Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NYC Educator's Boarding House

Mayor Bloomberg is going to add twenty small schools next year. 10 of them will be in 2 buildings that he's shutting down. The other 10 will be, well, he doesn't know where they will be.

Personally, I've decided to follow in his footsteps. I'm going to take my three bedroom home and convert it into a thirty bedroom home. First, I'm going to put up dividers in each bedroom to make sure that everyone has their own room. Then, I'm going to put an air mattress in each room, as full size beds are out of the question.

I'm going to equip each bedroom with a lamp, and run extension cords under the floors so that everyone gets a hot plate. Or maybe I'll split up the kitchen, and everyone can get a shelf in the fridge. It'll be kind of like being a college student again. I'll make up a snappy motto like "Renters First," and squeeze in as many as I can.

My boarding house will have everything. It'll be kind of like living in a third-world country while staying in the US. So, let's do the math---three times five is fifteen. I don't know where the other fifteen will be.

Excuse me. I gotta go take a look at the crawl space.

An Outrage

I was once a short-order cook, and I have often amazed people by making perfect omelets. But here's the thing--many short order cooks don't even know what an omelet is.

To make an omelet, you have to first put the eggs in the pan, and when they firm up a little bit, you add ingredients (spinach and feta cheese, for example) to one half of the mixture. After a while, you fold the other half onto your ingredients, slide it out of the pan and onto a dish, and serve.

You cannot mix the ingredients into the eggs and then fry the whole mess unattended until it is hard as a rock. This should be a felony.

If this is what you think an omelet is, you have never eaten one, so you should not ever attempt to make one.

All over the country people are making things like this and calling them omelets. It's simply un-American.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Looking for a House?

Consider not becoming a teacher. It can be rough to pay for a half-million dollar home when you're making 40 grand a year. Over on this coast, you might be able to find something in Nassau County for a mere 400K, but be prepared to shell out another 8 or 10 thousand for local taxes.

If you want to live near where I work (we could do lunch), be prepared to shell out closer to a mil. But Mayor Mike has really kept those taxes down, so it won't be more than 3K a year.

You could always look into a fixer-upper, I guess.

Who Killed the CFE Lawsuit?

The CFE lawsuit promised to bring NYC children good teachers, smaller classes, and decent facilities. For years I walked around convinced that substantive change was coming to our system, despite the babbling of various self-serving politicians. But now I think it's nothing but a fond memory.

There are a lot of suspects.

Was it Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Mayor Bloomberg strongly supported the idea of the infusion of capital. However, when the judge said the city might have to pay a portion, he decided decent education was too expensive. His representative said if the city were asked to pay any portion whatsoever, it would say no thank you to the whole deal.

Was it ex-Governor George Pataki? To his credit, Governor Pataki immediately offered to shoulder 60% of the award. He probably could have come up a little, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to pay a dime. As a result, he appealed the decision.

Was it the judges? One of them decided an eighth-grade education was good enough for New York City kids, and that our sole obligation was preparing them for a career in fast food. When the mayor refused to kick in dime one, another decided to cut the award by two-thirds and ensure there was no oversight in how the city spent the money.

Was it UFT President Randi Weingarten? Though Ms. Weingarten speaks about class size frequently, she negotiated two contracts under the spectre of the CFE lawsuit, and made no effort whatsoever to enforce reductions. She continues to push petitions and letter-writing campaigns knowing that any ballot proposal she wins is subject to the mayor's veto. The mayor has singlehandedly killed referendums before, and there's nothing to indicate he won't do so again.

Was it Governor Eliot Spitzer? The new governor promised great things for NYC schools. He promised to force Mayor Bloomberg to kick into any award. Gone is all such talk, and now he's kicking in money, but offering a menu of "improvements." They can reduce class size, but they can also increase the school year or day or offer "other changes in scheduling."

On teacher quality:

In a call for better teacher preparation, Mr. Spitzer said the state should offer expanded alternative certification programs to increase the number of teachers entering the profession without traditional training.

Mr. Spitzer, perhaps, is the only person on earth unfamiliar with the results of New York City's thirty-year program of intergalactic recruitment. While such programs swell the ranks of teachers and artificially depress New York City salaries, I don't see anyone standing up and praising Chancellor Klein for retaining teachers who've failed basic competency tests, often dozens of times. The overwhelming majority of internationally-recruited teachers turned tail and fled when they got a whiff of the cost of living here in fun city.

Mr. Spitzer has also taken a stand supporting Mayor Bloomberg's demand that test scores become part of tenure reviews, despite Randi Weingarten's prominent protestations. So much for the clout of the so-called "powerful teachers' union."

After years of resisting class size reduction, I see no reason why Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein would embrace it if not forced. It's likely their "other changes in scheduling" will be smoke and mirrors, or further privatization of the public schools. What will they do with the money? Hire extra levels of administrators? Construct schools on toxic waste sites? Invest in cutesy programs like Everyday Math? Who knows?

One thing appears certain--there will be no significant reduction in class sizes unless and until it is mandated, one way or another. The last best opportunity to have done so was during contract negotiations with the UFT.

The next best chance will be with a new mayor. And if teachers are really serious about this, they'll elect a new union president who values education even more than the half-century old UFT patronage mill.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Think Before You Write

That's just one thing I tell my hapless ESL students when they're facing the NY English Regents. The test is not designed for them, and they shouldn't have to take it. But that's not why I brought this up. When constructing an argument, you need to be careful, and anticipate what the other side may say.

For example, today's Daily News features a rather brutal attack on UFT Prez Randi Weingarten. First, it quotes her on class size reform:

"We need this more than anything else - the only reform that has never
been tried systemically in New York City, and that is a real lowering of class
size," Weingarten told lawmakers, seeking to have them set aside $1 billion just
for class size cuts.

