Monday, September 30, 2013

Bill Gates Experiments on Millions of American Children...

...and he has no idea whether or not his ideas will work. He says he won't know for ten years, in fact. So meanwhile, too bad if you lose your job. Too bad if your kids spend all of their time prepping for tests that may or may not be valid. Too bad millions of kids hate to read because we feed them train schedules instead of inspiration. Bill Gates wanted to try his stuff out, and you can't expect him to try it on his own kids. They have needs.

Bill Gates' kids need the best. Like Obama's kids. Like Klein's kids and Bloomberg's kids. Like at least one of Michelle Rhee's kids and Reformy John King's kids. They need smaller class sizes and something other than constant testing. They need music and arts. They need fiction and poetry. They need to be part of a community, not simply one task to be executed. You can't expect their kids to be paraded around like tin soldiers in one of those charter schools Bill so adores.

Because this is an emergency. American children can't wait to find out whether or not the Gates way will work. He wants to try it, and he has billions of dollars, so every public school child in the country must do whatever they hell he says. And it doesn't matter that ideas like merit pay have been around for a hundred years and have never worked anywhere. Who's to say they won't work now?

Sure, excellent teachers may be fired based on VAM, which has also never been proven to work anywhere. But at least we can say we tried something. At least we can say we did something. Because, to Bill Gates, the important thing is to do something.

But it's like the old song:

Once the rockets are up, 
who cares where they come down?
That's not my department,
says Wehrner Von Braun.

And that makes about as much sense as Bill Gates performing his voodoo on our children. It's incredible that a President who promised hope and change would instead give us Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a veritable ventriloquist's monkey for Bill Gates.

If Bill Gates gave a golly gosh darn about our children, he'd demand for them the same thing he demands for his own kids.  And make no mistake, that's what Matt Damon, Leonie Haimson, and Diane Ravitch do. People who take his money vilify them for it. Yet they don't say word one about Gates, because that would jeopardize the gravy train.

Bill Gates has about as much integrity as Bela Lugosi turning people into zombies in some ancient B-movie. And his methods are hardly more sophisticated. Our children are not guinea pigs.

If Gates wants to throw children in the air and watch with intense curiosity to see where they fall down, it behooves him to start with his own. And no, I don't wish that on them. I only wish they had a father with a conscience instead of a program.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Megalomayorac Bloomberg

I can't find this on the net, but people keep telling me they saw Bloomberg on TV saying that the rash of overcrowded classes is a good thing. Apparently, the Emperor sees this as a sign that people can't wait to patronize our schools. Of course, this doesn't include Mayor Moneybags, who sent his kid to private schools. It doesn't include reformy folk like Joel Klein, who did the same.

Here's the thing--Mayor Bloomberg says he's doing a great job when test scores, the only thing he cares about, go up. When they're proven to be inflated and stay the same, he says the same. And this year, when they introduced the untested Common Core standards and scores plummeted, he said the same. Accountability is a concept that applies only to unionized teachers and whatever Bloomberg does is great. In fact, he's got Howard Wolfson on the city payroll, and much of his job entails telling people that.

But high class sizes are not, in fact, a good thing. They don't benefit kids and they make it even more difficult for teachers to do what is becoming a very, very tough job. In fact, it's Bloomberg's job to find space for kids in public schools and he's failed miserably, despite taking maybe a billion dollars from the CFE lawsuit to reduce class sizes. It's a ridiculous argument to say we have a lot of kids who want to go to school. Of course we do, in the largest school district in the country. If Mayor Bloomberg were less focused on accommodating his billionaire BFFs and a little bit more focused on the job he's chosen, we wouldn't have this problem.

High class sizes are about as appealing as garbage. Imagine if the mayor were not collecting it. He'd get on TV and say it's great that so many people want to live in New York. That's why we have so much garbage. You don't see garbage like this in Oklahoma. We are the garbage capital of the world.

Personally, I can hardly wait until January 1st, when we finally get to put out the garbage once and for all.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gotham Schools Brings Us the Important Issues

A few days ago, Tim Clifford wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek/ gallows humor analysis of the ponderous and convoluted evaluation system over at Gotham Schools. In order to make it a point-counterpoint kind of thing, the great minds running Gotham Schools saw fit to contrast it with a thoroughly humorless response (by teachers who may or may not be E4E) that does not actually much contradict what Clifford wrote. In fact, it even reinforces Clifford's notion that people choose six observations out of fear. Personally, I chose six too, but I'm not exactly sure why. Had my supervisor asked me to do a formal, I'd have been fine with that too.

The thing about Gotham Schools is when they're fortunate enough get a brilliant writer like Clifford rather than their much-favored E4E hacks, they can't just leave it be. They need to present the other point of view, whether or not there happens to be one. The fact is most working teachers look at this system as a preposterous and incomprehensible nuisance, which I think was reflected, though somewhat low-key, in the Clifford piece.

