Tag Archives: American Federation of Teachers

Off to Minneapolis: Preparing for the American Federation of Teacher Convention: Will the Bernie and Hillary Supporters Bond?

On Monday the American Federation of Teachers will celebrate its hundredth anniversary at their bi-annual convention, this year in Minneapolis. About 3,000 teachers, school-related personnel and nurses will spend four days setting policy for the national union, listening to a range of speakers and on Monday afternoon meet the “presumptive” Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (You can watch on the AFT.org website).

National conventions are always fascinating, an opportunity to meet teachers from around the nation. Chicago (CTU-Local 1) has been at war with Rahm Emmanuel, their mayor, with another strike possible in September.  California appears to be making positive changes away from endless testing, or, are they creating a dense accountability system – talking with teacher trade unionists from across the nation is always enlightening.  I will be meeting teacher union guests from other countries. Recently I was speaking with teachers and school leaders from Austria: How do you become a principal in Austria? “You belong to the right political party.” Are teachers involved in hiring staff? (Odd look) “No, neither is the principal, teachers are assigned by the bureaucracy, and have lifetime tenure after a few years.  We needed a history teacher, they sent us a gym teacher, and our system is totally top down.” BTW, Austria scores above average on PISA assessments (See here).

The convention schedule is packed full of meeting – first meeting 7 am Monday morning. The delegates will debate changes to the AFT constitution and bylaws and debate, in committees, ninety-one resolutions submitted from locals around the country. Linda Darling-Hammond will lead a discussion of teacher assessment and the new federal All Students Succeed Act (ESSA) that replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The US Department had just released draft regulations – no question the regulations and the possibilities for innovation pilots will be discussed (See Education Week discussion here)

On the convention floor there are multiple microphones (usually six, seven or eight) scattered around the arena. Any delegate can jump up to a microphone to support, oppose or amend a resolution. The committees, after debating the resolutions, set priorities, the highest priority resolutions must be debated on the floor – there are thirteen committees – the top three priorities must reach the floor.

The Democratic Platform on Education was set last week, the original platform reflected the de-reformers, led by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a coalition led by Bernie supporters and Randi Weingarten made significant changes (Read details here), angering the DFER faction, who are supporters of the Duncan-King policies.

A theme of the convention will be bonding the Hillary and the Bernie acolytes and building a teacher-led Hillary campaign across the nation. Not an easy task since passions were high during the lengthy campaign, considering the Trump alternative, one would hope the Bernie folks will jump on board.

The latest polls, if you have any confidence in polls, predicts a very close election (Read polling results here).

I’ll be blogging from Minneapolis – stay tuned.

Charter Schools and the Education Reform Agenda: Fabulous or Failures? Why Top Down Reform Will Fail and Bottom Up Teacher/Parent Driven Reform Will Succeed.

“As charter schools continue to expand, new research indicates liberal opponents are failing to make effective arguments aimed at curbing the education reform movement.”

In a peer-reviewed article in the Policy Studies Journal University of Michigan political scientist Sarah Reckhow finds,

“Conservatives outnumber liberals in this country, and only liberals tend to oppose charter schools. They are failing to persuade even fellow Democrats who are more moderate…. Those who want more regulation of charter schools will have to find more effective ways of persuading people because their base is small and their arguments are falling on deaf ears.”

The 2014 midterm elections were a Republican romp; Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and pummeled the Democrats to seize control of the Senate. The national education debate was not around charter schools, the debate centered around excessive testing, Common Core, and, generally, the expanded role of the federal government in the formation of education policy

Charter schools are popular among conservatives primarily, according to Reckhow, due to their anti-union bias, as well as among the large swaths of progressive Democrats. At a recent panel of former Clinton staffers one of the speakers, who had a high-ranking policy position in the Clinton White House, praised Clinton for his support of charter schools. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) actively campaigns within the Democratic Party for the “reform” agenda: charter schools, weakening tenure, abolishing layoff by seniority and generally weakening the power of unions.

The consumers of charter schools, inner city parents of color, routinely flock to charter schools in lieu of the local public school.

What is particularly distressing is that the “evidence,” piles and piles of research, shows that charter schools are on a par with public schools, or have slightly better data, many stumble and fail, and this is in spite of their obvious advantages, few students with disabilities, fewer English language learners, high rates of “pushouts” and expulsions, and a recruiting system that favor parents with “social capital.”

Joshua Corwin, “Charter Schools: Fabulous or Failure,” takes a deep dive into the research findings,

Depending on whom you ask charter schools may be either an important solution to persistent educational inequality, or a misguided attack on public schools as Americans know them. Both sides are firmly entrenched in this debate, which remains one the more polarizing arguments in American education.

