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AFT Convention (Pittsburgh): Days Three and Four – Bernie, Other Union Leaders, Teacher Candidates and Teacher Leaders from Around the World

Social media may rule; however, a passionate, rabble-rousing speaker who makes you jump out of your seat along with a few thousand others is contagious, quite a morning. The recent Janus Supreme Court decision was supposed to disempower public employee labor unions, the heart and core of the labor movement in our nation. It has nothing to do with the First Amendment free speech rights; it has everything to do with attempting to rip away a powerful force to support worker rights and the rights of the middle class; to weaken organizations that stand in the way of the rich and powerful, to further enrich themselves partnered with far right wingers who want to impose their philosophies on the nation.

Weingarten’s opening “Hope in Darkness” speech portrayed the darkness that hovers over the nation – click here –  and watch a frightening and encouraging view of the future of the nation.

There are four unions representing the tens of millions unionized public employees, the two teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association (NEA), led by Lily Eskelson Garica, along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU)) All four of the union presidents on the stage at the same time. The AFSCME president gave an old rip-roaring, table pounding speech, a mixture of labor leader and preacher, WoW!! The thousands of delegate jumping out of their seats – quite a show. The NEA president followed up with an equally enthralling, gutsy denunciation of the evil that surrounds us. Both humorous and heartrending she touched us all – and – at the end of the speech picked up her guitar and we all sang the Woody Guthrie song, “I’m Sticking By My Union.”

Our next speaker was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, again, a wonderful, passionate speaker. Warren was born in Oklahoma, her father was a janitor and her first job was as a classroom teacher, she eventually earned a law degree and a worked as a law school professor. I had never heard Warren give an extended speech, once again, passionate, with the thousands in the audience jumping up and screaming “2020,” who knows?

Watch videos of the speeches (Clinton, Warren etc., here, scroll down the left hand column)

Later in the day I attended the reception for the foreign guests, teacher leaders from 52 nations. I had an extended talk with a teacher leader from Norway. In New York City we proudly celebrated getting the city to agree to six weeks of paid maternity and/or child care leave, in Norway there is one year of paid leave that can divided between the parents and very inexpensive child care from the age of one year.  I asked, “Must be very expensive?” My new Norwegian friend replied, “Norway has the highest percentage of women in the workforce of any European nation, the benefits are paid for by higher productivity and taxes paid by the women in the workforce.”

Politics in Europe continues to be disturbing with the growth of populist right wing, in some instances neo-Nazi parties. In Poland and Hungary far right wing governments are rolling back democracy and growing elsewhere; partly due to immigration and partly due to a search for prosperity that eludes the less educated. Of course, all the foreign teacher union leaders think Trump is mad.

Sunday: Bernie came out roaring, white hair flying, that angry, snarling countenance (Watch Bernie’s speech here) calling Trump a “pathological liar,” and going on to lay out a list of policies, a typical political stump speech. A New York Times article sees Warren, Sanders and Senators Harris (California) and Booker (New Jersey) as beginning the long, long path to the nomination.

Representative Connor Lamb, elected in a heavily Trump congressional district in a recent special election spoke, a candidate who fit the district, a military veteran with middle of the road policies, a candidate for Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin district, also a veteran and a steel worker, who has had a tough life and pulled himself up with the benefit of a union job. Blue-ish candidates in red districts.

Teachers who are running for a variety of offices, a teacher in Orlando running for the school board, the schools are 43% Hispanic with no representation on the school board, a middle school teacher, Brandon Johnson, brought down the house, first regaling us with classroom stories followed by a rip-roaring sermon, yes, his father is a preacher, he is running to be a Cook County commissioner. You gotta watch the video!!!! (Click here)

We began to plow through the resolutions, almost 3,000 delegates, eight microphones on the convention floor, following Robert’s Rules. At times tedious as the chair has to remind delegates re the rules that govern the debate, Weingarten was kind and effective.

(Monday morning): Probably finish off by noon, five of six committees remain.

Some reflections: meeting teachers, public employees and nurses from across the nation is exciting; they fight the fight from Massachusetts to California, from Montana to Florida. We met, via Skype, nurses walking a picket line in Vermont, learned that the newly created Montana Federation of Public Employees, a merger of all the teacher/nurse/public employee unions hopes to win scores of elected offices across the state in November. I learned that Texas hopes to win three or four “red” congressional seats, and, on the dark side, I spoke with the president of the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers. The superintendent, appointed by the governor, a bureaucrat who never served as a teacher, is closing schools across the island and opening privatized schools; she’s making the island, still reeling from the hurricane even more chaotic.

Will Janus cut into teacher union funding and weaken unions, or, will the teacher response embolden and make unions more powerful in the political arenas?

