Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thankless Job?

So Cathie Black, to no one's surprise, has been granted the necessary waiver to serve as Chancellor. I stand by my position that I'm attempting to reserve judgment until she actually does something, but in the meantime, I'm going to continue to speculate about the situation, since it's all anyone is talking about anyway. Who wants to think about anything else with eighteen long school days remaining until the holiday break?

Like many people, I wonder, still, why Black wants this job. No one, herself included, is pretending that she has some kind of lifelong passion for education of any kind, public or otherwise. The public disapproves of the appointment, with many believing she's being brought on primarily to "right-size" the DOE. The highest echelons of state education administration have expressed serious reservations about her ability to do the job, such that they have insisted that she take on a specific deputy, Shael Polakow-Suransky, to serve as a Chief Academic Officer.

I think, if Ms. Black was a teacher, those around her would quietly begin to discuss the "counseling out" process. A lot of teachers don't make it, a fact that's well-known and silly not to talk about. The job is not right for everyone. That's not an admission of general incompetence, lack of intelligence, or lack of compassion; it's a simple statement of fact that not everyone makes it because it is not the right fit for everyone, even those who are well-qualified on paper or even lovely people with many lovely qualities in real life. It just doesn't work for everyone. Nothing you can do.

At this point, is this job a good fit for Ms. Black? Given a host of other choices, anyone from Michelle Rhee to Jesus Christ or anyone in between, would anyone who is not Mayor Bloomberg or one of his sycophants actually choose her, on purpose? And what is she going to get accomplished with this serious lack of support?

If I were Ms. Black, I would have graciously stepped aside weeks ago, saying that, after careful reconsideration, I found the job to not be a good fit and would have offered my support to a different candidate. Ms. Black could still do that, pointing to the excellent (or at least better) qualifications of Mr. Polakow-Suransky and expressing confidence in his ability to take on the job solo.

Why does she want this thankless job at this point? Seriously. I'm wondering.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Steiner Speaks

After chasing NY State Education Commissioner David Steiner for over a week, our intrepid reporters were able to corner him in an alley.  Steiner, seeing no alternative, spoke to us about his decision to grant a waiver to publishing executive Cathie Black.

Why did you decide to appoint Ms. Black?

Well, it was a number of things.  Mostly, Michael Bloomberg is the richest guy in New York.  He could well be President in 2012.  Let me tell you something, jobs are tough to find in this economy and I'm keeping mine.  I'm not going back to some university and getting a job at my age.  I'm in my 50s and I've got to start thinking about retirement.  There's no way I'm moving to some two-bedroom in Queens, like some teacher or something.

But the panel you selected voted to reject her.

That's not entirely true.  Only 4 voted for rejection.  2 voted for the waiver.  And 2 voted "not at this time."  In fact, I decided to give the waiver a few days later, which was not at that time.  It was a different time.  If you look at it that way, a majority of the panel voted for the waiver.  Sure, some wanted it at another time, so that's when I gave it to them.

She has no educational experience.

Are you kidding me?  Do you really think Michael Bloomberg, or anyone, cares about education?  The fact is there's an awful lot of money to be managed here.  And much of it goes to pay the salaries of teachers.  Now some teachers, older teachers, make a lot more money than younger teachers.  Someone has to change that, and who better than someone who really knows how to fire people?  Once we get rid of this last in, first out nonsense, Cathie Black will be able to fire anyone she wants.  Meanwhile, we'll just put highly paid teachers in classes with kids who don't do well, and use the new evaluation system to dump them all.

But didn't you say you're concerned about being in your 50s and getting a job?  What about teachers in that position?

Hey, do I look like a teacher?  Am I a union president?  Give me a break.  I'm looking out for number one, and it's not my fault that Bloomberg and Obama treat teachers like number two.  If you want to fix that, it's on you guys.  Look, I wish the panel had voted to grant the waiver straight out.  Then I wouldn't have people like you pestering me and lunatics demonstrating outside my house.  But you gotta play with the hand you're dealt.   My ass is on the line here.

So there was no way Cathie Black was going to be rejected once Michael Bloomberg selected her?

Get with the program, pal.  Joel Klein did whatever Bloomberg said for the last nine years and now he's got a cushy gig with Rupert Murdoch.  If I want to land a sweet deal like that, I have to play the game.  Do you think I want to be a teacher or something?  Let me tell you something---I want a job with a future.  Bloomberg has Oprah, Obama, Gates, and every editorial board in the country behind him.  He's got Whoopie Goldberg, I heard,  They want non-union charters, no contracts, and the right to pay whatever they want.  You're all free to get in line and hope for the best.  Otherwise, you're gonna have to stop supporting mayoral control and selling all your rights away for every new contract.  You think it's an accident that Bloomberg gave everyone a contract except the teachers?

Mr. Steiner, we understand you were born in New Jersey.

No comment.

At this point, Steiner darted his eyes, hopped a fence, and scurried away.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Reason to Lay Off the French Fries

Here's a story about a trim prisoner who managed to escape by slipping through the bars.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Schools Chancellor to Learn on the Job

In case you haven't heard, Commisioner Steiner, against the votes of his hand-picked panel, has decided to grant Cathie Black a waiver and will do so on Monday.  Because she has no qualifications whatsoever, Broad-trained Shael Polakow-Suransky will be her second-in-command.

This way, despite never having attended a public school, despite having rejected them for her children, despite never having shown interest in public education, despite being on the board for a charter but never having shown for a meeting, Cathie Black can experiment with 1.1 million schoolchildren in the largest district in the country.  Nonetheless, she already knows how to fire people, which is all that matters to Mayor Mike.

