Friday, June 29, 2007

Let's Innovate

Here's an article suggesting that the United States is facing a national teacher shortage. It's odd that so many people seem to think the answer is longer school days and years, but that's what they're saying. And the move to worsen working conditions seems to have legs. Will it help?

I don't think so. I live in Nassau, and not in one of the "best" towns by far. Yet my daughter has had consistently excellent teachers, and has never had a classroom with fewer than two computers. On the other hand, I've never taught in one with more than zero (unless you count the time I taught word processing in a room with 15 non-functional antique computers). Her school buildings, though often old, are always clean. Yet reformers say we need to get rid of tenure, we need to introduce more work for less pay, and that will make teachers better.

A study co-written by Murnane and published this year reports that minorities and poor children are most likely to be taught by teachers with weak academic backgrounds or little preparation. Overall, the proportion of women who pursue teaching after college, as well as the caliber of recruits, has declined significantly since the 1960s.

The number of college-educated women in the United States tripled from 1964 to 2000, according to a 2004 study by University of Maryland economists, but the share of those graduates who became teachers dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent in the same time. And although in 1964 1 in 5 young female teachers graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class, the ratio was closer to 1 in 10 by 2000.

The study neglects to mention that poorer districts also have the lowest salaries and the worst working conditions. NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, and rather than address that, the mayor wants to dangle cash prizes and make kids (and parents) jump like trained seals.

It's great that women have more options, but very sad for our children that teaching has become so less desirable as a career. The likelihood that ten-hour days, six day weeks, less job security, and continued low pay will be a draw is small indeed. Will teachers stay on?

In the first months, she would work until late at night, then lie awake "thinking, thinking, thinking" about school, she said. For most of the year, she woke up at 5 a.m. to plan lessons and prepare handouts and then stayed at school until at least 5 p.m., grading papers or helping the pep rally dance team or the ESL homework club.

In such a demanding job, the turnover rate is high.

That's the life of a beginning teacher. Time makes things easier, of course, but by that time a good number of these teachers are already gone. The McTeacher movement actually encourages that trend. I don't think it's helpful either to teachers or students. I want my kid to have a calm, thoughtful teacher, not an overworked wage-slave who'd bound to burn out before learning the ropes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ms. Weingarten Brings Green Dot to NY

The NY Times reports that UFT President Randi Weingarten is helping Steve Barr and Green Dot come to NY City.

Green Dot boasts its schools have no tenure or seniority preferences. UFT leadership suggests their process is better than tenure, since there is no probationary period. This, of course, completely ignores the lack of seniority. Ms. Weingarten and her minions hope you will ignore it too.

The UFT suggested I should have read the Green Dot contract before reporting the LA Times statement that teachers "toss tenure out the classroom window" to work for Green Dot. Of course, they didn't provide a link to it. However, Eduwonk has, and here it is.

It states there are183 teaching days a year--Up to 193 days a year for teachers. OK, that's only a few more than Ms. Weingarten negotiated for us when she sold our collective soul in 05. But there's no mention of how long the day is. The Times writes:

Rather than dictating the number of hours and minutes teachers must spend at the schools, it would just call for a “professional workday,” they said.

Hmmm. Perhaps Ms. Weingarten is comfortable with that. As someone who has to take my kid to karate lessons and report to other jobs at predetermined times, I'm afraid I'm not.

Here are some other points from the contract:

  • Teachers are encouraged to do jury duty during vacation time. Jury duty is compensated up to five days. If you’re stuck beyond that, too bad for you.
  • If your kid’s school calls, or anything happens requiring you to leave more than half a day, you’re docked a full day’s pay. If you miss less than half, you’re docked a half day’s pay.
  • Layoffs are based on “legal requirements and qualifications,” “satisfactory evaluation,” and “expertise and relevant experience.” Seniority is considered only if they’re not able to make a determination based on these factors.
  • Strikes are not permitted, and violations will go to binding arbitration. Well, maybe it beats the Taylor Law.
  • If teachers choose a PPO health plan (like GHI), Green Dot will pay a maximum of $525 a month.
  • Maximum teacher salary is $74,182. Hopefully they'd adjust that for NY, though I don't see how it works for LA either.
The contract could also eliminate tenure, but would set guidelines for when a teacher can be dismissed. could "eliminate tenure." That's what the Times says, isn't it? Or am I "making up facts?"

Now in the Green Dot model, you can be dismissed for "just cause." Can you be dismissed just cause your students didn't get scores high enough for Green Dot?

Article XVIII—Discipline

18.1 No unit member shall be disciplined, non-renewed, dismissed, reduced in rank or compensation without just cause.

There you have it. Just cause. Well, Green Dot is from California, and here's part of an email I got from a lawyer I sent the contract to:

Just cause is a term of art with a lot of precedent in labor law. Even still it is a shaky concept subject to a wide spread interpretation.

In California good cause and just cause are synonymous. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that “ it was not the jury's function to decide whether the acts that led to the decision to terminate actually occurred. Rather, the court held, it is the jury's role to assess the objective reasonableness of the employer's factual determination of misconduct. The jury must determine whether the factual basis on which the employer concluded a dischargeable act had been committed was reached honestly, after an appropriate investigation and for reasons that that were not arbitrary or pretextual. The termination decision must be a reasoned conclusion supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond. All of the elements of this standard are triable to the jury.”

This means if you're about to lose your job because you're accused of stealing, say, $500.00, you can question the investigation. You can question the way it was conducted and whether or not it was fair. You cannot, however, present evidence that you didn't actually steal the 500 bucks.

If you have tenure, you can say you didn't steal the money, introduce evidence to that effect, and demonstrate that. Beats the hell out of "just cause," doesn't it? Now it may work differently in New York, and perhaps they can work out contractual language to ensure it does. Who knows? But without seniority rights, it won't much matter. Why?

If you have seniority rights, your job is protected as you get older. This may be a concern for teachers who've raised families based on the assumption they'd have jobs to support them. Of course, Ms. Weingarten's machine has been whittling away seniority privileges for a few years now, which is one reason she's so admired by professional teacher-bashers like Rod Paige.

