Monday, January 31, 2011

GothamSchools--Civil or Biased?

Yesterday I got an email suggesting GothamSchools' call for civility in its comments was motivated by criticism of its main community section writer--a member of a Gates-funded group openly dedicated to eradicating basic union rights. (Like all other such groups, it does so in the name of helping the children whose schools Gates money aims to close.)

I wrote back it was a coincidence, and that the move was possibly long overdue. After all, I'd just seen a commenter imply someone was paranoid over concern revised Gotham policies might cause his ID to be leaked to the DOE. The DOE has sent teachers to the rubber room for bringing plants to school, for using school fax machines, and for who knows what else. I think there's plenty of reason for wariness. The same commenter said to Mr. A. Talk:

You sound just a bit overly paranoid. What evidence is there that the “regime,” as you delicately term it, gives a hoot about bloggers posting their professional perspectives here? 

In fact, the DOE has been specifically known to monitor blogs. Joel Klein seemed acutely aware of Education Notes Online when he saw fit to embrace Norm Scott at a PEP meeting.

In any case, my correspondent emailed me back, saying look carefully at the picture they chose. It's their resident Gates front group member, (the one they feature without regard to taste, accuracy, or quality), and the guy who calls people paranoid (for fearing a Department that is right now proposing to fire 25% of NY City teachers). I was pretty surprised. Is that what Gotham considers a model?

Couple that with the fact that GothamSchools and the New York Post have been closely following the Gates union-busters (though the Post has yet to give a group member a regular column), and you have to stop and think. I don't expect much from Murdoch publications, but I hope for better from Gotham.

In fact, Gotham prints bits of Gates-funded PR unedited and unchallenged. I noticed, as did Michael Fiorillo, the absurd assertion that the group was “Founded with the goal of injecting teacher’s voices into citywide education policy debates.” It's preposterous on its face to say that about a group whose main purpose is eradication of union seniority rights for teachers, but that's what the group publicly states, and that's what GothamSchools presented, sans a single modifier, like "the group maintains" this. In fact, the people running this particular anti-union group are not even teachers anymore, somehow managing to work one day a week.  Perhaps they make up for this with the largesse of Gates and who knows who else. I don't know and I haven't seen much in the way of investigation from Gotham.

Fiorillo writes:

In paragraph three, you write that opponents of the group criticize it “for failing to understand the importance of protecting senior teachers.” This shows a lack of understanding of what seniority is; it is not about protecting senior teachers, but protecting  all employees from arbitrariness when layoffs occur (and in many other instances, as well). That arbitrariness affects senior workers is a fact of life, but it is far from limited to that. Seniority also protects workers from vindictive administrators.

New teachers who intend to make  teaching a career - which clearly does not include the founders of this group, as with so many ed deformers - are also protected by seniority, since if they are laid off it guarantees their right of return when hiring begins again. Your phrasing narrows the scope of the issue, and subtly reinforces E4E’s agenda, which is to pit teachers against each other.

I expected better from Gotham and thought I should let them know. Their civility piece suggests the following:

If you have a correction or a criticism of our coverage, the fastest way to reach us is by email. We do read the comment threads (though often not immediately) and will occasionally respond, but commenting isn’t the most efficient way to get our attention.

I did so. (In fact I regularly email journalists, with comments both positive and negative.) In this case, I received a response that, at best, "dodged" the issue--precisely what the reporter accused UFT President Michael Mulgrew of having done.

It's remarkable that Gotham devotes such energy to people who shill for billionaires while utterly ignoring the hearty group that rallied outside City Hall, braving the miserable snow day to protest school closings. This was organized by GEM, a real grassroots group as opposed to an obvious corporate front. Not only that, but it was supported by many other groups including, but not limited to, Class Size Matters and the UFT.

Gotham is of course free to cover and feature what it chooses.  If it wishes to portray itself as unbiased, however, it needs to examine those choices more carefully.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different:

When I was in college, I played in a bluegrass band with a guy named Gerry Tenney. He was the banjo player. Years later, I came across this video with Gerry singing A Hard Day's Night--in Yiddish.

Never heard anything like this before:

Friday, January 28, 2011

False Premises, False Promises: Corporate Education Reform and the Hostile Takeover of the Public Schools

By special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

I. The Fallacy of the Knowledge Economy

     One of the most oft repeated fallacies and falsehoods that underlie efforts to privatize the public schools in the US is the claim that we have entered a “knowledge economy” demanding high levels of education and skills, and that (teacher’s) failure to facilitate this will result in the US becoming less “competitive.” This rhetoric is used by proponents of the corporate restructuring of the schools, from Barack Obama and Arne Duncan on down, and is meant to signify the importance that college and preparation for it hold for future employment prospects. The not-very-hidden implication is that the Chinese will have us all eating cat food if we don’t put our children’s noses to the grindstone of longer school days, longer school years and curricula dominated by high-stakes tests. That the people proposing these policies, starting with the President himself, would never in a million years allow their own children to be subjected to them, is news not fit to print.

     Having rejected education’s now-quaint role as developer (along with parents) of healthy, well-rounded human beings, and as part of the foundation of a democratic society, policy makers now focus almost exclusively on its vocational role in training the future workforce for a market economy. Thus, teachers are obliged – under the threat of having their schools closed and loss of their livelihood - to prepare students for this brave new knowledge economy, which according to those controlling the debate requires high levels of education.

     It sounds sensible - after all, a college education has for decades been a ladder to economic advancement – and is rarely questioned, but is it true? Unfortunately, just a brief look at the current realities of the labor market in the US, as well as projections for the future, show it to be a gross falsehood.

     In a May, 2010 report the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said that, “Retail salespersons, cashiers, general office clerks combined with food preparation and serving workers, and registered nurses were among the occupations with the highest employment in 2009…”

     The report further states that, “In addition to the occupations mentioned above, the largest occupations included customer service representatives; elementary school teachers, except special education; and general maintenance and repair workers.”

