Friday, August 31, 2018

The Albany Way

There's a famous quote from Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables when he's schooling young Eliot Ness. He explains the Chicago Way.

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. 

They don't mess around in Chicago. In Albany, messing around seems to be the number one activity. I mean, Diane Ravitch looks at the amazing test scores, compares them to NAEP, and says that's impossible. The papers declare Ravitch must be out of her mind. The grades went up because of Michael Bloomberg's reforminess, he's a genius, and any damn fool could see that. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

A year later there's a big scandal. Oh my gosh the tests were dumbed down. It's a disaster. How could this happen? A little later, Reformy John King declares that 70% of the people who take the tests are going to fail, because we aren't Common Corey enough. Then the tests go to Albany, they set the cut scores, and waddya know? 70% failed. I'm pretty sure Arne Duncan looked at the results and declared that white soccer moms had kids who weren't so smart, or something equally stupid at that time.

I'm thinking about this because one of the ways Albany rationalizes the miserable CR Part 154 that robs newcomers of English instruction is by saying more of them pass the test. They're talking about the NYSESLAT test, which is supposed to determine English ability but actually does nothing of the sort. Every year all our kids take the test, and we don't get the results until maybe October.

Can you imagine programming hundreds of kids for classes, only to find out in October that the geniuses in Albany want to send them elsewhere? Every school in the state has to do that, and those of us with large ELL populations really have a hard time with it. That's not to mention, of course, that kids who've been sitting in a classroom for months, studying, taking tests, making friends, are suddenly moved around, likely as not for no good reason at all.

Here's the thing, though--Albany manipulates the scores to say whatever they wish them to. It's not even a secret. We can't give grades to the papers, even the ones we ourselves corrected, because Albany sets the cut scores to say any damn thing they wish. Why are students doing better on the test? Is it because less English instruction causes more English learning? Is that the most absurd question you've seen today? I hope so.

I teach these kids, and have done for years. Here's something I notice as a beginning level teacher--my students know less English than they ever did. Why? Because getting into a higher level is easier, or course. I tend to get really rank beginners now, rather than students who know a little English and need a little push. I also tend to get fewer students. Three years ago there was no space in my classes. Lately there's quite a bit.

Why do you think Meryl Tisch, in her infinite wisdom, declared that teachers could no longer grade state tests of our own students? Tisch assumed because she's a crook, we must all be crooks too. The thing about dishonest people is they tend to expect others to share their dishonesty. I don't do like Tisch does. If I give a test, it actually says how many points you get for each answer. If students don't get the proper credit, they can come and scream at me so I change it.

Of course you can't scream at the geniuses in Albany. For one thing, you'd have to drive there. For another, who knows where your test even is? And even if they found it, the score is whatever they say it is. In fact, you won't find it, you'll never see it, and you'll never know exactly why you got that score, be it good, bad, or whatever. There is absolutely no way you will learn anything from a state test, and that's just fine with the geniuses in Albany.

That's the Albany Way.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Oklahoma Shows We Are Powerful When We Stand Together

NY Magazine ran an amazing article about how Oklahoma teachers stood together and made GOP tools pay for their indifference to education, the voters and their children. This is what happens when working people come together, ignore the blaring noise of those who feel life's purpose is to enrich billionaires, and vote the bastards out. This story is full of wonderfully crafted paragraphs:

Tess Teague mocked the ignorance of protesters who were demanding tax hikes on fracking companies — in a Snapchat video that made heavy use of animal filters. Sooner voters just gave Teague a lot more time to spend with her social media accounts.

I'm really happy to see teachers engaging in such effective collective action. Sadly, the impetus for it was things getting simply so awful that no one could tolerate the job anymore. Pay was so low teachers could not make ends meet. The Republican pigs saw education as a place to cut so as to support their caprices and megadonors.

Here in New York, things are not nearly so bad. I have a friend in a school district just over the Queens line, and he told me top salary over there was within a thousand dollars of NYC. That is not actually a result of our gaining wonderful amazing raises, but rather Cuomo's two-percent tax cap, which has seriously slowed teacher raises in the rest of the state.

Yet we are fractured, with the majority likely wallowing in indifference. No, there hasn't been a mass exodus from union, but neither has there been a massive, focused and well-financed campaign to destroy us. Make no mistake, it's coming. Fred Klonsky posted the photo above on Facebook yesterday. and refers to it as "a waste of stamps."I certainly hope he's right.

There is no doubt whatsoever that our union has become complacent and sleepy after decades of guaranteed dues. Our focus on organizing has been sloppy, indifferent, and bordered on non-existent for decades. It's a new thing to have to reach out and listen. There is a bright side, of course. I don't think we'll see another 2005-style contract, ever. Leadership will have to think very carefully before tossing a giveback-laden piece of crap to us and claiming it scrapes the skies.

On the other hand, after decades of self-congratulatory action, painting absolutely everything as a great victory no matter what, they're going to have to be just a little more introspective. No more can they say Bloomberg wanted 8 pieces of Danielson, but we got 22 so it's a victory, then turn around and say we reduced it to 7 and that's a victory too. No longer can union reps tell aggrieved members they still have a job and therefore everything's okay. No longer can we support pols who hate us and everything we stand for and tell members that's as good as it gets. Old habits die hard.

For my part, I see what the Koch Brothers and the Walmart family want, and they can't have it. They want to tear us apart so we'll have no collective strength. They will succeed with some of us. Some people just see an opportunity to keep a little money and will go with that. I'd argue those people are not socially responsible enough to be teachers. Others will think of past grievances, decide the union sucks, and go that way. I've had people argue to me that their chapter leader sucks, and therefore they shouldn't have to pay. To me, if your chapter leader sucks, you run to replace him, or at least find someone else who will.

I'm irked by people who say the UFT sucks. If that's true, then we suck. In fact, when only 25% of us vote in leadership elections, we kind of suck big time. What kind of role models are we when we don't even give a crap who leads us? So there are a few scenarios here. One is that we allow the corporate giants to get us to leave en masse, watch the collapse of our union, watch our working conditions and pay deteriorate until we are at a point as low as Oklahoma. Then we rise from the ashes like a phoenix, run the corporate bastards from office, and step by step win our way back.

Here's the thing, though. That's not gonna happen. I see the anger of teachers at other places on the net. I don't believe those teachers have the numbers, let alone the voice to become something. I also don't believe the bastards who send this crap will succeed in crippling us. I think leadership is feeling the pressure and needs to continue doing so.

Standing together is a big ask, but we need to find a way to do it. It would be a lot more productive to do from where we are now, rather than wait until we're swirling the drainpipe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reforminess Doesn't Work, and Wishful Thinking Isn't Much Better

I'm kind of disappointed to see stories like these anywhere, but reformy Chalkbeat linked to it this morning, so I read it. This piece contends that Chancellor Carranza is "fixated on race." That's a pretty strong way to put it. "Fixated" suggests near-obsession, as opposed to concerned. The implication of the story is that the chancellor cares only about race and doesn't give a golly gosh darn about school quality.

Because "college and career ready" is a thing, the writer goes to it, and suggests that "420 of the city’s 525 high schools" had failed to prep half their students. That's an interesting statistic for a number of reasons. The first that comes to my mind is the relative size of high schools. My school has 4600 students, and does well, while another might have 200 and do poorly, and I mean by any standard.

"College and career ready" is some bizarre formula about getting 75% on this state exam and something else on another. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicator of future student performance, and we're seeing this come up as the test for schools like Stuyvesant is all over the news. The writer has still harsher words for the union and the mayor:

Because no single shortcoming dominates here, no quick fix is possible. Neither de Blasio, who is in charge of the system, nor the de facto commander of the classrooms, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, seems to care much.

