Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Now that I have had the chance to fully analyze the Department of Labor's letter concerning the UFT Absent Teacher Reserve Chapter Election complaint, there is something very interesting in their reasoning for the rejection of our appeal. While I completely disagree with their decision not to take our case as Chapter Elections are unfair union elections for ATRs, I do find a statement in their rejection to be telling.

The Delegate Assembly has over 3,000 members, and votes on issues primarily of a political nature regarding education, social justice and the broader labor movement. Delegate Assembly minutes show, for example, that members voted on resolutions regarding which candidates to endorse in state and local political elections; whether to discourage the use of standardized testing in schools; whether to commemorate landmark events, such as the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; and whether to support the causes of other teachers and other unionized workers.

The DOL goes on to say the DA has real constitutional governing powers but it does not use them. Since the DA resolutions are in large part pulled from Ad Com (officers) and Executive Board minutes, they basically represent what the union does.

It is kind of difficult to argue that our union isn't just a a top-down bureaucratic political organization that spends the bulk of its time and energy advocating for politicians, social justice, and education issues and not for better working conditions for its members.

Friday, December 25, 2015


Earlier this week, I received a letter from the Federal Department of Labor rejecting the ATR Chapter Election appeal.

For those interested in their reasoning, the DOL argued that even though the UFT Delegate Assembly is constitionally the highest policy making body in the UFT,  a review of the minutes of DA meetings shows the DA didn't make much policy. Therefore, the DOL won't rule on DA elections.

By that logic, Congress didn't do much legislating this past year, so why bother electing them?

Our case was a longshot but I am quite surprised by the DOL's thinking.

I have inquired about appealing but my eyes are wide open.  I will scan the letter when I have time if anyone is interested.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2015


I think there is ample evidence to conclude that Michael Mulgrew is no longer the head of a labor union but is Bill de Blasio's Deputy Mayor in charge of the teachers.  Mulgrew is certainly the official apologist for everything de Blasio.

Take last Wednesday's Delegate Assembly for some examples.

When Michael Bloomberg was mayor, the UFT would at least rant and rave and even sue when schools were closed.  Now the UFT supports it when schools are closed or reorganized. Our apologist president now claims that schools have been closing for thirty years and we can't have schools with low enrollment.  What about the members who work in those schools?  Couldn't sometthing be negotiated with our supposedly union friendly mayor and chancellor to keep our members from being displaced? Update: If anyone has word on what happens to UFT members in these schools, please tell us. We will update again.) Watch out as de Blasio is threatening to close more schools.  I am fairly certain he will get the union's seal of approval for any school he wants to shut down.

Mulgrew even left the chair to argue against Vice President for High Schools Janella Hinds who wanted to strike from a resolution UFT support for the mayor's affordable housing plan.  I have been going to Delegate Assemblies since the mid 1990s and I have never seen a UFT vice president disagreeing with the union's president on anything until last Wednesday.  I have no idea if this was orchestrated or not but it was interesting to hear that Janella introduced an amendment to oppose a de Blasio initiative and then our president left the chair to argue from the floor how we have to support the mayor's program. (I had to leave early so I missed this.  Someone sent it to me.) President trumps a VP so of course the crowd supported Mulgrew.

Then there are adverse ratings.  The UFT President repeats over and over at the DA how the number of ineffective ratings is down compared to how many unsatisfactory ratings we used to get under the old teacher evaluation system.  What he doesn't say is that teachers are being brought up on charges even when they receive developing ratings or that after two ineffective ratings, teachers are now presumed to be incompetent.  To put it another way, we are guilty until proven innocent under the current evaluation system.

We have now toiled for two years under former State Education Commissioner John King's imposed, UFT endorsed teacher evaluation system. The question to ask is not how many ineffective ratings there have been but rather how many tenured teacher are being forced to resign or will be terminated for incompetence in the new system compared to the old one?

If we start talking about how many teachers have had their probation extended since Mulgrew became president as opposed to the past, we clearly see a much weaker union. Has the UFT done anything to stop the abuse of non-tenured teachers?   We don't hear our president talk about this subject much at all at Delegate Assemblies.

Surely the union must have something to say about the many principals and assistant principals who are not working in any way shape or form to help teachers better the educational process.  All the President will say is that we have always had bad principals so it is nothing new.  We wouldn't want to insult our chancellor and mayor who it seems can do no wrong. At this month's Delegate Assembly, Mulgrew admitted that we are still dealing with a culture that says a principal can do whatever he/she wants. What is the union doing about it?  Not much.

He told the Delegates we are having a disagreement with management because 70% of school breakfasts are being thrown out. This blog favors students eating and disapproves of so much food being wasted but is that the only issue we are at odds with the administration on this month? That and some Integrated Collaborative Teaching problems that in the past would have prompted citywide grievances at the very least but now prompt a survey.  The reality as everyone knows, is that conditions in the schools are as bad if not worse today for most schools as they were under Bloomberg.  The major difference is the UFT is now the official apologist for the administration instead of putting up a little resistance.

Last month Mulgrew told Delegates that there have always been bad principals.  His previous line was we had to give de Blasio-Farina time to get principals in line.  Notice he doesn't say that any longer.

The 2014 contract with its meager city pattern setting raises of 10% total over 7 years, one month, while making us wait 11 years until 2020 to get money most other city unions received back in 2008-2010, and throwing in yet to be seen healthcare givebacks, is another example of de Blasio apologist trade unionism on the part of our union.

