Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rating Schools

I was at a meeting yesterday where school ratings were discussed. We've all seen a variety of ratings used, and most of them are terrible. Those of us in the city all remember the report cards, largely based on test scores. Of course these ratings are ridiculous. For one thing, the only thing test scores are absolutely correlated to is income. For another, the tests are ridiculous, constantly manipulated by geniuses in Albany to show whatever it is they want to prove this year.

Now there are Quality Reviews in effect. These are people who walk around demanding absolutely the same thing of absolutely every school. A biggie this year is the inquiry team. If your school has low test scores, the only thing that will make them better is an inquiry team. If your school has high test scores, you need an inquiry team so that you can find out how they can be higher. Also, you'd better have rubrics on your bulletin boards, because the only way students can learn from a bulletin board is if there is a rubric attached.

So now, thanks to the quality review, a lot of city teachers are spending various periods of time in inquiry teams and writing rubrics to hang on bulletin boards. Doubtless this will save the world. Meanwhile, things that actually improve education are ignored utterly.

How about class size? NYC continues with the highest class sizes in the state. The only reason they aren't higher is the UFT Contract, and leadership hasn't moved to lower it in five decades. Of course leadership would tell you this is so they can get those fabulous raises we enjoy. I personally can't remember getting a fabulous raise lately, and am sitting around waiting for money I earned in 2010, money I won't get until 2020. And then there's the CFE lawsuit, blatantly ignored by both city and state.

Of course it isn't solely union leadership at fault here. Our esteemed governor, who leadership seems to like because he hasn't tried to kill us this year, can't be bothered. Mayor de Blasio can't worry about it either. At a school level, principals are scrambling to keep up with nonsense like quality reviews and observing every teacher in the building four times. Principals have to pay teachers out of their own budgets. Where are they gonna get the money to reduce class sizes? It's not like they can have billionaire-studded galas like Eva Moskowitz does.

But as a teacher and parent I value reasonable class size. I'd happily rate schools on it and give principals an incentive to enable it. Then there's PE. My school, like most city high schools, offers it only every other day. I hear some don't bother with laws and offer it once a week, if at all. PE should be every day, and ought to give kids a chance to blow off steam. We ought to let our children know that their physical health is something we care about. We ought to give schools that offer 5 day a week physical education credit for doing so.

Are there music and art programs? Are they five days a week, or are they treated as virtual lepers, every other day like PE? Are we seriously expecting PE and music teachers to effectively work with up to 250 students at a time? Are we expecting them to be able to assess them reasonably? Are we going to delude ourselves into thinking that teachers can offer individual assistance under such circumstances?

How about rating schools on individuality? Do the schools have special programs that really help kids or enhance their lives? Do they think outside of the box? Or do they just follow whatever rule book is in vogue this year and spend all their energy chasing their proverbial tails?

If we're gonna rate schools at all, we might as well encourage them to service our children rather than Bill Gates. What do you think we need to know to evaluate our schools? 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Time On, Time Off

There's an interesting discussion about how much time kids should spend in school over at the Atlantic. Various viewpoints are elicited, notably including that of NPE director Carol Burris. Burris, unlike a whole lot of other people who write and talk education, looks at and considers research before forming opinions.

The myth that American students spend less time learning than students in other industrialized nations is not true. It is also clear from studies that increasing school time is very expensive and there is little return in achievement. Reductions in class size and peer tutoring, for example, have been found to be far more effective.

This will be surprising to people who read op-ed pages, which spout baseless nonsense and rely on astroturf groups like so-called Families for Excellent Schools for information. A lot of people attack the summer break, saying it causes some sort of learning loss. You'd think kids contracted Alzheimer's for two months a year. But Burris says affluent kids continue to learn in the summer while poorer kids may experience a loss.

And this, once again, points to our core problem--allowing so many of our children to live in poverty. In fact, it appears the majority of our students suffer from poverty. Meanwhile, we're sitting around debating the summer vacation. The NY Post is trashing the mayor for not closing enough unionized schools and opening more charters. Of course, charters cherry-pick their students, target those who've got to go, and send them back to public schools. We are then vilified for their test scores, as they must be our fault.

Some schools, like mine, give kids summer assignments. We then pat ourselves on the back for having dealt with the learning loss that supposedly takes place. My daughter has had teachers who'd give her assignments over school vacations. I hated those teachers. I'd help her with projects and wonder why the hell they couldn't just give her a week off.

Learning is 24/7, 365 days a year. If we do our job right, we won't need to put guns to our kids' heads to make them learn. We won't need to make up crap for them to do in the summer, or make them answer stupid questions, or make them write reports to prove they read the assignment. If we do our job right, kids will form interests and follow them.

Unfortunately, as long as we place our heads in the sand and pretend we can place some kind of band aid on poverty, that's not gonna happen. Giving kids nonsense to waste time during the summer isn't gonna change anything. At best kids will comply and hate our guts for wasting their time. At worst they won't comply and will still hate our guts for trying to waste their time. Or maybe it's vice-versa. The result is not substantially differeent.

In France, there's a 35-hour work week and everyone, not just teachers, gets 5 weeks off a year. Oh, and no one goes bankrupt paying medical bills, because like in most of the developed world, they have single payer health care. In American, we're obsessed with filling time. God forbid anyone should get a day off. Maybe the kid will select B instead of C on the multiple choice test.

Meanwhile, we're spinning our wheels solving the wrong problems.

Friday, August 26, 2016

UFT Will "Hook You Up" with the "Right People"

I often get calls for help from all sorts of people. Alas, I don't know everything. But I know people who know everything, or almost everything. My District Rep has been very helpful to me over the years, and I know a few people at central who are always willing to help.

Former chapter leaders James Eterno and Jeff Kaufman have been invaluable sources of advice. Blogger Chaz has expertise on subjects ranging from 3020a to the NY subway system, and always has a moment for me. Please forgive me if I've left out anyone (because there are a lot of people I've left out).

I'm also pretty fond of the UFT website. I get emails from members asking about all kinds of things, and that's the first place I check before I bother anyone. There's a little search window there, I type in a few letters, copy and paste, and I'm a genius. The longer I do this, the more the questions are repeated and the more I actually know off the top of my head.

There are some things UFT has told me not to respond on, particularly certification and retirement. I'm loath to give advice that may set someone on the wrong path. What I tell people in those cases is to call the borough office. I tell them to get back to me if the office doesn't help and that, in that case, I'll find someone who will.

I was pretty disappointed recently when I suggested this to someone new to our system. The person at the office was helpful, but also offered to "hook up" my friend with the "right people" at the UFT so as to get involved. I mean, there is this person, whose salary is paid by our dues money, and appears to be pushing caucus politics on my friend. I don't actually have an issue with partisan politics. I eagerly take part. But I don't do it on the union dime.

I've done a lot of partisan things. I've run for office. Sometimes I've even won. What's more partisan than that? A month ago, I went to Minnesota to see my first AFT convention. I figure I should know what the hell my dues are paying for. I saw that what they were paying for were a whole lot of high school teachers who NYC high school teachers voted against. They were there voting for whatever the hell UFT Unity told them to. I sat and watched as they were instructed how to vote.

Does UFT Unity tell its summer staff to push "the right people" on new teachers? Or do they do this on their own accord? Either way it's unacceptable while they're on the clock. I guess they could say they were only trying to get my friend to go to the Labor Day parade. On the other hand, you don't need to know "the right people" to do that. You just have to show up.

I'll be there this year, actually. And I will bring people with me. But dimes to dollars I'm not "the right people." The most leadership ever calls me to involve people in union is never.