So here's a question prospective Green Dot employees ought to consider--since you'll have no seniority rights, why can't they just lay you off and sidestep entirely the whole "tenure-just cause" issue? Without seniority rights, tenure, just cause (or whatever you wish to call it) can mean very little indeed.

Related: See Ednotes Online

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Take a Trip...

...with Mike in Texas to a lively and cleverly written Carnival of Education.

Next week's carnival appears right here, so please submit something by 6 PM EST on July 3rd. Use the email address at right, or you can use this handy form.

Mr. Klein Investigates

It's clear as day. The AP changed the grades. The principal covered it up. The report says so.

Wait a minute. It's the teacher's fault. He made them write that report. The new report says so. Let's tell that AP she's no longer banned from working in the city. Dump the teacher into the rubber room.

But wait a minute--what if the new report is wrong and the old report is good? Maybe we should do yet another investigation to investigate the investigators.

No worries. Rest assured the city team will do as many investigations as necessary to find out who's accountable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Fix a New York City Door

Every single day, Mr. Williams got the interruption. He was trying to teach his class the fine points of Global Studies, when some tall, fast kid would open his door, shout "Puta madre!" and run away. Worse, several of his students had told him what it meant, and he didn't think it was nice at all.

He repeatedly, formally, informally, directly and indirectly asked the custodians to fix his door, but six weeks later, they had not gotten around to it. He had informed the administration, and watched the principal's mustache move up and down as he responded gravely to Mr. Williams' concerns. Still, every day, it was "Puta madre," and try to continue. It was becoming unbearable.

Now Mr. Flowers, the math teacher, was very handy. Not only that, but he was familiar with the ancient locks in the 100-year-old school doors. But Mr. Flowers had also heard that teachers could be fired for doing the work of custodians.

So one day, Mr. Williams gave his kids a writing assignment, and told the kids they were free to help one another. Mr. Flowers brought a screwdriver and fixed the door while Mr. Williams kept vigil. They stopped several times when administrators came down the hall, and pretended to be team-teaching. Several administrators praised them for their initiative.

By the end of the period, Mr. Williams' door locked, and distractions to his class were once again limited to those of his own students.

Monday, June 25, 2007

All This, and More

Pressures of the job getting you down? You're not alone. It's getting to be the American Way, to borrow an old expression.

There's a movement afoot to make Americans work their butts off to support not only themselves, but big business as well. If you listen to US Senator Bernie Sanders, he'll tell you we already work longer hours than anywhere else in the free world.

How did it happen today that a two-income family has less disposal income than a one-income family did thirty years ago? How does it happen that thirty years ago, one person working forty hours a week could earn enough money to take care of the family; now, you need two, and they're still not doing it?

Closer to home, reality-based educator commented on this topic:

Notice all the rich corporate types behind the KIPP/longer school day/longer school year movement (e.e., Bloomberg, Gates.) I think they're trying to socialize Americans of all stripes to expect longer work days and longer work years as part of the wonders of globalization. If kids spend 9.5 hours in school, they won't blink later on when they have to work 10 hour days. And if kids get 4 weeks off all year, they won't blink when corporations lower vacation time to 1 week plus a few sick days.

Regular poster Xkaydet65 seems to think I'm missing this point, but perhaps I've just neglected it. I started this blog with my eye firmly on Klein and Bloomberg, and I saw where they were headed. Governor Spitzer, in calling for a longer school day and year (in lieu of smaller class size, no less), has made me acutely aware that electing democrats is by no means sufficient to protect working people.

Here in Fun City, we already have a longer school day and year, endorsed and enabled by Bloomberg and the UFT (Isn't it incredible to find union leaders on the wrong side of this issue?). Despite that, we still have the largest class sizes in the area. KIPP is a symptom, and a sign of things to come if we don't wake up.

A lot of people are all fired up about teachers and why they aren't working more hours. It's remarkable that so few think to ask why everyone else can't work less, like they do in Europe.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Moderation

Truth be told, I'm not much of an Abba fan. The other night I was at a party, and the self-appointed DJ declared, "I like all kinds of music." He then proceeded to play CDs by Neil Sedaka, Tom Jones, and Abba to illustrate his diverse tastes. But I saw this at Andrew Sullivan's blog and couldn't resist.

Who's singing Waterloo today?

Mr. Bloomberg and the Leased Schools

As everyone knows, Mayor Mike is an intrepid problem-solver. It's tough to build new schools, what with all those expensive, inconvenient environmental regulations. The solution, obviously, is to lease schools and avoid the regulations entirely. Now sure, that may not work, like when the city converted a dry-cleaning plant into a school. The kids were exposed to toxic fumes, and the public found out about it.

But now, those pencil-pushers in Albany want leased schools to be subject to the same regulations as new constructions. This may mean Mayor Mike will have to go through the time and expense of inspecting, and decontaminating (or at least pretending to decontaminate) new leased school sites. And the fact is, only 31% of new school sites are going to be leased. Jeez, can't these guys look the other way?

Naturally, Mayor Mike is working to have this legislation changed. After all, 69% of kids in new schools are already going to have sites inspected. What do these people want, everything?

Mayor Bloomberg has firmly adopted the policy of children first. First, dump the children anywhere you can. Worry about the consequences later.

Thanks to Norm

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Find' 'em, use 'em, discard 'em, and then find new ones. And make the kids work the same hours. Forget about dance lessons, music lessons, karate, sports, and everything else that doesn't directly involve test scores. Playtime? Give me a break.

Honestly, they sound worse than the military schools parents used to threaten kids with, and if you consider the majority of their students don't even complete the program, their results are extremely unimpressive. When things look really bad, they simply take their name off the school.

KIPP's largely been presented as the magic pill that will cure all our ills, and it is simply no such thing. But KIPP, and its wannabees, help to explain the very troubling words that came from KIPP-enthusiast Jay Matthews the other day:

Some (innovators) even suggest that school systems should focus on recruiting waves of energetic young teachers, who would spend five or six years in the classroom before moving on, rather than career teachers, who might tire as they grow older.

