Organizing STCaucus at the General Membership Level

Norm Scott over at Ed Notes Online published a piece this morning with some great news on rank and file teachers organizing around the STCaucus.  Norm reports that PS8 teachers in the Bronx, and UFT members, have submitted 61 membership forms to STCaucus.

Here is the letter to the STCaucus leadership that accompanied the membership registration forms…

May 21, 2015

Dear ST Caucus Leaders:

Enclosed you will find sixty-one membership forms and checks from teachers who work at PS 8 in the Bronx. We are still collecting forms and money and will hopefully have some more to send as we continue to reach out to the staff in our school. Some teachers contributed more than the $10 membership fee. Use the money as you see fit.

We are all members of the United Federation of Teachers and NYSUT. We thank you for your earnest support and your willingness to stand up for NY teachers despite the fact that Unity-Caucus-controlled NYSUT and UFT leadership are working against you.

We are not blind to the failures of our union leadership. Nor are we blind to the fact that they willingly fail us in order to serve their self-interests.

We serve no masters but we will support any caucus or group within our union(s) who are like minded.

We are independent thinkers whose allegiance is to truth, fairness and transparency. We believe we do not have to hide behind children while fighting for our dignity.

We reject the premise that the best interests of teachers are diametrically opposed to the best interests of the children we teach. We believe it is time to demand the respect we deserve and to challenge those who attack us with their lies, manipulation and obfuscation as well as challenge those within our own union(s) who have allowed for these continued attacks on their watch. We appreciate that a group of unsung heroes has our back, and we sincerely thank you for it.

Yours in solidarity,

Roseanne McCosh – PS 8 UFT Delegate and NYSUT Member

Cynthia Pacelli – UFT Chapter Leader and NYSUT Member

Lori Matta – UFT Delegate and NYSUT Member

Cc: Michael Mulgrew – UFT President

Karen Magee – NYSUT President

Similar organizing efforts have been taking place within other local schools across the state.  I know many members of the PJSTA are submitting forms as well.  James Eterno mentioned several other UFT members doing the same last week.  This all continues to point to the development of STCaucus as a rising force within New York State and possibly beyond.  Unlike UFT Unity Caucus, which has always been invite only, and the NYS Unity Caucus which has historically been open only to NYSUT delegates, STCaucus is a caucus organized by rank and file teachers, for rank and file teachers, for the purpose of pushing for a more democratic union that fights for the schools that our students, teachers, and communities deserve.

Once again, here is the registration form.  You can submit that with a check for $10 to the address at the bottom of the form.  Print them out, distribute them in your schools.  Encourage your colleagues and friends who are teachers to join the caucus.  If you have questions I know that caucus representatives in every region of the state are happy to visit with general membership to address those questions.

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New York State Opt-Out Map

Pretty cool visual here, courtesy of Adam Stabb…


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Some Union News

Phil Rumore won re-election in Buffalo.

Some interesting teacher union tidbits coming in this week…

  • One of the largest NYSUT locals, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, concluded a contested election for it’s leadership.  President Phil Rumore, won re-election with 707 votes.  Challengers Pat Foster and Marc Bruno had 344 and 299 votes respectively.  What is interesting is that Rumore had about 52% of the vote.  Had he not received 51% or more a runoff would have been forced between he and Foster.  Had Bruno supporters decided to back the other challenger in Foster there could have been a real threat to Rumore.  Some rumors suggest Rumore would have retired rather than try to win in the runoff.
  • While Rumore has shown to be a Unity Caucus supporter at the state level, Stronger Together member Kevin Gibson won re-election on the BTF’s executive committee.  He was joined by Teresa Leatherbarrow, a member of the same Renew slate that Gibson ran on, and Sean Crowley, writer of the always entertaining B-LoEdScene blog.  How this election impacts things at the NYSUT and AFT levels remains to be seen.
  • Out in Hawaii, a slate of opposition candidates called Hawaii Teachers for Change challenged for the leadership of their statewide union.  After they won the president and secretary treasurer seats, the incumbents voted not to certify the election yet have failed to provide any reason for doing so, other than citing “irregularities.”  It’s the old “If you lose, just keep having elections until you win!” trick.  Norm Scott says that it reminds him of the UFT circa 1985.
  • The above mentioned Scott and Mike Schirtzer, both of MORE, held a debate in a Manhattan diner over whether or not it was worth it for MORE to run a slate of candidates in the 2016 UFT elections.  My favorite part was also James Eterno’s…

