Saturday, March 30, 2013

Who's Afraid of Julie Cavanagh?

These are very tough times for teachers. We're facing an evaluation system that appears to be substantially based on nonsense. Mayor Bloomberg openly discusses his desire to hold teachers' feet to the fire, and when he says fire, that's certainly what he wishes to do to us. Governor Cuomo is now buying Bloomberg's argument that junk science agreements ought not to sunset, and stating they ought to remain in effect until and unless they are renegotiated.

Unity/ New Action's Mike Mulgrew was party to the negotiation of the law that subjects us to this. I've heard people defend it, along the lines of it subjecting teachers to less junk science than other states do. I've heard Mulgrew say that an agreement will be based on student improvement from the baseline of wherever they happen to be as opposed to their ability to pass some arbitrary standard. I haven't heard of or seen any study suggesting this is a valid way to judge teachers, but on the other hand we're discussing a system that does not yet exist. The UFT seems to trust John King to decide what it should be in binding arbitration, and I'd certainly like to hear why.

This system is likely the most crucial change to our profession in the 28 years I've been teaching, I say hell yes we need to hear from our candidates. If Mulgrew's vision is correct, if it is indeed the way we should go, why not say so? If Julie Cavanagh's vision is flawed, unrealistic, or whatever, why not show us all?

It's remarkable that UFT leadership could assume that we don't deserve to hear from the candidate, and a NY Post article has confirmed that to be the case.

I've not yet been persuaded this system will help teachers. In fact, I think it will cause good teachers to be fired, as we know has been the case in DC. I don't want that to happen to one single working teacher.

However, I'd very much like to be proven wrong. And if Mike Mulgrew can convince me I'm wrong, I'll gladly vote for Unity.

So here's the thing--will Unity/ New Action ask their candidate to debate?

Or are they afraid?

There's really not a third possibility.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Students First and Governor 1%--Perfect Together

A new piece at Gotham Schools makes plain what was already obvious to many--there's precious little difference between stone-cold opportunist Andrew Cuomo and the GOP. Otherwise, why would he take a "principled stand" to kill the millionaire tax, while ripping off city children to the tune of a quarter billion dollars? And why would anyone need to sue the state to restore over 5 billion in aid promised to poor schools?

There are a few interesting points that jump out here. One, of course, is that Cuomo, self-proclaimed "student lobbyist" clearly doesn't give a damn about funding schools that most need it. The other is that Students First couldn't care less either. While it's true these folks give precious lip service to the lie they care about kids, it's money they really seem to be after. Privatizing places schools even farther from community control than they already are, and nothing will satisfy Emperor Bloomberg short of the wholesale sellout of public schools to his BFFs.

I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I could not vote for Andrew Cuomo. In fact, the UFT didn't endorse him either. Yet they're now perfectly willing to place their faith in his ability to have one of his stooges impose a junk science evaluation plan on working teachers. This boggles my mind. I'm absolutely persuaded this will result in the firing of good teachers, as such plans have already done in DC.

There are people worth having faith in, but I fail to see how Cuomo merits being one of them. When Bloomberg was screaming about LIFO, pushing for the right to fire anyone he felt like on any basis whatsoever, Cuomo took a stand against that. But I distinctly recall his saying that it wouldn't be necessary because of the upcoming evaluation system. The implication being, of course, that this evaluation system would cause teachers to be fired anyway. How does the UFT infer this as coming from someone who ought to be judging teachers?

I've watched years of trying to make reformy folks happy. First we got the 2005 contract, which severely reduced seniority rights, created the miserable ATR, and send teachers back to patrol hallways and bathrooms. The tabloids cheered this contract, and if that wasn't evidence it was a huge error, I don't know what was. Teachers cannot appeal letters in file anymore simply because they are patently false. I'm not precisely sure how that benefits us either, but what do I know?

Where are the real Democrats? If we can't differentiate between the Democrats and the GOP, who are we left with? If Democrats are not offering working people a working choice, working people are going to need to create their own. And with all due respect for union leadership, we're not going to accomplish that by making nice-nice to those who seek to destroy us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Smaller Class Sizes or Increased Teacher Pay?

There's a lot of talk from demagogues like Arne Duncan and Mike Bloomberg about values. While many of us, parents and teachers, demand smaller class sizes, Duncan will say things about teacher quality being more important, echoing the AFT's partner, Bill Gates. Bloomberg, whose mayoral control we've supported twice for reasons that elude me utterly, gets up and says he'd rather fire half of working teachers and have 70 kids in a class.

Class sizes in NYC have remained static since I started teaching in 1984, and I have no idea how long before that. When we bring that up to UFT reps, they say class size reductions would have to come in lieu of raises. Bloomberg has made agreements, NY State has made agreements, and class size should be going down. But when the city fails to replace 10, 000 retirees, when teacher salary is a building budget issue, and when kids fail to simply leave and accommodate the Mayor's plans, class sizes consistently rise.

Meanwhile, we run around debating the evaluation system, and both AFT and UFT are actively engaged in precisely how to implement a system they presume to be improved by virtue of junk science.  The only selling point of such a system is the ability to fire more teachers, and I can't personally understand how that benefits anyone. Unless, of course, you're Mike Bloomberg and consider it a point of pride to announce, "We fired more teachers."

This is because of the random nature of junk science. You may snag bad teachers, but you're just as likely to snag good ones. At a recent meeting a DR got very angry at me when I pointed that out. He said that if it was junk science, that was good because maybe he'd get good scores and they'd save him. The union contends that the current system is flawed because principals have pretty much carte blanche on ratings.

