I have written in great detail about the harm that Michael Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus inflict not only upon their local union, the United Federation of Teachers, but upon unionized teachers across New York State and beyond. Fortunately this is an election year for the UFT and Mulgrew has a very formidable challenger in noted public education activist Jia Lee.
Lee needs no introduction to most advocates of public education. She has been on the front lines of the fight against high stakes testing, junk science teacher evaluations, and the struggle for more democratic unions at all levels. In 2015 she travelled on her own dime to Washington DC and she quite eloquently represented public school teachers in the United States Senate. PJSTA members will remember her as our keynote speaker at the PJSTA Conference Day last year. She was one of the first conscientious objectors in New York State when she began refusing to administer the rigged New York State assessments in 2014 and she is one of the authors of the Teachers of Conscience Position Paper. As someone who is fortunate enough to call Jia a friend, I can share that she is the real deal when it comes to public education advocacy. She breathes activism. In addition to the tireless efforts she has put into the opt-out campaigns and working for union democracy, Jia is a dynamic teacher at New York City’s Earth School and she has been a tremendous professional resource to me, sharing countless things from her classroom that my students have then been able to benefit from. If such a thing as an education superhero exists that person is Jia Lee. You can click here to access one of Jia’s flyers to share widely with your public ed allies.
This election is about more than just Jia, however. Jia is simply running at the top of a slate of candidates being put forth by two UFT Caucuses. Those two caucuses (MORE and New Action) are tired of seeing their union compromise and collaborate with reformers bent on destroying us. They are ready to transform the UFT into a member driven union that represents the teachers in the classroom rather than the union “leaders” with personal agendas. While that sort of transformation would certainly benefit New York City’s classroom teachers, it’s benefits would stretch far beyond that as well. It would significantly alter the direction of our statewide union, NYSUT, and our national union, the AFT. As the local that is by far the largest in the country (several times larger than the second biggest), the UFT’s leadership wields extraordinary power within the teacher union landscape. They impact virtually every unionized teacher in the United States. The leadership of the UFT is the largest reason why unions have supported the Common Core and test based teacher evaluations. They were the ones urging state legislators to vote in favor of the Education Transformation Act last year! As a matter of fact, much of Unity Caucus’ (the caucus representing the UFT leadership) campaign in this year’s election has even centered upon their support for the evaluation plan in which 50% is made up of test scores.
Clearly anyone who supports public education has a stake in this year’s UFT election. Nobody can ignore it and think that it only impacts teachers in the five boroughs. This election will impact every teacher, student, and parent across the state. With that in mind I will ask that all of you head on over right now to make a donation to the MORE Caucus and their election fund. Unseating the biggest bully on the public education landscape can’t be done by simply “liking” something on Facebook or retweeting a link on Twitter. It will take money too. So give what you can, even if it is only a small amount. Finally, be sure to ask your friends who support public education to do the same.