Thursday, January 30, 2014

Whither Gotham Schools?

I don't know about you, but I used to read Gotham Schools religiously, no matter how much they disappointed me with their reformy crap. Sure, half of it was about the adventures of Eva Moskowitz and her gang of privatizers, and they linked to every inane piece of nonsense mustered by Murdoch. But Rise and Shine often featured interesting articles outside of Murdoch's rag, and there was their Nightcap, in which I sometimes found cool blogs I hadn't seen before. Now they link to crap from TNTP, if you can even find it.

It appears to be a glitzy piece of junk in which you can't tell whether or not headlines are current, or reprised info about some stated topic, or simply their repository of wisdom on charters, Bill de Blasio, or whatever the headline or topic is. And the comments, which used to be full of ridiculous nonsense about the perfidy of unionized teachers, or sometimes interesting conversations, are now full of nothing. Even the guy who always wrote about teacher pensions and nothing else writes innocuous things about who knows what.

Recently, another blogger sent me a comment he'd tried to post. They rejected it, saying it was too long. It's interesting that a venue, ostensibly there for discussion of education, would cut off letters because they're too detailed. I've been checking City Hall Pro lately for education links, and of course they're all over Facebook and Twitter, if you go in for that sort of thing.

It's a lot more colorful over at Gotham, but it appears they took a brand they built for years and simply tossed it into the trash. I suppose a newspaper, with hundreds of stories on a given day, has to put up a site like that. But even the NY Times shows you the first few sentences of each story on its front page.

Likely as not I'm not their desired demographic. After all, I'm a teacher, I believe in science, and I honestly think things like merit pay (which has been around for a hundred years and has never worked) do not even bear discussion. I believe strongly that it behooves us to build and maintain an excellent public education system, even if Rupert Murdoch can't make a dime from it. And as I'm not even sure what a hedge fund is, my chances of running one anytime soon are pretty poor.

I'm really surprised they decided to redo a perfectly good site and make it so much less user-friendly. I don't know which genius advised them to change the website into what it is now, but if I were them, I'd open up another can of geniuses.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Unity-New Action Hypocrites

For years I've been reading rationales on why it's unhealthy to disagree with the union. It makes Bloomberg happy when you disagree. You're emboldening our opposition. We need to put on a united front. These arguments become particularly strident during union elections. Yes, of course you have the right to your opinion, but for goodness sake, don't ever let anyone know what it is!

In fact, to further bolster that argument, the UFT has created a fake opposition group, specifically for the purpose of making the union appear less monolithic than it actually is. That would be New Action, the opposition group that politely endorses the Unity presidential candidate, so that Unity will cross-endorse a small group of their people. This has the added bonus of more or less hobbling any real opposition, who can be shut out altogether of all union decisions. Go screw yourselves, and for goodness sake, please do it quietly.

For the love of Pete, don't oppose mayoral control. Sure they've closed every comprehensive high school in the Bronx, and sure plenty of small schools can't even muster someone to stand for chapter leader, but at least every damn person in the building pays UFT dues. Unless it's a non-union charter. But don't oppose charters, because we've supported them. In fact, we've not only created one of our own, but also colocated it, so don't oppose colocation either. Bottom line is we support this stuff, so it behooves you to behave as though you support it too.

And keep your mouth shut about rating teachers via junk science, because we also support that. We've created a great law to enable it, and we get to negotiate how it's carried out. Wasn't that brilliant of us? Except, of course, that we didn't end up negotiating anything whatsoever--we had John King decide, so don't oppose that either. After all, we say he's impartial, and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

So have fun, ATRs, as you travel school to school, week to week. Sorry we gave up your seniority rights. Too bad if no one picks you up, and too bad if you get discontinued for no reason whatsoever. Just sit down, shut up, and don't complain. Ever.  Sorry you can't grieve that letter in your file simply because it's totally false. Smile while you patrol the halls, the lunchrooms, and the bathrooms because it's all for the best. Don't be a Gloomy Gus. Because complaining is bad.

Unless of course, we decide it's not. Now we want to torpedo the President of NYSUT, Dick Ianuzzi, and that's OK. There's no problem being opposition as long as we are the opposition. You see when we oppose leadership, it's a good thing. Our opponents are not emboldened when we oppose leadership.  They are only emboldened when you oppose leadership.

In short, do as we say, not as we do.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tisch-Bloomberg Genius Leaves Teachers Out in the Cold

Because teachers cannot be trusted to grade the papers of their students, in NY State they're prohibited by law from doing so. Thanks Merryl. Teachers might be prejudiced in favor of the kids, and pass them. How unforgivable. They might even find ways of taking 64 papers and finding another point, and that would be a disaster. It's far better to make kids sit in classes for half a year, a whole year, or the entire summer because that's how you really make them love a subject with which they're struggling.

A 64 paper is far different from a 65 paper. A kid who scores 65 knows the subject adequately, while one who scores 64 is an abject failure and must suffer for sins against humanity. That's a given, and we can all be thankful that Merryl Tisch and John King and their gaggle of privately-funded interns protect us against such outrages.

But Michael Bloomberg took this brilliant law and brought it to the next level. Not only do city teachers not mark the papers of their students, but they also are not permitted to mark the papers of anyone in their school. You see how that works? Teachers are so thoroughly corrupt that they may not only support their students, but also support their schools. Therefore, it's far better to send their papers to people who don't know them at all, who don't give a crap how they do, and who won't bother looking twice for any merit they may have missed. Because it's a tough world out there, and kids may as well begin now to face the fact they can expect kindness from absolutely no one.

Today a bunch of English teachers went to a Queens high school to anonymously mark papers. To welcome the teachers on this sub-freezing day, the great minds who run that building decided they would check driver licenses. Naturally, they had them wait on line, and if the line had them standing out in the freezing cold, well, too bad for them. This was the way the kids were treated, so why shouldn't the teachers be treated that way too?

Why the hell should this school accept DOE ID from these teachers? That could be dangerous, and it's a well-known made up fact that people counterfeit school ID left and right, because who doesn't want the privilege attendant to being a high school teacher? The half-price donuts, the women throwing themselves at you, the money pouring in from virtually everywhere.

I understand this beautiful scene was sullied when the chapter leader went out screaming for reasonable treatment of these people, but the sensible minds over there prevailed and would not give in.

Thank goodness we have such a great system.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Read the two passages and show a controlling idea about insights.

That's what today's Regents exam asked my kids to do. The thing is, most of them have only been in the country a few years. And there are likely plenty of American-born kids who don't know what an insight is. Certainly insight is lacking on the part of the test designers, unless their goal is to fail as many New York students as possible. That's certainly what my buddy Reality-Based Educator thinks.

But I watched a bunch of kids struggle. One claimed the word was not in his dictionary. ESL students get to use bilingual dictionaries for these tests, and they also hear the listening passage an additional time and get 50% more time. But you don't have to be a tarot card reader to know that anyone who doesn't know what an insight is will have a tough time writing about it. Here's what the dictionary says it is:

in·sight  (ĭn′sīt′)
1. The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation; penetration.
2. The act or outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things or of perceiving in an intuitive manner.
Personally, that makes it even more confusing for me. It's when you have an "aha!" moment and figure something out, or have the regular ability to do so. But I wasn't seeing that happen.

