A Teachable Moment

PCT President Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

The Governor’s Christmas Present to Teachers

Just when I thought it was impossible to think less of Governor Cuomo than I currently do, he expands my capacity for contempt. Seething with anger for the unions that failed to support him, he’s having a tantrum appropriate to his ego. First he lashed out at the Public Employees Federation (PEF) by sending letters to 1000 of their members announcing his intention to attempt to reclassify their jobs as management and therefore ineligible for union membership. Yesterday in was NYSUT’s turn, our state teachers union having taken no position in the race for governor, a position that I publically criticized in that I just knew he would come after us anyway.

Cuomo had his Director of State Operations write to Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King, raising a number of questions on issues that he well knew would incite NYSUT members and their elected leaders. The letter ask Tisch and King how they would change the APPR process, assuming since only about 1 percent of teachers were found to be ineffective that change is required. How would the Chancellor and Commissioner make it easier to fire ineffective teachers? Should the teacher probationary be extended, and how financial incentives could be used to improve the teacher corps (merit pay). In all, 12 questions are posed, all carefully crafted to threaten NYSUT and its members.

While observing that the Governor has little direct influence on education issues, the letter makes clear that the budget process will be the vehicle that he will use to try to extract his revenge, all in the name of speaking for the children of the state. No one should be surprised by Cuomo’s move. His attack is his usual response to criticism of him. It is also the response expected of him by his Wall Street backers who have been financing the movement to privatize public education and convert it into a business profit center.

If NYSUT is serious about rededicating themselves to organizing, Cuomo has given them the perfect document to organize around. The Governor has openly declared himself to be our enemy. We need to respond accordingly.

I’m taking a break over the Holidays. I’ll resume blogging on January 5th. I wish all of you joyous Holidays and a very Happy New Year! See you again on the 5th.

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Subsidizing the Wealthy

During his recent campaign for re-election, Governor Cuomo’s advertising featured the tax incentives to various businesses his administration had given to lure them to our state. I became aware of the aggressive tax abatement program of his administration in an unusual way. I was in Detroit a few years ago attending an AFT convention. At that time, Detroit was on the brink of bankruptcy. In almost every direction, the city was consumed by decay. Yet, on the local TV station were commercials by Governor Cuomo and New York State seeking to lure what business was left in Detroit to New York. Seeing them in a city economically on its knees enraged me. Detroit needed help not have what little economic strength it had left sucked out of it by another state’s offer of a tax-free ride.

I’ve always suspected that a state’s taxpayers end up losing when they offer businesses from elsewhere tax incentives to relocate. A piece I read the other day by the Center for Media and Democracy confirmed all of my suspicions. Huge state and local government subsidies are given to the wealthiest companies that often bring mostly low wage jobs. These tax breaks further enrich people in the top income brackets while increasing the income gap between them and the bottom. Why have state and local governments in this country given $161 million to Walmart, a known exploiter of its workforce? In so doing, we have helped the Walton family, already worth billions each, become even richer. An even bigger question that demands a serious national debate is how is America benefited by having states compete to offer the biggest tax subsidy?

Across this nation, schools are starved for resources, bridges are falling down, water systems are failing, much of our infrastructure dangerously in need of repair, and yet billions in tax subsidies are given to extremely profitable companies that often don’t pay wages high enough to keep their workers from engaging government assistance programs. And we wonder what Americans increasingly think that our system is rigged against them.

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On the Senseless Death of Pakistani Children

Over one hundred Pakistani students killed for no reason other than they were being educated; Nigerian girls taken captive from school and apparently traded as war booty; Turkish kids assigned to public religious schools against their parents’ wills; American kids taught that the that the earth is some five thousand years old. It sometimes seems to me that these happenings are best understood as points on a broadening universal spectrum of ignorance the world is unable to find the wherewithal to extinguish.

