Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Summer Vacation/Staycation/School

I did a bit of shopping on my first day of summer vacation yesterday, and while chatting with the salesgirl, I mentioned that I was a teacher. She asked if I was on summer vacation, and I said that I was. She laughed, saying, "My mom always told me I should be a teacher so I'd get my summers off. I couldn't handle the kids, though, no way."

"If you go into teaching only to get your summers off," I said, "it's not worth it."

And while that's true, as I've said in the past, you'll pry my summer vacation from my cold, dead hands. Having perfected the art of staycationing during my first few summer vacations (you know, while I was a new teacher and therefore broke), I managed to get away last summer and I'm getting away even more this summer, upstate and to the islands. So if you hear a bit less from me in this space over the coming weeks, that's why, not because NYC Educator decided we needed to cut back on our overwhelming staffing costs or anything.

Summer school starts for most schools next Tuesday, I guess, so if you're teaching summer school...well, there's not much to say about summer school, except to enjoy the paycheck, which I'm told is quite nice. A lot of kids at my school are going to be in summer school as we push for 75+ on the Regents exams to avoid remediation for the kids at the CUNY/SUNY schools, so some of my colleagues will have their hands full.

And if you are staycationing, NYC is a pretty good place to do it. Don't forget about the many beaches, parks, museums, street fairs, stores, restaurants, and more that you can try out over the next two months. I never really minded my staycations precisely because I got out in the city so much, and even this summer I have a list of NYC attractions I still haven't gotten to yet. Put your best staycation tips in the comments!

Finally, try not to do schoolwork all summer. I'm going to attempt to take most of July completely off. Enjoy your friends, your family, the weather, everything you don't get to do much while school is in. Try not to think about the contract negotiations (or lack thereof). Read some good books.

Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Getting Away With Murder

It must be great to be Dennis Walcott. You ride around the city in a limo and the New York Times writes puff pieces about what a great guy you are. You've changed the tone, apparently. People like you.

One of the great things about being a New York Times reporter is you need not ask a single teacher about the chancellor, and indeed, this reporter didn't even pretend. The extreme fear and loathing that I see and hear about every day has no place in this piece, and the reporter shows not the remotest awareness of it.

Walcott, who ran around the city insisting that layoffs were necessary in the face of a 3.2 billion dollar surplus (another little tidbit that escaped this reporter), gets credit for coming to an agreement with the UFT. There's no hint whatsoever that he did so to give Mayor4Life an opportunity to save face and back away from the preposterous claims both he and Walcott spouted incessantly.

Nor is there any mention of the fact that retiring teachers will not be replaced, leading to 8,000 fewer teachers over the past three years. It must be great to be a New York Times reporter, able to spout out a piece that so blatantly glosses over reality.

Me, I have to work for a living. (But not today. I wish all my colleagues out there a happy and restful summer!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You're Not Graduating After All, Sorry about That Scholarship

One does not become an education blogger in New York City without having the stomach for some depressing stories. Today, for example, I was all set to write a happy-go-lucky "Hey, it's the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!!!!!" post and wish you all a happy summer vacation. But that was before I switched on the news in the wee hours of the morning (for the last time until September, I do hope) and heard this story.

You see, the graduating class of Performance Conservatory High School in the Bronx (all 23 of them, which I imagine is a problem in and of itself) was short 9 of its members yesterday. These 9 members were informed that they would not be graduating yesterday morning. How did this happen? Bureaucratic incompetence? Apathy or ignorance on the part of guidance and administration? We don't know yet, and naturally an investigation is pending. But as a teacher, I have to admit that I'm just as confused as the kids involved. One young lady said she had 48 credits and 5 Regents exams, which, to me, sounds like she met the graduation requirements.

This would be bad enough if it had happened in, say, April. If some kind of mix-up had transpired a couple of months ago, when schools are supposed to be combing through graduation requirements, it would have been fixable in plenty of time. Assuming the school is mistaken now, they've ruined these kids' chances at a memorable and enjoyable high school graduation ceremony for nothing, including the class valedictorian who should be spending his summer thinking about his scholarship to Boston College. Instead, apparently, he'll be in summer school.

This story would be a good one to keep in mind when school "failure" is blamed on teachers. No one here is accusing teachers of having taught poorly or lacked caring for their students. Yet these students' futures are sidelined all the same. The principal of Performance Conservatory didn't even attend the graduation. That's a failure of leadership if ever I heard one.

Well, happy summer vacation anyway, y'all. I'll come back on Thursday, I hope, with a more upbeat post in which I embrace the coming weeks of vacation with gusto. I'm not teaching summer school, so there's some time off for me on the horizon, but no matter what your plans, make your last day today a great one for yourself and your kids.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time to Teach

Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that today will be a full teaching day. Now don't get me wrong--I actually like to teach better than most anything else my job entails. But there's a time and place for everything.

