Chicago Teachers Win!

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Michelle Strater Gunderson with Karen Jennings Lewis.

Karen Lewis signing the tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city.


  • The Chicago teachers were able to reach an agreement with whatever it is that passes for a school board there, without a strike, but at the very last minute. The board knew quite well that teachers (and their supporters, who include the vast majority of parents) were strongtly united and WOULD have gone on strike had the board not caved in and agreed.


    That being said, I’m sure the contract isn’t perfect and that the teachers and parents will need to continue to unite to press for positive reforms.

“You will differentiate instruction for every student in exactly the same way, or else”


One of the many reasons I rejoice every day that I was able to retire!


Read what classroom observations have devolved to:

What A Joke DC Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson Was – City Paper

Very detailed article in the Washington City Paper showing how our recently-resigned Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, failed to do much of anything to narrow DC’s extremely-high gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, even though she had oodles of money, complete control over resources, and the ability to fire teachers and administrators almost at will.

As I have shown repeatedly (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters. Or else here) DC has the widest gap of the entire USA between the scores of poor kids vs the non-poor, between white kids and black or hispanic kids, and between those in Special Ed and those who are not. This article shows how the Henderson and Rhee administrations failed to do pretty much anything to improve conditions at schools where there were large concentrations of ‘at risk’ kids, other than saying that by some miracle, they would improve scores by 40 percentage points at all of the schools where 40% of the kids were ‘at risk’.

(A quote from the article: ‘ “No school in the history of time has achieved such goals,” counters a D.C. Council staffer familiar with DCPS school reform. “On its face, the concept of this as a reachable goal was ridiculous.” ‘)

And of course, it never happened. No extra resources, and no miraculous gains.

But according to the article, Kaya has an excuse – just the sort of thing that she and Michelle Rhee used to berate actual, um, educators for saying:

‘ when Payne persisted with a question about Henderson’s “personal goal of closing achievement gaps,” the chancellor explained: “I am not exactly convinced that schools alone can close the achievement gap. I think about the fact that in Washington, D.C., we have the greatest income inequality in the country. That gap is only growing, and the fact that our achievement gap is growing in a similar way shouldn’t be baffling. But I think what we’ve learned is that equity is really more appropriate, giving different people different kinds of support…And for different groups and different kids that means different things.”

My friends and colleagues Elizabeth Davis and Mary Levy are quoted. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

Where are all the 2016 Campaign Stickers and Signs?

Most 4-year election cycles, there are literally (and also figuratively) tons of presidential campaign stickers for the two main parties and also for others plastered on vehicles, walls, buttons, yard signs, and much more.

Not so far this year.

(Back in my day, when we actually DID sometimes (wellll, twice, both February 1958 iirc) walk to the store pulling a sled through snowdrifts taller than me, I actually recall playing with a spinning top labeled “Ike on Top” from either the 1952 or 1956 election. During the last two cycles that Obama was running, you would see stickers or signs for Obama-Biden; or Romney-Ryan; or McCain-Palin nearly everywhere you looked, walking or driving.

I just drove to South Carolina through NC, VA and DC and back over 4 days and found a grand total of THREE such election notices, only 6 weeks before election day, and all were in NC:

  • One red pickup truck with TRUMP-PENCE signs
  • One small TRUMP-PENCE road side sign
  • One CLINTON-KAINE illuminated bill board

That’s ALL. None others, at all, anywhere we went that I was looking.

Before this trip, here in DC I recall  seeing a grand total THREE bumper stickers. One  Johnston, one Stein, and one Hillary.

So that is a grand total of SIX stickers or signs that I’ve seen posted by actual people, so far, this election. Lots of emails (I still get some from Carson – remember him?)

And that’s after driving many hundreds of miles on interstates and local roads and in various towns in NC, VA, DC and a tiny bit in S, as well as walking a fair distance. Almost no open and visible signs from anybody supporting either candidate!

