Mark Janus, who lent his name to the anti-union lawsuit to screw American unons, has scored a really cool gig with a right-wing think tank. This should be a lesson to us all. It really pays to be the first one to sell out your brothers and sisters nationwide. You get some cool job sitting around an office somewhere, and you don't really have to do anything ever again. Was this a deal he made in advance? I don't see why not.
So Janus has really paid off for Janus. It's only the rest of us who will suffer. You see, if you actually study history, you find that Americans do better when they are unionized, not occasionally, not sometimes, but always. You find that unionized workers make more money than non-unionized workers, and you find that non-unionized workers make more money too when union flourishes.
You will also find that union has been rolled back since Reagan was President. This is part of a concerted anti-union program in the United States and it's sorely reduced the number of unionized workers. Now when government boasts of job creation it's often as not jobs that pay minimum wage and come without health insurance or any benefits whatsoever. In fact, many crappy fast food jobs make you sign disclaimers that you won't jump ship for other crappy fast food jobs. This removes the possibility of the competition that Republicans argue will improve the economy.
We are a selfish country, and we choose to be that way even when we are screwing ourselves. We have a national network that caters to the needs of the uber-rich. It's somehow managed to persuade a great swath of the country that they too might be uber-rich one of these days, and that they therefore must support rules that expand the rights of the uber-rich.
Of course, that's not the only way you manipulate the public. You manage them through racism and xenophobia. You make them terrified of Muslims. You make a big thing out of not allowing them entrance to the United States, unless they come from countries with which you do business, in which case they're fine. You then ignore all terrorist acts committed by white people, because if you demonize white people there goes your base. How are we gonna Make America Great Again if we contend the characters on Leave It to Beaver were terrorists?
It isn't easy to get people to act against their self-interest. Fox couldn't exist, for example, if American hadn't done away with The Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present both sides of an issue, rather than simply spout right-wing propaganda. But we're way down that road now, and it will take a sea change to turn back.
Janus contended he had to leave his First Amendment rights at the door when he went to work. In reality, unions have separate political funds. I contribute to one. Even though I sometimes disagree with UFT endorsements, I want union to be able to fight things like the Constitutional Convention. Now that we're in an actual existential crisis, I want union to be able to fight even more.
What Janus contended was that union itself was inherently political. Thus, the Americans who wanted to fight for more work for less pay were never well-represented when they were compelled to pay union dues. It's kind of ironic that Janus, as soon as the Koch Brothers finished using him so they could keep money they'd otherwise have to give working people, gave him a gig for less work and more pay.
Of course, hypocrites will do things like that. They'll take more money for themselves while screwing everyone else. And now every American in a union will be able to follow in Janus's footsteps. They can withhold their union dues while making saps like me cover their expenses. The only problem is, in the long run, they won't benefit like Janus did. The less power union has, the worse working conditions will become for most Americans, Most Americans will actually lose more than the relative drop in the bucket represented by union dues.
And make no mistake, that's why billionaire Bruce Rainer started the lawsuit, that's why he set up a stooge named Janus, that's why the Koch Brothers and Walmart bankrolled it. They want a Fox News-watching, self-screwing country of ignoramuses. Don't forget to vote.
I'm a big fan of Curmudgucation, and I've decided to echo its most recent post, How to Build a Teacher. I started teaching in New York City in 1984, and for me it was more of a happy accident than a plan. Like blogger Peter Greene, my undergraduate major was English, not education. Our similarities end there.
I did not plan to be a teacher. I was a working musician, and had a few opportunities to play in Europe, once with the daughter of someone famous. When I got back the second time, I couldn't find work anywhere. I had no place to live. The only thing I had was this big old Mercury, and my driver's license had expired. Back then New York City was heavily invested in intergalactic searches for teachers, and I responded to a subway ad.
I went to Court Street and took a writing test. Once they were satisfied I knew English, they made me an English teacher. I had no idea what I was doing. On my ninth teaching day, I was observed. My AP wrote that I had no idea what I was doing. I pointed out to her that I'd told her that when she hired me. She then explained to me in great detail about how she made meatballs for her parents.
I transferred to another school, where I taught music for one semester and English for two. At this school, they had broken the English department in two, and I taught in the skills department. This was because no one could seem to get along with my AP, who wore a three-piece tweed suit in any kind of weather, and wrote long, incomprehensible observation reports. A colleague read my first three-page observation and told me the AP liked me. This was because, if he didn't like you, he actually wrote things you could understand.
