Sunday, December 31, 2006

But Can They Speak?

Here's some food for thought--- Chinese schools have classes of 45 in humid, non-air-conditioned 90-degree classrooms, yet the only voice you hear is that of the teacher.

Can you imagine doing that here? I can't. Is that because our teachers aren't as good as theirs? I don't think so.

If the students were talking, of course, they wouldn't be able to run schools in this manner. Despite their orderliness, I don't want my child in a classroom like this. Maybe they could make her pass more tests, and maybe I'm idealistic, but I think schools need to do more than that.

At the first school, we were told that, at the present time, more than 200 million Chinese students are learning English. Two hundred million children learning our language! And they do so because China is committed to becoming an economic superpower to rival the United States within 10 years.

They may not need to wait that long, given our profligate borrowing habits. But as for learning English, having taught hundreds if not thousands of Chinese kids, I think their government needs a new approach. There's absolutely no way 45 silent kids learn to speak English, or any foreign language.

One of the most difficult things about my job is forcing silent kids to speak. And if I succeed, I then need to work on making them speak audibly, which is another thing entirely. I'm always amazed that while my colleagues are working overtime trying to keep kids quiet (and of course I have kids like that too), I'm on my hands and knees, begging and pleading with improbably quiet kids to open their mouths and make sound come out.

Are you jealous? You might not be if you had to do this. It's more difficult than you'd imagine, as it takes extreme persistence to overcome lifetimes of trained silence. Still, it's very gratifying if and when you succeed.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

James and Sylvia

James came from Haiti. He was a big guy with a big mouth, who often used it to express his medieval opinions about women. I can't remember exactly what he used to say, but "barefoot and pregnant" springs to mind. Though he was not open to other points of view, he would generally shut up when asked.

Sylvia was from Bangladesh. She was very, very quick-witted. One day, after James announced he could do anything better than any woman (which was odd, since so many of them were doing better than he was in English class), Sylvia asked, "Do you think you could play chess better than me?"

James said, "Of course." The fact that Sylvia was some sort of chess champion, who had points in some professional league somewhere, did not faze him at all. Sylvia said, "If you beat me, I'll tell the class that everything you say about women is completely true. If I win, you will apologize for everything you've said, and never talk about us like that again."

James agreed.

I set one day of class time for the big match. Sylvia brought in a rolled-up chess board, the game pieces, and one of those clocks they use at matches. She checkmated James very quickly, and had to keep telling him where he could and could not move his pieces.

James, as good as his word, apologized and stopped making remarks about women. I asked him why he'd chosen to take on Sylvia, knowing that she was a champion and having almost no idea how to play the game.

"A man can never turn down a challenge," he said.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Math Humor

Having discussed it briefly in the comments yesterday, I must point out that Miss Cellania has a whole page of it.

Knock yourselves out, number fiends.

No entiendo

I don't often write about NCLB, but I'm troubled by the way it treats ESL kids. Joseph Berger had a column a few days ago addressing this issue. Is it reasonable to give the same English test to kids who don't actually know the language? I don't think so (In the early twentieth century non-English speakers were give IQ tests in English. When they failed, they were deemed to be mentally retarded). But NCLB says within one year they have to do so anyway.

Some people say it takes five years to acquire a language. Others say that's too long (For young children, it certainly is). For older kids, like those I teach, I'd say a more reasonable target is three years (though there are exceptions). The column neglects to mention that age is a pivotal factor, and that our ability to acquire language goes into a nosedive right around puberty. From reviewing NCLB dictates, I see no evidence whatsoever that who administer the law are aware of this.

Port Chester schools, the focus of this article, claim to be worried about the self-images of kids taking these tests. It seems far more likely they're worried what the inclusion of these kids will do to their statistics. It's unfortunate when concerns like that overshadow the welfare of kids, but that's an inevitable result of rampant high-stakes testing.

There is no mention whatsoever of high school kids, who've been required to take the NY State English Regents exam for years. It was absurd to raise the requirements for older kids before younger kids, and it once again showed a complete lack of familiarity with language acquisition. I can make kids pass the Regents Exam, but I could serve them far better by helping them acquire English. As things are, I endlessly drill them on a simplistic formula for earning a bare minimum score on a test, teaching them "writing skills" that are hardly appropriate for anything but the test.

Oddly, the article focuses on two kids who were actually born in the US. It's hard for me to see why they should be exempted. They should have learned English by now, particularly if they've been attending school. I regret that these kids may be "embarrassed" by their scores, but I have no idea how they spent so much of their young lives in ESL. Perhaps they were in so-called "bilingual" classes, where they got little or no exposure to English.

Unless they live in caves with no TV, or schools work full-time at keeping them there, or both, it's very hard for normal kids to avoid acquiring English--with time. But all kids need time, and NCLB needs to consider that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What's 1/3 Plus 1/4?

UFT President Randi Weingarten doesn't know. This may explain why she's so keen on contracts that fail to meet inflation, like the last two she accepted with little or no negotiation.

I'm no math whiz, but I was helping my fifth-grader convert fractions to common denominators and decimals two weeks ago. I've got a handle on that whole 3 times 4 thing.

As Rhoda Morgenstern said, "I don't like to brag, but I'm a high school graduate."

Thanks to Retired Teacher.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Quick, Let's Give it to Dalton)

Mayor Mike is all heart. Instead of leasing public parks to private schools for 30 years, he's going to try for 20 and see how that works out. Also, he's now proposing to give only 66% of the Randall's Island ballfields to private schools instead of 80%.

