Thursday, August 31, 2017

UFT, APPR, and the New Paradigm

Every week or so I get an email from a UFT rep whose job is organizing. I guess that's why his newsletter is called The Organizer. I'm urged to share it with my staff, but I prefer to write my own. It has a lot of recurring features, so it tends to be repetitive. I usually don't find anything worth sharing.

This week, though, it had something that opened my eyes just a little. That was a fairly impressive feat since I opened my laptop at around six AM. I expected to just scroll down and close the thing. But there it was, and it had me up and blogging almost involuntarily.

I was pretty surprised to see this piece from a NYSUT email included in The Organizer:

State test scores released this week are meaningless.

They don't count for students or teachers. They're derived from a broken testing system. They're rooted in standards that are no longer being taught. And they're the foundation of a totally discredited teacher evaluation system.

It goes on, but you get the gist. Of course I don't disagree about APPR. I signed the linked petition and I recommend you do too. I'm just surprised at the UFT's willingness to take absolutely any position at any time, with no regard whatsoever for past positions. Am I the only one who remembers what a proud deed it was when we got our first junk science system, and how Mulgrew himself had helped write the law? Am I the only one who remembers hearing how smart it was to get the whole thing enshrined in law?

Of course, that argument was no longer so popular when Andrew Cuomo and the Heavy Hearted Assembly redid the whole thing a year later. Cuomo said his own brainchild was "baloney" because not enough teachers got bad ratings. We needed to rate more teachers badly. That was Cuomo's rationale for pushing the new system.

So they changed it. The UFT argument then became the matrix. The matrix is gonna make everything better because it's gonna make it tough to get an ineffective rating, unless of course you do get an ineffective rating. Then we'll all try to look the other way and pretend it didn't happen, I suppose.

In any case, I've opposed APPR since its inception. I'm in good company, including Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, and the American Statistical Association, just to mention a few. Yet when I objected to it at chapter leader meetings, I was criticized and ridiculed. I was overreacting. I was Chicken Little. I'm trying to recall how many times I've heard about how few people got bad ratings, and how the system was therefore an improvement. I've heard it from UFT leadership and school leadership.

Of course, very shortly thereafter I'd get to hear face to face from the people who got bad ratings. You won't be surprised to hear that they failed to see the wonder and beauty of this system. Now there is a new wrinkle that I've heard Mulgrew speak of. It's not value-added, but rather showing student progress. We'll work out ways to do this, via portfolios or something.

It won't surprise you to hear that I've asked people who study these things, and they've told me there is no research whatsoever to support these ideas for rating teachers. In fact, I know of no studies whatsoever saying anything about it at all. Yet I'm regularly told at the DA and elsewhere that it's a big improvement. I've also heard, from Mulgrew on down, that anyone who opposes APPR supports total control for the principal.

That's what you call a black and white fallacy--it suggests there is only one alternative to this proposal. Beyond that, it fails to acknowledge the pernicious nature of this system, to wit, allowing the burden of proof to be on the teacher at the 3020a hearing. That's one more feature of the system UFT leadership has been pushing as the best thing since sliced bread--not the feature, of course. They generally fail to acknowledge it, although one UFT Unity member on Twitter insisted that gave members more control. This is the same guy who got up and insisted he spoke to two random ATRs  in one day who loved the new incentive.

There has been a little space between NYSUT and UFT on this issue. For example, when the Mulgrew-endorsed toppling of Richard Iannuzzi as NYSUT President happened, Andrew Pallotta's Revive NYSUT claimed to oppose APPR. They blamed Iannuzzi for it. Though he did it together with Mulgrew, they never, ever criticized Mulgrew, nor did they vocally oppose it at inception. The hypocrisy was palpable.

Now I'm curious about this thing we're gonna do next year, if there is ever an agreement. Will there be portfolios and who knows what else in the future of NYC schools? To me, it seems like a whole lot of extra paperwork for already overburdened teachers. This would not be my preferred course of action with Janus hanging over our heads.

The APPR system has left teacher morale lower than its been at any point since I began over thirty years ago. Thus far, every so-called improvement has failed to improve anything. I'm not sure that the NYSUT position precisely mirrors that of UFT leadership.

Nonetheless, it takes a whole lot of chutzpah to simply take something you've consistently supported and rationalized, then call it useless. It's particularly egregious when you offer absolutely no explanation as to why you've changed your mind.

How are you supposed to trust people who do things like that?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Awakening the Democrats

Here's Vice-President Mike Pence speaking against aid for Katrina, back when he was a lowly Congressman. Of course Senator Ted Cruz opposed aid for victims of Sandy, while demanding help for Texas right now. Of course we should and need to help Texas, and we need to help all afflicted areas of our country, if indeed that's what it is.

You won't see Chuck Shumer standing up and saying screw Texas any time soon. So there are still fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans. After Sandy, we saw the oddest thing--Obama and Christie standing together for a common cause. While that was important, it probably helped Christie win reelection too. There are always those unintended consequences.

Meanwhile the Republican standard bearer, Donald J. Trump, has gone to Texas. He went wearing a hat he sells on his website for forty bucks. I mean, you'll see product placement on TV and films, so why shouldn't the President of the United States sell his campaign stuff while on the job? And why shouldn't he treat a disaster like a campaign rally, shouting, "What a turnout," as though the crowd were in Nuremberg waiting to see him?

The Democrats suck, but as far as I can tell they're the only game in town. I've voted for Green candidates, twice against Cuomo, and once against Obama. Though I wasn't crazy for Hillary, I voted for her against Trump. He's absolutely odious, and manages to make some of his creepy colleagues look better by comparison. It was a vicious campaign cycle, and some Jill Stein supporters unfriended me on Facebook to show their displeasure. I can live with that, though. She wasn't gonna be President in any case.

It's important for us to pressure Democrats to wake up with a message that resonates with people. Hillary's message, that she was not Donald Trump, was enough to get my vote but not enough for the rest of the country. With an Electoral College, voting rules that discourage voting, and even foreign interference we basically face a rigged election. Personally, I don't see a third party working nationally in modern American politics.

Bernie Sanders had the right message, and still does.  The answer, for Americans, is not endless was a la 1984. It's not make nice with the nazis and hope they vote for you. The answer is universal healh care. It's a living wage. It's college education for everyone who wants it. It's public education, not business style, not private, and quality for all. A lot of other countries go this way and I don't know of any of them looking to reverse course.

And it's on us, as teachers, as unionists, as citizens, to move the Democratic party toward that. I'd love to see a Labor Party. I'd vote on that line if there were one. I like the idea of Working Families, but they screwed over Zephyr Teachout in favor of slimy Andrew Cuomo. I'm rating them in need of improvement.

But meanwhile, someone has to stand up, someone has to call our representatives and let them know we're here, and someone has to stoke activism. That's on us, as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The President and the Nazis

I know some people who voted for Trump. They aren't bad people, but their candidate is. I've been having discussions with some of them lately, and I'm pretty shocked by some of their answers. The white supremacist/ KKK/ nazi rally got a lot of coverage. We've seen the tiki torch marchers chanting, "blood and soil," and, "Jews will not replace us."

It was the President's job to condemn nazis, white supremacists and KKK right then and there. Instead, he spoke of how there was blame "on many sides." I don't know much about Antifa, though I heard a lot about them after this. I do know that it's short for "anti-fascist." I'm certainly anti-fascist. Then I hear accusations about people from Black Lives Matter who did this or that.

There are always people in groups who do stupid things. I'm a teacher, and I'm not going to sit here and insist that we are all perfect. I think we're unfairly stereotyped, and that a lot of things we do are blown out of proportion. But of course I'm not perfect, no one is, and there are people in our group who do things of which I would not approve. It's the nature of a group, of human nature, to be precise.