Mulgrew is such a friend of the administration that he would probably accept a position as deputy mayor for education or even chancellor but he couldn't take the pay cut to be a deputy mayor or the lack of job security for chancellor. Personally, I just wish we had a union president and not a de Blasio-Farina apologist.

Reality Based Educator has called the UFT  basically a company union on this blog.  He has a point but the term doesn't really fit the UFT because we don't work for a company; we work for the government.  As such, the union is part of the Democratic Party establishment for better or worse. The term "party union" doesn't sound very catchy but the union is a part of the party at the city, national and state levels and that party takes us for granted. I say this as someone who voted for de Blasio and sees only bad alternatives for 2017. The problem is how do we make the UFT an independent trade union again. We can't be the union arm of the Democratic Party.

Step one: We need to spread the word in our schools and then vote for Jia Lee and the entire MORE-New Action slate in the spring UFT election. We need to send a message that we want a union president and not a deputy mayor in charge of the teachers.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


In case anyone was wondering how I feel about being at Middle College High School at Laguardia Community College, here is a picture of my daughter Kara, Santa Claus and me at the Middle College holiday party which took place last Tuesday evening.

Thanks to Jordan Moore for sending this out and the students for taking this picture and many others.

I drove home to Floral Park to pick up Kara and then came back to Middle College which is on Van Dam Street in Long Island City after school on Tuesday. You may recall that December 15 was a very busy traffic day and this commute is from one side of Queens to the other.  You think I do that if I'm not feeling positive about the school I am in? Yes I still miss Jamaica High School (many friends, great school, twenty minute commute, etc...), which should never have been closed, but exile at Middle College isn't bad at all.

Enjoy the holiday season everyone.  Only three more school days left.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

LIVE BLOGGING FROM DA (updated and cleaned up a little)

President's Report
Friedrichs Supreme Court arguments in January. Retirees going.

Chapter leader stipends in mail. Stipend went up.

School closings:
We have been closing schools for decades. Our problem was with Bloomberg.  For years, we have closed schools. Farina says we are closing three schools for lack of enrollment. Enrollment is up citywide but schools are in industrial areas. Can't argue for a school to stay open with 50 kids in it.

Do we need all the schools that have been opened in recent years?

Renewal Schools:
UFT has a school visit app. We are averaging over 100 school visits a day. Many more visits in renewal schools. Getting supports for teachers. 40% of schools on track with plans. 25% in the middle. The rest are not following plan put together by school communities. That is a concern.

Problem with ICT classes. Not implemented correctly in our view. Deputy chancellor says there aren't problems. UFT has online survey sent to Delegates on this issue. Mulgrew doing surveys now with Delegates.

After Delegates did survey (some did not receive it), Mulgrew continued by talking about school breakfast. 70% of breakfast is thrown out uneaten.  Pilot breakfast in the classroom last year. This year 300 more schools. DOE did not follow strict procedures like in last year's pilot so now it is a disaster. Expired food and frozen pancakes served. UFT told DOE of issues. 8% of students in transitional housing. We want them to get food.

Terrorist threat Tuesday:
Constant communication between city, DOE and UFT.
We will not disparage LA for closing schools yesterday .

Resolution supporting Chicago teachers and backing their strike authorization vote will come up later. We will need to support LA too as they are trying to make half the schools charters.

Every Student Succeeds Act:
No Child Left Behind needed fixing. Agreement that there should be as few federal mandates as possible to please Republicans. Democrats want Title 1. NCLB basically says all schools are failures. Race to the Top was a way to get waivers from NCLB. Political chessboard changed. AFT insisted on keeping Title 1. We wanted to change from test and punish to helpful accountability. Schools get credit for art and music. Tests needed to show states are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

ESSA a big win. President saying the right things on education now.
Major gains in a year. We went to war last year. State people here last December working on strategies to fight back. We were ready because of our fights with the last two mayors.

Governor's commission:
Common Core has low polling. Union had people on commission who heard our issues. (A voice says it was the opt out movement; Mulgrew says he won't respond.) Process must include teachers to fix things.

Political chessboard in Albany is about very little as politicians aren't talking a lot. We are pushing for funding from CFE settlement to lower class sizes. Election year without people talking to each other.

Governor tried to kill us quickly in the last year. Still a tough situation because of Friedrichs. However, now state scores on standardized tests can't be used in evaluations. He thanked a NYC teacher, Ms Hazlewood, who briefly addressed the Delegates.

Survey results:
Most ICT teachers are not covered if absent. 2 out of 3 get common planning time. Most do not get professional development. There's more but I could not keep up.

We are still dealing with culture that says principal can do whatever he/she wants.

Staff Director's Report:
Leroy Barr thanked Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten for work on ESSA and gave some dates of events.

Question Period:
Q What's up with common core?
A State developing standards with teachers.

Q What's going on in Albany with two of three men in a room going to jail?
A Albany will be tough this year. Don't expect much up there.

Q 8 periods of math for ICT classes but only Co-teacher there for 5.
A IEP says math should be ICT. That does not mean just 5 periods.

Q Cell phones a problem.
A School Leadership Team makes school cell phone policy.

Q Are renewal schools getting what they need?
A There should be no such thing as a failing school.
Kids need to be educated. We're staying on top of these schools.