That sounds like the whole McTeacher thing again, and I'm sorry, but thoughtful people need time to think. How much time do KIPP teachers get?

Students and teachers are in school from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, for four hours on Saturdays, and for three to four weeks during the summer.

I'm gonna go out on a limb, consider being on call for parents evenings, and say "Not much."

In spite of the long hours, average daily attendance at KIPP Schools is 96%.

If you ignore the fact that most kids stop attending altogether.

Frankly, if you're going to work yourself and your students to death, you ought not to be a role model for my child. I think, though, if you do choose this lifestyle, you ought to be lavishly compensated for it. According to KIPP:

KIPP schools offer a benefits package, which includes an annual salary, medical and dental benefits, and life insurance. Teaching salaries at KIPP schools are comparable to those of traditional public school salaries and include a stipend for the longer school days.

A stipend? How about a number? I mentioned the other day I'm told KIPP has one 100K teacher. For what they ask, 100K ought to be starting salary, and 2 and 300K should be standard for the "senior" 6-year teachers.

But whatever you pay them, don't ask me to send my kid there.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Saint Rudy's Pals

First it's Bernard Kerik.

Then it's the crack dealer.

And now this guy. Well, I guess you're not automatically a pedophile just because the diocese suspends you.

I'm Not from Jersey

Of course I'm not, and would I even admit it if I were? Probably not.

But our local conflicts pale next to those of our Eastern counterparts.

When distributing the student surveys for our esteemed chancellor, I had four flavors--Chinese, English, Korean, and Spanish. I distributed them according to primary language, and walked around the room announcing which language each kid was getting.

"Chinese," I said to one kid, and he got very upset.

"I'm not Chinese!" he objected.

"Do you want Spanish?" I asked (I had extras in Spanish).


"How about Korean?"


"Do you want to do the survey in English?" I asked. Fine with me. It sounded like good practice, even though this wasn't technically a teaching activity.


"Well, it's Chinese, then."

"I'm not Chinese!"

You see, the boy was from Taiwan. In Taiwan, they're taught they aren't Chinese, and it's a big deal to kids like this one. But still, whatever they call themselves, and whatever language they speak, they actually read and write in Chinese.

"Well, you don't have to be Chinese. But this is written in Chinese. Can you read it?"

"Of course."

"Then please fill it out for me," I told him.

The kids seem to get along pretty well, whether they come from the mainland or Taiwan. But don't tell the Taiwanese kids they're from China. Hard to understand, isn't it?

I have a lot of friends from Jersey, and I'll probably have to go there on Saturday. But don't ever accuse me of coming from Jersey. Now that makes perfect sense.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Cure

I often read Schools Matter, and often encounter very uncomplimentary remarks about KIPP schools. But the last week has brought a few reinforcing voices, including this one from Teaching in the 408:, which suggests that Education Week neglected to comment on some aspects of its own story:

...Ed Week correctly reports that fewer than half of the kids that begin the Bay Area KIPP schools as 5th graders in 2003 make it to 8th grade in 2006. In the Oakland incarnation, the attrition rate climbs to 75 percent. The article ignores the fact that these lost students are overwhelmingly African-American males. The three Bay Area KIPPs lost 77, 67, and 71 percent of its Young Black Males (YBMs) during this time period.

Hmm...what happened to all those kids? TMAO, the blog writer, knows a few:

Students at my school who have left KIPP have done so because of the debilitating effects of the shame and exclusion based discipline policy, because they were flat kicked out, or because they were told to change an aspect of their physical appearance (hair color; hair style) before being allowed to return. None of them left because their families moved.

Wow. Well, I suppose if I were able to dictate what my students should do, what color hair they could have, and kick out any and all who defied me, I could achieve outstanding results as well. In the real world, though, every kid kicked out of a charter would land in the classroom of a public school teacher (like me), who'd then be vilified by the Daily News for being unable to keep up with KIPP.

This brings me to another blogger, whom I'd almost forgotten about. Clever Newoldschoolteacher blogs at Oh, Snap (though not for some time now). Her last entry described how she loves working for KIPP. Her descriptions though, don't remotely move me to go out and sign up.

I taught for 3 weeks in July, went to the KIPP conference, worked in August on my room and curriculum, and started for real in September. I have not really slept or, for that matter, sat down, since then. I love the job, the school, and the kids though. It's an amazing experience.

It certainly sounds amazing. But I'm not amazed enough yet. Let's hear some more:

It has a REALLY long school day that's hard on the kids and hard on the teachers. I teach 3 90 minute classes, 2 45 minute homerooms, and 1 45 minute test prep/reading class. My schedule is such that I teach straight from 1 pm to 5 pm. It's killer. But it's totally worth it when I imagine the alternative work environment...public schools seem even crazier since I got to KIPP.

Still, they look pretty good to me right now. I teach 5 45-minute classes daily (and walk the halls a bit). She appears to teach 9, or at least do something for 9 (What on earth do they do in two 45 minute homerooms?). I'll bet dimes to dollars I get paid more than she does. Let's say I'm wrong, though. Does anyone really think it's worth 20% more pay (if indeed they get that much) to do almost twice as much work, have far less prep time, and then spend your evenings waiting by the phone for parents to call?

If you do, I have good news. KIPP is hiring.

Highway Honchos

Eduwonk and I have a running conversation on whether UFT President Randi Weingarten should be promoting teacher interests or (to me, at least) those of Joel Klein and Rod Paige. He may think I'm upset, but it's not him I'm upset with. It's his job to promote educational reform, and he does it very well:
While it's preposterous to say that the interests of the teachers' unions are always at odds with those of the kids in schools, it's equally preposterous to say that they never collide. Some policies are good for teachers, but not so good for kids.

That's probably true (though no examples spring to mind right now). As for Ms. Weingarten, it's regrettable that many of her decisions benefit neither teachers nor kids. How does it benefit anyone to place teachers on unpaid suspensions for months based on unsubstantiated charges? Immediate removal from classrooms and fines for those found guilty could achieve the same result without jeopardizing the innocent (I've now heard of two teachers ensnared by this preposterous rule and later found innocent).