I haven't been particularly happy with the DOE, ever, and I've been disappointed more than usual lately. My reasons have nothing to do with those of this writer, though. I do not, for one moment, believe de Blasio doesn't care about public schools. And while Mulgrew may be many things, he's far from the "de facto commander" of the classrooms. I'm the de facto commander of my classroom, and if you aren't the same with yours, well, maybe you work for Eva Moskowitz. The statement blames Mulgrew, but implies those of us who do the work every day don't care much either, perhaps at Mulgrew's urging. That's not only insulting--it's also ridiculous.

The writer acknowledges poverty in the piece, to his credit, but kind of dismisses efforts to deal with it. The writer suggests we need to improve standards across the board, and suggests that efforts to integrate schools will somehow distract from it. However, the writer offers no plan to accomplish this. There are a whole lot of active plans in place to do this, the most prominent of which is charter schools. As we watch Eva graduate 20% of the kids who began with her, and hire her 19-year-old non-college graduated son to teach at Moskowitz Academy, she fails to impress.

Reformies never want to address root causes of student failure, the most glaring of which is poverty. This is particularly ironic in NYC, the most liberal area of the state. Even as Andrew Cuomo runs ridiculous ads about how he will protect health care, he enabled the IDC, which has blocked universal health care for years. Cuomo runs commercials about his free college plan, but it actually funds fewer than 4% of our college students, and rejects 70% of those who apply.

The fact is a lot of our students don't get decent health care. A lot of our students are not proficient in English. In fact, none of my students are, and the state is actively exploring programs to give them even less instruction. This writer, who probably knows nothing of the state's idiotic plans, rails against a plan that would find seats for ELLs and homeless children. But hey, they have to sit somewhere.

It's pretty easy to sit in an air-conditioned office somewhere and imply we have to get tough with kids so they have more grit and rigor, or whatever buzz words are in vogue this week. It's a lot tougher to look at root causes and try to address them. This is something we're doing at no level whatsoever. Bill Gates likes to talk about schools in Finland and say we suck next to them. He's right, you know.

The reason Finland does better than we do, though, is not because they turned all their schools into no excuses Moskowitz Academies. It's because they, as a country, decided to address poverty. They also decided that all their kids would go to public schools. Over in Finland, rich people don't pay to keep their children away from kids like yours and mine. If Mayor Bloomberg had to send his kids to public schools he wouldn't have turned them into a reformy lab experiment.

I'd argue it isn't Mayor de Blasio, Michael Mulgrew, you or me who is responsible for student failure in schools. Unless, of course, you hold us responsible for electing people like Cuomo, Bloomberg, Trump, Obama and countless others who waste our time with nonsensical reforminess rather than actually helping the children of America.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

At the Moskowitz Academy, Charity Begins at Home

Eva Moskowitz has made a career of telling the world how UFT teachers suck. We devote our lives to helping the city's children and that's an unpardonable crime. Only she has the secret sauce that leads to an amazing 20% of her students graduating over at the Moskowitz Academy. You might say, but Eva, we graduate that many on a very bad year. That doesn't matter because there are no excuses over in Moskowitz World. I mean no excuses for us.

And we know that she's right. Otherwise, why would hedge funders be taking suitcases of cash and buying off easy targets like Andrew Cuomo? Why would the last Democratic president have hired Arne Duncan to push charter schools and whatever programs flowed from the ample posterior of Bill Gates? Why would we all be bribed to Race to the Top and be judged via junk science? They must be right because they have all that money. Who cares if research fails to support their ideas, or if the American Statistical Association rates them as nonsense?

Now some people might say that the incredible churn of charter teachers is an issue. How can you have institutional memory when year after year you lose most of your people? How do kids feel coming year after year and seeing the teachers they may well love gone and never coming back? Is that how you do role modeling? None of that is important. Otherwise why would all those people with all that money keep supporting Eva?

Furthermore, Moskowitz Academies have high standards. No excuses. If you screw up, be prepared to suffer. Eva Moskowitz doesn't pay herself almost a million dollars a year to put up with your nonsense. They hire only the best teachers charter pay and working conditions can provide. The fact that they can't hold on to the overwhelming majority of them is only a testament to the selfishness of teachers. They aren't focused on the test scores because they want to have lives. Some of them want to get married and even have children.

But in Moskowitz World, there are no excuses. Make the kids pass the tests. No excuses and no time for that nonsense. Except for Eva, of course, who is in fact married with children. I wasn't actually aware she had children until I read Chalkbeat, the publication that covers All Things Moskowitz All the Time. It turns out that Eva has hired her 19-year-old son to teach economics.

A lot of people shook their heads in wonder when Eva and her BFFs wanted charters to certify their own teachers. I mean, shouldn't teachers graduate from college? In Moskowitz World, that seems not to be a prerequisite. This is particularly true if you happen to be Son of Moskowitz. Here's yet another innovation from Moskowitz World:

Michaud says Culver Moskowitz makes minimum wage, as he did last year as an intern at Success Academy Harlem East, a middle school. Santiago, Venner, and a former student said he taught eighth-grade math classes there last year.

Wow. Teachers making minimum wage. Betsy DeVos is probably rolling over in her coffin this morning wondering why she didn't think of that. And then there's that other tidbit--while reformy Chalkbeat is all over Moskowitz Junior teaching economics, this isn't the first time they've set him up as a teacher. Maybe they think teaching math while being totally unqualified doesn't merit mention, but teaching economics is beyond the pale.

Personally, I'd question the wisdom of having an economics instructor who worked for minimum wage. I see that as an extremely poor role model--unless, of course, your goal is to have students working for minimum wage. I have to think that's pretty much okay with the reformies. Otherwise, why would the Walmart Family be sinking so much cash into reforminess? If they were interested in helping working people, they could always pay their employees more, as opposed to fighting union tooth and nail and imposing notoriously awful working conditions.

Here's the truth--as reformies like Moskowitz make careers out of trashing us for our supposed low standards, our standards are consistently higher than hers. We take every kid who walks into our buildings. If they have issues, we don't place them on "got to go" lists. We don't make children do test prep until they pee themselves, and any teacher who did would be up on charges.

We also have standards for teachers. We insist they are certified. We insist that they've graduated college. Also, we don't pay them minimum wage. We don't wave our magic wands and make our children into teachers. In fact, we frown on nepotism.

Eva's standards and values seem to waver with her personal convenience. That's hardly what I'd call a leader.

Monday, August 27, 2018

New Union Maid

 No, that's not a union maid on the left. That's legendary troubadour Woody Guthrie, with a message that's tragically relevant today, 80 years later, pasted to the face of his guitar. When I was very young, my mother played folk music on the radio in our house almost every day. I know a whole lot of his songs.

After Janus, I am reborn as a unionist. I see it as a moral imperative, but alas, here in America, there are few morals, and fewer imperatives. I'm horrified by this concerted attack on union, but it tells me leadership needs to be reborn as well. Trump and his illegitimate SCOTUS thugs have moved us back decades. The only bright spot is that activism is no longer simply an option. So where are the union songs? You have to look back to 1940 to find Union Maid, Woody's classic anthem.

Things have changed, though, since 1940.

There once was a union maid, who never was afraid, of the goons and the ginks, and the company finks, and the sheriffs who made the raids...

We don't have a whole lot of sheriffs raiding us nowadays. So I changed that a little.

There once was a union maid, who never was afraid, of the Kochs and the Trumps and the hedge fund chumps who thought they had her played...

That's who we're fighting right now. And it's not really about beating us up with sticks and stones. It's about fooling us into thinking they're on our side. So instead of:

Oh, you can't scare me I'm sticking with the union...

New Union Maid sings you can't fool me, I'm sticking with the union.

That's the entire premise of "right to work." We're fighting, they say, so you can save a few bucks on union dues. "Your pay, your say."  Of course, people like the Kochs are not here to help us. If you believe they are, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale at a bargain basement price. The Kochs, along with all the politicians they own, want to weaken us by tearing us apart and cutting our resources, and thus add money we need and deserve to their already countless wealth.

