The general thrust of this tentative agreement (TA)  is to move from enforcing members’ rights and toward greater collaboration with management.

Part of this is the large number of joint UFT – DOE committees it sets up.

Two of these joint UFT – DOE committees are being set up to formulate “standards,” which are very similar to contract provisions.  Like all the committees set up in this TA, they have the following characteristics: (1) an equal number of members appointed by the UFT president and the Chancellor.  (2) The UFT appointees are unelected, and not directly accountable to the membership. (3) Their meetings are not open to members. Only the Chancellor and UFT President have the power to approve or reject these standards, not the members or even the Delegate Assembly. If Chancellor and UFT President cannot agree, a neutral can be called as mediator. If that is unsuccessful, the TA calls for that neutral to “issue a binding decision,” i.e. binding arbitration.

One of these joint committees, the “Central Committee,” (CC)  will set standards governing “reduction and elimination of unnecessary paperwork, defining a curriculum and when it must be provided to teachers, professional development, the requirement to provide basic instructional supplies. [Item 6]  Furthermore, “Nothing precludes the parties from agreeing to the addition of new System Wide Standards with respect to operational issues.” [Item 6]. Another will set system-wide standards for school safety, positive school culture and climate. [Item 7]

These committees will be, in effect, making contract.  If they cannot, these standards in most cases can be established by arbitration.  So, members are now voting on a TA that will have, in effect, many provisions they cannot possibly know.

Just as alarming, members do not have the power to grieve violations of any of these standards.  Instead, the TA states: “Employees . . . may request that their Chapter Leader raise school-specific Operational Issues with the principal, the employee’s direct supervisor, and/or in a  . . . [consultation meeting]” But this is only a request: the Chapter Leader (CL) has no obligation to honor it. In place of the member filing a grievance, the CL can “raise” the issue. “If the issue is not resolved within five school days . . . the appropriate UFT District Representative (DR) may raise it before the District Committee.”(DC)    If the DC reaches a resolution, it is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.” It the DC cannot resolve it, it “shall refer the issue to the Central Committee for review.” There is no time limit for this last step. If the CC reaches a resolution, it too is “subject to approval by the Chancellor.”

An important difference from the current grievance process is that in the latter,  a neutral arbitrator whose award is not “subject to approval by the Chancellor” comes in at the “third step”   In this new process of committees, the chancellor has final say over even the third step. This delays the introduction of a neutral party.

After the third step, “[f]or alleged violations of the System-wide Standards, the UFT [not the member] may file a grievance . . . [but] it is understood that, PRIOR TO [emphasis added] a grievance being filed, the issue must go through the committee process as described above.  Such grievances shall be filed directly with the DOE’s OLR [Office of Labor Relations] . . . ” So, even at the end of the process of committees, it is still not in the individual member’s power to initiate a grievance.

The TA also specifies that the arbitrator’s written award will be “brief.”  Long awards have often established important rights for members. This would seem to discourage that.  It also says, “The parties shall negotiate pre-arbitration hearing procedures so each party is aware of the allegations and defenses being raised at the arbitration . . . ”  The current contract doesn’t seem to have a provision like this. If this is a new provision, it also signals additional cooperation between the union and the DOE.

So, to summarize, these changes will (1) force members to vote on a TA whose provisions they do not know, because these provisions, called “standards” in the TA, are to be determined in the future by joint committees;  (2) delay arbitration by channeling the adjudication of complaints about violations of these standards through a hierarchy of joint committees before they can be grieved. (3) Completely deny members any right to grieve over these standards.

Other similarly structured joint committees that are not establishing standards but will have a bearing on working conditions and even salary include: a Joint Labor Management Committee “to review and discuss programming in the schools . . . ” [Item 19]; a “Professional Learning Team . . . charged with the planning of an annual training session schedule . . . regarding the implementation of the observation cycle,” [Item 10] a Joint Accreditation Committee (JAC) to take part in the revision of the criteria for courses that will count toward the second differential.  Even “[t]he posting for these deans positions shall be jointly created by the UFT and the Board (DOE)” The training of Deans “shall be jointly developed by the UFT and the Board (DOE) [Item 7]. Another joint committee will “design and implement” the Remote Teaching Pilot Program.” [Item 16] In this last example, if the committee cannot reach a consensus, “the UFT President and Chancellor shall jointly make the final decision,” rather than an arbitrator as with most of the committees.

