Archives For June 2014

By Norm Scott and Mike Schirtzer

The calls have been coming in from parents and childcare-takers all over the city who are beginning to realize how the new contract will change their lives as the school day gets readjusted in many schools.

They tell us there is growing outrage as word spreads. And since parents are being told that teachers are supposed to vote on School Based Options (SBO’s) in the schools, some parents are placing the blame squarely on the teachers and the UFT – even more so than on the DOE and the principals, who often just plain lie to the parents, saying that teachers voted that way. The truth is Chancellor Farina has mandated 80 minutes of Professional Development (PD) a week or 100 minutes should a school choose to deviate from the default schedule. Teachers and administration have no choice of offering any extended time (what was called tutoring, student mentoring, 37.5, or Academic Intervention Services depending on your school). The new built in Parent Engagement time can not be used for tutoring either.
In one case, the UFT district represnattive  told parents the entire district was using the default model of 8AM start time and 2:20 end time so the teachers can get their PD in by 4PM. Parents do not care about PD, neither do most teachers. There wasn’t a teacher anywhere begging for more PD in a new contract. Most PDs will be focused on Common Core, Danielson, MOSL, or other failed initiatives.  PD’s throughout the city very rarely focus on good pedagogical practices nor are they led by experienced teachers. Thanks to the Bloomberg/Klein era most new administrators who are leading these PDs have less than 5 years class-room experience, how can we expect them to lead effective PD’s? Instead teachers will be forced to write curriculum and units based on the untested, unproven, developmentally inappropriate standards. Other PDs will be focused on aligning lessons with the check box rubrics created by Charleotte Danielson and her 6 months of teaching. None of this will have a positive impact on the students we teach

Let me say this as I have been and will continue to do: When the UFT goes along with the Farina (and most ed deformers) mantra that the key to improving education is Professional Development, they accept the “teacher blame” argument. Of course everyone can improve — and the best PD is watching others teach — but blanket PD is like expecting a gourmet meal at McDonalds.

Then there are stories where the chapter leader didn’t even offer teachers the option of an SBO and just did what the principal wanted. So the teachers feel betrayed too — but it is really their fault — maybe a lesson for those who have their heads in the sand.

At the June 11, 2014 Delegate Assembly, Mulgrew spoke about the Vergara decision. How important it was to work with parents and how proud he was of the work the UFT was doing with parents. If the Unity/UFT leadership didn’t have a tin ear they would have figured out a way to get some parent leaders, at the very least, involved in proposed negotiations. But they didn’t even get regular teachers involved, so this is the spillover of closed door contract negotiations.  Parents accustomed to extended days will now being paying for childcare out of their pockets. Students and their parents who can not afford to pay for extra help or small group instruction are now being left out in the cold. This is clearly not a way of winning over parents to be on the side of the UFT.

Parents feel they have been totally shut out of the process. I wonder where they’ll stand when we see Vergara, coming soon, to New York?

MORE’s 3rd Annual Summer Series: Discuss, Debate, Educate!

Join the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) for discussions exploring the past, present and future of teacher unionism.  All are welcome!

Wednesdays 4:00pm-7:00pm

The Dark Horse
17 Murray St. NYC
Near City Hall, Chambers St, WTC

$5 Drafts & Well Drinks

July 16th

Who Runs the UFT?  Why Are There Alternatives? A Historical Perspective 1960-2014

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The UFT formed in 1960 as a merger of several organizations. By 1964 the Unity caucus emerged as the ruling party of the UFT, which they remain to this day. Throughout the union’s history various dissident groups and caucuses have contested this dominance.  At different times these groups merged, ran joint slates, or disbanded. We will discuss why these groups formed and their differing visions and strategies. How is MORE related to this history? What can we learn from it?

July 30th

Life Under the New Contract
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This fall we will be returning to a radically changed work environment, which educators are approaching with a mix of hope and anxiety.  How can school workers use the new contract to advocate for themselves and their students?  How can we activate new people, strengthen our union chapters, and empower ourselves at work?  Which members are more vulnerable under the new contract, and how can we support them?  MORE wants to campaign this year around tenure, paperwork reduction, ATR rights and chapter leader elections, and we need your ideas and energy!

 

August 13th

Lessons from the Chicago Teachers’ Union Featuring Guest Speakers from Chicago

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In 2010, activists in the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) took over their union – successful displacing a conservative leadership with a team of organizers headed by dynamo Karen Lewis. This group would lead the CTU on its strike against Rahm Emmanuel that mobilized teachers and school communities. The strike electrified the labor movement, however Chicago is very different than New York City.  What lessons can we learn from Chicago?  Can we adapt the model of CORE to the conditions of New York City?

