Sunday, January 31, 2016

DETROIT AND CHICAGO TEACHER NEWS (Updated Monday with Rejection of Chicago Contract Offer)

Detroit teachers have staged a series of rolling sickouts to bring local and national attention to the unhealthy, abysmal conditions in Detroit Public Schools.  The teachers won a victory in court last week when a judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order to stop the sickouts.  Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan.  The judge said that the union - the Detroit Federation of Teachers - was not instigating the actions.

In New York are we going to have to wait until conditions in schools deteriorate to the point where students and staff are truly imperiled before we fight back?  I hope not.

Over in Chicago, home of the Caucus or Rank and File Educators which is the great hope for many teacher unionists across the country due to their militancy, there appears to be a contract proposal that could be brought before their House of Delegates this week.  Details have apparently leaked out that include givebacks on pensions and healthcare.

Chicago teachers recently voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in the near future. In 2012, CORE's Karen Lewis led the Chicago Teachers Union out on a strike that many think was a turning point for teacher unions to stop our downward spiral.

There is a report on the current situation in Chicago from Substance. Read some of the comments in the upper right corner of this page to see what some of their readers are thinking. Substance editor George Schmidt is normally a very reliable Chicago Teachers Union source.

If the media reports are accurate, I wonder how a concessionary tentative contract proposal from the Chicago Teachers Union leadership will play out in Chicago with the rank and file and nationally within the movement trying to revive teacher unions.  Chicago has been seen as a model for how to change a floundering union.

UPDATE: We have the answer from Chicago as the Big Bargaining Team has unanimously rejected the Chicago Public Schools serious offer. This is positive news as far as this blog is concerned.

Friday, January 29, 2016


I'm very late to the dance today but felt it was necessary to comment on the final post from Perdido Street School.  Reality Based Educator is one of the best bloggers on education and politics. He threw in some good music posts as well.

I don't think I have felt this sad about someone leaving a column (that's kind of what we bloggers are) since Russel Baker retired as the Observer.

Tributes have been pouring in for Reality Base Educator all day in the comments section on his blog, on Facebook and on other blogs such as Ed Notes and the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association.

Harris Lirtzman said this in a comment:

I'm not religious, hardly, but as St. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7--"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

You have. Be well. Get some rest. We all salute you.

It was always amazing to me that Reality Based Educator is a full time teacher.  There were so many posts. When did he have the time? I'm lucky to get out one every couple of days.  He was posting every hour it seemed.  When did the man sleep? His posts were so well written too.  He is truly a gifted writer-analyst.

Unlike some of my friends, I never met Reality Based Educator.  I don't know his name or email address.  He personally remained a bit of a mystery to me right up until his last day of posting.

His final advice to save our profession and union was to endorse MORE in the upcoming UFT election. I couldn't agree more! This is taken from that last post.

If there is any bright light in the maelstrom of deform that we inhabit these days, it is the advent of a parent-led movement against the powers that be and their corporate backers to transform schools into one size fits all factories and children into interchangeable widgets.

On the union side, there are many great folks pushing back against the union leaders in the AFT, NEA, NYSUT and UFT, trying to end top-down unionism and make the unions more representative of the views of the rank and file.

In NYC, that movement is led by the people at MORE and before I go from the blogging scene, I want to say that I fully support the MORE candidates in the coming UFT elections and hope that we can finally get some people into the UFT leadership who fight for teachers and the teaching profession rather than sell us and it out piece by piece.
And with that, I say goodbye and good luck. 

We wish Reality Based Educator all the best and hope to see him blogging again in the near future and maybe even meet him in person.

Chaz and DOENUTS have also chimed in for RBE this weekend as has B-LoEd Scene.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


We are constantly asking members for non DOE email when it comes to union business including for the upcoming UFT election. The UFT Election Committee has discussed this subject and sent out the following email to chapter leaders.

Dear James,

We have received questions from chapter leaders about the use of DOE email addresses for election campaigning.  The bipartisan election committee wants to remind you that the use of DOE email addresses for union activity, including electioneering, is a violation of the DOE's internet policy.

We have long advised chapter leaders not to use their DOE email addresses to conduct union business.  All email correspondence about union activities, including electioneering, should be conducted using non-DOE personal email addresses.

If you receive an email to your DOE email account from one of the caucuses during this election, we recommend, in keeping with the DOE's Internet policy, that you not engage with it.


Amy Arundell
UFT Election Committee Chair

I accept Amy's interpretation of DOE email policy.

What I don't understand is why email is different from Department of Education letterboxes. The Board of Education ruled in the Baizerman Chancellor's level grievance back in the 1970s, based on a Supreme Court decision, that we do have a right to use teacher letterboxes to distribute material critical of the union. The union has the ability to use the boxes too.  We have used that right many times and continue to do so.  Why wouldn't that same rule apply to email boxes?  Just asking.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Having school open yesterday while the streets of Queens were in abysmal shape seems to shows a cruel and insensitive city administration for sure. Don't expect to hear the mayor's de facto deputy mayor for teachers Michael Mulgrew complain at all about the decision either.  In all fairness they do have a logical reason to keep schools open as the school calendar is just too tight this year to grant snow days.  I don't think it would have made a difference if there was a longer school year; they still would have kept the schools in session yesterday but this year is different.

Let's all recall that there is a very tight school calendar as Eid-Al-Adha in September and the Lunar New Year on February 8 were both added in as holidays.  In addition, the Jewish holidays all fell during the week this year so even in a leap year the New York City school year has only one day over the state minimum. Therefore, we could only possibly use one snow day without having to give back days off as we did after super-storm Sandy in the 2012-1013 school year when we lost three days of our mid-winter recess.

Should we have used our one snow day one day after one of the worst blizzards in New York City history?  That can be debated but at the very least why couldn't there be a delayed school opening yesterday? Many districts in the region are delaying the start of school even today.