It's very different, though, when the professed purpose of a group is to hurt, kill or destroy other people. It's very different when such beliefs are the basis of the group. When that's the case, you do indeed condemn the entire group. It was the job of President Donald Trump to get up there and say nazis, white supremacists, and KKK are intolerable. They go against everything our country is supposed to be built upon.

Instead, he got up and spoke nonsense about "many sides." He then got roped into saying the right thing, but moved back. Why? Because the racists constitute his base. These are the people who will vote for him no matter what lies he tells, and no matter what atrocities he enables. He just pardoned a sheriff who boasted of running a concentration camp. I'm pretty sure he's sewn up the KKK vote for 2020 already.

I don't know what the defense is for acts like that. Ones I hear are, "What about these people over here who did this thing?" Well, what about them? If the thing they did was wrong, it was wrong. If it was stupid or hurtful, that's what it was. But you don't defend Donald Trump's moral equivalence like that, because individuals who do stupid, destructive, or racist things are simply not equal to groups whose professed purpose is to do those things.

Then we hear about the statues, another diversion. They say look, in Germany they kept the concentration camps up so people could remember. Then they equate that with the confederate statues. But it's completely different. While the camp buildings stand, they stand to warn against past atrocities. I've been to Germany, and you don't see statues to commemorate Hitler and Goebbels. You don't see nazis portrayed as heroes in public squares.

And please, spare me the nonsense about how the nazis live in their mothers' basements, about how they are disenfranchised and out of touch. Stop telling me how stupid they are, because that's not what this is about. That's the same thing they said about the growing nazi movement in Germany in the last century. I don't know if those nazis walked around with guns, but these do. And in case it's escaped your attention, one of them just plowed through a crowd and killed somebody. If he lived in his mom's basement, that doesn't mitigate what he did. 

We know the history of the nazis. We know the history of the KKK. We know the history of white supremacy. Calling them "alt-right" doesn't change what they are. If Donald Trump doesn't know what the name means, and doesn't know history, that's the best argument in his defense. However, that's also an argument that renders him incompetent for his present position. Sadly, there are many others.

If we're gonna be the land of the free and the home of the brave, we need a leader to condemn this unequivocally. And that sure as hell is not Donald J. Trump.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reformy Chalkbeat Still Sucks

A lot of my ATR friends, among others are impressed with a recent piece in reformy Chalkbeat. After this blog and several others complained about the preposterous one-sided coverage of the issue, it's nice they finally took some time to actually talk to actual members of the Absent Teacher Reserve. There are great quotes, and the writer picked a very good one to title the story. It's a good story and she did a good job.

But this doesn't take reformy Chalkbeat off the hook for years of biased reporting. Chalkbeat began with promise and though I saw reformy leanings, it did attempt to give voice to a variety of points of view. One feature it had was a nightcap, where it went out of its way to give voice to independent voices, like bloggers and lesser known publications. It managed to show diversity back in those days.

Another thing Chalkbeat used to have was a vibrant comment section. They had a sidebar with recent comments inviting more, and it drew a lot of people in. Now you have to not only open the story, but also click on a "view comments" link before you can even see them. Often they're dominated by some guy who hates teacher pensions, and whatever the ostensible topic is it's all about why teacher pensions are the ruination of western civilization.

The problem is that Chalkbeat is an education publication, and therefore ought to be expert in education. When I read their stories, and I do so far less than I used to, I see reporters getting a story, going to the usual subjects, saying this is what they think, and that's it. Astroturf orgs like Students First NY, E4E, and "Families for Excellent Schools" pay people to talk to the press. Their leaders pay these spokespeople to take certain positions, i.e. anti-public school positions.

Now it's nice that Chalkbeat has heard our voices and gone out and found some ATR teachers to speak to. I certainly hope they expand on that and continue to reach out. However, that doesn't change the status quo or get them off the hook for all the times they've published reformy nonsense with no balance. Hey, you can call yourself Families for Excellent Schools, but when you're funded by hedge fund bazillionaires who wouldn't send their kids to public schools on a bet, the likelihood you actually represent working families is virtually nil.

There is a place for subjectivity. Right here, for example, I don't pretend to give all sides. I can only paint what I see. It's not my job to go out and find out exactly why the reformies think we should do more work for less pay. It doesn't much matter to me because they're wrong anyway. Our children will grow up to be working people. The notion that worsened working conditions will help our children is absurd.

Chalkbeat hasn't thought that through yet. I don't recall reading in Chalkbeat that the American Statistical Association believes that teachers influence test scores by 1-14%. I don't see the views of real education thinkers like Diane Ravitch there all that often. I frequently see pieces there that not only ignore UFT rank and file, but can't even be bothered getting a quote from leadership.

The rule over there is formulaic crap. What does E4E, whose leaders taught five minutes in public schools, think about the new UFT Contract? Why did Eva Moskowitz decide to sneeze in a blue handkerchief rather than a pink one? Why does Mayor de Blasio suck? Why are ATR teachers a scourge on Life Itself?

These are not the big questions. And at a crucial juncture like this one where the free press is under veritable assault, we need truth. We need genuine and multiple voices, not just a reinforcement of corporate crapification. It's funny how Trump cries over fake news simply because it's not favorable to him. The fact is here's an outlet that he'd probably be entirely comfortable with, simply because it reinforces all his insane notions about public education. Ironically, though Trump would love it, this leaves Chalkbeat as largely fake news. Having one lucid moment does not preclude being stark-raving mad, and having one fair story doesn't preclude overall reforminess either.

If I want to see out of the box thinking I'll read Diane Ravitch. And I do, in fact, all the time. If reporters from Chalkbeat have read either of her last two books, I see no evidence. Paid advocates quoted in Chalkbeat do not represent New York City schoolchildren. They represent forces pushing for privatization. If those are Chalkbeat's primary sources, they may as well just give it up and have Betsy DeVos and her staff write it.

That would certainly delight Gates and Walmart, both of whom fund Chalkbeat.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Trump and Moskowitz--Soulmates

I'm fascinated reading about Eva Moskowitz and her new book. I'm not the first to blog about it, and Jersey Jazzman has a great piece on it. I want to thank him in advance for the quote and commentary I'm reproducing here. This is about Kate Taylor, who wrote a particularly devastating piece about the Moskowitz Academies.

"Now I’m going to share with you some facts about Taylor and her editors that I fear may come across as an ad hominem attack but I hope you’ll ultimately conclude isn’t," Moskowitz writes.

She then reveals that Taylor attended a private high school, and that her editors either attended private schools or grew up in the suburbs, suggesting the Times’ journalists are incapable of understanding the black and Latino children who disproportionately attend Success schools

So here's the thing--an ad hominem argument is when you attack the person rather than the argument. That's exactly what Moskowitz is doing, while openly and shamelessly pretending not to. It's a logical fallacy and has no validity. I don't know--do you think minority students should be forced to test-prep until they pee their pants?

Is Times reporter Kate Taylor ignorant of that answer because she attended private high schools? Or is the argument itself inherently racist? I attended public high schools and I find it appalling. I wouldn't want my children or yours, or anyone's deprived of a bathroom when they needed one. I'm a public school teacher and subject to chancellor's regulations. I can tell you if I regularly made students pee themselves, I'd probably be fired. Campbell Brown would call for my head if I weren't.

