Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

I won't bore you with mine, but here are some Woody Guthrie made in 1942, if I'm not mistaken. How cool are they? Which ones are you gonna use? Which ones won't fit your bohemian lifestyle?

Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Why Do Teachers Quit?

There are a lot of reasons, of course, and we face them each and every day. This piece focuses on why teachers of color quit. Admittedly, I lack color, so I can speak personally only as to why I see people quit, and I'm afraid I don't pay much attention to what color they are. For one thing, this is a tough job. You don't instantly walk in and reach kids, and there are few things more frustrating than failure.

And let me tell you, you don't need to be observed 4-6 times a year to know you're failing. Kids will tell you instantly. They will ignore you. They will do whatever the hell they please, and you'll be standing there like an idiot. If you don't get a handle on that, and you don't quit, I don't know how you do it.

Financial matters can further alienate teachers of color from coworkers. Teachers from well-to-do families have the advantage of accepting a low-paying teaching position and still having money available to them through other means.

Apparently, I come from a background of extreme wealth. I didn't realize that until this writer told me. Actually, when I decided to turn down the first regular tenure-track assignment I'd ever been offered--teaching English at what was then Springfield Gardens High School, I should have asked mom and dad to support me. (By then, I'd decided I wanted to teach ESL, which I'd been assigned more or less by accident.)

Instead, I went out and found a job playing in world's worst Irish wedding band. I didn't love the gig, but it and a student loan got me through a year of grad school. In fact, while the writer may not have had that option, there are other jobs one can get, and working one's way through college is not all that unusual. Were that option unacceptable, the writer might have sought a job in a real public school, where the pay would probably have been better.

When I saw teachers from wealthier backgrounds stay in the profession, I had to remind myself that they, through their family or connections, could more easily tolerate a teaching salary knowing they would always have access to a lifestyle my family and I could only aspire to.

Yes of course. After 30 years as a teacher, I'm thinking of breaking into the stock market. Maybe I'm the next Wolf of Wall Street.

And though my salary was enough to give me a comfortable lifestyle, and save a decent amount of money, it did not make me feel like I had used my education to pursue a career that was reputable, a career that made my family’s legacy “better.”

This sort of says the important thing is to be wealthy, and that your family won't respect you otherwise. I used to work as a musician, and my dad always asked when I would get a real job. As a teacher, he asked when I would get a better job.  I guess if impressing your parents is the most important thing in your life, this career is not for you.

And frankly, that speaks to your personal limitations. Sure, it would be nice to be paid more. It would be great if America respected education enough to improve conditions. Still, whatever color you may be, I'm not sure that a core value of abject materialism makes you an ideal role model. I'd rather make sure kids have the tools they need,  encourage them to do what they love and figure out how to go with it. I'm lucky enough to love teaching, and I can tell kids, from firsthand experience, that it's worth pursuing what you love.

I don't believe this Ivy League TFA/ charter school two-year wonder has what it takes to be a teacher.

I'd much rather hear from those who do.

Friday, December 27, 2013

UFT's Road Not Taken

Let's say our union has to decide who represents it at conventions. Since only 14% working teachers find it worthwhile to even vote in union elections, and since Unity-New Action has had an ironclad monopoly on elections for over half a century, it pretty much comes out to who Unity-New Action sees fit to nominate. So let's look at who they choose.

On the one hand, we give you hypothetical Chapter Leader A who doesn't do much of anything. He falls asleep at meetings. He even falls asleep when he's ostensibly representing you. When you have a problem, he says, "Put a letter in my box." He does this because 80% of the members who hear it won't do it. And if the other 20% bother writing something, he ignores them too. Let's say this guy runs a member-supported Sunshine Fund and uses the proceeds to take his hungry friends to dinner in upscale restaurants, though none of the members know exactly what the hell he does with the money. Let's say he never does a thing outside of school, he never advocates for his school, he watches it fall apart, and doesn't give a golly gosh-diddly-darn. Chapter Leader A signs the Unity loyalty oath because he doesn't care at all which policies the union may endorse.

On the other, let's take, say, real-live chapter leader James Eterno. James knows the contract like the back of his hand, and is faced with the prospect of being in a so-called failing school. He busts his ass trying to save it. He mobilizes members, bringing 75 of them to a PEP meeting. He speaks out in blogs, in newspapers, in media about what's going on. He enlists the help of politicians, and organizes the entire community to take a stand. He does everything he possibly can to save his historic school. In the end, Walcott and Bloomberg move to close it, because they can. UFT is still doing some sort of kabuki dance around some lawsuit that says DOE can't do this, but since it's largely a fait acompli, no one's confident the school is coming back. Eterno declines to sign the Unity loyalty oath because he firmly opposes policies like school closings, mayoral control, and VAM.

Which one of these chapter leaders do you choose to represent the interests of the entire union? I can tell you the United Federation of Teachers chose the former without reservation. Apparently, this chapter leader represents us better than Eterno. After that, the great minds at UFT leadership scratch their collective heads and ask themselves, "Why is it that 86% of working teachers don't vote?"

Of course, it could be the fact that we have morphed into the United Federation of Retirees, with retired teachers forming 52% of the voting bloc. After all, there's a UFT HQ in Florida, and I suppose they have meetings and gala luncheons. Doubtless they think current leadership is praiseworthy for providing such amenities. But there are those of us who find it ridiculous that retirees have most of the voice in our working future. I, for example, think retirees should have a voice in retiree matters, full stop. They should not be choosing anyone who represents working teachers.

And it could be the fact that many teachers have little to no faith in their chapter leaders, and that Chapter Leader A is not merely some abstract model. How do we move our union into a force that involves and motivates working teachers, rather than simply the phone call we have to make when we need a new pair of glasses?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Is Reformy John King's Decree Worse Than NY Times Thinks?

There's a piece in the NY Times all about the issues with the new evaluation system. They're the paper of record, so it must be accurate. I've no idea how large the school is, but I'm sure the Times reporter carefully considered its application to large schools, and understands completely what it means in a large school where APs are in charge of maybe 40 teachers a piece. After all, reporters get paid for that sort of thing.

On the other hand, the reporter estimates under the assumption that observers will not spend more than 15 minutes a piece on informal observations. In this astral plane, it's unlikely many observations by responsible admin are 15 minutes. Teachers tell me admin usually stays at least 25 minutes, and often wait until whatever activity they're engaged in is completed, so as to get a real picture of what's happening. Of course, I'm just someone who talks to working teachers every single day, and not a NY Times reporter, so I guess you can't go by me.

And it's not just the observations. They have to be low-inference and aligned to the Danielson rubric. Responsible administrators have to take copious notes, supposedly reserving any and all value judgments. They then have to align these supposedly non-judgmental notes to the rubric. That's pretty time-consuming and taxing, particularly for people who aren't used to doing such things. I write very fast, but not everyone does. This is going to be very tough for some administrators, particularly if teachers are sharp enough to catch them when they offer judgments with little or no evidence.

In my school, an AP is responsible for 30 or 40 teachers. At maybe 200 per year, that makes more than one observation per day. APs who are not in the habit of writing regularly are going to have a really tough time of it. I know APs who write well who are having an even tougher time of it. Being conscientious, they labor over every word. I've actually had administrators, who don't usually complain to me of such things, say they'd like to take entire days off just so they could get to their writing.

APs are supposed to help teachers who really need support, but haven't got time to devote to those who really needs it. They also haven't got the time to help kids who have problems with teachers. King mandated more observations than either the DOE or UFT requested, according to Gotham Schools. What sort of mediator, when you want to sell a car for $500, and I want to pay $200, charges $1000?

