Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spare the Cane, and Enable

About five years ago, I was asked to cover the class of an AP. It was a wondrous thing coming in from the trailers to a classroom full of computers, something I'd rarely seen. The kids were mostly doing something or other on them, and I mostly let them do it.

One boy kept listening to music on his iPod. I asked him to put it away, and he did. I carried on, doing whatever I was doing, while the kids carried on doing whatever they were doing. But a few minutes later, there was the same boy, listening to the same iPod. I explained to him that if the principal walked in, it would be me getting in trouble if I allowed him to listen to it, and he put it away again.

But five minutes later, he was wearing it again. The hell with it, I thought. It's not my class, so I called the dean. The dean arrived and confiscated the offending instrument. The boy was distinctly unpleased, and I came to the conclusion he would not, in fact, be sending me a Christmas card that year. I resigned myself to this sad conclusion, and went back to doing whatever it was I was doing.

When I finished doing it, I went to the dean's office. A woman I had never seen before started shouting at me. "You're the guy who took away my son's iPod? How could you do that? That's his enjoyment! I don't ever want you to teach my son!"

A few things went through my mind at that moment. One was that her son's English was certainly native, as shown by some of the choice words he offered the dean upon the removal of this enjoyment device. This in itself would preclude his attending my ESL classes. Quite frankly, though, another was total agreement. I was not at all anxious to teach this boy, nor would I have wished to call this woman and report on his conduct in class. However, in a rare exercise of common sense, I said nothing at all and left the office.

Perhaps his conduct would have been better had I been his regular teacher. It's pretty tough to be a sub. I've never much liked it, and I absolutely never volunteer for it.  Some people do it for the extra money, and some people I know are much better at it than I am. But kids I know are rarely so flagrantly disrespectful. And honestly, while I've had uncooperative parents, that was the first and only time I heard one so passionately defend a kid's blatant violation of school rules.

Am I naive? Should I not have been shocked? Do things like this happen to you each and every day?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Filmmaking Career

This year, I was asked to do a project with my kids. I chose to have them make films, with the cooperation of MyBlock NYC, which I highly recommend. I made a short video introducing my block as that my school was on, and introduced the students to people in the building I thought could help them. I then told them to make their own videos, and let some of them borrow the ancient flip cameras our school owns.

I thought it would be easy. I edited my video on a Mac using iMovie, never having used it before, and figured it would be a snap for the kids, who are technologically light years ahead of me. However, when I finally managed to swap the trailer for a computer lab, I found nothing but problems. The machines were slower than Michael Bloomberg giving teachers a fair contract. I managed to get one of the tech teachers to help. She suggested we work with stills rather than moving images so as to make things move faster.

I spent a week dealing with technical problems, and didn't even get to actually view a video. I was told there was some program slowing down the computers in this room, and that it would be resolved. Perhaps it has been. I don't know. The next time, I booked the computers in our library, all iMacs, and hoped they would work better. They did, somewhat, but none of them performed like the one in my home.

I decided to tell the kids to edit their videos at home, at a friend's house, in the public library, or wherever. Today I asked them to come in and show them to the class, so we could discuss them. Two kids came up and showed Windows-edited videos, and we gave them suggestions. However, the next kid had a video on an iPod, as did many or most of my students, and we found the Dell computer and projector chained (really!) to the wall of the trailer did not play well with these devices.

My students, who know everything, declared that we needed to download iTunes and all would be well. We tried, in various languages, and got nowhere. When we got to Spanish it looked like it would work, but the Dell laptop demanded an administrative password and we lost a half hour dealing with this.

Tomorrow I'll bring my Macbook in and hope for the best. But the tech expert in our school advises me that the only way we'll be able to play video made on a variety of devices is to place it on thumb drives or DVDs. Despite all the nonsense I've been going through, I'm pretty keen on this project. If we can only view what my kids are doing, discuss it, and have them improve and finish it, it will be a pretty cool project.

Also on the brighter side, if I do it next year, I will have learned from all these mistakes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

When Politicians Disagree

In an unusual move, Sheldon Silver has declared that NYC kids should not be deprived of 260 million dollars just because Governor Andrew "1%" Cuomo is having a temper tantrum. While the governor is certainly free to bang his fists and kick his feet and throw whatever surprises Sandra Lee has been whipping up on the floor, it's beyond the pale that he do this to kids.