Reform though it is, the whole travesty of justice thing rubs me the wrong way.

Furthermore, her support of the third NYC reorganization, the one in which principals must weigh salaries of experienced teachers against cheaper, newer teachers (or refurnishing their offices, or the rising price of donuts, or the most discreet escort services, or whatever) will certainly hurt teachers displaced through no fault of their own. There's little evidence that non-educator Joel Klein (who trains and hires principals with no teaching experience) values teaching experience.

In a job where you have to make instantaneous decisions at odd moments, there's often nothing more valuable than experience. How do you handle the needs of 34 kids, when they conflict with one another and change every moment? What do you do when a girl is sure to punch a boy's face out? What do you do when the AC drops dead in your trailer on the hottest day of the year? How do you respond when you're giving a final exam and the marching band has deemed it a good moment to walk up and down the street endlessly playing Louie Louie?

In any case, Ms. Weingarten's decision to support the reorganization reeks of collusion, and the timing (in the face of Mayor Bloomberg's rapidly declining PR) helped him to smoothly orchestrate a program that will hurt working teachers and probably schoolchildren as well. As Patrick Sullivan pointedly told the chancellor:

...under the FSF proposal, about half of failing schools would have had substantial budget cuts if fully implemented-- and instead would see no extra funding at all. He also asked why the funding changes would not undercut the professional status of teachers, encouraging principals to try to get rid of their most experienced staff.

It's tough for me to find fault with Mr. Sullivan's analysis, and it's tougher for me to see why Ms. Weingarten honestly needed to support and enable this program (or mayoral control). Halting a demonstration against it was a massive tactical error, if she'd intended to oppose this mayor (who now wants to be president). The need for a third reorganization, in any case, explicitly suggests the first two have failed.

Unfortunately, these reorganizations rely more on saving money for important stadiums than doing what's right for kids. The assumption that principals know best is belied by the longstanding city policy of granting tenure to virtually anyone with a pulse. There are no shortcuts to good teachers, and the notion of McTeachers, as put forth by some reformers, represents exactly what they're aiming for--poorly paid, replaceable cogs with no lives, no pensions, and no future to speak of

A friend of mine who just retired worries a lot about her daughter, who's planning to teach next year. I worry about my own daughter, who often speaks of becoming a teacher. And I believe absolutely that attacks on teachers are often thinly veiled attacks on unions.

Job one of a teachers' union is to vigorously protect the interests of its members. These interests should be more important than the political ambitions of the union leaders, the chancellor, or indeed the mayor. They should even be more important than Ms. Weingarten's ever-expanding 40-million per annum patronage mill.

And frankly, protecting the interests of working people can do nothing but help our children, who are bound to live and work in the world we leave them.

Thanks to David Bellel

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg is None of the Above

Well, Mayor Mike isn't a Republican anymore. On this site, right-leaning types have regularly maintained he wasn't a Republican. Left-leaning types (like me) have always claimed he wasn't a Democrat either.

Turns out we were both right.

Will we be seeing a President Moneybags? A Senator or Governor Moneybags?

Only time will tell.


This school year is drawing to an end, and there are some things we'll miss (like the kids), and some we won't (like getting up early).

In our school, we have an extended day, and we all fight over the disappearing early schedules. There's good reason for that. For example, I get out about 90 minutes after the first group.

One of my colleagues parks directly outside my trailer, and shouts at me daily while I'm directing the students inside.

"Hey, Mr Educator. I just want you to know that I'm going home now!"

"Good for you," I reply, pretending not to care.

"That's right. I'm going to get into my car right now, and then I'm going home."

Then she gets into the car and starts it up. She then gets out again.

"Well, I've got the car started now, so I'm gonna get in and drive home."

This, by now gets me mad. "I still get paid more than you."

This does not even phase her. "That's OK. My husband gets paid more than you."

"Well, I'm a better human being than you are."

"Maybe that's true. But anyway, I'm going home now."

Then she gets in her car and drives away. If I'm on early and she's on late next semester, I will make it my mission in life to exact vengeance every single day, even if it means driving my car into the building, up the stairs, and parking outside her classroom, wherever it may be.

Driving up the stairs may be rough on the tires, though, so maybe I'll just take the elevator.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Something Good

There's now a voice of reason on the NYC Panel on Education Policy, none other than Patrick Sullivan of Class Size Matters, who was appointed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Chancellor Klein was perturbed at having to respond to real questions, and Mr. Sullivan appears to be the lone dissenter, for now, on this particular rubber stamp brigade.

He pointed out that Liebman's claim of no-stakes tests had been contradicted by the recent announcement that kids would be paid for acing the tests; Liebman also admitted that schools might choose to count the results of these "no-stakes assessments" in students' grades.

To Klein he pointed out that under the FSF proposal, about half of failing
schools would have had substantial budget cuts if fully implemented-- and instead would see no extra funding at all. He also asked why the funding changes would not undercut the professional status of teachers, encouraging principals to try to get rid of their most experienced staff.

I couldn't agree more. What a shame UFT President Randi Weingarten arranged to halt the downward PR spiral of this administration by supporting the new reorganization and canceling the May 9th rally against it.

Still, it's great to see one of the good guys with a real voice in government for a change.


There's a lot of buzz about Michelle Rhee, who's become head of the D.C. school system at the ripe old age of 37. Ms. Rhee is a product of Teach for America.

Teach for America places recruits after six or seven weeks of summer courses and practice teaching. Some crash and burn when they face real classes. But their survival rate is improving, and those who succeed often resolve to spend their lives fixing all that is wrong with urban education.

Some critics note that, on average, teachers in the program do not raise achievement levels much higher than do other young teachers. They also say that despite some successes, the innovators, who seek new ways of training teachers and running schools, have not found a way to improve learning for the vast majority of low-income urban students.

Despite this, they seem to be well-regarded among prominent voices for educational reform. The founders of KIPP hail from TFA, and Ms. Rhee's colleagues can be found administrating both charters and public schools.

