Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Teacher Evaluation Will Show Whether Biden Is Friend or Foe

For a while, I was wondering why we would even bother negotiating an observation system with the city. I mean, here we are, all of us, doing a job none of us had trained for or even conceived. How can our supervisors come in and determine exactly how much we suck at these jobs? For one thing, they've never attempted them themselves. I mean, sure, they have a lot of experience telling teachers they suck and exactly why, but supposedly they themselves were teachers at some point. 

In my school, supervisors don't teach at all anymore. That's too bad, You'd hope they'd be out there setting an example of best practices for us, rather than simply talking about it. 

However, even if they were doing that, I don't know a single supervisor with experience teaching online. I don't know a supervisor with experience teaching masked students who are socially distanced either. Maybe in other schools supervisors teach, and maybe some of them have as much experience as we do, i.e, very little.

Who on earth is qualified to design a system to rate those of us doing these new things? I'd argue not even we are, let alone our non-teaching supervisors. If you've been doing this work for less than a year, unless your soul is frozen colder than Mitch McConnell's heart, you're still on a steep learning curve.

Of course, that was no impediment to Charlotte Danielson, who's actually conjured up a Framework for Remote Teaching. You may recall Danielson saying that her framework ought not to be used as a checklist. Well, that hasn't stopped her from collecting a bajillion dollars from districts that used her work just that way. Obviously, it hasn't stopped her from expanding upon their use either. Who exactly designed this new framework? Was it teachers with years of experience in it?  As online charters are awful, and real teachers have precious little experience, I'm gonna have to go ahead and doubt it. 

And yet here I am talking about rating teachers, along with a whole lot of people across the country. Why? Well, that's a by-product of the Obama administration's education policies. You may recall that Joe Biden was Vice-President back then, as we all Raced to the Top. And the policy borne of that era says that teacher must be rated, and said ratings must be based somewhat on student performance, like standardized test scores. 

Yet there aren't any standardized test scores right now, and haven't been any for almost a year. And if there were, it would be really hard to assess this year as we did normal years. That, of course, doesn't even take into account that the standardized tests are total crap anyway. So how, in a year like this, are we supposed to fairly rate teacher performance?

Honestly, I don't think it's possible. Yet federal law requires it. Federal law requires that UFT and DOE work something out. Now there could be an exception, but it would have to come from the feds. (That's not to mention the need for approval by the geniuses in Albany, but that's step two.) Given that Joe Biden needed all the help he could get, and given that he certainly got support from the AFT and NEA, one would think he'd be inclined to show gratitude. Of course, one would've thought the same of Obama, and what we got from him was Arne Duncan, just a whisper less nuts than Betsy DeVos. 

Can we count on Biden? Honestly, I have no idea, but our national unions ought to at least ask him for an exception. This could be the first test of whether or not he's any different on education from Obama. I was at an AFT candidate's forum in Pittsburgh, and he told us that he didn't believe in depending so much on standardized testing. Here's a good chance for him to put his money where his mouth is.

Biden says he wants to see schools reopen within his first 100 days. If he does, he'll make sure the vaccine becomes more widely available, and moves at a much quicker pace than it's been doing so far. However, even if he's successful, that will mean this school years is a veritable slush of online learning, socially distanced classes, and maybe ordinary classes. That's a huge maybe.

I usually pass around 80% of my students. I'm not sure whether that's good, bad, or indifferent, but that's the way I roll. I'm around 70% right now. Theoretically, of course, no one is failing. Those not passing get NX. The last I heard, the DOE was holding individual teachers responsible this year for NX students. That means that next semester we could be burdened with not only our regular caseload, but also following up on students who didn't pass. Mulgrew objected to that, and I followed up with a question for last week's Executive Board, but I forgot to go, and I thus have no idea where we are on that. 

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I'm typical. That would mean that a teacher with 150 students in February would also have an extra 45 to follow up with, thus diverting her attention from the task at hand, whatever it may be by then. How the hell is this teacher supposed to deal with the already bizarre conditions on the ground with that excess workload? As a matter of fact, how are any of us dealing with anything? I don't actually believe the DOE will be able to force us to do this extra work, as we have no agreement about it. Nonetheless, just the thought of it raises my blood pressure.

Given the shitshow that this school year has been, it's not reasonable for us to swallow one more drop of Danielson, no matter how thoroughly she's polished it. We all know how much time she's spent teaching during the apocalypse, and that's none whatsoever. We all know how much her lip service to not using her rubric for ratings means, and it's clear her bank balance is more important to her than integrity.

It's time for Biden to put up or shut up. And if he fails us, we need to negotiate a system that does as little harm as possible. Given the relatively high percentage of insane supervisors here in Fun City, that will be an uphill battle. We've adopted a policy of do no harm, or at least as little as possible, for New York's schoolchildren. We ought to expect no less for New York's teachers.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas to All!

 Here's the best Christmas video you've never seen.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

After the Toughest Year Ever, We Get a Break

This has been the most stressful year in my memory for all of us working in schools. We've been through all sorts of indignity and inconvenience, but there's been nothing like 2020. Let's hope there's nothing like it ever again.

We're on a roller coaster of opening and closing. As Broadway went dark, as Long Island schools closed, pig-headed Bill de Blasio spent weeks dithering over what to do. He labors under the misconception that by keeping schools open, he can somehow rehabilitate his reputation. His rep is long past having swirled the bowl, but such is the drive of a tinhorn politician.

COVID is exploding around the country, worse than ever, but de Blasio manages to keep elementary schools open, at least the ones where they haven't yet detected the disease. While there hasn't been a huge outbreak in a school this year, De Blasio doesn't seem to understand that people who work in schools are human, and therefore averse to clear and present danger. 

While the use of masks and social distancing largely ameliorates a hazardous situation, it doesn't change how people feel. So there is a palpable terror among a lot of people working in schools. NY Times "reporters" can lecture us all they like, but the fact is public schools don't look like NY Times offices. I don't recall the last time I set foot in a clean school building, and children don't behave like college-educated professional reporters.

It's hard for me to see the value of sending children, especially young children, into masked and socially distanced classrooms. The entire notion seems terrifying, It's exacerbated by the nervousness, even terror of many teachers and school workers. Our fault, in general, is being too close to students, not avoiding them. If you're teaching in a building, you're restricted from doing what you signed up to do each and every day. Your ability to interact with students is sorely limited, and that's also true if you're teaching virtually. 

As if that's not enough, our ostensible leaders are wholly indifferent to us. De Blasio is delusional, seeing himself as heroic for opening buildings despite common sense. Cuomo thinks he's the second coming, our sole salvation from the lunacy in DC. However, he's raised the threshold for opening from 5 to 9%, and de Blasio, who set it at 3%, now says he might want to ignore it at 9. These are the kind of guys who put the "mess" in "messiah."

Back in March, COVID was such a dire emergency that Cuomo canceled Easter break. Students would interact socially, he said, if they weren't forced to study online. So spake the self-appointed Oracle of Albany. He labored under the delusion that a week of online school would somehow preclude that. Months later, we still wait for the apocalypse to pass so we can negotiate compensation for a week of work we hadn't agreed upon, and that's among the least of our concerns.

Stressed out of our gourds, and robbed of a respite, we worked through the week. Carranza, to his credit, offered an alternative to instruction. My students got to interact with a Congresswoman, a news reporter, and a panel of Asian women setting examples for success. Yet the same people who offered alternatives to same old, same old now say students will be hopelessly damaged if they don't get it on a regular basis.

I'm here to tell you that same old same old is off the menu in 2020. No matter what school looks like, no matter if you're in a masked classroom, on a computer, 2, 3, or 5 days a week, things are different. Anyone who doesn't know that risks being as ignorant as Cuomo, de Blasio, or Carranza. And anyone who thinks anything will compensate for this is delusional. The pandemic itself is our education, and it's educating everyone who has open ears and eyes. 

We now have a vaccine, and the end is in sight. It appears likely that September 2021 will find us back in our classrooms doing what we really do. Maybe the vaccine is our Christmas gift. A secondary gift is that our leaders no longer operate under the delusion that canceling a break will somehow help things. 

In one more year, de Blasio will disappear as conclusively as a wicked witch doused by a pail of water. Let's conserve our energy and enthusiasm and work to select and elect a mayor who's not insane. 28 years of this crap is more than enough. 

I wish all of you, especially those of you who work in schools, a joyous and relaxing week. I hope you make the very best of it. This shall pass, and we will come back stronger.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Can We Agree on a Fair Evaluation System?