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Teacher Pay

Most teachers are paid on a salary schedules that remunerate them for time on the job and college degrees and courses taken. On some schedules, it can take 30 to 35 years to get to the maximum pay obtainable, each year on the schedule bringing an increase or increment as it is called. These so-called single salary schedules evolved over the history of public education from its beginning when teachers essentially received room and board in exchange for their services to schedules that gradually reflected the increasing educational requirements of the profession. There was a phase when elementary teachers were paid less than secondary teachers, women less than men and minorities least of all. In many ways, the changes in teacher remuneration parallel the changes in our society from one that was once largely agrarian to the current industrial model. Many of the current ed-reformers argue the need for a post-industrial method of paying teachers. Maybe, but most tend to propose ideas that would have most teachers making less.

Little noted in the debate over teacher pay is the fact that the single salary schedule yields the peculiar situation in which two people doing exactly the same work receive widely disparate remuneration. In my own district, $65 thousand dollars separate the beginning teacher with a BA degree from the teacher with 15 years of experience and a MA plus 60 graduate school credits. Now I do believe in the value of experience and education, but surely it doesn’t take a teacher 15 to 30 years to reach the top of her game. Yet, many teachers reading this criticism of the increment system will strongly disagree with me. If we listen carefully to their criticism, what they are often saying is, “I came up through this system. Why should it be different for beginning teachers?” To them, it’s as though God decreed an immutable single salary schedule and to tamper with it is to violate the order of the universe. Yet, wedded to it though they are, the increment system has perpetuated a growing inequity of two people receiving hugely differ salaries for the same work.

But even more galling than teachers’ blind faith in the increment system is management’s current attack on it. Not content to stretch out the payment of salary to journeyman teachers to in some cases 35 years, almost all of the salary settlements in my area of New York State have been financed by stealing money from the teacher who make the least and giving it to those who make the most. This has taken many forms, all of an ethical piece. Delaying the payment of increments into the school year and freezing increments have become all too common. For several years now, I’ve attempted to move teacher union leaders on Long Island to see this attack on the increment system as one that must be resisted, sadly to no avail. At a recent meeting of local leaders, several presidents appeared to be of the view that the next generation of teachers will simply not have it as good as we did, a sentiment that was later ironically added to with, “The Young members don’t care. It’s impossible to get them to do anything.” There’s a view to build a strong union movement on.

I recognize the facts that state aid has yet to return to 2008 levels and that New York’s property tax cap is in the process of doing to our state what Prop 13 did to California. But the failure of our unions to counter the attack on the increment system is sparking a generational conflict in our memberships that will ultimately render us less capable to combat all attacks.

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No Time, No Time

One of the hardest ideas to introduce into any discussion of education reform in the United States is the notion that our teachers contrary to the stereotype work too much, often under the most trying conditions. Offer that idea in any discussion with non-educators and one is immediately met with vacation envy and looks of disbelief. Yet, while some international education comparisons are invidious, common sense tells us that the fact that teachers in the higher performing systems in the world often spend less than half the time in front of their students that American teachers do probably has something to do with their success.

Valerie Strauss offers a guest column this morning to Ellie Herman, a person who came to teach in the Los Angeles schools after a successful career in the entertainment industry. Herman recounts how while she loved teaching, the conditions under which she was expected to do it burned her out in a very few years. Her thoughts on how that happened to her are much more important to consider that most of the pseudo- intellectual, educationist horseshit that passes for serious discussion today. Add to her remarks the obvious fact that she was financially able to leave her teaching job, frankly admitting her burned-out status while most with similar feelings are not, and one begins to wonder how many others like her are ground into intellectual numbness by the achievable demands which they are then demeaned for not achieving..

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John King’s Departure

I wish I could share the joy New York’s education world feels this morning at the news that Commissioner of Education John King will be gone by the New Year. While I’m glad to be freed from listening to his squeaky, whiney justifications for the unjustifiable, and while the state has had more than enough of his almost fatal combination of ignorance compounded by arrogance, his leaving to become a senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education is an outrage, albeit he will fit in well with a department that has become the handmaiden of the increasingly discredited corporate sponsored education reform movement.

