Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teachers Should Write Education Editorials

The NY Post gets you coming and going. A few weeks ago, they were saying that the notion of dropping Regents exams represented a total lack of standards, and that the whole state was going to turn into the Wild West. Everyone was going to pass no matter what. That was the only reason they could imagine for moving away from these tests.

Evidently, these tests ranked somewhere near the Ten Commandments, and were so perfectly formed that any criticism of them, let alone movement away from them, was absolutely out of the question. The Post showed no evidence they were actually familiar with the tests.

In our school, we have an election day PD by some company that’s visited us before. The first time they came, they showed us two essays. One was written by some spoiled young woman who complained her parents sent her to Europe. Evidently it was boring. Another was written by a young man who made burgers at a beachside stand that summer and milked the experience for all the humor that could be found in it.

There we were, challenged by highly paid PD preppers to discern between art and crap. It was my distinct feeling that anyone who didn’t recognize the crap for what it was, well, that person ought not to be teaching writing. I understand why the school is engaging them, though. A lot of students cannot write their way out of a paper bag, and many are native English speakers.

Actually, I place the blame for that on the English Regents exam, which we’re urged to prep kids for. The English Regents exam is Common Core based, and thus formulated on David Coleman’s brilliant theory that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. Since we teach students to write based on that foundation, it’s no surprise whatsoever that they produce writing no one wants to read. The truth is, no one gives a crap about writing that has no heart, passion or feeling.

I’ve actually been told that some of our highest-performing students have written college essays that were not particularly impressive. Someone who works at a college told me when she read good essays, she had no idea whether students wrote them themselves. When she read bad ones, she knew they were real.

Given all that, the Post now cries and moans that the NAEP exams are the gold standard, and by that standard de Blasio has made no progress whatsoever, and that this is "final proof."  Given the state standards are crap, something that’s utterly eluded the Post, I’m not surprised. I’m also not remotely persuaded this is de Blasio’s fault. After all, it’s the geniuses in Albany who write the tests, without which our students can’t graduate. Instead of teaching kids how to write, let alone how to appreciate reading, we’re forced to teach them to deal with crap that will serve only one purpose—helping them pass the crappy tests.

If Michael Bloomberg were mayor, the Post would be praising him to the heavens. He’d be a genius for raising state test scores. The NAEP would be ignored. The thing that really gets the Post’s goat is all that “social justice” stuff.

Perish forbid that students like those I serve should be treated with dignity as a matter of course. No, let’s go on our merry way as the geniuses in Albany cut direct English instruction. Doubtless the NY State Regents and the editors of the NY Post could go to China tomorrow and ace their standardized tests with no help whatsoever.

I’ve had it with reading education editorials and op-eds by people who not only haven’t got the remotest notion what they’re talking about, but then go the extra mile and say any gosh darn thing that will reinforce their obvious and blatant prejudices.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Time for Voting

In case you live in a cave or just hadn't heard, there's a New York State law that says you can take up to three hours off from work in order to vote in your local election. There's a form that's been made available to chapter leaders.

You can find further info and download the form you need right here. 
There are reasons why you ought to do this, whether or not you think you actually need the time. I mean sure, you can wake up at 4 instead of 4:30 that morning, go to your local polling place, and hope that you're the only one who had that idea. Maybe you won't have to wait on line. Then you'll be able to go to work and not miss a moment of whatever PD administration is offering that day.

On the other hand, this is now your right. It's a right that wasn't handed down from Mount Olympus by Zeus. Like the right to vote, it's a relatively new development. Now here's the thing about rights--if you don't assert them, you haven't actually got them. For example, a lot of people have the right to vote, but a whole lot of people can't be bothered. Your vote really matters. Look at the recent Queens DA race that came down to the wire.

Not persuaded? Look at who's President of the United States. Admittedly, he won the election fair and square by every possible measure (except votes cast). But a lot of people who'd voted for Barack Obama didn't bother to get off their keesters to vote for Hillary. And why should they have? The polls all said Hillary was a shoo-in. I didn't love Hillary myself, but with a choice between her and Trump, I voted for her. If I hadn't, I'd feel guilty.

Look at the UFT Contract. There are schools Bloomberg started that are still full of untenured teachers. The principal says everyone's C6 assignment is doing teacher teams five days a week, and poof! You have an entire building full of teachers, all of whom are already frazzled and overworked beyond, doing something they universally detest five days a week. Sure, the contract says you can choose a C6, and the menu needs to be negotiated by the chapter, but maybe there's no chapter leader.Or maybe the principal picked someone and said, "You are the chapter leader," and no one ran against that person. Who knows?

Nonetheless, in a building where no one asserts or defends the collective bargaining agreement, there may as well not be one. In a building ruled by fear, there's not a whole lot of teacher voice. I'd argue that teacher voice is one thing that really makes a building special. Even the best principal can't clone everyone in his own image and expect good results. In fact, the best principal would know that and actively interact with disparate voice. It's the worst principal who treads all over everyone no matter what, and that's why we have checks and balances written into the contract.

Are the checks and balances perfect? Do they always work? Of course they don't. But they are there, and it behooves us all to use them. Do you want to be in good physical shape? Then you have to exercise, one way or another. Do you want to enjoy the rights you have? You have to exercise them too.

If I were you, I'd copy and paste the form below and submit it to my AP. Then I'd have the AP give it to the principal. Also, I'd do it by Friday, because unless you're coming in Sunday, that's the only way to get it in two days before the election. I already submitted mine last week, the first time I saw it.

Don't say you don't need it. You don't need to vote either. But every single one of us, every time we look at the news or turn on the TV, is acutely aware of what happens when we don't.

This is your right. Use it or lose it. There's no middle ground.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Failure Breeds Contempt, and Less Work

I was talking to a friend from another school who was outraged that he had to write IEPs and one of his acquaintances did not. This was by instruction of the supervisor. Did the person have special privileges? Was he related to the AP?

Actually, he just did such a terrible job of it that the AP didn't want to bother. The problem, of course, is that once something like that becomes public knowledge, maybe everyone will do it. That didn't happen, in this case. What happened was everyone sort of began to hate this guy for not doing the work they all busted their butts over.

In case you don't know it, special education teachers have a whole lot of extra paperwork issues in the form of IEPs, which I believe stands for individual education plan. Kids with special needs are not all the same. Some need one thing, some need others, and it's up to special education teachers to write and collaborate on these plans. It's a big job, and it's generally the C6 assignment of all special ed. teachers. Of course, they have other issues as well, including co-teaching. A special ed. teacher might have two co-teachers, requisite co-planning and still have to write IEPs.

Years ago, I was assigned to do lunch duty, which I did for a full year. The dean who ran the lunchroom placed me at the front door to do all the work. He placed himself at the back door and did almost none of the work. It was one fun-filled year. I remember reading an op-ed in the Times saying how lunch duty is wonderful because you can really get to know the kids. I got to know the ones who had fake programs, the boys who brought in girl's programs, and the ones who'd lie to me and say they needed to leave early.

Actually it was perhaps the single most unrewarding experience of my career, on par or worse with proctoring exams of students I don't know in subjects I don't understand. Because I took the job seriously and actually challenged the students who didn't belong there, I was not much-loved by the more troublesome students. This job became the opposite of fun, and I really never wanted to do it again.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the good job I did inspired administration to reward me with it twice in a row. At that time, there was a regulation that you could only get lunch duty once every six years. Evidently the union knew how teachers felt about regulating food fights and wrote that in. While I wasn't chapter leader, and while I wasn't yet active in union issues, I knew the rule. I told them they couldn't place me there again.

They moved me to the dean's office. There was certain paperwork the dean didn't like doing, so he passed it off to the school aide assigned to his office. My job, evidently, was to assist the school aide. Why they thought that necessary I couldn't tell you. She looked at the work the dean passed off to her, and passed it off to me.

I dutifully filled in whatever crap I was asked to, but it turns out my handwriting is so awful no one could read it. People asked me what things said for a while. Sometimes I could read it. Other times I couldn't. After a while they stopped asking me to do the work the aide was supposed to do for the dean. I sat there the rest of the year and wrote lesson plans.

Sometimes I don't understand why we're placed in these situations. Other times it looks like everyone is in them sometimes. Why does common sense remain among the least common of all the senses?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Too Much Testing? City Has Simple Solution--More Testing

CPE1 is a progressive stronghold. They have a vibrant school community that stands up to nonsense. When an abusive principal started pressing charges against UFT activists and banning activist parents from their children's school, they screamed, and continued doing so. The principal was reassigned. For all I know, she's twiddling her thumbs at Tweed, in the company of other highly-compensated thumb-twiddlers.