Ms. Weingarten is very, very smart (no sarcasm here--I've seen her speak), and ought to have known she was setting herself up for this:

First, consider the truthiness of Weingarten's claim that this is the
only reform that's never really been tried. Let's see here. The schools have
never implemented a serious performance-pay plan for teachers. Or taken on
teacher tenure. Or substantially lengthened the school day or year. Or opened a
large number of charter schools.

There are many other reforms that have never been tried, like having classrooms in Wal-Mart and making teachers fold shirts between classes. Nor has anyone tried paying teachers minimum wage and hoping they wouldn't get snatched up by Burger King (where the food beats NYC cafeteria fare hands down).

A stronger argument against Ms. Weingarten's sincerity is the fact that she's consistently declined to make class size a part of contract negotiations (although quote two of the Daily News E-opinion section features some weirdo named "NYC Educator" making that very point). It's important to note (again) that class sizes are only as low as they are because of clauses in the UFT contract that are 30 or 40 years old.

I strongly support reducing class sizes, and I would like to see class size made a priority for those CFE funds. Unfortunately, the CFE verdict suggested there would be no oversight in how the funds were spent. This bodes ill for class size advocates.

And speaking of real class size advocates, don't miss Leonie Haimson's take on the News editorial.

Marching for Mayor Mike

Mayor Michael Bloomberg now proposes a "fair funding" plan, calculated to make it inconvenient to hire senior teachers. Principals will be able to hire two newbies for the price of one vet (Thanks to Schoolgal).

UFT President Randi Weingarten has spoken up against it, but had she not enabled mayoral control and the demise of seniority-based placement, it would not even be an issue.

Some schools, apparently, are staffed almost entirely by new teachers. While I've seen a lot of very good ones, I still think they can learn a lot from experienced colleagues (I know I did). Unfortunately, those nasty teacher unions insist that 20 years experience carry a price tag. If Mayor Mike were only able to get rid of salary scales and institute merit pay, he could ensure that no teacher lasted more than five years and eliminate pensions altogether.

When kids failed tests, he could simply blame the teachers and hire new ones. It would be perfect.

Are newbies any better off? You decide. Here's an email I received this morning:

I was accepted as a Midyear Fellow this year, and accepted my position. I completely picked up and relocated to New York City for the program and set up home in Queens. I started my training in December. I was never late to any sessions and always did the work that I was asked to do.

For the first few weeks of the program, I was subletting so that I could have the safety net of going back to my parents' house in case things didn't work out. At the midpoint evaluations, I was told that I was doing fine, so I went ahead and signed a lease for an apartment.

After that, the program's actions really left me in a bind. I had a field observer who decided on a whim that he didn't like my classroom management skills and then proceeded to complain to the office.
When I asked repeatedly what my status in the program was, I was told not to worry about being removed from the program. This happened repeatedly when I asked for feedback on how I was doing in the program.

I finished my training period and spent the entire week afterwards taking interviews for teaching jobs. I also made two trips to my assigned university to get things set up there; I was even given an ID card and registered for classes. I then received a call tonight from the program essentially telling me that my evaluations led those in the office to believe that I was not ready to teach and that they had removed me from the program and removed me from my university classes.

I asked if there was anything that I could do as far as further training or ways that I could work to improve upon their concerns and was basically told that I was not eligible to apply for the Fellows program ever again and that they basically never wanted to see me again.

Bear in mind that when I got my apartment, I was also required to submit a proof of income letter to my landlord. The Fellows program gave me a letter that said that I would be eligible to teach beginning January 22nd and making over 40,000 dollars without any fine print saying that it was contingent upon successful completion of training.

They also allowed me to go to interviews at schools all of this week, which was a waste of my valuable time and a waste of principals' time if they were unable to hire me. Since I spent so much time searching for a teaching job, I was unable to even begin looking for other jobs and now am stuck with no way to make my rent and bills.

I feel as if I was very much wronged by the program and am writing to make you aware of this situation so that you can blog about it and make others beware of the Teaching Fellows program.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Bottom Line

Though I've been accused otherwise, I'm not anti-test. Really, you need demonstrable evidence that kids are doing well (or poorly) in your classes, and grades are something it's hard to argue with. But is testing the be-all and end-all? I don't think so.

Unfortunately, when your principal's merit pay is on the line, everything else goes out the window.

"The kids can't tell you who the president was during the Civil War," she said. "But they can tell you how to eliminate answers on a multiple-choice test. And as long as our test scores are up, everyone will be happy.

"That's education?"

The teacher, who requested anonymity, said she was ordered by her principal to "forget about everything except test prep" over the four weeks prior to this month's statewide English tests.

"All anyone cares about now are test scores," she lamented.

It's useful for kids to be able to eliminate incorrect multiple choice answers. It shows resourcefulness and cleverness, too. But I really believe in the saying "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." Test scores are important. No doubt about it. I want my kid to do well on tests, and I'll help her any way I can.

But that's not all there is. I'd like her to know there's history, and music, and art, and that she can be part of all these things. Do you want that for your kids too, or am I some wild-eyed extreme-liberal hippie pinko lunatic?

Thanks to Schoolgal

Saturday, January 27, 2007


The computer guy at our school is a genius. If you bring him your sick laptop, he can just smell it and tell you exactly what's wrong. That's why I've always followed his advice without any questions whatsoever. But I think he may have software issues.

I travel a lot, and I'm writing this from Stroudsburg, PA. But it's a miracle I ever got here. Usually, I rely on Mapquest for directions, print them out and go. But lately, I've been considering one of those GPS units you plug onto your dashboard. Computer guy said to get Microsoft Streets and Trips with GPS, and save a few hundred bucks. So I picked it up, and bought a convertor to power the laptop in the car.

