Saturday, October 30, 2010

Were There Cell Phones in 1928?

Ridiculous question, of course.  But when you look at this Charlie Chaplin footage from 1928, it appears otherwise.   The thing is, if it isn't a cell phone, what the heck is it?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Value Added Is Awesome, Dude

Like, the New York Post called me?  And they were all like, dude, can you write us a column saying to release the test scores?  Because, like, the union is wrong and we're right?  And I was all, like, bitchin', dude!  But they were, like, the New York Post, so I was all, hey, I don't support all that uncool politics, like, Rupert Murdoch and stuff?  But hey, I thought like more people would read it, so I was all like, hey, let's do it, dude!

But then it came out, and it was all, well, I was all for releasing the scores because, like, not releasing them could make the union look, ya know, bad and stuff?  And like, I want to look good.  So then I was all, like, hey, let's release the grades, but let's let people know that there's other stuff we do in schools, like learning and stuff, which I, ya know, think is way cool.  And that, like, I don't just give tests in my class, but that we do all this other stuff that's mad cool.  And like, the other day, I was, like, absent, so I stayed home and watched TV and the next day they were all, like, hey dude, where ya been?

So anyway, what I want to say is, like, I want to be one of those reformer guys?  Like, I could make up cool new stuff to do in schools and get paid for it and then I could tell everyone else to do all the cool awesome stuff that I do?   And we could, like, go out to lunch and stuff?  So, anyway, they released my grades and they weren't so good, but this makes me want to make my next grades totally AWESOME, dude.  And so they should do that for, like, everyone?

But they should be, like, careful when they do it.  And the Post piece made it look, uhhh, like I didn't want to be careful but I definitely do, dude.  Actually they, ya know, said I want them to be careful but I'm just writing this so I can, ya know, say it again?  So anyway, just because I'm in the Post saying we should release the scores don't think I want to just, you know, do it, because I think we should be, like, careful, you know? 

And, like, I just want to say that dude over at South Bronx School, was like, not nice, and like, I've been, ya know, thinking and stuff?  And what I think is, like, the world would be better if people were nicer.  You have to give Joel Klein a chance, because, like he might have some good ideas, and you can't just be, like, don't release all that data just because it's invalid, or close all those schools with no plan to improve them.  It's because I, like see both sides at the same time, because I'm, like, complicated?

So while scores are, like, gnarly, even if mine are not so good? I just want to say that while I support them, they just need to be careful, and the Post article was all like, saying that but I just wanted to, like, say it again, kinda like I didn't say it before? 

Like, thanks, dudes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parent-Teacher Conferences Cometh, Not Unlike the Iceman

Oh happy day, it's time for parent-teacher conference season! As we prepare that first round of report cards, we're also bracing to meet the parental-type units of our many lovely darlings (especially our loveliest ones, if you catch my drift). Is it arrogant to admit that I reread my own advice on dealing with parent-teacher conferences? So be it. I just did.

I suppose I'm ready. I have my gradebook all up-to-date in tip-top shape. I have anecdotal logs ready. The only thing I need to do is clean my desk, which pretty much always needs to be done. As A.A. Milne noted, "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is always making exciting discoveries." The saddest part of this is that I just cleaned my desk last week to make sure that among my exciting discoveries would not be any student work that didn't get counted towards the report card, which would not be an exciting discovery to my students or their parents. Alas, it's time for another clean.

This year, I'm tweaking one of my own pieces of advice: I'm starting to promote and encourage student attendance at parent-teacher conferences. I've never been a fan, but I'm going to try. I've heard the theory that letting the student speak in the conference gives him or her more accountability and ownership, something that would certainly be good for my students. So I'll give it a shot. (Okay, and I have a few parents who speak absolutely no English, and no translator readily available.)

Any thoughts on the impending approach of this particular season? Please do share in the comments.

P.S.: I do still update my own blog once or twice a week, typically. There's a bunch of new stuff up there in the past week or so. Click on over!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Me, and I Can Do What I Want

That seems to be the prevailing philosophy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  After all, he once called the notion of extending term limits "disgusting."  However, when polls told him he wasn't gonna be President in 2008, it suddenly became a little less disgusting.  This mayor is an independent, of course, and renounced the Republican party to become one.  This notwithstanding, when his failure to become President necessitated manipulating a third term, he had yet another change of heart and ran as a Republican.

