Archives For social justice

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 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.

 

 

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Saturday, October 29 at 9 AM – 4:30 PM
City-As-School, 16 Clarkson St, New York, New York 10014
TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW!
JOIN US for the NYC Social Justice Curriculum Fair on October 29th hosted by the Movement and Rank File Educators. We are eager to bring together educators from across the city to share curriculum, come up with new ideas for our students, and have an inspiring day of dialogue. We want to look beyond packaged curriculum and test-centric lessons and create spaces that respect our students’ identities and build community.

If you are interested in tabling or sharing curriculum, please let us know on the registration page!

The day will include:
-Curriculum presentations and shares from elementary to high school and adult education in a range of subject areas from social studies to math.
-Spaces for dialogue around what it means to be an educator who teaches through a social justice lens.
-Tabling of resources and materials from organizations such as Rethinking Schools, Morningside Center for Social Responsibility and more!

Schedule:
9-9:45 Registration and Interactive Gallery Walk
9:45-10:30 Welcome & Table Visits
10:30-12:30 Curriculum Presentations and Shares in Rooms

12:30-1:30 Lunch (Option to purchase lunch by Woke Foods:
Vegan & Vegetarian Dominican, Caribbean, Latinx foods for $12)

1:30-3:30 Open Space- Join a grade level or content area group to discuss ideas for curriculum.
3:30-4:30 Closing Plenary: Teaching for Social Change: Challenging School Segregation and Fighting for Culturally-Relevant Curriculum in NYC with Sarah Camiscoli of IntegrateNYC4Me and others!

We suggest a donation of $5-20 for registration. Your contribution goes directly towards the space rental and other overhead costs. THANK YOU!

See you there!

Questions? Get in touch! Email: sjcurriculumfair@gmail.com

peace-unity-justice

This is MORE’s statement on the march with the Eric Garner’s family sponsored by the UFT

Last week the UFT announced sponsorship and support for A March for Unity and Justice.  The march, with Eric Garner’s family at the helm, is billed as a coming together and a call for transparency and accountability in the wake of several prominent cases of alleged police brutality.  A firestorm of criticism of the UFT’s sponsorship of this march has played out on the pages of newspapers, social media, and countless emails between educators, politicians, and community leaders.

Continue Reading…

For Deion

August 20, 2014 — 11 Comments

candles

This is a personal statement by a member of MORE. It may or may not represent the official view of the MORE caucus.

By Julie Cavanagh

Teacher/Chapter Leader P.S.15k

One year ago I received a phone call from a former student. After a few exchanged pleasantries he interrupted me to say, “Deion is dead”.  My heart sank, a lump formed in my throat, and I listened to what is an increasingly all too familiar story of a young black man dying during a low-level police interaction.

Continue Reading…

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
6:30-8:30 P.M.
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 E. Third St.
New York, New York
$10 at the door, proceeds to benefit MORE

"Davonte's Inferno"

Many thanks to Laurel for donating the proceeds from this reading to MORE!

Stop and Reverse the Disappearing of Black and Latino Educators in NYC

Public Meeting Notice

 Join us to move NYC teacher diversity on to the Public Agenda

this spring through Diversity committee presentations to the new

Chancellor and Mayor.

Speak out at Panel for Educational Policy.

Outreach to educators, parents and students.

Information table at teacher certification exam sites.

Testimonials for Teachers Unite’s upcoming report.

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Time:    4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

The Church of St. Luke and

St. Matthew’s Parish Hall

520 Clinton Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11238

(C train to Clinton/Washington stop.

Church is between Fulton St & Atlantic Ave).

A 42% decline in the number of new Black and Latino teachers hired to teach in NYC public schools since 2002 is movement in the wrong direction.

The DOE hires graduates from private universities over those from CUNY and SUNY.

A NYS teacher certification exam is not validated yet disproportionately excludes Black and Latino applicants.

Over 100 public schools have been closed in NYC’s Black and Latino communities.

