Monday, October 26, 2009

Goldstein on the Absent Teacher Reserves:
almost a eulogy

Monday, October 26, 2009
ATR — a Simple Twist of Fate

by Arthur Goldstein, HS Chapter Leader

A lot of people think teaching is somehow a job for life — that no teachers can be fired for any reason, no matter what they do, who they kill, or whether or not they sleep in garbage cans. It’s not true. In fact, the Department of Education tries to take away teacher jobs all the time . . .

Those of us who aren’t up on charges have other worries. For example, we can become “ATRs.” [continued at this link]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Music teachers underserved by UFT management

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Parity for Music Teachers:
The Time Has Come

by Julie Woodward, UFT Delegate

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

By agreeing to 50 kids in each class, the union has tacitly accepted the notion that music teachers can achieve the same kind of results with 50 students that other city HS teachers can get with 34 and teachers in the suburbs can get with give or take 25 . . .

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

Why, then, do we continue to get 50 kids per class? [continued at this link]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ICE plans its first fundraiser


Benefit to raise funds for the UFT elections

Show your support for ICE —
the Independent Community of Educators,
a caucus of the UFT

Come out and enjoy a late afternoon/evening
of conversation, food and drink.

Stay late. There're no students in
school the next day,
only PD!

When: Monday, November 2, 2009,
the day before Election Day

Where: Woody McHale's, 234 West 14th St.
(between 7th & 8th Aves.)
Time: 4PM - 7PM and beyond

See your local ICEer to buy a ticket.
Advanced Reservations can be made at, or call 917-538-9815.

ICE blog ICE main site

Read the full ICE platform at UFT Elections 2010

ICE urges all readers to vote against Bloomberg!

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

by John Lawhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite these differences anything other than energetic rejection of the Bloomberg monopoly is the wrong choice for our union.

We urge all readers to vote against Bloomberg!

Friday, October 16, 2009

We need a union that....

The latest ICE leaflet. Click to enlarge. Email us for a pdf if you wish to share with your colleagues. Here is the text.

Independent Community of Educators


We need a union that

FIGHTS against micromanagement, excessive testing, teaching-to-the-test, unending paperwork, criminalization of our youth, discriminatory hiring & placement practices

DEMANDS contractual small class size, reduced caseloads & secretary workloads, teacher control of 37½ minutes, a real grievance process, restoration of all transfer rights

DEFENDS against system-wide intimidation, ATR & Temporary Reassignment Center (Rubber Room) abuses, chapter leader persecution

EXPOSES a government that throws money at two wars & numerous corporate bailouts. but shortchanges public school classrooms

SUPPORTS public schools with teacher & parent voice: "SAY NO TO CHARTER SCHOOLS & MAYORAL CONTROL"

MOBILIZES for massive new investment in school facilities & resources

Work towards a UFT that is

DEMOCRATIC and ACCOUNTABLE to the membership

A BUILDER of real alliances with families and communities

PROGRESSIVE in outlook, MILITANT in its defense and advocacy

To run on the ICE/TJC slate in the UFT elections this spring,

email us at or call (917) 992-3734

To support our work, make checks payable to Independent Community

of Educators, PO Box 1143, Jamaica, NY 11421

ICE websites:,

ICE election site:

Monday, October 12, 2009

ICE platform, Part IX

IX. Our union and government priorities

While our school systems go begging, our nation spends more on our own military and on military aid than nearly all the rest of the world’s nations combined. Add to this the immense sums of money that were handed to banks and insurers in the last year, and it is clear that our country can afford the funding for small classes, well-prepared teachers, abundant guidance personnel, appropriate programs, and the whole host of resources that are needed to run successful schools.

It is the job of local and national union to fight for government to prioritize spending for education as well as social services. Our union must join with other unions and political allies to challenge the notion that there isn’t enough money, or that our nation’s security depends on an endless occupation of other countries and a limitless outlay of money for weapons, armies, and private mercenary forces.

ICE platform, Part VIII

VIII: A distorted school system

The NYCDoE has adopted a clear policy of further balkanizing a school system already divided by ethnic, class, and income levels, instead of providing resources and programs to help struggling students and schools.

Through a process of threatening, punishing and closing down “marked” schools (starting with large neighborhood high schools) and siphoning off the better behaved and higher performing students by offering them places initially in small, boutique schools and now increasingly in charter schools, a finely tuned system of sifting students and shifting resources to the favored schools has been established.

The actions of the DOE are a naked attempt to create failures. They penalize some schools with lower test scores and high numbers of special needs students by limiting funds and manipulating student enrollment, creating either vastly underutilized buildings or dangerously overcrowded conditions. A comparison of the school system today with a decade or more ago would clearly show that the lowest achieving and needy children, mostly black and Latino students living in poverty, are still afforded fewer options and resources. There are greater numbers of dropouts, and ever-increasing numbers of students are forced to attend overcrowded and underfunded schools further and further from their homes.