CPE1 is among a small circle of city schools in which opt-out is a popular option.  They have over a 70% opt-out rate on state tests. The parents at CPE1 do not appear to believe that pointless testing, let alone teaching to pointless tests, is the way to help their children. Having spent a good part of last year teaching students, half of whom had already passed, how to deal with the abysmal English Regents exam, I understand completely.

The state, of course, overreacted. It rated CPE1 a "struggling school," despite appeals otherwise from the Chancellor. Yet the city, evidently in response to this rating, has decided to give more tests to CPE1 and Brooklyn Collaborative studies, which also had a high opt-out rate. I'm not sure that's a logical response. If my daughter refused to eat broccoli, my first response wouldn't be imposing the all-broccoli diet. Of course, I'm just a lowly parent and teacher, not among the few, the proud, who do Whatever It Is They Do at Tweed.

This comes in the wake of an effort to enact more testing citywide. I understand the chancellor's concerns, and I understand his interest in knowing how our students are progressing. What I really do not understand is exactly how a standardized test will be able to measure this, or why, given the low, low quality of tests written by "experts," anyone would believe they would show or tell us anything.

As I mentioned, last year I had a class of students, half of whom had tested out of ESL and passed the English Regents. Many of the students who'd managed that proved unable to compose a coherent sentence in English. This, evidently, is the kind of test produced when a bunch of geniuses get together, consult experts and psychometricians, and spend huge sums of money that could otherwise be used to create space for students to learn in reasonable class sizes. I'm in the most overcrowded school in Fun City, and even with an annex that may be completed within my lifetime, I don't expect we'll see significant easing of the situation.

Even if the state tests were excellent, which they are certainly not, there's no way to ensure they're aligned with what my school, your school, or any school is learning. The Regents exams, along with the 3-8 exams, are given at the end of the year. There is no possibility of remediating the alleged shortcomings of our students. Even if there were, given the meaningless nature of the tests with which I'm familiar, it hardly seems worth it.

Now we're faced with the possibility of facing quarterly "formative assessments." That's a way of saying it's a nice assessment, that you won't find it particularly burdensome or unpleasant. Call it what you wish. If the results come in and say that your students aren't doing well, you'd better believe scores of principals will be forcing teachers to get better test results.

This will, of course, lead to more teaching to the test. I can tell you, from years of experience, that teaching to the test does not lead to love of learning, passion for the subject matter, or much of anything beyond better passing rates. For years, I was tasked with teaching English Language Learners how to pass the English Regents exam, back when it actually measure writing. I spent the year having kids write until their hands were about to fall off.

My friend, a Chinese teacher, overheard and translated this:

I don't know what I can do. I can't pass the English Regents exam.

Maybe you should take Goldstein's class.

Why? Is it good?

No. It's horrible. But if you take it, you'll pass the Regents.

I can believe that. I never enjoyed teaching that class, and I understand that students wouldn't have enjoyed taking it. But its sole objective was showing students formulaic ways to meet the four writing tasks the test then demanded. Even having done so, these were particular writing tasks. I was acutely aware that I was teaching students how to pass the test, not how to write.

Other things I didn't teach were English conventions, since the Regents exam placed them at the very bottom of its writing rubric. The issue for them was passing a test, without which they couldn't graduate from high school. I really don't want to teach another class like that ever again, but you never know.

With quarterly city exams, it's entirely possible every single class will be like that. Given Danielson, test-prep classes could be a death knell for teacher ratings. I hope the chancellor reconsiders this initiative and chooses to rely on teacher grades. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicators of college success than standardized tests.

We're ready and willing to share our grades with you, Mr. Chancellor. Trust us. Just because the state deems us unfit to grade our own students doesn't mean we're a bunch of crooks. If we were a bunch of crooks, we're surely have higher salaries, you know, like the people from the state who make the rules.

Stop taking advice from the overpaid ex-principals at Tweed, Mr. Chancellor. We're the ones actually doing the work, and we know better.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Realizing A Vision

I've watched the Mulgrew-Carranza video five or six times. What they want is the moon, the sun, and the stars.

Now don't get me wrong--I want it too. I want it all. The issue, though, is how do we get there from here? How do we establish healthy working relationships with New York City supervisors, many of whom received training directly from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy?

Joel Klein most certainly didn't want to sing Kumbayah with the likes of me. Klein wanted to close my school and make me an ATR. As it happened, I'd already transferred to a school that got better grades than the one in which I used to work. I'm not stupid enough to think that was because of my sudden presence. It had a lot more to do with the neighborhood kids, who tended to get higher scores. Had I stayed where I was I'd be an ATR.

I transferred simply because my boss wanted me to work hours that would've precluded my second job teaching college. My transfer had nothing to do with school quality. It had to do with the transfer school being close to Queens College and having hours that would let me leave in time to do my second job. That way I could make the money I needed to pay my brand new mortgage. I happened to be very lucky, luckier than I'd imagined.

You see, my then-supervisor didn't care whether or not I could pay my mortgage. She told me that the Spanish teacher threw out too many kids, and I never threw out anyone. Therefore I was going to teach Spanish, not throw out kids, and she would spend less time dealing with kids who were thrown out. If not, I was gonna be on the late shift and lose my second job. The fact that I love teaching ESL, the fact that my English is way better than my Spanish--these were of no importance whatsoever. She needed her "me time," I had the Spanish license, and that was that.

As you surely know, there are plenty more where she came from.

When I became chapter leader, a teacher gave me all the emails for the department. After I sent the first email, another teacher in the same department approached me.

"I feel like I've been RAPED," she said.

"Oh my gosh,"  I said. "What happened?"

"You sent me an email, and I never gave you my address."

"I'm so sorry," I said. "Someone gave me a list. I'll never send you another email again."

"That's okay," she said. "You can send me more email."

That was taking passive-aggressive to a new level, I thought. Shortly thereafter, of course, she was promoted to supervisor.

As chapter leader, you see things other people don't. You ask questions.

"Why did you observe Ms. Finch on a half day when there were almost no students in the building? If you want to give her a chance, don't you think it would be better to see her when she had, you know, an actual class?"

Then the supervisor just says no, I'm not gonna do that. What's the point of even talking to people who think like that?

Tweed is full of people who think like that or worse. Schools, also, are full of Bloomberg leftovers. I know supervisors I trust absolutely. I know supervisors I trust almost absolutely. I know others who are good in some aspects, but funny in others. Then there are the ones who never, ever should have gotten those jobs.

Carranza and Mulgrew have a great idea. Still when Carranza fired or reassigned four people, the media was in a frenzy. What would they do if he suddenly decided that insane individuals ought not to be supervising teachers and fired them en masse? How many people who hate teachers and everything we stand for are still sitting in Tweed, drawing a salary for Whatever It Is They Do There? How many are working as supervisors of teachers?

Let's work together, improve our practice, and help the 1.1 million children who need our help, say Carranza and Mulgrew. How could anyone even begin to disagree with that.

There are a few people standing in the way of that vision.  How many do you know? Can we simply begin hiring people who aren't crazy and wait them out? Or do Bloomberg leftovers and Leadership Academy grads, like cockroaches and Rudy Giuliani, simply survive everything?

Can we work toward improving our craft, as opposed to living in perpetual fear and loathing? I certainly hope so. It's something worth striving for, worth fighting for. Is it gonna happen overnight? Of course not. But I figure a hundred thousand people who can teach 34 students at a time can do just about anything. We build a house brick by brick.

We just have to place them very carefully.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

This Year's Model

It's inevitable. Another new year, another new reformy trend. You need to give a mini-lesson that must be exactly ten minutes, NOT nine, NOT eleven. Then the children must sit on a rug while you read them a book. Never mind whatever that rug happens to be crawling with.

Also, you must have an aim on the board. It must be phrased as a statement. Also, it must be phrased as a question. You see, students are so dim that they cannot possibly understand what is going on unless you reduce it into eight or nine words.

Now don't get all uppity and start thinking. We don't do that here. Sure, if you have the best aim in the world and your lesson is total crap the aim won't help. And sure, if you fail to write an aim but your students find you totally enthralling, your lesson will be excellent. What I'm looking for here is the opportunity to walk by your classroom, not even set foot inside, and decide whether or not you suck. Aim? Doesn't suck. No aim? Sucks.

