Monday, April 30, 2007

More Bloomberg/Klein Distortions

Posted on the NYCEducationNews Listserv, Apr. 30, 2007

Today, the DoE will send home a survey for parents to fill out about their schools. Last week, parents who participated in the focus groups supposed to help design the survey sent a letter of protest to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, pointing out how their concerns were censored from the survey. (see below letter dated April 26..) Now, we call on parents to boycott the survey, cross out the questions listed, and before sending it back., write “We want real parent input – as well as smaller classes, less testing, and new priorities at Tweed to deal with the real problems in our schools.”

Class size, testing and test prep, the principal’s attitude towards parents, and the functioning of school leadership teams were all key issues for our groups and the other focus groups whose results we were shown. Despite this fact, none of these issues will have individual questions dedicated to them in survey.

Rather than admit that these are key concerns of parents, the Chancellor responded that they were merely “one or another of the many hunderds (sic) questions that were proposed.” (see below email from Chancellor Klein, dated April 27)

In any event, since the parent survey will account for at most only 5% of a school’s grade,, the results will continue to deny us the ability “to exercise the kind of voice and influence over our schools that every parent, secondary student, and teacher in the City deserves,” as the Chancellor claims. Instead, this is simply another PR offensive by Tweed, to try to show that they really care about what parents think when the reality is otherwise.

“We deserve far better. Parent voices and views have again been ignored – even when it comes to the parent survey itself. We will instead use our influence to ask parents to send it back corrected – so that Tweed really hears what we think. ” -- Leonie Haimson; Class Size Matters: 212-674-7320; 917-435-9329,

“The survey is a missed opportunity for parents to give meaningful feedback on their children's schools and leadership because it omits major issues of concern to parents citywide, and only adds up to a small percentage of the school report card, which is based mainly on test scores. I urge parents to join together and boycott the survey and demand a more meaningful process for parent input into our schools..” – Lisa Donlan, CEC District 1 (917) 848-5873.

Contact information for other participants in the survey focus groups: Bijou Miller, D2 Presidents Council: (212) 799-2921; Rob Caloras, President, CEC D26: (347) 610-4942; Marvin Shelton; President D10 CEC: 718-741-5836.

From: Leonie Haimson []
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2007 6:17 PM
To: Klein Joel I.
Cc: Liebman James; Lopatin Adina; Stroud William (30Q580)
Subject: parent survey

April 26, 2007

Dear Chancellor Klein:

We, the undersigned, are parents who volunteered to be part of the focus groups organized by DOE to help develop the parent survey, due to be distributed at the end of the month. We were told that our interests and concerns would help determine which questions would be included. There was remarkable unanimity in our group, and in the other focus groups whose results we were shown. Certain issues repeatedly came to the fore, including class size, which remains a central priority for parents. Other questions that we said should be addressed in the survey include the emphasis on testing and test prep, the relationship of the principal to parents, and whether our School Leadership Teams were functioning well.

Yet at a subsequent meeting, when we went over the written version, not one of these issues was addressed. Neither KPMG nor the DOE officials present could explain why they were excluded, but they did mention that principals had seen an earlier draft and had objected to some of the questions.

During this meeting and in subsequent emails, some of us objected to the fact that all these core issues had been apparently censored from the survey. DOE officials then made an offer that class size and test prep would be included in a catch-all question at the end, so that parents could select one of these among a long list of ten issues that concerned them. Still omitted completely was any mention of SLTs, and/or the attitude towards the principal towards parents.

This is not an adequate compromise. The survey is quite lengthy and repetitive, with several questions that do not relate at all to our concerns and do not appear to have come from our groups. Instead, some of the questions appear to put the burden on us as parents if our children are not being adequately provided with individualized instruction.

We feel strongly that, especially given such a lengthy survey, each of the core issues mentioned above – class size, testing and test prep, SLTs, and the principal’s attitude towards parents, are critically important, and each deserves its own separate question in the survey.

There is a further point – which is that even if the survey had been composed to honestly measure what issues we believe need addressing in our schools, its results will only count towards 3-5% at most of any school’s grade – with 85% relying primarily on student test scores. Therefore the entire accountability system as currently designed gives scant importance and value to the views of parents.

