Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chapter Leader Meeting Notes

Mulgrew welcomes new chapter leaders. Much noise ensues, most, seemingly, from person sitting directly behind me. Mulgrew says CL job can be tougher than teaching job. Explains his mom asked him to stop cursing since Pope is here, thanks them for taking role. Says they have to be crazy, welcome to nut world, and proclaims himself biggest nut of all. Says he will ask if he can curse again when Pope leaves.

Mulgrew says DA is in October and will be run by Robert’s Rules. Asks we wear pink as we are single largest fund-raiser for Strides.

School Year

Mulgrew says we have more holidays than any other school system but we will still do 180 days. Says we always have at least two days for snow, but this year we have only one. More than one snow day would entail adding day to end of school year. Mulgrew says Lunar New Year is Monday after Super Bowl, to great applause. Says that day is highest absence day in US.

Class sizes

Mulgrew asks us to report classes, but says oversize classes are down. Mulgrew says there is more money in system and principals who cry poverty are lying. Says things may move more quickly as DOE legal is no longer in charge of class sizes. Says chancellor also wants to achieve this. Stresses documentation is key to everything.

Future of UFT

States governor suddenly wants to be friend of teachers.

Mayor Bloomberg—Mulgrew discusses 5-year plan. Says we decided we could not work with former mayor. Says there was no way to work with Bloomberg, and that he wanted to make UFT members at will employees. Says we went to war in streets of NYC. Says we fought back layoffs every year.

Mulgrew says at will employment is holy grail of reformers. Says Bloomberg would have settled contract if we’d have agreed to at will employment. Says legal bills went up over 4,000%, says we stopped school closings, and that Bloomberg’s numbers were never what he wanted. Cites Chicago and Philadelphia, and suggests major initiative to turn LA into 50% charter.

Mulgrew says defined benefit pension fully intact. Says other unions do not have that.

Mulgrew says we were hit, but their plan was to destroy us and privatize public school system.

Perpetual War

After Bloomberg left, hedge funders found new friend in Albany. Shows us pictures of Rhee, Koch Bros., Bloomberg and Moskowitz. Moskowitz is booed loudly. Caption: New Battle Same War. Mulgrew says we know all of their tricks and agenda items. Cites Broad’s academy for superintendents. Says they’ve placed people all over country. Says they’ve taken over legislation, and Dem. or GOP labels mean nothing.

Mulgrew says we effectively went after Senators who opposed us. Says they now plan to fight us through law and we will work with elected officials. Cites Bloomberg approval rating of 21% when he left office as evidence of our success.

Mulgrew says at UFT mayoral debate, all candidates agreed with us. Says it was because city agreed with us and not mayor. Says Albany was our next battleground. Cites Eva’s latest commercial as mistake in media air wars.
Mulgrew reminds us of Race to the Top. Says all of this will be changed if we get ESEA authorized. Calls it pivotal piece for what happens in our classrooms and schools every day. States he wishes to take testing out of teacher evaluation.  Says Senate and Congress now agree federal government should not mandate test scores in evaluation. Applause ensues, but Mulgrew says not to get too happy. Speaks of vouchers, then jumps back to optimistic message about eval.


Talks of new evaluation system this year. Says it is not in effect and we don’t know where they’re going. Says Board of Regents made a change in regs. Says they told commissioner there were problems, and that there is another 30 day public review period. Says union is now pressing for further changes and there will be another review process. Says we are not trying to delay process, but rather make it as fair as possible under terms of law.

Mulgrew cites outliers. Says those who teach at top or bottom will have great difficulty showing growth, and that is why there is a review process. Says it will keep changing, it is not good, but we must do this if we are not happy with it. Says teachers ask him not to change it again.

Mulgrew says union is a democracy and that he listens to different opinions. Mulgrew says we had lowest number ever of low-rated teachers. Says problem is fear that it has caused. Says union job is to make sure people doing job well are not harmed, but that formula is too complex. Says he wants simplicity, getting back to teaching from commissioner. Cites moving back from numerical scores as a victory.

Mulgrew says we have right to apply for a waiver. Says he will not reveal whether or not he supports it, but will negotiate.

School Funding

NYS owes us 4 billion for CFE. They refuse and ignore court ruling. Mulgrew summarizes history of CFE lawsuit and says wealthy districts are funded higher than needy districts. Says this will be huge fight in Albany. Says we want to be best major school system in country. Says we want smaller class sizes. Says we want proper equipment for all members.

Mulgrew says last year Cuomo hated teachers and unions. He says we beat him back on almost everything. Says there are pluses and minuses to new evaluation system. Doesn’t understand why he wants to fight us. Cites his poor polling numbers in education. Says his fight with us hurts him, and hopes for sanity in Albany.

Mulgrew says other people said he met the Pope, and it worked.

Mulgrew says he doesn’t use his personal opinions, but says he expresses what’s best for teachers. Says de Blasio best mayor in decades. Says Cuomo had epiphany yesterday.

Friedrichs and SCOTUS

Mulgrew cites Friedrichs as most dangerous case we are facing. Says he will talk about it in October. Says union may lose agency fee. Abood said that was acceptable, but SCOTUS is making different decisions, like making corporations people until you sue them. Says CA people agreed to lose it in CA so it would go to SCOTUS. Says decision will be between January and June, and that if we lose, NY would be Right to Work state. Says it revolves around one justice.

Mulgrew says if we become RTW state, some legislators will support us, but we may lose others. Says it will change everything for UFT and all unions. Says all we can do is lobby so that we can quickly change NY law. He says we will have to prepare for this scenario. Says we hope to fix at state level but may have to be at national level.


Mulgrew says first months under de Blasio and Fariña we’ve had to work toward cleansing DOE of Bloomberg. Says Bloomberg made that very difficult via longterm contracts. Mulgrew says they’ve been taking some of these things out, but lots of other things haven’t changed. Says there are fewer lawyers at DOE

Mulgrew says superintendents are now in charge. Networks are out. Mulgrew says if your principal doesn’t get mad at you, you shouldn’t be CL .

Mulgrew says we have shot at making NYC best school system, because we aren’t fighting.

Supporting New Teachers

Mulgrew says he wants new teachers to stay, and that they need to feel support. Mulgrew says he wants new teachers to be excited and remain so. Says by September 30th first wave of exits hits. Says he’s trying to reassure and help new teachers.

Mulgrew says there are a lot more resources in our new teacher program. Mulgrew tells a woman to announce we will take care of new teachers. Woman stands up and says it. Cites borough-based events, says he had over 1,000 in August, has collected contact info, and has met with them in chancellor. Says we can’t move forward if 40% keep walking through he door.

Mulgrew cites promoting literacy in early grades. Says you move education by getting all children at literacy level by end of third grade.

Building Chapters

Mulgrew says he got teacher voice in new contract, and that national leaders suggest it’s best contract in country. Says we are moving chapter advocacy division into all schools, but that we have 1800 schools. Cites importance of consultation committee. Cites PD committee. Says other locals would love to have them.

Celebrate Our Schools

Mulgrew cites commercial, to moderate applause. Says for 20 years, nothing good was said about our schools. Says those who hate us say, because we teach most challenging students, that we are terrible. Says those who do well cite themselves as best, but that implies those with more challenging kids are not good. Says we must talk about it.