And when they said don’t pay, it put her in a rage,
With half a chance they’d change their stance and pay her minimum wage.

That's a fact, Jack. If you don't believe it, go work in a non-unionized charter school. Bring home a cell phone and spend the night answering homework questions. Or go around the neighborhood on days "off" knocking on doors to canvas your students. Instead of writing your own plans, follow the ones Eva gives you. If you don't like them, too bad, and if you don't make the kids do test prep until they pee their pants, you're fired. There's a reason why charter teachers burn out after a few years, and that's beneficial neither to them nor their students.

It's pretty easy to find fault with leadership. I know, because I've been doing it right here for over thirteen years. The 2005 contract was an abomination, likely as not the biggest mistake we've ever made. We pay for it each and every day with the Absent Teacher Reserve, not to mention the inability to grieve preposterous letters to file. We need to work on that.

On the other hand, we just negotiated paid parental leave, a remarkable advance, for a one-time delay in contract. I've seen this agreement parsed to the nth degree, lately because of arguments we paid too much. I don't buy that. More importantly, new teachers with whom I speak, and I've spoken to many over the last week, don't buy it either. I was asked to recruit new members by telephone, and every one I spoke to was thrilled by it. It was my best selling point, and no one turned me down.

This is a time to embrace and promote unionism. This is a time to look at the New Union Maid, who's markedly different from her 1940 counterpart:

You gals who want to be free, just take a tip from me;
Get you a man who's a union man and join the ladies' auxiliary.
Married life ain't hard when you got a union card,
A union man has a happy life when he's got a union wife.

At this point, women aren't joining ladies' auxiliaries. Our profession in particular is actually dominated by women. So the new union maid is actually a working person, not just someone supporting her husband on the job. It's a great song, but it's dated, so I updated.

New Union Maid was mostly made in my dining room on my new Macbook Pro. Apple offered an educator package for $199 that contained professional recording and video software. I'm a sucker for a bargain, and got right to work on Logic Pro X, which challenged the hell out of me. After a particularly brutal battle trying to find a suitable reverb for the voices and fiddle, I turned to my friend Bob Harris, guitarist extraordinaire, who has a professional recording studio. Bob finished and mastered the recording, and also took over on the bass guitar after I brutally fired myself. I thought he made it sound almost like a stand up, but I guess that's debatable.

I see this as an anthem with potential for a promotional video, assuming someone finds a suitable union maid. I'd love to record this completely at Bob's studio with a full bluegrass band. My next project is a song about Boy Wonder, the 30-year-old supervisor who knows everything. I don't know how long that will take. As currently conceived, it will entail my mastering the frightening and formidable drum machine in Logic Pro X. A music teacher in my school actually understands it, and I'm hoping he can get me to understand it too.

If you haven't listened to New Union Maid yet, you can find it right here.

Friday, August 24, 2018

You're Taking This Walking Stuff Way Too Far

That's what Toby told me yesterday. He sat on the boardwalk at the park and refused to move. I tried everything. I tried to reason with him. I tried to bribe him with treats. Eventually he let me bribe him with a treat, but he wasn't happy about it.

"You know how many times you make me walk the canal?" he asked.

"I know. Sometimes four times a day."

"That's right. Do you have any idea how far that is for me? Look at the size of my legs. They're tiny compared to yours."

"Yeah, well, maybe I have longer legs than you, but you have four of them. I only have two."

"Look," he said. "No one's forcing you to walk all funny like that. If you want to use all four of your legs I won't stop you."

"Listen Toby," I told him. "These two are ARMS, not legs. And I need my hands free so I can give you treats sometimes. And I'm mad at you too. I let you run around in the park with your friend April this morning and you both ran almost to the street to meet some Shih Tzu. I'm not gonna do that anymore"

"The Shih Tzu is our friend. We've seen her walking before. She's cute."

"I don't care. You could get hurt."

"Okay," he said. "But what's with the crappy music they always play on the canal?"

"It's not so bad," I said.

"Are you kidding me? That guy singing Rolling Stones tunes was more out of tune than those two cats who were fighting outside our window this morning."

I defended him. "He's doing Mick Jagger. No one can match that crudity."

"Give me a break," he said. "That guy had gray hair. He had no business singing rock and roll"

"Listen," I said. "First of all, you're only two, and you have gray hair, so you shouldn't be one to talk. Second, that guy had to be twenty years younger than Mick."

"Maybe," he said. "But at least Mick dyes his hair. And I may have gray hair, but I'm super cute. Everyone says so. What happened to that human at Tropix who was always fussing over me?"

"I don't know. Maybe she got fired for paying attention to you instead of the customers."

"Well, anyway, there was even more crappy music. How about that woman singing Dreaming by Blondie? I love Debbie Harry but she was no Debby Harry. So out of tune."

"Everybody loves Debby Harry. But you just complain about everyone, Toby."

"Not true. I liked that guy at Otto's singing Springsteeen songs."

"Are you kidding me? He was strumming a guitar and playing to some karaoke thing. Do you know how many musicians he's putting out of work?"

"I don't care," he said. "At least he was in tune."

I don't know if I want to have these conversations any more, It seems to me, especially during these waning summer days, that I ought not to have to do so much negotiating.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

No Special Ed. for You, Says Eva Moskowitz

There's a pretty amazing story over at the NYC Parents Blog. Evidently Eva Moskowitz deems it too difficult to find certified Special Education teachers, so she's telling special ed. students and their parents they can either piss off or be left back. How inconvenient it must be for Eva to follow laws and do her job. After all, she works for less than a million bucks a year and you can hardly buy a decent house in Queens for that anymore. From the NYC Parents Blog:

In June, I was contacted by two parents whose fifth-grade special needs children were in a self-contained 12-1-1 class at Success Academy Bed Stuy middle school. They told me how the principal, Rishabh Agarwal, had brought them individually into his office and told them that the school was getting rid of their 12-1-1 self-contained program, because the school didn’t know how to educate kids with special needs and it was too difficult to find a certified special education teacher. 
He said their only two choices were to agree to have their kids held back in a regular 5th grade class or transfer them to a different school outside the Success charter network of 46 schools.

Can you imagine such a thing occurring at a public school? If your school did that, you wouldn't be reading about it on Leonie Haimson's blog. It would be all over the tabloids and your principal would be scrambling to keep her worthless ass at the job. Sorry, it's just too inconvenient for us to serve your kid. We can't be bothered looking for a teacher. Can you imagine that from a public school leader?

Of course it isn't from a public school leader, but rather from the self-appointed Great Savior of New York City's children, Eva Moskowitz herself. They make movies about charter schools, you know. All the reformies go out and sing their praises. They will finally help all the children that the evil public schools are failing. It's about time.

But as we learn more an more about them, what we find is that they cherry pick their students. Along the way, they lose most of those with whom they start out. They fully expect us to ignore such things and claim that 100% of those who graduate go to college. Sometimes they all go to four-year colleges. And that's fine, but it's no miracle at all, especially when you've lost the majority of your kids to the public school system, you know, the one that fails everyone because it's full of horrible indifferent teachers like yours truly.

Here we find a case of their blatantly ignoring not only the needs of the children they take our money to serve, but also the law. We haven't got room for you in the classes we see fit to create, so we're gonna hold you back a grade for no reason. If this isn't an attempt to intimidate parents to move their special needs kids elsewhere, I'm not sure what is.

Here's a fact of life--special ed. teachers are indeed hard to find. My school is one of the most desirable places to work in the city and I often see admin have issues. It's even harder now that they've upped the requirements and demanded that teachers be dually licensed. Despite these issues, no administrator has called a parent and demanded that students either get out of our school or be left back, not ever. In our school, we take everyone. We have an entire program of alternate assessment students in our school, students who will never graduate. That will be counted against us in our records, though it's neither our fault nor that of the kids. If you run into Eva, ask her how many alternate assessment students are in Moskowitz Academies.

