William Greider. Happy Labor Day, Mom.

– William Greider’s column appears in The Nation.

I know this sounds absurd—it is absurd—but for some odd reason Labor Day reminds me of my mother. She was a school teacher, and I think she would have a good laugh to learn that so-called “education reformers” are accusing school teachers of being too powerful and protected. My father, who was himself a long-time member of our local school board, would probably snort at the ignorance of highly educated experts.

Together, they could set the record straight on education from the facts of their own lives. They fell in love when they were young and optimistic and talented. This was the 1920s when women had just won the right to vote, and both were newly graduated from four-year colleges—the very first in my mother’s family. My father completed graduate work in chemistry and was hired as a researcher by a Philadelphia manufacturer where he later invented useful products.

They faced one obstacle in their promising lives. My mother had to sign a teaching contract with a local school district in western Pennsylvania that would prohibit her from getting married. This crude violation of a young woman’s civil rights was commonly enforced around the country. Years later, I learned that my wife’s mother had to do the same thing to get a teaching job in Iowa. Recently, I reread the steamy love letters my parents wrote to one another during that school year of frustrated desire. I blushed for them.

At the Thanksgiving break, they abandoned abstinence and broke the school contract. But secretly. On the long holiday, they eloped to West Virginia and got married there. They told no one. My parents, I should add, were no-nonsense conservative Republicans, not given to reckless adventure or inflammatory political statements. I did think of my mother as an assertive proto-feminist. In retirement, both became Democrats because they thought Goldwater was a dangerous crackpot. In 1972, my dad declared early for George McGovern, while Mom held out for Shirley Chisholm.

Keeping the secret of their marriage may have been done to protect her eligibility for many more years as a teacher. It worked. Toward the end of her long life (she died three days short of 100) my mother got a letter each year from Ohio governors, congratulating her on being the oldest living recipient in Ohio’s teacher retirement system.

I tell this intimate story to make a point that the latter-day reformers do not seem to grasp. They have left out the human dimensions of a harsh labor market where women were regularly punished for not being men. School teachers from the beginnings of America’s public schools have been vulnerable to blatant exploitation—lower wages and harsher terms—and they have been exploited. The jobs could be filled by an abundance of educated single young women in need of incomes. Married women might have babies in the middle of the school year—an inconvenience to school administrators—so married women were banned. Similar gender biases affected nursing and other caring occupations, and to some degree still do.

The fundamental power shift for school teachers did not occur until the 1960s, when frustrated teachers rebelled against traditional school systems run top-down by superintendents and principals. As a young reporter in Louisville, Kentucky, I witnessed one of the early skirmishes in 1962.

One day I got a phone call from an organizer for the American Federation of Teachers who blithely announced that AFT intended to shut down the Louisville schools the following week with a citywide strike. I thought he was joking. AFT was based in East Coast big cities and had no more than fifty members among Louisville’s 2,000 teachers. The National Education Association (NEA) dominated most states those days, and it was run by and for the administrators, not rank-and-file teachers.

The AFT’s strike in Louisville was like a thunderclap—teachers did walk off and virtually shut down the system. Teachers were fed up. They were demanding a stronger voice and power in school affairs and school politics. In rural states like Kentucky, the poorest counties were frequently dominated by matriarchal political machines—women superintendents who controlled more jobs in their county than the men in county offices. The NEA got the message and swiftly adjusted. It became a full-fledged labor union like AFT. Instead of fronting for old-style political bosses, both organizations now try to speak for the interests of teachers and to defend them against political intrusions and other abuses.

These are the relevant facts that self-appointed billionaire reformers skip past. By demonizing the teachers unions and denouncing the tenure laws that protect teachers from arbitrary political reprisals, the do-good foundations have unwittingly cast themselves as a malevolent Daddy Warbucks ready to bury their opposition with tons of money.The Gates Foundation and some others do seem to be belatedly backing away from obvious mistakes, but the reform engine still threatens to undermine the common public school in favor of a deeply fractured system of sectarian and secular private sponsors claiming public money.

Impatient hedge-fund billionaires do not attempt to conceal their contempt for the rest of us. They are used to making money—fast—with no excuses for dawdlers. Witness what they have done to large segments of the overall economy. Education does not thrive in those conditions, because there is no standard of perfection in any schoolhouse that can survive brutal suppression of uniformity imposed by clumsy testing. A successful school not only makes room for dissent. It constantly nourishes it.