NYC largest and most diverse system in school, with largest number of challenging students. Says we do a great job, but want to do better. Says chapters must take responsibility to consider all opinions. Says we do the hardest job of any school system in the country. Says we can’t wait for others to praise us, and we must speak up for ourselves. Says we put out commercials to celebrate schools.

Mulgrew says he wants to bring bus in commercial to all schools to celebrate what we do well, and that we will have a yearlong celebration of things we do well. Gets applause. Mulgrew says there are a million miracles a day in our schools, cites individual victories with individual children. Says we’re in a war, but should think about celebration. Says it’s right and smart thing.

Mulgrew says UFT does media buy in beginning of every year. Says Eva rushed bad commercial in response to UFT commercial. Mulgrew says retro payment one will be on 15th. Says CLs should not answer specific questions about retro. Says CLs should tell members to go online for inquiry form.


CL Aviation HS—Mulgrew declines to predict what will happen with Friedrichs. Says Right to Work contradicts Taylor Law.

CL asks what we can do about Friedrichs. Mulgrew says most members do not follow or want to know. Says that’s why meetings are important. Says if you read papers, blogs or social media you wouldn’t know what to think about anything. Cites lies and misinformation. Says union will provide info. 

CL asks—if you get two ineffective or developing, does tenure go out window. Mulgrew says people are probably recording him. Says developing not problem. Says we used to average over 600 double Us over year. Says we are at less than 10% of that number. Says independent validators overturned 30% of principal ratings. Says you must go to UFT office and speak of options if you have two I ratings.

CL from Renewal School—Wants to know how and when they are getting paid for extended hours. Amy Arundell says we know this is an issue and we are working on it. Hopes for news in next few weeks. CL says staff wants to leave, anxious for pay. 

Mulgrew says he told Governor biggest problem with struggling schools was teacher turnover. CL cites 12.5% increase in test scores.

New CL—says her school has high turnover—one third in three years as result of new principal. Asks what chancellor is doing. Mulgrew says he will get list of turnover rates from chancellor. Says it is clearest sign something is wrong. Says DOE legal liked when admin was mean to teachers. Says it is improvement that new principals have taught for at least 7 years.

CL—principal always wants new curriculum, maps, etc. Mulgrew says teachers are not supposed to write curriculum. Teachers may do so if they are being compensated. Says CL should talk to leadership.

CL—at Renewal school, says half of teachers left. When do they become hard to staff school and earn more? Mulgrew says Fariña has right to grant extra pay now. Says media must stop saying struggling schools have bad teachers. Says it’s important to state schools are struggling rather than citing bad teachers.

CL—What is our position on opt-out and is there effort to bring back local diplomas. Mulgrew says lot of conversation in Albany, we don’t want to be accused of dumbing down transfer schools. Mulgrew says opt-out is parent’s choice. Mulgrew cites Cuomo saying teachers should be respected and that eval ought not to be a gotcha system. Cites Cuomo saying we have to be realigned, and tests have to be changed. Mulgrew says he wants to see how this plays out. Says Cuomo says he’s trying to understand what we do. Mulgrew says he sent Cuomo a teacher to work on committee. Says she will be only expert on committee.

Mulgrew says it’s easy to always scream no, but we have to move forward. If we can’t kill something, we work around it. Says evaluation is moving along, but it’s taking a long time.

Mulgrew says reason we were able to be so successful against Bloomberg is because we were smart about it. Mulgrew says it’s a fallacy we only care about members, and that we also care about education.

CL—Complains of alternate certification as many traditionally certified are left out in the cold. Mulgrew says one area we’re looking for alternate cert. is ESL. Says this is where we hire people from CUNY and SUNY. Cites TFA and Teaching Fellows. Mulgrew complains of hiring non-locals when there are so many local schools. Says he is encouraging local hiring.

Mulgrew says our biggest challenge is ELL population. Says it is problem when SIFEs sit for exams, calls it child abuse. Says it is same for those with learning disabilities. Says he’s happy we organized 40 dual language schools. Says it’s due to chancellor. Says it does not solve ELL population issue, but it is after 6, and he’s finished.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who is Empowered in this Era of Ed. "Reform"?

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As teachers, we are hardly empowered.  We are seized upon as scapegoats for growing societal poverty.  Instead of being seen as people who try to help sometimes needy kids, we are seen as the ultimate cause of neediness.  With oversized classes, we are over-evaluated.  Experience is a liability.  There are few with much of it anymore and they are costly.  If they cannot work miracles, they will be the first to go as increasing poverty invariably causes decreasing test grades.

As a union member, one might think we are empowered.  Sadly, it is not so.  Less than 20% of active members vote.  Our votes aren't worth much anyway.  UFT-Unity is pleased to win with a majority of its votes coming from retirees, many of whom may have little-to-no idea how bad the situation has become on the ground.

When the union negotiates a sub-par contract, it is sold as a victory.  When people realize the victory seems hollow, a new message is passed down the line:  "The cupboard is bare."  We are told to vote for the new contract or risk becoming #151 in negotations, going to "the back of the line" in the worst elementary-school sense.  Instead of operating from a posititon of power, the union tells teachers to cower.  Beg at the table and hope for some tasty scraps.

When union reps go off to vote, and at great expense, they all vote the same way--and, sometimes, they seem to vote contrary to our interests.  We were told the Common Core empowers us.  Let UFT President Mulgrew grab "it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands" and say, "it's mine"--just so long as he keeps it as faraway from American classrooms as possible!  Let President Mulgrew keep it--only I don't think he wants it anymore either...

The Core has brought misery to a majority of students and teachers.  Where someone seems to like it, there is a strong possibility you can find Bill Gates' money.  Teachers provide test prep in place of learning for life.  Who but Stanley Kaplan really wants to teach to a standardized test?  I don't.

The large teacher unions, and,  here, UFT, NYSUT and AFT, sometimes slowly come round to common sense or popular opinion.  In the meantime, however, they have act as a drag, holding back smaller, more democratically minded unions.  In the opt-out movement, the action is on Long Island.  The City seems to sleep.  We are told by UFT Unity that kids need annual standardized tests.  We are supposed to believe that high-stakes testing is civil rights at work, a path to freedom, an end to poverty.  It can never be.

Sometimes, the same Union that fails to empower teachers tells itself it has our best interests at heart.  It tells itself that 22 domains will protect teachers.  It didn't matter that teachers didn't want 22 domains.  They had to endure them while President Mulgrew gummed up the works of everyone. 

In comments posted at this site, I again had the sense that UFT-Unity views itself as a mega brain with the power to decide what teachers want--instead of taking the time to ask them.  Commenter Mary mentioned that she questioned Leroy Barr about the new test-based teacher evaluation system on her first day of chapter-leader training.  TeachNYCkids returned, "Last year I heard that the new evaluation produced "I" ratings at 1/3 the rate of "U" ratings in the old S/U system. So who was right Mary? You or Leroy?"

We are supposed to believe that the APPR system is superior because fewer teachers receive negative ratings.  We are supposed to believe that one statistic tells the story like a standardized test grade.  We do not consider the stress faced by qualified teachers who could be brought down in any year of their career by tests manufactured to destroy, by kids who fail to study or fail to speak English or suffer the dire effects of poverty, by anyone of a number of factors out of their control in this warped world of junk-science.