Across the nation there are hundreds of teachers running foe local offices, from state legislatures to local town councils to school boards.

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing “We are the 99” at Occupy Wall Street.



AFT Convention (Pittsburgh) – Day 1 and 2: Featuring Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton Speeches

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conventions convenes every other year, elected delegates representing the 1.7 million K-12 teachers, public college and university professors, nurses and support staff.  The AFT represents members in large cities (Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., as well as teachers and public employees in a growing range of other locations (example: Montana and North Dakota), the AFT represents a wide and wider range of members.

The AFT is the national union. Union locals (in NYC the United Federation of Teachers) “own” the collective bargaining agreements pursuant to state law; locals negotiate contracts or agreements and belong to the state affiliate, in New York, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), and, at the national level the AFT.

Locals submit resolutions to the convention, this year 91 resolutions that are debated in 14 committees (example: education issues, human rights, pensions, international affairs, etc.), delegates select a committee on which to serve. The committees amend, support, or defeat and prioritize the resolutions. The top three resolutions that are prioritized by the committees come to the floor for debate by the entire convention – the 3,000 delegates. I serve as chair of the International Affairs Committee, we debated six resolutions, many points of view, amendments offered, some accepted, others rejected; we also debated the priorites.

Some time over the next few days I will stand before the convention and present the resolutions, as amended within the committee. Debate on the floor is frequently spirited. (BTW, Robert’s Rules really work!)

Yesterday morning Randi Weingarten presented her State of the Union Address, followed by the presentation of the Women’s Right Award to Hillary Clinton.

Click here to watch both speeches – (scroll down the left hand column).

Randi’s speech was superb: she laid out a chilling future, autocracy versus democracy, and the vital importance of the November midterm elections. In spite of the Janus decision unions are not only holding on to members but adding members. At a 7 am meeting of the UFT delegation, yes, this is a working convention; UFT President Mulgrew reported that as of a few days ago the UFT has “gained” 126 members.

The convention reconvenes at 9:30 (Saturday) and speakers include Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Representative Conner Lamb, the Democrat who defeated a Republican in a district that was pro-Trump by 20%.

I love meeting delegates from across the nation. We face very similar and very different issues. I never knew that Montana was a strong union state, originally led by miners, and that Montana public employees have merged into an AFT local.

There are foreign guests, teacher union leaders from across the globe, from Africa to the Caribbean, from Europe to Asia (paid for by their locals, not the AFT), and I’m going to meet with them this evening.

The theme of the convention is fighting back and fighting forward. Using Janus to build a more connected union, to build towards the November midterms and take back one or both house of Congress. The political action arm of the AFT parsed out polling data and a strategy stretching across the nation.

Off to my first meeting – more later.

Summer Vacation Begins and the Role of a Teacher Never Ends

On the last day of school teachers say goodbye to each other and to their students, some students cry, as do some teachers. Teachers make dozens of decisions impacting the lives of their students each day. Many teachers spend more time with their students than their parents. For the babies, teacher oft times know more about the lives of their kids than they might want to know.

“Why do you look so sad?”

“My daddy hits my mommy and she cries.”

What do you do?  Call the Child Abuse Hot Line? Tell the guidance counselor? Tell the principal? What will happen? Will the youngster be pulled from their home and placed in a foster home?  What’s best for the child?

“Teacher, can I have more food, we don’t have money to buy food?”

Food insecurity is commonplace, families hanging on the edge; do they pay rent or buy food?

Kids coming to school with flimsy clothes in the winter; what can I do?

A new kid shows up from Guatemala. Should be easy, the bi-lingual teacher can ask the kid a few questions: the bilingual teacher says the kid doesn’t speak Spanish, she speaks an Indian dialect . How can I communicate with the student?

Preteens have fragile egos: “She said I’m fat, ugly, etc.,” and bursts into tears. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms dominate the preteen lives. One kid threatens another, you call a parent: “Yes, I told my son if anyone lays hands on him to fight back.” I tell the parent there are other solutions, she says, “You don’t live in Brownsville; if you don’t fight back you don’t survive.”

High school kids may have poor attendance, and may also work full time jobs in addition to school, a few are parents, involved in gang cultures, or just don’t seem to care. How do you “turn on the lightbulb” before it’s too late?

Do we know how we impact kid’s lives?

In my union role I was visiting a school, the assistant principal called me aside; his daughter was in my class, to thank me profusely for the help I gave his daughter when she was going through “a difficult time.”  The problem: I had no idea what I did; we rarely know the impact of our actions.

A student asked to meet with me “in private.” She appeared quite upset, I was unprepared for her question, “Mr. G, how do I know if I’m in love?”

Not exactly what I expected; I took out a sheet of paper, drew a line down the middle and across the top, in one column I wrote “love” and “lust” in the other.