Queens roads have been a mess since Saturday.  It would seem to make sense to give employees and students extra time so that we all aren't on the roads or the buses and trains during the rush hour. Public Advocate Letitia James on Sunday called for a delayed opening for Monday.  Part of her statement is quoted in the Queens Chronicle: "Too many families and educators are still struggling with mountains of snow and ice outside their doors - particularly those in the outer boroughs.  Which is why we must ensure that every neighborhood in our City - from Williamsburg to Woodhaven to the South Bronx - gets equal snow removal services from our plows."

Carmen Farina and Bill de Blasio obviously disagree with James.  In a sign that they do care, however, they have cancelled Farina's beloved professional development for this week.  This news came in a text from the UFT,

"The DOE has announced that teacher professional development has been cancelled for this week, Jan, 25-29."  Does this mean that every day is six hours and twenty minutes or six hours and fifty minutes?  Someone please inform us.

Off to school nice and early today.  We'll see what happens.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


As I sit here and try to stall for time before heading out to shovel snow, I read this brilliant Tweet from New York State Allies for Public Education.  NYSUT and the UFT's deceptive television ads are contradicted by this statement which explains the New York State education situation in a clear and concise way.

UPDATE: Just read Reality Based Educator's back and forth with someone from NYSUT on testing. This is required reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Mayor Bill de Blasio presented his 2017 executive city budget on Thursday.  He announced that the city's financial picture is positive but there may be storm clouds ahead. The budget is balanced and there is plenty in reserve.

Reserves for Uncertain Times 
• Retirees Health Benefits Trust Fund: $3.4 billion

• General Reserve: $1 billion 

• Capital Stabilization Reserve: $500 million

That's almost $5 billion for a rainy day.

The mayor admits the city's economy is doing very well.  According to the fact sheet the mayor released with the budget:

New York City's local economy is strong, adding over 200,000 new jobs since January 2014- the highest two year gain ever - for a total of 4.2 million jobs...NYC's population increased by over half a million people between 2000 and 2014, and the city saw an all-time high of 58.3 million visitors in 2015.

Clearly, the city has plenty of money. They can predict economic gloom and doom all they want but there is no doubt that the last few years has seen prosperity that has not been shared much with the city's workforce or school children.

The UFT contributed in a substantial way to the city's excess revenues by negotiating the abysmal municipal labor union pattern setting contract with 10% salary increases over 7 years in 2014.  In that deal we also agreed to take the money from the last pattern settlement (4%+4% set by DC 37), that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to give us, in installments through 2020.

Other city unions are stuck with our increases because of pattern bargaining where one union settles on a contract that sets a pattern for raises and then other municipal unions get the same increase. Uniform services received only 1% over the Mulgrew pattern. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association arbitration, which the law says can only cover two years, was for 1% and 1% for 2010-2012. They too are also tied in a substantial way to the UFT pattern.

It is so obvious after the PBA arbitration that reaffirmed pattern bargaining that the UFT made a huge error by agreeing to defer our salary increases and back pay from that last DC 37 pattern until 2020, particularly when the city has so much money. For that alone, Mulgrew should not be reelected.

The mayor in his budget speech also boasted about workforce healthcare savings, some of which are still to be implemented. Here is what the fact sheet on the budget says:

When  Mayor de Blasio took office on January 1, 2014, all of the City's labor contracts were expired. Since then, the City has settled almost all contracts - covering 94% of the workforce - through responsible settlements with both civilian and uniformed employees, while securing $3.4 billion in unprecedented, guaranteed healthcare savings geared toward bending the cost curve.

For the 2017 fiscal year the UFT contract says we owe $1 billion of those savings. In fiscal 2018 it will jump to $1.3 billion. We've saved the city $1.7 billion already and in fairness to the UFT leadership, most of us have not noticed any significant differences in healthcare from the savings. Will that continue? According to Politico New York, fiscal 2018 is when we could be looking at some real changes on healthcare.

The city is also planning to save $587 million in Fiscal Year 2018 from a series of initiatives that anticipate a shift in how people approach health care, such as visiting emergency rooms less by relying on more cost-efficient outpatient centers and participating in "wellness programs" that focus on preventative medical procedures.

What is a cost-efficient outpatient center?

My guess is any kind of real changes will not take effect until after Mulgrew and de Blasio are safely reelected.

As for the schools, this year they are funded at 86% of full funding, an austerity level we've been stuck at for years even with all the surplus revenue the city has had with its prosperous economy. That number will only increase to 87% in many schools.

Here is what the mayor's fact sheet says:

  • Raising the Fair Student Funding floor at all schools to at least 87% - and ensuring a citywide average of 91% - through an unprecedented investment of $159 in FY2017.  this will provide vital educational resources to students in historically underfunded districts.

For those expecting more money in their schools, here is what the UFT says in the weekly Newsletter for Chapter Leaders about how the money will be spent.
The preliminary 2017 budget that Mayor Bill de Blasio released on Jan. 21 calls for increasing budgets for nearly 660 New York City schools. His budget proposal also puts money behind the goals he mapped out for city schools in the fall, including more funding for Advanced Placement courses, counseling for students in two high-needs school districts, the “Algebra for All” initiative and the hiring of 400 literacy coaches to work with second graders.
Note there is nothing here on lowering class sizes. If the city is enjoying a long period of prosperity and we are not even close to 100% funding, what will happen when there is a recession?

