Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Teacher Insurgency



The Teacher Insurgency. By Leo Casey. Harvard Education Press, 2020. 304 pages

Review by Paul Buhle Leo Casey, a former teacher and veteran labor strategist, has a lot to say about the accelerating crisis in American education and what teachers themselves—often without the support of politicians or the public (and sometimes against the advice of their own unions)—have done about it. His new book, The Teacher Insurgency: A Strategic and Organizing Perspective, looks at the wave of teachers’ strikes during 2018-19 that shocked nearly everyone, except perhaps teachers themselves. 

Not only were these strikes militant, but they took place in the Republican enclaves of North Carolina, Arizona, and West Virginia. Casey calls the 2018 events a “Teacher’s Spring,” a provocative phrase that brings us to 2019, because the pattern of strikes had spread to blue states as well. By then, the pattern had become a strategy. 

We met the threat of new legislation taking away fundamental rights to public unionism by a newly elected Republican governor, with a weeks-long occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol and a more than year-long series of demonstrations. 

Teachers took action not only on the familiar issues of pay and working conditions, but also the excessive use of testing and the social and nutritional needs for chidlren—including the growing number of those that are homeless and undocumented. Teachers’ experience arguably occupied the central status of working lives, in some ways similar to the mass production workers of the 1930s-40s or skilled craftsmen in the decades after the Civil War.

As a longtime resident of Madison, Wisconsin, I cannot resist reflecting on the struggle of teachers and social workers in the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011-2012. So many crises have come (if not necessarily gone) in public life, this experience may now be remembered as life-changing, or a metaphor of our times, only by the participants and supporters. They—or, rather, we—met the threat of new legislation taking away fundamental rights to public unionism by a newly elected Republican governor, with a weeks-long occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol and a more than year-long series of demonstrations—sometimes with hundreds of thousands of protesters. 

The numbers were stunning. And the spirit was nothing short of festival-like, featuring retired unionists from near and far, a battle of the bands, singers and newly minted songs by the dozens, and above all a raucous sense of humor at our sour reality. That President Barack Obama did not stop by to offer his support—after having promised as a candidate that “when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I'll walk on that picket line with you”—was a particular disappointment. 

What had once been a famous “house of the people,” setting into motion the dreams of Robert M. La Follette and the nationwide progressive movement had, at that point, become home to an anti-union legislature of racist bigots. No one was demonized as surely and completely as women in the center of the workforce.


Casey points to what the late political economist James O’Connor dubbed the “Fiscal Crisis of the State,” the recession following the boom economy of the 1960s. The decision-makers at the top—made up of neoconservatives along with the standard rightwingers—sought to squeeze out the deficits by making the poor pay. “Draconian cuts” in public education from New York to California punished minority students, just as they were intended to do. 


Casey glosses over the 1970s teacher strikes, which swelled union membership, as often to the National Education Association as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). And then, with the election of Ronald Reagan, came the reaction.  Decades later, the recession of 2008 struck again, perhaps more cruelly.

In this light, the ongoing privatization of public education has accelerated with the rightwing-funded charter school movement and their inflated claims of voucher systems. Casey lucidly explains that early reform hopes for flexibility and experimentation fell under the spell of market-driven economies. Administrators became autocrats and unionized teachers became scapegoats, with a particularly perverse twist turning the civil rights legacy on its head, supposedly offering the Black community the educational reforms best suited for minority students. 

Charter schools, however, produced no better results for the students (or the parents). Instead, they served the needs of the think tanks and private investors. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, praises rang out for these so-called reforms, epitomized by Betsy DeVos’s rise to Education Secretary with the vision of driving a stake into the heart of public education. The Manhattan Institute could not have dreamed of a better outcome.

Nonetheless, teachers themselves did not accept this verdict. The “Teacher’s Spring” of 2018 inspired the election of progressive city and state officials in more than a dozen states, setting the stage, according to Casey, for a new phase of educational history. But, in looking to the past movements and events for models, he sometimes skates on thin ice. 

