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Archive for October, 2005

Evaluating Our Options

As we each individually look at the proposed contract and try to understand its plusses and minuses, it is important to remember the context in which this contract was negotiated. This round of bargaining was nothing like the normal course of bargaining. The City and DOE delayed the start of negotiations, only agreeing to meet and hear our demands three months after the expiration of the contract because we complained to PERB about their failure to negotiate.  Five months later they came back to the table and instead of telling us where  they wanted changes in the existing contract, the Klein and Bloomberg administration came to the table with a brand new eight-page contract and said this is what we want.  They wanted an end to tenure, to any voice for teachers and total discretion for principals on transfers, excessing, layoff, administrative duties and on the number of teaching periods.  They basically wanted us to work an eight period day and a much longer school year.  In addition, for stripping us of all our rights and protections they were prepared to give us a 4.17% increase; the below inflation pattern established with DC37. 

Nineteen months and many un-kept promises to negotiate a contract quickly later, they finally come to the table and engage in real discussions using the fact finders report as the starting point.  Many people in the press and the administration will say this proves the Taylor Law works.  The process outlined in the law from negotiations to impasse to mediation to fact finding worked to generate a contract.  We know better.  The Taylor Law allowed the Klein/Bloomberg administration to drag out negotiations without penalty to them but at a real cost to our members who worked without raises for more than three years while the cost of living continued to climb. 

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National Test Shows NY State Reading Gains May be Illusory

That National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests large, representative samples of students across the nation every couple of years. This morning the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math results came out. New York State 4th graders showed no significnt progress in reading since 2003, while in math they did gain a smidgen. This is a lot different than what the state tests have said. The state tests showed large improvements in fourth grade English and math. The NAEP results for New York State 8th grade show declines in both reading and math while the state tests show increases in both. A number of people, NYU education scholar Diane Ravitch and NY Times columnist Michael Winerip among them, have suspected the state tests were just easier–not that student learning was racking up outsized gains. This new information supports those views, and it also reminds us of what we (should) already know: when looking at hundreds of thousands of records, huge leaps in the average are suspect. In the past, New York State tests were highly regarded, but in the last couple of years whiffs of politics have begun to slip in through the cracks. Hopefully, the NAEP results will provide a reality check on the numbers.

Startin Over Again

Excess, an amount greater than is necessary. I guess I fell into that category.

Friday, October 14, 2005-, week 6 of my first year of teaching was the day I got excessed. As my former AP always says, “In other words” everything that I have worked towards in these past few weeks means nothing. More importantly, everything that my students have, or have not, worked towards means nothing.

I was shocked to say the least. I felt betrayed, sad, rejected and overall, utterly confused. I was pulled out of one of my classes, given the news and out of the building 20 minutes later.

Let me start with the reasons given for my excess.

“We don’t have enough money in our budget to pay the number of teachers we currently have working here.”

“Well the B.O.E did not send all the students they promised us so we have to cut down on the number of classes, and therefore teachers.”

What was going to happen to my classes, my students? What is this new school I’m being shipped off to all about? How can I have no say in any of this?

I was informed that my students would be dispersed among other classes and that the school I am joining is a wonderful place. It was pretty clear that I had absolutely no say in any of this.

Should I hand in my grades, my students work, or the school owned books I had compiled? Well, no one asked. No one needs them…no one cares.

This brings me back to a previous blog of mine, “Do They Care?” The “they” I was referring to in this case were the students; maybe I should have been referring to the administration or the B.O.E. How can the B.O.E not realize that with each teacher they excess there are 20-30 students for each class they teach that also affected.

All of that time spent with each class laying ground rules, making up missed homework assignments, quizes, tests, writing papers, reading papers and most importantly, getting to know one student, is meaningless. There is now no accountability for anything.

I think of the students I had who were failing because they did no work, were absent 75% of the time and when they were present, walked in late. I’m angered. Those students are now right back at day one. They are now on par with the students who worked so hard, never missed class, and rarely arrived late. At the end of the first marking period they will receive the same grade as the students who participated in class, and were conscientious about their work. That does not seem to make sense to me.

All in all, my being excessed is not about me. It’s about the students, and the message it sends to them when they walk into class on Monday to find their teacher is gone and they are receiving yet another program change.

No wonder NYC schools are so far behind. No wonder so many of the students act as if nothing matters to them, as if school is a meaningless institution. It’s what they’ve been taught!

Ed Note : Previous versions of Bimsmile’s diaries can be found in the New Teacher Diary section of the blog.

Why Ratify the Contract?

I work at Christopher Columbus Campus, in the Bronx. The campus consists of Christopher Columbus High School, a large overcrowded multi-session high school co-existing in a campus setting with four small schools. As the UFT Teacher Center site staff there, I work with a large number of educators for whom the contract, or lack of one, has become a stressful and at times divisive issue.