So for principals, if that DR gets a good rating, maybe it will be tougher to dismiss him. On the other hand, if he gets a bad rating, it could make things easier on the principal. "Oh boy, I can finally fire that guy." The factor that gets no play here is the actual judgment of the principal. If the principal is nuts, he gets to fire someone for no reason. And if the principal is not nuts, he gets pressured to fire someone who's a good teacher.

A UFT Delegate from my building likened the argument about maybe getting good VAM grades to, "I'm going to start smoking, because maybe I won't get cancer." However, the addition of a virtual carcinogen to our rating system is not, in my view, the best of all possible worlds.

So, as to smaller classes or increased pay, the answer is simple. As long as the national debates on teacher evaluation, bar exams, and other such nonsense meander on, NYC teachers, students and parents get neither.  Mike Bloomberg is laughing all the way to the bank, and why shouldn't he? Likely as not he owns the thing, and neither he nor his BFFs have to pay taxes to support either of these frivolities. For him, it's a win-win.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

AFT Puts a Smiley Face on Junk Science

It's quite disappointing to contemplate the inevitable institution of an evaluation system that will judge teachers based on student test scores. For one thing, there's absolutely no research to suggest this is a reflection on teacher quality. For another, the system has never actually worked anywhere.

There are examples of teachers regarded as excellent losing jobs as a result. There are great teachers who don't get tenure because of junk science, and who likely as not will leave the profession as a result. And then, of course, there are the teachers who get their names splashed all over the NY Post as a result of junk science scores.

But in yet another lunge at the proverbial seat at the table, AFT has once again partnered with Bill Gates to explain how junk science can be used effectively. It's disappointing to see our parent union accept the false notion that there is a teacher evaluation crisis, and almost inconceivable they would accept that adding junk science to the mix would enhance the process in any way whatsoever. It's an obvious fact that reformy folks want to fire more unionized teachers. I fail to see why they should get the imprimatur of the AFT while doing so. In fact, I've had senior UFT reps tell me it was a mistake to get into bed with Gates at the AFT convention.

Don't we learn from our mistakes?

The main thrust of the article is that this ought not to be a "gotcha" process. Yet the UFT was told that the names of teachers would not be published last year, and our partner, the DOE gleefully stabbed us in the back. They urged journalists to make FOI requests, and the ensuing witch hunt resulted in the public humiliation of scores of teachers.

Do you believe Bill Gates, the no. 1 purveyor of junk science in the world, when he says junk science ratings ought not to be released to the public? I don't. His last-minute editorial in the Times, opposing their release, was certainly too little too late. It didn't prevent the papers from splashing scores all over the place.

I don't see anything in this piece to help teachers already fired as a result of junk science, and I see nothing to prevent future teachers in the same boat.

"Gee, we're sorry you got fired because of those test scores, but we've supported you every step of the way, up to and including your termination."

I'm not sure many teachers will find that comforting. Personally, I find it unconscionable.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Should Working Mothers With Sick Babies Attend the DA?

There's a small ruckus on the MORE blog about whether or not UFT President Mike Mulgrew should debate his sole opponent, Julie Cavanagh. While the respondents are often more civil than the juvenile ravings that haunt the ICE blog comment section, their arguments are bizarre, to say the least. As it happens, candidate Julie Cavanagh has an infant son, and the best argument they can seem to muster against her is that she doesn't attend the DA frequently enough.

The implication that she would neglect her duties, as a result, is beyond offensive. With all due respect, Mulgrew is not a full-time teacher. It is one of his primary responsibilities to conduct the DA. Cavanagh's primary responsibility is to teach her classes. If she couldn't be bothered doing that, we might have something to discuss. Or, depending on the circumstances, we might not. But to expect a young mother to teach a full day, tend to her infant child, and travel to meetings without fail is ridiculous at best, and misogynist at worst. 

When I go to the DA, I'm often amazed by what I see. I've watched Mike Mulgrew explain how we needed to participate in Bill Gates' MET study, to get that coveted seat at the table I hear so much about. I've seen us participate in a program that would utilize VAM but which absolutely, positively would not result in teacher scores going public. As a result of that, all scores did, in fact, become public after our less-than-trustworthy partner, the DOE, urged papers to file FOI requests. Individual working teachers were humiliated in the pages of the NY Post.

The first time I went to the DA, I voted against something. I can't remember what it was, but I do remember how everyone looked at me for doing so. A nearby Unity rep was horrified and started screaming at me. Our conversation turned to the 05 contract, the one that turned so many teachers into miserable ATRs, and red-faced, he shouted, "But we got MONEY!" in response. I will spare you my answer. Of course there are many Mom and Apple Pie issues on which I vote in the affirmative. It's disturbing to see Unity members now arguing against Mom.

On another trip to the DA, they were discussing Joel Klein's decision to only fund schools certain hours of the day. As my school opened before those hours and closed after those hours, I raised my hand. This was the one and only time I tried to be heard at the DA. Mulgrew called on a Unity member three feet to my left, not once, not twice, but three times. I was wearing a suit, unlike most in the auditorium, but I found I was invisible to the UFT President. I was certain I had the most salient point in the room, but it made no difference. It's ironic that I can be heard at the PEP, albeit for two minutes, but can't get heard at the UFT.

I regularly attend borough-wide chapter leader meetings, where there is open discussion. While I don't agree with everything that is said, I do hear important things and bring them back to my members. I also read everything written about education everywhere. Were I to rely on CL meetings, or the DA as a sole source of information, I'd have to ignore, for example, Diane Ravitch's opposition to VAM, mayoral control, and Common Core.

