Three turn of events happened this week that made me reach for my donuts.
First, I was a little taken aback when I observed the vulnerabilities of AFT leadership this week. We do live in a post COVID world and almost everything here happens online. Add the chain of events that can best be described as the culture war flareups to this dynamic and you'll find a toxic brew. The deeply rooted clashes have been occurring with much more frequency than in the pre covid world. Many of them happen or are planned online. And, as the amount of activity has increased, so too have the acts of counter activity. Remember when saboteurs took out a Trump rally? They used social media to convince others to register and make sure all of the seats were sold out -to anti Trumpers. Well right wing activists were able to shut down an AFT event.
Doing her best to organize a Town Hall that would neither inflame the left or the right, the AFT president fell into a political pit and inflamed both. Here is how the left reported it. It captures fully half the story. The other half is what alarmed me: The right wingers harassed her participants on social media, which caused them to pull out over issues of safety -effectively killing the event. That these type of acts were directed at a teacher union is disgusting. But to see that the AFT is vulnerable to something like this is deeply deeply concerning. I hope the AFT is having a 'let's learn from this moment', because if these types of tactics are being directed toward a union representing school teachers, then we have a much larger problem. Don't forget, we're too busy to open up and speak up for ourselves. That's partly why we have a union. A union can be strong during those moments when we ourselves can not. The thought that the my union's ability to build alliances (which is the best weapon in its (chosen) arsenal) can be vulnerable to an attack like this remind me how vulnerable I am without a union. I hope it's not over the top to say: that's chilling. I hope the AFT pulls it together.
Second, I was surprised to see that Mike Mulgrew wasn't at the announcement of David Banks becoming the next next school chancellor. I am fairly sure I remember him there when Carmen Fariña was announced. I am almost quite sure I remember him there when Richard Carranza was announced. I don't know, I just had the sense that the union president should be there. However, I noticed exactly none of the articles about Banks' announcement mention or show the face of the teacher union president at all. That's alarming and it should be a read flag for anyone who cares to pay attention to these things. For the past seven years, this city's school system has been held together by teachers holding hands and dong their best to make sure bad policies didn't hurt children. In fact, a large part of that saving grace was that the UFT was at the table when many of the decisions were considered. That, according to the state chancellor, is "including teacher voice".
Yeah, the person who represents teachers wasn't there. That's a problem. This union is going to have to fight for its seat at the table -and I'm not talking about the political table. I'm referring to the table where they negotiate fair working conditions and a fair salary for me. They're going to have to fight for its seat at that table. That's troubling.
Third was this blog post, describing Dan Wesiberg and reminding me that the person who will be handling the day to day operations for the NYC Dept. of Education is as anti teacher as they come. Anti teachers hate teacher unions. And a review of the Weisberg's tweets alone (tweeted after he had left the Bloomberg DOE and as recent as 2020) is almost terrifying but well worth the read. The thought of an anti teacher in charge of teachers is beyond chilling.
The last time these types of folks were in charge, they divided the school system between the "haves" and the "have nots" and created an illusion of "choice". The "haves" got brand new boutique schools with names like "Beacon", "Elenor Roosevelt" or "Bard", while the "have nots" got a reminder that choice isn't choice for the tens of thousands of students who applied but did not get in, and that choice wasn't ever choice for the thousands of students who do not win the lottery for the charter they had been sold and sought out as a better option. Choice wasn't choice for them.
But then that's not what made the papers.
No, no. The last time these people ran the show, the "have nots" were simply divided -culled, in fact- and over-concentrated into over-populated schools that were under-funded and, eventually, closed under the allegation that the school (not the district or the politicians like this person) had failed the students. This is the legacy Mr. Weisberg is going to bring to the table and it's super concerning.
If that's what we're headed again, then I'm gonna need more donuts.
The last time the ed reformers went overboard with their reforms, it hurt a great many students and established, in the most literal sense, an accurate narrative of a Tale of Two Cities. They treated school teachers in the most terrible of ways and precisely none of their reforms -from Common Core to VAM teacher evaluations- left a marked improvement on children by way of student achievement.
And, because New York City is the media capitol of the nation, they left a stubborn national teacher shortage in their wake that has persisted now for almost 10 years. In fact, at the end of the day, they had to be beaten back by teachers and parents who were so fed up they took to the streets together in protest.
Having said, there is much inside their narrative that should not be taken literally and I'd advise laying back to see how things may shake out.
For instance, teachers will not be forced to work every Saturday. Eagle Academy (form where Chancellor Banks comes) does not have Saturday school in the strict sense of the word. They have a Saturday Program. Same for the summer time. If expanded all across the city, these programs would be voluntary for UFT teachers and many (many) UFT teachers will gladly sign up, because teachers like working with children and getting paid.
In addition, Mr. Weisberg's presence should also be measured against the next mayor's and new chancellor's stated aims: To make Tweed (and the "satellite central locations') more efficient by shifting some of those human resources back to the classroom. Mr. Weisberg may well be here for that purpose and, frankly, teachers would like Central to be efficient as well. There are people there who get paid just to pour through school CEP plans or student IEPs, looking for typos and others who's only job is to give PDs to teachers with no measurable way to determine the outcome of their work. Look, when there is a $38 Billion annual budget and we still do not have access to laptop computers for student work (which is the case in my and in many other schools) then we have a huge problem. Maybe the time has come to shift some resources back to the classroom level.
This is why I would advise paying careful attention to the NYC education news but not overreacting unless they enact a policy that clearly hurts students (or one that hurts students by way of hurting their educators).
And the teacher union, despite the obvious chaos that they are in on their own, has to elbow their way in. They can't accept a situation where the head of the union isn't visible when a new district leader is picked. If Mr. Banks is seen like that again, then there needs to be 100 teachers across the street protesting and demanding that our union be publicly treated with courtesy and respect. We teachers (many times with support of the union) were the ones continuing to improve during the past eight years when leadership was on the wane. If leadership is going to be on the wax again, then we don't want to see our union dissed. The UFT needs to push their way into that dynamic.