Thursday, September 30, 2010

To DA or Not to DA

Gosh, I don't know what's going on with me. I'm coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas this year. First it's subversive activity like explicitly teaching correct grammar. Now, I'm thinking about becoming a union delegate. I've never been deeply involved with the union before, and I'm not sure what has changed, but I'm interested, at least.

My new school's old delegate doesn't want the job anymore because she's about to have a baby, so the position is open. Our CL is looking for volunteers, and maybe it's just me feeling like I need to get out of the house more or see the UFT in action up close (whatever that may look like), but I kind of want to do it.

Sure, it's not the UN. Then again, it's not like the UN appears to be accomplishing much these days anyway. I'm not under the illusion that I'm going to go all Norma Rae all over the DA or anything; I just see it as a learning and serving and networking opportunity. That seems not so bad.

The readership's opinions on this would be most welcome. Any delegates out there willing to share their experiences, good or bad? Any pitfalls of which I should be aware? My CL told me it's just going to the DA once a month; is that really all there is to it?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take Heart

Everyone is talking to me about the nonsense spewing forth from Oprah, from the propaganda film, from the mayor.  Yesterday morning, driving to work, I heard Bloomberg saying teachers need to be paid like professionals.  This from the man who just unilaterally announced that teachers, unlike all other city workers, were not going to get any raise whatsoever this bargaining cycle.  Of course the mayor was talking about merit pay, which was pretty handily discredited in a very recent Tennessee study.

Then there's NBC's preposterously named Education Nation, which presents the status quo from those with money, and then offers the status quo from those with power, so as to present both sides.  Diane Ravitch?  Never heard of her.  Let's have Michael Bloomberg give another speech about how awful the teachers are.  When his test scores appeared to have risen, it was attributable to the sheer brilliance of his "reforms."  When the state put a sharp pin in his bubble, it was time once again to talk about the teachers.

What can you say about a nation that ignores the foibles of the Wall Street crowd that tossed the entire economy in the toilet, and then relies on those same incompetents to bolster its education program?  What can you say about a nation that not only allows them to do that, but also permits them to do so by vilifying its hard-working teachers, the ones that have spent decades working for substandard pay in good times to teach their children?  Well, not the children of the Wall Streeters, but rather your children and mine.

You can only know that what you do is very important.  You can know that your job is the most important one there is as far as children are concerned, with the possible exception of doctors.  You can know that for every kid with negligent parents, you are that kid's next best chance.

Know that people who mindlessly direct their venom at teachers are no better than bigots, spewing idiotic stereotypes, and that this applies no matter how much money those people have.   Know that the man who brought the world Windows 95 doesn't know beans about education, hasn't the remotest notion it entails anything more than test scores, and know that his sorely limited vision failed to persuade voters in either NYC or DC.

You can't fool all of the people all of the time.  Demagogues fall.  Take heart.

But don't go gently into that good night.  Make yourself heard.  Write a letter to the paper.  Find out who the troglodyte was who wrote that editorial and give him a call.  Submit an op-ed to one of the papers.  Even if they don't print it, they'll read it.  And for goodness sake, feel free to comment here any old time.

Your pal,

NYC Educator

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Creative Subversion; Or, How to Teach Writing Mechanics Without Really Trying

I engaged in a little creative subversion at my new school recently. I decided to do something that's JUST. NOT. DONE anymore. I decided to do something so unpopular, so controversial, indeed so dangerous, that it might have cost me my rating.

Yes, that's right. I taught a lesson on writing mechanics.

I photocopied handouts with rules. I circled mistakes on students' papers. I made them write down proper usages of punctuation marks. I did all that and so much more.

And it felt GOOD.

In fact, I bookmarked some EXERCISES in a WORKBOOK that I might photocopy and make my students do.

How about THAT?

I know. I'm a terrible teacher. I'm supposed to assume that my students will magically figure out the rules of the conventions of the English language simply by being wide-eyed ingenues before the great literature of the world and writing about their lives, this despite the fact that relatively few of them have learned any great life lessons at their tender ages. This is what I'm supposed to do.

But some things have changed. I'm at a new school in which, against all reason, the administration seems to trust me to teach students things that they ought to know. That helps, but more so than that, I have realized that teaching usage conventions the stupid way has produced, for me, fifteen-year-olds who can't use commas properly and aren't even sure what they are. So I'm going to teach them. Because that's what I do. Ignorance is not bliss.

Jeez, what will I do next? Make everyone in the class read the same story? Force kids not to copy research reports from Wikipedia? STOP ME BEFORE I TEACH AGAIN!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chancellor Klein Blogs Waiting for Superman

I'm shocked that the petty, stupid, lazy teachers in my employ see this brilliant new film as an attack on teachers.  It's nothing of the sort.  It's a work of art in which teachers are highly revered.  Of course, I'm not talking about the teachers in the schools I run.  They are a bunch of whining fussbudgets.

With them, it's always, "Oh, I have to follow the contract, and you can't put more than 50 kids in that music class, and how come I don't get a raise just because every other city employee got one?"  I mean, have you ever heard anything so juvenile?  Just because PERB insisted they take the city pattern when it was crap is no reason we have to offer it when it's attractive.   And then they have the audacity to whine this filmmaker doesn't like teachers.

30 years after President Reagan introduced A Nation at Risk, we're spending a whole lot more money and accomplishing nothing whatsoever.  For example, all the test scores that we've been boasting about since we got into office turned out to be total crap, but does that suggest we shouldn't plod blindly ahead with our bold agenda?  Of course not!  And thank goodness we have visionary filmmakers like Davis Guggenheim who neither follow local news nor amend their brilliant works of art to reflect our miserable test scores or the overwhelming rejection our ideas by both NY and DC voters.

Of course this wonderful film is not anti-teacher.   And it certainly shows that there are both good charters schools and bad charters schools.  There are all sorts of charters schools.  I love charters schools.  Charters schools are all about giving parents choices  Every parent should have the choice to enter a lottery and try to get admission to a charters school. As the movie points out, one in five charters schools are really good.  So if they win the lottery, they get a one in five shot at getting into a good charters school.  Those are pretty good odds for poor people.   It's one in five multiplied by whatever the chance of winning the lottery is.  What more could a bunch of poor people want? 

