Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's All Downhill from Here!

Well, congratulations, educators! We're officially halfway through the 2011-12 school year today and, assuming you haven't faked your own child's death or anything lately, you're still holding on here with us. Good job. Take a well-deserved slug of your coffee, probably the first of many on this chaotic first day of the new semester for us high school teachers, and raise your mug in salute to your colleagues.

I'm grateful that my schedule and rosters endured minimal shuffling with the switch of the semester. I had to fight to get a few of my kiddies placed back in my classes after a couple of cavalier program changes, but my charm and persistence paid off. The programming teacher is probably hoping not to see my name in his e-mail inbox until April, but that's why he gets paid the big bucks.

Other changes have taken place at TMS2. Ronny graduated early, presumably to start his Springsteen-esque new life in New Jersey sooner. Alice still isn't back, and we still miss her. Natasha is returning, though, and thank heavens, because what would we do for chuckles and facepalms without her? However, my class sizes have increased, again, so I can look forward to more plaintive cries of "Damn, miss, how many more kids they gonna put in here?" This is a good question. I don't yet have kids seated on the windowsills, so maybe a few more.

Of course, I'm mindful that my elementary and middle-school colleagues have soldiered through the past week with none of this Regents nonsense by which to take something of a late January breather. I remember those days, and I hope you are all hanging in there until the real break in February.

Happy spring semester!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg and Merit Pay

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after denying educators the 8-plus percent all other city employees got for the 2008-2010 bargaining period, is now touting a $20,000 raise for those teachers who can manage to be rated "highly effective" two years in a row. There are caveats, of course, including the fact that the evaluation system on which this is based does not yet exist, the tests that would help determine the evaluation do not yet exist, and the agreement with the union on which this would be based does not yet exist.

But none of those things matter to the papers, who plaster headlines about Bloomberg's big raise for teachers all over the place. You see how that works? You give away nothing and the whole world praises you for your generosity. It beats the hell out of actually doing anything.

There are, of course, other issues, like the fact that the last merit pay scheme failed utterly and was abandoned as a result. Now, as a teacher, if I try a new lesson and it bombs, it's not my first instinct to expand it into an entire unit. Of course, I'm not an indispensable genius like Mike Bloomberg, and I wouldn't thwart the twice-voiced will of the people in order to buy myself a third term either. Then there are those darn principals who find the entire evaluation process insane and unworkable, but that doesn't get in the way of Mayor Mike's plan.

Mayor Mike says it's absurd that regular teachers get paid as much as excellent teachers. Now certainly, there are those who say that neither Mayor Mike nor any of his Tweedie birds would recognize good teachers if they were beating them over their heads (which is not to say NYC Educator endorses this particular practice).  It's certainly true the biggest merit pay program, despite the nonsense in the NY Times, hasn't resulted in any gains in the only thing "reformers" care about--test scores. So now, with nothing in place to prepare for this system.

Mayor Mike and his minions insist that excellence is identifiable and tangible, and must be met with financial rewards. They say excellence or lack thereof is something that must be reflected in salary (though only in teacher salary, as it applies to no other municipal workers). An odd concept, considering it thus far applies to a system that largely exists only in the minds of raving anti-unionist NYC op-ed writers.

Still, it goes a long way toward explaining why Mayor Bloomberg gets paid one dollar a year.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Do You Suppose Would Happen...

...if you were in a well-equipped classroom, with a capacity to make video, and had your students direct a propaganda film for your favorite cause, whatever that might be?

Yet a publicly-funded charter had a bunch of kids make a publicity film for Governor Andrew Cuomo, and aside from this piece in the Times, there is no consequence whatsoever.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Klingon Cloaking Device

Hi folks. It's me,  Bill Gates. I'm the guy who brought you Windows, the very best operating system you can get on a $400 computer, and I'm here to tell you that I've turned my expertise to education. Sure, some people say I know nothing about education, but they're a bunch of phony bastards, and I hate phony bastards.

So anyhoo, as you know, we've spent millions of dollars observing teachers and videotaping them in order to identify the best teachers so we can fire the other 99% of phonies. But we've had some problems doing that. That kills me.

It turns out that most of the teachers we saw were actually doing a good job. Since they're a bunch of phonies, there's only one explanation I can come up with. Clearly the teachers act better when being observed, and sit around reading comic books when our cameras aren't up. I was watching a TV show the other day when it came to me. That's why I've given my ace Microsoft team the task of coming up with a Klingon cloaking device with which to observe teachers. This caused a great deal of consternation amongst my crack team, many of whom suggested what we needed was an invisibility cloak, like Harry Potter has. Who the hell is Harry Potter? I'm Bill Gates, dammit, and I know what we need. We need a Klingon cloaking device.

Once I told those bastards, they got the message all right. So now, we will be able to creep in unseen, find out what really goes on in those damn classrooms, and fire the hell out of those unionized lowlife phonies. In fact, I get a chuckle when I think about all the things we can do. Since no one will see them, administrators could write up any damn thing, and use it to fire teachers, like those bastards at Pencey Prep.

In fact, once we fire them all, we can push charter schools in and finally have people turn a profit from this industry. Sure all the manufacturing jobs are gone, but why shouldn't someone make a damn buck from education? Or, preferably, a million bucks? With just a little seed money, we've been able to pretty much get the whole country racing to follow our agenda. The next step is to make the education system look like New Orleans, with 75% charters and rising. Who needs public schools? They're full of phonies anyway. I hate phonies.

