Thursday, November 28, 2013


I was aware that he was not well but I am still stunned by the passing of a founding member of ICE: Gene Prisco.  Tributes are starting to pour in.  Please read the Staten Island Advance obituary or the brief introduction to the Advance piece over at Ed Notes from Norm Scott. We are also reprinting in its entirety the message from the Democratic Party of Staten Island (see below).

Gene was truly a wonderful human being. My wife Camille and I both feel honored that we were able to know him and his wife Lorreta.  What a truly inspiring couple who are kind of role models to us on how to be a politically active family.

When people like me would be rambling on at ICE meetings about some great injustice by Randi Weingarten or Bloomberg or anyone else, Gene would respond by acknowledging in no uncertain terms that the job of a union was primarily to protect its members and that the UFT should be criticized if they don't live up to their main mission. What was unique about Gene is he could make these points in a way that would make us roll over laughing. 

He had an amazing sense of humor and no matter how bad the conditions in the schools have worsened for teachers, his outlook at ICE meetings remained optimistic that we could make our issues (for example lower class sizes) part of the union's agenda. 

Gene and Loretta were in attendance regularly to support Jeff Kaufman, Barbara Kaplan Halper and me when we were on the UFT Executive Board. He knew that the UFT had the potential to be a positive force to make the education system a better place for teachers, parents and students.  He felt the same way about the promise of the Democratic Party. That is why he ran for Congress in 1998.

My wife is reminding me of Gene's commitment to assisting African refugees.  Some of these refugees were kids who were involved in war at very young ages. Gene took enormous pride in his work with the African Refuge organization.  Nothing made him happier than helping people get a better life.

Gene Prisco's activism proves that you can make a difference in the world by living up to your ideals. Our condolences go to Loretta and the entire family.

I regret to inform you of the passing of Eugene Prisco, Democratic Congressional candidate in 1998 and a longtime party activist and community leader. Gene was one of the most passionate and articulate voices on behalf of the Democratic Party that I have ever known. He was a man of principle, a man of vision and a man with a deep and abiding love for his family, Staten Island and the Democratic Party. With Gene's passing, we have lost a champion for the values of the Democratic Party and it is a loss we all feel deeply. For those who have had the privilege of knowing Gene, I hope you'll carry his memory with you and I ask that you pray for his family and friends during this difficult time.

Services are still in the process of being arranged. When the details are finalized we will announce them.

Yours Truly,
John P. Gulino

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The positions of the two main  caucuses (political parties) within the UFT on the topic of teacher evaluations emerged clear as day at Wednesday's UFT Delegate Assembly in Manhattan.  Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus passed a resolution calling for small changes in the teacher evaluation system called Advance to be negotiated with the new mayor. On the other hand, the Movement of Rank and File Educators introduced a resolution calling for a full scale repeal of the evaluation system law (Education Law 3012c) that ties teacher evaluations to student test scores. 

Most of the Unity dominated Delegate Assembly, including a huge group of retirees who do not have to work under the new system, agreed with the President that evaluations only need to be tweaked but there was strong support for  MORE's position to scrap the whole system among the Delegates.

As usual, President Michael Mulgrew ignored Roberts' Rules of Order in conducting debate.  No speakers were permitted to oppose a Unity Caucus resolution reinforced the UFT's support for the evaluation law.  However, the UFT is calling for a moratorium on using the results of high stakes tests for teacher evaluations until alterations to the local portion of the Measures of Student Learning portion of the system can be worked out in contract negotiations.  The Unity sponsored resolution was on the regular agenda.  It was introduced a few minutes after Delegate Megan Moskop from MORE introduced a resolution for next month during the new motion period calling for the UFT to support legislation to scrap the entire teacher evaluation law.

When Megan raised the MORE resolution, Mulgrew had no choice but to allow her to speak on its behalf as it she had obtained the floor.  In Megan's speech, she emphasized how using high stakes tests to evaluate teachers is a huge step back for the teaching profession, our members and the students.  Megan skillfully pointed to some of the points made by Mulgrew in his Presidents' Report about how misuse of standardized testing and education profiteering is bad for kids as well as teachers.