If the parent survey is not rewritten to address all of our core issues, and then to account for a larger portion of our schools’ grades, we may encourage the parents in our various networks to boycott the survey, to protest that once again, DOE officials have not listened to us adequately, do not take our concerns seriously and do not respect our input – even as it relates to the parent survey itself.

We look forward to your prompt reply.


Lisa Donlan, Community Education Council District 1*

Leonie Haimson, D2 parent and Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Bijou Miller, District 2 Presidents Council

Marvin Shelton, President, Community Education Council District 10*

Susan Crawford, D3 parent and The Right to Read Project

Sue Dietrich, CPAC representative for District 31

Rob Caloras, President, Community Education Council District 26

Sherri Donders, Staten Island parent leader


· affiliation for identification purposes only

From: Klein Joel I. []
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2007 4:04 PM
To: Leonie Haimson
Cc: Liebman James; Lopatin Adina; Stroud William (30Q580)
Subject: RE: parent survey

Thank you for you email.

I have every confidence in the open and encompassing process used to develop these surveys and their senstive reflection of the concerns of the many parents, teachers and students we consulted in the design process. The surveys will provide an important way for parents, teachers and students to be heard, and powerful tools for evaluating and improving our schools.

I invite you to sit down with my survey design team to go over in detail the process that was used (which you have mischaracterized in your email) and the reasons why any one or another of the many hunderds questions that were proposed were not included in the surveys. Please contact Jim Liebman if you would like to follow up.

Most importantly, I hope you will not deprive yourselves or seek to deprive anyone else of the chance to exercise the kind of voice and influence over our schools that every parent, secondary student, and teacher in the City deserves.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Coach Class

Here is an oped from the NY Sun by one parent who also runs an-arts program for children, about her experiences attending a Reading and Writing Project training session for literacy coaches.

Coach Class

April 27, 2007

Next fall many New York City public school teachers may find their "literacy coach" — most likely a young woman — compelling them to teach reading and writing exclusively by the methods of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

The project, headed by educator Lucy Calkins, was taken on in 2003 by Chancellor Klein in a three-year, $5.4 million no-bid contract to revamp how literacy is taught in New York's schools. Next year, the project will continue to offer services in many schools. Along with onsite labs, leadership seminars, and curricular materials, literacy coaching is a key tool toward fulfilling the Department of Education contract, and Ms. Calkins's desire to "radically transform schools."

I got a glimpse of how the project goes about training these coaches when I attended a free, open-to-the-public workshop last month called, "The Project's Latest and Best Thinking for Literacy Coaches (and Others who Provide Professional Development for Teachers)."

While Ms. Calkins, in a recent e-mail asserted, "We don't regard the work we do as re-training teachers — we provide professional development to interested colleagues," this respectful spirit of collegial cooperation, unfortunately, was not borne out in the workshop.

In fact, beyond all the lingo and sweet talk about "co-authoring" and "co-discovery," the message that came through the loudest was the project's certainty that they knew what was best for teachers, even if teachers themselves didn't. This certainty made it permissible to do whatever it took to get teachers to comply with the project's goals — meaning employing methods that were infantalizing and awkward.

The workshop instructor, an affable and well-spoken woman, tried valiantly to describe the dizzyingly complex apparatus coaches are instructed to use when standing beside a teacher. She sketched out how coaches were to have teachers "copy cat" their "mini-lessons" or "freeze frame" so the coach could "whisper in the moment" — in front of the children — the lesson they wanted teachers to learn.

While trying to grasp all the involved steps that a coach has to implement, an audience member asked a question that seemed to be on everyone's lips: "How do you keep your methods from feeling offensive to teachers?"

The instructor replied by admitting that often teachers did tend to feel offended, and that it was a "perennial problem." But she quickly went on to say, "It's important for principals to tell their teachers that they have to comply; to say, ‘This is the culture of our school now; this is what we do.'" She went on to add a somewhat ominous comment, "a lot of teachers get weeded out," suggesting that those who don't conform are forced out. Although in what way this enforced expulsion occurs was left disturbingly vague.

