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While Schools Sink, NYC Teachers Get Slammed in Shame Game

9:16 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Image: www.justseeds.org

Cross-posted from In These Times.

If ensuring the quality of teaching in public schools were a perfect science, you’d think that officials would have figured it out by now: since the enactment of the sweeping federal No Child Left Behind law, teachers have been measured, graded and ranked by all kinds of metrics, from demographic trends to standardized test scores. And yet we can’t seem to find that elusive numeric solution to the crisis in public education—possibly because complex social problems can’t be reduced to averages and bell curves.

But the fuzzy math hasn’t stopped New York City from publishing data reports for some 18,000 public school teachers: ratings based on convoluted performance measurements measures for reading and math classes in the fourth through eighth grades.

While officials pit the public’s supposed “right to know” against teachers’ privacy rights (a similar political controversy exploded in 2010 over teacher data for Los Angeles schools), the data hasn’t done much to enhance public understanding of what’s going on in the classroom. Many educators and parents are confused or angered by data that are, according to news reports, riddled with inconsistencies and errors. Though the “value added” ratings are supposed to account for some social disparities, the teachers union and other critics decry the methodology as critically flawed. The figures are further muddled by seemingly arbitrary variance in ratings among schools, as well as massive margins of error (dozens of points in math and reading scores).

Methodological gaps aside, the major problem with the data is an ethical one: the idea of “naming and shaming” teachers as a way to spur school improvement. Karen Fine, a teacher at Manhattan Public School 134, commented on New York Times’ Schoolbook website: Read the rest of this entry →

In Growing Labor Struggle, Jazz Artists Harmonize Music and Justice

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Justice for Jazz Artist musicians rally outside the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City for a pension plan and a minimum wage. (Photo Enid Farber/Courtesy of Justice for Jazz Artists)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

NEW YORK—Jazz is both America’s classical art form and the classic music of struggle. You can hear that duality, and see it, every night on the dimly lit bandstands of New York City. But for the musicians, the toughest part often comes after the gig, when they realize the cash they took home isn’t enough to make rent. Or maybe 30 years down the line, at the age when other workers retire, but they have to keep playing shows to keep eating.

But now the unrest over inequity on Wall Street is starting to resonate in the heady air of Manhattan jazz clubs. The Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, run by the New York musicians’ union Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, is rallying for decent wages and pensions for artists, along with a greater voice in how their music is heard and sold.

Many jazz artists, both bandleaders and side musicians, hustle from gig to gig, often at the mercy of club owners who have little or no obligation to provide basic benefits like medical or unemployment insurance. With New York’s exorbitant cost of living, a single bout of illness or rent hike could tip musicians and their families into poverty.

Hoping to make it easier for the city’s hardest-working musicians to make a real living, Justice for Jazz Artists (a coalition of musicians and activists with Local 802) has worked to pressure some of the city’s major clubs, like the Village Vanguard and the Iridium, to provide musicians with access to pensions later in life.

Their other long-term demands include a basic minimum pay scale, which could be adjusted according to the size of a club’s business; firmer protections for musicians’ right to earn income for live recordings; and an arbitration process to resolve labor disputes. Read the rest of this entry →

From Cairo to New York, Which Side Are Police On?

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times:

[Ed. Note - Photo removed. It isn't permitted to use AFP/Getty images here unless one furnishes the license/agreement to use such an image. ]

As the Arab Spring enters a tense autumn chill, Tahrir Square remains a fiery political battleground, where struggles between the people and the state constantly churn and redefinine themselves. When police officers went on strike in October, they raised hard questions about the position of the public sector in the struggle against counterrevolution.

Thousands of Egypt’s police, though tarnished by the shameful violence deployed by security forces during the January 25 uprising, are now staging their own revolt. Meanwhile, the military brass, initially lauded in the early days of the revolution when it refrained from crushing demonstrators on behalf of Mubarak’s dictatorship, have become the target of public vitriol. The chaos—part of a continual wave of strikes, demonstrations and crackdowns—illustrates the people’s growing bitterness at the hijacking of their revolution by a reactionary junta.

So are the cops defecting to join the rabble? The momentum comes from struggling rank-and-file officers who actively distance themselves from the corrupt interim regime and notoriously cruel Interior Ministry. Alongside basic bread-and-butter grievances about wages and working conditions—the crux of all the strikes that have rocked the country this year—there are calls for an internal overhaul to restore the integrity and credibility of the institution. Read the rest of this entry →

Struggling New York School Workers Get Knocked Hard in Budget War

8:41 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

New York City workers rally against budget cuts. Photo courtesy of District Council 37

Cross-posted from In These Times.

When kids across New York City shuffle into their classrooms next week, they’ll discover that a few members of their school community won’t be attending, and their absence will be sorely felt.

Fresh casualties of the city’s budget wars, about 700 city school aides and other support personnel have been expelled. As of October 7, many schools will have to adjust to fewer hall monitors, parent coordinators, and other assistants who help administrators and teachers cope with stuffed classrooms, dwindling supply cabinets, and endless standardized tests.