The TA’s way to handle class size violations likewise delays the grievance process, channeling complaints through a hierarchy of joint committees.  The UFT leaders call this an “expedited” process, but, as others have pointed out, it will actually take longer for grievances of over-sized classes to reach binding arbitration this new way.  

Under the current contract, school administrations have the first ten days of classes to get classes down to legal size.  The union can file for arbitration two days after that, and arbitration must begin no later than five days after that. So class size violations can begin to be arbitrated 17 school days after classes begin.  

In the TA’s so-called “Expedited Procedure for Class Size”  it isn’t until the 21st day that the violations go to yet another joint UFT – DOE committee, the Class Size Labor Management Committee (CLMC).    The CLMC will “attempt” to resolve the violations. (Only for schools “chronically out of compliance” does the CLMC start to attempt a resolution earlier, on the tenth day.  But even for those schools, the CLMC only “attempts” a resolution.)

Only when the CLMC fails to reach a resolution may the UFT, in 2 days, file for arbitration, and then arbitration must begin in 5 days.  So, this change actually delays for at least eleven school days the violations reaching a neutral party whose decision is binding. It appears that the grievance process, which already functioned poorly, will be increasingly delayed by a journey through a series of joint union-DOE committees, operating by consensus, whose decisions are non-binding and can, in almost all instances, be vetoed by the DOE.

These changes are part of a turn away from an adversarial model of labor management relations, which was based on enforcing the contract through grievance and arbitration, and toward management by consensus and joint-ness.  This was already the direction in practice and to some extent in the last contracts, but this new agreement codifies and consolidates it.

The most glaring danger is that at some future date, a hostile city administration along the lines of a Giuliani, Bloomberg or Emanuel, comes to office, and this regime could use this collaborative model very powerfully against the union.  

But even with a “friendly” administration, this turn gives members less control over working conditions.  They cannot vote on the “standards” which will govern many of them. Their ability to protect their rights will be limited and delayed, making it more likely that school administrations will violate these rights.  This weakens the union at the chapter level at a time when the loss of the right to collect agency fees has made the union more vulnerable than ever.

Its role in speeding up this ongoing shift in the general orientation of the union is another reason why this TA should be rejected.  

-Marian Swerdlow, retired
Former Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

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“What happens if we vote it down?”
“What will happen if we don’t approve the contract?”

People ask and want to know the answer.  Whatever happens, experience says it won’t be the “doom and gloom” scenario that UFT leaders threaten it will be.

In fall, 1995, UFT leaders unveiled a tentative agreement with no raises in the first two years, and givebacks in pay, benefits and working conditions.  As the membership ratification vote proceeded, it was obviously in danger of rejection. Then-president Feldman wrote in a letter to the membership dated November 12, 1995:

“What would happen if the members reject this agreement and send us back to the bargaining table?  I believe we would be faced with chaos and crisis. Job security would be gone and massive layoffs could begin as early as February.  By next year, between the city, state and federal cuts, the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals could reach into the thousands.

“In addition, if we reject this settlement, we probably would lose some of the very positive gains we won in the agreement such as longevity on eligibility date and electronic deposit.  And all those givebacks we successfully fought off such as loss of prep times, sabbaticals and the mid-winter recess – would go back on the bargaining table. Nor is there much of chance that a rejection of this contract would result in a better agreement . . .”

These scare tactics failed, and the contract was voted down.  How did the results compare with Feldman’s fearmongering?

  1. There was no chaos.  There was no crisis.
  2. Not a single UFT member was laid off.
  3. A new proposed pact was negotiated before the end of the same school year.  
  4. It retained all of the modest gains in the rejected pact.
  5. It didn’t have any new givebacks.  Prep times, sabbaticals and the February recess stayed.
  6. It was a better agreement, if only slightly.  The worst givebacks were axed: a provision to hold back 5% of the salary of new teachers was removed.  Instead of 25 years to top pay, it was reduced to 22 years. A few small sweeteners were added.

The takeaway is that union leaders will use threats to get a contract approved, but in the one case where a contract was rejected, all those threats proved baseless.