But no one has actually seen the proposed contract, according to Leonie Haimson, so whatever you may think, it's a tough call.

City Controller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer held a meeting to keep residents informed, at least as far as they're informed. Juan Gonzalalez writes:

Legally, Stringer and Thompson have no power to stop the deal. Both have a vote on the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, but Bloomberg controls four votes and doesn't need their support to get a contract approved. The mayor is even trying to change the rules of the franchise board so that its members can't review the details of any sole-source contract until the day of a vote.

Stringer initially wanted half of the Randalls Island fields set aside for the city's public schools. He was told the private schools would accept no less than two-thirds of the fields for their own students.

Our mayor, rather than dip into the city's huge surplus to finance the Randalls Island renovation directly, is only too happy to let the rich private schools buy their way into privileged access to a public park.

In East Harlem and the South Bronx, they're accustomed to after-Christmas sales, but now even the parks are up for grabs. What's next - carve your name in a tree for a fee?

Thanks to Schoolgal

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I'm really puzzled by this word. I've been watching kids begin and end their sentences with it for years.

"Yo, that's too much homework, yo."

And they find it absolutely unacceptable when I respond in kind:

"Yo, it's hot in summer school, yo. And please call me Mister Yo."

Which they do a lot lately.

"Yo" is often accompanied by very particular gesticulations, which can be startling coming from a kid who just arrived from South Korea two months ago. I mean, how come he can learn that so easily while the whole subject-verb thing is like a foreign language? I know, it is a foreign language. But so is "yo," yo.

Now my 10-year-old daughter's getting on the whole "yo" thing, but she only uses it at the end of sentences.

"I finished my book report, yo."

"What about your math, yo?"

"Daddy, you can't say that. Only kids say yo."

I'm not going to tell her about using it in the beginning of sentences. She's gonna have to learn it on the street, like I did.

Around the Blogs

Life in the Rubber Room

The rubber room is where accused NYC teachers end up while the DoE determines whether or not you actually did anything.

Get a firsthand perspective.

Thanks to Dr. Homeslice.

And don't miss the new Carnival of Education, hosted this week by Darren at Right on the Left Coast.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dues Deduction Without Representation is Tyranny

Most teachers don't know that Unity changed the UFT constitution to preclude high school teachers from selecting their own academic VP. This is because Mike Shulman committed the unpardonable sin of winning with New Action one year. That was back when New Action was a real opposition, before Randi bought Mike and the rest of them off with patronage jobs.

Let's circulate a petition in high schools only, asking for our right to choose our own leadership. Would New York find it acceptable if President Bush decided that Texas and Alaska would help us choose a governor from now on? I doubt it. Most teachers don't even know about this little piece of Unity-New Action non-democracy.

Elementary teachers outnumber us two-to-one, but I doubt they'd favor Unity's approach.

If anyone has any wording suggestions I'd appreciate it.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

David Asman, subbing for the host on Your World with Neil Cavuto, said the following:
Will a Japanese automaker topple GM? Toyota's expected to produce 8.4 million vehicles next year. That would top the 9.2 million GM's expected to produce.

It's Party Time

Ithaca, New York, invites you to spend winter recess there. From February 17th to 24th, they have all sorts of attractions and discounts to entice you.

“We’ve looked, and can’t find a city anywhere that’s tried this before,” said Fred Bonn, director of the Ithaca Tompkins Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s risky committing your entire town to a celebration of teaching, but we feel strongly about this. Ithaca is built on education. It’s our industry. With this event, we’re coming together as a community to acknowledge teachers across the state and say, thanks—we get it.”

The weeklong celebration offers a packed calendar of family events, headline concerts, theater performances, winter recreation, winery tours and more. Most events are free or steeply discounted for visiting educators. Among the notable speakers and performers:

  • Louis Sachar, author of the Newbery Medal-winning “Holes”
  • Bluegrass artists Rani Arbo and Jerry Douglas
  • Comedian and Tonight Show regular Jeff Dunham
  • Renowned concert violinist Leila Josefowicz
  • From the PBS Nova series, “The Elegant Universe,” physicist Sylvester James Gates

I'm a big Jerry Douglas fan. He plays dobro with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and if you haven't heard them yet, you oughta run out and buy their CDs. My favorite is So Long So Wrong, and they also have an excellent live double CD.

Thanks to Eduwonk

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas... all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ho Ho Ho

I want to wish everyone who's reading this a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Happening Kwanzaa. I also strongly suggest you take at least two days off for each of these holidays, whether or not you happen to subscribe to them.

It's important we express solidarity with other cultures. Also, we need to find additional tasks for Santa, who clearly has too much time on his hands.

Finally, here's a very cool holiday card, sent to me by Miss Cellania (whose site is required viewing this and every holiday season).

Joyous Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What Education Means to Mike and Joel

New York City parents roundly rejected Edison Schools. Still, Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein didn't get where they are today by caring what parents want, so a former Edison Schools president will become deputy chancellor.

Financially, education is a loser. It fails to turn a profit for the city. All it does it help kids prepare to take care of themselves in the future. But how does it make money for Wall Street? Klein and Bloomberg, by privatizing education, hope to deal with this issue. They've been unsuccessful at providing teachers for Wal-Mart wages, and they've had to pay for medical benefits, sick days, and pensions of many of those who actually taught kids. They don't want to do that anymore.

And that's why they want to privatize. Don't believe for one moment this is about helping kids. They could've done that a long time ago.