 

August 20th
UFT 101: Why Does Our Teachers’ Union Matter?

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Are you entering the teaching profession or new to NYC schools?  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?  Do educators, parents and students share common interests? Can unions be vehicles for social justice?  Meet with new and veteran teachers to discuss these questions and more in this introduction to teacher unionism

Here is the flyer for distribution MORE summer 14 Announce-1

 

by John Giambalvo

 

Judge Rolf M. Treu’s decision in the case of Vergara vs. California is, by most accounts, the decision that shocked the education world. This week, the judge rendered illegal three sections of California education law.

Taken together, those sections afforded some public school teachers of that state the courtesy of due process before being terminated. Each of the sections, the one governing the procedures for granting tenure (here), dismissing tenured teachers and laying them off from their jobs (both here), had exempted teachers with tenure from California’s law of firing employees “at-will”. With regard to teacher tenure, the judge ruled that the two year time frame the law gave for teachers to earn tenure was much too short. The judge went on to say that California’s “Dismissal Sections” were “tortuous” and granted “uber due process” procedures to teachers -protections that other state employees did not enjoy. “LIFO”, decided the judge, prevented the “junior gifted [teacher]” from keeping his job during times of layoffs while the “grossly ineffective one” remained in the classroom. That, said the judge, violated the state constitution’s “Equal Protection” clause as well and it had to go.

If allowed to stand, the results from this lawsuit, which is sure to be replicated in states across the nation, will expose any teacher in California to be fired in much the same way as “at-will” employees are: With no chance for an impartial hearing (unless the teacher decides to sue in court) and with little to no notice at all (here).

Treu’s conclusion, that teachers have too many workplace protections, is ironic. This is because he is not exactly an “at-will” employee himself. Judges in California enjoy some of the most stringent job protections of any employee in the nation. Superior Court Judges are elected to six year terms. Treu was elected in 2001 (here) and has been reelected twice since. Unless faced with an actual opponent, he will be automatically reelected at the end of every term without his name even appearing on a ballot (here and here). Given that the judge’s wife is a donor and former staffer of Republican Congressman Gary Miller (read his “Thank You” to her on the official Congressional Record here), I doubt that anyone will be challenging him anytime soon. And, being as only three judges in the entire state have lost reelection since the Great Depression (here),  I doubt that his chances of losing that election would ever be a concern.

You will be happy to know the judge’s job is also well protected if he ever finds himself in hot water. In the state of California, judges can only be removed through their own “tortuous” process called a recall vote (see here). If someone ever wants him fired, they must first collect vast amount of signatures from concerned citizens all across his district. They must then win a general vote.  As of 2008, no California judge had ever been recalled (here again). These protections are in full force whether the judge is highly effective or ‘grossly ineffective’.

Talk about uber due process!

Of course, anywhere from 1%-3% of any professional from any profession may be ‘grossly ineffective’ at what they do. This is true for my profession as it is for his. In his decision, the judge briefly examined the damage that ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers may cause if left in the classroom. Let’s briefly examine the damage that ‘grossly ineffective’ justices from his state may cause if allowed to stay on the bench.  There are 2,287 judges in California (here), the extrapolated number of ‘grossly ineffective’ judges may range from 23 to 68. Now there are 38 million people who live in California. That’s one judge for approximately every 16,615 people. You may be surprised to learn that just 23 bad judges from California have the potential of adversely effecting the lives of 382,145 people. 68 bad judges can negatively effect the lives of 1,129,820!   If we’re only considering how bad judges may adversely effect the lives of school children, (California has 9,240,219 school aged children (here) or one judge for every 4,040 children), then  23 ‘grossly ineffective’ judges can hurt 92,920 students in that state and 68 ‘grossly ineffective’ judges can hurt a whopping 274,720! I don’t think too many people could refute an assertion that this large amount of bad judges may have, to paraphrase judge Treu, “a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said [judges] hold their positions…”. And yet the judge continues to enjoy stringent workplace protections.

In fact, everyone who was involved in the presentation and decision of the Vergara case had some type of job protection above and beyond the “at-will” status that the rest of Californians have.

The Lawyers who argued the case have their protections. They are only prevented from practicing their craft if they are disbarred. California has it’s own special court, called the State Bar Court of California, just for making these decisions (here). That court boasts that attorneys who practice in California do so in “the only state in the nation with independent professional judges dedicated to ruling on attorney discipline cases”. That’s a nice protection!

