Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Group Has It All

Women, guitars, puppets, and tomatoes. Plus you can tell English is their second language.

Frankly, I don't know what more anyone could ask. Here's our featured Sunday video--the incomparable Shonen Knife singing Super Group.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Saber Rattling Time

Mayor Bloomberg has made an offer to the teachers--a 2% raise on up to 70K for each of two years, and nothing above that. For teachers at max, that's a 1.4% raise per year, even though the tabloids will keep shouting 2%.

If we don't jump and say "Thank you sir, may I have another?" he'll fire 2500 teachers. A few days earlier, he was firing 8500 teachers. So in some strange way, we seemed to be making progress.

Then Joel Klein sent an email to the principals rationalizing this whole thing--we're closing the budget gap and teachers are paying for it. Never mind all that collective bargaining nonsense. We don't need no stinking UFT, or CSA.

As he just proved by closing 19 schools, against the will of everyone who spoke at public forums, he's Mayor Bloomberg and he does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants.

Actually he's got no such option. He has to deal with us and CSA whether he likes it or not, and it's better to wait him out than take crumbs--and that's what we're being offered. I hope our leadership really, truly understands that.

Nonetheless, the whole "Screw you all, I'm Mayor4Life and I'll do what I want" tactic is cute. And Joel Klein is relentlessly charming, as always. It's no wonder he inspires such fierce loyalty amongst our ranks.

Here's a counter-proposal. Remove all the odious givebacks from 05, the 20 minutes from 02, stop the idiotic 37.5 minute classes, and then we'll talk about taking less money.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg Is Not Your Dad

Well, the PEP vote has happened and its result was, sadly, a surprise to no one. What surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn't have, is the paternalistic tone Mayor Bloomberg took toward his constituents (unwilling though they may be) following the vote.

"Schools that have failed our students for years shouldn't be kept open for the sake of nostalgia," Mayor Bloomberg said today after the vote. Well, thank you very much, Mayor, for stating the obvious. I doubt anyone really believes that failing schools should be kept open for the sake of nostalgia. This strikes the tone of a father speaking to a child, telling him that there is no monster under the bed, not that of a mayor taking his constituents' concerns seriously. Concerns about closing schools include displacement of needy students, long distances to travel for students who prefer a neighborhood school, the difficulties veteran teachers may face in seeking new jobs, the loss of a school that may provide other valuable services to the community, and others, but I don't think anyone puts "nostalgia" in their top 5 reasons.

As Andy Samberg would say, "That's not my dad! That's a PHONE!" Except this is not my dad, nor is it a phone. It's a mayor, who ought to speak to and about his constituents with a smidge less condescension.

(If you've never seen the Andy Samberg SNL sketch to which I allude here, you absolutely must. You will laugh and laugh. And certainly we all need a chuckle today.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Little Light in the Darkness

Read Juan Gonzalez today.

Pretend They're Charter Schools

That's what Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, told the crowd assembled in front of Brooklyn Tech last night. If only the Chancellor would pretend they were charters, we wouldn't be looking at closure. They'd have new facilities, Smartboards, small class sizes, and waitresses on roller skates to bring kids their lunch each day.

And charters are really riding the gravy train nowadays. They've bought off Governor Paterson for 55 grand here, and 35 grand there, and they're spreading it far and wide. One of charter schools' biggest benefactors is that lovable Walmart family, who can't wait to bust those nasty teacher unions. They've given 15 million for charters in Albany alone.

Mayor Bloomberg wasn't taking that advice last night.

After months of talk, hearings that brought out thousands of New Yorkers to defend schools, and an all-night session in which politicians, teachers, parents, students, principals, and who-knows who else came out to protest, Bloomberg and Klein closed all the schools.

“Listening means to hear but also to digest and allow the information to have an effect on our opinion,” said Dymtro Fedkowskyi, the representative from Queens.

Patrick Sullivan, who represents Manhattan on the board and has long been one of the few dissenting voices, pressed the mayor’s appointees to explain why they approved of the policy. “Is there anyone who will defend this?” he asked. All but one of the mayor’s appointees remained silent. “I can’t see how anyone can vote in good conscious,” Mr. Sullivan said.