Yesterday, I was on I-80 west, on my way here, when the woman in my computer suggested a shortcut through Hackensack (or some other NJ garden spot). She took me up a road, and every time the road turned said things like "Bear left in 2/10ths of a mile." She then took me to a traffic circle, had me turn around, go back the other way, and drive all the way back to I-80.

While she's a computer and all, my inadequate human brain could not comprehend the wisdom of having driven around darkest Jersey for an extra 30 minutes. When she told me to get off again, I looked her right in her GPS screen, and told her, "Forget it."

She was mad, so when we got here, she took me in a circle all over town and refused to show me where the hotel was. I had to get out at a convenience store and ask for directions. Neither my wife, my daughter, nor my young nephew was impressed with the space-age technology I'd inflicted upon them.

What's the moral of this story? I couldn't tell you. But Instructivist says math is taught exactly like this GPS program works, and what's more, he's got a video to prove it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Upstairs Downstairs

It's campaign season again for the United Federation of Teachers. UFT President Randi Weingarten is spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of our dues dollars, on a professionally produced TV commercial that appears on Law and Order, the Today show, and who knows what else. It makes passing mention of class size, which Ms. Weingarten failed to bring up in contract negotiations, urges the public to listen to teachers, then posts Ms. Weingarten's name prominently for all the world to see.

This is not the sort of message that keeps us from being vilified in the press, nor is it designed to do so (Dues money is not wasted on such things). Like previous UFT commercials (that also appeared during UFT campaigns) with messages like "It's not fair" (really), these commercials are aimed at The Help. That's you and me.

When The Help gets uppity, it sometimes runs candidates against Ms. Weingarten. I'm not talking about New Action (who now know their place) but ICE-TJC, which actually opposes her and is not beholden with patronage jobs. Sometimes The Help just doesn't do what it's told (and it's hard to get good Help nowadays).

Here's one example, from a comment Teacher J made last night:

NYCE, please help me get my head around our mafia-style teacher's union.

Another teacher at my school who's a member of TJC, the opposition to Unity/NA in the coming elections, was putting leaflets in the teacher mailboxes of another school in our building. Later, he gets hauled into a room to be scolded by the principal of our school, the principal of the other school, and the chapter chair of the other school, who all essentially told him that they had taken the leaflets out of the mailbox and thrown them away, and that they were going to try to get a letter put in his file. He pointed out that DoE policy explicitly protects campaign activities if done outside work hours (he put the leaflets in the mailboxes during his lunch period). They replied in so many words that what he was doing was reprehensible and the principal has to authorize what teachers receive in their mailboxes.

What do you and your readers think this teacher can do to allow his democratic rights to be respected by the school and the union?

Yesterday, only 340 people read this blog. What were the chances this would happen to one of them? What are the chances, if this happened to one of them, that it's happening all over the city? And how many teachers don't even know opposition messages are being tossed into the trash?

Total monopoly is required to maintain the Unity patronage mill, and it's not going to let The Help get in its way. The 50-year-old Unity caucus, as always requiring signed loyalty oaths and total fealty (expelling members for opposing the Vietnam war, according to David Selden in The Teacher Rebellion), has certain standards to uphold.

Don't expect Randi Weingarten to get off her pedestal and debate The Help. That's unheard of. Not having access to dues money, and being strictly working class, the only thing The Help can afford is putting flyers into mailboxes. But Unity doesn't like that, and the administration doesn't like when The Help gets uppity. Without Ms. Weingarten and Unity, who will keep The Help in line?

What would happen if The Help found out what was really in that 05 contract? What would happen if The Help began to understand what cost of living was? What would happen if The Help found out New Action was a front for Unity?

I speak with my fellow Help every day. I am amazed at the number of intelligent and articulate teachers who have no idea about these things. Certainly neither Ms. Weingarten nor her patronage employees understand that the union is us, and that union employees (theoretically) work for us.

Against all odds, we need to get the word out.

When we do, we the people will run the union, and UFT HQ will contain The Help.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

To Boldly Split that Infinitive...

We've all heard of Superman and Wonder Woman. But do you know about Grammar Girl? Unlike the others, she's 100% real.

Her podcast is remarkably popular, and has been downloaded over a million times. But people are afraid to write her for fear of being corrected. If only I knew what a podcast was, I'd listen right now.


State of the Blog

Thank you all very much for coming.

First of all, I'd like to welcome everyone here. Let's get right down to it. On the issue of bipartisanship, we are making definite progress. Several voices from Unity Caucus have been visiting lately, and while we disagree with them, they are welcome here. Unfortunately, the sole representative from New Action has opted to take his ball and go home, and there is little we can do about that.

We continue to do battle with the evil empire, but I must report we are vastly outnumbered and massively outspent. Also the unruly space aliens with whom we battle daily continue using weapons of mass destruction to achieve their goals, and still hope for kids to act like those they've seen in their favorite movies. We will not give up, we will not relent, but it will be some time before we can expect peace and prosperity.

Now we must turn to balancing the budget, and I say to you this goal is attainable within five years, and there will be no new taxes to accomplish this. The deficit is a burden to us and future generations. First, it's 12 bucks a year to get rid of those Haloscan ads. Then, there's the added burden of the new domain name, which brings the deficit up to a staggering $17.99, the largest in our history.

I'm pleased to announce that this summer I plan to get a paper route in order to ease the debt. Sometimes, in extreme situations, one must take extreme measures.

So rest assured that this blog will remain free and independent of foreign influences. God bless you all, and let's be careful out there.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The Carnival of Education is over at The Education Wonks place this week, buckaroos and buckarettes, and if you don't wanna miss it, get yer keesters over there right now!

