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UFT Leadership digs in against Opt Out

April 14, 2015 pm30 12:49 pm

At last night’s (4/13/15) UFT Executive Board, President Mulgrew and another officer tested their newly aggressive stance against the opt out movement.

Some background:

When Andrew Cuomo finished ramming his new budget deal through the NY State Assembly and Senate, Mike Mulgrew wrote to UFT members (3/29/15):

Our hard work has paid dividends

Dear Jonathan,

In a rebuke to the anti-public-school agenda of hedge-fund billionaires, the state Legislature tonight reached agreement on a new budget and a package of education proposals that will immediately increase aid to public schools, ensure that teacher evaluations do not hinge on state test scores and ensure local oversight of struggling schools.

Just two months ago, Gov. Cuomo proposed a series of education proposals that amounted to a declaration of war on public schools. His plan was to use the incredible leverage he holds in the state budget process to ram through his plan.

And now all of our hard work is paying dividends. The governor’s Draconian agenda has, in large part, been turned back. We want to thank the Assembly and the Senate for standing up for our schools and school communities.

The membership was not buying. There was anger about almost every aspect of the deal. And then there was the testing. There is a growing “opt out” movement across the state. While largely concentrated in suburbs, a number of anti-testing organizations have been making inroads in New York City. Several city schools already have high opt out rates, and there will be more.

NYSUT president Magee issued a statement encouraging opt out. There must have been a ton of e-mails and calls to UFT headquarters. On April 1, just three days later,

What the state budget contains

Dear Jonathan,

Three months ago, Gov. Cuomo declared war on teachers and public education, resurrecting the battle we fought for 12 years with our previous mayor. Both have the same Wall Street allies determined to privatize education and eliminate teachers unions.

Given the immense power that the governor wields in the budget process, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We did not negotiate this budget agreement, but we supported Assembly Democrats in pushing back as many of his bad ideas as possible.

We took hits in this first battle but so did he, thanks to the extraordinary movement of public school parents, educators and community members that has emerged over the past few months.

The tone had certainly shifted. But would they move on testing and opt out?


At last night’s Executive Board Regina Gori (New Action), Chapter Leader of the Brooklyn New School (with a 90% opt out rate) asked how the union was planning to help teachers of conscience who did not administer state tests. The response was sharp.

  1. Refusing a direct instruction from your supervisor is insubordinate
  2. If we test less than 95% of our students, we could lose Title 1, Title 2, and Title 3 funding, which would cost jobs.
  3. Our allies in the Civil Rights Movement want annual testing. It has helped us learn where the system has problems.

When he arrived fifteen minutes later, Mulgrew used the second and third points in a long and slightly repetitive talk. (Those same points were raised by Al Sharpton in a NY Post interview a few days ago). Mulgrew additionally raised the specter of ten thousand lay-offs.

He went on to explain how the federal law could be rewritten to drop that 95%. He explained that we were different from other parts of the state.

The strategy he laid out had a few parts: engage with the Regents, negotiate a new evaluation immediately, wait for some federal change.

With the Regents, there will be a series of public hearings in NYC, and we should engage with them without shouting. I think he had in mind Merryl Tisch, who wrote most of Cuomo’s proposals, but who we are now looking to negotiate with. Unity leadership was quite defensive about Tisch through the winter and spring, even as it was clear that she was working at Cuomo’s side. I couldn’t figure out what they like about her. When we had three dozen schools on the block a few years ago, she did personally intervene to save Grady. Grady was Mulgrew’s old school.




Thank you, thank you, thank you

March 30, 2015 pm31 7:25 pm

I was glad to be at Saturday’s rally. It was the first larger UFT event I’d been to in some time. And I liked challenging Cuomo, though I wish we’d done it during the election.

About 15% of my chapter’s members turned out (it’s a small school, there were four of us). I talked to teachers from other schools, to parents, to a principal from a D2 elementary school. I saw union activists I know, and total strangers. United against the governor, against absurd evaluations. Most of us, except for a handful of union leaders, were also united against high stakes tests.