This kind of hubris is not surprising — it mirrors the attitude of Ms. Calkins herself. Again, looking beyond her fancy rhetoric that promises "dialogue" and "respect," she routinely advocates that teachers "feign interest" in children's stories and has written, "When we assist a writer, it is often helpful if the writer is fooled into thinking she's done the job herself!" Why should we expect her attitude toward teachers to be any less manipulative?

Ironically, the project prides itself in being a champion for helping kids find a "voice" through having them write "stories that matter" — that is, about their own lives. Yet the voices that seem to come through the loudest are those of the project's coaches and administrators.

The notion that a band of experts can come in and re-train thousands of teachers — many of whom are veterans at the job — poses, at best, myriad challenges, from pedagogical controversy to how it's all imparted. Think: a stranger coming into your house and telling you how to run your household.

This isn't to suggest that teachers can't benefit from having time set aside for collaboration, brainstorming, reflection, or supervision. Indeed, who wouldn't want a coach by their side, offering help, encouragement, cheering them on?

Just not these coaches, and not this program. The combination of the project's Byzantine structures, questionable content, excessive self-interest, and willingness to encourage the "weeding out" of those who don't see the world as they do, makes their enterprise an inappropriate choice for New York's schools.

Ms. Feinberg is the author of "Welcome to Lizard Motel: Protecting the Imaginative Lives of Children." The book offers further discussion on the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What was gained, what was lost?

Independent Community of Educators leaflet handed out at special Delegate Assembly, April 24, 2007

The growing coalition of teachers and parent groups opposed to the educational policies of the BloomKlein administration forced them on the defensive for the first time. The Feb. 28th rally at St. Vartan’s church was a shot across the bow. Though the UFT was clearly the major organizing force and the audience was packed with people on the union payroll with the usual assortment of politicians, the event also brought out an unexpected number of rank and file teachers and activist parents. It might have been the first time such a conglomeration of forces were in the same room at the same time and was a unique opportunity to build a base for further action, culminating in a massive rally of all these forces at City Hall on May 9.

Some parent leaders had the sense of “we’ve got them where we want them” expecting no concessions, wanting to hold out for a major modification or elimination of mayoral control. But their mantra - “put the public back in the public schools”- reflects just a pale shade of the impact of the mayoral control/corporate model on urban school systems around the nation. NYC has gotten the brunt of it.

With BloomKlein receiving nationwide accolades for their reorganization(s) of the school system, many for the destructive attacks on the UFT, the May 9th event would have made a splash nationally and focused attention on the increasing opposition to so many disastrous policies.

But UFT leaders, long-time supporters of the concept of mayoral control, would not go there, preferring to hold the message simply to the extremely short-term goal of killing the current chaotic reorganization and going back to the previous chaotic reorganization.

The UFT leadership sees the battle as a matter of tactics and strategy, not a much larger confrontation with a power elite intent on remaking things forever, in the process ignoring the bigger battle of the major assault on public education, along with increasing privatization.

A seat at the table

The UFT-led coalition made a deal at the biggest moment of weakness BloomKlein have faced, leaving all of the onerous provisions of the reorganization intact. Basically, for a seat at the table. To talk to - who? According to press reports, we won the right to sit down, in Randi Weingarten’s own words, with officials of the Department of Education who are “absolute and complete assholes” who “can’t be trusted.”

What was gained?

Principals will not lose a higher paid teacher’s salary when that teacher retires, though it leaves the decision on senior teachers who transfer to the grievance procedure (what are the chances of winning.) The NY Times report on the funding plan compromise said, “The change means that when a veteran teacher paid nearly $100,000 a year retires, a principal can hire a similar teacher or hire a rookie for about $50,000 and use the remaining $50,000 for other expenses.” Will a principal chose a senior teacher or take the 50 grand? It actually gives principals an incentive to encourage senior teachers to leave.

No school will have its budget cut for the next two years. A disappointed parent commented: I am concerned about what happens to this city long after my children graduate: tomorrow’s students will be our neighbors, our city’s workers, someone’s parents, etc.