I enrolled in an MA English program at Queens College, thinking I would do this for a living. But the day I showed up in September I learned I no longer had a job. It was a good thing I'd had the foresight to not yet pay Queens College. I decided I'd had enough of crossing bridges to the Bronx, put on a suit, and walked into every department of every high school in Queens until someone was crazy enough to hire me. The person who did that ran the ESL department in Newtown, and I really loved teaching ESL. Alas, they dropped me at the end of the semester.
I joined the world's worst Irish wedding band. We had an accordion player who played bass on his accordion, and a drummer. They were never exactly in sync somehow. We had a singer who fancied himself Kenny Rogers, popular at the time, and therefore he purchased a $99 white polyester suit at Alexander's and grew a beard to look the part. Alas he couldn't sing in tune. People loved us anyway. He was born in the Bronx, but would show a picture of some home in Mayo and claim to have been born there. He would start a rebel song, "for our boys," turn to the band and say, "Screw 'em all."
This paid my way through an MA in Applied Linguistics. My MA was very good. I learned a whole lot about language structure, language acquisition, and a whole lot of things that the NY Regents, for example, haven't got a clue about. For some reason they didn't offer the last course I needed to complete my MA, and the department head suggested I student teach instead. I said I couldn't because I already had a job by then, but he said that was fine, I could be observed at the job.
My AP was officially my mentor, and won herself a free course at Queens College. The people in my class clued me in that they guy who'd observe us was not, in fact, our teacher. However, it was very important to him that you show a picture, introduce five vocabulary words, and ask three questions. Or something. I did the lesson exactly as requested and the guy thought I was a genius.
One thing that Greene mentioned is key--teaching courses ought to be taught by people who really teach the levels we will. Being a college professor is not the same thing. I recall taking a required education course when I started in the Bronx. The professor suggested we should assemble all our resources and assemble a class library. I didn't have any resources at the time, and I felt lucky to have chalk on the days I did.
She also took me aside and told me that I ought not to teach high school. I'd be better off pursuing a doctorate and teaching college. She wasn't the only professor who told me that either. There's something off-putting about people who train high school teachers but think teaching high school is a dead end. I'd argue we're needed a whole lot more than college professors, and that our jobs are actually more important. We might actually help students make it to college.
I'm really glad to have stumbled onto teaching, and I'm particularly glad I was dropped into ESL. I love teaching students from all over the world. They are really interesting and often have the most amazing stories. I haven't got as many conclusions as Greene did, except to say that this is my story, and I'm sticking to it. What's your story?
ESL teachers need not apply unless they have some other niche they can fill. This is the inevitable result of the latest iteration of CR Part 154. NY State has determined that direct English instruction only exists to prepare students for core subjects. Evidently, it's not their problem if newcomers can't communicate.
The Regents in NY State have so decreed, and that's the way it goes. It used to be important that we gave English language learners (ELLs) a whole lot of help so they could, you know, live. Now, living takes second place to testing. It used to be that ELLs who arrived with no English background would get three full periods of English instruction. Now, they can get as little as one.
Imagine going to China and getting 40 minutes a day to learn Chinese. The rest of the day you'll attend classes with native Chinese speakers. But don't worry. In two of those classes, you'll have a Chinese as a second language teacher to help you out. Or maybe you'll have a dual certified CSL/ science teacher. That should help you out, right?
If you're an administrator, especially in a small school, you have limited funds. Why would you bother to hire an ESL teacher simply because your ELLs are in desperate need of one? Instead, you could hire some 12-credit wonder who took a few courses and therefore places you in compliance. You could pretend that, during science class, the ELLs were magically learning English. Never mind that you gave native English speakers exactly the same time to learn. The state says ELLs can learn English and science in that same time, and since you're following the rules, that's good enough for the New York State Regents.
Now here's the thing. Both UFT and NYSUT say that newcomers need more instruction, not less. I've studied language acquisition and of course I agree. But you don't need to study language acquisition to know that it takes more time to learn a new language than to not learn one, do you?
If you went to China tomorrow, wouldn't you want a little extra help and guidance with the language? I know I would. I know, your grandfather came here and got no special treatment, no extra help, and he went on to do this and that. So did mine. My grandfather came over on a boat from Russia when he was 13. He became an electrician, opened a shop, bought a house in Brooklyn and raised a family.
Times are just a little tougher now. That house my grandfather bought will cost you a million dollars today. Pay is not what it once was, and most households now need two breadwinners. It's not impossible, of course, to come here, receive little or no help with English, and make it. Language learning is kind of an individual thing. Extroverts will acquire verbal language, for example, more quickly than introverts.
