Saturday, February 28, 2015

UFT Charter School--Another Spectacular Failure for Leadership

As far as charters go, the UFT has not found the secret sauce. When charter schools showed up, it was important for leadership to show they knew better than anyone else. Turns out, though, that they didn't know diddly squat about how to run a high performing charter.

The way to make your charter great is to reach amazing test scores. You do this, of course, by selecting kids who already get amazing test scores. First, you place obstacles to entry, like a lottery, for example. After that, you make requirements for parents, like giving time to the school. That's pretty inconvenient. If I'm an indifferent parent who somehow won the lottery, I'm gonna send my kids right back to PS Whatever.

Then, of course, it's no excuses for the kids. If they act up, you can dress them up in prison orange and humiliate them. That's no problem, because charters aren't subject to chancellor's regs. Were I to treat a kid like that (and I wouldn't think of it), I'd be sitting in the principal's office facing A-420, corporal punishment. Of course, corporal punishment, verbal abuse, and all other such wonder is fine in charters. Zero tolerance is for the kids. Eva Moskowitz can spend enormous amounts of money dragging her little pawns to Albany to lobby for what they're told to lobby for, and that's tolerated from Governor Cuomo right on up to President Obama.

There is no magic. That's why charter bigshot Geoffrey Canada got to dump not one, but two cohorts in the quest for the Holy Grail that is test scores. In fact, you don't eradicate poverty, high-needs, or lack of English ability via good intentions. If your goal is to get test scores that make everyone jump up and pay heed, the only sure way is via being selective in enrollment. If you want to advertise that 100% of your grads go to four-year schools, all you need to do is dump every student who doesn't appear poised to meet that goal, even if that's two-thirds of your cohort. And that's been done repeatedly by charter-running publicity hounds.

While there's a big brouhaha over suspensions, over whether suspensions actually hurt kids, the only schools affected by it are public schools. And it turns out we don't suspend nearly as many kids as charters. They, of course, aren't subject to suspension requirements because they don't need no stinking rules. All they need is the freedom to use every tool at their disposal to get rid of kids who don't make them look good.

UFT leadership, to its credit, was not willing to play that game. But just like they did when they failed to allocate enough money to pay recent retirees, they played a weak chess game. They failed to look ahead. They failed to see what they charter movement was all about. They assumed it was somehow idealistic rather than a direct assault on public schools. And in the end they were unable to compete with their utterly unscrupulous privatizing colleagues.

Not only that, but they weakened our potential as a force for truth. By supporting charters, they failed to anticipate what the charter movement was about. By actually indulging in co-location, they made it very difficult for us to argue against it. And by actually failing, they gave our opponents ammunition to make the false argument that union contracts are an impediment to student achievement.

This is one more in a series of entirely predictable outcomes of living in an echo chamber and failing utterly to engage membership.

Related: EdNotes Online

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Does Bill de B. Want Mayoral Control?

In the news, I've been reading that Mayor Bill de Blasio wants mayoral control to be permanent, rather than sunset every three years. Emperor Cuomo opposes this idea, for reasons beyond my meager comprehension. It could just be that he wants to stick it to de Blasio, who after all happens to be a powerful politician who is not Andrew Cuomo. Or it could just be that you can't predict the behavior of malignant narcissistic self-important self-serving sociopathic lunatics.  Who knows what evil lurks in the alleged heart of Andrew Cuomo?

Anyway, I know some of you may be eating, so I'll change the subject. Mayor de Blasio is much more of a mystery, because despite his being, admittedly, a politician, I've seen no signs he's insane. Mayoral control was a disaster under he whose name should not be spoken (Bloomberg, for those of you who are new here). He closed schools, created charters, placed lifetime teachers into the Absent Teacher Reserve, allowed them to be relentlessly stereotyped, and when it came up again, UFT leadership asked for some modifications, failed to get them, and supported it to again. That's what they call "solutions-driven unionism." No doubt you have some other term for it.

I guess everyone likes power, Bill de B. included. But here's the thing--the man ran on a platform that suggested he wished to stop, or at least slow down, the rampant reforminess that had been stinking up the place for the past decades. That was one of the reasons I worked for him, contributed to his campaign, and went to the inauguration. Sure, I froze to death, but it was worth it to see the sour pusses on Bloomberg and Cuomo, neither of whom the tasteful Mr. de Blasio invited to say word one.

But last year Emperor Andy decided that it was too much to allow de B. mayoral control. When de Blasio tried to stop Eva Moskowitz from spreading her corporate-backed charters, Andy went and passed some law saying if he wouldn't colocate them he had to pay for them anyway. Cuomo then became a big hero, appearing at the atrocious Albany rally to which Eva dragged all her little pawn/ students. I can't help but recall what UFT leadership did to block this, which was absolutely nothing. I also can't help but recall a very highly-placed source in NYSUT who assured me my union president approved of this.

So here's my real question--aside from the power over charter schools, which de Blasio doesn't have anymore, and the power to close schools and shuffle kids, making it appear something is happening when that is not the case, there are certain perks the mayor gets under mayoral control. One is the abomination called the PEP, the fake Board of Education that allows communities to get up and comment and then does whatever the hell the mayor wants. I'm not precisely sure why anyone who believed in democracy rather than dictatorship would want such a thing, but there you have it.

Cuomo appears to be doing the right thing here, but that's surely only because he has no understanding of the implications. If his reformy BFFs take Gracie Mansion again, they'll have to renew it just like he whose name should not be spoken. Of course, if even UFT will not oppose this awful idea, it won't much matter anyway. 

With Cuomo in place, mayoral control is only effective with a mayor like Bloomberg, who believes in Eva Moskowitz more than life itself. Cuomo has shown himself perfectly willing to block anything resembling sanity in mayoral control. So while there may be some marginal temporary benefit, somewhere, for Bill de Blasio in not having to renew mayoral control, in the long-run, it's a disaster for democracy, for New York City, and for 1.1 million schoolchildren.

And in the end, for this mayor, it's only as much control as Emperor Andy wishes to relinquish, with deep pocketed Moskowitz BFFs having a veto over absolutely everything. Say it ain't so, Bill.  Give power back to the communities that make up our public schools.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Look What Bill de B. Found in the Sofa Cushions

Man, when I read things like this I just don't know what to say. Just a few short months ago I was at the New York Hilton with my school's delegates and Punchy Mike Mulgrew was regaling us with tales of how the cupboard was bare and we'd have to wait an extra ten years for the money most city employees had received by 2010. It was the best they could do. Retro pay was not a God-given right.

You see, until that point, I'd thought the city pattern was sacrosanct. After all, when we wanted to get a little more than the pattern, we were told we had to give back, and boy did we give back. We gave up seniority rights and sentenced thousands of experienced teachers to be wandering ATRs. We made sure thousands of teachers would be patrolling lunchrooms, halls and bathrooms. Because perish forbid anyone should have more than 40 minutes to prepare the classes that Charlotte Danielson demands these days.

But every time I turn around, there's more money. The week after I find out that Mike failed to get the city to pay for the large retro payment for recent retirees, I see that Scott Stringer up and found a billion dollars. That's a lot of cash. It kind of makes me wonder why UFT needs to pick the pockets of every working teacher to fulfill the city's contractual obligations. Why the hell did leadership place a dollar figure on retirees? Wasn't it obvious to anyone remotely paying attention that a huge immediate payment is a tremendous incentive?

You'd think so, but you'd be wrong. As far as I can tell,this particular tidbit eluded absolutely every person in leadership. Thus, they agreed to a dollar amount to make these payments, asked the city nicely to make up the difference after people retired in droves, and when the city declined, decided to pass the cost onto us, the members. Thanks a lot, leadership. Money ten years later, and a few extra deductions to keep the promises for which you failed to plan.

However, on the positive side, I just got a great magazine from NYSUT. Since I have to wait another five years for the money I earned on 2010, I can now purchase a treadmill for 26 easy payments of 41.99. Or a coffee machine for 32 easy payments of 3.33. And best of all, I don't have to pay any interest!

That's a good thing, because the city owes me around $40,000 right now, and they won't be paying me any interest either.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To Lobby or Not to Lobby?

March 4th is Lobby Day for UFT. A whole lot of people are being bused to Albany to talk to legislators. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of room on the bus. Our group, the last I heard, only had 15 seats. I’d go anyway, in my own car, if I thought it would make a difference. That’s what I did the first and only time I went.

