Saturday, January 31, 2015

Taking the Day Off...

....but you can come see me at Huffington Post.

Friday, January 30, 2015

UFT Unity and Sunlight

Last night was interesting at the DA, to say the least. We're under siege, and the very first thing on the UFT President's mind was tweeting. Oddly, Mulgrew said people, surely me, were tweeting "to the press." I'm not sure how you determine the direction of a tweet, but of course I'm not part of the UFT Unity Caucus. This elite, invitation-only club makes rules for the rest of us, and evidently deems itself capable of reading minds of those who disagree with it.

Actually, Michael Mulgrew can no more read minds than he can negotiate a fair contract. I can't help it if journalists read my blog, or my tweets, and I can't help it if they, unlike Mulgrew, actually talk to me. If Mulgrew wishes to set the record straight he's free to join Twitter too. After all, he specifically asked us to, and there is such a thing as leading by example. The fact is all UFT decisions are made in private and in secret. Anyone who thinks the loyalty-oath dominated DA is democratic, or that Mulgrew even pretends to be an impartial chair, is laboring under a misconception.

There were a few things at last night's DA that were notable. One is the handout, basically talking points, that went out. It didn't reach my section but it's right here, and it's pretty good. Of course anyone who reads Diane Ravitch knew these things long ago. Will it persuade devoted followers of the NY Post? I'm not sure. It really doesn't go into much detail, and if that's all you have you won't be able to sustain much of a discussion. I'm also not entirely sure, with such short responses, that everyone will warm to the sarcasm. The pamphlet will help inform people who already hate Cuomo, which likely includes most working teachers. It ought to raise the consciousness of those who haven't been paying attention so getting it in their hands will be a good idea.

Mulgrew spoke of addressing PTA and parent groups, and wants those who do so trained. It's pretty odd because I would have no issue addressing our school's PTA without being instructed how, and I've done so many times in the past. I'm curious whether UFT Unity will send a loyalty oath signer with no ties to my school or our PTA. I'm not at all sure why they think our parents would be impressed by that, but who knows the mysterious ways of UFT Unity? Hopefully they have an argument more detailed and sophisticated than that laid out in the pamphlet.

Though there were several other meetings on the same day that covered the same ground, apparently my tweeting live goes beyond the pale. And if UFT Unity says it was directed at the press, well, I guess they can make up whatever they like and 800 people will jump up and vote for it. After all, there's likely as not a trip to somewhere coming up soon, and how could anyone risk losing such an opportunity?

Personally, I don't reveal deep dark secrets in rooms filled with a thousand people, and I wouldn't do it even if all of them had signed loyalty oaths. But that's just me. And I'm absolutely certain there was a plan for last night's DA.

Too bad the plan didn't include actually opposing Cuomo when he was running for election, or getting behind amazing Zephyr Teachout.  Too bad they thought sitting this one out was a wise move. Too bad we didn't oppose value-added crap from the outset. They can ridicule merit pay, but there's absolutely no validity to VAM either. Or mayoral control, or common core, or Bill Gates, or any of the reformy crap to which we've given our imprimatur. I guess those things simply did not come up inside the top-secret Unity echo chamber, where the real secrets are, but we lowly working teachers will just never know.

It's been obvious to me what Cuomo was since the first time he ran for governor. Too bad UFT leadership didn't get hip until last month.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

DA Report (Unedited)

Mulgrew’s first order of business was tweeting to the press. He says he leaves it alone, but what we are talking about today is pointless if people are tweeting to the press. He doesn’t want to discuss why they do this, but asks that this not take place today. He asks that today people do it on good will, and that perhaps there be a resolution later.

Can only conclude he does not enjoy my tweets. I understand completely. I don’t enjoy having no voice in my union, NYSUT, or AFT.

Mulgrew discusses what governor might propose. He says it’s based on polling, what parents think, and his contributors. Says UFT commercial moved governor,

I’ve just been asked to stop taking notes. I declined.

Mulgrew says we will not fight only our funding, suggests we win fights because we are smart and strategic. Mulgrew is not letting governor know he is angry. Says Cuomo did us a favor because all his ideas have been tried and failed. Our strategy will be about education of other people besides teachers.

Mulgrew says we are moving in better direction than we were in the Bloomberg years, that we will show how an urban system can be moved.

Mulgrew says we are really under governor’s skin about how he doesn’t visit schools. He says we will continue, but be smart. He repeats smart. He claims this body, the DA, will lead this union.

Mulgrew says we need to let parents know that governor and millionaire friends are hurting kids, that charter cap shouldn’t be raised because 2010 law not being followed. Ridicules phrase, “anti-creaming legislation,” and says governor must follow existing law.

Mulgrew says colocated schools are inequitable. Facilities are unequal, but says charter piece is small piece. Predicts fight. Says we’ve been in them before. Goal of fight is to hurt other person more than we get hurt. Says that’s how he was brought up.

Says we have come too far. We have been through all these fights, says on the main fights we have done this. Says we are not here to attack elected officials, except one, and that politicians will hear from parents and teachers.

Mulgrew says budget in NY State is up or down. Requests chapter meeting to discuss what governor is proposing and budget process. Claims again that governor can do executive orders if budget is voted down on April 1st. That’s it, they’re done, he says.

Mulgrew says we will have to build, Says he is a teacher. Speaks of his decision to work with needy kids. Said Cuomo’s suggestions will discourage teachers from going near poverty or need. High needs kids, kids with special needs will cause teachers to fail evaluations.

Mulgrew suggests that if we get parents on our side, Cuomo will have made the biggest mistake in his political career.

Mulgrew introduces several pointless computer displays. Then he focuses on Facebook pic I’ve seen a whole lot. Is it Cuomo or is it claymation?
Mulgrew says parents will have teachers as partners. Says we have a large surplus for first time in three years. Cuomo didn’t talk about paying one penny of CFE. States research shows merit pay doesn’t work, but that UFT is OK with “career ladders.”

Cuomo refers to Cuomo failing bar four times, about how he blamed teachers in ed. school. Apparently he reads Arwen, whose post on that has gotten many, many thousands of hits.

Mulgrew is advocate of test as teacher tool, he states. Maybe he forgot supporting NY APPR. He says testing now is what we are angry about, but we must be careful. When we say tests are bad, it’s saying our tools are bad, and that it’s only bad when morons use it. DA agrees tests are good tools for teachers. He says we need to be clear it’s our tool. Does not suggest we will punch people in face if they try to take it from us.

Mulgrew bemoans test prep system. He says parents get it too, no art or music, and more money going to private companies.

Mulgrew says we want eval. system that will help teachers. He says this is where we get to have fun. 80% of kids passing tests under Bloomberg. Were doing great. Gets to Common Core, says he testified five years ago, demanded standards, curriculum, training program. Says doctors are trained with new equipment and practices. Says CC trained no one and gave no materials. Said kids would fail tests, and not to blame us, but that governor did anyway.

Governor is using budget process to weigh in on ed. process. Where was he when we needed funding.

Mulgrew speaks of how many teachers leave profession, and how Cuomo does not address it. Describes Cuomo’s 15% principal, 35% “outside professional” proposal for evaluations. Asks how much it will cost to pay people to do 300,000 observations.

Mulgrew says he wants to know why Cuomo wishes to extend probation. Says Cuomo wants due process to preclude any criticism of evaluation except math.

Says parents don’t care about due process or 3020a but that hedge funders do. He says we understand eval. is important and we only want the best. Says we have to be clear 3020a does not take forever. Says he thinks “fast and fair” is the way to go. Complains of how long it takes teachers to be exonerated. Maybe he likes the ATR one-day due process.

