Archives For March 2016


Richard Covelli

I.S. 25


Richard is a Math Teacher at I.S. 25 in Queens and is also a UFT delegate.  He believes teaching as a profession has become politicized to the point where young people out of high school are deciding on another career avenue.  Teaching needs to be restored as a noble and worthwhile choice.  Educators as a stakeholder group have had little or no input on important issues like learning standards and evaluations.  The very fabric of public education is being challenged by those who are not in the field.  The sanctity of public schools needs to be restored.


Rob Diefenbach

I.S. 230


Rob has been teaching middle school for 13 years. He teaches band and music at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens. Rob is excited to be a part of MORE’s revolution within the UFT.



Francesca Gomes

New Voices MS 443


Francesca has been teaching Humanities for 15 years at New Voices Middle School in Brooklyn.  She has worked closely with three chapter leaders at her school and served as her school’s UFT Delegate for several terms.  However, she feels the past several contracts have been gradually eroding our rights, and the Unity Caucus leadership is responsible for negotiating and pressing UFT members to accept them as “the best we can do.”  Francesca believes that only through collective, democratically-decided action can the UFT regain the ability to protect members, students, and families and work to truly address the problems in public education today.


Andrea McManus

I.S. 230


Andrea McManus is in her 13th year teaching middle school Social Studies. She is the delegate at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens. Andrea has experience teaching diverse groups of students including English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.



Dermott Myrie

M.S. 391


Myrie is a UFT Delegate and Social Studies teacher at M.S. 391 in the Bronx.  He believes that for too long, teachers, students, and schools have been valued based on standardized test scores, and it is time to say “stop”. Myrie joined MORE because of its mission and vision of social justice activism and because MORE is fighting back against standardized tests. He has spoken to many educators about their working conditions and has heard their call for change, and he believes that the New Action/MORE UFT slate for this year’s election can provide a voice to voiceless members.


For Immediate Release: March 29, 2016


The Movement of Rank and File Educators/UFT

Call on the Department of Education to Remove the Gag Order on Educators


“Can educators share their legitimate concerns about the tests with parents?” an audience member asked District 15 Superintendent, Anita Skopp, on December 9, 2015, at a CEC 15 meeting. She responded, “Teachers do not have a right to speak about how they feel about the tests. They don’t have a right.” New York City public school educators are under a gag order. Last year’s opt out movement had the highest concentrations in suburban districts in Long Island and upstate New York where there was a collaboration of experienced educators with parents and students. It has served to be a catalyst for resistance and change; yet, in New York City, there is a deafening silence.


One of Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s four pillars for supporting NYC public education is, “to engage parents in every aspect of school life.” Yet, for the most consequential issue of high stakes testing, there is to be no engagement between schools and families. The legitimate concerns of educators may never be known. However, some are speaking out in different ways. This is one of hundreds of anonymous posts that can be found on social media.



Many will continue to speak out citing that the consequences to our students and public schools will be greater if we remain silent. Special education teacher and parent, Jia Lee states, “We have a professional and ethical obligation to speak up against the ranking and sorting of our students, teachers and schools.” Lauren Cohen, 5th grade teacher at P.S. 321, has said, “I’m not allowed to discuss, with my students or to their parents, a particular problem or question (from the state tests). In fact, we are told that we are not allowed to look at the test booklets. This is counter to effective teaching and learning, and it renders the test useless.”


“Teachers’ legitimate concerns, based on years of experience and knowledge of developmentally appropriate pedagogy, are absent from the official story that’s being told to NYC parents. This is an attack on our democracy and goes against the so-called critical thinking that the NYCDOE purports to be promoting through Common Core,” states Katie Lapham, English as a New Language teacher and author of the education blog, Critical Classrooms. Parent and special education teacher Vanessa Keller states, “If the tests were at all appropriate, no one would have to opt out. This is truly sad. Our children and teachers deserve better.”


In a private meeting on Thursday, March 24, 2016, Carmen Fariña responded to parent concerns and stated that some students, such as recent immigrants and students with special needs, should probably not take the state tests and should opt out. Teachers are confused. High school social studies teacher, Mike Schirtzer, states, “To say that some students should take the tests and others shouldn’t begs the question of who decides and why. All parents and students have a right to understand that these tests are only being used to label schools as failing. We should be working together to listen to the needs of teachers and parents, rather than stigmatize and set school communities on a path to closure.”


