Monday, November 26, 2018

An Nutty, Bloody, Ad Hominem Free for All

With the alliances among the differing opposition groups within the UFT breaking apart, it has been difficult to gauge how the upcoming UFT elections will look. But, as we end the Fall and look to winter, the landscape for those elections is finally beginning to take shape.

And what a shape it is taking!  This year is a free for all. We may well have as many as four separate groups, and two very large elephants in the room, fielding candidates to run. Below is a run-down of what groups will probably be running, as well as a bit of background on each and a mention for the two elephants in the room!:

The Unity Caucus is in power and has been since the union's inception. They are the largest caucus and will, no doubt, win all of the big city-wide seats offered.

It looks as though the New Action Caucus will be running on their own this year. NAC is currently the second oldest of the UFT caucuses. They have held seats on the UFT's Executive Board for well over a decade and have done so by aligning themselves with other groups by way of joint slate tickets. The last election saw them forming a joint slate tickets with the MORE caucus, where they were re elected to Executive Board Seats for High Schools. This time around, they'll be running on their own.

The MORE Caucus recently announced they were "contesting" the election. This means either that they're running or are objecting to the outcome of the election before it's even held. With MORE, you never really know. Since their win of 7 high school Executive Board seats in 2014, that caucus has drifted far to the left and has seemed to have turned alienating union allies into an art form.  They have been accused of purposely alienating or pushing out anyone who wasn't "left" enough for them. As you can imagine, this leaves a very small group and many of those they refuse to work with were the work horses of that organization.  They say they're running, but don't be surprised if they cannot find enough signatures to petition the UFT to allow them to run at all. Frankly, I hear their 'once great' chapter leaders can no longer bring any more than 10 or 12 people to chapter meeting and I doubt their viability to even get on a ticket and form a slate at all. They're a shell of their former selves. I give them a 50-50 chance for even being able to run.

The Solidarity Caucus will be running! Formed in 2014 after a falling out with MORE, Francesco Portelos and his caucus will be, in fact, running this year. Last election, Solidarity did have enough signatures to run for election, but did not have enough candidates to run a full slate. With MORE ruining its reputation and NAC coming into the game on its own two feet, I think this year will be different and Solidarity will have a full slate of candidates and the required amount of signatures for each. Solidarity will be running.

Besides those four caucuses, there are two very large and venerable elephants in the room: Arthur Goldstein and Mike Schirtzer. Both are former members of MORE (who am I kidding, the entire opposition are former members of allies of MORE!) and have repeatedly said that they will not run with just anyone. Arthur is rightly given credit for MORE's high school victory last election and Mike is well known as an organizer's organizer. Both are award winning union members and have helped accomplished real lasting change since coming to the Executive Board after the 2014 elections. You can't say that about many members of the Executive Board. Neither of them care much for ideology or for intra-caucus politics and they both seem just fine sitting it out. But they could also snap their fingers and form their own caucus within a matter of weeks. That is not an exaggeration. That could in theory, alter the landscape once more before the elections come next Spring. Not so much horses to watch as they are the elephants in the room that every group must pay careful attention to, Arthur and Mike are the game changers. As I said, you can't say that about very many individual members of the UFT, but you can about these two. 

And that is the free for all that will be the 2019 UFT elections! Four -four- caucuses running next year and two game changing unionists who are currently unaffiliated. (I would like to form a caucus and call it the DOEnuts slate and make it an even five. I'll run the first person who drops a comment as candidate for president!). 

In solidarity

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Vote Yes

Something crazy happened on the way to the teacher contract negotiations: My union stopped acting like a monolith top-down structure and showed sincere signs of being member-driven. It answered member concerns by listening to their suggestions, advocating for them in negotiations and winning many in a contract. 

The big takeaway from the 2018 contract is not what is in it but how it came to be. This may be the year that the UFT became an actual union again.

No contract is perfect. Not at all. However, virtually every single item I see in the new proposed teachers contract originated from some teacher or union activist who cares about students. I have never seen that happen in nearly two decades of being here. 

And a brief word about the money: I would like more as well. Yet while many point out that 2% is not enough to keep up with inflation, those very same people ignore the step/differential increase that are already built into our pay system. Those increases already ensure that any teacher experiences anywhere between 2% and 10% raise over any three  year period (the life of this contract) at any point in their career. 

The naysayers are dishonest to not mention this and you shouldn't listen to them. 

Over the next three years, the life of this contract, I stand to make $21,000 more than I do right now. That's a $21,000 raise to me. And while I would have liked to seen more than a 2% base increase, $21,000 is $21,000. I know I am not the only teacher who will experiencing an increase of that amount during this contract. Those who are pretending to be "cerebral" or "well informed" about the contract and about pay structure are either well informed and ignore these obvious facts or are so ill informed that they shouldn't speak. (They also ignore that our benefits are not reductions from our pay like the rest of the United States of America. Our healthcare is in addition to this money. You can't say that about any other type of worker expect a NYC employee. So we should all add as much as $20,000 to our checks for healthcare. Many of us should add $10,000 more for the tier IV retirement we will be receiving. Those folks who claim to be "wise" about this won't do that.) They don't think they have to play by the same rules of honesty as the rest of us. They think they're special. 

But they're not.

My opinion: There will come a time, when the political winds in this city shift and the union tries to work with an anti teacher mayor, that the UFT will sell out its members in order to maintain its political seat at the table. 2018 is not that time. 

There will be a time when a teachers contract sells out its members for the sake of the union's power. 2018 is not that contract. 

Virtually every single item I see in the new proposed teachers contract originated from someone teacher union activist who cares about students.  When you consider the protections, when you consider the process of listening to members and when you consider the pay, voting yes to this one is a no brainer. I have learned a little about city teacher contracts before. This is the best deal since 1965. 

Vote yes

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Looking For Retro At The Dairy Queen

I was a young man on November 1, 2009. That was the last time I remember looking handsome in a mirror,  the last time I can remember being able to stay out all night and still make it into work to  the next day, the last time I can remember ladies giving me a passing glance when I walked by.

It was also the last time the New York City Department of Education did not owe me money. 