Consultation on class size: No matter what is said or what committees they form, Tweed does not believe that reducing class size will have the same impact spending money on professional development will. Expect spinning the wheels. ICE’s position has always been that there will be no reductions in class size without contract negotiations.

Blogger jd2718 ( comments on the other provisions are worth sharing:
* Extra funding for ELLs and Special Ed. Good. But why in the context of weighted student funding? Don’t we know better?
* Fair Student Funding? We’ve won a task force, empowered to make recommendations…
* Tenure? No changes for a year, then the UFT will participate in the process of developing changes. Huh? Why are we changing tenure?
* The rest doesn’t even pretend to deal with reorganization. Middle school reform (we’ll work on a pilot program). Parent engagement (a committee to study)…. A commitment (a commitment!) to improve college and career preparedness, graduation rates and college admissions.

What happened? Perhaps I have details wrong. But perhaps our negotiators were so focused on getting the DoE to include us in decision making, that we forgot about the threat to public education, the creeping privatization of our school system.
What was lost?

The BloomKlein response to the increasing threat of a growing coalition of people opposed to Tweed has forced BloomKlein into a very uncomfortable stance. This entire incident has shown that concessions will only take place in the cauldron of the threat of action. By giving the UFT and it’s partners a seat at the table, BloomKlein gained by reversing the momentum of opposition to their policies while nothing has changed for the people in the school community who have suffered over the past the past 5 years.

Tweed can say they are going to do A, B, C, D horrible things and when they modify D, as this agreement seems to do, we hear cheers like it’s a victory. For whom?

From day one of BloomKlein, the UFT leadership hungered for a return to their long-time seat at the DOE table, which BloomKlein has so long denied them. On the surface they seem to have gotten their wish, but in the process lost the potential of building a movement to fight back.

The focus on the reorganization, rather than the entire package of control of the schools by big city mayors and its impact on the teachers, parents and students, made a deal like this likely. Groups left out of the process will be very reluctant to get involved in the future. An historic opportunity to bring forces together to become an educational force opposed to the increasing privatization and attacks on public education has been lost.

David Bloomfield, Professor, Brooklyn College, parent, President Citywide Council on High Schools comments on nyceducationnews listserv:

I think [the] agreement allowed the Mayor to indulge in a classic divide and conquer strategy. Privatization and an extremely flawed accountability system, for example, were left unaddressed. Special education? The incoherent supervisory structure? The mayhem of principals disregarding their schools while they try to make sense of the restructuring and start the endless process of trolling for ESOs, LSOs, PSOs? One of the best mayoral initiatives – equalizing school funding and the distribution of quality teachers – has been left in tatters. Promises of consultation on class size, drop out prevention, and middle school reform seem little more than crumbs. Elected and statutory parent voices were abandoned. I am extremely disappointed, especially when many of us have stood side-by-side supporting our coalition colleagues, expecting reciprocity. The High School Council and others called for a broad public discussion of the interconnected pieces of the Mayor’s plan. Yesterday’s surprise announcement has done a great disservice to public school students by seeming to foreclose that comprehensive, transparent public review. But we should continue to fight for that debate and for constructive DOE responses to unresolved issues. While our bonds are strained, I hope they are not broken.

May 9th is still an option

In arguing for the May 9th rally at the March DA Randi pointed to the problems with the reorganization. Many of those points are still valid. Parents are still organizing for an event on that date. Both ICE and TJC are calling for the event to take place. Delegates attending the May 9th DA have an option. Leave the DA and go to Tweed or City Hall to tell BloomKlein a message that it isn’t over ‘till it’s over.