These must be truly the most unpopular American presidential candidates in my lifetime and perhaps ever.  I suspect that on both sides, a lot of people will be voting while holding their noses, and that will include me, and will mostly voting AGAINST someone. (If you didn’t know already, I’m mostly voting AGAINST Trump but not in favor of either of the 3rd-party candidates. So that means I’m voting for Clinton, because I can’t abide the idea that somebody as foolish and as dishonest as Trump would be the American president.

Clearly there are some Trump supporters who don’t care how many times he’s lied, or whom he has demeaned, or how much money he’s swindled out of the rest of us, or how absolutely unfit he is for any position of trust and leadership. All of those unimipeachable facts make him completely unacceptable to the vast majority of people, but there is a core group of Trump cult members who have been conned. Believe me, he is the very best con-man out there. The very best. A bigly con-man. I’ll tell you, he is a world-class shyster. the very best. So those who have been conned pick and choose whichever side of his self-contradictory programs he sort-of articulates, and ignore all the contradictory evidence.

And of course, he and his Breitbart-Fox Fake news media friends have been promoting the Big Lie that Hillary Clinton is the worst liar in the world and a heartless murderer to boot.

Concerning Secy Clinton, I’m not crazy about how the policies of Obama and the Clintons in foreign policy and on education appear to be almost indistinguishable from those of GWBush, even though GWB justified those interventionist and frankly essentially imperialist policies on much more know-nothing, knee-jerk, right-wing, grounds that simply aggravated tensions abroad, alienated enormous numbers of Moslems and others in the Middle East, and dissipated all the support Americans got when the US was attacked on 9-11-2001. The policies of GWB — which have to a great extent continued under Obama  — supported totally corrupt, ruthless, violent regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan (Al-Maliki and Karzai) and in reaction caused groups like the Taliban and ISIS/ISIL and its predecessors, the Sunni Uprising in Iraq, to seem like legitimate resistance fighters to millions of people there. Destabilizing Libya and Syria hasn’t exactly brought about progress, either, and now the US has its ostensibly strongest allies (Kurds and Turkey) fighting each other. Bringing about an enormous refugee problem that seems to have no solution. So Trump is correct that the policies of the last two presidential administrations in the Middle East have been failures on their own terms — but his would be even worse!

Just think: he advocates stealing ALL THE OIL from Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, and doing torture even worse than the illegal stuff that the CIA and US military did all along, and IIRC has even proposed using nuclear weapons over there! That would make the US into one of the worst perpetrators of brazen war crimes of all time, and would prompt millions or billions of people into rising up against the American presence everywhere in the world.

Starting wars and uprisings can sound like a good idea sometimes if you aren’t the ones in the middle of it as a combatant or civilian. Armed conflict is not fun, but if people feel that they really have no choice, they will do it.

The stuff about Clinton’s emails and Benghazi, to me, seem to be utterly bogus issues — but since they have been repeated over and over again by the rabid anti-Clintonites, they have achieved their goal of making Clinton looking more duplicitous than the average politician. I think she is considerably less so. While far from perfect, her record is WAAAYY cleaner than Trump — who sets world-class records for lying. Like the Meghan Trainor song,  “His lips are moving, so he’s lying, lying, lying” as well as cheating others out of their money and avoiding taxes.

Can anybody think of a good NO TRUMP sticker? I’ve tried, but unfortunately, almost nobody plays Contract Bridge any more, and in fact regular 52-cards-to-the-deck playing cards are virtually unknown to many children, so the phrase “No Trump” won’t mean much to many people. (If you play Spades instead of Bridge, then any Spade *always* trumps any other card, which is a different sort of joke…) In any case, it would be pretty easy to make a phrase about spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts, trumps, no-trumps, dummies, and jokers that many folks would see as merely insulting and offensive, or else would be simply incomprehensible.