In the months and years thereafter, there ensued a war against teachers in New York City so vicious that union leaders and politicians alike were felled and a movement -created specifically to push back against the Ed-reform movement- was born (or should I say wrought? hmm).

History will someday record that the fissures within the Democratic party have their roots in the decisions made around education during those first few months of that Obama administration -which happened to coincide with the third term of mayor Bloomberg.

So, of course, a new contract and a raise for teachers (like me) was nowhere to be had. And every day thereafter, as I become less and less youthful and gradually more worn until old, the City of New York started to owe me money.

When we finally did get a raise, in a contract I completely opposed, the money that I was owed, called Retroactive Payments, was rolled into a ridiculously confusing formula that ensured I would be getting paid a small amount every year (or so) until 2020.

Said one teacher, "we won't be made whole until some of us are dead and gone". And it was this -not being made whole for another 6 years- that represents price we teachers paid for suffering through the many affronts we experienced at the hands of politicians during a war against public education that took direct aim at us.

So each year, in October, we're given a little bit of the money that has been owed to us since we were young men and women. Almost like a pitty tip given to the Goodfellas character Spider after being callously shot in the foot for no reason.

And each year in October, the inevitable question among us arises: How much is the retro going to be?

And you know I'm going to tell how you to figure it out -of course I am!

But you also know that I wasn't about to go telling you without first making you read and remember the reason why we are owed this money in the first place. We are owed this money because countless politicians and leading members of our own unions felt that subjecting thousands of innocent teachers to be either fired, or terrorized in the workplace or humiliated in the press was somehow OK in the name of "progress". This isn't a  Susan Gregg Gilmore novel and it surely isn't free money.

OK, now that that's over, would you like to know how much you're owed? Sure.

All of the calculations in the payroll portal have be pre configured. This was true for 2015 and it was true for 2017. You can log in and check for yourself. Our total amount owed has already been calculated.  So if you were active in 2009 and if you're differentials are all the same, and if you're still active today, all of those numbers are calculated.

This year, we're owed twice as much, 25% as last year (12/5%). Therefor,  a good rule of thumb to follow is that this year's payment will be roughly twice as large as last year's.

Log onto Payroll Portal, find your way to the retro payment center and log on there, find last year's retro-only payment and double it. Then add your gross pay for the October check.

See? Simple. Just don't forget how we got here.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Another View Newsletter

Norm Scott over at Ednotes has published a new newsletter entitled Another View. From Norm:

Our aim is to bring deeper and more thoughtful discussion of issues to UFT members - to present a view you won't see coming from the leadership or other caucuses. 
If you want to share with others in your schools and beyond email me for a pdf or copy and paste the text below and send it as an email.

You can find his email at Ednotes.

Given the lack of common sense from many of the outside caucuses lately, it's been fairly easy (for me at least) to see the mainstay -Unity- as the only sensible path for my vote in the next election (April, 2019). Another View doesn't directly endorse or refute the work and accomplishments of any caucus. But reading it does provide a more rounded perspective and is rooted in a perspective that clearly comes from experiences of living and working during a period of time where unions were unions and where unionists knew what they were fighting for and when nothing was guaranteed. 

I plan on taking some pretty deep dives into each UFT caucus as we approach the election in April. For now, Another View is completely worth the read.

Pasting the text from the Ednotes post below.

Difficult Choices Ahead for UFT Members and Leaders

The Janus impact: a threat to the life-blood of the UFT

Public service unions have been under immense attacks, seemingly from all sides, including politicians in both parties on the national, state and local level. We’ve seen attacks in our own schools escalate after years of mayoral control under Bloomberg and continued by de Blasio, chiefly through the empowerment of principals and the bureaucracy at the DOE, with the consequent weakening of many union chapters, leaving most UFT members feeling vulnerable to the whims of administrators. The level of fear among UFT members in the schools is at its highest level. Due to the Janus decision and its threat to the long-time viability of our union, there is also fear at the top levels of the UFT. How the UFT under the leadership of Unity Caucus responds to these fears may well determine the future viability of our union.

Debates have raged inside the UFT over how to assure that the membership continues to support the union by continuing to pay dues. The UFT’s ability to address the fears and concerns of the members adequately may well determine its success in keeping its members.

Let us state right up front. Despite disagreements we have with the current UFT leadership we are urging all members to remain in the union and struggle with others to make the UFT the best union it can be.

In the short term indications are that, other than former agency fee payers, most members will remain. Over the longer term, members’ continued willingness to pay dues may well depend on the level of support the UFT provides on issues such as:

·       Members under attack by abusive administrators;
·       Members in schools with a tremendous lack of resources and support;
·       Members under pressure from unreasonable DOE mandates and inappropriate standards;
·       Members whose job security is constantly threatened, especially those without tenure and older teachers who are targeted because of their higher pay and their resistance to unfair practices by administrators;
·       Continued agreement to four instead of two yearly observations;
·       Allowing the de Blasio-controlled DOE’s debilitating rules and micro-management.

There are many people who are dedicated unionists but believe that the union has not been active in addressing contract abuses and fighting for teacher rights and benefits. They point to the last couple of contracts, back door agreements, uneven and weak challenges to unfair school ratings, school closings, the proliferation of charter schools, etc. There is disagreement among these critics of union policy over whether or not to stay in the union, or pressure the union by withdrawing dues unless and until the union changes.

We don’t have simple answers to people who want to leave the union, but we do believe that thinning out the union ranks among DOE employees will contribute to weakening our union, curtailing our rights, threatening our jobs, and further undermining public education. But staying in the union is not enough. Given the nation-wide attack on public education, we need to build a strong  movement of teachers in alliance with parents, students, and community members. Such a movement would be in a position to pressure and challenge the leadership.

The UFT and educational “reform”

The UFT’s weak response to the damaging educational reform movement has led to an erosion in the fundamental working conditions of the membership. By now we have become accustomed to the devastating consequences of the “educational reform movement” defined by an cabal of pseudo educational experts and supported financially and politically by think tanks, business-funded media, the educational bureaucracy and politicians of both parties. Across the country this has led to widespread school closings, high stakes testing, proliferation of charter schools, teacher firings, and diversion of vast sums of money to educational businesses like testing and tech companies, many of which have proven to offer fraudulent products.   