Let me tell you something, I've had it up to here with those whining teachers, with their contracts and their lunch periods and their health benefits whining to me that all schools ought to be good.  Sometimes I think those English teachers read Candide and don't even know it's parody.  This is not the best of all possible worlds, folks.  It's New York friggin City, fer cryin' out loud!  Jeez, I close schools all over the place, and when the new ones don't work I close them too.  It's not my fault if kids still fail tests after I move them into new schools!  That's why teachers need more accountability.

Anyway, just like in the charters schools,  I want to empower public school teachers.  Let them take the initiative, put on hardhats, let them spend weekends, summers and nights building the new schools if they really want to do something more than complain.  After all, I give them 110 dollars a year for teacher's choice and they can do whatever they want with that money! Why are they always coming to me, with oh, my building is overcrowded, falling down, and oh, I want a classroom instead of a closet, the place is filthy, and oh, there are bedbugs on the carpet the kids sit on when I read to them from my rocking chair?  Do they thank me for buying them the rocking chair?  Of course not! Why can't they pick up a vacuum, or buy a can of Raid, or do whatever it takes?  Geoffrey Canada does whatever it takes.  If he has to dismiss an entire grade to get the grade, he does it!   If it weren't for those darn contracts, public schools could do that too.

But the public school teachers just blather on, expecting me to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars I got to reduce class size on reducing class sizes.  So what if I raised them instead?    Anyway, we just created 3,000 seats in Queens alone.  If we do that every year for ten years, and the population doesn't go up, we'll be caught up in just a few brief decades.  If you think about how long ago dinosaurs roamed the earth, what's thirty lousy years?  Jeez, can't those teachers just sit in their cramped rooms and shut up, for the love of Mike?  Don't they know we're building a hundred million dollar charters school for Geoffrey Canada, who does whatever it takes?  

Let me tell you something, the guy who made the Superman film and I have the greatest respect for those who teach children.  He doesn't hate those fat, lazy, overpaid miserable public school teachers, neither do I, and if they think we do, they're a bunch of malodorous paranoid lunatics.  I call on the unions to abandon their contracts and let me pay them whatever I feel like.  I'm a nice guy.  They can trust me.  They think I don't care but it isn't true.  I care a lot and that's why I want them to work whenever I say, for whatever I pay.  Because it's all about the kids and that's the only fair way to do it.   When the kids grow up they can work for me too, maybe even in a charters school that does whatever it takes.  Look, let's face it, all the schools I run are pretty awful and if I can't fire the teachers every time people complain, sooner or later people are gonna start blaming me.  Maybe during our fifth or sixth term people will start pointing fingers at us, no matter what the editorials at the New York Post say.

That's just unacceptable.  After all, kids can't afford to pay union dues and their parents can't afford to send them to elite private schools like the ones my kids and the mayor's went to.  What?  You don't think we're gonna send our kids to crappy public schools or dehumanizing charters schools, do you?

Finally, to help kids all over the city, I'm cutting school budgets 2.7%, on top of the cuts I already made.  This tough love will teach them to do whatever it takes.  Also, next year I'm probably gonna lay off teachers even though they haven't gotten a raise or a contract.  Fortunately, in the charters schools, contracts are not an issue since we can fire people whenever we feel like it.  That's just one  reason we need more charters schools.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Favorite Quote...

...from Chancellor Joel Klein's review of Waiting for Superman...

It also recognizes that there are good charters schools and bad charters schools.

Sorta adds a whole new dimension to the "charters schools" discussion.  More tomorrow.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

De Duva

Wacky parody of an art film.  I think it's Madeline Kahn's film debut.  Very funny and worth a look:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not Insane!

That was a tagline for a politician in a strange Firesign Theatre political ad.  But it might be Andrew Cuomo's strongest selling point.   Now I don't much like Andrew Cuomo, and if you want to know why you can read my buddy Reality Based Educator, who will give you chapter and verse.  Basically, though, I've decided that any politician who doesn't support teachers won't be getting my vote.  For starters, I've crossed Obama and Cuomo off my list.

On the other hand, billionaire GOP pick Paladino runs around saying, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore."  Thus, he models himself after Howard Beale of the film Network.  Here's the thing, though--Howard Beale was clearly in the throes of losing his mind.   He announces he plans to commit suicide on the air, and that's not precisely what I look to in a leader.  That doesn't apply, I suppose, to people who are literally ready to drink the Kool Aid.

Are New Yorkers ready?  Well, if they actively support Paladino, I'd say yes.  In fact, you only have to look to Darkest New Jersey, where they saw fit to elect Christie, to see the sort of thing teachers can expect from our pal Paladino.  And that would give me pause if I weren't convinced that Andrew Cuomo would be just as bad.   Cuomo is creepy and opportunistic.  But to me, he doesn't appear insane.

Still, if I were to vote for him, I'd be granting credence to the Firesign Theater well beyond what their parody envisioned.  I'm afraid I can't vote for Andy simply because he's not insane.  If he wants my vote, he's gonna have to start acting the way Democrats acted before they all morphed into Hopey-Changey empty suits.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Missing a Day of School Is Like Missing a Day's Pay": Moms, Repeat This

So says some brochures in my school's guidance office to encourage good attendance. It's true, even beyond its metaphorical truth: attendance is an excellent predictor of Regents and SAT scores, on-time graduation, and advancement to higher education. Sure, it seems like a no-brainer to us adults, but some kids are still genuinely shocked when this revelation comes to them.

I decided to take this line one step further and use it on a recalcitrant student of mine that I'll call Ross. Ross seems to be a good sort at heart, not a bad kid at all, but a kid much more inclined to spend his in-school hours dozing and his out-of-school hours talking to girls, playing video games, and, um, also dozing. I believe him when he claims to be popular with the ladies: he's nice-looking and well-dressed, and his sleepy charm might be cute to a 15-year-old girl. But all of these stellar qualities that Ross possesses nevertheless do not serve him well in the classroom, so I had to give him a pep talk.

"You know, Ross, it's great that you're here every day," I told him. "Good attendance is really important. But now that you're here, you have to do work. I mean, you wouldn't just show up at a job and sit down and do nothing, and expect to get paid, would you?"

Ross looked at me with sleepy eyes, not defiantly, just quizzically.

I soldiered forth. "So you sitting here and doing nothing is like going to work and doing nothing. So you don't get paid, and there's no payoff academically."

"But I don't get paid here," he pointed out, this seeming to him to irrefutably seal the argument. "Where's my paycheck?"

"It comes later," I explained. "When you're able to get into college because you did well in high school, and when you're able to get a much better job because you went to college, you'll make more money."