It's unfortunate that the Gotham "news" pieces, which are largely charter stories, have no balance whatsoever. Tuesday's stories were 50% charter. Monday's were 100%. Most city kids get little attention over there. Reading Gotham Schools, you'd have no notion of what's really going on or what's important to the vast majority of public schoolchildren. Contrast this with NY1, out there telling real stories about the abysmal conditions in Mayor Bloomberg's miserable moldy trailers, the ones he wouldn't place Eva Moskowitz in on a bet.

I can only suppose if Gotham were to write about real issues their funders would wonder how it was advancing their goals.  For them, what's important is privatization and a two-tier school system where working people choose from tests, tests, more tests, or enriching hedge-funders, Moskowitzes, and other non-educators.

It's supremely disappointing that reporters with such great potential, some of whom have actually accomplished groundbreaking things in the past, choose to dish out this soul-numbing, one-sided drek day after day. More disappointing are readers who believe they're getting a real picture of what's going on.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hedge Fund Nation

It's time we got together and discussed precisely what was going on in hedge funds. Now I don't personally know what a hedge fund is, or what it does, but I know that a lot of hedge-funders have become deeply involved in education. Therefore, I think it's only reasonable that I chair a national movement to discuss hedge funds.

We will convene next month. I've compiled a list of panel members. I will chair, as I have, if you don't mind my tooting my own horn, trimmed a hedge or two in my time. When I was a child, I lived in a home with a pretty substantial row of hedges in front. Naturally, our panel will be fair and balanced.

We will feature Reality-based educator, who will, as he's anonymous, be appearing with the traditional bag over his head.  RBE is well-known for his political commentary, and may actually have some idea what a hedge-fund is or does. Being broad minded, we won't hold that against him.

Also on the panel is Norm Scott, well-known educational gadfly, who will give us chapter and verse on his feelings about hedge funds. While I doubt he actually has any, I'm sure he'll find something to talk about.

I've also invited Michael Cleveland, who I think is the best fiddle player in the country. He has been playing fiddle since he was four years old, and plays with precision and fluid imagination second to no one. I realize a lot of people may not be interested in fiddle, but I am, so I don't care.

Naturally, a panel of this sort would not be complete without Fred Klonsky, with whom I had a beer in DC once. He's also a gifted artist, delivering some of the coolest drawings I've ever seen on his blog, and a noted authority on Chicago cuisine, including but not limited to deep dish pizza, beer-steamed brats, and those hot dogs with the stuff all over them.

Another great addition is the woman who works at my local pizzeria. I don't remember her name, but this place serves the very best pizza in my town. I'm particularly fond of the white spinach slices.

Next is one of the security guards at my daughter's school. He's really a pretty cool guy, and knows some jokes I've never heard before. As this will be televised, I will ask him to refrain from telling any.

I will, of course, be inviting Chaz, who's currently working as an ATR teacher. He is not sure about all this social justice stuff, but that's OK because we're talking hedge funds.

Finally, I will be inviting noted education scholar Diane Ravitch. I'm pretty sure she doesn't know anything about hedge funds either, but since she didn't get an invitation to NBC's Education Nation, featuring renowned educational experts like Goldie Hawn, this is the least I can do to make up for it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Scraping the Skies

That was how a piece in the UFT blog Edwize characterized the 2005 contract. The guy who wrote the piece used a false name, then retired at the end of the year to score a cool patronage gig, The rest of us got extra time, hall patrols, lunchroom duty, the ATR brigade, and lost the right to grieve file letters simply because they were factually untrue.

At the time, people like me warned against the contract. We said that while money comes and goes, hall patrol is forever. For example, we knew that there were contracts with no raises. One of them was very recent, having been predicated by a fraudulent vote that sent DC37 leaders to jail. No one objects to things like that, and if every employee of NYC is screwed, that's just the way things go.

At this point, things are even worse than I could have predicted. In fact, not only did we not get a raise during the last round of pattern bargaining, but virtually everyone else in the city did. This means that whatever monetary gains we earned by "scraping the skies" have been wiped out, and we're doing this for nothing.

I go to many meetings, and I have not heard a single UFT rep address the fact that we are not one, but two contracts behind. I can only wonder whether leadership plans to ignore that fact and move ahead as though it didn't exist. I'm told we're involved with PERB, which for us would be non-binding. I have no idea whether or not PERB will enforce the pattern. You may recall that when the pattern is a piece of crap, as it most often is, it's sacrosanct.

When the pattern is 8%, and we should have gotten it years ago, is it still mandatory? Or is screwing working teachers the exception that proves the rule?

We'll soon know.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Startup Tips

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help.

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school.   Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Diane Ravitch, Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos

According to Jim Hightower, yellow stripes and dead armadillos are the only things you'll find in the middle of the road. And yet Jessica Levin, happily bad-mouthing Diane Ravitch over at Huffington Post, paints corporate reformers as occupying some middle ground. Levin, ruminating on Ravitch's book while showing little to no evidence she understands it, actually cites Michelle Rhee as one of these moderate voices. I'm reminded of another quote:

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.

