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Monday, February 28, 2011

Teacher Layoffs In A Worst Case Scenario

February 27, 2011
City Details Worst-Case School Layoffs

The New York City Department of Education made public on Sunday a list that estimates the number of teachers each school will lose to layoffs if the state does not allocate more money for schools and seniority rules are not changed.

The layoffs, totaling 4,675 teachers, 6 percent of the active teachers in the system, would spare virtually no academic subject or neighborhood, and they would affect 80 percent of the approximately 1,600 public schools in the city. Most would lose one to five teachers; nine would lose half of the teachers they have.

The list details the worst case, and its projections may never materialize. City Hall chose to release it as the State Senate prepared to vote on a bill that would allow the city to lay off teachers based on factors like performance and disciplinary records, rather than seniority. By releasing the list, the department hopes to draw more parents to its corner by reminding them that virtually no school would be untouched.

Natalie Ravitz, the Education Department’s chief spokeswoman, described so-called “last in, first out” layoffs as “an arbitrary standard” that punishes schools that have chosen to hire teachers who are new to the profession.

The bill is likely to pass the Senate, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has a strong base of support, but it is bound to meet fierce resistance in the Assembly, particularly among members of the New York City delegation who have opposed the way the city goes about closing failing schools.

“It’s unlikely that we will simply sign off on a unilateral power grab by the mayor in the area of seniority without significant input and modification to the legislation,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents a broad slice of central Brooklyn, including some of the borough’s poorest neighborhoods.

Seniority rules are under assault in many states, and teachers’ unions have fiercely defended them, saying that without them, principals and school districts would be able to fire teachers on a whim. Michael Mulgrew, president of the city teachers’ union, called the layoff list “a political maneuver to create panic” among parents, teachers and school administrators. “That’s how the mayor works now,” Mr. Mulgrew said.

The city has not laid off significant numbers of teachers in more than three decades. When it found itself in a similar financial situation last year, Mr. Bloomberg was able to avert layoffs by eliminating raises for teachers and principals for two years.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget would cut aid to city schools by $1.4 billion for the next fiscal year. Mr. Bloomberg has said he would be left with no option but to lay off 4,600 teachers to balance the Education Department’s books, assuming that just $200 million in school aid would be restored during negotiations. Another 1,500 positions would be lost to attrition.

The school that stands to lose the highest percentage of its teachers is Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem: 14 teachers, or 70 percent of the 20 it employs. It is a relatively new school, and so employs a large percentage of new teachers, who are the first to be laid off under seniority rules. The largest number of actual layoffs would come from the New Rikers Island School, a high school for jail inmates, which would lose 21 out of 69 teachers.

The list does not reflect the number of teaching positions each school would lose, only the number of teachers who would be laid off. A school like Columbia Secondary might, for example, lose only a couple of teaching positions, but would have to replace roughly a dozen laid-off younger teachers with more senior teachers from elsewhere in the system, a situation principals have resisted because it restricts their ability to choose their own staff.
PS 130

About 320 schools would see no layoffs, because they have not hired new teachers recently. Some schools, like Public School 130 in Bayside, Queens, and P.S. 57 in the Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island, have employed the same teachers for many years.

According to the list, the only teachers who would be spared from layoffs are those who teach special education, English as a second language and speech improvement, positions that are harder to fill.

Tom Rochowicz, 28, a global history teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in Manhattan, would most likely be laid off, as would two other teachers at the school. He was hired in September after teaching for two years in California, followed by two years at a charter school in Brooklyn.

“I want to teach for several more years, I want to get on school leadership, but it’s hard to plan your career, it’s hard to plan your future, if you’re going to lose your job,” Mr. Rochowicz said. He is a member of Educators 4 Excellence, a group of current and former teachers, mostly young, who oppose seniority-based layoffs.

At the Yorkville Community School on the Upper East Side, which opened in 2009 to help alleviate crowding in other neighborhood elementary schools, the layoffs would add a complicating layer to the personnel changes that the principal, Samantha Kaplan, will have to enact in the fall.

The school started with five kindergarten classes, expanded into first grade this year and will be adding second grade classes in September, for which Ms. Kaplan plans to hire six teachers. But she would also have to contend with getting rid of 4 of the 13 teachers on staff.

Because she hired new teachers in the school’s first year, but not in its second, some of its original faculty members would be the ones to go.

“There’s more than experience that goes into making a great teacher,” Ms. Kaplan said. “To our school, it’s their familiarity with the building, with the culture, with the students. It would be a huge loss if we were to lose that.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Michelle Rhee and Her Save The Teachers Video

Dear Betsy,
Video: Save Great Teachers In school, having a great teacher is the single most important factor in determining a student's success. Giving America's kids the best education in the world is only possible with the best teachers in the world.

States are being forced to make major cuts in education, with 45 states and the District of Columbia predicting huge budget shortfalls totaling $125 billion. And with these cuts our nation is at risk of losing some of our brightest, most effective teachers.

Right now in schools across the country, the last teacher hired has to be the first teacher fired, regardless of how good they are. A teacher's performance plays no role in who stays and who goes. This policy, based on seniority rather than effectiveness, is referred to as LIFO (Last In, First Out) -- and it is crippling our schools.

That's why we've launched the Save Great Teachers Campaign. Watch our video to learn more and pledge to get involved now:

Save Teachers Video

We can't afford to pull highly effective teachers out of America's classrooms. This is just the beginning of a very important campaign. In the next few weeks, we will ask you to take specific actions to engage with your legislators. We need your help to save great teachers.


Michelle Rhee
CEO and Founder

New York State Senator John Flanagan's Bill, and "Gotcha Squad" Attorney Aeri Pang

The not surprising news to participants in the New York City public school system - employees/administrators/f status personnel/custodians/vendors/consultants/Tweedies/ (that is, all who have not had their heads in the sand for the past 5 years) - seniority rights ended many years ago.

In 1994 appeals of 3020-a arbitration decisions were legislated out of the office of the Commissioner of Education to the State Courts in the form of an Article 7511. This was a huge move in terms of denial of due process rights to those tenured teachers who were victimized by the arbitration and charging process. If you read decisions of the Commissioner (see NYSED decisions - type "3020-a" into  the search box, pick a year) you will be able to read analyses of why a principal cannot simply point at an employee and get him or her terminated, etc. Some decisions are very detailed about the absence (or not) of due process rights in the charging and Just Cause area, which is currently the problem in New York City. Read my book (I haven't sat in on open and public 3020-a hearings for 8 years for nuthin'). Another helpful link may be this one, Article 61 of Education Law, and in particular Section 3012.

Since 1994 the only remedy for a shockingly arbitrary or capricious decision handed down after 3020-a is to file an Article 7511 in New York State Supreme Court, within 10 days of receiving the decision of the arbitrator, or "award" (I dont like the way this term is used, as if termination is an award). Actually you get 25 days: 10 days to file an appeal notice and buy the Index number, then 15 days to file a Verified Petition and serve the Corporation Counsel the Notice and Petition, then file. The Corporation Counsel is located at 100 Church Street, and the service window is on the 4th floor. DO NOT simply drop off your notice and Petition at Tweed.

OMG, just how is a teacher supposed to do that, considering that in 99% of all cases where NYSUT was the counsel on the case, the attorney drops the client the minute the hearing decision is received? If you find an attorney or someone to write the Notice and Verified Petition, or you do it yourself Pro Se, which you can do, then you, as the Petitioner, must pay the $210.00 filing fee in the court, and the $95.00 for the Request For Judicial Intervention (RJI). Petitioners do not pay the $45.00 fee for motions.

