Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cruisin' the Net

Wanna be a freelance writer on the net? April May reveals the secrets of her success.

Watch double pensioned UFT patronage employees sputter obscenities and hide like criminals when Norm Scott catches them eating wine and cheese instead of attending a rally they ostensibly supported.

A Forest Hills restaurant lets you eat and pay what you think the meal is worth.

DC Schools Chancellor and teacher-basher extraordinaire Michelle Rhee, having accomplished nothing whatsoever, declined her bonus so as to preclude public scrutiny. Still, Core Knowledge Blog has a question about her bonus plan:

Given the single-minded focus on student achievement associated with her tenure, and her oft-stated desire to tie teacher pay to test scores, why is Rhee’s bonus triggered by so many different factors other than academic achievement and improvement?

Death to the apostrophe decrees Birmingham City in England.

1943 thoughts on how to keep female employees happy.

Gotham Schools identifies a rare individual who speaks common sense to power.

What if Shakespeare were writing soliloquies on a Blackberry?

Have a Gneiss Day has a few interesting proposals on how Mayor Bloomberg can save money on the next UFT contract.

I'm not a libertarian, but nonetheless they've collected some very good quotes. I don't agree with all of them, but here's one I like:

That which we call sin in others is experiment for us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Accountable Talk reflects on the happy talk ATRs get from the UFT, which created their predicament in the first place.

Don't forget to visit Super Obama World.

And Augustus "Gussie" Smith-Smythe holds court over at Billionaires for Educational Reform.

Friday, January 30, 2009

New Yorkers Say Thumbs Down... Mayor Bloomberg's thwarting their will so he can be mayor-for-life (and they don't much care for his sweetheart deals with sports teams either).

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds

Nonetheless, it appears to be the primary argument Mayor Bloomberg's minions are advancing for extending mayoral control.

Klein plead with lawmakers to keep their opinion of him out of their thoughts on mayoral control. “Whatever you think about me personally,” he said, “you need the stability of that kind of leadership to transform education.”

So let's see if we can understand this. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who opposes tenure for teachers, feels no matter what kind of crappy job he's done, he ought to have the right to keep on doing it. Joel Klein, who opposes tenure but has achieved a permanent position by never, ever opposing Mayor Bloomberg, feels continuation of his manifest failures will "transform education."

Mr. Klein and Mr. Bloomberg, who've just built two sports stadiums all New Yorkers financed, but most will find difficult to afford, are now offering to "transform education" by firing 15,000 public school teachers. Note that no sports stadiums are being cut, and no luxury boxes are disappearing, because both the chancellor and the mayor put "Children First."

Mr. Klein says that class sizes will increase. How that is possible I have no idea, because NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, and Mr, Klein, despite having accepted hundreds of millions in CFE funds, has done absolutely nothing to reduce them. Also, the UFT contract caps classes at 34. Though she's surprised me before, I doubt even part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten would endorse raising class sizes.

In any case, if you want to keep putting "Children First" for oversized classes, overcrowded schools, the very worst facilities statewide, trailers, closets and bathrooms in lieu of classrooms, stagnant test scores where the Tweedies can't manipulate them, and all the other goodies this chancellor has brought NYC's schoolchildren, parents and teachers, line up for continuation of mayoral control.

And like the chancellor said, just because you think he's doing a terrible job, that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that you let him keep doing it for a long, long time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Think You Can Be Prez?

It may not be all limos and gala luncheons. Obstacles abound, and failure stalks you with every missed step! Still, you may reach level completion we can believe in. Find out whether you've got what it takes over at Super Obama World.

Remember, we're all pulling for you (except Rush Limbaugh).

Miss Pazdit

I used to be free period 3 every day, and every day my supervisor would hunt me down and ask if I could cover Miss Pazdit's class until she showed up. At first it was five minutes, then ten, and it grew to twenty and then most of the period. It became tedious after a while. I was particularly irked because this was a beginning ESL class, one I'd actually asked to teach. Miss Pazdit had been assigned a paraprofessional, who complemented her teaching style perfectly by never showing up at all.

I asked if I could switch this class with my fourth period class. My supervisor declined, claiming that such a change would only make Miss Pazdit late for fourth period rather than third.

One day, I decided that since I was stuck there, I might as well teach the kids something. I pulled them all to the front of the room, rather than let them sit all over the place as they'd been doing, and started talking about the weather with them. We started discussing what it looked like outside, and how the weather was where they came from. 30 minutes into the period Ms. Pazdit arrived, to find her students completely focused and actually working. She was outraged. This was simply beyond the pale.

"Where is that paraprofessional!" she shouted.

Not to put to fine a point on it, at least in front of the kids, I said, "I think you're asking the wrong questions."

Miss Pazdit was very upset with me. She cornered me later and asked, "Do you have a problem with me or something?"

"Yes I do," I told her. "I cover your class for free almost every day because you can't even bother to show up." She gave me a dirty look and stormed away.

At the end of the year, she retired. She visits every now and then, and talks about how much she misses teaching. Personally, I don't believe her at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a Maroon

What an ignoranamous.

Don't Miss This..

I have a much more attention-provoking title in mind, but I'll exercise a little discretion. You must get over to EdNotes Online and watch the sensational video that Norm Scott and David Bellel took. While real activists gave a rousing rally and spoke from the heart(s), Unity patronage employees slurped wine and gobbled cheese on Broadway. It's remarkable to contrast restrained politician Randi Weingarten, who's set us and labor back decades, with someone thoughtful, committed, and not on the payroll like Angel Rodriguez (among many others).

Unity is now rubber-stamping a motion to ban taping during their lovefests, as they're plainly embarrassed at the prospect of any more people seeing them for what they really are.