Instead of resisting these threats to teachers, students, and public education, as they began to unfold 16 years ago, the UFT/NYSUT/AFT leaderships stood by as children lost their schools, teachers began to lose their right to make choices about how to teach, and many lost their jobs altogether. Every year our schools in NYC are deprived of all the money they are entitled to by law, which has meant increased class sizes and loss of valuable programs. A payroll heavy with supervisors and administrators, especially at the DOE, further gobbles up money which is desperately needed in many of our schools. Our union must take on the challenges we face from our deteriorating working life and the threats to all unions from the Janus decision.

We as a Union Need to Change to Assure Our Survival

It's the union's job to make people want to stay; not to help construct barricades to keep them in. Without changes in the way our union relates to the members we fear that over time we will face an increasing erosion in membership from the dual threat from the Janus decision and charter school incursions. The membership must feel the union is willing to stand up for them. Administrators must be convinced that there’s an entire union coming down with full force if necessary.

Union leaders should be meeting with every chapter in the city, starting with schools with weak or inactive chapters. People with healthcare, pension, certification and grievance questions need to know where to start and who to turn to. Union representatives should go into schools concerned and prepared, with specific information about how the union can help.

Chapters without chapter leaders need monthly meetings initiated by district, borough or special reps. Bring in retired chapter leaders, who have the experience and knowledge to run these meetings and have consultations with the administration. Start chapter newsletters focused on what is happening the school, and use them to engage with the administration in discussing school policy and problems. In schools where problems are serious and administrators are uncooperative, use the resources of the union to take the fight to the broader community. We must look beyond a broken grievance procedure. In schools with severe problems: pressure local politicians; use social media and the press; reach out to nearby schools and community organizations.

Rethink the use of our communications, including Facebook and Twitter. We need more open debate about things that are relevant to us. Have a members-only FB page for asking questions and sharing information. Text messaging can transmit news of importance. If the school down the block has a terrible principal and/or AP we need to know about it.

District-wide issues, such as terrible superintendents, require a wide union response. End the cozy relationships some union officials have with these people. Hold meetings in local diners, bars, and coffee shops, instead of invitation-only meetings where there is no give and take. Develop videos that address our rights, for example what to do if our classes are oversized, the most common issue.

A union rep should visit a school where a member has a grievance to help with the filing and preparing, rather than waiting for steps two and three. There should also be meetings with union reps to discuss how successful chapters have used consultation meetings, chapter meetings, grievances, School Leadership Teams (SLT), PEPs and other venues for taking on bad principals. This should include experience with building alliances with parents, students and local communities.

UFT official borough and district meetings must be opened up to chapter leaders to present school problems and get feedback from other chapter leaders. The Delegate Assembly and Executive Board meetings must also address school and district issues that are not resolved at the local meetings. The union must show that it is listening and taking seriously the needs of all its members. Let’s not forget that among UFT members we have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the school system that is there for the union to use at our time of need. Returning the choice of district reps to the chapter leaders within the district would be a step in re-building trust in the union.

Our union leaders preside over a one-party system (Unity Caucus) that does not engage with the membership, puts a tight lid on dissenting opinions, and exerts tight control over union elected bodies. We are more likely to prevent defections from internal critics if members feel there is a fair system with open debate and decision making.

A democratic union is a stronger union.

We are a group of UFT members that want a stronger, more aggressive union to fight back against abusive administrators, politicians and corporations that want to close our public schools and bust our union.   For more information contact

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The DOE's Brand New, Massively Large, Organizational Structure

Buried in the news of Janus yesterday, the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, announced his new organizational structure of the NYC Department of Education.

Rumors were flying that the new chancellor might see all of the waste that is down at Tweed and do a bit of house cleaning. For those of us in schools, the hope was that fewer people at Tweed would mean fewer monies would be spent in salaries and that, perhaps, some of those resources would bleed down to the school level. The announcement dashed those hopes quicker than Alito's decision in Janus.

Far from creating a structure that reduces the bloat over at Tweed, the reorganization created a brand new, very thick, layer of bureaucracy. A new role -First Deputy Chancellor- covers all school supervision related activities. This includes the supervision of a total of 9 other brand new positions -the "Executive Superintendent". These two new positions are poised to be new faceless faces from far away offices who will be eating up the roughly $27 B annual budget of the NYCDOE.

The new structure places the DOE on a more politically adept footing, better able to answer the city-wide challenges of the time. School space and charter schools will fall under one Deputy Chancellor.  PEP and public relations will both fall under another. And ELL and SWD fall under yet another.  

Tweed re-orgs have become like rugs in the Oval Office. Each new boss gets to pick his or her own and when it's picked, that's "the look" for the next few years. But this new re-org has all the looks at feels of an entity that will not alienate its current employees and can navigate the politics of the time. What's missing when those are the priorities? 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Grētanology Summary

When you're a teacher, you give different "Good Morning"s to different people for different reasons.
But you always give a "Good Morning".

Image result for good morning cartoonYou see hundreds of people during the day. Literally speaking, that is hundreds of "Good Morning"s. I realize that may feel like a lot, almost like you are  some type of "Good Morning" machine. Maybe, as a person, you're not built that way. I know I, as a person, am not built that way.

But don't bogart your cheerfulness. There are certain responsibilities and expectations associated with being "the teacher". Meeting those expectations have their own benefits, both for you and for those around you. Spreading that cheer is one of them. Don't forget, this is just a "Good Morning". It's really no big deal. But, somewhere between the words of this simple greeting, lies a small part of he key to inspiring the humans around you (both children and adults). That's the coolest part of the job and most teachers who have been in the game long enough come to understand this. This is why most pedagogues eventually just relent their own personal hangups and give the darn "Good Morning" with a teacherly smile.

Here is a rundown of the different types of "Good Morning"s you may find myself offering at some point in your day.

You may give some "Good Morning"s out of sheer coutersey. The school aide and building SSAs get a good morning because they work hard and aren't paid very much. They've earned that courtesy and your "Good Morning" is acknowledgment that they work hard like you. Also important: students turn to those people and you want them to feel warm and fuzzy when students do.

