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Archive for March, 2011

The Union Treats Me as a Professional

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Esther Berkson
Bronx Little School

For years, I struggled and worked hard to be an excellent pre-K teacher. It looks easy. “In Pre K, you play all day. Easy!” Ha! And that is why I am a union member. Too many people view what I do as “babysitting.” The union includes me in their group of professionals. The union reassures me that I too am a professional. When I stand with my union, I am proud. Proud to be a professional that loves children no matter their circumstances; proud that I am one of many who are contributing to making the world a better place; and one who is thrilled to be welcoming these littlest students into their new world of school with warmth, kindness, and inspiration.

Unfortunately, the politicians are among the few that make uninformed decisions about what we do. They fail to see how hard we work, they don’t understand why we fall asleep on the couch ten minutes after we come home, and they fail to value the contributions that we are making. They just cut. Do I have time to protest and fight for my job that I love and they so easily take from my hands? Of course not! I am working on raising and educating the next generation of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even politicians. The union protects me when I am busy with my work. They are fighting for me because they value what I do! Thank you UFT!

Unions Give Teachers a Voice and a Platform From Which to Help Students

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Marc Korashan
UFT District 79 Special Representative

When I began teaching in New York City in 1975 I didn’t initially see the need for a union or get involved in union activities. I knew, from history and the stories my parents and grandparents told, about the struggle for unions, but like so many today, I took the existence of a union and a contract for granted. My chapter leader gave me some advice and made sure I had all the necessary forms when I got appointed, but that was the sum of my union involvement until I moved to a position as an Education Evaluator on School Based Support Teams.

In that position, as a Special Education Teacher/Education Evaluator, I was much more exposed to the whims of management than I had been as a classroom teacher. Administrators didn’t often walk into my SIE VIII classroom as most of them were afraid of the volatile students I taught. I worked with my co-teacher and we succeeded in making a difference for most of our students.

Now I was in a position at the heart of the problems in special education, students taking too long to be evaluated and placed into programs, students not getting the services they needed, too many students being found eligible for special education, and an ongoing Federal lawsuit over these issues that left the Board of Education under the scrutiny of monitors for the plaintiff groups. More »

Fighting for Quality in Education

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Gregg Lundahl

Our members consistently fight for quality in education. I have fought to make our schools safe for our students. I have consistently fought to engage my students out of respect for their interests and needs. Without my union, I most certainly would have been “let go.” If it were not for the teachers’ unions, class sizes would soar, and experienced teachers would be constantly targeted for termination so that cheaper, less involved individuals, could be hired. I spend a great deal of time advocating for our students and schools and my union gives me that voice.

Power Concedes Nothing Without A Demand:
Why Teachers Like Me Support Teacher Unions

EDUsolidarityOn the Dissent Magazine blog, Arguing the World, I just published my contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining why teachers like me support teacher unions:

The great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass once captured an essential truth about our efforts to make the world in which we live and teach a better place. “If there is no struggle,” Douglass wrote, “there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Teacher unions provide teachers like me with the voice to make demands on power. This is the story of my first years as a teacher, when the need to make demands on power led me to participation in my teacher union.

Read the rest of my story here.

Charters and the City Budget

James Merriman just posted a very angry piece on his blog, charging that the city’s Independent Budget Office’s recent analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2012 budget plan was too critical of charters. In his haste to criticize the IBO as “one-sided,” however, he stretches his argument a bit too far.

He states that charters enroll “kids that DOE does not have to pay to educate,” but the IBO report notes that the increase in the number of students in charter schools has not been matched with a corresponding decrease in the number of students in district schools, leaving the district to educate the same amount of students for less money:

In theory, the diversion of funds to charters should be offset by a reduction in the number of students being served by the department itself. No estimates exist of the path that students and families in New York follow to charter schools. Are these students who would have been attending public schools or are they students who would have enrolled in private or religious schools? The answer is unknown but is likely some combination of the two. Total enrollment in the public school system has remained relatively stable in recent years as charter enrollment has grown. Regardless of how many charter school students would otherwise have attended public schools, the fact remains that — at least for now — the public schools are being asked to educate roughly the same number of students with a reduced budget available for services to schools.