The court reporter and clerk, as well as the officers who ensured the safety and security for all involved in the Vergara case, have special job protections too. They are considered “court employees” and their due process includes “a system of progressive discipline and termination “for cause” rather than “at will” employment” (here).

A progressive discipline process is something that tenured teachers in California do not have. Neither do they have their own ‘special court’ to determine whether or not they should be removed.

The fact that anywhere between 1% and 3% of any of these professionals may be ‘grossly ineffective’ at what they do has not stopped the entire state judicial system from insulating its employees from an “at will” termination process. They offer these protections knowing full well that the ‘grossly ineffective’ professional may adversely effect a large number of the many people who come in contact their profession each day.  I am not sure why this is the case, but I suspect the reasoning has something to do with protecting the other 97%-99% of these dedicated public servants from unfair dismissals. One thing is for sure. They do not feel that their state’s “at will” termination process for employees is fair to them.

I actually feel the same way! Not only is the work they do important to our society, but it is also important to them, as people. Those job protections allow the men and women in that system to provide for themselves and for their families with security as they pursue their own version of the American Dream. That, in itself, is an important right. FDR felt exactly the same way. “We have come to a clear realization” he said way back 1944, “that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence” (see here and read carefully!).

One way to ensure the economic security and independence of Americans is to afford them the simple workplace protection of due process.

Due process itself is as American as Apple Pie. It is enshrined in the US Constitution as a basic political right.  FDR made the observation that “As our nation has grown in size and stature … political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, he said political rights were no longer enough.

“At will” employment laws create the potential for Americans to have that equality taken from them simply because another person feels like doing it. The laws expose people to capricious, even ‘grossly ineffective’ supervisors and place employees on a less even playing field with employers than they already are. The US is the only wealthy nation on Earth that still subscribes to the “Employment At Will Doctrine (here)” (here) and many nations, like Germany (cited only because it is the richest nation in Europe (here)), have laws that specifically spell out the type of due process every employee should have when faced with possible termination (here).

That’s why, instead of taking due process rights away from teachers, the better thing to do is to just give them to everyone else. Let’s not make judge Treu and his colleagues, nor me and my colleagues, the exception. Instead, let’s work to make that standard -that no person can have their job taken from him or her simply because another person “wills” it- the rule. Let’s not make this a rule just for teachers or just for judges, but for every person in California and beyond.

Our job as teachers, however, is incredibly important.  No less than the future of an entire generation of Americans depends on the work we do in our classrooms each and every day. So let’s resolve to not leave ourselves in a position where we have to win an entire election just to remove one person who isn’t very good at what he does. By all means, let’s go after the 1% to 3% of ‘grossly ineffective’ workers -everywhere. But let’s allow a person who has been accused of not being effective the simple courtesy, the dignity, of defending him or herself before someone else decides he or she should be terminated.

And, once that standard has been established, let’s start with Judge Rolf M. Treu

by James Eterno, Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

[The following is a compilation of two different reports, originally posted at the ICE blog, about Wednesday’s DA]

President’s Report

California

President Michael Mulgrew opened the June Delegate Assembly by talking about California.  He said the decision of the judge to get rid of tenure and seniority rights because they violate the California Constitution is very troubling but we are confident about the appeal.  We knew once the case was assigned to this particular judge that it would be difficult to win.
The premise of school reform is that public education is failing but this isn’t true.  Judge said students were having their civil rights violated because of bad teachers.  The judge is wrong because the problem is poverty and teacher retention and not subpar teachers.  We expect copycat lawsuits in New York State from front groups like Students’ First.

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Disappointment

June 3, 2014 — 25 Comments

For the first time in almost five years, UFT members finally have a contract. But almost one quarter of the membership (23%) voted against the deal. Most of the members with whom we spoke who approved this contract only did so because they felt it was the best our union could do. We disagree, this contract does not provide the same pay raises that other municipal labor unions received in 2009 and some of those unions are already stating they will reject these terms if offered. We believe our union can and should do much better than this.

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by Megan Behrent – Delegate, FDR High School, Brooklyn

As ballots wait to be counted at the American Arbitration Association, much of the media as well as the union leadership anticipate the vast majority of UFT members will vote “yes” to ratify the contract proposal. If that is the case, Mulgrew and the Unity caucus will be quick to declare victory for their “historic” contract.

But regardless of the final count, we need to look beneath the surface of the vote to understand what it reveals about the state of our union. Over the past few weeks, MORE has been part of a groundswell “Vote No” campaign, but rank and file anger was much broader and deeper than those active in any caucus.

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