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Thank yous

August 26, 2022 am31 10:37 am

Robert Jackson’s email said “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” and that made me think back to a blog post from over seven years ago…

After an election politicians address supporters and thank them, no matter the outcome. But now they also send out thank you emails.

Each has a clear thank you:

We knew it was going to be a close election, and while we wait for the final numbers to come in, I want to thank this amazing grassroots team for everything you’ve done. I couldn’t be here without you! 

YLN

I look forward to thanking people in person when I get back, but want you to know today that I am so deeply grateful to you for your faith in me and support of my campaign. This is a victory for us all to savor together. 

GR

We won our State Senate Re-election Primary, and it was a true team effort. It was your volunteering, your donations, your commitment and your vote that made it happen. I can’t thank you enough.

RJ

And each message carries a tone, or a hint of what comes next:

We’re going to keep working until every single vote is counted and we’ll keep you posted with updates along the way.

YLN. Recount? Run WFP in the general?

… a coalition of concerned neighbors, labor unions, volunteers, and elected and community leaders that successfully stood strong against a deluge of outside spending to make it clear that the Bronx values effective progressive leadership.

GR. Sigh of relief, and a commitment to fight (for progressive issues, sure. But…

Over a million dollars from charter school backers, real estate developers and conservative Republicans was not enough to silence our voice. 

Is Gustavo committing to take them on? I hope so!

The special interests can spend all they want against us, but I will never stop fighting for you. 

RJ. This is easy. He will stay the course. He has the same commitment today he did two decades ago.

Subject Lines

Let me get to it, why I found one subject line in particular interesting.

I bet on people

Yuh-Line Niou

We Did It Together!

Gustavo Rivera

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Robert Jackson

So let’s go back.

Robert Jackson co-founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. His activism (and a famous walk to Albany) helped secure significantly more funding for NYC schools, in the name of equity. He became a city council person, and then ran unsuccessfully for State Senate, and for Manhattan Borough President. In that State Senate run, 2014, NYSUT (really the UFT) shamefully endorsed his opponent

NYSUT and UFT endorsements recently have been horrid – they neither pick winners, nor people who have our interests at heart. If a NYC writer was going to create a parody of a hapless PAC, they would model it on us. Dumb, and Lousy. But back in 2014 the UFT was better at picking winners… even when they didn’t represent our interests. It was a different sort of bad endorsement policy. Smart and Bad. Robert Jackson was not the only bad endorsement that year. They also went with Andrew Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout.

And how bad was Cuomo? Just a few months later the UFT was building a rally – against Cuomo personally.

I went to that rally. UFT-endorsed Cuomo was the villain. Adriano Espaillat, who the UFT endorsed against Robert Jackson, was a no-show. But I saw a student of mine, an Alum, Audrey Bleier – I said thank you. Zephyr Teachout, not really the UFT’s style, but who would have been better for our interests, obviously, then scumbag Cuomo, was there. I said thank you. And Robert Jackson, who the UFT abandoned, who the UFT helped defeat despite everything he had done for education, he was there. He was there for the schools and the kids and for his principles, despite the UFT organizers’ very poor manners. And I thanked him.

And then I wrote about it. And when I saw Robert’s email on Wednesday, celebrating his victory and acknowledging his volunteers, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I thought about seeing him on that cold March day in 2015, which I wrote about with those very words: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Anti-progressives in today’s NY primaries

August 23, 2022 pm31 1:57 pm

The New York Times. Centrists. Mainstream Democrats. Moderates. Those with their hands out for big real estate donations, and with their back pockets stuffed by insurance companies. The Anti-Progressives.

They took it on the chin in 2018 – with a wave of progressives winning office. In the NY State Senate the “IDC” – Democrats who kept the Republicans in control – were mostly swept away. In the Bronx, Jeff Klein. In Manhattan, Marisol Alcantara. Tony Avella in Queens. Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta in Brooklyn. The newcomers – Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, John Liu, Zelnor Myrie, and Jessica Ramos – made a dramatic change in how the State Senate did business. In congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won, followed two years later by Jamaal Bowman.

Of course the biggest kick in the teeth came when they lost their governor. Andrew Cuomo had worked diligently to stop progressive legislation for years, making sleazy deals with the republicans and their IDC allies. He got away with killing old people during the pandemic, and stealing from the taxpayers to write his book – book when sexual harassment and assault charges came out, he was through.

The New York Times, Big Real Estate and the Centrists – the Anti-Progressives – were not happy. And today they are trying to take back some ground. They have poured money and endorsements into several races, to stop progressive candidates from being on November’s ballot. Here are four races I am watching, four progressives the swamp is trying to bring down:

Robert Jackson

Jackson has been one of the fiercest advocates for public education in New York City since his famed 150 mile walk on Albany in 2003 for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. He has remained an amazing advocate, and marched on Albany a second time. A Lion for Education – I think I called him that, and I meant it. His commitment never wavered, even when the UFT screwed him over, screwed all NYers over, by supporting the IDC against him.

This election the IDC, risen from the grave, is supporting Angel Vasquez, a former aide to an IDC State Senator. Vasquez’s endorsements come along two vectors 1) identity politics (he’s Dominican) and 2) IDC supporters, such as Jeffrey Dinowitz’s son.

Jackson has support of progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party and some politicians. Importantly, the unions, including the UFT, stayed with him. He is the favorite – but this is a low turnout election – please go out and cast your vote for Robert Jackson!

Gustavo Rivera

Gustavo was already a state senator when the IDC got smashed up – but he was on the right side. He is the sponsor of single payer health care in New York State. There is no doubt that he counts as “progressive.” With late redistricting came some surprises – the biggest was that most of Gustavo’s current district was being connected to the Riverdale district (that was Guy Vellela’s, then Jeff Klein’s, now Alessandra Biaggi’s). And Gustavo’s house falls a couple blocks from the border. With Biaggi off running for congress, Gustavo decided to run to continue to represent most of his constituents. But the Bronx machine, including former supporters of Klein and the IDC, saw an opportunity. They put up one of their own, Miguelina Camilo, to oppose Rivera.

The endorsements are split. Dark money is heading to Camilo. The UFT is sticking with Gustavo. In a regular election I’d make him the favorite. But in a low turnout election, where will the vote turn out? The Dinowitzes think they can turn out Riverdale against Gustavo. Can they? It will be close, Gustavo’s internals have him with better than a 10 point lead, but the real numbers are probably much closer, and it could come down to a very tight margin.

Please go out and cast your vote for Gustavo Rivera!

Alessandra Biaggi

Alessandra slew the disgusting dragon. She took Jeff Klein’s seat. And not only did she fight for and win legislation related to women’s issues, she became a true progressive champion, on health care, on taxes, on corruption, on fairness. And then she led the charge against a bigger, even more corrupt sleaze: Andrew Cuomo.

And with original redistricting she was drawn out of her State Senate District, and into a weird 3rd CD North Shore of Long Island + City Island and a few Westchester Shore Towns congressional district, which the incumbent, Tom Suozzi, was vacating, and she decided to go for it. And then when there was re-redistricting, and CD3 no longer had any Westchester, and she looked north.

Now, this part is not IDC. There are two districts, side by side, running north of the city. Mondaire Jones, progressive, has one, and Sean Maloney, anti-progressive, has the other. 17 and 18. And with redistricting, 17 was going to be safe, and 18 was going to be a fight. And Maloney put himself ahead of party, and with strong anti-progressive backing, decided to run in 17, where Jones was living and serving. Wonder why the NY Times didn’t question Maloney essentially handing over the 18th? Yeah, we don’t ask that question. Maloney is powerful within the House leadership, and Jones, quite cowardly, backed down in the face of the bully.

Biaggi saw her spot. She has already slain a disgusting dragon. She led the charge against a second. She is not a coward. She is challenging Maloney. This one is a longer shot. But she needs your support.

Yuh-Line Niou

In a crowded field, the clear progressive. And so dark money and mainstream anti-progressives have been claiming that all of the candidates are the same. And they have been openly backing the most centrist, gazillionaire Dan Goldman. Goldman happens to be friends with the family of the publishers of the NY Times.

And they have been quietly propping up the mainstream/liberals to better divide the vote. They are hoping a three-way divide of the progressive vote will allow Goldman to “win” with under 30%.

There is no question that Yuh-Line is the clear progressive, a clear leader, the clear choice. She has a strong record as a city council person. She has the WFP endorsement. She has been a clear voice for immigrants. And I’ve seen her up here in the Bronx.

In the 10th congressional district primary, every vote will count. Please cast your vote for Yuh-Line Niou.