After all, Andrew Cuomo is the self-proclaimed student lobbyist, the only person in the state who cares about kids. That's why he took a principled stand against millionaires paying taxes. One day, one of these kids may be a millionaire, and it would be a shame if that kid had to get by with only one Lexus.

Meanwhile, it's OK that they get by with hundreds fewer teachers. After all, education expert Michael Bloomberg has declared that class sizes of 70 are just fine as far as he's concerned, and he must be right, or why would he have all that money? And school aides can be cut as well, becuse who cares if some dangerous criminal with a high-powered rifle enters an unlocked school door? If a few kids get shot here and there, it's surely less drag on the budget. Now if a student happens not to get killed that day, and grows up to be a millionaire, that student will pay less money in taxes, and what's more important than that?

On the other hand, if Silver is successful, and the 260 million goes to city kids, how will they blame the UFT? This is gonna surely mean additional leaps in logic for the editorial pages. How will they blame the union for lack of revenue when there is no lack of revenue? I have great faith they'll find a way nonetheless.

Meanwhile, it looks like John King will be given the task of imposing an evaluation system on city teachers. Not only will UFT rank and file get no voice in this, but the UFT Delegate Assembly won't get to rubber-stamp it. Is John King a good judge of what teachers need? Well, he actually taught for three years, and only two of them were in charters, so I suppose he knows everything he needs to. King is a firm supporter of junk science, and like many prominent self-styled education experts, does not give a golly goshdarn whether or not the system is effective. Face it, with margins of error ranging up to 80%, how on earth could it be?

Given that there is no good system, reformy King is as good a choice as any to make it even worse. I have no idea why the UFT leadership chooses to put their faith in him. In fact, PERB findings are non-binding for teachers, and I've been told that's precisely because we've lost every time we've gone to binding arbitration. So much for learning from experience.

So it appears we are to sit tight and hope for the best. In my three decades of teaching, I've not seen many changes for the better, and most of them have been canceled out by draconian givebacks. On the bright side, it's good to see Silver stand up to the insane policies of our governor. It would be better, however, if UFT would take a firm stand against insanity, and I'm afraid that must include junk science evaluations that will see even one of my brother and sister teachers fired for no good reason.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Coolest Thing About Being Reformy

When Joel Klein left his job as NYC Schools Chancellor, he landed in a big old pile of cash, working for none other than extreme right-wing Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch. This certainly beats working for a living, and even beats being Bloomberg's mouthpiece while pretending to put "Children First. Always."

As head of Amplify, Klein can devote his attention to selling crap we don't need to schools, and raking in a tidy profit for Rupey, who simply cannot amass enough money. And who better to get it from than NY City's 1.1 million public schoolchildren? For goodness sake, if the money weren't going to Rupey, it would be frittered away on teachers, and you need only read Rupey's NY Post to learn how worthless they are.

Furthermore, were the city to run around hiring teachers, it might have the effect of reducing class sizes, and it's well known that Mayor Bloomberg would like to fire half of all working teachers and double class sizes. This would benefit students by letting them know how little attention they merit, knowledge that would serve them well in Rupey's vision of an entire non-unionized, serf-like work force. Of course, a big step toward that goal is getting rid of those pesky unionized teachers, and we're getting closer each and every day.

In fact, it's no longer just right-wing lunatics who want to profit off of our children rather than educate them. President Barack Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, as often as not echoes whatever nonsense Bill Gates sees fit to spout. He gleefully broke the New Orleans teacher union, gave the city to charter schools, and declared Katrina the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. The fact that the schools are not so good as a result is of no consequence, just as his abysmal failure to fix Chicago schools through closing them means nothing but a replication of the system nationwide.

Now, Duncan's press secretary, Justin Hamilton, has abandoned all pretense of being a real Democrat or supporting working Americans. He's jumped ship for a gig with Rupey and Joel. So it really pays to do the reformy stuff Rupey favors.