~Jonathan Swift

Ms. Levin appears to represent one of the first dunces to venture forth into the arena after having purported to read Ravitch's book. Levin finds hitherto unsung nuance in reforminess:

Ravitch claims all education reformers are bent on promoting privatization, vouchers, and for-profit schools. However, most of those I interviewed have little faith in market solutions to improve schools systemically. They won't actively oppose vouchers because they refuse to tell poor parents what they wouldn't tolerate hearing themselves: "Your kids must stay in this failing school while we spend a decade trying to fix it." But many talked about vouchers and for-profits as distractions more than game changers. 

So let's understand this. The corporate reformers oppose vouchers, but won't say they do. The important thing is what they think, not what they do, and of course to move the kids from so-called failing schools. Whether or not they address the underlying issues that cause low test scores, like poverty, learning disabilities, or lack of English, is of no consequence. Whether the schools prove better, equal, or worse than the "failing" schools is also unimportant. Note also that Levin says nothing whatsoever to suggest these "moderates" oppose privatization or for-profit schools in any way whatsoever. Yet she has the audacity to refer to Ravitch as "simplistic." Simplistic is a word I'd use for anyone uncritically viewing Levin's piece.

Levin further contends that reformy folk does not overemphasize testing. I'm not sure which astral plane Ms. Levin resides in, but in this one high-stakes tests determine whether or not schools stay open, and whether or not teachers remain employed. Levin praises Race to the Top, which enables this. She seems blissfully unaware there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that there is any validity whatsoever to value-added ratings.

Even as Teach for America inductees actively steal the jobs of laid-off Chicago teachers, Levin musters the audacity to suggest that it does not endorse any radical agenda, and implies that Ravitch is delusional to suggest anything of the sort.  Doubtless if scab labor took Levin's job, or jobs or her friends and family, she'd beam with approval.

What really amazes me about this column is the complete and utter ignorance of the role of unions. Levin characterizes them as obstructionist, but I've watched as my union embraced mayoral control, and then supported it again after it was fairly well-established as an anti-democratic disaster. UFT had a hand in writing the state evaluation law and boasted that "objective" measures only made up 40% of a teacher rating. They must have forgotten that any teacher failing that 40% must be rated ineffective overall. UFT supported charters, and even co-located to start one. UFT supported a failed merit pay program. Of course, that's not all that unique, since all such programs have failed. And UFT supports Common Core, which adds yet another layer of testing to the tangled web that appears to have eluded Ms. Levin.

If this is the best they can muster against Diane Ravitch, they'd better hope that absolutely no one reads her new book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

One of my students didn't have her homework today. She's pretty smart, and pretty eager, but not altogether that fluent in English. I asked her where it was and she struggled to answer. I checked a few other kids in the class and she came to me, brandishing her iPhone like it held the key to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

"It's here," she said.

And there, on the screen, was the homework that was due yesterday, homework that she actually turned in. I told her I'd already seen it and continued moving around the room. But soon she was back.

"This is today," she said.

And indeed it was, but I manipulated the image and it had the name of the girl who sits two seats away from her. I pointed this out and she got very excited. She started talking very quickly in her native language, of which alas I speak not one word. My kids are under strict instructions to speak only English, but with 90% of the class belonging to one language group it's a very tough rule to enforce. I do my best but it's not good enough.

A boy started translating for her and I started giving him a hard time. The gist of it was that she just photographed the homework to help with it. First of all, it wasn't a whole lot of help, as she was unable to produce the assignment anyway. Perhaps more importantly, cheating's become a whole lot easier. I can't count the times I've found kids copying homework right in front of my face. But I may have been fooled more than I think.

A lot of my students use their phones for translators, and I tend to cut them a little slack with that, as long as they generally pay attention. On the other hand, I occasionally catch kids texting. Now, it's likely as not that the kids are copying their homework from smart phones. I'm pretty surprised it's never occurred to me before.

So now, after five years without a raise, while facing an insane evaluation system that no one on earth even understands, there's just one more dimension to this, the most complicated job I've ever done. I'll keep up with the kids one way or another.

I always think the machines are tough, but we're tougher. But I've gotta wonder about that as I ponder what the next dimension of cheating holds in store for us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Diane Ravitch and the Corporate Reign of Error

I've been teaching for almost thirty years, and I don't know precisely when my colleagues and I became public enemy number one. But after reading Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch I'm getting a pretty good handle on why.

Corporate reformers like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family seem to believe teachers have done a disservice to kindergarteners by allowing them to blow bubbles in their milk and push trucks around on the floor. Why weren't we training them to take valuable multiple-choice exams? Why did an entire generation of Americans, including public school teachers, misdirect its energies by trying to eradicate poverty? Couldn't we just fervently ignore it, as corporate reformers have done so successfully?

