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The High School Teachers


Issue 2-April, 2015

Who controls the UFT?
By Michael Fiorillo, Teacher, Newcomers HS
To most teachers, o en overwhelmed by ever-increasing de-
mands that have li le or nothing to do with providing the
best educa on for their students, the UFT seems remote from
their daily experience. Beyond welfare fund services, when
they think about the Union at all, it is o en in terms of he y
dues deduc ons. Rarely do they think the union is gh ng for
them, and with good reason: it rarely does other than li le
pantomimes of simula ons of gh ng back for PR purposes.

Teachers less and less see the Union as a vehicle for improv-
ing their lives at an ever more demanding job where they are
increasingly less secure and respected. Higher salaried senior
teachers o en feel they have a target on their backs. New
teachers see achieving tenure as an ever-receding mirage
as an obstacle course as they engage in a 3, 4, or more year
endurance contest with their principal and/or local Superin-
tendent. And if they get past that will they survive long
enough to get a pension? The silence and impotence of the
Union is apparent. How o en do we hear exasperated, de-
moralized teachers asking, Where is the Union?

The Union o en feels like a distant and largely irrelevant

force because of the inbred, an -democra c prac ces of an
ever-more indierent leadership, which o en seems complic-
it with the dysfunc on and outrages we face daily in the
schools. The UFTs ruling fac on, Unity Caucus, has been in
power for over half a century, and suers from most of the ills
of too much power held over too long a me: out-of-touch,
unwilling to consider new ideas, and o en iden fying more
with management and so-called educa on reformers than
with their own members.

What is the Unity Caucus?

Caucuses are the poli cal par es that seek to govern the un-
ion. Unity caucus has had sole, unlimited policy-making con-
trol since the UFT was founded in the early 60s. The UFT has
had opposi on caucuses vying for poli cal power over the
years, but Unity has structured the UFT in a way to assure
them complete control and the crea on of an entrenched
poli cal machine that has passively accepted, and some mes
ac vely collaborated with, policies inimical to teachers and
Contd next page

Death By A Thousand Cuts

-- Editorial sta
Scope and Sequence, cumula ve, baseline, interim, nal
assessments, dieren a on, rigor, ac on plans, DO NOW!
Ac onable feedback...
The ancient Chinese called it death by a thousand cuts. But
in a contemporary New York City high school it is death by a
thousand acronyms. If you understand the above you al-
ready know that under the current educa onal regime, as-
sessment and quan ability are redening the prac ce of
educa on. Danielson, originally designed as a selfevalua on tool, is today being used to put the rela on of
student and teacher under the constant scru ny of manag-
ers. The idea is to deploy corporate-style control systems to
create self-mo vated cri cal thinkers. Philosophically, this
approach has a basic contradic on at its root, but the prob-
lems it creates are far from abstract:
Schools must keep extensive binders of data measuring stu-
dent scores resul ng from the comparison of baseline as-
sessments to subsequent assessments in addi on to the
end of year city and state assessments. Student data analy-
sis charts based on data from interim assessments must be
included with class ac on plans based on the overall data to
gure out what skills need to be reinforced.

Contd next page

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Contd Fiorillo
The lack of union democracy has very tangible consequences
for teachers. Lately, virtually all of those consequences have
been nega ve, and have correlated with declining par cipa-
on from the rank and le. Less than 20% of ac ve teachers
voted in the last elec on and 52% of those who did vote were
re rees. Unity has so rigged the elec on process, every single
member of the 101 member UFT Execu ve Board is Unity
Members must commit to a loyalty oath to ALWAYS support
whatever dictates come down from the leadership and NEV-
ER speak against them publicly. Hundred of chapter leaders
are Unity Caucus members and if it comes down to sup-
por ng the interests of the teachers who elected them or the
union leadership most Unity chapter leaders will force feed
policies from the top to their members, thus pu ng the
needs of the caucus over their colleagues.
Teachers who a empt to go above a Unity chapter leader to
the borough or district reps are stonewalled since these reps
have been appointed by the leadership since the UFT ended
elec ons of District Reps in 2002, thus bringing Unitys cen-
tralized, top-down governance to both the school, district
and borough levels.
Other than a few excep ons, ge ng even part- me work at
the Union is condi onal on Unity Caucus membership, a pow-
erful incen ve for closely-policed conformity.
There are many reasons for the scapegoa ng, disrespect and
a acks that public school teachers have been suering for a
genera on. One of the reasons theyve been so successful is
that the Union leaderships con nuing an -democra c prac-
ce has made it rigid and sclero c, dangerously dependent
on friends in high places especially since their most im-
portant friend, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was recently
indicted - and unwilling to tap into the knowledge and energy
of its rank and le. Unity Caucus is so wedded to decades of
power, so scared of the membership and intent on managing
it instead of represen ng it, that they risk the destruc on of
the Union itself along with the mission of public educa on as
we know it.
It follows that the survival of public educa on and teacher
unions themselves are bound up with issues of union democ-
racy. The con nued entrenchment of the Unity Caucus Ma-
chine virtually guarantees the con nuing success of a acks
on teachers, their benets, working condi ons and dignity. If
we are serious about saving public educa on and the teach-
ing profession, then we must be serious about taking back
our Union from the out-of-touch Unity Caucus Machine that
controls it.

Contd A Thousand Cuts

To accomplish the above, teachers bear the weight for
providing the informa on on all their students (as many as
150 over 5 classes). Daily lesson plans correspond to unit
plans and both documents must be available to whoever
comes into the class to observe. Teachers are expected to
regularly assess students wri ng in all classes including
math and PE. They also have to describe how they are dier-
en a ng for students at dierent levels and write up individ-
ual ac on plans for students that are failing.
Administrators evaluate each teacher anywhere from 4 to 6
mes a year based on the Danielson Rubric, essen ally a
checklist that administrators use in their observa ons. Eve-
rything is documented and wri en up in a post observa-
on that describes all things seen and not seen. The small-
est infrac ons must be described so that if the superinten-
dent comes in and sees a single example of errant behavior
(ie. a student speaking out without permission) he will also
see it reected in the observa on report.
Bulle n boards have to correlate exactly with what is being
taught in the class. Students work is posted along with the
rubric and ac onnable feedback notes from the teacher
have to be wri en in the same language as the rubric. Les-
son agendas, which include the aim, an essen al ques on
and a Do Now must be posted at the beginning of every
In addi on to all of the
above, teachers are
expected to meet for
grade teams, PD ses-
sions plus advisories
with groups of stu-
dentsnot to men on
all of the work done
a er school. All of this
work, on the part of
teachers, is shrouded
with a blanket of contempt from every corner of society. Is it
any wonder that teachers are coun ng the years le for their
re rement?