The Garden in Photos

July 16, 2022 am31 10:38 am

My school has a small garden. Had. One of our teachers, Tony, now retired, made it a project, starting in 2006. He, or the horticulture club, or the environmental club, planted it and tended it. There were at various times vegetables, and flowers. There was a lot of ground cover. They were looking for biodiversity. There was a butterfly bush dedicated to Yvonne Fiorello, our first Biology teacher. There is a tree dedicated to the principal’s late father. There are raspberry and blackberry bushes, that, at least until a week ago, yielded quite nicely. There is a bench dedicated to Angelina Wills, 2008. Sadly, we dedicated another to Steven Nuñez, 2015. There were ferns, and trees and flowers. Flagstones, benches, a birdhouse… Each year, or so it seemed, Tony pushed the borders of the garden further and further. Things grew in the garden, but the garden itself was growing. Was.

The garden was beautiful, and relaxing, an oasis. It was lush. I hope that someone finds a way to restore it, to reverse the damage the Department of Education did.

Winter Storm, 2010

Planting, 2008

Dedicating Angelina WIlls’ Memorial Bench
Yours truly. This ran in the Wall Street Journal

Graduation, 2022

Some shots from during the pandemic

And today

A clever classroom revolt

July 3, 2022 am31 1:03 am

I had a very clever classroom revolt one day in 2009. I wrote it up. This a rerun of that post.  It is from 12½ years ago. I called it “A very geeky school.”

I changed the kids’ names – but they’ve all long graduated. “Kelly” was actually Walt – get it? Like Walt Kelly? Pogo? Anyway I think Walt just finished law school. The ringleader? I’m not sure who it was. But I’ll guess Sam, with Jake and Nathan participating. They were all class of 2011, and juniors at the time. 

The math teacher entered the room yesterday, first period, and the kids were already seated. I saw (I’m the math teacher) that they had slightly rearranged the desks leaving the front a bit further back than it would normally be. I also noticed that of the two boys I have lately kept near the front, because they focus better and distract their neighbors less, one was a bit further than usual, but Kelly was all the way in the seat he loves in the very back. Bit of banter with the class as I note their creativity and yes, the day before vacation is not yet vacation and we are doing work, and I notice Kelly already off-task a bit, and rather than wait for a minor disruption to develop, I suggest he should move forward.

Now, the kids who get moved up front don’t like it much, but I make sure they have the same opportunities to answer questions, interact with peers (though I control which ones) and they actually benefit. Just Tuesday I noted that after fussing about his seat, Kelly did substantially more work than he usually does, and was faster to get some challenging material, answering more questions, etc.

But of the ones who don’t like sitting forward, Kelly likes it the least, and has complained that he is being punished (not true, but I’m sure in his teenaged brain, that’s the way he perceives it). And he’s not loud, but he does articulate for his classmates that he doesn’t want to be up front. We all know.

And, pretty much everyone in this class likes everyone else, or in the rare instance, tolerates everyone else. Kelly likes and is liked. So the kids feel his “suffering.”

By the way, this sounds like a bad story about a kid. I barely write about my school, and I don’t tell bad kid stories. Keep reading.

So, before I interrupted my thought process, I wrote: “I notice Kelly already off-task a bit, and rather than wait for a minor disruption to develop, I suggest he should move forward

Kelly, why don’t you move forward?

And Mario, next to him stands up, and says “I am Kelly!”

And across the room another stands: “I am Kelly.” More students rise: “I am Kelly” “I am Kelly”… and another and another.

When I stopped laughing I asked them about the movie. Only a few had seen it. We talked briefly about the story, and then, even though they are only wrapping up the New Deal in their US History classes, we spoke briefly about the context, about blacklisting, naming names, and Dalton Trumbo. When they got tired of history, we started some math.

And Kelly got to stay in the back.

There should be more to the story. Walt had not been too fond of me, but after that day he seemed to like my class, and frankly me, better. We spoke some. I taught all four of these guys the next year. And I ended up writing Walt’s – and the others’ –  college recommendations.

I also should have provided a link to the scene from Spartacus.

The movie’s writer, Dalton Trumbo, has been jailed for refusing to name names during the witchhunt. Released, he was blacklisted, but continued to write using pseudonym’s or fronts. It is fully appropriate that the first movie to have Trumbo’s name on it in a decade has this most dramatic of refusing-to-name-names scenes.

Subbing

July 1, 2022 am31 9:46 am

It was 1996. I was finishing the last bit of my degree. After a checkered college career I was earning a BA in Geology. And I didn’t know what to do next. My current job, a “research cartographer” at Hagstrom was interesting and fun and there were good people, but the pay? Couldn’t stay.

My uncle was still in Brooklyn. “What are you going to do?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you teach?” “I don’t want to teach.” “What other prospects do you have? You might as well try.”

My degree was done January 1997. I told Terri, my supervisor at Hagstrom that I was leaving. She asked for a letter. I wrote a full heading, and closing – but the text was “I resign effective February 1.” Not quite “The Bronx / No thonks” but pretty short.

I finished my licensing to become a PPT (don’t remember the details, but they were all at Court Street, mostly in the big waiting room to the left as we walked in, and the exciting stuff was in the dark cubicles behind the “information/don’t pass this point” desk), and then…

I wrote to schools, about a dozen I recall, inquiring about mid year openings, or openings for next year. Some academic comprehensive high schools near me. Also one in Manhattan. And some alternative schools. I liked the “idea” of alternative schools, without knowing a thing about them. And some schools with specialties that were not math.

I had an interesting conversation with an AP or the principal at a portfolio school in Manhattan – but that conversation went nowhere. I visited MLK in Manhattan and spent some time with the math AP, talking, observing classes. He showed me an orderly boring class. And he showed me a chaotic class, but where the chaos was kids running around doing math. It was a test. I passed. But there was no opening. I got an interview at Lehman HS. Long story short, math AP seemed to like me, Leder looked at me for about 90 seconds and walked out.

And I got a job at Sylvan Learning Center. Tutoring was something like teaching, right? Well, it turns out, just sort of. But for about-to-be-a-teacher me it felt like the right direction. I was employee of the month one month, and I used that mug until it cracked a few years later.

And I guess when I wrote to schools about jobs I also offered to sub. But I need to step back, just a second. To be able to sub, I needed to be nominated. No problem – that uncle? He had a friend who had been a Bronx alternative school principal, and whose husband was an AP at an alternative school in Manhattan. He was actually sitting in the first building I worked in for the Department of Transportation. And he signed my nomination. So when I contacted schools about jobs, I also must have told them I could sub. And the system always needs subs. The schools needed subs. The calls started.

The first call came from DeWitt Clinton HS. Walking distance. I don’t remember much more than being intimidated by the massive building and throngs of students. I got sent to the math department, where I got a piece of paper with a list of classes, and not much else. Was the woman’s name Mary? I don’t remember. But my first class! It was a computer science class, and they didn’t want a sub with the computers, so I was to meet the students in front of the locked classroom in the “Tower” and escort them to the balcony of the auditorium. There were only ten students there. A boy approached, offered to guide me to the balcony. The hallway was so crowded! But we reached the balcony, and I looked around – the other nine students, I’d lost them! “What happened?” “They left. And me too, I’m going now, mister.” If that scene is the blur, the rest of the day is a blur of a blur. I don’t remember leaving.

The next call was from Christopher Columbus. Actually, that’s walking distance, too, but I hadn’t figured that out yet. Columbus was huge compared to the high school where I had been a student, but much smaller than Clinton. At Columbus they saw I was interested in Science or Math, and pretty exclusively put me in those classes. For a few weeks I would wait each morning – call from Columbus, or a call from Clinton. One snowy day I had an assignment at Columbus and three more schools called.

And then all my assignments started to be at Columbus. The sub coordinator, Tony Brito, started calling me very early. I had made my way up to #2 on the list. Why? Not sure. Young, presentable, showed up? The woman from Clinton called another morning, and I explained that Columbus was calling early…

By the way, going from unemployed to a job with lousy pay, to over $100/day for subbing? I was liking that part, a lot. I started to catch up on my bills.

Most days at Columbus I had math or science classes, but when there wasn’t one of those to cover, they would use me somewhere. But I wasn’t the #1 sub. There was no doubt who the #1 was – a retired cop named Werdann. I can still see his face. Tall, or at least much taller than me. Family of officers. A PS/MS around the corner from me is named after his brother, George, who was killed in the line of duty. One day down at Foley Square there was some odd activity, and I stopped to ask a court office what was going on. I noticed the name below his badge. Werdann. Another brother it turned out.

Most of my work consisted of giving out worksheets, taking attendance, and trying to use my physical presence as a deterrent to mayhem. But the building? There was a “tone” that made things tough. Kids lied about their names, cut when a sub showed. The hallways had lots of kids wandering, at lots of times. But there were also classes with math or science things that I could help with, or at least talk about. A few kids started saying hi – or remembered me from previous coverages. That made me feel good.