If you don't believe that, just ask the ex-teachers who run Educators for Excellence and pretend to represent working teachers. Is it a coincidence that every time they get 100 people to sign a petition saying teachers need fewer rights Rupey's Post runs a story about it? Why should they bother going to some crappy trailer to teach unpredictable teenagers when they can simply do whatever Rupey wants and get paid for it?

There's gold in that there reformy stuff. What the heck is it that makes 80,000 UFT teachers get out there every day and try to educate children when there's so much more money to be made elsewhere?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Crusin' the Net--The Week in Review

It's not precisely an equal playing field when charters choose the most desirable students.

Governor Andrew "I am the government" Cuomo is pushing for legislation that will allow NYS Education Commissioner John King to impose a junk science evaluation system on NYC teachers if UFT and Mayor4Life are unable to come to an agreement by September.

A judge tells Cuomo, at least temporarily, to stop stealing money from NYC's children.

Given all the reformy stuff swirling around, is it any wonder that teacher satisfaction is at an all-time low?

Doing whatever the hell Bill Gates feels like, as our country does, is proving a costly proposition, and not just for Bill.

How the myth of the ubiquitous bad teacher damages all of us.

Federal commission suggests reformy stuff doesn't work after all.

One Florida county had to close its public schools to save enough money to build a charter.

Not mentioned in the contract or school regs, but it turns out they put you in jail for stripping at a school assembly.

Will Barack Obama be remembered as the President of privatization

What would it look like if we measured love the same way we measure teachers?

Thursday, February 21, 2013


A judge has blocked Governor Andrew "Student Lobbyist" Cuomo from stealing 250 million dollars from NY City schoolchildren. Cuomo, ever looking out for ways to help the kids, plans to appeal.

Because how can you better lobby for students than stealing money from them, leaving fewer options for them, and giving Mayor4Life Bloomberg yet another excuse to give them fewer teachers and larger class sizes?

The Unity/ New Action Manifesto

Hi folks, it's us, your good pals at Unity/ New Action. We're running for re-election this year, and there are lots of reasons you should vote for us. We'll list just a few of them below.

1. Lots of ATR teachers didn't get fired over the last three years. Hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of ATR teachers didn't have to go to the unemployment offices, get jobs at Walmart, or sell blood to get by.

2. Teachers did not get a reduction in pay. We could have signed a new contract that reduced teacher pay by 10, 20, or even 50%. But we didn't do that, even though we perhaps could have come to an agreement with the mayor on one of those figures.

3. Last year, many schools did not close. Perhaps your school is among them! And if it isn't, remember that you, as an ATR teacher, did not get fired as a result. Also, as you travel week to week, school to school, you get to see a lot of new places.

4. Think of all the things we did not sell out. Sure, you're working more hours, and after four years without a raise, you may feel like it was a bad idea to give the DOE an extra 30 minutes a day, especially since you spend it in 37.5 minute small group tutoring sessions that often as not achieve little or nothing. But we could have given them 50, 60, or even 70 minutes. That could be even more disorganized, but we didn't do it.

5. Think about how much junk science is in the upcoming evaluation, and focus on how much we did not get. It's only 20, 25, or 40%, depending on when you ask. In some states, it's even more! 50%! But we kept it to a manageable 40. Unless you blow the entire 40, in which case it's effectively 100. But let's not be a Gloomy Gus and dwell on that.

6. We did not get the evaluation system everyone is complaining about. We introduced legislation that would give us a seat at the table when negotiating the junk science evaluation system. Now that Bloomberg torpedoed it, it looks like there may be legislation to impose one upon us. But remember, and imposed system is simply part of collective bargaining, and anyone who says otherwise is a dangerous socialist. Best of all, if a system is imposed by reformy John King, no matter how bad it is, it won't be our fault!

7. Unlike others, who shall remain nameless here, we do not oppose the union. We believe in standing together. We never oppose our positions. We believe in full, free, and honest debate among everyone who supports our positions. We're uniters, not dividers! Therefore anyone who opposes our position has no ideas, because our ideas are the only ones that exist, as far as we're concerned.

8. Finally, think of those big old school buildings in which you work. Think of all the big staircases you have to walk. Now think of all the times we didn't push you down the stairs. Why not? Because that's the kind of folks we are.