So here's what I'm seeing--in an effort to push more Common Core nonsense and make us think our kids will be stupid without it, they're throwing in notions kids won't easily grasp and making them write about them whether or not the kids even know English. You don't understand that? Then screw you, you fail.

Hardly the attitude I'd want from someone teaching my kid. 

So even if you prepare these kids, and explain all the literary terms that rarely if ever make it into the NY Times Book Review, you need to hope they don't toss in some random concept that makes it impossible for a lot of kids to answer. 

The more I see this test the less I like it. Not knowing what an insight is does not mean you don't know English. It means there's one specific concept to which you have not been exposed. I could explain this concept to a kid in minutes, but I'm not allowed to. That would be cheating.

Yet then the kid would understand the concept. Better we let the kids fail, take the test again, study the same essay prep for another five months, and make them hate it even more, says Reformy John King, Merryl Tisch, and their zany madcap gang of privately paid interns, accountable to no one.

On Reviving Unionism

Note: I was asked to write this by the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, and it's cross-posted to their blog as well.

It's funny to hear people in NYSUT complaining about democracy. I'm chapter leader of one of the largest schools in NYC, and neither I nor anyone in my school gets to vote or participate at all in NYSUT or AFT. Though I've been elected twice, that means nothing. The only way a city teacher gets to be part of NYSUT is to be part of Unity, an invitation-only caucus that has run the union for over 50 years. I've never been invited.

The reason for that, I suppose, is my public point of view. I've been published in the Daily News, at Huffington Post, at Gotham Schools, on Schoolbook, on multiple blogs, and in local Queens newspapers taking positions contrary to those of UFT leadership. For example, I wrote a column labeling mayoral control mayoral dictatorship. Though giving Michael Bloomberg absolute power was a bad idea, the UFT supported it. After he used it to close schools all over the city, aiding no one but privatizers, we supported it again.

I also oppose value-added ratings for teachers, since they have no basis in science, and since great teachers have lost jobs as a result.  I can't support Common Core, no matter how many millions of dollars Bill Gates pours into it, as I don't believe it helps the students we serve when we fail most of them and use said failure to label working teachers as defective. Brilliant education historian Diane Ravitch shares my positions, and it's ironic to be excluded from not only UFT, but also NYSUT and AFT for the crime of sharing her opinions.

Lest you think I'm delusional, below is part of the pledge you must sign to join Unity, as the overwhelming majority of UFT chapter leaders have done.

  • To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;
  • To support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums;
  • To support in Union elections only those individuals who are endorsed by the Caucus, and to actively campaign for his / her election;
  • To run for Union office only with the support of the caucus;
  • To serve, if elected to Union office, in a manner consistent with Union / Caucus policies
    and to give full and faithful service in that office;

Had I signed this, I'd have been unable to advocate for causes important to my members. In fact, I fail to see how we grow advocacy when our school leaders are prohibited from fighting the corporate reform that threatens to turn us all into Walmart associates. As in any group, some people in Unity are wonderful, and others not so wonderful. Some, I think, understand the need for change. But they can't stand up, or they'll be expelled. This is, sadly, another UFT tradition. According to David Selden, Unity members were expelled in the sixties for opposing the Vietnam War. History has proven those dissenters right, and will prove us right as well.

Our local, to many UFT members, is just a number you call when you need a pair of glasses. This worries me. I'm surprised to read NYSUT is what needs change. We are by far the largest component of NYSUT and we are in need of something well more than a revival. I'm ready and willing to help, and all UFT need do is ask.

Unfortunately, UFT finds my viewpoints too extreme, and prefers to exclude not only me, but every single teacher who shares my opinions. I don't personally know a single teacher who supports corporate reform. But many expect little from the UFT, which has failed to procure us a contract in four years or a raise in five. In fact, only 14% of working teachers voted in our last election, and 52% of votes received were from retirees.

Revival is something we surely need. But it needs to come in the form of something inclusive, something that respects those of us who feel the need to fight corporate reform and the junk science that accompanies it. I'm encouraged that AFT President Randi Weingarten has seen the light about VAM, and that NYSUT has rejected the preposterous policies of John King. Why on earth has it taken so long?

Now it's time to respect the viewpoints and interests of working teachers, and to utilize and encourage those of us who choose to be active. Unfortunately, any revival that willfully ignores what's been going on in New York City for half a century is no revival at all.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rick Hess Chides Corporate Reformers for Too Much Reforminess

Today's Daily News features reformy Rick writing of regrettable ramifications of uber-reforminess. Unfortunately, and perhaps even deliberately, he misses the point altogether.

There’s good reason to regularly test students in reading and math, and to use those results to inform judgments about how well schools and teachers are doing.

What reason is that? In fact, there is good reason to test students in English and math, but not to see how schools and teachers are doing. There's no scientific basis for that, and Hess doesn't bother to provide one, primarily because there isn't one.

As an English teacher, I regularly test my students to find out how they are doing, and I use these tests to inform my teaching. If a large number of students fail, I need to teach the topic again, differently perhaps, and write another test. Of course, if they're taking some multiple choice extravaganza from Pearson, while I will grant this enriches the all-important Pearson coffers, I fail to see how this will help my kids.

Hess fails to acknowledge the massive time devoted to tests that students will never see again, will never learn from, and which will be used to determine the quality of schools and teachers. Oddly, we already know there is a direct correlation to high-needs, high-poverty, and so-called failing schools. If the goal is to fire teachers, well of course the grades may prove useful.

A few years back, the entire staff of a Rhode Island school was fired, and corporate reformers everywhere rejoiced. This would help the children, they argued. Arne Duncan and Barack Obama were thrilled. But what if we had taken that staff, the one largely serving kids who didn't know English, and swapped them out with the staff of a more middle-class suburban school with higher-achieving students? Would the staff magically become excellent? Would the suburban staff magically turn incompetent?

We'll never know, since the aim of reforminess is to close as many public schools as possible, and replace them with schools that get more money into the pockets of more people who don't really need it. Thus you have districts in which kids are being "educated" via cyber-charters, which not only perform miserably if you judge by test scores, but also deprive students of the sort of role models that could potentially change their lives.

Were these things not true, Hess might have some sort of argument. Considering reality, inconvenient though that may be, he's just spouting the same nonsense we hear from every corporate reformer from Gates on down.

Related: Perdido Street School

Saturday, January 25, 2014

No One's Perfect

I am almost never late to class. This works well for me as I'm tough on kids who repeatedly show up late. I'm usually able to enforce this pretty well. For example, when kids from some classroom insist that it is impossible to make it to the trailer on time from wherever they are in the building, I tend to find out where they are coming from, show up at the end of that period, and make that long adventurous trek to the trailer alongside them. Invariably we make it on time.

Kids are late because they can be late. If I allowed them to be late, some kids would be late every day. After all, there are important contacts to be made in the hallways, things that must be said, and hairdos and clothing that must be seen. But if you call their homes enough times, it's often so inconvenient for kids to show late to your class that they show late to someone else's class instead.

Now, in fairness, everyone is late sometimes. There are really no consequences for occasional lateness other than a look or remark from me. But, in fairness, even teachers are late sometimes. In fact, last week, I was in a rush to drop off a paper somewhere, and I walked into my own trailer moments after the bell rang.