The City Part of the New York State Supreme Court is notorious for loathing Pro Se litigants. And, the Corporation Counsel has the very same people working in the Court that worked for the Gotcha Squad. For example, look at Judge Cynthia Kern, City Part, 80 Centre Street. She is very pretty, blond, and a former law clerk in the Matrimonial Part with Judge Lobis. Kern knows very little about education law and about the denial of due process inside the 3020-a in New York City, and she has in her chambers the former NYCDOE Gotcha Squad Attorney Aeri ("Eddi")  Pang writing her decisions for her. Ms. Pang was transferred from the Gotcha Squad 3020-a hearings of arbitrator Joshua Javits to the Supreme Court in the spring of 2010. I have the honor of being an observer of a 3020-a with Javits and Pang, and in my opinion you wont find a more verbally abusive attorney than Pang, unless it's my old friend Dennis Da Costa. Mr. Da Costa still holds the Most Insulting And Loudest Screamer Award. Pang is in second place. Pang needs someone to read rules of Ethics, or the CPLR.

Here is Judge Kern's listing on the Court Judicial Directory:

Chambers: 80 Centre Street, Room 326
New York, New York 10013
Phone: (646) 386-3729
Principal Court Attorneys: Rachel J. Fremmer, Esq. and Aeri Pang, Esq.
Junior Court Attorney: Yael Wilkofsky, Esq.

The current law clerk in Judge Kern's courtroom is James Adamo, who, in another matter, decided to call me at home and on my cell to give me false information. I have preserved all of his messages and conversations, which may make sense to someone who supervises the law clerks at the court.

Here is the list of Attorneys who work at the NYC DOE Administrative Trials Unit (ATU=Gotcha Squad):
The Teacher Performance Unit (“TPU”) is a new unit comprised of experienced attorneys who will litigate incompetence cases against ineffective tenured pedagogues. TPU’s goal is to help improve teacher quality in schools by bringing and litigating these cases in a thorough, expeditious and effective manner.

In partnership with the consultants of the Labor Support Unit (“LSU”), TPU will offer high quality and responsive support to principals, and other school officials in connection with cases involving previously identified tenured teachers in need of support and remediation. This support will include, among other things, providing these ineffective tenured teachers with quality professional development.

Additionally, TPU in consultation with the principal will make a determination, on a case by case basis whether to commence the 3020-a process. Thereafter, TPU and LSU will continue to provide counsel to the principal and other school officials in connection with the preparation and litigation of 3020-a disciplinary charges.

• Contacts
• Florrie Chapin, Director
(212) 374-7930

• Naeemah Lamont, Deputy Director
(212) 374-6034

• Dennis DaCosta, Attorney
(212) 374-6035

• Elizabeth Cheung-Gaffney, Attorney
(212) 374-6026

Judge Kern and Gotcha Squad Attorney Aeri Pang (second from left)

• Aeri Pang, Attorney (pictured in red dress at right)
(212) 374-6036

• Frances Hopson, Attorney
(212) 374-7839

• Shareema Gadson-Shaw, Attorney
(212) 374-7830

• Alex Johnson, Attorney
(212) 374-7973

So, now that teachers appealing 3020-a decisions cannot appeal to the Commissioner, they must go to Court, and pay to be dismissed.

The State legislature is at fault here. Let me end with my mantra for "fixing" what's wrong with public education in NYC today: we must get rid of the Panel For Educational Policy, and get all members to resign, run away, and get them all tarred and feathered (just kidding about the tarred and feathered part); we must get an elected school board that can, if necessary, say "no" and "absolutely not" to the mayor and anyone else who tramples rights; we must take 3020-a appeals out of the Courts and give them back to the Commissioner of Education's legal team; we must give equal rights to all New York State residents, and preserve and honor these rights by giving oversight and management to a new organization whose sole purpose is to root out miscreants wherever they may be. We must terminate everyone at Tweed, give a few new people management positions and small offices without flags (Burt Sacks - where did you put that huge American flag that was outside of your office at 110 Livingston street?) and put people to work at what they say they do best: put children first. We really dont need to listen to Noguera, Ravitch, Meier, and anyone else. We need transparent strategies that rely on public opinion to remain in force and we need people who put their feet where their mouth is.

The UFT? They haven't been actively involved in preserving tenure and teacher rights for years. Tenure is over.

Betsy Combier

Maze of rules in bill to end seniority layoffs starts with U-rated

by Anna Phillips, Gotham Schools, February 24, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg’s fight against “last-in, first-out” layoff rules— the policy of laying off teachers by reverse seniority — has made its way to Albany.

Last night, State Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill that would end the practice and the same bill will be introduced in the Assembly by New York City Assemblyman Jonathan Bing.

The bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. To replace the current seniority system, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off.

Bing’s Chief of Staff Jake Dilemani said the bill was written with input from the mayor’s office, along with groups like Educators 4 Excellence — an organization of teachers who, with funding from the Gates Foundation, has put forward its own proposal to change teacher layoffs.

In a statement sent to reporters, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the bill would “send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old.”

Last year, when Bloomberg was threatening to lay off roughly the same number of teachers, Bing proposed a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. At the time, opposition to the bill was so fierce that the bill was never voted on. But this year, anti-last in first out sentiments have reached a fever pitch, with the city’s four editorial boards lined up in favor of changes.

This year’s bill is substantially more detailed than the one Bing proposed last year.

If the bill is passed into law, there will be nine categories of school employees who will be laid off before their peers. Employees who fall into all of these categories would lose their jobs first, followed by those who fall into eight of the categories, and so on down the scale to employees who fall into two categories. If the city finds that it still needs the lay off people after that, the next rung of layoffs will hit teachers and supervisors who are in the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings.

The categories, in order of layoff priority, are:

1. Teachers and supervisors who have received an unsatisfactory rating in the last five years. If the new teacher evaluation system is put in place before layoffs are carried out, then teachers labeled “ineffective” would be the first to go.

2. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined or suspended without pay in the last five years. This means that teachers who’ve been charged with misconduct or incompetence and have either pled guilty or been found guilty in the last five years would be laid off. For example, the Bronx principal who was found guilty of arbitrarily giving her teachers unsatisfactory ratings and was fined $7,500 would be laid off before another principal. Under the current system, a principal with less seniority would be laid off before her.

3. Teachers and supervisors who have been in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool for more than six months. These are school employees who were forced out of their jobs when their schools could no longer afford them and have not yet been hired by another school. They remain on the city’s payroll while some work in administration and others work as substitute or full-time teachers. Given that it’s rare for schools to excess staff in the middle of the year, the six-month deadline in the law would include most of the teachers in the ATR pool at the present time.

4. Any teacher or supervisor convicted of a crime in the last five years.

5. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined for being chronically absent or late in the last five years. Also includes employees who have been fined for “improper use or recording of leave time.” The terms “chronically absent” and “chronically late” are not defined in the teachers union contract as a set number of days, according to a spokesman for the UFT.

6. Teachers and supervisors who have been the subject of an investigation in the last five years that ended with the charges being substantiated. This covers school employees who have been investigated by the city school district’s special commissioner of investigation, the city school district’s office of special investigations or the city school district’s office of equal opportunity. Having charges substantiated translates to an indictment, but it does not mean that these people have been found guilty.

7. Teachers and supervisors who, by the August 31 of the year in which layoffs take place, have not completed their certification.

8. Teachers who, for two years or more, have been ranked in the bottom 30 percent of teachers based on their students’ test scores. These rankings, which measure students’ progress against a model that predicts what their test scores should have been, cover a small percentage of teachers. Only teachers who teach math and English in grades 4-8 receive teacher data reports.

9. Teachers and supervisors who were not granted tenure after three years, but were put on probation for the year preceding layoffs. Recently, the Department of Education has begun encouraging principals to extend teachers’ probation rather than offer them tenure if they believe the teacher shows promise, but is not yet ready for a lifetime commitment from the city. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from teachers who’ve had their probationary periods extended by one or two years when their schools had a series of new principals, each of whom requested an additional year to get to know her staff.

And we’re not done yet.

If the city lays off all of the teachers who fall into multiple categories, then proceeds to the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings — but discovers that it only needs to lay off a fraction of these people, then new measures come into play. Employees with the most unsatisfactory ratings in the last five years will be laid off first, followed by those who have been given U-ratings, as they’re commonly known, most recently.

Employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve will be laid off based on how long they’ve been in the pool. And teachers and supervisors who have been convicted of a crime in the last five years will be laid off based on how recent the conviction was. Among those who fall in the low value-added score category, teachers with the lowest scores will be laid off first, unless they teach children with disabilities or who require special education services.

If the city makes its way through this labyrinthine process and still needs to lay off more teachers, the ball rolls into the court of the Board of Regents, who will get to decide what types of teachers are laid of next. The bill contains a measure meant to protect high needs schools — defined as those where 90 percent of students get free or reduced lunch — against being overly burdened by layoffs. It states:

Any such regulations must ensure that in a high-need school the number of staff laid off shall not exceed the percentage of the overall number of positions in the school that represents half of the average percentage of staff laid off citywide.

If the Board of Regents does not come up with a layoff plan within 75 days, individual school principals will get to decide who to let go, using guidance from the city’s school chancellor. A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators is supposed to advise the principal in making this decision. However, if the city decides that it wants to eliminate all the positions within a certain license area (e.g. gym or art), it can overrule the Board of Regents and principals’ decisions.

and then read How Teaching Experience Makes A Difference

Monday, February 21, 2011

Michigan State Education Officials Order Robert Bobb To Close Half Of Detroit's Schools

A sign of the times? How is this good public policy?    oops, forgot that no one cares whether it is or not. I'd love to see Mr. Bobb's contract, to see what the responsibilities are for "emergency financial planner".

Betsy Combier
Detroit Schools Closing: Michigan Officials Order Robert Bobb To Shut Half The City's Schools
Huffington Post 
DETROIT (AP) -- State education officials have ordered the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools to immediately implement a plan that balances the district's books by closing half its schools.

The Detroit News says the financial restructuring plan will increase high school class sizes to 60 students and consolidate operations.

State superintendent of public instruction Mike Flanagan says in a Feb. 8 letter that the state plans to install another financial manager who must continue to implement Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb's plan after he leaves June 30. Flanagan's said approval of Bobb's plan means the district can't declare bankruptcy.

Bobb filed his deficit elimination plan with the state in January, saying it would wipe out the district's $327 million deficit by 2014

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Robert Bobb lobbies For 4400M To Bail Out Detroit Public Schools
Huffington Post 11/16/10
Since taking the position as Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial planner, Robert Bobb has pushed for extensive reforms to cut the huge budget deficit hanging over the Michigan school system.

With his latest proposal, Bobb is hoping to convince state legislators to redirect $400 million in tobacco revenue to help dig schools out of their current financial state.

According to The Detroit News,

Without the financial assistance, Bobb said DPS -- steeped in a $327 million deficit -- would have to implement more "draconian cuts" such as reducing the number of schools by half, increasing class sizes to 62 in high schools and boosting fees to play sports, according to documents submitted to the state.

The school districts receiving money would be required to submit plans detailing the changes they would make to prevent falling into deficits in the future.

Bobb would need a political leader to back his plan. So far, no representative has stepped forward to introduce a bill to the state legislature.

Bobb's plan remains controversial for several reasons. According to the Detroit Free Press, some have lost confidence in Bobb's leadership and his ability to reduce the deficit.

Another reason for the stall: Bobb's plan includes reforms to the education system that the teachers unions vehemently oppose.

The Detroit Free Press reports,

The plan has raised the ire of teachers unions because in order to get the assistance, districts would make major changes including eliminating teacher seniority, changing tenure requirements, implementing merit pay and working a longer school year.

Andrew Reed: Rochester Teachers Must Give Up Some Benefits

Rochester Teachers Association Must Agree To Concessions

Andrew Reed,,
February 20th, 2011 11:21 am ET

Much is being made of the events playing out in Wisonsin the past several days, with protesters swarming the capitol building in Madison to rail against the governor's intentions to cut funding for state workers' pensions and other long-standing benefits for public employees. Such demonstrations are not isolated to Wisconsin, with showdowns between public workers and state governments ready to erupt in states like Tennessee and Ohio.

With revenue having rapidly vaporized the past few years, it's been expected - and often asserted - that drastic measures were necessary in order to stave off, in many instances, aggressive and pervasive municipal liquidation. Public administrations throughout the country had taken dumb, and at times, desperate measures to plug yawning budget gaps wrought by retirement payouts, or as a means to simply cash in on whatever pie in the sky venture some private investment firm was marketing at the time. I believe it is safe to say that we all are only witnessing the tip of the iceberg here; additional sustained demonstrations supporting either the elimination or preservation of publicly-subsidized benefits for civic employees are sure to follow.

Here in New York State, the collective budget issues are as bad as, if not worse than, what most other states are currently experiencing. Because New York City is home to scores of major banks and private investments firms that heavily influence activities on Wall Street - which in turn amply supplies our state coffers - the recent economic collapse has essentially stripped state government of funds necessary to fulfill myriad obligations. The results of the meltdown have paralyzed Albany, with the ripple effects being profoundly felt throughout the state, including in Rochester. It's not like our state was flush with cash before 2008; the Wall Street breakdown, massive government bailout and resultant Great Recession merely served to exacerbate our shared financial predicament.

Being a former teacher and observing how hard fellow teachers in the Rochester City Schools and local suburban districts work, it disturbs me to read and hear the continuous barrage of criticism levied - mostly unwarranted - against them. Nonetheless, I do adamantly believe it is past time that all teachers and other public employees begin to contribute toward their own pension and retirement portfolios. Regardless of whether Jean-Claude Brizard or other RCSD administrators are willing to sacrifice pay or other benefits for the sake of the district, RTA and BENTE - Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees - leaders should strongly encourage their respective constituents to consider this course of action.

This is unequivocally not an attack on the teaching profession, city or suburb. We simply can no longer afford to pay the billions of dollars - trillions, over time - that have been required to support their retirement packages. The money just isn't there; it hasn't been for quite some time. Furthermore, most of us in the private sector are having a difficult enough time planning for our own retirements. The longer this crucial undertaking is delayed, the greater the likelihood that these challenges are going to compound exponentially.

Instead of continually pointing fingers, we should all take a reality pill and reassess our priorities. Any pay and benefits cut should really start at the top of the RCSD, which would mean Jean-Claude Brizard foregoing his guaranteed pay raise and other princely benefits. The same could be said of the dozens of the upper echelon lieutenants in the district, who have been enjoying six-figure salaries on top of other handsome inducements. RTA President, Adam Urbanski is drawing two, maybe three different paychecks, therefore he is not excused from this particular conversation either. It's not so much a question of whether or not these people - all public employees - are deserving of their pay. What it basically comes down to is that we can no longer come up with the money to furnish their retirements.

Continue reading on Rochester Teachers Association Must Agree To Concessions - Rochester Urban Education

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From The Washington Post: Can the Unions And The D.C. School System Keep Poor Teachers Out Of The Classroom?

When Randi Weingarten hired me to  work at the UFT, she asked me to help any member that needed assistance, and she also  asked me to find out why members were in the "rubber room", what was their 'story'. Most, but not all, of the people I spoke with on a daily basis were the teachers labelled "incompetent, sexual perverts, thieves, and rogues of all sorts who were sitting in the 7 (then 8) Temporary Re-Assignment Centers (TRCs) or "rubber rooms" located throughout New York City. These people were targets of principals who were empowered to do whatever they wanted in their schools....including getting rid of 'garbage' like expensive employees with senior status who were paid high salaries. Why pay someone that amount of money ($80,000-100,000) when you could get two young, vulnerable newbies for the same price? This is not new information, and I dont need to repeat why this has nothing whatsoever to do with children, academic achievement, success for all. What I needed to do was find out how each member ended up re-assigned, what event or non-compliance with a rule, regulation, or law, placed X or Y in the re-assigned location.