Fine with me. The "right people" have brought us Danielson, junk science ratings, mayoral control, 3020a with burden of proof on the teacher, the ATR, severely curtailed seniority rights, and money you don't get until ten years after you earn it (if you're lucky enough to be alive by then and haven't resigned).

Isn't it ironic that we are judged by how engaged our students are, but that leadership's notion of engagement is so limited? It's basically sign a loyalty oath,  do whatever the hell we tell you, and we'll get you a trip to Minnesota and a gig answering phones. This is not precisely intrinsic motivation. I help people. believe it or don't, because I like doing it. If you ask me, it goes hand in hand with being a teacher. Supporting union means enabling the next generation to do my job, not just attending some gala luncheon with Mike Mulgrew.

I guess "the right people" don't expect that anyone like me will hear about it when they pull nonsense like this. When your circles consist of "the right people," you don't have to bother entertaining other points of view. But if you're in leadership, it's your job to consider all points of view you represent. It's too bad our leadership opts not to. If they'd do their job, representing us, we'd be a lot better prepared to do our job of representing ourselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The New School Leader at the Important Meeting

 by special guest blogger Charter School Teacher

I’m chugging along Day 3 of our Very Important Professional Development. So far it’s been typical stuff. School goals, how to set up a classroom, using google docs. Blah blah blah. Teachers either sleep or are on their cell phones. Teacher use of electronics has become so rampant that the Principal had to stop the Very Important Session to say “Uh, just as a courtesy, please limit the use of electronic devices …”

Towards the end of Day 3 the New Lady in a Very Important Position announced in her best 5th grade Catholic schoolteacher voice, “You have homework tonight. I want all of you to take the June Regents in your subject area. Please pick up your homework assignments on your way out.”

The teachers who had been sleeping woke up, the ones playing Candy Crush temporarily put away the game, the ones making dog filters on SnapChat closed out their sessions. What? Subject teachers had to take a three hour exam in a subject we already taught?

“Yes that’s correct,” New Lady said. “It’s very important we collect this data to assess where our students might be.”

I raised my hand. “But … we teach the subject. We already know the answers to the Regents. How will this be useful?”

“I want to see which questions you had a hard time with,” she responded in a clipped, annoyed voice. “I’ve never taken these exams before.”

“But we teach this and we’ll score a 100 on it. That’s not the same as our students.”

“This is not up for discussion!” she said. She was very offended. Her face turned as red as her hair. “Pick up the homework packets by the end of day today and have them ready by tomorrow.”

Teachers looked around. Was this for real? New Lady wanted us to take Regents in subjects we already taught in order to assess which questions students got wrong? Why not have, say, the Science teacher take a Global exam and vice versa? Wouldn’t that be more useful?

Another teacher asked “Do I have to write both essays for my exams?”

“Yes,” New Lady replied. “It’s very important we have this data.”

So on our way out we picked up our “homework” — the June 2016 Regents in our respective subject area. One teacher pointed out that all the answers were online.

“Shhhh. New Lady doesn’t need to know that,” another snapped.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Part 154 Comes to My Class

Next year, I'm going to have to work with a co-teacher. This is because of the ridiculous regulation in CR Part 154 that ELLs cannnot be more than one grade apart. With decades of experience, even though I am state-certified in multiple subjects, I can't legally teach the class by myself. And despite being the largest high school in Queens, with one of the largest ELL populations in the city, we haven't got enough students to reasonably separate our beginners--the group is very lopsided.

What's going to happen is that there will be one group of grades 9-10, and another of grades 11-12. We will teach them together because one teacher will be assigned to each group. Under the current UFT Contract, our classes can run up to 68. Now I absolutely believe the good intentions of my administration. But I've seen good intentions go awry, even with good people in charge. That's why I'd advise any teacher not to get into what I'm getting into--it's an unacceptable risk. I know for a fact that if we need space for another classroom there simply will not be any. 

In most if not all other places, things are even worse. I've written before about the idiotic rules that keep ESL students from getting the level of direct English instruction they need.  For over a year now, I've been trying to get UFT leadership to support us, UFT teachers, in an effort to not only restore their instruction, but also to restore ESL teachers to their jobs of actually teaching ESL. A whole lot of us have been reduced to supporting subject teachers, and there's simply no way to make 154 work effectively.

In small schools, ESL teachers are expected to do everything and support everyone. They're supposed to do that while other teachers are teaching so-called core subjects. You know, those are subjects like social studies and math, which matter. According to the State of New York, the ability to actually speak English does not.

UFT has passed a resolution condemning the fact that students get less English instruction. Alas, the only follow up they've done consists of a "white paper" that has not been released, containing I have no idea what, and a study. Unfortunately UFT has decided to actively study the only part of 154 that is not problematic--an additional year of ESL instruction for students who've tested out already.

The fact that students are going to get direct English instruction cut has not yet been deemed worthy of examination by our esteemed leadership, nor the fact that ESL students are supposed to learn both English and a core subject simultaneously in the same time American-born students learn only the core subject. Another thing UFT thus far deems unworthy of examination is the effect on teachers. As previously mentioned lot of small schools have only one ESL teacher who is expected to run around like a chicken without a head and do everything all at once, an impossibility according to those with whom I speak.

At the advice of several people, I've reached out to Regents Commissioner Betty Rosa. Evidently Dr. Rosa is quite busy, because she hasn't bothered with even a form letter in response. In fact, the only response I've gotten from her was in person, when she defended it by saying there were "good intentions" behind it. I watched Dr. Rosa speak the entire evening. She is very smart. She has to know that good intentions are no defense whatsoever for catastrophic results, and that sitting around hoping for the best is hardly an action plan.

I am not yet sure what I am going to do about this. Dr. Rosa can sit around and hope for the best, but I most certainly will not. I'd very much like to get UFT leadership on board with me, as I'll bet Dr. Rosa answers their email.  I fail to see why we can’t simply and openly work together toward improving conditions for ELLs and their teachers, or why anyone in leadership need be adversarial in this matter.

But this is one of the stupidest things I've seen in three decades of teaching, and I won't be twiddling my thumbs. I'm very much hoping to push not only UFT policy, but also UFT action somewhere far away from the entire thumb-twiddling thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dress Codes

Some people take dress codes more seriously than others, I notice. I've had people walk into my classroom and tell girls wearing spaghetti strap tank tops that they're inappropriate. I can't remember what they did about it, but I do remember that I didn't care at all and would never have said anything.

I've never sent anyone out of my class for wardrobe. I remember asking a kid once to wear his jacket for the rest of the day to cover some obscenity or other, and while looking for that story, I found this one. I'm pretty surprised I didn't do the same for that kid, because I'd certainly be inclined to do something like that today.

I've never sent a girl out to change her clothes. It's my understanding that we have a bunch of t-shirts in the dean's office to cover things that need covering but I've never done it. Not even for the girls with halter tops and cut offs split to their belt loops. I probably just ignore them, or even try not to look at them. Let the professional fashion police deal with that, say I.

A lot of teachers take exception to this. Maybe I'm sexist. I make the boys take off their hats and do rags in my classroom. I've come to see that as disrespectful. The girls' shorts? I don't know. I haven't got jeans to give them and I'm not sending them home. If the boys want to wear shorts it's fine with me. I haven't seen any of them with halter tops yet but if I did, I wouldn't be the one to make a stink about it. I only give students a hard time if they don't try to do the classwork, or homework, or bring a banjo or accordion to class. You have to set standards.