The fact that New Yorkers oppose this means nothing to Steiner as Mayor Bloomberg thinks it's a good idea, and he has more money than anyone else in the city.  Governor-elect Cuomo, taking a firm stand against democracy, says "Mayoral control means just that."

No one in the state or city government, apparently, gives a hoot what voters think.   What's your take on this move?  What should we do about it?

Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Books

The good news today is there's no news whatsoever from the evil empire of Tweed.  (Correction, there's this.) Given that, I thought it would be good to look at something related to education rather than yet another piece on Chancellor what's-her-name.   With that in mind, here's a list I shamelessly stole from Facebook.  

The BBC believes most people will have read only six of the 100 books listed here.

Instructions: Copy this into your notes. Bold the books you've read in their entirety. Italicize those books you started but didn't finish or only read an excerpt. Books you've read more than once, put the number of times you've read it off to the side.  My responses are below.

If you're too lazy to do the whole list, feel free to add whatever comment suits you.  After all, there's no school today.  Which books are not on the list but should be?  How about Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, for example?  And where's Tom Jones? How about John Barth's The Sot Weed Factor? Or The Joy Luck Club?

Which books made it but don't belong there?  Here's the list:
1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen    

2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling 

5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 

6. The Bible  

7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte  
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell 

9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman   

10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 

11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott 

12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy  

13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
  many times for me  

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare  

15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier    

16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien 

 17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk 

18. The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 

 20. Middlemarch - George Eliot   

21. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell  
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald 

23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens  

24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 

26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh   

27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky    

28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 

29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll  

30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame   

31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy   

32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens 
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis  

34. Emma - Jane Austen   

35. Persuasion - Jane Austen 

36. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis   

37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini  

38. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres  

 39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden    

40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne 

41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
many times, having taught it.

42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown 

43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving 

45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins  

46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery   

47. Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy    

48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood  

49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50. Atonement - Ian McEwan 

51. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel  

52. Dune - Frank Herbert 

53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons 

54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen 

55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth 

56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafron   

57. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens     

58. A Brave New World - Aldous Huxley   

59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon   

60. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov  

63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt  

64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold  

65. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 

66. On the Road - Jack Kerouac 

67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy   

68. Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding  

69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie  
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens   

72. Dracula - Bram Stoker

73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett  

74. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson  

75. Ulysses - James Joyce  

76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath 

77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome 

78. Germinal - Emile Zola 

79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray 

80. Possession - AS Byatt 

81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens  

82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell  

83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker  

84. The Remains of the Day - Kazu Ishiguro 

85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert 

86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry  

87. Charlotte's Web - EB White    

88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom    

89. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton  

91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad  

92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery  

93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94. Watership Down - Richard Adams  

95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole  

96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute 

97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas 

98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare 

99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl   

100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Thursday, November 25, 2010

One Teacher's Thanksgiving Blessings

This year, I am thankful for my new job working at a school at which I feel valued, trusted, and appreciated.

I am thankful for my students, especially the one who dragged her mother in to see me at parent-teacher conferences, insisting that her mom couldn't leave until she met her daughter's favorite teacher.

I am thankful to have electronic equipment in my room that works.

I am thankful to have supplies when I need them.

I am thankful to work at a school in which actions have consequences.

I am thankful for the kids who make me laugh, because, even though my working conditions are pretty good, I can still usually use a chuckle at least once a day.

I am thankful for NYC Educator and this great blog and community for letting me observe, snark, vent, and rant.

And to all of you, the whole team here at NYC Educator (um, yes, all two of us) wishes you all of the above and more, and a very happy Thanksgiving break. Enjoy the super-long weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Step Up

The panel selected by Steiner has denied Mayor Moneybags his choice for chancellor.  What does this mean?  For one thing, perhaps my cynicism about the panel was unfounded.  But it ain't over till it's over, and Steiner may weasel out of it by appointing her with a deputy who has credentials.  Perhaps Steiner is concerned, as Bloomberg claims, that no one will want the job if Black doesn't get it. 

So Steiner need not trouble himself over that possibility, I humbly offer my services to the mayor.  As chancellor, I will break the stalemate that has plagued the DOE and the UFT.  I will offer NYC teachers the same salary bump every other union has, since it's manifestly unfair, after insisting on crap patterns for decades, to deny them the one time it's attractive.  Next to parents, and perhaps doctors, teachers are the most important people in our children's lives.   It's time to stop treating them like trash.

We will build new schools and stop overcrowding.  Schools designed for 2,000 kids will contain 2,000 kids.  We will gradually reduce class sizes.  Instead of laying off teachers, we will hire new ones.  If the tunnel to New Jersey has to wait, so be it.  It's more important we educate our kids than send them to Jersey,  and if there are fewer people in NYC, perhaps our kids will face less traffic in the morning when they go to school.  To ensure we reach that goal, we will appoint Leonie Haimson as our parent representative.

We will stop closing schools.  Instead, we will improve them.  Nor will we mess with charter schools.  In fact, since charter schools are so wonderful, we will send every troubled child in New York City to them so they may work their magic.  No longer will they have to trouble themselves with lotteries.  They'll be far too busy looking for space, since colocations will be a thing of the past--except for one.   We will look very carefully at Geoffrey Canada's 100-million dollar building and see whether we can use it to ease public school overcrowding.   Surely Mr. Canada won't object to us doing so, since charters have done the same for years.

