Friday, August 30, 2013

New Blog


Christine Quinn Is Pretty Sure It's OK to Cut Class

In a fairly amazing show of desperation, serial opportunist Christine Quinn is offering students excuse notes if they take off to work for her campaign. I've never heard of such a thing, and I've never seen a note from a politician saying Johny was absent because he was volunteering for a campaign. You certainly never saw that sort of thing from Emperor Mike, who could simply pull another million from his vest pocket and pay someone.

Here's what Quinn's staffer said:

“If you want me to be real for a second, a letter coming from the next mayor of New York City saying that you helped her on election day is something you can definitely put on your resume or application, and I’m pretty sure your teacher will be ok with you missing Tuesday, or even Monday and Tuesday,” he wrote.

I like that he says he's being real for a second. This gives us an enormous clue about what the Quinn team does the rest of the time. Perhaps their primary focus is ignoring polls that suggest Quinn's chances are something short of a sure thing.

Personally, I'd find this beyond the pale on the standard chutzpah scale but for several other factors--the year of Carlos Danger, for one. Perhaps Quinn's clueless minion is emboldened by the fact one of her opponents is comfortable sexting with teenagers. And yet, Quinn herself was instrumental in enabling the Emperor's third term, despite a twice-taken popular vote against it. Of course this gave Quinn a third term as well.

Clearly Quinn's priority is her own political future at any cost. Now I wouldn't disown my daughter if she made the horrifying decision to volunteer for a self-serving, corporatist, two-faced, boot-licking, megalomaniacal political hack. But I sure as hell wouldn't allow her to miss a day of school to do so either. I suspect many parents feel the same way. What if the politician were a decent person?

I gotta think a decent politician would refrain from asking high school students to miss school.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chapter Leader Addresses Measures of Student Learning

Dear colleagues:
Today our Measures of Student Learning Committee met to decide precisely how thoroughly invalid junk science measures will be used to rate teachers in our school. We had several choices. We based our choices on the information available to us, which was very little.
Our first choice was whether to use goal or growth measures. We were told that goal measures entailed inventing tests or projects. These tests or projects would then be sent to the insane ideologues at the NYC Department of Education who would set goals. The goals could have been different for individual students, which could mean ringing 170 different bells.
Were you to disagree with the goals set by the DOE, you would have the option of submitting reasons and appealing to the principal, who would either deny your appeal or submit your reasons and appeal to the DOE for reconsideration.
Given the tremendous amount of work we have ahead of us this year, we opted for growth models, although we have little or no idea how they will be calculated. For state measures, some were mandated to reflect individual classes of teachers. In those cases, we opted to have department results reflect the local measures. In other words, your department Regents results could be the local measures. This would reflect not only the exams in areas you teach, but those given by your entire department. For example, if you teach algebra, the results in geometry and trigonometry will also be part of your local measures.
We aimed, in general, to make measures as broad as possible. Wherever possible, we tried to avoid competition between teachers and groups of teachers. We do not want teachers to feel they would be hurting themselves by, for example, tutoring students of their colleagues.  
If there was a state exam and individual class results were not mandated, your department results were your growth measure. In those cases, we opted to have the local measure be your department results. In this system, if the state measure was also department results, local growth would be measured by the lowest third of your department results. Because there is no logic, rhyme or reason to this system, we were prohibited from using the same standard twice.
If your subject, like music, art, or physical education, does not have a state assessment, your evaluation would be based on schoolwide state tests. Your local evaluation would be based on the lowest third of schoolwide state tests.
We did not have the option of evaluating what teachers actually do, as the geniuses in Albany and DC, many of whom send their children to private schools where this nonsense does not apply, appear to have determined that teachers teach tests rather than students.
We will discuss this further when we meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m afraid I have no more details than these on this system. However, we will revisit it next year, by which time we’ll hopefully have a better idea on what does and does not work in our school.
Let me be clear—I hate this system and virtually everything about it. But as our union leadership had a hand in writing the law imposing this on us, and as John King had carte blanche to impose pretty much whatever reformy nonsense he saw fit, we are stuck with it.
We will make the best of it, and work to bring sanity in education back to our city and state soon. Sadly, that won’t be happening this year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Students Evaluating Teachers

Reformy John King has decreed what students think is important. He didn't ask them whether they wanted Common Core, and he didn't consider how they'd feel when 70% of them fail the tests. He didn't ask them whether they wanted to lose their neighborhood schools, or the large part of their neighborhoods they'd lose along with them. After all, his kids don't go to those schools anyway, so why should he care about that?

He did, though, decide that what kids think will help decide their teachers' ratings. Of course that's a good idea. While he's enforcing laws that mean test scores will determine whether or not teachers keep their jobs, he wants to make sure the kids' opinions count. But actually, if tests are the only things that matter, opinions are not that important. In fact, the Common Core advocates often say they don't wish to read writing about how people feel--what's important is how well they produce tedious essays analyzing other tedious essays.

I can go various ways when I teach. In my current classes, most kids are pretty happy. It's my job to teach them English, they want and need to learn it, and things kind of work out. I actually believe they ought to have fun and be happy when learning. I believe it's part of my job to let them know and see that English can be a thing of joy, that their lives can be joyful, and that this whole project can be a win-win.

I act differently when the class revolves around a test. Tests are not fun for me. It's tough for me to pretend they'll be otherwise for my students. But hey, if NY State says my kids can't graduate without passing the English Regents exam, I'll do everything in my power to help them. I really can't worry about how much kids like me, or don't, if the test is my job. And if the test is my job, the entire class is test prep. I'll read every word the kids write, but write they will, and I will do whatever I can think of to compel them to do it.

It would be much better if geniuses like Bill Gates and Reformy John would just let me do my job. I certainly know it better than they do.

I personally believe students should be happy in school. I think we can make them happy and make them learn at the same time. But I don't believe for one minute that the reformy crowd gives a damn how my kids feel or what they think. It's disgraceful that they pretend otherwise with these student surveys.

How many years has Bloomberg been surveying the parents while ignoring their clear-stated desire for reasonable class sizes? If you think the reformy crowd cares about the kids we serve every day, you're spending way too much time reading NY Post editorials. Or NY Times editorials. Personally, I don't see a whole lot of difference.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to Stop UFT from Asking You to Make Phone Calls

A few weeks ago, I got a series of phone calls asking me to work for Bill Thompson for mayor. Several UFT reps made these calls, and one was pretty persistent. With Bill de Blasio as a serious contender, I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to do so. I might reconsider if he's in a runoff against Quinn, because she enabled Bloomberg's third term, and because the papers have all endorsed her. This tends to make me think she's even worse than she appears.

I suppose if you're a UFT employee trying to persuade chapter leaders, you have a number of tools in your kit. One, of course, is thinly veiled threats. "This is important. You must agree." In fact, no one outside of UFT has ever used that argument with me. Several UFT reps have now tried it with me, and clearly assumed it was a conversation-killer. They are not accustomed to hearing, "No, I don't have to agree, in fact I don't agree, and what kind of argument is that anyway?" They do not have anything at all to say when you give them that response.

