Saturday, November 24, 2012

Real Questions for our Unity Leaders

Given the union's propensity for writing Q&As whenever something happens that puts them in a bad light, I promised to write some questions for Unity in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy debacle and the surrender of our vacation days without a hint of a fight or any consultation with the union membership. Given that Unity also doesn't answer questions such as these, I supplied their standard answers along with the truth.

Why didn't you fight for us to keep our mid-winter recess when you knew the state legislature was going to waive the 180 day requirement for state funding?
  • What Unity says: The state law is the law. We needed to act quickly to make sure we protected our members who have already paid for vacations.
  • The Truth: This was an easy sell-out. They didn't want the bad press that might result if they pushed the state to do the right thing.

Why are you content to "wait out" Mayor Bloomberg's term before making any serious attempts to get your members a fair contract?
  • What Unity says: The mayor has no interest in signing a contract with us. We are better off waiting for a "teacher friendly" mayor.
  • The Truth: Unity has no interest in a fight. Teachers have already been without contract for three years, and likely five by the time a new mayor signs with us. What are the odds that we will get the 8% we are due for the past two years that all other unions got, plus any other kind of increase over those additional three years of wait time? Besides that, does anyone else recall when Unity told us they were waiting out Giuliani and we ended up with Bloomberg? Or when we backed mayoral control and refused to endorse Bill Thompson when we had a chance to end Bloomberg's immoral third term purchase?
Why did you agree to help get the Race to the Top funds when you knew it would lead to evaluations based on test scores and the use of the Common Core, which has not been tested or shown to work anywhere?
  • What Unity says: We wanted a seat at the table. If we didn't negotiate with the state, they would have implemented their own evaluation system without us and it would have been worse. Besides, we gained 700 million dollars in RttT funds.
  • The Truth: It was a public relations stunt. Unity wanted to look like collaborators, not fighters. We could easily have resisted any attempts to impose an evaluation system on us, because we have a contract that could not be invalidated by state law. None of the money that we "gained" in RttT funds is going to the classrooms as far as anyone can tell, but it will be used to put evaluations in place and testing in every grade and subject area. This will cost FAR more over time than the $700 million the state received. Many districts are reporting that RttT will cost them more than ten times what they are receiving in funding.
Considering the incredible inaccuracy of Value Added Measurements such as the TDRs (Teacher Data Reports) that can vary as much as 85% from year to year, why did you agree that teachers could be rated ineffective entirely based on test scores?

  • What Unity says: We actually did better than the rest of the state. Many teachers in NYS will have 40% of their evaluation based on test scores, while NYC teachers will have 20% based on test scores and 20% on "local measures" that we must sign off on.
  • The Truth: 20% of crap is still crap. In addition, if you are rated ineffective according to VAM, you will be rated ineffective no matter how high you score on other measures, effectively making test scores the sole determinant of whether a teacher can be rated ineffective and subject to firing.
What steps are you taking to make sure that teachers will not be rated ineffective because of a vindictive principal or admin?

  • What Unity says: We have a mechanism in place that allows us to challenge up to 13% of ineffective ratings. That will ensure that we can look, case by case, and determine who has been unfairly targeted and make sure they get a fair hearing.
  • The Truth: Before the union "won" the right to challenge 13% of teacher ratings, 100% of unsatisfactory ratings could be challenged. Any teacher charged with incompetence and brought to a 3020A hearing had the right to due process--this meant that the burden of proving incompetence rested with the city. When the new system is in place, 87% of teachers who are labeled "ineffective" will now have the burden of proof placed on them--in other words, teachers will have to prove they are competent, which is a virtual impossibility given that the DOE controls the data.

What has Unity done for its members lately?

  • What Unity says: We have preserved tenure. We have ended the rubber rooms. We have made sure that ATRs have kept their jobs. We have averted layoffs. 
  • The Truth: On Tenure--when the new evaluation system is in place, tenure will still exist but no longer matter because teachers who are rated ineffective will have to prove their competence (see previous question). On the rubber rooms--they were always punitive in nature and contained a high percentage of older and minority teachers, which was discriminatory and should have been the subject of a massive discrimination lawsuit against the city. On ATRs--while ATRs have jobs, they aren't real teaching jobs. They are working as very temporary subs and abused as they are sent from school to school without hope of landing a steady position. Prior to Unity selling off seniority rights, there was no such thing as an ATR. On layoffs--while there have been no layoffs per se, we have lost more than 5000 positions to attrition in the last several years, which certainly can be viewed as de facto layoffs. These losses have led to greater class sizes citywide at a time when teachers are being held more and more accountable for test scores.
Given the success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in protecting its members through direct action in the great tradition of American unionism, can you explain why teachers should vote for Mulgrew and the rest of his Unity crew, who appear content to lead through passivity rather than strength?
  • What Unity says: Our situation is different than the CTU. Because of the Taylor law, we can't strike. Instead, we will continue some of our usual campaigns, such as asking members to wear red when they are angry.
  • The Truth: Unity is more interested in retaining power than taking any positive action on behalf of its members. If Unity actually educated its members on the issues, and got them to take action, they might wake up and realize that they can also take control of their own union and vote out any caucus that doesn't have the members' best interests at heart. They just might vote for the MORE caucus, whose mission statement seems to be just common sense, but it is completely opposite of the way the Unity caucus operates.
If any Unity official wants to comment, I'd be more than happy to hear what they have to say. I have a feeling I won't be hearing from them any time soon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Q and A on Losing Vacation Days to Hurricane Sandy