Now, of course, the Mayor wants to vote for term limits.  This is significant because it affirms his clear belief he, and he alone, should be able to change rules--which only apply to him if and when they serve his purposes. After all, NYC voters twice affirmed term limits.  Only someone with as much money as he has ought to be able to weasel around that:

George Orwell put it well in his sardonic book, “Animal Farm.”  He wrote:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

And now Mayor Michael Bloomberg has shown us that Orwell wasn’t far off the mark.  In 2009, Bloomberg, through his superiority in power and money, strong-armed the City Council to pass a law overturning the ban on more than two terms as mayor. Now, the Mayor has reversed himself.  He will vote for a two-term limit for everyone else — even as he continues in his third term.

He has affirmed that, in the political jungle of New York, he is the one animal more equal than others.

Quite true, and the mayor doesn't even bother hiding it. Three for me, and two for everyone else.  Of course, in three years that could change.  The third term, this time, was an emergency.  Bloomberg said only his economic expertise could help us sail through these rocky waters.  Of course, that wasn't the real emergency.

To Michael Bloomberg, an emergency entails Michael Bloomberg not getting what Michael Bloomberg wants.  Don't rule out another emergency in 2013.  And be wary if the UFT says 2013 will be better.  Bloomberg could buy another term for himself, or hand-pick someone even worse.

Or maybe a teacher-friendly Democrat will get in.  I've been waiting for that to happen since 1984.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Ending?

InsideSchools reports that gaining admittance to the elite high school of one's choice is not necessarily a dream come true. Funny that piece should come up for me today. I have a student in that very same situation.

TMS2, I'm finding, is the second-choice school of quite a few of my students. Having applied to specialized or well-regarded main round schools and not gotten in, they end up at TMS2, and most seem happy enough, at least so far. TMS2 was the second choice of one of my students in particular, a girl I'll call Sara.

Sara was accepted to one of the specialized schools, and, to hear her tell it, she was very pleased. She had worked hard to study for the test, and believed this school would be the place for her. Imagine her surprise when her first week of school did not turn out as she'd hoped. She found the teachers to be intimidating and the pressure cooker of student life already cranked up to 11. It wasn't right for her. She ended up at my school, her second choice, and she is beginning to flourish. So maybe, we hope, Sara does get a happy ending, even if not the one she envisioned.

I've had many of my former students tell me that Stuyvesant, LaGuardia, Bronx Science, Townsend Harris, and the like are everything they dreamed of and more. I'm happy for them, too. But I worry about kids like Sara, who see in those schools' promises more than they can or should bargain for. I worry that the test-only schools take kids who are not emotionally equipped to handle the environment. And I worry that the emphasis on a few brand names make kids overlook some really special schools doing wonderful things.

Your thoughts? I still feel, despite several years teaching eighth graders, that I don't have a 100% tight grip on the high school admissions process, so your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Not All Principals Are Nuts

The Daily News reports that some principals think it's a bad idea to publicly name teachers and release their evaluations.  You might think one LA teacher's suicide might be persuasive enough for most, but certainly not for crusading "reformers" like NY Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"We are going to lose good teachers," said Elizabeth Phillips, principal of Brooklyn's Public School 321. "Why would they stay in this profession and be publicly humiliated?

This is particularly likely in the case of new teachers, precisely those whom Klein wants to target by denying them tenure.  That these tests were not designed to measure teachers is neither here nor there.  That there are cases in which teachers have not even taught those kids for whose scores they are credited is also utterly irrelevant.   And, of course, the luck of the draw, who gets the best kids and who gets the most difficult, is of no importance whatsoever.

Who's going to volunteer to teach the toughest kids in the building when their jobs are on the line?  And, it appears, even if you do a good job, the idiotic metrics used to score you could end up stabbing you in the back:

For example, the average score for one teacher's incoming fourth-graders on state math exams was a 3.97 out of 4. The outgoing fourth-graders scored an average of 3.92, but because she went down, her report labeled her "below average."

As usual, the geniuses who design the measuring system make no provision whatsoever for ebb and flow.  Things have to go up all the time, or teachers are failures.  If every student isn't passing by 2012, every school is failing.