We haven't figured out how to flood the whole country, but dammit, we're making good progress. Even if we can't control nature, controlling big-time politicians is child's play.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

When All Else Fails, Write Your Essay in Your Native Language?

Like most other high school English teachers across the city, I spent yesterday scoring the English Regents exam. Specifically, I ended up grading many of the exams of our IEP and ELL students, who receive testing accommodations like extra time, having the test read aloud to them, and having a scribe record their answers for them.

Some of the results were pretty good. I had seen some of the students at Saturday school. For some of them, it was the third or fourth time they were taking the exam, and they were determined to get it over and done with.

I'm always amazed, incidentally, by how boring the reading passages on the Regents exam are. I suppose the Board of Regents has to avoid offending thousands of people on these exams, but still, there is so much great and compelling writing in the world that kids might actually find themselves engaged with reading. Imagine a Regents exam that had, for example, an excerpt from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried paired with one of the Great War poets like Owen or Sassoon. Or one of Jane Austen's most sarcastic commentaries on female behavior paired with a feminist poet like Audre Lorde or Adrienne Rich. Just in case I'm still not supposed to talk about what was on this year's exam, I'll refrain from being more specific, but let's just say that I found the reading passages uniformly dull and unengaging (at least through the eyes of, say, a sixteen-year-old young man from Brooklyn), with the possible exception of the nonfiction piece.

BUT ANYWAY. The point I really wanted to make is that, while grading these exams, I came to a critical lens essay written entirely in a student's native language. I stopped dead in my tracks and consulted with the IEP teacher about whether or not this student had an accommodation. No, I learned, the English Regents must be written entirely in English. Other exams have accommodations for translation, but not the English Regents.

Which makes sense, on one hand, I suppose. But on the other, this student was clearly not ready for the challenge of writing an entire essay in English. It was someone's decision in Albany, someone who has never met this child or knows anything about what it's like to be forced to sit for 4.5 hours (with extended time) and take an essay in a language one understands well enough to slog through a fairly insulated and well-supported school day, but not enough to write a whole essay with absolutely no assistance.

I believe in high standards. I really do. But I don't believe in crazy ones.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Doesn't Ring Nobels

Yesterday I read a piece about Alfred Nobel 3 times to a group of ESL students. It was a pretty interesting read, for me. Of course, I've been speaking English all my life. Did the kids I read it to understand? Tough to say. I'm a pretty enthusiastic reader, yet I observed one kid incessantly tapping his foot to the point I considered asking him to stop (I didn't), and another on the verge of nodding out, then waking, then fading out again.

I always wonder what it would be like if I were sitting in China and someone were reading some clever and informative piece to me. Would I tap my foot? Would I fall asleep? Or would I politely feign understanding and hope for the best? After all, I know a few words in Chinese. Of course, I couldn't write Chinese to save my life. A character for every word? That's a lot of characters, far more than the 30 or so to whom I was reading.

I certainly hope they pass. If they don't, they'll be taking it again in June, and maybe again in August. There used to be these alternate tests they could take if they screwed up, but now we're getting tough and squeezing newcomers by the neck until English pops out. Not the most enlightened approach, but what can you expect in a state where Andrew Cuomo passes for a Democrat?

It's not a whole lot of fun teaching kids who desperately need instruction in English how to pass a test that won't aid them to learn it. But hey, no excuses. So what if you don't know English? We need to know how well you fill in these dots. In the old days, they gave people who didn't speak English IQ tests, in English, and determined by their scores they were mentally deficient.

These days, we give non-English speakers tests in English, and pretty much demonstrate the mental deficiency of those who design and mandate the tests.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The School Report Card Twilight Zone

There is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between superstition and politics, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of Mayor Bloomberg's imagination. It is an area which we call the NYCDOE Twilight Zone...


I'm doing my semester grades right now, and unfortunately, I have to fail some of my best students.* I know, it seems really unfair. Some of them have 80s and 90s in my class, and they worked really hard to improve their grades that were in the 60s and 70s. But that's the way it goes, you know?

They're pretty upset, as you can imagine. They don't get it. "But Miss Eyre," they're saying, "I did everything you told me to do. In fact, the last time you talked to me, you said I was doing so much better and that I was getting an A in your class. So why am I failing now?"

"You don't know how this is going to mess me up!" some of them are protesting. "I'm going to be off track for graduation! I thought I was doing okay! I mean, come on, look at my average! You told me this was going to be more than enough to pass!"

But that's the way it is. Why should they work with one set of predictable, consistent, fair standards? Better that they learn that the goalposts are constantly shifting in life, and that people in responsibility don't have to keep their promises. After all, that's real life, right?

*obvious hyperbole, I hope


Sounds crazy, right? Except that's exactly what's happening at schools across the city that earned As and Bs on their report cards but are nevertheless facing closure. If these report cards are supposed to be our gauges of school quality, how can anyone trust them when schools that allegedly make great progress and are rated so well are threatened with closure?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Merit Pay for Reporters?

In an article that's largely a clarification of the nonsense that passes for news around here, a NY Times reporter still drops the ball in a large way. There is acknowledgement that the brouhaha over the evaluation system is not, in fact, over the system itself. The system, of course, is flawed in that it revolves around value-added, which has no basis of success either in research or practice. Personally, I'd hope a NY Times reporter would do enough research to know that, but here I'm asking for the moon.