The reason for this is that we are really a public school. Charter schools are public only in the sense that they take our money. Eva Moskowitz famously refused to sign the agreement every other New York City school did to offer pre-K, and slogged through the courts until she could weasel her way out of it. If she can't do what she wants, how she wants, she won't do it at all.

More and more we are learning the limits of Eva's educational miracle. She fails the overwhelming majority of kids who start her program, and a remarkable 80% don't complete it. One Moskowitz Academy principal got caught with a "got to go" list, a list of children they wanted to dump from the program. Moskowitz calls this an anomaly, but who knows how many other such lists there are or have been? It's remarkable, in fact, we even know about this one. We see awful treatment of children and are left to wonder just how frequent it is. I'd argue taking students to Albany as pawns to make a political point is child abuse. Moskowitz gets away with it because rules don't apply to her, but if I did that with my students I'd be fired, and justifiably so.

It's unconscionable that we let children be treated this way. It's a travesty that we allow any school to take a single dime from our tax dollars and then flip the public the bird like this. Of course, there are those suitcases of hedge fund cash that travel from DFER to Governor Cuomo, so he turns a blind eye, even while mustering the audacity to call himself a "student lobbyist." When Bill de Blasio dared to deny space to the Moskowitz Academy, Cuomo and the Heavy-Hearted Assembly passed regulations that, if he denied them space, the city would have to pay their rent anyway.

It's sad that our children's education is up for sale in Albany. On September 13th I will vote for Cynthia Nixon, Jumaane Williams, and Zephyr Teachout. None of them take money from Eva's stooges. I'm a registered Democrat so I can get a vote in these primaries. I hope you are too. Please don't be one of those people who sleeps in or gets a haircut that day. People like that are precisely why we have a blight of unaccountable charter schools taking our money and abusing our children.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Moskowitz Academy to Parents--Miss Work or We Kick Your Kid Out

All the details, of course are over at Chalkbeat, which might as well be called Moskowitz Minute by Minute. Can you imagine saying such a thing to a parent? Yet Eva Moskowitz has no problem with it. Come in on June 5th or we assume you aren't coming next year.

June 5th was a Tuesday this year, and a working day for a whole lot of New Yorkers. I guess, though, if I were one of the few parents who slogged through Moskowitz Academy all the way to high school, I must have felt it was important. I mean, it would take a lot for me to leave my kid, for years, in a program where test prep was more important than bathroom breaks.

That's ironic, because of so much talk about college and career readiness. The United States lags well behind most non-third-world countries in terms of basic human decency, but OSHA has particular rules about bathroom breaks. (If you run into Donald Trump, please don't let him know this.) Unlike Moskowitz Academies, employers have to have bathrooms available, and they have to allow employees to use them. Moskowitz Academies, were they public schools, would be in violation of chancellor's regulations. Of course, were they workplaces, they'd be in violation of OSHA rules. Then there's that whole human decency thing, but they seem not to place much of a premium on that.

Nowhere is that more evident than in this compulsory meeting thing. In one of the crappy corporate charter films, charters that deny basic human needs are presented as Superman. You know, we public school teachers suck, and all we care about is ourselves and our luxurious 89 Honda Accords. But charters are here to save all the underprivileged people who can't afford private schools, you know, the ones Bloomberg sends his kids to so they don't have to mix elbows with the people he claims to care about.

Now here's the thing--in New York State, unless you've got a contract that says otherwise, you're an at-will employee. If you, and/ or your spouse, work a minimum wage job at Taco Bell, you could be fired for missing a day. Like Eva's charter school teachers, low-wage employees are pretty much disposable and replaceable. So it's entirely conceivable you could be faced with either losing your child's place in the Moskowitz Academy or losing your job. There's a choice no working parent ought to face. But there are no excuses in the Moskowitz Academy. (Unless, of course, you happen to be Moskowitz.)

Evidently her high school is a mess. It turns out that high school kids do not respond well to minute enforcement of petty rules. You can imagine how shocked I must be, having taught high school kids for only the last few decades. I may, in fact, re-examine my policy of making rules for no good reason and either leaving back or expelling students who fail to follow them.

“What if I have all As? Are you going to hold me back because I’m wearing the wrong shoes?” a student asked, according to a video of the sit-in reviewed by Chalkbeat.

Those are tough questions. I've been teaching 34 years and I have never heard questions like that. You know why? Because I do not, in fact, make rules for no good reason. I don't hand out a page of rules on the first day, even if my department has one all printed and ready to go. I have one rule, which I explain as best I can to my ELLs:

We will treat one another with respect.

That's pretty much it. I'm not going to ridicule you if you didn't do your homework. I'm not going to fail you if you understand the material having missed a bunch of it, likely as not because your grandma makes you get up at 2 AM to help her deliver Newsday. I'm not going to make fun of how you dress. Evidently the principal of Eva's high school made the egregious error of moving in that direction:

Malone’s strategy was to offer more freedom than was typical in the network’s lower grades. Some Advanced Placement classes pushed students to complete research papers, not focus purely on test preparation, former teachers said. Students recalled he allowed them to wear colorful headscarves featuring African prints, even if they weren’t technically in line with the network’s dress code.

Oh my gosh it's the end of Western Civilization! Fear not. Eva dumped his ass. No idea whether he still works for Moskowitz Academies, but there will be no more of that nonsense in Eva's high school. The rationale is that in college no one will tell you what to do. Therefore you will be micro-managed throughout your high school career. Somehow, by being entirely dependent upon carrots and mostly sticks throughout Moskowitz Academy, you will be magically 100% self-sufficient by the time you hit college. Do you see how that works? Me neither.

Even by reformy Chalkbeat's account, the very few students who made it all the way through the Moskowitz Academies had a really hard time. Does that mean they're rethinking the high school program? Does it mean they're gonna tone down the bullying that seems to work so well on 6-year-olds?

“I could have said, look, I’m going to throw in the towel,” Moskowitz told them, adding, “I didn’t abandon you. I’m here.”

Nope. No excuses. She fired the principal, but she's here, making almost a million dollars a year for whatever this thing is she does. What incredible dedication it must take to lavishly compensate yourself while punishing others for whatever goes wrong. I guess if we're preparing our kids to be minimum wage Walmart associates this is a good program. If we really want self-driven, independent thinkers, this is the last program we should place our children in. There's a reason why 80% of those who begin don't make it through this program. 

I'm not sure why a 20% success rate is anything to brag about, particularly when they're looking to leave back even more students for missing a few homework assignments. But hey, I exclusively teach kids Moskowitz wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, so I guess I must be part of the problem.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Back to Work Dream

I was walking my dog this morning when I met a school custodian. He told me he dreaded going back to work. He had to go to a meeting a few days ago and had an awful dream about being back at work. It's not hard for me to imagine that a lot of teachers are having the same dream and/ or feelings.

I don't dread going back to work. I don't know what's wrong with me. I used to dread it when I first started. It was like when I was a kid. Oh my gosh the summer can't possible be over. Where has it gone? I mean, it was right there, but I woke up this morning and here I was at school. There must be some form of appeal.

Nonetheless, I'm not quite in the mode principals always seem to think we should be in. "It's great to see you all back and re-energized! I can't wait to get back to work, and I know you can't either!" I have heard so many variations of that speech. I wonder if they learn that in administrator school. Pro tip--it's unpersuasive. It just provokes groans and cynicism. I'm not sure what I'd say. Probably welcome back, and please let me know if I can do anything to support you. My door is always open. That's a better approach, even though we all know the door is frequently closed.

I suppose I am philosophical. This is my job so I'd better go do it. Man, am I lucky to have a substantial break, unlike most working Americans. I hope working Americans start to see if would be good if they were to have a break too. That's much better than having them lobby to take mine away. What with Trump in the White House, that's not likely. I mean, it's OK for him to spend 163 days playing golf, but not us. Funny times indeed.

