Seriously, What Is Up at UFT?

February 28, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m catching up on this a little late, but ALELR has connected a couple of dots and drawn a picture of things at the UFT that can only make you say “Epic Facepalm.”

OK, you do remember the whole Cue Card Check scandal? At the time, Randi Weingarten was so embarrassed that she was forced to go out and claim she knew nothing about all this – cue cards? what cue cards? – and would “make some changes in the union.”

I missed this at the time, but last summer Elizabeth Green (who also broke the Cue Card Check story) reported that Marvin Reiskin, the UFT political director, had taken early retirement in the aftermath of the scandal. He was lined up for retirement at the end of the year anyway, but forcing him out early – even a month early – beats doing nothing. It sends an internal signal, however muted.

Obviously UFT had to be looking for a replacement who would restore credibility. Their number one priority after such a humiliation must have been to bring in someone who would restore adult supervision – and, more importantly, be seen to do so – show the watching world that the grownups were back in charge at UFT.

So get this: the person tapped to play that role was Paul Egan.

I think the question now becomes: why does UFT have an organizational culture in which people like this consistently rise to the top, no matter how strong the external incentives against it?

UFT: If You Close Your Eyes, the Schools Look Fine!

October 22, 2010

HHGTTG on the many uses of towels: “wrap it round your head to … avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous)”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Journal reports that the New York City DOE, at the bidding of the UFT, is withholding teacher data that would allow the public to evaluate 12,000 teachers the same way the LA Times did in Los Angeles earlier this year. The data were to be released in response to public record requests by the Journal and other organizations, but the UFT sued. Now a court will have to pry the data loose.

Can you say “the new tobacco lobby,” boys and girls? Can you say “FINISH HIM?” I knew you could!

HT Whitney Tilson

The Unions Doth Protest Too Much

April 19, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Wow, the graphic above seems to have struck a sensitive spot with our Sith apprentice, Leo Casey. Here’s his surprisingly defensive overreaction.

Leo thinks he has my motives all figured out. He thinks my post last week was trying to sow division within the union by pitting their internal constituencies against one another.

Er, no. I don’t think many UFT members read Jay P. Greene’s Blog, except the ones who are paid to.

Leo’s evidence about my motives consists entirely of a passage from a book written 20 years ago by people who have no connection to me. Oh, and he lists my affiliation as being with “the Milton Friedman Foundational Educational Choice.” Two words right out of five ain’t bad – at least by his standards.

You would think that a person who has been caught participating in eggregious political fraud and promoting scandalous calumny would be more careful. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

Sherman Dorn likewise misconstrues my purpose (although without the foot-shooting intellectual slapstick we’ve come to expect from Leo). Dorn writes of my post: “This is corruption! is the implication.”

Er, no. I not only didn’t say anything about corruption, I didn’t imply anything about it. There’s nothing corrupt about UFT representing more non-teachers than actual teachers.

Dorn invokes my status as a political scientist with hoity-toity academic credentials in order to sadly lament that I failed to provide an extensive discussion of the academic literature on different types of voting systems in my blog post. Well, let’s try to satisfy him by adopting some unnecessarily opaque academic jargon as we look back at the actual, clearly and explicitly expressed purpose of the post.

My post is what political scientists call “positive theory.” That is, I’m offering an explanatory model of the unions’ behavior. Why do unions invest so much of their effort in racking up a trillion dollars in mostly-unfunded pension obligations, rather than taking a more evenhanded (and thus presumably less noticeable) approach to what kinds of swag they grab? Why do they support policies that make working conditions worse for teachers?

Down here in the dark bowls of the earth where we “trolls” live, the prevailing explanation is that the union leadership has incentives to do things that fatten themselves at the expense of the union membership. Well, I’m not saying that’s not true! But there’s at least one other plausible theory, and my post offered it. Or both could be right!

But . . . I’ll admit that I did have a hidden agenda! Namely, I wanted to create some transparency about whether the UFT represents “teachers.” It’s not wrong for UFT to represent more non-teachers than it does teachers, but it’s wrong for UFT to puff itself up as The Voice of The Teacher in order to promote policies that serve another agenda. Not that I think a union should puff itself up as The Voice of the Teacher even if it does primarily represent teachers, any more than I think the National Organization for Women should puff itself up as The Voice of Women. But how much more shameless would it be if most voting members of NOW were men?

Only 40% of UFT Voters Are Actual Teachers

April 14, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over on NRO, Rick Hess points out that only 40% of the voters in last week’s UFT elections were actual teachers.

Do you think this sort of thing might have something to do with the problem of runaway, unfunded teacher pensions? Looks like at least one union is representing retirees at least as much as teachers.

This also sheds some light on why the unions favor policies that destroy the working environment for public school teachers. Only 40% of their voters are affected by the destruction of the teacher working environment.

And this is after the implementation of a new rule that counts each vote by a retiree as only 0.72 of a vote. If the retirees’ votes hadn’t been diluted, the teachers would only be 34% of the electorate and the retirees 46%.

In case you’re wondering, the other 22% of the UFT vote is composed of what the union calls “functional teachers,” i.e. almost entirely non-teachers (librarians, nurses, counsellors, etc.)

More Teacher Union Sock Puppetry

April 29, 2009

Henson and Kermit.jpg

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Recently we had a lot of fun with the Leo Casey/UFT “cue card check” story. But one fact that I don’t think got a lot of attention (here or elsewhere) is that this is far from the first instance of teacher union sock puppetry.

