It’s a pivotal question in any election: Are you better off now than you were before the last election? If you are a UFT member, the answer must be a resounding “No!” Under Michael Mulgrew and Unity, we have seen a steady deterioration of our rights, our living and teaching standards, and our prospects for the future.
Let’s start by examining what Mulgrew has done for us. Even if you look at the UFT’s own biographical sketch of Mulgrew’s career, his accomplishments are few. Among the positives is the elimination of the old rubber rooms, which were admittedly an atrocity. While this is an improvement, it remains true that teachers brought up on charges can now languish as paper pushers in schools for many months or longer, hoping for a fair and expedited hearing. The UFT claims that it was Mulgrew’s “persuasive negotiation skills” that help avert Bloomberg’s threatened layoffs, but in reality the teaching corps has shrunk significantly under Mulgrew’s watch, with the city eliminating some 5,000 teaching positions through attrition, with an attendant rise in class sizes to their highest levels in recent memory.
Now, let’s examine the status of teachers today under Mulgrew’s leadership and see how he fares.
First, ask yourself: Are you better off financially under Mulgrew?
While it’s easy to forget, the fact is that Mulgrew has never negotiated a contract for teachers. Our last contract was signed in 2007, two years before Mulgrew took office. That contract expired in 2009, and teachers have not gotten a raise in all that time. Unity often blames this on the poor economic environment in the city, but the truth is that all other city agencies got a 4% plus 4% raise over two years while UFT members got nothing. The city has long insisted on “pattern bargaining”, in which all city unions get the same increases, yet teachers were denied that pattern under Mulgrew. At present, three years later, we are still waiting for “fact finding”–the process that brought us the dreaded 2005 contract with its longer working day and erosion of seniority rights. Our union seems content to kick the can down the road to a new mayor, which will mean at least another year before we see a new contract. One thing is sure, however; we will never get all the raises denied us nor the retroactive money owed us if we sit on our hands.
Second, ask yourself: Are you better off in your classroom?
Teacher’s Choice has gone from a high of $260 to our current low of $45 a year, meaning teachers are either doing more with less or making up the difference from their own thinner wallets. As mentioned above, class sizes have risen pretty much across the board. Observations, both formal and informal, have become more frequent in recent years, and they are often conducted using the Danielson Framework, a 57 page rubric that Unity has endorsed but which is not supposed to be used for evaluations at this point. Abuses of Danielson are frequent. Common Core standards have been imposed upon us despite the fact that the state has not developed a curriculum to teach it. Lessons must be planned to align with the Common Core, but the CCLS have never been shown to improve student achievement–it is simply another untested “reform” being forced on teachers so that we can teach to the test.
Third, ask yourself: Are you better off in terms of job security?
The new teacher evaluation system has been Mulgrew’s baby from the start. He collaborated with the state in order to grab $700 million in Race to the Top funds, none of which seems to have reached city classrooms. In fact, the state has used that money as a bludgeon to get the union to accept a flawed evaluation system, denying the city $250 million in funds because the mayor refused to agree to a sunset clause that was already twice as long as many other agreements accepted by the state. Mulgrew was ready to sign off on the deal before the mayor blew it up, but the deal was fundamentally flawed to begin with. For one thing, a large percentage of a teacher’s score will be based on the “value added” methodology which has a margin of error of 57% in a single year, and can vary as much as 90% over two years. Education experts such as Diane Ravitch have branded VAM as “junk science”, yet it will be used to rate teacher effectiveness. Another huge “gotcha” in the deal is the transfer of the burden of proof for teachers rated ineffective. In the current system, U-rated teachers must be proven to be incompetent in order to be dismissed. Under the proposed new system, “I” rated teachers will be presumed incompetent and it will be up to teachers to somehow prove that they are competent. This shift of the burden effectively eliminates tenure as we know it. In addition, far more teachers will be rated ineffective than ever before. In the recent Delegate Assembly meeting, Mulgrew predicted that 7% of teachers will be found ineffective each year, meaning that they will be essentially teaching for their career the following year to avoid dismissal. Unity claims that “I” rated teachers will get a “validator” in the second year to ensure fairness, but this sounds suspiciously like the current PIP+ system that frequently rules against the teacher. Rather than embrace this system, Mulgrew should be fighting to strengthen teachers’ rights and ensure that any new system is fair, objective, and preserves tenure.
Finally, ask yourself: Will you be better off in the future under Mulgrew?
Many of the issues that concern teachers most have not been addressed under the current Unity leadership. School closings are a constant threat. These closings lead to teachers being shoved into the ATR pool, which seems to have become a fact of life for many of our colleagues. Not only has our union not pushed back hard enough against charter schools and co-locations, it has actually opened and continues to run two charter schools of its own, which only adds legitimacy to the ed reformers argument that charters are the way to go. As a result, we can expect an even greater push to privatize public education going forward. Class sizes have risen and will continue to rise even as the purchasing power of our stagnant paychecks continues to shrink. Perhaps worst of all, despite nearly a dozen years of draconian rule under Bloomberg, Mulgrew and Unity have still not come out against mayoral control of our schools.
MORE is offering a different vision–one that will lead to a better present and future for our teachers. We oppose any evaluation system based on flawed junk science, as well as the continued emphasis on high stakes testing that narrows the curriculum and hurts our kids. We favor a transparent negotiation process to reach a fair contract with retroactive pay and no givebacks. We support returning qualified ATRs to the classroom and will work to prevent school closings that hurt communities. We will lobby to limit class sizes. We oppose the assault on tenure and the continuation of mayoral control.
We believe that an informed and active membership is the key to effective unionism. We believe that teachers are the true professionals, and that we must fight against corporate takeovers of our schools. Finally, we believe that education must be a collaborative effort, including teachers, parents, and communities, and that it should not be driven by profiteers, union busters, and so-called education “reformers” whose goal is to take the public out of public education.
So, before you cast your vote in the upcoming union elections,please ask yourself: Are you better off now than your were three years ago? If not, you want MORE.