Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012

Top union brass caught obstructing solidarity with Quebecois students

By Diane Kalen-Sukra, published June 25 by

“I’m surprised it took so long for Canada’s union bureaucracy to really feel the democratizing pressure of the social media Wikileak internet age. It finally happened in a big way this week – Quebec and Canada’s top union brass had “internal” correspondence, in which they direct all of Canada’s major unions to put the brakes on solidarity with Quebec students (including the wide-spread social resistance to the UN-condemned Quebec law criminalizing protest), leaked and posted by an anonymous blogger.

“How many union members know that behind the face of a handful of public union leaders there are thousands of staffers, lawyers, researchers, and in some offices enough communications people to rival our largest news stations?

It is through these staffers, and the control of union funds over locals, consultants, social justice groups, think tanks, legal firms and alternative media outlets, that the union bureaucracies wield their control over the workers’ movement. Orders are issued — “isolate that fighter”, “kill that campaign”, “purge that victory” — and everyone blindly follows, or else…

It is in this way that fighters are turned into vegetables, or worse, career-driven wheel spinners, and people of passion and conscience are broken into shadows of themselves. If they stick around and stop fighting, they lose their soul and resort to passing their days reminding members how busy they are (marching backwards), counting air miles from their latest junket and using social media to glorify their privileged lifestyle (compliments of members’ dues) rather than use it as a powerful medium to educate, empower and organize.

Rather than feel the pain of their members — the eroding wages, lack of dignity at work, and loss of all security — such union bureaucrats cling ever more tightly to their positions, their privileges and perks. Any challenge to the status quo, is a threat to this parasitic existence, even if it means turning a blind eye to gross injustice.

Controlling union staffers was more difficult in the days when most were recruited from the ranks, specially selected because of the way in which they had distinguished themselves as competent fighters with perseverance, integrity and their ability to persuade people to stand up for justice. But today, like all organizations in decline, our union bureaucracies shamelessly champion blind-allegiance over principled leadership, nepotism over merit, and power over justice, even if it comes with gross incompetence and does a disservice to the membership.

The pitfalls of bureaucracy plague the history of the workers’ movement and must be confronted. Most extreme is the example of Stalin. When he was preparing the grounds to expel and and kill the dozens of revolutionary leaders (his “threats”) who had actually brought down the monarchy, led the Bolsheviks to power and were loved by the people, he first flooded by the thousands the workers’ organizations, including key positions of responsibility, with inexperienced and often opportunistic people, who by the time they got over the nice feeling of having a big-title, handsome paycheck and fancy outfit to boot, the dirty deeds were done, history was rewritten, and the doomed course of a nation and revolution was determined.

It’s no secret that today’s union bureaucracies are not sufficiently transparent or democratic. With too few exceptions, Convention debates are prescribed and anyone “out of line”, faces the cold isolation of the monolithic bureaucratic back-turn. Staffers that are “out of line” have their number-punched and a merciless hatchet-team is unleashed, violating every conceivable union-principle, to mob them out of the organization, out of their employment and against the will and best interests of the membership. All sins are simply washed away with reminders of the movement’s past accomplishments (like the 8 hour work day, eroded beyond recognition today), and the unquestioned nobility of our overall cause.

The CLC’s heavy-handed “how dare you question us?” response, in this case, proves how unaccustomed the union brass are to being held to account. They actually think that correspondence calling on unions everywhere to potentially betray the Quebecois movement, what Chris Hedges refers to as the “Northern light..the most important resistance movement in the industrialized world”, can and should be considered “private”. Where in the CLC Constitution does it say that the union is to be organized as an aristocracy and not a democracy? Nowhere.”

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June 28, 2012

NY Civil Liberties Union: High Stakes Tests Harm Students and Teachers, Undermine Equity in New York’s Schools

Published July 27 by The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)

“Students of color, English language learners (ELLs) and children with special education needs are unduly punished by high-stakes assessments that are mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and are increasingly used as instruments to close public schools and denigrate teachers, hurting the city’s most vulnerable youth.

The harmful consequences of the heavy emphasis on high-stakes testing include narrowed curricula, as teachers and schools are pressured to prepare students for make-or-break standardized exams – and an academic culture that values test scores over open-ended inquiry and innovative instruction.

“Alternative assessments are not a retreat from accountability – to the contrary, they promote greater equity in the public schools and more accurately assess student growth and learning,” Fine said. “There are many rigorous strategies for documenting student strengths and needs that do not risk the adverse impact of high-stakes testing on struggling students, educators, and schools.”

The New York City Department of Education has closed more than 140 schools since 2003, largely based on student testing data. In 2012, the DOE publicly released “value-added” teacher-evaluation ratings, based on student test scores, which the DOE originally asserted should never be made public, or used to make employment decisions. Formalizing test-based teacher ratings was integral to New York’s successful application for federal Race to the Top education funding.”

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June 20, 2012

Fire All the Teachers! (and Other Inanities)

by David Macaray. Published on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 by Common Dreams

Two of the most damaging misconceptions people have about labor unions are (1) that union members tend to be substandard workers (lazy, unreliable, surly, privileged), and (2) that union members can’t be fired because their “masters” will always go to bat to protect them.

Where they got the notion that union members are incompetent employees is a mystery.  After all, even a cursory analysis of the economics should make it clear that union jobs—those, typically, with the highest wages, superior benefits and best and safest working conditions—are going to attract the most talented workers in a community.  Why wouldn’t they?  Why wouldn’t the best jobs in a community attract the best people?  Yet, we allow ourselves to be swayed by the propaganda.

