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Archive for August, 2005

Education Roundup

I personally discovered blogs accidentally in early 2003 and have been hooked ever since. Most  readers, journalists, and some blog writers have no clue how fully informed, matured and compartmentalized the blogosphere has become in recent years.

The Education portion of the blogosphere is no exception and there is a Carnival of Education each week that represents a compilation of posts from various blogs. The Carnival this week is hosted at the Education Wonks, not to be confused with the PPI sponsored Eduwonk. Do check it out.

Sara Mead at Eduwonk has a post about a recent Center for American Progress report on improving public education.

We’ve gotten some praise as well as constructive suggestions over the last week. We appreciate the praise, and we’re working on improving the functionality of EdWize

Update: I had incorrectly given Adnrew at EduWonk credit for a post written by Sara Mead.

WalMart: An Educational Issue

WalMart has a rap sheet longer than Al Capone’s, so almost any account of its assorted misdeeds is bound to leave out some of the more heinous acts. But on a teacher union blog with an educational focus, it is well worth recalling that the UFT and our national union, the AFT, have some very good educational reasons to be campaigning against America’s largest corporation.

For starters, the late John Walton, one of the four children of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, was a major backer of school vouchers, tuition tax credits and other similar privatization, anti-public school schemes. Largely through his efforts, the Walton family foundation has already given over $700 million to efforts in this area, with promises to dramatically increase such spending — to as much as $1 billion a year, according to some reports. Wal-Mart money dwarfs all other contributions to the far right campaign against public education.

And if that is not enough, consider the fact that America’s largest corporation has a record of numerous violations of child labor laws — including having young people under eighteen working  during the school day and working longer hours than the law allows and having young people under eighteen using dangerous and hazardous machinery prohibited by law. In 2000, Wal-Mart had to pay $205,650 to resolve a case involving 1,436 violations of Maine state child labor law — the largest such fine in state history. In 2004, Wal-Mart’s own internal audit of 128 stores over a single week showed 1371 instances in which young people were working during school hours or longer hours than allowed by law. But amazingly enough, Bush’s Department of Labor entered into a sweetheart deal with Wal-Mart in January of this year which required Wal-Mart to pay only $135,540 in fines for its continuing child labor law violations — not even as much as they were fined in the state of Maine alone. With Wal-Mart’s $285 billion in annual sales, that DOL fine is chump change. Over at Nathan Newman’s Labor Blog, where I blog occasionally, my good friend Nathan produced a scathing report on this deal, which rewarded one of the largest corporate donors to the Bush presidential campaigns. Those are our students working during the school day and working for so long they can not do homework or stay awake in class. These child labor law violations are part of an extraordinary string of violations of law — racial and sexual discrimination law, Americans with Disability Act, labor law, and more.

And finally, consider the fact that the Wal-Mart business model is dependent upon paying their workers so poorly with such poor health care coverage, that many of their workers are forced to go on Medicaid and other forms of public assistance to receive necessary medical care. The state and local government ends up subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees, and Wal-Mart profits. And that is taxpayer money that could be going to public schools, or to improve health care for all.

So the campaign against Wal-Mart is a campaign for the educational needs of American youth.

Walmart: Always Lower Wages. Always

There’s just one good reason to shop at Wal-Mart: it sells things cheap. The bad reasons form a conga line snaking out the door and into the parking lot.

 Its employees have no union protection.
They have no job security.
They earn poverty-level wages.
They’re treated like field hands.

Workers who succeed in organizing individual stores–as was done last year in Quebec–find the shops boarded up.

The corporation’s dominance of the retail sector–a dominance that comes from its low wage, few-benefits policy–threatens better-paying employers and their workers. Most Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million workers get no health benefits, and those who do still need government help through Medicaid, which in effect acts as a taxpayer-provided subsidy to a private employer. An estimated $2.7 billion in welfare annually goes to working but poor and underpaid Wal-Mart workers.

UFT President Randi Weingarten told a City Hall rally Aug. 17 supporting a council bill requiring medium to large grocers to provide their workers with health care that "The more taxpayer money the city and the state spend on the health care of New Yorkers working for profitable, private companies, the less money there is for education and other important things." Bill sponsor Christine Quinn said the bill "will stop one more kind of corporate welfare and be a blow to the bottom feeders." 

Have I left anything out of the indictment. Evidently so. Writing on Salon.com and fully documenting each charge, Wal-Mart critic Liza Featherstone adds to the list of Wal-Mart sins: firing whistleblowers, discriminating against women and black truck drivers, violating child labor laws, locking workers into stores overnight, ignoring local zoning laws, mistreating immigrant janitors, abusing young Bangladeshi women and destroying small-town America. Charges against war criminals don’t often extend this far.