Basically we sat for a rubber chicken dinner in a hotel somewhere, were assigned to a group, and someone who led the group gave the UFT line to legislators we visited. The year I went, Bloomberg was trying to destroy seniority rights for NYC teachers only. Our pal John Flanagan thought that was a good idea, even though it affected precisely zero teachers in his home district.

If I recall correctly, Shelly Silver addressed us. The theme of the day was that Bloomberg was the Antichrist and Andrew Cuomo savior. At the time, Cuomo was pretty high on the new statewide APPR. He felt it wasn’t necessary to eviscerate seniority rights because his new rating system would fire a sufficient number of teachers. How things have changed.

Now, Cuomo is freaked out because not enough teachers have gotten poor ratings. What particularly irks him is that Long Island teachers are getting good ratings. This is odd because if Long Island were a state, it would have the highest graduation rate in the country, among other things. But when Eva Moskowitz’s BFFs have paid $1.6 million for you to trash public education and send tax money their way, facts go by the wayside.

Interestingly, on March 4th UFT will be battling with the Moskowitz Academies for attention. They’re closing their schools and busing thousands of kids and parents to Albany for the day. Last year, Governor Andy was fundamental in organizing this rally, and spoke at it. For her part, Eva, making sure this was the worst field trip ever, claimed she was making kids do schoolwork on the bus.

Last time I went to Lobby Day I was trying to organize a rally at my own school. So I actually broke away from the group and managed to extract promises to show from several local politicians. If UFT really wanted me there I’d go. But actually there’s a PTA meeting, and I’m going there instead. Judging from the crap I read in the papers, I doubt a whole lot of people know what’s really going on. I’m going to try and tell our school’s parents.

On Cuomo, UFT has a good message to deliver this year.  I support it absolutely.

I can’t help but wonder, though. What if we had supported Zephyr Teachout’s bid in the WFP rather than blocking it? What if Cuomo actually had opposition from the left in the general? Would that have helped?

It’s hard to say. I still think Astorino would have been a disaster. But Cuomo is certainly a disaster, we should have known better, and you never know. Think of this—Governor Zephyr Teachout.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Mental Gymnastics of Some U.F.T.-Unity Positions

U.F.T. reps have variously spoken in favor of annual standardized testing (for diagnostic purposes) as well as the Common Core.  Strange how they try to sell these points to the rank and file.

The task of supporting such positions must be far easier if you, yourself, are not a parent, or your children are not school-aged.  Then, you don't have to deal with children losing their natural love for learning as you spout the company line.  You don't have to deal with the painful choices made to prop up a testing-based system like kissing art and music goodbye.  You don't have to deal with the Common-Core aligned homework that arrives each night.  You don't have to try to explain that there's a much simpler way to arrive at the correct answer, one that has been tried and true for a century or more.

If you don't have children of your own, you don't have to worry about the excessive test prep or the anxiety it engenders.  You don't have to worry about kids banging their heads on desks, giving up or trying their best and being repeatedly told that they are failures.

It must be a lot easier to smile upon the official party position if you don't actually have to teach in a classroom.  You can pretend that the Core fell from heaven into the hands of expectant teachers.  You can pretend it is manna in the wilderness.  You can pretend teachers once had nothing to "drive" their instruction.

It you do teach, you probably find these things personally insulting to the professionalism that has guided your career.  You probably find it counterproductive to a number of kids in your diverse student body who learn in different ways and have different strengths.  You probably find standardization negates your creativity as well as that of your students.  You, doubtless, worry about your students and their well being in this "brave, new world."

U.F.T. President Mulgrew and right-hand man Sterling Roberson told the Delegate Assembly that teachers want annual testing for diagnostic purposes; they said parents want it, too.  Who could they have talked to except the eight-hundred Unity faithful who are told what to think and, sometimes handsomely rewarded, for doing so?  I don't know.  I listened to a Unity member speak the other day.  She, too, is a parent.

She had to perform some extraordinary mental gymnastics to try to make the Core and all the testing seem palatable.  She said she had young kids.  They were just starting out with the Core.  She imagined if they had Core from Day 1, straight from the baby bottle, so to speak, they would do just fine with it.  She postulated that the current problem with failure rates in NY State might be that we are asking kids to pick up the Core too late in life.  We are testing a generation who has been shocked into the Core, not weaned on it.  Convenient way to view things because you could be right, until you're proven wrong.

Time will, doubtless, show that the Core effectively sorts people out and puts them in boxes earlier in life.  Working with faulty and narrow definitions, it will widen the divide between those counted as successes and those counted as failures.  Some kids will thrive on standardized tests.  Others who might exhibit a little more creativity, learn in different ways or easily become bored out of their wits will be repeatedly told they are failures until all the joy of learning is sapped out of elementary school.

Since we live in the U.S. and a premium is put upon freedom, perhaps, we should encourage experimental Common Core schools, reliant upon annual testing.  Let the eight hundred Unity reps send their children to these schools as a sign of their good faith.  Let them teach in these types of prep-based academies as well.  If necessary, let them leave their double-pensioned job to do so.  Let them put their money where the mouth is--while the rest of us, who are not paid to spout nonsense, do what we think is best.  And we can check back with them in a few years and see how it's going...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teacher Morale Under Danielson--Between a Rock and a Reformy Place

I get a lot of email from teachers all over, and have done since I placed the email address for this blog on the blog. Unfortunately that address is bloated with spam and solicitations to sell space and hype crap, so it takes me a while to get to it. I also hear from people I actually know all over the city on a fairly regular basis. Being on social media, though, I hear from teachers all over the city in private messages.

I tell people to go to their chapter leaders and they are terrified. They don't trust the chapter leaders. I send them to their district reps and they are sometimes equally afraid. It's pretty rough out there.

Danielson gives us all rules to live by. I've written before that I'm not as down on Danielson as are some of my colleagues. I actually like her notion of what is a highly effective classroom. It's pretty amazing when kids will get up and take charge of their education. I have seen it happen, but I can't count on it happening every day. Of course even if it does I can be dragged down by junk science test scores, but that's another issue.

The real problem is the assumption that, just because there is a rubric, there is fairness. What if your kids eagerly volunteer but your 12-year-old supervisor says they did not? You haven't got a whole lot of options when it's your word against the supervisor. You could videotape it, I suppose, but I always think of the sports commentators saying, "Let's go to the videotape." Should you have a vindictive or small-minded supervisor who wishes to focus on the petty rather than the substantial, that supervisor will overlook absolutely nothing negative, whether or not it merits mention. You may be perfect, but I'm not, and I wouldn't want to go to the videotape forever to observe my shortcomings, whatever they may be.

You know the old saying, garbage in garbage out? I'd say a rubric is only as good as the person who manipulates it. There are great supervisors, and God bless you if you have one. If you don't, life can be pretty tough under the rule of Charlotte Danielson. You can certainly argue that a crazy supervisor could have trashed you under the old system. But the stakes weren't quite as high. This system is NOT designed to encourage or support us. It was championed by Bill Gates, and by Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is now dissatisfied with it because he doesn't see enough negative ratings. This places pressure on supervision to find things wrong where there may or may not actually be any. I'm surprised at what I'm hearing now from some very smart people I've known for years. I haven't actually seen them teach, but it's very hard for me to imagine such thoughtful individuals NOT being great teachers.

There is, of course, the validator who observes teachers rated ineffective, but there is no advantage in that at all. The best you can win from a validator is a good old traditional 3020a in which the DOE has to prove you are incompetent. However, should the validator decide you do indeed suck, you will be placed in the position of having the burden of proof on you, and you will have to prove you are NOT incompetent. That's a high bar indeed. It may not be insurmountable, but it's pretty damn close. And all due respect, but I would never take a job that entailed hurting working teachers like that, not for 15K a year, not for 150K a year, and I do not, frankly, trust anyone who would.

Teacher morale is now somewhere below the proverbial toilet. I implore people to fight Cuomo, and I will join leadership and others in doing so everywhere I can. But the message I'm getting from a lot of people is this--how can I worry about Cuomo when I'm under assault at my very workplace?

It's a very tough question to answer. It's something leadership should have their collective eye on. It kind of makes me feel bad that I, like everyone who questions UFT leadership, am iced out and have no voice whatsoever in the direction of my union. For reasons not entirely clear to me, I'm incapable of the cynicism and apathy that pervades our ranks.

