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New York Teacher

New York TeacherHighlights from the March 18 issue of New York Teacher:

“I want to put a human face on the consequences of the planned austerity measures; the disaster of charging kids for MetroCards, the impact cuts will have on schools and families,” said Guy De Baere, a lab specialist at LaGuardia HS in Manhattan. “Each year we’re asked to do more with less — much less.” It was his first lobbying trip as a teacher, but not his first as a parent. This time, he joined more than 1,200 UFT colleagues and supporters in Albany on the union’s March 9 Lobby Day to tell state legislators what his award-winning high school needs.

At Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, more than 200 teachers, students, and union and community leaders assembled to call on the state Legislature to reject the governor’s proposed $1.4 billion in school aid cuts statewide — as much as $600 million in cuts to New York City — as an attack on educational quality and a precursor to mass layoffs.

The federal education law that, for better or worse, has dominated the lives of America’s educators for the past eight years is set for another controversial and troubling renewal.

Agreeing with the UFT that — six months since the union’s last contract expired — negotiations with the Department of Education had deadlocked, the state’s Public Employment Relations Board on Feb. 22 appointed Philip L. Maier as mediator.

As a result of legal action taken by a coalition including the UFT and the NAACP, a judge has ordered the Department of Education to halt its process of matching students to high schools. The order is temporary until the judge rules on a preliminary injunction in the coalition’s lawsuit to stop school closures.

During a heated and contentious seven-hour hearing on March 2, City Council members grilled Department of Education officials on the accuracy and fairness of the policies, procedures and criteria they used in designating 19 schools for closure.

One of the hottest issues in education today is also an age-old question: What makes a good teacher? And the UFT is working to help find an answer. Federal officials, in testimony before Congress recently, called for a refocus away from looking at “paper credentials” to gauging teacher effectiveness by asking states to find a better system for teacher evaluation.

The educators longed to learn effective, practical teaching strategies — even if it meant drawing graphic organizers in the dirt. And UFT Teacher Center staffer Nick Norman provided that professional development — even though it meant leaving a secured compound in an armored vehicle with driver and bodyguard, and traveling over rough roads to the other side of Kabul.

What if you could prevent school violence before it occurs? That’s the idea behind a new hotline, announced at a March 1 press conference held by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The Council-sponsored hotline, called “Speak Up — Save Lives,” will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be staffed by professional crisis counselors.

A faltering national economy. Huge budget gaps in Albany and New York City. Unemployment at a peak, homelessness on the rise, Wall Street losses. Sound familiar? 2010? No, the year was 1975 and the city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Real disaster was averted when the state, city and business community joined forces with the city’s unions to forge a joint solution. And therein lies a lesson that today’s New York leaders might do well to recall.