2007-10-19 / Columnists

School Scope

Exposing the BloomKlein Sham
Commentary By Norman Scott

So many issues, so little time. Here are some of the things I've been covering on my blog: http://ednotesonline.com/

Eduwonkette, a new blogger on the education scene, has been having an impact. Recently she exposed the Evander high school small school sham. BloomKlein used the Evander case, a large high school broken up into smaller schools, to demonstrate the success of this policy, which has dislocated so many students.

Eduwonkette came up with data that shows the level of creaming the better students. In other words, the "success" of Evander is based on replacing the student body with higher performers, not improving the students already in the school. Bloom- Klein shill, the New York Times, pointed to the "success" of Bronx Lab, one of the small Evander schools, in August, 2005.

Eduwonkette looked at Bronx Lab's data in a way the Times didn't. Gee, am I surprised? 46.6 percent of their kids were proficient in reading when they entered and 52.7 percent in math. Evander's entering students passed at rates of only 11.1 percent in reading and 12.8 percent in math.

There's lots of great stuff from Eduwonkette, a former teacher and current education researcher who I've know for a few years. For someone so young, she has an amazing grasp of ed policy. Check her out at: http://www.eduwonkette.com/

Getting High on High Stakes

I have been working with Sally Lee of Teachers Unite and some colleagues from the ICE and TJC caucuses to put on a series of forums on privatization of public education.

Last week we held our first forum at Fordham, titled HIGH STAKES: How the Testing Craze Leaves NYC Children Behind. Despite the awful weather, about 60 people, mostly from the NYC school system, attended.

Speakers Stan Karp (Rethinking Schools) and Ann Cook (co-principal of The Urban Academy, one of the few schools in the city exempted from high stakes tests) focused on different aspects of the testing craze. Karp talked about the national impact of NCLB and what can be done to fight it. Cook focused on the city and state angle.

The urgent message is to do something right now by contacting all political representatives at all levels. Cook made the point that in the state and the city, the State Education Department and Tweed have gone way beyond what NCLB requires, adding even more tests than required. The State Education Department and the (despicable and incompetent in my opinion, commissioner, Richard Mills, are culprits. Mills is appointed by the State Board of Regents - the members are chosen by the State Assembly where Shelly Silver has the basic power of appointing them. Can you spell po l-I-t-I-c-s? Their performance has been abysmal, as one would expect of any political body making decisions affecting education. One day, after all the shenanigans are over, people who actually have taught may get to shape Education policy. But don't hold your breath.

The UFT made a big show of putting together a pretty good high stakes testing report after a year of meetings, but then does nothing in terms of getting some state edcucation reform by using some muscle with Silver - perfect demonstration that the UFT refuses to spend any political capital for real reform. Was the entire testing committee and report (led by Aminda Gentile, who handled it all with style) just a show? "See, we're with you teachers when you complain about how testing has affected you in the classroom but we will do nothing to force change." Let's give them the benefit of the doubt at this point and watch to see if there's any action on pressing for massive reform of the state education dept (like how about refusing to accredit a Chancellor with no educational background.)

Baltimore rocks

Joel Klein Klone Andres Alonso, who left Tweed to run the Baltimore school system, is meeting a bit of resistance from a union that did not think "it is all breathtakingly possible," as Randi Weingarten commented when Bloom- Klein announced Children First (read Last).

A recent Baltimore Sun headline read: "Council eyes resolution to back teachers over impasse."

A dispute between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the chief of the city school system spilled into the City Council last night with the introduction of a nonbinding resolution supporting the union in the impasse.

Alonso needs a 30-person public relations team like Klein has. Unity Gives Itself a Raise - With New Action Support

Former (now sell-out) opposition New Action joined with the ruling Unity Caucus at Monday's UFT Executive Board meeting in voting the same raise for UFT staff as teachers receive.

The vote was unanimous, with the eight New Action UFT Executive Board members going along for the ride. The entire process took about 15 seconds.

Now all Unity hacks can make midsix figure salaries to go along with their double pensions.