Language acquisition is also very much about affect. If you're happy here, you'll acquire language more rapidly. If your parents dragged you here kicking and screaming, you'll actively resist learning English. It's my job to help students get what they need no matter how they feel. For those who acquire verbal language quickly, I can help with their writing and reading. For those who resist, I can try to trick them into having fun somehow. Last year I taught a very small class and managed to reach kids who would not have done well in a standard ESL class, let alone an academic class pretending to offer English support.
In school, there is nothing more important for newcomers than learning English. My class provides the building blocks for absolutely everything else my students do. I tell them my class is the most important one they're taking. The things I teach are things they will use every day of their lives, things I use every day of my life, and things.
It's nothing short of a disgrace that the Regents continue to push this unproductive and short-sighted nonsense. They know little or nothing about language acquisition, they care little or nothing about the children I serve, and how they sleep at night is a complete mystery to me.
One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye the milkman sings a song called If I Were a Rich Man. He fantasizes about what his life would be like if he had money. Tevye longs for respect, and wants people to come to him for advice. He imagines people coming from all over to seek it.
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong, When you're rich, they think you really know.
And there you have the essence of Bill Gates, who's hijacked American education with ideas that have no basis in practice or research. When Gates sent his people to my school, they were unable to explain to us what they were doing or why they were doing it. My theory? It didn't matter. Gates had already decided what he was going to do and twisted the "study" to support his conclusion.
Carol Burris, who's been critical of this from the start, writes about a new Gates-funded study that makes some predictable conclusions about the pipe-dream Gates imposed on the United States of America:
It concluded that the IP project did not improve either student achievement or the quality of teachers. In fact, it did more harm than good.
Of course, Burris and a whole lot of other principals were saying this well before the experiment began. And this is not an isolated Gates error either. His small-school initiative, the one that Bloomberg used to close schools en masse and effectively hobble union, has also failed, according to Gates himself. It kind of makes you wonder whether it's a good idea to turn our education system over to billionaires with time on their hands.
Some people certainly benefited from this program. For example, TNTP (The New Teacher Project), a creation of Michelle Rhee no less, scored a cool seven million bucks from Gates after it issued a study telling just how awful existing teacher evaluation was. They were placed in charged of hiring and firing in Shelby County, Tennessee. Pretty cool, huh? Since ordinary teachers suck, they used the instant ones from TFA:
This, according to the report, resulted in increased teacher turnover, since many TFAers only “intended to remain in teaching for only a few years.” The report found no evidence that the quality of the teachers recruited improved.
Hmmm...do those five-week wonders suck as badly as we do, or are there factors beyond teacher evaluation we should've examined? I mean, Gates, at the time, had pretty much determined the prime factor we needed to examine was just how much teachers suck. Gates decided to throw money at the ones he decided didn't suck so they'd move to districts in need of less sucky teachers.
Even with a cash incentive, teachers were reluctant to transfer to schools with high needs because they believed that would result in their receiving a lower VAM score, which was now part of their evaluation.
Do you see what's happening here? Teachers seemed to believe the actual students played a part in their own test scores. Also, by hanging test scores over teacher heads like the sword of Damocles, teachers didn't want to teach kids who got low test scores. Go figure. This whole self-preservation instinct bedeviled Gates efforts to identify sucky teachers from the start. Burris comes to a more realistic conclusion, the very conclusion she and her fellow principals reached when they first saw Gates Degrees of Suckiness:
The project failed because evaluating teachers by test scores is a dumb idea that carries all kinds of negative consequences for achieving the goal we all want — improved teaching and learning. Every good principal knows that improvement in teaching requires coaching built on a relationship of trust and mutual respect — not boxes and metrics intended to determine whom to punish and whom to reward.
That's what sensible administrators seeking sensible results think. That's what every teacher knows. That's why teachers have been so demoralized by this project. It's clearly conceived in vindictiveness. Cuomo, in fact, called it "baloney" when its first iteration failed to fire enough teachers. He referred to himself as a "student lobbyist," suggesting those of us who spent our lives supporting students didn't give a damn about them.
The newer junk science system also failed to fire as many teachers as Cuomo wanted. This notwithstanding, every teacher I know understands the goals of this system. We all understand all these people are walking around with checklists to determine just how much we suck. We feel it every moment of every day, and it's all because Bill Gates woke up one morning and decided he alone could measure suckiness. He imposed this program on virtually the entire country via Race to the Top, with the full cooperation of the Obama administration.