A more fundamental error is the reporter's apparent ignorance that, since 2008, everyone but educators received an 8% plus increase over two years. Why does no reporter in NYC seem to know that? This leads to the outrageous contention, made by this reporter, that Bloomberg has offered substantial raises to teachers.

In fact, he's done no such thing. He's tossed 20 thousand dollars into the air and asked teachers to jump for it. The likelihood of getting it, for real live teachers, is remote at best. Principals tear out their hair every year when the annual budget cuts come out. How the hell are they supposed to meet Bloomberg's ever-shifting capricious demands when they haven't even got the means to run their schools? How is everyone supposed to perform the tunes demanded by our corporate overlords when are schools are run-down, crumbling, overcrowded, and class sizes are capacity or higher?

All due respect, it really behooves education reporters to be well-informed, particularly if they have the audacity to say, or even imply unknowingly, that teachers ought to be judged on so-called merit.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Today's Cartoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Is it Real, or Is it Corporate Media Crap?

Take heart, my brother and sister teachers, and don't believe all the nonsense they plaster all over the papers. Were you to do that, you'd need to believe:

Hedge fund managers care about kids. Teachers don't.

It's kind of amazing to watch the people who put the economy in the toilet, where it still is, lecture us on yet another topic about which they know nothing. I mean, you'd think that once these people failed so miserably in their own field, they wouldn't presume to jump into another. Still, there is great allure in breaking what is likely the last bastion of vibrant unionism, to wit, us, and creating a generation of employees the caliber of McDonald's and Walmart, on both of which Whitney Tilson is bullish. The money we don't get could then fill their considerable pockets. Nonetheless, I fail to see how an ocean of crappy jobs with low pay, no security and no benefits helps those children they shed all those crocodile tears over.

There is a crisis in education that must be fixed this very minute.

There's mixed news here. With a large number of Americans living in poverty, a national disgrace, it's not surprising that a lot of kids don't do well in school. When you struggle to put food on the table, you don't always have time to make sure your kid does homework, let alone stress and reinforce its importance. And make no mistake, when both parents work 200 hours a week, the next best role model is not, in fact, the hedge fund manager who wouldn't set foot in your neighborhood on a bet. It's the teacher. It's you and it's me who care about these kids. For that offense, we are vilified daily by every tinhorn corporate whore of a politician, and by every newspaper in NYC.

The UFT is holding up the evaluation model because it doesn't want one.

This is ridiculous. In fact, I don't like the new evaluation model because it contains value-added, which is total crap. It can label excellent teachers as sub-par and has wild margins of error. Plus no one even knows what the hell the tests will even look like. Despite that, it was Mulgrew who went and made the deal with Albany. And DOE walked out not because of the evaluation, but because they would not bend on an appeals process that finds over 99.5% of U ratings worth sustaining. Principals make mistakes, even if Michael Bloomberg refuses to believe it.

Principals can't observe teachers unless they make an appointment.

Nonsense. My principal walks in on me whenever he likes. And over 27 years, I've had many supervisors and principals walk in unannounced and do formal observations. Where Bill Gates and the papers get this stuff is a mystery to me. There's nothing in the contract that precludes supervisors from walking in on teachers formally, informally, or whatever. Whether or not they choose to do so, of course, is another matter, and certainly not the fault of teachers.  You can and should ask for pre and post-observations, but that's pretty much it. A supervisor will work with you on improving your lesson beforehand, assuming the supervisor is good, or capable of constructing a decent lesson or controlling a class. I would assume none of the above, but I always hope for the best.

What other lies have you seen in the media? Feel free to list and/ or refute them in the comments.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Getting Even?

There are many good reasons for teachers not to bully children. First and most obviously, it's wrong, followed closely by the fact that it is illegal and you could lose your job if you engage in it. We as educators are meant to build the capacities of children, be honest with them but also fair and kind, and if we humiliate, belittle, and hurt children, those very basic goals are not going to get accomplished. We can all agree on that, right?

Because I'm wondering what teachers along the way damaged some of our elected leaders so badly that they seem bent on spending their adult lives getting even. The latest example is Gov. Christie, across the water in New Jersey, calling (again) for dismantling tenure and for voucher programs. This follows hot on the heels of Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg deciding that schools can't be trusted to come up with evaluation frameworks that are fair and comprehensive and that such a system needs to be in the hands of Tweed/Albany/Trenton/etc. bureaucrats. Apparently supervisors in every other walk of public life are perfectly capable of evaluating even unionized--yes, unionized!--employees, but principals and schools can't swing it.

I emphasize that because I feel that, although, yes, we're still getting S and U at the end of the year, my supervisors give me frequent, specific feedback that is helpful and positively affects student achievement--not because someone who's never spent five minutes as an educator handed them a checklist and told them to, but because they care about our students and about my development as a professional. I don't know if my supervisors are just administrative Super-people or what, but yes, it's possible. I still feel that my rights are respected and considered while giving me the chance to improve.