That would be the esteemed Mr. King.

In our school, the principal has decided that anyone who wished to change from option one or two was free to do so. I recently spoke to an AP who was delighted that two department members decided to go from six observations to a mere four. It was like a Christmas gift.

That's four down, and a million to go.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas

To all readers of this blog, to all my brother and sister teachers, and to all the public school parents facing these odd, odd times, I wish you a happy and restful Christmas and holiday season. Thanks for all your support, and thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

Thanks for waking up every morning ready to help children who need it. Thanks for your awareness, and thanks for teaching me so much about what's really happening in education, as opposed to the shallow nonsense we see in the papers.

Thanks for your willingness to stand up for reason, for science, in the face of an unrelenting attack by those who look at our children and see only dollar signs. Thanks for knowing that it's our job to stand up for these kids, and thanks for recognizing the barely concealed ulterior motives behind demagogues like Gates, Rhee, Bloomberg, Walcott, and all the various heads of the snake that is corporate reform.

David beat Goliath, and no matter what the odds I know you will continue to stand up to the Walmarts and the Broads and their well-financed nonsense, whether it comes in the form of Students First, Educators 4 Excellence, DFER, or whatever they're calling themselves this week. I'm very proud to stand with you and honored to be some small part of a movement that insists reason be part of education.

Let Reformy John King and Silent Merryl Tisch worry this year, because it is we, not the corporate propagandists, who truly will not back down. We will make them face truth everywhere they turn. We will not only shout from the rooftops, but also write to the newspapers and corporate media who spout their nonsense. We will not give them one moment's rest as they try to use our precious children as guinea pigs for programs they see as unfit for their own.

And we will not stop until they are down for the count. They have the money, but we have the numbers, and we will not rest until everyone knows the truth.

So rest up. It's gonna be a tough year, and I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's Just A Little Early to Give Up on Bill de Blasio

I keep reading all over my social media haunts that de Blasio has sold us out, that he's going to appoint a reformy Chancellor, and that he's no different from Bloomberg. There's not a whole lot of basis for this yet, other than speculation on who he's spoken with.

I know he just appointed someone from Goldman Sachs to be in charge of something. She wouldn't have been my first pick. But let's see what she does.

I read all the crap in the reformy press suggesting that the slimeballs from DC or Chicago would be chancellor and it turned out to be crap. I pledged if de Blasio were to appoint Kaya Henderson chancellor that I'd make a video burning my UFT de Blasio t-shirt. I'm pretty sure that won't be necessary.

But the man is not mayor yet, and he hasn't done anything whatsoever. I think it's fair to at least wait until he sets foot in office to decide what sort of mayor he is, and how well he's doing.

As for me, I'm going to the inauguration. For some reason, he sent me an invitation, and I'm willing to stand in the freezing cold and watch Emperor Bloomberg slink off into the primordial ooze that spawned him.

And I'm going to be optimistic until I have a viable reason to be otherwise. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Message to the President

When Barack Obama ran for re-election, several groups told him they needed concessions before supporting him. LGBT groups managed to extract support for gay marriage. Immigrant groups managed to extract support for their causes.

As for us, we supported Barack Obama unconditionally. The NEA and the AFT couldn't wait to get on Barack's bandwagon. I believe I read there was extensive polling to support AFT's decision. As usual, no one asked me, anyone in my very large school, or anyone I know. Perhaps they did a poll of Unity chapter leaders who knew the correct answers in advance. Who knows?

But the point is not how the poll was conducted. The point is we asked no concessions whatsoever. By doing so, we gave Barack Obama the message that he could count on us no matter what he did. Impose nonsensical standards? Fine. Fire teachers based on junk science? Great. Close schools with high concentrations of high-needs students? Dandy. Blame teachers for closings? Swell.

You get the idea. There are arguments in favor of actions like these. Romney was Obama's opponent, and he's even worse. In fact, the election was close enough that Romney had a chance of winning. Maybe. But Barack Obama has taken GW Bush's educational policies, put them on steroids, and imposed them on the entire country.

Barack Obama broke his promise to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. In fact, he never even attempted to support it, as far as I can tell. Thus, the possibility of increased unionization for Americans has not been realized. He never found those comfortable shoes he promised to look for and stand with working Americans. He didn't show up in Wisconsin to oppose Scott Walker's wholesale assault on labor and that was fine with us. He followed up by failing to oppose his equally repugnant pal, Rahm Emmanuel, in Chicago. By extension, the closure of 50 Chicago schools was fine with us.

Our message to the President is this--you may do whatever the hell you wish. You may take direct orders from Bill Gates. You may vilify us, you may fire us for no reason, you may close schools to make money for your corporate buds, and you may freely screw us, our students, and their parents.

For the new year of 2014, I have this request for our leadership---please recraft our message. While the one we're broadcasting is certainly appreciated by the demagogues who seek to destroy us, the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States, it's not helping us at all.

And we could all use just a little help right now.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

BREAKING: Bloomberg Says God Wants Bill de Blasio Homeless, Declares Martial Law

In a surprise move, Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced that he had decided to void the recent mayoral election, and declared himself Mayor for Life. Mayor Bloomberg stated he was fully prepared to have his private army, the New York City Police, enforce this edict.

Mayor Bloomberg said New York's welfare was too important to be left in the hands of a democratically elected mayor. The mayor claimed there was abundant precedent for this. "I overturned at least two democratic elections to get my third term, and I see no reason not to do it once again for my fourth and permanent term," stated the mayor, who went on to outline his vision for the city's future.

"As I've previously explained," the mayor told us, "NYC is the best place on earth to be homeless. Who wants to wander among dilapidated third-world slums when you can be homeless near world-class art museums and the world's best theater? What's better than mining the dumpsters of fine restaurants for the remains of the best-crafted meals available anywhere?" Mayor Bloomberg then pledged to make New York the number one homeless destination in the nation, if not the world.

Mayor Bloomberg apologized to Bill de Blasio for the abrupt change in plans, but stated categorically that Gracie Mansion would not be available to him.  The mayor pointed out that if de Blasio had made other plans for his Brooklyn home, he was welcome to join the ranks of the lucky NYC homeless. While Bloomberg himself was not planning to live at Gracie, opting for his own mansions and Bermuda getaway, he explained that it would simply look bad if de Blasio and family were allowed to live there during the fourth term. "God wants it that way," asserted Mayor Bloomberg.

He then assailed de Blasio for being taller than him, and repeatedly asserted that de Blasio was being taller than him "on purpose." Mayor Bloomberg stated that, while there was nothing inherently superior in physical height, "God doesn't want it that way."

Mayor Bloomberg also asserted that mayoral control meant he could do what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted and moved to close 32 schools the UFT had previously kept open as the result of a lawsuit. "I am the law," stated the diminutive mayor, "and no court can tell me what to do. Otherwise, why would I have all this money?"

Mayor Bloomberg completed his press conference by announcing that he was dispatching his private army to every 7-11 store in the city to confiscate every soft drink cup in excess of 16 ounces. Bloomberg, having canceled the de Blasio inaugaration, will instead hold a huge bonfire to  destroy all offending cups at City Hall this January 1st. "The public is invited," stated the mayor, "but we will stop and frisk anyone who looks remotely suspicious."

Bloomberg declared if anything were to happen to him, his successors would be Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and reinstated washed-up politician Christine Quinn, in that order.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Letter to Staff, 2:16 PM Today

Dear colleagues,

I am home today, recuperating from a minor medical procedure. I just received an email that we are naming our college office after the sitting chancellor. This is the first I've heard of it, and our consultation committee, which met yesterday, was not apprised of it either.

