Tag Archives: UFT

Politics Rules: Who Will the UFT Endorse for New York City Public Advocate? And, Why Endorse Anyone?

What the heck is the Public Advocate?

New York City is governed by the City Charter, actually the 300 plus page “constitution” for the city. As a result of changes to the charter, necessitated by a federal court decision in 1989, the Board of Estimate was eliminated and a Public Advocate was created. The city is now led by a Mayor, the Chief Executive Officer, a Comptroller, the Chief Financial Officer, a fifty-one member City Council and a Public Advocate (PA) whose duties are described in the Charter (see above link beginning on page 16).

The PA was envisioned as an ombudsman for the city; however, the position has emerged as a stopping off place before running for higher office. The first PA, Mark Green ran and lost in a run for mayor, Bill de Blasio, a previous PA is now the mayor, Letitia James the current PA was elected as NYS Attorney General in November and will assume the position on January 1st, creating a vacancy.

The Charter requires that an election be scheduled within 45 days of the date of resignation of the office holder (probably the last Tuesday in February); the election is a non-partisan election only requiring the requisite number of signatures to be placed on the ballot.  Fifteen potential candidates have formed fund-raising committees with a number of others possible – there could be over twenty candidates (!), and, there is no run off.

The New York City teacher union (UFT) is holding open interviews prior to an endorsement, on Tuesday I spent almost four hours listening to, questioning candidates and tweeting 240-character summaries of interviews (view here https://twitter.com/edintheapple).  Hundreds of members will attend the interviews (in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn) and the Delegate Assembly on January 16th may/will endorse a candidate.

Why should the union endorse anyone? After all, the Public Advocate has no legislative or executive authority.

Let me be a little crass, all decisions are political and all politics is local. If you want be relevant you must be up to your eye balls in local politics.

On the other hand politics is frequently viewed with disdain, in her autobiography, “Becoming,” Michelle Obama opines,

I had little faith in politics,” she writes. Nor did she have much faith in politicians and “therefore didn’t relish the idea of my husband becoming one,” she continues. “In my heart, I just believed there were better ways for a good person to have an impact.” 

 The image of politicians puffing on cigars and making corrupt deals is commonplace, and, reinforced by House of Cards and other dramatizations.

As the teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona learned spending months organizing, standing on picket lines, political engagement is required and running for office can the only path.

As a union leader I learned early on that a powerful political club controlled my school board, I joined the club, was a regular at Thursday night club night. The union endorsed school board candidates, made phone calls, printed and distributed palm cards, we acted as political operatives. The union had a seat at the table, or, at least, someone at the table would ask, “we should check with the union.”

School closings are political decisions, all decisions have a political element: fighting school closings is an example, I’ve written about strategies a number of times, “How to Fight Your School Closing, and “School Closings: It’s Never the Kids Fault.

“Politics” is not a strategy that you store in a closet until you need it. The UFT learned that lesson a long time ago, every year hundreds of UFT members travel to Albany on a lobby day. In the city union members meet with City Council members. I wrote a monthly newsletter to union members in my district with an occasional acknowledgment of an elected, ironically, I chided an elected in one issue and he haunted me for months to retract. I responded, “Do someone good that we can report and I’ll report it,” he did, we did, and our relationship was healed, and, it was a lesson for his fellow electeds.

Electeds or potential electeds scramble to “make the union happy” by supporting policies that union members support and opposing issues the union opposes. The union works closely with parents, civil rights organizations, other unions, they build coalitions.

Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be. Marshall McLean

The process of endorsement, the involvement of hundreds of members, the process empowers the union; the imagery is more powerful than any speech.
Come the January 16th the UFT Delegate Assembly will/may endorse a candidate; when the candidates are mostly friends it’s difficult to make choices.

Can Career and Technical High Schools (fka Vocational High Schools) Reduce the Achievement/Opportunity Gap and Better Prepare Students for the World Beyond High School?

For decades New York City was proud of comprehensive high schools, large high schools that offered a Regents college-bound diploma plus a vocational diploma for kids interested in the trades, a commercial diploma for girls, including an alternate week work-study program and a general or local diploma for kids who wanted to go directly to work. The economy absorbed kids into unskilled and semi-skilled jobs; many were union jobs that were a pathway to the middle class. In the eighties the world began to change, automation and jobs going overseas changed the nature of the job scene; jobs required a higher level of skills.