But the second proposal, which the membership accepted, still had no raises in the first two years. Although the union went back to the negotiating table, it did not organize the members to fight and pressure the city for a better deal.  So, it takes more than just voting “no” to get a significant improvement in a contract. It takes a struggle by the rank and file and allies.

-Marian Swerdlow,
Retired 
Chapter Leader, FDR High School, Brooklyn

Each of the proposed contract changes sells out new teachers.

First, and most obviously, the new two-tired healthcare system.  Obviously, any two-tired system flies in the face of solidarity.  It began with the pension, is now leaking into healthcare, what’s next?  Differing salary schedules based on start date? It’s deplorable that we could do the same work for different benefits.  Healthcare is a human right; we all deserve access to the same quality care.

Second, and also obvious.  Raises lower than the rate of inflation are no raises at all.  The cost of living in New York (rents have increased 3.9% annually). Givebacks now set us back for the rest of our career.

Third, less obvious and maybe more scary, the new ‘psychological fitness’ screening.  Instead of supporting new teachers through their first few years, we’re going to weed-out those deemed ‘unfit’?  I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend years in school training to be a teacher, take out tens of thousands in debt for this pursuit, and then be told I’m ‘psychology unfit’.  As a trauma survivor who takes medication I find this particularly frightening.  The trauma I experienced as a child is part of what inspired me to become a teacher, and helps me connect with and support my students with similar experiences.  The idea that the experiences that led me to teaching could also be the barrier that keeps out future generations is frightening.  As an educator of color, I know this criteria will continue the whitening of our teaching force.  Not to mention that the details of this criteria are not yet released, will be created by educorporations, and are unlikely to be scientifically backed (Sound familiar? Reminds me of our value-added evaluation system).

And on evaluations- teachers rated developing and ineffective with have even more observations.  Many teachers are rated developing in their first years (which is logical, since we are still developing our craft); instead of supporting these teachers to become better teachers we are going to just add to the heat of admin fire.  That will push more people who have the potential to be great teachers out of the field- even if they’re paid a little more to teach in hard-to-staff schools in the Bronx.

On that note- did anyone ask teachers who are leaving hard-to-staff schools what would make them stay?  Maybe pay is part of the answer, but I’d guess that mentoring, class size, and support services for struggling students would be high on the list.  Where are those provisions in this new contract?

So this is the deal we’re selling to new teachers: Get your education degree, spend tens of thousands of dollars doing so, but if the system decides you’re psychologically unfit you won’t be able to get a teaching job.  If you do make it over this ambiguous hurdle, you will have crappy health care for at least the first few years, so make sure you don’t get sick while working 50+ hours a week in a room full of children.  If you’re not yet an effective teacher in your first years, instead of supporting you, they’re going to increase the intensity of the scrutiny from your direct supervisors.  Oh, and plan keep searching for new roommates every year, because your pay won’t be keeping up with that of your peers.

So what would a contract that supports new teachers look like? Quality healthcare for all and wages competitive with our peers in other fields.  Less admin scrutiny and more supportive, non-evaluative mentoring for established colleagues.  A clear path to tenure.  Debt forgiveness… the list goes on.

Don’t sell out new teachers.  We are the future of the profession.  We are the future of our union.

Cayden Betzig

On Oct. 12th  after school, all UFT delegates & chapter leaders were summoned to an emergency delegate assembly to vote on whether or not to endorse the contract they negotiated for us (click here to learn more about how a UFT contract is negotiated and voted on). As we have for every contract in the 50+ year history of the union, the body voted to endorse it and send it on to the membership. I voted no at the delegate assembly, I will vote no again with my paper ballot as a UFT member, and I urge all of you do the same. I have a lot to say about this contract, but I have summarized some of my main reasons below:

The “raises” are not raises, they are not even cost of living adjustments:  2%, 2.5% and 3% over 3 years and 7 months will not keep up with the national inflation rate under even the most optimistic projections, to say nothing of the much faster rising cost of living in NYC. Our buying power with our paychecks will be weaker than it is now when the contract is over in 2022 (as was the case with the contract we are currently finishing). NYC educators deserve better.