Through Dell and High Water

Computer problems can be maddening. They don't bother me in school, of course, since I haven't had computer access in 24 years and after all, it's only 2009. Why on earth would teachers or kids in Mr. Bloomberg's New York need computers?

But here at home, they're a necessity. My Dell desktop is out of commission, so my daughter and I are in perpetual deadly battle for possession of the Toshiba laptop. I used to have a Dell laptop, but the CD drive broke. I called, and they explained how to take it out, which I couldn't do. So I sent it to them, and a week later they sent it back, unrepaired, with a note saying they'd send be the part and I could fix it myself. I wrote to the Better Business Bureau saying they'd violated the warranty agreement and demanding a full refund, which I eventually got.

In a moment of madness, I purchased a printer from them, a fairly cool printer that works on our wireless network. It came with a $25 Staples gift card. Only it didn't. When I called, they told me it would take six weeks. But it never arrived. Two weeks ago, I spent an hour being transferred from one end of India to the other, and finally a woman promised I'd receive a coupon via email. Only I didn't, so I wrote the Better Business Bureau again.

Today a Dell rep called, I think from India.

"We can offer you a $25 Dell credit," he said.

"The deal was a $25 Staples credit," I reminded him.

"We can offer you a $25 Dell credit," he said.

"But I'm never buying anything from Dell again. Send me a check."

"We can offer you a $25 Dell credit," he said.

After much more of the same, I hung up on the guy. He really wanted to give me that credit. But what good is it, really, when all you can buy with it is more headaches? It's got all the appeal of a third term of Bloomberg and Klein.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Ill Wind for "Reform"

According to Joanne Jacobs, those insidious Democrats are blocking merit pay, charter school construction, and other goodies that were expected from Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Farewell, Eduwonkette. You'll be sorely missed.

The Money Go Round

By now you've read part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten's letter about belt-tightening. Some days, though, you wonder just what the heck those Unity patronage employees do every day, when they aren't chasing cartoon characters around.

So go to the LM2 page, at the Department of Labor, type in 063-924, for the UFT, and you may learn some new things. The 2008 report indicates dues and agency fees of $119,808,331. Yet when you look at "representational activities," the figure drops to $19,289,822. I don't have my calculator handy, but that's well under 20% of dues going toward representing us.

Sure, Ms. Weingarten needs a chauffeur-driven SUV, and Leo Casey needs time to check whether or not he got a teacher award a few decades back, but what on earth are they spending that money on? Well, Ms. Weingarten and her minions had to check out Green Dot schools, of course, so they could bring their "no-tenure, no-seniority rights" style of administration to the Big Apple, and I can't imagine her chauffeur driving all the way to the left coast.

The Green Dot operation involved a firm called Strook, Strook and Lavan. They represented our interests in no-tenure, no seniority to the tune of $658,468. It's eye-opening to learn just how much Unity patronage employees will spend to encourage such things.

And there is entertainment. I mean, you need a break after sitting around the UFT office all day. So there's $54,100 to Regal Cinemedia. Clearview Cinemas is a bargain at a mere $12,045. And you get a powerful hunger sitting around that office, so you need to spend $7,523 at the 86th Street Meat Market. No 4 dollar school lunches for you.

You need to be in good shape to work for Unity. That's why you spent $41,750 at the Brooklyn Baseball Company. And, of course, you need to see how the pros do it. That's why you spent $24,215 at New York Mets group sales. And don't forget the Yankees either--it's the last year at the old stadium, so you spent a mere $9,054 on the Bronx Bombers. After all, it's harder to park over there. But you managed to spend $83,682 on the Central Parking System.

You don't want your patronage employees to be bored with that building, so you spent $11,997 meeting at the Marriott. Then you spent another $269,058 meeting there again, I suppose. Not to slight the NY Hilton and Towers, you spend another $619,849 over there. The Sheraton is a relative bargain at $286,148.

You get powerfully tired, what with all those meetings. So you spent $93,484 at the Coffee Distributing Corps.

As for me, I hope against hope that the UFT aristocracy drinks enough coffee to wake up and start looking out for us again. If you're feeling ambitious, check out the report yourself and let the world know what else Ms. Weingarten and her merry band are up to.

Thanks to Juanchito

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shin Yen Kwai Luh

Happy lunar new year!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Sometimes you aim and miss. The administration ought to be plenty satisfied with my morning lit class, because almost all of them are passing. They read the books, they pass the tests, and I must be doing a fantastic job what with over 90% of them getting credit, and not just for "seat time."

But I'm not reaching them the way I want to.

"Did you like this book?" I asked the other day, in a thoughtless moment of honesty.

"No one likes books," ventured one kid, unmindful of the conversation that would ensue.

"People love books," I said. "Why do you think every town has a library? Why are those gigantic Barnes and Noble stores in the malls?"

"Only old people like books," said a young woman, with imprudent candor.

I don't remember how I responded to that, as designated representative for old people everywhere. I'm certain, though, it was not altogether favorable, because she said, "That's because you never had anything to do back then. We have computers and video games. We have Guitar Hero."

I really hate it when kids figure out how to push my buttons, especially when they do it completely by accident.

"You mean the game where you play fake music on fake guitars?" I asked.

This caused an avalanche of protest from my young charges. But my daughter has that game, kicked my butt in it, and I determined it would be much easier to play that music on a real guitar. In fact, I offered to give her one but she was having none of it. What's cool about a real guitar that you have to tune and practice when you can be up and running on the Wii in five minutes with your plastic Les Paul?

Another kid got up and made a boast even worse.

"No one in my country ever reads," he declared with pride.

I won't tell you where he came from, because it really doesn't matter. The only good I can glean from this is that it's not entirely our fault--he clearly had this attitude before we Americanized him.

