Tuesday, May 31, 2016

One Way UFT Unity Rigs the Election

UFT leadership, or perhaps AAA at their behest, hasn't released the slate results for our election. This is odd because they usually come out as a matter of course. You need not be a genius to conjecture why this is. Along with six of my colleagues, I won a seat on the UFT Executive Board. The only reason that happened was because these seats were voted on by high school teachers, and high school teachers only. And this happens to be an uncharacteristic sign of life and joy in the otherwise monolithic and predictable UFT leadership.

But the HS Vice President position is "at large." This means that elementary teachers, middle school teachers, and pretty much everyone else who votes in the UFT election helps us choose who our Vice President is. It's quite clear to me that, if the slate results were released, they would show that high school teachers chose James Eterno to be VP. (Correction--I'm now told slate results are released, though not by division.)

So why didn't that happen? Well, I think it was 1985 that New Action's Mike Shulman won the post of Academic High School Vice President. As a brand new teacher, I saw him as the underdog, voted for him out of sheer instinct, and he won. This was quite upsetting to UFT Unity, which fought the result. For a year, Shulman was not permitted to take his seat. After another election, and a year with no VP, the high schools elected Shulman again.

UFT Unity then determined that the high schools had no right to choose their own VP, since they might choose someone like James Eterno (and of course they were right, because we just did).  Imagine if someone like GW Bush decided that New York should no longer elect its own governor, because they might vote too liberal. Imagine he therefore granted votes to Oklahoma and Texas to balance it out.

There would be outrage. It would be an affront to democracy. But that is precisely what UFT Unity did.

 I didn't even know about it until years later. On the one occasion where I spent 45 minutes splitting my vote, I wrote "NA" on the part where I was asked to vote on Elementary and Middle School VP. And few teachers, even now, are aware that VPs are elected "at large," or why that is. Three out of four of us, in fact, still couldn't even be bothered to walk to a mailbox with a ballot.

Furthermore, though the high schools chose us to represent them, we still have no vote in NYSUT or AFT. This is outrageous. We pay dues to both organizations, have no voice whatsoever, and this is nothing less than taxation without representation. And though the high schools chose MORE/ New Action, the high school VP is Unity. (To be clear, this is not a personal attack on the High School VP, but rather on a system that denies us the right to choose our own representative by ourselves.)

We will work to make the UFT an organization that gives voice to working teachers rather than entrenched leadership. That's democracy 101, and we believe it applies to UFT members too.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Chalkbeat NY Misses Big Picture, Shows Outrageous Bias

I sent an email to the writer of this piece in Chalkbeat NY, but she has not seen fit to respond. Here's what I said:

Fascinating though it was to learn what Educators4Excellence thought about the UFT election, I saw no mention that MORE/ New Action, a group of real, non-Gates-funded working teachers, took the high school seats on the UFT Executive Board. 

This is significant to me because I won one of those seats, and ought to be significant to UFT members, who now have opposition voices at 52 Broadway.

Color me disappointed.


Arthur Goldstein, UFT Chapter Leader/ ESL teacher
Francis Lewis High School

Of course it was important to note that Mulgrew got 76% of the vote, such as it was. They got that right. As you can see, I found other factors significant as well. Perhaps Chalkbeat did not notice. But it's kind of their job to notice, isn't it? I mean, they are reporters, at least ostensibly. In fairness, the Daily News didn't seem to notice either.

But Chalkbeat took it a step further by going to E4E for their opinion. Why anyone who doesn't actually take Gates money should care about their opinion is a mystery to me. But Chalkbeat values E4E opinion so much it once ran an piece about E4E garnering 100 signatures for something or other, perhaps more work for less pay. I can gather 100 signatures in half an hour, so when Chalkbeat promised to run a piece in which I did that, I sent them something in support of ESL students. Of course, I'm not E4E, so evidently keeping their word wasn't important, and they never bothered writing about that.

Another issue that bears looking at, another issue neglected by Chalkbeat, is the outrageously low turnout. While it's up from last time, we still have three out of four members failing to vote.  This should concern us all, and both Unity and MORE/ New Action should work to activate membership. Voting takes a moment, and perhaps a walk to a mailbox. If we can't rouse our members to do that, we are absolutely doing something wrong. Apathy ought not to win the election.

If you read this, you'll also note that among working teachers Jia Lee scored one third of the vote. That's very significant to me, at least. While Mulgrew can hop on a plane pretty much any time to go to Boca, or wherever UFT Florida is, Jia has to show up and work each day. She can't campaign to retirees.

But that's okay in a way. Retirees ought to have a voice on retiree matters, but ought not to be determining who negotiates contracts that do not affect them. To me, that's common sense.

Of course, they say common sense is the least common of all the senses.

Boy Wonder Grapples with an Issue

Oh man what a day! Why does this stuff always happen to me? Let me start from the beginning. Today, 5th period, I'm observing old Mrs. Weiner, and I'm drifting off. Everything was peaceful, and I'm doodling a pic of Wendy's ghost pepper chicken sandwich on my low inference notes. And they have ghost pepper fries too! I could go for some of them right now.

Anyway, old Wiener is droning on about some book or something, or whatever, and I'm trying to figure how to get out and back with enough time to hit Wendy's, and all of a sudden Weiner starts shaking and stuff. I mean wow, it was weird. And then the kids are all, "Mr., call 911," and "Mr., do something!" And I'm here, taking notes and Jesus I've still got 15 observations to do and just a week to do them.

Anyway, one of the kids pulls out a cell and calls 911 and they take old Wiener to the hospital. I confiscated the phone and reported the student, of course. And the AP Security is all, "No, you can't suspend the kid for that." And I noted in my low inference notes that students were using cell phones right there in the classroom. Ineffective. No one was on task and Old Wiener is just doing nothing about it. Ineffective.

Anyway, it turns out Old Wiener had a stroke right there in the classroom. Who knew? Never saw anything like that before. So anyway, Chapter Leader is all, "You can't use that observation," and I'm all, "Hey, there's nothing that says I can't." If I didn't use it, he'd be the first one to be all over my ass about rating someone ineffective with only three observations.

After all, once they carted off Old Wiener I didn't hear any, you know, higher order questions, and I sat there until the bell rang. The kids were completely off task. Was there learning going on? I mean, the kids were panicked and running all over the place and there was really no classroom control at all. Plus none of the kids were doing the reading. How am I supposed to rate that anything but ineffective?

I mean, you don't see me having a stroke in the middle of the class or anything, not that I actually teach one. But if I did I would make it my business not to go having a stroke in front of my supervisor. I mean, who wants to actually watch stuff like that? And to do it in front of the kids? That shows absolutely no consideration. Ineffective again.

