Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mitt Speaks Out

Candidate Mitt Romney, pictured here chumming up with a poster urging "No to Obama, Osama, and Chelsea's Moma," has come out swinging against YouTube.

"YouTube is a website that allows kids to network with one another and make friends and contact each other," Romney explained. "YouTube looked to see if they had any convicted sex offenders on their web site. They had 29,000."

Actually, Mr. Romney was speaking of MySpace. Incidentally, here's Mitt's MySpace page.

Thanks to reality-based educator

This Week Only

Catch Diane and Michael Ravitch blogging on education, literature and the arts.

Ms. Ravitch is one of very few prominent voices speaking out in favor of teachers and teacher unions nowadays. We need to clone her and send her all over the country. If any readers are scientifically inclined, suggestions on how to accomplish this are welcome.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Another Place, Another Time

Well, another place anyway. In Massachusetts, a high school is being placed on probation because of its propensity to allow too many oversized classes. If the school doesn't fix the situation, it could lose its accreditation.

This is because a pattern has been detected, demonstrating that the district has repeatedly permitted classes of more than 30 students.

Here, class size has been contractually set at 34, and a great deal of classes have 34, if not more (loopholes being what they are). I followed the CFE case for years, hoping and believing this situation would change substantively. However, the final ruling left little or no oversight over Mayor Bloomberg and Tweed, and the mayor, who often talks about accountability, was openly delighted there was none for him.

The last deal, much-ballyhooed by the UFT patronage mill, had more holes in it than most Swiss cheese. I sarcastically (but correctly) predicted this would result in class-size reductions of fewer than one student per class.

It was obvious from the wording of the agreement. But our leadership is either so blatantly incompetent it doesn't understand basic English (I'm no lawyer, but this was not written in legal jargon), or it has no qualms about making unsatisfactory agreements and pretending they're otherwise.

Either way, it does not bode well for New York City students or teachers.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

36 Hours

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Full Speed Ahead

Mayoral control is set to sunset in 2009. What does mayoral control mean for teachers?

Well, it means thousands of them are overpaid subs with virtually no chance of landing real teaching jobs. It means principals have to decide between paying 40K for a new teacher and 80K for an experienced one. Take a look at suburban schools, the many excellent ones that surround the city, and ask yourself how many of their new hires have 20 years of experience, let alone get paid for it.

It's meant an atmosphere of fear and loathing the likes of which I've not seen in over 20 years. It's meant a system in which higher test scores are loudly trumpeted in the press, and lower ones are just as prominently ignored. It's meant a system in which "accountability" is the watchword, even though it applies exclusively to working teachers (whether or not they've actually done anything negative).

It's meant a system in which the first reorganization didn't work, the second reorganization didn't work, and one in which the third reorganization, the one which encourages "McTeachers," is loudly and wrongheadedly endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers. Randi Weingarten, UFT President, takes a page from her idol, Hillary Clinton, and endorses this disaster despite overwhelming evidence it's utterly failed to help her constituents:

"There's lots and lots of my members, as well as parents, who believe the governance system has to be changed," the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said. Ms. Weingarten, who originally supported mayoral control, said she stands by her admiration for Mr. Bloomberg's decision to take over the schools. "Until he said let me control the schools, there was never a mayor who put his entire political capital behind the schools," she said.

I had a great English teacher who once said, "Once people use the word but, you can forget everything they said beforehand. Only after but do they tell you what they really mean. I often tell my kids, "When your girlfriend says she really loves you but---it's time to look for a new girlfriend."

Ms. Weingarten acknowledges UFT members oppose the system. But she stands by her decision to support and enable mayoral control. Ms. Weingarten's job is to represent the interests of working teachers. The majority of working teachers in New York City now have fewer than five years experience, and are unlikely to stick with it.

But they pay dues anyway. It behooves Ms. Weingarten to consider beyond that, and to also think of what's good for those of them that will stay on. Career teachers are good for our kids, and also good for our union.

Thanks to 17 More Years

It's All in the Methodology

Money back guarantee---Give this a watch. You'll love it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Put an End to the Suffrage!

You turn on the TV and you see people say no, universal health care is not the way to go. Not one word about catastrophic medical emergency being the number one cause of bankruptcy. Not one word about the impossibility of such a thing occurring in most countries. Not one word about President Bush signing a bill that ensures you'll still be liable for Visa payments after your catastrophic medical emergency.

And then they roll out their big guns--It's "socialized" medicine. Socialism. That's bad, right? Well, you'd certainly think so if you listened to demagogues like Bill O'Reilly or Randi Weingarten, who vilify their opponents by tossing about scary names. But they do that only because it's easier than putting forth a viable argument.

What would such people say if women today were trying to get the vote?

Well, in Canada women vote. And what happened there? They speak French. That's right. French. Do you want to speak French?

Well, what if they're having their time of the month or something? Maybe they'll hang the wrong chad and end up voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore.

What if they get in the booth and can't make up their minds? Do you want to spend a half-hour waiting for your chance to get in that booth? Waiting time is a huge issue.

It's feminist! Wait, no, it's radical feminist! Yeah, that's the ticket.

Well, in Ohio women voted, and in 04, people had to stand in the rain for ten hours waiting in heavily Democratic districts (Oops, sorry, that happened here).

If you're determined enough, you can make up an argument for anything. Still, it's incredible in this day and age that Americans stand up and argue against systems that provide decent health care, reasonable work hours, affordable child care, and higher education that doesn't require a second mortgage.

In 1984 I spent some time in Communist East Berlin. They sold Pravda on every street corner but nobody bought it. They had TV channels showing tedious meetings and great reverence to their highly reppected comrades from the USSR. If Rupert Murdoch had been running Pravda in the style of Fox News, with Wilhelm O'Reilly, there'd still be a Communist East Berlin.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ms. Weingarten Waxes Poetic

This is just to say
I have squandered
the hard won gains
that were in
the contract

and which
you were probably saving
along with tenure and seniority rights

Forgive me
it was politically expedient
so simple to get you rubes to vote for
and so likely to get me that DC gig

with apologies to William Carlos Williams

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vamos a Texas...