I haven’t been able to think of anything clever and funny and carries a good message. If anybody can think of one, I’d love to hear it or see it, publicize it to my dozens of readers, and give you credit! Here’s what I’ve seen so far:


one no trump

But they are pretty lame…


How Finland Handles Education: By Doing About the Opposite of Everything Advocated by American Educational ‘Reformers’

Yet another article on the Finnish education miracle, this one in The Guardian. Definitely worth reading.

Vision vs Practice

One more article from Peter Greene, the best educational blogger I am aware of. I’m copying and pasting the entire thing.


Forest and Trees

Posted: 15 Sep 2016 10:24 AM PDT

Like many jobs in the world, particularly those that deal with humans, teaching requires focus on both forests and trees.

A teacher faces questions like these in the classroom:

What body of information do I need to convey to my students in a deep and integrated manner that best fits their pedagogical requirements and will most help them take their place as fully-actualized adults in the world?

What instructional techniques can best be used with this particular set of content-based objectives that also blend with and respect the cultural and personal backgrounds of my students while maintaining a whole child approach that helps achieve my global objectives?

But these questions are also part of the classroom world:

What’s the most efficient way to get these test papers passed back?

Do I have enough copies of this worksheet?

Can I get Chris to stop jabbing Pat with a pencil?

You can’t have one without the other. Focusing on the broad and deep concerns of education is like loving someone deeply and fully and never doing anything about it but sitting in your room and writing angsty poems. A broad vision without an action plan gets nothing done, achieves nothing for the students. But focus too intently on the nuts and bolts and you end up with a technician who completes tasks efficiently, even though the tasks have no real useful purpose behind them. You need a vision of how to get through the next year, and a plan for how to get through the next forty minutes.

Educational amateurs and neophytes often suffer from this balance problem. Beginning teachers may enter the classroom with Big Dreams about Touching the Future and Shaping Young Minds, but with no idea of how to get twenty-five teenagers to keep watching while the teacher writes on the board (chalk, white or smart). I’ve also seen new teachers arrive with stacks of unit plans and worksheets, ready to deploy them while moving briskly through the textbook, but with no idea of why they’re doing any of it except that it’s their idea of what teachers do. Each creates their own problems– one leads to students who ask “What the heck are we doing?” while the other prompts students to ask “Why the heck are we doing this?” And the teacher has no answer, and the class sinks further and further into the weeds.

The educational amateurs who push the reformy agenda have similar issues.

On the one hand we have visionaries who offer broad vague ideas, like we will lift up teachers so that they will raise expectations of students, who will rise and succeed, emerging from school well-educated and primed to succeed while also closing the achievement gap. All of which is pretty, but completely avoids the question of how, exactly, this will work. You are face to face in a classroom with a student who doesn’t understand what the first paragraph of “Call of the Wild” says– exactly how will you Higher Expect him into understanding. And you’re doing it in a room with thirty other students, some of which haven’t eaten in twenty-four hours, and the walls in the room are crumbling, and you don’t have enough copies of the book, so you’re looking at a projection of it on the stained and peeling wall in a neighborhood historically riven by all the stress that comes with being on the wrong side of poverty and systemic racism. What exactly will you do in the next fifteen minutes? Visionaries don’t have an answer. They just want you to keep your eyes on those higher expectations and big dreams etc etc etc. and when anyone brings up the “How do we spend the next forty minutes” question, visionaries level the accusation that folks lack vision and keep making excuses.

On the other hand, we have the technicians. These reformsters are excited because technology answers all the questions about how to manage tests and practice and worksheets and all the record-keeping. They know exactly what you’re going to do for the next forty minutes– have students log on to their program and pull up the next module of materials that have been selected by the AI and answer questions as the software process those answers so that you can see the data crunched on the monitor on your desk. Technicians are so excited about the efficiency and elegance of this system that they forget to ask if any of it actually is a good way to serve the educational needs of the students. They are so excited about the pipeline they’ve built that they never stop to consider that the solid, unyielding shape of that pipeline completely dictates what can pass through that pipeline, allowing curricular and pedagogical decisions to simply happen as a side-effect of the technical delivery system.