The Board of Regents took a highly controversial action – they ended the multiple diplomas – all students would have to earn a Regents diploma, passing five Regents examinations and pass the requisite courses. Kids in vocational schools would have to earn a Regents diploma plus 10-12 credits in their vocational field of study.

The single Regents diploma would be phased in over an extended period of time.

Most of the vocational high schools closed, kids were unable to pass Regents exams; tracking had sent low ability kids into the vocational schools. Beginning in the nineties and accelerating in the 2000’s all but a handful of the comprehensive high school also closed – branded as “drop-out factories.” The Board/Department began to create small theme-based high schools to replace the closed schools.

On March 30th the Manhattan Institute hosted a conference to herald the release of a report entitled, “The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America.” Since 2008 the NYC Department of Education has opened fifty small Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. The authors, Tamar Jacoby and Shawn Dougherty write,

Some fifty of the city’s roughly 400 high schools are dedicated exclusively to CTE. Nearly 75 others maintain 220 additional CTE programs – effectively schools within schools … early evidence suggests that the new CTE is producing results in New York. Occupational course offerings are largely aligned with the industries in the metro area … Class sizes tend to be smaller ,,, young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate…. a larger share of schools with CTE classes score at, or above, “proficient” on English and math tests.

The report does not gloat- the report points to implementing tenets of the CTE movement.

* Prepare students for college and careers, allowing young people to keep their options open.

* Engage business and industry

* Build a bridge from secondary to post-secondary or training

* Create opportunities for students to work

* Embrace industry-recognized occupational credentials.

And, the report points to two substantial obstacles,

* More students need work experience:  in spite of the tens of thousands of students in CTE only about 1500 have been placed in internships, the connections between industry and school must have stronger bonds, and, both the schools and industries have to clarify the standards that define an internship.

* A new process for state approval of CTE teachers and industry credentials: The state approval model is a “gatekeeper” model based on traditional areas, there is “no box in the taxonomy for an emerging industry or occupation.” The process is overly lengthy and laborious.

In the question and answer section the abysmal community college graduation rates were referenced: only 19% in two years and 39% in six years plus mountains of debt. Is a Regents diploma a necessary requirement for an occupational credential?  Is the new community college model, ASAP at CUNY a step in the right direction?

The keynote speaker was former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who gave an unusual speech. In spite the significant drops in murder rates across the nation – from 20,000 murders a year to 14,000 murders a year nationally the murder rate in Chicago continues to increase – two murders a day. In a recent report 17 -24 year olds identified themselves as disconnected from work and the disconnected youth, according to Duncan, are more likely to pick up a gun.

Duncan proffered CTE programs must be aligned: to the community, to post-secondary institutions, to the business community and to middle schools. All programs must be accountable, and accountability means data, some iteration of multiple methods of measuring the effectiveness of schools and programs, if we expect the feds and/or states to support CTE programs we must have evidence to show the impact of the programs.

One of the questions asked: In the era of “disruptive innovation,” can we predict the industries five or ten years in the future?  Are we preparing students for transitory jobs?  Should CTE be preparing students to acquire skills rather than preparing for specific jobs?

A guest asked whether unions are an obstacle? Didn’t they see these programs as intruding on union turf? Kathryn Wilde, the President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City replied by praising the UFT and the Central Labor Council, the other members of the panel, a CTE principal and Department Executive Director of the Office of Multiple Pathways chimed in, the unions, especially the UFT were partners in developing the CTE programs across the city.

The world of education has certainly changed since Michael Bloomberg moved on.

Bad Dreams, Nightmares, Nausea as the First Day of School Approaches for Teachers

Mother: “Johnny, wake up, you’ll be late to school.”
Johnny: “I don’t want to go – the kids hate me, the teachers hate me.”
Mother: “you have to go – you’re the principal.

What happened to the summer? It seemed like yesterday that teachers were poised on the last day of school. For some, a few days off and teaching summer school – gotta pay off those student loans or pay for the wedding. For others back to school yourself to finish up the college credits needed for certification, and, a few flying off to faraway places – to hike the Himalayas or bike across Europe or taking an intensive Spanish class in Central America.

