Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Julio 2016

A lot of people are expressing doubt about the upcoming UFT election. Should I vote for Mulgrew? Should I vote for MORE? They haven't even proposed a candidate, and who can sit around waiting for something like that?

 It's always tough to make important decisions like those. That's why it's so important for us to have another alternative, someone who isn't sociopathic or megalomaniacal, somene who isn't making backdoor deals, someone who not only won't punch your face out for opposing Common Core, but also someone who wouldn't remotely consider opposing Opt-out.

I can further assure you that Julio wouldn't even think of signing a loyalty oath, and would never endorse or sign a substandard contract. Julio won't say one thing and do another, and he'll always support his friends. He isn't secretly angling for some union job, or hoping to become supervisor.

We need someone tough to run our union. I've spent a lot of time with Julio, and I assure you he doesn't think twice about barking at dogs ten times his size. And you better believe he won't back down from a dirtbag like Cuomo. If Cuomo approached me the way he approaches most teachers, Julio would bite his ankle for sure.

Furthermore, Julio won't be chasing after some seat at the table. He couldn't care less about a seat at the table. You see that piece of rawhide he has? I bought that at Petco, and it's the best thing he's ever seen in his life. He wouldn't trade it for any seat at any table. And I assure you he won't be going around throwing all sorts of cash around on expense accounts either. 

One of the most important elements in a leader is trust. I trust Julio absolutely, and he trusts me too. I know he won't be writing nasty stuff about me when I turn my back. He's not spending all his time online reading scurrilous rumors on blogs, let alone spreading them. He won't betray your confidences or turn on you.

I wasn't going to make an endorsement so early, but I know the field, and I think it's time we broaden it. We need a leader who won't sell us out for political expedience. We need a leader who we can count on and trust. We need a leader who won't take any crap from the likes of Cuomo, Flanagan, or whatever tinhorn politician comes down the pike.

That's why NYC Educator endorses Julio for UFT President in 2016. Haven't consulted yet with Arwen, but hoping she comes on board. I can assure her Julio comes with none of the baggage associated with already declared candidates.

Are you with me?

Related: EdNotes takes offense, declares Julio's nomination undemocratic, and throws his cats' bowls into the ring.

Update: Julio apologizes for his haste, endorses both Bernice and Penny Lane, and adds them to his ticket. Julio claims to now be the only candidate who does not discriminate based on species.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Living the Life of Riley: The Myth that Teachers Have It Easty

There has been a myth circulating, probably as old as time itself, that teachers have it easy.  It is given credence by the fact teachers have their summers off and still get paid...

Yet, if teachers truly had it easy, people would flock to the profession in droves.  The doors are not barred.  I don't see that happening anytime soon.  Teachers, although they do not typically work summers, receive an annual salary that fails to attract the great many.

These days, given the current climate of ed. "reform," teachers cannot leave through the exits fast enough.  Witness the unexpected spike in City retirements last June given the promise of upfront retro.   Witness the teacher attrition rate in the last ten years.  Witness the loss of experienced teachers in the profession.  Witness the decline in popularity of teacher-ed. programs across the country.  I'm sure you know people who have left.  I bet you know even more who wonder what to tell their children about this noble profession.  Their brother are doctors.  Their sisters are lawyers.  Their Aunt is a businesswoman.  Does teaching "pay" anymore?  

In the past, some people who either could not hack it in the classroom or wanted higher pay and more respect might have chosen to become administrators.  Today, that option seems far from golden.  Who wants to spend time running around checking off boxes of Danielson while the world falls into ruins around them?  Today, there is a new class of teachers who leave to become ed. "reformers."  They have taught for two or three years and they think they know it all.  They know they won't last in the profession, so they run for a more cushy job.  They love telling you what the hell is wrong with you.

Others may try to leave the profession by moving up the UFT-career ladder.  Maybe if you can write some ill-reasoned piece of propaganda crap, you can be catapulted out of the classroom into a nice office job. This is business unionism at its best.  To hell with the smaller NY locals with leaders who actually teach and teachers who actually vote their conscience.   Vote with the Unity 800 in a system far from democratic by any standards, and know that none of the decisions will impact you in the least!  You've got your double pension to make you cozy!  Unlike so many teaching colleagues, you'll make it to retirement.  You'll get all your eyeglasses and pills and vote with retirees who constitute 52% of all UFT voters.  Find some comfort in knowing your former colleagues now have $125 in Teachers' Choice.  Don't worry that many of them would Choose to leave the profession if they could.  Now that you're not busy teaching, you've got time to brush up on some Orwell.  

Teaching is a wonderful profession, but not because it is easy.  Where student needs are the highest, the job is the hardest.  Class size combined with lack of funding for high-needs students is a sure-fire formula for teacher burnout.  Add to it the weight of being a scapegoat.  As stresses mount, many quit.  Why wait to leave the profession when the profession may leave you.  Job security is at an all-time low.

There is no way that this is an easy job.  Yet, it is one of the most rewarding and important, if not the most.  We will all be dead some day, but we leave our children behind us.  We want them to be ready for the world.  We want posterity to find new possibilities for peace, cooperation and prolonging the life of our planet.  With the world in figurative flames around us, who the hell cares how posterity handles standardized tests?  Good teachers are priceless, no matter what their students' test scores try to say about them!  Without good teachers, we are all goners!  If only teaching were easier...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Victory, NYSUT and UFT Style

One of the great things about being a teacher union leader is you always win. You win when there are 22 components in Danielson and you fight back Bloomberg's call for only seven. You win again when there are 22 and you negotiate it down to 8 (almost exactly what Bloomberg wanted).

You win when there's a transfer plan that allows teachers to go where they wish. You also win when you give up that plan and teachers can go nowhere without the OK of a principal. You not only win when you get a junk science evaluation system, but you also get to dump the sitting President of NYSUT because he helped you win that.

This year Governor Cuomo, whose popularity is at an all-time low, pushed through a revision of the APPR, expressly designed because too few teachers were getting low ratings. UFT President Michael Mulgrew sent an email thanking the Assembly for that. Why? Because, of course, it was a victory. Everything is a victory. We always win. Those who criticize junk science, like me, like Carol Burris and a large percentage of NY principals, like Diane Ravitch, are cranks, Chicken Little, shouting the sky is falling. Why?

Because this year fewer people were rated poorly than under the old system. Of course, under the old system, you were not necessarily bound for 3020a after two years of crap ratings. Furthermore, under the old system, it was on the DOE to prove you were unfit. Under the new system, if a member of the UFT rat squad says so, the burden of proof is on you, the teacher.

Now that UFT has dumped the former President of NYSUT, the new one has adopted the UFT good news policy. Here's an excerpt from a Karen Magee email:

We beat back the education tax credit that would have been a giveaway to rich supporters of private schools, stopped the push to make the tax cap permanent, and made progress on testing and transparency.

Now this isn't the first time we "beat back" the tax credit. It likely will not be the last time it rears its ugly head, and it's far from time to rest on our laurels. And Ms. Magee omits the fact that we're sending private schools 250 million bucks. And while the tax cap isn't permanent, it isn't gone either.

Note that this is not about what we achieved. It's about what we didn't lose yet. It's like when your friend tells you about all the things he's done for you. Remember when you were walking down the stairs and I didn't push you? Remember when we went out for coffee and I didn't put poison in your latte? Remember when we were walking by that semi-frozen lake and I didn't toss you in?

Just forget about all the broken promises in the leaflet above. So what if they utterly failed to oppose Cuomo when he was actually running for election? Who cares if Karen Magee and her Unity BFFs have not only failed to oppose Common Core, but spoken forcefully for it at AFT?  What does it matter if they not only failed to do anything against APPR, but also labeled its new steroid-laced draconian iteration a legislative victory? They still haven't joined that Fort Orange Club. Maybe next week they won't join it again

It will be another grand victory.

