May 2017 Issue

Testing, unfair teacher evals, plight of adjuncts, 'con con' threat

Source: NYSUT United

With passion and persistence, delegates to NYSUT's policymaking convention in New York City directed the statewide union to stand strong against inappropriate student testing; unfair teacher evaluations; and the exploitation of adjunct faculty, among other priorities. Delegates also committed to defeat the state's proposed constitutional convention on the ballot this fall.

In all, more than 2,000 Representative Assembly delegates approved 35 resolutions and referred five measures to the NYSUT Board of Directors.

Delegates OK'd resolutions calling for student test scores to no longer be a mandatory part of teacher evaluations; condemning computer-based testing for grades 3–5; and opposing teacher participation in generating test questions for the state's ELA and math assessments in grades 3–8.Delegates urged NYSUT to work diligently to get rid of the state's Annual Professional Performance Review system entirely, and return control to local school districts and teacher unions to develop sound evaluative tools.

They called for NYSUT to fight any punitive measures taken against a teacher whose final rating was based on mandatory standardized test scores. Another resolution asks NYSUT to consider forming a task force to recommend a more consistent timeline for administering state assessments.

As states wrestle with implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, delegates approved resolutions that direct NYSUT to work with state policymakers to leverage relief from punitive federal testing and accountability mandates. Delegates also voiced support for ESSA professional development funding to be used to expand teacher center programs. Delegates called for NYSUT to work with all national, state and local organizations to prevent U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from any attempt to defund public schools.

Other educational issues resolutions call for more resources to help English language learners succeed; mandate labor history as part of the state's K–12 curriculum; support "consent" education in middle and high schools; and require a meaningful new teacher induction program. Delegates also want NYSUT to form a task force to make recommendations on establishing a consistent regional school calendar for BOCES and local districts.

Several members spoke passionately about the importance of recess in elementary school, calling for at least 30 minutes a day, not counting physical education classes, for all elementary students. "Children need a lot of unstructured playtime and socialization," said Arielle Chiger of New Paltz TA. "This is the best early intervention we can offer."

Higher education

Delegates made it loud and clear that a resolution seeking pay equity for contingent academic labor in higher education must be a top priority.

"I'm called an adjunct, but I work full-time with part-time pay," said Susan DiRaimo, Professional Staff Congress at CUNY. "I'm not contingent either — teaching four courses every semester for (many) years."

Adjuncts now make up 60 to 70 percent of CUNY's instructional force, with many earning $25,000 to $30,000 a year and qualifying for public assistance, DiRaimo said. "Adjuncts deserve a living wage. It's really a moral question."

PSC's Mike Fabricant said adjuncts are working at multiple colleges and teaching as many as nine courses in a semester "in order to survive." He said the continued exploitation and impoverishment of the growing percentage of instructional staff is "a wound within public education" that must be taken care of. "It's fair, human and just," he said.

Jason DeTrani of Broome Community College Faculty Association noted the mistreatment of adjuncts goes well beyond low pay. "A hostile administration can find many ways to penalize and attack adjuncts," DeTrani said. "They can cut sections, double and triple enrollments ... you're doing three times the work for the same terrible pay."

He successfully amended the resolution to demand equity for adjuncts concerning "associated employment and loading" issues.

A Westchester CC Federation of Teachers member noted that the reliance on contingent faculty also directly hurts full-time faculty whose administrative workloads have increased dramatically.

In a separate resolution approved for adjuncts, Kevin Peterman of the Faculty Association of Suffolk CC spoke in favor of creating a NYSUT task force to address the dues structure that requires adjunct faculty to pay multiple dues at each college or school they work for.

"With 25 percent of adjuncts receiving public assistance, we need to do everything we can to help them," said Peterman, whose union has more than 1,450 adjunct members. "Many of our members are also working at Stony Brook, Farmingdale and other places and paying dues to each of them, plus AFT."

A number of delegates spoke passionately in favor of a resolution calling for all public colleges and schools to be declared sanctuary institutions, responding to President Trump's actions to detain and deport undocumented residents and revoke protections for DACAs, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

"The level of anxiety for students, faculty and staff is remarkable," said Dominic Wetzel of Kingsborough Community College, where about 70 percent of the students are immigrants.

"Our students have mobilized, collecting 1,500 signatures to the college president to declare us a sanctuary campus," the PSC member said. "This is a historic opportunity for NYSUT members to show our students that we are there for them ... and so they can feel safe to pursue their education."

The sanctuary resolution calls for NYSUT to support locals in demanding that their campuses and schools oppose surveillance of students, faculty and staff; and refuse to allow immigration officials into their buildings or supply information without warrants.

Another higher ed resolution urges NYSUT's opposition to any attempt to deny public funding to CUNY based on constitutionally protected speech or actions of its students, faculty and staff.

"Public funds should not be tied to political positions," said PSC President Barbara Bowen. "That is a ban on free speech ... A blacklist," she said.

Jackie DiSalvo of PSC likened the issue to McCarthyism, where college faculty members were purged for speaking out or voicing criticism.

"I don't want to see us retreat to an earlier time," said PSC's Steve Leberstein. "There's no place more important to uphold these failures of free speech than higher education institutions."

Special orders

Delegates approved several Special Orders of Business, including endorsement of Paul Farfaglia of Jordan Elbridge TA for re-election as one of three teacher-members on the NYS Teachers' Retirement System Board.

Just hours after the Senate confirmed Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, delegates approved a Special Order calling for local unions to pump up organizing campaigns and enlist current members to pledge to remain dues-paying union members even in the event of a negative Supreme Court decision.

Patty Bentley, a retiree from the United University Professions SUNY Plattsburgh chapter, spoke in favor of a Special Order calling for union members to avoid unnecessary travel to North Carolina, Kentucky and South Dakota to protest the states' recent discriminatory actions against the LGBTQ community.

"We have to stand firm and send a message," Bentley said, noting she is a Kentucky native and is saddened by what's happening in the southern states.

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