He says vast majority of charges are untrue, and it’s best we get them through ASAP. But no due process will make people not wish to teach. He says it’s OK as long as there is fairness. He says people going through 3020a are stigmatized and need to be welcomed back. Says we are 100% behind fast and fair. Expresses outrage at Cuomo’s statement that unions fought to keep sexual predators in classrooom. Says anyone guilty of sexual misconduct is fired.

Mulgrew says parents have had it with charters. 75% not serving same students of need as districts. Says we should not make this anti-charter, but rather that everyone who takes public dollars be responsive. Says get rid of lottery and give preference to students of need same percentage as district. Why to charters suspend 10 times as many students as public schools? Why to they have attrition while we have overcrowding?

Clearly charters are happy with that. Demands vacated seats be filled with students of need.

Speaks of receivership. Says Cuomo will not fund schools, will then close them and give them to BFFs to run. Says collective bargaining agreements in such buildings will be null and void, and employees will be at mercy of whoever gets receivership. Will discourage teachers from going to needy schools.

Mulgrew wants document almost no one has to be guiding document for chapter meeting. Gives us talking points. It’s great to be in a democratic organization where leaders tell you what to say. Saves you all that time-consuming and inconvenient thinking stuff.  Maybe I should sign a loyalty oath, like most of the people in this room have.

Second person asks me to stop taking notes. I decline again. Woman next to me taking notes on cell phone. No one asks her to stop, for second time.

Governor states he was forced to do this because test scores have plummeted. That teachers don’t want to be evaluated, accountable, that they favor sexual predators.

Mulgrew says parents ask, at local level, can we have teachers as partners to do presentations. Wants us to understand that parent questions will be different from member questions. Says they asked if we could demonstrate in NY and in Albany. Says he has no problems demonstrating in winter but suggests March.

Says parents suggest we demonstrate at 3 PM in front of public schools. Says campaign will entail various groups and strategies, that Cuomo was caught off guard.

Says each borough will come up with own team that will volunteer to work with every PTA, coordinate with parents, have action calendar with each region.

Mulgrew concludes we are all teachers and up yours, we’re going after this guy. Says he has research and articles to prove this is a bad idea. Says we’re in a fight, we will get hurt. Goal is hurt him more and move education forward.

States principals are having issues when they are not collaborative.

Mulgrew has PowerPoint presentation for members. Says it is grassroots (when we use his talking points, apparently).

Mulgrew says we serve all kids, that no one is pushed out of our buildings.

Question—sounds like we only have two months, CL says it would be helpful for Mulgrew to write letter, wake up members. Requests weekly action. Mulgrew says do you want to do this or work with parents organically. Says we are doing Moral Mondays every week already.

Suggestion—we have in NY teacher where we express positives, but why not get this out to parents, to city? Mulgrew will talk to NY Teacher folks, says it would have to be electronic file because mailing is expensive.
Mulgrew compliments members on social media (in which he did not participate).

Question—what would Cuomo have done if we had endorsed him? Mulgrew says it wouldn’t have been the same. Mulgrew says you don’t go to all out war with mayor and governor at same time, that Cuomo is playing politics with education. Says Cuomo is putting out these policies because we didn’t endorse him.

Mulgrew suggests statewide informational picketing one day.

Mulgrew says Cuomo did not place renewable tenure on the table.

Suggestion—talking points for parents be in Spanish.

CL asks to invite local pols since Cuomo won’t come. Mulgrew suggests a “Where’s Cuomo” thing. Says he got 84 detentions one year and is a mischievous union president.

CL wants to encourage members to call elected officials. Requests UFT talking points.

Mulgrew says everything is negotiable up to April 1st. States Cuomo is getting killed on 50% test scores and that Texas is going down to 20.

MORE’s  Jia Lee. Says she recently spoke at Senate hearing. Says there is huge opt-out grassroots movement, Mentions high-stakes testing forums. Offers flyers, volunteers to help. Mentions 21 locals locals have passed I refuse resolutions. Mulgrew says she can raise resolution in two weeks.

CL—asks for UFT funding for parent outreach. Mulgrew says he will support actions coming from schools. Requests planning and policy making committees.

Marjorie Stamberg—informational picket lines oxymoron. Picket lines mean don’t cross. Mulgrew says, you’re right, it’s informational leafleting. Stamberg—we should picket. Says all pols want to bust unions and privatize education.

Comment—UFT has organizing committee that comes into schools.

Mulgrew—we will organize, come up with regional plan, says everyone’s agreeing there will be a chapter meeting on governor’s agenda. Asks for volunteers to work with parents. Asks that volunteers be trained before they do that. Will be citywide and regional actions, says that’s what he heard today.

Asks for motion, we support these actions, passed. Says we will not let governor ruin education, will rue the day he proposed these plans to the people of NY.

Teacher Torture Takes Tumble

On Monday, I'm told that the 80-minute session of whatever was canceled due to the impending snowstorm. Doubtless that broke the hearts of teachers citywide, who were eager to do inquiry, listen to speeches about precisely how perfidious they are, or find out what exactly they did that was ineffective and not to be tolerated.

Or did it? How did you feel about going home early? From a practical standpoint, the traffic was unspeakable, and I'm told it improved markedly later in the evening. There were all sorts of rumors that the LIE was going to be closed at 3 PM, and 90 million people all decided to go home at the same time.

But how did you feel about missing the 80-minute session slated for that afternoon? Disregarding the traffic issue, would you have liked to go? Or would you have preferred the entire Russian Army to march across your tongue in their stocking feet?

Being in a multi-session school, we aren't privy to the workings of the whole Monday-Tuesday thing. But I hear a lot of stories and most of them aren't getting me excited to participate. I know some schools have done SBOs to have 40 minutes of daily whatever, and teachers in those schools tell me they fantasize about slitting their throats on a fairly regular basis.

So I'd like to ask those of you going through those programs to let us know how it's working for you. What do you do on Mondays? Are your teacher teams ready to change the world, and if so, is it for the better? Is your PD any better than what it was before? Are people regularly jumping up, shouting "Eureka," and discovering the secrets that revolutionize teacher practice?

And what about Tuesdays? How's that parental outreach going? Is it helping you, or does your supervisor simply chain you to a desk with an old phonebook? And what is Other Professional Work? Are you writing lesson plans? Doing bulletin boards? Fixing the boiler?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Will Cuomo Really Kill this Dog if We Reject His Reformy Nonsense?

At the last Delegate Assembly, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told us we were going to focus only on school funding. Capital NY suggested this was because this particular battle appeared to be one we would win. Indeed, Cuomo's speech suggests he will increase funding somewhat regardless of what will happen, but will increase it more if we wholeheartedly embrace his counterproductive corporate crap.

However, neither of his approaches offers NY State children more than a fraction of the billions they're owed as a result of the CFE lawsuit. Nothing short of what's mandated by the CFE lawsuit should be acceptable to NY parents or unions. It's laudable that Mulgrew and Revive NYSUT are fighting for funding, and they should certainly continue.

It's further to leadership's credit that they may be on the verge of initiating something beyond the Twitter campaign (the one in which UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who urged us on, has yet to participate). There will be some sort of boots on the ground action, I'm told. I will participate, and I will urge others to do so as well.

But asking for funding is not enough. We need to take a stand against junk science. I understand Mulgrew's position, that if we oppose evaluation proposals, it will appear we oppose evaluation proposals. This notwithstanding, every teacher I know opposes the evaluation proposals. Every teacher I know opposes being judged by test scores. AFT President Randi Weingarten says, "VAM is a sham." And Revive NYSUT ran all over the state condemning the current APPR as a creation of former President Richard Iannuzzi (though Mike Mulgrew was also a party to it).

