2009-12-11 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

UFT Leadership Should Resign In Shame
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Throw the bums out!

The entire leadership of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) should hang their heads in shame and resign en masse for what they did to their constituency during the last election campaign.

Sure, the union was "promised" a four percent raise each year for the next three years and lots of other goodies such as retaining tenure and a better deal for those teachers out of a job because of closed schools.

For that promise, all the union leadership had to do was stay away from the election.

Don't endorse anybody - not Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was in the process of stealing another term from the voters, or Bill Thompson, who under any other circumstance, would have been the union's overwhelming choice.

And, stay out they did. Oh, sure, the leadership will tell you they were only heeding the desire of the delegate assembly, but we all know that is not true, that the delegate assembly is a puppet body controlled by the leadership.

So, what did they get for being good puppets and doing Bloomberg's bidding?

In return, the mayor has announced a new education plan that would:

Use the state's standardized test scores and those scores alone to decide on teacher tenure;

End the seniority rights that teachers have been fighting to gain and retain since the major battles of the 1960s;

Make it mandatory that any teacher excessed from a closing school find a new job in a year or be fired;

Adopt existing federal math and English standards, even if the schools do not want them;

Tie teacher pay to student achievement.

That's what the union's lockstep walk with Mayor Bloomberg has earned the teachers who belong to the UFT.

In a speech in Washington D.C., with the new national Secretary of Education looking on, Bloomberg said that not paying teachers based on their student's achievement is like saying that heart surgeons should not be rated on their patient's survival rate.

Well, once again the mayor is being disingenuous.

How about this.

One doctor takes only cases that have a 100 percent chance of surviving. If there is a chance that the operation will fail, the patient is told to find another doctor. So, he has a 100 percent survivability rate.

The doctor next door takes on all comers. She'll try to save every patient with all her expertise and skill. Because she takes everybody, the survival rate of her patients hovers at 75 percent.

Who is the better doctor, the man who takes only sure things and always wins or the woman who takes on all comers and sometimes fails?

That's what the mayor should have been talking about.

Take the teachers at the Scholars' Academy.

Every one of their students is already at high level 3 or level 4 when they get there.

Those kids will never fail.

Their teachers will always be rated as "excellent" by the bureaucracy because they succeed.

On the other hand, take a teacher in an inclusion class at PS 43 in Edgemere.

That class is made up of 15 slow to normal students and 15 special education at-risk students.

Is the teacher at the Scholars' Academy a better teachers because she faces more advanced kids?

Not at all. In fact, the teacher with the special education kids probably has to be a better teacher just to survive.

The proof is easy.

Take the teachers from the Scholars' Academy and transfer them to PS 43 for a year. Put all the PS 43 teachers at the Scholars' Academy.

Would the kids at the Scholars' Academy suddenly have lower test scores? Would the kids at PS 43 all suddenly be 3's and 4's?

Of course not.

It's the kids, stupid.

And, kids are not widgets. People building widgets can be ranked on how many they turn out each day and on how well they are made.

You can't do the same for teachers, no matter how hard you try because the playing field is not level.

Bloomberg wants to reward good teachers and fire bad teachers.

Which, in my mind, begs the question of "what is a good teacher?"

And, who decides on whether a teacher is good or bad?

Those questions do not have easy answers.

Certainly, the question of who is a good teacher cannot be answered by a principal who has never been a teacher and serves only at the sufferance of the bureaucrats at Tweed Courthouse. Those principals have no frame of reference.

Certainly, it cannot be answered by looking at the test scores of students.

Certainly, it cannot be answered by principals who want young, cheaper teachers at the expense of one, older teacher who has both the expertise and experience to do the job far better.

Certainly, it cannot be answered by looking to the teachers who have been excessed because their schools have been closed and now find themselves too expensive to find a place in one of Bloomberg's new, smaller schools.

Even the new head of the state's Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch (I feel sorry for her, because she had to put up with Geraldine Chapey the elder) said, "We cannot deny that student tests scores are a significant indicator of success, but it's not the only indicator, and it's not in a vacuum."

So. I'm waiting for the union to respond to the mayor, for the leadership to get out of their chairs and walk out of UFT headquarters in disgrace, all wearing conical hats and signs that say, "I am a dunce."

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