Call me madcap, but in my view, it's better to teach before the final exams have been given and final grades have gone in. After those things happen, kids, being more perceptive than Chancellor Walcott thinks they are, tend to get the notion that any further classes are relatively meaningless. In fact, a great many of them simply don't bother to show up at all. I'm not the sort of teacher who will change a kid's grade for absence on a day holding relatively little meaning, and I'm happy to say I can't picture a colleague who feels otherwise.

So why do we have this teaching day? It's one of the remnants of the 2005 contract. After the August punishment days were added, a lot of people did not much care for them. I believe Randi Weingarten negotiated a change. It was, apparently, very important that we kept these two pointless days, so they were moved to June.

I'm ready to teach if I have to. But I have a strong feeling I'm gonna be very lonely. I think a lot of teachers will be. Think of the money we could save in electricity if we didn't have to open the schools two days a year. Maybe we could replace some of the 7,500 teachers Mayor4Life has quietly lost to attrition these last three years.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Layoff Deal

Is it, or isn't it?

Obviously, averting layoffs is a good thing. No one can argue with that, except perhaps Mayor4Life and his minions. In fact, it's probably good for him too, as layoffs would prove yet another PR disaster. Should we allow him to endure that at the expense of the teachers who'd be sitting on pins and needles waiting to be called back? That's a tough call. I've lost my teaching job several times, excessed when there was no ATR to fall into, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

Now if this simply called for ATRs to be placed in regular teaching positions, that would be a no-brainer. But Gotham Schools says otherwise:

The second concession is that teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, or ATR, will be redeployed to fill substitute teaching positions, which are currently filled by teachers who work on a per diem basis. The daily rate for substitutes is approximately $180, according to the city aide. That money would be saved because the ATR, a pool of teachers without full time positions who remain on payroll, would be able to replace those spots. Under the agreement, each week teachers from ATRs can be sent to a different school in their district.

It's that last sentence that's got me nervous. Given the history of the DOE, I fully expect them to consciously and methodically work on making these 1,200 teachers as miserable as they can. This week you're here, next week you're there, no long-term connections with anyone, no being a role model for kids on any regular basis--in essence, you are not really a teacher.

I cannot describe how miserable I would be under such an arrangement, and it's hard to know how anyone could vote to put teachers through this. On the other hand, would voting against it entail voting for 4,000 layoffs? The UFT is going to put it to the DA on Tuesday, yet no one has seen any document containing precise details.

The results of the vote are a foregone conclusion--it will pass by a massive margin.

Nonetheless, I want to hear from all comers, pro or con.

What do you think?

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to Keep Your Head Comfortable While in the Guillotine

I recently had the dubious pleasure of meeting an individual whose job it is to go to closing schools and advise the teachers how to better do their jobs. One teacher I spoke to told me he comes in, walks around, looks at kids' notebooks, and then chides him because the kids don't have enough aims in them. Or he may comment on how much litter there is on the floor. Nonetheless, nothing of any practical assistance is forthcoming from this individual.

So I was surprised to hear him tell someone, "You know, I go into these schools, and they don't appreciate anything. This is why they're in trouble. But they just don't want to hear it."

Actually, I don't blame them. This person's advice is of no value whatsoever. Unless the UFT/ NAACP lawsuit is successful, their schools are toast. This person offers them no way out, and is simply placed there so Bloomberg can pretend he's offering help. I know for a fact that if they really wanted improvement, I (for example) could offer much better advice than this guy, who has considerably less teaching experience than I do.

And the fact is they are most certainly not in trouble for not following his advice, for having too few aims in their notebooks, or for having to much paper on the floor. They're in trouble because they were overloaded with too many special needs kids, because the ESL students need to learn English before they can pass Regents exams, and because kids with learning disabilities need time to overcome them. They're in trouble because Bloomberg's new schools don't often take these kids in the same proportions, and when they do they're just as likely to close as the comprehensive high schools Bloomberg hates so much. It seems to me he's closed almost every high school in the Bronx. If they were all that bad, and he couldn't improve them, what does that suggest about Mayor4Life?

And what does it suggest that he pays pedantic, pompous windbags to traipse about closing schools and offer useless unsolicited advice? It's sad that the man who chose Joel Klein and Cathie Black wouldn't recognize good advice if someone were beating him over the head with it, but there you are.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fuzzy Math, Courtesy of Your New York State Board of Regents

I thought, when a heard a math teacher from my school ranting white with rage about a question on the algebra Regents, that this was an isolated incident. This particular teacher was so incensed that he was putting together a PowerPoint breaking out every single thing wrong with the question and showing it to his colleagues, all of whom were shaking their heads sadly. Yes, I thought this was an isolated incident, but I am wrong. (Even if you're not a math teacher, click over to take a quick peek at the post from JD2718; it's short and you'll get the point.)

