Saturday, May 30, 2015

What Mike Mulgrew Doesn't Know About APPR

I've been going to the DA and taking notes the last few months. One theme I hear from UFT President Michael Mulgrew is that people like me are hysterical, that we don't understand what a great improvement this system is. You see, since a smaller percentage of people get negative ratings under this system, it's better. That's it. There is no nuance, no accounting for people's feelings, and no awareness whatsoever what working teachers go through.

After all, Mulgrew is not a teacher. I don't know how long he was in the classroom, but he certainly isn't there now. Some of the UFT officers and DRs teach one class, but single-class teachers aren't subject to the APPR system that Mulgrew helped negotiate. They still get rated S or U, and I haven't heard of anyone rated U for teaching one class. If I were a supervisor, with 5 million observations to do, I probably wouldn't even bother with those people.

I teach in a good school, and I don't have bad ratings. I will almost certainly be rated effective this year, though I won't know until September. I've been observed four times and, as far as I know, none of them went badly. So let's say things go as I expect. Let's say I don't get a negative rating, I don't have a Teacher Improvement Plan, I don't have to meet with my supervisor each week to discuss why I suck and how I can suck less. Let's say they don't send a UFT Dementor Teacher to determine whether or not the burden of proof is on me or the DOE when they try to fire me.

Here's what I feel. I feel it's another two years before they can bring me to 3020a and move for my dismissal. Let's say I don't go senile over the next few years and I continue to get decent ratings at my school. Am I at peace? No, I am not. Because I honestly don't trust the MOSL, the junk science that will determine the rest of my rating.

Right now it's not too bad. I'm on the committee at my school and we've decided, wherever possible, to use the broadest measures possible so no teacher is tied to the scores of his or her classes. This makes sense to me because actually, classes vary. Beyond that, a crazy supervisor could stick a teacher with a class that would do poorly. Or an honors class could fail to go from 98% to 99%. That class could sink to 97%, which would clearly indicate the failure of their teacher via junk science metrics. We don't want teachers to suffer for things like that. Also, we don't want teachers in competition. We don't want teachers to feel they'll be hurting themselves by, for example, tutoring students of a colleague.

I teach ESL and for the last few years have been teaching beginners. I love doing this, but not everyone does. And it strikes me as risky. This is because the new NYSESLAT test is all about Common Core and nothing about acquisition of English. Oddly, I still cling to the fiction that helping kids acquire English is my job. But everyone knows fiction plays just about no part whatsoever in Common Core. Few seem to know that acquisition of academic English does not happen instantaneously, and must be preceded by basic conversational English.

I now wonder whether I'm on a suicide mission. The state can attach my rating to the ridiculous and invalid NYSESLAT exam and say I suck and must therefore be fired. I'm not clear on how and when they will do that, but it seems inevitable. The new Cuomo/ Heavy Hearts plan will also bring in total strangers who know nothing about me or my kids to observe, and they are doing this specifically to create more negative ratings. It's not like this is a great secret. Cuomo openly complains we aren't firing enough teachers. I've got thirty years in and if they fire me my family and I won't be living on cat food. Better me than one of my younger colleagues.

Mulgrew can ridicule me and all of us who oppose junk science. He can call us paranoid, cranks, whatever. But he has no idea what we, all of us, are going through.

Too bad because, given that, he cannot and does not represent us at all.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reformier and Reformier--Will the Regents Jump to Our Aid?

It's kind of amazing, after hearing Michael Mulgrew place his faith in the Regents month after month, that they would nominate this woman, MaryEllen Elia, as NY State Commissioner of Education. After all, we're still not feeling the love for Reformy John King, who preached Common Core for our kids but Montessori for his own. She comes from Florida, one of the worst places there is for working teachers. Here's what activist principal Carol Burris has to say about her:

“It is now apparent why the Board of Regents did not reach out to stakeholder groups and inform them that she was a candidate–if her support for merit pay, the Common Core, Gates Foundation grants,  the formulaic dismissal of teachers, and school choice were known, certainly there would have been an outcry from New York parents and teachers who have had more than their fill of test-based reforms.  The message of 200,000 Opt Outs has not been heard.”

Given that, it's very hard to imagine this board coming to our rescue over the Cuomo/ Heavy Hearts Teacher Unemployment Plan. Nonetheless, as she supports Common Core, she won't need to fear UFT Presidents punching her face out and pushing it in the dirt. Still, things like "formulaic dismissal of teachers" are not getting me dancing in the aisles anytime soon.

The old song says, of New York, New York, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." This begs the question, if you can't make it in Hillsborough County, Florida, how the hell are you going to make in in NYC? I suppose that depends very much on what you mean by making it. If making it means pushing every reformy piece of crap that comes down the pike, then she's got a good shot.

On the other hand, if making it entails respecting research from, you know, researchers and scientists and the like, we're not looking all that great. When the American Statistical Association declares that teachers only move scores by a factor of 1-14%, it's not clear that what we need is more reliance on VAM, the growth model, and/ or whatever junk science is in vogue this week. In fact, here's a quote that may give you pause:

“The Board of Regents made a strong choice in selecting MaryEllen Elia as New York State’s next education commissioner,” Jenny Sedlis, executive director of the pro-charter group, StudentsFirstNY, said in a statement.  

In case you don't know, StudentsFirstNY is an offshoot of the group Michelle Rhee started before she moved on up into the fertilizer biz. It's not likely this blog supports anything StudentsFirstNY does, because this group represents Rhee, Gates, Bloomberg and a whole lot of people who don't give a golly gosh darn about the kids I work with. More disturbing is the assertion in the article that unions are enthusiastic about this choice.

Any union leader expressing enthusiasm for MaryEllen Elia doesn't represent my interests, those of my colleagues, those of public school parents, or those of the kids we face every day of our lives.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From NYSED With Love

I just noticed this, over at Pissed Off's blog. This appears to be one of the stupidest policies imaginable. You can see the page over at her site, but I'm going to type out the NY State reg, dated April 2015

If a student misses class time, he or she must be provided opportunities to make up the classwork, assignments, assessments, and other learning experiences.

Note it does not say, "if the student misses class time for a good reason. So let's say little Johny is out on the corner, smoking cigarettes or who knows what else, and strolls leisurely into your class with two minutes remaining. You have to arrange for him to make up the test you just gave everyone else. Personally, if they're gonna force me to write a makeup test for kids who cut, anyone who takes it will rue the day they missed the first one. It boggles the imagination that NYSED wants to actually teach children there are no consequences whatsoever for their bad decisions. That's not what I teach my kid.

Students are not required to make up the exact amount of instructional time due to absence.

You see, you idiots? You went to class every single day, and I only showed up twice. So I got this EZ Learn program and got my smart girlfriend to answer the questions. Now I have the same grade as you.

Students who master the course content and satisfactorily meet the expectations outlined in the syllabus must receive credit for the course; they should not be denied credit based on lack of seat time alone. 

Here's the thing, though. If you aren't in my class, you cannot possibly have done the work. I'm a language teacher. My grade is 50% test scores, 25% homework, and 25% participation. If you are never in class, you get a zero for participation. Homework is also an issue. I sometimes give handouts from workbooks. I know a lot of kids copy, and I can't spend all my time running around finding out who. However, kids who copy homework regualarly simply cannot pass tests. They also can't do classwork.

Maybe it makes them feel better to get easy credit for homework. But I change up the homework, giving open writing assignments, and the kids who copy learn quickly that I notice when entire paragraphs are the same.

There is something fundamentally lacking in NYSED. We are not just teaching math, English and science. We are role models. We wake up ridiculously early to come to work, and we put up with all sorts of nonsense to keep doing this job that we love. We know that people who don't do diddly squat are not precisely on the road to success. We are not a bunch of computers doing test prep.