Corwin parses the studies that differ in their conclusions. Although not part of the Corwin’s article New York City is a good example, the large charter networks, Success, Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP and Uncommon Schools perform reasonably well while the hundreds of single entrepreneur charter schools frequently underperform neighborhood public schools. The article concludes,

The answer then to the question of whether charter schools provide opportunities for students in struggling public schools appears to be “yes, but…”

The important word here is “opportunity.” For some students, attending certain charter schools may lead to significant improvements in their educational experiences. How those effects occur remains a matter for debate; explanations for charter successes and failures are as varied as the results themselves.

In the realm of cyberspace there are enumerable blogs critical of charters and the so-called “:reform” agenda, there are over 200 bloggers within in Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education churning out post after post and thousands upon thousands of tweets. Are the anti-charter school bloggers and tweeters talking to each other or impacting opinion in the public sphere?

One of the main arguments of the anti-charter school, anti-reform folks is that they are fighting against the corporatists, the “rich and powerful,” the Bill Gates, the Eli Broads, the donor community, who are funding the support of charter schools and the reform agenda. Reckhow in an earlier book, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics, examined the role of foundations in influencing education policy.

Jay Greene, a scholar on the conservative side, in a review of the book wrote,

Reckhow confirms that total foundation giving to K–12 education may exceed $1 billion … Reckhow shows that large foundations have recognized the need to focus on influencing how public monies are spent, and that they are now devoting a significantly larger share of their giving on policy advocacy … Reckhow extends this analysis by warning us that shifting to policy advocacy won’t necessarily result in policy success, especially on an enduring basis…

Without building authentic and lasting support among local constituencies, philanthropic dreams of policy change may be ephemeral … New York City may have been easier, faster, and cheaper for reform-oriented foundations to accomplish their goals, but that speed came at a price. The support for reform policies is so narrow in New York City that Reckhow doubts it will survive for long after Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office. [And, yes, many of the Bloomberg era policies are eroding]

If large foundations can build and control a national machinery to shape education policy nationwide, then they have no reason to worry about how broadly based support is for their preferred policies. As long as national elites favor their agenda, they hope that the national machine they are constructing can force policies from the very top all the way down to every classroom.

Reckhow’s implication is that this national reform machine is doomed to fail. Both state and local education authorities will resist the national reforms before they can be completed, or they will ignore and subvert policies that actually go into effect. Millions of teachers and thousands of schools cannot all be monitored and compelled from the top. Reckhow’s lesson is that enduring and successful reforms require a broad and deep base of support, which top-down reform efforts are failing to develop.

… there is an alternative to trying to convince the education establishment to buy into reform. Donors could mobilize the most important yet most ignored constituency of all: parents.

Reckhow thinks donors should court unions, community activists, and local leaders…

The top down reforms, i. e., the Common Core and testing is the subject of grassroots parent advocacy, the “opt-out” movement is spreading from state to state and the reauthorization of NCLB is seriously considering moving away from annual student testing. On the ground parent advocacy may be turning back the climate of testing that has dominated the education scene.

Twenty years ago, David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform, they were also sharply critical of top-down public school reform efforts,

“… we suggest that reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide
public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from the inside out rather than top down … To bring about improvement at the heart of education – classroom instruction has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform … and it will result in the future more from internal changes created by knowledge and the expertise of teachers than from decisions of external policy makers”.

One of the most interesting experiments in “inside out” change began in New York City, the new teacher contract allows for wide latitude in changing provisions of the contract and management regulations. The project, called Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE), began with 63 schools and the application process for next year is underway, schools took on a wide range of projects,

Staff members of these schools created a range of plans, including staggering the school day to meet student needs, changing contractually required student-to-teacher ratios to allow for a combination of small group learning and larger lecture-style classes, and using portfolios of instructional strategies to help rate teachers. In close collaboration with their teachers, school leaders in PROSE schools will drive continuous innovation as they look to change some of the basic rules and regulations under which they have historically operated.

Critics of charter schools and the reform agenda are vociferous in their opposition and light on alternatives; except for more funding. Yes, poverty has a severe impact on families and children, however, to imply that poverty is an excuse for struggling schools is no salable. On the other side of the argument, to offer charter schools as a “fix,” to claim that teacher unions, tenure and seniority equals failing schools is equally foolish.

The American Federation of Teachers uses the term solutions-driven unionism and, I was taught when I come to the table always come to the table with solutions. I ran monthly meetings of union building reps, (in NYC called chapter leaders); my one “rule” was no one could bring up an issue that those at the table couldn’t resolve.