That's a tough question. Our esteemed chancellor writes us missives telling us how much he respects and cares for us. Our safety is the most important thing there is. Yet you don't see him setting his foot in a school unless it's pre-screened and a whole lot cleaner than any I've seen over the last decade or two. 

If Regents exams are canceled, and if no student can fail, how exactly are we supposed to come to a fair evaluation system? We can't use Danielson. The participation in online classes, or in socially-distanced masked classes, is something altogether different from that which we've experienced over our careers.

I am big on classroom participation. I love when kids act spontaneously, and nothing makes me happier than seeing some kid get up an take a class over. However, I can't count on that happening, and my plans ensure we'll be doing something productive if it does not. I can't guarantee on any given day that kids will carry me to highly effective. (If you can, more power to you.)

Nonetheless, Danielson herself said that her rubric laid out an ideal, and wasn't intended as a rating system. Of course, that didn't stop her from taking a shit-ton of cash to allow it to be used that way anyway. In fact, it didn't stop her from writing some kind of online rubric too, hoping to cash in further. It's Spaceballs II, The Search for More Money

Let's say we finally agree on something, just for the sake of argument. Let me ask you this--how many times have your supervisors taught socially-distanced classes? How many times have they taught online? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say zero. How can people who've never done the work we do assess how we do it? How do they know what does and does not work, having no experience whatsoever doing it?

And let's say, just for the sake of argument, that we somehow get past that. How many of us have studied or prepared to do what we do now? Have we been trained for this kind of work. Well, if we're online, we had those three days in March when administrators who'd never taught online showed us how to do it. As for the bizarre, socially-distanced classroom, how do we adjust our practice to allow for such frightening and unnatural procedures?

I cannot for the life of me imagine a fair way to assess our work under these conditions. If that were not a sufficient obstacle, consider the large number of vindictive, small-minded boy wonder supervisors, persuaded they know everything because they managed to score a marginally higher-paying gig than we did. I've seen blatant lies in observation, demonstrable via video, and no consequences for said supervisors. Who knows how much of that stuff goes unobserved in unrecorded observations?

Here's what I think--I think we need a moratorium on observations for this year. We aren't doing what we were trained to do. Many of our students are traumatized, and for good reason. Who's to say we aren't traumatized either? If we aren't, I have no idea why not. 

I'd like to be at the table with UFT and the city, but I don't suppose that's gonna happen. I'd like to question people who'd propose things. I'd like the DOE to know just how bad some of its supervisors are, and I'd like the DOE to feel the angst I see in my mailbox every day. It's really pathetic that de Blasio hasn't managed to grow the DOE into something different from what Bloomberg left him. That's just one reason why teachers are so skeptical of his school openings, closings, openings, and closings.

What would be a fair way to evaluate teachers during the pandemic? Am I missing something? If so, what?

Monday, December 21, 2020

Alas, No Notes Tonight

Apologies. I got involved grading papers and forgot to go to the Exec. Board meeting.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

More Brilliance from the Chancellor

Dear Colleagues,
This has been a year of new challenges and difficult choices, for you at least. I myself have to choose every day whether to sit at the desk in my home office or stay in bed and watch videos. With no guidance whatsoever from me or any of my six-figure flunkies, you’ve had to reinvent the wheel, or more likely, drive a car on which we failed to provide wheels.
Today I am writing with an update on another fundamental pillar of our system: how to make our students believe we’re offering everyone an elite education when we are, in fact, not doing any such thing. This notwithstanding, I certainly hope this takes your mind off the raging pandemic and my pig-headed insistence on opening schools as positivity numbers explode everywhere.
We’ve been clear from the start we would ignore the impact of the pandemic as much as we possibly could. Otherwise, why would we be closing restaurants and opening schools at the same time?, We’ve decided to rationalize doing so by suggesting doing otherwise would negatively impact children during this admissions cycle. Whatever that means.

Anyhoo, we listened to families, school principals and other stakeholders from across the city this summer, at least as far as they supported the agenda upon which we’d already decided. While there was not a consensus, it was clear we needed a distraction from our miserable and half-assed attempt at opening, then closing, then opening, then closing schools. We heard that:
·         Evaluating a student for middle school admissions based on 3rd grade grades and state test scores – the first time students are taking the test – would be unfair. Duh.

·         Rather than work at improving schools that need help, we could simply send all students to those that parents deemed desirable. Perhaps we could shove a million kids into three or four buildings and rent out the others for DOE parties. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

·         At a time when families have more decisions to make and less time, and schools have more to do than ever before, we need to focus on something that requires no money from us. We have yoga gurus to pay, and a lot of relatives on payroll. You think we’re gonna come in and kill the roaches in your classrooms? Get bent.
This feedback, among many other ideas shared, informed our policy changes for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle for fall 2021 admissions:
Middle School:

·         All middle school screens will be paused for this year. This includes academic screens, screen doors, screened phone calls, and those screens you stand behind when you don’t want someone to watch you changing your clothes. Students will be admitted through a lottery based system. You win, you go where you like. You don’t, go suck eggs, as will most applicants. 

·         District and geographic priorities, as well as Diversity in Admissions priorities, will still apply for those middle schools that have them.

·         The middle school application will open the week of January 11.
High Schools:
·         Geographic priority for admissions will be eliminated over a 2-year period, beginning with the immediate elimination of district priority, followed by other geographic priorities in the next admissions cycle. Did you buy a house because it was in that school district? Too bad for you. Send your kids to private school and degrade our system even further.

·         In consultation with their school communities, screened high schools can choose to remove their screens, utilize the Educational Option admissions method, or maintain academic screening. For those that maintain academic screening, we encourage schools to implement a Diversity in Admissions priority.  However if they don’t, they can continue doing anything they golly gosh darn feel like. So much for real change.

·         Schools that choose to maintain academic screening will be able to do whatever they feel like. They can use tests to screen out the riffraff, or just screen out anyone they want to keep out, you know, like charter schools do. However, just like charters, everyone in the city will share the honor of paying for these schools to exist.

·         Arts high schools will move to a common virtual audition system that will allow students to submit their audition materials online. Students will be able to lift videos off of YouTube and say it’s them. Who’s gonna find out?  The high school application will open the week of January 18.

·         Additionally, we are required by State law to administer the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). To ensure health and safety of our staff and students, the exam will be administered in students’ own middle schools to reduce travel and different cohorts of students intermixing. Test registration will open on Monday, December 21, 2020.  Good luck getting into Stuyvesant to everyone who can’t afford ten years of intense private lessons, indeed, the vast majority of our students.
We have all recognized how the crises over the last few months have laid bare the inequities in our school system. We pledge to you we will do everything in our power, except investing money in our school system. This year, we will add five districts to districts already engaging in diversity work through City or State grants: 1, 2, 3, 9, 13, 15, 16, 24, 28, 30 and 31. We know that this won’t help parents with childcare, and it won’t improve conditions in freezing classrooms and trailers, and it won’t ameliorate the rampant overcrowding that makes the mayor’s blather about five-day schooling another absurd pipe dream.
I know these are significant changes for schools, families and communities. I’m hoping, since they may prove noticeable, that you will ignore the crumbling infrastructure all around you and the 1.1 million schoolchildren in whom we decline to invest.
I am grateful for your leadership over these past several months. I see colleagues all over the Tweed building sitting in comfort doing who knows what, while you trudge into our miserable dilapidated buildings day after day trying to fool children into thinking New York City cares about them. I know you will continue to lead in your communities so that my peeps and I can sit around writing you vacuous insincere email.
In unity,

Friday, December 18, 2020

Bad Admin and Crickets

 Do you feel like the kid in the picture sometimes? An awful lot of teachers do. It seems, particularly with an evaluation system that bares its teeth at us, that a lot of supervisors speak to us like that.

I began as an English teacher. I ended up as an ESL teacher by happy accident. For one thing, I could never find a permanent job as an English teacher. By the time I did, I was already enamored of teaching kids from other countries. I turned down an appointment, took a job playing guitar in the worst Irish wedding band on earth (it paid well), and waited until I actually had the credits to teach what I wanted.

Nonetheless, I'm a lifelong reader, and my preference is fiction. Fiction places you in a position to see and feel other viewpoints, but it's looked down upon by the geniuses in Albany, not to mention the Common Core architects. NY State has dropped the Common Core name, but fiction is still devalued. Instead we make kids read tedious tomes that interest them not at all. I'd argue it would be better to have them read comics, like the kid in the picture, and learn to love reading, rather than dread it. Of course, I'm only one voice.