Chancellor Walcott is an integral part of a team that denied all of us the 8% raise that FDNY, NYPD, SDNY and almost all city unions received, with virtually no givebacks, in the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining.

Walcott has demanded that he alone arbitrate cases of accused sexual abuse, and has repeatedly collaborated with the Daily News when they published cases and names of accused teachers. I am familiar with precisely one of these people. This person was not guilty of sexual abuse, had his name repeatedly dragged through the mud for years, and after years wasted in the rubber room, now works as an ATR. Anyone guilty of sexual abuse of children belongs in prison. However, being accused by the DOE is not tantamount to guilt.

Walcott was part of the team that jettisoned the APPR agreement with the UFT. Neither UFT nor the DOE wanted teachers observed six times a year, but because of his intransigence, John King got to singlehandedly write an evaluation system so ridiculous even the supervisors seem to hate it.

It's hugely disappointing that administration has unilaterally decided to pay tribute to a man who has worked tirelessly to make our jobs less professional, who has vilified us at every turn, who has refused to offer us the compensation he saw fit to give other city employees, and who has supported every baseless corporate reform that has come down the pike while he occupied this office.


Arthur Goldstein, UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School

Note: Forgive me for calling Sanitation Dept. (DSNY) SDNY, and for whatever I left out, like the $3 billion for class size reduction Walcott left on the table.

The New Mayor

 By special guest blogger Maestro PolĂ­tico

I’ve seen a lot of fretting around the NYC scene that Bill de Blasio is going to be a disappointment as a mayor. I think many New Yorkers simply have PBSD (Post Bloomberg Stress Disease) — where the mere word “mayor” conjured up images of awkward Spanglish, 16 oz. sodas cans, Joel Klein /Cathie Black/ Dennis Walcott, and a variety of other traumas.

So New Yorkers did the only thing they could possibly do — elect a mayor who was the very opposite of Mayor Mike. Mayor Mike was short, Bill de Blasio is NBA tall. Mayor Mike lived in a Park Ave. brownstone, Bill is moving to Gracie Mansion after having started his campaign in front of his modest Brooklyn row house. Mayor Mike stood for all sorts of things and Bill ran a campaign based on being against everything that was important to Mayor Mike.

But now January 1st is less than two weeks away, Mayor Mike’s administration are cleaning their offices, and it’s like WHAT IF MAYOR BILL IS JUST AS BAD? Well, he can’t be as bad as Mayor Mike but what if he’s almost as bad? Mayor Mike showed so many ways to be bad as a mayor that people could fill up sheets and sheets with ways he’s bad, and still run out of room. Maybe you can fill up a whole library.

Well, I found myself unceremoniously unemployed just in time for campaign season 2013, and soon spent 9, 10, 11 hours a day volunteering to elect Mayor Bill. They always say campaigns reflect a candidate’s personality. Mayor Bill’s campaign was disciplined, but easygoing, and reflected “real New York” — a quirky mix of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. There were a few requirements — fans of Christine Quinn/Ray Kelly/Mayor Mike were not welcome (duh) but other than that, it was a diverse, fun group. I remember people staying late in the campaign office often just to chat and drink soda.

But as election night neared, and polls showed him 40+ points ahead, a few of us diehard volunteers started to privately worry. We all worked hard, but none of us were rich, and we couldn’t even pretend to be well-connected. A big point was the Election Night party. Many of us said, “It’s going to be such a huge party with so many VIP’s, I bet we won’t even be allowed in.” “He’ll forget us as soon as the polls close.” The closer it got to election night, the gloomier the prediction.

Then the night before the party, the diehard volunteers got an invitation: stand onstage with Bill when he’s elected. Instead of officials and VIP’s, he’d be onstage with the ordinary, not-well-connected, not-rich volunteers. Once we got the email many of us spent most of election day planning our clothes and makeup to look good on TV.

After the post-election euphoria wore off, gloom again set in among the volunteers (by now all friends). Same insecurities, like … he’s Mayor Elect now. He hosted a big volunteer party not too long ago, with open bar and great food, and showed up to thank everyone. But it’s hard to convince a group of people that they won’t be forgotten, when so many politicians have done exactly that. (Cough, a certain president, cough).

So we started to chat again on Facebook. We hoped for things and tried to sound pessimistic enough to hide the oncoming bitter disappointment. Again, who were we? A bunch of not-connected, not-rich, in many cases not-employed volunteers. Then … just in time for Christmas, it seems, all of us got our Inauguration invitations.

Yes, the Mayor-Elect of New York City wants to be sworn in with the very group of ordinary New Yorkers who worked hard to elect him. A few of us (myself included) will be ushers that day. The rest will simply be freezing in the cold at City Hall, warmed only by layers of wool and the knowledge that a long, 12-year nightmare is over.

I think it’s a beautiful way to ring in the New Year, and a new era.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What's Wrong with Daniel-San?

I've spent countless pages on this blog railing against value-added measurement, which as far as I can tell has nothing whatsoever to do with objective reality. That point of view is shared by many people for whom I have great respect, most notably Diane Ravitch.

Often lumped in with that criticism is the Danielson Framework, which was something UFT agreed to before Reformy John imposed his insane plan on us. Criticism of Danielson is rampant. Yes, she's raking in the bucks from the DOE, and yes, there's doubtless a great deal of nonsense going on in her name. But no one denies there was a great deal of nonsense going on before anyone even heard of her.

It's certainly true a supervisor who has it in mind to rate someone poorly will do so whether or not there is a framework. But short of outright lying, the idea is that said supervisor needs to take "low-inference" notes on what actually happens in the classroom. Bad observation reports I've been seeing fail to do that. Responding to them is not particularly difficult. I think supervisors are even more baffled than we are. This is particularly true of longtime supervisors in the habit of writing observation reports only when the mood struck them.

Clearly there's a lot in the "highly effective" category that's only attainable when the stars align perfectly. I don't think it's reasonable for anyone to expect that of every teacher on a regular basis, and calls for merit pay based on this are ridiculous. Only Mary Poppins would get merit pay, and she's not the only one in need of a raise.

What I see in Danielson more than anything is an emphasis on engaging the kids. Personally, that's always been what I've aimed to do. Of course I haven't always succeeded. I don't have a magical spell to weave over kids who hate English, hate being here, and want nothing more than to return to their home countries. I've no doubt plenty of American kids are equally unmotivated, for whatever reason.

But I've taught multiple subjects in multiple schools in the Bronx and Queens, and there's always been something going on in my classroom. Honestly, if I had to sit with a bunch of people who never did anything I'd have quit or committed suicide long ago.

I don't think it's a valid criticism just to say administrators will abuse it, because that's true of anything. I agree it would be best used as something to strive for rather than something to observe teachers with.  But that's not gonna happen anytime soon. So given that nothing is not a viable alternative, tell me, what is so bad about the Danielson Framework?

Monday, December 16, 2013

What You Aren't Reading in Gotham Schools Could Fill a Battleship

I was pretty surprised last summer when Gotham Schools managed to cover Moskowitz rallies at least three times while ignoring a UFT press conference to stop Bloomberg from imposing his destructive policies on his predecessor. When I confronted them about it, they gave me a line about giving their people days off. Evidently, I, as a union advocate, was being petty about their giving immense coverage to one side of a story and none to the other.

Last year I asked whether getting coverage for 100 signatures on a petition was unique to E4E. I was told in the comments that it wasn't, and that anyone could do it. So I made a petition asking for equal consideration for all ESL students when taking the English Regents. A Gotham reporter called me, asked all about the petition, and then proceeded to do nothing whatsoever about it.