Also you need to begin with a DO NOW so that everyone is focused. They must sit down and get right to work. The DO NOW should take no more than five minutes. If it takes longer, not only does it suck, but you also suck. If I wanted to look at things that suck, I would've kept my job at Dunkin Donuts instead of having my mom get me this gig.

Also I've had it with that "reading" stuff. No one wants to sit and read, so let's not even pretend about that. From now on everyone will read no more than two paragraphs at a time, and when they do, they will answer at least five questions about whatever it was you made them read. And none of that fiction stuff, because we don't want them thinking deeply enough to empathize with fictional characters. Who knows what that could lead to? Next thing they'll be asking me questions at the Christmas assembly instead of singing along with whatever trite song I favor that year.

Also, it's of vital importance that we get some of those answers to questions on bulletin boards. And for goodness sake don't forget to put a rubric on the bulletin board, because no one can appreciate a bulletin board that doesn't have a rubric on it. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. I won't look at the frigging rubric, because it bores me to tears, and neither will anyone else, But if you don't put a rubric on the bulletin board, I'll put a letter in your file, bro, and that may lead to further disciplinary measures up to and including termination.

And now let's talk templates. What are templates? They're a combination of plates and temples. Or something. And I want you to follow the templates, because if you don't, you will be OUT OF COMPLIANCE and that means a disciplinary meeting. JESUS, WHY CAN"T YOU TEACHERS GET WITH THE PROGRAM? SHOW SOME FRIGGING INITIATIVE AND FIGURE IT OUT!!! AND I WANT EXIT TICKETS!!! DON'T GET ME STARTED ABOUT EXIT TICKETS!!! ANYONE WHO DOESN'T HAVE ONE WILL BE RATED SUPER DOUBLE SECRET INEFFECIVE!!!

Anyway I hope that clears things up. Portfolios? Yeah I know I said we needed them last year but portfolios are out. Let's get those templates happening. What are they? I don't know, okay? Just look them up on YouTube. That's what you do for everything else, isn't it? And have them on my desk in the morning.

That will be all.

Monday, October 21, 2019

UFT Executive Board October 21st--UFT and the Presidential Race

6:00 PM Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

No speakers


Barr—Shortened November 18th to observe changes to Wall of Honor, changed from November 4th. Starting at 5:30. All are welcome.

Adjust calendars—January 6th EB moved to January 13. Manhattan parent conference this Saturday. SI parent conference November 2. 8-2. Thanks us for coming out to Teacher Union Day. 

Question period—

Arthur Goldstein
—Yesterday at Teacher Union Day we watched Joe Biden promise us a grab bag of goodies. I can’t imagine any teacher not wanting to enact the programs he described. Yet he never mentioned privatization, which threatens so many public school districts. And though he frequently refers to his part in the Obama administration, he failed to do so yesterday.

Working teachers still feel Race to the Top, which imposed charters and test-based ratings on much of the country. While I’ve seen such ratings here help teachers, it’s only because so many city administrators are so wretchedly inept that a crap shoot is preferable to their judgment. Diane Ravitch wrote Obama gave GW Bush an extra term in education. Arne Duncan famously said Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education. We remember the near complete privatization of the city, and the virtual destruction of union there, pretty much blazing a trail for Betsy DeVos.

Maybe Joe Biden didn’t play a part in it, and maybe he didn’t support it, but I’ve never heard him say so. The Daily News referred to us as his supporters. Personally, I’d support him against Trump, but that doesn’t make me his supporter. The fact that we’ve thus far invited him and no one else lends credence to the paper’s assertion. The Times today, in a piece on Warren’s new education plan, says, “Ms. Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.” I’d like them come and do their vying right here.

Is the United Federation of Teachers pursuing opportunities for members to hear from the other frontrunners, Sanders and Warren?

Barr—Daily News got facts wrong. We were clear that because Biden was available it no way means we are endorsing him. This in no way means we don’t want others to come. As soon as we can get them here, we will. We will have a report about the debate party. Goal is to make members as informed as possible. AFT wants people to work with people they want to work with. We want people’s time and talent devoted to any candidate they choose. It’s still early, many people on stage. Michael wants us to wait until the field narrows a bit, see who can be elected, who can beat Trump. Daily News did not get it right, and Arne Duncan was wretched.

Rashad Brown—Are we taking a position on city charter?

Barr—Will let Michael or others speak to that.

DeShanna Barker—Re—smaller schools—how can we support them? Often they are charged with same things as larger schools, and it doesn’t always work out. Prep periods and workloads are the same, but often times don’t have manpower. How can we support them?

Barr—These were created by Joel Klein to break up large schools. Found many members applied to specialty schools, wanted to be there, have had same issues for years. Many who signed up were willing to do some of that work. Difficult to lay foundation until school grows large enough. In terms of budget, these can be conversations between entire campus. Principals and CLs there can discuss how to put things back together and make some things work. We will talk about strategies and techniques they’ve been using.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew
—Thanks everyone for UFT events, ELL conference, AFT teacher leader group, Strides, and Teacher Union day, which went well. We are not endorsing anyone. Trying to reach goal we did in mayor’s race. We’re moving toward working with campaigns and telling them what we want on national level. Over weekend we were in contact with Warren campaign. They were waiting for K-12 plan to come out. When we do endorsement, we look at education, worker policy, health care, pharma, looking for more support and development of unions. We should be expert on that.

Most times, it’s not who you like the best. After that, you have to figure out who can actually win. Team and apparatus in place important. That will take a lot of our time. Going to AFT this week. UFT largest local by far, will play significant role, but decision will be based on criteria I said. Important that leading candidate came to us, and that public sees. Trying to find dates and times for others.

You have right to leave early or come late for election day. You must inform them it is state law, only for NY State residents. 3 hours. You have to have a race happening in your district to get release time. If you live in an NYC district, public advocate is up. Not sure about other counties. Make sure there is race in your district. Let us know if principals object.

We should be done with all class size arbitration by Thanksgiving. Planning what to do about curriculum and DOE. DRs and field reps will be trained. Talking to CEC reps about this and the census. Thanks everyone who volunteered last weekend. Good people saw UFT working with community and pushing public school system to greater heights.

Barr—Will send voting info to Exec Board and CLs.

Reports from Districts

Rich Mantel—I need winter jackets. We bring students from temporary housing here to UFT, for Thanksgiving, give them food, games, and when they leave, every one gets new winter jacket, gloves and a scarf. They cannot be more appreciative. This year our biggest sponsor can’t help up. We are behind. If you can help with clothing or money we would appreciate it. Bring to my office or borough offices. Mail, or we’ll pick it up. Must be new.

Serbia Silva—Thanks volunteers, coordinators, all who made it to two different events on Sunday. Thanks borough reps, leadership and everyone.

Sean Rockowitz—At last exec board I spoke to retiree sanitation workers, who offered to help with Thanksgiving drive. Will collect coats, hats, toys. SI UFT hosted event for PreK center new hires. Very well attended. Donated $1500.

Rich Mantel—Thanks SI retirees who’ve donated dozens of coats.

Rashad Brown
—First LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner, Corey Johnson and others, $75 for scholarship fund. Nov. 21.

Barr—wants everyone to participate. Wants Danny Dromm fund to have 30K. We want you there to come out and celebrate.

Legislative report—Brigitte Ryan—On behalf of political dept., thank you for yesterday. All was beautiful. Congratulates honorees. Ballot proposals—no position, but if you have questions, refer to political appointees in borough offices. Hosting a session October 23 9 AM, will talk with labor movement about census, child care crisis, rank and file services.

Will have presidential delegate training, Sunday November 3rd. Refer questions to Cassie Brugh

Resolution to support NYC Transit Workers—MaryJo Jenise—5 months without contract. Asks for support for our brothers and sisters. Strike would have terrible impact on people.

Passes Unanimously.

Motion to adjourn 6:38

Sunday, October 20, 2019

IO Classroom (formerly Skedula) Still Sucks

For a few years I've been using this app to record grades. Some of my colleagues keep a paper book too. I don't. I figure if Skedula wants the responsibility of recording grades for thousands of teachers, it's on them to protect them. Doing the work once, as opposed to twice, should be enough. After all, Skedula is taking in tons of money for their service, so they owe us, at least, minimum competency.

Alas, that's not what we're getting right now. For weeks, the averages seemed to be off. I got tales of woe from various colleagues. I couldn't help but notice when I gave a kid a grade of 90 on a homework assignment that his average went from around 90 to forty-something. I had to keep re-entering the grade. I don't remember what I did to correct it, but I finally managed to do so.