The two students walking down the street on their way to school are important. They may be locked in their own conversation and could just care less about the world around them, but they get a "Good Morning" as well.  Their "Good Morning" comes because, at some level, they know they're passing a teacher and a polite greeting one of those expected things that reminds them they are entering their school zone.

Other "Good Morning"s are more important. You give that student who struggles a "Good Morning" because you want to be a point of light for that young person. Heck, isn't that why you became a teacher in the first place? Struggling at school is hard. A quick"Good Morning"? That's easy. That student gets a warm "Good Morning" from you and the "Good Morning" he or she gets may be just the first step in a brief conversation that may include asking how their after-school-time day was and whether or not all of the homework was able to get done. If done consistently, you will be the one the student turns to if a need arises. Believe it or not, you want to be the person that student turns to. This may include the next time they need a pen or have to take a moment to vent or is looking for something productive to do.  You want to make sure that "Good Morning" counts so you make sure that it comes from the heart. So, forget about the rush to the coffee shop. You'll have enough time. Stop and give that "Good Morning".

The loner gets the warmest "Good Morning" you can muster at any particular moment. Despite how they are dressed or how they may act, you're a teacher and you know that no one wants to be alone during school. That one greeting may be the only connection he or she makes that day. You want that connection to be a good one, so you swallow back your hot coffee and do your best to make sure that "Good Morning" counts. (The shy kid gets a similar "Good Morning" because you don't want he or she to become another loner. There are already too many loners in this world).

Your morning classes get a big "Good Morning" everyday at the beginning of class. You just stand, smile and and say "Good Morning". Do that for 30 school days without fail and, pretty soon, the class will respond with a greeting back. That's a cool teacher experience. The late arriving student gets one too. Maybe they were late upon their own accord or maybe their train or bus was delayed. Regardless of why, they're there now. Just give them a greeting. I'll explain some other time. The smartest student who have gets a "Good Morning". That kid may wind up being the Valedictorian. You don't want to risk being unappreciated by the school's top performing student.

Certain students in the afternoon class may or may not get a "Good Morning". This depends on the circumstance. You know who I'm talking about: That student who falls asleep in your class. He or she gets a Good Morning just after you have woken him or her up. This is *not* a sarcastic "Good Morning". This is a warm, inviting, yet firm "Good Morning". Believe it or not, that young person may be fairly well embarrassed to have been woken by the teacher. This standard, cheerful greeting will go far to ease that embarrassment and get that student into class.

After a while, you may come to be known for your "Good Mornings". At this point, you may learn that cheerful morning greetings begat cheerful morning greetings.  You will start receiving some "Good Mornings" from people you normally wouldn't expect. As a result, you will find yourself giving the greeting as a response as well. That's a good thing. It means your cheer-spreading greeting is working.

Other folks get one just because. Your room partner gets one because you see him or her every day. The person working the copy machine gets one because it is thankless work and you want your copies on time. The attendance person gets one because he or she works through a lot of a paper everyday. Your chapter leaders gets one because, well, chapter leader.

You don't, however, say "good morning" to your friends. They don't get the same old greeting you give everyone else. They get a "what's up" or a quick up-nod with a smile. They'll know why. Others do not receive one, either. You try to avoid saying "Good Morning" to an organized, extreme leftist. New York is filled with them and there are so many different types, it's better to just to keep clear until you've sorted it all out. That one "Good Morning" may, one day be purposefully misconstrued as a threat or as bullying behavior because of that person's agenda. Many left people are super cool but others are known for this slick type of shaming behavior. The sad fact is, you can never tell which type of leftist you're dealing with until you get to know them. So these folks have to to receive a polite smile at first. The laid back ones will eventually come up to and assure you that they're not "one of those" leftists (from that point on, they get a "Good Morning"!). I, for instance, an a liberal Catholic, so I'm used to going up to people and reassuring "I'm not one of "those" types of dreamers". The extreme ones on some type of mission will know you're keeping your distance and will just keep it rolling. Their mission is always more important than any person, anyway and they just won't have the time. You may or may not say "Good Morning" to your principal or supervisor as well. This depends on the person. If they're good, then you give it. If they're not, then the absence of a greeting which you have become known to give everyone else will leave a statement that is neither nice nor insubordinate. Sometimes not communicating anything is the clearest form of communicating. Document this in your own private notebook. That way, if there is retaliation, your grievance will win.

There are other types of greetings you give throughout the day but the "Good Morning" greeting is the most important. That's why it's important to get it right and to share it often.

Say it with me. "Good Morning". Sounds cheerful and hopeful, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Potty Mouth!

Michael Mulgrew, President of the New York City Teachers' Union, attacked the mayor today over gender bias.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew took shots at the de Blasio administration on Monday for the second time in two weeks — this time charging city leaders with gender bias over their handling of paid parental leave.
I was very disturbed as I read this New York Post article, forwarded to me by another person, between the UFT prez and the New York City Council whereas Michael Mulgrew said he was "aggravated and pissed off" at the progress of a deal to bring parental leave to every public school  teacher in New York.

He said "pissed off"!!

I want to be clear that this potty mouth is an affront not just to the city council but to every person in the City of New York. It creates an unsafe potty mouth environment for all people who read this potty mouth laden article.  Potty mouth is contagious. And the reporting of potty mouth is the contagion. I can do nothing about the contagion because this and this. But I sure can do something about the potty mouth. 

It makes no difference that the union president was fighting for a basic human right. It makes no difference that the outcome of negations can -finally- bring paid leave to tens of thousands of teachers for years to come. It makes little difference to me that gender rights are being fought for by this *man. Sure, the cause for which he fights is something I feel passionate about.  Absolutely. But the only thing that matters to me right now is this language. And it is the only thing that will matter to me for the foreseeable future.

How dare he! How dare he?

Look. There is plenty of room for personal and political conflict within a place like New York City. We are a democracy, after all. There is absolutely no room, however, for this type of potty mouth language or behavior in our town. No way, mister smarty mouth. Not here.