Related: A local union leader stands up to the nonsense. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Last Day

That's all there is and there ain't no more. I know it will be tough. How can you relax without the Sword of Danielson perpetually balanced over your head? How will you be at peace with yourself without knowing the 30-year-old Boy Wonder might pop in with his iPad and let you know all the many ways you've gone astray and exactly why you're such a worthless mass of protoplasm? It will be tough, what with a seat at the beach, a coconut filled with a piƱacolada in one hand, and a Common Core-prohibited piece of fiction in the other.

But, of course, you will have to manage. As will I, and as will we all. It will be tough not getting up at 5 AM to run like hell and get dressed to drive away in the dark. It will be a struggle not to plot and scheme about how to win the never-ending battle with the smart girl with the fast mouth in the third row. And what about all the meetings you won't be attending? 80 minutes on Monday and 70 on Tuesday. 40 minutes each and every day in some multi-session schools. That will be tough to break away from.

But we all have to make sacrifices. We'll have to go out to lunch, go on trips, and travel. We'll have to read things other than textbooks. We'll have to see people we never get to see and do things we never get to do.

I've been teaching over thirty years now, and despite all the awful nonsense that swirls around us I've never appreciated my job more than I do now. I love the kids I serve, and I appreciate the opportunity to know them and help them. Maybe one of the reasons the reformies attack us so viciously is that they know how good this job is and how bad they'd be at it. Probably not, because they're only in it for the money.

But no matter how much I like my actual job, I can't say I mind the time off either.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous summer. I hope you get to spend time with family and friends. I hope you get to pursue all the interests you've been postponing due to the need to, you know, work.

Lord knows you deserve it. And if you want to hear about all the depressing and unconscionable things the reformies are doing while you're off, I'm here just about every day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Aren't People Standing for UFT Delegate?

I recently received an email from a UFT employee chiding certain schools for not appointing delegates to the UFT Delegate Assembly. It complained about those who asked why UFT didn't support Zephyr Teachout and suggested it was their own fault for not getting involved. Well, I'm pretty involved and frankly, the Delegate Assembly is just about the last place I'd expect to have my voice heard.

Whenever someone in leadership stands up against opt-out, for a substandard contract, most of the DA votes with them, predictably  and on cue. When James Eterno spoke against the contract Mulgrew turned off his mike. When Eterno said we'd established the worst pattern ever for our brother and sister employees Mulgrew denied it, but offered no evidence otherwise. I've yet to see any, and I can't recall anything quite as bad as 10% over 7 years.

A young delegate from our school watched Eterno get shut down and said, “An elementary student could see how unfair this is.” She's very helpful in our school and she will come to the DA if I ask her. Still, I won’t ask her to come just to pass the time. Most members of the DA have taken an oath to vote with leadership and risk not only convention trips, but often UFT gigs if they vote the wrong way. In fact, the person who sent me that email would be out of a job if he stepped out of line. This would not be so bad if stepping out of line didn't entail opposing Common Core, mayoral control, bad contracts, and a host of other things that hurt not only us, but also the children we serve.

I represent the largest high school in Queens, we have multiple delegates, but making them come would not make a dent in the pre-determined results. When Unity leadership sends the message, everyone knows and acts accordingly. It's infuriating to see the DA represented as a place where decisions are made, as opposed to a place where people are telegraphed how to vote, with virtually no subtlety whatsoever.

I have never been recognized at the DA. I have better luck, and a larger, more diverse audience, in the Daily News. The last time I tried to speak, Mulgrew recognized a Unity Caucus member, three feet to my left, three times as I waved my hand in vain. Unlike most in the body, I was wearing a suit,  but nonetheless invisible to the President. At that time, Joel Klein was trying to charge schools for opening before 8 and closing after four. My overcrowded school actually gave classes hours before 8 and after 4. I thought it was a pretty salient point, but our school of over 4,000 was not on Michael Mulgrew's agenda that day.

Those who complain of the UFT's failure to support brilliant, pro-public education Zephyr Teachout are not Johnies-come-lately, and it's not like they haven't tried to be heard at the DA. In fact there was a resolution at a DA last year to decline support for Cuomo last year and it was shot down.  We followed up by deciding to do nothing in the WFP election, and it appeared unions, including UFT, would have withdrawn support of WFP had they supported Teachout. NYSUT and UFT did nothing in the Democratic primary and Weingarten made calls for Hochul, who thanked her by speaking at Eva’s latest rally. We all did nothing in the general and everyone knows just how well that worked out.

I have tried to get  dissident voices heard by leadership, and the DA is just about the worst forum in which I could do it. When the contract was under discussion, I tried to enable an open forum. I had a journalist interested in moderating it. I was planning to record it and make it available to all, but leadership objected to the journalist moderating, suggesting he might write about it. At that point I knew they would never agree to having this forum recorded and made available to rank and file.

Our delegates actively support union within our school and will come make Hail Mary votes against junk science APPR or bad contracts. I could drag them monthly to hear about what a great job leadership is doing and how anyone who disagrees doesn't believe in democracy.

The fact is, though, that lack of interest in being delegates in some schools is a direct function of the cynicism engendered by a leadership that builds brick walls around people like me and other acolytes of Diane Ravitch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Where Did the Second Amendment Come From?

In the wake of the insane shooting that took the lives of churchgoers, for the offense of their skin color, a lot of Americans are thinking this--how the hell did that insane racist get his hands on a firearm? How can we keep firearms from lunatics and criminals?

It's very tough to do this in the United States. For one thing, the NRA is very powerful. It does everything it can to hinder any and all restrictions on firearms. And a big talking point is that there are too many, not too few laws. Another, around here, is how tough the laws are in New York and New Jersey. These arguments sound pretty good unless you consider them a little more carefully.

There's a glaring gun show loophole in the United States. I mentioned this on Facebook, and a commenter replied that New York had very tough gun show rules. However, if 33 other states don't, what difference does it make? You can go to some show, buy a gun, and bring it to New York or anywhere else with no issue. What difference does it make how tough the laws are in New York or New Jersey if you can freely go elsewhere and buy anything?

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and no one checks anyone crossing state borders. That's why Bonnie and Clyde were always crossing them. In Iowa, blind people can get gun permits. I'm not sure they can get driver's licenses, so they may have to enlist friends to drive them over state borders, but you get my point. State laws are largely irrelevant, and a poor argument against regulating firearms. While they don't work, it's ridiculous to determine, therefore, that legislation is useless. That implies Americans should shrug our collective shoulders, sigh, and say, "Oh well, I guess we'll have more churches and schools shot up." 

Another objection I hear is that many of the guns in these incidents are unregistered. Considering that anyone can go to any of 33 states and buy a firearm without a background check, that's not surprising. What's surprising is that any thinking person could oppose closing the gun show loophole. Guns don't magically rain from the sky. Gun owners should be responsible for accounting for their guns and immediately reporting their sale, disposal or theft. Guns need to be regulated nationally, not by state.

Some will argue that this violates the 10th Amendment, or that this abridges their rights under the 2nd Amendment. Some will say this violates the sanctity of the Constitution. But the fact is, the Constitution was not given to Moses by God on a mountaintop. Were that the case, there would be no need for amendments. And the amendments are not etched in stone on those tablets either.

It's our job to prevent further atrocities. It's our job to do everything in our power to remove options from lunatics. I don't see how that hinders law-abiding gun owners, but with all due respect, they are not priority number one for me. The presumption that their right to own guns trumps the right of churchgoers and students to worship and study in peace is a poor one.

This country bends over backwards to accommodate the NRA. It also bends over backwards to accommodate Bill Gates. It's time we do what's best for our people, rather than what's best for those who stuff the most cash into the pockets of our politicians.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Eyes in the Back of Your Head

That's what you need to proctor efficiently. For example, every time you write the time on the board, who the hell knows what's going on? Should you write one number at a time and then duck around? Or will that take more time than actually writing them all at once? And what if something else happens? Doesn't something else always happen? Isn't that why you have this job?