And we have standards, real ones, even if NYSED has the audacity to inflict such nonsense on us. Make me write a syllabus and I'll make it quite clear that no one who cuts 200 times is going to pass my class under any circumstance.

I'm pretty sure my career would be less than stellar if I were absent 200 times a year. But by NYSED standards, if I showed up and taught the entire course in one day, everything would be fine.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's Just Another Year of Regents Review--Or Is It?

In the throes of Regents review, it's Danielson be damned.  Tests, to some extent, might measure my ability to prep my students and their ability to be prepped or to prep themselves.  Tests certainly do not measure my ability to teach.  Regents review is not good teaching.  It is an attempt to superficially cover a great breadth of material--with the hope that the students work as hard as their teacher.

A group of students in the back are a little too social.  Instead of exclusively helping each other with a set of questions, they stray into forbidden topics of conversation.  I have flashbacks.

In days of old, I told such students, the review is designed solely to benefit you.  I've passed all my tests in life (and with flying colors).  If you wish to disregard the work, you, alone, will suffer the consequences.

But today, who am I kidding?  These students can take me down--despite my best efforts to help them--through sheer laziness, simple teenage sociability or the distractions of modern-day technology.  Then, again, it might be any one of a thousand of other things...that could take down our entire school.

My students' performance on tests has little correlation to my skill as a teacher.  As a student, I did well whether my teacher was great or mediocre.  Other students would do poorly whether their teacher was great or mediocre.  Test performance doesn't even correlate well to the intelligence of students.  Test performance tells me more about who buys into the system.  Quite often, it seems to tell the story of a socio-economic status.  Sometimes, it only tells whether a person had a good day or not--which can be hit or miss.

Some of those kids socializing in the back are sharp as can be.  They just choose to apply their intelligence to spheres other than studying.  And, although I wish they would study a little harder, I'm fond of those students.  I'm fond of all my classes.  Too bad, they're being misused by ed. reformers to drag me down and boot me out!  Too bad they're being misused to close public schools!  Too bad they're being used to destroy unionized labor and middle-class respectability!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Perks of Privilege

It seems every time I pick up the NY Post, some principal is committing an atrocity. The latest is from PS 120 in Flushing, which ran a carnival during school hours last week. That sounds nice, doesn't it? Except the price for this carnival was ten bucks, and if you didn't pay, you didn't get in. So 90% of the kids were outside having big fun while the rest sat in the auditorium watching a movie.

If I were to offer extra credit to Mary but not John, and John's Dad called the principal, I could be looking a disciplinary action. Maybe Mary has a 64 average and John has a 94 average. It doesn't matter. I don't get to pick and choose, especially if some parent complains. Of course I'm not a principal.

If I were principal, I could drive around in my BMW and wear a fur coat while the school crumbles around me. Or I could have sex with an AP on my desk. I could give teachers ratings for lessons I'd never seen, even on days when said teachers weren't even in the building. Maybe I'd get my hand slapped. Maybe they'd ship me off to some office where I could count paper clips. Who knows?

There's no Campbell Brown going after principals. Students First and Families for Excellent Schools and all the other groups that are one and the same don't run commercials about them. But you have to ask yourself--if indeed there is a zombie-like plague of bad teachers, who hired them? Who granted them all tenure? Who failed to observe them and write them up for their myriad sins? Well, it wasn't me.

So I guess I'm a little jealous. Except for these occasional tidbits in the Post, I feel like I'm Public Enemy Number  One. Apparently what I do each and every day is destroy the lives of children, and the only remedy is to place them in Moskowitz Academies where they will pee their pants, fill in endless bubbles, and wear t-shirts that say, "Don't Steal Possible." Me, I've got bags full of Possible, all stolen from hapless children.

 I had no idea that was what I was doing until I started watching the commercials. Apparently the best way to help children now is to give tremendous tax credits to private schools and break the Public Monopoly that Governor Cuomo finds so egregious. I'm a little curious how they're a monopoly since there are private schools all over the country. Otherwise, how could Governor Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, John King, Michelle Rhee and Barack Obama send their children to them?

The bill gives huge tax credits to billionaires, but a stinking 500 bucks to families making less than 60K if they want to send their kids to private schools. That way, they won't be hobnobbing with the children of the Important People mentioned above. It's Montessori for them and Common Core for you.

I can't believe principals get away with such nonsense. But it's even harder for me to believe any sentient being thinks Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat.

Bonus perk: principal spends 145K of public funds and keeps job.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

DA Takeaway

The DA last week was fairly unremarkable. One thing I found unusual was that I voted with Unity, I think, every time. All of the resolutions were fairly Mom and Apple Pie, both of which I support. Nonetheless, some things are notable.

Both Lauren Cohen and Megan Moskop of MORE were treated civilly, and managed to pass their motion and amendment. This is a great improvement over last year, when the Unity faithful shouted Lauren down for daring to mention their loyalty oath in public.

It's a great idea to let schools hire ATR teachers regardless of salaries, but if I'm not mistaken, Unity didn't do squat to oppose student funding a few years back. Anyone who pointed out the danger of that was a crank, a lunatic, and had failed to sign the aforementioned loyalty oath that proved you were reasonable. Thus, you were subject to abuse, personal insults, or being cut off by impartial Chair of the DA, Punchy Mike Mulgrew. I once watched him tell a chapter leader who questioned the endorsement of Bill Thompson that he didn't believe in democracy.

Punchy Mike was notably toned down this month. Perhaps someone spoke to him, or perhaps his shortened report didn't give him enough time. He didn't outright insult anyone, and he didn't appear as dripping with sarcasm as he often is. The Mulgrew I saw last week was somewhat of an improvement. Of course, he couldn't help himself from repeating his ridicule of critics of the APPR system. Those critics include Diane Ravitch, Carol Burris, yours truly, and virtually every working teacher with whom I speak. Mulgrew characterized us as saying every teacher was going to get fired.

Of course not every teacher is going to get fired. But some are, and I assure you they are not particularly thankful about it. It's outrageous that Mulgrew can cite fewer negative ratings while ignoring the high stakes attached to them.

Mulgrew now suggests the coming matrix is an improvement on this system, which he touted as wonderful when it came out. But once again, the optimal measure of junk science in teacher evaluation is precisely zero percent, whether you label it VAM, growth model, or John King's Awesome Adventure. I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens and Mulgrew doesn't answer my email. Given that, I'm fairly certain he hasn't got time to spend with some inconsequential teacher being fired because of The Bestest Rating System Since Sliced Bread.

I'm also a little put off that Mulgrew needs to repeat how smart the UFT is so frequently. Last month, he labeled himself a "ferocious" reader, though I'm pretty sure he was reaching for "voracious." Of course, maybe he is ferocious, and for all I know he throws books in the air and punches them, pretending they are Common Core opponents. Regardless, I'm put off by people who call themselves smart. It's really more impressive to me when others say people are smart. I tend to judge intelligence by what people do, and if I'm not mistaken, Mike Mulgrew, our leader, just thanked the Heavy Hearts for passing the most anti-teacher bill I've seen in this state.

Mulgrew also cited the social media campaign that resulted in that anti-teacher bill as a success. If we have many more victories like that we'll all be working at Walmart. And again, while Mulgrew urges us all to be on social media, he is not there himself. In what universe is that considered leadership?