But anyway, colleagues, just make sure you're nice. Don't let your babies grow up to be governors.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Remember

Sometimes I get nostalgic for my former students. A few years ago, I had this girl in my class who was awfully smart. In fact, ESL student that she was, she came up to me and said, "I smart than you." I made her say "I'm," showing her how she needed to close her mouth. Then I showed her the comparative "smarter," and finally she was able to repeat, "I'm smarter than you."

I told her I didn't need to be smarter than her. I only needed to know more English than her. She loved to argue with me. She would raise her voice and scream at me, I can't even remember about what, and I was game to scream back at her, "Now you're in BIG TROUBLE!" She knew she wasn't, and clearly couldn't care less. My largely shy students were amazed anyone would talk to a teacher like that, but loved seeing it done.

She had an odd habit. Whenever I turned my back, or was busy doing something with another student, she would sneak up to the board and draw rabbits, or hamburgers, or SpongeBob, or just about anything. She really had a good eye. The kids really seemed to admire her.

I'm certain of this because I often walk around to watch what kids are doing, and several of my kids felt it very important to copy what was on the board. Quite a few of my students would have sentences I'd written on the board punctuated by the odd hamburger. Perhaps they were hungry, though that may not explain why they copied the cute little rabbits. (I suppose some people eat rabbits, but not the cute ones.)

Have you got an unforgettable student? Tell us about him/ her/ them in the comments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Can Fool Some of the People...

On the heels of NYC Educator's excellent post yesterday about the linking of MLK's legacy with education "reform" comes, (in)appropriately enough, Mayor Bloomberg again co-opting MLK celebrations to discuss his "reform" agenda. Only this time, even fewer of the people of this city are swallowing his line. King believed strongly, most certainly, in equality of educational opportunities for all regardless of race, economic status, or other factors. But he also would not have stood for the denigration of public workers or for union-busting.

King's legacy is often linked with that of Abraham Lincoln. Both were imperfect men who nevertheless summoned, again and again, great courage during seemingly impossible battles. Both, of course, are connected to the ongoing struggle for equality in this country. And while reading of yesterday's protests--protesting not only educational inequality, but also "stop and frisk," gun violence, and other pressing and terrible concerns--I couldn't help but think of the quote often attributed to Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

New York City voters, parents, students, teachers--you know, the ones who don't have millions at their disposal and aren't close personal friends of the mayor--can't be fooled anymore. More and more people are realizing that what Mayor Bloomberg is selling isn't going to magically fix all of our problems--and we're not willing to trade away yet more of our rights, and venture blindly into yet another snake-oil solution, this time a new evaluation system, in hopes that we can look like the good guys and then take the blame when it doesn't work.

Let's revisit this one on Presidents' Day in a few weeks and see if more people have taken Lincoln's words to heart.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King's Legacy

I want to retch when I read Arne Duncan is going somewhere to pay tribute to MLK. In fact, King was assasinated while in Memphis, supporting striking workers. Duncan, conversely, is in the pocket of billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, tinkering with ineffectual pipe dreams that target working people and do nothing whatsoever to help the kids it's, ostensibly at least, his job to represent.

Four years ago, I voted for Barack Obama, hope and change. Yet, for the most part, all I see is the same corporate-friendly nonsense we saw for eight years under GW Bush. In Obama's defense, yes, he at least seemed to have gotten more votes than his opponent. And when I looked at John McCain's proposals for education, it seemed imperative to oppose him. Yet now, four years later, there seems little in educational policy that differs between McCain and Obama.

Bill Clinton had a Sister Souljah moment that he used to his political advantage. Obama has nothing whatsoever to say about that, because he's made teachers his Sister Souljah. When accused of being too liberal, he'll assert that he's all for screwing the teachers, so he's independent after all. But Obama, in fact, is not only screwing teachers. By lending legitimacy to the nonsense spouted by billionaire-backed "reformers," he's attacking what is likely one of the last bastions of vibrant unionism in this country. This, in fact, is why Gates, Broad, and the Walmart family support this nonsense.

What is being done to address the very real problems that lead to kids failing in school? Nothing. That's complicated. Far easier to blame unionized teachers and compare all-inclusive public schools to preposterously selective charters. Amazingly, with all their advantages, charters tend not to out-perform public schools. Nonetheless, all that money gets them films like Waiting for Superman, glorifying folks like Geoffrey Canada, who dismissed an entire cohort to juke his stats. Can you imagine what public schools could do, given such options? Of course, that would mean emulating the "ethics-shmethics" approach of the corporate "reformers."

How dare the corporate union-busters invoke MLK in their nonsensical and cynical attempts to bust union under the shallow pretense of helping children? Even now, uber-"reformer" Mike Bloomberg is suggesting it's a good idea to shed 33 schools of half their teachers. This would inevitably toss these schools into abject chaos, and Bloomberg doesn't give a golly goshdarn one way or the other. Because the kids, in fact, are the least of his concerns. He and his buds prefer to sent their kids to elite private schools with the small class sizes he denies public schools (despite taking hundreds of millions of dollars to create them).

And now Bloomberg, who thwarted voters to buy a third term, so as to work his financial genus on  NYC, wants to spend 350 million, at least partially to save 60 million in federal funds. Makes sense to him.

But MLK would never support these corporate "reformers." MLK would stand with working people. And MLK would know these children the corporatists purport to put "first" will grow up to be working people. In fact, teaching is a path to the middle class for kids like those I teach. Worsening working conditions for teachers not only hurts working people, but also narrows the options for these kids.