Q Test scores in evaluations
A State Board of Regents says growth scores can't be used to evaluate teachers. Regents exams in high schools still count for students.

Q Do ineffective ratings from last year hold based on test scores of students?
A Yes but there are very few of them. Need to expand what constitutes student learning.

Q What happens to local measures in evaluations?
A Local measures in place. Do we want to make 20% student learning and 80% up to the principal?

Motion Period:
Janella Hinds presented a compromise reolution on receivership between the two caucuses. The UFT clearly opposes receivership. Receivership is when schools are taken over by an appointed receiver and the collective bargaining rights, including seniority, are done away with.

The resolution was for next month's agenda. Mulgrew asked for another speaker in favor after Hinds finished.  This is a violation of the rules. I would not budge and my colleague Mindy Rosier had to leave early so I was left to be the speaker against a resolution I had a hand in writing.

I said it was a process where I hadn't seen the final version until earlier today.

I then told the DA I had no problem with the resolution being introduced but it had to be amended to have real teeth in it. I pointed out that Mulgrew said in his report that we can't do much in Albany this year but my position is we have to get rid of the Education Transformation Act (horrible NYS law passed last April that in part is about receivership) to end receivership.

That should be in the resolution and that should be an important UFT- NYSUT legislative priority. Without a push to repeal the law, this resolution is virtually meaningless as the Board of Regents make regulations to enforce state law. The Legislature makes the laws.

I will pick up on this issue next month as I really was ok with it coming to the floor. It needs to be toughened up however.

The next motion was for next month to support Chicago teachers in their contract fight. They have called for strike authorization.  It carried easily.

I missed the rest of the meeting as there was a family matter I had to take care of. Sorry about that and for any errors I may have made in writing this on my smartphone.


Hopeful news coming from New York State Allies for Public Education as they vow to continue to push for parents to opt out of state exams.

Here is segment of the NYSAPE press release:

Until there is a halt of the Common Core standards, repeal of the Education Transformation Act, major changes to the state tests, a reduction of unnecessary testing, protection of data privacy, and local control restored, parents will continue to Opt Out in large numbers.

The recommendations deliberately state that Governor Cuomo’s ‘signature’ legislation that enforces many of these harmful policies doesn’t need to be touched.  On the contrary, this law is the prescriptive blueprint to these harmful policies that was passed by the legislature as part of the budget last spring.

One of the recommendations to put a 4-year moratorium on evaluating teachers based on the flawed Common Core state tests was officially voted into emergency regulations by the Board of Regents at today’s board meeting.  Until the law is repealed, this moratorium does not reduce testing it actually does the opposite, increases testing and further puts a strain on school districts’ budgets to comply.

NYSAPE is calling on parents to Opt Out of state tests and any local tests that are linked to this corrupt and invalid evaluation system that clearly doesn’t provide value for the students, educators or schools.

Corrupt and invalid.   Nothing more needs to be said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Our often clueless mayor, particularly on education, is closing schools. The one positive education change we saw under Bill de Blasio compared to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was de Blasio basically stopped the annual carnage of closing many schools.  However, on Monday we learned that three schools are being closed.  Remember, also that Boys and Girls and Automotive were also virtually closed when their teachers had to reapply for their jobs and many were displaced.

Last week, the mayor threatened to bring further school closures in an interview with NY1 reported on by Politico NY.

"Lord knows, if we think a school is not going to be fixed, I will not hesitate to shut it," de Blasio said during an interview with NY1's Errol Louis. 

Renewal schools had better play with those statistics to make sure every student is passing or else they face possible closure. The precedent has been set to close schools by this mayor even though he is starting with only three. The threat for more is there.

All of the schools facing closure have one thing in common; an abundance of high needs students.

The one way to pretty much guarantee better results is to stop sending so many high needs students to struggling schools. This is essentially what Bloomberg did when he closed large schools and then exempted the new schools that replaced the old schools from taking on most special education pupils and English language learners for several years.

The current mayor could achieve pretty much the same results at significantly reduced cost by just limiting the number of at risk students accepted into so called struggling schools. The Parthenon Report recommended this back in 2006.


The latest news coming out of the New York State Board of Regents is, as usual, very confusing. On one hand, the Regents voted 15-1 yesterday to remove the state (Common Core) test portion of teacher annual review for the next four years.

On the other hand, student test results on "local" exams remain as part of teacher ratings in this four year transitional period. That means half of each teacher's annual ratings will still be based on student grades on tests. For many of us, the local half was based on state exams but with a different group of kids being counted as compared to the state portion of our rating. Who knows how this will change under the new regulation?

While I don't know what "local" in this context means, I do know that instead of declaring a major victory, the NYSUT statement in reaction to the news was uncharacteristically not boastful. They called it only "an initial step."  Reality Based Educator and the comments over at Perdido Street School aren't too pleased with the initial step.