Though we now know it to be a miserable failure, we're stuck with it. Gates tosses seed money at communities and leaves broken systems in his wake. Hence we're stuck with small schools that don't work, and a teacher evaluation system based on the voices in Gates' head.
In New York City, because we have a large volume of vindictive and unreflective administrators, this situation is exacerbated. Although we have very few teachers ultimately rated ineffective, we recognize this system is designed to oppress rather than support us. Because it's entrenched in state law, and because all the papers post reformy nonsense as gospel in their editorial pages, it's a long, hard slog out of the garbage dump into which Gates placed us.
It's pretty clear to me, at least, that teachers need a system to support and help us, rather than one whose goal is finding out precisely how much we suck so it can more easily fire us.
I missed this when it came out, but I was nonetheless pretty surprised to read an editorial co-authored by AFT President Randi Weingarten and E4E founder Evan Stone. I mean, it's important to get Stone's perspective, I guess, since he taught somewhere for five minutes before selling out to Bill Gates and the reformies. I actually agree with much of what they wrote. Regarding the uprising in red states:
They occurred in states with laws that weaken unions and their ability to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions — which, when it comes to public education, are teaching and learning conditions.
I've written much the same myself. That's why people in NY looking to duplicate those actions are more or less banging their heads against a wall. They hit closer to home here:
No student should attend schools with overcrowded classrooms that lack desks for every student...
I wrote just yesterday about being in that situation. In my building, not only are those same half-rooms open, but we now have converted closets used for classrooms. There are no windows, and there are indoor air-conditioners. They don't work very well, but anytime they are on, interaction is pretty much impossible because they are incredibly noisy.
You may recall a few years back that the AFT brought Bill Gates to its convention as keynote speaker. I've written about Bill Gates here and here, among other places. After the convention, to thank us, Gates went and spoke somewhere against teacher pensions. If you think he was just fooling around, you're wrong. Right now there's an entire organization devoted to attacking our pensions, under the guise of protecting our earnings. (One of its leaders wrote an op-ed in the Daily News suggesting UFT teachers could not take their pensions with them if they changed jobs. That's not the case.)
The other remnant of Bill Gates, the one we see each and every day, is the junk science-based evaluation system. Every time Boy Wonder comes in to check off how much you suck, you can thank Bill Gates. While you're at it, thank Evan Stone, who supported this nonsense in all its glory. After all, he's not a teacher and hasn't been one in years. No skin off his apple if you're oppressed and miserable.
Here's another point where I agree with Randi and Evan:
Teachers rely on their unions to fight for them, but they are also asking for more from their unions. Frankly, they don’t always feel represented by them, and we must respond to that.
I'm not exactly sure how non-teacher, non-union Stone is part of this "we," but let's humor the notion. I recently wrote about how I felt paying dues to AFT, NEA, and NYSUT but having no vote in any of the above. I don't give a flying hoot what Evan Stone thinks about it, but if Randi Weingarten wants to expand democracy I'm all for it.
High school teachers voted for me to represent them at UFT Executive Board not because I'm charming, but rather because they agreed with me on teacher issues. I worked that election very hard and I am determined to represent those who elected me not only there, but also within my own school building. Someone has to stand up and say it's a terrible idea to get into bed with the likes of Bill Gates or Evan Stone. I'm frankly amazed that Randi Weingarten has yet to figure that out.
In case it's not clear, let me help out. You recall how Gates attacked teacher pensions to thank us for featuring him as keynote? Evan Stone is now engaged in attacking the Absent Teacher Reserve, based on ratings enabled by Bill Gates that are likely as not nonsense.
E4E is a corporate cancer in our midst. Its leaders don't even bother pretending to be teachers anymore. Instead, Stone is a CEO or something. Hey, AFT, if you want to reach out to real teachers, we're right here. Let's work together instead of helping Stone stab us in the back.
I was pretty surprised to see a link in today's Chalkbeat newsletter to a piece about how Eva needed space for a new Moskowitz Academy. Eva, who makes less than $900,000 a year, is in a real pickle. Evidently the city is reluctant to close another school so she can push her way in. It's tragic. What awful discrimination. Where are kids going to sit to pee their pants during test prep? Where is Eva going to place the extra sweat pants to give the kids who pee themselves?