No reflection. No justification. No consideration. That's what passes for democracy these days. A bunch of kangaroo hearings and a panel that comes right out of the mayor's pocket. Representatives of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn said no.

Mayor Bloomberg's rubber stamps, who barely speak, unable to formulate arguments to defend their actions, carried the day.

Screw you, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. I'm the mayor and I can do what I want.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Now He Belongs to the Asians

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is always a hot topic in my social studies class. It combines a number of things students love learning about: violence, drama, conspiracies, racism, and, of course, Lincoln himself. I like to think I teach my students a healthy respect for Abraham Lincoln. On one hand, he was often at crosshairs with men like Horace Greeley and Frederick Douglass for his relative hesitation on ending slavery; on the other hand, he did make a number of courageous decisions and tried to imagine a Reconstruction free of violence and full of forgiveness for the South and expanded (if not quite fully expanded) civil rights for the freed slaves. So, all in all, a fascinating and brilliant individual to study, and I think my students come away with a good understanding of him. One of my girls even developed something of a crush on Lincoln, which is perhaps a bit strange, but never mind.

Lincoln's story came to an end recently in my class, with John Wilkes Booth's fatal shot in Ford's Theatre. A hush came over the class as I described Lincoln's final moments, and recited Secretary of War Edwin Stanton's immortal words: "Now he belongs to the ages."

"What do you think he meant by that?" I asked the class.

"I don't get it," said one girl.

"What don't you get?" I asked.

"Well," she said, "you told us that there weren't many Asians in the United States then, and most of them were working on the railroads out West, right? So why would he say that now he belongs to the Asians?"

"NO," said one boy loudly, "to the AGENTS. Like, the people who are going to carry his body away."

Trying (unsuccessfully) to smother my laughter, I wrote the quotation on the board instead.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not to Be Missed

Jamaica teachers voice their concerns at GothamSchools.

Public Enemy Number One

In 2008, I voted for Barack Obama as the last best hope to alter the destructive and decadent path piloted by George W. Bush and his band of thugs and liars. Obama promised change, and heralded a new day in America. He's not only failed to deliver, but, amazingly, seems to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor. Bail out the bigs, and forget about everyone else.

I've long marveled at our miserable health care system. Almost 3o years ago, a friend's father had to sell his home to pay for his deceased wife's medical bill. He moved into his son's basement, where he blew his brains out one Christmas Eve. Years later, I watched Bill Clinton fail to pass a plan because he refused to compromise. Obama, given that, bent back so far it was tough to remember what he, as a candidate, promised. I distinctly recall his proposing to marginally roll back the party the super-rich have been enjoying here since the 80s.

However, when he got the job, he pushed that promise back. Perish forbid the rich should have higher taxes. When he finally got around to health care, he liked the Senate proposal to place a 40% tax on health care plans over 24K a year, a short-sighted measure given the astronomical rises in health costs that occur as a matter of course. Among the many reasons I didn't vote for John McCain was his proposed tax on health insurance. I thought it was an unfair burden on the disappearing middle class--and never imagined the man for whom I voted would endorse such an idea.

Also, it appears a public option, for those who can't afford or prefer not to enrich predatory insurance companies, is dead in the water. A popular blogger I respect told me that without the public option, she'll have to soldier on without health insurance. That's unconscionable, and certainly not what we voted for.

As if that weren't enough, President Obama's appointee for Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, pushed an education program that looked like nothing more than a continuation of the disastrous Bush policies. Never mind the taxes NY State gives the government. If we want Federal aid for our schools, we'll have to compete in the "Race to the Top"--a pro-charter, anti-union, poorly thought out and ultimately counter-productive exercise in closing neighborhood schools and enriching private interests. Forget about what teachers think is right--Bill Gates has other ideas, and a lot more money than all of us.

The "Race to the Top," of course, is based on the programs Arne Duncan carried out in Chicago public schools, the ones that weren't good enough for Obama Barack's kids. The programs Duncan ran appear not to have been remotely as effective as Obama originally claimed. This is reminiscent of nothing more than the wholly fabricated "Texas Miracle" that GW Bush and his original Education Secretary, Rod Paige, began with. This phony program was the model for "No Child Left Behind," yet another brilliant national initiative.