When I emailed someone there about their fawning coverage of E4E, I was asked to write a piece explaining why I felt they did not represent the overwhelming majority of working teachers. Not only did they not run it, but they never even responded to it. So as not to waste my time, I modified it and got it published elsewhere. Two weeks ago I had a piece in the Daily News which they failed to link to. I cannot recall reading a single teacher-bashing editorial in the NY Post that didn't make Rise and Shine, including a remarkably ridiculous piece from their favorite E4E/ failed teacher/ current school administrator.

In any case, here's another story that didn't make Rise and Shine today. Apparently, although Gotham felt it important to tell us how much John King hates Buffalo public schools, it's of no consequence that there is dissent among the state Regents. Why bother telling readers that anyone as important as a NY State Regent has issues with Common Core?

Regent Betty A. Rosa wants people to know that her board of 17 members aren't all in agreement about the public education reform agenda that's currently upsetting many parents, teachers and school administrators statewide.

In fact, she thinks the Common Core program is based on incomplete, manipulated data.
"They are using false information to create a crisis, to take the state test and turn it on its head to make sure the suburbs experience what the urban centers experience: failure," said Rosa, a former teacher, principal and superintendent from the Bronx.

Even more egregious, though, is the remarkably one-sided coverage of the Brooklyn version of the John King traveling medicine show. For example, were you relying on Gotham Schools, you would not know that Students First NY was allowed in 30 minutes before the public was told to come, and neither would you know that they were all issued talking points for their two-minute presentations.

Perhaps there was some reason why that did not bear mention. Perhaps the reporters didn't discover this until after other papers. Nonetheless, it's nothing short of disgraceful that they represent themselves as offering balanced coverage, yet fail to tell their readers about the clearly corporate-stacked deck.

They can change their name to Chalkboard NY, but if we continue to get the same one-sided reporting they may as well merge with Fox News.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I was pretty surprised to read that, in the United States, if you're rich and you kill four people you suffer from "affluenza" and aren't guilty. After all, if you have the handicap of growing up with all that money, how are you to know that common people are not dispensable and ought not to be murdered? Mater and Pater never had time to tell you that, what with their high-powered jobs and gala luncheons. And they let you know early it was OK to accuse nanny of stealing the jewelry and have her deported back to the foul region from whence she came.

I've just been alerted by someone on Twitter that there is another little known malady called Edfluenza. Symptoms include imposing untested and/ or failed notions on national education systems. For example, you might wish to rate teachers by their test scores and fire the bottom 5% or so. You would do this even though it failed miserably in your own company, and caused failure after failure.

Or you might decide that the way to help schools is to close them and replace them with smaller ones. Of course, you would say nothing to the many districts that have adopted this practice even after it was pretty much established to be an abysmal failure. After all, by this time not only you, but also cash-strapped municipalities had been pouring millions into this program, and you couldn't just say, "Hey, I'm sorry you wasted all that money." After all, being reformy means never having to say you're sorry.

Or maybe you'd spent hundreds of millions designing a set of standards that had never been tested anywhere. Maybe you didn't bother to substantively consult with educators and had no idea whether or not it would work. Perhaps you decided to test kids extensively on topics for which they'd never prepared and parents got all up in arms about it. The only thing you could do, really, is pepper the genuine speakers with members of the various reformy groups you supported, hand them identical talking points, and make it appear that they were somehow grassroots. Make sure they get every spot on the speaker list and you should be in good shape.

Finally, you may notice that you have so little faith in these programs that you yourself have no idea whether or not they will work. You decide you won't actually know this for ten years. Yet you subject an entire nation's children to these programs, because you figure what the hell, your kids go to private schools anyway.

While you claim to be a passionate supporter of child health, you invest in companies like Coca Cola and McDonald's, which sell some of the most unhealthy products on earth to the children you claim to love so. Just for good measure, you also invest in Walmart, which has a business model that insures many of these kids you love so much will be doomed to crappy subsistence jobs rather than rewarding careers.

Then you go home and wonder why the hell no one wants your crappy Windows phone.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Padded Cell a Win-Win for KIPP

Sure it's barbaric to keep young children in padded cells. It's clearly a cruel way to treat a child, and it's very tough to see how that is not an abject violation of Chancellor's Regulations against corporal punishment and abuse. Of course, rules are for the little people. Were a UFT teacher to toss a kid in a padded cell, you'd better believe there'd be an investigation, and very likely a removal from the classroom.

But KIPP says they're gonna just keep on tossing kids into padded cells. If they can be believed, which given their ridiculous sense of priorities, I highly doubt, they've only tossed three kids into the padded cell so far. If, in fact, they've only used it three times, why on earth do they even need it? But let's say they're right.

It appears two of the three kids who they admit to placing in the cell are leaving their venerable institution. This means they're headed for public schools. So, basically, all KIPP needs to do to get rid of kids who are troublesome, or kids who don't get scores that make them look good, is to toss them into the handy padded cell. Then they'll be traumatized, their parents will pull them out, and the kids will go to public schools.

If there are problems with the kids, the papers can blame those awful unionized teachers who do nothing but complain. Not only is the KIPP school easier to manage, but whatever problems those kids have can be blamed on the public schools.

Legal expert Campbell Brown is all over the cases of teachers who've been vindicated, some of whom should never have faced charges in the first place. And yet, despite her feigned outrage over cases about which she knows little or nothing, she's spoken not a word about this. Where is her mysterious Transparency Project.

E4E and Students First and all the Astroturfers were out in force the other night, supporting Common Core, a program that's never been field tested anywhere. They were doing cartwheels in support of rating teachers via junk science, and even managed to get almost every speaking spot at King's forum the other night.

Yet they're also completely silent about this outrageous treatment of young children by a charter chain school. Public school teachers would never treat children like this. And never doubt for one moment who really places children first.

It is us, the parents and teachers of public school children, and we dedicate our lives to these kids. We don't take money from Bill Gates. We just love them. That's why we want the same treatment for our kids that John King buys for his, over at the Montessori school.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Edict from the King

Hello New York. It's me, your old pal John King. I've just returned from an invigorating  evening with the good folks at NYC. Now lots of people suggested that we were afraid to come here, but it was no problem whatsoever. After one nasty little person got up and spewed the same special interest nonsense I'd been hearing at the other forums, a fine upstanding group for excellent schools got up and spoke the truth.

What an amazing coincidence that so many of my supporters happened to spontaneously paint the same sign. Now a lot of people say that we let them in way before we said we'd let anyone else in, and that we gave them a private room, and that a Michelle Rhee-backed group bused them in. I'm not saying that isn't true, but rather that it's important we somehow drown out those special interest parents and teachers.

Common Core is a wonderful thing. We will hold all children to higher standards. Except mine of course, who go to a Montessori school, and 19 of 20 NYS Regents, who send their kids to private schools. There, they are child centered. For the rest of you, there is rigor. And remember, the bigger the rigor, the higher they flyer. It was thrilling to see a river of identical signs supporting Common Core. That's the kind of independent thought we'd like to see in your children. For example, the wonderful Eva Moskowitz took all of her students and their parents on a march. She gave them signs and t-shirts. Maybe one day we will have signs and t-shirts for all state students, and they can march and tell New York what a wonderful job Merryl Tisch and I are doing.

And as for you haters, make no mistake. We aren't stepping down. We didn't get millionaires to support our privately employed interns just to give up. They will make the rules for your children, we will pay corporations to write tests for your children, and we will continue to fail your children until we turn them into a product corporations can use. And heck, even if they fail, there are plenty of jobs at Walmart. The kind folks at Walmart have also spent millions on Common Core, and they fully expect a return for their investment.