And Chapter Leader is all blah, blah, blah, about this. Jeez, why doesn't he go bother someone else?  I don't see him bothering anyone except me. It's harassment is what it is. You know what's wrong with old people? Well, aside from the obvious. They are always complaining. Oh, this hurts, and oh that hurts, and I'm so tired. Well guess what? I'm tired too. I'm tired of listening to all your crap. How about leaving me alone and letting me do my job? Isn't that what I'm here for?

Maybe I don't have to bother trying to become a principal. When the superintendent sees how many high-salaried teachers I'm getting rid of, through retirement, 3020a, or whatever, maybe he'll see I have a place in Upper Management. I hear they go out to lunch in fancy restaurants every day, and that they even have expense accounts. Man, imagine wearing a nice suit every day and going someplace with white tablecloths.

That would be a real draw. If I can get my high school girlfriend a teaching gig after I get rid of Old Weiner, I'll bet she'd be really impressed if she saw me move up into the supe's office. Maybe I can get her to come out to lunch with me. Maybe she can be my assistant.

Good times, and they're only getting better. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Social Justice Isn't Crap

All due respect to my friend Chaz, you can't discount social justice. We are not living on a remote island. We are part of a community.

Hey, I love to get a raise. I want a new Mac, pretty much all the time. I have a kid and she is expensive, what with going to college and stuff. And man, life in general is expensive, what with property and school taxes and fixing stuff. I live 23 miles from my workplace and without a reliable vehicle I'd be hitchhiking back and forth. Pretty sure my principal would be less than sympathetic if I missed classes because I couldn't thumb a ride.

But my job is serving the children of New York City. I advocate for them collectively and individually. I'm very proud that UFT VP Janella Hinds and I were able to put our differences aside and produce a resolution at the DA to support the kids I serve. Our resolution, in supporting kids, also supports teachers. And I am trying to build on this. Aixa Rodriguez and I were on television talking about it. I'm trying to get Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa to get involved, albeit without much success, and I'm working on reaching out to multilingual communities to fix what hurts us and our students.

The very "reforms" that Chaz and I abhor are an affront to social justice. In fact, by making working conditions so awful for teachers we are gradually robbing our children of a great opportunity--that of doing the best job there is. I don't know about you, but I want my kid and my students to have opportunities other than making eight bucks an hour at the BJ's cash register. One of the surest ways to support that is by supporting union. Union itself, in fact, is a form and facet of social justice.

One of my former ESL students is now a math teacher in my school. She comes from a family that works very, very hard just to get by. They scrimped and saved and put her through Queens College. She's as smart as anyone I know, and for all I know in a few years she'll be my boss. She is the American Dream personified, and I want her story replicated. That's why I support social justice.

The opt-out movement, in my view, is the most important movement there is against the insanity that is reforminess. John King could run around, spout baseless ideas, and refuse to subject his own kids to them, sending them to a Montessori school. He could even walk out in a snit,  refusing to defend his ideas to the public, dismissing teachers and parents as "special interests." But the parents were demanding social justice for their children by attacking the ridiculous tests that labeled not only their children, but also their children's teachers. The activist parents in New York State are our best friends and our most ardent supporters. If we demand better conditions exclusively for ourselves, we will lose that support.

And let me add that I absolutely support better working conditions for teachers. I absolutely oppose the ATR and the conditions imposed on teachers stuck there. I've been writing about the ATR since its inception, and if you search this blog you'll see it mentioned literally hundreds of times. I advocate for ATRs and several of them are now permanently employed in my school. Fighting for them is, in fact, fighting for social justice.

We fight such things not only because they hurt us, but because the very existence of such idiocy hurts our children as well. We are part of something larger than ourselves, and if we fail to acknowledge that, we cut ourselves off from our community.

And community is vital. When I attended multiple sessions at Jamaica High School and others, I saw communities up in arms. It wasn't just us alone. When I held demonstrations at my school, I did so in coordination with our PTA. On a small level, when my students have issues and run into red tape, I run interference for them. I don't have to wait on lines the way they do.

Social justice is standing up for our communities, and it's a win-win. If we don't stand with them, why should they stand with us? And if we don't stand up for those we serve, how are we even doing our jobs? We are role models. Do we want to foster a generation that cares only for itself and no one else?

I don't know why everyone does this job, but I want to make a difference. If all I cared about were imparting subject matter and making kids pass tests, I'd support the reformies. But we are something more, and we do something more.

Again, this is the best job there is. But it's certainly not because it's the best paying or easiest job there is. It's because we make a difference, right there in the classroom. And if we think about keeping this job the best job there is, we have to think about improving our communities. We have to fight folks like Bloomberg, folks who care only about folks like Bloomberg. It may not be laid out in black and white in the UFT Contract, but that's part of our job too.

Update: Chaz answers that social justice is crap indeed. My response is below:

You'll pardon me, but I am a strong advocate for smaller class sizes, and have been for years. And I've spoken out about the contract all over the place. When Mulgrew said bloggers were "purveyors of myth" on health care, he was certainly talking about me. He turned off Eterno's mike as James said we'd negotiated the lowest pattern in history, something he's yet to refute.

I read the comments on the UFT Facebook page on the Garner march. They were overtly racist and I was disgusted. I joined the march and I'm proud to have done so. And far from being "strangely silent" on the discipline code, I had a piece in the New York Daily News a week or two ago absolutely opposing it.

Most importantly, by painting everyone with MORE with one brush, you do us a great disservice. We don't sign loyalty oaths, and we are free to believe as we wish. We are not a group of fanatical ideologues, and we are diverse in our beliefs. Saying we believe this and that is nothing but a stereotype, and you've actually not addressed anything in my blog post. I'm pretty shocked you seem not to know me better than that.

I don't actually know much about restorative justice, but someone on my blog yesterday told me it entailed tolerating assaults on teachers and students peddling drugs. Seriously? You're gonna tell me this is what I support? I write and work in defense of members every day of my life. I advocate for ATRs on multiple levels, and have helped several to get hired permanently. I'm not always successful, but it's not for lack of trying.

I take it very seriously when members are abused. That's not any kind of justice, and I'm not at all shy about standing up for members. Being chapter leader of the largest school in Queens is not precisely a walk in the park, and I take the implication that I tolerate such nonsense as a personal insult.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

More/ New Action Victory Is a Win-Win

I'm sure Michael Mulgrew is happy to hold on to his job for another three years, and I congratulate him on his victory. I'm not at all sure he will be happy to see MORE/ New Action on the UFT Executive Board. And I'm sure that a lot of Unity members are not happy at all.