Another favored tool is flattery. "I'm calling you because you're very intelligent and influential. We really value your participation." When you answer that, in fact, you actually wrote something in favor of Thompson, a good UFT response is, "Yes, I read it. It was eloquent." But it wasn't really. It was simply that you found him the least offensive alternative in the very small field of choices that appeared viable. And given that, whether or not the UFT rep actually read it is another question.

After the rep tells you one too many times how smart you are, ask, "Then how come I'm the only chapter leader I know who hasn't been invited to join Unity?" This question, it turns out, is the real conversation-killer, and will likely render that call the last one you get, ever, from that person.

I'm not persuaded de Blasio is perfect, and I'm certain that our endorsement of Thompson has not thoroughly endeared him to us, but I'm pretty surprised to see he's being attacked by AFT President Randi Weingarten for wanting to tax rich people to support education. I notice also that he, rather than Thompson, is the latest target of Bloomberg propagandist Howard Wolfson.

Clearly de Blasio is more viable than Mayor Bloomberg and his publisher pals would like. I don't know what they're worried about, but I count it a good thing that they're worried. On education, they've been wrong about virtually everything, and they already have too many friends in high places.

Related: Diane Ravitch endorses Bill de Blasio for mayor.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Measures of Student Learning

As per Reformy John King's mandated junk science plan, a committee in my school needs to determine which local measures we will recommend to determine 20% of teacher ratings. I was not able to attend the first few meetings, but I'm informed that measures will include comparisons of how students performed on last year's Regents exams with this year's Regents exams. There are also measures like comparing Regents exams to AP exams.

Music teachers will be judged on Social Studies exams, I'm told. Art and gym teachers will be judged on ELA exams. Every single example I was given makes no sense at all. How on earth can, for example, you compare a student's progress on two distinct courses and determine anything whatsoever? Yet these, I'm told, are growth measures.

I went to the DA the day we were to vote on the NYC junk science plan. Mulgrew told us that growth measures were reasonable. In any class, he said, you ought to be able to move kids from point A, wherever they began, to point B, someplace that showed some progress. While I've seen no research to that effect, and while there are certainly factors outside my control that would impede or prevent it, I'm willing to entertain such notions. For one thing, I have no choice. Under the law negotiated by the UFT, Reformy John may do whatever he wishes.

However, the measures I've heard about do not even meet that standard. They measure how students did in other subjects with how they do in mine. That's absurd on its face.

My colleagues who've gone to these meetings report that it was a matter of trying to choose the least awful of a menu containing only awful choices.

The very worst part, for me, is that I will be available for the next meeting while one of my colleagues will not. I honestly wonder how long I'll be able to sit through this nonsense without just getting up and walking out. I wonder whether I'll be able to take outlandish and invalid choices seriously.

What's my professional responsibility as a teacher? Is it simply to determine which option is the least insane? Or is it to stand up and say insanity is not an acceptable component in the field of education?

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Campbell Brown Show

Some people simply see earth as our home, but for legal expert Campbell Brown, it's a forum to shock us with spectacular and lurid accusations. There are 128 teachers who were accused of some sort of sexual offense. Only 33 were fired. Why can't Walcott fire the rest? The short answer is arbitrators, chosen jointly by UFT and DOE, found them not guilty.

But for legal expert Campbell Brown (who's married to some Students First bigshot, which surely has absolutely nothing to do with her crusade), that answer is just not good enough. She made it a point to confront UFT President Michael Mulgrew about it. You can see the video here.

Gotham Schools had originally written it was about "teachers who have sexually harassed students," but to their credit, they changed it after I complained. The fact is, not all these cases were about that, and I know of only one. In this case no such thing happened. However, Campbell Brown did not like it when I objected to Gotham's description.

You see how this goes, don't you? You can only answer two ways. Yes, I think it's harrassment, and I'm therefore completely wrong. Or no I don't, and I therefore condone such behavior.

Brown was not finished with me.

Goodness gracious, what an awful person I must be for thinking such a thing. Or not thinking it. I told Ms. Legal Expert Brown that I knew precisely one of the notorious 128, that this person did nothing that merited dismissal, let alone suspension, and that Gotham's original description was misleading and inaccurate. I told her she was also misleading and inaccurate.

When you watch the video, note that legal expert Brown refers to these same two cases, as always. So out of 128 cases, 33 teachers were removed, but the teachers alleged to have done these things were not among them. Legal expert Brown refers to this as a "loophole." But there is, in fact, a process, described very clearly by Mulgrew. Maintaining otherwise is tantamount to stating that accused Americans who are found not guilty are getting by because of that darn jury system, the loophole that keeps police from tossing us into prison indiscriminately.

Mulgrew states, exactly, that the teachers in question were "not found guilty of sexual impropriety." Guess what legal expert Campbell Brown decided to tweet in response?

And this:

First, Brown is lying. Mulgrew said no such thing. The UFT said no such thing. And the video proves it. Neither Mulgrew nor the UFT were the arbitrators who made the decisions. In fact, I have no idea whether or not Mulgrew is even familiar with these cases.

Apparently, though, legal expert Brown is familiar with no others. She spouts these endlessly to the Daily News, to Gotham Schools, to me, to Mulgrew, to anyone who will listen. She has her "gotcha" argument and needs no more than that. You're either with legal expert Brown or you support sexual harrassment, you think mistreating children is a great thing, and she's got no problem telling you all about it.

But there are things legal expert Brown leaves out. Like what about the teachers who are not alleged to have done these things, what about teachers who didn't do these things, and since she has no problem misleading us with clearly false statements about Mulgrew, how do we know she isn't simply lying about everything else?

The fact is Dennis Walcott wants to fire all these teachers. He denies 100% of U-rating appeals. Leaving accused teachers to his tender mercies, as legal expert Brown would like, is simply idiotic. It's not surprising when groups like Students First NY jump on the bandwagon, and I remember them tweeting me a few months ago, trying to bully me into publicly endorsing their nonsense.

Teachers who abuse children sexually belong in prison, where they can meet like-minded individuals. I can't really assess how well the arbitrators do their jobs. Are they perfect? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In the one case with which I am familiar, they judged fairly well.

But legal expert Campbell Brown, endlessly repeating the same old strawman fallacy, is pretty easy to figure out.  Her argument may be good enough for the Daily News, and it may be good enough for Gotham Schools. But it's not good enough for those of us still exercising critical thought, thank you very much.

To Endorse or Not to Endorse?

That is the question for the UFT. With apologies to the Immortal Bard:

Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous accusations,
Or to take Arms against reformy advocates,
And by opposing end them: while we come to life, wake up...
Was it a good idea for the UFT to endorse Thompson when it did? At the time, I thought so. It appeared Quinn was a 500-pound gorilla, Wiener was poised to enable yet another GOP win, and that de Blasio and Liu were swirling the bowl. 

