Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Tale of Two New York Teacher Unions and the Significance of Mulgrew/UFT's Ignoring of NYSUT's 6/8 Rally

The city union and the state union, the tale of two New York teachers' unions.

When we look at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT, the state federation of teachers' unions) and the United Federation of Teachers (the union of New York City teachers) we see very different unions.

Centerpiece graphic from NYSUT's website.
The state union is holding a rally on Saturday, June 8 in Albany, at Empire State Plaza, which symbolically abuts both the NYSED building and the New York State Legislature, touching on many specific issues that address patterns of the worsening conditions that teachers are facing. (Special resources page for rally with leaflets and social media links such as Facebook and Twitter.) Furthermore, the timing will be important --we anticipate that one week prior, at or around June 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Education Commissioner John King will impose a teacher evaluation system on New York City teachers.
Of course, we can, and should, point out that the leadership of this same state federation have appeared with state officials, collaborating with some of the policies that teachers are chafing under --for example, see the cooperation with the New York State Race to the Top application. Obviously, if you support the wrong-headed policies, working conditions will deteriorate and learning conditions will deteriorate. (He signed onto not just RTTT but also its controversial components such as evaluations based on students' test scores; and he was aware of other parts that likewise could portent trouble. See this 2011 interview at Education Next.) And we would be greatly remiss if we did not recall that NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi performed the misdeed of sending a letter warning (or threatening?) teachers that followed their conscience and were active in opposing cooperation with the high-stakes tests. (See my post a month ago, "NYSUT's Iannuzzi as Discipliner, Warns Teachers on Opt-Out Advocacy; Ignores Great Anxiety Tests Can Create.")

The out-of-New York City teachers union locals are making a lot of the critiques that MORE and its allied bloggers have been making on their sites. (Find your hard copy, inserted in the latest NY Teacher or go to NYSUT's site.) True, the next step, the identification of national and state politicians, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, John King, is missing but, the critiques are there, nearly reaching that point. It is instructive to note that the kind of searing critique that arises from statements published on the NYSUT site and in the NYSUT paper are far beyond the limited criticisms that appear on the UFT site and paper.

Nonetheless, the state level union is waking up. OK, so there's no mea culpa, acknowledging the mistakes of collaboration that engendered this present crisis across the state, we applaud the state union for the way that it is focusing on the worsening conditions. Maybe it was the booing at President Iannuzzi by some of the troops at the state's Representatives Assembly a few weeks back that woke up NYSUT's leadership. And yes, the rhetoric of NYSUT's literature and the statements it is printing in its newspaper could be viewed as a preventive co-optation of the percolating of radical dissidence across New York State.

We must fault Michael Mulgrew and the United Federation of Teachers for its silence/black-out of the June 8 Albany rally. (Nowhere to be found on the UFT site, not even on its calendar for June.) Moreover, the UFT's June 12 rally has been poorly publicized as of yet. At the June 12 rally we can expect simplistic signs, leaflets that are not text-rich, but whining, short soundbytes; and also, look for noise-makers which will drown out the potential for rank and file chants. Additionally, the contract rally is one which does not at all replicate the issues that the Albany rally raises. Instead, look for criticisms of Bloomberg that do not engage in the holistic analysis that the NYSUT literature has. By having an all unions contracts rally, a specific analysis of the ruinous education policies will get lost.

NYSUT's rally includes important focus on the terrible patterns. Now, don't get me wrong. The NYSUT literature is incomplete-- it stops short of the properly far reaching connection-making analysis that we would see in Chicago Teachers Union or Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE Caucus-UFT). But the fact remains that this is more of what we would like than the UFT says.

