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Joint Slate – New Action and MORE

September 16, 2015 pm30 2:37 pm

Today my caucus announced that New Action and MORE are running together in the spring UFT elections. I fully support this move.

Some people will be happy. Others will be angry. But some will ask, “why now?”

Now, because the time is right.

Now, because on the two biggest issues facing members – abusive administrators and teacher evaluation – the two groups are in agreement. Our leadership has dropped the ball on abusive administrators, even as far as dropping the Principals in Need of Improvement (PINI) program when it was needed more than ever. I hope they rethink this, and step up for members facing horrible principals. But today too many of our members are on their own. Our leadership partly favors the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. I hope they change this position. And in time I believe they must. But today they stand on the wrong side.

We are no longer facing a hostile City Hall, forcing us to lock arms on a daily basis. This is the time we should be doing the members business. This is the time we should be advocating for teachers, schools, education. The joint MORE/New Action campaign will be doing exactly that.

The Drive to Choteau – Photographs and Video

August 30, 2015 pm31 11:58 pm

After walking 2 1/2 miles around Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier, Alan and I were left with no signal, and no real way of knowing exactly how long our drive was. Except we knew at 7 that we would not make it to Choteau before dark. We are avoiding night driving because 1) we want to see the country, and 2) it’s not so comfortable driving in the dark over unknown roads. This turned out to be an unanticipated adventure.

And there was fire. No, no leaping flames. But freshly burnt forest. And forest recovering from a several-years-old burn. And smoke. Thick enough to block the sun. Thin enough to look light an 0ff-white cloud. And sometimes missing. Close enough to burn eyes and noses. Far enough to give a faint woodfire smell to everything. And sometimes, no surprise, absent.

Traffic, leaving Glacier National Park:

These two are outside the park, on the Blackfeet Reservation. Given the new pine trees, this area must have burned a few years ago.


Suddenly, the road disappeared. This stretch must have been 4 miles. The stretch in the dark later was endless.

At least this part of unpaved US89 was straight. There was an unpaved, half-closed roundabout in Browning, MT.

As the sun went down, our nerves started to jangle:

Dusk, Road, Night, Dark, Haze – blurred together and surrounded us.

A light rain earlier had blotched all the dust on the car into mud-dots – visible in this late-dusk shot of the emptiness to our right.

The dark reminded me of Annie Hall. Except no headlights. Nothing. No farm lights, very few other cars. Eerie and creepy.

On arriving in Choteau

August 30, 2015 pm31 12:09 pm

I’ve been on the road with my friend Alan. Utah, Idaho, Montana. We are still headed for Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.

800 miles or so done. Yesterday was Glacier National Park, spectacular, even with the smoke. We had 2 hikes, one on each side of the continental divide. We had spectacular views. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was so breathtakingly majestic AND scary that we are doing laundry today….

Alan and I have been staying in little motels, no chains. Marble Motel, Trementon UT. DK Motel, Arco ID. Mountain Spirit Inn, Darby MT. Hungry Horse Motel, Columbia Falls MT. Some very nice, some adequate, no problems. All $60-$80. I didn’t do it to be cheap, but they have worked out in every respect, including $$.

But the timing across Montana is tricky – we are covering a lot of ground in just a couple of days. And I booked in advance. And the right distance from Glacier led me to look towards Great Falls, but not as far as Great Falls. And the perfect spot was $100. But it had laundry facilities (we packed knowing that we’d do laundry midway, not realizing how perfect that would be), and included breakfast.

As it turned out, US 89 out of Many Glacier was narrow, deserted, and in two significant chunks, unpaved. Half our ride passed through a Blackfoot Reservation, which seemed even emptier. And we enjoyed Glacier so late, that darkness fell as we drove. And the smoke from the forest fires got a bit thicker and more acrid. And we drove with long silent stretches. The smoke, dark, narrow, empty and unpredictable were weighing on us, and on Alan, who was driving (thank you) more than on me.

So when we got to Choteau Stage Stop Inn, and saw that it was a small hotel, not a motel, we were relieved. And when Alan​ saw it had a bar, and learned it was open until 2, he could have shed a tear.

Protection from Prose?

July 22, 2015 am31 12:08 am

In Unity there is Strength. It’s why we negotiate as a union, instead of, for example, as math teachers. Or as high school teachers. Or as special ed teachers. Or as art teachers. It’s also why we do not negotiate one school at a time.