It's time now for leadership to reflect the view of the members, rather than pretending things work the other way round. We didn't want 20% of our evaluation to be based on junk science, and we most certainly do not want that percentage going up to 50, or even 40. It's our job to educate the public to the fact that our jobs do not, in fact, entail merely raising test scores. It's our job to educate the public to the fact that teachers tend to influence test scores by a factor of 1-14%.

In fact, it's our job to tell the public that David Coleman's Common Core mantra, that no one gives a crap how our kids feel, is insane. If I didn't give a crap how kids felt I wouldn't wake up ridiculously early to go out and teach them. I'd have retired the first moment I could. In fact, anyone who doesn't give a crap how kids feel ought not to be a teacher, let alone the architect of national learning standards.

Other union leaders endorse opting out and are even refusing to administer Common Core tests. This, to me, is more inspiring than offering to punch corporate reform opponents in the face. It's time for us to articulate a clear agenda that reflects what members demand, rather than obsessing over what gets leadership their seat at the table.

Let's build our own table. No negotiating with terrorists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Revive NYSUT Targets This Blog

I wrote a little blog about rumors I was hearing the other day, and it seems to have provoked a reaction from NYSUT bigshot Martin Messner:

It's actually fairly common to use unnamed sources, and fairly common for people to confirm or deny what they say. (In fact, it's also common to use quotation marks for actual quotes.) Here in NYC, it's pretty hard for us to accept at face value what we hear from leadership. For one thing, there's no disputing that our union is run by an elite, invitation-only group called the Unity Caucus that operates in secret and demands a loyalty oath for entrance.

There are, of course, perks to the loyalty oath. At the lowest rung of the ladder, you get to go to conventions and vote however Mulgrew instructs you. As you move up, you go from after-school gigs at UFT HQ all the way to the Holy Grail--a full-time gig that gets you out of the classroom altogether. So there are those of us who question the motivation of many of those who ostensibly represent us.

Some of us were particularly curious when Michael Mulgrew announced that we were going to fight on funding but not evaluation. I make no apology for trying to find out why the hell leadership declines to confront Cuomo's insane ideas, nor for sharing what I hear with readers of this blog.

Here's another leadership chestnut trotted out by Messner:

This is exactly what UFT invariably says to those of us who oppose their secretive machine, and the degradation of our profession over which it's presided, contract after contract. We all have to stick together, they repeat, and anyone who disagrees needs to sit down and shut up.

Those of us who believe in transparency and democracy find that unacceptable. It's always time to oppose Bloomberg, or Cuomo, or whoever we've failed to oppose in the election. It's always time to stand as one. Except, for example, when leadership makes Bill Gates keynote at a convention. Or when Messner participates in a coup to topple sitting NYSUT leaders. That's OK, somehow. Should there be yet another coup, in which, say, Messner takes the presidency from Karen Magee, I'm sure that would be fine too.

And make no mistake, Revive NYSUT, despite its explicit pledge in the campaign literature above, failed to oppose Andrew Cuomo in the last election. Brilliant and inspirational Zephyr Teachout sought the WFP nomination, and could have posed a strong threat to Andrew Cuomo. NYSUT did not support her. Had it chosen to do so, Cuomo would have faced a real problem. NYSUT also failed to endorse Teachout in the Democratic primary. These are odd actions for people who claim to oppose Cuomo. I oppose Cuomo, and I supported Teachout. I contributed to her campaign several times, and met her at a Suffolk rally.

Maybe, just maybe, the time to oppose demagogues is when they run for office. We all knew what we were getting with Cuomo. Maybe what we need is leadership that will take decisive action when the time is right. Revive NYSUT's tactic of sitting on its hands during elections and hoping for the best is clearly not working out all that well.

Nor is its tactic of failing to keep its explicit campaign promises. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Welcome Home

I wish all my brother and sister teachers, and everyone out on the road a safe trip.

I was on an early schedule today, and finished before 2 PM. I live 23 miles from my school. I hopped in my car, and was home in three hours.

How was your day?

Corrected--The State of the State: When You Fail Your Bar Exam Four Times, It's Time to Raise the Bar!

I learned Governor Andrew Cuomo failed his bar exam four times.  His war against NY State's teachers has finally been put into context for me.  Whereas I once thought his words reeked of harmful stupidity, now I feel the boy that is still in the man.  Because I feel his pain, I can understand his philosophy.

1.  It is time to blame the teachers.

If Cuomo failed four times, it surely can't be his own fault.  How could anyone as successful as the Governor accept the fact that he lacks merit?  It can't be that he failed to study enough.  It can't be that he lacks natural brilliance.  It can't be that he relied too much upon his family name.  It must be his teachers, doctors of jurisprudence, no less.  Even if others from his class managed to pass, shame on his teachers!

2.  Test prep is sacred.

If only Governor Cuomo had been lucky enough to have a teacher who cared enough to prep him to perfection.  Then, he would not have had to suffer this embarrassment and set back four times in his young life.  Incompetent teachers confused him with a broad range of concepts, many of which never appeared on the exam.  All they needed to do was align him to a good review book. They should have called in Professor Pearson.  Perhaps, you don't even need a living and breathing professor.  Why not use online computer-generated, test-prep models?

3.  At least 50% of teacher worth must be measured by student test scores.

If only tests had figured so heavily in his day in his teacher's sense of self, he might have passed--or at the very least taken quite a few teachers down with him, again and again and again and again.

4.  This never would have happened with the equivalent of a Success Academy.

If regular law schools cannot propel the likes of Cuomo to exam success, then let private competitors step into to focus on test prep and do the job right.  Apparently, New York Law School has hired "commercial bar review courses" to increase the passing rates of its students.  Why couldn't Cuomo's Albany Law School have done as much?  Oh, the inhumanity of it all!  

5.  Close schools with failing students

Nobody cared enough to close Albany Law School when Cuomo failed more than three times.  Albany Law School should have been dismantled brick by brick.  Out of the rubble, a "turn-around expert" could have risen to work a miracle.  No one need have ever failed another bar exam.  Let Cuomo not have suffered in vain.   

6.  Award merit pay to test-prep mavens.

Anyone who could have helped the likes of Cuomo pass his bar exam on the first try, or a student his high-stakes Core exam, surely deserves an extra big bonus to the tune of a least $20,000.

7.  Student passing rates on killer Common-Core tests must correspond perfectly to teacher retention rates.

For every student who fails, a teacher must be held accountable.  If 38% fail new Common-Core tests meant to wear down the hardiest of test takers, then don't even speak to me about 98% of NY's teachers being effective.  Are you daft?  Do your math?  Are you so poor at it that you don't see that sixty-two percent of teachers must be removed?  I bet you're also one of those who failed that "twelfth-grade literacy" entrance "bar exam," referenced by Cuomo!  

Do you now sense the bittersweet use of the term "bar exam" in Cuomo's speech?  Who would not feel for Cuomo, has no heart.  There is still a young man inside him who relives the bitterness of his four-time battle with the bar exam--when no teacher stepped up to prep him through the darkness.  

If you have a strong constitution, reread his State of the State, and where you see the words "young people" or "child," substitute the name of "The Young Andrew Cuomo" and you, too, will feel the pain of the young man that still lives on and places him in the peculiar position of being able to feel the plight of young people more strongly than most.  