Vote for us and we promise things will stay the same.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Standing Up for Our Right to No Voice and No Choice

That's what the so-called Educators for Excellence are doing. Though their most visible proponents, their leaders, are not even teachers, they're regularly cited as a teacher group. And though they're funded by Gates and his ilk, they're accepted by a sleepy press corps as representative of teachers.

Now they've put out a video demanding that NY State impose an evaluation system on teachers. Perhaps it's mere coincidence that this is precisely what the reformy agenda demands, and perhaps it's coincidence that they demand everything the reformy types demand at all times. I'd say, though, that any group claiming to support excellence ought to at least have one foot anchored in reality.

Reality dictates that VAM is unworkable and unreliable. There have been no instances where it's been proven to be effective, and last year's 50-80% margins of error in NYC were so humiliating that even reformy Bill Gates had to publicly oppose their release. Of course, that's not because Bill believes in science. It's because Bill doesn't much care to look quite as ridiculous as the fruits of his VAM quest have made him out to be.

I won't link to them or their ad, as mainstream media does that quite well.

I will tell you that I speak to real teachers every day of my life, and I've never had one say, "Gee, I wish I'd get observed more often. Gee, I wish I could be judged by student test scores. I have no idea whether or not I'm doing a good job and need external factors to validate my practice."

Just in case you happen to have fallen off the tomato truck from New Jersey, I can tell you that I've read and heard many, many reformy people asking what they could do to fire teachers. I can tell you that when Mayor Bloomberg and a Suffolk legislator were trying to kill teacher seniority, only in NYC, that the excellence folks supported it. Governor Cuomo opposed it, clearly suggesting the evaluation system would help get rid of teachers and accomplish Bloomberg's aim.

There are many cases of good teachers being denied tenure or fired as a result of VAM. If I thought it were a valid measure of teacher quality, I'd support it. I suppose, though, if I were part of an organization that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the reformy front, contingent on my support of junk science, I'd support it too.

And that's precisely why I have no part of any such organization.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oh, the Humiliation

Egged on by my 16-year-old daughter and 16-year-old students, I continued with my obsessive quest to master Temple Run. Yesterday, my wife dragged my daughter and me furniture shopping. Daughter and I found a very comfortable sofa and began playing. I scored 470K on Temple Run, a personal best for the week I've been playing it.

Daughter grabbed iPhone, sat for two minutes, and scored over a million. "They're here to replace us," said Jerry Seinfeld.

For their sake, I hope whatever skills are inherent in playing addictive video games become marketable. If that's the case, I see my daughter and students running the world any moment now, while we slink off in our wheelchairs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Law is the Law--Except When Governor Cuomo Doesn't Like It

If you've been following the comments on this blog and others, a frequent justification for the collaboration-oriented policies of UFT leadership is, "It's the law." For example, we have to give up our week off. It's the law. Or, more importantly, we have to accept teachers being rated and fired based on junk science. It's the law.

When you read these things, you'd think that UFT leadership had no part in composing the law, and you'd be wrong. The UFT was part and parcel of the junk science mandate, and they rationalize it by saying it's only 20, 25, or 40% junk science (though critics put it as high as 100%), and that other states have an even higher percentage. Therefore, since our law mandates a lower percentage of junk science, it's a better law and we have won a great victory. Of course, the inevitable fired teachers will disagree, but I suppose the defense could cry, "Were it not for us, 20% more of you may have been fired."

Here's the thing, though--when you hear these voices discuss the law, you'd think they were discussing the Ten Commandments. I don't like to brag, but as a high school graduate, I'm fairly certain that laws are neither etched in stone nor written by God. This belief is reinforced when I read that Andy "I am the government" Cuomo has now decided to introduce legislation to have ex-charter teacher/ charter boss John King impose an evaluation system on NYC.

It turns out, despite the trenchant observations that laws are laws, they can be changed. And our Vichy-style collaboration with reformy Race to the Top mandates may be for naught after all. So what will we have gained? Will 400 teachers rather than 500 be fired? 4,000 rather than 5,000? Or will John King simply make up something even more reformy than the law allows?