Yet we as teachers are supposed to be just fine with having these tests, and the people who create them, holding the swords of Damocles over our jobs. I've scored both the middle school ELA exams and the English Regents exams at this point, and there are many multiple-choice questions that are ambiguous or can have more than one "correct" or "best" answer choice. Even the Common Core Standards, which are supposed to drive our instruction now, recognize multiple perspectives and encourage students to work within them.

I ask you, then: How much do we really want to make these multiple-choice tests count--for students, for teachers, for schools? If questions like the one JD2718 referenced above and the ones about which my colleague was fuming come every year, that's a lot of bad questioning and, therefore, faulty data emerging. But who will be "accountable" for the results? Probably not the Board of Regents, but you, dear teacher, who missed the cutoff for "effective" by one or two points because your test scores weren't high enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is It Worth It?

Mayor Bloomberg wants city workers to pay him thirty million a month to refrain from firing teachers and closing firehouses. While there seems to be a fund that can cover it, it doesn't seem like the best idea ever. For one thing, what happens at the end of the year? It's fairly obvious that Bloomberg will dredge up some new slimeball senator to kill seniority rights and try to fire us all over again.

Last year, of course, he pretended to avoid utterly unnecessary layoffs by unilaterally announcing teachers would not get the raise he granted to all other city workers. This year, he's claiming there's a fiscal crisis while he sits on a 3 billion dollar surplus, a one billion dollar rainy day fund, and a few hundred million that he disappeared from the DOE. There is no reason whatsoever to fire a single teacher and the mayor is simply putting a gun to our head.

It appears the UFT President wishes to revive this deal. That's a slippery slope, and ought to be undertaken with extreme caution. Other unions are demanding a 2.5 year no layoff pledge to do so. That would get us well into Mayor4Life's fourth term. Bloomberg is wildly unpopular, and the scholastic achievements he's claimed have disappeared into the dust of NY State Exams Past, so it's possible even another hundred mil of his loose change may not buy him that.

Of course he needs to renounce his support of killing seniority so as to subvert the contract to which he agreed, and also to give teachers the raise he gave everyone else. After all, when the pattern is a piece of crap, he always insists we take it or give him the sun, moon and stars to better it.

And we need these agreements in writing, with express provisions that Bloomberg go to prison and personally finance them anyway if he once again lies to us. There must be no loopholes, and there must be no good faith, as he has shown none over the interminable decade he has owned New York City.

After we secure these agreements, we can talk. Before that, we can inform the public of his rampant hypocrisy. And then, maybe we can impeach him over his no-bid contracts that leave children to freeze waiting for buses that don't come, and the 600 million he lost to his no-bid buds at CityTime. Maybe we can finally start a worthwhile trend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Don't Have a Plan; Or, You Do Have a Plan, We Just Like Ours Better

The cartoon at left (from Jim Morin, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Miami Herald) made me laugh without laughing, if you know what I mean. "You don't have a plan!" is a popular straw man argument that one side can use against another when one side simply doesn't like the other's plan or finds it to clash with pre-established beliefs (or talking points). Just as Congressional Republicans like to accuse Democrats, including President Obama (who has put forth a deficit reduction plan), of not having a plan, so Mayor Bloomberg seems to think that his opponents don't have a realistic plan for averting teacher layoffs. Well, we here at NYC Educator have some news for the Mayor: We have a plan.

The selected bullet points below come from Class Size Matters:

Cost cuts or freezes:
  • $23 million: cancel (or do not renew) contracts w/ McGraw Hill and Scantron for Acuity, or interim assessments. These contracts end in Aug. 2011 and most parents, teachers and even principals think they are worthless. (Note from Miss Eyre: Making interim assessments at a school or department level is totally possible.)
  • $4 million: cut contracts with TFA and New Teacher Project and instead retrain current teachers for
  • licenses in shortage areas.
  • $400 million: cut the projected increase in spending on private contracts and consultants by two thirds
  • $2 million: cut back on the growth in Children First Network and cluster staff
  • $15 million: moratorium on opening new schools.
  • $15 million: freeze spending for central administration
  • $21 million: freeze spending on technology
  • $9 million: reduce contract spending on professional development by using in house staff (Note from Miss Eyre: Good professional development builds capacity and community rather than just bringing in someone with a PowerPoint from the outside.)
  • $100 million: Charge co-located charter schools for the space and services that the city now provides in DOE buildings for free. (Emphasis mine)
Total: up to $600 million dollars in savings.

