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Mea Culpa

We bloggers who believe that unionization and quality education are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive have been remiss. In our exultation at being able to freely voice our anger at the constant assault on public education and teacher unions, we have not presented an accurate view of the UFT or other progressive teacher unions across the country. We have failed to note that the UFT, and other locals, as well as the AFT, have embraced many of the concepts advanced by some of the respondents to this blog.

For example, on the so-called “single salary schedule,” the UFT’s contract proposals in the current round of negotiations include paying teachers, on top of a competitive wage base, additional salary for such things as working in hard-to-staff schools (to attract highly skilled educators), having extraordinary knowledge and skills (based on objective criteria), or qualifying for and assuming additional responsibilities (as part of a career ladder).

The union has also proposed restructuring and expediting the teacher discipline process for those accused of certain serious charges and for proven incompetence. And for five years the UFT has tried to eliminate the exclusive use of seniority in transfers and hiring by substituting a school personnel committee to interview and hire applicants.

The UFT even supports charter schools that are well-designed and not intended solely to drain public school funding or circumvent unionization. The charter schools that the union is opening are meant to demonstrate not merely that unions and quality education are compatible, but also to be a showcase for what all public schools should be like — well-resourced with small classes and well-prepared teachers, and with a collaborative management system that supports teachers and holds them accountable but gives them the professional discretion to teach each child in the way that child will learn best.

If all of us at all points on the political spectrum did not have such knee-jerk reactions to certain hot-button words, we might find that we have much more in common than we think, as long as we remember that its our children we’re talking about.



  • 1 redhog
    · Aug 26, 2005 at 6:19 am

    Is the American Medical Association a Union of Patients? No, it is a professional organization unapologetically dedicated to the interests of doctors. They fiercely resisted legislation that brought Medicare and control over doctors’ fees that ensure million dollar incomes.They still pressure to keep the number of new doctors artificially low so as to protect a huge slice of economic pie for even their poorest-performing members. They have ensured that their members are practically immune to disciplinary action regardless of how they botch up in the office or the surgical theater. The percentage of teachers attacked with adverse actions without warrant is many hundreds of percent of that of doctors. Doctors demand status and that audacity has taken hold on the popular imagination and defined in a small way our culture. Teachers should not present their necks to the axes of derision. They should lobby boldly for an improved standard of living and quality of life for their members. That is their primary mission. The A.M.A. spends more money buying politicians’ convictions than have hundreds of so-called “special interest” labor unions combined. But doctors are not embarrassed,made to heel, or taken to task about their pursuit of self-interest.Teachers’ self-respect must become paramount and non-negotiable. It takes second place to nothing and nobody. Their justified fear of persecution is what gets most in the way of their service to children.When a household is rocked by financial and other strife, the parents’preoccupation with mere survival may make them appear less devoted to their children. But where there is security and stability, it is more likely that the parents’ best energies can be directed where Nature intended. So it is with teachers. Give them a decent life, with some fruits of prestige, and they will automatically embrace the kids beyond the unlimited call of duty.

  • 2 curious2
    · Aug 26, 2005 at 8:58 am

    Hey redhog,

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. Most of your blog seems to defend your profession by attacking the medical profession. I agree with you that the AMA does many bad things. Let’s try to improve both professions.

    One thing I have learned from this blog is many teachers believe they have a “justified fear of persecution”, vindictiveness, etc. I think this is a result of at least three things:

    1. Historically, some of the school management and administration has been incompetent. Bloomberg is trying to fix this by gaining stronger control of the system and making changes from the top-down and the bottom-up.

    2. The system is so screwed up by its unconventional organizational structure that the result is an overly politicized and poisonous environment. If the unions allow the system to move to a more typical organizational structure, the environment will improve. For example, if the system could fire bad teachers, good teachers wouldn’t feel as much under attack. Since good teachers have been linked to bad teachers through the overreaching union contract, ALL teachers are under attack. If you break this link and you are a good teacher, you will get much more respect.

    3. Some teachers are uncomfortable with being managed in any way. This is true in many fields. Those people usually find a way into self-employment. I think some teachers in our system should ultimately do the same. To be clear, I suspect that this point applies to only a small number of teachers.

  • 3 curious2
    · Aug 26, 2005 at 9:09 am

    Hey CitySue,

    Thanks for the informative posting. I would like to get more information if possible:

    1. Where can I get the details on the unions latest salary proposals?

    2. Where can I get the details on the latest discipline process and any current union proposals to change it?

    3. If the new union charter schools are “well-resourced” and, presumably, public schools are not, where are the new charters getting the additional resources from? If the teachers are “well-prepared”, how is this being accomplished and how does this differ from union teachers in the public schools? Finally, it what manner will teachers be “accountable”?

    4. Does the union have a document or documents that explain the “collaborative management system” that they endorse? Is this just a vague “know it when you see it” sort of thing or does the union have a specific plan?