At an Occupy Wall Street solidarity rally on Wednesday, Lillian Roberts, executive director of the prominent municipal union District Council 37, called the school workers’ plight a textbook example of New York’s economic injustices, from an anti-worker tax structure to the unabashed greed of the city’s financial sector:

Just this week, more than 700 low-paid DC 37 members, mainly workers of color at the NYC Dept. of Education, will lose their jobs while wealthy private contractors will continue receiving millions of dollars in payments from New York City and the [Department of Education (DOE)]. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors have said enough is enough, stop the destructive corporate greed. We couldn’t agree more. Read the rest of this entry →

While Wall Street Quakes, Greece’s Fire Still Burns Bright

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Police detain demonstrators and attack press photographers in Athens, Greece during a protest rally marking the 24-hour general strike on October 5, 2011. (Photo: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

While we may be inspired to see a leaderless mass movement finally crystallizing in U.S. cities, the American occupations still can’t hold a candle to the fire raging across Greece.

This past week, demonstrators again unleashed their rage across the tiny Mediterranean republic, blocking government agencies and clashing with government thugs amid plumes of tear gas, with assorted spectacles like trying to burn a European Union flag in effigy. Wilder than the spontaneous encampments in New York, Boston and other cities, the Greek tempests of the past several months have been persistent and rancorous enough to actually shake up the trading floor and the halls of Eurozone-IMF officialdom, as the troika hover, anxious and vulture-like, over a smoldering pyre of sovereign debt.

The explosion in Greece (along with Spain) illustrate how common assumptions about the neoliberal consensus of the industrialized world can be overturned if people become desperate enough. Despite the draconian austerity policies, writes Times columnist Floyd Norris, virtually nothing could persuade the Greeks at this point to swallow more misery:

The tax collectors, of all people, have staged job actions because they fear being laid off. To say the least, there is no sign of a national spirit of sacrifice to save the country.

The message from Greece now may be summarized as, “I’m small. I’ve suffered. You can afford to rescue me. If you don’t, I can create chaos for all of you.”

They may be right.

Are there lessons for the Liberty Plaza protesters to learn from the Athenian class warriors? The Greece context is politically and culturally unique, but it does embody the principle of fierce solidarity. The Greek left is working to harness widespread bitterness into a united front against austerity, linking unions, the jobless young, professionals and laborers. Read the rest of this entry →

Ten Years On, Sick Ground Zero Workers Still Without Proper Care

6:07 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan. Creative Commons.

This weekend, the public will mourn a site of loss, recasting the painful memories and haunting fears that still hover over the aftermath at Ground Zero. But the people who worked and breathed that tragedy in the days and months following September 11 won’t be at the primary commemoration ceremony for the families of victims. The Mayor’s decision to limit the attendees by excluding the 9/11 first responders is an unnerving metaphor for an unhealed scar of 9/11. Many of the rescue and recovery workers who labored at Ground Zero have been plagued by a metastasizing medical crisis, aggravated by chronic political failure.

This week, 9/11 firefighters and police chiefs rallied to demand changes to the rules governing compensation for health problems tied to poisonous air and debris at Ground Zero. They want federal funds to support treatment for cancer, which is currently omitted from the primary legislation covering Ground Zero-related medical needs. For years, researchers have been uncovering fresh evidence of widespread and devastating illnesses afflicting a large portion of people exposed to the aftermath; ongoing health issues range from crippling lung and breathing problems to post-traumatic stress disorder. But adequate funding for 9/11 workers has often been ensnared in political gridlock, not to mention the general incompetence of the healthcare system.

The UK Guardian reports that new research could trump politicians’ concerns over potential cancer liabilities:

Cancer treatment has been specifically excluded from federal health funding, with officials arguing there has been insufficient evidence to prove any direct link between the toxins present at the site and the disease.

But last week the results of the first large-scale study, published in the Lancet, found that firefighters who were involved on the day of the attacks and in the weeks that followed had a 19 percent higher risk of contracting cancer.

The study looked at 9,800 male firefighters, comparing those present during and after the attacks with those who were not involved.

Beyond the study’s findings, there’s disturbing anecdotal evidence of cancer and various other problems, like gastric ailments and the inflammatory disease sarcoidosis. No one knows what the long-term effects are, but whatever the fate of these responders, there are about 15,000 people currently receiving treatment who will need answers soon. Read the rest of this entry →

Target Comes Under Fire Around the World

4:55 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

VALLEY STREAM, NY - JUNE 17: Shoppers enter a Target store on June 17, 2011 in Valley Stream, New York preceding a unionization vote. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Cross-posted from In These Times

The retail giant Target is under fire from all sides, for union-busting at home and labor violations overseas. The reports that have come out in the past several weeks highlight a continuum of cruelty in the global supply chain.

Though WalMart has long served as labor’s arch nemesis, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has lately zeroed in on Target as a new battlefield—with its hundreds of thousands of employees and recent expansion into the supermarket sector. Although UFCW Local 1500 recently lost a vote to unionize a branch in Valley Stream, New York, their campaign deftly exposed Target’s arsenal of intimidation and smear tactics, which ranged from anti-union websites to leaflets warning that a yes vote might ruin the company and force the store to close.

Now plastered across the blogosphere, the propaganda campaign has steeled the outrage at the company’s resistance to unions. Organizers have announced they will keep up the fight:

Target’s honeymoon is over, the national attention from the election at Valley Stream showed the American public the type of company they really are, one who has little respect for the hard working people who make their company so successful.  Target still has the opportunity to change, and they should start by respecting their employees. Read the rest of this entry →