One day the APO called the math coordinator – there was a math teacher out on suspension – the coordinator had not thought of me, but the APO had – and they arranged for me to cover his program. A Sequential I (or Course 1) class (NY State’s integrated course with mostly algebra, at the time) for kids close to being on grade level. Another Course 1, – a late in the day class. Most of those kids were taking it for the second or third time. Actually, most never came to class. I remember some of those faces, and the afternoon light in the room. Maybe it was 437 or 439? The students who came kept coming – it actually was a chill room, where it felt like we didn’t get much done, but what we got done was actual progress. Who knows. I remember looking at the sheets that showed up in my mail box – some of those kids were born in the late 70s…

At that time Columbus (and probably most of the Bronx) was starting some freshmen in Course 1, but was starting others in “Presequential” – essentially pre-algebra. The book had gold and white stripes. And the schools were deciding that starting in Presequential put kids at a disadvantage. My last two classes were also Course 1s, for freshmen who might have been on the Course 1/Presequential bubble. They met, between them, three periods a day, 7 or 8 periods a week each. These rooms were wild, out of control.

Think about it. Taking students who struggled with math, trying to advance them – noble, right? But Columbus was running multiple massive sorting operations. And the strongest teachers in the department, and the most challenging classes – they never got near each other. Things got sorted out. Separated. If you know what I mean. So not a great situation? Add to that that they had already had subs for a while. Just imagine. These classes took up 60% of my day, and 90% of my energy. And stress.

These were freshmen, who had not learned that Columbus (wink wink) did not do anything about cutting. So they were there. Most days. I mean there was high absenteeism. But there was relatively high attendance. I did try to teach. I did try to follow some sort of curriculum that had been handed to me. But I had no experience. I did not have classroom presence. Sometimes I raised my voice, which was effectively an admission of failure for that day. I didn’t know what I was doing.

Three girls in particular, they saw how easy it was to push my buttons, and made it their mission. They drove me nuts. Let’s start with them trading names, so I never knew who was who. They were loud, they interrupted, they tried to rev the other kids up. One day I made a cutting comment, not with raised voice, that was very effective. Except, that’s not what a teacher should do. I was an adult, and I think I hurt one of them. That was terrible. Years later I met that student again. She was an adult. I apologized, but she laughed it off, “crazy class.” I met another one of the three – but the story is embarrassing (for her), so not telling. And never encountered the third again.

This haunts me, though. I want to remember things I did, and there’s lots that is interesting or creative or kind or fun, but I can’t forget. I certainly wasn’t the nicest, not all the time, but actually mean? This time. And there was one more time, years later. I do know how to find that student. But I don’t know what to say. Those are the two that stay with me.

I kept covering “my” program for weeks and weeks. Once the coordinator called me in – I had to keep a better eye on the room. It was 448 he was talking about. There were piles of red Course 1 softcovers in the courtyard – he thought students in my class had gingerly slipped them out the window. I don’t know – I didn’t see it – but I didn’t see much. It was probably my class. But mostly things went okay. I tried to teach math, and I wasn’t very good, but I wasn’t horrible.

And then the teacher came back. He marched into the room where I was preparing to take attendance and said “this is my class” and motioned for me to leave. And I did. Gerri told me later that she wanted to let me finish the class, so she could tell me. But that’s not what happened. She did tell me to come back every morning, no need for a call. And I did.

I kept coming to Columbus, every day, for the rest of the spring. I worked through Regents. I met department members. I approached the Chapter Leader, signed a card, and joined COPE. He was surprised, but pleased, and it made an impression. (My uncle, himself a three-term chapter leader, complained that Chapter Leaders have to hunt down members who haven’t joined, so I should make their life easy and just sign up.) When it was time for chapter elections, I helped the election guy, Larry Pendergast, with some of the mechanics. He was one of the younger history teachers – all in their uniforms of white shirts, tie, and slacks. I’ve run into him since, many times, as he rose through the ranks. AP. Principal. Some other stuff. He was in my school this spring for something, and I was so delighted to see him. People don’t rise through the ranks that way anymore, not many, not enough. In my mind he’s still a teacher, still one of us…

The year drew to a close. The Principal, Gerry Garfin, told me he did not have a math opening at that point, but there was a good chance for the fall. “Thank you!” But, he suggested, he could land me a job at a middle school, and that school would release me if Columbus had an opening. “No, not a middle school.” Even the idea of middle school terrified me.

And so I was off for the summer. No summer pay. No job (at some point in the spring I had quit Sylvan). But a strange 40 or 50 or 60 or so days of “teaching” experience, and a foot in the door of a local high school.

How Many Union Offices?

June 29, 2022 am30 12:15 am

How many union positions have I held?

I was a delegate from Columbus High School. That was maybe from 1998 – 2002? I was a consultation committee member there at the same time. I was deputy chapter leader from 2000-2002.

In 2002 I moved to American Studies (that’s when it opened) and I became Chapter Leader. In 2008 I was added to the UFT Executive Board, and then I was reelected in 2010, 2013, and 2016. I was not reelected in 2019.

And today? How many union offices do I hold today?

High School Vice President

High School teachers chose me to be their Vice President in May. I got most of their votes. But I did not win. Let me explain.

This Spring I ran in the United Federation of Teachers election. I ran for High School Vice President. I lost. The Unity Candidate, Janella Hinds, received 66%. I got 34%. That’s a little less than two-to-one. Actually, it’s a pretty good result for a non-Unity candidate, perhaps the best… since… hmm.

So you can see the numbers. I see the numbers. How can I claim I got more votes? Actually, I don’t claim I got more votes. I claim I got more high school votes. I did.

In 1985 Michael Shulman of New Action beat the Unity candidate, George Altomare, for High School Vice President. When Unity took the seat back they started playing with the constitution. And eventually what they came up with was what you see above – we do not run for “HS Vice President” but for “Vice President At-Large/High School (Academic)”. That “At-Large” business is so that elementary teachers participate in the selection of the HS Vice President. Elementary supports Unity. (or at least it has, up to now). High School does not support Unity.

So among all voters – mostly not high school voters, I received 34%. But in the high schools?

There were 2,508 slate votes for United for Change in the high schools. Most of those are academic high schools. And most of those votes are mine. Unity had 1,981. Most of those are Janella’s. There were perhaps a total of 200-250 non-slate votes. Those would not have made a difference. I got more high school votes. I got around 56% of the high school vote, and lost to someone who got about 44%.

I’m not challenging the election results. I knew what the rules were going in. Unity followed correct procedures in transforming the VPs from representing a division, to being “at large.” But I am challenging Unity’s moral compass. This is one of many seats they control. But because they might lose it in a fair election, they made the rules unfair so they can continue to control it.

If this were a borough-wide election, and the Bronx was going the “wrong way,” would Mulgrew try to change the rules to get Manhattanites to participate in Bronx elections? Because that’s kind of what he does when he has elementary teachers vote for the HS VP.

This is a naked power grab. They know the rules are anti-democratic. They know this is essentially the same garbage the republicans pull all over the country. It is an internal union equivalent of voter suppression. Taking what is not yours because you can and no one can stop you – no need to characterize that.

So yup, I got the most high school votes in the race for High School Vice President. But winning more votes is not enough. I do not hold that office.

Chapter Leader

This one neither.

I served on the consultation committee, as deputy chapter leader, and as delegate at Christopher Columbus HS in the Bronx. That was from 1997 – 2002. And then I transferred to a new school in September 2002. I became Chapter Leader. And I held that position, twenty full years, until today.

Twenty years, by the way, is a good chunk of time. I was the longest-serving high school chapter leader in the city. I have no idea who the new longest-serving hs chapter leader will be – but I’m willing to bet they have about half my years.

And Chapter Leadering is hard, without compensation. It’s just something those of us who do it, do.

I announced my resignation to my members two weeks ago. And it was going to be effective Thursday, but I made it at the end of the day today. Here’s the letter I typed (and yes, that is my lousy typing):

How Many?

So how many union offices do I hold today? Not Chapter Leader. Not HS VP.

Zero.

The Day They Applauded

June 25, 2022 pm30 11:00 pm

Every teacher should have one of these. I wrote this eleven and a half years ago: 

This year I teach calculus. For the first time. Never wanted it – less challenging since the kids can already do math. Ugly pressure from yet another standardized test (Advanced Placement). And I kind of liked the electives, and liked the challenge of the younger kids.

But here I am, knee-deep in dy and dx and all that fancy sort of stuff. Since I’m teaching AP, I must be smart? Not particularly. But it is the last math course in my school, the only one I haven’t taught.

About three weeks ago a moment had arrived. We had played with finding the slope of a tangent line to a curve at a point. And with limits. And with all the other little pieces. We were ready to find the derivative of a function, using the definition. More than ready. I had delayed them two or three days.

So there we were, with ten minutes left in a class, finding for the first time the slope of the tangent line not at a particular point, but at any point. I made them give me each step. “Oh, no!” I panicked, each time we hit an obstacle, “We’re stuck!” and each time someone in the class would point out that we had already resolved that situation in a previous lesson, and told me what to do.

“Oh no, there’s only five minutes left!” “Oh no, we’re not close enough to x!” “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”

As I pushed faster and further, I got more panicky. “Oh no!” I shouted, again and again. “Oh no! Zero over zero, we’re stuck!” “You can factor” a chorus responded. And as I panicked they found the value of the limit, and an expression popped out. And I rapidly exclaimed: Now we know the slope of the tangent, not at one specific point, but at any point on the graph!