But that's an interesting message above, and it never crossed my mind until I read it. I've also never heard of a distraction free learning environment, and I'm not sure I'd like to be part of one. We are human. How can we not get distracted? Sure there is a line somewhere, but I can get as distracted as any teenager if you give me half a chance. OK, I'm not checking my smartphone during class, and I'm not ogling the girls. But if someone says something funny, I can lose it. This is a problem for me because I often see humor where no one else does. It can be a real problem for me, at meetings, when I start laughing out loud and no one else seems to understand why.

A kid might say, "This room smells like math," or, "Without my glasses, I can't even find my glasses." I will surely lose it. Sometimes the kids join me and sometimes they don't. I don't know. But I can't make a distraction free classroom. Boys will look at girls if they're wearing 5 sweaters, four scarves, mittens, a hat, a hood, and a North Face parka. Certainly the Ugly T-shirt from the dean's office isn't going to make them forget who they want to look at. I looked at girls when I was a student, particularly in math and science classes, and back then I think maxi-skirts were in style. It didn't bother me that much, and no one was gonna stop me, certainly no one talking about right angles.

I don't remember any pretty girls in summer school. Maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn at that time, sitting in a hot room somewhere hearing again about geometry while all my friends (and all the girls) were at the beach. I'm agnostic on dress codes. If we don't have them for ourselves, who are we to force them on kids?

Now I'm not advocating dress codes for teachers. If you can come in wearing a toga and teach well, more power to you. I'm just not sure we really need one for the kids. But if I'm wrong, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Revive NYSUT and Dinosaurs

I'm always astonished when people in authority act without thinking. Perhaps I'm naive. What with Donald Trump blabbering all over about everything, it's pretty much par for the course in America these days.

I shouldn't be surprised, really, because I've seen these things over and over. The other day I blogged about a topic that NYSUT leadership found sensitive. I know this because they tweeted a response that was baseless and absurd. I can only suppose you don't go the baseless and absurd route if you've got a better one.

Ridicule can be effective sometimes. For that, though, it needs to be based on what the subject did. Sometimes it just seems to come out of nowhere, and then itself becomes a worthy target. For example we've all seen UFT President Michael Mulgrew musing about flying saucers and martians, in an effort to ridicule Common Core opponents. Years ago, we saw former UFT President Sandra Feldman declare anyone who thought we could improve on her 25-year longevity must be "smoking something." (Yet I was pretty glad to hit maximum at 22 years after we'd defeated her agreement.)

So making absurd statements is not an original notion from NYSUT's version of Unity.When Mulgrew said, in front of God and everybody, that he was gonna punch faces and push them in the dirt to defend Common Core, well, it almost cried out for ridicule. It was a sensational story, and was widely covered. In any case, Revive NYSUT, or NYSUT Unity, or whatever they're calling themselves this week, deemed the following an apt response to my blog:

Let's take a look at that. First, there's the accusation of bias. Bias is generally associated with prejudice. The blog they criticize was not created out of whole cloth. I'm certainly opinionated, this blog reflects my opinions, but my opinions are formed by years of experience, reading and observation. Bias is when you look at something you don't like, fail to consider it, and then condemn it for a predetermined reason, which is likely tantamount to no reason at all. Someone's biased here, but it isn't me. Let's take, for example, the assertion that the blog was "fact free."

I count four sources for that blog. There was the Times Union article suggesting that NYSUT leadership wanted to cut benefits for its employees, who specifically referenced pensions. There was a Politico piece specifically referencing a law that allows NYSUT leaders to accrue double pensions. There were quotes from PJSTA President Beth Dimino suggesting NYSUT tried to bypass local presidents to solicit VOTE COPE contributions, and there was a quote from former NY Deputy State Comptroller Harris Lirtzman, who'd done some homework analyzing the NYSUT pension system.

So that's what I based my opinions on. What did NYSUT Unity base their opinions on? Absolutely nothing but their own prejudices, as far as I can tell. Now the upstanding individual who likely writes this stuff did a hit piece on me a while back, calling me a part-time teacher. (I'm not linking to it because it doesn't permit comments and no one reads the blog anyway.) I don't remember exactly what I wrote to cause him to do this, but he wrote a long piece about what he decided I thought. That's easier than actually confronting what I may have said or done, and that's what you call a strawman fallacy. It doesn't get into the difficult business of addressing whatever the argument was I'd made. Rather, it invents an easy target, something that it claims I think or believe and simply attacks that easier target.

These are the sorts of things you do and say when you have no argument.

And as Revive NYSUT broke promise after promise, I know I've done the right thing by exposing and opposing them. They were against Common Core, they said in the pamphlet above, but President Karen Magee, at an AFT Convention, suggested the alternative to it was a "free-for-all." They said they were against APPR but haven't moved a millimeter toward its repeal. They said they were against Cuomo but failed to oppose him in two primaries and a general election. They say they're for NYSUT transparency, but when you mention their verifiable actions they accuse you of being a lunatic.

All of this is troubling. What's most troubling, though, is these are the people who are negotiating for us at a state level. It's no wonder Cuomo walks all over us, and at the very nadir of his popularity is able to make APPR even more draconian, with the aid of his Heavy Hearts Assembly. Can you imagine people who think the genius who wrote that tweet should be representing us? Can you imagine people with that brand of judgment negotiating for us on a state level?

I can. And sadly, it explains a lot.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bad Song Sunday

There's a story about jazz violinist Joe Venuti. Venuti was known for rarely, if ever, doing requests. One night he broke his policy and elicited suggestions from the audience. Someone requested Feelings. Venuti declared it the worst song ever written, and played Sweet Georgia Brown instead. Give it a listen and let me know if you think Venuti was right.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

NYSUT Follows in the Footsteps of Rahm Emanuel

As usual, there's big fun in Chicago. Admin wants to make teachers fund their pensions, and pick up the 7% of the pension that the city had paid, when it felt like paying it. Essentially, this becomes a 7% pay cut. It's funny how, when contract time comes around, there are all these deals that aren't what they seem.

For example, if you get a 5% raise, and you work 5% more, you did not get a raise. Or if you get a raise and don't receive it for 10 years, it has considerably less value than it would if you'd gotten the money up front. Don't believe me? Try buying a car with the 30 or 40 K NYC owes you. Let me know how that works out.

It's pretty reprehensible that the Chicago government is treating its teachers this way. CTU President Karen Lewis says they will strike rather than accept pay cuts. This is what happens when an employer doesn't plan properly. It blames working people rather than itself, and asks them to suck it up, even while those in high places are highly compensated.

We all know what a loathsome reptile Rahm Emanuel is. We expect this sort of nonsense from him. It's pretty shocking, though, to see similar talk from NYSUT leadership, according to a letter NSYUT employees sent local presidents:

(it)...says that officers of the union are willing to "significantly reduce our benefits," in order to dodge a looming financial crisis.

While it doesn't detail how those benefits would be lowered, much of the letter talks about the growing costs of NYSUT pensions for its own retirees.

NYSUT, of course, is a union, and ought to take very seriously the priorities of union. But it appears NYSUT leadership has no problem circumventing local presidents to ask members for COPE money even as it takes aim at empoyee pensions. As PJSTA President Beth Dimino puts it:

From the same legislative department run by Andy Pallota that gave NY Teachers; tier 5, tier 6, 4 year tenure, and an evaluation system based 50% on flawed HST, they want more money from each of us to further screw ourselves! 

I actually sat across from Pallota at a 2014 forum in which he would not commit to opposing reformy Andrew Cuomo. In subsequent forums, I watched him evolve his message this way and that, but it ultimately didn't much matter. Indeed, though his Revive NYSUT slate promised they opposed Cuomo, they failed to do so in not one, but two primaries. They followed up by sitting on the fence in the election.