Just click here, and you'll be there faster'n a GOP Senator can filibuster against raising the minimum wage.


Watch What They Do...

...and ignore what they say, because their words mean nothing.

UFT President Randi Weingarten, who made no effort whatsoever to get class size reduction written into the UFT contract (which is the only thing keeping class sizes are as low as they are), is now demanding one billion dollars of the CFE lawsuit be directed toward class size reduction.

The Mayor's consistent unwillingness to contribute dime one to this settlement resulted in its reduction by two -thirds, hardly a boon for city kids. And when this mayor says he's reduced class sizes, Class Size Matters says he has not.

Ms. Weingarten also made no effort whatsoever to make the CFE settlement part of the UFT contract, resulting in two contracts that failed to meet inflation, not to mention the draconian givebacks we suffered in 05. However, the current CFE settlement, to the delight of the mayor, provides no oversight whatsoever in how the funds are spent. Governor Spitzer, who's impressed me very little during his brief tenure, is fine with that, apparently:

A spokeswoman for Gov. Eliot Spitzer said that in his budget message next week, he would propose overhauling the state’s school aid formula, greatly increasing the dollars available for city schools, and would allow school districts to use the money to reduce class size but not require it.

The spokeswoman, Christine Anderson, did not indicate precisely how much money Mr. Spitzer would direct toward city schools. In his campaign, Mr. Spitzer repeatedly promised to spend $8.5 billion more a year on needy school districts statewide, including at least $4 billion a year for New York City.

Where's that promise he made now? And does anyone who reads the papers believe that voluntary reforms are the way to go with Mike and Joel?

Ms. Weingarten is also talking tough about Chancellor Klein's tenure proposals. Again, let's see what they do. Personally, I don't believe this chancellor wants to withhold tenure. If he does, that will reduce the pool of teachers, and he might have to raise salaries to attract more of them. That goes against everything this city has stood for for thirty years.

Weingarten's comments came in an exclusive interview after Klein told the Daily News Editorial Board he would talk to the union about a pay-for-performance pilot program in high-needs schools.

"I think paying people to produce results, especially in communities where we're not seeing these results, is what we need to do to reform this system," Klein said.

Weingarten has agreed to discuss incentives for teachers to work in difficult neighborhoods or shortage areas like math and science but said using test scores to set salaries or decide tenure is like "telling an oncologist that the only way to keep your job is for your cancer patients to survive."

Ms. Weingarten is correct, of course, but it was she who created this monster by enabling mayoral control in the first place. It was she who reinforced it by pushing the draconian givebacks of the 05 contract. Ms. Weingarten does not wish to appear an old-time union boss, and looks quite contemporary when she sends her teachers out to do hall duty, and to be permanent subs, and gives them 90-day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated charges.

Give me an old-time union boss any day.

In fact, give me Tony Soprano. I don't know about you, but I've had it with people who talk and talk while never accomplishing anything.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hungry for Knowledge?

I hope so, because you're not getting lunch today.
It's not convenient to make space for you, so Mayor Mike is sending you to science lab instead.

Mayor Mike's glitzy Children First brochure does not specifically mention the effects of hunger on education. It does not mention the value of public schools built on toxic sites, or multi-million dollar boondoggles for private schools either. It fails to mention the value of forgetting to add dropouts to graduation rates.

Oddly, it neglects to mention intergalactic recruitment, the highest class sizes in the state, the lowest standard for teachers in the state, or the all-too-common practice of sweeping incidents under the rug (while maintaining a public insistence that they be reported).

It does not mention that teachers are 100% responsible for everything that happens in schools, and that neither the mayor, the chancellor, the dilapidated facilities, the home lives of kids, the weather, or hunger (in the case of science students) play any role whatsoever in performance. At least that's what Deputy Chancellor Alonso publicly proclaims.

They must have forgotten that the very best facilities the city has to offer are reserved for charters run by billionaires.

It neglects the mayor's practice of closing schools in the face of unconscionable overcrowding, or taking perfectly good buildings like the one on Livingston Street, and turning them into condos. After all, who's to say the contaminated land isn't good enough for city kids? As Barbara Bush might say, "This is working very well for them." Certainly home buyers, Dalton kids, and billionaires who run charters and build stadiums are accustomed to better.

It's Children First, Children First, and Children First if you read the smiley-face pamphlet. Unlike the mayor and the chancellor, though, I see those children each and every day. The kids aren't fooled at all.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Monday, January 22, 2007

It's Christmas in Washington

Nelnet, a student loan company, will get to keep 278 million in subsidies deemed improper. The US Department of Education has decided if it goes after this money, it may have to ask other student loan companies to return money as well.

This, they determined, would be bad, possibly driving smaller loan companies out of business. As it happens, I'm thinking of starting a student loan company myself, and I'll be writing to request a modest 278 million startup grant some time this afternoon.

In other news, President Bush wants to tax your health insurance. Well, how else are we gonna subsidize those poor student loan companies?


One of the things I love about America is that if you are a potential customer almost everyone is nice to you. They might hate your guts and wish you dead, but face-to-face they smile and nod and talk about the weather in a neighborly cadence.


He was wearing a vanilla-colored jacket and a white shirt, both of which were bad choices because of his throat being slashed open.

Excerpts from Fear of the Dark by Walter Mosley

I've always been amused by the apparent class load of these fictional teachers -- They apparently have one class of twelve students per day. Well, give me that and I can teach pretty much anything to anybody.

Graycie, commenting on films about teachers. Graycie writes Today's Homework.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fair's Fair

Mayor Bloomberg's plans include equitable funding--every kid in NYC will get X dollars and no more. The X is significant, because veteran teachers used to draw more money to schools. No more of that.