It was a speed drill, with the kids playing along 100%. A clear derivation sat on the board. “Ladies and gentlemen” I gasped “the period is not quite done, but I am” I leaned on the table in front of me, and caught my breath.

And then I heard a sound, something hitting something else. And it repeated, and multiplied.

Better teachers than me have gone through whole careers without getting applause for a lesson. It took me two days to wipe the grin off my face.

Graduation 2007

June 24, 2022 pm30 10:32 pm

This is a reprise of a 15 year old post. We (HSAS, my school) graduated our 17th class today. When this post was written, I had just spoken to our second class of graduates.

This year I was asked by the senior class to give the keynote address. Here is the prepared text (though I deviated from it quite a bit)

Class of 2007, as I look out at your faces, at your caps and gowns, I see before me doctors and lawyers, architects and engineers, teachers and businesspeople.

But that’s not enough.

(much more below the fold —>) Read more…

The beginning

June 20, 2022 pm30 10:41 pm

In 1994 work was ok – it was interesting, flexible, I liked the people. I liked my supervisor, Pat. Rich and Elliot were friendly and funny. Seth was smart. Stuey, too. Smart. And funny. There were others, lots of characters. And I liked the office – primo view of Brooklyn Heights, with the Coast Guard ferry blaring its horn every so often. I want to say every 20 minutes, but it wasn’t THAT often.

I didn’t have a degree, and wasn’t in school. I’d left my most recent college after the fall of 1991. I kind of knew what I was doing at work – but I either was making it up, or asking others. There was a lot of math. And spreadsheets. Though I don’t think Excel existed yet. I was pretty good at Minesweeper.

I’d gotten the job 8 years earlier. Late Spring, 1986. My uncle talked to me then. I was new to New York. And like many who’ve adopted the city as their own, I fell in love with it. Or parts of it. And in particular, though I was a young man, I was still a boy, and the trains held great attraction. I went everywhere on them. So my uncle helped get me a job. He had a connection. I went to work for the New York City Department of Transportation. It wasn’t the trains, but it was cool. My first real NYC summer job. And then it was the fall, and they asked if I would work the same hours in the fall. It wasn’t a summer job.

Another tangent – the particular agency within NYCDOT was new. It was 1986, and there had been quite a bit of angst over the Koch scandals, which hit DOT hard. Remember Wedtech? And the Parking Ticket computers? Well, there was more than that. Tony Amoruso, the recently ex Commissioner, was out on his ass, due to another scandal, involving private ferries and land for a parking lot, and perjury. And clusters of friends were being shuffled across the five boroughs. So I was walking into a new office, at a time when it was not just me and the office that were new. Reorganization. Shift the deck chairs. My chair was at 51 Chambers. I liked that chair.

Fast forward. It’s now 1994 and I’m doing ok. And having some fun. Still liked the people. But the pay wasn’t great. My projects weren’t going anywhere. I wasn’t all that attached. In more ways than one. I was relatively newly single again.

And it’s 1994, and Giuliani is in office. And my uncle’s connection had moved to another, cleaner metropolis. And the people I knew who could protect me – not any more. And I didn’t know what reorganization or shuffling would come, and if I was safe. Plus, no degree. Being cute (if I was) wasn’t going to save me.

So when Giuliani’s people offered a buyout for a few grand, I thought it over, and said yes. Looking back, it was peanuts. But we don’t get to look back and change our past mind. I took the buyout. It came with 9 months or a year unemployment. I went back to school. And then the unemployment ran out, and I picked up a shitty receptionist job in SoHo. And I quit that, and got a job making maps. Hagstrom. Cool work. But the pay. Ouch.

And now it was 1996 and I was finishing the last bit of my degree. Math? Nope. In my checkered college career I had been a math major. And physics. And Русский язык и Русская литература. But fourth time’s the charm – I was finishing up with a BA in Geology. With Honors.

My uncle was still in Brooklyn. “What are you going to do?” “I don’t know.” I was good with the maps, but I had taken a pretty big pay cut. Started maybe at $18k. Now at $21k, or $22k? I forget, but it wasn’t enough, despite how awesomely cool it is to make up my own streets and put them onto maps.

“What are you going to do?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you teach?” My uncle had been at a middle school in Brownsville. And at Jefferson. He transferred to Murrow in the second year of that school’s existence, and loved it and taught interesting things and was even chapter leader for a few terms. Now he was retired, but still teaching literature classes for senior citizens.

“Why don’t you teach?” “I don’t want to teach.” “Do you have any other prospects?”

And so it began. February 1997.

The Retiree Vote

June 20, 2022 pm30 6:03 pm

The May results from the United Federation of Teachers elections seem clear:

  • Unity won overall, but with a lower percent than in the past
  • The united opposition won the high schools (not a big surprise) and came fairly close in the middle schools (not a big surprise for me, but it may have been for others).

Analysis of in-service vote totals also seems clear:

Retirees

But I have intentionally set aside the retiree vote. It is more complicated in 2022. There’s a few structural reasons:

  • Retirees are not involved in day to day union decisions. They are not (for the most part) in schools or classrooms. Arguments about MOSL or mayoral control are, for the most part, do not move retirees.
  • Retirees (I strongly believe) continue to vote or not vote, according to whether they voted or did not vote in the last election before they retired. (Turnout among retirees is inelastic.)
  • Retirees who vote continue to vote for the same group they voted for before they retired. (Preference among retirees is not elastic.)
  • The retiree voting pool shifts differently than in-service members. I will in the near future retire. I will join the Retired Teachers Chapter (RTC). I will start voting in UFT elections, probably as I have voted in past elections. And at some point, I hope several decades in the future, I will pass on.

There’s also more data:

  • There are retiree-wide elections in addition to the UFT’s general elections – the Retired Teacher Chapter (RTC) holds a full slate vote the spring before. I have data from 2018 and 2021.

And there’s something new for 2021-2022, the eight-hundred pound gorilla that Unity let into the room:

  • Medicare. Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage Plus. Mulgrewcare. For the first time – perhaps ever – there was an issue on the table that moved retirees.

The Data

A note: Retiree votes are “capped” by the UFT Constitution. It is weird (it is) that members who are not in-service have such a large say over what happens to members in service. Conversely, when there are big retiree issues – which are rare – but Medicare! – that’s when retirees should have much more of a say. In any case, even the writers of the UFT constitution (Unity) know it would look weird for retirees to dominate the voting. So they created a “cap.” Up through 2010, if retiree votes exceeded 18,000, then they would be scaled down to 18,000. Unity, which we think of as having a “lock” on retiree votes, raised the cap to 23,500 for the 2013 election.

For 2004 and 2007 I have the vote totals after the cap was applied. That means that the percentages are correct, but the raw numbers were proportionately a bit higher.

Here’s the percents:

Here’s the numbers (remember 2004 and 2007 I have scaled, no actual)

And here are the RTC 2018 and 2021 numbers and percents:

The graph initially looks a bit of a jumble:

By combining all non-Unity votes, things smooth out. We have 6 stable cycles.

Including the RTC numbers makes it look like there are jumps – but really it’s just that turnout is a bit lower for RTC elections. (although not that much lower)

Since there is overall stability, looking at percents is not misleading.

In fact now we see what we thought: Unity has won 82% – 89% of the retiree vote, until now. And they have usually been in the upper half of that range. They fell to 70-71 when the Medicare Advantage Plan was announced. They lost votes in the RTC election that Spring. Retiree Advocate members said that word had barely gotten out, and expected another jump this election. That didn’t happen. News about Medicare had an immediate impact on retirees who heard about it, and we seem to have seen most of that shift immediately, in the RTC 2021 election.

A little refinement: Since we have two RTC elections’ worth of data, can that be analyzed? It’s not really enough for deep analysis. But after the 2018 RTC, Unity vote rose 34% and after 2021 it only rose 19%. That’s about 2500 missing votes. So there is some additional underperformance on the Unity side in 2022 that this chart does not capture.

Some Guesses

What does it mean? I see Unity having “lost” 2600 votes in the RTC election in 2021, and another 1000 in this Spring’s election. United for Change/Retiree Advocate seems to have picked up about 3000 votes in the 2021 RTC election, and another 1000 or so this Spring.

Unlike the other divisions, there were a significant number of retirees who switched sides. There are also Unity voters who chose not to vote. And there were first time voters who voted for Retiree Advocate or UfC (and against Unity). I do not think there is enough evidence in the numbers to know how many Unity voters sat it out, how many switched sides, and how many votes RA/UfC picked up that were new voters, and how many we captured from Unity.

As a guess? Retiree Advocate and United for Change may have pulled in 2000 new votes, and taken 2000 votes from former Unity voters. Unity may have had about 1600 who did not send in ballots. Or it could be 1000 new and 3000 switches, with 600 Unity voters not voting. It’s hard to know without more data. Anecdotally, I know a significant number of first time voters voting for United for Change, and I know over a dozen former Unity voters who first time voted against Unity. I only know 2 Unity voters who did not vote. But my sample? These are people I know. Not a random sample.