I could share the joy many take in his departure if I believed that he will be replaced by someone who would work to free us from the tyranny of the testocracy, someone who understands education as a social process that’s about much more than making children college and career ready, someone who gets the difference between education and training. I don’t believe it possible to get such a new commissioner so long as Regent Tisch is the chancellor. It was she who brought the completely unqualified King to New York and elevated him from running a charter school in Massachusetts to leading our state’s public schools. I’ve seen nothing in the intervening years to suggest that Tisch’s judgment has improved. Her recent pimping of charter schools is but the latest example of her contempt for the system she is charges with overseeing.

So, to my friends in the movement to save public education in our state, enjoy King’s departure if you will, but don’t take his leaving as a victory. The battle to reclaim our public schools is nowhere near over. John King was just a pawn of powerful forces who seek to discredit our schools in order to privatize them and ultimately profit from them.

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San Francisco’s Homerun

I saw yesterday where my friends in the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) scored an outstanding new contract for the times. With salary schedule increases of 12 percent over 3 years and improvements in prep time and other working conditions, their deal is some of the best news we have had in public sector collective bargaining in a long time.

For months prior to their settlement, UESF President Dennis Kelly and his leadership team focused the public’s attention on an inarguable fact. The salaries of USEF members don’t allow them to live in the city of San Francisco, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the United States. In raising the issue of their members’ inability to find affordable housing, their message had appeal to the broader middle class whose stagnating wages are squeezing them out of the housing market as well.

There are many places in this country where teachers don’t earn enough to live in the communities in which they teach. We once had many more of our members living in my upper middle class suburban town than we have today. While it might be hard to document, there are to my mind enormous benefits in the social interactions that take place between children and their teachers outside of school. I can’t tell you how many times my showing up in places in Plainview-Old Bethpage where kids hang out immediately changed their behavior keeping them in better control. How many of my lawn boy’s school problems was I able to address when he came each week to cut the grass. To this day, I run into former students who still live and work in town. The warm greetings I get when I meet them is a reminder of a life well spent working with them.

I gather from some of the Facebook comments of some UESF members that 12 percent over three years is a disappointment to them. I smiled when I read their blustering comments demanding 21 percent. I never negotiated a contract when I wasn’t met with such remarks. After every negotiations, there is a little disappointment in all at not getting everything we wanted. But my sense of what’s possible in public sector negotiations these days tells me that this is a homerun of a deal that deserves serious celebration.

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What Are Our Unions For?

I wrote yesterday of my growing frustration with an education labor movement that’s not moving. The National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and here in New York the New York State United Teachers all profess a deep commitment to organizing both their members and community coalitions but at best are of certain what big idea to organize around. One searches in vain through their communications for themes that incite members or anyone else to action, for the hope and promise of some power to control their work-lives.

This morning, I came across this piece which that explores the same problem from a slightly different perspective. P.L. Thomas asks why our teacher unions and professional organizations appear more willing to accommodate the education reform movement than to take it on. That’s a question some of my union colleagues and I have been asking for some time.

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Organizing What?

Once A week or so, I browse the webpages of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). Each of these organizations I belong to claims to have rededicated itself to organizing in an effort to regain the initiative in the battle to protect its members and public education from the assault taking place in the name of reform. At almost every meeting of these organizations that I attend, the talk is about organizing, although, as I’m fond of pointing out, the talk almost never specifies exactly what we are to organize around. One would think that if we had a coherent organizing strategy, it would be discernible from their webpages.

On the NYSUT webpage this morning are pieces about newly Board Certified teachers, a buy America campaign, disaster relief work the organization is doing and why tenure matters. The AFT page features discussions of career and technical education, bullying prevention and expressions of teacher anger at the Time cover that evoked the impression that America’s classrooms are filled with rotten apple teachers. NEA is featuring holiday lessons and resources and a discussion of the sorry state of physical education. Some of these articles are even interesting, but none is directed at any big idea that any of these union are organizing around.