Now, it appears they'll draw the same amount of money, but principals will have to pay them twice as much. If I'm wrong about this, I'd love to be corrected, so feel free if you know something I don't. But if this is correct, guess who's joining the big ATR party?

Meanwhile, principals say it's hard to get rid of bad teachers. That's not exactly news, though.

"If you give a teacher a U, it's hard to get them out of your school," said one Manhattan middle-school principal.

"So you offer them a satisfactory rating if they'll leave. It happens all the time."

Why is it happening now that principals no longer need to accept transfers? Is it our fault if they choose to lie to one another?

I don't have a problem with denying tenure to incompetent teachers. I don't have a problem with declining to hire them in the first place.

But neither I nor the UFT has any say whatsoever in who gets hired or who gets tenure. It's odd how that fact is never, ever mentioned by a city reporter or columnist.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Commenting Issues

Haloscan, which handles the comments on this site, has been buggy of late. Schoolgal reports getting a message she was "banned by webmaster."

This site's been up for a year and a half, and I've banned a grand total of one person (and not Schoolgal).

So please ignore that message if you get it. What will get you banned here?

Constant ad hominem attacks, for one. You are free to express your ideas here, and you are free to disagree with my ideas, or anybody else's. I take a very dim view of attacking people rather than ideas (I understand that actions or pronouncements may lead to conclusions about people, though, and that may make a difference).

Also, while I enjoy Jon Swift, I'd appreciate if you'd refrain from reviewing movies you haven't seen, or books and articles (or even blog posts) you haven't read. Finally, unless you are The Amazing Kreskin, I'd appreciate if you'd fight the urge to read minds.

In any case, if you get that message on this site, please ignore it and feel free to try again later. If you don't think you're banned, you aren't.

Another Miracle

If you read the New York Times, you were probably as shocked as I was to find an op-ed written by a real teacher this week (Leave it to that liberal media to assume a teacher might know something about education). The teacher in question is none other than Tom Moore, who writes I Who Can't, and who had me hooked with a series he wrote for Slate a few years back.

Mr. Moore makes the points that few, if any, of us are what Hillary Swank is on the screen, and that the conditions of school movies rarely approach reality.

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

I frequently read commenters who expect nothing less of teachers. As Mr. Moore points out, Ms. Gruwell, like so many others, gave up teaching within five years. Despite popular sentiment otherwise, this is not actually because the work is too easy and the pay is too high.

I’m always surprised at how, once a Ms. Gruwell wins over a class with clowning, tears, rewards and motivational speeches, there is nothing those kids can’t do. It is as if all the previously insurmountable obstacles students face could be erased by a 10-minute pep talk or a fancy dinner. This trivializes not only the difficulties many real students must overcome, but also the hard-earned skill and tireless effort real teachers must use to help those students succeed.

He's right--it's very tough turning kids around (and I've mostly seen it done one at a time, rather than with an entire class). It's absurd that Deputy Chancellor Alonso has the audacity to publicly maintain the only variable is the teacher, but that's the philosophy these days. Maybe it's easier if you've got signed pledges from the parents stating they'll follow the rules or get tossed out. I wouldn't know.

I'm particularly fond of Mr. Moore's final paragraph, to which I'll add nothing:

Every day teachers are blamed for what the system they’re just a part of doesn’t provide: safe, adequately staffed schools with the highest expectations for all students. But that’s not something one maverick teacher, no matter how idealistic, perky or self-sacrificing, can accomplish.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I'm Thinking Narnia

A few weeks back, I reported on a student of mine, Mindy, who'd become somewhat of an intrepid traveler. Unhappy with NYC schools, her mom sent her to Washington State. Then, unhappy with Washington State, she brought her back and put her in my class. When I moved Mindy to a lower level, Mom became frantic. She appeared at the guidance office several times claiming that this change had caused irreversible psychological damage.

Mindy, however, reported that she really liked the new class. Mom withdrew her objections, and began to praise the wisdom of the transfer. A week ago, however, one of my colleagues had to cover Mindy's new class. As she knew Mindy, she asked where she was.

"She's not in this class," reported one of her friends.

"Who's Mindy?" asked another.

It turned out Mindy had never actually reported to this class she was so happy with. No wonder she liked the class so much. It turns out when you never show up for classes, those nasty teachers rarely inconvenience you with questions, tests, homework, calls home, or any of those other things that get in the way of what's really important.

My colleague called Mindy's mom.

But, faced with the prospect of actually having to show up, Mindy became unhappy once again. Going to school was one thing, but having to attend classes was a deal-breaker.

So Mom came to school, withdrew Mindy, and is now sending her out of the country. Hopefully she can find a new one that won't burden her with all this education nonsense.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's Snowing! It's Snowing!

Some crazy little girl is running around my house shouting this news to the mountaintops (which are fairly far from here).

It sounds very important, so I'm duty-bound to share it.

The More Things Change...

...the more they stay the same. Mayor Bloomberg's proposals remind me of nothing more than the folks who come to school each year to tell us how this is the way to teach, this is the only way to teach, and no teaching can ever occur unless you teach this way. They freely admit, of course, that they said the same thing last year, but that way, for some inexplicable reason, no longer works.

I've learned to block them out altogether by closing my eyes and focusing on one simple word, which unfortunately is not fit to publish.

So last year's reforms, as brilliant as they were, are not reform-minded enough, and this year we need to reform the reforms so as to create a reformation that's so well-formed, we can discard it utterly when reform time comes around.

There's a lot of talk about tenure. I have very mixed feelings about that. We ought not to grant tenure to people who are unfit to teach. Still, I don't believe this mayor is seriously looking to reduce the pool of available teachers. Supply and demand is a tricky thing, and NYC has been able to keep teacher salaries below market rates for over thirty years.