In this week’s Communique, ALELR highlights another one – the NEA’s longtime practice of setting up dummy organizations that are entirely controlled by the union, but conceal this fact and present themselves as independent voices. This week he highlights ROVE (Republicans Opposing Voucher Efforts), which, from the evidence ALELR presents, sure looks a whole lot like it has the NEA’s arm sticking out the bottom.

Apparently their strategy is to pay a whole chorus of voices to sing out of the union songbook, while hiding the singers’ union connections.

Say, I think I feel a song coming on myself…

Why are there so many songs about unions?
And choruses on their side?

The singers are honest and independent
And they have nothing to hide

So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Someday we’ll find it – the union connection
The reformers, the reporters, and me!

Questions for Leo-The Final Chapter

April 23, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In my final question for Leo, I ask: Leo, do your puppets have Taco Flavored Kisses?

Questions for Leo: Do you smell what the Blob is cooking?

April 21, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In today’s installment of our ongoing series Questions for Leo, we feature this 1997 photo of Leo Casey subtly indicating to the members of the New York City Council education committee that it’s time for them to pick up their cue cards and start asking the prearranged questions.

Since his appearance before the committee was more phony than a pro wrestling match, today’s question for Leo is: Do you smell what the Blob is cooking?

Below, the latest embarrassing expose on the UFT – yet another hilariously misspelled cue card.


Edited to correct a misspelling – I put an “e” in “subtly.” Yes, I have submitted my job application to the UFT and expect to hear back shortly.

The UFT’s “Cue Card Check”

April 15, 2009


All images from GothamSchools, whose Elizabeth Green broke the story

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Last week, the UFT got caught handing out cue cards to New York City Council members before a public hearing of the council’s education committee. The council members dutifully asked the questions they had been given, which pointedly invited anti-charter diatribes from the teacher-union and DOE witnesses.

The members then unanimously voted to make Grigori Potemkin their new committee chairman.

Internet wags are calling the scandal “cue card check.” ALELR has consulted his deep moles within UFT and offered an intriguing report on the union’s strategy for the Council’s next hearing.

The cue cards have to be seen to be believed:




That’s “questions for Leo” as in our dear friend and Sith apprentice Leo Casey, who testified at the hearing. My pledge to you, the reader: from now on, every time Leo posts calumnies about Jay, I will post a link to this story.


And that’s “questions for DOE” as in officials from the Department of Education. The cue cards were handed out by the UFT, but is it plausible that the department officials had no idea they were being asked scripted questions?

HILARIOUS UPDATE! When I first posted this, I didn’t look closely at the handwritten edit made to this cue card. Check it out – note the spelling. And this is from an organization of teachers!

This story doesn’t seem to have broken out of the local circuit yet, but it’s getting a whole lot of attention in the city media. The Daily News is leading the way, documenting the extent of UFT political contributions to the council members who got cue cards and covering Randi Weingarten’s attempts to deflect blame by claiming that a charter school organizer once did the same thing. (Not true, says the organizer – and who has more credibility here?)

But ALELR notes that props are not being given to Elizabeth Green of the blog GothamSchools, who broke the story and snapped all the pictures you see above (and more, which you can enjoy in all their glory by following the link).

Green wryly notes that the cue cards with accusatory anti-charter questions were handed out by “a representative of the city teachers union, which describes itself as in favor of charter schools.”

Why JPGB Beats Edwize

December 11, 2008


  Edwize is a blog by Leo Casey that is sponsored by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.  The UFT has tens of millions of dollars at its disposal and thousands upon thousands of members.  Jay P. Greene’s Blog (JPGB) by contrast has a $25 registration fee for the domain name and a couple of laptops. 

Despite this huge disparity in resources, JPGB has a significantly larger audience than does Edwize.  According to Technorati JPGB has an authority rating of 95 while Edwize has a rating of 74.  An authority rating measures how many other blogs link to a given blog during the last 180 days, which is meant to capture how much influence a blog has in the blogoshpere.  In addition, each post on JPGB generates about 4 or 5 comments, on average, while posts on Edwize generate about 1 or 2 comments, on average.  Fewer comments suggest fewer readers and/or material on which people do not care to comment. 

None of these measures is perfect, but it is clear that JPGB beats Edwize.  Why?

The primary challenge for Edwize is that it has to tout teacher union views on education issues.  And those views are mostly junky.  So, Edwize suffers because it takes significantly more resources to interest people in crappy ideas than in sensible ones. 

In case you doubt that the unions have to push junky ideas, ask yourself whether it is sensible to have a system of education in which students are mostly assigned to schools based on where they live; where teachers are almost never fired, no matter how incompetent they are; where teachers are paid almost entirely based on how many years they’ve been around rather than on how well they do their job; where teachers are required to be certified even though there is little to no evidence that certification is associated with quality; and where all teachers are paid the same regardless of subject, even though we know that the skills required for expertise on certain subjects have much greater value in the market than other subjects.

The mental gymnastics required to sustain the union world view has a much greater “degree of difficulty” than the views that are regularly expressed on JPGB.  And the resources required to generate support for these union views are enormous.  You need millions of people financially benefiting from these policies to volunteer as campaign workers.  You need millions of dollars in union dues for campaign contributions.  You need a large team of paid staff in every state and in Washington, DC.  It takes an army and a fortune for the unions to hold their ground.

This not only helps explain why JPGB beats Edwize, but also why reformers are able to beat the unions in the policy arena.  It’s true that the unions win most of the time.  But given their enormous advantage in resources, it is amazing that the unions ever lose.  The reason that the unions lose as often as they do is that their policy positions are much more difficult to defend intellectually.

So, we should feel sorry for Leo Casey and his union comrades.  They may have a lot more money and a lot more people, but they constantly have to defend obviously dumb ideas.

(edited for clarity and to add photo)

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