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New York votes dominate Common Core debate at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention as a majority of AFT delegates votes to continue critical support for Common Core ... AFT leadership

NOTE: Kati Gilson is a National Board Certified Teacher,offering an on-the-spot report from the AFT convention in Los Angeles.

It became apparent that it wasn't going to be a debate about what's best for the students, but what UFT -- and more broadly the leadership, which has always been centered in New York -- wanted.

UFT members reported they were afraid to vote against their union dictates.

Quote of the day from Fred Klonsky's blog: "A convention delegate representing 30,000 shouldn't need shin guards."

AFT bully leadership won; kids lost.

by Kati Gilson

A mad dash for the microphones started when a United Federation of Teachers (UFT, New York City, Local 2 of the AFT), delegate began sprinting as the doors were opened for delegates to enter the floor of the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers on July 13, 2014 in Los Angeles. Was it a cover tribute to the Los Angeles Olympics of decades ago? No. The 3,000 delegates to the AFT convention were about to debate Common Core, and the 200,000-member UFT (New York City's teacher union) was about to defeat their Chicago "brothers and sisters" on a resolution or two that had acquired national importance.

All of those who spoke against Common Core at the AFT convention were classroom teachers, like Pia Payne-Shannon from Minneapolis. Most of those who spoke from the floor in support of the "standards" resolution which the AFT leadership poised against the Chicago Common Core resolution were union officials, including the presidents of the New York City and Detroit local unions, neither of which presented a classroom teacher to speak on behalf of Common Core. And poised in opposition to the continuation of what amounts to "critical support" for the Common Core favored by New York and the AFT national leadership was the outright opposition, brought to the floor of the convention by the Chicago Teachers Union (Local 1 of the AFT).

The dash to the mics, in the eyes of many at the convention, was just a continuation of the bullying, underhanded tactics used by the UFT -- to "win at any price" more than one delegate noted -- on issues of importance to the national union leadership. It was a race to the finish line -- the "good seats" in the cavernous hall at the Los Angeles convention center.

A CTU Delegate started running, passed the UFT Delegate and was able to claim a spot near the microphone. Why the rush? The issues to be debated, then voted on included a vote on the Common Core State Standards.

The jockeying for position began two days prior when the Educational Issues Committee met to decide which resolutions would go forward to the floor two days earlier. Under AFT rules, any local may submit resolutions for the consideration by the general convention, which meets every two years. But then the resolutions are divided up among more than 20 committees, each of which debates them and makes a "recommendation" of which get to the floor of the convention. In the "Educational Issues" committee there were two competing resolutions on Common Core. One from the AFT national leadership continued support for Common Core. The one from Chicago was outright opposition.

Prior to the Educational Issues Committee meeting there had been another session in the same room. Chicago Teachers Union members arrived well before the first event to get seats near the mic. Shortly after the meeting began it was announced that the room must be cleared before the committee session. (This was not done in all the committee meetings). It became obvious that the education committee meeting was being set up for the benefit of UFT. Those teachers who were seated by the mics excused themselves prior to the end of the meeting and lined up in the hallway.

As other delegates began to arrive, they started to swarm the doors and had to be reminded by sergeants at arms that there was a line and they needed to get at the end. Once the room was cleared the delegates were allowed in. Two CTU delegates were pushed by UFT Delegates. The UFT Delegates, with what many of us considered their Al Capone style and muscleman tactics, were determined to bully their way through the resolutions. [Disclosure: this reporter is one of several Substance staff members who were among the CTU delegates to the convention].

Their tactics were formidable, but their arguments were not always to the point. More than once, they insisted that the issue was really whether teachers really wanted "standards," rather than the impact and reality of the Common Core the country has been experiencing.

Michael Mulgrew, the President of the UFT, proceeded to talk about "fighting for what's mine, fighting for my rights". Where that fits into a discussion on education is debatable, and many listening were left shaking their heads.

The Chicago Teachers Union delegates were to the point in speaking about Common Core and not in abstractions or diversion. CTU delegates who were able to get to speak presented valid documented arguments based on classroom experience and parent interaction. Almost every one of the CTU delegates who spoke, whether in committee or during the floor debate, was a classroom teacher. The only union staffer who spoke against Common Core was CTU research chief Carol Caref on the floor; CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey spoke against Common Core in committee.

That couldn't be said for most of those who spoke in favor of the Common Core -- supporting the resolution in favor of "standards" that was "critical" of Common Core.