...para el Carnival.

You Take That Mush, and Eat It

Well, they had a meeting over at the Ross Charter School. That's the school run by billionaire Courtney Ross. As you may recall, Ms. Ross did not care for the digs first offered her by the city, so they decided to push her school into the NEST school, the one parents had spent hundreds of thousands of their own dollars fixing up. As those nasty NEST parents fought Ms. Ross in the press, of all places, there was no choice but to relocate them.

So the DoE placed them in their state-of-the-art facilities at Tweed. I often think of them in my trailer. After all, who knows if they could fit 34 kids in a state-of-the-art classroom? Who knows if Ross kids could do without AC, or computers, or soap in their bathrooms? You have to be a real man to put up with that sort of thing (even if you're a little girl).

You'll be happy to know that the Trustees (Ms. Ross was not in attendance) determined to keep class size at twenty.

While your classes may appear to still have 34 (or more), in actual fact they will only have 33.5. That's because of the great strides we've made in class size, and don't doubt that in five or ten years you'll only have 33.2.

And stop whining. In Mr. Bloomberg's New York, it's all about rugged individualism.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tonight I'm Gonna Party Like It's 1984

How do they do it, those folks at KIPP? I mean, how do they achieve such amazing success with the kids (at least the ones who don't drop out of the schools they don't take their names off)?

Well, here's a comment, from a KIPP student:

I am a KIPP student from Oklahoma and KIPP is "GREAT".Ilove it very much.That I will go around the United States just to find a KIPP college.

Makes ya wanna pack up yer kids and send 'em, doesn't it? But the next comment, from a former teacher, goes into just a little more detail:
The Human Brain, regardless of aptitude, statistically learns best through repitition. Doing things over and over and over again until it becomes ROTE (like muscle memory for an athlete or Instrument Position for a Musician). KIPP Teachers all teach with the "No Child Left Behind" morality. This means that for the most part, students who have mastered their Multiplication Tables or can easily identify Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives, do not continue with their specified curriculum, and ultimate year-end outcome until THE WHOLE CLASS or at least the MAJORITY of the (*usually) 30 students have ALL mastered the skill at hand.

• In order for that to occur at KIPP Schools, unlike Public Schools, students are provided with AMPLE opportunity in terms of "seat time." By the end of October each school year, KIPP students have already put in as many hours as Public School students do FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR. (*Taking into account KIPP's 2 week Summer School Session, and mandatory every-other Saturday morning School)

Well, you certainly won't leave anyone behind that way. Hopefully, you're not one of those kids who catches on quick and needs to sit through the rest of it. But it's all for everyone, kinda like a communist re-education camp (and I'm told they were often quite effective).

Despite that, this teacher remains distinctly unenthusiastic:

KIPP students do very well ... but ... it is due to REPITION and ROTE LEARNING. OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER ... (get it?...ok, once more...OVER AND OVER AND OVER....)

• Children will only be children ONCE. KIPP students are college-bound...so...after going to school for 55+ hours a week IN THE FIFTH GRADE, they can look forward to school for AT LEAST another TEN YEARS. (55hrs/week x School year...FOR TEN YEARS. Besides....didn't we learn anything from CHILD LABOR LAWS?!

My kid isn't perfect, and does not get straight As. But I adore her for what she is. I wouldn't dream of sending her to a place like this. Still, KIPP, and its various emulators are not really about the kids. As my buddy, reality-based educator, pointed out, they're about getting people used to working 200-hour weeks. They're about getting working people to give up any shot at personal lives. They're about worsening working conditions, and shedding crocodile tears for the children.

But the children will grow up, and when they do, I don't want them to be wage slaves. There's just no reason we need to treat one another like that. Make no mistake about it--teaching is one of the very last bastions of unionism in these United States. There's nothing some people would like better than to crush us.

But our kids will then grow up without the benefits of unions, at the mercy of their bosses, with few or no alternatives. If we love our kids, we have to protect them. We have to stand up, say we aren't slaves, we won't be slaves, and our kids won't be either.

It's tough to make kids just say no to sex and drugs. But we're supposedly wiser than they.

Let's just say no to the degradation and destruction of our calling. We're not robots, we don't aspire to be robots, and neither should our children.

Thanks to California Teacher Guy

Monday, July 23, 2007


She was from Bangladesh, and she had two sisters. She was the oldest, and the brightest.

The next sister was a year younger, and also bright.

The youngest sister, I'm afraid, was simply not in the same league.

When they took the NYC LAB English proficiency test, they scored precisely as I'd have expected, Jasmin highest, the middle sister in the middle, and the youngest lower. But only the youngest, the least capable, was placed in regular English.

That's because NYC had determined that the younger you were, the more difficult it is to learn a language. Reality dictates precisely the opposite.

But testing does bring out life's little ironies.

Jasmin wanted to be an English teacher. That was too much for her father, who took her out of the country and forced her to become a doctor (or at least planned to).

I hope she's well. I hope she's happy. You can never know about some kids.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just Say No

To drugs. To sex. To smoking.

But a new study suggests when we tell kids not to smoke, guess what happens? They do it anyway.

So much for all those glitzy ad campaigns from the cigarette companies urging kids to quit. A few years back I'd seen some ads with cartoon-like corporate-head types plotting to make kids smoke, and laughing about them doing so. Such ads were supposed to be effective, but were quashed in negotiations with companies preferring the white-bread "Don't do that" approach.

So just say no amounts to just say yes.

And it may well have been planned that way. Can't we do this better?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Opinions for Sale (Part 2)

The most egregious and short-sighted giveback of the 05 contract was that of seniority transfers. While there is a school of thought that downsizing is part of industry, and should therefore be part of education as well, there's another that says you don't exchange very valuable benefits for compensation increases that don't even meet cost of living. I'm not an expert negotiator, but it stands to reason if they want to remove very valuable benefits, they ought to pay to do so.

Well, here's the UFT's City Sue on precisely that:

Specifically, Klein complains about the contractual right of teachers who have been "excessed" to another position in their license area in the district. He wants to eliminate that right and force these excessed teachers, whose positions have disappeared through no fault of their own, to pound the streets and find their own jobs or be laid off.