And as widespread as this anti-union propaganda is, it’s especially virulent when it comes to public service unions.  Apparently, everyone and his brother (including President Obama and his Secretary of Education, the corporate lackey Arne Duncan)  just naturally assume that it’s the teachers’ union that prevents conscientious, well-meaning school administrators from firing bad teachers.

People like to believe that if those grossly incompetent teachers did not belong to a powerful union, if they did not have cadres of union lawyers standing by ready to defend them, the administrators would be able to drain the swamp, to rid our schools of those union-created monsters who are holding our students hostage, depriving them of a decent education.  That may be a gripping narrative, but it’s total fiction.

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June 20, 2012 Drops Michelle Rhee Group Under Pressure From Progressives

By Ryan Grim, Posted: 06/19/2012 by Huffington Post

“WASHINGTON — In a surprising reversal,, the progressive online powerhouse that channels grassroots energy into petition-based activism, has dropped two anti-union clients, including Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, according to multiple sources familiar with the decision.

The move comes after intense pressure from the labor movement and other progressive allies, who accused the for-profit company of betraying its liberal roots by partnering with Rhee, the former head of Washington, D.C., public schools, and the similarly aligned group Stand for Children headed by education advocate Jonah Edelman. The ouster of StudentsFirst and Stand for Children was confirmed by a spokesman.

Leaders of Rhee’s group were outraged. “We’re surprised at their decision,” Nancy Zuckerbrod, spokeswoman for StudentsFirst, told HuffPost. “When we spoke to them this afternoon, they couldn’t point to a single one of our petitions on their site that violated either the terms of use or spirit of their organization. Not a single one. In fact, they said they agreed that much of the work of our members were in line with the progressive values of the organization. And it’s clear that the community does as well, as tens of thousands of them signed our petitions fighting for the civil rights of all children to receive a high-quality education. For instance, more than 47,000 people signed our petition in support of the Dream Act, compared to fewer than 4,000 who signed the heavily organized protest petition on a different site against Stand for Children.””

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June 18, 2012

The New Misogyny: What it means for teachers and classrooms

Rethinking Schools Editorial

Published on Sunday, June 17, 2012 by Rethinking Schools

“The vilification of K-12 teachers is part and parcel of this misogyny. Last year, when teachers led the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol, many pointed out the obvious: Attacks on teachers—and other public sector workers like nurses and social workers—are overwhelmingly attacks on women. When “reformers” from former D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie portray teachers as incompetent, incapable of leadership, and selfish, they don’t need to specify women teachers for that to be the image in people’s minds—76 percent of U.S. teachers are women; at the elementary school level, it’s nearly 90 percent. As education blogger Sabrina Stevens Shupe wrote recently, “The predominantly female teaching profession [is] among the latest [targets] in a long tradition of projecting community/social anxieties onto ‘bad’ women—from ‘witches’ to bad mothers to feminists and beyond.”

The decimation of teachers’ unions and tenure structures seems aimed at forcing K-12 teaching back to the era before teaching became a profession, when young women—barely trained and constrained by regulations enforcing their clothing, living situations, and drinking—taught for a few years before they got married. Here are some requirements from a typical teachers contract in 1923: The teacher is “not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brother or father” and “not to dress in bright colors.” She is “to wear at least two petticoats” and “to sweep the classroom floor at least once daily.””

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June 13, 2012

Video: Are Teachers Too Accountable Over Student Achievement?

June 6, 2012

Fundraising creating an uneven playing field in Ontario schools

By Kristen Calis, Jessica Cunha and Rosie-Ann Grover, published Jun 06, 2012 by Niagara This Week

“In York, more than $125,000 separates two elementary schools within the same board. St. Clare Catholic School, located in a wealthy Woodbridge neighbourhood, brought in $131,000. In a less affluent area in Markham, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School raised just $4,000. At Hamilton’s St. Joseph Catholic elementary school where parent involvement is high, the school took in $192,000. Five kilometres away in the north end of the city, St. Lawrence elementary brought in $9,800.

Critics, school associations and parents say the need to fundraise is the result of inadequate funding, making it necessary for schools to bulk up on private dollars, sometimes even for the basics.

“Fundraising is so political. It’s basically a fallout. It’s a symptom of a bigger issue in public education,” says Catherine Fife, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, which has been calling for a funding model review for a number of years.

Education Minister Laurel Broten says Ontario increased education funding to $20.3 billion in the 2010-11 school year, an increase of $6.5 billion — or 45 per cent — since 2003, excluding capital programs.

“Fundraising proceeds should only be used to complement dollars of public investment to the schools and to the education system,” Broten says. “The Ministry of Education funds directly many programs and investments where we seek to ensure we have an equitable education system; our results are demonstrating that.”
NDP education critic Peter Tabuns says students attending schools with the ability to fundraise large amounts will likely have better music and art classes, more computers and school trips.

“You’ll see a richer educational experience for the children, and for the schools that have no money, things will be tighter,” Tabuns says. “They will have less access to computers, to textbooks, what we see as integral or important parts of a good, solid education.”

Fundraising inequities have been building for more than 20 years, says Kidder, of People for Education.”

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June 4, 2012

Comic: Teachers worth their wages?