Now they're threatening their employees with the very same thing Rahm is holding over the CTU.  NYC is a very large union, and all contracts are negotiated by Michael Mulgrew and his merry band. There are a whole lot of smaller locals, like PJSTA, and the PSA supports them as they negotiate. From Beth Dimino:

PSA members are the people who provide field services to our locals. They are our labor relations specialists (LRS) and they help local presidents negotiate your contract and answer the day to day questions presidents face when they deal with Administration. I'm not exaggerating when I say that without our LRSs we'd be lost! 

A lot of small local members on Facebook have taken the PSA symbol as their profile pictures.

It is a fundamental responsibility of union leadership to improve conditions for its members. Clearly there are sometimes setbacks in negotiations. But I've been following NYSUT pretty closely for the last few years, and the only serious pension improvement over which its presided has been for the NYSUT officers themselves, who can accrue two pensions simultaneously. So even as teacher pensions are seriously degraded, Karen Magee and Martin Messner don't have to worry they won't be taken care of.

As for the rest of us, we're on our own. Worse, they have failed to set an example for governments, and are now looking to degrade the pensions of their own employees. After reviewing public documents submitted to the US Department of Labor, Harris Lirtzman, former NYC teacher and deputy New York State comptroller, attributes this to poor planning:

NYSUT funds its pension plan, largely, on a pay-as-you go basis: money comes in through member dues and employee contributions and goes right back out to pay current year pension benefits. NYSUT stays solvent only through a complex network of loans and transfers every year to and from the AFT and UFT.

I don't know what NYSUT does with all the dues we pay it, but that's less than encouraging. Are they indulging in some shell game with our money and expecting PSA to help pick up the tab?  Are the top people, like Magee and Pallota getting big bucks while the little people suffer? Are they, in fact, expecting working people to pick up the tab for their lavish lifestyles?

That's not what I'd call setting an example. We need to be better than the likes of Rahm and Cuomo. We need to show them that things can be done better.

For my money, NYSUT leadership is doing precisely the opposite.

Bonus: Here's the rapid response from NYSUT Unity. Note that they utilize ridicule rather than argument. These are the people running our union.

Friday, August 19, 2016

127,000 NYC Students Are Homeless

That's one in eight. It's not at all surprising because minimum wage workers can't afford to live here. If we raise the wage to $15, they still won't be able to afford it.

And still, reformies of all stripes get all agitated about how what we need is to fire the teachers, to establish charters, to give school "choice." Jesus, what about the choice to have a home? Isn't that just a little more fundamental than whether or not $500K-per-annum Eva Moskowitz gets to open up another charter school, or whether or not the city has to pay for it?

Nonetheless, every week there's another story about some study Eva's BFFs, the so-called Families for Excellent Schools, have done that proves that either City Schools Suck, Bill de Blasio Sucks, or ideally both. Where are our values?

I don't personally believe that standardized test scores are an indicator of much beyond family income. I don't think it's a coincidence that NY State took over the schools in Roosevelt but left Great Neck alone. But even if I did believe such a thing, there is no way I would prioritize test scores over living conditions. Self-proclaimed education guru Bill Gates has declared the way to defeat world poverty is for poor people to raise chickens.  Well, that's not an option if you live in Queens or the Bronx. Neighbors can be picky about having chickens running around in apartment buildings.

The fact is all schools targeted for closings contain high percentages of impoverished children. They contain high percentages of students with special needs. As long as we keep funneling children with proactive parents into charters, as long as we allow them to maintain and follow up on "got to go" lists, and as long as we allow them to dump kids back into public schools without replacing them we won't have any real "choice."

Sorry, reformies. If you gave a crap about children you'd stop attacking those of use who've dedicated our lives to serving them. You'd stop dragging them and their parents to Albany to maintain the substandard jobs you offer those who can't get UFT jobs. You'd fight to get kids out of poverty rather than putting your millions behind smoke and mirrors. You'd fight to make sure children had a future with middle class jobs rather than attacking teaching, one of their very best options.

You cannot ignore the fundamentals and make progress. One out of eight of our kids is homeless. That's not even considering the working poor, struggling to get by. Do you seriously think that parents working multiple jobs have time for parenting? Do you seriously think that homeless and overworked parents have the time to examine, apply for, and do the extra work hours charters can demand?

It costs $500 for an Epipen this year.  That's a 400% hike from what it was in 2008. Do homeless kids even know they need one? Have they signed the paperwork to help get one, if such paperwork is even available? I don't know, but I am certain that homelessness is a thing, that poverty is a thing, and that as long as we keep our head in the sand and worry about how many Moskowitz Academies we can open, or how many meaningless tests kids can pass, we're way off the mark in our priorities.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Lesson for Common Core Enthusiasts

Someone sent me an interesting link from the Gates-funded Center for American Progress the other day, about how we could all do fabulous close reading things with the Common Core standards. Believe it or not, just about every organization that's taken money from Gates has fallen head over heels in love with Common Core, on which Gates spent a whole lotta cash. Go figure.

During the 2014-15 school year, more high school seniors read the young adult-oriented books The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent than Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Hamlet, according to a report that tracks what K-12 students at more than 30,000 schools are reading during the school year. These books are generally self-selected, making it not all that surprising that students would prefer to read a contemporary New York Times bestseller than a 17th-century play written in early modern English. And while some of the books that students select are thematically targeted to a mature audience, they are not particularly challenging to read for the average high schooler. The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, for example, have the readability of a fourth- or fifth-grade text in terms of sentence structure and word difficulty.

God forbid that students should read stuff they enjoy. The end of the world is nigh. What we should value, according to this logic, is difficulty rather than content. Allowing students to self-select has a negative connotation in that paragraph. I'd argue the opposite. If students love to read, they will practice it without guns to their heads. Then, when they are presented with difficult readings, they will figure out how to get through them and deal with them. Forcing them to plod through Shakespere if they don't wish to is not how you get motivated readers. They continue:

Three of the top five most commonly assigned titles in grades 9 through 12 are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, and Of Mice and Men. All three books, while classics, are not particularly challenging in terms of sentence structure and complexity

Can you imagine that? Those crappy teachers are assigning books because of depth of theme, and they have no regard for how rigorous they are. It doesn't matter what sort of discussion or independent thought those books inspire. The important thing is how big the words are, how complicated the sentences are (all the better if they're in non-standard English) and whether or not the kids can muddle through them and pass a test.

You know what I never think about, and what most readers don't think about? We don't think about the grade level of what we're reading. We read for information, we read to learn, we read to be entertained, and we read for a lot of reasons. But we don't read simply to encounter big words and complicated sentence structure.

I was never taught any of this stuff and I miss it not at all. I was motivated to read myself and never expected other people to tell me what words meant. That’s what dictionaries are for. You'd think what 5-year-olds need is to work on unlocking complex text. That will make them love reading for sure. No more blowing bubbles in their milk and none of that Cat in the Hat nonsense anymore. We're raising a generation of test-takers who have SAT-oriented vocabularies.What more could any country want?

Now I actually have nothing against encouraging vocabulary. Vocabulary is a tool, and we use it as we need it. Were it up to me, I'd teach kids more about logic. I'd let them know what logical fallacies are. I'd let them know what bad arguments are made of. I'd let them explore and detect lies, like, for example, Common Core was developed by teachers, or that it's research based and field tested. I'd want my kids to know that health care is available to all in most non-third-world countries and few outside the United States go bankrupt paying hospital bills.