But the smart ones ought to know better. We are activists, and we are the real deal. If you don't believe that, why have we decided to forgo the easy route? It would be a whole lot easier, and a whole lot less time-consuming to just join Unity. We could be up for union jobs and go to conventions. What's better than that?

What's better than that is an activist union. What's better than that is being represented by people who do this work every day. What's better than that is having people who have experienced the Danielson thing speaking for us. The last time Michael Mulgrew was judged by the Danielson rubric was never. And that's not a dig, but a fact.

Now you may say, hey, NYC Educator, that may be true but there are hundreds of chapter leaders and teachers who go to these conventions. They're working in schools and they know what's going on. And you're right. But what difference does it make what they know if they've actually signed an oath to do whatever the Unity Caucus tells them to?

Change is hard. But a union needs to work for its members. And that involves moving out of the comfort zone from time to time. You can't move forward if you live in an echo chamber filled with people sworn to utter only good news. And from my vantage point, close to the ground, I see teachers suffering under the weight of idiotic rules and laws that leadership has consistently supported. I see an unfair and unreasonable evaluation system, easily manipulated by crazy supervisors. I see teachers crushed under the weight of ridiculous mandates that help neither them nor their students.

Michael Mulgrew doesn't see that, because he has an army of people sworn to report that this is the best of all possible worlds on a daily basis. Michael Mulgrew can believe that the Open Market transfer system is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but who's gonna remind him of the thousands of teachers trapped in the ATR, living without hope of a classroom, and looking forward only to the light at the end of the tunnel--retirement. Who's gonna remind him of the teachers discontinued for no good reason, their careers and futures ruined? Who's gonna remind him of what working teachers feel each and every day of their lives?

We are, of course. And whatever Unity stalwarts may believe otherwise, this can and will only strengthen our union. Even with this small crack of light in the Unity Cone of Silence, only one out of four working UFT members found it worth the time to return their ballots. We are teachers. We are role models. Are we fostering a generation that believes voting to be a waste of time?

We can do better, and we need to show membership that we will do better. There needs to be some sliver of truth facing our leadership, and for now, that is us. We will endeavor to work together to improve our union and the education of the 1.1 million students we serve. We will reach across the aisle and try to accomplish things together.

Is that how Unity wants to do things? Only time will tell. But real teachers now have a real voice in the United Federation of Teachers, and that voice will not be silenced.

Friday, May 27, 2016

MORE/ New Action Wins the High School Executive Board!!!

Thanks to all who worked for this and thanks to all who voted for us!!!!

MORE later.

UFT Election---Sitting Here in Limbo

I'm kind of on pins and needles wondering what's going on in the UFT election. Voting is up, and UFT Unity is patting itself on the back for getting out the vote. After all, everything they do is a great victory. Three years ago, 4 out of 5 working teachers didn't bother filling out ballots. This year, only 3 out of 4 working teachers didn't bother filling out ballots.

The question is who actually got out the vote. Was it Unity or was it MORE/ New Action? We will know later in the day. I know I did everything I could think of in my building, and I know we got a much higher turnout here than three years ago.

But Unity has the edge in that a whole lot of their members don't have to, you know, show up and work anywhere. I can't really just say, "Hey, Mr. Principal, can I not teach today so I can run around and explain that the UFT is ruled by a 50-year-old monolithic caucus that allows for no dissent whatsoever?"

Well, I can ask that, but I wouldn't be highly optimistic about a favorable response.

Because there is quite a lot here that hangs in the balance. To wit:

Have we woken up and realized that our leadership aids and abets the reformies on a regular basis? Do we know that they supported mayoral control for Michael Bloomberg? Do we know that, upon its renewal, UFT Unity demanded minor changes, failed to get them, and then supported it anyway? Do we know that Michael Mulgrew boasted of co-writing the law that enabled the punitive evaluation system that makes life a misery for so many of our working members?

Do we know that most chapter leaders sign a loyalty oath to support whatever they're told to? Do we know that the last contract enabled second tier due process for ATR teachers? Do we know that, on top of the 4/4 that most city employees got, Michael Mulgrew negotiated a 10% raise over seven years, the lowest pattern in my living memory, and probably ever? Do we understand that putting off our back pay for ten years effectively reduces it considerably? Do we understand that a reformy mayor might renege after 2018?

Do we understand that the health care increases we've seen were not explained by Mulgrew when he sold the contract? Do we know that these are by no means the only ones we can see under the savings agreement Mulgrew bound us to in this contract? Do we understand that Mulgrew's tale that we'd have to get behind 150 other unions if we didn't take this offer was an appeal to fear, a logical fallacy? Do we know that logical fallacy is the Unity Caucus' prime and preferred form of argument?

Or were we bought over by the happy faces of loyalty oath signers who don't have to show up to schools and teach each and every day? Are we so afraid that we're unwilling to stand up and say we've had enough?

Are we unionists, or are we residents of yet another Animal Farm bought off by empty and ridiculous promises?

Or did we actually wake up, take a good look, compare Michael Mulgrew to Jia Lee and decide, hey, it's time to turn the page and stand up for ourselves? And even if Jia doesn't win, did we get ourselves seats in the Executive Board and finally create a genuine union voice for those of us who actually experience what it's like here on the ground?

We'll know the answer later today. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

No More Free Ride on Sixth Classes

Mayor de Blasio giveth, and Mayor de Blasio taketh away. In my school, there are a whole lot of teachers with six classes. That's because people get sick, take leaves, go on vision quests, quit, and do all sorts of things that humans do. When that happens, kids ask, "Hey, where the hell is my teacher?"

Now I can't say precisely why they ask that question. For one thing, I know an awful lot of kids with intense aversions to homework. When the gym teacher is covering your physics class, you tend to get much less of it. But they're young, and sometimes they just don't think things through. Administrators, though, take a different view. They might wonder how they get 90% of the kids to pass physics. They can scream at the gym teacher, or me, or whoever happens to be covering, but probably none of us could pass physics either.

That's when they start to look around. "Hey, Mr. Teacher, how would you like to teach a sixth class and pocket an extra 12K a year?" That usually goes over pretty well. A lot of people, in my experience, want twelve thousand dollars. Think of all the doggie biscuits you could buy for that. Or donuts. You could eat donuts every day, your doggie could eat biscuits, and the whole house could celebrate almost perpetually.

And the cool thing about it is Bill de Blasio picks up the tab! So principals haven't got a whole lot of incentive to stop giving six classes to everyone. After all, it's a win-win! The teachers get a crapload of cash and not one cent leaves the school budget. After all, with "fair student funding" it isn't like the good old days when central paid all the salaries.