Inner city schools with similar students have widely differing results, school leadership and teachers can make differences. The differences may be small, they may be incremental, however, lower suspension rates, better attendance, and a rich engaging curriculum provides a platform for progress.

The large high school in which I taught “competed” with three neighboring schools for students one was a modern building with highly innovative “block scheduling” with an independent study option, another school included a highly selective screened program. The assistant principal in my school who was in charge of guidance services also led the student recruiting efforts. We hosted a lox and bagels breakfast for local middle school guidance counselors, produced a lovely folder advertising the school’s achievements, attended every middle school open house, every community organization; we lobbied elected officials for physical upgrades to the school building and entered every imaginable competition, we were activists and we successfully attracted families. A nearby school complained endlessly that we were “stealing their kids,” which, in a way, we were. One school, with no special circumstances, except their staff successfully retained neighborhood kids and attracted kids from surrounding neighborhoods thrived; the “complaining” school eventually was closed due to poor performance.

A colleague was waiting to meet with a principal, and began to pester the school secretary who kept on telling him the principal would not be available until the second period. “We have other schools to visit; can’t he meet with us now?”

The secretary responded, “No, he can’t meet with you, he’s teaching.”

The visitor, somewhat surprised, “He’s covering a class?”

Secretary, “No, he teaches gym every day first period so teachers can meet and plan.”

My colleague said he was embarrassed, the school leader and the teachers came up with a “fix,” an innovative way of allowing teachers to plan collaboratively…

I thought the PROSE program, as described above, would have many applicants, unfortunately too many schools abjure (“Don’t Move My Cheese”) change. For a dozen years under the Bloomberg/Klein regency teacher voice was diminished, in fact, outspoken teachers were punished.

Teacher, parent and student voice matters: fighting along with parents and students to improve a school and to improve society builds a school community, engages and produces students who are the kind of citizen that enable our city and our nation to prosper.

Racial Isolation in Public Schools: While School Integration is a Worthy Goal Improving All Schools Must Be Our Primary Goal

In an editorial (“Racial Isolation in Public Schools) the NY Times writes,

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away … Minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy.

The editorial board makes an incredibly bad assumption: that by moving minority children into primarily white, middle class schools the ills of generations of segregation and racism will be wiped away.

Kudos to Merryl Tisch and the members of the Board of Regents for not jumping onboard the simple solution bandwagon.

High poverty schools are plagued with problems beyond the classroom; at the December, 2014 Regents meeting the issue of “chronic absenteeism” was highlighted. The Center for New York City Affairs, in a recent report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” spotlighted the insidious impact of children not attending school as part of a wider pattern,

Tisch and her colleagues have spent months crafting new English language learner regulations to both remove obstacles to better instructional strategies as well providing clearer guidance to school districts

The Times’ “solution,” is an example of deja vu, again,

… the state cannot just throw up its hands. It has a moral obligation to ensure that as many children as possible escape failing schools for ones that give them a fighting chance. And history has shown that districts can dramatically improve educational opportunities for minority children — and reduce racial isolation — with voluntary transfer plans and especially with high-quality magnet schools that attract middle-class families.

Running away from the problems of high poverty neighborhoods, running away from what the Center for NYC Affairs called “risk load,” running away from in increasing numbers of English language learners is foolhardy.

To blame inner city schools for the “problem” is just plain wrong, The Times claims that the “lack of teaching talent, course offerings and resources” can be cured by moving kids to whiter, middle class schools. If the inner city and suburban school swapped teachers student achievement would be unchanged. When kids enter kindergarten well behind middle class kids in all academic skills teaching and learning becomes “catchup” from day 1. The requirement of passing five Regents exams results in double periods of English and Mathematics, remedial and tutorial classes, the lack of course offerings is determined by the skill level of the students.

Fifty years ago New York City embarked upon an effort to integrate schools. James Madison High School, a high-achieving large high school in a lovely neighborhood of private homes was “integrated;” within a few years the school moved from all-white to 70% White and 30% Black. The new principal, Henry Hillson, was a shining light among high school principals, the UFT Chapter Leader, Chet Fulmer, sent his kids to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of a reverse busing program, and, although white, served as an elder in Milton Galamaison’s Siloam Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The young Madison staff members enthusiastically supported the “experiment” in school integration. The end of January staff development days focused on the “new” student body and “new” methods of instruction and integrating students within the building. The “old timers” were unenthusiastic about school integration, the school was “ruined,” the new young teachers, and I was one of them, were totally engaged in creating a new school, a new racially integrated school, a model for a new school system.