Meanwhile, we're still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite our vote to get the hell out.

I've never voted against a Democrat in my life, but I don't envision voting for Barack Obama again, at least not while I can still write in Mickey Mouse. Nor will I vote for NY Governor David Paterson (though I doubt he'll survive a primary). I've come to the point, well after some of my fellow bloggers, where I no longer think either political party serves the interests of my family, my community, or my profession. Democrats will no longer get my vote as a matter of course.

And I have to tell you, their failure to deliver is most certainly why they lost Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. In fact, I think if McCain had won, there's no way he'd have managed to pass a plan like Race to the Top, and there's no way we'd be looking at New York State insisting on closure of dozens of neighborhood schools. I don't know if the country would be better off, but the education system certainly would.

Democrats are going to take a bath next year. If they can't count on the likes of me, they are truly screwed. I don't see the Rush Limbaugh crowd warming to Obama anytime soon. There are a lot of people like me, and Democrats ignore us not only at their peril, but at that of the future of the United States of America.

Prove me wrong, Mr. President. If you care about the middle class, or even if you just want a second term, I suggest you get started right away.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I love this. Click to enlarge.

(Stolen from Miss Cellania)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Martin Luther King's Legacy

One of my colleagues asked me if we could get t-shirts with pictures of Bloomberg dressed as Hitler. I found that distasteful, and I don't do Hitler comparisons as a rule. I'm not an admirer of Mayor-for-life Bloomberg by any stretch of the imagination, but that seemed a little beyond the pale to me. Still, when Mayor Bloomberg ventured to compare his educational nonsense to what King was trying to accomplish, I found that equally outrageous and distasteful.

Diane Ravitch did a pretty fair job of nailing him to the wall. A few bloggers have let him have it as well. But a few days ago, the NY Legislature was unable to come to an agreement about raising the charter cap. A sticking point was that Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson insisted on shutting parents out of the process, refusing to give them a say in whether charters could invade the schools their kids attend. It's outrageous that any politician would insist on such a thing, and deeply offensive that Bloomberg would dare to compare his unchecked ambition to the causes for which Dr. King gave his life.

Would Dr. King fight for the right for the richest man in New York City to control the public school system with no checks or balances whatsoever? Would Dr. King want parents shut out of their children's education? Would he want schools closed based on faulty statistics? Would he insist that private interests be able to profit from charter schools, as the charter lobbyists do?

It's an abomination that anyone would have the audacity to make such absurd contentions in public. And it's an atrocity that the mainstream media is too wishy-washy to call him on it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eighty Percent of Success Is Just Showing Up

I was listening to an excerpt from Mayor Bloomberg's "State of the City" address on my way home from work, and I was curious about something he mentioned:

At the two schools in which I've worked, we were very proactive about attendance. One school had major attendance problems, though my current school has much better attendance. We have one LTA in my grade, and her attendance has been monitored to the point that an adult now accompanies her from class to class to make sure she doesn't make a run for it in the middle of the day.

But is Mayor Bloomberg's statement that schools, on the whole, drop the ball on reporting erratic attendance patterns to parents? I feel like this is something I don't know much about. Maybe my school's excellent attendance is the exception rather than the rule. I'd like to know if other people think that Bloomberg is right on this, or if he is exaggerating the problem.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Smart than You

Thus spake one of my young charges last week. I didn't argue.

I said, "You want to say, I'm smarter than you. Say it."

I then made her repeat it several times until she got it right. The "th" sound is tough for non-English speakers, and doesn't seem to exist in those my kids speak. I sometimes say words like "think," making a great show of sticking out my tongue, which the kids think is ridiculous. Perhaps they're right, but I don't know how you make that sound without sticking your tongue out.

Anyway, I finally got the girl to say it correctly. She really is very smart, thinking all the time. I have to keep an eye on her because I really have no idea what she'll do next. She's always finishing assignments quickly, and running up to the board drawing pictures of ducks and hamburgers and things. One of my lost boys, who does not participate, does not do homework, does not much bother with tests, dutifully copies everything on the board, and has got a running record of every scribble she's produced since September.