If you are confused about why we must give up three vacation days in February, never fear. Our dear Unity leaders published a handy dandy Q&A chock full of reasons why this move was necessary. Unfortunately, they are all lies. On the bright side, Mr. Talk is here to translate Unity's gobbledegook into plain English for you. You can read the entire Q&A here, but for the sake of brevity and my sanity, I have chosen to translate only the most relevant and least repetitive parts. My translations are in red.

Why did we have to give up part of our midwinter break? There had to be better alternatives.
First of all, we didn’t have the power to negotiate over whether or not to give up days. (We only have 120,000 members and 125 million of your dollars, which means we'd have to do something and cut back on our croissant expenditures to fight this) State law requires that we make up those days. The discussions we had with the DOE were only about which days to use. (We forgot to bring the subject up) The state requires a minimum number of 180 instructional days and this school year, we were close to that minimum given how the holidays fell.(The number of days this year was an act of God. The hurricane was not. Oh, wait...)  If this were last year, when we had 186 days in the school calendar, we would have been able to absorb the lost time. (It would have been a LOT harder to give those days away last year, so we're glad it happened this year) We are dealing with this issue because we have the maximum vacation time in this year’s calendar. (We couldn't even make you work extra PD this June like we did last year!) The union explored every possible option (rolling on our backs with our feet in the air, hoping to get our bellies scratched) for making up the time, but state law and regulations would not allow us to convert PD days, get a state waiver, extend the day, come in Saturdays, work on federal holidays or use days at the end of the school year. The time had to come out of the Christmas break, the midwinter break, the spring break and one clerical half-day. There was no other choice. (We never looked for any other solutions. What do you want for your lousy $125 million?)

Why didn’t you consult with the members before agreeing to give up those three vacation days?
Time was of the essence in this situation so members and parents could make plans. (If we'd discussed this with those of you who had already made plans, you'd have been pissed and you might have asked us to do something) Under state law, the days had to come from one of the three breaks. (Trust us. It's a state law. Or we heard it might be, or something) The midwinter break was chosen because it was the only break that did not contain religious observance days.

The state has the power to grant a waiver in the event of a natural disaster. Why didn’t the state issue one in this instance?
By state law, we would have to use up EVERY vacation day in this year’s school calendar before the state Education Department or the State Education Commissioner can grant a waiver allowing New York City to have fewer than 180 days in the school calendar. (We are hoping that you won't notice that the state legislature MAKES the laws, and could have changed that one, too. We had to act before someone realized that that's what lawmakers do--make laws)

How have other school districts around the state dealt with this dilemma?
As of Nov. 20, 13 school districts on Long Island have already agreed to make up the time by taking away all or part of the February break and/or the spring break. (We are hoping your forgot about what we said earlier about it being impossible to take days from the spring break.) Others will be following suit in the days ahead. (We wanted to be the first to give up without a fight.) There weren’t better choices available for any school district. (Or if there were, there sure aren't now!)

I already booked a trip to visit my family in California. Do I have to cancel my plane tickets?
(What a stupid question. Everyone has to cancel their plane tickets, not just those of your going to California.) We realize that a number of you have already bought airline tickets or cruises for the midwinter break and risk losing a lot of money if you canceled those trips now. At our insistence, (no, we are NOT going to explain how we were able to insist on this, but nothing else) the DOE agreed to allow any UFT member who has purchased a vacation before Nov. 20 to go on the purchased vacation and instead deduct those days from his or her CAR bank. They will have to submit proof of purchase. If they have no days in their leave bank, they can either borrow days or take the days as days without pay. (You would have lost money either way. Win/win!) These absences won’t be used against those members in any disciplinary hearing or in their end-of-year rating (if they are pissed that you took those days, they will just have to find some other way to U rate you.)

Why didn’t the union insist on making up the lost instructional time by using Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day for instruction instead of professional development?
Under New York State law, school districts have the right to use up to four days without instruction in the calculation of the number of days to meet the state’s 180-day minimum requirement. The DOE already used four non-instructional days — including Election Day and Brooklyn-Queens Day — in its calculation so converting those days to instruction would not have helped solve the problem. (See above where we talked about how the state both can, and can not, change the law).

Why didn’t we make up the time by converting the last few days in June into instructional days or by extending the school year?
State law (which can never change, except sometimes) does not allow you to make up days to meet the 180-day minimum by adding instructional days after the completion of the high school Regents. That means we could not make up the lost time by making changes to the school calendar at the end of June. (And since the tests would already be over, the mayor wasn't interested, so we caved)

Why didn’t we convert Martin Luther King Day or Memorial Day into work days instead?
State law does not permit turning a federal holiday into a school day. (We like our Mondays off!)