In slamming people and passing that off as argument, Moskowitz is very much the mirror image of Donald Trump. How many times has Trump called out Obama? His primary opponents? Megan what's her name, formerly from Fox? McCain? McConnell? Who can even count who else? When Trump gets called by the press, it's "fake news." It's the "failing New York Times." Never mind coming up with an argument that supports the name-calling. Just repeat the fallacy, stoke opposition, and hope people believe you.

Moskowitz also goes after Juan Gonzalez, who wrote pieces exposing how buddy-buddy she was with then-Chancellor Joel Klein. I remember very well reading these pieces and being completely unsurprised. Here we are with this dual school system--one with rules and another where they just take the city's money and do whatever they want with it. And what do they accomplish with that?

Of course, it depends who you ask. Moskowitz is all over the press claiming that her system is wonderful. But I'll turn again to Jersey Jazzman with a detailed report on how Moskowitz Academies are different from public schools. Imagine the kind of test scores your school would have if you basically got rid of students who didn't make the cut. How many charters has Gary Rubinstein exposed that claimed 100% college acceptance, but somehow dumped and failed to replace 60% of the students with which they began?

Moskowitz also goes after Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio openly opposed charter schools when he ran, and was elected overwhelmingly. He was going to block a few Moskowitz Academies, but Governor Andrew Cuomo came riding in on his white steed and changed the law for Moskowitz. If de Blasio doesn't provide space for the Moskowitz Academy, he has to pay their rent.

So basically, mayoral control means it all comes down to the mayor. He makes decisions about everything, unless he bucks Moskowitz. Then, it's completely unacceptable. In this, Moskowitz reminds me of Trump once again. Trump only respects the law if it benefits him. After Trump trashes Mexicans, a Mexican-American judge can't fairly judge him. After a judge rules against his Muslim ban, he's a "so-called judge." The law is what I say it is, when I say it is, and that's that.

Moskowitz didn't want to agree to any stinking rules about pre-K. At first she canceled her program rather than agree to the rules everyone else had to follow. But she fought it, and evidently is winning right now. After all, why should students have to wait until they're six years old before having the right to pee themselves?

I'm right, they say, and all my detractors are wrong. Only I can fix this problem. Oh, and I'm not a racist, even though I'm affiliated with people who are. Trump and Moskowitz. Made for one another. Eva is Trump with better hair.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

All the Cluelessness That's Fit to Print

A few days ago, Diane Ravitch wrote about the NY Times and Trump. They oppose him, both on their editorial and op-ed pages. Ravitch gives particular attention to Charles Blow. Sometimes I like him, but not always. Ravitch herself wrote about him and how misinformed he is on the topic of reforminess. For me, once people spout reforminess, it's hard to take anything they say seriously. This is especially true when being well-informed is a crucial factor of their job description.

Of course Blow is not the only Times op-ed writer who adores all things reformy. Nicholas Kristof, like Eva Moskowitz, doesn't favor teacher certification. Now we all understand Eva wants cheap, replaceable teachers. If she could simply open up a new can every time she needed a few fresh ones, surely she'd be happy. Kristof, on the other hand, is ridiculous and illogical to the point of contending that teacher certification kept Meryl Streep and Colin Powell from becoming NYC teachers.

Have you noticed Streep and Powell coming to your school asking for work? Are their CVs on your principal's desk? Hey, I know it's a strain for Kristof to bang out 700 words twice a week. That's one heckuva burden. Perhaps all that work has addled his brain. Or maybe, just maybe, we need to be united in something more than opposition to Donald Trump.

Every reformy I know of opposes Trump. Even hyper-opportunist Eva Moskowitz was shamed into saying something negative about him after he vilified people who oppose white supremacy. But we have to be careful before we determine they're our friends. A while back I was Facebook friends with a whole lot of people who opposed Common Core. It was pretty clear, to me at least, that a lot of right-leaning people who opposed it would've embraced it had it not been pushed by Barack Obama. I mean, it was nice agreeing about Common Core, but all in all we don't see eye to eye.

I have a similar issue with opinion writers who oppose Trump but embrace all things reformy. These are people who either can't be bothered with cursory research or choose not to accept it. What's the fundamental difference between them and the climate change deniers? How are their beliefs more acceptable than those of people who think the earth was created 600 years ago, or whatever?

They don’t like Trump. We don’t like Trump. But they go along with nonsense like Common Core and charters. This is pretty much what Hillary did, and what she ran on. And this watered down wimpy nonsense is precisely what placed Donald Trump in the White House. Now they're all on their high horses, telling us how bad he is.

Truth is not a box of chocolates. You don't get to bite into one and place it back into the box half-eaten if you don't like it. There are no "alternative facts." You have to pretty much take it all, whether you like it or not, and deal with it. I voted for Hillary against Donald Trump, but I was sickened by her failure to embrace universal health care, college for all, and a living wage. Most Americans favor it, and a whole lot need it.

The point is we’re gonna have to do better in providing a vision for the future, because theirs has failed spectacularly. You can't come into an election with half-assed warmed-over platitudes and say, "Trump sucks so vote for us." More importantly, you can't present yourself as an authority and then pontificate on topics about which you know nothing.

A free press is vital to a democracy. The outrageous ignorance of NY Times columnists is most definitely one of the things that's brought us where we are today. On education, at least, their editorial staff is no better. Their education reporting, with notable exceptions, can be the very worst of any NY paper. On ATRs, it's little better than reformy Chalkbeat.

If we want to educate our children, and if we want to beat Trump and his merry band of white supremacist apologists, we're gonna need better from the "paper of record."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

NY Post Reports Teacher Has Office

This morning I was perusing the news when I saw this story about some 36-year-old teacher who evidently had an affair with a 16-year-old student. It appears this was not completely unique in that school, and the Post calls it "Horndog High." The student was just awarded $750,000 in punitive damages.

Of course this teacher, unlike the ATRs whose heads are regularly demanded, was actually found guilty of something and fired. That's what happens to teachers when they do things like these, as opposed to, say, being in the wrong school at the right time.

In any case, the story also contained this paragraph:

While the married mom was supposed to be tutoring Eng, the pair were having intercourse and oral sex in her SUV and even in her office, where she was accused of keeping a stash of weed in her filing cabinet.

Her office? A teacher has an office? Have you ever heard of such a thing? Could you imagine having a quiet place to prepare your lessons, think about what you're going to do, and write quietly? I share a department office with a dozen other people, and since we work with the English department, a bunch of English teachers are always coming and going as well. Actually I come in an hour early almost every single day to prepare for my classes.

That's not enough, of course. You never know what's going to happen, or what you'll have to change or adjust. At the end of almost every day I have things on my mind, and I have to write them down or they'll forever be lost. My short-term memory is not exactly a thing of wonder and beauty.

I'm also the chapter leader, so I'm contractually entitled to a work space. I've had one for the last three or four years, in fact. I've shared a small office with the leader of our JROTC program. I'm sure he would tell you I'm the best office mate anyone could have. I'm almost never there. Originally I used it a little more. The principal was kind enough to furnish me with a computer, and whenever there was a grievance or something, I'd file it online and print it there.

Then I bought a Macbook Air and started carrying it everywhere. With WiFi printing available in our building, there wasn't much need for me to visit the office,  I therefore became an even better office mate.

However, there were about 300 UFT members in my school last time I looked. Stuff happens. People get upset. Sometimes they need a private space. I was able to provide that because my friend from JROTC, perhaps in eternal gratitude for my having left him alone 98% of the time, was always ready to give space to me and whoever else required it.

Unfortunately, this year the DOE, in its infinite wisdom, decided to give us 4,725 students. They also increased our special education population from about 650 to 800. This means we needed another school psychologist. Actually we've needed one for years. This year we probably need three, so we'll have two. Alas, the principal has unceremoniously booted me and the JROTC leader from our office.