I went to vote on whether to accept Bloomberg's deal to avert firing teachers. I was torn, because the plan also forced ATR teachers to travel week to week, school to school. My friends in Unity all assured me the DOE was too incompetent to do this, and it would therefore never happen. James Eterno assured me it would. I abstained, unwilling to vote for firing teachers but unsure whether they'd treat the ATRs this way. As we all know, Eterno was right, and the DOE did indeed find a way to send ATR teachers all over the place.

At one DA, Mulgrew declared this system was a success because there were now more transfers. I suppose you can weigh the misery of ATRs, many of whom would have been placed under the old system, against the satisfaction of young teachers who've found places in the Open Market. I meet a lot of ATRs, I've got an open email address on this blog and I hear awful stories about their treatment on a fairly regular basis. There is no way I can celebrate a system that demoralizes so many working teachers.

The last time I went to the DA was to vote against the junk science evaluation system. I brought all our school's delegates with me. We were prepared to take a principled stand against VAM, but we all knew we would lose overwhelmingly. In a system where Unity recruits make up over 90% of the DA, a system in which every Unity member has signed an oath to support Unity positions in all public forums, there is no way principle will triumph over the junk science that Unity has deemed worthy of our support. Still, as a chapter leader, you do what's best for your members. Of course, if you've signed an oath agreeing to support your caucus whether or not what they're doing is right, that could prove difficult at times..

If you read David Selden's The Teacher Rebellion, you'll see that Unity has been expelling dissidents ever since Shanker. In fact, he threw people out of Unity for the offense of opposing the Vietnam War. So if you want to continue going to those groovy conventions on our dime, you need to tow the party line whether or not it benefits the teachers you ostensibly represent.

In any case, it's beyond absurd to maintain, as they now do, that the few minutes Julie Cavanagh may or may not get to speak at the DA is a substitute for the debate Mulgrew has thus far declined.  In fact, her opponent presides over the DA. Perhaps some Unity members believe democracy entails your opponent moderating and controlling the debate. They're certainly free to their opinions, but that particular one is beyond preposterous.

UFT members deserve to hear the ideas of those who'd presume to lead us in a free and open forum. If, in fact, Unity's ideas are so much better than those of the opposing caucus, it behooves them to demonstrate it.

The notion that the DA is remotely a substitute for free and open debate is preposterous. It is an insult to the intelligence of teachers everywhere. Anyone who contends the DA is a suitable forum for a debate between candidates is disingenuous and misleading, qualities I wouldn't seek in a chapter leader, let alone a union employee. 

Note--I will be traveling much of this week, so blogging will be light. I wish all readers of this blog a restful and joyous week off!

Friday, March 22, 2013

There Is No Past. There Is No Future. But I'm Putting It on the Test Anyway.

We have seasons, and a new one just began. But in my beginning ESL class, it's past tense season. Past tense in English is no walk in the park. There are dozens of irregular verbs, and they're among the most-used verbs in our language. We went to the park, saw the ducks on the pond, ate a pretzel, and drank some water.

On the positive side, you don't need to conjugate past tense in English. That is, I, you, he, she, they, we and it all had a nice day. There is no annoying s to place at the end of the verb, and you don't need to wonder whether it's s or es, unless you're Dan Quayle correcting a young student's correct spelling of potato.

On the other hand, while I went to the movies, I didn't go to the restaurant. Did you go to the park? Why, after I spent all that time and energy memorizing went, is that pain in the neck English teacher making me say go again in negative and interrogative sentences? Didn't I learn that earlier in the year when we were doing simple present? Didn't he torture me, feigning heart attacks every time I said, "He go to school," instead of "He goes to school."? And now he wants me to put up with this nonsense?

At least one of my students has had enough. He said, "Mr. Educator, why are you living in the past? What about the present?"

"We did the present last month."

"What about the future?"

"We're going to do that pretty soon."

"But we already did going to."

"OK. We will do that pretty soon."


"In the future. Can't you just concentrate on now?"


"Because now we are in the past."

"That doesn't make any sense at all, Mr. Educator."

"Many things do not make sense, grasshopper."

"What's a grasshopper?"

"That's a question for the future. But we have to get through the past before we can do the future."

There are difference between will and going to, actually, but I don't usually teach them at this level. I kind of like that my student will force me to at some point. It shows that he's thinking. And dangerous though that may be, I'm pretty glad of it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Good Old Days

A colleague told me yesterday about how she got her job. She was doing student teaching in our building and constantly being observed by her college teacher. The professor was effusive with praise for her, and her first department AP always found an excuse to be around and eavesdrop. He would shuffle through papers on a desk pretending to be looking for something, or stumble around as though lost in his own office.

When she finished her student teaching, he was able to offer her a job. Before she got tenure, he formally observed her, almost religiously, precisely six times a year. She generally did well, but her first time was particularly interesting, to me, at least.

The AP came in with his notebook (There were no iPads back then.), and sat in back of the classroom. My friend froze. Everything she did was wrong. She forgot what she was doing, started shaking, and could barely keep track of where she was. This, of course, is what E4E claims teachers are jumping up and down to demand more of.

The following day she went for a post-observation conference. She apologized profusely, and explained her panic attack the best she could. The supervisor told her not to worry. He said he could see she wasn't herself, and that she need not worry about this. It was as though it never happened.

He told her they would start from scratch. He would meet with her and discuss what her lesson would be like, he would tell her what he was looking for, they would agree on a plan, and there was nothing whatsoever for her to worry about. She was greatly relieved.

