Tag Archives: UFT

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…

Who Will Elect the Next New York City Mayor? What is the Path to Victory?

In 2008 I proudly displayed an Obama poster on my front door. My neighbor, with whom I had a nodding relationship, gave a big “thumbs up.” We began to chat about politics as we sorted our mail at the mailbox, traveled up and down on the elevator and met at the compactor room – those couple of minute conversations we have with neighbors in the urban environment.

The other day as we were riding down in the elevator, I asked,

“Who are you supporting for mayor?”

He mused for a while, “I guess Bloomberg, I know he screwed up the schools but overall he’s done a good job.”

I was surprised, “He’s not running,” I replied, “He’s term limited.”

“He can get around that, wasn’t he supposed to be term limited last time?”

“Yes, not this time.”

“I guess I have to pay attention to the pack – let’s see – the redhead, the one who just got married, Quinn, let me think, an Asian guy, a tall guy, a black guy and Weiner, the guy with the appropriate name.”

“Who you voting for?”

“I have no idea – it’s a long time till November, I’ll have to start paying more attention.”

“The primary is September 10th – are you a registered Democrat?”

“Good question, I don’t know – are their big differences between them – marriage equality, stop and frisk …?”

“Nope, nuances, not big differences.”


2,000 UFT members will have attended meetings and listened to the five announced candidates, the overwhelming number of potential voters barely know the names of the candidates. In my district, counting citywide and local candidates, there will be a dozen candidates vying for the Democratic slot on the ballot. The last week in August and the first ten days in September my mailbox will be filled with election lit – why should I vote for one candidate or why some other candidate is the sporn of the devil.

On September 10th about 700,000 voters will select the Democratic candidate for the November 5th election – unless a candidate does not reach the 40% cut off – if no candidate has 40% of the vote for a citywide office a runoff will be held on September 24th.

In 2001 785,000 votes were cast in a four-way Democratic primary and 1.5 million in the November general election.

In 2009 330,000 votes were cast in a 2-way Democratic primary and one million in the November election.

One of the primary rules of campaigning is: identify your voters and get them to the polls.

1. Fund raising: In New York City a campaign finance law sharply restricts and levels the playing field, all the current
Democratic candidates have committed to participate in the campaign finance program. You can track every contribution by candidate and by contributor on the website (http://www.nyccfb.info/).

2. Identifying potential voters: Prime NY, run by Jerry Skurnick, sells data disaggregated any way you choose. Read an excellent, brief explanation of how to breakdown key data here (http://gograssroots.org/files/analyzevoters.pdf). Who are “your voters?” Asian voters are likely to vote for John Liu – how many Asian voters are registered Democrats and how many are likely to vote? For Bill Thompson – Afro-Americans are a large potential block of voters. Thompson’s “stump speech” to Afro-American audiences references his grandparents as immigrants from the Caribbean and his 88 year-old father who still goes to work every day.

You may identify potential voters – how do you motivate them to go to the polls?

3. Endorsements. Some organizations can potentially “deliver” their members on Election Day. Unions, churches, environmental organizations, LBGT organizations, have loyal memberships who may abide by an endorsement, especially unions. Newspaper endorsements, NY Times, the Post, the Daily News and the foreign language press can influence voters, at the local level endorsement by civic or block associations, by a neighbor, the more local the better.

4. Communications. Getting out the message is a challenge … free “publicity” through press releases, appearances at events, Christine Quinn in her role as leader of the City Council has the opportunity to garner headlines, speaking at Columbia and disclosing her battles with alcoholism and bulimia, releasing her autobiography. Bill de Blasio attacking high stakes testing, as well as attacking Christine Quinn, John Liu, in his role as Comptroller issuing a range of reports, obliquely attacking the Mayor.

As the election nears the candidates will take to the airways – TV commercials, mailers, robo calls, flyers and social media.

5. Street Operations. You’ve identified your voters, you’ve made the phone calls, you’ve attended scores of community meetings, sent out letters and flyers as election day nears – and in the final week you put hundreds and hundreds of supporters on the streets – standing on street corners handing out campaign buttons or palm cards, ringing door bells, urging friends and neighbors and strangers to show up at the polls, and that last push – those “triple” prime voters – making sure they get to the polls.

Teachers are passionate in their dislike of the current mayor and their desire to elect the “anti-Bloomberg.” a mayor who respects teachers and will select a chancellor who will return sanity to the school system. Every municipal union is without a contract: which candidate will be most likely to negotiate a satisfactory contract?

Most New Yorkers are not passionate, the election hasn’t resonated – like my neighbor the election is far away, a candidate choice has not coalesced – the candidates are still “the redhead, the Asian guy, the tall guy and the black guy”

At the Brooklyn UFT candidate forum Borough Rep Howie Schoor asked each candidate what was their path to victory, they all answered: the UFT endorsement.

They’re probably right.

Read NY Times editorial (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/20/opinion/education-and-new-york-citys-mayoral-race.html?hpw)