Let's say, for instance, you're proctoring in a huge art classroom. It is like an oven. The girl in front of you wipes her brow and looks at you imploringly, her eyes saying, holy crap, can't you do anything about this? You look back at her, wanting to be the Superman she's Waiting For, and ask, "Does the AC work?" The guy next to her says the other teacher says it doesn't, but you, being the big hero, have to check.

So you turn on a switch, hear a sound, but you have to climb up on a table to ascertain whether or not the sound means anything. It does not. You then climb down, and contemplate plan B, allowing air to circulate. You go to the back door, ask the girl blocking it to move up one seat, and then use her former seat to prop open the back door. Then you go to the front, where a trash can has the door open two or three inches and open up that door fully with another student desk. You then note the miracle of air circulating from window, to door, to windows in the hallway, and you think, "This is not so bad. Maybe I can be one of those hero teachers like in the movies and have some insipid movie star pretend to be me."

But just as you're getting set to calculate how much your consultant fee ought to be, disaster strikes. There are posters all over the room, and they are rustling, because whoever put them up only taped them on top, never contemplating that some day there might be air in the room. How can kids concentrate with all that noise? Is there any tape in the teacher desk? You find some Scotch Tape in the second drawer, but darn it, the teacher just used it all and placed it back in there empty. The next one? Nothing. Just some papers from ten years ago that never got handed back. The next one? An antediluvian English textbook. It is not until the very last drawer that you hit the mother lode--a thick roll of masking tape. You tape one, you tape another, but the noisiest, most rustling poster there is way in the back.

It's by the air conditioner, and you have to climb up on the table again to get at it. Naturally the Spanish teacher picks that very moment to come in and do her dictation. She looks at you like you are out of your mind. You look at her and try to convey silently that while you may indeed be out of your mind, it's not for this particular reason. After all, here you are risking your neck so that the children can hear her read about whatever it is she's reading about.

You tape the noisy poster, and does anyone thank you? The girl who was about to collapse of heat stroke before your heroic efforts? The teacher whose voice would not have carried above those rustling papers that sounded like Niagara Falls? Does the mayor come and give you a medal? Does UFT leadership repent, go back to the bargaining table, and try to get the $50,000 NYC owes you before you're in a wheelchair?

Nope. None of these things happen. And if that isn't bad enough, the teacher who's coming to relieve you shows up three minutes late, three minutes in which you could've had a revelation, determined the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, or perhaps even figured out what it is that is causing that pain in your toe.

But no. That three minutes is lost, you will never get them back and worst of all, no one will know of the heroic obstacles you overcame to ensure none of those kids would disappear into a pile of sweat underneath some gum-encrusted relic the NYC Department of Education interprets as furniture. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

My MOSL and Me: Luck Looms Large Among the Many Factors Out of My Control

Students took the Global History and Geography Regents last week.  In addition to fifty multiple-choice questions and a document-based essay with short-answer scaffolding, students had to write a thematic essay on belief systems.  They had to discuss a central belief of two systems as well as the spread of each system and its effects, once transplanted.

Some teachers were relieved.  They had guessed the question correctly.  They had given a similar question on their final.  They had reviewed the topic a day or two before.

I was a little less lucky.  I reviewed the topic a month and a half earlier...when we were first asked to begin our review.  I had not tested the same topic on the final.  I had not reviewed it again, a day or two before.  Looking on the bright side, if I hadn't reviewed it with them at all, they would have either needed to remember it from two falls back--when they were ninth graders--or from their own self-regulated review.  The latter doesn't happen much these days.

As we all know, it is one day of testing that is supposed to reflect best on our full year of teaching and the totality of knowledge absorbed by our students.  And besides needing to review like crazy to (ironically) try to prove that we are good teachers, we need loads of luck to correctly predict essay topics.

Some of my colleagues pat themselves on the back.  They mentioned this or that which their students can use as outside information for the DBQ.  I know better.  You know something and you mention it, but the test is not measuring the teacher.  The test is measuring the brain of a sometimes distracted teenager.  It was important to you that you mentioned "x," but it went in one ear of your student and out the other.  Your students were dreaming about "y."  It's probably a heck of a lot more interesting!

Despite the optimism of the most optimistic, most student essays will leave something to be desired.  Many kids may be able to explain a number of tenets of each religion, but the thematic question demands a discussion of the spread of the belief systems.  Here, I know students will sadly fall short.

It's not that we failed to teach them.  We merely failed to focus upon what the test makers chose to focus upon this year.  If we focus upon it next year, the test makers will have already moved on to something else.  Will we be able to guess it?

As the forces of "reform" fight to revoke tenure, the challenging nature of future Common-Core aligned exams may soon prove in a single day of testing (just three-hours time) that we are all failures, worthy of being held back or fired.

But for now, it's June.  The summer vacation will soon be upon us.  You've done the best YOU can do.  And you've even tried to spread the word about the stupidity of this system.  So, let's live for today...while the Governor and his supporters in Albany try to find new ways to eliminate our tomorrows!  "Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today and don't worry 'bout tomorrow..."

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Would Happen if You Gave Tests Like NYSED Does?

I've been reading that the Common Core math tests will be a rousing success, because their passing percentages will be the same as the Regents math tests were. That way, no one will say, "Gee, Common Core is failing everyone, and therefore it sucks." Thus, there will be no torches and pitchforks over at the gubernatorial palace, or wherever  Andrew Cuomo keeps his coffin, or his oversized ego, or whatever it is that motivates him to behave as he does.

On the other hand, imagine if you were to give tests on such a basis. You'd have to say to your students, "I can't tell you now how much each question is worth. I'll have to see how many people get it right or wrong first. What I can tell you is this--70% of you will pass, and 30% will fail." What would your students say to that? And what if your plan, as was John King's, was to pass 30% and fail 70? Would Arne Duncan give you an award and make some idiotic remark about how wrong the soccer moms are? Would he say this proves the kids aren't as smart as the moms think they are?

Because if he didn't, you'd be facing a world of problems, especially if some parent called to complain about your grading policies. I don't know about you, but one of the things my AP looks for on tests is point values for questions. In my school, it's unacceptable to write a test, decide which percentage of kids I want to pass, and then grade accordingly. After all, were I to do that, I wouldn't actually be writing a test. A test is supposed to measure what my students have learned, not memorialize a decision I'd made beforehand.

In fact, if I just want 70% of kids to pass my test, why does it even need to cover the subject I teach? Maybe I won't bother to write an English test. I'll photocopy an old Earth Science Regents exam and make everyone take that. What the difference? 70% of the kids will pass, just like I wanted. Who cares if the overall scores are low? When I give tests like those, I'm not actually measuring anything. I'm just using a useless document as quasi-tangible evidence that my prediction, which will come true regardless, is actually based on something.

Since it doesn't matter what the test covers, and since 70% are going to pass no matter what, why should we even bother with this school stuff at all? Isn't it expensive to send kids to school, even those charter schools I keep reading about? Couldn't we convert all that unprofitable public school real estate into condos for gazillionaires? Since everything is based on tests, and since the tests are basically meaningless, why don't we stop making kids wake up early in the morning and just let them take tests on their home computers? Who cares if they cheat? It doesn't matter because 70% of them are still gonna pass.