There is no class size reduction: This is consistently the #1 request from both staff and parents on the NYCDOE school survey, and class sizes, which are significantly larger than in neighboring suburban districts, have not budged in more than 50 years. There is some language about more strictly enforcing the existing rules (which are routinely ignored), but it’s pretty weak sauce as far as I am concerned.

Healthcare givebacks: President Mulgrew keeps repeating, as he always does, that there are “no givebacks” in this contract. This is disingenuous; the NYC public sector unions have collectively already agreed to find more than a billion dollars of healthcare savings for the city during the life of this contract. You’ll recall we had something similar in our last contract, with x number of billions of dollars every year being cut from the money the city spends on our healthcare (which lead to the higher copays for urgent care and ER use among other things). This is to make sure we can still look at our paystubs and see that we are contributing $0 to our health insurance, which is nice and all, but our healthcare coverage being eroded in less visible ways that we feel less viscerally than deductions on our paychecks is no less real and problematic. These givebacks weren’t purely a UFT thing, it was all the city unions (in the form of the Municipal Labor Council), and that deal was already signed (without our vote) in July. You may hear from the UFT that this isn’t an issue of this contract since it has already been signed and involves other unions, but the fact that it was agreed to by our leadership months ago without consulting us does not make it any better; in fact, it makes it much worse. A “NO” vote on the contract from the rank and file membership would be an unmistakable message to leadership that we demand better.

 

They did nothing with the extended time/extra parent teacher conferences: The former was a huge giveback in the 2005 contract, and the latter was from the last contract with Carmen Farina, which also included re-working the 155 minutes. The extended time was ridiculous when we were arguing about how to time the 37.5 minute increments, it was ridiculous when we were trying to figure what to do after we stopped meeting with the kids during that time, and it’s ridiculous today. This contract doesn’t get rid of it entirely, which is what should really happen, but it also doesn’t even try to make it less onerous. Between that and the extra parent teacher conference/meet the teacher days, there were a bunch of failed, silly experiments that needed to get cleared out with this contract and were not.

 

We can do better: How do I know? Because we haven’t even tried. There has been zero mobilization of the membership. Leadership used to at least pretend they were trying to leverage the people power of the ~200,000 UFT members for a better contract with a lame rally, but they can’t even be bothered to go through that charade anymore. They think their backroom dealing and political contributions will save us, but that is not the moment we live in. In the last nine months, educators have risen up and won significant victories across the country with aggressive picketing, rallies, PR campaigns that get the parents onboard, occupying state houses, credible strike threats and actual strikes- most of this in red states with hostile anti-labor governments where striking is just as “illegal”*** as it is for us here, and where the teachers aren’t even unionized in a way that we would recognize in NYC. They weren’t retaliated against because they had demonstrated their power, and even “Right-To-Work” Republicans were not willing/able to punish the striking, militant educators. There are some very good things in this contract; the one that stands out to me is the pay bump/introduction of due process rights for paras, and those things must be preserved as part of a better contract when our leadership is sent back to the bargaining table after a successful “NO” vote. The argument that we have it better than educators in WV, AZ and OK (where the pay and conditions are atrocious), so we should be happy with whatever we get and not fight for better, which has been circulating among many UNITY caucus people, strikes me as truly bizarre coming from union activists/staffers.

In Solidarity,
      Dan Lupkin
          UFT Chapter Leader, PS 58, The Carroll School

*** “There Is No Illegal Strike, Just an Unsuccessful One”

Print and distribute copies of our contract response flyer for your workplace!

Summaries of our 3 main concerns and our 6 contract priorities are below.

MORE-UFT will be holding a Contract Conference on Saturday 10/27. Details for that are below too.

 

MORE-UFT SAYS VOTE NO!

Let’s start organizing for the schools NYC deserves!

Here are three reasons to demand a better contract:

  1. Pay: the raises average 2.09% at a time when inflation is 2.2%. This is a pay cut! And the paltry “raises” are paid for by givebacks that create a two-tier health care plan for the first time.
  2. Conditions: There are no significant gains on any of the issues of concern to working members such as class size or abusive administrators.
  3. Solidarity: In the post-Janus world, we must inspire new members to join us. The UFT did not mobilize or organize us or build a sense of solidarity in a fight for a good contract. This deal will not inspire newer teachers to join the union.