The NYSUT Statement:

Regents action a first step

Source: NYSUT Media Relations
ALBANY, N.Y. Dec. 14, 2015 — New York State United Teachers issued the following statement in response to today’s vote by the Board of Regents on emergency regulations starting to put in place a moratorium on the use of state tests in teacher evaluations:
“The Common Core Task Force responded to parents and educators’ legitimate concerns about the harmful effects of overtesting on students and the misuse of state tests in teacher evaluations. It issued many important recommendations aimed at reducing testing and the resulting pressure on students, while calling for the development of New York standards by New York teachers that would benefit New York students. Those recommendations opened the door for substantive change and an end to the state’s test-and-punish mentality. Today’s vote on one of those recommendations is an initial step. However, more hard work lies ahead and further changes are necessary to properly implement all the task force’s recommendations. Working collaboratively and constructively, we expect the Regents and State Education Department to make policy changes that restore the joy of teaching and learning to our classrooms.”

Monday, December 14, 2015


The Chicago Teachers Union membership has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.  88% of their entire membership voted yes and 96% of those who cast a ballot authorized a strike. Those are very impressive percentages no matter how you slice it.

As for demands, the CTU put out a statement.  This is at the top of the list:

(1) Improve the teaching and learning conditions by reducing standardized testing, eliminate time-sucking compliance paperwork, and restore professional respect and autonomy to teachers on matters like grades. These improvements cost nothing;

These should be among our top demands here in NYC too.


Since Thursday's release of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Task Force Report on Common Core, there has been plenty of analysis done. Some of it has been excellent.  Nobody seems to trust that the Task Force Report is a great document that will surely move education in New York State forward except for the UFT and NYSUT. Two more thoughtful pieces have come out.  One is from the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and the other is from the Lower Hudson Newspapers.

Our friends at PJSTA applaud some of the good points of the Task Force Report before getting to their reservations.  They put in six positive bullet points applauding the overhaul of Common Core, the transparent process for the new standard, engaging educators instead of corporations to review state standards, flexibility on curriculum, fewer testing days, and different tests for different types of learners.  They then add in a seventh pro-report argument when they talk about the moratorium on using the state tests to evaluate teachers.

PJSTA then gets to theirj significant reservations.  Here there are only five bullet points but they pretty much negate much of the praise. First, they criticize the lack of specificity in the positive points and conclude with "the sneaking suspicion that 'overhauled' standards will look a lot like the current standards, just with a friendlier name and a few small changes."

They then talk about how the cut scores on the tests can easily be set to show our schools are failing which will lead to receivership based on poor test scores.  Receivership can result in negating collective bargaining agreements based on poor test scores.  PJSTA continues by noting that the moratorium is not an elimination of teachers being rated on Common Core Test results so testing is still the "centerpiece of public education in New York State."

PJSTA concludes by citing the governor's press release saying there does not need to be new legislation passed to fix the damage done by the 2015 education law passed by Albany.  In criticizing the Task Force, they state:  "In other words, they fully support the most damaging piece of public education legislation that has ever been passed."

That's not good.

As for Lo Hud (Lower Hudson) newspapers, they praise the Task Force Report and rightfully credit the parent uprising and opt-out from testing movements for moving the governor.  However, they follow it with a section on teacher evaluations that shows real caution.


Interestingly, the report does not explore the merits and failings of New York's teacher-evaluation system, which is perhaps the most controversial for grading teachers, in part, on student test scores.  Instead, the task force recommends that test scores not be used to evaluate teachers or students until 2019-2020.  (State law already bans including the test scores on student transcripts or using them to make student placement decisions through 2018.)

This rather vague recommendation leaves the teacher-evaluation system in place, and would likely require school districts to replace test scores with another measure for the next several years.

The task force did not take the next, necessary step of declaring the evaluation system a failure and calling for the development of a new system that would not only hold teachers accountable but give them the information they need to improve their performance and student achievement.  But the panel covered a lot of ground in a few short weeks, and it should not be up to its 16 people to solve all of New York's problems.

Should Cuomo and the state Legislature move ahead with the development of new standards and testing, a new evaluation system would have to be next.  Otherwise, the education wars will continue.

This blog cannot argue with that conclusion.

Carrol Burris did a fantastic piece in the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog on the Cuomo Task Force report. Burris is a retired award winning principal from Long Island.  She concludes, as many of us already have, that not much has changed even if the report's recommendations are fully implemented.

She writes:

The report is timid. There is no courage in recounting well-documented mistakes. Parents understand the problems that resulted from goofy modules, mixed up math and horrible tests. There would be courage, however, in charting a bold course forward that provides immediate relief for the students and teachers of New York. Such bravery, sadly, is noticeably absent.

She concludes that it is up to the Legislature to fix this mess.  We concur.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I should know by now that when I read another victory email from the UFT that it is meaningless.

Thanks to the blogger Sullio (via NYC Educator), who writes The Pen is Mightier than the Person blog, for reading through the Governor's press release on Cuomo's education Task Force Report.  Buried at the bottom of the press release there is proof that the point of the Task Force was basically to make parents, teachers, students and the media think education policy was changing when virtually nothing of substance is different.  Test and punish and Common Core are alive and well.  The teaching profession looks like it is in the same dire straits as it was before the Task Force Report was released.

From the bottom of the Governor's press release:

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers.  During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already used by the majority of teachers.

We have won virtually nothing. The only ones who have been fooled are the people who get excited (including me for about half a second) when President Michael Mulgrew sends out another triumphant email where he claims:

Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force issued its report. In essence, the task force report urges a fundamental reset of education policy in New York State, including a four-year ban on the use of state growth scores to evaluate both teachers and students.