Tell 'em, Sue! Why on earth should teachers pound the streets and find their own jobs if their schools disappeared though no fault of their own? You wouldn't stand for that! I'm glad you're in our corner, fighting for us. Otherwise, the DoE could arbitrarily close schools and screw the entire union.

That, of course, was before the 05 contract. Afterward, she sang a very different tune:

In fact, there’ll be more transfer opportunities. The only thing is, like in the real world, you’ll have to sell yourself. See a vacancy? Just apply! All vacancies will be declared, not just half. No limits on how many jobs you can apply for. No release needed from your principal. No limits on how many teachers can transfer out of a single school. No discrimination in hiring allowed, not even for union activities — or age, race, etc. No involuntary transfers. It’s a free market, for those who dare! And for excessed teachers, there’s always a job for you back home (in your school or district) if you can’t find anything else.

Now, you can pound the streets and find your own job after all, or become an ATR. Of course, it beats unemployment (assuming the accompanying insecurity and frustration doesn't actually drive you to give up). Still, it's hard to see how it beats having your own classes and your own job. And now, even some from Unity are complaining about the plight of the ATR teachers the party's lack of foresight has created.

But on the official union blog, they say problems with the "open market" plan are an urban myth, and virulently refuse to answer any questions on, or even acknowledge, the situation of ATR teachers. Since there are more transfers, it's better. Period. There will be no discussion of ATR teachers, and don't look at that man behind the curtain.

Our leaders change their opinions at the drop of Ms. Weingarten's chauffeur's hat. They've signed a loyalty oath to Unity, the monopoly party that's dominated the UFT for half-a-century. Their opinions are issued by the leadership, and they alter them as the leadership demands. In the 60s, they tossed people out for the sin of opposing the Vietnam War.

And their priority is neither your welfare nor that of the kids you serve. They've tossed your hard-won rights into the trash for less than cost of living, and their principled stands evaporate as their leaders drool over national offices.

It costs us 40 million dollars a year to grease the Unity patronage mill, fully half the dues we pay them, and they aren't going to tell the truth if it means giving that up. On Edwize, you're not even allowed to mention Unity. You're not supposed to know its name, its loyalty oath, or how much you're compelled to pay to support it.

How much of it does Unity get back in caucus dues? They don't have to tell us, but patronage is never exactly free. When I was a kid, my father sold construction supplies to Nassau County. He whispered that everyone working for the county had to kick back 1% of their salaries to the local GOP. Ten years later I read about it in Newsday, and it was a scandal.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the tabloids to expose the Unity Caucus. Unlike political parties, they're allowed to charge dues. They're like the old USSR Communist Party--you need an invitation to get in, and absolute loyalty is required. They feed the state, the state feeds them, and they look out for one another.

No one who's cast a critical eye on the terms of the 05 contract could say they look out for working teachers.

ATR teachers are wearing targets on their backs, custom made by Klein-Weingarten designing team.

Part One here

Thanks to Schoolgal

Friday, July 20, 2007

I Won't Do It

You can't make me. You won't make me. Unless you marry me. Then maybe I'll do it.

Uh oh. Now you've done it. Now I've done it too. And after all those hundreds of millions of dollars we'd spent saying just don't do it.

Teenagers...crave unfettered information — the kind restricted under federal abstinence education law, which discourages intimacy outside marriage but provides no instruction for safer sex.

Instead, we tell them "Don't do that." We make them promise, swear, wear buttons, give speeches. Turns out, though, they do it anyway.

Given that, wouldn't they be better off if we stressed how they could avoid pregnancy and disease?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are You the Bad Guy?

A recurring issue in my classroom has been standards, and why must I use them. This has proven inconvenient for not only certain students, but certain members of the administration as well. For example, though I'm certified to teach Spanish, I've only done so once. My AP determined that the Spanish teacher was throwing too many kids out of the period one Spanish class, and turned it over to me. I never threw anyone out.

Still, half the class didn't show up, and half who did failed to do any work. Consequently, only 25% of the kids passed, and I was never asked to teach Spanish again (which was fine with me, actually). It turned out the teacher who'd thrown too many kids out was passing almost everyone, and was therefore better suited for the job after all.

Closer to what I'm actually hired to do, I often teach beginning ESL. I really like the challenge of pulling language out of the reluctant throats of newcomers, and I will do or say virtually anything to do so. In my school, kids get three periods of instruction at this level--two with me, covering grammar and speaking, and one with Ms. Laconic, covering reading and writing. Last year, these classes began as level two in the fall, and became level three in the spring. For some reason, though, they were promoted or retained based solely on Ms. Laconic's grades.

In Maria's class of 34 kids, I passed 68% of the students. In my morning class of 14, I passed everyone except two kids who showed up in April and were hopelessly behind (I gave them grades of "NC", so they didn't count as failures. This may not have been necessary if the sole level two class had not already contained 36 kids).

I asked Ms. Laconic how Maria, a student who never cracked the 25% barrier on any of my tests, who regularly spoke Spanish in my class (a no-no, along with every language that isn't English), who never did homework (copying doesn't count), who was "absent" over thirty times in my class (and over 40 in Ms. Laconic's) managed to pass. "She drew a really beautiful picture," Ms. Laconic informed me.

I took Maria to my office (outside the trailer door) and asked her how she passed Ms. Laconic's class. "In her class you can copy," she told me.

Well, that explains it, I guess. I can only hope Maria isn't unfortunate enough to get a bad guy teacher like me again.

Thanks to Schoolgal

The New NYC Primer

See Joel talk.

Talk Joel, talk.

See Joel say a .6% class size reduction is good.

Good, Joel, good.

See Joel sit in a big air-conditioned room while classes of 34 children are in closets, trailers, half-rooms and bathrooms.

See Joel talk.

Talk, Joel, Talk.

See Patrick Sullivan question the status quo.

See Joel's cyborg suggest that genuine class-size reductions would force principals to hire sub-par teachers.

See the rubber stamps support Joel.