Along with an increased segregation of students is a closing off of opportunities for people of color to become teachers The DoE has not only reduced the number of paraprofessionals and dismantled the career ladder program, it has given priority in hiring to Teach for America corp members, Teaching Fellows, and the New Teacher Project recruits, who more often than not come from more privileged backgrounds than the traditional teaching force.

While the Fellows program has provided many talented and committed teachers to the school system, it is necessary to put greater effort into recruiting more people from the NYC area who are tied to the black and Latino community. One way would be to focus on teacher recruitment out of the CUNY system instead of favoring short-term teaching prospects from Ivy League schools.

The DoE’s closing of targeted schools and the shrinking of neighborhood elementary and middle schools (through the creation of charter schools) has generated an army of excessed teachers, termed Absentee Teacher Reserves (ATRs). These educators, most of whom remain substitutes instead of being placed in positions to help reduce oversized classrooms, have had their careers prematurely truncated.

The ATRs who have not been able to secure new positions have been impeded by a number of factors, including the disincentives and contractual give-backs that encourage principals to hire the least experienced, lowest paid teachers. In addition, a campaign spearheaded by corporate-led programs like the Leadership Academy for principals to malign, harass and punish staff members has had a disproportionate effect on both senior teachers and teachers of color, who comprise a large number of staff in the so-called failing schools.
All children — white, black, Latin, Asian — benefit from exposure to a diverse teaching staff. Schools are in a unique position to promote understanding between various ethnic groups and reduce prejudice. Sending teachers of color almost exclusively to schools that are predominantly black is a missed opportunity. An end to segregated staffs where black teachers teach black children and white teachers teach white children is something we should strive for.

When the DoE uses organizations such as Teach for America as a principal recruiter for new teachers, it undermines the very nature of what we do. The DoE’s plan is to put “talented” college graduates into inner-city classrooms for a couple of years before they move on to other jobs. Staffing schools with so many inexperienced and insufficiently prepared teachers creates a transient, unstable work force and is certainly not the way to improve public education. Teaching, as a profession involves long-term service to children and is certainly enhanced by staff with strong ties to the communities in which we work. To this end, we call for a reinstatement of the career ladder program and other career supports for paraprofessionals and school aides who accumulate years of experience working with children on their way to becoming vital members of our teaching staffs. As unionists, teachers and parents, we are well aware of the crucial role that we can play as a united force in fighting for the kinds of schools that meet the needs of all our students.

ICE platform, Part VII

VII. ICE supports local neighborhood public schools and is against privatization and school closings

Diverting money to private schools through vouchers, hiring private companies to run public schools, and creating charter schools that operate on the DoE budget but free of union contracts and other restrictions that apply to public schools do great harm in polarizing our educational system and our society. Charters and schools infused with private money get preferential treatment, particularly in class size (smaller), the selection of students, and appurtenances. The DoE’s agenda to privatize the system is done through unilateral decisions and in secret. Targets for the influx of private money have been the minority areas of the city, where many large schools have been broken up into smaller ones and where public schools are being forced to absorb charters.

ICE platform, Part VI

VI. For a militant, progressive, democratic UFT: a democratic UFT is a key to a strong union

One of the major goals of a movement seeking change in the union is to take on the task of democratization — setting up structures and procedures that will give the rank and file the opportunity to have direct and constant ability to formulate union policy.

On paper the UFT is more democratic than many unions, but in practice what we see is a well-oiled political machine:
— The least number of people make the decisions.

— The rank and file are deliberately kept unaware of what is going on in regards to most issues.

— There is a conscious attempt by the president and other officers to limit rank and file participation in meetings, discussions and the decision-making process, with union structures set up to enforce this policy.

— There is a consistent effort by union officers on all levels to stifle dissent and opposition. They go so far as to modify or violate previously existing democratic practices and procedures in order to do this.

— Measures are taken at the Delegate Assembly and in citywide voting to ensure the desired results.
As soon as their monopoly of power is challenged, the union’s officers change the rules of the game. Some years ago, when members elected an opposition candidate for high school vice-president and came very close in the junior high division, the officials changed the voting procedures for divisional leaders, turning them into at-large positions. They eliminated elections for district representatives who leave mid-term and fill these positions with appointments by the presidents. District reps play key roles for the union bosses by rewarding friendly chapter chairpersons and punishing dissident chapters through the delivery or withholding of services. They intervene in chapter elections by stealthily supporting candidates against known dissident chapter chairpersons and sometimes even delegates.