The Arkansas based retailer, the largest in the world and the U.S.’s biggest private employer, is also a prime supporter and funder of right-wing political initiatives and candidates. When Wal-Mart first floated its plan to set up shop in Staten Island, the daily Staten Island Advance quoted one supporter as saying they couldn’t understand why the public should be asked to stay away from a business that charged less than did its
competitors. Extend that argument to sweatshops or to slave labor. Would you buy a TV cheap if it was made by overworked children, something that happens in free-trade zones in the Philippines and other parts of the Third World? Or a designer sneaker made at the point of a gun, as happens in China? Why not bring back slavery? Think of the money we’d save.

Shop at Wal-Mart? Thank you, no. I’d rather pound sand.

Charters Recant: Money Matters

Remember the confident claims of the charter champions? Money doesn’t matter, they insisted. What matters is good management and getting rid of unions. Free of unions and cumbersome rules, charter schools would do better, for less, they self-assuredly predicted.

Now they’re singing a different tune. The charter-touting Fordham Foundation, headed by Reagan administration assistant secretary of education Chester Finn, is whining that charter schools get less money than traditional public schools.

It’s not fair, pouts Checker. We want our fair share. Never mind that charter schools do not even pretend to educate students with special needs whose high costs inflate the average per-pupil expenditure in city schools. They still want what the public schools spend.

Then, according to today’s Times, Checker gets really mad. If New York City can sue, so can we, he proclaims, stamping his foot in frustrated envy. Never mind that the right has consistently scorned school finance equity suits. Conservative academics flocked to New York to argue at the CFE case that the city doesn’t need any more money. Just look at the parochial schools that cost half as much, they argued. (Not so hard when you pay your teachers pennies.) The problem, they concluded unanimously, is union salaries and union work rules.

So now the shoe is on the other foot, and the charter schools (almost all non-union) are crying poverty. Next we’ll hear them blame their less-than-stellar performance on under-financing. Welcome to the club, Checker.

EDWIZE TO EDUWONK: Democracy — Try It. You might like it.

Our friends at EDUWONK express some astonishment that the UFT would produce a blog with a comments sections, allowing readers to express disagreement, as well as agreement, with the UFT and its policies. They chuckle that we will regret such a choice. Maybe that’s because they still haven’t figured out that teacher unions are democratic institutions, and that we consider dissent a necessary component of democratic conversation. There are no guarantees, of course, that a particular dissenting voice will be thoughtful or constructive, but space for the expression of dissent is necessary so that those voices which fit this description can be heard.

One can’t help but note that the EDUWONK is lacking, well, a comments section. No danger of any reader pointing out that some of its commentary on teacher unions could be better informed on their blog.

Our advice to EDUWONK: Democracy — Try It. You might like it.

Don’t try this at home!

Last week, Chancellor Klein told the bright-eyed Teach for America recruits, “Make waves, cause trouble, rock the system, and … don’t accept dogma.” This morning he told another bunch of eager newbies, “Think for yourself.”

Here’s a warning to newcomers from one who knows: Obey at your own risk!

Deviate from the prescribed workshop model and you’ll be thinking for yourself somewhere else, not as a NYC teacher.


We would be remiss not to link to an article that appeared this Sunday in the NY Daily News by Joe Williams about this blog.

Who’s Not Home?

Want to know why there’s still no contract? Randi Weingarten’s not home. At least that’s what Mayor Bloomberg told the Daily News.

I happen to know that Ms. Weingarten didn’t take a vacation all summer, so she’d be available any time, day or night, to conclude an agreement.

But even granting that the mayor’s labor commissioner couldn’t reach her while she was on jury duty, how does that explain a contract that’s more than two years late?

Was the administration unable to reach Weingarten between May and September 2003 when they completely ignored the union’s demands for talks? And then was her phone not working between September and February 2004 when they refused to sit down until the union filed an improper practice charge with PERB?

What was the excuse then?

And then — to add insult to injury — in March, when Weingarten suggested that, considering the 10-month delay (through no fault of the union’s), the city should retract its no retroactivity position, the city flatly refused.

Only in retrospect can we see the city’s game plan. Settle with a union with different needs and then call it a pattern.

So who wasn’t answering the phone?

Beware the Giuliani solutions

The Daily News turned its guest editorial space over to former Giuliani speech writer and policy staffer Josh Greenman on Sunday. Greenman started off well enough–pointing out how crappy teacher salaries are and noting that in New York State, though our average salaries are above the national average, in fact we’re more than 5% lower than we were 10 years ago in real terms.

But his solutions are vintage Giuliani–pit teachers against each other for merit pay bonuses.

Even conservative education publications have moved beyond that tired bromide. In Education Gadfly’s guest editorial of July 28, “Merit Pay: Not So Fast, Governors!” Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, gives a sharp-eyed view of the problems with merit pay, among them that it is very hard to evaluate teachers effectively, and that too often the merit money is stingy. “The thorny problem of how best to determine a teacher’s effectiveness—the only fair basis for deciding who gets merit pay—has by no means been worked out to the degree required for wide scale adoption,” she writes.