The point I want to make, and will make in my book on the Rubber Rooms and the 3020-a Arbitration process, is that we all need to look at how the labelling/judgment of people as "poor" or "incompetent" happens, and what changes need to be made relative to the way that false claims against a person's character, career, life, etc. are accepted at face value and become 'fact'. I have spoken to some of my daughters' teachers who, in my opinion, are the best in the classrooms of New York City. One person whose story I will write about shortly was thrown out of my youngest daughter's school, NEST, after years of harassment. He sued Dr. Olga Livanis, the Principal, won his case, and now is back doing the excellent job that he was always doing. When he came to my office  at the UFT he was angry and bitter, which is understandable, and vowed to get his job back, which he did, but underneath all of the words was a speck of self-doubt. He was not able to ignore the fact that the principal found him intolerable, and this ate away at his self-esteem. I was very saddened by this (I'm one of his biggest fans) however I see this all the time - teachers labelled miscreants for any reason end up sometimes believing the lie. They give up, settle, go to  the job market with "Ineligible/No Hire List" on their resume and act as if somehow there was some truth behind it, and never are able to shake the label that they are, indeed, in some way, garbage.

Whether someone is indeed "incompetent" necessitates the application of facts gathered by means of a thorough investigation conducted by a neutral person in good faith. This fact-finding is time-consuming, but the only basis upon which labels of "poor", "incompetent", "pervert" or other label can have any value.

Thus I have a problem with the title of the article in the Washington Post below. Of course no parent or school administrator wants a "poor" teacher. But who defines this word? Why?

Betsy Combier

Can the unions and D.C. school system keep poor teachers out of the classroom?

Editorial, The Washington Post
Friday, February 18, 2011; 8:14 PM

WE GET IT. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders really don't like former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. That was apparent in their response to our criticism of an arbitrator's ruling reinstating 75 probationary teachers dismissed from the school system two years ago. But their critique of Ms. Rhee - what they called her "my way or the highway" style - doesn't address the core issue: that these teachers needed to be fired. Nor did it answer the question of why a union that purports to have no tolerance for low-performing teachers would fight to return to the classroom teachers so problematic that even the arbitrator acknowledged that their conduct warranted termination.

D.C. school officials are determining the best way to deal with the Feb. 7 ruling by arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum ordering back pay and reinstatement of teachers who, he determined, were denied due process. At issue was the system's failure to give exact reasons why the teachers were not being recommended by their principals for tenure. Ms. Rhee has said the process was in keeping with city law and guidance from the system's legal team. Interestingly, the local union had had some inkling of how the system planned to proceed when hiring letters were sent to the teachers but, according to testimony provided to the arbitrator, didn't object because the letters were sent to people before they were part of the bargaining unit.

Clearly, in hindsight, the specific reasons should have been spelled out because the thought of reemploying this group - which ran the gamut from teachers chronically AWOL to those neglectful, even abusive, of students - is frightening. We also don't think Ms. Weingarten is wrong when she argues the need for teachers to have information about their performance, although we suspect the teacher who had been repeatedly warned about playing DVDs in class and his use of inappropriate language with students must have had some inkling things weren't going well. Ditto the teacher who received a "Needs Improvement" rating for the year and had a habit of calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays.

The critical question is what happens next. School officials seem leery of an appeal because of what they see as a propensity for the public employee relations board to find in favor of labor. Another avenue being explored is bringing back the teachers and then firing them, this time detailing the reasons. Here's another idea: Why don't Mr. Saunders and Ms. Weingarten - who both say they don't countenance poor teachers - try to work out an agreement with school officials to achieve that goal instead of refighting old battles about the long-gone Ms. Rhee?

Rhee's firing of 75 D.C. teachers in 2008 was improper, arbitrator says

By Bill Turque, Washington Post Staff Writer, Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An independent arbitrator says that the District must reinstate 75 new teachers fired by then-D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee during their probationary period in 2008, ruling that the dismissals were improper because they were not told the reasons why.

The ruling, issued Monday by Charles Feigenbaum, was narrowly cast. It said the school system had the right to fire teachers during their two-year probationary period if they had received negative recommendations from school principals. Feigenbaum said the "glaring and fatal flaw" in Rhee's action was that the teachers were not given reasons for their terminations.

"They had no opportunity to provide their side of the story," Feigenbaum wrote.

D.C. schools spokesman Frederick Lewis said that the District was "reviewing its options to appeal or challenge the arbitrator's decision and has not come to any decision about further litigation."

Rhee could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The 75 teachers were part of the approximately 1,000 educators fired during Rhee's 31/2-year tenure, which ended with her resignation in October. Of the total, 266 were laid off in October 2009 for budgetary reasons, about 200 were dismissed because of poor performance, and the rest were on probation or did not have licensing required by the No Child Left Behind law.

Feigenbaum ordered the District to make a 60-day good-faith effort to find the fired teachers and offer them reinstatement in an appropriate job. He also ordered that they be made financially whole. Union officials estimate the back-pay award could amount to $7.5 million - a considerable sum for the cash-strapped District.

Lewis said the cash awards would be offset by any earnings since the day of termination.

Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said the arbitrator's decision is affirmation that Rhee's aggressive approach to firing teachers was counterproductive and illegal.

"This argument that Michelle Rhee-style terminations en masse improve the quality of education is unfounded and expensive for the government when it acts in this fashion," Saunders said.

Probationary employees generally are considered to have fewer workplace protections than those with permanent status. But the collective bargaining agreement that was in place at the time of the firings made no distinction between the dismissal of probationary and tenured teachers.

Feigenbaum said that the city and the union had "a long unbroken practice" of following the same procedures for dismissing permanent and probationary educators, which required a negative recommendation from a school principal.

Before Rhee's arrival, it was rare for teachers from either group to be fired for performance issues.

Under the labor contract ratified in June, all teachers are subject to the IMPACT evaluation system, which stipulates that teachers receiving a "minimally effective" rating for two consecutive years face dismissal.
New WTU Pres. Nathan Saunders: 'It's been all teacher blood' on the floor

By Bill Turque, Washington Post

Space and time limitations kept me--as they often do--from including as much as I wanted in today's story about new WTU president Nathan Saunders. So here's a bit more.

Saunders, 45, is the son of a bricklayer, born in the Washington Highlands neighborhood of Southeast D.C. His name first surfaced in The Washington Post in the summer of 1981 as a 16-year-old intern for D.C. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8). According to the story, Saunders was trying to organize support for an extension of the Voting Rights Act. Standing near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. and Portland Street S.E., he told a group of voting-age adults: "If you don't vote, it's just like you're a slave standing in a cotton field. You don't have any say in what happens."

Saunders attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools before graduating from Morehouse College with a business degree. He worked as an accountant and in real estate and economic development before beginning his education career--first as a volunteer teaching chess at the old Phelps Vocational High School and then as a government teacher at Anacostia High School in the late 1990s. Saunders said his union activism began when a colleague's grievance was ignored by the WTU. Looking at the union financial reports with an accountant's eye, he said it became apparent that the numbers under president Barbara Bullock didn't add up.

Bullock eventually pled guilty to conspiracy and other charges in the theft of $4.6 million in union funds from 1995 to 2002 and served five years in federal prison. Saunders filed a civil suit charging that WTU and the American Federation of Teachers failed to oversee union finances and spending. He was elected general vice president in 2005, part of a reform ticket that included George Parker, the union president he unseated this week.

He holds a masters degree from the National Labor College and completed Harvard Law School's six-week Trade Union Program for labor leaders. His wife, Chandrai Jackson-Saunders, is a school psychologist for DCPS and the daughter of former WTU president Jimmie Jackson. They have a son who is a senior at Roosevelt High School.

Here are more excerpts from our conversation Wednesday afternoon, edited for clarity and length:

BT: When I talked to George Parker last week I asked what he expected if you won. He said gridlock and confrontation.

NS: I've got more skills to solve problems than practically any president that's ever run WTU. I also have formalized training in problem resolution. My masters is in negotiation and management....Part of the Harvard Trade Union Program is conflict management. And so I think I have some unique skills to solve problems.

