UFT: Black Lives (Kinda) Matter

The governing body of the United Federation of Teachers, the union which represents over 120,000 educators working in New York City’s public schools, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to officially endorse the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this month.

Members of UFT’s Movement of Rank & File Educators caucus offered a resolution in support of the upcoming Black Lives Matter Week of Action at a meeting of the union’s Delegate Assembly on January 17th.

UFT’s leaders strongly opposed the measure, describing the endorsement as a “splinter issue” that could divide the union at a time when it faces serious external threats. They also reminded the assembly that UFT has historically remained neutral on controversial political issues, such as the Vietnam War, which the union never officially opposed.

As is often the case, the Delegate Assembly voted in line with UFT leadership and the resolution was soundly defeated.

From the Facebook page of the Movement of Rank & File Educators caucus.

The irony of course is that the nation’s teachers unions – especially UFT’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers – have adopted the language of racial justice activism (and have appropriated the Black Lives Matter name) in an effort to deflect attention from their role in perpetuating the systems that deny black and brown children a proper education. AFT president Randi Weingarten has even gone so far as to describe the rise of charter schools as a form of modern-day segregation in an attempt to undermine one of the biggest threats to her union’s power in places like New York.

But UFT’s decision to pass on this “splinter issue” shows that their commitment to racial justice is only skin deep.


Mudslinging In Minnesota

My friend Beth Hawkins has a new piece up on her blog that calls out the bad behavior of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

“The leadership of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has spent a lot of energy over the last couple of months calling names and lobbing insults at Minneapolis Public Schools leaders, with whom they are attempting to negotiate a new contract,” Hawkins writes. “They call the strategy they are using this year – and I am not making this up — ‘Common Sense Bargaining for the Common Good.’”

Award-winning journalist and Minnesota native Beth Hawkins

As I pointed out in a blog post not too long ago, “bargaining for the common good” is little more than a clever bit of doublespeak from the teachers unions. In the case of Minneapolis, for example, Hawkins shows that MFT’s “bargaining for the common good” approach hasn’t stopped them from making unfounded accusations against several school district officials.

You can read the Beth Hawkins’ full story by clicking on the link below:


Cognitive Dissonance In Chicago

UPDATE: 01/29/18 — The Chicago Teachers Union announced tonight that the proposed merger of CTU and ChiACTS was overwhelmingly approved by its members. According to the union, 70.65% of the 16,206 members who cast ballots on the question supported the measure.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are voting this week on a proposal to merge with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), the union which represents teachers at 32 charter school campuses across the city.

In June, ChiACTS members overwhelmingly voted in favor of the merger, in spite of the fact that CTU actively opposes charter schools and many of its members would be happy to see the city’s charters shut down. Furthermore, the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation funds several of the most vocal anti-charter groups in the country, including Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, which is organizing the national #WeChoose campaign.

All of this explains why Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, criticized the merger earlier this week.

“I think it’s certainly a technique for CTU to try to grab power,” Broy told reporters. “Certainly this is much more of a political play for the CTU than it is a play that is good for either charter school teachers or, more importantly, in my view, the students educated in those charter schools.”

But the merger is also part of a broader CTU strategy to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME. As I explained in a previous post, it is widely expected that the Court will strike down the Illinois law that requires non-union public employees to pay agency fees. In the absence of mandatory fees, it is all but certain that CTU and other public employee unions will see a significant drop in membership over the next 12 months.

By merging with ChiACTS, CTU can partially offset those projected losses. Plus, for complicated legal reasons (which you can read more about here), it’s unclear whether Janus would apply to charter school employees, meaning that CTU could retain the 1000 members they gain through the ChiACTS merger.

CTU is taking other preemptive steps to contain the fallout from an adverse ruling in the Janus case. Its leaders have put forward a series of amendments to the organization’s constitution and by-laws that would make it more difficult for current members to withdrawal from the union. The proposed changes would also extend membership eligibility to charter employees and would open the door for CTU to bring private and parochial school teachers into the union at a later date.

It’s also worth noting that one amendment would make the head of CTU’s charter school division a non-voting member of the union’s executive committee, which pretty much confirms Broy’s assertion that the merger is a raw deal for charter school teachers.


And She Was Loved. So Loved.

Last week, while 24-hour news channels and social media were roiling over revelations that President Trump had called Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations “shithole countries,” a talented young college student in Massachusetts, who had immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, died after suffering a severe asthma attack.

Her name was Tiffany. She was only 20 years old.