If you’re looking for democracy within Unity Caucus, however, you won’t find it there either. Caucus discipline is maintained through a system of rewards and patronage: a career ladder within the union, out-of-classroom jobs in schools (in the past at district offices and the Central Board), assistance in getting good administrative jobs, and transfers to desirable schools. It’s the Success for Unity Caucus Faithful Program. Simply put, dissension within Unity Caucus is not tolerated. There has rarely been a delegate elected on the Unity Caucus slate who has voted against the Unity Caucus position at a NYSUT or AFT convention. Unity Caucus utilizes its well-disciplined base within the UFT to control the state and national unions so that it can implement its political agenda.

Our union officers know that an informed, involved membership with a greater voice would challenge their policies and would also vote them out of office. That’s why they work so hard to keep us from knowing what’s really going on and having regular access to viewpoints that differ from theirs.

Key structural changes are needed to bring greater democracy to our union so that the membership can decide what their union should stand for.

1. Divisional elections for divisional vice-presidents (i.e., high school members alone should vote for high school VP, vocational high school members for vocational high school VP, and so on).

In 1994 Unity Caucus ended the practice of people within a division voting exclusively within their division for their own vice-president because they wanted to make sure no VP would ever again be elected from an opposition group, as had happened a few years earlier. Unity changed the procedure to make the balloting for vice-presidents at large. That means that all the members of the UFT vote for divisional vice-presidents, even if they don’t work in that division. In addition, retirees, who in the last election cast 35% of all votes cast, also vote for the high school, junior high school, and elementary divisional vice-presidents, which means that non-working members have a tremendous influence over who will represent working teachers.

2. Retirees should not vote for UFT officers, who are responsible for negotiating the contract for active members.

The NYS Public Employees Relations Board has ruled that retired members of the UFT are not members of our bargaining unit. Therefore, retirees should not vote for those who represent active members in collective bargaining. There should be a special retiree VP who handles retiree issues and is elected exclusively by retired UFT members.

3. Retirees should vote for three teacher members of the Teachers’ Retirement System Board.

State law restricts TRS membership to in-service members and does not allow retirees to serve as teacher reps. Only active UFT members may vote for these positions, even though retirees have a stake in TRS issues. The UFT should be working actively to change this anomaly.

4. District representatives (a full-time UFT position to support the chapter leaders and members in a district) should be elected by all the members of a district.

In 2002, the UFT suspended District Representative elections and appointed people to these positions. The DRs must bring their members’ voices to the union officers rather than act as mouthpieces for the people at the top.

5. At-large UFT Executive Board seats should be configured proportionally; that is, the number of seats given to a caucus on the Executive Board should relate to the percentage of votes that caucus received in the election.

Divisional and functional seats should still be voted on by each division to ensure representation from each division, so that no caucus within the UFT is excluded from the Executive Board. A caucus getting 30% of the vote in an at-large election deserves 30% of the at-large Executive Board seats to present their positions and shape the policies of the union.

6. UFT Delegates to the AFT and NYSUT Conventions should be apportioned along similar lines.

Without proportional representation Unity Caucus has been able to use the UFT’s winner-take-all method to control the NYSUT statewide union and the AFT national union, thus controlling all our policies from the local to the national level.

7. All full- and part-time non-elected union jobs intended for UFT members who work for the DoE should be posted in the schools. The senior qualified candidate should be hired.

Virtually all jobs are instead doled out as patronage positions. DoE employees who work for the UFT serve at the discretion of Unity Caucus and owe their loyalty to them, rather than to the members. Union employees who do not work for the DoE (e.g., lawyers, cleaning crews) are of course excluded from this recommendation.

8. Every issue of the NY Teacher should be opened to opposing viewpoints.

A full debate in print on union issues twice a month will allow members’ opinions to be fully disseminated. A resolution was put forward at the Delegate Assembly last year proposing that every issue of the NY Teacher be opened up to articles by people who oppose the UFT policies on a particular issue. Unity voted it down saying that allowing opposition viewpoints to be published in the union’s newspaper once every three years was sufficient.

9. Meet the President meetings held during UFT Election years should be Meet the Candidates’ Forums.

Candidates of all declared slates should be able to have equal time at these forums. Otherwise, Meet the President meetings become thinly disguised campaign rallies for the incumbent president and the other officers. Free and fair elections are essential in a democratic union. Unity Caucus has a tremendous advantage by controlling the union newspaper and through the distribution of all its literature that only reflects their positions. This outreach is prohibitive for opposing caucus members, who have neither the mechanisms nor the resources to match what Unity Caucus has at its disposal from our union dues.

10. All caucuses who have met requirements to run in an election should be able to mail at least one piece of literature to all the members at union expense during election time.