Support, stamps, support.

Thanks to Sol.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Come to the Carnival

Don't forget to leave comments for the writers. Well, you feed the goats at the kiddie zoo, don't you? Teachers, for the most part, are more sanitary than goats (though YMMV* in the summertime).

At The Education Wonks.

*Your mileage may vary. And if you had an eleven-year-old kid, you would've known that.

Next Season on Survivor

Have you heard about the next planned "Survivor" show?

Three businessmen and three businesswomen will be dropped in an elementary school classroom for 1 school year.

Each business person will be provided with a copy of his/her school district's curriculum, and a class of 28 - 32 students.

Each class will have a minimum of five learning-disabled children, three with A.D.D., one gifted child, and two who speak limited English. Three students will be labeled with severe behavior problems.

Each business person must complete lesson plans at least 3 days in advance, with annotations for curriculum objectives and modify, organize, or create their materials accordingly. They will be required to teach students, handle misconduct, implement technology, document attendance, write referrals, correct homework, make bulletin boards, compute grades, complete report cards, document benchmarks, communicate with parents, and arrange parent conferences. They must also stand in their doorway between class changes to monitor the hallways.

In addition, they will complete fire drills, tornado drills, and [Code Red] drills for shooting attacks each month. They must attend workshops, faculty meetings, and attend curriculum development meetings. They must also tutor students who are behind and strive to get their 2 non-English speaking children proficient enough to take the Terra Nova and PSSA tests. If they are sick or having a bad day they must not let it show.

Each day they must incorporate reading, writing, math, science, and social studies into the program. They must maintain discipline and provide an educationally stimulating environment to motivate students at all times. If all students do not wish to cooperate, work, or learn, the teacher will be held responsible.

The business people will only have access to the public golf course on the weekends, but with their new salary, they may not be able to afford it. There will be no access to vendors who want to take them out to lunch, and lunch will be limited to thirty minutes, which is not counted as part of their work day.

The business people will be permitted to use a student restroom, as long as another survival candidate can supervise their class.
If the copier is operable, they may make copies of necessary materials before, or after, school.

However, they cannot surpass their monthly limit of copies. The business people must continually advance their education, at their expense, and on their own time.

The winner of this season of Survivor will be allowed to return to the original job.

Thanks to Schoolgal

How Hard Is Teaching?

Do half of new teachers disappear before completing five years because the pay is too high and the work is too easy? You'd think so if you examined the KIPP model of working 200 hours a week and being on call for whatever remains.

However, in an unusually thoughtful education article, David M. Herzenhorn maintains otherwise:
School professionals are called upon not only to educate children, but also to nurture curiosity and civic values, and even to teach the most basic manners. Once, while waiting to have lunch with my mother, now retired after more than 30 years as a teacher in a city elementary school, I stood in her school’s main entrance and watched a teacher walk by with her class, shouting: “Fingers out of your nose! Fingers out of your nose!”

Well, I'm glad someone is offering them that advice. As a high school teacher, I might offer different suggestions, but if kids don't get those messages at home, it's our job to help out. I know kids with parents who just work, work, and work, and who haven't got a moment to keep an eye out. I'd like to think that I might help them out somehow.

Not only do professional educators have to know how to deal with children, they have to be clever about soothing an even wackier bunch: parents.

I've been very lucky in my dealings with parents. Of course, my kids come from other countries, and other cultures. I suppose if I'd dragged my kids halfway around the world so they could have better lives, I'd take calls from school very seriously (still, as a born-and-bread all-American type, I'd take it very seriously if a teacher called my home).

Chancellor Klein, in an interview, said, “I’ve got plenty of high-needs schools with air-conditioning.”

Reading between the lines, that clearly indicates he's got plenty of schools without air-conditioning.

He said he wanted to provide teachers with terrific working conditions...

That's why I'm in a trailer behind a building at 250% capacity and growing. There's nothing quite like a trailer with a busted air-conditioner. Or one where the chancellor won't permit you to turn it on because air-conditioning season has not yet begun.

“The most important thing in education is the quality of teachers,” Mr. Klein said.”

I agree. Why, then, did he go to Albany soon after being appointed, and successfully beg for the right to hire and retain thousands of teachers who'd failed basic competency tests, sometimes on dozens of occasions?

The two major ingredients are what you get paid and a combination of working conditions and job satisfaction.”

That's why Mr. Klein continues to pay among the lowest salaries in the area, and why he's chipped away at seniority rights. That's why he continues to make it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers displaced through no fault of their own to find work. That's why he suspends teachers without pay for months based on unsubstantiated allegations.

I regret such things escaped Mr. Herzenhorn's attention. But his heart's in the right place.

The daily work in schools is so hard that most educators in the system do not distinguish between the chancellor’s office and the mayor, the labor unions and state government, the teachers’ contract and the federal No Child Left Behind law when they complain, frequently, that the “system” is against them.

That's exactly how I feel, and it's probably the worst feeling I've had since I began teaching. For me, this began when my union prominently endorsed the worst contract I'd ever seen.

But when a kid comes up to me and says, "Thank you, Mr. Educator, for forcing me to read that book. I never read a whole book in English before, and I didn't think I could do it," when a kid says that to me I feel like a million bucks.

Of course, a million bucks isn't what it used to be anymore. Maybe the young teachers who leave just have more foresight than I do.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Too Busy to Complete That Master's?

Why not just pay someone off?

Something You Don't See Every Day

Deanna Hassell is up in arms because her son's being promoted to eighth grade. He was absent 55 times and managed to pull a 60% average (and this almost certainly indicates he has teachers who didn't see 55 absences as grounds for failure).

Ms. Hassell, however, is frustrated. Having told her son his evil ways would result in losing a year, she's been proven wrong by Mr. Bloomberg's new and improved system. Apparently, passing two tests at the end of the year (and not by much) is more important than getting decent grades or actually showing up for school.

A real concern for any would-be role-model is to ensure that there are consequences for the actions (or lack thereof) of those you'd presume to lead. By ensuring there are none, Mr. Bloomberg has challenged the authority of this mom.