See if you don't agree with me.  In the underlined portions of his speech below, I've changed Cuomo's original words: 

"It was about helping The Young Andrew Cuomo. It was not about creating an educational industry that then supports ancillary organizations. Let’s remember the The Young Andrew Cuomo in this process and then we’ll wind up doing the right thing."

Just remember though, if you become teary eyed, at least Cuomo never had to suffer on account of being poor or a minority like so many of our students!

Correction--Our source for the statement Cuomo failed the test four times has withdrawn that assertion. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What I'm Hearing

I don't have a lot of time right now, but several sources I trust tell me there is already a deal in place for a new APPR plan. They think it will either be a 40% junk science plan, or that it may be a statewide model based on the NYC plan. The NYC plan, while we in NYC don't much like it, is a better one than those in a few upstate cities that were poorly negotiated. It is not nearly as good as those many small locals came up with.

However, a UFT source I also trust tells me that Mulgrew will indeed fight Cuomo's APPR efforts. Hopefully we'll know more after Wednesday's DA. An agreement could actually still be made to make an NYC-style evaluation statewide, which Mulgrew alluded to at the last DA, or 40% statewide junk science. In either of these scenarios, UFT/ NYSUT could argue that Cuomo wanted 50% and we kept it down to 40.

Such an argument will be particularly tough for Revive NYSUT, which ran opposing the evaluation plan and pinned it all on Richard Iannuzzi. I remember the Revive candidates calling it the "Iannuzzi APPR," tapping into the anger all teachers feel about being judged by junk science. If Revive is party to an agreement that endorses not only existing junk science, but also fewer options for teachers statewide, they will have broken yet another core promise, being against APPR.

A problem with UFT leadership is that everything they do is a victory. When we got the UFT transfer plan it was a victory. When we lost it and got Open Market/ ATR instead that was a victory. Getting artifacts for ratings was a victory, and losing them was a victory. Getting the entire Danielson Framework was a victory and cutting it down to 8 domains was a victory.

So Mike Mulgrew can't lose, no matter how miserable UFT and NYSUT teachers become. He is King Midas and everything he punches turns to gold.

I certainly hope none of the above happens. Personally, I think the system is bad enough as is.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cuomo, Alas, Not Clueless at All

One of the brilliant ideas of Revive NYSUT was the hashtag #CluelessCuomo. I guess name-calling feels good. Certainly there was an awful lot of it directed at President George W. Bush. He was a buffoon, a moron, and he would never accomplish anything. Yet here we sit, in the still-smoldering debris of his education programs, and Barack Obama, no one's fool, has placed them on steroids and made them considerably worse.

Cuomo is no fool. He's ruthless, calculated and cunning. He has his goals and will stop at nothing to achieve them. He grew up in the shadow of his father Mario and watched him fall, likely as not a victim of his own principles and conscience. Andrew lets neither principle nor conscience get in his way, ever.

We can certainly argue that Cuomo's policies will not improve public education. Indeed, merit pay has been around for over a hundred years, and it has never worked anywhere. Sure, it feels good to say some teachers suck and shouldn't get a raise. The whole teacher-bashing thing has wide appeal, what with racism not half as chic as it once was. Hateful morons can't even indulge in gay-bashing anymore, so they need a target. Why not us? Works for Andrew Cuomo. Anything for a vote.

It's entirely possible Cuomo doesn't know that there is no scientific basis for the value-added nonsense he wishes to inflict on us. That appears to be the assumption of Revive NYSUT leaders. But really, that's of no importance whatsoever. Whether or not Andrew Cuomo knows his ideas are baseless doesn't matter one way or the other. The fact is he gets millions from donors who favor this stuff, and he couldn't care less if this stuff works for schools. It works for Andrew Cuomo, and that is the only thing in this universe that matters to him.

Cuomo's dad Mario, may he rest in peace, took a principled stand against capital punishment. It costs more to give someone the death penalty than life imprisonment. Most developed countries have discarded it as barbarism. If we make a mistake, like we did in this case, and the prisoner has already been executed, what do we do? Issue a posthumous apology?

Andrew, on the other hand, took a principled stand against a millionaire's tax. Perish forbid that anyone making tons of cash should have to fork over a few bucks to support public schools. That wasted money could have ended up in the Cuomo campaign coffers (and probably did, too). You won't see Andy risking his career on anything so trivial as people being killed for no reason.

Andy has no problem getting elected with 53% of the vote and demanding that districts who wish to support their children in school get 60% to do so. He has no problem withholding money from districts with a GEA that his unconscionable tax cap makes it impossible to make up for. He'll stand with demagogue Eva Moskowitz as she drags her kids like little pawns to Albany on a school day for a political rally. If you or I did that, we'd be facing dismissal if not prison time.

So you can call Cuomo many things. You can fight him in many ways. But if you opt for empty name-calling, it's abundantly clear someone is clueless.

That someone is not Andrew Cuomo.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time to Go Beyond Hashtags and Name-Calling

I'm at a rare loss for words today. With the news of Cuomo's demands--50% of teacher evaluation based on test scores, charters, tax credits for private schools, it's pretty clear he wishes to drive public education into the ground. After all, public school teachers don't fund his election coffers, and are unlikely to change this policy when he runs for President. He's got absolutely no use for us, unlike the hedge-funders and zillionaires who support his signature reforminess.

NY State has long determined teachers are not to be trusted. That's why we're not allowed to grade the Regents exam papers of our own students. For goodness sake, some crook of a teacher might find a way to change a 64 paper into a 65, detracting from the absolute necessity that failure of a kid go to summer school, or spend another year in high school, or whatever. But Governor Cuomo has taken it a step further. He doesn't trust the administrators either.

Governor Cuomo, therefore, thinks the 50% of rating based on what happens in the classroom should mostly be done by complete strangers. Just like it's unfair for teachers to judge their own students, according to the State, Governor Cuomo thinks the supervisors who work with us each and every day ought not to judge our performance. Therefore he wants to give our supervisors 15% worth of evaluation while the visiting geniuses from other schools, or SUNY, or some distant galaxy far, far away will give 35%.

The current system, which he advocated for and praised just a few years back, has not yet fired enough teachers for the taste of Andrew Cuomo. Therefore, he demands increased accountability. This is a curious attitude from a man who hobbled and then personally disbanded the Moreland Commission investigating corruption when it got a little too close to his office. I guess ethics are for the little people.

Odder still is the anemic and bizarre response by both NYSUT and UFT. There's still no correction I've seen from the position that we should fight for school funding rather than a reasonable APPR. Are we still to fret, as Mulgrew suggested, over the possibility that people will think we oppose the APPR? With all due respect, I know a lot of teachers, and I don't know one single teacher who supports the APPR.

I'm bone weary of the perception, bolstered by the incurious and unquestioning media, that we are a plague of zombies out to destroy the lives of children. I'm not gonna sit here and maintain that every teacher without exception is excellent. But the overwhelming majority of teachers I know are serious and hardworking. There are very few teachers I know who merit the sort of scrutiny that's being showered on us all. It's degrading and demoralizing.

I know a young teacher, a brand new teacher with a great attitude. She said to me the other day that happiness is a choice. It's a choice she embraces, and I can tell she will share it with any kid fortunate enough to be in her class. I want to encourage her, to let her know that she's right, and that her particular gift is worth more than, say, showing a kid how to score 5% higher on some multiple choice test. I want to give her a future that's at least as good as my past.

I don't know if I can do that, though. I think it's time for UFT and NYSUT to open up their brain trust and figure out something substantively more effective than hashtags. If leadership has got anything whatsoever up its sleeve, now's the time to show it. Calling Cuomo clueless and comparing him to Bloomberg may feel good to them, but many of us recognized his shortcomings way before they started saying it.

