Archives For July 2014

In Support of Tenure

July 23, 2014 — 4 Comments

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The attacks on tenure today have nothing to do with improving teaching and learning. They are designed to undermine teachers’ unions with the goal of silencing educators’ voices.  We firmly believe that in order for public education to succeed, teachers must have tenure, a protection that allows educators to stand with parents, for children.

 

Tenure is nothing more than due process, fair hearings with an independent arbitrator where evidence can be presented in order to protect oneself from false accusations. This ensures experienced educators have job security and encourages academic freedom. These are protections all workers should have. Tenure not only empowers teachers to advocate for children and public education, but also prevents educators from becoming “at will” employees and therefore positively impacts retention of experienced educators, which research shows is a significant factor for improving student achievement and adult outcomes. Tenure also unapologetically protects teachers not only from arbitrary firing, but from being replaced by less experienced and therefore less expensive teachers as well as potential cronyism.

 

We must only look to history for compelling examples of the importance of tenure. Tenure was first established for city teachers back in 1917 to stop political patronage. Reform mayor John P Mitchell wanted to stop Tammany Hall from giving city-paid jobs to supporters who helped get politicians elected. This ended the political machine cronyism that was rampant. It was later extended to teachers across the state as a way of attracting qualified professionals to the profession. There was a historic teacher shortage in 1945, brought on by the war, when governor Thomas E. Dewey and the 165th New York State Legislature decided to extend the opportunity for tenure to teachers all across the state.

 

At the heart of the attacks on tenure is an attempt to silence educators from speaking out against so called “reform” policies that more often privilege data and profits rather than children. Far too many public education decisions are made in corporate boardrooms and political backrooms, without the input of public school stakeholders. We, along with countless others, have worked to expose and change these policies and have become pro-union and pro-public education activists in the process.  Our efforts are possible because of tenure. Any erosion of tenure will silence a great many of our voices. This will surely quicken the damage that is being done to our public schools.

 

Attacks on tenure are cloaked in civil rights language and claim to defend children from incompetent educators. The reality is there is no evidence tenure harms children and in fact while states that afford teachers tenure have some of the highest student achievement levels in the country, states without tenure have the lowest.

 

 

The Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of UFT, a group of working public educators and parents, stands firmly for tenure and independently arbitrated due process rights, including seniority rights, for all educators.

 

Tenure allows teachers:

 

  • to remain in this profession, despite making substantially less money than professionals in the private sector.
  • to work without fear of being fired simply because they are older or earn more than less experienced educators. In districts or schools without tenure administrators are incentivised to fire experienced educators whose retirement plans and benefits cost more than those of less experienced educators.
  • to be protected from unfair or arbitrary attacks by administrators simply because they disagree with them or advocate for children’s and/or worker’ rights.
  • to advocate for the academic freedom to meet and see all children where they are, for who they are rather than follow narrow, scripted curriculum and ‘check box rubrics’.

 

For activists, tenure secures the basic right of free speech and allows us to speak truth to power, within our schools, our union, and more broadly without fear of retribution from those in positions of power who may disagree with us. Tenure allows us to:

 

  • speak out against high stakes testing, test based evaluation schemes, and developmentally inappropriate common core standards, all of which deprive our children of a good education.
  • take to the streets, courts, internet, and the airwaves to advocate for social justice, economic, racial, and social equality in our schools and society, without fear of reprisals.
  • blow the whistle on violations that harm our children including those committed against children with special needs who have been deprived of proper services.

 

Tenure allowed eight city teachers, including Sandra Adickles, to go down south on a voluntary transfer and teach at a ‘freedom school’ during the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Adickles’ bravery later led to a US Supreme Court decision making it more difficult for southerners to deny rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Her trip, which was financed by the United Federation of Teachers, helped make America a more equitable and better nation -and it was made possible because Ms. Adickles enjoyed the protection of tenure which guaranteed that she would not be arbitrarily fired while she was gone.

 

Tenure is essential in protecting the best of our profession: advocacy and basic freedoms, both of which benefit not only teachers but children as well.  Critics who claim, ‘tenure is a job for life’ or ‘tenure protects incompetent teachers’ are misrepresenting the facts:

 

  • It takes several years to earn tenure in New York State
  • It provides only two job protections: 1) The school district must have cause for terminating a teacher and 2) an independent agent ultimately decides whether or not the teacher is fired.
  • Every single teacher in this state who has tenure earned it by having it approved by a site supervisor with the agreement of the school district.

 

 

Tenure has been under attack nationally and in New York City in recent years.  The number of teachers successfully completing probation has dropped to only 53%, with many having their probationary period extended to 4, 5 or even 6 years. Our union leadership has done little to oppose this shift. We in fact do not have a “tenure problem”, but we do have a teacher retention problem.  In 2013, 43% of teachers with 6-15 years of experience left NYC schools, in no small part due to the tidal wave of attacks on our profession, our children and our schools. real reforms we know will benefit our children including the need to advocate for solutions that strengthen the teaching profession and seek to support and retain experienced educators. Abolishing or weakening tenure will serve to do the opposite.