Thursday, January 21, 2016


NYSUT has an updated fact sheet on Annual Professional Performance Review (teacher evaluation). The information on the fact sheet comes right from the State Education Department and it shows how student performance on tests is alive and well as a way to rate teachers and principals for the next four years. There is only a moratorium on using Common Core grade 3-8 tests and Regents exam scores based on a state growth model. While many of us will be exempt from having student test scores used in our evaluations for this year only, student performance will be a part of our ratings under the new system that will have to be in place for 2016-17.
From NYSUT's fact sheet:
The new system replaces the three subcomponent system (20% state growth or Student Learning Objectives (SLO); 20% student achievement or growth on locally selected measures; and 60% evidence of teaching practice) with a two category matrix system that includes student performance and teacher observation. 
The observation from someone from outside the school is also part of the new system.
The Matrix below also comes from the NYSUT fact sheet via SED.
The final rating will be determined using the following matrix. The teacher’s rating for each category is applied to the rubric to determine the overall rating.
Teacher Observation
Student Performance

Highly Effective (H)
Effective (E)
Developing (D)
Ineffective (I)
Highly Effective (H)
Effective (E)
Developing (D)
Ineffective (I)
*If a teacher is rated ineffective on the Student Performance category, and a local selected state-designed supplemental assessment was included as an optional subcomponent of the Student Performance category, the teacher must be rated Ineffective overall.
As for the very objectionable aspect of the new law that says teachers are guilty until proven innocent, that remain in effect.
From the fact sheet:
  • If a teacher receives two consecutive ineffective ratings, the district may bring a 3020-a proceeding and the burden of proof shifts to the teacher with the hearing completed within 90 days.
  • If a teacher receives three consecutive ineffective ratings, the district must bring a 3020-a and the only defense a teacher can use is fraud or mistaken identity with the hearing completed within 30 days.
Please read the NYSUT fact sheet and State Ed Department documents for yourself as many of you have much more expertise than me on what I think is a crazy evaluation system.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Our state Union (New York State United Teachers) has been burying their own report that shows student testing in New York State has serious flaws, particularly when it comes to the college and career ready standards . Stronger Together, the statewide opposition to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus, has released the report; there is a link to it here at the bottom of the page.

Stronger Together states the following regarding the use of certain student test scores as benchmarks to show a student is considered college and career ready:

ST Caucus understands that every teacher should fully comprehend the inappropriate nature of these benchmarks and how they continue to corrupt the testing experience for our students.  For more than a year, ST Caucus Leadership has made this argument central to the pushback against the inaccurate failing school/teacher narrative.  The data NYSED is utilizing to purport the benchmarking myth is deeply flawed.

The NYSUT white paper criticizes the 75% English Regents exam score and 80% Math Regents exam score as college ready benchmarks in part because these numbers are based on one narrow study that was not even peer reviewed. They then criticize using the National Assessment of Educational Progress proficiency scores for grades 3-8 as benchmarks for New York State exams to show students are on track for college readiness. I found these bullet points on page 13 to be illuminating:

  • The NAEP proficiency benchmark is set so high it seems reachable only by students in a handful of jurisdictions, most typically those with an affluent population and accelerated courses of study. 
  • NAEP‘s definition of proficiency has little or nothing to do with proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP experts think of NAEP‘s standards as ―aspirational. 
The report goes on by criticizing testing in general on page 13:

Despite the inappropriateness of the state‘s process used to link standardized test scores with college and career readiness, the process has continued. Being college, career — and civic — ready is much more involved than the score on a standardized test. We urge educational and political leaders to move beyond defining goals of education in terms of student performance on standardized tests.

Then, there are recommendations.  I found this one on testing on page 23 to be enlightening:

Education officials in New York state say they want to measure ―college and career readiness‖ but have yet to develop a comprehensive plan to do so. Currently the measure of college and career readiness rests in the results of the state‘s grades 3−8 standardized testing and the Regents exams. 

Instead of using evidence and measures based on project-based learning, an ability to work with people and creative thinking, the state relies on assessments that require reading and endurance. The exams do not necessarily measure the skills students need to be successful in life, but instead provide a number which can be compared to other numbers to unreliably identify some students as college and career ready while other are not.

NYSUT's leadership, just like the UFT's, looks like it has very little interest in rocking the testing boat and fighting to eliminate test and punish education for students and teachers. Trying to downplay this report critical of testing is just another example of the leadership's complicity in our professional demise.

If I was running the union, there would be a huge press conference in Albany to highlight this white paper and that would kickoff the legislative session. We would then be doing heavy lobbying and protesting to repeal all of the state education laws linking student test scores on any tests to teacher ratings as well using student test scores to determine whether schools are closed and/or placed in receivership. We would fight for realistic standards for what it means for a student to be college or career ready.

We need to start from scratch. A four year moratorium on using  grade 3-8 Common Core state exams on teacher ratings is not nearly enough.  I don't want any student or school to be labeled as a failure because of flawed exams and misuse of these exams.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


In our last post, we criticized the UFT's latest Mulgrew reelection ad, paid for by member dues, for promoting anti-teacher Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Not to be outdone, our statewide union, New York State United Teachers, is spending $1 million to promote the new and improved Cuomo education plan. UFT members pay plenty of dues to NYSUT as well as the UFT.

This NYSUT commercial is as deceptive as the UFT's. NYSUT's even says in one part, "Regents: 4-year halt on using student scores to rate teachers." I almost got sick but instead regained my composure and did some research.

If anyone would like to see what the actual State Education Department regulations say about how teachers will be evaluated this year and for the next few years, just read the SED Q and A (find a link to it on this page) concerning our ratings.

While I found the whole SED document to be written in confusing bureaucratic jargon, I think we can safely conclude that test and punish education policy is alive and well in New York.  It has just shifted a bit in terms of teacher evaluation.

Common Core grade 3-8 scores won't be used for teacher evaluations until 2019 but other tests will still be in there including high school Regents Exams unless they are tied to a state growth model. Does going from a growth model to a Student Learning Objective (SLO) system constitute an end to high stakes testing?  I don't think so.

Footnote 10 in the SED Q & A states:
Teachers with SLOs that are based on Regents assessments will not be impacted and must continue to use SLOs with such assessments.

This is footnote 3 from the Q & A from SED:

Please note that teachers and principals whose APPRs do not include the grades 3-8 ELA and math State assessments or State-provided growth scores on Regents examinations are not impacted by the transition regulations and their evaluations shall be calculated pursuant to their district’s/BOCES’ approved APPR Plan without any changes. For example, a building principal of a CTE program whose APPR utilizes CTE assessments as part of the student performance component of their APPR will not be impacted by the transition regulations.