The labor movement, marked in the later 1960s and early 1970s by a failed democratic struggle within unions against aging and recalcitrant male bureaucracies, staggered dramatically downward with de-industrialization. Discussing the rise of teacher unionism, Casey returns to a point made most forcefully by leftwing industrial unions in theSouth during the 1940s, unions raided and purged in the Red Scare: the need for community support and all-out community engagement.  

The AFL and the more conservative CIO unions disdained this kind of involvement and failed at the most important single task: organizing the South. The AFT tried in its own way to engage the community. Great efforts were made and the AFT spearheaded the rise of teacher unionization around the country at a time when public service unionism offered the one bright spot in the labor movement. 

Tragically, the 1968 teachers action in New York, which pitted the union against the Black community and put on display the worst qualities of both sides. A popular Manhattan newspaper columnist at the time quipped that the strike and its effects set back Black/Jewish relationships for a generation.

Randi Weingarten, the current AFT president who succeeded several divisive presidencies, made grand efforts to heal old wounds and move ahead. Casey makes a striking case for the ways in which today’s teachers have challenged themselves and the system to become more skillful and more democratic with each other. 

Schools are the basis of public engagement at crucial times in young people’s lives. Teacher Insurgencies not only drives home the urgency of reform, but the impossibility of complete reform under capitalism’s rigors. The voracious ruling elite’s neoliberal urge to promote a handful of minorities while sending the rest to the reserve army of labor can bring only further harm.

Casey is a well-versed, urgent advocate for teacher unionism and reform. Read this book and learn.

 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

School -Parent Activist Running for City Council in NYC.

 “The Billionaires Are Nervous. And They Should Be Nervous.”

https://portside.org/2021-06-16/billionaires-are-nervous-and-they-should-be-nervous

Portside Date: June 16, 2021

Author: An Interview by Oren Schweitzer

Date of source: June 14, 2021

Jacobin



Alexa Avilés is a longtime community organizer in South Brooklyn. After a decade as president of the parent-teacher association at her daughters’ school, PS 172, she’s running for New York City Council. Endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, she is running on the New York City Democratic Socialists of America’s (NYC-DSA) DSA for the City city council slate, made up of six DSA members and working-class organizers running on a platform of taking power from the wealthy and giving it to New York’s working class.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a PAC funded by billionaire real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross issued mailers throughout her district, fearmongering around Avilés’s calls to defund the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Avilés is running in City Council District 38 to represent the South Brooklyn neighborhoods South Slope, Sunset Park, Red Hook, and parts of Borough Park, Dyker Heights, and Windsor Terrace. District 38 is a diverse working-class community, with a large population of immigrants and Puerto Rican and Mexican families, as well as being home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown. According to a study of District 38, it has the highest rate of adults without a high-school degree in New York City and half of its single mothers with young children live in poverty.

Jacobin’s Oren Schweitzer sat down with Avilés to discuss the state of politics in New York City, what it’s like to run on a socialist slate for office, and how she hopes to build working-class power.


OS

Why are you running for city council?

AV

I’ve been asked for many years now by community residents if I would consider running. A few years ago, I noticed that despite how high the stakes are for our community, it felt like our leadership was not putting the community first. It was a “put up or shut up” moment for me. I decided to jump in.

I made the decision to run even before the pandemic hit. Our communities were suffering greatly. Our neighbors were being displaced. Every year, we see increasing displacement where poor people and working-class folks could no longer live in the neighborhood.

We’ve seen unemployment and insecurity, stagnating wages, food insecurity. Coming out of the Trump era, families were being detained and deported by ICE. We’re coming out of a time of fear and insecurity. It felt like we needed steadfast leadership that put people over everything else.