This is no fundamental reset.  As Sullio and Perdido Street School have both pointed out, instructional shifts from Common Core remain.  Here is the actual language from the Task Force Report on the revising of the standards:

These standards should be educator-driven and incorporate New York’s commitment to rigorous expectations for all students yet maintain the key instructional shifts set forth in the Common Core Standards.

Do a quick google search for instructional shifts and a New York City Department of Education Webpage shows up with all of the stifling Common Core nonsense that teachers rightfully complain about every day. There will be tweaks for sure but I highly doubt they will have much significance.

I will leave it to Sullio to put it all in perspective:

Additionally, everything else in the Lobbyist for the Student's (Cuomo) infamous Education Transformation Act remains, including receivership and weakened due process rights.  As Cuomo maintains, the law will not change.  The test is still king.

Sadly, we are in an era where we can't trust our union leadership and the political process.  My biggest hope for some justice yesterday was hearing about federal prosecutor Preet Bharara's Tweet after former New York State Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and his son were convicted on corruption charges.

How many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?
Cuomo's Task Force recommending little of substance but saying they are "overhauling" Common Core is just a little move evidence that we don't have that honest government in New York.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Governor Andrew Cuomo's Task Force on education has just issued their report.  Having had a little time to read the document, it looks like the Governor is going to encourage the Regents to delay for four years implementing junk science evaluations that have high stakes for teachers and students. They are saying that within the next four years they will get the implementation of new standards right.

As we said yesterday, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is claiming a significant triumph. Why isn't everyone dancing in the streets? Are we so jaded that we can't accept a win?  Here is what some respected educators are saying.

The Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association put up a blog post that was highly critical.

Notice that the task force will simply call for "up to a four-year moratorium" on test based evaluations. ...this is essentially a statement by the task force that they support test based evaluations because a moratorium is completely different than getting rid of such evaluations altogether.  Having a moratorium sides with the notion that it's not the reform agenda that stinks, it was just the implementation.  Be reminded that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that test based teacher evaluations improve student learning at all.  yet the task force is, in essence, voting in favor of them. Junk science will still be junk since in a few (less than four!) years

Fellow blogger Reality Based Educator isn't impressed either.  He writes:

As for the four-year moratorium on test scores, that doesn't mean much to me either - a moratorium is nothing more than a delay and a delay on junk science APPR means they're still using junk science in APPR.

What about education historian Diane Ravitch? In the comments section at the bottom of her story on the Task Force she says this:

Under the proposal of the task force, the Common Core standards will be tweaked.  Teachers will continue to be rated, with 50% of their rating based on test scores.  Their ratings will be part of their permanent records.  But they won't be fired during the moratorium.  At the end of four years, the teacher-evaluation program will go back to the original.

The goal is to deflate the opt out movement. State officials are terrified of the opt outs.  If 500,000 opted out in 2016, it would destroy test-based accountability and spread to other states.  What better way to close the opt out movement down than to declare a moratorium?

So they are giving ground to save the test and punish system for the future.

  • Does this mean teachers will be rated for dismissal purposes based solely on Danielson observations? That won't make too many of us happy.

  • Are we going to be rated on other tests?

  • Is the burden of proof still on tenured teachers if we are rated ineffective two years in a row or does the burden shift back to the school district?

  • Do we go back to the old evaluation system and is the new one just advisory for four years?

My guess is that these are questions for the Board of Regents to decide.

One thing is certain: No matter what happens the UFT will claim victory. NYC Educator pointed out this fact about our union yesterday.  President Michael Mulgrew must be worried that nobody is believing him any longer. NYC Educator is also reporting that Mulgrew is doing a Meet the President meeting which is a thinly disguised re-election campaign event.  UFT elections are coming in the spring.

This blog supports opt-out champion Jia Lee for President on the MORE-New Action slate.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


UFT President Michael Mulgrew is out declaring major wins on the Governor's Education Task Force recommendations and the passage of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here is recommendation 21 on testing from the Task Force in its entirety:

Recommendation 21: Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students. Given the amount of work needed to get the new system right, the Task Force recommends that until the transition to a new system is complete, i.e. New York State-specific standards are fully developed along with corresponding curriculum and tests, State-administered standardized ELA and Mathematics assessments for grades three through eight aligned to the Common Core or updated standards shall not have consequences for individual students or teachers. Further, any growth model based on these Common Core tests or other state assessments shall not have consequences and shall only be used on an advisory basis for teachers. The transition phase shall last until the start of the 2019-2020 school year. High standards are a pathway to a brighter future for all of our children but must be tailored to our students and our system. When combined with high quality, locally-driven teaching and assessments these high standards will ensure that every student in New York has access to a great education and a bright future. We believe that these recommendations will help do just that. 

Are we still stuck with local scores?  How will we be evaluated on the Measure of Student Learning part of our evaluation?

Read Mulgrew's email below along with the Task Force Recommendations and decide for yourself if this is a giant leap ahead as Mulgrew claims.

Dear James,

Today is an historic day for public education in New York State.

This morning I was able to stand at the White House with other education and political leaders as President Obama signed legislation that bars the federal government from mandating the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and the use of the Common Core standards.

Later this afternoon, Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force issued its report. In essence, the task force report urges a fundamental reset of education policy in New York State, including a four-year ban on the use of state growth scores to evaluate both teachers and students.