Visionaries build gorgeous golden imaginary productions without any means of transporting them into the world. Technicians build efficient systems for delivering things that don’t do anyone any good.

Teaming them up is not enough. They will fight. They will argue, and they will ultimately produce something that includes the worst of both worlds.

No, an actual teacher has to have both a vision and an understanding of how to make it real. A teacher must always balance a broad, deep view, and a detailed, granular one. A teacher must see forests and trees, as well as leaves and bark and full-scale ecosystems. When we tell reformsters that they should talk to actual classroom teachers, it’s invariably a reaction to their lack of a full scale of sight, their childlike belief that if you just concentrate really hard on the forest, the trees will take care of themselves– or vice versa.

Teaching is by no means the only profession where this sort of many-scales issue exists. In most professions, part of the training and the wisdom of experience is based on learning to see forests and trees and how they fit together. But in every other profession, it is widely understood that it takes a professional to see All That. It is in teaching that powerful amateurs continue to believe that since they once camped in a forest or they have this one tree they know really well, that makes them knowledgeable to act like a professional educator (and in some cases, qualified to wave a giant chainsaw around with abandon).

Like any metaphor, this one this limitations, and not everyone fits inside. But we’ll wait for another day to discuss the people who want to clear cut the forest and replace the trees with condos.

‘Discovery Math’ is Weird but a Good Idea Nonetheless

This was brought to my attention by Jerry Becker
From, Saturday, September 3, 2016. SEE
No, teaching math the “old-fashioned way” won’t work: Paul Wells
In response to the latest EQAO report, many parents insist that “discovery math” is the cause of low test scores in Ontario.
By Paul Wells  (National Affairs)
According to the latest EQAO report, half of Ontario Grade 6 students don’t meet the curriculum standard in math. That’s a problem. But it’s not the only one.

What worries me is that only 13 per cent of students who didn’t meet the provincial standard when they were in Grade 3 manage to catch up so they meet the standard for Grade 6. That’s the lowest number on that indicator in five years.

If you fall behind in math you stay behind. That’s why it’s important to get it right, not just at some vague moment in the future, but for kids who are in Ontario schools right now.

Fortunately, every parent in Ontario is sure they know how to teach math. Many parents want to get rid of “discovery math,” broadly defined as “doing it weird.” If only that loopy Liberal government would teach math the way we learned it when we were kids, the theory goes, there’d be no problem.

Sure, great, except for one thing. Very few parents I’ve met can perform more than the most rudimentary arithmetic for themselves. If you all learned math so well, why do you inch toward Junior’s algebra homework with a cross and a bulb of garlic?

Discovery math, to the extent it means anything, is an attempt to apply in a formal setting the insights about numbers that good mathematicians use routinely. People who are comfortable with numbers use all sorts of strategies to work with them. Confidently, through a kind of learned intuition.

So subtracting 272 from 836 is an altogether different proposition from subtracting 998 from

1,002. In the first case, you’re likelier to write it all out, solve the ones column first, carry 100 to the 10s column so you’re subtracting seven from 13, and so on. In the second case, I’d count up four from the lower number to the higher. It’s a really big drag on a kid to make her do the second problems the same way as the first. And parents who read “add to subtract” on a homework sheet, chuckle and roll their eyes, are committing malpractice.

This summer I made my stepson spend some time on Khan Academy, an educational website, to brush up his math before he enters Grade 8. He was briefly baffled by questions that asked, say,

6 1/4 – 3 3/4. One way to do it is to convert both sides to improper fractions. But it’s easier if you simply recognize that 6 1/4 is the same as 5 5/4. You can do the differences in your head in about two seconds.