But I just got a hot tip that those days are over starting next year. So if principals want to give out sixth classes, they'd best be prepared to lay out 12K per class from the school budget. If you were thinking about padding your retirement with those extra classes, better do it before June. This could be a big hit for schools that depend on this stuff.

Waving 12K in front of people can do some pretty bad stuff. Full disclosure--I've been offered an extra class for years and have declined it each and every time. My job is crazy enough already and it's all I can do to keep up. I just don't think I could handle it.

Of course, that doesn't stop everyone. Sometimes it's that people want the money, and they'll do whatever they have to. Other times it's a supervisor leaning on someone, saying we really need you to help out. But I've seen brand new teachers with six classes, and it doesn't always work out well. Teaching is a complex and always demanding job, and new teachers really need time to learn. How on earth are they going to be mentored when they've given up their woefully insufficient forty minutes of daily prep?

So there's a good-bad thing happening here.  It's good that this sixth class thing will likely be discouraged. In my personal, non-chapter leader opinion, having these things out there is divisive and destructive.  As a chapter leader, though, I can't much fight it because a whole lot of people really like the chance to make extra money.

The bad thing is there are a whole lot of schools that depend on this little break from the city to staff their schools and provide essential services. It's incredibly creepy that Bill and Carmen have decided to say, "Screw you, you're on your own now," to principals who've come to depend on this little perk. Make no mistake, there will be fewer teachers for kids and larger classes for all as a result of this.

So thanks a lot, Mr. Mayor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What the Panorama Student Survey Looked Like to Me

In the original NYC APPR agreement written up by Reformy John King, 5% of our rating was supposed to come via student surveys. By the time there actually was one in place, last year, surveys were out and they didn't count. But NYC decided to fund another one anyway. I was pretty shocked at this one, most certainly not an improvement upon the last one.

What do you like better--cute puppies or this teacher?

How high do you jump when the teacher walks into the room?

How high does the teacher jump when you walk into the room?

 Does this teacher suck?

How often does the teacher ignore the other 33-49 teenagers in the room and pay you individual attention?

Who do you love more--your parents or this teacher?

What has this teacher done to make you love standardized testing?

Have you gotten 100% on every test you've taken in this teacher's class? If not, what has this teacher done wrong and how can this teacher fix what he or she has done wrong?

Does this teacher pay attention to the other 33-49 students in the class and ignore you?

No, really, does the teacher suck?

Does this teacher make you look forward to waking up at 4 in the morning and sitting on the train for two hours to get to school? Does this teacher make you feel it was a good idea to have closed the school across the street from your house?

If you have a little puppy you love, would you rather be with that puppy or this teacher?

Do you feel like this teacher is preparing you for college? Has this teacher filled out your college applications for you? If not, why the hell not?

If we were to charge you to come to school, how much would you pay to be in this teacher's class?

What do you look forward to more--seeing your lover or this teacher?

Does this teacher inspire you to spend 15 hours a day studying in the public library and give up not only sleep but also every conceivable form of recreation known to humankind?

If you could kill every teacher in the world, how many other teachers would you kill before you killed this one?

Come on, you can tell us if the teacher sucks. We won't tell anyone.

If there were a piano falling from the sky and you could either push this teacher or your favorite musician out of the way, who would you push and why?

How much would you pay for a plastic statue of this teacher to be placed on the dashboard of your car? If you don't want one, what has this teacher done to make you not want it?

Did you see that movie Freedom Writers? Is this teacher as good-looking as the actress who played that teacher? If not, why not? 

If you were falling from the Empire State Building, who would you want to rescue you? This teacher or Superman? 

Does this survey make you feel like the city cares more about you than this teacher does? Does it make you feel better about the rodent-infested building we placed you in? Do you think the rodents are the fault of this teacher? How about the moldy trailer we put you in? I mean, why doesn't this teacher hire a company to clean it if he or she cares about you? Think about it.

When we opened the schools despite there being five feet of snow on the ground, did this teacher make you believe Chancellor Fariña's pronouncement that it was a beautiful day?

Seriously, this is an anonymous form. You can tell us the teacher sucked. No one will ever know. So, come on. Go ahead. How does this teacher suck? Let us count the ways. If you don't know how, it's probably this teacher's fault anyway, right?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mike Bloomberg and the Magic Mirror

Carmen Fariña is talking about consolidating her some schools. This is a direct reversal of the signature policy of her former boss, Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg, of course, had to look in a mirror every morning and ask it who was the reformiest of all, and as long as he kept closing schools it said,

Working teachers drop and crawl cause you, Mayor Mike, are reformiest of all.

Now Bill Gates, whose assful of wonders produced the small school initiative, backed up on it when he found out it didn't work. But because NYC is the first to adopt the worst ideas, and the last to drop them, Bloomberg plodded on regardless. I mean, why have one principal in a building when you could just as easily have five? And why have students abide by one set of rules when you can have five? As an added bonus, you could always dump in a Moskowitz Academy, have the whole thing refurbished, and make students in the other four schools feel like total crap because they aren't worthy.

But that's not the only benefit of small schools as far as Mayor Mike is concerned. After all, with Fair Student Funding, whatever that is supposed to mean, the fact is that every school has to be concerned with teacher salary. After all it now comes out of the school budget rather than central. So wouldn't you know it, principals with very small schools tend not to hire teachers with big salaries.

That's just part of it, though. I talk to teachers in schools that have inquiry teams that meet each and every day. Every single person in the school does that. Now there's supposed to be a C6 menu, and if you don't get one of your first three choices, you get another three. That means there should be six choices, at the very least. So could it be that every single person in the school happened to make the same choice? That's quite a coincidence.

Actually, this tends to happen when there is no chapter leader and no knowledge that there is a contract, or rules, or any of those messy things. And if you start a school with 20 teachers, all of whom are untenured rank beginners, you tend not to have a whole lot of union activism. After all, being chapter leader can be like swimming in a pool of sharks, and you're unlikely to opt for that when you have yet to master the doggie paddle. Also, while I've seen untenured teachers as chapter leaders, I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone. After all, when you can be fired for a bad haircut (and new teachers are unlikely to find time to seek out a good one), you might not want to be bringing multiple grievances to your principal. Also, you may want to spend time learning your job rather than going to Multiple Meetings About Everything.

In fact, it's likely newer and smaller schools have no chapter leader. I've been to class size grievance hearings where I've met teachers from small schools who weren't chapter leaders. They'd tell me their principals asked them to go. Now I will grant you it's a special kind of principal who will appoint people to grieve school class sizes. And given that, I'd suppose that most of them just go unreported.

