, as required by law. Instead, a power point is being presented to Community Education Councils which omits any mention of the city’s five year class size reduction plan, as well as the DOE’s failure to meet its class size targets for two years in a row.

In its official C4E submission, the city pledged to the state that the “the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in early grades via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program." Yet when an audit was released in September, revealing the misuse of millions of dollars of these funds, the DOE claimed that the program “no longer exists.” Please see attached fact sheet for more information on these findings. Clearly, the city has reneged on its promise to reduce class size.

It is time that the state utilizes its full oversight authority, and requires that the city comply with the law. We recommend that a corrective action plan be imposed with the following provisions:

1-The city’s plan should be revised to include specific class size reduction goals by school, district, and citywide -- sufficient to achieve its annual and five year goals.

2-The city should be obligated to assign whatever teachers remain on absent teacher reserve (ATR) to regular classrooms in their respective districts, so that class sizes can be reduced from current levels.

3-The city should be forbidden from further pursuing any20policies that conflict with its class size goals, including placing new schools in buildings before smaller classes have been achieved in the existing schools. DOE continues to insert new schools into buildings where the existing school is “underutilized” according to a formula which assumes near maximum class sizes.

4. The state should require that the city revise its capital plan so that it can provide enough space necessary for its class size goals to be achieved, as the C4E regulations require.

5. The state should hold back all C4E funds before the city has reported to the state in detail what reductions have been achieved by school, district and citywide, reporting that is now mandated by the state to occur by November 17.

This year will be the mid-point in the city’s five year class size reduction plan, instituted by the Legislature so that our children could eventually be assured of an adequate education. There is no time to waste.

If the State Education Department does not require these basic steps to demand accountability and credibility on the part of the city, it will have failed in its responsibilities to our children, to the Legislature, and to New York taxpayers.


Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters and public school parent

City Council Member Robert Jackson, chair, Education Committee and plaintiff, Campaign for Fiscal Equity