The new UFT-DOE contract only continues our 50-year wait for lower class sizes, a fair grievance procedure, and a rational job security process, among other issues. While the UFT should be applauded for negotiating some improvements in the number of observations, the overall agreement is yet another ed-reformer empty promise to put “students first” at the expense of UFT members.

Besides, let’s not imitate Congress and vote on something we haven’t even been given the time to read!

 

DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS!

Contract Conference – Sat. 10/27 – 1pm-4pm

Organize for:

  1. Fair raises. A raise that doesn’t even match inflation is a pay cut.
  2. No healthcare givebacks. Not all health plans are created equal, and forcing new teachers onto a more restrictive insurance plan will only make attrition worse.
  3. Lower class sizes. If the city can subsidize luxury high-rises, then it can pay to build more classrooms and schools. We’ve waited 50 years!
  4. Paid family leave. Parental leave was a long-deserved victory; it’s time we give the same consideration to our fellow educators caring for an ailing family member.
  5. Increasing teacher diversity. Our students need to see themselves reflected in the adults they see at school, and the city needs to build a system to support this.
  6. Administrator improvement plans. Abusing teachers, staff, and students should result in consequences, not promotions.

Join the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators at our Contract Forum as we fight for the contract UFT members deserve:

WHEN: October 27, 2018, 1pm-4pm.

WHERE: James Baldwin High School, 351 W 18th St.

We’ll have trainings on how to organize with your coworkers, make your voices heard, and win the victories that NYC students and our members deserve.

morecaucusnyc.org

facebook.com/morecaucusnyc

twitter.com/MOREcaucusNYC

DC37 members were able to join the state’s family leave plan, which is an important benefit for those taking care of aging parents or sick children. But the new benefit is paid for exclusively through employee contributions, and only provides for partial pay up to 55% of the employee’s salary. So paid family leave ended up being a free sweetener to the contract for the de Blasio administration.

New York City workers help to set a pattern for employment wages and benefits across the metro area. We are among the few workers who do not have to pay any part of their health care premiums — an important legacy of the strength of previous union bargaining efforts that we have worked hard to protect.

But the continuation of concessions that threaten those benefits sets a dangerous precedent that will, over time, weaken health care to all those in the region.

In an era where universal single-payer health care been re-legitimized, it is foolish for city unions to concede ground on the benefits that protect working families. Instead we should be campaigning to expand protections for all.

This piece was originally published in the NY Daily News.

Lamphere and Myrie are teachers in the New York City public schools and members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers.

by Andrew Worthington, UFT Chapter Leader at M298 Pace High School

 

It has been 50 years since the United Federation of Teachers, representing New York City’s teachers, has had a contract that included reduced class sizes. Since then, there has been a plethora of research conducted that shows the positive impacts of class size on students and teachers alike.

In March 2018 at the UFT Executive Board Meeting, Arthur Goldstein proposed a resolution to make class size limits a major goal of the UFT’s negotiations with the city. The resolution passed the Executive Board. However, it passed in the following edited form:

“Whereas, the goals for class size in the city’s original C4E plan, approved by the state in the fall of 2007, are for an average of no more than 20 students per class in K-3, 23 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school core classes; and

“Whereas, the Department of Education has flouted this law flagrantly since 2007; and Whereas, the DOE gets C4E funding that is often not used to reduce class size; be it therefore

“Resolved, that the UFT will make lowering class sizes to the C4E limits of 20 students in a class K-3, 23 in Grades 4-8 and 25 in high school core classes a major goal; and be it further

“Resolved, that funding for this class size reduction should not in any way affect monies for contractual raises for UFT members as the DOE is already receiving C4E money to reduce class sizes from the state.”

The process of how this resolution passed can be simply described through the strikethroughs. The reference to “this class size reduction” described in the final lines is never specified or explained.  

Except that it may not be appropriate to consider it a process. It is all the order of business in the UFT’s pseudo-democratic bodies: the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly.

classroomempty-1024x683

 

In 2006, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that students were being denied their constitutional right to an adequate education.  The Contracts for Excellence law passed the following year required the DOE to reduce class sizes over a 5-year period, tying funding to this initiative. While schools have been receiving some of this funding, class size averages have been increasing in the decade since. The UFT and the DOE have done nothing to stop this.