Do you really think we've seen the last of intergalactic recruiting? I doubt it.

But the mayor now says if you can't raise the kids' test scores, you may not get tenure. This, of course, makes the plainly idiotic assumption that the teacher is the only factor affecting test scores. Well, let me tell you, it's easy to raise test scores. Just do what Rod Paige did, and make sure kids who mess up statistics get left behind somehow. Or take all the tests yourself. There are lots of ways creative teachers can get around this, just as Mayor Mike himself doesn't count dropouts in his own statistics.

Are those the sort of teachers we want? Will we be surprised at the occasional indiscreet newbie who gets caught? Will the mayor get away with this nonsense?

One person who clearly doesn't know is UFT President Randi Weingarten, as usual, the proverbial deer in the headlights. Ms. Weingarten feigns shock at this utterly predictable finger-pointing. Mayor Mike has many fingers, though, and we all know which way they point. How on earth can Ms. Weingarten, his number one collaborator, be surprised?

She's now stood up to protect tenure, though as far as I can tell, it's not precisely under attack. Aside from the preposterous testing proposals, the threat seems more along the lines of enforcing existing agreements. And if it were under attack, or it is actually attacked, who would you want to protect it?

With Ms. Weingarten's explicit approval, mayoral control came into being, thus enabling the campaign of outright fear and loathing we've been subject to the last few years. Ms. Weingarten has thus far been too timid to speak against its renewal. For teachers, she's endorsed the sixth class, perpetual hall patrol, 90-day unpaid suspensions, a bought-and-paid-for phony opposition party called "New Action," and the all-new purgatory that is the Absent Teacher Reserve. For children, she's refused to make class size any part of contract negotiations.

Perhaps Ms. Weingarten, from her downtown ivory tower, has determined her actions will help us retain new teachers. The only potential improvement Ms. Weingarten has proposed was 25/55, and the other night, the mayor seemed to come out squarely against any enhancements to pension plans (In fact, it's almost certain he's got other notions entirely).

At every step, this mayor has outmaneuvered her. Like New York City's 1.1 million public schoolchildren, we need strong leaders who will stand up to bullies. Like them, we need leaders who will demand small class sizes in contract talks. We need leaders who understand what a raise is, what cost of living is, and who won't toss our hard-won benefits into the trash for less than nothing. We need leaders who understand that making a difficult job even more difficult is not precisely the key to retaining teachers.

We don't need Ms. Weingarten and her band of overpaid sycophantic Unity-New Action patronage cronies. They know only how to shut up and sit down for fear of endangering pension #2.

Thanks to Schoolgal

cross-posted to Take Back the UFT

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Mr. Greenblatt couldn't help but notice that after he heard the sneeze, there were copious amounts of blood on Jose's desk. Jose had somehow bit his tongue while sneezing, and deeply. Fortunately the nurse's office was right across the hall.

"Jose," he ordered, "Go straight to the medical office."

A moment later Jose returned. "She wanth a path, Mithter Greenblatt."

Mr. Greenblatt scoured his bag for the requisite medical pass. He couldn't find one. He quickly scribbled something on a piece of paper and sent Jose back. But a moment later Jose returned, still bleeding.

"She wanth a medical path, Mithter."

Mr. Greenblatt was not happy. He sent Jose across the hall with a note written with his dry erase marker proclaiming the following, in block letters:


Jenny the nurse (who was actually not a nurse but a paraprofessional) found this beyond the pale. She got up from her desk and went over to give that Greenblatt guy a piece of her mind. Since he had no manners, she figured she'd walk right into his classroom, and that's just what she did.

"How dare you address me like that! In all my years in that office, I've never had anyone speak to me like that. Is it my fault if you can't keep a stock of medical room passes? You should be ashamed of yourself!"

She contemptuously tossed a pad full of passes onto Mr. Greenblatt's desk. Mr. Greenblatt filled one out, sent Jose to the medical office, and moments later Jose was in an ambulance, on his way to get that tongue looked at.

cross-posted to Kitchen Table Math

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bright Idea

102nd Edition...

...of the Carnival of Education.

Very cleverly presented by the venerable Dr. Homeslice, at no extra charge.

Check it out right now!

Stop and Go

My student observer was very surprised at what she saw in my classroom.

"I couldn't help but notice," she said, "that you have the kids all mixed up."

"What do you mean?"

"In the other classes I observed, the students were grouped by language so that they could help one another."

I was very surprised by that. How can anyone help you learn English by speaking to you in a foreign language?

I will never forget the three years I spent in high school not learning Spanish. All I really got was "Como esta usted?" and a little song about the Puerto Rican flag. But when I lived in Mexico I found that people didn't know what the hell I was talking about when I spoke English. I was highly motivated to learn Spanish, and I did.

From time to time people ask me, "How can you teach Chinese people English when you don't know Chinese?" If that were a prerequisite, babies, the best language learners in the world, would be mute the world over.

The observer noticed that my kids chatted with one another in English. That's a goal in my classroom so I was glad of this. Yesterday, her last day, she told me that English would be used exclusively in her classroom as well.

Moments like that are why people teach. It's remarkable, though, that none of her professors found the practice of teaching English in English worthy of mention.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


"Why didn't you want to work in that group?"

"Those kids don't like me."

"No, you must be mistaken. I think you're being too sensitive."

"No, Miss, they really don't like me. I can tell."

"How can you tell"

"By the way they treat me. You just know these things."

"Really, I don't believe that. You must be imagining this, Osama."

Mayor Mike's Educational Prescription

Chancellor Klein is going to reveal all his secrets to the Research Partnership for New York City Schools. It's reassuring he's finally acknowledged keeping them from us for the last five years. We're going to learn all about his far-reaching reforms and find out why, despite all those allegedly good intentions, 75% of high schools are still overcrowded.

