Archives For education

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?

Jia Lee, MORE candidate and teacher at the Earth School is one of the conscientious objectors who refuses to administer the NY State Test this year.

Jia Lee, MORE candidate and teacher at the Earth School, is one of the conscientious objectors who refuses to administer the NY State Test this year.

New York City public school students in grades 3-8 are currently taking the controversial New York State (NYS) Common Core tests.  

MORE opposes the administration of these corporate-created high-stakes exams, and we stand in support of parents who are refusing to have their child(ren) take the test, and in support of those teachers who are refusing to administer them.

Jia Lee, one of the MORE candidates running for NYSUT (state union) office this weekend, is one of these brave teachers. Jia and two other teachers at the Manhattan’s Earth School, as an act of conscience, are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 NYS Common Core tests. In a letter to Chancellor Fariña, they write “we are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.”  Please read their thoroughly researched position paper on the Teachers of Conscience blog.**  Continue Reading…

Calling all NYC Metro community activists (“voices of resistance”), families, students, civil rights advocates, voters, immigrant families, policymakers and legislators, union members, teachers, and faith leaders…

This rally and march is part of the national Testing Resistance & Reform Spring campaign. We aim to support the efforts of parents, teachers and community members to have public schools that work for the community.

Join us on May 17, 2014 in NYC!
City Hall Park (permit pending)

2:00 p.m.
Click here to RSVP Today! Continue Reading…

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

Sign the Petition!

Occupational and physical therapists are an unseen part of New York City’s education community. But without OTs and PTs, thousands of the city’s promising – yet disabled – students would fall through the cracks.

That’s why we’re alarmed that these therapists continue to be valued less than their equally critical peers: the teachers, social workers, school psychologists and others – who along with OTs and PTs provide immeasurable support for the city’s youths.  Surprisingly, experienced OTs and PTs are paid 38 percent less than teachers and speech therapists with the same levels of education.

New York City’s OTs and PTs are quietly turning around the lives of physically and emotionally challenged students, helping them overcome profound disabilities to reach their potential in the classroom. That’s not just good for families – it saves taxpayers money and generates revenues for the school system.

All we ask for is fairness. Without equity, students with disabilities are in danger of losing a critical support network, a lifeline that will help them graduate and become productive New Yorkers.

The best OTs and PTs often choose other jobs where they’re paid according to their value. Those who stay – because of their commitment to the kids they’ve helped for years – often work second jobs to support their families.

We can all agree that our school children are our most precious resource. They represent the future of our wonderful city. Helping OTs and PTs remain in the New York City School System is another tool to help vulnerable students overcome obstacles and thrive.

Let’s work together in support of our children. Let’s work together to support our OTs and PTs.

Sign the Petition!

by Megan Moskop

Teacher/UFT Delegate

M.S. 324- Patria Mirabal

Note: I am an active UFT and MORE member because I believe that our union can be a powerful voice for the teaching profession, the quality of our education system, and ultimately the quality of our society.  Though I am critical of our current UFT leadership, my criticism is meant to be constructive and is directed towards the goal of building a stronger, smarter, more democratic UFT.  If you’d like to get involved with the work of building a stronger union, click here to join MORE online, or come meet us at our Holiday Party this Friday (Dec 6th).

If you read my last post, you know that I came to the November 20th UFT delegate assembly ready to speak in favor of our Resolution for an End to the New Evaluation System.  Despite preparation and support from my colleagues and fellow MORE members, I was nervous.

Why was I nervous? In UFT delegate assemblies, Robert’s Rules of Order (with the addition of extra Rules of Order printed on each agenda) enable completion of the planned agenda before 6pm.  They also severely limit discussion. There are 15 minutes allotted for questions from delegates, and only 10 minutes for motions directed to the agenda from delegates. (The President’s report, however, does not have a time limit, and often occupies the majority of the meeting time.)  I have also observed many occasions on which delegates who rise to speak are belittled or treated disrespectfully.

I knew that I would need to speak as well and as concisely as I could.  So I planned, drafted, and re-drafted what I might say.  To read my plan, click here.