Now that we've dredged up some support for our programs, we no longer need to make vague promises of modification, which we were never really gonna honor anyway. What's important here is that you understand our privately-paid interns have already pretty much decided that your children are going to pretty much be tested until they graduate, die, or acquire minimum-wage employment.  And don't worry too much if they fail, because we fully intend to blame the teachers, close the school, and set up lucrative charters in their place.

I'd like to thank Educators 4 Excellence, Parents for Excellence, Students First NY, and all the fine grassroot groups who are standing up to special interests like parents and teachers.  These are the silent majority, the salt of the earth, and be advised that if you can follow me around and continue to sign up before those special interest folks, there are even more 200K Regents intern gigs available.

Maybe you can be one!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's Snowing!

I teach out in a trailer the first two periods of my day. Specifically, I teach from 7:45 to 8:30, and from 8:35 to 9:23. During first period today, it really started coming down. My students were fascinated. Some come from South America, and have seen this few if any times before. One kid said, "It's snowing," and everyone stood up to see. I don't suppose that's so unusual.

Because I teach beginners, I have the same class for both periods. In between, I almost always give them a break. They're only human, after all.  I'm not John King, so I don't sit around plotting how to make their young lives more rigorous. During the break, they ran out as one. They were fascinated by the snow, playing with it, making snowballs, and getting incredibly wet.

It's amazing to see my teenage students turn into children, running around as childlike as my 3-year-old niece. Sometimes my kids flock to those who speak their own language, but on this day there were no barriers. There was no language. There was just the sheer happiness and exhilaration of something new, something they hadn't seen for a long time, something they had maybe never seen.

Some of them grabbed their prohibited phones and iPads from their hiding places and had me photograph them. I went out without my coat and came in as wet as the kids. Common sense had taken a 5-minute vacation. Several of them wandered in a little late. I couldn't really say anything about it, because there were no words.

There was just snow, and a bunch of people from different countries, from different backgrounds, from different religions and language groups all knew what it meant without speaking a word.

It was glorious.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lie Down with Dogs...

...and wake up with fleas. That's what we're getting as a result of our partnership with Steve Barr. Barr is affiliated with some ex-Green Dot school that rose up as a partnership with the UFT. He boasts of being a union school with a 30-page contract, and sets that forward as an example.

Here's what he didn't mention in his piece--Green Dot Schools have neither tenure nor seniority rights. Layoffs are done by virtue of perceived merit of said teachers. How many times have they fetched the principal's dry-cleaning? Who did the dogsitting for the AP when she took that fact-finding tour to Bermuda? Who brought the biggest cake to the principal's 50th birthday party? Did that person forget to come?

These and other questions could be considered with a thin contract. And when you don't have due process, there's no hearing to prove you're actually incompetent. I understand there is some "just cause" process over there, but when I asked various UFT reps whether or not it's ever saved a teacher position, no one was able to tell me. A prominent reformy friend of mine told me they never had to use the process and were generally able to "counsel out" anyone they didn't care for. I find it likely Green Dot, or whatever they're calling themselves, can fire teachers "just cause" it tickles their fancy.

So now, with a new progressive mayor, Barr is in the Daily News urging a new contract "compromise." Essentially, he wants to use his contract as a model for the city. Let's assume everything he says about his school is true, though I don't trust him for a New York minute. Does his charter take absolutely everyone? Are the ESL students abject beginners, or fairly advanced? Do they have as many high-needs students as neighborhood schools? And when they talk special education, do they have the same sort of kids public schools do? Have they got alternate assessment kids?

Clearly they don't have alternate assessment students if Barr claims a 100% graduation rate. Alternate assessment students are not on a path for diplomas.

Barr is a big mover and shaker in the "parent trigger" movement, the one represnted in the reformy box-office stinker Won't Back Down.. He took over Locke High School in LA, based on a faculty vote, then, by way of saying thank you, fired 70% of them. As a thank you for the UFT partnership, he's now saying we have to take ideas from both sides, but proposing only the same reformy nonsense we've been getting from Bloomberg for over a decade.

Barr says you can't argue with Bloomberg's "achievements." On that, he's dead wrong. Plenty of people argue with Bloomberg's achievements and that's precisely why Quinn and Lhota went down in flames. People in New York want to revisit democracy. They're sick and tired of the autocratic nonsense trickling down from the diminutive billionaire who makes the rules. They're sick and tired of a fake school board where the mayor holds the majority of votes.

If Bill de Blasio wants to be a successful mayor, he'll ignore the newspaper editorials and Steve Barrs urging him to maintain the status quo. He'll work with the union rather than vilifying us in the press. He'll keep his promises and back away from the school closings that devastate neighborhoods.

And if the UFT wants to be successful it will start standing up for teachers and our students rather than partnering with disingenuous demagogues who will stab us in the back at the earliest opportunity.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Am I Growing Senile, or Is Tom Friedman Inadvertently Pro-Teacher?

I'm not a big fan of NY Times columnist Tom Friedman. In fact, I'm not a big fan of any NY Times columnist, particularly when they write about education. Recently, even Paul Krugman, my favorite by far, has been whoring himself out writing pro-Common Core nonsense.

Friedman is not precisely perfect. For example, he writes about the Shanghai secret, presented by a publicity-thirsty government, and almost seems to forget that the other 98% of China is not on display. He's got no problem aping the talking points of Arne Duncan, and like many of his colleagues, can't be bothered with cursory research that would prove him wrong.

But in this piece, looking at the much-ballyhooed PISA scores (for which China submitted only the city of Shanghai), he comes to conclusions I'd never expect from a corporate stooge like Duncan:

So now let’s look at the latest PISA. It found that the most successful students are those who feel real “ownership” of their education. In all the best performing school systems, said Schleicher, “students feel they personally can make a difference in their own outcomes and that education will make a difference for their future.”

It's pretty clear to me that students who see the importance of their studies will perform better. I'm not certain why we need the NY Times to tell us that, but since Arne Duncan and the Common Core enthusiasts show no awareness of this, it can't hurt. Friedman continues:

The PISA research, said Schleicher, also shows that “students whose parents have high expectations for them tend to have more perseverance, greater intrinsic motivation to learn.” 

I'd say that parental involvement is the single best predictor of student achievement (or lack thereof). While of course there are exceptions, parents who read with their kids, who demonstrate the importance of education, can really help their kids achieve in school. This also goes to poverty. Parents working three jobs and 200 hours a week don't have a lot of time to spend with their kids. Reformy hedge-funders looking to make a buck off these kids don't want to fix poverty, as that might affect their bottom line selling crappy online charter schools.

The highest performing PISA schools, he added, all have “ownership” cultures — a high degree of professional autonomy for teachers in the classrooms, where teachers get to participate in shaping standards and curriculum and have ample time for continuous professional development. So teaching is not treated as an industry where teachers just spew out and implement the ideas of others, but rather is “a profession where teachers have ownership of their practice and standards, and hold each other accountable,” said Schleicher.

This is what most surprised me, because this goes against the prevalent reformy culture of Common Core. Despite what supporters say, I'm persuaded few if any teachers had part in shaping it, and that those tokens they dragged in were no more than window dressing. I don't know a single teacher who was consulted.

Friedman is probably wrong that PISA predicts anything whatsoever about the economy, and as he knows little or nothing about education, he's probably better off not writing about it. But what he's suggesting here, that teachers ought to determine what goes on in their classrooms, is actually a great idea. It's ridiculous to say that no one should read To Kill A Mockingbird beyond grade six. It's absurd to suggest teaching Lincoln's Gettysburg Address without historical context. Good teachers know that.

