The Dropout Crisis: Why Are Teachers Leaving? The Job? Management? or the Generation?

As President Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper (…”a new effort aimed at empowering boys and young men of color”), as schools scramble to train school leaders and teachers, as the far more rigorous Common Core standards become the yardstick for measuring achievement, schools face an ignored crisis – the numbers of teachers who leave every year.

A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, entitled On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers is both disturbing and not surprising.

… nearly 15 percent of the workforce [teachers] is moving or leaving every year. And, the study says, at-risk students suffer the most … nearly 20 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year, a rate 50 percent higher than at more affluent schools.

The reasons for leaving, according to the study, have been the same for decades,

The report points to a variety of reasons for the turnover, including low salaries and a lack of support for many teachers. Which helps to explain why those most likely to quit are also the least experienced: 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job. [In high needs NYC middle schools the rate is 70%]

The more difficult the school, meaning the higher the level of poverty, the more likely teachers leave and the need for interventions become more acute.

Without access to excellent peers, mentors, and opportunities for collaboration and feedback, teachers’ performance in high-poverty schools plateaus after a few years and both morale and work environment suffer. Ultimately, the report notes, these hard-to-staff schools become known as “places to leave, not places in which to stay.” According to the report, high-poverty schools experience a teacher turnover rate of about 20 percent per calendar year—roughly 50 percent higher than the rate in more affluent schools.

The study concludes with a range of rather vanilla recommendations:

Require regular evaluations of teachers using multiple measures.

• Develop systems to encourage high-quality educator development and teaching.

• Require comprehensive induction programs for new teachers.

• Embed analysis and improvement of teaching and learning conditions.

• Support staff selection and professional growth systems that foster collegial collaboration.

The study, as I mentioned, is not surprising, and disappointingly shallow.

For decades teaching positions in “high needs” schools, aka high poverty or to be blunt schools in inner city communities of color, have been difficult to staff. In the mid-nineties 17% of New York City teachers were “Provisional Preparatory Teachers’ (PPTs), teachers who passed the coursework but could not pass the low-skilled required exams and they served in the poorest schools. About the same time I was a member of a School Under Registration Review (SURR) review team assessing a low achieving, high poverty school. On the first day of the 4-day visit the principal was late to the meeting. It was February, he had two teaching vacancies and a number of teachers were absent – his first task was to assign “coverages” to the staff, an additional teaching period. As we began the meeting one of the team members asked a softball question: What criteria do you use to assess effective teaching? The frustrated principal blurted out, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

High teacher turnover is nothing new.

Why do teachers leave?

* It’s a far more difficult and frustrating job than it appears from afar, and, anyone can decide to become a teacher – there are few, if any, admissions criteria for teacher education programs – in fact, programs scramble to admit students and collect tuition. In Finland schools of education draw from the top 10% and, in the elementary grade teacher preparation programs; we draw from the lower half.

We have too many teacher preparation programs and the programs should be more selective.

* Induction programs are slipshod. In most schools and school districts there are informal mentoring programs – an experienced teacher is assigned to a new teacher. The mentor is rarely trained. In bygone days the much maligned Board of Education required mentoring – in my school district we required training for the mentors. Experienced, highly effective teachers do not automatically translate into effective mentors of new teachers. As the union rep – the guy who teachers came to, to complain; I heard from the mentor, “They don’t listen, they think they know everything,” and from the new teacher, “My mentor reminds me of my mother, nothing I do is right.”

Mentoring is a skill unto itself.

* Teaching is isolating – all day in a classroom with kids and in most schools few, if any, opportunities to interact with colleagues. For a new teacher in an extremely high stress job with no feedback, no support system, the pressures can be overwhelming and drive out a teacher in spite of their potential. Schools with a collaborative culture, school leaders that schedule common planning time and guide the use of the time provide an emotional as well as instructional support. A new elementary school opened in my district, almost all the teachers were first or second year teachers: as a district union rep how could I support them? I organized an every-other-Friday meeting at a local tavern – with reduced price drinks. Apparently they sipped (or gulped) bright colored alcoholic beverages and talked about lessons and planning!!