After that, he did exactly what he said he would. Her observation went smoothly, and her respect for that AP continues to this day.

Imagine how she may have fared with some Leadership Academy automaton with some absurd DOE-generated checklist. Imagine if the AP had to say, "Well, I think you're a good teacher, but you're still going to be discontinued if you don't get enough value-added points."

It's kind of sad to look at the progress in education and see how far backward we've come.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Neutered Action

One of my favorite fables is The Pearl by John Steinbeck. In it, Steinbeck writes of how the common people are cheated. They go to sell their pearls, from one buyer to the next, but each buyer is just an arm of the one true buyer--they actually commiserate to keep prices down, rather than competing for the pearls they buy.

That's how I feel every time New Action drops another ridiculous paper in my mailbox. We oppose this and that, but it's all good because we support that and this. The implication is that any actual opponent would be a contrary nitwit who reflexively opposed everything for no reason whatsoever.

The other implication, of course, is that New Action is an opposition. In fact, New Action was once an opposition, and I've voted for them more than once. Knowing little, but sympathizing with the underdog, I voted for Mike Shulman for VP, and he actually won. This put UFT leadership in panic mode. First they challenged the election, and if I'm not mistaken he won bigger the second time. Finally they changed the voting rules so that all officers were elected at large--the elementary and middle school teachers, more reliably Unity, now help us choose a leader so that genuine opposition voices will not prevail again without Unity pre-approval. This is akin to having Alaska and Texas help NY to pick a US Senator.

At some point, New Action decided to give up and sell out. They get a bunch of their people cross-endorsed, and in return they routinely place the Unity candidate at the top of their ticket. So their prez is the Unity prez, Unity allows a few seats for them, and then they muster the audacity to claim they are opposition. This is tantamount to the Democrats running GW Bush and saying they're the choice to oppose him.

This was a brilliant, inspired move on Unity's part. As long as real working teachers believe New Action is an opposition, it pretty much fractures the chances of any real opposition getting a foothold. Make no mistake--that's the one and only reason they grant New Action these seats.

If you like what Unity does, vote for Unity. At least Unity doesn't pretend to oppose themselves. It was Michael Mulgrew who went to Albany and negotiated the junk science evaluation that will almost certainly result in good teachers losing their jobs for no reason. A vote for New Action is a vote for Mulgrew, and if Mulgrew isn't Unity, then Unity is a figment of our collective imagination.

While you will hear talk of a fair evaluation system, and while some may actually have faith in reformy John King to impose one, bear in mind that any evaluation system will include not only junk science VAM, but also a proviso that the DOE will no longer need to prove you are incompetent at 3020a when they endeavor to fire you. It will be on you to prove your competence, an uphill battle to say the least. You will be guilty until proven innocent, a fundamentally un-American concept.

Again, if you want to vote for Mulgrew, I suggest voting for Unity rather than those who pretend not to be Unity. It won't much matter in the long run, since Unity has cross-endorsed the only seats New Action can possibly win. If you believe the editorials stating there is a plague of zombie bad teachers and the only way to eradicate it is a voodoo-based evaluation system, vote Unity.

If, on the other hand, you deem this system an abomination, your only choice is upstart MORE.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Anything that Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong

Yesterday was a rough day. I had taken my schoolbag out of its home in back of my car to write a lesson Friday night, which was a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, I followed up by forgetting to put it back on Monday morning. This was unfortunate on several levels. First, it would be tough to follow a plan I didn't actually have using books I also didn't have. Second, while some people find them quaint, I still kind of like the Delaney cards I've been using for decades.

My students cooperated with me by all showing up, except for the one who moved to Boston without officially notifying the school. However, since she never comes anyway, I'm not overly concerned about today's absence.

I'd received an urgent DOE email last Friday informing me about an important guest speaker, who was to address my one group of my ESL students in a foreign language. In a way, this worked out. The lesson I'd prepared would have taken two periods. I decided I would give a two-part writing assignment. Part one would entail interviewing a student in the class, and part two would be the Dreaded Writing of the Composition. I got in early and wrote a plan, because you never know when someone will walk in an demand to see it.

My students who were not part of the language group getting the Very Important Lecture would complete the Dreaded Writing of the Composition during period 2 of my 2-period class, while the kids listening to the Very Important Lecture would do it for homework. While this may be discrimination, it also shows the value of using English in English class, to wit, having no homework.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't particularly crazy about the idea of having a guest speaker come to my class and speak a foreign language. It takes a great part of my energy to keep kids accustomed to other languages speaking English. But since this was a Very Important Lecture, I had no choice. This was information so vital that it had to be given yesterday, it could not wait, and I could not have any choice whatsoever in when it happened.

The lecturer, alas, did not show up. Later on I got a message saying it would be postponed until tomorrow. While that's not particularly convenient, I don't suppose there's anything more I can do. I'm going to use the lesson I'd prepared for today, and I'm going to squeeze it into one period.

But I'm getting in early tomorrow and preparing something extra. Because you just never know, and I personally hate standing around and hoping for the best.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cruisin' the Net--Two Weeks in Review

 Leonie Haimson and friends just held a press conference to keep data on students and teachers private. Next year, when we're being judged by junk science VAM, you won't want the New York Post getting hold of bad data. They've already used it to call a working teacher the worst in NYC.

Windows 8 isn't working any better than Bill Gates' education programs.

Looks like Eva Moskowitz schools are not the panacea she says they are after all.

South Dakota teachers will now be able to bring their guns into their classrooms.

Do you ever wonder how closely admin looks at those papers reporting how many parents you interviewed?