Why ratify the contract? If you want the abbreviated version it is simple. The alternatives are highly unappetizing. If we attempt to go back to the bargaining table with Bloomberg all indications are that he will fall back to the fact finders’ report. If we reject this, our only option is to strike. From the chatter around this building, I just don’t think we have the will as an organization to go through the suffering it would entail to come out on top of such a monumental battle. This leaves only one realistic possibility at this time – to ratify the contract.

There are a number of benefits that the contract has over the fact finders’ recommendations. One very obvious improvement is the elimination of the proposed 10 free coverages. Another has to be the increase in back pay by 65% over the recommendations.

Examining the contract in more depth though, we should be able to recognize that there are other positives we should lock in with the offer currently on the table. Very significantly, we at last have an agreement that the city and union will work together to get the 25/55 retirement agreement from the State. This will provide a major benefit to all of us who are on Tiers II,III and IV, a substantial shortening of our length of service.

This contract also maintains our health benefits as they stand. Since the cost of healthcare has risen by 73% for employers over the past five years this is a very significant positive for us. Most of our friends in other professions have faced massive increases in the cost of their healthcare, expected to shoulder increasingly high contributions and co-payments as the cost of health insurance skyrockets.

There are voices urging us to vote down this contract. They seem to think that we can do better. This does not strike me as a rational conclusion. Since the mayor has not only agreed to accept the independent fact finders’ recommendations, but has actually worked with our union to give something that most would consider better, the general public will not expect him to turn around and be even more generous. They are more likely to expect him to take a tough line. It seems as straightforward as the following multiple-choice question to me:

Vote to
a) Accept the contract
b) Accept the fact finders’ recommendations
c) Strike

What’s up with …!

What’s up with the five Executive Board members who at this late date want to change the contract ratification election process that the Executive Board and the delegates overwhelmingly–80 to 20 per cent–approved on October 11?

What’s up with a resolution that they presented tonight for a vote at the Executive Board that called for space in the next New York Teacher when they knew full well that the next New York Teacher would be published after the election process was completed?

What’s up with some Executive Board members who want to usurp the democratic tradition of this union by trying to run roughshod over the will of the delegates and the rights of chapter leaders to conduct elections in schools?

You know what’s up? They’re trying to exploit these difficult times for working people for their own benefit not yours. They are trying to roil the waters for their own political purposes while the leadership has the constitutional obligation to represent the facts – the pluses and minuses, the gains and the tradeoffs and the repercussions of the decisions we as a union make.  

Please read the Fact Sheet to get a quick overview of what the MOA contains.
 
Please read the Memorandum of Agreement in the New York Teacher or online at to make up your own mind. The full version of the facts is there!

 And finally, take a look at the Salary Chart to see what you will be making by October 2006

Delphi Goes Bankrupt: Guess who gets Squeezed?

It’s Monday, Oct. 17, the day new regulations in the federal bankruptcy code make it tougher to file Chapter 11 protection from meeting creditor obligations. In corporate parlance, “creditors” include union workers’ contracts and pension-fund obligations. Guess which creditors will get the squeeze from the now bottomed-out Delphi Corp?

Filing papers under the wire, Delphi Corp., the nation’s largest auto-parts company, and ranked 63rd on the Fortune 500 list, asked for bankruptcy protection Oct. 9. It  blamed high labor costs from its unionized workers in the U.S. for its incapacity to compete with more cost-conscious (read low-paying) foreign rivals. The solution it sought, a new deal with the United Auto Workers containing mammoth labor concessions, was rejected by the union. The Troy, Mich.-based parts giant now wants the deal resurrected, and this time imposed by the court.

How huge are the demanded givebacks? The oracles at Delphi want to end health and life insurance for its roughly 12,000 American retirees while cutting the wages of its 35,000 hourly U.S.-based workers by some 67 percent. That means driving  wages down to $10 an hour. Now THAT’S a deal worth complaining about.

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Academic Freedom — A First Amendment Right?

Should academic freedom in American public universities and public schools be a constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment?

This question has been posed in a case which was just heard by the Supreme Court, Garcetti v. Ceballos. The instant case before the Court involves a public prosecutor who was demoted when he protested the district attorney’s decision to validate a search warrant obtained through perjured testimony. The lawyers for prosecutor argued that his protest was protected speech under the First Amendment, given that it is an arm of the government that penalized him for his speech. Moreover, they argue, the content of his speech was directed at governmental misconduct. The lawyers for the County of Los Angeles contended that “job-related speech should not be protected under the First Amendment,” whatever its merits. [The New York Times provided an account of the hearing of the case, Justices Grapple With Whether Public Employees Enjoy Free-Speech Rights on the Job.]