Every school will have good teachers, decent facilities, and reasonable class sizes.  Because let's face it, all this talk about bad teachers is just nonsense so someone like Cathie Black can come in and ask why we need to spend 100K on a teacher when we could ship a body into an ancient wooden chair for 30K.  They don't give a damn about kids, but rather dwell permanently on the bottom line.  We will toss the bottom liners out on their bottoms.  If we need to tax Mayor Mike and his buds to achieve our goals, we won't hesitate.  If they want to move to Utah, where taxes are lower, we'll run that risk.

Anyway, I'm at your service, and I can start in February.  I don't want to disrupt my students too much.  Let me know.

RelatedSign the petition asking Steiner to reject Ms. Black no matter who her assistant may be.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The New English Regents Examination: The Grade 8 ELA Exam Is Harder than This

For those of you who might not know, yours truly made the leap from teaching middle school for a number of years to teaching high school this year. I taught high school back in my greenhorn days, so I do know what the Regents examination used to look like. Flawed though it was, it was certainly a test that, for better or worse, demanded that a kid have at least a tenuous grasp on how to write an essay and the stamina to write three or four of them in a couple of hours. That alone is probably worth something.

Well, now that I'm back in high school, I am getting up to speed on the new Regents, and let me tell you, my friends, I am unimpressed. The state seems to think that the test is more or less the same, and I have to admit that I'm not up to speed on what anyone's thought process was on making this test so simple. The test is down to one essay and two constructed-response (paragraph) questions, and the multiple-choice section. As I noted in the title of this post, the eighth grade ELA exam is more lengthy and complex than that.

No English teacher with whom I've spoken thinks that this new test is in any way an improvement towards making the tests more rigorous and demanding to encourage kids to reach higher standards. It's hard not to see the current test as pretty dumbed-down.

Why was the Regents revised (in my view) downward? Do you know why these changes were made? Have you seen the new test format and, if so, do you also find it to be more simplistic and less challenging? Your thoughts are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Meet the Bloomberg/ Black Panel

Our crack staff had the opportunity to interview the panel selected by Education Commissioner David Steiner to advise on the nomination of Cathie Black for NYC Schools Chancellor.  Three of its members have worked for Chancellor Klein, so they understand exactly what Mayor Bloomberg's priorities are.

Susan H. Furman, President of Teachers College and chair of the panel, confided, "It's pretty much we sit around for a few hours, maybe a day, and then do whatever Bloomberg says.  In today's world, educational experience is an utter waste of time.  Fact is my entire life's work has been a waste, and anyone who pays our tuition is nuts.  But you should see the spread they're giving us for lunch. You think we eat like this at Teachers College? In corporate America this is par for the course. Anyway, what do we know about firing people?"

We went for further comment to Jean-Claude Brizard, former aide to Chancellor Klein, who told us, "Honestly, what the hell do academics know?  It would be more practical to appoint someone from Clown College.  They have training.  I've seen them fit a dozen clowns in a VW bug.  Once Bloomberg cuts 6,100 teachers, you're gonna have 50 kids in a class and what, do you think some teacher will know how they're gonna fit? I worked for Klein a long time and appointing Cathie Black is no worse than anything else I did when I had that gig."

Ronald F. Ferguson chimed in, "Look, Klein's been there for years, and the achievement gap has only gotten worse.  We need someone who can really juke the stats, so it appears we're actually accomplishing something.  In my heart, I believe Cathie Black is the best person for the job.  After all, she's spent a lot of time trying to sell unhealthy soft drinks to kids, and has no problem doing business with sleazy exploitative companies.  We really need a ruthless businessperson unencumbered by ethics to make it look like we're doing something for these kids, and only the teachers are failing them."

Michelle Cahill commented, "I know which side my bread is buttered on.  And it's high time they asked me what I thought.  Those bastards denied me my chance to be Deputy Chancellor, and now I'm gonna show them that anyone, absolutely anyone, can run a school system, even Cathie Black.  She's way less qualified than I was.  Jeez, I actually taught for years before I wised up.  By the time we fix this thing, a drawbridge oiler will be able to be chancellor.  And it's very important we continue Joel Klein's policy of blaming unionized teachers for everything and taking responsibility for nothing whatsoever.  I'm certain Cathie Black can do that, at least.  I worked for Klein and was on the Tweed gravy train for years, leading to the cushy gig I hold now, but that will in no way influence my decision. I assure you my decision will be based solely on how pissed off I am about having been passed over."

Kenneth G. Slentz said, "Let's face it, I work for Commisioner Steiner.  He needs political cover.  If we recommend Black for the job, he's off the hook.  The important thing is that he never be blamed for hiring this person, and I'm certain once we sit around and act like we've been deliberating, everyone will believe we actually gave it some thought rather than simply caving to the whims of a billionaire media mogul.  Everyone knows that Michael Bloomberg gets whatever he wants.  I mean, the guy took a billion dollars to reduce class sizes and didn't do it.  He ran for mayor and bought himself a third term, even though voters had twice said two terms was the limit.  He could be President in 2012. Do you think Steiner wants to stand up to a guy like that?  No way, Jose."

As panel members retreated to the dining room for a gala luncheon, UFT President Michael Mulgrew observed, "All of these people have heavy-duty backgrounds and success in education, so obviously David Steiner is clearly looking at this from the educational side, as he should be.”

Steiner himself had no comment, though he nodded emphatically at Mulgrew's statement.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What Every American Needs

If you're at a loose end for that perfect Christmas gift, you can now buy your very own Batmobile.  It'll set you back about 192K, but there's some good news--delivery is free.

If you're a real reformer, you can use it to clean up all the jokers at Tweed.  Or you could chase down corporate criminals, doubtless impressing them with the fact your car is just as expensive as theirs is.

It's my understanding every member of the Cathie Black selection panel received one as a gesture of good faith from Mayor Bloomberg.  Full disclosure--panel members are not constrained by the five-dollar limit Chancellor Klein imposed on gifts for city teachers.

