Archives for category: Unions

This is a good article about Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who assumes the presidency of the NEA in September 1. She taught for many years in Utah, ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and was Utah’s Teacher of the Year.

Read her interview with Valerie Strauss. She knows how stupid VAM is, and she has a few choice words for Campbell Brown. She thinks Arne Duncan is a nice man who is “wrong, wrong, wrong.” Lily is passionate about the testing mania that is warping American education. She says that educators should do what’s right for kids and forget the reformers (easier said than done when the “reformers” control the legislature and hold the governorship and pass laws that are bad for kids.)

She has the potential to be a great voice for teachers, and early indications suggest that she won’t sell her soul or her members to get “a seat at the table.” The question is whether she is prepared to fight that nice man who is Secretary of Education and who demands more testing and more firings based on test scores.

In New York State, a small group of Democrats in the State Senate flipped their allegiance to the Republicans, giving Republicans control of the Senate. Republican control of the Senate worked to the benefit of the 1%.

One of that group was State Senator Jeffrey Klein. He just won the endorsement of the New York State United Teachers.

This is bizarre. According to this blogger, Perdido Street School, Klein is pro-voucher and pro-charter. He supports evaluating educators by test scores.

Can anyone associated with NYSUT explain this endorsement?

Civitas is a libertarian, anti-union organization in North Carolina. It is funded by Art Pope, who may be the most powerful powerbroker in the state. Civitas recently put up billboards saying “Teachers: Want a $450 Raise?” If teachers go to the Civitas website, they will learn that they can increase their annual salary by $450 if they quit the North Carolina Association of Educators, which is affiliated with the NEA. By no longer paying union dues, they can give themselves a raise!

Art Pope is a multi-millionaire who is passionately interested in politics. He gives generously to like-minded libertarians and has played a decisive role in ousting Democrats and moderate Republicans from the state legislature. North Carolina, once the most progressive southern state, has swung to the other extreme. Unable to win election on his own, Pope is now the state budget director, and his fine hand can be seen in legislation that is hostile to teachers (but not TFA) and that promotes charters and vouchers. The legislature has been so extreme on so many issues that it has brought into being a resistance movement called Moral Mondays, led by Reverend William Barber, head of the state NAACP. If the momentum of Moral Mondays continues to grow, North Carolina could change direction.

Kipp Dawson, a teacher in Pittsburgh public schools and a dedicated member of the American Federation of Teachers, attended the recent AFT convention in Los Angeles. She experienced a convening of brothers and sisters in the movement that encouraged her. Yet she was disheartened by the iron control of the New York City-based Unity Caucus, which dominates the Progressive Caucus, which calls the shots.

 

Dawson sees this as a crucial time for union in general and for teachers’ unions in particular. She calls for a new kind of democracy. She would like to see open debate with no instructions to members of the largest caucus.

 

 

For those who are on the outside of union politics, this was a fascinating insider’s perspective. What do you think?

 

 

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.

Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.

But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.

“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.

“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.

Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.

She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.

The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.

“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.

“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”

Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.

Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.

In her appearance on the Steven Colbert show, anti-union activist Campbell Brown refused to identify the names of her donors. One of her organizations is called, ironically, the Parents Transparency Project.

Veteran journalist David Sirota writes:

“As Brown keeps the identity of her financial backers under wraps, her organization describes itself as a group “whose mission is to bring transparency” to education policymaking.

“Politico has reported that under current law, Department of Labor rules require unions to “disclose more than many political groups about their internal operations,” funding and expenditures. By contrast, many political groups seeking to limit teachers unions’ workplace rights and replace traditional public schools with privately run, union-free charter schools have been able to keep the identity of their benefactors shrouded in secrecy, though periodic leaks have shed at least some light on the funders.”

“For example, the most prominent opponent of the teachers union, Students First, has rejected requests for a list of its donors. Yet thanks to a Pennsylvania lobbying disclosure law, the Huffington Post in 2012 was able to report that “New Jersey hedge funder and Romney backer David Tepper and the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation [are] among the largest donors” to the organization. Additionally, the board of Students First includes hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, News Corp. education-technology executive Joel Klein, and Dan Senor, Brown’s husband, who previously served as the Bush-appointed spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Likewise, in New Jersey, WNYC reported that a group called the Committee For Our Children’s Future spent millions on ads promoting Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda, while the funders of the ads remained anonymous. WNYC later reported that television station filings revealed that the group used the “same ad buyers Christie used for his 2009 campaign for governor,” and that the contact address for the group could “be traced back to Kevin F. Feeley, a Christie donor whose son has worked for Christie as an intern.” The radio station also reported that the documents linked the ads to a Republican consulting firm that had done work for former GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Christie has pushed for more privately run charter schools in New Jersey.”