It seems to me sometimes that our education unions have forgotten that unions are about empowering their members, about striving to equalize the power relationships in the workplace. They’re about leading members in efforts to increase their power in the workplace. They’re about building their members’ political power, recognizing that gains at the collective bargaining table are easily wiped out by changes in the law. They’re about setting out lofty goals and organizing the collective action to attain them. One searches in vain for anything like that on the webpage of our education unions.

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Why Are King and Regents Welcome?

I grow progressively annoyed following the Regents and Commissioner King on Twitter as they tour schools throughout the state tweeting out the wonders they see as they observe the implementation of the Common Core Standards. With public education in our state in the saddest condition in my memory, with an Albany bureaucracy totally unresponsive to educators and parents, with Chancellor Tisch singing the praises of charter schools as a prelude to lifting the cap on their number, with state aid yet to return to pre-financial crisis levels, why are public schools welcoming to these pretenders? Why aren’t there organized protests wherever they go? Why don’t we find ways to manifest our contempt for their management of New York’s public schools? To welcome them is to pretend that all is well and to make us accomplices to the havoc they have wrought.

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Kids Evaluating Teachers?

News this week that New York’s education commissioner and maybe our governor are pushing for student questionnaires as part of the annual professional performance review procedures for teachers throughout the state. Cuomo has promised to revisit teacher evaluation in the coming year. Having created the current farcical evaluation process with the assistance of our state union, our brain trust in Albany appears determined to make the system even more nonsensical by placing teacher evaluation points in the hands of students and having their teachers ingratiate themselves to receive them. Adding such a measure to the mathematical stupidity of tying student performance on standardized tests to the evaluation will surely raise the bar for teacher performance and cause teachers to improve their instruction significantly. It can’t help but close the achievement gap and make more kids college and career ready. One has to suspect that Chancellor Tisch is on board with this latest foolishness, otherwise Commissioner King would never have mentioned it to the press.

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In Memoriam

On Monday night I learned of the death of the first superintendent I worked for in Plainview-Old Bethpage, Robert Savitt. I don’t often write anything approaching an obituary, especially for managers I have worked with over my long career. Yet, something about Dr. Savitt seems important to be commented upon in these dark days for public education.

I met Dr. Savitt for the first time when he interviewed me for a high school teaching job. I was told the interview was essentially pro forma in that both the head of personnel and the high school principal wanted me. That turned out to be poor preparation for the interview that ensued. After an exchange of greetings, Savitt, my application in hand, asked me about my recent Peace Corps. The more I talked about it, the more questions he had to the point that I almost forgot that I was there to interview for a job as I gradually drifted into an interesting conversation with a very interesting person I somehow happened to meet. Who expected to enjoy oneself at a job interview?

“Is there such a thing as African literature?” By this time I was already one hour into my pro forma interview. Before it was over, we agreed that I would work up an outline for an African literature senior elective, prepare a book order and get ready to teach the course that spring – all in a school I had not taught a day in as yet.

That’s the Dr. Savitt I remember – always looking for something new and interesting – something to build his stature to be sure. Teachers and administrators from other school districts were always visiting us to see what we were doing. I remember too the battles we fought against him. He never really happily accepted the existence of our union. There was a strike shortly before I came and one almost immediately thereafter, and he galled us by writing articles and giving speeches on how to tame the newly emergent teacher unions like ours. Paul Rubin, our president at the time, would purposely malaprop his name to Dr. Savage, and yet I could tell they had a grudging respect for one another.

Those who know me know that I’m not one for nostalgia. The contrast, however, to the school district Savitt presided over and today is depressingly stark. To be sure outside forces have contributed to its objective deterioration, but surely we all bear considerable responsibility. Where then we had a moratorium on standardized testing, literally an incitement to creativity, a celebration of differences between schools on the same level, an abhorrence of canned programs and, above all else, an appreciation of what it means to be educated, today we teach to tests that have become the curriculum at a pace dictated by a chart, using programs that almost don’t require the intellectual presence of the teacher to implement. We are data driven to the point of distraction from what we should be doing, helping children to become knowledgeable, ethical citizens of a democratic society. Robert Savitt understood that and conducted himself accordingly. Teachers and students were better for it.