The NY Times said:

Edison's fortunes show that there is no cheap way to rescue failing schools and that the prospect of a swift turnaround and explosive educational progress was a mirage all along. The only way to improve public education is to provide every child with a bright, well-trained teacher and an orderly, well-run school. That tends to be labor-intensive — and expensive — and may never be profitable on the scale that the stock market requires.

Good teachers and well-run schools have been off the table for some time now. Mayor Mike, Klein and thier minions have other priorities. They don't want to pay for the attention special ed. kids need, and they surely don't want to pay for the attention my ESL kids need. They want to line the widgets up, sit them down, and get them out. They want to judge them by test scores, which they can raise as necessary (by lowering standards and picking who takes the tests). They don't want thoughtful teachers, but script-following automatons. They prefer shiny new gimmicks to demonstrable success stories.

Fortunately, they've got a willing partner in UFT President Randi Weingarten, who's enabled mayoral control, chipped away at teacher seniority, opened the door to merit pay, agreed to have teachers work the longest school year in the area (for probably the lowest pay), and who publicly forms committees to study contracts while actually accepting whatever comes down the pike. Most teachers are so demoralized they can't tell the difference.

Klein seeks to build on this, and we need someone who will stand up rather than collaborate. What can NYC parents do, now that they went and re-elected the guy? Write to him, write to the papers, and take to the streets with torches and pitchforks.

What can we do? Fortunately, we haven't voted yet. Let's dump Randi, dump Leo Casey, and dump the entire Unity-New Action patronage mill.

If not, be prepared for more bad news, and more even worse news.

Thanks to Schoolgal and Norm

Friday, December 22, 2006

Festivus Poles

I know it's late, but tis the season. Get yours quick, before time runs out. Both floor and table models are available.

Festivus delivery is still possible, or poles can be picked up in person at a convenient Milwaukee location. For extra credit, what made Milwaukee famous?

Seat Time

Mayor Bloomberg's administration, which raised an unholy brouhaha over social promotion, is now concerned, since its policy of not counting dropouts in graduation rates has come under fire. It's therefore come up with a creative strategy to pass more kids--give them credit for "seat time".

Unity-New Action mouthpiece Leo Casey does not think kids should get credit for simply being alive. As usual, he misses the point. The kids are getting credit for being in their chairs. Think of all the people Donald Trump has fired for being reckless and stupid. Had they just sat in their chairs, perhaps they could have avoided their unhappy fates.

Had Miss USA just sat in her chair, she wouldn't have had to endure all the melodrama all over the news the other day (and we wouldn't have had to watch her or the Donald). Had President Bush sat in his chair a little more, maybe we wouldn't be at war in Iraq. Perhaps if dictators throughout history had been issued La-Z-Boy Barca-loungers with full massage, the past wouldn't be so full of bloody massacres.

Why are we dressing down people for seat time? How many famous chairpersons have there been? Chairman Mao comes to mind. Now you may not like the guy, but you can't say he didn't do anything. And when that Democratic US Senator got sick, everyone fell all over themselves wondering who would chair all those committees.

Think of the benefits this concept has for polygamists, guys with women too young for them, or extremely dedicated TV aficionados. Why take Viagra? Tell your girlfriends and wives you've put in your "bed-time," and bring flowers from the all-night deli one of these days, maybe.

By paying the lowest wage in the area, hiring virtually anyone who met sub-minimum standards, getting waivers to hire people who couldn't pass basic competency exams, conducting intergalactic searches, and hiring via 800-numbers, this mayor has demonstrated that he does not much care who teaches kids in New York. By pressuring teachers to pass kids for the act of sitting, he's given us a very good idea of how much he cares what they do or do not learn.

And now, mayors across the country are vying to follow in his footsteps. Remarkable.

How much do you value "seat-time?" How much stock do you want your students and children to put in this idea?

Thanks to Norm

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Penguin Family Values

In Charlotte, NC, a school district has banned the book And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male penguins who cared for a baby penguin. Apparently they were concerned that Carolina penguins might start doing the same thing. After all, if male penguins start raising kids together, won't they attend fewer sporting events?

I, for one, applaud this approach as I have concerns about New York penguins. Now I don't like to brag, but it's well-known that New York penguins are very macho. In fact, I'd stack our penguins against their penguins anytime (though not in my living room).

Ridiculous, you say?

Isn't that Charlotte school board a little ridiculous too?

Postpone the Coronation

Uh-oh. A UFT office worker is suing UFT Prez Randi Weingarten and the union for 3 million bucks. Elsie Garcia, a UFT office worker, claims she was harrassed in the office for being Puerto Rican. Also, UFT press releases quote Weingarten as calling her "nearly destitute."

Apparently, not only teachers need to keep their mouths shut from time to time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

NYC Educator has been named one of the top 100 education blogs by Online Education Database.

And before you start laughing, it turns out there are more than 100 educational blogs. Here are a few (from the list) that I read:

Schools Matter
Education in Texas
History is Elementary
Jenny D.
This Week in Education

24 Thousand Bucks

Here's proof that good teachers, small classes, and decent facilities (like those used in Nassau) pay off.

A Lynbrook teen, now attending Nassau Community College, returned $24,000 in cash to a distraught Hewlett woman. What a selfless and noble act (doubtless the direct result of an excellent education).

What's happening in the city (where we have intergalactic recruitment and the largest class sizes in the state)? Yoko Ono's being blackmailed. People are killing themselves. Teachers are drunk and crazy. People are murdering one another over trash TV.

If only Randi and the Mayor would stop pushing bargain-basement band-aids and insist on good teachers, small classes, and decent facilities, I could get my own 24 thousand bucks back. Has anyone seen it? I left it somewhere in NYC the other night.