Of course, I am biased. But I think that was my mother’s teaching style. She taught first grade in an “inner city” neighborhood of Cincinnati where the students were not not poor black kids but white kids from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. They shared many of the same handicaps. Mom developed her own theories on how to teach reading to such children. It inovlved hand-eye coordination and other elements I could not follow. I have no proof that she succeeded, but I have a hunch she drove the principal nuts.

The fight for union democracy you won’t read about in the Post.

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A month after, finally and suddenly – the Mulgrew “punch you in the face” story has made the national news.

The Daily News. The New York Post. The right-wing Daily Caller and Breibart.

Why?

Because Mulgrew’s bellicose threats to the rank-and-file fit right into their anti-union narratives of union bosses and union thugs.

In fact, the performance by the New York UFT President, laughingly egged on by AFT President Randi Weingarten, was a gift to the anti-union forces. Wrapped in pretty paper with a big bow on top.

However.

Make no mistake about whether this was actually thuggish behavior by Mulgrew.

Or whether he made this speech because he suddenly lost all control.

Based on my experience of the way leadership does things, this was premeditated thuggery.

Mulgrew showed nothing but disdain for union members who oppose corporate reform.

He clenched his fist.  He screamed and mocked those who argue that Common Core is the product of Broad and Gates and “martians.”

His anger – real or contrived – was reserved not for those who refused to bargain a contract for six long years, or create bogus teacher evaluation schemes or close schools.

It was reserved it for rank-and-file members.

He might as well have said, “How dare you come into my house and challenge what we in the leadership say or do.”

There were two resolutions. One from the AFT leadership supporting the Obama administration and Common Core, while criticizing its implementation.

Another resolution opposed the Common Core. It was brought by delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose House of Delegates had adopted it a few months earlier.

When Mulgrew took to the microphone to speak in support of the leadership’s position, the debate turned ugly.

Where opponents of the leadership resolution spoke of educational practice and data and the negative impact of Common Core on students, Mulgrew threatened to “punch anyone in the face” who tried to take “my Common Core” away.

There were two things going on in Los Angeles that weekend.

There was a debate about curriculum and what is best for teachers and students.

And there was also a demonstration of union democracy. Or the lack of it.

Because there are such people who are union thugs and union bosses.

And there is a movement to replace them.

This debate over Common Core was about what counts as good classroom practice.

The convention was also about power and who gets to make decisions in our unions.

But you won’t read about that in the Daily News or the New York Post.

Mulgrew’s Common Core threats break into the mainstream press. The Daily News.

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I first mentioned UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s punch you in the face speech last month at the time of the Common Core debate at the AFT convention in LA.

NYC Educator has been writing and Tweeting about it for days.

Norm Scott’s EdNotes posted the video today.

Finally it has broken into the New York media with a story in the Daily News.

Michael Mulgrew is hardcore about Common Core.

The fiery teachers union president delivered a passionate defense of the educational standards during the American Federation of Teachers national convention last month.

“If someone takes something from me I’m going to grab it right back out of there cold, twisted sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine!” a menacing Mulgrew shouted in a speech posted to the Ed Notes Online blog.

“And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children we teach. Thank you very much!”

The remarks came during a heated debate on a resolution regarding the American Federation of Teachers continued support of Common Core.

The debate appeared to pit union leadership in favor of the Common Core against some teachers working in the classroom.

After Mulgrew’s wild speech a nonplussed Randi Weingarten said “Whatever you stand on this the passion in this room about our profession is unbelievable. Thank you AFT!”

Mulgrew has been an outspoken critic of the implementation of the national education standards in the city, but is also a supporter of the standards themselves.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew made a fiery defense of the Common Core last month. ‘I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers!’ he said.

The Common Core, which is supported by a wide range of organizations across the corporate and political spectrum, has been adopted by 45 states and Washington, D.C.

The standards seek to move classroom instruction away rote memorization, break down distinctions between academic subjects and raise the bar of student achievement.

Teachers critical of the standards say they remove all creativity and independence from their jobs.

When the standards were first implemented in 2013 state test scores plummeted by about 30 points.

Mulgrew last grabbed during a delegate assembly of the United Federation of Teachers in May when he confessed to having ‘gummed up’ Mayor

Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to implement a teacher evaluation system.

A union spokeswoman did not immediately have comment on the speech.

The United Federation of Teachers’ loyalty oath. Tolerating no dissent.

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UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “I’ll punch you in the face if you try to take away my Common Core.”

Arthur Goldstein is a high school English teacher and chapter chair of the United Federation of Teachers at Francis Lewis High School. He could not be a delegate to the AFT convention in LA because he would not sign the UFT’s loyalty oath.