via ICEUFT Blog

It was a healthy exchange of ideas but the best part of the evening for me was passing the application sheets around and having almost everyone there fill out the form and pay the fee to join the new statewide opposition to Michael Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus called Stronger Together.

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A teacher’s perspective: NYSED Learning Summit

I have found that one of the best parts of being a public education activist is having the honor of meeting so many amazing people from across the state.  The fight against the harmful agenda that has been enacted in New York State has allowed me to meet some incredible people from places like Buffalo, the Capital District, the Hudson Valley, and many other locations in our state.  However one of the most intelligent, articulate, and passionate people who I have had the pleasure of being in this struggle with is one of our very own PJSTA members, Melissa McMullan.  Surely her colleagues at JFK Middle School have long known what I have learned about Melissa over the past year and a half.  She is a tireless advocate for our students and a remarkable representative of our profession.

Melissa (@Refusethetests for those of you on Twitter) was able to procure an invite to yesterday’s NYSED Learning Summit that dealt with teacher and principal evaluations.  She was able to write up for us her experience.  It is a fascinating read…

Last week I learned about NYSED’s Learning Summit, that was to be held on May 7th in Albany, in order to discuss implementing the new teacher evaluation system as prescribed by the New York State Education Law enacted on April 1st with the passage of the New York State budget. This “budget” requires that student growth measures account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation, with the remaining 50% comprised of observations (part of which would be outside observers). The law wrapped within this budget also ostensibly eliminated permanent certification, and now makes not reporting an address change to NYSED and “actionable offense” much like a sex offender. When Newsday called this a public forum, I immediately wanted to know which members of the “public” were invited. I could not find anyone. So I did the only thing I could think of, I emailed the Board of Regents, and requested an invitation.

I received no response – until three days ago. Regent Rosa emailed a response stating that she would forward my request to the appropriate party. The next day I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary stating that invitations had been given to the appropriate stakeholders, there were no seats available, and I could certainly watch the event via simulcast. That night, livid, I fired off a response that indicated it was no surprise, and that, at the very least, we, as teachers, have been consistently shut out from the very process that centers upon our own work.

Wednesday, at 11:44am, I received a response from the Board of Regents’ Secretary, it read, “A seat has just become available and is available to you. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you will attend.” Elated, I scrambled to write lesson plans for the following day, and gather my family for the four-hour drive north to Albany, searching for a hotel room as we drove. We have been in this fight for a long time. It has been nine years for me. We are not going to win back public schools for our children, without approaching from every angle and understanding the variety of positions.

Today I spent the day, as the special guest of the Board of Regents. It turns out that both Regent Cashin and Regent Rosa were fighting very hard for me to be there. The first thing I learned today, and I learned a lot, is that in general, the Board of Regents is remarkably supportive of teachers, and more importantly, the students we love so dearly. Throughout the day, I was able to hear from superintendents, principals, researchers, teachers, parents and school board members about their varying perspectives on teacher evaluation in New York State. It was an eye-opener.

An overwhelming theme today is the understanding that the New York State 3-8 assessments are flawed. It is undeniable. There is no reliability and validity testing on these tests. Furthermore, they simply were not designed to measure a child’s growth from year to year. A teacher’s growth score is actually based upon how that teacher measures against similarly situated teachers (students with the same socioeconomic class / ability). This means, every year, the distribution follows a normal distribution of scores within each group. Thus, even if every teacher in a group of similarly situated students helped their students show incredible growth, the model requires that some of those teachers are high, the majority is in the middle and some are at the low end. So we have state assessments that at best have never demonstrated reliability and validity (at worst they are developmentally inappropriate), and those assessments are being used to drive an ill-fated teacher evaluation system.