Medicare Advantage – Lasting Impact?

More data, which will come with future elections, may reveal more of the picture. Future elections will also help us understand how permanent these changes are. Will retirees drift back to Unity? Or has their faith in the leadership been not only shaken, but broken?

For over a generation UFT retirees have not been strongly motivated to vote. What Bloomberg did to the schools did not affect retirees. Those with a strong political agenda – perhaps aligned with New Action, voted that way. Those with connections – perhaps a current or former job, or deep friendships and relationships within Unity, voted that way. But the understanding, the deal – retirees did not have to worry because the union would forever protect their pensions and their healthcare – that deal seems to have been broken.

Can Unity drop Medicare Advantage Plus, and convince retirees that this was all a misunderstanding? Can Unity force Medicare Advantage through, and will retirees find that the cuts are not so bad? (I can’t see that happening). Is there a way for Unity to win back the trust they violated? Those questions remain open.

Why Give Regents Exams?

May 29, 2022 am31 12:03 am

Set US Regents aside. Here’s a better question: Why give Regents at all?

The US History Regents – a New York State graduation requirement, was cancelled last week. It had to do with a problematic question. Here’s Chancellor Betty Rosa’s official explanation. As I explained, the explanation falls way short.

But why any Regents. This could just be a question about your attitude to tests. I don’t like tests. That guy there likes them. We disagree. And I don’t like them, in general. But that’s a facile response. Let’s ask a real question.

Why give a test? Why take a test? 

Each test we give, or we take, there is some reason. 

We take driving tests so we can have a license. We take the SATs (or we used to) so we can submit scores to colleges, who consider them (or used to). We take AP exams (or we used to) to earn college credit (not it appears that most students take them without hope of earning credit, but in order to impress colleges that they took a hard course).

Teachers give quizzes to watch for progress on specific skills. We give unit tests to assess mastery of a unit of study. (Don’t get me started on pre-tests. No teacher who is not brain-washed would ever voluntarily waste children’s time and cause such angst if it were up to us). And we give final exams to measure cumulative knowledge of a course of study.

Students do not say “I’d rather not learn today. Can we have a test?” And teachers do not easily give up class time for teaching and learning. Teachers generally have a specific goal in mind when we give tests (did they learn the difference of perfect squares) or objective (have they gotten more familiar with regents-type questions). No teacher I have ever met has said “I don’t feel like teaching today. Let me give a test” or “reason? no reason. I just felt like giving it to them.”

But this “why are you giving this test?” question, the Regents fails that test.

It was different before. Regents exams were required for a subset of New York State students who were earning an academic diploma – many students were earning other types of diplomas – mostly “local.” The Regents exams were course completion exams – a way of norming the more academic courses across the state. The Regents measured your cumulative knowledge of a coherent course of study.

Regents for all? – gonna need new tests

When New York State made Regents Diplomas the only option for the vast majority of New York State students – that changed. Pouring students who a few years earlier would not have been looking for Regents diplomas into Regents track changed the world. Either many of those students would have great difficulty succeeding, or the tests would have to become easier to pass. Which would mean that the tests would need to change.

New York State claimed they were changing how teachers taught – but in the spirit of “watch what they do, not what they say” – they made the claim while they were replacing the old tests with new tests that more students would pass. 

New York State rapidly moved to standards-based testing – and wherever you stand on standards-based testing – that doesn’t matter for this conversation. New York State went to standards-based testing because it reduced the content knowledge required to pass each test. 

The three math exams had already been going through a strange transformation, as algebra, geometry and trig were replaced with integrated courses: Course I, Course II, and Course III, none of which presented students with a full-year coherent course of study. Integrated math was almost two decades old when everyone was pushed to get Regents diplomas.

The two “advanced” math exams and the advanced science exams (chemistry and physics) changed the least. These (esp physics and chem) are still somewhat culminating exams from a full year coherent course of study – and they may play something like the role that Regents used to play in general.

Commencement Level

But five exams are now “commencement level” exams – that is, graduation requirements: Algebra, one Science (usually Earth Science or Living Environment), Global History, US History, and English. 

These are gate-keepers – they measure whether or not the student should be granted a high school diploma. But wait, isn’t each exam tied to a course? So each exam measures learning from a coherent full year (or 2-year, in the case of Global) course of study. But no – Algebra is no longer a coherent course. And English is not tied to a course. So these measure readiness to graduate?

Let’s think, for a moment, the math we would expect a high school graduate to be able to do. Almost none of it is on the Algebra Regents. So – “commencement level” – nah, just doesn’t make sense. And it is not anchored in a coherent course. The Algebra regents does not measure mastery of Algebra – So what is the exam? And if we do not know what it is – is it a commencement level measure of knowing enough math to function in society – nope – it is course end exam to measure mastery of algebra – nope – So if we do not know what it is, why give it?

That’s the easiest. But there is no evidence that ANY of these five exams measure what we should expect of a high school graduate. Nor do any (except perhaps Living Environment) measure mastery of the material from a coherent course. 

Why give Regents?

If we do not know what we are trying to measure, then why give the test?

If we want “commencement level” exams, then let’s decide what students should know, as a minimum, when they graduate – and build assessments – tests if they have to be – that measure those skills and that knowledge. If we want course mastery exams, then let’s replace what New York State currently mandates with coherent courses.

My first guess? Right where we started – I don’t think New York State should be in the business of making and administering these exams. They are lousy at it. And they cannot answer “why do we give these?”

If we give them, and they measure readiness to graduate…

By my second take – if these are “commencement level” exams, then let’s treat them as if they measure whether a student is ready graduate – and grade them more appropriately:  Yes or No. Ready to graduate, or not ready. Take away all the stress over what the score is – it doesn’t matter anyhow.

Seriously. Colleges don’t use the grades (except some CUNYs or SUNYs, and only to avoid remedial placement, and they could figure that out with some other assessment). It would simplify grading (and end most disputes over single points). It would reduce test prep in some classrooms, and return hours of instruction (that teacher would rather be doing, and that students benefit more from). Win, win, win…

Get rid of the Regents. But if we can’t dump them, at least change them into Pass / Not Yet Passing.

Was Buffalo “unexpected context”?

May 26, 2022 pm31 11:22 pm

The US History Regents – a New York State graduation requirement, was cancelled this week. A question was somehow likely to upset students just confronted with the white supremacist massacre in Buffalo. The New York State Education Department wrote “the tragedy in Buffalo has created an unexpected and unintended context” as they announced the cancellation. They are also starting the process to exempt students who would have taken this exam from this graduation requirement.

The exam was written two years ago, and shelved during the pandemic. There was apparently a question which invoked, in part, the Second Amendment.

Challenge:  The New York State Education Department, in the person of Commissioner Betty Rosa, wrote that Buffalo created an “unexpected… context.”  I am calling out their questionable honesty. Mass shootings are not an “unexpected context” in the United States, not anymore.

Challenge:  The New York State Education Department, in the person of Commissioner Betty Rosa, wrote that Buffalo created an “unexpected… context.”  I am calling out their questionable honesty. White supremacist violence against others is not an “unexpected context” in the United States. It has, tragically and sadly and infuriatingly never been unexpected here.

All history is the story of struggle and conflict. But unlike whatever was wrong in Ancient Rome or the Indus Valley, US History is with us today. The Ottoman Empire kidnapped children to become janissaries which was awful, but the practice, and then the Empire, ended. This is history. But discrimination, loss of freedom, and violence are realities that many Black people and other groups face on an ongoing basis in the United States today.

United States History is not traumatizing because someone was going to ask a bad question. It is traumatizing, for many, because someone asked a good question.

And the only way to make the study of United States history not be traumatizing is to teach the next generation not just what happened in the past, but how to change it in the future.

But how do we teach young people to change history, if we have been lousy at changing it ourselves? I’m a step ahead. The beginning is to recognize that the – we can’t call it “unexpected context” – the beginning is to recognize that the “uncomfortable context” is United States history, current politics, and conditions, themselves.

 

 

 

Protect our health care?

May 24, 2022 pm31 11:19 pm

I like emails that open with “Protect our health care.” Retirees have recently engaged in a massive struggle to protect their health care – all of our future health care. They fought against New York City, the Municipal Labor Coalition, predatory insurance companies, and Michael Mulgrew.

So I liked this morning’s email from NYSUT

But NYSUT? Andy Pallotta? Works with Mulgrew and the UFT? What do they mean by “Protecting Retiree Health Insurance?

Well, the note says

“a recent court decision potentially limits unions’ ability to protect access to health care for retired public employees across the state.”

Now, if he is referring to the recent decision that made it harder for Mulgrew to force retirees off of Medicare… But is he?

Is there another case that NYSUT is asking us to lobby to fix? Or is NYSUT asking us to lobby on behalf of the MLC, the insurance companies, and Michael Mulgrew?