We call on the NYC Department of Education and the leadership of the UFT to guarantee the first amendment rights of NYC public educators. The New York State Union of Teachers, issued an updated FAQ stating, “NYSUT encourages members to exercise their rights as citizens and professionals to speak out against the harmful effects of high-stakes tests in general and to consider refusing the tests for their own children. NYSUT will defend teachers against disciplinary action if a district pursues 3020-a charges.” Yet, in New York City, teachers have been told they do not have a right. In some cases, teachers have been issued internal memos with a clear message that any discussion regarding the tests with parents is subject to insubordination charges.


The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) is the social justice caucus of the UFT running with New Action in the May 2016 UFT Officer elections. Find out more at



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MORE believes that all city workers deserve fully paid parental leave. Three thousand people have signed a petition demanding that paid parental leave be negotiated immediately without reduction in pay or benefits!
Please sign and share the petition, distribute the paper copy at your workplace, and join us at the speak-out this week –  Thursday, March 31st – 4:30pm – In Front of Tweed Courthouse (52 Chambers St. – click for map).
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By James Eterno
UFT Delegate and Social Studies Teachers Middle College High School, Queens
MORE/New Action’s Candidate for Vice-President of High Schools

The differences between the two slates running in this year’s UFT election could not be clearer.  The March Delegate Assembly called for Delegates to go on the record twice on where they stand on student assessment results being used as part of teacher evaluations.

MORE-New Action raised a resolution to oppose using student test scores to rate teachers. We also raised an amendment to another resolution to call for repeal of the horrific Education Transformation Act of 2015. On both resolutions, Michael Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus majority at the DA voted yes to high stakes student assessments as part of teacher evaluations and MORE said no. Unity just wants new and improved assessments.

As NYC Educator pointed out in his latest piece, Unity’s shiny new talking point is that they want principals not to have total control over evaluations. This takes real gall when one considers that Unity gave away our right to grieve unfair/inaccurate observations in 2005.  NYC Educator tears apart the Unity argument by simply saying that the old S or U system always placed the burden of proof in teacher dismissal hearings on management to show we were incompetent or had committed misconduct but that under the current law, after two ineffective ratings we are presumed to be incompetent.  We must prove with clear and convincing evidence we are not incompetent.  Our burden is very high indeed. In other words, we are guilty until proven innocent.

Unity claims this isn’t bad because fewer teachers are rated ineffective now compared to how many teachers were rated unsatisfactory in the old system. Student test results actually can help our ratings. They can also hurt them as we pointed out here.  What Mulgrew never says in public is that teachers rated developing have now been brought up on incompetence charges and have been subject to dismissal hearings. Teachers rated developing are also forced to endure the humiliation of Teacher Improvement Plans and there is no way to challenge a developing rating.

Mulgrew did admit once again at the DA that the UFT has to fight like hell with many New York City principals.  He talked about a NYSUT Board of Directors meeting where presidents from smaller union locals who hadn’t had someone rated unsatisfactory in forty years wanted to go back to the old evaluation system.  Mulgrew argued that NYC is different. If we take as a given that our president is right on this, we can agree that there has to be a check on administration put in the evaluation system.

Mulgrew thinks the right fix is to change the tests teachers are evaluated on to some kind of authentic assessment or student portfolios. Is he sure he wants to go down this road with the principals we fight like hell with in New York City?

The idea of alternative assessments sounds great and can work. We would test kids on how well they perform a task rather than on multiple choice exams. The analogy used on the link above was golf. Is it better to test kids by having them play a round of golf and see how they do or to give them a multiple choice test on the sport?  Obviously, the former sounds more authentic but if the kids don’t score a hole in one or at least get on the green fast enough, the teacher gets the blame for the kid being a lousy golfer under Mulgrew’s plan.  What if the student never practiced?  It’s still the teacher’s fault.

I work at Middle College High School, a consortium school.  We use mostly alternative assessments except for the English Regents.  The system works mainly because our Principal Linda Siegmund is very supportive of teachers and students.

If the Department of Education’s principals from hell were put in charge of an authentic assessment program, it would be a total disaster for teachers and students. A devious principal could easily manipulate the system to make sure that teachers who they want to attack have their students saddled with impossible assessments. This has the potential of putting the junk science part of the evaluation system into overdrive.

