Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sean Ahern on Tenure and Other Issues

Sean Ahern was a founding member of ICE. While many of us don't always agree with all of Sean's positions and he always doesn't agree the emphasis of some of ICE's stands, his powers of analysis are often insightful, if not brilliant. Here is a response to an email he received (I'm not sure from whom.)

Hi Leo,
I'd like to discuss this tenure issue more with you. is it a wedge issue employed by both Tweed and the UFT leadership? Both sides seek to torpedo the emergence of vibrant, independent school communities. This tenure issue seems like handy club for divide and control in schools.
I would bet that your SLT could come up with a more sensible and agreeable path to tenure than the experts at Tweed, the UFT leadership and all the Ed grad schools combined. Why not let functioning SLTs come up with school based plans for tenure? Why does it have to be one size fits all?
Tweed proposes to grant more autonomy to Principals while at the same time centralizing decision making on tenure, removing it from the Principal and from potential school based community influence.
What skill sets and knowledge and values are deemed to be of most value to the school community and how might that be reflected in the tenure process? What hoops, ladders, portfolios, achievement markers should determine a tenure appointment? A school might use this to attract teachers similarly inclined and build a common vision/mission statement beyond the usual banalities. Win/ win, no? Not for the educrats. where's their deciding role? I can hear them now; 'Tenure is too important to be left to the schools.' 'Oh no! What will become of standards!' etc etc.
Portal issues, the gateways in and out of the system, such as tenure, certification, curriculum, tests, school funding formulas, hiring and firing of teachers and principals are closely guarded educrat preserves or farmed out to the privatizers. Teachers, parents, students have less and less input at the school levels.
Principals always had the power to discharge a nontenured teacher with less than three years for unsatisfatory performance. The tenure stuff is a bit of a red herring. What is the connection between tenure and the low percentage of students who graduate? Fact is with the high turnover among NYC teachers and the lack of qualified principals (my own was in charge of the weight room for 8years before becoming an assistant principal ) there is a blame game and finger pointing in place of a real apprenticeship offered to new teachers. Turnover is still high and newly minted principals from Jack Welch's Leadership Academy sound even less qualified than the old weight room teacher .
I have heard Noguera speak. He is head and shoulders above most Ed school profs I have heard/read (Sam Anderson, Luis Reyes, Rich Gibson, Bracy, Ohanian and the Rouge Forum folks excepted) ) but I think he waffles on NCLB and sounds like he ducked at UFT bullying. I wish there were more members to challenge the UFT monopoly on teacher voices. But as you can see how nasty the UFT "suits" get in public when a prominent leader in the field dares express an opinion at variance with their own, it can be worse for a member who is outspoken in a school.
Maybe Noguera wants to avoid being labeled anti union? A decent sentiment, but in my view a misread of the the UFT leadership's role at this point in time.
The UFT leadership supported Mayoral control and was part and parcel of the old DOE that preceded it. It is disingenous for them to suggest otherwise in public forums or to the membership that they are somehow engaged in some epic struggle with "management" for the defense of tenure, due process, seniority, class size or other labor rights, all of which have been significantly weakened over the past three contracts and sold to the membership as a good deal by the UFT leadership.
The UFT leadership has grown into a management corporation with interests apart from those of us at the school level. They retain the facade of a labor organization without its mission. They have/can and do play a divisive and confusing role within the school community. The UFT leadership is more than the membership's problem.
Diverse holdings and overlapping board memberships in real estate (50 and 52 B'way), health insurance(GHI), Investment banking ($40 Billion Teachers Retirement System) and the Education complex, not to mention their own perks and privileges and incumbency, constitute their "bottom line" and "critical lense". This corporate model needs to be dismantled, not reformed.
Through exclusive representation rights and mandatory dues checkoff they have been granted a modern day equivalent of a fief in which dues are harvested from a hapless membership to the tune of $100 million per year. Together with the NYSED Bureacracy they control access to the schools through a bogus certification system thereby establishing a sort of pedagogical job cartel.
The UFT leadership's consistent white chauvinist opportunism from Shanker's day to the present is their strength and weakness at the same time. It is their weak link but successive waves of rank and file opposition have floundered here, too blind to see the difference that solidarity can make. Silence on the mass dismissals of the uncertified and the whitening of the staff these past five years is the most telling and consistent evidence of the UFT' leadership's collusion with Bloomklein and the opposition's weakness.