The girl in the front, the one who dutifully does every assignment, nodded at the good points her classmates were making. She read the first book I issued, but gave it a bad review.

"It doesn't have enough SAT words in it," she complained.

I've got another few months to fool them into thinking reading is worthwhile. It's getting tougher to compete with the new toys, though, which seem to get better each year.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear World

Dear World:

We, the United States of America, your top quality supplier of ideals of democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced November 4, 2008.

Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional on January 20, 2009. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve service in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding.



Stolen from Miss Cellania

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Zero Tolerance

Fail to return a library book? Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Don't Forget to Check Your Child's Homework

(Here's the reply a teacher received the day after making note of the drawing at left)

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer.

I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot.

From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.

Mrs. Smith

Thanks to Schoolgal

Friday, January 23, 2009

Change We Need Now

President Barack Obama has expressed his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check. It's one of the most important reasons he got my vote.

The same folks who push things like "right to work," which turns out more like the right to hobble unions and fire whomever they wish whenever they want, are now claiming they want to preserve the right of workers to a secret ballot. These are the same people who protect us all against raises in the minimum wage (Try living on that). They're standing up against union thugs (like me) who'd urge you to sign that card.

After all, I'm a pretty tough guy. Sure, you may be bigger than I am, and sure, I can't fire you. Sure, I can't refuse you that raise, and I can't write up your job performance. I can't refuse to write you a job recommendation, and actually I can't do anything whatsoever in terms of your job.

Now that I think of it, it's your employer who can do all those things. So perhaps it's not such a great idea for me to skulk around and try to organize that prized secret ballot, because my employer has a multitude of ways to prevent it. In fact, that's why union supporters (like me) want to pass card check.

If Obama passes this one right for working people, a right opposed by Maverick Johny, that in itself will have made all our votes for him worthwhile. Unfortunately, he appears to be waffling.

The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.

Let's hope he gets with the program, even if it inconveniences Wal-Mart, or the hedge fund guys who helped run the economy into the ground, and now want to extend their expertise to public schools.. As the NY Times pointed out:

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

When does unionization benefit working people? Always.

I'm not shy in criticizing my union leadership. However, I've no doubt whatsoever that NYC public school teachers would be worse off without a union. If" you look at the state of teachers in "right to work" states, you see there's little to envy. A lot of people know who I am. Would I even be able to write this if I weren't in a union? A friend of mine actually lost his job when his bosses discovered his anonymous blog. Millard Fillmore's Bathtub asks "Should Teachers Blog?" and elicits a telling response from Kate:

Unfortunately, none of that matters in a ‘right to work state’ like Florida and Georgia, where teachers can be fired pretty much without reason. Georgia even has a clause that states that teachers must meet other criteria or expectations placed by the administration of their schools.

Blogging is a dangerous activity.

Would you want to be in that position? Me neither. More importantly, I don't want my students or my child to be in that position. The question is this: Do you want to fact your employers alone, or would you like your colleagues, perhaps even tens of thousands of them, to face them with you?

If you're smart enough to teach my kid, there's only one right answer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

We Lead by Example

The other day I got a letter from UFT President Randi Weingarten warning about how dire the financial crisis was. As one of many teachers who received two years of cannily negotiated zero-percent raises during the dot-com boom, I have mixed feelings about Ms. Weingarten's advice. After all, her predecessor once wrote that any teacher who thought we'd do better than zero-zero with 25 years to reach maximum salary must be "smoking something."

Still, UFT members rejected that contract. After DC37 voted it up (based on a blatantly fraudulent election) other unions accepted it, and when it came back to the UFT we had to wait 22, rather than 25 years to hit maximum. This worked well for me around 2 years ago, and I hope it works for you too.

I have a few ideas to share with Ms. Weingarten if she seriously wishes to help out.

1. Get rid of that full-time chauffeur we pay for. Use public transportation when in the city. Since being UFT Prez is only a part-time job, you ought to have no problem with this. Also, ditch the SUV and get a Prius. Why burn so many fossil fuels?

2. Stop sending every member of Unity to an annual convention on our dime. Give the money to the city to reduce class size. And this time, make an iron-clad agreement with consequences for violations, rather than the preposterous unenforceable nonsense you chose to plaster all over NY Teacher (also on our dime).

3. Give Leo Casey a real job. Tell him he'll have to settle his vendetta with Mickey Mouse on his own time.

4. Stop using NY Teacher reporters to refute ICE members with ad hominem arguments. Also, let's stop having paid UFT patronage workers indulge in blatant idiocy on the net.

I'm sure there are plenty of ways Ms. Weingarten could take the 80 million per year we pay and use it more efficiently. As about half of that goes to pure patronage, enriching the brilliant negotiators who brought us August punishment days, the sixth class (the one that isn't really a class), hall patrols in perpetuity, loss of the right to grieve letters in file, support of mayoral control, the ATR brigade, and other goodies too numerous to mention here, I'm sure there are many possibilities.

What suggestions do you have for Ms. Weingarten to trim the ol' fat in the budget?

Related: Don't miss guest columnist Vera's sharp response to Ms. Weingarten over at Ednotes Online.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All the News that Fits

Today at Gotham Schools, we learn that a charter school head is getting a blog. This is big news, apparently, because no one on the internet ever writes about charter schools. In fact, a Google search for charter schools turns up a trifling 3,280,000 entries.

Yesterday, the reporters from Gotham Schools went to a charter school, and found a charter school student who thinks we need to close more public schools.

The last day they published before that, they told us about the upcoming celebration at the charter school, about a charter school that was closing, and another that was moving.

Thank goodness that charter school head is getting a blog. It's about time long-neglected bosses of non-unionized workers had someone to speak up for them.

