Friday, December 29, 2017

Bilingual Education and Its Discontents

America has a long history of bilingual education and language education in general. Alas, we're the worst language learners in the world. There are good reasons for that, primary being the very large size of our mostly monolingual country. You can go anywhere, coast to coast, and if you speak English you're good 99% of the time.

Of course Spanish has defied the odds and held on in a major way. 20% of Americans speak Spanish. It's the second language I chose, and it's the one I'd generally recommend for an American kid. After all, you can go out and use it in lots of places with little effort. I was in a Peruvian restaurant last night and used Spanish. The servers recognized my accent and answered in English, but at least I tried.

We've had failures in teaching language. I know, because I was one of them. I was identified as having language ability in elementary school and selected to take Spanish early, in 7th grade. Imagine that--we know well that the younger you are, the better your language ability is, and my district thought 7th grade was early. I was placed in something called a language lab, where we used an audio-lingual approach and listened to tapes. We memorized dialogues like parrots and learned a song about the Puerto Rican flag. It was largely a waste of time, and I spent three years learning very little. (When I was older I spent time in Mexico and learned a little more.)

Then there's bilingual education. Bi suggests two, but I've been working in city schools since 1984, and I've noted many, many programs that taught in L1 only. In fact, my niece arrived from Colombia and was placed in a "bilingual" class. She was six years old. I would bring her to a playground in Jackson Heights and watch her struggle to communicate with English-speaking children. I asked her if they were teaching her English in school and she said no.

I went to her school with her mom, and was met by a very formidable school secretary. The secretary told me that it was better for her to stay in that class. She had a lot of experience, she said, and knew about these things. I told her, with all due respect, that I was not all that interested in her opinion. She said this was they way they'd always done it. I told her I was with the girl's mother, and that she had a legal obligation to respect her wishes. At that, the principal walked out of her office and accommodated our request.

My 6-year-old niece was moved into an ESL class, where she was with English learners who spoke multiple languages. The new class was conducted entirely in English and she acquired it quickly. She's now in her 20s and speaks perfect English. She'd have gotten there anyway, but placing her in a class where English was used made that happen a little more quickly. I don't oppose bilingual education, but that wasn't what my niece was getting.

Now there's something called dual-language education. I know a little bit about that. It's actually what bilingual education was supposed to be. You take half speakers of a foreign language, half of English, mix them all together and teach them 50/50. The desired effect is a win-win, in which all students acquire both languages.

We adopted our daughter from Colombia and watched her reject Spanish as she acquired English from Elmo and the Teletubbies. Though I spoke to her in English and my wife spoke Spanish, we made the egregious error of accepting English responses all the time. (I should have known better.) Thus, though my daughter had great passive understanding of Spanish, she spoke only English. In Freeport, where we live, there's a very good dual language program. We got her in for first grade and she recovered a whole lot of Spanish. It's a great thing to do if you have the population to support it.

Now it looks like certain areas have an issue, to wit, that the foreign speakers are moving out, leaving a bunch of monolingual white people to maintain dual language programs. I guess when rents go up and newcomers can't afford to stay, that's one side effect. Personally, I get the feeling that Trump and the GOP would like all of us to move out, maybe onto fishing boats, while only hedge fund managers, CEOs, and US Senators remain on the mainland.

Actually, our newcomers are a great resource. It's too bad that troglodytes like Trump and his followers see them as a threat. We can work with them and make this a win-win. Alternatively, we can leave our heads firmly parked in the sand and salute the flag while Trumpies screw us left and right. For people with open minds, real bilingual education works two ways and benefits all. As for Trump and his fellow autocrats, France used the guillotine to turn them around. This notwithstanding, even though Trump demanded the death penalty for innocent Americans, I don't believe in capital punishment.

I hope we can dump him and his ilk ASAP. Then we can embrace the diversity of our potentially great nation rather than deluding ourselves that we're somehow gonna turn it into a 1950s style black and white Donna Reed Show that's all white and no black.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Holiday Poem

Here's a cheery little piece I found over at Leonie Haimson's blog.  It's eerie how accurate it looks. If you'd like to do something to move things away from the Reformy Dark Side, consider a holiday contribution to Class Size Matters, Leonie's amazing group of researchers and activists and one of my personal favorite causes.

Dispirit of the Season

by Fred Smith

‘Tis now Christmas day and my heart is wheezing,
Bundled up in my bed, coughing and sneezing.

Santa stayed home on the eve befogged by the flu,
And Rudolph this year couldn’t lead his sled through.

And so my darlings, there’s not much to say
After last night descended and became the next day.

And Eva goes high-speed on with her wild shopping spree,
Buying pols as she needs them to get schools for free;
While Betsy converts the uneducated classes,
Vouching for private ways to teach the masses,
With both of them preaching in the same certain voice
Salvation as it is written in the Gospel of Choice.

As ever-sure Andrew decides on how he should go,
But always taking the time to stick deBlasio.

And the same is true for mayoral control Bill,
A no-contest election behind him with four years to fill.
He must pick a chancellor who wears progressive attire.
But won’t do much to lower class size, lead or inspire.

One thing, however, suspends their personal feud.
Both courageously agree that Trump’s a bad dude.

And the IDC and other deceivers are calling the tune
While the UFT helps the dish run away with the spoon.

Now I must cut this short.  I have fever and chills.
Sniffling about so many societal ills.

And so my dear friends, have a pitcher of beer
As we brace ourselves for the same old new year.

~fred  :(

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Every Kid Can Learn

There may be exceptions, actually, but I really believe this in general. The main thing that stands in the way of that goal, though, is often administration. Of course not every student will cooperate, and of course not all students will pay attention, study, or do homework. Of course some will fail. For the most part, though, it doesn't mean they couldn't have passed.

Every teacher I know has heard about differentiated instruction. I know some supervisors have demanded multiple lesson plans for different students. Sometimes supervisors assume teachers have nothing to do and unlimited time. This is not a good approach. We have a lot to do, our work is important, and it's sad when we're burdened with wasteful nonsense.

Differentiation is a tough demand when you have 34 students in a class. Of course, class size tends to be overlooked by administration, and in fact when I go to grieve oversized classes, they fight to keep them that way. It's an ironic attitude from an organization that claims to put, "Children First, Always." Of course, the real meaning of that slogan is demoralizing and devaluing those of us who do the important work of teaching the children (the very children Moskowitz Academies would not accept on a bet).

I'd argue that differentiation is a fundamental human trait. Unless you are in possession of a remarkable lack of sensitivity, you treat people differently. I see, in my classroom, students who will challenge me. I'll let them do it, and I'll challenge them back. I have nothing to lose, really. If they manage to out-talk me, I must be doing a great job. I also see very sensitive and reserved students, students who need my understanding, students for whom a harsh word would be hurtful and damaging.

Then there is talk of assessment. I hear insane things from administrators about assessment. There is evaluative and non-evaluative (formative) assessment, evidently. Supervisors come into classes and trash teachers for failing to offer non-evaluative assessment. They write them up for it, failing to see the irony that they themselves have just failed to offer the formative assessment for which they advocate.
As for non-evaluative assessment, it too is often presented as a one-way street. The only way you can do it is if students have red and green cards. Green cards mean they understand, and red cards mean they don't. Or they use left and right hands. Left hand means they understand, and right means they don't. Or vice-versa. Who remembers?

I recently read a Danielson observation form criticizing a teacher for failing to use the left hand-right hand thing. Evidently this teacher was walking around looking at student work. The observer concluded there was no way the teacher could assess the quality of student work that way. I was amazed by this conclusion.

First of all, there is the underlying assumption that 15-year-old students will freely announce to their peers that they do not understand what is going on. There is the assumption that kids at that age are neither obsessed with nor concerned about the opinions of their peers. There are the further assumptions that students who do not know what is going on are aware of it, that they have not yet tuned out altogether, and that they are even listening when the teacher says raise this or that hand, or this color or that color card.

The very worst assumption, though, is that of the binary nature of understanding. You understand it or you don't. There are no degrees. There is no grey, only black and white. That's ridiculous. Once you understand that, you understand how absurd the criticism of looking at student work is. When I look at individual student work, I can offer individual advice. This sentence doesn't make sense. What were you trying to say? That's a good idea--please explain or build on it. This sentence doesn't belong in that paragraph. Eliminate it or start a new paragraph. This word doesn't need an apostrophe. Use a question mark here, please.

If everything is green and red, or left or right, your subject is pretty limited. I don't really want to be in your class if that's how you see things. And even so, if I'm the only student who doesn't get it, why do the other 33 students have to sit around and wait while you explain it to me?

You may as well give only true-false tests and hope for the best. If you're marginally more adventurous, you can give multiple choice tests. I was a pretty terrible high school student, but I loved multiple choice tests. I almost always passed them, whether or not I knew the answers. Now on an open-ended question I could spout a lot of wind, but I couldn't usually appear to know things I didn't. 

There is spectacular irony in the fact that our system demands that every one of our students take the same tests. I mean, if we're going to talk differentiation, how can it possibly exist when final assessment is exactly the same for everyone?

Every kid can learn, but not necessarily the same things in the same way. I'm glad to see that NY State has finally allowed some leeway for different students with different needs. It's a step in the right direction, but it isn't enough. Every kid can learn, but every kid can learn differently at different times. Some kids need more time than others. Some have learning disabilities. Some don't know English. A full 10% of our kids are homeless, and as long as we continue to ignore that, we won't be serving them no matter how often we give them the meaningless label of "college ready."

Learning is not binary, and it's not multiple choice either. It really is individual. The sooner administrators can understand that simple notion, the better we will serve our children.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The War on Christmas

Thank goodness President Trump is working on that. Now I can say, "Merry Christmas," instead of "Happy Holidays." And if you don't celebrate Christmas we'll deport your ass back to where you came from. In fact, if you do celebrate it we'll deport you back anyway, because that's how we Make America Great Again.

And while you're fixated on which greeting we use, we'll pass a law to deduct private jets instead of local taxes. We'll then go after Social Security, into which you've paid all your life, and Medicare. Let's face it, none of the people Trump represents are going to need Medicare anyway. If you lose your home and everything you've ever worked for because of a catastrophic medical emergency, it will have no bearing on GOP Senators who somehow make millions during their tenure.

But hey, we win the war on Christmas. Screw everyone who isn't a Christian, and if we screw the Christians too, well, at least the screwed ones aren't rich. Who wants Big Government dispensing welfare to poor people, like the 10% of NYC students who are literally homeless, when there are huge corporations who need their taxes cut by half?

It's funny to hear all the talk about making America great again. A lot of people see that phrase as moving back toward even more overt racism, and of course that's what it means. But back in the 50s, there was really more opportunity in certain ways. Jobs came with pensions. Unions were more popular. People could get factory jobs, have spouses who were homemakers, and buy homes instead of living in trees.

None of that is included in MAGA. People who want those things are ridiculed as far left. I guess I'm far left, because I think Americans ought to make a living wage. I don't think anyone with a full time job, or two full time jobs, ought to need food stamps or welfare. I've known people who've died because they had to decide between costly visits to the ER and chest pains and guessed incorrectly. I deem that an atrocity.

I've known people who served their country in the military, who've worked all their lives, just to end up on Medicaid because they couldn't pay for the final care they needed. And make no mistake, that could happen to any of us too. Our insurance doesn't cover that. The catastrophic insurance NYSUT offers, which I bought, doesn't remotely cover it either.

Why should American families have to take out second mortgages just to put their children through college? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that rich people are very sensitive. If anyone or anything touches them, they are so brittle they may shatter in a million pieces. That's why they need to have all the money, and all the privilege, and that's why we all need to give up whatever little we now have.

I can hardly think of anything more obscene than the current administration, and the nonsense spouted on Fox News. It boggles my mind that they snow so much of the American public. Sooner or later, someone will get around to blaming the teachers for that. After all, we're responsible for just about everything else.

On that note, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and if you don't celebrate, have a great week anyway. Let's all pray and work to Make America Sane, Again or Otherwise.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fixing Boy Wonder

Ms. Fitz had had it with Boy Wonder. He would always come in 8th period on Friday when there was a school football game or something and write her up because there weren't enough students there. In fact, everyone had had it with Boy Wonder. The problem was, no one would say anything.

Boy Wonder decided one morning that history would now be taught by topic rather than chronologically. Every single teacher hated the idea, but no one knew what to do.

Chapter leader said file a Professional Conciliation Complaint under Article 24. He said he'd co-sign it if they wanted, but someone would have to sign it who taught the courses. This was a tough thing to do. After all, there is no wrath quite like the wrath of a wounded Boy Wonder. Anyone who signed it was going to be observed each and every day and rated ineffective in everything no matter what. There had to be a solution. But what was it?

Ms. Fitz had a bottle of Thorazine at home from when she'd cleaned out her uncle's old apartment. From what she'd read, it seemed just the thing to address Boy Wonder's issues. But how could she get him to take it? You couldn't just walk up to someone and say, "Hey, I think you're psychotic and maybe it would be a good idea for you to take these meds." Besides, Boy Wonder clearly believed he was smarter than anyone else. He said so to anyone who would listen pretty much all the time.

Ms. Lopez, the science teacher, would know what to do. After all, she had been a nurse. There had to be a way to do it.

"That's a tough problem," said Ms. Lopez. "You're gonna have to give it to him every day. What does he do every day?"

"We think he slips out to fast food places every day. He's always bringing back wrappers from Burger King and Popeye's. He acts like he doesn't know how they got there. But every day there are new ones."

"That won't work," said Ms. Lopez. "We can't follow him to his favorite fast food joints every day. We have to work. What about cyanide? You'd only have to use that once."

"We don't really want to kill him," answered Ms. Fitz. "Although I don't suppose anyone would miss him if we did." Ms. Fitz mused over that for a few moments.

"Just a thought," said Ms. Lopez. "Does he ever eat or drink anything in the office?"

"We think he eats the burgers while his blinds are pulled down."

"Are you sure?" asked Ms. Lopez.

"We're not," admitted Ms. Fitz. "No one wants to know what he does in there, because whatever it is, everyone thinks it's too gross to know about."

"Okay," said Ms. Lopez. "What about drinks? What does he drink?"

"He loves his Keurig machine. He is always drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee out of that World's Best Administrator cup. Can we pour something in the cup?"

"No," answered Ms. Lopez. "You can't be around the cup enough. We're gonna have to find a way to inject the Thorazine into the K-cups. Every one of them. And when he gets new ones, we'll have to do those too. Can we get into his office when he isn't there?"

"No one has a key. He doesn't trust anyone in there. No one is allowed to drink his Dunkin Donuts coffee except him and the principal, when she visits."

"We're gonna have to find someone with a master key." said Ms. Lopez. "Maybe we can cut it with Xanax. A lot of teachers have Xanax."

A lot of teachers have supervisors like Boy Wonder, thought Ms. Fitz. "When can we do this?" she asked.

"We'll plan over the break and do it when we get back," answered Ms. Lopez. "Happy holidays."

"I think we're gonna have a great New Year," said Ms. Fitz.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

NYC DOE Student Perception Survey 2017-2018

 I don't know what you see when you read those questions, but here's what I see:

1. Who loves you more--the teacher or your mother?

a. mother  b. mom  c. mama  d. madre

2. How much does this teacher suck?

a. a lot   b. a whole lot   c. an inconceivably high amount  d. even more than that

3. Does your teacher give a crap about you?

a. no  b. nyet  c. nein  d. negative

4. How mad will you be at this teacher for wasting your time three years from now?

a. a lot   b. a whole lot   c. a real lot  d. to infinity and beyond

5. How incompetent is this teacher?

a. the normal amount   b. the abnormal amount  c. completely  d. 110%

6. If a bad guy said to the teacher either you or his dog was going to be pushed off a cliff, who would the teacher save?

a. you    b. the dog   c. no one   d. the teacher hates us both

7. Why doesn't the teacher care about you?

a. because I'm tall   b. because I'm short   c. because I'm a man   d. because I'm a woman

8. Whose fault is it when you fail tests?

a. the teacher   b. the pedagogue   c. the instructor  d. myself---NOT!

9. How unfair are the class rules?

a. average   b. more than average   c. extremely unfair   d. supremely unfair

10. Why can't the teacher control the class?

a. teacher is stupid   b teacher is ugly  c. teacher is crazy   d. teacher sucks

11. Why isn't the teacher excited to be in class? Teacher is ________________.

a. drunk   b. on drugs   c. asleep  d. psychotic

12. Why aren't you excited to be in class? Teacher ______________.

a. sucks    b. REALLY sucks    c. bites the big one   d. has an ATTITUDE

13. When you aren't in class, how often do you complain about the teacher?

a. all the time   b. only when I'm awake  c. even in my dreams  d. 8 days a week

14. Why doesn't the teacher respect you? Teacher is _____________.

a. racist   b. bigoted   c. a jerk   d. all of the above

15. How come the teacher never helps you? Teacher is ______________.

a. cruel    b. indifferent   c. incompetent   d. all of the above

16. How often does the teacher mistreat you?

a. daily   b. twice daily   c. I am continually tortured by even the thought of my teacher. d. perpetually

17. Why are you unmotivated in this class? The teacher _______________.

a. sucks    b. really sucks   c. sucks the big one   d. sucks, sucks, sucks.

18. If your teacher didn't suck, how would you feel?

a. relieved   b. content   c. happy   d. ecstatic

19. How many times has this teacher disappointed you?

a. several times   b. many times   c. on a daily basis  d. to infinity and beyond

20. What do you like better, puppies or this teacher?

a. puppies  b. puppies   c. puppies  d. puppies

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beats the Hell Out of Danielson Observations

I complain a lot, and I complain about almost everything. Some things I don't complain about are my students, or what goes on in our classroom. I also don't write a whole lot of personal stuff on the blog, as I generally don't wish to bore people to death.

However, I lost my father last week. Some of my students heard about it and wrote me things, a few of which you will find below.  I've covered or folded over the names, and the last one is from a group.  They are all beginning students of English.

Notice the little bag in the picture, full of bars that say, "Don't sad." This is from a girl who was very shy, and who has recently learned to smile in my class. She now does it a lot.

In the second one, a student apologizes for her attitude, even though I never recall her having a negative attitude at all. She's certainly got a better attitude than I ever will.

There are some things that happen, and all you can do is say, "I'm sorry." My students are, thankfully, too young to know that, so they tried some other things. I've received cards, and I've received everyone's sympathy. I'm grateful to everyone who sent anything whatsoever.

I'm really touched by their thoughts and wishes. I wish them all the happiness they wish me, and I hope in some small way my teaching them English gets them a little closer to it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Notes from UFT Executive Board December 18, 2017--Chapter Leader for Newly Signed DOE Managers but Still None for ATRs

by special guest Mike Schirtzer

Open Mike

No speakers-everyone is bitterly disappointed says Schoor.


Mulgrew will not be here

LeRoy Barr-upcoming Wednesday 6-8pm emergency tax protest sponsored by Manhattan borough president and scott stringer- at John Jay college 
Asking people to come out
Final vote by congress maybe this week
Rewards the rich takes away from middle class
Contract committee is meeting 1/10 all members of ex bd are on 
Must sign confidentiality agreement
Will hear foundation and where we are going
Next ex bd is 1/8


Mike Schirtzer- Do Ctle/PD hours can hours we do in school count? Will the doe train our people in the schools?- 

A--UFT is licensed we don’t know  Doe plan, they can bring in UFT, but they do not have any formalized plan yet

Q--Class size violations- How many oversized classes are there? 

A--need report- DOE sent us numbers-next ex bd we will report back.

Maternity/parental leave- demonstration possible, no progress, we wil not take a bad deal. Every formula they show up with benefits city, hurts us, we need numbers that are fair and work for us. If we don’t get something soom we’ll take action

KJ--New Action--asks about consolidation of schools and resulting excessing.

A--One school may be working well, another isn’t- we are in agreement with doe- small schools made during Bloomberg admin, 2 JHS in same building, better to combine and cut down on administration. We will propose combining excess lists

Closing schools, school in the Bronx where kid get killed, PEP in feb or march we will get full list
We had people in those schools this morning that are being closed or consolidated to speak with our members

Some of those we agree with doe, some we do not.

Jonathan Halabi- Janella and I formed a committee on specialized schools, Janella testified in front of city council on integration- can we consider task force on high school admission process which sets up schools and children to be winner or losers?

Janella Hinds answers – I participated on diversity task force set up by mayor- it will be up and running for next year on diversity, access, and equity. We will cover admissions process, there will be DoE offcials and students along with me on this committee. We need to figure out pathway and what admissions will look like. 

District report

Howie Schoor

We now represent people who work in borough offices for DOE, over 90% yes vote.
City managers-lost on parental leave, that’s why they came with us. They got 2 and 2 percent raises, they lost holidays, so we got them a lot of things back. Happy about approval contract. Over half of chapter came in person at borough offices and they really appreciated UFT. If we weren’t here DOE would do same things to our members and take stuff from us too. Thank everyone who helped. They are great people and smart. They will have a chapter leader. DoE is not very happy, this is their managers

Mel Aaronson –treasurer-something nice in tax law, part of the proposed tax bill was tax profits of pensions, which would have taken money from us and our pensions. We fought and kept that provision out, that bill passed, but pensions will be safe

Paul Egan-legislative report- Paul mentions how eagles beat giants
We want a speaker of the city council that we can work with,. Before xmas we will know who it is. Looks like someone from Queens or Bronx. That will be in place before we come back.

Ex bd vacancies

Dwayne Clark nominates  Sung Lee CL of community school, very active-comes to every event, rallies, great asset to UFT- he is young and engergetic –young dad wants to stay active. Great asset to elementary division. Hereby elected since no other nominees

Leroy Barr nominates Elizabeth Perez started as bilingual PS 160 worked tirelessly as UFT served as special rep and political action coordinator and now is leader of Brooklyn office. She is taking on tyranny of administrators and modified many of their behaviors
Hereby elected since no other nominees

Jonathan Halabi--New Action--nominates Kate Martin Bridge
Math teacher and chapter leader, was a NYS auditor before that, has been active as a delegate, has been helpful in those that have been excessed. Stepped in as CL for small school. Previously served as HS ex bd member
Hereby elected since no other nominees

Monday, December 18, 2017

UFT Executive Board December 18, 2017. Stuff Happens and I Write About It

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I won't be going to work today and I won't be going to Executive Board either. I've asked Jonathan to take notes, and if he commits them to email I'll post them. Just in case he doesn't, I've decided to write the notes for the meeting before it happens, without having actually attended.

Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us. 6 PM


Unity Caucus member gets up and tells us how great a Thing was. It was fantastic. Nobody expected it to happen, the odds were against it, and everyone loved it. This is a great victory for all of us, and truly inspirational. Who would have thunk we'd be able to achieve this Thing, especially in these times? But when we stick together, and act determined, we find a Way to do the Thing. There is applause.

District Rep. gets up and explains how another Thing happened. It was hard to achieve this particular Thing, because we were up against a Bad Principal who was very much against the Thing. But we went to the school, and not only did we go, but several people on the dais went as well. They were there multiple times and insisted there was a Way to accomplish the Thing. A member comes up and thanks the union for finding the Way to do the Thing. There is more applause.

Minutes--briefly debated after Mike Schirtzer's objection that minutes are too short. Schirtzer demands 62 seconds per minute, contending members are not deriving maximum enjoyment out of minutes as constituted presently. Unity Rep. makes point of order, saying minutes are too long because they already have to listen to MORE and New Action, sometimes for up to two minutes at a stretch. Asks minutes be limited to 58 seconds. Point of order recognized by chair, 58-second minutes approved on party lines. Second party line vote designates 58-second minutes New Minutes.

President's Report--Mulgrew is not here. 

Staff Director's Report--LeRoy Barr describes a bunch of stuff that happened, and then tells us about a bunch of other stuff that will happen in the future.


MORE rep asks a question.

Howard Schoor gives vague response.

New Action rep asks a question.

Howard Schoor calls on someone else to make a response. Person he calls on is going to meet with someone to discuss this question, and will get back to it as soon as they have an answer.

Another MORE rep asks what about the question that was asked last time. Schoor says he hasn't got the answer yet, but will find out. Calls on someone else to explain  why. This person has been to a meeting on that very topic. Has no answer but will try to find out at the next meeting. After that he is confident he will be able to conclusively explain why he still has no answer.

Mulgrew arrives. Mulgrew speaks. Mulgrew leaves.  

MORE rep. with MacBook notes times Mulgew came and left, inserts picture of The Flash running away.

Legislative Report--Paul Egan talks about football. MORE member raises point of order, claims football talk irrelevant to union business. Point of order ruled off point and out of order. Football talk continues for 16 New Minutes, illuminating subtle and intricate differences between various kinds of football and explaining precisely why certain teams should win while others should not. Biblical references cited in support.

Also, we are facing Janus, and Janus is a pretty bad thing.

Reports from Districts--

Unity Rep. A--There was a Great Event. Event was Great. Everyone, without exception, praised and adored the Great Event and next year it will be an Even Greater Event.

Unity Rep. B--There was another Event. It was much better than the Event they had last year because this person, that person, and some other person went to event. Thanks all the people who went to Event.

Meeting interrupted when Philly steak sandwich falls on floor with resounding crash, breaking member's foot. Ambulance is called, member is taken in ambulance. After ten New Minutes, meeting resumes.

Special orders of business--

Resolution--The world would be better if people were nicer. Resolution is contained in folder. UFT VP motivates, contending she personally knows a good number of people who are are nice and likes them much better than people who are not. Several Unity members get up and state that, at their work, it's much easier to deal with nice people than not nice people. Head of grievance department is brought up, speaks in strong support. Says most conflicts are easier to resolve if people are nicer. States that if principals were nicer there would be fewer grievances.

Passes unanimously.

Resolution--To make all the little children all over the world happy. Resolution is on Kelly green paper in back of room with coffee spilled on it. Sticky note is attached to first paper in stack that says, "Please print this on Kelly green paper, spill coffee on it, and don't put it in folder." We wait while people go back and try to pick copies with fewest coffee stains. Jonathan Halabi of New Action motivates. Says everyone likes children and when they are happy the world is a better place. Says he personally works with children every day, and that when they are happy they learn better. Says when he tried making them sad results were not as good, so he now tries to make them happy instead.

Unity member steps down from dais and says, while he may or may not like to see the children of the world happy, that this is neither the time nor the place. This is an issue better left to the 300 member negotiating committee and taking it out of their hands would be an act of such unspeakable depravity that he cannot bear to contemplate it for another moment. Takes off shoe and bangs on podium.

80 Unity members momentarily look up from sandwiches and/ or phones to pay attention.

Proposition is debated. Several Unity reps contend this may alienate Trump voters and say this is not the time for such a bold resolution. Another asks whether there are studies to demonstrate this theory. A MORE member gets up to speak in support. Unity member makes point of order, interrupts her mid speech. Another Unity member calls the question. Howard Schoor praises the motion and remarks that in the over 30 years he's known this Unity member, he's never known him to speak before. Question is called.

Resolution fails on party lines.

We are adjourned.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

CSA to Principals--Do Any Damn Thing You Want

The ICE blog covered this last week, comparing the CSA and UFT reactions to a memo that came from the office of Debbie Poulos, Director of UFT Contract Empowerment Dept. You may see things on this blog now and then which are critical of UFT leadership, but the fact that such a department even exists is a step in the right direction. I don't know whether we had it before Debbie ran it, but I'd certainly never heard of it before.

I've been chapter leader for nine years and I've seen how rules can be selectively enforced. If someone likes you, you can get away with outrageous infractions. If not, well, you get a letter to file on the flimsiest of evidence. The people with the LIFs may then discuss the outrageous infractions of fellow members, and it becomes common knowledge what they got away with. Rules? Judging from the memo, they don't apply to CSA.

And for a long time, it was tough to fight back. I will tell you that at least two references on that paperwork complaint form came from my school. I'll also assure you that, while some things did not make precedent, others are common sense. They say that common sense is the least common of all the senses, so I'm not altogether surprised to find CSA making blatant misstatements. Maybe they consult with DOE legal, which in my experience, appears to issue opinions about the UFT Contract without the benefit of having bothered to read it.

There are some good things happening at 52 Broadway and Debbie Poulos is most definitely one of them. Sometimes you hear gloom and doom from leadership, but it doesn't come from her office. We have real problems, and her office is in the business of working out real solutions. If that isn't possible, there are paperwork complaints. CSA is going to lose a whole lot more of them if chapter leaders are willing to make them.

Sadly, there are a whole lot of schools with no union presence. Everyone does teacher teams every day for C6, and if you don't like it, go work somewhere that follows the Contract. Principal's rating depends on teacher teams and nothing else matters. There are schools where chapter leader is like a hot potato, a job no one wants but someone gets tagged with. That's understandable in a hostile environment, and sadly there are many such environments here in Fun City. It's eye-opening to go to Executive Board and hear tale after tale of abusive principals. That's disturbing, and taking them one at a time as we do, we make exceedingly slow progress.

On the other hand, in my neck of the woods I see a distinct improvement at Queens UFT. Grievances I filed often used to fall into a black hole somewhere out on Queens Boulevard. In our school, for example (and for years), people with sixth classes were also saddled with C6 assignments. People complained endlessly about them, and UFT sources told me that was the way it was. Around September 2016, I actually read Circular 6R and found that was not the case. It says, right there in black and white, that teachers who take sixth classes are relieved from C6 duty. (It also says that establishing sixth classes requires concurrence from the chapter.)

It was tough to find someone who would grieve. A lot of people are afraid to file grievances. Aside from that, a lot of people with sixth classes felt they were risking their positions by complaining. I searched high and low, and found a bold soul to make the complaint. We were denied at Step 1 and we waited. Then we waited some more. Four months later, I started to make a stink about it and it finally made it to Step 2. At that point, the member decided going to Manhattan for the day wouldn't be any fun. I offered to go along. I offered to pay the fare and buy lunch. But the member failed to discern the fun in any of it.

I'm an ESL teacher. I'm offered an extra class every year. I never take it, even though the money would be great. (I honestly have no idea how I manage to meet the responsibilities of my current job, let alone an extra one.) So I couldn't grieve. Instead I filed the complaint and spoke with Debbie Poulos. In our multi-session school, we have an SBO to enable three days of C6, one of OPW, and one of teacher teams. Teacher teams entail paperwork, particularly on days you present. Because of Circular 6R, we were able to maintain this was inappropriate, since the members with six classes ought not to have a C6 assignment at all. We won this complaint, which was significant because neighboring schools had also been ignoring C6 rules, and for years. I'm hard-pressed to see, despite the CSA bluster, how your school wouldn't win it as well.

As for Queens UFT, grievances no longer disappear. I now get emails asking what happened to this or that one, asking me to check or follow up. This is a vast improvement over the black hole thing. A particular grievance that I'm certain would've descended into oblivion last year was brought to Step Two just last week.

CSA can crow all it likes, but I won't go down without a fight and I'm now getting very good support from both central and borough offices. It's sad that CSA has taken a practice that ought to be merely adversarial and ascended it to outright belligerence. In an ideal world, we'd all know the rules and admit it when we screwed up. Alas, in the immortal words of Tony Soprano, fahgeddaboudit.

It's funny sometimes dealing with rules. Quite often, members argue that this is wrong or that is right. I have to explain that right and wrong are not what wins grievances. We need to look for specific violations. Sometimes administrators argue right and wrong with me. Why do we have that rule? Wouldn't this one be fairer? Oddly, I only hear this when they're losing arguments about the rules.

There are rules they don't like. There are rules we don't like. There are rules neither side likes, e.g. four minimum observations even for teachers who do fine with only two. Some people say rules are what separates us from the animals (Please don't take this as a slur against animals. Though I love them, I don't always emulate their behavior.)

It's kind of a shame when CSA decides to side openly with the animals. It's kind of our job as teachers to foster humanity and cooperation. But hey, they aren't teachers anymore, and we all have to do what we all have to do.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Chalkbeat, Elizabeth Green, and Eva Moskowitz

I was once thrilled with Elizabeth Green. She wrote for a small NYC paper and was hands down the best education journalist around. I don't remember exactly what she wrote about, but I remember she was the only one doing it. She cut through the nonsense and noise and reported the truth, something in short supply both then and now.