"You only have to graduate from high school to become a garbage man," commented Hector, who sits behind Ross. "That's what I'm going to do."

"That might be true," I said, "but right now the city might have to lay off lots of workers." ("Have to" is relative, I know, but for the purposes of this discussion, play along.) "And that means, in the future, they might not hire as many trash collectors. So then where will you be?"

"I'll just live with my mom," Hector said.

"Me too," Ross added.

Moms of New York City, this is what your children are thinking. I need YOUR help to get this thinking out of their heads. After all, they won't be living with me until they're 47.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Talk about your embarrassing errors.   Joel Klein and his merry band of Tweedies have ordered a bunch of high school kids to go back to junior high.  It wasn't their fault, of course.  Nothing ever is.

I've got a new high-schooler right downstairs, and I do not wish to ponder the sort of anguish such a recall would call her.  She's involved in after-school activities, is making new friends, and making decisions about her classes.  She has deemed her math classmates "a bunch of idiots."  Imagine how she'd feel if all those idiots got to see her very public demotion.

That's a hard pill to swallow.  Who, at Tweed, is accountable for putting these kids through this ordeal?  Judging from the story, that would be precisely no one.  They defend the decision, calling it "fair."  Of course, Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg send their kids to private schools with small class sizes precisely so they won't have to suffer through such nonsense.   Heads would roll, checkbooks would close, administrators would be repeatedly and gruelingly taken to task.

Unfortunately for these ex-ninth graders, in the public schools this is just another day in Mayor Bloomberg's New York. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some Schools Are More Equal than Others

You know, I'm happy for the kids at Renaissance Charter School. Why shouldn't I be? Though their school is new and untested (in all senses of the word), they certainly seem to have a lot going for them. I'm sure that their teachers are bright and dedicated, their parents hopeful, and their administration tough-minded but ambitious. Really. I'm not being sarcastic. I wish them all the best.

My opposition to charter schools isn't really opposition. I'm not opposed to their existence. Charter schools, as they were originally imagined, were meant to be lab schools that took on difficult challenges in education and aimed to serve historically underserved children and families in new ways. Charter school work was always going to be hard, and for the people who felt they could do it, all the best. The more I hear about charters, though, like that which I heard from an acquaintance of mine who quit her brand-new job at a charter school when she was told she'd have to paint her own classroom, the more I'm convinced that it's not for me, as I tend to draw the line on my working week at 50 or 60 hours. But anyway, no, I've never believed that charters, in and of themselves, are the problem.

The problem, as Michael Fiorillo and others point out, is that where we seem to be going with charters is a two-tier, separate and unequal school system. Kids in charter schools get three and four teachers to a class, as they do at Renaissance, or upscale snacks and lunches as they do at the Harlem Success schools. And God bless those children, they deserve it, every bit of it. But my question is simple: Don't all children deserve that, not just the lucky few in charter schools?

Teach for America's mission, lest we forget, is (was, perhaps) a simple one: One day, all children will receive an excellent education. You know what? That's a decent mission. What's not a decent mission is chronically expanding the mission of public schools while simultaneously shrinking their resources. What's not a decent mission is blaming public school teachers for not saving the world in their under-60-hour-work-week because we hope to be able to do this for many more years, not burn out in a few like most charter school teachers (sad to say, but true). What's not a decent mission is expecting us to be everything from social workers to parents to dieticians to nurses while still hoping we can somehow squeeze some teaching in there.

What's not decent is perpetuating, purposefully, in system in which only the lucky kids get the perks. Public education is supposed to change that, not let it go on. Some schools should not, in fact, be more equal than others.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ship of Fools

There's something symbolic about an organization like Education Nation, sponsored by NBC News, and anchored by BrianWilliams (who thinks it's his duty to listen to Rush Limbaugh).

Education Nation managed to put together a panel, publicly boast about it, and fail to show the remotest awareness it hadn't included a single teacher.  Over on Facebook they're facing a barrage of comments from people who've noticed what they've overlooked.  Here's their panel, though the last time I looked they seem to have honed it down, perhaps in response to the dozens of commenters who noted how one-sided it was:

Participants in the Education Nation Summit will include:

Michael Bloomberg: Mayor, City of New York
Geoffrey Canada: CEO & President of Harlem Children's Zone Project
Arne Duncan: US Secretary of Education
Byron Garrett: CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
Allan Golston, President, US Program, The Gates Foundation
Reed Hastings: Founder & CEO of Netflix
Walter Isaacson: President & CEO of the Aspen Institute
Joel Klein: Chancellor of New York City Schools
Wendy Kopp: CEO and Founder of Teach for America
John Legend: Musician; Founder of the Show Me Campaign
Gregory McGinity: Managing Director of Policy, The Broad Education Foundation
Bill Pepicello, Ph.D.: President of University of Phoenix
Sally Ride: First Female Astronaut; Vice-chair of Change the Equation
Michelle Rhee: Chancellor, District of Columbia Public School System of Washington, D.C.
Margaret Spellings: Former US Secretary of Education
Antonio Villaraigosa: Mayor, City of Los Angeles, California
Randi Weingarten: President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT-CLO)

The last entry, perhaps, was a reluctant concession to the fact that teachers actually exist.  Of course, Ms. Weingarten also saw fit to invite Bill Gates to be the keynote speaker at the AFT convention, so perhaps she merited Bill's stamp of approval.  However, the AFT was also a prime contributor in unseating Michelle Rhee's boss.  With Rhee on the way out, and a slew of "reform" candidates just having lost at the polls last Tuesday, you'd think NBC would crawl on hands and knees to recruit Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, Patrick Sullivan, or some other sane, knowledgeable person representing what actually happens in public schools.

No such luck.  After all, MSNBC is half Microsoft, and why should they speak up about anything of which Bill Gates does not approve?   If they aren't kowtowing to Gates, the Education Nation staff is uniquely unqualified to discuss education, let alone compose a panel.  The CEO of Netflix?  John Legend?  Why not Lady Gaga and the Spice Girls?  Why not Otto from Otto's Deli? What about the Archies?  Sure, they're cartoons, but they know as much about education as John Legend.

This is a one-sided hatchet job.  It's disgraceful and un-American that they'd set up a panel to whore the corporate agenda favored by Gates, Broad, and the Wal-Mart family.  It's chilling to imagine that a journalism organization could be so woefully uninformed that no one working there knows there is a reality-based side to this equation.