From my reading of the Q & A, some teachers may get some kind of break from test based ratings for this year but many will not.  Here is an example from SED:

B. High School Regents teacher  
Mr. Jones teaches 3 sections of Living Environment culminating in the Regents assessment with a total student population of 75 (25 students per course section). He also teaches a single section 
of a science elective culminating in a local assessment with student population of 25. Because Mr. Jones’ Living Environment course is his largest course and covers more than 50% of his entire student population, he must write an SLO for this course and is not required to have any additional measures in the State Growth or Other Comparable Measures subcomponent. Because the SLO for the Living Environment course utilizes the Regents assessment as the underlying evidence, it must continue to be used in its entirety for the purposes of calculating the overall composite transition score and rating. Mr. Jones earns 17 out of 20 points. 

For the Locally Selected Measures subcomponent, the district’s approved APPR plan utilizes an achievement measure also based on the Living Environment Regents assessment. Because this measure utilizes the Regents assessment and it is not a State-provided growth score, it must continue to be used in its entirety for the purposes of calculating the overall composite transition score and rating. Mr. Jones earns 15 out of 20 points.
For the Other Measures of Effectiveness subcomponent, the district will assign points based on observations and a structured review of artifacts pursuant to a State-approved practice rubric. Because this subcomponent does not rely on assessments, it must continue to be used in its entirety for the purposes of calculating the overall composite transition score and rating. Mr. Jones earns 56 out of 60 points. 
Mr. Jones earned 17 out of 20 points for the State Growth or Other Comparable Measures subcomponent, 15 out of 20 points for the Locally Selected Measures subcomponent, and 56 out of 60 points for the Other Measures of Effectiveness subcomponent for a total of 88 out of 100 available points. Accordingly, his overall composite transition score is an 88. Using the overall composite scoring bands required by Education Law §3012-c, Mr. Jones receives an overall composite transition rating of Effective. Please note that this is the same score and rating as he will receive pursuant to the approved APPR plan (i.e., his original score and rating) as student achievement measures based on Regents assessments (that are not State-provided growth scores) are not excluded from transition score and rating calculations. 

Seems like not much has changed for Mr. Jones. I am no expert on the current system but I do believe some of us in the city use a growth model so we might get a partial junk science (teacher rating being based on student test scores) reprieve. Unfortunately, it will be no bargain for many to have more weight placed on the "fill in the numbers-cookie cutter" Danielson observation rubric. Also, that junk science relief, if we do get it, won't last long.

For 2016-17 through 2018-19, SED says this about teacher ratings:

In instances where the above would result in no student performance measure for a teacher or principal in either of the subcomponents within the Student Performance Category, districts/BOCES must develop an SLO consistent with the requirements specified in sections 303.4 and 30-3.5 of the Rules of the Board of Regents for teachers and principals, respectively, using assessments approved by the Department that are not 3-8 ELA and math State assessments.12 Such an SLO can include a school- or district-wide measure based on State or Regents assessments other than the grades 3-8 ELA and math assessments or the State-provided growth score for the building. 

I am no genius but I gather from this that "assessments approved by the Department" means student test scores will be used to rate teachers.

On the overall rating, the 50% student test scores plus 50% observations (matrix) will still be used as of the 2016-17 school year.

Please don't ask me if an observation from an administrator outside the school is still part of this.  I didn't see that mentioned in this SED document so I would guess it's still in.

Finally, I don't see anything in any document that says schools won't continue to be rated based on the Common Core tests which means we are still subject to having our schools put into receivership and teachers fired without any due process unless the law is changed.

The only way out of this mess is to scrap all of the education laws passed in New York State since we went after the filthy Race to the Top money and start from scratch. That will require new union leadership at the city and state level to push for it.

Friday, January 15, 2016


All those meetings between Governor Andrew Cuomo and UFT President Michael Mulgrew have culminated in a $1.4 million ad that serves two purposes:

1-It attempts to pump up Cuomo's education poll numbers that are badly underwater.

2-It keeps the UFT and Mulgrew's name on television as the UFT election is just months away. (The UFT airs a thinly disguised campaign commercial before UFT elections.)

The fact that the ad can be described as misleading at best or pretty much untrue, as Reality Based Educators exposes, is irrelevant.  The caption below says "New York Regents Vote to Exclude State Tests in Teacher Evaluations."  I guess the Regents exams aren't state tests any longer.  They certainly are a part of my evaluation. Very little has changed for educators in the classroom with regard to high stakes testing or Common Core instruction because of the governor's Common Core Task Force but you wouldn't know it from watching the ad.

What really gets to me is that every UFT member is paying for this pathetic pro-Cuomo propaganda.

You would think that with the Friedrichs Supreme Court decision looming that there would be a little bit of soul searching going on at UFT Headquarters down at 52 Broadway. Consider that the day when UFT members might soon be able to withdraw from the union and pay no dues is not far off. It seems logical this would change in some small way how the union operates but no it's business as usual down at 52 Broadway.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Jelani Cobb is a Jamaica High School graduate from the 1980s.  He wrote a fascinating piece on the demise of Jamaica High School for the New Yorker in August of 2015.

Last weekend National Public Radio broadcast a companion audio presentation on the New Yorker Radio Hour. If you have twelve minutes, please listen to the program.  It features an interview with Kymberley Walcott from the Jamaica High School Class of 2013.

When Kymberley was a junior, she was an important leader of the protest movement as the school community pushed to be allowed to stay open and for more funding while we were phasing out. Kym is quoted here at a press conference in 2011 commenting on new schools opened up in the building:

"The other schools are given meals, and we at Jamaica are given crumbs," she said. "They treat us like we don't matter, and we do matter."

Those students at Jamaica were some of the collateral damage of school reform.  Kymberley's activism in part led to Jamaica getting some money thrown at us for the last two years of  our existence. We called it Department of Education guilt money. They had to do something to make up for what they did to the students.

We dedicated a social studies honors class to Kymberley when the school finally had the money to offer one in the spring of 2013. One year after she graduated, Kym was invited as a special guest for the final Jamaica graduation in 2014.