An advertisement in the NY Teacher is not sufficient to be able to get a political message across to the members, given the advantages Unity Caucus already has.

11. There should be an open microphone at all Union meetings.

Presently the chair has discretion to call on whomever he/she wants, and in this way he/she manipulates the discussion. At each Delegate Assembly, for example, we see the same people constantly recognized while others rarely or never get the floor. Anyone who wants to speak should have the right to do so.

12. UFT committees (special education, high school, middle school, etc…) should vote on proposals presented at their meetings, with the understanding that such proposals shall be forwarded to both the Executive Board and the DA.

Top-down UFT meetings where officers merely disseminate information prohibit other positions from being discussed, voted upon and officially recommended by the bodies.

13. When elected positions such as officers, District Reps, and functional chapter leaders become available in the middle of a term, there should be a special election.

Typically Unity Caucus replaces its officials by having them retire or move to a different position in the middle of a term. This gives the Unity dominated Executive Board the opportunity to choose the replacement long before there is an actual election. For example, Sandra Feldman resigned as UFT president to become AFT president in 1998, and the Executive Board picked Weingarten to replace her as UFT president; Weingarten didn’t have to face the voters until 1999. The NY Teacher then printed a series of publicity pieces about Weingarten, giving her a lot of name recognition and good press. When she ran as an incumbent in the election, she was at a huge advantage over potential opponents. The same sequence is now occurring with Michael Mulgrew, who the Executive Board has installed as interim president until the March 2010 elections.

14. Make the Delegate Assembly a legislative body where officers and Executive Board members have limits on how long they can speak. Often the regular business of the agenda is not taken up until way past 5:00 p.m., which leaves very little time for delegates to discuss the motions. The president’s and other reports must be limited so that the Delegate Assembly can truly be a legislative body.

15. There should be a majority rather than a 2/3 vote required to put motions on the current and next month’s Delegate Assembly agenda.

16. Limit the total percentage of retiree delegates at the Delegate Assembly. There are now 300 retired DA delegates, who comprise 11% of the total and who have a disproportionate say on working conditions.

ICE platform, Part V

V. Working conditions, professional autonomy, seniority, salary and benefits

“Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

The union contract, and only the union contract, allows people to make teaching a career. Many educators often spend their entire professional lives serving the children of a particular community. This is an inestimable social benefit that is often overlooked.

The union must be willing to:

Fight against the de-skilling of educators, marginalization, intimidation, and unionbusting.

“School reform” is premised on top-down management of instruction. Decisions made prescriptively through packaged programs place enormous restrictions on a teacher’s ability to service the needs of individual students. Union officials choose to take a weak stand again violations to Articles 8 and 24 of the contract, which call in different ways for an enormous amount of teacher input and participation and offer ways to resolve differences.

New and less experienced teachers are prevented from becoming good teachers when they are denied opportunities to try strategies and take risks. Ill-prepared and poorly trained administrators (many with little classroom experience) and regional personnel (some still politically connected), have reduced professional support to a checklist. In many cases they instill fear, and in fact, programs like PIP+ have been specifically designed to remove teachers from the system rather than improve instruction. The UFT has allowed these methods to distort teacher training and leave teachers open to attack.

Teachers with long service in their schools can be a valuable resource in reaching out to the community and formulating models for success. Neither the DoE nor our present union officials appreciate how spending years or even decades working in the same neighborhood might yield valuable knowledge for enhancing learning.

There are times, however, when teachers wish to change schools, and the seniority transfer system the union gave up in the last contract, based on non-discriminatory criteria, afforded them somewhat of a chance to do so. In its place, we now have the "open market," which permits a greater ability to transfer for some teachers, the newer ones in particular, but allows much discrimination against senior and disliked teachers, chapter leaders, or anyone else. In the face of school closings and reorganizations and principals finding it easy to hide vacancies and hire at will, a disproportionate number of senior teachers are unable to find new positions through the open market. They become “teachers without positions,” or ATRs (Absent Teacher Reserves), sometimes for the rest of their careers. Changes in the way salaries are funded have also made newer teachers more attractive prospects than the higher paid vets.

Apart from obvious salary discrimination (and possibly age and race discrimination as well), members are being removed from positions on improper 3020a procedures and false or perfunctory charges. In many instances these people are whistle-blowers, union activists, and educators who stand up to principals, and they face serious fines or losing their licenses. Union officials have shown a disappointing acceptance of the DoE’s maneuvers and rationale, almost to the point of collaboration. They also ignore the early retirement of so many teachers who have been frustrated with the current working conditions or who have been treated unfairly.