But I certainly understand it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

It's No Fun Fighting the Union

A few weeks back, some guy wrote a really nasty piece about me. It called me a part-time teacher and a part-time union leader. Then it delved into Amazing Kreskin territory, suggesting I was bitter about losing a race for Executive VP of NYSUT, and whatever else the guy was able to come up with. It wouldn't really mean anything except that AFT President Randi Weingarten tweeted a link to it, along with her thoughts on how good it was.

This upset me just a little bit. First of all, I pay her salary, and it is her job to work for me. It is not my job to work for her. It is not my job to agree with her or her friends in leadership. To express my disappointment, I tweeted her much of the night, with questions like "How dare you?" and various comments on how it's unconscionable for a union president to attack a working member. I pointed out that, by endorsing this attack, she was endorsing the label of part-time teacher for every UFT chapter leader in NY.

The truth is that chapter leaders get one class off if they have 100 members or more. My school has over 250 members and I still get only one class off. I represent more people than many NY State union presidents. I'd argue that I'm a full time teacher and an overtime chapter leader, because holy crap, being chapter leader is complicated. I'm not complaining, and if I didn't want the job I wouldn't do it. As it happens, I kind of thrive on chaos.

Eventually Randi conceded and removed the offending tweet, admitting only that I am not a part-time teacher. But I've got to say it would be a whole lot easier to join leadership than do what I do. There are so many benefits. You can go on trips, score cool gigs, and move around with an incredible support group. You can be in the elite and exclusive UFT Unity Caucus, learn the secret handshake, and avoid the awkward moments when the dimmer members of Unity Caucus spout idiotic insults or orders and fully expect you to pat them on the back rather than respond.

You don't have to worry about whether or not the contract is a stinker, because you've signed an oath to love it no matter what. You can go to the DA and smile at whatever Michael Mulgrew says. You don't have to fret when he starts screaming about punching people in the face. When they support mayoral control, so do you. When they support charter schools, so do you. When they support two-tier due process, you jump and shout yippee.

Or whatever. Honestly, there are people in leadership for whom I have great respect. There are others for whom I have none. But the system, the system that fails to consider outside voices is awful. It's beyond ironic to hear UFT leadership criticize the top-down style of Bloomberg.

For me, this is not about winning or losing. If it were, I'd most certainly have joined Unity Caucus. That is unquestionably the path of least resistance. And if they had not come up with so many things that were hurtful to working teachers, to schoolchildren, to community, I'd never consider opposing them. I'm a role model for children. That's my job. I am regularly bombarded with talk, usually hollow talk, from Common Core advocates about critical thinking. Those of us who bother to oppose UFT leadership suffered from critical thinking before it became trendy. That's why we oppose leadership when they support Common Core, which actually tests kids to death in ways that are developmentally inappropriate.

I questioned UFT leadership for years before I ran for EVP, and if any evidence is needed, take a look at this blog after the 2005 contract came out. Running was an amazing experience, I knew it was an uphill battle and took it on anyway. I learned a lot, and I met teachers and leaders all over the state. I learned the UFT concept of union, that you sit down, shut up, and do whatever you told, is not replicated all over the state (though Revive's victory serves to promote and further it). I met amazing union presidents who did amazing things, and even some Revive supporters who I really liked.

For the record, I'm not bitter at all. I loved every moment of it, and win or lose I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Suspension--Are We Helping, or Binding Our Own Hands?

I’m as horrified as anyone when I see an eight-year-old kid marched out of a school in handcuffs. Things like that ought never to happen, and I question the competence of anyone who allows such a thing. I feel the same way about anyone who judges student infractions by who the kids are rather than what they did. Of course we should have as few suspensions as possible, and whatever regulations there are should apply to every school that takes public money, including charters. But I wonder whether we’re doing good by applying blanket measures rather than targeting offenders.

I read pieces that suggest correlations between suspension rates and dropout rates. They don’t surprise me. But can we really label suspension as a causative factor for failure in people who behave badly? Isn’t it far more likely the bad behavior itself causes not only the suspension, but failure in school?

The last time I had a hand in getting a student suspended was about 15 years ago. Students were walking out of my classroom and as I sat down, a kid I’d previously had no problem with pulled a chair out from under me. To this day I have no idea why he did it. But suspension was an appropriate rejoinder, and I don’t regret it at all.

Another time, and also over ten years ago, I was teaching when a student walked into my class shouting obscenities. As far as I could tell, none of my students knew this kid. I asked what he was doing in my room and did not get the sort of answer I was looking for. When I became insistent the student leave, he proposed blowing my head off with a 45, and did so in front of over 30 witnesses. I was told that, because the kid had an IEP, that a phone call home would be the only consequence. I argued that someone who walks around threatening to kill people ought not to be in the same building as my students, but I was overruled. I’m not sure what that kid learned.

In our building, such incidents are the exception rather than the norm. But I’m not at all certain that giving us fewer options to deal with bad behavior is going to help anyone. You really never know what’s going to happen in a room with 34 teenagers in it. Sometimes magical things happen. You want those things to happen, but you can’t force them. Other times, terrible things happen, and you can’t stop them.

Whatever happens, I try to let kids know what to expect from me. Kids test me all the time. What will happen if I come late? What will happen if I don’t do the homework? What will happen if I cut class? What if I do it on a test day? What will happen if I go into the trailer bathroom, turn on my cell phone, and start playing music?

There is constant communication between us. They test, and I respond. After a while, there are fewer tests. I don’t like disciplining students. I’m grateful when tests subside. Of course I don’t want to suspend kids. I don’t even like to throw kids out of my classes. I almost never do. Once I had a girl who was threatening to punch a boy’s face out. I fully believed she would do it, too. I sent her to the department office, and when she came back the next day she was a little less punchy.

The best way to avoid suspension is to avoid situations that lead to it. But you can’t always do that. And in an emergency, I don’t want to ask permission to call 911. I don’t want Tweed to have a veto over my principal if he thinks suspension is warranted. And frankly, if principals haven’t got the wherewithal to make reasonable decisions about which situation merits which discipline, they ought not to be principals.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dueling Special Interests--Public Schoolchildren v. Andrew M. Cuomo

One of the most encouraging things, for me, at the recent Bayside forum to discuss Governor Cuomo, was that some of his minions were out distributing pamphlets defending his crappy programs. This means they are worried about us.

They're clearly pulling from the bottom of the barrel, which I suppose is the only way to go when defending the indefensible. Andrew Cuomo takes millions of dollars from hedgefunders and their ilk, battles to make sure they don't pay taxes to support our state, and finds the audacity to label public school parents and teachers special interests.

What's really sad is that, if people don't examine his claims, or if they read the op-eds, they may think he's right. They may believe that Andrew Cuomo, who enables the crushing Gap Elimination Adjustment that deprives most kids of substantial state aid, who concurrently makes it almost impossible for localities to raise taxes to compensate for it, is the student lobbyist he portrays himself.

First of all, Governor Cuomo boasts of "historic funding" for all schools. he offers 1.1 billion in aid if we get behind his voodoo. But as a result of the CFE lawsuit, he now owes us 5.6 billion. He's throwing us scraps and demanding not only compliance, but also gratitude. 

Governor Cuomo speaks of "better pay for our best teachers." Merit pay has been around the United States since 1920, and in England since 1865. It has never worked anywhere. That doesn't dissuade the governor, on marching orders from his hedge fund/ charter school pals.

He speaks of "fair teacher evaluations," but they're based 50% on test scores. Studies show teachers affect test scores by a factor of 1 to 14%. But no studies for Andy Cuomo. He's busy marching with Eva Moskowitz, who pays herself half a million dollars a year of NYC tax dollars. She is not a "special interest," because her BFFs have given Andrew Cuomo 1.6 million dollars. Anyone who hasn't donated is a special interest, and thus should be disregarded. VAM is junk science, yet another program Bill Gates pulled out of his ample ass and imposed on the entire country.

Cuomo boasts of job protection for our best teachers. Actually, what he means is he will deny due process to teachers who don't score "effective" five years in a row via Gates-imposed junk science. As far as I know, all he's doing is placing obstacles to tenure in front of already overwhelmed new teachers.

His next bullet point speaks of "fair due process," which is, in fact, the same thing as tenure. Cuomo speaks of teachers involved in "crime involving sexual or physical abuse." Governor Cuomo is perhaps unaware that criminals are subject to prosecution, and often wind up in prison. I'm not at all certain whether having tenure helps you out in a place like that, but apparently Govenor Cuomo thinks it does. I'm pretty sure you lose your job when you're sent to prison, but Governor Andy can't be bothered dealing with such trivialities.