On this day, we should celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and be absolutely confident that he would stand with us in our struggle against the cynical, ruthless billionaires who would gleefully reduce us to the status of McDonald's fry cooks or Walmart "associates."

Shame on those who sully his memory by associating their self-serving agendas with him.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kim Jong-Un Hearts Mayor Mike

Yo, my peeps. It's me, Kim Jong-Un, and let me say, yo, I am, like, blown away by this Bloomberg dude. I mean, here I am, the Supreme Leader, and there's this little fat dude doing everything I want to do and more!!!!

First of all, this merit pay thing is sheer genius, dude. I mean, like, I can barely find the cash to pay my armies, and then, like, I'm supposed to feed my people and stuff, and it's all, like, ya know, too much. But if I could just, like, promise stuff, and give it to people now and then, I could, like, save a ton of casherino, baby! That's a new palace, maybe several, with Imax screens, like, just for playing Angry Birds!

Let me tell you, it's tiring getting rid of your enemies! But if all I need to do is stand around and promise crazy ass nonsense, I save a lot of time for important stuff, like PAR-TAY, dude!

I'm really hoping that this pays off. In fact, when Mayor Mike gets term-limited, if he doesn't just change the law again, I'm thinking of buying a place in the city and running myself. What could be cooler than having the run of New York, so nice they named it twice? And listen, yo, if you vote for me I can most def bring nuclear weapons to the Apple, dude.

Are you tired of those bastards from New Jersey coming over and taking your parking spaces, yo? Let me tell you, I will aim a missle right at Chris Christie's ass, and then we'll negotiate from there, dude. I will take everything this Bloomberg dude has done, and, like, TURN IT UP TO ELEVEN!!!!!

And listen, yo, I will not trifle with those damn unions. We'll aim a missle at UFT HQ and like, those dudes will not know what hit them! Or maybe they will! The point is, what's the dif? No muss, no fuss. Well, a little muss, but when we re-educate the unionized teachers we'll make them clean it up piece by piece!!!

I, like, wrote a poem about it:

I will be mayor in 2013!!!!!! 
Every New Yorker will be on the scene!!!! 
Me and my buds will be rolling in green!!! 
Those who defy me are, like, losing a spleen, yo.

And You Are There...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mayor Mike's First Draft

Good day New Yorkers. I'd like to address some educational issues that have been on my mind. First of all, the UFT are a bunch of crooks and lowlifes and I'd like to see them all fired before they're vested in the pension system. In order to achieve that, we have developed an evaluation system based on "value-added" metrics. Now sure, there are a lot of people who say, oh, value-added doesn't work, it has a huge margin of error, and it labels great teachers as bad teachers.

Well, we say, what the hell do you know? Ya bunch of chickens! So what if it doesn't work? How else will we get rid of teachers who are a drag on our budget? Listen, it's my position that people in the private sector are fired for no reason, so why can't we do the same in the public sector?  Anyway, if a teacher's salary is too high, we can just stack her classes with a bunch of losers, and voila! Instant ineffectiveness.

So, we pretended to negotiate with the UFT for a while to make it look good, but they were all, "Oh, we have to have due process," and, "Oh, what about accuracy?" while we say any principal should be able to fire anyone at any time for any reason. As far as I'm concerned, a principal can never be wrong about anything and would never fire anyone without a good reason. And even if that happens, why the hell should it be my problem?

In case that doesn't work, we have this Danielson framework thingie, and we'll walk in with rubrics and checklists and find a way to give that bad rating. As you know, Danielson offers extensive training in this framework, and no one in the DOE has taken any of it. We figure we'll just wing it and get the results we need.

Also, we're bringing back merit pay. While it didn't work the last time we used it, we figure we can bamboozle teachers into thinking they may get a tip for a job well-done, while we continue to deny them a contract with the raise we gave everyone else. After all, what principal in sound mind is gonna want to take 20,000 bucks out of his school budget and give it to some damn teacher? Plus it sounds really reformy, and I'm the mayor, dammit, and I get what I want, how I want whenever I want.

We're going to continue closing schools, which is a great policy, as we shuffle kids all over the place and look very, very tough. In fact, we close a whole lot of schools we've opened. But it really makes the public think we're doing something instead of just moving the problem around. Sure, according to NAEP, we've made no progress whatsoever over the last decade. But the important thing is that we look like we're doing something, and we'll bring another 50 charters in. They won't serve the high-needs kids who screw up the stats, so we'll be able to close even more schools, and look like we're really serious about this nonsense.

But it will make Eva Moskowitz look great, maybe! Anyway, I've still got eight votes on the PEP, our fake school board, and I'm Mike Bloomberg, dammit, and I can do whatever I want.

In conclusion, I'd just like to say I hope you've enjoyed my little talk. If not, screw you and the horse you rode in on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Teachers and Principals Behaving Badly

My brothers and sisters in education, if it wasn't painfully obvious, we are at work in difficult times. Principals and teachers alike are under attack, often due to factors that are well beyond our control. School budgets are bleeding money and that picture is not set to improve. So why, why, why are we still being treated to stories like this one, in which a school principal falsified over 900 hours of overtime to the tune of $40k? Or like this one, in which a teacher faked jury duty to play hooky? Or, in this most despicable case, a teacher falsifying a death certificate to claim that her daughter had died in Costa Rica and she needed to attend the funeral?