If you have no union presence, it's a Principal's Paradise. Do whatever the hell you wish, and no one raises a peep. Will the young teachers get tenure and decide it's time to rise up and enforce the contract? Or will they simply become accustomed to doing Whatever the Hell the Principal Wishes and stay that way?

Bloomberg's magic mirror told him this was the way to go, but I'm not sure teachers who just follow instructions and question nothing are ideal role models. Isn't it our job to not only teach, but also model critical thinking? How can you do that when you aren't permitted to question anything, let alone criticize it?

Fariña is looking at a more practical problem. Why is she paying all these people to do all these things that are redundant, wasteful, and unnecessary? Of course consolidation is a reasonable solution, and hopefully she'll see fit to restore community schools, and even communities themselves. I mean, sure her boss is still pushing mayoral control, which does the exact opposite, but maybe this is a baby step in the right direction.

So if we put together five schools, will one competent chapter leader emerge? Will one principal who truly understands leadership rise to the top?

Only time will tell.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Boy Wonder Contemplates the Injustice of It All

Christ the damn principal is an idiot. His cabinet is like a bunch of jackals, all jockeying for his job. Well I don't want his damn job. I'm gonna get my own little school, with maybe a dozen teachers. You get paid the same and you don't have the headaches, like old Feinstein, or that bastard Walsh, complaining, being heroes, filing APPR complaints, grievances and Americans with Disabilities Act crap.

And dont think I don't know that damn Chapter Leader isn't egging them on. When I'm principal I'm gonna make sure every teacher is brand new so I can do whatever the hell I feel like without some damn old Chapter Leader breathing down my back with oh, the contract says this and the contract says that.  Contract, shmontract. They'll jump when I say jump, and they'll jump out the damn window if I tell them to.

And now the principal, after praising me all year, is telling me he doesn't like how I do the teacher teams, just because some superintendent says they don't like the way I do the teacher teams. How the hell am I supposed to get my job done if I don't have teacher teams to do it for me? Even with teachers sitting around in closets at 5 AM just to do their jobs I can't get my job done unless I have minions to do it for me. And of course that bastard Chapter Leader is supporting this too.

Christ I have the best teacher teams in the building! They ran the mock election. They checked out a bunch of online programs. They wrote the midterms. They hung up all the bulletin boards on the first floor, and have a damn rubric on each and every one. They've written all the curriculum, and they even rewrote the stuff that was no good, and the stuff that was good. But do I get thanks? Do I get a promotion? Do I get an attaboy? Oh, no, I get reamed out for having the best teacher teams in the building.

He should be kissing my butt, and everyone knows I have the best butt in the building. But NOOOO! The folks upstairs say it's gotta be inquiry. I'll give them inquiry. How the hell am I supposed to do this stuff if I have to work on it myself? Don't they know there are observations to be done? File letters to write? And Christ, when am I supposed to go out to lunch? It's not like there's anyplace good to eat in this neighborhood. And jeez, how am I supposed to get rid of all the deadwood if I don't even have time to write up all the things I'm accusing them of? In fact, if I have to do all this project crap I won't even have time to make up all the stuff I write up.

You know what I could go for? I really could go for a Pattimelt Supreme like they make over at the diner. You know, with the curly fries and onion rings and everything. Let me check petty cash. Twenty bucks ought to do it.

"I'm gonna go out and observe classes."

Now how can I keep the teams working on doing my stuff while making the principal think they're doing that inquiry stuff? Well, they're supposed to be looking at student work. Maybe I could hang some on the walls. No, I'll get them to hang the stuff on the walls.  They could do it during their teacher teams. After all, that's student work, and they are looking at it.

This is gonna be a pain in the ass. I'm gonna have to spend every minute in those stupid teams instead of just popping in every twenty minutes to make sure they're working. And if the principal walks in I could strike up a conversation or something.

"Hey, how about that differentiated instruction? Did you make sure every worksheet was optimized to the level of every student? Did you break the class into three levels? Why not four? Why not ten?"

I don't understand these ungrateful bastards. I mean, here I am, giving them chapter and verse on what's wrong with them and not even a thank you. Do you see any of them standing up and saying what's wrong with them? Of course not. Weak as water!

You know some of those schools in California have like, a Taco Bell in the cafeteria. Can you imagine that? You don't even have to leave work, and BAM! A Taco Supreme right there. Why the hell can't we do that in New York? When I'm principal, I'll bring a Taco Bell to my own school. And the principal eats the school lunch free, baby.

Not this principal. Does it occur to him to go out to lunch at all? No. He eats that same school lunch the kids eat. What's the point of being principal if you have to eat like that? And he goes to the cafeteria himself to get it. When I'm principal, I'll have some teacher pick up my lunch from someplace good. And that teacher can pick up the tab. Maybe for a C6 assignment or something. Maybe in exchange for an effective rating in 4E.

This will not stand! It's an outrage!  Man I hope those bastards at the diner don't overcook my Pattimelt. I'll send it back. For now maybe I can talk the principal into running a cooking class so that the kids can make my lunch. And if they don't cook it right I'll rate the teacher ineffective.

Yeah. That's the ticket.

Friday, May 20, 2016

How Part 154 Hurts ESL Students and Teachers

I'm pretty high on having had a hand in composing and passing a UFT resolution that may actually do some good. I don't consider a resolution in itself an achievement, but I'm hoping to build on it. In my DA notes, I wrote that I spoke in support, but didn't actually write what I said.

I go to the DA and furiously take notes. I try to show my readers and members what I saw. But when I'm speaking I can't take notes. Below, I've tried to reconstruct what I said:

Part 154 cuts direct English instruction by a factor of 33-100%, and actually hurts students in two ways. First, of course, they lose time that could be spent learning English. But it’s actually worse. No time is added for these students, not for anything. Instead, they take the same 40 minute American history class as everyone else, but it’s co-taught by an ESL teacher. So in the 40 minutes it takes for an American-born student to learn about the Civil War, the ELL is supposed to learn not only about the Civil War, but also receive instruction in English.

It’s pretty well known that language acquisition ability declines precipitously beginning at puberty. Young children are pretty much designed to learn language, and they soak it up like sponges. But high school students have it a little tougher. Taking time away from them to learn does them a great disservice.

Research shows the way to make students learn language is via high-interest and accessible subject matter. Giving newcomers three-inch thick biology books the day they set foot in the country is exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s really better to give them things just a little above their level, and no academic textbook I’ve ever seen matches that criteria.