I left a little early. It was cold and snowy. And I missed my Saturday morning whitefish, and was cranky. As we passed the stage heading north, I saw a familiar face on the corner.  At twenty yards I shouted “thank you” to Zephyr Teachout, and I waved. She looked up, waved back, and smiled. Teachout challenged Cuomo for governor last year, and our union leadership snubbed her. But here she was, speaking forcefully at a UFT rally. She didn’t have to come, didn’t have to stand side by side with those who had taken the Working Families Party endorsement that was rightfully hers, and handed it to Cuomo, but she knew what was right. She spoke loud and true. AFT president Randi Weingarten made telephone calls during the campaign for Cuomo’s running mate, some woman named Hochul, but she didn’t come, Zephyr did. Thank you.

As I got to the southeast corner of 42nd and 3rd I saw a small cluster around an old guy. Robert Jackson. Hero of Public Education. Dewey Award Winner (UFT). Lion for the Children of NY. This is the guy who made the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit happen. And this fall, running for State Senate, the UFT leaders endorsed his opponent. Actually, NYSUT did. But that was with UFT support. So what does Robert Jackson do? He keeps fighting for public schools. He keeps fighting for the children of New York. And he keeps fighting shoulder to shoulder with the UFT, who abandoned him. His opponent, who the UFT endorsed? He was a no show. But Robert Jackson does what’s right. “Thank you” I smiled at him on the corner, and he smiled back and waved.

Finally we got to Grand Central, and coming out as we were coming in I saw Audrey. Audrey’s a freshman at Brooklyn College. Back when she was my student, I knew she was into environmental issues, but I had no idea she was going to be an activist. But here she was, with a large hand-made sign, ready to stand with teachers and parents and give it to the governor. “Thank you!”

No one took their attendance. No one forced them to come out. It was cold and snowy. No one would have blamed them for staying away. But they stood in solidarity. They spoke. Everyone who came out deserves a thank you. But I chose to thank these three.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

2015-2016 Sabbatical Applications on-line – due 3/17

February 22, 2015 pm28 1:32 pm

Did you know the New York City Department of Education still grants study sabbaticals? Well, they do. I took one last year. I know two people on them this year. And the application for next year has been posted, and is due in just a few weeks.

Here’s the DoE’s sabbatical page (very little explanation):  Sabbaticals (note, the page has a link, but it currently goes to the the wrong memo. See below for next year’s)
Here’s the Sabbatical memo for next year: Sabbatical_Memo_2015-2016_SOLAS_4_Feb_12_2015_(2)_Final_Version
And here’s the on-line application: Self Service On-line Leave Application (SOLAS)  (Sabbaticals are included)

What do you do on sabbatical?  Take courses (16 credits) or do a project. But I got a lot of advice that said the coursework gets approved more easily.

How much pay do you get? For a full-year sabbatical you get 70% of your pay.
Can you afford that?  Maybe. A 30% pay cut is substantial, but taxes fall more than in proportion. And, you can drop TDA contributions to a lower level. And we are in the process of seeing raises – 3% this May, 3% next may. And we get our first “retroactive” payment next October. I think mine will be just over $5000, minus taxes. But there is also an extra expense to consider: courses cost money. Mine were about $7000. (CUNY)

What courses do you take?  They should be “rigorous,” “job-related,” and the majority should meet during regular school hours. Nothing on-line, or weekends…

They want a list of courses now, but the class schedules are not out!  Not a problem. Use last year’s schedules – likely your courses will be quite similar. Many courses are offered in the same time slot every year. If not, you’ll complete a change of course request. Not a big deal. I did three changes, all approved.

The application is completely on-line. When I submitted mine, I included a cover letter that explained how my stuff was relevant to work I do in my school. Not sure if you can do that on-line, but if you can, it’s a good idea to point out to the superintendent the relevance and rigor of the courses.

Are you eligible?  If you have 14 years of service, including this year, including up to three years as a PPT. (less for a one term sabbatical)

Is it worth it?  Wow. Courses can be fun. Destressing is great. Having some real time to reflect on your teaching is great. Long weekends are great. College breaks (6 weeks in Dec/Jan, Spring break, summer from mid-May to Labor Day) are great.

Some people get bored. I don’t understand them, but I know they exist. If that’s you, then no, a sabbatical would be bad. Some people can’t take any drop in pay. Family, mortgage, kids in school ($$$), debt. Not you either. But for most of us who’ve put in a decade in a half, tighten the belt a notch, get working on that application now, and prepare to leave, learn, and breathe free.

For more information, contact your UFT borough office.