Revenue increases:
  • $450 million: Do not let state’s millionaire tax lapse, and/or impose one in NYC (needs state approval)
  • $65 million: Extend the Mortgage Recording Tax to coop apartments (needs state approval but even the Mayor supports this one)
  • $100 million in FY 12; $275 million to $400 million in subsequent years: Gradually raise Cap on Property Tax Assessment Increases (requires state approval)
  • $300 million: Extend the General Corporation Tax to Insurance Company Business Income (requires state approval)
  • $200 million: End the Unincorporated Business Tax exemption for hedge fund profit (requires state approval)
Total: At least $1.2 billion, but most would need state approval; more realistic options for next year.

So if a group of concerned parents, teachers, and bloggers can come up with enough savings and revenue increases to save all the laid-off teachers (without pay cuts or salary freezes to pedagogical, administrative, and/or support staff, no less!), then it appears that there is in fact a plan.

Your move, Mayor.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bring Back Child Labor

That's what some Republicans want, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Democrats chiming in any moment now. Employers would love to put kids to work at any and all hours, and the hell with school and all that other nonsense. If it weren't for all this education crap, they'd be ensured of an extremely low-paid work force with even less hope for advancement than there already is now.

Last Friday I proctored an English Regents exam and the young woman in the seat closest to the door kept falling asleep. I had to keep asking her if she was OK, and eventually sent her out to wash her face and try to wake up. I asked her what the matter was and she told me she'd been working until 3 the previous morning. I told her her boss belonged in jail.

She told me she worked in a catering hall. When I asked how old she was she told me she was 18. So I suppose her employer is not criminally liable. However, if this dirtbag could hire 16-year-old high school students instead of waiting until they're 18, I have no doubt the girl's younger friends would be joining her.

Of course the girl's judgment is poor. But she's a kid, and I don't expect sterling decisions from teenagers. Her employer ought to know better. Parents ought to know better as well.

Given the way this country treats education, it seems a national goal is to make sure no one knows better, except the billionaires who benefit from the exploitation of our children.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Do People Miss This Stuff?

Just read a blog post from a teacher complaining about a new contract that offers a 1% salary reduction. The blogger followed up with a request to give to his classroom via Donors Choose, the outfit that offered bribes to those who'd sit through Waiting for Superman,  a propaganda film that enabled and encouraged things like his own salary reduction,  not to mention giving up public school space to charter privateers like Geoffrey Canada and Eva Moskowitz.

I will not give a dime to Donors Choose, no matter what. To demonstrate it's not due to my inherent cheapness, I'll make a small donation to Class Size Matters instead.

If you would like to support a truly worthy cause, feel free to do the same.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

The American Economy Explained--in Two Minutes and 15 Seconds

From the Folks Who Brought You Green Dot Schools

There's now a push for a parent trigger law in New York. This law was passed in California in an effort to turn an elementary school into a charter.

The Parent Trigger was conceived by a group called Parent Revolution, formerly known as the Los Angeles Parents Union. It's no secret that the organization was founded by the Green Dot charter school chain, though occasionally there's a halfhearted effort to portray Parent Revolution as a “grassroots” parents' group.

And State Senator Gloria Romero, who sponsored the legislation in California, scored herself a nice gig with Democrats for Education Reform, after voters rejected her bid to become Superintendent of Public Instruction. It must be great to take all that "reform" money and run around creating even more faux-grassroots organizations, like "Educators4Excellence."

I've long found Green Dot and its outspoken founder to be obnoxious and disingenuous. Steve Barr claims teachers drop tenure to work for him, the Green Dot website proclaims its teachers have neither tenure nor seniority rights, yet I've repeatedly seen UFT sources state that its teachers had "just cause" protection. A prominent "reform" voice once told me that GD teachers were "counseled out" when there were problems. I've repeatedly asked union sources and journalists how many GD teachers went through its "just cause" process, and how many teacher jobs were preserved as a result. I've never gotten an answer.

The UFT is partners with a Green Dot school, and while it may have precluded Barr taking over a city school, as he did in LA, it's hard to see how this organization advances the interests of working people (you know, the kind our kids grow up to become). This parent trigger thing just looks like one more "reform" effort to close and privatize even more schools.

This does not help us or our kids (though I never deluded myself Green Dot had any such goal to begin with). Nonetheless, this is one heck of a thank you for our union bringing them to the Big Apple.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Something for Nothing

Nice if you can get it, and that's precisely what Mayor4Life Bloomberg is demanding from city workers. Basically, you give me 30 million a month, more than I would have saved by firing all those teachers, and I won't fire all those teachers.

Yet nowhere in the article does it mention the actual emergency which necessitated all those firings, to wit, a 3.2 billion dollar surplus. Last year, you probably recall, the mayor dropped the firings by unilaterally canceling the 8% pattern raise all other city workers got for teachers. I'm still not clear how that's okay with PERB, which insists on the pattern for all whenever it's such a stinker no one wants it. In 2005 the UFT agreed to draconian concessions to get a compensation increase that didn't even keep up with cost of living.