The kids were having none of it. No excuse would satisfy them. One girl insisted on calling my home. After a while, I relented, dialed my home number, and let her talk to my wife. The girl insisted I be punished, that this was inexcusable, and demanded my wife confiscate my cell phone. My wife told the girl that I didn't really care about the cell phone, and that she would confiscate my laptop instead. This made the girl very happy.

Regrettably, later on in the class, when I checked homework, I noticed that this very girl had not done it. This was unfortunate, as she had missed perhaps 9 of the last 10 assignments. I don't give a whole lot of homework, and she's a high-performing student anyway, but just like lateness, if I let her not do homework, I kind of let everyone not do it.

Complicating this was the fact that she'd just called my house. If I called her house, it would appear I was exacting revenge. That was not a very good look. So I told her she needed to do the homework, she told me I needed to come to class on time, and we went about our lives.

But the next day, lo and behold, the same girl failed to do her homework. At this point, I called her house. When she saw me next, she accused me of calling her house simply because she'd called mine. Despite my trying to avoid that accusation, there it was staring me in the face. Was it karma? Tough to say.

But that day, that girl brought in her homework, and made sure that fact was acknowledged by everyone in the room.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Fix Is in, Declares Reformy John King

Reformy John King appeared before a group of Senators and let them know that he wasn't making any stinking changes, because Common Core is just peachy, everyone thinks so, and anyone who doesn't is either a parent, a teacher, or a New York resident, all of whom are special interests. Though self-proclaimed student lobbyist Andrew Cuomo paid valuable lip service to the poor rollout, Reformy John let everyone know he was gonna do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.

After all, that's what everyone else is getting, said Reformy John, neglecting to mention his own kids, who are in a Montessori school. They are getting an education rather than the reformy crap that's good enough for your kids in mine.

You see all that snow on the ground? That's nothing compared to the snow job we're getting from Reformy John, Merryl Tisch, and Big Cahuna Cuomo. Cuomo tries to act as though he intends to do something, but speaks not one word of criticism about his reformy pals. And how could he? He needs every suitcase full of cash that Moskowitz and DFER can muster. It's expensive running a campaign, especially when you need the sort of landslide victory that can fool the rubes into considering you a national contender.

Why do you suppose Cuomo said all that crap about how far-right conservatives have no place in New York? Clearly he wants to rile them up so some frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic decides to oppose him. It worked last time, when some rich guy from Buffalo ran a junkyard dog style campaign, and Cuomo appeared to be a moderate. It he manages to corral another extremist lunatic opponent, he could look sane by comparison.

Clearly, though, he's going to do nothing to reign in King John and Rich Merryl, and they will continue to do whatever the hell they wish with our children, using untested and disproven nonsense rather than the sort of thing they'd insist on for their own children.

How did we allow this to happen?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Faux Snow Day

After all my griping about all the traffic last night I went to work today. My wife told me I was nuts, and I'm not disputing that. But I was up, and I was ready to go in. The only issue was that pile of snow in back of my car, compounded by the plow dumping even more.

At 5:50 AM, I woke up my innocent high-school kid, who was happily sleeping. I told her I needed her help. This was when I discovered we only had one shovel, as we were nice enough to lend the other to our neighbors, who were nice enough to keep it. Fortunately, my car was such a mess that by the time I finished cleaning it, daughter had shoveled me out completely. I then sent her back to bed, but she said no, she would finish the whole walk and steps. This was pretty good news, and she had done a great job, so I gave her 40 bucks. Everyone was happy.

The first thing I heard at school was that the trailers were closed and we would be in the auditorium. I'm supposed to give a midterm exam tomorrow so I figured I'd try to review. In fact, I procured the classroom of one of our 65 absent teachers to conduct it. When I suggested this to the class, they did not take to it at all. There were hundreds of students in the auditorium doing nothing, and why should they not be as privileged as everyone else? I decided, in the interest of public relations, to let the kids have their way. In any case, the school had canceled all of today's midterms. So I decided to put off mine a day, review tomorrow, and give the test Friday.

We called the classes of our absent colleagues up and took attendance for them. There wasn't much chance of hiring 65 subs on a day like today. I suppose it was a good day for the school budget.

The really good news, as far as I was concerned, was that traffic was almost normal. This morning the parkways looked a little slippery, so most of us were only moving around 35 MPH. During the afternoon traffic was not only normal, but also extremely light.

Other people wake up in the middle of the night and contemplate love, modern problems, or perhaps the meaning of life. I wake up in the middle of the night and think about snow. Fortunately, it doesn't snow often enough that I'm much bothered by that.

So what does it all mean? To me, it means we'd likely have been better off with schools closed. Certainly my students didn't much benefit from today. Many of my students, like everyone else's, came in only to take midterm exams that won't happen until tomorrow. Many attended morning classes and hightailed it out of there rather than sit in half-empty classrooms or the auditorium.

Kids kept asking me why Miss Jones, or whoever, was absent. "Because she's smarter than I am," was my unvarying reply.

Did you go in? What happened at your school today? Should it have remained open? Why or why not?

School's Open!

Not in Nassau, where I live, of course. My kid is going nowhere today.

But Chancellor Fariña has declared that city kids can go to school today.  Channel 2 reports that Mayor de Blasio has told New Yorkers to avoid the roads if possible, but is OK with teachers coming to work. A chapter leader friend from Suffolk just texted me that he left his school at three and did not arrive home until ten.

I woke up in the middle of the night, because for reasons I can't really understand, I can't stop thinking about snow. Other people obsess over more interesting topics.

It's ten degrees out there right now and there is black ice everywhere. I don't understand why NYC is such a macho place. I guess de Blasio doesn't want to look like some sort of liberal wimp and therefore can't worry himself over the welfare of the million kids who attend city schools.

I'm on the fence about going in. I don't like to miss work, but there's no way I want to spend hours driving either way to work.

What's your morning looking like?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Worst Drive Ever

I just spent three and a half hours driving 23 miles from my school to my home. Don't even think about me reporting to work tomorrow. They can open the schools, they can close them, they can do a delayed opening but I won't be in until Thursday.

I thought I'd get a head start on the traffic, since my school day finishes at 2:23, but five bazillion drivers on the Long Island Expressway got the same idea, and left work early. It was excruciating. I've driven in snow many times before. When I was in college, I supported myself playing in a band, and we would drive just about anywhere, under any conditions, to do just about any gig for fifty bucks a head. Back then it was more than it sounds like now, especially for college students.

Today I was not nostalgic at all. Somehow my windshield kept freezing over, and piece of ice got stuck in my windshield wipers, making vision almost impossible. Twice, I had to pull over in the snow just to clean my wipers. I saw other people doing the same. I cannot remember ever having to do that before. At times I was relieved traffic was only moving two miles an hour.

I feel awful for my friends who live in Suffolk County. If I were them, I'd probably stay with a friend or in a hotel. The only bad thing about that, really, is the possibility of having to drive home tomorrow.

My advice to you is, if you're on the road, get off of it as soon as humanly possible. And if you're home, God bless you, and for goodness sake, stay there!

Monday, January 20, 2014

What Will Your Students Remember About You?

