Thursday, October 31, 2013

What People Say and What Reformy John Sees

John King just took a trip to Port Chester, New York. Speaker after speaker told him they were dissatisfied with Common Core, teacher evaluations, and the clueless way in which New York pushed reformy nonsense on everyone. No one stood up to tell him what a great job he was doing. However, after that, Reformy John stood up and announced that student privacy was fine and that he would make no substantive changes whatsoever.

After all, the last time people dared speak their minds, they didn't mind their tone. Reformy John told them the Montessori schools he sent his kids to subscribed to Common Core, even though they didn't, and then canceled all the other scheduled meetings. After all, these meetings were attended by "special interests," which is how Reformy John sees parents, teachers, and anyone else who dares criticize Very Important Reforms that will Make Money for his BFFs.

After not one single person spoke in his favor, Reformy John looked into his magic mirror and came to the conclusion that there was "consensus" about Common Core.

"I don't see it as a particularly divisive moment," he told The Post-Standard at the opening of WCNY's new headquarters on West Fayette Street. "I actually think what is most striking is the degree of consensus we see as a country around where we need to take education."

You see, if you are Reformy John King, you don't give a golly goshdarn what people say on your listening tour.  You listen the same way Michael Bloomberg listens at PEP meetings, where hundreds of people get up and object to your policies and you do whatever the hell you please. John King only listens to Bill Gates, DFER, Pearson, Walmart and Broad. They put their billions where their mouths are and are therefore not special interests.

It's amazing he has the audacity to ignore absolutely everyone who comes out to speak to him. How long are we going to put up with politicians who not only ignore us, but get up in front of God and everyone and lie about what they hear?

Let's send Reformy John back to his magic mirror, where he can look at himself as long as he likes. For education commissioner, let's look for someone who can actually comprehend viewpoints other than those spouted by Bill Gates.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Date With Sandy

I didn't much enjoy it, and she didn't much look like Olivia Newton-John. The first thing I thought of when I heard she was coming was a living room rug that used to belong to my grandfather. My daughter and I rolled it up and brought it up to the attic, where it sat for a few months.

Then she and my wife and I drove to my sister-in-law's house to wait out the storm. My mother-in-law got it in her head that the house was going to be hit by a tree, and she was pretty vocal about it. I got on my laptop and was pretty surprised to find two rooms in the Hampton Inn in Garden City. They were maybe 200 bucks a night, which I thought was pretty steep. But we went, and they actually had power for an hour or two. Nothing quite like

When we got back home the next day, the streets near our house were still flooded. Somehow my daughter and I had found long rubber boots, and we walked through the water to what was left of our home after six feet of water flowed through it. On the way, we met two Newsday photographers who were taking photos of photos flowing through the water.

But when we looked at the photos, they turned out to be photos of my family and my mom's family. My daughter and I spent the next two or three days hunting for photos, and we accumulated a whole bag of them. Daughter said she would scan them all, but has thus far not kept that promise.

Six weeks later, we had all new walls, floors, furniture, ceilings and appliances in most of our house. Nothing like a natural disaster to inspire a remodel. It's pretty nice now, but if I had it to do over, I probably wouldn't move so close to the water.

Six weeks felt like forever, but I now know we got back fairly quickly. I know people who were out of their homes for six months or more. I know others who actually tore down and rebuilt their homes. And I now see on TV a lot of people who still haven't gone back. So I suppose we're pretty lucky.

I just keep waiting for Reformy John King to get on TV and claim Sandy was the best thing to happen to NY education, like his role model Arne Duncan said about Katrina and New Orleans. Can you believe anyone who said something that monumentally stupid is the head educator in the United States?

Aside from our recovery, one more thing for which I'm thankful is that Arne Duncan is not my kid's teacher.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reformy King John Pretends to Listen

I watched the hearings last night broadcast over the internet from Port Chester, NY. It appeared to me that parents there, while not raising their voices quite as much, had precisely the same concerns as the Poughkeepsie parents Reformy John labeled "special interests." The standards, they said, were rolled out without any proof of their validity, there is incessant testing, first graders are circling multiple choice answers instead of learning--you know, the usual nonsense that does nothing to help Pearson's bottom line.

The woman who moderated regularly scolded the troublesome parents to stop talking, that their two minutes were up, and got impatient when people who'd waited three hours to speak demanded the chance. She then spoke about how wonderful it was that King John gave them an additional few minutes rather than turning them away like dogs.

This article, evidently trying to be "balanced," appears to quote extensively from some Common Core propaganda sheet or other in between reporting what real people actually said:

Common Core is a state-led effort that seeks to provide consistent standards and appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live, and prepare them for college and the workforce. It is a product of bipartisan effort by the National Governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers and was developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts.

I'm wondering who those teachers were. Certainly no one ever consulted me or anyone I know. I also suppose, as did one of the speakers, that neither I nor anyone I know was prepared for college, since I've never been exposed to the wonders of Common Core. The article also quotes someone who didn't actually speak in order to provide a pro-Common Core point of view. But the speakers I heard had no love for it, or for Reformy John. One demanded, to applause, that he be fired.

King John said the state was doing a swell job protecting student privacy. I trust the King about as far as I can throw him. Leonie Haimson, who actually cares about public school children, says otherwise, and I believe her.  Reformy John also said would entertain minor changes, but that he was fully committed to both Common Core and junk science evaluations.  I would very much like to see King committed, but I'd prefer it be to an institution from which he can do no further harm to our students.