Even more amazing is this:

New York State's Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman cited a legal precedent set by the Buffalo Board of Education's decision to release employees' home addresses. A judge found they had the right to do so.

I don't know about you, but I don't share my personal phone number or email with my students, let alone my address.  I've heard many stories of angry parents confronting teachers at their classroom doors.  Does anyone need a crystal ball to imagine what will happen when home addresses of teachers are plastered all over the papers? 

Doubtless when some vindictive student or parent assaults a teacher at her home, every editorial board in NYC will find a way to blame the union.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weingarten's Folly

It appears yet another of former part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten's deals has gone awry.  Ms. Weingarten agreed to have value-added grades used privately, yet the DOE, on the heels of the propaganda film,  decided to make them public.   This would certainly lessen the odds of first-year teachers from becoming second-year teachers, as the infinitely wise Tweedies plan to fire them based on these metrics.

Apparently Ms. Weingarten did not learn anything when the DOE routinely denied sabbaticals one year, necessitating a lawsuit to compel them to follow their own contract.  Nor did the botched ATR deal suggest bad faith to this leader.  The abysmal experience with mayoral control and failure to amend it in any significant fashion led Ms. Weingarten to demand its renewal.  The awful 05 contract was supposed to earn us 25/55, but Ms. Weingarten decided to throw Mayor Bloomberg not only 27/55, but also 17 extra years of 3% salary deductions for new teachers.

Sadly, current UFT President Michael Mulgrew appears to be following in her footsteps.  After having won a lawsuit to block the closing of 19 schools, Mulgrew agreed to the co-location of several schools which will surely hasten the demise of the ostensibly "saved" schools--rendering the UFT's lawsuit largely pointless.  As a follow-up, he helped bring "value-added" to all NY State teachers.  Never mind that "value-added" has not been demonstrated to have any validity whatsoever.

The latest wrinkle in this revolting situation is the city's agreement to postpone releasing names.  Yet that brings to mind the school-closing lawsuit, which simply delayed the city's doing whatever the hell it wanted to do.

How many times does the DOE have to lie to us before the UFT realizes they cannot be trusted?  Postponement is not good enough.  The UFT has to stop this.    Yet even if the UFT should win the lawsuit, the DOE will turn it into a PR triumph demonizing teachers yet again--one that could have been avoided if we'd refrained from making this preposterous and pointless agreement in the first place.

It's time to start learning from our mistakes.  It's time to stand up for our members.  If our union doesn't do it, it's a good bet no one else ever will.  Do or die time, Mr. Mulgrew.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Faith

So the DOE has decided, unilaterally, to release teacher data reports to the public despite earlier promises that the reports would be confidential. If you saw this coming, raise your hand!

(**stops typing due to temporary loss of one hand**)

Even if you believe, as some well-intentioned people do, that these ratings should be public, anyone who values fairness and collaboration should be disgusted by this move on the city's part. My high schoolers, callow and inexperienced in such matters as they may be, would nevertheless call this, rightly, what it is: a stab in the back. The city and the teachers had an agreement that should be honored until and unless it is mutually renegotiated. Mutual consent is the basis for functional relationships between adults, and by unilaterally going back on that agreement, the city is violating that consent.

Maybe I missed it, but I'm not hearing any vast public clamor for the reports. This is not a matter of life and death. Many teachers have not even had the opportunity to discuss their reports, flawed and questionable though they may be, with their principals. I hope that whatever judge gets the pleasure of hearing the UFT's argument does the right thing and forces the city to keep their word.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Friend Your Students?

No thanks.  A lot of teachers seem to do so, but not me.  Three teachers just got fired over some rather extreme allegations, and I know people who've been sent to the rubber room for way less.  It's hard  to understand adults in positions of authority who hit on high school kids.   There's not a whole lot you can say on their behalf.

Fortunately for outfits like the NY Post, which love stories like these, NYC teachers don't actually need to do anything to be accused of such actions, and since 05, they can be suspended without pay for simply being accused.  I've heard of at least two instances of teachers being falsely accused, being suspended without pay, and then cleared.

Innocent though you may be, the 05 contract renders city teachers guilty until proven otherwise.  Judge Judy asks, "How do you tell if a teenager is lying?"  The answer--"Her lips are moving."