Those allegedly altruistic billionaires are actually raking in plenty with their education programs.

Use this amazing internet tool to generate your own Tom Friedman column.

How many "reformers" does it take to really fix a school?Perhaps we need more neighborhood schools, and less Michelle Rhee.

Mayor4Life booed all over Rockaway St. Patty's parade--candidate Christine Quinn, who helped him negate the term limits bill twice affirmed by city voters, responds by walking further away from him.

Bill Gates wants a national database of test scores. Privacy issues abound. Will your kid's scores show up on the internet? Will there be a blacklist against teachers with poor junk science scores?

Mayor Bloomberg, in a show of incredible ignorance, again endorsed huge class sizes for the kids we serve. Bloomberg sent his own kid to a private school with classes of 15 or under.

One year costs for implementing the junk science evaluation system will exceed the four-year Race to the Top grants NY State took to implement it.

Finally, in these times of sequester, I think we must all be willing to sacrifice.  To do my fair share, I'm willing to give up value-added teacher ratings, Common Core curriculum,Emperor Mike Bloomberg, and high-stakes testing. What are you willing to do without?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mulgrew Asks for Changes He Claimed We Already Achieved in 2009

I was a little confused by a quote from Unity-New Action presidential candidate Michael Mulgrew. Mulgrew says he does not want to go back to the school board system:

Instead, he said, the union just wants checks and balances on the mayor’s power. In other cities with mayoral control, he said, “Everybody else figured out you needed checks and balances.”

In fact, I'm more than a little confused by that. That's because in 2009, I distinctly recall reading his statement that mayoral control had already achieved that.

We are pleased that the New York State Senate has passed legislation on school governance. The passage of the Senate bill will ensure that the checks and balances that we applauded in the Assembly bill will now be included in the law.

Curiouser and curiouser. If we already had checks and balances, why do we now need to call for checks and balances? In other stories, Mulgrew refers to mayoral control as mayoral dictatorship. Of course that's correct. But there are those of us who were well aware of it, and saying so publicly in 2009.

So why has it taken Unity-New Action four more years and scores of additional school closures to figure that out? And why is our union leadership so intent on building brick walls to fortify themselves against working UFT teachers who take the time to think these things through?

Could it be because they live in an echo chamber and systematically shut out any and all voices that seriously question them? Do they feel paying lip service to this notion during campaign season will make us all forget the UFT supported mayoral dictatorship not once, but twice?

The Dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference Attendance Sheet

Mr. Hopkins had been teaching for over a decade. Twice a year, he held parent-teacher conferences. By 9 PM, he was anxious to go home. But there was always the matter of the attendance sheet. You had to send the office a report of how many parents you saw, and before doing this, you simply could not go home.

Mr. Hopkins would often see 30 parents. One year, he dropped a sheet saying he had seen those 30 parents, but did so 5 minutes before visitations began. That will save some valuable time, he thought. But lo and behold, the APO's efficient and overbearing secretary interrupted a conversation with a parent to say there must have been an error, and that he could not possibly know how many parents he'd seen before the actual conferences began.

She returned his sheet, and at 9 PM he marched forlornly to the APO's office, where he deposited the very same paper, saying he had seen 30 students. He wondered what on earth they did with this paper, and why it was so important. No teacher had ever heard a peep about this report as far as he knew, and no one knew why the school wanted it so badly.

So next parent-teacher conference, Mr. Hopkins threw caution to the wind and doubled his estimate, claiming to have seen 60 parents. As usual, no one said anything. The next conference, according to Mr. Hopkins, drew 120 parents. From there it went to 240, 480, 960, 1920, and so forth.

Finally Mr. Hopkins grew weary of the calculations. He started making up the numbers outright. One month he saw 9,742 parents. The next conference was 42, 567. Finally, he claimed to have seen 3.5 billion parents one nippy March evening.

This brought a swift response from the APO's secretary, who was sorely tempted to report this outrage to the APO herself. Of course, the APO would be unable to handle so wily an opponent as Mr. Hopkins, so she prudently determined to give him a few choice words. When she determined Mr. Hopkins was sufficiently humbled, she tore up his attendance sheet and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she would need a new one by day's end, or there would be consequences!

Consequences! That didn't sound good at all. Mr. Hopkins took the new sheet, bowed his head slightly, and wrote 30 on the space provided.

But last night he went crazy and wrote 45.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

State of the State Education Funding.

Hi, I'm student lobbyist Governor Andrew Cuomo. Now I've been getting a little bit of a bad rap in the press lately because I took 240 million dollars away from New York City schoolchildren. But I did it for a good cause. The city and the UFT couldn't agree on an evaluation system, and someone must pay. As student lobbyist, it's my job to defend the children. That's why I'm making them pay.

I mean, honestly, they're city kids. They can't afford private schools and they won't notice if there a a few teachers missing. I mean, New York City already has 34 kids in a class, so if it goes up to 36 or 37, what's the dif?

And honestly, if the city pays a few less teachers, there will be more money for tax cuts for my buds. These are the kind of folks who will really notice if they have less money. Do you know how much it costs to maintain a yacht these days? Be thankful you don't have to fret over such things. That's why I took a principled stand against the millionaire tax, and a whole bunch of cash from the folks whose taxes I cut.

Now let's be frank. Sure I took the money from those kids, and sure I will fight like hell to keep from giving it back. And sure there are people who think I still owe 5 billion in CFE funds to NYC. But they won't miss what they've never had, so why can't we just leave well enough alone? And honestly, the 240 mil is just for this year. Next year I'll give whatever I give next year, OK?