One of the most troublesome aspects of the 2007 contract was the gutting of the grievance procedure. Having negotiated a new set of procedures that puts no check on principals who misuse their authority, and having afforded principals access to teams of lawyers, the DoE has been able to deny all Step I and II grievances across the board. Since the union can only take a limited number of cases to Step III arbitration, educators are left feeling intimidated and maligned, with no contractual means to address the widespread abuse. It is not only the teachers who suffer in this kind of environment, but the students as well.

The ever-increasing demands on the time of educators seriously impairs their ability to work with children. For teachers, the extra 37 minutes for small-group work has morphed into a range of activities that include teaching an extra period per day. New calls for more paperwork and computer entry have also cut into what teachers can accomplish during their time at school, especially in the single prep period they are allowed each day, which should by contract be self-directed. Social workers, guidance counselors and school psychologists struggle with case overloads, and secretaries seem to be increasingly overburdened.

ICE believes that:
— A teacher’s ability is highly dependent on training, experience, talent, and style. Teachers must accordingly have a say in how instruction should be delivered in their classrooms, and planning for instruction and curriculum must be collaborative and respectful. Violations to Articles 8 and 24 cannot be tolerated.

— The union must oppose one-size-fits-all methodologies at all levels (regional to school-based directives), as these do not take into account the talents and skills of individual teachers or their students.

— The teacher’s right to design the structure of his or her lessons and the written plans that accompany them must be protected, as long as such lessons adhere to the characteristics of good teaching outlined in Teaching for the 21st Century

— The union must defend against the DoE’s notion that teachers are replaceable parts.

— New language needs to added to the contract that separates salary levels from hiring decisions.

— An iron-clad no-layoff clause (as in Article 17F of the last contract) must be restored.

— There can be no new hiring until ATRs seeking positions have secured them.

— The union must renegotiate a grievance procedure with teeth.

— Principals who make frivolous charges or exhibit a pattern of acting with malice against members of their staff must be censured, fined, and/or prohibited from receiving bonuses.

— The Teacher Reassignment Centers must be closed. Members should not be spending days, months or years in holding pens. They should be reassigned to another school, not punished, while waiting for their cases to be heard.

—The caseloads of guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists must be reduced, and reasonable limits be placed on what secretaries are required to achieve in a normal work day. These issues should be enforceable through arbitration.

Demand fairness in the licensing and evaluation of educators.

Whereas the UFT has temporarily fended off the use of tests to evaluate teachers, it has allowed contractual language that opens the door for such practices. It must lobby for the end of any exams that do not give a fair measurement of who is or can become a good teacher. Thousands of teachers who had earned satisfactory evaluations for many years were dismissed several years ago because of their failure to pass specific exams. The misuse of testing can be as unjust and harmful for teachers as it is for students.

ICE believes that:
— Certification measures should be simplified and based on meaningful written and oral tests as well as performance in the classroom.

— The UFT should seek the establishment of an apprenticeship system for new teachers.

— Learning communities are diverse, and student tests do not generally reflect the skills of individual teachers. These tests must not be allowed to influence the granting of tenure or annual ratings.

Maintain competitive salaries and job security

The median salary for a NYC teacher in 2009 is essentially unchanged from what it was fifty years ago when adjusted for inflation and the longer working day and year. Senior teachers today are less secure in their jobs. New teachers today pay a far higher percentage of their incomes for student loans and housing. The turnover rate is higher and the rate of retention is lower than it was fifty years ago.

ICE platform, Part IV

IV. Learning conditions

“Students’ learning conditions are teachers’ working conditions”

Well-run schools with well-trained staffs, good programs, supportive services and small classes can bring about improvements for all children. To think that communities with vast economic and social differences can succeed with identical monetary resources is a mistaken notion and a popular political ploy. Union officials must be ready to expose such lies and not allow failures in our society to fall squarely on the backs of educators.

They must be willing to put their muscle behind the struggle to:

Lower class size.

Small classes are the underpinning of an effective classroom, and are especially crucial where children have low performance levels and special needs. Union managers went along with the Board of Ed in the mid-1970s when it shut down schools and gave the buildings away, paving the way for the current overcrowding. They continue to undermine the fight for lower class sizes by: not successfully tying class size to learning conditions; preferring a referendum on lowering class size to contractual stipulation, which would be subject to grievable limits; supporting out-of-classroom positions (mentors, staff developers, coaches, etc.) that only divert money for pedagogical personnel away from the classroom; supporting and/or tolerating mandated programs and methodologies (e.g., multiple grouping, balanced literacy) that are impossible to implement in classes of more than 19-20 students; and allowing registers of 50 students in music and phys ed in some levels.

It is the UFT contract, and only the UFT contract that places any limits on class size. Without the class size caps in the contract, Bloomberg and Klein would put 50 students in each class. After all, they never tire of saying that class size is irrelevant and that only “teacher quality” matters.

