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By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher/UFT Delegate

Leon M. Goldstein High School- Brooklyn, NY

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor Elect, no matter one’s politics there is universal agreement that twelve years of rule is enough, it’s time for a new day. I’m sure you have already heard from the so called education experts on how to best “fix” our schools. Some of our friends have already told you how to best address the education needs (Diane Ravitch and Assailed Teacher). Rather than write you a laundry list of everything we want to help our public school system we have one simple request; visit our public schools and speak to the real stakeholders, educators, parents, and of course our children.

There it is Mr. de Blasio, you have already said education is a top priority, so take time and actually show up unannounced to public schools around New York City. Please don’t show up with an army of advisors and consultants, when the “iPad mafia’ comes in from the DOE it disturbs our classroom by diverting our students attention. You do not need cameras or reporters either. It’s simple, show up, sit down, listen, observe, ask questions and find out the truth for yourself. Our elementary school teachers have a great expression, “use your five senses,” that’s great advice that can help your evaluation. I know there are bunch of folks at Tweed (DOE headquarters) who have fancy titles and resumes full of “qualifications’ that they believe makes them experts, but better to speak the real experts, the people on the ground, find out the truth for yourself.

Visit all types of schools, ones that are considered high performing, ones that have been labeled “failing,” those that are forced to share room with charters, schools in communities where poverty is the norm, and schools where parents associations and alumni have made up for the wave of budget cuts. When you get there sit in on our classes, watch what teachers do. Take time to speak to them afterwards. Find out from teachers about how all these new policies such as Common Core  standards, new aligned curriculum, evaluation schemes, and proliferation of testing is affecting our students. After you’re done talking to teachers, visit the guidance counselors, deans, paraprofessionals, and other educators and find out their thoughts on all the changes made in the last twelve years.

Hopefully you can find some principals and assistant principals to talk to who preceded the Bloomberg era and can explain to you how our school system has changed for the better or the worse. Ask them their thoughts on the leadership academies, where inexperienced educators are left to run their own schools. Ask them how much sovereignty they actually have. It would be a really good idea to sit down and run a budget analysis with them, make sure to to focus on the allocations for “network support” and “educational consultants”.  It would also help you out to ask our school leaders about networks, superintendent offices, consultants, Tweed, and if all that money being diverted to these levels of bureaucracies could be better used in the schools. Find out the impact that these so called experts are having on our children and if we can better allocate public funds, such as reducing class size, adding more after-school programs, and wrap-around services.

And while you are talking to the educators and leaders, meet with parents, ask them their thoughts on all the new curriculum changes and testing. Find out how closing schools and co-locating ten schools in one building is affecting their children’s education. Ask them how to fix education and if poverty matters. Give them the “company” line that “poverty is just an excuse”, lets see their reaction to that! Ask them if the lack of healthcare or a pathway to citizenship affects their children’s education.

Finally, make time to sit down with the most important group of all, the real experts, our students. Have lunch with them, taste the food, find out their thoughts on school, what they want, what they need. Do they like all the test prep, less creative-arts classes, less physical education, less after-school programs, What do they think of their teachers, their principals, all the school faculty? Talk to the children who had their community schools closed or lost space to fancy new charters, investigate what has been the impact of Bloomberg’s policies on these innocent children. Ask our students how education can be improved, talk to high school students about the limited choice of courses due to budget cuts, find out how our younger elementary children have gone from playing and enjoying school to being drilled for tests on a daily basis, discuss with our middle school children how much stress they have from the constant practice for their ELA and Math exams. The main question for all our children has to be, is the obsession with bubbling in the correct answer making your educational experience better?

We don’t think this is too much to request. Visit schools, talk to the stakeholders, and let these conversations dictate your educational policies and choice for chancellor, not the experts who are lined up at your door, but have never spent a day in our schools. This is our only wish, Mr. Mayor Elect, we only hope you take our advice. As one of the few, if not the only organized group of actual rank and file educators that are actively working in public schools we are more than happy to open our doors to you.

Support of Union Leaders is Sought in Call for Moratorium on New NYS ‘Test-Prep’ Teacher Evaluation Scheme

MORE and Change the Stakes Team Up for “Win Back Wednesday” Rally at UFT Delegate Assembly, UFT Headquarters, Oct. 9

 For Immediate Release

NEW YORK — On October 9th at 4:00 p.m, activists from all over the city will gather at UFT headquarters to protest the emphasis on high-stakes testing that education advocates denounce for harming students, educators, and public schools. This action will be led by two grassroots organizations: the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), known as ‘the social justice caucus’ of the UFT, and Change the Stakes, a group of parents who oppose reducing education to the pursuit of higher standardized test scores.

According to organizers, the rally is being called “Win Back Wednesday” because public education must be “won back” from the profit-driven entities behind high-stakes testing and school privatization schemes and returned to actual stakeholders: parents, students, and educators. Wednesday is the monthly UFT Delegate Assembly, when representatives elected by rank and file educators from every school in the city traditionally meet to vote on key decisions.

Organizers are hopeful that union leadership will change course, breaking alliances formed in recent years with self-described education “reformers,” whose agenda typically focuses on increased high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools. To highlight growing opposition to these policies, UFT members throughout NYC will wear anti-high-stakes testing stickers and buttons in their own schools on October 9th, and then gather for a united rally at UFT headquarters downtown after school.

“Our children’s education should never be thought of as ‘common’ or ‘standardized,’” said Mike Schirtzer, UFT delegate and MORE member, referring to the new Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation system. “Recent educational policies have put a dangerous emphasis on high-stakes testing. The results? A narrowed curriculum. A climate of fear and competition in our classrooms. Students learning to bubble in the right answer, not how to think critically.”