The innovators tend to support smaller schools, closer contact with students' parents, and longer school days and years. They also focus on character education and how much teachers raise student achievement. They want well-trained principals to have the power to hire or fire teachers with less interference.

Some even suggest that school systems should focus on recruiting waves of energetic young teachers, who would spend five or six years in the classroom before moving on, rather than career teachers, who might tire as they grow older.

There's a lot to be said for smaller schools, in my view. However, I do not agree that partitioning one big overcrowded school into five smaller ones equals five small schools. To me, that's another big school with a lot of walls and too many administrators.

And while there are those who feel comfortable depending on the kindness of strangers, I'm not among them. After reading about Nicole Byrne Lau and other charter teachers, I value tenure a lot, as should anyone who sees teaching as a career. That's particularly important when you consider the blatant "chew 'em up and spit 'em out" philosophy espoused by those who suggest the lifespan of a teacher ought to be five or six years.

There are those who equate age with wisdom, and while it's not always true, I still want thoughtful, experienced teachers for kids who need them most. I'm afraid I fail to see the wisdom of working teachers to death, or at best resignation. I don't think I'd want to be on call with a cellphone for hours after I left my job, as KIPP teachers are. Like most people, I'm available at work, and like any responsible person I return calls quickly.

Now I'm told that KIPP does have one 100K teacher, who they trot out for conferences and such. However, Nassau County, where I live, has thousands of them. They all have tenure, they aren't on call, they don't work longer days and years, and they aren't expected to flame out after five or six years. And some of them have been very helpful to my little girl.

In fact, I've seen many great teachers as old or older than Ms. Rhee. The notion of entrusting the education of our children with anyone who can put up with the job for a few years before moving onto greener pastures is offensive, counter-productive, and more worthy of a summer camp than a serious educational institution.

Unless, of course, you've got your eye planted firmly on the bottom line. If your ultimate goal is reduction of Steve Forbes' tax bill, it all makes perfect sense.

Thanks to reality-based educator

Monday, June 18, 2007


Those goshdarn inspectors who came from Britain are having quite an effect in their home country. Perhaps that's why Chancellor Klein saw fit to bring them here.

One head teacher committed suicide just two months after quitting because of a critical inspection by Ofsted, the education watchdog.

Another teacher disappeared on the morning she was due to face Government inspectors and was found dead more than 10 months later in parkland.

That sounds like just what we need here, so NYC has spared no expense to ship the inspectors over here and have them check out working teachers. It's a well-established fact that half of new teachers quit because the pay is too high and the work is too easy, so adding extra stress to teachers' day-to-day jobs is a very positive step.

Above you can see the new beta teacher examination Tweed is looking into. On the positive side, there will be no more nasty written questions, and the exam will be entirely oral. A highly placed source in Tweed suggests that anyone who can take 5 hours of testing will have little difficulty getting through 5 years of working for Chancellor Klein.

Thanks to David Bellel

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Miss Malarkey had a baby girl.

If you want to congratulate her personally, go right ahead.

Thanks to Schoolgal.

It's All Good

In yet another PR coup for Tweed, an NYPD spokesperson announced that Mayor Bloomberg's scanning program was a great success. That's because the city managed to collect 18% fewer weapons this year than last.

From July 1, 2006, to June 10 of this year, cops netted 353 weapons - including guns and knives - from city schools. They also confiscated 1,340 "dangerous instruments," including penknives, imitation guns, laser pointers and pipes.

During the same period from 2005 to 2006, police collected 383 weapons and 1,678 dangerous items.

This means, of course, that 18% fewer students were dumb enough to carry their weapons through metal detectors, and have taken the precaution of slipping them through windows, or having their friends let them in through side doors.

The students, therefore, are smarter. This is clearly the result of reorganizations one and two. Surely they will become even more resourceful after reorganization three.

Had there been 18% more weapons, it would have indicated that the mayor's aggressive techniques were working even better than expected.

Meanwhile, 14,285 cellphones and 2,558 iPods were also confiscated through April, according to the Department of Education.

The city does not appear to have commented on whether that represents fewer cell phones and iPods. However, it's well known that it'll be tougher for kids to tell their parents what's going on in city schools without those nasty cell phones. In emergencies, they won't be making those inconvenient 911 calls and imperiling the merit pay of principals and APs.

After all, having kids learn about priorities is what education is all about, isn't it?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The British Have Arrived

Recently, a group of folks from Britain came to inspect New York City schools. Why no one from this country, let alone this city, was up to the task is beyond me.

In any case, one of the inspectors you may have seen was Charlie Lupton. Mr. Lupton has some experience with school inspections, and David Bellel just sent me this report on Mr. Lupton's school. Across the pond, they rate schools 1-4, with 1 being outstanding and 4 being inadequate.

Overall effectiveness of the school? Grade- 4.

The overall effectiveness of the school is inadequate and it provides unsatisfactory value for money.

Achievement and standards Grade- 4

Pupils' achievement is unsatisfactory

Personal development and well being Grade- 2 Congratulations, Mr. L., on giving your students a sense of personal development and well-being.

Teaching and learning Grade- 4

The quality of teaching is unsatisfactory.

Feel free to read the whole thing if you wish. It's odd, though, that Mr. Klein would need to scour the world for someone with such a track record. If he were simply looking for someone with an English accent, I'd have mimicked one for considerably less money.

And if he really wanted to improve schools, he could've tried the whole good teachers/ smaller classes/ decent facilities thing. I guess it's more impressive to follow the longstanding NYC tradition of intergalactic personnel searches.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Indy Kids

Here's part of an email I just received. I've taken a look at a few issues and it looks good to me. I'm told it's also used with ESL high school students, and I'm considering it for September:

IndyKids is a newspaper and teaching tool that aims to inform children on current news and world events from a progressive perspective and to inspire in kids a passion for social justice and learning. It is geared toward kids in grades 4 to 8.

For just $20 you'll receive 40 copies of each issue and a teachers guide delivered to you by mail five times per year. Individual copies are $10/year. The fee pays for mailing costs.

Visit to subscribe, see previous issues and for more information.