When a reader of this blog asked about the loyalty oath, Arthur sent along this article from the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, an affiliate of the AFT.

Unfortunately, NYSUT’s largest local, the UFT, does not conduct itself in this way. UFT elections are run with slates competing against each other. It is “winner take all”. Last year, for example, the Unity Caucus, who has run the UFT for half a century and rigged the system in their favor, ran candidates against the opposition caucuses. The MORE Caucus had significant support in their favor (in excess of 40% at the high school level). However because they did not have the largest number they ended up with zero of the UFT’s 800 NYSUT delegates. They literally have no voice at the state and national levels. In essence it would be as if our country voted either Republican or Democrat in elections. Winner taking every single position within government, with the winner also allowed to then structure the voting system to benefit them going forward. It’s insane.

As for this year’s NYSUT election, we know all 800 UFT-Unity Caucus members will vote as they are told to by their leadership. Posted at the bottom of this post is the invitation for Unity Caucus membership. You’ll see that it is invite only. Among the responsibilities…

To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;
To support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums;
To support in Union elections only those individuals who are endorsed by the Caucus, and to actively campaign for his / her election;
To run for Union office only with the support of the caucus;
To serve, if elected to Union office, in a manner consistent with Union / Caucus policies and to give full and faithful service in that office;
In other words, you can only disagree with them in private, you must support them publicly, you must vote for the candidates they endorse, you will only run for an office with their blessing, when in that office you will do as you are told to do.

You can read the entire post here.

AFT bully boys.

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The word I’m hearing from LA is that they will be discussing two issues this afternoon.

Not wanting to appear like a bunch of wusses compared to the NEA, the AFT leadership will allow a vote on Arne Duncan. A call for his resignation or firing is likely to pass.

They will also discuss two proposals on Common Core.

One is from the CTU and would put the AFT on record as opposing it.

The other is from Randi Weingarten and continues support for Common Core, only admits it needs fixing. Her proposal will pass.

You might think that the willingness to discuss the Common Core State Standards suggests an AFT that is slightly more democratic than the NEA, which allowed little discussion of the Common Core.

Except that Chicago delegates are telling me that the AFT is using bully-boy tactics to shut down the CTU proposal, physically pushing CTU delegates out of their seats and away from the microphone.

“It’s a dog pack out here,” one delegate messaged me.

“A convention delegate representing 30,000 shouldn’t need shin guards,” wrote another.

Reports from AFT in LA.

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Representing Chicago’s teachers and communities in LA: CTU President Karen Lewis, Asean Johnson and Jitu Brown.

Two reliable sources for following what is going on in LA at the AFT convention are from my friends Norm Scott and Jonathan Halabi. Although they are not always in political agreement, who is?

I posted Norm’s report from the committee on Common Core yesterday.

Here is Jonathan’s notes from yesterday.

Both have blogs and you should follow them. Even if Jonathan doesn’t like LA. He’s a New Yorker and can be forgiven.

From Jonathan:

So this is notes, not everything, because I didn’t see everything, not close.

1. The morning was a series of greetings, including The Rev. Dr. William Barber II (president of the North Carolina NAACP, and of Moral Monday fame), and California governor, Jerry Brown. Brown had an entertaining tangent – he misspoke two words on immigration, and then did a two minute clarification on what needs to be done – I’m assuming it was planned – but a bit funny for the audience.

2. Weingarten spoke long (not a surprise).Her writers had an organized message (we’ve been keeping the promises, we need to keep keeping them, and add a new one). She acknowledged opposition to Common Core, while continuing to support it (but criticizing testing, implementation, etc). She completely appropriated the term “badass” to the point that, when she asked Badass Teachers to stand up, only a small numbers of those present did. I’m assuming embarrassment kept others in their seats.

Weingarten’s writers have a voice problem. Her natural Rockland – big words, not all of them bungled, many of them used correctly – it’s not what you want for a long speech. But what to do? As she moved section to section, the voice, the register, they changed and shifted. A good speaker might pull it off, maybe to great effect. Here, many of us focused on the words, since the delivery jumped rapidly from awkward, to natural, and back again. Even the attempts at self-deprecation often seemed forced. And the audience seemed to cringe collectively at her “homey” moment.

3. Committee Meetings and Caucus Meetings. I am not a delegate, so am not assigned a committee. I am not a member of the Progressive Caucus (joining the UFT’s Unity with others), and do not attend their closed meetings. Which is to say, I missed much of the action.

