Tag Archives: Mercedes Schneider

Will the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Endorse Cuomo For Governor?

Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana blogger, who really doesn’t like AFT President Randi Weingarten continues her jabs by criticizing Weingarten for the AFT state affiliate endorsement of Connecticut incumbent Governor Malloy.

Malloy is being opposed in the Democratic primary by Jonathan Pelto, a former state legislator, an active blogger and a member of the Network for Public Education, as are Mercedes and moi.

In an earlier blog Mercedes felt Weingarten would support Andrew Cuomo for Governor.

I know very little about Connecticut politics – friends who are teachers in Connecticut are not fans of Malloy. I do know a lot about New York State politics.

New York State is an AFT state; Connecticut has both NEA and AFT locals with most teachers belonging to NEA locals. The seven hundred plus local teacher unions belong to the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the state affiliate. NYSUT receives a share of member dues dollars and provides lawyers and labor relation specialists to assist in negotiating collective bargaining agreements and serves as the lobbying arm of the locals in Albany.

The 600,000 NYSUT members include members from the “big five” (NYC, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers), the suburbs, the vast stretches of rural NYS and the college locals, college teachers working in colleges in the City University (CUNY)and State University (SUNY) systems along with nurses and other workers affiliated with schools.

Political endorsements are made by the local presidents at an endorsement conference that takes place in mid-August.

All state-wide offices (governor, attorney general and comptroller) the 150 members of the Assembly and 63 members of the Senate will be on the November ballot. Party candidates will be selected in a primary election on September 9th.

New York State politics is complicated.

The Democrats control the Assembly by a wide margin, the Senate is divided into three factions: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), a group of five Democrats who, in conjunction with the Republicans control the Senate agenda.

The third party is the Working Families Party (WFP), the party is a faction that broke away from the left wing of the Democratic Party and is controlled by a number of labor unions. In a close vote the WFP endorsed Cuomo

In 2010 Andrew Cuomo was elected governor, almost by acclamation, and, for the first time in forty years, the Democrats gained control of the Senate. Instead of passing a host of liberal legislation the Democrats self-destructed. Two successive Democratic leaders of the Senate were deposed by fellow Democrats and both are now under indictment for financial improprieties.

The state teacher union, NYSUT, did not make a gubernatorial endorsement in 2010.

Cuomo has been an enormously powerful governor; he has astutely manipulated both Democrats and Republicans to pass his agenda.

At the top of the list are the Marriage Equality Law and the SAFE Law (gun reform), sweeping gun reform legislation. Highly controversial is the 2% Property Tax Cap, popular with taxpayers, unpopular with school districts and teachers. Schools in New York State are primarily funded by local property taxes, with a wide disparity between districts. The legislation especially impacts low wealth districts and has resulted in layoffs and cuts in local school programs. The law has placed pressure on teacher unions, contractual raises have been in 1-2% per year range with some reductions in health coverage.

Cuomo also supported new pension tier that will reduce benefits for future new employees.

The teacher evaluation law had substantial teacher union input – the plan is a multiple measures plan – all teachers in the state will receive a score: 60% based on supervisory observations based on an approved rubric, 20% a “locally negotiated” tool and 20% based on growth in student test scored compared with teachers teaching “similar students.” At the end of the first year only 1% of teachers were rated “ineffective.”

NYSUT has been advocating for the phase-in of the plan arguing that the new Common Core standards phase-in has been inconsistent around the state – the governor may agree to a one-year delay in the impact of the law.

UPDATE: Cuomo and NYSUT agree on a “safety net” for teachers in the “ineffective” and “developing” categories http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2014/06/8547559/cuomo-compromise-affects-evaluations-low-rated-teachers.

Cuomo’s Republican opponent is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-tax cuts, pro-voucher, the antithesis of policies supported by NYSUT.

The leadership of NYSUT is newly elected – in a hotly contested April election the slate led by Karen Magee defeated the incumbent slate.

To claim that Weingarten will determine the gubernatorial endorsement in New York is absurd. Local presidents are fiercely independent, no one, not Randi Weingarten or anyone else is going to tell Barbara Bowen, the President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents teacher in the City University, who to endorse.

In the complex world of politics union locals make deals that are beneficial to their members – if members oppose the deal the union ballot box is an alternative. While writing in Louisiana the support of VAM may be the deal breaker, agreements in retaining jobs or negotiating contracts may be more important in the rolling hills of New York State.

My own uninformed opinion is that NYSUT will not make a gubernatorial endorsement; however, I’m not the guy at the bargaining table trading this for that.

I do know the leaders of many New York State locals – their endorsement decision be based on getting the best deal for members – as it should be.

Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Benjamin Franklin

Up early and on my bike for my morning ride along the East River. The sun glints off the waves stirred by a brisk wind, the Asian men fishing, the joggers plodding away, a soccer practice in progress, the Parks Department folk planting and fertilizing, a crisp November morning.

