Sunday, November 09, 2014


Veteran activist and teacher Harris Lirtzman guest blogs here.  Harry uses recent events as evidence that UFT-NYSUT members are in for some very bleak days as we move forward.

Last week Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio released to great fanfare something called the “School Renewal Program” intended to provide long-needed help to 94 struggling public schools around the City.  The School Renewal Program is intended to demonstrate to teachers, parents and the public that the Mayor and the Chancellor have finally developed a coherent alternative to the Bloomberg Era’s primary reform strategy—hold schools strictly “accountable” and close the ones that “fail,” usually by fiat but with an occasional nod to public participation.  Their Program intends to shower resources and love onto these schools but will also hold them to unspecified “accountability” measures that may still result in closure if they haven’t improved within three years.

The Chancellor, the mayor and the UFT spent the last eleven months declaring that the new cooperation among them would show the people of New York and the rest of the country that “school reform” can be accomplished without recourse to Bloombergian autocracy and school closings.  The unveiling of the School Renewal Program demonstrates, however, that nothing has changed about how the City’s education policy is really made except the sweetness of the way that Mr. de Blasio, Ms. Farina and Mr. Mulgrew talk to each other.  Tweed is still “Tweed.” The kinder, gentler UFT will still support programs that hurt teachers and harm students.

The first school to be the subject of the program is the long-ailing Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn.  Let us count the ways that nothing has changed in how the City’s schools are run and its teachers treated except that the people who run them are different people and the things they say are said more nicely:

1. Last month, NYSED Commissioner John King declared B&G to be "over time" with regard to a turnaround plan from the City.  King said that it was understandable that the City would be delayed because of the contract negotiations but demanded a plan from Tweed for B&G within two weeks.

2. Tweed has not changed under the new administration except for its new but overwhelmed Chancellor.  Tweed specialized in "one plan fits all" strategies in situations that require nuanced and specialized approaches to the problems each failing school faces.  It still does and always will because the Mayor de Blasio was unwilling or unable to appoint a tranformational Chancellor and to sweep the senior and middle echelons of the place.  Our "new" Tweed is still the "old" Tweed with a handful of different names at the top of the same memos it still sends by lightning bolt to superintendents and principals—this time, however, B&G got its memo in the newspapers.

3. The Mayor was neutralized around education issues during the spring charter fight with Eva Moskowitz and after Tuesday's election and controls City education policy only by sufferance of Andrew Cuomo, NYSED, the Regents, John King and the Republican State Senate.  What has happened at B&G is going to happen very soon to a school near you.

4. The School Renewal Program has few details but in usual Tweed style is rapidly taking shape at B&G only after it was announced with great ceremony.  It seems to consist of three pieces: a version of the Harlem Children’s Zone/Cincinnati wraparound services model which has had limited and not entirely scalable outcomes in improving student performance, a version of the failed "Chancellor's District" from the late 90s and early 00s to flood struggling schools with additional BOE/DOE resources, which even its architect, former Chancellor Rudy Crew, recently declared a disaster because of its "one size fits all nature" and today's announcement of the adoption of the federal "turnaround" model for school staff.

5. The new principal at B&G received a sweetheart deal to induce him to take on the job: he is "executive principal" at B&G, which gives him an automatic $25,000 bonus, while retaining a new title created for him--"master principal"--at his former school, Medgar Evers Prep. He has the right to transfer back to MEP after one year, he is required to spend one day a week at MEP and he publicly declared that "MEP is really my heart."  All guaranteed to get teacher, administrative, parent, community and student buy-in to whatever changes he makes at B&G before he cashes his check and goes back to the school he really loves.

6. This new principal at B&G has already been purging the register of students with poor performance and attendance but particularly with low numbers of credits, forcing them into transfer schools to "goose" his numbers.  This includes a student like the president of the junior class.

7.  The Program, to the extent that it is a program since “program” implies a coherent set of interventions that meet the specific needs of a troubled school while establishing a framework that can be applied across the system, is another example of the top-down, hurry up, “here-it-is and-be-quiet” approach built into Tweed’s DNA.  The entire process has been improvised without input from any real teachers, administrators, parents, students or community groups.  We expect that from Tweed but when the Chancellor, the mayor and the head of the UFT announce a “program” that embeds a “wrap-around” model for B&G it would be reasonable to think that the health, social service and other community organizations which will be expected to “wrap-around” B&G might be consulted before being wrapped-around.

