May 23, 2010

Do we really need the NY Times?

Not if it's comfortable for them to publish Steven Brill's kind of biased zealotry against public education.

Check out the opening paragraph of his piece in today's Magazine section:
MICHAEL MULGREW is an affable former Brooklyn vocational-high-school teacher who took over last year as head of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers when his predecessor, Randi Weingarten, moved to Washington to run the national American Federation of Teachers. Over breakfast in March, we talked about a movement spreading across the country to hold public-school teachers accountable by compensating, promoting or even removing them according to the results they produce in class, as measured in part by student test scores. Mulgrew’s 165-page union contract takes the opposite approach. It not only specifies everything that teachers will do and will not do during a six-hour-57 ½-minute workday but also requires that teachers be paid based on how long they have been on the job. Once they’ve been teaching for three years and judged satisfactory in a process that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory, they are ensured lifetime tenure.
Brill may have had breakfast with Mulgrew in March like he says, but there are some serious untruths in these first five sentences.

1. "Mulgrew's 165-page union contract."

First of all, there is no single union contract.
There are at least nine separate agreements for each title in this union. The teacher contract and its additions does reach to 165 pages, but the guidance counselor's contract, for example, goes only to 75. The Memorandum of Agreement signed in Oct 2005 and to extend until Oct 07 modified the many agreements that had expired in May of 2003. The next Memorandum of Agreement was signed in Nov 2006, and extended all of these contracts in a similar fashion until Oct 09. We are now working without a renegotiated contract, and Mulgrew has gone to impasse over the DoE's new demands.

In any case, none of these agreements are Mulgrew's, because it was Weingarten who negotiated them. They were
undoubtedly grooming Mulgrew to replace her over the past few years, but he did not determine the direction of these expired contracts. His job now is to defend the ones we're forced to live with until the new one is signed, and to make sure we get one we can live with next time round.

2. The contract "specifies everything that teachers will do and will not do during a six-hour-57 1/2-minute workday."

Bull. I'd say roughly 30% of our working day is dealing with problems that are nowhere near specified in the contract, particularly in times like these when we're filling in for the DoE's shortfalls.

The biggest and most time-consuming task is classroom management, which is becoming increasingly more difficult as class size grows unchecked and students are not getting the services they need. You won't find a word about that in any contract. Who does Brill think attends to the children when special ed violations place them with you instead of with someone else? Who does he think buys supplies on their own time when schools don't provide them, or moves furniture, cleans up, and does their own tech support when other staff are unavailable and/or unwilling? Who performs the multiple layers of attendance-taking and paperwork required by the DoE, which has been escalating these tasks in their orgiastic glee over data and accountability? And where does it say in any contract that you have to teach a subject you don't know anything about, because that's what happens all too often these days. We end up frequently enough teaching out of license.

3. "requires that teachers be paid based on how long they have been on the job".
A half-truth, as everyone knows. Educators are also paid on how many credits and/or degrees they have above a BA.

And I'll quibble as well with the word "teachers," because not all the people standing in front of NYC classes have really earned that title. The darker truth is that the State Ed Dept has been coerced into minimizing the requirements in order to attract more grad students, particularly TFA types who enter so many NYC classrooms with a BA and a few weeks of ed prep over the summer. Way too many people intern for a couple of years as educators while they go through the stages of full certification, including getting their MA. Some don't even bother to complete it and leave after a couple of years for different kinds of jobs. (See this link for the four main kinds of teaching certificates you can hold in New York — provisional, professional, provisional and permanent — and a host of others for unique circumstances, e.g., transitional, supplementary.)

4. "that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory."

First of all, more than "a few" people are denied tenure, and some have are asked to prove themselves for longer than three years.

If someone whom the DoE has placed in the job as principal has decided a person is good enough at his job for tenure, then one can only blame that principal for granting tenure to a person who hasn't earned it. That's true even under the present teacher evaluation system.

I am also getting the feeling that Brill confuses "satisfactory" performance with "excellence," which is never prescribed by law for teaching or any civil service job.

5. "they are ensured lifetime tenure."

An outright lie. No one in this contract or any earlier one has ever been ensured lifetime tenure. There are ed laws that can remove you from the classroom for incompetence and crimes. You can also lose your job for whistleblowing and truthtelling, even for things you never did at all. And as much as we'd like not to think about it, the Legislature can indeed change the tenure laws
. So there is no assurance, as Brill says, of a lifetime job.

Brill's essay is patently a work of political propaganda, and why the Times printed it is beyond me.

But that's a rhetorical question and I don't really need an answer. I've just canceled my subscription to the paper, as many already have done well before now.

PS: I've written about Brill before, in this post.


  1. Actually, it is neither Mulgrew's nor Weingarten's contract. This contract is also signed by the City, so it's co-created by Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who most certainly had a hand in creating it. To me, that's the most outrageous exclusion from Brill's screed.

  2. True enough. I was focusing on the UFT end of things.

  3. The NY Times printed the Brill piece because they are owned by union-busting scumbags who print any old shit and call it "news".

    Just look at the hit piece they took from Conn. Repub and WWE owner McMahon and printed against the Democratic candidate. Had they bothered to watch the entire video tape of Blumenthal speaking, they would have heard him say later that he didn't serve in Vietnam, that he was only in the military during the war. But they simply took the talking points from the GOPers and printed them verbatim.

    They did the same thing with the Brill piece.

  4. I know that the union will not go for this idea, but I would like to propose the following action.

    What if we create, or someone who knows how to create a website to contribute money where the members can have enough money to start a smear campaign against Brill, exposing him for the fraud that he truly is when he writes in any magazine. I would be the first to contribute money, even if I have to contribute $100. I feel that we cannot sit by the sideline anymore and watch our profession destroyed by Brill. The UFT commercials are just too soft and to politically afraid to make waves.

    Something's gotta give! I truly can't take this constant attack of the teaching profession.

  5. rbe - I didn't catch that, so thanks for the info. I'm generally kind of stuck in at the ed articles, where there is altogether enough unbalanced reporting even from the regulars. Am getting my main news now from the Washington Spectator, the Hightower Lowdown, and the Nation (always reading that last one late by a week or two).

    Anon 10:52: I feel you, but it would be like trying to compete with K-Street — we won't be able to keep up. The country's gone very much to the wrong kind of pot.

  6. You really expect Steve Brill to write a fair piece? I don't.

  7. Neither do I. But as long as the press keeps marching in lockstep, we have to keep at these people, no?

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