"I'm smarter than you," she announced.

She may very well be, for all I know. We haven't yet gone head to head on IQ tests or anything.

"That could be," I admitted. "But I don't have to be smarter than you. I only have to know more English than you."

It was true. And for one shining moment, the girl was speechless, and I got the last word.

It won't last, of course. But we have to take our victories where we can.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Are You DOING?

That's the question on everyone's lips as we at the Morton School prepare for our Quality Review, which is right around the corner. Don't say it like, "What'cha doin'?", making it sound like a casual inquiry into what is going on in one's classroom or life. No, you have to fully pronounce all four words--"What are you doing," emphasis on "doing," and then follow it up with something like "to raise achievement for your Hispanic students" or "to improve reading scores among your lowest one-third citywide"?

Gosh, I was planning on picking my nose until a week or two before the ELA exam, I guess. What kind of a question is that?

The other day I was discussing with a colleague a couple of her former students that are giving me a hard time--not behaviorally, but academically. I spend much more one-on-one time with these students because they are struggling. All of them have been identified for extra help. But they don't do the things I ask them to do in conferences. One of them in particular pays little to no attention in class. Another does almost no homework. They're good kids, but not especially good students, and I've really hit a wall with them.

"Well, at some point," my colleague said, "free will comes into play, and they are exercising it."

So I really hate that question, "What are you DOING?" What am I doing? Well, I'm trying to share important contemporary texts and great works of literature with all my children, even my "lowest third citywide" or my "ELL population." The more I teach and the more I watch children, I'm convinced that E.D. Hirsch and Dan Willingham are right, that discrete "reading skills" can't be taught and that children need a wide variety of texts, cultural experiences, and background knowledge to create meaning out of any text. I'm allowing my students the greatest degree of choice I possibly can with most assignments, while still trying to make sure they all have a baseline of content knowledge and writing competency to enable them to survive in any level of high school class. I'm spending my own free time and money gathering books for my classroom library. I'm spending nights and weekends reading professional books, grading papers, blogging, watching films, and collecting tidbits that might be useful someday in my classroom. That's what I'm DOING.

Not to stroke my own ego too much, but I try to make class exciting and worthwhile for my kids--that's what I'm DOING--and if they decide not to take advantage of that, I'm not sure I can DO much else. My students are teenagers and my struggling ones didn't suddenly start drowning when they entered my class. Perhaps the question to start asking is, "What are they doing?"

Homework? No.

Paying attention in class? No.

Writing? No.

Reading? No. And there's no excuse at all for that last one; I have a wonderful classroom library (built at least partially with my own free time and money) with a wide variety of nice, recent books that most kids love poring over.

I'm not saying that I'm giving up on these kids. But I hate being treated like I already have, like clearly there's something I'm not doing, or else they would be succeeding. I'm still looking for ways to help them, but I can't imagine that they wouldn't already doing better if they were lifting a finger in their own interests.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Atlantic Monthly Teaches Us All a Lesson

by special guest blogger North Brooklyn

America, claims the venerable magazine The Atlantic Monthly, is stuffed full of bad teachers. Teach for America has the answer to this problem based on 20 years of data that we should all heed because… they have 20 years of data.

Here is what Teach for America has to share (Insert drum roll here).

Number One: Happy teachers make better teachers.

Number Two: Teacher perseverance in spite of all that surrounds you is the road to student success.

Teach for America’s in-house education guru, Steven Farr, has even written a book, Teaching as Leadership, about the data which will come out in time for all NYC teachers to read during our winter break. No doubt it will be full of examples describing anonymous [which in this new decade means fictional] teacher failures vs. anonymous [fictional] TFA successes.

There is no American journalist who does not want to write a major article for the Atlantic Monthly. But when an article this well, squishy, is published in this magazine it makes the reader wonder if the Atlantic Monthly has abandoned all journalistic criteria.