The Geese Meeting

by special guest poet Abigail E. Myers

We started calling it “the geese meeting”

last year, for lack of any better term.

On the baseball field behind the little school

the Canada geese would gather,

in clusters that together must have numbered

a hundred or two, and sit and rest their wings.

The kids and I could never figure out why.

The geese became their own attraction.

It didn’t matter if it was time for class—

even gym, even art, even lunch—

the kids would congregate at the window

in the hallway and watch the geese meeting.

They had no more idea than the geese

why it was worth watching.

Maybe it wasn’t the geese at all,

but the dream of melting snow,

the re-emergence of the dirt

on the pitcher’s mound—

perhaps it wasn’t anything

but an excuse to linger in the hall,

and at least it was something to watch,

some explanation their teachers could give

themselves for the lingering laggards.

This year, the geese meetings have resumed,

identical to last year’s conventions,

same time, same place, same station.

And this year, different kids stop, point it out,

wonder why the time, the place,

look out at the baseball fields, long for spring.

Next year, the geese may wonder

where I have gone, why I no longer watch

their grave and silent proceedings,

or they may wonder why I, too,

stop what I am doing, for another year,

to observe, to remember, to replace the children

who have moved on to other times,

other places, other meetings on other fields.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What A Day!

Well, Heckuva Job Bushie is back in Texas, DeadEye Dick has been wheeled to his crypt in Virginia and President Obama is running the country.

If you were listening carefully, at about 12:01 PM, you could hear this enormous wind sound as 72% of America let out its collective breath after holding it for, oh, the last eight years.

Unfortunately, Heckuva Job Bushie left quite a mess to clean up.

Anybody see what happened to the markets today?

The Dow had its worst Inauguration Day ever.

Now you could say its just the GOP-sympathetic investor class selling/grumbling over a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress now running Washington.

And that could be.

If it is, it's pretty ironic, since Heckuva Job Bushie is the first president in the last five to leave office with the market levels lower than when he took office.

Bush was good for business?

Ha! That's like saying Bernie Madoff was good for investors!

That said, the big sell-off today could also signify really bad problems coming down the pike.

For instance, Citigroup's stock now stands at $2.80.
The bank itself is insolvent, so frankly I don't care if any shareholders still stupid enough to be holding Citigroup stock lose everything, but guess what group of people will be taking on the cleaning up of the Citigroup financial implosion when it comes?

You got it - the American taxpayer.

And I wouldn't be surprised to see Bank of America follow suit in quick succession.

And again, guess who will be asked to clean that mess up?

Uh, huh.

And remember, the U.S. doesn't actually have any money. We're either printing it or borrowing it from the Chinese, if they're still willing to lend it, that is.

Pretty bad space to be in where two of the country's three biggest banks are insolvent and in need of a fire sale.

But that's where we're at.

Heckuva job, Bushie!

All that deregulation, the wink-wink at Enron-style business ethics, the cronyism, the celebration of debt in the form of real estate purchases and consumer purchases - it has brought us to a very, very bad place.

So as Bush slinks from town and heads back to obscurity in Texas and as Barack Obama takes office, remember that when all the hype, all the noise, all the parties and pomp and circumstance are over, we are still up #$%^'s creek as a country after these last eight years.

It's going to suck cleaning up the mess the Bushies left.

It's going to hurt.

A lot of people are going to feel the pain.

Hell, a lot of people are already feeling the pain.

But as President Obama has told us, it's going to get worse before it gets better and we have to be ready for that.

I just hope that the people responsible for this mess - the greedy hedge fund managers, the bankers, the brokers, the credit card companies and all the rest of the parasites who made a bundle of faux dough during the "Bush boom" - feel it too.

But I'm dubious about that

Prove me wrong, Mr. President.

Please, prove me wrong.

Now let's get to work and start cleaning this mess up.

I'll get the mop.

Song for Today

I always loved Laura Nyro. She left us way too soon. Listen to her sing Save the Country. Maybe she was thinking of us, today.

Goodbye, George

Related: trenchant commentary at Your Mama's Mad Tedious

Miss Cellania celebrates all the crap you can buy with Obama's name on it. She also purports to reveal the worst job in the world, but I'd maintain it's already been taken.

Simply Left Behind reflects on the good ol' days with President GW Bush.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub expresses awe at a President who believes in science and links to the complete text of Obama's remarks, should you wish to read them.

Right Wing Prof stoically resists seeking solace in a sugar fix.

Kontan Jou had a snow day, didn't say a word about the inaugaration, and actually sat doing schoolwork on her day off. After the revolution, we will put an end to such practices!

And Ednotes writer Norm Scott, who also didn't have to go to work today, waxes poetic on inaugurals past and present.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How a Lie Begins

On this, the day our nation commemorates the birth of Martin Luther King, we can reflect on some changes for the better that have taken place in our country. But certainly teachers, regularly vilified for the unforgivable offense of accepting pay for teaching children, know that a lot of things have stayed the same.

Thus, after a few less-covered but false press reports, the weasels at Fox News spread a story about how Barack Obama's inaugaration would cost over three times that of GW Bush. O's ceremony is estimated at 150-160 million, but GW's at a mere 42. The Obama figure included security and transportation costs incurred by the federal government and DC, but the Bush figure did not. When the costs are added to GW's figures, his inaugaration cost 157 million, almost exactly what will be spent for tomorrow's ceremony.

This story was then picked up by MSNBC, and who knows how many lazy journalists will go with this, without a whit of due diligence? This is precisely what demagogues like Joel Klein count on, as they traipse about the world pushing "reforms" that hurt working people but fail to help the overwhelming majority of schoolchildren. Sure, it looks great when you give a few charter schools reasonable class sizes and decent facilities--but the lie only works if you can get the media to thoroughly ignore the conditions in typical schools. Sure, when you cherry-pick the kids who take a few dumbed-down tests it looks like you're doing a great job. But only if you ignore the NAEP exams, the ones you have no control over.