At times like these I recall being in East Berlin in 1984, where they sold Pravda on every street corner.  No one bought it, of course.  Sadly, with the advent of Fox News, the so-called "Education Nation," and the other nonsense taking place these days, we're not only buying it, but accepting it.

It's time to educate Americans, and it's time we realize the crisis is not in the classroom, but in the woefully inept media, typified by the clueless "Education Nation."

Friday, September 17, 2010

I've Never Trusted in the Kindness of Strangers

Despite the dearth of Christmas cards I get from 52 Broadway, I always want the UFT to be right.   Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't.  I have grave doubts about the new teacher evaluation system being piloted in "transformation" schools, and likely coming to yours and mine next school year.

If I understand it correctly, 20% of your rating will depend on some sort of standardized test.   Perhaps the "Race to the Top" funds, the ones that can't be used to hire teachers, lower class sizes, or raise teacher salaries, will be used to design such tests.  And, as experience shows, it's entirely likely the tests will be total crap, measuring nothing whatsoever.  Another 20% of your rating would be dependent on some sort of school-based assessment, perhaps a test you write.  I'm fairly confident many, many students will show enormous gains on such tests, unless you happen to work for a principal keen to have his school closed down and lose his job.

The other 60%, of course, would come from observations, portfolios, or who knows what else, so you'll get the same fair shake from administration you've come to know and rely upon.   Or at least, you'll get an equally fair shake.   The big question, of course, is whether or not this system is better than the one that preceded it.  Of course you could have been screwed by your principal under the old system.  Will this one help?

It's a tough call.  A determined principal could certainly give someone out of favor the worst kids in the school, pretty much condemning said teacher to poor standardized scores.    And this same principal could base the other 60% on this 20.  After this happens two years in a row, that teacher would be toast.

Am I saying all principals are like that?  Of course not.  But however many there are, if you happen to work for one, it's a serious issue.  Could such things have happened under the current system?  Yes, but the principal did not necessarily have the standardized test data to back it up.

Naturally I hope for reasonable, fair principals.  But with Joel Klein running Tweed and churning out principals from his Leadership Academy, I'm not nearly as sanguine as I'd be if, say, a reasonable, realistic and experienced person, perhaps one with a background in education, were Chancellor.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making it Work (Without ARIS)

Teachers are an ingenious lot, that's for sure. We're experts on "making it work," as Tim Gunn would say. Some of us manage to survive weeks at a time without, say, photocopies, paper, or chalk--that or we get them on our own dime. So it came as no surprise to me that enterprising teachers have tried to beat ARIS, the $80 million boondoggle of a computer systems that many teachers still find intimidating and/or unhelpful to the point of being useless, by creating their own data tracking systems that do exactly what they want. Even I, allegedly a tech-savvy relative youngster, find ARIS to be unnecessarily cumbersome and complex. Nor am I surprised that teachers have been able to create systems that are so elegant and helpful that other schools are willing to buy them from their creators, or that (because teachers tend to be generous folks) they are practically giving them away.

No, what surprises me (though I suppose it hardly should) that this system seems to have been built without asking teachers what information and systems would actually be useful to them. I don't know that for sure, I admit, because, if I'm not mistaken, ARIS was being assembled either before I came to the DOE or while I was a petrified brand-newbie. But you would think, for $80 million, you could get a system that actually works well plus a whole bunch of cheap tablet computers so that teachers could use it during instruction. Or, for $80 million, you could get some smaller class sizes to re-place and retrain, if necessary, the ATR teachers. Or a bunch of schools in growing neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. Or the no-show jobs at charter schools, complete with Blackberries and Starbucks budgets, for NYC's best and brightest teacher bloggers. (Kidding!) I don't know, something other than a giant computer system that no one likes and that people seem forced at gunpoint to use by administrators who don't think outside the box.

Do you use ARIS? Do you know how? Is your class information on ARIS and it is accurate? Let me know if I'm off-base. It's happened before. Lord knows that Tim Gunn would probably look at some of my outfits and declare emphatically that I am not making it work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who Funds Ex-Educators 4 Excellence?

After reading the WSJ piece on the union-busting young ex-teachers, I had to wonder--how the hell do they pay the rent?  They aren't teaching, but rather spreading their new gospel.  What happens when that electric bill shows up?

It's remarkable that seems not to have occurred to the reporter.

Do they live with Mom and Dad?  Do they get an allowance?  Or do they get money from Whitney Tilson and DFER?  If so, is that really any way to run a "grassroots" movement?

I lost my job on multiple occasions, excessed when it meant no more paycheck.  At that time, no hedge fund manager offered to help me out if I'd subvert my union.  Nor was it an avenue I was inclined to pursue.  Instead, I put on a suit and haunted every department of every school in New York City until some poor desperate AP offered me a job.  It only takes one yes, you know.  After that you can forget about all the rest.

Not working was not an option for me, nor is not a viable option for most teachers.  And non-working teachers do not, in fact, represent working teachers.

This particular group of non-working teachers represents Gates, Broad, and Wal-Mart, whether or not they even know it.   You'd think those folks bought themselves enough press already.

You'd be wrong, I guess.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Educators 4 Actually Being Educators

Oh, those crazy kids Evan Stone and Sydney Harris! Remember them? Well, it's a brand-new school year and they're back. Thank heavens for that. I definitely need two lesser-experienced teachers who aren't even in the classroom anymore telling me more about the evils of tenure and seniority.

What? They're not in the classroom anymore? You read that right. They're not in the classroom anymore. They've taken some time off to do some consulting and work on their "grassroots" nonprofit, Educators 4 Excellence, which is not in any way connected to any larger force despite evidence to the contrary. Since they've been on the job all of three years, they're not eligible for sabbaticals. They appear to be in robust, apple-cheeked good health. This leads me to believe that they resigned from the DOE, unless someone more versed than I in all of the vagaries of the DOE can provide alternative possibilities.

I'm not sure exactly what size reproductive organs it takes to pull a stunt like this. How on Earth can you profess to care so much about the future of your students, so much that you would voluntarily leave the classroom? I mean, I know people quit all the time, sometimes for very good reasons. But those people tend not to be the same ones pulling for less job protection for their colleagues while at the same time going on and on about the preciousness of children's futures.

Maybe I'll start my own organization. It'll be called Educators 4 Actually Being Educators. Our goals will include not quitting the job we profess to love so much to be consultants.