Paul Friedmann was among the scores of people who attended her funeral on Saturday. Friedmann is an award-winning math teacher at Brooke Charter School in the Roslindale section of Boston, where he had the privilege of teaching Tiffany, as well as her siblings.

Paul Friedmann is a teacher at Brooke Charter School in Boston.

Friedmann took to Twitter Saturday evening to remember Tiffany and call out the racist, xenophobic sentiments of our President, who is currently in the midst of a showdown with Democrats over immigration. He gave me permission to share his comments, which I’ve posted in full below.


Report: Chronic Absenteeism Isn’t A Problem At D.C. Charter High Schools

On Tuesday, the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education issued a report revealing that far too many high schools in our nation’s capital are handing out diplomas to students who haven’t met the attendance requirements for graduation.

OSSE launched an investigation into the matter after NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story which claimed that administrators at Ballou High School pressured teachers to change failing grades and overlook excessive absences in order to allow students to graduate.

This week’s report not only confirms the accusations leveled against Ballou, but it shows that many DCPS high schools have been allowing chronically absent students to graduate in violation of district policy.

According to data compiled by OSSE, nearly half of the students (46.7 percent) who graduated from traditional high schools in DCPS last year missed more than 30 days of school. Moreover, the number of chronically absent students graduating from DCPS traditional high schools has been rising over the past three years.

Nearly half of the students who graduated from DCPS traditional high schools last year missed at least 30 days of school.

However, there is one bright spot among the report’s troubling findings: charter schools. OSSE’s investigation found that D.C. charter high schools have “few students within the highest bands of absenteeism” and “much more stable patterns of attendance in the past three years than high schools in DCPS.” In fact, only 8% of students who graduated from charter high schools last year missed more than 30 days of school.

Only 8% of students who graduated from charter high schools last year missed more than 30 days of school.

Although critics frequently claim that charters aren’t held to the same standards as traditional public schools, the opposite appears to be true in Washington D.C. OSSE’s report makes clear that several of the city’s traditional high schools have chosen to ignore the district’s graduation requirements, while charters only hand out diplomas to students who earn them.

You can read more about the OSSE’s report from the Washington Post here or read the report in full below.


A “Polite Cousin” of Hypocrisy

A new report in the Wall Street Journal reveals that a charter school run by the United Federation of Teachers in Brooklyn serves a disproportionately small number of English-language learners and students with special needs.

According to data released by the New York State Education Department, only 3% of students at UFT Charter School (inventive name!) were English-language learners last year, while ELL enrollment at surrounding traditional public schools was 12%. Likewise, only 8% of UFT Charter’s students had disabilities last year, while students with special needs made up approximately 22% of those enrolled at neighboring schools.

Ironically, one of the biggest critics of New York City’s charter schools is UFT president Michael Mulgrew, who has frequently accused them of intentionally pushing out ELL, SPED, and other hard-to-teach students in an effort to boost their test scores. Yet as WSJ reporter Leslie Brody points out, English-language learners make up about 7% of the students who attend the city’s charter schools, while special education enrollment stands at 17%. So apparently other charters in the Big Apple are compensating for the ELL and SPED students that UFT’s school isn’t serving.

UFT president (and charter critic) Michael Mulgrew

Mulgrew’s predecessor at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, launched UFT Charter School in 2005 in a hubristic attempt to prove that charters schools could succeed under the conditions imposed by the union’s contract. At the time, Weingarten promised, “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement — and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

UFT Charter eventually expanded to two campuses – a K-8 school and high school – but the union’s experiment quickly turned into a disaster. According to an oversight report from the school’s authorizers at the State University of New York, UFT Charter struggled due to high turnover, financial mismanagement, and a lack of resources such as textbooks and other classroom equipment. SUNY eventually closed UFT’s Charter’s K-8 school in 2015, after years of dismal test results. Moreover, as Brody notes, UFT’s remaining high school is struggling to attract students. Official enrollment data shows that only 265 of the school’s 320 seats were filled as of October 1.

Meanwhile, Weingarten moved on to become president of UFT’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, where she has launched a campaign to undermine charter schools across the country. This past summer, Weingarten unveiled her latest line-of-attack, calling charters the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” since many of them enroll high numbers of low-income, minority students who have been underserved by traditional public school systems.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten

Weingarten’s cynical attempt to flip the definition of segregation, which has always referred to systemic efforts to exclude minorities from schools, neighborhoods, and elsewhere, is particularly hypocritical in light of the Wall Street Journal’s revelations about UFT Charter School. Families-of-color choosing to send their children to charters – even those with a high proportion of minority students – doesn’t meet the definition of segregation. However, that word could certainly apply to the notable absence of ELL and students with special needs at UFT Charter in Brooklyn.