Didn't think so.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pursuit of Happiness

Mindy's mom wanted a change, so she sent Mindy out of state in mid-September. She paid someone to take care of her, and enrolled her in a school there.

Then, the mom became unhappy again, and decided to bring Mindy back. When the mom called our school, Mindy's guidance counselor advised her not to bring the girl back till February. That way, she could accumulate a few credits. The mom declined to follow this advice.

Two weeks ago, Mindy was placed in my class. I had one empty seat in the front, and that became Mindy's. Mindy said she didn't like it. That is my only class that has seats in rows, and I don't like to sit kids in the back. Also, there was no one in that area with whom Mindy could speak her native language. I thought the seat was perfect, but Mindy sat the entire period and did no work whatsoever.

Then, I didn't see her for the next six days. Mindy's mom called with an ultimatum--I needed to change her seat if I wanted her to come back. Evidently Mindy was traumatized by the awful seat and had cut in protest. As I'd already given the seat to someone else, I said fine. But I pointed out that I'd given a test and Mindy's grade was zero, as was her average. Her chances of passing my class were less than optimal.

I went up to look at her records. It turned out that Mindy had tested into a lower level than mine, so I arranged to have her class changed, and perhaps give her a better chance of passing.

The next day Mindy's mom called the counselor, claiming the class change had caused her daughter irreversible psychological damage.

She may never be the same. Cruel though I am (apparently), it's my guess Mindy has plans to be unhappy regardless of where she finds herself.

A Note from Schoolgal

Would it be possible to have a thread that can reach out to those in need or far away from home this holiday?

Here are some ideas that your posters can add to:

For our soldiers far away from their families this holiday season, Xerox has made it easy to send a card:

Let's Say Thanks

Do you have an empty jar at home?

Fill it with loose change and leave it in front of the door of someone who may need it.


Toys for Tots


Monday, December 18, 2006

Not Even in Jersey

New Jersey teacher David Paszkiewicz has an absolute right to believe his non-Christian high school students are bound for the eternal fires of hell. But he's got no right whatsoever to threaten them with such things.

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

I don't know if teachers who speak to children like that belong in hell. But they don't belong in public school classrooms either.

The student who recorded this teacher has been the subject of death threats, and the administration says they've taken "corrective action" against the teacher, whatever that means.

But this teacher needs to be removed from the classroom. No kid should hear such things from an authority figure in a public school, ever.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Blue Ribbon Panel

UFT President Randi Weingarten supported and enabled mayoral control. She later spoke against it, but declined to endorse Bloomberg's opponent in the next election (apparently in return for a contract). She helped create a monster, and it's growing every minute.

Bloomberg took the ball and ran with it. For a while, he made it seem as though he wanted to improve things. He took the LAST test, required for NY teacher certification, passed it, and then declared (correctly, in my view) that any high school graduate ought to be able to do so too.

He then sent Joel Klein to Albany to beg for the right to retain and hire thousands of teachers who'd failed that very test. He and Mr. Klein have perfected a science of moving kids from one school to another in order to emulate progress. When fourth grade scores go up and eighth grade scores go down, they declare victory.

Mayor Bloomberg made huge noises about ending social promotion in fourth grade. As a result, he held back roughly the same number of kids that got held back before he started complaining. To save money, he stopped offering required services. Another great vehicle for showing progress is his policy of removing dropouts from the graduation statistics.

In view of their accomplishments, Bloomberg and Klein were chosen for this prestigious panel--which brings us to the next most prominent member of the panel, ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Mr. Paige presided over the Texas Miracle, which also involved the Houdiniesque "disappearing dropout." Mr. Paige was later involved in paying journalists to push his policies, after which he quietly disappeared himself (from the Bush White House).

This distinguished panel has determined our best course is to have schools run by private companies, eliminate teacher pensions, and raise teacher salaries (to a level Nassau County reached years ago, and NYC will reach in two years). Thus, by giving with one hand and taking away with the other, they expect to draw more teachers.

I'm hoping the people we trust to teach our kids are smart enough to see through that, but who knows?

In any case, I like the CFE recommendations better: good teachers and smaller classes for all schoolchildren. They're simpler, don't aim to bamboozle anyone, and work very well where I live. However, the panel, which prominently includes people who historically prefer illusions to improvements, goes with unproven theories instead.

Of course I'm only a teacher and a public-school parent.

You'll never see the likes of me on a blue-ribbon panel.

Thanks to reality-based educator

Friday, December 15, 2006

Work Smarter

Mayor Bloomberg, faced with the enormous failure that is his cell-phone ban, is considering the placement of lockers outside schools in which phones can be stored. The storage charge would be 25 cents.

That's a good idea for days when searches are conducted. Many of us have to turn away and go home on those days.

For example, above you can see the contents of my briefcase on a typical school day. I'm often uneasy about bringing it into the building on search days. Sometimes I have to arrange to pass it to my associates through windows, and they invariably charge more than a quarter. If I could just stash it in a locker, I'd save a whole lot of angst, time and money.

After school I'd simply retrieve it, move to a street-corner (or back into the building after search), and sell it.

Thank you Mayor Mike, for yet another innovation. While you won't give teachers a cost-of-living raise, at least we know you're one businessman helping out another.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's My Charter and You're Fired If I Want To

It's very disappointing to read that charter proponents oppose card check for teachers. It tends to confirm some of my very worst suspicions about them--that they can be, or aspire to be blatant union-busters. The only reason to oppose card check is to prevent unionization, and opponents neither have nor offer any other rationale.