There are also those ridiculous regulations. I’m in the largest school in Queens, and we have only two classes of beginners. I know because I teach them. The regulations say that students must not be more than one grade level apart. I have no idea why. Thus 9th graders cannot be in the same room with eleventh graders. The smart thing, in a high school, is to group students by language level rather than age. But the geniuses who wrote Part 154 have other ideas. Where they come from is a mystery to me.

This law renders most ESL teachers into co-teachers. These are people who’ve devoted their lives to helping newcomers. I actually have young colleagues who are considering resignation because they want to teach English, not stand around in a classroom where their job entails supporting another teacher making all the decisions about curriculum.

Worst, though, is the assumption that we don’t actually have a subject matter, and that the only way to teach English is via coupling it with academic content. Of course direct English instruction supports academic achievement. But there’s actually more to life than taking tests. We help kids figure out how to buy a pizza, meet a girlfriend, or take their grandmother to the doctor.

Then I asked the Delegate Assembly to support our resolution, and they all did, unanimously. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 2016 DA Report---UFT Stands in Support of ESL Students

President’s Report


Presidential election—GOP set, Democrats doing what they do. Says it’s clear where it will end, but debate is shifting now that Trump is saying he loves women. Says our enemies want Trump and will fight hard for him. Speaks of anger against Trump and of how it’s important we participate in political process.  Asks when facts should actually matter in a debate.

Hopes election will prove the ridiculousness of some of the political rhetoric of the country. Says cable networks tell us when candidates go to bathroom. Says people now believe us when we say people are trying to privatize public education.

Speaks of public education cuts, defund, discredit and dismantle. Says education won’t get better and reformies will say teachers need to do more with less, public schools are failing, and that they will then offer to save us cheaper and better. Says this is less likely in NY and they will fight elsewhere where it’s easier. Says half of states are getting cuts, and some states are getting pension cuts.

Says you need to speak back to people who say states can’t afford pensions. Was local governments who decided not to pay, but teachers paid their shares. Says politicians hate paying into pension funds and this will be a big issue.


NY Assembly passed a 3-year mayoral control bill, no changes. Waiting on Senate, UFT does not support current version of mayoral control. Refers to NY Post editorial saying mayoral control ought not to mean total control, and says it contradicts what they said when Bloomberg was in power. Says NY Post are hypocrites, say what they say at any given moment. Says someone can tweet that out.

Lederman—court ruled that they can only overturn her evaluation and not system because system has already been changed. Says we used the case to get appeal process in place. Says as we move forward, this has to be part of our discussion, and that we must have appeal measures in place in case someone is being harmed when they should not be. This shows we need safeguards in place, we told them at that time those on top and bottom were not valid. Very happy she won.

We like the multiple measures. Do we want principal completely in charge, he asks. Yes, I hear.

Elia—alternate assessment—says 18 districts used a new evaluation system, and that for this year it is a pilot that does not need to be used for teacher evaluation. They may pull it out and substitute something this year. Says if IEP says child cannot use a test, you cannot use a test.

Says US DOE will grant up to 7 waivers for states to use project based learning instead of standardized tests. We should be one of those states. We’re concerned that Elia says now she doesn’t think she should do it, because no money tied to it. Whether there’s money or not we should push it. Says he loves the idea of state developing project based learning.

Says he told us governor said he wanted to be our friend, he said his mother was teacher, and he’s upset teachers are unhappy. Says we as teachers should modify behavior. Says we don’t like merit pay, but if he wants to recognize teachers that’s fine. For PD, national board certification it’s fine. Governor trying to make his mom speak nicely to him because all teachers hate him. When kid who drives you nuts does one nice thing what do you do?


Thanks everyone at Spring Conference. Was SRO, sold out. Mental wellness particularly overbooked. Asks if mindfulness is new politically correct term. Says it was nice with Elia and Rosa.

City council budget will move fast. Says they want to be done by June. Says city has great budget and we had a lot to do with it. Says NYC teachers lobbied hard for money, want it at schools, not central. Says when principal says they have no money, they will have money. Asks that we take budget class. Says it will be pivotal to our work. Says principals will blame special ed. but they are making money on it. Maybe there are too many APs. Many principals are doing right thing but there are still some who need CL to stand up at SLT and complain about how much is spent on APs.

We are focused on teachers’ choice and other things. We need you to meet with council members. We want to talk about positive and collaborative learning, community schools.

We supported affordable housing plans. There is one in Brooklyn Navy Yard. Index has moved up and many teachers now qualify. Says it’s being completely renovated and it should be a hot spot of NYC educators.

Asks how many of us are doing SBOs. Says we should be careful, that we should approve it, make sure staff has it. We should be talking about entire structure. How are we going to handle evaluation?

School week will likely be scheduled the same it is this year. If you want to reconfigure, move forward.

Thanks Anne Goldman for Nurses’ Lobby day. Says it was national nurse week. Applause for nurses.

Leroy Barr

Shows posters. Says to post posters about union benefits.

Speaks about Verizon, says we want to support our brothers and sisters on strike.

Says ballots due to triple A by May 25th, should be mailed by end of week.

re-org grievances due within two days of notice.
Next and final DA June 15th.


Jonathan Halabi—Principal said he had to hold SBO vote. Says he needs it by a certain date. Asks that de B admin show respect, in contrast to Bloomberg.

Mulgrew agrees, will send message

CL—Observations—deadline is coming up, but not everyone has been observed enough. How will it impact numbers?

A—We should have evaluation and observation school wide plans run by teachers. We have now 100 master and model teachers. Says teachers training each other how to observe and are doing peer observations. Says then they train admin. Says principals and supes on board. We were hoping for this as we created positions and changed evaluations. Says schools need to know it’s constructive professional process about helping one another. Says teachers are now on two year waiting lists to be master or model teachers. Says there was never a plan in place, that schools should work together and overcome gotcha mentality.

SED will take a rating as long as there are two observations. But if admin doesn’t do job, no harm should come to our members. Says we have protected members but as CL it’s important to engage staff and admin in how we use observations to move schools forward. Speaks of school where teachers trained one another in lesson planning. Says if admin has no time we should move process ourselves.

Delegate—Had two instances where parents threatened teachers. Says principal told by legal to only give warning letter. Says it would be punishment to transfer kids to other class.

A—Asks if DOE legal has right to stop order of protection—lawyer—no—says parents have been banned from buildings. You have a right not to be intimidated or harassed by parents or admin.

CL—Is it OK for principal to combine last post of with summative?

A—No. Observation meeting about individual observation. Summative is about everything.

Q—How can we look at budget and help our special needs students? How do we know how much money is coming to them and fight for it?