Note:  An astute reader points out, for bargain hunters, you can buy one here for a trifling 150K.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Party Time!

I went to the Gotham Schools party night before last.  There were some really interesting people there.  I got to speak to several prominent charter school enthusiasts and not one threw a chair at me.  In that spirit, I didn't throw chairs at them either.  I saw Norm Scott there, who'd actually hugged Joel Klein  the previous evening (the things we go through to get people to read blogs).  Several teacher acquaintances of mine advised him to get in the shower and wash his whole body with Brillo pads, but he declined.

Jose Vilson, writer of The Jose Vilson, did not show up.  Nor did Diane Ravitch.  Doug Lemov was there, though, and regaled us with tales of model teaching from his book.  He had video of a teacher showing kids how to pass out papers, and explained that passing out papers this way took only one minute.  He claimed it usually took five (Really?), and that this method saved four minutes a day, 20 a week, 80 a month, and 800 a year, or something like that, providing over a full day of extra instructional time.  I save even more time by not passing out papers every day.  I make booklets of two-sided copies well in advance and have kids bring them daily.  But I'm just a public school teacher, so what could I possibly know?

Lemov then showed us a classroom in which a young woman had a routine to move her kids from one section of her classroom, where they had desks, to another, where they sat on the floor.  The students chanted an educational song as they moved, and got very efficiently from one side to the other.  Personally, I was amazed they had all that space, as I have never, ever had two places to teach.  (I count myself lucky when I have one.)  Lemov proudly explained that there was no fighting or pushing. Clearly, when you eliminate all that bothersome social interaction, that is one result.  It was certainly a step up from Michelle Rhee's innovative practice of taping kids' mouths shut.  Still, I'm glad my kid wasn't in a class like that. 

The surprise guest, AFT President Randi Weingarten, then got up and asked why we couldn't all just get along.  Everyone was always vilifying everyone else and it wasn't nice, and wouldn't the world be better if everyone were nicer?  Public schools, charter schools, union teachers, non-union teachers--why can't we be one big happy family?  Doubtless Guggenheim would never have made the union-bashing propaganda film, and the hedge fund zillionaires would never have funded it if Ms. Weingarten had only confronted them with such stark and irrefutable logic beforehand.

It wasn't quite the fireworks of last year, with Diane Ravitch speaking after Joel Klein.  But I love going to places like the Gotham party, and being surrounded by people as focused on education as I am.  I love talking with smart people, even if I don't agree with them at all. Speakers notwithstanding, the guests made it a great party and each and every person reading this should have been there. 

Next year I hope they bring back Diane Ravitch.   They can always find someone to say whatever Klein would have said.  Perhaps by then Chancellor what's-her-name will be allowed out unescorted.  Maybe she can explain how putting "Children First" entails firing thousands of their teachers, even as Tweed has consistently failed to deal with rampant overcrowding or outrageous class sizes.  Perhaps when she's up to speed, she can explain what Mayor Bloomberg did with the billion dollars he took to deal with that issue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Patience? REALLY?

You know, as I wrote here last week, I'm trying hard to resist jumping on the anti-Cathie Black bandwagon. As of my last writing on the subject, I knew almost nothing about the woman and was loath to judge her too harshly, or indeed at all, before I had any actions or statements beyond the usual generics on which to judge.

But one thing that made me go, a la Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live, "REALLY?" was Ms. Black's plea for "patience" as she gets up to speed on, uh, schools, I guess. So much so that I'm going to have a word with Ms. Black here, personally.

REALLY, Ms. Black? You're a sexagenarian business mogul and best-selling author whose management experience is so vaunted and legendary that you're being asked, despite no experience with schools, to manage the largest school system in the country? And you need "patience"? REALLY? Joshua Greenman of the Daily News pointed out the absurdity of this request already, but I still can't get over it.

You know, I started teaching in the city schools when I was 23 and my first posting was deep in the heart of a restructuring high school with some very tough (lovable, yes, eventually, but tough!) children. And there was no patience for Miss Eyre. I mean, don't cry for me; clearly I survived and I think I would say that today I am thriving. But it's taken me my probationary years and then some to get to the point where I can fairly and accurately call myself a good and thriving teacher. Yet I can't say anyone was especially patient with me. Those kids were my responsibility from Day One, lack of experience (of any kind) be damned. That's how it is in education.

So, REALLY?, Ms. Black? Are you ready to give teachers the kind of patience and understanding for which you plead right now? Because, if you are, then maybe I can cut you the same slack. But if not, you can guess my response.

(If you're unfamiliar with Seth and Amy doing their "REALLY?" bit, here's a clip.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's Your Favorite Fruit?

That was the question in my beginning ESL class yesterday.

"Apples," said the first kid I asked.  Ask her, I told him, pointing to a girl in front.

"What's your favorite fruit?" he asked her.

"Chocolate," she replied without hesitation.

"Chocolate's not a fruit," I told her.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"Chocolate is chocolate," I replied, authoritatively.  "Actually I think it's a bean."

"I don't like beans," she replied.  "Are tomatoes fruit?  I like tomatoes."

"Well, yes they are, technically.  But most people think they're vegetables."

"I don't understand," she said.

"Neither do I," I admitted.   "Ask him, please."

She turned to the boy on the other side of the room.

"What's your favorite fruit?" she asked.

"Hamburgers," he replied.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fiction about Teachers

And I'm not talking novels here. No, I'm talking about those rumors about teachers that seem to start out of nowhere and reify infinitely in the popular imagination.