The question is, how do you produce the kind of students who will make that insightful leap? All I know for sure is that you don’t do it by teaching a bunch of rules students will learn by rote – the beloved “old-fashioned way.” That may work for basic math facts. I did make our son practice his basic addition, subtraction and times tables one summer until he knew them from memory. I wish schools would take more time to nail those basic facts down. Since our school wouldn’t take the time, I did.

But very quickly, math becomes so complex you can’t have a rule for everything. Khan Academy teaches and tests 111 different skills at the fifth-grade level alone. You’d go crazy learning a rule for each skill. You must be able to intuit a useful method for each situation.

Modern curricula recognize, and try to teach, that flexibility. I refuse to say that’s a mistake. There is even empirical evidence it’s not. A March report from PISA, the international testing organization, found that in countries where students say they rely heavily on memorization, they scored starkly lower on complex advanced math questions than students who memorize less. “To perform at the very top,” the report concludes, students must learn to do math “in a more reflective, ambitious and creative way.”

What’s to be done about those declining EQAO scores? First, Ontario should support teachers by sharing best teaching practices more widely. In some countries, like Japan, teachers spend far more time mentoring younger newcomers to the profession, and sharing techniques among colleagues. Ontario schools should follow suit.

Second, support students by giving them more practice time. The only way to learn how numbers work together is by tackling incrementally more difficult questions, lots of them, over time. Kids need to practice insight just as their parents practiced times tables. If they do, they may just grow up knowing how to do math, not just how to complain about math teachers.

Paul Wells is a national affairs writer. His column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
It never appears to occur to either journalists or educational conservatives (or political ones) or to those deeply invested in undermining public education in the interest of turning it into a for-profit investment that curricula come and go due to fluctuations in standardized test scores, but the one sacred cow that is NEVER seriously interrogated is the testing process or its concomitant methods. Give me control of the tests and how they are scored and I ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE that I can make results fluctuate to suit any political agenda and outcomes one might wish to see.
Mathematics itself has changed almost not at all when it comes to the content of K-12 curricula in most countries (and certainly in the US and Canada). Blaming decreasing test scores entirely on a teaching approach to math that is politically unpopular misses almost entirely that if assessments are skewed away from the kinds of thinking that teachers are trying to help students develop, it’s a slam dunk that scores wlll go down. And when assessments are developed to reflect more conceptual understanding (and scores go up), the conservatives and nay-sayers scream that the tests are “fuzzy.”
Once this sort of politicization of education is allowed to dominate the conversation, as it clearly is doing in this article and in many of the accompanying comments, there’s no chance for thoughtfu educators to pursue anything but lock-step, computation-dominated “math” teaching. Only that’s not math, and my Smart Phone does all of that vastly quicker, more accurately and more easily than nearly every human who has ever lived or ever will. If you want
 kids to be adept at replicating donkey arithmetic, so be it, but no one I teach will be encouraged to limit herself in that way.
Published in: on September 15, 2016 at 10:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Charter School Profiteers Playing Dirty

Jersey Jazzman reports on how an charter-school entrepreneur in Pennsylvania tried to steer students his way by distributing a flyer painting students at the local public school as drug users. Definitely worth the read.


Will Washington DC Elect a Paid Shill for a Charter School Chain to its Mostly Powerless School Board?

You may not be aware that one Jacque Patterson is running for an At-Large position on the nearly-powerless District of Columbia State Board of Education, and has already managed to con quite a few people into donating money to him. He may unfortunately even win, even though he is a paid flack for the Rocketship chain of charter schools.

(That’s the chain that is infamous for putting little kids in cubicles on computers and headphones with totally untrained, $15/hour assistants taking the place of most teachers…)

He’s running against Mary Lord, who actually has real expertise in education. One commenter on an article in the DC City Paper wrote,

“So this race features, on the one hand, one of the few incumbents on this board or any other elected office in this city that’s unquestionably qualified for her job. Someone who has actually been recognized by her colleagues across the country for her expertise, as the immediate past president of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Someone who can speak in intricate detail about the policies that this board is supposed to be weighing [ …]

“And on the other side we have a political hack who takes a crack at seemingly every open elected office in this city and has no apparent qualifications for the role other than having some cush[y] job at an unaccountable charter school. But hey, he raised a lot of money, so he must be qualified for the position!”