A—They took the money and put it somewhere else. You need to sign up for budget training. Says beginning of school year is too crazy for CLs—Can we offer it before school starts?

CL—I need training. My principal will only show me SLT budget. Has no money, paying for F status AP, interim acting who declined interview, and a behaviorist.

A—We will get you training. Put behaviorist in principal’s office.

CL—With flex scheduling, and many ICT teachers having ICT and SETS, how can they fulfill obligations with diminished time?

A—They can only have flexibility if there is breakage, if position isn’t full, depends on IEP. Says we will come in and help. There should not be multiple teachers on flex. If there is full position should go to regular teacher.




P. Egan—recommends endorsement Assemblyman Keith Wright. Says they interviewed multiple candidates for Rangel’s seat. Says he is best. Recommends him.

Teacher says he’s done nothing for Harlem community. Says we need someone who speaks to lower and middle income people.

CL—speaks in favor, worked with him, says he’s always been there for Harlem schools. Says he stood up for UFT, community, has broad coalition.

CL—asks if not him then who.

Mulgrew rules this out of order.

Motion to call question, second.

Resolution carries.

Resolution to support immigrant students.

Oliver Canell
—Asks mayor and chancellor to specifically state ICE not be allowed in public schools. Says there are more raids targeting families and children, that they’re nervous about sending kids to schools. Wants it clear that schools are safe places for our students. Says many of us have undocumented students or students with undocumented family members. Wants someone with training to support these students at all schools.


Emil P.—Proposes substitute resolution. Two sentences. Much shorter, less explicit.


James Vasquez asks what he’s doing. Mulgrew says he will now explain.

EP—understand sentiment, but with background info he and Barr did, there are many issues. We have questions about whether or not students had issues in school buildings. Said in LA they barred ICE from schools, but was symbolic. You cannot keep fed agency out of building. Says we’re creating a false expectation for problem that doesn’t exist. Says there is petition attached. Speaks to immigrants that may have committed felonies, and racist punitive policing policies. If we pass as is we would be causing a problem by giving credence to problem that doesn’t exist.

Are we debating one against the other?

A—Motion is for substitute.

Delegate—Opposes sub resolution. We all know when a student is undocumented they live in constant fear. We need to say they have right to be in school safely. First resolution is about being explicit about what schools are for—education and welcoming families. Says just because issues haven’t happened does not mean it isn’t important we proactively support students when facing harassment and deportation.

Mulgrew says union is extremely supportive of immigration.

Anthony Harmon speaks in favor of sub resolution. Says we are already helping people with citizenship, we have strong relationship with immigrant communities and partners. Says sub res provides us with more latitude.

Delegate—point of order—why not table until next month.

CL—rises against whatever it is. Says it’s very serious issue. Children must feel it when our president has deported so many people, more than Bush. It is being felt all across

CL—Wants to amend substitute motion. Would like to take second resolved from original res.

Speaker—agrees and seconds that we should have someone in buildings.

Leroy Barr—supports amendment to sub res. Partially against original. Says of course we want children to feel safe. We will continue to work with partners to respect immigrants and make them feel safe.

Speaker against substitute amendment calls it subversion of democratic process.

Chair disagrees, says we are following rules. Says we are not running for president of US.

Speaker says he clearly tried to squash spirit of law.

George Altomare
—calls question on all matters.

Amendment passes.

Sub res as amended.

Sub res passes.

Resolution on Part 154

Evelyn de Jesus—says how proud she is, is Puerto Rican, says she was an L student. Thanks Janella Hinds and me for bringing resolution. Says there are many languages spoken, Says all educators will be teachers of ELLs at some time. Says changes were well-intended, we warned state that implementation would be difficult.

Says prediction came true in many districts and schools. Refers to NY Times article. Says UFT will continue to help and advocate for our kids.

I spoke in favor.

CL speaks of ESL teacher doing impossible job. Says Part 154 making her job impossible.

Question called.

Resolution passes unanimously.

 Resolution supporting school speed safety cameras

Anne Goldman—Cameras in our schools—will encourage safety.


Mulgrew calls for adjournment, wishes us good Memorial Day Weekend.

If You Want to Close Schools, You Don't Want My Vote

I have never in my life, before Obama, seen a Democratic President who was anti-public education. Diane Ravitch wrote that he gave GW Bush a third term in education. I'd argue he went well beyond that. To me, it was a Nixon goes to China thing. A Republican could likely not have passed Race to the Top, because the Democrats would have blocked at least some of it. I mean, waving cash in front of broke states so they'd support charter schools and judge teachers by Bill Gates-inspired junk science?

But Obama did it, and every day, without exception, people on my staff tell me how it makes them feel. Honestly, I don't have any issues with my direct supervisor, but I don't know about the reports I get. Actually she gives me good advice, and I generally use it. But what the hell do I do with that piece of paper I get at the end? If it says I'm effective, what the hell do I care why? Should I read how it relates to the Danielson checklist, the one Danielson herself says is simplistic and ridiculous? Or should I stuff it in my bag and forget about it until next time?

By 2008 I was pretty tired of GW Bush. I voted for Hillary over Obama in the primary. I did this because my union leadership had endorsed her, and though I was already wary of their advice, I figured they must have some reason to have done so. Also Obama was already coming out in favor of charters. On the other hand, so was union leadership. I watched a video of Obama telling the NEA he'd do things with them, not to them. He looked a lot better than a highly compromised John McCain and an outright preposterous Sarah Palin, so he got my vote in the general.

And it's pretty simple to me. This is one thing we do right, more or less, unlike health care, unlike elder care, unlike making sure children don't live in poverty. And someone like Obama comes along, fails to stand with working people, as promised, and fails to stand for the Employee Free Choice Act, as promised. Those were the things that got me to vote for him. I give him credit for making a little progress with health care. But I will never again vote for anyone who is not an unequivocal supporter of public education, not for President, and not for dog catcher.

Some people have been getting awfully mad at me for not supporting Hillary Clinton. I've been called a Bernie Bro, a fanatic, and accused of massive ignorance. But when Hillary Clinton stands in public and says she wouldn't keep any school open that isn't above average, it speaks volumes. It says to me she has no understanding whatsoever of what school closings entail. It says she certainly can't be bothered reading Diane Ravitch. Some people blabber nonsense about how it was out of context, but frankly, there is no context under which this makes sense.

I work two miles north of what was once Jamaica High School, and I remember very clearly when it was closed under false stats. James Eterno and I were pretty specific about why that was, and to this date no one has bothered to refute us. It was excruciating to watch Bloomberg's stooges recite false stats and ignore an entire community trying to save their school.