Protecting Retiree Health Insurance

Unions have — for decades — fought for retiree health coverage in our courts. However, a recent court decision potentially limits unions’ ability to protect access to health care for retired public employees across the state. Our retirees need a legislative fix.

We’re simply asking for the return of the same level playing field that existed prior to this court ruling. Both unions and employers must retain their right to argue their positions around a retiree health care dispute before a court. Our state legislators can guarantee this right and reduce the risk of unnecessary disputes over retiree health insurance benefits. Everyone wins.

Our retirees depend on unions’ ability to fight for them in court. Protecting retirees means protecting this ability.

Take action now!

In solidarity,

Andrew Pallotta, NYSUT President

I am suspicious – but I do not know. This could be unrelated to our struggle to protect Medicare from Mulgrew.

Can we dig up some details?

Why do I look at total votes in UFT elections?

May 23, 2022 pm31 11:05 pm

It seems obvious that we should be focused on percents. What did Unity win by? 66% to 34%. What happened in high schools? United for Change won with 56%. Unity’s 67% was a record low for them in Elementary Schools. Yet in my analysis, I have focused on total votes, not percents. Why?

See analysis at:

If Unity and the opposition were competing for the same votes, then when Unity’s votes went up, non-Unity votes would go down, and vice versa. I claim that we are fishing for votes mostly in separate ponds – and that an opposition increase and a Unity increase can happen at the same time.

Connecticut

Just take a look at this pretty chart:

Those are Connecticut votes for president 1952 – 1988.

See the longterm upward trend? It’s there. Imagine halfway between the red and the blue. It starts around 550,000, and climbs pretty steadily to about 700,000.

Also see how the red and blue dance? When red rises, blue falls. When blue rises, red falls.

Do you see the one year that doesn’t fit? 1980. John Anderson siphoned off a bunch of votes. Raise the red dot to 810,000 and the blue to 600,000 – and there’s our pattern, clear as day:

NOT REAL

That chart is not real, but only 1980 has been altered. And there it is, gentle up slope, and red goes up when blue goes down and blue goes down when red goes up. The electorate is growing, slowly, and the Democrats and Republicans are competing for the same votes.

Notice, by the way, that Connecticut used to vote pretty differently from how it votes today.

United Federation of Teachers

Do the numbers dance? Do Unity numbers rise when non-Unity numbers fall, and vice versa, or do they move independently?

Where to begin?

The blue line drops sharply in 2007, 2013, and 2022, but only in 2022 is there a corresponding rise in the green line. The lines rise together in 2016, fall together in 2019.

Unity and non-Unity draw votes from separate pools. This is not the Connecticut map – the lines are moving independently. They are expanding and shrinking their own bases. They are not drawing votes from each other.

The blue and the green move in the same direction in five of the six year after year comparisons. However, in two of those Unity has a sharp fall while the non-Unity votes hold steady. There is no indication that the two sides are trading votes. They are fishing in separate ponds.

First of all, these lines almost always move in the same direction.

Second, look at the last three cycles. The opposition loses a ton of votes in 2019. Where do they go? Not to Unity. The opposition gains back a ton in 2022. Where did they get them from? Not Unity. During the same time period Unity’s votes stayed the same.

See how the lines rise together in 2016? They are not poaching each other’s votes. The only year they seem to dance, this year, the Unity fall was far greater than the non-Unity rise. This does not break the pattern.

Conclusion

Unity and the non-Unity groups are, for the most part, not directly competing for votes.

Opposition votes may or may not be cast. The struggle is getting people to vote.

Unity votes may or may not be cast. They are nearing a crisis because they cannot get their own people to vote. But their coming crisis is not being caused by the non-Unity groups; it is their failure to energize their own folks.

Analysis of 2022

Limiting the discussion to in-service, we now ask two questions: How did Unity do? How did United for Change do? We will answer each, without referring to the other.

How did Unity do?

Unity continued to lose voters across every in-service division. They may be leveling out in high schools. We would need more evidence to support that. But it is possible that they have hit rock bottom in this division.

How did United for Change do?

United for Change recovered from the separate caucus’ very weak showing in 2019 – but not to the level of 2016. It is not a bad election, but nor is it a major breakthrough.

Next up: analysis of retiree voting.

UFT Elections: Voting For Unity?

May 22, 2022 pm31 12:10 pm

Unity won 66% of the total vote, just shy of two-thirds, and 58% among teachers. Those are, for Unity, not good numbers, maybe horrible numbers – the lowest since I’ve been paying attention, probably the lowest since the first decade of the UFT, and maybe the lowest in the history of the UFT. But Unity also breathed a sigh of relief – sure they lost the high schools, but they have lost the high schools many times before – and they avoided losing anywhere else.

Yesterday I looked at: Voting Against Unity?

What happens if we dig deeper into Unity’s numbers? What picture do we get? Weak performance, but they survived? Or something worse?

See also:

The 2022 United Federation of Teachers election needs a closer look.

Let’s start with the percentages (which is where the superficial analysis, above, comes from), then move on to the actual VOTES that Unity retained. Finally we will consider Unity voters as a segment of all eligible voters. I will use historical data from the last seven elections, going back to 2004. And for today I will only be looking at the four in-service divisions. The retiree vote requires a separate post.

In-service percents

And a general pattern does emerge:

  • Generally down
  • a small jump in 2019, but completely reversed in 2022
  • 2022 is the lowest, in every division, for the past seven election cycles

Is it possible to create trend lines from this data? Sure.

I just don’t think this is very meaningful. The end of those trend lines, by the way, are around 2040.

Could we omit 2019 to smooth the lines? Sure, but now we are forcing data to fit the story we want it to tell. This is even less meaningful, though slightly entertaining.

Those trendlines end in 2040 – but this is now pure fantasy. These graphs are for amusement, not for serious analysis.

For serious analysis, let’s leave out the percents, and look at actual vote totals.

In-service votes

I will demonstrate later this week that Unity and “not Unity” mostly activate or fail to activate our own votes. We generally do not trade votes back and forth (though it is quite heartening/disappointing to learn of someone who has changed sides).

(There was a significant exception in 2022 – a number of former Unity voters among the retirees did switch – but this was due to specific circumstances: the colossal Unity miscalculation around Medicare Advantage.)

This means that it makes sense to look at Unity vote totals. And these totals are more meaningful, by a lot, than looking at the percents (what we did in the section above).

In the lower two lines, Middle and High School, they seem to have hit bottom in 2013, and more or less stayed there. But in Elementary School and among Functional, Unity continues to bleed votes.

Of particular interest is Unity’s steady decline among Elementary School teachers. This election they seem to have received their fewest votes, ever, in that division. The decline in two decades is 50%. I expected the pandemic to make all of Unity’s lines drop from 2019, but the two lower lines barely slipped, and Elementary and Functional were more dramatic than I expected.

Is this due to the DoE, seemingly with Mulgrew’s acquiescence, sending Elementary staff back sooner than the older grades – with instructional lunch and no vaccines? Is this a product of what seemed to be scary-inadequate protections for staff in D75? Or is this part of Unity’s long term loss of their core voting blocs?

Here’s the same data, in table form.

And here it is, expressed as percentage of Unity’s 2004 vote totals:

Go back to the graph. Look at what is happening. Look at the table. Look at those declines. And notice, the biggest declines are not necessarily when there are big votes for other caucuses. Unity is ailing, just fine, without any help.

Among all voters

A third look might be to consider what percent of members actually voted for Unity. We know participation (turnout) is generally lousy, and getting worse. What portion of our members actually vote for the leadership? When they claim a mandate, how deep is that mandate?

This is devastating. Unity’s longterm loss of support is consistent across the divisions. It has been around 50% over the last seven election cycles. There is no sign of any pause. And unlike 2016, when in the face of a unified MORE/New Action slate Unity actually managed to stall their decline, there is no such sign in 2022.

(Side note: the middle school numbers here are more consistent with the other divisions than in the previous section, because a significant number of middle schools have been replaced with K-8, which vote elementary, and 6-12, which vote high school. When looking at total votes, that makes it look like Unity is suffering bigger losses among middle school. When looking at votes cast divided by votes mailed, it balances out.)

Here are the numbers in a table:

(note, these are slate numbers only. Once split ballots are added in, the totals go up, but just a bit.)

In my previous post I laid out a pretty clear case that United for Change did not have any big breakthrough among in-service members. But that seems to have had no impact on Unity – they continued their longterm decline.

That they managed to not lose more seats was unfortunate (or fortunate, for them). But that does not change the outlook – they are not doing well, and they have not been, not for a long time.

And what next?

I have been looking at vote totals, Unity and non-Unity, isolated from each other. I will lay out data that explains why this makes sense.

Something just happened among the retirees, very different from what is happening in the in-service divisions.

And then there will have to be some more digging into what is causing these changes, especially the longterm changes. There is a lot here, and that will take some time.