In fact, I'd like folks who advocate Common Core, like Reformy John King, to stand up and defend his ideas just like he wants our kids to do. That would be a whole lot better than cowardly canceling meetings because he can't muster a coherent argument. It's disgraceful that someone who advocates logic would call parents and teachers "special interests," and get all huffy when we ask why he sends his kids to schools that don't utilize the methodology he demands for our kids.

I also do not think it’s necessarily of value to use big words. Communication is about reaching as many people as you can with the correct words, words that inform, words that are appropriate and most easily understood, not words that impress. People who try to impress with big words end up doing precisely the opposite, even if they use them correctly.

One of my favorite series of books is The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It's beautiful, lyrical writing. It's simple and universal. I've taught it to ESL students and they've loved it. It's about a woman in Botswana who's very smart, who's suffered greatly, but who's determined to make something of herself. It's about how she makes things happen by outsmarting those around her. It's not about how difficult the books she reads happen to be.

I don't love to read because I went to school and some teacher shoved big words and/ or complicated sentences down my throat. I don't love to read because some teacher handed me The History of Cement and made me close read it.  I love to read because of the very smart people who've taken the time to write. And if I have to plod through The History of Cement, I can do it because reading is natural for me.

The Common Core folk have got everything ass-backwards. And it's not because they weren't taught via Common Core. I wasn't taught via Common Core, and I can see right through all of their reformy nonsense. They'd love it if only we'd keep ignoring the fact that over half our country's children live in poverty. If we can get them to pass standardized tests here and there, that validates the reformies, and that's good enough.

Let them eat sentences.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Incompetent Admin Trumps Every Silver Bullet

Chalkbeat led me down the garden path yesterday with a description in yesterday's Rise and Shine:

No one becomes good at their job by attending workshops. At least, that's what two New York City educators argue as part of a case for teacher development that is deeply collaborative, and which eschews dry training sessions, superficial observations, and unhelpful data. 

After all, I agree with that pretty much completely. And it's got a pretty sensational headline too.

No professionals say, ‘I became great at my work by attending workshops.’ Why do we treat teaching differently?

Why indeed? Of course I've never heard a teacher or administrator actually say that either. In fact, I've never heard anyone at all suggest anything of the sort. But I'm still hooked by the Rise and Shine intro. And indeed the writers do justice to it, and list a bunch of preposterous assumptions about how teachers are supposed to get good at their jobs.

• “I became great at my work by attending workshops or training sessions.”
• “I became great at my work because my boss visited once a week for 15 minutes and then rated me with a rubric and gave me a next step.”
• “I became great at my job by analyzing data that measured my results daily and weekly.”

They're right, of course. No one says these things any more than kids cite their favorite teacher as the one who helped them get a good score on the standardized test. One positive they offer is mentoring, and they give a bunch of examples of things real people may or may not have said about it. The fact is, though, that mentoring is most definitely a part of NYC public schools. I'm sure it is done with varying degrees of efficiency, but I'm certain that's also the case with the lawyers and doctors mentioned in the piece. In fact there are plenty of us who will help our newer colleagues whether or not we're actually assigned to do so.

Where the writers lose me, though, is where they propose a silver bullet. That's here:

A small group of adults — three or four is best — should work as a team toward a common goal, like educating a group of seventh-graders in social studies. They should write the lessons, edit and improve their work as a team, organize and decorate their classrooms, strategize about how to work with challenging students, analyze data when they review student work every day. More experienced teachers serve as mentors for the newest member of their team while they do all of this daily work.

This is not all that revolutionary, actually, and much of this work is accomplished in a lot of places via inquiry teams and common planning. But that too can be done well or poorly depending upon how it's organized. Last year I spent part of most days with a teacher with whom I shared most, if not all of my students. We focused a lot on parental contact. She speaks Chinese and I speak Spanish, so between us we were able to reach out to a lot of parents and help one another. We frequently discussed how best to reach certain kids with whom we had issues.

We met every day except the day she had to go to her inquiry team. I don't know who was on her team, but it wasn't me. I was on another team with a bunch of people, none of whom taught my kids or even my subject. We would sit for 45 minutes and talk, or not, and do stuff, or not. For a while we were charged with planning a PD survey. I wrote one in about 20 minutes. Then we discussed it for weeks, made almost no changes, and sent it to admin, who did absolutely nothing with it.

The next few weeks we were on another topic. I don't remember what it was. What I do remember is that at the end of each session I would write up something to make it appear we were accomplishing something. I also remember, as this activity took place during a period I was assigned to chapter leader duties, that I stepped attending and resumed chapter leader duties.

Now I know inquiry teams can be done better. That's why I repeatedly requested to be teamed with the person with whom I actually worked. But you just never know. In a big school like mine, you might have a well-intentioned administrator with insurmountable scheduling issues. Or you may have an administrator who thinks it's your job to do his job, and directs you to do it during inquiry. You might, like me, be sitting in a group with no one who teaches your subject and no students in common for whom to plan.

I think it's great if these teachers have found a way to make things work. What I don't believe is that it's a magic formula to improve instruction in every school. There's absolutely nothing wrong with cooperation, and to tell you the truth I don't believe it's a one way street. The teacher with whom I mostly collaborated last year had a lot less experience than me, but she was very smart. I wouldn't and didn't hesitate to steal ideas from her. I'm not particularly proud in that respect. I will steal ideas from anyone at any time.

We're all different. I have worked under both helpful and unhelpful administrators. If I get good advice from administrators I will not only use it, but actively seek out more. If not, I'll nod politely, say thank you, and figure things out myself. When I find teachers with whom I can collaborate, and when it's a good idea, I do it. Now that's not a silver bullet either. It's just what works for me.

Maybe the teachers who wrote this have good administrators who help them plan. Or maybe they're in an environment where they can plan themselves. Maybe they have the discretion to make these groups and tailor them as needed. Maybe they're one of the very few schools that are not subject to the idiotic APPR plan that has infected our system. If  not, perhaps they're among the very few groups of teachers who are comfortable enough to ignore the evaluation system, even as it slithers like an anaconda through the building and its culture.

What they haven't addressed, and what is almost never addressed in things I read, is the dysfunction caused by administrators who are the opposite of helpful. There is something about people who are primarily motivated by power, money, or self-importance. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it makes them very bad teachers. When they push to "get out of the classroom," they rise up to places where they have may have even less competence. It's the Peter Principle plus one. People who don't want to teach are almost never helpful to those of us who do.

I applaud the good intentions of the writers. I am all for us supporting one another, but their way isn't the only way. More importantly, as long as wretchedly incompetent administrators continue to flourish, as long as they happily show up and do multiple levels of damage, and as long as our system encourages and rewards this sort of behavior, this proposal will stand along a whole lot of others as just another unrealized idea.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Genius

It's always traumatic to get glasses. I started wearing them maybe 20 years ago, though my sight wasn't all that bad. But I couldn't recognize people all the way down the hall, so I went and got checked. But then when I actually wore the glasses I found I couldn't read. Supervisors, even then, took a dim view of English teachers who couldn't read.

I stopped wearing glasses most of the time. But then I started seeing the ophthalmologist my daughter went to, and she insisted I get progressive lenses so I could see and read. This doctor had this very old office, and it was full of old wind-up toys and things. She was very kind, and very smart. I looked forward to seeing her every couple of years. This year, she retired. According to some thing I read on line, she was 87 years old. I couldn't really argue with that. She sent a card to go to some new doctor, but when I showed up for an appointment they demanded an extra 50 bucks for "refraction," or checking for glasses. As my former doctor didn't charge that, and as they didn't warn me in advance, I walked.