So let's face it, it's always better to give breaks to people who really appreciate and love money, and that's what I'm gonna do. It's OK. I'm a Democrat, and Democrats can do stuff like that.

So please, New York, just forget about that money, OK? Do you really wanna pry it from my cold dead hands? Even if you do, do you think you can figure where I buried it before I tip off my well-to-do BFFs? Would you go out in the middle of the night with a shovel to find it?

Because believe me, I know people who will. So listen, New York, please just go about your business and stop bugging me. I've got a sensitive stomach, I regularly eat that stuff you see Sandra Lee making on TV, and I could really use a break, OK? So will you just get out of my face already?

Thank you New York.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Should Retirees Vote?

There's a very thoughtful piece at Gotham Schools discussing the power of retired UFT teachers. It notes that most unions do not allow their retirees to vote. Now I hope to be a retiree one of these days, and I personally vote every chance I get.

But I wonder whether or not this is a good idea. For one thing, as crazy as I am now, by the time I retire I might be crazier still. Of course, given American politics, being crazy is no obstacle to anyone's vote anyway.

I remember vividly the 2005 contract, the thing that got me to be active in union matters. I had just started the blog, and I was excited that the UFT was starting one. I thought we'd finally have a big voice standing against the nonsense perpetrated by Mayor Bloomberg and his minions. I thought we'd finally have a platform to address the nonsense appearing on the editorial pages.

What I got, though, was strong and steadfast support for the ATR brigade, passionate interest in curtailing seniority rights, and assurances that a 50% reduction in prep time would surely benefit working teachers. I got preposterous articles from self-serving sycophants who were later rewarded with cool union gigs to supplement their retirement.

One of the things I remember most keenly, though, is that several impending retirees, one a very good friend of mine, insisted on voting for this contract. One of them was a UFT delegate who never went to the DA, but made it a special point to go vote for this. "It's more money for me," he explained. "It sucks for the rest of you, but I have to vote for it."

Personally, I would not have voted for it under any circumstance. I think it behooves us to leave the world a better place for our children, and those who follow us include those who will take over our jobs in the future. I'm sure many of us vote our conscience, and I'm certain I'm not the only teacher who feels this way.

But when I read about Mulgrew visiting Florida during election time, a luxury his opponent, a working teacher, could not even contemplate, I wonder. It's great the union has an HQ there, and it's great that retirees can continue to be part of our union. But do they know that we're facing a junk science evaluation system? Do they know that 3020a, with the city no longer having to prove incompetence on the part of individual teachers, will be a virtual death for the careers of many good teachers? I certainly didn't notice that in the Unity handout that showed up in our mailboxes yesterday.

And I don't much expect the opposition will have access to retiree mailboxes, let alone the opportunity to send their candidates to press the flesh out there. Should people with no personal stake in what goes on in schools be deciding who leads us? Should they be voting on the contract? Do those far from home even have access to points of view that vary from leadership?

What's your take?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sweet Sixteen

As of today, our esteemed Mayor4Life was to finally get his wish--soft drinks over 16 ounces would be banned in much of the city. Alas, a state court has declared the law arbitrary and capricious (ironically, the very same standard he wanted to use to fire teachers).

Mike Bloomberg had determined that 17 ounces is just too much, and since he's the richest guy in the city, the man who'd bought Gracie Mansion fair and square (except for that third term), he figured he had the right to tell you just how much Sprite you can have in one sitting.

The problem, of course, was that if you want another Sprite badly enough, you could have just left that restaurant and go next door to the 7-11, which for some reason wasn't covered.  I suppose, if that were too much effort, you could even have bought a second one in the same place.

I didn't envision black market Big Gulp Sprites popping up around the city anytime soon. Unlike this mayor's ludicrous education initiatives, this one wouldn't have had much lasting effect. In fact, New Yorkers could still go to a supermarket, buy a two-liter Coca Cola for 99 cents, and sit on the corner and chug the whole thing. I don't imagine they'd have dragged folks away in handcuffs for that. Of course, with zany madcap Mike Bloomberg, who really knows?

If Bloomberg really wanted to put his money where his mouth was, which is pretty much everywhere, he'd stop making ridiculous arbitrary meaningless mandates and do something to address his signature issue, to wit, education. You may or may not know that Michael Bloomberg sent his kid to a private school with class sizes that did not exceed fifteen. Just to show I'm not always critical of this mayor, I'll freely admit I think that was a great decision.

As a teacher, I can reach more kids when class sizes are smaller. I can give more attention to those who need it. I can allow kids who wish to talk to do so, and there is more engagement as a result. Classes can be more productive and interesting when kids get more input. I think it's a wonderful idea to keep class sizes to fifteen.

But since sixteen is the mayor's magic number, I'm willing to compromise. Let's not have Mayor Mike lose out altogether, but rather do something neither arbitrary nor capricious.  Let's make class size sixteen, just shy of half what it is now. There will be no cheating under this system. No teacher will sneak around and try to add more kids, because every teacher knows he or she can do better with fewer students. No one likes a class with kids sitting on windowsills, where desks are piled atop one another and cheating is the national pastime even when kids don't actually wish to do so.

If Michael Bloomberg gives a golly gosh darn about our children, he'll stop making ridiculous inconsistent unenforceable rules about soft drinks, and give them something truly valuable instead. He'll give them an option to learn with public school teachers, the city's best, in reasonable class sizes. Then, he'll have a legacy.

What he has now, I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I wouldn't feed it to my dog.