Finally, there needs to be a guide. Lessons learned. What steps to take next. But that part I will share privately.

UFT Elections: Voting Against Unity

May 21, 2022 pm31 6:20 pm

United for Change won 34% of the total vote, and 42% among teachers. Fairly impressive. But how many VOTES did United for Change win? In an environment of declining turnout, do those percentages represent real gains? Or something else?

See also:

Let’s look first at the percentages, and then at the vote totals. Finally we will consider non-voters. I will use historical data from the last seven elections, going back to 2004. And for today I will only be looking at the four in-service divisions. The retiree vote requires a separate post.

In-service percents

Calling anything an “opposition total” would be at least a little controversial. New Action’s votes from 2004-2013 went to Unity’s presidential candidate. Yet those voters chose to vote for hundreds of New Action candidates, and were declining to check “Unity” on the front of the ballot. I was quite hostile to Solidarity in 2016 and 2019. Yet it makes sense to combine all the non-Unity votes to get an idea of what was going on. So I’m just lumping them together as “Non-Unity.”

And a general pattern does emerge:

  • relative stability 2004 – 2010
  • a small jump in 2013 (most impressive in high schools, least impressive in middle schools)
  • another, smaller jump in 2016 (actual dip in high schools, most impressive in middle schools, balancing out 2013)
  • big drop in 2019
  • return in 2022 to an increase on 2016.

Imagine that 2019 didn’t happen – do we have a straight line of increases from the averages of 2004-10, through 2013, 2016 (skipping 2019) to 2022? Take a look:

Is this a picture of steady progress? Is “the opposition” inexorably moving forward? Should we project the year “the opposition” overcomes Unity? (2025 in middle school? 2028 or 2031 among functionals and in elementary schools?) That looks very tempting. But this is the wrong graph.

In-service votes

Let’s look at in-service votes that went to opposition groups. I claim this is a better representation of how the opposition groups are doing. The percents measure us versus Unity, but that is not how voting in the low-turnout UFT works.

Do we struggle FOR the same votes? I would argue, mostly, no. Despite the bickering on Twitter and FaceBook, most of those who participate in those scrums have already made up their minds. We lose and gain relatively few votes by winning people over from the other side (as much as we are delighted when that happens. And it did happen a bit this election, but among retirees).

We might struggle to “get out the vote.” Unity does, too. But we are working in essentially separate universes. Most of our gains or losses involve people choosing to vote, or choosing not to vote.

There are still ups and downs when we look at the votes, rather than the percents. But the pattern is not so clear.

Let me narrow the data again, looking for a deeper trend. Same as above, imagine that 2019 didn’t happen – do we have a straight line of increases from the averages of 2004-10, through 2013, 2016 (skipping 2019) to 2022? Take a look:

There still is an upward trend, but shallower, less clear, and with more bumps. In Elementary, for example, instead of moving from 19% to 33% (almost doubling) and only rising, we now see motion only from 1800 to 2300, with ups and downs.

Looking at votes instead of per cents does not erase all of the sense of progress, but it scales it way, way back. We cannot use this to project when the opposition will pass Unity – there’s no such clear trend. In fact, we should note that non-Unity votes fell among in-service members from 2016 to 2022.

Among all voters

It’s fine to look at the raw number of votes, as we just did. That probably gives the best picture. But a third look might be to consider what percent of members actually voted for the opposition.

For context, I reported elsewhere that of every 34 teachers, 3 voted against Unity, 4 voted for Unity, and the other 27 did not vote. Ignore Unity for the moment – what are those historic numbers for voting non-Unity?

I should pause to note, these are slate votes only, actual votes are a bit higher. Good rule of thumb for a high estimate – add 10%. For example, middle school in 2013 says 5.2%. Add 0.5 to that and use 5.7% as your estimate. Elementary in 2016 says 7.1% – add 0.7 to that and work with 7.8% as your high estimate.

I can combine these numbers into one in-service number – we can see the Unity numbers, but it still does not look good:

This is bad for partisans of “the opposition.” But, quite obviously, it’s far worse for Unity. They may have breathed a sigh of relief over not losing more seats, but that’s the present. No relief for them as they look into the future.

Here’s the first table, now in graph form:

In 20 years, where’s the gain?

Even blending 2004-10 and omitting 2019, not a bright picture…

The only change that comes close to significance is in middle schools. That one requires more work/research.

And what next?

The next post in this series will be a look at what is happening to Unity’s vote. You think this was a downbeat post? it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to them.

After that? A deep look into what happened with the retiree vote – which is a very different discussion.

High-Water Mark of Freedom and Rights?

May 20, 2022 pm31 11:08 pm

Imagine a place.

Imagine a place where prejudice based on religion was just a memory.

Imagine a place where discrimination based on race was in the process of going away.

Imagine such a place.

Imagine such a country.

Could it be the United States today?

But for some, that is what they saw, 50 years ago.

Read these words, spoken without irony, by Shirley Chisholm in 1970. She is announcing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment (for women) and first clarifying where we stand in relation to race prejudice:

Legal expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack. There is reason for optimism that it will start to die with the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly imposed on minorities, to women.

(1970) SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, “I AM FOR THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT.” [emphasis mine – jd]

How high we had risen, and how far we have fallen.

UFT Election Turnout: Some Observations

May 15, 2022 pm31 1:39 pm

The number of voters seem to change without connection to the number of voters changing. What that means – I will be looking at the number of votes cast instead of the turnout percentage (with one exception).

Earlier I looked at all the turnout data, trying to locate patterns or breaks in patterns that bore further examination. Here are some things I found, followed by a first crack at some analysis. It’s not enough, not yet. I will be digging deeper in the coming days.

  1. The UFT elections have alternated between higher returns and lower. 2004, 2010, 2016, and 2022 were higher. 2007, 2013, and 2019 were lower.
  2. There is an overall downward trend in participation. It is significant enough that the number of votes in 2022, a year of increased voting, was less than 2007, a year of lower voting.
  3. Retirees do not follow this trend. The number of retirees is rising. The number of retiree voters is rising. The percentage of retirees voting had been slipping, but the most dramatic number in this election’s turnout was the surge in retiree votes, 4,600 more votes than three years ago.
  4. The number of functional votes plummeted.
  5. The number of teacher votes climbed from 2019 levels back to 2016 levels – EXCEPT ELEMENTARY.

It is going to take further digging to explain these points. But there is room for some initial analysis.

  1. The changes, year to year, in the number of votes cast likely reflect events in the Department of Education, or in the UFT. The last two “high” years, 2016 and 2019, there were very competitive elections (in one or two divisions).
  2. The overall downward trend is something we have seen before. It reflects, I believe, a serious disconnect between members and our union. Short-term teachers (and it is alarming how many come into teaching for just a few years. Shouldn’t this be a career choice) do not have reason, at least in their own minds, to worry about the union. In the day to day reality of many of us, we have colleagues and a principal, and we work out what we can. If the union’s power and influence are not felt, why invest time in that union? I disagree with that stance – it is wrong. But it is rational. I will come back to this. Turning the lack of engagement around should be a high priority. I worry.
  3. Part of the retiree puzzle is easy: Medicare Advantage drove turnout. The other part is trickier. I have tried in past elections to dig further into retiree turnout. It is complicated, and I’m not sure it is worth it. But, in case you are curious, here’s some stuff: New retirees often pay more attention at first. And the number of retirees went down (after the incentives 25 or so years ago cleared so many out), and then has come back up. Also, a significant number of retirees stay involved for the longterm, and treat voting as an obligation. (Voter participation in state and federal elections is also higher among older voters). Also, retirees are out of schools, and out of most of the controversial stuff. So as long as they keep voting, they will probably continue to vote the same way. Except this year…
  4. I do not understand the drop in functional votes. I will dig, and look, and ask. One guess – the numbers rose temporarily as family child care providers (how large is the number? Large, I think) joined the UFT and were glad to have a union, but with time interest has fallen. That’s just a guess. The only supporting evidence I have is the timing. I’m curious if you have better ideas. And whatever we think of, I’ll try to ferret out something more concrete.
  5. The low number of votes from Elementary School teachers will become clearer as I go into the data in more detail. For now, this was a “good” year in the other divisions, but in Elementary School it looks like a bad year (7500 this year, compared to 7300, 7300, and 8900 in the last three bad turnout elections). We have a longterm downward trend, but that didn’t stop Middle Schools and High Schools from rising. Perhaps this is a reaction to the pandemic. Unity’s policies, Mulgrew’s bad deals, they made high school people scream. But we were already voting against Unity. Some of the decisions hit the Elementary Schools especially hard. They had to go back into the buildings before the other divisions, and before vaccines were available. “Instructional Lunch” which, if you read the language, was clearly a policy the UFT proposed to the DoE, hit Elementary Schools particularly hard. And even for teachers who did not get sick, being scared is a real thing, and not so easy to forget. I’ll get into this in further analysis, but it appears that a large number of loyal Unity Elementary School voters threw out their ballots this time.