In Reign of Error, Ravitch demonstrates how, by ignoring poverty, America has managed to shift blame to public schools for its consequences. That's clear when the Governor of New York declares schools with poor test scores deserve the "death penalty," and the mayor of Chicago closes 50 schools in one fell swoop.  The fact that all so-called failing schools have high percentages of high-needs kids is either attributed to coincidence or ignored  completely. Standard practice is to replace them with privately run schools that generally perform either no better or much worse. Still, no one can argue they don't place more tax money into the pockets of investors.

Reign of Error  shows us corporate reform is largely about where the money goes. Americans are led to believe teachers earn too much, and entrepreneurs like Rupert Murdoch and the Walmart family earn too little. To correct this inequity, corporate reformers work to erase collective bargaining, unionism, teacher tenure, and other outrages that have left middle-class people able to make a living. This, of course, is all done in the name of helping children.

The most trendy way to redirect public money into private hands is via charter schools. If charters don't have unions, they don't have to worry about collective bargaining. If they largely exclude learning disabled and ESL students, they not only improve their test scores, but also save a ton of money on mandated services. Charter trailblazer Geoffrey Canada, who pays himself a half-million per year, turned away an entire student cohort rather than deal with their impending scores.

Ravitch points out in detail the excellent investment opportunities charters can provide. People who have enough money to really appreciate it can get more of it before it's frittered away on the education of impoverished children. They save even more money for needy rich people by hiring less-qualified instructors, thereby cutting teacher salaries. And wealthy foreigners have literally bought green cards via investing in charters

Charters are all about choice. They therefore choose whether they're public or private depending on the circumstances. Their reps go to court to prevent audits, because in those cases they're private schools. But they happily accept government support because in those cases they're public schools. And even if they fail on test scores, the sole criterion by which corporate reformers judge schools, it makes no difference. They're still, evidently, providing the all-important choice of where our still-needy children will fail these tests.

Reign of Error shines a bright light on cyber charters, which save quite a bit of cash for eager investors. Unlike brick and mortar charters, cybers cannot jack up rents 900% for profit. But they make up for it in other ways. Cyber charters divert many millions that might otherwise be wasted on live teachers and human interaction with children. While graduation rates are abysmal, and a CREDO study found 100% of them perform worse than public schools, there is no denying their immense profitability.

On every page of Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch paints a portrait that's conspicuously absent from mainstream media. She shows us a tangled web, and paints every thread with an arrow pointing to where our tax dollars are really headed. Anyone who's interested in the true meaning of corporate reform needs to read this book. If you're already focused on what moves and motivates our educational system, it will surely sharpen that focus. If not, it will be an eye-opener.

And for the naysayers, Ravitch goes into detail about what America would do if it really wanted to help children, rather than simply test them and redirect public money. Here's hoping that school boards and mayors everywhere read this book.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Principals' Blooper Reel

Imagine all the principals getting together and having a big party. They've bought pizza, big heroes, all sort
of drinks, and they're wearing lampshades on their heads. They look completely out of control until they all focus on that big TV. And there we are. Oops. You're wearing one black and one brown shoe. Hilarity ensues. Everyone asks how many points it will cause, and principals look to Danielson for guidance.

Uh oh. I don't like the look on that teacher's face. This makes for a negative classroom environment. Let's rewind it and see how severe it is. No, I don't like that at all. And look at that student in the corner. He's not paying attention. Rewind the tape. Yup. This teacher is not motivating these kids. Look at how that kid is texting. How could it be that the teacher didn't catch it? Actually, the teacher is talking to another kid about texting, and is therefore not even paying attention. Negative classroom environment, say I, and there go another 5 points.

But this teacher is excellent. Look at this lesson. We'll give the video to DOE and everyone can look at it. And that teacher is in my school, which conclusively proves I have the best teachers in the city. Will the teacher get paid for making a training video? Absolutely not. This is our property now.

Oops. That teacher may look good on the video, but she got an adverse MOSL rating for the second year in a row and is now going to face 3020a dismissal charges. Too bad. She's a heck of a teacher. I've never seen one that good before. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to open another can of teachers come September.

Have you got that one with the teacher throwing the cheeseburger at the kid? Didn't he claim it was a hamburger? I could've sworn I saw cheese dripping off that kid's face.

Let's go to the videotape.

Unless, of course, you decline to allow them to make it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

UFT's Defense of APPR Examined

UFT negotiated and supported the law that ushered in the odious new evaluation system, which has everyone freaked-out. Their advice to freaked-out teachers is "Calm down."  The argument leadership offers in favor of the new system is this--under the old system the principal, alone, determined whether you are satisfactory or unsatisfactory. That was the only measure.