Our union’s position on class size should be:
— Class size limits must be comparable with other districts in the state and capped by contract. They should be reduced to the levels called for in the CFE decision: 20 for grades K-3 and 23 for grades 4-12.

— No half-class size loopholes, and no excuses in overcrowded buildings.

— Identical caps on all academic subjects within a specific level (ES, MS, HS).

End mandated programs and school organization.

Mandated teaching blocks have minimized or eliminated music, art, foreign language and specialized classes. UFT officials have responded weakly to the DoE’s mockery of New York State requirements and the reduction of programs meaningful to so many youngsters. When principals were given autonomy over the budget, the decision-making power of the School Leadership Teams was drastically reduced. Principals now have the final say over which programs will be retained and installed. Furthermore, whereas some aspects of mandated programs may be valid, inadequate resources, rigidity in implementation and poor training reduce their value (e.g., the NCEE literacy program in HSS, which is not practicable).

It is our belief that:
— Music, art, foreign language, phys ed, health, library, technology and vocational learning are basic to education and should be restored to the curriculum.

— The union, which is bound by its own Constitution “to promote education as a social agency for developing the capacities of the young,” must demand that state requirements for advancement and graduation be honored in full. It must also demand that the state’s education goals be meaningful, relevant and long-term.

— School Leadership Teams must be empowered to establish a Comprehensive Education Plan for the school and make school-based budget decisions; an appeal process must set up to handle cases where consensus cannot be reached.

End the misuse of city- and statewide tests,

Such tests increasingly distort the curricula and misrepresent true academic performance. Standardized test results can be a tool for evaluating instruction and pointing out where extra resources should be focused, but the current accountability model with its simplified goals and objectives results in a numbers game for students and teachers. This model also ignores any accountability for long-term learning goals or the kinds of learning that might give educators and students cause for satisfaction.

Good teachers develop an awareness of how children actually learn. The premise that children will learn more when they are subjected to weeks of teaching-to-the-test methodologies, that they become more successful students when strict standardized levels are set for them, or that they respond positively to threats and punishment are ideologically driven beliefs and contrary to what we know as experienced educators. A consequence of high stakes testing is that children most in need become a liability to a school, and passing them off to another school becomes a more attractive option than addressing their needs.

In an effort to support the mayor’s political agenda, the chancellor has invalidated the use of such testing by changing the student populations that take them, adjusting the time of year that tests are taken, and manipulating the data culled from the results.

Certain kinds of tests (such as ECLAS) administered to every child in the early grades is not only a waste of time and resources, but disrupts learning for many days each year and rarely gives teachers any new information about their student.

It is our position that:
— Teachers, not tests, must play a primary role in student evaluation procedures at all levels.
— Students should have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

— Teaching to the test, dumbing down, and selective data analysis are all derived from political decisions and are detrimental to children’s learning.

— ECLAS testing is harmful to learning environments, and it should not be administered to all children in the early grades.

— No schools should be closed based on standardized tests or school report cards. The DoE must show that closing a school is a measure of last resort. Before a school can be closed, the DoE must provide extra to fix its problems and communicates with the staff and the community.

Adequately address the needs of troubled students.

Formulating a strategy to deal with such students involves the collaboration of teachers, other school staff, and parents. Children who come to school too troubled to maintain themselves in a general ed class need sustained and professional interventions. Not only are there fewer self-contained in the restructured system, but the lack of adequate training, vast discrepancies in the quality of programs, insufficient staff, faulty evaluations leading to inappropriate placements, and the resistance of many parents to having their children labeled are some of the factors that have weakened the special ed structures in our schools. With the dismantling of services for all but the most challenged students and the inability to accommodate many others who might fall into this category but have not been classified special ed as yet, we see thousands of teachers throughout the city having to deal with students who challenge the classroom environment on a regular basis and threaten the safety and well-being of other students and staff, as well harming themselves.

The “disciplinary responses” listed in the DoE’s Citywide Standards of Discipline and Intervention Measures (September 2008), which allow for special rooms to hold students who are disrupting a class for a period of 1-4 days, cannot for the most part be used by classroom teachers. There is simply too much behavior that is “substantially disruptive” or that “substantially interferes with a teacher’s authority over the classroom” to be handled by simple removal. In practice, underlying problems cannot easily be resolved, students do not get adequate instruction when they are placed in such rooms, and a removal is rarely a deterrent.

Administrators seem to have abandoned the notion of modeling respectful behavior towards peers and admonish teachers in the presence of students.

ICE recognizes that although most student situations are handled by classroom teachers and in some cases paras, there are school workers in other unions who attend to the learning environment in different capacities. These include the custodial staff, cafeteria workers, security guards, engineers, and police.