Who is going to grade the portfolios and other authentic assessments?  Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, I very much doubt the law will allow the teachers of the students we teach to create the assessments or to grade them. There will be insane oversight. This could be a compliance nightmare in many schools. In the end it is still testing. It is still rating teachers on how well kids do on the assessments and does not take into account the outside factors that have much more to do with student achievement than anything we do in school.

To put it succinctly ask your local Unity Caucus true believer this simple question:

Do you think the Department of Education could implement a fair authentic assessment system throughout the New York City school system?

I think we can agree that mandating authentic assessment system-wide might be somewhat more difficult to implement properly than putting astronauts on Mars.  My guess is the Mars trip might happen sooner.

Progressive education can succeed but there is nothing dumber than forcing it down people’s throats as New York City learned in the early Joel Klein years when Diana Lamtried to do just that. If authentic assessment is not mandated, then the alternative is the current unreliable/invalid common core tests, the Regents or other exams that were not designed to rate teachers. We’re right back to junk science square one.

Which leads to this question: What would happen if we repeal the Education Transformation Act of 2015 as well as Education Law 3012c and return to the satisfactory-unsatisfactory evaluation system for teachers?

Right away the system would revert to one mandated observation per year for tenured teachers who have reached salary step 8B and Danielson observations would get thrown into the trash bin of failed educational ideas where they belong.  Would anyone miss the HEIDI rating scale? More importantly, the burden of proof in all dismissal hearings for tenured teachers would shift back to administration. That would put a major check on principal power that we currently do not have.

As for the annual rating being completely back in the hands of the principal, quite simply we could demand in contract negotiations that there be an expeditious process to grieve unfair/inaccurate observation reports and other material placed in our file, including being able to challenge supervisory judgment. Better still, let’s put this process in the law.

The choice is clear in the UFT election:

Unity=Junk Science Teacher Evaluations

MORE-New Action=Rational Teacher Evaluations

Originally published here:




2016 will be a year of great consequence for American democracy. Will we embrace or reject our highest ideals? Will we choose shared prosperity and justice or the sown seeds of discrimination, inequality, and violence? While the national presidential election dominates much political discussion, I am writing this letter to call attention to the election within our union occurring this May.


We are living in a once-in-a-generation moment to shape the soul of American democracy. While the distinct inevitability of enduring suffering feeds sentiments of futility in fights for social justice, we must not take this moment for granted. New York City, America, and the world can progress but only if citizens of conscience act. As public servants, union members, and educators this moment requires us to assume a leadership role in our era’s struggle for universal justice. It is our duty to utilize the vast resources of our union to be at the forefront of this fight.


Regrettably, under current leadership, a wind of apathy blows amongst our ranks. The culture of lethargy cultivated is strategic, self serving, and solidifies dictatorial control of our union. Rather than empowering and organizing the rank and file for progressive collective action on behalf of public education and everyday New Yorkers, our leadership pacifies our membership in exchange for feigned political influence.


Let us not forget our leadership’s support for the Danielson Framework which has been utilized as a political weapon to control teacher pedagogy, execute vendettas, and terminate senior teachers to cut pension costs. Do not forget our leadership’s refusal to support the Opt-Out Movement despite the unprecedented revolt against the reduction of education to one flawed numerical score. Please do not forget the pacifying contract negotiated in the absence of rank and file mobilization. Rather than exerting pressure on a City Hall that campaigned on fixing “a tale of two cities” our leadership offered the mayor an “apology contract” for endorsing failed mayoral candidate, Bill Thompson. The disempowered—immobilized rank and file were strategically calibrated with low expectations and forced to accept a discounted contract.


Let us not forget the betrayal.


To the UFT grassroots, I ask you to consider the candidacy of Jia Lee, the MORE Caucus nominee for President of the UFT and the candidacies of all MORE Caucus nominees. Jia Lee and a MORE led UFT will fight for a learning environment that values pedagogic freedom, authentic assessment, and meeting students’ needs inside and outside of the classroom. The UFT has the capacity to be the compass that orients NYC towards justice. We must be that compass.


In solidarity,


Marcus B. McArthur

City-As School

UFT Executive Board High School Candidate

New York City educators and parents may be hearing that the New York State (NYS) Common Core math and ELA (English-language arts) tests will be better this year and are of value to educators and students.

This does not tell the whole story.  Here’s the truth about the 2016 NYS tests. 