The real problem is this--if we give Bloomberg that money, it will not be enough, just as unilaterally canceling teacher raises was not enough. Next year, there will be another crisis. Perhaps the surplus will only be one or two billion, and we'll really need to cut back.  Bloomberg will roll out the LIFO nonsense again, and do his darndest to circumvent the contract he and the Tweedies agreed to. He'll find some other stooge in the Senate to demand we kill seniority protections only for teachers, and only for teachers in New York City, and he'll claim that's the magic bullet to force the improvements he hasn't been able to make over this long, long decade.

Do we want to even consider giving Bloomberg this money? Only if we can preclude a repeat of all this nonsense next year, and the year after. Bloomberg needs a face-saving out for his idiotic and longstanding contention that teachers need to be fired.  That's why it's a good thing they haven't given it up yet.

Let's make him pay dearly for any way out, and let's not give him another in come next year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Incredibly Shocking Truth About Transformation

It appears the much-touted "transformation model," much beloved by Arnie Duncan, Mayor Mike and President Hopey-Changey, has failed to turn around the troubled Central Falls High School. The first approach, you may recall, was to fire all the teachers.  Education Secretary Duncan "applauded" that action. (Will someone remind me what the heck I was thinking when I voted for Barack Obama?)

Personally, I'm shocked that the 75% of Central Falls students receiving free lunch are not suddenly affluent. I was also certain that the 22% receiving ESL instruction would suddenly achieve native fluency.  How could that have failed?  There is, of course, the possibility that the reason kids are failing has something to do with the kids themselves, with poverty, with learning disabilities, or with other factors I cannot conceive of. However, if that were the case, surely educational experts like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan would have acknowledged them.

As they did not, it's pretty clear to me that these factors are irrelevant, and that failure must be met head on with a drastic and draconian solution that makes no sense whatsoever. After all, that's what they do in public schools, and both Arne and Obama thoroughly endorse such actions, or in fact any actions Bill Gates deems necessary. It's fairly obvious the  only workable solution is to close the White House and replace 50% of qualified employees. Let's replace Obama with Ralph Nader, who has a proven record of accomplishment. We can replace Duncan with Diane Ravitch, or Linda Darling Hammond, or Leonie Haimson, or pretty much anyone who isn't insane.

Sure, you say, these people aren't elected. Well, neither is Bill Gates, Eva Moskowitz, or Michelle Rhee. In fact, Rhee pretty much brought down the elected official who selected her.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sometimes There Are Good Reasons for Resisting Change

One of the most frustrating things about my last year at my old school was the problem of "change for the sake of change." I worked in a school that was excellent by any measure--test scores were up, parents were happy, students were achieving and felt safe and happy. So many of the teachers at my school were never sure why the place had to be reinvented from the ground up when our new principal came, and this feeling that changes were being made simply so the new principal could assert the new authority that came with the job never went away.

Change for the sake of change should surely be the poisonous #13 on this list of why educators resist change. Coming from a blog focused on admins, it's nice to see school leaders talking frankly about how change-resisters aren't lazy or contrarian or afraid, but often have good reasons to fight back against change. That's not to say that change-resisters are always correct or that at least some changes aren't productive and healthy. But it is to say that they don't necessarily dig their heels in for lack of work ethic or appreciation for reality.

One commenter on this post noted, of change-for-the-sake-of-change school leaders, "It doesn't really matter if the change is good or bad; what matters is that the change agents (often people using innovation to advance their careers) will soon find something new and shiny on which to fix their star." A question worth asking, when your supervisor wants to change something that you're not sure needs changing, is why this change might be happening and if the change is happening towards the latest fad. (I'm looking at you, Workshop Model!) And swapping one fad for another as a matter of ongoing policy is not good for anyone.

This subject is on my mind, I suppose, because I stay in touch with most of my colleagues from my old school on the Interwebz, and yesterday there was an onslaught of commentary from them about a particularly dispiriting day at work. What a shame, coming from such wonderful people and teachers. I can only hope that they, too, are able to resist the crushes to self-efficacy that unwarranted, baseless, and continuous change can bring. Administrators would do well to remember this, and know what their teachers are going through when yet another miracle cure for all that supposedly ails a school is promised.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Things Joel Klein Doesn't Notice

I marvel that Joel Klein gets major publication to post the nonsense he writes, but being a corporate-backed celebrity, one can place op-eds fairly easily. This week, Joel is amazed that candidates backed by billionaires are appointed with such regularity. What a shock, to see money and power working hand in hand.