We do not consider that teaching has become all about testing.  We do not consider that kids hate this system as much as teachers.  We do not consider how many teachers have left the profession in utter disgust.  We do not consider how many kids may drop out of school or fail to come, particularly if music and gym are cut to finance more test prep.  "Without music, life would be a mistake."

I am only empowered as a parent.  And, when times get tough I remind myself of this.  As a parent, my vote counts more than any teacher or union member.  As a parent, I may see Arne Duncan take a few swings, but I will never remain a scapegoat.  As a parent, I am not alone.  I stand with twenty percent of NY State's students.  Our numbers will continue to grow.  Politicians must listen.

Now, I suppose if I owned a hedge fund or if I had tons of money to throw at the Governor or other politicians, I might be the most empowered of all--but I also might know little to nothing about education.  I also might lack integrity.  I might even lack common sense.  I might think you could run a school like a business. I might think that the solution for poverty is grit.  I might think that firing older teachers is a cheap solution.  I might think that measures of quality boil down to a standardized test grade.  I might think I'm doing a fine job.  I might be drunk on my own power and, like DWI, I might be headed for a rude awakening.  History teaches us that power is often ultimately on the side of the right, but sometimes the road is long, almost too long...

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Curious Case of Mike Mulgrew and His Deceptive Piggy Bank

If you're on the UFT mailing list, you probably got the same email that I did. The UFT President wants you to know that you're finally going to see a little bit of the money that most city workers got over five years ago. Mulgrew blames Bloomberg, of course, since it could not possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the lack of negotiating skill of leadership. After all, they are Perfect in Every Way.

Many of us who watched the AFT Convention, when Mulgrew got all punchy defending Common Core, wondered where all that punchiness was as we went years without a contract. In fact, not only did we fail to get one, but we agreed to an APPR negotiated by Reformy John King rather than use it as leverage. After all, it was important to allow teachers to be judged by junk science. Had we not allowed that, we'd have risked losing federal funds to judge teachers by junk science.

Mulgrew's letter explains what a wonderful job he and his Unity Caucus ducklings did in making UFT members "whole." This is certainly true if you fail to distinguish between having money in 2009 or having it in 2020, and indeed Mulgrew's letter ignores this distinction utterly. After all, what's the difference between building a deck on your house this year or eleven years from now? Sitting on the grass isn't so bad, and you're only doing it for eleven years. And, as Mulgrew himself said, retro pay isn't a God-given right, so you'll take what you get, like it, sit down and shut up like good little teachers. What, did you think UFT leadership was going to fight for fairness when they could settle for a substandard contract? Don't you know there are conventions that need to be planned for?

Here's how Mulgrew explains his piggy bank:

Think of it as a large piggybank. If you have been continually employed, you have been depositing money in this piggybank since Nov. 1, 2009 and will continue to deposit money until the two 4 percent increases are fully phased in in 2018. This October, you’ll make your first withdrawal.

Now I have a daughter and I know a little bit about piggybanks. She kept one until she was around eight, at which point I decided she was old enough to have a real account at a bank. After all, money in a piggybank collects no interest. This notwithstanding, an enterprising seven-year-old could finance a lemonade stand with what's inside. Said seven-year-old could buy a gift for someone, or perhaps help finance sporting equipment, a laptop, or even a video game system for herself. She doesn't need to leave all the money in the piggybank for eleven years, or make withdrawals on a completely inflexible schedule made by Daddy.

And that's where the analogy wears even thinner. There is no money in that UFT piggybank. None at all. On October 15th, hopefully, 12.5% of the money that isn't in your piggybank will be reflected in your paycheck. After that, it's two full years before you see a dime.

One of the reasons it took so long to get any contract at all was that the city was having its seasonal financial crisis. This crisis comes up whenever it's contract time. As Mulgrew put it, "The cupboard was bare." (It's unusual that Mulgrew said that, or the remark about retro pay, because those remarks are supposed to come from management.) Of course, as usual, money was found in the sofa cushions at Gracie Mansion, and it turned out the city had a whole bunch of money after all. We didn't discover that, of course, until Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus sold us this contract based on logical fallacies. In this case, it was appeals to fear, to wit:

1. Retro pay is not a God-given right, and
2. If we don't take this piece of crap contract, we have to get back in line behind another 151 unions.

You can bet every one of those 151 unions wishes we weren't first in line, because we dumped the worst pattern in my living memory on them, 10% over 7 years. James Eterno told Mulgrew it was the worst pattern ever at the DA. The ever-gracious UFT President said it wasn't true and turned off Eterno's microphone, but I've yet to see evidence there was ever a less favorable pattern.

If you're on maximum salary, the city owes you about $54,000. That's some serious scratch For a working UFT member, it's a car, or several cars, it's a big part of a down payment on a house, and you will get it in dribs and drabs over the next five years. Goodbye cars, goodbye house. Too bad. You can always pay rent and hope housing prices don't explode more than they already have.

Of course, the contract stretches into the next mayoral term, and Bill de Blasio may or may not win. I'd suppose de Blasio would honor the terms of the contract. After all, despite all the talk about him being a communist and whatnot, he turned out to negotiate the contract with the lowest compensation increase ever for the city's largest union. Sure, some of the other unions managed to do better than we did, but it's still relatively chicken feed.

The thing is, though, that we have to anticipate someone reformy could be mayor. For example, I see Eva Moskowitz being bandied about. Don't you think it's possible Mistress Eva might determined we're having yet another seasonal financial crisis, and that we therefore can't afford the balloon payments to those awful teachers? Contracts have been breached before in times of crisis.

The good thing for Mike Mulgrew, or whoever Unity Caucus puts in his place, is he can always blame the mayor. You know, like he did in that email. It's Bloomberg's fault. It's Eva's fault. Perhaps it's my fault for questioning their judgment.

Because nothing is ever the fault of union leadership, and you can ask any of 800 loyalty-oath signing rubber stamps if you don't believe me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What Seattle Has that We Don't

Seattle teachers just ended a strike. The fact that they would strike at all differentiates them from us. It's risky going on strike. It's also costly. In NY, you pay two days back for each one you strike. That's a side-effect of the draconian Taylor Law, which strips us of one of our strongest weapons. Of course, going on strike could also strip leadership of their right to automatic dues collection. They may lose that anyway in SCOTUS, but those dues dollars are pretty important.

We've got hundreds of loyalty-oath signing faithful whose activism revolves around going to conventions. These are the ones who treat Mike Mulgrew like a rock star at the DA and hang on every word he says. These are the ones who answer phones at UFT after school, and if you've ever gotten bad advice from one these folks, it's probably because they were hired for loyalty rather than competence. I always tell my members call UFT, but if the person doesn't help you let me know and I'll find someone who will.

What happens when teachers stand on principle rather than patronage?

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

That's remarkable. As a class size advocate, I wonder what would happen if UFT demanded reasonable class sizes. In all the time I've been a teacher, since 1984, the only instrument that has controlled class sizes has been the UFT Contract. And in all that time leadership has not taken a single step to improve it. They say they've gotten us money instead, yet we have to wait until 2020 for money everyone else got over five years ago. In a few weeks, maybe, we'll get a small slice of it. Go to a car dealership and ask if they'll give you a car now if only you can pay for it interest-free in five years.