Except in Prose schools.

Now, some Prose schools got a pass on Danielson. They like Prose, some have told me. Honestly, we should all get the pass on Danielson. We should not have to sacrifice our union principals to get a good concession for all the teachers of NYC.

NYC Educator is writing more about Prose. He includes a shameful quote from a former UFT leader:

“PROSE … empowers teachers to make positive change”

It seems that some of our leaders forget that negotiating TOGETHER is a victory. Negotiating as isolated units would be, and is, a loss. But I guess it takes a real commitment to the idea of “union” to understand that.

Or maybe, reading our contract. I quote the contract negotiated between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers:

It is understood that all collective bargaining is to be conducted at Board headquarters level.  There shall be no negotiation with the Union chapter or with any other employee group or organization at the school level.  It is further understood that there shall not be established or continued in any school a Staff Relations Committee as described in the Staff Relations Plan issued by the Board on October 23, 1956.

No school by school negotiations. This is Article 1, seventh paragraph.

Photo Credit: Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives,Cornell University Library,Group Photo, Placards, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Rally


Have school closings in NYC stopped for now?

July 21, 2015 am31 11:29 am

One expectation that we had for de Blasio / Fariña was that school closings would stop. Has this happened?

Sort of. And now much of those decisions are out of their hands. So much so that I left it off my Mayor/Chancellor expectations list.

Bloomberg/Klein/Black/Walcott willfully closed dozens of high schools. I do not know the count, but 50 in all? Is that about right? More? They targeted bigger schools. These schools, whether incidentally, or intentionally, had larger concentrations of veteran teachers. And veteran teachers these days also means more Black and Hispanic teachers. They were mostly places where institutional memory and habit respected much of the language and spirit of the contract.

They also targeted elementary schools and middle schools for replacement by charters. That’s scores more.

Each closure dumped teachers into the ATR pool – dozens and dozens of veteran teachers who face systematic, mandated discrimination.

So new regime in, the annual PEP circus with large numbers of closures at once is over. Though the old regime already shut the biggest targets. And…

1. We are still watching the tail end of phase outs.

2. This year, under NYS pressure two Renewal schools dumped over half their staff (Boys and Girls HS and Automotive HS) – though with a promise of annual (non-permanent) placement for the next few years.

3. Now New York State (Cuomo/Tisch) is now going over the City’s head. They have targeted seven schools (five in the Bronx) for takeover next year. They have targeted an additional 55 schools (27 in the Bronx) for takeover the year after that.

Think of it this way: the Bloomberg closures also came with new schools opening. While many were charter schools, most were NYCDoE schools – so at least the number of teachers entering the ATR pool was near the number of new openings. These Cuomo closings are directly removing the schools from the DoE – those positions will be entirely lost.

This is nothing less than an attempt to break the job security provision of our contract. It is “disruptive innovation” – intentionally creating educational chaos for our schools, teachers, students, communities.

So, did de Blasio / Fariña do ok on school closures? They haven’t aggressively closed schools. But we barely got a break, between lagging phase-outs, the “Renewal” process, and Cuomo’s ill-intentions for next year, and the years after that.

I guess we could ask the mayor and chancellor to more aggressively oppose Cuomo. But what we really need is a real fightback against Cuomo and Tisch, to overturn the horrible changes to State Law, including these state-forced closures, but going back to basing teacher evaluations on test scores. We need our union, the UFT and NYSUT, to mobilize our members, both through demonstrations, and at the ballot box. But this requires some serious change of policy and practice.

de Blasio / Fariña – not performing up to expectations

July 17, 2015 pm31 2:49 pm

I think those who are trashing them are wrong.

I think those who are defending them are wrong.

I’ll leave out the non-education stuff – that’s more complicated, and while de Blasio has chalked up some pretty big blunders, he’s miles better than the guy he replaced.

But on education, they’ve been in office for a year and a half. They only have two and a half left. I’m not so interested in what they’ve gotten right. Or in what they’ve gotten wrong. I am most concerned about how little they have actually done.

I wrote in December 2013:

I expect that teachers will not fall in love with the next Chancellor. I expect she will do a lot of things we don’t like. But I also expect she won’t be hated, and that she won’t pursue massively harmful reform strategies. And I hope that she will undo all of the Bloomberg destructive policies. And I expect that she will undo at least a few of them.