“In each column write a few words and then write an essay comparing and contrasting the words in the two columns. I told her, “It won’t impact your grade.”

She looked at me quizzically and departed and never submitted the essay and I never asked for it.

About five or so years later I was at an alumni event in my school and a young woman comes up to me,

“Remember me Mr. G?” Before I could say, not really, she said, “I had that ‘love/lust’ problem.”

“Of course, did you ever write the essay?”

She laughed, “A really, really tough assignment, I’m still working on it, it kept me out of lot of trouble.”

One of my former students occasionally pops up on my Facebook page, a few months ago in a post he wrote, “When I was in Mr. G’s class he taught me,” and he went on to rail against Trump.

On that last day some teachers are off for a few days and back for teaching summer school: have to pay off those student loans, take courses for a Masters, for license certifications, or to pay for camp for their own kids.

Summer was a time to decompress,

Back in the day really, really inexpensive charter flights on Air Obscure, flew “over the pond.” Some of us packed a knapsack with passport, U-Rail Pass and a list of Youth Hostels and traipsed across Europe.

One summer we exchanged our apartment with a French family and lived in Paris, registered our son at a neighborhood recreation center, no cost, Socialism is wonderful. He made the Center soccer team and played in the citywide tournament; probably had more impact on Franco-American relations than diplomats.

Today teachers tell me everybody has to fight back. “The parents of my kids are fighting to keep their heads above water; I have to fight for them.”

Retired teachers say, “I demonstrated in the sixties, antiwar rallies, freedom rides to the Deep South, I went on strike, I never thought I’d have to become an activist again.”

Teachers are role models, instructors, counselors, leaders, therapists, mediators and in the last two years political activists.

Next week 3,000 elected teacher delegates will convene in Pittsburgh for the biannual American Federation of Teachers convention.

The delegates will debate ninety resolutions, listen to a range of speakers, some electeds, some candidates, other education leaders, and organize for the November 2018 midterms.

I’ll be wearing my “Union Proud: I’m Sticking with my Union” shirt.

Will also be blogging and tweeting from the convention: stay tuned.

Janus and the Rising Tide of Tyranny in America: Why Are We Oblivious?

Remember Lady Liberty holding the scales of justice, nice concept, unfortunately justices fall, as we all do, along the political spectrum. Justices are either elected in partisan elections or selected by elected officials. In some constituencies judicial candidates are screened by local bar associations or committees, the bottom line: justices, like all of us, are political animals. Supreme Court justices are nominated by the President and conformed by a majority vote of the Senate – currently 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats; the Vice President casts a vote to break ties.

At his confirmation hearing Justice Roberts described himself as akin to a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes, “I call them as I see them,”

Presidents nominate justices who are on their side of the political spectrum, and who can garner a majority of senators. Our current president admires Putin more than Obama, a tyrannical dictator, not a democratically elected president.

Ideally, shouldn’t presidents select the most qualified justice from a lower court?  What does that mean?  In the vast majority of cases justices in lower courts simply apply the law and prior precedents.

Unfortunately, in the courts, the strike zone changes according to who is at the plate.

Justice Scalia described himself as an “originalist,” basing his decisions on the original meaning of the constitution. Who decides the intent of the framers?

The Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting, no press, the fifty-four delegates came and went, from April to September, arguing, compromising, making deals, and there were no transcripts, only Madison kept a detailed journal, and his notes were not made public until fifty years after the convention. Madison spent the years after leaving the presidency preparing his notes,

Madison continually postponed the publication of his journal out of fear that his political enemies would use it against him and that its incompleteness and errors would distort a strict-constructionist approach to the Constitution. To thwart such misrepresentation, he spent time throughout several decades improving his journal until there were many emendations, deletions, interlineations, and insertions in the text.

 The “originalist” justices use the canard of somehow understanding the mind of the framers to impose their philosophical beliefs on the nation, a nation moving incrementally toward an oligarchic tyranny.

In 1911, Max Ferrand, published the Records of the Federal Constitution of 1787 , a compilation of all the existing documents relating to the Convention, predominantly the Madisonian journals and other documents.

From the fall of 1787 into the spring of 1788 the thirteen colonies debated the proposed Constitution, Madison, Hamilton and Jay wrote 85 essays, collectively known as the Federalist Papers, actually op ed essays urging ratification of the Constitution. The authors present their views of the meaning of the Constitution, yes, they are partisan arguments.

Original intent can never be known, and to use the concept to justify a particular reading of a section of the Constitution is partisan debate; apparently “originalists” possess special Ouija boards.