I wish I'd written this piece. It's perfect. As we struggle through the nonsense of corporate reforms favored by our billionaire ex-mayor, as village idiot John King musters the audacity to suggest his baseless untested programs would please Martin Luther King Jr., as Arne Duncan plays basketball somewhere and pretends he cares about public school children rather than his billionaire BFFs, this says pretty much everything.

How many kids, in ten years, are going to be saying, "I had Ms. Two-Year-Wonder and she gave the most rigorous lessons I ever had in my life."

"Yes I will never forget the time we spent twenty-six days discussing a short story."

"The best part was it was all about the Civil War and no one told us."

"I'm a much better person now that I've analyzed a seven-page story for forty-six hours with no idea what the hell it was about."

Kids, as the writer says, remember you. Genius non-teacher David Coleman, who created the Common Core, says no one gives a crap how kids feel. I'm certain, if we put Coleman in a classroom, the kids would notice right away he doesn't give a crap how they feel. For goodness sake, the man boasts about it.

But for real teachers, kids remember things. I was working at Queens College when a couple of my former students complimented me for actually having read everything they'd written. Apparently that meant a lot to them. I'm glad it did, because I spend a lot of time doing that. And those were kids who were stuck in my Regents prep class, which was likely as not the worst class I've ever taught.

I have gone to PDs where teachers, teachers, said they no longer bothered to actually have kids read the stories they were sharing with their classes. They just had them find setting, theme, tone, and whatever other things the test wanted. They wanted to make the whole process as meaningless as possible. I was pretty sure, bad as my classes may have been, that theirs were even worse.

I do believe, though, that kids will remember your kindness, caring, or lack thereof a whole lot more than whether or not you gave a mini-lesson, wrote an aim, or did whatever it was they were clamoring for that year. These things stay with you even as the Pythagorean Theorem fades into a blur.

And these are the things we teach kids. We are role models. We show them what adults can be like, what life can be like, that happiness is an achievable goal. Sure we teach our subjects, but it's our job to trick them into loving these subjects. We picked them, so we'd better have that love, and model it too.

And we'd better model a love for the kids we serve too. If we can't do that, we're no better than David Coleman, John King, Arne Duncan, and the other sanctimonious morons who wouldn't know a good teacher if one were beating them over their empty heads.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On Reviving NYSUT

There's a new movement in our state union, and Norm Scott has written about it a little. Apparently there is a large rift between NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and VP Andy Pallota. The movement seeks to dump Iannuzzi, so as to revive the statewide union. Of course Pallotta comes from the monolithic, top-down Unity-New Action machine that's successfully kept independent voices off not only UFT, but also NYSUT and AFT for half a century.

So it's tough for me to see how they'll improve anything. Can we expect to see even more total exclusion and isolation for the true activists of our union? How can they achieve that? Will they come to our homes and build actual brick walls rather than the figurative ones that ensure our voices mean nothing? Will they require loyalty oaths from all members rather than the elite few who are admitted to the Unity-New Action machine?

I don't really see how they can do that.

What is Iannuzzi's crime? For one thing, he's decided to rule out a Cuomo endorsement. While the NYSUT revival folks complain that he made that decision, they have also said they haven't decided to make the endorsement. I can only suppose they'd like the freedom to endorse the guy who's taken all those suitcases full of cash from DFER, and Eva Moskowitz, and all the other swell folks who'd like to see working teachers treated as Walmart associates.

Many people tell me that UFT is pretty much the tail wagging the AFT dog. As we're the largest component of NYSUT, and NYSUT is the largest component of AFT, that's somewhat understandable. The fact that three UFT presidents have gone on to become AFT presidents is pretty strong evidence of our influence.

But I don't actually see how ensuring UFT rules NYSUT helps rank and file. UFT has been making huge tactical blunders for years. We supported mayoral control once, when it appeared to be an awful idea, and once again after it was clearly demonstrated to be mayoral dictatorship on the part of anti-teacher, anti-union Mike Bloomberg. We not only started a charter, but also indulged in the co-location that has proven so destructive to public schools. We supported and participated in the authorship of a law that allowed teachers to be rated by what AFT President Randi Weingarten now acknowledges to be junk science. We brokered a deal that enabled the ATR brigade, and another one that condemned them to wander school to school week to week.

How much COPE money did we spend supporting Bill Thompson four years too late, after he'd publicly endorsed withholding raises from working teachers?

Is that the sort of vision we want to expand statewide?

I don't see it. Do you?

When are we going to revive our own UFT, the one that's engendered so much cynicism the overwhelming majority of working teachers don't bother to vote, and in which the majority of voting teachers are retirees?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How About That Differentiated Instruction?

That's always a good question to ask when the principal or some stray AP is walking by. They may smile knowingly, laugh out loud, or simply ignore you. After all, who knows what goes on in the minds of administrators? But they never jump in and comment. That's because no one is really sure what the hell differentiated instruction is.

I've had teachers tell me their supervisors were demanding multiple lesson plans. That's idiotic. It's also a violation of the UFT Contract, article 8E. Anyone who thinks you need 15 lesson plans to reach a group of kids is a troglodyte. But I digress.

Any intelligent person addresses different people differently. You can joke with some people, but others don't like it. Still others don't even understand it. You might talk to your priest in church on Sunday morning differently than you speak to your friend in a bar on Saturday night. In fact, as you know people, you might adjust your tone and vocabulary for each one.

I'd certainly hope you do the same for your students. I just finished reading a bunch of essays my students wrote, and I really differentiate in the comments I make. I was very sad to hear that a girl in one of my classes, one of my best students, is unhappy and has no confidence in her English. She appears enthusiastic and amused, but what do I know? Two kids in my morning class who are eager and irrepressible, as far as I can see, told me they were bored out of their gourds.

I can relate to that. Actually, that's how I felt through most of high school. I read incessantly in high school, but my teachers asked me to read almost nothing of interest. A ninth grade social studies teacher had us read The Good Earth, which we found amazing. We had never heard of parents planning marriage partners before. In English, though, I read The Incredible Journey, about some dog and a cat running around, and several books that we read aloud in class, one page at a time. I now realize that the teachers were just sitting there killing time. I try very hard to not be like them.

Kids won't tell you everything in class. And while David Coleman, the non-teaching genius behind Common Core will say no one gives a crap about the lives our students lead, he's dead wrong. I do. I care about these kids. That's why I'm a better teacher on my worst day than he'll be on his best.

My kids come from all over the world, and they have stories to tell. This year, I'm going to try to get them to tell me some more of them. And I won't have to differentiate, because they'll be doing it for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Fine Art of Whiteboard Maintenance

If you are fortunate enough to have a whiteboard instead of a blackboard, and by that I do not mean a Smartboard, you have the blessing of a chalkless classroom. Now some people like chalk, and I don't begrudge them, but it doesn't work well for me. For some reason, my awful handwriting is more legible when I use a dry-erase marker. While students still taunt and ridicule my miserable scrawl, they do so to a lesser extent.

Of course if you are fortunate enough to have a Smartboard or its equivalent, you are blessed. You can type just as I am doing now, and no one will have the slightest idea what abysmal handwriting you have. There are good reasons why I choose not to hand-write this blog. But principals wisely decline to place expensive equipment in trailers, as they tend to be far less secure than school buildings. I'm still waiting for the city to get rid of the trailers, as Emperor Bloomberg promised to do in 2012.