Card check is an easy method for working people to decide whether or not they wish to be unionized, without being intimidated by employers. Workers have an absolute right to join unions. It isn't always prudent to risk your job to preserve your rights. Can you imagine going against a monolith like Wal-Mart by yourself? They've closed entire departments and stores rather than admit unions.

Anyone thinks NYC charter leaders won't intimidate teachers is unfamiliar with the story of Nicole Byrne Lau, who received universally excellent ratings until she started telling her colleagues how much UFT teachers were paid. Suddenly, she was denounced in the press as a child-hating racist, though there was no evidence whatsoever to support this claim.

Governor Pataki (whom the UFT supported against public school supporter Carl McCall) is now involved in a complicated dance to raise the charter cap. Few people seem to know that the last bill to raise the charter cap entitled Mayor Bloomberg to convert existing schools into charters without parental consent (or that this option existed only in NYC). For more info, read Class Size Matters' position paper on charters. Will the new bill include that clause?

The Unity-New Action gang is obliged to support charters since they're the brainchild of Albert Shanker, the forward-thinking fellow who tossed people out of the Unity Caucus for opposing the Vietnam war. While he also made positive steps, I won't be placing his statue on my dashboard anytime soon.

I like the idea of innovative small schools. I like the idea of alternatives. I placed my daughter in an excellent program at her public school that's got her fully fluent in Spanish at age 10.

But I do not support diverting further resources of what was once a state-of-the-art school system, and it's high time to reverse over thirty years of systematic neglect. Let's fix the system for NYC's 1.1 million kids before we invest in charters. Let's serve the many before the few. We can start by emulating excellent schools just east of the Nassau border, which rely on neither charters, vouchers, merit pay, nor intergalactic recruitment.

And let's stop chipping away at unionism, because one day the kids we raise and teach will have to work too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Carnival

Over at Education Wonk's place.

Check it out.

Daily News Cries Poverty

The Daily News claims that a third of the 1.9 billion dollar CFE award will be frittered away paying teachers. What an awful waste of education dollars.

That's disingenuous and bizarre logic. The contract Bloomie negotiated with the UFT appeared before CFE was resolved. It's far more likely canny Bloomie was trying to avoid paying any part of it toward teacher salaries.

Also, since the contract followed lockstep with what DC37 got (due to the supreme reluctance of Randi Weingarten to negotiate), it was more or less a foregone conclusion teachers would get just such a raise.

The city would have had to come up with that money whether or not the CFE suit came through with a single dime. He and Randi, in fact, precluded the possibility of a single cent of this settlement going to working teachers, regardless of quality.

Bloomberg is sitting on billions. It's unconscionable that he can't come up with cost of living for working people, worse that our leaders won' t even ask for it, and preposterous that the New York Daily News seems to find it inappropriate to invest in teachers for the 1.1 million kids who attend public schools.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Call Out the Reserves

The Absent Teacher Reserves, that is. Klein is closing 5 more failing high schools, and replacing them with 25 "small schools" that no one will want to attend.

Among these schools is Lafayette, headed by desperate principal Jolanta Rohloff. As Ms. Rohloff and 3 of the others heading the failing schools are Leadership Academy graduates, the chancellor will give them other positions, rather than publicly vilifying them (as he did to administrators of other failing schools).

After all, since Klein and Bloomberg are never wrong, graduates of the Leadership academy can never be wrong either. Meanwhile, half the teachers of these schools will be sent out as full-time salaried subs, regardless of how well they may teach. Teaching Fellows who are not retained will be fired and dropped from their college programs (though Teacher J reminds me that won't happen again till next year).

It's all about appearance. And though my 250% capacity building will get an extra 500 students next year, the tabloids will continue to sing the praises of this mayor.

I guess he can keep sending us kids until we're bad enough to break up.

Thanks, Mayor Mike. The kids at my school, along with the parents who heavily invested in the neighborhood, salute you. So do the mayors in LA and DC. The strategy of appearing to be improving things by moving kids from place to place is a huge political winner.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ever Want to Smack Someone?

I mean, you've tried explaining things, you've given examples, and you've done everything within your power. Still, you can't just go around slapping sense into people. Or can you?

Remember, don't try this at home (or at work either). Instead, pop over and visit Miss Cellania, from whom I stole the link in the first place.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In the Bag

People will often select a home in Long Island because the school district is extraordinary. They pay more, but they feel it's worth it. Others try do the same thing in NYC, but it's more challenging.

Due to inexplicably complicated maps, one building may be zoned for one elementary school, while every other building on the block may be zoned for another. The prospect of your kid spending years in a bad school can really ruin your day (if not your life). You can console yourself, like Deputy Chancellor Alonso, by heaping all blame on teachers. Still, that only goes so far.

Fortunately, city officials say they're going to do something about this. It's not like they haven't done anything yet. For the last five years they've been studiously ignoring the situation, and doing a damn fine job of it.

That's why mayors in LA and DC want to emulate Mayor Mike. If only they can figure out how to ignore the schools and garner reputations as "reformers," their political futures will be in the bag.

With any luck, no one will ask what else is in that bag.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

To Teach Grammar or Not to Teach Grammar...

A Kentucky eighth-grade teacher is enjoying some notoriety for teaching grammar, which is largely outmoded. I've been told since I started teaching 22 years ago that this was a huge no-no.

I've got decidedly mixed feelings. As an ESL teacher, I insist on teaching grammar. There is simply no way kids will learn to write acceptably without knowing and practicing the rules. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool, a robotic administrator, or both.