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W.E.B. Du Bois and Education

I was driving home last night after attending a mind-numbing meeting of our board of education, listening to public radio to stay awake. I had tuned in to a show already in progress, an interview with a Yale professor talking about W.E.B. Du Bois. Having minutes before come from a meeting that left me despairing about the future of public education, I found the speaker, whose name I never caught, talking about W.E.B. du Bois and his thoughts on the need to educate African Americans only one generation removed from slavery. She read a quotation on education that so starkly contrasted with the educationist blather bandied about at the meeting I had just intended. I woke up this morning thinking about it, motivated by my recollection of it to try to locate it. If this wasn’t it, the thought is the same. In a society that is increasingly confused about what it means to be educated, it’s good to remind ourselves that people once knew better. Remember, he’s writing this in 1903; his prose is of the 19th century, and women have only recently begun to assert their rights. The language may be dated, but surely not the thought.

…Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools—intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life…

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The Super Rich and Public Policy

My readers are more than familiar with my horror at the undue influence of what we used to refer to as the filthy rich on public education. Even if one believes that the contributions of people like Bill Gates are altruistically motivated (and I don’t), the fact of the matter is that because of their money they have an undue influence on public institutions like education, institutions that should be democratically responsive to the public on the basis of one person one vote. With regard to their pernicious influence on public education, a recent piece by Bob Herbert methodically lays out the disruptive influence of Gates and others.

This morning’s New York Times has an op-ed by David Callahan on the influence of the super-rich on the public spaces of New York City, specifically focusing on media mogul Barry Diller’s plan to build a park on the Hudson River just above the High Line. Callahan notes the rich have contributed mightily to public parks in the neighborhoods they inhabit while many of the city’s parks in less fashionable neighborhoods have fallen into disrepair. Startlingly, Callahan observes that Mayor de Blasio proposes to spend 130 million dollars, the amount Diller and his wife are contributing to the Hudson River park, to upgrade 35 of the city’s neediest public parks.

Whether we are talking about schools, parks or whatever public institution, why does a supposedly democratic society continue to allow an obscenely wealthy elite to dominate public policy decisions that should be publically decided? Why with the rare exception of Elizabeth warren and Bernie Sanders are so few of our politicians addressing issues that are tightly tied to the growing inequality of income and wealth in our country?

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I Had the Strangest Dream

I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamed that the leaders of our education unions met and developed a common set of objectives that they vowed to marshal their members to fight for until they are achieved. I dreamed they vowed to fight together to end the stagnation of their wages and to stop the erosion of their benefits. I thought I heard them resolve to actively support the movement to end high stakes testing aligned to the corporate core standards. I watched in amazement as they pledged to end their knee jerk support of political hacks in both major parties, deciding instead to support the growth of the Green Party and its call for a Green New deal for the people of New York. Shocking me awake was their solemn pledge to protect the craft of teaching from those who are trying to routinize it out of existence. It was indeed a very strange dream.

On a more realistic note, the world’s central bankers have decided that the international economy needs more inflation if it is to improve. If they succeed in reaching their target of two percent, the public sector wage settlements that are being made will cause some real suffering.

Wishing my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back on Monday.

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Missing a Teachable Moment

This is one of those days when I regret not still being in the classroom. The slightest spark of interest from my students about the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown would have diverted me from my planned lesson. There is so much important stuff to talk about this case that I suspect this conversation would have taken to the Thanksgiving holiday. The physical evidence the grand jury considered, the unusual way in which the grand jury was conducted, the history of police treatment of racial minorities in Ferguson and the rest of the country and more. Should prosecutors have pushed for an indictment know that there would be violence if they didn’t? Might it be that this particular officer’s innocence or any white policeman’s can’t be appreciated by those who have experienced unequal treatment at the hands of the police? How can a police force function in neighborhoods where they are not trusted to enforce the law fairly? How should our society deal with this lack of trust? So many interesting questions to explore.