It would be bad policy in general for citizens anywhere to elect a paid operative of a powerful chain of charter schools to any city school board. (You know, conflict of interest…?) However, the Gates, Broad, Walton and Arnold foundations are spending lots and lots of money trying to take over local school boards by buying candidates and elections all over the country, because they really don’t like democracy. Local voices get in their way.

I think it’s worthwhile look into the background of the board of directors of the supposedly non-profit Rocketship, as reported on their own website. In reverse alphabetical order, we have:

  • Arra Yerganian: an executive in marketing, sales, and management for firms like Procter & Gamble and the University of Phoenix (which of course has been shown to be an enormous fraud)
  • Ralph Weber: a top commercial litigator (ie trial lawyer) for large corporations
  • Alex Terman:  went through the Broad Foundation’s two-year fake ‘residency’ to prepare people for senior management in public education; he specializes in financing charter schools
  • Greg Stanger: formerly financial officer or on the boards of Expedia, Netflix, and Kayak
  • Joey Sloter: has an MBA, did ‘strategic planning’ at Corning Glass; and with her apparently wealthy husband established a family foundation; is a big promoter of charter schools
  • Raymond Raven: orthopedic surgeon
  • Deborah McGriff: the  only actual veteran public school teacher and administrator in the bunch (NYC); went over to the dark side and joined the for-profit Edison Schools company in 1993; later, President of the Education Industry Association
  • Louis Jordan: former finance officer at Starbucks, Gap, Citibank, Dupont, etc; now owns a vineyard
  • Alex Hernandez: venture capitalist profiting from charter schools
  • Fred Ferrer: president of the Rocketship board; CEO of The Health Trust
  • Alex Criter: Retired CEO of an “enterprise software business” and a “venture capital partner”.

I should point out that in 1993, Jennifer Niles, the current DC Deputy Mayor for Education, was also a member of the Rocketship board of directors, according to their Form 990.



What Randi Weingarten of the AFT gets wrong

I’m going to repost in its entirety this article on Schools Matter about the double game that has been played by Randi Weingarten, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers.

(I remember the racist teachers’ strike of 1968 in New York City…)


Weingarten Swaps History for Sophistry

Posted: 13 Aug 2016 06:49 AM PDT

Posted by Mark Naison yesterday.  

Mr. Ahern provides important corrections to Weingarten’s sketchy assessment of AFT’s first hundred years.  I am sorry to see he did not mention AFT’s seminal role in creating TURN in the late 1990s, a traitorous group that could not have been created without financial support from Eli Broad.

Lies My Union President Told Me
Sean Ahern

Letter to the American Educator re AFT President Randy Weingarten’s “Honoring Our Past and Inspiring Our Future” (

President Randy Weingarten’s “Honoring Our Past and Inspiring Our Future,” written on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the AFT is an exercise in “perception management.” Weingarten claims that she has “pored over historical documents from our archives” and concluded that the AFT “has been a vehicle to fight for positive change both in public schools and in society.” Further on she states her case even more explicitly:  “For 100 years, the AFT has worked to build power and use it for good.”

As a member of the UFT for the past 17 years, son of a UFT retiree, brother to a former UFT teacher and CSA principal, product of the NYC public school system (1959-1971) and father of three, all of whom graduated from NYC high schools, I proudly count myself as a witness to the last 50 years of UFT/AFT history.  Based on my experience and knowledge I challenge her very one-sided findings for failing to point out major examples of how the AFT has been a hindrance to “positive change both in public schools and in society.”

