Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Comment to Ben Spielberg

Ben Spielberg is a member of the San Jose Teachers' Association. He has hosted several discussions about teacher tenure in the wake of the Vergara decision out there. One of those discussions was a Twitter chat entitled #VergaraChat that was hosted earlier in the month. I came away from it feeling a bit let down at the vigor with which he defended tenure.

He seems intelligent, very well connected, and able to get people on 'the other side' to listen to what he has to say. Too bad his ideas don't go far enough to defend teachers. His ideas about teacher tenure ]a and about social justice unionism in general leave (for me) a lot to be desired. I'm sure he is wonderful guy who has a bright future in the non classroom based field of education. I hope he does good work.

I just had a moment to read a post on his blog about a panel discussion about tenure in which he participated. His full post may be found here. I took issue with a few of his positions (I have issues with his basic premises, which is pretty bad in terms of ever finding common ground with him). The comment I left in on his post is pasted below (I added emphasis on some of his quotes).

" it’s clear that low-income students sometimes have teachers who aren’t as high-quality as we would like"  
-->>High income students sometimes have the same. Why bother making this point?<--

"Additionally, there’s broad consensus that improving teacher quality and addressing inequities between low-income and high-income schools is important."  
-->These are two separate points you're making here, yet you seem to be making them as though they're one in the same. I can almost see an ed reformer (mis)reading this passage and nodding in agreement. Great job<--

" The research does not suggest, however (and the plaintiffs did not show at trial), that there is a causal link between teacher employment law and either teacher quality issues or inequities between low-income and high-income schools. "
-->The research also does not link ineffective teachers at poor schools. I had expected you to defend tenure along those lines: There is nothing by way of research to suggest that ineffective teachers overpopulate poor schools. <--

Reading this post left me *as* disappointed as I was during your #VergaraChat on Twitter the moment you all but stipulated that there was 18 month period for tenure in your state (there isn't. There is two years period. The eighteen month period for SOME teachers who served in different capacities does not count in the manner that Treu asserted, yet you never objected and even went so far as to correct me when I stated that. I was disappointed then, and frankly, I'm disappointed now after reading this.

I don't know what passes for a teachers' association out there in CA, and I don't know where you arrived at your idea of social justice unionism, but here in New York, people who accept the responsibility of representing teachers don't stipulate to things that aren't accurate, or are questionably accurate, simply because they want to get along with the very people who are trying to take away teachers' jobs. Getting along isn't that important. (I'm very sorry if Randi gave you that impression. She really is the exception). I would have presumed that your progressive background taught you that a seat at the table with a Georgetown professor, former government official and a local TFA organization, is not worth all that. Integrity toward your role as a member of a TA counts -very much. Apologues if those sentiments sound harsh.

Here in New York, where our working conditions are our students' learning conditions, we don't think the lawsuits against tenure will be as successful as it was in CA. After reading about some of your ideas about social justice unionism and your "defense" of teacher tenure, I can see how we've reached that conclusion. I don't think we will let them get away with it.

In fact, and I don't mean any vitriol here, based on all I've seen from you as you 'defend' teacher tenure, I respectfully wonder, as intelligent and as thoughtful and as committed to students as you are, if you should be working with a TA at all.
With respect and in solidarity.

With all due respect to young Mr. Spielberg, I don't know what passes for unionism out there in California, but I don't think it, nor anything short of a vigorous defense of tenure, would pass muster here in New York.

At least, I hope not. I invite Mr. Spielberg to read this description of exactly what tenure is and isn't before he attends another panel discussion and I extend an open invitation to the next meeting of the social justice caucus of the UFT; MORE.

"so just then, the sea cucumber looks over to the mollusk and says: with friends like these, who needs anemones." 


  1. "You should try and get a job's a good school with good kids." I heard that in most of the six schools I travelled to as an ATR.

    No! I don't want to teach at a "good" school with "good" kids. They'll be fine. That's what I told my former principal the day of my of my interview in 2007.

    More respect should be given to teachers who choose to work at low-income schools.

    Good analysis Urban Ed. Too bad my low-income school doesn't want to rehire me. Neither did the co located school Eagle Academy.

    This was good too.

  2. Thanks for reading my pieces and engaging on Twitter - I definitely enjoyed talking during #VergaraChat. I wrote a full response to your comment on my site (see, but your comments section is telling me it’s too long to post here, so to summarize: I think (and hope) that most of what you felt “let down” about stems from misunderstandings. I go into considerably more detail about each of the points you raise at the above link, so please check it out and let me know what you think.