Cultures of collaboration are essential.

* The days of career teachers, or, career any job are rapidly changing. Kids move from teaching job to teaching job and from career to career. I was in a “hot” restaurant in LA (at the AFT Convention) and asked a question I frequently ask servers, “What’s your real job?” The server told me he had an engineering degree, with a few friends he ran a “mustard” company and was planning to open a bar. Not uncommon.

In the waning days of June I sought out two younger teachers who were leaving teaching, for one – he heard the music scene in Austin was great and he wanted to check it out, and, for another, their partner was moving to Portland and they’re trail along … the “hipster” generation has shallow roots.

More and more jobs are not site-based, you can log-on from anywhere and go to work – the world of work is amorphous and our values, a lifetime career, might very well be outmoded.

* Teaching will never compete with other high education jobs income-wise and rarely provide ladders for promotion.

I get tired of teachers who begin with “… in Finland …” These days I interrupt and ask if they were in the top 10% of their college class – if they answer “no” I tell them “in Finland” they wouldn’t be a teacher. We live in a nation with unparalleled income inequality and teaching will never be viewed as a high status job. Up until recently the attraction was defined-benefit pension and job stability. That might be changing! A few years ago I met a guy in his fifth year of teaching – his principal raved about him – and – he was leaving and going back to school to get an MBA. He told me he looked ten years down the road – looked at his salary and decided it would not support the life he wanted for his new wife and yet to be born kid(s). The new New York City teacher contract does provide other pathways at higher salaries for excellent teachers – perhaps it will convince the “best and brightest” to remain in the classroom.

* School leadership is crucial to retaining staff.

New teachers frequently start in a “high needs” school and move up the ladder to more affluent schools – a pattern which has accelerated today with the absence of a seniority transfer plan; any teacher can transfer to any school. Recruiting, selecting, training and retaining school leaders is just as important as retaining teachers.

School leader preparation programs need tuition-paying students to survive and also have pitiable admissions criteria. How many programs require evidence of excellent teaching? You sit in classrooms, an internship with the college supervisor coming by a few times and voila!! You are the “owner” of a supervisory certificate.

The Department programs, the Leadership Programs (see list here) do have high admission standards – whether they select the correct candidates and the performance of the graduates is open to question). Too many school leaders revert to the norm, (“Do it because I say to do it.”) Too many cannot lead by example, too many are robotic and await the orders from on high to salute and pass on the order.

Highly effective school leaders retain staff.

School cultures are firmly embedded, teachers and principals may come and go – the culture remains. The culture may be one that fosters collaboration or one that may foster conflict, the culture may foster high expectations and a student-centered school or low expectations and a teacher-centered school. The core issue may always be what can we do for each and every kid or the teacher room discussions can center on getting out of the parking lot as fast as possible. The right school leader can build a school culture that attracts and retains teachers – up to a point; after all, in addition to the music scene in Austin, the bar-b-que is great!!

Common Core and the Fight for the NYS Senate: How the Failure to Comprehend the Emotional Power of Parents/Teachers/Voters Derailed the Common Core

Fifteen weeks before the November election and Governor Cuomo has a 37 point lead over his Republican opponent Rob Astorino as well as a huge advantage in dollars. Cuomo’s support of charter schools cut off a major source of funding for Astorino and the national Republican funding operation views him as a loser and has not committed dollars to his campaign. Whether we like it or not dollars decide elections, if you can’t reach the voters with your ideas, and besmirch your opponent, you’re left on the sidelines.

Cuomo’s campaign is taking nothing for granted, they are well aware in the race for Westchester County Executive, Astorino was polling behind the Democrat and won by 10% – Cuomo will be charging as hard as he can up until election day.

While the gubernatorial election will grab the headlines the key races in New York State are for control of the 63-seat Senate. The Senate is currently controlled by … well … an interesting question. Five “breakaway” Democrats, the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), led by Jeff Klein, and Dean Skelos, the Republican leader, control the flow of legislation. On paper the Democrats hold a one seat majority; however, the last two Democratic leaders have been indicted and are awaiting trial and two Democrats lean well to the Republican side of the aisle.