We're going to find out why, despite years of talk about teacher quality and vows to hire teachers who met standards, 25% of middle school teachers are not even licensed in their subject areas. Maybe he'll explain this, too:

Poor and minority students fare far worse in the city's middle grades and are less prepared for high school than their wealthier, white counterparts, a new report charges.

Only 22% of eighth-graders in high poverty schools meet state reading standards, while 58% of students in wealthier schools make the grade, according to the report, which is out today.

Suburban schools have lower class sizes, pay teachers considerably more, choose from hundreds of applicants, and don't, as a matter of course, place gym teachers in front of ESL classes. As far as I know, they don't target the neediest students for their least-qualified teachers either. Perhaps, though, that's just a coincidence. Perhaps such things have never occurred to Mr, Klein, and that's why he needs to spend tax money studying them. Perhaps such practices don't aid at all in teacher retention.

But it's likely they do. Waiting five years to tell the public what you're doing (if indeed they deliver on that pledge), pretending art teachers don't instruct kids in science, making false claims about class size, fudging statistics about dropouts, using unproven touchy-feely educational programs, shoving kids into buildings like sardines, refusing any input whatsoever from working teachers---these are all hallmarks of the Bloomberg-Klein approach to schools.

Despite this, mayors in LA and DC want to emulate this model. But there's little doubt that anyone who really looks at what's been happening will see that, for all his talk, Mayor Mike's made precious little progress in any area except PR.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ban Bonzo

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, there was a renewed interest in his work as an actor. He took a lot of ribbing for a film he made with a monkey named Bonzo. I'd never heard of this film, and though it seemed less than classic, I was curious to see it.

But that was before VCRs were so ubiquitous, and no TV station would run it. They felt that during an election, giving free publicity to a candidate was blatantly unethical. Perhaps it was illegal.

Unity-New Action, on the other hand, have their paws in your dues money, and are running a slick commercial I happened to see on Law and Order the other day. Every time the machine is up for re-election, such commercials appear, so it's tough to attribute them to coincidence.

If Randi Weingarten were serious about reducing class size, she'd have made it a contract demand a long time ago. Instead, she sent out a questionnaire deliberately giving members the impression that class size reductions, if demanded, would come in lieu of salary increases.

In fact, the only reason class sizes are as low as they are is because they are written into the UFT contract. Petitions and referendums have failed in the past, and the severely diminished CFE lawsuit provides no oversight whatsoever for the mayor.

The most memorable moments of this commercial entail Ms. Weingarten's name hovering over the screen along the UFT insignia.

It's disgraceful Ms. Weingarten uses member dues to run her re-election campaign. Her ethics seem to pale next to Bonzo's. Here's the commercial, by the way, free of charge:

Related: Oh, Those UFT Commercials

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Does Size Matter?

Here's a story that suggests small schools may not be the panacea that Mayor Mike and Chancellor Klein seem to think they are.

Like the teaching methods that are presented as the Ten Commandments, then discarded on an annual basis, small schools are just another way of doing things. I've seen a hundred writing books that treat five-paragraph essays as though they are the pinnacle of western civilization. Yet this week I'm reading a great book by Walter Mosley, and he doesn't seem to use them at all.

I understand that small schools can be fine. But they can be terrible as well. You could say the same for large schools.

It would be far better if we disregarded school size entirely, and focused on creating good ones.

Let's get good teachers.

And let's have small classes, because that is where size matters (though personally, I wouldn't want to be that guy in the red shorts).

Thanks to Schoolgal

What Are They Doing Right?

There's a story in the Daily News about a very successful charter school:

The charter school scored one of the highest passing rates (95.7%) in the state's seventh-grade math test last year, finishing ahead of far more prestigious schools. "We have really strict rules for behavior and work, and these scores are the result of that love, discipline and very high standards," school founder Deborah Kenny said.

I have no problem with that. But my adventures in hall patrol have taught me that where I work, easy fixes are preferred by many over viable consequences. Anyone who has kids knows that they will get away with everything they're allowed to. So why do we allow it?

In my classroom, it's not allowed, and I will go to great lengths to ensure consequences for unacceptable behavior. But despite being a fascistic authoritarian bastard, I'm unwilling to spend my time getting involved with parents of kids who aren't my students. So why won't the fascistic authoritarian bastards over at Tweed compel administrators (or deans, or anyone) to back me up?

"The school makes us focus on our homework, preparation, academics and our behavior," said Jared Thornton, 13, of West Harlem.

Students of Village Academies typically have two hours of homework a night, half an hour of pleasure reading and a school day ending at 4:40 p.m., one hour later than the citywide public school schedule. "When I got here in fifth grade, I thought the rules were way too strict," Jared said. "But I've never cared more about my education, and my teachers respect and teach me more than anyone ever has."

That's great. But it's very sad we don't do the same. Of course there are bad charters and great public schools (though many of them are over the Nassau border). But there's no reason we couldn't do better, if the powers that be had any interest whatsoever.

My friend Schoolgal (who sent me this story) writes:

...teachers like you and I and many others stress the same values, but the DoE and administrators really do not. Would charter schools be needed if these values were stressed and incorporated in each and every public school?

That's a great question.

What's your opinion?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Curtains for Him...

... because he, a married man, got caught stepping out with her, at least partially on the public dime:

Sources with knowledge of the probe into Reyes Irizarry, whose sprawling territory of Region 4 covers southwest Queens and Brooklyn, told The Post that investigators substantiated complaints that he had an affair with a female underling and gave her a raise.

The subordinate was identified by sources as Eva Chejfetz, director of academic-intervention services for the region, which serves 120,000 children in 95 schools.

