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UFT fighting battles on both ends

Stephon Johnson | 11/21/2013, 1:53 p.m.

The United Federation of Teachers might have to watch the movie “300” for inspiration, because they’re feeling pressure from all sides. While fighting against the rushed implementation of a policy, the union is meeting a new battle creeping up behind them.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the UFT, has led the battle in New York City over the rushed adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards by the public schools in the five boroughs. Last week, the union, along with New York Communities for Change and the Alliance for Quality Education, launched a petition to eliminate the use of standardize testing in pre-K through second grades.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality, stated during the petition’s announcement that a student’s developmental years shouldn’t be dominated by testing. “This the first stone set in their educational foundation, but during this time, they are learning to interact socially with their peers, regulate their emotions and explore their creativity,” he said in a statement.

“New York state cannot expect student success without first instilling in students at a young age a love for learning. Standardized testing will not accomplish this,” concluded Easton.

During testimony in front of the state Senate earlier this month, Mulgrew reiterated that he supported the state’s adoption of Common Core but pleaded for the process to slow down while teachers armed themselves with the proper materials to educate. “But we do not have a curriculum,” he said. “It’s like the perfect storm. The Common Core should have been separated from the evaluation because now teachers and parents think the Common Core is the culprit. The school system has not taken responsibility for what it needs to do.”

Mulgrew also said that support for Common Core among teachers has decreased due to its poor implementation.

Within the teachers’ ranks, citing the desire to be a catalyst for change that’ll make the UFT a “real leader” in fighting for teachers and public schools, the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) recently announced the foundation of a new tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) organization called the New York City Educators Defense Fund. The “social justice caucus” of the UFT formed the new organization in order to achieve their vision of a fully empowered teachers’ union that “organizes and educates members to resist all efforts to deprive them of their rights and to stop the corporate education ‘reform’ agenda.”

An initial contribution of $12,500 was made by former public school teacher Harris Lirtzman.

The intent of NYCDEF, according to MORE and its allies, involves increased grassroots support for fair contracts and to create more effective, organized opposition to the new teacher evaluation system imposed and supported by state Education Commissioner John King (not to mention high-stakes standardized testing).

“The groundswell against the so-called ‘education reform’ agenda is rapidly gaining strength here in the city and across the country,” said MORE member and public education teacher Kit Wainer in a statement. “Educators now understand what a truly democratic and revitalized teachers union, working arm in arm with parents and students, can do to protect public education in New York City. Our hope is that NYCEDF can be a catalyst for the sort of change that will make the UFT a real leader in the fight on behalf of city teachers and the public school system.”