And if so, is it just the area of education or in all areas? It makes me think, did James Fallows really spend years in China? Or were those marvelous articles just a figment of his imagination as he pecked away at a laptop while in a Chinatown bar slurping up a Mai tai? Maybe Andrew Sullivan is a sophisticated, urbane, political writer, or maybe he’s a retired school nurse living on a pension in Maine who watches a lot of C-Span.

Like its kissing cousin, the New Yorker, if the Atlantic Monthly can’t bring itself to a vigorous analysis of the education industry it may be that it can’t do this in any other area of concern--in which case maybe it’s time for it to shut down. To continue in this way is sad and embarrassing; like seeing a great, old thoroughbred’s heart burst as it tries one more time to reach the finish line first.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm Thinking

It's the oldest line in the book, but it never fails to pop out. Why aren't you writing? Everyone else is writing, maybe. At least I hope so. I'm thinking.

But if you were really thinking, you'd be writing. That, in fact, is evidence you're thinking. But how do you prove a kid isn't thinking? And why is it that it's invariably the kids who don't do any work who are thinking? What are they thinking about? Well, call me cynical, but they're thinking about the girls and boys they like, the game on Xbox where you kill everybody, what they're going to do after school, how they hate to write, and when, oh when, they are going to get something to eat, even if it's that drek from the cafeteria.

I've told kids, "No thinking, just writing," but the kids who actually think (albeit not about the task at hand) reject that, asking, "How can I write if I don't think?" It's a pretty good question. Now I say, "OK, fine. I'm thinking about giving you a hundred on your report card. Remember that, because your actual grade is going to be half that."

But it's the thought that counts.

Isn't it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maybe I Need to Clarify My Definition of "Old Movie"

My darlings and I are studying the Civil War, and one of them asked me if there are any good movies about the Civil War. I named the Ken Burns film, obviously, and Glory, and then I also mentioned Gone With the Wind.

"What's Gone With the Wind, Miss Eyre?"

I had to explain that it's quite an old movie told mostly from the perspective of white Southerners, and that while it's considered a classic American film, they might find some of the language and characterizations upsetting and therefore it was a film they should watch with an adult who can talk to them about it (i.e. NOT ME). After all, a lot has changed in this country in the seventy years since Gone with the Wind was made. But I first saw it in middle school myself--read the book in middle school, too--and some of my babes could handle looking at the movie through a more contemporary lens.

That said, I explained, there's a lot to like--beautiful color and costumes, great acting, the terrible and awesome Rhett Butler, etc.

"So if you like old movies," I concluded, "maybe you'd like it."

"Oh, yeah, I like old movies," said one girl confidently. "I just saw that Sherlock Holmes movie the other day. The one with the guy from Iron Man in it? That was good."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Close Public Schools, Fire Teachers, Open Charters and Make Big Bucks!

Well, when they told Jed Clampett Cali-for-nee-ah's the place you oughta be, they weren't kidding. Movie star/ politician Arnold Schwarzenegger's got a deal for parents in La-La Land, giving them all sorts of options to "improve" their schools:

Some of the options parents would have to choose from include: replacing the existing administration with a charter school, closing schools and replacing some or all of the existing staff.

What the other options may be I have no idea, as the article didn't deem them worthy of mention. I can't help but notice that there's nothing there about supporting or improving the schools. Apparently they must either be closed, replaced, or the staff must be gotten rid of. I have to also assume that when the schools are closed or replaced with charters, it's bye-bye staff. There is no possibility, therefore, that the school's problems could emanate from anywhere but the schools unionized employees.

So this makes being a parent much easier. If my kid flunks out, there's clearly something wrong with the school and it must be closed or replaced by a charter. At the very least, we need to fire all the staff.

Last year I covered a class for an absent AP. One kid was listening to an Ipod. I told him to put it away, and he did. The second time, I told him it would be my Ipod if I saw it again. The third time, I sent it to the dean's office. When I went to check up on what happened, I ran into the kid's mom. She told me it was his "enjoyment," and that I had no right to have taken it. She said she wanted to make sure he was never in my class.

I thought about what would happen if it were my kid. In fact, if it were my kid, it would be a long time before she saw that Ipod again. Now I'm thinking what it would be like if a mom like the one I ran into got to choose what happens with our school after her son flunks out for listening to the Ipod instead of studying.

