Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unions Must Jump Out for Teachout

How many Democrats will jump Cuomo's ship on September 9? 

Today's Democrats are turning into yesterday's Republicans.


Look no further than New York State, where Democratic governor and aspiring outdoorsman Andrew Cuomo reportedly warned of "repercussions" for members of the state AFL-CIO if they did not endorse him at their union's annual convention on August 18. Amid this language and other acts of douchbaggery, it’s no surprise that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara  is investigating Cuomo for meddling in the affairs of the supposedly independent anti-corruption Moreland Commission. Among other things, Cuomo is suspected of having an inflated head that's leaking something other than air.

Sure enough, Cuomo's name was absent from all convention literature and open discussion about the race for governor was prohibited before the body. The Lobbyist for the Student's name has become so toxic in his home state that he doesn't even want to talk about himself these days, brushing aside a recent call for a debate with Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, his opponent in the Democratic primary. Referring to political debates as a "campaign strategy", Cuomo said he'd leave the decision to debate Teachout up to the campaigns and "whatever they decide."

Evidently, an open discussion about the future of New York State now hinges on the whims of Joe Percoco, Cuomo's campaign manager who was also recently suspected of strong-arming members of the Moreland Commission into scrubbing Cuomo clean. Multiple sources say Percoco pressured key members of the commission into issuing public statements in support of the executive office in the days following the publication of a New York Times article which ripped the lid off the inner workings of Cuomo's Albany.

Teachout should not expect comments from Percoco about a debate anytime soon, however, as Percoco seemingly cherishes his role as Cuomo's "man behind the man" and invisible campaign manager. With both men refusing to talk about talking about the issues, voters can only speculate about the status of a government that has grown less transparent than pond scum.
Among other stark contrasts with Teachout, Cuomo's icy relationship with unions and other groups is indicative of a shifting paradigm in local and national politics—an intra-party rejection of Democrats beholden to big money in favor of grassroots populists who seek to rise above the fetid fumes of money and threats to transparent, moral ground.

Cracks in the system have only been deepened by the supposed standard-bearers of the Democratic Party, with the tax and trade policies of Cuomo, the Clintons, and President Obama turning Ronald Reagan's trickle-down into a deluge for .01 percent of Americans. Today's most prominent Democratic leaders have become everything Reagan dreamed they could become and more, insulating the pockets of plutocrats with the calluses of working men and women everywhere.

It seems NYSUT—whose members comprised the majority in attendance on August 18—could also use a dose of transparency these days. Cuomo recently signed a bill that the Albany legislature approved faster than you can say quid pro quo, as even the NYSUT Board of Directors was not aware of a law which strengthens the retirement safety net of a mere three members—Karen Magee, Paul Pecorale, and Martin Messner—all of whom were elected NYSUT officers in the union's recent election.

While questions linger about the origins of the bill, the larger question is did newly-elected officers of the state's largest teachers union—with the unanimous support of lawmakers—trade self-serving legislation for political favors? Both the timing and secrecy of this legislation raises unsettling questions about the principles of union leadership, who must not tip-toe away from transparency but march towards it.

The union has no good reason not to challenge Cuomo, after all, and a non-endorsement only muffles the political discourse and forces working teachers to retreat into their classrooms, away from politics in both voice and vote. Teachers in the United States cannot afford to sink further into political apathy, and union leaders have a responsibility to help engender an open debate about those government officials who are helping the rich subsume the system.

NYSUT members must hear why State Senator Jeff Klein, for example, deserves their time and VOTE-COPE money. Klein, a Democrat who yielded progressive control of the senate to Republicans and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cuomo at a recent rally for charter schools, is another example of a leader with the face of a Democrat and the fangs of a Republican.

State Senator Jeff Klein (background) has a face only NYSUT could love.

Former New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently sighted hobnobbing in the Hamptons with AFT President Randi Weingarten, will dilute any national conversation about economic inequality should she be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Both Republican and Democratic talking points will likely revolve around the need to help "all" Americans by cutting corporate taxes and shipping jobs overseas competing in the global economy.

Cuomo's "death penalty" for New York's public schools also spells doom for both social justice and his core values as a Democratic, which he likely never possessed in the first place. The good news is that Zephyr Teachout and her running mate for Lieutenant Governor Tim Wu exist, and their campaign has gained momentum since Cuomo unsuccessfully tried to kick Teachout off the ballot for not being as New York as him.