BT: There is a segment of the DCPS community that sees your election as a setback.

NS: No, absolutely not. My election indicates that WTU will be up and running and fully functioning and contributing to real public school dialogue and success. The fact of the matter is that public school reform to a large extent under the former mayor and the former chancellor did not involve the community and teachers very successfully. I can say to you that I will not sit by idly while policies and practices are instituted that do not involve the teachers and the community. I'm going to be very proactive, not reactive, in involving the community and teachers in public school reform. So in that regard it's positive. Now if you don't want any community input and you don't want any teacher input, then [my election] could be viewed as a negative.

BT: You framed your victory as one for job security and union democracy. What was absent was any mention of the interests of students.

NS: What's good for teachers is often times good, very good, for students. Empowering teachers is also a method of empowering students. I argue that the best teachers are empowered teachers. That's what I tried to do as a classroom teacher. I saw in my students a sense of pride and a sense of personal growth and development when I was dealing with the Bullock scandal and dealing with my union. When they saw me in the newspaper and they saw me speaking publicly about issues of education, they were proud....I taught social justice. Rev. Al Sharpton co-taught my government class with me during [his] presidential campaign. So students are important. But I'm not afraid to talk about teacher empowerment. The union serves three primary functions: compensation, negotiation and working conditions. Members pay to be in the union. Under the law you are required to represent those interests and that's what I do and I'm proud of that. It doesn't mean that I don't represent student interests, though. I believe that often times the best way to get an excellent finished product is to represent the worker who has to complete the finished product.

BT: So it would be a mistake to assume there will be a new period of confrontation and conflict?

NS: Absolutely. Listen, today I begin to build my legacy as president of the WTU. I get nowhere with confrontation. Nowhere at all. But whenever confrontation will lead me to progress for the people I represent, I will engage in confrontation. But confrontation is not the first order business. Getting the job done is the first order of business. At the same time, when your opponent understands that you're not afraid to go to the mat, you don't have to go to the mat quite as often. But what we've experienced in the last three years is a lot of blood on the floor, and it's been all teacher blood.

BT: Tell me as succinctly as you can your biggest issues with IMPACT.

NS: My biggest issue with IMPACT is that it causes teachers to be unnecessarily stressed about a job which requires a tremendous amount of creativity. I think my problem with IMPACT is that it requires teachers' careers to be jeopardized for factors that they have absolutely no control over, which include poverty, health care and dysfunctional homes.

BT: So if you had Harry Potter's wand what would you do to IMPACT? How would you change it to make it fair?

NS: I don't feel responsible to change it to make it fair. What I feel responsible for is to help create a system that yields fair results for the people that it judges....that is not punitive and cannot be easily manipulated by individuals with nefarious intent.

BT: You think the whole thing needs to be re-thought?

NS: It should be in its entirety, absolutely.

BT: In an evaluation instrument [that you consider] fair to teachers, is there any place for value-added methodology? Taking students' previous year's test scores, developing a predictive model for how they should do the next year and then measuring that against how they ultimately perform?

NS: Teachers do that every day. I did in the classroom. It's called pre-test and post-test....I love testing in the European model, which is that they test for determining a baseline, not for purposes of punishing.

BT: So you don't believe that value-added should be used, if it's used at all, for high-stakes decisions like hiring and firing?

NS: Absolutely. Now that's a fact. But I believe it can and should be used, but it is only as one of many evaluation tools.

BT: There's a legal barrier you face in that IMPACT cannot be collectively bargained.

NS: Ever seen a law you couldn't change? All you have to do is have the will. All you have to do is build a movement around an issue and change public opinion. You show merit in your ideas. That to me is very exciting.

BT: Before IMPACT, before Michelle Rhee, the vast majority of teachers got "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations" on their evaluations. Yet the school district had a really abysmal record of academic achievement. There's a disconnect there that people find hard to justify.

NS: I find it hard to justify that in one of the most educated cities, probably the most educated city in America, and one of the most affluent cities, one third of our children live in poverty. I find that more appalling.

BT: Basically the Rhee reality is, "We know there's poverty, that there's family dysfunction and health issues. We can't do anything about that. All we can control is what is in the classroom. And we can't use that as an excuse any more. But you're in a different place.

NS: Absolutely. And let's understand why I'm in a different place. I believe that the Rhee reality you just described helps allow those conditions to exist. Because they take the pressure off society to focus on them...We do a disservice to children whenever we allow the government or others to discount the fact that crime exists in these communities and we say it doesn't matter...It does matter. That's the social justice aspect of education.

Rhee didn't play by the rules

By Randi Weingarten and Nathan A. Saunders, Washington

The Feb. 11 editorial “What does it take to fire a teacher?” was quick to question why arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum would reinstate 75 “bad teachers.” It sadly and predictably missed the most important point of the ruling. Mr. Feigenbaum made clear that former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee never told fired teachers why they were dismissed. She ran a secret black box program when it came to firing the teachers, saying, “Trust me, I know best.” She found it acceptable to dismiss 75 teachers without providing notice, reason, opportunity to demonstrate remediation or opportunity to be heard.

This is yet another glaring example of why her “my way or the highway” management style was not good for students or teachers. The consequences of this style continue to create great injustice within our system — for our community’s children and for those who work to make a difference every day in our children’s lives.

Ms. Rhee often believed she was above the rules. Thankfully, an arbitrator reminded her — and all of us — that no matter who we are, we must play by the rules.

The writers are, respectively, president of the American Federation of Teachers and president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

The Nation: Labor's Last Stand

Labor's Last Stand

Jane McAlevey, The Nation, February 16, 2011

Emboldened by November’s election results, corporations and their right-wing allies have launched what they hope will be their final offensive against America’s unions. Their immediate target is government workers’ unions. While New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie has gained national fame by beating up on public school teachers, the threat to unionized workers is playing out in all fifty states, to the drumbeat in the media about states going broke because of government workers’ wages, pensions and benefits. By late January, with the swearing-in ceremonies complete in the twenty-one states where Republicans have a “trifecta,” controlling the governor’s office and both statehouses, hundreds of bills had been introduced seeking to hem in unions if not ban them altogether. On February 11, Wisconsin’s new Republican Governor Scott Walker made what amounts to a declaration of all-out war on public sector workers in his historically progressive state, moving to deprive them of the very right to bargain collectively on matters essential to their economic security.

Walker’s gambit has rightly elicited outrage, but considering the breadth of the attack unions are facing nationally, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Right-to-work legislation has been filed in twelve states; this is in addition to the twenty-two that already have such laws on the books. In technical terms, this legislation makes it illegal for employers to condition employment on union membership or the equivalent dues payments even when a majority of workers vote to form a union; practically speaking, it makes building and maintaining a strong union very difficult, which in turn makes it harder to organize new workplaces because there are few positive examples of unions to point to. In Virginia, the corporations and right-wing ideologues decided that the existing right-to-work law wasn’t sufficient, and introduced a measure to embed the right-to-work provisions in the state Constitution. Three more states—Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin—are expected to have bills introduced converting their legal status to right-to-work.

Alabama passed legislation in January that bans public employee unions from collecting dues unless the unions first prove that none of the money will be used for supporting election campaigns. In every subsequent year after the initial certification, the union must submit itemized reports accounting for how its money is being spent. This law, sold as “paycheck protection” by the right but known as “paycheck deception” among union activists, has been introduced in four other states this year, including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. In California there has already been ballot initiative language submitted to do the same. Using a variety of legal tools, these measures prohibit the use of union dues for political activity. Union advocates are expecting twelve more states to file bills or initiatives banning the collection of union monies for politics.