Who are these shadowy groups who hide their names as they seek to eliminate academic freedom for teachers? Why do they never explain why teachers in our highest performing schools are as likely (or more likely) to have due process rights as teachers in low-performing schools? In an era when media pundits and celebrities claim to be experts about how to reform schools while teachers’ voices are silenced, you can bet we are headed in the wrong direction.

In an interview with “The Notebook,” civil rights attorney Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia explains why previous litigation failed and what should happen now to assure that all children get a “thorough and efficient system of public education,” as the law requires.

Here is a small part of a very informative exchange:

Q.: What other legislative or policy fixes could help settle the District’s long-term finances?

A. There are lots. The charter funding formula is absolutely crazy, one of the worst in the country.

But that’s small potatoes compared to our single biggest problem – the state puts in too small a share of funding. Pennsylvania appropriates about 35 percent of the cost of public education. Pennsylvania needs to get up to about 50 percent of the cost of education.

And while they’re figuring that out, they need to calculate real costs – like the cost of educating kids in poverty. When you do that, you’ll take care of the problems. Everything else is just cosmetic – moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic, as people like to say.

We do actually have a commission to look into a new funding formula that’ll start this summer. But we know the solutions. It’s not a mystery. What’s lacking is political will.

Q.: What about the city? Is it contributing enough?

A. Philadelphia used to be near the bottom of local contributions. Now we’re contributing above the median of the rest of the state. This is clearly now a state problem, not a Philadelphia problem.

Q.: Last time we had a funding formula, it didn’t last. Is there any way to compel legislators to use whatever they create?

A.: Most other states have found that the judiciary will step in and say that the constitution [which in Pennsylvania requires a “a thorough and efficient system of public education”] has to be upheld.

In the 1990s, Pennsylvania’s judiciary decided they would not step in. They had some reasons why, but many of those have changed.

For example, we don’t have local control at the level we used to. The state now sets graduation standards. The state sets testing standards. The state tells districts how they have to spend money.

Therefore, there are much stronger grounds for judicial intervention to make sure that the state is providing adequate funding. That’s my thought on the matter. We’ll have to see whether the judiciary agrees.

And here is another exchange:

Q.: Let’s go back to charter finances. What are some policy changes that could stabilize the whole system?

A.: There’s a whole range of numbers that need to be looked at so that there’s some relationship to cost.

For example, charters have been paid for special education at a rate that’s completely phony, year after year. Chester gets paid $36,000 per special-ed student. But most of them are getting “language and occupational therapy” once a week. That’s a minimal expense.

The cyber charters, which are the fastest-growing section of the charter movement, don’t have any of the same costs as brick-and-mortar charters, but they get the same money. The state hasn’t been able to fix that one, even though the auditor general has been writing reports about it for six years. It’s a complete waste of valuable resources.

And then, there needs to be a complete new set of transparency rules, so we know what charters are spending and accomplishing, and we don’t have the kind of waste and fraud we’ve seen.

Q.: What’s your plan to influence the governor’s race this fall?

A.: I believe that by the fall, we’ll be engaged in the kind of litigation like we talked about, to lay out the facts as to why 50 percent of the schools in Pennsylvania do not meet the standards the state has set for itself.

That’s a massive failure, and it’s closely related to underfunding – which has been known since 2007, when the state issued a report about real costs. We’ll bring that to the attention of the courts and the public.

Q.: The counter-argument is that we need to reduce costs, not spend more. Why shouldn’t Philadelphia be thinking about strategically increasing charter enrollment? Would that drive costs down?

A.: There’s no evidence that that really does, or that it’s sustainable over any length of time. That strategy relies on churn — lots of young teachers who turn over constantly. That is the enemy of a slow-and-steady progress model.

In Chester, for example, they have the largest charter population of any district in the state [by percentage], but they’re no further ahead than other students. But it does cost a great deal more, and a lot of that money is being funneled off into private payrolls.

I think everybody’s been surprised at some of the good things we’ve seen in charters that can be used in regular schools.

But we need to find ways that we adapt those, rather than create so much change that it sets back progress. We don’t want a two-tiered system. We don’t want public schools to be only for those who can’t figure out how to get out of them. What happens inevitably as you privatize is, things become stratified. To me, that would be far too high a price to pay.

Peter Greene regretfully, apologetically disagrees with Susan Ohanian, who recently expressed disappointment that the two national unions did not call on teachers to boycott testing. He says it would do no good because they would be fired and replaced by teachers happy to give tests and have a job. He says, pick your fights with care.