 Had I not been paying attention to the overall average (and I'm not exactly sure why I should have to do that) I could've gotten an irate call from a parent. Then perhaps I'd be called into the principal's office and need to explain why a kid who passed all his tests has a 40 average. That's hardly what I call service. If I wanted a computer program that assigned random averages for no reason, I'm sure I could design it myself. After all, I'm totally unqualified to write computer programs, so why wouldn't my product look like that?

I don't know exactly how much my school pays this company, but last I heard it was around ten thousand dollars a year. Hey, if I could make ten thousand dollars a year producing crappy software I might do it. It's certainly easier than, you know, working. I'm expected to show up, be on time, plan lessons, execute said lessons, and somehow improve the English of my students. If I were to just show up and dance, or read a book, or eat fifty hot dogs, there would be consequences. Of course, I'm not running a big company that takes millions of dollars from city schools.

IO Classroom really outdid itself this weekend, though. A friend of mine was behind on recording grades, and told me he was going to catch up Friday night, whatever it took. He tried to log on Friday night and here's the message he got:

Skedula is temporarily unavailable.
We are currently performing scheduled maintenance. Site will be offline from Friday Oct 18 6:00PM - Saturday Oct 19 6:00AM.
We apologize for any inconvenience

Interesting that they seemed unaware of their own name change. Everyone I know still calls it Skedula.  I guess they do too. Of course, it was very nice of them to apologize for any inconvenience. I'm sure my friend, who canceled his plans Friday night to catch up, found that very gratifying. I suppose, since they apologized,  he'd have no issue canceling his Saturday plans as well

Here's the thing, though--in our school, at least, grades are due Tuesday morning. So a week of getting bad averages and the unavailability of Skedula wasn't particularly helpful. As if that's not enough, Monday and Tuesday are Simchat Torah. Observant Jewish teachers will not only be out of school, but they also won't be inputting grades on those days.

Now I don't expect Skedula, or whatever they call themselves this week, to be expert on Jewish holidays. I do, however, expect them to have their program up when teachers need it. I expect them to be cognizant of when marking periods end, and to do whatever maintenance they need to do as far away from peak times as possible.

I've asked for an extension for our school, and I suppose we'll get one. This now becomes an inconvenience for administration, the very people who decide whether or not to pay Skedula for its services. That's pretty bad business, if you ask me.

I'm told that Skedula was designed by ex-teachers, and that it's now run by some company or other. The thing about Skedula that makes it attractive to administrators is that it plays well with Stars, which is what administrators record various statistics with. It's time for the city to open up the system to competition, and find more reliable and user-friendly apps from which to choose.

The choice of Skedula or go screw yourself is no longer viable.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Mr. Stein and the Superintendent

Mr. Stein was a very methodical and organized teacher. He had a system. Each class had several monitors who knew exactly what to do. His papers were all in the right place. You'd never see Mr. Stein frantically writing a lesson plan. He had them all ready, printed out, and sorted by date. The student monitors knew where they were, and they knew which ones to use for which classes.

Mr. Stein had the grading thing down pretty well too. He didn't need to look at papers. He had a great sense of who could and could not handle grading the papers. Of course he never let students grade their own classes. That would've been unfair. His classes were models of cooperation. No one ever called out, no one threw papers, and no one challenged him. He had a perfect system.

One day, the superintendent came to inspect the school. She walked around all day with the principal. They observed classes of every subject and level. She was not that happy in general, but when she saw Mr. Stein's class, she was delighted. She didn't usually tell teachers what she thought, but after the bell rang, she had to let him know that she thoroughly enjoyed his class. Unfortunately, toward the end of their conversation, he looked her directly in the eye and instantly turned to stone, right there in his polo shirt, his khakis, and his Skechers, all of which remained made of cotton.

Next period, the monitors came in and handed out the papers. There was a test that day, so the student monitors were very vigilant. One of them saw a student making some furtive movements, and decided to move him to a seat from which he absolutely could not copy.  There were no further incidents, and the entire period went on normally.

The next period, the student monitors managed to not only correct all the papers, but also to record all the grades on Skedula. Mr. Stein had given them his password. He was a fine judge of character and trusted them absolutely. The following day the monitors reviewed the entire test and took special care to go over items that many students had missed.

The student monitors were excited that Mr. Stein had trusted them with so much responsibility. They felt confident that he trusted them absolutely. In fact, he didn't even need to give them tips or suggestions anymore. Everything was running pretty well.

The following week, the assistant principal came in to observe Mr. Stein's class. She was really impressed. The students were interacting well, and everything seemed to happen of their own volition. They helped each other and cooperated well. She rated Mr. Stein highly effective.

A problem arose when a parent called to ask why her son had received 97 instead of 98. Though the secretary placed the letter in his mailbox, he never bothered to call back. This was unacceptable, thought the principal, who decided to call him in for a disciplinary meeting. A meeting was scheduled 48 hours later. Though the chapter leader showed up to represent him, Mr. Stein never showed.

The principal placed a letter in his file, but Mr. Stein never signed it. As the year went by, though, no further problems seemed to come up. The students did well, and by the end of the year had gotten excellent grades on the Regents exams.

The principal decided he'd been too tough on poor Mr. Stein, and placed a complimentary letter in his file, thanking him for all the good work he'd done that year. He was pretty disappointed when that ungrateful bastard decided not to sign and return it, but really, how could you question that sort of person? He was a weirdo alright, but he had a genius for making the students succeed.

When Mr. Stein didn't show up for graduation, the principal decided just to leave him alone. Sure it would've been nice for him to show up, but hey, the Stein guy wore the same clothes every day and managed to control his classes without lifting a finger. And he always stood right by the door to greet the students. Who was he to question Mr. Stein's methods? If they worked, they worked.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly October 16--City Council Visits, We Support UAW and CTU

4:29 Michael Mulgrew, UFT President, welcomes us to our first DA of the year. Comments on everyone wearing pink,  says UFT raises a large amount of money to fight breast cancer. 

Mulgrew asks new union reps to stand. Thanks them for standing up, literally and figuratively. Says we fight and advocate for us and children. 

Mulgrew says we put money into training and programs, and calls City Council of NY a great partner. Says they trust us and understand money going to us is used for direct benefit of city students. Mentions programs supported with millions from City Council. Points out heads of education committee, finance committee, are UFT. Says speaker is particularly responsive. Says they understand what we’re doing, what our communities face. Our partnership changes children’s lives. Welcomes Corey Johnson, Danny Dromm, and Mark Trayger.

Corey Johnson—Thanks UFT members for having them here. Says they’re grateful for work we do. In these days, with such deep division, appreciates teachers helping children and being politically active.

Work very closely on funding BRAVE, Dial a Teacher, Teacher’s Choice, all ongoing collaborations. Working on system and department wide changes, like “fair student funding.” Many schools not getting what they need. Council added 125 million which brought some schools up to 90%.  DOE looking at changing formula. Can’t raise it on our own, need foundation aid from state, refers to CFE and demands they show us the money. Looks to raising foundation aid and improving conditions for special ed. students. Affects almost 20% of school system here.

Mulgrew—We have a lot of enemies looking to destroy our system. They say if NYC comes down entire country will fall. DeVos wants vouchers. We’re doing better than ever on achievement and dropout rates. Never hear enough. With city admin on way out, how do we move forward? NYC is under corrective action, can be used against us. What do you think we should be doing this year to move forward? How do we motivate DOE to stop power games and stupidity?

Danny Dromm—Was CL for 25 years. Remembers shaking hands with Shanker, worked with Feldman, Weigarten, feels like coming back to family. Proud of special ed. reporting bill. Was no accountability. I knew not every kid was getting services. First year we found only 60% were getting service. 35% partial, 5% none at all. Worked without bilingual counselor in my school for 25 years.  We got additional funding for testing facilities. Must hold DOE accountable. Up to 70%, but we still need to improve.

Curriculum—In 1984 were books written by Charlotte Frank. Those were all lost, and there is no, or very few curriculum guides available now. They say individualize, but they give nothing to individualize with. I can’t go on the net and find 34 lessons for a class.
Other focus is teaching of LGBTQ individuals. As teacher thank God I had tenure. Without it I wouldn’t be sitting here. Want everyone to know LGBT history is everyone’s history. We have put 1.8 million to ensure this type of program goes on. Get in touch with me or Eric Vaughan. We have funding. Bayard Rustin was honored by this union many years ago and everyone should know who he is.