NYSUT (SORT OF) CHANNELING MORE AND CORE? Onto the close reading of the NYSUT literature. Exhibit A, NYSUT's general community oriented flyer. It criticizes the tests for crowding out quality instruction. Parts of it parallel the kinds of critiques that the UFT's dissident MORE caucus has been making. Granted, it does echo American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten's call for a moratorium on the high-stakes use of the high-stakes tests until the problems can be worked out. Preferable would be an out-right rejection. Yet, it is worth noting that Weingarten's limited critique is still far beyond anything Mulgrew has called for. Note that he has made no statement echoing her moratorium call. Again, the UFT's ignoring of the NYSUT rally speaks volumes. For Mulgrew to give attention to the NYSUT rally and its literature would inherently concede the legitimacy of the MORE caucus' critiques, as well as the points that MORE activists such as Julie Cavanagh and Brian Jones have been making since before the formation of MORE.
From the flyer:
End the over-reliance on expensive corporate-developed tests!
* Rethink the use of high stakes assessments and the negative impact on students and entire school community. Call for a moratorium on high stakes consequences for testing until the state can get it right!
* These tests put too much stress on students and reduce real learning time.
* Sensible and meaningful assessments are needed that align with instruction and accurately measure student progress.
Recall how MORE has been making parallel calls for a more holistic, comprehensive curriculum, as the Chicago Teachers Union (under the leadership of the CORE caucus) has made, in contrast to the UFT's comparative reticence on the excessive test prep focus on English Language Arts (ELA) and math to the exclusion of other subjects? Well, the next topical demand on the flyer has parts from MORE's mission statement or election platform:
Demand fair and equitable funding of our schools!
* Restore the programs that are being eliminated across the state and which research shows improve academic performance, especially in communities in need, including pre-kindergarten programs, pre- and after-school programs, art, music, foreign languages, advanced placement, etc.
Remember mayoral control? Mulgrew and the Unity-controlled UFT brazenly called for the extension of it under slight modifications. With the prospect of Christine Quinn as mayor can we really afford to gamble on more mayoral control?
What is the NYSUT position? Note how the flyer pitches to communities' desires for community input (dare I say community control?) and democratic yearnings.
Progressive unionists must say clearly that the institution of mayoral control as implemented in urban cities with majority minority populations is the exercise of a separate but equal standard.
Progressives that assert to support democracy and oppose racism should support the complete elimination of mayoral control and the complete restoration of elected school-boards. There is the grandest of double standards whereby public discourse points to instances of corruption in the old Board of Education, yet turns a blind eye to how corruption can and does happen in white, more affluent communities. Witness the suspected municipal corruption that engendered a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) lockdown Wednesday of Ramapo, Rockland County, New York Town Hall offices. It was no man gone wild, no threat of terrorism; no, it was the securing of records that could implicate people in acts of political corruption, with 40 (!) FBI agents wheeling out documents. See the media buzz the FBI raid has raised.
Restore local control of our public schools! Fix the tax cap!
* We need to restore our democratic principle of majority rule and local control in educational decision-making.
* Our parents, teachers and local communities know better than Albany does
Goodness gracious, democratic principle of majority rule and local control, --shudders!-- what wild radical ideas! What would Mulgrew, Mendel or Barr say???
Finally, we have demands that reach beyond the school teachers, to immigrant communities and to health care workers. Wow! More radical social justice talk! What would Mulgrew, Mendel or Barr say???
Invest in public higher education!
* Make higher education available and affordable for all students!
* Pass the DREAM Act; renew the opportunity for all students to pursue higher education!
* Save SUNY Downstate! New York State public teaching hospitals provide quality community care and avenues for low-income students to become doctors and other health care professionals.
Exhibit B: NYSUT's more simply worded flyer. It has a reduced version of the above discussed flyer. With this added part: slogan against corporate control of education. OK, so it doesn't mention Pearson, but this isn't Uncle Mike's UFT.
* Against corporate control of public education!
Next, we have the latest editions of NYSUT's newspaper, NYSUT United and the UFT's New York Teacher to compare and contrast.
NYSUT United UFT and New York Teacher
Common Core implicit, critical mention apologies to the CCSS, the message: just let us get it right next time
High-stakes tests tests causing near anguish weaker commentary
Group's stance as early as 2011, NYSUT challenged the new evaluation system in court endorse VAM/ test-based evaluations, then gripe over the results
RallyJune 8, dealing with wider range of issues, reaching to the wider community; major push; literature already released, latest issue of paper has stories emphasizing issues attending to in rally promo leafletssilence on June 8 rally, diversionary June 12 rally*, narrower, dealing with a contract-oriented focus; weaker promotion so far --watch for bland, top-heavy announcements
*It is valid to have a contract rally, but the timing is conveniently distracting from the June 8 rally. Anyway, as The Chief reported in its latest issue this week, contract arbitration is expected to drag into the summer. And Mulgrew and company are essentially on record as saying that they will not seek a new contract until Bloomberg is out of office.

NYSUT United's May issue includes an article giving the overall rationale for the rally; an article with various (non-NYC) NYSUT local leaders speaking critically of the tests and for the students, "At testing forums, educators stand up for their students," in which teachers speak up to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and referencing the Common Cause in a critical manner. Also, note the tone of this language:
"We torture our students with assessments that do not take into account learning styles," said Malone FT's Angela Spahr. "It's a free, appropriate public education we're supposed to be providing. This isn't appropriate."
By contrast, the UFT paper's editors and or writers made sure to couch any criticisms of the Common Core with praising comments. NYSUT printed a pitch by the Averill Park Teachers' Association president for the rally that skewered Pearson, inBloom, high-stakes tests, points we rarely see made in the UFT paper:
TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:
10. You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.
9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.
8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.
7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!
6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.
5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.
4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.
3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.
2. You work in Averill Park (Insert your own school district.) and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!
AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON….
1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn't it!
NYSUT has also prominently reprinted an impassioned poem by a teacher worn-out by the test-prep focused routine that teaching has become. See Samantha Kucerak's poem, "I am a teacher, and I am tired," reprinted from the NYSUT website, on the side-bar at the right. While she writes from Homer, New York, she speaks for what thousands of New York City teachers are feeling.
In closing, the June 8 rally is an opportunity for progressive New York City teacher activists to make common cause with and to meet teachers from AFT locals across the state that are kindred spirits. Would Michael Mulgrew and his allied masters of ossified, bureaucratic unionism was to expose UFT rank and filers to the sort of leaflets, slogans and conversations that are closer to those expressed by MORE activists or their favorite national columnists, Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss or Susan Ohanian? (Not to mention the potential of meeting members of parent-teacher alliances from Long Island or Western New York that have been active in building test opt-out movements.) Of course not.
Let's defy Mulgrew's cynical move to ignore the June 8 Albany rally of our upstate and Long Island brothers and sisters.
Let's rally at Albany, the source of so much our working condition woes, from the state's Race to the Top application to the evaluation system that Cuomo will impose on New York City teachers just a week before.