I don't link to the 74, where the article is, but it was hard for me to cry for poor Eva. I mean, why doesn't she take a few of the millions she raises from her hedge fund supporters and buy a damn building? In fact, why is she taking tax money at all? She can't be bothered to sign the pre-school agreement every other provider signed. Once she does that, she can't do Any Damn Thing She Feels Like, and that's a great injustice somehow.
As part of a school that's obliged to follow chancellor's regulations, as part of a school in which denying students' basic biological urges constitutes corporal punishment rather than Just Another Day, it's hard for me to muster sympathy for Eva Moskowitz or her mission to take space away from us, the community.
It's particularly egregious because I've been teaching in real public schools since 1984. The one I've been in since 1993, Francis Lewis High School, suffers from rampant overcrowding and has done so pretty much as long as I can remember. While I don't make students sit until they pee themselves, because I'm evidently not dedicated enough to be Moskowitz Academy material, I have been experiencing preposterous situations since before Moskowitz Academies even existed.
One day shortly after 9/11, an assistant principal walked into my half-classroom, really angry.
"Why didn't you observe the moment of silence?" he demanded.
"What moment of silence?" I asked.
"We just announced a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11." he said.
"Well we don't have a loudspeaker so we don't have the announcements," I told him.
He didn't like that. He tried approaching the situation from another angle.
"Why are those kids sitting on the radiator?" he asked.
"They don't want to sit on the floor," I told him.
I followed him out of the room and asked us to help us get a better room. That, evidently, was not as important as the moment of silence or the unacceptable seating arrangement. He stormed off without answering my question. He was soon promoted to principal.
Another time I was in a bowling alley-shaped room. It opened onto several fragrant dumpsters. There were twelve rows of three seats each. Once, after a test, the AP security came in and started screaming at one of my students. The student was wearing earphones. He had finished the test and was bothering no one. The AP dragged him out and wrote him up. I complained to the AP that he should have spoken to me first. The AP gave me a dirty look. He was also promoted to principal, though not quite as soon.
I did a year in a music room. It was very large. We had a piano, and a board with musical staffs on it. It was OK, expect when the music teacher next door decided to play Flight of the Valkyrie at top volume. However, he generally did that no more than once a day, every single day. I politely asked him to close the door. The first time or two, he complied. Then he decided the hell with it, everyone needs to hear Flight of the Valkyrie each and every day, or what's the point of life itself? One day I'd had it, and I walked over and slammed the door so loud it was perceptible above Flight of the Valkyrie.
The music teacher was horrified by this. He complained to his AP, who called me into her office and screamed at me for ten minutes. I defended myself, explaining how being polite had not proven effective, and she told me I had no right to do what I did. I referred to the situation as "bullshit," and she was horrified by my awful language. She went on about that for a few minutes before throwing me out of her office. She retired before they could promote her to principal.
I also taught maybe twelve years in crumbling trailers. I'd walk in to find the floors covered with sheets of ice. Sometimes some genius would leave the AC on all night and all the seats would be wet with some sort of AC mist. Sometimes there'd be no heat. Sometimes there'd be no AC, and you can't imagine how hot it would get. Sometimes the custodians would be in a wacky mood and throw snowballs at us through the broken windows. Sometimes the marching band would come by playing Louie Louie while my poor students tried to take a test.
Twenty years later, the city is building an annex for us. When it's finished, maybe we'll get some relief. It took a little longer because I haven't got a hot line to Joel Klein so he can give me Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want. I had to get elected to the UFT Executive Board and get Ellie Engler to call up the school building authority. It's not a perfect solution because we all know well the city, rather than utilize this to help us, could simply overcrowd us further to make things even worse.
However, I don't feel sorry for Eva Moskowitz, who manipulates her kids to protest in Albany on school days, terrorizes children to artificially boost her stats, holds "got to go" lists, boasts of how wonderful her schools are, sheds the majority of her students well before they graduate, and blames our public schools for their lack of progress when they return.
I'm sorry for the poor teacher who had to write that thing. Maybe she doesn't know any better. Maybe she wrote it of her own volition. Who knows? Maybe she's drunk Eva's Kool-Aid and thinks she's doing God's work. Maybe she'll become a principal for having written this thing. Maybe she wrote it of her own volition. Who knows? Maybe she doesn't understand the shelf life of a Moskowitz Academy teacher, and maybe she doesn't understand the value of due process.
Still, I don't feel sorry for the Moskowitz Academies. Screw Eva Moskowitz. Screw Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who enabled her. Screw the propagandists who sing her praises while ignoring the overwhelming majority of her students, who she ends up not helping. If Michael Bloomberg had to send his kids to public schools, there'd be no overcrowding anywhere. Instead of engineering giveaways to developers, we'd be building schools for the children of New York City.