I do not write to honor Albert Shanker and those who followed the course he took. It is my hope that through a full review of our AFT history, rational and thoughtful working people, acting in their own class interests, will conduct an internal critique, identify the wrong turns, and bravely set a new course for our union. It is my hope that current and future generations will overcome the seemingly willful blindness that is found in Weingarten’s article.

Weingarten’s airbrushed history offers a textbook example of how to frame a narrative by omitting all evidence that contradicts her thesis.  This method is not one of historical inquiry seeking educational enlightenment.  It is the method used by a defense attorney to sway a judge or jury, guilt or innocence aside.

In business and politics this is the method used to win market share, frame political campaigns and control the hearts and minds of the people. 

The sociologist and historian James W. Loewen has critiqued this method when applied to global and US history textbooks in his widely read Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Book Got Wrong (1995, 2008).  It is a method that seeks to produce a generation that is misinformed, politically unaware, and lacking in self-knowledge and self-esteem.  It casts pedagogues as society’s thought police.

There is much in in AFT history that should be critically examined.  When the full story is told it should include honest and in-depth criticism of key positions taken since Albert Shanker ousted his former mentor and colleague David Selden and rose to the Presidency of the AFT over two generations ago.

The 1968 UFT strikes against community control, led by then UFT President Albert Shanker weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., became arguably the longest hate strike in US history and was part and parcel of the “white” backlash and neo conservative/neo liberal counter revolution which we still suffer from today.  I was a high school student at the time in one of the community control districts where progressive teachers and students kept the school open during the strike.

With community control ended decentralization still afforded parents the power to elect local school boards.  Efforts by UFT members to interfere with minority parents voting in the 1973 District 1 school board elections on the Lower East Side were successfully overturned in Federal Court and upheld on appeal.

“In their complaint, filed on September 18, 1973, the Coalition for Education in District One, various unsuccessful candidates at the election and members of minority groups (Black, Hispanic and Chinese) challenged the validity of the election under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended in 1970, 42 U.S.C. 1971, 1973 et seq.”

To be cited in violation of the 14th amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act hardly constitutes an “honor” to be conferred upon a supposedly liberal northern city and a largely “socialist” union leadership that prided itself on its support for civil rights in the 50’s and early 60’s.  I attended public school in this district from 1959 – 1971.  Weingarten apparently missed this case while she “pored over” the AFT archives.

The median salary for a NYC public school teacher in 2016, discounted for inflation and the extended day, is less than it was in 1973.  Add to that the explosive costs of education and housing and it is fair to conclude that a teacher with 7 years on the job today is worse off than their counterpart was over 40 years ago.  Top salary is now reached after 22 years on the job as opposed to 8 years in 1973. Even those few nearing retirement are just on par with their counterparts of 43 years ago.  I ask President Weingarten the simple question:  Who has the AFT been building “power” for? Surely the salary schedule is in the AFT archives and should figure in any assessment of the AFT’s “power” or lack thereof.

Jerald Podair in his Strike That Changed New York (2002) suggests a causal linkage between the 1968 strike and the decline in power, of both the UFT and the Black community.  Among his most striking and relevant observations is:

“…the Ocean Hill-Brownsville crisis had so damaged the UFT’s standing with black New York that Shanker, even if he had possessed the fire in the belly to attempt a cross-class interracial assault on the champions of fiscal austerity, would have found few friends there.  Black New Yorkers were as angry about the decimated schools as Shanker, but they viewed him, and the union he led, as an enemy…Community control in black neighborhoods was dead, replaced by a decentralization structure that gave the UFT more influence than black parents…the failure of the UFT and black citizens to work together to oppose school service cuts was as predictable as it was tragic.  The union would now cast its lot with the banks.  And the black community, politically marginalized, economically expendable and no longer in control of the language of “community” – would be unable to do anything about it.” (Pp194-195)

In the 1970s Shanker went on to become a leading national opponent of Affirmative Action, submitting a brief on Allan Bakke’s behalf.  The brief, submitted in the name of the AFT, is not mentioned by Weingarten though it is in the Shanker Papers and the AFT Papers that she claims to have “pored over.”