And why is this program being started? Why, to qualify California for the Race to the Top funds. It seems like a race to see how fast we can replace union jobs with non-union jobs.

Thanks a lot, President Obama!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hamlet, The Grim Reaper, and Family Guy

Okay, I have to admit that my posts here and over at my own blog have made me out to be quite the Debbie Downer since school resumed after the break. To make up for it, here's a funny story straight from the mouths of the babes at the Morton School.

Understand that one of my great loves in life is Hamlet. It's walking brilliance on so many levels. Hamlet is clever and crazy, sad and sexy, power-mad and powerless, and basically one of the most awesome characters in all of Western literature. I love Hamlet and Hamlet. That said.

My darlings and I were discussing a short story today, and one of them teased out the use of a skull as a symbol for death in the story. I about lost my mind with the chance to make a Hamlet reference to my middle schoolers. I told them the whole story about Yorick and the graveyard scene and how Hamlet basically makes the skull the symbol of death and mortality we know it as today.

They were mildly interested. Then a kid said, "Yeah, kind of like the grim reaper, too. That's another symbol of death."

"Great, great!" I said, still riding high on my wave of Hamlet euphoria. "And in what other works do we see that symbol used?"

"Oh," said the kid, "there was that episode of Family Guy--"

"Oh yeah!" chorused the rest of the class. "When Peter has the near-death experience and the death guy follows him around!"

I was forced to admit that I knew what they were talking about.

However, I have also watched Kenneth Branagh's unabridged film version of Hamlet twice, so that should still count for something.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Daughter Assesses History

"Imperialism is like mad hard."

Apathy Rules

I wish I were an editorial page writer for a city tabloid. I wouldn't have to reflect, or consider all the issues. I could simply think, "Union bad, status quo good," and proceed without giving any time to reality, which is admittedly troubling. The Daily News editorial yesterday pretty much says it all, vilifying union and glorifying charters. In the interests of being "fair and balanced," it points us to an anti-union, pro-charter op-ed.

I'm reminded of the few times I tried to watch Fox News. Once, when we were headed to Iraq, they balanced the viewpoint of a Republican Senator with that of ex-Republican Senator Fred Thompson. Another time, when Hillary Clinton was running against Rick Lazio, they balanced the viewpoint of a Republican Congressman who supported Lazio with that of Floyd Flake, a Democratic Congressman who supported Lazio.

Though our fair and balanced President, Barack Obama, didn't bother to suggest this when he was running, he now wants to drop the cap on charters. Charters can sometimes do better than public schools. Why they don't always do so is a mystery to me. After all, charter students have 100% proactive parents, and proactive parents are the no. 1 factor in student success. And when you drain the children of proactive parents from public schools, you demean them by just that much.

Another thing the News wants is for teachers to be judged on the test scores of their students. The fact that they'd be higher if we weren't moving our best prospects into charters does not even merit a mention. As usual, everything is the fault of unionized employees, and no one who controls the schools bears any responsibility whatsoever.

I could write this stuff myself. I'm amazed, though, that such superficial, unexamined, and unpersuasive stuff is so pervasive. The sad thing, for many Americans, is there's little or no exposure to the other side. You get an op-ed here and there, but nothing resembling the relentless drum beat that every newspaper editorial board, including the so-called liberal New York Times, feeds America on a fairly regular basis.

New York is a macrocosm for the rest of the country, where few know that President Obama never said he'd insist on lifting the charter cap. Not only that, but our new President has reneged on his promise to marginally diminish the party the uber-rich have been enjoying since the 80s, and has instead decided to fund his wimpy health plan on the backs of middle-class and unionized employees.

A very smart blogger with whom I'm friendly tells me that the lack of a public option will mean she will soldier on without health insurance, despite the 40% tax the President will be levying on programs that provide decent coverage. It's sad that you don't see that in the papers. But politicians like Bloomberg and Obama wouldn't be able to function in an environment where everyone actually knew what was going on.

It's going to be tough to wake up the public, but we can't stop trying.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What's Going On?