Directly raising the issue of academic freedom, Chief Justice John Roberts asked if a professor at a public university could be dismissed for the content of his lecture. A public university professor “should not be entitled presumptively to First Amendment protection,” responded the lead lawyer for Los Angeles County. What does that mean in practice, Roberts inquired. The professor would have a burden of proof to show that he should not have been dismissed for the content of his speech, came the reply. In what may be a clue to his own thinking, Roberts ended the line of questioning with a comment. “I would have thought,” he concluded, “you might have argued that because the speech was paid for by the government, it was government speech and the First Amendment did not apply at all.”

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The Merits of the Lead Teacher

It seems amazing that amidst all the clamor (and rightfully raised clamor it is) about the unprofessional treatment and disrespect that the Klein Department of Education has shown to many of its employees that one item in this contract some members have chosen to attack is the lead teacher proposal.

This was our idea–we first proposed it in a September 1999 UFT task force report, Assuring Teacher Quality, and this position, along with a more detailed career continuum for all teachers, has been included in our negotiating demands since then.

The UFT has been using collective bargaining for more than 20 years to push real reforms that improve teaching and learning and truly enhance the professional lives of members. The lead teacher position does just this. It is a particularly notable accomplishment in this round and round and round of negotiations when educators have been conspicuously absent from the other side of the bargaining table and when those present, due to their lawyerly, supervisory or budgetary backgrounds could at first only look at the proposal in terms of management prerogatives and control rather than (gasp!) education. It expands a highly praised, by both teachers and principals, pilot project in District 9 in the Bronx to the whole city, and it’s nice to know that something successful has come out of the Bronx this fall.

The union has designed this position so that it recognizes teachers for their professional knowledge, skills and leadership qualities on a consistent basis. Teachers who have objectively demonstrated these qualities to both regional and school-based committees will form a pool of eligible applicants. They will continue to teach and will also provide professional support to teachers. It’s open to any qualified applicants. And it expands opportunities for teachers to become instructional leaders without having to become administrators and supervisors or leave the profession in disgust and disappointment. Teachers will work with peers instead of in isolation; teachers will work collaboratively instead of suffering under the judgmental, factory workshop model regime so favored by the Klein DOE; teachers, will move the instructional agenda, not policy wonks and corporate types.

This is not merit pay as it’s used by Klein, his mouthpiece the New York Post,(don’t miss today’s headline story about the priest who made a Manhattan socialite gay!) or the right-wing stink tanks that twist and turn words like merit, reform, accountability, choice and equity in a way that would make Orwell proud, in an Orwellian sense, of course. No, this position is, I believe, the first step in a professional career path, just as doctors and lawyers now have, for teachers.

Advocate Weekly

Joe Thomas has posted this week’s edition of The Advocate Weekly.

Also, don’t forget last weeks Carnival of Education.

Lessons from Chicago Schools

Chicago has pioneered many school reforms that NYC has adopted, among them small schools, grade retention and mayoral control. So NYC administrators may want to check out the results of a long-term study of Chicago schools by education research organization Designs for Change. The study found that schools did best when Central just stayed away. “Three expensive central administration initiatives to improve Chicago’s schools (school probation, large-scale grade retention, and assigning Reading Specialists to low-achieving schools) have not significantly raised achievement levels over a period of years,” the report says. Schools that did not receive expensive new programs often did better than those that were heavily managed from central. A Chicago Tribune story on the report was titled, “Schools left alone, to shine.” Some principals cracked the whip, but they also insulated their staffs against outside administrators. The principal of one featured school commented, “I don’t want to be mandated to have this or to do that. I’d rather have my people here tell me what they need.” If this resonates, consider emailing a copy of the study to Klein, and cc your LIS and RIS. Just a suggestion.

My Teaching High

After many nights of restless sleep, an infinite amount of unanswered questions, and several failed lesson plans, I think I can finally rest assured that I’m on the right track.

Last Monday, things just all of a sudden clicked.

Granted, it was only for a day, but finally, after all of my preparation and hard work I really felt like I was teaching. It was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. My first thought was “Wow, I’m really doing this. They’re all looking at me…I thought I would never be able to do this…I’m teaching.”

I almost stopped mid sentence. I all of a sudden had this realization that I was the teacher. That I was teaching. People were looking at me as I once looked at my teachers.

I had a class full of seniors and was introducing a persuasive essay project. It was a feeling I’ve never had before, more so than just feeling like a teacher, it was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.