In order to avoid primaries the IDC has agreed to caucus with the Democrats to establish a majority if the dems prevail in November, maybe.

Of course, the Senate, in many ways resembles the Roman Senate with “colleagues” lurking” in the shadows waiting to assassinate enemies or friends, as long they benefit.

Will Cuomo’s ample coattails drag the Democratic slate to victory?

Are there actually issues that will drive voters?

The Democrats are hoping that Andrew’s landslide will carry the day, and, worry about the major issue in the minds of voters. No, not guns, or taxes, or gambling, or marijuana, the major issue is the Common Core.

By a 49-39 percent margin, voters want to see implementation of the Common Core standards stopped rather than continued.

Voters are closely divided on viewing each house of the Legislature favorably or unfavorably, and more are inclined to re-elect incumbent legislators rather than ‘someone else.’ Yet, 65 percent say most state legislators “do what’s best for them and their political friends and it never surprises me when another one gets indicted.” Only 28 percent say “most state legislators are honest, hardworking and do what’s best for their constituents.” – (See results from the latest Siena Poll https://www.siena.edu/news-events/article/cuomo-leads-astorino-by-37-points#sthash.MFGNIHgp.dpuf)

In a week or two the Common Core grades 3-8 test scores will be released and the firestorm of last year may be re-ignited.

The 2013 scores were released on August 7th, with fanfare – the lengthy press release was almost smug, New York State was one of the first states in the nation to begin the new Common Core path to higher accountability and higher learnings. No matter how hard the Department of Education spun the numbers two-thirds of all students scored “below proficient;” meaning, they failed the test. In the fall, in order to stem the simmering outrage the Commissioner began a “listening tour,” in reality trying to convince audiences of parents ”to love the core.” The meetings were angry, hostile and the meetings were suspended for a while. Public anger moved from simmering to bubbling and eventually the Governor/State legislature passed laws to slow down the implementation of the Common Core.

Too late. Perhaps as many as 30,000 parents “opted out” of the exam and the evidence of the continuing anger is seen in the polling data.

The 2014 scores may be somewhat better; however, a majority of students will receive “below proficient” scores and the cauldron may boil over.

Astorino is seeking another line on the ballot, a “Stop the Common Core” line; the Cuomo camp champions the legislation that slowed the implementation.

Voters see these issues in simpler terms: Are you for or against?

A seasoned smart legislator asked me to give him a one-page summary of the Common Core issue with pro and con arguments, not an easy chore. At every meeting constituents raised the issue, he received letters and emails, but there was no bill to vote for or against. He was facing a visceral anger: you’re punishing my kid, do something, but what?

Do incumbents tell voters the Regents and the Commissioner moved too quickly, give them time, eventually the Common Core will benefit your kids? Or, blast the Regents and the Commissioner and promise to drastically change policies and roll back an ill-advised path?

For insurgents the path is easier, blame the incumbents and promise to throw out the Core.

The Common Core may, or may not change the course of education, on some grades the Core standards may not be appropriate, the failure to view the Core as an evolving document is foolish, politics reduces itself to the simple and the Common Core has been reduced to a “yes” or “no” proposition for many voters.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor primarily because of a single TV commercial, the “Dante” Afro video and the laser-like focus on two issues: “Stop and Frisk” and Pre-Kindergarten for all.

As the Race to the Top dollars evaporate, as the Congress fails to re-authorize No Child Left Behind and starves education dollars, as the antipathy to the Common Core resonates across the nation, PhD dissertations will recount how policy-makers erred and how the failure to understand politics derailed the most heralded education “idea” in a decade.

In the World of “You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure,” When Will You Be Able to See Your Doctor’s VAM Score?