When I called new doctors, they all wanted the extra 50. I  finally called one near my house, who only wanted 30. It seemed like a bargain, given that I didn't know any of them beyond their GHI listings anyway. The doctor did the whole refraction thing for maybe two minutes, like it was boring for him. Then, when I left, they charged me 80 bucks. I'd expect to pay 60, but evidently they did another very important 20 dollar test. For the price, I may as well have stayed with the folks my previous doctor had recommended.

I buy glasses at Costco, because my former ophthalmologist said they were the best, because  it's good to those who work there, and because a lot of eyeglass joints charge four times as much as I pay there. They don't take UFT insurance for the eye exam, unfortunately, it's $65 out of pocket, and you have to send in the form rather than get an immediate discount. When I put on the new glasses the doctor had prescribed, my eyes hurt. Then I got kind of a headache. I went back to the optician and asked if the prescription had changed. He said it had. That was odd because the doctor told me it hadn't changed my old prescription. But the optician said he had.

I was afraid to drive home with them and I didn't. But I put them on in the morning. The top of my laptop didn't look level anymore. It seemed to slope to one side. But when I took the glasses off, everything was fine. I walked my dog in my backyard. It turned out the yard, which had appeared level to me these last few decades, was also on a slant. But when I took the glasses off everything was level again. Was the world on an angle, and had I just failed to notice it because of my awful eyesight and/ or terrible glasses?

I went back on Monday morning to see the doctor. "Costco?" he said. "What do they know? They aren't MDs. Are those your old glasses? Look at them! They are crooked!" He was pretty angry. He screamed at me to put down my phone. I was actually spending all the down time in his office reading a mystery on my phone. It helped me to not show him the same anger that he was showing to me. But I politely placed the phone in my pocket, so as to focus more keenly on his torrent of outrage.

Then he gave me the eye test again, and spent at least double the time. Eventually he said Costco was right and he was wrong. "It happens," he explained. He wrote me a new prescription citing physician error. He said they wouldn't charge, but if they did he would cover it. (They didn't.)

Then he asked if I'd made an appointment to come back next year. I hadn't, but his office will be calling me. My former doctor had me come back every two years, just like the Welfare Fund benefit. That's enough for me. Also, I'm pretty sure I will look more carefully for a new doctor this time.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

SBO Chronicle

One of the toughest things to do, if you're in a multi-session school like mine, is to figure out how to work in all the things that the Memorandum of Agreement asks for. For example, Chancellor Carmen Fariña loves her some PD, and you have to work that in somewhere.

There's also the whole Other Professional Work thing, and Parental Contact. I'm a great believer in both. Parental contact helps me do my job, and really helps me run the sort of class I want to have. Other professional work is kind of a monster, as there's just never enough time to do what needs to be done.

But then there's this other thing--the inquiry team thing that for some reason there's all kinds of pressure to have. It's also pretty hard to do effectively in a large school like mine because of scheduling. In fact, it's probably very hard to do in a small school too, because how many science teachers are there in that school and when can they meet together?

Because of various things that happened last year, our SBO was very tough to negotiate. Our committee and the principal spent months batting things back and forth without an agreement. He demanded this, and I demanded the opposite. Then I demanded that, and he demanded the opposite. We went on this way for months, until finally, by some miracle, we came to an agreement.

Of course, at almost the exact moment we did that, a better idea came along. Instead of eight periods, we break our day into nine. During the ninth period, all teachers will tutor one period, have PD another, and do Other Professional Work the other three. I had no idea the school was short of tutors, but now I know. I kind of like the idea, and see it as kind of an office hour. If a student wants to see me about whatever, I'm not gonna say go to hell, I'm here to tutor. Also people with comp-time jobs, like deans, now get a good amount of prep time during the school day.

But there are always the unanticipated side effects. In the case of our school, the principal set aside a portion of the library for tutoring. I don't really like this idea, as I really value the library. The librarians are even less happy about it than I am. But in an overcrowded school with no extra space I'm thus far unable to suggest a viable alternative. Last year, after at UFT inspection and air testing,  we closed a classroom full of diesel fumes. Instead we had classes in a gym with basketballs bouncing off the walls. We were lucky not to have people bouncing off the walls as well.

Our SBO passed overwhelmingly, and I hope it works out. One good thing about an SBO is that if it does not work out, it goes straight to the scrapheap in June. Will our PD be worthwhile, or will it just be our supervisors screaming at us about our chronic inadequacies? Will anyone show up for tutoring? Will 200 kids per teacher show up at a time? Will having 42 minute classes instead of 45 minute classes fundamentally affect student lifestyles?

It's tough to say. All in all, though, I think it's better than sitting around extra hours Mondays and Tuesdays. Do you do that? What's it like? Are you in an overcrowded school with an SBO? How is it working out for you?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Worst Song Ever

On Facebook we've got a pretty hearty competition. But here's one of the most vomit-worthy entries, submitted very quickly after the search began. What's worse than this?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Banning Suspensions

I can't really address what it means to suspend kids in K-2. I've never taught K-2 and I have no idea on what grounds suspension is warranted. I don't picture 5-year-olds committing offenses that merit them being removed, but clearly it's been happening. This, of course, would place undue pressure on a parent. If I had to suddenly scramble for day care for my 5-year-old I'd probably panic. On the other hand, I'd also do whatever was in my power to ensure I'd never have to do it again.

I teach bigger kids, often as not bigger than I am, and I don't suppose their parents need worry about child care as much. I've advocated for suspension exactly twice in over thirty years of teaching. The first time was when a kid walked into my classroom for no reason I could discern. I asked him to leave, and when I became insistent he offered to blow my head of with a 45.

I didn't much appreciate that offer, so I did a little homework and identified him. He was a special education student. When I wrote him up his parents had to come to school. I protested, and said that kids who walk around threatening people's lives ought to face something more tangible, i.e. suspension. A special ed. dean told me the kid was brain damaged and couldn't help himself. I said if that were the case, he ought not to be in the same building with my students, but I lost that argument.

The second time was in my classroom. A student, with whom I'd had no problem ever, while exiting my class, thought if would be a good idea to find out what would happen if he pulled out a chair from me as I was about to sit on it. As you can imagine, I went down a little farther than I had intended. I was not hurt, but I was pretty angry. I asked that he be suspended. A dean suggested three days, but the principal found it even less amusing than the dean and suspended him for five days.

I've read a few pieces that oppose suspension. The one I recall most clearly was in the Daily News. It suggested that students who were suspended graduated at a lower rate than those who were not. This didn't surprise me at all. What surprised me was the conclusion that the lower graduation rate was the result of the suspensions. I thought the suspensions were likely the result of behavior which concurrently led to a lower graduation rate.

Of course now kids can tell their teachers to perform vile and unnatural acts and the only recourse is to call the parents. Calling parents is great, and I do it all the time. I often do it to preclude behavior that would result in failure or other negative consequences. I'm not sure, though, if it would be effective to call and say, "Your kid just told the teacher to go screw himself, and if this happens again, we will call you again to notify you that he once again told the teacher to go screw himself."

I've seen suspension done in building, which to me at least, seems a lot less attractive than, "You just told the teacher to go screw himself, so we're giving you a week off." I'm not an expert on suspension, but I think it's a very bad idea to take one of our few options away. Quite often the threat of suspension precludes the need to take such a drastic measure. Taking away the threat is not so smart.

I don't really know very well what the alternatives are. If Carmen Fariña wants to double and triple down on guidance counselors and social workers to deal with this stuff, I applaud her. But it's a mistake to burden our already overburdened support staff with additional tasks and leave it at that.