That's the NYSED model and Andrew Cuomo wants half of teacher ratings to depend on it. And our union leader thanked the Heavy Hearts in the Assembly for passing it. There's a Chinese saying, "I've eaten more salt than you've eaten rice." It kind of means you have a whole lot more experience than another person. You don't need to have eaten much salt to assess the quality of program Andrew Cuomo and his Heavy Hearts Club envision for our public school students. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Evaluation Blues

Yesterday I spoke with a young teacher who told me this was his worst year ever. I asked him why and he told me it was the evaluation system. He says it has him and everyone on edge. I asked whether he had gotten a negative rating and he said no, he hadn't. He was just feeling a general vibe of uneasiness. He told me our school wasn't what it used to be four years ago.

One of the things I found really shocking was that this is a guy who generally complains about nothing, ever. He has this very positive vibe, and this makes me think he must be a great teacher. I would be very happy to have someone like him looking after my kid. He told me that, though there is a whole lot of focus on test scores, that he doesn't worry about that first and foremost. Who knows where our kids come from? Who knows what they have going on at home? It's our job to show them there's a whole world of possibility out there.

I agree with that. Particularly if home is a place of uncertainty, or worse, there's a need for kids to see adults who are getting by. There's a need for kids to see there is possibility, that there is a way to maneuver through this world while managing to stay happy. That's why it's counter-intuitive, not to mention idiotic, to stress out teachers to the breaking point. If this teacher feels stressed out, then so does every teacher.

It's easy for Michael Mulgrew, who has not taught in years, to stand around and say we have fewer bad ratings this year than in years past, so the system is a victory. I can only suppose it's also easy for Mulgrew to ignore the fact that this is the very thing that motivated Andrew Cuomo and his Heavy Hearts to worsen things for working teachers. For Michael Mulgrew, it really doesn't matter whether that plan causes more teachers to get bad ratings. Because there's always a silver lining. Under my leadership, 95% of UFT teachers didn't get fired this year.

Under UFT Unity leadership, the Teacher Improvement Plans were 8% less degrading and humiliating than last year. Under our leadership, 12% fewer teacher meeting weekly with the supervisors who rated them ineffective have contemplated suicide. Under our leadership, we haven't had a catastrophic natural disaster in over two years.

Unfortunately, when you live in a system where absolutely everything is a victory, no one feels it when things are bad. No one knows when things are bad. Things are not permitted to be bad. And the great thing is most representatives have actually signed an oath to perpetually agree that this is the best of all possible worlds, the best of all possible school systems, and the best of all possible evaluation systems negotiated by the best of all possible union leaderships.

I'm not sure what I would say to such people if I had signed the oath. I suppose I could trot out the stat about fewer people getting bad ratings. But I know if the guy I spoke to yesterday is stressed out, so is every working teacher. That's not how you treat role models for children, not if you actually care about those children. 

Extra Credit: Name the bluesman in the photo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Genius of Merryl Tisch

Thank goodness we have a visionary leader like Merryl Tisch in charge of our Regents. After all, if she weren't highly qualified, why would she have all that money? And then, of course there are her brilliant tactical moves to attack the corruption that pervaded our lowly and unexamined profession.

First, she determined that no teacher was trustworthy enough to grade her precious tests, because God forbid some corrupted pedagogue should change some kid's grade from 64 to 65. It would surely be the end of Western Civilization. After all, those tests are so precisely engineered that there is no room for error.

My kids, of course, shouldn't even be taking a test like the English Regents exam, because, well, they don't actually speak English yet, but why fritter away our time dwelling on technicalities? The point is, the decision has been made, and the tests must go on. As long as I'm grading total strangers in whom I have no interest, everything should be fine.

And what's more, I can get paid for it. I got multiple invites to do so. Every time I deleted one message, another appeared. YOU MUST ANSWER BY THIS DATE OR YOU"RE SCREWED FOR ALL ETERNITY! Wow. That's a little harsh. But then, a reprieve. WE'VE EXTENDED THE DATE, LUCKY YOU! PLEASE PLEASE SIGN UP TO DO THIS THING!!!

I didn't, of course. I have no interest in grading tests of strangers, for love or money. But holy crap, it must cost a lot of money to pay all these teachers to grade these tests. But it's money well-spent. After all, there was that time where they put all the tests on a truck to Connecticut or someplace where they were gonna do this super-duper scanning to make everything fair, but a bunch of tests fell off the truck.

How many dollars are they now spending to get teachers to do what they used to do for free? Who knows? Who cares? The important thing is people like me no longer get to grade their own students. What a disaster that is. Of course I do it every day, all year, but on this particular day the only thing I care about is that they pass, for any reason, no reason, and by any means possible. Because the only way I can validate my worth as a teacher is to make my kids get a good grade on a test that measures nothing whatsoever that I actually teach.

And to prove to Merryl Tisch that my kids can pass a test that measures nothing I teach, I will cheat. I will change grades. I will ignore errors. Hell, I'll sit in the classroom and write 30 papers myself and grade them all. Because that is the sort of corruption that pervades my profession. Not like the upstanding paradigms in Albany, where only two of the three prime powerbrokers have been indicted, to date.

Thank goodness Merryl Tisch has caused NYC to spend tens, hundreds of thousands, who knows how many dollars to pay teachers to do something that used to be part of their jobs. The only thing that will top that is when she shuffles around thousands of administrators to evaluate teachers they neither know nor care about, so as to make sure that home administrators don't give their teachers good ratings.

Maybe, since no one will be around to actually administrate schools, things will run better. Or maybe they can just pay more people to do that stuff. After all, there's nothing more efficient than spending taxpayer money for no good reason. She may not know doodly-squat about public education, but Merryl Tisch is an unparalleled expert in spending our money.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Tripod Survey

In late May, teachers in some schools were asked to distribute Tripod Surveys to one of their classes.  Although the results of the survey will not be used to officially evaluate teachers...yet, administrators and teachers will view the results.

I would guess most teachers saved the survey for the class most likely to yield positive results.  I would have preferred to give it to my ninth graders, but I had three days in which to give the survey and they were busy with presentations.   By the time I gave the survey to my very vocal, but truly likable tenth graders, they informed me they had already completed the survey seven or eight times.

So, what's the nature of the survey?  Students were asked about the behavior and participation of their peers.   Students were asked if lessons were interesting.  Did their teacher seem to care?   Did the teacher explain things well?  Did students learn a lot?  Did the teacher assess student understanding?  Did the teacher have high expectations?  Were lessons student-centered?  Did teachers give feedback and make corrections?

Many of the questions intentionally overlapped with one another.  I would have preferred some different questions, however, like:

What is the size of your class?  Do you think it negatively impacts your teacher's ability to help individual students?  Do you enjoy test prep?  Do  you enjoy taking tests?  Do you think a single, high-stakes test score adequately measures your abilities, as exhibited to your teacher, throughout the year?  Did the curriculum actively promote your awareness of current issues and encourage you to work toward a better future?  And, in all honesty, did you study for more than an hour outside of class each week?

So much for my questions...

As with all data, I am sure the Tripod Survey results must be taken with a few grains of salt.  If student behavior is poor, is it necessarily the fault of the teacher?  If students do poorly on tests, is it necessarily the fault of the teacher?  

And, if the lessons are not interesting, is it ultimately the fault of the teacher or is it the fault of an overemphasis on the importance of standardized testing?

Monday, June 15, 2015

From UFT Unity--Stereotypes, Juvenile Insults, and No Regard for Members in Trouble

I went to the DA last week. When you enter, you are greeted with flyers from UFT Unity, New Action and MORE. Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I do not. Last week I had other business and tossed them out as I exited. But someone sent me a scan of the Unity flyer last week. It portrays all those who dare question Punchy Mike Mulgrew as contrary imbeciles shouting, "The sky is falling."

It speaks of the contract Mulgrew negotiated but somehow forgets to mention that UFT members don't actually get the money until over a decade after most city workers did. It neglects to mention the second-tier due process it negotiated for ATR teachers, or the fact that several of them have lost their careers for the offense of not reporting to interviews of which they may or may not have even been aware. It neglects to mention the fear and loathing that pervades our ranks since Punchy Mike negotiated the current APPR. Forget about the impending draconian version for which he thanked Andrew Cuomo's Heavy Hearts Club Band.