Each of these points is a first stab at an explanation. They need further exploration. But the outlines are coming into focus.

Below is the data I relied on, with the total votes captured in a chart.

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

UFT Election Turnout: Four Charts

May 15, 2022 pm31 12:48 pm

Let’s dive into the UFT election results. Let’s start with turnout. (For the beginning of the analysis, click here)

Votes Cast tells us more than Turnout Percentage

Turnout Percentage

Turnout in all divisions is under 50%. And turnout has generally been falling in all divisions.

All divisions tend to move together. 2004, 2010, 2016 and 2022 were better years. 2007, 2013, and 2019 were lower. But the longterm slide is such that 2022, a better year, is not actually better than 2007, a bad year.

The rates move, more or less, together. Which makes 3 exceptions stand out:

  • Retirees stand out for having a higher participation rate in general. And this year the rate among retirees. rose to better than the last three elections.
  • In-service rates were moving together, mostly. But functional did not fall off much from 2016 to 2019, and then fell off noticeably from 2019 to 2022, while other rates were rising.
  • Unexpectedly, elementary turnout did not rise this year in parallel with Middle School and High School.

Ballots Mailed

The number of retirees keeps going up! So the drops in percentage turnout are not as meaningful. And the RISE in percentage this year, even when the number of retirees was going up, means a lot of new voters. We will look at raw numbers of votes next.

The number of Middle School voters seems to shrink slightly. I’m guessing that’s due to teachers in K-8 and 6-12 being categorized as Elementary and High School, respectively. The middle schools are being squeezed.

The number of functionals has been rising, as we have adding categories or expanding categories of workers represented by the UFT. I don’t know why there is that blip in 2016.

This is the least interesting of the four charts.

Votes Cast

Middle School and High School move, just slightly, and together. The overall trend is down, but slightly.

  • Elementary moves in a more dramatic fashion, and has fallen further. The lack of rebound from 2019 is startling.
  • Retirees are not part of the same trends. Yes, there is a little motion up and down, in synch with MS/HS. But unlike any other division, the overall trend is for more votes from retirees, not fewer.
  • Also, the jump in retiree votes this time stands out – it is a “thing” independent of anything else in this chart.

Functional votes stopped tracking elementary votes when we added new titles.

Putting Ballots Mailed and Votes Cast on one chart

There is not obvious correlation. It looks like the votes move together year to year, independent of the number of ballots that were mailed. That suggests we should focus on votes cast, rather than on turnout percentage.

Data

Here’s what I used to create these charts:

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

Analyzing UFT Election Results: My Data

May 14, 2022 pm31 11:08 pm

Over the next ten days or so I will subject the recent UFT election results to some analysis. There is more here than

  • Unity won 66% – 34%
  • Unity’s vote totals were lower than usual
  • United for Change raised its vote in most divisions
  • United for Change won the high schools.

The real story will be more complicated. It might not be much more interesting. But as we ponder “what next?” it is important to have as complete a picture as possible of what just happened.

I will be using historical data. I have some historical data, going back to 2004. Some I took from Dave Kaufman. Some I compiled myself. 2019 has a different source; I’d like to double check it. And in 2016 some of the data appears altered – I myself may have been the culprit, as I wrongly adjusted for retirees’ percentage of a vote.

If you have corrections, please send them in.

If you would like the Excel file, please write to me.

My turnout numbers, 2004-2022

My results by division, both number of votes, and percents:

Unofficial numbers (fixed up a little)

May 14, 2022 am31 6:55 am

I corrected my previous post. Some of the numbers for retirees were funky – I’ve adjusted them. Some of the turnout numbers (mostly retiree-related) were off. I think I got the retiree slate vote thing correct, or close to correct, this time.

I corrected the charts in the previous post – but I’m putting them here, for convenience.

Good Luck

May 13, 2022 am31 7:40 am

Good luck to those who won their UFT elections. Good luck especially to the United for Change high school winners.

But congratulations? I’m not so sure. With 79.5% of teachers not voting, I’m not sure that congratulations are in order for any of us. Unity won among teachers 11.88% to 8.65% for United for Change. Out of every 34 voters, 4 chose Unity, 3 chose United for Change. 27 did not vote. (numbers do not include D75 teachers – but those numbers should be similar).

In the coming days I will have more analysis of numbers. More analysis of how each side performed vs each other, but also vs our respective goals (or my estimate or guess of those goals).

But for now – some needed discussion

Engagement

  • how will you increase member engagement? I do not mean voter turnout (and yes, we want to increase that). But low turnout is reflective of low engagement. And addressing that underlying problem, deep problem, is crucial. The strength of the union comes from its ability to unite the activity and energy and power of our members, and today that strength appears suspect. And that is a generous assessment.

Out of every 34 voters, 4 chose Unity, 3 chose United for Change. 27 did not vote.

Will this discussion happen within each side from the election? Will it happen within caucuses in United for Change? Or will all of us come together to address this?

Medicare

  • the bit of engagement that seems to have increased, seems to have increased among one group of members – retirees. And pretty clearly that was driven by one issue – Medicare vs Medicare Advantage.

Will Unity continue to secretly deal with health care and the MLC? Or will we look together at the magnitude of the funding problem, and work together for solutions that are acceptable to our members? I don’t know. My gut says not to trust Unity – but the right thing to do is to set aside that mistrust, at least for the moment, and give them a chance to reassess.

I’ll get back to numbers and analysis.

But for today, good luck.

More unofficial numbers

May 11, 2022 pm31 10:59 pm

Maybe not “more” – maybe “better organized”

My handwritten notes

Yasmin Colon read us the numbers. Aloud. When she finished the ballots returned list, my hand shot up. The numbered return column didn’t add. She knew. Three ballots had problems, is that what I had noticed? People were kind of looking, weirded, at least a little, that I noticed 7,498 + 2,297 + 4,782 + 8,869 + 27,451 ≠ 50,900. I didn’t have the heart to explain, or the energy, frankly, that no, I had not added the numbers, just their last digits…

Unity scrapes out a win – United for Change takes high schools

May 11, 2022 pm31 6:10 pm

Short quick post. Fuller results later. All of these numbers are unofficial.

Unity took the overall vote with 66%, their lowest result in – honestly, I thought ever. Soldini told me the elections in the 1960s were tight. So their lowest total in at least 50 years.

Retirees – Unity 71%. They usually score 85-90.

Functional – Unity 68%. They usually score 75-80%.

Elementary – Unity 67%. They usually score 75-80%

Middle Schools – Unity 56%. They usually score 60 – 80%

High Schools – United for Change 56%. This division leans opposition, but has swung back and forth.

Teacher total – Unity 58%. United for Change 42%. This is low. Unity has been between 65 – and 80%

Even the incomplete results are incomplete

May 11, 2022 am31 12:20 am

I wasn’t there to complain.

Missing Easy Numbers

This morning I was teaching. UFT Election chair Carl Cambria shared the number of votes per division (they are in the table, below), and Dave Hickey said that 198,900 ballots were mailed. Every other election he’s included how many were mailed in each division, which is helpful to understanding the other numbers we are seeing. But not this time.

When I arrived (almost 4) that breakdown was still not available. And I was not able to get it. “Tomorrow.” Nuisance.

Late Votes Counted

The deadline was receipt at AAA 8 AM Monday. A Monday is bad, and what is this 8AM nonsense? They decided (I assume the election committee?) to include ballots received Monday and Tuesday. Which is fantastic. About 1600 more votes.

(we should have probably checked to make sure these ballots were not from Arizona, right?)

Subtraction by Addition

But now we have less information, because all of the vote counts shared by division are now wrong. The total vote is up 1600, but we do not know what division those votes fall in.

A Surprising Nugget

Dave Hickey shared that he saw a pile of about 200 retiree ballots that were not slate (voted for individuals, not caucuses). That makes 99% slate voting. In the previous election retirees voted slate 95% of the time. We verified that this was approximately correct. That is a very big change. Was this election a referendum on Medicare? Turnout was up, although we wanted more, and there was quite a swing to UfC, though we wanted more, so yes, maybe yes. I’m a bit surprised. I expected more Unity voters to check off 11 officers, and omit Mulgrew. Maybe they either stuck, or switched completely.

Neither a Shocking Upset, nor a Resounding Vote of Confidence

I laid out two results in the last two days, both extreme. Neither the amazing United for Change upset nor that romp that would stop Unity from reexamining course happened.

A Table and A Chart, both bad

Since I don’t know where the extra 1600 votes belong, both the table and the chart are wrong. But close. I’ll do better graphics and numbers when they are available.

For now, the chart is just raw turnout by division, by year. I am missing two years of retiree data – what I had was just the cap number for those years.

The 2022 numbers will increase. Older numbers come from a variety of sources.

The graph treats 2010 as 100% for each division, and you can see patterns. 2022 (still missing numbers) seems to roughly return to 2016 levels, after a dip in 2019. Wonder what happened to elementary? And the retirees are their own story (Medicare Advantage).