My job keeps me incredibly busy. When I'm working, I sometimes think about what I'd be doing if I were off. Because I've grown so incredibly unambitious and unimaginative, that often entails walking my dog. This summer, I've walked him so much that he's starting to get sick of me. He tells me I'm taking this walking stuff way too far. He's been especially strong on that point when it's hot and humid. He keeps looking at me with eyes that say, "Jeez, when are you gonna go back to work? Things were fine until you started hanging out here every day." It's hard suffering through that sort of criticism from your best pal, but he seems to know what's best for both of us.

I have a summer project I'm working on. I bought a new Macbook a week ago to replace the one I've had for ten years that works some times but not others. It came with a professional recording program called Logic Pro X. I listened to Union Maid, Woody Guthrie's anthem about joining the ladies' auxiliary to support your union man and decided it needed an update for Janus. I wrote new words and recorded it. I played and sang harmony vocals with myself. It turns out my voice is very compatible with my voice so we harmonized well. Then I tried to add reverb to the vocals and fiddles. There are half a dozen different ones and they all sound like you're stuck on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I can't figure out how to turn it down. That's odd because whenever I've used reverb on an amplifier, the only adjustment there was was up or down.

I've checked books and videos. I bought Logic Pro X for Dummies, and it turns out I'm too far-gone a dummy to follow it. I watched a guy name Composer Dad sit with his two kids constantly interrupting him and he managed to make the adjustment I'm looking for. But he has an older version of the software and the knob he used to do it doesn't appear on my newer version. I called a music teacher from my school who knows the program. It turns out he's in Spain, but rather than eat tapas, he took a few minutes and made me do a screenshot. Turns out he has the older version too. Another friend had me send him the file, and says he'll get to it when he gets to it.

I will be relieved to go back to work. It's really tough for me to be stuck in one place and unable to find a way out. I know there's a simple solution to this. When my music teacher friend comes back from Spain I'm pretty sure he'll look at it and solve the problem in one minute. Meanwhile I'm in way over my head.

I hope you are having a great summer and I want to remind you it's still not over! Enjoy yourself. I'm going to reclassify my problem. I had previously deemed it serious but not impossible. Until further notice, I'm calling it impossible but not serious. That's more accurate anyway.

Hope you are avoiding nightmares and doing something fun. If and when I finish this recording I'll post it here with lyrics.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

95 Dollars or Paid Parental Leave?

 Which is more important to you? Does that sound hypothetical? Does it sound ridiculous? It's all in the ear of the beholder, I suppose.

I've posted several times in defense of the paid parental leave program for UFT, first here, and then here. The last criticism I've seen determines that we each pay 95 bucks more than necessary for this benefit, based on an estimated savings for the city. Evidently the calculations for this agreement were based on our last contract or raise, rather than DC37's new one, which did not exist at the time. How short-sighted of leadership to fail to consult a crystal ball before making this deal.

I want to know who it is who would not sacrifice 95 bucks for this benefit. There is, in fact, a good reason we shouldn't pay the 95 bucks, or anything whatsoever, though I didn't catch it in the critical column I saw.

That reason is that all Americans should be eligible for paid family leave. The reason we haven't got it is our politicians suck, from Trump's orange head on down. The remedy is to fire all the politicians who don't support We, the People. That's a tall order. But I will support it, and I will be happy to donate to politicians that do. Thus far this year, I've donated to Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon. I'm absolutely confident they'd both support paid parental leave for Americans. I'm open to others, though.

Another issue I've read about is that DC37 got family leave and that it's revenue-neutral. In other words, DC37 members are not paying the 95 bucks. I would also like to have family leave, and I would also like to keep my 95 bucks, all things being equal. Alas, all things are not equal. The Daily News reported on the DC37 accord:

As part of the deal, DC 37 members will also get partially paid family leave starting next year. The union is opting in to the state’s family leave program, and members will be allowed to take 10 weeks off to care for a family member while getting paid up to 55% of their salary.
The city teachers union last week announced a deal giving members six weeks of parental leave at full pay. Because DC 37’s workforce is older, they preferred the option that would allow them to take time off to care for other family members and not just a new baby, Garrido said. A payroll deduction of about 0.13% will pay for the benefit.

So it's not, in fact, revenue-neutral. 0.13% of $50,000 is 65 dollars. A whole lot of DC37 employees are paid hourly, and make well less than 50K. (Personally, I'd rather make more and pay more, but that's just me.) While they likely pay less than 95 bucks, based on salary they may pay a higher percentage.

There is no doubt that family leave is better than parental leave. There is also no doubt that ten weeks are better than six. On the other hand, there is no doubt that full pay is better than 55% pay. "Up to 55%" can certainly be less than 55%. Whichever way you view this, UFT aimed for and achieved parental leave. Make no mistake, had we taken the deal DC37 did, you'd see broad laments about the 0.13% payroll deduction and the partial benefit.

There are good and bad things about both programs. There is no Commandment etched in stone that says we cannot renegotiate in the future for improvements. Of course we should do that, and of course we can do that. I'm pretty sure we won't be able to do it only a month or two after having negotiating what we negotiated. That's unfortunate, but ultimately precludes nothing.

Perhaps we should focus on larger issues. The largest, as far as I can determine, is that our national government is run by business interests rather than human interests. This is nowhere more obvious than in the Orange President, but Democrats are also at fault. Certainly Obama failed to fulfill his promise to find those comfortable shoes and stand with labor. I can attest that there is no comfortable shoe shortage, as I regularly locate and purchase them. (They aren't even expensive.)

In case it isn't painfully obvious, it was an egregious error to run another corporate Democrat, particularly one with decades of baggage who lacked the charisma of Barack Obama. If that happens again, we're in for More of the Same, and probably worse from an emboldened would-be dictator.

Closer to home, UFT members are better off than we were before this agreement. And though I will never use this benefit, I count myself as better off. I'm happy to give a little to help my brothers and sisters who are starting out. I'm happy to make it just a little bit easier for people to stay in this vital profession.

This notwithstanding, I'd be just as happy to work toward other benefits, and family leave is certainly among them. We don't necessarily get everything we want right away. That's too bad, but neither is it reason to attack and belittle significant achievements. Make no mistake, paid parental leave is a very significant achievement. I'm very proud to have played even a small part in having made it happen.

Update: clarification in paragraphs two and three

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Man from the DOE

There's a great piece over at Curmudgucation this morning. Peter Greene writes about people who say, "I just want to teach." He determines that's just not an option anymore. There are always impediments, and most of them arrive in the form of New Things, barely disguised stupid ideas, about what must be done this year. The issue with these ideas, always, is that (a.) they are presented as imperatives rather than options, (b.) they replace last year's imperative, now discarded as wasteful trash, or (c.) both.

I'm not talking about things like tech in the classroom, which actually grant us possibilities and often save time. I'm agreeing with Greene about nonsense like teaching to the test and junk-science-based teacher evaluation. I'll also add formulaic lesson planning to the list. You must teach for ten minutes and then have students do group work. You must write this on the board in the beginning of every lesson. You must have students hold up cards to indicate when they understand. You must show a picture, give three vocabulary words, and do a little dance during the last three minutes of the class.

One day my entire department was summoned to the principal's conference room. It was pretty odd. We talked about it a lot. What's going on? Are we in trouble? It was hard to imagine us being in trouble all together. We have pretty diverse personalities. I could understand, for example, if I were in trouble. My colleagues are generally less likely to find themselves in trouble. And how could we all be in trouble for the same thing?

Were we going to get an award? Had someone finally noticed we were the smartest and best-looking department in the building? I mean, it was about time, but schools tend not to bother with that sort of thing. Plus we all remembered the time someone generally regarded as the worst teacher in the building won teacher of the year, so we were not confident that getting an award was a good thing anyway.