More »

Tweed’s $100 Million White Elephant

On NY1, Lindsey Crist has a two piece story [here and here] on how schools are choosing Datacation, a computer system that compiles educational data and delivers in-time and useful information to teachers and schools, over the NYC Department of Education’s ARIS system.  Since schools have to pay for Datacation, this is a remarkable vote of no confidence in ARIS, which the DoE provides free of charge.

The back story here is that ARIS was the product of one of Tweed’s infamous no bid contracts and went through an incredible series of cost overruns, including a $10 million fix to provide security for a system which holds private information for New York City’s 1.1 million public school students. ARIS was — incredibly — designed without adequate security protections. By contrast, Datacation was designed by a group of Brooklyn high school teachers who actually understood what schools and teachers need. So here’s the bottom line on ARIS: nearly $100 million spent on building a white elephant that increasing numbers of schools won’t even take for free.

And the sordid side of how Tweed has done business under Bloomberg was laid bare when, days after Joel Klein announced he was leaving as Chancellor to work for Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and the New York Post, the division of Murdoch’s News Corporation Klein now leads bought Wireless Generation, the Brooklyn-based company which was the recipient of the no bid contract to design ARIS and the creator of the system.

This business model for schools works really well, doesn’t it?

The Poverty Of The Fordham Foundation’s Analysis Of Student Achievement

When it comes to the international ranking of American students, you just won’t find one statistic cited in a Fordham Foundation study, despite the fact that such matters are one of their most favorite themes.  And that statistic is by far the most shameful: when it comes to childhood poverty, the richest country in the world has the highest rate of poverty of any developed economy, save Mexico. [See here and here.] More than 1 in every 5 American children lives in poverty. Meanwhile, Finland — which has consistently led developed economies on measure of academic performance —  has one of the lowest rates of childhood poverty, with a little over 1 in every 25 Finnish children living in poverty. Yes, America has a rate of childhood poverty which is 5 times greater than that of Finland, a central feature of the radical income inequality here in the United States, another measure in which we lead the world.

All of this is a particularly interesting backdrop to the publication of a Fordham Foundation paper for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Michael J. Petrilli’s and Janie Scull’s American Achievement in International Perspective. Petrilli and Scull found that the academic performance of American students is actually quite polarized, with a large group of high performers and a large group of low performers.

What a remarkable symmetry: the academic performance of American students reflects the economic polarization of American society.

But you won’t even find the word poverty in Petrilli’s and Scull’s paper.

An Amateur Pontificates to the Pros

As a former student who busted his hump to scrape by the most basic science course, I am as qualified to have my monograph on physics published for the benefit of the good folks at the Goddard Space Center as ex-chancellor Klein is to write an article on “What the School Reform Debate Misses About Teachers” printed in the Washington Post. But there he is and there I’m not. For those of you who haven’t read Klein’s piece, rest assured that his presumptuousness is intact all these months since his departure. The reality of teaching is still alien to him since he was appointed by Rupert Murdoch to be his education Spider-Man.

Klein’s piece contains more fallacies than the seas have mackerel. If myths and platitudes were sold for a dollar a pop, the lucky buyer could take over City Hall with pocket change. Just a few points: More »

Lesson From a Former Student

[Editor’s note: Ms. Flecha is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school ESL teacher in Queens. She blogs at My Life Untranslated, where a version of this post first appeared.]

A former student came to visit me one recent Friday morning. Last year was the first year I taught 5th grade, and this was the first time I’d been visited by a “graduated” student. I was really taken by surprise when he walked in my door.

If I had had to guess who would come to visit me first, I wouldn’t have guessed him. “Carlos” was a student who had a hard time sitting still in the beginning of last year. He would often ask to go to the bathroom, or to the guidance counselor, and when he was sitting at his desk, he’d either be talking or falling asleep. He often needed help with things that other students could do independently.

Yet he was one of the students I’d miss whenever he was absent, and he was an example of the kind of student whose life experiences had inspired me to become a teacher in the first place. The main reason for his agitated behavior and his exhaustion, I later found out, was that he had been suffering nightmares about his border-crossing experience, and was living in constant fear that immigration agents would take him or his parents to jail or send them back to their country. And here he was in my class trying to learn in a new language. More »

Write About Why You are an Educator and a Proud Union Member

EDUsolidarityThose of you who are excellent teachers and who stand in solidarity with our unions are probably no stranger to the question, “Well, why are you involved with the union if you’re a good teacher?” It’s time for educators to stand up and answer that question loudly and clearly.