Eight short weeks later the days are getting shorter and the anxiety begins.

“The last few nights I woke up in a cold sweat – what a vivid dream! I had the lowest teacher evaluation score in the school and the other teachers were laughing at me.”

Another teacher, “I keep stressing out about how my kids did on the state tests – I’ve avoided calling my principal – I’m so nervous and it’s driving me nuts.”

A teacher tells me she wants to file a grievance -the principal changed her room. “I’ve been in the room for six years – it’s my room – s/he can’t do that!!”

As the clock ticks down teachers, all teachers, from the first year rookies to the veterans, the pulse beats more quickly, the stomach churns, you try and think of everything – you want that opening day to be perfect.

Many elementary school teachers were in this week working on their rooms – getting ready for the all- important first day. Other schools are spending a day at a staff retreat – working on curriculum maps.

Principals have been in since Monday – dealing with endless e-requests for this or that “compliance” document.

A principal: “The first email I opened was from a math teacher – she apologized for the late notice – she was leaving for another job – I wished her well, and have been scrambling to find a replacement.” Another principal recounted a call from a probation officer – two kids were being released from incarceration and assigned to his school – he was less than joyful.

Teaching is moments of exaltation and moments of misery.

It’s hard to describe that feeling when a tyke wraps his arms around you and whispers, “I love you.” That moment when the light bulb goes off – the kid’s face lights up as he grasps the concept.

A day later a kid cries all day – a parent left, or, his family had to move, again. Her clothes are scruffy and dirty every day – how do you bring in clothes without embarrassing her or her family?

Each teacher is a tiny peg in the 1.1 million student system – the “powers that be” are interested in the mega-scene – those test scores and graduation rates – as a teacher you are singularly focused on the smiling faces each and every day, as a principal you are part psychologist, part social worker, part coach and part disciplinarian – leading a school community and protecting the staff from the frequent insanities of the Tweed plutocracy.

If you read the press you wonder if the New York City school system is only Universal Pre-K, if you’re in the trenches, it’s the first year without a mayor and chancellor trashing the union and the profession – no “dumb” ideas – a chancellor who actually likes teachers.

We’ll be getting off to a good start … can the system keep up the momentum? … can the chancellor and the union keep working together? can the education community find better school assessment metrics? and, the bottom line: will the “new relationship” lead to better results?

Will Teacher Unions Survive? Do Teacher Unions Have to Change? What Should Teacher Unions Look Like in a Few Years?

With each year the number of workers belonging to unions declines, and, organizing increasingly targets low wages workers. In the February representation election in the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant workers turned down the union even through the employer did not actively campaign against unionization. Organizing efforts in Walmart and in fast food franchises has made incremental progress.

Highlights from the 2013 data:

In 2013, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
members of unions–was 11.3 percent

–Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.3 percent) more
than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent).

–Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective
service occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 35.3 percent for
each occupation group.

–Black workers were more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or
Hispanic workers.

Part of the decline in a union work force is due to the shrinkage of the manufacturing labor force, traditionally unions represent workers in factories; automation and globalization sharply reduced the potential work force.

Teacher unionism stumbled for decades hindered by internecine warfare, Communist and Socialist factions vied for support of teachers with the vast percentage of teachers disengaged. The merger that led to the creation of the United Federation of Teachers resulted in a militant union – four strikes in the 60’s (1960: one day, 1961: one day, 1967: 13 days, 1968: 40 days) and another in the 70’s (1975: 5 days). As the teacher union grew the unaffiliated union, the National Education Association increasingly mirrored the AFL-CIO affiliated AFT.

Teacher union contracts mirrored the contracts of industrial unions – salary, health and pension benefits and long lists of regulations limiting management discretion.

No Child Left Behind (2002) began to focus more public attention on schools and teacher contracts. The US Department of Education, governors, mayors and education think tanks ratcheted up the criticism of teacher contracts as well as seniority laws, and, now in California, tenure laws.

Teacher unions were on the defensive fending off attack after attack. From Wisconsin to New Orleans, from Detroit to North Carolina tenure laws and pensions and the survival of public schools and teacher unions are in jeopardy. Unions are on the defensive.