8.  The surprise announcement yesterday, of the federal "turnaround" model for staff, whereby all of B&G’s teachers must reapply for their jobs—the terms of the process secretly negotiated by Tweed and the UFT in an MOU that leaves many questions unanswered—appears to create an entirely new classification of teachers, somewhere between fully appointed staff members and ATRs, who have certain placement rights but do not appear have the full set of contract protections.  UFT members at B&G have not been thrown to the wolves but rather to barking dogs and feral cats.

The result: an entire School Renewal Program concocted in panic and in the dark, around a conference table at Tweed with our union fully present, with the 'details" fleshed out under duress by NYSED and John King, all coordinated by a weak Chancellor and a mayor who wouldn't know what goes on in a real school if a member of UNITY took his right hand and a member of MORE took his left hand and walked him through one.

Teachers of New York City, welcome to Tweed’s new motto:  "At least we're not Bloomberg!” Welcome to Tweed’s new educational strategy: “We no longer do what Michael Bloomberg tells us to do; now we work for Andrew Cuomo, NYSED and the New York Times."

My friends, this is our future and it will be put specifically into state legislation by April 1, along with an explicitly punitive revision of APPR, by our education warrior governor and his education cheerleaders, the Republican New York State Senate.  Do not count on the Democratic New York State Assembly or the Board of Regents, nominally under the control of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to protect us because the Regents, individually and collectively have little reason to believe that Speaker Silver can or will protect them from the Governor and Senate.

Here’s the real lesson from the mess that is the School Renewal Program.  It took our union leaders exactly five days to reveal their new strategy after the drubbing they took in the election: there is no new strategy.  They will continue to lie down with the Lion, Andrew Cuomo, and with the Lamb, Bill de Blasio, to placate the Lion in the hope that it will not eat us and to retain their ever-important seats at the big table.  The problem, which even they have not yet awoken to, is that they've been relegated to stools at the children's-table where they may not speak but are allowed to listen to the adults talk while they nod with complacent and hopeful smiles to whatever the Lion wants to say.


Patrick Walsh said...

Chillingly elucidated. God knows how we will survive the next few years.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Is the UFT (mis)leadership lying down with the lions, or throwing us to them?

Anonymous said...

Oh, we'll know when we're thrown to the lions. Something which will happen right after the next mayorial election. We all have about 3 years to get our bags packed.

Anonymous said...

deBlasio originally said he wanted to use the Baltimore model that works with John Hopkins. Instead I see it's just a mixture of the old Tweed model.

deBlasio thought he would be a king maker in this election, and that wasn't the case. I see this guy as delusional. Should have listened to those who said he was indecisive and that's why he left Hillary's campaign. Yet he was better than the UFT candidate who did an about face on teachers.

I think I was the only person on the FB/blogosphere to want Joshua Starr as chancellor. Norm disagreed. I think in the long run I will be proven right.

Anonymous said...

Good Commentary, James.

Francesco Portelos said...

Great analysis. I picture Bloomberg at a control panel still controlling everything, skyping with Cuomo and making sure all the lawyers he and Klein placed at Tweed are still there. They are. 98% of them. Need a series called " Tweed -The Leftovers" and spotlight each one.

The UFT is a weak shield and wearing sheep's clothing. As far as ATRs there can be a lot of traction after Tuesday's big meeting.

Anonymous said...

You would hope de Blasio would make a stand. He has a lot more power than he thinks. Cuomo's reelection was an embarrassment for a big name Democrat running for a second term in NY state. 54% of the vote with the lowest voter turnout since 1970. DEMS lost 5 seats in the House of Reps. from NY state. One third of the total pick up GOP nationally. Every statewide and national big name DEM know that is Cuomo's fault. In Red State Arizona DEM incumbent Congressmen won 4 out 5 elections the 5th is in a recount. If I was an adviser to any DEM politician in NY state. I would advise them STRONGLY to oppose the Cuomo corporate agenda, unless they want to face a "Zephyr Teachout" or "Howie Hawkins" in a primary in 2016.

reality-based educator said...

You need to add the members of the Independent Democratic Conference to the list of individuals and entities calling the shots over de Blasio and pushing harmful education policies meant to destroy the system, schools and teachers.