It appears to me all we got from the King last night was the lip service he saw as beneath him in Poughkeepsie. I don't believe he will entertain the UFT's request for a moratorium on high stakes, as that might somehow affect the bottom line of Pearson and his other billionaire BFFs to whom he answers. Ex-NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was able to take his position and get a cool gig working for Murdoch. Why would King want to jeopardize his golden parachute simply because his programs fail the students, parents, and teachers of New York State?

After all, tuition at those fancy Montessori schools doesn't grow on trees, and the King doesn't want to have his own kids stuck in the same drill and kill system he so passionately defends for ours.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Family Time

Today I played fiddle for a band at Terrhune Orchards in Princeton, New Jersey. There was apple picking and pumpkin painting and all sorts of kid-friendly stuff so I brought not only my family, but also a friend and her 3-year-old daughter. It's a nice day trip for kids, though I'm not sure how much longer they'll be doing it. It was a bit on the cold side out there.

We had to play four hours, and on the way back we were starving. Route 1 is full of chain restaurants and we picked the one that offended the most people the least. They had Sam Adams Octoberfest on tap, which made it seem a little better than it really was. But what I really noticed was the family that took the booth next to us.

They had two young children, one of whom was crying loudly. A waitress tried to calm her down, telling her about the wonderful coloring contest they were having, but she was having none of it. In fact, she wouldn't calm down until Mom and Dad plopped a laptop in front of her and started playing video on it. Their son, a little older and a little calmer, knew how to open his and was  already wearing his earphones, oblivious to the noise little sister was making.

I watched these two kids, no more than seven years old, and felt relieved they lived in Jersey. It's likely no one I know will ever have to teach them. They cannot sit down for more than one minute without being entertained, and appear to have every expectation that's what will happen each time they sit down. They don't talk to Mom and Dad except to cry until their laptops are opened and their earphones are placed on their heads. And they eat while they watch their laptops.

I get irritated when my daughter takes out her phone to text someone when we're eating. She thinks I'm nuts, and I'm not saying she's wrong. But we don't do that at the table.

I wonder how those young children will behave when they're at school, and expected to actually interact with people. It looks to me like Mom and Dad find that inconvenient and have taught them there's no need for it.

What an odd thing to teach your children.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Someone Loves Us

Last night we had parent-teacher conferences. I always like to meet parents face to face, even if I don't speak their languages. As an ESL teacher, I spend half my conference time frantically searching for translators. I can speak Spanish, but that's about it. Our school hires a bunch of translators, but some are in great demand and I drag students or anyone I can find to help.

Yesterday I was pretty lucky. One of my new students speaks a language I don't, but her mom spoke perfect English. She told me she was born here, but moved to another country.  Her daughter grew up there, but last year they moved back here.

She enrolled her daughter in a religious school run by people from her national background. But she claimed her daughter spent a whole year there and learned nothing. I found that hard to believe. I asked how that could be. Apparently, almost all the people in that school were American-born. The teachers said, "Oh, she doesn't speak English," and pretty much dumped her in a corner by herself.

The girl was miserable. She cried every night, and begged Mom to take her back to her country. For this, Mom paid $5,000.

This year she came to our school. She was placed in the beginning ESL class, but three days ago was transferred into my near-beginner class. She took a seat between three Spanish-speaking girls who I'd previously deemed inseparable. I'd actually wanted to break them up and use them as buffers between people of our primary language group, but they thwarted my plan by behaving fairly well and speaking English virtually all the time. The new girl is best buddies with them, and now they all speak English exclusively.

She's very happy. She wakes up eager to go to school. She participates avidly, and I'm confident she will do well in my class. Her attitude strongly suggests she'll learn English quickly and do well in other classes as well. Mom is over the moon at her newly well-adjusted and contented child.

"I should have sent her to public school in the first place," concluded Mom. The papers can trash us from here to eternity, but we know how kids like that need to be treated. Clearly not everyone does.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Teachers Suffer, UFT Leadership Spins

This comment from professional Unity-New Action apologist Peter Goodman appears at Gotham Schools:

On the just released state teacher evaluation 50% of teachers were "highly effective" and 41% "effective" with 1% "ineffective," these do include NYC, our plan just started, so, just maybe, teachers were overreacting .. On the grades 3-8 scores teachers in NYC scored considerably better than the rest of the state.
Take a deep breath, maybe the guys and gals who negotiated the plan on the union side knew what they were doing.

It's a fact that VAM has never proven to be effective, and it's a fact that anyone who fails the junk science part of this plan must be rated ineffective overall. It's another fact that city teachers can get those ratings based on test results of kids they've never met, let alone taught. No one even understands this system we have, and I see no evidence that Goodman is the exception that proves the rule. In case he thinks those stats preclude problems for teachers over junk science VAM, take a good look at Syracuse.

In Syracuse, for example, fully 40 percent of the teachers were deemed to be “developing” or “ineffective” and must create improvement plans — a much higher failure rate than most school systems.

The "guys and gals" who "negotiated" the plan on the union side left it in the hands of John King, in case anyone forgot, and are busily reminding us the plan they'd negotiated with DOE was better. This, of course, is after they assured us this plan was great because we could negotiate it, which we did not. According to Gotham Schools, arbitrator John King imposed more evaluations than either DOE or UFT wanted.

Previously, UFT leadership assured us this plan was great because it was only 40% junk science rather than 50. Like many people, I was surprised to learn that 40 equals 100 when you fail. Frankly, I don't sense UFT credibility on this with working teachers is all that strong anymore.

