Archives For class size

The best way to get laughed out of the UFT Delegate Assembly is to ask about lowering class size limits. “The City will never buy it”, “it’s that or your raises, nobody is willing to give anything up to achieve that” etc… I certainly know teachers who would be willing to make some trades for lower class size limits, but more to the point, there’s no reason they should have to; we CAN demand more, we just have to be willing to back up our demands with action. At those same Delegate Assemblies, we frequently hear about the heroic Founders of the union, and how they went out on strike (illegally) to win the rights we currently enjoy. That we have class size limits at all is testament to the power of the militancy of the UFT Founders who were willing to take risks and picket, agitate, and strike for the good of the union, their students, and public education as a whole. Suggest that we do the same today to lower those limits for the first time in 50+ years and you will be dismissed as a deluded radical.

Which brings us to the contract. There seems to be a misunderstanding about what MORE means when we say that this is not the contract UFT members or NYC schools deserve. Some UFTers jump to the “defense” of the negotiating committee, arguing that they did they best they could under the circumstances, take it easy on them. Others places have it worse, they say, stop complaining. The city was never going to give us anything more, and they are going to be annoyed with us if we reject this contract, we might as well approve it. I am personally grateful that UFT members gave up so much of their own time to work on negotiating this contract, and I have no reason to think they did anything other than the best they could under the circumstances.

The problem runs much deeper than anything the negotiation committee could address: it was as though those +/- 400 people were out there on their own, with no support from their hundreds of thousands of colleagues.  No rally, no march, no occupation of City Hall, no credible strike threat much less a strike certification vote. The power of workers like us lies in our labor, and if our employer is completely sure that our leadership will not leverage the potential withholding of that labor and the people power of 200,000 members, why WOULD the city cut us a better deal, regardless of how big the city’s surplus is? You can’t blame someone you’re negotiating with for trying to get the best deal possible from their end- if we want a better result, we’re going to have to apply more pressure.

The core issue here is conciliatory bargaining- it is taken as a given by UFT leadership and their very cozy counterparts in the NYCDOE that the slice of pie we got in the 60’s is all the pie we’re going to get, and contracts are just a question of how we want that slice of pie apportioned; in fact, we are frequently reminded that if we make a fuss, we’re liable to lose the slice of pie we already have. It’s rarely discussed at the Delegate Assembly, at district meetings, or in official UFT communications that militancy was how our slice of pie was achieved in the first place, and if we want more, that’s how we’re going to have to get it. Continue Reading…

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”

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.

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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.

 

 

"MISSING from the UFT contract- have you seen a class size reduction? Last seen in MORE's Contract NYC Educators Deserve"

UFT President Michael Mulgrew likes to tell union delegates that it’s either money or class size, not both… But neither?

Teachers in St. Paul, MN are preparing for a strike authorization vote on February 24th.

The union is holding informational meetings in the lead up to the vote. If the strike is authorized, the union is required to give 10 days notice before calling a strike.

The strength and unity of the membership was evident on January 30th when “walk-ins” were organized at 55 of 62 sites with over 2500 of the city’s 3200 members participating along with parents, on one of the snowiest mornings of the year.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers has done extensive outreach to parents and other community members for months, holding open meetings, and even open negotiation sessions, to discuss contract demands and involve teachers, parents and community members in shaping their demands. As in Chicago, the union has put forth its own blueprint for “The Schools St. Paul’s Children Deserve.” As a result, the SPFT has gained immense support. Parents recently helped to start a Facebook page called “I Stand with SPFT” that quickly grew to 900 members. On February 18th, hundreds of teachers and community members rallied at a school board meeting and many parents provided testimony in support of the teachers’ demands. 

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers is fighting for reduced class size, increased staffing (more nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors), access to pre-k for ALL students, and less standardized testing to allow for more genuine teaching.

MORE calls on all UFT members to stand in solidarity with the St.Paul teachers and students by following their struggle and taking action.

For more information, visit the St. Paul Federation of Teacher’s website at: http://www.spft.org/

You can also follow the St. Paul Federation of Teachers on Facebook,  join the “I Stand with SPFT” page and post messages of solidarity to show your support.

In addition,  you can call the  Superintendent and school board members of St. Paul and urge them to come to an agreement with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers to lower class sizes, increase staffing and provide universal access to Pre-K.

Valeria Silva – Superintendent supt.silva@spps.org 651-767-8152

Mary Doran – Chair mary.doran@spps.org 651-387-2361

Keith Hardy – keith.hardy@spps.org 651-200-5032
John Brodrick – john.brodrick@spps.org 651-645-7500

Anne Carroll – anne.carroll@spps.org 651-690-9156

Jean O’Connell – jean.oconnell@spps.org 651-295-1623

Louise Seeba – louise.seeba@spps.org 651-335-4263

Chue Vue – chue.vue@spps.org 651-291-8569

Finally, you can sign a petition in support of the St. Paul teachers here: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/st-paul-public-schools?source=s.fwd&r_by=4379504