So we all assembled in the conference room. The guy showed us a few slides. I don't remember what they were about, but it didn't take more than three minutes. Then he told us he wanted more ELLs to pass the English Regents exam. That was it. There was no more. He didn't tell us how to do it. He didn't explain why it was important. He just wanted more students to pass. His work was done here, and he left.

There was no discussion about why it might be difficult for students who don't speak English to pass an exam, ostensibly created to ensure that students used English on a high school level. That was not the point. There was no discussion about how passing the English Regents might help these students. That was not the point either.

Full disclosure--I've actually taught classes designed to help ELLs pass the Regents. I did this because our students can no longer graduate without passing these tests. Back when I was doing that, it was largely a writing test, entailing four compositions. I made students write and rewrite until their hands seemed about to fall from their arms. I helped many kids pass the test. At the end, though, the only skill I'd helped them with was passing one test. No one liked that class, not the kids, and not me either.

Of course, whether or not anyone enjoyed learning was not a concern of the man from the DOE. He just wanted more students to pass the test. He didn't care how it happened, or why it happened, and he offered no advice on how to make it happen. If you ever wonder why there are so many cheating scandals in education, look no farther than people like this guy. It's especially egregious under circumstances in which schools are closed for test scores. It's a wonder there aren't even more scandals going on.

College and career ready is an incredibly short-sighted goal. What we want most for our children is that they be happy. College and career may be important, but poorly-adjusted people are likely to find fundamental obstacles to both. Even if they overcome them, we haven't done our jobs. I'm an English teacher. It's my job to seduce young people into loving English, via trickery, misdirection, or any means necessary.

The guy from the DOE didn't know that. He was surely college and career ready, and that's precisely why he was part of the problem. We're teachers. We need to be part of the solution.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

30-Year Teachers and Old Dogs

I've been in several situations very recently in which people have said, right in front of my face, that 30-year teachers are resistant to change. It's the same thing as saying old dogs can't learn new tricks, I guess. Nonetheless, dogs aren't quite as sensitive to stereotypes as, say, I am. You might argue that's just one more thing to love about dogs.

I don't actually teach my dog tricks. I have taught him, mostly, to sit, to go down, and to come. I'm reinforcing those commands on a daily basis, mostly using treats, and he follows them enthusiastically. I teach him those commands because they could easily save his life one day. Otherwise I probably wouldn't fret over them too much. 

I am the best teacher I have ever been, for better or worse. Every day that passes I learn something. Every time I see a situation I've seen before I respond faster and smarter. The year before last I worked with a teacher who could be thirty years my junior. You wouldn't expect this, but I handled everything tech-related in the classroom. I also wrote a whole lot of stories and vignettes to motivate lessons we gave, almost daily. I have this terrible writing habit. I can't stop. I figure it must be reflective of an equally terrible thinking habit, or where would I find the words?

I've been a UFT chapter leader for nine years now. I can hardly believe it. I can tell you for sure that if you're looking to just sit down and take a nap while you wait to drift out into the bay or whatever, you ought not to take a position representing 300 people. My job is insane and I'm absolutely fine with it. My only real regret is I didn't realize how much I'd thrive on an impossible job earlier. On the other hand, you could argue being a New York City teacher is an impossible job and I'd be hard pressed to disagree.

How do you deal with an impossible job? Some people have trouble. There are those who move to "get out of the classroom." They find other jobs, mostly in administration. To my mind, this is the single most prevalent cause of those Boy Wonder supervisors who don't know their ass from their elbow but are nonetheless fully empowered to tell you how badly you suck, and how you don't meet the high standard they themselves changed jobs to avoid facing.

I can't tell you how many times 30-year-old teachers have approached me and told me how lucky I was. I can retire if I want to. What they wouldn't give to be able to do that. I feel really bad when I hear that. I think, oh my gosh, you have to do this for another 30 years and you want to leave now. That's nothing short of tragic. You'd rather be as old as me than come to work? You'd give up a few decades of life to be able to spend more time watching Judge Judy? Hardly seems worth it. Maybe you're thinking about exotic vacations. Who knows? Will you spend every moment watching Judge Judy wishing you were in a Caribbean resort sitting on a beach with a piña-colada? Will you sit on that beach wishing you were on a better one?

Meanwhile I can't retire. I am just right in this thing and I don't want to stop. I see things I haven't seen before. I do things I haven't done before. I bring ELLs to Broadway every year. I figure out ways to reach kids I suspect no teacher has reached before. I work with smart people every day, and I meet others on this page and all over the place. Not only that, but I work with UFT in various capacities. I notice things I've never noticed before. I have ideas I've never had before.

The very first day I taught was at Lehman High School in the Bronx. This was in October 1984. I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, on my ninth day I was written up by someone who told me I had no idea what I was doing. I was good with that, though, because I'd told her that my first day.

Another thing that happened on my first day was that I went into the lunchroom. Several older teachers pulled me over and told me I was making a big mistake. They said I should move out to teach in Long Island. It was better there. Do it before it's too late, they said. Otherwise, I suppose, I ran the risk of ending up like them. On the other hand, I still didn't know what I was doing. Why would I presume to move someplace else when I didn't know what I was doing where I was?

More importantly, those people were kind of bitter and cynical. I decided right then and there that, as a teacher, I was never going to be like that. Almost 34 years later, I'm not.In fact, if I'd ended up like that, it wouldn't be because I had 30 years. I doubt those cynical teachers became that way simply because they worked 30 years. What I suspect is these are the same people who, after five, ten, or fifteen years, envied those old enough to retire.

It's really not about age. It's about attitude. Give old dogs a break. For all you know, they could teach the puppies a thing or two.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Kavanaugh Is Even Worse Than We Thought

Of course any Trump nominee would be terrible. We know that Trump doesn't support working people, hence the Janus decision to try and hobble union. Trump, who knows no moderation, actually tweeted about how terrible it would be for Democrats. He pretends it's about freedom for unionized working people to support anti-union bigots like himself, but can't resist alluding to the truth. Of course, Twitter responded:

Actually I don't know what it would take to bring down this guy. He just called a woman of color a dog. He can talk about grabbing women by the pussy, get three million fewer votes than his opponent, and become President. Meanwhile we're faced with Kavanaugh, and the NY Times today pointed out that he doesn't believe in separation of church and state.

Over his decades-long legal career, Judge Kavanaugh has argued in favor of breaking down barriers between church and state. He has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of school prayer and the right of religious groups to gain access to public school facilities. He was part of the legal team that represented former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in 2000 when he defended a school voucher program that was later ruled unconstitutional.

Jeb Bush is perhaps the reformiest of reformies. When his programs crash and burn, it doesn't bother him. He just goes on and pushes for things that are reformier still. Now one of his reformies could sit on SCOTUS for decades and give money to religious schools. It's funny, in Trump's United States, that members who benefit from union need not pay for our work, but all of us may have to support organized religions no matter how we feel about therm.

I don't want my students to pray in school. I want them to study. Ideally, I'd like to see them politically awakened, organizing and protesting against the government that fails to serve them. Unlike Eva Moskowitz, though, I don't see it as my job to make them do that. Given the despicable nature of those running our government, I'd hope they do it on their own.

The Koch Brothers are fighting for this guy so as to have their values enshrined into national law. Folks like the Koch Brothers know they are in the minority, so they struggle to buy their way into power. With legislation like Citizens United, giving corporations undue influence and minimizing the voice of We, the People, they're becoming quite successful.

Kavanaugh, like several of the other bought-and-paid-for justices, was not chosen by the people, not even indirectly. The majority voted against both Trump and GW, and our courts are hijacked by judges we don't want. Most of Kavanaugh's records are unavailable.  GOP is pushing for a September hearing, which could have him seated before we even discover even worse things.