I don't suppose we'll see merit pay for journalists who report the truth anytime soon. But those who don't are not journalists at all, and ought to find work more suited to their talents. Perhaps they could sell bizarre cooking utensils on infomercials.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where Are All The Hedge Fund Managers Going?

There's seems to be some alien life force or nasty mutated virus that's taking all the hedge fund managers off the face of the planet and replacing them with missing assets and a bunch of bilked clients:

In a case with parallels to the Bernie Madoff scandal, a prominent Florida hedge-fund manager has vanished - and so has up to $350 million of his clients' money.

Sarasota police said they are looking into claims that Arthur Nadel, 76, defrauded investors before leaving a distraught note for his family and disappearing.

Nadel's wife, Peg, filed a missing person report with police on Wednesday. She told the Daily News on Saturday that she's cooperating.

"We are being very proactive," she said.

"There is nothing to show that anything was taken. They're investigating his disappearance for his own safety and his own well-being."

Some reports estimated that the hedge fund was out some $350 million, but Spitler said it's too soon to say exactly how much it was worth.


His disappearance comes a month after authorities charged Madoff, 70, with securities fraud for allegedly duping investors with a giant $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Earlier this week, Marcus Schrenker, an Indiana investment adviser suspected of bilking investors, was taken into custody by police in Florida, after allegedly attempting to fake his death in a plane crash.

Frankly, I think the world would be a better place if all the hedge fund managers were taken to an island somewhere in the Pacific and left to fend for themselves, but you'll note how these parasites keep disappearing with all the money.

As do the former Masters of the Universe, the bankers - only they're disappearing with taxpayer money too. We've already ponied up $700 billion in TARP money for the financial industry even as Hank Paulson and Uncle Ben Bernanke have had the Federal Reserve buying a bunch of worthless crap off the balance sheets of banks like Citigroup and Bank of America and yet the financials still need more cash:

It’s too soon to say how much taxpayer money will be spent trying to rebuild banks hollowed out by bad lending practices. Paul J. Miller, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, thinks that the nation’s financial system needs an additional $1 trillion in common equity to restore confidence and to get lending — the lifeblood of a thriving and entrepreneurial free-market economy — moving again.

That $1 trillion would come on top of funds disbursed through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which has tapped $700 billion, and the president-elect’s stimulus plan, clocking in at $825 billion.

And don't expect these policies to change with Barack Obama at the helm. Obama is expected to back an economic plan to send more cash to failing banks and financial companies while buying up hundreds of billions of dollars of "toxic assets" from these very same insolvent institutions.

In addition, his economic team, particularly his picks for Treasury and the SEC, are as implicated in creating the current financial mess as Paulson, Bernanke, and Ayn Rand's favorite economist, Alan Greenspan:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to be roughed up at her confirmation hearing in connection with the Bernard Madoff scandal, but ultimately she is expected to be confirmed.

Mary Schapiro currently oversees the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the watchdog that supervises nearly 5,000 U.S. brokerages, and is in turn overseen by the SEC.

FINRA's role in the Madoff case has been drawn into the debate over why the SEC failed to uncover what could be the largest U.S. fraud in decades.


Politicians have slammed the SEC for not pursuing tips about Madoff from one of his competitors. They also fault the agency for missing red flags such as Madoff's uncanny ability to generate steady returns in all types of markets, and his firm's use of a small, little-known auditor.


"The primary regulator was FINRA because for throughout the entire scandal, Madoff had a registered broker-dealer entity," said Mercer Bullard, a securities law professor at the University of Mississippi and an advocate for mutual fund shareholders.

"Broker-dealer regulations are intended to address the problem of disappearing assets," continued Bullard, who once worked in the SEC investment management division. "It has surprised me that the SEC has borne the brunt of so much of the criticism. If fingers are to be pointed, they should be pointed first at FINRA."

As for Obama's pick at Treasury, not only is he a tax cheat with a nanny problem, he's an architect of the TARP program who agrees completely with Bernanke's and Paulson's candy store giveaway to the financial industry.

So if you liked the last few months when taxpayers and the Federal Reserve printing press handed out nearly a trillion and a half of cash to banks and companies that FAILED, you're going love the next couple of years.

Frankly, Cunning Realist got it right when he posted this today:

Two people have come out of nowhere recently and, by way of New York City, become national figures: Bernie Madoff and Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed the jet in the Hudson River. No long post needed on the obvious contrasts.

But those contrasts are a good context for some larger issues. Sullenberger is everything this country -- and those who champion Wall Street as a pillar of patriotism -- likes to think it is about. Small-town Texas, top student, Air Force Academy, fighter pilot, distinguished career, family man, and ultimately a saver of lives. His counterpart in the news is, allegedly and apparently, a destroyer of lives. Without going into the separate issues of whether the Wall Street bailout is working, or what would have happened without it, there's a basic truth: it takes money from people like Sullenberger and gives it to people who sit in front of banks of computer screens all day making a living off flickering green dots.

Sullenberger's not the only one who's had a TARP pulled over his wallet. The emergency workers who got those passengers out of the Hudson River will send some of the money they earned that day to Washington, which will send it to traders and investment bankers. So will teachers, doctors, farmers, truckers, scientists, and small business owners. (And as a final insult, their savings will be inflated away.) The people who make this country run are spending part of every day working for people like this -- those who have done fantastically well in recent years, many of whom made dubious or ill-gotten profits. This is the "soft slavery" I've written about before, and it's getting less soft with every new bailout.