MORE also had excellent literature in support of this resolution which noted that the UFT had a task force report in 2007 that completely opposed  using high stakes tests  in any way shape or form to evaluate teachers. MORE also was highly critical of the Danielson observation system in the resolution saying it "subjects teachers to a cookie-cutter observation system that limits professional autonomy and reduces teaching to a series of numbered scores." Megan received energized applause when she concluded her remarks by saying teachers need a voice and that the entire 3012c law needs to be repealed.

When Megan finished speaking, UFT Vice President Janella Hinds rose to defend the evaluation system law.  Janella said that MORE misunderstood the new system as it rates teachers based on multiple measures which the UFT likes.  This was also emphasized in the Unity Caucus literature that was handed out before the meeting. Janella argued that the new system took the power to rate teachers negatively out of the exclusive hands of principals.  She added that we do not want to go back to the old system where ratings were exclusively the purview of principals.  In addition, Janella objected to the criticism of the Danielson framework which she claimed was not part of the evaluation law. She also disagreed that tenure was weakened under the evaluation law as she pointed out that each teacher rated ineffective would be visited by an independent validator the following year.

Janella also said that the problem was not so much the law as the Department of Education's inept implementation of the law and that is why the UFT filed 17 grievances against the DOE on evaluations.  She closed by saying that how her students do on the Regents is a very important part of what she does and that MORE is trying to organize through fear which is not good. Her remarks were politely, if not enthusiastically, received.

When a Delegate raises a resolution for the following month during the new motion period, one speaker is allowed both for and against the motion and then it is voted on.  The Unity majority voted against trying to repeal the evaluation law.

Instead, they had their own resolution on the regular agenda that was introduced by Staff Director Leroy Barr several minutes later.  Leroy stated that even though the new evaluation system isn't working, we can't go back to the old system because we favor multiple measures to evaluate teachers.  He added how we have to fix what is broken in the new system by changing the way the local 20% of teacher ratings are measured.  He argued how we should be judged by student work including projects, group work and homework.  The Unity resolution is also calling for a moratorium on using standardized tests to evaluate teachers. 

Next up after Leroy was a Unity Delegate who told us that we have to stop worrying about being observed.  He claimed he wanted more observations.  (A big Unity theme of the day was that the observations have to be for support and to improve teaching).

At this point Mulgrew did his usual abuse of parliamentary procedure as someone called for debate to be closed.  Anyone who can read knows that Roberts' Rules, the dictionary and common decency all tell you that it isn't debate until both sides are heard.  According to brother Mulgrew, it is up to the body to decide if the minority should be heard so he allowed the Unity majority, including the large bloc of retirees who don't have to worry about evaluations, to close debate.  The vote to tweak the evaluation system was largely in favor.  (I voted no.  Some Delegates who supported MORE's call to repeal the evaluation law also voted for Unity's resolution to tweak it. I guess something is better than nothing.)

There was another motion that called for an end to high stakes testing for grades Pre K to 2.  This was motivated illegally by Mulgrew from the chair and then by Vice President Karen Alford.  Mulgrew stated that both State Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Dennis Walcott told him they were against standardized testing for pre K to grade 2 but Mulgrew went on to say that 36 schools were giving bubble tests to kids of this age and that he talked to a teacher who reported that some of these students could not even hold a pencil.

When the two officers completed their speeches, Mulgrew called on a Delegate who asked if tests to see how well English Language Learners understand the language would be included in this resolution.  Mulgrew did not know which prompted a retiree to move that the motion be tabled.  A motion to table is not debatable but since this was a Unity person who made the motion to table a Unity resolution, there was real confusion in the room. 

Unity people didn't know what to do so Mulgrew once again ignored Roberts' Rules by dismissing the voices yelling out that a motion to table is not debatable, as he allowed Leroy Barr to speak against the motion to table.  The UFT's parliamentarian said nothing. After hearing from Leroy, the Unity majority killed the motion to table and supported the ban on standardized testing for our youngest kids.  (I voted for the ban for the record.)