Disclaimer: NYC Educator does not own stock in Indy Kids. However, if you wish to send me some, feel free to do so.

I Fail Kids for No Reason

Matthew was a problem. He didn't read the book, he didn't do homework, and he cut class. Also, he fully expected me to sign permission slips for trips he had already attended. I told him this was unacceptable. His language teacher, Ms. Scheisskopf, knocked on the door the next day with an inquiry.

"Why you no nice Matthew?"


"Why you no nice Matthew?"

What can you say to such an inquiry? I told her of his behavior in class.

"OK." she said, nodding furiously. "But why you no nice Matthew?"

I excused myself as politely as I could, and closed the door as Ms. Scheisskopf shouted something I was grateful not to comprehend. Matthew's behavior did not change, so I got a school aide who spoke his language to convey a message to his mom over the phone.

Matthew got the message that very day. He shouted at me in the hall.

"Do you know what it means when a teacher calls people from my country? Now I can't go to college! Now I will have to go back to my country!"

His friend, who'd been urging him to shut up, now dragged him away, and that was that, I thought.

The next day, my AP called me into her office.

Ms. Scheisskopf had called Matthew's mom to explain that it was not Matthew, but I who had a problem. It was, apparently, all my fault that Matthew was failing. Clearly I was "no nice." Matthew's mom called the school, and my AP had set up a meeting with Matthew, his mom, a translator, and Matthew's guidance counselor.

Matthew spoke first. I was not nice. I was always picking on him for no reason. I called his house and he hadn't done anything wrong. There was too much work in my class and why couldn't he be in Ms. Laconic's class? Her students didn't have to read the book, and she was very nice.

I showed Matthew's test grades--0, 14, 10, 0, and so on. I showed his attendance records, and all his cuts and latenesses. I showed all the homework assignments he'd missed, and he'd missed all of them. I told them about the trip form he'd submitted after he'd gone on the trip.

"Everyone does that!" protested Matthew.

"In my class, no one does that."

"Why can't Ms. Scheisskopf be here?" he cried.

"She has nothing to do with this," replied my AP, who appeared to be growing very weary of this meeting.

Matthew was told his class would not be changed, and that he would have to start doing homework and reading the book. Alas, while Matthew began to arrive on time and copy the homework on a fairly regular basis, he never read the novel we were studying, and was thus unable to participate or pass any of the tests.

I didn't call his house again.

He brought his mother up the last week of the semester to have a heart to heart with me, though she spoke not a word of any language I understood. I showed her his grades, all numbers she could understand.

She bowed her head and said something I took for an apology. Matthew gave me a dirty look, and marched off on that long road to summer school.

He was not at all accustomed to people he could not manipulate. Unless he gets a job working for Daddy, Matthew may be in for a very rude awakening.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Das Carnival... im der Haus. Haben zie getalket dem Deutche false? Ich guaranteezem ein riot mit der laffs allen die time. Gehen zie bitte tzu dem Carnival, mitten zie zelebartions und die biertrinken, und missen zie nicht dem Right Wing Professor talken uber dem messum mit die testum.

Das ist alles. Haben zie dem guten tag. Yall kommen back nau. Hier?

The Union President

If you read the NY Sun article about the Green Dot-UFT connection, there's a very interesting quote concerning UFT President Randi Weingarten from Education Sector's Andrew Rotherham, aka Eduwonk:

"She gets that choice is coming to public education, so she's out in the front, instead of just waiting to get run over by it like some of her colleagues."

Well, she's certainly out in front, and that's why she's so beloved by teacher-bashers like ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige. That's why the LA Times editorial board pauses to praise her while trashing tenure.

Ms. Weingarten gets "out front" by supporting mayoral control, and by having teachers suspended without pay for months based on unsubstantiated charges. While she applauds "teacher professionalism" at Green Dot, she's got no qualms about sacrificing UFT teacher planning time so they can walk hallways and lunchrooms. Then she casually tosses away retention rights, and substantially more for a compensation increase that fails even to meet cost of living.

Clearly, reformers ought to just give her a medal. Still, her job, ostensibly, is to improve the lot of working teachers. I'm in for 22 years now, and Ms. Weingarten has managed to move us back to a point well before I began.

Now maybe choice is coming to public education.

But Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessors, with eyes planted firmly on the bottom line, have consistently forced public schools to operate under substandard conditions. Unless that is addressed, choices will be severely limited. And no charter, no matter how good, compensates this city or its children for over a quarter-century of systemic neglect.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Gay Bomb

Off topic, but via Andrew Sullivan, here's a story about how the Pentagon sought to create a bomb that would turn enemy soldiers gay. It didn't specify whether or not they'd be permitted to marry afterward.

You Lookin' at Me?

Be careful about those racy snapshots your paramour left on your cell. Here's a story about someone who didn't.

Unfortunately, her students got a hold of her phone and emailed her picture to everyone they knew. Better keep it in your pocket (your phone, I mean!)

Thanks to Alicia

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ms. Weingarten Loves Reform

That's why professional teacher-basher Rod Paige loves Ms. Weingarten, and that's why you're walking hall patrol. That's why she supports the latest reorganization, which forces principals to consider salaries before removing teachers from the ranks of ATRs.

And Ms. Weingarten is very busy, courting Green Dot Charter Schools. You remember Green Dot--they're the "unionized" schools that boast of rejecting tenure and seniority.

