Archives for category: Unions

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.”

I read Jeff Bryant’s interview with the President-elect of NEA, Lily Eskelsen, and I think I love her.

She is smart, strong, and she doesn’t mince words.

She was a classroom teacher for many years, and she speaks from experience teaching many kinds of kids, including kids in special education and kids in a homeless shelter.

She knows that VAM is ridiculous.

She knows that tests can be valuable when used for diagnostic purposes, but harmful when used to pin a ranking on students, teachers, principals, and schools.

She gets it.

Here is a small part of the interview. Jeff asked why NEA delegates voted for a resolution calling on Duncan to resign.

“Bryant: So what’s the frustration for teachers?

“Eskelsen: Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

“Bryant: So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?

“Eskelsen: Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.

“Bryant: Doesn’t Duncan understand that?

“Eskelsen: No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.”

The following letter was written by labor leader Lee Saunders to Dr. Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, to protest the fund’s acceptance of a gift of $25 million from the Koch brothers.

From: Portside labor
Subject: A Principle Is A Terrible Thing to Waste

A Principle Is A Terrible Thing to Waste

Lee A. Saunders
July 14, 2014
Huffington Post

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees writes in a letter to Dr. Michael Lomax, President of the United Negro College Fund that the union is halting all contributions to the fund and requesting that its affiliate locals do the same. President Saunders writes that this is a result of the fund accepting $25 million dollars from Charles and David Koch as well as speaking at their summit meeting in California.

Dr. Michael Lomax
President, United Negro College Fund
1805 7th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Dr. Lomax:

As you know, AFSCME has a partnership with UNCF that began more than a decade ago. We are very proud of the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program. The program gives sophomore and junior students of color the opportunity to work with AFSCME over the summer, learn about the labor movement, and receive scholarship support during their junior and senior years of college. Through the program, we have helped dozens of students find jobs with AFSCME or in other social justice organizations. AFSCME has gained many talented new staff. And a generation of students has learned about workers’ rights and the value of public services.

We have been especially proud of the Union Scholars Program and our partnership with the UNCF because of our union’s commitment to racial equity and social justice. We are dedicated to providing the necessary support for young people of color to join the AFSCME team and build a staff that reflects the increasingly diverse population of our nation.

Therefore it is with the deepest regret that I write to notify you that we must sever our partnership. We are doing this as a result of actions you have taken as president of the UNCF that are not only deeply hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees, but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Like many supporters of the UNCF, I was deeply troubled by your decision to accept $25 million from David and Charles Koch. But I assumed that in accepting those funds you were in no way supporting or lending the name of the UNCF to the political or social causes or substantive views of the Koch brothers.

So I was truly stunned to learn that less than two weeks later, you attended and spoke at the Koch brothers summit in California. This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. The avowed purpose of this private event was to build support — financial and political — for the Koch brothers’ causes. Your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF’s organizational support of the Koch brothers’ ideological program.

The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights of African Americans. They support voter identification laws. They seek to restrict early voting and voter registration. They support laws that threaten organizations that register voters in the African American community.

They funded organizations that advocated for the Supreme Court’s rolling back of the Voting Rights Act and the removal of the special protections the act provided to people of color in those parts of the country where so many of our forebears were killed for seeking to exercise their right to vote. The Koch brothers are the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting.

Lending your name to the Koch brothers’ efforts to disenfranchise African Americans would be sufficient to compel me to sever our relationship. But it is not my only objection to your actions. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, was also a speaker at the Koch brothers’ summit. There is no person in America whose work is more opposed to the fundamental mission of the UNCF than Charles Murray. For decades, he has dedicated himself to promoting the notion that the over-representation of African Americans among America’s poor and in America’s prisons is the consequence not of our history or of the types of public policies the Koch brothers promote, but rather is a consequence of our genetic inferiority. The unmistakable implication of his work is that the UNCF effort to provide paths out of poverty and despair for African Americans and other students of color is futile.

According to Professor Murray, we and our children are genetically inferior. For these reasons, I must sever the relationship between our organizations. Effective September 1, 2014, we will not continue our partnership. I am also urging all AFSCME affiliates to sever their relationships with and cease fundraising for the UNCF. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we promote through the Union Scholars Program: to practice what we preach, to fight for social justice, and to stand up for what we believe. I cannot in good conscience face these students or AFSCME’s members if I looked the other way and ignored your actions.

AFSCME remains committed to the mission of the Union Scholars Program. We will work directly with historically black and other colleges and universities, faculty members, student organizations, and other allies to make internship, scholarship and job opportunities available to students of color. With disappointment and determination we will continue the work without you and the UNCF.

Sincerely,

Lee Saunders
AFSCME President

In recent days, there has been an extended discussion online about an article by California whistle blower Kathleen Carroll, in which she blasts Randi Weingarten and the Teachers Union Reform Network for taking money from Gates, Broad, and other corporate reform groups, in some cases, more than a dozen years ago. Carroll also suggests that I am complicit in this “corruption” because I spoke to the 2013 national meeting of TURN and was probably paid with corporate reform money; she notes that Karen Lewis, Deborah Meier, and Linda Darling-Hammond also spoke to the TURN annual meeting in 2012 or 2013. I told Carroll that I was not paid to speak to TURN, also that I have spoken to rightwing think tanks, and that no matter where I speak and whether I am paid, my message is the same as what I write in my books and blogs. In the discussion, I mentioned that I spoke to the National Association of School Psychologists at its annual convention in 2012, one of whose sponsors was Pearson, and I thought it was funny that Pearson might have paid me to blast testing, my point being that I say what I want regardless of who puts up the money. At that point, Jim Horn used the discussion to lacerate me for various sins.