I've been getting emails about how awful this guy was, and how glad people are to see him gone. It appears teachers will not miss him very much:

In 2005, Irizarry was the target of a raucous protest by more than 400 teachers who claimed his unyielding management style restricted their ability to teach. A year earlier, he was the subject of a letter of censure by the United Federation of Teachers.

Even the DoE, usually more than maternal in protecting its own, had nothing to say in his defense.

On the brighter side, now we all know what merit pay is for.

Thanks to Schoolgal, Norm, and Tim

Blog Tour

What do teachers make? Find out right now, at School Me.

Right Wing Nation has very particular notions about how to use American English, and woe to those who defy them.

Jon Swift suggests President Bush is utilizing the Castanza method of doing the opposite.

Ms. Cornelius wants to know what the best satirical song ever is, and she's counting votes at A Shrewdness of Apes.

Ay, dios mio! Over at Siempre Fiel, Nic's Spanish 1 students plan to sell children (and worse), while others are merely selling their boyfriends (prices are not specified).

Cruelty + No Imagination = NYC Principal

I found this story so ridiculous on the face of it I couldn't think of anything to say about it. How on earth does a principal tell a special education student (or any student) that he doesn't "have the brains" to accomplish something?" But Schoolgal, who's actually endured experienced spelling bees, had this to say:

Why was it only one class participated in the bee? Usually the whole
5th grade does it in class and then we send 2 winners to compete in the grade contest (usually held in the auditorium).

Principals usually select a teacher to be in charge. The teacher then
informs the grade to hold a spelling bee in class. Then their 2 top
spellers compete in a grade competition usually held in the auditorium.
In this case, this was not done at first. Only one teacher (the
special ed teacher) did it, and that's when the principal realized she did not follow the procedure and held a grade contest.

By telling the first child he was not good enough I think she scared off the
first and second place winners who backed out of the regional competition. I
believe the child in question came in 3rd. (given that there were probably
only 4 classes competing).

This principal was more about her image than anything else. The next
level was the region, and many children would be eliminated on the first round, not just her school.

If this principal had any savvy, she would have gotten a coach for this kid and made a big fuss over the fact that this child is special ed--a missed opportunity to be proud of the achievement!

Instead she berated the kid and now denies the conversation took
I was very impressed with these comments. As cruel as I thought the principal had been, she turns out to have been blessed with a complete lack of foresight as well. No wonder she moved up so high in a system where people needed to ask permission before dialing 911.

cross posted to Kitchen Table Math

Friday, January 12, 2007

Internet, Phone, and Money

My colleague, Ms. Bright, had to cover an ESL class the other day. She's a language teacher, and a student who spoke her language was very upset with her.

"I know you. I don't like you. You're a terrible teacher," he said.

She told him he didn't have to like her, and that all he needed to do was the assignment she'd written on the board.

"You are a very bad teacher. You called my friend's house after he was absent only two days, and got him in trouble. In Mr. Dull's class, we can be absent for a month, walk right in, and he won't say a word about it."

"I can't say anything about Mr. Dull," she told him. "That's just how I do things."

"That's not all!" he shouted. "You told his mother to take away his internet, his phone, and his spending money. And do you know what she did? Well, do you?"

"Yes I do," she replied. "She took away his internet, his phone, and his spending money. And now he's passing my class."

"Who cares about that? How is he supposed to live without internet, phone or money? You are the worst teacher I've ever seen!"

"Well, you shouldn't really speak to me like that. We only have two teachers who teach your language, and I'm one of them. Think about the future."

At that point, the student burst into a string of colorful invective (I'll spare you) in front of a roomful of witnesses (many of whom understood the language he was speaking). Ms. Bright wrote it down word for word, translated it, and now the young man is suspended for three days.

But it's not all bad. He's still got his internet, his phone, and his money.

If No One Hears, It Didn't Happen

Tweed, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that the school nurse at PS 20 no longer needs to ask the principal for permission to dial 911. Is this because it's determined the health and welfare of children overrides the need to hide the truth from the public?

That's doubtful. If you're a city teacher, this is far from the first such practice you've heard about, Klein's official policy statement notwithstanding. Tellingly, the incident was three years ago, but the statement didn't appear till this week.

More likely it's the result of a student's death from an asthma attack, the delay in treatment, the consequent 2-million dollar lawsuit, and most importantly, the avalanche of bad press that's ensued.

It makes me acutely aware that the only thing that will relieve the obscene overcrowding I live with every day is a catastrophic fire. Even then, nothing will happen unless people die and it makes it to the tabloids.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Question

Zogby sends me online surveys. On the last one I took, they asked:

Do you consider yourself to be a resident of mostly:

A. your home town
B. America
C. the planet earth

I was fascinated by this question, though I can't precisely understand why.

What's your answer?

The Worst Excuse...

...that I ever heard for an absence occurred late yesterday afternoon.

"Why weren't you in school yesterday, Carlos?"

"I left my metrocard and my wallet at home, Mr. Educator."

"And where were you, Carlos?"

"I had to stay home," he said. I had to process this for a moment.

"So, Carlos, are you going to sleep in the classroom tonight?"

"Why should I do that?"

"Well, your metrocard and your wallet are here, aren't they? Since you have to stay wherever they are, you're gonna be staying here tonight, I guess. Please try not to make too much of a mess."

What's the worst excuse you ever heard?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Carnival is in Town

Hop on over to I Thought a Think and check it out.

Price: free

(Slightly higher in Canada)

Notes from the Waiting Room

Haloscan has been a little screwy lately so the comments form may be inaccessible.

You can watch this while you wait (No, it doesn't matter if you're from New York). Extra credit to anyone who identifies the mandolinist, and a "get out of homework free" pass for the fiddler's name (if the comments form ever opens up):