From the AFT Convention: Ravitch. Biden and Blow Call for the End of the Vilification of Teachers While Bloomberg and Rhee Continue to Vilify

“When this era does end,” [Ravitch] said, “you will be there to celebrate the collapse of this reign of error.”

Diane Ravitch, Vice President Joe Biden and NY Times columnist Charles Blow all called for the end of the vilification of teachers at the American Federation of Teachers Convention held last week in Detroit.

Take look at Ravitch here:

Vice President Biden here:

NY Times columnist Charles Blow here:

Unfortunately the attacks on teachers and their union continue … unabated … and, if anything, are accelerating.

Campbell Brown, a reporter and former anchor at CNN and NBC testified at the Cuomo Commission, had an op ed in the Wall Street Journal (Read here) and appeared on Morning Joe, calling for the chancellor having the final word on disciplinary hears against teachers. She references, inaccurately, a handful of cases, accuses arbitrators of being corrupt and blames “union rules.”

Brown only appears on three major media outlets if the mayor or Fox News or a major public relations firm pulls strings.

What Brown failed to mention was that NYS Commissioner of Education John King called the New York City teacher discipline rules “A model for the state.”

* Teachers arrested for felony weapons possession, drug related or sexual misconduct related crimes are suspended without pay pending the adjudication of the case.

* If found guilty, or if the teacher pleads guilty the teacher is dismissed without a hearing.

Brown argues that the chancellor should be the sole judge. In 99% of discipline cases currently under the power of the chancellor, teachers are found guilty; a better conviction record about the same as China, North Korea and Cuba.

What Brown conveniently forgets to tell us is that cases that go before an arbitrator are cases that are not crimes; they are violations of department regulations. For Brown, the chancellor should be able to fire a teacher and the teacher can seek a remedy in court – a two to three year process at a cost in legal fees, conservatively, of $250,000 per teacher to argue through the three levels of courts.

Suggestions for Brown and Bloomberg:

* The standard under arbitration is “preponderance of evidence,” let’s move it up to “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

* If the teacher wins: receive full back pay, legal costs and punitive damages, perhaps double the lost salary, plus, of course, full reinstatement with seniority.

Something tells me that Brown/Bloomberg/Rhee would rather have a Star Chamber adjudicate cases.

At the same time the well-funded Rhee national organization announces their NYC education director – Anna Hall – the principal of the Urban Assembly Bronx School of Letters – a consistent “A” school. Hall begins her job with a puff piece on Gotham Schools and, surprise, surprise, an op ed in the NY Post. What we aren’t told is a key statistic. The one data point that correlates closely with Progress Report grades and school success/failure are the percentage of kids entering overage; kids who have been held over earlier in their career or missed years of schooling. Of the 40 schools in her peer group only three schools have lower percentages of overage kids than Hall’s school. Two “turnaround” schools in the peer group have percentages of overage kids more than twice as high.

Hall, with Bloomberg as geppetto, parrots the Bloomberg line,

“It’s a radical notion, but I question whether tenure should remain part of our system at all,” according to Hall’s prepared testimony, which was provided in advance to Gotham Schools.

She’ll also propose letting districts decide what teachers need to do to get certified before they are allowed to lead a class room. And to help recruit and retain high quality teachers, Hall says that districts should be allowed to forgive new teachers’ college loans and offer bonuses to top performers, two proposals that Mayor Bloomberg floated in his State of the City speech earlier this year.

To push districts and their unions to negotiate these clauses into the teachers’ contract, Hall said the state legislature should use its budgetary power to withhold state aid, a move that the Cuomo administration has already made to encourage districts to hash out teacher evaluation deals.

What she neglects to tell us is that the state supports a wide range of alternative certification programs, all of which require the department to pre-select qualified teachers. Additionally under Bloomberg all teachers are hired directly by principals, evaluated by principals, granted tenure by principals. Half of the teachers selected by Bloomberg-appointed principals leave within five years. If teachers hired and granted tenure by Bloomberg principals are leaving and/or failing shouldn’t the question be the quality of the principals, not the tenure rules?

While Brown and Hall, the vilifiers, continue to attack Ravitch, Biden and Blow defend.

“Firing teachers is not a school improvement strategy,” Ravitch pointed out. “Firing teachers creates turmoil and churn and instability.” Closing schools is equally destructive. “Killing a neighborhood school is like putting a knife into the heart of a community.”

… she called value-added assessment— basing teacher evaluations on test scores—”junk science.”

“Your job, your reputation and your career should not depend on such an unreliable and unstable measure,” she noted. “The single biggest predictor of test scores is family income. The single most reliable predictor of achievement is poverty.”

“Professionals need to work without fear,” she said. They need to know their schools won’t close because of test scores; they need the academic freedom to teach evolution; and “they need to know that they will be evaluated by supervisors who are master teachers, not by principals who took a one-year course in how to be a principal.”

“Keep your union strong,” she told delegates. “Your cause is just. You will persist, and you will win.”

Diane Ravitch

Far too many of today’s teachers … are being asked, unfairly, to … provide “social services” to kids who live in poverty and are under a great deal of emotional stress. “Right now, we are punishing teachers for society’s problems, and that’s not right,” he asserted.

Blow said many teachers feel an intrinsic need to do everything they can for the children they serve. “Teachers did not become teachers to make a world of money. They became teachers to make a world of difference.”

Teachers deserve both greater respect and higher pay, said Blow, who pointed out that getting young people to enter the teaching profession is one of the major challenges facing our nation.

“Teachers have been so maligned in the national debate that it is hard to attract our best and brightest to the profession,” especially to high-poverty schools, he said. They see teachers “being overworked and underpaid, and they don’t want any part of it.”

Charles E. Blow, NY Times Op Ed Columnist

“When we look at you,” he said, “we see educators, we see professionals and we see public servants who are under full-blown assault.”

“We don’t see you as the problem,” he said. “We see you as the solution.”

People don’t fully understand how much goes into your profession, he told delegates.

“When the district runs out of money, it’s you who sacrifice and forgo contractual raises,” he said, citing a series of districts across the country where such sacrifices have helped save full-day kindergarten programs, physical education and art classes, early education programs, and maintained reasonable class sizes. “It’s you; it’s not somebody else” who does that.

“We public officials should be debating about how big a seat you have at the table, not whether you get to sit at the table, when we talk about how to improve education in America,” he said.

Vice President Joe Biden

As long as forces defending public schools, teachers and parents and the defenders of the public weal continue to fight together, they will prevail.


2 responses to “From the AFT Convention: Ravitch. Biden and Blow Call for the End of the Vilification of Teachers While Bloomberg and Rhee Continue to Vilify

  1. Retired- no longer public Enemy Number One

    Here we find the defining description of the state of the schools today. This analysis deserves very wide distribution!


  2. Paula S. Washington

    I was encouraged and inspired by these three speakers and others at the AFT Convention. It is telling that, worldwide, the best school systems are in countries where teachers are well trained, well paid, well respected, and unionized.


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