Joel, of course, left his post to make millions from Rupert Murdoch, who cares so deeply about schoolchildren he's backed every move to destroy the middle class their parents hope they will enter. His company's most recent foray is the receipt of a 27 million no-bid contract to replicate ARIS, the crappy boondoggle of a computer program that Klein managed to acquire for NYC for over three times the price.

Klein praises KIPP, amazed at how successful it is with the kids who complete the program. He can't be bothered figuring how many kids drop out beforehand. Apparently, they've eliminated the achievement gap, that same gap he himself claimed to have eliminated before NY admitted it had dumbed down the tests on which Klein based the claim.

Klein then goes on to make his standard attack on lifetime tenure, failing to note there is no such thing and that teachers are routinely brought up on charges. Klein forgets his failures to convict teachers for such things as giving watches to kids, bringing plants to school, or using DOE fax machines to report malfeasance, all of which occurred under his watch. He then attacks pensions, as he always does, failing to note that he himself took one, to supplement the millions he gets from Murdoch.

But mostly, he fails to notice that absolutely nothing he did as chancellor actually improved the New York City school system he ran for eight interminable years. And apparently, the fact that none of his "reformer" colleagues have done anything to better the lives of kids is not worthy of note either.

But that's all in a day's work when Rupert Murdoch puts you on the gravy train.

(Picture from NYC Public School Parents Blog)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are You Smarter than a Sixth Grader?

 I have no idea, but here you can see 6th grader Sierra Hull playing mandolin with Alison Krauss.  If you haven't heard Alison Krauss yet, well, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Think Twice Before Taking Your Kid... a McDonald's play area. Here's what one parent found:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Walcott's First Draft

As Chancellor, I want the best for our kids. That's why I'm closing their schools, and allowing charters to take over. After all, charters are better than public schools 17% of the time, so it's crucial we give our kids the chance to enroll in a grueling, dehumanizing lottery process in which they have a small chance of getting into one of these schools. That way, if they do, they have a 17% chance of getting a superior education. Me, I sent my kids to private schools until high school, because I don't take chances with my own kids.

In any case, I'd like to give the rest of you the opportunity to take that crapshot. I figure if 20% actually get into the charters, that 3.4% of your kids will have better schools. But consider this--if I can double the number of charters, 6.8% of your kids will have better schools. Perhaps one day I'll be remembered as the chancellor who managed to get 3.4% more kids better schools.

Let me tell you, I don't take this responsibility lightly. I want to close all the public schools the failing public schools because it's very important to me to raise the number of privately-run charters improve education for that 3.4% all children. We do meticulous research before taking the drastic step of closing a school, and we stand by our findings. We don't care how many people get up and protest at the hearings on closings, and we don't worry about what people say to us at the PEP meetings when we allow public comment.  Mayor Bloomberg knows best, and we all know that he'd fire us if we disagreed with his findings.

Sure, 78% of public school parents think we're going the wrong way. But I ask you, is that a reason to change horses mid-stream? If it means my job? What are you, nuts?  No one wants to have their jobs on the line. That's why that pain-in-the-ass union is always complaining. Sure, some Gloomy Guses ask why we want to fire teachers, reducing the number of working teachers by 6,000, when we're sitting on a 3.2 billion dollar surplus.

That's simply because it's better to have kids in a class of 140 with a good teacher than a class of 25 with a mediocre one. And Mayor Bloomberg and I know what a good teacher is. A good teacher is a low-paid, non-unionized, constantly terrified for her very livelihood trained professional who knows how to look the other way when we commit outrageous violations train her students for a fuller and more rewarding life. And believe me, with the money we save on losing the 6,000 teachers this year, we will focus on expanding our bad ideas opportunities for all our kids.

And remember, I've pledged never to say a bad word about teachers. I shall show the utmost respect while I fire them based on deficits that don't exist usher them into a world of new opportunity and outrageously raise the class sizes of those remaining create new challenges for our always-excellent working teachers.

Thank you, and be confident that together, we will achieve whatever the hell Michael Bloomberg says great things.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

January Sounds Far Away, But...'s not far from the mind of high school teachers and principals, who are asking the state to reconsider the discontinuance of January Regents exams. New York State requires that students pass a minimum of five Regents exams to graduate from high school, and in the past, they have been offered three times a year: January, June, and August. With January's administration out the window, New York students will only have 2 shots a year at the exams.

Understandably, this makes high school teachers and principals upset and nervous, which is to say nothing of the kids. With schools set to be judged even more by test scores for the upcoming school year, losing 1 of 3 chances to boost their numbers will hurt. And it's a blow to the kids who struggle with the tests as well; I personally know kids who have tried to pass certain exams 3 and 4 times before actually succeeding. The principals, in the open letter linked above, called the Board of Regents' move "penny wise and pound foolish," noting that the elimination of the administration of the January Regents saves the state less than 0.01% of the overall state education budget.