Armed with this plan and copies of the resolution, I arrived at the delegate assembly early to pass out the resolution so that delegates could read over it before it was time to vote.  UNITY, the caucus to which all the UFT leadership belongs,  distributed its own flyer at the beginning of the meeting. Among other things, the flyer criticized MORE, in an inaccurate and deceptive way, saying that MORE “believes that principals should have complete and unchecked authority when it comes to a teacher’s evaluation.”  I was shocked and insulted that the UNITY leadership thought their own delegates would accept such a  spurious claim.  No group of teachers would ever advocate for such a simple way of assessing our complex and valuable work, and any group of elected delegates should easily recognize such a statement as a distortion of MORE’s view.

Additionally, the flyer and the President’s report asserted that the UFT leadership was fighting “Advance. ”  I wonder, where is this fight? Most teachers I know do not feel involved in, or even aware of any kind of larger resistance to “Advance.” Instead, they are stressed out about extra standardized tests, frustrated with pushing paperwork until late at night, and striving to infuse as much genuine joy as possible into common-core aligned lessons.

The teachers I know, despite being overworked and undervalued, are tough. They are warriors who show up every day ready to help their students fight for a brighter future. President Mulgrew must see things differently though, because when he asked us to rally around the  “New Day, New York Dec 5th Day of Action”  (which is a great call for social justice involving many unions- check out the UFT flyer here) he undermined the call to action, saying, “I know we’re tired, but…”  Later, with regards to contract negotiations, the prevailing sentiment was that “our members aren’t ready for action.”

If UFT members are tired, we are tired of being forced to implement poorly planned dictates that mean more paper work, more time testing, and less time focused on our students.  We are tired of being told to do stupid things, but we are ready to fight them. We need our union to lead us in the fight for a system in which we can focus on what we love—teaching our students.

President Mulgrew and I agree that Advance gets in the way of our teaching. He called advance a “paperwork disaster” created by “the people who hate us” (referring to the corporate interests that usually bash teachers).  When I stood to raise our resolution, I adjusted my planned words to echo these ideas, and to include many of the thoughts above. Recording is not allowed in the delegate assembly, so I’m not sure exactly what words I used, but my main idea remained the same.

“Advance” reinforces the corporate notion that our teaching, and our children, are standardizable products to be quantifiably measured. We must fight for the collaborative creation of a teacher evaluation system that empowers teachers, not testing companies, not administrators, and not bureaucrats. We deserve that smart system, and so do our students.

After I spoke, Janella Hines, one of the UFT Vice-Presidents, spoke against our resolution. Debate was over, as per the rules of the Delegate Assembly*, and there was a vote as to whether or not a debate and vote on our resolution would be added to the agenda for next month. Since votes are not counted in UFT meetings (problematic!), we don’t know exactly what the totals were (I’ve heard estimates at 30-70 and 40-60), but a “visual majority” did not support adding our resolution to the next agenda.

Perhaps the majority of the UFT delegate assembly isn’t ready to fight Advance, but are you?

If so, join MORE’s campaign to reject “Advance!” Help us push the UFT leadership to be more democratic and inclusive of rank-and-file teacher input, and lend your expertise towards fighting what Diane Ravitch calls the “corporate education deform movement.” Continue this conversation with your colleagues, sign our petition, come to a meeting, contact us, or come celebrate with us at our holiday party this Friday!

 

*A side-note on the use of parliamentary procedure:

When I asked President Mulgrew about our rules of order after the meeting, he advised me to start researching. I’ll continue my research, but my first google search resulted in the following key points from the website www.robertsrules.org:

“Complementary is the right of at least a strong minority to require the majority to be deliberate- to act according to its considered judgment AFTER a full and fair “working through” of the issues involved. Robert’s Rules provides for constructive and democratic meetings, to help, not hinder, the business of the assembly.”

Though a “for” and “against” position on our resolution (as per UFT rules) was presented during the meeting, I don’t believe this constitutes a full and fair “working through, ” and I think that this rushed treatment is all too often the case with important topics in the delegate assembly.

Furthermore, the website states that, “Under no circumstances should “undue strictness” be allowed to intimidate members or limit full participation.”  I know I’m not the only delegate who feels intimidated by speaking. As for full participation, it is already decidedly limited when only 15 percent of our membership voted in the 2012 UFT elections, and the Union Hall doesn’t even have enough space to hold close to the 3, 406 elected delegates.