The current wave of “Education reform” was launched with the 1983 publication of A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform towards the end of Reagan’s second term.
For over 30 years the leadership of the AFT has been a partner in this latest wave of “education reform” and thereby maintained their “seat at the table” alongside the “reformers.”  This is a matter of public record.   When questions were raised that strongly contradicted the claims made by “A Nation At Risk” (see the Sandia Report, Bracey, Berliner and Bidell, Emery and Ohanian) the AFT and those closely associated with Shanker (including Diane Ravitch, then Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration) chose to ignore and even suppress a devastating critique that potentially could have deflated the bubble of “reform” a generation ago (See ).

Comfortably based on the education reformers  bogus critique of the state of public education and its politically motivated remedies, Shanker, Feldman and Weingarten are all on record in support of the “reforms” themselves: high standards for students and teachers, standardized curriculums, high stakes testing for students and teachers (for how else to measure whether the high standards are being met), charter schools (to counter the states monopoly over education and to give parents “choice”) and mayoral control in large urban systems serving predominantly Black, Latino and Asian students which has been the means through which “reform” was foisted upon school communities.

Most recently, the “reformers” and their corporate cabal attempted to hoist the AFT on its own petard.    It was only the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia that averted a negative ruling in Vergara v California that would have done away with the agency shop. The stay of execution is only temporary, there are more cases to follow.  Is this what Weingarten means by “building power?”  Power for whom?  Power for what?

I challenge president Weingarten to go before any large urban local delegate assembly and defend the AFT’s record over 30 years in support of education “reform.”  Does she have the gall to tell us to our face that school closings, privatization, elimination of sports, the arts, electives, vocational programs, attacks on tenure and seniority, the disappearance of Black and Latino educators, increased segregation, high stakes testing and value added teacher assessments are to be viewed as “collateral damage,” and not the central defining features of a neo conservative/neo liberal, corporate led consensus on the proper role and direction for public education?  She wouldn’t do such a thing, so she redacts the record of AFT collaboration with the “reformers” and then presents herself as a teacher and student advocate.

Teachers and their unions face grave pressures and are in a more defensive posture than they were 50 years ago.  What power?  What positive changes have been brought about?  No doubt Weingarten and her supporters will point to the fact that teachers have a job with benefits and a defined benefit pension plan, a rarity now among US workers.  What is the message here? Do senior teachers shut up and thankfully crawl to the finish line? Do new and mid-career teachers count their lucky stars that they are not suffering the same hardships that the majority of our students, their families and communities face?  Is this then the real meaning of “professionalism;” to divide us from the rest of the working class?   Should the membership cast a blind eye to the AFT’s quisling response to the neo conservative/ neo liberal consensus on education, the U.S. empire and the economy so that at least some of  the so called “professionals,” (most importantly the paid staff and retainers at AFT Inc.) will be spared because the oligarchy has need of an ideological police?

The isolated individual, teacher, parent, student, may opt to save their own skin when no alternative option is in sight, but experience shows that this is a losing proposition for the large majority.  The greatest good for the greatest number comes not from dog eat dog competition, but from collaboration.  Acknowledgement of this historical fact has led working people at important moments to embrace the fundamental credo of solidarity and act accordingly.  Such a moment is upon us.

There is no defending the AFT record of betrayal of this credo and the self-destructive impact it has had on the membership and the communities we serve.  Weingarten simply casts a blind eye over what needs to be understood and corrected. If teachers applied this same method to reflect on our own classroom practice we would never learn a thing.

I urge the American Educator to open its pages to a real discussion of AFT history.  I urge my sister and brother educators to study and reflect upon AFT history.  As William Faulkner wrote, “the past is not over, it’s not even past.”

Sean Ahern

Delegate to the UFT Delegate Assembly. Member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) caucus.  August 7, 2016

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