The task force urges the state — working with educators — to develop its own learning standards following a thorough review of the Common Core Learning Standards. As part of that overhaul, new age-appropriate standards would be designed for students in the early grades and appropriate accommodations would be made to meet the needs of students with disabilities and English language learners.

The task force recognizes the need for a comprehensive multi-year plan to create matching curriculum and tests and to properly train teachers. While this process goes forward, the task force recommends that the results from tests aligned to the current Common Core standards — as well as the updated standards — not be used as part of student and teacher evaluations before 2019.
In contrast to the state's failed implementation of the Common Core standards, the task force says now is the time to get it right. It calls for the new system to be developed and implemented gradually — and with educator input every step of the way.

The task force's recommendations now go to the state Board of Regents. We will now shift our focus to the Regents to ensure their passage.

Over the past 12 years, you and your students have seen the joy of learning slip away as our classrooms were turned into test-prep factories.

While we still have hard work ahead of us, we are poised to change the testing obsession that has done so much harm to our schools and our profession. I can’t thank you enough for your perseverance as we fought for this day.

Michael Mulgrew
Michael Mulgrew


Unity's Gene Mann publishes The Organizer and often it is a source for some very useful information.  In the latest issue he lists the high schools in Queens that have lowest percentage of teachers with five years experience or less and then the schools with the highest percentage of newer teachers.

Not surprisingly, among non-phasing out schools Middle College High School and Cardozo topped the list of schools with the fewest newer teachers. Middle College only had 4% of its teachers in their first five years.  MCHS was followed by Cardozo at 7% newer teachers, Fredrick Douglass Academy VI at 8%, Robert F. Kennedy at 10% and Martin Van Buren at 11%.  The only surprise on the list for me is FDA VI. I interviewed there last year and was not at all unhappy to leave.  Apparently, however, they are doing something right to keep the senior people on board.

On Tuesday I had my one year anniversary at Middle College so I can report without reservation that having a supportive administration makes all the difference in the world for experienced teachers. Teachers flock to this place even though the commute from anywhere outside the western Queens area isn't easy and the parking is atrocious. In my year there I have not heard of people looking to get out. Instead, I hear of teachers staying on even after they are eligible to retire. I have friends at Cardozo who have reported similar stories. Back in the days when teachers were somewhat respected by the central Board of Education, having a stable teaching staff was considered a positive for a school.

Leading the list of high schools in Queens with the most newer teachers is Maspeth High School with 94%.  They are followed by Queens High School for Language Studies at 82%, Energy Tech at 72%, the High School for Community Leadership at 67% and Pan American at 66%.

I don't know much about four of the schools on the list but the High School for Community Leadership is one of the schools that replaced Jamaica High School.  This blog previously reported on the trouble their principal has had. It is not a surprise that veterans would not be looking to work there.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


While many teachers in New York City continue to be overworked and over-stressed as classroom conditions further deteriorate under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina, other education unions are fighting back for real.

In Chicago they are taking a strike authorization vote this week for a possible 2016 walkout.  Illinois law requires 75% of the membership to vote yes before a strike can take place so the Chicago Teachers Union is holding a three day vote this week to make sure everyone has a chance to cast a ballot.

UFT leadership will tell us that strikes by public employees are illegal in New York State so we can't even consider such an action. We recently went almost five years without a contract and six without a raise.  The fact that strikes were illegal didn't stop UFT members from walking off the job in 1960, 1962, 1967, 1968, and 1975 and working conditions were certainly improved thanks to the activism of UFT members in those years.

Our current leaders think that giving up many of the rights that were won over those decades (see 2005 contract for details) and taking inadequate raises (see 2014 contract that set a labor pattern of 10% over 7 years for city employees and pays UFT members piecemeal up until 2020 raises other city unions received back in 2008-2010) is the way to go.  Some of us think fighting like a real labor union would be a better idea.

Another government union in New York City that has gone five years without a contract and six without a salary increase--just like UFT members between 2008 and 2014-- is going to use a militant rather than a UFT style concessionary strategy to attempt to win a decent contract. That union is the Professional Staff Congress (City University teachers) who are mobilizing for a strike authorization vote.

Aren't they risking violating the dreaded Taylor Law which outlaws strikes by government employees?  Well yes but in 2011 a UN agency ruled that the no strike part of the Taylor Law is a human rights violation.

Notice also that when the PSC showed videos on their website of support, they featured union leaders from Seattle and Chicago and not New York.  That is telling.

Monday, December 07, 2015


The statewide opposition to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus is called Stronger Together (ST Caucus).  The ST leadership put out a statement this past weekend on the flawed Every Child Succeeds Act.  The long overdue renewal of federal federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act has already passed the House of Representatives, is almost 100% certain to sail through the Senate and be signed by the President.

We have previously relied on experts Mercedes Schneider and Diane Ravitch to analyse the flawed bill which continues mandated standardized testing but shifts much of the responsibility from the federal government to the states.  Test the kids and punish the schools and teachers certainly can continue under the new law.

We are not surprised that our union leadership at the UFT, NEA and AFT is backing this bill. In fact in the weekly UFT Chapter Leader Newsletter they are encouraging us to contact our senators to vote for the Every Child Succeeds Act.  Our unions also supported the federal disasters known as No Child Left Behind and President Obama's Race to the Top that have decimated our profession and our public schools.