Still, there are a lot of crazy administrators. Look, for one example, at the large number of them who insist on enrolling as teachers in Google Classroom. There is absolutely no viable rationale for that. Most of us now place all our grades online. Anyone can see them. All of the assignments we give are available to anyone registered as a student. It would be one thing if administrators actually wanted to help us plan, or wanted to teach the classes now and then. Of course they don't do that.

The only reason admin should be listed as a teacher is if they don't trust your judgment. Being listed as a teacher gives them the right to mess with, edit, or even delete your assignments. It's unethical to do any of those things without consulting you. Ethics, shmethics, says the DOE, as usual. Let APs do whatever they golly gosh darn feel like and the empty husk that is the chancellor can still sign his flowery preposterous tone deaf emails, "In unity." 

There is a lot of fear, loathing and mistrust of administrators, and for good reason. Saying they need to be teachers means they do not trust you. And given that, it's not surprising how many teachers don't trust administrators. Would some of them sabotage your assignments? Absolutely. I've watched video of lessons in which many students raised their hands and the supervisor wrote only two or three did. I've seen outright lies on observation reports.

This notwithstanding, it's teachers who are regularly vilified in the press. Editorial boards pay no attention to the frequent tales of administrative malfeasance in the tabloids. Instead, they insist admin should have all the power. We should be at will employees, subject to losing our jobs for declining to pass a Wednesday afternoon at the Comfort Inn with a supervisor. 

And then you get stories like this one, about a principal who decided to enact a super spreader event right in her own school building. Let's put 150 kids in the cafeteria to eat lunch. It's bad enough that we insist on have kids eat socially distanced and unmasked in classrooms, but that wasn't enough for this principal. 

Remarkably, no one has so far contracted COVID as a result of this idiotic and astoundingly callous decision. But no UFT teacher is surprised by it. While not all of us work for a lunatic like this one, we all know of them. We've all heard stories about them for all of our careers. It's remarkable that we're all able to get up every morning and do our jobs, considering how many awful supervisors there are. 

And what do we get from "In Unity" Richard Carranza about this?


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

UFT Delegate Assembly December 16, 2020--With Vaccine Coming, What's in the Future?

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Welcome to last DA of 2020. People on this call are the leadership of the union. We understand how much people lean on leaders during normal times. During these times, dealing with shutdown, fear and anxiety, people look to you. What you have done in terms of moving schools to remote, opening safely, and COVID response teams has been phenomenal. Recognize what you've done. None of our work matters unless it works at the building where people go to work. 

Our number one priority in mayoral race will be that DOE be completely revamped, in that their responsibility will be to support school buildings, not themselves. We remember what happened in March April and May and now it's happening all over the country. You've protected the school system.

Snow--City has given notice that tomorrow is an instructional day. Last year they forced us to report during spring break. We had a ruling that remote is instructional and when we're out of COVID our first act will be to seek compensation. We agreed that two snow days in our calendar were instructional days. We need to meet minimal mandate or state can tell us to cancel holidays, and in that case we wouldn't have agreement. This agreement is only for this year. We will look at things we want to see and things we don't. Our calendar now has more holidays than any system in US. Most snow days we could ever have would be two. Don't want to see days from Spring break canceled. 

There's no substitute for in-person instruction, but there are some things that are valuable in remote, as well as some that are definitely not.

NYC--State plan for COVID, geographically based. City has right to modify plan if it meets minimum NYC requirements. Our position was they have a right, but we stress testing, social distancing, ventilation, and procedures. Reason we haven't had a problem has been testing. We've closed over 500 schools as a result. If there is a hint of virus, that is an affirmative action. 

If you have linked cases, you isolate. If they are not linked, you shut it down. We've gone from 20% a month to 20 a week. They've gone way over, but there were problems.  If they aren't solved, we will go to court. City needs to meet agreements. 

In terms of randomness, we had issues. They'd test same cohort. 20% of all schools were not done. They took a past practice, and offered testing to entire school. Whole schools were sometimes tested. There was not a lot of COVID spread because when we found it, we stopped it. They don't have time to do whole schools anymore. Whole school will be tested on monthly basis. 

Biggest problem was with test results. They got slammed with number of tests. We had many issues. Not helpful to get results four days later, causes anxiety. We set up a monitoring process this week. It looks like results from Monday will be in today, positivity about .2. This is our early warning system. 

Many calling around country asking how we do this. We built this capacity. Just this week, we've closed 530 odd classrooms and 139 schools. We're doing our jobs. We have to be constantly vigilant.

D75 felt now that students were mandated to be tested they'd be stressed. School nurses asked for proper training, got n95 masks, and city delivered kits. We have a problem with the company. They bought kids that required nurses to go online. Legal liability was out of control. If anything went wrong, it would be all their fault. We won't use those kits. DOE said either you change this or we go in different direction.

This didn't stop testing. DOE people thought children would be very upset. Hasn't generally been true but there have been incidents. By and large, our nurses are still doing that work. Relationships make big difference. Staff at 811 dealt with principal on medical accommodation, not even in building. Teachers on that site are nothing less than heroes. Tried to take path to fix, union got involved and now entire site is tested, no positive cases.

Don't appreciate comments by mayor. We are following state numbers, and are tied to state programs. Not acceptable to keep schools open even if there's a lockdown. We're staying on top of things. Some hotspots now moving back down. We have to get through last challenge, get vaccine, and move closer to normal

Operational issues--Almost 1140 settled in 702 schools. On oversized classes there is now compensation involved for those abused by oversized classes. Superintendent may say there's no money, but they allowed it to happen and now have to pay. We have to stay vigilant.

We're teaching in situations we've never seen. Every day more info, misinfo, and craziness. We continue to get our work done. We will fight when we have to, but for us it's about an endgame--safety, livelihood and profession. It's tough but you have led in a phenomenal way. Damage done across city is major. Education has been damaged. Children have regressed, but we will start to undo damage. 

Tomorrow's a "snow day." Now the chancellor wants teachers online, which he said never to do. Plan is remote instruction, not regular school day. Will that guidance go out? No. But that's the world we work in. Principals get very little direction. Good if principal's good, bad if they're power-hungry. 

Federal--Big problems with emergency package now. Any thought of working together for family and children--that hope is gone. We'll see what happens. My goal is to keep ed. money in. Doesn't look good for state and local.  Eviction protection is important. If not, will be many homeless next month. 

We have to make sure if virus gets out of control we shut down, but next piece is livelihood. We've over 2K who've lost jobs. In other states there've been massive layoffs. We haven't even gotten into bad economy and effects. Doesn't matter if you're blue, red or purple--we need a massive fed stimulus next year and guaranteed $ for education. When people talk about GA, if dems will help, that's who I support.

We are looking at mayoral race and city council candidate. We will have to work with these people next 4 years to dig out of hole. State 15 bil in red, city 9, plus MTA. This is just next year. We've never seen anything like this. In recession entire deficit was 7 bil over two years. Come January we need massive federal stimulus package. Not finished yet on safety. 

Do we want to fight? No. Will we? Yes.

We need a stimulus to save livelihood. We have to be very politically active. Every district has a team, and we want to endorse at least 21 in January. Looks like 20 running for mayor. 

We are against mayoral control. But reporters only want to talk about that, not deficit. We need to completely restructure DOE. We keep our eyes on things that matter. In the end, we need a big package. Thanks retiree chapter for political work. 

Before pandemic, we had 6.5 years of better budgets. We now need good partners. Many of our friends' terms are up. 

State--Systems opening and closing, some who haven't opened are dealing with layoffs. Hear that there are many budget cuts waiting on federal gov. One glimmer of hope is that our testing and vaccine distribution capacity is probably better than most. Vaccine not mandated. 

State plan puts teaching and school staff at second tier of distribution. Trying to find timeline, Now is frontline healthcare workers and nursing homes. We are next. Follow closely Moderna, seems to be more of that available to state, easier to work with. Our doctors have said it's just as effective as Pfizer, signed off on safety of both. How many doses could be the key. Could be Feb. and March. When we start to have access you'll start to see all numbers go down.

Reasons schools staff is prioritized is Biden wants schools open in first 100 days, says all procedures have to be in place. We will follow these procedures to end of year. Perhaps classes can grow a little. We will see. City has closed opt-in. Will that change? Don't know.

Close to 90% of operational complaints tied to blended. Perhaps we can get to only live and remote. If live is less than 35%, you can look at whether or not 5 day is viable. DOE is coming. Blended learning just keeps causing more issues because DOE never did job correctly. Numbers can only go down on December 23rd, supposedly, if kids don't show up. DOE says those who don't show up by then will be fully remote.

There are no definitive answers as we do things we've never done before. That's why we went to operational, so we can do things quicker, things not covered in contract. 

Thanks us again for doing things never done before. No one else has done this. These is now a major push to talk about public schools negatively, on both red and blue sides. We protected the profession and are talking to Biden transition team. Not cheap to open, and policy is a political fight. People in the buildings will keep schools safe, not politicians. If they have right support, supplies, they can handle it. And you have done that.

LeRoy Barr--UFT pride committee had virtual screeing Moonlight, Jan 21 screening of Chisolm and panel discussion to honor first woman VP. She stands on shoulders of many. Sign up for CL weekends. Support UFT endorsed candidate, Kevin Ryan in Bronx. Last day is Sunday, Happy holidays and be safe.

Mulgrew--Thanks Rich Mantel for coat drive. Homeless population growing. In every borough, you see testing lines and food lines. We are supporting FeedNYC, partnering with restaurants, churches, orgs. We are in a food crisis in NYC. We will be there to help. We're doing toy drive and helping homeless coalition. 


Q--Testing--We were tested Wed. and yesterday. About 50 members have not received results. Staff told minimum of 5 days for results.

A--As of today there is new process. Anyone with any issue like this should immediately contact DR or borough office. We have a database that goes to our health and safety people. It will be fixed or we will go to court. Results within 48 hours.

Q--What is position of union on opening 5 days?

A--If it can be done, following all rules, it's okay. DOE failed to understand they originally only had opt outs and assumed everyone else would come. Mayor used it for political purposes, said 75% of parent agreed, because only 25% had opted out. Every school then programmed for 75%. We now know who has opted in. If we can reprogram safely, okay. If you're at 35% or below, you can attempt, but must meet safetly requirements. Safety first.

Q--Vaccines--When we hit tier 2, how will they be distributed? Will they come to us?

A--Not worked out yet. Pfizer has to be done in special facility. We will work it out with state and city. We guess everyone will have time to go. You will show you are NYC employee. People seem to want it. US Marshals are assigned to every vaccine truck now. We want it free, available, and easy. We will share details.

Q--Testing hasn't happened at our SI school. We are nervous. Numbers are high.

A--Since Friday, they've started coming down. We are collecting this info and we knew about your school. If we have to, we will go to court. We will hopefully get people there quickly. We and doctors watch these things. Elected officials talk to me,  aren't doctors. I go with info from doctors. 


A--Until we have vaccine being distributed, we have to keep testing capacity up. City cannot open HS at this moment. Not officially determined whether there will be academic testing this year. We can't do them virtually. On our radar--If we are in a much better place, vaccine is out in April or May, we will do what we have to to make sure HS students get credit, whether or not with exams. 

Q--Principals scheduling observations--

A--There are no observations, and there is no APPR. State has said will be done through collective bargaining. DOE wants to use S and U system. Numbers tell us that's not great. When you use authentic student learning, not standardized testing, teachers are better off. We get thousands of Us because people had fights with admin. We want to figure out a baseline of authentic learning, only for this year. Will only be used this year. None at this point. May finish by early January. We also need protocols, with people demanding things from online classrooms. We have silliness of demands they get access as a teacher into my classroom. What that tells me is admin is incompetent. If it's a school program, they have access and don't know how to run their own programs.

Q--Can we have clarification on AM instructional coordination and grade meetings?

A--Coordination is to meet with other teachers working with same students. Could be appropriate, but systematic meetings with AP telling everyone what to do is unacceptable. Your DR and borough rep will be in touch with principal or superintendent. Don't understand people who are power hungry.

Q--Onsite COVID testing--Is there a system to ensure randomization of students and staff?

A--Some places are getting better, others not. They know there are problems. Not for lack of effort, testing people not DOE. They don't take problems as personal attacks, unlike DOE. Amount of testing causing issues. Will be additional contact tracing team. If not working in your school, tell DR. Will be fixed or go to court.

Q--CTLE hours--Will they be waived? Two paras came to me, saying there have been issues with CUNY, due to issues with payment.

A--Not waived as of yet. If you have a problem with CUNY, contact our call center. Our people have access. We are offering a lot of CTLE online via UFT Learn. We don't know what they will do yet, but we prioritize UFT for slots in our classes.

Q--Will UFT continue with online retirement meetings after COVID?

A--We are rethinking things. DA has much more attendance online. We've never had this level of participation. Numbers are massive. We have to look at what this means going forward. MAP online ability helps more members. We have to look at what has and hasn't worked. Happy numbers are high. Also miss seeing people, like everyone. Can't wait to walk into a school without a mask, see smiles. Can't do any of that right now. We don't want to lose that, but will look for balance.

Q--Supervisor mandates all counselors include her in Zoom meetings with all seniors. Principal says she has a right. 

A--Why would this lead to better results for children? Clearly a power trip. Question is what leads to better results. If this is mandated practice, I want to hear DOE defend it. We will take care of this ASAP.


Rashad Brown--Please support resolution for next month--commemorate World AIDS Day--Affects all of us, many Black and Latinos affected. We should acknowledge, honor those lost and support those struggling. 

Passes 92% 

Daniel Alicia--Mayoral control--next month--We need our union to end mayoral control. Parents and educators need more voice, checks and balances, single person in charge not good at all. Need to join with students and community leaders. We need real changes. Growing call in our union to limit mayoral control. Thanks Mulgrew for championing issue. Things have changed since 2013, can't be on sidelines. Need bottom up system. Endorsements should be tied to candidates committed to fundamental ed. changes. We need an action plan in coordination with all stakeholders.

Passes 81% 


Rashad Brown--Health care and human rights for transgender--UFT has always been on right side of this, we are fighting for what should be a right, not a privilege. Trump has treated us badly, reversing rights. Changed coverage to biological sex at birth. This group most likely to be uninsured in US, and this is further discrimination. We want to get things back on track. Asks for support.

Speaker in support--We have wide diversity of students who identify as trans, important for what we do and who we are to support.

Joy Pell--Parent of transgender son. We sometimes forget that they are children and we care about them. We need to protect them like everyone else. Asks for support.

Passes 95%

Serbia Silva--Resolution for UFT to advocate for Latin American Educators --Our union has history of supporting and celebrating Latinos. 40% of students are Latino, but only 7% of staff. We have to fix that, continue to advocate and promote diversity. Asks for support.

Speaker--Speaking for LatinX students, child of immigrants, important for students to feel valued and have culture celebrated. We should all support.

Passes 95%

Mulgrew---Please stay on top of testing. That's how we keep each other safe and keep DOE on its toes. Please stay vigilant to keep each other and families of children we serve safe. Can't thank you enough. You've done something no one else has ever done. Have a great holiday and stay safe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Another Letter from the Chancellor

 Dear Colleagues,

As we approach the end of the calendar year, I am reflecting back on some of the events of 2020. We have confronted uncertainty and pain together, working as a community dedicated in service to our city’s children. Because their safety is paramount, we took a principled stand and vowed to close schools as soon as the positivity rate reached 3%.
It goes almost without saying that we backed off on that stand as soon as public pressure began. I took some hard criticism—the hardest, perhaps, of my lifetime, and of course I backed off my principles completely. We have all worked incredibly hard to protect our children and our communities from COVID-19, and continue to do so.  That’s why we’ve now tripled our threshold for closure to 9%, and when it hits that, we’ll read a few nasty op-eds in the Post and raise it again.
But the difficulties of this year extend beyond the coronavirus crisis, of course. This has been a watershed year for the struggle for racial justice in this city and country. Rest assured that we at the DOE will make you travel through COVID infested trains and buses no matter what color you are. We don’t care what religion you are or what language you speak. We’ll send you to school while we hunker down in our offices.  