A. There’s not a “Duncan Resign” resolution coming from the leadership to the floor. On the other hand, what will the AFT tops and UFT do if someone else brings one to the floor? Earlier this year NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) replaced most of their top leadership – largely because the previous year that leadership, confronted with a “John King Resign” resolution, animated by anger and frustration, said no. The UFT stepped aside, and the President and all but one VP were replaced. And the UFT walked away unscathed. So now it’s national, the AFT, and the anger is aimed at Duncan, not King, and if there is a “Dump Duncan” reso from the floor, maybe that’s a big if, but if there’s one, wouldn’t the UFT do the same thing, step aside and let the anger be directed towards passing a resolution that really doesn’t mean much anyway? Duncan has two years left. And the AFT’s voice would be a late addition to a fairly loud chorus.

B. The AFT’s has a long history of taking pro-war positions, and only later modifying some of them (eg Viet Nam). When I was a delegate in 2010 in Seattle, the AFT pushed an Iran resolution that was clearly meant to encourage the hawks in DC. And this time? A Ukraine resolution. No real news, except that it barely squeaked out of committee – just a two vote margin.

C. Common Core. The Chicago Teachers Union resolution “Oppose the Common Core Standards” was defeated in committee. The AFT tops / UFT resolution “The Role of Standards in Public Education” was passed. These are counterposed.

The official resolution continues bad AFT policy from the past. In a section at the top, they laud the standards, in seven bullet points creating a slide show that looks like pure promotion (it would be interesting if this turns out to have been lifted). In another section at the top of the resolution, they say “some AFT members oppose and distrust…” Notice the weak argument, based on “some people.” But then in seven bullet points, they dwell on testing and implementation. This echoes a June 20 e-mail many of us received from Mulgrew: “Everyone recognizes that the Common Core, while the right direction for education, had a terrible rollout.” No. Not everyone.

“The AFT” it reads “will continue to support the promise of CCSS…” That’s the bottom line. And will support a shift away from “excessive testing” begging the question of which tests those are, and exactly how much high stakes testing and standardized testing the AFT is happy with.

There will be debate on the floor, but the UFT delegation votes in lockstep, regardless of how the individual members think, and thus the result is foregone.

Oh, that committee also rejected a resolution (California Federation of Teachers) to reject any more Bill Gates money. It’s hard to fathom how Ed Reform $$$ do not buy influence. In the Bronx, we know that Gates money broke up our schools, created a mess, and then disappeared. We live the aftermath every day.

4. AFT Peace and Justice Caucus had a fairly well-attended panel discussion in the evening (scheduled against a caucus meeting) on corporate school reform.

5. I’ve been staying with my cousin, and navigating LA with great difficulty. I do not love this city.

AFT. Common Core will get debated on Sunday.

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CTU President Karen Lewis pushed for the debate.

– Mercedes Schneider blogs at deutch29

A very good thing will happen on Sunday, July 13, 2014, at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention in Los Angeles: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will be debated on the floor.

No behind-closed-doors killing of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) resolution opposing CCSS. As Politico states:

Weingarten, for instance, has repeatedly said she supports Common Core, but she also made a deliberate decision to allow a long public debate — which will be livestreamed online — on the standards. She has said the AFT is a democracy and will adopt policies favored by a majority of members, even if that means a dizzying about-face on the Common Core.

I spoke with CTU President Karen Lewis on July 10, 2014, about my concern that CTU’s anti-CCSS resolution would be somehow stifled. I learned that Lewis was instrumental in pushing for an open debate on CCSS.

There is another AFT resolution in support of CCSS. The supporting resolution assumes that CCSS is good, if only it were properly implemented. Sound familiar? As Politico notes:

The AFT will also consider a resolution — drafted by its executive council — asserting that the promise of the Common Core has been corrupted by political manipulation, administrative bungling, corporate profiteering and an invalid scoring system designed to ensure huge numbers of kids fail the new math and language arts exams that will be rolled out next spring. An even more pointed resolution flat out opposing the standards will also likely come up for a vote.

In order to preserve CCSS, AFT members are being offered a financial enticement to “rewrite” CCSS:

The American Federation of Teachers will open its annual convention Friday morning with a startling announcement: After years of strongly backing the Common Core, the union now plans to give its members grants to critique the academic standards — or to write replacement standards from scratch. …

The grant program does not need a vote from the membership to take effect. Union officials say they expect to begin distributing grants worth about $20,000 to $30,000 this fall. Local and state affiliates are eligible for the grants; AFT officials are encouraging applicants to build coalitions with parents and civic leaders, though teachers are supposed to lead the work.