What if?
what if they gave a rally to replace the one now on the back burner, and
everybody came.
no, not the usual suspects.
no, not the “official” union folks.
nor the coalition of political personalities that arrive in time for the
rally and then scurry away, back into the shadows.

what if they held a rally for the disenfranchised
the teachers,
the parents,
and the children that are never really part of the equation anyways.

what if the all came together from near and far
by train, by bus, by car, by feet
what if they came en masse,

and their shouts echoed in the canyons of the city.
and said we dont accept the duplicity.
we dont accept the deals made in darkness.
we wont accept the use of our children as pawns in some elaborate power
driven chess game.
we reject the denigration of our lives, our hopes, and our dreams
we do not agree to the scorn heaped upon us by those we used to trust.

we want the cleansing action of sunlight, on a new day, on a new idea
we want to birth a new reality

what if?
by a NYC teacher

ICE: P.O. Box 1143, Jamaica, NY 11421 Phone: (917) 992-3734 Email:
I would like to: ____Distribute ICE literature at my school How many copies? ______
Contribute to ICE $_____ (Make checks out to Independent Community of Educators)
Name___________________________________ School__________________________
Email___________________________________ Phone___________________________ Home Address________________________

Friday, April 20, 2007

UFT Incorporated

by Sean Ahern

After four years NAC (pursuing the change from above) has pretty much disappeared into Unity without discernible effect on the mothership. ICE/TJC's challenge to Unity(change from below) may be likened to 'grabbing an elephant by the tail', not much in the way of a budding insurgency here.

I used to think the UFT was a labor organization ultimately subject to the expressed will of working teachers. I know there are dedicated Chapter Leaders on this list who have held the fort in their schools and kept members active and involved. I applaud such efforts at the school level, I just don't see how the positive change can go much beyond this.

Consider for a moment that the UFT is neither a teachers union, nor a company union, nor a corrupt union, nor a retiree association, but a management corporation, UFT Inc., with two large office buildings, a health insurance plan, the $40 billion TRS, The Teachers Center and other properties and investments, perks and privileges to maintain.

The Labor Management subsidiary of UFT Inc.

The rank and file opposition engages only one branch of UFT Inc.; its labor management subsidiary. We have done so in the mistaken belief that working teachers can (given sufficient mobilization) hold their "leaders" accountable or put new ones in office. I now think this model is misleading and harmful if it promotes demoralization.

Recall that only around 1/3 of the population of the colonies supported Independence from Great Britain. Even during great social movements and revolutions, a relatively small number of people are actively involved. Even if the majority of the working membership of the UFT voted against the current leadership, the leadership would not change. No amount of membership engagement alone will lead to a removal of the current leadership or even a change in the structure or goals of the organization. Why suggest otherwise?

Pure and simple caucuses, single issue groups and social justice groups?

The ICE/TJC is only the latest in a long line of rank and file activist ready to battle the machine. But what's the plan? The opposition has set out to prove that we can be better trade unionists than the current leadership and that our efforts along these lines will bring us closer to our goal of a "Just contract" (what is this?) and "Union democracy". Very little consideration is given to those who have walked this road before.

I have nothing but the highest regard for those CL's who have managed to keep their heads and self respect and independence from the machine. I just don't think that replication of this model at more and more schools is going to change UFT Inc. Every school has its own particular issues and problems, what brings us all together?

Issues related to gender, racial and class oppression, NCLB, pedagogy, criminalization, violence, boredom and demoralization among both staff and students, Mayoral Control, and High stakes testing, War and occupation, and other issues which affect living ,learning and working conditions, solidarity among the members and between the membership and the parents, students, and communities of color are deemed beyond the bounds of consensus by the opposition caucuses and therefor off the agenda. What's left? To decry the contractual sellouts and eclipse of democracy time and again?

Activists on pursue issues on their own or join into adhoc groups, seek support from foundations or grad schools, politicians, liberal corporate reformers, radical, socialist, anarchist sects. Others are easily assimilated into UFT Inc which can make use of the energy and conviction of radicals in small doses. UFT Inc thus becomes a star around which orbit a wide array of groups, caucuses across the political spectrum. Even those who think they are "independent" are responding in one way or another to its dominance created in part by fragmentation.

With relative ease, UFT Inc contains skirmishes in discrete, compartmentalized engagements. They'll give one group a meeting room, or invite an individual to join a committee, maybe they'll call you a commie or a anti-semite, maybe they'll stroke you or kick you in the head. When everyone is divided, dissenters are managed in one way or another without much difficulty.