Although my first license was in English, I taught it for a very short time. The kids I taught were clueless about grammar, and I was inclined to teach them. However, if they'd known the rules I wouldn't have bothered.

I was taught rules about punctuation in first and second grade, and I never thought much about grammar till I started teaching. But I read a lot as a kid, and I think that helped me know the rules, even though I couldn't have explained them. Ideally, all kids would do that.

In New York City, though, conditions have been less than ideal as long as I can recall. I would teach grammar to American teenagers if they needed it.

Should we teach grammar as a matter of course? Or can we produce readers early and render it unnecessary?

Related: See what Graycie has to say.

Does Leo Casey Wear a Leisure Suit?

The UFT brass has notified me it's outraged that ESL students are being forced to take the same fourth and eighth grade tests as American kids. They urge you to sign a petition opposing it, which I will.

As usual, the Unity-New Action crowd is a decade behind the times. High school ESL kids have been taking the same English Regents exam as American kids for years. I often see them programmed for two test-prep classes and no ESL classes as a result. Here's what Unity-New Action has had to say about that.

Unity-New Action works tirelessly to ensure your salary is right where Herricks was ten years ago, that we remain ten years behind the times, and I've no doubt we just voted to continue the tradition.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rupert's Sensitive Reporters

The New York Post has become quite an advocate for special ed. students over the last few days. One student, apparently, cried when horrorshow principal Jolanta Rohloff failed to encourage him to get a non-Regents diploma. Not only that, but she also reduced his grade, which may be illegal.

Tragic though that may be, I've sent two New York Post reporters stories about special ed. students who've assaulted their teachers, which is illegal. It appears the Post reporters didn't want to hurt the kids' feelings by investigating or reporting their actions. After all, if the kids weren't allowed to continue harassing and terrorizing their teachers, it might adversely affect their self-esteem.

It's gratifying to see what a big heart Rupert Murdoch has developed lately, and I hope someday to see these kids working alongside Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. They couldn't do any worse than faux-liberal Colmes, and Rupert could gain many new viewers if he allowed the kids camera time to show Bill and Sean what they learned in school.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mayor Mike Doesn't Like to Wait

Mayor Mike is rumored to be so angry he let not one, but two half-caf mocha cappuccinos grow cold as he fumed over this. Apparently, his plan to build schools in the Bronx has been put on hold because a few Bronx folks have the audacity to ask who's going to be allowed to attend.

What's wrong with these people? Who can attend? Whoever the hell Mayor Mike says can attend, that's who.

Large parts of the city, including all of Manhattan, most of the Bronx and much of Brooklyn, no longer have geographically zoned high schools. Such schools can still be found in most of Queens and on Staten Island. Students who live in such neighborhoods are guaranteed a place in their zoned school, if they list it as one of their choices.

Ms. Katz, whose district includes Forest Hills, said that council members were increasingly frustrated that their constituents did not necessarily benefit from schools built in their neighborhood. “The issue is an important one for many council members,” she said.

Ms. Arroyo’s opposition infuriated South Bronx Churches, a coalition of neighborhood congregations, nonprofit agencies and tenant and homeowner groups that pushed the administration to build the complex, which is intended to serve 1,767 children in two high schools, a school for Grades 6 to 12 and a charter school for Grades 5 to 8.

“She has changed her reasons for the objection to this campus every time that she has been given the opportunity,” said Marielys Divanne, an organizer with South Bronx Churches who helped develop the plan. “Children of the South Bronx will benefit from this campus, and stopping it is just harming them.”

That's absolutely right. The South Bronx children Mayor Mike says can go to this school could go, if they'd only let him build it. Mayor Mike knows how many ought to get in. That's why we gave him mayoral control. The rest can go where the hell he sends them, and ought to be grateful he doesn't send them someplace worse. Mayoral control is what they wanted, and mayoral control is what they're gonna get.

UFT President Randi Weingarten didn't support mayoral control because she wanted checks and balances. She supported it to get a mediocre contract for teachers, and to maintain the half-century old patronage mill that enables her and her Unity-New Actionbuds to go to lots of gala luncheons and get their pictures in the paper.

Limos aren't just for Mayor Mike, you know. And they don't grow on trees either, so let's get with the program, people.

How are we supposed to make our shiny new schools look good if we admit every bootless and unhorsed yahoo that comes down the pike? And jeez, willya stop moaning about that mercury and lead in the soil already? City kids are tough.

Mayor Mike Saves on Gym Equipment

Here's part of an email I received yesterday:

A friend of mine is a teacher with 30 years of service for NYC. She was assaulted by a 6'2" HS student with a cane three weeks ago. The incident occurred at the Bronx Theatre High School, housed at JFK School in the Bronx, formerly named on the "Persistently Dangerous Schools" watchlist.

The school has refused to expel or transfer the student who is now on a brief suspension at Morris High School and will return to the school shortly. Criminal charges (assault in the second degree) have been filed and police are looking for him. Detectives, upon contacting Bronx Theater to find out the student's whereabouts, were told by the school principal that they cannot tell detectives his whereabouts...

She has been diagnosed by a mental health professional given her by Victim Support with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and she is suffering flashbacks and nightmares from this horrible incident.
To add insult to injury, she has just been informed by the Department of Education Medical Leave Bureau that she is not entitled to leave, that she should return to school, and that her pay is going to be docked for all the days she has been out.

I'm wondering whether this is becoming par for the course, given the unspeakable treatment Ms. C. has been subject to.