You don't have to tell me that these represent 3 cases out of a workforce over over 100,000 people when you combine 80,000 teachers with the number of APs and principals, the vast majority of whom are honest and hard-working. I know that very well, and the members of the public who are still rational know that too. But these stories not only represent fuel for the teacher-bashing fires of the Murdochs and Bloombergs of the world. They also represent betrayal, of our students and of each other. They represent selfishness and smugness of the worst order.

I don't know what's got me worked up into such a Jonathan Edwards-esque (the handsome gentleman in the photo) lather this morning, but then again, do I really need any other excuse? Do I really need to apologize for condemning these cases, which combine some of the elements that tend to make us, as public servants, angriest--the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality, the waste and fraud of public money and service, having trust rewarded with flagrant falsifications?

I'm really angry with these people. I can't imagine why they wouldn't deserve to be swiftly removed from their positions. Not just because I'm a taxpayer, but because I expect better from the people I would like to call colleagues.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Governor 1% Doesn't Want to Get Involved

Our esteemed Governor, Andrew Cuomo, says he doesn't wish to get in the middle of a conflict between the UFT and the DOE. After all, why should he bother helping out the largest school district not only in the state, but also the country? If that darn Mayor Bloomberg thinks every principal's judgment is infallible, who is he to question? After all, Mayor Bloomberg has all that money, so he must know something.

And despite his reluctance to get involved, Governor Andy has no problem publicly blaming unions:

“Over the long term, we need to overhaul the system and change the law on the books,” he added. “The Assembly-led legislation in 2010 protected the teachers union at the expense of the students and instituted a system that was destined to fail.”

So, aside from blaming teachers for declining to accept a baseless, untested system that would likely cause us to be fired for no reason, our fearless leader is remaining absolutely neutral. Instead, Governor Cuomo is going to start a commission. He's going to study the problem, and, of course, respect the findings of his commission. He'll get people who know everything about education, like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Wal-Mart family. And then he'll consult with real teachers, like Gates-funded E$E (okay, ex-teachers, but you get the point).

The commission will get great fanfare as they study the problem. Perhaps they'll be on Oprah with Arne Duncan, where they'll seriously discuss the plight of urban children, and how it doesn't matter if they're in classes of 200 as long as they have great teachers. Perhaps Bill Gates himself will come and explain his brilliant notion of making DVDs of great teachers and using the discs instead of the actual teachers. Sure, there won't be as much give and take as there would be with a live teacher, but you can't have everything.

I've absolute faith in this governor and I know precisely where his loyalties lie. He'll do right by those folks who supported him. Knowing that, it's almost enough to make me regret not having voted for him.

But it's not quite enough. I will never vote for another politician who targets teachers, unions, or working people. I don't care what political party they claim to be part of.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No Teacher Layoffs? Well, Um, Thanks

For the first time in a number of years, Mayor Bloomberg is not trying to scare us into submission not calling for teacher layoffs in the upcoming budget. Well, thank goodness for small favors, I guess. In the dark days of January, we'll take what we can get.

I suppose Mayor Bloomberg realized that he'd cried wolf on teacher layoffs one too many times, such that no one would actually believe him when he announced plans to lay off 20,000 teachers or whatever this year's number might have been. I'm surprised that he's not using the ongoing teacher evaluation fight to re-instill a fear of massive reductions in force, but maybe he, like me and many of my colleagues, is also feeling the joy of living being sucked out of him by a lack of daylight, the post-holiday blues, and the approaching crush of the January Regents. Or maybe not. Who knows.

Could this mean that Mayor Bloomberg, as his final term slips through his fingers like so much very expensive sand, is losing some cred? Or is he just out of energy for empty threats? Only time will tell, but for now, good news is good news.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Message from the Mayor

Good morning, New York. It's me, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. You know, a lot of people ask me what I'm up to nowadays. Well, I've got my eye on this new teacher evaluation system. I'm sure you know that last year I tried to get rid of that seniority clause when firing teachers. I say, let's keep the best teachers. The most effective teachers. And by that, I mean the most cost-effective teachers.

You know, there was a time in this country, before unions and child labor laws, when entrepreneurship ruled the day. And in private enterprise, we've moved back toward that model. That's why my people walked out of talks with the UFT last week. I mean, what's all this nonsense about independent arbitrators? Once we fire you, you should be fired. That's how we do it in a business model. We're the bosses and what we say goes.

Now sure, there are all those pissy teachers whining about, "Oh, you need a reason before you fire us." But we have reasons. You make too much money. You complain too much. You are a pain in the neck. You see what I'm getting at. That's how we do it in private enterprise. Basically, if we can fire people for no good reason in the private sector, we ought to do the same in the public sector.

Let me tell you, as a billionaire, that when you become a billionaire, you'll be glad we made these laws. So don't go whining about your rights, your job, and your benefits, because once you become as rich as I am, you'll have to pay into these things, and it will surely damage your bottom line. You can never have too much stashed away, if you get my drift. Once you accumulate enough money and power, you'll be able to manipulate the law to do whatever you like. For example, New Yorkers twice voted for term limits, and with the help of my good pal Christine Quinn, I was able to simply change the law and get a third term for both of us!

So, New York, stop thinking about short term nonsense, like losing your job, your health benefits, your home, and all that blah, blah, blah. Just keep your eye on the ball, and remember that when you become a billionaire, all my efforts will benefit you.