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Holy crap. That is a major victory.  Here in NY, our union President helped craft the awful APPR law that every teacher I know is freaked out over. And he actually thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly when they voted to make it even worse.  Our brave brothers and sisters in Seattle said they weren't going back to work until they could be judged by something other than junk science.

Would teachers in New York City stand up? Do teachers in New York City even know what a union is? Tough to say, since 79% of us voted for second-tier due process in a contract that settled for raises that were ten years late. Isn't union, you know, when we all stand together? Isn't union when we are all one?

Not here, and not now, apparently. That has to change. As leadership has allowed our union to be so degraded, it will take some time. The cynicism engendered by consistent indifference to membership is pernicious, and will take a long time to reverse.

But I've waited a very long time, and I can wait some more. We need to be what we can be, and there's no reason we can't learn to stand up, just as our brothers and sisters are doing in other parts of the country.

We will get our heart back, no matter how long it takes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Wonders of Classroom Technology

After writing a whole lot of awful things about Skedula, I was asked to work on a UFT committee examining electronic gradebooks. It was kind of cool. I met a lot of people using various different programs, and heard a lot of good and bad things about them. I decided to really assess the program, I had to use it. So for about half a year I used both it and a paper book as backup.

I have to say, while I still find Skedula to be less user friendly than any program I'd buy or use on a regular basis, it was generally convenient. For one thing, as an ESL teacher, I tend to get new students pretty much all the time. A paper gradebook gets pretty messy as you add and drop names, erase things, and white out others. Online, everything is alphabetized, and I don't have to do updates.

Of course if you have multiple sections in a classroom, it gets increasingly complicated. Right now, for reasons I cannot fathom, there are maybe six sections in my morning class. That's not the real problem, though. For some reason someone has renamed the sections and I've lost all my grades. This has happened to me before when one student moved to another section, and I was able to retrieve the grades pretty easily. The other day I sat with an administrator and we managed to find my assignments, but they didn't have any grades attached to them.

I may or may not retrieve the grades I've been keeping these last few weeks, but losing them has made me a little more cognizant of the value of paper. After my first semester keeping records in two places, I've relied entirely on the program. I figure if my school pays them thousands of dollars, it's on them to keep the records. If they can't do something that fundamental, there's not a whole lot of value there.

I'm now entering my second year of trailer exile. For most of last year, I had a SmartBoard that didn't work at all. I used to hang my jacket on it and remind the kids I was using the SmartBoard. When my supervisor came in, I noted that I used it every day and demanded credit for innovative use of technology. (I don't believe I got any.)

Then the principal went and put in an LED screen that actually worked. I was shocked. I mean, there it was, the computer I'd never bothered to use, and it was actually capable of displaying stuff. So I talked to a young Chinese teacher who explained it was great using PowerPoint to display aims, assignments, and teach vocabulary. I looked at her presentations and thought I could do that. But I was much smarter than her, I thought, so I did things differently.

First, I used Apple Keynote rather than PowerPoint, because I read somewhere it was much cooler. But when I tried to open it on the Mac Mini in my classroom, I learned that it was an older version and couldn't read my presentation. A tech teacher showed me how to convert a Keynote presentation to a PowerPoint, so I put the PowerPoint on my thumb drive and was using that for a few weeks.

For some reason, the display in my classroom this year is much harder to manipulate. It's really hard to see the mouse icon on this screen. Also, there's a nag screen that comes up saying IOS wants to make changes and demanding an administrative password that I don't have. That's kind of irritating. More irritating, though, was when the computer stopped recognizing the mouse and turned itself into a useless piece of junk.

It happens I walk around with a MacBook Air all the time. I bought it a year ago and I have no idea how I ever lived without it. So I was able to use my presentation on the 13 inch screen, but it really sucks having to walk around and show it to a large class. (I did it again in the afternoon, and I can tell you it also sucks having to walk around and show it to a small class, though not as much.)

I've had teachers come up to me and complain that the machines in their room were broken, and that it was impossible to do their lessons as a result. A few years ago I thought about how lucky I was that I had no technology and therefore couldn't use it. Now I think how important it is, when you do use it, to have a backup plan, or be able to devise one on the spot.

And here's what the reformies don't or won't realize, when they say idiotic things like, "Let's just make CDs of great teachers and fire all the live ones." The machines break, but we don't. The machines do one thing, but we do everything. No matter how advanced the tech gets, that's not gonna change.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mulgrew Misses Mark in Daily News

I'm reading Michael Mulgrew's piece in the Daily News and agreeing with much of it, but I find myself confused by the great disparity between his words and actions. I agree, for example, that it will not be possible to Fire to the Top, and that getting rid of teachers will not help our students. Mulgrew gives examples of schools that have had tremendous turnover. I can understand why people don't want to work in these places. In fact, as someone who absolutely loves being a teacher, as someone who hates to say this, I even understand why people don't want to teach at all.

Mulgrew advocates fixing schools that are perceived to be broken. A bigger problem, though, is determining precisely what that fix entails. If, for example, we are judging these schools purely on test scores, it's important we get to the source of the low scores. I'm not sure, from the column, that Mulgrew rejects the notion of failure based on test scores. In fact, Mulgrew helped craft the current APPR system, the one that is making working teachers almost universally miserable. Mulgrew not only accepted test scores as a factor to rate teachers, but went so far as to thank the Heavy Heart Assembly for accepting Andrew Cuomo's plan to exacerbate the situation, a plan the governor wanted specifically so as to fire more teachers. Make no mistake, placing the burden of proof on the teacher at 3020a hearings can and will achieve that goal.

Now Mulgrew seems to think the whole firing teachers thing is problematic. Why, then, did he not lay down the gauntlet when Cuomo turned the heat up on junk science evaluation? In fact, why didn't Mulgrew take a position against Cuomo when Zephyr Teachout opposed him in not one, but two primaries? Come to think of it, why didn't Mulgrew oppose him when he ran the very first time, a Democrat proclaiming he would go after unions? Isn't that fundamentally counter to what we stand for as unionists?

Mulgrew doubles down on the assumption these schools are failing, and prescribes the following:

Customize curriculum and instructional practice. Traditional teaching methods and approaches haven’t worked in these schools. The system has to abandon off-the-shelf curriculum, revamp the training that teachers get and focus on delivering lower class sizes, individualized instruction and curriculum that’s tailored to the students’ current knowledge and skills.

Is this not the same Michael Mulgrew who said he would punch our faces and rub them in the dirt if we tried to take his precious Common Core from him? Does Mulgrew actually assume that it is "teaching methods and approaches," rather than outside factors like poverty, special needs, or lack of English ability that cause low test scores? (To his credit, Mulgrew later asks for wraparound services, which actually may help.)

I also strongly agree with Mulgrew that smaller class sizes are key to delivering better education. But despite the valuable lip service provided here, the only instrument that has regulated class sizes for the thirty years I've been teaching has been the UFT Contract. In all that time, and for decades before, neither Mulgrew nor any of his predecessors has even tried to negotiate down what are, in fact, the largest class sizes in the state of New York. Mulgrew may argue that we went for money instead, but we haven't seen a whole lot of that, and what we will get will be ten years after the overwhelming majority of city workers got it.

Here's the thing--history has established there are many ways to raise test scores. You can cherry pick the students. You can dump those who don't work out. In fact, you can dump entire cohorts, like Geoffrey Canada did, and American Express will still pay you to do commercials. Or, of course, as we're seeing more frequently lately, you can cheat.