What is the role of teacher unions in the current day economy? Is the role the same traditional role of contract negotiator and enforcer, or, has the role changed?

Unfortunately unions who only defended, who tried to maintain benefits, the traditional approach to unionism has begun to succumb to the assaults. Unions that moved to an organizing model, developing relationships with community organizations, unions that lobbied with community organizations attracted wider support.

For example in New York City the teacher union (UFT) is strongly supporting Universal Free Lunch, with the enthusiastic support of the head of the City Council.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a leader in the campaign, said that the growth in poverty in the city has made passage of universal free school lunch more urgent than ever.

“As poverty and income inequality threaten more and more families in New York City, too many of our children are attending school on an empty stomach — hungry, distracted and unable to focus on their education,” she said.

The UFT is also in the forefront of legislation that changes the admission requirements at Specialized High Schools (Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech etc.,) to a multiple measures metric. The legislative Black and Hispanic caucus as well as anti-poverty and civil right organizations support the bills.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which is behind the push, said he thought the administration might get more forcefully behind it, too.

“I do remember candidate de Blasio speaking very eloquently about this issue,” said Mr. Mulgrew. “I’m sure they’ll be coming out shortly, one way or another, now that this is out there and it’s moving.”

On the national front the American Federation of Teachers is part of a major effort to revive one of the poorest counties in West Virginia, Reconnecting McDowell.

The just-negotiated UFT contract is filled with educational and community-oriented sections, from increasing the number of parent-teacher meetings to a school-based professional development committee to the opportunity to join a thin-contract zone to the creation of a variety of different teacher titles to a bonus for teachers in hard-to-staff schools. Although the contract was approved (77%) by a healthy majority members complained, why does the union “waste time” with all of these “education” issues? Union leadership took a risk, convincing membership that while salary increases are great, unless the union is perceived by the general public as caring about the wider issues, caring about the children they teach, they could be begin to lose public support, as teacher unions lost support in too many cities. In too many locations teacher are perceived as caring more about tenure, “protecting bad teachers,” than caring about the kids they teach.

The national union, the American Federation of Teachers publishes a superb journal, the American Educator;
the current issue explores Early Learning,

This special collection of articles in American Educator highlights the importance not only of early learning, but also of what, exactly, young children learn. It begins with an article explaining the research on children’s oral vocabulary development and how educators can effectively support students in learning new words. Acquiring and understanding a significant amount of vocabulary in the early years helps children build the necessary background knowledge that will lay the foundation for future learning.

However; the AFT doesn’t “own” collective bargaining agreements, local unions negotiate local contracts.

At the local level building representatives (in NYC called chapter leaders) have to move from contract enforcers to educational leaders in their schools.

Unions will survive, and prosper, if they move to a new role, not abandoning their role as negotiating salary and working condition, moving beyond their former role to unionists/educators: leading discussions on which textbooks to purchase, what kind of professional development would be of the greatest benefit, leading school leadership team meetings that look closely at issues of teaching and learning.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
― Barack Obama

Will the Proposed New UFT Contract Change the Direction of Education Policy Across the Nation? From “Duncan Voice” to Teacher Voice?

Teacher contracts around the country have followed the Gates-Broad-Duncan model: merit pay based on student performance as measured by a Value-Added Metric (VAM), tying tenure decisions to VAM scores, eroding tenure and due process procedures and a heavy dose of compliance. A few contracts delink seniority from step/longevity increases and offer the potential of larger raises if teachers jump into the pay for student performance plans.

An example is the highly touted Denver ProComp Plan, negotiated by the union and the school district,

• Rewards and recognizes teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations
• Links compensation more closely with instructional outcomes for students
• Enables the district to attract and retain the most qualified and effective teachers by offering uncapped annual earnings in a fair system

The glitter of the Denver plan turned to dross – the enthusiasm waned and Denver did not become nirvana; however, the enthusiasm for the elements remain as similar contracts were negotiated in Cleveland and Baltimore.

The New York City proposed contract moves in a starkly different direction, according to the UFT website,

New teacher leadership positions, with extra pay, will foster idea-sharing by allowing exemplary teachers to remain teachers while extending their reach to help others.
Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The website Chalkbeat adds,

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

The proposed contract is taking on the essence of improving schools – changing school cultures. High performing individuals may impact students in their own classrooms, they do not impact schools. Teachers working in collaborative settings, none of which are necessarily superstars can create higher performing schools.