Who knows?

Because in an era in which billionaires like Mike Bloomberg can pull out their wallets and reverse term-limits laws twice affirmed by what is presumed to be the highest authority in a democracy, the people, the law can mean very little indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Look You Get...

...when you tell kids standardized testing is good for them.

Hopeless Addictions

A few weeks ago I got a pretty substantial check from FEMA paying off my flood insurance. I decided, as a loyal American, that I needed to do my bit to support the economy. Therefore, I ran out and bought an iPhone. This is a really cool little thing. You can talk to it. You just say, "Call Recovering ATR," or anyone, and there, on the other side of the phone, is the voice you seek.

It also plays well with my school's wifi. This is good because T-Mobile, if you ask, will not charge minutes for wifi calls. And yet, most of my life I'm surrounded by teenagers. My daughter, for example, informed me that the first thing I needed to do was play a game called Temple Run. You run around this maze chasing coins, pretending to be Indiana Jones, while pursued by a band of bloodthirsty killer monkeys.

I have a habit of calling student homes when they're absent, right in front of the class. It makes them ponder the relative wisdom of cutting my class. Last week, though, when I did that, it inspired a wave of interest from my students. They immediately observed I had ditched my previous phone for an iPhone, and this provoked a torrent of questions and advice that could not wait. Most of it involved sincere counseling to play Temple Run, and indeed to get Temple Run 2 as quickly as possible. And the price is right---free (slightly higher in Canada).

And I couldn't help but notice, as the bell rang the following day, and I counseled and threatened the kids to put away their cell phones, a large number were playing Temple Run 2. I'm still playing the first version, and I can't seem to stop. Perhaps it bodes well that I share the same addiction as my students, or perhaps it speaks to my hopeless lack of maturity. I can't really decide.

But I can't stop playing this game, and now that I have 40% of a week off, I'm afraid a great deal of it will go into running the maze. Are any of you hooked on this game, or is it just me and millions of hapless teenagers?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

How Are You Going to Spend Your Half-Week Off?

I'm not bitter about losing the mid-winter recess. After all, I had big fun the week of October 29th, walking through a foot of water to get to what was left of my house. It was great being homeless for six weeks, and the least I can do for Mayor Bloomberg is give up a frivolous family vacation. I've no doubt my students will be thrilled to come in as well.

As if that's not enough, the DOE, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that June 24th and 25th will be student attendance days. This is because there's nothing better than bringing kids in after they've finished the course and taken the exams. There's no one more motivated than a teenager who know there's no good reason to come back to school, and I'm sure a couple of days with 20% attendance won't bother Mayor Bloomberg. He can always blame the teachers and penalize the schools.

On a personal note, FEMA has finally paid out on our flood insurance. I brought the check to my bank, the Municipal Credit Union, and they refused to sign it over to me. They said they wanted estimates. It was an odd request, as I'd sent them all to FEMA and they'd never shown the remotest interest. In fact, the check from FEMA was for more than I had outstanding on the mortgage. I told them to take what I owed and give me the rest, but they refused. They don't do things like that, they said. FEMA has rules, they said. But when I called FEMA, they said it was the bank's rules, not theirs.

Today I went to another branch and some woman who was not crazy helped me. I personally consider being not crazy to be a great virtue. She called the mortgage department, who said yes they would take full payment from the FEMA check if only I signed and faxed them some stuff.

I'd been planning to take all that money and party intensely  for half a week, but I suppose that will have to wait. So seriously, what can you do in four days that's really worth doing?

I'm up for anything that doesn't involve going to a bank.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stupid Meetings

I'm the UFT chapter leader at my school. It's kind of a crazy job. I get called to go here, do this, or discuss that on a regular basis. But I'm also an ESL teacher, and I almost always teach beginners. One day, the kids asked me why I had to leave a class early. I told them I was the chapter leader. They didn't really understand that. The more I explained, the less they seemed to get it.

The next year, a new group of kids asked me the same question. I decided to explain to them in a way they might understand and accept. I told them I had two jobs. First, I teach them. Second, I had to go to a lot of stupid meetings. This, they understood. They asked me who made me go to all these stupid meetings and I said it was the principal. The kids all agreed that if the principal said I had to go to stupid meetings I really had no choice in the matter.