Kymberley is now attending Hunter College while the teachers have moved on but Cobb's article along with the displaced employees and alumni have kept the Jamaica High School spirit alive.  A bunch of former Jamaica staff came together to walk for charity at the Bronx Zoo in October under the name Reopen Jamaica High School.

Monday, January 11, 2016


The NY Times piece on the oral arguments held today in the Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association case has this headline: "Supreme Court Seems Poised to Deal Unions a Major Setback."  The Times is confident we are going to lose the Friedrichs case; Think Progress has that same feeling as their piece has this title: "Public Sector Unions Just Got Brutalized In The Supreme Court."

Add to to this that US Attorney Preet Bharara is not going after Governor Andrew Cuomo for shutting down the Moreland Commission investigating corruption at the state level and this was not a very good day for teachers, public employee unions, workers or the people of New York State.

For all of those hoping the teacher unions will lose the Friedrichs case so people can opt out of the UFT and not have to pay any dues or agency fee, your dream might be coming true. It is definitely not my dream, however, as a weak union with out of touch leadership is better than none and having more members gives us more power if we would only use it. Remember, it is not only about the leadership when it comes to the UFT as the majority of the membership votes them in every three years by just tossing their ballots in the garbage can.

I understand the argument that if we are in a right to work situation where people can opt out of the unions and don't have to pay them any dues, it will force the unions do their jobs and service the members thereby convincing people to remain as dues paying members. Maybe small groups will form in reaction to what the Supreme Court is doing where teachers will pull off a sick-out on their own like Detroit teachers are doing today on other issues.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin situation where the public employee unions were neutered by Governor Scott Walker is more of a probability for our future.  It is not something we want to emulate.  Wages and working conditions have suffered out there since Public Law 10 was passed in 2011 to limit public employee union rights.  Yes, there were some rebellions in Wisconsin but as this Guardian piece by Steve Greenhouse shows, most employees just ended up resigned to swallow their poison.  I fear a similar situation may happen nationally, and particularly in New York, when the Supreme Court makes its decision on the agency fee. People may opt out in droves and leave the union even more powerless than it already is.

Waiting for Justice Scalia or one of the other conservative justices to save us seems like hoping to win that billion dollar power ball jackpot, not very likely. Unions should be fighting back for real now by educating their rank and filers and preparing for real action. That's also not very likely.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


I sat through a UFT presentation recently as a union official came to Middle College High School attempting to convince members to contribute more money to the union's political arm (Committee on Political Engagement or COPE).  To put it mildly, his sales pitch was not successful.  Not surprisingly, the UFT is getting desperate on COPE.

Below is one of five resolutions the UFT is proposing for this year's NYSUT Representative Assembly in April.  Basically, this resolution stood out to me as it says one of our main priorities is to redouble our efforts to get the membership to fork over more dollars to the union for COPE.  This is a difficult sell because politicians continue to implement an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-worker, anti-public schools agenda as they have in the last few years. The UFT is looking for a "seat at the table" instead of mobilizing the members to fight back.

Four other UFT proposed NYSUT RA resolutions include support for the Chicago teachers, support for the Los Angeles teachers, endorsing the $15 minimum wage and finally one to give back to Retiree Councils some COPE money.  The last one says in part: "RESOLVED, that NYSUT consider changing the current practice and recognize their retirees and Retiree Council efforts in the VOTE-COPE program by returning a portion of the dollar amount contributed by retirees designated as 999 to the Retiree Councils."

The resolution on redoubling VOTE-COPE efforts that the UFT Executive Board will rubber stamp is printed in its entirety below.

 To approve the following resolution for submission to the NYSUT RA:


WHEREAS, recent attacks on New York State’s public schools including but not limited to, the deform agenda for schools, years of underfunding public schools in New York, the attempt to expand charter schools, the increase of dependency on high stakes testing as a source of data for student achievement rather than real learning and understanding, and APPR have caused constant upheaval in the political landscape of the teaching profession; and

WHEREAS, politicians, super PACS, and hedge fund groups have raised over 9 million dollars in a single night; and

WHEREAS, NYSUT members contribute over 9 million dollars a year; and

WHEREAS, this money elects pro-education politicians around the state through contributions, media, the MAC, and boots on the ground; and

WHEREAS, up to 40% of all VOTE-COPE contributions are returned to local unions to elect school board candidates, local officials, attend the NYSUT RA and support other local initiatives; and

WHEREAS, all VOTE-COPE contributions are filed with and made available through the FEC; and

WHEREAS, VOTE-COPE is an integral part of NYSUT’s ability to pass pro-educator legislation and stop anti-education legislation such as the voucher bill, stopping the expansion of charter schools, etc.; and

WHEREAS, VOTE-COPE is a major part of NYSUT’s ability to fight for women’s rights, wage equity, immigration reform, and the rights of all working people; and

RESOLVED, NYSUT and its locals will redouble its efforts to raise VOTE-COPE contributions; and

RESOLVED, that NYSUT and its locals will promote VOTE-COPE to its members through educational one-on-one conversations with members as well as a vigorous internal media campaign.


Saturday, January 09, 2016


The family came with me for the trip out to the Stronger Together Conference on Restoring Power to the Teacher out in Port Jefferson Station,Long Island.  My wife Camille and I were glad we attended. ST Caucus is the statewide opposition to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus which dominates the UFT, NYSUT and the AFT.

For those who know us well, I think we can all agree that Camille is not easily impressed by some of the groups that have attempted to activate our membership. The people of ST Caucus won her over today as they are some of the most dedicated educator-trade unionists in New York.  They understand the big picture of our profession being attacked and aren't content, as our UFT, NYSUT and AFT leaders are, with a "seat at the table" with the corporations and politicians who are destroying our profession.

During the plenary session this morning, we heard from Mel Holden, a teacher activist in Buffalo. Approximately half of the Buffalo schools are being threatened by receivership.  Those schools are now under the control of two people: the school superintendent and the state education commissioner.  If they don't improve in the next year, some of those schools will be turned over to an outside receiver to run them. Collective bargaining agreements will mean nothing.  Teachers can be terminated without any due process regardless of their seniority or tenure status.  This is unacceptable and should be fought with every ounce of collective strength we can muster but the leadership of NYSUT and the UFT don't seem to think repealing the state receivership law should be a priority.