Finally, the governor claims he will give support for our struggling schools. The way he proposes to do that is by placing them under receivership. State takeovers of schools have not worked here in Roosevelt NY or in Newark NJ, but since history means nothing to Andrew Cuomo, he's not bothering with it. Schools are the beating hearts of neighborhoods, but Governor Andy would happily rip them out and hand them to self-serving demagogues like Eva Moskowitz.

When Sandy hit my community we gathered at our high school. Though our homes were in shambles, this was our place. We didn't have to ask Eva's permission to get together there. We, the community, ran the school and ought to continue to do so. It ought not to be for sale to those who contributed most to Andrew Cuomo's most recent campaign. 

Does Eva take kids like those I serve, who arrived from Egypt, El Salvador, China, Korea, and Colombia yesterday? Does she take the alternate assessment students my school serves, the ones who will never get a Regents diploma, the ones we teach to deal with jobs they may get when they leave us, the ones whose stats count against us? Hard to know. Although charters will boast they take this or that percentage of ELLs or special ed. students, a source reports they fail to let us know what level these kids are, and routinely ignore FOI requests to fill us in.

Cuomo's right about one thing. We, the public school teachers and parents are indeed a special interest. Our special interest is the children of New York. But Governor Cuomo is also a special interest. His special interest, and clearly his only interest, is the advancement of Andrew M. Cuomo.

Which side does NY want to take? Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who Pays for Mulgrew's Retiree Screw-up?

 As it stands, working UFT members pick up the tab to pay retirees what Mulgrew promised. I know personally several retirees who are counting on that money and promise. They have to be paid, and it's better Mulgrew break a promise to us than them at this time.

That said, where should the money really come from? There's no question in my mind it should come from the employer, the city of New York. However, the negotiating skills of leadership, or lack thereof, have made that impossible. There are reasons we pay folks like Michael Mulgrew several times our salaries. I don't mind that either. What I do mind is when they don't do their jobs.

In fact, it is a primary job of leadership to negotiate contracts. Our leadership went six years without doing so, and did so during a period when the city pattern was 4 and 4, incredibly favorable during a tough economic time. When they finally negotiated something, they managed to make us wait an entire decade more than most city employees, and to top it off, didn't even get us interest.

Mulgrew's defenders blame Bloomberg, who was every bit the son of a bitch they make him out to be. To take them at their word, there was nothing Mulgrew could do. I believe that. One reason is that, with a labor-friendly mayor, Mulgrew managed to negotiate a new pattern of 10% over 7 years, a real stinker, and dump it on most of our brother and sister unionists.

Let's not forget that, even with the abysmal compensation leadership got us, there were significant givebacks. ATR teachers, already disheartened by the endless wandering negotiated by UFT Unity, are now subject to second-tier due process. If two principals determine they are problematic, and the example Mulgrew gives is shouting in the hall, they are subject to a one-day 3020a process. Second-tier due process is counter to any concept of union I've ever heard of, but it's fine with Michael Mulgrew, who continues to propose "fast but fair" dismissal hearings. Everyone knows one day is fast, but there's no evidence whatsoever that it's fair.

As if that weren't enough, ATR teachers are terminated immediately for failure to attend two mandatory interviews, and I'm getting reports of at least one case in which that has already happened. 

How much will the concessions cost working UFT members? A friend who's better with numbers than I am suggests the following:

If they're withholding 3% if our income for a 3 pay periods it's simple enough. Take your net pay per check and multiple by .09. Or just take ten percent of your take home pay. A teacher on max probably takes home over 3 grand per check. So that's $300. Probably $500 before taxes. 100,000 teachers times 500 equals $50M so the balance is probably interest for those 6 weeks, pension related, interest on the withheld lump sum for 1/2 year, etc.

So that's 500 bucks. Personally, I would rather pay it than see promises broken to retirees. Better 500 from me than who knows how much from someone who retired counting on Mulgrew's promise. And 500 over years doesn't have the same value as 500 tomorrow. However, this only accentuates the fact that the tens of thousands many of us are owed right now will not be as valuable when and if we are finally paid.

More importantly, this means leadership screwed up yet again by placing a significantly inaccurate number value on what recent retirees would get. Who would've thunk that many retirees would opt to take the money up front rather than wait another six years to get it in dribs and drabs? Who would've contemplated the fact that Mayor de Blasio may not be in office in 2019 and that we might face the prospect of trying to extract huge payments from a hostile mayor who might declare an emergency?

I'd say a whole lot of people. Of course, I'm not UFT President, and like the overwhelming majority of UFT members, my viewpoint is not represented at all. So yes, let's pay the retirees. But how about some symbol of shared sacrifice from leadership? How about fewer perks? What if, for example, the next time there's a trip to LA, rather than dragging along 800 loyalty-oath signing, first-class hotel staying, plane-ticket buying rubber stamps, that Mulgrew go himself, and cast the 800 votes? There's a couple mil back in the union coffers that could be redistributed to the members.

If we do that for the duration of the contract, we can all probably get close to our 500 bucks back. It's a win-win. Of course, if UFT admin has further or alternate suggestions to compensate us for their screw up, I'm all ears.

Related: This may not be the last revision to the contract we thought we'd voted on.

Monday, February 16, 2015

#InviteMulgrew to Twitter

Am I the only person who has noticed UFT President Michael Mulgrew is not on Twitter? He's urged all of us to get on and use hashtags. #InviteCuomo and #AllKidsNeed. I'm particularly fond of the latter, though a journalist told me I had the unlikely honor of being the first to use the former.

Here's the thing--UFT President Michael Mulgrew is fairly notorious for ignoring inconvenient email. I may have directly emailed him two or three times, and after the first time I published the emails on the blog, since I had a pretty good idea I wouldn't receive an answer. A member in another school just informed me that a district rep told her to stop writing him, and that someone else in UFT would answer her queries.

It's ironic that someone who spent years complaining of the top-down policies of the Bloomberg sees fit not to mix with us lowly teachers. But someone who ignores most member email would likely not be comfortable in a forum like twitter. It's not like the DA, where you can turn off James Eterno's microphone when he says the new pattern is the lowest in our living memory, and then claim it isn't true, citing absolutely nothing in support. A concept like that, at a pivotal moment, merits discussion beyond, "sit down and shut up."

A lot of people seem to think otherwise, but it's leadership's job to represent us, not simply to set an agenda, move full speed ahead, and ignore or shut up anyone who says different. On that basis, I think it would be a good idea for our President to actually talk to us, and not strictly those of us who have signed oaths to believe whatever he tells us to believe.

Consider Mulgrew doesn't answer our email, but consider also the DA is so large that, even if he weren't favoring his BFFs, he couldn't really talk to or call on all of us. Since not all of us can pop into 52 Broadway at a moment's notice, and since there's no reason to believe we'd be welcome if we did, shouldn't there be some forum where we could actually talk to our President?

More to the point, since Mulgrew has asked us all to go on Twitter, shouldn't he himself lead by example, take the plunge, and participate? And before you tell me how busy he is, let me point out that Randi Weingarten, who represents even more members, is on Twitter and Facebook pretty much all the time, and she will interact with pretty much everyone.

Or is Mulgrew, in fact, only there to tell us what to do, what to think, with no obligation whatsoever to listen to or interact with us? If he's not interested in what we have to say, why doesn't he just tell us? Why not just let us know he can't be bothered speaking to lowly teachers who haven't signed loyalty oaths?

Honesty is still the best policy, and maybe if Mulgrew could inspire loyalty instead of exchanging it for free trips to LA we'd all be better off. I'd been on Twitter for a few years before Mulgrew invited me. But since he did, I'm returning the invitation. I love Twitter, and I #InviteMulgrew to join us. If you're on Twitter, why not do the same?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Standardized Tests: The Modern-Day Immortal Beloved

An Unfortunate Victim of Brainwashing 
I once thought I alone saw the beauty in standardized tests.   I wandered the world as a pariah with a #2 pencil.  But, now, following the most recent UFT delegate assembly, I know I am not alone.   Teachers cry out for tests to "drive" their instruction.  Parents, unabashedly, promote their merits.  Standardized tests are not only poetry of the printed page, they are necessary to human survival.

1.  Where would we be without a testing industrial complex?  Tests can fuel the economy forward, creating countless jobs for people who cannot be bothered to dedicate their lives to actually helping kids in a classroom.