It's time to slow down the party the rubber stamps are throwing on our dues and do something well beyond liking UFT on Facebook.

We can't wait.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Where's Our Bold Twitter Plan Leading Us? And Where's Mulgrew?

Update: I just received an email from Michael Mulgrew asking me to continue tweeting #AllKidsNeed and #InviteCuomo. It certainly appears Cuomo has already considered and responded to that. Apparently, leadership does not concur.

Today, at the behest of UFT and NYSUT leadership, I took to Twitter and embraced the theme and hashtag #AllKidsNeed. It's a great cause, and there's an awful lot to say. UFT President Micheal Mulgrew was insistent that we do so last week at the DA, and I figured why not? Unfortunately, Mulgrew himself did not participate, as far as I could tell. Wouldn't his voice be more important than that of a lowly teacher like me?

I can only conclude that hashtags, like junk science evaluations, are for the little people. But if we are out there on Twitter, the guy who sent us there ought to be with us. After all, though Cuomo gave his speech and asked for the moon, there are a few hours of Twitter Time  remaining. However, we're still not fighting everything Cuomo is screaming for. Because we are so darn reasonable, we've focusied only on funding. Capital NY speculates this is because funding is a battle we expect to win.

Personally, I'm not sure that giving up on things like APPR, merit pay, charter caps, and multi-front assaults on tenure was the way to go. Working teachers are very concerned about these issues, and while Mulgrew and his Rubber Stamps sit in the Unity Cone of Silence, teachers are in my face about these things pretty much constantly. Again, I'm just a lowly teacher with no voice in AFT, NYSUT, or UFT Unity, where pretty much all the decisions take place. Alas,  I'm not even a Rubber Stamp who goes to the conventions and votes as told.

Is it a good strategy to pick only battles you think you can win? I guess it could look good on a pamphlet. "We got more money for schools." Ignore the fact that you're being judged by test scores, and likely as not test scores of kids you've never taught, or the grades of kids to whom you teach other subjects. That's just one of those inconvenient truths, and if they meant anything, Al Gore would be an ex-President by now.

Most importantly, it appears Cuomo has indeed heard us, and is waving the extra money in the air only on the condition we accept all his reformy nonsense.  That makes this effort appear super-ridiculous. In retrospect, it may not have been all that wise to take this approach, particularly a week in advance. It would've been much better for us to have reacted to Cuomo, rather than sink millions of member dollars into a commercial that actually helped him plan his approach.

Zephyr Teachout, who UFT and NYSUT failed to support twice last year, says what's on the minds of thinking teachers:

...he is holding children hostage to the demands of his Wall Street donors and his personal political motivations, while kids go to school in overcrowded classrooms without arts, sports, or counselors. He is right that we have one system for the rich and one for the poor, but the reasons is clear: the disparate funding that is his legacy,” she said.

And despite our bold Twitter campaign, which the UFT President initiated but couldn't be bothered participating in, it's hard for me to say that it's really helped do anything. Sure, maybe the UFT and NYSUT increased their mailing lists or something.

But this has not proven, in my view at least, the optimal hour for sitting around on Twitter and hoping for the best.

Dueling Ad Buys

Looks to me like, leading up to Governor Cuomos speech today, the StudentsFirstNY ad is drowning out NYSUT's. Yesterday morning I saw it frequently repeated on the morning news shows I like the NYSUT ad but it's not as strong as what I'd like to see. One thing NYSUT has that SFNY doesn't is an ostensibly reliable source, the NY Times. It demands fair funding for schools, but it doesn't demand that viewers contact Cuomo, their state representatives, or indeed anyone.

I have no idea why they left that out. It may not be the deal-breaker we're looking for. Of course, even if it is, until and unless someone breaks out that orange jumpsuit with Andy's number on it, we're stuck with him for another four years.

I think an uninformed viewer, I suppose the target audience, will be more drawn to the StudentsFirstNY ad. Big banner proclaims,  "Our schools are failing." We've heard that so often, and for so long, that we aren't all that likely to question it. Cuomo spouts platitudes with the best of them. All our kids will be smart, he says. I can only suppose the obstacle to that is those perfidious teachers, on their quest to make kids dumb. There's no reference to fair funding, which by this time the viewer has forgotten, if NYSUT's ad even registered at all. Let's make everyone smart. Who could oppose such a goal?

Of course, if we were smart, it would behoove us to educate ourselves. Cuomo calls himself the "student lobbyist," but has issued a one-two punch to schools that makes it virtually impossible to enable the world class education he's so fond of promising. The Gap Elimination Adjustment has cut aid to schools to such an extent that class sizes will rise, programs will be eliminated, and kids will suffer. Add to that Cuomo's signature policy of not allowing property tax to rise over 2% without 60% approval and you've got a sure way to deteriorate public education. Of course Cuomo himself couldn't achieve 60% approval, but he doesn't hold himself to that standard. He wins even as our kids lose.

Not at all sure the dueling ads will make a difference. It's particularly frustrating when most of the media is asleep, either by choice, paid for loyalty, or sheer laziness. I've read multiple op-ed columns in the times that looked as if they were recycled PR reports from Students First NY. Who knows how much these people get paid to spout uninformed gobbledygook for the paper of record?

I'll tweet today in support of what #AllKidsNeed, but I'm not altogether sure about #InviteCuomo. I'd just as soon have a virus in my room as a demagogue. Will it work?

I understand the skepticism. I share it, in fact. But what the hell, I'm up for a day of tweeting. Will it get us anywhere? I hope against hope it does. But I'm afraid years of neglect, years of accepting reformy nonsense, years of trying to appear reasonable by appeasing  fanatical ideologues are not gonna be wiped out by a bunch of unionists and newbies on Twitter. This fight would be a lot more interesting, for example, if union leadership opposed Common Core, as at least one union president has, like a healthy plurality of New Yorkers and every working teacher I know.

Dissenting opinions welcome. I'd love to be persuaded otherwise.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Prepping Machine Rolls On, High-Stakes Style

Some people think standardized tests are the best measures of how well students actually think.  These same people fail to realize that even many questions that seem to test critical-thinking skills can be learned through drills and rote memorization.  I can speak personally to the subject of history.

One very old Regents question, for instance, asks for an immediate result of the Magna Carta.  The correct answer reads an "increase in the power of nobles."  When teachers prep, knowing the Regents tend to ask the same questions, they tell students that the "Magna Carta increased the power of the nobles."  It is a Regents concept, quite simply put, which students must memorize.  There is nothing higher order about it.  Students might not fully understand either the Magna Carta, its historical context or the power of the nobles at that point in history, but they have learned how to look for the right answer.  They might not understand the importance of rights, but they must understand the importance of being right!  Witness the power of prep, high-stakes style!

Students sometimes stop by for tutoring.  It is a professional assignment, one I like--because I like working with students.  Most teachers do.  Imagine that!  We discussed Reconstruction the other day.  As we examined old Regents questions, despite the challenges of language faced by the student, I could point out that more times than not the answer seems to be "black codes," a reference to laws passed by Southern legislatures to severely restrict the freedoms of freed persons and force them into a new form of basically debt-based slavery.  Even if the student didn't understand entirely my attempt to explain the concept, she can learn to look for the term "black codes" paired with "limited basic rights of freed persons."  I would hope she understands the concept of rights, but even if she doesn't, she can learn to find the right answer.  Although she doesn't know a great deal of English, she can help herself by learning some "tricks" and how to pair terms and concepts.  