Building and construction unions are facing their own daunting lineup of bills that would gut prevailing wage laws and what are known as Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These measures facilitate collective bargaining and the division of labor for unionized construction jobs, particularly construction jobs with public financing. In twenty states there is legislation expected to ban PLAs. In Iowa the new governor, Terry Branstad, was so excited to take up the challenge, he undid PLAs with his first executive order. The new governor of Ohio, John Kasich, has pledged to eliminate prevailing wage laws. It’s hard to say whether Missouri or Maine will beat him to his goal, though: Missouri’s legislation to ban prevailing wages has been introduced, and the new governor of Maine appointed the head of the building and construction industry organization to the position of state legislative director, a sure sign that he’s serious about eliminating such laws. The AFL-CIO says it anticipates anti–prevailing wage laws in fifteen states.

It is government workers, however, who face attacks in every state. Teacher tenure is being targeted in five states: New Jersey, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho and Florida. Laws that would allow parents, by petition, to “trigger” an entire school district to move to charter schools or to voucher programs are expected in at least eleven states. States that are considering either weakening or removing entirely the ability of public sector workers to bargain collectively include not only Wisconsin but Ohio, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Oklahoma. Measures to dismantle benefits for government workers are expected in some form in all fifty states. Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, meanwhile, are pushing to allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would enable them to break their agreements that cover the pensions of hundreds of thousands of retired government workers. On top of all this, President Obama has called for a freeze on federal workers’ pay.

At the same time, a push to privatize public assets and services is mounting, posing a dire threat to public workers. Groups like In the Public Interest ( [1]) are working to hold back the privatization tide, but the momentum is on the other side. Donald Cohen, the group’s chair, notes a recent shift in the nature of the opposition. “The entire world of public administration is being driven by a new cartel of consulting firms who offer their services to elected leaders—peddling themselves as efficiency experts,” he says, explaining that these firms are increasingly playing the role that used to be filled by right-wing think tanks. “They are accounting firms, law firms and more who promote privatization, and they make money for completing the deal. And yet it has very little to do with efficiency and probably nothing to do with actually improving public services.”

It isn’t as if these types of attacks on unions are new; what’s different is their scale, intensity and real possibility of success. After outspending unions in November’s election by an estimated 4-to-1 margin, corporations and their allies are exploiting the fiscal crises across the nation to drive a stake into the heart of what is left of organized labor—public workers’ unions. According to the just-released Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report for 2010, the overall union membership rate in America continued its slide, dropping from 12.3 percent to 11.9 percent. But perhaps most striking is the way unionization is skewed when comparing private sector workers, who are just 6.9 percent unionized, and public sector workers, 36.2 percent of whom belong to unions. The public sector, in other words, is labor’s last stronghold.

Grover Norquist laid out a sort of blueprint for the current right-wing assault in the February 2001 American Spectator. Identifying labor unions as the first of “five pillars” of Democratic strength, he calculated that they “raise $8 billion a year from 16 million union members paying an average of $500 dues,” and outlined a game plan for destroying union power, key to the right’s larger mission of abolishing all regulations that impede its agenda, from environmental laws to occupational safety to affirmative action.

But, of course, the right’s campaign against labor has been decades in the making. In 1975 the overall unionization rate in the private sector was 25 percent. Thanks to the class war that has been waged since then—involving trade liberalization, radical reorganization of global finance rules, unionbusting, deindustrialization, rejiggered accounting rules and more—Norquist’s goal is now within reach for the right. According to union expert and author Bill Fletcher Jr., “There has been a three-decade campaign by the neoliberal Democrats and the right wing to destroy the base of the strength of the American middle class, which can be boiled down to unions and government regulation of corporate excess. As a result, unionization rates and corresponding pay and benefits now appear higher in the government sector, and the same forces are now attacking government workers’ unions.”

The irony, according to Janice Fine, professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, is that in the 1960s it was the private sector workers who earned more than their government counterparts. “Back then, the private sector unions helped the government workers get organized as part of a program to raise the standards for all workers,” she notes. Now, as Ed Ott, former director of the New York City Central Labor Council, puts it, “After thirty years of wage suppression in the private sector, big business wants to compare wages and benefits between the private sector and the government sector.” Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty did just that in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt,” he wrote. These claims are distorted [see Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, “The Betrayal of Public Workers [2]”], but to the extent that public workers do enjoy hard-won union benefits, they have a target painted on their back.

The stakes for both political parties in this struggle are high, because where the campaign to gut public sector unions succeeds, Republicans will be poised for almost certain electoral gains. In general, across the nation, the lower the rate of unionization, the redder the state. And in the bluest states, the public sector dominates the union scene: in New York, for example, the most unionized state, the rate among government workers is 70.5 percent, next to 13.7 percent in the private sector. In California the unionization rate among government workers is 56.6 percent, compared with 9.3 percent among the private sector workforce.

There is a strong correlation, moreover, between red states, right-to-work laws, an overall worse quality of life for the average worker or poor person, and a more hostile climate for progressives, from environmentalists to civil rights activists. The average worker in a right-to-work state earns $5,333 less than his or her counterpart in a pro-worker state. Twenty-one percent more people lack health insurance. Late last year, immigration advocates anticipated Arizona-like measures in twenty-two states, eleven of which are controlled by Republicans. Of those, seven are right-to-work states. Not surprisingly, three that are not—Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana—are where the attack on government workers’ unions is the strongest.

Given the strategic importance of this fight, you would expect the progressive community to be rallying to mount a loud and vigorous counterattack. But the response has been anemic at best. Unions and progressives need to reset and develop a strategy quickly if they are to defend the ground they still hold, let alone recapture what has been lost. For almost forty years, the right has been systematically tearing apart the achievements of unions and social justice movements. The first challenge is to own up to the ways progressives and unions have failed to counter this onslaught.

Take the teachers unions. In the late 1960s they fought against community control of the New York City schools, sparking tension with the black community that lingers even now. As Fletcher argues, this rift is reflective of some of the deeper issues facing unions. “The AFT, at least until fairly recently, in confronting the attacks on public education, tended toward a very defensive posture. Rarely did they contextualize their fight as part of the larger fight to defend the public sector,” he explains. “Their fight almost had the appearance of being a fight to defend a particular craft under assault rather than to defend a key component of civilization.” As a result, Fletcher points out, neither the American Federation of Teachers nor the National Education Association has been able to assemble significant coalitions for education reform, and even in many progressive circles are seen—unfairly—as a hindrance to education rather than as a key champion.

Likewise, 1199/SEIU alienated progressives with its selfish dealmaking under former New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican. For example, when Blue Cross Blue Shield privatized, the healthcare workers union brazenly claimed the one-time windfall of money to pay for wage increases, in exchange for endorsing the man who was stepping on every other member of the traditional Democratic coalition.

The lukewarm support for unions generally and for government workers unions in particular in the progressive world is partly a legacy of such missteps by unions themselves. But in addition, there’s a more fundamental source of tension that is often ignored: most people who constitute the opinion-making class among liberals and progressives are upper middle class and mostly white. The progressives in academia and journalism, and the staff of most nonprofits from all movements, think tanks and foundations, are from a class that has little to no contact with unions. Even when there is an intellectual understanding of labor’s role in US history, there is often a lack of sympathy about the need for unions today. This is particularly true among liberal and progressive foundations, where support for unions is often a hot-button issue with boards of directors and top executives. Because these foundations represent the employer class for the social change movement, this has impeded the development of more effective strategies to counter the right-wing agenda.

Even among unions the fissures run deep. In New York, for example, where newly elected Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has made slashing the state budget his single-minded mission, organized labor has not put up a united front against the cutbacks. The construction unions were especially eager to sell out the government workers unions for their own benefit. Ott explains how this works: “With the crashing economy, unemployment in the building trades in NYC is now somewhere in the 35 percent range, and some political entity comes along and says to the trades, ‘Hey, we will produce some jobs for your members on the capital side if you support us politically in this revenue fight.’”

This logic is not unusual for construction unions, which operate largely as craft unions—representing workers with a specific craft or skill, who have the ability to negotiate for themselves by withholding that skill. The construction unions have a long history of being an elitist labor force that has been used by politicians to split the union movement.