Now I've thought this through. In order for New York to function, I mean fundamentally, we need a safe space for its residents. Safe from crime and safe from real threats of bodily harm. Sure. But we need to be safe from potty mouth language, too. Think about it. Potty mouth is dangerous! It makes the whole city feel  less safe and, before we resolves this parental leave/fundamental human right thing, we need to talk about the potty mouth. That includes creating a fair and reasonable consequence for Michael Mulgrew's language in the article.

All other work the UFT is doing must stop. Now. This potty mouth languagem now, is the work of the union. Without feeling safe, we simply cannot proceed. Put negotiations on hold. Delay my 2% raise. Suspend my health care benefits if you nust and do.not.negoatiate.a.contract.anymore. Please, UFT, do something about this ... this ...potty mouth!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The UFT Deal With Cuomo: Good For Teachers

If you're not paying attention to the Cynthia Nixon campaign challenging Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic Party nomination for Governor later this year, you should. The comings and goings of that political melodrama have implications that could greatly affect teachers in New York City and beyond.

What's at stake? Progressives in New York, which include real progressives, as well as extreme New York leftists, are supporting a challenger to Cuomo. She's famous, competent, quite brilliant and, from what I have read, her campaign is scaring the Cuomo camp half to death.

The recent developments are what teachers should be paying attention to.

The legitimate political tent for the progressive agenda in New York is a political party called Working Families Party (WFP). This is a party that has its own line on the ballot but usually supports whichever Democratic candidate has been nominated.  The NYC Mayor has great influence in this party.  Four years ago, with de Blasio support, the WFP party supported Andrew Cuomo for reelection. This year, as the feud between the mayor and the governor have boiled over into an outright inter-party conflict, the mayor -and  the WFP- have supported Cynthia Nixon.

The governor's response was to use his influence to cut the legs out from underneath the Working Families Party by going after their funding. This is the part teachers should be paying attention to.

In order to do this, the governor used his influence with the city and state's larger labor unions. They held a meeting with other labor unions and essentially threatened those unions to stop funding the organizations that help the WFP. 

Not only was the UFT one of the unions to side with the governor, they hosted the meeting. In fact, our president threw a veiled threat out to the other unions who may have wanted to side with progressives:

“My only concern is some reckless behavior that will have an unintended consequence of us ending up with a Republican governor,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “When these elections are over, we will judge any decision we have to make off your behavior if you caused bad things to happen — even though it was not your intent you are responsible for them.”


I'll be voting for Nixon in the primary because that's just where my politics are. I'm no extreme-radical-left-guy but I'm progressive and I like to vote for progressives whenever I can (I also like my coffee with half and half but I don't think that matters much here either).

TONS more important than who I should be voting for is how this "UFT HAS SIDED WITH CUOMO" meme will effect us as teachers. This is all about policy. So how does this affect policy?

The Daily News, calling the Nixon challenge and WFP endorsement a "left crack up", has noted that this agreement now means that the governor and the unions (unions like ours) will now be lockstep in policy.

"Meantime, Cuomo, in consolidating power, has racked up fresh debts with unions that already make big demands on state spending.... 
...Politically, Cuomo and the unions are now arm in arm. For the sake of sound public policy, they must not walk in lockstep. "

 Oh, I disagree!

While there is no telling what deal the governor made with the unions, the fact remains that the governor of New York had to turn to our union for help. It is a fair assumption to say that this will benefit it (and the other unions who side with him) in some way.

Did you want Danielson to go away? Did you want the TDA percentage to be returned to the 8.5% interest level it was before the Great Recession? Did you want another shot at a new 25-55? Perhaps you wanted a cash raise or a the state to provide a stable solution to healthcare. These are now all possibilities because the governor, as the political adage goes, owes us one.

I like progressive politicians, just fine. But I like a relaxed, stable job with less pressures and fewer risks too.  I also like the idea of having a retirement and good healthcare. I like to be a happy guy around my family and progressive politicians being elected won't do that nearly as much as a better work environment will.  This latest UFT move may or may not be turning its back on the left. But having a Governor as a partner may well lead to a better outcome for teachers like me.

We will know whether this actually happens later this summer. That's when the Legislature meets for the last time of the season and it is typically when things that benefit special interest groups, like union members (like teachers), are passed into law. We shall see.

Friday, April 6, 2018

NYC Asking for INSANE Givebacks

With progressives like Bill de Blasio, who needs a conservative?

According to The Chief, the city has proposed massive healthcare cuts in the next round of budget negotiations for uniformed city employees.

The [Local 831] union’s release  stated that the city was seeking new medical deductibles from its members and trying to force them to use municipal hospitals and their affiliated doctors rather than private ones and the physicians who were connected to those facilities by raising non-municipal-hospital in-patient co-payments from $300 to $3,000 and outside primary-care doctor and specialist co-payments from $15 to $40.


In addition, the PBA said, the city had demanded that its contributions to the union’s health and welfare funds be reduced by 57 percent, and that the union’s annuity fund be eliminated.

In other words, the city wants to pay less -far less- and offer less to city employees for healthcare. And they want to push it through this round of contract negotiations. This includes:

  • A 10 times increase in copayments for hospitalized people who keep their own hospital and doctor
  • The introduction of deductibles for all city uniformed employees 
  • An almost 300% increase in copays to visit a doctor
  • A precedent where the city commits itself less to PBA health and welfare fund by 57% 
These are a patterns that are absolutely sure to repeat themselves with other city contract negotiations.

Oh ands all this with a less than 1% increase in pay for uniformed unions, another pattern which will surely repeat itself with non uniformed unions like the  concession-prone UFT.

To give you a sense of how much that would hurt city employees, you would need to understand how much money that means to an average city employee who has a family. By in large, the city pays $20,000 in healthcare for that employee and his/her family.  That 20k, is deferred, tax free compensation. You should add that amount to whatever you're paid each year because that's part of how you are compensated. 

That money has been paying for less and less in recent years and there is no end of that pattern anywhere in sight. The next logical step is for the city to defer at least some of that cost onto the employee. Increased copays are one example of how this is done. But another example comes by way of deductibles: Make that city employee pay for the $500 or $1000 worth of medical bills and the city will have to spend less. 

So let's deductibles are introduced and the amount set is $1000. Well that's $1,000 less than in compensation that the city employee will be making each year. 