Motion Defeated, UFT Delegate Assembly, May 9th 2007

Motion: To add to Resolution for a UFT Rally for Union Rights in June

Whereas, the Manhattan H.S. Chapter Leaders met on Wednesday, April 25, 2007, and by a vote of 18 to 1, resolved to present to the Delegate Assembly a resolution regarding the following; and

Whereas, recent statements of Chancellor Klein make it clear that principals are expected to manage as "cost-conscious C.E.O.s of their schools following the business model; and

Whereas, the new funding formula creates a disincentive for principals to hire and retain experienced teachers; and

Whereas, untenured teachers are still not protected from Bloomberg's goal to give tenure to fewer teachers; and

Whereas, the DoE has assigned displaced regional administrators to schools to teach shortened programs and assist in administrative tasks while displacing UFT members who are willing to teach full programs; and

Whereas, the DoE continues top erode contractual rights in the areas of hiring, the loss of hardship transfers, erosion of the secretarial license and the status and use of the ATRs; and

Whereas, the UFT has resolved to "continue fighting for changes in those aspects of reorganization plan that are still flawed or undermine public education, including the efforts to privatize schools;" and

Whereas, the union has endangered positive momentum for change in its support of petitions and sign-up lists for a rally to address those flows in the reorganization plan; be it therefore

Resolved, that the UFT take a vigorous stance against the privatization agenda of Bloomberg and Klein, and that the UFT immediately set a date to sponsor a rally before the end of the school year that follows up on the DA motion of Tuesday, April 24th, to "continue to fight for changes in those aspects of the reorganization" that undermine our members' rights.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Scarlet Letter

They don't cotton to unacceptable attire at the Raub Middle School in Pennsylvania.

That's Jamie Herrera shouldering the consequences, quite literally. Ms. Herrera was made to wear this for having worn a blank sleeveless shirt to school

Principal Regina Finlayson, it turns out, appears to have exceeded her authority in forcing kids to wear this shirt. She was forced to halt the practice.

The district's policy says a student can be removed from class for dress code violations until a change of dress can occur. After three offenses, a student can be suspended. Some principals have plain white T-shirts available so students don't have to go home to change or parents don't have to bring different clothing into school.

But that shirt kind of grabs your attention, doesn't it? And it probably won't fall off, like those goshdarn dunce caps used to.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

On Supervision

See all your lingering suspicions confirmed right here.

From the Folks Who Brought You Reorgs 1, 2, and 3

Hey, Mike, I know. If kids get high test scores, let's give 'em money.

Good idea, Joel. That's a lot cheaper than investing in good teachers, small class sizes, and decent facilities.

And also, it makes it appear we're doing something. They'll eat it up.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Best Holiday

You didn't have to buy gifts, or go anywhere, or do anything. You didn't have to get dressed up or visit anyone or give a party. Most people didn't know what it was, and no matter how thoroughly it was explained, no one quite understood anyway.

It was a thing of beauty, a rare inexplicable mystery of life, a thing to be studied, a thing to be pondered and treasured, a thoroughly reliable group of 24 very special hours. In the Bronx they spat, and in Brooklyn they danced.

But now it's the same everywhere--sit in the auditorium and blah blah blah and go to a meeting and blah blah blah and don't be late because we have more blah blah blah blah blah.

And for all the good it did we might as well have stayed home. But the chancellor and the union president decided we needed the blah blah blah if we wanted the do re mi.

What a waste. Next year I'm gonna bring a book.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Attention Deficit Disorder

It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, or taking Ritalin or Geritol. We all have to be careful.

Mr. Arbus, after collecting books from his class, asked them if they'd ever read the multiple choice questions in the text. Students shook their heads.

"Where do you think I got all those test and quiz questions from? Why do you think I assigned you all the exercises except the multiple choice for homework?"

Students hung their heads in shame, or missed opportunity, or both. Boy, if only I'd looked at those questions I could've aced all those quizzes.

Sadly, adults are by no means immune. Mr. Borden likes to give pre-tests, to give his kids a better chance of passing. He likes to do that on Friday, go over the tests, and let kids study over the weekend. That's what he did last week. Imagine his consternation, then, when he looked on the blackboard Monday and saw the answers to the pre-test still on the board. He decided to ignore it, and as far as he could tell, his furiously scribbling students were too intent on the test paper to even scan the blackboard.

Mr. Connor is very introspective. After he writes a test, he likes to leave notes on it. He writes why certain answers are preferable to others. But Mr. Connor is absentminded, and last week he copied his annotated test and distributed it to his students. One girl wrote him a thank you note, expressing her gratitude for the helpful notes he'd provided. But most kids ignored the notes entirely, and did neither better nor worse than before. Some of them even failed.

Maybe we all need to keep our eyes open. Who knows how much we're missing?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Little Good News

The whistleblower provision has been approved by the City Council, which overrode Mike "Accountability" Bloomberg's veto by 49-1.

The existing city whistleblower law protects city employees from being demoted, fired or disciplined in retaliation for reporting corruption, criminal activity or abuse of authority by another city employee. The new legislation would further protect Department of Education employees from retribution for complaining about a school policy or procedure that jeopardizes the health, safety or educational welfare of students.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

How many times have we had to write that? I'll spare you, but NYC Teacher at Mentor Texts has tagged me to write about my summer goals. I'm afraid they're not remotely as lofty as hers.

1. Stop working summers.

I've already failed to meet that goal, having signed up to teach summer college courses. I'm afraid I can't think of any others.

I know my list is not nearly as inspirational as what other teachers may have written, but it's very sincere.

The Carnival's in Town

Well, it's out of town, actually. But, if you act now, EdWonk is willing to transmit the entire thing from California direct to your laptop, and all you have to do is click here.

Amazing, ain't it?

Little Things Mean a Lot

I've been on a veritable crusade to introduce soap into the trailer bathrooms (I know it's asking a lot, but that's the kind of guy I turned out to be). I've gotten some assistance from a cooperative assistant principal who bullied the custodians into repairing the iron pipes that hung precariously from the railings. They even fixed my door, which now closes and locks, and it took them a mere 8 months.

The soap thing, though, has been a real uphill battle. One day, two bars of soap magically appeared. The next, one of my students asked me to take a look. Inside the bathroom, on the stainless steel sink, which is never, ever cleaned, there was what appeared to be rust. On closer inspection, it was an odd brownish substance which seemed to be growing out of the sink surface. The kids showed me the soap, which had a few millimeter's worth of the substance growing out of it.

I picked it up with a paper towel (which I found in the teacher desk, there being none in the bathroom), and brought it to the AP. But when I got to the office, there was a meeting going on, involving several people wearing suits. When I looked in, a secretary asked if there was an emergency. As I was almost late for hall patrol, I picked up the thing, showed it, and said, "Look what my kids are supposed to wash their hands with. Would you let your children touch a thing like this?"