Rutgers’s Janice Fine says that overcoming divisions will take real work among unions. “When unionization rates and corresponding pay and benefits are so asymmetrical between the public and private sectors, unions have to take very deliberate steps to preserve solidarity,” she says, citing historical examples of public unions providing support to private sector unions by boycotting products, stores and companies, and supporting union products, banks and hotels. “This tradition is gone, and union members need to go back to consuming in a way that supports the unionized class. And private sector unions need to resist the short-term gain of undercutting public sector unions’ wages, benefits and pensions as it will only reinforce a race to the bottom that has no place for unions of any kind.”

The entire house of labor and all progressives must understand that we have not had a moment as threatening as this in our lifetime. The right is making the connections—attacking public employee unions and public services at the same time in order to wage complete war on the poor, people of color, and the working and middle classes of this country. Sadly, the left has not made the connections. To the extent that public sector unions, private sector unions and those fighting budget cuts allow themselves to be divided, they are playing into the right’s hands.

Assuming unions and progressives can focus on the enormity of the challenge before us, let’s review some of the tools and knowledge in our arsenal to defeat the antigovernment and antiunion offensive.

In Nevada, where I led a union that had been heavily dominated by public sector workers, we successfully beat back a divide-and-conquer unionbusting campaign waged by right-wing forces who had teamed up with the Democrats who led county government. In 2003 a Democratic county executive named Thom Reilly aligned with the Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Taxpayers Union to produce a report that sounded the same themes as the current national campaign against government workers. In a media blitz, Reilly blasted public workers for earning more than their private sector counterparts. With a Democrat as the messenger, liberals were confused, including many union members.

In response, we set out first with a massive campaign to educate the rank and file about the coming attack. In the first year, we organized meetings with more than 2,000 government workers by designing an educational module distributed to almost every unionized facility at break times and shift changes. At every union meeting for two years, attention was directed to the economy; the class war against all workers; how the right had come first for private sector unions and now were coming for public sector unions; and the need to “draw a line in the desert” to raise expectations, so that workers could unite to reclaim what they deserved.

We talked openly and often about how, if the county executive wanted to point out the disparity in the pay of unionized government workers versus that of workers in the nonunionized private sector, he was right. But rather than accepting that government workers—including many people of color and women—who still had a decent job with the ability to retire should surrender what they had to the lowest common denominator, we challenged them to get behind two big initiatives. The first was to organize the private sector workers as fast as possible so that we could bring them up to the same standard. The second was to change the image of the government workers by making the quality of the government services reflect the highest standards possible. We wanted “government workers” to have a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in the public’s mind.

We kept at these efforts over the next several years, and by the time the government workers arrived at their next round of collective bargaining, the county executive’s message—that county workers were overpaid compared with their private sector counterparts—had lost its force. For one thing, we had raised private sector standards through organizing and negotiating strong contracts. In fact, in a two-year period, the private sector hospital workers went from wages and benefits far below those at the big public hospital to wages higher than and benefits catching up to those of government workers. And through it all, we elevated an internal education campaign and external message framed around the American Dream—who had stolen it and how the way to bring it back was by organizing, bargaining and setting higher standards for all workers. It was crucial that despite lots of strains, union solidarity held together to beat back one ballot initiative after another that sought to all but eliminate the already small tax base in Nevada.

We also took on the libertarian contempt for government that was so popular in Nevada—which was prominently displayed in hateful editorial cartoons like those that are now common in states like New Jersey, depicting government workers as fat, lazy, overpaid bureaucrats. We did this in part by engaging the members in a newly designed training program for union stewards aimed at reshaping the grievance process for a union whose workers perform services for the community rather than assembly line work on a machine. But it was only after thousands of conversations that we were able to help workers—even government workers—overcome their suspicions of government.

We know that Americans are predisposed to be more suspicious of government than they are of unions. Union organizer Fernando Gapasin, co-author of Solidarity Divided, says, “Karl Rove did an analysis of the core values of Americans, and he took that individualism is one core idea. For a lot of people this translates to the corporations as the highest form of someone’s individual aspirations. For a lot of people individual responsibility and individual achievement gets confusing, and it leads to workers telling me that if they were laid off, they would refuse to collect unemployment, because if they or their families can’t take care of themselves, there’s something wrong with them.” The Norquist forces are, in effect, running a message that aligns neatly with the dominant cultural narrative in America. Unions and progressives have a message and solutions that are seemingly running against this narrative. This is precisely why organizers and organizing are required, not simply mobilizing and messaging.

Liberals and progressives don’t understand why, in poll after poll, Americans support Social Security, Medicare and money for their local parks and other services but oppose “big government.” If we want to close the gap in the often bimodal results of polling, we don’t need more polling: we need well-trained and highly skilled organizers who can help facilitate conversations among next-door neighbors and co-workers. We have good “framers.” We have smart policy wonks with big degrees who can write good policy. We have lawyers to defend the policy. And we have no one in any serious way out talking with Americans about this crisis. It’s organizers who help people in large numbers to come to the self-realization that things aren’t working and that it isn’t their fault. Good organizing is really the only way that workers, the unemployed and the poor can overcome the impulse to blame themselves for the crisis they face. Yet liberal foundations often balk at funding such efforts, believing that it won’t add up to policy change and channeling money instead to policy, legal and “communications” work.

Unions and progressives need to return to engaging large numbers of people in one-on-one conversations. Unions should kick-start the campaign by sponsoring and unleashing the biggest Union Summer program of all time and pay student interns, and unemployed rank-and-file workers, to work with union groups and nonunion allies in a mass education campaign that seeks to change the narrative from “We all go down together” to “It’s time to return to the American Dream we all deserve.” Unions must stop pretending to be engaging the base by setting up call centers or buying cellphones for their members. Foundations must stop pretending that unions don’t matter, and that messaging strategies can overcome America’s cultural norms of extreme individualism. Real conversations, where people have a chance to understand the war that is being waged against them and the power they must build, are the only thing that will save us.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Teacher Paul Karrer Writes A Letter To President Obama: "Your Race To The Top is Killing The Wrong Guys"

A Letter to My President - The One I Voted For

February 1, 2011

Dear President Obama:

I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don’t get it.

Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You’re hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I’m teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They’re 5th graders. That means they’re 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word “parents” with my kids because so many of them don’t have them. Amanda’s mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their “Grams,” six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So “parents” is out as a descriptor.

Here’s the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member.

Do you and your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, understand the significance of that? I’m afraid not. It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty. We don’t teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities. It’s called the ZIP Code Quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high scores; if they live in a ZIP code that’s entombed with poverty, guess how they do?

We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven’t had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don’t meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That’s like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.

It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty.

You lived in Indonesia, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are akin to those in the third world. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. (We were supposed to say it was half full.) Too many of my kids don’t even have the glass!

Next, gangs. Gangs eat my kids, their parents, and the neighborhood. One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead by the police. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He’ll be 27 in November. I’ve been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in the maximum-security section of Salinas Valley State Prison.

Do you get that it’s tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren’t the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much. And you want to give us merit pay? Anyway, I think we really need to talk. Oh, and can you pull the knife out while you’re standing behind me? It really hurts.

Sincerely yours,

Paul Karrer
Fifth grade teacher at Castroville Elementary School
North Monterey County, CA

The NYC Department of Education Will Audit Their Schools For Cheating On Test Scores

How lovely. As soon as scores for school tests become suspect, the fox - oops, I mean Cathie Black, Shael Polakow-Sharansky and her coworkers - send in other foxes to the hen house. This sounds to me like we should call in Norm Scott with his video camera, and other reporters, to set up cameras outside schools where 60%+ passed the regents with a score of 65 and take pictures of the shredded documents that will be on the sidewalk soon.

What is at all confusing about principals demanding that teachers scrub test scores or else, and give them their students' Regents to grade! Commissioner Steiner says this procedure is "not ideal".