Mr. Goldstein proposed that the UFT confront the DOE about this directly in contract negotiations. The UFT leadership agreed that this is an issue. What to do about this issue? The UFT leadership decided not to worry about the specifics, in favor of fighting easier fights, hoping everyone forgets this fight, and hiding the fact that they are skirting accountability, or at least measurability, regarding progress on this front. The UFT leadership believes that the only way to achieve these specific (legally-mandated) class size reductions would be to make concessions in other areas, so they have decided not to bother with any battle.

In the simple math of class sizes, though, specifics are what matter most. Schools that serve the wealthiest have the lowest class sizes. Any argument about class size must answer this question: If class size doesn’t matter, then why do the wealthy prefer smaller class sizes for the schools they pay so much money for when it is their own kids?

 

I don’t remember what the PD was about, but my old principal was talking about “engagement.” Another teacher probably mentioned how that was hard to achieve with so many students in our classes, which were often at, if not above, the contractual limit of 34 students. My principal looked at this teacher and said, “That is just completely false and completely not germane to the issue at hand. We are talking about interesting and investing students in their learning and making them feel like a part of it. And besides, all of the research out there shows that class size doesn’t matter. What matters is the pedagogue in front of the room. Class size does not matter.”

Said in this way, the statement marginalized even further the students who were most affected by massive class sizes: students with disabilities. In order to create integrated, team-taught classes, school administrators most often program these classes, which serve students with learning disabilities, to be the maximum class size so that the ratio of general education to special education students can be within its own legal limits (roughly 3:2) and the number of special education classes, which require more teachers and more resources, can be reduced. This is a systemic problem across the city’s schools, but it was more acute at this school because the school was understaffed and under joint city-state control after decades of poor test scores, poor attendance, and discipline issues.

I understood why the principal lied. It was a lie that was created by the larger governmental apparatus that controls our schools. The end result is in the bottom line, and not in education. Any rational being could understand this, but the government is not a rational being. Neither is our city’s teachers’ union, as seen above in the resolution “process” described by Mr. Goldstein.

Rather than accept the proposition that more overall funding is needed for public education, the union prefers to operate with a business mindset that argues there is only so much money. The reality is that we only lack political will to allocate sufficient resources. Further, the union misses advancing a key issue which could unite parents, students, and teachers in a coalition that could realistically achieve all of its demands, given effective mobilization.

 

The average class size nationally is around 25, depending on the age of students and type of instruction. If an instructional period is 50 minutes, this gives 2 minutes for individualized instruction per student, assuming that none of that instructional time is used in whole class instruction. It wasn’t an accident that I didn’t yet get around to mentioning time for building rapport and trust with students.  The time for this is almost nil.

The average class size in the NYC public schools is a tad higher (~26) and hasn’t shifted greatly in years. In fact, average class sizes have gone up since 2007, when the city laid out a plan to reduce them (mentioned and struckthrough above in the UFT resolution). Thousands of classes still violate the caps set in the teacher contract for at least the first few weeks of the school year, and sometimes longer.

 

In 2014, a UFT survey found that 99% of teachers considered reducing class size to be a reform they would like pursued. From 2008-2013, the #1 priority listed on the DOE’s parent survey was the reduction of class sizes.

The teachers and parents also have the facts on their side. An oft-cited study called Project STAR demonstrates the long-term value of smaller class sizes starting at the early elementary age.

Other data suggests that class size is equally important in later grades:

“A study commissioned by the US Department of Education analyzed at the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools across the nation, as measured by their performance on the national NAEP exams. The sample included at least 50 schools in each state, including large and small, urban and rural, affluent and poor areas. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor that correlated with higher test scores was class size, and the gains in the upper grades associated with smaller classes surpassed the gains from smaller classes in the lower grades.”

 

The same can hold true for college students. The paper “Connecting in class? College Class Size and Inequality in America’s Social Capital” observes the following:  

“Compared to students enrolled in smaller classes, students enrolled in larger classes had significantly fewer interactions with professors about course material and with peers about course-related ideas. Social group also moderated some effects of class size. Class size negatively influenced first-generation (but not continuing generation) students’ likelihood of talking to professors or TAs about ideas from class.”