Mark Treyger—You have the best education team in city Government, Danny Dromm and Corey Johnson. Greatest labor leader, President Michael Mulgrew. Good to be home at DA. I used to sit in the audience and see President from that lens, now see his ferocity and tenacity. Should out to city council committee staff. Seen system from multiple lenses, student, teacher, delegate, SLT, now council member chair of education committee. Thanks speaker and Danny for their help.

Remembers when DOE came to school with compliance checklists. Now it’s our turn. Now we have the clipboards. Tell us what you’re doing, IEPs aren’t recommendations, why isn’t AC in every classroom.

UFT one of most powerful organizing forces in NY. Some folks in state budget, rather than fund our schools, want to lecture. I went up, they said no one could see school budgets. We showed school allocation memos.

Three main streams of funding, federal, flat, state, insufficient, and city. Asked governor where is 1.4 billion for schools, 4 billion statewide? FSF very precious to schools. Flexible to hire key staff. Can hire people with that money. Majority are not at 100%. Lincoln HS short 900K. How many counselors, paras, music programs could they buy?

We said to admin that your paid parental leave policy was sickening. Members had to use sick days to care for children. Outrageous. Major step forward led by Mulgrew.

Special ed. is non-negotiable. Dealing with mandates. We need someone in DOE who knows rules. Their own person came to my hearing. I ask questions. Have DOK knowledge chart. Asked how many IEPs they have translated. They didn’t even know there was federal requirement. Let’s start with people who know what they’re doing. Let’s empower people who know more than them.

We must address social emotional needs of our kids to get them to perform academically. 1 million students, more NYPD agents than social workers counselors and paras combined. We need more of them.

We lifted freeze on social workers, Commitment to hire 200 in our schools. 

I still visit schools almost every week. Thrive wouldn’t come to schools. This council redirected 11 million from Thrive for consultants to 85 social workers.

Mulgrew—Asked them here because of work we’ve gotten done. Proud of our support for them. We’re supposed to do things together. These gentlemen stood up and said no. We thank you for all your support.

Johnson—President didn’t mention last year, at one point, one in ten children were deemed homeless. 110K in shelters, with relatives, tonight will be 80K in system. Almost 30K are under 18. We are richest city in world. Budget went from 73 billion to 93 billion. Unacceptable to have 100K homeless children. People who have to deal with this are teachers, trying to provide additional support for families who don’t have what they need. Want to recognize UFT has been working with us on issue. Easy to say we want affordable housing, but affordable to who? Not just housing, but education, school, work force and labor issue. We’ve been engaging with your president and leadership team so it doesn’t all fall on teachers. Thanks us for all the work we do for vulnerable children.

Treyger—You find out who your friends are when cameras are off. No greater friend too education than speaker Corey Johnson.

5:06 Mulgrew—We’re trying to implement new contract, make it real in schools. Words in paper are nothing more unless we use them. Last year started with consultation, this year with class size reduction rights. Knew DOE thought those new rights should just be words on page. DOE legal didn’t want to do anything. They like 400 schools doing arbitration for 7 or 8 months.

We asked you to engage. At this time last year 400 schools 2K classes. Day ten this year 350 schools 1500 classes. At next level, we bet superintendents wouldn’t want this going above them. Were able to make it major issue. Ten days went from 350 to 105. We used to have this going on for seven months. Today only 87 schools with oversized classes. Lowest number of oversized classes in October in history of UFT. Will get rest done by Thanksgiving.

Consultation—tripled number of schools who filed reports from 200 to 600. I use your consultation to determine what’s in mine. Best way for you to tell me. We know some idiot at DOE legal is telling principal to do something stupid. We need to know. We want your feedback on form, Want everything to pre-populate.

We need to move forward—we have issues with chancellor, mayor, but moving toward how we make schools better places. DOE trained principals on student removal process. Just because they’re trained doesn’t mean they’ll follow. Tell principal we’re here to work with you, but first and foremost we need system to educate kids in front of us. When students in crisis, or having bad day, we want a process so they don’t interrupt education of other students. Would principals ruin entire classroom because they don’t want discussion with irate parents?

We have changed state standards. Not just renaming of common core. Significant changes. Dozens of NYC teachers, hundreds of NYS teachers. Problem is principals haven’t been trained. Two other issues—2021 tests will be based on these. We are working with SED. Can’t tell schools what curriculum to use, can only set standards. Last year they called it “year of awareness.” No one seems to know about it.

Advanced literacy framework, Culturally responsive curriculum, and next generation standards from state. All single package. DOE had only voluntary training. Say everyone was trained but no one was. Says CRC different from states. ALF only one city engaged in, and only part of it. In ALC framework, says you cannot do anything moving forward, unless everyone has common understanding and PD in curriculum they are using. Should be a YEAR of PD in place before they have leadership team.

We will get into a war over this. Everyone at UFT has started training on all components. will roll out to you. Bureaucrats don’t care about our school system. they know they’re hurting children. They think Instructional Leadership Team will fix everything. They should’ve first given us curriculum and training, and we design lesson plans.

Told DOE two weeks ago, and immediately we got operational complaints. Teachers were sent standards by principal. Said make sure they are reflected in lesson plan as we move forward. Letting you all know this will be major campaign. If we have to hit streets and say DOE is ruining our schools, we will.

Next problem is corrective action plan on special ed. We have serious problems. NYSED says we’re severely and chronically out of compliance. System is basically if you can get away with it, do it. If principal says he has no money, bring it to DR. Superintendent will wave it to borough support center. BSC says we sent principal money, but can’t tell him what to do. That’s superintendent’s job. This system is probably why we have corrective action plan.

You’ll spend 800 million on computer system bound for garbage rather than give kids services they need. This is public. Who’s in charge of US DOE? DeVos said special ed. was state issue, was corrected because that’s civil rights. Do we want her associated with our school system?

We have to focus on all this. Changing things here to support in field. We are anti-DOE. We want to help and support schools. We want every district to have political action team. Will be very turbulent political system in two years. Our friends can’t remain in office.

Next year is census year. Do your neighbors understand how important it is? Bridges tunnels and roads, fed money. Health care? Feds? Education also very important. Money from fed needed.

Which city performed the worst on the census ten years ago? It was us. We had a 60% rate. We gave tens of billions back to feds. Average participation was 73%. We are partnering with very odd partners with this. Feds want to discourage participation and deter people in cities from filling it out. All residents should fill it out. George Washington wanted non-citizens to participate and encouraged it in a letter.

Every one of those dollars we send to feds comes back as 60 cents because we don’t deal with issue. Key is we need political action teams in each district. It’s community grassroots. Every district has a school, multiple schools. We will get major cooperation from admin and DOE to use schools.

PD committee in contract. Instruction leadership team is not.

Imagine schools want real grassroots process with parents of kids who will be in new schools. Want to customize to needs of stakeholders, not people above. Mayor wants preK for entire city before he leaves office. Kids in preK did better in tests. We’ve been saying so for 50 years. Give mayor credit. Thanks preK teachers.

Chicago Teacher Union, looking at strike Thursdays, about what they’re allowed to bargain, like class size. Auto workers came to tentative agreement. MTA problematic.

Probably closing down registration for Teacher Union Day. Lots of people coming this Sunday. We have 170 tables. Would like to move around. Same day as Strides day. Starting at 11.

Praises Serbia Silva for leading Strides.

VP Biden coming to teacher union day. We will not endorse. National endorsement from AFT. Asking locals to engage. Did a lot of work in summer. With 23, decided to wait until Fall. Waited until it got more serious. We are in conversations with multiple candidates, and want them to spend time with us here. We were able to schedule him so he came, but will bring others.

Looking for who can win, and who has educational policies we want. We are union of workers—health care and education. If those are correct, we look at who will win. About 20% of us want current occupant to stay. We look at our profession, how we keep livelihood, and who is best for working people.

Our endorsements are recommendations to you. Then you make your own determination.

5:41 LeRoy Barr—Saturday ELL workshop 8-3:30. UFT disaster relief supporting families on border, looking to work with Catholic Charities. You can donate at Please share. Friday Nov. 1, AFT Latino Caucus, Coquito fund raiser, Bronx UFT 4:30. UFT disaster relief also support Dorian victims. May donate at We will support students. Collecting items for relocated college students. LGBTQ dinner nov. 21. Raiding money for Danny Dromm scholarship fund. MS coat drive November 23rd. Next DA November 20.

