Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Conversation with Ben Spielberg Continues

Ben Spielberg (who is, apparently not the son of Steven) was kind enough to respond to my thrashing of his points of view regarding how tough unionists should be as we (yes I said we) support tenure.

I thrashed him here.
He kindly responded here.

My responses are below.

First thing's first. Readers should know that Ben graduated from Stanford (so he's super smart and comes from an Upper Mid-Class background). He has also written for Huffington Post (so he's a better writer than yours truly) and has been featured on EduShyster's blog (so he does have his bona fides with regard to not being down with the edu-reformers).

So when I say thrash, what I mean is thrash in the same way you thrash a teammate in the locker room during half time.

One more thing: I am not sure if he is a highly regarded or highly effective teacher, but his union did decide to make him an instructional coach (and he seems to be of good temperament), so I'm going to go ahead and presume that he his an excellent teacher. That's important. I'm highly effective and this back and forth should take place among two people who know what excellent pedagogy means and understand teacher unionism.

Ok, so. Issue #1:

Ben'sOriginalStatement: ” it’s clear that low-income students sometimes have teachers who aren't as high-quality as we would like”

MyReply. –>>High income students sometimes have the same. Why bother making this point?<—

Ben'sCounter: I make this point because reformers consistently highlight it and I think it’s important to acknowledge that their concern has some merit, even if their reasoning is completely wrong. I go on to explain that, while this fact is true, it doesn’t have relevance to the case or to teacher employment law. You are absolutely correct that high-income students sometimes have ineffective teachers, and I highlight that fact frequently in discussions of teacher employment law. As I wrote during #VergaraChat ( “Research suggests my experience is accurate: teacher quality is similar at low- and high-income schools.” If you read my earlier ( articles ( on Vergara, you’ll note that I consistently agree with you on this point.

MyCounter:  I would ask you here to be tough and think twice before acknowledging a point that these blasted reformers make. Their end game is pretty clear: They want orgs like TFA to give jobs to college grads. Tons of jobs. Tons and tons of jobs. The people who run these nonprofits live the same lifestyles as for-profit CEOs. Whatsmore, the nonprofits simply feed into the for-profit entities. Here is one example of how this works:

A Charter School, which does not make a profit, is run by a certain person in a low income neighborhood here in New York. That person, several weeks before opening the charter, purchased two foreclosed buildings from the city of New York for $1 a piece (through a program that existed under mayor Giuliani's administration). He then refurbished the buildings and sold them to his own personal LLC.  That for profit LLC leases the space to his not for profit charter network for at market values. In addition to making a large amount of money leading the charter, the person now also collects rent, at market value and for profit, for every location where the charter network exists. The LLC, which now has several big name investors as co-owners, is now the 8th or 9th largest landlord in this particular low income community.

This isn't made up or anything. This is how things work out here. I don't know how you accept these people at face value but when a reformer says it's about improving instruction, they're not thinking about instruction. They're thinking about profit. And when smart guys like you start stipulating to some points they make (with little evidence) simply because they repeatedly assert it, then they start thinking about scalability.

We know what closes the achievement gap, don't we? It happened in the 1970s and it can happen again: it's about making sure that whole schools aren't 'poor'. It's about placing kids like you in the same classrooms as kids like me (I was poor). I thought we all knew that closed the achievement gap. You want to do something politically tough? Start talking about bussing again. Start analyzing school choice against how well it has integrated students of different backgrounds. End the new segregation -and I'm not just talking racial. End the economic segregation  such that poor kids and rich kids are in the same classrooms again, then offer wrap around services to that poor kid, and you'll see the achievement gap shrink -again.

But please don't just say "ok" to these people as they ignore so much to focus on such a small sliver of the education process instruction counts for less than 10% of the student's overall life experiences. Make them talk about the other 90%!!!


 Ben'sOriginalStatement 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. “

MyReply–>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. <—

Ben'sCounter I would again point you to my earlier articles, particularly, for a full explanation of my position (I agree with you). Here’s an excerpt:

(I strongly suggest you read the excerpt. Ben is correct).

MyCounter: I thank you for making this point earlier. It, however, needed also to be said right there in your post. It, apparently, needs to be said to these people at every opportunity! There are issues and there are defining issues. That no apparent connection had been made between tenure statutes and teacher quality is an issue. But the defining issue here is -clearly- do bad, tenured teachers teach at 'poor' (I hate that label) schools? The answer, based even on your (and my) own mutual anecdotal experiences as teachers is absolutely not. In fact, most folks at these schools aren't even tenured! And in fact, based on empirical research: nobody knows at all. NO study has been done.  That's the defining issue of this topic. I urge you to take them to task along those lines.

There isn't any daylight between he and I and the next point, so I'm moving on.

 The next issue was brought up by me during Ben's Vergara chat Twitter discussion.

I complained 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 know. I was angry. I was on a roll. 

Ben'sCounter Your description is inaccurate (here’s a link to the Twitter conversation for those interested: – I never stipulated what you say I did. I wrote that, in California, teachers are “probationary until year 3, but a decision needs to be made by March 15 of year 2.