Particularly offensive and stupid is the notion that "rigor" is what's needed to make kids read. Making kids love to read is about making connections, about instilling passion, and it's almost an act of seduction. There have been few things more gratifying in my teaching career than having kids thank me for forcing them to read their first novel, saying they'd never before read a book in English and that they never thought they could do it. If I'd been required to teach some tedious Common Core Crap that would never have happened.

It's our job to shape instruction to inspire our students, and Friedman is actually advocating for that. I'm not altogether sure whether he knows it. But it's time to take his advice. It's time to empower teachers, not with reformy crap and busy work, but in allowing us to write curriculum, to design lessons specifically for our students, and to design our own tests that will give feedback on how to help them even more.

It's time to let teachers do their jobs, and thus inspire children they can do theirs as well. Despite all the money the Walton Foundation sinks into anti-teacher, anti-public school nonsense, it's not our job to simply train future $8-an-hour Walmart "associates."

Of course, Friedman includes some typically ignorant crap:

Democrats who protect teachers’ unions that block reforms to give teachers more ownership and accountability...

Isn't Barack Obama a Democrat? Isn't he the reformiest guy in town? Didn't he appoint Arne Duncan and stand by him when he made unimaginably stupid remarks? Haven't unions supported just about every "reform" that's come down the pike, including Common Core, VAM, and charter schools?  While Friedman made a little bit of sense, the way to achieve the reasonable goals he's set out would be to empower unions rather than vilifying them, to allow them to stand up for what kids need rather than what Bill Gates wants.

But I can't expect someone like Tom Friedman to figure that out. This is the best we're ever gonna get from the likes of him.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Hard Hitting Journalism from Alexander Russo

Well folks, the secret's out. Sabrina Joy Stevens, who tweets @TeacherSabrina, turns out to be not only an "education activist," as labeled by MSNBC, but also a teacher! Not only that, but she has been affiliated with the AFT, or American Federation of Teachers! I could barely contain my outrage when I read Russo's trenchant commentary.

I mean, honestly, what business does a teacher have in a discussion about education? Did Oprah feature teachers when she did that show about box-office stinker Waiting for Superman? Does Mayor Bloomberg consult teachers before he closes their schools? Does Arne Duncan consult them before advocating for higher class sizes? Of course not.

Not only did Russo blow the whistle on this dark secret about Sabrina being a teacher, but he also said she "chewed the inside of her mouth." That's an important observation. I mean, what can you say about a person who does that? And how many reporters would even observe, let along write about such a thing?

Naturally, a bombshell like this one had to be picked up by the media at large. That's why education expert Joe the Plumber wrote about it. With both intrepid journalists on the trail, it was just a matter of time before other facts began to come out.

Here at NYC Educator, we have discovered and can now reveal that Sabrina is not only a teacher, but also a woman. I saw nothing about that at MSNBC. Clearly, they're trying to pull the wool over our eyes about that as well. How, then, are we to know that this teacher/ woman hasn't got some hidden agenda? Is she a card-carrying teacher? Is she a card-carrying woman? Do teachers carry cards? Do women? Is she carrying two cards, or does one card cover both?

I certainly hope that Russo and Joe can follow up on these important questions. Russo has now demonstrated a remarkable flair for the obvious, and it's pretty clear Joe relies on Russo's amazing nose for news to decipher what's in front of his face. Who knows how many more obvious revelations they have up their sleeves?

I, for one,  have no doubt that many other commentators may be revealed to be teachers. For all I know, I myself may be one. I eagerly await Russo's story to find out. Lacking the instinct that led Russo to write that piece, I'll have to simply check my wallet for cards I may be carrying.

I've also learned that many powerful political figures are women, including but not limited to Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Where will this story end? It's unfortunate that I just about never read either Russo or Joe, so I'll likely never find out.

The Appalling Common Core

Here's a video you won't soon forget. Watch a group of children respond like trained seals to a teacher clapping.

I'm amazed that this, somehow, is supposed to pass for higher-level thinking. To me, it looks like the creation of little, semi-robotic creatures who will happily fold t-shirts at Walmart for 8 bucks an hour.

Is there a single reader out there who believes Bill Gates' children, Reformy John's children, or Barack Obama's children are subject to this treatment in the elite private schools they attend?

This is a great argument for forcing politicians to patronize the schools they administer. If public schools are not good enough for their children, then it's the politicians that are failing. They don't add value.

Is this what you want for your children? For anyone's?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

How Do We Make the Best of What We Have?

Think all you want, about whatever you like, but face it, folks, the state evaluation law isn't gonna disappear within the week. Cuomo is all Hamlet over whether or not he has to take action on Common Core, and can't be bothered considering the stupid evaluation law. Unless it helps him in his quest to take Obama's job, the only important thing in his narrow universe, you can bet he won't spend one minute even considering it.

Doubtless he's hoping the statewide outrage will just blow over, or John and Silent Merryl will be able to skillfully persuade the public that corporate reform is a good thing. Meanwhile, we're stuck with this vindictive, baseless, piece of crap law.

As I wrote yesterday, I find it insane that so many observations are required. Perhaps we could agree to a lower minimum and make this a less grueling process. Maybe there could be alternates to written observations. Teachers could do peer observations. Teachers could share best practices at PD. Teachers could contribute to the school community in all sorts of ways. Why does it have to come down to the same thing over and over?

Is the Danielson Framework as odious as the junk science evaluation? Honestly, it isn't to me. Perverting it into a gotcha system is awful, and that's always been the goal of Bloomberg's Tweedies. But I'm not yet persuaded it's remotely as trashy as the junk-science testing at the heart of this law. If I'm wrong, please feel free to tell me why.

Nonetheless, we live in a country where obscenely wealthy Bill Gates can simply buy free reign to dictate education policy to public schools. That's why states all over the country are using a methodology proven to work absolutely nowhere to rate teachers. The already lame defense, that our state is using only 40% while some other is using 50, 60, or whatever, becomes absolutely ridiculous in that if you fail, it becomes 100.

It's gonna take a long time to fix or change that ridiculous law. Bad ideas have lives of their own, and any attempts to change this will be met with predicable cries that teachers want to escape so-called accountability. Accountability, of course, means being able to fire as many teachers as possible, for any reason or none at all.

Meanwhile, we're stuck. We have an incoming mayor, finally, who appears to be not insane. Let's make a wish list of what changes we want to see. I assume no one loves Reformy John's plan, which was probably written by his privately paid interns, the ones who are accountable to billionaires rather than taxpayers, the ones who don't worry about those nasty ethics rules that encumber private employees.

I know we want a contract. I know we haven't had a raise in years. But what changes, specifically, should we ask of the NYC APPR agreement right now?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

You Teachers Cannot Be Trusted. Or Compensated.

That's why Reformy John King decreed that you need to be observed 4-6 times per year. After all, who knows what the hell it is you do in that classroom if you aren't under constant surveillance? Bill Gates liked to say that administrators could only visit classrooms once per year. That is, of course, utterly without foundation, but everyone listens to him since he has all that money.

Gotham Schools, in analyzing the King decree, said that neither the DOE nor the UFT wanted this many observations. Yet King, who the union incredibly accepted as an impartial arbitrator, unilaterally decreed more. One potentially good thing is the worst supervisors, facing hundreds of observations per year, may have less time to harass teachers for no reason. Of course, who knows whether or not they're expressing their inner dirtbag on those Danielson check-off sheets? UFT has established a reporting portal, and if supervisors show patterns of idiocy or vindictiveness, there may be some remedy.