My tender (really) heart doesn't want to be too hard on them, for all that. Believe me, there was an earlier mental version of this post that wasn't fit for a family audience. But any grudging respect I might have had for them, as folks trying to be politically active (in their way) while managing the challenges of full-time teaching even if I disagreed with their position and methods, is pretty much gone.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news while we're all still in the honeymoon period with our new classes. And I thought about telling you all a very charming story about one of my new students who is the proud papa of a ferret and can't stop talking about it. So maybe we'll have that story later this week or over at my place. But I had to get that off my chest. I was shocked, and maybe even a little saddened, and maybe even a little disappointed.

But I guess, ultimately, I'm not really surprised.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Majority of Americans Favor Witch Burning

That's probably not true, but when people favor such things it's invariably due to mass ignorance.  Bearing that in mind, Time Magazine says a majority favor rating teachers with test scores.  Here's the question they asked:

Should teachers' evaluations be based in part on their students' progress on standardized tests?
Yes: 64%
No: 31%
No answer/don't know: 4% 

Admittedly, that's not the same as burning witches.   But how many of those questioned have seen why it isn't a valid measure?  How many have read this study?   I'll go out on a limb and say fewer than 1%.  That may explain this question as well:

Do you think that public schools in this country are in a 'crisis,' or not?
In a crisis: 67%
Not in a crisis: 29%
No answer/don't know: 3%

Anyone reading the tabloids knows there's a crisis in education.  It's in the news pretty much every day.  And we're treating it with all sorts of methods that haven't worked, don't work, and won't work.  But it's better than thinking about the massive economic crisis, the one All the President's Men have failed to put a dent in.  And then there's this:

Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, the practice of guaranteeing teachers lifetime job security after they have worked for a certain amount of time?
Support tenure: 28%
Oppose tenure: 66%
No answer/don't know: 6% 

Ask the hundreds of teachers fired by Michelle Rhee how secure they feel.   Ask the teachers at the Rhode Island school, whose jobs were saved by agreeing to draconian changes--after Barack Obama applauded their mass firing.  Don't want to travel?  Ask the hundreds of New York teachers in the non-rubber room, wherever that might be.  Ask the ATRs how secure they feel.  Ask the teachers in schools facing closure how sanguine they are about getting new jobs after being ATRed.

Few Americans follow education news, and even fewer know that status quo is utter crap.   Billionaires dictate a large portion of what hits major media, and buy candidates like you or I might buy an ice cream cone.    Yes, Americans think teachers are the problem.

And yes, it's our job to teach.  But it isn't us failing to keep the public informed.  That job belongs to the people who produce the articles we read in Time and elsewhere.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Yesterday I played in Pennsylvania, and in a few minutes I have to go to Darkest New Jersey.  It's not my main job but for some reason I just can't stop.  Being a musician can be rough if you work for the wrong people, but sometimes those people pay well.  I never made more money as a musician than I did when I played in a wedding band.  I did that for a few years when I was a new teacher making 13K a year.  I don't do it anymore, though.  Watch the video below and you'll get an idea why.

It reminds me very much of how Joel Klein runs NYC schools.  I hope, for your sake, your immediate supervisors are not like the one below.  But I've seen a lot of school supervisors just like this, and I'm sure you have too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

In the Arena

It's a big job to rationalize the massive corporate undermining of education marching across these United States.  The schools are terrible because the kids are failing, say the "reformers."  The only cure, they say, is to close the schools and fire the teachers.  Charter schools, with non-union employees, are what we need, they say.  Never mind that charters, despite enormous advantages, for the most part don't manage to out-perform public schools.  Forget about poverty, parents working 200 hours a week, or any of the underlying causes of student failure.

Here in NYC, it's reform 24/7.   "Keep It Going, NY," declared a campaign funded directly from Bill Gates' huge pockets.  For years, they declared victory based on test scores Diane Ravitch and others labeled suspect.   They dismissed the critics as lunatics.  When the critics were proven correct, they said it didn't matter.  The spineless, incurious editorial writers of New York went right along with them.

You wonder how they sleep at night, carrying on a massive fraud, undermining the middle class, and training kids for nothing but high-stakes tests.  Then you come upon an article like this one and everything becomes clear.  Uber-"reformer" Joel Klein sees himself as a gladiator:

In an eighth-grade social studies class at Queens Gateway, he praised a student for choosing Theodore Roosevelt as the subject of a presentation she had prepared over the summer. Then he pulled out his wallet and unfolded a slip of paper he said he always carried with him. 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” he recited, quoting Roosevelt from a 1910 speech at the Sorbonne in Paris. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” 

That's a great quote.  I love it.   But let's get real for a moment.  Joel Klein works for the richest man in New York City, carrying out his corporate-friendly vision.  He works in a sparkling new air-conditioned office in an immaculately reconditioned building.  He sits on boards, goes to gala luncheons, and hobnobs with the press.  In the eyes of NYC editorial boards, he walks on water, can do no wrong.

There are indeed people in the arena, shouted down by the public, ridiculed by the media, pelted with rotten fruit on a regular basis, and doing battle with billionaire lions.  For those who haven't cracked a newspaper since well before Klein took office, these people are called "teachers."  And one of their primary critics happens to be Joel Klein himself, who repeatedly lectures them on what he thinks they could do better, who regularly vilifies them, and who indulges in the most spectacular forms of rationalization to justify his "reform" program, which has served no one in the real arena (let alone their students).

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Speak Out!

It's your patriotic duty to go to the EdNext poll and vote for Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, as best education book of the decade! 

There are a few people who are not insane speaking up about education, and it's our duty to support them on these rare opportunities.  Media is dominated by hand-picked stooges of Bill Gates, like Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama.

If we don't avail ourselves of those rare opportunities to make ourselves heard, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Everyone usually blames us anyway, so let's give someone else a chance to be a scapegoat for a change.

In Which My Daughter Critiques Her First Day of High School

"There were a lot of tall people there.  I felt very short."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Back-to-School Jitters...Or Not

In all likelihood, you'll be reading this post after your own first day back with the kiddies. But I'm writing it just before dinner on the eve of the first day of school. So I thought I'd reflect briefly on how I'm feeling, which is, namely...serene? Chill? Calm? They seem like very strange words to describe this particular eve. They seem inadequate. No, indeed, they seem wrong.

But I am serene and chill and calm. Everything is ready. My new colleagues at TMS2 heartily complimented my classroom setup. I left school at 3:45 this afternoon, pleased to have my setup work completed. A lively lesson is ready to go for tomorrow. Copies are made. Clothes are ironed. Tomorrow night's dinner is in the Crock-Pot, even. Life is good.