But when Carlos Danger performed his amazing self-destruction routine, it began to look like de Blasio had a chance. Unlike Thompson, de Blasio had never told the Daily News he approved of Bloomberg giving all city workers, except teachers, an 8% raise. Considering that, Thompson's ties to Meryl Tisch, and his flip-flopping on stop and frisk, I declined to work for Thompson against de Blasio.

One of the arguments the UFT rep imploring me to work for Thompson offered was that one could not simply look at the polls. One must look deeply. After all, Thompson was sorely underestimated in the polls four years ago. This was certainly true. I can't help but recall another UFT rep telling me we could only move the polls five points, and that's why we weren't endorsing Thompson against Emperor Bloomberg. Months later, when Thompson lost by precisely five points, a more senior UFT official informed a group of us we could only have moved the needle three points.

I began to think the UFT did not look so deeply at polls either. And this leads me to wonder, given the supremely unpredictable nature of this campaign, whether or not we ought to have withheld our endorsement before we knew what the hell was going on. When I read in Gotham Schools, for example, that de Blasio claims the lack of union endorsement makes him more independent, I wonder why we've granted him such independence.

Would we perhaps be better off with multiple politicians vying for our votes, rather than one? Why should candidates offer us anything now that we've essentially crossed them off our lists?

Had we not already endorsed, would there be politicians actually uttering words about giving city teachers the raise almost all other city unions got in the last round of pattern bargaining? Would they be discussing more reasonable treatment of teachers given the double whammy that is Common Core and junk science evaluation?

Would there be, heaven forfend, talk of treating our kids better, rather than labeling most of them failures under a system that's never been field tested or determined to be accurate in predicting anything?

We shall never know.

Thanks to Nick

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Charles M. Blow Joins NY Times Common Core Lovefest

It looks like, in the space of a week, three NY Times columnists have come out swinging in favor of the Common Core. The latest is Charles M. Blow, who I'd previously found thoughtful and worthwhile. His opening salvo informs us we are not keeping up with other countries, yet our lower test scores align precisely with our disgraceful higher poverty levels. As if that were not enough, Broad's source for this proclamation is the Broad Foundation. One wonders why he doesn't just go to the Walmart family, with his particular standard for objective sources.

It's ironic that Common Core is supposed to teach our children to think critically, and its prominent proponents appear incapable of doing so. Blow's second source, right out of the gate, is Amanda Ripley, who he describes as a journalist. One of Ripley's journalistic specialties is ad hominem attacks against real-live education expert Diane Ravitch, accused by Ripley of living in an "alternate universe."

Blow then explains it is endorsed by the Obama administration, and he's apparently unaware or uninterested that this administration has endorsed demonstrably nonsensical things like merit pay, which has worked nowhere, ever, value-added evaluations, which have worked nowhere ever, higher class sizes, which have worked nowhere, ever, and Hurricane Katrina, which Arne Duncan declared the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, despite the abysmal results after it was privatized. One might say this administration was more or less in the bag for billionaires like Broad, Gates, and the Walmart family.

Then comes the unkindest cut of all, though this one is by no means Blow's fault. Common Core is also supported by the American Federation of Teachers. This certainly gives street cred to this reformy screed. One would thing that a group that ostensibly represents teachers would demand evidence that a group of standards were effective, but one would be mistaken. We've allowed this corporate scheme to be foisted upon our children for reasons that elude me utterly, and shame on us for doing so.

We're also led to believe it's a good thing because 45 states have accepted it. And yet, with all that apparent acceptance, an Edweek article suggests two out of three Americans know nothing about Common Core. While that's certainly a poor showing for an alleged democracy, it appears nationally prominent columnists who write about it don't know all that much about it either, so perhaps the majority of Americans, getting their information from sources like the NY Times, are doing the best they can with the information they have.

Blow finally says something that makes sense in this column:

We have drifted away from the fundamentals of what makes a great teacher: the ability to light a fire in a child, to develop in him or her a level of intellectual curiosity, the grit to persevere and the capacity to expand. Great teachers help to activate a small thing that breeds great minds: thirst.

And yet, Blow's very next statement suggests Common Core will do that. A fundamental misconception here is that testing our kids to death will somehow make them love to read. And yet, reformy folks like Obama, Bloomberg, Rahm, and even Reformy John King send their kids to private schools with reasonable class sizes. They don't send their kids to places that will treat their kids the way they want ours treated. They don't set their kids up for failure the way ours were, via Common Core.

In fact, kids who love to read can plod through the nonsense set forth in Common Core. They can read anything, no matter how dry or tedious, if there is some worthwhile task attached to it. But the notion we can get kids to love reading via forcing arbitrary percentages of non-fiction on them is ridiculous. In fact, the notion that there is value in writing that is difficult to comprehend is in itself questionable. I've read enough poorly-written textbooks to personally attest to that.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pete Seeger:

Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes a genius to attain simplicity.

Seeger was referring to the songwriting skills of Woody Guthrie, most famous for the classic This Land is Your Land. Even as NY Times columnists rewrite Woody's ballad:

This land is Broad's land,
This land is Gates' land,
Walmart education,
For the kids of the nation...

It just doesn't have the same ring to it. This is especially true when Gates deems such nonsense unsuitable for his own kids. And any way you slice it, Common Core, established nowhere to prove anything whatsoever, is something less than classic, something distinctly less than genius.

Ignoring the massive poverty that afflicts this country, poverty that is exacerbated by the very businesses of the reformy foundations that presume to know how to educate our children, is not particularly genius either.

What a disgrace that people promoted by the NY Times are too incurious to examine the other side of this issue.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Krugman Becomes a Duncan Dittohead

 It's pretty suspicious that, on the eve of Diane Ravitch's book release, the dunces are in confederacy against her, and for Common Core. It's particularly egregious to find said dunces at the NY Times day after day.

I've long admired NY Times columnist Paul Krugman. During the insanity and excesses of GW's reign, he was a voice in the wilderness, a voice of reason, experience, and science. He always knew why things worked and did not work, and gave copious example to support his economic ideas. I found him incredibly persuasive.

But yesterday he wrote a rather unbelievable blog in support of Bill Keller's Common Core ad posing as a NY Times column. Apparently the right wing is bad, and anything they say is therefore also bad. It doesn't matter if they happen to be correct, and judging by both Keller and Krugman, we ought not even to delve one centimeter below the surface of governmental assertions. Of course this was different when Bush was in charge. But now that the government is run by Democrats, whatever they say must be correct.

I fail to see how this differentiates them from the Tea Partiers they ostensibly deplore. I fail to see how this differentiates them from Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads, who accept whatever preposterous nonsense he spews. In fact, I fail to see how people who think like this measure up to what Common Core claims to wish to instill in our students--critical thinking. It's kind of amazing that an alleged government drive to promote critical thinking entails telling journalists how to cover the story, but that's America in 2013.