One of my great guilty pleasures in life is advice columns, and Slate's Dear Prudence often has just the right amount of smh-ing, schadenfreude, and other assorted train wreckage to brighten my Mondays and Thursdays. Today, for example, an anxious parent asked Prudie what would happen if s/he (the parent) did not buy his/her child's teacher a gift for Christmas.

Well, I'm a teacher. Let me tell you what will happen.


That's right. NOTHING.

Don't get me wrong. I cherish the gifts I receive from students, and their handwritten notes and cards mean the world to me. I save every last one of them because I am a sentimental hoarder. But some children and parents simply don't give gifts. It's certainly not my place to speculate why, and even less my place to treat a child differently because he or she does not give a gift. This is not rocket science or even good teaching. I assumed that this was simply GOOD MANNERS.

How does this stuff get started, that teachers treat kids who don't give them gifts differently? Are we really the guilty ones on this? Do you have colleagues whose lives are so empty and devoid of meaning that they need a Whitman's Sampler from a twelve-year-old's parents to make them feel better, and if they don't receive it, they will take their deep-seated personal issues out on the unfortunate preteen(s) involved?

I am tempted to simply file this one alongside other teacher fiction, like "The teacher threw out my paper, even though the papers of my twenty-seven classmates are all present and accounted for, because s/he hates me" and "Teachers come to work at eight, leave at three, and never work weekends, holidays, or summers." But I do wonder where this stuff comes from.

And if you're guilty...Miss Eyre is looking for you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ms. Black Gives a Pep Talk

It's pretty clear to me the Mayor hired me to enact my business theories.  When there are layoffs, companies have to do more with less.  In New York City,  I'm poised to take over an inefficient company.  There are simply too many employees, and product is not always of the best quality.  For example, we have a lot of teachers, and their product often takes more than four years before it appears on the shelves, or what do they call it?  Graduate?

Well, under my administration, we're going to shoot toward having appealing product ready in three years.  That will cut production costs by 25%, a savings we can pass on to stockholders.  It's unacceptable to raise taxes on our high-earning stockholders like the mayor and Whitney Tilson, who keep their eye on the bottom line

Employees who wish to stay on will have to become indispensable.  Who's that person raising his hand, saying, "I'll teach that extra class," or "I'll add a dozen extra products to my workstation."  That's the sort of employee who brings value to the system, and we need to capitalize on attitudes like that.  Who will come in early and bring the principal a newspaper, a cup of coffee, or a hooker?  Who will stay after and paint that room, or fix that boiler for the sake of the company?

Second, you have to have a good attitude.  Let's dispense with all these grievances, sick days and related nonsense and get employees to get that product out.  I hear, in some schools, 50% or more of product is not getting out.  Those offices are not producing and have to be closed.  It's important to turn out as much quality product as possible, and we can't hold onto those who are gonna whine and moan, oh, the product wasn't prepared, is missing parts, or doesn't function properly.  Ask yourself, how can I get the product ready and onto the shelves, where it can be useful to consumers.  I want our product out there being used, whether it be in retail, in offices, or whatever.  I want Bill Gates to say, wow, that's a lot of product we're getting in New York City

Finally, you have to be seen.  Mayor Bloomberg is very busy, doing whatever he does in that office, and we need the employees out there showing how much they want to produce for him.  I want to read how happy they are, how they love pushing out product, how they can't wait to increase production by 18%, or whatever goal we've selected.  I want them to stop whining, "Oh, everyone else got a contract, why can't I have one?"  That's juvenile.  If you can push 40% more product, then maybe I'll give you that raise.  It's a new paradigm here, and I want to see employees first in, last out, giving everything they can so the company will produce.

Sure, people feel bad when you close down an office.  But you have to put the best face on it possible.  No one wants to see 50 empty desks.  That's why we'll move out the desks, or bring in someone who can move quality product.  Pretty soon everyone will be focused on increasing production, and we'll be pushing more product than any major city.  That's why they brought me in, and that's what I'm gonna do.

We'll do whatever it takes to get that product out there.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mr. Gates Gives a Pep Talk

Here's the subtext of what he told the AFT Convention:

Not to Be Missed

A little toe-tapper about new chancellor what's-her-name.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baby, Baby, Baby, Ohhhhh....

Man, if I hear that song one more time I will puke.  My kid sings it, my students sing it, and I treasure every moment I don't have to hear it.  The Onion reveals Justin Bieber to be a 51-year-old pervert.  Those of us who've listened to enough Bieber need not consider the source...you know what I'm talking about...

Justin Bieber Found To Be Cleverly Disguised 51-Year-Old Pedophile

Friday, November 12, 2010

On Becoming a Conspiracy Theorist

 Over at Public School Parents Blog, Steve Koss makes some very interesting points:

Consider first that Ms. Black's prior education credentials, as now being reported in the New York Times, appear to consist of having once attended a mentor day with Michelle Obama at a Detroit school, and having once been the figurehead "principal for a day" at a Bronx school. Add to this the fact that she just joined the HVA National Leadership Board "a few months ago" and has yet to actually attend any meetings. Throw on top of that the information that the co-chair of this advisory board (along with singer John Legend) is Rupert Murdoch, a multi-million-dollar contributor to HVA, and top it all off with the announcement that Joel Klein is taking an education industry, strategy-related position at Murdoch's News Corporation.

Now this is clearly remarkable.  Can you imagine getting a job in an industry based on your membership in an organization whose meetings you didn't even attend?  Koss has me thinking there.  He loses me, though, when he says this:

This writer is not given to conspiracy theories in general, but the timing and interconnectedness of it all, added to Mayor Bloomberg's disturbing secrecy in acting seemingly entirely on his own, to fill a VERY public position, certainly generates some interesting questions and intriguing possibilities.