As for Mr. Bloomberg's moral authority, he's promised to lower class size, and is now doing so, lowering average class size by 60% of one student per class. In this country, apparently, such achievements merit a run for the White House.

No wonder Ms. Hassell is frustrated.

Monday, July 16, 2007

But It's Never Been Done that Way

In Gilbert, Arizona, a library has (gasp!) abandoned the venerated Dewey Decimal System in favor of one used by bookstores. Books are now sorted according to categories you'd find if you were looking to purchase a book.

It was Harry Courtright, director of the 15-branch Maricopa County Library District, who came up with the idea of a Dewey-less library. The plan took root two years ago after annual surveys of the district’s constituency found that most people came to browse, without a specific title in mind.

“The younger generation today is wired differently than people in my generation,” said Mr. Courtright, 69. “What that tells me is we as librarians have to look at how we present materials that we have for them the way they want it.”

Interestingly, Mr. Courtright decided to model his changes on a system that appeared to work. Bookstores don't use the Dewey Decimal System because most people don't actually understand it, and customers are not inclined to spend time looking through card catalogs for specific books. Why not walk over to a big sign that says "Travel" if you're looking for travel guides?

This has incurred the wrath of librarians nationwide. After having spent such a long time learning this system, it's tough to give it up. I'm no expert, but I find it easier to locate books in stores than in libraries. I suspect that's true for a lot of us non-librarians.

And the fact is, librarians have little to fret about. Despite Dewey's absence, I see just as many people seeking help in bookstores as in libraries.

What do people want in schools? Generally, they want good teachers, reasonably sized classes, and a safe and clean environment. It would be great if someone like Mayor Bloomberg were to actually offer such services. Unfortunately, it's far cheaper to trot out superficial untested "innovations" year after year. Since the sleepy press corps allows people to believe they constitute improvement of some sort, there's little point laying out valuable stadium funds for what actually works.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


The NY Times is once again revealing its bias (and it still isn't nearly liberal enough for me).

Today, it has an article praising English chocolate, and claiming Hershey's tastes "like ear wax." Having never bothered to actually taste earwax, I can't opine on that in particular, but I've adored Hershey's chocolate since I was a kid (You can now even get a fairly credible version of it without sugar, if you're so inclined).

I spent some time in England, and the allure of its cuisine eluded me utterly. I once walked into a coffee shop, asked for a cup of coffee, and evoked riotous laughter on the part of the employees.

"We don't serve coffee at this hour," a somber employee replied.

I perused the sardine-and-peanut-butter sandwiches, and the other available delicacies, and decided their lack of coffee may have been a blessing in disguise. I ate a lot of great Indian food, but the whole warm beer and kidney pud scene was something I was happy to put in my past.

Didn't we evict them over 200 years ago? How dare they question our heritage?

It's un-American, is what it is.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Open Wide--Here Comes the Airplane

Arthur Pepper, the Executive Director of the UFT Welfare Fund, sits on the Board of Directors and Corporate Officers of GHI. So who's in a better position to inform rank and file about the upcoming GHI-HIP merger?

Probably no one. Mr. Pepper says the combined buying power of these two organizations will result in premium stabilization. That sounds viable.

The process of bringing these companies together will be ongoing and subscribers in each plan will not see any immediate changes in their benefits or the way they access their care.

That sounds good too, if you don't look ahead (a bad habit of mine, and I'm not sure where I picked it up). What happens after we see "no immediate changes?" But where Mr. Pepper really loses me is here:
As part of the process, GHI and HIP are also moving ahead to convert to “for-profit” status rather than their current “not-for-profit” designation. As a “not-for-profit” entity there are statutory restrictions that limit the accumulating of revenue that can be used for improvements such as updating claim processing systems. For instance under the GHI program, currently any money realized at the end of the year is returned to the City program as a dividend which helps to keep the benefit costs stable.

Now isn't it a good thing to help keep benefit costs stable? If we don't, doesn't it imply that benefit costs will not be stable? And if such costs were reduced by the merger, wouldn't it be a good idea to pass on the reductions to those of us who work?

And won't the "for-profit" moniker encourage these companies, which as far as I know cover most city employees, to deny coverage to save money (like other private companies do)? Or are they really gonna use profits only to update claims systems?

Perhaps I'm paranoid, but I never imagined the union would dump seniority placement, send us back in the lunchrooms, support charter school entrepreneurs, make high school teachers teach six classes, make teachers come in in August (for no reason and no money), or support the unpaid suspension of teachers based on unsubstantiated charges.

Since they've now done all of the above, it seems more than prudent to be wary of their pronouncements.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Do They Dream in the Rubber Rooms?

It appears they do. Here's a piece sent to me by a resident:

To Paraphrase Martin Luther King:

I have a dream!

Wouldn't it be great if the school system was controlled by people who actually had a stake in our children's future.

Wouldn't it be great if teachers were free to explore different ideas and concepts that would challenge the intellectual abilities our kids and not just make them clones to some standardized test.

Wouldn't it be great if the latest technologies (ipods, computers, wifi, cellphones, etc.) were embraced as new and creative ways of enhancing learning throughout the system rather than being controlled or done away with by a paranoid administration that thinks that anything new that can't be controlled by them is dangerous.

Wouldn't it be great if teachers, parents and principals could communicate, talk and debate about scholarly topics rather than being suspicious and circumspect of each other.

Wouldn't it be great if students could "hang out" with their teachers and eat lunch with them as they do in Japan.

Wouldn't it be great if teachers were unencumbered to say anything that came from their hearts to their students without first asking themselves, "Will this be taken the wrong way?", "Is this politically correct?" or "Will I get in trouble for saying this?".

Wouldn't it be great if the ideals that we all learned about in our constitution were actually practiced in our educational institutions?

Well, we can all dream can't we?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Carnival of Education...

...has opened for your perusal over at The Education Wonks.

Check it out.

Better Take Your Vitamins

My friend's mom smoked too much. She didn't watch out for herself, and the doctors told her she needed to change her habits or she was gonna lose her leg. Well, she didn't change her habits, and she lost her leg. Then the doctors told her if she didn't change her habits she'd die.