Now in fairness, he's also given up his conference room to be used as a classroom, so the sacrifice is not entirely on our end. He's also offered me alternate space in our UFT Teacher Center office. But that's ridiculous, with all sorts of people marching in and out, and all sorts of scheduled meetings and PD sessions there. I declined the offer.

The thing is, when people are upset, they need privacy. The contract requires the school to give me some space, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't need to be adequate space. For now, I'm moving my office to the street.

Now things could change. With the help of Ellie Engler from UFT we were able to negotiate an annex to our building, though that's a few years away. This should get us 18 classrooms, although if they remove the trailers it will only be a net gain of ten. DOE agreed that this would be to accommodate our existing population. However, as far as I'm concerned, but overloading us in advance, they've reneged on their deal.

I expect September to be a disaster. Meanwhile, the folks who made these decisions will sit around in Tweed, in their air-conditioned offices, doing Whatever it Is They Do There. Thank goodness they're on the job.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Another Day, Another ATR Hatchet Job

The NY Post today has yet another assault on the Absent Teacher Reserve. Naturally, all blame is cast on the United Federation of Teachers and those who find themselves stuck in the ATR. No blame whatsoever is assigned to Michael Bloomberg, Patron Saint of Reforminess, who had an equal hand in creating this monstrosity.

Like reformy Chalkbeat, cited in the editorial, the Post bemoans the salaries of teachers without regular assignments, and also goes on to complain when the teachers are actually assigned. The clear implication is that teachers should be fired without due process. That's a slippery slope because we are all ATRs.

It's important to note that any teacher can be brought up on charges at any time, and that even if the charges are nonsense it's likely some minor one will be sustained. Maybe you used your phone in the school, or did something equally inconsequential. That's enough to fine you a few thousand bucks and place you into the ATR. Then you're doomed, if the Post gets its way.

Note also that the Post harps on salary. Teachers make too much money and it's best, evidently,  to fire them and save it. That's an odd argument for a piece purporting to be concerned about children. Do you want your children to grow up and be fired because their salaries are too high? It's not hard to infer the Post is fine with that. Those of us who actually care about children want decent working conditions for them.

...the ATR crowd averages 18 years of tenure — which means their salaries are too high for many principals’ budgets.
Yup, it's the money. I'm not sure how the Post expects to recruit the quality teacher it claims to want for less. NYC has tried that for decades and it's resulted in various intergalactic teacher searches. I myself got this job as a result of a subway ad. The utter lack of respect for experience in teachers shows how little the Post appreciates education, as well as a cynical lack of expectation that with age comes wisdom.

Another issue this brings up is so-called fair student funding. The fact is principals were not always tasked with worrying about teacher salaries in their budgets. This needs to change, and I hope UFT leadership moves toward making that happen. Doubtless the Post, which seems to hate the idea of teachers being compensated for their work, would cry bloody murder.

The Post offers absolutely no evidence for their main premise, that children will suffer as a result of being taught by ATRs. Make no mistake, this is a stereotype, promoted and reinforced by reformy Chalkbeat and others. If there are some ATRs who shouldn't be teaching, there is a process to remove them. Precisely zero of these ATR teachers have been removed by this process. The Post may or may not know this, but I do, and now you do.

Bernard Gassaway, former Boys and Girls HS principal, tweeted one test of that: “If ATRs are truly qualified top teachers, then place them at the highest performing schools where vacancies exist. No exceptions!”

It's interesting that the Post uses an argument from the leader of a school that, by Bloomberg standards, failed for many years. Also interesting is the fact that Gassaway himself took no responsibility for it, instead blaming the city. Then there's the strawman argument that UFT says ATRs are "top teachers." I have no idea whether or not that's true, and I'd argue, rather than stereotyping ATR teachers for better or worse, we should judge them individually.

All I'm saying is, by the DOE's own standards, no ATR teachers have been deemed unfit. Therefore firing them is beyond the pale. This is particularly true because Gassaway and the Post gleefully spread stereotypes about them. Not only that, but the DOE actually has a Scarlet Letter thing on the records of many, warning principals not to hire them even if they want to.

If the Post likes arguments like Gassaway's, I have one for them. Why not have the charter schools, which they say perform miracles, take all the low-performing, impoverished, non-English speaking and learning disabled students and work their magic? I mean, since we all suck and they're so wonderful, why not? On this actual astral plane, a whole lot of charters weed out students they find difficult, dump them back into public schools, and then pretend they don't exist. It's no coincidence that some Moskowitz Academy got caught with a "got to go" list.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of arguments that pit us against kids. I go into work every day to help New York City schoolchlldren. The Post represents the interests of privatizers hoping to profit off of them. The Post cried for years that ATR teachers weren't placed. Then when there's finally a program to place them, they cry even louder.

What the Post really wants is to see people fired without justification. It wants the erosion of due process. And with that, who will stand up for things that really help children, like reasonable class sizes and decent facilities? The Post? Reformy Chalkbeat?


Monday, August 21, 2017

The ATR and the Big Lie

I've never been an ATR, so I can't speak from experience here. My experience is limited to being an occasional substitute teacher, not one of my favorite things. I was in my school a few times this summer, and one day a secretary asked me to cover a class. I thought I'd maybe help out, so I asked, "Which class?"

She told me she needed a teacher for a day, and that there were three classes, two hours each. I told her thanks but no thanks. Two hours is a long time to work as a substitute teacher. I generally sub exactly once per semester, because that's what the contract requires. Some teachers volunteer to do more for extra pay, but not me. I don't even want to do the one.

As a teacher, I form relationships with students. They're not always the best, but they're always relationships. That's why I make it a point never to have students removed. I always think it's better they worry about what I will do, rather than some dean or AP. Really, what can they do that I can't? I also feel like allowing students to bother me that much signifies that they've won somehow. I've given up and shown them they are too much for me. I don't like to give them that.

However, when I'm subbing, I don't really give a golly gosh darn what the students think. I never have to see them again, so I'm happy to toss someone out so everyone else sees I'll do it. Of course, that works two ways. Obviously all the students know they won't see me tomorrow either. So why should they be on their best behavior, or anything remotely resembling it? Why not toss absolutely everything at that substitute teacher, and why not literally? Who's gonna know? Who's gonna care?

Now imagine that you're an ATR teacher, and your stock in trade is showing up and teaching whatever to whomever. Physics today, Chinese tomorrow. And then there are the principals, quoted in reformy Chalkbeat, who say how awful ATR teachers are. I'd only hire 5% of them, maybe, they say. And there are two issues with that.

Issue number one, of course, is if I were teaching Chinese or physics, I'd be totally incompetent. I know virtually nothing about either. Even if a teacher were to leave me lessons all I could do would be follow instructions, watch the kids and hope for the best. And the fact is that I get lessons for subbing far less than half the time I do it. Sometimes I hear that teachers should give lessons in their own subject area. Now mine is ESL, so it would be ludicrous to give such a lesson to native speakers. But even if I were to give one in ELA, imagine the reaction of a group of teenagers when a sub they will likely never see again gives a lesson on a different subject. And even if it's the same subject, it's ridiculous to compare the class culture of a regular teacher to one of a sub.

Issue number two is that principals, already overworked, now have to do way more observations than ever. NYC demands double the state-required two observations per year. Even if that were not the case, if I were a principal, it would not be a high priority to observe teachers who were just passing through. I'm chapter leader of the most overcrowded and largest school in Queens. My job is nuts (and believe it or not, I'm not complaining). The principal's job is crazier than mine. There is just no time to fairly assess teachers who aren't around very long. Frankly, I very much doubt the principals who cavalierly toss out these percentages have even bothered to look. The impressions we read about in Chalkbeat are fomented and reinforced by the stereotypes promoted by, among others, Chalkbeat itself.