President's Report
UFT President Mulgrew called for a moment of silence for several UFT members who had recently passed away.  He then brought up on stage the people who were involved in making the new UFT TV commercial that he said received 200,000 hits on Facebook.
Teacher Evaluations, Excessive Paperwork, State of DOE & Transition to New Mayor,
The new teacher evaluation system a disaster as is excessive paperwork.  The schools are chaotic but the DOE is still hiring lawyers and accountability people even though they are on their way out.  Mayor elect Bill de Blasio's people know the schools are in chaos and they acknowledge that other city agencies are in bad shape too.
Mulgrew then stated for the record: "God help the new Chancellor."  The UFT is hoping for a quick transition; the process to pick the new Chancellor had not yet started.  Members need relief from overwork but the transition to a new mayor is an amazing organizing opportunity.  We can't only be against what is going on but will have an opportunity to have an important role in creating a model school system.
DOE called on an outside group to evaluate the networks that supposedly support the schools and they concluded that the networks don't work.  However, reorganizing what is by far the largest school system in the US is a massive undertaking. 
Arbitration on DOE mandating format of lesson plans will be held on Thursday.
Outside of New York City only 1% of teachers were rated ineffective in New York State.  Our enemies want 15% to be rated ineffective and want to know how only 1% of the teachers are ineffective if only 30% of the students are proficient on state tests. 
We are not going tack to the old teacher evaluation system.  Networks are telling principals different things concerning the implementation.. 
There needs to be a paradigm shift.  Administration's job is to support teachers and we are there to help kids.
NYSUT Calls for Three YEAR Moratorium on Teacher Evaluation System
The President noted that our state union wants the evaluation system put on hold for three years. (That would seem to put the state union at odds with the city union that just wants the system tweaked. I must be missing something. I will try to clear this up.)
Common Core
NYC state lawmakers wanted to know why Commissioner John King was not holding hearings on Common Core in NYC.  Now there will be hearings in the city.
Common Core needs to be rolled out right.  Mulgrew is not sure if Common Core can survive if parents oppose it. Combining teacher evaluations and Common Core has resulted in a big mess.
Teachers were never supported properly supported but deserve proper support. 
December 5 Rally
UFT supports the New Day New York Week of Action from December 3-9 including a rally on December 5 at Foley Square.
SESIS Money Will be Going Out to Members
More money for doing SESIS work outside the school day will be sent to members in December.
Philippine Relief
City heavily recruited from the Philippines back in 2004. Thousands of our members have family members impacted by the recent storm.  They need medical help badly and the UFT will be sending nurses over there.
The Finish
There is a food and clothing drive ongoing, Over 1,400 people came out to honor Mel Aaronson for Teacher Union Day.
We need a shift from fighting what is wrong to leading the way to what we have to do to make the schools work. We want a happy opening to the school year in September of 2014.
Staff Director's Report
Leroy Barr reported the following:
We rallied for Lexington School for the Deaf. 
We support the December 5 rally at Foley Square. 
Teacher Union Day honors the November 7, 1960 strike. 
The Staff Director asked the Delegates who walked the picket line in 1960 to stand and be recognized and they were applauded by the body.
Question Period
Question: City says there is no money for any raises.  How do we respond?
Mulgrew Answer: UFT and Principal's Union are two main unions that did not receive the 4% and 4% pattern raises in the last round of bargaining but the city managed to find money for contracts for other unions after the collapse of the financial system.  It is amazing how the city projects annual $3 billion shortfalls and at the end of the year there are suddenly $ 4 billion surpluses.  We subsidize Wall Street investment banks. If the city just did the paperwork for Medicaid reimbursements, there is $600 million a year out there to be recovered.
Question: Administrators are doing multiple observations but are not reporting on positive visits, only negative reports.  What should we do?
Answer: An officer and the District Representative need to visit that school
Question: How would NYC teachers have done on state measures for 2012-13?
Answer:  8.6% of NYS teachers out of NYC were ineffective based on student test scores but only 4% of NYC teachers were ineffective. We have factors such as student attendance and others that control for the population we teach. We want class size to be a factor too.
Question: UFT created a math syllabus several years back.  Will we use it?
Answer: No.  It is not aligned to the Common Core.  We have to acknowledge that we are competing with other countries who are spending more on education.  There are 110,000 skilled jobs that can't be filled in NYC because workers don't have the skills.  Common Core is a good idea that is being hijacked by the corporations.
Everything Else
The new motions were on the week of action and scrapping the evaluation law.  Except for the resolutions already mentioned, the only other one covered was one opposing mandated lesson plans.  It carried unanimously.  Five other resolutions will wait until next month or will just become policy.  Who needs votes anyway?
I will try to put up an abridged post on everyone's position on evaluations after I recover from yesterday's DA meeting. 