Don't forget to vote in November. After we impeach Trump, maybe we can impeach the crooked judges the Koch Brothers bought. I'm hoping Democrats with a pulse do everything possible to head this one off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Specialized Schools and the Big Test

Everyone's talking about the SHSAT, the test that gets you into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and the other specialized high schools. Or not. Evidently there is an ethnic mix in those schools that does not remotely represent our city's population. The underrepresented want in. Those in want to stay. Everyone wants a place. The article seems to suggest that students targeted for these schools will do well whether or not they get in.

Clearly any solution will make some people unhappy, and I'm not gonna sit here and claim to have a better idea than either side. Nonetheless, my viewpoints are created from where I am, and for over 25 years that's been Francis Lewis High School, the largest school in Queens and the most overcrowded in New York City.

There are reasons why we're so overcrowded. Reason number one is we're perceived as desirable. Students do relatively well in our school, and the metrics and stats that regularly get press coverage seems to bear that out. I'd attribute this to the fact that the ESL teachers are incredibly smart and good-looking, but others have their own points of view. For example, we generally have great kids.

Here's the thing, though--there is no cap on enrollment at community schools. If ten thousand freshman move into our neighborhood tomorrow, we'll go from over 200% capacity to over 500% capacity, or whatever. It doesn't matter to the city. Everyone gets in. Do the kids really live in the neighborhood? No one really knows. You can establish residence at your cousin's house, at your friend's house, or wherever. Once you're in, you're in, You can move back to wherever you really live and that's it.

I don't anticipate the city doing anything about that anytime soon. So it's hard for me to muster sympathy for entirely selective schools. In fact, it's hard for me to see what the big deal is about academic achievement when you're entirely selective about who gets in. I'm not familiar with the SHSAT in particular, but I do believe the adage that test scores tend to measure zip codes rather than ability. If I have money to prep my kid for the test and you don't, my kid is likely to do better than yours. Even if the schools offer support, the more money I have, the more support my kids will get.

Teachers have known these things for years. In New York City, Michael Bloomberg's favorite hobby was closing schools that didn't get the test scores he wanted. I'm pretty sure he's managed to close every comprehensive high school in the Bronx. If one or two survived, I'd like to know about it. This was pretty much a game of dominos. One school closed, the replacement students would exclude those with special needs, like ELLs, and they'd be sent to another, whose scores went down and was closed too.

I don't believe students in Queens are smarter than students in the Bronx. I don't believe I'm a better teacher than teachers in the Bronx. I believe the only reason I'm not an ATR is because I was lucky enough to transfer out of John Adams before it became an issue. I also think the big test to gain admission into the specialized schools works in favor of those who can prep for it. Does the test really predict how well students will do? Does it exclude only those who would not do well? Probably not, on both counts.

There must be a fair solution. Mine is to open up the specialized schools to both those who do well on the test and those who don't. That's what we do at our school, and it's worked for us. If it doesn't work at Brooklyn Tech, well, what can I tell you? It's not my fault if they can't handle their building at over 200% capacity. If we can, everyone can.

On the other hand, if you really want to talk about equity, create spaces everywhere in the city for children who need them. I don't see why students who pass some test merit better treatment than mine. If the students in specialized high schools are that good, it won't matter if they study in trailers that freeze in the winter and boil in the summer. They can study in airless closets converted into classrooms. It won't matter if their rooms are next to custodial workrooms that leak gas and diesel fumes. It won't make any difference if their gym classes are held outside because there's no space inside. If they have to eat lunch at nine in the morning and stay until five it's no big deal.

You can talk about equity until you're blue in the face and someone will always be disappointed. I'm tired of being disappointed for every one of the 4,600 kids who attend our school. If the city can place well over double capacity there, let them do it in every specialized school too. If students and faculty in those schools don't like it, well, I can't blame them. I don't like it either.

Test or no test, every kid in New York City deserves a reasonable place to study and learn.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Unions and Luncheonettes

I took this photo in Parksville, NY yesterday. We got off the highway to get gas and I was really struck by it. When I was a kid, there was a luncheonette on every corner. We called them candy stores. I bought many, many comic books from places like this one.

Now you rarely see them anymore. There was one I used to visit regularly, but now it's a bagel store. They've gone out of fashion, evidently. In Parksville, it looks like no one wanted to take it over.

The bar across the street is doing great. Alcohol never goes out of style. Some things do. Some of my teacher friends ask me, "This was OK twenty years ago. Why can't we do it now?" I haven't always got a good answer for that. Some things change. I was pretty happy being stuck in the trailer when they were screaming at everyone to use PowerPoint. I didn't have to do it because they never gave me any tech to work with. Now I get placed in a regular classroom and I've moved beyond PowerPoint to Keynote. I don't know how I ever worked without it.

Some changes, of course, are not for the better. You always hope to see things like nazis and that klan in the rear-view mirror. Now they go out and march, and they are protested. The frigging President of the United States says there are good people on both sides. For my money, bigots are not good people. They can become good people, but why should they when  the President says they're just fine the way they are?

Then we come to one of my favorite topics, which is union, which is us. Are we luncheonettes, or alcohol? Or are we something altogether different? The struggle of working people to make a living is not going anywhere soon. The fact that many of us manage to do so is not accidental. As much as people like me complain about the UFT leadership, we're doing a whole lot better than many of our brothers and sisters in red states. It's vital that we keep that advantage.

How do we do that? We do it by keeping up. We do it by growing. We do it by thinking out of the luncheonette. We can't just be the same old thing we have been. Otherwise, we'll look like that building. Unless you actually dress like that building, you don't want to look like it.

The possibility of becoming more activist is one we should embrace, from lowly teachers like me right up to the leaders sitting at 52 Broadway. If your chapter leader sucks, it's on you to replace him. You can recall the chapter leader who won't speak against the principal and run yourself. If everyone lives in fear, it's on you to organize.

We sink or swim together. If you're mad at Mulgrew, tell him. If you're mad at us, tell us. We're at Executive Board twice a month. If you wish, you can sign up to speak. Emily James spoke and now we have parental leave. CPE 1 and Townsend Harris spoke and got rid of their principals. I spoke and got an annex for my sorely overcrowded school. I will admit that not everyone got the help they wanted. Nonetheless, doing nothing guarantees no one gets what they want.

Once that happens, we'll look like that photo. And we simply cannot allow that to happen. We need renewal, both inside and out. And the time is now.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

UFT Trial Balloons and Reformies on Curriculum

When UFT leadership wants ideas out, they have Peter Goodman. Goodman is not precisely my favorite, and it pains me to link to him. I wrote a review of Diane Ravitch's book in what is now Chalkbeat, and he wrote me some warning in the comments about how I had to be careful. Perish forbid I express opinions in public. What an awful thing for a teacher to do. Better, evidently, to live in fear, tremble quietly, sit down, and shut the hell up. Ravitch commented in my defense, and Chalkbeat deleted the exchange.

It's hard for me to express how stupid it is to offer such advice on a public forum. It's hard because it's so blatantly obvious it doesn't even merit explanation. Anyway, Goodman has this blog in which he seems to float trial balloons for leadership ideas. Last week it was a hope the contract would be completed by September. This week it's a lament that Carranza partners with people he knows rather than UFT leadership. That's not what's disturbing, though.

What's disturbing is that Goodman is citing reformy Robert Pondiscio to push for curriculum. In fact, he quotes him:

The idea advanced here—that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula may be the last, best, and truest arrow left in education reform’s quiver
* Use incentives, not mandates, to maintain local autonomy,
 * leverage teacher expertise and teacher leaders in the work, and,
 * use the procurement process to expand use of the highest-quality curriculum,

If you take that at face value, it sounds pretty good. If you think about it, which Goodman evidently does not, it's problematic. Why on earth are we concerned with arrows "left in education reform's quiver?" Every working teacher in New York City feels those arrows (and slings) each and every day. One well-used arrow is the evaluation system. Another is Common Core. Another is every single school closing we've experienced. Another is the ATR. Another is our inability to grieve letters in file. And who can forget the arrow that places the burden of proof on working teachers at 3020a?