     As for all those high paying, knowledge economy jobs, well, sorry: “Most of the largest occupations are generally low paying. Thirty of the forty occupations in Table 4 had average wages below the US mean of $20.90 per hour or $43,460 annually.”

     As for the future, our knowledge economy’s prospects don’t look so hot there, either. In a BLS report on occupational projections for the years 2006-2016, Table 3 shows that 19 of the 30 occupations with the highest predicted growth in this period require only short or moderate on-the-job training, and only 7 require Bachelor degrees or above. Of the total projected job openings, more than twice as many positions will require only short or moderate on-the-job training versus those occupations requiring a professional, Masters or Bachelor degree. The largest projected needs will be among home and personal care aides, home health care aides, and in retail sales.

     So in fact, the guilty secret of those screaming, “It’s all about the kids!” is that the occupations which the majority of public school students are being trained for are dead end, low-paying, high-turnover jobs that require little or no education beyond high school. And if you think about it, this is congruent with the education that teachers are increasingly being forced to give them: authoritarian, repetitive, tedious, dull and closed to larger worlds and opportunities.

     “So,” the self-proclaimed reformers will say, “that just proves the importance of a college degree!” Unfortunately, no: for even highly educated and skilled workers are seeing their prospects diminish as a result of outsourcing enabled by digital technologies. According to Sarash Kuruvilla of Cornell’s Institute of Industrial and Labor Relations, “…many highly-skilled US jobs such as financial industry equity research, data modeling and actuarial analysis are being outsourced to India.”

     Kuruvilla also reports that other high-skill occupations being moved to Asia include “engineering services…particularly in aerospace and civil aviation, software research and development, and in animation…” The health industries will also not be spared, with “medical research jobs, including those in radiology, drug discovery and testing, and clinical trials… moving to India.”

     The inference to be drawn is clear: whatever connections may have existed between post-secondary educational achievement and economic advancement have been broken, and to claim otherwise is false. This is significant for public school teachers, since they are being herded into a forced march, and having their living standards threatened, based on the constant repetition of these false premises.

     As Richard Rothstein wrote in a report for the Economic Policy Institute, “Much of our educational policy in recent years has been driven by the inaccurate belief that if only all students could qualify for post-secondary education and become ‘attractive job candidates,’ all youth would then obtain well-compensated jobs that took advantage of those qualifications.”

      The truth is that factors other than education (such as investment flows, the relative balance of power between Capital and Labor, and between sectors of Capital itself) have a much greater influence on income and living standards. Even if the science and technology jobs are there, they don’t pay enough (or at least not enough to compare with creating algorithms for high-frequency trading programs at hedge funds and investment banks, which is where more and more math and physics majors are winding up).
     According to a report from the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, “a forum of countries committed to democracy and the market economy”) and its Draft Agenda on the Steering and Funding of Research Institutions, “…overall the supply of graduates in science and technology continues to rise, although a few countries have seen a decline in specific fields such as chemistry and physics. Furthermore, there is little evidence of strong upward pressure in wages for science and technology professionals (gee, could outsourcing have anything to do with that? MF). In fact, poor career prospects in the scientific occupations are often cited as one of the main reasons behind the decline in scientific studies among young people. (italics mine).”

     In other words, Mr. Market has spoken, and unless you’re a trader or executive at a Too Big to Fail Bank, or are starting a charter school, he’s going to pay you less, no matter what your educational achievement.

     What’s the point of all this for teachers and supporters of public education? It’s that one of the major themes in the dominant narrative about education in the US, that (unionized) teachers (with due process and seniority rights, and pension and health benefits) are failing to prepare students for a future bright with unlimited prospects, prospects they would achieve if only their deadbeat teachers didn’t stand in the way, is straight-out false.

     The reality is that, the prospects for the overwhelming majority of young people are being foreclosed upon by those who control investment, and who see their continued prosperity as depending on the enlargement of a weak, transient, low-paid, low-skilled service workforce, to include teachers, whose every move is determined and electronically overseen by management.

     The interests of those controlling investment, and those controlling the debate about education, have decoupled from those who perform the work of society, and they are propagating these falsehoods in order to extend their control and enrich themselves by taking over the public schools.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"MTA Bus Service Is Suspended Until Further Notice, But We're Still Not Sure If School Should Be Open"

Snarky headline aside, I think we're all relieved that we can stay home today. Mr. Eyre directed my attention outside just before I hit the hay last night, and I was not looking forward to shoveling my car out in the dark this morning. I am a hardy soul, mind you; I come from a region that gets its share of wintry weather, and I have driven in snow enough to not be freaked out by the prospect. But today is a ridiculous day to try to have school. Good call, I say, Ms. Black.



When I woke up in the wee hours this morning to find out if I'd have to stay awake or if I could go back to bed as soon I finish this post, I noticed I had a text message from NotifyNYC from 12:40 a.m. When I read the text, I learned that MTA bus service was "suspended until further notice."

All bus service. In the whole city.

My first reaction was that if school wasn't closed, I would actually have to take the day off. I do drive, but the bus is my backup in snowy weather, and with no buses running, I figured it was far too dangerous for me to attempt the commute.

I found out, of course, a few minutes later (via text) that my worries were over and I could enjoy a lie-in. Great, but you do have to wonder why school wasn't called off when the bus decision was made. If it's too dangerous for ginormous buses with chains on their tires, it's clearly too dangerous for most cars, and many kids and teachers who depend on the bus will be actually unable to get to school. Did they really need another 4 hours to think about it? Did they think everything would be cleared up by 5 a.m.?

5 a.m. is not a magical hour (as those of us who typically wake up around this time can attest). Suspension of bus service is a pretty good sign that people can't or shouldn't attempt a commute. Call it earlier under such circumstances.

Anyway, enjoy your day of grading and lesson planning in your sweatpants on your couches. Miss Eyre will be back in a few hours, after a few delicious extra hours of sleep.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Convenience Itself

If you, like me, find Presidential addresses too sickening and disingenuous to sit through, check out the education wrap-up at Schools Matter.