MyCounter: So this is rhetorical, but Ben, you stand accused here of having 'all but stipulated' saying this. Not of saying it. That really means doing almost everything up to stipulating the 18 month limit. Not actually stipulating. But you did all but stipulate it.

Now as the whole world seems to be stipulating this 18 month limit fallacy, it is of little value for me to beat the horse again.

So I'll beat it lightly! Two points to make here:

1. In New York outside of the city, all employment decisions are made by a certain date as well. What the districts do is fire everyone by that date (pink slips and all). Then, they make their decisions in their own time and either rescind or do not rescind their originally decision. Now I'm not suggestion CA districts can or should do this in the same manner. I am only offering this as an example of what happens what managers manage. It's their job. It isn't impossible to do. Everyone is fired as of March 15 (in NY it's usually May 15) but then the district can change its mind here and there (which the TA would be happy to hear).

2. Wasn't this just recently (as in this very legislative year) amended to reflect this? Isn't this 18 month decision timeframe brand new? My understanding is that it was changed AFTER the case had begun. Is that accurate?

As I said, I am the only one (I think on Earth) making this point. But as a math math person, I'm sure you're aware that every problem needs an outlier. So I guess I'll play that role here.

Next issue:

I complained 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…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.

Ben'sCounter I want to link my post on social justice unionism ( for some context about how the San Jose Teachers Association operates. The main points I’d like to make in response to this comment are

1) I have not and do not intend to agree “to things that aren’t accurate” for any reason.

2) I think I can speak for everyone on the SJTA Executive Board when I say that “integrity toward [our] role[s] as…member[s] of a [teachers association]” matters a great deal to us.

The main thing that I think we disagree about is the value of having conversations with reformers and other people with whom we disagree. Reformers are often the aggressors in conflicts with unions and, unfortunately, often push reforms that negatively impact students, teachers, and schools. But most reformers – not all, but nearly everyone I’ve spoken to – are well-intentioned people who are similarly passionate about improving the educational experience for students. I agree with you wholeheartedly that sacrificing principles or arguments for a “seat at the table” would be terrible (in fact, I recently decried that sort of political decision-making here:, but that is definitively not what SJTA or I do. Instead, we engage with people, indicate a respect for their intentions, and convey why many of their proposed reforms do more harm than good. We also suggest what we believe to be better courses of action. This approach has worked very successfully in SJUSD. I would be interested to hear why you think we shouldn’t talk to people about these issues and try to change their minds (as long as we don’t sacrifice our principles along the way).

MyCounter: Of course, the tone with which I said that was argumentative and, for that, I apologize.

I think much of this disagreement comes down to an age old debate of whether teachers should be part of a professional association, such as the NEA, or part of a union, such as the AFT. As you may be aware, there can be  drastic differences between those two entities. In fact, this has been an historic issue among teachers everywhere there has been a labor movement in the US: 'Should teachers belong to an association of professionals or a union?' They mostly pick association (as evidenced by the size of the NEA when compared to the AFT), but our 1962 (and 65) labor contract showed us here in NYC, that great things can happen when you kick out the association and join up with a union.

 Also, your NEA represented NYS teachers up until 1971. Read this, it'll say that they did a pretty crappy job of it (it's one opinion). It says that low wages, low teacher voice and low teacher respect ruled throughout the time NEA represented NYS teachers.

But something happened in 1971 that changed all that (and has bearing on our discussion here). Some idiot conservative in the NYS Senate launched a successful legislative attack against tenure.  Teachers woke up one day and tenure had been greatly weakened. The response was for the union (who did exist and was in competition with the NEA) to grow in strength and stature.  Eventually, that union exacted political revenge against that political and came to represent all 694 school in districts in New York State. The NEA had been kicked out. Soon, NYSUT won back the tenure rights that had been lost and improved teacher wages throughout the state. That's our ("union") side of the argument, of course. I'm really interested in what your ("association") side of an argument like that would be.

But here we are, 43 years later, and we are -again- dealing with an attack on tenure. It has occurred in a state where there is (at least one) association (no teacher union in San Jose strictly speaking) and has (again?) been successful. It is now coming to New York (a state filled with unionists who have no problem taking to the street and marching up to Albany and protesting outside a courthouse). I don't think it will be successful here.

But the tone with which I approached that historical 'association' vs. 'union' discussion was argumentative and, for that, I do apologize.

I can only urge you to fight!! Argue!! Agitate!!! Be a contrarian every now and then!!! Don't let them try fire Ms. Crabtree and 'Get Kotter' in the name of 'improved instruction' without making -forcing- them to address the issue that what they're really talking about is firing teachers.

Sixth, and finally, you wrote:

I extend an open invitation to the next meeting of the social justice caucus of the UFT

Awesome! Please let me know when it is – I am in the process of moving to Washington, DC, but I would love to come if I can make it work with my schedule.

Thanks again for engaging and have a good one. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

That's awesome!! I'm at and will reach out to the MORE folks for some dates (I'm guessing sometime in September?)


  1. I’m enjoying the conversation - thanks for engaging! My response is again too long for your comments section, unfortunately, but you can read it in the comments section of my original post: