Monday, October 31, 2016

The Chancellor and Me at UFT

Last Saturday I got up early and took some trains to 52 Broadway, where they were having a pretty big ESL event. I got to speak to Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, who told me that Part 154 was very successful in Buffalo, though she did not share why or how.

Alas, it isn't remotely successful here, in the largest district in the country with 150,000 ELLs. There are fewer than 5,000 in Buffalo. I don't know what secret sauce they've found but I hope they share it with us. There are 500 in my school alone, we have issues, and sending our kids to magical Buffalo just isn't a workable solution for us.

Dr. Rosa suggested we needed to deal with it locally, but the state regulation is the fundamental issue. The most recent revision of Part 154 has cut direct English instruction for NY State ELLs by a factor of 33-100%. Maybe that doesn't matter in Buffalo, but it seems to be a factor everywhere else I know anyone. I had hoped Rosa would attend our advocacy panel, where I spoke to it. Unfortunately she did not. I didn't say exactly what I wrote, but I wrote exactly what I wrote, and I'm sharing that with you here.

I've been teaching ESL (which the state now calls ENL), since 1984. A few years later I actually studied it and became licensed. Part 154 is the very worst thing I've ever seen done to it.

We know that the people who revised Part 154 had good intentions, and we certainly share the desire to see ELLs succeed academically. We are worried, however, that this particular plan will not accomplish that. That’s why the United Federation of Teachers takes the position that ELLs need more, rather than less, direct instruction in English.

It is certainly a good idea to give ELLs language support when they are taking academic classes. Political and scientific concepts are complex and often difficult even for native speakers. While Part 154 offers that support, it does so at the expense of not only direct English instruction, but also the academic instruction it appears to value. For example, in a 40-minute class, an American student may be expected to learn about a Civil War battle. In that same class, an ELL will be expected to learn not only about that battle, but also the vocabulary and language concepts inherent in the lesson. Furthermore, this comes at the expense of an English class the student would previously have been assigned.

I’d argue it would have been a better idea to give the ELL a double period in the academic subject without cutting direct language instruction. This is particularly relevant in high schools. Any cursory study of language acquisition will show that ability begins to decline precipitously around puberty, and that explains why young children seem to acquire it instantly while parents have a much rougher road.

As a high school teacher, I can tell you it can be challenging to get older students to pursue fluency. Sometimes I get students who’ve been dragged here almost kicking and screaming. All they want to do is go back home. Often I get students whose classroom culture entails sitting down with 50 other kids and listening to a teacher speak. I don’t know how effective that is in other subjects, but it’s impossible to learn language that way. It’s vitally important that they find a welcoming place in which they can feel comfortable speaking a new and strange language. They need to touch it, use it, love it, and it needs to become part of them. That’s what my class is all about. And once we get them to that place, they will much more readily embrace whatever else school has to offer.

There’s also what Part 154 does to ESL teachers. I know teachers in small schools who are expected to run around and do almost everything. Pop into this class, pop into that class, pop into all classes and make the ELLs keep up with the native speakers. Expectations are high, time is short, and every minute the ESL teacher helps the kids is a minute lost from the academic teacher, who continues to instruct the rest of the class.

I’m in the largest school in Queens and it’s difficult for us to keep up. We couple ESL instruction with English instruction.  As of now, we’re getting a lot of walk-in students, and many ESL levels are full. We often can’t open ESL classes unless we can find an English teacher to coordinate. Our students would benefit from an ESL teacher and ESL instruction. Under part 154 have to hire English teachers as well, unless we find someone dual-certified. It’s very hard for us to serve our students properly. Smaller schools have worse problems.

My colleagues are very frustrated. One in particular, who observed me as a student, is contemplating other employment. He envisioned being an ESL teacher, but now he’s in English classes, supposedly supporting the ELLs in that class. One problem is ELLs have very distinct language needs from students born here. It’s not necessarily in the best interests of students to have them read To Kill a Mockingbird before they’ve mastered oral English.

We are trained as language teachers, and we teach language. I just read that NY State is considering reinstitution of language Regents exams. It’s very hard for me to understand why other languages merit direct instruction but English does not. I tell my students that my class is the most important one they take. I’m not sure, for example, what I’m supposed to do with my extensive studies of triangles from geometry, but I use what I teach students every day, almost every moment of my life. I’m using it right now.

Please support our efforts to really prepare our ELLs for not only tests, but also life. These are wonderful and fascinating children. It’s my joy and privilege to teach them. We ask that you help us help them.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Those Wacky Plagiarists and Their Zany Antics

I've caught students plagiarizing on various occasions. I may have an unfair advantage, as I teach English Language Learners and actually read what they write. In advanced classes, that can be a lot. If I'm unlucky enough to be prepping them for the English Regents exam, it could be just about every minute we're together.

The reason for that is that a lot of my students have tutors, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, and who knows who else to help them write. Sometimes the tutors think it's a good idea to do the homework for my students. But they either do it perfectly or make mistakes that are different from those my students make. I have to give them credit if they've matched my students' styles perfectly. That's not easy to do. In any case, I do virtually all writing in class because I'm tired of dealing with preposterous denials.

But ever since I started teaching, I've been surprised at the things kids could get away with. Once, when I was teaching a class of beginning ESL students, a girl showed me a report she'd written on Thomas Edison. It was clearly copied from a text. The comment the teacher had written was, "needs more pictures." You could view that as charitable, but more charitable still would be not wasting the student's time on tasks for which she was clearly not ready.

One of my students, on one of the first days she was in my class, brought me a bunch of extra credit reports, even though I hadn't asked for them. They were all about the delights of reading Shakespeare, and were all clearly written by some hack writer who needed to introduce a book about Shakespeare. "What's your favorite Shakespeare play?" I asked her. She looked at me as thought I'd just fallen from the sky. I asked her to please stop bringing me extra credit reports. 

Once, in the early days of the new English Regents, I was in a room with a bunch of people grading. This, of course, was before Merryl Tisch, in her infinite wisdom, determined we were all too crooked to grade students in our school. By that yardstick, every single grade except those on the Regents exam is invalid, but I digress. I found an issue, and brought it to an AP.

The AP angrily asked, "Well, who besides you would've noticed it?" Everyone, I'd hope, because in fact I'd identified two identical papers, right up to the spelling errors. It went to another AP, who decided that particular essay would get a zero, but the student would still pass. I told that AP it would really be a shame if the state found out about that. Of course I wouldn't call, but a lot of people knew about it and gee, wouldn't that be inconvenient? The AP decided to invalidate the papers, both copied from a handout some teacher had given.

I also once found an A paper one of my ELLs had written which I immediately recognized she did not write. When I pulled her out of a classroom to tell her, she asked, "You're not going to tell Ms. X.. are you?" I said no, I wouldn't, but I just wanted her to know it could be done. I told her I would've given her a zero, and that if I could recognize it, others could too. I didn't feel like ratting her out. I figure if she'd gotten away with it, well, she'd gotten away with it.

I know a lot of kids copy my homework, and unless it's a writing assignment, I won't catch a lot of it. But I also know that I give maybe ten minutes worth of homework a night, and any kid who needs to copy it is almost certainly going to fail any test I give. I try to tell them it's better to do the homework, but I'm not always successful. I wonder if kids who really can do the homework copy it. Are students so lazy that they'd copy homework even if they could easily do it themselves?

If you know the best way to deal with plagiarism, please let me know. I'm curious.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How Are the Children?

Dr. Joe Rella, the visionary and progressive superintendent of Comsewogue Schools, often asks that question when he speaks. He says it comes from some African tribe or tribes. Whenever they travel, that's the first question they ask. When you're talking education, that's a pretty important question.

When I talk to educators high above my lowly station, they never ask me that. In fact, they never ask me anything remotely resembling that. Instead I'll get a question like this one:

How do you utilize data to inform instruction?

Can you see the difference between that question and the one in the title? I'm sure you can, but since you aren't here I'll provide an answer. One question looks at the children. The other does not. In fact, the other is almost certainly focused on some test or other. How can we raise those test scores? We only had 78% pass last year, and we need to get 82% or the sun may fall out of the sky. Here's another question you're likely to hear from VIPs above your lowly station:

How do you utilize PD to motivate the staff?

That's an interesting question. I hear it and I think: "Motivate the staff to do what, exactly? Raise test scores? Jump up and down? Start a war with a banana republic somewhere? Who knows? It could be anything.

But when I sit at meetings with non-teachers who make decisions, I never get answers to questions like those, and I never get the questions I think I should hear. The closest they get is maybe:

What are you doing to make the students college and career ready?

I'm trying to think of the last time I asked kids what they wanted, and they replied, "To be college and career ready." The most I recall that is never. Sometimes a student says she wants to be a doctor, or a lawyer. Sometimes kids tell me they want to go home, to countries far away. Sometimes they're sad about things happening at home. Sometimes they just need you to listen.

So you might find yourself at a meeting with a Very Important Person, and you might be wondering when relevant questions will come up. How are teachers and counselors helping kids navigate the choppy waters of life in 2016? Are they happy? Do all these programs and benchmarks improve their lives?

In fact you may actually have a pretty cool thing happening in  your classes this year. You might think you'd get to talk about it when the moment arises. Maybe it's something extra, something the kids you serve would never experience if you hadn't been persistent and lucky enough to get them into such a program. The questioner may or may not have cared. It doesn't really matter. It will certainly never come up.

And then there are those other questions. Are the students homeless? Do they live in poverty? Do they wake at 4 AM to help relatives deliver newspapers? If they don't make it to school by the time free breakfast ends do they miss a meal?  What's the difference? That's not part of the data you're supposed to utilize to inform instruction.

There are questions that have already been determined, and there are answers. There is good, there is bad. You listen to them tell you about the incredible benefits of Common Core. They point at what they need to know. So you'll just answer the questions and not bring up any of your own.

In these reformy times, it's just not trendy to bother with how children feel or what they think. David Coleman, architect of Common Core, says no one gives a crap anyway. Just get enough of them college and career ready, walking down that prescribed path, and someone gets that all-important promotion, or pat on the back, or whatever the hell it is that motivates the Very Important People who run our system.

Everyone else just needs to get with the program.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Aim Game

Lots of administrators love to see the aim on the board. I learned this very early. When I first started teaching, I had never heard of an aim. When teachers taught me, they had an aim, I guess, but didn't write it on the board. In NYC, the aim is about the closest thing to a religious doctrine I can think of. My first supervisor told me the aim must be in the form of a statement. My second said it must be in the form of a question. Or maybe vice-versa. I don't really remember.

Most supervisors now say it must be a question. Evidently, if you don't place one on the board you can't possibly know what you are doing. The thing is, though, that if you don't actually know what you are doing, the relative quality of your aim won't mitigate that at all. And if you do, for my money, it doesn't make a bit of difference whether you write it or not. I don't believe students are so simple minded they can't comprehend what's going on unless you reduce it to a statement, question, or even an emoji. Still, if supervisors want them so bad, who am I to start a fight over that?

I favor simple questions. If I'm teaching present progressive, or something that forces my students to use it, I'll write, "What are you doing?" Some colleagues won't. They'll write things like, "How can we describe what's happening right now?" And then there's literature. If I were teaching Jurassic Park, and I have once or twice, I might write, "What's the best thing to do when a dinosaur is chasing you?" The answer, of course, is run like hell, which is what the characters spent that chapter doing.

My colleagues will write, "How do we show a deep understanding of literature via use of literary elements?" These are things that the geniuses who write the NY State Regents exams deem crucial when discussing literature. You have to talk about theme, setting, character, and a few other things or you can't possibly understand or appreciate what you read. It's very important, you see, that we reduce things like literature into five or ten defined areas and describe it like that.

I see things like, "How can we explore the deeper meaning in this limerick?" and I don't even want to read the thing. What do I care if the young man from Nantucket was driven by his environment to perform whatever unnatural tale unfolded? Would it have been more poignant if he had done it in Brooklyn?

Then there's that other thing, the instructional objective, which my first supervisor insisted I place on a lesson plan. I didn't understand the difference between an IO and an aim for years, and I was lucky because I haven't had a supervisor since who cared whether or not I wrote one. And anyway, the UFT Contract specifies that lesson plans are for teachers, and the layout is at the teacher's discretion. (I had great fun pointing that out to a pompous bureaucrat who visited my school and said schools would close if lesson plans didn't contain Common Core Standards. Teachers came up to me for days and thanked me for being there.)

I didn't really figure out what the instructional objective was until I observed a class in which a new teacher wrote on the board, "Students will be able to explain the meaning of this piece of literature via utilization of literary elements." That's what it is,  I thought to myself, as I advised the young teacher that what she had written was not, in fact, an aim, and that the principal would not be offering her a raise and promotion if she continued to write such things on the board.

If you have to write an aim, I think, it ought to be some kind of hook. It ought not to contain language that suggests what we are going to do is tedious crap. To me, even when I am compelled to teach tedious crap (like how to pass the English Regents Exam), I try to find some way to personalize things. Now it isn't easy when you're doing test prep, which is precisely why I hate doing test prep.

What I do now is teach kids how to speak and love English. It's one of my favorite things, and I hope to make it one of their favorite things too. I can tell them that they will use what I teach pretty much every day of their lives. They can use it if they go to college, they can use it if they go to work, and they can use it if they're hungry and want a hamburger. In fact, a student once wrote a composition for me about the difficulties he encountered trying to order a hamburger in a restaurant. It was pretty funny, to him too, as he'd finally acquired enough language to easily procure as many burgers as his money could buy.

For the life of me, I don't understand why anyone wants to make opening questions complicated. I think I'm in the minority here, though, so if I'm missing something feel free to let me know why.

Monday, October 24, 2016

UFT Executive Board October 24, 2016

Secretary Schoor welcomes us.

Approval of Minutes—accepted, seconded

President’s Report

Mulgrew is not here 6:04

Staff Director’s Report—not here either


David Garcia Rosen
MORE—Last week we brought up a very important resolution about the mass incarceration of people of color in the USA. I think the only valid point against it was that many people in this room had not seen the movie yet. I am hopeful that many more people in this room have seen the movie. We heard some moving speeches against the resolution that were draped in language that implied we share a common understanding that this union must take action. I would like to hear an update about what our leaders, who I’d hoped would be seated on the dais but are not yet, propose we do to address the continued enslavement of people of color by the United States of America.

Secretary—will refer to proper people when they arrive. Resolution was tabled. Asks Leroy Barr, who has just arrived. Garcia Rosen repeats.

Leroy Barr—Says no one spoke against it, it was tabled. Says there were other questions, conversation needs to be had, we will have it and come up with a plan. Says concepts and film are part of it. Says he leaves it to future conversations.

DGH—What happened here this week?

Sec—You’ve gotten as much of an update as you’re going to get tonight. You will get an update.

6:10 Mulgrew arrives—Says we’ve already passed resolutions, worked in coalitions, says we pushed AFT to make stronger resolution nationally. Says it’s coalition building and work that we do. After presidential race will become one of the biggest topic, candidates talk about it in very different ways. We questioned Sanders and Clinton and Malloy about this with AFT Exec. Board.

Hoping for positive outcome in pres. race. Thanks phone banks. Doesn’t want people taking for granted. PA is very important. Thanks to bus volunteers. PA had better response than FL. We are pushing FL and NC. We always believed we could win with ground game. We have it in place, Trump does not.

Curriculum survey—1000 schools responded. We are doing well in general performance, but everyone needs support, PD aligned to curriculum. Teachers shouldn’t do curriculum maps or scope and sequence. Leaders do that. Our system doing as well as rest of state, but we need this for next step. Thanks CLs, DRs. We specifically put this and paperwork in last contract. Paperwork complaints have good results. Praises parent conferences. 6:15 Mulgrew leaves.

Leroy Barr

Pushes teacher union day. Mentions middle school luncheon. Says we will give away coats and winter wear, asks we share items. November 19th. Next DA November 9th, EB November 14th.

Questions continues:

Marcus McArthurMORE—Asks about civil rights and how union organizes around it. Heard there was coalition building and money to support different candidates. Last week Seattle TU work Black Lives Matter shirts. Interested in hearing if there’s any public demonstrations of support that we will be making. What about Civll and Human rights task force? Do we still have one and can we bring it back?

Sec—No such plans now. What do you mean task force?

MM—Asking about the task force he believed was formed in 2007.

Sec. says we will check on that.

MM—if we aren’t planning to do anything…

Sec—Don’t say that—This union takes second place to no one…

MM—If we aren’t doing anything visible is there a reason why?

Leroy Barr—we do have a social justice committee. AFT formed a civil and human rights task force, had a recommendation and a resolution. We are part of the AFT. I will copy it for you. We spoke to the issue. There is no protest at this point like wearing BLM shirt. Doesn’t mean we don’t take a position. Doesn’t mean we haven’t got partners on civill and human rights. We do take positions, voted on and approved by AFT, and we are currently engaged in many such issues.

Howard Sandell—wants to remind people there are more than just teachers represented. Nurses could not wear protest shirts. Respects your request, but there are 70-80K more people who can’t take this action.

Kuljit Ahluwalia
New Action—Will there be a conference and workshop for ATRs, and if not, why not?

Amy Arundell—Informational meetings we normally held were held off due to negotiations with DOE. We have have informational meetings for November.

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Art and Design HS—abusive principal—seems directed to go after staff, micromanagement, paperwork, emails on weekends, goes after CLs. DRs response is very good. Other schools hearing about it become demoralized and fearful. What is our public response?

Sec—Will bring up to DOE. Give us your info

Duane Clark
—Been in this school over a year. Principal turnover high. Communication issues between CL and principal. We are pros, and CL has to be pro too. Superintendent doesn’t recognize principal is problem. We have a consistent group, an action plan. I need clarity.

Mike S.
—R and F hears about it, rumors are flying, and there is no public response, Should be one. We need to show how we react.

DC—Principals in need of improvement program. Problems with passive members.

Sterling Roberson—Happy about continued work. Routine visits are happening, conversations are happening. When we talk about scope and size of what’s happening in other schools we need to find how to share these things in real time. Appreciate idea of issues coming forth, wants communication in real Time

Alice O’Neil
—Met with HS Supe for that school for paperwork complaint. Members didn’t wish to upload anything on their system. Only 1/3 of chapter met with me. CL needs to fill out complaint, was filled out perfectly. Problem is no one in chapter had addressed it with new principal. Chapter first has to see remedy. Asking that school participates in committees. Complaint needs to be in writing. 100 members at that school, incredible group, more work to be done,

MS—When members see principals go after CL, creates culture of fear.

DC—CL has to have his act together as well. Are cases where CLs are targeted. For them we need to go in. if they need support we

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—In the Daily News last week there was a piece stating that only 17% of city schools were fully air-conditioned. CTU just negotiated a contract that promised full AC for 2017-2018. We are asked to engage all students. I tried doing that in a third floor room with southern exposure during the sweltering month of September, and I’m 100% certain I could’ve done a better job had there been AC. I’m sure the students would’ve benefited as well.

Two years ago Chancellor FariƱa said it was a beautiful day and opened the schools during a blizzard. She said Macy’s was open. I thought about that a lot as I spent four hours driving 23 miles to my home. Using that Macy’s yardstick, every Macy’s I’ve ever entered in the summertime had AC. So I hope we can count on the Chancellor’s support.

I propose we start a conversation with Tweed, those folks who put children first, always, and ask them, now that we’ve finally gotten rid of the last coal furnace, to bring our schools into 2016. Let’s show Tweed that we, the UFT, not Families for Excellent Schools, not Students First NY, are the people who spend every day with the city’s children, and that we, in fact, are the ones who act in their best interests, always. 

Will bring up with health and safety committee

Jonathan HalabiNew Action--What are results of our survey about schools with high turnover?

Sec—will report next meeting.

Ashraya GuptaMORE—Science teacher. Wants to ask about chemical supply closets. Is nightmarish fire hazard. We have ATR lab specialist, who helped us, but when we asked for hazardous materials to be picked up, we came to a standstill. She can’t do anything until we fix this. How can we move forward?

Sec—Send it to me or Ellie Engler.

Ellie Engler—Someone will be there in two days

Helen Rezan—DRs said having survey in June was helpful but not complete. We want to count further.

EE—We’re doing last minute churn data. High rate in all schools.

Report from Districts


Legislative Report

Paul Egan—Great weekend. Had three buses to PA, thanks people, election is in two weeks, polls moving right way. State Senate and Assembly races important. Nassau County Exec. arrested. Could be opportunities.

Special Order of Business

Functional Executive Board Nominations

Mike Schirtzer--MORE—nominates Norm Scott, taught 27 years, was CL, involved in public ed. and this union. Built coalitions, worked with secretaries, paras, parents, continues to work with robotics, at Rockaway Theatre with teachers, coined term ed. deform movement. Norm helped lead this movement that charters did not have best interests of our students at heart. Stood against testing, with opt-out movement. Goes to AFT on own dime, goes to UFT DA, many ask him for help. Knows we are democratic union, welcomes dissent, and Norm offers it from time to time.

Anne Goldman—Nancy Barth Miller, worked with for 20 years, original organizer of nurses, unlike many she chose which union she wanted to be part of. She led successful organizing effort. Went to Supreme Court, kept momentum over 3 year litigation. For last 20 year has participated in negotiation. Participated at city, state and national level. Worked on accreditation for hospitals, helped other locals to understand how to use power of union. Is articulate, brought forth momentum and message of union. Participated in and led strikes. Part of UFT initiative, made us stronger and more efficient.

Sec—Next EB between 5 and 6 there will be a secret ballot. After 6 we will count.

Resolution in Support of the Association of PA State College and University Faculties

Strike was settled--no need for resolution. 


Vicious Cycle of Teacher Recruitment

When I started teaching, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, NYC would hire anyone. I'm sure of this, because they hired me. I hadn't ever taught in my life, and I hadn't even taken an education course. But I had a college degree, I majored in English, and I passed a basic writing test over at Court Street. That was good enough for them to give me a job and pay me something like 14K per annum.

Years later, I watched Rudy Giuliani explain on TV that he didn't want to give teachers a raise because a lot of them "stink." He didn't cite any stats or figures, but in his mind, such as it was, that was good enough. Then we had Michael Bloomberg, who degraded us on a regular basis and sought to make us at will employees. After that, of course, came the new evaluation system. I can't think of a single working teacher (excepting the shills at E4E) who supports it.

Every day teachers wonder if there's gonna be a drive-by. Will the Boy Wonder come in with his little iPad and make up things that never happened? Will he tell you face to face the lesson was wonderful and then trash you in the actual evaluation? Worse, will he walk in while you're having a bad day? Will he make it a point to observe you on a half day when only eight students are present? This is what teachers walk around thinking about. I go on Facebook and read teachers say they will pay for the education of their children unless they pursue careers in education.

So, fewer people want to go into teaching. There appears to be a shortage in NY State. Perhaps we ought not to continue draconian "gotcha" plans to rate teachers, you conclude. Maybe Cuomo is coming to his senses. Well, you conclude wrong. Sure, there is some sort of temporary moratorium on rating teachers by VAM junk science. But it only applies to certain 3-8 teachers. We high school teachers are rated by the same nonsense we've suffered through for years.

Here's what NY Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has decided--she'll let teachers from out of state teach our children without meeting certification requirements. OK, now I'm not saying that meeting the requirements makes anyone a good teacher. Still, it's hard to see how failing to meet them makes anyone a good teacher either. It's certainly unfair that those of us who live here and know the area are held to a higher bar than those who don't.

But what's the inevitable outcome of a policy like this? Well, for one, it may keep them from having to  raise compensation to attract people. That's bad for those of us who have to work for a living, and despite the inane chatter about putting "students first," it doesn't benefit our kids to have lower-paying jobs either.

Another issue, though, is probably further opportunity to blame teachers for education failures. What if teachers from Utah are ill equipped to deal with kids from New York? Inevitably, this will lead to tinhorn politicians to keep up the chants about how public school teachers suck, how union sucks, and how taxes suck and therefore teachers shouldn't be paid. Then, instead of making the field more competitive, they can lower standards even further and hire people even less equipped to do the job.

Then the op-eds can cry for more charters, more TFA, and more McTeachers who get thrown in the trash after a single use. It's ridiculous.

We need a reasonable standard for teachers, reasonable working conditions for teachers, and reasonable compensation for teachers. If the reformies don't wish to be reasonable, this shell game will go on forever. That's no way to place children first, and in fact it's no way to treat them at all.

Friday, October 21, 2016

DA Takeaway October 2016

Mulgrew said, "Welcome to the nuthouse," by way of introduction. I'm not sure just how funny I find that. It's a tough job to represent people, but it's also a serious one. He could be right, but on the other hand maybe the craziest thing to do is go out and teach children. There's just tremendous pressure from all directions, and the folks who govern seem intent on making it worse.

Mulgrew, as I recall, boasted of having a part in writing the original APPR law. I cannot stress how much stress that caused teachers citywide. So when he paints a win/ win face on the matrix thing, that's hard to take too. If you're rated well on school observation, you're OK. If you're rated well on junk science, be it tests or growth, you're OK. Mulgrew has not yet demonstrated to me, or anyone who hasn't signed a loyalty oath, that this growth thing is valid in any respect. People I respect have told me this has been studied even less than test-based junk science and that there's no reason to believe it works.

Of course what Mulgrew did not say is that if you're rated poorly on both axes you're screwed. That is the case now, of course. But two things have not changed:

1. Junk science is kind of a crapshoot. Depending on what school you're in, which kids you get, and how they feel or act any given day, who knows what will happen?