What does Solidarity look like?

For over 40 years UFT Inc has rendered services to the corporate and political elite in exchange for their fiefdom over the bargaining unit. UFT Inc is powerful but I think they are vulnerable on a number of levels provided the opposition can shed some of its own ideological baggage and blinders. I don't think its likely that it can be reformed from within. Change will come through a convergence of rank and file members in concert with a schools based movement for fundamental reordering of societal priorities. Call it a revolution or an evolution but its going to have to be a mass movement that creates a new sense of social solidarity strong enough to loosen the oligarchy's grip.

Most importantly the opposition can help to build such a movement by breaking with the Shanker/Feldman legacy and the defense of white racial privileges that this legacy of opportunism is based upon.

Challenge the whitening of the teaching staff in the name of both labor solidarity and solidarity with the students, parents and communities of color is one small step but its something real and deeply resonant in our history. Solidarity has real powers. Even in small doses it inspires hope. It shows up the collusion between UFT Inc and BloomKlein, it causes fissures within the Unity machine, it builds a working group of folks whose repudiation of racial privilege creates a bond of solidarity with lasting significance beyond a contract struggle or a single issue. It's a seed worth planting.

The preemption of a strictly rank and file reform initiative by UFT Inc.

The large size of the local (largest in the US I think) and the small size of most of the schools creates a federal type system which gives inordinate power to a central leadership that can weather any localized rebellions.

UFT Inc has carefully insulated their labor management division from even a perfect storm of rank and file insurgency. Witness the weight accorded the retiree vote. Plans are in the works to bring in new groups of members who don't work in the education field, further diluting the weight of those actually working in NYC public schools.

It is just not a viable strategy to say to working teachers, take back your union! Run for CL and Delegate and Vote against the tentative agreements, Speak up at meetings - win the majority of working teachers to vote against the Unity caucus and then we'll see. See what? That you are in a dead end? That UFT Inc has preempted rank and file control and reduced the entire apparatus from CL to local wide election to a consultative role, at best?

The other holdings of UFT Inc provide its board of directors a depth of reserves to help manage discontent in the labor division: the political/economic connections to the oligarchy, to the Israeli lobby, to the educational bureaucratic complex, the media. I think they have back door connections to the Special Investigators office not to mention all levels of the DOE bureaucracy. Bloomklein know this and its partially the reason for their decimation of the central and regional offices. It seems like they are destroying their own management infrastructure, but Bloomklein realize that this infrastructure was as much (if not more) UFT Inc and SSA as it was theirs.

The new agreement shows how the DOE and UFT Inc are in cahoots. The majority of teachers and parents and students are on the outside looking in. This collaboration brings us one step closer to the Chicago nightmare. The people have to create some new forms and new connections and new leaders quick fast.

Look closely at the crafting of this compromise. It pushes through the mayors reform agenda while at the same time institutionalizing a privilege for certain schools who now have the choice of hiring another teacher at $100,000 or a newbie for 50,000 and pocket the difference for another use.

A school with a senior staff now has a newly created form of "equity", a school full of newbies is out in the cold. Who is being protected here? Who wins who looses? Look closely here and see the method of divide and conquer and social control as practiced by both BloomKlein and UFT Inc. Isn't some sort of privilege being institutionalized before our eyes with the UFT as mid wife and overseer? This is supposed to be in teachers interests? Look at what they do, not what they say. It is a new order of disaster, way worse than the lengthening of the working day. If the UFT was a union they would have made a common front with the SSA and community groups and teachers and drew together the rising discontent to create the blessed community where the rubber meets the road, in schools and classrooms throughout the city as a model for the nation. A new paradigm The collaboration between the adults at the school level.

Did any of the extraordinary influence of UFT Inc trickle down to the rank and file or lead to improvements in working and learning conditions or increased parental involvement or accountability? Excuse me if I don't mourn over the destruction of the DOE bureaucracy or rush to demonstrate on their behalf, or cheer at this latest consensus between UFT Inc and BloomKlein.