I remember when Chalkbeat began as Gotham Schools. It quickly became a go-to for those of us obsessed with education. I was pretty excited when Elizabeth called me and asked me to write for them. She said something about my being a natural writer, which I took to mean that, despite never having attended some fancy private school, I was able to think clearly anyway.

One of my first pieces was about a Harlem elementary school being invaded by a Moskowitz Academy. I attended a public school rally there and reported what I saw and heard. Several parents said they only accepted students with higher scores. I was excoriated in the comments (They may or may not still be there. On several of my Chalkbeat pieces, comments have mysteriously disappeared.) by people claiming that wasn't the case. After that, I was subject to a really draconian editing process, more unreasonable than any I've been subject to anywhere. In fact, they let me go from this non-paying gig for suggesting that Cathie Black was sponsored by a billionaire (named Bloomberg), that TFA recruited from the Ivy League, and some other non-debatable point I no longer recall.

Later, when Chalkbeat ran some nonsensical piece about E4E getting 100 signatures on a petition for some ridiculous cause or other, I challenged them to do the same for me, and they said sure they would, no problem. We have 300 members, and it takes me 90 minutes to collect 100 signatures. I followed up, and collected 100 signatures on a petition demanding equity for ELLs in our school. Someone from Chalkbeat called me to follow up, but no article ever appeared. (So much for equity between reformies and public school activists.)

For years I've watched Chalkbeat follow every Momentous Moskowitz Moment, and often ignore activities by the UF of T. So I wasn't entirely surprised when Norm Scott pointed me to this piece by Andrea Gabor about how MSM slobbers all over Moskowitz like she's the second coming. And surprise, surprise, Elizabeth Green is among the prime offenders:

While Green notes that Success Academy students “regularly trounce their peers all across New York on state tests” she never actually gives you the scores. Rebecca Mead does—more on her New Yorker story below: On the latest tests, 95 percent of Success Academy students achieved proficiency in math and 84 percent in ELA; the comparable citywide scores are 36 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

This is important for several reasons. One is that the sole factor in considering Moskowitz Academies superior to public schools is test scores. I think it was Alfie Kohn who said that test scores measure nothing more than zip code. In any case, in a country like the United States, afflicted with extreme poverty, there are a whole lot of reasons why test scores suffer. In NYC, with 10% of its students literally homeless, that's far from a minor issue. With Moskowitz Academies keeping got to go lists and making students test prep until they pee their pants, I wouldn't send my kid (or yours) there on a bet.

Even if you accept the preposterous notion that test scores are the sole factor in determining the quality of a school, Andrea Gabor offers the following devastating tidbit:

We do know that attrition at Success charters is very high with the most compliant students, and the best test-takers, surviving. (Mead, in her New Yorker story, points out that Success Academy’s first high school will graduate just 17 students next spring, down from 73 first graders.)

This means fewer than 25% of the students who started in the Moskowitz Academy have stuck it out. This calls into question their proficiency rates as well. Once we account for the various unfactored losses, Moskowitz Academy percentages fall below those of the dreaded public schools who are supposedly sitting around Waiting for Superman. So despite all the highly compensated, hedge fund supported Moskowitz Mouthpieces, we outperform them in the only area they deem noteworthy.

If you also consider the facts that we do not treat our students like lab rats, that the public has input in how we run our schools (flawed and constricted though mayoral control renders it), and that teachers are not systematically squeezed like overripe tomatoes to be unceremoniously discarded like trash, there are various conclusions here that, alas, have escaped Elizabeth Green. That's a shame because, for my money, Elizabeth Green is as smart as just about anyone I've ever met.

What's worse is that, with Green and others pushing the unexamined Legend of the Moskowitz Academy, a whole lot of people subscribe to the corporate charter myth. There's a whole lot of money and power behind them too.

Just about the only things we have going for us are superior numbers and the truth.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I See Teachers Who Don't Care

There's a brutal op-ed over at the Bklyner this morning. It goes a bit beyond the usual "all teachers suck" theme I see in the NY editorial pages. This is because it targets the teachers of a single school. I mean, it's one thing to stereotype all of us. It's a little more hurtful when you target a small group:

The teachers at Ethan Allen don’t appear to care at all about our kids, or any of the other students they’re supposed to be educating. They only want to pass students along and wash their hands of them at the end of the year, even if this means that kids aren’t prepared for the next grade. 

This begs the question of who exactly are "the other students they're supposed to be educating." That's an odd slip for a thinking editor to miss. If, in fact, they were supposed to be educating kids of non-parents, there'd be another issue, perhaps one of pod creatures. An alternate interpretation is that the writers refer to their kids only, and have decided that every other parent, without exception, shares their impressions. Either way there's a leap of faith I'm not making.

As for the primary issue of teachers not caring, the writers have not bothered to provide a shred of evidence. I also see that the writers claim to know exactly what the teachers want. I'm always impressed by clairvoyance (although if you don't believe in clairvoyance you might dismiss this argument as a strawman). The writers continue:

It’s also nearly impossible to meet with them or with administrators, which leaves us in the dark about how our children are doing academically and socially.  

Note the word also, which suggests this is not part of why the teachers don't appear to care at all. Why is it nearly impossible to meet with teachers or administrators? Isn't that more likely a product of admin policy than teacher druthers? And given these writers' willingness to read working teachers minds, is it even true?