Make no mistake, that's what we'd be doing if we had a collective conscience.
I'm really astonished by the volume of tweets I see from Pittsburgh quoting Bernie Sanders. Two years ago those of us who supported him were "Bernie Bros," a bunch of thugs who had no regard for the sensible middle. Note that none of us were female, evidently, since "Bernie Sisters" doesn't connote the same threatening aura. That's actually sexism on the part of the group that was stereotyping us. Go figure.
But yes, two years after Donald Trump became President, Bernie Sanders is a mythical figure whose ideas are to be lauded.
Bernie was speaking that very same truth back on 2016. He had the same optimism and the same ideas. In fact, Bernie was advocating for Medicare for all back when Hillary Clinton was telling us it would never, ever happen. Hillary was ridiculing Bernie's ideas for free college, saying the Trump children would use it, as though Trump would send his kids to state schools. Fifteen bucks an hour was too much to ask, thought Hillary.
At the time, I thought well, there might be merit to their arguments. They pointed back to 1972, when the Democrats ran George McGovern and got crushed in a landslide. Of course, we now know that everything McGovern said about the Vietnam War was correct, and even Nixon seemed to get on board as he extracted us from that quagmire. More importantly, we now know what a horrible error it was to run a candidate whose strongest calling card was being "not Trump."
There are other things AFT is wrong about. Close to home, UFT is mistaken to exclude every single voice that saw what Sanders was saying was true back in 2016. While it's good that we're now applauding Sanders, every AFT rep in Minnesota was compelled to follow the company line that "Bernie Bros" were bad.
It's nice that Hillary gave a speech, but endorsing her was likely the worst decision our union has ever made. It was done early, and there was talk of a survey. Nonetheless I never saw the survey, I have no idea what it contained, and I don't know a single person who took it. It was supposed to be a smart decision to endorse early. I guess it was supposed to be a smart decision to extract no preconditions for said endorsement.
Yet teachers all over the country were then and are now reeling from the nonsense known as Race to the Top. That's what pushed all this unnecessary, ludicrous and hurtful testing. That's what enabled the junk science ratings taking place all over the country. Now I still like Sanders, and he's still saying things that need to be heard.
"There is nothing more important than quality public education for every child in this country." - @SenSanders#IamAFT
But if we are to survive as unionists, we need to open up and pay more than lip service. We need to endorse and encourage politicians who support union and education. We need to stop settling for compromised mediocrity like Hillary Clinton. We need to stop saying this is the best we can do, so let's go with it.
Donald Trump is living proof that this is about the worst philosophy we could have espoused. Going forward, if we're going to embrace candidates, let's embrace those who support what Americans support, like universal health care, affordable college, and a living wage. And for goodness sake let's refrain from endorsing those who lecture us about "public charter schools," whatever they may be, which is precisely what Hillary did in 2016.
That's what this piece contends. It's an interesting notion. Because Janus is a potential loss of bargaining power for unions, the state should pay it. This way, unions retain the same power they'd have otherwise, even when freeloaders choose to dump expenses on those of us who believe in community. This would neutralize the worst side effects of Janus.
I see issues with this. One is that in negotiations, we are adversarial. It's our job to maximize compensation, and the state's job to save money. It's kind of perverse for us to depend on our adversary for bargaining power. Also, who's to say the state won't just say, "Hey, we're giving you guys too much money. We're cutting the fee by 50% because, you know, we just feel like it."
I don't think that's far-fetched. Who knows who will control the state? Right now, we have a Democrat governor who ran on a platform of going after unions. That was fashionable, you know, because the big thing for Democrats that year was to triangulate and pretty much become marginally less insane Republicans. This year, of course, with Donald Trump as President of the United States, with Hillary a massive failure, he adores us and we're his bestest buds. Things change, especially with politicians who have no moral center who bend any which way the wind blows.
There is a marginal upside to Janus, to wit, union leadership that is more answerable to membership. I see that happening somewhat right here. Unity Caucus is entrenched, with some terrible habits, but the smarter members have opened their ears. I see that particularly in the fact that fewer observations now appears to be within our grasp. Months ago we were vehemently disagreeing over that at Executive Board. Now I think many in leadership are waking up and saying, "Hey, you know what? Teachers are not fond of excessive observations and maybe we should do something about it."