I'm open to alternatives, but hoping for the best is not one I'm ready to embrace.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Abstract Portrait of a Chancellor

There's an interesting piece in Newsweek today. It's written by Alexandar Nazaryan, and ostensibly about NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Full disclosure--I have a little experience with Mr. Nazaryan. He edited an op-ed I placed in the Daily News when he worked there, and it was a bit contentious. I can be picky about my writing, as anyone with whom I've worked will attest. Nonetheless, we treated one another respectfully. There was no personal animosity when we finished working together, at least none on my part or that I'd heard about.

That's why I was pretty surprised when, on Twitter, for no reason I could determine, Nazaryan accused me of being a UFT mouthpiece:

That's ironic, because I'm wholly confident UFT President Michael Mulgrew, among many others, would spring to my defense and tell the world I have been doing no such thing. As if that weren't enough, after my response to that absurd statement, Nazraryan saw fit to attack me personally:

Now that's not simply a personal attack. It also utilizes what you call a stereotype. You see, whatever I do, or have done, or whatever Nazraryan perceives me to have done, is then attributed to all teachers. We are, therefore, in his view, disrespected. This is the same sort of thinking bigots of all stripes use to insult people of a given religion, race, nationality, or ethnicity. So yes, I absolutely believe the writer is prejudiced against us, and we therefore need to question his assumptions very carefully.

De Blasio, after all, is a self-styled progressive who promised “transcendent” change, surrounding himself with youthful advisers minted in the Barack Obama mold. Fariña, meanwhile, was coaxed out of retirement.

Now it's entirely possible that Nazaryan simply forgot, while writing that particular sentence, that Fariña had worked for Bloomberg. And it's entirely possible that Nazaryan doesn't know that a whole lot of Bloomberg people are still sitting at the DOE.  But being that he's writing a piece about the chancellor, it kind of behooves him to know that, doesn't it? I mean, here I am, a lowly UFT shill, disrespected by all for reasons known only to Nazaryan, and even I know it. Here's how Fariña is seen, according to Nazaryan:

Some see her as a defender of teachers, others as the pawn of teachers unions. 

That's not much of a choice, is it? I see her as neither, and I'd argue that this is a black and white fallacy. Lots of teachers do not feel the love for Fariña, and don't see her jumping to our defense. She let Jamaica High School wither and die, she is not shy about removing and/ or firing teachers, and is much ballyhooed for having done so in her career as principal.

Nazaryan devotes a good deal of time to speaking about himself and his brief teaching career. Perhaps he feels that gives him some cred while writing about this. Who knows? What I do know is he has no idea how working teachers think or feel. Even in the piece, Nazaryan outs himself as a supporter of right to work with no respect whatsoever for our union:

I was once a member of a teachers union and have long lamented its moribund conception of the teaching profession. (I was not a fan of the mandatory membership fees extracted from my paycheck either.)

I actually wonder how on earth Newsweek can present this as a portrait of the chancellor, or why their editors, if indeed they have any, deem Nazaryan's feelings about labor unions germane to what is, supposedly, a piece about the chancellor. Nazaryan is also clueless about the recent teacher contract:

Fariña said sensible things—that she wanted to bring joy back to the classroom and earn the teachers’ trust (a generous new contract with the United Federation of Teachers has helped). 

In fact, the contract gives us the 8% over two years that FDNY and NYPD got, but we don't actually receive it until 2020, a full decade after they got it. It then goes on to give us 10% over seven years, the lowest pattern in my living memory, and for all I know, in the history of the City of New York.

Nazaryan is also less than opaque about his own feelings on charter schools.

Her “old-school” tendencies are also responsible, I suspect, for an outsized antipathy to charter schools, which she shares with the mayor. Charters are public schools, and Fariña could have embraced them as a small but critical component of the education system, one that does an admirable job of educating poor kids of color.

For Nazaryan, there's no question that charters do an admirable job, but there's also no awareness of the fact that they shed students at an alarming rate, dumping them back into public schools, not replacing them, and thereby increasing their test scores. There's no awareness that they rarely if ever take students like I teach, or those with severe learning disabilities. As far as I can tell, there's not even awareness that the state pretty much decreed NYC would have to pay rent on charters of which it didn't approve. There are also a whole lot of us who dispute the characterization of charters as public schools.

There are rambling paragraphs about Moskowitz, Rhee, and all the reformy things they've done, and or tried to do. Then there's this, the conclusion:

This state of affairs is unfortunate but not surprising. We are not a small, monocultural nation like South Korea, or an autocracy like Russia where a history textbook might fall victim to Kremlin diktat. In America, school reform will always be a Hegelian contest between clashing visions, frequently maddening, infrequently productive. It is the only way we know.

There are always clashing visions, but reforminess has thus far reflected mostly one, and that has been pretty much whatever Bill Gates placed his many dollars behind. Small schools, charters, VAM, Common Core, and other such things proliferate. Despite Nazaryan's conversations with Diane Ravitch and Patrick Sullivan, and despite his limited experience as a teacher, he has no idea what goes on in city schools.

From what I can glean here, Nazaryan has little interest in finding out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mulgrew Cleans Up His Act, a Little Bit

It's interesting to read, lately, that Mulgrew takes exception to the modifications in suspension  policies by the de Blasio administration. Of course he wasn't the first UFT member to pen an op-ed in the Daily News to that effect. In fact, I was. It's encouraging to see leadership, once again, coming to its senses a little bit, albeit a little late.

Now Politico suggests that Mulgrew is making some distance between himself and the de Blasio administration. For a while they were BFFs. I remember, in particular, one time at the DA when Mulgrew was talking about what great buds he and Carmen Fariña were. He immediately pivoted into a statement that any chapter leaders who didn't have issues with their principals weren't doing their jobs properly.

That's vintage Mulgrew. I can go out to gala luncheons with my contractual adversary, he suggests, but you all have to fight with yours, whether or not it's necessary. It brings to mind his calls to act on social media. Everybody get on Facebook and talk about this thing. Everybody get on Twitter and use this hashtag. Everybody send tweets to these people about this thing. Everybody except me, of course, as I'm just gonna walk around with a flip phone, ignore your email, and not even register on social media sites.

Of course now, while de Blasio isn't winning any popularity contests, maybe it's time to look like we got ahead of things. And there's also this:
Mulgrew is also showing his members he’s willing to stand up to City Hall for them — a political imperative after a small but vocal faction of the union challenged Mulgrew in his re-election bid earlier this year.

Hmmm...who could those people be? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's us, the MORE/ New Action coalition that took almost a third of working teacher votes and won the high school seats. Maybe Mulgrew will now move a little to represent membership rather than leadership, and it's not a moment too soon for me. Any musician will tell you timing is everything. We're a little off on that.
The UFT has maintained it does not endorse the “current version” of mayoral control over city schools, and even as Mulgrew’s foes among State Senate Republicans ravaged de Blasio’s education policies in hearings and in the media, the UFT stayed out of the fray. Mulgrew declined to add his name to the large coalition of officials, business leaders and other union presidents pushing on behalf of the administration for a long-term extension.

Diane Ravitch, in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, paints mayoral control as a tool used by reformies to bypass all that messy and inconvenient democracy stuff. I couldn't agree more. While it's nice that Mulgrew has taken a cautious step endorsing modification of the tool that closed Jamaica High School and scores of others, it's a little late, and a lot little. The time to have stood against it was when Bloomberg enacted it. In fact, after it proved to be an unmitigated disaster, closing schools and ballooning the ranks of the ATR, leadership demanded changes, failed to get them, and then supported it again.