I don't friend students on Facebook, and I'd advise you not to do so either.  Simply having done that could potentially bolster a false claim against you.  Now that there's no rubber room, I suppose they send you to file papers somewhere.  But in the case of a sexual accusation, you could be sitting home without pay or health insurance.  To me, it's not worth the risk.  Also, I don't really want to know what my students do on Facebook.  That's their business.  Mine is making them learn English.

Do you friend students on Facebook?  Is it really worth it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Schooling Carl Paladino

Since Carl Paladino is, by some measures, down as much as thirty-five points against Andrew Cuomo, I'm not sure how much point this blog post might have. But since I gave 90 minutes of my life to watching the gubernatorial debate this eve (I must subconsciously believe I'm still a social studies teacher), I figured I'd follow it up with a blog posting about everyone's favorite opponent of men in Speedos bumping and grinding (CLEARLY the biggest problem New York State faces), Carl Paladino.

First, Mr. Paladino, the word you were looking for at the beginning of the debate was "dismantle," rather than "dismember," in reference to the state education department. Because while Ms. Tisch and her cohorts and I have certainly had our differences, I would rather not see them dismembered. The technical definition of dismember may be quite similar to "dismantle," true. But still, connotation matters, as I try to teach my students. (Badly, apparently, because I am a member of an EVIL EVIL UNION.)

Also, Mr. Paladino, the EVIL EVIL UNION that is so EVIL you cannot remember its name is the New York State United Teachers. It is not, as you call it, the United Union of Teachers. Although I enjoy tautologies as much as the next blogger, and think United Union of Teachers is sort of catchy, still, please do try to get our name right if you're going to crucify us in a public debate.

Finally, Mr. Paladino, since I try to be a generous opponent, I will tell you that I think your bracelets are awesome. Seriously. It's a sweet gesture.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lesson for Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin loves that propaganda film.  He says it's "monumentally important."  And he knows that, apparently, because he sat through the whole thing.  Baldwin seems to feel no one has ever made such a statement before.  This is particularly valid if you've ignored every identical statement, beginning with "A Nation at Risk," and haven't ever heard of obscure figures like Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, or the Walmart family.

Baldwin pulls no punches, telling it like he appears to believe it is:

Whether or not teachers' unions are partly to blame is open to discussion, but Guggenheim's film casts a light on that perspective. And once you get a peek at New York City's "Rubber Room" for outcast teachers, you may never view the NEA and the AFT the same way again.

This is a monumentally important film. My father was a public school teacher for 28 years and I can think of few other areas in our society that deserve this type of urgent scrutiny right now. See Guggenheim's film, which opens in theaters this weekend.

How does Baldwin suppose we will now view the NEA and the AFT?  Is he perhaps suggesting that viewing the defunct and therefore unviewable rubber room will somehow give us a positive impression of teacher unions?  That seems highly unlikely.  But not to Baldwin, whose follow up is decisively titled, "Raising Awareness of Flaws in Education is Not Union Bashing."

That's true, of course, but it certainly seemed Baldwin expected people to take a dim view of our unions.  By the way, promoting views that are anti-union, particularly when they're based on false premises, well, that is union bashing.   But Baldwin has harsh words for those with the temerity to refer to his union bashing as "union bashing."

If you read union bashing into that, then you have a problem. An education problem. 

Apparently, if you don't share the same views as Alec Baldwin, you aren't educated.  Oddly, I never learned that in school.

So let's review.  Baldwin said you may never view the unions the same way.  It's really hard to see how anyone could take anything but a negative view, given the evidently awful rubber room that Baldwin doesn't seem to know is closed.  Or perhaps, because his dad was a public school teacher, he feels he couldn't possibly be speaking against school teachers.  This cannot be questioned because no child in the history of civilization has ever had a harsh word for any parent, ever.

Still, it's ironic to be lectured about "an education problem" by someone who has not the remotest notion of what really goes on in NYC schools, someone who not only gets all his information from a propaganda film, but also appears to demand we all do likewise.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Get married at McDonald's for 400 bucks.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Improbable Foods Saturday

I've long wondered what the hell makes anyone in New York buy such a thing as Domino's pizza, no matter how many cheesy poofs they include with it, or whatever free toppings they toss in, on, or around.  In fact, when I think of the crap they sell, along with Pizza Hut and Uncle John's, the following video from The Onion seems absolutely plausible.