One day, the principal walked into that class. He walked around the room, looking around, and a young girl raised her hand.

"Why do you make Mr. Educator go to stupid meetings?"

The principal stood still a second. Then, he said, "I thought they were important meetings!" and stormed out.

The next time I got called out of class, the kids asked me why. I told them I had to go to a stupid meeting.

"No, Mr. Educator," said the kids, seemingly in unison. "It's an important meeting."

Footnote--the kids were right, actually. But had I told them it was an important meeting, I'd have had to persuade them. They were perfectly fine accepting the concept of my attending stupid meetings until the principal went and gave me away.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taking Candy from Babies

To my mind, taking candy from babies conjures up images of old silent movies in which black-hatted villains tie damsels to railroad tracks. I see Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustache with an evil cackle, as Dudley Do-Right gallops backward on his white horse to the rescue. These days, villains decline to wear top hats and capes, so things are not quite so well defined.

And yet, watching the actions of those in Albany, I’m reminded that clothes do not make the man. It’s nice that Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to intervene in the teacher evaluation dispute. However, I have to question his judgment and motivation.

For one thing, he’s now made good on his threat to withhold 250 million dollars from the children of New York City. Op-eds attributed this to the evil UFT and its efforts to protect bad teachers. At the UFT Delegate Assembly, President Michael Mulgrew stated there was an agreement in place, and Bloomberg killed it at the last minute. (For the record, I absolutely believe Mulgrew.)

There is, of course, what passes for a middle ground, and that is both UFT and DOE are to blame for not coming to an agreement. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Certainly the UFT did not withhold a dime from city children. And, while I’m not Mayor Bloomberg’s biggest fan, it was not he who cut the city budget by 250 million, or 1% (particularly if you don’t count the 14% he’s cut unilaterally since 2007).

I recall an old National Lampoon cover, showing a picture of a dog with a gun to its head, and a caption stating, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.” Is that substantially different from Governor Cuomo’s position? “If the UFT and the DOE don’t come to an agreement, I’ll take 250 million dollars away from schoolchildren.” The thing was, the Lampoon, however you view its sense of taste, was trying to be funny. Governor Cuomo was dead serious, and if I were his dog, I’d be deeply concerned.

NY Schools Commissioner John King has now taken the governor’s threat to a new level, threatening to take another billion from Title 1 funds. Basically, he’s saying, “If you don’t accept this evaluation system, I’ll hurt the poorest, neediest children in the city.” When did it become acceptable for the highest-ranked educator in the state to say, let alone do, such a dastardly thing?

As if that’s not enough, the feds have gotten into the act, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatening to withhold yet another 700 million dollars from New York schoolchildren.

In fact, there’s just one more piece of the puzzle that’s not gotten much traction here—Governor Cuomo, the self-proclaimed “student lobbyist,” already owes New York City’s kids over 5 billion dollars, as per the terms of the CFE lawsuit. Here we have two of the most powerful people in Albany withholding massive funds from city kids, pointing fingers at the union, at the city, and being accountable in no way whatsoever.

I tend to have patience for kids who indulge in juvenile behavior. After all, they are juveniles, and that’s kind of their job. When adults behave like this, I’m disappointed.

I believe, like Diane Ravitch, and like one-third of NY State’s principals, that the new VAM evaluations are junk science, and will help neither students nor teachers. While I fully expect John King to support whatever reformy nonsense that comes down the pike, I fail to see why my union leadership supports this. Furthermore, I fully believe the expense of enacting this plan will waste a great deal of money that could’ve been used to actually help kids, for example, by lowering their class sizes. In fact, it’s entirely possible that all that money, and more, will be used to enact the evaluation system, resulting in a net loss.

Nonetheless, I am horrified by the spectacle of powerful men playing games with the funds we pay in taxes to support our children. They may not dress like silent movie villains, but they certainly don’t behave any better.