Now, there are multiple measures. 40% is so-called objective measures, and the other 60% is based on observations, artifacts, and who knows what else. The fundamental problem with the UFT argument that this is an improvement is that the principal can still have you rated poorly. If principals holds sway over 60% of your rating (or even 55% after kids take 5), it's a fairly good bet that they can make sure you don't hit the magical 65 that will render you "developing."

On the other hand, you may believe that principals enter rooms with no prejudices or experiences and perfectly apply low-inference observation techniques. Of course if that is the case, I'm not precisely sure why we'd need multiple measures. But let's humor that notion for a moment. Every principal is a paragon of virtue and records only what is actually observable. Thus the 55 to 60 points of observation or whatever will be precise in every way, and will not vary one iota from one principal to the next.

The problem is, if that happens to be the case, there's still another way you can be declared ineffective and be placed on a one-way rail to Palookaville. If you fail the so-called objective measures, your perfect principal will have no power whatsoever to help your rating. And in that case, you'd certainly have fared better under the old system.

Imagine you are a music teacher, and your school's MOSL committee, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to tie your rating to the English Regents exam. The kids bomb the exam two years in a row, and you're facing 3020a dismissal charges. Let's not even trouble ourselves with the fact that judging your performance via test scores is junk science.

Sure, there are those guys who will observe you, the dementors or something, and if they give you thumbs-up, it will be a regular 3020a where the city has to prove you're incompetent. As that's the same thing you'd fact under the old system, it is in no way an improvement. Unfortunately, if the dementors signal thumbs-down, you'll have to prove you are not incompetent. That's a pretty tough hill to climb. And  in that case, you are certainly in a worse place than you'd have been under the old system.

So the problem with this new system is the prime alleged unfavorable factor, a principal's subjectivity, remains intact, while another factor, test scores likely to be totally out of your control, threatens you as well. That's double trouble, hardly an improvement for anyone, and if you really place Children First, Always, you fire their Good Teachers Never.

Is there anyone out there unaffiliated with Bill Gates who thinks this system is an improvement?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Give Up the Ghost, UFT

The UFT, despite what people may say or think, played a pivotal role in the recent primary. While Thompson didn't win, he pulled a strong second. Had the UFT not placed its full support and relentless phone banks behind him, it's unlikely that would've been the case. Perhaps more importantly, UFT pushed the execrable Christine Quinn, she who enabled Emperor Bloomberg's seemingly endless third term, out of the running altogether.

The question now is where we go from here. With de Blasio hovering around the magical 40% mark, should we support Thompson in a runoff? Should we even support a recount if Thompson requests one?

I don't suppose anyone will be much surprised when I say the answer is absolutely not. It was probably a mistake to endorse so early in this process, and that's underlined by the primary results. While I too thought Thompson was a good idea when endorsed, my buddy Reality-Based Educator was predicting the other shoe was going to drop on Carlos Danger. If he knew that, why didn't UFT leadership?

 Does the UFT want to stick to its guns and risk the embarrassing spectacle of having to then endorse a candidate we've twice opposed? Does UFT want to risk alienating yet another mayoral candidate, as it did four years ago when our good pal Thompson announced to the Daily News that raises for teachers were too costly to be a priority in our fair city?

Clearly it's time to give up the ghost, as several other unions have done. Now I don't expect UFT leadership to fret much over my opinion. After all, I'm not in Unity Caucus, so I don't know the secret handshake or possess the coveted decoder ring. And if I did, of course, there would be no blog anyway. It would be my duty, as per the loyalty oath, to shut the hell up and do as I am told.

Later today I will go to the Brooklyn Marriott and join a small army of chapter leaders who've solemnly pledged to shut the hell up and do as they're told. I'm hoping Mulgrew will announce we've come to our senses and decided to endorse de Blasio. If that's the case, I'll join the union phone banks, hand out pamphlets, recruit others, and do whatever I can to enable a victory for a mayor who doesn't appear to be insane, a mayor endorsed by Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson, among others.

If not, well, it looks like there will be just a little more "me-time" for your humble correspondent.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First Week Is Stressful

It is for me, at least. My classroom is kind of a mysterious place for me right now. I haven't quite gotten to know all the kids' names yet, and even when I do, I don't know who they are. I'm seeing flutterings of kids opening up. I'm noticing smiles here and there, and I really like seeing that some of my students are starting to feel comfortable.

Some of them are feeling free to speak spontaneously, but they're a distinct minority. I want them all to know they are free to say what they like, to answer questions, to be right, to be wrong, to speak their minds.

One of the really good things about teaching ESL, about teaching language, is you're successful if you can get students to produce it. On the other hand, it's one of the toughest things you can do. Kids come from other countries and they're set in their ways. What's more basic than speaking your native language?

But then they see me and I tell them NO you may NOT use your native language AT ALL. Not ONE WORD.

