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April 3, 2006

1)  United Teachers of Dade Still Fighting Internally. We appear to have the answer to last week's mystery about the United Teachers of Dade and the union's summoning of the police to protect the board against a member. It appears the jailing of former president Pat Tornillo, the subsequent AFT administratorship, and the election of outsiders to the union's leadership didn't quite lead to the "one big happy family" outcome for which many had hoped.

A UTD source tells EIA the member in question was one Matthew DeRyan, who evidently was unhappy with the services that UTD provided (or failed to provide) for a particular workplace problem he had. He attended a UTD Council of Stewards meeting where he failed to rouse the assembly to act.

DeRyan evidently filed formal internal charges against UTD's officers. After a hearing before the union's executive board, his charges were dismissed. DeRyan continued to press his case, causing some discomfort among UTD representatives. Informed that DeRyan would attend a February board meeting, UTD officials called the police, who told DeRyan that if he attempted to enter the building, he would be arrested. DeRyan left without further incident.

A minor ruckus, but EIA also received several e-mails from Florida sources who thought, apparently erroneously, that the board was referring to Ira J. Paul. Instead, it's the beginning of a completely different story.

Paul is a long-time Miami-Dade teacher who in 1999 co-founded an alternative teacher group, called Teachers for Better Education. In that role, he supported Florida's voucher program and was generally a thorn in the side of UTD during the Tornillo debacle.

But when the AFT administratorship ended, Paul joined UTD, ran for, and won, a seat on the union's executive board. But he continued to support school choice, and other measures the union opposes. The last straw appears to have been when Paul spoke in favor of a performance pay plan at a state Board of Education meeting in February. Though he spoke as an individual, his place on UTD's executive board was well known. Afterwards, Paul was encouraged to resign from the board, and he did so. He also, once again, resigned his UTD membership.

In the past week, EIA has received a number of other anecdotes about dissent within UTD and the union's reaction to it. If the New UTD backslides, it's bad news for everyone, on both sides of the union issue.

2)  Stossel to Teach for a Week. I'm having a wonderful time watching ABC News' John Stossel and the United Federation of Teachers each trying to manipulate the other for maximum PR advantage. If you have been snoozing on this story (and who can blame you?), we last left Stossel confronting hundreds of teachers outside of ABC headquarters in New York City. They were protesting Stossel's January segment on 20/20 titled "Stupid in America," which was, shall we say, less than complimentary of the performance of the area's public schools.

The union challenged Stossel to teach in a city public school for a week and he accepted. UFT and ABC are working out the details. UFT is crowing over this apparent victory, while others are less sanguine.

I'm expecting this soap opera to run for years, so here are a few suggestions for future episodes:

* Stossel is awful during his week as a teacher. He fails to show up on time, plays DVDs for his class instead of teaching, and drinks beer at his desk. At the end of the week, he refuses to leave and submits a grievance, demands binding arbitration, and files a lawsuit in an effort to retain his new teaching job.

* UFT President Randi Weingarten is challenged to run a small business in New York City at a profit for a week. She accepts and things go relatively well until one of her employees notices there is no water in the urinals.

* Stossel and Weingarten exchange jobs. As UFT President, Stossel immediately sells the union to Disney, which converts UFT headquarters into an amusement park called UnionLand, featuring such attractions as Mr. Reuther's Wild Ride, Jimmy Hoffa's Car Toon Spin, and Proletariat of the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Weingarten wins an Emmy and a Pulitzer for her 20/20 investigative report that reveals Shakira and Christina Aguilera are, in fact, the same person.

3)  "It Is Not Cold Which Makes Me Shiver." The Scheiss Weekly blog posted a story a couple of weeks ago about when to discipline kids for foul language and when not to. And the story just broke my heart. Not because of the discipline part, but because of this:

"A few years ago, my sixth graders were getting ready to read a Sherlock Holmes short story: The Adventure of the Speckled Band, to be specific, which is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story.

"About ten seconds into my enthusiastic introduction to the story, I realized that my students had never in all their lives even HEARD of Sherlock Holmes."

To me, a big Holmes fan, this wasn't another one of those "ignorant-kids-of-today" anecdotes. It was devastating because I know the Holmes stories are gateway literature.

Let's face it: Teachers know the value of Shakespeare, Chaucer or James Joyce, but they also know that it's tough sledding for students. Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, or those of Edgar Allan Poe or Robert Louis Stevenson, serve a purpose well beyond their intrinsic value. They're accessible to kids and can introduce them to a world of literature beyond the latest Harry Potter book.

Yes, I might be overreacting. But if we lose Holmes, I don't see how we can save anyone else.

4)  You Can't Sing the Blues, But You Still "Gotta Pay Your Dues." Spring is the time when most NEA state affiliates hold their representative assemblies, and dues increases are always on the agenda. NEA national dues are expected to rise to $145 for the 2006-07 school year, and EIA has the proposed increases for a handful of state affiliates as well:

* Arizona – up $12 to $266

* Iowa – up $12 to $332

* Kansas – up $7 to $334

* Minnesota – up $8 to $376

* Missouri – up $8 to $304

* Nebraska – up $12 to $308

* North Dakota – up $8 to $272

* South Dakota – up $11 to $290

* Texas – up $3 to $246

* Utah – up $8 to $285

* Wyoming – up $19 to $374

5)  Education Reporting: Death Knell or New Direction? Liz Wellen paints a dismal picture of the state of education reporting – not concerning quality, but from an economic standpoint. She notes the staffing and circulation reductions at most major daily newspapers, and worries that coverage will suffer.

Wellen makes a number of good points, but she's a victim of poor timing, as the Associated Press just ran a story about how the online audience for newspapers is booming.

"A study being released Monday by the Newspaper Association of America, a trade group, found that one in three Internet users - 55 million - visit a newspaper website every month," the story reads. "Also, unique visitors to newspaper websites jumped 21% from January 2005 to December 2005, while the number of page views soared by 43% over the same period."

There is no doubt that newspapers have economic problems, but the Internet also provides opportunities for them. Most of us are old enough to remember a time when an individual in Sacramento or Topeka had no access to a newspaper in Des Moines or Anchorage. And an objective analysis of the much-feted New Media has to conclude that most blogs and Internet sites would have precious little content if not for the stories produced by the Old Media.

Just because people don't travel by horse and buggy anymore doesn't mean they stopped needing to travel. Newspapers, and their education reporters, that embrace new information delivery systems will thrive. Others will perish.

6)  Last week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from March 27-April 2:

* Slicing the Zucchini. Joe Williams examines the groovy life of union hero (and closet capitalist) Jack Powell Zucchini.

* Plumbers Union Is Pissed. Who could oppose eco-friendly urinals?

* Very Bad News for CTA. Kevin Johnson will appear on Oprah to talk about his charter schools.

* Whatever Works. Whether enrollment is up or down, the same solution is offered up.

7) Quote of the Week. "It is essential that we maintain a good working relationship with our bargaining units. Toward that end, please ensure that all job description changes, new hires, intra-department moves, promotions, temporary positions and other union related issues are reviewed with your bargaining unit before implementing." – Broward County Deputy School Superintendent Donnie Carter, in a March 7 e-mail to his staff. (April 1 South Florida Sun-Sentinel).


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