Teachers live in a cocoon; all day with our students and with other teachers, we socialize with teachers, we complain to teachers, we go to teacher union meetings and the assault on teachers seems endless, from trying to abolish tenure, to denigrating our unions to assessing our performance by serpentine algorithms.

And, we’re jealous, other professions, lawyers and doctors don’t seem to have these problems, we’re sure the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) would never permit it.

In reality we have a lot more in common with lawyers and doctors.

Law schools are churning out potential lawyers in spite of the paucity of jobs. Yes, a few students graduate from elite law schools and serve as clerks for prestigious federal judges and are snapped up by white shoe firms at hefty six figure salaries. The vast majority of new lawyers, as well as experienced lawyers struggle to make a living; after all, lawyers never retire! Law firms are folding and some lawyers end up as teachers.

Law is not a growth industry as alternative dispute resolution procedures spread the need for lawyers lessens.

How much do lawyers earn?

Pursuant to Article 18B of the County Law, the Assigned Counsel Plan has been providing quality legal services to indigent persons within the Bronx and New York County Criminal Courts since 1966. The Plan provides compensation to private attorneys for representing indigent clients charged with criminal offenses.

Attorneys are compensated at a rate of $60 per hour for misdemeanor matters and $75 per hour for felony matters. The Plan provides legal assistance for trial court matters as well as appellate matters.

Court-appointed lawyers who represent “indigent persons” make only a little more than teacher per session!!

What about the American Bar Association (ABA)? Doesn’t the ABA control access into the profession? Why can’t the ABA influence the incredibly low pay and surplus numbers of lawyers?

When lawyers need to be heard, the ABA is their voice both nationally and globally. We work to promote judicial independence and ensure funding for the Legal Services Corporation. We also promote the international rule of law through programs in more than 40 countries that focus on access to justice, human rights, anti-corruption, judicial reform and more.

The ABA has very little to do with the everyday life of lawyers.

Well, if the ABA is impotent at least the professional organization of doctors, the American Medical Association has clout. Not really.

Value-Added Measurement (VAM) is not limited to teachers. The statistical technique, commonly called super crunching, or regression techniques. “… the statistical regression not only produces a prediction, it also simultaneously reports how precisely it was able to predict,” has invaded every workplace (Read review of Super Crunchers here)

The world of medicine is following the world of teaching. The feds are creating algorithms to measure every aspect of healthcare. Just as the “measurement” of teachers is supposed to improve the teaching profession the world of measurement will improve the field of medicine, and, save dollars.

Physician Performance Measurement and Reporting is a value-based purchasing strategy that enables health care stakeholders to evaluate physician compliance with clinical, evidence-based care guidelines, which can lead to lower costs and improved outcomes, and informed consumers who seek care from physicians who follow these guidelines. This strategy can be utilized by a variety of stakeholders—physicians, health plans, employers, patients, and others—to improve care, monitor outcomes, and align incentives. As such, physician measurement is an end unto itself, but also a foundation for other value-based purchasing strategies that seek to reward high performing physicians.

The world of medicine eerily replicates the world of education,

Like it or not, measuring physician performance is now a key part of the conventional wisdom on improving our health care system. Borrowing from management guru Peter Drucker’s mantra “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” health care policy makers have embraced performance measurement as being central to managing our heretofore unmanageable health care system.

The measurement of physician practice, you guessed it, comes from the feds. Remember, every doctor, one way or another works for the feds. The days of the individual practitioner are long gone. Doctors work in group practices or for hospitals and the rules and regulations are drafted by the federal bureaucracy and embedded in the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Bob Centor is an outspoken critic of the entire data-driven medicine movement.

I am obsessed with performance measurement and why it not only rarely works but often causes negative unintended consequences. As I have pondered this question recently, computers cannot replace physicians as diagnosticians.

Centor may be absolutely right, it doesn’t matter – the world of medicine is changing dramatically.

Ironically lawyers and doctors no longer have clout, their organizations, the ABA and the AMA are distant, governments in cities, state capitals and Washington set policies. One of the few organizations that are fighting back is the teacher unions. The imposition of the Common Core and harsh testing environment has angered parents across the country, mayors and governors worry about the backlash and are backing away from the “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” mantra and teacher unions are working closely with parents and community organizations.