For twenty years, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (1993) has been the bible in corporate America – every large corporation organized themselves into a team structure.

A summary of the book that is the Talmud/Ten Commandments of organization after organization,

Lessons we have learned
• Significant performance challenges energize teams regardless of where they are in an organization. No team arises without a performance challenge that is meaningful to those involved. A common set of demanding performance goals that a group considers important to achieve will lead, most of the time, to both performance and team…
• Organizational leaders can foster team performance best by building a strong performance ethic rather than by establishing a team-promoting environment alone.
• Discipline-both within the team and across the organization-creates the conditions for team performance. For organizational leaders, this entails making clear and consistent demands that reflect the needs of customers, shareholders, and employees, and then holding themselves and the organization relentlessly accountable.

Team Basics
• Small enough in number. Can convene and communicate easily and frequently. Discussions are open and interactive for all members. Each member understands the other’s roles and skills.
• Goals are clear, simple, and measurable. If they are not measurable, can their achievement be determined? Goals are realistic as well as ambitious.
• The approach is concrete, clear, and really understood and agreed to by everybody. It requires all members to contribute equivalent amounts of real work. It provides for open interaction, fact-based problem solving, and result-based evaluation. The approach provides for modification and improvement over time. Fresh input and perspective is systematically sought and added, for example, through information and analysis, new members, and sponsors.
• There is a sense of mutual accountability.

From Google, (“Redesigning Google“) to Harvard Business School teams are the expected organizational structure, except in schools.

Schools and school districts traditionally have been top-down organizations, each step down the ladder to the classroom everyone salutes and not much changes. Teachers close their doors and do what they have been doing for decades – new ideas; “innovations” come and go: from homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping of students, the Workshop Model to the Common Core Learning Standards, the culture of schools are strong and firmly embedded and schools become skilled at shedding ideas that require change.

The feds acknowledge the power of culture in their turnaround strategies: replacing the principal and/or 50% of the staff, converting the school to charter or closing the school; in other words, the only way to change the culture is to change the school leadership and/or the teachers who are not onboard. The turnaround efforts, in spite of huge dollar inputs have not shown lasting success – in my view because the plans are punitive (“change or else”), are put in place far too late in a school’s downward spiral and are imposed from the aeries of all knowledge, the hallways of Washington, Albany and Tweed. Turnaround schools are persistently lowest achieving Title 1 schools – the lowest 5% in a state, waiting until a school is far beyond a “tipping point” is a failed strategy.

The winter 2013-14 edition of the American Educator is devoted to the question collaboration,

In recent years, rigorous studies have shown that effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships between administrators and teachers.

It is no surprise that collaborative relationships within schools, between teachers and school leaders and among teachers lead to more effective schools. Begrudgingly even the US Department of Education agrees,

While real differences must be acknowledged and agreement among all stakeholders is neither a practical, nor a desirable, end goal in itself, the U.S. Department of Education believes that in the long run, the most promising path to transforming American education is student-centered labor-management collaboration.

In the early nineties New York State adopted regulations requiring schools to create School Leadership Teams (SLT’s), school districts complied, and the SLT’s languished; for compliance purposes the teams met to sign Comprehensive Education Plans or other required documents; it was the rare school that actually engaged in a collaborative relationship among staff members.. “Mandating collaboration” is an oxymoron – school districts and school leaders must model collaboration in their day-to-day operations – not cede leadership, not forgo the power and responsibility of their office – they must engage, and, collaboration is a two-way street, teachers must learn to engage both with the school leader and with each other.

The American Teacher points to caveats at the outset.

First, while labor-management collaboration is a necessary condition for sustained improvement in school performance, it is not sufficient. The strong relations must extend beyond the bargaining table to a persistent, team-oriented focus on enabling teachers to work more effectively with students. Other, interrelated factors also are crucial, including close ties with parents and community groups, and attentiveness to assessment results to identify areas where students and teachers need more support.

Second, while collaboration can promote a self-sustaining culture that outlives the tenure of any individual superintendent, principal, or teachers’ union representative, it’s also the case that disruptive personnel changes and political forces can torpedo progress built on collaboration.