2.  Why would we want to fund things like music when we can funnel tax dollars towards testing?  Testing creates beautiful silence.  Music is just more noise.

3.  If not for testing and the prep it engenders, kids might not come to school every day.  They certainly would not come with smiles on their faces.

4.  If kids get anxious or sick taking tests, we need to know.  These kids need to be weeded out by elementary school.  They weaken the race (to the top).  Don't even ask about the ones who fail!

5.  Teachers are not to be trusted.  Just because they have advanced degrees, it doesn't mean they know how to assess children on their own.  They need the helping hand of Pearson with its deep pockets.

6.  Since child abuse is illegal, let state testing take its place.  How else can you put children in their place?  We don't want over-inflated egos walking around, thinking they're somebodies.  Good thing we have the likes of Arne Duncan to slam dunk that one.

7.  Parents want standardized tests.  Mulgrew said so at the D.A.  How does he know?  He just knows.  Possibly he asked Michelle Rhee.  She is a parent.

9.  We need tests because without them, teachers wouldn't know what to teach.  Sterling Roberson, UFT VP for Career and Technical Education, said so.  Since he taught CTE classes, including electronics, he directly knows the importance of standardized tests.  How else could he tell whether or not students understood electronics?  How would anyone ever know if students understand automotive repair, the electrical trade, etc., unless you equip them with #2 pencils and sit them down with standardized tests?

10.  We are our test scores.  I'm guessing, given their fondness for standardized tests, UFT-Unity leaders gained their superior status due to exemplary standardized test scores.  And, given that superiority in this era of the Common Core, we best accept everything they say on faith.

So, love those tests.  Just don't expect them to love you back!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dueling Forums

Last night I attended a Queens forum devoted to responding to the Luv Gov’s insane pronouncements about education. It was a community affair, well represented by teachers, politicians and public school parents. I signed up to speak and my talk was very well received. I didn’t stick to what I’d planned, because the very first speaker said a lot of what I was going to say.

A significant sign these forums are having an effect was the fact that there was someone outside handing out pro-Cuomo nonsense. I decided to make a few of my original points about who would teach ESL, special ed. or gifted students. I added a point by point response to the preposterous claims on the form.  (Maybe that will be my next blog.)

There were several great speakers there, and there was great spirit in the room. While this meeting was organized by UFT, it felt, as intended, like grassroots. Anyone who wanted to speak could speak. There was no one to call you out of order, no one to tell everyone else how to vote, and the crowd was responsive and enthusiastic. Money quote of the night was from Assemblyman Ron Kim, who said, “We’ve been asking teachers to make lemonade out of oranges for 20 years."

I can’t help but contrast that with the UFT Delegate Assembly the night before, where Mulgrew would look over to one side and say, “I thought you people over there knew everything.” Where Mike Schirtzer from MORE expresses opposition to Common Core and Mulgrew snorts, “Oh, one of those.”

I got very loud applause when I complained about standardized testing, when I asked who knew my kids better than I do, and who could write tests for them better than I could.  It’s ironic, because at the DA, that aforementioned Mike Schirtzer introduced a resolution to support opting out, a resolution that’s been approved by a lot of smaller NY State locals. This proposal was scuttled by UFT Unity. It was attacked first because it mentions NYSUT and the NY Board of Education, but these, if they were really the issue, were technical and the language could easily have been modified. The more important issue, to my amazement, was that parents supposedly value tests.

Apparently UFT leadership is unfamiliar with movement around the rest of the state to refuse testing. They are also unaware of the sheer volume of opposition to Common Core and the developmentally inappropriate nonsense that comes along with it. After Mulgrew told the world he would punch it in the face and push it in the dirt if it laid its filthy paws on his Common Core, there’s not much chance of a 180 degree turn anytime soon.

Of course, once a UFT officer stood up in opposition to the “I Refuse” resolution, that meant it was time for everyone who wanted the free trip to LA to oppose it. And once it was voted down, there was absolutely no room for discussion. Except for Mulgrew, who took a point of personal privilege. The next speaker, who had the audacity not to share his Word, was shut down mid-sentence.

At the DA, I’m acutely aware that my opinion is unwelcome. No one on the stage wants to hear from anyone with an independent opinion, and I don’t even waste my time raising my hand anymore. The one time I really wanted to say something was when Joel Klein restricted the hours schools could be open. My overcrowded school offered classes hours before and hours after his deadlines, and would have had to pay rent to offer classes. Mulgrew couldn’t see me, dressed in a suit, but called on a Unity member three feet to my left not once, not twice, but three times.

It’s a pretty sick culture in there. We could do a lot better, if anyone in leadership actually gave a golly gosh darn.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend our time focused  solely on fighting reforminess? Wouldn’t it be great if leadership would join us and we didn’t need to fight them as well?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

DA Report—"I Refuse" Resolution Killed by UFT Unity—Supporter Shut Down by Mulgrew

Mulgrew opens with a report on various branches of government:

Federal—Mulgrew says we seem to be making headway in taking Feds out of mandating testing. Not sure whether ESEA will be reauthorized. GOP opposes which works in our favor. Democrats believe in testing but that it ought not to be used for high stakes decisions for teachers. GOP feels feds should stay out of mandates that make states do anything. Perhaps there will be no mandates for federalized testing, but GOP can want vouchers. If we have agreement feds ought not to mandate testing be done for teacher eval. we may be in better shape, and it may influence the Luv Gov.

Mulgrew says if children sit for tests they must be used for diagnostic purposes to focus instruction and inform parents.

Says our grassroots campaign is working, that legislators are hearing us, and that we are not stopping campaign. Also suggests there will be arbitrator’s decision on retro soon.

City—Fariña moving forward with field support services. Will be seven offices where special ed. compliance and school needs will be looked after.

Mulgrew says he’s in a hurry going to AFT Exec. Board meeting.Mulgrew complains about tweets and media that uses words against him. Says he will be careful about what he says.

State—there will be no deal. This is raw politics. If Luv Gov gets what he wants, we will be hurt. Many things not funded.  Calls Cuomo’s plan “extortionary scheme.” Says we will work budget process. Mentions UFT reception in Albany and his testimony. Says we can prove to anyone governor’s plan won’t work, and that Albany is very focused on ethics.

Mulgrew, who is not on Twitter, thanks those of us who are.

Mentions how Cuomo said he does not expect an on time budget and expects things done by executive order. Says this will place us in full scale combat mode, but predicts NY education system will drop dramatically and can be blamed on governor.  Says we will engage in conversations with governor’s staff. Says we will do, for three years, to Cuomo, what we did to Bloomberg. I’m trying to recall precisely what that was.

Mulgrew says governor will harp on pervert teachers, and that here in NY there is no such thing. Says that Cuomo doesn’t trust principals to evaluate teachers. Finds it odd that management ought not to evaluate employees. Discusse lack of preparation, supplies, curriculum, time, and class size. Forgets, apparently, that only instrument that controls class size is UFT contract, and that we’ve done absolutely nothing in decades to improve it.

Says governor wants to drag us backward and destroy education. Suggests we focus on teaching and learning conditions and how this will better education. Praises NYSUT for local meetings. States there will be week of action March 9th, that we will surround our school and hold hands. Says nothing of torches or pitchforks, to my disappointment.

Ends report by speaking of Illinois governor pushing virtual right to work.

Questions—Mulgrew discusses longterm planning vis a vis Cuomo, but states we have to first move toward April 1 budget deadline. Wonders how they will conclude session without meaningful ethics bill, but states we know what we will have to do if it all goes bad. Bemoans gubernatorial power over budget. Mentions Roosevelt and how state takeovers have not been productive.

CL wonders whether ethics conversation can be used to weaken governor. Mulgrew, sarcastically, says he will never say that publicly and that he will focus on education.

Mulgrew states if we don’t keep teacher torture on Mondays and Tuesdays that 37.5 small group sessions will return. Says he needs specifics to plan properly how to negotiate this.

Mulgrew says if constitutional convention opens to discuss pensions it will affect others beside teachers. Says we are good caretakers because we ensure our state makes contributions to pensions, unlike New Jersey.

Commenter says best teachers in his school hate their jobs because of paperwork, requests stoppage. Mulgrew asks what he has filed to district paperwork committee. Says he can use this, and if he has not filed complaint, school system thinks they are all happy.