The use of VAM and edTPA may be lagging; however, in the field of medicine, in a few years, your doctor’s “score” will be a few mouse clicks away.

Will doctor’s offices, like restaurants, have an “A,” “B” “C” or “Pending” on their door?

edTPA: Should Externally Designed National Tests Drive Teacher Preparation Programs and Curricula?

Marc Korashan is a long time union activist an adjunct professor at a local college and a frequent commenter on this blog. The following are his impressions from a discussion at the AFT Convention.

One of the more overlooked aspects of attending a national convention is the chance to look at issues from new perspectives. For me this was particularly true around the issue of the use of new teacher certification test, the EdTPA which came up in a resolution entitled “EdTPA and Respect for the Professionalism of Teacher Educators” from the Higher Education Committee.

The resolution opposes the use of this measure, which has no proven validity, as an entrance criterion for the teacher profession. We don’t know if this test really predicts who will be a good teacher. It presumes a specific pedagogical technique is applicable in all classes and it rigidly evaluates whether the teacher candidate is applying it. These problems have been evident for me in my work with first and second year Teaching Fellows (an alternative certification path in New York City geared to career changers).

The discussion from the floor, however, was focused on less visible but more vexing problem. The impact of this assessment on teacher preparation programs, curricula, and the academic freedom of teacher educators. The point was made that in order to prepare teacher candidates for the test; schools of education were warping their offerings and curricula to match the demands of the test. Teacher is being standardized, routinized and forced away from the kind of wide ranging examination of pedagogy, child development, and social issues that it should be, into a lock-step model that focused on the assumptions about what constitutes good teaching embedded into the test by its anonymous, corporate authors (the test was developed by Stanford University and now associated with Pearson); assumptions whose validity, as already noted, have not been tested or validated.

As many speakers noted, this does to university educators what the educational “reform” movement has done to P-12 educators. It makes tests the only measure of effectiveness. University based teacher educators rightly fear that they and their programs will be evaluated based on how well their graduates, who were able to enter teaching only because they scored well on an unproven measure of their potential, are able to raise the achievement of their students on other seriously flawed test-based metrics.

While well informed on the problems with Value Added Measures (which are nowhere near ready for prime time), I am also deep into the work of supporting first and second year teachers and found this discussion enlightening.

Most importantly it highlighted the need for teachers to take charge of the profession. We are, as far as I know, the only profession where politicians determine the entrance criteria. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, all enter the profession through programs and examinations designed by practitioners. Teachers are certified by the state if they meet criteria set by law and complete a teacher education program. New York State currently requires that teachers pass three tests, included in the EdTPA process and earn a Masters’ degree from an accredited Teacher Education program.

These programs are worried they can lose their accreditation if candidates do not pass the EdTPA (or if the students they teach do not show sufficient gain on the teacher accountability metrics). This fear can drive these programs into test-prep mode and give their graduates the false impression that there is only one acceptable method of pedagogy, when we as practitioners know that flexibility is the key to meeting students, especially struggling, disabled, and ELL students, where they are and engaging them in the educational process. One size, one approach will never fit every student.

It is time for the AFT and the NEA to begin to lay out their own vision for a meaningful teacher preparation and certification process; one that leaves candidates truly prepared for the rigors of the profession, able and willing to work with the neediest students across the country. We need to make the profit-driven corporations defend their work and demonstrate how it is better or more meaningful than what teachers can do collectively on their own.

I liked the charter school teacher who defined a charter school as one where, instead of a superintendent, the school reported to a corporation. Do we really want a system where test publishers determine the curriculum and rate teachers and teacher education programs based on student test scores?

See AFT White Paper: Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/raisingthebar2012.pdf)

(Almost) Live Reporting on the 2014 AFT Convention in Los Angeles: Day 3 and a Retrospective

The 2014 edition of the Los Angeles AFT Convention will wrap up in few hours as the 3,000 delegates catch flights.