One year when I taught Global, I gave students a list of things they should know for the Regents.  Sometimes, I ask them to make the list themselves.  They can easily do so.  If students are trained to do things like pair John Locke with natural rights, they may do well enough.  There are formulas for success.

Even if a few new questions pop up here and there or everything is completely overhauled via the mysterious "Core," students and teachers will still find ways to game the new test.  It just may take a little time.  Welcome to the new world of high-stakes review!

In case you have to prep for the Global History Regents this year, here are some "higher-order" concepts you might want to have your students pair in their heads, a.k.a., Global History reduced to platitudes:

1.  Civilization begins in...river valleys.
2.  Trade routes are so important to the growth of civilization.
3.  Romans excelled at law, engineering, republican government, then military conquest and empire building.
4.  Religions provide guidelines for moral/ethical behavior.
5.  Taoism, Shinto and Animism respect the divine forces of nature.
6.  The Byzantines preserved Graeco-Roman learning and influenced Russia.  
7.  The Golden Age of Islam achieved advancements in math, science and literature.  
8.  The collapse of Rome's central government led to feudalism (an exchange of land for military service).
9.  The manor was the economic unit of feudalism.
10.  The crusades encouraged trade, towns, cultural diffusion.

Remember, your professional life may depend upon hammering these concepts into your students' heads.  If you hammer in the wrong concepts, even if they're right or of equal importance in your opinion, you may be wrong.  We all know how high the price can be for being "wrong" in this new era of educational deformity.  Play the game.  As the prepping machine rolls on, you must roll the dice, high-stakes style.  If you don't, you may end up with the educational equivalent of the card that reads "Go to jail.  Go directly to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200."

 What fun when "reformers" have a Monopoly on education!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Can We Promote Governor 1% to Governor 4%, and How Do Charters Work?

Lately, there's a lot of negative talk about Andrew Cuomo, what with his juvenile efforts to penalize teachers for not having supported his re-election. And let's face it, most of us took that position simply because he hates us and everything we stand for. Cuomo seems to think think we should look past that and support him anyway.

A lot of people call Andrew Cuomo Governor 1%, because he represents the economic interests of only the very wealthy. But the governor has cast himself as a student lobbyist, and in that sense, he may also represent the 3% of NY students who attend charter schools.

Sure, you say, he doesn't represent your students. He doesn't represent your children. And the way he advocates for his own kids is by sending them to private schools. You don't think Andrew Cuomo would send his kids to a Moskowitz school, do you? Who really wants their kids subject to endless test prep?

But it's important to charter chains to appear to work miracles. That's why their teachers are at work 12 hours a day. That's why they bring work home, and many carry around cell phones so parents can contact them after work. Why should they or anyone have personal lives when there are tests to be taken? That's why so many of them do not last long in these test prep factories, and that's why kids who don't cut it are routinely tossed back into public schools. We take everyone, and are routinely vilified for doing so.

A friend who works in a building with a colocated Moskowitz Academy told me she saw a kid admonished for coughing. The teacher asked if the kid was dying, and said if he wasn't, to just get back in line. This is an incredibly callous way to speak to a child, and any teacher who spoke to my kid like this would not welcome my reaction. In fact, Chancellor's Regulation A-421 protects schoolchildren from verbal abuse. Of course, such protections don't apply to charter school kids, who can be made to wear orange shirts, veritable dunce caps, for unwelcome behavior. There are no excuses, and basic human functions, like coughing, simply cannot be tolerated.

Moskowitz had a hotline to Joel Klein, and she clearly saw her needs as more important than those of public schools. Friends of mine tell me that attitude trickles down to even the students, who have no problem ridiculing the public school kids, even for their handicaps, and whose teachers may even look on as they do so. There is clearly a separate and unequal environment, and it's bolstered by folks like Andrew Cuomo, who has no qualms about taking millions in contributions from charter supporters. They're certainly getting their money's worth.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers is less than bullish on NY.  Of 21 rated states, NY rates 18, scoring only 7 of 30 possible points. While I don't spend a whole lot of time at Chalkbeat NY (since they've adopted their ponderous new user-unfriendly format), I read Rise and Shine every day, and haven't noticed their mentioning this. Every time Eva Moskowitz coughs, they have a feature. Every time E4E gets a hundred signatures urging more work for less pay, its a revelation. But this hasn't gotten a whole lot of play, if any, over there.

In fact, I don't recall reading about this in the Post, the News, or even the faux-liberal NY Times. There's clearly a pro-charter bias in MSM, and I rarely see much beyond superficial analysis. If 100% of charter kids attend four-year colleges, but 66% of the cohort has dropped out or transferred to public school, what the hell sort of accomplishment does that represent? If they don't take ESL students or kids with special needs, like we do, what does that mean?

And even if they do take those kids, how severe are their needs? Do they take kids from El Salvador who arrived last week, and who know not one word of English? Do they take alternate assessment students who will never earn a Regents diploma? We do.

If charters were what they claimed to be, they'd take only the highest needs kids, and work their magic. If not, if they discourage entrants and get rid of inconvenient children, if they dismiss entire cohorts they find inconvenient, they are hardly Superman.

Here's the big thing, though. Even if we disregard the miserable records of charter schools, if Andrew Cuomo, student lobbyist can't even guarantee that Eva's students are protected by the corporal punishment and verbal abuse regs that protect the kids I teach, who the hell is he representing? Certainly not kids who are dragged to Albany as political pawns on a school day. Certainly not kids who can be reprimanded for coughing, or kids who can be publicly humiliated by people whose job, ostensibly, is supporting them. Clearly Governor Cuomo represents the 1% who fund charters and fill his campaign coffers, and not any of the kids for whom he claims to lobby.

This notwithstanding, in defense of Governor 1%, I have no issue with his upcoming trip to Cuba. I think it's great that he's taking the trip, and I wouldn't even mind if he did so with my tax dollars. My only reservations, frankly, are about allowing him back into NY State. Many of us who live here actually love our children and communities, and care intensely about even the 97% of our children who attend public schools.

Friday, January 16, 2015

DA Report

Mulgrew preached gloom and doom to the faithful on Wednesday night. Cuomo, having taken millions from reformy types, appears to wish to eviscerate union. While this is really nothing new, Mulgrew has decided it's time to take action. To wit, he asks us to:

a. Sign up for a UFT action alert campaign, entailing joining Twitter and using a few pre-approved hashtags,
b. Like UFT on Facebook, and
c. Follow UFT on Twitter.

This, in the view of the President of the United Federation of Teachers, will somehow help to halt Andrew Cuomo's attempt to circumvent tenure and collective bargaining by placing troubled schools into receivership. This will help stop him from eliminating the charter cap. This will further, hopefully, prevent merit pay, pension deterioration, and five year renewable so-called tenure. None of that old-fashioned mobilization nonsense for us, particularly since over 80% of us can't even be bothered voting for leadership.

Mulgrew pointed to the odd NY State legislative laws, and said that if the budget is rejected Cuomo would have enormous power to enact changes via executive order. He pointed to Cuomo's planned tax refunds, which will lock in a whole lot of suburban legislators. Everyone loves getting money in the mail, and Governor Cuomo has no issue buying off whoever needs buying off.

Mulgrew says we will not fight over evaluation, because then Cuomo will contend we didn't want it. This is an odd position, in my view, because there's now a movement, supported by our insane governor and private-schooled Merryl Tisch, to make state measures 40%, and to rate any teacher ineffective who doesn't meet the junk science standard. A large tenet of the Revive NYSUT campaign to overthrow leadership was that Iannuzzi had initiated the APPR law. They always seemed to forget that he did so with the express cooperation of Mike Mulgrew. The problem, of course, is that teachers really don't want a junk science evaluation system. Evidently, what teachers want is not a factor we consider during a substantive battle.