I posted a response last night, which so far has not been approved by Krugman's crack blog team. Forgive me for twice mentioning that Common Core has never been field-tested, but when you see fit to impose a program on millions of American children, it seems like a fairly basic precaution. Of course, neither Keller nor Krugman bothered researching such frivolous details.  Here's what I told Dr. Krugman:

As a longtime reader and admirer, I’m very disappointed that you know so little about Common Core, which has never been field tested or researched. I’m even more disappointed that you’ve done so little research about who funded and pushed it. It’s not educators. I see no evidence you’re familiar with Common Core, or even the Obama agenda for American education. I suggest you read experts like Diane Ravitch or Linda Darling-Hammond rather than taking the word of Arne Duncan, who failied miserably in Chicago and is taking his program nationwide.
I suggest you think very seriously about high-stakes testing, which invariably closes schools in high poverty neighborhoods, and that you think very seriously about whether test scores tell the whole story about education. I suggest you look into the science behind value-added rating of teachers–because there isn’t any. I suggest you examine the way Common Core was researched and field tested–because it wasn’t.
I respectfully suggest that Obama has taken GW Bush’s education programs and not only extended them, but made them worse. You may argue that right-wingers oppose Common Core because it’s the program of Barack Obama, and you may be right.
However, I must tell you that whatever may motivate them, many of their arguments are correct. I expect much better from you, Mr. Krugman.

What would you like to tell him?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Arne Duncan Approved NY Times Column

I continue to be amazed at how low the bar seems to be for professional writers. Maybe they, rather than we, should be compelled to prove added value with some ridiculous mathematical formula. Even as teachers are under assault nationwide for the egregious offense of devoting their lives to helping children, NY Times writers continue to make many times our salaries without even the most cursory research.

Exhibit A is this column from Bill Keller. While it's ostensibly directed against far right critics of Common Core, and while I agree with his criticisms of their tactics, it's remarkably weak on the actual issues.

...the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.

I'm not precisely persuaded by that. Take a gander at this and you too may wonder who these "educators" are. I'd also question the "embarrassing decline" of education. In fact, if this supposed decline is correlated with test scores, it's fairly easy to see that the lower scores are precisely aligned with high concentrations of impoverished and special needs students. Poverty, of course, is something Bill Gates has determined he can't change, so we're therefore supposed to ignore it.

Keller continues with the Duncan-approved talking points that Common Core is not a federal program, and that there is no national curriculum. In fact, the Common Core standards were highly encouraged by Duncan's Race to the Top. Cash-starved states adopted it, along with junk science evaluation of teachers, so as not to be shut out of the federal support for which their residents paid taxes. It's a bad deal, and will likely result in said states losing money which they'll be forced to devote to even further high-stakes testing.

Most deplorable is the fact that this writer appears totally unaware of the lack of research or field-testing that went into this initiative. As if that were not enough, the writer has no sense of what it means to set up millions of children as failures, particularly with tests with inappropriate and ridiculous standards.

The fact is it isn't simply right-wingers who oppose Common Core, and Keller makes a brief nod to that. But Keller appears unable to differentiate between the issues of health care and reformy education, and shows no evidence he's even familiar with their history. Destroying public education used to be the exclusive province of the extreme right, but groups like DFER have bought enormous influence over faux-Democrats, who now push ridiculous union-busting anti-middle class nonsense.

I'm frankly amazed that people with so little evident curiosity can make a living writing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Arne Duncan Sics His Flying Monkeys on Diane Ravitch

I'm often shocked by what passes for argument nowadays. I don't suppose it's big news that Diane Ravitch has an impending book release. While I can't wait to read it, I follow her blog, and am well aware of her point of view. So, too, is the White House, as represented by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan failed miserably to help Chicago schools, and thus was called upon by our President to work his magic on the rest of the country.

Former Duncan assistant Peter Cunningham tells us how our tax dollars were being used: of my jobs was to monitor criticism of our policies and develop our responses. 

In other words, he sat around reading blogs and news articles. Nice work if you can get it. And the salary surely must beat that of us lowly teachers.

Cunningham saw fit to attack now, rather than bother to actually read the upcoming book. At some point, the administration was actually communicating with Ravitch.

Over the years, her criticism of the administration became more and more strident. It was increasingly clear that she was not interested in a genuine conversation with us but rather was interested in driving her anti-administration message, even if it meant resorting to tactics that are beneath someone of her stature: ad hominem attacks on the secretary, cherry-picking data, setting up straw man arguments, taking language out of context and distorting its meaning, and ignoring sound evidence that conflicts with her point of view. 

Note that Cunningham does not offer a single example of anything of which Ravitch is accused. We are, I suppose, to simply take him at his word. I'm puzzled as to how accusing her of all these things with no evidence whatsoever is not in itself the ad hominem attack that he deems so distasteful. If there is evidence, or indeed a single example, why doesn't Cunningham share it with us?

Cunningham then quotes Ravitch, who says Common Core standards are too high. There is, in fact, evidence that this is absolutely correct. For one, there is the massive failure rate in NY State. For another, there is evidence that the benchmark is fatally flawed. It's shocking that someone who, at least ostensibly, represented us and our children, cannot be bothered to do such rudimentary research.

This is followed by an excursion into other-worldliness as Cunningham ventures to read Ravitch's mind. Ravitch says not everyone needs to go to college, and Cunningham informs us of who Ravitch has in mind:

When Dr. Ravitch says, "But maybe they don't need to go to college," who exactly is she referring to? It's certainly not rich white kids. 

Yet I don't actually see that specified in Ravitch's comments. Doubtless there is no such thing as a rich white plumber or business owner. Cunningham continues:

I know she has repudiated many of her earlier views on reform and I respect her right to change her mind. But openly and unrepentantly calling for low standards and implying that whole segments of the student population are not college material is indefensible.

Here, Cunningham refers to Ravitch's former position supporting national standards. I'd presume it would go without saying that an acceptable national standard would be researched, field-tested, and established as having validity. Common Core is none of the above. And yet, Duncan himself claims these are not national standards. It's remarkable that Cunningham hasn't even got the talking point right.

Worse, is his baseless accusation that Ravitch calls for low standards. I've never seen her call for any such thing. Cunningham would have us assume that any of us who fail to support his unproven "reform" oppose high standards for kids. He would have us assume that saying some kids don't or won't need college is an insult on some group. His citation of white kids would have us assume some covert racism on Ravitch's part, an implication for which he, again, offers no evidence whatsoever.

I understand that Dr. Ravitch is about to publish another book attacking education reform. She will go after my good friend Arne Duncan. She will attack alternative educational approaches such as charter schools -- even if they are successful. She will attack well-meaning and hard-working organizations like Teach for America. She will attack foundations and organizations she disagrees with, regardless of the benefits they provide to educators. She will lump them all together as one big corporate conspiracy aimed at privatizing public education.

Again, we are to take Cunningham's word Ravitch will "go after" his "good friend." First of all baseless personal attacks, like Cunningham's column, are very different from reasoned criticism of policies or actions. Second, it's pretty clear Duncan is the very same good friend who bribed cash-starved states to accept his baseless and unproven policies.