CL Mary Ahern—glad that DN article has been refuted, and that there is no pullbacks on ads. Mulgrew says that’s what we elected him to do. Says if you’re going to take info from Daily News and NY Post, that’s your right, but they are not friends of teachers. Says they are as bad as we think they are. Asks about class size. Asks why UFT doesn’t ask to restore funding for class size and why fair student funding is not opposed.

Mulgrew says we tried to deal with this in contract, but that we were ruled against. Says we are continuing discussions with chancellor, but she is continually attacked by press. Says we lobby for class size funding every year. (Again, why not in contract?) Says it ought not to be responsibility of city council, but rather state, which owes us 2.6 billion dollars. Praises chancellor and mayor for also requesting CFE funds. Mulgrew says we will go to court for CFE.

—Mike Schirtzer rises, raises motion for next month on behalf of MORE, to support I Refuse Movement. Circulates it. Mulgrew says it needs a simple majority to be placed on agenda. 

Mike says has been passed by several locals, that testing regime is out of hand, and that we should oppose high stakes testing. Says test prep saps joy from teaching, helps neither us nor our students. Kills creativity, critical thinking so we can do non stop test prep. Says we must starve the beast, that MOSL is junk science. Says if we’re gonna go to war against Cuomo, let’s take high stakes testing away from him.

Point of information—states we cannot make resolutions for NYSUT, and that there is no NYC Board of Education. Mulgrew points out other reference to NYSUT, makes disapproving noises, says DA does not have ability to bind NYSUT’s hands.

Sterling Roberson rises to speak against resolution, says we are against overtesting, but that we need tools to help drive instruction. Says parents need tests to ensure that they’re getting the “education they deserve.” Says we’ve supported this issue “from teachers of Chicago,” and in early grades. Says we’ve enforced it and reemphasized it over and over. States there is difference between opting out and refusing. Says it tells folks to tell their kids to refuse. Although there are pieces that are appealing to us, it goes to far. Urges this motion be defeated.

Mulgrew holds vote, I did not hear him declare outcome (it was clearly voted down, I would say 2-1) takes point of personal privilege, says he understands passion around this issue. Says resolution is out of order because it asks us to make decision about NYSUT. Speaks of how parents want tests. Says we’re in a fight and have to be smart about it, that we ought not to take a boilerplate resolution that was put together in other places. Says we should be against high stakes.

Supporter of resolution makes point of information—"Last resolve makes it clear that this resolution is only"—Mulgrew interrupts speaker before she finishes and says it’s already been voted on. Calls speaker out of order.

English Language Learners Never Miss School

“They’re tough, but we’re tougher.” When I was in college I played in a band and the bass player would always say that. It stuck with me, and when I became a teacher I started saying it to describe our relationship with the kids. I’ve always prided myself on being the craziest person in my classroom, despite the painfully apparent fact that I’m the only one in the room who isn’t a teenager. But I’m beginning to think I’m wrong.

On Monday, I had a lot of trepidation about coming in. The roads were literally covered with ice, as was my car. After a few minutes scraping, I said the hell with it, turned on the defroster and waited. After ten minutes it stripped away like magic. I drove very slowly and carefully and made it in alive, and who could ask for more than that?

One of my colleagues was not so lucky. He took a nasty spill on an ice-covered parkway at 5 AM and turned around. I wondered whether or not that was a good idea. After all, he had to turn around and go back on those same awful risky streets that got him in, and at the same time. I was coming in around 6:30, and perhaps the streets had been salted and were not quite so awful then.

Every day before I leave I turn on channel two, and ignore virtually everything except the weather. I couldn’t help but notice the bottom of the screen, which listed school closings and delays. Had NYC decided to delay, it would likely have saved my colleague his near-collision and who knows how many other real accidents. But since the late closing protocol was established, it’s been enforced precisely once, and that was for the transit strike, not a weather emergency.

I’m becoming slowly accustomed to driving in and listening to mayors, my employers, lecture us on how crazy it is to come in. Dozens of my smarter colleagues choose not to risk their lives on those days, and as I walk the halls I notice that a great deal of classrooms are barely half full. This could probably be avoided if the city would us the delayed opening protocol, but I’m just a lowly teacher, so what do I know?

In our school, we test on particular days, so as to preclude the possibility of kids having 7 tests on one day. For my department, testing days are Monday and Thursday. I had a test prepared for Monday. I wondered whether or not I’d be able to give it. I decided if more than a handful of kids were absent I’d delay and started working out activities I could use if worse came to worst.

But in my morning class, every kid showed except for two kids who absolutely never show. Even a kid who’d been cutting fairly frequently showed up for the test. In my afternoon class, every kid showed without exception. So I’m beginning to question my long-held adage. Maybe those kids are tougher than we are after all.

But it will be a cold day in hell before you get me to admit that in front of my class.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Who Will Teach the Children?

I'm going to a forum on Thursday night,, 4 PM at PS 159, 205-01 33rd Ave. in Bayside to discuss Cuomo's proposals. Please feel free to join me, or to attend one in your district. Here's what I'm thinking about saying, if I actually get to speak.

When test grades are 50% of a teacher's rating, who will teach the children I teach, the English Language Learners?

Who will teach the children who come from Egypt, El Salvador, China, Korea and every corner of the earth? Who will take the beginners who don't understand English, who therefore fail tests? Who will take the time to help them? Who will teach these kids not to pass tests, but to navigate their way in an English speaking world? Who will offer them materials that will prepare them not to pass a test, but to face not only the reading demanded of them in a college setting, but also the lives that await them?

When test grades are 50% of a teacher's rating, who will teach the children my colleagues teach, the special education students?

Who will teach the children with disabilities? Who will teach the kids who struggle to read and write? Who will teach the alternate assessment students who are never going to get Regents diplomas? Who will teach these kids not to pass tests, but rather how to function at a job? Who will teach them to make contributions, to support themselves, to be productive and happy? Who will show the kids who deliver newspapers with their families at 4 AM that their lives need not be like this?

When test grades are 50% of a teacher's rating, who will teach the children my other colleagues teach, the gifted and talented?

Who will take on the kids who already ace the tests? Who will support them to go beyond the A, B, C, and D? Who will spend time helping them learn things beyond what they already know with the almost certain knowledge that already excellent test scores are impossible to raise? Who will take the risk of being unemployed because students have gone from 99% to an unacceptable 97%?

Who will teach all children that life is more than a multiple choice test? Who will teach children that getting along with people is a valuable skill? Who will teach them the value of negotiation? Who will teach them to think outside the box rather than simply fill it in? Who will show them that a job can be a thing of joy, a thing of pride, rather than some inconvenient drudgery that forces you to reluctantly get out of bed every morning?

Who will risk their entire career to do what's right?

It certainly won't be Andrew Cuomo, self-styled student lobbyist. Governor Cuomo owes the children 5.6 billion dollars from the CFE lawsuit. He says he'll grudgingly part with a fraction of it if we enact the very reforms that will discourage teachers from serving, among others, the very neediest students of NY State. He says if we don't do that, he'll part with even less.

It's Andrew Cuomo's job to help the children, but instead he takes 1.6 million from public school opponents and does any damn thing they ask. He has done no research on what works, and there is no evidence whatsoever he cares one way or the other.

While Andrew Cuomo may be for sale to the highest bidder, we, the teachers, the parents, the voters of New York State, are not. We will not accept an agenda that enriches testing companies and charter school moguls. We will not accept an agenda that imposes endless and  developmentally inappropriate tasks on our children.

We will not accept an agenda that makes it impossible for those who wish to make a career out of helping our children. We demand an agenda that supports our children, that supports our teachers, that supports our parents, and that supports those of us who pay your salary, Andrew Cuomo.

You, Governor Cuomo, were elected by 53% of the population, yet you demand that those who'd raise money for the education of children do so by a 60% majority. You call yourself the student lobbyist, but give more of a vote to those who say no to children.

We say no to you, Andrew Cuomo. We say it here in Queens, we will come to your office in Manhattan and tell you again, and we will come to your office in Albany and tell you there. We are New York State and we are not your loyal subjects.

Andrew Cuomo, we love our children and will not have them pawns to your ridiculous quest to sell yourself to the highest bidder. Give Eva Moskowitz and her friends back their 1.6 million dollars. Give us back our public schools. Give us back our state. We will take it if need be.

Who will teach the children, Governor Cuomo? We will. Get out of our way and let us do our jobs.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Who Are the Real Waltons?