If someone wants to make me ATR for a day, or a week, or whatever, I'd be happy to participate and let a reporter follow me around. Then they could see what it was really like. Personally, I doubt they have any interest. My success rate as a sub, by my own estimation, runs around 50-50. Sometimes kids are cooperative and I let them do what they want. Other times, they need to make a show, and I need to have one or two removed before they settle down. Sometimes, they never quite settle down and I can't wait to be out of there.

I wonder if any reporters from Chalkbeat ever had or saw a substitute teacher. To compare a classroom with a culture, developed over time, with one led by a total stranger the students expect to never see again is preposterous beyond belief. Watching Chalkbeat and others work up this nonsense so that "Families for Excellent Schools" can organize a dozen parents to protest teachers going to work is beyond the pale.

ATR detractors are mad the teachers are getting paid without regular classes. They're mad the teachers are getting regular classes. Their demand is that all these people be fired for no reason whatsoever.

For my money, they can all do what Mooch says Steve Bannon does.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reformy Chalkbeat Has Another ATR Report with No ATRs

Kind of amazing that an education publication can write for years about a group and never bother to talk to a member, or learn anything when finally pressured into it. But that's no issue for Chalkbeat NY. Naturally the first person they interview is from Students First NY, because they have her on speed dial. (Norm Scott notes this same person supports no certification for teachers.) And who better to assess a situation like the ATR than someone who's paid to shill for charter schools? How many ATRs does Students First NY know? My best guess is zero.

In fact, I've heard from an ATR who spoke with Chalkbeat for an hour. This happened after several blogs, this one included, pointed out how ridiculous it was that they wrote about ATRs without interviewing any. So Chalkbeat's move, evidently, was to interview one single solitary ATR and report virtually nothing about it. (Update--A commenter informs me they interviewed two, thought evidence in the article is scant.) After all, you could always get someone reformy to say the same old crap they always do, and that's what passes for journalism over at Chalkbeat NY.

One of the cool things about just asking reformies what they think is it makes your Gates/ Walmart funders happy. ATRs are bad for kids. They're no good. It's bad policy. It's so bad it's shocking. Why? Who knows? Chalkbeat doesn't ask and doesn't appear to care. That would entail digging more deeply than the Students First NY position, getting real quotes from real teachers, and who wants to do that? Why that would be, you know, like work or something.

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report

It's interesting that Chalkbeat makes this reference plural, while offering no evidence they've spoken with even one ATR, let alone two or more. You'd think they'd have a quote. After all, they have a quote from the single person from Students First NY whose remark is of more importance than any UFT member. Where's the quote from a UFT member? And while we're on the topic, this contradicts UFT leadership, which seems to feel otherwise. (Why on earth are they advertising on Chalkbeat?) It's time to get rid of so-called fair student funding, so principals don't have to worry about salaries of those they hire.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.” 

I wonder if anyone wants that principal. I've been up close and personal this year with schools and people who didn't want principals. Oddly, their salaries never came into play. Rather, it was their demonstrated cruelty, self-centeredness, and incompetence, none of which has been established for a single one of the ATR teachers generally ignored by this piece.

Once again, Chalkbeat puts out the argument that it's inconvenient to pay teachers. It's pretty interesting to hear that a principal is troubled by having to do that. What is more important for children than teachers? A big screen TV in the principal's office? A gala luncheon at the Marriott? Getting a teacher with the lowest possible salary regardless of quality? Who knows what they hell principals like that find important?  For me, teaching kids is important. That's why I'm a teacher.

If I were a journalist, it would be important for me to talk to teachers. In fact, I talk to teachers just about every day. I also talk to students every single school day. I'd be a terrible journalist by Chalkbeat standards. I don't know anyone from Students First NY, E4E, or "Families for Excellent Schools." I'd probably go around talking to real participants instead of paid shills.

What could I possibly know about education?

Steve Bannon and Eva Moskowitz Trash Talk Trump

Everyone's heard of what rats do on sinking ships, so I guess it was bound to happen. Steve Bannon, maybe on borrowed time after Trump's odd comments about him, called up a left-leaning publication on record. He said some things that make sense, i.e., that Seoul would not last very long at all in Trump's fire and fury. He also said he hoped the left kept protesting nazis, thinking it would hurt them in the polls. I didn't agree with that. I almost never watch cable news at all, but the other day I couldn't even see support for nazis on Fox News.

Of course, the other Trump enthusiast to distance herself was Moskowitz, Count on reformy Chalkbeat to shadow her every move, whether jumping on or off the Trump bandwagon. Moskowitz was under consideration for Education Secretary, because Trump needed the reformiest people, and needed to be so reformy that people would get tired of all the reforminess. (In fairness, it seems he's achieving that.)

Of course Moskowitz needed to distance herself from him at this point. Of course, she didn't need to distance herself at other points. For example, before the hoopla of the presidential campaign, Trump spent a great deal of time in his quest trying to prove our first black President, Barack Obama, was not born in the United States. In fact, even when Obama produced his birth certificate, that was not enough for Trump. It's not too hard to see this effort as overt racism, particularly since there was no basis for it whatsoever. But I digress.

Eva Moskowitz was not put off when Trump said Mexicans were rapists and murderers. I was, because I understand the odious nature of stereotypes. In fact, I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood and got to experience them very young. People who traffic in stereotypes ought not to be around children, let alone teach them. But hey, it's okay with Eva Moskowitz, and she runs a bunch of schools.

Moskowitz didn't mind when Trump incited his supporters toward violence with those who disagreed with them. It was fine when he got a bunch of angry thugs all excited. After all, it isn't like they hate her students and everything they stand for, is it? Actually, given that they're white supremacists, nazis, KKK, and whatever, it kind of is. But that didn't temper Eva's support. Go figure.

Trump didn't think a Mexican-American judge could be fair to him. He expected the judge to be just as predudiced as he was. He acted like he didn't know who David Duke was. Forget that three weeks ago he was telling police to hit the heads of suspects on their cars. No innocent before being proven guilty for him, and no issue for Eva.

Then there's that Muslim ban. Trump said we needed to stop them from coming in until we figured out just what the hell was going on. I found it odd that he was running for President and didn't already know. I mean, you kind of look to the President to tell you what the hell is going on. The President has top-secret briefings and info not available to the rest of us. Of course, Trump was too busy read those briefings, opting instead for feel good stuff about himself twice a day. So it's no wonder he doesn't know what the hell is going on.  I's kind of our job to be role models, and it's kind of our job to help kids figure out what the hell is going on. But ignoring that was good enough for Eva Moskowitz if if got her favorable treatment.

And who could forget the "grab them by the pussy" moment, followed soon by Trump's claim that no one respected women more than him. My first thought was that women are in pretty deep peril if no one respected them more than some guy who was grabbing them by the pussy. A lot of us thought that was the end for Donald Trump, but there's the PT Barnum quote that, "Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American people." And then there's the fact that Trump actually got three million fewer votes than his opponent, which kind of put the kibosh on any arguments this was a democratic election. None of that mattered to Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz is used to manipulating politicians for her own interests.  We all know that Joel Klein, while closing public schools rather than helping them, was at her beck and call. Of course, he's gone now. And we all know that whoredog in chief Andrew Cuomo would appear at a charter rally just about anytime as long as those suitcases of cash came barreling in. But Cuomo sensed the mood was shifting sometime during the last few years of opt-out, and decided to change his image to Sanders Lite.