Riding Rupe's Gravy Train

One of the best things about taking a gig with good ol' Rupert Murdoch is he doesn't care what you do with your spare time. You can make a few mil a year, and in your spare time, you can chair Education Reform Now. You remember them? They're the folks who started bankrolling our pals at Educators 4 Excellence. Gotham Schools mentioned that after commenting on the E4E lovefest with Joel Klein.

And now, waddya know, Joel is in a position to fund them even more, surreptitiously or otherwise. So now, when Joel fumes about how much he hates having job protections for Americans with families and mortgages, he can fund a bunch of people who agree, keep them on for a few years, and then fire them to save even more money. It's a win-win.

Oddly, the piece about Joel Klein's continued sellout tour didn't merit mention in Gotham. Maybe they consider Joel old news. After all, he's been replaced by Cathie Black, who's not only devoid of any educational experience (Joel apparently taught for a few months), but is of an entirely different sex. That she shares every single policy position, without exception, is neither here nor there.

Anyway, DFER calls Education Reform Now it's "non-partisan partner." Perhaps that's why they selected Joel Klein to run it. It's well-known that Joel Klein is absolutely non-partisan about education, except for his opposition to teacher tenure, LIFO, raises, contracts, class-size reduction, decent learning conditions, workers' rights, democracy, Mom, or apple pie.

Other than that, I'd vote for the man myself. Anyway, congratulations to Joel Klein on that new gig, and congratulations on that nifty new pension. After all, what's important is making sure those who've devoted their lives to educating children don't get a dignified retirement. Since you've devoted your life to nothing of the sort, you deserve everything you get.

Just make sure, when you're trying to retroactively destroy government agreements with the working class, that there's a loophole for you. Losing pensions is for the little people.

Card via Leonie Haimson

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Your Predictions about the New English Regents Here

As we high school teachers kick off Regents this week, the English teachers among us will have no doubt turned away dozens of students looking for their scores on the English Regents. The English Regents was given two weeks ago, two weeks before any other Regents, because it is a brand-new test format and the testing gnomes in Albany will need to norm it and curve it and all that before they establish what the raw cut score is.

I'm interested to see the results of this process. I scored the exam at my school, of course, and I was underwhelmed by the results. When I first saw the new exam format in the fall, my first reaction was one of something like revulsion; namely, "This test is so darn easy." But I don't know that the students at my school did all that well on an exam that I thought was lowballed quite a bit.

I think, then, what comes out of Albany will likely send a message about what direction testing is really going in. If we have a huge passing rate, it will signal a retreat from (at least paying lip service to) the idea of higher standards and more difficult tests. If we see a precipitous drop from scores in past years, then perhaps we can expect a continuation of the tough-love policy on students, which might not be such a bad thing. But if Regents passing rates are going to go the way of the proficiency exam results in elementary and middle schools--that is, that they'll be factored into a "teacher report card" grade of some kind--then we as teachers will need to be even more involved with what these tests represent and what they actually measure, as well as with what the scores are and where they come from.

What are you "reading" into the new English Regents?

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's Going On?

Marvin Gaye asked, but no one's answered yet. How on earth have public employees become the bad guys? How have we, one of the last bastions of the middle class, become the scourge of society?

It's all about money, actually. The government hasn't got enough. Municipalities are struggling. Why? You need look no further than the President of the United States, who, in these tough times, extended tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Chuck Shumer said let's make the cutoff 1 million per year, so as not to inconvenience those impoverished Americans scraping by on $250,000 per annum. Even that was not good enough, and projected losses in tax revenue are astronomical. So someone has to pay.

Could it be the rich? Absolutely not. Rupert Murdoch, who just bought off Joel Klein, runs a 24/7 "news" network prodding downtrodden Americans to loath taxes, and he's been enormously successful. Thom Hartmann points out the rich are paying half of what they paid before Ronald Reagan took office,  before we had all these deficits, before we financed wars by borrowing from China. In fact, Hartmann suggests that extending the tax cuts even for the middle class may have been a mistake:

We’d been discussing taxes on the air and the fact that Denmark has an average 52 percent income-tax rate. I asked him why people didn’t revolt at such high taxes, and he smiled and pointed out to me that the average Dane is very well paid, with a minimum wage that equals roughly $18 per hour. Moreover, what Danes get for their taxes (that we don’t) is a free college education and free health care, not to mention four weeks of paid vacation each year and notoriety as the happiest nation on earth, according to a major study done by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

Some things are worth paying for, but here, we're all cowboys. We ride around, watch Fox News, and don't bother checking their veracity. But as cowboys, it's every man for himself. Unless you're wealthy. Then Barack Obama will step up and say you get a break. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo will do the same, and so will our esteemed Mayor Bloomberg. Why would the richest man in New York City raise taxes on himself when he can simply attack unions?

There's a great book called What's the Matter with Kansas? It paints the image of the poor, the downtrodden, all marching to the rich man's house with torches and pitchforks, declaring, "We're here to lower your taxes!" That about sums up what's happening. Make no mistake, the current attack on teachers and unions is part and parcel of an overall attack on the middle class.

How do we get the word out to snookered Americans who get all their news from MSM?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Picnic Out There

I always go in on snow days. My wife speculates it's because I'm out of my mind, and some days it's tough to maintain otherwise. It gives me something to consider while navigating the icy roads to Fun City.

I remember once driving west on the Long Island Expressway, cars crashing to my right, cars crashing to my left, and hearing then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani advising me not to come in via my AM radio. I wrote his words on the board, for the amusement of the handful of kids as crazy as me.

There is a delayed opening procedure, introduced by former chancellor Harold Levy. It's been utilized precisely once, during a transit strike. Actually, thus far it doesn't look so bad out there today. But wouldn't it have been a good idea, if they were going to open the schools last Wednesday, to at least allow for the inevitability of thousands being unable to arrive on time? Wouldn't thousands more teachers and students have shown up had they been given time to dig out, to walk through the snow, to wait for that bus or train?