UFT Inc and BloomKlein have joined together to protect their interests and exclude people. School workers and parents and community folks need to join together. This is the direction for the UFT rank and file activists. Their is no way to change UFT Inc apart from a broader movement. The self contained rank and file caucus strategy by itself will not bring about the desired improvements in wages, working and learning conditions for the large majority of working members. The UFT Inc's Board of Directors receives and gives support from the the oligarchy, the rank and file must do the same with the working class of the city.

The issues raised by the opposition are very much within the agenda set by UFT Inc in the sense that they are limited to protesting contracts(sellouts and givebacks without even a attempt at defense) and the extremely centralized party line control on display in meetings and publications. It is not a positive program. Highly centralized control over meetings and the UFT press are issues far removed from struggling teachers and not likely to arouse much interest. The reform program has not not resonated strongly within the rank and file partly I think because the contracts and the contract "struggle" look choreographed from start to finish, with the opposition playing a part they might not even realize has been written for them. (A caricature of a Union, a caricature of an opposition. The Truman show of a "labor" movement, its difficult to build up much steam about this)

The less senior half of the staff is really struggling financially but the opposition has not taken on the tough nut of what to do about a vastly unfair salary schedule that UFT Inc has fashioned over the years. The future lies with the new members- is the opposition programme addressing them? is the whitening of the teaching staff in the interests of these new members? Quite the contrary, it is further weakening the already frayed bonds between student and educators and strengthening the domination of the corporate reformers and UFT Inc.

I think the opposition gives most of its attention to the current active membership, those chapter leaders and delegates in the first place, and those who vote secondly. This is a UFT Inc bailiwick. Do you tailor your programme to gain a majority of this group or is the natural constituency to be found among the over 70% of the working members who do not participate? you have to ask why they are not active and what their concerns are. (I don't think the lack of participation is due to satisfaction.) That doesn't come from the EB or DA. More over, there is no way out of the impasse faced by teachers without a radically new relationship with the working class communities of color. One that sees the common interests, one that rejects racial privileges as necessary corollary of solidarity.

What the hell is the UFT Inc? If the social and economic order of the city is disrupted through the concerted action of those within its domain, UFT Inc looses its dues checkoff , at least temporarily until such time as they proved themselves capable of reestablishing control. What does this tell you?

The Dues farm and the captive bargaining unit

Like the King and his vassals in feudal times, UFT Inc. occupies a status similar to a vassal vis-a-vis city and state executives.

By virtue of state labor labor law, UFT Inc is granted a modern day version of a fiefdom, officially referred to as exclusive bargaining agent, which entitles them to involuntary deductions made from members of the designated bargaining unit. These fees, called "dues" or agency shop fees are deducted by the city from the captive members of the bargaining unit and paid to UFT Inc. so long as UFT Inc makes sure that no strike or concerted action ensues. (In this sense UFT Inc has even less of an independent existence and is even more dependent on the city and state executives than the vassals of old were to their Lords.) The vassal of middle ages lived by 'land for loyalty', the UFT Inc lives today by dues for loyalty.

As long as UFT Inc. can manage all discontent it is free to profit and service its other interests, including real estate, the health insurance company, the TRS, the Teacher's Center, a political patronage machine joined at the hip to the Israel lobby, and who knows what else.

I started thinking about this with all the brouhaha the UFT and their "allies" are raising over the Mayors' new funding scheme, that there will be a disincentive to hire senior teachers. I think this is all for show. If the UFT bargaining strategy is shifted towards shortening the time to top pay(with the aim of getting back to 8years from the current 22) then there will be greater solidarity and corporate education reformers will have a more difficult time slicing and dicing up the membership. If the UFT was primarily a labor organization and not UFT Inc this would be the immediate response. Freeze the top salary and forgo all salary schedule changes save the one that each year kicks the longevity raises backwards, until all six of them are gone and top salary is reached after 8 years. Freeze the top and bring the bottom up.

UFT Inc can't make this adjustment because it isn't in their interests to do so and would furthermore be a repudiation of their negotiating strategy for the past 30 years which has lengthened the time to top pay from 8 to 22 years. UFT Inc is the giant with their feet stuck in clay but as long as the dues keep flowing in and their perks and privileges are secure there is no incentive for them to change.