Third, because collaboration usually requires upending deeply entrenched cultural habits, it is inherently arduous and requires years of effort on the part of all parties. Collaboration is not a “silver bullet” that will eliminate whatever ails a school; rather, it is a shared mindset and an agreed-upon collection of processes that over time enables everyone connected to a school to effectively work together in educating children.

An in-depth study of five high performing school districts explored the reasons for their success,

A high degree of engagement between administrators and teachers in developing and selecting instructional materials, assessments, and pedagogical approaches;
• Embedded time in the workweek for teacher collaboration to improve instruction;
• An openness among teachers to being observed and advised;
• Close monitoring by administrators and teachers of testing data to identify areas where students and teachers needed additional support; and
• Personnel who dedicate time to extensive outreach to parents and coordination with community groups and social service providers.

The proposed contract is an enormous risk for the union. For years the union stood outside the circle peeing in, criticizing initiative after initiative: how can Common Core work if there are no curricula, professional development is absent or insufficient, teacher expertise is ignored, the overuse of outside consultants, principals more interested in silencing teachers than working with them, “reforms” that are destructive of teacher morale; now, for the first time, the union is inside the circle.

The creation of a zone of innovation will encourage teachers and school leaders to create and actually implement their dreams,

Under the tentative deal, collaborative school communities will have new opportunities to innovate outside the confines of the UFT contract and DOE regulations. A new program known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) will give educators in participating schools greater voice in decision-making and a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The PROSE schools are an answer to charter schools, the defenders of charter schools point to freedom from union and management rules, now a cluster of public schools can, if they choose, shed restrictive union and management rules. Under the former contract the School-Based Option section did allow schools to reconfigure, the new zone schools can, perhaps, share these practices. When schools have a sense of ownership the school communities are committed to making their “ideas” work, rather than constantly looking over their shoulder or trying and operate under the radar schools can proudly display what they have accomplished.

The union will have to change, to move from an organization skilled at fighting back to an organization committed to promoting educational leadership among their members. Some teachers will be unhappy, they would rather close their doors and teach; opening their doors to other teachers is frightening. Working together is not natural, some teachers are protective of their lesson plans, sharing is out of the question. The union has to move from filing grievances to mediating disputes among their members.

Union President Mulgrew has taken a risk – he could have simply negotiated dollars and cosmetic changes – he choose to negotiate a contract which may change the entire direction of a school system, he may have negotiated a contract that will resonate across the nation, he may have negotiated a contract that will impact federal legislation.

In my union representative days the Board of Education started a program called QUIPP,

Quality Improvement Program Plan for Special Educators (QUIPP) which provides supplemental professional development opportunities for New York City special education professionals and paraprofessionals at the elementary, middle, and intermediate/junior high school levels. The program stresses design of the professional development program by program participants.

As the union guy I put together a committee of special education teachers to work with the district to design the program. It evolved into a catalog of courses taught by teachers, lectures by experts, a retreat, a professional library in every school, and for me, interactions with teachers who had no interest in fighting and filing grievances; teachers, who for the most part, had never been involved in the union were now involved in an educational project led by the union and the school district.

I would like to think that we are reimagining a time when the union, in partnership with the Board of Education, was the driving force in creating new pathways, from John Dewey High School to City-As-School High School, to School-Based Options to the SBO Personnel Transfer idea.

Maybe by taking the road less traveled we can change the future,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Parent Engagement versus Parent Empowerment: A Clash of Ideologies: To What Extent Should Parents “Sit At the Table”?

In her introductory speech, Carmen Farina, the new chancellor highlighted parent engagement as her highest priority. For the last twelve years the mayor and the Department of Education has had an “approach/avoidance” conflict, both touting and discouraging parent involvement.

While the education bureaucracy has been spouting parent engagement rhetoric they have pushed back against parent empowerment. The differences are crucial.

New York State law and regulation require the establishment of School Leadership Teams (SLT) in every school, and requires that the team members, parents, teachers and the principals engage in the setting of school policy including the school budget

Section 2590h of New York State law states,

school based management teams … shall possess the following powers and duties:

(i) develop an annual school comprehensive educational plan and
consult on the school-based budget … Such school comprehensive educational plan shall be developed concurrently with the development of the
school-based budget so that it may inform the decision-making process
and result in the alignment of the comprehensive educational plan and
the school-based budget for the ensuing school year.