Former ICE Executive Board members Jeff Kaufman and James Eterno, who lost their high school seats in the last election to the Unity/New Action coalition, used to put up a fierce fight. No more fights, with the rubber stamp New Action joining in on the Unity follies.

Voting for such raises for people employed by the union gives them a vested interest in pushing for contracts that will feather their nests, as opposed to fighting for better working conditions, like reducing class size, or eliminating potty patrol.

The desperation with which they fought for the 2005 contract certainly reinforces this view, especially since they make so much higher salaries than rank and file teachers. Since well over 200 people make over $100 grand, their percentage increase makes the gap between the UFT hierarchy and the members grow. Add the fact that they make up almost the entire Executive Board and dominate the Delegate Assembly, and you have a prescription for the disaster that has hit the NYC teaching corps in terms of working conditions.

Merit Pay

I spent months in 2001 trying to get a resolution at the UFT Delegate Assembly urging a fight against all forms of merit pay, but was stonewalled by Weingarten. That frustrating experience gave me an insight into where she was really coming from, and led to a break with her that moved me to change direction from trying to use friendly persuasion on Randi, to open opposition.

The UFT and the AFT have been making a big push to oppose the "merit pay for teachers for performance" proposal in the reauthorization of NCLB, but they would accept entire schools getting pay for performance.

On the surface, this doesn't sound so bad. Why not reward all the teachers in a school if it performs? I am opposed because of all the cans of worms it opens up when the rewards are based on a few high stakes tests, though I guess the pressures to perform on teachers are so great now it wouldn't make much difference. But at least classroom teachers have been the strongest voices raised against the impact of high stakes tests. Would that disappear if they were getting bonuses?

At one point I did not understand how the UFT and Weingarten could support merit pay in any form. A recent book on Al Shanker points to his taking the same stand. For those who think Randi Weingarten has taken the union in a different direction than Shanker, just about all of the union's current policies were laid out by Shanker from the early 80's on - policies such as the Lead Teacher program, which was pushed by Shanker and came to fruition in recent contracts.

The UFT/AFT should be calling for the total abolition of NCLB, which has been so onerous to teachers, students and parents. But Shanker could have written much of the NCLB law. Randi Weingarten Discusses Her Life as a Lesbian Labor Leader

As a persistent critic of Randi, it is nice to be able to praise her for doing something that has obviously not been easy. While many people in the UFT knew about Randi's situation, gay teachers wondered why Randi never went public. It is a breakthrough, even today, when such a powerful labor leader, set to move to the national stage with the potential to run the entire labor movement in the USA, comes out publicly. If she is successful in her quest to surpass Al Shanker (and I give her a great chance as she moves to the AFT this July and then I believe works towards heading the entire AFL/CIO), I can't wait to see the building trades unions having a lesbian labor leader as their chief spokesperson.

Teaching in NYC has always attracted a number of gay people. There were many openly gay teachers in my small elementary school and there was a great community of people working together, disproving the insane craziness of the religious right over the impact of gay teachers.

Amongst those of us in the opposition, there is total support for Randi on this issue. Any attempt by the anti- Randi right wing in the UFT (yes, it's minuscule, but it does exist) will be met with resounding denunciations by all of us. She should know that we understand this was not an easy thing to do, even in these times, and we feel real good for her.

Of course, I can't resist getting in one little dig. How can the UFT ever support vicious anti-gay candidates like Noach Dear? I'm sure the UFT PR machine will explain it. Discount the argument that Randi did not want to allow her personal situation to influence UFT endorsements. The UFT under Sandy Feldman also supported right wing anti-gay candidates.

"They [right wing candidates] may want gays removed from the classroom, but were strong on the eyeglass plan," my buddy Gene Prisco always likes to say about the UFT's weird endorsement strategy. Gene should know. When he ran against right wing, anti-union Vito Fossella for Congress, the UFT didn't endorse Gene, who was associated with the opposition.

The UFT philosophy since Shanker's times has been - better in bed with right-wing, anti-union people, than dead with lefty, 100 percent pro-union people like Gene.

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