Last Thursday I went to a hearing about the fate of Jamaica High School. John White, Deputy Chancellor, stood up and recited a bunch of disproved allegations. I've read these allegations in various newspapers, and no one questions them, for the most part. But that's what people in this country have come to accept for news.

I've been watching the Sopranos on A&E lately. It's odd to see Tony and his buddies shouting, "Forget you!" or "No, forget YOU!" Tony gets upset about "freaking Uncle Joon." But it's watchable for the most part, and you can follow the story at least.

Info from Klein and company is much more like the Sopranos episode below. It's just not as funny.

Friday, January 08, 2010

First Things First

Even as Mayor Bloomberg and his machine close 20 schools, there are priorities. And one of them, clearly, is non-unionized charter schools. Naturally, when they need space, all the public school kids have to move. Now this wouldn't happen where I live. First of all, we support our public schools. If there are problems, our community stands up and demands they be fixed.

And you know what? They are.

Unfortunately, there is no community in New York City. There is mayoral control. That means, of course, that the mayor does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants, and if the community doesn't like it, they can go fish, and never mind how cold it is outside. So Eva Moskowitz charters need space and the neighborhood schools get less of it.

This is called "school choice." It means that Mayor Bloomberg can choose to leave your neighborhood with less school space, or even no school space. He can diminish or close your school, and if you have no neighborhood school he won't even give you a damn metrocard so you can get to whatever school he says you need to go to. Public transport too expensive? Walking an hour-and-a-half in the below-zero wind chill helps battle childhood obesity.

Most communities wouldn't stand for the decimation of their school systems. But New York City has turned their community over to a demagogue who cares only to get as much public school money into the hands of as many private entities as possible. That's why Eva Moskowitz can pay herself half a million bucks while 500 20K-per-annum DC37 employees are out of work at the hands of this mayor, who had the audacity to run ads claiming his administration would be all about jobs.

Actually, though, it is all about jobs. It's all about giving jobs to those who least need them.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Evidence of Learning

I had a not-so-fun sitdown with Principal X today, some of the details of which are discussed (carefully) over at my blog. Another thing that came up in our "chat" was the problem of "evidence of learning." Apparently it all comes down to charts.

Now, I know this. I've advised new teachers to plaster the walls with charts. But apparently I don't have enough charts. Or the right charts. Or both, who knows. I didn't really get any direction on that. But it just goes to show you, newbies, that just when you think you have it all figured out, you don't. The center will never hold.

It bothers me, though, that this is all it comes down to: Plaster your wall with enough charts and CLEARLY learning must be taking place in your classroom. Learning strikes me as more complicated than that, and every minute I spend making pretty charts is a minute I don't spend grading papers or planning lessons--the two activities that, to me, are really at the heart of my job. If I don't plan decent lessons, kids won't learn anything to begin with; if I don't grade papers, they don't learn from their mistakes or their successes. I feel that I should prioritize these activities. I feel that they are the activities that ONLY I can carry out. And if that was all I had to do, I could do it really well. But of course, that's not all I have to do.

There's lots of evidence that my kids have learned. Look at their notebooks or their portfolios. Talk to them. Talk to me.

Or, I suppose, you could look at all the charts I'll be spending the next couple of days making.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

See You There












Make your presence known and your voices heard!!!




@ 6:00 P.M


CONTACT:MAYOR BLOOMBERG-/Call :311,OR FAX-212-788-8123





MAIL:52 CHAMBERS STREET, NY , NY 10007/CALL-718-935-2000

Proselytize Much?

The most I ever do it, as a public school teacher, is never. So I was kind of shocked to read about a teacher allegedly selling books telling kids how to "recognize those serving Satan and bring them to Jesus."

The story says he was "reprimanded." I've read of teachers sent to the rubber room for giving watches to kids, for sending faxes on DoE machines, and suspended without pay for unsubstantiated charges later proven to have no merit whatsoever. To me, this charge seems much more serious.

I have to say, as a parent, that if a teacher sold or lent a religious book to my kid, I would be furious. For me, a reprimand would seem far from sufficient, and the administrator telling me about it would get an earful, if not a lawsuit.

"He has been instructed that he cannot hand out material that hasn't been previously approved," said Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.