Illuminating though can be to get the insights of someone long out of the classroom who supports UFT policies all the time no matter what, mayoral control, which we also supported, hasn't worked well for us. Common Core, with no field-testing whatsoever, isn't working out all that great either. Don't just go by teachers--ask parents who watch their young children grappling with developmentally inappropriate tasks. UFT calls for a moratorium on high stakes fall on the same deaf ears that call parents "special interests." If the "guys and gals" did such a swell job, why do we even need a moratorium?

With all due respect, comments like Goodman's don't reflect the remotest notion of what's going on out here with those of us who actually work for a living. While I'm beginning to see this as UFT party line, I hope for all our sakes they come up with something better.

I pity the chapter leader who has to tell members facing high-stakes evaluation, "Take a deep breath, the guys and gals at UFT did a swell job."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From the Gotham Charter Schools Mailbag

Today's post is by Faith Humperdink, writer and editor at Gotham Charter Schools.

After we ran an innocent little piece encouraging teachers to take photos of their classes for Gotham Charter Schools, we received this message:

You need explicit permission to take photographs in a school building and any employee who does so without it runs risk of dismissal. Employees also need explicit permission from parents or guardians of any students if you are going to publish their photos.

In this climate, teachers whipping out their prohibited cell phones and sending photos to Gotham Charter Schools is not the best of ideas.
I never take photos in the building, only from the street, and I never take photos of students. When I did video projects with my kids last year I got written consent forms from every parent before sharing them with anyone. 

We certainly understand that teachers can get into trouble for taking photographs without permission from administration or releases for minor students. In fact, we received another email stating that a principal went crazy when a teacher procured a grant for his school. The principal observed him every day, placed multiple letters in his file, and is now trying to fire him.

But, dear readers, isn't that a good thing? The more ineffective teachers we can write about, fire, or whatever, the more charters we can open, and the more money we can get from Gates and Walmart to keep this great site going. Here's another letter:

Why do you always write about charter schools? Don't you know that 94% of city students go to public schools?

Here at Gotham Charter Schools, we write about all charter schools, not just the Moskowitz schools. We love the Moskowitz schools! They are the best! But we take no position on them one way or the other. Our editorial policy is this---no matter how much money we get from Gates, or Walmart, or DFER, we cover charter schools wall to wall, even if they aren't run by Moskowitz.

Because that's just the kind of folks we are here at Gotham Charter Schools!

Monday, October 21, 2013

UFT Charter Opts Out of Evaluation System

It's kind of funny when the NY Post and Mayor Bloomberg ridicule the UFT because their charter is not subject to the shiny new junk science evaluation system we're all suffering through. Bloomberg contends the kids will never catch up, and calls it tragic. And yet, when Reformy John King's Uncommon Schools take the same option, he doesn't have one word to say about it.

It really ought to be people like me criticizing the UFT charter. But I won't, because they made the right call. The evaluation system is cumbersome, time-consuming and ultimately unproductive. No one even understands it, and while the fanatics over at DOE promise us a "soup to nuts" explanation, I expect more of a soup from nuts, riddled with inaccuracies.

UFT ought to stick to their guns and find a more reasonable way to assess their teachers. And yet, UFT regularly tells me that we needed this system because the old one allowed administrators to do whatever they wished. So, if they love the new system so much, if it represents such a stellar improvement, why on earth don't they use it in their school? It's pretty clear they understand how convoluted and insane it is, and have made the utterly sound decision not to go with it.

So I don't ask UFT why they chose not to use such an awful system in their charter. I ask only why they ever supported using one on the rest of us, the overwhelming majority of city teachers.While I'm glad they're filing formal grievances over the ineptitude of the DOE in instituting this monstrosity, I continue to wonder why they can't just come to their senses and admit they made a mistake in forming this law.

Of course I don't expect any admission of wrongdoing from UFT leadership. I've been teaching almost 30 years and I've never seen anything of the sort. Sure, they will change policies, like allowing teachers to be judged by test scores, or creating the awful practice of making teachers ATRs, but saying they were wrong? Never.

It's too bad. Remember when the big selling point of the law they helped write was that only 40% of a teacher's rating would be developed via junk science? That was before we learned that failing that portion would render teachers ineffective overall, and subject to dismissal if it happened twice in a row.

This system is simply awful. And the sooner UFT admits it, the sooner it will regain credibility with members. I have never, ever seen morale so low and teachers so panicked. Saying to wait for the next mayor, a song I've now heard the UFT sing for three decades, is not going to cut it for working teachers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

If Your Supervisor Isn't Crazy, Part 2

I wasn't intending to continue this, but it now occurs to me that if your supervisor isn't crazy, there's no need whatsoever for this wretched new evaluation system. Actually, if your supervisor isn't crazy, it's highly unlikely to take 4-6 observations to determine what goes on in your classroom. For one thing, if you're doing a truly abysmal job, there's likely to be a line of kids outside your department office complaining about you. If I were a supervisor, I'd probably make it my business to see firsthand whether or not these complaints were valid.

If there were no complaints, I'd still want to see what was going on. But I don't think I'd bother you very often if everything looked good. I believe a competent supervisor can make these judgments fairly quickly. But, you say, that's not always the case, and of course you're right.

So say you have a supervisor who's nuts. This supervisor wouldn't know a good lesson if one were beating him upside the head (which is of course precisely what he deserves). Do you honestly believe that a Danielson rubric will keep this guy from writing inane or hurtful crap about you? I don't. Do you believe this bad supervisor will suspend his pettiness and prejudices for the 15 minutes it takes him to tic off points on that all-important checklist?