She died, but only after a long hospital stay. My friend's father had to sell his house to pay the bill. One Christmas Eve, in his new digs in the basement of his son's home, he picked up a revolver and blew his brains out. That was when I decided there was a health care problem in the United States.

But the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan loudly proclaimed there was no crisis. When you have US Government health insurance, things look pretty rosy, I suppose. Still, nothing was even attempted for a long time until Bill Clinton put his wife in charge of a task force. President Clinton, in perhaps the worst mistake of his presidency, declared that he would veto any bill that did not match 100% the proposal for universal health. This left no room for compromise, and no possibility that we could have at least improved our system.

One very good thing, for most teachers, is the health care plans we have. We don't generally have to contend with the issues you'll encounter in Michael Moore's new film Sicko. But a lot of Americans do.

Why should that be? If other countries can provide universal health care, why can't we? And if there are problems in other systems, why can't we learn from them and improve on them? Why must the business of insurance companies entail denying health care to maximize profit? Isn't the welfare of our people more important than the bottom line of these companies?

Can't we do better than this?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I'm Shocked and Stunned

For over 30 years, New York City paid teachers the lowest wage in the area. They spanned the universe looking for teachers, Austria, Jamaica (not just Queens), Spain, Mars, scoured the ocean bottom for ex-pirates who could breathe, or give the appearance of breathing. They instituted 800 numbers and ran job fairs. They offered to pay the tuition of anyone who'd take a few courses and come on in.

When tenure time came around, they gave it to everyone. Whoopee! After all, if you didn't, you'd have to find someone else to do the job, and that person could be even worse than the one you already had. Shuffle 'em along, nothing to see here, move on. So what if the Spanish teacher can't speak Spanish. It's not his fault. He's licensed in phys. ed. Can't you see that whistle around his neck?

Up spake the mayor. The teachers stink. We need merit pay. We need vouchers. We need charters. We need teachers to work more days, teach more classes, teach classes that we can't call classes, we need to suspend them without pay based on unsubstantiated allegations.

The suburbs, which paid teachers well, didn't need any of those things.

Go figure.

For over 30 years, UFT leadership paid no attention to class size, 34 last I looked. A word here or there, a solemn shake of the head, a tsk, tsk. But not one solitary word in the union contract. Although the contract was the only thing keeping classes as low as they were, further reduction simply couldn't be done. How would they get raises (Never mind all those years they didn't get raises anyway)? Sometimes they were compensated with little contractual perks, but they tossed them all in the trash for less than cost of living in 2005.

Gee, now that we have none of those things left, wouldn't it have been better to go with class size? Oh well.

But wait. Here's this group, Class Size Matters, and they're getting mentioned in the press. Its leader is writing op-eds in the local papers. People like this class size thing. So they get on the bandwagon, but they don't oppose mayoral control, and they don't protest against reorganization schemes that hurt working teachers. After all, if they do things like that, they might not look moderate. Celebrities like Rod Paige might not write such nice things about them anymore.

Better to wait until they get a piece of legislation with more holes than Finlandia Swiss, and declare victory. By the time it's enacted, nobody will remember. Now, when class size is not actually reduced, they say "Heavens to Betsy, that's not nice at all."

The suburbs, which simply keep class sizes low, have no such drama going on.

Go figure.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mr. Barr's Silk Purse

When UFT President Randi Weingarten's internet mouthpiece accused me of "making up facts" because I reported Green Dot schools didn't grant tenure (they don't and they proudly declare it), I was simply reporting what the LA Times said. It says much about the priorities of the UFT aristocracy that, in its zeal to boost the fortunes of a charter school operator wielding millions of dollars, it has no qualms about blatantly libeling real working UFT teachers.

I protested vigorously over at the "non-political" Edwize blog (the one on which you're not allowed even to mention Unity, the party that's controlled the UFT for half a century). But I may as well have taken a page from their new buddy Steve Barr, the charter entrepreneur who controls Green Dot. Here's what Mr. Barr told the LA Weekly about A.J. Duffy, President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who contended Mr. Barr might be selective about Green Dot students:

“It’s bullshit,” says Barr. “It’s like me saying, ‘Duffy’s a pig fucker.’ Have I seen him fuck a pig? Do I have photos? No. So I can’t say it. He should check these things out before he says them.”

What do you suppose would happen if a teacher addressed the media like that? I can see the NY Post headline now:

Potty Mouth Pedagogue Blabs About Bestiality

Personally, I can't say Mr. Barr's metaphor is precisely the sort I want my child or students to emulate. As it happens, though, I have checked this out before I said it, and these do indeed appear to be his words (Mr. Barr's sex life, however, does not interest me nearly as much as Mr. Duffy's appears to interest Mr. Barr).

Now over on Edwize, Mr. Barr can do no wrong. They've posted selected paragraphs from the Green Dot contract, and they look fantastic. Teachers can participate, they can make decisions, they can be on committees, they can do all sorts of great things. And unlike last time, when they simply said how wonderful it was, they've actually linked to the contract. Of course, since both Eduwonk and I had already done so, they had little to lose.

When Green Dot boasts that there is no tenure and no seniority preference in their schools, I take them at their word (The official UFT line is teachers are better off without it). Here are some of Steve Barr's ruminations on tenure and seniority:

“Where are these shitty teachers going to go? Where are these lifetime benefits going to go? What will happen to all of these groups protecting their interests and their jobs and their construction contracts? The political puzzle of this is really fascinating. But I have no doubt that within five years, you’re going to see our impact. And it’s going to be huge.”

Hmm...it appears he's pretty much made up his mind without having made our acquaintance. Personally, I hate when people do that. But his impact will be huge, particularly with the enthusiastic support of the 40-million per year UFT patronage mill (Note Mr. Barr is silent about that).

Here's a piece of the Green Dot contract Edwize neglected to print:

31.4 If a layoff takes place the following criteria will be used:

Legal requirements and qualifications

Satisfactory evaluation

Expertise and relevant experience

In the absence of substantial distinguishing differences in the above criteria, length of service at the site shall be determining factor.