2. A lot of administrators, even in relatively good schools, are out of their frigging minds. They fail to see things that happen, see things that don't, and are largely governed by the voices in their heads.

A lot of teachers feel like moving targets, flying around and hoping not to be randomly shot. This is not the best atmosphere from which to educate children. The immense pressure on teachers helps no one. And the direction we're moving, to wit, experimenting with new unproven methods and hoping for the best, is not likely to help children, teachers, or anyone not gainfully employed in making up new rubrics, materials, or continued justification for a highly compensated seat over at Tweed.

Mulgrew talked a lot of trash about Reformy John King, and Lord knows he merited each and every word. He was horrific in New York, is just as bad in DC, and he's a fanatical ideologue. Logic has no place in his mindset, and that's less than ideal in a prominent educator. Nonetheless, it's hard for me to forget that Mulgrew thought giving him the final say on teacher evaluation would be a fabulous idea. Like many teachers, I did not share that enthusiasm.

Mulgrew thanked us for the progress we made on social media. I continue to be amazed by a leader who advocates for social media, asks that we get on Twitter and use hashtags for this and that, and yet does not use it himself. He also made a remark about how we should see his email. I, for one, wondered aloud whether he saw his email, and the chapter leader next to me said he never answers it. I wasn't surprised because he never answers mine either. 

A resolution came out on blue paper with the Unity logo on back. I recall last year that some Unity folk complained when a MORE logo appeared on a resolution. Evidently, it's not against the rules. Nonetheless, in a hall full of people with trips, jobs, and potential trips and jobs, anything with the Unity logo is something they absolutely positively have to vote for.

Now this motion was for an additional year of mentoring. I'd probably have voted for it if I had time to read it, but some guy stuck it in my hands and then it was voted on. The Unity logo was enough for a whole lot of people in the crowd. They didn't need to read it, and it was a good thing because they didn't have time either.

Things were quite different at the Executive Board on Monday when an passionate David Garcia Rosen got up and spoke eloquently about the importance of the Netflix documentary 13th. People hadn't seen it, they said, so how could they vote on it? I actually thought that was a good point until two days later when I was asked to vote on a one-page resolution I didn't have time to read (and I'm a pretty fast reader). If that's not a double standard, I don't know what is.

By the way, if you haven't seen 13th, I highly recommend it. It's both excellent and disturbing. Hopefully some of those folks at Executive Board will find time to see it and come to their senses. Regardless, you will never forget it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

UFT Delegate Assembly October19, 2016

Mulgrew welcomes us. 4:30

Recognizes new CLs and Delegates “Welcome to the nut house.”

President’s Report

National—Presidential election

Mulgrew digresses, goes back to delegates, talking about Robert’s Rules and voting rules. “Out of order does not mean I’m a mean person.” Says we take positions, make endorsements based on best interests of profession and unionized workers. Says this one was easy because one person wants to get rid of us, convert Title One to voucher program.

Has been in Nevada, FL, working with retirees. Says it is ugly in battleground states. Says you feel it more there, people yell at each other based on what paraphernalia they wear. Says we have many volunteers. Hillary will win NYS, never in doubt. We’ve done a lot of work in Nevada, PA, improving. FL toss up.

Says on November 9th country will be divided. Praises volunteers for Hillary. NYSUT sending buses to Cleveland and NH. We are going into many different states and phone banking across the country. Praises those who do social media volunteering. Says much better than last time.

Says we won gerrymandering case in FL. Congressional seats in Nevada we are working on. Says all candidates say they love teachers.

NAACP in news, was attacked when years ago joined us in anti-charter lawsuit. Just passed resolution calling for moratorium on new charters—under pressure from small number of very powerful individuals. Resolution passed. UFT’s Anthony Harmon went in capacity as local NAACP president, and pushed it. Construction workers supported us, as there’s a lot of non-union work.

Charters targeting NY State, among others, to lift cap or double numbers. Says that’s why we ran TV spot. Other big state is MA, where there is a ballot referendum. NY will push via legislature. For NAACP and BLM to oppose is not good for charter lobby. MA 12 points down right now and we have to win here too.

Eva Moskowitz had party in park rather than walking over bridge. They had a small targeted TV drive.


Standards review started at state level. Did anyone read the whole thing? No? We have a committee looking at it. ELL committee very strong, could use more special ed. Mulgrew says we don’t want to tweak standards but rather have new ones. We want separate standards for ESL and special ed. teachers. They did nothing. So Mulgrew unhappy, wants more teacher input. Says commissioner called him upset, said they didn’t have time for ELL standards.

Federal law called ESSA wants states to do comments and application process. Date moved from March to July. Appears many people on both sides angry with John King. Feel he went way too far and became prescriptive. Mulgrew makes fun of that, as he’s done it before. Waits on changes in Washington to redo process. Feds may not force states to use test scores for teacher evaluation.

NYC has lived longer with this than anyone. Bloomberg closed schools, created system to close more. Says we want to use growth rather than proficiency, as students often come in below grade level. Says teachers should be credited for actual growth rather than proficiency, because we’ve done that before.

Chicago and Buffalo have reached tentative contract agreements. Contracts should be taken in context of whether municipality has money. In Chi, pension plan underfunded since government doesn’t pay, like NJ. Christie never mentions it’s because his state hasn’t paid in 18 years. Our state has constitutional provisions to ensure payment but Buffalo schools have shrunk. When system is broke unions have to deal. Says UFT stopped city from going under in 70s.


Mulgrew thanks Mindy Rosier for walking to Albany on behalf of CFE, gives her pink roses.

Watching school funding, want APPR moratorium.

Says you will hear about constitutional convention, which will threaten pensions. Says there is always a curve ball somewhere every year. Says Governor has been in NYC schools to celebrate great teachers. Mulgrew tells story about Cuomo losing the attention of elementary students.

ELL conference completely booked and oversubscribed. Room for 700-1200 coming. Says we got tired of waiting for DOE. Thanks Evelyn de Jesus.

We are equal or greater than state in terms of student performance. They don’t have as many children of need as we do. Big challenge is number of ELLs and number of languages.  Mulgrew says we can’t make them literate in native tongue before we bring them in, we don’t know their ed. background or literacy level. Says we are trying to deal with challenge.

Thanks Servia Silva DR from district 4, for organizing UFT breast cancer march.

CTLE—professional hours. No answer or guidance from DOE. We know to register in birth month. If you miss it, you aren’t penalized and may still register. Mulgrew frustrated with DOE and NYSED. They say they don’t have the capacity and still have to figure out. UFT teacher center is certified vendor in this program. DOE is not. Teacher center can give certificate. Only thing he knows at this moment. Waiting for further clarification.

Teacher eval. APPR—If it’s done correctly, it’s a good thing. Delegates do not see that happening. No agreement as of yet. Told DOE we will not agree unless we have multiple measures of non-standardized tests, but rather authentic student learning.

No final number on last year’s evaluation. Bloomberg 1800-2000, 697 (?) last two years. Says we are holding their feet to fire with 13% clause. If we don’t agree by end of year, NYC will lose 540 million from state. Mulgrew says we are close to agreement. Failure to agree with Bloomberg cost city 260 million. We are close, but we’ve been close before. You will hear about it from me. We need correct info because principals imagine weird scenarios.

Says we have to debunk myths about matrix. People say it must be 50%. Mulgrew says if student learning is good, principal says you are bad, you are OK. If principals says good and students learning is bad, you are good. Enemies ask how that can be and we say we want a fair system.

We’ve gotten better at measuring growth, but we haven’t got that perfected. Says this is, therefore. fair system. Papers will call it rigged, but it’s fair. Says in other states, they have no teachers. You could travel there and get a job. Some districts don’t even have subs, and recruit parents. This is what happens when you get rid of the teachers.

Curriculum and paperwork—1000 schools answered. To move to next level, every teacher must have curriculum, which we haven’t had since scope and sequence books, decades ago. Says we should use one for museum exhibit. We want real curriculum. 350 of 1000 have curriculum problems. Must contain scope and sequence, a curriculum map. 70 have big problems.

Number one issue with members is paperwork. It’s in contract and not being implemented. You may file a complaint online. About making member workplace better. Once complaint is filed, it remains open until resolved. Chapter leader and principal have to resolve issue. CL must attempt to resolve it. If not resolved, it goes to district paperwork committee. Principals always say CLs didn’t speak to them, but resolve when complaints go to district or central. Calls it big win for CLs.

YUBEE—classroom supplies will give any teacher 25% off. Important teachers use money. Says it’s embarrassing how much money was spent there. We don’t normally push vendors.

Ends 5:17

Staff Director’s Report

Leroy Barr—celebrating those CLs and delegates with 100% attendance. Speaks of  parent conferences in each borough. Teacher Union Day November 6th. Commemorates first strike of UFT November 7th.