You see, the problem with insane supervisors is they didn't know good teaching before Danielson. Will they all of a sudden be struck by lightning, see the error of their ways, and understand that those teachers they hate more than life itself are doing a good job? I'm not seeing it. That's why I don't think this system represents any improvement whatsoever. UFT leadership will say before it was all up to the observer. I fail to see how any of that's changed.

In fact, the only thing that's really changed is if your supervisor thinks you're the best thing on God's green earth, there will be not one thing she can do if your test scores, or the ones of students you've never met that have been assigned to you, are not up to snuff.

That means next year they'll sent the dementors in to determine who the burden of proof will be on in your inevitable 3020a hearing.

That's hardly something any teacher needed to worry about in the past. Someone explain to me how this new system helps, teachers, parents, children, or anyone not trying to privatize our education system.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Autistic Boy Goes Missing

And this happened in a colocated school. Is it a good idea to dump schools with very different kids into the same buildings? This argues against it. Clearly this boy needed to be monitored more closely than other 14-year-olds. This is a failure of the city system, a failure of Bloomberg's vision, and a tragedy for the boy and his family.

Why not dump a K-5 school into a high school building? Why worry about dropping 5-year-old children into the same building with 21-year-olds with two credits. What could possibly go wrong? And even if it does, the media could blame it on the terrible public schools.

The problem, of course, is that there are still kids with issues. Many come from poverty. Many have learning disabilities. And many still don't speak English. For some mysterious reason, people who don't speak English have trouble passing standardized tests. No one in government can figure out why that is, so it must be the fault of teachers and schools. The only solution, of course, is to fire the teachers, close the schools, or both. No less than President Obama cheered when a largely ESL school in Rhode Island was to fire all the teachers. Being generous, they settled for having the teachers come to work with severely worsened working conditions.

In the United States in 2013, we favor educational prescriptions that have either never been proven to work anywhere, like Common Core, or have been disproven everywhere, like VAM and merit pay. We're no better than climate change deniers.

Colocations are a terrible idea, lacking vision and benefit for anyone but privatizers and profiteers like Moskowitz. Let's hope de Blasio is what he says he is, and brings a much-needed wave of sanity to our city.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

If Your Supervisor Isn't Crazy

If that's the case, you have options. While Reformy John King, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to impose more observations than either the UFT or DOE wanted, and while some of them must be unannounced, there's nothing to stop you from saying, "Hey, I'm doing this great thing today, and why don't you come and see it?"

Now I can't speak for all supervisors, especially the crazy ones. But if I were a supervisor and had 200 more observations to get out of the way, I'd be relieved if someone invited me in to see something worthwhile. Hopefully, everything is. But there is that eye or checklist of the beholder thing with which we all have to deal, so why not let your supervisor see whatever it is you do best?

There are also possibilities if you have negative writeups. I'd advise you, if your supervisor criticized, say, your questioning technique, to go in there and demand suggestions of how to do it better. Then, I'd invite the supervisor in and use precisely those ace questions that were suggested. If further criticism ensued, I'd ask the supervisor why such awful questions were ever suggested in the first place.

Of course none of these things will work if your supervisor is crazy, or if said supervisor hates you and everything you stand for. But don't take it out on the supervisor. It may not be his or her fault. It's entirely possible the principal hates you and everything you stand for, and the supervisor is simply following orders. It's only business. Not personal. Like when the Turk tried to kill Michael Corleone's father.

Of course there's no easy answer. Bill Gates had a vision, and billions of dollars to gently persuade high-ranking individuals who enjoyed suitcases full of cash. He had ideas about testing, ideas about curriculum, and ideas about rating teachers. As John King demonstrated quite clearly in Poughkeepsie, anyone who disagrees with Gates ideas is a special interest, and such opinions will not be tolerated.

So the best you can do is be imaginative, try to work circumstances to your favor, and hope your supervisors are not insane. Hope they aren't vindictive and small-minded. Hope they really want better classroom results. If they don't, you have an even tougher road. Pray that de Blasio wins and initiates a system that's less insane. Go to your local UFT office and make calls to counter the crap Lhota spews over the air waves.

Because the people who designed this system had one thing in mind, and that's firing as many teachers as possible. They don't give a damn about you, me, or the kids we serve. That may not be clear to our union leaders, but it's clearer each day to those of us living through this crazy system.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Danielson by the Numbers

Danielson doesn't bother me that much. I look at what's required, and I think that looks like good teaching. Of course everyone should be prepared. Of course everyone should enter the classroom with a plan and have a vision of what will happen. Everyone should have goals for the students.

I also believe strongly in student engagement. I put a lot of energy into trying to create or inspire it. I want my kids to be happy and eager. But, and you knew there would be one, I can't guarantee every kid will be jumping up and down with hands raised. I could instruct them to raise hands at every question each time there's an observer. Or I could call on kids at random, which is my preferred M.O. anyway.

Yet when I see these checklists, the ones mandated by the DOE and maybe or maybe not endorsed by the union, I'm not at all encouraged. You rate one in this, two in that. Your questions are superficial and don't scrape the bottom of the cerebral barrel. Your students are not engaged in deep thinking, did not explain Einstein's theory of relativity to my satisfaction, and I still don't understand it. You engaged in the spread of inaccurate information. I'm not going to tell you what it is, because I don't have to. The fact that I accused you of it ought to be good enough for anyone.

I don't care if I walked out precisely after that second hand hit the fifteen-minute mark, and I don't care what you were leading up to. I have to sit through your class five more times, and I have 240 more observations to do and write up. Otherwise I'm going to be following your ass straight to the unemployment line and that is unacceptable.