Mercedes Schneider decided to disentangle this mess of charges and countercharges. In the following post, Schneider uses her considerable research skills to dissect the issues, claims and counterclaims. All the links are included in this piece by Schneider. Schneider asked me for my speech to the National Association of School Psychologists as well as my remarks to the TURN meeting, which are included.

I will make two points here. First, Randi has been my friend for 20 years, and I don’t criticize my friends; we disagree on many points, for example, the Common Core, which I oppose and she supports. I don’t hide our disagreements but I won’t call her names or question her motives. Friends can disagree and remain friends.

Second, I recall learning how the left made itself impotent in American politics by fighting among themselves instead of uniting against the common adversary. I recall my first job at the New Leader magazine in 1960, where I learned about the enmity among the Cannonites, the Lovestonites, the Trotskyites, the Mensheviks, the Schactmanites, and other passionate groups in the 1930s. That’s when I became convinced that any successful movement must minimize infighting and strive for unity and common goals.

Even earlier, Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The Florida Education Association filed suit to block the expansion of vouchers. In their legal challenge, the teachers’ union said the law was passed at the last minute and “violates the constitutional requirement that legislative proposals be limited to a single subject.”

“The lawsuit from the Florida Education Association raises concerns about the way SB 850 became law. Some of the bill’s more contentious provisions, including the voucher expansion and the scholarship accounts, started out as stand-alone proposals that had difficulty finding support. They were added to a bill establishing collegiate high schools on the second-to-last day of the legislative session.”

In 2012, Florida voters turned down a proposal to change the state constitution to permit vouchers by a margin of 58-42.

KIPP Dawson teaches middle school in Pittsburgh. She is a brave union activist; she began her career as a coal miner, and worked underground for ten years. She has worked even longer in the classroom, where she brings with her the same courage, integrity, and determination. Here are her initial reflections on the AFT convention on Los Angeles. I hope we will hear more:

KIPP writes:

Dear friends, your hard work on behalf of our kids and schools, ALL of it, made a BIG impact on the AFT convention just ending now in Los Angeles, from where i write this. I am mostly without Internet connection for the last and next few days, and will write more when I can. Most important point: our movement for social justice unionism, and for our kids and schools, shifted the whole “playing field” here. We move forward with more strength after the debates and contributions here, from the call to action from Moral Monday’s Rev. William Barber to the strong discussion contributions from our colleagues from around the country (with special thanks to our wonderful CTU and CORE sisters and brothers for their leadership). Much more to be said, but as George Schmidt notes in his comments on the photo he shared of Pia Payne-Shannon, votes tell only a small part of a story full of victories. La lutte continue (the struggle continues), and on ever-stronger ground. Your voices are being heard, your examples are inspiring, and we will win this.

KIPP

Regular reader and commenter Lloyd Lofthouse explains why we need unions:

Let me add something one of my uncles told me. He was 96 when he died about ten years ago.

As a young man, he remembered going to the railroad yard hoping to get work to earn enough to buy food. There was no union then. He said hundreds got up early every morning to show up. The manager in charge of loading and unloading the trains would stand in the opening of one of the box cars and throw ten, fifteen or twenty chips over the heads of the crowd of hopeful workers. Those who caught the chips and kept them got to work sixteen hours that day for about 25 cents.

The next day was a repeat.

This was in the United States during the Great Depression.

Without labor unions working as a collective voice for the workforce, most of the rich and famous will make sure the world we live in returns to that time. Study history as Back2basic suggests and you will learn from it. Mankind doesn’t change and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History repeats itself if we allow it.

I read an article recently that compared business methods and this article said that about 4 out of every 5 business are run like dictatorships and the workers are not treated with respect or paid a fair wage with benefits.

Businesses like Costco that are not unionized, Wholefoods, and Trader Joe’s that treat their workers with respect and pays them a living wage with benefits are the exception. Costco has even been criticized by Wall Street because of how much they pay their employees (like $12 or $14 an hour instead of the minimum wage). The stock holders grumble that if Costco paid their employees less, the stock holders would make more from the stocks. If you doubt this, Google it. Costco’s CEO basically told Wall Street to “F” off without using the “F” word. Companies like Costco have a high retention rate compared to corporations like Wall-Mart.

Why is it that some of the 1% who have the most money have spent HUGE fortunes on propaganda and lobbyists in state capitals and Washington DC for decades to destroy the labor unions? What do they have to gain?

Negative opinions of labor unions come from that propaganda and if you believe them and you are not a billionaire or millionaire, what does that say about you?

The answer may be found in this Abraham Lincoln quote: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Who is greedy—the Koch brothers who are worth more than one hundred billion dollars (combined) and are willing to pollute the air, water and soil to increase their wealth or the union worker who is paid maybe $25 an hour with a retirement and health plan that cuts into the profits and wealth of people like Bill Gates, the Walton family or Eli Broad?

Without labor unions, the worker has no voice. The only voice heard will be from someone like Bill Gates.

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109,242 other followers