Growing up, I never thought about teaching I was always scared of talking in front of others and I was never one to volunteer answers in class. I used to turn the brightest shade of red when I knew that all eyes were on me. So, as I stood in front of 30 high school seniors, with their eyes fixed on me, patiently waiting for the next line to come spewing out of my mouth, and I didn’t feel like this, I was overcome with happiness. I was so sure of myself and so enthusiastic about my lesson, it made me tingle.

This feeling was a product of everything that has gotten me to where I am right now – my work, my nerves, my hopes and my struggles – and so I can honestly say, I hope all of these feelings continue just so that I can have that high of teaching again.

Pedaling Backwards on CFE

Eduwonk blog calls attention to a conference taking place this week at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard on education adequacy lawsuits. From looking over the agenda, it appears that the speakers are the A-list of scholars who usually line up against unions and against public education, including Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, Chester Finn, Terry Moe, Michael Podgursky, Caroline Hoxby and even Clinton-hounder Kenneth Starr, for heaven’s sake. The New York State Campaign for Fiscal Equity‘s Michael Rebell is about the only prominent name in defense, and he looks badly outgunned (though Rebell can hold his own). What do these folks want to say about adequate school funding?? Eduwonk suggests there will be an effort by voucher proponents to claim state adequacy funds (such as our CFE funds) for vouchers. The papers sound bland enough, but the cast of characters is not. A Harvard conference suggesting that adequacy suits are a big drain on the public purse would be another step backwards. And why have Bloomberg and Klein been so conspicuously silent on the CFE money anyway? Is there some backroom deal? Who knows, but ever since city lawyers told the CFE judge they didn’t think the city should pay a dime towards the settlement, momentum has stalled on getting those funds to city schools. If Bloomberg can spend $50 million on his own reelection campaign, why is a dime towards education too much for him?

NY Post: “Randi’s Right — Alas”

Yes, you read it right. In today’s editorial, the New York Post admitted that Randi was right. [Registration required.]

Don’t get too excited. The Post is not yet quite ready to renounce its sordid anti-teacher and anti-union editorial stance. It isn’t exactly pleased that it has to admit Randi’s right.

What is the issue?

The section in the Memorandum of Agreement committing the City to lobbying for pension law changes, if the contract is ratified. These changes would allow Tier 2, 3 and 4 members to retire, without penalty, at age 55 with 25 years of service.

Says the Post

Critics of the new teachers’ contract are accusing United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten of misleading her members about the agreement’s retirement benefits.

Now, we don’t often find reason to stick up for Weingarten, but this time, she’s absolutely right — except, perhaps, in the most technical sense. And, frankly, it’s a shame — because those new perks will cost taxpayers plenty.

This is one time we will give the Post the last word.

Bloomberg and Klein “Missed An Opportunity” To Take Out The UFT, Teacher Union Critic Charges

In today’s New York Sun, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Sol Stern, a long time teacher union critic, attacks Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg for “missing an opportunity” to take out the UFT by “the jugular.” Stern is referring to the recent contract settlement.

Stern argues that Bloomberg caved before the threat of “120,000 angry union members demonstrating in the streets” during his re-election campaign, and forced a reluctant Klein to “bite his lip” and sign “yet another 200 page contract.” Among the main complaints in Klein’s bill of particulars are the following:

The contract contains no merit pay, nor any differentials for different subjects;
Seniority rules are still in place for assignments in the schools;
Tenure and due process for teachers remains intact;
The salary schedule is in place, and the increase is spread proportionately over every step.

“The ‘givebacks’ that Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein portray as giant steps toward reform,” Stern maintains, “look, upon closer inspection, to be no more than baby steps – with the occasional setback. For every work rule eliminated from the contract, there seems to be another one or two in its place.” One of the “most bizarre of the new rules,” he opines, is the language which prohibit micro-management of lessons; he calls it a “direct slap at Mr. Klein [which] legitimizes the union’s complaints about the Chancellor’s ‘pedagogical tyranny’.”

Stern also notes that the length of the contract means that Bloomberg and Klein will be “lame ducks” by the time it expires, with no chance to extract the sort of concessions he wants from New York City public school teachers.

The Sun requires a subscription for Internet access, but you can read the entire piece here at Checker Finn’s Gadfly.

Math Analysis and the Power of Blog

Thanks to the bloggers who helped flesh out this analysis of math scores in the current issue of New York Teacher. It was awesome to connect in the b’sphere with a math teacher from Brooklyn, whose comments to a post added insight from the classroom, and another blogger, Chris Correa from UMichigan. Correa, "introduced" by frequent Edwize commenters JennyD and institutionalmemory, ran some further numbers for us to show what we suspected but hadn’t proved–that there was a definite decrease in the number of students tested in the weaker school districts–very possibly bumping the scores up artificially. Yes! to the power of blog.