The Sully-Madoff contrast also brings into stark relief a more existential national choice, one that's been building for years. Should we value things like the ability to get into the cockpit of an airplane and fly hundreds of people across the country, or teach kids, or actually make things? Or, the past year or so aside, are we going to continue as a society to encourage our best and brightest to become slightly more legit versions of Bernie Madoff? This is partly why I and others have criticized the Federal Reserve, which made that choice for the country in the mid-90's and since then has seen itself as Keeper of the Flame of National Purpose.

I wonder if people have become so inured to these bailouts that they've lost sight of the underlying dynamic. The architects and beneficiaries of it would welcome that.

Indeed they would.

And if we can all forget about this stuff as the hedge fund managers continue to disappear with all the cash and the investment advisers fake their own deaths by jumping out of planes, the boys and girls who were supposedly watching the candy store the whole time - i.e., the Greenspans, the Bernankes, the Paulsons, the Coxes, the Geithners and the Schapiros - would be very, very happy people.

Number 13

On January 13th, Social Media Explorer determined NYC Educator to be the number 13 education blog in the country (or perhaps the world, or the universe, or perhaps only the city). This determination was made very carefully, involving measures and metrics precisely considered and applied, which I would explain here in great detail if only I understood them.

Congratulations to Joanne Jacobs, who is number one on the list. All those years of having 5 million readers a day are beginning to pay off for her.

As for number thirteen, I don't often reveal this, but I was born on the thirteenth, as was my wife, so it's a lucky number for me. Sure, you'll say, it's got a bad reputation, and sure Friday the 13th came on a Tuesday this month, causing many people to be especially careful. But so far, I haven't spent a single day of this year in New Jersey, so I'm feeling very lucky.

And when you get right down to it, that's what life is all about, isn't it?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cruisin' the Blogs

Everyone's favorite "reformer," Michelle Rhee, wants to put a bunch of teachers on a 90-day program before firing them. But PREA Prez Fred Klonsky doesn't much care for the fact she doesn't want to tell anyone who those teachers are.

EdNotes Online offers a very insightful thought for Ms. Rhee and her ilk.

Young Adolph Hitler Campbell's parents couldn't get those spoilsports at Shop-Rite to put his name on a cake. Now Joanne Jacobs writes state protective services have removed Adolph, along with his sisters Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie.

Miss Cellania, perhaps growing weary of the Campbell saga, offers some comic relief about baby names.

Sluggish students? Going Today offers a fine looking bugle guaranteed to get their attention, today only for $49.95. You can save a few bucks with one of these, but it may not be as effective.

Johny McCain has put the kibosh on wife Cindy's plans to appear on Dancing with the Stars. McCain staffers claimed the show wasn't mavericky enough.

I love quotes. Mamacita at Scheiss Weekly offers a whole page of them every Saturday, and today is no exception. Today she's featuring quotes from women, and here's one I really like:

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.
–Jane Wagner

Small Talk marvels at a New York Post editorial commemorating the "freedom" of charter schools to not unionize. As usual, the rights of working people mean nothing whatsoever to Murdoch's mouthpieces.

A literate student of Miss Malarkey offers some crucial advice.

And make no mistake--spelling counts.

Last but not least, my friend and occasional guest blogger Yo Miss (formerly in Bushwick) has rechristened herself Miss Eyre and started her very own blog: Life in the Morton School. She's a great writer, so check it out.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's in an Aim?

It's the holy grail of New York City schools. Without it, no learning can ever take place. Never mind that I happen to be a high school graduate (I don't like to brag, but it's true)--I clearly wasted all my years in school because none of my teachers ever placed an aim on the board.

The first semester I taught, my boss instructed me that the aim must be in the form of a statement. There could be no deviation from that. The next semester, I had a new boss who demanded the aim be a question. The students must respond immediately, and the lesson must spring from that. My next boss said you must elicit the aim from the students, and that it could not be written until the students had determined what it was.

Now say what you will, but if teachers don't know what they're doing, the most precisely crafted aims in the world won't make a damn bit of difference. If you send them out with the most meticulously structured lesson plans ever devised, they'll still wish for that one moment's peace and quiet just to watch the paper airplanes go by.

Good teachers, on the other hand, know what they're doing, and whether or not they happen to write on the board, "Why did Malcolm eat that sandwich?" or whatever the aim may be, I'd like my kid in their classes.

I don't suppose there's anything wrong with putting an aim on the board. If it suits you, if it helps you and your students, then it's a good thing. But aren't there other ways of communicating the main thrust of your lesson besides spelling it out on the blackboard? Is an explicit aim absolutely indispensable, and why, in this age of "reform" has no one even bothered to ask that question?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Road to Perdition

Mr. Thompson teaches social studies, and, perhaps as a result, is relentlessly curious. For example, twice a year, after parent teacher conferences, he wondered why he had to fill out a form stating how many parents he saw. He usually guessed, and figured he saw maybe 24 parents. He'd write that down, figure it was a good night's work, and forget about it for six months.

One winter night, Mr. Thompson decided to see what would happen if he doubled his estimate. He wrote 49 on the form, handed it in, and nothing happened. So the following fall he decided to up the ante. After all, they probably took his form, copied it to another form, and then sent it to the central board, which added it to yet another form that no one would ever look at. So, Mr. Thompson claimed to have seen 75 parents that night. Nothing. So that winter it went up to 102.

A school aide was in charge of copying the numbers. She marveled at how many parents Mr. Thompson could see in just a few hours. How much time could he have spent with 149 parents? He really couldn't have spent much more than a minute with them, and the next semester, when he saw 198 parents, she couldn't figure out how he even got them in and out of the room.