So there was Eva, all alone. Who could she turn to? There was Trump. You knew he didn't give a damn about opt-out. I mean, a man who refused to criticize white supremacists and KKK was unlikely to come out against standardized testing. It seemed foolproof.

But then came the day that not even Fox News would rationalize his actions and Eva knew she'd made a mistake. So she wrote a letter. Now I can only assume she's now good with herself. She should have been "more outspoken" against all the things she evidently found completely acceptable. She also she has a book to sell.

I can't wait for reformy Chalkbeat to tell us how wonderful it is.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Big Bank and Me

I have a few accounts at Chase. I think they're also called JP Morgan. It's convenient for me because they seem to have branches everywhere, and if I need cash I can almost always find a Chase ATM.

A month ago, I deposited a check for $1650. I had a deposit form, and I filled it out correctly. I don't like to brag, but I'm a high school graduate and I can handle that many digits and possibly more. (Sadly, as a working teacher, I don't often get to handle many more.) But it wasn't my mistake when Chase decided the check was only worth $16.50. Nonetheless, I was a little upset. That left me with over $1600 less than I'd expected.

I called the number on the back of my debit card. I spoke to someone with an unidentifiable accent who didn't know what to do. This person transferred me to someone else who also didn't know what to do. Oddly, they had access to a view of the check, and knew it was incorrect. I can only assume Chase had never, ever made a mistake before, so it was beyond their capacity.

As I was not working, I decided to visit my local Chase branch. What they did was get on the phone, but evidently the people on the other ends of their phones were not the same as those on the other side of mine. They were able to come to an agreement to somehow issue me a refund, of course at the expense of my friend who wrote the check. I was a little upset at having to waste my time on this, but I was off for the summer so it wasn't that bad.

This month, though, I deposited yet another check for $1650. This time Chase decided it was worth $7650. Now that was better for me than $16.50, but somewhat of a disadvantage for my friend. For one thing, there wasn't enough money in the account to cover it, so it bounced. I made two phone calls, and of course there was nothing they could do, so once again I visited the bank.

The people there were very nice, and said they would work something out and not to worry about it. Nonetheless, the next day there was a charge of $12 to my account for the bounced check. I called again.I told the person on the other end my fee for gross incompetence was $50. He was confused. He said the fee was only twelve dollars. I told him this was my fee, not his.

After all, if the bank is free to charge arbitrary fees for my errors, why shouldn't I charge one for theirs? The person on the phone didn't understand that, so I went back to the bank. After a half-hour wait, I went home and sent them an email. Chase said they would investigate. The following day, they credited back my twelve bucks.

I told them it wasn't good enough, and I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. It turns out, though, that they don't deal with arbitrary fees initiated by consumers. Who knew? So the next time I get an email from Chase telling me how sorry they are, I'll tel them we'll see each other in small claims court. I think the minimum is fifty bucks. However, if it isn't, I'm willing to raise my arbitrary fee.

After all, like theirs, it's just something I made up, so it may as well be any damn number I see fit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Where Is the Line for Donald Trump?

It's surreal. Donald Trump stands up, in front of the entire country, and suggests there is moral equivalency between nazis, white supremacists, KKK and those who protest them. He gives aid and comfort to terrorists, to those who murder people on the streets.

To their credit, a few Republicans have directly challenged him. Many have not. But almost all supported him, and all who did have blood on their hands today. And they've enabled and encouraged this for decades.

My father is 94 years old. He was in the US Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And he is, therefore, part of the "alt-left" who Trump rejects. If the "alt-left" is composed of people who oppose nazis, I'm proud to be part of it.

It's unbelievable that we now see a President of the United States so undiplomatic he will and does say any damn thing that suits his purposes. While he is nominally a Republican, and while the Republicans selected and supported him, being a Republican doesn't define him. Donald Trump has the mentality and temperament of a junior high school student, and lashes out on Twitter at those who fail to tell him how wonderful he is. He's juvenile. How he did business with that mindset is a mystery to me.

Trump was unable to stick with his refutation of bigotry. He was forced to do that, and Trump cannot be forced to do anything. He's a recalcitrant child who refuses to stop eating ice cream before dinner. Trump can say some of them are good people. Here's the thing--anyone who stands with nazis and KKK is not good people. And anyone who still backs Trump is saying it's OK to wink and nod to nazis.

And maybe, in the United States of America, that's fine. On Facebook I see a lot of people saying this is the end. Well is it? When Donald Trump said Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, I took him for a lunatic. He's done nothing to disprove it. When he came out and stereotyped Mexicans as rapists and murderers, I thought he was finished. When he said, of John McCain, "I like people who weren't captured," I thought the same. Then, of course, there was grabbing women by the pussy. Who'd have thought that was a route to the presidency?

Now the NY Post has a cover ridiculing Trump. We know Murdoch, who owns Fox News, owns the Post. What on earth does it take before America has had it with this man? What does it take before his fellow Republicans sense they've gone just a little too far?

It's hard to say. If you haven't seen the VICE mini-documentary on the Charlottesville nazi rally, do so now. Then ask yourself if this is the America you want. I'm doubtful anyone who reads this blog will see eye to eye with this President.

It was hard to imagine a President who could make George HW Bush one appear admirable. I was not a fan. Nonetheless, Bush denounced David Duke as a racist and called him unfit for office. The fact that the sitting President of the United States cannot meet even this low bar is a national disgrace.

Donald Trump is unfit for office. And if the GOP that controls Congress and the Senate doesn't impeach him, they are too. Anyone who endorses racism and bigotry needs to be out.

This is not over. The nazis, KKK, and white supremacists will be out again and again, with the tacit approval of our Bigot-in-Chief. And we will see this over and over until and unless we toss out Trump and all his enablers. 

The only question is whether We, the People are up to the challenge.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It's Beginning to Look Like 1939, so UFT Leadership Disbands Social Justice Committee

That photo is from right here in Union Square last Sunday night. It's surreal that we have to even contemplate such a thing, even as the alt-reich marches through Virginia, and who knows where else. Trump has a long history of ignoring right-wing violence, but this was the week it really jumped out at America, yours truly included.

I was astounded by Trump's remarks about blame on "many sides." It's like you're at a trial and the judge says, "Hey, I know this guy killed 12 people. But let's be fair and look into the fault of the victims. I mean, there they were, actively and provocatively living and all, just challenging the defendant to kill them."

Or it could be rape. Aren't people always accusing women of dressing provocatively? It's their fault, some lawyer will say, that the rapist attacked them on the street.  I once had a job playing guitar at a strip joint in a duo with a friend of mine. There was this big U-shaped bar and a bunch of guys sat around drinking Bud tall boys while the women would dance. And the women would not talk to any guys around the bar. I really didn't see the appeal of that kind of night out. My friend and I marveled that the guys who sat drinking and watching didn't go out afterward and kill people and stuff. Of course if they did, Trump would blame the victims.

On many sides. It was unbelievable. The nazis and white supremacists got the message.

Andrew Anglin, the creator of the Nazi site The Daily Stormer, praised Trump's response. "He didn't attack us," he wrote in a blog post on the site. "(He) implied that there was hate ... on both sides. So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us all."

Yeah, what haters people who oppose nazis are. Boy, Trump and his people must be really pissed off about World War II, when Americans went to war to stop Adolf Hitler. Of course a lot of Americans, including a whole lot of GOP leaders, had no problem making Trump look like the self-serving pig that he is. Trump clearly felt the pressure, and a few days later made the statement he ought to have made in the first place. Then, of course, he complained about being pressured to condemn nazis.

