2007-05-04 / Columnists

School Scope

What Was Gained, What Was Lost?
Commentary By Norman Scott

Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott
Norman Scott A growing coalition of teachers and parent groups opposed to the educational policies of the BloomKlein administration forced them on the defensive for the first time. A rally held on February 28 at St. Vartan's Church was a shot across the bow. Though the UFT was clearly the major organizing force and the audience was packed with people on the union payroll along with the usual suspects - politicians - the event also brought out an unexpected number of rank and file teachers and activist parents. It might have been the first time such a conglomeration of forces were in the same room

at the same time and was a unique opportunity to build a base for further action, culminating in a massive rally of all these forces at City Hall on

May 9.

Some parent leaders took a "we've got them where we want them" approach, expecting little or no concessions. They wanted to hold out for a major modification or elimination of mayoral control. But their mantra - "put the public back in the public schools"- reflects just a pale shade of the impact of the mayoral control/corporate model on urban school systems around the nation. NYC has gotten the brunt

of it.

With BloomKlein receiving nationwide accolades for their (multiple) reorganization of the school system, many for their destructive attacks on teachers, the May 9 event would have made a splash nationally and focused attention on the increasing opposition to so many disastrous policies.

But UFT leaders, longtime supporters of the concept of mayoral control, would not go there, preferring to hold the message simply to the extremely short-term goal of killing the current chaotic reorganization and going back to the previous chaotic reorganization.

The UFT leadership sees the battle as a matter of tactics and strategy, not a much larger confrontation with a power elite intent on remaking things forever, in the process ignoring the bigger battle of the major assault on public education, along with increasing privatization.

A seat at the table

The UFT-led coalition made a deal at the biggest moment of weakness BloomKlein has faced, leaving all of the onerous provisions of the reorganization intact and cancelled the May 9 rally. Basically, for a seat at the table. To talk to - who? According to press reports, they won the right to sit down, in Randi Weingarten's own words, with officials of the Department of Education who are "absolute and complete a-holes" who "can't be trusted."

What was gained?

Principals will not lose a higher paid teacher's salary when that teacher retires, though it leaves the decision on senior teachers who transfer to a grievance procedure where the union loses over 90% of the cases. The NY Times report on the funding plan compromise said, "The change means that when a veteran teacher paid nearly $100,000 a year retires, a principal can hire a similar teacher or hire a rookie for about $50,000 and use the remaining $50,000 for other expenses." Will a principal choose a senior teacher or take the 50 grand? This agreement actually gives principals an incentive to encourage senior teachers (today, anyone with over three years) to leave.

No school will have its budget cut for the next two years. A disappointed parent commented: I am concerned about what happens to this city long after my children graduate: tomorrow's students will be our neighbors, our city's workers, someone's parents, etc.

Tweed agreed to some level of consultation on class size. What does "consultation" mean when uttered by "absolute and complete a-holes" who "can't be trusted?" No matter what is said or what committees they form, Tweed does not believe that reducing class size will have the same impact as spending money on professional development will. Expect spinning the wheels. I have maintained that there will be no reductions in class size without contract negotiations.

A blogger, jd2718 (jd2718.wordpress.com) commented on the other provisions:

* Extra funding for ELLs and Special Ed. Good. But why in the context of weighted student funding? Don't we know better?

"Fair Student Funding? We've won a task force, empowered to make recommendations…

* Tenure? No changes for a year, then the UFT will participate in the process of developing changes. Huh? Why are we changing tenure?

* The rest doesn't even pretend to deal with reorganization. Middle school reform (we'll work on a pilot program). Parent engagement (a committee to study)…. A commitment (a commitment!) to improve college and career preparedness, graduation rates and college admissions.What happened? Perhaps I have details wrong. But perhaps our negotiators were so focused on getting the DoE to include us in decision-making that we forgot about the threat to public education, the creeping privatization of our school system.

What was lost by canceling the May 9 rally?

The BloomKlein response to the increasing threat of a growing coalition of people opposed to Tweed has forced BloomKlein into a very uncomfortable stance. This entire incident has shown that concessions will only take place in the cauldron of the threat of action. By giving the UFT and it's partners a seat at the table, BloomKlein gained by reversing the momentum of opposition to their policies while nothing has changed for the people in the school community who have suffered over the past the past five years. An opportunity to force a total reversal of the insane funding formula has been lost.

It is interesting that Tweed can say they are going to do A, B, C, D horrible things and when they modify D, as this agreement seems to do, we hear cheers like it's a victory. For whom?

From day one of BloomKlein, the UFT leadership hungered for a return to their long-time seat at the DOE table, which BloomKlein has so long denied them. On the surface, they seem to have gotten their wish, but in the process lost the potential of building a movement to fight back.

The focus on the reorganization, rather than the entire package of control of the schools by big city mayors and its impact on the teachers, parents and students, made a deal like this likely. Groups left out of the process will be very reluctant to get involved in the future. An historic opportunity to bring forces together to become an educational force opposed to the increasing privatization and attacks on public education has been lost.

May 9 is still an option

In originally arguing for a rally on May 9, Randi Weingarten pointed to the problems with the reorganization. Many of those points are still valid. Some parent groups that did not sign on to the pact are organizing a press conference on May 9 on the steps of City Hall at 5 p.m. Some teachers and critics of the Children Last reforms will be joining them. At the same time, a group of teachers at the UFT Delegate Assembly on May 9, which was quickly reinstated after the rally was cancelled, will be attempting to get the delegates to vote for a rally later in the spring. This came about as a result of an 18-1 vote in favor of such an action by the Manhattan high school chapter leaders.

DOE parent/teacher/student survey flawed

Tweed has spent $25 million to send out surveys. Designed and implemented by private consultants (naturally, the DOE mantra) from the accounting firm of KPMG, parents who participated in the focus groups were told their suggestions would determine the questions asked. Instead, most of the issues they cared about were ignored.

This group has asked parents to return the survey with questions crossed out and a statement on the top saying "We want real parent input - as well as smaller classes, less testing, and new priorities at Tweed to deal with the real problems in our schools." Mayor Bloomberg responded by charging they were out to "subvert the system and sit around and complain and not make it any better."

Parent leader Leonie Haimson of class size matters said, "We volunteered in good faith and spent many hours over two days, to provide realistic and relevant suggestions so that this $25 million survey could be meaningful and useful.

Those who signed our letter include members of CECs, President's councils and other active, engaged parents who work hard every day, for no pay and little recognition to try to make this system work better for our kids.

We were all extremely disappointed that our input was ignored - and that specific questions were omitted about class size, overcrowding, the amount of testing and test prep in our schools, the curriculum, the principal's attitude towards parent input and involvement, and/or whether there is a functional School Leadership Team in the school.

There is also nothing in the survey that relates to the specific needs or satisfaction of two populations especially badly served by our schools: ELL and special Ed students.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, supported BloomKlein on the survey (naturally.) "We want to make sure that we know on the ground what people really think about the schools." Really? Choose one: BloomWeinKlein or BloomKleinGarten.

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