Thanksgiving winter clothing drive, want new items for children. Nov. 9th next DA.

Mulgrew—day after election? Hope we’re rejoicing.

Questions—15 minutes, says Mulgrew

Dan Lupkin, CL—In 2014 we passed resolution to boycott Staples, but UFT spent 170K at Staples.

Mulgrew—Says he got out of any contracts he could with small penalty, but has asked ADCOM and will get back next month.

CL—Gets phone calls and mail from insurance salesman who claims to have ties with DOE and UFT, and that he must allow them to meetings. Are they UFT?

Mulgrew—No. Say no.

CL—In many schools, children have problems and paras are being taken to sit with problem kids in cafeteria. If it’s not in IEP they don’t have to, but it’s safety issue. How do we deal”

Mulgrew—DOE and UFT sent out language, should not happen. If child has on IEP that they must be covered, para must still get lunch. Paras are not lunchroom monitors.

CL—Many schools no longer have SAVE rooms or deans. Please help. What advice can we give members?

Mulgrew—Make it official atsafety meeting, send to Jeff Povilitis. We have regulation not being followed. Who wants to suspend small child? Parent of child hit with a chair. SAVE room is something we need to push. Not just room but program to deal with children in crisis.

CL—Sometimes functionals don’t feel like part of our chapter. How do we fix?

Mulgrew—Talk to them. I taught problem kids in basement. Only other people there were functionals. Put them on consultation committee. Have a union meeting just for functionals. Important piece and we need to do better job.

Marjorie Stamberg—We know that Trump is racist pig. We know that Hillary is beholden to Wall St. and that they are responsible for starvation wages in Haiti. Is there a way that we can have discussion and debate on a workers’ party in US?

Mulgrew—We have diverse political views which I love. You should see the emails I get. I appreciate the respect we have for diverse views. In here we go from ultra left to ultra right. If someone wants to bring a resolution we form a workers’ party it’s up to this delegation, not me.

CL—Now that schools have gone digital, what do members do about excessive email during school hours and weekends? How does that mesh with paperwork?

Mulgrew—electronic is paperwork.

CL—Up until this year I had good relationship with my principal but this year he seems psychotic. Doesn’t want to collaborate. Report cards due Tuesday while MP ends Friday. How can we get her back on track?

Mulgrew—If you had good relationship in past, use consultation committee first. If there was a 180, something has changed. Talk to DR and we will follow up.

Jim Myer—update on maternity leave? For resolutions, instead of paper, could we post or email it so people can read it, instead of wasting paper?
Mulgrew—I want everything electronic. We have to move there. Maternity leave—issue is when you’re out, sub costs less than you do. City wants plan that follows pattern bargaining. We are doing better on cost. They’d previously wanted to make money on it. They are now calling it “child acquisition program.” UFT doesn’t like word. They are at better place with cost, but don’t yet have mechanism. City has been better recently.

Motions—5:38—Ten minutes, says Mulgrew

Marjorie Stamberg—motion for this month, needs 2/3 vote to get on agenda.

Point of order—Has it been presented in writing to delegates?

Mulgrew—If three lines or less, you may say. If more, must be copied.

MS—three sentences.

Mulgrew—She will read and I will call for vote.

MS—UFT should not support either candidate of capitalism. Trump racist, Hillary beholden. We need a workers’ party. Seconded.

Voted down.

Mulgrew—Good Marjorie. Twice you got to say those things. That’s nice.

Delegate—motion for this month, for new teacher induction committees. passes out. Motion backed by Unity Caucus lit pushing Hillary. Asks for additional year of mentoring. I don’t have time to read it, but motion carries.


Janella Hinds—Career and tech ed. Cumbersome and convoluted to approve. Wants to improve process.

Speaker says do it because of BOCES.


Rich Mantel—Talks about arts resolution. We must expose our students to as much of the arts as possible. DOE focuses on test prep, reading and math, Want arts in every school.

Passes unanimously.

VP Goldman—Salutes and recognizes founders of first strike. Showed courage and laid foundation for collective bargaining in NYC. We must know it began with their courage and commitment, moving forward with illegal strike, unheard of. Asks that we salute them. Much applause.

Dave Pecoraro—calls question.
Speaker against motion—Delegate—speaks to previous speaker—We do need to be able to call a strike as a union. Speaks against—says first strike…

Mulgrew—If you aren’t speaking against, question has been called. Now you say you’re not speaking against it.

Speaker—against proposition that first strike is cause for unqualified celebration, Major issue was involuntary transfer. Our strikes not righteous undertaking. Harlem suffered from understaffed and underprepared teachers. This union protected teachers who did not want to serve in Harlem and Bed Stuy. UFT was against it. We need to be better prepared to deal with criticisms from charters who say we’ve deserted people. We need to talk history. Thank you.

Resolution passes.

Mulgrew—Not new to have factual errors in some people’s discussion. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Anthony Harmon—Favor of resolution calling of NAACP moratorium on charters. We have strong partnership with NAACP, I am president of Harlem branch. Was at meeting where vote took place, overwhelmingly passed in July. Ratified by board, which took strong stand. Was much discussion and pressure. NAACP does not take anti-charter position. They want to do what’s fair and equitable for all children. Was pressure from hedge-funders, but they took that stand. Op-ed pieces asked corporate funders to pull support. We should go on record and support nationwide moratorium. Asks we endorse.

Dave Pecoraro—calls question.

Speaker against—delegate—Gentleman clear he is against mismanagement. In essence, charters should be better. We need good public education, charters are private.

Motion carries.

Mulgrew—We are adjourned—Wait, there is a raffle.

I Hate Subbing

Some of my colleagues love it. After all, it's a chance to make 27 bucks, or whatever it is, for minimal effort. Who really expects you to teach Chinese or physics or whatever? Not anyone reasonable. The teacher is absent, and someone has to go in there and make sure the students don't throw one another out of windows. But honestly, in schools built in the last fifty years or so, there isn't even enough space for a human to get out of the windows.

But twice a year I owe a freebie, and I have to go out and cover some class. I did one yesterday, in fact, and the students were lovely. I got the assignment the period before, while I was teaching. I had no time to go to the department office and find out whether or not there was work for the kids. I told them to work or speak quietly and we would all be happy. Then they worked and spoke quietly and we were all happy. It was very nice.

But you never know. Sometimes you walk into a classroom and the kids start testing you. Let me see if I can get away with this. Maybe I can do that. Let's see what this teacher will do. Now this teacher, if he's subbing, will call the dean and have you removed. I mean, I'm probably never going to see this kid again. Why should I strain myself trying to negotiate? You're out. Bye bye.

Sometimes an AP, to be helpful, will come by and say, "Hey, is it OK if I send that kid back?" It must be a great burden to have one extra kid sitting in that outer office. I say, "No, I sent the kid out, and I want the kid out." That's worked well enough for me. Of course, I'm sure there are some who just send the kid back, or who ask and don't really care what you answer. That's irresponsible and disrespectful to teachers, but that's life in the big city.

In my regular classes, it takes an awful lot for me to eject someone. After all, that's an admission that I can't maintain control. That means the kid wins most of the time. I'm not willing to concede control to a kid just because he's more obnoxious than I am. Besides, I don't know anyone more obnoxious than I am, and if I ever meet that person, I will just grow more obnoxious so as to better cope.

I really feel for ATR teachers, who have to go out and do this day after day, week after week, month after month. I'm hopeful that the new incentive will pull people out of this, even though I read things suggesting otherwise, and with good reason.  It's tough for me to sub a single class, because the thing that makes my classes interesting are the kids, and the relationships we develop. Without that, I'd have lost interest in this job a long time ago.

What's the secret to successful subbing? Anyone know? It could perhaps be the thirst for money. You know, it you make 27 bucks a day, that's almost 5K a year. You could buy a used car with that, and it's likely as not you wouldn't have to push it to work every day. Or maybe you love kids so much that you don't care whether or not you know them, or whether or not you have time enough to know them at all.

I've been teaching longer than most people I know, and I haven't got an answer. Mine is to dread the inevitable freebie, and hope for the best when it crosses my path. I was lucky yesterday. But who knows what's gonna happen next time?

Monday, October 17, 2016

UFT Executive Board Minutes October 17, 2016

As always, apologies for misspelled names. Things moved very fast tonight--did best I could.

Secretary Schoor calls meeting to order 6 PM

Open Mike

Mavis Yan—CL PS 156—Lost a twenty year member, teacher center person who unexpectedly passed. Teaching family is family. UFT was very supportive. MAP services provided guidance. Appreciates DR and borough rep. Thanks MAP.