Does the original intent of the Second Amendment support the premise that all Americans can carry concealed hand guns? Does the Amendment preclude states from limiting the ownership of guns?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, The right of people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

 In 2008, in District of Columbia v Heller, by a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled statutes restricting the right to “bear arms” violated the 2nd Amendment. For over 200 years the issue was dormant, laws to restrict the ownership of handguns commonplace, until five justices had an apotheosis.

A concept imbedded in law, from the days of English Common Law, is the concept of precedent, the Latin term, stare decsis, a core concept in our court system.

Stare decisis is Latin for “to stand by things decided.”  In short, it is the doctrine of precedent.

Courts cite “stare decisis” when an issue has been previously brought to the court and a ruling already issued. According to the Supreme Court, stare decisis “promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.” In practice, the Supreme Court will usually defer to its previous decisions even if the soundness of the decision is in doubt. A benefit of this rigidity is that a court need not continuously reevaluate the legal underpinnings of past decisions and accepted doctrines. 

Except, when it doesn’t abide by .the political views of five justices.

Five justices have used the First Amendment as a tool, or perhaps, more appropriately, a weapon. The First Amendment states,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The five conservative justices believe the First Amendment allows virtually unrestricted contributions to political campaigns (“Citizens United”), unleashing the wealthiest to control our democracy,

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast

Allowing companies to ignore equal protection laws by granting religious exceptions (“Masterpiece Wedding Cake”)

… in at least some scenarios sincerely held religious beliefs can trump such laws (namely, laws protecting the rights of gay couples)

and the just released Janus decision, ruling that all union actions are “speech,” and that “fair share” laws violate the rights of employees who are not union members because to force them to pay agency fees (“fair shares”) violates their First Amendment rights, namely, “abridging free speech.”

 The state of Illinois’ extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment; Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., which concluded otherwise, is overruled.

Alice O’Brien is general counsel for the National Education Association, which filed an amicus brief in support of the union in Janus v. AFSCME, writes,

The Janus majority ruled that public employees have a fundamental First Amendment interest in not being compelled to support public-sector labor-management systems that states choose to erect. This is nonsense. The very same justices who struck down Abood today wrote the precedents declining to provide public employees any First Amendment protection at all when they are speaking at work as part of their jobs, in part on the ground that states as sovereigns have expansive powers to regulate their workplaces. As Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote in 2006 in Garcetti v. Ceballos, there is a difference of constitutional significance between an employee’s speech made as a citizen, which is protected by the First Amendment, and speech made as a public employee, which “the Constitution does not insulate … from employer discipline.”

Judge Alito, writing for the 5-4 majority in Janus first re-litigated Abood, the 41-year old decision supporting fair share (“agency fees”) for employees who choose not to join a union. In tortured reasoning Alito tries to chip away at Abood, in my judgment unsuccessfully. Once again the use of the First Amendment to rule agency fees unconstitutional is mind-boggling; the argument was just as mind-boggling in as Citizen’s United and Masterpiece Wedding Cake. Public employees don’t have unfettered free speech right according to the Court in Garcetti, the Court divides speech into “protected” and “unprotected” categories and in Janus defines all union activities as “speech,” thereby discriminating against any employee who is not a member, abridging their constitutional protected free speech rights

Unions, by federal law, must operate in a democratic fashion through elections of union leaders, members, if they choose, can participate in the setting of union policies, elect union officials, ratify collective bargaining agreements. Non union members have chosen not to participate in the process, although they benefit from any benefits and working conditions. Citizens can register and vote, play a role in the election of public officials who set policy; if they choose not to register and vote, they still have to abide by all laws; however, they are not freed from paying taxes, even if they object to the objective of the tax or the tax itself.

The Janus decision is clearly intended to damage unions, as Alito admits in his opinion, almost gleefully predicting “unpleasant transition costs” for unions.

We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members. But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years. It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. All these reasons—that Abood’s proponents have abandoned its reasoning, that the precedent has proved unworkable, that it conflicts with other First Amendment decisions, and that subsequent developments have eroded its underpinnings—provide the “‘special justification[s]’” for overruling Abood.

 With the retirement of Judge Kennedy, who occasionally voted with the four liberal justices the president has the opportunity to nominate a hard right justice and memorialize a court, working with conservative organizations, a court who for decades can move to nullify abortion rights, voting rights, to move the nation further and further to a nation ruled by the wealthiest and creating a permanent disempowered underclass.

In two chilling books, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017) and The Road to UnFreedom (2018) Timothy Snyder, carefully examines the history of democracy versus autocracy, and writes,

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands.

 Snyder urges us to study history to better understand the past and protect ourselves from falling victim to the horrors of the past.

From Russia to China to North Korea, to the rising of corrosive nationalism in Europe we are edging towards the reemergence of fascism, Too many of us assume that all leadership is just, we forget, or never knew, that Stalin and Hitler and the despots of the past arose with support of large segments of the public or their passivity.