 


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The % of teachers denied tenure each year, 2006-2013 (chalkbeatny.org)

 

 

James Baldwin once said “The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk.” We agree, but we also acknowledge that tenure, more than anything else, allows us to work for that change.

 

 

Business Unionsim

By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher and UFT Delegate: Leon M. Goldstein High School

 

Like most classroom teachers, I didn’t attend last weekend’s AFT convention. In fact, few working teachers knew it was going on, or had reason to care. Our delegates represented none of what we believe in and nothing that happened there will make any difference in our classroom. There was no call for Arne Duncan’s resignation, no resolution for a repeal of the Common Core Standards, and no new strategies for increasing union mobilization or supporting our students. Actually nothing of consequence was achieved. Members will go back to their respective locals and continue the same methods: Chicago Teachers Unions (CTU) will the lead the fight against so called reform that hurts our children and profession, while the AFT/UFT leadership will go back to a style of unionism that ensures that none of my friends become any more engaged in union activities. Continue Reading…

Congratulations for those who have accepted nominations for the new MORE Steering Committee which takes office for a 6 month term starting on August 1. 
 
The current steering committee has proposed, that rather than having an election to choose 9 out of these 11 (or 10?) qualified candidates, that we simply accept all of them as new member of the steering committee.  This decision will be ratified at the MORE Retreat this coming week on Thursday, July 17 (11am-5pm, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Ave. @ 34th st., 6 to 33rd, D,F,M,N,R to Herald Square).


Megan Behrent
has taught English at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn for 15 years. She has been a UFT delegate for FDR since 2007. In the Delegate Assembly, she has raised resolutions to support the rights of ATRs, to fight school closings/turnarounds, and to show solidarity with other unions. She is a founding member of MORE and active in the National Network of Social Justice Educators. As an education activist, she has appeared on the Melissa Harris Parry show on MSNBC and written for diverse publications including Socialist Worker, New Politics, Labor Notes and the Harvard Education Review.
Lauren Cohen entered teaching through the NYC Teaching Fellows in 2005 as a mid-year replacement for a K-2 self-contained special education teacher at a high-needs school in Harlem. She taught there for two more full school years. She spent the next 5 years at a Title 1 school in the East Village where she gained a reputation among her colleagues for speaking out against administrative mandates that were detrimental to student learning (such as canceling extended day enrichment programs in favor of test prep aligned to faulty and inaccurate Acuity results). She currently teaches at P.S. 321 in Park Slope, where the privileges available to her current students have only strengthened her resolve to fight for a more equitable system on behalf of the students she left behind. For the past two years, Lauren has worked with parents, teachers, and others in Change the Stakes, fighting against the use of standardized tests to punish schools, teachers, and students. She attended her first MORE meeting in the spring of 2012 and was thrilled to meet so many like-minded educators. She ran on the MORE slate for Elementary Executive Board in the UFT election, and she now serves as the chapter delegate for P.S. 321.
Francesca Gomes is an 8th Grade Humanities (ELA and Social Studies) Teacher at New Voices MS 443 in District 15.  She has been a member of the UFT for 13 years, and the only UFT Delegate for her school for the last five years.  She led the “Vote No” campaign at her school beginning on the first day after the 2014 contract proposal was announced.  Originally a member of Teachers for a Just Contract, she then became a member of the Independent Caucus of Educators, and is proud to have been a member of MORE since its early days.