I know a few people who embrace conspiracy theories, and I'm afraid Koss is a rank amateur.  First of all, for a conspiracy theory, this is not nearly far-flung enough.  There doesn't seem to be anything attributable to mere coincidence.  It's almost like someone gives their kid a job, you label it nepotism, and call yourself a conspiracy theorist. Does that, in itself, earn you the title?

Frankly, I'd say Koss needs work if he want to establish conspiracy theories.  For example, if he wanted to work out a good one in this case, he'd start from the premise that Ms. Black is qualified to run the largest school system in the country.

That could certainly form the basis for some wild-eyed theory, and some people are doing a good job putting out just such theories.  For example, Mayor Bloomberg spun a real doozy of a tale about an extensive search for an appropriate candidate, a tale no one seems able to verify.  Now I'll admit that, since it appears the Mayor sought the council of no one and simply did whatever the hell he felt like doing, it doesn't seem much of a conspiracy.  But the story, at least, has no evidence whatsoever to support it, an important starting point if you want serious consideration as a conspiracy theorist.

As things stand, I'd have to say Koss' story is far too much credible to label him a conspiracy theorist.   Perhaps he should start from scratch.  Otherwise, I'd have to advise him he's utterly unsuited for the conspiracy theory racket and advise him, with all seriousness, to simply keep his day job.

Truth be told, making Koss a conspiracy theorist would be as ridiculous as, oh, making a magazine executive Chancellor of NYC Schools.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ten Totally Snark-Free (Really) Questions for Cathie Black

I was chatting with Mr. Eyre this evening about the new schools chancellor, Ms. Cathie Black, and the news conference in which she was warmly welcomed yesterday. Being the big-hearted person that I am, I stated that I would be withholding judgment on Ms. Black for the time being. Yes, she has no experience as an educator, but Lincoln didn't have any experience as a President either, and that turned out all right. Sure, I would have preferred someone with some meaty education experience. But I'll probably have plenty of time to grow to dislike her later if she turns out to be more of the same, so for right now, I'm going to listen.

And ask some totally snark-free (I MEAN IT) questions.

Here's what I'd ask Cathie Black if I could:

1.) Coming from a competitive industry like publishing, you surely understand the value of equipping your employees with the best and most complete tools to get the job done. How will you improve the business practices of NYCDOE around contracting for technology and supplies to ensure that no teacher has to buy her own supplies for the job, from chalk to iPads?

2.) As the first female leader of the NYC schools, you might better understand the problems faced by working parents, both among your employees and the parents of your students. How will you make the DOE more responsive to parents, and expand the family-friendliness of the teaching profession for your employees? (Hint: PAID PARENTAL LEAVE)

3.) In these tough economic times, will you be able to say no to sweetheart contracts and cut loose or greatly reduce expensive boondoggles like ARIS?

4.) Since this is your first time working directly with a public union, what is your opinion of unions in general and the teachers' union in particular? Are you prejudiced from the outset, as Klein made himself out to be, or are you willing to listen to and consider the union's concerns?

5.) What will you do to enrich the diversity of the city's most elite public high schools, which are still dominated by white and Asian students?

6.) Do you believe in the idea of "neighborhood schools"; that is, if parents wish their children to stay close to home, that they should have quality educational options within walking or a short bus ride's distance?

7.) What will you do to ensure the continuity of after-school programs, sports, and arts offerings as budget cuts go even deeper?

8.) What is your position on the Common Core movement?

9.) What will you do to help schools and teachers prepare students for all kinds of success after high school--college, quality careers, the military, and family life?

10.) Finally, although a great deal of lip service has been paid to the professionalism of teachers, it seems that no one trusts us to make very many important decisions. Access to databases, supplies, curricular materials, etc. are often limited to the point of being unnavigable for the average teacher. What will you do to empower teachers to get their jobs done swiftly and powerfully, with a minimum of hassle on all fronts?

If Ms. Black was answering these questions, I would at this point thank her graciously for her time. Really.

Your thoughts? Feel free to add them, or your own questions, in the comments.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cut One Head Off, and Another Grows

The resignation and rapid replacement of NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is surprising, but likely not meaningful.  Frankly, even with him selling whatever remaining shreds of integrity he may have to Rupert Murdoch, the Post can't really get any worse. More to the point, Mayor Bloomberg approved of Klein, and approves his replacement, what's-her-name (who probably attended school sometime, somewhere and is therefore qualified to run the nation's largest school system).  The likelihood of any change in policy hovers around nil.

Sure, we won't have Joel Klein to kick around anymore, but he's hanging around until the end of the year, to offer guidance to the newest non-educator handpicked by the richest man in New York City to run schools his kids would not attend on a bet.  The new chancellor's kids were educated in private boarding schools, so it makes perfect sense.  Yet another person running schools not good enough for her family to patronize.

Here's what it means for teachers--nothing whatsoever.  The idiotic baseless policies Bloomberg loves will continue.  Bill Gates will continue to decide what's good for 1.1 million schoolchildren, and the pointless and demoralizing school closings will continue as planned.  The baseless value-added nonsense will be pushed by a new chancellor with no education experience, and the pipe dreams and silver bullets that typify the plans of this administration will go on unabated.

In short, meet the new boss, same as the old boss, now with more hair but spouting the same absurdities.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Custodians Are Not Overpaid (Well, Maybe a Little, But Still)

Oh, the Post. Apparently Rupert Murdoch believes that only hedge fund managers and himself are entitled to make comfortable wages, ones that might allow them to support a family on less than, say, 80 hours a week. Since teachers have finally proven their collective worth by holding a car wash on a weekend to pay for lost supplies, Murdoch's minions had to find a new target: school custodians.