Donald Trump is the face of a rising tyranny, step by step, court decision by court decision, mass shootings legitimized by court decisions, immigrants treated as Jews were treated by European fascists, using inherent racism to deflect from the rising tide of corporate greed; Janus is a small step that moves our nation closer to tyranny.

I’m sure some readers will call me excessive, while Trumpian America is disturbing they believe this to will pass, I suggest watching Babylon Berlin  on Netflix. A historical drama taking place in 1929 Berlin, the Berlin of Cabaret, a police inspector with the background of German politics, the right wing/left wing battles, the fear of Communism in Germany, the reactions, does it presage our nation over the next decade?

Waiting for Carranza: Is the New Chancellor a Follower or a Leader?? [Updated]

Every month a thousand or so elected union representatives from schools across the city meet to set policy for the union, and, listen to union president Michael Mulgrew. Meetings begin with the “Presidents Report,” followed by a question period, an opportunity to add items to the agenda, discussion and votes on resolutions. Mulgrew enjoys “chatting” with the very diverse union members, old/young, male/female, different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, all elected by union members in schools. At the last meeting Michael asked, “How do you think the new chancellor is doing?” A lukewarm response, Mulgrew smiled, “We are a leery group,” and went on to say so far he had a warm relationship with the chancellor.

The elephant in the room, sucking up every ounce of air has been school integration – the specialized high schools and integration at the school district level.  The mayor has been leading the charge; Carranza has been nodding, after all this is a mayoral control system. The New York Times, in a lengthy editorial “Its Time to Integrate NYC’s Best Schools” supports the de Blasio plan, lots of smiles in Gracie Mansion.

The state legislature has adjourned and does not reconvene until January and the Department of Education Diversity Task Force report is not due until December, the issues will linger into next year.

It’s the last day of school and there haven’t been any major educational pronouncements. Carranza has been doing the “meet and greet” get acquainted tour around the city, getting to know folks and have them getting to know him. At some point he has to begin running the school system, a system that has been floundering for the last few years.

The first dozen years of the mayoral control were complicated, high points and low points, ending in a disastrous last few years.

The teacher contract settlements in 2005 and 2007 raised teacher salaries by an astounding 44%, yes, a longer school day, the seniority transfer plan was replaced with teacher free agency, in essence every teacher worked under a one-year agreement and could move to another school. On the down side the Absent Teacher Reserve, envisioned as a short term solution to massive school closings became a fixture – at one time housed over 2000 teachers, down to under 800.

Well over 100 schools were closed, and hundreds of new schools created; we moved from 110 large comprehensive high schools to over 400 small high schools on multiple school campuses.

Eric Nadelstern and Shael Suransky, deputy chancellors under Bloomberg, proudly point to dramatic increases in graduation rates, critics claim the rates resulted from the widespread use of gimmicks (i., e., credit recovery) See MRDC “Do Small High Schools Make a Difference?  report. I have come to believe in the transformative differences that small high schools can make: close relationships among teachers, between students and teachers, collaborative school cultures impact student and teachers: school culture rules. I also believe the incredible decline in the New York City homicide rate can to some extent be attributed to the inclusive cultures of small high schools.

As I have noted the last four years of Bloomberg mayoral control deteriorated into grenade tossing between the union and the mayor; however, the system did move to a distributive leadership management model. From “Autonomy” (25 schools), to “Empowerment” (250 schools) to a system-wide system of affinity “Networks;” clusters of schools that chose to work with a network leader, schools with common educational beliefs, schools committed to aligned education philosophies.  While the network model needed to continue to evolve (principals should not have been “charged” for networks in their budget) it was cut short with the appointment of Carmen Farina as chancellor. Farina moved back to the accountability-driven superintendent model, in my view a major step backwards.

Farina’s major initiative, Renewal Schools, the schools designated by the state as lowest achieving schools, been a failure. An enormous amount of money pumped into the school without much to show: an unsustainable model.

Is the new chancellor simply going to continue the Farina model? Does he intend to move in a new direction?

In Houston, his former employer, a major disagreement was brewing, traditionally schools in Houston had control over their budget; Carrenza was beginning to challenge school control of budgets, he left before the dispute was resolved.

A few weeks ago Richard Carranza and his inherited leadership team met with the City Council Finance and Education Committees, he was polite, reminded the Council members that he has only been on the job for a month and frequently responded, “I’ll check into that and we’ll get back to you;” however, unsolicited he mentioned that there must be fifty different reading programs used by schools across the city, he mused, maybe only ten would be better.

Should chancellors determine school reading programs?