DSA member running for city council in New York.

https://portside.org/2021-06-16/billionaires-are-nervous-and-they-should-be-nervous


 

 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sacramento Teachers Vote No Confidence in Superintendent Aguilar

 SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento City Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 announced today that Sacramento City Unified School District educators, in district-wide balloting, have overwhelmingly passed a vote of “no confidence” in SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar.  Turnout was high with 61.6 percent of eligible certified staff casting ballots. The vote was 1,353 voting no confidence to 55 who expressed confidence in Aguilar’s ability to lead the district. SEIU Local 1021 reported a similar result with 97.4 percent of classified staff that voted expressing no confidence in the district’s top administrator.

“Teachers and support staff who work directly with students are tired of the fiscal mismanagement, the broken promises and the lack of consideration for the needs of students,” said SCTA President David Fisher. “This is a critical time for our district as we continue the shift back to in-person instruction and away from virtual learning. Educators have no confidence in Mr. Aguilar’s ability to manage this transition and we’re deeply disturbed by his lack of vision for SCUSD. Our District needs to move in a new direction, our students have suffered long enough.”

“Our Classified staff are working with the stress that they can be unjustly laid-off under the premise of a budget crisis when the reality is that surrounding school Districts with similar monies are not laying anyone off,” said Dan Schallock, a maintenance worker for the district. “It’s embarrassing to work for a school district that totes equality and diversity, but the reality is under Jorge Aguilar the district has operated more like a caste system. The benefits and wages of our largely minority and/or women staff are constantly attacked while management continues to receive raises.”

A summary of Mr. Aguilar’s track record can be found here.

A Disturbing Record of Fiscal Mismanagement

Since August 2018, the Sacramento County Office of Education has rejected SCUSD’s budget every year – the only district in California with this distinction.  Not only have budgets been rejected, but the budget projections have been wildly inaccurate.  The superintendent has incorrectly and repeatedly reported to the school board and the general public that the district was on the brink of a state takeover due to a lack of funds when the reality was the district each year ran large surpluses. The district’s reserve fund currently exceeds a record $100 million. In discussions with outside education researchers the superintendent has emphasized that he prioritizes building cash reserves and reducing liabilities over student services.

“Because of his inability to properly manage a budget, the pain has been felt in classrooms,” explained Fisher. “Superintendent Aguilar unnecessarily cut programs and left student needs unmet. Nearly one thousand educators received pink slips in the last three years, only to have the district turn around, say ‘never mind’ and try to rehire them.  And, while classrooms have gone without teachers, the ranks of administrators keep growing along with their pay. Aguilar’s own annual salary is $334,467, by comparison Governor Newsom’s annual salary is $209,747.” Aguilar’s current total compensation is $445,268.

In 2018, the California Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), assigned by state authorities to conduct a “Fiscal Health Risk Analysis,” of SCUSD after the district’s budget was rejected for the first time, found that “the district’s business team is not cohesive and is lacking in communication with other departments and sites… The lack of understanding of data and the lack of best practices for data integrity and analysis are significant.”

Under Aguilar, the district at one point even forgot to count five schools in its enrollment figures, a $24 million mistake.

A Failure to Provide Services for Students, Particularly Those with Disabilities

In December 2020, the California Collaborative on Education Excellence (CCEE) a statewide agency that steps in when a district has failed to serve students with disabilities, English learners, low-income students and foster youth in three out of four consecutive years released a report on SCUSD that stated: “There is a lack of leadership and accountability to ensure students with disabilities and foster and homeless youth are provided services and support so they are not disproportionately suspended, chronically absent, and/or at risk for failure.”

The CCEE report went on to say: “The current district organizational structure and climate do not support the urgent need to provide equitable support to schools and robust instruction and educational experiences for all students. Some interviewees shared a perception that requests for assistance get addressed by the central office staff based on relational power and portrayed the district as top down with little room for collaboration, input, or feedback on initiatives underway or in development.”

CCEE directly faulted Aguilar for his failure to provide a vision for improving services to Sac City students. “While there is understanding that the superintendent’s overall vision and mission is to address existing inequities in SCUSD utilizing continuous improvement, there remains a need for the district to articulate the instructional vision, strategies, priorities, and outcomes that will be taken to accomplish this.”