What difference does it make to UFT Inc if the corporate reformers figure two for one ain't bad? What difference to UFT Inc if turnover in the teaching ranks increases and the median salary/seniority level is lowered? It doesn't matter if a member makes 40 or 100 thousand per year, if they have 3 years seniority or 30, UFT Inc collects the same amount per-capita! The more the merrier! The two newbies for one old timer approach of the corporate reformers means more members, means more dues! More customers for the health plan (and they are younger and less costly)! More money for more real estate! More money flowing into the TRS and less flowing out! More perks and privileges to buy more supporters and grow the machine! At this rate UFT inc might be able to takeover the entire shell of the AFL -CIO and run the burgeoning federal educational bureaucracy! Oh their future is bright indeed provided that shining star Hillary assumes the throne in 2008!

The UFT is a business, a management corporation that fronts as a labor organization. I'm sure there are plenty of members who think this is fine or don't think much about it or don't expect much more than a health plan and a pension plan for $40 per check. Most teachers I talk with are extremely disappointed with the job as it stands but think of changing schools or leaving the profession as the only option. I think the rank and file opposition has to go beyond the "just"contract and more democracy formula' if we are ever to reach this disaffected, disgusted majority which is going to grow and not turn over voluntarily as the economy deteriorates. (massive layoffs is another matter).

Focus more on conditions in the schools and classrooms, share strategies and stories to resist the micro managing, the testocracy, the criminalization. Promote social criticism and critical thinking, and support each other to be better teachers. Advocate an explicitly progressive, environmentally friendly and pro social justice pedagogy. Tie what is happening to teachers standards of living to the white male supremacist pro corporate class warfare being waged against the people. Once teachers break out of the ghetto that has been constructed by UFT Inc and connect with the people, progress on a host of fronts can be made. From the living conditions of students and families, to the learning and working conditions in the schools. Progress along these lines requires a movement based on solidarity.

Stop fighting UFT Inc on its own terms. Things are only going to get worse with the housing market bust, trade imbalance, decline of the dollar, recession, and more. We are approaching a meltdown similar to the NYC fiscal crisis, but writ nationwide. UFT Inc is just looking to ride it out on our backs just like the corporate elite they serve.

I think a new approach to contracts is needed that goes beyond upping the ante or calling for more militant demos,. protests, strikes, etc. The opposition should be putting forward new ideas for compressing the salary gap, promoting solidarity across race and gender and uniting with the parents and communities of color that comprise 85% of the student body and the majority of the working class of this city. We should be calling for more teachers of color not fewer. Restoration of arts, music, athletics, hands on programs that lead to skilled employment, and engage older students. Dramatically reduce the class size in k-8. End mandatory grade retention. Eliminate CUNY tuition for NYC HS grads and teachers

We should be calling for a fundamentally new mission and structure for UFT Inc. Divest, decentralize. Send all these high paid full time officers packing or back to the classroom. Sell the buildings and create local meeting places dispersed throughout the city. Break up the city wide local into borough wide locals who join with other school worker orgs and parent/community groups in a city wide school community congress? UFT Inc should divest itself of all Israel bonds and sever all links that support occupation and the wall.

Its nice to be able to borrow and save through the TRS but is our $40 billiion being invested to build affordable housing and improve our quality of life or is it all military industrial complex, coca cola and big pharma and companies that do more harm than good?

Lets have a health plan instead of a pharmaceutical/desease plan. Etc, etc. But it all starts with a focus on solidarity...I remember when thousands of uncertified teachers were fired, where was the UFT Inc? Where was the so called opposition? Under mayoral control the pedagogical staff has been whitened by a defacto affirmative action hiring for whites plan, which neither the UFT Inc has exposed, nor have the oppostition groups put it on their agenda. Without solidarity we go no where. UFt Inc and the corporate reformers BloomKlein et al will manage to contain a self defeated, divided and dispirited opposition, if we let them.

Sean Ahern