I don't work in a Renewal school, but I can imagine how I'd feel if I did. I'd feel as if I were expecting a piano to land on my head at pretty much any moment. I'd feel very insecure. I have friends who work in these places. They feel like they're walking on eggshells and tread ever so carefully. When anything good happens, they seem to be happy they suck a little less. Something the op-ed writer did not consider was the incredible pressure placed on them for students to pass.

When your job is on the line and your future is likely as not in the ATR, you're likely to succumb to the constant pressure placed on you. I don't know how many kids in this school were passed without merit, but I can certainly imagine how administrators would pressure teachers. I can imagine terrified teachers inflating grades as a means of survival. It's human nature, it's Campbell's Law, and it doesn't follow that frightened, pressured teachers don't care about these parents' kids. It's certainly not in children's best interests to have terrified teachers.

The writers' assertion that there are issues with the program itself is well-taken. The whole Renewal School thing is an offshoot of the No Child Left Behind/ Race to the Top nonsense that maintains the sole factor in education or lack thereof is the classroom teacher. When things don't work out we just close schools, shuffle kids around and wait for their issues to magically disappear.

But guess what? Things like poverty and lack of health care don't disappear when you close a school. Learning disabilities are not cured by firing teachers. Students who don't know English don't suddenly acquire it when you make all their teachers ATRs. Go figure. I mean, if you went by the editorials in the city papers, you'd have no idea.

It's unfortunate that people don't know that. It's unfortunate that this Renewal School program hasn't bothered to do things we know to work, like reducing class sizes. It's really unfortunate that any administration would so alienate public school parents that they felt as frustrated as these parents do. It's predictable, though, that working teachers would be vilified and libeled with little thought as to why these things may be happening.

I'm not familiar with the school in question, but I'm familiar with schools in general. Even in a non-Renewal school I feel pressure to pass as many students as possible. This is not a huge issue for me. In fact, I actually want to pass as many students as possible. Of course, when students cut, when they don't pay attention, when I call homes ten times with no result, when I speak to the students every way I can imagine with no change in attitude or behavior, it's not always possible.

I don't know the teachers in this school but I know teachers. I cannot imagine an entire staff that doesn't care about children. For people who don't care about children, teaching is about the worst job there is. Some people like that go into admin to get away from the classroom, and guess what--they're the worst administrators there are.

It's very sad that we've managed to alienate parents to the point where they believe and need to write things like this.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Baby Steps on Alternate Diplomas

I'm pretty happy to see that students with disabilities will have an alternate route to getting a high school diploma. It seems to me that passing the English Regents, for example, requires the skill of passing the English Regents. I haven't taught it for many years, and the test has changed, but what it measures is not a whole lot different.

I was talking with an English teacher who told me she was upset. Evidently, another teacher was telling students they could write a paragraph and support only one idea. She said that wasn't enough if the students wanted to pass the English Regents. I'll tell you, though, a lot of writers support one idea in a paragraph. Some spend an entire article supporting one idea. In fact, I've read entire books that support an idea.

I taught students how to pass this exam back when it was all writing. I'd always been frustrated teaching writing in high school because everything I'd seen appeared to treat a five-paragraph composition as though it were the Holy Grail. Introduction, reason one, two and three, and conclusion. Voila! You can write.

The only problem is I don't know anyone who writes like that. Unless you're aiming for a career doing English homework, I'm not sure where that knowledge will get you. Back when I was teaching the English Regents, I determined the lowest common denominator for ELLs to pass was a four paragraph composition. I drilled these poor kids to death. I read every word they wrote, and made them rewrite once, twice, three times, whatever it took.

The Chinese teacher told me a story. She said two of her students were discussing the test. "I don't know what I'm gonna do," one said. "I have to pass the English Regents or I won't graduate."

"Have you taken Goldstein's class?" the other asked.

"No, why, is it good?"

"No, it's terrible. You will hate every minute of it. But you'll pass the Regents."

That's kind of a backhanded compliment. It was my job to make kids pass the test. I worked out a formula and followed it. I didn't enjoy it at all. When I'm allowed to teach students English rather than test prep, I love it. When students learn English better, it helps them forever. Making them take that awful course I taught was ultimately not productive. I mean, sure they passed the Regents. And sure they got admitted to college. But if they had to take a writing test, they'd almost certainly have been bounced to remedial.

This was a shame because I'd have been able to teach them the same stuff the remedial courses offered. I'm pretty sure of that because I actually taught some of those remedial courses in Queens College (back when they offered them) and Nassau Community College. But hey, they couldn't graduate if they couldn't pass the test. So I showed them how to pass the test.

My students were almost all literate in their first languages. We just didn't give them enough time. I've seen geniuses from the DOE come into our school, ostensibly to meet us, and simply demand we get more ELLs to pass the English Regents Exam. Here's the thing--this exam is inappropriate for my students. They ought not to have to take it at all.

I'm not expert on disabilities, but I do know that some people are better in different areas. They tell us we must differentiate because all students are different. In the same breath they tell us all students must pass all these tests. That's ridiculous. We don't need 100% college admission. There are plenty of happy plumbers and electricians. There are a whole lot of people doing jobs like those that pay a whole lot better than jobs like ours.

Why aren't we teaching kids how to fix cars? Why aren't we teaching them how to build houses? Why are practical skills worth less than college education? And why are we insisting that everyone has to pass every test? People need to find their own paths. The State doesn't need to push everyone the same way.

This alternate for some students is a good step, but it's only one. We can do better by our kids. A whole lot more of them can succeed if we let them go where they want and need to.