Don't get me wrong. I do think it's sort of crazy that custodial engineer pay maxes out at higher than the max pay for teachers. And maybe the overtime is a little out of control. But the answer is to pay teachers more, not pay custodial engineers less.

First of all, the actual custodial engineers are not pushing brooms around. They are in charge of keeping complicated systems running smoothly around the clock, stuff that you and I probably don't even think about: kitchen equipment, elevators, boilers, fire alarms, plumbing...the list goes on. They are in charge of the physical plant at a school and answerable only to a principal. It's a job with serious responsibility that should be compensated accordingly.

But the the ladies and gentlemen who do push the brooms around should make decent money, too. So should the checkers at the grocery store and the truck drivers and the fry cooks. Somewhere along the line in this country, we lost the belief in the idea that someone who works at an honest full-time job shouldn't be poor and shouldn't have to work another one to make ends meet. I feel like, once upon a time, we believed that. But anyway, maybe I've just been spoiled, but the janitors at my old school in particular were some of the nicest and most helpful people I worked with. One of them would help me move furniture and organize stuff after school, which was definitely not in his job description. They go above and beyond just like we do. To me, that's worth something; namely, money.

You know who's overpaid? Rupert Murdoch.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Take the Jamaica Challenge...

...if you dare, at the ICE-UFT blog.

Bedbugs First

Even as the full-force propaganda war against unionized teachers marches on, those at PS 197 are taking matters into their own hands.  Because of extermination procedures, they ended up losing schoolbooks and other supplies. 

While the Tweedies hem, haw, and scratch their overpaid, non-educator craniums, the teachers have taken action, running a weekend carwash to raise money to replace them.  They don't have time to wait for results of some idiotic study or drawn out investigation because their kids need help, and they need it now.

In case it's not yet clear to anyone reading this, these unionized teachers clearly put children first, unlike the pencil-pushing bureaucrats ostensibly in charge of the school system.  Doubtless most readers of this blog know that already.  What would it take for the general public to find out that gazillionaires like Bill Gates and the Wal-Mart family haven't got a clue as to what really goes on in public schools?

A tsunami?  Can we point it toward Tweed, please?

Illustration by David Bellel

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Over at Perdido Street School, they're pointing out that Klein's DOE wants to release names of teachers and their value-added scores.  According to them, the public has a right to that info.

Odd then, that they don't want to release the names of schools infested with bedbugs.  According to them, it isn't a problem because schools contain very few beds.

Friday, November 05, 2010

S Is for Simpleton

The school grades are out again.  Naturally, they cover only one year rather than multiple years, so there's no allowance for ebb and flow.  Elite schools get Bs, and less desirable schools get Bs too.  And schools that get low grades are simply closed, because schools cannot possibly be improved and must be destroyed with extreme prejudice.  Then they're broken up into four or five academies, with all new kids, and if one should do well, it's absolute proof that Chancellor Klein is a genius.

But it's not all the work of Chancellor Klein, as all closures need the approval of the important Panel for Educational Policy.  This vital group was created to replace the often dysfunctional Board of Education.  To improve the unreliable Board, the mayor gets 8 of 13 appointees, and any one that doesn't vote the way he wants is fired before the vote takes place.  In Mayor Bloomberg's eyes, apparently, that represents democracy.

To make sure everything is on the up and up, 85% of a schools letter grade is based on scores.  That way, no one will be favorably prejudiced by your champion football team, or the fact that you take on a disproportionate number of special ed. or ESL students.  And to be fair, you get compared directly against academies and charter schools that have few or no such students, let alone those with truly extraordinary needs.  Kids like those are dumped into the remaining large schools so that they can be closed with all due haste.  We need to charterize, privatize, and small size-ize ASAP.

And then when the new schools stink, we'll just close them too and ship the kids somewhere else.

And no matter what happens, no matter how many test gains fade into nothingness, neither Michael Bloomberg nor Joel Klein will be accountable for a single solitary shred of their utter failure to improve New York City schools.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It's Report Card Time...

...for children and grown-ups alike. As you probably know, the high school "report cards" were released yesterday by the DOE. There was much celebrating at TMS2, where the grade was an A. But, as usual, I'm uncomfortable with the release of the school report cards for a couple of reasons.

First of all, check out this InsideSchools story about the report card release. It highlights some interesting tidbits from the progress reports, like the fact that the top five schools are all small schools founded under Klein's chancellorship. Schools like Bard and Stuyvesant find themselves ranking lower than schools that have less of what we might call traditional academic success. I'm not saying that progress with the neediest students doesn't count; it does, and it should count for a lot. But the report cards, as they stand, remain counterintuitive and confusing to many people, including parents, because of their heavy emphasis on "student progress" (as measured by only a few factors) to the exclusion of that which is more difficult to measure.

The comments on the InsideSchools story tell you a lot. As one parent suggests, "if they're going to give schools 'report cards,' then they should be like REAL report cards, with grades in several categories." The parent goes on to suggest that, in addition to the current categories, the schools should be graded by subject area so parents can easily see, for example, credit accumulation and Regents scores by subject. It's only one suggestion, and a debatable one, but still, change certainly seems to be in order. If the comments at InsideSchools are any indication, parents as much as teachers can be confused and dismayed by what they see on the Progress Reports.

So I'm not getting too worked up about the A. I'm not sure if it stands for what I think it should, or tells me or anyone what we really need to know about schools. We'll see if any changes are afoot, though I'm not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Who's Burying the UFT?