What I love most about these biannual conventions is the chance to meet colleagues from locals across the country. At a reception last night I chatted with a Boston teacher: how do you mobilize retirees to work on issues not related to retirement? A teacher from a local on the Texas-Mexico border was interested in involving parents, Spanish-speaking parents who may be undocumented, how do you teach the parents to help their kids outside of school? A rising star from St Paul, who, in the midst of a frigid winter, went to the brink of a strike, engaged parents and community in the negotiating process, and emerged with a contract.

Teacher leaders from Germany and Poland struggling with teachers adapting to the influx of students from the Balkans: creating a bi-lingual education structure.

The AFT continues to grow, last year the 46,000 member National Federation of Nurses merged with the AFT, and nurses and healthcare professionals continue to join the union. We may sometimes forget that the healthcare system is profit-driven and one way to save money is to skimp on both the numbers of nurses as well as overload them with duties endangering patients.

Colleges and universities are plagued by the reliance on what is called contingent staff, adjuncts who teach a few classes for low wages and commonly no benefits. How do you create strategies to improve the working conditions of part time staff? The same high-stakes regimen that has been imposed on teachers is coming to colleges. Using growth on student tests to assess the teacher and tracing the teacher score back to the college and using the score to assess the success, or lack thereof, of the college program. High-stakes testing for all.

The convention is a series of guest speakers, videos, awards to a range of members (Watch all or a few of the 22 videos here) and debating the resolutions submitted by the Executive Council and locals. The resolutions are sent to thirteen committees, delegates can choose to attend any committee, they meet at the same time, debate ensues, and the committees vote “concurrence” or “non-concurrence,” select the top three resolutions that go to the floor for debate.

The debate on the lengthy, nuanced resolution on the Common Core was extensive, and, at times, passionate. For 45 minutes delegate after delegate “testified,” over this issue, clearly, there is a rift in the ranks. For some, mostly from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Common Core is an abomination, for others, from around the country; the problem is the implementation and the high-stakes testing component.

Weingarten, serving as the chair, was extremely generous in allowing every voice, at times, with an audience wanting to get on with the next order of business. Of the many amendments offered from the floor some clarified and strengthened the intent of the resolutions while others were “wordsmithing,” arguing style over substance.

One of the more fascinating announcements was the creation of Democrats for Public Education, led by Donna Brazile, who is a great speaker. Back in the early Obama days Joe Williams, a former NY Daily News reporter founded Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an organization which became the voice of the Obama-Duncan administration, for choice (aka charter schools), high-stakes testing, Race to the Top and anti-tenure, the supporters included democrats who in the liberal/progressive wing of the party.

The new organization (DFPE) will force Democrats to make choices – choices which will have consequences at the ballot box.

Once upon a time the AFT was sharply divided internally, on virtually every resolution the Progressive Caucus was on one side and the opposition on the other. Supporters of one side or another raced to microphones, the debate was ofttimes personal as this or that resolution passed or failed.

Weingarten has changed the culture, while a handful of candidates ran against the Weingarten slate the tent of now broad enough to encompass a wide range of opinions. Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union and Barbara Bowen of the PSC (CUNY) may disagree with Weingarten on Common Core or the role of the AFT in funding local elections, the disagreements are public and do not fray relationships.

For some delegates the position on the Common Core was the major issue at the convention for me the major issue was building for the 2014 Congressional elections. If the Republicans maintain the House and gain control of the Senate the only person standing in the way of the total erosion of labor rights will be the lame duck president.

An intense few days – many, many wonderful conversations, the passion and the dedication of teacher (and nurse) unionists are heartwarming, and, the fight is just beginning. How do you convince teachers that in spite the disappointments of the last six years of the Obama administration the November elections are crucial and they must dedicate their time and dollars?

In the words of Langston Hughes,

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

(Almost) Live Reporting from the AFT Convention in Los Angeles: Day 2

Teaching can be lonely job, in too many schools teachers spend the entire day with their kids, no collaboration with colleagues and unfortunately have to listen to edicts from supervisors who rarely enter a classroom and rarely have anything encouraging to say.