In addition to CCEE, theCalifornia Department of Education (CDE) has informed Aguilar that it was considering “exercising its authority to withhold special education funds allocated to the District under state and federal law” for failure to comply substantially with a provision of law regarding special education and related services. Even after this stern warning, Aguilar and district managers continued to be non-responsive. On April 28, 2021 the CDE wrote to Aguilar in frustration that the SCUSD response has been “overdue, incomplete, and/or otherwise inadequate.”

One area where SCUSD should take no pride in being ranked number one is for its African-American suspension rate. A study released in the summer of 2018, found that SCUSD had the highest suspension rate (20.7%) among Black males in the entire state. In response and as part of the collective bargaining process, SCTA and the Black Parallel School Board jointly developed a restorative practices proposal that was presented to the district–these proposals went nowhere. For the past five years, Aguilar has refused to work with educators to include restorative practices and implement other reforms to discipline.

Due to Aguilar’s devaluing of preschool and after-school programs, the 4th R, a very successful after-school program, was cancelled when schools reopened this spring.  The program is only resuming in the fall due to pressure from district parents and intervention from City of Sacramento officials.  The superintendent has repeatedly cut the district’s child development programs. In 2019-20, for example, he eliminated 599 pre-school slots for Sac City students, among other reductions, despite available funds. 


When schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, the superintendent promised that every SCUSD student who needed a Chromebook would be provided one at no cost. Aguilar almost immediately backtracked on his commitment and limited distribution to one per family, regardless of family size, income, need, or conflicting class schedules. Making matters worse, Aguilar rejected a SCTA proposal to use employee health plan savings to purchase Chromebooks for every SCUSD student and to fund other efforts to bridge the digital divide for low-income families. 


A Dismal Record of Labor Relations and Personnel Practices

In April 2019, the district had its first teacher strike in 30 years due to the superintendent reneging on a contract agreement he had personally negotiated and signed.  In a similar manner, Aguilar recently announced that he was unilaterally violating an agreement signed with SEIU Local 1021 related to Covid-related health and safety standards.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Funding of Schools: Sacramento City Unified

 On June 10,2021 the Sacramento City Unified School Board will meet on two critical issues; the budget and the Local Control Accountability Plan ( required by state law). 

You may participate via Zoom on the SCUSD Board site.

https://www.scusd.edu/boe060321


The SCUSD presently has  a $206 million dollar surplus.  They will claim a deficit and register for continuing monitoring.

 

On the LCAP plan,  Here is the response from the local chairs of the League of United Latin American Citizens Education Committee. 

Re: Public Hearing: Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) 3-Year . June 10,2021. 

 

From:  Education Co Chairs; LULAC of Sacramento

 

We have substantial concerns with the district LCAP  plan as proposed.

 

1.    Over 17% of the students in the district are English learners.

2.    The district receives supplemental and concentration funds of $ 79.2 million to improve the academic achievement of specific students.  At least $ 6 million is specifically to improve achievement of English learners.

3.    The LCAP proposal for 2021/2022  does not provide any measure of actual improved achievement for English learners resulting from the use of these funds as required by the LCFF legislation.

4.    The major strategy proposed is the  use of Standards Aligned Instruction.  There is no evidence that such instruction improves English acquisition. For example you could improve instruction by lowering class sizes in rooms with a significant number of English learners.  Or, by providing paraprofessional assistants in these classes to assist English learners.

We have consistently recommended using these strategies to improve instruction.

5.    On the state scorecard SCUSD has a reclassification rate of 9.73 %.  This is below acceptable. 

WE have been asking this board for four years to use the funds allocated under LCFF to improve the achievement of English learners.  You have yet to do this.  Our feedback has been ignored. ( Copies of the prior requests are available).

 

We support the alternative budget proposals of the Community Priorities Coalition including to  increase the budget targeted to improving the achievement of English Learners. 

 

We request that the SCUSD board adopt a new policy, consistent with the intent of LCFF. When supplemental and concentration funds are not completely used for their intended purpose in one year, the carry over funds for the next year be restricted so they may only be used for the improvement of achievement of English learners or other designated  supplemental and concentration funds  recipients  as required by the LCFF .