On the negative side, after a whiteboard is used regularly, it tends to get covered with hideous black smudge marks. There are a number of ways to deal with this. The first thing to do is clean it. If you're in a trailer you have access to paper towels, and I find that going over them with first wet ones, then dry ones, does the trick. Unfortunately, it's the erasers that spread the smudges, and they are much tougher to clean than the boards.

The most efficient way to get rid of a contaminating eraser is to throw it in the trash. What's problematic about that is that helpful students or teachers tend to retrieve them and replace them, thus causing you to have to clean the board almost immediately. So you need to take other actions. You could throw them out the window and hope no one matches them to your room. Or, you could surreptitiously smuggle the offending eraser out somehow.

Even when you do that, you may find further steps are necessary. For one thing, the rim on which the markers rest may be contaminated with residue. Unfortunately, this will spread to your eraser, no matter how carefully you've selected it.  I suggest taking a wet paper towel to the entire rim. This will place you in the position of being able to write more or less legibly on your whiteboard.

You wouldn't expect a board to be that complicated, but this is just one more thing they don't train you for at this job. It's also one more thing you'll never learn at a PD. That's probably because no genius at the DOE can collect an inflated salary for thinking it up.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where Is It Appropriate to Criticize Union?

I was really interested in the discussion that popped up in a recent post.  It was sparked by this comment, which appeared twice for some reason:

The definition of a union is: an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests; with that in mind I am reminded of the old saying "united we stand, divided we fall". If you take these things into consideration, voicing ones opinion in a public forum does not lead to being united. It does not help to further the cause of teachers everywhere to have public dissent. 

There are really two parts to this comment. I agree with the definition of union. Of course we should band together to further our rights and interests. While the papers vilify us for doing so, they're dead wrong. The fact is our students and our children are going to have to face a job market. It behooves us to leave them in the best place possible. We always want to leave our kids better off than we ever were. Will we do that? It's tough to say.

I also agree that united we stand, divided we fall. But there is a factor that remains unconsidered here, and that is whether or not union leadership, not union itself, has been protecting our rights and interests. When AFT President Randi Weingarten takes a stand against VAM, that's significant. It means that she is saying those of us who've opposed it from the beginning were right all along. It's really sad that she didn't get with us from the beginning, because we were right.

When Bill de Blasio is overwhelmingly elected mayor and the UFT supported Thompson, jumping in prematurely and sorely miscalculating, it says that those of us who declined to support him judged better. A UFT rep, imploring me to come to the phone banks, suggested to me that I did not read the polls deeply enough. As the UFT spent millions of our COPE funds supporting a guy who told the Daily News we didn't merit the raises cops and firefighters got, it turned out I read the polls quite accurately. In fact, the time to support Bill Thompson was when he was facing Bloomberg Mach 3, and we got that wrong too.

Mayoral control has been nothing less than a disaster for working teachers, and after we learned that, we simply supported it again. I'm not at all clear how we'd have benefited by keeping quiet about that.

The largest problem I have with this statement, though, is with the last part. If we are not to have public dissent, where, then, are we to have it? The Unity pledge states that policy will only be questioned within the caucus. If that's what they wish to do, fine.

But here's the thing--the overwhelming majority of UFT members, like me, do not belong to caucuses. Many don't even know they exist. If we are not to question top-down union policies in public, where, then, are we to do it?

Are we to do it in the Unity Caucus? How are we to do that? Only the most elite of union members ever even get an invite.

What, exactly, are the rest of us supposed to do?

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Perks of Leadership Academy--No Muss, No Fuss

By now you've doubtless read about the champion principal from PS 106. I'm told that not only does she wander in to work whenever she sees fit, but that she's also never taught a day in her life. You just go to that Leadership Academy and boom! Instant principal. Better than minute rice. And far more lucrative. Why bother teaching for 22 years when you can make more than any teacher does far more quickly?

Bloomberg didn't think teaching was necessary to be principal. Perhaps he didn't know the expression principal is short for principal teacher. More likely, he didn't care and knowing would have changed nothing. I don't know much about Carmen Farina but I've read she taught over 20 years. Would a person like that believe in these instant principals? It's hard to imagine she would.

Of course, these days, instant principals shouldn't be anything that surprises us. We have TFA, which trains teachers in just a few weeks, and our genius government somehow decided that makes them highly qualified. So why shouldn't we be celebrating this principal? After all, she really knows how to throw a party.

And apparently, this nonsense has been going on for years. Even as Bloomberg and his minions carped endlessly about the perfidy of unionized teachers, he did nothing about conditions at this school. Nor did Klein or Walcott. Nor did that woman, what's-her-name, who stumbled about in the chancellor's office for a few weeks. Hey, didn't she also have no background whatsoever in education? That was Bloomberg's way. It's John King's way too, since to him, parents and teachers are special interests. Only billionaires know what's good for working parents, I suppose.

Anyway, kudos to Susan Edelman at the Post for getting this out there. I can't imagine this is going to be a great week for the instant principal at PS 106. I wonder if this will teach people that experience matters. In a world where merit pay, after failing for over a hundred years, is the most innovative thing the Governor of New York can come up with, I'm not overly optimistic.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why We Need Merit Pay

by guest blogger Educator for Excellence

First of all, it's important for teachers to be recognized. That's why I'm so glad we're no longer rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I, for one, am excellent. That's just one reason I don't teach anymore. Another is all that money I get to run this organization. Let me tell you, we have offices all over the country. I fly here, I do this, I meet rich people, and I go to gala luncheons. You better believe it beats the hell out of that school cafeteria.

There are lots of us E4E folks around. The important thing to remember about us is that we don't really want to be teachers. For example, Rubin Frisbee, a good buddy of mine, didn't even get tenure. Rather than bother trying again, he quit, took an Ivy League course, and now runs the whole damn school. Isn't it great that someone who never earned tenure can just tell everyone else who did how to teach? Only in America!

So anyway, on this merit pay thing. For one thing, we still have people out there teaching, and I can assure you they won't hang around waiting. And between us, I happen to know they're holding back the good stuff until they can get that bonus. OK, to tell you the truth, they won't hang around even if they get the bonus. There are higher-paying jobs than teaching, and they will get them. They will go into administration, or they will come and work with me at E4E, or maybe they'll get jobs at the DOE.

Actually, with de Blasio in, we can't be altogether sure about those DOE gigs. But it doesn't matter because they're always looking for people over at the Gates Foundation. And if there's nothing there, there's always the Walton Foundation and the Broad Foundation. And then there are those hedge funders always looking for glitzy ways to invest their disposable income. It's a win-win-win-win-win.

Just like cockroaches after a nuclear blast, we will always be around. Unless you want us to teach, because we move away from that stuff ASAP. But the important thing to remember is you won't keep us in the classroom unless we get merit pay. And if we get merit pay, we are still leaving the classroom.

And that is why we need merit pay.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why Confuse Union Leadership with Mary Poppins?

Is union leadership practically perfect in every way? Why would anyone even contend they were?

It's the loyalty oath, of course.

Still, how can you be a thoroughly effective advocate when you're sworn to express no opinions but those you're told to have? What if those opinions are not in the best interests of those you represent? And how many members even know that the union is ruled by an invitation-only group that whose meetings are top-secret, a group which half a century ago expelled members for opposing the Vietnam War?