Maybe you think it's sheer coincidence that the reformy Fordham Institute is also pushing curriculum. A commenter on Twitter had an apt response:

It's time for us to start learning from experience. We've tried working with the reformies. Remember when Randi Weingarten went to a baseball game with Bloomberg? Try not to vomit, but remember Klein kissing her? Remember when we partnered with Bill Gates to do the MET study? Remember when we invited Gates to the AFT Convention, and he thanked us by going out the next week and attacking teacher pensions? Remember when we let Reformy John King be the independent arbiter to determine what our evaluation program would look like?

Reformies are always all about empowering teachers. Every stupid incomprehensible idea that comes down the pike is about giving you options. You have the option to do whatever the hell they tell you to. Thank you very much. You have the option of teaching exactly this way, each and every day, or getting a crap observation. You have the option of some delusional Boy Wonder supervisor placing letters in your file for things that did not actually happen.

I see the value of curriculum. I see the value of trying to "leverage teacher experience." But I also remember hearing many such promises that evolved into realities that were quite different,. I remember years of debate over Common Core. One of the big lies from reformies was that it was teacher designed. Mostly, it wasn't. Another was that is wasn't curriculum, when actually it was intended to drive curriculum. Having failed in that, they're now pushing for something more direct.

Goodman's role may well be to put out test balloons for leadership. Mine then, is to point out what is stupid and counter-productive, and wherever possible, to speak out against it before it becomes official policy. If Carranza wants to partner with us, I'm all for it. Let's be careful though, that we aren't partnering with every reformy in town when we do it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

NYSUT Endorses, Having Learned Nothing from Trump or Janus

NYSUT drew a line in the sand that any Senator who failed to endorse the bill de-linking testing and evaluation would be opposed. I supported that bill, but it did not go nearly far enough to alleviate the suffering and nonsense NYC teachers experience daily. It's disingenuous for Pallotta to act as though he fought evaluation in general. Though he happily threw Dick Iannuzzi under the bus for it, he didn't raise a peep when it started. Mulgrew supported it, and that was good enough for Andy Pallotta.

This brings us to the endorsements. UFT is the big dog in NYSUT, and I don't believe NYSUT does anything of significance without our approval. That said, I'm struck senseless by our opposition to education hero Robert Jackson. Jackson stood with us through CFE. CFE was a lawsuit under which we won lower class sizes. It's never been enforced, even though the city came up with a plan to do so that was approved by the state.

Jackson is running against Marisol Alcantara, who caucused with IDC. IDC is a group of Senators, elected as Democrats, who caucused with Republicans. Why, exactly, do we need that in NY?  IDC has been responsible for blocking a whole lot of progressive bills that passed the Assembly. One of them would have provided universal health care for New Yorkers. A lot of us were disappointed by the sharp spike in co-pays in the last contract. (In yet another concession, new city workers will need to enroll in HIP before getting a choice of plans. How exactly that will inspire them to join rather than shirk union post-Janus is a mystery to me.)

In any case, universal health care in NY would've brought down costs for everyone. How we support people who block that is a mystery to me. What's no mystery, unfortuantely, is reformy support for IDC members. Alcanatara, for example, lists an Eva Moskowitz PAC as one of her top donors. Another is NYSUT Vote-Cope. Why the hell are we giving a dime to someone who supports a great enemy of New York City's schoolchildren, parents and teachers? How on eath can we turn against Robert Jackson for someone like that?

NYSUT made a great point of saying they opposed Senators who supported charter expansion. How does support from Moskowitz not translate into supporting charter expansion? Eva Moskowitz eats charter expansion for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we're supporting someone who takes her money. It's not a coincidence, NYSUT endorsers, that Alcantara called for a lifting of the charter cap. It's outrageous that we're putting resources behind someone like that. How do you think that will go over at the next COPE drive?

I like Tish James a lot, but I love Zephyr Teachout. She's fearless and stood up for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez well before it became fashionable. Whatever NYSUT says, I'll certainly be voting for Teachout in the primary. Teachout doesn't take PAC or corporate money, a good quality in an attorney general. I don't believe that's true of any of her opponents. New York will be a better place with Teachout in a powerful place.

I'd like our union to look ahead, but I'm not altogether sure we're doing that. I read about Julia Salazar supporting the American wave of teacher strikes, and I think we'd be well-represented by someone who believed in us. She supports reasonable class sizes, free tuition in CUNY and SUNY, and the universal health care we so need. Were a state as large as New York to enable this, we'd pressure the rest of the country to follow in our footsteps.

Something happened when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez unseated an established machine Democrat. There was a light in the darkness. It was just a little ray of light, but it shone on all the mistakes Democrats had made, particularly the ones that allowed Donald Trump to become President of the United States.

Donald Trump is President of the United States only because Hillary Clinton failed to get people to the polls. Hillary Clinton failed to support universal health care. She said it would never, ever happen. Hillary opposed free college, saying Trump's kids would take advantage. She flip-flopped all over the place on $15 an hour minimum wage. That's not to mention all the baggage she was carrying around from day one. The fact is, a lot of people who got off their butts to vote for Obama didn't do the same for Hillary.

We, UFT, NYSUT, and AFT, saw her as a sure bet. We got on her bandwagon very early, asking absolutely nothing in return. This was an egregious error, as we all now know. Not only was Hillary wrong on all the aforementioned issues, but she was also looking very much like someone who'd follow Obama's calamitous and short-sighted education policies. Did working teachers really need more junk science evaluation and test-till-you-drop programs? Judging from our endorsements both then and now, you'd think yes.

On several IDC Senators, NYSUT sits on the fence. Better than endorsing, but still not good enough. UFT High School Executive Board opposes them all, but has no vote or voice in NYSUT. Our requests, clearly, were ignored.

Janus has changed everything. I see that very clearly, and I've changed as a result. I think a little differently, I work a little differently, and I behave a little differently. It's not exactly a sea change for me, because as a chapter leader, I'm acutely aware my job is representing the interests of my members. There are things I'd like to do that I don't do, because I understand members would not support those things.

I see a need for leadership to be more responsive in that way. I am absolutely cognizant of how important union is, and how much we need it. I see this despite years of having criticized leadership decisions. What I really wonder, though, is what it will take for leadership to understand that the game has now changed, and that losing is not an option. These endorsements suggest, to me at least, that same old urge to be "reasonable" and not ask too much.

There are some things that are not too much to ask, and that leadership must move on.

1. Public education is who we are and what we do. We need to support it unequivocally. This has several implications. Public schools are controlled by the public, not by Eva Moskowitz and her hedge fund BFFs. Charter schools are not public schools and do not merit our support.

2. Class size matters, not only to me, not only to the children we serve, not only to all working teachers, but also to parents. This is reflected in city surveys time and again. Every teacher knows that the smaller the class size is, the more attention they can devote to students in need. If that's not enough, there is rigorous research to support the benefits of reasonable class sizes.

3. Health care needs to be universal. It's so fundamental that anything we can do in the classroom pales in relevance. Most Americans support universal health care and we need to support it too.

4. Americans deserve a living, not a miserable struggle to string together minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. We need a living wage for all working Americans. We are not teaching children to be Walmart associates, no matter how much money the Walmart family tosses around.

5. College needs to be affordable. We can't place our faith in preposterous tropes suggesting we're gonna meet Ivanka in English 101 at Queensborough Community College.

No politician who takes money to oppose any of that merits our support.

I think it was Jack Nicholson who said, "If you aren't learning, you're dead." This goes double for teachers, and it's high time for UFT and NYSUT leadership to get on board.