ICE believes that:
— Strategies for dealing with students who disrupt the classroom must include ongoing consensus-building among adults and taking actions based on this consensus. Early intervention, guidance, conflict management, and mutual respect are essential for protecting learning environments from patterns of disruption.

— The DoE must provide alternative settings for those students who do not respond to the efforts of school staff and parents to improve their behavior.

— The union must convince administrators who do not behave professionally towards members, particularly in front of students, that their behavior is not only unacceptable and reportable (to OSI), but of no benefit to children who are in the process of acquiring role models.

— All public school workers contribute to the proper running of the school and their well-being is important to our union.

Expand existing adult education programs in content and number of courses available.

Adult education must take into account the needs of parents and community members and should include their understandings and views of what will help serve their community. It can be a vehicle to strengthen the bonds between parents, educators and unionists that will help us in our united effort to get better schools for the city’s children. ICE believes that the DoE should renew its commitment to adult education.

ICE platform, Part III

III. Strategy and tactics for a good contract

What we as a union can control in the negotiation of each contract are: our political outlook, stance, and alliances, our UFT-initiated legislative efforts, our strategy and tactics, and our internal organization. It is incumbent upon an opposition to present a credible analysis of the situation and positive proposals for an alternative response to the difficulties that we face.

The strategy that Unity/UFT has adopted since the 1975 NYC fiscal crisis may be fairly described as an organized retreat. The challenge this poses for them is how to win the ratification of bad contracts without drawing criticism to their own role as a crucial enabler of this great ratcheting downwards.

With each new negotiation, Unity/UFT proceeds from three basic questions:
(a) What can we trade off?
(b) Who can be sold out? and
(c) How much can the rank-and-file be induced to give back?
When the same caucus is elected to run the UFT year after year, members can expect the same results.

Weingarten has pointed to increases in salary as a tangible benefit accrued to the membership when it has gone along with mayoral control. Unity/UFT will even whisper privately when pressed, “It could have been worse” and “Imagine what the Post would do to us if we didn’t play ball.” They have generally avoided mentioning that approximately one-third of the salary increases they’ve negotiated in the past two contracts are not raises, but compensation for an extended working day and year. Most recently, they have agreed to changes in the pension for new employees that will require them to pay 4.8% into their pensions for their entire careers where previously contributions stopped after 10 years of service. Any gains in salary follow from the union’s policy of accommodation and trade-off with the Bloomberg administration.

With each new contract, how much say educators have in methodology, testing, school staffing, and other important issues diminishes as the union continues to sidestep the issue of the mayor’s failure to extend “collaboration” down to the school level.

Unity/UFT also cannot credibly proclaim to be in a collaborative mode with the mayor while the managers who do his bidding consistently sabotage the normal avenues for conflict resolution at the school and district levels. Grievances rarely bring relief: the DoE denies all Step I’s and forces an inordinate number of cases to arbitration, which in many cases the union is unwilling or unprepared to handle. Our union managers have consistently turned a blind eye to the mayor’s broad attack against senior teachers and other members brought up on charges that most certainly could be handled differently than through reassignment. The measure of collaboration is a willingness to resolve conflicts and seek consensus in the school community. So often it has been reduced instead to a photo op with the mayor.

Our profession is really threatened, and the union’s response has been anemic. In fact, the relationship between all levels of administration under this chancellorship and UFT members has been far from collaborative. Even the few remaining senior principals who know better, with retirement in sight and hefty bonuses at stake, don’t make a move without consulting legal. Collaboration with the Bloomberg administration is a one-way street. We collaborate and he promises not to inflict even greater pain.

Operating as they do in a “collaborative” mode, Unity/UFT caucus managers fail to acknowledge that in every struggle of labor and working people, solidarity is a crucial ingredient for success. It is, in fact, the foundation of unionism. Because Unity/UFT has no interest in building the kind of solidarity that makes a union strong, they can only accept crumbs at the negotiating table.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ICE platform, Part II

II. What we confront in public education: the corporate agenda

The “school reform” agenda we see in New York is not an isolated campaign. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) was the most massive single exercise of government power over education in U.S. history. Under this federal law, all schools, particularly those serving large numbers of poor and minority students, face the threat of drastic changes, in school management, teacher autonomy, parental involvement, school closings, and charterization. Following the national trend, New York City has adopted a corporate business model for school governance.

Sandra Feldman’s stewardship of the American Federation of Teachers was closely involved in the drafting of the No Child Left Behind Act, and Unity caucus, headed by Randi Weingarten through July 2009, remains a steadfast supporter of it.
The union has signed on to the national corporate agenda, which prevents those with knowledge and experience from redesigning schools. That union officials can applaud and promote a program so destructive to public education testifies to a loss of belief in what educators do for a living.