A decade later Madison was torn apart by student racial clashes,

Outbreak at Madison High in Flatbush Involves 300 New Fights Threatened

White students at James Madison High School in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, armed with sticks, window poles, pipes, canes and chairs, attacked a group of black students there yesterday morning in a new outbreak of continuing racial tension at the school.

The riot was deeply disturbing, if racial integration stumbled at Madison, could it be expected to succeed anywhere? Madison had a socially liberal, welcoming staff; the school was located in a liberal community, what went wrong?

The NYC Human Rights Commission conducted an in depth study, spending weeks in the school interviewing scores of students, teachers, parents and community members. The report was prescient, forty years later we have failed to resolve the issues highlighted in the report. (A sobering read forty years later)

The 1974 report begins, “Even when integration has succeeded in becoming a major goal of education and urban planners, the means to attain this goal have seemed increasingly elusive” and goes on to admit, “In too many instances across the nation we have seen schools become integrated only to become resegregated … we know how to integrate …what we do not know is how to make integration work on a permanent basis.”

The commissioners praise the Madison staff, although they note the hostility of the old-timers.

The problem of integration, the Commission avers, goes well beyond the school,

“The relationship schools and neighborhoods is a close and reciprocal one but plans for integration almost never foresee the differences or strive to make the relationship between the newly integrated school and its neighborhood a healthy one.”

Perceptively, the report writes, “The Commission believes that the operative factor here is class, rather than race.” The better educated, liberal elements in the community supported the integration of the school, the more blue-collar, less educated elements in the community led the growing opposition, and, many of their children were involved in the physical confrontations.

While the school was technically integrated, classes in the school were largely segregated; classes were homogeneously organized, as were extra-curricular activities.

The report suggests 13 recommendations and admits “…little has been done anywhere in the country to develop practical strategies to cope with the daily challenges of integration to make integration work.”

In September, 1975 the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, 15,000 teachers were laid off and the city administration abandoned support for school integration.

Buffalo, as the Times editorial states, was deeply engaged in school integration,

As The Times reported in 1985, the city was viewed as a national model for racial integration; educators who wished to learn the lessons of Buffalo’s success flocked to the city from around the globe. Things went downhill in the 1990s, however, when court supervision ended and Buffalo experienced severe fiscal problems.

“Severe fiscal problems” escalated over the last twenty years, industry and population have fled, and white flight has turned Buffalo into an empty shell, a city without resources, a city surrounded by affluent suburbs, a city with a rapidly increasing school population of English language learners.

Just as the fiscal crisis of 1975 ended efforts to promote racial integration in New York City the collapse of the Buffalo economy turned Buffalo into a racially segregated, economically distressed city.

Inner city schools in St Louis, in Rochester, in Chicago, in city after city across the nation face the same issues. Working class union jobs are gone, jobs have scurried to Asia, and automation continues to shrink the work force. Charter schools have drained students with social capital out of neighborhood public schools, and, a closer look at charter schools is not encouraging; when you adjust for the absence of special education and English language learners in charter schools, when you adjust for the expulsion of “discipline problems;” charter schools are no better and in many instances lower achievers than public schools.

There are outliers, schools in poor neighborhoods that outperform neighboring schools; the answer is always school leadership and school staffs, not measured by a score on a principal-teacher evaluation, “measured” by the non-cognitive skills. School staffs that exhibit grit, persistence and humility, the same qualities that we find in successful students.

Black kids ask, “Why can’t we learn in schools with other black kids? Do we need white kids to learn?” The 1974 Commission report emphasizes the influence of class as well as the impact of race. Black families that move up the economic ladder are as likely to seek out better housing in lower crime neighborhoods as white families.

I was visiting classroom in an all-Black public high school in Harlem, a European History Advanced Placement class. The lesson was about the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the lesson was at the level of a lesson at the most prestigious schools in the city.

The race of the students in a school does not determine the level of instruction or the course offerings, the academic level of the students determines the direction of instruction.

While NYS law does not allow for the state taking over a school district, in the instance that a law was passed that allowed the state to take over the Roosevelt School District the results were not encouraging.

“Solutions” must include the community, the electeds, the union, the business and faith-based communities; all what we euphemistically call “the stakeholders.”

Unfortunately Governor Cuomo, rather than leading efforts to engage the Buffalo community has chosen a confrontational path, a path that will only drive the stakeholders further apart.

In the poorest county in the nation, McDowell County in West Virginia, the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia governor, the business community and fifty other organizations are organizing and working together.

All fights end, and it is essential that the current toxic climate between the governor and the educational community end, perhaps Chancellor Tisch and the Regents can take the lead.