    By the way, I really admire this blog and your posting for being open to discussion and debate with those who have a different point of view. It makes me more optimistic for our collective progress.

  • 4 redhog
    · Aug 26, 2005 at 9:24 am

    “Curious2″ is a strong asset to this blog and its focus on educational progress.He/She speaks with critical candor but also good-will and an open-minded capacity for praise. Let there be commerce between us!

  • 5 paulrubin
    · Aug 27, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    It is not the natural order of things that teachers should feel persecuted by their supervisors or those above them. If some teachers feel that way, it’s often with good reason. All we have to do is witness the results of giving those without expertise free reign. We’ve now moved to a paradigm where only four things matter:
    1. Does your classroom look attractive?
    2. Are your English and Math standardized tests scores going up or down?
    3. Are you using cooperative learning nearly every day?
    4. Are you a child molestor?

    Do those four things the way you’re told and YOU my friend are a master teacher worthy of praise. Stray from these rules at your peril.

    Where I teach, teachers and administrators view themselves as a team working together for the benefit of the kids and ourselves. As a result, most of the members of the school community are pleased. Someday we’ll end up with a principal who views his/her faculty as the enemy and I’ll bet my year’s salary that within two years things go downhill.

    What so many fail to realize is that schools are not a business. In private industry, a successful business ultimately results in better paid employees. Failure results in unemployment. That’s not a model that’s easily followed in the public school system. A successful school doesn’t result in better paid employees. And unlike a private company which can reach out to attract more customers and expand, a school is limited by size and funding sources. I suppose if your goal ultimately is to eliminate public education and replace it with private schooling, that’s a different story but is that truly the goal of Mayor Bloomberg. If so, he should come forth and tell everyone that. This way he can be judged more appropriately. He might even get more votes.

  • 6 curious2
    · Aug 28, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks, redhog, for the kind comments. I am excited to be involved in these important discussions with you and others on this blog!

  • 7 a-realist
    · Aug 29, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    I have had numerous supervisors and have found most of them to be overburdened with so much paperwork and report writing. However, all of the supervisors were sincerely interested in helping me and the other teachers in our department become well rounded and successful classroom teachers. I found them to be very hard working individuals who appeared to be always in demand by some incident that required their immediate attention.
    So far, I have been quite lucky in my fifteen years of service in two different schools.

  • 8 redhog
    · Aug 29, 2005 at 9:47 pm

    Meritocracy must be restored. The title of “principal� comes from “principal teacher.� Principals are now commonly appointed after having had no supervisory or teaching experience. They start at the top simply because a superintendent has ensconced them there by fiat. That superintendent often has no familiarity with the needs and character of the school, having hardly visited it, and may himself be scarcely more qualified than his protégé. Until Chancellor Klein’s regime, prospective supervisors submitted resumes that were screened by parents, teachers, and practicing supervisors who then formally interviewed the candidates.
    When the school system was at its peak, it was mandated that applicants for assistant principal positions had taught for at least five years. An additional five years were required to rise from assistant principal to principal. People were hired in order by grade on promulgated lists.

    If a qualification is vital to perform a job, there should be no monkey business to get around it. If it is not relevant, then it should be abandoned.

    Many of the new principals are virgins to teaching and untouched even for the very first time as administrators. Teachers who are supervised by them refer to this phenomenon as the DOE’s “inverted pyramid,� in which the preponderance of know-how reposes at the base of the hierarchy.

    To escape the rigors of the classroom and to leap tens of thousands of dollars of salary in a single bound, new teachers jump onto the supervisory runway as soon as possible.

    It’s nice that “a realist” has been struck by benign lightning and been the beneficiary of the flash of a competent supervisor. They are very rare nowadays. Most of the time they supervise people who are vastly more knowledgeable and and effective in their specialty than they are. Administrators are now drawn from the lowest academic echelons, as has been noted in many journals. But teachers should always be willing to counsel, if not cover for them.

  • 9 CitySue
    · Aug 29, 2005 at 10:15 pm

    Response to curious2: Thanx for your interest. For the answers to most of your questions, and a lot more, go to the uft website at uft.org and type UFT Fact-finding in the search box. It will take you to the complete brief submitted by the UFT to the state fact-finding panel as it was published in the June issue of the union newspaper. It details all the union positions on these issues. Hope that helps.

  • 10 a-realist
    · Aug 30, 2005 at 6:23 am

    You are correct about the “fresh meat” that are now thrown into a supervisory position without a good number of years of experience. Everyone of my supervisors were teachers for many years and fully understood the rigors of dealing with highly energetic youngsters and the teaching-learning process. I can note that some of the new supervisors are going through the teaching process brcause it is one stop they must make on their way to a supervisory slot. Perhaps that is why my supervisors were more understanding with the staff of the department. They had many years of teaching behind them. They became teachers because they wanted to teach. I must say, though, that I see all supervisors very over-loaded with paperwork and demands that really keep them busy. I, personally, am happier with the classroom challenges as oppossed to the managerial challenges.