The helpful AP made a note, gave a sympathetic nod, and expressed disappointment they didn't get liquid soap. I tossed the foul thing away and marched out to keep the halls safe for democracy.

Later, in the lunchroom, the secretary reproached me. "I was very embarrassed by what you did in there. I asked if it was an emergency. No one was bleeding, and it was my fault you interrupted that meeting."

"I don't think it reflects on you," I said. "I was the one who thought it was important."

While she's right it wasn't life or death, I'm quite curious what they were meeting about. What were they talking about that was so much more important than the health and hygiene of the kids I teach?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Now with More Cheesy Goodness

For working people, the New Democrats may as well be Republicans. They've moved so far to the center you can't tell where left ends and right begins. That's called "triangulation," they tell me.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter was very much a pro-labor candidate. Yet he vetoed a bill that would have required workers in union shops who fail to join to pay an agency fee. Sure, they can earn the salaries the union negotiates, and enjoy whatever benefits they negotiate as well. They just don't have to pay for it. Oddly, Colorado is not one of those "right to work" states. But now Ritter is a true leader, able to stand up to organized labor, and Republicans there will just have to find someone else to complain about.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is talking about extending school days and school years. As a parent, I'm understandably excited about the possibility of my child being tested even closer to death than she is now. He's talking charter schools and merit pay. To his credit, he's also talking of free junior college and lower class size, but I've heard that sort of talk before.

In fact, I heard it from New York State Governor Elliot Spitzer, who was going to compel the mayor to follow the guidelines of the CFE lawsuit. He was going to demand reduced class sizes in New York City. When he got elected, though, he proposed a "menu" including class size, or longer days, or longer years. The legislation about class size that I've read about includes no real benchmarks, no requirements, and no penalties. Instead of your class of 34 kids, Klein can put you and another teacher in the same room with 67 kids. Now you have 33.5 kids, and class size is reduced.

The expert, of course, is UFT President Randi Weingarten, who's already negotiated a longer school day and year. Not only that, but she's fearlessly sent teachers permanently into the halls, into the lunchrooms, and into the bathrooms. She sent her teachers to teach a 6th class (which she claims is not a class, but which the chancellor calls a small class) Monday to Thursday. She's shredded their seniority rights and earned well-deserved accolades from anti-labor, anti-teacher voices from the New York Post editorial board to ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

So where are pro-labor people to look? Is it a sin to say you don't want to work days, nights, weekends, and summers (like me)? Is it heresy to say you don't want your kids to do that either?

Who stands up for working people in the good ol' US of A nowadays?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Targeting Democrats

Well, the reformers are at it again. You know what "reform" means. It's when the local papers proclaim teachers are doing an awful job, and the only possible solution is to squeeze out more work for less pay. The new reformers are determined to get Democrats on board, and if Governor Spitzer's nebulous class-size reform is any indication, they're doing a great job.

They suggest charter schools can work around the limitations of those nasty teacher contracts. For example, they contend it's those contracts that limit salary possibilities:

As a charter, the school had freedom to implement new ideas, like paying teachers 20% above teachers in traditional city public schools — but demanding longer hours...

I just wonder--if charter teachers get paid more than public school teachers (and aren't these comparisons based on beginning salaries alone?), but work more hours, don't they get paid the same? And if you factor in their benefits, generally not as good as ours, don't they get paid less?

If it's the teacher unions that hinder progress, why are unionized Long Island schools almost universally excellent? I live in a multiracial community with a relatively mediocre scholastic reputation (unmerited, from what I've seen), and I cannot believe the difference in quality of teachers and facilities here. Wouldn't a better teacher opt for 20% more pay for working in a nearby suburban school system? Diane Ravitch's take on merit pay, though the numbers are dated, is powerful as ever.

It's not actually the union, but the city, that lowered standards for teachers for almost 30 years, indulged in various intergalactic recruiting schemes, instituted 800 numbers and job fairs, and declared an end to the teacher shortage when there was one teacher for each vacancy. In Long Island, there are hundreds. When NYC had the highest pay, it had a system that was a model for the world. Then it decided low pay was more important than high quality, and set off on a thirty-year project to artificially increase supply.

They found some good teachers than way, but when you let anyone with a college degree teach anyone and anything, the results are predictable. When Rudy Giuliani complains that teachers "stink," isn't he largely to blame for hiring and retaining the very teachers he complains about? Shouldn't he have denied them tenure if they stunk so badly?

Eliminating tenure is not the answer when the city almost universally fails to enforce it. What happens when we get rid of it and make teachers "at-will" employees?

Have you read about Nicole Byrne Lau?

Or these young women?

I have no sympathy for bad teachers , actually. But neither I nor the UFT chose to hire them, to grant them tenure, and to do virtually nothing about them for over 30 years. Furthermore, I've seen no evidence if Tweed had its druthers, it would go after bad teachers. They're more likely to toss activist teachers into the rubber room and go after their licenses for transmitting unfavorable information on Department of Education fax machines.

The charter guys see things differently:

A big inner-city school system, Mr. Tilson explained, is kind of like that — the General Motors of the education world. "I see very, very similar dynamics: very large bureaucratic organizations that have become increasingly disconnected from their customers; that are producing an inferior product and losing customers; that are heavily unionized," he said. A successful charter school, on the other hand, is like "Toyota 20 years ago."

Perhaps they're under the impression it was American union members, rather than their bosses, who chose to design cars that would fall apart after five years. Perhaps they think NYC teachers are the highest, rather than the lowest paid teachers in the area.

Or perhaps they see one of the last bastions of organized labor in the country, and have decided to enlist the government's help to dismantle it. Perhaps they see how much education costs, and have decided some of that money belongs in their pockets. If Democrats run to their aid, working people are going to need a party of their own.

Newspapers can trumpet otherwise, but it's idiotic to think we're going to make American lives better by worsening what teachers have. It's remarkable that unions haven't yet seen fit to spread the word that everyone should have what we do, and more. It's even more remarkable that those who wish to convert teachers into automatons can't see the kind of world they're sending their kids into.