Related: Glass Size Matters

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Dilemma of the Language Teacher

A Spanish teacher I know just got observed by her principal, who told her she used too much target language--in this case Spanish. Her AP, who is monolingual as the principal, sat there and nodded dutifully. These are tough times for language teachers, with requirements getting lower as students prepare for the do or die tests in math and English. I kind of understand why a principal, with his job depending on it, might focus more on the tests that will determine whether or not he'll spend next year pushing cell phones at Best Buy for 9 bucks an hour.

It may not be the principal's fault that he neglects foreign language, hurtful to students though it is. It may not be our fault next year when we drill students for the tests that will determine whether or not we'll be joining the principal at Best Buy. Satisfying though it may be to jump up to assistant manager, make two extra bucks an hour and order the principal around, neither of us really belongs there. The craziness that forces us to neglect what's best for kids is not all our doing.

What is the principal's fault, though, is his utter ignorance about language acquisition. In fact, the optimal percentage of target language in a language class is precisely 100. Of course, with a monolingual group it's tempting to revert to English, but honestly, how many people do you know who've studied Spanish for years only to learn, "Como esta usted?" and perhaps a little song about the Puerto Rican flag?

That's what I learned in years of Spanish from teachers who almost invariably spoke English. I went through endless lessons about "el preterito" without ever realizing it was the past tense. I conjugated my butt off and memorized dialogues, but I could not speak Spanish if my life depended on it. When I became an ESL teacher, I decided it behooved me to know another language. I spent several summers in Mexico living with Mexican families, and it was either speak Spanish or sit in a corner and cry. I hate corners, so I learned the language.

In my English class, we speak English no matter what. And that is not easy, particularly when you have 20 kids who all speak another language. If I were in Korea with 20 Americans it would be pretty hard for any teacher to make me speak English. But I'm up for the challenge if I'm the teacher.

One of the greatest compliments I've received as a teacher was a little bit sideways. My friend asked a young girl who the craziest teacher in the school was, and she immediately replied, "Mr. Educator."

My friend was sorely disappointed. He was certain he was the craziest teacher in the school. So he asked her why.

"Well, we were all in the beginning class, and none of us could speak English. But Mr. Educator made all of us speak English anyway."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Myth of the Powerful Teacher Union

There's a piece in Gotham Schools about the incredible power of the teachers' union.  It focuses on Lobby Day. Now I've been to Lobby Day (once). Basically the UFT picks people, gives them a message, and the rest of us are supposed to follow that person and nod our heads as he gives the union message, whatever it may be. In fact, I was trying to organize a demonstration at my school so I broke away, found our local pols, and got them to agree to appear. Haven't been back since. As good as the rubber chicken was, our local pols are available locally.

Union causes have included things as repugnant as mayoral control, and most recently the as-yet dormant evaluation system, based on Bill Gates' druthers, that will surely cause good teachers to lose their jobs. The spectacle of our union supporting what may as well be voodoo boggles my mind. And still, the papers don't hesitate to repeatedly contend that we're resisting it. Just the other day I followed a link to a surreal Daily News op-ed by Dennis Walcott repeating Bloomberg's outrageous lies about the evaluation system.

We're so incredibly successful we've gone 3 years without a contract, and 4 without a raise. We're so incredibly resourceful we've managed not to get the 8 plus percent raise that every city union got over the 08-10 round of pattern bargaining. Under the brilliant new junk science evaluation we will negotiate or John King will force on us, teachers will be fired at will or at random, whatever comes first. And then, we've brilliantly manipulated the system so that districts will no longer have to establish us as incompetent. Rather, we will have to prove otherwise.

We're so incredibly clever that this year we've decided to support Rory Lancman, a local pol who was instrumental in the closing of Jamaica High School. In the past we've supported Serphin Maltese, who had a hand in breaking two Catholic school unions. We've also supported Governor Pataki, who thanked us by vetoing improvements to the draconian Taylor Law.

Powerful teachers patrol halls in search of wrongdoers, and do potty patrol to make sure student bathrooms remain free for democracy. Teachers sit mute as principals falsify scores to make themselves look good and keep their heads off the chopping block. Union officials praise the US President for speaking against teaching to the test even as his own policies force us to do otherwise. Articles appear that teacher satisfaction is at an all time low.

I am bone weary of reading preposterous assertions about the powerful teacher union, used as often as not as a handy epithet. Poor DFER, the article suggests, with their millions and billions and suitcases full of money to offer cooperative politicians. How on earth will they and their good buds be able to manipulate the public? Will they produce further incredibly expensive feature films? Will they get their largely baseless positions heard on national outlets like Oprah and NBC's so-called Education Nation, even as working teachers and parents are ignored? Will they buy elections?

Of course they will. The oft-repeated assertions about the powerful teacher unions fail to consider just how much we've compromised, and just how willing we are to compromise further. Clearly they haven't read Peter Goodman's recent trial balloon about merit pay.

Most importantly, those who speak of the powerful teacher union are never those who work with teachers and students every day of their lives. Union officials may look good walking around Albany, but what teachers ask me every day is, "When are we gonna get a contract?"

Last year, a union rep assured my staff that the union was very clever, and that any evaluation system would necessitate a contract. My staff now knows exactly how true that statement was, and I assure you that all the important people doing Important Stuff in Albany offer them very little consolation while they're trying to make ends meet. I know I'm just a simple person, and I couldn't possibly understand all the complicated things they're doing out there.