As none of those options are available to us, Mulgrew is now blaming others for failures. Mulgrew told the DA he had staked our reputation on turning around these schools. But Mulgrew accepts the reformy criteria for failure and success, i.e., test scores. And that is a crucial error.

It isn't the schools that are failing these children, and it isn't the teachers either. It is the nation, the state, and the city that allows them to grow up in poverty. It is a country that pays starvation wages and makes both parents take multiple jobs to make ends meet. It is a country that allows people to spend so much time working that they neglect their families, a country that allows Americans to suffer and die as a result of not having health insurance. It is a country that takes junk science in lieu of education, and it is union leaders like Michael Mulgrew who not only accept but enable and encourage such nonsense.

These are the issues we need to face if we want our kids to succeed and excel, be your standards reformy or reasonable. This is why I turn down perks and jobs to represent members rather than leaders. This is why I decided to join MORE/ New Action and oppose Mulgrew in the coming election.

This is why I'm a teacher, and this is why I'm staying until they shoot me down with junk science.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There are No Oversized Apples for Oversized Classes

This Apple Will Probably Never Make it to a Teacher's Desk...
Ed. "reformers" believe that branding teachers as "ineffective" is the single most important way to improve educational outcomes.  Although driving away experienced teachers with seniority and burgeoning pensions may cut costs, it fails to help students.  Cutting class size, however, so teachers can deal more effectively with individuals, would work miracles.  Too bad, the financial costs of such reform make it prohibitive; too bad ed. "reformers" are more concerned about their personal pocketbooks than profiting students.

I teach three of my five classes in a row.  Each class contains about 37 students; the number will hopefully soon be reduced to 34.  Whether 37 or 34, the numbers are overwhelming.  When I return to the workroom after three periods, I have about one-hundred homework papers in hand.  Let me picture an ed. "reformer" grading that many papers on a regular basis.  Ineffective!

When I collect essay papers, I can get as many as 175.  If I fail to grade the old work before the new work comes due, the profusion of papers mounts.  Try keeping one set straight from another.  It is a profound triumph of organizational skill.  It is time-consuming, not to mention, a literally heavy burden.  Now, imagine trying to read each paper carefully and electronically enter grades.  Ineffective, again!

When students write short responses in class, provided the students are well-behaved, I try to circulate around the room and read as many as I can.  I end up skimming papers, trying to find some further question to ask each student or some grammatical suggestion.  I try to fly around the room before most students are done.  Some days, I feel positively superhuman.  Other times, I just recognize that my students know I am mortal.  I try to call on most students during a given lesson, but in the span of 42 minutes, the time spent with any one child can rarely be anything special.  Ineffectiveness writ large!

If students were chatty or poorly behaved, they would be so much harder to control in a big class.  The probabilities of chaos would increase greatly.  Where students' needs are the greatest, and they are not met, the potential for frustration and disorder are profound.  When students need serious assistance, and the teacher cannot be in 37 places at once, or sustain her help, there may be far greater potential for some kind of "explosion"--or at the very least low test scores.  Fifty percent of your formula now spells INEFFECTIVE!

Imagine all the supplies needed for so many students.  Imagine all the handouts.  Imagine trying to secure enough markers for a project.  Imagine the cost of such supplies.  The chance that such supplies will be stocked in a closet somewhere becomes nil.  The supply lines have been cut.  Ineffective teachers reach into their own pockets.

The more people in a room, the more parents to call, the more papers to grade, the more stress AND the greater the chance of burnout.  Any teacher who tries to give extensive meaningful feedback on a daily basis is probably young, unmarried, without children and destined to look for another job soon.  Such a teacher may sacrifice his or her personal life for a year or two, but no longer.  Teachers with oversized classes burnout fast.  Some will leave while the getting is good.  Some may even become ed. "reformers."  We all know that Rhee and Campbell Brown could never have survived forty years in a classroom.  Perhaps they lack sufficient grit--or, perhaps, they care more about themselves than their students!  And, they will never have their effectiveness "scientifically measured."  Teachers, alone, need to be measured...not the size of their classes.  Only teachers are ineffective, not ed. policy!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Perils of Merryl

Merryl Tisch is concerned about how things are going, or at least how things appear to be going. To remedy this, Tisch has decided not to change how things are going, but rather how things appear. For one thing, she wants to change the name of Common Core. This is part and parcel of the canard that there's nothing wrong with Common Core, but rather the way in which it was rolled out. This, evidently has given the whole Common Core thing a bad name.

So we can call it the Empire State standards, or the NY State Standards, or Merryl's Perils, or whatever. Then everyone will forget that their kids are spending 12 hours a night studying for developmentally inappropriate tests. The rising tide of opt-out will stop dead in its tracks, because well-informed parents will fail to notice it's the same nonsense with a shiny new bow on top. No one will notice that their kids are spending hours, days and weeks preparing for tests even the governor admits are meaningless (except for rating those darn teachers). Bill Gates has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on these standards, and we can't just leave them lying around on some railroad track.

The other big idea is to allow teachers to appeal their junk science ratings. This way, you see, it will be tougher for teachers to take their cases to court and claim the entire system is nonsensical and incomprehensible. That the entire system happens to be nonsensical and incomprehensible is of no consequence. What's important is, with this regulation, some teachers may have their ratings reversed. NYSUT and UFT leadership have praised this, but as usual they've started the celebration prematurely. However they spin it, all the ratings are baseless. How can Karen Magee or Michael Mulgrew get up and claim victory because every now and then logic may trump junk science? The optimal percentage of junk science in teacher ratings is, and has always benn, precisely zero.

No matter how many times you paint over that garbage can, its contents remain the same. It's really unbelievable how many people are paid to run around and rationalize this nonsense. Maybe they should start a cult or something. They could all gather around a Bill Gates statue and pay tribute.

Maybe they could call it a religion. It kind of fits that an organization dedicated to the privatization of a public good would pay no taxes. Perhaps they're rich enough to pay no taxes already, but why not double down?

It's a WIN-WIN!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

UFT Leadership in the Face of Friedrich

Here's an interesting piece suggesting that losing Friedrich might inspire a leaner, more effective union, with possibilities for more involvement with rank and file. It does, of course, mention union's abject failure in Wisconsin, with the proviso that they've also lost collective bargaining. If unions can't do that, it's an even harder sell than it would be here.

What happens in NYC if UFT loses the right to automatic dues collection? Will Mike Mulgrew do a barnstorming tour, shaking hands and kissing babies? Will he get on Twitter? Will he begin to answer email? I don't think so. People don't fundamentally change overnight and UFT leadership is quite set in its ways. Of course there are people in Unity who are a whole lot more responsive than the President, but the organization runs primarily on patronage, and is largely tone-deaf to what teachers live with every day.

I will tell you exactly how UFT will react to a negative decision. Of course great effort will be directed toward dues collection. After all, 80% of working UFT members who can't be bothered to vote. If writing an "X" on a piece of paper and dropping it into a mailbox is too much of a personal strain, how are you going to get them to send a hundred bucks a month to 52 Broadway? That will be an uphill battle, to say the least.