Newark Union Head Blames Low-income Families For Teacher Absences

Wall Street Journal education reporter Leslie Brody has a new piece out that looks at the troubling issue of chronic teacher absences in Newark Public Schools.

Screenshot from the Wall Street Journal.

According to teacher attendance data compiled by the district, nearly half of the teachers in Newark’s traditional public schools missed at least 13 days of work in the 2016-17 school year and 21% of teachers missed 20 days or more.

As a recent study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute showed, the problem of chronic teacher absenteeism isn’t unique to Newark Public Schools. However, Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon’s excuses for those absences are certainly novel.

Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon, a North Jersey union boss straight out of central casting.

According to Brody, here’s how Abeigon explained the district’s high rate of teacher absences:

“Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said poor parents who lack child care often send sick children to school and spread germs to staff. Beyond that, he blamed many absences on low morale due to the district’s pay-for-performance system and use of achievement data as part of teacher ratings. Going to work ‘shouldn’t be stressful to the point where it’s making you sick between anxiety and paranoia,’ he said.”

Wow. If Abeigon can’t even accept a tiny measure of responsibility for this problem and pledge to fix it moving forward, how can anyone expect the Newark Teachers Union to work in partnership with the district to improve the city’s schools? It certainly doesn’t bode well for the return of Newark schools to local control.

You can read Brody’s full piece at the Wall Street Journal here.


New York Teachers Are Making A Killing… Literally

Tobacco use is the single greatest cause of preventable death in the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than six million people die from smoking every year and another 890,000 die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

In the United States alone, over 480,000 people die annually from smoking-related illnesses. As Vox recently pointed out, “Cigarettes still kill nearly half a million people in the US each year — 15 times the death toll from the opioid crisis. That’s also more than alcohol, car accidents, AIDS, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined.”

Given the enormous human and societal costs, I was surprised to learn that the New York State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS), the pension system for nearly 265,000 of the state’s public school teachers outside New York City, has been profiting off the misery caused by cigarettes. According to investment documents posted on its website, NYSTRS had almost $665 million invested in tobacco companies as of September 30, 2017.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the retirement system’s tobacco holdings in the third quarter of 2017…

Philip Morris International

Philip Morris International is the largest cigarette company in the world as measured by market share. PMI was a subsidiary of the Altria Group until 2008, when the company was spun-off to focus on cigarette sales outside the United States.

Some of the brands of cigarettes produced by Philip Morris International.

As of September 30th, NYSTRS owned 2,724,698 domestic shares of Philip Morris International stock with a combined market value of $302,468,725, as well as 11,310 international shares of PMI with a value of $1,255,523. In addition, the retirement system’s investment portfolio included PMI corporate bonds worth an additional $22,488,334.

Altria Group

Previously known as Philip Morris Companies, Inc. until a corporate rebranding in 2003, the Altria Group is the largest tobacco company in the United States. Altria’s three subsidiaries – Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., and John Middleton – dominate the U.S. tobacco market and are behind such brands as Marlboro cigarettes, Skoal, and Black & Milds.

Altria is the company behind Marlboro, the most popular cigarette brand in the U.S.

As of September 30th, NYSTRS owned 3,524,516 shares of Altria stock with a market value of $223,524,805, as well as Altria corporate bonds worth $12,430,592.

British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco is the largest publicly-traded tobacco company in the world. In July, it spent $49.4 billion to purchase Reynolds American, the maker of Newport, Camel, and Natural American Spirit cigarettes.

Some of the tobacco products made by Reynolds American.

As of September 30th, NYSTRS owned 1,341,758 shares of BAT stock with a market value of $81,419,262.

Imperial Brands

UK-based Imperial Brands is the world’s fourth-largest cigarette company and is behind such brands as Davidoff and Gauloises cigarettes and Cohiba cigars.

Imperial Brands products include Davidoff and Gauloises cigarettes and Cohiba cigars.

As of September 30th, NYSTRS owned 441,552 shares of Imperial Brands stock with a market value of $18,862,275, as well as Imperial Brands bonds worth $2,439,999.

It’s safe to say that most NYSTRS members are only vaguely aware of how the system invests their money. I’m also sure most would be shocked (if not horrified) to learn that the pension system has significant positions in companies whose products bring addiction, disease, and death to people around the globe.

With the start of a new year, teachers in the Empire State should resolve to get the New York State Teachers Retirement System to divest from Big Tobacco in 2018.