If some of these efforts are moving too fast for some and are off-base for others, we can discuss it like adults with intellectual rigor and mutual respect and adjust accordingly. 

Yet Cunningham himself does none of this as he launches yet another thinly-veiled and utterly baseless attack.

But we can never, ever retreat. 

No matter how hurtful, misguided or ineffective our policies are, we must continue. With all due respect, Mr. Cunningham, that notion is nothing short of idiotic. If that's the best argument you can muster, the title of this piece is surely an offense to flying monkeys everywhere.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pass Assembly Bill A.7994

After having written my local Assembly person, Brian Curran, to fire Reformy John King, he wrote back the following:

Thank you for your recent email.  I appreciate and encourage your initiative and participation in the legislative process.

 The Assembly Bill A.7994 was referred to the education committee in June of this year.  This bill’s purpose is to withdraw New York State from the Common Core and Race to the Top programs.  The mandates associated with these programs are causing undue stress on our educational institutions as well as our children’s educational experience.  The costs of implementing the provisions of these programs have proven to be a financial burden placed upon our schools. Please be advised that I am a co-sponsor of this bill. 

Here is the bill's page. It's sponsored by 25 GOP Senators, apparently. I'm wary of Republicans, but lately equally wary of Democrats. The current bill's language is right here. It's simple and straightforward, and seems to say precisely what Mr. Curran claimed.

So here's my question--Why aren't we organizing marches and demonstrations to pass this bill? Since Race to the Top is just what Curran says, since it imposes junk science as teacher evaluation, what is wrong with his suggestion? And since Common Core has never been researched, field-tested, or proven valid, why are we painting the majority of New York's children as failures based on such nonsense?

Shouldn't we support politicians who do the right thing?

Give With One Hand, Stab With the Other

I'm fascinated by operations that love teachers. For one example, Target is giving 5 million bucks to schools. For another, the Daily News is honoring teachers as Hometown Heroes.

I suppose, when we look at Target's generosity, we are to forget the lengths to which they will go to thwart union right here in New York. Below you can view the anti-union video they show their new employees. The apparent Target employees participating are actually actors--and card-carrying union members. Thanks a lot, guys.

Anyone who follows history knows that the current deterioration of America's middle class is concurrent with decreased union membership. And any thinking person knows exactly why Target closes stores rather than face union. It's certainly not to benefit working people. And those kids Target claims to be supporting with this giveaway, based on your purchases, will be working people one day. If you shop at Target, you're supporting people who want to illegally deprive Americans of union benefits. Try Costco instead. They are at least partially unionized, and they treat their employees better.

As for the Daily News, the Hometown Heroes campaign is fine. It's good to honor teachers. But it's also good to be fair to them. One part of fairness entails telling the truth. In the recent spate of stories vilifying teachers based on unproven or rejected allegations, they aren't quite doing that. It very much appears that much of their info comes from legal expert Campbell Brown. I have no idea what makes her a legal expert, or what makes her an educational expert either. However, since she's regularly cited in these articles, I presume there's some basis for their having chosen her. They cite the group she runs, but I've yet to see who else belongs to it, or who funds it.

Oh, and based on her extensive expertise in whatever, Campbell Brown is part of the team that selects the Hometown Heroes. If I had a choice, which I do not, I'd rather see fair treatment of working teachers in news stories, and forgo the awards. I've probably said this multiple times, but I know one of the teachers accused of being a "perv" and a "sex creep," and there is no basis whatsoever for this name-calling, let alone for legal expert Campbell Brown's call that he be fired.

We're teachers. We are role models. We need to tell the truth. And the truth, being not so simple as it appears, takes a little thought on our part.

Let's lead by example. Let's show our kids critical thinking by thinking critically, rather than merely showing them which circles to blacken on Common Core exams.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Elections Obsolete, Declares Reformy John King

Buffalo has not jumped when Reformy John King snapped his fingers, and that is unacceptable to Reformy John. Being King, Reformy John has decreed that the elected school boards ought to be replaced. Evidently, Reformy John is using the New York model. When Emperor Bloomberg found himself term-limited due to a referendum twice approved by voters, he went to his buddy Christine Quinn, and was thus able to buy himself a third term, right along with Ms. Quinn.

Of course, that's not the ultimate in reforminess. The best part is having a school board that does whatever the hell you say, and Emperor Bloomberg has realized that in the PEP, a fake school board that can give a Bronx cheer to the entire city, should it be so inclined. When you are a fanatical idealogue, like Emperor Bloomberg or King John, it's very important that people do what you want them to. Otherwise, they get hung up on nonsense like science, evidence, and other inconveniences that just hamper getting things done.

Therefore, King John would like to march his people into Buffalo so he can educate them any way he golly gosh darn feels like. He's tired of excuses. Who cares if the kids don't speak English? What's the dif if they have learning disabilities? It's not his fault Buffalo's part of the Rust Belt, or that half its kids live in poverty. When you're King, sometimes your subjects have to suffer. Still, that doesn't mean your BFFs can't profit.

When Buffalo is slow to institute junk science evaluations, that means it's harder to fire unionized teachers as promptly as the King would like. How can he bring in cheap and replaceable TFAs if they do that? And if they won't close their neighborhood schools how can the King do what he knows best, which is charter schools?

He's got the kids failing tests, and that's good for business. But it isn't that good if the elected school board won't bend over cooperate. So it's time for the King to take matters into his own hands.

And if the elected officials won't help him, off with their heads.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Common Sense Says Reformy John King Must Go (Diane Ravitch Says So Too)

If you haven't read Diane Ravitch today, it's time. She's calling for the resignation of NYS Education Commissioner Reformy John King. Ravitch is a voice in the education wilderness demanding we base decisions on research and practice. This flies in the face of common practice, which is to do whatever the hell Bill Gates wants and hope for the best.

He has imposed an evaluation scheme that no one understands, but which he famously described as “building a plane in mid-air.” He doesn’t realize that no one wants to ride on a plane that is being built in mid-air—not students, not teachers, not principals, not parents, not superintendents.

Not anyone with the remotest instinct for survival, when you get right down to it. But Reformy John is not about supporting the system. He's all about giving it away to his charter BFFs who got him the gig in the first place. This should be obvious to anyone observing the debacle that is the Common Core tests.

John King is the guy who singlehandedly imposed the insane system that will cause city teachers to be fired based on test scores. Of course, our union is complicit in this, as we took part in negotiations to enact the preposterous law that enabled it. Nonetheless, why isn't Reformy John judged by the scores of the very test he imposed?

If we are to judge teachers and principals by the rise or fall of student test scores, as King wishes, then so too should he be judged.

I don't personally favor such a system, but Reformy John certainly does.  Isn't accountability one of the reformiest things there is? On that basis alone, it's time to fall on the reformy sword being used against teachers. After all, Reformy John was a teacher for a few minutes.