Tony Avella has reiterated he plans to join IDC. Jeff Klein said this weekend he hopes for a similar power-sharing arrangement to the last legislative session, and Dean Skelos said today he is open to some deal with Klein.

Don't underestimate the damage that will be done by the IDCer's joining the GOP to give Cuomo his pro-charter, anti-teacher policies.

Would have been nice to have John Liu in the State Senate standing up for the public school system.

Alas, we have Tony Avella instead.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Kafkaesque logic here.
Fire all the teaches at Boys and Girls and replace them with Teach for America missionaries.

Then have a new principal i the school four days a week in lieu of five; while paying him a $50,000 bonus.

While the principal is there less time, the kids are theoretically in school more time, with the extended day. What is puzzling is that the kids at Boys and Girls now have attendance and cutting problems. If attending class for a full day is a stretch for many students, how will a longer day improve attendance?

Why is firing all the teachers always the solution to every problem? The real problem in NYC is INCOMPETENT ADMINISTRATORS; NOT INCOMPETENT TEACHERS.

Kevin Kearns said...

I agree with RBE above. One of our biggest issues these next few years is dealing with the Republic and and IDC controlled Senate. Even if de Blasio wanted to implement progressive education policies, the IDC/Republicans would just work with Cuomo and the Charter lobby to prevent that. And of course the UFT would stand by and watch as de Blasio got eaten alive, just like the did over the fight with Eva last spring.

As long as the state is being run by Cuomo and The Republican/IDC senate we are screwed. We needed every teacher to stand up to the IDC and yet plenty of teachers I know supported Avella and Klein (I even know two who volunteered for him). Imagine if we had Liu instead? He was the only Dem who openly said he planned to give full back pay to city workers when running for mayor and would have been an ally in the fight against Ed Deform. Instead we now have a Senate that is even more anti-public ed than ever before. Between that at Cuomo we are screwed. How can teacher complain about anti-public education policies, when they continue to vote for anti-public education candidates?

James Eterno said...

I guess that one was directed at me as an Avella supporter based on what he did for Jamaica HS RBE. I get it. We'll see what happens there.

James Eterno said...

It was not me. It was written by Harris Lirtzman. I merely posted it.

Francesco Portelos said...

An interesting story with Tony Avella recently.

The members of William Bryant HS reached out to Don't Tread on Educators ( and Solidarity Caucus ( (One steering member is from Bryant) They spoke with Tony, who was planning a rally, and they wanted us to join and support. We posted two blog posts on both respective sites advertising the event.

All of a sudden Avella's office pulls out and tells Bryant they never heard of Solidarity Caucus and need more time. Rumor has it the absent Queens UFT borough office and 52 Broadway got involved and had him pull out. You can't have these new groups be successful in supporting UFT members and the community, so you ensure the rally fails. It did. Tony pulled out and the admin made logistical changes to reduce where the school lets out and when.

Now though the UFT Queens office showed up and polled the staff. 68 - 8 in favor of rallying. Supposedly UFT central and Tony Avella will be planning a rally now.

Who heavily endorsed Avella? Ah yes...the UFT.

No worries, as we stand in solidarity with the William Bryant Community no matter who plans a rally against the abusive Principal Namita Dwarka.

James Eterno said...

I don't think the UFT endorsed Avella this time around in his battle against John Liu in the primary. If they endorsed him in the fall, it was meaningless since the Republicans did not run against him.

Harris L. said...

I've learned the dangers of dealing with politicians on education issues. I worked in NYC/NYS government and politics for twenty years before I became a teacher. I recently met with a City Councilmember A, who I've known for 15 years, to encourage him to hold oversight hearings looking into abusive treatment of teachers by DOE/OSI and DOI/SCI. He contacted another Councilmember B because there were jurisdictional issues around which Council committee oversees which agency. To my amazement, both Councilmembers agreed to hold oversight hearings. Six weeks ago, I heard back from Councilmember A that because I was a member of MORE I couldn't participate in helping him to prepare the hearings nor could any other member of MORE. Clearly, Councilmember A had spoken to Michael Mulgrew about the great idea he had to hold these oversight hearings and Mulgrew must have straightened out Councilmembers A and B right quick about the fact that a bunch of red tee shirt wearing rabble-rousers were about to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the City Council and that the UFT would find that unfortunate.

I don't give a damn because if the hearings actually do come off I'll know who got them going. But lesson learned.