Let's say a city hospital  or clinic is too far for an employee who lives in the suburbs and that employee's child has his or her tonsils taken out. Well that's $3,000 less in compensation that the city employee will be making that year because of the massive increase in hospital copays.

You see? A healthcare agreement like this takes as much as four, seven or even ten thousand dollars from  city employee each year.  And it is being proposed in exchange for a small 1% increase in cash.

These negotiations will put a dollar in our left pocket, and take $10 from our right. It is beyond insulting. It will cause real financial hardship for city employees. 

And, like all healthcare savings, it will hurt employees with families, many of which are over forty, more than anyone. 

I recently saw several teachers from West Virginia visit New York for a conference on why their strike was so successful. When asked How were all of these teacher unions able to organize, one teacher responded by saying "What really did it for me was healthcare. I found myself making less -far less- than I was because of these increasing healthcare costs I had to deal with". He went on to describe how he ultimately decided he had no other choice but to go out on strike. 

These givebacks asks the city is asking are absolutely insane. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gun Control: You May Not See How We're Divided. The Russians Do.

From Sheera Frenkel  and Daisuke AKABAYASHI in this morning's New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.
The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting....
“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”
One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.
The bots are “going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration,” said Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “It just heightens that frustration and anger.”
When the Russian bots jumped on the hashtag #Parklandshooting — initially created to spread news of the shooting — they quickly stoked tensions. Exploiting the issue of mental illness in the gun control debate, they propagated the notion that Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman, was a mentally ill “lone killer.

Most importantly:

The bots target a contentious issue like race relations or guns. They stir the pot, often animating both sides and creating public doubt in institutions like the police or media. Any issue associated with extremist views is a ripe target.
The goal is to push fringe ideas into the “slightly more mainstream,”

After my post on Sunday calling Education Reform out as the root cause for these shootings, I realized -and was politely reminded- that literally no one else was making this same claim.  I have to agree. I am the only person I know who feels that our collective response should not be to do something that is deeply opposed by one third of the nation (that's the amount of people who own or like guns).  These are people who teach and who send their kids to public schools as well.

But I think the reason that I'm the only person here making this claim starts with the realization that we, at least we progressives on the left, have stopped noticing the things that divide us a city or a state or even a country. So that when "we" "take a stand", we are invariably taking a stand against 120 million Americans.

It's not that we don't pay attention to what divides us. It's that we have stopped noticing. Or maybe we have just stopped caring to pay attention.

Well, the Russians haven't.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gun Control Will Not Stop School Shootings. Better Schools Will.

Last week's school shooting in Florida, leaving 17 dead and many wounded, was, a horrible, horrible tragedy. Again.

The incident has saddened an entire nation. Again.

And it has rocked teachers and schools all over the country to our core. Again.

Of course, it did not have to happen. These shootings can be avoided as easily as anything.

But I will not be participating in any school walk out which tries to force politicians to enact gun control. I don't think you should either.

The answer to this violence is not another push at gun control, as the former president, and numerous others, have suggested.

The answer is to rebuild schools that ensure the emotional safety of all students.

We once had that in this nation. We no longer do.

I am not claiming schools and teachers don't do these things now.  Quite the contrary. They -despite the many attempts to destroy the local public school- do. My claim is a bit less  simple:

An emotional healthy school community, filled with emotionally healthy students, used to be prioritized in US schools. They are now not. And this, not gun access, is the root cause for school shootings.

Things that were once held sacrosanct in schools -the things that were once prioritized-  are no longer priorities for one reason and one reason alone: The Education Reform Movement.

It placed testing and other achievement results for groups of students ahead of the overall health of the individual student and of the school community. We saw the results of that last week.

There. I said it.

We currently have schools with test prep programs where extra curricular activities used to be. We have children who cry during test times where laughter used to be and we have one counselor for every 2000 students where 6 or 7 used to be. All of this was done beginning in the late 1990s to support "higher achieving" schools. By the early oughts, the mantra was that no child should be left behind.

But by 2010, when it became clear we were leaving many children behind, we switched gears and raced to the top. We put even more pressure on teachers and on schools to reach these new metrics and we prioritized even less what our priority used to be.

We spent oodles of money (money that used to be spent on programs that made our schools healthy places of learning) on new curriculum to support new standards.

And we brought the teacher wars into the American vocabulary.

We spent money on Frameworks that told us what good teaching was, as though none of us in America had ever known. In New York, we spent tens of millions on 5 different frameworks. We researched and selected. We commented and amended.  When the new evaluation laws didn't work, we changed them. Then changed them again (and again).

During all of this, as we paid more attention to "data" and "metrics", we paid less, and eventually stopped, paying attention to the student and to the school community.

We sent teachers on year long quests for two letters -H.E.- in order to justify their jobs to themselves, to friends and family and to society.  School dances and after school clubs contribute far less to achieving these two letters. So teachers held less dances and advised fewer clubs.

Before I go any further, stop reading this and watch this video, produced after the Sandy Hook Shooting. If you have seen it. Please watch it again.

Are you back? Did you watch it?

Did you really watch it ;)?

If you did, then you probably noticed the school shooter lurking in the background of what was otherwise a cute teenager story. Now many teachers are trained to see certain things contained in the video. Typically, these would be things like:

  • Experiences of torment (in this case it was bullying at the lockers)
  • Demonstration that he is more comfortable in his own isolation (in the library)
  • Exhibits of the warning signs of social media posts and, in this instance, publicly obsessing over guns (again, the library and on Instagram)

And where was the teacher as the school shooter in this video was developing? Where was that teacher when the person was in the library researching guns, or shunning a "hello" from a fellow classmate, or being bullied in the hallways?

If you're a teacher, then you know the answer. He/she was was at a teacher team meeting looking at testing data and deciding what the next academic intervention/action plan would be. He/she was at a PD to understand how to implement the new (new (new)) Common Core. Or how to understand the new (new (new (new))) teacher evaluation as it pertained to their teaching practices.

Where was the support staff while the student from the video was in the library? Were they in a meeting looking to see which 20 or 25 students they could get to pass the next test or earn that next high school credit?