And thus there is the girl who sits in the back of my afternoon class not uttering anything whatsoever, the girl who yesterday spoke three times in her native language. On the third time, after having warned her twice, I moved a boy who does not speak her native language between her and the girl with whom she was speaking. He was pretty happy to be sitting between two girls, but she was having none of it. I asked her a question today and she responded with cold stony silence. It didn't seem a good idea to press the matter.

But my kids will speak English or nothing. And the problem, really, is that the latter option is almost as unacceptable as use of the native language. So I have to trick this girl into speaking English. She can't know I'm manipulating her. I think I will make her do it in the end.

But right now, I have no idea how I'm gonna do that.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Many teachers will be evaluated on test scores of students they never teach."

So reads a headline in Gotham Schools' Rise and Shine. in fact, there is no science that can reliably evaluate teachers on the scores of students they DO teach. The blatant absurdity of this headline is simply taken for granted. No one even understands this system. And that includes the people who designed it. Nonetheless, tens of thousand of teachers are placed in the position of going to work, and hoping kids they've never seen do well on tests.

And this is the world we live in. To make this system even more insane, nothing, but nothing, trumps test scores. If your principal thinks you are God's gift to education, it won't matter if those kids fail those tests. One thing I don't hear UFT boast about is the almost inconceivable part of the law that says "objective" data, meaning test scores, will trump all other data, meaning what you do each and every day.

The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, is dispensing PD. Everything I've heard suggests that the geniuses at DOE don't understand this system any better than the teachers to whom they explain it. They deflect tough questions, saying you have to speak to this department and that, and plod on doing whatever they can. Indeed, that's what we teachers are doing. All we can do is our jobs, and hope that whoever is teaching the kids on whom we'll be judged will get them test grades sufficient to keep us from being fired.

There's something fundamentally disgraceful about people whose jobs revolve around education indulging in voodoo and hoping it's of sufficient quality. There is no accountability. There is no pride. There is only data that indicates one teacher will be fired and another won't.

And it's based on nothing. That's no way to teach or learn anything.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Welcome Back!

I don't know what you did today, but my day began with a 7 AM meeting with the principal, a UFT rep, some custodians, a construction guy, and some other people in suits. Who they were I have no idea. A few weeks ago Lindsey Christ interviewed me on NY 1 about the trailers at our school. She told me horror stories about other trailers so I figured I'd get UFT to check ours. Turned out they were full of mold, a pretty shaky way to start the year.

As all my classes are in the trailer, I was pretty nervous. That's not to mention the other 75 or so classes out there. My morning class is very small, so far, so I was going to take them to my department office, which would have been OK. We have a conference table and ergonomic chairs, so it may have been kind of cool. We also have some portable bleachers at our school, and I was plotting to steal them and teach my PM class out in the schoolyard. It's less than ideal, but it beats the hell out of the auditorium.

Yet lo and behold, the trailers looked pretty good this morning. The mold we saw was gone for sure. I'm going to ask UFT to come back and test for moisture, though. The problem is that, while they may have removed the immediate problem, the underlying problem remains and the mold will almost certainly come back. There are certain drawbacks to dumping temporary buildings and making them permanent.

The worst outcome, though, dumping 80 classes in the auditorium, was avoided. That's good. I was able to teach my kids all day and not worry about their developing asthma rather than English. Another NY1 reporter showed up and I spoke with her. I got a stern talking-to from some Tweed bigshot who gave me a list of names with whom I was supposed to clear speaking with the press. I've never heard any such thing. I knew not to take the reporter onto school grounds without permission from the principal, but that's simply ridiculous.

Freedom of speech is pretty important for those of us trying to keep public school public and viable. It's a disgrace that anyone working for the city would try to impede me from speaking out for decent learning conditions. But they're doing a pretty good job. The reporter asked several teachers passing by to comment, and none would.

I told the reporter they were all smarter than me.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Telling Tall Tales of Thompson

Though I support COPE and actually pay for this stuff, though I get out and work for UFT-endorsed candidates in whom I believe, I'm more than a little disappointed when I read things like this. A UFT mailer suggests that Bill Thompson supports retro pay for teachers, who haven't had a raise in five years. However, the Thompson campaign denies it. It's hard for me to forget that Thompson told the Daily News editorial board he opposed it.

So what are we to believe? Has Thompson made a backroom deal with Mike Mulgrew? And if he has, has he made contradictory backroom deals with his anti-teacher pals Meryl Tisch and Al D'Amato?

I'm a little torn. A UFT rep came to our school and told us that UFT leadership was very smart, and that the new evaluation system could not happen without the raise for which we'd waited years. Yet months later, we had the junk science ratings, no raise, and Bloomberg was boasting he'd achieved the most anti-teacher rating system in the state, and that he'd given up absolutely nothing to achieve it. In fact, he was correct.