The receivership problem along with opt out, the sad state of union leadership both in New York and nationally were among the topics conference attendees discussed today. The workshops were filled with high energy and intelligent conversation.

ST Caucus is made up of many union presidents, vice presidents, building representatives and rank and filers from all over the state. Some people traveled from long distances to make it to the conference.  A number of us from the UFT including MORE presidential candidate Jia Lee were there.
The MORE crew, my daughter Kara and Brian St Pierre at ST Conference

Thanks to President Beth Dimino, Vice President Brian St Pierre and their people for setting this up as well as Labor Notes.

If Stronger Together is the future of education unionism in New York, we have real hope.

You can watch the feed from this morning here:

Friday, January 08, 2016


On Wednesday, we reported on the January Delegate Assembly where UFT President Michael Mulgrew revealed our state legislative priorities for 2016.  Up in Albany we are basically asking for nothing new from the state government. Here are the priorities according to President Mulgrew:

1-Funding from Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement from 2007 to reduce class sizes like the law said they had to do by 2011.

2-Make charter schools accept more English Language Learners and special ed students.

3-Some undefined education issues.

Basically we are asking Albany to enforce existing law.  The state was supposed to provide funding to reduce class sizes to averages of 20 students per class in grades K-3, 22 for 4-8 and 25 in high schools by 2011. I believe charter schools were supposed to take more special education and English language learners in the 2009 law.

We are often asked how we would be different if we were in power at the UFT and NYSUT.  The answer is simple in terms of Albany priorities:

With the new federal education law now leaving much to the states, we should push as hard as we can to repeal last year's abominable Education Transformation Act which gave us receivership where collective bargaining agreements could be abrogated by outside receivers and teacher seniority as well as tenure are rendered meaningless in certain receiver schools.

This awful law also made student test scores 50% of our evaluations and moved the probation time for teachers from three years to four before new hires can be eligible for tenure.  Teachers rated ineffective for two years in a row have very little chance in dismissal hearings under this anti-teacher piece of legislation. This law has to go and we should be educating and mobilizing our rank and file throughout the state to repeal it once and for all.

In fact, we should go a step further and say the laws on rating teachers since the now defunct Race to the Top was passed should be repealed.  We need to start over from scratch on teacher evaluation.

The parents are with us as 240,000 students opted out of state exams last year. The September Quinnipiac poll showed the public favors the unions over the governor to improve education in NYS by a wide margin of 54%-31%. Andrew Cuomo's popularity on education is way down. Who knows if the governor will be indicted for corruption? Whether he is or isn't fighting to stay out of jail, he certainly is not in a strong position politically on education. In addition, it is a presidential election year so forget about there being any threats from Washington to cut funding if too many students opt out of standardized testing. This is our chance to fight back politically and mobilize our members around repealing some horrific education laws.

Our union leaders are only going to ask for more money.  I have no problem with asking the state to increase funding for city schools but we should be activating the membership to take action to get rid of some really terrible education laws too.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


President's Report
New state regulations.  Mulgrew says we have to negotiate on replacing growth scores in evaluations. State Ed Department doing revisions of English language learner and special ed. standards. Looking for way to get teachers from NYC to help write these.
UFT has committee on this.

Family Leave
Mayor looking to make it work. We will be negotiating with city on paid maternity leave. Some  who have older kids don't want to pay for this. We can be creative on paying for it.

Collaborative Teaching
Chancellor surprised with results of survey from last month. Something should come out next week. Some principals not spending money properly. Chapter leaders need to understand budget.

Student Discipline
Looking for balance between zero tolerance and not suspending anyone. New regulations on training. There are some extreme cases. Have to help kids. Cannot teach if schools are out of control. Quick survey on school safety introduced. Mulgrew then did survey with Delegates.

State of the State
Cuomo speech is next week. Our agenda in Albany is the following:
City needs to follow Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement to lower class sizes. Funding important in Albany. Must push in Albany for charters to stop taking only top students. Focus on education.

Governor's approval rating down. We have a plan. Strategy and judgment important. Should get a break in Albany.

UFT Election
Election Committee report next month.

Other Items
Only one snow day on calendar this year. Lunar New Year is a day off...Friday, January 8 deadline for spending Teacher's Choice.

Friedrichs Supreme Court Case
Adam Ross, UFT lawyer, gives a history of Labor unions in the 20th century. Public employees not covered by federal labor law. Taylor Law in NYS is  like federal law in saying non union members pay agency fee to cover collective bargaining, not political activity. 9-0 Abood decision, US Supreme Court upheld agency fee. Recently,  Justice Alito ranted against Abood in a case on agency fees. He asked for another case. People sued and lost on purpose to get right to US Supreme Court.  4 justices said they would hear the case.

Plaintiffs arguing union is doing political work when negotiating contracts. Everything we say is political speech according to them. Everything is free speech. This argument has been rejected by Supreme Court in Abood. Agency fee is fair share fee. State's rights argument.  NYS has right to collective bargaining but we cannot strike. Illinois can strike.

Justice Scalia says free speech rights are limited for public employees. Free speech limited so should plaintiff's free speech rights. Plaintiffs submitted no evidence in lower courts. No hearing on what unions do with money. Look for questions judges ask. Ross concludes by saying it is all about weakening unions.

Mulgrew returns and says rich feel they should not have to listen to us. Nobody gives us anything. Must fight for rights.

Staff Director's Report
Leroy Barr gave so dates for future meetings and said Jan 31 is deadline for UFT Scholarships.

Question Period
Q Teachers being paid extra for inter-visitations. Can they be mandatory?
A Unless it is decided by school, it should not be mandated. Work with DR and Superintendent on this.

Q How can music teacher be rated on Danielson?
A Negotiating on evaluations for this year and next. Administrator needs to understand subject.