Sometimes I grow weary of nonsense. Often, in fact. A commenter here has made several false statements in response to posts here. Most recently, this commenter asserted that the new evaluation system did not affect due process at all. That's not true.

The primary reason that's not true is that teachers facing 3020a, up until now, have had the burden of proof on the city. That is, the city was required to prove their incompetence. Now, if a "validator" agrees with the city, that teachers will have to prove either their competence, or lack of incompetence. That's going to be tough.

While it's true that U-rating appeals have been basically a rubber stamp for the city, the new agreement provides that up to 13% of negative ratings will go to an independent arbitrator. While I cannot predict how the de Blasio administration will deal with such ratings, and while I certainly hope they will be more reasonable than the fanatical ideologues Bloomberg put in place, I wouldn't wish to be the one who tells 87% of teachers facing high-stakes ratings how sorry I was. Nor do I see the equity in promising fairness to only 13% of people in trouble.

In case that's not enough, the history of jointly-appointed independent arbitrators has been one of compromise, so it's likely only half of the lucky 13% will prevail. Should that be the case, the UFT rationale that about 13% of cases prevailed in the past will prove not to be a good one.

I'm always amazed to hear UFT leadership criticize Bloomberg for top-down decision making, precisely what it practices. In fact, our leadership has supported mayoral control, junk science VAM rating for teachers, Common Core, high-stakes testing, and a contract that eviscerated many hard-won victories. We've embraced a highly-flawed reformy agenda.

We endorsed a mayoral candidate who publicly opposed raises for teachers, even though other unions got them. UFT worked feverishly to get Bill Thompson elected, but with de Blasio surging, I declined to participate. When the UFT came to its senses, after a chapter leader meeting I was the only one who went and made calls for de Blasio. With me were two members from my school, and we represented 50% of the phone bank.

I don't have anything against anyone who chooses to join Unity, and I'm friends with a lot of Unity members. As in any group, some are wonderful, while others are not so wonderful. Regardless, I take exception when people lie, as a commenter did when he claimed there was no loyalty oath. I happen to have a copy of the Unity application. It says, exactly, that the applicant promises:

  • To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;
  • To support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums;
  • To support in Union elections only those individuals who are endorsed by the Caucus, and to actively campaign for his / her election;
  • To run for Union office only with the support of the caucus;
  • To serve, if elected to Union office, in a manner consistent with Union / Caucus policies
    and to give full and faithful service in that office;

Personally, I'm hard-pressed to see how that allows for public dissent with Unity policy. Comments here are open, and Unity members are welcome to say what they wish.

But it's utter nonsense to dispute the loyalty pledge, and independent thought is not precisely what those clauses encourage. It's hard for me to understand how union activism is stoked by policies like these. And it's particularly hard to understand how placing brick walls around dissenting factions aids union democracy, the union itself, or working teachers (86% of whom don't deem it worth their time to even vote in union elections).

It's particularly hard to understand when people like Diane Ravitch (and me) are proven right, as in Bill de Blasio, mayoral control, VAM, Common Core, and everything else that we've been on the wrong side of.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Student Lobbyist Andy Cuomo Is a Moron

Well, perhaps that's strong language, but the Andrew "I am the government" Cuomo is floating a merit pay scheme of "up to" $20,000 for the best teachers. Personally, I'm not persuaded Governor Cuomo would know a good teacher if one were beating him over the head. Nonetheless, were that to happen, it probably wouldn't change anything.  For one thing, the governor can't be bothered to do basic research. Merit pay has been around for a hundred years, and it has never worked.

For another thing, "up to" $20,000 means a number somewhere between zero and $20,000. While there are reports that a lot of teachers around NY State have been rated "highly effective" based on junk science VAM, that's no assurance formulas can't or won't be revised so as to not pay out.

Newark, for example, adopted a merit pay scheme. 190 of Newark's 3200 teachers got bonuses. That's fewer than 10%. Of course, 80% of Newark teachers chose not to give up tenure in order to participate. And those teachers, being smarter, were more likely to have been rated highly effective. Personally, I would question the competence of any teacher who gave up anything to be thrown upon the tender mercies of Chris Christie. It appears there's a whole bunch of money in Newark, but it does not appear the teachers are going to be receiving it.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has come out and stated flatly that he does not believe in merit pay. Perhaps the mayor actually reads the research. Perhaps the mayor knows that any teacher who's holding back waiting for merit pay is incompetent and ought to be fired. I can't really say why the mayor believes this, but it's certainly refreshing to see a rational opinion in City Hall, rather than fanatical ideology based on whatever came out of Bill Gates' hind quarters this morning.

And here's the truth--city teachers have been without a compensation increase for five years now. We aren't looking for a tip.

We want the same raise that NYPD and FDNY got, and I don't know a single non-E4E teacher who says otherwise.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Gotham Schools and Danielson Rapidly Plummet Downhill

Now that Gotham Schools has redesigned itself into a super slick website, it's not nearly as user-friendly as it once was. I used to really use the Rise and Shine thing on days when I was at a loss for what to blog. Now you have to click on it to see it, and today's features several iterations of the all-important news that charter folks are worried about Bill de Blasio. Apparently, since de Blasio feels they should pay rent and stop displacing and destroying public schools, the astroturfers fear he may make them pay rent and stop destroying and displacing public schools.

Shocking stuff.

To encourage community participation, Gotham has removed the comments from the sidebar. I suppose when you're giving the charter folks everything they want, you don't want those inconvenient teachers blabbering all over your front page. Actually a lot of comments appeared to be about the perfidy of teachers lately, though for a long time they'd been largely about what an atrocity it was that teachers had pensions.

So here's the thing--today I want to write about Danielson, but I don't have enough info. My UFT contacts can't yet give me the answers I need, but as of today I think that the rules don't mean anything, that supervisors can write any damn thing they feel like, that they can manipulate the system just as much as they did before, and if they hate your guts, they can and will trash you.

I don't actually blame Danielson for that. I still see the framework as having elements worth striving for. Danielson might work in the context for which it was actually designed, which was to support and perhaps inspire good teachers. Sadly, rating teachers is an entirely different ball game.

And honestly, if your supervisor hates you and everything you stand for, that person can pick and choose what he or she sees, and will write about everything you did wrong. You may, of course, write a response, but who pays attention? If the supervisor sees fit to leave the flawed report standing, that's what's gonna be in your file and that's what's gonna determine how many points you get and whether or not you face the VAM firing squad.

So, essentially, while Danielson is not inherently evil or invalid, the same crazy people who could carry out personal agendas with the old system can do so under the new one. If your school happens to get good scores the VAM may help you. If not they may hurt you. Interestingly, AFT President Randi Weingarten just came to her senses and publicly opposed it. How that will help those of us who've written it into our state law I'm not at all sure.

But all in all the new system does not represent an improvement over the old one. The primary reason is the burden of proof. In the past, it was on the DOE to prove you were incompetent. That was not an easy thing for them to prove. Now, if you get a crap rating year one, you will get a "validator" year two, who will give you a thumbs up or down. If they say you don't suck, burden will still be on DOE. However, if they determine you do indeed suck, it's on you, and you will have to prove you are not incompetent. I have no idea how anyone accomplishes such a thing.