Janice Manning is currently a fifth grade Special Education Teacher in an Integrated Co-Teaching Classroom at P.S. 503 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  This is her 10th year teaching in New York City Public Schools.  She started her teaching career as a fourth grade teacher in Fort Worth, Texas.  After teaching in Fort Worth for a year, she taught English as a foreign language in Znamenka, Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She began attending MORE meetings in January of this year and is passionate about working with other educators to organize ways to improve education for ALL students.
Megan Moskop is a current member of the steering committee. She is a Special Education teacher and UFT delegate at M.S. 324 in Washington Heights, where she began teaching in 2009 through Teach for America. Megan was raised by educators in North Carolina, and her first “real” teaching job was in Malta as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.  In addition to her work MORE, she serves as Learning Labs Director for the Manhattan Young Democrats, and she is a member of Teachers Unite. Deeply thankful for and inspired by her own teachers and students, Megan is committed to the improvement of learning and working conditions in schools everywhere, starting here.
Francesco Portelos is an engineer turned middle school STEM teacher. Over the last two years he has become a very strong advocate for educators and students. His advocacy did not come without sacrifice. After speaking up, he became a target and was removed from his teaching position. This did not stop Francesco. He ran and won the UFT Chapter Leader position in his school even though he is forbidden from entering the building. He has been successfully mobilizing and supporting his chapter and many other educators who read about his fight and seek his guidance from around the city and around the country. His objective is use his knowledge, leadership skills and out-of-the-box thinking to bring MORE to a point where they are successfully filling the great void left by our UFT Leaders. Read more at www.educatorfightsback.org  Follow on Twitter: @MrPortelos
Kevin Prosen is chapter leader at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens.  He campaigned as part of MORE’s slate for the executive board in last year’s elections, and has organized mass grievance campaigns at his school involving up to 35 members of his chapter.  He has been active in the MORE chapter organizing committee this year and has been organizing outreach to other chapter leaders in the city. His writings on UFT issues have appeared inJacobin andSocialist Worker.
Mindy Rosier is a native New Yorker who graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a B.A. in Psychology and Elementary Education and Fordham University with an M.S. Ed in Early Childhood Special Education. She has been a teacher for 17 years, including 3 years at the NY Foundling Hospital and currently 8 years with the Department of Education in a District 75 school.After seeing the hardships that her school has endured and after researching the education system itself, she became active to promote an improvement in the quality of education for all children.
Mike Schirtzer is a lifelong Brooklynite, graduate of the NYC public schools and CUNY, teacher and UFT Delegate. Teaching has always been and still is his lifelong dream and his work here in MORE is just a continuation of fulfilling the goal of being the best teacher he can be! He has planned and mobilized several events, forums, and ran for UFT & NYSUT office as MORE. He was on the original planning committee, first steering committee, and organized MORE’s social media, press, contract campaign, and South Brooklyn groups.
Patrick Walsh a three-time elected UFT chapter who believes that the only force  that can  save our profession from the predators is our union and the only force that can save our union from itself is us.

 

On Wednesday July 16th 2014 we are hosting a summer series panel and open discussion on the history of groups that have competed for power and influence within the UFT. We will also examine the implications for MORE. More event Information here

Below are readings and video lectures from union/UFT historians on the background of the founding of UFT and Unity caucus, the ruling party of our union.

Suggested Readings

Democracy & Politics in the UFT, 1976 Edition

Democracy and Politics in the UFT is being reprinted in its original with no changes in order to provide a snapshot of the state of the UFT and education circa 1976 and how one opposition group approached these issues.Thanks to Vera Pavone, Ira Goldfine and Norm Scott for creating an online version of the pamphlet they produced almost 40 years ago.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/233191682/Democracy-Politics-in-the-UFT-1976-Ed

UFT/Unity Caucus Early History from “City Unions”

This chapter on the founding of the UFT and how Shanker consolidated power from the book “City Unions”. There is a lot of insight into how Unity has controlled the UFT since its inception.

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/158371024/City-Unions-chapter-8

 

 

Here we have a series of videos about the history of our union, it’s founding, some discussions on past caucuses and dissident groups, and the relationship between non-Unity activists and the union leadership.

Historical roots of the UFT presented by Michael Fiorillo and Peter Lamphere at the State of the Union conference (Feb. 4. 2012).

Michael: Teacher unions up to 1968 (22 minutes): https://vimeo.com/45094559

Peter: Post 1968 (15 minutes):  https://vimeo.com/45094560

Both videos plus the Q&A (1 hour):  https://vimeo.com/45094713

UFT Friend or Foe- from 2013 Summer Series- How non-Unity Chapter leaders and activists relate to UFT leadership

Norm Scott: http://morecaucusnyc.org/2013/07/27/uft-friend-or-foe-event/

Vera Pavone http://morecaucusnyc.org/2013/08/14/uftaft-leadership-friend-or-foe-series-vera-pavone/

Ira Goldfine http://morecaucusnyc.org/2013/08/14/uftaft-leadership-friend-or-foe-series-ira-goldfine/

Peter Lamphere http://morecaucusnyc.org/2013/08/14/uftaft-leadership-friend-or-foe-series-peter-lamphere/

MORE Summer Series 2012- UFT Caucus History Since 1968 

Norm Scott http://vimeo.com/45705700

Michael Fiorillo http://vimeo.com/45698849

 

Join the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) for Summer Series 2014. Discussions exploring the past, present and future of teacher unionism. All are welcome!

Wednesdays 4:00pm-7:00pm
The Dark Horse
17 Murray St. NYC
Near City Hall, Chambers St, WTC

July 16th
Who Runs the UFT? Why Are There Alternatives? A Historical Perspective 1960-2014

The UFT formed in 1960 as a merger of several organizations. By 1964 the Unity caucus emerged as the ruling party of the UFT, which they remain to this day. Throughout the union’s history various dissident groups and caucuses have contested this dominance. At different times these groups merged, ran joint slates, or disbanded. We will discuss why these groups formed and their differing visions and strategies. How is MORE related to this history? What can we learn from it?

Other Summer Series Events

July 30th
Life Under the New UFT Contract

August 13th
Lessons from the Chicago Teachers’ Union- Featuring Guest Speakers from Chicago

August 20th
UFT 101: Why Does Our Teachers’ Union Matter?

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