Stella Thrapcimis—PS 79 Queens. Loves teaching music and seeing what kids can do. Problem is suddenly being rated poorly by new admin. Says arts are not understood. Says admin doesn’t understand performing. Says brain highly stimulated when children play music. How can we get clueless admin who don’t know difference between reading English and reading music? How can we give PD to admin so they understand what music means? Danielson doesn’t fit music instruction. Asks for action. Asks for support and help.

Various Minutes approved

Secretary addresses ATRs. Reports says 1304, 150 less than last year. 115 ATRs took buyout last year. Looking to reduce number of ATRs. Speaks of new DOE program to get ATRs on Galaxy

Kuljit Ahluwalia—New Action
—Does incentive apply to social workers, guidance couselors? AA—No.


Amy Arundell—DOE has given an incentive for permanent hiring. This year, person costs school nothing, next DOE pays 50%, third year 25.  Thus far about 20 teachers placed.

President’s Report

Mulgrew is not present.

Staff Director’s report

Leroy Barr--Manhattan conference successful. UFT gave aways 40,000 books in other event. Sunday was making strides walk. Thanks everyone who contributed. Following DA, delegates and CLs with 100% attendance will receive certificates and there will be an even.

10/ 29 there will be an ELL conference. Registration is closed.

Next EB next week.

Secretary mentions CTU contract resolution. Buffalo has also resolved contract. We don’t know what’s in it yet.

Arthur Goldstein MORE—I remember when Senator Flanigan proposed a bill to removed seniority rights for NYC teachers only. While we managed to beat that back, I was just a little upset about that. I don’t remember NY Republicans strongly supporting us at any time. In fact. Maybe there are Republican Senators who support us, and perhaps we should support them too,  Did we give 119K in COPE funds to the Republican State Senate Election campaign, and if so, why did we do it?

Paul Egan—Can’t speak to that exact number but NYSUT does all state contributions. Endorses based on variety of things. Outside NYC there are lots of GOP. To get anything passed, many GOP Senators represent other members. Gives us access and chance of getting things passed. Keeps door open for contributions.

Secretary says 35% of NYSUT and UFT are registered Republicans. We are not one party endorsee.

Mike Schirtzer MORE—In light of statement by NAACP calling for moratorium on charters, will we revisit our policy

Secretary, We will talk about it and debate it

Marcus McArthur MORE
—As someone who’s twice gone through tenure process, and for members, we want to know how many probationers got tenure by district, how many denied, discontinued, and how are we making process fair equitable transparent?

Sec—64% granted last year, higher than under Bloomberg. We hope it continues to go up. We will support our members in this process. Please reach out to us, first to DR, because they deal with this. We have tenure workshops. Good intro to UFT.

Jonathan Halabi New Action
—Over year and a half, we met about problems of discontinuance. Was the reduction in number of discontinuance last year, and where do discontinued teachers go? Who do they call.

Sec—Asks Amy Arundell—Doesn’t have data but a lot of anecdotal evidence about people who returned after discontinuance. Says principals fail to follow procedure and wait too long. We are in better position than under Bloomberg.

Sec—Asks about breast cancer walk

Servia Silva
—Thanks coordinators in five boroughs, Thanks Deborah Penny, Rona Freiser and speaks of t-shirts. Were hiccups but everything worked out in the end.

Sec—vacancy on board for functional chapter. Next Monday we will be taking nominations. Must be functional chapter member.

Report from districts

Mary Vaccaro District 26 rep—hundreds of homeless families moved in, we need shoes, collected 1,000 pairs.  Are sending them out. Did this in two weeks.

Dwayne Clark—Manhattan conference, great day for borough and parents. Developed by parents, worked 6 months. Rudy Crew outstanding.

Joe Usatch—Speaks of Thanksgiving, supplying new garments for children. Middle school team thanks everyone who brought in garments, wants new ones for DA. Thanks for support.

Legislative report

Paul Egan—bus went to Philly last weekend, going this weekend to support Hillary. One bus from SI, two from Manhattan, may be more. If you sign, please show up. At other end, they prepare for us. Please don’t make them waste resources. If you can’t make it, tell us.

Phone banks up, running on all boroughs, you can sign up virtually.

Presidential election moving in right direction, by polls. State polls suggest Clinton up, but 24 short. Places like Florida, Ohio, can bring her close. Looks uphill by that point, though Trump would need to win all. Things can move quickly. Week is long time in politics, so we must keep on.

Vote COPE—Our COPE dollars spent on more than endorsing candidates. We lobby on issues, tenure being one of them. Constitutional Convention key for us, could be a disaster if it passes. If people want to keep pensions, they don’t want the convention. We could be like NJ, where legislature could change pensions. We need COPE contributions to support this. More important than particular candidates or party. Not single party issue because so many affected. We may be increasing our contribution, but since September we’ve had 942 new people. NY Post has attacked our pension and will continue to. Many people will buy it and we need to fight it.

Sec—There was a Single Shepard program that place guidancee counselors and social workers. AFT will have something on Haiti.

Anne Goldman
—VP Non-DOE—Motivates resolution that celebrates collective bargaining and 1960 UFT Strike. Took courage, and leadership for teachers to step forward against the law. Going on strike is frightening, doing it in defiance of law is moment in history. Shows great sacrifice. We must acknowledge and recognize that. We must recognize and celebrate that courage. Here we sit with collective bargaining. We must honor, embrace and support it. Expresses gratitude to founders present now.


Leroy Barr—Rises to motivate resolution. that every school classroom have curriculum, and that arts are included. We must reach them any way we can so that they develop, explore, and grow up engaged. We will decrease dropout rate. Arts ed. vital.

After last resolved

Arthur Goldstein MORE--asks to amend resolution, adding the following:

Resolved, that the UFT will seek partnerships with parents and community groups to promote and publicize our stance on increasing arts education, and be it further

Resolved, that the UFT will negotiate with the NYCDOE to substantially increase the time for arts education for all NYC students, and be it further,

Resolved, that the UFT strongly encourage high schools to increase the number of arts electives for our students

We routinely offer students the absolute minimum. in fact in high schools, we offer music appreciation in classes of 50, which is ludicrous. Art and music can change and improve the lives of students. We are teachers, we are artists in a way, and we need to support actually improving the lives of our kids. We are more than test administrators. We are role models and it behooves us to seduce kids into loving the arts.

Leroy Barr—Asks to strike second resolved. Additions are great, important we expand to high schools. Agrees we are artists, on stage, performing. We try to be entertaining and informative. Second resolved, though, has to do with negotiating a contract. There, we discuss demands. EB should not speak of negotiating. Asks we strike second resolved.

Greer Hanson Velazquez—Thrilled to hear this. Arts important. Have worked with DOE on blueprints for arts. Thanks for resolution.

Passes as amended, without second resolved.

Reso passes.

Resolution in support of NAACP’s call for a Charter School Moratorium.

Anthony Harmon rises to speak in support. Is president of NYC NAACP branch. Attended national board meeting. Voted on this and 47 others. NAACP took a stand on what they feel is just, right, in best interest of ALL children. Some people took this as opposition to charters, but is rather against fraud, lack of oversight, tossing kids back to public schools. Also wants convo on public schoolchildren. NAACP taken many hits for this on social media. Op-eds say NAACP on wrong side. NAACP has 107 year history of standing up and speaking out. Disappointed WSJ asked corporations withdraw support. We have to support NAACP and call for moratorium. Black Live Matter and others support this move. Asks we endorse.

Jonathan Halabi New Action
—Rises in support. Very important step and moment. Important for UFT. Thinks there is much further discussion. Objects to until charters change ways. Should revisit and dig deeper into what’s going on with privately managed schools. Difference between public and charters. We’ve moved far but not far enough. Urges support.

Camille Eaddy—District 16 rep—saw charter expansion decimate her district. 9 and counting there, more being voted upon, and everyone is fighting for children. Aren’t enough to go around. New people in neighborhood don’t want charters. Asks for transparency, equity, asks for support.

Sec—commends Anthony Harmon for his work.

David Garcia Rosen  MORE—proposes the union use its financial and political capital to fight against mass incarceration as reflected in the Netflix documentary 13th.  —David comes from family of holocaust survivors, wonders how horrific things are allowed to happen, why didn’t we stop slavery, Jim Crow. What are we doing to stop mass incarceration of people of color. How can we help. Netflix doc shines bright light on connection between slavery and incarceration. People of color have been locked up for everything ever since. Led to us locking up 25% of prisoners, with 5% of population. 1 of 3 black males today may be in prison. Profound effects on our students. 1 of 5 children have parent in prison, with dire effects on children. We cannot stand idly by. I will push UFT to fight for civil rights of students and families.