Domino's Scientists Test Limits Of What Humans Will Eat

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jury Duty

Yesterday I did my patriotic duty and showed up for jury duty.  It seemed like a good idea, since I'd already put it off once and if I didn't show they'd probably have come and put me in jail and stuff. 

So I showed up bright and early, sat in a room for hours ( seemed like more hours that it actually was).  I'd forgotten to bring a book, which was a big mistake.  However, I soon became one of those people who sits engrossed in a cell phone.  I'd always wondered what makes people do that.  Evidently, it's the utter absence of anything else to do or think about.  I never experience that at my job, though there are times I wish I would.

After two or three hours, I got called.  They put us in a bus to take us to a courthouse.  In front of me, I could see a young woman with a Blackberry posting, "Jury duty effing sucks," on Facebook.   After they put us in a large waiting room, I began texting very similar messages to some friends at work.   Man, jury duty really makes you appreciate your job.

They called me up, and the judge asked if anyone had any experience with DUI.  I raised my hand and said I had a friend who'd been convicted multiple times.  The judge excused me, and they sent me out to lunch for 90 minutes.  (This particular aspect of jury duty was one I could readily support.)

20 minutes after lunch they moved us into a room, had us fill out a survey, and sent us home.  Look for my next jury duty report in about six years.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough: Thoughts on Michelle Rhee's Departure

Well, Michelle Rhee is quitting. I apparently didn't get the memo that quitting is the noble thing to do. I mean, Sarah Palin got it and Michelle Rhee got it, but I didn't. I don't know. Maybe I was too busy teaching to catch it.

You see, Michelle Rhee is quitting to keep the reforms moving forward. Of course. One less person doing the work always helps to move the work forward. I'm no great fan of Rhee or what she espouses, but still, can I point out the logical lapse here? Michelle, honey, I am not going to be a more effective teacher if I decide to, uh, quit teaching. I'd admire her a lot more if she said, "I don't want to try to work with this mayor who looks like he's going to show me some pushback," or "Forget it, I want to be a full-time housewife." Fair enough. At least that's honest. But don't give me this I-love-school-"reform"-so-much-that-I-must-stop-"reforming" nonsense.

In Rhee's statement, I hear echoes of Sarah Palin's resignation speech, the one in which she claimed to love Alaska so much that she realized she could make way more money and get way more attention being a "pundit." (I'm putting that in quotes because I'm not sure Palin even qualifies as a pundit.) Palin was roundly denounced as a quitter, even by former fans, and with good reason.

And I'm not going to say that I never thought about quitting teaching. Heck, I'm not going to say that I don't still think about it. But if nothing else, I get credit, at least from myself, for two things: First of all, for now, I haven't quit. I do still get up every morning and try to do a tiny bit better, or at least no worse, than I did the day before. And second, I'm not going to make myself bigger than the work, which is what both Palin and Rhee are guilty of. If I left, I'm sure that my school could find someone just as good as me to take my place, and my students would still get a good education. It wouldn't be the end of the world. Rhee and Palin make themselves seem irreplaceable, that they are the only ones big and bad enough to stand up to the nasty ol' unions and the liberal media.

But Alaska went on without Sarah Palin. Schools will go on without Michelle Rhee. I sure will.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mister Bloomberg Stands Up

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to his credit, stated there was no room for the intolerant attitudes sported by the GOP gubernatorial candidate.

"We're a melting pot here in NYC," stated the mayor.  "We don't care where you come from, or what your sexual orientation is.  We have respect for absolutely everyone.  Except public school teachers.  That's why we gave all city employees raises except for them."

When asked whether that statement was discriminatory, the mayor sharply disagreed.  "We don't discriminate against teachers," he insisted.  "Whatever color they are, whatever religion they practice, whoever they spend their time with, we treat them all the same.  We don't get any input at all from them on how to run our schools, but blame them completely when our reforms blow up in our faces.  Hey, don't get on my case about it.  Go watch Waiting for Superman.  Watch Oprah.  Everybody's doing it."