Perhaps it simply escaped their attention. For an effective union, though, seniority needs to be a factor. I'm not comfortable with a twenty-year vet being shuttled out without a compelling cause. Newbies who see this as positive are simply not thinking long-term. Evaluations can be written by anyone, need not be accurate or factual, and tenure exists precisely to protect right-wing teachers (for example) from being fired just because I, the supervisor, happened to vote differently than they did.

Perhaps, in this city, teachers who didn't sign Unity loyalty oaths (and they really have them) could be targeted for layoffs. That would certainly be helpful to the six-figure double-pension gang that writes Edwize. Does anyone honestly believe its writers, who never, ever vary from the party line, could speak their minds freely and keep their jobs? In the sixties, Unity tossed people out for opposing the Vietnam War.

Once again, I don't believe Green Dot's "just cause" provisions are remotely as effective as tenure. But more importantly, when you can be targeted for layoff, whether or not you have seniority, it's no wonder that Green Dot has few concerns about what just cause may be, and little or no need to resort to just cause hearings.

As Ms. Weingarten's internet voice, Leo Casey, would say, "The question is mute." Over at Green Dot, no matter how long you've been around, they can always get rid of you just cause they feel like it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lucky Day

Today is 7/7/07, and my daughter says it's the luckiest day of the century. I'm therefore soliciting good luck stories, and feel free to add one. I know this isn't the best of them, but here it is:

A few years back, our beloved oil burner took a turn for the worse. The barrel cracked, I think. Our trusty oil burner guy came over, hummed a few rounds of taps, and told us only to use heat in extreme emergencies.

Now at this time, Con Edison was running a fantastic special. If you'd convert to natural gas (99% of which, they say, comes from the good ol' USA), they'd give you a free oil burner. All you had to do was pay some guy three thousand bucks to install it (or maybe eight thousand bucks, depending upon which guy you happened to select).

Now for this price, the guy would also remove your oil tank and your oil burner. Having just filled the tank, to the tune of over three hundred bucks, this broke my heart to some extent, but I sucked it up and dealt with it. The problem, the salvage guy(sent by the Con Ed guy) assured us, was the oil in the tank was dirty, so we'd have to pay him a hundred and fifty clams to remove it. It was a big job, but he'd make the sacrifice, and do it for us.

But a friend of ours came over and said, "This is above ground, and the oil can only get dirty underground." Then he drained the tank, brought the oil to his house, filled his tank, and gave us two hundred and fifty bucks (US). He also looked at our old boiler and said he'd come back for parts. My wife declined his offer to pay for them.

The next day, when the salvage guy came for the oil tank, he was livid to find it empty.

"You said it was heavy, so I emptied it for you," my wife informed him. "I did you a favor."

He looked sadly at the burner. "My friend is going to come over for some of the parts," she told him.

This was too much for him to bear. "I'm going to take all of it, or I'm going to take none of it," he declared.

My wife smiled, said no problem, and went upstairs to call our friend. She asked him to take the parts right away. But our multi-faceted friend was hiking in Pennsylvania, and couldn't make it.

She went back downstairs.

"Tell you what," offered the guy. "I'll take the whole system now, and I'll give you two hundred bucks for it.

"Well..." began my wife, reluctantly.

"Two hundred bucks," he repeated, counting out twenty dollar bills.

"Well okay," she said, "but my friend is gonna really be disappointed."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Today's Recipe

Here's an email I just received from a teacher languishing in the rubber room:

How to destroy the soul of a good teacher:

1. Remove him/her from their classroom duties.
2. Prohibit him/her from any due process right to protect themselves from phony charges.
3. Blacklist the teacher so that cannot get a teaching job anywhere else.
4. Control the media so that the real truth will never get out.
5. Make them invisible to the rest of the world. Intimidate the rest of the population so that no one will respond to the teacher's emails, snail mails or post.

Now this is what I call progress. Kill the soul while leaving the rest of the body intact. Don't we live in a great society?

Where Are They Now?

For months I've been making sarcastic references to the travesty of class size reduction which appears to be all that remains of the CFE lawsuit. I'm very sad to report that my comments were far closer to the truth than anyone could have suspected. The NY Times reports:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday how the city school system plans to spend $228 million in new education financing from the state, including allocating nearly half the money to reduce class sizes.

That money, $106 million, will allow the city to add 1,300 teachers to cut class sizes, and officials say they will concentrate on the most crowded classrooms with students most at risk of failure.

That sounds good, doesn't it? After all, a hundred million bucks is a lot of money, perhaps almost as much as they spend redoing Tweed so it could house a charter school run by a picky billionaire. So what effect will that money have?

...if the new money were distributed equally it would result in an average reduction of only 0.3 students per class in kindergarten through third grade; a reduction of 0.8 students in fourth through eighth grades; and a reduction of 0.6 students per class in high school.

This clearly means, for the overwhelming majority of kids, it will have no effect whatsoever. Furthermore, it appears you'll have to be extremely needy for this money to reach your classroom. The fact is, many schools are so overcrowded they couldn't reduce class sizes if they wanted to--there's simply no place else to put kids.

With schools hovering over 250% capacity, it's a disgrace that this mayor gets away with labeling what now amounts to a drop in the bucket as a major improvement. It's even worse that the UFT has chosen to function as his echo chamber, heralding nebulously worded regulations as brilliant achievements. Despite Ms. Weingarten's current criticism, the UFT loudly hailed the regulations that provided little or no oversight over a mayor who's basically passed the buck on this issue since day one.

I knew better, and she should have too.

It's predictable that optimal results do not occur in overcrowded, decrepit buildings with the largest class sizes in the state. What surprises me is the dearth of parents storming city hall with torches and pitchforks.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Recommended Reading

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Sam Freeman's column on Allison Rabenau. It's very, very rare to find anything in a major publication so supportive of teachers. It's not surprising ex-Deputy Chancellor Alonso, who's publicly declared that teachers are the only variable in education, does not concur. Of course, he firmly believes NYC is the best of all possible worlds.