The pamphlet harps on the fact that Unity opponents have never been in control. This is interesting, by way of non-comparison. In fact, Unity, in this very handout, is striving to make sure they never gain control. It's ironic to hear them complain of their very success. But this is the sort of rhetoric you get from the visionaries who failed to recognize Cuomo as an opponent until a full five years after he announced he was going after union.

One reason opponents have never been in contol is that Unity has taken many steps to ensure its iron-clad monopoly. It keeps the faithful that way with loyalty oaths it exchanges for free trips to conventions and patronage gigs. And while I know some very smart people who work for the union, I've also encountered people who clearly aren't smart at all, just along for the ride on the gravy train. As a high school teacher, it's insulting that we alone are not trusted to elect our Vice President. As a chapter leader, it's insulting that we aren't allowed to elect our District Rep.

It's a fact that more retirees than active members voted in the last election. It's a fact that Unity maintains a UFT office in Florida from which non-teachers like Michael Mulgrew can campaign, and from which working teachers who might oppose him cannot. And while Unity accuses its opponents of cynicism, it's a further fact that fewer than 20% of working members found it worth their time to vote in the last election. If there is cynicism, it's certainly engendered by UFT Unity policies.

Here's a fact--it's no fun opposing the Unity juggernaut. It's no fun being excluded from every single decision made by the union. I am an activist, and I would love nothing more than working with leadership to make things better for members. Unlike Punchy Mike Mulgrew, I'm in school every day, I see kids every day, and I hear the voices of working teachers every day. That's what motivates me. Unlike a whole lot of Unity faithful, I am not motivated by free trips or patronage jobs.

That's why I cannot support charter schools, mayoral control, junk science teacher ratings, two-tier due process, erosion of seniority privileges, collusion with Bill Gates, contracts clearly inferior to those of our brother or sister unionists, or dumping the worst pattern ever on those same brothers and sisters. I want what's better for working people, not what's convenient for me or Punchy Mike.

UFT Unity assumes its readers to either have signed the oath, drunk the Kool Aid, or more likely, to be utterly ignorant of every demonstrable fact on this blog. If that isn't cynical, I don't know what is. It's disappointing that this is the best argument they can muster--reheated nonsense rendered even more baseless with every concession they embrace.

To judge from this piece of paper, you'd think working conditions were minor technicalities. Talk to someone who lost his job for not showing for an interview. Talk to someone facing job loss via Mulgrew's APPR. Talk to someone whose rating got dragged into the gutter by junk science VAM. Talk to an ATR teacher who got discontinued for no reason whatsoever.

I can only suppose the person who wrote this pamphlet talks to none of these people. I talk to all of them, someone has to represent them, and this pamphlet makes clear it is not UFT Unity. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Saying Goodbye

I went to a retirement party last night. It was beautiful. Sometimes these things are overdone and feel like a Bar Mitzvah, but not this one. It was in a relatively quiet room at a bar/ restaurant, and I was pretty happy they didn't make us wait until ten o' clock to eat. I've been to a few like that, and because I get up ridiculously early, I tend to leave those pretty hungry.

But that wasn't the best part. For one thing, this teacher drew a varied crowd. The cafeteria staff, students from the last three decades, paraprofessionals, and at least three administrators showed up. The stories about how this teacher touched the lives of her students were incredible, and most of them came firsthand from the students themselves. A paraprofessional stood up and told a story about how this teacher had turned around her daughter for the better.

Even more shocking, this teacher got up and sang a goodbye song, homemade, to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and oh my gosh, she could really sing. I say this as someone who winces at music concerts where the orchestra or chorus plays out of tune, even when my own daughter is part of it.

I listened to speaker after speaker testify to her extraordinary dedication, her depth of character, her unwillingness to settle for second best from her kids. They painted a picture of someone whose loss would be felt by many. They painted a picture of someone it would be very tough, if not impossible, to replace. This is a humble person who doesn't go around singing her own praises.

I don't tend to trust people who sing their own praises. It's pretty much always better if someone else does it for you. It's certainly more credible.  But here's the thing--when you work in a huge building with a humble and unassuming person for a long time, you may not ever find out what exactly that person does. And that's kind of a shame.

I know the program this person works in, and it's a great program. I know they've helped a lot of kids in my school. and a lot of kids who I also serve. That's why I went to this party, even though I knew I had to get up very early. But for the first time in many years of going to such parties, I left with regret, for not having gotten to know someone who's clearly a very special person.

I'm thinking now about the Joni Mitchell song, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone."  I'm gonna try to make it not always seem to go that way from now on.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

UFT DA Not Ready to Vote No Confidence in Reformy MaryEllen Elia

                        President’s report

Mulgrew thanks DA for our work (but notably, does not offer us cake). Says we have implemented contract but not far enough. Says we had no idea Cuomo would become nemesis. Makes me wonder why he chooses to disregard those of us who recognized this five years ago.


AFT has started process on presidential election next year. Pension cuts are threatened throughout country. Concerns about how US Supreme Court may rule. Says our enemies are really bad and evil, have cut revenue via tax systems. Boasts of surplus in NY because we fought back austerity measures. Speaks of other locals with huge increases to health care. 

Says it’s tough to get things done because DC is very focused on upcoming Presidential election, that many want to take, I suppose Hillary, down.


NYSED—we will have a new evaluation system next November 15th, maybe. Waiver application may be available for one year only. Believes by next September there will be another system. Says when we have momentum we will make system better.

Stresses it was important to get this out of governor’s hands and to NYSED. Says that is our strategy. Ridicules choice of November 15th to enact evaluation system. Screams about it repeatedly.

Mentions tuition tax credit and charter cap still face us and thanks those helping us. Mentions tax credit is now tied to rent control. Says the well-being, shelter and safety of 2 million people is tied to a tax credit for billionaires. Says we have informed people about it but questions why he did it. Says it will cost teachers $300 to get promised $200 tax credit, and that only very rich will be able to take advantage of it.

Says 13 million has been spent to raise charter cap and push tax credit. Says charter push is to destabilize public education. Says now presidential candidates will openly say charters are an attempt to privatize education.


Mayor pushing for mayoral control, but public is not receptive. Mulgrew says Bloomberg has tainted mayoral control. Says UFT supports mayoral control with checks and balances. Gets scattered applause. Speaks of our support for rent control.

Chapter leader survey—Says we need more info to determine whether contract is being implemented. Says he may get more people to schools to help build chapters.

Renewal schools—Says it’s tough but better than school closures. Says no member is mandated to work extra time, but it is available for pay. Says we need to make those schools work to prove we know “how to fix failing schools.” Speaks also of “out of time” schools that don’t need anything done until September 2016.

Mulgrew speaks of difficulty of being a chapter leader, and thanks outgoing chapter leaders.

Mulgrew says he wants to celebrate our schools and let people know how we’ve kept schools moving despite 20 years of mistreatment from Bloomberg and Giuliani.

Thanks all of us and wishes us a good summer.

                                                               Leroy Barr

Speaks of Spring Conference. Says it was fantastic. Says we gave a million dollars for Albert Shanker scholarships. Wishes a safe and restful summer


CL Paula Washington—Could you clarify what Weingarten said about negotiating reduction of high stakes testing? Mulgrew says it is law of the land, NSEA and RttT mandate you must follow their policies if you want Title 1, 900 million in NYC.

CL IS 303
—Where do we stand on CCSS with NJ giving it up? Mulgrew—Christie talks but isn’t giving up Title 1 funding. Mulgrew says state must have standards but it no longer has to be CCSS. He says politically CC can’t survive. With teacher eval. tied to testing while CCSS is introduced there should be 2-3 year waiting period.