Saturday, November 16, 2013


Leonie Haimson, over at the NYC Parent's blog, yesterday listed candidate Bill de Blasio's campaign promises on education.  Leonie's group sent a survey to all of the candidates during the campaign and also held a candidate forum in June. 

Some of  de Blasio's positions very promising.  It's why Leonie and many progressive thinking people thought de Blasio was the best candidate in the Democratic Primary.  For example:

  • Minimize the use of high-stakes standardized tests and agree to not use tests to decide which schools to close and which students to be held back. (Forum)
  • Craft a teacher evaluation system that depends as little as possible on standardized test scores. (survey)
  • Refuse to expand standardized testing into other grades (Pre-K to 2nd). (Survey)
  • Encourage other NYC high schools to join the portfolio/alternative assessment consortium as opposed to basing graduation decisions on the results of the Regents exams. (Survey)
  • Develop a non-punitive process by which NYC parents can choose to have their children opt-out of standardized testing. (Survey)

Small schools, vocational schools and online learning
·         Relax the requirement that all new schools be of a small size. (Survey)
·         Ensure that students have full, face-to-face, in-person access to teacher, or continue to expand online learning as the alternative. (Survey)
·         Improve Career and Technical Education programs. (Survey)
·         Focus on ensuring there are quality schools in EVERY neighborhood. (Survey)

Help schools improve rather than close them
·         Have a moratorium on school closures. (Press Release 9/3/2013)
·         Support rather than close struggling schools. (Survey)
·         Create an early warning system for schools that are falling further behind. (Survey)
·         Schools identified as struggling will receive targeted support through a new “Office of Strategic Supports” housed in the DOE that will develop intervention strategies in conjunction with the school communities and target individual high-need schools which will receive short-term, intensive support. (Survey)

You get the idea.  The list is not perfect but it's fairly promising in many ways. Now let's see what our mayor elect does.


Friday, November 15, 2013


From the Diane Ravitch blog.

I think anyone who has worked in a school knows the results of the last twelve years have been catastrophic for public education. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Newsday reports that yesterday's John King  forum in Nassau County was more civil than the raucous event held in Suffolk County on Tuesday. However, it should be noted that yesterday's audience was invited according to the report. 

Nevertheless, a spirited protest was held outside and one of the people interviewed was our friend Arthur Goldstein, the Chapter Leader at Francis Lewis High School.

See it and read all about it here. Some of the comments are worth reading too.

As for Tuesday, everyone should look at the Port Jefferson Station Teachers' Association's official page and listen to PJSTA President Beth Dimino.  It is great to know that union leaders like this exist. This is part of their piece:

"...nothing short of full withdrawal from Race to the Top, the Common Core, and test based evaluations is acceptable.  Not waivers for special needs students.  Not a three year moratorium.  Only a full withdrawal from the entire agenda is acceptable."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Nice to see the public's got real opinions on the Common Core

Here is the first part of the Newsday piece on a forum on Long Island that was held last evening.

An emotional crowd of about 1,500 parents and educators packed Ward Melville High School's auditorium and cafeteria last night for a forum with state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., cheering speakers who assailed state testing and Common Core academic standards and at times shouting down King as he tried to speak.
Eric Gustafson, a teacher in Three Village school district, brought those in the 900-capacity auditorium to their feet, cheering and clapping, when he said that Common Core and a new system of teacher and principal evaluations are "draining us of time and resources."
"Your approach has taken the joy out of teaching and the adventure out of learning," Gustafson said, adding that parents and teachers are begging for delay in implementation of new curriculums and tougher tests, but "nothing is happening."

The right and the left are coming together against the ruling elite on Common Core. 