Cuomo's State of the State targeted teachers.  In turn, the UFT turned its twitter guns and forums against him.  Cuomo is surely a problem, but he only caters to his highest campaign donors.  The real problem is the powerful pocketbooks, many of Wall Street, that pull the strings.  If Cuomo is beaten back, these same pocketbooks will try to buy off other politicians, at any level of government.

The Waltons are, perhaps, the most powerful of the string pullers.  By pointing the finger at public school teachers, they shift the focus from their own transgressions, as they push back the rights of workers worldwide.  It is not just the future of teachers that is at stake.  It is the future of labor itself.  In that vein, let us ask, "Who are the Real Waltons?"

You are probably familiar with the name of the Waltons.  There are two Walton families in America, however.  Beware, they are not the same.

Walton Family #1:

Walton Family #2

As you can see from the pictures, neither family appears anything but folksy, but both families bear closer examiniation.

1.  Whereas one Walton family lives a humble life at the foot of Walton Mountain in Jefferson County, Virginia, the other Walton family lives in a number of considerably more than ritzy dwellings.  It should be noted that both Walton houses, however, adequately meet the needs of their inhabitants.

Exhibit #1:

Exhibit #2:

2.  Whereas one Walton family struggled through the Depression, never losing its sense of humanity, the other Walton family owns over $100 billion, more than the bottom 40% of Americans by some measures.

Exhibit #1:

Exhibit #2:

3.  Whereas one Walton family shared its hospitality in every episode, the other Walton family pays its workers abysmally, forbids unionization and deprives workers of basic benefits.  This second Walton family owns Walmart, known for its in-store charity drives for its own workers.

Credit: Our Walmart

This same family of Walmart has been unwilling to step forward to help victims of the fire in a factory (in which its products were cheaply made) in Bangladesh.  Perhaps Walmart would encourage its underpaid employees to step forward and take up a collection.

According to the NY Times:

"Walmart is the one company that is showing an astonishing lack of responsibility, considering that so much of their product was being made at the Tazreen factory,” said Samantha Maher, a campaign coordinator for the British arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European anti-sweatshop group."

The Walmart Waltons live the good life, Gilded-Age style, seemingly on the backs of the less fortunate. (see and

4.  Whereas one Walton family seems concerned with the welfare of the public, the other invests in charter schools, driving education further into the private sector.  They substantially support the TFA.  They seem more than pleased to keep workers oppressed, whether in a Walmart store, an Asian factory or a charter school.  These Waltons favor transient teachers, lacking long-term benefits, job protections and any union to stand up for them.  These Waltons argue for charters on the grounds that they have the choice to send their kids to private schools.  They want everyone to have "choice."

Wouldn't it be nice, however, if this second Walton family favored "choice" that respected workers?  After all, the school children they propose to help will become workers one day.  Will they have any protections?  Will they be paid enough to live without charity?  With the Waltons in control, the landscape seems very bleak.  Which Walton family makes you relatively proud to be an American and which makes you cringe?

The real struggle is not against Cuomo, although it is an important one to fight.  The real struggle is not just for teachers.  It is for the future of labor itself.

Saturday, February 07, 2015


Mulgrew stands before the DA and bloviates for an hour. His talk is disorganized, frenetic. He comes back to things he hasn't finished. He sneers. He raises eyebrows. He speaks of how it's time to fight, how that's what he was taught when he grew up. He radiates the machismo that failed to surface anywhere during the six years we went without a contract, the machismo that evinced itself nowhere as the union said we'd happily wait another six years for the raises everyone else got years ago. We all voted for it because it was better than nothing, because they said they weren't gonna do better and we believed them.

Mulgrew shouts the determination to stop Cuomo that was nowhere to be found when Zephyr Teachout rose like a David but failed to garner sufficient force, that time, to slay the Goliath propped up by the dollars of our enemies. We know who the enemy is. Why didn't we know last summer, when we could have maybe done something about it?

A few in the hall remember unions blocked Teachout's challenge in WFP, that they failed to support the one in the Democratic party, but most there cheer wildly regardless of what is said, having signed oaths swearing to do so. Questions ensue, generally tepid, timid or technical. One or two, perhaps, are a challenge, and are met with strained humor, swift delays or smug derision. Questioners are carefully selected, many are ignored, and the entire affair ends precisely at 6 PM. Some leave with the impression something has happened, others do not.

The message filters down, maybe. There is an imminent threat, they say. But they've said so before, and I'm still here. The evaluation system will suck. But how can that be when it already sucks? Clearly no one trusts me, I'm constantly being questioned, whatever I have learned and practiced is never good enough. My supervisor, twenty years my junior, knows everything, hears little, changes nothing. How many years before I can walk away from this? I pity those people who've just walked in, working eighteen hours a day to meet the ever-shifting demands of bulletin boards, unit plans, lesson plans, never ending misinterpreted demands of components and utter disregard for the ever-diminished contract about which my chapter leader knows next to nothing.

Now they want me to tweet what they tell me. Use this hashtag, or that, they say, and everything will be better. Once Cuomo sees our tweets he'll run like a doormouse. Mulgrew doesn't tweet because, like the pigs in Animal Farm, he's off doing brainwork, filling ledgers that must be meticulously filled then burned in the furnace. That's what I pay a thousand dollars a year for, while they go to conventions and fail to support people who might actually wish to help me. Tweet? I've got lesson plans to write, and they must include direct references to the standards, the ones Mulgrew will punch me in the face if I try to pull from him. I need to make two copies in case anyone walks into my room and asks for one. It was terrible when I had to give away my plan period three and then try to teach it again period 5. That won't happen again.

Now they want me to go to a forum. My chapter leader is going, having been trained in what to say. I could go, but what difference would it make? No one listens to me and I'd probably get investigated or something if I said what I want to. I wanted to be a teacher, but all I am is a scribe, writing down lessons based on a curriculum that doesn't even make sense to me. My students are taking tests that don't match the ponderous and convoluted curriculum my genius 25 year old supervisor made us write on Monday and Tuesday afternoons when we were supposed to be doing who knows what.

Time marches on and no one listens to me. Bloomberg, Cuomo, they're all the same. They do what they want. Didn't Mulgrew tell us that Cuomo was the good guy back when Bloomberg was the bad guy? You cut off one head and another grows in its place. This may as well be happening in Zimbabwe, for all I could do about it.

Thursday night Blacklist is on. At least I won't know how that's gonna end.

Friday, February 06, 2015

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Doorstop

I hadn't been in a classroom for over a decade until this year, but it turns out classroom air can be just as bad as trailer air. Not only that, but the heat in classrooms is fairly reliable, and often seems to be working overtime. The story I always hear is that custodians must burn enough heat this year to get their budget for the next year. I don't know whether that's true, but it would certainly explain the stifling heat I've experienced in multiple school buildings.

My students will turn on the air conditioner in the middle of January. It sounds ridiculous, but I was there when they did it, and it kind of made sense. Me, I've taken to leaving the door open. This is harder than it sounds. Every door in the building I'm in should stay open if you leave it that way, but most don't. However, an office I work in has a door that actually stays open by itself, I discovered. So I was kind of surprised that everyone used a doorstop to keep it open.

In my classroom, the only way to keep the door open was with a student desk. This is kind of cumbersome and inconvenient. It also blocks the door in case of an emergency. In the trailers, there are fire extinguishers that do the job pretty well. No such luck in the classroom. So I pondered the issue, and decided to steal the doorstop from the office. People were shocked. Where's the doorstop? How can I keep this door open? But I opened it, and they were uniformly shocked to find it stayed that way.

Moving the doorstop was kind of gross. It seemed to be covered by thirty years of filth. But alas, it was for the good of the students. Why should they breathe the foul air engendered by heating the room to 90 degrees in January? Some of my students are from tropical countries and have no idea what it's like to be cold. So I dragged the thing up, found a bathroom that had soap, and washed my hands a little more thoroughly than usual.

Everything was fine for a while, until, alas, my doorstop disappeared. I was very disappointed. After all, I had stolen that thing fair and square. Had some unscrupulous colleague come along and seen an opportunity? I will never know. It looked like the desk in doorway, yet again.

But after thinking about it for a while, I noticed that several department offices had doorstops. Where had they come from? One thing they fail to tell you about when you're studying to be a teacher is the necessity of making friends with whoever's in the supply room. After all, there's always the need for another marker, piece of chalk, eraser, and who knows what else your princely 62 dollars of Teachers Choice won't cover.