Of course, we have no idea what the incoming mayor may negotiate. There is talk of everything being in flux, but it's unlikely we'll see any substantive changes without a contract, and regrettably I have to doubt that will be a quick fix. I'm encouraged that UFT reps I know are now acknowledging that we are two contracts behind, because for the last few years they appeared to have forgotten. Working teachers know that almost all unions got an 8% raise with virtually no givebacks during the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining. So while the incoming mayor can offer a crap pattern for new contracts, it will be tough for him to explain why we should take an effective 8% salary cut going forward. That would mean all those draconian givebacks we took in 05 were largely for nothing.

Let's hope Michael Mulgrew doesn't approach us saying to forget that round with yet another chorus of, "That's the best we can do."

Will UFT move to initiate a more reasonable observation system? It's tough to say. I've heard UFT reps maintain teachers do better with multiple observations, and there's some validity to that. How many teachers used to get observed once by an administrator looking to give a U-rating, who predictably determined said teacher sucked and indeed merited one?

While that's a problem, a more reasonable system would make administrators focus multiple visits on teachers deemed in need of improvement. If someone is doing a good job, excessive scrutiny is not only unmerited, but wasteful. It places undue stress on the teacher, and undue time demands on the supervisor.

The job of the supervisor ought to be supporting teachers who need it. And if we are to have a productive system, we ought not to waste supervisor time making hundreds of unwarranted visits to teachers who don't need their help.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

NY Times Uncritically Hypes Corporate Agenda

The next time I read or hear that education is the civil rights issue of our time, I'm going to projectile vomit. So you'd best get out of my way quickly. Reformy John is no Dr. King, no matter what the paper of record may believe.

Tonight John and Silent Merryl have yet another meeting with New Yorkers. They will sit, nod their heads, pretend they care what people say, and then go on their golly gosh-darn way doing whatever the hell they please. They'll say we need to stay the course, and perhaps they will make some adjustments, and blah, blah, blah.

Then the self-righteous corporate columnists from the NY Times will continue to claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that we need to move ahead with this untested and unproven Common Core mandate, because no one can possibly learn anything unless the hundreds of millions Bill Gates invested drive American public education. That's odd, because Gates himself has no idea whether the ideas he's forced on our children will work. He says it will take ten years to find out, and has no compunctions about using our children as guinea pigs.

Meanwhile, the great minds at the NY Times are keenly focused on helping education. The only way to do so, in their view, is to use not only reformy curricula that's never been tested, but also to use things that have never worked anywhere, like merit pay. Though it's been around for over a hundred years and has failed everywhere it's been tried, the NY Times editorial board can't be bothered doing any research whatsoever. After all, many of them wear bow ties, and if that isn't credibility, what is?

The Times has also had it with all this seniority nonsense. After all, it's better to use criteria like value-added, which has also never been proven effective anywhere. Perhaps the Times wishes us to use multiple measures, like who washed the principal's car most recently, or who spent last Tuesday at a Comfort Inn with the odd AP.

The Times also has issues with salary increasing as teachers spend more years in the system, because who the hell wishes to foster long-term commitment in a job like that? Better to declare TFA 6-week wonders highly-qualified, sweep them out after two or three years, then open up an entire new can of teachers to experiment on public school children.

Let's fire all the ATR teachers, most displaced for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's a much better idea than actually putting them to work. Why should we use working teachers to help children or reduce class sizes when we can simply fire them? Won't that be more beneficial to our most important educational goal--reducing the tax bill of Michael Bloomberg and his cronies?

And hey, let's make public schools more like charter schools. We've learned it's OK to drop entire cohorts, like Geoffrey Canada did, and to resist accepting representative populations, or public scrutiny, like Eva Moskowitz does. We've learned it's OK to pay obscene sums to charter leaders, and to share the wealth with Mike Bloomberg's other BFFs. Why not exclude high-needs kids from not only charters, but public schools as well? That will certainly raise those test scores, which are clearly the only measure of student achievement.

And let's give up on how many hours teachers work. Let's give them cell phones so they can answer questions 24-7, because teachers don't need private lives. They don't deserve social lives or families and neither do any working Americans. Such frivolities should be the exclusive province of writers who can't be bothered doing the most cursory research before issuing pontifications on how the rest of the world should live.

Because that's the sort of crap you get from the New York Times. And if they're this abysmal on education reporting, who knows what sort of crap you get if you rely on them for national and international news? They've blundered in the past, and their lame reporting may have been largely responsible for the wasteful debacle that is the Iraq war.

What will they surprise us with next?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Blue Monday

There's a bug around my school. Last Monday, everyone I spoke seemed to be hit by it. Me, I'd woken up around 1:30 AM and that was it. I came to work feeling like a pile of mud. The odd thing was I was not alone. I spent time with one of my colleagues who has young children, one of whom got frightened around the same time I woke up. This ended her sleep, and she pretty much trodded through the day hoping for the best.

Later I met one of the deans on patrol, and since I felt I might pass out if I were to sit down, I accompanied her on her appointed rounds. She too had woken up in the middle of the night, and while she did not appear to be nearly as delirious as I was feeling, at one point she said, "You know, I'm not sure whether or not you're really here."

Now I understand teachers worrying about every little thing, and in fact there are some very big things this year, like junk science ratings, Common Core, and turning over huge portions of the school year to needless and ridiculous testing. But there's nothing we can do about those things in the short-term, and we won't stop them in the wee hours of a Monday morning.

It can be traumatic for some people to return to work after a few days off, but that's not my issue. I actually like going to work. In fact, the job is the only thing I still really like about the job. It's reading the news that makes me want to jump out a window, though I'm grateful to usually be on the first floor when I do so. It's kind of cold for jumping out windows this time of year, so I'm not altogether tempted anyway.

I'm not suffering through any personal crisis right now, and I don't dread going to work. What is it, then, about Sunday nights that steals sleep from the working teacher? Is it having to get up early in the morning? Maybe. I've never been crazy about that. When I was younger, my dad promised me I'd get used to getting up early, and I'm still waiting for that to happen. In fact, after thirty years of not getting used to it, I'm starting to wonder whether or not he was actually used to it.

What is it about Monday that robs sleep from teachers with generally clean consciences?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Danielson Guide to Highly Effective Thanksgiving

Full disclosure--found on the internet, unattributed.

Unsatisfactory: You don't know how to cook a turkey. You serve a chicken instead. Half your family doesn't show because they are unmotivated by your invitation, which was issued at the last minute via facebook. The other half turn on the football game and fall asleep. Your aunt tells your uncle where to stick the drumstick and a brawl erupts. Food is served on paper plates in front of the TV. You watch the game, and root for the Redskins.

Needs Improvement: You set the alarm, but don't get up and the turkey is undercooked. 3 children are laughing while you say grace. 4 of your nephews refuse to watch the game with the rest of the family because you have failed to offer differentiated game choices. Conversation during dinner is marked by family members mumbling under their breath at your Aunt Rose, who confuses the Mayflower with the Titanic after her third Martini. Only the drunk guests thank you on the way out. Your team loses the game.

Proficient: The turkey is heated to the right temperature. All the guests, whom you have invited by formal written correspondence, arrive on time with their assigned dish to pass. Your nephew sneaks near the desert dish, but quickly walks away when you mention that it is being saved until after dinner. You share a meal in which all family members speak respectfully in turn as they share their thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. All foods served at the table can be traced historically to the time of the Pilgrims. You watch the game as a family, cheer in unison for your team. They win.