  • Pearson created the 2016 tests.  Questar Assessment Inc., which, in 2015, was awarded a $44 million, five-year contract by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), is in the process of developing test questions for future tests.  However, their tests won’t be used until 2018. According to a January 2016 NYSED memo,”Questar Assessment, Inc. has replaced Pearson and is responsible for the construction of this year’s test forms and guidance materials.” Questar did not create the actual 2016 tests and test questions. 
  • The shortening of the 2016 NYS Common Core tests is insignificant.Students will still spend a total of six days taking the math and ELA tests (three days each).  The tests are untimed this year so students could potentially sit for an even longer period of time to complete the assessments.  The below comparison charts show how minimal the changes to the tests are.  Also, shaving off a few questions does nothing to improve the quality of the test questions.  The tests are still bad.
  • Using NYSED’s online test archive, Kemala Karmen, a NYC parent and co-founder of, “calculated how many more test items a NYS student in 2016 will be required to answer than a NYS student in the same grade had to answer in 2010” (Karmen, 2016).  In an email, Karmen wrote, “A 5th grader this April will be faced with 117 questions (combined math and ELA).  2010’s 5th grader? 61.  That’s 56 more questions, or an increase of 92%.”


In addition to illustrating the sharp increase of test questions since 2010, this graph, created by NYC parent Amy Gropp Forbes, shows how insignificant the shortening of the 2016 is.

  • The NYS Common Core ELA and math tests are not the only assessments administered this spring.  NYSED recently released the 2016 field test assignments for NYS schools.  Please click on this NYSED link to see if your school has been signed up to field test future math, science or ELA test questions.  The June 2016 administration of the field tests is of no value to teachers or students, the latter of which are being used as guinea pigs.
  • Similarly, many NYC parents are unaware of the excessive and developmentally inappropriate testing our English-language learners (ELLs) are subjected to. After only 12 months in the system, all ELLs in NYS must take the ELA test (ELLs are not exempt from the math test in their first year because translated versions of the assessment are available).  During the recent parent-teacher conferences, it pained me to share with parents my goal for second graders who were at the expanding (advanced) English-proficiency level: to test proficient on this year’s NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test). Administered each spring, the NYSESLAT is a grueling four-part test, now aligned to the Common Core, which assesses ELLs’ speaking, listening, reading and writing proficiency levels in English. It is a content-based assessment, not a true language test, and, in my professional opinion, it is wholly inappropriate to administer to ELLs at any grade level. Sentence writing, for example, is expected of ELLs in kindergarten. Spending my precious minutes discussing this highly flawed standardized test was bad enough, but my rationale for getting students to test out (test proficient or pass) tightened the knot in my stomach. If my expanding (advanced) ELLs do not pass the NYSESLAT this school year, in third grade they will have to take it again right after the widely discredited NYS Common Core ELA and math tests.  I signed up to be a teacher, not a tester.  
  • I can’t think of a single working NYC teacher who finds the NYS Common Core tests to be a “valuable experience for our students” (as per New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) chancellor Carmen Fariña’s 3/15/16 letterto parents). Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests are not teacher-created, nor do they accurately reflect the contextualized skills and knowledge that students gain in the classroom. The tests are developmentally inappropriate, poorly constructed and contain ambiguous questions. In 2014, 557 New York State principals signed this letter denouncing the tests. Despite the so-called changes to the 2016 tests, the content and the skills that are tested remain the same.

In painting a broader picture of the impact of NYS’s Common Core testing program on public education, it’s important to highlight that everything revolves around the highly flawed NYS Common Core tests.  Despite the NYCDOE’s argument that multiple measures are used to determine a child’s promotion to the next grade, the testing program is the sun around which all other aspects of public education orbit. Schools with low test scores – due to poverty, high numbers of English-language learners and/or students with disabilities – are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny, micromanagement and excessive testing.  These schools face state reviews and pressure to adopt Common Core test prep curricula (ReadyGEN, GO Math! and Expeditionary Learning, for example), all at the expense of offering students an authentic and inspiring education that truly meets their social, emotional and academic needs.

I have spent the past 10 years in Title I elementary schools in New York City.  Our students go on fewer field trips, are exposed to a narrower range of books, and participate less in the arts.   In Title I schools, beginning in kindergarten, there exists such a strong sense of urgency to prepare students for the skills they will need in order to do well on the state tests that not a moment is to be “wasted.” Cutting and pasting in first grade is wrongly viewed as lacking rigor.  As a result, it’s not uncommon to find a second grader struggling to use glue and scissors.  Folding paper, I’m discovering, is an undeveloped skill nowadays.