Mulgrew—Probably will not get to resolutions today, due to city council piece.


Q—Members asking how long to resolve safety complaint.

A—Five days. Bring it up in consultation at safety meeting. If not resolved, goes up the chain. Send it up. Blame me if you like.

Q—Spoke about political action. CLs asked to choose rep. What will role be?

A—We are talking about this. Don’t want CL doing everything. Let’s start here. You need to empower people. Someone who will go to district level meeting. PAC will be utilized for census. Good for local elections. Will interview candidates. Will see what happens and share it out at first. Someone you can trust to go to meeting and report.

Q—Can you say more about debt forgiveness? Problems in D75.

Started it last year. Had meetings. By summer did webinars. They are huge hit. Will put in CL update. We saved UFT members over 45 million dollars last year. Companies suck, will burn in hell, mislead people, multiple lawsuits against them. We thought would only be teachers under five years. We will make sure members get right info.

Q—We heard from council members about need for housing. Chicago issue is demand by teachers, took stand for public housing and lower class sizes. What are we going to do to support them? Donation? Wear red?

A—We take directions from them. They want a resolution. As we move forward, we will let them tell us what they want. We will have to do something more with housing here. We have homeless situation, and many of us can’t afford to live here anymore. We’ll first deal with homeless. DOE finally added 100 new bus routes for homeless children. Best we’ve gotten out of them. Anything more we’ve done on our own. Other crisis is members leaving because they can’t afford to live in city. Will push this in Albany. We will stay in touch with Chicago.

Q—Given competing proposals from presidential candidates, has UFT looked at various Medicare plans. How much will it cost us if insurance choice taken away.

A—Can’t answer in this time, but something has to change. Spending a lot of time negotiation health costs. To me, we have a problem. How long, as a union, can we keep no premium option. Every day we are in multiple fights. We have pharmacists help us go after drug companies. Costs are astronomical. We have to have this debate.

Q—Schools on CSI list—How can we get them off, and how can we educate Albany?

A—Had to be implemented by NYSED because of state law. We have good Board of Regents, with real educators. Used to be all business people. Don’t have commissioner. Have acting commissioner. We have complete cooperation and our state union says something has to change. State wants city to come up with plan. We know you’re dealing with it, but where is team from NYSED? Law has to be changed. We need to work with school community, not just say you’re bad, fix yourself.

Mulgrew—Time is up. We need motion to extend.

LeRoy Barr—point of order—Asks we do motion period for one motion for CTU, then others.

Mulgrew—Out of order.

Dave Pecoraro—Motion to extend 15 minutes for for motion period only.

Appears to be tied. Mulgrew has us stand and it passes.

Point of order—
ro—endorsement for Melinda Katz?

Mulgrew—We endorsed in primary.

Mike Sill—Motion to this month’s agenda—Be it resolved UFT support CTU as they prepare to go on strike.

Passes almost unanimously.
Pecoraro—Motion to endorse Melinda Kats for Queens County DA.


George Altomare
—Resolution to support UAW in their strike.

Mulgrew—We have a tentative agreement. Already on agenda.

—Wants UAW moved from 4 to 1 in resolution period.


Movement to make CTU number two. So moved.

CL—Given fact that census tied to our funding, census should be mentioned and highlighted in UFT paper.

—That is idea, not motion.

George Altomare
—This union strong because we’re here together. We had a strike for collective bargaining. UAW helped us. Backed us when we had nothing.

Motion to call question

Question called resolution passed.

Mike Sill—Everything George said applies to this.

Michael Freedman
calls question.

Question called resolution passed unanimously.  6:16 We are adjourned.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Lost Boys (and Girls)

For some reason, not many of my colleagues ask to teach beginners, ever. It used to be different. People used to think, it seemed, it was easy to teach beginning English Language Learners. Maybe people thought, because the level was low, that the material was easy. That's true, for me at least. Basic English is not a large challenge for me. I've been using it since I was a baby, and I understand it pretty well. (Of course, you can't brag about that the way you could if you were discussing advanced physics or something. On the other hand, there's a lot more need for basic English than advanced physics.) I love to teach beginners not because the materials are easy, but because I love seeing the amazing progress they make.

There are challenges, though, that most people wouldn't anticipate. Who's in beginner classes? Well, beginners are there, of course, unless they ace one or more of the idiotic state tests that supposedly measure language levels. You never know what those tests are going to do. My tests are different. My first is to ask what your name is, where you're from, and how long you've been here. Responses to those questions can say a lot. Sometimes I have students write about whatever they want to see what they can do. Of course the geniuses in Albany know better than I do, so they don't bother with things like that.

Sometimes you'll get students classified as SIFE, which means they're missing formal education somehow. This seems to be a frequent occurrence in El Salvador, where there's a whole lot of uncertainty. The first time I encountered a student like this his Spanish teacher knew exactly what to ask. The student said he hadn't been in school since fourth grade. I called his father, who told me you had to bring the kid in by a certain date or he wouldn't get admitted to school. I found that hard to believe. I mean, if I made a mistake like that once, I wouldn't make it twice. According to Dad, he made it six times in a row. I'm sure there was more of a story there, but I was never going to hear it.

Some students don't want to learn English. It's odd, especially in teenagers. Social life was a prime directive for me as a teenager, and it seems important to most I know. This really drives langauge learning. But some kids really didn't want to leave their country. They don't like it here, and they don't want to learn English. Usually they get over it. Sometimes they don't. When they don't, they tend not to pass English. Sometimes they stay at the beginner level. Sometimes they advance because people think it won't do any good to leave them in the same class. Sometimes they get sent back to the same class anyway.

There are special education students from other countries. Sometimes they weren't identified as special education in their home countries. Sometimes they were. Either way, it's a long process getting them services here. You have to get translators, there's some incredibly complicated process, and it doesn't get resolved for months. Meanwhile these kids sit in your classes. If parents don't wish their kids to be tested, they don't get tested. I've seen kids like these fail all, or almost all of their classes. I've also seen kids like these take out their frustrations in ways that are highly undesirable.

A new thing is ICT classes. These are blended classes of two-thirds general ed and one third special ed, with two teachers. It's driven by IEPs. These IEPs tend to place students in ICT classes for English, social studies, science and math, contending that they need these services. Frequently, though, they don't need them for subjects in which the school doesn't offer ICT classes. For example, I know language teachers who have quite a few of these students. While you can only have up to 12 students with IEPs in an ICT class, you can have 34 of them in a Spanish class. The evident logic is that the student needs extra help in her native language, but none whatsoever to learn a new one. That makes sense, right?

ELLs now need an ELA component. I can teach it because I'm certified in English. I teach two classes this year, one ELA and one ESL. So a student requiring ICT classes might be in my ESL section, with rank beginners, but also in an English class full of native speakers with a special education teacher. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that kid absolutely does not belong in a class with native English speakers. Nonetheless, there he is. In fairness, because of Part 154, there may be an ESL teacher hanging around that classroom now and then. The geniuses in Albany, you see, think that this newcomer can read To Kill a Mockingbird as long as an ESL teacher sits in that room twice a week.

In any case, all these students are floating around my building. I get new students every week, and will do so for the entire school year. By the end of the year, likely as not, every one of the students above will be in my classes. The standing advice is to differentiate instruction. Honestly, though, it's tough to see how anyone can meet the varying needs of all these kids in one classroom.

Maybe that's why so few people ask for this level these days.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Two Unions in Puerto Rico, and Only One Side on Jacobin

I'm not going to link to the Jacobin story trashing AMPR, the Association of Puerto Rican Teachers. This is because they've refused to run responses to it. FMPR, the Federation of Puerto Rican Teachers, does not technically represent working teachers. It was decertified after a strike. I won't pretend to be expert on the strike, what caused it, or whether it was a good idea, but clearly it didn't work out well for FMPR.

I'm wary of a publication that won't allow responses. However, I'm even more wary of what's left of MORE, and the person who wrote the article in question identifies as MORE. When I first met people from FMPR, I took them at face value. I sent them money a few times. I didn't ask whether or not there was another side to the story. That's on me, I guess.

I've been observing union and union leadership pretty closely for a few years now. No one's perfect, and there are flaws in every organization. There are some UFT employees I like more than others. MORE, though, has crossed lines in ways that go far beyond the pale. A group of us worked very hard to have our voices heard within UFT We planned and schemed, and then we put our plans and schemes into action. We won seats. This was remarkable.