There's an interesting piece in the Daily News speculating as to the erosion of power in the UFT. Ironically, it shows UFT President Mulgrew with John Liu, likely as not elected as a direct result of the UFT's help.  (And I'm reading that UFT-supported Tony Avella won, too, coming back from over 20 points behind, so people may think twice about our demise.)

The UFT is far from dead, but its leadership, particularly ex-President Randi Weingarten, has not been able to refrain from weakening it since Mayor Mike got in.

They supported mayoral control, an unmitigated disaster for teachers and union, and then supported it again come renewal time. Aside from earning the admiration or teacher-bashers like Rod Paige for Ms. Weingarten, I fail to see the upside in that. Mayoral control as practiced here amounts to dictatorship. Though voices like Patrick Sullivan add spice to the PEP, they're essentially a rubber stamp. Its majority are mayoral appointees subject to being fired if they dissent.

Last year, the UFT failed to step up and oppose Mayor Bloomberg.  This was an egregious error.  There's not one iota of gratitude in this man for our neutrality, and had we taken the bold stand of opposing him, we might have someone less hostile in City Hall.  

UFT leadership supported a contract in 2005 that gave away absolutely every professional gain city teachers had made since I started in 1984. They stood firm against value-added, then supported it becoming part of state-mandated evaluation. They participated in a value-added study with Bill Gates, saying it was vital we be part of that conversation, and then helped negotiate a value-added rating system before the study had concluded.

I've seen Randi Weingarten in action, quick on her feet when she visited my school. It was abundantly clear she was the smartest person the room, which makes me scratch my head every time I see yet another lackluster media performance from her. Then, she invites Bill Gates to be keynote speaker at her convention, and not only encourages but also participates in ridiculing working teachers who don't appreciate the self-styled education expert.  Union hacks preached it was smart to engage our opponents.

Of course, it's wise to engage your opponents.  Talk to them.  Try to make them see the light.  But Bill Gates is an enemy of public education, constantly spouting ideas that have no basis in research.  While they delight his corporate buddies like Eli Broad and the Wal-Mart family, they benefit neither working people nor their children.  You don't see GW Bush giving the keynote at the Democratic convention, and you shouldn't see the biggest "reformer" in the nation addressing the AFT either.

If we're dying, we have no one to blame but ourselves. It was not Joel Klein, much as his megalomania compels him to take credit. In fact, we enabled Joel Klein, who suggested and therefore created Michelle Rhee.   It's time for the UFT to stop celebrating demagogues who delight in the firing of teachers based on nonsense.  It's time for the UFT to stand up to Rhee, Klein, Bloomberg, Obama, Cuomo, all the idiot filmmakers, and all the mythology left in their wake.

In short, it's time for us to be a union again.   Let's continue to make bold steps like getting behind Tony Avella.  Let's continue to support those who support us, and for goodness sake, let's vigorously oppose those who don't.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Suspensions: What Are They Good For?

This post at A Shrewdness of Apes got me thinking about suspensions, not that I haven't been thinking about them already. After the dirrrrrty girl fight last week, the young ladies involved both received in-school suspension, as is the standard procedure here in New York. The thing is, I've never really seen a suspension have an impact on a kid's behavior. Maybe that's what a suspension is--an admission that we don't know what else to do with a kid.

Of course, seriously and chronically disruptive kids can't stay in the classroom. It's not fair to the teacher or to all the other students. But has this suspension taught these girls anything? Let's go straight to the source and find out. I've developed a good relationship with one of the girls, and during a precious prep I liberated her from in-school and took her for a walk, attempting to have a heart-to-heart about what happened.

Her verdict? She'd do it, meaning punch her opponent in the face, again, if she felt challenged or threatened.

So has suspension had the intended effect?

It doesn't help that the girls are missing their academic work during the suspension, either, which neither of them can afford to miss.

I'm not saying I have an answer. I'm just saying that this doesn't seem to be it.


p.s. Don't forget to get out and VOTE!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Don't Forget to Vote

Tomorrow, you have a choice. You can vote for anti-union corporatist Cuomo. Or you can vote for frothing at the mouth Carl Paladino.

I'm voting for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins for Governor. If the Greens get 50,000 votes, they get a party line. New Yorkers need an alternative, particularly since Working Families have sold themselves out for Cuomo.

So I urge you to vote for Hawkins as well. We need to vote for someone, and I won't vote for Cuomo simply because he does not appear to be so raving a lunatic as his main opponent.

Howie Hawkins is pro-teacher, and pro-union, like me. If the Democrats want our votes, let them give us candidates who don't hate us and everything we stand for.

Or is that too much to ask?

Taking Care of Business

Halloween is always a big event in my household. My daughter's a teenager now, and which costume she should wear has become progressively less contentious as my wife and I play little to no role in the selection process. But trick or treating has faded in our neighborhood, and though I've got a giant bag of candy just in case, I wonder whether I'm tossing away cash for no reason.

My daughter has no such doubts. In fact, from a school trip Saturday, she texted me repeatedly to remind me to buy candy. I was wondering why she was so concerned when my wife clued me in. Last year, going to pick her up at an evening program my daughter was in, she was shocked to find a huge crowd blocking her at the door.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"It's your daughter," someone replied.

Panicked, she pushed her way to the center of the crowd, to find my daughter, with a pen and a notebook, collecting 50 cents a piece for leftover Halloween candy and carefully noting sales records. Apparently she turned my $10 investment in candy into about 50 bucks. My wife asked, "How can you charge so much for this?"

"Let them go to the supermarket if they want to get it cheaper," was my daughter's answer.

For my wife's friend and two kids, there was no discount, even at my wife's request. A buck and a half. My wife got my daughter back by making her pay for her own lunch the next day. Everyone in my house is a businessperson except me.