Thank you New York, and I wish you all a lucrative day.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Another Tip

Refrain from discussing the sexual prowess of your copying machine with your staff.

Tip of the Week

Don't fake your child's death to get an extra week off.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Them's Good Eats

I got some email suggesting yesterday's post about Sandra Lee was over the top. It was, of course.

But if you haven't seen Ms. Lee in action, here's a clip showing what she actually makes and urges people to eat. If she and Governor Andy are eating like this, it would explain a lot.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Nobody Doesn't Like Sandra Lee

Hi folks! I'm Sandra Lee, hostess of Food Network's best show, Semi-Homemade, and soulmate of none other than NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo! I have to tell you though, New Year's Day with Andy was no picnic!

Early in the morning I prepared my special Bisquick Boysenberry Surprise and Grape Kool-Aid Mimosas (recipes to follow in my upcoming book) but Andy was not happy. I could tell as he coughed out a chunk of Bisquick (I must remember to mix it more thoroughly!) that he was deeply troubled.

That was when he gave me The Look, and I knew something was up. "What is it, Andy Bear?" I asked, in the most sultry voice I could muster at that early hour.

"They're all taken!" he shouted. I had no idea what he meant, so I flashed him my best come hither look, hoping he'd forget what he was talking about and eat his darn Bisquick. But he went on.

"No Child Left Behind. That's a good one. Students First. Children First. I already tried using Race to the Top."

"Andy, what on earth are you talking about?"

"It's money, Sandra. How will I get money from DFER and the Koch Brothers if I don't clamp down on those damn unionized teachers? I promised to get tough with them, and if I don't impose some senseless evaluation system we'll still need reasons before we fire them."

"So, go ahead dear," I said. "Make up any darn system you like."

"But I need a name. I have to make it look like I'm doing it for the children. We always justify these programs that way, so it looks like we're helping people instead of screwing them!" Then he stormed out, leaving a full plate of Bisquick Boysenberry Surprise. I tried feeding it to the dog, but he choked on a hunk of Bisquick too, and spit out the whole darn thing.

Anyway, that afternoon I went to visit my BFF Gail, and there were a bunch of little children playing in the lobby. I tripped over one of them, and her mom started screaming at me. It was all my chauffeur could do to walk over and diplomatically suggest she cease and desist. I don't know how he does it!

Anyhoo, that night over a nice Potted Meat Food Product Bourginon, I told Andy Bear about the children in the lobby. He shot straight out of his chair shouting, "Sandra, you're a genius!" I was happy, and broke out a pitcher of Hawaiian Punch Mint Julep to celebrate. (The matching tablecloth really made the moment.)

"I'm the lobbyist for children!" he shouted. "I'll put together a commission with no teachers, no public school parents, and lots of friends of Bill Gates, the Walmarts and the Koch Brothers! They'll be lining up and doing cartwheels to donate!"

I love being Andy Bear's inspiration. I like to think of myself as his little good luck charm. But darn it, while he was waving his arms, he knocked the whole blessed pitcher out of my hand. (Good thing it was plastic.) Then he ran out, talking that business stuff on his cell, and I was left, as usual, to tell the servants to wipe up his mess. The dog started slurping up everything, but 15 minutes later vomited copiously all over my Anna Nicole memorial rug. Fortunately, you can get just about anything out of man-made fiber!

Toodles! Be checking in with you all soon!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Weather or Not

Sure has been cold here in NYC for the past two days. I've mentioned before that I was raised in the snowy hinterlands, so it's not like this weather especially bothered me or surprised me, but still, I'll grant that it was cold.

I was surprised by how lousy our attendance was, though I guess I shouldn't have been. No, it was not as bad as The Snow Day That Wasn't a Snow Day 2011, but still, not as good as I would have thought it would be. My upstairs neighbors have two elementary-school-aged girls, maybe 7 and 10, and judging by the volume of their exasperated mother by December 31st, children and parents alike were looking forward to school starting again. But maybe that's just the little ones. The high schoolers have taken their sweet time getting back to the business of learning. I'm not sure if it was the weather, the holiday break, or a pernicious combination of both, but attendance has definitely suffered for the first two days of the New Year.

So it was with a sad sense of recognition that I read this commentary from a charter school principal in Manhattan, lamenting, as just one example, a child who had missed 30 days of school so far this year. 30 days. That's a month and a half of school days. Tell me how well you think this child can read or do math, or what this child knows about history or science. Something tells me this kid wasn't at home memorizing the Encyclopedia Britannica. And, as the author of the commentary notes, how well is this child being prepared for the real world, in which more than a few days' absence without a medical excuse will often find one summarily fired?

And guess who will be blamed for this child's lack of success in the classroom?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Don't Buy a Used Car from this Man

Governor One Percent, Andrew "I am the Government" Cuomo is taking yet another principled stand. You may recall his first principled stand, when he made sure the millionaires who bought and paid for him wouldn't have to continue paying that nasty millionaires tax. Now he's standing up for the millionaires once again, billionaires like Gates, Broad and the Wal-Mart family actually, in demanding that an untested, ineffectual, and very troublesome evaluation system be imposed on city teachers.