I'm not really happy to write about these things. But it's pretty clear our leadership is getting desperate. In fact, they're praying for Thompson to win, and urging chapter leaders to survey members one on one during school hours. UFT leadership took a big gamble on credibility by getting out front and endorsing Thompson early. For a while, I thought they'd made a good judgment. But circumstance and polling have proven both UFT leadership and me wrong.

There is no defense for outright lying to us. If I'm mistaken in any way, if anyone from UFT leadership would like to set me straight on this, I'm all ears.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Dog Bites Man

Teacher dissatisfaction with Bloomberg lackey Dennis Walcott is at 57%, and Gotham Schools calls it an all-time high. I can only marvel at the other 43%. It's entirely feasible they were too paranoid to answer honestly. Teachers have repeatedly asked me whether or not the surveys could be traced to them. After all, they're numbered, and who knows there aren't principals writing the numbers down, or even attributing poor results to individual teachers with no reasonable basis whatsoever?

In this era of American education, reason is a quaint relic of the past. We judge teachers on junk science. We issue standards that have never been field-tested anywherem and NY Times columnists rave about their importance. We have insane ideologues running not only the NY City Department of Education, but the national DOE as well.

Who's to say the leadership academy grads aren't hunched over in their offices, smoking cigarettes, and plotting revenge against those awful teachers who said those terrible things about not only Walcott, but also their exalted selves?

So maybe those 43% aren't paranoid after all, and are focused on the very real consequences of working in a system based on ideas that originated in the hind quarters of bull goose loony Bill Gates. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, the Educators 4 Excellence just can't wait to be fired for no reason. Gotham Schools darling Ruben Brosbe, who couldn't get tenure when he was a teacher, went and took some course at Harvard, and came back in some sort of leadership position. After all, just because you haven't been deemed fit for teacher tenure, if you're reformy enough that's no reason you're unfit to be in charge of schools or teachers.

There are all sorts of opportunities for teachers who drink the Kool-Aid. Diane Ravitch writes that TFA teachers are on the fast track for advancement. Those of us in the reality-based community are doomed to be teachers. Actually, that's fine with me. I'm very much aware that we're doing the most important work there is, and I'm proud of serving kids who really need me. I only hope I can continue to do so as long as I'm able, and that I leave before the junk science monster bites me.

It's a shame so many teachers are so timid. We need to stand as one, unafraid. We need to speak the truth. We need to do this not only for ourselves, but also for our students. Any teacher who endorses the nonsense that pervades education today is either misinformed, working toward a Gates gig, or sorely lacking judgment and curiosity. And which of those is qualified to serve as a role model for our children?

I'd argue none of the above.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Eva Gets Creative

In what's likely to be the new status quo for the reformy crowd, overpaid charter magnate Eva Moskowitz takes surging Bill de Blasio to task for making the "choice" to send his kids to public school. The previous meme was simply trashing people like Diane Ravitch and Matt Damon, who had relatives in private schools. At that time, their absurd and idiotic argument was that such people wanted to deprive poor children the opportunity to goose-step along with Eva and Doug Lemov.

You see, in the quest for our tax dollars, it makes no difference that Eva and KIPP are not offering what's at Sidwell Friends or Dalton. Who cares if it's a test-prep factory you wouldn't send your kid to on a bet? The point is that is your choice. And the more crappy schools poor children can choose, the more money for the likes of Eva, Geoff Canada, and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom love your children more than you do.

The great thing about this is they can now trash absolutely everyone who opposes charter schools. You chose to send your kids to free public schools and now you oppose us taking the high scorers and leaving what's left for neighborhood schools to fret over? You, sir, are a hypocrite!

As am I, of course, for sending my kid to her local public school. What's really galling, if you bother to read her drivel, is that Eva doesn't want her fancy schools to have to take in the high needs kids public schools take without question. She repeatedly insists she's a public school, but let's face it, she makes twice what any public school principal does, spends all kinds of money on advertising, and sued to avoid facing a state audit.

What the hell kind of public school is that? Eva Moskowitz wants to pick and choose who gets to patronize her "success" academies, Eva Moskowitz wants to take state money, but she doesn't feel we lowly taxpayers have any right to know what she does with it.

Eva can write trash about Bill de Blasio in Rupert Murdoch's yellow rag every day of the year, for all I care. But it's pretty clear to me she isn't worthy to touch the hem of de Blasio's garment. And if I were de Blasio, I'd be glad. Who knows where that hand has been?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Question

What are all those Unity chapter leaders going to do with those Thompson t-shirts after he loses the nomination? Thoughts?

GothamCharterSchools Shows Diversity

 by special guest blogger Faith Humperdink, cross-posted from GothamCharterSchools

From time to time here at GothamCharterSchools, we like to give other points of view. Here's a piece by Iggy Wochuck, who has taught middle school in the Bronx for 25 years. We may have edited it here or there.


