(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

Obama, Duncan, Frustration and the Race to Control the Senate, and, the Implications.

Union leaders have an obligation to their membership, which means maintaining a relationship with management, in my union rep days I agreed with my superintendent on a range of issues and “agreed to disagree,” on others.

Education Week reports,

Delegates to the National Education Association’s annual convention passed a new business item … calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign. The surprising move comes on the heels of union anger over moves across the United States to revise due-process protections, tenure, and seniority—some of which have been supported by Democrats, including the Obama administration. Proposed by the union’s powerful California affiliate, the item cites “the Department’s failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores” as its rationale for demanding the secretary’s resignation.

It is easy to understand the frustration of teachers with the policies of the Obama administration, and the messenger Arne Duncan; the New Business Item was extremely popular; unfortunately the momentary joy will change nothing.

Duncan’s positive comments on the Vergara decision was immediately challenged by AFT President Weingarten in a sharply worded letter to Duncan,

This week, we needed your leadership; to demonstrate that teacher and student interests are aligned; that we must press—60 years after Brown v. Board—for educational equity; that it takes more than a focus on teachers to improve public education; that, when it comes to teachers, we need to promote strategies that attract, retain and support them in classrooms; and that, of course, removing teachers who can’t do their job in quick and effective ways is important, but so is due process, so teachers can take creative risks that enhance teaching and learning.

But instead, you added to the polarization. And teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed.

And Duncan backed away from his praise of the Vergara decision,

Tenure itself is not the issue here. I absolutely support job security for effective teachers. I think it’s vital to protect teachers from arbitrary or ill-motivated job actions.

Feel good proposals don’t address the political crisis: the Republicans may gain control of the Senate in the November elections. Political prognosticators are predicting very close races, and races are determined by dollars and feet on the ground, and there are four million sets of teacher “feet.”

The dissatisfaction with Obama/Duncan policies will be insignificant if the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress. The Republicans will slash Title 1 dollars and other programs to support the poorest families and children, federal dollars would flow to charter and parochial schools and vouchers would be supported with federal dollars. Vouchers allow parents to choose schools: public, private, charter or parochial.

Legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act, filling federal and possible Supreme Court vacancies with ultra-conservative justices, changes in Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and a change in the role of federal government would quickly pass through a Republican controlled Congress. The Republicans are committed to sharply cutting taxes and removing regulations confident that the marketplace will drive the economy.

There are Republicans who firmly believe that trickle-down economics, slash taxes, and the beneficiaries will spend the new found dollars and create jobs. Of course the beneficiaries are the wealthy and the cuts will impact the poorest Americans who depend upon federal supports.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman lays it out in his NY Times column,

Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted and Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.

What is so frustrating is that aside from Obama/Duncan there are so many Democrats who support educational policies that are not only foolish but counterproductive. Yes, I agree that education is a key, not the only key, to moving kids out of poverty, and, that teachers and school leaders can lead the path. To hear Duncan crow about a “great teacher in every classroom” is mind numbing.

Where are we going to find these “great” teachers?

Training teacher is both complex and controversial. How much of a prospective teacher’s training should be sitting in a traditional classroom, how much should be standing in front of a class of kids? Can we measure the effectiveness of college teacher preparation programs? And, if so, what metrics do you measure? Should the feds or state rank teacher preparation programs?

Do preservice required examinations (edTPA) predict teacher success?

Why do half of all teachers and 70% in high poverty middle schools quit within five years? Are the weak teachers quitting, or, are the best teachers quitting due to the lack of support?

Calling for Duncan’s resignation is futile; he is carrying out the policies of the Obama administration, and, sitting on your hands and not voting is actually a vote for those who want to dismantle public education.

We need a presidential candidate in 2016.

How about a strong woman who has proven herself as a leader?

No, not Hillary, maybe a Diane/Randi tag team.

Forced Transfers? “Combat” Pay? Duncan Proposes/Requires That School Districts Create Plans to Attract/Retain “Highly Effective” Teachers in High Poverty Schools


As part of its efforts to ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education, today the U.S. Department of Education is announcing the launch of the Excellent Educators for All Initiative. The initiative will help states and school districts support great educators for the students who need them most.

The 2003 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law contained language that required that states place, “highly qualified” teachers in front of every classroom. That section of the law has been largely ignored since the passage of the statute, the emphasis has been on accountability, requiring tests in English and Mathematics in grades 3 – 8, requiring tests in English, Mathematics and Science to graduate high school and closing, transforming (replacing half the staff) or converting schools to charter.