I don't know, friends, maybe this is standard for you. My life is more fly-by-the-seat, if you will, so facing down the first day of school with everything under control is a slightly bizarre feeling. But I'm merely excited and glad to meet my new students tomorrow, not afraid. My new administrators seem strangely humane and reasonable, qualities which I had long assumed were outlawed in the DOE. Their enthusiasm and that of my new colleagues was infectious today. And, well, maybe I've just now, after a few solid years of teaching, been able to conceive of at least most of what can and does go wrong on the first day and plan for it.

So I'm ready. I'm sure you are too. If you're reading this in the wee hours before heading to work, good luck. And if you're reading this after putting in your first day, hope it was terrific.

[This, by the way, is my last weekly Wednesday post. For those of you who just can't get enough of Miss Eyre, rejoice: I'm back to posting twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting Tuesday, September 14. I'll also be blogging at my own place with greater frequency.]

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ivy League Union Busters, Then and Now

By special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

Conventional wisdom holds that universities are repositories of liberalism and progressive politics, in which innocent students are indoctrinated into holding borderline deviant, un-American beliefs. Right wing authors, pundits and politicians are forever bemoaning how American universities are controlled by a liberal/left wing/anti-free market orthodoxy. And in marginal and declining humanities departments that may be the case. But a review of US labor history and current labor issues shows that in reality elite universities have often been a source of reactionary, anti-labor attitudes, policies and actions. A brief look at early 20th century labor history, and current academic efforts associated with so-called educational reform, bear this out. While the recruitment of student strikebreakers one hundred years ago was couched in the explicit language of class warfare, today anti-labor ideologies and recruitment is spoken in the superficially milder, pseudo-scientific language of ideologically-framed education research, economics and human capital deployment. One hundred years ago, largely unorganized manual workers bore the brunt of this assault; today it is teachers and their unions.

Ralph Fasanella: “Lawrence,1912:The Bread and Roses Strike”
In one of the paintings that Ralph Fasanella did of the great Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike of 1912, a detail shows the state militia entering the city to help break the strike, while the strikers and their supporters are massed along the sidewalks. Standing there are three little boys, each holding signs that together read “Go Back to School.”

While the meaning of those signs may not be so clear today, at the time it was obvious to all concerned what they meant: that students from Harvard, Tufts and other elite universities in the region had willingly joined the state militia, with the support of their school’s presidents, to break the strike.

Indeed, according to Stephen Norwood, whose “The Student as Strikebreaker: College Youth and the Crisis of Masculinity in the Early 20th  Century” (Journal of Social History, Winter, 1994), “…college students represented a major and often critically important source of strikebreakers in a wide range of industries and services.”  Student strikebreakers, often but not limited to athletes and engineering students, were involved in strikebreaking in the 1901 dockworkers strike in San Francisco (Berkeley), the 1903 Great Lakes seaman’s strike of 1903 (U of Chicago), 1903 teamster and railroad strikes in Connecticut (Yale), the 1905 IRT strike in New York City (Columbia), and many, many others. During the great strike wave that followed WWI, Princeton president John Grier Hibben told officials of the Pennsylvania Railroad that his students were “ready to serve” in the event of a railroad strike. The Boston and Maine Railroad actually placed an engine and rails on the MIT campus to help train student strikebreakers.

Today, elite colleges produce endless studies and turn out cadre to facilitate the privatization of the public schools, which occurs under catch phrases such as “the business model in education,” “school choice,” “market-friendly policies,” “social entrepreneurialism” and others. These efforts presuppose the avoidance, neutralization and ultimate elimination of teacher unions.

The fact of student strikebreaking in the early 20th century is not so hard to understand. Unlike today, a university education was limited to a tiny percentage of the population, and the student body was composed of a homogenous group composed almost entirely of wealthy, white males who aspired to and identified with the interests and ideologies of the captains of industry at the time. According to Norwood, there was an additional overlay of obsessive concern with toughness, strength, and the “cult of masculinity” associated with Teddy Roosevelt’s “bully” persona. These tendencies combined to make it easy to see why “Employers considered students to be the most reliable strikebreakers of the period,” since their complete remove from the conditions under which working people lived at the time, combined with the prevailing attitudes of Social Darwinism, combined to make their antagonism to labor unions of a piece.

“Fight Fiercely, Harvard:” Massachusetts Militia (composed  largely of Harvard students) confronts Lawrence strikers in 1912
In fact, public and private universities at the time were so identified with monopoly capital that their very nicknames stand as signposts of their class identification: “Standard Oil University” (U of Chicago), “Southern Pacific University” (Stanford), “Pillsbury University (U of Minnesota).

Today, with the near-total collapse of private sector unionization, the last bastion of organized labor in the US is in the public sector. And among public sector unions, teacher unions have become a major focus in the effort to “reform” or “rationalize” the educational workplace, and to shape and form the “product” (aka students, according to NYC Department of education consultant and management avatar Jack Welch)) that is to be delivered to employers upon graduation. While this effort is always couched in the language of “Children First,” “The Civil Rights Movement of Our Time” or other such PR and focus group-generated slogans, the reality is that recent efforts to change public education are largely motivated by a desire to control the labor process and labor markets within and outside the schools. The language of corporate education reform rarely, and then only half-heartedly, invokes the now-quaint language of citizenship or democracy. Instead, it openly discusses the purpose of education as producing students who meet the needs of employer-dominated labor markets and a globalized, neo-liberal economy.

So, having taken a peek at the Ivy League (and other) union-busting efforts of one hundred years ago, what do we see today?

Let’s (to use only one of numerous examples) briefly look at Harvard, where in 1904 university president Charles W. Eliot described strikebreakers as “a fair type of hero.” Harvard is the currently the home of The Program on Educational Policy and Governance (PEPG), which is affiliated with the Kennedy School of Government, and has notable alumni such as Michelle Rhee (whose anti-teacher and anti-labor behavior needs no introduction) and Cami Anderson (who is currently busy privatizing and charterizing NYC’s District 79/alternative high schools).