The NY State law has thus far been a disaster not only for working teachers, but also for supervisors who simply cannot keep up. I hope the UFT can negotiate something less insane with the new mayor, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

It's a Cold World

This morning my students were all huddled in a vestibule waiting for me to come out. None of them wanted to spend a single extra minute outside. They were horrified to see me, not precisely because of my lack of personal charm, but rather because that meant they were going to have to face that long, cold walk to the trailer.

It was so cold that no matter how many times the custodians salted the three sheets of ice that we had to cross to hit the trailer, they froze almost immediately. I saw a girl slip and fall, but fortunately she was not hurt and got up to go the rest of the way to her trailer.

Eventually admin, or the custodians, or someone, got creative, and placed rugs over the perpetually freezing ice sheets. I felt important walking over them, as though someone had rolled out the red carpet. Unfortunately the carpet was a dull grey, but we can still dream, can't we?

I've become enamored of my North Face parka. A good friend of mine and I used to make fun of the kids who wore them, as though they were school uniforms, but at the end of the season a few years back they were on sale at Macy's for a hundred bucks each, and I got one for my kid and one for me. Now my friend makes fun of me for wearing it, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. I don't own stock or anything, but it kept me pretty happy today.

On the other hand, it only goes down so far, and this morning it felt like I didn't have any pants on (though I did). I don't think I could make it as a woman, wearing outfits that require bare legs.

I had to stay late and go to a meeting, and on the way home 1010 WINS informed me we hadn't had a day this cold since 1896.

I certainly hope we go another hundred years before the next day like this.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Governor Andy Makes Another Principled Stand

Our illustrious governor, Andrew "I am the government" Cuomo, has unveiled a plan designed specifically to take the wind out of new mayor Bill de Blasio's sails. To wit, he wants to fund pre-K statewide without tax increases on the wealthy. As you may know, Governor Andy strives to emulate his Daddy, Mario, who took a principled stand against the death penalty. However, Governor Andy's principled stand was dropping the millionaire's tax.

After all, it's well-known how fragile rich people can be. If you were to touch them, they might break. Mayor Bloomberg used to say they'd leave NY if they were taxed. And if they make a million dollars a year, you can't ask them to pay 900 bucks for some tax to educate the children of the riff raff. They need that money for investments. You know, that's when they take this money and try to make more of it.

It's different with people who make $7.25 an hour. They haven't got the money to invest anyway, frittering away their salaries on things like food and shelter. All the money they get just gets spent. Maybe if they were to make $20 an hour we wouldn't have to give them food stamps, but who do you think would have to lay out that twenty bucks? That's right, it would be those fragile rich people who own the businesses. Then there would be less money for them to invest, and they would make even less money. You see? It's a vicious cycle.

So the important thing here is this--rich people simply cannot pay more taxes. The government can go broke, states can be so poor they need to accept bribes from the feds so as to enact programs like Race to the Top, and that will make the rich people even richer. After all, who do you think owns Pearson? Some $7.25 an hour fast-food worker? Think again. Race to the Top will make the rich people even richer, and then they can invest that money, and become even richer.

Because that is the main goal of our society, apparently.

In any case, if Bill de Blasio needn't raise taxes to enact his signature pre-K plan, if Governor Andy's fragile ego won't let de Blasio do that, de Blasio can always tax the fragile millionaires to support other things, like class size reduction.

Conversely, de Blasio could simply demand the three billion dollars Governor Cuomo failed to give NYC for that purpose. And if Governor Andy ponies up, maybe he can save the billionaires he lives to serve from those awful tax hikes.

Gotham Charter Schools Will Become Chalkbeat Charters New York!

From now on, Gotham Charter Schools will be Charter Chalkboard New York. We have lots of exciting changes for you, our readers, and we can't wait to get started! You can read our future posts at

First, we're going to have a big fundraising party, where you can all give us money. And after that, we're running a conference with teachers to discuss teacher stuff. For those critics out there, we want you to know that two of the three teachers we've selected have never stereotyped ATR teachers in these pages. (After an extensive search, we were only able to locate one such teacher, but we feel we deserve credit anyway.)

Second, we're going to actually start reading the comments section. It's pretty tedious, actually, as it appears to mostly be a lot of crap about how teachers shouldn't get pensions, and how awful teachers are, and how they don't do any work. Still, we feel we'll be more credible if we sort out the obviously insane comments and leave only the questionable ones. Of course, there may not be any more comments once we do that, but that's fine since we won't need to read them and can get back to the important work of whatever it is we do around here.

We will continue to bring you fabulous guest posts from not only E4E members, but also people who may or may not be E4E members. We'll let them coyly deny being E4E, while sort of being E4E anyway, and we won't demand clarity from them at all. When E4E finds a hundred people to sign a petition demanding more work for less pay, we'll be the first to cover it! We vow to bring you widely diverse viewpoints, encompassing not only Moskowitz charter teachers, but also non-Moskowitz charter teachers. When we can find convoluted incomprehensible nonsense defending ridiculous testing practices, we promise you'll see it here first!

And don't worry, fans. We will continue to bring you coverage whenever Eva Moskowitz is planning a rally. We will, of course, cover the actual rallies, and then we'll do follow-ups to find out what has happened after the rally.

At Charter Chalkboard NY, we won't get mired down in special interests like teacher unions or public school parents. We'll continue to ignore their trivial rallies and press conferences. We'll stay focused on whatever the hell our corporate sponsors, like the Gates Foundation and the Walmart family, see fit. And for those Gloomy Guses who complain that we never solicit writing from real public school teachers, who are of course special interests, we pledge to you that we will continually ask real public school teachers to write for us. However, we will not read what they write, and of course we will not run it either. Those folks are loose cannons, and could say any damn thing. But no one can say we didn't ask for it!

We now have a special red phone that runs from Charter Chalkboard directly to the office of Eva Moskowitz, so we will be able to inform you immediately when Eva has any issue. And not only that, but we will aggressively cover what goes on in all other charter schools. Also we vow to let you know immediately when Doug Lemov figures a more efficient way to extract every degree of time-wasting humanity, enjoyment, or humor from the modern classroom.

This is our pledge to you, our readers. Please send as much money as you possibly can so we may continue our mission.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Eternal Question--To Go or Not to Go?

 Update: Very cool to see Mayor Bill de Blasio actually shoveling snow in front of his Brooklyn home on CBS 2. Doubtless it's for show, and he says he's going to share with Dante, but it's impressive.

Can you imagine Emperor Bloomberg doing that? Neither can I. The only show we got from Mayor Money was the pretense of going to the subway. Actually, two SUVs came to his brownstone each AM to drive him, since his preferred subway stop was too far for him to walk.


Mayor de Blasio made a good call. Perhaps he simply waited so as to look a little tougher to his manifold corporate critics. But he did the right thing. You don't send a million kids out in weather like this, even though it was no problem for a guy like Rudy Giuliani, and even though it took Mike Bloomberg until maybe 6:30 AM a few years back.

Also, unless they're using some very sophisticated new technology, it appears Bill de Blasio is in NYC rather than Bermuda.

LIE will remain closed until at least 8 AM, so in case you feel like going in anyway, don't.

Update: As of 4:12 AM CBS TV says they don't expect a decision from the mayor until around 5 AM. They also say that plowing the streets has been useless, as the wind blows the snow instantly back. Wind chill 10-15 below zero and LIE is still closed. Crews still trying to determine whether or not it's safe to open.