Why didn’t we make up the time by extending the school day?
According to state law (which is more immutable than the Ten Commandments), you can’t add to the minimum number of required instructional days by extending the length of the school day.

Why is it that we frequently work more than 180 days per year without getting any days back?
Our contract states that we come back to work the day after Labor Day and up to the last Wednesday in June. (Let's ignore the fact that it also says that we get a week off in February) The length of the school year depends on where the holidays fall in a given year. This year, every holiday fell on a school day (see Act of God, above) so we were already at nearly the minimum number of required days.

The mayor ordered non-school-based members to report to their work site for the whole week after the hurricane. I walked miles to get to my school. Why do I have to make up that time?
If non-school-based members such as teachers assigned made it to work on any of those four days starting on Oct. 29, they will not have to make up those days that they reported. (No one gave a crap about you then, and we sure don't now)

Well, I hope that clears things up. Tune in next time when I explore the questions Unity SHOULD have asked, and the answers they should have gotten.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No More. Yes, MORE!

I can't take any more. And that's why we need MORE.

The latest sellout by Unity and Mulgrew has taken away our mid-winter recess. This means that on top of being the only union NOT to get a pay raise in the last round of bargaining, and in spite of agreeing to a completely unproven evaluation system that essentially erodes tenure, we will now have the privilege of paying back four days for Hurricane Sandy.

If you already paid for your vacation, as many teachers have, well, tough luck on you. You can eat that money. And if you dragged your ass in on the Friday after the storm, well, this is your thank you. Or your "screw you".

Let's not forget that many students will also be on vacation that week because families plan to go away then. And one of the make-up days is a half day in June, long after testing is done. How will it benefit students when many of them and their teachers won't be showing up anyway?

Does ANYONE at this point have ANY faith that Unity is going to do anything but sell us out yet again on our next contract? I sure as hell don't.

If you vote for Mulgrew and Unity this March, you have no one to blame but yourself when they sell us out yet again. It's time for a change. I urge everyone to vote for the MORE caucus

Can you imagine Julie Cavanagh, who is running for UFT President on the MORE slate, selling us out? I can't.

I sure can imagine Mulgrew doing it--and then sending out his reps to every school to tell us how grateful we should be that we didn't do even worse. The only skill these Unity hacks seem to have is putting lipstick on a pig. They sure as hell can't negotiate.

Get the word out. Vote for MORE. Get rid of Unity.

While you still have a job.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Your Classroom Ready in the Wake of Sandy

The DOE has released details about what teachers will be expected to do tomorrow. It will be essentially a PD day, and teachers may select from any of the following topics:

The Boy Scout In You--Being Prepared For Monday

It is essential that you 'be prepared' for Monday, when your students will return to school. This workshop will show you what you need to do. Topics will include:
  • Clockwise or Counterclockwise?: A Guide to Turning Your Key in the Classroom Door
  • Switching on Lights 101 (only in schools that have electricity)
  • #2 or Not #2--That is the Question: Using a pencil on your ATS sheet

Getting to Work on Monday
Sure you made it in on Friday, but you may run into more obstacles Monday when everyone else will be returning at work. Here's what you need to know about getting in on Monday, assuming you make it home on Friday:
  • Cross That Bridge When You Come To It: You'll need two passengers to get on most bridges. We'll show you how to pick up hitchhikers. Topics include: 'How to tell honest strangers from mass murderers (most of the time)', 'Using your Iphone as a weapon', and 'Is that hitchhiker using his thumb to get a ride or is he just happy to see you?'
  • Using Mass Transit: With many more people trying to use a crippled system, we will investigate how long it will take you to get to work on Monday. Guest speaker Mayor Bloomberg will host a special webcast instructing you on how to get your limo driver to drop you at the appropriate station.
  • Running on Empty: Had just enough gas to get in on Friday, but the gas shortage leaves you high and dry on Monday? No problem! Big wigs from the DOE will show you how to siphon gas from strangers' cars. Learn from the experts--no one sucks harder than they do.

Integrating Hurricane Sandy into the Curriculum

Don't forget that every disaster is a learning opportunity! We'll examine some possible teaching ideas across the curriculum, such as:
  • Math: Determine the volume of water necessary to shut down a system, and the amount of hot air generated by politicians in their self-congratulatory post-disaster press conferences.
  • ELA: Examine the use of language before, during, and after Sandy. For example, when Mayor Bloomberg said last week that the schools would be open Monday despite the impending storm, was he using understatement, sarcasm, or just shit for brains? Would you classify his post-Sandy comments that only his team's swift action prevented further damage as irony or a messiah complex?
  • Social Studies: Many are calling Sandy the worst disaster in NYC since 9/11. Evaluate that statement in light of Bloomberg's failed mayoralty.
  • Science: Do some research into hurricanes. How do they form? How do they track the jet stream? Why do we keep calling them sissy names like Irene and Sandy, instead of really butch names, like Bruno, Atilla, or for that matter, Butch?
  • Foreign Language:  Evaluate--when Mayor Bloomberg concludes every press conference with a few words for our Hispanic citizens, is he doing it for the yuks? When he says "Sandy ess mooooo-eyyy peli-GROSS-a!" has soda ever shot your nose? Explain.