I see this in the negotiations for parental leave. A lot of people say this was a perfect storm and that's why it happened. I agree. But part of this perfect storm is the need for leadership to bring a victory to members. While there are detractors, and while our agreement is not perfect, no agreement is. For my money, and for those of members with whom I speak, this is a huge improvement.
I'll go out on a limb and say I think we have seen the last of giveback-laden awful contracts like the one we saw in 2005. Leadership now needs to worry about deals like that one. That's a good thing. Were we to partner with the state, not only would that end, but we'd run the risk of losing funding. The state could hold that over our collective heads. If every union in the state doesn't agree to these crap contracts, we'll pull your funding. Given all your deadbeat members, you'll be nothing.
I don't want to be dependent on notoriously fickle government for the funding of my union. We need to take a bad thing and make something good out of it. Specifically, we need a more responsive leadership. We should never be negotiating away fundamental seniority rights for a few extra bucks. We ought never to have created the ATR. We ought never to place ourselves in a position in which the state can say, "Hey, give us a time frame to fire ATR members or we're gonna pull all your funding."
Leadership now has to focus on organizing. While that reflects a lot of extra work, and while that work makes its way down to people like me, it's work we should've been doing for decades. Whatever happens with Janus, organizing reflects a substantive improvement. We need to build on that rather than finding shortcuts to avoid it.
An activated and informed union is a superior union. We can't just sit around and ask why Mulgrew hasn't solved all our problems. We need to be hands-on and face them ourselves. The notion of state funding for unions moves us backward. We cannot afford to move that way ever again.
Today the AFT is holding a convention in Pittsburgh, PA. I'd very much like to be there, but decided not to go anyway. Everyone I wanted to go with is here in NY. They have all sorts of excuses. They're undergoing surgery, they have family emergencies, and all sorts of other trivial excuses. Mine is even more trivial--I'm not going because they aren't going.
It's too bad because I'd love to go there and write about it. This year they're featuring Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I'd be really interested to see what they say. I saw Hillary in Minneapolis two years ago. She told us we could learn from public charter schools. It was one of the stupidest things I'd heard that summer. All charter schools are public in that they take public money. They are private in the sense that they do whatever they golly gosh darn please without community oversight.
It's also too bad because the fact is NYC high schools have no vote and no voice there. Not one single person we voted for is in Pittsburgh, not even on our own dime. Every single one of the reps there will vote as they are told. I know this because I sat through a meeting in Minneapolis where some guy instructed every single UFT rep to vote yes on this and no on that. Anyway, while it's a great honor to pay dues to the AFT, it's disappointing to have absolutely no representation there. I'm unequivocally pro-union but that's indefensible.
It's ironic because on the Executive Board we vote for virtually everything they propose. Support strikers somewhere? Yes. Oppose oppression? Yes. Mom and apple pie? Yes to both, even though I've personally been off sugar for a while. I guess we got lucky that this was not the year of voting for Common Core, junk science evaluations, or John King as an impartial arbitrator.
In fairness, there were a few roads on which we parted ways. There was one resolution where we condemned the racism encouraged and enabled by one Donald Trump. Leadership removed Trump's name and attributed everything to "the presidential election." In retrospect, they may have been correct. You can't dump blame for everything on Donald Trump. It appears to me that Hillary Clinton is the biggest reason he's President, though I don't suppose she will make that her theme. I'd still argue that winning UFT Executive Board seats gives us more right to be there than losing the US Presidential Election to the Worst Person on Earth.
In fact, I'd go even further. I'd argue that Hillary Clinton, via her terrible campaign, via her failure to present ideas more compelling than, "I'm not Donald Trump," and via her refusal to support ideas the American people support, like universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college, enabled Janus. It wasn't her intention to do that. It was her intention to take the least risky path, put herself out as little as possible, and win the presidency. She didn't inspire me, but since she was running against Donald Trump I got off my ass and voted for her. Alas, many didn't.
When you're in a rigged system, full of interference from within and without, you have to do better. Given Janus, UFT has to do better to. A system in which our "activists" are solely people who've agreed to represent leadership whether or not leadership represents membership needs to be fixed. It's a mistake to build brick walls and keep out those of us who don't believe in reforminess. It's a mistake to invite Diane Ravitch to speak while not allowing those of us who support her ideas to have a vote.
It was an egregious error for AFT to jump ahead and support Hillary. It's another to think you can sustain the organization while purposely disenfranchising intrinsically motivated activism. In 2018 and going forward we can do a whole lot better than that.