Let the NY State Board of Regents know it's time to stand with science. We are teachers, and ought not to be tossing our lot in with climate change deniers and flat earthers. It's not good enough for us, our kids, or our state to have an educational leader who makes decisions by consulting his magic mirror.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More Vital Info on the Perfidy of Teachers

Today's Rise and Shine at Gotham led me to yet another hard-hitting education story from the Daily News. Apparently, some website that hooks up young women with "sugar daddies" claims to have attracted 472 teachers since last year. Naturally the claim is not verified. As I learned from the rash of Campbell Brown stories, one may call teachers "pervs," "sex creeps," and various other epithets with no investigation whatsoever. I suppose making open proclamations about their dating habits is not even questionable. With regard to teachers, that's a thing now.

As far as I know, it's legal for women to seek out wealthy suitors, but the story didn't mention that. Perhaps the important aspects of modern professional education reporting include not only reporting every sensational or embarrassing claim anyone makes about teachers, but also failing to explain why it's of any importance to us.

I always advise teachers to be careful what they post on social media. Imagine your principal, your students, the mayor, and your grandmother are reading, I say. I'd have supposed dating services would wish to remain confidential, but there I'm clearly mistaken. Who on earth would patronize a dating service that shared profiles and spoke openly about them with the Daily News? I don't suppose the women who used this service expected this to happen. Of course, now that it's open season on teachers, they will need to adjust their expectations accordingly.

Then we come to the inevitable implication of this piece. Are women who allegedly patronize this dating service fit to be teachers? What about women who patronize other dating services but don't actually announce their desire to meet wealthy men? What about men who want to meet wealthy women? Would it make a difference if they publicly admitted it, or would they be better human beings if they wanted this to remain private? And why didn't this timely story go into depth on these important questions?

Actually, as long as teachers aren't bringing their dating habits into their classrooms, we can only judge their fitness by what actually happens in said classrooms. (Of course now, in our zeal to fire teachers, we'll do so on the basis of junk science and test scores.) Sometimes I get the wacky notion that even teachers are entitled to private lives. I'm generally grateful to not know about people's private lives, which are none of my business.  I wonder what other jobs the women who supposedly use this service are?

I wonder why it isn't news that women with other jobs are not subject to public ridicule. Isn't that really the question? And if teachers are subject to a higher standard from those who produce and promote such nonsense, isn't that discrimination? Why are our private lives so much more important than those of other people? And why on earth are they news stories?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Who's Afraid of Matt Damon?

It's amazing watching reformy people fall all over themselves to condemn actor Matt Damon for sending his kid to a private school. They claim to be wounded because the less fortunate haven't got that option. The poor are stuck in a world where schools full of kids who don't speak English or have learning disabilities fail to pass standardized tests.

You'd think it was an outrage, and that Damon was personally depriving the less fortunate of the opportunity to attend a charter school where they can march around like little soldiers for 200 hours a week. You'd think those schools actually accepted the non-English speakers or the kids with extreme learning disabilities without exception. You'd think that test scores were the only thing that was important, or that rich people sent their kids to schools where tests were all that mattered.

Personally, I would not send my kid to a charter school on a bet. Nor would fervent charter supporters Rahm Emanuel, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Reformy John King, or Barack Obama. In fact, these are the very people that dictate the all tests. all the time. In fact, by closing schools based on test scores, these people deprive Americans of the choice they take as a given--neighborhood schools.

These are the same people who have fought the middle class for years. Bloomberg just vetoed a prevailing wage bill. And here's a secret--the one thing that makes a middle class thrive is union. Look at history if you don't believe me. Then take a look at Walmart's history with union. They close entire departments and stores rather than allow it, let alone pay a living wage. Then, ask yourself why the Walmart family spends so many millions of dollars supporting all things reformy.

Actually, those of us who support public schools fight so they won't be continually undermined by the very people who have the audacity to attack an actor who agrees with us. If these people wanted to give Americans a choice, they'd give us the choice of government-sponsored health care. They'd give us the choice of union rather than flagrantly defying American law for decades, and getting around it with disingenuous nonsense like Right to Work. We wouldn't tolerate Tea Party thugs taking away the rights of union to collectively bargain. We wouldn't tolerate a wink and nod to a President who promised support for the Employee Free Choice Act and failed to deliver. We wouldn't tolerate a reformy mayor who claims to put Children First, Always by cutting school budgets, terrorizing teachers, and fighting for fewer library services.

In fact, the hypocrites are those who spend millions hyping second-tier schools for the poor and don't use them for their own kids. When the poor can send their kids to Sidwell Friends, with less testing and smaller classes, then we can talk. Meanwhile, I've got nothing but respect for those who fight for such options for my kid. You won't see Rahm Emanuel's children in the charters he deems good enough for other people's kids. And make no mistake, as he closes the schools in their neighborhoods and claims to put children first, he's not doing that at all. He's decimating their communities and ensuring they won't get decent union jobs in the future to save his rich BFFs, folks like the Walmart family, tax money.

Matt Damon can do what he wants. As reformy tools of corporations laugh at us behind our backs, deprive us of opportunities Americans fought and died for, and degrade our lives and communities to enrich those who least need it, I'm glad he will speak and fight for us. Those who publicly criticize him are bought and paid for. We don't need their false choices. We don't need their crocodile tears. We don't need their crooked education experts.

In fact, we need every single person of prominence who will help reinvigorate the disappearing American middle class. We need a President who will offer more than lip service when the middle class is under attack. And we need every one of our voices raised high against transparently hypocritical nonsense like the criticism of actor Matt Damon.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Education, Cajun Style

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan famously stated that Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. But hey, you can't just flood the whole country. First of all, even if you have a very important job like Arne does, you still don't get power over time, space, and nature.

Unfair though that is, you have to deal with it. There has to be another way. After all, New Orleans proved a perfect opportunity to close down virtually the entire public school system and replace it with charters. This is a bonanza for your BFFs who heretofore had not been making a dime from education.  Sure they aren't really doing very well. But that's not really the point, is it?

Arne knows a lot about education. After all, he's never been a teacher, so he's unencumbered by the special interests and prejudices that come with that job. However, he did run the Chicago school system. While it's true his program failed utterly, that's not the point either. If we can't simply produce hurricanes to improve education, how can we help the entire country make our BFFs more wealthy like we did in Chicago and New Orleans?

Clearly, this Common Core stuff is a bonanza. If we can introduce tests for which students are unprepared, if we make people who don't even speak English take them, if we fail to allow for poverty, handicaps, or learning difficulties, we can cause an enormous drop in test scores. Once we reach a 70% failure rate, it will be a true crisis and we can start closing schools even in affluent districts. Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada can come riding to the rescue, and if they fail, what's the dif? The unions will be gone and the money we wasted on teachers will now be invested soundly in the bank accounts of zillionaires.