Part 100.11 of NYS Department of Education regulations,

By February 1, 1994, each public school district board of education … shall develop and adopt a district plan for the participation by teachers and parents with administrators and school board members in school-based planning and shared decision-making.

The New York City Department of Education embedded the state law and state regulations in Chancellor Regulation A-655.

In the real world the Department has done everything possible to avoid empowering parents. Only a handful of districts actually include parents in the decision-making process and the central board has ignored the absence of SLTs. In 2002 Community School Boards were replaced by Community Education Councils (CEC), councils with no power and no support. Many of the CECs have vacancies, why attend monthly meetings when the councils have no authority?

School Leadership Teams (SLT) required by law and regulation only actively exists in schools with middle class parent bodies. de Blasio and Farina come from District 15, Brownstone Brooklyn, one of the few areas with active parent engagement.

As Anne T. Henderson of the Annenberg Institute tells us, “random acts of parent engagement,” aka a single parent meeting, an open school night, a flyer, is not a parent engagement program.

The Department maintains a Division of Family and Parent Engagement – not empowerment, engagement. While the web site is impressive the “on the ground” program is absent. Each superintendent’s office has a parent advocate who works for the Department. A complaint or an inquiry is shunted back to the school, the source of the complaint or the lack of information.

The Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP), in theory the school-based plan to drive the instructional program is simply a compliance activity.

The philosophy of the current administration in Washington and the former administration in NYC is that all decisions should be made at the top and stakeholders should be “brought along,” not included in the policy formation and implementation. The current NYS Commissioner of Education is a prime example. The major initiatives, the adoption of the Common Core, the Principal-Teacher Evaluation Plan (APPR) and the formation of a data dashboard, a repository of student information (In Bloom) has been imposed with minimum meaningful stakeholder participation. The pushback around the state by parents has not resulted in any “backing away” from the policies; the “fault” is with the parent bodies who are described as “special interests” or who simply don’t understand the initiatives.

There is a rich literature pointing to effective parent involvement programs, see Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp,
Beyond the Bake Sale: How School Districts Can Promote Family Involvement (2010), Anne T. Henderson, Building Local Leadership for Change: A National Scan of Parent Leadership Training Programs, and Testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, April 22, 2010.

Under the pre Bloomberg-Klein administration parents and teachers served on a committee that selected and interviewed supervisory candidates and made recommendations to the superintendent. The committee members had to participate in a training program run by the district. In my former district I worked with the district to create the training program. We explained how to analyze school student achievement data and how to create scenarios and questions around the use of the data. We asked the prospective committee members to identify the most crucial areas of concern in their schools, how did they know these were the areas of concern? We discussed the qualities of an effective school leader, and, agreed upon a series of questions and a scoring rubric. The teachers and parents who participated in the process spent a few hours in a facilitated discussion about their school. The interview process was a learning process for both the interviewee and the interviewers.

As the SLT process evolved my school district ran, and repeated again and again, a six-session course on school-based budgeting. The course was offered at 9:30 am, at 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm to facilitate the schedules of all members of school teams.

The culture of schools began to change, rather than bake sales parents began to serve as partners, it was not easy, there were many bumps along the road, parents and staff began to feel comfortable sitting at the same table. The last twelve years has seen the marginalization of parents – they have been once again, in New York City, relegated to the raisers of money for schools with no role to play in setting school policies.

William Ouchi, in Making Schools Work (2003), writes,

The culture of traditional school operations is geared to a subservient “Daddy-may-I” form of operation, and culture is a most difficult social phenomena to change.

Education elites are sophisticated in ways of retaining power and authority, and parents will need political allies in positions above the elites, such as governors and legislators, to create Ouchi’s revolution. Making Schools Work recognizes the need for an attack on the education establishment from two directions. “[C]hange should be initiated bottom-up and supported top-down.”

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the UFT Parent Support Program are all programs outside of the Department that support parents “from the bottom up.”

The wide range of parent advocacy organizations also work with parents to assist them as active players in the realm of local politics; visits to offices of local elected officials, bus rides to Albany, parents are a voice. Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee has introduced a range of billsthat support parent ire over the use of student data.

