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Over 60 people, many of whom were newly elected Chapter Leaders and Delegates, joined us at our Hardcore Summer Series Training last week!

Veteran Chapter Leaders Kit Wainer, Yelena Siwinski, and Norm Scott (check out their video presentations) led workshops on the nuts and bolts of leading your chapter, gaining support in your building, working with the school community to build a strong union chapter, and being able to counter anti-teacher administrators.

Thank you to all those who came out!  There will be a second session will be August 20th and we will have a Fall workshop with mentoring for  Chapter Leader/ Delegates in October, details to follow.

THURSDAY, July 23rd How To Build an Opt‐Out Movement in Your School
4pm‐7pm
The Dark Horse, 17 Murray St. NYC, Near City Hall, Chambers St, WTC
Drink specials: $4 drafts, $6 well drinks & $7 wine

High Stakes Testing and the Teacher Evaluation System are suffocating public education. As Diane Ravitch states ‐ the only way to save our schools is to starve the data beast. That is the mission of the opt out movement. Find out how teachers around the state are working together with parents to organize against high stakes testing and fight for the schools our students deserve!

 

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By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher/UFT Delegate- Leon M. Goldstein High School Brooklyn

Over a year before the 2016 Presidential election our AFT union leadership has already endorsed Hillary Clinton. The political move comes after two phone polls and one town hall meeting which supposedly included the input of 1,150 members. Our AFT is made up of over 1.6 million members. This is not a very scientific study or a good sample size. Mrs. Clinton may or may not be a good choice, but the manner in which our union endorsed her was problematic.

With the recent decision by the Supreme Court to hear a case that may mean the end of public sector unions as we know it and the continued anti-worker, union-busting policies from elected officials on both sides of the aisle from Scott Walker to Andrew Cuomo, now is the wrong time to be making back-room political deals that further distance our union from its members. This is the moment to engage our members, to make them feel like active participants in our union.

For far too long UFT/AFT leadership has been overly complacent and allowed member interest in the union to wither away. With this critical presidential election coming and the continued attacks on our unions, this should be the perfect moment to get all our members involved. They could have done that by offering more than a couple of limited phone polls and poorly advertised website questionnaire. They could have used this time to galvanize our members, to remind prospective nominees that anti-worker, anti-union, and anti-public education policies are not in the best interest of our nation. These very policies have widened the income gap and led our country to near financial ruin. Our union needs to properly vet each candidate to know where they stand on testing, common core, union rights, tenure, charter schools, and then share that information with each and every AFT member. We can then make informed decisions that will help our students, our schools, and our union.

It is fine if AFT President Weingarten is personal friends with Mrs. Clinton, but that is not a reason to give away our endorsement. The last twenty-five years of political endorsements have not helped our union or our schools, in fact, we could argue it has done further harm. They could have engaged the membership in a vibrant discussion on strategies and whether political endorsements are in the best interest of those we serve. AFT could have surveyed every member via email, held town hall meetings in all of the locals and throughout New York City with UFT members and parents like we did in the battle against Cuomo’s anti-education policies.

None of this was done, instead another top down decision was made in some back-room during the middle of the summer. This could have been the the right time for our union leadership to change direction, make our union more democratic, listen to diverse voices within the union, even to dissenters like ourselves who may disagree, but offer educated insights. Instead they chose to do what they always do; fail to engage the membership and then make a decision on our behalf.

We need new union leadership that is made up of members who are in the classroom, who speak with and for school based educators. A leadership that has new ideas, new voices, and actively seeks member participation. While we are upset at this endorsement process, it is just another example of the systematic failure of this leadership that has allowed our union to become weakened, our members to become disinterested, and public schools to be disenfranchised.

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By John Giambalvo: Teacher at Information Technology High School and a member of MORE-UFT

Looking back from today’s perspective, it is hard to believe that America’s minimum wage  -the smallest amount businesses are legally required to pay their employees- was once enough to support a whole family. Nevertheless, that useto be the truth in America. According to the Pew Research Center, that wage reached all time peak in terms of purchasing power in 1968 (here). That year, people who relied on it were able to buy and spend more than at any other time before or since.

The amount they earned per hour? $1.60 (here).

New York State’s minimum wage reached its peak two years later. The rate then was $1.85.