About 150 schools survived the Farina ending of networks, these schools mostly high schools, operate within clusters, the schools work with a number of support organizations, New Visions for Public Schools, the International High School Network, the Urban Assembly, Outward Bound  and the Early College Initiative at CUNY, for supervisory purposes they operate within the same superintendencies.

These are NOT charter schools, they are a public school alternative to charter schools, public schools working with high quality support organizations within an intensive support frameworks. The teacher union contract allows schools, many of the schools within the network supra, to alter sections of the collective bargaining agreement and Department regulations.

This model should be supported and expanded. The academic results of the schools are impressive; with careful planning these models can be expanded.

A major study authored by Linda Darling Hammond and Dion Burns (June, 2018) examines education practices in the highest achieving countries around the world.

How many of these qualities are embedded your school?

Standards: Clarity about what constitutes high-quality teaching

 Selectivity made possible by competitive compensation, support for preparation and supportive teaching conditions

 Professional learning that is collegial, job-embedded, research-oriented, connected to school improvement efforts, and ongoing

 Time: for teachers to work with and learn from colleagues, to conduct their own research, and to share practices

 Feedback: collaboration and continuous feedback help teachers reflect on and improve individual and collective practice

 Teacher leadership: professional learning is often teacher-led.

 Teachers’ expertise is developed, recognized, and shared.

  Networks: mechanisms exist for sharing practices across schools

 In too many schools highly critical observation reports are commonplace  and snarky school leaders the order of the day; the assignment of a school leader does NOT come with a scepter and orb. Too many of our schools and districts are led by leaders without vision, without confidence, who fail to realize you cannot improve teaching and learning with threats and intimidation.

We require a chancellor, a school district leader who understands and is committed to practices that have driven the most successful nations in the world; who can encourage and mirror collaborative school cultures.

I fear a meek chancellor more concerned with pleasing a mayor than leading and creating new impactful schools cultures.

Maybe I’m just one of those leery New Yorkers who has been disappointed too often by school and school district leaders who have stumbled and reverted to “my way or the highway,”

Then again, maybe Carranza is just getting his feet on the ground before moving forward with teachers and their union.

UPDATE: Today the chancellor announced a new management structure – the creation of a number of new deputy chancellors with program specific titles and a new layer of management called Executive Superintendents who will function between the current area superintendents and the deputy chancellors.  Unfortunately adding layers of management, layers of accountability is akin to moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. As I referenced above the highest achieving nations in the world have thin bureaucracies and empower schools leaders and teachers at the local level.

Enjoy the summer.

Rescuing Specialized and Screened High Schools: Some Concrete Suggestions

After a decade of explosive urban riots across the nation in the 60’s community activists and students at City College occupied the campus, classes were cancelled, and, extensive discussions the college moved to an Open Admissions policy, beginning in September, 1970, all high school graduates with an 80 average would be admitted to 4-year CUNY colleges.

Critics screamed Open Admissions ruined the CUNY colleges, claimed the once iconic colleges were turned into remediation institutions.

Advocates for the Specialized High School (Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Music and Art), fearing an Open Admission program imposed on the Specialized High Schools sprinted to Albany and embedded the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) in law, and, also created a Discovery Program for “disadvantaged students,”

The Discovery Program section of the law has, to a large extent, been absent from the current debate. The law states,

  1. d) The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools. A student may be considered for the Discovery Program provided the student: (1) be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score (2) is certified by his local school as disadvantaged (3) is recommended by his local school as having high potential for the special high school program and (4) attends and then passes a summer preparatory program administered by the special high school. All students recommended for such a Discovery Program are to be arranged on a list according to their entrance examination scores, in descending order, from the highest to the lowest. Each special high school will then consider candidates in turn, starting at the top of the list for that school. A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above.

 In the early years the Discovery Program achieved its goals, “disadvantaged students,” aka, students of color, were admitted to the specialized schools. The years of support for the program on the part of the Board/Department of Education faded, the percentage of Asian students increased sharply and the number of students of color in the specialized schools declined steadily.

The entering class to Stuyvesant in September, 2017 included only nine Afro-American students, out of over 900 students admitted.

As the public outrage grew, in the waning days of the legislative session, the de Blasio sherpas raced to Albany and introduced a bill, whose primary sponsor was Charles Barron, a highly controversial legislator.

The bill would replace the SHSAT with an iteration of the “Texas Plan” accepting highest achievers by academic grade point average from all middle schools – in effect replacing large numbers of Asian and white students with Afro-American and Latinx students.

Supporters of the SHSAT (led by the alumni associations) churned up the heat; the Barron bill, with some arm-twisting, was reported out of the Education Committee, and, as the heat increased was pushed into the 2019 session by the Speaker. (See the 990 Report of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Association here).