Some of us have been quietly trying to persuade leadership that there needs to be an option for two observations. I'm persuaded they now understand, what with working teachers bearing the message and Janus hanging over all our heads We picked that number because that's the minimum under the state law. It's not ideal, and I'm honestly not sure what is.
Former principal and current head of Network for Public Education Carol Burris told me she generally only needed to observe once a year. She said if things went well and nothing else came up, that was sufficient. She suggested her time and energy would be better devoted to teachers who were actually in need of assistance. That makes sense to me, and I'd hope we could get as close to that model as possible.
Another thing that makes sense to me is hiring administrators like Burris. If you want to be in charge of teachers, you should be super smart and outright supportive of people who serve children. We all know administrators who don't speak as plainly or logically as Burris. In New York City we have the remnants of Michael Bloomberg at virtually every level of administration and alas, Bill de Blasio has done nothing to change it. Thus we have people like this in positions of authority. I don't know exactly how you remove this level of sludge from administration, but having insane people run the system is not how you help children, let alone those of us who serve them.
Although Sue Edelman at the Post finds and exposes a lot of the corrupt administrators, the public has not made the connection. Also, vindictiveness and incompetence alone don't get you on page 6 of the paper. You have to not only be corrupt, but also get caught. Those of us who actually do the work know this is more far-reaching than most of the public knows. And the public, after reading years of stereotypes about us, continues to focus squarely on teachers. With all this, how do we correct the evaluation system?
I'd favor dumping the law, which is based on sheer vindictiveness on the part of Governor Andrew Cuomo. I don't envision that happening, and I'm not sure exactly how we make the case to the public. Many eyes are on the percentage of teachers with poor ratings. Leadership's best argument to maintain the status quo has been to tout the very low percentage of ineffective ratings. Our enemies use these same statistics to say the system is not vindictive enough.
A real teacher evaluation system ought not to be vindictive at all. An effective system will focus on teaching teachers how to better serve students. If will not be a ridiculous checklist that suggests physical education teachers ought to have the same instructional approach as science teachers. And though that's an extreme example, I could see how there would be disparity even between academic subjects.
For example, I teach English to newcomers. New York State does not feel English is actually a subject, saying the only reason we teach it is to prep students for core subjects, but I look around me and say, wow, we sure use English a lot. I mean, I do, I just walked my dog, and I spoke to people along the way. I want my students to be able to do the same, so I stress conversation. I also hope people won't say, "Hey, who's the idiot who taught you English? "so I teach and practice structure with them.
I guess that works, because Danielson likes interaction. I could imagine perhaps less interaction in a math class, and if students were learning the math I would not conclude the teacher sucks because there's less interaction. I mean, I love the way Carl Hiaasen writes, but unlike Danielson I don't conclude that anyone who doesn't write like Hiaasen sucks.
As far as observation reports go, it's pretty clear to me that the old observation method was superior to the current one. If you have a professional and competent supervisor, that supervisor need not be restricted to a checklist, That supervisor can observe the lesson, decide what helps the students, and decide what needs to be expanded upon.
Unfortunately, we have many supervisors who are neither professional nor competent. Now here's the thing--if you have supervisors like that it doesn't really matter what the observation method is. They see what they want to see, write what they want to write, and their decisions are utterly worthless. Because in some nether region of their cold hearts they know that, they tend to blame those they observe for their own shortcomings. Until we deal with that, whatever observation mode we choose will be heavily flawed.
Cutting down the number will be helpful on multiple levels. First of all, teachers will be marginally less terrorized. That will make teaching better all over. Second, competent administrators won't have to waste their time observing teachers who don't need help. This will free them to help those who need it. Alas, incompetent supervisors help no one, and will continue to help no one. They're the elephant in the room, and every thinking teacher knows the last thing we need in a classroom is an elephant.
We can make things a little better, and hopefully that will be part of our new contract. But I work in a school that's massively overcrowded, spilling out onto the streets, and even when we get an annex we won't have enough space. Of course we'd have more space if we could only get rid of the elephants. There needs to be a much-expanded look at incompetent supervisors. Now I have nothing against elephants. Real elephants are quite intelligent.
Here's my proposal--let's send all the Boy Wonder supervisors to game preserves, where they can learn from real elephants. Once they complete their studies, we'll leave them there. They can be regularly evaluated by the elephants. And because we are thoughtful, we won't force the elephants to us Danielson's rubric. We'll trust elephant judgment just as competent supervisors trust teacher judgment.