But I know one message that Unity will certainly be broadcasting, because I've heard it over and over before. If we lose Friedrich, Unity will say, "This is not the time to be opposing leadership. All those of you who dare question the wisdom of the loyalty oath need to sit down and shut up immediately, if not sooner."

How many times have you heard that old chestnut? We're fighting Giuliani and now isn't the time to oppose leadership. We're fighting Bloomberg and now isn't the time to oppose leadership. Bloomberg wants to (insert outrage here) and now's not the time to oppose  leadership.

In fact, according to leadership, there is absolutely never a good time to oppose leadership. But this is the argument they invariably trot out when times are tough. Ask yourself, over the last few decades, when have times not been tough?

The problem with that argument is this--the very leadership asking us to sit down and shut up has actively contributed to these tough times, and continues to do so. By accommodating reforminess, by consistent appeasement that invariably results in further loss, leadership has contributed to the misery teachers face each and every day. I've seen Michael Mulgrew praise the Open Market system with nary a mention of the ATR situation it created. I've heard him wax poetic about a "growth model" that was somehow not value-added. Don't get me started about how UFT brought Steve Barr and Green Dot to NYC.

Unless leadership wakes up tomorrow and says to itself, "Gee, maybe we should start thinking about what effects rank and file, and have chapter leaders represent them instead of us," there's always reason to oppose leadership. In fact, through years of appeasement, leadership has emboldened our opponents to the point that they're bringing us, like animals, to the vet to have us declawed.

I don't like fighting leadership. But I don't like their decades of abject failure to fight for us either. They're going to have to address that, and if I were them I'd begin right now.

Advise you to sit while waiting for that to happen.

Friday, September 18, 2015

No Accountability for UFT Unity

One of the cool things about being in Unity is once you're in, you're in. You have a whole group, a family if you will, that you can depend on. And as long as you are loyal to the family, you'll have a bright future. For example, you might be elected chapter leader, or you might just take the job because no one else wants to do it. You'll go to chapter leader training and your district rep will ask you if you want to spend more time in hotels having meetings and going to meals. Do you want to travel? Maybe next year we'll hold the AFT convention in Hawaii. Who knows?

And maybe you have a good time, going to California, to wherever, and staying in fancy hotels. But, oh no! What happens if you do a crappy job as chapter leader and your colleagues dump you? The cool thing about that is it doesn't matter even a little bit! As long as you're willing to vote as told, as per the loyalty oath, there is no consequence whatsoever! Why should the district rep go to the trouble of recruiting the new chapter leader when you're already in? So no more counting oversized classes, representing troubled colleagues, going to long meetings, and you still get to enjoy the fruit of everyone else's union dues!

That's right, you're off to a whirlwind trip to Schenectedy for the NYSUT conference, and then AFT could send you right to Sin City on the member dime. Sure, you may have to applaud for the likes of Bill Gates, or maybe the Vice President after his administration has imposed junk science on pretty much the whole country. And sure, you have to support Hillary even though you might like Bernie Sanders a whole lot more. But maybe, just maybe, you really don't give a crap who's in charge of the country, state, city, or schools, and you just want to fly around and stay in fancy hotels every now and then. Let the yahoos sleep in Motel 6 because you're headed to the Hilton.

And if you have any moral qualms, just keep them to yourself, unless you want to be relegated to the sidelines like every single UFT activist who dares agree with Diane Ravitch. Sure, UFT will pay lip service to the greatest educational thinker in the country, but she goes just a little too far for leadership. After all, UFT leadership has repeatedly supported junk science. Sure, sometimes they call it "growth model" instead of VAM, but it's the same old baseless crap whatever you call it. Ravitch not only opposes mayoral control and Common Core, but also unequivocally supports a parent's right to opt children out of high-stakes testing. She even opposes charter schools and colocation, while UFT has actually colocated its own failing charter school.

But let's ignore all that and get back on topic. If you vote the way you're told, it makes no difference how poorly you do as chapter leader. It makes no difference whether your colleagues respect you enormously, or even at all. You can stay on the Unity gravy train, keep your patronage gig, and dispense with all those troublesome chapter leader duties. In fact, you can even keep your spot on the UFT Executive Board if you've got one!

The UFT election is set up so that everyone represents leadership rather than schools. Sure there are a few New Action types sitting on the Exec. Board, but they'll try to fix that next time so they have total absolute power to continue making abysmal deals for working educators. Cool, isn't it? No voice whatsoever for anyone but leadership, and that's how they like it.

The only problem is that darn election. But unlike most unions, UFT allows that retirees get to help decide who represents active members. In fact, retirees made up 52% of the vote last time. And most working teachers, cynical after years of indifferent representation, often by the very people they deemed unfit to run their chapters, take the ballot and toss it right into the trash.

It's a great system, unless you happen to advocate for, you know, democracy. I do, and 2016 is the year we bring democracy back to our union.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Action Joins MORE

 New Action has come to its senses and decided to align itself with tried and true activists in the MORE caucus. Opposition is finally coming together.

This is a time for change. It's a time for renewal. New Action Caucus, far less credible for the unholy alliance they forged with Randi Weingarten's Unity, has finally dumped said alliance in favor of being once again a truly independent opposition. Without the quid pro quo deal to support Mulgrew for a few seats, there is no longer any reason to oppose them.

So I'm happy to announce here, whether or not you've seen it elsewhere, that the opposition caucuses will present a common front against Unity this spring. I've known this was coming for a few months and had been sworn to secrecy.

The UFT election is rigged. 52% of the voters have no stake in who negotiates UFT contracts. Most unions don't allow retirees to vote on who negotiates for working members. But leadership loves to have a big old office in Florida where no opposition candidate can go, and get them all to vote for whatever it is they get down there.

Mulgrew is a shoo-in, and anyone who tells you differently is delusional. But there are still a few spots that are chosen by the people who they ostensibly represent. Years ago leadership decided high school teachers, having selected a New Action candidate, were too irresponsible to select their own VP. Now, the high school VP is now chosen by the elementary teachers, the retirees, UFT members who don't work in schools, and everyone. That, frankly, is an outrage. But leadership forgot to take the Executive Board seats away from us, and from the junior high schools, and history suggests MORE-New Action will win, at the very least, the high school seats. They are far from a majority, but they are a start.

A few months before the election there will likely be UFT ads saying how the world would be better if people were nicer, or some other such profound reflection. The one that sticks with me was, one election year, a teacher saying, "It's just not fair." I don't recollect exactly what was not fair that year, perhaps that we were underpaid or without a contract, but that's not what resonates with the public. Often, I don't even accept fairness arguments from my students. This particular commercial seemed aimed at UFT voters.

I've been teaching over 30 years, since 1984, Unity's always run things, and I can tell you that things have not improved for us since then. I have never seen so many people discouraged, I have never seen so many young teachers fleeing from my school in particular, and I have never seen morale so abysmally low. I see people with big hearts running for the hills, and even more of them contemplating which hill they can run to when they get half a chance. People ask me if they can take another job and hold onto this one in case it doesn't work out.

There is grotesque incompetence in administrators, and if you can't see it firsthand take a gander at Sue Edelman in the NY Post. Boy wonder supervisors are now empowered to fire people based on whatever, dispensing poor ratings based on a rubric clearly beyond their highly limited interest, let alone comprehension. If they see things that didn't happen, or didn't see things that did happen, too bad for you, and having it on video won't make a difference. So don't let them tape it, unless you want them to have evidence to use against you.