Today, Education Secretary Duncan announced, “… systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country… Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions … on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.”

The US Department of Education Effective Educators for All Initiative requires Chief School Officers to “… consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new, comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally-developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators” by April, 2015.

The presser goes on provide data: in Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina students in high poverty schools are considerably more likely to be taught by less effective teachers.

There are many research studies showing that “less effective” teachers are more commonplace in high poverty, low performing schools.

The Fordham Institute refers to a study supports the Duncan premise on the district level,

“Access to Effective Teaching for Disadvantaged Students,” examined fourth through eighth grade test scores over three year spans across twenty-nine large school districts. Generally, the researchers found that low-income students experienced less effective teaching than their higher-income peers. The main culprit: the unequal distribution of effective teachers across school buildings within a district. In contrast, the analysts detected more equal access to effective teaching within a school building. Hence, there is little evidence to suggest that school-level principals systemically assign the least effective teachers to the most disadvantaged students.

A Stanford study examines teacher preferences,

We find that teachers show preferences for schools that are closer geographically, are suburban, have a smaller proportion of students in poverty and, for white teachers, have a smaller proportion of minority students.

Another Stanford study examines school characteristics and teacher choices,

A substantial body of research demonstrates that schools with large populations of poor, non-white and low-achieving students, on average have more difficulty attracting and retaining teachers (Boyd et. al., 2005; Boyd et al, 2009; Hanushek et. al., 2004; Ingersoll, 2001; Scafidi et. al., 2007). However, little work assesses the extent to which differences in the neighborhoods in which schools are located either affect teacher recruitment and retention or explain the observed relationship between school characteristics and teachers’ career choices … The analyses show that while school characteristics are more salient than neighborhood characteristics, neighborhoods do affect teachers’ choices. In particular, the income of neighborhood residents and the amenities available near the school both affect teachers’ decisions of where to teach, particularly in urban areas with high population-density.

In New York City hiring decisions are made at the school site by the principal; under the Open Market any teacher can move to any school, there is no question that teachers perceived as more effective are recruited by higher achieving schools and the teacher attrition rate is far higher in low poverty, low performing schools.

Ironically the frequently reviled seniority transfer plan sharply limited the movement of teachers.

In my own experience while I found that high poverty schools frequently have highly motivated, caring teachers, there were too many who I view as mediocre. Elite schools with selective student bodies commonly have more highly skilled teachers who frequently honed their skills in high poverty schools.

Would the highly skilled teachers currently in elite schools be as effective teaching in low poverty, low performing schools?

Should we tighten the rules and make it more difficult to transfer schools?

High poverty, low achieving schools commonly have high rates of teacher attrition, are they recruiting the “wrong” candidates, or, are the more skilled teachers fated to move to schools with more highly skilled students?

One possibility is use financial incentives; a research study examines a bonus program,

… teachers were offered a $10,000 per-year bonus for two years to transfer into a distressed school within their district. The study found that the transfer incentive had a positive, significant impact on elementary students’ math and reading test scores. The estimated impact moved the typical pupil up four to ten percentile points, relative to their statewide peers. (Caveat, though, the impact was detectable only in elementary classrooms not in middle school ones.)

New teachers begin their careers in hard-to-staff schools, that’s where the jobs are. The Duncan press release tells us,

Nationally, according to the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection, black and American Indian students are four times as likely as white students to be enrolled in a school with more than 20% first year teachers, and Latino students are three times as likely.

I would argue that “black, Latino and American Indians” are more likely to be treated by the newest doctors with the lowest scores on whatever exams doctors take, “black, Latino and American Indians” are represented in civil and criminal proceedings by lawyers with lower standing in their law school class and from less prestigious law schools.

These are no rationales or excuses; they are realities of living in an America in 2014, the age of inequality.

We should hire and support more effective principals and teachers, we should fund high poverty schools at appropriate levels, we should encourage linking schools of education to specific schools, and, most importantly we should view schools as part of their communities and expand the community school concept.

For kids living in neighborhoods without any jobs, in neighborhoods in which public assistence is generational, in neighborhoods were the gangs provide stability and a family, the school system and city leadership must look beyond reading and math scores.

School appears irrelevant if there is no belief that a job awaits at the end of the process.

Educating, recruiting, training and retaining teachers require a school system and a school that supports teachers and school leaders.

For the past dozen years educators have been disrespected, every “reform” blames public schools, public school teachers and their union.