My friend in supplies reached into a box and pulled out a brand new doorstop. It wasn't as big as the old one, but size isn't everything, or so they say. It was all wrapped up and looked like it could've easily come from the 99 cent store. Doubtless the DOE paid 85 bucks for it. But I pulled it out of the package, it was far less gross than its predecessor, and it seemed to get the job done.

Last week, though, there was a disaster. Some careless student kicked doorstop number two right out the door. Then another kid played with it, kicking it farther down the hall. This was unacceptable! I chased my precious doorstop halfway down the hall until I could retrieve it, battered but ready to keep that goshdarn door open.

And there it stayed until yesterday. But I walked into my period 7 class, and it was nowhere to be found. The social studies teacher who preceded me claimed ignorance. I was suspicious, but as far as I know she'd never lied to me before. I reluctantly took her word, and dragged a student desk to keep the door open.

But then, as I was writing something on the board, I looked over to my telephone box and there, above it, was my doorstop safe and sound. I shall never doubt the word of that social studies teacher again.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Mr. Cleveland and the New Car

Mr. Cleveland was having a crisis. His new car had disappeared. This was a problem. After all, he had this job and all, being a teacher, and his mean old bosses expected him to come in every day. Without transportation, that was gonna be tough.

He mentioned this in one of his classes and one of his students approached him after class. He quietly and calmly told Mr. Cleveland he knew a little bit about the things that went on in that neighborhood, and he would put the word out. Mr Cleveland said that wasn't necessary, and began to regret having opened his mouth at all.

But the next day his new car showed up outside the school. The only thing was, it wasn't quite new anymore. Well, part of it was, but it looked like a whole lot of parts had been taken off, and that the replacement parts were not precisely off the showroom floor. The student approached Mr. Cleveland, and Mr. Cleveland thanked him for his efforts, but also told him that actually, he'd have done better if the car had disappeared. His insurance would have pretty much gotten him a replacement.

The student asked Mr. Cleveland if he wanted the situation fixed. Mr. Cleveland said no, don't do anything. I don't want you getting in trouble or breaking the law or doing anything at all. The kid told Mr. Cleveland not to worry. Then he said, "You got a ride here with Miss Block, didn't you?" Mr. Cleveland again told the kid not to do anything. The kid said, "This is a dangerous neighborhood."

Later that day, Mr. Cleveland's half-new car caught on fire, right there in front of the school. It was really something to see, and kids all got up out of their seats and flocked to the windows, sticking their heads out to watch. It was better than a snowstorm. Hapless teachers all over the building tried to get them to sit down again, only after they themselves got a good look, and with little success. Charlotte Danielson would have had a conniption right there and then.

Come June, the kid failed Mr. Cleveland's class. But he told Mr. Cleveland, "You were fair. I cut a lot and I know I deserve to fail." They parted as friends, even though the kid was a graduating senior.

And there's a happy ending. Mr. Cleveland taught summer school, after which the kid not only passed, but also graduated.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Evolution of the Story

Yesterday, I was sitting in a department office very early in the morning. The principal walked by and commented there was no teacher in the room next door, so I volunteered to cover the class.

There was something hanging on the classroom wall about rights and responsibilities of students, and I pulled it and started discussing it with the class. For some reason, a student mentioned that it was vitally important to tell police officers who bothered you to shove it. I questioned the wisdom of speaking to a police officer like that. I further questioned the wisdom of speaking to anyone carrying a gun like that.

Then the student told me he had been given a summons in a fast food joint for “trespassing.” He used air quotes to display this. I asked why it was in quotes, and he said the only reason he got the summons was because the other students where he was weren’t old enough. Then he let slip the name of the fast food place, which happens to be a notorious cutting locale for our students.

Then I thought to ask the kid when this happened. He said it was during his lunch period. So I asked him whether or not he thought it was a good idea to be hanging out at a place the cops regularly swept for truants on a school day. He argued that, since it was his lunch period, he wasn’t technically cutting. Then he offered harsh words for the restaurant manager, who he claimed decided to call the cops for no reason.

I said that would be like me calling the dean for no reason and throwing five random students out. You, you, you, you and you. Why would I do that? I told him that I hang out in the office, and occasionally kids get sent there by teachers. They invariably tell me that they got sent out for no reason, but usually there’s another side to the story.

The student then said that he wasn’t the one acting up. I said that meant someone was, in fact, acting up, and that the manager did not call for no reason. The manager called because someone was acting up.

The student then complained that he had to be out of the country on the court date, and that it was really inconvenient to write letters responding to the summons. I asked what happened and he said it got dismissed. I told him since nothing actually happened he had little to complain about.

“You should be a lawyer,” one of the kids said to me.

I don’t think I’d like being a lawyer, though. I doubt it’s really the way it’s portrayed on those TV shows, and I suspect they actually have to read all those thick, tedious-looking books they have on those ancient oak shelves. They never seem to be doing that on The Good Wife. But if it were like TV, maybe I’d give it a shot.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Activists on Paper

Wednesday, March 4th is Lobby Day. That's when UFT and NYSUT send a bunch of people to Albany to speak to legislators about what we want. I went once, a few years ago, largely because I was running a demonstration about overcrowding at our school, along with Bloomberg's plan to fire teachers that year. I thought it would be great to ask legislators face to face.

But when we got there we were in groups. UFT had selected leaders and what they were going to talk about. My friend and I, who had come together, were just bodies to support the preplanned message. I believe, that year, Bloomberg and Flanagan were attacking LIFO, in NYC only, and Cuomo was our hero. Cuomo was basically saying we didn't need LIFO. He felt the new APPR would fire enough teachers. There was, of course, the additional factor of Bloomberg and Cuomo having egos so large you couldn't fit both of them in one city, let alone one room.

This year, a year in which Cuomo has become what he really always was, we're going back. Eva Moskowitz has decided to take her kids out of school, again, for the worst field trip in the world, again. And she's doing it on the same day as us. Despite the stiff competition, the message I got from UFT is that there is only room for 15 high school reps on the bus. That's a pretty pathetic effort in such a crucial year, particularly given Mulgrew's emergency DA against Cuomo's proposals and dangerous UFT tweeters.  They've also limited it to COPE contributors and those who haven't gone in three years. That would be me.

Really, the bus requirements wouldn't phase me in any case. If I really wanted to go, I'd get in my car and pay my own way. I did that last time anyway because I hate long bus rides. If I thought it was important, or that it would change anything whatsoever, nothing would stop me. 

There's an underlying problem here that bears mention, though. If you need a list of talking points to fight Cuomo, you're not all that well-informed. And if you're not all that well-informed, how the hell are you going to present yourself as an advocate? And what exactly motivates your advocacy?

In the case of UFT, it's likely the possibility of a few free trips. That's what you get at the lowest rung of UFT Unity as a reward for signing the loyalty oath. And that, sadly, describes the overwhelming majority of UFT Chapter Leaders. I go to meetings, label value-added measurement junk science, and not one voice will join me. Even AFT President Randi Weingarten said, "VAM is a sham," but as long as the Mulgrew-endorsed APPR is in effect, almost no one will whisper the quietest suggestion against it.

The only way you can whole-heartedly support charter schools, mayoral control, Common Core, a teacher rat squad, two-tier due process, not to mention waiting until 2020 for the raises most of our brothers and sisters got before 2010, is to have an agenda. Sadly, that agenda could not be formed by, say, being a regular reader of Diane Ravitch, who's evinced support for precisely none of these things. and virulently opposes the first two.

If you need talking points, you do not have a very deep understanding, and you will not be able to sustain an argument. If you are motivated by the next free trip to Schenectady, you do not have the interests of members at heart. If you cheer mayoral control, charter schools, colocation (including the colocation of a UFT charter school), junk science-based evaluation, and anything that comes out of Michael Mulgrew's mouth simply because that is where it came from, you are not an activist. You are a follower. If you are motivated by trips, or part-time jobs, you are out for yourself rather than members or students.

It's very, very sad that UFT has allowed leadership to degenerate to that point. It's very sad that UFT leadership will take stands against some nonsense, but not all. It's very sad that those of us who act on what's good for us and our kids are reviled by leadership. I would love to support leadership. I have great respect for many people with whom I do not agree on everything.

But if you're not willing to get behind UFT Unity on absolutely everything, if you persist in asking inconvenient questions, if you think for yourself, you are gone. That's why UFT dumped the leadership of NYSUT last year. That's why Mike Mulgrew will openly ridicule UFT members who disagree with him from the podium of the Delegate Assembly.

And that's why we do not, in fact, have an army of strong advocates to win over the public.