Never mind that over a quarter of the state's principals have signed a petition opposing the system. Never mind that value-added evaluation is unsupported by research. Never mind that principals who've dealt with it find it insane, unworkable, and largely incomprehensible. The important thing, in Governor One Percent's principled opinion, is that the self-appointed billionaires education experts have decided it's a good idea, and if they have that much money, how could they possibly make a mistake of any kind?

So Governor Andy, apparently, will round up the usual suspects and appoint a commission. That way, it won't look like he alone made the decision to unilaterally break the agreement he made with state unions. And, in fact, he didn't. More likely Bill Gates, or DFER instructed him what to think, and he thought it. After all, there are suitcases of money to be had for politicians whose principles are for sale.

Still there is reason in our fair state. Several people have publicly challenged the governor to include, say, public school parents or teachers, or anyone who actually uses the system the "experts" are working their magic on.  Will the governor listen? Tough to say.

But don't bet on him disappointing his 1% constituency, the folks who own him body and soul.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Governor Cuomo, Pedagogical Expert?

Well, happy New Year, in which we learn, on the second day of this New Year, that the new(ish) boss is the same as not only the old boss, but all of the bosses. You see, Governor Cuomo now fancies himself an expert on--wait for it!--not only pedagogy, but the "student perspective" on pedagogy, whatever that means.

Look, I get that the Governor is disappointed about the loss of funding, but the proposed evaluation system is terrible. Well, not terrible in and of itself--it's fine as a starting point, fine to have a list on which a principal could indicate a couple of concrete strategies for a struggling teacher to try--but terrible as a formal evaluation tool by which an otherwise great teacher might miss a bullet point here or there and somehow be rated "ineffective." The UFT was right to stick to its guns on not using it as a formal evaluation tool, especially in the absence of a new contract.

The Gates Foundation offers one tool for measuring student perspective on pedagogy, the "seven C"s survey (you can find it starting on p. 12 of this report from the MET Project, and yes, I know many of us are not fans of Gates and his education work, but I think the survey has a lot of good points). But it's one tool, one measure, and, at the end of the day, I think what all of us worry about (with good reason) is that a checklist comes along and, BOOM, that's the checklist that's going to change the world! close the achievement gap! achieve peace between the warring nations! etc. etc., and if we don't follow it letter-by-letter, we're bad teachers.

Which brings me back to Gov. Cuomo and his "student perspective" on pedagogy, which, given how the education reform alliances seem to be going, makes me think that he has read the same Gates Foundation report I have. I've often said in this space that the students are the ones to whom I am ultimately accountable. But I'm not blind to the fact that student evaluation of teachers could seriously backfire. Children and teenagers are incredibly vulnerable to peer pressure; there would need to be some strong countermeasures to avoid the influence of such pressure in teacher evaluations. Outliers would need to be taken into consideration; for example, if even one student (harboring an irrational grudge, say) rated a teacher negatively on a statement like "I like how my teacher treats me when I ask for help," what would happen to that teacher?

None of this is to say that I don't believe the teacher evaluation system needs to be fixed, or that I don't believe I should be observed or held accountable in my classroom. I am proud of the job I do and I have no problem with anyone wanting to see, hear, peruse, etc. what I do with my students. But I am wary of a "magic checklist" solution proposed by a politician. And I'm skeptical that the money we lost would have changed much for the children the mayor and the governor claim to love so much. Something tells me they weren't planning on spending it to re-hire our beloved school aide. It probably would have ended up in the Australian economy.

Monday, January 02, 2012

North Korean Strongman Embraces Bloomberg-style "Reform"

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, after a midnight New Year's kiss from Lady Gaga, woke yesterday to yet another surprise, an unexpected early-morning call from dynastic tyrant Kim Jong-un. The newly established Supreme Leader was interested in establishing a more positive image in hopes of getting more international aid and better PR.

Both Kim and the mayor agreed a good first step would be a new Revolutionary Panel for Re-educational Policy. Kim was delighted to learn he could establish a board to discuss pre-decided matters and have what would appear to be open discussion periods. Bloomberg assured him that most people, including the press, would assume the panel listened to said discussion. Whether or not they actually did was of no importance whatsoever. Were anyone to disrupt said panel, Kim could simply have his reps shake their heads disapprovingly while state-controlled newspapers editorialized about how disrespectful and inconsiderate the protesters were.

Kim could appoint 8 members, others could appoint 5, and after all discussion, the board would simply do whatever Kim told it to do. Dissenters among Kim's 8 could be disposed of as he saw fit, and, surprising to Kim, he could get rid of them before any actual voting took place. Kim was shocked to learn that this was how things were done in a democracy, and was confident that adoption of such methods could result in a PR bonanza. Mayor Bloomberg's staff provided numerous NYC editorials as evidence of how effective the practice has actually proven to be.

Kim was  also effusive in his praise of NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo. He expressed great admiration for the way these leaders pretended to negotiate in good faith with organized labor, and then, when they failed to get exactly what they wanted, simply chose to ignore the agreement altogether. Kim, through an interpreter, expressed great optimism that he could run his country the way New York City was run and still appear to be moving toward democracy.

"This is a great opportunity to shape an image for myself, rehabilitate my country's image, and still do whatever the hell I feel like," said Kim. "It's like they say, New York New York, if you can pull it off there, you can pull it off anywhere."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Christmas Carol for Mayor Mike

-via Diane Ravitch tweet