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.

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