What I’d like you to focus on now is events that occurred outside of my purview, because I would like you all to notice that, even as I have no coherence or consistence in my policies regarding the schools of which I’m in charge, I’m on the right side of history in other matters.
That is why I am grateful that the Office of Equity and Access and Office of Organizational Development & Effectiveness has been leading the DOE in its own reflection on where and how we need to do more and better in our mission to combat the inequities that have plagued public education in New York City for decades. One of the key ways we must do this is by looking into our own “house,” so to speak, and—creating an internal workplace culture that reflects and respects the diversity of the city we are dedicated to serving.  Believe me, we are throwing you all to the dogs while we sit around and collect huge salaries for sending you to buildings that haven’t been cleaned in decades.
I want to be very clear that it is only by ensuring truly equal employment opportunity and a diverse and inclusive culture within DOE workplaces that we can, in turn, create equitable, albeit far from safe and supportive environments where our students can thrive, or at least survive, assuming that virus doesn’t catch up with them over the next few months.
True inclusion demands focus along a multitude of critical dimensions. but please don’t criticize me. I’m a sensitive guy, except when it comes to people other than myself. I’m really interested in keeping this high-profile, high-paying gig where I just travel around and have gala luncheons. I hope this COVID crap passes so I can go on expensive junkets rather than just ordering in from Four Seasons on your dime. Man, this beats working SO much.
Our comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Policy describes our commitment to equal employment opportunity, and diversity and inclusion, through our hiring, employee retention, employee engagement, professional development, and vendor procurement practices. All are free to come in and take the sort of risks that I never would, as I sit in my elegant, luxurious, rent-free city-owned home and compose this.
I will note that these policies complement other current and future efforts to create inclusive environments for staff and students so that no matter who you are, you feel welcome to risk infection. Now more than ever—whether virtually or in-person—we need to make sure that everyone in our school and office communities feels connected and within a warm community. These efforts span policy changes that empower students to choose their own name and gender marker on their official student record with a parent’s permission; agency-wide implicit bias training; interactive workshops on how to make workspaces more accessible for individuals with disabilities; and more. 

We sincerely hope, as positivity rates continue to explode, that you pay attention to our anti-racist message and ignore the undue danger to which we are exposing our students, and you, the people who actually do the work. You will be hearing more from me on our efforts to look inward and make the DOE even stronger, more just, and more actively anti-racist in what we do. It is my sincere hope that by focusing on this you will ignore the utter disregard I have for your health and safety. 

Please shut up and stop complaining.
In unity,

Monday, December 14, 2020

UFT Executive Board December 14, 2020--Schools Closing, Opening, Closing, Opening...

Rashad Brown--December 16 streaming of Moonlight hosted by teacher Maurice Blackmon. January 21st Shirley Chisolm film. Info coming.

Toy drive underway. Please support. 

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--President elect confirmed and William Barr stepped down. Thanks to everyone. Today is vaccine day, and we'll see how it goes. Doctors in NY say things went well. We want to make sure teachers have access to vaccine on second tier. It's appropriate and important because of what we've able to do.

Lack of stimulus is still bad sign. Heastie may bring Assembly back, and we advocate taxing the wealthy. We are in trouble. Next year's budget deficit for city state and MBA is 40 billion. These are crazy numbers. GA is very important now. 

There have been more teacher layoffs across state and country this week. President elect says we need to support and open schools. Governor has said he may have cuts, there have been none, but upstate layoffs continue. This will be ugly. DeVos and Koch trying to get people to drop union and using this as excuse. 

Turnaround on testing is big issue. They can't seem to get them back here within 24-48 hours. We don't know if it's volume or lab capacity. We discussed this over weekend. City and state have plateaued in terms of testing. Many schools closed last week as direct result of testing. Tracing needs to be in place so we know who to isolate.

Working on quicker communication system. We are holding their feet to the fire. They wanted to disregard positive tests saying they got this at home, but we said no. In paper today, we see COVID response team was shut down by principal at home with an accommodation. We got 10,600 tests today and want results by Wednesday.

Meeting twice with chancellor. Their special ed. dept sends out crazy contradictory guidance. Our official consultation is Friday. We're preparing to help out communities. Biden campaign has reached out to us about NYC plans. We understand some members are fearful, but we will follow doctors' advice. Biden team understands need for both school and safety. No one has our testing capacity. 

We will push to help communities with food shortage. This will be needed. We will be out there helping. We're also putting together programs about elections, with mayoral race next year. Many candidates now.For last three weeks we've been hearing about mayoral control. We oppose it. No one person should make decisions without checks or balances. 


Elementary at five days--Biggest issue is blended remote. Fully remote and live are not problematic, but some principals have put all three together. If there is five day instruction, blended is not needed. Percentage between 30-35 so may be easy to do. Some schools have worked it out. 185 schools doing just live and remote. 

Positivity rates in schools still lower than anywhere else. I'm not a doctor, but doctors report younger children get COVID at lower rate and are not as contagious. Most evidence comes from countries with heavy duty testing. People are watching us because we're testing a large % of children. Right before we went to fully remote, most large high schools were shut down. Teenagers get it at higher rate.

As vaccine gets out into communities, rates should begin to drop. We still have lowest rates in US. SW states have over 30% positivity.

We will do something for CLs. We will do a modified Teacher Union Day. We need to make sure story of what we've done in NYC gets out there. It's an amazing story. If we are really at a plateau it will make things easier.

AFT and NEA locals take different positions. AFT says if you can open safely you should. NEA favored not opening until there was a vaccine, but with Biden in office they are moving toward AFT position. They didn't trust Trump. We are the only large system open. Some plan to, and some have tried. Positivity rates in their areas have jumped dramatically. It's clear there will be pressure. Biden says we should open if % is not up, but PPE, training, signage, etc. is in place. 

School in Brooklyn says same cohort tested each week--This is why we're setting up a new process. We will fix this. I saw testing team run in a building last week. They were running. Seemed impossible for them to get this done. They are delegating more personnel. They went from 20% a month to 20 a week. Even with only lower grades, they now have to process faster. We will stay on top of them.

We have another school where we made them test a new cohort on a different day.

We are in section 1b in SI. I'm concerned about losing days to vaccine side effects---Will discuss in consultation this week. 

Thanks to CLs doing training, to Teacher Center delivering instruction on weekends, to students at all levels. Be safe and we'll meet next week. See you at Wednesday DA

Saturday, December 12, 2020

School Leaders Who Never Learn Believe Students Can't Either

It's hard to overstate the lack of vision and foresight of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza, but they continue to trip all over themselves day after day. The mayor just finished announcing that the one-third of students who signed up for in person learning, at least those in lower grades, might be able to attend five days a week. Evidently, that's the only way that students can catch up with Whatever It Is they need to catch up with.

Don't worry about the fact that it's likely impossible. The impossible is no barrier to Carranza or de Blasio. The important thing is to open the schools no matter what, as de Blasio tries to salvage his reputation as someone who is not simply a hapless and bumbling hack. We watched him stumble through a humiliating campaign for the Presidential nomination, one in which he won no more delegates than my dog did. (In fairness, my dog is much cuter than de Blasio will ever be.)

De Blasio spent the early part of this school year dithering with ridiculous, unworkable plans, Now that they've crashed and burned, he's finally opening slots for the virtual content specialists that will likely not be needed at all. He's reopened schools up to grade five in the face of an exploding pandemic. His principled stand to close schools when the city hit 3% positivity now lies trashed with every other principle he's abandoned. The question is no longer whether these buildings will close again, but when. I only hope it's soon.

Meanwhile, he and the chancellor have other genius ideas to tinker with. In Tweed World, no one learns anything from actual events. Take this pandemic, for example. It doesn't actually mean anything, and students will acquire neither wisdom nor knowledge from it. They will not notice that they are at home learning in front of a computer screen. Nor will they see anything different about sitting masked in a socially-distant classroom in which interaction is sorely limited. And even if they did, how would that make them College and Career Ready?

Evidently, in the world of top educator Richard Carranza, there is no such thing as a teachable moment. If that were true, he'd look around, notice that 3,000 Americans are now dying a day, and say to himself, "You know, maybe it would be a good idea not to send thousands of children to school buildings every day when there is a viable alternative." The mayor would say, "Hey, maybe it would be a good thing if we used all resources at our disposal to keep positivity down."

That's not happening, of course. And if our leaders are so patently incapable of detecting the most obvious implications from a crisis, it stands to reason they wouldn't determine others to be more capable. Oddly, a lot of us who actually do the work tend to learn from experience. The longer we do this job, the more resources we have. A lot of us tend to believe that our students also learn from experience, and we try to provide or at least replicate experiences in our classrooms. A lot of us English teachers see fiction as a tool from which we learn vicariously by seeing through the eyes of others.