Another city teacher writes a blog called Bright Minds. I don't imagine she envisioned the mind of someone who would threaten to stab her and then be returned to continue her academic career. The young student's "education" now includes the wisdom imparted by Leadership Academy graduates:

"Now that's not nice. Please don't threaten to stab your teacher. And it's not polite to knock your teacher out in front of the class. Also, it's bad manners to assault teachers with canes. Now go back to class and be good boys and girls".
Where would we be without such role models? With any luck, we'd be in a nearby suburb, where no such nonsense is tolerated.

It's incredible that administrators are so self-serving and idiotic. Protecting staff, like protecting students, counts nowhere near as much as protecting their bonuses. These people don't deserve bonuses. They deserve to share cells with the criminals they protect.

But that's not what happens under a merit pay system.


The Carnival of Education, that is, cleverly written over at History is Elementary.

It's right here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Good Enough for City Kids

Public school reformer Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on his merry way toward constructing four Bronx schools on a toxic dump site. This will give the science classes lots of real-world experimentation possibilities. After all, three-eyed mice are more colorful and interesting than the mundane variety that infest typical classrooms.

And what better way is there to encourage reading than providing kids with bodies that glow in the dark? Mayor Mike knows how tough it is for working families to pay electric bills, and now those lazy teachers will have even fewer excuses for their miserable failures.

The city council has only 20 days to review the plan. rather than the 60 it asked for.

“It’s a toxic site,” said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin. “I think appropriate remediation is possible, but we have to be able to look these parents in the eye and tell them their kids are going to be safe.”

I don't see what the problem is. Mayor Bloomberg has looked the city in the eye before and claimed to have reduced class sizes before, when in fact he'd done no such thing. The Mayor's odd calculation methods are regularly refuted by the state.

But this mayor has proven that in NYC, words matter. Results are largely neglected by local papers anyway. That's why this mayor is considered a visionary, despite his utter lack of substantive accomplishment.

Thanks to Patrick

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

From the Rumor Mill

Unity will cross-endorse New Action candidates for the UFT executive board in order to oust any true dissent. As you may know, New Action is a spoiler party, full of unprincipled slime that pretends to be opposition.

By placing them on the ballot, people can kid themselves that they're voting for change while they're actually helping perpetuate Unity's 50-year stranglehold on our union. New Action also shares the benefits of the Unity patronage mill, getting jobs and second pensions, which working teachers are compelled to pay for.

New Action is an unprincipled, unconscionable farce. It now exists only to enable Unity's unhealthy stranglehold on our union.

He's Just Misunderstood

If you want an example of just how Klein's paranoiac administrators back up teachers, read Ms. C. over at Teach You a Lesson. I honestly don't see how she pulls herself out of bed each morning to deal with such outrageous nonsense.

After having been assaulted by a student, the kid has been allowed back, where he roams the halls at will and harasses her regularly, with no viable consequence in sight. Ms. C. boldly teaches special ed., and her school sees fit to permit kids such options. Personally, I don't see how enabling plainly criminal behavior helps special ed. kids or anyone else, but I lack the expertise of her trained administrators. Clearly, they know better.

If you have any encouraging words or concrete suggestions, please jump over and help her out.

On the Job 2

It's fairly tedious standing around in a corridor for 45 minutes a day. After a conversation with a dean, I decided to stop every single kid walking down the hall who didn't carry a pass.

I learned that most of the kids walking down the hall claimed to be going to lunch, but that a good half of them were walking the wrong way. I started sending them the right way. This did not sit well with the dean near the lunchroom, who put up a gate and made every kid walk around the entire school to get to the lunchroom. This tended to waste quite a bit of my time.

Meanwhile, I pursued the kids who refused to stop and caught every one of them, writing them up and dragging them to the dean's office. I got a letter in my file saying what a great job I was doing, and due to the new contract I couldn't even grieve it.

Once, I chased a kid all over the building, and a dean, who knew her name, sent her to lunch rather than to the dean's office. He explained that if she didn't get lunch it would be "another issue." The special ed. dean said they would not pursue this, as there was a "much more important" case pending against the young woman.

A colleague told me his approach was to challenge only kids who were not moving. "If they're moving, they're going somewhere," he said. I decided to adopt this policy.

The other day, a kid stood outside a nearby door. He said he was going to lunch. I told him to go then. He refused. I asked for his ID and he finally started to move. The AP of security was at the end of the hall, and I asked him to stop the kid. He gave the kid a lecture on what a great job I was doing, then allowed him to go to lunch. He told me to write it up on the hall patrol rather than in the office so that I wouldn't miss anything.

I don't particularly understand why they want us to do jobs better suited for scarecrows. But I'm not wasting another minute enforcing rules for people too lazy to back me up.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mayor Mike's Seal of Approval

Mayor Bloomberg says schools are overcrowded because they're too good. He's partially right. Good schools are frequently overcrowded. Of course, many seats in his new "small" schools go wanting, because who wants to go to a bad school with five new names?

Still, it's rough to get into the good schools, so what's a parent to do? According to the Post, they're getting very creative. Innovative parents include:

* A Brooklyn mom who rents a phantom apartment to get her child into a high-performing school.

* A parent who uses a relative's address to sneak her child into a better school only two blocks from her zoned school.

* A mom who lives in a Chelsea housing project and uses a friend's address to get her youngest son into one of the city's best schools.

And these kids are trying to squeeze into sought-after schools that are already bursting at the seams and are fleeing schools that in many cases are half empty.