There was also a discussion provoked by Mary Ahern's question, why would UFT want independent evaluators to count for 25% when NYSUT wanted it maxed out at 5%? Mulgrew gave a long, rambling response. When on topic, he suggested it was smart to have a wider range, as that gave us more freedom to negotiate. Of course, the optimal rating percentage of rank strangers who know nothing about you or your students, who may or may not be teachers, is zero. I'd argue the NYSUT number is much closer to zero and therefore preferable. But I'm not "smart," like whoever is making decisions for us, so what do I know?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mary Ahern on ATRs and UFT Elections

I was thinking of writing about this, but I'm gonna defer to a comment UFT Chapter Leader Mary Ahern left in response to James Eterno last night. You may or may not know that, when UFT leadership was confronted with a demand for a functional ATR chapter, they claimed it wasn't necessary. After all, ATR is temporary, having only been around for ten years. And UFT has been proactive, negotiating great benefits like second-tier due process and the ability to be fired for missing two interviews. And those zany madcap folks at Tweed are pretty good about sending interview commands out at the last minute. Eterno made one by the skin of his teeth. Here's Mary:

Hi James, I've been thinking a lot about the ridiculousness of the UFT claiming ATRs are represented in chapter elections because they are now allowed to run for and vote in whatever schools they were assigned to during the first week of May. I emailed my DR about it and spoke to her about it yesterday. I also brought it up to Queens Borough Rep, Rona Fraiser as she was making rounds before the DA began. The question I posed to Rona was, "Let's say an ATR wins the election as my school's chapter leader but then gets rotated out to another school. What happens when members need the CL to represent them at grievance hearings with my principal? How is the CL going to attend those meetings if they are no longer working in my school?"

Rona's response surprised me. She said, "They'll be able to attend. They'll be given release time."
I then asked, "Will they also be given release time to attend school safety meetings, consultation meetings, chapter meetings, etc.?" But Rona walked away without responding. I guess she either didn't like my question or didn't have an answer.

I wish you, or someone active in the union, had been an ATR in my school the first week of May because I would step aside as CL and ask my members to vote for you just to see if that would really happen. I honestly don't see how it could work.

The bottom line is that I think ATRs should have their own "functional chapters" and the ability to elect their own representatives. Ideally, all ATRs will find permanent placement and no longer be shuffled from school to school, but until that happens they shouldn't have to file a lawsuit against the union in order to obtain the right to fair representation.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

New Action Takes a Position on Semi-Democracy

There's an interesting dynamic in UFT. The primary dynamic is Unity Caucus has all the power, completely shuts out all opposition voices, and does whatever it damn pleases. It apologizes to no one. It praises itself for every position it takes, and when it changes said positions, completely ignores its previous positions, dumping them down the ever-open memory hole.

I know this well because I transferred to my current school via the UFT Transfer Plan. I had a boss who wanted to make me teach all Spanish because her current Spanish teacher threw a lot of kids out of class. I never threw kids out of class. So for her convenience, she wanted to make a change that really would not have served the students well. I am certified to teach Spanish, but my English is much stronger and more precise.

The UFT Transfer Plan was a great victory, I thought, and it helped me tremendously. But when leadership replaced it with another plan, including the disastrous and counter-productive ATR, they called that a great victory too. They rationalize it by saying there are more transfers now and ignoring the ATR completely. 

Anyway, New Action is now embracing democracy, and rejecting the winner take all mode that shuts out the activists who speak their minds rather than that of Big Brother, Randi Weingarten, or whoever the hell it is that makes the calamitous decisions that have led us to the lowest point in teacher morale I've ever seen. They've taken the same position this blog has taken for years--that high schools ought to select the high school VPs, that NYSUT and AFT reps ought to represent everyone, not just those who sign oaths to vote as told, and that chapter leaders ought to select the District Reps who will support them.

They're absolutely right, of course. What's sorely missing from their piece, though, is representation on the UFT Executive Board. New Action has a deal to be cross-endorsed by Unity, resulting in their having seats on this board. Their first deal entailed Unity not running against them, but ICE was able to take the seats earmarked for them by leadership. (Unity corrected the inconvenience of having ICE on the board by cross-endorsing New Action.) Also missing is an explanation of why they support UFT Presidential candidates who absolutely oppose everything their column supports.

I can only suppose the answer is they want democracy except where it interferes with their keeping seats on the Exec. Board. Unfortunately democracy is not something we grant when it serves us, and deny when it doesn't.

I would be happy to work toward democracy with New Action. The very best thing New Action could do would be to ally with MORE and work toward democracy across the board. Our union has been unsuccessful in mobilizing membership, fighting apathy and cynicism, and that's why the overwhelming majority of members don't find it worth their while to even vote in union elections.

It's time for leadership to stop building brick walls around opposition voices. I will help with that, if they choose. And if New Action wants to genuinely work toward that, I'll help with that too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May DA Report

President’s Report

Resolution to remove fed from ESEA has passed committee. Hoping, with elections to keep focus on right things.

Albany—Skelos down, replacement John Flanagan. Mulgrew says Flanagan understands education but that doesn’t mean he’ll do the right thing. Financial backing comes from people unfriendly to teachers, favors charters.

Learning Summit—Mulgrew testified on evaluation law. Says changes not good for ed., we need stability and something simplified. Says some districts want lesson plans used for ratings, but UFT wants to maintain local bargaining and control. Says we want ranges so we can make local decisions.

Matrix—Misunderstood. For first time, if MOSL effective or developing, teacher can’t be rated ineffective. Says it will work for us until we can change federal law. Says state believes admin in cahoots with teachers and that’s what they act on. Says UFT is smart and tactical, and that we wanted this out of hands of legislature, which wanted minimum number of ineffective ratings. Says student proficiency ought not to be equated with teacher ratings.

Says he hopes Regents will change this as they are not advisory, but rather regulatory. Says if they vote no APPR must be revisited. UFT wants something uncomplicated, wants to form committee to continue to look at APPR. Says it is in flux, if federal law changed we will push to change state law as well.

City Report—Renewal Schools—SED has to set metrics on what is considered demonstrable growth. We have a lot of work to do, and these schools are the neediest.  Plans are preliminary and subject to change. New mayor wants to help rather than close schools. Says we need to examine data to increase grad rates and plan.

Teacher’s Choice—Big push from UFT. Using stories of out of pocket for social media campaign. Says we did great job on budget last year. Urges members to visit City Council members and lobby.

Survey—74% of respondents want to continue with workday schedule. Signed one year agreement and will continue to monitor PD.

Paperwork—UFT demands new paperwork standards, and continues to create them. There are papers at DA explaining them. Asks for conversations at schools, and wants issues sent to DRs. Blames principals.

Spring Conference—urges attendance, concludes report.

—Classes have been taught after school with up to 90 students. Arbitrator ruled against. All people who were paid per session will now get pro rata rate.


Mary Ahern—we want our union to stand up for us—we shouldn’t agree to things and worry about it later. How can UFT agree to higher % for independent eval. than NYSUT.

Mulgrew says everyone always says everyone will be rated ineffective with new plans, but there are fewer bad ratings each year. He now claims they moved legislature NOT to have minimum of bad ratings. Praises UFT for lowering Cuomo’s rating. He says we propose ranges so we can negotiate locally. He says we have wider range to negotiate via local collective bargaining. Says it will entice SED. Says we are doing work in a very difficult political environment. Says we keep pushing back, don’t lose our cool, and are very smart about how we do things.

Mulgrew happy we had “less poorly rated teachers,” but fails to mention high stakes attached to current low ratings. Praises social media campaign again. Says it is worst time to be an educator but sees light at end of tunnel. Says to think and be smart.

CL PS 110—recertification process for prof. and permanent license.

Mulgrew says it’s not clear how it’s going forward.  Mulgrew speaks of ridiculousness of having new eval. system in November, with 25% of school year gone. Will be 100 hours, but question is which hours qualify.