It is absurd and, frankly, unfair to cut back the administration of these crucial exams during a time in which these scores count more than ever for students, teachers, and principals. The State Board of Regents should reconsider.

And are we all enjoying this opportunity to dream, if briefly, of frosty January? Wishing you all a Chancellor's Conference Day/Brooklyn-Queens Day full of plentiful air conditioning.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

On the Importance of Communication

Yesterday morning, in my mailbox, I found a note declaring there should be no parties during class. You can imagine my surprise. After all, here we are, almost ten months into the year, and they're setting policy. And here I am, partying since September, ready to continue, and lo and behold, I'm instructed to halt immediately. Isn't that a kick in the pants?

This is not so bad as the last miscommunication, when the principal told us to not work. Imagine my surprise when he walked in on me, found me not working, and asked what the hell I was doing. "You told us to not work," I reminded him.

He was furious. "I told you to network!" he said.

My feeling is, you have to lay out a policy and stick to it. If you want people not to have parties, just say so. If you want them to network, well, I guess you actually ought to have parties.

Just one more reason I'll never make principal.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Educators 4 QuashingDissent

While it was nice to see an administrator pointing out the obvious flaws in E4E's public relations approach at GothamSchools yesterday, what was far more telling, in GS's coverage of the administrator's letter, was Sydney Morris's response. Morris responded, "E4E is, and always has been, a membership organization and some [emphasis mine] events are for members only...[W]e sometimes [emphasis also mine] have to limit the numbers of attendees we have..."

I call shenanigans. As I mentioned in the E4E pieces in GS last week, I and other bloggers have tried, a number of times, to RSVP to E4E events. While I can't speak for everyone, my own intentions were more or less pure. I thought I would hear what they and their invited speakers have to say, meet some fellow teachers, and have a free drink. Seemed simple enough. But every time I have tried to RSVP to an E4E event, the "loyalty oath" is included in the online form, and it cannot be bypassed. I have yet to hear about the E4E event that is open to the non-oath-signing public.

John Galvin, the administrator who authored the open letter, noted, "If you want to sponsor events that are closed to the public and only open to your members, that is your right. However, if you want to engage the public in debate and to test your ideas to the widest audience possible, then it makes no sense. It raises questions about the motives of your group and the commitment of your group to engage in honest debate with those that agree and disagree with you." And he's right. As teachers, we encourage our students to consider and address counterclaims to their positions in their writing; we facilitate open, but respectful, debate in our classrooms. While some of the criticism directed at E4E has turned ugly and personal, most of it, certainly from myself and NYC Educator, has, in my opinion, been direct and fair. It is not a savage ad hominem takedown to want to know, for example, where a group's funding is coming from, especially the funding that has allowed this nascent "grassroots" group to move into prime office space in midtown Manhattan.

So I'll continue to wait for that mythical "open" E4E event. And if you can't contain your excitement and REALLY want to go in the meantime, you can sign the non-loyalty oath on Facebook before you go to keep your conscience clear.

Monday, June 06, 2011

In Good Company

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, recently sold for a dollar,  is now writing for Bloomberg. Unsurprisingly, he's written a hatchet job on Diane Ravitch. Ravitch, for the unforgivable offense of examining the actual facts about so-called education reform, must be dealt with. Alter does so via an ad hominem piece that might be persuasive to those who have not studied the actual results of "reform." Alter expresses shock that Arne Duncan would speak against her, despite the undeniable fact that Duncan has been on the reform bandwagon since well before he was Education Secretary.

Most reformers, according to Alter, are not Scott Walker. They don't want to stop collective bargaining. Take Mayor Bloomberg, Alter's employer, for example. He only wants to do layoffs based on innuendo, on unsubstantiated accusations. He also wants to eliminate right of return, so that the layoffs are actually firings. What could be wrong with that? Arne Duncan simply wants entire school staffs fired, like they tried in Rhode Island, and thinks natural disasters are great opportunities to privatize. Of course, Alter doesn't see how privately run charter schools are privatizing.

Alter's been thoroughly refuted at the Public School Parents blog, both here and here, in Accountable TalkSalon, and in the ceaselessly observant Schools Matter. Of course, with Billionaire Boys' Club money everywhere, he's far from alone. It's unpleasant to be attacked, even when attacks are baseless. Teachers know well, as every day we open the tabloids to find double-paged assaults on our sins, more unforgivable each day. How dare we be paid? Why should teachers have health care or pensions? Wal-Mart employees are barely paid, and have benefits that are essentially worthless. Wouldn't America be a better place if teachers were the same?

That's the sort of thinking that goes on in America today, and it's a huge problem. I'm very sorry to see Ravitch attacked like this. Since racism is no longer as chic as it once was, someone else needs to be Willie Horton. For the last few years it's been teachers.