I know many times resolutions are tabled, and voting is blocked. Please vote your conscience. If there’s any problem with this, it’s that it doesn’t do enough. Recalls how Schindler regretted not doing enough. We cannot be board that didn’t do enough

Mindy Karten Bornemann—daughter and granddaughter of holocaust survivor. Words of people not speaking up are meaningful. I understand, but without seeing the movie, without understanding results about Netflix, thinks it’s muddled. Thinks there’s a lot of passion, but so many different things here, it’s not clear what he wants. Urges we vote against. We need to see doc first.

Anthony Harmon
—Glad someone brought this and opened up conversation. Very real issue. Moves to table pending more info.

Sec—motion to table non-debatable, please finish.

AH—wants more info, hasn’t seen film. NAACP would like to make sure we’re accurate and that we are on board. Appreciates convo

Lamar Hughes
—point of information—allocation of money—how much thought about who would be developing curriculum. Problem is who will be involved if we contribute 50K. Should be middle school and high school. Must make sure info presented in right way. Who will be involved creating curriculum?

Mike Schirtzer MORE
—This is for UFT to run. We don’t want it in hands of DOE. We want teachers to make this. We’ve seen Engage NY. As Americans, teachers, trade unionists, I disagree it’s muddled. It’s a step in addressing mass incarceration. Saying UFT will hold screenings and develop curriculum. UFT has long history of advocating for civil rights. We need to be front and center. These are parents of our children, sons and daughters of people being locked up for ridiculous things, based on race.

Sec—Asks things limited to one minute.

Greg Lundahl
—says film is powerful, are other powerful films. is this one-time Netflix permission? Would it be better to open up other media to classroom? How does this work with DOE?

David Garcia Rosen
—Amazon Prime, for example, unlocked.

Carmen Alvarez
—favor of tabling. How do we support staff to help our young people? This resolution doesn’t address that. Many other boots on the ground support we must give our staff, from pre-K to HS. Table so that what we do is comprehensive. Wants quick action. We must be thorough, effecient.

Stuart Kaplan
—wants to table. Believes important to use visuals and documentaries, but belongs in resolution of its own. Says it’s talking about more than one topic. Says he can record it and show it to his students. Says we should unblock others.

Leroy Barr
—First thought is he appreciates spirit in which it was brought forward. Suggests we table and bring back more clear and concise. Not a new issue. Did not just come up with film. This is not about theory, but life. When I look at my son I have to give him instructions. Not everyone does. We need to talk about this. People who are descendants of it understand it. When I take off my suit no one knows who I am. Father was cop and I was still frisked. They’d apologize for the way it happened.

Can talk about many writers who’ve spoken about this. We can go back very far as to root causes. Wants full discussion. Not our history but America’s. I will sit down with anyone who wants to talk about this. We want it to reflect what people go through today. Has nothing to do with caucus.

David Garcia Rosen MORE—confused what we disagree about. Equal access to HS sports resolution had a similar reaction. Netflix is like a library, and we wouldn’t block that. I don’t want to table things and have us do nothing. When that res was tabled, nothing happened. Doesn’t want tabling to mean die.

Move to table—passed

Sec—meetings will take place, meeting adjourned.

Campaign 2016--the Choice for Educators

The Washington Post interviewed both major candidates about education, and I'm not jumping up and down about either. Trump simply offered a statement about school choice, meaning charters, vouchers, and pretty much anything that doubles down against unionized public schools. Hillary is more nuanced, but not precisely encouraging. For one thing, it's disappointing she isn't still shunning spawn of Satan Rahm Emanuel. But let's look at the issues.


A lot of us don't believe in high-stakes testing, particularly since they tend to shed light on nothing but which zip code students come from. Here's what Hillary says:

To me, the solution is better, fewer, and fairer tests.  The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act was a step in the right direction. By providing funding to states and school districts to audit their testing systems and reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests, the legislation can help us find the right balance on testing.

It's not a bad answer, but it's not a strong one either. This is the same rhetoric we always get from testing apologists, and it really rules out nothing whatsoever. We're always hearing about how there's less testing, about how tests take less time, even when they're untimed. It really makes no difference what the truth of the matter is. That's not a strong statement, but rather a middle-of-the-road thing that makes it hard to disagree. But where's the beef?

Common Core:

When states came together on Common Core, I thought that was a laudable effort. But, like many Americans, I have concerns about how the Common Core has been implemented.

This is sorely disappointing. This is the same boilerplate excuse we get from virtually every CCSS supporter. It's like an executioner stating the process would work much better if only the guillotine were better oiled. Hillary sent Chelsea to the same elite school Obama sent his girls to. It utilizes none of the nonsense that CCSS inflicts on our children. Close reading is discredited nonsense, and if it isn't good enough for Hillary's kid, it's not good enough for yours either.

Charter schools:

Quality public charter schools can provide parents with real choices for their children. In fact, many of the country’s best public charter schools are opening doors to opportunity for disadvantaged students. That’s why I have long been a strong supporter of public charter schools and an unflinching advocate for traditional public schools.

She supports them, in case that is not clear. And she uses the ridiculous term "public" charter schools even though the only actual part of them that's public is the funding. You won't see Hillary making a fuss when Eva Moskowitz decides rules that dictate funding are too inconvenient for her. And the distinction between non-profit and for-profit charters, while it may mean something somewhere, doesn't prevent the likes of Moskowitz from paying herself half a million per annum.

Teacher evaluation:

The Every Students Succeeds Act provides a great framework for supporting educators. And specifically on the issue of evaluations, the law helps us move in the right direction by providing states the flexibility to design holistic accountability systems.  That moves us closer to ensuring every student has a supported and effective teacher in the classroom.

What does that even mean? The question specifically asked whether or not she was for VAM junk science evaluation of teachers. There is no yes, no no, and for my money, no answer. Perhaps she's saying she's glad there are alternatives. Still, I want to know whether or not the next President of the United States supports junk science.


...schools alone can’t overcome the crisis of children living in poverty.  This is something we all need to come together to address as a country.  Because the truest measure of any society is how care for our kids. 

I like this answer. It's her best, for my money. But if she believes that, why won't she stand up and say we have to stop evaluating teachers with junk science? Now I'm going to vote for Hillary, but with very little enthusiasm. This is because the alternative is Donald Trump, and I think he need be as widely repudiated as possible.

When she is President, we will need to speak as loudly and directly as we can. We will need to move Hillary Clinton away from these weasel positions and demand she support us. Make no mistake, anyone who supports children must also support their teachers. We are their role models, and I don't go to work every day to model being a victim. We must also demand that our union leadership speak up for those of us on the ground.

I don't have great expectations of President Hillary Clinton. But I think together we have the potential to cajole, push, move or force her toward sanity.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Class Size, Overcrowding, the DOE and Me

Yesterday morning I went to the American Arbitration Association to grieve class sizes. Oddly, we had to evacuate the building for a fire drill. I felt right at home, except for being on the street. We hastily reassembled at 52 Broadway, a block south.

As instructed, I had three copies of our master schedule, which runs over fifty pages. We had 37 oversized classes, personally highlighted by yours truly. There were three other chapter leaders there and I was set to go third.

However, as soon as I got in I learned that our master had been revised. So, lucky me, I got bumped, and had to wait until they made three more copies. Then I sat and highlighted them all over again, which is always big fun. There were fewer oversized classes, of course, so it had to be done

The lawyer from the DOE has an interesting job. Whatever you argue, she has to argue the opposite. There are always reasons to keep classes oversized. For example, if a teacher has a College Now class, they argue that since a college is paying the teacher for that class, the contract doesn't apply. It doesn't matter that the class is taught in a UFT school, that the teacher is a UFT teacher, or that the kids are in a class of 36. It doesn't matter if the kid gets a grade on her report card, or if the kid gets high school credit. Another brilliant win for the DOE.

Then there are the music classes, which are a disgrace. For reasons that elude me completely, required music classes can go up to 50. Required music is actually an academic class. The teacher might be teaching music history, and that could really be enlightening for kids who'd never be exposed to it otherwise. But the way we introduce it to them is via a ridiculously overcrowded class in which their chance of learning is not all that good. So much for how much NYC values culture, or cares whether or not our young people are exposed to it.

I understand why we might leave performing groups, like choirs and orchestras, in groups of 50. These kids are already at a point in which they're engrossed in music, and they wouldn't choose these classes if they weren't motivated. It's a lot different in required music, a class a whole lot of kids would just as soon not take.

There has been some minimal progress on the music front. Classes like guitar, in which students are not performing groups, are now capped at 34. That's a boon for kids who want to learn to play. If you have a kid in a city school, and a class like that is available, see if your kid wants to take it. I'd much rather see my kid play an instrument than read a book about music.