Several public school teachers, personally interviewed by our crack staff at NYC Educator, affirmed the veracity of the mayor's words.  "Yes," said one, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  "Mayor Bloomberg really does treat us all like crap.  Not just some of us.  He doesn't talk to us and he doesn't care what we think.  In fact, he doesn't even negotiate with us.  He announces to the press he's giving no raise, even though the Taylor Law requires him to negotiate in good faith.  He says that's to prevent teacher firings, but then Klein says they're going to fire teachers next year anyway."

When asked whether the chancellor harbored any prejudice, the teacher shook her head in disagreement.

"He treats us like crap too," she assured us.  "Every last one of us."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

News Flash...

DC Chancellor to Rhee-sign at end of month.

Make Up Your Own Rules

During a get-to-know-you activity with some kids after school, we played a Cranium-type game. I didn't tell them this, but I'd found it in my classroom towards the end of the year a couple of years ago and my efforts to track down the owner were unsuccessful, so I kept it. The game set was in perfect condition, except, as I discovered when we sat down to play last week, the rules were missing.

"Did you ever play this before?" I asked the kids.

They hadn't.

I looked at the cards and game pieces and board, but I was flummoxed. The games from the Cranium family have a good reputation for being thought-provoking and unusual, which is fine, but quite a drawback when you don't have the rules.

"All right," I said, feeling inspired, "we don't have the rules and I don't know them. So we need to make up our own. Let's everyone look at everything and see if we can come up with a good set."

The kids did and I did, and eventually we came up with a decent set of rules that generated as much, or more, laughter as they did fair game play. So the activity was successful.

It's also, though, a decent metaphor for our career in general. We're playing a game that's supposed to have rules, but we don't know them, or the rules as they're written don't work for our situation. So in our own little game boards--i.e. our classrooms--we forge new rules, through something like mutual consent, and if they generate good game play (i.e. a more-or-less functional class period most of the time) and maybe even some laughter, we figure that they're good rules, whether or not they're the "real" ones.

What rules have you made up in your own classroom? Not the obvious ones like "raise your hands" or "don't chew gum," but the ones that positively subvert the so-called "real" rules.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crime? Rats? You Need Merit Pay!

Joanne Jacobs writes about a Facebook campaign, undertaken by kids, to clean up Newark Schools.  The kids are upset that the schools are dangerous, and infested with rats and insects.  In fact, the kids walked out in protest.  I don't blame them.  No one should have to endure such miserable conditions when going to school.

There's recently been quite a commotion about Facebook founder Mark Zuckberg's 100 million dollar contribution to Newark schools.   The donation was conditional upon faux-Democrat Cory Booker taking control of the schools, something real Republican Chris Christie was all too happy to accommodate.  But as Joanne points out, "reformer" Rick Hess is not happy:

It's hard for even far-seeing union leaders to convince veteran union members to accept reforms to evaluation, tenure, or pay policies. It's much easier if they can tell their members that such changes are what it will take to unlock new funds. 

It's a little tough for me to see how changing evaluation, tenure, or pay policies will help solve the gang, rat, or insect problems that plague Newark schools.  Tougher still is figuring why anyone would be concerned with "reforms" before addressing such elemental issues.  However, I'm just a lowly teacher,  not an educational expert like Rick Hess.   In fairness, it's possible that expert Hess simply ignores the realities on the ground, or hasn't actually bothered to examine them before favoring us with his important opinions.

And Hess can't solely be blamed for that, as it's entirely typical of the conversation in this country, initiated by billionaires like Bill Gates and the WalMart family.   Of course, their causes have now been championed by thoroughly ignorant public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Davis Guggenheim, and John Legend.   While few, if any of them, actually know what goes on in public schools (let alone send their kids to such places), they're universally willing to apply Bill Gates' untested and/ or discredited prescriptions without any critical thought whatsoever.

Personally, I'm not sure how to get rid of rats, aside from voting them out of office.  But I'm fairly certain merit pay ain't gonna cut it.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Be the First on Your Block

A friend of mine told me her son, when asked what he wanted for his birthday, has repeatedly requested a jetpack.  Unfortunately she was unable to find one, even in toy stores.  But it's her lucky day.