This is not how you inspire people. This is not how you improve education. This is not how you grow flowers anyone wants to look at.

Now sure, you can beat down people, discourage teachers, make them want to quit, to jump out a window, to give up. It's not all that hard with hundreds of millions of dollars floating around for anyone wishing to jump onto the reformy bandwagon. But I can't believe that's what Danielson is about. Sure, she took the money, and let her name appear on all this stuff. But even so, the notion of trying to improve instruction is a good one, a worthy one.

That's not happening here, and that's very sad. It's sad not only for the teachers who have to sit through these nonsensical rating sessions, but also for the kids. You don't get great instruction from people with guns to their heads trying to make points in a rubric.

Inspiration comes from people, not from charts. They can fire me in two years if the charts look bad for me. But that won't help all the kids I could teach English to. And there are few things in life I love as much as I do working with these kids. I see little light bulbs going off above their heads. I see them trying to find the words to argue with me, their crazy teacher.

But the observer walking in, all he sees is a sheet of paper to place random checks on. That's no way to evaluate education.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reformy King John's Education Department Decrees Who May and May Not Have an Opinion

Today I was pretty surprised to learn who, specifically, were the "special interests" that precluded NY State Education Commissioner John King from having discussions with the people who pay his salary. We have now learned that they are Leonie Haimson's Class Size Matters, and our NY State union, NYSUT. These are the evil entities that seduced the parents in Poughkeepsie, according to King John's education department.

Apparently Class Size Matters and NYSUT are such insidious influences that no one can resist their fancy talk. Once anyone hears them, they are infected, kind of like The Walking Dead, and anyone else who speaks to them or hears them will get the bug and contradict King Reformy John in public. In a democracy, according to King John, this is unacceptable, and once people hear such subversive notions, they may no longer be permitted to speak in public. Reformy Gotham Schools seems to agree, characterizing parents expressing their opinions as disruptive protesters.

It's remarkable that any ostensible educator or journalist would come to such absurd conclusions, and even more remarkable that anyone can muster the audacity to air them in public. But there they are, ladies and gentlemen. One of the oddest things here is that NYSUT, in fact, strongly and unequivocally supports Common Core, as does AFT and UFT. Perhaps King John's researchers are to busy to keep up with current events. I regularly hear UFT voices saying that Common Core is necessary to promote higher-order thinking skills. Personally, I'd see criticism of an untested mandate like Common Core as an obvious and necessary task of a concerned citizen.

Yet Reformy John does not agree. His version of a concerned citizen is one who listens to him rattle on about Common Core for over 90 minutes and questions nothing whatsoever. Is that the sort of citizen Common Core is meant to create? Since he refuses to talk to any other sort, I can only suppose it is.

As for Class Size Matters, it's a shoestring organization that relies on contributions from people like us. Aren't we entitled to express ourselves in a democracy? Isn't this particularly important when people like Bill Gates,, Eli Broad, and the Walmart family are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to push things like Common Core, mayoral control, and even Reformy John's beloved charter schools on us?

It's pretty clear that the NYS Education Department opposes free speech for those of us who lack corporate backing. That is plainly unacceptable if we are still in the United States of America. Personally, I can come to no conclusion but that John King is unfit to serve, and should step down immediately.

If not sooner. In this space, both supporting and opposing views are welcome, and we ask only basic civility.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Anyone Who Disagrees with King John Is a Special Interest

Rookie teacher/ NYS Education Commissioner John King has declared he will no longer discuss Common Core with the public. They have been manipulated by "special interests." It could be those awful teacher unions, except they all happen to support Common Core. So it must be individual parents and teachers. Who the hell do they think they are to publicly express opinions?

In King's view, parents and teachers have no right to advocate for their students, and should simply do as they're told by Pearson and Gates. They are not special interests, one must suppose, because they have all that money.

King is in their thrall, and can stand for 90 minutes and rhapsodize on how wonderful Common Core is. It's fabulous that two-thirds of our children are failing. Nothing meant anything until we introduced Common Core, and those of us who were educated before its inception did not know how to think critically and could not possibly know anything. It's vital that our children know how to think critically.

And by thinking critically, Reformy John King clearly means they should accept his edicts without question. Parents in Poughkeepsie asked tough questions, and pushed Reformy John off message. If only they'd been trained in critical thinking, they'd have been able to sit quietly, applaud wildly, and accept his corporate-sponsored, Pearson and Murdoch enriching message as gospel.

In Common Core, critical thinkers do not ever question the ability of corporations to enrich themselves at the expense of our children. They do not question authority figures explaining the wonders of reforminess. And they do not ever ask Reformy John King why he sends his own kids to schools that do not practice what he advocates for our children.

In the world of Reformy John King, anyone who veers from message is not thinking critically, is therefore a special interest and must be ignored. Sure, they can pay the King's salary, as all loyal subjects must do, but questioning the King? That's unheard of.

So New Yorkers, please follow Common Core, think critically, sit down, and shut up.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

King John's Epic Fail

Today I went to a Bar Mitzvah. It was a big party at a Holiday Inn. My wife and I were at table 6. We all sat down, and there were 4 or 5 elderly people at our table. One of Holiday Inn's crack employees informed us that there were not enough seats, and that furthermore, this was not, in fact, table 6. It was table 5 and someone had switched the table numbers!

I asked what the difference was, but she was unpersuaded. We all had to get up, even those who had trouble walking. What we found when we got to the new table was this--it was exactly the same size as the other table, but contained one extra chair. To me, it seemed ridiculous that we all had to switch places when we could've pushed over one chair and a place setting. But the woman in charge could not imagine any other way.