This latest reorg proposal from Bloomberg is a calculated response to increasingly critical and skeptical voices from parents and community based folks who were initially supportive of the Mayor's initiatives in the past.
Bloomberg's latest 'reform' to reinstitute community control , is a facade, but draws out the UFT's anti parent character and diverts attention from Tweed's own misdeeds.
As disenchantment with Mayoral control grows, the focus shifts to 'the people' who either come up with alternatives or cede the field. Meetings like the one you describe will become the new refrain. Who is bringing people together? Who is dividing them? See the UFT leadership at work? This is their mission; to perpetuate the status quo that has fattened their bureacracy. How? Keep the membership in a privileged ghetto where they can be controlled and divided. Convince them that they have no allies, no friends, save those approved by the leadership. This is a poison with a white chauvinist sub text that is strengthened by the Mayor's defacto if not intentional whitening policy.
The efforts by the UFT leadership to subsume parent/community voices is doomed as it was in '68 but that doesn't deter them. Their concern is to hold on to perks and privileges for their clique. As long as they manage teacher discontent, keep it apart and at odds with parent/community leaders and help to disorganize parents and community groups, Bloomberg et al are well served. Its a co dependent relationship between DOE and UFT that creates, relies on and reproduces dysfunctional school communities. (plenty more causes working against our kids and NYC's working class families)
My wife Donna was on an SLT at the invitation of the principal when our son started school at PS 134. The meetings were held early before classes started so Donna brought Dylan with her and he was well behaved and not disruptive. Who complains? The Chapter leader. "What do you think you get the stipend for, a baby sitter", she sneers. Just the sort of welcoming approach we need to build up our school communities right? Where do you find a baby sitter for a 7:30 AM meeting? Needless to say we and some other parents transferred our kids out to PS110 the following year. I recall Grandma Bickley's story and I'm sure there are loads more out there. You need all three elements, parents, teachers and admins on board for the SLT model to work. It needs an umbrella of support from above as well but I think the seeds can be planted and good stuff will grow where the three legs are in place.
What I like about IPO's approach is the focus on the third and most important leg here- the parent/student/community piece that both UFT leadership and the Mayor try to subsume under their wing as an appendage when they should be the leading voice. I don't think the Mayor speaks for the majority of parents and students nor do I think the UFT leadership speaks for the majority of teachers.
Am I deluding myself in believing that the large majority of people in the majority of schools throughout the city are not represented and never have been? So much for our 'democracy'.
What keeps people in the schools from coming together as a community and developing their own voice apart from the professional overseers? Exhaustion, no time, lack of concern, language barriers? Yes, but there are also physical and mental barricades constructed by the DOE and UFT over many years that need to be taken down.
Among those already in the school, there are barricades between them. You can make a list of the contradictions in a school, none of which need be antagonistic .
These contradictions become antagonistic when Klein makes teachers the whipping boys, when checks and balences are removed and decision making powers are increasingly centralized, when the UFT leadership sides with the Mayor or the old bureacracy to subsume and control parent voices and exclude them, when student misbehavior is criminalized, when the teaching and administrative staff is 'whitened'.
The UFT bureacracy benefits from antagonism because they can more effectively herd and control racially divided, scared teachers. At other times Tweed has cast parents as the "problem" necessitating collaboration between the 'professionals' (Tweed and UFT) to the exclusion of the community.
Just meant to thank you for the update. The monolouge sort of poured out. See you at 10.
Sean wrote:
Sean - Randi and UFTers in the audience were given undue participation to again, to the detriment of parent voices. Pedro Noguera, the afternoon keynoter, was brilliant and addressed the topic in a comprehensive yet laser like manner. Unfortunately, the moderator let a UFT suit rip him at length over his comment that one thing Bloomberg/klein was coreect on was making tenure something important professionally and his view that the UFT had an important role to play in the tenure discussion and self-regulation. Hardly a controversial concept to non-teachers. The source of the vitriol that sunk Eva Moskowitz was revelaed.
Let's talk about the week; via phone or Sunday @ 10?

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