CL PS 25—A lot of schools closed SAVE rooms under Bloomberg. What is status of SAVE law? SAVE law says there must be room, must be plan, and must be part of safety plan. Says there must be plan, must not be recreation.

James Duncan, CL—What should we do to be ready for next year re MOSL? Problem is DOE doesn’t have regs to answer that. Keep all existing committees in place. Mulgrew says matrix will be pivotal next year. Says admin opposes matrix because it takes power away from them and empowers members. Says it’s not true. Says he’s “heard all the rumors and it’s just factually untrue.”

—Comp time—which seniority? School. How do we prove it? Ask. Call UFT if you don’t know.

Jim Myer PS 32—Can we have evaluation clarified as to how points work? Mulgrew says we got rid of points “because of the silliness.”  Myer asks about inequality of class sizes, and perhaps that should be considered. Mulgrew says “class size is a biggie.” Asks why some kids get more money than others, says if we got what we were owed we could lower class size.

CL thanks Mulgrew. Says he hears a lot about candidates but is not interested. Says he’s interested in work we do for our chapters. Says we don’t do enough to build chapters. Says we need to inform members. Mulgrew says if you listened to his report, “you gotta change what you do. We don’t like data but we’re gonna have to get over it.” If key to contract is strong chapter, we aren’t implementing unless we have one. Mulgrew says strong chapter means you make school work with those who work there, and does not necessarily entail war with principal. Says CL is endorsing what he already said.


Mulgrew recuses self as chair. Bearded man takes over and fails to introduce self.

Mulgrew introduces motion for this month. States name of high school he somehow represents. Wants to affirm we celebrate public schools and great work done by UFT members. Much joking about rules and such ensues between Mulgrew and bearded man. Is hilarious, they seem to think. Chair returned to Mulgrew.

Jia Lee
moves for resolution of no confidence in MaryEllen Elia. Jia says we’ve made many compromises, but they have come with sacrifices. Compares Elia to King Tisch. Speaks of support of CCSS and high stakes tests. Raises this for next time.

Janella Hinds
speaks against. Says we don’t know who Elia is. Says there was good partnership in Hillsborough. Says we do not select commissioner. Says our positions must be grounded in reality. In absence of clear understanding it may be shortsighted to say no confidence. Asks for vote of no.

Resolution does not carry. Mulgrew moves to close motions.


“I’m resolution number one,” says Mulgrew. Recuses self. Guy with beard returns. Mulgrew, from floor, says he is of William E. Grady High School.  Says we do a damn good job in largest most challenging school district without any help from those who were supposed to help us. Says we need a complete plan to celebrate every place our members are doing a good job, despite what media says. Says it is not an anger campaign, but a happy campaign.

George Altamare, Exec. Board, says he is happy to see resolution.

Resolution passes.

David Garcia Rosen
  Sports—Some high schools get money while others are told there is not enough. Small schools movement have caused segregation depriving them of activities open to others. Says NYC system is separate and unequal. Says res will put pressure on city to allow more students to reap benefits of sports.

Janella Hinds
—speaks in favor of substitute res. Mulgrew rules her out of order. Hinds speaks against resolution.  Tells her to rise against resolution. Says she is speaking against it, for reasons she articulated, though I failed to hear them.

Ken Achiron—Rises to offer substitute motion. Motion seconded.

Megan Moskop—point of order—Does sub resolution get raised before discussion of first? Mulgrew—yes.

Achiron—Says all children should have opportunity but we shouldn't create opportunity for one student by depriving another. Says system is segregated but position is charters and small schools exacerbated segregation, not large schools. Says res. would ask that everyone’s gym would be open to permits and belong to no one and everyone. Says it would create disruption, taking ability to run teams away from many schools.

Mulgrew takes privilege as chair. Says he believes every kid should have opportunity. Says if we pass resolution City Council will slash budgets. Says our position on CFE is we should take from richer districts and give to us. Asks if we can come up with resolution that makes it clear we are not pitting one school against another. Says he understands rationale for both of them, and that they divide us where we have common ground.

Asks if parties can come with resolution to go after PSAL, and plan for children to have access to teams. Says we will push for all kids to have access. Seems to want parties to come to agreement.

Rosen—we have been researching since 2011, have discussed with UFT. Says res he put forth should be voted on. If it doesn’t get through we will work on it. Students need to know whether or not UFT supports them. Says there is enough money and facilities to go around.

Move to table—will require two-thirds vote.

CL Claude Atkinson
—Asks Garcia to reword reso as health rather than civil rights issue.

Mark Korashan—Moves to refer resos to exec. board. Mulgrew asks if it is motion to table. Parliamentarian says it is.

Motion is tabled.

Point of order CL PS 163—First motion was too important not to do properly. Asks for revote. Mulgrew does revote.

Revote passes.

Paul Egan—Resolution—should there be elections before next DA, Exec Board will endorse. Expects council races.

Marjorie Stamberg opposes because Exec. Board supports capitalist candidates. Says UFT is working class. Says we should oppose GOP, Democrats and Greens and need our own party.

James Cochran CL speaks in favor of motion—says he’s OK with board as long as they endorse people who get him “bigger piece of the pie.”

Mulgrew says we’ve had speaker for and against which is “ettiquette.”

Motion to renew rent regulations. Affect 2 million residents. Need to support extension and strengthening.

Isabelle C. Wagner, delegate—Is one of rent-stabilized tenants. Speaks in support. Says people really need it, she can’t afford to stay where she is otherwise.

Joan Haymont—asks to amend—change middle class to working class. Seconded. Says she would like to roll back rent stabilization to rent control. Asks for communist revolution.

Gloria Brandman, CL
—supports resolution,  asks additions. Mulgrew rules her out of order

Point of order—Mary Ahern, CL—time is up. Mulgrew—resolution started before time, so he let it go. Mary says she was upset when we never got opt out resolution.

Questions called.

Vote inconclusive.

Mulgrew has people stand. Still inconclusive. Mulgrew asks for vote on 19th floor. Mulgrew sees 26 in favor, 8 oppose. Mulgrew says amendment passes, res passes.

Mayor de Blasio and the Trailers

 To the left you can see my workplace of many years. Home sweet home for me and hundreds of ELLs over the last few years, until my supervisor kicked me out to protect a much-coveted second-floor classroom. I'm pretty happy there in that I have an LCD screen and can use technology for the first time in my 30-year career. It's so much easier to teach ESL when you can project huge visuals at will.

I was pretty surprised to learn that, unlike his predecessor, Mayor de Blasio actually plans to get rid of the trailers in NYC. Having spent over a decade in those moldy monstrosities, I'm the first to applaud that action. In fact, I'm up for bringing a bunch of lawn chairs, setting up a barbecue, and having a huge party in celebration. But unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. What surprised me most was the note in the Mayor's Capital Plan to take down our trailers.

This was a particular surprise since no one had alerted me, or as far as I could tell, anyone else in our building. In fact, Class Size Matters estimates that fewer than 20% of the seats needed in Queens high schools are going to be created. How, then, can you eliminate existing seats? I'm not a math expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd love to know how this is done. Or even why this is done.

In our school, we use all eight of our trailers every period of the day. While the DOE is unable to calculate how many kids use our trailers, I don't find it that difficult. 8 times thirty is 240. Multiply that by ten, for our ten-period day, and you have 2400 kids using our trailers each and every day. If you take away our trailers, we will lose all that space. How will we make up for it?

When I became chapter leader six years ago, we were severely overcrowded. I wrote about it in the Daily News and worked very hard to get it covered in the Post and the Times, among other venues. Colleagues reported that Klein and Bloomberg had to acknowledge us on TV. Then UFT VP Leo Casey helped our School Leadership Team get a meeting with Tweed in which we agreed to limit enrollment, and we managed to slow things down a little.