Did de Blasio understand the backlash would be fast and furious? If not, get a lot better advisors, if yes, a cynical attempt to collect up the most progressive in the Democratic camp? Potential candidates for city-wide office in 2021 of all skin hues backed away from the de Blasio plan as the backlash expanded.

Let me offer a few suggestions:

Amend the Discovery Program section of the bill,

  • Delete the section that requires that a student, “be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score;” leave the selection of students to the discretion of the middle school
  • Delete the section that delegates the administration of the Discovery Program to the specialized high school, “summer preparatory program administered by the special high school.” and replace with, “preparatory program (not limited to the summer) administered by the Department of Education (namely, not depending on the specialized high school).
  • Additionally, change the section that sets a specific percentage for admission under the Discovery Program, “Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure,” with incrementally higher percentages.

And, add to the bill a section establishing a commission to explore alternative methods of student selection to the Specialized High Schools,

The Department can make a number of changes to the Discovery Program without legislation.

  • Begin the program in the summer after the sixth grade, continue during the school year, the summer after the seventh grade and the intensive study time in the fall of the eighth grade preceding the SHSAT
  • The students selected to participate shall be at the discretion of middle schools within parameters set by the Central Board.
  • Site the programs in high poverty school districts
  • Explore changing the nature of the SHSAT, perhaps employ Questar, the company that creates the NYS grades 3-8 tests and create a test similar to the state tests in format and content, direct the commission referenced above to explore that option.

As the Specialized High School quagmire sucked in more and more folk the much larger, and in many ways more insidious policy burst forth. The Bloomberg administration, probably in an attempt to retain middle and upper income families in public schools created well over 100 screened schools, schools that require high scores on state tests, perhaps an interview and a portfolio of student work. No matter the requirements, the results: far fewer students of color admitted to the screened schools. The Department created islands of white schools in a sea of brown and black schools.

Read an excellent recounting of the odyssey written by Sayed Ali and Margaret Chin, “What’s Going on with New York’s Public High Schools?” in The Atlantic here.

Back in the days of yore, the days of large comprehensive high schools, some survive and a few prosper, (Midwood, Madison, Bayside, Cardozo, etc.), all had educational option programs, maybe a law, or, business, or, art program, or whatever specialty the school created, all students could apply directly to the Ed Op  program on their high school application. The 110 comprehensive high schools of the 90’s, after over fifty school closings and the creation of multi-school campuses has morphed into a mind-boggling system of over 400 high schools and 700 programs within schools. Most students are admitted by the spinning of the high school admissions alghorhym, others by grades and interviews, aka, screening, the arts programs by audition and others by the educational option (16/66/16), a bell curve of acceptances.

The massive High School Directory lays out all the options, including how many acceptances/applications per school program; some programs do not fill seats others have thousands of applicants.

Change the admission requirement to the screened schools as follows,

  • In September, 2019, 25% of the entering classes at screened schools shall be selected pursuant to the educational option (16-66-16) metric, the remainder by the selection criteria currently used by the school.
  • In September, 2020 50% of the entering classes at the screened school shall be selected pursuant to the educational option (16-66-16) metric, the remainder by the current selection criteria currently used by the school.


  • The Department will request proposals from current schools, current school support organizations and not-for-profits to convert current schools or newly created schools into diverse middle and high schools.

In the early days of the high school closing/small high school creation any organization could apply to partner with the potential school. Teams would vet the applications, provide planning grants and eventually select the schools, a bottom up process working with community-based organizations.

Creating diverse schools should begin in school communities facilitated by the school management bureaucracy, not imposed by a chancellor or a mayor.

De Blasio’s decision to race to Albany was a serious error, as the aphorism goes, when throw a rock in a pool of feces you never know whose going to get splashed.

My suggestions supra, are suggestions, the more suggestions the better, the more engagement, the more discussion, the more collaboration, the better the chances of coming up with a plan that has broad support.

Afro-American high school senior: “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”

The Board of Regents was sponsoring a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) conference, high profile speakers including former Chancellor and current President of Medger Evers College Rudy Crew. A panel of high school students, one of whom asked, “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”

Was he unknowingly supporting Plessy v Ferguson (1896), or, have we moved beyond Brown v Board of Education (1954)?

The unanimous decision of the Warren Court has become civil rights scripture. The Court decision,

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

 Sixty years after Brown the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reviewed integration in schools across the nation, and, surprisingly found that New York State schools are among the most segregated in the nation.

Gentrification, implicit bias, purposeful funding disparities, white privilege,

Last year two schools, only blocks apart on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; one all-white, overcrowded and high achieving and another all-Afro-American, underutilized and low achieving. Efforts to “integrate” the schools were met with vitriolic opposition by the parents in the white school and after months of argument on the school board the schools remained racially separate. The months long debate was closely followed by the media,

The Department of Education appointed a blue ribbon Diversity Task Force and a plan, “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools a plan that was immediately panned by the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, “No Heavy Lifting Required: New York City’s Unambitious School Diversity Plan.