The time of going along to get along, whatever that even means, is gone. The time for a seat at the table for the sake of sitting there is over. So is the time for saying, "Everything sucks but it's not leadership's fault." I'm sorry, but if we're going to be accountable, so are they.

 Job one is making it through the door being indebted to leadership for nothing. No endorsement of Michael Mulgrew. No meeting with Randi Weingarten and forming a caucus the following week.

We will win, we will represent rank and file rather than leadership, and we will make leadership hear us, whether they like it or not. Make no mistake, this is our year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Michael Mulgrew and Happy Talk

The APPR system, the one that UFT President Michael Mulgrew boasted he helped craft, hangs over the heads of every teacher in New York State. Every thinking teacher knows jobs are on the line, and that junk science ratings could render you a Moskowitz test-prep clerk or a Walmart greeter. Yet Mulgrew tells The Chief (behind a paywall) the following:

“We know that two years ago, morale was basically at an all-time low,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “My feeling is that now it’s definitely getting better.”

My jaw drops as I read this. All I can say is Mulgrew is spending way too much time with loyalty oath signers. He seems to have no notion of what rank and file feel every single day. Perhaps he's taken too many of those happy pills, and just can't stop basking in the glow of those awesome victories no working teacher really knows about.

After all, it was a victory when we got all 22 components of Danielson, as opposed to the 7 Bloomberg wanted. It was another victory when we got 8 components of Danielson, as opposed to the 22 for which UFT fought. It was a victory when we earned the UFT transfer plan, which allowed teachers (including yours truly) to move to other schools and escape unreasonable supervisors. It was another victory when we tossed that in the trash and rendered our members wandering ATRs.

I have never, ever seen teachers so demoralized. My school is one of the least risky in terms of the junk science aimed at teachers' heads, but last year I saw an unprecedented exodus of young teachers, including one who I'd considered to have a more positive outlook than just about anyone. It is simply incredible that the President of the United Federation of Teachers can be so utterly out of touch with what we're living through. That, however, appears to be very much his choice.

Michael Mulgrew is notorious for his failure to answer email. I'm the chapter leader of the largest school in Queens and he can't be bothered to respond to me. That's why, on the very rare occasions I send him email it's likely to be posted here. That way at least I know someone will read it. A few months ago, Mulgrew asked that the entire DA get on Twitter and push a couple of hashtags (full disclosure--I was already on Twitter, and I participated), but he himself did not. It's quite clear he can't be bothered with that social media nonsense (Maybe it's just a fad.) and prefers to spend time communicating with people sworn to support whatever he wants.

Where does Mulgrew get this feeling things are getting better? Evidently, if you only spend time with people who tell you what you want to hear, you tend not to get the whole picture.

What myself and the Chancellor and [Principals’ union president] Ernie Logan have decided is we’re going to try to isolate our schools as much as we can from the craziness from the state level,” he said. “We’ll do whatever we’re legally responsible for, but we know that stability is the key to education.”

These are strange words from a man who not only presented the Heavy Hearts matrix as an improvement over the current system, but also thanked the Assembly for passing it. How on earth do you isolate schools from a system that not only demands teachers be judged by junk science, but further exacerbates the situation by raising its weight? How do you tell working teachers that they're better off in a system where the burden of proof when facing dismissal is on them rather than their employers?

I suppose it's pretty easy when you yourself have not been in the classroom for years and almost everyone with whom you speak has signed an oath to agree with you. I hear from real teachers every day of my life. Not only do they not talk like Mulgrew, but they don't remotely appreciate the things he touts as improvements.

The only thing left is to break them out of their cynicism long enough to vote next spring.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gearing Up for Another Year of Opting Out

Arne Duncan rails against the opt-out movement, but it seems like all efforts to sap it only further strengthen it.  Opt-out numbers have grown by leaps and bounds.  Numbers, doubtless, will continue to grow until politicians wake up to reality.

Secretary Duncan initially blamed "white suburban moms," with over-coddled kids, for the backlash against the Core.  Since these moms don't opt out their children via private academies like our U.S. President, their kids need to learn that they aren't as "brilliant as they thought they were."

Of course, today, Duncan opts his own kids out via the Chicago Laboratory Schools where, coincidentally, his wife works--and will probably never receive a VAM score.  The Chicago Lab fails to "follow key school reform policies that his Education Department has set for public schools."  So, if Chicago Lab kids aren't "as brilliant as they thought they were," they may never know!  If Duncan's plans weren't as "brilliant" as he "thought they were," do you think he would ever know?

Over-coddled or not?

Still, some dutiful local districts (under federal pressure) prop up the tests that are not good enough for Duncan's own progeny.  Some local districts send out long and confusing letters to those who would opt out, packed full of Common-Core aligned mumbo jumbo and veiled threats.   Districts must deliver over the data.
Would such a letter dissuade you or would it find its way into your garbage can? 

Some schools take it a step further.  They enforce a Sit and Stare policy.  But for children who would rather not "Talk to the Pineapple" or put their "Big Foot in the mouth," sitting and staring in space is preferable to sitting and staring at a test paper.  Instead of dissuading the opt-out movement, actions like these just might make it more militant.

Cyber terrorism has been used against the opt-out movement.  In 2014, had its website hacked on the eve of growing test resistance.  Although the identity of the perpetrators is unknown, it's pretty clear that temporary setbacks work to propel a movement forward.

Propaganda paints mandatory testing as a civil right.  Forget that all this testing and the ed. "reform"  movement, itself, are destroying the ambitions of minorities, civil-rights groups are supposed to see tests as the keys to equality.  Yet, with every passing year and every failure of reform, far fewer civil-rights activists favor high-stakes standardized testing.

If parents continue to opt out, schools might be threatened with the loss of much needed fundingif not this year, perhaps the next. The power of the purse can be powerful, indeed; states were pretty much bribed by federal grants to accept the Core.  If the federal government withdraws funding, Title I schools seemed lined up to suffer the worst.

But how many lies and threats will it take before ed. "reformers" admit that their ideas have helped few and hurt far many more?  How much larger does the opt-out movement need to grow before ed. "reformers" realize that what won't work for their own children will definitely not work for ours?  Expect another year of massive opt-outs!  Duncan doesn't seem to be learning from his mistakes!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Leadership Defense of APPR Is Total Nonsense

Teachers all over the city, all over the state, and all over the country are stressed out almost as a matter of course. This is because everyone wonders about the ratings, the ones on which their jobs depend. Sheri Lederman's lawsuit brings this some attention, but not nearly what it merits. As Governor Cuomo and the editorial pages blather on about getting tough with teachers, it seems like nothing more than a diversion so no one looks too closely about the hedge funders and billionaires who've bought them off.

UFT leadership sold us this bill of goods. I don't know how many meetings I've been to in which I've heard that this was an improvement. Before, I'd hear, the principal could just say you suck and you'd get a U rating. That wasn't as big a deal, I'd argue, and everyone would scoff. But it wasn't, because burden of proof was still on the DOE to establish you were incompetent, or unfit, or whatever. Now, if the UFT rat squad determines you suck, the burden of proof is on you, the teacher. And it doesn't get any better under the Heavy Hearts plan.