Was everybody completing a parental contact log?

Maybe they were all at a Danielson PD?

They weren't showing a movie in class because their students had worked hard on a project and needed time to relieve some stress by watching a movie. That is no longer allowed but it did allow teacher a chance to check in on their students as people.

They weren't playing a game that teaches socializing behavior and abstract thinking skills because, unless every single experience from the game is measurable on a test, those games are no longer allowed. There's another small opportunity to identify which student wasn't smiling when others were.

They weren't monitoring or tracking this student's behavior. They were all too busy for that, you see.

They sure as heck weren't at a training to figure how we celebrate national No One Eats Lunch Alone Day - a one day activity designed to ensure that we all say no to isolation in schools.

And why? Because that's not measurable.

They sure as heck weren't at a planning meeting to figure out how Rachel's Challenge -a unifying and beautiful anti bully campaign started by the father of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine shooting- can be brought into their school community.

They sure as double heck weren't spending their time thinking of ways to make sure every student is well known by at least one adult. Nor were they they weren't thinking of ways to pay careful attention to students who exhibit emotionally poor conduct or emotionally disturbed behavior..

The districts no longer require these type of programs.  They cannot show they improve any metric.

As besides, tgeacher accountability required other commitments to be made.

They weren't doing any of the things that school staff used to do for a reason. And that reason isn't because of gun control.

It's because they were too busy dealing with the repercussions, and the achievements, of the Education Reform Movement - a movement that, on its best day, focuses only on academics and on its worst day turns away from the child in favor of paying attention to the metrics generated by groups of children.

Tell mel how many timers have you heard this before:

We now care more about the data generated by organizational structures like a school than we do about the children in them.

What happens when you stop paying attention to an individual and start paying attention to groups of students? What happens when you stop paying attention to actual human growth and start paying attention only the growth generated by assessment data and other metrics?

The answer is simple.

Don't forget, we're the same profession that went to war with the political establishment in 2010 because we, real educators,  knew that "Race To the Top" was hurting our students. I would like to suggest here that school shootings are evidence that we were right. Because of the politicians' race to the top, we as a society are lurking ever so closely to the bottom.

And yes, of course, the other institutions need to do their part as well. When child protection services clears an emotionally disturbed child, when the local police department does the same, when the FBI admit that they themselves failed to do their part, then we clearly have plenty of people outside of schools to blame.

But this isn't time for us to walk out of our schools and demand more gun laws. This is no time to allow ourselves as teachers to be exploited so that some politicians can achieve a political goal which the they themselves have failed to achieve for decades.

This is also no time to divide our own profession.  Many -many- law abiding gun owners are also our colleagues in the classroom. Law abiding gun owners care about emotionally safe schools and safe students too. They have also seen the failures of law enforcement organizations.

They have also seen the damage that the absence of programs -many of which were cut due to the demands placed on all of us by the Education Reform Movement- has created.

They inhabit the same brick and mortar buildings that were once thriving school communities too. They are in this fight too.

Now is not the time to stand up for students by demanding some political agenda. To do so would be go against our ethics and deny us the very thing -wise, modest political impartiality- that allows us to maintain a special role within our society.

Now -now- is the time to stand up for students by demanding the return of programs and teaching styles and priorities which  allowed us to to pay careful attention to students but were taken from our schools by people who claimed to knew better.

This isn't complicated. There were no school shootings decades ago because there were no education "reform" initiatives decades ago.

So when February 20th, or March 14th, or April 20th or May 1st comes around, don't abandon your pedestal by walking out of your school.  Spend that time to demand from our local politicians more money for programs which make sure no student is alone, or bullied or has fallen off of our radar because of something else that we have to do. Spend that time to insist we stop preparing groups of students for tests and start preparing individuals for their own realistic futures. Spend that time on efforts which unite our entire profession to take back our schools and turn them into the thriving communities they used to be.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

BEWARE of those who start fires

"Low blows" and "cheap shots" are taken by both parties involved. Neither admits to seeing the perspective of the other yet, somehow, each party involved knows just how to hurt the other.

Both sides are to blame.

Both sides blame each other.

While this may sound like a confrontation between two children at your school, it's actually a description of the the squabble currently happening within your union, the UFT.  Full grown adults -educators from the best teaching corps in the United States- are actively seeking to convince their allies to fear hate the another.

And it's not just hate. The two largest groups within the union are, as we speak, actively trying to convince anyone who pays attention to union stuff that the other group is so vile and disgusting that they should be detested.

This all started last year when one group, MORE, decided to plan and execute a Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Many within the caucus hesitated to support the initiative, given all that the union is currently working to achieve. This includes securing paid parental leave and positioning itself to begin contract negotiations with the city on favorable terms. It also includes winning back a whole host of protections that were lost during the Bloomberg administration.

Besides the timing, the week of action seemed like an important idea for teachers to pursue. By itself, one full week devoted to spending some school time to raise awareness of an entire school community as to experience of African Americans today -in our present time- is more than sorely needed. It's necessary.  The Week of Action sought to do this across several dozen school communities over the course of the same week. And it was scheduled to occur during the only full school week of Black History Month. The group met and planned, and met, and planned until they had a game plan down and implemented it.

Then, at the end of January, MORE brought legislation to the union's congressional body -the Delegate Assembly- asking for the whole union to vote to support and participate in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action that they had planned.

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that the union is essentially run by another, larger group, called the Unity Caucus. Well, when "Unity" read the legislation, they opposed it. Among other things, they cited the challenges with keeping such a diverse union united as they enter a post-Janus world (one where certain unions would be greatly weakened). I'm sure they also decided not to endorse a week of activities that they had not helped to plan and did not want to distract from their other important work.

I also, in my heart, believe that they felt and feel there are other ways to support a movement that seeks to gain for a group basic human rights in America during our time (if you drive to work, click this link instead).

So, on January 27 of this year, "MORE" rolled into the "Unity' lead assembly and raised the legislation. Unity opposed it. The assembly voted and MORE lost. The UFT would not not support and participate in the MORE lead and MORE created Black Lives Matter Week of Action.