Seniority transfers-the nonissue that won’t die

Does Klein seriously believe that eliminating seniority rights would fix the maldistribution of experienced teachers? There is no question that low-performing schools have more inexperienced teachers. That’s been true for years, all over the country. But he’s made it a real sticking point in contract talks. And the solution he’s come up with is just so like him: “Give principals the power.” He wants to eliminate teachers’ ability to move within the system.

That is not going to happen, Chancellor. And for good reason, make that reasons.

  1. Teachers won’t go for it
  2. It won’t solve the problem
  3. It’s not the issue.

There were only 515 seniority transfers last year. (That’s 7/10ths of one percent of teachers, to be precise.) Of those, as we testified in the fact-finding hearing, exactly 47, net, transferred from low-performing to high-performing schools.

Many seniority transfers appear to be motivated by a desire for a better commute. Other reasons may include transfers to schools that are better fits for a teacher’s instructional style. At any rate, the transfers aren’t much of factor in distribution of experience.

But forcing teachers to stay in a school, or go to a school they don’t want to teach in, is obviously a recipe for disaster. Teachers have options, and I bet many would quit rather than be subject to such a policy.

What’s behind the uneven distribution of teacher experience is pretty plain. The weak schools have the least experienced teachers because their teachers keep quitting. They have to replace them with new hires, who then quit when they realize what a mess they’ve walked into–and so on.

Most teachers go into teaching to teach. If they have oversized classes, spend half their time breaking up fights, and get barraged by inane directives from administrators, they don’t stay. Most are too new to get into the most sought-after schools. They just leave.

Fix the schools and you fix the distribution problem. Voila. Now how about that contract….

House Cleaning

After the quiet launch of the blog on Friday, we’ve been informed that while people like the list of education bloggers on the left, we’re missing some NYC Teacher blogs. If you know of any education blogs written by NYC Educators, please feel free to drop us a note in the comments, or via an email to blog-at-u f t-dot-org.

We’re also going to reorganize the blogs to give education-related blogs by NYC Teachers a category of their own on the left. Feel free to inform us which blogs are written by NYC Teachers.

On the right side bar, you’ll notice that we have a mailing list specifically for this blog. If you’d like to receive periodic emails about issues discussed on the blog feel free to sign up on the list. If you are a UFT member, please make sure to register (regardless of whether you want  to receive emails about the blog) as many member services are or will soon be available over the internet.

Finally, there are two current action items taking place. The first is the fight to protect Social Security, which may be back on the congressional agenda once congress reconvenes in September.

The second is a call to action from the AFT and the AFL-CIO, asking educators, parents and supporters to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart this back to school season. The AFT has some facts about Wal-Mart as well as a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott. The UFT is also working with community groups, and other unions to fight the construction of a Wal-Mart on Staten Island. If you’re a NYC voter you can make a sizeable impact by asking the City Council to stop the race to the bottom that’s taken place in so many other communities that Wal-Mart has moved into. If you’re not in NYC, sign the AFT petition, and email a link of the NYC petition to friends and family living in the city. Bloggers can feel free to steal the graphics for their own site.

Better pay in the suburbs

The NYPost had this story entitled “Cash Dismissed,” earlier in the week about the effects of teachers moving to work in other districts.

Replacing the nearly 24,000 teachers who are expected to flee the public-education system or transfer to another school could cost the state more than $363 million, according to a study released yesterday. Of the teachers across the state not returning to their schools, 13,760 are leaving the profession altogether at a cost of nearly $211 million, the report shows.

Only Texas and California, which face respective price tags of roughly $505 million and $456 million, will spend more on teacher attrition, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocate for high school reform.

I’m sure that the issue will be discussed more in the coming weeks, but districts around New York City pay their teachers 16% to 24% more draining some talented and trained teachers from NYC.

It’s an upside down world

These two posts by Julie over at the School of Blog are important reads. (Teachers vs. Kids and more Teachers vs. Kids) In a perfect world someone wouldn’t have to point out that treating Teachers like professionals can help raise the quality of public education, not lower it, but I think for the moment Julie hits the right notes.

No Contract

UFT President Randi Weingarten said on “The Road To City Hall” on NY1 Wednesday night (Aug 17) that it looks like the mayor’s prediction in July that there would be a contract with a substantial raise for teachers before the start of the school year was just a lot of talk.

Weingarten said during the interview: “I thought the mayor was sending me a signal in July when a schoolteacher asked him this very question at a town hall meeting. The mayor said there will be a contract with a substantial raise before the start of the school year. No negotiations materialized after that. And so both sides are waiting for the fact finders to issue their recommendations.”

Politics and this year’s election seem to be more important to Mayor Bloomberg than a contract for teachers. That’s just one of the collateral effects of mayoral control of schools.