Mr. Thompson wondered whether anyone would say anything when he claimed to have seen 249 parents. He briefly considered a somewhat more realistic 24.9, but decided that he'd started down this road, and that 249 was indeed the next step. So he submitted it, and nothing happened.

The next parent-teacher night, Mr. Thompson took a deep breath, and wrote 305 on the form. He was beginning to think they simply took him at his word. But that Monday, the assistant principal's secretary, who frightened virtually every teacher who crossed her path, stormed into his classroom. This was a momentous occasion, as no one had ever known her to come out from behind her desk.

"Mr. Thompson,"she trumpeted, "Are you really claiming to have seen 305 parents last night?"

"Oh," said Mr. Thompson, "I must have made a mistake."

He erased the zero and made it 35. Thus ended one of the great social experiments of our time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Anticipatory Set

In my class, we're reading about hazardous waste incinerators. It's necessary, because the writers of the NY Regents exam chose that as one of their many scintillating topics. The folks who design that test really know how to motivate teenagers to write. Personally, I can't wait till they get around to covering "The History of Cement."

To focus my kids, I sometimes have them write the assignment in the form of a question. Of course, my kids are from other countries, so the vocabulary is often kind of rugged for them. Nonetheless, a resourceful young woman in the back of the classroom suggested, "Do you agree or disagree we should build a blah-blah waste blah-blah in your community?" I dutifully posted it on the board.

Then I asked how others felt about the issue.

"I disagree," called out another young woman.

"Well, if you're going to write about it, you need reasons," I told her. "Why do you disagree?"

"Because I don't know what it is," she replied.

"I think that's a very good reason," I told her.

You see, they're thinking very clearly. They just need a little time to learn English before they can get those thoughts on paper. Unfortunately, the geniuses in Albany have decreed it's better for them to spend their time trying to pass a test clearly designed for native speakers. Therefore I have little or no time to teach them English.

I've often fantasized about sending the all-knowing Board of Regents to China and giving them six months to pass an identical test in Chinese. Can you imagine doing that? Neither can I.

Yet that's what my kids are expected to do, and I'm stupid enough to volunteer for this job. And yes, I did eventually tell the kids what "hazardous" and "incinerator" mean.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fooled Again

President-Elect Barack Obama's pick for Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, received Harriet Mieresque praise from both Republicans and Democrats when he faced senators at his confirmation hearing today.

The Chicago Tribune described it as a "kumbaya moment" as Duncan took tough questions like this one from Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn):

"President-elect Obama has made several distinguished Cabinet appointments. I think you're the best."

Or this one from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska):

“My first impressions are very strong and very favorable,” Senator Murkowski told Mr. Duncan. “I’m glad to see that your boy is there reading books instead of playing with an electronic gadget.

Duncan didn't actually say anything of import at his hearing other than the usual reform pablum about how NCLB needs to be funded, teachers need to be held accountable for student achievement, charter schools are wonderful things and the high school drop-out rate needs to be decreased at the same time that access to college is expanded.

Duncan, Obama's basketball buddy and the current chief of the Chicago school system, didn't say how he would do any of these things.

But judging by his record in Chicago, you can bet the emphasis on testing won't go away anytime soon.

Heck, how else can teachers be held accountable for their students' achievement?

Ironically, at the same time Uncle Arne was holding hands with Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski and singing "It's A Small World After All", Federal Reserve Chairman Helicopter Ben Bernanke was explaining during a speech at the London School of Economics that the boys running Citigroup, BoA, AIG, J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions, having already received more than $350 billion dollars in taxpayer funds as part of the TARP program, will need hundreds of billions more to keep them afloat. Of course he didn't say that in English, but here's his quote anyway:

“More capital injections and guarantees may become necessary to ensure stability and the normalization of credit markets."

Though the Fed chairman acknowledged that people in many countries were “understandably concerned” about pumping government money into the financial industry while often turning a cold shoulder to other sectors, he defended the effort as unpleasant but necessary.

“This disparate treatment, unappealing as it is, appears unavoidable,” he said. “Our economic system is critically dependent on the free flow of credit, and the consequences for the broader economy of financial instability are thus powerful and quickly felt.”

Got that now?

Teachers must be held accountable for student achievement, financial CEOs and Wall Street Masters of the Universe must be bailed out because, you know, the world might implode if the boys at AIG didn't get to take taxpayer funded junkets to Arizona spas and the boys at Citigroup didn't get to retire with golden parachutes, even though they were the ones who helped make all the financial mistakes in the first place.

Sigh - meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

Clueless or Sarcastic? You Decide

I post my email rather prominently on the upper right corner of the blog. As a result, it's easy to contact me. Sometimes people send stories, comment about their schools, or complain about the awful things I've written.

Other times, though, people want me to read their book, call them for an interview, view their film, try their hairspray, buy a genuine college diploma, or simply advertise their products on this site. Were I to do all these things, I wouldn't have time to go to work, let alone write the blog.

Yesterday I received this email, which I'm redacting so as not to identify the sender:

Dear NYC Educator,

I'm writing you regarding (a product or service)

The (product or service) (is amazing, wonderful, etc.) and would be of great interest to readers of Eduwonk. Please see below for (more info) and please let us know if you'd be interested in (using the product or service) for coverage consideration.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you and best regards,
(Insert name here)

Boy, you'd think they'd bother to personalize their mass mailings. I wrote back:

Thank you for letting me know the (product or service) will be of great interest to readers of Eduwonk. I suggest you contact Andrew Rotherham, who writes Eduwonk, as he will be in a better position to let those readers know about it

And I received this reply:

Thanks for your reply. I've actually already emailed Andrew Rotherman and am waiting to hear back.

Oddly, I was already aware of this. But I wrote back anyway:
Better sit while you wait.