It would have been nice if someone from UFT had taken a public stand against it. Well, actually someone did, and as it happens, it was me. Mayoral control has become pretty much part of the city's culture. We have a few meetings, listen to what the public says, and then the mayor does any damn thing he pleases. That's not precisely democracy, and in a democracy, no mayors should have total control, be they friendly, hostile, anywhere in between.

If we are moving Mulgrew just a little, then we're making just a little progress and I'm happy to see it. We will work to make more.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Newsday Asks Opt-Out to Please Crawl Away and Die

When I was 12 years old, I think, my first job ever was delivering newspapers. I delivered Newsday for several years. I also sold a hell of a lot of subscriptions. Whenever anyone moved in, whenever a new house was built, and whenever anyone wasn't on my route I'd knock on the door and sell new subscriptions. It was easy. There was nothing like it and it was pretty much the best source of local news. I read it every day.

Now Newsday is a piece of drek owned by the would-be monopolists at Cablevision. It's written one of the stupidest editorials I've ever seen.  Newsday thinks the opt-out movement has done its job, and that now it's time to sit down and shut up. You see, the tests were "fine" because they were "vetted" by "at least 22 New York public school teachers."

It’s unfortunate that 20 percent of students statewide and more than 50 percent of those on Long Island opted out of those exams this past spring. So while the tests were fine, the broad results released by the state on July 29 are practically useless for evaluating classes, schools and districts on Long Island.

You see what they did there? Not only did they understate the percentage of students statewide who opted out, but they also failed to note that the tests were fundamentally different from those the year before. Even the state itself acknowledges that, sometimes. Newsday then attributes these changes to the "parent and teacher revolt against Common Core standards in recent years," the same revolt that it opposed tooth and nail, each and every step of the way. Newsday says opt-out has now achieved its goals and should therefore go away and leave it alone.

Newsday loves standardized tests:

Results of standardized tests are just about the only measure that equally compares student skills across classes, schools, districts and states. They can show teachers and schools what works, and highlight student strengths and weaknesses.

Why, then, would anyone opt-out in the first place? If it's inherently fair to give standardized tests, why did Andrew Cuomo agree to make any changes at all? Why do they have this "moratorium" on counting the results against students and teachers? After all, since the tests are so absolutely vital, we need them,  don't we? How are we gonna find out how much our kids, our schools, and our teachers suck if we don't have them take tests and then have the schools decide later exactly which scores pass and which don't?

My favorite part of the piece is this one:

Based on past results, the state Education Department says the majority of those who opted out this year were students who probably would have gotten a substandard score of 1 or 2 on the tests, rather than 3 (proficient) or 4 (excellent).

NY State has a long and consistent history of manipulating test results to show whatever the hell they wish to show. If billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg needs scores to go up so as to prove that reforminess works, voila!  They go up. Diane Ravitch cries foul because the NAEP scores contradict that rise. Bloomberg and his peeps call her a crank and pat themselves on the back. Two years later, papers like Newsday finally catch on to the story that test scores were, in fact, inflated and the test scores were meaningless.

The Island was built on great schools. No one is going to believe those schools are still great if parents won’t let children take the tests.

If the only thing that made those schools great was test scores, no one should have ever believed those schools were great. There is a direct correlation between income and test scores. The only thing test scores reliably indicate is which part of Long Island you live in. Seriously, do you think the state, revered as it is by Newsday, is gonna come in and take over Great Neck schools instead of Roosevelt schools?

It's pretty sad that a once great local paper has degenerated into a corporate-owned reformy rag that couldn't argue its way out of the birdcage it lines. Perhaps it wouldn't be in said birdcage if it reflected the community it ostensibly served rather than the cable moguls who own it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Smoke, Mirrors, and Charter Schools

I'm not the first to say this, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but Moskowitz sells snake oil and charters are a scam. They have no more credibility than the guys playing three-card monte on the corner. They show you how easy it is to find the red card, and it's obvious to you and anyone who's looking. Then, after you fill in the applications, agree to whatever extra things are demanded, show up to Albany when Eva says you need to, and dance as fast as you're told, your kid gets thrown out of school.

It's pretty simple, actually. Once Moskowitz gets rid of your inconvenient child, there's no replacement. Since your kid is dragging down scores, demanding attention when there's test prep to be done, or has special needs other than getting high test scores, there's an extra name on the got to go list. And once that happens, your kid is bound for one of those awful public schools. Those schools are so bad that they take everyone and throw almost no one out!

By status quo standards, a good school is a school with high test scores. Charters are designed specifically to become "good schools," and if indeed that is the standard, it's not that hard to reach. All you have to do is stock your school with kids who get high scores. One way is to make sure that every single student has proactive parents. By proactive, I mean the kind of parent who will bother to fill out an application. That in itself is an extra step, weeding out those who won't even bother with such a thing.

The students I teach will not end up in charters. That's because they don't speak English at all. Their parents are unlikely to seek out charters and I'd be surprised if even one beginning ELL were in a Moskowitz Academy. Then there are those will special needs. By charter standards an IEP is an IEP, but special needs students are an extremely broad category. Some need a little extra time to take tests while others are certain never to graduate. Guess how many of the latter are in Moskowitz Academies. My school takes them all.

So where do the castoff Moskowitz kids end up? In public schools of course, where they continue to get the same test grades they did in Moskwitz Academies. And the papers look at their grades and say, "Oh my gosh, those public schools suck and need to be closed. We need new Moskowitz Academies right away!"

In fact, Moskowitz herself can then place a column in the paper stating that the test score rises, which are meaningless to begin with, are significant only in the charter sector. Lots of people will read that uncritically and believe it. But charters are not a silver bullet. They are an outright fraud, designed to undermine public schools and remove those inconvenient unions, with their blah, blah, blah, we want to get paid if we work.

In Moskowitz land, teachers are nothing if not replaceable, and those who last a few years can become principals and more. Now me, I wouldn't want to work in a place where we let kids pee their pants rather than visit a bathroom, just for the sake of test prep. I'd also argue that, while we are subject to ridiculous rules that preclude us from grading papers from our own schools, Moskowitz Academies need not follow these rules. In a culture where testing is more important than basic human biological needs, it's entirely conceivable that grading may be something less than objective.

But the charters have got a lot of wealthy supporters who toss out suitcases of cash as you or I might toss away a Kleenex. They've got Andrew Cuomo and Barack Obama in their hip pockets. They've got an entire chain of reformy websites called Chalkbeat that write features every time Eva, Families for Excellent Schools, or EFE sneezes. (Even today Chalkbeat is recycling the same old quote from the state on how the test scores are valid, while their Rise and Shine newsletter features a whole bunch of stories suggesting charter schools outperform public schools.) They've got an entire chain of Gates/ Walmart think tanks that provide appropriate quotes for journalists everywhere.

Now it's great that NAACP has finally gotten hip to this nonsense. But UFT and AFT still support them, blind to the fact that what may have been a benign notion from Albert Shanker is now a full-fledged Frankenstein monster wreaking havoc on our educational village. There was barely a peep at the AFT convention when Hillary Clinton suggested we could learn from public charter schools, whatever the hell they may be.

What can we learn? To exclude the neediest children we serve? To let children pee their pants rather than visit bathrooms? To toss children out on their asses if they don't get scores that make us look better than they are? To juke the stats and cheat? That the ends justify the means?

That's not what I want to learn, and it's certainly not a lesson I wish to teach children I serve. Personally, I'd like to teach union leadership exactly what it is we support when we support charter schools.