Make no mistake, this is classic shock doctrine. You don't see corporate tools like Joel Klein writing columns praising massive failure every day. Arne Duncan doesn't often make trips to New York to endorse it either. When we see stats like these, guys like this are usually jumping up and down demanding we close schools and fire teachers.

But now it's a good thing. And if things stay this good, the only solution will be closing schools and firing teachers. Because that is the goal of Duncan, Gates, Klein, Broad and the Walmarts. Make no mistake--unions, to them, are the Great Satan and must be eradicated. Common Core is a means toward that end.

E4E doesn't support it because it's good for children and teachers. E4E supports it because Gates supports it and he gives them millions.

Why the AFT and UFT support it I have no idea. But I don't support it. If you love teaching, if you love your students, if you don't think they should be subject to massive failure, if you think neighborhoods deserve neighborhood schools, then you won't support it either. And you'll spread the word.

My kid will not be taking Common Core tests. Hopefully yours won't either, and you'll tell your friends, your family, and your world to opt out.

The time is now.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Where's the Teacher Who Supports Common Core?

Norm Scott often says, "Watch what they do, not what they say." But I think it's important to watch everything. For example, in an email from UFT President Michael Mulgrew, he said, "Our students need to develop the higher-level cognitive skills and deeper learning at the heart of the new Common Core Learning Standards." This goes against what I know, to wit, that the Common Core standards have never been tested anywhere, and have never been proven to establish that.

Mulgrew continues, "The Common Core standards were created by educators — and adopted by 46 states — in response to the lowest-common-denominator standards that the states fell back on in response to No Child Left Behind testing requirements." As for being created by educators, there's a video below that says something very much to the contrary. You'll see names like Gates, Walton, Broad and ALEC, but I'm not precisely sure how many of them are teachers.

I don't know where Mulgrew gets his information, but I'd certainly welcome any commenter who can support it. I'm also a little concerned by a statement in Mulgrew's piece from yesterday's Daily News.

While teachers — many of whom helped create the new Common Core — support the new standards...
Once again, I'm unsure of who these teachers are who created the Common Core. While this, allowing for other contributors,  is an improvement over the assertion that the standards were simply "created by educators," I'd still like evidence. More disturbing is the assertion that teachers support the new standards, evidently without exception. In fact, the only teachers I know of who support the new standards are those in E4E. I've read two rambling E4E op-ed pieces this week supporting the new standards, neither of which offered any evidence of their validity.

I certainly agree with Mulgrew that they were rolled out with no curriculum and insufficient preparation. That's patently idiotic, and it's part of the reformy meme that this is an emergency and our children cannot wait. In fact, if this is being rolled out with no testing, no research, and no evidence of its validity, our children are much better off waiting.

I talk to teachers every day. Not one has spoken to me of support for Common Core. I wonder where Mulgrew hears these things. I suppose he talks to teachers. I see pictures of him visiting schools all the time in NY Teacher. Actually, I've spoken with him a few times. He was cordial, though I can't remember expressing support for Common Core, which never came up.

Still, I want to know who these teachers are. Who are these teachers who support baseless Gates-based initiatives rather than science? What's their motivation? I could certainly understand if they were upwardly mobile E4E types looking to get their hands on Gatesbucks, or trying to find some cool administrative gig. But teachers?

Teachers I speak with are not at all sanguine about the upcoming junk science evaluation, and I don't know any that are thrilled with Common Core either. Teachers I know are well aware of what reformy things mean for them and their students, and none of it's good.

What really perplexes me is why on earth our union is so reformy. Sometimes UFT reps tell me we have to pick our battles. And sometimes I wonder, particularly after we designed a law that gave us a junk science evaluation system without even a contract, whether we're bothering to battle much of anything.

Take a few minutes to watch the video. You won't soon forget it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Here in Bizarro World Massive Failure Is Good News

I just read at Diane Ravitch's blog that Mayor Bloomberg has joined fellow know-nothings Joel Klein and Arne Duncan in hailing the massive failure on Common Core exams as a good sign. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I don't know precisely what to say to this.

How on earth is a two-thirds failure rate anything to boast about? This is the same guy who, after defying the twice-voiced electoral will of the people, bought himself a third term. Am I the only one who remembers the surreptitiously Gates-funded motto, "Keep It Going, New York?" Actually, what Bloomberg and Geoffrey Canada, who was running the campaign, wanted to keep going was a test score rise based entirely on the tests having been dumbed-down. And then when the gains were made moot, which Ravitch had predicted years earlier, Bloomberg and Klein said that was a victory too.

So here's the message from Michael Bloomberg. If test scores go up, it's a great success. If they stay the same, it is also a great success. And if they plummet, that is also a great victory. I keep saying, "Being reformy means never having to say you're sorry," but intending it as ironic. Apparently, it's the unvarnished truth.

It turns out that when you revolve your philosophy around things like junk science evaluation and standards that have been established to be effective absolutely nowhere, you can just say any damn thing you feel like. When circumstances change, you can continue to say any damn thing without concern that you're contradicting yourself. It doesn't matter if your past statements are recorded all over the mainstream media and can be checked with a one-minute Google search.

Anyone who thinks it's OK to subject hundreds of thousands of children to failure, based on nothing, is simply unfit to care for them. And anyone who boasts of massive failure while demanding teachers be fired for the same is a massive, deluded hypocrite. I don't want to mention any names, like Mike Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Andrew Cuomo, because I wouldn't wish to embarrass anyone. I'm a sensitive guy.

Finally, I'm pleased to tell you that while today's Daily News posts yet another E4E column on Common Core, it also features commentary from Diane Ravitch, Zakiyah Ansari, and yours truly.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Required Reading on Common Core

One of the very best pieces I've seen on Common Core is in today's Washington Post. Read it quickly because once reformy Jeff Bezos takes over things like that may disappear completely.

Principal Carol Burris wonders how it will benefit kids to give tests that will ensure massive failure. She wonders how parents will feel when their children are assigned to remediation and even special education based on these tests.

I've quoted her in the right column. Every teacher knows how principals feel about tests that cause massive failure. And when they're instituted for no educationally valid reason, it would be very hard, for me at least, to argue with the principal.

Make no mistake, this entire escapade is dreamt up by Bill Gates and his minions, taken on by the weak as water Obama administration, and foisted on the country by the blackmail known as Race to the Top. Adding this junk science to that known as VAM spells trouble for both teachers and students in the NYC area.

What will it take for parents, many of whom rely on one-sided mass media for info, to wake up? What will it take for us, 82% of whom are likely asleep, to wake up? What will it take for UFT leadership, which has supported this lemming-like march off a mountaintop every step of the way, to wake up?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Common Core--Being Reformy Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

The new Common Core test scores are about to come out, and are anticipated to be a disaster. This, naturally, will give further credence to the corporate-created myth that our schools are in crisis and need to be "reformed," despite the fact that CC itself is quite reformy. The fact that no one actually knew what would be on the tests is of no importance, nor is the fact that this system has never been proven, let alone tested, anywhere.