If they don't open the LIE, it will be incredible to see schools open.

I see Mayor de Blasio saying, "please, stay indoors, to the maximum extent possible, stay out of your cars, to the maximum extent possible. If you don't need to go out, please don't go out." I will find it very tough to understand how he reconciles words like that with a decision to open schools. Here's an interpretation I like, via Twitter:

As a New York City schoolteacher, I've got a lot of memories about snow days. Right now I'm remembering a day I drove 10 miles from my house, only to hear on the news that city schools were closed.

Another time I went in on the treacherous Long Island Expressway, with cars crashing to my left and right, and heard my then-boss, Rudy Giuliani, on the radio saying it's awful out there. If you don't absolutely have to, don't come in. I don't remember the exact quote, but I did that morning. I posted it on the board and discussed it with the handful of students who'd bothered to show up.

My fondest memory was the bet I made with my mom a few years ago. She said the schools would close. I said no, they open no matter what. She bet me ten bucks they would close. I took the bet and lost. When they closed a second day, my mom demanded twenty. I refused to pay the second day. Sometimes you simply have to stand by your principles.

This post will go up at 4 AM. With luck, I'll still be asleep. The question is, are we going in or not? Is Carmen Farina going to open her term with a snow day? Will Mayor Bill go for it?

And if he doesn't, are you going in anyway? I usually do, but I'm crazy so you can't go by me.

What's happening this morning?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Exacting Standards at Gotham Schools

I used to write for Gotham Schools. They called me at home, and asked if I would do it. I said fine. The first post I wrote was about a Harlem public school experiencing an invasion by Eva Moskowitz. I quoted a person who spoke at the rally who said Eva was taking kids rated 3 and 4, but not those who scored lower. This proved not to be true. But I accurately reported what I heard.

After that, things were different, and my writing was subject to a pretty severe editing process. I was sometimes upset by this, as their E4E writer could post any outlandish assertion he saw fit. The last piece of mine they put up was about Cathie Black, and entitled Heckuva Job Blackie. This was a play on words, referring to GW's "Heckuva Job Brownie" quote. I insisted on retaining the title, and our discussions got pretty contentious. The next piece I wrote for them was this one.

Gotham objected that I called E4E, ERN, and Cathie Black billionaire-sponsored, though that isn't even debatable. They also objected to my implication that an Ivy League pedigree was helpful to getting into TFA, even though a whole lot of Ivy League students went to TFA. There was a third problem they had, and I don't remember what it was, but I sent the piece to Huffington Post, where they highlighted it and it received over a hundred comments.

A few months ago, Gotham asked me to write a piece about why folks like me don't feel E4E represents us. I wrote it for them. They not only didn't run it, but couldn't even be bothered getting back to me. Here is a sample of what Gotham schools finds absolutely acceptable:

Our children are being taught by a collection of ignoramouses whose principal objective is to feather their own nest, maintain the public school failure monopoly, and raid the fisc. You should be charged with child abuse (I mean, besides the collection of perverts that the UFT protects.)

That's fine, isn't it? How about this:

First, your comment is an excuse, nothing more.
Second, you write like a functional illiterate.
I hope you only teach gym.
So, let's see--at Gotham, it's OK to dispense personal insults. It's also just fine to stereotype tens of thousands of working teachers. But suggesting that E4E is sponsored by billionaires is beyond the pale.  Let's hear a few more Gotham-sanctioned words of wisdom:

Yes, "Gym" is now called "Physical Education", like "Teachers" are now called "Educators", no doubt to concoct the illusion that bottom of their class ed school graduates are "professional" on a par with doctors ("physicians") and lawyers.("attorneys").  

You see? I guess physical ed. teachers are even worse than the rest of us, who are perverts, feathering our own nest, and oh, here's one:

"You people" = government "educrats" riding the public dole for large sums of money (for the "work" you do) and producing miserable results.
You see that? And when someone accuses this stereotype-favoring commenter of bigotry, here's the response Gotham Schools thinks is just fine:

Yes, so typical of the Liberal Education Monopoly: if someone says something that you don't like or with which you disagree and pull out the "bigot" card to silence them.
Its one of the many reasons most New Yorkers and most Americans hate you.

I doubt most Americans hate us, and I doubt this person has done a survey or anything. But I know one thing.

Gotham Schools is a disgrace. They should be ashamed of themselves for giving a forum to this sort of trash.

Postscript: Gotham's favorite commenter appears to be appropriating someone else's identity.

Update: Anika Anand of Gotham Schools says they're actually going to delete this stuff. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


I haven't offered a whole lot of good news lately, but today I went to Bill de Blasio's inauguration. While it's true it was freezing out there, and I completely overlooked the necessity of 7 pairs of socks, there was something very special about the people I saw today.

Bill Clinton did not particularly thrill me, praising Emperor Bloomberg, but he was introduced by a CUNY student who came here at 15 from the Dominican Republic. There, in front of me, was a New York City ESL student introducing a President of the United States. This young woman was everything I want to see in NYC. I want an NYC in which kids have a chance to thrive, and a real shot at a future. I think they're more important than whatever stadium or luxury high-rise Mayor Bloomberg has wet dreams about.

And that vision is most certainly shared by Tish James, wearing a bright red coat but standing out more for her ideas than her apparel. She stood with Mayor Dinkins and held court about a New York that actually looked after people. No stadiums for her. No racist police policies. No Race to the Top, and no more people trying to live on $7.25 an hour. She is the real thing, and she will not sit silent while billionaires foist insane policies on working people. She's said she will be the conscience of the new mayor, and I have no doubt she will keep her word.

Also bruising Mayor Money was Harry Belafonte. Bloomberg sat wincing as his policies were parsed, as a vision as antithetical to his as any I've heard came from this legendary figure. Scott Stringer was no more kind to the mayor. The smirk he wore before people started to speak withered away, and in its place was the face of a teacher going through hour three of the most useless PD ever devised by man, woman, or Bloomberg.

Mayor de Blasio immediately addressed those who expect him to sell out. He said he was elected to put in place progressive policies, and that he would. He repeatedly stressed that this work was to begin NOW. He did not sound like someone who was going to turn into a corporatist anytime soon. If I were him, I'd be afraid to. Tish James is no one to be trifled with.

One of the most amazing things I saw was Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Cuomo sitting there, and neither of them playing any part beyond that of scarecrows. Certainly they'd have loved to blather their corporatist crap, but de Blasio did not make any room in the schedule for that. Cuomo looked chisled from plastic, or perhaps porcelain, and sat there smiling like a ventriloquist's dummy. Sandra Lee, by his side, was doubtless figuring out how to form some culinary masterpiece from boxed bread crumbs, canned corned beef hash, and vanilla extract. I can't wait to not watch her next show.

It's a hopeful time for me, as after 20 years of crap it's time for NYC to smile. I ran into blogger extraordinaire Jose Luis Vilson, who was sadly relegated to the cheap seats for the ceremony, and a friend of mine who's been working her butt off for the new mayor. Jose and I hoped she'd sneak us in and get us no-show jobs at Soprano worksites, but she told us they were all in New Jersey.

On the brighter side, now that we have a real mayor, none of us are going to have to move there.