Entering the convention hall, thousands of teachers (and health professionals), colleagues, enthusiastic, waiting to tell their stories, from every nook and cranny of the nation is enormously invigorating.

The second day of the convention was a combination of speakers and videos and the business of the convention, debating the resolutions sent to the floor from the members of the thirteen committees that reviewed the 91 submitted resolutions. The delegates choose the committee to which they want to be assigned. The committees range from educational issues (the most popular), political issues, human and civil rights, nurses, higher education, international relations and so on. The committee members debate the resolutions, amend if they choose, vote concurrence or non-concurrence and select the top three to be debated in the first round. It is unlikely, due to the number of resolutions that there will be a second round and the resolutions not discussed on the floor will be referred to the Executive Council for action.

Afterwords is a summary of previous day’s proceedings.

The speakers included:

Asean Johnson, an eleven-year student in the Chicago Public School addressed the convention: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS7eUMayPJQ&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt&index=2)

Tom Torlakson, the California Superintendent of Public Instruction, addressed the convention (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJsyKvtww1s&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt&index=8), in California the Superintendent runs for office in November in a state-wide election. Torlakson’s opponent, you guessed it, is a hedge fund gazillionaire with no school experience whatsoever, opposes tenure, supports “choice,” aka the widespread expansion of charters and the entire range of the (de)form agenda, and, has limitless dollars to spend. Troubling.

Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union introduced Tracy Conny, a health aide who spoke about the impact of Harris v Quinn, the Supreme Court decision that may limit the ability of unions to organize some classes of employees. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8EUFLyYV0M&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt&index=6)

The business of the convention began: the debates and votes on the constitutional amendments and resolutions.

The process is fascinating: 3,000 delegates, all of whom have the right to walk up to one of the eight microphone stations around the floor. The debate continues, speakers have three minutes; however, there are no limits on the debate time for any resolution. The debate continues until there is either a motion to close debate (requires a 2/3 vote), or, there is no one at a microphone.

On day 2 there was no real opposition to the substance of the resolutions, the room is filled with teachers, there were many motions to changes words or phrases. For many of the speakers the convention is a chance to highlight an issue that is crucial to the local. For example Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), nurses with advanced training, were asking the AFT to support legislation to allow the APRNs to practice independently, not under the direct supervision of doctor, the current practice in 18 states. Another resolution dealt with staffing ratios for nurses explaining how hospital mortality rates are directly related to higher ratios and one resolution dealt with child trafficking and the resolution was asking for training so that teachers and support staff could identify victims in schools.

UUP, the local representing teachers in the New York State University system and PSC, the union representing the City University system introduced a lengthy resolution challenging edTPA, a new test for education majors, which has been adopted in New York State and is in the process of being adopted in many states. The plan is to track kids scores back to the public school teacher back to the college teacher.

I attended a reception for teacher union leaders from many different countries who were attending the convention. Not surprisingly the problems they faced were similar to ours. The major difference is that in other nations have federal systems – we have fifty state systems with a federal overlay. What was especially interesting is the immigration problem – the Turks in Germany, the Balkans moving north searching for jobs, the Muslims fleeing to Europe, the European nations are struggling to deal with the influx of “foreign” children into their schools – and they look to us as an example to offer possible solutions.

This morning the two “hottest’ items will hit the floor. The Executive Council resolution on accountability, which supports standards, and the Common Core, although the lengthy resolution calls for on-going review by classroom teachers and sharply criticizes the associated high-stakes testing regime as well as the lack of district provided teacher preparation and a resolution introduced by the Chicago Teacher Union simply calling for the rejection of the Common Core.

A motion will be introduced from the floor asking for the resignation of Arne Duncan, I believe there will be very little opposition.