Amazing. And when Trump attacks the press, which is often half asleep anyway, he need not give evidence. He just calls them "fake news," as always. Truthiness via repetition is good enough for his Fox "News" watching  followers. President Junior High School Rankout King could not simply stand by a reasonable statement. He had to complain about it. Not only that, but he needed to further demean it by retweeting a diversion about violence in Chicago. His message, in case it isn't abundantly obvious, is that we should stop focusing on nazis marching in our streets because there's violence in Chicago.The originator of that tweet describes himself as "new right," the heart of Trump supporters, for my money.

The nazis certainly get the message. Poor Donald Trump didn't want to disavow them, but he had to. The "fake press" made him take a stand against nazis, and they won't stop at that. Maybe they'll make him disavow murder, or grabbing women by the pussy, or who knows what next. It never ends with those truly bad people. Next they're gonna want elections determined by number of votes cast.

Meanwhile, I'm part of a long group email. The messages keep coming fast and furious. I can't even keep up. The upshot of it is that UFT leadership, who dare not even utter Trump's name, has chosen this week to disband its social justice committee.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another Day, Another UFT Member Takes the Fall for a Principal

That's what this story in yesterday's Post suggests. This time it's not a teacher but rather a guidance counselor. After all, we're all UFT members, so why not share the fun?

Now that's not to say that there are no consequences for principals. Principal Santiago Taveras was found to have changed grades and course codes for a bunch of students. You see, for Taveras, it was a matter of honor. He boldly stepped down from his cushy deputy chancellor gig to take that principal job and show the world that Bloomberg's former flunkies could do anything. When screaming and shouting didn't get the test grades he needed, well, he had to do something.

As for consequences, well of course there are consequences. When real things happen, when they are proven, principals in NYC have to face consequences. For Taveras, it meant yet another demotion. Not only that, but his $198K salary was reduced to $150K. That's some tough love from no-nonsense Chancellor Carmen "It's a Beautiful Day" Fariña. I mean, how's an important guy like Taveras supposed to get by on only 150K a year? He must think about that each and every moment in his new gig as "educational administrator" doing Whatever the Hell That Is.

As for guidance counselors, well, they don't get treated any better than teachers. This one was fined $7,500,  and I presume made an ATR. After all, you can't have counselors who change grades to make things look better. That would be a disgrace. Actually, though, the counselor says she didn't do it. The counselor says she declined to make the change on the last day of school. Not only that, but check this out:

Taveras’ signature — not Hunter’s — was on a grade-change form, 55 to 65, and there was no paper trail on another change from “no show” to 55, according to testimony. Without paperwork, only a principal can change a grade and enter it into the system, a veteran clerk explained.

Well, that's one guilty guidance counselor. At least that's what another $1600 a day arbitrator decided. Never mind the clear evidence she didn't even do it. And what about the fact that Taveras had already been found guilty of this very behavior? What about the fact that he'd been removed from his job for it?

The arbitrator, in his infinite and well-compensated wisdom, deemed that irrelevant. The important thing was--well I have no idea what the important thing was. I have no idea why this counselor was made to pay $7500, or what she did wrong. My best guess is insubordination. When your principal says to cheat, well, you'd better get to cheating. Otherwise, be prepared to wander from school to school.

And you'd better hope the DOE hasn't got another top-secret file on you, that you used your cell phone in the school building, or that you turned off the lights when you showed a video. Those are career-ending offenses these days. Anyway, who knows what else this counselor may have done? Maybe she took 46 minutes for lunch instead of 45. Maybe she chewed gum in the school building. Maybe she didn't use enough soap when she washed her hands. It could be anything, really.

I guess this is yet another story Campbell Brown won't be spreading all over the media. After all, now she's got a gig for Facebook doing something or other. I mean, she's qualified. She has a Face, and for all I know she's read a Book. Given a story like this, on the heels of a similar one just days ago, it appears to me that due process is a thing we can not be negotiating or legislating away.

Now I don't know everything about these cases. But I've got firsthand experience with arbitrators make questionable decisions. It appears to me, far from going out of their way to defend incompetent UFT members, they seem to be accommodating the wishes of crooked administrators to blame us.

Maybe UFT members aren't the only ones in need of PD.

Thanks to Bronx ATR

Friday, August 11, 2017

Who Had this Man Fired?

There's an amazing and multi-layered story in yesterday's NY Post. A lot of people say that teachers can never be fired, but here's a story about one who was. (And he isn't the only one, because I know others.) I see a bunch of charges, none of which seem to merit a whole lot of response, if any.

Evidently this school has a gender-bender day, where students dress up as the opposite sex. I wonder how students already struggling with gender issues would feel about that. I wonder how parents would feel. In any case, gender-bender is a thing at this school, but visits to Malcolm X's grave site are off limits. And wouldn't you know it? This teacher not only questioned gender-bender day, but also wanted to take his students to see Malcolm's grave site.

But that's not all this teacher did. He turned the lights off while showing a video! Can you imagine? Not only that, but he showed a clip from a Boondocks cartoon, and maybe there was a bad word or something. Also, he used a cell phone in school. (I actually don't know any teacher who has not used a cell phone in school. And in fact, when I show a video clip, students routinely get up and switch the lights off. I let them do it, so maybe I should be fired too.)

This is the flip side of all the crap spread around by Campbell Brown, and the incurious one-sided reporting of Chalkbeat. In fact, it even links to another story that says what's really going on, which evidently escaped the notice of the arbitrator who ordered the firing. You see the principal, the one Campbell Brown wants to make firing decisions, was embroiled in a cheating scandal. And waddya know, the fired teacher was one of the ones who blew the whistle on him.

At first, they fined the teacher $2,000 for this petty nonsense and placed him in the ATR. You'd think the principal would be happy just to bounce this guy, who as far as I can tell did nothing of significance beyond blowing a whistle. Maybe, if the video clip was that questionable, they could have asked him not to show clips like that. But evidently that's not enough, so the principal, or the DOE, or likely both decided to dredge up whatever they could muster, and do a second 3020a on this guy. The genius arbitrator went for it hook, line, and sinker and fired the guy.

I mean, hey, a teacher who turns the lights off when he shows a video? A teacher who uses his cell phone in the school? This is the anti-Campbell Brown. UFT, or anyone, could use this guy as the face of why principals and the DOE should not and cannot be entrusted to fire people without due process. In fact, this is an argument that due process can go awry, and that even $1600 a day arbitrators are not infallible.

An incredible takeaway here is that this principal has never taught except as a sub. How on earth does the DOE hire someone like this? For all I know, he's Leadership Academy. After all, Klein saw teachers as just another stop on the Axis of Evil. Why not just drag someone off the street and make that person principal? I have no idea where this principal came from, but the story certainly alleges some funny things were happening at this school.

This fired teacher embarrassed not only the principal, but also the DOE. Who decided that this whistleblower needed to pay? Who dredged up a bunch of ridiculous charges and took this man's job? And what on earth made an arbitrator decide there was merit to this nonsense?

Let's also be clear on this--all the charges that the teacher faced on 3020a number two occurred before 3020a number one. You see, once you've been placed in the ATR, even for inconsequential nonsense that garners a $2,000 fine, you're under a microscope. Did the DOE deliberately save half of their trumped-up nonsense for round two so they could fire this guy?

Honestly, I see nothing here that merits one round of 3020a charges, let alone two. At the very worst, if the Boondocks video were that egregious, it could be a letter to file. This story, to me at least, is conclusive evidence that the DOE should not be trusted to fire teachers. And that's before we even look at the shoddy judgment of the highly-paid arbitrator. The fact that all charges happened before 3020a round one suggests the arbitrator's conclusion the teacher was "beyond remediation" is  utterly flawed and false on its face.