Until the plutocrats, the elites change their attitudes teachers will look for places where they are respected and schools that offer job satisfaction. As long as the wealthy support lawsuits attacking tenure and see charter schools as “the answer” teaching in high poverty schools will not attract and retain the “best and the brightest.”

It would be welcoming for Obama and Duncan to support teacher tenure and teacher unions. It would be wonderful if unions could invite Duncan to national conventions instead of passing resolutions asking him to resign.

The proclamations from on high, from the aeries of Washington do not resonate on the mean streets and classrooms of Brownsville and South Central LA.

The 4th of July: Adams, Jefferson and the Signers, the Heros of Our Infancy and Awaiting the Heros of Our Future

For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

For that passing moment a few days ago America had a hero – Tim Howard – the keeper (for the non-soccer fans – the goalie) played an incredible game making stopping shot after shot to keep us in the game; after all, we didn’t really belong with the “big guys,” for Brazil, Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands soccer is a religion, actually way beyond a religion. I was in Germany in 2006 for the World Cup – when Germany was playing the nation of Germany came to a halt – huge TV screens in the streets – work stopped – every German was glued to a screen for the two hours of each and every game.

While we are not as rabid fans as the rest of the world over 15 million American viewers were glued to TV screens Tuesday afternoon for the US-Belgium game.

Heroism is transitory – and usually a heroic moment in a sporting event or pinning a medal on a soldier on the White House lawn.

238 years ago the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were heroes – they all knew if the fledgling thirteen colonies failed to extract themselves from the rule of the most powerful nation in the world they would be hung as traitors.

A third of the signers owned slaves, eight were born outside the current boundaries of the nation, yes, they were immigrants, and they were all men of means and education who lived secure lives.

Nine died in the war. Twelve had their houses ransacked and burned. Others died in poverty, and two, Adams and Jefferson became presidents.

Jefferson was dissatisfied with his Declaration, as was Adams. Jefferson felt that Congress had rewritten so much of it that it was ruined; to the end of his long life he would force visitors to read his original drafts, in which he fixed the slave trade and slavery itself on George III, ignoring the role of Southern slave-owners and Northern slave traders.

Although the issue of slavery was widely debated — both the chattel slavery of Africans in America and the civil slavery, indentured servitude, that fired patriot rhetoric — it is conspicuously absent from the final version of the Declaration. Yet in his draft, Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as “a cruel war against human nature.”

“Jefferson’s passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document. It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.” Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Jefferson’s original passage on slavery appears below.”

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

The British were promising freedom if slaves joined the ranks of the British army.

One can wonder if slavery would have been abolished decades earlier without a civil war if the language had been retained, then again, perhaps the Declaration would not have been approved by the Continental Congress. The gridlock of June, 1776 was resolved while the gridlock of the 2014 Congress seems never-ending.

John Adams, our second president and a bitter enemy of Jefferson, remembers the original draft,

I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress.

and explains why Jefferson was chosen to be the drafter, and not Adams,

“Reason first — You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second — I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third — You can write ten times better than I can.”

After Jefferson left the presidency and retired to Monticello Adams and Jefferson began a correspondence – between 1812 and their deaths, hours apart on the 4th of July, 1826, they exchanged over a hundred letters, deep philosophical expositions, defending themselves and musing on the nature of government.

Jefferson’s tombstone bears the simple inscription,

“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

The Hobby-Lobby Supreme Court decision would have been anathema to Jefferson, who viewed Christianity as a set of moral values, and did not worship Jesus as the son of God, Jefferson created his own version of the bible,

… cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition is especially notable for its exclusion of all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels which contain the Resurrection and most other miracles, and passages indicating Jesus was divine.

Adams and Jefferson and the signers were pragmatists, knowing that compromise was necessary for the good of the nation.

On one hand the nation appears to be recovering from the economic collapse of 2008, the stock market has hit all-times highs, (great for the pension fund – it will reduce the size of the city contribution), unemployment rates continue to fall, job creation continues, and, on the flip side wages are stagnant and the job creation is at the lower end of the spectrum.

Jefferson and Adams would have abhorred the challenges to free public education and the inexcusable introduction of government favoritism of religion. For the founders religion was a code of ethics, Jesus, to Jefferson was a philosopher not a miracle worker.

As the number of inter-racial marriages continue to increase, as the graduating classes at the public universities continue to include more and kids from immigrant families or who are immigrants themselves, as the nation tips more and more toward a meritocracy, hopefully the next set of Adams and Jeffersons will emerge.

Let the fireworks be fireworks of knowledge.