Mayoral control over the DOE with its $25 billion yearly budget shuts out the voices and accountability to parents – over 80% of whom are Black, Latino and Asian.

Privately run charter schools are given a free ride to crowd existing public schools and to divide parents against parents.

The absence of DOE or mayoral oversight or direction to monitor and promote diversity in the teaching staff provides a cover for growing indifference and hostility to demands for equity.  “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

The undermining of teacher tenure, seniority and due process disproportionately impacts Black and Latino teachers, denigrates the teaching profession, inhibits student advocacy and contributes to chaos and demoralization in our public schools.

The disappearing of Black and Latino educators removes the most consistent advocates for a historically accurate, culturally relevant and inclusive curriculum.

Calling all “drum majors” for diversity now.  Join with educator, parent, student and community leaders to stop and reverse the disappearing of Black and Latino educators.

Endorsed by

  • Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence.
  • Coalition for Public Education.
  • Movement of Rank and File Educators.
  • National Black Education Agenda.
  • New York Collective of Radical Educators.
  • People Power.
  • Progressive Action Caucus.
  • Teachers Unite

Organized by:

The Teacher Diversity Committee (TDC) of NYC

 Email: TeacherDiversity@gmail.com

 

Panelists Anthony Lackhan, Marcus McArthur, Sean Petty, and moderator Kit Wainer sparked an insightful discussion about unity and fair contracts during the forum.

Panelists Anthony Lackhan, Marcus McArthur, Sean Petty, and moderator Kit Wainer sparked an insightful discussion about unity and fair contracts during the forum.

NEW YORK: Over 75 rank and file union members gathered on Thursday (3/7/2014) night to mobilize against

Those rank and file workers have already garnered over 1,000 signatures on a letter demanding that union leaders prioritize retroactive pay.  Furthermore, they urge Mayor de Blasio to stay true to his campaign promise of “ending the tale of two cities,” and ask him to demonstrate his commitment to ending income inequality, starting at the bargaining table.

The forum was organized by the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the ACS Coalition of Union Members, 99 Pickets and rank and file activists from NYSNA, District Council 37, and the Professional Staff Congress.  Members of TWU Local 100, Organization of Staff Analysts, Teamsters Local 237, 1199 SIEU and other city unions were represented in a lively discussion.

“It’s clear that the anger that city workers feel about losing ground for the past five years is starting to find expression,” said Sean Petty, a nurse at the HHC. “The fact is that we’ve given up our free time, we’ve come in during snowstorms, we’ve stayed overnight in hospitals, and we’ve worked overtime to cleanup the city after Superstorm Sandy. That is being repaid with a new mayor who is saying there is not enough money for the raises we deserve. What tonight showed,” he continued, “is that there is a growing unrest among city workers and that we are not going to accept the status quo excuses from the administration.  It’s clear to all of us there is enough money to pay for the things that we all need, whether you are a city worker or depend on city services.”

Anthony Lackhan, a member of Local 1549, DC37 said,“Tonight I learned that there are a lot more of us willing to fight for what we’ve earned. I’m excited that I’m not alone and reinvigorated to find brothers and sisters of like mind.”

“Its okay for us to ask for more right now.  It’s OK for us to demand a strong middle class.  It’s our duty as public sector unions to demand it,” said Marcus McArthur, a city teacher and member of the MORE caucus of the UFT.

“De Blasio campaigned on a tale of two cities.  Well, here’s the other city coming forward,” said Lucy Herschel, a member of 1199 SEIU. “I don’t think I’ve ever been at a meeting of this many rank and file union members from different unions before,” she added.

“The thing we all have in common as teachers, as city workers, as nurses, is that we all care about the people we serve, and the people in our community care about our services, so we need to work together and really build locally.” said Rosie Frascella, a teacher and member of the MORE caucus of the UFT.

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The Movement of Rank and File Educators is the Social Justice Caucus of the United Federation of Teachers.  For MORE information: https://morecaucusnyc.org/about/