Cuomo and his running mate Kathy Hochul—a former bank lobbyist and future Republican—have $35 million to spend compared to Teachout and Wu's $181,000. This money, however, speaks only through glossy campaign flyers and commercials, and no amount money could turn Cuomo and Hochul back into real Democrats.  Perhaps the Cuomo campaign will soon invite Republican challenger Rob Astorino to debate, confident they can out-Democrat him.

America’s workers, not its lawmakers, keep the machine of democracy running daily. It is therefore up to workers and their unions to be first on the scene when its engine seizes in a cloud of cronyism and greed.

Unions must lead with solutions, promoting candidates like Teachout who will seek to undo recent changes to the Great Seal of the United States:

Both political parties have finally agreed on one thing.

Our democracy depends on it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Campbell Brown Won't Ask Teachers

In a recent Twitter exchange, former Assistant Secretary of Education and Campbell Brown backslapper Peter Cunningham paradoxically pleaded for teachers to both speak out for their profession and accept less job security. With the tired cry to "raise the bar" in tow, Cunningham floated the need to "streamline due process," education deformers' kinder, gentler way of demanding an end to hard-earned job protections:

Confronted with a recent statistic from the New
York State Education Department (NYSED) on the average time to settle a teacher disciplinary case (known as a 3020a), Cunningham went silent, likely retreating into his anti-teacher bubble to "fix assignment" (whatever that means) and sort out the other  "issues" he fails to detail throughout the brief exchange. Educators will happily discuss these issues and more with Cunningham, since they actually teach for a living and have everything--and nothing--to lose in the current war on public education. As a self-proclaimed "recovering TV journalist," Campbell Brown can also join the discussion, feeling free to fire off her own questions instead of ignoring teachers' questions.

Six hours after the initial exchange, Cunningham finally surfaced, questioning the NYSED statistic while obliquely championing Arne Duncan's new "
teacher-equity" plan:

At press time, neither Cunningham nor Brown have asked on Twitter or elsewhere what teachers need for success with all students, from at-risk to advanced. Had the discussion not been cut short by his deflection and retreat, Cunningham likely would have continued avowing his support for teachers while hoisting the canard that tenure guarantees a "job for life." Not unlike Brown and other privateers, Cunningham seeks to praise public schools while picking their pockets. These efforts fall short in the face of educators, however, many of whom have grown adept at recognizing the stench of bullshit in the deformers' woodshed. It seems Cunningham, who according to his current bio was "responsible for messaging the President and Secretary's education agenda," needs to discover new ways to mask the odious odor of contempt for workers' rights permeating throughout the country.

Even more perplexing is that Cunningham was a member of Duncan's Department of Education in 2010, the same year the department required and approved changes to New York's teacher evaluation laws (APPR) as part of the state's Race to the Top application. Is Cunningham--who supposedly also "advised the Secretary on education policy development"--really unaware of how New York has "streamlined due process" under his own department's urgent guidance? If so, will Cunningham continue criticizing a system he believes doesn't work, maybe even demanding New York return the $700 million it received from his department four years ago? Teachers would gladly comply if it would also allow them to jettison the standards his boss once proudly touted but no longer even refers to by their copyrighted name (their acronym is CCSS).

If deformers are so concerned about raising the bar in classrooms, why do they continue to ignore everything else happening inside of these classrooms except sex scandals and standardized tests? Why aren't people with less teaching experience than actor Tony Danza, for example, curious to know what high standards and excellent teaching actually looks like? Were Brown and Cunningham to ask this question of educators, they would be flooded with examples of teachers ushering and inspiring students through the complexities of life, complexities unmeasurable by test scores. These stories--not VAM stories--could be publicized and dissected in the media, fostering a discussion about the habits of highly effective teachers. This would no doubt go over much better than the divide and conquer tactics of deformers. After all, America loves stories about inspirational teachers--especially true ones.

Why would anyone legitimately interested in improving education not begin by asking what actually happens in classrooms? Is this the deformers' way of treating teachers like professionals? Stay out of their way until test scores drop? Few things are as destructive as hypocrisy, especially when mixed with education. Education is the search for truth anyway, and truth shrivels in the shadow of the hypocrisy and misinformation spread by the likes of Brown and Cunningham. Educators hold the truth in high regard, but will only flee from a profession in which trust has eroded. 

Unfortunately, teacher turnover is one of the deformers' means to end public education, with experienced, unionized teachers slowly transplanted by underpaid, non-union neophytes.  Teachers therefore have no choice but to keep teaching and keep defending the truth; keep doing everything in their power to tip schools away from the precipice of privatization.

And though Campbell Brown won't ask what great teaching looks like, teachers will keep answering it.