 

Students of color and students from lower-income backgrounds are also disproportionately affected by larger class sizes:

“In 1995, Boozer and Rouse analyzed patterns class size across and within schools and found that Black students tend to be in schools with larger average class sizes, as well as in larger classes within schools. These differences in class size could explain approximately 15% of the Black-White difference in educational attainment.

“A 2012 NCPEA Policy Brief on the STAR experiment and other class size studies noted that poor, minority, and male students received stronger benefits from reduced class size in terms of improved test scores, school engagement, and reduced grade retention and dropout rates.”

Additionally, there are well-documented benefits from lower class sizes for school climate, school discipline, and teacher attrition.

Like most education research, or social science research in general, there is no way to be 100% certain about any of our ideas. But the evidence to support lowering class size is essentially undeniable.

 

Beyond research and rhetoric, the real issue underlying the class size issue is that it is in absolutely no one’s interest to change it except the people who are directly involved in the public education system: school staff, parents, and students. One could argue that all communities at-large should value long-term effects drawn from education; while we need to start thinking in such a more universal way, the reality is that people who do not perceive themselves as benefiting directly from public education often resist paying higher taxes to fund improving it.

 

The NYC public schools have the largest class sizes in the state, and this is not a coincidence. Like so many other turf wars between the city and state, there are undertones of class distinctions and conflicts.

However, simply changing the class size limits and making them more enforceable won’t solve all issues of inequality in our schools. Class size reform needs to be part of a broader policy platform that expands public goods and addresses the root material disparity that divides rich and poor.

The UFT has a strong potential for fighting for education equality on a comprehensive scale, including the programmatic reform of reduced class sizes. But both comprehensively and specifically, the UFT has been too inactive.

 

In conversation with members of the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, Leonie Haimson, the director of the organization Class Size Matters, suggested the following approach for upcoming contract negotiations:

“The UFT should negotiate far smaller class size caps to be achieved gradually over five years of no more than 20 students per class in K-3 grades; 23 in 4th through 8th grades and 25 in high school classes in order to comply with the Contract for Excellence class size reduction plan submitted by DOE and approved by the state in 2007.  The DOE should adhere to the class size limits within the first two weeks of the beginning of school, with an expedited process of arbitration to ensure that no violations persist after the first month of school.

“In order to help fund the reduction in class sizes, the DOE should reduce the number of consultants and bureaucrats, and assign teachers in the Active Teacher Reserve pool as classroom teachers and hire more teachers to do so. In order to make space for these class sizes, the DOE must be required to fully fund the five year capital plan and accelerate the pace of school construction.”

As they have shown in the Executive Board proceedings, the UFT leadership does not want to fight the DOE on specifics regarding class size. Instead, the UFT continues to engage in a zero-sum game with the DOE on this and countless other issues.

 

With the recent ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court struck a serious blow to public employee unions, and by extension a serious blow to public education. Weakening the power of the union weakens the voice of the teachers; weakening the voice of the teachers weakens advocacy for public education. Business interests will enter the vacuum and attack the working conditions of public school teachers, and thereby public schools in general, offering poisonous alternatives such as funding cuts, larger classes, and charter school increases. Class sizes don’t matter to the privatization ideologues who want to kill unions and slash public education funding. The market-based, profit-focused models of schooling will only continue to build their dominance in the education system, followed by declining working and learning conditions, until (and unless) we decide to organize, mobilize, and create real, material change.

With a budget surplus of at least $4 billion, the UFT should be arguing with the city and the state for an expanded public education budget to facilitate class size reductions. Instead, the UFT is arguing with its members that class size reductions are unfeasible because they would require teachers to take a pay cut.

The only option for the UFT is to adapt an aggressive approach to the contract negotiations. The easy and expeditious route must not be taken. Members will unite behind a union that stands for ideals, engages its members, and produces radical results.

What will the UFT do to mobilize membership around the contract and this issue? If previous history is a guide, nothing.

There are many issues that the UFT will need to tackle, but we know we have a duty to defend not only our workplace, but the places where our children learn. Any parent would want their children in a school with smaller classes. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure our contract includes new enforceable limits on class size, somewhere along the lines of those presented by Mr. Goldstein in the first section. If the UFT leadership won’t fight for this issue, then it may not be the leadership we need.