Peter Cohen CL PS 163—UFT does great job defending CLS rated ineffective. U-rated CLs in pre-K get S or U. Asks for expedited process.

Mulgrew says he will push it if they want it.

Q—Can admin ask for extra things on unit plans?

A—No. That is what we negotiated.

Dan Lupkin, CL—Why is wider range better to negotiate in?

With wider range, it signals you are willing to negotiate. Strategic decision to get overall goal done. Mulgrew amused by rumors about everything he does.


Megan Moskop—motion for next month, HS sports for all. Ss have been running campaign for equity in HS sports. David Garcia Rosen fights for his students to have sports. Teams were not given back to small schools. Garcia facing disciplinary action for activities. Says all kids need exercise and sports. Applause. 38,000 HS students have no spring sports, concentrated in small schools in high needs areas.

James Vasquez asks whether res brought up to social justice committee It was not..

passes overwhelmingly.


Sterling Roberson—to oppose Cuomo tax credit. Will benefit wealthy and harm public schools. We don’t begrudge anyone options, but object to taxpayer subsidies. State still owes billions in CFE funds. Asks UFT to vigorously oppose this.

passes overwhelmingly.

Evelyn de Jesus—says original vision of charter was one of collaboration, but many don’t follow laws or have transparency. Opposes increase in cap of charter schools. UFT will continue to lobby to maintain cap, and will demand charters enroll special ed. and ELL students.

passes overwhelmingly.

Janella Hinds—supports unit costing for DOE. We’ve seen destruction of community schools.We’ve seen educators ripped from schools and placed in smaller schools. Many teachers languish in ATR. Budgeting based on member salary. UFT should demand a shift in budgeting to unit-based rather than salary based.

Amendment to add language about racism in ATR is defeated.

motion passes overwhelmingly.

Tom Brown—supports UFT participation in Gay Pride Parade Sunday June 28th.

passes overwhelmingly.

Rich Mantel—Right to work laws dangerous for every union. RTW misnomer. Prevents labor unions from having all workers pay dues. All those who pay support all who don’t. Workers make less in RTW states, have less insurance, higher infant mortality, inferior education, 55%
more workplace fatality.

passes overwhelmingly.

Mulgrew speaks of Fredricks court case that would render all US RTW.

Emil P.—supports resolution toward single payer health insurance in NY State. Would end for-profit insurance, save millions.

Delegate suggests we amend and add clause “Whereas capitalism is hazardous to our health.”

Amendment fails.

Resolution passes

Emil P.—Resolution defending Planned Parenthood against GOP attacks. Asks UFT to let legislators and NYSUT to support.

Lauren Cohen—amendment to strike word “Republican” from attacks. Should focus on issues, not parties. Michael Schulman speaks against amendment. Says attacks not coming from Democrats. Janella Hinds says we need to speak about gridlock, and supports amendment.
Amendment passes.

Resolution passes

Tom Brown—supports resolution to protect Social Security and Medicare as earned benefits. 

Amendment about imperialist governments, war budgets and poor UFT record. Sterling Roberson opposes.

Amendment fails.

Resolution passes.

Teacher Torture Wins 3 to 1 in UFT Poll

I recently got an email from Punchy Mike Mulgrew informing me that 12,000 members filled out their one-question poll and preferred Neverending Professional Development to 37.5 minute Small Group Tutoring. Apparently there was no choice C: None of the Above. Nor was there a spot to make suggestions. Therefore 3 out of 4 UFT members want to stay 80 minutes after school on Monday and 70 on Tuesday to accomplish Whatever Is Done on those days.

I guess it's good to put out polls like that. It makes it look like you care what people think. I just took a poll from NYSUT asking me about the NYSESLAT test, which I administered. It asked how I would like the test to be weighted. Should speaking, listening, reading or writing be weighted more or equally? I wrote equally, and NYSUT asked me why. I said because the test had no validity, it made no difference how the parts were weighted, and they left me no option to write any such thing.

I don't usually give A, B, C, D questions on tests I write. Maybe sometimes I'll put a few, but no more than 20%. I usually want to see what students can write themselves. I never, ever, do true and false. It's pretty ridiculous when you have a 50% chance of getting it right. When you get surveys with sorely limited choices, they're not really asking you what you think. They're giving you limited choices and suggesting one is acceptable. That's not necessarily the case.

In the case of the UFT poll, it's simply ridiculous. It's kind of like what I used to do to my daughter when she was very young and I wanted her to do something. Well, you can do this thing that I want you to do, or you can do this other awful thing that I just made up. By the time she was six, she was hip to this trick and using it against me.  But there's UFT leadership saying you can do this thing, or some other thing that you want to do even less. In argument, that's called a black or white fallacy. It's what Karen Magee used at the AFT convention when she suggested the alternative to Common Core was Complete Chaos.

I can't testify as to the 37.5 minute small group thing, as my school is multi-session, and we simply rolled the extra time into classes. As chapter leader, everyone tends to complain to me about everything, but no one ever complains about that. In six years, not one teacher has said to me, "You know, our classes are too long. Why don't we shorten them and go to meetings instead?" And plenty of teachers in my building are tutoring kids all the time, whether or not that's their C6.

As always, it's tough looking reforminess in its twisted little eye while wondering what union leadership is doing to fight it, if anything. Mayoral control is now under attack because de Blasio doesn't support charters sufficiently. They want to raise the cap or dump it. Dump it, I say. But UFT leadership supports it, along with charters, junk science, and testing.

Most teachers want real choices. Not many are getting them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Conversation

Why Would a Teachers' Union Support Standardized Testing So Very Much?

Add my Union to the mix making that pledge!

When my U.F.T. clings to annual standardized testing, it sends a clear message to me.  My union believes that teachers--the very same people whose interests are the primary reason for its existence--lack the wherewithal to effectively evaluate students in their classrooms without the use of standardized tests.

Our union seems to favor standardized tests, often created at great cost, over the judgment of teachers.  At the same time, schools suffer overcrowding and under-funding, we line the pockets of Pearson and such.  We deprive our students of the resources necessary to experience more meaningful, and certainly more memorable, learning experiences.

When our Union feels that standardized tests, created far from the classroom, trump the year-long observations of teachers, we are in very serious trouble.  Even if teachers were the ones to write new standardized tests, I would still say testing every year is too much.

Our Union leadership is, itself, far removed from the classroom.  It doesn't experience firsthand the valuable time wasted by test prep in young people's lives.  It doesn't understand how much of the information crammed into unwilling heads will soon be forgotten. It never sees kids throwing up, losing all hope.  It never sees kids banging their heads or just slowly lowering them in defeat.

Leadership doesn't view with the same sense of disgust the sometimes shoddy, high-stakes test contents which teachers must swear not to divulge.  Neither does it view the young students whose thirst for knowledge may forever be sapped or whose self image may forever be ruined.  Failure!  Failure!  Failure!  Just who is our Union defending when it defends yearly standardized tests and the Common Core?  It doesn't seem to be defending students and it surely doesn't seem to be defending teachers!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Professor Tells Us How Things Are

I was a little upset by this piece, written by a college professor. I know he's a professor because he announces it. He's not a teacher, he says, and I agree. However, I'm a little surprised he so absolutely accepts every one-dimensional stereotype spouted by Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and everyone else spewing reforminess.

Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher's job is to make sure that you learn. Teachers are evaluated on the basis of learning outcomes, generally as measured by standardized tests. If you don't learn, then your teacher is blamed.
That's a pretty shallow view of what teachers do. A teacher's job certainly includes helping kids learn, but it also entails helping them on a broader basis. And even though we are evaluated via junk science, any of us who read Diane Ravitch know what nonsense that is. Furthermore, that is not the only factor on which we are judged. Given his sink or swim philosophy, it's surprising the professor hasn't done his homework. He continues:

However, things are very different for a university professor. It is no part of my job to make you learn. At university, learning is your job -- and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.