Unfortunately, when and if Mayor de Blasio closes our trailers, he's made no provision to place our kids anywhere else. I know our principal dreams of adding another floor of classrooms, and perhaps a culinary program. It's a great idea, but it will cost a whole lot of money. I don't see anyone offering it, and unfortunately all the hedge fund zillionaires are placing their lot with Eva Moskowitz. If Cuomo and his rich pals get their quasi-voucher program there will be even less money for lowly public schoolchildren.

I told multiple callers from UFT leadership that I refused to work for Bill Thompson. Instead, I worked for Bill de Blasio, I contributed to Bill de Blasio, and I went to his inauguration. It was a beautiful day, though we were all pretty much freezing our butts off.  I very much support Mayor de Blasio's initiative to get NYC kids out of trailers.

But, Mr. Mayor, if you take kids out of trailers you need to provide some other space for them. I don't want kids coming to Francis Lewis High School or any other school at 6 AM, staying until 6 PM, and eating lunch at 9 AM. Please find a reasonable alternative for us, and for other city schools, before you knock down those diabolical little boxes.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Why Teaching is Still Better than Russian Roulette

There are a lot of naysayers about the revolutionary new APPR system that UFT President Michael Mulgrew helped negotiate. There are even more people complaining that, when the Assembly moved to make the system even worse, that Mulgrew actually thanked them and declared the Twitter campaign, the one in which he did not participate, a rousing success. These people, of course, ignore the beauty and wonder of the new system.

For one thing, as Mulgrew frequently points out, the number of poorly rated teachers is lower than it used to be. Sure, in the past, a negative rating did not come with a humiliating Teacher Improvement Plan, where you sit every week with the person who gave you a crap rating and soak up his insights on why you suck or how you should observe the ducklings who follow him blindly into whatever. Sure, in the past, the burden of proof to establish your incompetence was on the DOE, and you did  not get observed by the UFT Rat Squad to determine whether or not it would remain that way. And sure, two negative ratings did not automatically send you to 3020a.

But if you have a free pass to the next meeting in Schenectady, if you want that free tuna wrap while the proles all slink away from the delegate assembly, and if you want that all-important patronage gig or the possibility of a lucrative union career outside that inconvenient classroom, you don't think about that stuff. You do as you're told, question nothing, and champion mayoral control, charter schools, high-stakes testing, junk science and Common Core for the kids you serve. Because after all you're a role model and how will children learn to suck up and surrender their principles if you don't lead by example?

What Mulgrew has yet to touch on, of course, is the clear advantage our current APPR system, or even Cuomo's new system has over Russian Roulette. Now everyone knows Russian Roulette is a game in which 5 of the 6 chambers of your cartridge are empty. So you have a one in six chance of actually killing yourself. But in APPR, your chances are considerably less. Let's say Cuomo achieves the Jack Welch model of shedding 5% of teachers each year, whether or not they actually deserve it. Every teacher will then have a 19 to 1 shot at keeping his or her job each year, and it seems to me that everyone would have a 50/ 50 shot of making it to ten years. 

So for all those nagging critics who say, oh, teachers shouldn't be judged on baseless systems like VAM or so-called growth models, for all those who are freaked out over the possibility of being fired for no reason, for all those who teach kids who don't speak English, kids who have severe learning disabilities, or even kids who never study, stop your whining. Take a look at Christopher Walken, above. He made believe he was playing Russian Roulette and his career turned out fine.

All you need to do is make believe we're working under a reasonable evaluation system and for all you know, your career might turn out fine too.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Charter Schools: Is the Class Half Full or Half Empty?

There are more than a couple thousand charter seats supposedly sitting vacant in NYC.  And this, at the same time as the public schools suffer severe overcrowding.  Some of the most successful charter schools apparently fail to adequately "backfill."   As students leave, they are not replaced.  NYC's charter schools left 2500 available seats empty last year.   And, all this, while some charters agitate for lifting the cap, claiming seemingly endless waiting lists (which the U.F.T. would like audited).  Since the City must pay rent for these schools, shouldn't their facilities be fully utilized?   So, is the class half full or half empty?

If you love charter schools, the class must be half full.  Student attrition occurs.  In some schools, the attrition occurs disproportionately at the expense of the behavioral problems and the low scorers.  The remaining students stand academically stronger.  There is none of the disruption that occurs with the arrival of new students, with varying levels of skill, continually, throughout the school year.  If you teach in a public school, you are used to welcoming new kids into your classroom as late as June.  It may not be convenient, but it's a necessary disruption.

If you believe in public education the class must be half empty.  Read Leonie Haimson's "Fact Sheet on School Overcrowding and the Capital Plan."  A third of NYC's elementary schools are 138% (or more) above capacity.  Some schools have long had trailers, many now decrepit and rotting.

Why must there be so much overcrowding in City schools when the problem could be easily eased if some charters would take on more students, truly serving the public?  Overcrowding brings problems.  Kids cram the hallways. Libraries are lost.  Kids are stuffed in closets to receive special services.  School lose their gyms.  Lunch periods may begin before people have had their breakfast.  Teachers face too many students with too many needs.  Too many obstacles to success.  Most recently, the arbitrator's solution to over-sized high-school classes has been relieving teachers of their Circular 6 duty during their free period; teachers need no longer tutor or run a club.   But how does this solve the crisis of overcrowding?  Just how does this help students?

Let all charter schools backfill.  Let them open up their 2500 seats to help reduce the overcrowding in the system.  Let them serve the public rather than exist as places of special privilege.  Let them not claim superiority when in effect they operate as a system outside the system.  Instead of offering a solution for public schools, some of the most "successful" charters turn their backs on the real problems that plague public education, overcrowding, lack of resources and, in some cases, kids who can't keep up.  By straining and sorting students as they eat up public funds, some charters actually make the situation for public-school students far worse.

So, we could sit around and debate whether the class is half full or half empty, but why don't we just fill it up!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Me and Julio

This is Julio. He's the newest addition to my family. He weighs all of ten pounds, but apparently he's a public menace. I know this because today I took him to the festival on the Freeport Nautical Mile, and a cop stopped me and told me I wasn't allowed to walk a dog on the street.

"Where else are you supposed to walk a dog?" I asked.

But it turns out, according to the cop, if he let Julio walk the mile, he'd have to let every other dog walk it too. So, dejected, Julio and I walked around the block. I saw another guy walking another dog, a really big one, and asked if he'd had any problems.

"I had no problems at all," he said.

I said I was surprised, since my little guy got bounced.

"Well, you're not a cop," he said to me.

"So there's one rule for cops and another for citizens?" I asked.

"That's not what I said," he replied.

"But that's exactly what you described," I said.

After that, the guy walked on the other side of the street and didn't want to talk to me or Julio any more. I turned the next corner and got back on the mile, where I saw several other dogs, and several other cops.

It must be good to just make up any rules you feel like, whenever you feel like it, and enforce them with anyone you feel like.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Up Against a Rubric Wall

Rubrics are the great equalizer. Once you have a list that goes up and down, with various levels at every point, everyone will know what is expected. You are this square, you are that square, and that's the only possible square in which you can reside. Fair is fair, square is square, and you are there without a care. We have extracted that inconvenient human element with 100% efficiency.

Of course, sometimes people see things differently. For example, your supervisor may be batshit crazy. Or maybe he hates you and everything you stand for. Or maybe he holds a grudge for that year you shared the classroom when you failed to erase the board. On the other hand, perhaps he loves you. Maybe he has an entire wall of his studio apartment covered with your pictures. Maybe he has torrid fantasies about you in or out of your classroom. Who knows?

Of course, things need not be so extreme. Thinking people approach one another differently. It's not necessary to lecture and instruct on differentiation when your audience has a modicum of intelligence. Of course, if that's not the case, all your lectures and theories go out the window because non-thinking people tend not to receive or process new information very well anyway.