Allison Rabenau celebrated an inauspicious milestone on the otherwise unremarkable day of Oct. 18, 2004. Six weeks into her first year as a teacher, she finally taught a class.

Ms. Rabenau had left a long career as a stage manager in the commercial theater to learn how to teach English as a second language to immigrant children in New York’s public schools. The only problem, she quickly discovered, was that the avalanche of paperwork and other assignments meant she actually got to teach only sporadically.

Like Ms. Rabenau, I'm an ESL teacher. We spend weeks administering the oral part of the NYCESLAT English competency test, and for those weeks, I must give an oral interview to every single one of my students. I give the rest of the class assignments, but since I am not able to pay nearly sufficient attention, it amounts to busy work, which I pretty much allow them to ignore if they're cooperative (I have great students).

That said, the thing that bothers me most nowadays, with 22 years in, is not the paperwork but the palpable fear and loathing introduced by this chancellor and mayor. High school teachers used to teach five classes. Now most do that, patrol the lunchrooms, and teach a sixth smaller class four days a week.

Many of my colleagues, though no fault of their own, are tenuous appointees in the "Absent Teacher Reserves," with no permanent assignments, and wondering just when the contract will be modified so they can be unceremoniously dumped jobless onto the street. Others wonder if they'll get positions when their schools are closed, renamed and reopened (whether or not the schools are actually failing).

In view of this, UFT leadership, which endorsed mayoral control in the first place, saw fit to enable a reorganization that will make it even less attractive for principals to hire or retain senior teachers. They arranged to kill a major protest against this mayor at a time when his popularity had hit a distinct low. Now it's rebounded to the point at which his presidential aspirations are taken very seriously.

In this awful climate for city teachers, it's great to see a major voice like that of Mr. Freeman advocating for us a little.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Carnival of Education Volume 126

Welcome to the Independence Day 2007 edition of the Carnival. As it's a national holiday, we'll begin by promoting Family Values, thank you very much:

Mom and Dad

NYC parent Patrick Sullivan has some harsh words for charter schools.

Miss Malarkey doesn't hesitate to respond when you ask who her cutest student is.

Pissed Off Mom is very upset about after-school program cuts.

Make Math, not War

Darren from Right on the Left Coast suggests teachers may have some significant similarities with military leaders.

Maybe we could recruit teachers from the military. That would help DY/Dan, who wonders where the new math teachers are going to come from.

Pissed Off Teacher lives up to her name, upon discovering her hapless math students were Convicted Without a Trial.

Write Angles examines math, Youtube-style.

Here and There

Quietly Into the Night explains why her son is homeschooled.

Global Citizenship
describes a presentation about "Second Life" in The Magic School Bus.

Chemjerk reports that creationism is not getting much of a forum in the NEA convention this year. For some reason they insist on promoting that goshdarn evolution.

Uh oh. Looks like another KIPP school didn't work out. What to do about those pesky statistics? Apparently, they just took their name off the door, reports Schools Matter in KIPP Cuts and Runs Again.

Los Extranjeros

Over at Why Homeschool, they're worried about the academic decline in the UK.

But wait! Scenes from the Battleground, which actually comes from the UK, says it's time to get back to basics. Maybe there's hope after all.

Me-Ander says forget Rome and come to Shiloh.

The Meaning of Life

Ms. Teacher tells of her grandmother who "strongly felt that religion is not what you say (or tell others to do) rather it is how you as an individual lived your life."


It's big trouble for little kids when budget cuts hit the nurse's office.

Ms. Whatsit freaks me out in no small way with a story of what happens when your lovely children suddenly morph into teenagers.

Dr. Homeslice speaks.

Green Dots in the Big Apple

Eduwonk think it's positive that the UFT is supporting Green Dot Charters.

Norm Scott of Ednotes Online sees it as an attack on public education (and he's not too crazy about school closings either).

And Whitney Tilson, a Vice Chairman of KIPP Academy (among other things), reckons if I'm against it, it must be a good thing.

There and Here

Are we giving students our best or are we out of sync somehow? Leader Talk discusses Misalignment.

Ms. Cornelius wrote a beautiful tribute. To whom, you ask? Find out here. Mamacita says it's perfect.

Scheiss Weekly offers the notion we might be too quick to label kids learning-disabled. Maybe if we gave those kids more interesting things to read, they'd actually be more interested.

Crazy Eights

Graycie had me laughing out loud with her 8 Random Facts.

But wait--here are 8 Random Facts about Happychyck.

Um...some from Frum.

And still more--if you're fixing up your house this summer, don't ask California Teacher Guy for help.

How Do They Do That?

At Se hace camino al andar, Nancy ponders more effective strategies in teaching reading.

But what if you have to, perish forbid, teach teachers? Right Wing Nation has a few amusing, yet essential tips.

Show Me the Money

Bright Minds examines teacher salaries of yesteryear.

The Education Wonks just aren't sure about that NEA budget. Here's why.

New Teachers Corner

Ms. C. contemplates her first year as a teacher. Thoughtful and worth checking out.

Jose Vilson learned not one, but 16 things this year.

Burning Questions

How do you choose a principal? And how often do teachers get to help do so?

What the heck is School 2.0? Ask the Elementary Educator.

Does the world end if you stop blogging? Even if you're in Disneyland?

JD2718 asks: Are there are two education systems in NYC?

What on earth is going on in those St. Louis schools?

And why are women held to a higher standard?

Suggestion Box

Laura Huertero says don't read this. Mentor Texts advise you read this instead.

The Science Goddess says keep on bloggin'.

Friends of Dave advise philanthropists.

Mike Estep says don't fret (even if you're playing the guitar) because talent is overrated.

Don't just toss 'em away! Matthew K. Tabor tells why student evaluations matter.

The End

In conclusion, we offer for your edification and enlightenment a humble update on the renowned and Versatile Mr. V., who, upon failing to procure a summer school position, has finally retired. So there's yet another cause for fireworks.

Next week, the Carnival returns to The Education Wonks. Their Tuesday deadline is 9:00 PM Eastern, 6:00 PM Pacific. Please send contributions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net, or use this handy form.