NEA and AFT Convention Convene: Teachers Reflect on the Present and Plan for an Uncertain Future

The 9,000 National Education Association (NEA) delegates have arrived in Denver for the annual Representative Assembly and next week the 3,000 delegates to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) will convene in Los Angeles for their biannual convention.

For over 150 years the NEA has meet over the 4th of July weekend, the delegates sit by state wearing their state colors, listen to speeches, vote on items and will elect their new president.

Stephen Sawchuck, from Education Week has described the organizations and will write and blog from both conventions.

You might ask: Why two teacher organizations? Wouldn’t they be more powerful if they merged into one organization representing all teachers?

After years of on and off discussions the presidents of both organizations agreed on a framework for a merger, which was voted down by NEA members. The NEA is run by the staffs of the state organizations who were concerned that a merger would weaken their hold on the organization; the argument from the state organizations, “You’d become a union member instead of remaining as a professional.” I wonder if they feel the same way fifteen years later?

Sawchuck describes the internal AFT as being driven by political caucuses, while technically accurate the current leadership of the AFT, the 43 Executive Board members, who belong to differing caucuses in their home local, operate by consensus, the AFT is driven by elected leaders, not the staff. Michael Mulgrew (UFT), Karen Lewis (Chicago), Alex Caputo-Pearl (Los Angeles http://www.utla.net/), Richard Stutman (Boston http://www.btu.org/, Barbara Bowen (PSC http://www.psc-cuny.org/), among others, are a cohesive and really smart group of teacher leaders.

The AFT membership is concentrated in the large cities, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Washington DC, Chicago, Miami, LA, San Francisco as well as college locals, nurses, health care professionals and last month workers at the United Nations became affiliated with the AFT.

The convention sets the direction of the organization for the next two years by passing resolutions, listens to speeches (this year California Governor Jerry Brown among others), celebrates its successes, highlights programs and tries to garner a week of “national ink” in the world of media.

Any local union can submit a resolution (a string of “Whereas” statements followed by a “Resolved” statement), this year ninety-one resolutions were submitted. All delegates can choose to serve on one of the thirteen committees that discuss the resolutions, sort of a mini-convention: amend, approve or reject the proposed resolutions and prioritize the resolutions for floor debate. The committees range from Education Issues and Political Issues (hundreds of members each) to Nurses, Civil and Human Rights, Pensions, International Issues, etc., with 100 or so members each. The debate is frequently passionate. The committee decides the top three resolutions for floor debate. (Transparency: I serve as chair of the International Issues Committee – this year resolutions deal with The Ukraine, Trade Policy, Collective Bargaining Rights for UN Employees, Ending US Militarized Foreign Policy and a few others). Some resolutions are submitted by the Executive Council, the 43-member governing board of the AFT.

There are two resolutions on the Common Core – a lengthy resolution submitted by the Executive Council, (“Real Accountability for Equity and Excellence in Public Education”) and a resolution submitted by the Chicago Teachers Union (“Oppose the Common Core State Standards”).

The Executive Council three-page plus resolution includes, “AFT will support action against state and local policies that misuse VAM, student growth percentiles and similar methodologies and other test data for high stakes decision-making” and the brief CTU resolution states, “The Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning;” should be quite an interesting debate.

The top three resolutions from each committee come to the floor, there are six or eight microphone stations around the floor and delegates line up to speak – three minutes in the limelight!! Delegates can introduce amendments to alter, clarify or change resolutions, eventually debate is closed and the 3,000 delegates raise their hands, or stand for a count.

While the local presidents and delegations come from different caucuses in their home locals the Executive Council is far more issue-oriented. The tent is broad and there is a wide magnanimity – the Executive Council resolutions reflect the voices of all sections of AFT leadership; occasionally there are “agreements to disagree,” resolutions come to the floor with locals having opposing points of view.

This year hanging over the convention are the two major court decisions, the Vergara lower court decision in California ending tenure, which will lumber through the California appellate courts and Harris v Quinn, the Supreme Court decision limiting agency-fee payers in limited circumstances. I’m sure both decisions will be discussed and well as the key issue: the November 2014 elections. While teachers are livid about the many, many antagonistic comments and policies coming out of the Obama White House and Department of Education Republican victories could tip the Senate to the Republicans – and we’d see an avalanche of anti-union legislation, a la Wisconsin.

And, of course, the “elephant in the room,” the 2016 race for the White House: I did check out the Hillary Book Tour, just in case!!!