That was enough to allow a family of four to pay the rent, put food on the table and clothes on the back of their kids as they pursued upward social mobility or even just lived out their lives in relative dignity.

Historic purchasing power is tricky to understand. Essentially, it measures the amount that people are actually able to buy after factoring in for inflation. It is how we are able to discern the fact that workers today simply do not make as much as they did 45 years ago.

Since this peak in American History, year after year with little exception, the purchasing power for minimum wage workers -the amount they are actually able to buy after factoring in for inflation- has significantly fallen. New York’s 1970 minimum wage would equate to $11.34 an hour in today’s money (here). The federal amount would be $9.81. The actual minimum wage in New York State today is lower than that. It stands at just $8.25 ($7.25 for federal). That’s quite a slide -more than thirty seven percent lower than it once was.

This slide has pulled many minimum wage earners further past a very important line -that of poverty.  In today’s reality, many who depend on minimum wage find themselves living way, way below the federal poverty level for a family of four (here). If that family lives in Massachusetts, the bread winner(s) will have to work one hundred and ten hours every week just to afford a two bedroom apartment (here). McDonald’s once suggested a budget for its employees that spent $150 per month for a car payment, nothing for gasoline and just $25 a day for spending money  -and that was assuming a two income household (here). This Mcdonald’s employee relies almost as much on food stamps for her and four children to get by as her salary.

If you don’t find these facts disturbing, then that’s OK. I can accept that not everyone shares my opinion about increasing the wage. One thing you should consider , however, is that these realities have a great effect on public school teachers.

Given the state of affairs for minimum wage workers, it really should not come as a surprise that half -half- of all school-aged children in America now live in poverty (here and here).
Half!

This is a really important concept to grasp here. Imagine your average class of, say, thirty students. Divide them in half -with fifteen students living below the poverty line and fifteen living above it. Now imagine how each half would succeed in school. If all of the research is correct, you’ll wind up seeing some stark differences in how they perform.

You will see it in test scores (Diane Ravitch):

… No matter what standardized test you look at, the results portray the influence of socioeconomic status on test scores .Despite outliers, the kids with the most advantages are at the top, the kids with the fewest advantages are at the bottom. This is true of international tests, state tests, federal tests, the ACT, the SAT…”

You will see it in graduation rates (the Federal Government):

“…About 68 percent of 12th-graders in high-poverty schools ..graduated with a diploma. Since 1999–2000, the average percentage of seniors in high-poverty schools who graduated with a diploma has declined by 18 percentage points, from 86 to 68 percent…”

(also the American Psychological Association):

“…In 2009, poor (bottom 20 percent of all family incomes) students were five times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income…”

And you will see it in college readiness rates (ACT):

“…only 20 percent of students from low-income families met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 62 percent of students from high-income families…”

Poverty, as it turns out, is a great indicator for how successful a student will be in school (here) and beyond (here). It matters. In fact, it matters a great deal.

Remember that class of thirty that was divided evenly among poor and non poor students? Imagine that it wasn’t so evenly divided. Imagine that the majority of the students in your class lived well above the poverty line. Under that scenario, chances are, your students would be more successful and you would be deemed a pretty good teacher. Sounds pretty rosy, doesn’t it?

In contrast, imagine that most of the students in your class lived below the poverty line. Imagine that twenty lived in poverty and just ten of your students didn’t. Imagine the same standards, the same indicators and the same zero sum results that I described in the several links and quotes above. Not so rosy anymore, is it?

Finally, try to understand the plain truth of it all: That most of the fifty percent of American students who live below the poverty line are clustered together in the same high-poverty schools and many of the students who live above it are similarly clustered in their own low-poverty schools. Whole classrooms -in fact whole schools and even districts- are populated with students who live only under the poverty line, while others are populated with those who do not. In this sense, New York City isn’t that much different from the rest of the state or the nation. Poor people and non-poor people do not, generally speaking, live near one another (here) so they don’t generally populate the same schools and classrooms.

Under this scenario, where most, or even all of your students lived below the poverty line, chances are they wouldn’t perform well in your class, or in school at all. And chances are you’d be universally deemed a bad teacher because of it.