PEPG describes itself as “a significant player in the educational reform movement” that provides “high-level training for young scholars who can make independent contributions to scholarly research… foster a national community of reform-minded scientific researchers… and produce path-breaking studies that provide a scientific basis for school reform policy.” (I’ll have some more to say on the ideological basis of the pseudo-science that forms their “scientific research”)

A quick look at their Advisory Committee and major funders, shows it to be made up almost entirely of pro-privatization and anti-labor individuals and groups. Its funders include foundations such as the Walton Family Foundation, Bradley Foundation, Olin Foundation, Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation and the William E. Simon Foundation. Its Advisory Committee includes Jeb Bush and a host of investment bank, hedge fund and private equity interests. Its affiliates include the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, The Hoover Institute and The Heritage Foundation (with the Brookings Institute thrown in for a bi-partisan gloss). While claiming to be independent and non-partisan, it in fact espouses and is dominated by the free-market fundamentalism that has served the US so very well in recent years, and is now (to use a term from the Wall Street backers of corporate ed reform)) engaging in a hostile takeover of the public schools.

Studies and reports by the PEPG show an obsession with vouchers, charters, merit pay, the “inefficiencies” and failures of collective bargaining, and other “market friendly” topics and policies. While ostensibly using the scientific method, the entire premise of their research is based on assuming as a given the existence of so-called self-regulating markets: in other words, unquestioned assumptions and ideology masked as science, and a latter-day counterpart to the 19th century medical “science” that strove to “prove” the efficacy of bleeding as a medical procedure.  A 2009 paper co-authored by PEPG director Paul Peterson purported to “scientifically” show how for-profit school management companies were superior to both traditional public schools and non-profit school management entities. Independent and non-partisan, indeed.

The PEPG’s 1998-99 Annual Report, in a prominent sidebar to an article entitled “Do Unions Aid Education Reform?” (I bet you can guess their answer to that one), stated that collective bargaining and unions “reduce the diversity of instructional methods, reduce low-and high-ability test scores” and “increase high school dropout rates.” Sounds scientific, no?

Unlike the early 20th century, union busting emerging from the academy no longer takes place at the (literal) point of a gun, as in Lawrence. At least, not yet. Instead, it is done in calm, measured, reasonable-sounding tones, using the fa├žade of faux scientific inquiry, and by creating an academic, philanthropic (or in this case, malanthropic might be a more accurate term) and media echo chamber that endlessly repeats its unexamined assumptions, half-truths and outright distortions. Additionally, in the realm of real world practice we have the union-busting efforts of Teach For America (founded by Princeton grad Wendy Kopp, and recruiting exclusively among graduates of elite colleges and universities), which happily supplied replacement workers (aka scabs) for the schools in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the entire teaching force was summarily fired.

While it would be grossly inaccurate, and is nowhere near my intention, to tar all college students, professors and administrators with an anti-labor, anti-humanistic brush, the reflexive assumption that universities are always exemplars of social progress is due for some revision and skepticism. That elite universities should be so complicit in the ongoing destruction of public education is a cruel paradox that exemplifies the many dilemmas teachers face today.

History, however, should teach us not to be too surprised.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Startup Tips

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help.

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school.   Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

You Can't Make this Stuff Up

In the wake of the NY State testing fiasco, the NY Post reports there will be a probe to find out what happened.  After all, this is the age of "accountability," and we've heard that word from Joel Klein, to Barack Obama, all the way up to top education dog Bill Gates.  State Education Chairwoman Suzi Oppenheimer is taking a no-holds barred look at what's happening:

But Oppenheimer said she didn't intend to haul in officials like former state education chief Richard Mills, who was in charge when test scores misleadingly shot through the roof in recent years.

"'I see no value in it," she said. "He did what was best back then."

Kinda makes ya wonder why there's a probe.  Obviously, if he did "what was best," there's no possibility of wrongdoing.  Don't you wish you could screw up something in a big way like that and have someone like Ms. Oppenheimer declare you innocent before any examination of the issues took place?  Manhattan PEP member Patrick Sullivan had a somewhat different take on things:

"I can’t believe they want to give everyone responsible for this debacle a free pass," said Panel for Educational Policy member Patrick Sullivan. "It is simply wrong to hold teachers and children accountable with testing while refusing to hold accountable those who were responsible for mismanaging the whole testing program."

But being "simply wrong" is pretty much status quo nowadays, in a world where teacher jobs depend on student test scores, with no basis whatsoever to suggest this is a valid measure of teacher quality.  Those in charge of the testing fiasco, on the other hand, are declared innocent before any hearing even takes place.  I'd debate whether children are any more accountable than they ever were.  In fact, with "credit recovery,"  it appears they're substantially less accountable.

But unionized teachers will lose their jobs for test scores, discredited though they are, while union leaders support and enable the applause of faux-Democratic President Barack Obama.

Friday, September 03, 2010

On Hedge Funds

This is the second post in  a series devoted to giving hedge fund managers advice from teachers.  It's only fitting, since they offer so much advice on education.

This week's entry is written by special guest blogger Reality-Based Educator.

Since so many hedge fund managers have entered the education reform business and begun giving policy advice to mayors, governors and presidents on how to operate a school system, run schools and educate children, NYC Educator thought it would be a good idea for educators to give hedge fund managers and other Wall Streeters investing and financial advice.

When he asked me to offer a post in the series, I knew EXACTLY what advice I wanted to offer the hedge fund managers/education reformers.

My advice is less financial and more educational.

Keep bringing those hedge fund business ethics and values to public education.

That's right - more of those please.
Take the way you guys rig your pay so that you take a 2% management fee, 20% of the profits, but none of the losses of all those risky bets you make.

A "heads you win, tails you don't lose" pay strategy - that is BRILLIANT!

That means you can make all kinds of short-sighted, get rich quick bets and investments and care less whether there is any long-term downside risk.

Then take the way you get taxed. 

Why pay federal income tax rates on the money you make when you can pay lower capital gains tax rates instead?

These investment advisors and hedge fund managers can take advantage of this tax structure because they are often compensated through a scheme that, in part, pays them according to the returns on the fund. The industry standard for hedge fund managers is “two and twenty,” which is shorthand for an “overhead” fee of 2% of capital under management plus carried interest (often called a “carry”) of 20% of the returns on the fund. Thus a $100 million fund earning 20% would pay its fund manager $2 million for overhead and $4 million in carry. The carry portion of their compensation is treated under the tax code as capital gains for the fund manager and is taxable at the much lower capital gains tax rate of 15%.

That too is simply BRILLIANT!

I mean, why pay taxes like ordinary Americans when you can rig your pay to a win-win and scam taxpayers to boot?

Why let anybody know what is going on behind the curtain when you can hide it all?

Heck, worked for Bernie Madoff, that most infamous of hedge fund managers, for all those years.

Now how do you apply all these fine upstanding values to public education?