Of course, she is not a teacher, and would not make a very good one. When you're standing in front of 34 teenagers, it's your job to resolve unexpected conflicts quickly and efficiently, with as little trouble as possible. You have to think fast, you have to rely on your imagination, and if you have it, you have to rely on your experience. You have to be ready for anything.

When you read things like this, it's fairly easy to see that NY State Education Commissioner John King is not ready for anything. He's ready to enforce Bill Gates' druthers on us. He's ready to give long-winded speeches on the wonders of Common Core, and the fact that it's never even been field tested does not faze him one iota. But he can't take it when those darn parents get up and start criticizing him. Who the hell do they think they are?

We're all facing the Danielson Framework. Whatever you may think of it, it stresses engaging students. Imagine a teacher boring kids to death with a two-hour presentation. Imagine that it entailed something in which the kids did not believe, and imagine further they found it utterly unpersuasive. Imagine you gave them only a few minutes at the end to respond, and that you got all testy and whined about their opinions. You wouldn't be a very good teacher, would you?

Imagine further that you simply canceled all the rest of your classes, refused to discuss the matter further, took your ball and went home. You'd be fired, wouldn't you?

And that's precisely what ought to happen to Reformy John King.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

UFT Moratorium--Too Little Too Late

It's fairly amazing to see Gotham Schools write that "the teachers union is already hoping to slow things down."  While it's true this is the first year junk science evaluation is officially in place, the fact is UFT officials were party to the law that mandated them. UFT supported it then, supported it through negotiations, and continued to support it when it was clear Reformy John King would make all decisions about it. In fact, UFT sources called people ignorant for objecting to King John's fiat, suggesting they didn't understand negotiation.

Unlike Gotham Schools, some of us have an attention span of years rather than weeks. We remember the selling point when this first surfaced. UFT bigshots said junk science only counted for 40%, while in other states it counted 50 or more. They neglected to point out that if you happen to fail the junk science portion it becomes 100%, and you're facing unemployment if it should happen the following year. Even when that became clear, UFT supported it.

In fact, UFT still supports junk science evaluations. UFT also supports Common Core, though it's never been field tested or proven valid anywhere. The sole objection UFT makes is that it ought not to be used to make high stakes decisions since there is not much curriculum available. While there's sense to that argument, it's pretty much a band-aid on the underlying issue. In fact, high stakes testing is a failed enterprise, unless you're looking to enrich the likes of Eva Moskowitz and Rupert Murdoch. The primary reason kids fail tests is neither because their schools are awful or their teachers are incompetent. The primary reasons they fail are that they are mired in poverty, unable to use English, or learning disabled one way or another.

Yet UFT and AFT have played along with the fiction that our teachers and schools are awful, and have collaborated to bring mayoral control, junk science evaluations, and neighborhood-killing school closures all over the country. UFT has supported charter schools, which are not generally little enterprises to offer enrichment to needy children. More often, they're investments for people who are not needy in the least.

Several teachers today approached me with comments about their young children, who were coming home only to spend hours with homework. One told me his kid, who usually loved to read, was beginning to hate it. Another told me her second grade son was doing algebra already, and that she'd surreptitiously entered her classroom and photographed every page of his English and math books to be able to hep him. This is simply unconscionable, and it's occurring in schools that actually have curriculum in place.

While a delay is something I support, it's only a band-aid. That's not optimal treatment for a cancer. If we are to support teachers, to support neighborhood schools, to support the students it's our job to serve, we must get back to teaching and remove high stakes. It would be one thing if they were proven to work, but that's not the case in Common Core. In fact, pretty much every other facet of corporate reform has been proven not to work.

So while this step won't hurt, it's time for activists to stand up and demand research-based practices. It's time for us to demand practices that are not based on ignoring root factors like poverty. It's time to demand practices designed to do something other than enrich Rupert Murdoch and his BFFs.

In fact, it's time to demand we reject all high stakes measures,and that we focus on helping neighborhoods and children rather than labeling them failures. Because make no mistake, that's precisely what school closures and Common Core are designed to do.

Despite all the talk about working hand in hand with the likes of Bill Gates, he's not our partner. The neighborhoods and children we serve are our partners, and we must focus on them. They don't need a band-aid solution, and neither do we. We need to reject junk science outright. We need to reject experimentation with untested arbitrary mandates on America's children. We need to tell Unity-New Action that working teachers are tired of appeasement, semantics, and waiting games

Nothing less makes any sense at all.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Should We Change Our Name?

Here at GothamCharterSchools we're in a quandary. Since our Rise and Shine is all about Moskowitz, and since every day we write multiple stories about the Moskowitz Charter Schools, should we change our name to MoskowitzCharterSchools? After all, we've covered not only planning the rally, thinking about the rally, and the rally itself, but we're also planning extensive post-rally coverage.

On the other hand, we've got extensive coverage of the UFT contract, Just the other day we did a story about what Shael Suransky and John King think should be in it. Now some publications would ask teachers what they want in a new contract, but here at GothamCharterSchools we don't mess around with such nonsense. We're all about reforminess, and the reformier the reforminess, the better. Personally, I simply adore the fragrance of fresh reforminess in the morning.

Naturally, we were thrilled when candidate Joe Lhota got out there and told the children they didn't have to go to school if they were out marching for reforminess. And if that loser de Blasio were talking reforminess, we'd cover him too. In any case, we didn't bother asking either one of them what they wanted in the UFT contract, because that would be just like asking the teachers. What on earth is the point of getting the opinions of the people who will actually negotiate it? Here at GothamCharterSchools, we don't bother about that.