You may be deemed bad by our friends over at StudentsFirst(here):

“…students in New York City’s highest poverty districts are more than twice as likely to be taught by teachers who aren’t effective than students in New York City’s wealthiest districts…”

Or by the Center for American Progress (here):

“…. high-poverty schools have greater proportions of chronically ineffective teachers …”

You may be deemed bad by Arne Duncan (here via  Marci Kanstoroom):

“…many high schools that serve disadvantaged students and students of color lack highly effective teachers…”

Or by the New York Post (here)

“….Teachers who received bad performance ratings in the past school year were likelier to be teaching in high-poverty schools…”

Or by any one of the plethora of people and organizations who would like to point out that ‘the worst’ teachers are clustered in high-poverty schools.

Education reformers have become obsessed with the concept of poor educators. This bad teacher narrative has taken root in the US and has completely swept across our entire profession. It has become so profound that it is spoken about more than any other education related topic. It has fueled the growth of high stakes tests, ‘tougher accountability’ for teachers, the recent attack on tenure and has even helped lead to the rise of the charter school movement, as parents seek out alternatives for “bad schools”, filled with these “bad teachers” we keep hearing so much about. Reformers from Arne Duncan to Cami Anderson, from Michelle Rhee to John King have made entire careers by exploiting this narrative. It has been codified in comedy movie titles and news headlines ad nauseum. The narrative has become so ridiculous that movie stars and comedians have had to come to the rescue of the reputation of teachers all over the country. Forget a fair wage, forget improved living standards, forget poverty. Ineffective teachers, claims the narrative, have failed our students and are failing our schools.

Of course, they never mention that it’s only those schools located in poor areas and only those students living in poverty who are being failed.

I hope you see the point I’m making: Poverty doesn’t just matter for how well our students may perform in school. It also matters for how successful we are deemed as employees. It matters for our job. It matters for our career. It matters for whether or not we, as members of a well-respected and honorable profession, can do things like pay our rent, put food on our table and clothes on the backs of our kids. It doesn’t only  guarantee a certain percentage of our students (half) will be inhibited from performing as well as others in school (here again) and beyond (and here again). Poverty fuels the entire ‘bad teacher’ narrative and has lead to policies whichhave eroded our job protections and have threatened our job security.

And if you’re a teacher in the suburbs who believes that concentrated poverty is relegated to the urban and rural areas of the New York, think again (and again and again and again and again). Poverty is growing in the suburbs as well -at some very alarming rates.

Nothing traps people in poverty more than low wages (see here or here or here or here or here for how it is in the UK or here for one perspective from Ireland). And nothing promises to be a quicker fix for low wages than increasing wages.

So if you’d like to see an end to the education wars or an end to the current regime of high stakes testing, or an end to an unfair teacher evaluation system that has somehow had to be change four times now in the last five years; if you’d like to see an end to the constant cycle of downward pressure exerted on you and your colleagues, it’s only common sense to support policy outside of education that addresses poverty in New York. Supporting a significant increase to the minimum wage will lift a lot of boats. It will allow the parents of many of our students to lift themselves back above the poverty line and will increase the chances that their children -our students- can be more successful in school.

So if you’re one of the many teachers who believe that it is just not moral to pay people $15 to ‘flip burgers’, or if, like teaching assistant Suzann Ritchel of East Northport, NY, the prospect of a 15% minimum wage leaves you openly wondering whether or not ‘fast-food workers [are] doing more important work than we are?’ (here), then consider one small possibility: Consider that an increased minimum wage may make all of our jobs a whole lot easier than they are now.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Leading Your Chapter

Open to all newly elected or veteran chapter leaders, delegates, consultation/SLT committee members, para-reps, and anyone interested in getting more involved in their chapter.

 

This Thursday July 9th 4pm-7pm

The Dark Horse Pub

17 Murray St. NYC (downstairs)

Near City Hall, Chambers St., WTC

 Experienced chapter leaders will provide workshops on:

Getting your members involved

Enforcing contractual rights

Planning chapter and consultation meetings

Fighting back against administration

Building allies in PTA/SLT

Filing grievances

Working with your District/Borough Representatives

Facebook link here

For those that can not make this session we will have another one on August 20th, same time and location

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A flier attacking UFT members that are not in President Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus was distributed at the June UFT Delegate Assembly. This is a response by the members of P.S. 8 in the Bronx.

Dear Mr. Mulgrew and His Unity Caucus:

We the undersigned read your Unity flyer that was distributed at the UFT Delegate Assembly. We take the insults contained therein as further evidence of the disconnect that exists between working teachers on the frontlines of classrooms and UFT Leadership.