Most panelists agreed that the best component of the teacher evaluation system is teacher observations. When done right, it provides a continuous feedback loop that could ostensibly improve instructional practice. Panelists had some incongruous thought on the outside observer as prescribed by the new law. Some believe it helps provide more objectivity. However, many noted the challenge in time and money this would cause school districts, as well as the potential ineffectiveness of a teacher being observed by a stranger who would not have the kind of relationship with him / her that would support a dialogue that would improve instructional practice.

Aside from the obvious aforementioned issues with the growth score, the much larger issue is the lack of integrity of those scores. Regent Cashin brought up the fact that the American Statistical Society asserts that a teacher can vary a student’s score by 1-14%. Stephen Caldas from Manhattanville College explained that in the state’s own reporting, you will find statistical error of these scores in the 55% range in some areas. This begs the question – what, then, is the value, if any, of the state growth score in measuring teacher performance? Do we have the right to call a teacher ineffective with his tool?

What was most striking to me as a teacher was my own panel when it was introduced. Every other panel filled all six seats at the front to maximize the perspective of each particular group of stakeholders. When teachers were announced, two people went up, Michael Mulgrew, UFT President and Catalina Fortino, NYSUT vice-president. In dismay, I watched as Mr. Mulgrew had his teachers stand up in the audience, but he brought no active classroom teachers forward to discuss their needs in the APPR process. And this is what has been going on for some time. NYSED will say, “we invited them”, and I can say in this case they did, but our own union silenced us.

Those of us like me, the 200,000+ parents who refused to permit our children to take the state assessment made a tremendous impact on the Board of Regents and NYSED. It is very clear that they got the message; we know the assessments are not valid and you will not use our children in this fraudulent practice. Lisa Rudley, from NYSAPE, actually quoted Dr. Rella and said we must ask ourselves “Are the kids okay?”

Lastly, many New York State Assembly members were present. Barbara Lifton, New York State Assembly 125th district, was seated behind me. During a break, she eagerly told me she was present to advocate for teachers. I asked her if she had voted in favor of Cuomo’s budget, and she indicated she had, specifying that she did not want to, but she had no other choice. I emphatically told her a number of times that she caused irreparable harm on teachers and school children. She insisted there was no choice. When I mentioned different aspects of the law, such as notifying NYSED of address changes to avoid being treated like a sex-offender, she appeared shocked, as if this were the first time she heard this. Based upon my conversation with her, it is clear, she did not read the law before she passed it. Claiming that she is advocating for us now is like telling me you are going to find me a good doctor after you broke my leg. We must remain steadfast in holding every single legislator who voted in favor of this budget and its laws responsible for what they did by making sure they do not get re-elected.

In closing, I sat at the Learning Summit with tremendous guilt because I fought for a “golden ticket” and won, while most did not find themselves so lucky. However, I can say in total, this was one of the best days of my career. I sat with the Board of Regents the entire day, and I was given substantial time to share our plight as teachers, and the impact all of this is having on our students. I was also able to speak with Chancellor Tisch alone for several minutes, and explain soup to nuts what had transpired in Comsewogue when our district wanted to contemplate not administering the assessments (yes, the threat to fire the superintendent and entire locally elected board). I explained that we have no use for the current student assessment system, and because of our love and dedication to our students, we are seeking Middle States Accreditation and our own standardized testing that can actually be used to inform instruction.