Will the mayor appoint parent leaders to the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP), the Board of Education in New York City? Will local Community Educational Councils (CECs) have an increased role in the formulation of local policy decisions? Will SLTs be reinvigorated? What will be the role of parents in co-location decisions?

As the days merge into weeks and months we are anxious to see if the new administration’s words are matched by deeds.

Working the Polls on Election Day, Democracy on the Ground.

Monday: 11:30 am

Arrive at City Hall for a Thompson rally, the crowd builds, the union distributes blue “”Thompson for Mayor” shirts …. a couple of hundred fill the steps of City Hall, a sea of blue, the media is there in force, Thompson shows up and delivers a vigorous speech … the media shouts out questions and Thompson patiently answers, an upbeat rally … As we were waiting on line to go through security/scanning outside of City Hall a young man asks me what’s going on, I explain, he’s unaware of the candidates although he totally dislikes Bloomberg.

I ask, “Do you vote?”

He replies, “I voted for Obama, no, I usually don’t vote, there’s no difference and one vote doesn’t matter”

I go into my “teacher” rant: “Every vote counts, this is a democracy, we can only keep a democracy if we all participate, and we all have a responsibility to be a knowledgeable voter – what issue pisses you off the most?”

“Stop and frisk – the cops stop me all the time.”

“One of the candidates will be mayor, he or she will pick a police commissioner, they decide policies, don’t just bitch, vote.”

He looks at my UFT shirt and laughs self-consciously, “You sound like one of my teachers.”

Monday: 11:00 PM

I leaflet my building with a personal letter recommending candidates based on a few neighborhood issues.

Tuesday: 8:00 AM

Vote – I’m number 39 – last year I had to wait two hours to vote in the presidential election – this time no wait at all. At the requisite distance from the polling place pamphleteers handing out lit for their candidate … between the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, the borough president and the city council I count twenty candidates, I have been getting 4-5 pieces of lit in the mail every day – mostly from the borough prez candidates.

Hang out in my lobby (the polling place is in the community room of my building) and chat with neighbors – some “thank you” comments for my letter recommending candidates. In my neighborhood voters either vote on their way to work or after work, looks like a low turnout.

Tuesday: 10: 00 AM

One of the pamphleteers is screaming at voters as they enter the polling place – some heated comments from the other pamphleteers, the Community Relations officer explains the rules – tempers cool.

Tuesday: 3:00 PM

Speak to the polling place director – he expected a lot busier day. Some confusion with the old manual machines – a little hard to locate all the candidate names – and you really have to jerk the handles.

Tuesday: 6:00 PM

Off to Brooklyn to help in a City Council race – will hand out flyers outside of a polling place for a few hours and back to campaign headquarters. The captains are reporting in … they’re knocking on doors reminding neighbors to vote … checking on voter turnout by election district … setting up a lit distribution for people returning from work. Your GOTV (“get out the vote”) efforts win and lose elections, no matter the number of mailings it always comes down to getting your guys/gals to the poll. Fascinating to watch the pros checking the turnouts by the hour, shifting volunteers from polling place to polling place to bus stops and train stations, all politics is local.

Tuesday: 9:15 PM

The poll watchers start returning to the headquarters with tally sheets. We’re watching the president’s speech at the same time. The returns look good; we’re getting the right counts at the right polling places although the Thompson tallies are far below expectations in heavily Afro-American election districts.

Tuesday: 11:00 PM

The headquarters are packed, over 100 workers as Frank Seddio steps to the microphone – announces, “We won ….,” to cheers and applause. The workers are the rainbow that is New York: White, Caribbean, Haitian, Afro-American, mostly older, The candidate, Alan Maisel, thanks the workers and singles out for special thanks the key players, and especially points out the UFT teachers who volunteered to man the phones and watch at the polling places.

Tuesday: Midnight

Everyone’s exhausted, the poll watchers arrived at 5:30 AM. De Blasio is hovering at 40%; Thompson gave a rousing, “We will fight to count the last votes” speech. Frank is really concerned about November 5th; will a battle to an October 1 runoff so weaken the winner that Lhota, the Republican can become the third straight Republican mayor in an overwhelmingly democratic city?

No one is sure…