Another big idea from UFT leadership is to improve the perception of struggling schools. Such schools have large populations of ESL and special needs students. Mulgrew says if we do that, something that's never been done, we will immensely enhance our credibility. I did not hear arguments about addressing, for example, poverty. Nonetheless, given that we heard very similar arguments about UFT charter schools, and given they have not proven to be the magic promised, I'm not sure precisely what fuels the President's rampant optimism.

Mulgrew says Cuomo does not wish to fight over school funding and exploding class sizes, and that this will therefore be a more promising area in which to fight. This is curious to me, since we've done absolutely nothing to improve class sizes in my entire 30-year teaching career. Every chapter leader knows the only instrument that really regulates class size is the UFT Contract. Mulgrew himself just negotiated his first contract, and while we were successful in getting us the raise most city employees got ten years late with no interest, we did absolutely nothing to improve class sizes. I'm not sure how credible we are making class size demands.

Mulgrew referred to a pretty well-bandied about fact--Cuomo is angry about his pathetic margin of victory, and vindictive that we and NYSUT failed to support him. He clearly failed to appreciate our bizarre tactic of failing to oppose him. The largest threat to Andrew Cuomo would have been a serious opponent on the left, to with, Zephyr Teachout on the Working Families Party. Unions, including UFT, were adament that WFP support Cuomo, threatening to withhold support of the party altogether if it didn't.

And, of course, when Teachout redirected her energies to opposing Cuomo in the Democratic primary, AFT President Randi Weingarten made robocalls for Cuomo's running mate, Kathy Hochul, after the NY Times endorsed Teachout's running mate, Tim Wu. Oh, the ingratitude of Andrew Cuomo. He even vetoed his own initiative for a temporary safety net for teachers against the results of the Common Core tests that fail 70% of our students.

So was it a bad idea for us to usher in mayoral control that closed almost every comprehensive high school in the city? Should we not have supported the failed quasi-merit pay program, charter schools, Common Core, colocations, and the ATR? Will a bunch of UFT-endorsed tweets stop Cuomo from bribing the taxpayers and appeasing his multi-million dollar contributors?

If we hadn't done all that, would it now be as easy for Cuomo to push his odious corporate agenda on a misinformed public? Tough to say for sure, but I've seen no evidence our go-along-with-whatever policy has helped anyone but the reformies who bought and paid for Andrew Cuomo.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Keeping Up Appearances in the Age of Educational Deformity

This Age of Educational Deformity is all about appearances.  It is not about substance.  We play a high-stakes game.  Most of us are just pawns, including some of those persons who fancy themselves generals.  If enough pawns unite, however, they can overthrow any king.

The growing concern over bulletin boards has everything to do with keeping up appearances.  Are you displaying student work with effective feedback?  I have learned over the years that student art works better in the classroom than rough and final drafts strewn with comments.  People take the time to look at it.  It livens up the atmosphere and can be readily digested.  Few students will find the time to read a paper hung on the wall.  Some students don't want their papers hung on the wall.  I don't want to hang a paper with a grade on it on the wall unless I ask a student first.  I don't want to go around the room asking students when I know it is all for show.

Teachers must also appear to have a rubric for this and a rubric for that.  I'm here to tell you that rubrics are not harbingers of objective grading.  I prefer to ask students to give me a well-written paper with separate paragraphs for an introduction and conclusion.  The introduction must state the thesis.  The body paragraphs must defend it.  There must be a clear line of organization.  The conclusion must not leave the reader disappointed.  There must be an overwhelming amount of factual information provided.  This last point is very important to me:  "hammer it home with good specifics!"  I could attempt to put all this into a chart with thirty boxes, but it is a waste of my time.  No student wants to read thirty boxes of stuff.  When I grade, I balance and weigh factors.  It will never be a science, but I try to grade fairly.  My mind has more than thirty boxes in it.

For those who demand showy lesson plans, aligned with tenets of the Core, again, I say it's all about appearances.  When we submit our lesson plans for Danielson-based evaluations, they are supposed to refer to certain NY State or Common-Core bullet points.  They should show differentiation.  My lesson plans are happy sketches.  They are malleable.  I fill in spaces as I react to the interests of students.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  I wouldn't want to plow on with a pre-packaged plan if I had lost the interest of my students.

There is nothing that points to the importance of keeping up appearances more than statistics.  Everything is about stats.  Take graduation rates, for example.  During the Bloomberg years, teachers citywide were encouraged to push more students along to save schools from extinction.  There was a ballooning of credit-recovery schemes.  Diplomas were cheapened.  We had an "Education Mayor," but at what cost?  D.C. had a Rhee.  Her test scores skyrocketed, but at what cost?  Blue skies, smiles and merit pay.  Then, along came a seeming scandal of unsavory erasures.

Some charter schools appear great.  What Success!  But do they work with the most disadvantaged of the disadvantaged?  Do they work with those with the biggest language obstacles or the most special needs?  Or, do they fail to recruit and accept those who do not meet the grade?  Do they push out students who fall short academically and behaviorally?

In so many ways, we are about appearances.  In so many ways, these appearances are often deceptive.  They distract from the real business of teaching.  In the last decade, appearances have become more important than realities.  I would rather be honest and, if necessary, say, "Please excuse our appearances.  Under renovation.  Under reality."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

No One Is Happy

An assistant principal said that to me the other day. I was saying that teachers are constantly under pressure, facing constant evaluation no matter what. The AP countered with the pressures on an AP. I suppose having to do 200 evaluations a month, or whatever the hell it is, can be daunting. I'm certainly glad I don't have to tell people they did this or that ineffectively.

Nonetheless, even teachers receiving effective ratings are unhappy. There's a cloud hanging over our heads, a cloud by the name of Danielson, and it's not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. I haven't really determined whether the 8 domains is better than the 22.  But even if it's the bestest thing ever, it's really kind of daunting to know that no matter how highly effective you are rated they need to keep checking up on you.

Arwen had a great column comparing the old observations and the new ones, and I think most who read it concluded that this largely incomprehensible checklist nonsense represents no improvement whatsoever. Sadly, I have no faith that a crazy supervisor will listen to the voices of your students any more carefully than he listens to those in his head. Also, I think it's preposterous to attempt to remove human error. By doing so, you kind of remove the human element altogether. Arwen used Hawthorne's The Birthmark to illustrate that, and I learned more from that story than I ever expect to learn from Danielson.

This clarion call for standardization is also evident in the demand for rubrics. I hate rubrics. I have hated them ever since I started grading the English Regents that contained them. I got a feel for what they were looking for and I was able to grade them fairly easily. A former colleague of mine got all bogged down in checking the rubrics and I would grade a class set while she was struggling with paper number three.

But I know what I want from student writing. I want kids to address the question. I want them to be careful. I want them to check their writing for errors. I want them to show me they actually care about what they've written, and if they don't, I want them to act like they do anyway. I want them to spell writing with one t. I want them to use structures I've taught them correctly, and ultimately I want them to express their own ideas with clarity and precision. As I teach beginning ESL students, the last goal will take them a little more time.

As for what supervisors want from us, it's tough to say. Is there really such a thing as low inference notes? Can we really keep our feelings out of our observations? Is it a good thing if we do? Feelings are important. For example, I want my students to be happy. I want them to enjoy my class. I want them to know they can speak freely and no one will make fun of their English or discourage them in any way.