And even with my low expectations, I’ve been disappointed. Here are a few issues that could have been addressed January 1, 2014, and what’s happened with them in the last year and a half.

  1. Remove Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott cronies. Most of this has happened at the highest levels, but it took a long time, too long. There would have been symbolism in cleaning house in the first weeks, or months. Instead they quietly left, Brodsky just this spring, and there are a few hanging on.
  2. Get rid of the lawyers. Useless cash drain. Shameful.
  3. Control “empowered” incompetent principals. Get rid of true problem principals. I see two high profile removals, a handful of sex removals, and minor stuff. I’m looking at this from a teacher’s point of view – these are abusive administrators. But what about from a child’s point of view? These are largely incompetents. And there are literally hundreds in the system – perhaps 200-300 out of 1800 principals. Most are poorly trained, left-overs from Klein. And as far as I can tell, no one has ever looked to see if they are competent to run our schools, to educate children. Where is the hard look at them? Where is the retraining? Where are the removals?
  4. Progress Reports. Get rid of the stupid letter grades (done immediately when they took office). End the fake preparation for dog and pony Quality Reviews. Not done. End the reviews by strangers. Not done.
  5. Funding. End the system of “charging” salary against school budgets. This system distorts the transfer process by rewarding principals for appointing less experienced teachers, and rewards them most for making a new hire (which adds a new cost of $60k or so to the system) instead of taking a transfer, which adds no new costs. It hurts schools, and students, depriving them of seasoned educators, and adding instability to many schools in poorer neighborhoods. This system has been kept in place, with no hint (yet) that they are even looking.
  6. Return to districts, with superintendents responsible for their schools and their principals. Disband the networks. These borough support centers or whatever they are called are a half step. And they retain some of the “networky” feel. As far as superintendencies, high schools got screwed. The high school superintendencies when I started, in the 90s, provided some real support (including in content areas), and had a real sense of cohesion. Under the new structures, none of this is recreated.

Coming in, de Blasio was more sympathetic than Bloomberg, and Fariña was a real educator, unlike Klein or Black or Walcott. But being a real educator and being a good educator are different things. Fariña’s tenure as a principal was not one that recommended her to us – she pushed good teachers out of her school and brought in more pliant teachers. I do not expect that she will carry out the work that teachers believe needs to be done. But I think it is reasonable for us to expect some progress, more than we’ve seen.

The poster children for lack of progress are the scores of incompetent, abusive principals. And we should press to have more reviewed, retrained, removed. But the reality of the moment informs two other priorities:

  1. We should be pressing the unit costing issue. The technical piece (this wastes money) and the affective piece (this makes principals bring in less experienced teachers for their kids, and plays out most harshly with the schools with the neediest kids), stand in sharp contrast to the argument for keeping the current system (there is none). A lot of bang for the buck is available – teachers and the DoE working together to save money and bring the best possible teachers to the kids who need them most.
  2. We should work on cleaning house – particularly the middle level, now that Klein’s tops are gone. I think the swarm of Klein-folk collectively keep his policies in place, sometimes informally, sometimes through foot-dragging, sometimes just through attitude. This is not as easy a sell as unit costing, and one removal hardly would make a difference, but the cumulative effect of replacing dozens, scores, hundreds would be real. And the sell “new chancellor needs to have her own people at the level where policy is implemented” is not a bad one. It would be helpful if some idiot TFAer got caught, publicly, acting under expired Klein/Walcott directives that contradict what Fariña has asked for.

In any case, the lack of progress is frustrating. But it should not move us into denouncing the chancellor. Rather, we should continue to push for progress on issues that matter.

Chalkbeat asks right question – writes wrong headline

July 16, 2015 pm31 1:23 pm

Chalkbeat writes an article about how common core algebra rigged-lower scores have concerned parents, teachers, and schools.

But they give it headlines that say something else

Concerns mount over tougher Algebra Regents test, and officials promise a review
Responses reflect ongoing uneasiness with the pace of New York’s adoption of the Common Core standards

– that we are concerned about implementation (nope – don’t like CC at all) and that says we are worried about tougher tests (nope, we are concerned that the scoring scale was rigged to make strong students score not so well).

This is advocacy-based journalism. When the facts don’t match the preferred story-line, use the headline to tell a story that differs from the facts.

There have been many people concerned, not just me.

But here’s what I wrote. Here’s what Patrick Honner wrote. You decide.



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