Of course, we are ridiculed by educational leaders like the visionary David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, who famously pointed out that no one gives a shit what you think. From my perspective, as someone who teaches writing, that seems blatantly absurd. But I'm not in charge, My approach to writing is, in fact, to see what students write and attempt to respond on a holistic or human level. I'm negligent in that I fail to teach the valuable formulas for writing, like those used on the NY State English Regents, unless I'm compelled to help students Pass the Test. In fact, I'd think that living through something like a pandemic would add to experience and give a whole lot of people something worth writing about.

Of course, primitive ideas like those are far from embraced by Tweed. They know things over there that I never will. No teacher would tell you that they don't give a crap about class sizes, but someone from Tweed told me that straight to my face. So they don't care about class sizes, they don't value your experiences, and they don't care what we or our students think. From that perspective, what can they offer students in terms of education?

Well, the mayor and chancellor are in agreement. What we need is more testing. That will somehow compensate for the time students spent without having this valuable testing in their lives. We had to cancel the tests last June, we are canceling them in January, and it very much appears that we won't have them next June either. Now there are those of us who think that the tests are total crap anyway, but we certainly aren't in charge. 

We are fortunate to have visionary leaders like de Blasio and Carranza, willing to double down on testing to make up for valuable time lost. Not only that, but since so many of our students have had class time replaced by time in front of a computer, they're going to pay other geniuses millions of dollars to have kids spend more time sitting in front of computers. Maybe, rather than reflect on the pandemic, our students will dream of Ghosts of Regents Exams Past.

In any case, when we are finally back to safe, in-person, actual class time, rather than learn from our errors, de Blasio and Carranza appear ready and willing to flush millions of dollars away to parasitical entities looking to get rich on the backs of our kids. Some people never learn. It's too bad such people can't credit the abilities of others, like NYC's 1.1 million public schoolchildren. Most of them haven't yet learned to believe that learning is impossible, but tools like Richard Carranza are ready and willing to bore them to death until they do.

Friday, December 11, 2020

My New Job

This is such an odd time. I don't recognize myself sometimes as I try to balance what I'd do in a full classroom with what I can actually carry out in a Zoom room. I tried using breakout rooms multiple times, but they don't seem to work for me. You see, if I were doing group or pair work in a live classroom setting, I'd not only be running around like a headless chicken checking on everyone I approach, but also checking on everyone in and out of earshot as much as possible.

That sounds impossible, but every teacher knows what I mean.

In Zoom, though, you're in the void. If you're like me, and you choose pairwork to maximize conversation, you have 17 rooms you need to visit. This means, at any given time, there are 16 left unmonitored. Almost every single time I've used the breakout rooms, I enter and no one is even pretending to talk. I make them talk, go to the next group, and do the same thing. Also, if I come back, I end up doing the same thing again. I give up. Instead of pair work, I'll ask individuals questions. 

But odd things happen when you do that. One of my favorite lessons is when I try to teach present progressive via a fashion show. This is Jennifer. She's wearing a white blouse, bluejeans, and white tennis shoes. You break the students into groups, one student narrates, and they do a fashion show. It's a great way to get them up and active and using the target structure in a genuine way.

The thing is, you can't really pull that off on Zoom. I'd need to require breakout groups, planning, and even if I did that, I'd have to figure out how you coordinate a presentation when no one is with anyone else, no one can see anyone else, and you'd have to be a contortionist to get your entire body into the video. I don't see it running in a way that makes it worthwhile.

Instead I had students describe models in pictures I have. It worked, but not as well as the activity I'd have liked to do. It would've taken three days. As is, it took one. This notwithstanding, some funny things happened. Another thing I push during this lesson is the use of too vs. either. I'm wearing a watch. She's wearing one too. I'm not wearing a tie. He's not wearing one either. 

The whole watch thing was a non-starter. I'm not sure just why I haven't noticed that teenagers tend not to wear watches, but not a single person in the two classes I used this in was wearing one. I'm in love with my Apple watch, which shows me the temperature and preps me for essential dog-walking, but that doesn't seem to matter to my students.

So I modified my sentences in the second class. I gave up on, "I'm wearing a watch. What about you?" Instead, I said, "I'm wearing a shirt. What about you?" The young woman to whom I addressed that question visibly checked to see whether or not she was wearing a shirt. I though it was pretty funny. Who do you know who isn't sure whether or not they happen to be wearing a shirt? I guess when you're home all the time, you forget these things. This notwithstanding, I've never forgotten to wear a shirt to my online class. Yet. 

My dog has also changed a lot during the pandemic. Back in March, he would come around and demand attention. I'd pick him up, and he'd calm down while I did whatever I had to do. Now he sees things differently. There is no pacification. I am there to throw his toy. He brings it to me and demands that I do so. If not, he barks loudly. I tell him I'm teaching, but he just doesn't care.

I really hope that we get a vaccine soon and that this ends. I would be thrilled to go back to the actual job I signed up for. I'd hoped that, by some miracle, that could happen in April or May. Now I think it won't happen until September. 

Happy Friday all. Please have a great weekend and stay safe.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Mayor Bozo Ready to Lower Standards Yet Again

If you're a teacher, you constantly hear talks of standards. The standardized test is the Bible, the Holy Grail, and the Ten Commandments all rolled into one. If your student gets 64 on the NY State English Regents, she is unfit to graduate. However, her classmate who gets a 65 is college and career ready. That's because this instrument is so precise and absolutely reliable it cannot be mistaken, even if some who've studied it contend it's an unreliable piece of crap

On the other hand, who needs standards for a deadly disease? Mayor Bill de Blasio has been running a clown show ever since his pathetic bid for the presidency. He failed to close the schools when the pandemic had us in dead in its sights, and had the chancellor demand 108,000 signatures from epidemiologists before bending to what was obvious to the whole world, save City Hall and the White House. 

Then came September. We're opening. We aren't opening. We'll open next week. No, the week after that. No we don't have to test anyone for COVID. Well, if the UFT is going to strike, maybe we will do a little testing. We'll make it mandatory, but if students don't consent, we'll ignore it and hope for the best. And if Cuomo says we'll close at 5%, we'll do better. We'll close at 3%, because we have higher standards than the state.

But once the mayor followed through with that promise, it turned out that there was public sentiment against him. Evidently, some of the 35% of families who chose in person learning a day or two a week were upset. How dare this mayor deprive their children of the opportunity to sit socially distanced and masked far away from one another? How could they lose that opportunity?

And what a system it was. We had a hybrid. It was sometimes in person and sometimes on line. The way it worked was this--if one third of the students were in school, two-thirds were online. And because there weren't actually enough teachers to do this, he'd hire some more. You can teach 12 kids in the school, and I can teach 56 others online. But that wouldn't be so bad because there would be a virtual content specialist planning the classes, so somehow I wouldn't have to do any work aside from handling 56 kids online, which is of course a veritable walk in the park.  Except the mayor never actually hired any of these virtual content specialist so screw me, I have 56 students at a time.

That was terrible, but there was a small bright spot. I would not want someone writing plans for me, even if that person were designated a virtual content specialist. The fact is I have my own voice as a teacher, and for better or worse, that's who I am. How do I know that another person can write for me? Of course, the mayor had decided. The chancellor, who pays eloquent lip service to how much he values teaching, didn't value teacher voice very much after all. Carranza appeared to value following the mayor's directions way more, or why would he have demanded 108,000 epidemiologists when we gave him 108,000 teacher signatures?

Evidently, Mayor Bozo had paid millions to consultants to come up with an impossible plan to use teachers who didn't exist. So it was perfect, of course, and the fact that it didn't work, ever, was neither here nor there.

In fact, that the only action the mayor took that appeared visionary was to close with an abundance of caution. Once people started objecting to that, of course, the mayor flip-flopped yet again, taking the flip-flop to an art form. Where are we headed? Well, according to Chalkbeat, we will follow the state model and close at 9%. After all, that's only triple the threshold of the mayor's sole principled stand, and that should be good enough for anyone.

The thing is, even that new lowered standard may not stand:

Cuomo hasn’t said whether he’ll stand by that rule, but de Blasio said that the state’s “standard” was still in place as of now.

“That is my understanding,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “But our goal is to never have it become part of our reality.”

It's funny. When people see fit to judge what is and is not reality, I'm a little skeptical. And if it's based on Cuomo, who has no moral center that I've ever been able to detect, it's even less dependable. Cuomo was saying 5% back when de Blasio was saying 3. Why is 9 now okay? And de Blasio is looking for a way out of that anyway:

De Blasio suggested that he could push back on the state’s 9% closure rule, citing relatively low positivity rates in schools and increasing in-school testing to a weekly basis. The positivity rate from school-based testing was .29% from early October, when in-school testing started, until Monday, according to the most recently available data.