Q What do we do if principal abuses budget?
A Use School Leadership Team to tell parents they are entitled to money. Up to school to decide how to fight.

Q  In transfer high schools, can January and June Regents results be counted?
A UFT will ensure January results are counted.

Q How do we answer when principal constantly refers issues to legal?
A Tell DR to tell Superintendent. Principals should call Superintendents not legal.

Q Para asked to do lunch duty?
A Para must get duty free lunch. If it is one to one, Para can get relief from another Para during lunch.

Q School Segregation is a problem.
A Mulgrew happy that teachers from PROSE schools who came up with more integrated admissions policies. We are for diversity.

Q Receivership school. What is it a renewal school as opposed to receivership?
A Get information out. Blaming staff in schools for failure is not acceptable.

Motion Period
Motion to support CUNY teachers fight for a contract for next month. Put on agenda

Special Orders of Business
Resolution against terrorism.
Someone wanted to amend by subtracting a whereas on terrorist attacks becoming more commonplace as did someone else. Amendments failed and original resolution passed.

Resolution on controlling drug prices. Mel Aaronson argued that certain drug prices are out of control. Federal Government can't negotiate drug prices because of 2003 law. Support resolution for allowing medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Resolution passed easily. I think it was unanimous.

Time ran out before resolution on receivership could be discussed. See you at next month's DA.


There is a post at the JD2718 blog written by Lynne Winderbaum that is must reading. Lynne is a retired UFT Bronx High School UFT District Representative. Lynne was one of the Unity Caucus (Michael Mulgrew's political party) people that anyone could respect, like and certainly talk to.  As a retiree, she can tell the truth about what went on in the school closing fervor that started many years ago. Lynne makes it clear that the UFT was in on this from the start.

She tells the story of a Bronx High School meeting with principals and chapter leaders hearing stories from the Bill Gates people about how small schools could solve education's problems. 

Eric Nadelstern from the Bronx Superintendent's office and John Soldini, then UFT VP for Academic High Schools remembered that the intent to close and replace the large high schools with small schools was made clear at that meeting.  Others who were there were incredulous at the announcements of intent to close schools because they did not remember the meeting that way

When the new schools opened inside the big schools and started taking the top achieving students, the large schools took students who could not get into the well funded smaller schools and were doomed. As Lynne says:

Waivers were granted to allow (new) small schools a two-year exemption on accepting special education students.  And even after the waivers expired, the special education students were not the high-needs children displaced to the large high schools.  The English Language Learners were not the recent arrivals who were displaced to the large high schools.

Soon the displacement of high-needs children bore its predictable fruit.  The small schools looked like magic institutions with higher graduation rates and fewer disciplinary problems.  The large schools offered a complete array of special education and ELL services.  They took troubled students without screening them out. As a result, their statistics began to show the impact of the small school movement. They were deemed failing.

The same formula was used in other boroughs later except Staten Island.  In Queens it was used on a smaller scale but the story Lynne tells is familiar to those of us who worked at Jamaica High School. Just as with Columbus High School in the Bronx, there was nobody listening when we complained.

Once again we ask that an experiment be conducted when schools are having difficulty.  All the Department of Education needs to do is limit the number of high risk students that school takes until it its statistics rise to levels that are deemed acceptable. This was proposed as a solution by an outside group in 2008 and ignored by Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio.

If you spread the high needs students, you will achieve remarkably different results.

Monday, January 04, 2016


It is very difficult to end vacation but every reader of this blog who is able to should put the date Saturday, January 9, 2016 aside for the Stronger Together "Restoring Power to the Teacher" Conference out on Long Island.

Figure out some way to get out there because Stronger Together is the statewide opposition to Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus and MORE, the main UFT opposition to Unity, will be part of it too. It's a great team.

Event: Stronger Together Conference

When:Saturday, January 9, 2016
Where: JFK Middle School

200 Jayne Blvd, Port Jefferson Station, NY

Time: 9:00 am to 2:30 pm (Registration begins at 8:45 AM)

Having the city and state opposition to Unity working together on a conference to restore power to teachers is an event that can't be missed.

You can register in advance by clicking here.

Sunday, January 03, 2016


We are now two years into the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Many are attempting to objectively look back and ahead as this is the midpoint of his four year term. On education, he clearly is failing to win over many teachers as this thorough point by point analysis from NYC Eye shows.

To be blunt, de Blasio has been just another Democratic Party politician who ditched his public education supporters after being elected.  His policies haven't won over the general public either.

By a margin of 52% to 36%, a September poll showed a strong majority do not want the mayor to keep control of the city schools. The same Quinnipiac poll found that 54% of those polled favored the teacher unions compared to just 31% for Governor Andrew Cuomo to improve education. Those numbers should sober the mayor and the governor while emboldening the UFT and NYSUT but they probably won't do any of that.

As we move ahead, the mayor needs to stand for something more than universal Pre-K and Renewal Schools when it comes to education.  As a city parent, I am grateful the mayor has expanded Pre-K. It came too late for my daughter, who is now a NYC  public school first grade student, but my son can benefit in 2018. As a parent, teacher and city resident, I am also pleased that the mayor has not closed schools with the same ferocity that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did. de Blasio is closing and reorganizing schools but at a much slower pace than his predecessor.

On the other hand, many educators feel like we are working under "Bloomberg Lite" as the basic "test and punish" anti-teacher, anti-parent policies have continued under the de Blasio administration. It seems in most ways he is solidifying the Bloomberg education legacy instead of reversing it.

Teachers I talk to still feel they are under attack as we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to align everything to the unpopular Common Core State Standards so as to avoid checklist ineffective observations under what for many of us is the dreaded Danielson Framework. Up in Albany it looks to us like Governor Cuomo's Task Force and the State Education Department are tinkering with rather than abolishing Common Core and test based evaluations and starting from scratch.

Parents and other stakeholders also continue to be shut out as the mayor appeals a lawsuit saying the open meetings law do not apply to School Leadership Team meetings. This is appalling. Did we mention how class sizes aren't improving much either? The list of de Blasio shortcomings on education could go on and on but that is not the main purpose of this piece.