I have one or two things I'd like to say about the "reform" movement. First of all, it's all a bunch of hooey. Also, the only thing they've got right about it is nothing. Most importantly, sfaslgjfoigjeioaiodsnvoiaengiqrejge'ijgi'ej'iej'ibjet'ijtjt4wkjg'. I really can't emphasize that enough.

When you get involved with dsajglkjgeirgjeigj, you're really only trying to do things that don't work at all. So what you're left with is a bunch of things that don't work.

I have a lot of firsthand experience with this. When I worked at dakgjfgjkhjthjti0h, the only thing I really saw was dagjlfgjthjthpjkeopjkyjuykjoputkjo[ukj[otukjoukjtuyojkojkytopjkopjk. And I was there for dsagjfljgtoijhitrjhitjhijtih. Some people may differ, but that's certainly long enough to dfdf dsfjdkgjgjsdkgjldkjgkdjgksajgsklsalgjfgjthjtrwohgjreiofow.

So in retrospect, I can only say dsagfjhfkljhf dklfhaslkgjfkljgfljg dkfghalgjfljgdflgje skjfdlkfjlkdjf, and there are dksjagfjgf dkfgjflgjflhjlhjrthj lfjdlkgjlgjfjg.

Anyone who wishes to dasgljfkhgk;jhkrjhtkjhgkhjgkjhjkh can simply skfjdlkjgfdlkjgflkjgjgfgj. There are a lot of dajgfkljgljg djaklfjlgjlgjlkgjlkgjl and these days almost anyone can find dslajgffkljg daslfgjaklfjg daklfjdlksjgflkdjfg dsalfjdslkjfs fairly easily.

Finally, I'd like to thank GothamCharterSchools for giving me the opportunity to express my point of view here. I know there are those who feel GothamCharterSchools is one-sided, but Faith Humperdink personally reached out to me. She is a woman of impeccable character, and I really appreciate her asking me to write this column.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Happy Labor Day to All

Enjoy your day off. Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy safety at your workplace. Enjoy your lunch break. Enjoy health and dental benefits.

Enjoy overtime pay and child labor laws. Enjoy contractual protections and collective bargaining. Enjoy lack of racial and sexual discrimination. Enjoy not being fired for a bad haircut, for your religious beliefs, or because your boss wants to hire his nephew to stop him from sleeping on his couch.

All of the above is brought to you by unions.

And if you are lacking any of the above, what you need is union, despite what you may have heard otherwise. If you don't like your union leadership, don't confuse that with not liking union. Work for better leadership and better union.

Vote early. Vote often. And don't even think of voting for anyone who opposes union. This includes Democrats who pay us lip service but fail to stand up when we need them. For working people, there's no alternative to union, and now's the time to make union strong. They have the money, but we have the numbers.

If we stand up, there is no stopping us.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Reformy John Unveils Bold New Initiative

by special guest blogger Faith Humperdink, cross-posted from GothamCharterSchools

Exclusive to GothamCharterSchools, NY State Schools Commissioner Reformy John King, in conjunction with the NY Department of Education, has released the formula for rating city teachers.

Since no one actually understands any of the math involved, and since none of this has ever been tested or proven valid anywhere, Reformy John, with an extensive background in charter schools, has decided to take a page from the charter book. In New York City, grades on standardized tests will continue to be recorded so that Governor Andrew Cuomo can issue the death penalty to schools he wishes to kill. However, for individual teachers, ratings will be determined by lottery, to wit, the new "Wheel of Unemployment."

Reformy John stated that emulation of charter schools is a first step toward the competition necessary to improve education in schools. The evaluations will be broadcast, and sales of commercial time will be used to refurbish spaces in public schools so that they will be suitable for charter school chains. Thus, American capitalists will finally have more opportunities to profit from the billions previously wasted on educating children. He spoke in glowing terms of the progress made in Chicago by Rahm Emanuel, and fondly reflected that one day we could blow up libraries here as well.

Mayor Bloomberg stated this was a step in the right direction. After the miserable scores in the Common Core exams, Bloomberg stated this only underlined his determination to accelerate the reforms he's been enacting for the last 12 years. If they haven't improved anything yet, said Bloomberg, the only course was to redouble our efforts. Bloomberg hoped this new method would help rid the system of overpaid veteran teachers, but grudgingly admitted that firing teachers at random was the next best thing.

To get the teacher perspective on this, GothamCharterSchools interviewed Harold Forthwith, three-year teaching veteran and leader of the bold new group Teachers 4 Whatever. "This is a great step," Harold told GothamCharterSchools. "I was unable to get tenure back when I was a teacher, and I was not simply satisfactory. I was excellent. It really pissed me off to see other teachers getting tenure when I didn't. I am better than those people, and that's why I now make more money than any of them. I can't wait to see them come crawling to Teachers 4 Whatever for jobs after the Wheel of Unemployment fires them. They can all go to hell."

GothamCharterSchools is thrilled at these new educational innovations. Count on us to bring you all breaking details just as soon as Reformy John King makes them up.