We want to find out more about the Moskowitz Miracle. How does Moskowitz earn a half-mil each year when few city principals earn a third of that? How does she get by with suspending only 22% of the lucky kids who attend those schools? And honestly, why should we bother finding out what's happening to the overwhelming majority of city school children when we can be the one-stop Moskowitz shop?

Who wants to travel to moldy trailers when we can have finger sandwiches in renovated rooms? Who wants to be surrounded by the bootless and unhorsed when we can visit clean children in orange uniforms? After all, as the TV show says, orange is the new black and children may as well get used to it.

So let us know, what do you think?

Should we stay GothamCharterSchools or should we evolve into MoskowitzCharterSchools? We'll leave it in your hands, dear readers, and after you weigh in, we'll do whatever we feel like doing.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Miley Cyrus

Today we did an activity in my class that entailed labeling various body parts. All the students had a picture and a list of words to fill in. To vary the activity a little, I drew a big Frankenstein monster on the board, along with arrows and fill-in boxes. Students protested that I only drew four toes on one foot, but I drew six on the other to compensate.

When the activity was drawing to a close, three girls got up and monopolized my monster. They dutifully labeled all the parts, including the scar, but then erased the electrodes, modified the face, declared it to be Miley Cyrus, and labeled it as thus. At this point, of course, the principal walked into the trailer.

Naturally, I introduced him to the class, and explained we were drawing Miley Cyrus. It wasn't actually my plan to be drawing Miley Cyrus. To be fair, I'm not altogether certain drawing the Frankenstein monster, which I hadn't planned either, was the best possible thing we could have been doing.

Still, I'm wondering, given all the possible things I could have been doing in a classroom, why the principal happened to walk in for the Miley Cyrus drawing activity. Would Danielson approve of drawing Miley Cyrus? Who knows the inscrutable ways of the Danielson? I suppose it must have been a change of pace from whatever else was going on.

In any case, if there happens to be any sort of Miley Cyrus drawing activity in your English class, I suggest you be fully prepared. What with APs and principals now required to do 200 observations per teacher each year, chances are good they'll see it.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Better Recork that Champagne

A few days ago I reported that anyone with three or fewer classes was exempt from the Advance system of junk science grading. I based this on a PowerPoint I was shown, from someone who wrote it in good faith. Over the past few hours I've learned that this is in dispute. A highly-placed source in the UFT tells me that it's not true, and that 40% teaching entails only two, rather than four classes.

On the other hand, I have a reliable source for the other info, who I'm sure gave it to me in good faith. The question is whether the denominator for a teacher day is five or eight. I apologize to anyone who was partying all weekend as a result of my blog. It's been my experience that whenever a DOE source and a UFT source are at odds, the UFT source is always right.

I certainly hope my UFT source is wrong this time. To my mind, the fewer people trapped in Dracula's Castle, the better. But I tend to think this source is correct. I'm told that this was a message received from DOE as of 10 AM this morning.

I discussed this with another chapter leader, who said it's more likely the DOE wishes to ensnare as many hapless teachers as possible. I believe that. I believe it's populated with fanatical idealogues who believe whatever Bill Gates pulls out of his hind quarters, and don't care whether or not it will take him ten years to discover whether he's right or wrong.

That's what we get for the crime of dedicating our lives to helping children.

Will this system get better? It's possible it could under Bill de Blasio. If he really follows up with his words, it can be improved. It can't be good, because the entire system is terrible, based on junk science as it is. But it can be made to conform with more reasonable systems, likely every single one but the immensely complicated one we NYC teachers face.

Time will tell.

Update: I've confirmed that any teacher with more than one class will be evaluated the groovy new junk science way. I apologize to all those whose hopes I've just dashed.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

On Observation

Reformy John King decreed that NYC teachers must be observed 4 to 6 times annually. Neither the DOE nor the UFT wanted that many observations, but Reformy John taught one year in public school, so he knows better than anyone what is needed. In our school, APs have up to 40 teachers in a department, which means they could easily have to do 200 observations a year.

Of course, they don't need to actually write reports for these observations, unless the teacher has chosen the formal observation method. They could simply pass the teacher in the hall, and say, "Good job," or, "You suck," and that will satisfy the requirement Reformy John set forth. Or they could, if that were too much trouble, email or phone you with those messages. In fact, they could do none of those things, and simply claim to have done so, as far as I can tell. That's good enough for Reformy John. However, they will need to fill out some form for each observation. Because whether or not they bother to give teachers worthwhile feedback, it's important they complete the required paperwork.

It's all about values.

For teachers, a lot depends on whether or not your supervisor is insane. If you have an insane supervisor, making ridiculous demands and interpreting Danielson the way Mayor Bloomberg envisions, it might be time to reexamine your career choice. If you have in place a self-important know it all who hates you and everything you stand for, it's gonna be a long year. How can you possibly do well if your supervisor has a prejudice against you for whatever reason?

If your supervisor is reasonable, you could in fact be offered support. If you happen to get a little support in the form of hints to make your classroom a better place, that might actually be productive. If there's a better environment for your kids and you get credit for having created it, your kids benefit and your rating benefits. Of course, there was no need for a new system to make this happen.

A major problem with a one-size-fits-all system like this is that not all supervisors are created equal. We still have a whole lot of supervisors who chose this job to "get out of the classroom," and anyone who can't hack the classroom is pretty much unfit to judge effective teaching. Sure, they all sat through some crap on the internet that passed as training. But how does that qualify them?