At the time, my school had 4600 students and was bursting at the seams. We worked very hard to reduce the numbers before the building collapsed, either literally or via one of Bloomberg's various school closing squads. It's pretty terrifying thinking someone will close your school and put all of your colleagues into the purgatory that is the ATR for no reason whatsoever. And even now, with alleged hippie commie de Blasio in charge, no one's made much of an effort to put the ATR to work full time.

I've since learned a whole lot more reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton. But that's the one that really did it for me. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the NY State primary, but honestly he's not perfect in K-12 either. When he talks school closings I'll cross him off my list too. I don't care how you vote, who you vote for, or why. I simply can't support anyone who will close public schools.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kick Him While He's Down

It's not the best of weeks for Andy Cuomo. After all, Preet is dropping clues all over the place that Silver and Skelos weren't the only crooks under his watchful eye. And there are really few individuals so morally bankrupt as the Governor of our great state, obviously on sale to the highest bidder. For a few million, he'll stand with Eva Moskowitz and pretend she serves all children (while we really do, and are regularly vilified for our trouble). He'll call himself the "student lobbyist" but fail to seek the billions NY State owes city children in the CFE lawsuit.

You may recall that the great minds of Revive NYSUT overthrew leadership, specifically claiming to oppose Cuomo. They failed to do so in the Working Families primary, when pro-teacher Zephyr Teachout ran against him. They failed to do so in the Democratic primary, when Zephyr Teachout ran against him again. They also failed to do so in the general election, when the Green Party's Howie Hawkins provided an alternative considerably better than shooting ourselves in the foot.

But alas, the leadership of NYSUT and UFT was having none of it. After all, it's scary to endorse newcomers. It's frightening to oppose a governor like Andy Cuomo. He might get mad if you do that, and that's an unacceptable risk. I mean, what if he gets up on his hind legs and demands a teacher evaluation system even worse than the one we already have? So it's best to slink away and mumble ridiculous excuses when members demand you stand by your explicitly stated principles.

On the other hand, Cuomo actually did demand an evaluation system worse than the one actually on the books. Not only that, but he won it as the spineless Democrats voted for it with "heavy hearts." I don't remember the reaction of NYSUT, but it's hard for me to forget an email I got from UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanking the Assembly for passing this atrocity.

Of course, Cuomo has since backed up a bit, what with hundreds of thousands of New York children opting out of his ridiculous tests. And everywhere I read of a "moratorium" on using test scores to rate children or teachers, even though a very limited number of tests are actually not counted. For example, all high school teachers are still judged on the same junk science as last year, and will have to await the "matrix" before we get a new variety of junk science.

But now that Cuomo is pretending to back down on his insane demands, and now that everyone is talking about having him frogmarched into a cell with Silver and Skelos, this might be a good time for NYSUT and UFT to get ahead of the curve. Why not start trashing the governor right now, so that when he finally goes down, they can genuinely take some credit for it?

When Michael Mulgrew, who was gonna punch us in the face and push our faces in the dirt if we didn't support his beloved Common Core, stands up and takes credit for its few and inconsequential reversals, he looks ridiculous. To avoid that in the future, all he has to do is threaten to punch Cuomo's face instead of ours. Maybe then when Cuomo goes down, he can say, "You see? I boldly threatened to brutalize the guy and now he's in prison so I don't have to."

So let's get in there now, UFT and NYSUT leadership. Because once the guy goes down, you know you're gonna take credit for it anyway. So let's make it look good, and begin making some noise. As an added benefit, all those irritating bloggers won't be calling you out all the time.

It's all about looking ahead, for once, and just a little bit. Let's try doing the right thing, just as an experiment, and seeing how it works out. If it does, who knows? Maybe we could make it a regular thing.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Top Down or Side by Side?

A few weeks ago our department ran NYSESLAT testing. I’ve written elsewhere my opinions about this test, its lack of validity, and its Common Coriness as opposed to measuring the language ability we're supposed to encourage and enable. Whatever my opinions of the test may be, we had to administer it.

In the past, we had a clear person in charge of this test. One year it was me, as LAB BESIS coordinator. I didn’t much love the job and opted to go back to the classroom after I did it for a year. So this isn’t meant as a knock on anyone who ran it in the past.

This year, we ran it more cooperatively. There wasn’t really any one person in charge. As things needed to be done, we got up and did them. Papers needed to be distributed. Phones needed to be collected. Someone had to run here or there to get this or that. Things happened, and we calmly dealt with them one at a time.

This is a model of what I almost never see. Working for the DOE, it’s usually some High and Exalted Supervisor telling everyone else, “I have decided all of YOU have to do this THING. THIS is how I want YOU to do this thing. If YOU don’t do this thing, YOU are in TROUBLE. And YOU better do this thing the way I say, or YOU will be in TROUBLE.

On the other hand, my colleagues and I looked at this task, thought about how best to do it, and simply did it. A great thing my AP did was decide NOT to do it in the trailers, as we’ve done in the past. This year, like every year we’ve ever done this, it rained. By bringing it indoors, neither we nor our students got wet.

So when a few colleagues of mine showed up on Monday, we figured out how to distribute wooden work boards in the auditorium. We needed something on wheels because they were kind of heavy. I found a rolling chair on the stage and a colleague and I wheeled it around, placing the boards where they needed to be placed. My colleague hates opening plastic packages, so I did it for her. We alternated making announcements until we found the person we decided had the best speaking voice.

Absolutely no one got angry at anyone.

This is what happens when you leave things in the hands of teachers and trust them to do the right thing. This is what happens when you don’t have top-down mandates from people who refuse to participate or assist with the actual work that needs to be done. This is what happens when no one stands over people making ever-shifting demands on the people who do things that are too lowly for that person to mess with.

I wonder why we can’t run our education system like this. I wonder why we can’t run our schools like this. In fact, I even wonder why we can’t run our union like this. The top-down model is rejected by the system that rates us, and fully expects us to enlist the cooperation and enthusiasm of our students. Yet principals do any damn thing they feel like, with no regard whatsoever for those of us who do the actual work. Even under alleged socialist hippie Bill de Blasio, they likely set themselves up for promotion by indulging in ineffectual top-down nonsense, thus making the system even worse.

How does demoralizing teachers systemwide help us to be role models? How does it help us to inspire children? How does it help children?

And how did we come to do things this way?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The PARCC Test: Exposed

Note--Leonie Haimson thinks this should be widely reposted, and that's good enough for me. 

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.
I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.
The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate
In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.
A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]
The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?
So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1
Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”
However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]
The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.
It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”
In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.
Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)
Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.
Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)
So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.
We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.
In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.