Today there is another John King Forum at Mineola High School in Nassau County at 3:30 pm.  If you are in that neighborhood, stop by please.  Principal and leading deform opponent Carol Burris will be there.

I gather the people at the State Education Department are going to hear some more from parents and educators who are not pleased with so called education reform.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


My colleague Marc Epstein, now in exile from Jamaica as we phase out, has some advice on how Bill de Blasio can clean out the stables  (fix the public schools) when he takes office in January. 

If  the new mayor doesn't know already, he will see very quickly just how big a mess he is inheriting in the New York City Public Schools.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


Congratulations to Bill De Blasio, Tish James and Scott Stringer for their sweeping victories in Tuesday's election.  They have a real mandate for progressive change, especially in the public schools.

Some friends are seeing ominous signs in the aftermath of the de Blasio landslide.  We have been through a very difficult time under Mayor Bloomberg and before him it was not much better under Mayor Giuliani. Add in how we were fooled by Barack Obama, who ran to the left and except for two Supreme Court appointments, has basically kept much of the Bush second term agenda, particularly on education, moving forward and you can see why people are nervous. 

Will we get "Punked" again by a Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James?

Reality Based Educator points out that the mayor elect is praising anti teacher Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual  and James has placed a prominent ed deformer on her transition team.  Is this cause for concern?  Yes but let's not jump off the ledge now.

What should we do? 

I don't think we should wait for the other shoe to drop but instead we should stay active and demand real education reform that puts the public back in public education. 

I would suggest everyone start by reading Diane Ravitch's education mandate for the new mayor. 

We are going to see in the next few weeks where de Blasio is headed in terms of education.  We need to push for what we want in an education mayor now.

We cannot get "punked" again by any politician. 

We won so let's act like it and fight for what we need.

Monday, November 04, 2013


I was all set to write up a wonderful endorsement on why it is important to go out and vote on Tuesday for Bill de Blasio, but NYC Educator did it already.

All I can add is that I will not be holding my nose when I vote tomorrow.  I'm crossing my fingers with de Blasio for mayor and Scott Stringer for Comptroller. 

I have a bit more confidence in Tish James for Public Advocate.

For a full list of UFT endorsed candidates, click here.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


Times are really bad for NYC teachers these days when the UFT has to go to grievance to uphold basic rights that anyone can read in our contract.  One crystal clear provision in the contract entitles teachers and other UFT school based members to ten self treated sick days per year.  Here is the language of Article 16A11:

Teachers on regular appointment shall be granted absence refunds for illness, without a statement from a physician, for a total of no more than ten days in any school year.

Article 16A11 goes on to say that we can use three of those ten days for personal business, providing we give notice, and two of the three personal days can be utilized to care for a sick relative. 

Nowhere does it say that if a teacher is out three days in a row, then a doctor's note must be submitted, yet that is a myth that has been spread throughout the system.

The UFT had to go to grievance to uphold the right to take ten self treated sick days.  Of course we won this case. Apparently, the UFT doesn't want to brag too loud about this victory as the result is buried at the bottom of the weekly Chapter Leader Newsletter on November 1 where it states:

A union-initiated grievance maintaining that members should not need to produce a doctor’s note after taking three self-treated sick days consecutively has been resolved in our favor. You may take up to 10 self-treated days a year without a doctor’s note. This is true whether the days are taken separately or some — or even all — are taken consecutively.

While we all should be gratified that the UFT Grievance Department fought this case and won, it should never have had to be filed in the first place.  Obviously, the Department of Education knew it was wrong as the grievance was resolved and not ruled on by an arbitrator. 

Unfortunately, this is how the DOE operates these days. They violate clear contractual rights and wait for the union to grieve.  When they are finally confronted, they back down.  Meanwhile, myths such as the one that says we need a doctor's note after being out for three days in a row spread throughout the system.

One more point on this issue: Is it good practice to submit a note from a doctor if out for a few days?  The answer is that if someone visits a physician when sick, it is a good idea to obtain and submit a doctor's note because then a member preserves the ten self treated days.  However, members can be adversely rated if absence is so numerous as to impede performance on the job even if doctor's notes are turned in.