It must be liberating to have no responsibility whatsoever. It's absurd to judge teachers on test scores. The American Statistical Association estimates teachers affect test scores by a factor of 1-14%, and suggests that judging teachers by scores could have negative consequences. On the other hand, it's also fairly reprehensible to not give a damn how your students do.

I am not held responsible for your failures. On the contrary, I get paid the same whether you get an "F" or an "A."

Well, enjoy that paycheck, professor. You may be surprised to learn that I also get paid the same regardless of my students' grades. But I kind of want them to pass. I develop bonds with kids I see every day, and I do not delight in their failure. I understand that you are not expected to intervene with parents, as I am, but that doesn't mean you ought to be indifferent to student progress either.

Your teachers were not allowed to teach, but were required to focus on preparing you for those all-important standardized tests.  

That's nonsense. The overwhelming majority of high school teachers do not prepare for standardized tests. And it's a blatant insult to say we are "not allowed to teach." Aren't you the one who declares yourself a professor rather than a teacher? If teachers aren't teaching, who is?

Lecture has come under attack recently. "Flipped learning" is the current buzz term among higher-education reformers. We old-fashioned chalk-and-talk professors are told that we need to stop being the "sage on the stage," but should become the "guide on the side," helping students develop their problem-solving skills. Lecture, we are told, is an ineffective strategy for reaching today's young people, whose attention span is measured in nanoseconds. 

I'm certain you're adept at lecture, as you indulge in it throughout your article. I've had professors who lectured. Some were very good at it. I recall one professor who lectured us constantly. I paid rapt attention, as he was very clever. He did not make outrageous assertions like those in your article. But I got a C on his first test, which had nothing whatsoever to do with his lecture and was based entirely on the textbook. I got A on all the following tests, as I'd learned his lecture was irrelevant to my grade. He felt no compunction to help us at all. He certainly enjoyed hearing himself talk. Once I realized how little he cared about us I became far less enthralled by his cleverness.

My favorite college professors encouraged and took an interest in us. In fact, I remember them more fondly than most of my high school teachers, who in my current estimation, were not all that great.  Professors I admired were on topic, stimulated us, and actively elicited our participation. They encouraged us to challenge them. The very best of them were able to answer us quickly and confidently, and were not upset if we thought of things they had not. That's who I want to be for students who face me.

I don't mind going the extra mile to help kids, whether it's pushing them toward better grades or trying to help in other ways. I don't have a problem with the notion of students being responsible for their own grades, but neither do I have a problem with my being responsible to help them. Maybe someday they'll help someone else.

As it happens, I taught college for 20 years, and I remember being rated by my students every semester. I generally got very positive ratings (though no one was very happy with my handwriting).

I have to wonder, given how you revel in your indifference, how your students would rate you. I suppose you wouldn't care one way or the other. I, for one, am grateful not to be in your class, and I wouldn't want my kid or my students there either.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Revive NYSUT Breaks Yet Another Promise, Offers Kudos for Heavy Hearts

Michael Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearts of the Assembly for passing the most anti-teacher bill I've ever seen, and the folks at NYSUT hemmed and hawed, giving the impression they were not in line with Punchy Mike. But weeks later, the lovefest continues, and Magee and Pallotta are grateful to the heavy hearts. Why?

Because we've put off the insane evaluation system for a year. In 2015-2016, teachers will likely be rated just as they were the previous year. This is, somehow, a victory. It's ironic, because I watched all the Revive candidates all over the state, and they condemned the current system as an abomination, heaping blame on then-President Richard Iannuzzi. They conveniently and consistently forgot that their biggest and most influential supporter, Punchy Mike Mulgrew, also took part in negotiating this system.

As bad as this system is, the new one will certainly be worse. Cuomo has no qualms about what it's for. He wants to break the public school "monopoly" and he wants to fire more teachers. It's unconscionable that NYSUT leadership gives cover to weasels who call themselves Democrats and attack working people. And while it's better they go in for the kill later than sooner, it certainly doesn't merit our thanks. 

Remember, as it says in their campaign flyer above, Revive NYSUT was against APPR. That means, by my estimation, that they opposed it in its current form. Now, they have not only failed to do that, but they've endorsed a bill that worsens it simply because it does so later rather than now.

This is just another in a series of "clarifications." Revive NYSUT was against Cuomo, but not when he was running in the Working Families Party primary. At no time did Revive make a move to support Zephyr Teachout, at that point the most dire threat to the re-election of our anti-union, anti-teacher anti-Working Families governor. And when Zephyr Teachout decided to oppose him in the Democratic Primary, at no time did Revive support her then either. In the general election Revive sat on their hands and did nothing. Only after he was elected did they react, shocked and stunned that Cuomo continued to be Cuomo.

As for their alleged opposition to Common Core, at no time at the AFT convention did any of Revive's so-called leaders stand up to Punchy Mike's threats to push faces in the dirt if they laid hands on his Common Core. Magee basically suggested that it was Common Core or chaos, and there was no middle ground. Revive claims to favor NYSUT transparency, but their actions are so murky and contradictory that their words mean little or nothing.

VAM is junk science, pure and simple. Dusting it off and dressing it up as a "growth model" is doubletalk, and if we accept it we are as stupid as they think we are. For the sake of the children we are supposed to teach, I hope that isn't true.

Teachers are under attack. NYSUT and UFT need leadership. We're not getting it, and until we do we're going to continue to be handed barrels of garbage with big red bows wrapped around them. Leadership will continue to tell us to roll the barrels into our homes, ignore the stench, and hope for the best.

If we don't demand better we're getting precisely what we deserve.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Calling Veteran Teachers "Developing"

Mark Naison posted on this a few days ago, and got me thinking. Imagine teaching for twenty years and get labeled "developing." That's a pretty demoralizing prospect. Then, the question becomes whether or not you deserve it. Is it possible I've sucked all these years and no one has bothered to let me know? If that's the case, is it my fault? Weren't people supposed to tell me? What do they pay those supervisors for anyway?

Worse, I guess, would be if I didn't suck and some supervisor were telling me I did. Fortunately, we now have a Danielson rubric which specifically tells us what does and does not suck. So now, we can sit down with our supervisors and find out. You did this, and it did not suck. But this other thing you did, it sucked a lot.

Here's the thing, though. What sucks and does not suck is often in the eye of the beholder. For example, your supervisor might say that 29 students participated and that did not suck. Or, he may turn around and say 2 students did not participate and that sucked indeed. It doesn't really matter that it's 29 to 2. To suck or not to suck, that is the question, and your supervisor is the omniscient and all-powerful Oracle, empowered to decide precisely just how much you suck.

The essential problem with this system, you see, is not whether or how frequently your supervisor tells you you suck, nor why you suck, nor how much you suck, nor how accurately said supervisor gauges your relative suckiness. The essential problem is the system itself. It is certainly not designed to support or improve teaching. It is designed expressly to fire teachers, or conditions under which to do so would not be written into this law. In fact, the only reason Cuomo pushed for a new law is because teachers were not being fired with sufficient frequency. After all, why did all those hedge funders donate millions of dollars to his campaign if he can't actively ruin lives and careers?

And here is another thing about this system--Michael Mulgrew can stand up all day long and praise it. He can cite stats about how few teachers got negative ratings. He can even ignore those who actually have negative ratings as though they don't exist (and I'd like to see you try to defend this system to them, Punchy Mike). The truth is no working teacher likes this system. Not the ones who suck, not the ones who don't, not the ones falsely accused of sucking, and not even the ones who suck without being recognized as such. And if you poll the supervisors who aren't insane, you'll find they don't like it either. If some teacher doesn't suck, and no kids complain about that teacher, and the supervisor observes a healthy culture in that room, why does that supervisor have to visit another three times to see the same thing? Wouldn't that supervisor's efforts be better spent actually helping a teacher who needs the help?

It's degrading to label people developing, and it's particularly egregious if your 15-minute drive by does so in error. Maybe it was a bad moment. Maybe it was a good moment and you didn't recognize it. Maybe you don't understand the rubric you're using. Maybe you've been supervising for 20 years and are traumatized because no one's ever asked you to write anything before. Who knows?

What every teacher knows is this is a "gotcha" system. It's demoralizing to absolutely everyone, no matter what the ratings say. And Andrew Cuomo's Heavy Hearts Club Band just wrote a song that makes it even worse.

That's not how a society that values its children treats their teachers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

UFT Gets the E4E Perspective in NY Teacher

There's a lot of talk about testing nowadays, and when UFT wishes to discuss it in the union paper, the first person they go to is E4E member Starr Sackstein. Sackstein says she doesn't want to prepare kids for tests, but rather for college. And after all, college readiness is a hallmark of Common Core and all the reformy folk who say our schools are failing.

That's certainly the direction in which we're moving. Personally, I lost seven class days to a newly extended version of the NYSESLAT exam, ostensibly to determine the English level of my students. Having now given the oral part a million times, and having read the written part, I'd argue it's a better measure of just how Common Corey the kids are.

When I teach, I don't aim for test prep or college readiness. For one thing, so-called college readiness is based on a hodge-podge of minimum standardized test grades that likely indicate little. Studies show that teacher grades are, in fact, a much more accurate indicator of ensuing success of lack thereof in college. I teach kids how to speak, write and understand English. I'd argue this is fundamental not only for college, but for life. I'd argue setting up kids to be happy and successful prepares them for college, if they choose college, whether they like it or not.

Of course, I'm not E4E, which is just one reason you won't be finding pearls of wisdom from me in the pages of NY Teacher. The other, of course, is that my philosophy on education is aligned more closely with Diane Ravitch than Michael Mulgrew. Unlike Mulgrew, I oppose VAM absolutely. I don't think it's OK if you dust it off, dress it up and call it a "growth model." I believe the American Statistical Association when they say teachers only affect test scores by a factor of 1-14%, and that using VAM can be counter-productive to good education. I don't believe in mayoral control, or school closings, or charter schools, or two-tier due process, or having teachers work under conditions of abject terror. I believe an appropriate response to meaningless and time-wasting tests is opt-out.

UFT leadership, as is their right, disagrees. That's why the E4E member is pictured in the story, and that's why E4E POV gets top billing. When it comes to fighting for more work for less pay, UFT desperately wants that seat at the table. That's why they cannily negotiated to get money everyone else got in 2010 by 2020. Not only that, but they managed to negotiate this with someone reputed to be the most left-leaning mayor in decades. And as if that weren't enough, we still have no idea how much we'll be paying to help the city, now flush, with health care costs.

But leadership has other priorities. I often get upset with Chalkbeat NY for running idiocy like how E4E got 100 signatures for more effective means of firing teachers, or whatever Gates money has them pushing for this week. It's even more disappointing to see the official UFT paper giving them top billing. I thought one purpose of a union was to seek better working conditions for working people, a group that will soon include our children and students.

I don't think that's what E4E wants, and it's unconscionable that they are promoted in the pages of our union paper.

But I never know what the hell it is that union leadership wants. Yesterday, I got an invite to spend a weekend with Randi Weingarten, TFA's Wendy Kopp, and reps from the Gates Foundation for the low, low AFT price of 50 bucks. I hadn't planned to write about the UFT's E4E feature, but invites like that make me feel like leadership thinks we'd do just about anything for 50 bucks.

There are words for people who do anything for 50 bucks, and none of them describe my profession.

Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Don't Steal Pissable?

Charter schools can be very popular with parents.  Given the potential advantages, a little wee-in-the-pants accident may not mean so much.  So, "Don't Steal Possible."  And, while you're at it, "Don't Steal Pissable" either.

Understandably, parents want to put their children in environments conducive to learning.  High rates of suspension and the policy of "counseling out" can reduce potential disturbances.  So what, if you have inexperienced teachers, fresh out of college?  You don't have to deal with behavior you don't understand if discipline problems are solved by sending "distractive influences" back to the public schools.  The charter-school teacher's time can now be spent on prepping well-behaved kids, with the threat of expulsion hanging over their heads, instead of disciplining students.

If charters have a secret sauce for "Success," it is not their largely inexperienced, nonunionized workforce.  It is:

1.  smaller class size (sometimes under 15)
2.  failure to "backfill" to the same degree
3.  strict discipline codes
4.  high suspension rates
5.  a greater focus on test prep
6.  counseling out students who might not succeed by school standards
7.  choosing students from a selective lottery process, subsequent to an application process, pretty much guaranteeing a certain caliber of parental concern and involvement
8.  well-funded

So, what if we create more and more charters?  The likes of Eva will end up exiling the very kids who might benefit the most from smaller class size and greater funding.  They are dumped back into the public schools.  There will be too many in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms.

The proliferation of charter schools creates two increasingly divergent and unequal systems.  The two tier system is evident in any school that colocates with a Success Academy.  The charter school sector will seem to thrive with highly disciplined kids, focused on doing well on tests.  But what will be the long-term effects of a prison-like atmosphere of silent children marching hallways in lockstep?  I do not know.

I do know, however, if charters truly were interested in helping society, they would take the neediest kids, including those with behavioral issues, learning disabilities and severe language deficiencies.  They would focus their abundant resources on trying to help these kids soar in less restrictive environments of smaller class size.  They would function as truly public schools and work with everyone in the community.  Instead of sorting society, they would guarantee Success for all.  They would not "steal the possible" from anyone.  Instead, they would steal the "pissable" and flush it out of their system.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Great Debate--Just How Rigged is the UFT Election?

Last Friday Night Norm Scott and Mike Schirtzer got into their respective corners and came out swinging at a diner on 34th St. Both are active in MORE, for my money the only genuine opposition to UFT Unity Caucus. Unity has controlled the UFT since its inception, and there isn't a whole lot to suggest there's any impending threat to their total control.

Norm says the voting is so rigged it's better to sit out on the sides and boycott. Let Unity have a Saddam Hussein-style majority. Mike thinks it's worth running, and from what I hear, that was the prevalent mindset over at the diner. I'm not going to take sides, and I'm not going to make a prediction. That's not really the point here.

I guess the point is that it's remarkable any such discussion could be taking place at all. No one disagrees about opposing leadership, which has championed some of the most counter-intuitive and hurtful nonsense any of us can imagine. What sort of world is it in which the legislature passes the most anti-teacher evaluation system I've ever seen and the UFT President thanks them?

Now there was a time when the high school teachers voted against Unity. There was an opposition called New Action that not only took the HS Executive Board seats, but also the High School VP position. This, to the monopolists who manage Unity, was unacceptable. Therefore, they changed the rules so that high school teachers could no longer select their own VP. Furthermore, they made a deal so that the once-successful opposition caucus would be co-endorsed by Unity.  Without Unity support, this caucus simply would not have a seat, let alone several.

Like the high school VP, a whole lot of UFT positions are "at large," meaning everyone gets to vote for them. While I vote every chance I get, over 80% of my colleagues don't think it merits their time. I kind of understand why. The one time the High School VP wasn't Unity, they challenged the election. Fortunately, they lost by an even wider margin in the do-over.

NYSUT follows suit with a lot of this nonsense, which means that reps really beloved in places like Long Island are defeated by the entire state. It also means that locals who can't swing a weekend at the NY Hilton don't get to vote on leadership, and their potential votes are easily wiped out by UFT rubber stamps. UFT-dominated NYSUT just reaffirmed its commitment to this nonsense.

In our neck of the woods, so few working UFT members vote that more than half of the vote consists of retirees. It's a pretty good deal for leadership, which has an office in Florida. How many working teachers could take a week off to campaign against leadership in Florida? How many could travel there at union expense for ostensible union business? The sitting UFT President is not a working teacher, so for him it's no problem at all. And of course there is an army of oath-signers, many of whom are chapter leaders, for whom getting votes for Unity is do or die. Or at least do or no free trip to LA, or Buffalo, or wherever voices of UFT rank and file will not be heard this season.

To run or not to run, that is the question. Whatever the answer may be, it's a disgrace that voting is so blatantly stacked in favor of Unity that the question need even be asked.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

NYSESLAT Review Part 2--Awaiting the Rigging of the Scores

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I dispensed with all that "teaching" stuff and gave ELLs the NYSESLAT instead. It wasn't such a great test when it was one day, and kids would be routinely placed at incorrect levels, but now that it's three days instead it will be much better, depending upon what you mean by "better." In my school, it's actually seven lost days of instruction because of the extended time we need for the speaking test. But now that NY State has cut English language instruction in half, what's seven fewer days?

It's a well-known fact that more time learning is actually not useful unless you're using it to bash teacher unions for being recalcitrant, fighting all earnest efforts to achieve the goal of more work for less pay. If the lost time is devoted to standardized testing, well, then it's Mom, apple pie, and saluting the American flag.

And what a test it is, folks. Yesterday, a young man asked me why the essay specifically called for an introduction, body, and conclusion but only two paragraphs. This was the same young man who, the first day of the test, asked why the students had to stay until the bell rang if they had already finished their tests. Why do we have to sit here and do nothing? And why do they require a basic structure that demands three paragraphs and then ask for two?

I'm not at all sure that particular student is in need of Common Core. He's critical all by himself without it. Oddly, folks like Arne Duncan and John King get pretty churlish when people question the Core. They attack soccer moms and call teachers, parents and students "special interests." Those who spend billions imposing their will on our children, of course, are philanthropists, heroes to be lauded on test passages.

The second day, I stopped the CD because the listening activity was identical to that of the first day. It turned out that the geniuses at NYSED, or whoever they paid to design this thing, decided to repeat the same sample question three days in a row. I'm sure the students were as inspired as I was by that bold move, once I figured out it was not, in fact, yet another error.  On part one of this review, a commenter offered:

The Speaking Subtest was just the tip of the iceberg. This new CCLS-aligned NYSESLAT is the worst sort of rubbish: inappropriate, riddled with errors, and designed for failure. The CCLS cancer is spreading, my friends. Take heed.

Sounds ominous, but I'm not persuaded. I have no idea whatsoever what the NYSESLAT was designed for. Certainly it was an effective device in torturing beginning students. I watched a girl from El Salvador who's been here maybe six weeks suffer through it for no good reason. She's a rank beginner who will likely need to start from the beginning in September, and I don't need a three day test to tell me that.

But I have no idea what the test will say about her or anyone You see, after we grade the test at the school, we have to send it to Albany for the next part, The Rigging of the Scores. That's when Albany decides which percentage of kids should be at which level, and sets the cut scores so whatever they predict comes true. After all, how can you be all-knowing unless you force your predictions on the entire populous? There are reputations to protect, and now that you've cut English learning in half, there's gonna be a lot less of it anyway.

And that's just fine because once they rig the test scores they can get to the real work of firing all the teachers who've failed to make double the progress in half the time based on a test that doesn't even measure what these kids are supposed to be learning.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Screw English, Says NYSED

Since I've been teaching, we've provided English Language Learners with extensive instruction. After all, how the hell are you supposed to pass all-important standardized tests if you don't even understand the language? For the last few years, I've been teaching beginners. The first time I taught ESL I taught beginners. I've found many of my colleagues avoid this. I don't know why, because I love it. They make rapid progress. You can see it before your eyes, like when children are growing up.

Beginners, since I started in the eighties, have gotten three periods a day of instruction. Intermediate students got two, as did advanced. Proficient students, those who tested out, usually got one period but sometimes got another to help them along. Because placement tests are usually total crap, because they gave the same one for decades, and because some kids guess well for no reason, I've often seen kids at high levels come back for help.

NYSED knows everything, though, and has determined we have to stop coddling these kids. So now, for one period a day previously devoted to English, all ESL students in NY will take a subject class. They can either take this class with a dually licensed teacher, for example a math teacher with an ESL extension, or it can be co-taught by two teachers--one ESL and one subject teacher.

This is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard in my life, but it will save money that can be devoted to tax breaks for billionaires. Therefore Merryl Tisch and Andrew Cuomo can have a laugh over a Grey Goose martini at the next gala affair in which their paths cross. So it's all good for them.

In my school, we will have classes of social studies/ ESL. This is as good an idea as any, since social studies entails a lot of reading and writing, as does English. But it's still awful. Let's say, for example, that your history class entails, A, B, C and D. Let's further say that A, B, C and D are required for the Regents exam, without which you can't graduate. So you now need to cover A, B, C, D, and English as well. Who knows whether the English levels in the room will be the same? Shall we differentiate by teaching multiple levels of English as we teach history? How the hell do you do that without losing C, D, or some part thereof? And how do you incorporate beginning English into World War II? Present progressive?

Look. The Reich is bombing London.
There's the Gestapo, rounding up people for the concentration camp.

Certainly more colorful than, "I'm studying English." But aren't you supposed to be studying English?  Not really. Not anymore. It's Core, Core, Core, and no more of that touchy-feely crap. Renowned Common Core genius David Coleman says no one gives a crap how you feel or what you think, and if he says it, that ought to be good enough for anyone. If his life is one of tedium, drudgery, and humiliation, why shouldn't yours be too? In his defense, however, I actually don't give a crap how he feels or what he thinks.

And why should I? He knows nothing about language acquisition. Nor does NYSED. What do they care that it takes three years to learn a language conversationally, that if varies greatly by individual, or that it take 5-7 years to learn academic English? NYSED says screw, "My name is _____," and let them all study the holocaust.

Maybe they don't need to know, "My name is ____" because if these kids get the jobs in which the reformy Walmart family wishes to dump them, they'll wear name tags anyway. But while tags tell people what their names are, it's still unlikely anyone will question them about the holocaust while seeking out that 9-gallon jar of Vlasic pickles. By degrading jobs that require actual introspection, like teaching, while offering bargain basement standardized nonsense like this, we actively degrade our children and their future.

It's unconscionable that the demagogues in charge of education would take one moment away from our English Language Learners. Whoever thought of this belongs in prison with Silver, Skelos, and Cuomo,  And Tisch too.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

ST Caucus Brings Real Grassroots Unionism to NYSUT

 by special guest blogger Brian St. Pierre, 1st Vice President, Port Jefferson Station Teacher Association

Every now and then I have one of those moments in life where I just know that I am in the midst of something historic, something important, something special.  A moment where I am certain that a course has been forever altered.  Activists like myself live for these moments.  These moments are the positive affirmations of the endless hours of work we have put into a cause.  They are the fuel that keeps our tank running, pushing us onward in our journey for positive change.  This weekend, at the 2015 NYSUT Representative Assembly in Buffalo, I had one of those moments.

The membership registration drive followed by the inaugural caucus meeting of the Stronger Together Caucus (STCaucus) was a significant development for anybody who seeks a more member-driven style of unionism from their statewide union.  It may very well prove to be a seminal moment for teacher unions.  Jennifer Moore, president of the Sherburne-Earlville Teachers Association said, “It was so refreshing!  It was grassroots unionism at it’s best.  I felt like our voices were heard and valued!  Thank you STCaucus!”

Moore’s comments struck at the heart of the issue that lead to the creation of the STCaucus.  Within NYSUT far too many locals across the state have become disenfranchised, feeling as though their statewide union has abandoned them, it’s leadership acting only in their own best interests and not in ways that benefit the 600,000 members they represent.  Whether it be officers who had only been in office for four months giving themselves a 2% raise (on already hefty salaries) or wasting VOTE-COPE dollars on candidates who are clear enemies of public education, NYSUT rank and file membership has reached a breaking point.  

To get a sense of where STCaucus stands, one only has to look at the constitutional amendments that they authored for consideration at the RA.  The first amendment, called for there to be regional voting for the election of NYSUT officers.  Last year, during the elections for NYSUT officers, a mere 30% of NYSUT’s locals participated.  One of the largest reasons for this was the fact that many small locals (several across the state are below 100 total members) simply do not have the economic means to pay for their delegates to travel to New York City and stay at the Hilton for a weekend.  Of course with the voting always taking place in New York City and with the enormous amount of dues money that they collect, the UFT is always able to send their 800 delegates (all of whom have taken an oath to vote as they are told by their leadership) to the RA.  This sort of situation undermines democracy within our union and contributes to thousands of members feeling as though they do not have a voice.

STCaucus’ amendment would have allowed the delegates of every local across the state to vote at their own regional office.  This likely would never cause any delegate to have to travel more than a couple of hours and certainly wouldn't necessitate an overnight stay in the most expensive city in the state.  It is a common sense idea that would further the democratic process within our union.  Naturally, the New York State Unity Caucus instructed their members to vote against it.

The next amendment would have dictated how at-large directors are elected.  Currently delegates from the entire state are allowed to vote for all the at-large directors, most of whom work in different regions.  This allows Unity Caucus to use the weight of their 800 UFT delegates to determine at-large directors who represent parts of the state outside of New York City.  Last year, for example, the at-large director representing my area of Long Island received less than 10% of the votes in our area.  However because she had the Unity Caucus endorsement she received all of the UFT votes and now represents our area of Long Island.  It is akin to New Yorkers voting for members of congress in Wyoming, Georgia, or any other state outside of ours.  It was another common sense amendment that would allow all regions of the state to feel represented.  Once again the New York State Unity Caucus instructed their members to vote against it.

At this time, however, it is important to note that while the amendments were voted down on Friday night, it is likely that they went down simply because ⅔ of a vote is needed for a constitutional amendment.  On the floor of the RA most seemed to believe that the split was close to 50/50.  That in itself is an extremely important development as it marked the arrival, for the very first time, of an organized opposition to Unity Caucus who carries a comparable number of voters.

The validity of the caucus was furthered the next day when both a resolution and a special order of business authored by the STCaucus were passed unanimously after an agreement was negotiated between the leaders of the two caucuses.  The resolution, known to many as the IRefuse resolution, had two resolves added to it.  The first one strengthened the resolution by requiring NYSUT to send it on to the federal government.  The second resolve allows each local the ability to decide how they share the resolution with their membership.  The special order of business called on NYSUT to oppose NYSED’s college and career readiness standards.  The compromise resulted in a resolve being removed from the end requiring NYSUT to launch a financial campaign. If it had  not been removed the special order of business could have been ruled out of order.

The takeaway from all of this wasn't so much how the resolutions were or were not changed.  Rather it is that instead of just voting down what they didn’t want, as they would have in the past, Unity Caucus felt the need to negotiate because they could no longer be confident that they would have the numbers to impose their will on the entire convention of delegates.  It was validation that there is now another loud voice in the room when it comes to governing NYSUT.

The significance doesn't end there though.  The arrival of a formative opposition to Unity Caucus could have a deep impact on the national level as well.  NYSUT carries enormous weight within AFT voting.  STCaucus has the ability to significantly alter how the votes are cast.  In addition, there are strong indications that STCaucus will be joining with the United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE), a network of social justice oriented caucuses around the country including CORE in Chicago, Union Power in Los Angeles, MORE in New York City, the Caucus of Working Educators in Philadelphia, and the NEW Caucus in Newark among several others.  There is certain to be collaboration among these caucuses leading up to the 2016 AFT Convention in Minneapolis.

Finally, the emergence of STCaucus is significant for the rank and file NYSUT members across the state of New York.  While the New York State Unity Caucus is only open to NYSUT delegates and the UFT’s Unity Caucus is by invitation only, STCaucus is open to all NYSUT members across the state to join.  There is talk of regional meetings being held to listen to what is important from membership and each region of the state had a vice-chair elected to keep the pulse of what is happening in their region and what issues are important to their members.  To join STCaucus visit this site.  I strongly encourage all NYSUT members to do so to ensure that your voice is heard within the governance of NYSUT.  Additionally you can “Like” STCaucus on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

There were other story lines to come out of the RA as well.  President Karen Magee’s inability to follow protocol, for example, refusing to go to a vote count after calls of yea or nay proved inconclusive on one vote.  While Beth Dimino and several others called for a vote count and Mike Lillis attempted to make a point of order, Magee refused to turn Lillis’ mic on and simply declared the constitutional amendment votes a victory for Unity.

Listening to the absurd arguments from Unity Caucus members during debates would have been comical if not so sad.  For example when an amendment was debated about whether or not to add another officer position (at a compensation package that would cost NYSUT in excess of $500,000) some Unity members argued that NYSUT was in wonderful shape financially and that we could certainly afford such an extravagance.  Mere moments later, when discussing STCaucus’ amendment to move to regional voting, those very same Unity members argued that such a change would be far too expensive.  In other words, plenty of money for expensive officer positions, not enough money for furthering democracy.  Another argument against regional voting was that it would deter delegates from attending the RA and that their attendance was extremely important as it is where the governing of NYSUT took place.  On Saturday afternoon a Unity Caucus member requested all remaining resolutions and orders of business be dealt with by the board of directors at a later date rather than by the NYSUT delegates who remained at the RA.  When Freeport’s Stuart Napear (an STCaucus member) argued against the motion a Unity delegate pointed out that there likely was no longer a quorum in the room.  Upon counting the delegates Magee revealed that in fact there was no longer a quorum present and the RA was embarrassingly brought to an immediate end.

Still, emerging from STCaucus this weekend were names who we are sure to become familiar with as we move into a new era within NYSUT.  Teachers whose passion for a more democratic union was inspirational to their union sisters and brothers. For example, Lakeland Federation of Teachers’ President Mike Lillis, who crafted and argued for the special order of business against the standards.  Or Malone Federation of Teachers’ President Nathaniel Hathaway who argued so passionately in favor of regional voting that some Unity members seated near me admitted he made great points before ultimately voting against the call for democracy.  Or perhaps Shenendehowa Teachers Association’s President Megan DeLaRosa who so skillfully highlighted the hypocrisy behind Unity Caucus voters voting in favor of a resolution that supported an increase in democratic voting in New York State only hours after they voted against a resolution that would further democracy within their own union.

For those readers who have felt disenfranchised and shutout of their unions, this was an important weekend.  One day we may very well point to the emergence of STCaucus as one of the defining moments in the fight for a democratic union who was truly capable of leading the fight for public education.