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The new UFT-DOE contract makes no change in the 50-year wait for lower class sizes, a fair grievance procedure, and a rational job security process, among other issues. Newer teachers will still have to endure 4 or more years of harassment and hundreds of pages of tenure application paperwork, the DOE and administrators will still have the same ability to skirt the contract while chapter leaders and union members are held accountable for small offenses, and the general class size limits of 34 students in high schools will not budge a bit.

While the UFT should be applauded for negotiating minor improvements in the number of observations, the overall agreement is a readymade rhetorical exercise in the “students first” claims of education “reform” advocates who really just want to cut resources and spending from public schools. Press releases by both the De Blasio administration and the UFT leadership of Michael Mulgrew proclaimed that the tentative collective bargaining agreement goes beyond teachers and workers and instead focuses on improving the work of students in schools.

I, and many other teachers, care equally about learning conditions as we do about working conditions, because we have come to the conclusion that the two, at their core, are symbiotic, if not essentially the same. However, the details of the agreement seem to indicate this potential contract would be a continuing disaster for students, parents, and educators alike. While there are steps towards a more rigorous arbitration process over class size violations, it is unclear how much on-the-ground conditions will change, as administrators are already able to ignore legal limits during pivotal periods early in the year, and all the contract does is shift around some numbers and add more bureaucratic committees of UFT-DOE collaboration.

Notably, there are no reductions in the class size caps for K-12 courses, which run as high as 34 students in general education high school classes and 50 students in music and physical education high school classes. This is despite many assurances to teachers from   UFT leaders that class size was indeed a priority in these contract negotiations. As the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators has predicted for the past year, there was never any real commitment to lowering class size. Union leaders have admitted as much, saying that the city made it clear it wouldn’t be on the bargaining table.

Unfortunately, this is the type of position from which our union decided to bargain, instead of organizing the membership of educators to publicly demand a better contract, as has happened in states all over the country with teacher strikes, or at least strike readiness. The decision was to cave on core issues and assume that the allegedly progressive mayor would give a good deal. Instead, it is a deal riddled with givebacks such as a pay “raise” that doesn’t match inflation, second-tier healthcare for new teachers, prescreening psychological “stress” tests for new teachers, and an increase in remote education programming.

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While class size reductions would be a broad programmatic change that could benefit all students, the tentative contract instead includes more of the band-aid measures that have marked the warm 5-year marriage between the UFT and De Blasio, a marriage with a parsimonious attitude towards effective spending on education.  

In 2014, the De Blasio administration announced the beginning of the Renewal Schools project, which focused on funneling massive amounts of money, sometimes carelessly, into schools which the city had identified as low-performing. At the time, the UFT applauded the administration as rational and just, as if anything other than big Bloomberg-era austerity cuts and overt charter expansion was a blessing.

In 2018, the UFT and DOE have now announced the so-called “Bronx Plan”, which is similarly a band-aid measure. It focuses on certain struggling schools, claiming to give workers higher pay and more control, but also involving vaguely worded parallel structures to the main collective bargaining agreement,  leaving open threats to the security and solidarity of workers. Further, it does nothing to address the 100,000 NYC school children who are homeless, many of whom live in the Bronx. Nor does it address the 595,000 NYC students who attend overcrowded schools

The UFT, meanwhile, announced on October 11 that it wanted to convene an emergency session of its Delegate Assembly the next day, in order to recommend this agreement be presented to the overall membership for approval. However, the document was  over 60 pages and most DA members did not have time to adequately review this, let alone work the “emergency” assembly meeting into their schedules. [Why was it an emergency? That’s unclear. The current contract wasn’t going to expire for months.]