Every other area school system closed. Every private school was closed. Mayor Mike "Accountability" Bloomberg (who refuses to even say where he was during Snowmageddon) didn't see fit to announce whether schools were open until 5 AM. I don't know whether he or socialite Cathie Black know there's a delayed opening procedure in place. I've seen even less evidence that they care one way or another.

If they were truly concerned about NYC public school students (We already know how they feel about teachers), they'd at least give them a fighting chance of getting in.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why I Will Not Join Educators 4 Excellence

Ruben Brosbe at GothamSchools penned a column explaining his motivation for joining Educators 4 Excellence, the "grassroots" (and I'll try to limit my snark after that) organization that supports higher salaries (good), more rigorous teacher evaluation (good, maybe), ending seniority-based retention (possibly not so good), and, it would seem in effect, further diminishing the role of the union in debates over salary, evaluation, and retention (definitely not good). As someone who has long been suspicious of E4E, I'll take his challenge to disagree passionately without, in his words, "vitriol" directed at him personally.

I don't want to join E4E, first of all, because I'm already a dues-paying member of an organization that is supposed to represent my interests and I find that what E4E stands for runs counter to those interests--or, at least, what those interests are nominally supposed to be, whatever your views on the UFT may be these days.

I don't want to join E4E because I passionately resist the condescending leadership of two individuals who loved teaching and loved children so much that they quit to run a, um, "grassroots" organization. For that matter, I don't want to join E4E because I feel that they have not been honest about who is backing them and where their funding is coming from.

I don't want to join E4E because I hope to someday be a career educator who would like to enjoy the rights that I've paid to have defended (and in some cases, like my pension, actually paid for, myself, personally).

I don't want to join E4E because I have no reason to believe that there are vast armies of defective teachers against whom I must defend myself and my career. Is it still safe to say that I find most of my colleagues to be at least my equal in dedication, responsibility, intelligence, and professionalism?

I don't want to join E4E because I dislike having to sign a loyalty oath to attend an event that is billed as a "conversation." And I have to tell you, I heard about that on GothamSchools and assumed it couldn't possibly be true, so I went to their site and tried to sign up for the Mulgrew event without signing on to E4E itself. And it turns out that that's true. Say what you like about, say, the Tea Party--even they wouldn't require me to sign some statement of beliefs just to show up and hear someone talk.

I will not speculate at all on Brosbe personally. I follow his columns on GothamSchools. I like some of them. I don't like others. If he reads my columns here, I imagine he probably feels the same way. I don't need to assume that he has a list of reasons just like mine for his support of E4E--I know that he does, because he wrote that column. And if he doesn't call into question my professionalism or dedication because I disagree with him on this particular issue, that's fair. If he, or anyone, does, then that will say more about their agenda than words ever could.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg's Dream

Following up on Miss Eyre's post of yesterday (which was quoted in the New York Times, mistakenly attributed to me), Mayor Bloomberg indeed has a dream. Essentially, it entails firing anyone he wants, whenever he wants, for whatever reason he wants.

Likely it will be the principal making such decisions. Goodbye, chapter leader. Goodbye, delegates. Goodbye, pain in the ass loudmouth who's always telling everyone about the unsafe conditions in the auditorium. Hello, teacher willing to rendezvous with principal Tuesday afternoons at the Comfort Inn. In a merit system, things will be different.

Who will be the first to wash the principal's car? To fetch the dry cleaning? Who's gonna make that run to Starbucks for a double half-caf soy latte mocachino with extra sugarless whipped cream? Who will come in on weekends to build that rumpus room the principal's been pining for? Who will pay for the permits? Who will tutor the children the principal's been neglecting, what with all that time at the Comfort Inn? Who will put the hotel bill on a credit card that can't be traced to the principal?

Meanwhile, Barack Obama gave a trillion dollars to the richest Americans in the country, Andrew Cuomo gave a billion to the richest New Yorkers in the state, and President Barack Obama is looking into ways to streamline regulation on those very same people, the ones that drove the economy into a ditch. For us to bail out.

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg Has a Dream

Boy, you spend a few days away from the blogging world and look what happens. Cathie Black proves once again that she isn't ready for prime-time, making this optimistic, open-minded blogger feel more foolish and dispirited by the day. E4E pops its head out again. A popular GothamSchools blogger may or may not be a deformer-crowd shill. But I'm all better now, ready to bring you this story via Gothamist: Mayor Bloomberg has a dream.

That's right. Mayor Bloomberg used a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration to validate his choice of Cathie Black for schools chancellor. Reeeeeeealllllly makes you wonder what the Reverend himself would have made of this situation. My guess is that he would have been, to say the least, unamused. Bloomberg was booed during the event, to no one's surprise. He could have reiterated his disappointment in Ms. Black, perhaps acknowledged the remark's inappropriateness during this time of remembrance of the civil rights struggle. Nope! He chose to remind the crowd how much better he knows than we the little people do.

At this point, you really have to wonder if Bloomberg, Black, et al. just do not give a--well, this is a family blog, but you get my meaning--about their constituents. I used to think that all the billionaire comments were a little exaggerated. But they clearly see no need to take into consideration the perspective or the concerns of those who, unlike them, send their children to public schools, commute to work without the help of personal drivers, or park their cars on public streets.

A commenter at Gothamist asked, "Is he really that self-unaware? I just can't believe anymore that he doesn't know. It's gotta be some kind of act." Well, Gothamist commenter, either he really is, or it is an act--an act for his billionaire buddies. We're stuck with this guy for three more years.

This day reminds me how much poorer our country is without that voice who always spoke truth to power, who would have had a thing or two to say about dreams to Mayor Bloomberg.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Puke-O-Rama, Dude!

Like, dude, the kids in my class are like, puking their guts out? So, like I just figured I'd write about it, and stuff? And people are all,

Why is this moron allowed to share with us his idiocy? 



and stuff in the comments?  But like, it's important, dude, to tell the truth, like, sometimes. Like, if I had a kid who had a you know, accident, I would have to, like, write my next column about it.