You claim that those of us who are dissatisfied with our union’s representation are “detractors” categorized as either “alarmists,” “oppositional” or “Monday morning quarterbacks.” You toss in a French phrase and a George Orwell quote as if they demonstrate deep intellect that somehow lends credence to your insult—as if George Orwell wrote to warn about the rebels in society instead of those in power desperate to take any measure to retain that power. If you’re going to quote Orwell, the following Orwell quote best represents the Unity Caucus, “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.”

To claim that we “never have led the fight against our enemies” is an inaccurate and disingenuous claim. Firstly, we are not in positions of leadership. More importantly we HAVE fought and ARE fighting our enemies in ways that UFT-leadership refuses to do such as writing our elected officials and challenging the absurd notion of tying our evaluations to test scores, challenging the reasonableness of the Danielson Framework which was never meant to be used as an evaluative tool, being actively engaged in the opt-out movement in our home communities, and rejecting the AFT endorsement of Hochul because we recognized that an endorsement of her was also a back-alley endorsement of Cuomo. We would also argue that challenging the Unity-controlled UFT that continues to disenfranchise working teachers is fighting the good fight.

Your claim that you know “better than anyone” because you “have been fighting these bad guys for over sixty years” is also inaccurate. You may not have noticed, but we most certainly have noticed, that for the past twenty plus years all you have been doing is ducking and weaving in the form of appeasement and as a result we, the working teachers, have been getting our derrières kicked while you remain in your ivory tower safe from all that we have been subjected to.

Contrary to the Japanese proverb you quoted, we definitely have a vision and we are taking action to see it materialize. We want a union run by those who have felt the pain of the unreasonable NYS teacher evaluation system and are committed to dismantling it and building a reasonable system in its place (and the MATRIX is not it). We want a union leadership that cries “foul” instead of “victory” when we have, in fact, been fouled.

Sincerely,

(64) PS 8 UFT Members

Roseanne McCosh                              Jemely Rosario                       Christopher Fusco

Lori Matta                                          Melissa Lugo                          Sebastian DiFatta

Cynthia Pacelli                                    Bridget Valvano                      Doug Sheeran

Stefanie Gotkin                                   Rosie Pichardo                        MaryAlice Moylan

Bernadette Centrone                           Michele Bombace                   Suzana Califano

Kate Mills                                           Mary Blastos-Chile                Christina Chiu

Justin Russello                                    MaryEllen Eager                     Monique Morales

Caitlyn Applegate                              Sandra Mejia                           Meredith Kertis

Amanda Hughes                                  Christina Rados                      Dawn Meron

Lourdes Sepulveda                              Jeanine Caughey                     Andrea Brown

Kellie Griffin                                       B. Wehr                                   Harold Beniquez

Gloria Jacobo                                      Vanessa Acevedo                    Theresa Rivas

Priscilla Roldan                                   Eudenis Estrella                      Renee Beckett

Z. Torres                                             Ivy Castore                             Nicole Sofia

Lynn Mccarthy                                  Nicole Reardon                       Joni Ernst

Lucy Lukaj                                          Greg Fusco                              Richard Moran

H.S. Lee                                              Theresa Rizzuto                     Rita Tynan

M. Lukic                                           Katrina Nrekic                        Audrey Lynch

Mary Mastrogeannes                         Stephanie Moran                    N. Mooddeen

Vicky Abbate                                      Christopher Saxton                 Tara Foley

A.M. Drain                                         Tara Foley                              Jorge Mejia

Eileen McArdle

 

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Please join MORE caucus UFT 4th Annual Summer Series.  It’s a great chance to Discuss, Debate, and Organize!

Thursdays this summer, 4pm-7pm

All are welcome!

The Dark Horse, 17 Murray St. NYC
Near City Hall, Chambers St, WTC
Drink specials: $4 domestic drafts, $6 well drinks and $7 wine.