It is commendable to see the opposition in NYSUT acknowledging the positive aspects of the bill but also being highly critical of the negative features. ST Caucus is not having a party or telling us to urge our senators to support a defective bill.

The full ST Caucus statement is below.

The ST Caucus Leadership cannot celebrate the changes in the re-authorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). While the federal decoupling of the teacher evaluations from the tests is a necessary first step, these changes do NOT go far enough in remediating the damage that High Stakes Tests have on students and schools, and do not adequately address the needs of special education students, English Language Learners and struggling schools. The discontinuation of irresponsible and harmful annual testing, which is expressly designed for political expediency to create the illusion of failure, must be included in the changes. While we can applaud the move to return control to states and local school boards, the legislation perpetuates a twenty-year-long failed experiment that solely benefits corporations and their investors, and leaves children behind. The reality is that ESEA will become law, but we need to continue to fight to make this flawed legislation better. The ST Caucus and its coalition partners will continue to raise their collective voice to advocate on behalf of students, parents, teachers and public education.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


New York State Allies for Public Education issued a press release announcing the results of their easy to use survey that had thousands more responses than either of the two official surveys from the State Education Department and the Governor.  There is no surprise in the results as the majority of the survey's findings are supported by clear majorities in public polling which show how the people are not happy with New York's education policy.

Specifically, NYSAPE reports that 70% oppose Common Core and a whopping 91% think Common Core tests are flawed.

We learn this from the press release also:

Those who took the NYSAPE survey are nearly unanimous, at 96 percent, that test scores should not be linked to principal or teacher evaluations.  86.5 percent say that the state should abandon the Common Core standards and return to New York’s former standards until educators can create better ones. 

Who can argue with reasonable people reaching obvious conclusions?  Only our not too wonderful elected leaders and their well funded backers who want to destroy public education. Oh yeah and maybe the leader of the UFT who wants to punch you in the face if you take away his Common Core.

For the full results, click here.

For a Refusal Letter to opt a child out of 2015-16 state exams, click here.

Friday, December 04, 2015


Some of us believe that somewhere, somehow there really is some kind of karma and what goes around really does come around. However, don't ever expect to see it from Bill de Blasio-Carmen Farina's Department of Education or you will surely be disappointed.

In the case of the former deputy Chancellor in charge of explaining closing schools to the public in the Bloomberg days and now Dewitt Clinton High School Principal Santiago Taveras, I don't believe there will be a large price to pay for his inflating student grades Clinton. I read the Post stories of his private shower and the grade fixing scandal.  Post reporter Susan Edelman finds one of these scandals about high school grade tampering regularly.

Changing failing student grades to passing is standard operating procedure in the Department of Education administration unwritten playbook for troubled schools. The rules concerning the students are fairly simple:

  • Pass'em all by any means necessary
  •  If they don't all pass, blame the teachers and reorganize the school.

Students don't magically improve when schools are closed or renewed or received or whatever else they do these days.  The only change firing teachers and hiring all new ones does is it kills any academic standards that may have existed previously because newer teachers are easily pushed into passing every student regardless of whether they deserve to pass or not. My guess is based on his former job as the "community engagement czar" who came to tell school communities why they were failing, Taveras picked up an idea or two about how to make a school look good on paper and is utilizing what he learned then in his new life as a principal.

I also saw Marcia Kramer's piece on Taveras on CBS 2. The best quote from this story comes from what appears to be our completely clueless mayor:

"My Department of Education initiated that investigation," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, "and that investigation will proceed promptly, and if we find any wrongdoing, there will be very serious consequences for the individual involved."

If our mayor was serious, he would now have to investigate a great many of our high schools as what Taveras is doing is anything but unique. Then again if we parse de Blasio's words in Clintonian fashion, he said there would be very serious consequences if they find any wrongdoing. They more than likely won't because grade changing is routine in the Bloomberg-deBlasio era.

Wouldn't it be real karma if the person who ran around and recommended that schools be closed, thus ruining so many lives of UFT members and students, was truly sanctioned for grade fixing?  If there was any justice in the de Blasio-Farina DOE, we would be optimistic. However, due to the reality that is the public schools in NYC, we'll probably have to look for justice elsewhere.

On a side note, I never met Santiago Taveras because when Jamaica was on the chopping block for the second time in 2010, the Chapter boycotted the community engagement czar's visit.  That is a what unions do. By the fall of 2010, everyone but a community activist and me figured out Jamaica's goose was already cooked.

We had been saved by the courts earlier that year but the DOE-UFT agreed to let new schools open in our building anyway.  Meanwhile, the DOE strongly discouraged students from attending Jamaica and never provided promised supports which had been part of the settlement of the 2010 lawsuit. In addition, most of the school's administration was not very popular (see Sue Edelman's transcript fixing piece for details) so our Chapter decided to boycott Taveras when he came to Jamaica. He was met by an empty auditorium. For anyone who wants to know how to successfully stage a union boycott, email me.

Finally, we were even considering sitting out the entire round 2 of the school closing battle in 2010-11. This may not be popular here but one of the reasons we kept at it furiously that year was besides community, parental, teacher and student support along with help from politicians, then UFT Secretary Michael Mendel took up our cause.  He was a tremendous advocate.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


There has been a boatload of analysis on the re-authorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Act now almost ironically known as the Every Child Succeeds Act. It passed the House of Representatives yesterday and is now heading for the Senate.