But I see the results on the ground every day of my life. Color me unimpressed.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Disappearing Bookcase

Sandy hit us very hard. We had to pull out the floors and walls of our living room, dining room and kitchen. Just for the heck of it, we tore out a lot of the ceilings as well. A lot of our furniture went into the trash. Some survived. For example, I have an ancient oak bookcase that I inherited from my grandfather. Sadly, it's pretty small. For the bulk of my book collection I had two huge bookcases I'd bought at Costco years ago. They were sort of a hybrid--a chipboard back with what appeared to be real wood shelves. Alas, they didn't make it.

My wife was not nearly as upset as I that the bottom two shelves of my books were garbage. She'd been urging me to shed my collection for years, but I couldn't bear it. For about three months, we've had huge boxes of books cluttering up our dining room, and I had no place to put them.

I really looked for a half-decent bookcase, but all I could find were small things of dubious quality in the $3-400 range. Everywhere I looked, there were entertainment centers you could plant your 60-inch TV in. They were the perfect size, and didn't necessarily cost more than the puny bookcases. I was heartbroken. I asked furniture store employees why they didn't have bookcases that looked like that, and they looked at me as though I'd just fallen from the sky.

Finally, I gave up. I saw an internet ad for bookcases, 35 bucks delivered, from Staples, and bought three. They really looked crappy when we assembled them. I figured I'd use them until I found something else, then use them for storage in the garage or something. This would be good because all the shelves we had in the garage have somehow disappeared since we replaced all the walls.

But now that I've reluctantly tossed out half the remaining books, largely textbooks I'd been given which were so bad I'd never dream of using them, I've filled the cheap bookcases and they don't look half bad. There they are.

Where have all the bookcases gone? Does no one want them anymore? I suppose I'm part of the problem--a good portion of the reading I've done over the last year has been on the iPad, or even more frequently this very laptop. Are books obsolete? Should I have just gotten with the times and made a huge bonfire?

Tough to say. But if no one wants bookcases anymore, I'm not at all confident we're moving in the right direction.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Why Is Unity/ New Action Waving White Flag Without a Fight?

It's remarkable to see where we've come over the last decade with Mayor4Life Bloomberg in charge. We have a Board of Education in which he's got 8 of 13 votes, and it's served as a rubber stamp for the richest and most reformy guy in the richest city in the world. Worse, Unity/ New Action leadership endorsed mayoral dictatorship not once, but twice. If  I'm not mistaken, the UFT offered measures to improve the system, but then chose to support it anyway when those measures were not included.

Now we're facing an evaluation system substantially based on junk science. Though the crisis of teacher evaluation is wholly manufactured by reformy types like our esteemed mayor, Unity/ New Action bought into it and decided we needed to participate in Bill Gates' MET program, designed to mold Bill's vision of junk science into reality. We were promised that junk science ratings would be completely confidential so that we could ignore them in the privacy of our own homes. Instead, Bloomberg broke yet another promise to the union and successfully urged papers to sue to make them public. As a result, Murdoch's Post blared headlines about the worst teachers in the city, based on ratings with 50-80% margins of error.

Now, Unity/ New Action boasts that we have less junk science than other municipalities. This, supposedly is an accomplishment to be proud of. Their reps tell us that maybe we'll earn a good junk science grade and that it will therefore be tougher for a principal to fire us for no reason. This is akin to advising us to smoke because we may not get cancer.

If you don't see VAM as enough of a cancer to worry you, there's more. A column in today's Gotham Schools quotes people suggesting the end of step pay may be inevitable. What does this suggest? It suggests, of course, that the reformy wet dream of merit pay may be coming to NYC. Now it's not surprising to hear reformy types making such suggestions, so that in itself is not altogether worrisome.

What is disturbing is when Peter Goodman, the only significant Unity/ New Action voice on the blogosphere, agrees:

 The days of automatic step and seniority increase may morph into other negotiated metrics.Surviving will require nimble union leadership.
In case it's not clear to you what that implies, this is the very first hint that Unity/ New Action is prepared to accept merit pay.  That, in essence,  suggests that those who are lucky with previously negotiated junk science will get paid more than those who are not. In case you're wondering, merit pay has never worked anywhere. Apparently, reformy types find that less than persuasive, and it would appear Unity/ New Action doesn't care either. 
The fact that PERB has previously insisted on the pattern is of no consequence either. Non-educator unions received compensation increases in excess of 8% in the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining.  So it appears "nimble union leadership" entails giving in to not only the abysmal 2005 contract, mayoral control, itinerant ATR teachers, people being fired on the basis of junk science, but also merit pay.

So here is my message to the Unity/ New Action monopoly, and it's very simple--working teachers have been without a compensation increase for four years. What we need is not a tip, but a raise.

And in case it's not sufficiently obvious, said raise should not be based on junk science.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Cruisin' the Net--This Week's High and Lowlights

Sheldon Silver is working to block Governor Andy C. from stealing 260 million from our students

Philadelphia teachers are being offered a new contract with a 13% pay cut, among other goodies. In NYC, as a result of the Triborough Agreement, the terms of our old contract remain in force until and unless we sign a new one.

In case you're still wondering what our impending junk science evaluations entail, here's a VAM primer.

 Upstart MORE caucus has a new campaign video.

Diane Ravitch explains why she cannot support the Common Core standards. My favorite question:
Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?

Award-winning Rockville Centre principal Carol Burris also has grave concerns about Common Core.

Meet Eli Broad and friends.

A psychologist is puzzled by the misadventures of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates. (Has anyone ever seen Arne speak while Bill drank a glass of water?)

In our brave new educational world, will teachers be reprimanded for assigning books?

Finally, I adore Reality-based Educator's take on the forgotten-but-not-gone Cathie Black.