“All too often, our leadership has been complicit in this assault on educational quality and equality,” Schirtzer said. “As the nation’s largest, most powerful union local, the UFT can and should lead the charge for real innovation in schools. Rank and file teachers and public school parents want leadership to say loudly and unambiguously what we all know to be true: the testing regime has run amok. We have chosen the UFT headquarters for the rally because we believe they can be a leading voice for real reform.”

Rally organizers will call on union leadership to demand a “real path to better public schools,” including reduced class sizes; a renewed focus on the arts, music, civics, and physical education; and funding for afterschool programs and wrap-around programs.

Jia Lee, NYC public school teacher and parent worries that, “Standardized testing only gives my son’s teacher this information: if he answered an item correctly or incorrectly. In my son’s school, mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning; it’s never punitive as in these new high stakes tests. He doesn’t need the burden of thinking that his incorrect answers will cost his teacher her job.”

“While millions of dollars are being wasted on implementing these new ‘reform’ policies,” Schirtzer added, “our children lack the services they deserve and our educators enter their fifth year without a contract. The UFT leadership must use its power to say ‘enough is enough’! We are calling on them to join us in telling the public, politicians, and those that say they care about education that our children, teachers, and public schools are more than a test score!

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Change the World

September 14, 2013 — Leave a comment
"never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world"

Remember That David Defeated Goliath

"nothing counts but pressure, and still more pressure, through the tactic and strategy of broad, organized, aggressive mass action"

Remembering a Great Leader 50 Years After the March on Washington

by: Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate (Leon M. Goldstein H.S.)
2013 MORE/UFT Vice Presidential Candidate

“The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.” -Jonathan Kozol

This quote by the great writer and public education advocate Mr. Kozol leads one to infer that without a struggle there cannot be victory. One may also assert that there is victory in the struggle itself. The question of how an opposition caucus within a union can gain power and victory is one that must be answered in order for that caucus to progress.

Without power, there can never be victory. Power in any group is obtained when the individuals that make up the group feel empowered. Empowerment comes when each member is able to stand up and fight back against the corporate and political forces that seek to destroy public education and bust our unions. We empower our members by assuring them that their voices count, and by asking them for their input on all major decisions. An organization that allows for true democracy is one that empowers its members. We also empower our members by having a space where dissent and debate are welcomed, not suppressed. Empowerment comes when we stand together at delegate assemblies , rallies and school closing hearings, when we cheer each other on, and offer words of encouragement. Empowerment is when new activists who join our caucus realize their ideas are as valuable as  those of our founding members. Our caucus has power when each and every member feels as though they can stand up and speak even when they are the minority in the room, because they are empowered by the vocal and moral support of their brothers and sisters. Our members become empowered because each one is given a responsibility and they know the only way our caucus can be a success is by them fulfilling those responsibilities.

The caucus empowers our members by asking them to appear on panels, facilitate meetings, or join expert forums. We realize that the true experts are not paid off politicians, billionaire reformers, nor professors who have never stepped foot in a public education classroom. The real experts are the educators and parents whose lives are devoted to public education.

Power leads to victory when each of our members walks through the doors of their school, community center, union hall, or legislative building feeling as they have as much power as anyone in that place. Then we know we can achieve victory.

Victory is achieved when new members walk through our doors and say “thank God you exist,” having heard those very words out in the open that they hear in their head each day. They are feeling the very spirit that they wished they felt from their union and government leaders. But the real victory is when the members of the caucus turn to that new member and say, “No, thank God you’re here, because we need you.” That is real empowerment.  That is victory!

Victory is achieved when our members take what they learn at our caucus meetings and bring it back to their school, share it with their colleagues, and speak at Parent Association meetings. This is victory because the message is not being delivered by an out of touch media or an elitist politician, but it’s being delivered by someone who has a stake in the public education system.

We know we have won something when our members go back to their schools and organize a fund to help undocumented students attend the college of their choice, or when a member organizes a club for African-Americans and other students of color at their school where students teach their peers to respect one another and even organize multicultural fairs. When our parents opt their children out of the tests, we have won. They have done this because they realize social justice is more than just a slogan.

When our union brothers and sisters are offered a choice in a union election, an alternative to the current leadership, this is a victory for democracy. MORE’s very existence offers a beacon of hope to those who feel as though they are disenfranchised. Every time we stand up and voice our discontent that union leaders sell out public education for a seat at the table, we ensure that democracy thrives.

Victory is when the bonds of the members of our caucus become so strong that when one of us feels hurt we all feel that pain. We win every time we’re able to look past our political differences to advocate for public education, because we realize that what brings us together is stronger than what separates us.

We have won when we are able to look to each other for the moral and vocal support that is supposed to come from our union leadership, yet only comes from those in our caucus.

Victory is being the largest and loudest contingent at the rare march or rally called by our union leadership, leading the chants as we march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We win when the leadership has no clue how to organize an action and all union members look to us for what to say or do.

We have achieved victory when the media and the general public know that when they want to hear the voice of rank and file educators, they call you, read your blogs, look for your press statements. We win when our social media has as many readers, if not more, than the corporate reformers who pretend to be interested in our children, but only care about profits.

MORE has yet to achieve victory. When our entire union is organized and mobilized to lead the fight for a fair education for all, we will declare victory. When our leadership is responsive, transparent, and truly democratic, we will declare victory. When educators, parents, and students are treated with the dignity they deserve, we will declare victory. When every child is offered equal opportunity and equality of conditions in their education, we will declare victory. When the “new Jim Crow” policies of privatization and closing schools ends and proper funding for public education is restored, we will know we have won.

Until then, we continue our struggles together. We will succeed because when we stand united, we can never be defeated!

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