Supervisors and principals should be master teachers, but now we have a principals' academy that whips them out like donuts, whether or not they have substantive classroom experience. We even have chancellors who lack the qualifications teachers need to lead classrooms. The evaluation system is crap, but imaginative and qualified supervisors will figure ways to deal with it, and will treat teachers fairly. Unless, of course, the test scores don't make it. Then they will have no choice but to give bad ratings no matter how good the teachers are.

A good supervisor could probably tell quickly who's doing a good job, and then move quickly to support teachers who need it. But in this system, that supervisor will have to focus on dozens of other teachers who don't need help before finding time for those who do. It will take Bill Gates ten years to figure out whether or not this system works. Too bad. A real teacher could size it up in ten minutes or less.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

I Want to be a Dean

That's the rallying cry I'm hearing from teachers everywhere. Deans in my school teach three periods and dean a bunch of others. Reformy John King and the other geniuses who designed the junk science to fire teachers program have decreed that teachers must teach 60% of the day to qualify for it. Therefore, if you teach three or fewer periods, you are exempt.

As it happens, I'm chapter leader at my school, which means I teach four periods and will go down with the ship. Last year I had a comp-time position two other periods a day, but quit because I wanted to go back to the classroom. While I hate the evaluation system and have no idea what it will mean for me, I don't regret my decision. However Charlotte Danielson or her DOE checklist may judge me, teaching ESL is what I do best.

In any case, yesterday all the deans were drinking champagne and dancing on the streets. None of them will be fired for junk science, at least until two years after their terms expire. Though I'm happy for them, at a meeting yesterday I called them a bunch of bastards, you know, in a friendly tone--I meant it in a good way. There were four of them, and they threatened to beat me up. But I'm not worried, because I can run faster than them.

Other teachers wondered why they hadn't applied to be deans. Why did they reject me last June? Is there still time to file a grievance? Why do those deans get all the easy classes? Since they're not being judged by junk science, shouldn't they get all the high-stakes classes? After all, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference what scores their kids get.

And these are the conversations you have when you impose a nonsensical system on teachers, and then say some teachers don't have to suffer through it. I fully expect steel cage matches to determine who gets future dean positions. Whoever manages to crawl out alive will get the privilege of walking the halls with a radio. And whoever lies dead in the cage won't be subject to the junk science evaluation system.

It's a win-win.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Old, Old Story

The more I read about the new evaluation system, the more I go to meetings about it, the more I hear about its intricate, convoluted and inexplicable structure, the more I'm reminded of a story I heard when I first started teaching. I was an English teacher, I had five (!) preps, no idea what the contract said, and I was overwhelmed with paperwork.

It took me hours to write lesson plans each day, and as if that weren't enough, I had to give capsule plans on a weekly basis to my supervisor, who helped me not at all. She would call me in the office and tell me ridiculous stories about making meatballs, or the student she appeared to be shacking up with. I was completely on my own. As if the lesson planning weren't enough, I had a stack full of papers to correct and return that seemed to grow larger every time I got through one class set.

We didn't have access to copy machines in those days. Only the principal's office held a machine like that. We had to use rexograph machines. If we were lucky, they were automatic. If not, we had to hand crank every single unreadable copy. For the parts that were really unclear, you could clarify by writing on the blackboard, if you had a blackboard, and if you had chalk.

Anyway, one of the older English teachers was always holding court after school at a dive bar around the block. He spoke of dropping the papers down the stairs, and grading them depending upon which stair they fell. It sounded to me like a great solution. No more reading every single word and correcting every single error, only to find the paper, unexamined, crumpled up in your wastebasket at the end of the day. No more struggling to find the perfect comment, not too critical, and just encouraging enough. Of course it was absurd. I would never do such a thing to my students.

And yet, Reformy John King has just done about the same thing to me and all of my colleagues. Music teachers will be judged by tests given by social studies teachers. PE teachers will be judged by English Regents results. If kids they've never taught fail badly enough, that's it for them. Two years in a row and they'll be fired.

Does this make any more sense than tossing my essays down the stairs to grade them? If so, please tell me why.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Smiles on Their Faces

Sometimes I evaluate myself. I don't use a rubric. I don't analyze my test scores. I don't videotape myself and rewind 500 times to figure out how I can spend 2 fewer minutes handing out papers.

I just look at the kids and see how involved they are. Or not. I see whether they're focused. I see whether or not what we're doing is of interest. Usually it is. I can't say whether or not Charlotte Danielson would agree, and I can't promise you they will excel on standardized tests. After all, they've only been speaking English a very short time.

Today I left a meeting to run to my class. One of the girls in my class saw me and said something about being late. I said I wasn't. She managed to walk in front of me and push her friend in front of me whenever I was about to pass her. I'm not sure how she could see me coming, because I was behind her, but every time I tried, she stopped me. At some point, we all started running, and ran all the way to the trailers.

None of us knew exactly why we did it, but it was pretty funny. The kids in my class are mostly happy. I want my class to be a place where they can be happy and learn English at the same time. Because you don't learn language from doing exercises, from repeating statements, or from conjugating verbs. You learn language because you want to communicate. And you need to have some thought other than, "When, oh when, can I get the hell out of here?"

So I see smiles and I think I must be doing something good. I can't say how that will affect my rating. I have no idea what my rating will be. Anyone who says, "I'm a good teacher, so I'm not worried about the rating system," either doesn't understand it, or is an E4E member who's going to skip getting teacher tenure and go straight into being Michelle Rhee.

So they can tell me I'm effective, ineffective, that I'm great or I suck. But if my kids are happy, I think I'm doing something right regardless.