Then there are the classes that are simply oversized. The DOE always asks for exceptions. Always. It's the job of the DOE lawyer to argue for higher class sizes for city kids. It's kind of amazing. The motto of the DOE is "Children First, Always." How the hell is arguing for class sizes that exceed the highest allowable in the state of New York placing children first, ever? Yet that's what they do.

I would not want to be one of those lawyers. 

What does the DOE do that's worthwhile? Well, last night I was at a very encouraging meeting where real live people from the DOE met with UFT members and discussed making space for the students of my preposterously overcrowded school, among others.  They're going to look at it and discuss extending our school, the largest in Queens, to accommodate our capacity, now around 200%.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What Freaks Out AFT?

Is AFT leadership really freaked out that Joel Klein would actively support Hillary Clinton? Well, yes, probably they are. The question is really why. After all, AFT President Randi Weingarten negotiated multiple contracts with him, notably the one in 2005 that created the ATR. While Randi was President, there was a UFT blog called Edwize that suggested the ATR was just a temporary thing and that all the teachers would eventually find jobs. What Randi and her crack negotiators failed to anticipate was that Klein would hire new teachers even as thousands of UFT members lingered in the ATR.

Of course, Mulgrew killed Edwize and there's no more public record of that. (Mulgrew's approach to social media is to urge members to get on Twitter and say this or that while avoiding it utterly himself.) But the 2005 contract was a celebration of reforminess, and there was nothing in it that was worse than the ATR agreement, a direct hit on the seniority privileges Klein so detested. Even now, Mulgrew has to get up in front of the DA and rationalize it, saying there are fewer ATR teachers this year than last.

While leadership has, to its credit, hung tough in not allowing ATR teachers to be fired for the offense of having no permanent position, it's also placed them between a rock and a hard place. By removing the option of UFT seniority transfers (Full disclosure--I took one, and I've very glad I did), it sorely reduces member ability to escape a self-serving or vindictive supervisor. By supporting so called fair student funding it makes principals less likely to select senior teachers. Of course, a whole lot of principals would think twice anyway before hiring pain in the ass teachers with experience who know their rights. By allowing principals an absolute veto, as the 2005 contract did, they made things even worse.

Joel Klein is as bad as anyone from AFT says. He closed schools, likely as not on false premises. He supports all things reformy, no matter what. He advocated for a "thin contract" for UFT that would have reduced us to at-will employees or worse. He supported Eva Moskowitz with no reservations, and was pretty much there at her beck and call. He regularly trashes tenure, increasing pay, and pretty much anything in support of working teachers. He has nothing but respect for business people, and seems to defer to their judgment in all things. Though he claims to place children first, he'd set them out into a world with no job protections, where they'd be at the mercy of his BFFs in places like Walmart.

There's really no defense for something or someone like a Joel Klein, not if you're an advocate for working people. Yet despite all the nonsense he spouts, the United Federation of Teachers, led by now-AFT President Randi Weingarten enabled a whole lot of it. The ATR was far from the only
"reform" we supported. We supported mayoral control under Klein and Bloomberg. When it came up again, we demanded a few changes, failed to get them, and supported it again. We supported teachers being rated via VAM junk science, and Michael Mulgrew even boasted of having a hand in writing the law that enabled it.

We supported charter schools, failing to envision what they would become. We even started a charter school, now evidently failing. Not only that, but we colocated it, becoming an active part of the cancer that undermines city schools. We can complain about Klein, but we were best buds with him and Bloomberg for a while, and it led us places it was demonstrably unwise to go.

Even after Klein left, we actively supported reforminess. No one who's seen it will ever forget UFT President Michael Mulgrew, in a rare display of some kind of passion, offering to punch us in the face and push our faces in the dirt for messing with his beloved Common Core. And even now, as he's ostensibly against it,  the UFT has not only failed to support the opt-out movement, but also indulged in outrageous criticism of not only those of us who do, but also the movement itself.

Yes, Joel Klein is unacceptable, and it's high time we noticed. But Arne Duncan was no better, and AFT ignored that, endorsing Barack Obama term two with no reservations whatsoever. Perhaps President Hillary will sensibly refrain from naming a fanatical ideologue like Klein.  But that isn't enough. We really need to stop appeasing the reformies by giving them this and that, and then feigning shock when they want more.

It's not enough for AFT leadership to freak out when Joel Klein's name is mentioned. We need to fight against not only him, but also all the baseless nonsense he represents. Thus far we've enabled quite a bit of it. That's not on Joel Klein, but rather on us.

We need to stop laying all the responsibility at Joel Klein's doorstep. It's our fault he managed to push his execrable agenda so far. We need to stop not only him, but also his insane ideas. That means "not Joel Klein" is too low a standard by far. We need federal officials who are not insane.

I will vote for Hillary because Donald Trump comes a long way from meeting that standard. But she's got a way to go before she earns my trust. Let's remind her that we supported her early, and let's demand she actually do something for it. Let's put her feet to the fire, and if she doesn't respond, let's ask leadership why the hell we supported her, particularly against Bernie Sanders.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Send Common Core to the Scrap Heap

It's nice to see that Michael Mulgrew has evidently seen the light regarding the nonsense that is Common Core. But maybe, if there's a monument to idiocy being erected in your town square, you ought to protest before it's actually put up. Once it's up, you can always ask that they paint the clown's nose a different color, but the fact is the monument is there.

And so it is with the Common Core standards and the state's attempt to paint lipstick on the proverbial pig that it is. We've now invested a whole lot of time talking about the "rollout" and pretending that it's not the actual program that's a problem. It was entirely predictable that the state would dab a little paint on this highly flawed product and say, "There. Now it's fine. Good luck with that."

I certainly anticipated that, but Mulgrew did not. I've been to DAs where he said we were finally getting that long-awaited input that we needed to make all things right. The problem is, when you've got a product as fundamentally flawed as Common Core, a touch-up is not gonna do the job. There's a fundamental issue with anything based in a philosophy that no one gives a crap what you think or how you feel.

Were I to articulate this approach with my students, I'd likely be up on charges of verbal abuse under CR A-421. And I'd deserve it. Would you tolerate a teacher telling your kid she doesn't give a crap how he feels or what he thinks? I wouldn't. And yet we have an entire nation bribed by Arne Duncan to embrace that philosophy. And while it's nice that Mulgrew has finally come to his senses, just a few years ago he was going to punch us in the face and push our faces in the dirt if we dared get between him and his beloved Common Core.

We're sitting on a brief moratorium, in which Common Core test scores will not be used against students or teachers (unless you're a high school teacher or student, in which case, too bad for you). To hear Mulgrew speak, you'd think it was because of the UFT's activism. But if you've been reading the newspapers, it appears to be a result of the actual activism of opt-out, which has managed to keep a whole lot of students from taking these ridiculous tests. Of course Mulgrew's army of loyalty oath signers not only fails to encourage opt-out, but also actively criticizes those of use who do.

Given that, I question Mulgrew's credibility. I can't speak to the math, but there's something fundamentally wrong with our approach to reading. We ought not to be having children doing close reading, looking at little bits of whatever, and answering endless questions about little pieces of nothing. We ought to be seducing them into loving to read, via high interest materials that make them want to do more. And it ought to be largely based on--get this--what they think and how they feel. Materials ought to be selected precisely on that basis. When they love to read, then you can ask them to find arcane answers no one cares about. Or better yet, you can forget that entirely and have them do such things only when they are actually important.

I'm happy that Mulgrew mentioned ESL and how English learners ought to be judged on a different standard. But even ELLs learn on the same principle I set out above. They need high-interest materials and from there they can move on to tackle general academics. I'm afraid state enterprises like Part 154 move them even farther from that place, removing 33-100% of direct English instruction in favor of giving them a little bit of language assistance during core subjects.

It's now official UFT policy that we favor more, rather than less, instruction in English for ELLs. This is due to a resolution that I had a hand in writing and passing. However we've yet to do anything to change the directive, Part 154, that has ESL teachers running around like so many headless chickens. I've sat on a few committees, and I will be on a panel at a UFT event on October 29th. I hope to ask Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa directly how she plans to fix this.

Meanwhile, it's gonna take a lot more than us saying we don't care for the touch-up to Common Core. It needs no touch-up, and it needs no overhaul. It needs to be burned and buried, and the ground under which it's buried needs to be salted so nothing may ever grow in its place. It's hurtful nonsense, based on a falsehood. If Bill Gates really believed in it, he wouldn't send his kids to a school that doesn't practice it. Nor would Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, or John King.

If it isn't good enough for their kids, it isn't good enough for ours either. Let's consign it to the dustbin of history where it belongs.