However, a group within MORE considered our victory "a disaster." I've seen them refer to us as "right-wingers" in writing. Evidently, that's what you are if you don't subscribe to their particular philosophy, whatever on earth that may be. They were horrified when I brought a resolution supporting smaller class sizes to the UFT Executive Board. Why didn't I run it by the Steering Committee, which they controlled?

When this small, self-important steering committee found themselves term-limited, they took a page from Michael Bloomberg and tried to remove the limits. For whatever reason, they failed in that effort. Once they were replaced, they moved to dump all their replacements. They couldn't be bothered with their own by-laws or anything, did whatever they wanted, and managed to lose 80% of their support in the next UFT election. I'm very comfortable determining they don't appear to believe in democracy. They fractured opposition so decisively I determined it to be a waste of time.

I saw a real vision in what was left of MORE, and the vision was this--we do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and if we lose elections by a landslide because we alienate the overwhelming majority of our former supporters, we're good with that. Hey, if they only want to mix with people who buy their particular brand of socialism, or whatever they call it, that's fine. But if you want to reach UFT members, if you want to organize and change things for working teachers, you need to be willing to talk to everyone. You need to be willing to have conversations with people who aren't limited to your particular ideology, whatever it may be.

I'd argue that people who can't tolerate opposing points of view, who won't mix with those who have differing points of view, who blindly condemn those with whom they likely have more in common than not are fanatics. A lack of tolerance like that is not likely to accomplish a whole lot. I'd rather work with people who can and will make change. In 2019, on this astral plane, that's the UFT leadership. In fact, as opposition, the only way I ever got anything done was by working with leadership.

Is FMPR like MORE? I have no idea. I hope not. However, I need to hear both sides of a story to make up my mind. I haven't heard the AMPR side, and I don't know what it is. I know Jacobin is declining to run a response, and I know someone from AFT requested space for one.

I don't know enough to say anything about FMPR. But Jacobin ran one side and won't publish the other. What good is that to people who want to know the whole story? That's no more helpful or effective than spitting in the face of 80% of your supporters and pretending you're a force for change.

Life is short, and I'm not wasting my time with that.

Update: AFT responds here.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Should We Maintain the Regents Exams?

Some social studies teachers think that stopping the Regents exams will be a terrible thing. Given what I saw on the latest iteration of the Global exam, I'm not sure those conclusions are warranted.

The council added that Regents exams in social studies, in particular, "are essential for the survival of a democratic society."

I'd argue that if the stakes were so high, we ought to focus on current events as well as history, and closely examine parallels between the two. Nonetheless, the exam I saw last June tested neither current events nor history, but rather the ability to read for information. For my money, it was a better reading test than the English Regents exam, but that's not saying much at all.

I have not studied history in decades, and I have no particular memories of it. I could perhaps teach social studies, but I have no deep well of knowledge on which to rely. I could read ahead of the kids and be aware of what I was supposed to teach. However, I haven't got any special spark or love of the subject. I wouldn't inspire kids, and I likely wouldn't inspire the survival of a democratic society either.

However, I could ace that test in a New York minute with no prep whatsoever. That's because, in my wayward youth, I picked up every loose paperback my mom left lying around the house and read each and every one. It's because as a child I read every comic book I could get my hands on. It's because I deem it a great luxury to take the LIRR to Manhattan and just sit with a book and read.

Alas I didn't learn that in some class prepping me to take some idiotic test, and I'd certainly classify the new Global Regents exam as idiotic. I don't know what the geniuses in Albany were thinking or smoking when they designed it, or how much they overpaid the psychometricians to lend their magic touch to it, but the test is a piece of crap. It fails to measure whether or not I am familiar with global history. I know precious little about it, did no prep whatsoever, and ought to have failed. Anyone who's a good reader can pass that test.

I'm only familiar with two other state tests, and one is the English Regents exam. This test also asks inane reading questions, questions that no one reading the New York Times Book Review would ever consider. It tests a prescribed bunch of terms that do not determine whether or not you're a skilled reader. It also has you do something or other resembling writing, but really it's picking through pre-selected arguments, regurgitating them, and determining which one you like better. Perish forbid it should ask you to compose your own argument. It's ironic, because I used to teach the English RCT, which did, in fact, require you to produce arguments. It's funny that this test was ostensibly for students who couldn't handle the Regents exam, but abandoned for a Regents exam that holds an even lower standard.

I could write a better test than the English Regents exam in 90 minutes. If I had all the time and staff the geniuses in Albany fritter away on these tests, I'd have a much better exam. For my money, the Regents have been moving steadily backward. Furthermore, if you disregard the abysmal quality of the tests they produce, you can't ignore the fact that they arbitrarily move the cut scores up and down to suit whatever the trendy flavor of the week is in education.

I say let the tests go. Let them all go. Also, let's dump Common Core and every last vestige of it. Let's stop fooling ourselves that whatever they renamed it is different or better. Any Regents in Albany who agree to the David Coleman philosophy that no one gives a crap what you think or feel ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. They always need people in Dunkin Donuts, and if they worked there at least they'd be making people happy.

I agree, in fact, that social studies is quite important. I agree we should study history. However, the fact is if you take New York City away, our state probably chose Donald Trump for President. That suggests a wide swath of our population is poorly informed. We need a social studies curriculum that will allow our children to understand what people mean when they point fingers at universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college and label it "socialism." In fact, we ought to be raising a populous that knows what socialism is, what democratic socialism is, and what logical fallacy is.

The social studies Regents exam I read closely achieves exactly none of the above. I rate it, and the NY State Regents ineffective. Before I demand the tests that bear their name be continued, they'll have to establish they can produce one that isn't total crap.

I shall sit while I wait for that to happen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Terrible Teacher

So this student doesn't show up to class for days. When he finally comes in, he's got these really prominent earphones. Who knows what kind they are, but they aren't airbuds. One of them is huge and made of something metallic. It really kind of stands out. The teacher has never seen anything like it before. He asks the kid to take it off, and he does. The teacher goes on.

The next day, the student comes in late again, and he's wearing the same earphones. Maybe they're a fashion statement. The teacher asks him to take them off again, and he does. The next day the same thing happens. The teacher, by now, is getting a little bit tired of him coming late to class and wearing these things. So he calls the dean, who comes in and takes them for the night. He's got to pick them up the next day. Undaunted, he pulls his phone out and starts doing whatever he does with that.

The next day, when he walks in late again, wearing the same earphones, The teacher starts to think he's not making an impression. This time he calls the dean and ask that they take his phone too. IThe teacher figures that's what powers the earbuds, so maybe this will discourage the repetitive behavior. The teacher tells the kid in the hall he's sorry, but it will be very hard for him to pass if he keeps walking in late and wasting time with the earphones.

The following week he comes in on time, and not wearing the earphones. The teacher hears his phone beep and asks him to turn the sound off. The kid does something or other, and the teacher assumes he's turned off the sound. The next time the teacher sees the kid he's late again, and they're having a test. The kids phone rings in class, and the teacher's patience is short indeed. So the teacher calls the dean again.

The teacher is more than a little shocked because he just took his phone on Friday, and the student has just gone a whole weekend without it. He later learns that the student's parents came up to get the phone on Friday. Evidently this played some small part it today's behavior. Why worry if the teacher takes the phone when they just have to give it back anyway?

The teacher tells the student to give the phone to the dean but he refuses. This is problematic because they're in the middle of the test. The dean says if he refuses to turn over the phone he has to go to the office. Off they go, but the dean has to return because the student left his phone in the backpack. Later the student returns with his backpack, but supposedly without the phone. Will the parent bail it out later? Who knows?

The student stays and finishes the test. The teacher hangs around until he does. Unsurprisingly, the student's not happy. He's demanding a new teacher, presumably one who's okay with him coming late whenever he golly gosh darn feels like it. A good teacher is one who lets you come in whenever you want, who lets you wear your earphones and listen to music in class, who never bothers with stuff like that.

This teacher, clearly, is totally out of the mix.

Monday, October 07, 2019

UFT Executive Board October 7, 2019--Class Size and More

6 PM—Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.


Barr—DA next week, Oct.16, please wear pink. Breast cancer walk Oct. 20 9 AM. all boroughs. Same day, Teacher Union Day at Hilton. LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner November 21. Want to raise 30K for scholarship fund. November 4, names added to Wall of Honor downstairs, will be shortened Exec Board.


Arthur Goldstein
—Given our new class size process, can you tell us how this year looks citywide, particularly in comparison to last September?