Betsy Combier

February 18, 2011
Shael Polakow-Suransky

City to Toughen Auditing of School Test Scores

New York City school officials said Friday that they would introduce a new, rigorous system of auditing the test scores, grading practices and graduation rates of the public high schools, appearing to acknowledge rising concerns that some schools might be manipulating the statistics they are judged by.

The move comes as the city and the state have sought to raise standards to better prepare students for college and careers, and as mounting evidence has cast doubt on whether even the current standards are being met.

In at least the past two years, an unusually large number of students have obtained exactly the minimum score needed to pass state Regents exams, which are often graded by their regular teachers. City officials say the anomaly existed even before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of the city’s schools in 2003.

In an e-mail sent Friday to high school principals, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said that auditors would look at how schools awarded course credits, graded Regents exams and tallied graduation figures in determining which schools to audit.

In a departure, the auditor general of the department, Brian Fleischer, is to oversee the new audits, to ensure greater independence. Previous audits were conducted case by case by the same office that develops the accountability practices.

“Ultimately, we want to have confidence, for ourselves, and for the public, in the data we use to measure schools,” Mr. Fleischer said. The new audit procedures, he said, “will be much more data-driven and systematic.”

About 60 high schools will be selected for the first round of audits, based on whether their data showed suspicious patterns, like sudden rises in scores, he said. Allegations of misconduct would be referred to the special commissioner of investigation for city schools. In the first year, however, the emphasis will be on providing guidance and training to schools so that employees understand what is expected.

Despite the increased scrutiny, Mr. Polakow-Suransky has said he does not believe there is widespread cheating. He said last week that the city aggressively investigated the “tiny handful of cases” where there were allegations. On the question of Regents scoring, a process determined by the state, he said, “We feel an obligation to work on this issue, despite the fact that they are not our tests.”

But observers of the school system, including those who have been skeptical of rising test scores and graduation rates, said officials seemed to acknowledge issues with some of the data.

“It seems to me that the D.O.E. is realizing that they have a credibility problem with their numbers and they’re trying to address that,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, which has questioned whether some schools tally dropouts incorrectly to help graduation rates.

Officials said that they started working on toughening auditing procedures more than a year ago, but that in recent months they approached the issue with greater urgency.

The state comptroller recently completed a review of the city’s graduation rates, which has not yet been released to the public, though it has been submitted to city officials for their response.

The city had already begun investigating grading at the school that had the highest score on the department’s annual report cards, the Theatre Arts Production Company High School in the Bronx. Its teacher handbook indicated that failing grades were only for students who never went to class.

And an analysis by The New York Times found that on the English and history Regents exams in the past two years, students in the city’s public high schools were roughly five times as likely to score 65, the passing grade, or slightly above it than to score just below it.

Statisticians say that such a difference is out of line with the smooth scoring curve that should normally result. A recent report in The Wall Street Journal came to a similar conclusion.

Even on the algebra exam, where there are no essays, 8,451 students got grades of exactly 65, while only 7,145 students combined ended up with a score of 61, 62, 63 or 64.

Regents exams are graded by teachers within schools, and teachers are not barred from grading their own students. While the practice is controversial, some say it is appropriate to give students the benefit of the doubt.

There is ambiguity in grading essays, and even in mathematics tests, in which extra points can be given for students’ showing their work.

At one Queens high school, the number of students scoring 65 to 69 last year in the five most popular Regents exams — integrated algebra, global history, biology, English and United States history — was more than five times the number who scored 60 to 64.

“If you have a kid with a 64, you want to look at the paper again to give the kid an even chance,” said the school’s principal, who spoke only on condition that her name, and the name of her school, not be published. “We’re not talking about changing the grade where the kid got it wrong to make it right.”

David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner, acknowledged in an interview in January that the state had known for years of the spikes in scoring patterns.

The department has made some changes, like required training for teacher-scorers, and it is phasing in computer scoring for multiple-choice questions.

But of the practice of teachers’ grading their students’ exams, Dr. Steiner said, “obviously, it’s not ideal.”

The state, he said, was focused on building the next generation of exams, to come into use in three to five years, which may be completely graded by computer.

Amanda Cox, Robert Gebeloff and Fernanda Santos contributed reporting

Thursday, February 17, 2011

NY POST's Andrea Peyser On The Black Appointment

Mike's Black mark
By ANDREA PEYSER, NY POST, February 17, 2011

In the annals of Really Bad Ideas, a few stand out as stupendously dumb.

Bike-lane proliferation. Sen. Al Franken. Charlie Sheen's in-mansion rehab.

The installation of Cathie Black to the post of city schools chancellor has devolved over seven weeks into a brand-new category of managerial screw-up. Mayor Bloomberg has to know he made a mistake.

Well, mismatching a shirt and tie qualifies as a boo-boo. Hiring Black to run a school system of 1.1 million kids, the nation's largest -- a job for which she is not temperamentally suited, intellectually qualified or, from the look on her scowling face, interested in performing -- is akin, in terms of political trauma, to hiring a BP executive to explain an oil spill.

But rather than let Black, 66 -- a gifted magazine executive before Bloomberg found her at a dinner party -- get her life back, the mayor has dug in his heels. Even as he undermines her.

Black's selection couldn't come at a worse time. The administration is trying to win parents' hearts and minds as it closes dozens of rotten schools and battles the teachers union on "last-in, first out" layoff policies.

Against this backdrop, Black's ascendance was the most closely guarded urban mystery since the opening date of "Spider-Man." Two sources told me that Bloomberg's close aide, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, whom Bloomberg snatched from political consulting (he did Hillary Rodham Clinton's US Senate campaign), learned of Black's hiring "half an hour before it happened."

"I don't understand what his thinking is. I've been so disappointed by this," said a government insider. Wolfson said only, "She's going to do a dynamite job." Black wouldn't comment.

January ranks as Black's mensis horribilis. But even before her public meltdowns, Bloomberg, who'd insisted for weeks that Black was "exactly the right person for the job," let it drop that she wasn't his first choice. He wanted Harlem educator Geoffrey Canada, who said, "No thanks."

Bloomberg "did that to make it sound like there was a decision-making process of sorts," said the insider. By revealing he preferred the more qualified Canada, "he threw her under a bus."

In short succession, Black uttered two bloopers that reverberated through city ears like nails on a blackboard. On Jan. 13, a parent asked Black about overcrowding. She joked, "Could we just have some birth control for a while? It could really help us all out a lot."

Furious parents took away two things: Black, a wealthy, white lady who sent her kids to private boarding school, referred to birth rates in minority communities. Also, the parent had asked about how schools would accommodate babies who were already born.

Which may explain Black's next quip. She said budget cuts have forced her into "many Sophie's choices," a tasteless reference to the book and movie about a mother in Auschwitz forced to choose which of her children has to die. She apologized.

Then Black hit bottom. On Feb. 1, faced by howling parents carrying condoms, she presided over a hearing to close failing schools. Weary from the seven-hour harangue, she complained that the audience was not allowing her to speak. The crowd said, "Awwwww."

Black mocked them back. "Ohhhh," she said, disgust coloring her face.

Upper West Side parent Noah Gotbaum just wanted Black's opinion on school closings. "You know what we got? Nine words! Black told us, 'These are very difficult decisions to make,' " said Gotbaum, a plaintiff in the lawsuit to cancel the state waiver that made Black chancellor.

Truth is, Black's predecessor, Joel Klein, wasn't popular in many communities. But Klein, who once taught sixth grade, commanded a level of respect that Black -- who received a 21 percent favorability rating in a recent poll to Klein's 46 -- will never get.

"The mayor hires those he enjoys as dinner guests, like Bicycle Lady Janette Sadik-Khan," said Manhattan mom Leslie Gold. "He doesn't think we are smart enough to know the right answer. Black was a 'Devil Wears Prada' sort in her corporate life, and isn't used to having an internal dialogue or defending her image."

Some mistakes are too big to admit.