There are so many holes in that you could drive a truck through it. We all know that the testing has been anything but random. Only 15% of students had given consent, last I heard. And the testers were coming to schools and taking only volunteers. Few if any were compelled to be tested. UFT and CSA have agreed to mandatory testing, but other unions have not. We still haven't heard whether or not that would be corrected. And even if the rate is zero in school buildings, when it's 9% outside, everyone should be inside, at home, as much as possible. (That's not to mention that winter is here, and the city demands we open school windows to sub-freezing air.)

Mayor de Blasio now deems himself visionary for opening the buildings. Those of us with feet on the ground have watched the city COVID rate triple under his leadership. We have yet to see the results of Thanksgiving get-togethers, I didn't have one, but one family member who did now has COVID, and I'm sure there are more to come. Oh, and while it's likely escaped the mayor's attention, Christmas is coming.

This mayor has no standard except his own popularity. He sees himself as a hero. Everyone else seems to know that this mayor has one quality that has escaped almost every other politician in these highly polarized times. What's that? People on both the right and left are united in their utter lack of respect for him.

In fact, even the noisy parents and editorial boards demanding open school buildings don't respect him. They won't be singing his praises or pushing him for higher office after he's term-limited out. Maybe he'll have to go out and get a job or something. Will he learn anything?

It's part of my job to have faith in the abilities of learners. Still, as far as Bill de Blasio goes, I'm not optimistic.

Monday, December 07, 2020

UFT Executive Board December 7, 2020--School in the Times of COVID 19

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Asks for moment of silence for Barbara Schiller, who passed today.

Says schools ran smoothly today. City is allowed to change plan as long as they adhere to test rules. Says testing will keep us extremely safe. Closed 1400 schools based on monthly testing, not weekly. Schools said large majority of students came in.

Parents had many complaints about consent forms. Did so on clipboards. City doing much better than rest of state, where there is real problem. Doesn't seem to work in Western NY, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany. Layoffs happening in Syracuse, Schenectady, Albany, up to one third work force. Not making it into news. 

People are taking advantage--State has not cut budget. District using this saying people aren't working, firing paraprofessionals. NYSUT going after school superintendents. 

Waiting on stimulus. We will see. Now it may be just for next two months. If nothing done, large % of people will lose permanent housing. January 1, all protections are gone. 

Many virtual classes done last week at UFT. Working for homeless coalition, and will do Feed NYC event. Will be tough winter for many. People are reaching out to us, running out of food. 

Operational things moving forward, clearing more quickly.

Debbie Poulos--We continue to resolve issues, getting stipulations. Reaching out to CLs to make sure they get correct info.  

Mulgrew--Monitoring to make sure 20% testing done each week. Mayor said he would try to open schools in orange zones. We disagree. If any schools have positivity rate of 2% they must close.

 Ellie Engler--Every day DOE gives principal list of randomized people including staff and students. No one should've been in school without consent. Every staff person must be tested according to DOE, but some say DC37 isn't tested. 

Mulgrew--State plan mandates everyone.

Engler--Waiting to hear from Tweed. Issue was in Brooklyn. Target to test 825 schools this week.Vendors have randomized lists, and they can add if someone is absent. Committed that results will be available on website. By midnight, I will get list of number positive in schools. One SI school, they didn't show up, but other schools were good.

Mulgrew--About 42K per week is 20%. Can they get to every school? 9% citywide is number where everything shuts down. Will depend on behavior. Vaccine push--NY state will not mandate vaccination. Will run aggressive ed. campaign. AFT and NEA want teachers in cohort 1B so we can have access. 

In some parts there is very little virus, in others there is more. If there is issue in building it will be shut via situation room. Major increase in testing should get us through this safely. Our state is doing relatively well. None of this is easy.


% of Covid for citywide shutdown--Now based on area. We will get in fight with mayor. State number is 9. That's for complete shutdown. Business community wants things open. Spread is troubling. CA just went into major lockdown. You will see constant closures. We will close schools every day. We closed 400 with monthly. Weekly will be more. State will have new round of orange and red zones. 

% of Covid for zip code--School shuts down with 2 non linked cases.

Since city mandates booster shots, shouldn't we mandate covid vaccine? State issue, have to see what state does, now saying they won't do it. As for children, not sure. Also state issue.

Can paras work in breakout room with no teacher? No definitive answer. I had para who worked with groups. If it's sending para out of room with same students each day, then no. 

Mike Sill--Can only be while teacher is in main room of virtual space, so teacher can easily go from one room to another. Para may help with asynchronous instruction if best served by para. Has to be teacher's Google Classroom. Only if it follows IEP.

Can students return to school WO consent form? No. Anyone without one was sent home saying they can come back when they have form. Students will be on register to 12/23, and then assigned to full remote. Zero tolerance. 

When we get vaccine and have side effects, what will happen? Can these people use two week time to recuperate? No conversations so far. At some point, if people refuse vaccine, they may not be covered.

Only one DOE testing in N SI. Should be more on S. Side. There is a site in SI South, drive through.

If you have antibodies, do you need vaccine? Will have to ask doctors. Doctors are very optimistic about vaccine, now that more info is available. Excited about response vaccine. First round could be a week away.

Let's get UFT sweatshirts for people who need to keep windows open. Thank you. Be safe and well.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sense, Nonsense, and de Blasio's DOE

Things are at a new level now, yet agaon. Every time you think the DOE has outdone itself, it does something else to show you that the last thing was nothing. The NY Post reports that UFT members who don't consent to testing will be removed from payroll. That would be surprising if it weren't for the fact that this was agreed to back in September. 

While people all discuss the low incidence of COVID in schools, compared to the population at large, it's important to note that the city has not, in fact, followed its own programs for months. Not only was UFT supposed to consent to testing, but all students in buildings were supposed to consent as well.  I recall reading somewhere that so far, only 15% of students had agreed to testing.

As if that's not enough, I've heard that in my school and others, there was a quota the testers were supposed to reach in a building, and once they reached it through volunteers, they didn't bother compelling anyone. This means that many if not all results from schools resulted from self-selection. I don't have to be a statistical expert to see that isn't random. 

So now the DOE is saying publicly that it will enforce an agreement it made three months ago. But there are quite a few holes in it. Mayor de Blasio is planning to have students up to grade 5 in attendance tomorrow, but it looks like they haven't quite caught everyone.

Students in 3-K, Pre-K and Kindergarten are exempt, but others have to bring parental consent forms on Monday. Those without parental consent or a valid excuse will be moved to all-remote instruction, de Blasio said.

I'm far from expert on young children, but I'd have let my kid be tested at a young age. Perhaps doing so publicly, without the support of parents is too much and the kids could go to their own doctors. It's certainly not unheard of. We require vaccines for all students, and that's a needle in the arm, not a Q-tip in the nose. We also accept notes from doctors attesting that the children have received said vaccines. Why can't the DOE allow the same for young children? In fact, why can't they allow it for anyone? You'd have to ask one of the geniuses at Tweed who came up with this plan.

I understand that very young children have special needs, and I also understand that it's been twenty years since my kids was that young. Perhaps I'm out of touch. Adults, though, are another matter altogether. I'm told that both UFT and CSA have consented to testing. So no matter how toxic you may deem your administrators, they will be tested for COVID. Still, we're not the only ones in the school system:

It added in reference to non-UFT school workers, “Guidance regarding other staff members who do not consent will be forthcoming.” 

So what if a school aide or someone who isn't UFT or CSA doesn't feel like getting his or her nose invaded? Too bad for you, I guess. Too bad for the whole building. It's unconscionable that the chancellor and mayor have one rule for one union and another for ours. It's not simply that if I don't consent, I get sent home without pay. More importantly, we could have adults in the building spreading COVID, and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

In fact, last week I saw a notice that was sent to every student with an IEP, saying they could opt out of testing. I understand that some students may have disabilities that make things awkward or difficult. I also understand that there are students who have IEPs simply because they need more time for testing. I'd be willing to give them more time for COVID testing too, if they wanted it. I was glad to see that they'd moved back on this nonsense, at least a little bit:

This notwithstanding, every time I think the ineptitude of de Blasio and Carranza has crested, they do something to top themselves. The COVID crisis requires decisive action. De Blasio seems to have his finger perpetually in the wind, deciding which way it's blowing. Either that, or he's trying to see just how thoroughly he can ensure he has no future in politics.