I'm fortunate in that I feel only the normal amount of apprehension about this system that loudly announces, "I don't trust you," in every element of its origin and composition. But I know a teacher who I met as a young woman who's been beaten down into the ground by this. She's terrified. She no longer loves to come to work. And she's representative of a lot of teachers I meet and speak with. The only real advantage I have over her is that I lack the common sense to be terrified.

Unlike David Coleman, I really, really want kids I serve, kids I help, kids I love, to be happy. I absolutely give a crap how they feel, even if the father of the Common Core thinks no one does. In fact, that's probably more important than whether or not their subjects and verbs agree. Now I will deny that if you repeat it in front of my students. I hope they're happy anyway.

But no one else seems to be. And whether David Coleman thinks so, whether John King thinks so, whether anyone who runs this system or our union thinks so, that is a fundamental problem.

If we want to have a productive and worthwhile education system, we need to fix it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My 2015 U.F.T.-Unity Wish List

I know I can't make resolutions for UFT-Unity.  But I do wonder if Unity could give us a great big gift in 2015, other than a cushy job with a double pension in its offices in exchange for unwavering loyalty, what might it be?  Some, I know, might wish for their COPE payments back.  Some might wish for their UFT dues.  Here, I differ.  I have a different vision:

1.  I wish Unity would send its representatives to find out what teachers really want--not just send its representatives to sell teachers near faits accomplis, such as seemingly sub-par contracts.  After all, shouldn't they be representing us?

2.  I wish Unity would allow all Union voting to take place in schools.  It would greatly increase voter turnout.  At present, less than twenty percent of working UFT members care to elect their representatives via snail mail.

3.  I wish Unity would scrap the Loyalty Oath and the attitudes that give rise to it.  I wish Unity would welcome opposing ideas, not as enemies, but as alternatives worthy of consideration.  Many of the people who put forth opposing ideas are die-hard unionists.

4.  I wish Unity would allow talented and highly committed individuals who love their Union to work in its offices without swearing an oath of allegiance, signing away their conscience or their right to represent a constituency.

5.  I wish Unity would mobilize its membership more.  We are a formidable force.  We are NYC.

6.  I wish Unity would wage war against junk science.

7.  I wish Unity would cease bargaining and selling.  I wish it would fight wars based more upon common sense and moral conscience.

8.  I wish every Unity member who stood as a placeholder for Unity bigwigs at the AFT convention had spoken his own mind first, free from fear or "sycophanticism."

9.  I wish Unity would stop selling membership measures based on fear.  Go to the back of the line, "#151."  "The cupboard is bare."  When your Union feeds you humble pie, it begs so many other questions.

10.  I wish Unity would stop compromising with people who would destroy us.  We, on the front lines, bear the brunt of battle.  We are not expendable, ATRs included.

11.   I wish Unity would let high schools vote for their representatives as in the past, rather than the current policy of making the position at large.

12.  I wish Unity would allow chapter leaders to once again elect district representatives.  It seems more democratic.

13.  I wish Unity would recognize that when less than twenty percent of its membership cares to vote in a time of crisis for public education, the very lifeblood of the union is endangered.

14.  I wish Unity would recognize that its recent successful bid to increase the weight of retiree ballots, solidifying its own victory, seems overtly sad and pathetic.

15.  I wish Unity would realize that in these important times, when the future of public education is at stake, the UFT has a very important role to play.  If it falls short or turns its back on its rank and file, history will not be forgiving.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Police and the Teachers

I don't support NYPD's turning their backs to Mayor de Blasio. What de Blasio said to his son, in view of what was happening in NYC and around the country was perfectly reasonable. I'd have said the same if I were him, and the community who voted for him, perhaps largely because of a commercial in which his son was prominently featured, needed to know that the mayor saw that. He opposed stop and frisk, ran on a platform saying so, and moved to block it. He has never said a disparaging word about NYPD.

On the other hand, I've watched Rudy Giuliani say teachers don't deserve raises because they stink. This was Rudy's way of arguing for merit pay, which has been around for a hundred years and has never worked anywhere. This argument, of course, is not restricted to Giuliani, and is bandied about by politicians statewide and nationally. It's discussed in op-eds as though it's common sense. Of course, common sense is the least common of all the senses, and this sort of blather has pervaded all of MSM, up to and including the allegedly liberal New York Times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg treated us like something he had to scrape off of his Florsheims. He gave the police an 8% two year raise, and he gave FDNY and virtually every other union the same during an economic downturn. In lieu of that, he gave us a middle finger, threatened to lay us off, tried very hard to destroy our seniority rights (thought not those of any other union), and said he'd like to fire half of us and double class sizes. I don't know about you, but I've had very tough classes of 34. It's idiotic, counter-productive, and incredibly thoughtless to contemplate classes of 68 kids at a time.

With the financial support of the extremely right-wing, extremely wealthy Koch Brothers, Scott Walker decimated union in Wisconsin. He eliminated collective bargaining, and made unions vote annually for dues checkoff. Of course he didn't do that for police. Michael Bloomberg famously referred to the police as his private army. And someone has to protect Walker from the crowds that surrounded his capital when they realize how badly they're being screwed. Pretty much all of the above is disparate treatment.

The press regularly vilifies us. I've seen Campbell Brown and her nonsensical arguments plastered everywhere. Judging from the extremely selective stories she tells, literally based on a handful of cases, you'd think teachers were sexual predators. You'd think people like Bloomberg and his pawns ought to be able to fire us at will, based on unsubstantiated or even rejected allegations. I've read stories in the Daily News and the Post that mirrored her blather. I'm familiar with precisely one of the cases she endlessly repeats and I happen to know the teacher in question deserved nothing more than a caution to be careful of how his words can be interpreted. This is a lesson that teacher, after unmerited years in the rubber room and thousands in unnecessary fines, probably knows better than any other teacher in the city.

The NYPD officer, on the other hand, was facing a man strangled to death, and on video. This was ruled a homicide. A grand jury, however, cleared the officer. I don't hear Campbell Brown loudly crying for this officer's job. I don't see articles about him in the tabloids demanding justice. And in case it isn't clear, this officer was not accused of making a distasteful statement. This officer killed someone, someone who said, "I can't breathe," eleven times, and the video is all over the internet.

I would understand the cops turning their backs to the mayor on the basis of the crap contract they're being offered. My very first act of unionism was marching with UFT at a Labor Day parade in which we planned to do that to David Dinkins. We were all wearing black t-shirts that said, "Shame on City Hall" on the back. But we weren't at a funeral, and we weren't making the preposterous claim that Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands. Because our plan was no secret at all, Dinkins ran off to a tennis match somewhere rather than face us. Apparently, we are supposed to respect the authority of the police, no one may ever question the actions of a single police officer, and no one may warn their children to be careful when dealing with the police, even after we watch a man killed by a police officer on video.

On the other hand it's perfectly fine to vilify teachers, to stereotype us based on shoddy evidence, and to deprive us of due process based on a handful of sensationalized cases. We should trust in the good graces of folks like Mike Bloomberg and Dennis Walcott, and we should disregard the fact that they are fanatical ideologues with no regard for evidence or truth.

Is this because teaching is a profession dominated by women? Is it because time and time again our union leadership has compromised with folks like Bloomberg, embracing mayoral control, charter schools, colocations, two-tier due process, and things that looked very much like merit pay? Is it because the job of educating our children must always take second place to the importance of enriching the likes of Pearson, Eva Moskowitz and Rupert Murdoch? All of the above?

No more multiple choice questions for today. Today's a day for reflection. Why is there one standard for police, and a very different one for teachers? Why is it so widely accepted by the media? Is it the job of our union leadership to let the public know this? Is it possible to even do that, and if so, how?