2005-11-18 / Community

Will Micro-Management Go the Way of the Buffalo?

In “Why I Said ‘No”’ To the UFT Contract,” a teacher at John Adams High School writes, “The new contract gives principals unprecedented control.” The only item she liked? “The contract … finally limits micromanagement (Adams administrators require irrelevant assignments about bulletin boards and classroom seating)... new teachers often fear retribution and conform to administrators’ problematic dictates (‘Don’t lecture to the students – you’ll bore them! Group work every day!’) Adams is the ‘best of the worst’ in overly scrutinized Region Five.” [Indypendent-News] Issue #79 http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2005/11/60080.html

In our last column we touched on the Region’s micromanagement mania that led to a series of meetings between UFT President Randi Weingarten and the Region’s chapter leaders and subsequent meetings between Weingarten and Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin.

Here is one teacher’s view of the regulations on the bulletin board policy:

“Topics are chosen each month by Principal, which seems to be coming from Region. It is usually the Genre of the month. The Principal gives a deadline of the first of the month for all bulletin boards to be done. Why can’t the deadline be by the end of the first week of each month?

Post-it notes are required, with comments and recommendations on each piece. There must be 8 to 10 pieces of different students’ work on the bulletin board.

For some grades, it’s 11 to 12 pieces.

What is not hung up on the bulletin board – the other students work – must be hung up in the classroom. The Principal has commented about the paper being used on the bulletin boards and about the borders that some of the teachers use. Some teachers have had complaints about the number of staple used.”

Weingarten said in a letter to the Region’s teachers: “The chapter leaders provided me with examples of the demands, some bordering on the bizarre, some on the ridiculous and some unfortunately outrageous. I assured the chapter leaders that we would seek immediate relief.

“Following the meeting, we contacted the Region 5 Superintendent to alert her of the severity of the demoralization occurring in Region 5 and sited the bulletin board policy as an example.

On Thursday, November 3rd, the very next day, she issued a memorandum to the Principals in the Region to cease and desist bulletin board implementation until there could be a meeting to discuss the matter.”

As reported by Howard Schwach in the November 11 edition of The Wave, there are hints of progress. “It was a very productive meeting,” Cashin said. “I did a lot of listening and a lot of

discussing. Cashin promised that “changes will be made to ‘make the teachers’ life easier’ within the regulations.”

I wonder. You know the famous story where the frog gives the scorpion a ride on his back across a river knowing full well he won’t get stung because it would mean both their deaths? When the scorpion does sting him and they are drowning, the frog asks “Why?” The scorpion responds, “It’s my nature.”

It has been the nature of Region Five administrators to micromanage.

That culture will not be so easy to change.

Let’s wait to hear stories from teachers to see if they are actually getting relief from micromanagement and bulletin board mania.

The new contract says they should, doesn’t it?

Every so often, I am accused (like every 5 minutes) of being a skeptic. And here I am, at it again. Schwach reported: “Weingarten told the chapter leaders she was surprised Cashin was coming down so hard on the teachers because ‘the Chancellor is keeping an eye on her.’” What exactly does that mean? It is true that Cashin, whose real angel was former Chancellor Frank Macchiarola, became the District 23 (Brownsville) superintendent under Rudy Crew and never showed much inclination to use the so-called “progressive” approach – workshop models, constructivist education, fuzzy math and all the other accoutrements of the Diana Lam/Carmen Farina/ Teachers’ College/Anthony Alvarado School of education.

Cashin’s rep as a principal at PS 193 in District 22 in Brooklyn and as Dist. 23 Superintendent was pretty much “drill and kill,” with loads of micromanagement. While the former is anathema to the “progressives” – and I use this term lightly – supposedly in charge of DOE policy, the latter falls right in line.

Cashin adapted very quickly to the new world order after being chosen to lead Region Five, though one can imagine there was some serious chafing going on when the philosophical underpinnings of how one believes teachers should teach and children should learn are knocked away.

It’s worth repeating from the John Adams teacher’s missive: “Don’t lecture to the students – you’ll bore them! Group work every day!” I seriously question how many people in even the highest positions really believe this philosophy should be applied equally throughout the schools in every grade and class. Yet they are hammering teachers who do not comply.

Aside from the “progressive” curriculum, the rest of the program instituted under BloomKlein is part of the national agenda to corporatize schools, going right along with an anti-union agenda.

A dictatorship under Mayoral control that removes any checks and balances is the key to making it all work.

Anthony Alvarado instituted many of the elements we are seeing in Manhattan’s District 2 and took the program to San Diego (“He’s Baaack,” The Wave, May 6, 2005). The key elements: Blame the teachers for lack of performance, lots of professional development because obviously if children don’t do well it is because the teachers don’t know how to teach effectively (certainly the lack of adequate funding for education or any factors in the home have nothing to do with poor educational performance), make things ‘teacher proof,” which requires a lot of micromanagement, and putting on a good show – thus the emphasis on bulletin boards.

My skeptic’s hat comes back on from the impression Weingarten gives with her “Gee, there’s a lot of micromanagement in Region Five? Why didn’t you-all tell me before?” OK, Randi, I believe it – this issue just cropped up in the last two weeks.

We have pointed in the past to the close relationship between the UFT and Cashin (lots of praise for the partnership between the Region and the union), in particular the housing of the UFT charter school in Dist 19. Some of us raised the issue of the charter school being held hostage if the UFT tried to enforce the rights of its members too rigorously.

Weingarten’s letter said, “We appear to be headed in the right direction and we will keep you posted on progress… you must keep us up to date on what is happening in your school, because if we are not making progress, we are prepared to take further action, both contractually and publicly.” We’ll wait and see, but I expect to see a hell of a lot of buffalo continue to roam.

The contract and democracy in the UFT

When I last left you in the ongoing saga of the UFT contract, I was on my way to the vote count. I spent all day watching those little white cards pop up on the scanners. We took continuous snapshots of vote counts for the teacher contract: one of us would count YES and one NO for about 100-150 ballots. So many people said they couldn’t believe the final tally because everyone they know voted NO. I watched batches of envelopes from schools being opened and saw little signs of overwhelming NO votes in particular schools. In every snapshot we took the YES position won by 60-65%. By 2 p.m. we gave up counting and expected the vote on the teacher portion of the contract to run 63-65%. We were pretty surprised when the final tally on the teacher contract was a nudge shy of 40%. * The late vote from Iowa must have swung it.

Within an hour of the results, people came out swinging in the blogosphere as pros and cons flashed over the internet, at times with a level of nastiness that reflected just how hard fought this contact battle was. But everyone seemed to agree that that this was not a good contract – even Weingarten said so, but claimed it was the best we could get.

Anti-Weingarten/Unity feeling is running at a high level but this should be tempered somewhat by time and by the effectiveness of any perceived opposition that springs up. But as long as the tradition of 1-person rule exists bad decisions will continue to be made in our union because there are no real checks and balances in a 1-party dominated system (sort of like mayoral control.)

Discussing democracy in the UFT is not just an exercise that is of interest to a few old-line activists and of no real consequence to the members. From decisions to support high stakes testing and all of the consequences, to the basic support of the corporatization of the schools, to backing mayoral control, we have seen the total stripping of whatever control teachers had in their own classrooms. The disastrous consequences of top-down decision-making at the DOE and the UFT – increasingly falling into the category of “separated at birth” – forced teachers to accept a contract that was not in their best interests.

*The 63% total reflect the votes of paras, secretaries and other chapters, each of which voted separately on the contract unique to their chapter. Obviously they went for their contracts in significantly higher numbers than the teachers.

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