Either way, he seems to consistently neglect the safety of everyone in school buildings. I think the things I teach are vital, and I tell my students that all the time. Nonetheless, they pale in the face of health and safety. I'd rather see my kids never learn English than put themselves in danger (and a good portion of them came here to escape danger). What this mayor's priorities are, as he waffles back and forth from one incomprehensible position to another, I have no idea. 

One of the most basic things you can demand from a leader is a vision from the future. From where I stand, Bill de Blasio has none whatsoever.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

What Parents Need Now Are Threats, Says Mayor

Given that students can't fail, don't have to hand in work, and are given an extra year to catch up on classes, it's odd to see Mayor de Blasio out there making demands of parents. The mayor is eager to get some of his woefully overcrowded schools open five days a week for the 35% of city students who've opted into live education. So he's saying if you don't show up, you lose your place.

This is very odd, to me at least. For one thing, he's suggesting these places are so prized that people can't wait to grab them. But just weeks ago he was saying that anyone who didn't sign up already has no chance to do so this year. Of course, contradictions are a way of life for this mayor. He holds press conferences and doesn't show up until hours later. He seems to be late for everything. I'm glad he isn't in my class.

Why would students miss school? Well, maybe they have coronavirus. That's a damn good reason to stay out. Maybe they're quarantining for safety. There's a good two weeks right there. Maybe someone in their family is sick. Maybe they have relatives in the hospital. I have a student in Asia right now due to a death in the family. But she comes to my virtual class every day, and that's a minor miracle.

Should the mayor, who generally bends over backwards to accommodate student needs, be out there saying screw you, you lose your place?  Given that everyone else is shut out already, who's gonna take that place? Is he taking a page from the Moskowitz Academy playbook? (Just to be fair, all Moskowitz Academy students are learning remotely right now. I'm sure their employees are as miserable as ever.)

Maybe that's not his plan. Given that this mayor second and third guesses every decision, and given that no decision he makes tends to endure very long, maybe he's trying to placate the people who objected to his sudden closure of in-person learning. After all, he'd originally promised four chances to opt in. Maybe he's once again bending to public pressure. 

Of course, this shows a lack of conviction, and a lack of faith in his own decisions. This mayor has made the flip-flop into an art form. He just agreed to open up buildings, after shutting them because of his own standard. Yet he's chosen what's probably the worst time of the year to do it. Thanksgiving has been a national super-spreader event for sure. And just in case it doesn't do the job, Christmas is coming. 

Wouldn't it have made more sense to leave the buildings closed until after the holidays, and see where the numbers were? Given rapidly upward trends, it seems likely he'll just have to turn around and close the buildings again, and soon.

We're quite lucky we haven't jumped back to the awful conditions we suffered toward the end of the last school year. For that luck to continue, we need strong leadership informed by science and probability. We haven't got that in Mayor de Blasio. From the beginning, he's been mired in absurdity. Remember when he and the chancellor were out boasting that three out of four students were coming back? It turns out to be closer than three out of ten.

Of course you wouldn't know that if you were relying on the NY Times for info. From what I read there, every student in creation wants to go back. So while Mayor de Blasio sways with whatever breeze the press blows around, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers have voted with their feet and want to stay remote. It's outrageous that he now threatens the few whose hind quarters he's so long been eager to kiss.

Planning is not this mayor's forte. I'm sure he has one somewhere, but I'm damned if I can tell you what it is. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

UFT Owns City, Says Post Editorial Board

I guess I should no longer be surprised when the Post cries working teachers want to "bury any hope for NYC schoolchildren." Who knew that teachers sat around and plotted ways to ruin the lives of children? Who knew we even had the time? I can barely keep up with correcting the compositions coming into my Google Classroom. 

I must be waking up in the middle of the night and marching, zombie-like, with hordes of my colleagues to hatch evil schemes. No wonder I'm so tired all the time.

Of course, it's exhausting being omnipotent. Yet, if I'm omnipotent, why does it take so much effort to get out of bed in the morning? It must be all that brain work. Remember how the pigs in Animal Farm needed to eat all the apples to support their brain work? It's the same here, except we don't actually get the apples. I learn a lot reading Post editorials:

De Blasio has served as Mulgrew’s cat’s-paw since Day 1. Notably, the union boss set the absurd “3 percent rule” the mayor cited in closing the schools last week.
Empowering though that may be, it's also absolutely false. The 3% number came from the mayor, not the UFT. It's unfortunate that the Post editorial board can't be bothered to vet its figures. They're not alone in right wing media. Sean Hannity just made the bold admission that he can't be bothered vetting stories either. I guess if you're committed to tell the truth, it's harder to get people to support demagogues like Trump, Giuliani or Bloomberg. 

De Blasio has also asked “how high?” when Mulgrew ordered him to jump on other issues: Union cries of a teachers shortage, for example, has now left the city with 4,500 teachers it doesn’t need, since virtual learning doesn’t require as many instructors, the Empire Center notes.

That's also ridiculous. The fact is, de Blasio's ridiculous hybrid plan relied on virtual learning specialists, none of whom have been actually hired. Further, de Blasio's hybrid plan, the one he paid idiots millions to come up with, simply required more teachers. A larger number of teachers is a benefit for children any way you look at it. More teachers means more attention for more children. If the Post editorial board were really advocating for children, it would applaud this addition.

Furthermore, the notion that virtual learning doesn't require as many instructors is outlandish. First of all, classes are overcrowded and have been for decades. 4500 teachers would only marginally help ameliorate that issue. More importantly, anyone who's actually experienced online education could tell you that existing class sizes are woefully too high. It's very hard to get to know 34 new students on a computer. 

Is the Empire Center, whoever they may be, assuming the higher class sizes permitted in de Blasio's crappy plan? Who knows? The Post doesn't provide a link, and I have no idea what the source even says.

Let's go back to de Blasio asking Mulgrew "how high" he should jump. It was only weeks ago that the mayor announced he was unilaterally withholding a billion dollars from UFT members. Last I looked, that's not how you trat someone from whom you take orders unquestioningly. If Mulgrew were really Al Capone, that would be a remarkable way to treat him. (not to mention us, his thugs and goons).

In fact, this is money we earned over a decade ago, money FDNY and NYPD were paid at the time. Maybe the editorial board forgot. Maybe they don't read their own paper. Who knows?

Then the Post gets to the crux of the situation, vilifying us and pitting us against the children we serve every day of our working lives:

The United Federation of Teachers isn’t the only reason New York City’s school system is so dysfunction, now or pre-pandemic. But the way it gets away, time and again, with serving its own interests at the expense of the kids is a major part of the problem.
This is disgusting. First of all, dysfunction is a noun, not an adjective. (Certainly the Post editorial board would benefit from my beginning ENL class.) More importantly, our working conditions are student learning conditions. If we didn't have a union, I'd have been fired years ago for telling a NYT columnist my school was not providing appropriate services for two students who in fact were fluent in English but illiterate. I would not have been able to advocate for these, or any students in this frequently dysfunctional system. I'm sure tens of thousands of my colleagues would have been discharged for similar reasons. Imagine a workforce full of teachers terrified to speak up for children.

We wake up every morning ready to serve the children of New York City. For better or worse, we are the only city union that supported opening buildings this year. And while the 3% number came from de Blasio, it was an effort to preclude the disaster that continues to plague much of the country.

The state’s threshold is 9 percent.
Actually, it's 5%. Of course, Cuomo may have recently stuck his finger in the air and changed his mind. It's ridiculous to attribute his low standard to his caring about children more than those of us who do it every day. Nonetheless, we in NYC schools have been to hell and back. We don't want to go back, and we don't want to drag our students there with us. The lower threshold is erring on the side of caution. This is the best, and perhaps the only good decision de Blasio has made in this crisis. 

The Post is free to shed crocodile tears over the plight of parents, but an overwhelming majority of city parents have chosen to keep their children home. Mayor de Blasio assumed that anyone who didn't fill in his survey was coming to school, but students have stayed home in droves. That's the only reason why he now says some students can come in five days a week.

Of course, this is only after he announced there would be no more opting in, and that's why he's confident he can serve those remaining. If the Post were really worried about the kids we serve, we'd be reading about how families of color, who've chosen online learning at higher rates, are being shut out. 

I advise you to sit while you wait for the Post to write about that.