And then something happened. Suddenly -out of nowhere and without any warning- MORE appeared on TV news and seemingly accusing Unity of not supporting Black Lives Matter.

The only sensible message taken from the news story was not that the union did not support the Black Lives Matter Week of Action but that the union did not support the Black Lives Matter Movement.* That this was faulty premise made no difference.

Of course, the internet was not very happy with this message. (how could they be when this was the message they received?) Neither was anyone who cared about a kinder, better cooler world (because all those people care about is that the adults in our union act like adults and sit down and plan a worthy city wide week of events, like adults would. You know, because all the people in the union are all adults and, well, adults).  

And, of course, "Unity" was not happy either.

Recently, when the larger Unity caucus sent its newsletter out to its own members, it warned of the differences between a 'loyal' opposition and a "not so loyal" opposition. Using words like "disturbing" and "burning" and "misinformation" as well as phrases like "spewing incendiary remarks" and  "burning a hole through the fabric of our union", the leading caucus lead  its members to believe that the opposition were extremists who were dangerous and could not to be trusted.

"BEWARE", warned the newsletter "of those who set fires".

So the next time the 'less involved'  people of the Unity Caucus come in contact with MORE, all they will see is a turn-coating, back-biting, press-mongering, commee-lovin' group of people who don't love our society or our union.

And the next time the less involved people of MORE come in contact with Unity, all they will think is that those people are just a power-lovin, politics-playing, overly-suspicious, toned-deaf group of people who either don't love all of the people in our society or just don't care to do anything about it.

That's all the less union inclined will see.

Now BOTH of these things, of course, will be untrue. And NEITHER group will be adult enough to admit it and to explain to their followers that the other side are mainly good, hardworking people who love teaching, love all of their students, work hard for their schools and love their (amazingly strong) teachers' union  (and love our city and our country). But, you see, that won't matter. The only thing that will matter is that the allies of each group will look upon the other group as dangerous. That's all either group cares about.

This outfit needs a restorative justice circle -quick.

* Sidenote:  The news outlet misidentifed the Black Lives Matter Movement as a group. It is not. It is a movement made up of several hundred small groups across the country. But it should be noted that the story's lede was not objected to or corrected in any public forum by either union group. 

"A rift has opened inside the city's teachers' union over whether to endorse the controversial group Black Lives Matter."  

It irks me that neither teacher group offered this correction.

Monday, January 22, 2018

When 2 Percent Isn't 2 Percent

I know many readers are aware that we teachers are expecting a raise of 2 percent this coming May 1st, with another 3 percent only on June 16. The numbers are on the salary schedule from 
(Readers have probably seen it 100 times).

Our current, 2017, amount is shown on page 7 of that document. The May 1 2018 amount is shown on page 8.

There is a slight problem is that the actual numbers between page 7 (2017) and page 8  (2018): They don't match 2 percent.  The math doesn't quite add up. 

I mean, I'm no math teacher but my friend, a math teacher, told me I wasn't wrong so I much not be wrong.

If you examine the numbers from 2017 on page 7 and multiply them time 1.02 (or 2 percent raise on top of the amount we currently make) you should see the same thing my math teacher friend and I saw: Those numbers on page 8 aren't 2 percent higher than the ones on page 7. Instead, the numbers reflective of the 2018 riase are 1.923% higher than the for the 2017 salary.

That's a slight difference but a difference nonetheless.

The increase that a first year teacher (currently $54,000 (p. 7), soon to be $55,059 (p.8)) is actually 1.923%. That's the increased amount. 

If that teacher were to receive an actual 2% raise, the amount would be $55,080. That's 21 bucks a year. But it's still 21 bucks.

The amount that a teacher at the top of the pay scale receives (currently 113762 soon to be 115993) is actually 1.923% . That teacher, at an actual 2% would receive 116037 (and 24 cents!). Now that's only 44 bucks a year for a top tier teacher but that's still 44 bucks per year. 

My own increase is 1.923% as well. I'm a but further than 1/2 way through. 

The total amount I would be missing is .077% of the 2 percent I was originally expecting and it's only .032% of my current total annual salary so I'm almost positive there are other pressing issues. But still that's about 30 bucks a year to me.

And what? Do I look like some rich guy hgere?  30 bucks is 30 bucks!

I asked a good friend Mike Schirtzer, an elected UFT Executive Board member, to raise the issue at the next meeting but he couldn't. So we have no answers about the mysterious case of the vanishing .077 percent. Only questions.

Compare your year to year  increase for our next raise in May. Are you set for 2% of 1.923%?  Leave a comment with your numbers and the percentages. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

UFT Paying for Ad Campaign for Paid Parental Leave

Today, many teachers received an email from UFT President Michael Mulgrew asking members to email the mayor for paid maternity leave for teachers. There was a fancy button and an easy way to email Bill de Blasio.

What the union did not mention was that they are also paying for an ad campaign to help sway public opinion in favor of this policy. Last night, while reading this (depressing) article about the Penn Station and the state of our infrastructure,  I came across an ad for paid parental leave. 

That's Emily James in the picture. The link takes you to a recent NY1 interview between Ms. James, Councilman Tryeger from Brooklyn and Michael Mulgrew around parental leave.

The click was worth it. I was proud to see my union president act and speak on this issue. Ms. James described a colleague who had to wait six years before having a second child because of the lack of paid maternity leave.  Tryeger summed it all up perfectly: 'We either care about families or we don't" and "it's shameful this isn't policy already". 

I agree. It's Totally Shameful. Mulgrew's letter is below.  The link to the letter writing campaign to the mayor is here. And if you haven't signed the (now 83,000 strong) petition, feel free to do that here. 

Dear John, 
Mayor Bill de Blasio made headlines in 2015 when he promised paid parental leave for city employees. Two years later, his administration and the Department of Education have failed to extend that benefit to public school educators — the very people who have devoted their lives to caring for the city's children.
That’s not progressive — that’s just wrong.
Please send an email NOW to Mayor Bill de Blasio telling him to support paid parental leave for UFT members. And ask your local Council member to support the UFT push for paid parental leave.
It’s time for the de Blasio administration to deal fairly with public school educators. We need the help of our Council reps to get that message across to him.
Thank you for taking action.