I received this reply:

Duly noted. If you know Andrew personally, would you mind forwarding my email about (product or service) to him in the hopes that it would garner a faster reply?

At this point I stopped responding. But I really wonder--was (Insert name here) matching my sarcasm--or is this person as clueless as it appears on the surface?

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's the Differentiated Instruction

Kids today are far more motivated than we were. Sure, we trudged to school every day, twenty miles uphill, in the snow, and we never complained. And we didn't have those North Face jackets back then, either.

But kids today just love school. How much? Well, one 6-year-old from Richmond, Virginia, got into his parents' car and decided to drive there himself. Apparently, though, he didn't do all that well, and ran off the road a few times. But you have to admire his motivation.

Elvis vs. the "Reformers"

In yesterday's New York Times, columnist Tom Friedman states we may attract new and high quality teachers by offering them a tax break. Apparently Mr. Friedman feels that not only real estate moguls, sports team owners, banks and car companies ought to be well-paid by the government. And as someone with a kid to put through school (a kid who's repeatedly expressed a desire to be a teacher) I can think of little to say but Elvis' old standby, "Thank you, thank you very much."

One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.

I'd only point out that ESL teachers are in short supply as well. The grinches over at The Quick and the Ed (who don't appear to have actually read Friedman's article) say it's too expensive on the one hand, and on the other might not give beginning single teachers with no deductions a large enough break (Apparently the prospect of an extra 3500 bucks a year would mean nothing to new teachers). They clamor for unproven "reforms" like merit pay, and then complain it wouldn't reward teachers in shortage areas. In fact, as you can plainly see, Mr. Friedman dramatically proposes to double the salaries in shortage areas.

It's unfortunate that many "reformers" choke when faced with things that would really help kids (like reasonable class sizes), and haven't yet heard about the rampant and unconscionable overcrowding that infects their pet projects (like New York City). On the brighter side, I was really moved by one of the comments from a blogger known as Downes:

Indeed, I would suggest that one of the major deterrents to high quality people considering a teaching career is the barrage of postings, just like this one, that attack existing teachers, teacher unions, existing contracts, and the rest. Nobody wants to work under such conditions.

Amen, Mr. Downes. The endless vilification of teachers by those who want to kill unions and institute the same sort of "reforms" that brought us today's financial woes are precisely what's wrong with education today. Let's make our schools better by giving our kids good teachers, reasonable class sizes, and decent facilities.

And let's make teaching the sort of job we can encourage our kids to take when they grow up.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg Makes a Stand

It's well known that Mayor Bloomberg has cut down on parking permits for teachers. After all, it behooves a good teacher to spend twenty minutes trying to snag a parking space, or walk to school from Connecticut, if that's what it takes to maintain "accountability." You can't effectively implement "reforms" if you don't thoroughly inconvenience unionized employees on a regular basis for no reason whatsoever.

However, it's a little known fact that most teachers don't actually have parking permits and have to park on the street. Ask the teachers in many schools, who must park many, many blocks away from the workplace. Or ask the teachers at Francis Lewis High School, who can park near the school, but don't carry the much-coveted parking permits.

Last Friday, the city let Francis Lewis teachers know what was what. Around ten in the morning, they put up new signs, indicating that one side of the school was no longer available for parking. Shortly thereafter, all the cars were ticketed. The fact that the spaces were legal when they'd parked there made no difference whatsoever. My source reports this ticket will cost a hundred and fifty bucks, (correction-$115) and that perhaps several dozen teachers received these tickets.

Thus, it's another win-win for Mayor Bloomberg's New York. This new "reform" could mean a few thousand bucks in city coffers, and once more unionized employees will be held "accountable." Perhaps by future mid-day adjustments in parking regulations around schools, the city can not only make up its entire projected deficit, but save cash for future sports stadiums, which are always needed.

Perhaps they can designate wasteful parking space as classroom space. City students and teachers have long done without chalk, computers, paper, office space, soap, toilet paper, paper towels and windows. Who says they need ceilings or walls?

The possibilities are endless.

Thanks to Rex

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cruisin' the Blogs

Over at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, they discuss the wingnuts who want to invalidate the 2008 Presidential election.

At Accountable Talk, we're urged to improve schools by firing all administrators.

Jamaica High School teachers protest the educational apartheid favored by the "reformers" at Tweed.

It's 60 bucks for your airline ticket, but if you want that baby to sit on your lap, there'll be an additional fee of $1,285.00.

The likely prospect of Senator Al Franken is irritating the heck out of Republicans.

Come to New York and become a Teaching Fellow. Take six weeks of training. Enroll in college and get on-the-job training. Then lose your job, your college enrollment, your health insurance and get kicked out on the street. It's all part of NYC tax dollars at work.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Adrift in the Wilderness

There are certain compromises you have to make when your building is at 250% capacity. There are stairways and halls not taken, and you don't think back upon them wistfully, because you know quite well what would happen if you defied logic and traipsed on through. But some teachers defy both physics and logic and do what they damn please, thank you very much.

Yesterday, a colleague and I made the egregious error of wandering into a hall right behind the student cafeteria. There we were, just she and I, facing hundreds of kids. And each one was crazed with the prospect of a DoE frozen pizza, defrosted or otherwise.

"We made a big mistake," I told her. "We'll never make it alive."

"I'm from the Bronx," she retorted. "This is nothing."

It was sheer folly, I thought, but she motioned, and I followed. Now she's a small woman, short, thin, but certainly wiry. She moved quickly forward, moving her arms around in quick, deliberate motions. Kids moved to the left, kids moved to the right, and a path cleared before us.

There was only a moment before the path closed, so I had to follow closely, but we managed to get through the bustling crowd unscathed. I don't know what they teach out there in the Bronx, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the closest thing to a working miracle I've seen in some time.