The new bill takes away much of the Secretary of Education's power over sanctioning schools that don't meet annual progress goals and leaves much up to the states. It also encourages educational profiteering.  No surprise here as it is a 1061 page bill. Diane Ravitch who supports the bill's passage still says:

Any law that is so long has all sorts of political compromises tucked into it, and all sorts of favors to lobbyists and special interests.  It is a Christmas tree, just in time for Christmas.

There are many major concerns with this bill.  As Mercedes Schneider pointed out in her piece on the House overwhelmingly passing the ESSA, test and punish education policy is alive and well.

Like NCLB, ESSA is a test-centered bill, and ESSA is clear in its requirement that a state receiving Title I funds tests at least 95 percent of all students in grades 3 through 8 and at least one grade in high school in English and math. (Science is a testing requirement, as well, but not as often as ELA and math.)

Unlike NCLB, ESSA does not dictate a state’s goal-setting terms for “annual yearly progress (AYP),” and it does not spell out a list of punitive consequences for states’ not achieving AYP. Nevertheless, I do not view ESSA as a happy marriage so much as a necessary divorce. ESSA is clear that states are expected to work the results of that at-least-95-percent-tested requirement into their state accountability systems– which on the face affects schools, and, yes, could still influence teachers’ being graded using student test scores.

It was the requirement that 95% of students must be tested for a district to qualify federal Title I funds that was used by UFT President Michael Mulgrew to withhold support from the parents who have led the movement to have students opt out of standardized exams. In reality, districts were not cut off when they came in under 95% but the threat was always thrown in our faces and this might continue but now it will be from the states.

I am not surprised that the UFT, AFT and NEA are for this bill or that anti-union groups such as Educators for Excellence also endorse it. Schneider calls it a lesser evil but still an evil.

Norm Scott tells us where various groups stand on the bill over at Ed Notes.

 Ravitch explains why she is in favor on her blog.  She says:

...there are some very good things in the bill. It puts an end to the hated No Child Left Behind and failed Race to the Top.  The bill eliminates AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) and Duncan's waivers.  States can drop out of Common Core without any penalty.  No more teacher evaluation by test scores unless the states want to do it. Bill Gates will no longer have the Department of Education mandating his latest ideas.  No more federal mandates about how to reform schools.

I know that many readers would like the law to go farther.  I would like to see an end to annual testing, a practice unknown in the high-performing nations of the world.  I would like to see stipulations about charter accountability and transparency. But that's not there.

Nonetheless, I support the bill because it gets rid of a terrible, failed law and a terrible, failed program.  The Bush-Obama era is over.  Now the fight for a humane education system shifts to the states.

Let's go back to Mercedes for some final analysis:

Now is the time to register discontent with the language of ESSA as it puts states in the position to try to force parents to allow their children to participate in high-stakes testing. Yes, ESSA has language about reducing the amount of time students spend on high-stakes testing. However, ESSA is a test-centered bill, including the expectation that test results will be part of state accountability systems; Title I is worth billions (and states will bow to those billions), and so, the stage is set for a child’s public school education to (continue to) be increasingly devoted to prep for high-stakes tests.

Under those circumstances, I am inclined not to support the Every Child Succeeds Act.  A slight improvement is probably better than nothing but we need much more to lift ourselves out of the mess public education is in.

PS-I wonder how Senator Bernie Sanders votes on this one when it comes around for a Senate vote. My guess is he supports it.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Word up in Albany via Perdido Street School is that the UFT leadership might be preparing to stage another coup d'etat against their own hand picked New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee.  Magee was basically installed by the UFT leadership after former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi showed some intestinal fortitude and independence from UFT and AFT leadership by standing up to Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013 and 2014.

What has Magee done wrong? She did show some resolve by coming out in support of the opt-out from testing movement while the city union won't come out for opt-out.

Mulgrew denies that he is out to get Magee but doesn't contradict the notion that he had a role in forcing the New York State United Teachers political director Steve Allinger to retire. Mulgrew is quoted in Ken Lovett's Daily News Daily Politics blog saying, "We have to get work done, move fast, and everyone has to be on the same page."

Lovett then goes on by writing this: "Union insiders say the Allinger situation is part of a larger schism that has left state teachers union President Karen Magee isolated from the rest of her union leadership halfway through her first term."

Mulgrew denies being dissatisfied with Magee but should we believe his words or Lovett's union sources?  I choose the latter.

It is interesting to note how the mighty Revive NYSUT team that took over from Iannuzzi has seemed to have fallen so quickly.

I believe that the best hope for punching a huge hole in the Unity Caucus machine that controls the UFT, NYSUT and AFT (they have a different name nationally) is to take them on at the state level where they are more vulnerable as compared to the UFT or the AFT. There is no way to get to the retirees who make up a majority of the electorate in the NYC union and New York has a huge influence on the AFT.

Our best chance is to make change at NYSUT which is why I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the statewide opposition to Unity called Stronger Together from day one.  ICE officially backs ST Caucus. We hope to make a breakthrough in the city too in the 2016 UFT election but NYSUT is where the locals outside of New York City can unite and bring about real change.

Only when the Unity machine that has supported so much of the education deform agenda (for example rating teachers based on student test scores on standardized exams) that has made life in the classroom intolerable for many of us is defeated can the rank and file have a real chance to once again build a real labor union.