I am not sure I agree with Peter on this one. I agree that if a handful of teachers refused to give the state tests, they would be fired. But if an entire school refused to do it, they would send a loud message and probably no one would be fired. That was the lesson of Garfield High School in Seattle. When the teachers stood together, no one was punished.

Best of all would be if the principal and superintendent led the test boycott and carefully explained that they do not oppose all tests. tests should be used for diagnostic purposes, not for ranking and rating. learning is a process, not a race. School boards should declare that they oppose the deluge of testing that has third graders taking tests that last eight hours, that they oppose standardized tests for children in the k-2 grades, that they oppose the use of standardized tests for high stakes, that they oppose devoting a month of instructional time to testing. It would take extraordinary leadership and integrity and wisdom to stand up to the testing regime that has warped education. What a statement that would be!

Even better would be widespread parent boycotts. No one can fire parents. They have it in their power to pull the plug on this mess. I hope it comes to that.

Peter Greene read a column by Joe Klein of TIME magazine about what’s wrong with education, and Greene had a hard time controlling his indignation.

Klein did not like the contract that Mayor de Blasio negotiated with the teachers’ union. What really bothers Klein, he says, is that teachers have something to say about their working conditions. His bottom-line beef, says Greene, is unions.

Greene writes:

“There are lots of things Joe Klein doesn’t get, and many of them are related to education. In the process of railing last week about a de Blasio “giveback” of 150 minutes of special student tutoring time in New York schools, Klein managed to trot out a whole raft of misconceptions and complaints. Here he gets himself all lathered up.

“I’m not going to take Klein to task for slamming assembly-line workers as if they are a bad thing. I know what he means– teachers should act like salaried workers instead of workers paid by the hour. Of course, if he tried to get his doctor or his lawyer to put in extra unbilled hours and be “paid in professional satisfaction,” I think he’d have another complaint to make. So I’m not sure exactly which profession he wants us to act like. Hell, even the oldest profession (I mean, of course, plumbing) charges by the hour…..

“It bothers Klein that the union negotiates things down to the half-minute, but he seems to forget that for every teacher union not saying, “We’ll work long extra hours just out of professional pride,” there’s a school board not saying, “You know what? We’ll just pay you what the work is worth and trust you to give us the hours needed.” Teachers could easily put in every single hour of the week doing the work, and many districts would let them do it, for free. “Wow, you’re working so hard and long we’re going to pay you more. really, we insist,” said no school district ever. Nor do they say, “We’ll trust you to do what’s right and never clock you in and out so we’re sure we get every hour you owe us.” A line has to be drawn somewhere; professionals also do not regularly give away their work for free. I agree that the half-minute is a little silly, but the line still has to be drawn.

“Klein also throws into the pot his assertion that real professionals don’t resist evaluation. This is partly almost true. Real professionals do not resist evaluation by qualified, knowledgeable fellow professionals who are using a fair and accurate measuring instrument. But if Klein’s editor announced “the guys in the mailroom have decided that you will be evaluated on how thick your hair grows in and how much garbage is in your wastebasket,” I don’t think Klein’s reply would be, “I’m a professional. That’s fine.”

“Teachers and our unions are not opposed to evaluation. We are opposed to bad evaluations conducted unfairly using invalid methods developed by amateurs who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

“Klein also asserts a bedrock principle for systems that are not working in schools– you don’t scrap them, but you fix them. I was going to hunt down a column in which Klein uses this same argument to vehemently oppose things like, say, letting Eva Moskowitz shove aside public schools to make room for charters. Because, if a public school is struggling, Joe Klein will apparently be there to argue fiercely that you don’t close public schools– you fix them. But my googler seems to be broken. Can somebody help me with that? Kthanks.

“But Klein saves the worst for last. You see, there’s a struggle going on in this country and it’s time to pick sides– either the unions or the students.

“That’s an interesting choice, particularly since these days many teachers are wishing that teacher unions would choose the side of teachers. But really– is that it? The biggest obstacle standing in the path of educating students is teachers’ unions? Teachers unions are out there saying, “We’ve got to smack down those damn students and get them out of our way”?

“I think not. I think in many districts, particularly big messy urban districts, the only adults around to stand up for the interests of the students are the teachers (whose working conditions are the very same as the students’ learning conditions), and the only hope the teachers have of being heard at all is to band together into a group, a union. Consequently, much of what good has happened for students is there not because of some school board largesse but because a teachers’ union (or a group of parents, or both) stood up and demanded it.

“It’s ironic I’m writing this, because I have plenty of beefs with the union. But to assert that making the unions shut up and go away would usher in an era of student greatness and success is just silly.

“Of course, I could be wrong. I would do a search for states that hamstrung or abolished teacher unions and which now lead the nation in school and student excellence. Perhaps there are such places. Unfortunately, my googler is busted.”

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