Apparently, you can now buy your own jetpack, for the low price of a hundred thousand clams.   Why should your kid have to watch Thunderball and envy James Bond all those cool gadgets?

So parents all over may now opt to screw the college fund and give their kids a little fun for a change.  After all, in Barack Obama's USA, it's pretty tough for grads to find a job no matter what they do.

But if you really want to be a stick in the much, you can save the hundred K, and go 15 minutes for a mere 215 bucks.   That's actually quite a bit more than James Bond used it, and he just stashed it in a car trunk afterward.   I wonder whether a James Bond car would cost as much as the jetpack.

Any teachers out there driving James Bond cars?  Do you need them around your school?  Or is the system not quite so bad as Davis Guggenheim says?

Friday, October 08, 2010

And You Can Design Your Own Bulletin Boards...

I read all over the net about the benefits of working for charter schools.  You have the freedom to design your own curriculum, and the freedom to spend all the time you like doing so.  You're free to talk on your school cell phone whenever parents call you.  You're free to be fired on the spot for telling people what UFT teachers earn, or for reporting special education violations.

Here's something that you haven't heard before--you're also free to lose two months pay for missing two days of work.   UFT teachers haven't got that option, what with that nasty restrictive contract holding them back.   And it doesn't matter that those were two days students didn't attend.  Without a contract, the charter can do any damn thing and they can rationalize it any damn way.  For example, they can say there's nothing you can do about it because the teacher resigned.

It doesn't matter that you took a summer job and they only notified you about those extra days weeks earlier.  The important thing is you have the right to be penalized almost $5,000 a day for missing work.  You don't have the right to earn $5,000 a day when you actually show up, but you can't have everything.

Oh, for the freedom to work with no guaranteed pay, no seniority protection, no recourse from the whims of greedy insane employers, and no more restrictions from that nasty old contract.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I Want to Be in the Choir, I Just Don't Want to Sing

A friend of mine who's a music teacher at a school upstate recently held auditions for her school choir. She was delighted to see how many students came to auditions. She welcomed the students, explained how the auditions would work, and assigned each student a number at random to determine the order in which they would audition.

"Oh, we have to sing?" a few kids asked, seemingly genuinely confused.

Well, my friend explained, yes. A choir is a singing group, so, much like a basketball coach might reasonably expect his players to know the basic rules of basketball, a choir director might like to know that her prospective singers can, in fact, sing.

Nonplussed, those few kids left.

All right, my friend thought. Certainly the kids who remain now know that they'll be expected to sing.

Turning back to the singers, she invited the first singer forward for his audition. After assuring him that, yes, he really did need to sing something, she asked him what he planned to sing.

He didn't have something prepared, he explained.

She thought back to the flyers she'd posted and the e-mails she'd sent out to the school's teachers. "Bring a song you know that you can sing a few lines from," she was sure she'd stated.

In that case, she told him, why don't you take a few minutes to think of a song you know that you wouldn't mind singing?

The young man said that he would.

It took her three more tries to find a young person who had arrived expecting, willing, and prepared to sing.

(By the way, I love Glee. My professional goals for this year include acquiring Emma's wardrobe.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Union Gets It Right

In an extraordinary bout of good sense, the United Federation of Teachers has decided to endorse Tony Avella for NY Senate.  It's extraordinary because Avella is a pro-teacher candidate who may actually speak for us at a time when many pols are in the bag for educational "reforms" that not only fail to benefit schoolchildren, but also bludgeon unionized teachers simply because they're unionized.

This is important because we will need friends in Albany, and it's quite clear neither Paladino nor Cuomo intends to be one.   So there's Silver, but he will need a little help in the Senate, and we will need a few honest pols to help balance the ones DFER and their hedge fund buddies have managed to buy off.  Padavan won by 500 votes last time, and I'm hopeful the UFT will be able to turn that around and accomplish something worthwhile.

This is precisely what the UFT should've done with Bloomberg last year.  We can't fix that, but we can help get at least one reasonable, decent person in Albany.  I'll be volunteering for phone banks at Queens UFT, and if you're in the area, I hope you'll do the same.

Maybe if we win this one we can convince the UFT to make a habit of actively supporting pro-teacher candidates.