So anyhoo, like, when I wanted to support the release of value-added grades, and everyone was all like, "Dude, they're inaccurate and invalid," and everything? Like, Gotham Schools let me write about how even though I was supporting it, I was, like, still cool and everything? And, like, Gotham Schools is SO KEWL, because, like, they don't even make me write in my bio that I'm a member of Educators4Excellence. So I'm, like, in a group funded by Bill Gates and stuff, and they don't even tell anybody! And I'm also in a video with Michelle Rhee, and like, at Gotham, I don't even have to say why! They just say, I'm just, like, a teacher and stuff! So, I don't look, like, uncool!

Wow! How cool is that, dude?

So, like, I'm learning a LOT. For example, like, once, I like controlled the class? And I, like, figured once I did that I'd never have to do it again? But, like, the kids acted up again, and I was, like, surprised and stuff. Who could figure that once kids misbehave and stop they'd ever do it again? Or that anyone else would ever not listen to you, like ever, once someone finally listened to you? Anyhoo...

So, like, I noticed that in my school we had, like, stuff in Spanish? But not other languages? So I figured I'd, like, write about it and stuff? I was all, like, hey dude, why there wasn't stuff in other languages? So, like, I just figured every other school just had what my school had? Because I, ya know, go to my school and stuff? Anyhoo, then I heard that there WAS stuff in like, Chinese and Korean and Urdu, and, like, a whole lot of other languages and stuff? That Joel Klein's video for ESL parents was, like, dubbed into a WHOLE BUNCH of languages? And someone told me that, like, a lot of people can read numbers, even if they, like, speak other languages and stuff? But, like, I didn't check it out, and, like, no one at Gotham Schools checked it out either, but no one said anything, so it was, like, cool and stuff. So I was all, like, WHEW! Like, that was a close one, dude.

So, anyway, dude, that's all for now! I have, like, lots of other stuff to say, and stuff. Like, in my newest column I figured out when there are less kids, there's like, less noise? Who would've thunk it? So anyway, like, be cool!

L8R, dude!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Where Would Martin Luther King Jr. Stand?

My blogging buddy Reality-Based Educator has a post about MLK and economic justice. He mentions that the charter school moguls would have you believe he'd support all their nonsense about privatization and union-busting. "For the children," supposedly, MLK would have them not only abandon the concept of union, but also support billionaires like Bloomberg and Gates as they attack the pensions, salaries and working conditions of the middle class. Supposedly, he'd support them in their efforts to destroy the teaching profession, one avenue for many to said middle class.

Actually, MLK was quite opposed to such measures. Here's an early quote from him on what union-busters label "right to work,"--actually the right to enjoy benefits the union negotiated without paying the union--thus weakening it and imperiling its very existence:

"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining…. We demand this fraud be stopped."   

Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK also understood, as many Americans do not, that unions are precisely what brought us out of the dark days of the 19th century:

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome."
-- MLK Jr., Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, 1965.

Let's respect his legacy. Let's not allow demagogues and ignoramuses to urge us back to those days. Even this week, Andrew Cuomo is airing ads promoting his anti-union vision for the future of New York. Let's give Andy a call and let him know how we feel. Next Wednesday there's a PEP meeting at Brooklyn Tech. Next Thursday night there's a hearing to once again try to close Jamaica High School based on blatantly false statistics.

None of us can be what MLK was. But this week we have several chances to stand up, just as he would, to those who'd destroy us to further enrich their rich friends. I'll be calling Governor Andy, and at Jamaica for sure.

How about you?

Hello New York,

I'm NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black. After careful examination of the overcrowding problem, Mayor Bloomberg and I have come up with an innovative solution. As you know, many people have criticized me for having no background in education, for not having an advanced degree, for not having attended public schools, for not having sent my own kids to public schools, and some have even tried to block my appointment because of all this nonsense. What they don't understand is that I'm a problem solver. Along with Mayor Bloomberg, we've worked this whole thing out.

In fact, there is no overcrowding problem. We've got more than enough facilities to accommodate a reasonable amount of schoolchildren. The problem is that too many of you are having children, and all too frequently at that. We are, therefore, rolling out a multi-step program to deal with this. First, we will make condoms available free of charge for all public school parents. We will have training films available on the internet that will show you how to use them. Honestly, people who would irresponsibly overburden public schools with their prodigious offspring should not be having unprotected sex. It's simply irresponsible.

But that's only a first step. Mayor Bloomberg and I will be introducing legislation introducing financial penalties for people who have more than one child. Naturally we will exempt those who can afford private schools. Nonetheless, it's simply irresponsible to saddle society with all these additional expenses. Sure, there are those who think taxing the rich is the solution to every problem, but there will be no new taxes in NYC. They would hurt business, and wealthy New Yorkers should not bear the brunt of those who choose to fornicate irresponsibly.

Should these measures prove ineffective, we will explore the Sophie's Choice option. Now a lot of naysayers will complain this measure is extreme. However, it will only be utilized in the case of parents who fail to follow the first two options. And, of course, it will not apply to those of us in the top 2% income level. We've suffered enough already, and along with Mayor Bloomberg, I'm working to ease our pain. In any case, any parent, with any income, who wishes to avoid that measure, or indeed any of the above measures, can simply pay private school tuition.

And we're not simply passing this unilaterally. We're going to fully utilize the process set out in the governance measures that are sometimes misleadingly referred to as "mayoral control."  We will first propose this plan to the Panel for Educational Policy, where the Mayor has only 8 of the 13 votes. The 5 votes that don't belong to the mayor are free to vote however they like.  We will also have a public hearing and give everyone 2 minutes to express their opinions. Like we do with school closings, it's our practice to let the public say whatever they want before we do whatever we want. In New York City, we call that democracy.

What could be fairer than that?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dear Cathie Black,

After only several days on the job, I've gotten to see the real you--a person with a quick and ready sense of humor. I mean, who else would've thought to solve the overcrowding problem via birth control? There's some out-of-the-box thinking! And then there's that crack about many "Sophie's choices." How many people would consider likening public school options to those of a mom who had to sacrifice one of her children to the Nazis?