In schools with low test scores, there is no free play and, for the most part, recess only happens at lunchtime (weather permitting).  Any classroom “play” must reinforce academic skills.  School days can be suffocating for students and teachers alike.  Curriculum pacing guides must be followed faithfully, which has killed spontaneity and deprives students of opportunities to learn about topics outside of the curriculum. I’ve even had to sneak in Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chinese New Year.  My rich author study units highlighting the important works of Ezra Jack Keats and Leo Lionni, among others, are collecting dust.  I mourn this loss of freedom every day I go to work.  Forget about using students’ interests to shape instruction.  “Choice” is only offered to students within the confines of the Common Core-aligned curricula.


Andy Yung, a talented pre-K teacher in Queens, presented this slide at last weekend’s Jackson Heights People for Public Schools event.

What is of chief importance to “struggling” schools is the raising of scores on poor quality tests that do not reflect how each student has grown in his or her own way.  As part of their test preparation program this year, a Bronx elementary school has already administered two NYS ELA and math test simulations: one in December 2015 and the other in March 2016.  Each simulation lasted six days (3 periods each day) and was harder than the real tests, according to a teacher.  While this is an extreme case – and arguably abusive – test prep is still occurring citywide even at schools with high test scores.The organized opt-out movement here in NYC is led by local parents and educators who spend an inordinate amount of time researching the NYS Common Core testing program and educating themselves on developmentally appropriate pedagogy.  Change the Stakesand NYC Opt Out, among others, report the truth through social media and throughtesting meetings that are being held all over NYC.  While some NYC parents may have initially gravitated to this movement in order to protect their own children from educational malpractice, a growing number of opponents of the state testing program are opting-out for justice.  Boycotting the tests and depriving the state of data is seen as the only way to effect change in our schools, and to curb the further privatization of public education (see what’s happening right now in the United Kingdom).


These parents and educators envision a different educational experience for all children of New York State.  Bronx principal Jamaal Bowman  speaks out against the current NYS Common Core testing program.  As reported in this November 2015 Huffington Post article, “Jamaal Bowman knows his kids and with the research to back up his approach, he makes it clear that by empowering teachers and inspiring children toward their passions, in an atmosphere that embraces our diversity, we have the capacity to realize the goals that the current reforms are failing to produce.”  I also appreciate Brooklyn New School principal Anna Allanbrook’s weekly letters to parents , which showcase her school’s whole child approach and contrast sharply with NYS’s test-based education reform initiatives.  In Allanbrook’s March 7 letter, she links to a speech delivered by principal Bowman and writes, “Jamaal suggests that all parents exercise their right to opt out of high stakes testing, advising parents to demand more holistic assessment of their children. Jamaal’s words remind us of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” These are brave, ethical NYC school leaders whom I greatly admire.

What about all the thoughtful and experienced NYC classroom teachers who find fault with these tests and don’t view them as a valuable teaching tool?  The teachers of the MORE caucus of the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) support opt-out and oppose Common Core, Danielson teacher evaluations and high-stakes testing. MORE candidates, such as Jia Lee, who testified against high-stakes testing in a U.S. senate hearing last year, are running in this year’s UFT election. Teachers of Conscience refuse to administer both state and local standardized assessments.  Teachers’ legitimate concerns, based on years of experience and knowledge of developmentally appropriate pedagogy, are absent from the official story that’s being told to NYC parents. In fact, NYC educators are being silenced and, as a result, are afraid to speak out.  This is an attack on our democracy and goes against the so-called critical thinking that the NYCDOE purports to be promoting through Common Core.


This is just a glimpse of what’s really going on in NYC public schools.  There is, of course, more to the story.   Here is a link to view the March 2016 NYCDOE’s Student Participation in Grades 3-8 New York State Tests Parent Guide.  Regardless of your child’s performance level, it is a parent’s right to opt out.


The NYCDOE 2016 guide states, if, after consulting with the principal, the parents still want to opt their child out of the exams, the principal should respect the parents’ decision and let them know that the school will work to the best of their ability to provide the child with an alternate educational activity (e.g., reading) during testing times.”  

For more information about opting out, please visit these sites:

Ten Reasons Why NO Child Should Take the NYS Common Core Tests

NYS Allies for Public Education 

Long Island Opt-Out Info

Defending the Early Years –

reposted from Critical Classrooms