The papers will write editorials about "failing" schools, and will revel in this as proof that unionized teachers are goofing off when they should be teaching. Of course, since no one knew what would be on the tests, no one could prepare students for the tests. And, of course, we don't really know what passing or failing these tests establishes.

In fact, even today, elementary and middle schools haven't got a curriculum for this all-important program. The thing about reformy programs is they are absolutely urgent. That's why we can't wait to find out whether or not they work. In fact, in the case of things like VAM and merit pay, the fact that they have failed everywhere they've been tried is no reason to stop using them. In times of crisis, we must do whatever Bill Gates says we must do, no matter how counter-productive or idiotic it is.

So despite the fact that these tests have not been established to determine anything whatsoever, they will be used to place teachers on a fast track to unemployment, one of the long-cherished goals of reformy people everywhere. So what if we vilify a few more city teachers for no reason whatsoever?  As long as we can fire them, we're making progress.

Now I don't know whether or not these tests will establish anything. But when the scores are as abysmal as projected, they'll be used as a battering ram to trash working teachers. Why on earth didn't teachers prepare kids for the tests they had never seen? Why didn't they spend a little time going over the material that didn't exist?

And, of course, in schools with high numbers of learning disabled and ESL students, the scores will be lower, and reformy Arne Duncan will press for their closure. Never mind that every school targeted for closure has had high numbers of such students. That's just a coincidence. It must be the fault of the unionized teachers.

It can have nothing to do with the lack of planning and preparation. We are simply to assume that Common Core is wonderful, despite the fact there is no evidence whatsoever.

Because reformy Arne Duncan says so, and that ought to be enough for anyone.

Monday, August 05, 2013

On Charters, Daily News Gives Us Half the Story (If That)

In yet another incredible feat of utter arrogance, Bloomberg's Tweedies have invested 4.5 million in having charter schools teach public schools how to teach. They've taken a charter school, which has "Excellence" in its very name, and paired it up with a public school. Since the charter has 4 times as many kids passing the reading tests, it's obviously superior.

Not mentioned in this article is the percentage of special ed. students, their level of learning issues, the percentage of ESL students, nor their level of English. Nor does the article mention the respective percentages of students below the poverty level. The article also neglects to mention the attrition level of this amazing charter school, because how many kids it dumps back into the neighborhood public school is of no consequence whatsoever.

Interestingly, the article interviews the charter leader, and prominently features New York's "Charter Center CEO" while neglecting to get one word from the public school principal, even though the school is described as "popular." Naturally, no criticism of this program is even implied, let alone spelled out.

Another detail here is that the public school does have something to offer the charter--it will show the charter how to get parents on board and supportive. So, essentially, this public school is being offered the opportunity to cut its own throat, and the charter CEO appears thrilled at the prospect.

Aside from the one-dimensional presentation, the underlying assumption here is that charters are simply better than public schools, and can therefore show us what to do. In fact, there are plenty of public schools that achieve higher test scores, if we are to accept that as the sole criterion. More importantly, public schools are a reflection of their neighborhoods, for better or worse. The "no excuses" crowd is relentless in its determination to ignore what ails neighborhoods, to wit, poverty. Bill Gates has stated he can't address that so everyone reformy has decided the hell with it.

Another thing you won't see here is that any prospective teacher with half a choice would prefer to work in a public school. Student teachers I've met have complained to me about how tough it is in this economic downturn to get a job teaching. They reluctantly look to charters as a last resort. I'd certainly expect to find teachers who made better impressions in public schools.

The thing that charters have, in case this is not already clear to everyone reading this, is a highly selective and selected student body. Frankly, when you pick and choose students, it's not all that challenging to raise test scores. Maybe the charters will teach public schools how to dump an entire cohort, as charter hero Geoffrey Canada did. That'll get those scores up.

Underlying this story is a willful act on the basis of the demagogic Bloomberg administration to leave the public with a false assumption--that charters are simply better than public schools, and that we should take this for granted. An article like this one, lacking detail and balance, certainly encourages him to continue pulling the wool over our blurry eyes.

Friday, August 02, 2013

In Which I Am Courted by the UFT

For the past few days I've been getting phone calls and emails from union reps. Apparently it is essential that I get my butt over to UFT HQ and make phone calls for Bill Thompson. They'll give me Chinese food and a Bill Thompson t-shirt.

This is probably because when Tony Avella and Grace Meng ran, I not only showed up, but also dragged a bunch of people with me. I was very excited about supporting both of them, and I was happy when both of them won. With Thompson, it was a matter of looking at all the possibilities and deeming him the only one who was remotely viable, particularly with Wiener looming, and his victory likely to enable yet another Republican mayor.

But now, with Carlos Danger hanging in Wiener's shadows (and no, that was not a pun), Bill de Blasio is resurgent. I'd always preferred de Blasio to Thompson, particularly since he didn't tell the Daily News he opposed teachers getting the pattern raise virtually all other city employees got in the last round of bargaining. Thompson did say that, unfortunately.

To further muddy the waters, this week de Blasio, having been abandoned by the UFT, his erstwhile supporter, is making noises about how he, not having our endorsement, can better negotiate with us. You might say he is a fair-weather friend, as was Thompson. Or you might say the UFT was premature in offering its endorsement. But Thompson has also flip-flopped on stop and frisk, so you might see a lot of support he'd otherwise have received going to de Blasio.

I declined to work for Thompson. The UFT rep told me if I didn't show, I'd have no right to complain about the consequences. Apparently, he felt that statement would persuade me whatever happened in the next mayoral election would be entirely in my hands. It did not. He then started to tell me how intelligent I am, and how I therefore must understand this.

He continued to tell me that this selection was the most democratic process ever. It's true Thompson was popular in every borough but Queens, which had the good sense to support John Liu, my first choice. But it's also true UFT leadership, in the form of the Executive Board, made a recommendation to the DA. It's further true that virtually everyone in the DA signed a loyalty oath to agree with whatever they're told to agree with.

If that's democracy, then most teachers support mayoral control, value-added methods, being itinerant ATRs, school closures, and getting fired based on test scores likely to be as flawed as previous test scores.

He asked me if I thought the UFT would endorse a candidate who opposed getting teachers the raise all other city employees got. Given the UFT's previous positions, I was at a loss to answer. This is the same guy who got in front of my staff and promised that the union was very smart, and that the evaluation system would come with the contract and raise for which they'd been waiting years.

In a real democracy, people say whatever they like, and vote freely without facing the (gasp!) possibility of being shut out from future AFT and NYSUT conventions at fancy hotels. It may be good if Thompson is elected, depending on which Thompson takes the oath. I would probably go and make calls for him if de Blasio were not resurgent. But right now I'm not all that enthused. And if the UFT wants reasons, they need only look at the 82% of teachers who don't bother to vote in union elections.

I vote every chance I get. But I do understand cynicism, and I don't like veiled threats, shallow flattery, empty promises, or being bullied or browbeaten to do things for which I have limited enthusiasm. This is particularly true about people who've sorely disappointed me in the past.