Working out of one of those bursting-at-the-seams schools, I can't say I'm surprised. However, the tactics of these parents suggest there are still a whole lot of undesirable schools around the city. It's remarkable no one seemed aware of this when Mayor Mike ran for re-election.

I'm certain that my school will become quite undesirable if Mayor Mike doesn't stop cramming it full of people. If we ever have a fire, everyone will know what he's doing.

I continue to hope against hope it doesn't come to that.

Thanks to Schoolgal.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The proposed new UFT contract looks very good when it's compared to the last one. After all, there are no obvious new givebacks.

The problem, of course, is we've already given back the moon, the sun, and the stars. And we've done so for less than cost of living. I cannot, in good conscience, endorse a plan that condemns us to another two years of hall patrol, potty patrol, and lunch duty. I cannot endorse a contract that continues to enable the chancellor to fire Teaching Fellows for the offense of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nor can I vote for a contract that condemns senior teachers to ATR status for the same offense.

I don't delude myself that we will prevail. And I agree with Schoolgal that the more significant battle is unseating the autocratic, arrogant and entrenched UFT patronage mill.

But we pay Unity/ New Action hacks more than working teachers precisely so they can negotiate better contracts for us. This they have failed to even attempt on our behalf. Send them a message that you expect more.

I remember an episode of All in the Family in which Archie says, "Whoop-de-doo, I got a 3% raise." His son in law Mike points out that cost of living is higher, and that he's therefore receiving a pay cut. The audience understands this, of course.

Do 80,000 New York City teachers understand that cost of living is higher here than in the rest of the country? Thus far it's 5.2% in 2006, the proposed raise is 3.5% a year, and it's even less if you consider the first year is only 2%. Are we capable of basic, obvious math, or are we going to say, "Whoop-de-doo" to the cynical and indifferent Unity/ New Action monopoly?

Send them a message now, and prepare to send them a stronger one when they muster the audacity to run again. Vote early. Vote often.

Vote No.

Next to Godliness

But Norys Perez, who walked into an attendance office at the High School for International Business and Finance in Washington Heights at an inopportune moment, may not see it that way. Ms. Perez claims to have seen a female assistant principal standing by while a male aide "washed his private part."

Ms. Perez was told by her supervisors to report the incident, and two weeks later found herself banned from the school. Now, though she's found employment elsewhere, she wants her job back.

Why that is I have no idea .

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Four Girls

They sit plotting against me, just waiting for a moment to pounce. And they’re not just any girls, they’re smart ones—you know, the kind that not only register every word you say, but remember them, so as to use them against you when you least expect it.

Yesterday, I heard one of them speaking Chinese, which is not permitted in my ESL classes. I finally had her with the goods. “I heard something I didn’t like from that chair,” I announced, confidently pointing to the offending party.

But her friend had her back. She stood, turned to the chair, and said, “Why are you speaking Chinese, chair?”

Her companions instantly joined her.

“You know the teacher doesn’t like that.”

“I’ve never liked that chair.”

“That chair is always causing trouble.”

They all stood there, relentlessly scolding the chair, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

They win again.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Family that Watches Together...

There's a species of parent that truly disturbs me. That's the one that comes in and tells me, "He comes home, closes the door, and sits and watches the TV all night." There are variations, of course. "All she does is go to My Space and talk to her friends in ___________ (whatever country she comes from).

My solution is simple. Throw the TV/ Computer/ Playstation/ Cellphone/ Ipod, or whatever out the window. If that's too drastic, or too costly, the next best thing is to leave it with a friend. But parents say,"Oh I couldn't do that." No amount of argument on my part seems to dissuade this position.

I believe in drama, and assuming it fit, I wouldn't hesitate to toss a television out the window if my kid were watching it in lieu of doing homework. Fortunately, my kid doesn't have a TV in her room. My mother-in-law, who occasionally shares my daughter's room, laments she's the only child in America without one. She favors my sister-in-law's home, which doesn't suffer from such unacceptable drawbacks.

Thus, she generally ends up sharing a room with my 15-year-old niece. And when my niece gives birth in a few weeks, the three of them can all enjoy her TV together.

My hapless 10-year-old seems destined for years of deprivation.

Also: Check out the Carnival of Education, hosted this week by A History Teacher.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mayor Mike Finds New Locales for Public Schools

While stadiums, museums, and private schools find space in the city somehow, NYC's 1.1 million schoolkids are being set up for relocation in the brownfields of NYC. Leonie (of Class Size Matters) and regular poster Patrick have heard denials of such plans.

Why then, would a press release like this one show up?

Next week the City will ask the City Council to approve its plans to build

four schools on a contaminated property in the South Bronx. The proposed

property, referred to as the Mott Haven Site, contains many dangerous

toxins buried underground including mercury, lead, and the suspected

carcinogen benzene.

While the City has a plan to clean the site, independent environmental

engineers have raised significant concerns about aspects of the plan, and

have suggested that more could and should be done. To date the City has

displayed an unwillingness to address these issues to the satisfaction of

community members from a community already overburdened by health

issues related to asthma and cancer.

Furthermore studies show that exposure to certain chemicals, including those

found at the Mott Haven site, are linked to learning disabilities and other

adverse health effects.

Funny, ain't it? They claim Pataki blocked CFE, when they did. They claim to have reduced class size, when they haven't. They focus on higher test scores in fourth grade, and ignore the lower ones in 8th.

Yet they have nothing but good PR. If my union had 10% of Bloomberg's canniness, teachers would all be able to quit their second jobs, and possibly their third ones too.

And perhaps the highest class sizes in the country would be a mere unpleasant memory.