I find myself wondering this morning how many of our teachers feel comfortable today discussing this or any issue that departs from planned lessons that are written to conform to a pacing chart. While I know that some will do what I know I would have, I’m equally sure that many will fear to do so, not wanting to have to answer for straying from the curriculum. I wonder how many will straight-jacket themselves into missing a profound teachable moment.

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It’s What We Can’t Measure

There’s been seemingly endless talk about the discovery by a New York principal that the district data the state tracks on college acceptance and completion turns out to be pretty inaccurate.  Carol Burris in the Saturday Washington Post says the state numbers for her district were off by ten percent.

I don’t claim to know who is ultimately responsible for this latest data screw-up, but I know the upset is part of the sick competition between schools and school districts for the highest scores on any measure some usually self-appointed education guru offers.  It’s gotten to the ridiculous point where the local real estate agents feel obliged to spout the school district’s statistics to potential home buyers who often already have an opinion of the district based on some data-based school district guide purchased from Amazon.com.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising computer coder has written an app that tells you where you may want to live in order to provide your children with a data confirmed quality education.

When I think about the schools I attended before college, PS 221 in Brooklyn stands out as the best.  We took some standardized tests in those days which neither we nor our parents ever learned about.  I don’t ever remember my mother, who thought I was the smartest and the best, ever bragging on my test scores the ways parents do today.  What I recall is a place where most of the kids I knew felt comfortable being, a place that allowed me to begin to learn about things like classical music and art, a place a teacher taught us union songs and the Negro National Anthem, a school that had a garden that we visited regularly and had frequent interesting assembly programs.  I still remember being fascinated by the glassblower who made these amazing creations before my eyes.  It was a school that believed that six hours of schooling a day was basically enough for young kids and didn’t plague us with our of homework.  After school was for play.  Evenings were mostly family time.  No one talked to us about college and careers.  The teachers and adults in our lives knew we were kids.  They had aspirations for us, but their respect and affection for us were not tied to our meeting some milestone on the road to success.  We were encouraged, not driven.

The contrast of my elementary school with to schools today is frighteningly stark.  We need a way to talk about indicators of quality that have no easy statistical expression.  Often, it’s what we can’t measure that counts.

 

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Democrats in a Party That Isn’t Democrat Anymore

For most of my adult life I’ve been a Democrat, believing that democratic socialists like me could be more politically effective advocating progressive ideas within the Democratic Party rather than trying to advance them from the outside. My political ideas were strongly influenced by Michael Harrington whose book The Other America led to the War on Poverty in the Johnson administration and whose works on the capitalist system continue to serve as a lens through which I see the current world.  I seemed clear in the 60s when I was coming of age that we could move the Democratic Party to the left to address the social ills of our nation and thereby create a more just and equitable society.  We could end poverty, racism and maybe even war, advancing socialist ideas which if branded socialist would be immediately rejected in a country which equated that term with the system in the Soviet Union.

 

I have for some time been rethinking my allegiance to the Democratic Party.  I’ve felt obliged to do that because while I still see some leaders in that party who share some of my goals for America, by and large the best Democrats of today behave like the Rockefeller Republicans of my youth.  I find it increasingly impossible to relate to a party that has no clear vision of how to end the stagnations of the American worker’s wages and the frightening maldistribution of wealth and income that threatens our existence as a democracy.  I’m ashamed to belong to a party in which Andrew Cuomo is a leader, a leader who sees public education as a monopoly and our teacher unions as essentially the enemy of the children they teach.  I want to participate in a political organization that’s guided by high ideals for a better society, one that attracts citizens to vote by offering them ideas that evoke hope and pride, a party, to borrow an expression from New York’s Green Party, which puts people and planet before profit.