: The turkey, which has been growing free range in your back yard, comes in your house and jumps in the oven. The guests, who wrote to ask you please be invited to your house, show early with foods to fit all dietary and cultural needs. You watch the game on tape, but only as an video prompt for your family discussion of man's inhumanity to man. Your family plays six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon and is thus able to resolve, once and for all, the issue of whether Oswald acted alone.

I'm Thankful

Last night I was watching television, and I saw ads for stores opening at 7 AM this morning. No Black Friday for them. To squeeze more pennies from crazed consumers, they can't wait. So low-paid workers will be rushing to sell computers and TVs they themselves probably can't afford to thrifty Americans who need them more than a quiet day with their families.

I have my differences with my union, but I'm grateful to be part of it. It will be a while before my brothers and sisters and I will have to teach on Thanksgiving. And there are some indicators that the crazy people who'd have us do so are suffering from waning influence. There is the landslide election of Bill de Blasio in Fun City. More significantly, the traveling road show of King and Silent Tisch is being met with the derision and contempt it so richly merits. The overreaching insanity of Common Core is not being received warmly anyplace else I know of, and Arne Duncan is shaking his wooden head in wonder.

I'm also grateful to have the best job in the world. There are few things more exciting to me than constantly interacting with eager and interesting young people from all over the world. After almost 30 years my students continue to fascinate me. Of course they make me crazy on a regular basis, but that's kind of their job, and one thing I always pride myself on is being crazier than they are. I've no doubt many of them will back me up on that.

I'm thankful for the thoughtful and inspiring people with whom I work, and honored they choose me to represent them. Being chapter leader of a large school is an insane undertaking in which you're constantly juggling things, Cat in the Hat style, and trying desperately not to fall. I was urged to run for this position by people for whom I have great respect, and didn't really want to do it at first. But this job is also very gratifying, and I suppose it's suited to a person who likes a job as unpredictable as teaching.

The first day I taught I was greeted with a chorus of, "Quit while you can. Go to Long Island to teach." I was amazed at the bitterness and burnout apparent in these teachers, and I determined to get out if I ever felt that way. Mind you, this was 1984, before the rampant national trend of blaming teachers for poverty, learning disabilities, kids not knowing English, global warming, and what have you.

I'm thankful that, though I complain quite a bit, I never complain about my actual job. I'm very thankful and blessed to have a job that I love. I hope my kid and my students can be as lucky as I've been. I know we have a lot of work to do to give them a world like that.

I'm thankful to all of you who read this little blog. It's made me reflect on teaching quite a bit and has surely helped to keep me focused and interested. I'm thankful for my fellow bloggers, listed to the right, who help me in that direction. I'm thankful for the relatively recent emergence of prominent blogging activists who publicly advocate causes promoting sanity in this field we've chosen.

I wish you all a peaceful and joyous holiday. I will work toward a world in which our children have more for which to be thankful and I hope you will all join me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Don't Know Anything About Medicine, but I Know What I Like

I'm watching the news crawl on CBS TV. Apparently some religious groups are going to the Supreme Court complaining their religious beliefs are offended by the notion of providing contraception care. I'm really curious why anyone with such reservations would be in such a business to begin with.

I know there are groups that reject much of western medicine altogether. You occasionally read of parents who fail to take their children to hospitals, preferring to rely on the power of prayer. And sadly, you occasionally read of children dying as a result.

Of course, that's the pessimist in me talking. The optimist says look at the business model. If it's OK for Americans to score millions with cyber-charter schools that work for absolutely no one, why shouldn't people who don't believe in western medicine get into the health care field? We'll take their premiums. When people get sick, we could pray for them. They could pray for themselves.

After all, we have an education system that's pretty much faith-based. There's no evidence rating teachers by VAM has any validity. I don't doubt plenty of teachers are praying it does. We have a Common Core set of standards that no one's ever field tested. Three out of four NY kids have failed the tests. We can pray they do better, though there are no curricula in place in many districts.

Since John King and Merryl Tisch believe in faith-based education, it behooves them to place their children and grandchildren in public schools. Naturally, they should opt for faith-based health care as well.

Me, I believe in science. I believe in evidence. For my family, I want real doctors rather than faith healers. For my children and yours, I want experienced teachers rather than TFA blow-up dolls. And for tests, I want those experienced teachers to write them, grade them, and assess my kids based on where they are rather than where John King and Merryl Tisch decide they ought to be.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your well-earned break!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh, the Horror

Charter school operators, who enroll about 6% of the city's students, are recoiling in shock from Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's decision to represent the other 94% of city schoolchildren in his transition team. Don't they read Gotham Schools? If they did, they'd know that charters should be covered at least half the time, if not all the time.

What is with this guy, including public school parents like Zakiyah Ansari on his team? Doesn't he know she's an advocate for public school children? Mayor Bloomberg never paid the slightest attention to her. Bloomberg knew that what was important was finding ways to pay charter operators three times what the NYC schools chancellor made, and indeed there are now several charter moguls raking in big bucks as a result.

How are Bloomberg's BFFs going to continue hopping onto the gravy train if this trend continues? Are we going to actually spend city funds on public schoolchildren instead? That would be an outrage. Why would entrepreneurs come to NYC if they can't make money off the sweat of our children? It's bad enough we outlawed child labor. Now, just when we're finally figuring how to make money off the little urchins, along comes liberal de Blasio to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Naturally charter school advocates are outraged. Eva Moskowitz made her kids, their parents, and her at-will employees march in protest. This drew multiple stories from Gotham Schools, and perhaps de Blasio missed them. Gotham, of course, roundly ignores UFT rallies to stop Mayor Bloomberg from pushing his policies onto the mayor-elect, because such rallies are of no importance whatsoever.

Naturally, charter advocates, like Gates and Walmart, want to get their money's worth. That's why they fund Gotham Schools. But if Bill de Blasio won't take their money, how can he represent them.

After twelve years of a mayor who exclusively represented corporate interests like charter schools, a mayor who did whatever he wished on his fake school board, are we going to have a mayor who actually represents the interests of our children and their parents?

What would that New York look like?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not My Job, Man

So says self-proclaimed "student lobbyist" Andrew Cuomo, when confronted with the controversy swirling around the enactment of Common Core in his state. Oddly, Mr. "I am the government" took a decidedly different stance. But with his formerly high favorability ratings circling the toilet, Cuomo's role, first and foremost, is Opportunist in Chief.

You won't see Andy Cuomo criticizing white suburban soccer moms like Arne Duncan. Duncan needs only the support of Barack Obama. Cuomo's overarching goal is to become Barack Obama, and to do that, he needs votes. A whole lot of them. He can't go around alienating large swaths of Americans, labeling them by sex and race. This is particularly true when parents of young children in NY are watching their children fail in massive numbers.

Now Cuomo could take the POV of NY Times op-ed writer Frank Bruni, that we're coddling our children by complaining they take tests for which they're totally unprepared. On the other hand, if some teacher gave my kid a test for which my kid were unprepared, I'd be at the school in a New York minute. I don't blame parents for complaining. I blame Arne Duncan for categorizing them by sex and race.

So here's the thing--it will be good if Cuomo does something about this other than grant a little lip service. It appears he's being pushed in the right direction. There's a grassroots uprising against this Common Core nonsense and it appears he notices it when he licks his finger and holds it up to the wind. The problem with someone like Cuomo, who opposes a millionaire's tax and has the gall to compare it to his Dad's principled stand against capital punishment, is he has no core principles. He does whatever is expedient, and whatever he feels takes him one step closer to the White House.

But I don't doubt that, whatever he does or doesn't do, he'll throw us under the bus in a New York minute the moment it's convenient for him.