At one meeting, a District Rep. whose name I do not recall got very testy with me when I referred to VAM as junk science, a concept accepted by both Diane Ravitch and the American Statistical Asssociation. He said he'd be happy if his principal's negative determination were contradicted by the junk science. What he didn't say, what with the test score rating being essentially a crap shoot, was that the teacher well-rated by a principal and dragged down by junk science was also a possibility. Essentially, this UFT employee was endorsing tying our jobs to a crap shoot.

Unfortunately, the case of Shari Lederman shows that to be true. This is a woman whose principal very much liked and supported her, but because of low VAM scores got rated ineffective. Lest anyone think this is an extreme and unusual case, just this week I met two teachers in the same situation. One was a chapter leader from a small school who got an excellent rating from her principal. Another was a young teacher who got a good rating, but whose MOSL numbers were abysmal. If I happen to meet two such people in one week, how many are in the state? I'd argue that one is already too many.

In our high-performing school, our MOSL committee decided to share the joy rather than have individual teachers rise and fall on the basis of junk science. As our grades are generally OK this seemed to work. Almost everyone in our building got scores of 16 on both state and local measures. I got a 15 on state measures, though, and I hear some people did marginally better or worse. I have no idea whatsoever why that is.

What sort of system is it in which virtually no one understands how scores are calculated? What sort of system is it in which scores are meaningless but a person's job could hang in the balance?

And here's the thing--in a building like mine, in which junk science scores are almost uniform, people can still get bad ratings. Are they merited? I can't really say, not having seen the lessons and not having total confidence in the magical Danielson Framework. I don't believe rubrics translate to fairness. I don't believe personal prejudices are overcome by a system that assigns a 1-4 rating for various aspects, and I don't believe a computer calculation takes ratings out of the hands of anyone.

If you have a supervisor who really doesn't like you, threes become twos, twos become ones, you become developing or ineffective, and your morale is in the toilet. Is the UFT rat squad a check against this? If you're rated developing, it's not a factor. If you're rated ineffective, you have to depend on the kindness of rat squads, not a prospect I'd much relish. And as far as I can tell, the Heavy Hearts plan won't even afford you that option. Burden of proof will be on you, and there won't be any rat squad to turn a thumb up and declare otherwise.

This is not an effort to identify good and bad teachers. It's a witch hunt to divert attention from why kids really have issues in schools. For one, think poverty, which Gates won't address, and bought-and-paid-for politicians do virtually nothing to mitigate.

Friday, September 11, 2015

We Bloggers Gotta Get the Banned Together

Sometimes we bloggers feel rivalry. For example, you may know that José Luis Vilson not only wrote a book, but also actually got it published. And if you don’t think that in itself is impressive, not only have a whole bunch of people read it, but I even read it myself. (Personally, even the idea of writing a book makes me tired.)

But blogger rivalry runs deeper than that. The fact is, whenever I looked up my blog on DOE computers, it just showed up right there, in front of my face. José’s blog was blocked, though, because he’s a dangerous man. So I thought to myself, how can I become as dangerous as José? I tried putting on a fearsome expression, but my students just laughed at me. My wife said she thought I was sick and demanded I go to the doctor. So I gave that up.

I went to plan B, which was sulking. I moped around for a while, but it was very tough. People are always demanding I do stuff and answer questions, so I never get the time I’d really like for a good sulk. So for almost the entire Bloomberg administration I had to endure the stigma as José was banned and I was right out there.

Another thing José and I have in common was our support of Mayor de Blasio. I contributed to his campaign, and got a gold ticket to his inauguration. José only got a blue ticket or something, so I briefly felt a sense of having gotten somewhere. But it turned out we both had to sit outside in the freezing cold, and I was only a little closer to the center. (Had there been heat, that would've been something worth boasting about.)

This year I came to school a few days early with my laptop, and decided to check the blog. I do that from time to time, because you never know who’s gonna come around and say whatever. And it turns out Mayor de Blasio decided to show his appreciation for having supported his election. He did this by blocking my blog. (So in your face, José.)

Now that I have finally reached the summit of the blogging mountain, people notice me more. They look at me differently. People say, “Hey  NYC Educator, what’s it like to be so macho and tough and good looking?” I tell them it’s hard work. You have to say just the right things, and you have to insult just the right people.

And if you aren’t impressed by the fact that I’m banned in the DOE, I have to tell you I’m also banned in China. (And no, this is not an empty boast. I’m friends with one of our Chinese teachers and she always complains she can’t read the blog when she’s there). As you probably know, China’s a pretty big country. There are now well over a billion people who can’t read what you’re reading right now.

So today China, tomorrow the DOE. My pet project now is to have the blog banned in all these United States. Then it will be really elite. Eventually, I aim to become the JD Salinger of bloggers.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Year on the Front

I used to think of my workplace as a home away from home.  My school felt like that in so many ways.  There were the familiar faces of long-term colleagues who had become close friends.  I still find my friends at school, yet, upon my return, I find so much else has been turned topsy-turvy.

There was once a sense of comfort.  Not only did I already possess the golden key to the bathroom, I possessed the all-important knowledge of where to go to find things and who to go to.  I, in fact, had become one of the go-to people, myself.  But don't ask me today where one can find the teacher lounge.  It disappeared during the Bloomberg years.  It has never returned.

In this present era of ed. "reform," we are living with "creative disruption."  School communities have been turned upside down--if not all-out closed.

People now come and go at a frightening pace.  Long-term colleagues have retired.  Too many have been driven out of the profession.  So many tried to seize their retro last June.  And, it seems, citywide, many newbies don't last the first few years.  Tenure is never within their grasp.  ATRs wander in and out, and with each one, there is the sense that it might have been me.

Every year, we now face new mandates, usually unfunded and poorly thought out.  There are new evaluation systems, coming and going.  The threat of invasion by alien forces known as "outside observers" looms large.

Our school has installed a new alarm system upon its doors, per Avonte's Law.  In the name of student safety, in our case that of high-school students, one might sense education under the auspices of a police state, a school which seems to have become not so much a pipeline, as the prison, itself.  Good for our attendance stats, I guess!

Curriculum has been turning on its head.  Although history rarely changes, last year we had to reorder, and in some cases rewrite, the entire ninth-grade social-studies curriculum.  Now, we are told ninth-grade material will no longer be on the Regents.  At a time when the Core is coming down the pipeline with its designs to fail a generation of kids, we have only a vague notion of the nature of the new test...or of our impending doom.

We have a new data system in place.  I tried to move gracefully through ARIS to Daedalus.  Last year, I managed to generate a great many letters home from Daedalus, many bearing praise, more of encouragement to perform the work necessary to pass.  I even learned how to save my Daedalus file to my desktop for the inevitable moment when the printer would fail and sixty letters suddenly vaporize.  Daedalus is now dead.  Long live "Datacation."  It will be tied to Skedula.  Before learning the ins and outs of this new system, however, one has to wonder how long it will last.

Perhaps all this stress is a test for teachers, a test for the real world.  But if I had wanted so much "creative disruption" in my life, I might have chosen the business world instead, earned more money and societal respect.  Instead, I chose a job which I thought would provide stability and a sense of community.  These things are necessary for children and comforting to me as an adult.  Sadly, these things are rapidly disappearing.  It affects adults and I can't help but thinking it must also adversely affect our children.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Opening Day Checklist

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help.

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school.   Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.