 

The belief is growing in me that what is left of our labor movement has to cease allowing itself to be owned by a Democratic Party that no longer speaks to our needs and which in many respects is hostile to them.  Practicing the politics of the lesser of two evils, we find ourselves supporting hacks whose forget us the day after they are elected.  We need to build a political organization that will either push the Democrats back to being the party of working people, or one which will challenge Democrats and Republicans, thereby giving voice to a progressive agenda.  The Green Party in New York offers some real possibilities, especially for the education labor movement.  Teachers are an inherently idealistic lot.  They are passionately committed to public education, a more often than not deeply committed to protecting the environment and in general have been immune to the venomous stupid-talk about the evils of government. Additionally, a growing number of them are unaffiliated with either of the two major parties are therefore more open to political alternatives.  When I asked the members of my local to support Howie Hawkins and the Green Party call for a Green New Deal, I was pleasantly surprised to receive almost no push back.  Most of our members were comfortable with supporting free public education k-16, an end to fracking, a plan to make New York total free of dependence on fossil fuels by 2030 and most of the rest of the Green platform.  I’ve begun to talk to our local leaders about working to build the Green party on our state.

 

At a recent meeting of the teacher union leaders in my area, some were lamenting the fact that many of their members are not motivated to vote despite their best attempts to motivate them to do so.  Maybe, just maybe if we supported candidates from a party that unequivocally stood to things that would improve conditions for our members, maybe they would have a reason to vote.  Many of them are Democrats in a party that isn’t Democrat anymore.

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New Orleans Charters Ignore Student Needs

A very disturbing piece on Public Radio this morning on what is happening in New Orleans where the school system is almost completely composed of charter schools which are not meeting the needs of significant numbers of special education students who find themselves essentially educationally abandoned. Listen to the piece and see if you don’t agree that the people responsible for this situation should be held criminally liable for child abuse.

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Organize What?

Both national teacher unions and most of their state affiliates are focused on organizing. Suddenly, unions have discovered that they need to return to their organizing roots if they are to meet the challenges posed by a corporate school reform effort backed by almost limitless funding that allows for the almost complete saturation of their message in the media. I’ve sat through countless meetings at various levels of these organizations, never really catching what it is our unions are attempting to organize around. I’ve been amused at such meetings to invariably find that a meeting of leaders called to talk organizing end without the participants being asked to work on some specific organizing activity.

My latest reminder of this irony occurred yesterday at a meeting of local union leaders, many of whom have been engaged in a series of state union sponsored meetings aimed at building local organizing capacity. At one point in the meeting, I found myself listening to the all too usual lament about how the members of their local unions don’t want to do anything. I was particularly taken by a younger leader who talked about an organizing effort that was aimed at building better attendance at union meetings. She had clearly put considerable effort into getting a turnout that never materialized. Although it puzzled her, she drew the correct conclusion that members were clueless as to why they should bother going to her meeting. Somehow, despite her state and national unions encouraging her generation of leaders to organize, there is no clear understanding as to what it is we are organizing around.

When I began to teach in my district, my local that had already had a strike to win the right to bargain collectively for the teachers (its first organizing idea) was organizing around the central idea of a starting teaching salary of $10,000. Most of the salary schedules in the area began at half that. With a Master’s degree and two years of experience, I began at $8,300. The simple, straight forward demand for a starting salary of $10,000 was an idea that resonated with all of us who were struggling to make a living, many of us requiring second and third jobs to make ends meet.

Our unions are having trouble organizing for lots of reasons, but central to the problem has been our failure to establish a few clear goals to organize around and a strategy for achieving them. Deep down we know that the scourge of high states testing and its linkage to teacher evaluation is a natural, but somehow our efforts never get much beyond our state and national leaders talking about it. While some of our locals actively encourage the opt-out movement, we don’t robustly encourage our locals to participate. While union media cover rebellions against testing like the recent one in Seattle, no effort is made to promote such activities elsewhere. A generation of teachers is on the verge of losing the last vestiges of the freedom to practice their craft, they being increasingly straight-jacketed with programs aligned (how I have come to hate that word aligned) to the Common Core State Standards that their state and national organizations have helped to promote, and our members have no clearly articulated goal and strategy for saving their profession.

So by all means, let’s organize, but until our members clearly understand what it is we hope to accomplish, I fear we are just squandering our money and our credibility in the organizing efforts we are making.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments