Monday, November 30, 2015

The Wit and Wisdom of Class Size Arbitrators

Our arbitrator couldn't remember my name or that of my principal, and got them both wrong, but it doesn't matter. It's not like a parking ticket, where you can appeal.

There were not a whole lot of oversized classes by the time my school got to a hearing. One of them was a College Now class. I've been protesting them for the last three semesters, as they are oversized and I think 34 is already too high. Though they take place in our public school building, are taught by UFT teachers, and consist of our students, the arbitrators have ruled over and over that since a college pays the teacher salary class size rules don't apply. I don't care. I will keep protesting them.

In another case, we had a period ten class of 41 students. I'm told this is a remedial class, consisting only of students who'd previously failed the course. In that case, I have to question the wisdom of placing them in a class of 41. How the hell are students who already failed the class supposed to be supported when the teacher's attention is so widely divided? Don't kids who've already proven to have trouble need more attention, not less? This was defended by administration as being outside the normal school day and therefore not subject to contract. However, a recent arbitration says that even these classes are subject to class size regs.

The DOE lawyer argued that the precedent did not apply, and that if it did they wanted an exception. It must be a heckuva job to sit in an office all day and argue kids need larger classes. In any case, the arbitrator decided to grant a "half-class exception," which means it's just fine for 41 kids to sit in the class.

I also grieved a Saturday special education class that had 46 students. Admin has argued, to me, that not all 46 students are there at once. I did not find that argument particularly compelling. After all, if only 45 kids show, or if even 34 show, it's still too much, particularly when you consider that there are 46 IEPs to be considered. I thought there was no way the arbitrator would grant another exception, but alas, that's what I get for thinking. The arbitrator is fine with it, but I'm not, so I filed a UFT special education complaint. I'm pretty sure the state would not look fondly on a special education class of 46.

The last cases I had were of classes taught by two teachers. One had 39 students and the other had 69. An argument could be made that since there were two teachers there could be up to 68 students in the class. I'm told they have an unusually large classroom. Now, if it were me, I'd say OK, why not transfer one of the students from the class of 69 into the class of 39. Of course, it wasn't me, and the arbitrator didn't bother with any remedy at all. Why invoke a simple and obvious solution when you can just ignore the rules and say that's the way things are?

I've read other arbitrators order that oversized classes stay the same but that teachers be relieved from their C6 assignments. While that might be nice for teachers wasting their time on potty patrol, it really doesn't serve the kids well at all. I wonder why, in a system with the largest class sizes in the state, we can't just say follow the damn rule and be done with it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

APPR and the American Way

Right now we're looking at a system that entails only 20% state-imposed BS, and 20% local BS. This is a great system, according to UFT President Punchy Mike Mulgrew. I've seen him say so repeatedly. According to Punchy Mike, it's a great improvement over the last system in which principals could give bad ratings whenever they felt like it.

I suppose that might be true if it were not for the fact that 70% of those facing 3020a under the new system will have the burden of proof on them, rather than the city. They are guilty until proven innocent. Is that the American Way?

Actually, as a rule, the American Way is even worse than that. In New York, for example, unless there's a contract that says otherwise, people are at will employees. They can be fired for any reason or even no reason. That's one reason a lot of people have little sympathy for teachers. And rather than say we want what you have, they say we want you to be just as miserable as we are.

But teachers need to be socially conscious and politically active. Despite what you may read in the NY Post, we actually represent the children we serve. That's a fundamental part of our job. People may be surprised to learn that administrators who are indifferent or abusive to employees are often not a whole lot better with children. This is true whether said administrators are federal, state, or even hyper-local.

Under the current junk science-based system, teachers in NYC with consecutive bad ratings are facing 3020a. And despite what Punchy Mike said, principals can still give the very worst ratings based on their druthers. Anyone who contends that a Danielson rubric makes things fair is either delusional or disingenuous. Administrators can see what they wish to and ignore what they wish to. I've seen incontrovertible video evidence of that. There is no advantage whatsoever in the addition of junk science, and worse, even if a principal gives a positive rating the junk science can drag you down to ineffective. I've seen that too.

As for the much-vaunted UFT peer validators, the ones leadership maintained represented an improvement over the old system that was never even tested,  they have tanked 70% of those they observed. It must be very rewarding to send your brothers and sisters through a process that will almost certainly result in their termination. I can't remember whether it's 10 or 20K per annum the validators take for that particular service.

So while it will be nice if Cuomo's draconian and punitive new APPR is not enacted, the current one is already an abomination. Just because we don't move further backward is not cause for celebration.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why Is Reformy Andy Cuomo Backing Down on Junk Science?

Like everyone who pays attention, I was pretty amazed to read in the NY Times that Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking to tamp down his teacher evaluation mandate. After all, hadn't he said that the new system, the one he backed and pushed, was "baloney?" He was clearly upset that not enough public school teachers had been badly rated and fired. After all, the developmentally inappropriate tests he had mandated, with no preparation whatsoever, had managed to fail a large number of New York's children. Surely he could blame the public schools and turn them over to his wealthy BFFs. There were billions to be made.

But alas, there was pushback. The moms whose kids Arne Duncan insulted were not ready to throw in the towel. They were not prepared to label their children as dummies and turn over their schools to Cuomo's campaign contributors. Opt-out fever hit NY State widely, and grew in leaps and bounds. Cuomo, seen as invincible after his first run against some Buffalo lunatic, began to show chinks in his armor. And on education, his popularity fell into the toilet. Ever reformy MaryEllen Elia suggested that junk science should count for 20, rather than 50% of teacher ratings.

Diane Ravitch pointed to this piece as significant, but urged caution.

This may be a hoax, a temporary moratorium intended to deflate the Opt Out Movement and cause it to disappear. Do not rest until the law is changed to delink testing and teacher-principal evaluations. The new federal law–not yet enacted–eliminates the federal mandate that Duncan imposed without authorization by Congress. New York may now permanently eliminate this punitive, anti-educational requirement.

New York parents: As Ronald Reagan said,  “Trust, but verify.” I suggest turning that saying around: “Verify, then trust.” Meanwhile, to quote an even older saying, keep your troops together and “keep your powder dry.”

Of course I agree. Trusting Andrew Cuomo is an egregious error. Punchy Mike Mulgrew trusted him when he opposed Bloomberg's LIFO-killing bill, but it was pretty clear Governor Andy thought his new junk-science APPR bill was gonna serve to fire those inconvenient unionized teachers. Punchy Mike trusted him so much he didn't bother to oppose Cuomo in primaries, let alone the general election. Cuomo thanked him by enacting the not only the most punitive and draconian teacher rating system I've ever seen, but also receivership that made collective bargaining agreements moot  (a system for which Punchy Mike thanked the Heavy Hearts Legislature).

Why would Governor Andy even pay lip service to reversing his reforminess? I have a theory. Perhaps he expects Friedrichs to win. Were that to happen, the inconvenient New York teacher unions would crumble in influence. After all, even now they spend all their time looking for a "seat at the table" and don't accomplish a whole lot beyond buttressing the pensions of Mulgrew's pals in Revive NYSUT.

Were NYSUT and UFT to be effectively defunded, that might mean opposing public education would be even easier than it is now. After all, UFT already supports charters, and does nothing when Governor Andy forces NYC to pay rent for them even if the city doesn't want them. What's gonna happen if dues become optional?

UFT has not been gung-ho unionist in decades. Many members don't even know what union entails. How else can you explain an overwhelming vote for what is essentially two-tier due process? How else can you explain leadership even proposing such an abomination?

Maybe the reformies, after watching us invite Gates to keynote the AFT convention, not only don't fear us, but no longer even think we bear consideration. Maybe they know that removing the gravy train from our non-teaching leaders will render us even less of a factor.

Cuomo has no moral center and does nothing without a viable self-serving reason. While I shudder to contemplate the diabolical workings of whatever remains of his soul, he always has an ulterior motive.

Related: On Facebook, Kevin Glynn comments: With the receivership law in place, you no longer need teacher Evals. Jamie Mc Nair comments: If the Lederman case goes her way, the continued use of test scores to evaluate teachers will be politically next to impossible (or potentially illegal?). Perhaps Andy knows more than we do and just wants to look like he was on the side of the winner before the victor is announced.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Danielson Guide to a Highly Effective Thanksgiving

Full disclosure--found on the internet, unattributed. 

Ineffective: You don't know how to cook a turkey. You serve a chicken instead. Half your family doesn't show because they are unmotivated by your invitation, which was issued at the last minute via facebook. The other half turn on the football game and fall asleep. Your aunt tells your uncle where to stick the drumstick and a brawl erupts. Food is served on paper plates in front of the TV. You watch the game, and root for the Redskins.

Developing: You set the alarm, but don't get up and the turkey is undercooked. 3 children are laughing while you say grace. 4 of your nephews refuse to watch the game with the rest of the family because you have failed to offer differentiated game choices. Conversation during dinner is marked by family members mumbling under their breath at your Aunt Rose, who confuses the Mayflower with the Titanic after her third Martini. Only the drunk guests thank you on the way out. Your team loses the game.

Effective: The turkey is heated to the right temperature. All the guests, whom you have invited by formal written correspondence, arrive on time with their assigned dish to pass. Your nephew sneaks near the desert dish, but quickly walks away when you mention that it is being saved until after dinner. You share a meal in which all family members speak respectfully in turn as they share their thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. All foods served at the table can be traced historically to the time of the Pilgrims. You watch the game as a family, cheer in unison for your team. They win.

Highly Effective
: The turkey, which has been growing free range in your back yard, comes in your house and jumps in the oven. The guests, who wrote to ask you please be invited to your house, show early with foods to fit all dietary and cultural needs. You watch the game on tape, but only as an video prompt for your family discussion of man's inhumanity to man. Your family plays six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon and is thus able to resolve, once and for all, the issue of whether Oswald acted alone.

Originally posted November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish all the readers of this little blog a joyous and peaceful holiday, free of the stench of reforminess and Charlotte Danielson. I'm sure you have much to be thankful for in your private lives, and of course you know that better than I ever will.

Consider, despite the nonsense swirling around us, stirred by the likes of Shakespeare's witches, they still only have that one eye between all three of them and cannot see what we do. They cannot see the faces of the children looking up at us each and every day. They have no idea what these children need, nor how to give it to them. They look at them and see thousands of dollars in each and every child, and can think only of how to get that money to people like themselves, who need it least.

We stand up for the children, and object when they are subject to endless testing so the reformies can gather baseless data to defame us. We cry out when they are herded into classrooms like sardines, and object when the likes of Eva Moskowitz subjects them to tortures that would rightfully land us on the unemployment line. We object when the governor and the Regents spout nonsense and push spineless legislators into passing it for no good reason.

And when our own union leadership gets down and supports junk science evaluation, mayoral control, Common Core, school closings, charter schools and other things that hurt parents, children and working teachers, we stand up to them too. Maybe we are naive and just not smart enough to understand why we should support things that hurt us and our children.

But most importantly, we're in classrooms helping children each and every day. People who make many times our salaries to oppose or mislead us will never understand or appreciate why that's important. They will never understand what it is to have the appreciation of a kid we've helped with something important to the kid. They will never understand why this is the best job in the world, and no it isn't because of July and/ or August.

But we know. We know when kids lack a stable role model that we are the second best thing they can have. We know that our jobs are important, maybe second only to doctors in importance. We know our value, and it's not because we read it on some rubric-based evaluation telling us whether we're 1, 2, 3 or 4.

So enjoy your time off, enjoy your homes and families, and know that there are many of us, and many public school children, and a whole lot of their parents too, who understand and appreciate what it is we do every day of our working lives. Be thankful for whatever you're thankful for, as will I, and be thankful for them, too. I'm thankful for my readers and I wish every one of you a great year, despite all odds!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Simplicity Itself

I was at a DA meeting when Punchy Mike Mulgrew said something like if you aren't fighting with your principal, you aren't doing your job. Punchy Mike immediately followed up by boasting about his cozy relationship with Chancellor Carmen Fariña. One might infer that he was not precisely practicing what he preached. After all, this is the same Punchy Mike who urged us all to join Twitter but couldn't be bothered doing so himself.

Of course there are times when you have to be adversarial. A young teacher once told me she had an issue with a principal, and her chapter leader told her, "I can't take sides." That's absurd. It's the job of the chapter leader to advocate for members. You take the side of the member, no matter what. You don't necessarily have to agree with the member, but you do the best you can regardless. And of course, principals make mistakes. You have to call them on the mistakes. If you aren't willing to stand up for what's right, you ought to find a job more suited to your particular talents.

Sometimes things are easy. Yesterday someone double-booked the principal's office. An AP booked it for a lunch meeting with some bigshot from the DOE. I booked it for my consultation committee. Now the AP booked it directly with the principal, but I booked it with his secretary. Therefore, my request was valid while the AP's simply was not. I mean, there are plenty of principals who fancy themselves as school leaders, but anyone who actually works in a school and pays attention knows that it's actually the secretary who runs things. When the principal's off at some meeting or other, everything moves along well, but when the secretary is absent, the whole building falls instantly into chaos.

When the AP learned of this egregious error, it was instantly apparent who had the right to the office. We all know where the real levers of power are. The AP hemmed and hawed, contemplating a meeting in the far less grand department office, but I said, "Let me see what I can work out."

I opened negotiations with the principal's secretary, and we were able to move the consultation meeting to Wednesday. Sure, things were tense as we pored over the schedule and tried to find a good time, but we were determined to find a win-win, and that's what we did.

When you do things like that, you hope that when you need something, admin will reciprocate. Unless you're Andrew Cuomo, there's not a whole lot of upside when you insist on being an asshole all the time. The less you do it, the less you expect other people to do it. Sadly not all administrators know that, and it works both ways.

Of course I'm not President of the United Federation of Teachers, so what do I know?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Off With Her Rubric!

When you teach English language learners, particularly when they're rank beginners, you can never be sure how much of what you say the students understand. A typical coping technique when learning a new language is nodding your head and pretending to understand, whether or not you actually do. Different people will do that to different extents, while others will make their best guesses about what you've said and move on the assumption they're correct. Sometimes they are, but not all the time.

So there's a lot of mystery and misunderstanding in my job. One thing I make it a point to do when I teach is to refrain from showing anger when I'm actually angry. That's just not productive. But I'll frequently feign anger and/ or frustration to get attention, and I'll argue with kids who like to argue for pretty much any reason (or even no reason). If they're using English when they do it, it's a pretty good exercise.

A few days ago, a long-lost student returned. She'd been absent for maybe a month, and though I'd had people who spoke her language call her house multiple times I couldn't get a real answer as to where she was. But she had the misfortune to see me in an office that day, and pretty much had no excuse not to show. It was too bad, because she'd have likely done well, you know, had she been here.

At some point, some kid started laughing. I don't remember why. I said, "Listen, this is English class and there will be no enjoyment. Anyone else who has a good time is going to get a zero." This is something I've said before, and most of the kids are used to it. But the student who'd been absent for a long time had not, and she said, exactly, "Oh, you so bad teacher."

Now I didn't know whether she was serious or playing, but it struck me as very funny either way, and I could not stop laughing. This is usually a bad thing, as once you, the teacher, lose your composure, everyone else tends to follow suit. And thus, that day, things fell apart for a few minutes.

As of now, I'm leaning toward believing the girl was making a joke. For one thing, if you were seriously upset with a teacher, would you shout out how bad the teacher was? (Actually, there's probably a large number of teenagers who might do just that, but I don't personally believe this one was among them.)

So here's the question--were they engaged?  What would've happened if a supervisor walked in? A teacher told me the only good way for this story to end would be for a supervisor to walk in just as this was happening. And what does being engaged mean (if you haven't got imminent wedding plans)? What if I distributed 17 decks of cards and told them all to play gin rummy? Wouldn't they be engaged?

I guess it wouldn't earn me Danielson points. But for me, and for all the students who were in that room, I think we were happy to be there at that moment.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Revive NYSUT, Facing Friedrichs, Attacks Working Teacher

We pay a lot of money to NYSUT. It's a great honor, particularly for those of us who have just about no representation whatsoever. As readers of this blog well know, every single UFT representative in NYSUT is bound by loyalty oath to vote any damn way they are told, rank and file be damned.

NYSUT is worried about this blog post. Evidently, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta is all bent out of shape over it. My source reports he got up at a NYSUT board of directors meeting and said he asked the attorney general to file a discrimination complaint about the blogger. My source says Pallotta felt the blog post characterized him as a mobster, or goodfella, or something. Of course the actual blog doesn't even mention Pallotta, but that's not the point. Evidently these bloggers are taking this whole First Amendment thing way too far.

But here's the thing. Whatever Pallotta says, the whole, "Screw you pay me," thing is accurate. It's particularly accurate for members of UFT, its largest contingent, almost a third of total membership. Because of UFT's winner-take-all at large voting system, designed and approved by the Unity monopoly, our money pays the folks at NYSUT to do things like fail to support Zephyr Teachout, not once, but twice. I've heard NYSUT staffers were sent to work for Bill de Blasio's primary opponent, what's his name, the one who said we couldn't afford to give UFT teachers the raise other city workers got, in the Democratic NYC primary. Clearly UFT leadership pushes buttons at NYSUT.

And as if that's not enough there are tons of little locals who pay NYSUT but can't vote. Not everyone has the finances of UFT. NY State is as large as England and there are a whole lot of little locals who just can't finance a weekend at the NY Hilton. But for them it's still, "Screw you, pay me."

Here we are facing Friedrichs, the biggest threat to unionism in my living memory, and our leadership, the same leadership that broke several of the big promises on which it ran, is out trying to stifle free speech among union members.  Maybe I'd better stop saying Pallotta's Revive slate broke its promise to oppose Cuomo. After all, it failed to oppose him in two primaries and one general election. Maybe I'd better stop saying Pallotta's Revive slate failed to oppose Common Core. After all, Karen Magee pretty much said it was Common Core or anarchy. And Mike Mulgrew, their staunchest supporter, says he'll punch your face and push it in the dirt if you lay a paw on his Common Core.

Anyway, if  it's open season, and union leadership wants to go after bloggers, here I am. Give me your worst, fellas. I'm here every day.

Lewis Black on Teachers

Black is not so kind to guidance counselors, based only on his own. I disagree with stereotypes of all kinds, and that certainly qualifies. But listen to what he says about teachers.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Short Story

Last night I met two Chinese-speaking parents of a shy but happy girl. I told them, after all these weeks, that I've started to see their daughter smile much more frequently. I told them, as I often tell parents, that if their daughter would speak a little more I'd give her a higher grade. They were happy to hear it, but they said their daughter was very shy, even in Chinese.

I was very impressed with Dad, who insisted on speaking English with me, and declined my offers of a translator. I kept telling them about how their daughter seemed to be coming out of her shyness, little by little, and how much her smile meant to me.

The father said something like, "She likes you very much. I will tell her you like her very much too."

There was something great about this. Moments like these make me happy to have this job.

All the reformies in the world can't see or change the real rewards of this job. They place us into ridiculous teams to solve problems we don't have. They make us pore over data to try to improve test scores. But we're not about test scores. We're about children.

For this we are vilified and scorned. For this they attack our tenure and want us at-will employees. For this they attack our unions and try to make them utterly impotent. For this we are judged by nonsense and subject to dismissal for no reason.

There's something horribly wrong with this country. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015


I have to say this is, and has always been, a high-pressure profession. I don't know how anyone manages to stand in front of 34 teenagers without noticing it. Don't mistake that for a complaint, because it's not. There's really just about nothing I'd rather do, but I've been doing this for a while so it's easier for me.

Some of my younger colleagues are not so sanguine. I regularly hear them being jealous, jealous of me because I've put in more years and can retire. They, of course, ignore the fact that they're maybe thirty years younger than I am because that's not precisely what's bothering them now. What's bothering them now is this--on top of all the pressure already inherent in this gig, there are these do or die Danielson directives. At any moment, someone can walk in, say you suck, and if they say it enough, you're busy pursuing your private interests, e.g. looking for food and shelter.

There aren't really a whole lot of needs more basic than those, and having them hanging over your head is not precisely inspirational. Mulgrew can go on about how there were "only" 700  double ineffectives, but if you're one of them that's little consolation. And even if you aren't one of them, there are a few issues with that line of thought. One is that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends an inordinate amount of time and energy fretting over this. The other, of course, is that this "low" number and others like it are precisely what inspired Andrew Cuomo to sell his even worse evaluation bill to the Heavy Hearts Assembly.

It must be great to get up in front of hundreds of cheering loyalty-oath signers and declare how wonderful everything is. Unfortunately, when you have people crying to you that they only have a few years in and are hoping to make it to twenty so they can get the hell out, it's tough to get up and sing a happy song. Me, I have no words. You can't make someone feel better when they're looking you in the eye and declaring, "Only 137 more days to go."

Sadly, that will only get them through this year, and there are ten or fifteen more to go. I know there are plenty of Americans out there who will say, "Yeah, my job sucks, and my life sucks, so what the hell do I care if your life sucks too?" That's a popular attitude, and simultaneously one of the worst attitudes of which I can even conceive. Now here's the thing. It's one thing to be miserable. That's really your problem. It's quite another to endorse the notion that role models for your children should be miserable. It's kind of a chain reaction.

In our zeal to emphasize test scores, to rate teachers by junk science, to open charters and close public schools, we've neglected to examine the relative happiness or lack thereof in our children.  Maybe I'm not as sophisticated as those who preach rigor and grit, but that's kind of important to me. I don't want my classroom to be a source of rigor. I want it to be a source of joy. If I can find joy in myself and share it with the children while teaching English they will learn more than just English. They will learn to love English. Maybe they will even learn to love life. Who knows?

Now I haven't got a rubric or formula to precisely express that, but having seen many rubrics and silver bullets over the year, I've got little faith in them.  I've got a lot of faith in happy children. I don't think it would be all that terrible if we tried to create happy teachers to inspire them, even if they miss a close reading here or there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Specter of Friedrichs Haunts Mike Mulgrew

Michael Mulgrew sent us an email the other day, telling us we needed to inform our members of the seriousness of Friedrichs. This was not really news to me, and I've been trying to do that for some time now. Of course I follow the news and I don't take this threat lightly. Those of us who are passionate about education and unionism have understood this from the beginning. We've  known we're under frontal assault and didn't need to wait for Mulgrew to tell us.

Of course, when you get an email from Mulgrew, whose caucus has held pretty much absolute control over the union since its inception, you have to question things. Here's the statement I had to question:

Unity among UFT members is essential in the face of this threat.

There's that odd choice of words. Why did he have to use the name of his caucus in that statement? Is it coincidence?

And then there's his odd niceness campaign at the DA, largely consisting of Mulgrew telling us how nice he is. He fails to personally insult people from the podium. He says something nice about Mindy Rosier. Then he briefly lapses back into character and suggests Jonathan Halabi is an anarchist for wanting to support ATRs.

Sadly, we've heard this song before, ad nauseum. Mulgrew constantly reminds us of how bad Bloomberg was. And I can't help but recall several Unity oath-signers coming around here telling me how I needed to stop criticizing leadership and face the common enemy, Mike Bloomberg. It's the same thing now with Friedrichs. Now, we are instructed not to dissent because of Friedrichs. There is never a good time to disagree with the all-knowing Unity Caucus, and if they had enough patronage to spread around they'd probably try to get all of us to sign the loyalty oath.

But even as Mulgrew speaks of togetherness, his hand-picked pawns at NYSUT spew vitriol over heroic independent-minded unionist Beth Dimino. They can't buy her (and they've certainly tried), so they attack her. They've attacked me too. Someone needs to tell Michael Mulgrew and BFFs that this is a two-way street. It's not enough for Mulgrew to stand in front of us and proclaim how nice he thinks he is. We have not drunk the Kool-Aid and we are not fools.

Mulgrew's niceness campaign opened up right on the heels of his throwing those who distribute policical union literature outside the building. Like Norm Scott frequently advises, we watch what they do, not what they say. The problem with those at the head of the Unity machine is they're accustomed to selling things to people who are already bought and paid for. They have no idea what argument is and they have no idea what persuasion entails. On multiple occasions, dim bulbs from Unity have tried to bully me into submission. You must do this and you must agree with that.

They have no response when I ask what they're gonna do if I don't do this or that. Are they gonna expel me from the Unity Caucus? Take me off the patronage mill? Do your worst, fellas.

You don't buy people off, demand blind loyalty no matter what, and end up with the best people. That's a good part of why we've bought into a culture of appeasement, and a good reason why our enemies are so emboldened. It's why fewer than 20% of working teachers think voting in union elections is worth their time, why rank and file is so poorly mobilized, why we've moved so far backward, and why we face moving further still in that direction.

We've seen this coming. We've watched every step of the way, with every concession Mike Mulgrew and his Unity army gave away. We oppose Friedrichs as much as anyone, perhaps more. But Mulgrew and company have ignored us every step of the way. It's pretty cheeky for them to now demand we forget what brought us here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

DA Takeaway November 2015

The most striking thing about this month's DA, in retrospect, is the absolute nonsense voiced by UFT President Michael Mulgrew at its opening. I had no idea why Mulgrew was talking about whether or not people could leaflet inside or out of UFT offices. But he went into detail about how outer borough offices occupied rented space, and the Manhattan building was owned by the union. Given that, he said, it was understandable that indoor leafleting was permitted only at 52 Broadway.

Yet here is a video taken by Norm Scott showing people actively blocking him from leafleting. Norm repeatedly asks who sent these people, and they repeatedly evade answering him. Norm points out that the union owns the building and that he's paid dues for 45 years. So why have people been sent to throw him out of the building that we own? And who the hell sent those people, if not Michael Mulgrew? If he is not in control of his own people, who is?

Mulgrew is clearly trying to overcome his image as autocratic, sarcastic, and disrespectful of any opinions failing to mirror his own. In fact, he himself kept remarking on how nice he is. He once again joked about how he restrained himself from using bad language, a joke he evidently finds so hilarious it bears repeating on a monthly basis. He made a point of commenting on how Mindy Rosier was a great presence in social media, which of course she is. Yet that only underlines the hypocrisy of the man who urges UFT members to get on Twitter but won't do so himself.

Bogeyman Michael Bloomberg, who we failed to oppose in two elections, is brought up. Aren't we better off without him? Well of course we are, but if we hadn't caved to him on mayoral control, on the ATR, and on the entire grab bag of goodies we granted him in 2005, we'd be better off yet. It's time to face up to our current enemies--Andrew Cuomo, who we also failed to oppose on multiple occasions, and MaryEllen Elia, who enabled the union-bsuting being imposed on our brothers and sisters in Buffalo. It's time for Mulgrew to explain why the hell he thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for approving the law that made this happen.

Self-proclaimed nice Mulgrew again ridiculed his opponents, saying last year everyone was "jumping up and down." In retrospect, there was a lot to jump about. Look at Buffalo teachers facing receivership. Look at them facing the abrogation of collective bargaining agreements. Look at them facing more work for less pay and even potential dismissal. Mulgrew spoke of how bogeyman Bloomberg wanted to fire ATRs and render us at-will employees. Yet he thanked the Heavy Hearts for passing a bill that does exactly the same thing.

It was clear to his MORE/ NA opponent, Jia Lee, months ago that MaryEllen Elia was not our friend. That's why she brought a resolution urging we express our disapproval. But UFT Unity, ever seeking a seat at the table where we are the dinner, shot it down.

Most of the resolutions were pretty much Mom and Apple Pie, and few stood against them. But on the 5 train back, James Eterno mentioned he was concerned about any bill that says all kids will be literate by second grade. Of course no one opposes literacy. But the 100% figure is problematic, and we seem to have learned nothing from the failed NCLB. Kids have all sorts of differences, including learning disabilities and interrupted formal education, and given that, 100% is not a reasonable goal.

And while Jonathan Halabi himself has commented about it on this blog, I have to say I was a little shocked to see Mulgrew rule him out of order for speaking up for ATR teachers. Mulgrew took it a step further, likening Jonathan's proposal to anarchy. Personally, I'm not an anarchist, but I am and have been troubled by the top-down nature of UFT leadership. I always found it amazing they could muster the audacity to criticize bogeyman Bloomberg for being exactly the same as they are. That, of course, is not to even mention the fact that every single one of our so-called delegates in NYSUT and AFT has signed a loyalty oath to represent leadership rather than membership.

Ruling out free thought has brought us precisely to this crossroad. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

My "Real Discussion" on Test-Based Teacher Evaluations

At the November Delegate meeting, President Mulgrew noted that there needs to be a "real discussion" on teacher evaluations.  He asked if teachers really want to return to evaluations based solely upon the observation of principals.  Under the new system, fewer teachers receive the near equivalent of the old U, an ineffective rating.

The President noted that no standardized test should be used solely to evaluate teachers.  The tests must have validity in informing instruction and aiding individual students.  He also noted that student learning is not just a test.

There are some positives.  Tests no longer seem to be touted as the key to civil rights equality for minorities.  That is a blessing.  If my bottom line was data, I might say the new system, with fewer failing teachers, is an improvement.  If I had a supervisor with a personal vendetta against me, I would probably wish 100% of my evaluations were based upon standardized assessments.

Having neither, I can safely say I abhor test-based evaluations of teachers.  I do not wish to teach to standardized tests.  For part of my career, these tests have watered down the curriculum.  The higher the stakes of these tests, the more teachers are forced to spend good class time in nearly meaningless prep.  In the case of the Common Core, the tests target a generation of other people's children for failure.  I would not wish to teach to these tests either.

Standardized tests have nothing to do with my reasons for entering the profession of teaching.  They have nothing to do with making learning interesting to students.  They kill creativity.  They push current issues aside.  They rank people according to questions that will, ultimately, have little relevance for the real world.

If teaching remains focused on testing, teachers are nothing more than at-will employees of Stanley Kaplan.  All that's needed to fire more teachers are harder, trickier or less valid tests.  There is no objectivity in testing, only a false veneer.  Testing could turn teaching into a profession one hardly recognizes anymore.  How many intelligent and independently-minded individuals will want to teach to someone else's idea of a perfect test?

This is my "real discussion."  You are free to agree or disagree.  There's no one answer, as on a standardized test; but, remember, there's a lot riding on the answer.  We are redefining a profession.  We are creating a new breed of teacher.

And, unfortunately, we may be fostering far fewer creative children.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

NY State's Unity Caucus Launches a Despicable Attack Against PJSTA President Beth Dimino

NYS Unity Caucus, of course, is the one that's behind Revive NYSUT. This is the Caucus that promised to oppose Common Core and Cuomo. Yet Karen Magee, pictured at left, offered the logical fallacy that it was CCSS or chaos at an AFT convention. That's called a black and white fallacy, insinuating that there are only two possiblities when there are, in fact, many more. Another Revive lie, also in the picture, was its claim to be against Cuomo. Revive/ Unity failed to oppose him not only in two primaries featuring the incredible Zephyr Teachout, but also in the general election.

Revive was a coup in NYSUT that was supported by Michael Mulgrew and his loyalty oath signing UFT Unity Caucus. UFT is by far the largest group in NYSUT and is pretty much the tail that wags the dog.

The NYS Unity blog is a largely self-congratulating tool, a piece in its ineffectual social media arsenal. It doesn't publish much, but just attacked my friend PJSTA President Beth Dimino. It is not widely read, and I'd never seen it until someone sent me the link. I'm not going to link or send traffic to it, but I will respond to it. Let's begin with the first sentence:

It is with great regret that we feel compelled to respond to a recent yet familiar rant by Beth Dimino, Chair of the Stronger Together Caucus and President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association on Facebook. 

First of all, this is classic passive aggressiveness. We're sorry, but.... Everyone knows that once you say "but," you can disregard everything that's come before it. If they regretted it so much they would not say it. A claim like that is plainly disingenuous.

The UNITY Caucus has taken the high road for a year and a half but eventually, enough is enough.

I'm not particularly sure what the high road is for Unity Caucus. This smells like the same writer who did a similar hatchet job on me, full of nonsensical strawman assertions. In fact, AFT President Randi Weingarten thought that was just fine, and linked to it on Twitter.  She removed the link after I pointed out that the writer, by falsely calling me a part time teacher and part time unionist, managed to insult not only me, but also every UFT chapter leader in the city.  

I will spare you some of the invective, but this piece revolves around her refusal to pay into VOTE-COPE, known in NYC simply as COPE. This is the political fund used by NYSUT and UFT. It is, in fact, completely optional. There are things, most obviously NYSUT's failure to oppose Cuomo, and its dominance by folks who mistake logical fallacy for argument, that cause people like Beth (and me) to question their judgment. Here's more from Unity:

By publicly encouraging others to defund VOTE-COPE on Facebook, “Go into school tomorrow and reduce your VOTE-COPE contributions to $0.00!” she is feeding conservative legislators the ammunition they need to pull our union apart.

First of all, it wasn't Beth Dimino who gave tens of thousands of dollars to Senator Flanagan, who has helped enable the reforminess now making NYSUT members miserable statewide. It wasn't Beth Dimino who supported Senator Serphin Maltese, who helped break two Catholic school unions. Nor was it Beth Dimino who supported George Pataki, who thanked us by vetoing improvements to the Taylor Law. No, that was our COPE money. 

Some might say she should consider joining in with the Koch brothers and other right winged-politicians if her goal is to kill the union.

Let's be clear--this writer just said that, while attempting to sugar-coat the statement with "Some might say." Let's further examine the logical fallacy inherent in this sentence. Obviously, there's that strawman. Beth Dimino is one of the most passionate unionists I've ever met. The notion that she wants to kill union is preposterous, a pure concoction of the Unity writer. Secondly, by invoking the Koch Brothers, there's guilt by association, another logical fallacy. 

Let's be further clear that there is a movement to kill union and it is in no way supported by Beth Dimino. It is enabled, however, by our history of concession to reforminess. Look at the UFT 2005 Contract. Look at Michael Mulgrew helping to craft the APPR law. Look at him praising the Heavy Hearts legislature for making it worse. Look at Bill Gates addressing the AFT Convention. And those are just a few of the low lights.

When you cannot muster a proactive argument, logical fallacy is one way to go. What's truly pathetic is that this is what our leadership chooses to put forth as their voice. Among teachers, there are quite a few thinkers, quite a few creative and passionate souls. Judging from what passes for argument among leadership, and how they choose to treat people who speak their minds, they haven't got the remotest notion what a creative and passionate thinker even is.

Related: PJSTA defends its President. 

Related: ICE-UFT blog

Friday, November 13, 2015

I Ain't Gonna Work on Mulgrew's Farm No More

 With apologies to Bob Dylan

I ain't gonna work on Mulgrew's farm no more,
No, I ain't gonna work on Mulgrew's farm no more.
He don't like the slogan,
You got on your shirt,
So he punches your face and pushes it in the dirt,
He's so worked up about that Common Core,
I ain't gonna work on Mulgrew's farm no more.

I ain't gonna work for Leroy Barr no more,
No, I ain't gonna work for Leroy Barr no more.
He looks you in your face, says get out on that floor,
Says vote the way I say or you won't have that job no more,
Then he laughs as we hightail it out the door,
Oh, I ain't gonna work for Leroy Barr no more.

I ain't gonna boo at Lauren Cohen no more,
Well, I ain't gonna boo at Lauren Cohen no more.
Well she gets up on that platform, and what she says is true,
And we make lots of noise until they tell us not to boo,
It's a shame the way we bully from the floor,
I ain't gonna boo at Lauren Cohen no more.

I ain't gonna sign that loyalty oath no more,
Oh, I ain't gonna sign that loyalty oath no more.
You put on a tie, you put on a coat,
They tell you where to sit and they tell you how to vote,
Integrity or trips it's either or,
Oh, I ain't gonna sign that loyalty oath no more.

I ain't gonna go on no free trips no more,
No, I ain't gonna go on no free trips no more,
They make me go there, they make me go here,
When Gates gets on the stage, they order us to cheer,
We vote for stuff and no one knows what for,
I ain't gonna go on no free trips no more.

I ain't gonna sit here on my hands no more,
No, I ain't gonna sit here on my hands no more.
They give you a contract, they give you a few beers,
They give you a raise that you don't see for five whole years,
You ask them why and they show you the door.
I ain't gonna sit here on my hands no more.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

DA Report November 2015


Mulgrew thanks us for coming. Asks everyone to look at people on floor 19. Makes jokes I don’t understand.

Moment of silence for members who’ve passed.

Says he wants to keep his report brief and get to resolutions. Speaks to issue of leafleting. Says we cannot leaflet in lobbies of outer borough office, but that we own Manhattan building. Says to remember we’re members of the same union, asks people to be respectful. Says he’s heard of people shoving documents in people’s faces saying, “You must read this.” Asks for a respectful professional manner

President’s Report


Says he goes to White House and ends up in fights. Says he listens to well-educated people who’ve never been in classrooms give advice. Says foundations and organizations mentioned we were overtesting and he was shocked. Says they spoke of developing whole child, in sarcastic tone.

Says they wanted to know why schools don’t develop children socially and emotionally, but next group wanted grit and determination. He asked how we would test that. Speaks of lack of accountability and reality on part of these overpaid people.

Mulgrew discovers Janella is on 19 and begins to make jokes about it. Finds her on one and has small conversation about whether or not she enjoyed DC.

Mentions how politics were all against us, and how we had to deal with Bloomberg. Mentions complete hypocrisy on the part of nameless people he met with in DC. Mentions public believes in union more than mayor or governor. Says this has penetrated to DC, and White House. Mentions Hillary Clinton’s charter school comments, says White House was disappointed in them. Mulgrew says he told them they were disappointed pols told truth.

He says what we’re doing is working. He says it’s coinciding with Cuomo looking at Common Core. Says we’ve placed people on that commission. Says negative CCSS comments help commission. Says commission may make recommendations before next DA, that we will agree with many, and that this is shocking. Says they are still only recommendations for Board of Regents.  Says if we want them we will have to push hard.

Says we got rid of parts of law we did not like last year. Says it’s significant that people are talking about what’s happening in NY. Says when they use words “developmentally appropriate” and “scaffolding” good things are happening. Says he feels it in his gut, and if we support it, there we be an all out media blitz.

Wonders where our opponents will be if we win this. Says our opponents will fight us.


We are coordinating with other unions nationally. Was agreed that national push will start next week. Says he’s working with Attorney General, who’s been talking about filing amicus brief with other states.


Buffalo—got receivership. Says remember last year “everyone was jumping up and down.” Says we should be calm but receivership is most problematic part. We negotiated agreement easily with chancellor and mayor. Buffalo did not. Says it is problematic but will not use curse word instead because he saw him mother last night. Tells story about his mother and a bobblehead. Discusses their talk about the Pope.

Says Buffalo schools under receivership had their collective bargaining rights thrown out. Says we’re lucky we aren’t dealing with Bloomberg. Says he knows Jets are playing Bills tonight. Says what the commissioner did was wrong. Says he knows there will probably be a resolution about it.

Asks where the Taylor Law is now that a union’s collective bargaining rights were thrown out.

Part 154—we sent a letter specifically saying don’t do this, told them why. Says Bloomberg dismantled ESL services. Says state passed a regulation that is physically impossible to comply with. Says he’s talking to right people in Albany, to SED. Says a lot of schools that never mentioned ESL are now talking to him and he will send a letter. Says we have proof it is a disaster.

Suggests we not go crazy, says we must ask how to get it done, because it cannot be done. Says tell principal to chill, and if they don’t call UFT.


Eva Moskowitz upset with UFT. Not used to getting bad press. Talks about how Eva suspends kids until they leave, how she denied it but was caught. Mentions she called it anomaly, but reporters found proof otherwise.

She now says she was creating orderly schools. She now says she is not doing what public schools do, which she always did. Says she failed to attend her own press conference to avoid awkwardness, having attacked Hazel Dukes.

Amy Arundell says anyone in kindergarten with 26 and above elementary gets one prep extra, 27 or more will get additional help half day, 28 gets additional help full day. Mulgrew says this will discourage oversized classes.

Mulgrew says we have “much less” oversized classes.

Mulgrew says we gave awards for union action in school at last gala event, Teacher Union Day. Asks reps of those schools to stand.

Mulgrew ends report at 4:54.

Question Period

CL—What are we doing for teachers who still have abusive principals? Mulgrew—doesn’t matter who mayor, chancellor is—we will always have abusive principals, though they swear otherwise. Says we will start principal in need of improvement campaign when necessary. Speaks of building chapters, chapter advocacy program, which he says is very successful. Says when there’s no consultation, no meetings, principal wins war. Says we can fight when people are afraid to be on consultation committee. Says principals deny abuse, but we place pressure from all levels.

Delegate—What’s the difference between PROSE school and other UFT schools? Mulgrew says PROSE is 5 year SBO that may include changes in state, city and chancellor’s regs. Says we have 126 total, Started with evolution, now focuses more on schedules. Says we have three schools where teachers have four day work weeks. Kids attend five days. Says you have to have 65% of UFT members vote yes. Says there is PROSE team. Says PROSE schools together would make second or third largest district.

CL—Question on Campbell Brown lawsuit. What happens after dismissal is rejected? We appeal. Says NY Attorney General on our side, wants to protect tenure.

Delegate—Many members have tried to offer feedback on CCSS, find survey tedious, complicated, unrealistic. Mulgrew agrees, says NYSUT is working on it. Differentiates it from Cuomo’s commission. Says he’s brought it to SED.

CL—Erasmus Hall Campus—rumor metal detectors are being taken out. Worried about new scanning protocols. Says there were five weapons seizures he knows about. Says he was told without metal detectors teachers can’t be protected. Mulgrew says people are upset when metal detectors arrive, and when they’re removed. Says DOE trying to make process for placement and/ or removal of metal detectors. Says detectors should not automatically remain forever, and we need a process. Mentions mobile detectors.

CL—Question about ATRs—what can we do for them in buildings? Any suggestions on involving them? Mulgrew says as president and teacher he hopes it happens in every school but some communities are not open or cordial. Says number of ATRs is decreasing, and there’s never not going to be an ATR. Says Bloomberg tried to use it to make us at will employees.

Mulgrew hopes they are treated as staff members and invited to all events.

PS 32, district 25—MOSL may have built in prejudice. When people decides fate of who they work with, it can be chosen to hurt people who are disliked. Mulgrew says we have members who have asked for more objective measures, He says that makes them standardized and leads to tests. Says most objective measure we have is state standardized test, but what they’ve done with tests is wrong. Do we want to go back to having entire evaluation based on administrator’s judgment? Speaks of school where members were rated zero by principal. Says they were overturned because they were rated E or HE on test scores.

Mulgrew says tests should be used to give us info to plan how to help students. Says some people say they want no tests and others say tests are all they trust. Says it’s a real discussion. Says we will not stand for use of standardized tests for sole purpose of evaluating teachers, and that’s what we’re doing right now.

Says scantron tests are objective, but worst tests you can give child. Mulgrew says we have 700 ineffective ratings, and that’s it. Says the Post will attack us for that. Criticizes old system as based only on principal judgment. Says we have to change definition of what student learning is, that it’s not just a test. Says it’s not a perfect world and he wishes he could make it so.

Questioner mentions Georgia, asks if schools were reevaluated. Mulgrew says teachers in NY being evaluated, teachers who taught self-contained L students. 


Mindy Rosier—Mulgrew says she does wonderful work on social media—raises resolution in opposition to receivership. Mulgrew says we need two thirds motion to put it on agenda. Motion is being distributed. Mulgrew asks parliamentarian if makers of similar resolutions can figure out how to bring them together. Asks for motion that two makers meet to create single resolution. So moved.

Sterling Robeson—Friedrichs—resolves we continue to educate our members. Says we know who backers are and why they are doing this. Urges we support this. Seconded. Mulgrew opens floor to debate.

Marjorie Stamberg—proposes additional resolve—because Supreme Court not elected, and not subject to legislation, that we, the UFT urge massive mobilization of union power to oppose Friedrichs. Motivates talking about Wisconsin, where Madison Public Employees moved for general strike. Says on eve of strike, AFL-CIO moved against and urged recall. Says this is what we are facing here, and Republicans and Democrats won’t help. Open for debate.

Dave Pecoraro—moves to call all questions before the house. Mulgrew—no one wants a debate. Mulgrew read res. Resolve and motion pass.

Mulgrew says we have 7 minutes for motions.

Mindy Rosier—resolution withdrawn for this month—will collaborate and bring it next month.

Rich Mantel, middle school VP—Mulgrew says no debate. Just two thirds for or against. Asks for investigation into conditions and high rates of suspension in Moskowitz schools. Enthusiastically passed, seemingly by everyone.

Mulgrew moves to close resolution period.

George Altomare—Wants to pay tribute to 1960 strikers. Says it’s amazing right of collective bargaining before us again, after we won it in 1960. Says we cannot accept this. Says everyone here has had a supervisor try to take away dignity. Says each of us has a genesis, as does union. Speaks of poverty of teachers then, 50 years ago. Says he considered career change. Speaks of Shanker and David Selden. Speaks about strike. Says heroic efforts, brotherhood and unity were forever, that all teachers would win, and that we did.

Dave Pecoraro—calls the question asks for acclamation. Resolution passed unanimously.

Tom Brown—supports resolution in response to risk of climate change to TRS. Says UFT should have expert advisors to mitigate risk. 

Jonathan Halabi—strongly supports. Says it’s not just stocks but our world. Urges quick movement.

Question called, seconded, no one wants to speak against. Motion passes.

Mulgrew says we no longer have any investments in hedge funds, to applause.

Janella Hinds—speaks to support Chicago Dyett HS Coalition. Resolves to support their activists. Seconded. Mulgrew calls for debate. Question called. Resolution unanimously passed.

Woman—not introduced—was Evelyn de Jesus, I now think, moves we support NYC initiative to ensure all students receive literacy Seconded. Opens debate.

Michael Freeman CL, teaches in programs where literacy is problem. Says it’s very important.

Dave Pecoraro, calls question. Mulgrew asks for someone to speak against.

Constance Bensen, DR, says we need to include ATRs who are literacy teachers. Mulgrew asks if she wishes to make an amendment. Says she would like to include concern about teachers who have literacy licenses. Mulgrew says since she hasn’t got an amendment ready, he asks maker of motion to figure out how to include.

Mulgrew says he’s trying to be kinder and gentler, but will lose it eventually.

Debate on this resolution suspended.

Sterling Robeson—speaks in support of computer science for all. Wants to ensure all students have access. Says it opens career pathways. Wants to support mayor’s efforts. Seconded. Mulgrew opens debate.

Speaker—wants adult education students included in resolution.

Mulgrew says it is idea, not amendment. Works to include speakers suggestion. Mulgrew says if it isn’t grammatical he will fix it, that he is an English teacher.

Nina Triblle—moves to call question. Resolution passes as amended.

Evelyn de Jesus returns, has added amendment.

CL—clear distinction between certification and license. Mulgrew says it will say licensed and/ or certified. Seconded.

Jonathan Halabi—Was it the intention to leave out specific mention of ATRs?

Ruled out of order by Mulgrew. Says he will only be nice so far and we can’t have anarchy.

All questions called, seconded.

Amendment and resolution carried.

Mulgrew tells people who wish to speak we are out of time, that we have to do raffles and other stuff.

Dave Pecoraro, moves we extend three minutes to discuss something. Did not hear what. Passes by few who’ve voted.

Moskowitz resolution—Eva nags kids to leave her school. Says she does not educate all students, but we do and gladly. Urge you to urge moratorium on new Moskowitz schools and investigation into her practices.

Greg Lundahl—calls question—passed unanimously.

Mulgrew begins raffle.

What I Did on My Day Off

Yesterday ESL teacher Aixa Rodriguez and I met at Francis Lewis High School in Queens to talk to Telemundo Noticias 47 about the changes in ESL instruction due to CR Part 154. Through the miracle of YouTube, you can watch us right here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

From the NYC Educator Archives--James and Sylvia

James came from Haiti. He was a big guy with a big mouth, who often used it to express his medieval opinions about women. I can't remember exactly what he used to say, but "barefoot and pregnant" springs to mind. Though he was not open to other points of view, he would generally shut up when politely asked.

Sylvia was from Bangladesh. She was very, very quick-witted. One day, after James announced he could do anything better than any woman (which was odd, since a good number of them were doing better than he was in English class), Sylvia asked, "Do you think you could play chess better than me?"

James said, "Of course." The fact that Sylvia was some sort of chess champion, who had points in some professional league somewhere, did not faze him at all. Sylvia said, "If you beat me, I'll tell the class that everything you say about women is completely true. If I win, you will apologize for everything you've said, and never talk about us like that again."

James agreed.

I set one day of class time for the big match. Sylvia brought in a rolled-up chess board, the game pieces, and one of those clocks they use at matches. She checkmated James very quickly, and had to keep telling him where he could and could not move his pieces.

James, as good as his word, apologized and stopped making remarks about women. I asked him why he'd chosen to take on Sylvia, knowing that she was a champion and having almost no idea how to play the game.

"A man can never turn down a challenge," he said.

Originally published December 30, 2006

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mrs. Grundy Was a Great Facilitator

When we think back to our best teachers, there are a lot of things that we never mention. For example, it's been frequently pointed out that no one ever says, "Gee, I loved Mr. Educator's class because he helped me pass that standardized test." And despite that, standardized tests now pretty much control everything and everyone. I know perfectly competent teachers who've had their ratings dragged down by tests. Two years in a row, and those teachers would be toast. We don't need programs to protect "outliers." We need programs that make sense in the first place so we don't create them.

Another thing kids never say is, "Gee, my old teacher was a fantastic facilitator. She sure knew how to put us in groups." And of course, you never will. Oddly, Danielson thinks it's vital. Maybe if I put all my SIFE kids together, they'll teach one another everything they're missing in L1. Maybe if you put your beginning ESL students with native-born kids, they'll instantly learn English and say, "Thank you for grouping me with kids fluent in a language I don't understand at all." Probably not, though, and I've never heard a single kid whisper those words.

They will probably not express gratitude for the extra PDs you sat through either. Even though you went to every single UFT-sponsored PD on everything, and even though you gave a workshop in DOK, the kids will never say, "Thank you for attending and sponsoring all those workshops. They certainly made you highly effective." They will never say, "Boy that lesson you gave on enzymes and hormones was really engaging." You won't hear a lot of, "Now I understand the War of 1812 better than ever." In fact, you're unlikely to even get a, "Thank you for that bell to bell instruction."

There are just so many things they won't thank us for, although Charlotte Danielson thinks they're important. Worse, though, are the things we actually do that Charlotte Danielson doesn't care about. What about the time you followed that chronically absent girl, waded through every phone number you could find, the ones the school didn't have, and actually got her off the 4 AM job delivering Newsday, the one for which her Grandma paid her nothing, and managed to get her back into school? What about the kids who had never read a book before, the ones who thanked you for making them do it? What about the ones you took extra time with, the ones you got to pass classes you yourself didn't even teach?

There are so many things teachers do. It's preposterous to think that they could be codified in a rubric, let alone that crazy supervisors won't take liberties, misinterpret, and or outright lie about what happens in the classrooms of those with whom they are not comfortable. For all we know, there are people who are comfortable with no one. That could well be the sort of feeling that drives someone out of the classroom and up where he can do even more damage.

I have never loved a teacher for facilitating. I've loved teachers who asked great questions and actually cared what we thought. I can't remember loving teachers for putting us into groups, not even in college. I do remember being in a group where one person designed and administered the project, I was assigned to write about it, another member with a Commodore 64 computer was assigned to type and edit it, and the fourth person was assigned to do precisely nothing. The teacher didn't set up that group, but we knew what everyone could do best. The person we assigned to do nothing was fairly happy about it, and got the same A as all the rest of us.

But I liked the teacher very much. He was brilliant, with a great sense of humor. He knew the subject like the back of his hand. He was always open to everything and anything we had to say about it. He introduced us to the TOEFL exam, which allegedly determined how well people knew English. We sat, a whole class of native speakers, and argued about what the correct answers were to various grammar questions. I always make jokes about people reading The History of Cement, and if I'm not mistaken,  he introduced it to us as a TOEFL writing or reading topic.

There are great teachers. I've had a few. What would Charlotte Danielson say about them? Who knows? Why would anyone even care?

Monday, November 09, 2015

Michael Mulgrew Said "Thank You" for Longer Hours and No Seniority

In Buffalo, the new state receivership law is being tested. It's an important test, because teachers there are expected to work longer and dump seniority rules. This is in direct conflict with the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, which states that if a new contract is not negotiated, old contract terms remain. The BTF will have to sue if it wishes to maintain its current contractual terms.

This is not anything Mulgrew didn't know. I watched him tell the Delegate Assembly that this new law, if passed, meant the receivers could pretty much do anything they wished. He told us all that, under receivership, collective bargaining agreements would be null and void.

As of now, the decision about whether to allow the hacks who run Buffalo schools to violate contracts is in the hands of MaryEllen Elia, hardly a voice of reason. Even now, her Gates-funded, budget busting program in Hillsborough is being dismantled. That does not appear to have diminished Elia's enthusiasm for junk science teacher rating. It's hard to imagine she will do the right thing here, but we will soon see.

There are reasons why kids do poorly on tests. Sometimes the tests are inappropriate. If you insist on giving millions of kids the same tests regardless of their background, that's gonna happen. Kids with learning disabilities are different from those without them. Kids who speak English are different from those who don't. And kids with parents who need to work 200 hours a week, each, may need a different sort of attention from those who actually see their parents every now and then.

But Bill Gates has declared he can't deal with poverty or its effects. He has therefore decided to focus only on standardized tests. And because Bill Gates druthers are more important than the needs of millions of American children, that's where we are today. What's truly shocking is that UFT President Michael Mulgrew has not only accepted the premise that kids must be judged by test scores, but that he's also bought into the notion that schools must be judged on them. He's repeatedly told the DA that we are going to fix the Renewal schools and show it can be done. Unfortunately, the only metric for this "fix" is higher test scores. So far, the only way I've seen that raises test scores is choosing which students take the tests. That's not helping kids, and that's not improving education.

Worst of all, Mulgrew actually thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for passing the bill that enabled receivership. That is insane, and I find insanity a very poor quality in a leader. That's why I'm glad I have a choice this spring. I've going to vote for Jia Lee, the candidate who is not insane, for President of the United Federation of Teachers.

If you agree with me that it's time to have a President who is not insane, you'll vote for Jia too.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Astroturfing 101

It must be great to put out a press release from so-called Families for Excellent Schools and talk about how poorly the public schools serve high-needs students. Those astroturfers just care so much. High needs kids are the ones I teach every day of my life, the ones who wouldn't get into a hedge fund backed charter school on a bet.

If you're a lucky astroturfer, some paper will put your press release out as news. That's pretty much what a Daily News article did yesterday. In fact, it did not present much of any other point of view (though mild protests from Carmen Fariña's office were later added). It appears Fariña's office has some sort of junk science VAM formula to show progress, or lack thereof, on the part of ELLs. It seems to entail the NYSESLAT exam and some other English exams, like the elementary school ELA or maybe the NY State Regents. Neither the ELA tests nor the English Regents are designed to measure language acquisition (and your humble correspondent feels it's absurd to have newcomers take these tests at all).

The fact is the new NYSESLAT test has been given precisely once. Any other test with which they compare it was substantially different, and if that's what Fariña's office is doing, well, it doesn't know what it's doing. I know this well because I administer the NYSESLAT each and every year. The new NYSESLAT, like the aforementioned exams, does not measure language acquisition.  It used to at least try, but now it's all Common Corey. For the edification of confused NYC DOE officials, as well as the CEO of so-called Families for Excellent Schools,  the purpose of ESL is to help newcomers acquire English. It is not, as some genius at DOE stated on a Powerpoint, to prepare them for core content courses (though it certainly helps).

Last year's NYSESLAT test was largely about doing close reading. This is not a language specific skill, and in fact any and all reading skills transfer with time, something so-called Families for Excellent Schools did not really account for. Nor, it appears, has the DOE. Of course, since absolutely no one mentioned in this article appears to have the remotest interest in language acquisition or what that entails, this is no surprise.

It's funny, because right now, while this article merits placement in the Daily News, ESL instruction has been cut to the bone in NY State. I happen to know the writer of this Daily News piece is aware of this, because I sent it to him personally. I'm going to send it to him again just to make sure. I'm a little curious how severe cuts in English instruction for newcomers do not merit mention, but a press release from a Moskowitz PR firm masquerading as grassroots is a big deal.

No one bothers to ask me what's going on with ELLs because I am not qualified. I only see them come into my classroom every day of my life. Yesterday I had a girl come into my classroom, speak Spanish to me and everyone in it, and act like everything was fine. My students were pretty surprised.

I took her outside and told her, in Spanish, she had to speak English in my classroom. I asked if she understood and she said she didn't. This was a first for me. I told her I would not speak Spanish with her in the classroom and that I would not answer questions addressed to me in Spanish. She found that unreasonable. I told her I couldn't speak Chinese or Korean for my other students, and that until I could translate for all, classroom business would take place in English. I offered to explain it to her mom by phone and have mom explain it to her, and she seemed to understand a little better. But just to make sure, I had a dean who speaks Spanish better than I do give her chapter and verse.

Now it's great that so-called Families for Excellent Schools are interested in ELLs. Even as I deplore their outlandish ignorance, I applaud them for their concern. Since they are such big proponents of the Got to Go List Moskowitz Academies, I'm sure they'll urge Eva to start taking in all beginner ESL students, including those SIFE students who don't know how to read and write in their first languages. Do you know how many of these kids are now in the much ballyhooed Moskowitz Academies? Exactly zero. (And it would probably be fewer if they could do anything about it.)

Personally, I'm not at all surprised that math scores are down for kids who don't speak English. I'm not at all surprised that schools with high percentages of non-English speakers have lower test scores. After all, they don't speak English. I regret that is evident to neither the DOE nor so-called Families for Excellent Schools.

I suggest Eva Moskowitz and her BFF, the CEO of so-called Families for Excellent Schools travel to China, take a bunch of tests in Chinese and share their results with us. After all, since they're so horrified by these test results I'm certain they'd do much better. And since the new plan in NY State entails teaching ESL via magic, rather than classroom time, and since this is noteworthy to neither Moskowitz  nor so-called Families for Excellent Schools, they should have no problem learning Chinese. Eva will work her magic and show her CEO pal how to be highly effective.

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna sit while I wait for that.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Class Size Hearing

Yesterday I went to a class size arbitration downtown Manhattan. I've done this a number of times over the years. The first time I went, I drove my car to Forest Hills, spent a half hour looking for a spot, and took the subway in. We finished early, I grabbed lunch and ran back to my school. I taught my afternoon classes, which put them a day ahead of my morning classes. That was inconvenient, but I worked it out somehow.

The second time I went, I spent another half hour parking at Forest Hills. I got called into a room at 10 AM, and an AP insisted she would fix all the dozens of oversized classes. I sat at American Arbitration Association until maybe 5 PM, when she called back and said they were fixed. I identified 17 classes that were not fixed, and got home around 9 PM.

Since then, I take the LIRR to the city for hearings. I come in at the end of rush hour, so the trains are not that crowded. I leisurely read a crappy novel on my iPhone all the way there and wished I had the luxury of taking the train to work every day. Of course, all the people I know who take the train to work hate doing it, hate the LIRR and I don't know what else, but driving is no picnic either. No matter how early I hit the LIE, 20 million other people hit it with me.

The first DOE lawyer I used to see was kind of bellicose and arrogant. I would say we have 56 oversized classes and she would say we had none. She seemed angry about it, too. I understand we're adversarial here, but I never really saw the point of being like that. The lawyer I saw yesterday must have received an upgrade or something. He was very matter of fact, which in my view, is pretty much the only way to be.

Still, I wouldn't want his job. He has to sit all day and argue about why there should be oversized classes. If there's some precedent for there being an oversized class, he has to cite it, and then state whether or not the precedent actually sets a precedent that must be followed. If it isn't, he has to argue they accept it anyway. And then, of course, if they don't accept it, he has to argue for an exception. You see, for some reason I will never understand, some schools are granted exceptions to class size rules. You didn't have any oversized classes for the last few years? Then an arbitrator may reward you by allowing some now.

I don't understand that. The Contract says 34 kids in a class. But if your principal has been a good boy or girl, there can be 35. Or 36. Who knows the mysterious ways of arbitrators? And apparently the arbitrators haven't got one of those all-important rubrics, because some will rule one way and others a different way on the same case. I myself grieved classes similar to those an arbitrator rejected last year, because who knows? Maybe this year's model will see the light and decide to help kids stuck in an oversized class on a technicality.

Now sure, you can say I'm just like the lawyer, arguing the other side. My District Rep. would jump on a precedent just like the DOE lawyer would, with my full support. And if it were a precedent that didn't have to be followed, I'd want him to follow it. If we could set a precedent that would make other kids sit through fewer classes of 35, or 51, or whatever, that would be great.

NYC still has the highest class size in the state, and hasn't budged in half a century. Every little bit helps, and I'm proud to do even a little bit, on the off chance that it will help. And sometimes it does.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

It's All in the Cards

We had PD yesterday and I had the opportunity to hear further on the subject of the much-ballyhooed green and red cards. Apparently they're quite useful, and today we also heard about the possibility of yellow cards. Evidently, they add 50% to our options, which is really cool, or a disaster, depending upon whom you ask. Also they can be laminated, which makes them shinier, greener, redder, or even yellower.

I'm clearly a late-bloomer, as I've only known about the wonderful green and red cards for a year. I learned about them on the occasion of a supervisor explaining to a teacher (not me), about the wonderful world of formative assessment. Oddly, this supervisor observed dozens of teachers last year, and did precisely zero formative assessment on those with whom he had issues. But I digress.

Anyway, if you have kids hold up green cards when they understand, and red cards when they don't, that's formative assessment and you are a better teacher. Now there is some disagreement about how the cards are held up. A supervisor may tell you to hold them up, but criticize you for asking students to hold them up high. Such a supervisor will have determined there's nothing wrong with holding them up, but holding them up high goes beyond the pale.

In my PD session the presenters suggested that kids not hold up the cards at all. They suggested the kids lay them on the desks, and helpfully added the possibility of the yellow card for those who weren't certain whether or not they understood. I didn't have a yellow card, but I certainly knew what I didn't understand.

What I didn't understand was why this system was any improvement over the old one, where you ask, "Does everyone understand?" and then move on regardless of whether anyone understands. You see, when you ask if everyone understands, few teenagers are inclined to out themselves as the ones who don't. So even if absolutely no one understands, you get zero negative responses. You pat yourself on the back for being a master teacher, and all the kids do whatever.

Now the whole red and green card thing is more impressive. It's a little more sophisticated. After all, everyone knows it's not cool to just ask if everyone understands and plod on. Now, you can say hold up green cards for, "I understand," or red cards for "clueless," and if no one pleads clueless, well then you can plod on and do whatever.  You just need to determine whether your supervisor wants the cards up, up high, or on the desk. But once the kids hold up those green cards you are highly effective and can leap tall buildings with a single bound.

The whole card thing is so much better than what I do, which is ask questions all the time, and note who can and cannot answer. It's far superior to walking around the room and actually watching who does the work, who doesn't, who can, and to what extent. Nonetheless, the card approach assumes children, especially teenagers, are 100% honest all the time, suffer from zero insecurity ever, and if they say they understand that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Maybe, if the green cards are so meaningful, we should do away with all non-formative assessments and simply pass every student who holds up a green card. That makes about as much sense as anything I've heard about the card system.