But regardless of what qualities we have, good, bad or otherwise, we all have our prejudices. We all like certain people better than we like others. And supervisors, too, see us all differently. I hate to be the one to break you this news, but despite everything you've heard, there is no way on God's green earth that every supervisor rates the same lesson in the same way. It doesn't matter how many times they've been trained. It doesn't matter how many times they've been retrained in whatever the rubric wants this year, last year, or next year.

Can I get rated highly effective while you get rated ineffective? Sure. Why not? Maybe I got rated for minute one, which was amazing, while you got rated for minute 7, which sucked beyond all possible question. Or maybe minute 7 was the bestest thing ever but the supervisor wasn't wearing glasses. Maybe his prescription is out of date. Maybe he woke up and put on his wife's glasses instead of his. Or he's Mr. Magoo, can't see at all, and only hears the voices in his head.

But that's the hand you're dealt. And unfortunately, no matter how precisely Charlotte Danielson words her rubric, it's always subject to interpretation. It's really too bad she sold out and allowed her framework to be used for high stakes evaluation. As a supportive and motivational instrument, it could have been used to improve education for children.

As is, it's used to fire teachers. Amazing we live in a society so obsessed with doing such a thing.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

MaryEllen Elia and the Middle of the Road

Florida, land of Jeb Bush, is one of the least teacher-friendly states in the union. So it's kind of surprising to read that Revive NYSUT leadership is encouraged by Florida import MaryEllen Elia as state education commissioner. What would it take to discourage them? Attila the Hun? Perhaps the Regents considered him but rejected him for having been dead for centuries. But why should that deter them, since dead ideas are pretty much what NYSED trades on?

For example, here's a snippet from reformy Chalkbeat NY's piece, from which their "Rise and Shine" characterizes Elia's tone as "middle of the road."

Elia emphasized that, in her own view, state tests should not be the only metric used to rate teachers and principals...

Actually, I know of no one who says state tests should be the only metric used to rate teachers and principals. But let's look at what "middle of the road" entails. Apparently, it means you are somewhere between the highly regarded American Statistical Association, which has determined that teachers account for somewhere between 1 and 14% of test score variation, and no one. This is what passes for reasoned discourse on education nowadays.

On opt out, here's how Elia came in:

"Opt-outs are no good for teachers or parents."

This, of course, was before she even began her gig. Now, according to Chalkbeat, she's really raised her game.

Asked about the New York’s growing number of parents opting their students out of the state tests, Elia cited her experience in Hillsborough County, the large Florida district she oversaw for most of the last decade. Town hall meetings there helped explain the changes to parents and keep opt-outs low, she said.

Doubtless Elia, not having troubled herself with the most cursory research, would be surprised to learn we've actually had town hall meetings in NY. The first resulted in testy, tone-deaf John King pulling out, calling public school parents and teachers "special interests." Evidently, we should listen uncritically to utterly objective billionaires like Gates, Broad and the Waltons, who know what's good for our children (but not theirs, of course).  Critical reading should be reserved for Common Core tests and eschewed in everyday life. Doubtless New Yorkers can't wait to have more meetings with yet another figurehead who made up her mind before even showing up.

The incoming commissioner also reiterated her support for charter schools — noting that Hillsborough County had 45 — if they are shown to be improving student performance.

That's middle of the road, right? After all, some charters get better test scores, and that is the only factor that's important. That's reasonable, isn't it? And as for the ones who don't, well at least they don't have those awful union contracts that give teachers due process, and what reasonable person opposes firing teachers? Elia continues:

“I think there’s a place for quality teachers to go in and give feedback to their colleagues and their peers,” she said. Exactly how much test scores should account for depends on the rest of the rubric, she said, adding that she did not yet fully understand New York’s method for calculating teachers’ value-added scores.

Well, who does? And why should she bother to have studied it? After all, she's only going to preside over the system. And maybe the calculation method is totally incomprehensible anyway. That's a good reason to not have kept up with it. Apparently the middle of the road position is to support a system that judges teachers on junk science while not even pretending to understand it.

Extreme positions, on the other hand, are quite different. There's the extreme position, evidently held by no one, that test scores ought to count for 100% of a teacher rating. Then there's the other extreme position, taken by wild-eyed radicals like Diane Ravitch and yours truly, that we ought to consider things like research and practice in education, and reject absolutely every form of junk science.

Therefore, MaryEllen Elia is in the middle of the road. It's quite gratifying it is to know that Revive NYSUT is "encouraged" by that.

Doubtless we're in good hands all around.
“During her first school visit, Elia told teachers, ‘Opt-outs are no good for teachers and no good for parents.’ It is concerning that she would make such a judgement prior to reviewing New York State Common Core tests or exploring why the resistance to those tests has been so strong.” said Ruth Quinn, a school board member from Ulster County. - See more at: http://www.nysape.org/albany-continues-to-ignore-parents-ensuring-the-optshyout-movement-will-grow.html#sthash.7BG9QqsK.dpuf

“During her first school visit, Elia told teachers, ‘Opt-outs are no good for teachers and no good for parents.’ It is concerning that she would make such a judgement prior to reviewing New York State Common Core tests or exploring why the resistance to those tests has been so strong.” said Ruth Quinn, a school board member from Ulster County. - See more at: http://www.nysape.org/albany-continues-to-ignore-parents-ensuring-the-optshyout-movement-will-grow.html#sthash.7BG9QqsK.dpuf

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Mr. Eterno Takes a Position

I'm very happy for my friend James Eterno now that he's won a delegate spot in the UFT. I know, for him, it's ritual, second nature, to go to the DA. I always enjoyed his accounts and have been trying to follow in his footsteps. For my money, James is the best chapter leader in the city, and the only way they could take him down was to actually close his school. What a shame to lose someone so knowledgeable, so qualified, so ready to put himself on the line for UFT members.

James has also been very active in trying to get a voice for ATR members. James thinks ATRs should have a functional chapter, like secretaries, guidance counselors, or paraprofessionals. UFT leadership disagrees. They say ATRs are represented by the chapter leaders of the various and sundry schools through which they pass. In theory, well, that doesn't even work in theory. If I'm in school A this week, represented by CL A, how the hell is CL B from school B gonna help me next week? I have to start from scratch with a new person I don't even know. I'm not feeling it.

When ATRs complain they are not represented in the DA, leadership says, no, you are entitled to run for CL and/ or delegate of the school in which you are working as of May 1st. Never mind that you may not be there May 2nd. Never mind that no one knows you from a hole in the wall, and you have to run against people who've been around for decades. This, to leadership, is a reasonable process.

And James may be used by leadership as an argument the process works. Who knows? After all, he won. I'd have voted for him. James is one of the people on whom I rely for advice. When odd things happen, it seems like most of them have happened to him before. He seems to know every clause of the contract, and if he's unsure he dives right in to check. But ostensibly at least, his job entails representing a school in which he probably won't be working in September. That's absurd, isn't it?

One of the issues for someone like James is he's never signed the Unity loyalty oath. That limits your mobility within union to absolutely nothing. Were things different, he might be a delegate without all that inconvenient being elected. For example, in a nearby school, a friend of mine defeated a Unity chapter leader. But the deposed CL was delighted to find that, despite having lost the faith of her colleagues, the union was happy to keep her on as a rubber stamp in NYSUT and AFT, and also doing whatever the hell it was she did for UFT.

No such luck for James. All he's got going for him is absolute competence and decades of experience. So leadership is now in the position of having to explain why someone who doesn't even work at a school represents it. And when ATR teachers complain they have no representation, leadership can say, hey, look at Eterno. You too can run for chapter leader or delegate of a school in which you don't work. What's better than that?

What's better than that is real representation for all ATR teachers, not just those as extraordinarily knowledgeable and capable as Mr. James Eterno.