Saturday’s Demonstration #BlackLivesMatter Was Really Something

December 15, 2014 am31 8:09 am

Nothing profound to say here. I was feeling fluish, but would have been embarrassed not to at least take a peek, seeing as I was already downtown for an AM movie. Had a bowl of mushroom dumpling soup on Second Avenue, and wandered over to Washington Square a little before 2, expecting to see a fun but ragtag group scattering in. Nope. The park was packed.

I forged into the thick of it, and then out along the edge, and back in, hoping to run into a familiar face. But the crowd was already in the thousands, and luck wasn’t with me. It started to move. Waves of chants flowed. Signs were everywhere – homemade, and distributed on the spot.
IMG_4386 IMG_4387
We shuffled forward, unevenly. Marching was out of the question. But the voices were powerful. Here and there small groups fell back, or surged forward, all being carried in the broad Fifth Avenue river.
As we slowly advanced, I checked my phone. Twitter wasn’t accepting posts, and my connection was bad for Facebook. I noticed others glancing into their palms as well. Video cameras darted around us. On corners, at lightpoles, boys and girls took pictures from their perches. I thought about finding a pole of my own. But I let the crowd carry me forward.
I tried to see ahead of me. I don’t know if I could have seen the front, even if I were taller. I tried to look back. That was more difficult. I was surrounded by a flowing stream of Black and white, mostly young, but some old, some chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” others with their hands up. The energy and power were intense. I thought it might carry me to the end.

At Herald Square we turned, and I saw the Manhattan Mall. Bathroom. Across the street I saw Duane Reade. Sudafed. And back across the street I saw the D train. Home.

I’m a fan

December 5, 2014 pm31 12:50 pm

…. of my students.

Yesterday, the fourth day of a dress up week, was “Spirit Day.” (Pajama Day, School Spirit Day, and Twin Day were earlier)

Students were asked to wear clothing to support their favorite team (Yankees, Rangers, even Red Sox…)

But many of my students wore a piece of paper over their tops, like a runner’s number. The papers looked like this:

Not a Fan

Of course they were not all the same. Some of my students are not fans of chokeholds, or people being targeted for their race.

But there were a lot of protesters, more than half of some of my classes. And they were clever, and got their message across, and I’m a fan.

Getting Back in the Swing (Sabbatical’s really over)

October 10, 2014 am31 6:09 am

Six weeks in, and I’m back in the swing.

I could write “it feels like I never left” but that wouldn’t be true. I’m calmer, feel better. Leave aside that I’ve studied a lot and seen a lot, been to a lot of cool places, made new friends… And I have continued life without an alarm clock. I hope to never use one again.

But the first couple of weeks – and I’m not asking for sympathy, since I deserve none – I was tired each evening by 7, sometimes earlier. I can write a lesson, and manage a classroom, all that good stuff, but physically I was a first year teacher all over again.

But here I am, finishing up my first “interim reports,” giving my second round of tests (in the courses where I test, more about that another time), collecting my first rounds of projects… Back in the swing.

This week three classes solved “How many three digit numbers are there?” (one class found six ways to count them) and “In a 73 player single elimination tournament, how many matches are played?” and wrote up their process.

Another class, that’s been getting a quickly paced diet of algebra review (trinomial factoring with two and three digit coefficients, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing algebraic fractions, polynomial long division) oohed and aahed when they learned that for \frac{10}{27} \div \frac{2}{3} they could divide straight across.

And my seniors, they completed a four equations, four unknowns project, and turned in mostly clean, well-annotated work, and then had what I thought was a really good talk about keeping the stress level down during the next few months of college applications.

The only thing missing now is blogging…

Teachout for Governor, Robert Jackson for State Senate

September 9, 2014 am30 7:43 am

In the first UFT Executive Board of the year, New Action moved the endorsement of Zephyr Teachout for Governor. The motion was debated (2 speakers for, 3 against) and overwhelmingly defeated. Yet it was important that the issue came forward, and that opposition to Cuomo was acknowledged.

I spoke about Robert Jackson during the question period. Given the NYSUT endorsement of the other guy, a motion seemed besides the point. But what does Jackson have to do – Hero of Public Education, Dewey Award Winner (UFT), Lion for the Children of NY – to earn the UFT’s support?

Fuller report is at the New Action website.


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