David Campbell—Generally far fewer, so far, appears process has forced DOE to do all they can to equalize. Principals have had pressure because day 14 would go to superintendents. Mulgrew will report further.

Mike Schirtzer
—Where are we with special ed. compliance?

Mary Jo Jinese
—We want to put pressure on DOE and file complaints. They have hired more staff but we want to keep the pressure on if we can’t resolve at school level. We hope for in house resolution where possible, and less finger pointing between FSC and principals. Will get numbers

Schirtzer—Presidency and upcoming election—AFT called on locals to create process, members want to get involved, can we do an online poll, perhaps events to encourage engagement?

Barr—Mulgrew will speak on that, but perhaps not tonight. AFT wants locals to engage with any candidates they wish before their exec. council meets. Encourage locals and members to engage as much as possible. Right now you may work with anyone with whom you wish. At some point AFT will ask us to get  behind one person. We want engagement now to increase awareness. We are having a Democratic Debate Watch Party October 15 7:30-11. We encourage people to come out. In the next 12-13 months our lives will change and we certainly hope it’s for the better, with more engagement. We cannot afford silence.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew—Wants to thank Anthony Harmon and those who participated in CL weekend.

Class size—Our focus is on making new provisions work. All DRs have made this part of consultation, borough reps with executives, and me with chancellor. Many leaders did not know about these provisions. Chancellor agreed—why should we have oversized classes in April when these things can be solved. DOE legal doesn’t like it but everyone is doing a very good job. We used to have 800 schools day 10. Have slowly cut it to 400, and this year was 350. As of today we are down to 105 schools, best we’ve ever done. By week’s end we hope to clear up much of them. Many fewer will go to arbitration. We want to finish by Thanksgiving. Amazing how people figure out how to solve things when they’re actually told to solve things. That’s how we make our contract work. Thanks to grievance dept. Still issues with overcrowding.

DOE announced Imagine Schools. Idea is to site 20 schools in 18 months in crowded area. They want teachers, communities to say what they want in a school. Creative scheduling or focus possible. We want existing schools to opt in. Not about schools in need of improvement. We should tell schools to come up with plans and submit.

Next year assessments will change. Second change, next year to “Next generation NY State Standards.” They are out. Looks like we will make same mistake as common core. Has anyone been trained on this? (No hands) How many schools have checked if curriculum is aligned? (One hand, says it isn’t aligned.) This bodes ill for tests next year. Whole system looking at it.

What would our enemies do if our achievement schools dropped in one year? We can’t wait for DOE to do job. This is party of my conversation and consultation. We have to awaken principals. Their evaluation is tied to those test results. DOE says they’ve trained thousands of people. We don’t believe it. Maybe they trained a few principals or superintendents who were looking at phones.

Corrective action plan in NYC due to non-compliance in special education. Do you think principals understand? Principals stilll say they haven’t got money. Superintendents say it’s support center. Issue will grow and inaction will put our system at risk. We didn’t fight all these years to allow incompetents to set us up for a beating. We need to put this in consultation agenda at every level of union.

Amazing we are still getting stupid answers. They can’t just say it’s not my job. It is their job. We will focus on and fix these things. We must be the ones to protect our school system despite their inactivity.

Reports from Districts—

Mike Schirtzer—Five screened HS in NYC changing admission system to encourage diversity including Leon Goldstein, trying to attract ss from other zip codes. Also chancellor formed culturally relevant curriculum committee, per session. We need UFT people on it. Important that we be part of curriculum review.

Keira Pena—Wants to thank district reps for class size reporting. Really positive—class size numbers gone down. Stipulations reached with many superintendent, who’ve opened new classes. DRs had advantage. In most cases were able to teach superintendents.
Rashad Brown—Youth empowerment dinner—November 21st, will support Daniel Dromm scholarship, Trevor’s project, hot line for troubled youth.

Tom Murphy—Campaign 2020—75 retirees may run as delegates. AFT doing town hall meetings, 9 so far. Julian Castro was in Las Vegas. Census—we can lose two members of Congress, and funding. We are conducting training here at UFT by census bureau, must reach as many people as possible. Will also find retirees who have presence in Florida and turn out vote there.

Serbia Silva—October 16 pink day. Please take pictures send to District 4 hit by a lot of suicide. Last year we started a team. Every school in district on Mondays will have suicide awareness to see signs. Maybe other schools can do this.

Barr—We have collected funds for Dorian—There is a link. Also a link to donate to children and families coming across border. Working with Catholic Charities. Both on UFT web page. Asks members to contribute.

Mike Sill
—lump sum payments update—This month money will come to a lot of our members. People who took ATR severance should receive payment shortly, before lump sum payment. This year most people will get same amount of money they got last time. May 1 we got last 2% raise and were no longer accruing money. Some people won’t get same amount, if they were on leaves they will get more money. If people were overpaid the will have deductions. Pedagogues, para Oct 15. Retired a week later. Different banks post at different times. Could be matter of a few hours. H bank—October 18. Ret H Bank Oct 17. In service per session Nov 1. F status Nov 20. Retiree per session Dec. 5.

If members are on parental leave, they will get paid as long as they return to service, on March 15. Some will get both payments this year.

Hard to staff Bronx Plan schools October 31st.

We are adjourned 6:42.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Oversized Music Classes

Last week I went to a class size grievance hearing. There was good news and bad news. The good news is the new process seems to have much improved things. It appears involving the superintendents in the process is a good idea. They tell the principals, their subordinates, to fix the problems and a whole lot of them seem to be doing it. In our school, for example, the only remaining oversized classes were in music.

We had exactly 12 oversized classes. Six were in music performing groups like chorus and band. There is evidently some exception for those classes. I'm sure that bands and choruses can use over 34 members, and I know some music teachers who'd argue the same. I'm not expert on exactly how many voices or instruments you need, but they are, and if they say they need more, they do. The DOE has to rely on an exception, though, and I'd argue if they use it they're still in violation. (I'd further argue that the teachers ought to be compensated in some way for teaching such large groups, even if it's a good idea.)

A more difficult argument is that of the "required music" classes. Required music classes can go up to 50. Why? I don't know. I haven't been around long enough to understand how these rules came about. What genius thought that students, who likely didn't want to take a music class at all, would learn better how to appreciate the arts in classes of 50?

Early in my career, I got bounced to JFK High School as an English teacher. It turned out they didn't need an English teacher, so they made me a music teacher. I taught a few guitar classes, and I also taught a few sections of required music. I had a book about jazz history that I'd been reading, and I made it the textbook. I'll tell you, though, it's a bitch teaching 50 kids at a time. Grading is no picnic either.

How on earth can you successfully encourage an appreciation of music in groups of 50? If you think these classes are worthwhile in any way whatsoever, wouldn't you push back on that? Isn't it plainly cynical to load the kids in like sardines and expect any positive outcome whatsoever? A whole lot of people love music already, whether or not they understand it. There has to be a way to build on that appreciation, to deepen and broaden that appreciation. Anyone who tells you the way to do that is by placing them in classes with 49 other high school students is taking stronger drugs than the ones I'm getting from CVS. Maybe they bought them in music class. How is the teacher supposed to know what's going on with that many kids?

I'm assuming it's the city that's allowed the 50 kids in required music, but it could be the state. There's no shortage of stupid in Albany, and decisions they make affect all of us. There's another flaw, though, in the entire "required music" notion. In fact, no one is required to take that class, at least in our building. We offer guitar classes, for example, and other classes of instrumental instruction. Over the last few years, the DOE has had to cut those classes to a still-too-high but better max of 34.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather learn beginning guitar than sit in a class of 50. And if I have that choice, how can the other class be called "required music." In fact, our school's classes were called "History of Popular Music" until a few days before the hearing, when they were retitled "required music." Now if you were cynical, you'd say they changed the name so they wouldn't be ordered into compliance. Be it far from me to make such lofty determinations.

I'll just say that if you care about these classes, even a little bit, you won't cram 50 kids into them. If your goal is to make students love or appreciate music beyond what little they hear on their own, you won't cram 50 kids into them. If you want to make these classes interesting, worthwhile, or something other than a waste of time for all parties involved, you won't cram 50 kids into them.

Of course, principals all over the city cram  50 kids into them as a matter of course. I'm just a lowly teacher who's never been to principal school, so what could I possibly know? Why do school leaders who care about music instruction cram 50 kids into classes for which they have any regard at all?

You tell me.