 The Board of Regents formed an Integration, Diversity and Equity Work Group that has met each month over this school year laying out goals  and timelines.

At the last meeting the Work Group viewed a re-creation of the Clark’s Doll Study  that was referenced in the Brown decision.

Young Afro-American children saw white dolls as prettier than black dolls.

Skin color is an extremely controversial topic in the Afro-American community,

Spike Lee, in his 1988 movie School Daze exposes the controversy,

Folks who are of African descent but are visibly more fair-skinned are assumed to have a superiority complex, due to their complexion being closer to white, reflecting the internalized notion of white supremacy. Inversely, those of a darker hue are looked down upon and ridiculed for possessing features that are more African in nature, again a product of white supremacy, suggesting that anything black is naturally inferior.

If you have female African-American friends of a certain age ask them about the “paper bag test.” (“Dark Girls: Getting Past the Paper Bag Test”)

Supporters of aggressive school integration argue that white schools are better resourced, have more experienced teachers and the instruction is at a higher level.

Joe Rogers, supports parental choice, parents of children of color having the option of any school, on an even playing field, and wonders whether the currently discussed integration plans should be at the top of the progressive agenda. In an essay, “Getting Our Priorities Straight: True Racial and Socioeconomic Justice Over White-Center Integration,” Rogers asks,

Does Black Lives Matter encourage Black and Brown people living in poverty to flee their predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods for Whiter communities?

  Does it seek to recruit White families to Black and Brown communities in hopes that the White folks will serve as magnets for better housing, services, and treatment?

  Or does it confront the power structure to demand justice in Black and Brown neighborhoods?

 Rogers challenges the trope, the rhetoric of integration, that “White-centered diversity” should be a goal of public policy  Rogers doesn’t oppose

Those who care about racial and socioeconomic justice and the educational rights of Black and Brown children living in poverty should be deeply troubled by the rhetoric of integration. They should challenge advocates of any color who place the lack of White-centered “diversity” — the White-supremacist notion that a school isn’t good or “diverse” enough unless it includes plenty of White students …..

Honestly, the most important educational-justice concern in New York City today isn’t families sending their children to schools where most children look like them. Not even close. It is not the quest to get a few thousand more Black and Brown children into the handful of predominantly White and/or Asian schools — the so-called exam schools. Those are all side issues.

The greatest barriers to true equity, unaddressed while we squabble over lesser issues: the severe under-resourcing, institutional neglect, and underestimation of New York City’s predominantly Black and Brown schools. Those are the very factors that drive families of all colors and income levels to believe that enrolling their children in schools with few students of color and few students living in poverty is the only way to prepare our children for college, career, and civic success.

 The deficit-angle lenses of White-centered integrationists conveniently point away from the strengths and potential in predominantly Black or Brown schools. They wax poetic about the benefits that they say well-resourced White schools confer upon children of color, and then have little to nothing to say about the value that many Black and Brown children and families derive from predominantly Black and Brown schools.

 Roger references the Historic Black Colleges (HBC’s) as well as a number of predominantly black high schools in the city, high quality schools; can’t we create more high quality schools in neighborhoods of color?

The essay concludes with number of specific recommendations,

It’s not enough to simply critique and challenge racist and classist ideas and policies. One must advance alternatives. Below are four racially and socioeconomically just proposals that prioritize our city and state governments’ legal and moral obligations to our children.

(1) Ensure that all Black and Brown families, particularly those living in poverty, are fully informed about — and are able to use their power to hold the government accountable for honoring — their educational rights.

 (2) Demand that our state government finally fulfill its responsibility to create a transparent system of monitoring, reporting, and enforcing students’ school-level access to the specific learning opportunities and supports required by law.

 (3) Stop holding up predominantly White schools as holy grails for Black and Brown families. And stop framing and treating predominantly Black and Brown schools — and other predominantly Black and Brown institutions and neighborhoods, for that matter — as inferior and in desperate need of White children and White parents.

 (4) Prioritize racial and socioeconomic justice over white-centered integration

 I am not diminishing the importance of resolving the test-based segregation at the specialized high schools; however, we’re talking about a miniscule number of students. If you live in a community of color: Harlem, Brownsville, East New York, Soundview or South Jamaica there must be a wide range of options, from screened programs to Career and Technical Education to Arts schools. Too many of the four hundred plus small high schools struggle to graduate students who are not college and career ready. Too skim off the “best and the brightest” to “White” schools is demeaning. We can do better.