Monday, February 11, 2013

UFT Leadership: Those With Conscience Need Not Apply

It's very discouraging to read of the UFT endorsement of Rory Lancman for City Council. There are some very basic things we should demand before offering our endorsement of any candidate. High on the list would be an opposition to closing schools. It was heartbreaking to see Jamaica High School condemned to closure based on false statistics, and there's no defense whatsoever for union support of those who helped it happen.

Worse, even the veneer of union democracy was shattered when the DA was prepared to vote against this endorsement. The fact is every member of the Unity Caucus is obliged to vote as they are told, and in fact have signed a pledge to do so. Unity Caucus members can be expelled from the caucus if they disobey, a tradition that began with Albert Shanker tossing out those who had the temerity to oppose the Vietnam war. Once that happens, it's no more trips to conventions on the union dime, and no possibility for snagging those cool union jobs and second pensions.

So when thinking chapter leaders and delegates reasonably supported Jamaica chapter leader James Eterno's request not to endorse Lancman, Mulgrew called for a second vote. The fact that a leader would instantly call for a second vote when things do not go his way is, in itself, quite a statement. In any case, thus were all the Unity faithful aroused from their momentary bout with conscience, and pressed into carrying their promise to support whatever they are told. To characterize those chapter leaders as activists or supporters of teacher interests is ridiculous. How can you represent teacher interests if your prime directive is to carry out the leaders' will without question?

This is not the first example of the UFT supporting anti-teacher candidates. The UFT repeatedly supported a Queens politician named Serphin Maltese. Maltese took part in the breaking of not one, but two Catholic school unions, and teachers lost their jobs in both cases. We also supported George Pataki for Govenor, who showed his gratitude by vetoing improvements in the draconian Taylor Law.

I personally saw Councilman Peter Koo speak at a PTA meeting about how we needed to fire teachers when Cathie Black was chancellor. He could not recall her name, nor could he defend the position he'd taken. I don't think Koo has acted on this notion, and he's since bolted from Republican to Democrat. Yet I'm fairly certain his convictions cannot run very deep, and I'd say his support of teacher interests runs a far second to what he finds expedient.

Of course the most prominent anti-teacher policy the union overtly supports is the use of junk science to evaluate teachers. Diane Ravitch offers a typically eloquent condemnation of this practice in this week's New York Review of Books. Yet UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks passionately in support of "growth measures" being used to rate teachers, despite their massive failure last year and the spectacle of hundreds of DC teachers losing their jobs.

What is the purpose of union? Is it to stand up for member interests?  Or is it rather to sway at the whim of corporate media and hope for the best?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

In Which the DOE Shows Its Appreciation

I spent several days over at Bayside High School reading English Regents exams. I was entrusted with this task because I knew none of the kids whose papers I graded, and therefore was not prejudiced. I was "disinterested," which is apparently a desirable quality in a teacher nowadays. Because I did not care one way or another about the kids whose papers I read, my keen eye was somehow more accurate.

Thank you for your time and effort in serving as a scorer for Regents Distributed Scoring. Your commitment contributed to the scoring of approximately 220,000 exams across this city.

If you have any feedback about the process, please let your principal know.

Thank you.

Office of Assessment

New York City Department of Education

I'm particularly interested in that last sentence. They appreciate my commitment, but they're letting me know they don't want to hear from me. And what can I tell my principal? What difference would it make to him if the kids from school X wrote great essays, or if the kids from school Y wrote poor ones? He's probably concerned with the kids from our school.

Here's what I would tell him---the kids I know best attend our school. I've been reading their papers since the day they arrived here. I know them better than the strangers on the other side of town and I can assess their work better than any "disinterested" party ever could. If I can't make decisions about them because, yes, I care about them, then it's time to take children away from their parents.

Clearly parents care about their kids and want the best for them. By the preposterous logic of NY State, kids ought to be shuttled off to strangers who are "disinterested." And that's what I'd like to tell the DOE.

But they've clearly told me they don't want to hear about it. They're far too busy putting "Children First, Always," to bother listening to the voices of their teachers.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Another Day

A language teacher and I have a very special relationship. Basically, every time she sees me, she screams at me. I'm no slouch, so I scream back. In fact, we've altogether stopped listening to one another, and when we see each other, we just begin. Frankly, I have no idea what she's screaming about, and since she's not listening to me either, I'm fairly certain she doesn't know what I'm saying either.