Teachers, we are on the right track. Mulgrew said we must take back public education. We are in this mess because we allowed outsiders to craft policy for our classrooms. Enough is enough. It is becoming increasingly transparent that all of the deforms they have created are a bust. We cannot allow them to harm our students by permitting them to erode the best practices that we know work. Do not be discouraged. We made tremendous headway by being honest with parents about what we know about the fallacies of the state assessments. We need to continue on this path. Forcing children to take tests for innumerable hours that will only tell NYSED how one teacher fairs against another is an egregious misuse of classroom time. Refusing to allow it will be the undoing of all that has come to pass threatening to decimate public education.

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Who is the Stronger Together Caucus?

Anyone who paid attention to the news coming out of the NYSUT RA which was held this past weekend in Buffalo, likely heard of the standing room only crowd in the Stronger Together Caucus (STCaucus) meeting.  As a matter of fact I had several delegates approach me and tell me that the caucus meeting was the highlight of the entire RA for them.  Approximately 500 NYSUT delegates, representing locals from all corners of the state, registered as members of the caucus.  On Sunday, following the RA, membership in the caucus was opened up to all NYSUT members, whether they be delegates or not.

If you are not a NYSUT delegate you may be wondering exactly what a caucus is and why you should consider joining STCaucus.  I’ll attempt to answer those questions for you in this post.

By definition the term caucus means “a group of people with shared concerns within a political party or larger organization.”  Within many of the larger unions in the country, whether they be a local representing teachers in a specific city or a statewide union like NYSUT, caucuses exist.  Quite often these caucuses represent different visions and philosophies for how their union should be governed.

Prior to this weekend, NYSUT has always been a union dominated by one caucus, the New York State Unity Caucus.  At the state level Unity Caucus is an outgrowth of the UFT Unity Caucus in New York City which is an invitation only caucus in which all members sign an oath to vote as their leadership instructs them to vote.  It is an exclusive club which severely impairs democracy within the UFT, NYSUT, and the AFT whose largest voting contingent is made up of NYSUT delegates.

There are very fundamental ways in which STCaucus differs from Unity Caucus.  The first, most basic way is STCaucus’ mission to create a more democratic union that is inclusive in nature and truly representative of it’s members.  This can be demonstrated by one of the amendments that STCaucus authored for consideration at this year’s RA.  The amendment would have had NYSUT elections take place through regional voting.  NYSUT delegates from around the state would vote at their local regional offices, rather than at the RA.  The amendment was created because only about 30% of NYSUT locals participated in the last NYSUT election.  One of the primary reasons being that many small locals from across the state simply cannot afford to send their delegates to stay at the New York Hilton in Manhattan where the elections are held.  The amendment would have allowed for more locals to have had a say in the election, thus furthering democracy within the union.  Unity Caucus came out against this amendment and helped to vote it down.

Another fundamental difference between the caucuses are their leaders.  Most of, if not all of the members of the STCaucus Executive Committee are currently classroom teachers.  For example. committee chair Beth Dimino is currently an 8th grade science teacher in the Comsewogue School District.  Compare that to the current NYSUT officers, or the UFT’s Mike Mulgrew or Leroy Barr, all influential within Unity Caucus at the state level.  Most of those individuals have not seen a classroom in years.  Being disconnected from the classroom, while limiting who is permitted to be a part of your caucus is no way to get the pulse of where our members stand on the issues important to our profession.

Arthur Goldstein, the blogger who runs the NYC Educator blog, recently asked me to write a piece for him on the significance of the development of the STCaucus.  That was published yesterday over at the NYC Educator blog.  I also re-published it here.  I encourage you to give it a read as it has a more detailed look at how STCaucus impacted the NYSUT RA this past weekend and it’s potential impact going forward.

You can join STCaucus by printing out this registration form and mailing it to the address at the bottom of that form along with a $10 check.


STCaucus Executive Committee- Joe Karb, Nate Hathaway, Laura Spencer, Kevin Coyne, Angelee Hargreaves, Beth Dimino, Michele Bushey, Beth Chetney, Orlando Benzan, Megan DeLarosa, Mike Lillis Not pictured: Mike Schirtzer

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