Ironically, the grant money will come from the AFT Innovation Fund formerly financed by Gates to the tune of $4.4 million and doing exactly what he financed: “to work on… the Common Core State Standards.”

Read the entire post here.

Norm Scott from AFT in LA. “Midwesterners are too nice.”

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Photo: Norm Scott. Voters supporting CTU CC reso stand in support – est 25-30%.

Norm Scott is a blogger and retired NY school teacher.

Since we were not allowed in, we were watching the Education Issues Committee debate from outside the glass doors. With long lines at the mic, it was clear that Chicago TU people did not have the muscle to win the room over to its anti- common core resolution to counter the Weingarten pro common core – with conditions.

But just like at home where winning a majority is not enough, the Unity Caucus block voting machine (they model the Hassidic community) which controls the AFT did not leave any stones unturned.

Having experienced Unity tactics in the last 2 conventions, the CTU crew tried to get a step ahead. One of them asked me how much earlier they should get there to gain seats near the mics. “You should have left yesterday,” I said.

Well, they got there early enough to get seats at the mics. Seeing the situation, never underestimate the slugs. They just cleared the room to force the CTU people out of their seats and had everyone re-enter, thus allowing Unity and allies to capture the seats around the mics. One CTUer left a bag on the seat. But when she got back, the bag had been moved and Mulgrew was sitting in the seat (photo below).

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The CTU should have brought chains and locked themselves to their chairs – make Unity use a fork lift to get them out. Actually, I need to share some of my “I refuse to move, call the cops” stories with Chicago. Just don’t move when they tell you to and invite them to call the cops. I once lay down on a table in the lobby at the DA when they told me to remove our lit. Think that is why they think I’m crazy or is it just my imagination?

I think mid-westerners are just too nice.

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On the Arne Duncan reso front — I was at Randi’s press conference today where she told the press that she and I were separated at birth – some stuff only our crew in NYC will find funny. I have a tape but gist is this — Randi is letting the members decide what to do – ho, ho, ho — and if someone brings a reso on Arne up it will be debated — pretty interesting in admitting in essence that she can stop any debate by calling out the Unity machine.

Philly fires nearly 4,000 teachers and district employees. What will Weingarten do?

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Good statement. What will she do?

Philadelphia has announced the lay-offs of 3,700 school district employees.

AFT President Randi Weingarten issued this statement:

“What was Superintendent Hite brought in to do? Mass close schools even though it makes the corridors and streets less safe for kids and destabilizes neighborhoods? Make draconian budget cuts that strip schools of nurses, libraries, guidance counselors, art, music and after-school activities, and rob children of the rich learning experience they deserve? And now impose nearly 3,800 layoffs so that public schools can’t function?

“This is a travesty. We are watching before our very eyes the evisceration of public education in the City of Brotherly Love. And instead of an all-hands-on-deck approach, instead of investing in our children’s futures, we see Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter sit on their hands while Superintendent Hite and the School Reform Commission have the gall to strip our schools to the bone and blame the very people who work closest with kids—the very people who devote their lives to helping children achieve their dreams. Where are the priorities of the governor, the mayor, the superintendent and the SRC? Certainly not with the children of Philadelphia.”

Jerry Jordan, the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issue this statement:

“Today we are seeing what a ‘doomsday’ budget looks like for Philadelphia’s schoolchildren, and how our city’s educators are paying the price for a deficit we didn’t create. The nearly 4,000 layoffs announced today represent not only hard-working educators who face the very real prospect of joining the ranks of the city’s unemployed, but the loss of essential programs that our children need to receive a quality public education. 

“The school district will say that these layoffs are a tough but necessary part of financial rightsizing. We say that these cuts are an unconscionable action that deprives children of sports, art, music, counselors, librarians, nurses and other vital programs and services. The impact of these layoffs will hurt our city’s poorest children, the ones who rely most on public education to provide a foothold to a better future. 

“These cuts are beyond unnecessary—they amount to an immoral act that no Philadelphia taxpayer should tolerate. Everyone who is able to should join us in Harrisburg on June 25 as we demand that our elected leaders do their jobs and properly fund public education. 

“It’s time to stop balancing the budget on the backs of school employees and students. It’s time to move away from year after year of deficit emergencies and cutbacks. It’s time to move toward a funding formula that adequately and consistently supports high quality public education for our children.” 

Good statements.

Now.

What will they do?