Not only that, but you sent 1.1 million kids to school on a day when every other area school and private school closed. Your boss told everyone to stay off the roads, but you had no problem making 80,000 teachers come in. Boy, what irony. Finally, after everyone figured you could never outdo that last thing, after asking all of them to come in, you canceled your own school visit.

Anyway, after reading all that, I was sure you'd enjoy this. An entire box of stink bombs for only $7.99. You could come to schools, set them off soon after your arrival, and avoid all those nasty questions from those uppity teachers, parents and students. And think of all the hilarity that would ensue! You could accuse the teachers' union of setting off all those stink bombs and get the tabloids to write editorials in your support.

It would be yet another win-win for the visionary leadership of New York City schools.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Deals with the Devil

After years of the DOE reneging on promises, stabbing us in the back, planting nonsense in the tabloids, complaining about contracts it signed, deals it made, UFT leadership still shows far too little evidence of having learned anything. Months back, UFT President Michael Mulgrew made a deal to incorporate value-added metrics into teacher ratings. This has great potential to backfire, just as Ms. Weingarten's deal to examine value-added has, rather spectacularly, blown up in the faces of all the UFT experts who deemed this a good idea.

Ms. Weingarten was determined not to be a stereotypical cigar-chomping union boss, forever demanding more money and better working conditions. And indeed, with inflation, teachers are not making more money. Ms. Weingarten didn't hesitate to toss away decades of hard-fought professional rights for a compensation increase that failed to match the NYC inflation rate. For this, she won accolades from anti-union zealots like Rod Paige, and 5 minutes of admiration from the anti-teacher, anti-middle class tabloids--before they went back to trashing us at each and every opportunity. Then her new BFFs made a propaganda film called Waiting for Superman that gleefully cast her as the Antichrist.

There is no upside to making unenforceable deals with people who can't be trusted, as the class size debacle clearly demonstrated. Still, UFT leadership does not admit error, ever. This stubborn inflexiblity is an unfortunate quality they share with Mayor4Life Bloomberg. On both their parts, this policy is wrongheaded and counterproductive.

It's time for Mulgrew to break from Weingarten, wake up, and realize we've had enough. Teachers are demoralized and cynical, and with good reason. No more trying to show what swell folks we are by giving in to unreasonable demands of demagogues. No more selling out the few rights we have left for pennies. No more kowtowing to those who'd destroy us, like Bill Gates (who attacked teacher pensions right on the heels of the AFT lovefest in Seattle).

And not one word of a contract until we get what the other city workers got. No givebacks, and if that means no new contract, so be it. No surrender on ATRs. No surrender on last in first out.

The sad fact is, once they give in on those things, we may as well not have a union anyway.

Because, if they want to maintain union in anything more than name only, we've got no more to give.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SUVs Make It to Bloomberg's House, so Schools Are Open

8.8 inches of snow at Central Park. The mayor says stay off the roads. The MTA says don't come in. But NYC teachers should risk their lives and brave the storm. 1.1 million kids can do the same.

Here's how he decided--if the dual SUVs that drive Mayor Bloomberg to his favored subway stop can make it to his house, that means dual SUVs could make it to yours as well. That's why the mayor waits until 5 AM to tell you whether or not to come in. I mean, heck, if his chauffeurs can make it, so can yours. And if you really didn't want to hassle with the snow, maybe you should have taken the private jet to Bermuda, like it appears the mayor did during Snowmageddon.

A commenter just pointed out that NYC doesn't even bother with delayed openings on days like today. Hundreds of area schools are closed, but city kids don't even get extra time to come in.

In their infinite wisdom, the Tweedies have canceled field trips. After all, it's dangerous to travel in this sort of weather.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow News

I just received a phone call telling me my daughter's school would be closed tomorrow. That's what happens when the community has a government that cares about its residents.

Mayor4Life Bloomberg, on the other hand, is not letting New Yorkers know until 5 o' clock tomorrow morning.

Thoughts on Class Size

As high schools prepare to reorganize for the spring semester* in the next few weeks, I'm thinking about class size, and so are some other folks. Large class sizes are, as a rule, problematic here in NYC. It's not so much the size of the class itself; rather, it's the ever-widening scope of what teachers are asked to do, multiplied exponentially as classes grow larger and therefore ever more demanding on the time of teachers. It's also the wide range of students that can be found in the now-typical heterogeneous classroom.

My class sizes tend toward the small size--mid- to upper-20s--for high school classes, and yet I yearn for their being smaller. I am asked to tutor students individually and in small groups; offer multiple opportunities for make-up work; contact parents frequently about grades and behavior; tailor lessons to multiple skill levels (more on this later); assist students with staying organized; and, at the same time, deliver rigorous, complex lessons that will help students to be prepared for the upper echelons of high school and college. As you can imagine, you can plan rigorous, complex lessons, OR you can babysit, counsel, monitor, and cajole. It is very difficult to do both, and becomes ever more difficult as one or two or three more kids transfer into your class every month.

As well, in one of my classes in particular, the wide range of current skill levels is astonishing; I have children, according to one recent assessment, reading on a 3rd grade reading level and children who are ready for senior-level AP classes in the same class. In the same room. At the same time. Meeting the needs of all of these students is already difficult; it is made much harder by trying to accommodate so many of them.

Large class sizes, as Nancy Flanagan points out here, are not necessarily deal-breakers. You might need 40 or 50 students to put together an impressive orchestra or choir, all of whom would certainly need to be in the same room at the same time. Highly motivated and independent students probably also do fine in large, fast-paced classes. But students who need a great deal of emotional support, disciplinary structure, and redirection to stay on task naturally do better in smaller, quieter environments with an adult or two or three who can focus on them more exclusively. Administrators might do well to get a sense of where Nancy is coming from as Regents Week approaches* and re-organization looms large.