Photo stolen from Pissed Off Teacher

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"The Alternative Is Frequently Worse"

If you haven't seen this post at The Jose Vilson, you should--not just because of Jose's brilliant (as always) commentary on the situation, but the lively and revealing comment thread that follows. Fans of Jose's will know that his writing almost always provokes thoughtful responses, but this one is especially salient.

As one commenter urges others to rethink their positions on teachers' unions, as unions can prevent their members from getting meaningful work done even if a majority of the members wants to do the work, quite a few others come back to tell this commenter that the union cannot/does not/will not fight individuals who want to do more or differently. What the union is supposed to work for is the members' rights, within legal and contractual limits, to teach and live more or less as they see fit within their professional opinions. Jose and a few others remind us that, no matter how we may feel about the union, "the alternative is frequently worse."

I tend to agree. In my travels around the blogosphere, I've read posts from colleagues in far-flung union-free states in which they teach six or seven periods a day, followed by mandatory meetings, with lunch and prep periods that may not be duty-free if they come at all. That kind of pace is simply impossible to maintain and still continue to teach consistently well for long periods of time. Love them or hate them or apathetically disdain them (as some of us, including myself, sometimes do), the union is there to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen to us.

So let's have a health and safety group hug for the union, as the picture for today's post suggests (Google search "Solidarity" and see what kind of crazy stuff comes up). Because the alternative, as Mr. Vilson reminds us, may very well be quite a bit worse.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ignorant? Uninformed? Get a Gig at the NY Times

Tom Friedman, who showed an incredible lack of foresight about the Iraq War, is applying his expertise to education.  Friedman thinks there needs to be a third party in American politics.  I found this intriguing until I got to this line:

We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions...

Actually, we already have two parties that talk about education reform without worrying about offending unions.   In fact, we've got one union, the AFT, which far from being offended, actually invites Bill Gates to be the keynote speaker at its convention.  And the thanks it get for that is having its president vilified in a propaganda film lauded by Oprah, NBC's so-called Education Nation, and the usual suspects.

However, the usual suspects now include the President of the United States, ostensibly a Democrat.   So why do we need a third party to echo the anti-union, anti-teacher sentiments of the GOP and Democrats?  I guess you'd have to ask Tom Friedman, for whom doing the most cursory research is an inconvenience.

That's a fundamental problem with journalists who already feel they know everything.  And regrettably, Friedman is representative of a trend.  It's kind of galling to see scores of bumbling incompetent journalists not only making many times our salaries, but also having the audacity to preach about merit pay, charter schools, or whatever Bill Gates has on his mind this week.

Don't expect to see a panel on Oprah addressing that issue anytime soon.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Someone Out There Appreciates Us

It's not all clever but contradictory nonsense by corporate propagandists like Davis Guggenheim and his faux-Democrat buds.  Juan Gonzalez and Rick Ayers discuss just how inaccurate and misleading they are:

Also, don't miss Ayres' great piece over at Huffington Post.  Finally,  here's some oddball who deems it appropriate to say thank you for what teachers really do.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Not Everyone Drinks the Kool Aid

Gail Collins watched the propaganda film, yet refrained from going out and burning down the home of a teacher.  That's what we can call progress these days.  Yet those who get their news from the tabloids already think we're a group of satanists, probably don't need to see the film to buttress their prejudices, and will go on hating us and everything we stand for regardless.

But it leaves me hopeful that thoughtful people without agendas may actually watch the film and seek other news sources, rather than blindly accepting the union-busting agenda of the privatizers.

Charter schools, please, stop. I had no idea you selected your kids with a piece of performance art that makes the losers go home feeling like they’re on a Train to Failure at age 6. You can do better. Use the postal system. 

Frankly, that sort of drama is unconscionable.  Every kid deserves a good school, despite the fact that Bloomberg and Klein have thrown up their hands and done nothing to provide them.  But vilifying teacher unions makes good soundbytes, and more importantly, makes people look the other way.

...halfway through, the narrator casually mentions that only about a fifth of American charter schools “produce amazing results.” 

In fact, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a better job than the comparable local public school, while more than a third did “significantly worse.”

That doesn't sound like Superman to me.  Collins concludes it's time to save real public schools, and I couldn't agree more.   Me, I'm waiting for mass sanity.

I sure hope it comes soon!