Oh, lots of ways.

You can own for-profit education management organizations that run charter schools.

Even better, you can declare yourself a "non-profit" and try to skirt tax rules (to be fair, Imagine Schools, a "non-profit" education management organization, has already tried this, but why not try it too?)

Then you can pay yourself a huge salary to run the schools, maybe even more money than the mayor and the chancellor, even though all you're managing is three or four charter schools.

And when anybody looks at you askance over the pay, you can say "We've let the market dictate the pay scale."

But of course you do NOT pay your teachers much of anything and you work them 60+ hours a week. 

After all, these people went into education and everybody knows you can't make a good living in that racket - not unless you're running a couple of charter schools, of course.

So your teachers deserve to be exploited and abused.

And every few years, as your employees start to ask for raises and benefits and things like that, you can lay them off by sending them a Fed Ex letter in the mailsaying their services are no longer required.

Finally, if you actually have to show improvement at your school and you are like the majority of charter schools across the country (i.e., no better, sometimes worse than the traditional public schools around them), you can engage in some mark-to-model test score data collation.

This is what financial institutions like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup do when calculating stuff on their books.

The pricing of a specific investment position or portfolio based on internal assumptions or financial models. This contrasts with traditional mark-to-market valuations, in which market prices are used to calculate values as well as the losses or gains on positions. Assets that must be marked-to-model either don't have a regular market that provides accurate pricing, or valuations rely on a complex set of reference variables and time frames. This creates a situation in which guesswork and assumptions must be used to assign value to an asset.

These assets are typically derivative contracts or securitized cash flow instruments, and most do not have liquid trading markets.

Now where I grew up, we used to call "Mark-To-Model" by a different term.

We called it "Making It Shit Up!"

But on Wall Street they have delicate ears and so they call it by the more family-friendly Mark-To- Model term.

Regardless of what you call it, the results are the same.

You can give whatever value you want to the stuff your giving value to - whether it is crap mortgages bundled into CDO's or test scores you have to report to the state.

And then voila - the actual test score results get marked to model and suddenly look a whole lot better.

This is what Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, two big fans of hedge fund manager ethics, have done with their own test scores now that the state has revealed them as "inflated."

That's the nice thing about taking business ethics and hedge fund practices and bringing them to education.

They open up a whole new world of possibilities and profits for hedge fund managers and you guys get to act all selfless and and community-oriented to boot,just like these guys.

But as you do in your day jobs at the hedge funds, you can continue to steal, cheat, deceive, mislead and exploit to your heart's content.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tell the Truth

It's a novel concept, but sometimes required by law.  For example, parents now must be informed if bedbugs are found in NY State schools.  I don't know what exactly they're to do about it, aside from keeping kids home from school, or hosing them down before coming back in the house, but there you have it.  As teachers, we have the same options.  They're not very good, but we need to know what's going on if we're to have any chance of keeping away from these little bloodsuckers.

But they're not the only thing sucking the life blood from education.  The "reform" movement has managed to snag itself not only a NY Mayor, but a US President, and several state governors.  This led UFT President Michael Mulgrew to write a pretty sensible editorial in yesterday's Daily News.  We really don't want schools to become test prep factories.  Those of us who've done test prep are acutely aware it's different from actual class.  And given the debacle of the recent state scores, you'd think we'd learn something from it.

Yet, as Mr. Talk pointed out yesterday, Mulgrew's point is a little late.  Just a few months ago, he went to Albany and negotiated a deal that teacher evaluations would be based 40% on test scores.  It's tough to imagine Mulgrew hasn't figured that principals, constantly under pressure from Tweed, won't base 100% of their opinion on test scores.  And it's tough to imagine tests you can't prep for.  If I'm looking at dismissal based on test scores, I'm not placing kids in groups and having them express opinions.

If Mulgrew didn't want test-prep to be the be-all and end-all, he shouldn't have allowed us to be painted into a corner, or supported the AFT's rousing endorsement of Bill Gates, to whom tests are the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Value-Added: What Can Be Done with it and What Can't (and What Won;t)

As the new school year inevitably and inexorably draws near, I've been thinking a lot about the new rules that may soon govern our profession. I've said all along that the current evaluation method for teachers is broken. It's one of the few things on which the "reformers" and me can agree. Where we tend to part company, of course, is the importance of test scores to teacher evaluation and, indeed, what teachers can actually do and control in their classrooms and practice. Any teacher who's been at it longer than five minutes can tell you that what you can actually do is much less than a lot of people actually think. That doesn't diminish the importance of what we actually can do--indeed, it makes the pieces of the achievement pie that constitute quality planning, instruction, and management all the more important for us to get right. But still, our effectiveness is, to some degree, always and already limited.

This piece helped me crystallize my thoughts on teacher evaluation, test scores, and the whole "value-added" proposition. Corey Bunje Bower parses some writing from The New Teacher Project pretty finely, making a distinction between the "blame-the-teacher" and the "anti-teacher" crowd. I've wondered myself if they aren't two different groups. You can blame teachers for problems in school, yes, but the flip side of that is that you can't celebrate the achievements of the good teachers out there if you're going to say that teaching is 100% chance. We do have some control, and we can argue all day about how much, over what happens in our classrooms. If we don't, then we don't deserve any credit for the good things that happen, either. The "blame-the-teacher" crowd might, from time to time, have a point, whereas the "anti-teacher" folks are your basic bitter teacher-haters.

So back to test scores. Test scores can (or maybe, given the crappy state of standardized testing now, could) tell us something about how much our students are learning and with which students and groups of students we have the most (and least) success. But they should be only a minor part of the evaluation process. The group of students we get is one of those things that is out of our control. We get students ready and unready for school, compliant and recalcitrant, engaged and disengaged, English-speaking and non-English-speaking...the list goes on and on.

Which brings me to my next point. What I suspect won't actually be done with test scores anytime soon is actually calibrate groups of students and teachers more finely. If tests were really good, and if they were scored really well, maybe what test scores could eventually do is tell us which class of students would be our ideal. Maybe, for example, my class should be stocked with female English language learners, since I tend to do well with that group. But will that actually happen? I doubt it. You'd need to be able to do much more in terms of class size and teacher assignment than is currently possible.

So perhaps the single most useful thing that can be done with test scores probably won't be. Which makes me wonder why some people are so keen on bludgeoning teachers to death with them. And that makes me wonder which side the education reformers are really on: "anti-teacher" or "blame the teacher." It can't, it would seem, be both.