Please click on the links to RSVP on Facebook

July 9th
Hardcore MORE Chapter Leader Training: The Nuts and Bolts of Leading Your Chapter – Part I

Open to all newly elected or veteran chapter leaders, delegates, consultation/SLT committee members, para-reps, and anyone interested in getting more involved in their chapter. Some of the topics include: Getting members involved, Enforcing contractual rights, Planning chapter & consultation meetings, Fighting back against administration, Building allies in PTA/SLT, Filing grievances

July 23rd
How To Build an Opt-Out Movement in Your School

High Stakes Testing and the Teacher Evaluation System are suffocating public education. As Diane Ravitch states – the only way to save our schools is to starve the data beast. That is the mission of the opt out movement. Find out how teachers around the state are working together with parents to organize against high stakes testing and fight for the schools our students deserve!

July 30th
MORE/UFT 101 Who, What, Why?

Are you wondering what the teacher union is all about and what it means to you and your students? Is it something you should be active in?  Can unions be vehicles for social justice? What is a caucus? How has the UNITY Caucus kept control of the UFT for over 40 years? Why did MORE form?   Meet with new and veteran teachers to discuss these questions and more in this introduction to the inner workings of the UFT.

August 13th
What is the role of UFT Elections in Building a caucus?

What should a 2016 grassroots UFT election campaign look like? Does MORE have the resources and activists to mount an effective campaign? How can we use new tools and lessons learned to ensure that organizing  for the election will build MORE? Come learn election nuts and bolts, brainstorm creative election strategies, and plan ahead for how we’ll build a campaign that builds a better union.

August 20th
Hardcore MORE Chapter Leader Training: The Nuts and Bolts of Leading Your Chapter – Part II
(See Part 1 Above)

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Jia Lee, Chapter Leader of The Earth School and a member of MORE, brought a MORE-sponsored resolution before the Delegate Assembly (DA) calling for a statement expressing opposition to the appointment of recently appointed state education commissioner Mary Ellen Elia pointing to the lack of transparency and democracy in the process of her appointment which took place under a veil of secrecy. UFT High School VP and Unity Caucus member Janella Hinds spoke in favor of Commissioner Elia, calling her a “friend to teachers unions and someone we can work with”.

Ms. Lee explained that the UFT’s support of the new commissioner  is a mistake because, “In the day after her appointment, Elia stated strong support for the Common Core Standards and high stakes testing, while criticizing parents who opt their children out of these tests.”In supporting the sentiment of Regent leader Meryl Tisch, to Elia it is just a matter of re-packaging rather than fundamental change. Elia has been a supporter of using student test scores to rate teachers. “We have an opportunity to harness and galvanize the experiences of teachers to proactively call for what students need in our schools and for our working conditions,” Ms. Lee said. “These things can no longer be compromised”.

The DA, dominated by Unity Caucus chapter leaders and delegates, voted against the resolution.

Resolution: No Confidence in New State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia

Whereas, the top down education policies under No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and high stakes accountability tied to Common Core Standards have had disastrous effects on whole child education and democratic, school-based decision making in New York State

Whereas, there was no transparency in the selection process, no public vetting of candidates, no opportunity for public input in the appointment of the new State Education Commissioner, Mary Ellen Elia

Whereas, Ms. Elia’s record makes it clear she is a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards (even though Florida has pulled  out of Common Core) and high-stakes testing; she was an early proponent of using test scores to evaluate teachers, complete with $100 million in funding from the Gates Foundation. She also negotiated a merit pay system and supports school choice

Whereas, last January, the Hillsborough Board of Education voted 4-3 to dismiss her. Members who voted her out have been on record as criticizing her for board-superintendent tension, her salary and benefits, and constituent complaints about too much high-stakes standardized testing, some said her tough disciplinary policy disproportionately affected black students and employees who said her management style was heavy-handed.

Whereas, she failed to notify the district immediately that a 7-year-old girl had stopped breathing on a school bus and died later; she said she didn’t know the scope of the tragedy until the family sued the district.

Be it Resolved that UFT will hold a press conference and issue a press statement of no confidence in the appointment of Ms. Elia, because it does not serve the best interests of our children, educators, or public schools

Resolved that the educators of the UFT seek public vetting and member discussion before the leadership of the largest local in the state supports the appointment of any state chancellor.

Resolved that our union leadership will organize meetings at the beginning of the 2015/16 school year throughout the boroughs, for working UFT educators to discuss this appointment, state educational policies, and develop our own vision of statewide educational policies that will best serve all our children

Be it further Resolved that the the UFT will fight for a renewed statewide emphasis on the arts, music, libraries and physical education for all of our children.