The future of public education and the role of teacher unions are at a crossroads. For some the backlash against federal interventions presages a return to local control, to others the assault will increase the push for charters schools, vouchers limitations on the ability to organize, and the erosion of the power of teacher unions. The future depends upon your lens: in Chicago the mayor continues to close schools, layoff teachers and erode the pension system, the Philadelphia public system is falling apart, as is the Newark system, Los Angeles remains deeply underfunded and New York City glows with a new contract and a mayor who applauds teachers and their unions.

Four years ago in Seattle Bill Gates, who I’m told is at the high end of the Asperger spectrum gave a strange vaguely pro-teacher speech while at the same tine he continued to fund a wide range of organizations that are attacking teacher unions. Two years ago the convention met in Detroit – a lively upbeat convention in a city that never recovered from the 1967 riots and a city in default.

Four days of a kaleidoscopic view of education.

I’ll try and blog from steamy, smoggy Los Angeles.

Why is the Chancellor Re-Igniting the Reading Wars? The Best Educational Decisions Are Made by Principals and Teachers at Schools, Not in Washington or Albany or at Tweed Headquarters

For the last four years of the Bloomberg administration teachers, principals and parents disliked and frequently despised the educational bureaucracy; for two decades none of the chancellors had been teachers or school leaders, initiative after initiative seemed to be punitive and ill-conceived.

Board headquarters, Tweed, became a “dirty word;” the deputy chancellors were inexperienced, and the teacher union and advocacy organizations were at war with Gracie Mansion.

The appointment of Carmen Farina, a forty-year veteran who worked her way up the ladder from teacher to deputy chancellor for teaching and learning was greeted with joy. The negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement after five years without a contract, new promotion requirements that gave principal judgment more credence, and visit after visit to schools and meetings with teachers, it seemed to be a new day

It is surprising, and does not auger well, that the chancellor intends to resuscitate her favorite reading program, the Lucy Calkins Teacher College Reading and Writing Project.

To the extent possible educational decisions should be made at schools by principals and teams of teachers, the role of the superintendent and network leader should be to guide and support decisions made at schools.

Decisions made in Washington or Albany are looked upon with suspicion, and, usually fade away. Chancellor Farina and Calkins are close friends, its “uncomfortable” when a friendship drives education policy rather than research-based programs.

In an April article Chalkbeat reports Calkins’ antipathy to the Common Core is evident,

[Calkins] … described a model lesson by Common Core advocate David Coleman where high school students are asked to pore over the three-paragraph Gettysburg Address for several days, parsing the meaning of the individual words and phrases in the speech … “To me, it basically represents horrible teaching,” Calkins said

In a letter to Farina Calkins wrote, “Please, Carmen, protect the Common Core from the documents surrounding it that are people’s interpretations of it.”

But some critics say that parts of Calkins’ approach and the Common Core are incompatible. The prospect that Fariña’s ascension could expand Calkin’s influence over the school system has already unsettled some of them, including New York University education professor Susan Neuman. “I think that’s scary,” Neuman said, “and devastating.”

While you philosophically may support or oppose the Common Core, it does drive state tests and regents examinations.

A few days ago Chancellor Farina announced her intent to increase the number of schools utilizing Calkin’s methodology. The New York Times writes,

… balanced literacy is poised to make a comeback in New York City classrooms. The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, wants more schools to adopt aspects of balanced literacy, including its emphasis on allowing students to choose many of the books they read.

The city’s Education Department turned away from balanced literacy several years ago amid concerns that it was unstructured and ineffective, particularly for low-income children. And Ms. Fariña is facing sharp resistance from some education experts, who argue that balanced literacy is incompatible with the biggest shift in education today: the Common Core academic standards.

But after several years of experimentation, the department moved away from balanced literacy. School officials grew concerned that students lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to understand books about history and science. In 2012, a study found schools that used balanced literacy lagged behind schools that used a differing approach known as Core Knowledge.

When the city released a list of curriculums it recommended under the Common Core standards last year, it omitted balanced literacy, amid worries that it was not sufficiently comprehensive to be labeled a curriculum.

While there are loyal adherents to the Calkins’ approach, the Columbia Teachers College Teaching and Writing Project, with the retirement of Farina the city abandoned the approach and the state did not include the program in the approved Common Core curriculum, Sol Stern writes,

[Farina] became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’ constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.

Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology.

On one hand we have a new chancellor who is a firm supporter of collaboration, who is advocating sharing successful practices among schools, a chancellor of a school system that just negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that is encouraging schools to go beyond perceived limitations of the contract and department regulations, to experiment and create and innovate, and, a chancellor who wants to reclaim a widely discredited reading program.