EDUSolidarity, a group of progressive educators, encourages you to explain how being a union member supports and enables you to be the kind of teacher that you are. Include personal stories if possible. Focus not only on your rights, but also on what it takes to be a great teacher for students and how unions support that.

Please submit your piece to the UFT at solidarity@uft.org and to EDUSolidarity using its online form that will go live at www.edusolidarity.us on March 22. Posts can also be shared on Twitter using the tag #edusolidarity.

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There is Power in a Union

Last week, John Darnielle of the California indie rock band the Mountain Goats recorded a message to workers in Wisconsin — a version of the traditional song “There is Power in a Union.”

The video’s caption reads:

Everybody knows I don’t generally do the acoustic guitar guy rocking political jams deal but as a former member of SEIU 660 & the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians & a kid who benefitted from great teachers I wanted to spend tonight saying WE ARE ON YOUR SIDE xo jd

Paying for Tests vs. Supporting Student Learning

As NY and other states gear up to spend their Race to the Top funds on developing more and more standardized tests and curriculums focused on passing them, here’s a powerful cautionary tale from Detroit about where that money may (vs. should) be going.

What did those of us staying in the same downtown hotel as Hollywood stars like Samuel L. Jackson think we could do to help fix the Detroit Public Schools?

I asked myself that question at the time, and I ask it especially now, when I’m amazed to read about the “draconian” measures being taken by DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. While he concedes his plan makes neither financial nor academic sense, Bobb is nonetheless attempting to solve DPS’s $327 million budget shortfall by closing nearly half of Detroit’s schools and increasing class sizes in the remaining ones to as high as sixty. It seems an insane idea to me, especially since I feel responsible for a big chunk of that deficit.

The company I worked for, you see, is owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just completed a 15-month contract with the Detroit Public Schools worth $39,859,925.00. That’s right, almost forty million dollars, or more than 12 percent of DPS’s entire budget shortfall, for HMH’s “managed instruction” in reading and math. While I don’t know exactly what forty million dollars of “managed instruction” looks like (who does?), I know some of those millions were used to pay for the tests I helped slap together (mostly recycling passages and questions from our item bank that had been used many times before) and to sponsor my travels to Detroit.

Eva Talks the Talk, But Falls Down When It Is Time To Walk the Walk

Eva Moskowitz is deeply concerned about the education of English Language Learners, at least according to a favorable report in today’s Wall Street Journal. In a swipe at the New York City Department of Education, Moskowitz declares that “(i)t shouldn’t take six years” for students to achieve English proficiency on the state language test. English Language Learners are being left behind.

Eva talks the talk, but falls down when it is time to walk the walk. More »

Wisconsin as a Teachable Moment

Rethinking Schools has a page of resources for educators interested in teaching about labor history, human rights struggles, and the ongoing events in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states.

Left Forum Takes Up Attacks on Public Education, Teacher Unions and Public Sector Unions

This coming weekend, from the evening of Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20, the annual Left Forum Conference will be held at Pace University in downtown Manhattan, directly across from City Hall.

UFT Vice President Leo Casey will be speaking on two panels addressing issues of concern to readers of Edwize.

On Saturday, March 19, from 3 to 5 p.m., he will join Distinguished CUNY Professor of Sociology Stanley Aronowitz, the author of over twenty books on labor and education issues, Distinguished CUNY Professor of Social Psychology and Women’s Studies Michelle Fine, the author of numerous books exploring issues of race and gender in education, and Chicago community organizer James Thindwa, currently with the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, in a discussion of Defending the Public Square: Public Education and Teacher Unions Under Attack.

On Sunday, March 20, from 12 to 2 p.m., he will join Kimberley Freeman-Brown, Executive Director of American Rights at Work, Steve London, First Vice President of the CUNY Professional Staff Congress, and Dorian Warren, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, in a discussion of the Assault on Public Sector Unions: Resisting Anti-worker State Initiatives and Cuts to Labor and Working Class Programs.

For more on the program of the Left Forum, go here. To register for the conference, go here.

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