Bike helmet in hand I walk into my polling place – no lines – a steady flow of voters. I squint at the tiny print and bubble in my votes for candidates and constitutional elections; lots of neighbors wearing de Blasio pins. Yes!!

On Sunday, along with hundreds of other union members I celebrated Teacher Union Day, an annual event, always the Sunday before Election Day. The union recognizes its own: chapter leaders, political activists, fifty-year union membership and teams of principals and chapter leaders who collaborate effectively at the school level. Unexpectedly, candidate Bill de Blasio dropped in and gave a short rousing speech, hugged Michael Mulgrew and introduced his wife, a nice touch.

Randi Weingarten, unobtrusively sitting at a table, had a prescient column in the New York Times, “Will the States Fail the Common Core,”

Randi writes,

Instruction in many wealthier public and private schools is routinely aligned to such [Common Core] skills, often through project-based and hands-on learning. But between budget cuts and top-down accountability laws like No Child Left Behind—whose testing fixation promotes test-prep and rote memorization—poor kids have gotten less access to the well-rounded, rigorous education they deserve. Without standards aligned to what kids need to succeed in college, career and life, and ample supports to help them get there, that chasm will grow even wider.

And explains her support for the Common Core,

Common Core standards [are] not a silver bullet, and they’re not the only thing kids need for a great public education. But they have the potential to disrupt the cycle of increasing poverty and economic and social stratification by making essential skills and knowledge available to all children, not just some.

And goes on to slam the leadership at the State level,

But even good ideas can be torpedoed by bad execution. In New York, officials rushed to impose tests and consequences way before students were ready. And Louisiana, New Mexico and other states are skimping on or simply bungling implementation. If officials are trying to make these standards unattainable, they’re doing a great job. No wonder students, their parents and teachers are angry, anxious and demoralized.

Weingarten points to a number of accountability tools aside from standardized tests,

Speaking of testing, it is not anti-accountability to support measures of student learning other than standardized tests. That’s the essence of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, 39 diverse and highly successful public high schools that have received waivers from state standardized exams and so can emphasize higher-order skills, such as crafting and defending a college thesis paper.

Ironically at the same time that the AFT President is slamming states for their poor implementation of Common Core standards Randi agreed to respond to Mercedes Schneider, a snarky blogger in Louisiana. Diane Ravitch occasionally reposts Schneider’s posts, they are smart and passionate.

Strangely Schneider chooses to harshly criticize Randi for her alleged lack of full time teaching experience and her advocacy for the Common Core, and, Randi responds in detail.

About thirty or so commenters posted responses, Leo Casey, the leader of the Shanker Institute and former UFT High School Vice President overreacted defending Randi, the anti-Common Core folk joined in, the defenders of Randi were marginalized by Mercedes, who tells us she will not be posting comments from supporters/defenders of Weingarten.

Read Mercedes letter and Randi’s response plus the comments here

It distresses me that teacher bloggers would choose to attack Randi rather than find common ground to change the direction of education policy on the national scene. I do not see the Common Core as the “enemy;” as a high school teacher I see the Social Studies and English standards as aspirational targets, not that different than the last list of standards. The problem is the implementation, wholly based on testing and data-collection, is absurd. If the Common Core was decoupled from testing I do not believe we would be facing this enormous backlash.

The anti-Common Core coalition from the far right see the Common Core as part of the Obama plot to force gay marriage on our children, take away our guns, make May Day a national holiday and on the left seizing classroom decisions from the hands of classroom teachers.

Hey, it’s a democracy and what makes America wonderful, believe what you want, and blog about it if you choose.

Changing policies on any political level is about building coalitions of the like-minded. To me, the most comfortable coalition is teachers and their organizations and parents. Personally I could not ally myself with folks opposed to almost everything I treasure.

As a union representative I learned that I had to work with principals and superintendents, we could collaborate on some issues and “agree to disagree” on others. I worked with my superintendent on involving parents and teachers in school-budgeting and at the same time pursued grievances challenging the mandating the format of lesson plans.

Mercedes’ decision to refuse to post responses from commenters who disagree with her flies in the face of the open dialogue that the web enables. I welcome comments from the entire spectrum, I hope that readers can engage; I hope that my efforts will create a dialogue, perhaps I will influence, and perhaps I will be influenced.

Today, in New York City, we will be electing a mayor who seems to support much of the union educational agenda. Across the state parents, teachers and legislators are beginning to push back against the state over testing and the selling of personnel student data.

Organizations from around the city have spent months, initially supporting different candidates, now on the same side. Across the state Republicans and Democrats are coming together.

I would hope that the stalwart group of education bloggers can identify areas of agreement and use their substantial influence across the net to push back on the forces of evil.

Mercedes, Randi is not an enemy, and, unfortunately Michelle Rhee must be chuckling and privately hoping you continue tossing stones.

Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten are friends, they don’t agree on everything, they undoubtedly disagree on strategies and tactics, yet, at the last AFT Convention Diane was on the stage giving a powerful speech.

Let’s use Diane and Randi’s relationship as a model.