It became apparent that it wasn't going to be a debate about what's best for the students, but what UFT -- and more broadly the leadership, which has always been centered in New York -- wanted. These "thugs" were not teachers, delegates noted. As the days of struggle unfolded, more and more delegates noted that they were bullies sent to block any attempt by the CTU to have an honest open debate about issues including Common Core, high stakes testing and special education in the context of "education reform" in 2014.

The Educational Issues committee managed to shove through every resolution, including one supporting common core state standards for early childhood -- which is Pre-K - 3rd. The only resolution they did not push forward was anti-testing special education which was sent back to the executive council after a maneuver. It appeared to this reporter that the UFT was more interested in knocking down CTU resolutions than listening to the arguments and applying that information to the students they serve.

That was what happened in committee, on July 11.

Fast forward to July 13, when the item was scheduled to come to the floor.

Once the mad dash for the microphone race was over, the real UFT jockeying, politicking and questionable tactics became evident at Microphone 4. (There were eight microphones for debate in the large auditorium, each on with a lighted (or unlighted) sign which indicated to the chair of the meeting whether there was someone who wanted to speak. The melodrama at Mic 4 was typical of several mics. There were four chairs behind the microphone. One was occupied by UFT and two by CTU. The fourth chair was designated for the Sergeant at Arms.

A UFT Delegate brought another chair to the row and proceeded to seat two UFT Delegates in the row. The Sergeant at Arms repeatedly told them they could not do that. The head of the Sergeant at Arms was called and after much debate, and one chair was removed. I explained to the Sergeant at Arms that the fourth chair had a "Save for Sergeant at Arms" sign on it.

He said he knew that -- but it was his seat and he chose to give it to a UFT Delegate.

All of the Sergeants at Arms were convention delegates, many from the CTU. This particular Sergeant at Arms was also a UFT Delegate and had to be repeatedly reminded that he could not stand in front of the mic, an obvious tactic, to block CTU from reaching the mic.

When the Common Core Resolution came up, there was a great deal of controversy about who was at the mic first. This reporter, who had been walking around the convention floor, with her press credentials, who has been walking around, taking pictures since day one was denied her First Amendment rights and told she must remain seated because she was also a Delegate.

This was interesting because UFT Delegates were repeatedly up and out of their seats, walking back and forth, attempting to control who said what at the mics, and often taking photographs.

Despite being repeatedly pushed, CTU Delegate Sarah Chambers held her ground and was returned to her rightful place as first in line. Her impassioned speech was loudly cheered by a large number of delegates, and is also on the video of the debates.

Throughout the Common Core Resolution Debate, UFT thugs and delegates swarmed around microphone 4, constantly getting up to talk to each other and changing places with the people in line behind the microphone.

The resolution on the floor, "Number 2" from the resolutions booklet, had been submitted by the national union leadership and critically supported Common Core. Another heated debate occurred regarding this resolution. Many of the people who spoke for the motion to pass were not classroom teachers who, are in the trenches daily with their students, living and breathing the nightmare of common core. It was easy to identify the teachers in the group by their passionate, well informed, presentations on the issue. Union officials who were at the mics to speak (often with the help of the aforementioned tactics) included Michael Mulgrew, President of the UFT, and Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Chicago delegates who got to the mics spoke unanimously against the Common Core Standards. After talking to numerous delegates at the convention, it was made clear to this reporter and others that many more oppose the Common Core, but were afraid to vote against it.

One delegate, among many who asked to remain anonymous when told we would report it in Substance, told me "I vote the way my union tells me to".

It became apparent the "member driven unionism", such as CTU, is not the norm across the country in the American Federation of Teachers. One delegate I spoke with was unable to identify the Secretary of Education. Although the national office version of a Common Core resolution passed, many people -- including many from New York's UFT and others who were afraid to "vote against their union" -- came up to CTU members and thanked them for their passion and bringing the Common Core issues to the floor.

A times, almost always provoked by UFT speeches rife with cliches (and some macho posturing), almost overwhelmed what we were debating. As one Delegate stated as she spoke, "We're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There was never a baby in there to begin with!" In that case, the "baby" was supposedly "standards" (which according to the debate were good) and Common Core tests (which virtually everyone but a handful agreed are not so good).

So the AFT, with 1.6 million members, has voted to continue in support of the Common Core -- albeit critically. Supposedly, the AFT leaders will be doing around fixing Common Core so that standards are saved.It will be interesting to see, in two years at the next AFT convention (where the Chicago delegates will be the same people), where the supporters of Common Core stand after they've lived the nightmare Chicago has been living for the past couple of years. But, then, by then it's possible that not one classroom teacher will be available for the UFT and others to throw into the mx to speak again in favor of Common Core. Somehow, nobody doubts that union officers and AFT officials will be first in line at the mics for that round of debates.

— Kati Gilson





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