 

We request that this statement of concern be entered into the record as a response to the June 10,2021 hearing on the Local Control and Accountability Plan for Sacramento City Unified. 

 

Dr. Duane E. Campbell,

Professor Dolores Delgado Campbell

Co-chairs Education Committee 

 

League of United Latin American Citizens 2862, 

PO Box 160211, Sacramento, Ca 95816 

 

The League of United Latin American Citizens is the oldest and largest Latino membership organization in the county.  We are a national civil rights and service organization.

 

Poor People's Campaign Plans March on Joe Manchin

 June 7, 2021

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The faith-led Poor People’s Campaign is planning a march in the home state of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to protest the moderate Democrat’s recent decision to oppose voting rights legislation and efforts to end the Senate filibuster.

Poor People’s Campaign co-chair the Rev. William Barber announcedvia Twitter on Monday (June 7) that his group will stage a “Moral March on Manchin” next week. The march is in addition to a separate protest against Manchin and Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., later this month.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Barber said plans for the march came about at the request of activists in the state outraged by Manchin’s recent policy positions, which the pastor argued “hurt poor and low-wealth people.”

“They said it’s time to march on his office,” Barber said. “It’s time for people of all differences to stand together against him — we call it ‘from the hollers in the mountains to the hood.’”

The march is in reaction to an editorial Manchin published over the weekend in The Charleston Gazette-Mail. Although Manchin expressed support for a bill known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, he stated in the editorial he would vote against the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March and enjoys support from prominent Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia.

Warnock is among those who have expressed openness to eliminating the Senate filibuster to pass the bill, which would allow it to make it through the Senate with a simple 51-vote majority instead of the current requirement for a 60-vote supermajority. Similarly, the Poor People’s Campaign has decried the filibuster, which is seen by some activists as hamstringing efforts to pass an array of liberal-leaning bills.

But Manchin shot down hopes he would back such efforts in his editorial, describing the For the People Act as “partisan” and declaring he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, left, and the Rev. William Barber. (Left, AP Photo/Patrick Semansky. Right, RNS Photo/Jack Jenkins)

Sen. Joe Manchin, left, and the Rev. William Barber. (Left, AP Photo/Patrick Semansky. Right, RNS Photo/Jack Jenkins)

Barber blasted the positions of Manchin, a Catholic, as incongruous with Christianity. 

“He claims to be a religious person, but the Scripture tells us in Matthew 23: ‘Woe unto those who tithe — who go through all the procedures — but leave undone weightier matters of the law, which is justice,'” he said.

Manchin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


RELATED: Poor People’s Campaign, lawmakers unveil sweeping resolution to tackle poverty


Barber noted representatives from the Poor People’s Campaign met with Manchin earlier this year to discuss, among other things, support for a $15 federal minimum wage (Manchin instead floated a lower figure). The meeting — which was requested by Manchin’s office after Barber’s group threatened demonstrations — included residents of West Virginia, one of several states where the Poor People’s Campaign regularly stages protests.

“We explained to (Manchin) why his defense of the filibuster was historically inaccurate and politically dangerous, and how his position against living wages was hurting over half of the workforce of West Virginia,” Barber said. He noted they also discussed how Manchin’s refusal to support the For the People Act “was hurting not just Black people, but white people, brown people and particularly poor and low-wealth people.”

Barber added: “Even if (Manchin) doesn’t change, we have to bear witness to how his policies are hurting the democracy, are a form of political and legislative violence, and that he is standing more on the side of the corporate lobbyists rather than poor and low-wealth workers and people across this country.”

Details of next week’s protest, scheduled for June 14, are still in flux. Although announced as a march, Barber said organizers are discussing the use of “other non-violent direct action.”

“Thousands upon thousands of people (in West Virginia) don’t agree with his economic position, or his position on voting rights, or his position on the filibuster — and it’s time for them to speak up,” Barber said.

 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.