*What? Regents Week is coming, you ask, rubbing your eyes blearily in disbelief? Yes. We are almost halfway to summer. Pat yourself on the back!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Updating Mark Twain

I'm fascinated by the discussion about cutting choice words from Huckleberry Finn. I've never taught it, but I have taught Of Mice and Men, which uses racial epithets. I explained them the best I could, and placed them in context. However, I teach kids from other countries, and decided I did not wish to be the person who introduces them to such vocabulary. That may be irresponsible on my part, but I don't care. I find such language distasteful, and I don't much like explaining why it's used. I never taught it again, and don't plan to.

Actually, I don't much like this sort of language. Dickens, beautiful and flowing though his language may be, struck me as outrageously anti-Semitic. Much of the language precludes my using it in my classes simply because it will baffle my ESL students. But I wouldn't use it even if they could perfectly grasp it. Nonetheless, that was the coin of the realm back in his time, just as racism pervaded American culture in the times of the aforementioned novels--as it certainly does now.

That said, I wouldn't teach sanitized versions of classics either. Who has the right to "correct" an American icon like Mark Twain? Not me, that's for sure. I'd rather read the original and judge for myself. Unlike my students, I've heard all those words before. It would be one thing if Twain himself were around, but unless Doctor Who brings him back in a Tardis, I don't think we'll be seeing that anytime soon.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Best Stay off Sarah Palin's Hit List

A US Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, was shot outside a Safeway today. The gunman shot her in the head, then turned his attention to the crowd, killing at least 6 bystanders. She was apparently on Sarah Palin's target list, as a candidate to be defeated in the midterm election.

Did one of Palin's followers take the target list literally?

Time will tell.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Bill Gates Reaches Out

Not content to have Arne Duncan and Barack Obama in his hip pocket, Bill Gates, along with his equally caring partner, the Wal-Mart family, is trying to rate the media. It's not sufficient that nonsensical propaganda films garner wide praise from clueless editorial boards, or that Obama shills for Gates and Oprah shills for Obama and NBC shills for Oprah.

No, Bill Gates wants Howard Stern to stop being king of all media so the goshdarn media will do whatever Bill Gates says it should do. After all, the President of the United States does whatever Bill says so why shouldn't everyone?

Bill likes a certain kind of media coverage. For example, in a Newsweek interview that also features AFT President Randi Weingarten,  Bill got this question:

What about this notion of giving tenure to teachers? That seems ridiculous.

Clearly that's the level of journalism Bill expects us to maintain. That's a perfectly objective question. How ridiculous to have a just cause standard before depriving Americans of their livelihoods! There's be no such nonsense when Bill sets out standards. (Doubtless Wal-Mart wants to improve the country in just the same way.) And, of course, after Bill tells us how to run the country he will naturally need to tell us what we can and cannot discuss, and how we may talk about it. Let's examine just a few of Bill's statements:

For 90 percent of the teachers in America there’s no feedback.

I read somewhere that 68% of all statistics are made up on the spot. And naturally, Bill provides no source whatsoever for this statement. My experience suggests this statement is preposterous on its face. Ms. Weingarten, however, does not contradict him, as she and Bill are BFFs. Troublemakers (like me) who see Bill as disingenuous are simply fodder for ridicule at the AFT convention.

Go read the American Federation of Teachers New York work rules.

It's kind of doubtful Bill did that, as there is no such document. Bill doesn't even know the name of the UFT, so it's kind of hard for me to believe he studied our contract with the City of New York. Perhaps someone told him a story about it sometime. It's hard to say.

In many districts you have to give advance notice before anybody can come into your classroom. That’s part of the contract.  

Boy, I would love to see that contract. I've seen Bill speak of it elsewhere. Apparently, in Bill's concept of journalism, Bill says whatever Bill sees fit, and everyone believes it without question. Bill also criticizes teacher pensions, stating other countries don't provide them. Bill is probably unaware of the social safety nets that exist in other countries, and he probably doesn't know that other countries take care of everyone, whether or not they happen to be teachers. Bill fails to note that other countries also have unions, notably Finland, and that in those countries unionized workers thrive in many other sectors as well.

Perhaps when Bill controls the media, we'll read stories about tasty ways to prepare catfood for both working and retired teachers. It must somehow seem prestigious for Ms. Weingarten to be seen side by side with the guy who thinks we make too much money, we have things too good, and that we need to be fired whenever the hell demagogues like he and his billionaire buds get a hankering for cheaper labor.

This notwithstanding, it's incredible she fails to challenge such nonsense. It's her job, literally, to speak for us.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

No Food, No Poor Kids, No Problem

OMG, y'all, I just had an awesome idea. Have you ever wanted to run your own school that can take in public money but not have to follow some/most/all of the public school rules? If you have, you've wanted to start a charter, right? Well, hang on to your hats, folks, because I found a way to make your charter school even better: Start one that doesn't serve meals! In California, you see, charter schools don't have to serve even one meal a day.

So here's what will happen: Poorer kids--you know, those same ones who tend to have lower test scores and less involved parents and more challenges to doing well in school--either won't come to your school in the first place or will quit because they're hungry. Your test scores don't get dragged down by those pesky poor kids!

And, even better, you don't have to mention this when you toot your own horn and say how much awesomer you are than traditional public schools.


I'd be unfair here if I didn't point out that California seems to be an exception rather than a rule with this policy, or that charters here in New York certainly do serve food (in fact, some of them serve very good food, which raises its own questions, but never mind that for a moment). Not all charters take this radical step of choosing not to provide meals.

But they could, at least in California.

I hope the ramifications are obvious.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Party that Pretends to Care

I continue to be amazed by Andy Cuomo's genuflections to his corporate overlords. Cuomo has announced that, in the spirit of being austere, he's freezing salaries of state employees for a year. This will save 2-400 million. However, days before, he eliminated a tax on the richest New Yorkers that could have saved a billion.

Cuomo also announced he was taking himself a 5% pay cut. When I get to live rent-free in a Governor's mansion, with chauffeurs and staff, I'll take a 5% pay cut too. I'm guessing Andy, particularly after giving himself that tax break, was doing pretty well to begin with. That's not leading by example. It's making a hollow gesture and saying, "What a good boy am I." When Spitzer was living there, for all I know we financed his prostitutes. 