We are at a crossroads for public education in the U.S., and teachers must play a different kind of role than the one the UFT has been developing on our behalf.

The mayoral control fiasco and the UFT’s response
School governance and mayoral control of schools is not and never has been a response to the failings of the previous system or to the needs of children. It has been brought to us by the same people who brought us the financial crisis that now threatens massive layoffs and further cuts in services to children and families. It is driven by businessmen who seek to privatize and profit from the public sector.

Mayoral control of urban public school systems has resulted in dictatorships. Services and opportunities for large numbers of children, particularly for special ed students and English language learners, are reduced. Tenure, seniority, working conditions, and academic freedom are under constant threat, parent voices are shut out, and the developmental needs of children are disregarded.

During her tenure as president of the union, Weingarten, in a defense of the indefensible, laid out Unity/UFT’s support for mayoral control. Last May when she thanked the mayor for bringing “stability, accountability and cohesion” to the school system (NY Post), she spun a picture quite different from the reality of what we face.

Instead of “STABILITY” we have:
— Serial reorganizations,
— Epidemic school closings,
— Loss of seniority rights, the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserves, inappropriate placements into Teacher Reassignment Centers, and
— The breaking up of local communities and the growth of disparate treatment and funding
Instead of “ACCOUNTABILITY” there is:
— Lack of transparency,
— Lawbreaking (special ed violations, system restructuring, etc.),
— Data manipulation (school report cards, graduation rates, test score interpretations, etc.), and
— The disastrous reliance on private contracting, which resulted in the school bus rerouting fiasco, outside education consultant (e.g, the quality review from abroad), expensive computer installations, and no bid contracts.
And instead of “COHESION,” we are forced to contend with:
— Flavor of the month methodologies (e.g., Balanced Literacy, fuzzy math, the workshop model),
— Micromanagement, and
— Intimidation.
Unity/UFT policies insure the continuance of school overcrowding, testing mania, privatization, attacks on tenure and seniority, and the viability of public education in New York City. Weingarten’s disgraceful legacy metastasizes nationally now that she’s taken on a more national role as president of the AFT.

We need union officials who not only understand the relationship between teaching and learning conditions, but who also understand that the corporate agenda for public education is divisive, does not help union members, and erodes the public trust in our schools.

ICE Platform, Part I


The Independent Community of Educators (ICE) caucus was founded in 2004 by working members and retirees to assess the state of our union and NYC schools. At that time we questioned Randi Weingarten’s position that when the union is under attack, members must stick together. We believed then and continue to believe now that we cannot afford to be silent on the issues that affect our working conditions, in many cases our jobs, and the future prospects of the children we educate.

In these difficult times for unionism across the nation, and with union officials failing the members politically, contractually, and philosophically against a dictatorial mayor they continue to back under the present system of mayoral control, we have chosen once again to offer an alternative platform for the 2010 elections.

While we stand with the members of the three other caucuses against outside attacks, the Weingarten/Unity team has weakened the union. Furthering an almost 50-year record of autocratic control, it continues to stifle dissent. More than this, Unity is tirelessly committed to its failed policy of collaboration — with government officials unprepared and sometimes even improperly certified to run this school system and with private organizations that have other agendas. We speak up to make the union stronger and provide an opportunity for any UFT member who is critical of Unity’s stranglehold on policy to get involved. One of our major goals is to bring the entire opposition movement together through this election process.

What continues to unify ICE? The sense that we can be both strong trade unionists and strong educators, that by its very nature, a school is a mini-community, and everyone who works in a school — teachers, psychologists and guidance people, paras, secretaries, administrators, custodial staff, and security agents — has a role in the education of children.

We aim to provide a voice for all UFT members, in particular the classroom teacher, often the most neglected by school administrators and the union staff. These people bear the brunt of the responsibility, and the blame when things don’t go well. We believe that members need to participate in school governance, for it is through grassroots movements that individuals become empowered and active in shaping institutions and the roles of the people working and learning within them. Our union, when it is truly in the hands of members and not a band of misguided and self-interested union managers, can be central to growth of good learning environments.

In the past six years, ICE has developed three functions. The first is keeping up to date with education issues, analyzing and talking about them in the form of essays (in the blogosphere and other media), speeches, videotaping, and forums. They participate in union activities (such as running for and serving as chapter leaders and delegates, attending meetings of all kinds, and studying the contract and other laws) and share their knowledge and experience freely with any union members who ask them for help. Lastly, ICE members are activists, who stand strongly against the many inequities in our learning communities. They mount and/or participate in demonstrations of all kinds, particularly against the ATR situation, rubber rooms, charter schools, and war.

Our platform is a work in progress and modified as new voices are heard. We invite you to join us in this campaign.