In a press conference at the end of day 1 Weingarten was asked about the NEA resolution asking for the resignation of Arne Duncan,

When asked by reporters after the event if she supported the NEA action, she would only say that, “I would hope he listens to what people are saying.” She said that although the leadership would not present a resolution, it could still come from the floor. “I am 1000% percent behind any action that the members at the convention [take] on this issue.”

Off to Day 3 …. passionate debate is always a plus for democratic unionism.

(Almost) Live Reporting from the 2014 AFT Convention in Los Angeles: Day 1

What day is it?

The AFT convention is one meeting after another in a vast convention center… meeting slides into meeting.

The delegates arrived on Thursday, the 3,000 plus delegates from around the country. From New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, the large city delegations as well as delegates from Montana, Utah, North Dakota and Montana and Virgin Islands and many other smaller local; public school teachers, college teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses and the newest chapter, professional workers at the United Nations, all prepared to listen to a wide range of speakers and participate in vigorous debate.

The locals around the nation submit resolutions, this year 91 resolutions were submitted and they were distributed to 13 committees. All delegates choose which committee they want to attend – the committees range from 75 delegates to as many as 800 delegates. The Executive Council, the three officers and the 43 Vice Presidents also submit resolutions.

At one time the AFT had a number of political caucuses; the last few years the AFT has had a single caucus, the Progressive Caucus that has a very broad tent. The Progressive Caucus, that met Thursday evening supported nine resolutions submitted by the Executive Council and opposed four resolutions. The other 70 plus resolutions have no caucus support, or caucus opposition.

As you are probably aware the NEA Convention, by a very close vote, passed a resolution asking for Arne Duncan to resign. At the Progressive Caucus meeting AFT President Weingarten asked the caucus to discuss the issue: putting a resolution on the floor, according to Robert’s Rules, would require a 2/3 vote – the issue was debated, without any consensus, The Chicago Teachers Union strongly supported the concept, the UFT appeared to be divided, other locals thought it was a meaningless gesture.

Friday morning, jet lag or not, the UFT delegation convened a 7 am meeting, a heads up from the union leadership – a few words from new vice presidential candidates, and off to the first session.

* Broadway star Sally Wilfert sings about teachers:

* Reverend William Barber, the President of the North Carolina NAACP preached to us … he was spectacular … an old fashioned revival … a modern day Martin Luther King … in these bleak days of attacks on unions, teachers and public education Reverend Barber gave us hope … click on the link … (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw-xp39ikC0&index=3&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt)

Governor Jerry Brown attacks mindless testing and defends tenure, refreshing after what we’ve seen from our NYS governor: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydyVfFCnhS0&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt&index=3)

AFT President Randi Weingarten’s State of the Union address – I’ve heard Randi speak innumerable times – this is her best speech, best by far, she lays out the mantra of the opposition and the principles of the AFT – extremely well done: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ARXHvynK_0&list=PL-T5PpTCIN8C0OHiI0akloVYQWw1YjXLt&index=2)

No lunch today, straight in the afternoon sessions.

In the early afternoon the various divisions of the union meet to discuss challenges and engage with experts. I attended the K-12 session and listened to Passi Sahlberg – describing the Finnish education system and reviewing OCED data on the performance of countries on the PISA exams and trying to explore the reasons for the variation among nations. Pedro Noguera, an NYU professor, and one of the few, who spares no one, gave a bleak picture of how unions are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of former allies and muses on how to reverse the process.

On to the committee meetings: each of the thirteen committees meets to discuss the resolutions assigned to the committees and recommend “concurrence” or “non-concurrence,” … a long full day.

The “hottest” topic that will be debated on the floor – a lengthy comprehensive resolution submitted by the Executive Council on accountability and the Common Core – challenging the over reliance on testing, criticism of flawed Value-Added Measurement, calling for a moratorium on the impact of Common Core testing, increased professional development and a resolution submitted by the Chicago Teachers Union simply opposing the Common Core entirely.

My body is still on NY time – 1:30 am – two and a half more days…

Send along questions and comments and watch the live streaming: beginning 9:30 on the West Coast and 12:30 pm in NYC: http://www.aft.org/convention/live.cfm