That seems like less than a slap on the wrist to me. It's my right to choose how or if I want my child to receive religious instruction. I specifically send my kid to public school, at least in part, to protect that right.

Am I reacting too strongly to this? Is it enough to wave a forbidding finger and say don't do that? Or should any public school teacher worth learning from already have mastered that whole church vs. state thing?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Like Making Sausages

Grading isn't a pretty process. Maybe slightly prettier than making sausages, but not much.

Over at the Morton School, progress reports are due, and instead of using a standardized form like we've done in years past, teachers are being asked to submit itemized lists of assignments, grades, point values, and current averages. I wonder, not idly, if this verges into the realm of Too Much Information (TMI).

Some teachers go strictly by the numbers, I suppose, but I've found that most teachers don't, and indeed we are discouraged to do so. All kinds of extenuating circumstances are suggested, some warranted, some not.

I do have my grades posted and regularly available to students and their families online, which is my own choice, and I find that this is valuable for two reasons: It's a way for parents to keep tabs on their kids' work as often as they like, and it keeps me on top of my grading. If a few days go by without an assignment being graded, kids tend to whine and it pushes me to git-R-done. If I make a mistake, the kids can spot it; if a kid complains about a grade, I can simply point to the numbers and shrug.

I do worry about my grading a great deal. I'm not blind to the many effects grades have on students, and I try to grade fairly and consistently. If anything, I err on the side of generosity with final grades, if I feel that the situation warrants it.

But I'm dreading these progress reports going home. I expect to have 20some e-mails from parents who never bothered to check up on their kids until now complaining about some missed homework from early November that I never notified them about. I know that a rational response is that this information has been available to them since the first day of the school year. But since fewer than half of my kids and their families registered for the website, I know that most of them never bother to look, either.

I'm bracing for a couple of ugly days after these reports go home.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Mr. Accountable Talk has single-handedly solved the school-closing problem.

Democrats Demand More Crappy Jobs for Our Kids

That's State Senator John Sampson standing up for just that. You can just feel the excitement all the people around him have. You can't really see it--The man on the left looks bored out of his gourd, while the woman on the right seems absolutely fixated on Mr. Sampson's choice of jacket. Nonetheless, he wore it for the occasion of his announcement that he wanted to raise the charter school cap.

I've read elsewhere that Mr. Sampson wants to make charters more accountable, but these reservations don't seem to have stopped him in asking the cap be raised. First things first. Right now, he wants more charters whether or not they're regulated, and he was quite clear about why he wanted to raise the cap.

"My philosophy is you have to be in it to win it," Sampson told reporters yesterday. "So I think we need to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of ... moneys that can come from the federal government."

There's nothing all that confusing about Sampson's statement. We're doing it for money, pure and simple. It's refreshing, actually, to see a pol who will let it all hang out like that. None of this nonsense about doing what's best for kids. That's neither here nor there. Who cares if there are fewer union jobs and more "at-will" jobs where you can be fired for a bad haircut? Not John Sampson, evidently.

If you work at a charter school, you can be fired for telling your colleagues how much UFT teachers make. You can also be fired for insisting IEPs be followed. In fact, I've met ex-charter teachers who were fired for just those things.

It certainly appears those are the kind of jobs Mr. Sampson is willing to accept for our kids. With friends like him, who needs Republicans?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

I want to wish a happy and healthy 2010 to everyone and anyone reading this. I certainly hope for better things. Perhaps something will fall on Chancellor Klein's head, causing a synapse to connect--and he will wake up and realize that his "reforms" have done nothing whatsoever to help the 1.1 million children who attend NYC schools. Of course, that would only cause Mayor-for-life Bloomberg to give him the boot (for all the wrong reasons) and find someone even worse to take his place.

I'm on a long journey today, from London, Ontario back to freezing NY proper. It will be a relief to get back to the USA and currency I understand. In Canada, there are no more one dollar bills, only 1 and 2 dollar coins dubbed "looneys" and "tooneys" by the locals.

I'm a little looney tooney myself this morning, but all I have to do is hop in the car, and I'll be home in 12 hours or so.

See you in New York.