Ravitch, as a truth-teller, has been thrust in our midst. They say people are measured by the company they keep. We've got a very hard road ahead, but standing with people like Diane Ravitch, at the very least, should let us know we're going the right way.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Is Facebook Asinine?

She's got a great response. I love her expressions. Were I to deliver a message in this fashion, people would surely toss tomatoes at their computer screens.

Friday, June 03, 2011

They Mean Business Over There

I was screaming at one of my Chinese students the other day, probably because she made a subject-verb agreement error, or spelled "writing" with two Ts, or committed some other infraction I found absolutely unforgivable.

"How could you?" I pleaded, as dramatically as I could muster.

She laughed at me. Just sat there laughing out loud. I was shocked. How dare she?

"Aren't you afraid of me any more?" I asked.

"No Mister, I've never been afraid of you."

"Why not?"

"Because this is nothing. You just say one thing. But in China, the teacher yells at you for an hour."


"Yes, and they are way more angry than you."

"Okay," I said. I walked over to her, ready to try yelling at her for an hour, though I knew the class would be over well before that.

"Action!" shouted the girl next to her, gamely.

But the girl stopped me. "It's all wrong," she said. "You should be sitting down, and I should be standing up. Also, I can't look at you. I have to keep my eyes to the floor."

"Wow. Okay, I'll try."

"No, it's not good yet. You need to have a pot of tea. Then you pour yourself a cup. Drink tea, then scream. Drink more tea, then scream some more. And you can't stop until I'm crying."

With all the nonsense they throw at us, I have to admit I'm still glad to teach here in the United States.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

As the Weather Grows Warm: A Quote Collage for the First Week of June

Climate control:

--half of my students

--the other half of my students

--the first half of my students

--the three students who are still doing their work


"Has anyone seen the following seventeen students who may have cut their eighth period class today?"

"The following students were found on the street corner outside the school building during eighth period yesterday: [long list of students, including some of the seventeen]"
--e-mail from the deans

"Miss, I had to cut your class, my pet ferret died and my aunt who's here from Argentina for only eight hours is officiating the funeral and my brother threatened to join the Marines if I was even five minutes late for it."
--one of the seventeen students

--one of the seventeen who is clearly not very creative

Other challenges:

--anyone who ever comes into my room after it has been occupied by 25-30 teenagers

--a thirsty/hot student OR a bored student--only an expert teacher can tell which

--student who went to the bathroom twenty minutes ago

--student who is on the verge of failing the class

And finally...


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Rethinking Teacher Contracts

The geniuses at Education Sector have come up with ways to economize on those wasteful teacher contracts. If only we could eliminate raises, sick days, pensions, class size restrictions, and those awful health and pension benefits, we'd have more money to lavish on the children we love.

Thanks to Education Sector, our children can look forward to even more opportunities to get jobs without raises, sick days, pensions, workload limits, and those awful health and pension benefits. This is a great way to sustain tax breaks for those who really need them, like Bill Gates and Eli Broad. But why should we limit such great ideas to teachers?

Couldn't we save money on restaurant bills if we got rid of this whole tipping nonsense?  I mean, if an entree costs 18 bucks, shouldn't it cost 18 bucks? And are we actually paying for those hairnets I see them using in the kitchen? And what about those long rubber gloves the dishwasher is using? How will he know how hot the water is? And are we actually paying to heat it?

Often, I'll see restaurant staff sitting around doing nothing. Sometimes they'll even be eating. Is the price of their food reflected in my eighteen bucks? And if they have nothing to do, shouldn't they go out and make the world a better place? In fact, if they weren't wasting their time cleaning the restaurant, they could clean the streets and save us the expense of hiring sanitation workers. What the hell does Education Sector care if there's a little grease on their plates, or the odd rodent jumping into their soup? Maybe that 18-dollar entree could be ten bucks if we stopped throwing money at the problem.

Also, I've just about had it with these doctors. Why should they have health insurance? If they're so smart, can't they heal themselves? Why should they have professional associations lobbying for them? Are they socking money away for their retirement? Wouldn't it be better if they just stopped charging so much? And what's with these receptionists? Are we paying for them? Wouldn't it be better if the doctors came out, greeted you personally, filled out whatever forms need filling out, and took you into the office?

What really grinds my gears are those waiting rooms. If there are too many people, doctors ought to bring them all into the offices, and that way they'd be sufficiently motivated to get them out quickly. The more they treated, the more money they'd make. You know, like merit pay. Let's find ways to keep it moving and stop wasting time. As long as they're effective doctors, who gives a golly goshdarn how many patients they treat?

Forward-thinking Americans could apply the Education Sector method to many areas of society, save lots of money, and give it back to billionaires in tax cuts.

Because that's what our nation needs more of.