Unfortunately it appears that the chancellor is repeating mistakes that are all too commonplace, assuming that a program that we “liked,” or seemed to work for the kids we taught, or is in vogue, should be the approach used for all kids. Principal Farina led PS 6, an elementary school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an atypical school with a high achieving student body. The vast majority of students in New York City are children of color with parents who struggle in a city of inequality. Decisions as to which program to adopt must be based on sound research, not the whims of school and school district leaders.

School districts jumped on the technology bandwagon. The key to bridging the achievement gap was technology, if we flooded schools with the latest technology; if we taught kids how to use technology as a learning tool we level the playing field. Unfortunately the unintended consequence was to widen the achievement gap,

… the introduction of computers might “level the playing field” for the neighborhoods’ young people, children of “concentrated affluence” and “concentrated poverty.” They undertook their observations in a hopeful frame of mind: “Given the wizardry of these machines and their ability to support children’s self-teaching,” they wondered, “might we begin to see a closing of the opportunity gap?”

“The very tool designed to level the playing field is, in fact, un-leveling it,” … With the spread of educational technology, they predicted, “the not-so-small disparities in skills for children of affluence and children of poverty are about to get even larger.”

While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.

Mathematics instruction is another arena where there is a sharp divide between the advocates of direct instruction and advocates of a more child-centered, discovery approach, not dissimilar to the Calkins approach,

A recent study supports a direct instruction methodology, especially for struggling learners in first grade classrooms,

Pennsylvania State University researchers Paul L. Morgan and Steve Maczuga and George Farkas of the University of California, Irvine analyzed the use of different types of instruction by 1st grade mathematics teachers, including teacher-directed instruction, such as explicit explanations and practice drills; student-centered, such as small-group projects and open problem-solving; and strategies intended to ground math in real life, such as manipulative toys, calculators, music, and movement activities.

“In general education there’s been more focus on approaches that are student-centered: peers and small groups, cooperative learning activities. What can happen with that for kids with learning difficulties is there are barriers that can interfere with their ability to take advantage of those learning activities. Children with learning disabilities tend to benefit from instruction that is explicit and teacher directed, guided and modeled and also has lots of opportunities for practice.”

Moreover, neither struggling nor regularly achieving math students improved when using manipulatives, calculators, music, or movement strategies; these activities actually decreased student learning in some cases. Ironically, a regression analysis of the classes found teachers became more likely to use these strategies in classes with higher concentrations of students with math difficulties.

Unfortunately too many educators, in colleges and in schools are wedded to a philosophy rather than exploring well-researched, peer vetted methodologies.

Scattered around the city we find successful and ineffective schools, sometimes within blocks of each other and sometimes in the same building. The chancellor intends to “pair” effective and struggling schools hoping the struggling schools can “learn” from the successful schools.

The rage in the nineties was school-based budgeting: I traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, the school district that was the model, sort of the Finland of its day. When I returned I was asked, “Will it work here?” My answer was, “If you bring back the Canadians.” Edmonton was a different culture, highly competent principals working closely with their staffs in schools that had wide discretion over instructional approaches. The supervisors and teachers were in the same union, the district office staff and principals frequently changed jobs, parents were heavily involved in schools, and, the district was generally middle class. Success of a school usually depends on school culture; not reading programs, the success of the school depends on the quality of the school leadership and the quality of the staff – the synergy of leadership plus staff results in excellence. Yes, in high quality, highly effective schools the analysis of instructional approaches, the input that goes into decisions, the process results in the product.

School district leadership should “support” a range of programs with proven records of success. For example Core Knowledge or Success for All or Reading Recovery all have track records, school district leadership should be prepared to support proven programs in schools, not advocate for one program over another. And, if a school is not successful take the lead in selecting programs that suit the needs of the students. Too many school leaders selected under the previous administration lack leadership skills, and, the new guys” will have to retrain or replace the ogres.

Unfortunately “pair-a-school” approach has no research legs. What works in school “A” may fail in school “B.” The chancellor should be asking: what are the qualities of the school leader and the staff? What in the culture of the school results in higher student achievement?

The window is open; we can turnaround the largest school district in the nation, for the chancellor it seems that old habits are hard to unlearn.

I was an invited guest at a school leadership meeting – I forget the issue but after a lengthy discussion the principal jumped in … “I totally disagree with the approach – but – the teachers and parents are clearly committed to it – show me I’m wrong – make it work.”

We need more principals like Jeff Latto.