The union leadership is attempting to fast-track an agreement that its members are not even familiar with yet, and which lacks any progress on issues such as class size, which is demanded by and benefits teachers, parents, and students alike. At a time when New York’s mayor is a self-proclaimed progressive in the largest city in the country, we should be pushing for a bold contract. The UFT needs to mobilize membership to demand the DOE make a contract that doesn’t include more meager raises and band-aid programmatic changes. Of course, with ballots rushed and due by the end of the month, chances are this conversation and mobilization won’t happen. However, as more rank-and-file members become aware of the lack of democracy and the lack of any real progress in our bargaining agreements with the city, the tides could shift and this wave of apathy could wash away, along with many of our union and city government leaders who lack vision and bold ideas.

 

Andrew Worthington is an English and special education teacher and the chapter leader at PACE HS in Manhattan.

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.

 

 

Click here to view the PDF version of this post, or scroll through it below.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE-UFT) voted unanimously at our last General Body meeting to propose that the United Federation of Teachers, instead of sitting out this gubernatorial race, endorse the pro-public education platform presented by Howie Hawkins for Governor and Brian Jones for Lieutenant Governor.

MORE prepared to present a resolution at Wednesday’s Delegate Assembly. The UFT leadership, however, did not allow this discussion. Despite being informed in advance that MORE chapter leaders and delegates intended to raise this resolution for debate and voting, UFT leadership called time on the ten-minute new motion period, thus prohibiting this conversation. In fact, though Michael Mulgrew’s President’s Report was longer than 45 minutes, there was no mention of this Governor’s race.

Though UFT and NYSUT leadership remain silent regarding the upcoming Gubernatorial race, we pledge go to the polls and vote for the only public school positive, teacher-and-student friendly candidates in this race.  We encourage fellow friends of public education to join us in voting Hawkins/Jones!

Why? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • Both Andrew Cuomo and Rob Astorino vocally support the privatization of education through the expansion of charter schools. In contrast, the Green Party ticket of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones opposes charter schools.
  • Andrew Cuomo has pushed through an expansion of testing statewide and the punitive linking of test scores to teacher evaluations. The Hawkins/Jones ticket opposes an emphasis on high stakes testing.
  • Andrew Cuomo implemented a destructive tax cap that has forced massive layoffs of teachers in upstate districts.
  • New York State AFL-CIO and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) have declined to endorse Cuomo because of his anti-education policies.
  • Astorino and Cuomo are both millionaires while Hawkins and Jones are both union activists, Hawkins in Teamsters, Jones in the UFT and PSC.
  • The Hawkins/Jones platform of a Green New Deal calls for
    • equitable funding for all of our schools,
    • reduced class sizes across the state,
    • support for programs that promote desegregation in our schools,
    • an end to zero-tolerance discipline policies driving the school-to-prison pipeline,
    • and allowing schools to develop methods of assessment organic to the learning process. 
  • To learn more, Read their letter to teachers here, and spread the word using the voter guide below. 
MORE/UFT Caucus Pro-Education Positions Hawkins/ Jones (Green) Cuomo(Dem.) Astorino(Rep.)
Against the Expansion of Charter Schools
Against High Stakes Testing, Against APPR (New teacher evals) / Supports Parents & Students’ Right to Opt Out of High Stakes Tests
Against Common Core?
Union member or Millionaire Candidates? Union Millionaire Millionaire
Fight corporate ed deform by rescinding NY’s Race to the Top application and replacing NYSED commissioner John King
Tax Top 5% and Eliminate State Property Tax Cap to Fund Schools
Supports unionism, social movements and a $15/hr minimum wage

Don’t sit this election out, vote for a real change in Education Policy!  Vote Hawkins/Jones!

Zero for Two

May 15, 2012 — 1 Comment

Please help us distribute this leaflet in your school (click here to let us know where you can get it out) and at the upcoming UFT Delegate Assembly on May 16th at 52 Broadway, 4pm.

0 for 2

The Mulgrew/Unity leadership is batting .000 this year. It has failed to protect us against school closings and a new teacher evaluation process that will tie our job security to our students’ standardized test scores.

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