We make a colorful pair, walking around yelling at one another. Sometimes people think we're married. Why else would we be so angry? No one really knows, least of all us.

Today I had to go to a meeting. The meeting was so ridiculous I called the school to ask whether I could leave and come back. I must have been pretty persuasive, because they granted my request.

But when I came back, there she was, my enemy, the language teacher. She immediately began shaking her finger and enumerating all the various things that were wrong with me. I responded in kind, of course. There I was, telling her what a great guy I was, and rebuking her for her incredible ingratitude. All those times I saw her walking down the stairs and didn't push her, and not even a word of thanks.

Finally a kid came by, and shouted, "This is a SCHOOL. Stop screaming at each other and get to WORK!"

You don't see kids that serious every day. We were both pretty impressed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

On the Growth Model

Value-added gets a pretty bad rap, being junk science proven valid by absolutely no one. Therefore, when UFT leadership talks about the evaluation system, they call it a growth model. It's simple, they say. Wherever your students happen to be, be they slow, fast, needy, or perfect, you need only get them a little further. Sounds simple, doesn't it? We can all show some progress, somehow, with our students.

Yet here's what no one says. Who designs these tests? What sort of pre-test will there be before a Regents exam? What end-term exam will be given if there is no Regents exam? Who will decide what goes on it?

It won't be you, of course. You cannot even be trusted to grade the exams, let alone design them. And of course you have no idea what your students need to know, or there would be no need for Regents exams in the first place. As an ESL teacher, I can't help but notice that NY State does not differentiate between kids who speak English and kids who don't. The state cannot be bothered to learn step one about language acquisition. It makes ELLs waste an incredible amount of time learning to pass a test that will largely be of no benefit, causing many kids to need remedial courses in college--courses I could certainly offer in high school.

Here's the other part of this--whatever the test is, you'd better believe every teacher in the city will teach to it. You will have no choice, as your job will depend upon it. If you have the very bad luck of having kids who score poorly one year, you will teach to it even more, as your job will be on the line the next. This will take time away from what you think kids need. Of course, in this system, what you think kids need is of no importance whatsoever.

Unless I see more and much more specific material about how this model will be used, on behalf of my students and my brother and sister teachers, I must categorically oppose it. Frankly, I don't see how anyone could come to any other conclusion. Blanche DuBois may trust in the kindness of strangers, but I most certainly do not.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

It's Election Season

The UFT is getting ready to hold elections. The big mystery, supposedly, is who will win? Will it be Unity/ New Action, or upstart MORE? Well, it's not such a big mystery that no one has ever defeated Unity except Mike Shulman, or that Unity now co-sponsors him and New Action for a few seats on the UFT Executive Board. Nor is it a mystery that the overwhelming majority of chapter leaders are committed to support Unity/ New Action.

What I'd like to see is a discussion of issues rather than personalities and stereotypes. Will that be possible? Lately, when this blog takes a position against UFT leadership, I get responses calling me an egomaniac and comparing my viewpoint with Fox News. I generally delete them, as I do all personal insults to commenters.

On the other hand, if someone has an argument that contradicts mine, feel free to offer it. If it merits a response, if I have one, if the original post has not already addressed it, I'll be happy to answer.

I certainly don't deny this blog represents my point of view. I am not running a news outlet here, and if I were I'd certainly hope to be compensated better than I am for writing the blog.

I'm friendly with a lot of people of differing viewpoints, and I will not attack people for their viewpoints. I will, however, point out viewpoints I deem without merit and support those that make sense to me. For example, I'm not willing to endorse a "growth model" theory untested, with no evidence whatsoever to suggest it's remotely effective.

Ideas are what this election ought to be about. I'm not naive enough to assume it will, having seen many of them. It would be nice, though, to see ideas rather than stereotypes and juvenile insults. I'm not going to label people childish and contrary simply for disagreeing with me.

What do you suppose we'll find in UFT mailboxes this season? Point-counterpoint, or Daffy and Bugs?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

Is That Nice?

Looks like someone rated Mayor Bloomberg highly ineffective.