It would be easy to blame every policy blunder on Chancellor Carmen Farina.  That would be too easy. The buck on schools stops with the mayor and de Blasio was elected in part to push through an overhaul of Bloomberg's school agenda. At the half way point it is clear the current mayor has failed miserably. The reality that many of the Bloomberg school administrators remain on the job just puts an exclamation point on the current mayor's dismal education record but it isn't too late to turn things around.

Mr. de Blasio might want to look around and notice how unpopular the governor's education policies are. The mayor should stop going along with the status quo and just trying to tailor it to New York City. Cuomo is very vulnerable on education. The mayor appearing weak and inept when it comes to public education is not helping New York's school children or his poll numbers.

If I were advising de Blasio, I would tell him to become the champion of public education the elite already accuse him of being. It will take some boldness on his part but the rewards will be worth it for the people of this city and state as well as his reelection chances and legacy.

The mayor could turn things around in a second by not just talking about there being too much testing but by actually coming out against it. He should support the opt-out from testing movement.  If he was really interested in being a leading progressive voice in the country, the field is wide open for a liberal leader to take up this cause at this pivotal time period.

This policy change would come with a huge upside and some risk but that risk is not that great. Remember, Governor Cuomo is highly unpopular when it comes to education. de Blasio could take him on as the real champion of the students.

240,000 students opted out of state exams in 2015. They had parents encouraging them so the number of voters who oppose these tests is astronomical but most came from outside of NYC.  That number could easily explode beyond people's wildest dreams if the New York City mayor was endorsing the grass roots anti-standardized testing movement instead of having the city Department of Education work to stifle it.

If the mayor had the suburban parents like Jeanette Deutermann and groups like the New York State Allies for Public Education on his side, he would emerge as a powerful rival to the governor on education and it would set the political stage for an epic showdown where the public would support de Blasio.

Yes the hedge fund people and charter school supporters like Eva Moskowitz would be appalled and would throw away millions of dollars in advertising against him, but they hate him already and they have squandered a fortune to take him down when he has done little to oppose them. Why not give them something real to attack on? The public would back the mayor. Cuomo knows test and punish education policy is unpopular. That is why he put his commission together to make it look like he is changing it when in reality not much is going to be different.

Naysayers will say the mayor can't change his view on standardized testing. It has too much support from the civil rights movement and the federal government. de Blasio should ignore so called civil rights leaders who say that we need standardized testing to see how our kids are doing.

We have the low stakes National Assessment of Educational Progress tests for that purpose as education professor Diane Ravitch pointed out. Before blindly running behind some civil rights leaders, the mayor should check if each one has received any money from Bill Gates, who funded much of Common Core. Bill Gates knows much less than teachers like me about public education.

As for losing federal dollars, this is where a little courage comes in. The mayor shouldn't worry about losing federal education funding if too many city kids don't take the Common Core tests this spring. Let the federal government bluster about removing federal money from New York if we refuse the tests. The likelihood of federal money being taken away in a presidential election year is quite low. Common Core is hated by many teachers, students and parents across the state.  Standardized testing is despised too. Common Core doesn't poll too well nationally either.

The mayor should step forward and get behind this grassroots movement. Many in the city's power elite are going to accuse any elected official endorsing opt-out of being a tool of the unions but opt-out is a parent, not union, led movement.  If the mayor supported the city opt-out movement and opposed Common Core, he would be an education hero to the masses. The public, particularly those 240,000 that opted out, their families and the many in the city that would join them, would respect the mayor who would be doing what is popular and sound educationally. We need to start from scratch rather than keep the Common Core instructional shifts and their invalid tests.

Now back to reality as Mayor de Blasio is probably never going to see this advice let alone accept it.

If the mayor doesn't want to do what is popular and right, maybe Public Advocate Letitia James or Comptroller Scott Stringer would be interested.  Someone needs to step up and be a strong champion with a clear vision to save our public schools.

How about some council members or assembly members or state senators or borough presidents leading?

Surely, some elected officials in NYC want to do what is right and popular by backing the parents and getting rid of test and punish education?

Friday, January 01, 2016


Many of us have been trying enjoy family time this week and are not paying close attention to what is going on in NYC. Here are a couple of stories I found interesting. I'm not sure they have anything in common other than that they are local.

Much of the news has been dominated by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton defending his crime statistics against allegations from former Commissioner Ray Kelly that Bratton is playing with the numbers to make crime look lower than it actually is.  As Andy Cush reported on Wednesday and my brother John Eterno's research will confirm, Kelly and Bratton are both guilty of manipulating crime statistics.

Here is my brother's quote in the NY Times in reaction to Kelly's allegations against Bratton:

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Let's leave this front page issue right there. Nobody with a brain trusts statistics coming from city agencies like the New York City Police Department or the Department of Education. Even the ever willfully gullible mainstream news media is now waking up possibly because Mayor Bill de Blasio is not a potential future employer like TV-radio station owning former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was.

While the Bratton-Kelly feud was all the rage in the headlines, thanks to former Manhattan Panel for Education Policy maverick Patrick Sullivan, we discovered there was another important story that came out this week except this one didn't receive much coverage. DNA info reported that our progressive Mayor de Blasio is allowing Pre-K educators in Community Based Organizations to be paid wages under $15 an hour. Many are barely getting by and haven't seen a salary increase in a decade.

Pre-K has expanded in the public schools under de Blasio but what is happening to these early childhood educators in CBO's, where much of Pre K is sill taking place, is an outrage.  These educators deserve the same salaries and working conditions that we have in the public schools. The city saved billions of dollars by not giving teachers or other city employees adequate salary increases so they certainly have the funds to afford decent pay and benefits for those working in the CBO's.

What we really need is to build more schools if we are going to expand education, not contracting early childhood education out.

Maybe what these two stories have in common is we just can't accept anything at face value. Yeah expanded Pre-K is a big step in the right direction but there is an underside and city crime (and education) statistics have been a joke for a long time.

Happy New Year everyone!