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Scripted events, shills, and the UFT

April 10, 2009 am30 12:34 am

Gotham Schools broke the story that the UFT gave New York City council members cue cards with questions on them for Monday’s hearing on education. The story subsequently got play across local media, incuding hitting front page in the tabloids.

So, a bunch of “so whats?”

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First, the questions directed to the DoE were good. And Council Members used them, ignored them, let them inform their own remarks, as they saw fit. Maybe putting them on cue cards was a little, um, obvious, but “suggested questions” regularly make the rounds by fax, e-mail, whispers… over dinner, in the hall…

So let’s drop the “shocked!” angle. Putting the messages on the cards gave the appearance of being heavy-handed, but there’s nothing more there. See the second half of this Daily News article for the broader view (excerpts below the fold).

—   —   —

Now, bigger and better. The questions the UFT suggested be directed at Leo Casey were softballs, for obvious reasons. But the treatment the UFT has been getting in the press around the issue of charter schools has been rough. The partial support for charter schools that the UFT publicly offers (though has never brought to its members for approval) addresses the wrong debate. The UFT is so flexible, so nuanced, so careful. But why are they skewered (daily this week) as if they are hardened opponents of charter schools?

Everyone in New York, everyone across the country knows that there is a war between charter advocates and the public schools. Everyone that is, except the UFT leadership. Charters are being used to strip resources from the public schools, to cream kids (or cream ‘involved’ parents), to break teachers’ unions. There’s only two sides… And no matter how hard they try not to answer: “Which Side are you on?” the media know. I know. Even when they want to be on both sides, they run a union…

—   —   —

The scripting of questions directed back to the UFT is vaguely interesting. Anyone who saw the February Delegate Assembly debate on Mayoral Control got a much better show. Questions were prepared in advance, speakers were prepared in advance. There was an opening statement from the floor, and a closing statement from the floor. I have to believe that Randi knew not only who she would call on and what they would say, but the order in which she would call on them. There was more than one chuckle when she pointed to a TJC supporter, but called him by the name of another TJC supporter… I can imagine that she might have had a cue card that listed the fifth speaker as TJC…

But it doesn’t matter. I dislike how much is prearranged, but I would not go into a debate unprepared. (keeping the debates too short, that’s another matter. And designating someone to call the question in advance, indicating that the chair wants the question called, these are obvious abuses of internal democracy. But those are other matters.)

More interesting, our current leaders apparently don’t like asking questions when they don’t know the answer. This is lawyerly. It is unbecoming of a union to adopt such a stance. Sometimes it appears that our leaders don’t want to take up cases, or arbitrations, when they don’t know the outcome in advance. We have a wonderful success rate with our “Principals in Need of Assistance” – is this because we choose cases, and prefer those where we can predict a favorable outcome?

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Some questions didn’t make it to cue cards:

  • Why do the neighborhoods that get charter schools tend to be overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic?
  • Why do suburbs, generally, not shut down schools to make way for charters?
  • Is money that could be used to improve public schools instead being used to create and operate charters?
  • Where, if not teacher pay, do charters save money? (this is tricky. They may save money by not providing services that schools should provide. They may actually pay less. They may save no money at all. But if they mention saving on bureaucratic costs or somesuch, that should be pressed with a follow up. They could be lying, or they might have identified a saving that ALL schools would benefit from)

—   —   —

Then there’s the issue of Gotham Schools itself. Many appreciate, I appreciate, getting the twice daily summaries of ed news, especially NYC ed news, from the papers and the blogs. GS sends reporters to cover some education events in NYC, and sometimes they are the only ones there, or the only ones really focused on education.

When Gotham Schools started almost a year ago, I welcomed their arrival. I got the “news” aspect but wondered about the “community” aspect. By the Fall I was more concerned than wondering. I thought they’d become a newspaper’s education section without the rest of the paper, and without a print version. And I still believe that, in part. They cover more, they centralize more education information, then anyone else in NYC. They beat the dailies for volume and depth (though I think a print newspaper is more likely to check details, and, except the Post, less likely to run a news release as a story).

It is also clear that GS fully supports charter schools for minority kids and greater resources for upper middle class kids; that while the lion’s share of their work is reporting, the advocacy is actually central to their project, and often embedded in the reporting. Need to respect the former, and point out and oppose the latter. And, as much as they might occasionally pander to get a good union-leader interview, union-bashing sells, and fits their agenda. They’ve provided an agora of ideas for the response to the UFT’s attempts to organize KIPP, and on the scripting issue positioned themselves to the right of the New York Daily News.

excerpt from the New York Daily News:

United Federation of Teachers union fed City Council questions to ask charter school advocates

Wednesday, April 8th 2009, 4:00 AM

Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson said he did not receive any of the cards.

“By the time advocates and the public get to testify, the agency is usually gone,” Jackson said.

“I think unions and advocates want to make sure those questions get asked, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Several advocacy groups said that, while they had never handed out preprinted questions, they had e-mailed questions or met with members to suggest questions in advance.

Some said members even solicited questions, and that they had scribbled questions on note cards during a hearing when they thought a witness was giving false testimony.

“I’m not sure that I see how giving the Council questions to ask beforehand is all that different from giving the Council questions during the hearing,” said one education advocate, who, like others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous because the Council is deciding on funding.

One good-government group said there was nothing wrong with the practice.

“I think that’s what lobbying is all about,” said Susan Lerner, president of Common Cause/New York.

“As long as it’s not only the teachers union that’s being heard, it’s part of the public process.”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. groner permalink
    April 10, 2009 am30 8:10 am 8:10 am

    I was surprised the council took questions from the union and read off cue cards. Fool on me. And it really bugged me. The union has the right to it! No Question there. In fact it might be there job.

    But the council members should come up with their own questions based on different view points of their constients. Unfortunately many parents or poor children — who seem to be dying to get into these charter schools, just do not have the amazing organizational skills and advocacy skills of the union. You can’t ask the union to play a worse hand. But I can ask Council members to come up with thier own questions and not read off of cue cards from a union. Shame on them. Good for gotham for pointing it out. But its the council that looked bad to me.

  2. EdReformGirl permalink
    April 16, 2009 am30 12:13 am 12:13 am

    I can answer a couple of your questions.

    1) “Neighborhoods that get charter schools tend to be overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic” because charter schools are most often opened in poor, urban communities….and poor, urban communities tend to be overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic. As you’ve pointed out so many times in your blog, charters are privately run. So, they can choose to open whereever they feel they can do the most good.

    2) “Suburbs, generally, do not shut down schools to make way for charters” because suburban schools, generally, do not need to be shut down as frequently as urban schools. This is not to say that surburban schools often perform WELL….just that they often perform BETTER then urban schools.

    In order for a school to be shut down (under NCLB), it needs to have failed to make AYP for 5 consecutive years. If this happens, the school must be restructured–but there are many ways to restructure, and they are often NOT turned into charters. You make it sound as if this is a frequent thing, which it’s not.

  3. April 16, 2009 am30 5:42 am 5:42 am

    Unfortunately, you are not correct.

    Far too many of our schools in New York City have been shut down in the last few years.

    As far as I know, not a single one was an NCLB shut down.

    And why do you think it is ok for students in the suburbs to be educated differently than in urban areas? Why are charters for Black kids, but large regular schools are for white kids?

Trackbacks

  1. Shilling, large scale « JD2718
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