Cuomo's priorities, like those of President Barack Obama, are pretty clear. In Cuomo's favor, he didn't actually campaign on the premise he'd cut tax breaks for the rich. That was President Obama, who also promised to pass an act that would allow card check to unionize workers. Obama backed out, preferring to work with the Republicans on health care, a strategy that garnered him zero votes and a seriously scaled down bill. Of course, the Republicans are now trying to dismantle what little he accomplished.

At this point it's hard for me to discern what the point of the Democratic Party is. The Republicans are pretty much right out there, saying we need tax cuts for gazillionaires, and that they're imposing financial discipline, except regarding gazillionaire tax cuts. Apparently they're needed no matter where the economy goes. The Democrats are different. In Barack Obama's case, he at least maintains not to have wanted the gazillionaire tax cut. Andy Cuomo makes no such pretense.

Fire 900 working people, freeze the wages of state workers, and give the richest people in the state a break that costs more than all the savings realized by screwing all those working people. This makes perfect sense to the new Governor of New York State.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Cathie Black's First Day (Back) on the Job vs. Yours

As NYC schools rolled out the welcome mat for Cathie Black, we the peons were back on the job today, greeting students whose attitudes towards the long break were varied, to put it kindly.* I must begin by admitting that my day was blessedly uneventful--dare I even say pleasant? Mondays tend to go quickly for me anyway due to them being the most stacked days, in terms of both instruction and professional activities, in my schedule, and this one happily proved to be no exception.

I wish I could say the same for my colleagues across the city. Checking in with them on a "popular social-networking site" this evening, one of my pals fumed that not only did his administration decide that today was a fine day to stop by first thing in the morning, but also decided to interrupt his class and criticize him in front of his students. I'll say this much for Ms. Black, as per the GothamSchools piece linked above: She doesn't interrupt instruction.

I wonder how many of you felt warmly welcomed into your buildings today the way that Ms. Black was. I wonder how many of you were treated with the great respect and consideration she was. I'm not suggesting that Cathie Black isn't worthy of common courtesy, of course, but I do wonder if maybe she might gently suggest that esteem and enthusiasm, particularly after a stretch away, isn't something that could trickle down to the little people.

*And now for your dose of humor:

[Students raises hand]

MISS EYRE: Yes, Tito? [Not his real name]

TITO: Miss Eyre, what did you get for Christmas?

MISS EYRE [with gentle-but-firm teacher chuckle]: Maybe we can talk about that at the end of the period, Tito. [assuming he will never remember]

[End of the period]

TITO: Miss Eyre! Tell me what you got for Christmas!

MISS EYRE: Well, I got a lot of nice things. Mr. Eyre got me these lovely earrings. [indicates lovely earrings]

TITO: Man, that's nice. You know what my parents got me? Bed sheets!

Monday, January 03, 2011

"It's Not Our Fault," Says NYC Department of Education

In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, accountability is paramount. For example, if your car is snowed in, it's your fault for parking it on the street. If you'd had any sense, you'd have brought it into your living room, where it could have stayed nice and warm. Don't suppose for a moment his chauffeur hasn't garaged his limo, and you should have garaged yours too.

So when the two genius principals at Jamaica High School decided to quash a play critical of Klein and the school closings, the DOE said they'd have been fine with it. After all, as a principal whose school can be closed at any moment, why would you worry about what Chancellor Klein thinks? Chancellor Klein wants the total unvarnished truth. When there's trouble, you should bring it to his attention immediately.

In fact, Jamaica High School has some experience with that. When Joel Klein said he wanted every incident scrupulously reported, their principal followed the directive. Imagine his surprise when, as a result, his school was placed on a list of persistently dangerous schools and quickly thereafter slated for closure. So, in review, tell the absolute unvarnished truth to the DOE so they can close your school and ruin your career.

It's understandable, perhaps, that the principals may have been reluctant to deal with that truth thing and face the consequences. Surely they didn't anticipate the publicity its censorship would provoke (though they really should have). But now that it's been in all the papers, the DOE has a message--the same one as always--it's not our fault.

It's not our fault the play was censored. It's not our fault dozens of schools are closing. It's not our fault the test scores were inflated. It's not our fault we pushed mayoral control on the basis of faulty test scores. It's not our fault class sizes are exploding. It's not our fault your school is overcrowded. It's not our fault you're learning in a trailer instead of a classroom, and it's not our fault your kid is running around outside in gym shorts when there's snow on the ground.

What we need, apparently, is more accountability. But only for teachers. And starting today, you'll be hearing Cathie Black sing that song, as Joel Klein has moved on to his dream job, whoring himself out for Rupert Murdoch.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Andy Cuomo Asserts His Values

Who's important in NY State? Millionaires, of course. Newly-placed Governor Andrew Cuomo has laid down the gauntlet. 900 people can lose their jobs, and that's OK with him. But it would be unacceptable to continue a tax on those making more than 200K per year. Apparently, it's alright for people to have no income whatsoever. Still, top earners aren't making enough for our new governor.

Incredibly, the 900 layoffs are said to face opposition from "special interests." The special interest, in this case, is working people interested in continuing as working people. Unions, says the article, refused to contribute 250 million in savings. Yet Cuomo, by declining to continue this tax, is costing the state four times that.

It's outrageous on the face of it that Cuomo would favor the rich over the middle class. But it's nothing new. President Obama just passed a "compromise" that breaks his campaign promise to eliminate tax breaks for the top 2% of the population. So Cuomo is pretty much status quo. Watch later this week for his specific plan to take on the unions. Perish forbid working people should have any power at all in the United States of America.

Are we ever gonna wake up and begin electing people who give a damn about us? Or are we gonna stick with folks like Cuomo, Obama, and Bloomberg, who clean the streets and make life better only for the rich, while the rest of us are left picking up the tab and shoveling ourselves out?