I was a little tough on the NY Post the other day, but they have their moments. This is one of them. Maybe they'll do better if they read their own stories before stereotyping ATR teachers, many of whom are in the ATR for reasons like these, or no reason at all.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bill Gates and Co.--the iPhone Is Dead and Teachers Will Be Rated by Test Scores

Reps from Microsoft have repeatedly given eulogies for the iPhone . That's the kind of vision you get from Bill Gates' company. Microsoft introduced us to the Kin. They followed that up with the Kin 2. Remember that? Neither do I.

Microsoft, of course, came out with the Windows Phone. Who do you know who has one? Who do you know who's talking about the next Windows Phone? I don't think I've even seen one apart from ads I saw years ago.

I don't have a Windows computer. I have a Mac. A week ago I was following a recipe when I accidentally splashed water on my screen, ruining it. On my way to the Apple Store to replace it, I passed the Microsoft Store. I saw five or six employees standing around doing nothing while I passed by. The Apple Store was really crowded and I had to wait a few minutes just to pick up the computer I'd ordered online.

And yet, our schools are drowning in the vision of Microsoft's Bill Gates. There's testing, testing and more testing. My newcomers now have to take a test called the NYSESLAT, which was never very good, but which now does not even seem to test English acquisition levels. It's more about how many Common Core questions they can answer over hours and hours. Forget about functional English--we want to know about your close reading skills in a language you have not yet learned.

New York State is unveiling new standards now. Common Core is discredited, and therefore it's out. The hope is that no one will notice it's the same old crap with a new name pasted on it. Textbook manufacturers are likely printing stickers so we buy the old crap thinking it's new crap. Cuomo can say it has a new name and is therefore less crappy.

Meanwhile, here on earth, every city teacher is rated by test scores. Although I teach ESL, I'm technically an English teacher. I had expected to be rated on the English Regents scores of the nine students I had who were scheduled to take it. Now I'm told I will be rated by the Regents scores of all the students in our building.

That will work out better for me because my school does well on tests. So I expect to score effective or higher. Should I have a party? Not just yet, I think. For one thing, I don't even think my nine students took the test this year. For another, even if they did, the entire school's Regents results do not reflect on me or my teaching.

Is that ungrateful? I don't think so. Had my nine students taken the tests, I'd have gotten a crap rating because, you know, they'd only been here a year and were still focused on fundamental language acquisition. The Regents exam was wholly inappropriate for them. The bad rating would not be a reflection on my work either, because there's no way I was going to steer my beginning English classes toward an exam they shouldn't have even been taking. In fact, even if I'd been rated on a test that was appropriate for my students, the American Statistical Association would have declared it an invalid measure of my work.

But we're not in a science-based environment here. We're in Microsoft World, headed by Bill Gates. Gates did an experiment called Measures of Effective Teaching and decided test scores were the only things that mattered. Arne Duncan did whatever Gates wanted and now most of the country is still Racing to the Top, building charter schools and rating teachers on nonsense.

Take a look around and ask yourself why America has mandated public education to be a Microsoft Kin, or a Windows Phone, or whatever Bill Gates' company is peddling this week.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Meaning of "Education Reform" Laid Bare

There is a fascinating piece in Politico today. Evidently, we're somehow making some progress against reforminess. This goes hand in hand with a statement from Eduwonk, AKA Andy Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners, referring to teacher unions:

In fact, these groups thwarted key parts of the Obama education agenda. 

Rotherham does not give any more detail, and with 12 years of blogging I still can't read his mind.  I'll therefore focus on the Politico piece, which is a little more explicit. Politico states that NY is no longer the ed reform capital, and as a New Yorker, that sounds like good news. Reformies are stalled in their tracks, evidently.

Yet here on the ground, I have never seen teachers so demoralized and worn down. Some of the most positive individuals I've ever met have left the profession. Some of them left from my school, a relatively good place. Why would that be, if we were so successful at turning the reformy tide?

One reason is that Politico looks at "reform" in a curious fashion. The word, to me, entails change, and hopefully for the better. That's why I question reformies, because what is their motivation to change? I mean, Betsy DeVos is as reformy as they come, and for all I can see, she's on a mission to destroy public education so her BFFs can profit from it.

The march toward privatization notwithstanding, a great deal of the Politico article focuses on teacher tenure. Here's a blatant falsehood:

At Cuomo’s urging, the Legislature pushed through some reforms in 2015, tying tenure to teacher performance instead of time in the classroom...

In fact, I have firsthand experience with tenure being withheld for classroom performance before this "reform" was passed. Tenure could be delayed or denied for almost any reason before 2015. The city used this much more frequently after Bloomberg came in, but always had the option to do so. But why should education reporters bother knowing anything about history? (In fairness, Politico opts for the Chalkbeat model of not talking to working teachers, speaking with Gates-funded E4E reformies instead.)

A stronger focus of "reform," as per Politico, is the failure of New York to utterly eradicate due process, popularly known as "tenure." It seemed the prime directive of self-proclaimed education expert Campbell Brown to allow administrators to fire anyone they felt like, anytime they felt like it. To enable this, they went full-court press after what they called bad teachers--generally people who were accused of things but not found guilty. Brown went to the tabloids and blew up a few cases to stoke outrage, but it appears her efforts have stalled.

In fact, I knew the circumstances only one of the cases that Brown tossed about, and I knew it to be nonsense. I therefore doubted the rest of her allegations. I was very happy to write about the flip side of the coin, and how all teachers deserve due process. Hey, if I stink at my job, if I'm abusive to children, fine. Come after me. But if you're mad at me for standing up for the children I serve and making your job inconvenient, screw you. If you're mad at me for standing up for the rights of my colleagues, again, screw you.

Reforminess is something Trump is strong on, because he doesn't believe in protecting the rights of working people. With him, it's all about profit, hence Betsy DeVos, who's pretty much decimated public education in Michigan. They can wrap themselves in the flag all they want, and claim to care about the children. Those of us who wake up every morning to serve those children know better.

And then there is Andrew Cuomo, who first ran on a platform of going after unions, who appeared at Moskowitz rallies and frothed at the mouth over the possibility of firing as many teachers as possible. Cuomo could not possibly anticipate that parents would become informed and fight back against the nonsense that is Common Core. He could not anticipate that parents would boycott his tests in droves.

What reformies failed to count on was the opportunism of Andrew Cuomo. As a man with no moral center whatsoever, he is driven by rampant ambition. This year, he watched Donald Trump win the presidency against neoliberal Hillary Clinton. Cuomo decided to position himself as Bernie Sanders Lite and pushed a program to give free college tuition to New Yorkers (albeit with a whole lot of restrictions).

Cuomo is now best buds with UFT, judging from what I hear at Delegate Assemblies. While I don't personally trust the man as far as I can throw him, I'm happy if that works to help working teachers and other working people. So what is education "reform," exactly?

As far as I can tell, it's piling on, How miserable can we make working teachers? How can we arbitrarily and capriciously fire them? How can we give them as few options as possible, and as little voice as possible?

It's ironic. The MORE motto is, "Our teaching conditions are students' learning conditions." I agree with that. Take it a step further, and our teaching conditions are our students' future working conditions. When we fight for improvement of our working conditions, we are fighting for the future of our students as well.

Two of my former students teach in my school. They are the first of their families to be college educated, and the first of their families to get middle class jobs. I will fight for them, and for my other students to have even more opportunity. Betsy DeVos and the reformies, on the other hand, can fight to maximize profits for fraudulent cyber-charter owners and all the other opportunist sleazebags they represent so well.