Thursday, April 29, 2021

Support Small Class Sizes (and Hire Regents Who Make a Difference)

I'm glad to see Regent Kathleen Cashin advocating for smaller class sizes. I've got decades of experience teaching in both high school and college settings, and it's obvious to me that class size is a crucial factor in how effective my teaching is. In fact, it's even more important than the Danielson checklist my supervisor is forced to use when she observes my practice. I wouldn't expect a Regent to know that, because that's not what they do.

What exactly do they do? Generally, they seem to sit on their pedestals up in Albany in some building that looks like nothing more than Hogwarts. They sit passively as awful, inexcusable exams are put out in their name. Do they know what's in those exams? I'm gonna go out on a limb and doubt it. No thinking person could look at the English Regents exam and determine it tests anything more than the level of Common Coriness, hardly a skill I'd associate with being "college and career ready."

One of the worst experiences any teacher has is teaching to the test. It's particularly excruciating when you teach English language learners. Granted, Cashin gives valuable lip service to them in this article, and you can imagine how much I must appreciate that. This notwithstanding, I don't recall Regent Cashin (or any of her esteemed colleagues) raising a peep when direct English instruction was reduced for ELLs by a factor of 33-100%. So while it's great that perhaps they'll have smaller classes, what will they be learning?

Well, they could be prepping for the abysmal English Regents exam, which tests neither reading nor writing. They could even be prepping for the NYSESLAT exam, which purports to test English level but in fact does not. My colleagues and I have noticed, since the inception of this exam, that virtually all students test at too high a level. 

I spent one trying year teaching an ostensibly advanced class for ELLs. As I hadn't done it in some time, I began by assigning a novel, something I'd done with great success in the past. I quickly learned that very few of my students were equipped to read said novel. Not only that, but as I saw their writing, I couldn't help but notice that many of them would've greatly benefited from my beginning class. They didn't know how to construct a coherent sentence. Forget about paragraphs or essays. (That's okay, though, with Cashin and her fellow Albany geniuses.)

And pardon me, but where have the Regents been all these years while the rest of us were advocating for smaller classes? I don't recall a single one of them saying a single word as the CFE lawsuit was ignored for decades. It's not particularly bold to demand something that we've already gotten quite close to, and it's more coincidence than Regents activism that got us where we are today.

Yes, of course we should reduce class sizes. It's one of very few things we know to work, even as mayoral candidates like Andrew Yang push crackpot theories like merit pay, which has been around for over a century and has never worked anywhere. The Regents, though, are supposed to be educational leaders. They're supposed to guide us in a positive direction. They should be proactive. It behooves them to advocate for the best education New York students can have, all the time.

Instead, Regent Cashin has decided to go with the flow. While I'm glad she's gotten on board with a best practice, the fact that she waited until now to do it suggests she is not a leader, but an opportunist at worst, and a follower at best. 

Leaders can do better than this.

Monday, April 26, 2021

UFT Executive Board April 26, 2021--Summer School, ERI, Retiree Health Care

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Lots of work regarding mayoral endorsement. Will invite Stringer and Vanessa Gibson and push for them. We went to first nine schools working at three feet for around 75% of classes. We have protocols and BRTs and we will question all that's doubtful. Trying to get through end of school year. Meeting with DOE and CSA every Thursday. Calendar will come out soon, 180 days. We will send preference sheets out shortly, and SBOs will come out soon thereafter.

Assumption is next year will be regular work day/ week. Schools that found adjustments they like may have options, but calendar is very tight. Asynchronous days are possibility, and teachers could get per session to set them up. 

Students opting in or out--There will have to be a timeline. We will have to try to get students back into schools. It's important we get a large majority, but we also need a date by which families can decide. After that, we can get to programming so as to preclude the city opening late in total confusion.

We continue to monitor positivity rate, which stays at .6, very low. 1K classrooms closed under new policy, but as of last week down to 790. We need to know what's going on so we can fix issues, especially as we go down to three feet. Safety teams are doing great work.

Executive budget for NYC has significant raise. DOE will want to hire people for themselves. We may have to fight over this, and enforce five point plant. We see college to career counselor program happening through August. 

Summer school--M. Sill--Postings still not up.

Mulgrew--If you have retention, you will get it, but vast majority of summer school will be in person. Some remote for 683 because of medical accommodations. Will move forward. Planning to have up to 200K in summer school. If people want to work, they can. Will probably happen over next two years due to federal funds.

May raise is no problem. City has a lot of money with fully funded CFE.

ERI--Trustees and pension people have plans. Will be call center. If we come to final agreement, we will focus retirement services on those 50 and above for a period. Will be mad rush if we get settlement.

5 pt. plan--focusing on intervention and class sizes. Will never get to reduction unless we have plan. Intervention teams important. We are training ourselves to understand whether people need support. Will discuss this further as it rolls out.

We need a negotiating committee as contract comes to an end. Will probably be with next admin. We will have teams for each chapter negotiating with city, hopefully.

Medical accommodations--Will not be blanket accommodations as were this year. Process still there, will be looked at on case by case basis. We will advocate for individuals. This will have to be individual member issues. For taking care of family, that wasn't under the law. We were able to negotiate that because so many students had opted out with pandemic placing so many at risk. City will follow law.

Vaccination status--Administrators may not ask school via survey. Your status is your medical decision, covered under HIPPA. It should not be something management asks workers.

Retiree health care--We've been saying for years we are changing our strategy in terms of health care. There is full page ad in NYT calling out Presbyterian Hospital for ridiculous prices. MLC put out RFP on retiree health. We're not going to wait as costs get out of control and we lose benefits. We're going to chase best prices and benefits and enhance them. Hospitals all say they're not for profit, but it's not true as they hand out multi-million dollar bonuses. 

Bloomberg had a great strategy. He never made any chances. He thought costs would skyrocket and workers would give up raises and benefits. We want an active partner, the city, help us fight outrageous increases. Health care is getting squeezed like no one has ever seen.

Until there is federal intervention, which we support, we will aggressively pursue savings. Some people have no issues lying about things that will not happen. We want to keep our benefits, get better prices, and any savings we get go into the health fund for all city workers. Right now, RFP is on retiree health. In service gets negotiated next year.

NY Presbyterian not happy today. We shouldn't be charged $800 to get temp taken. We have to pay those charges. We are basically a self-insured system. At year's end, every single service we get is on a sheet with a number. We're going to push back. If we do some creative things, we get some good savings, but we need more value. We have massive numbers under these plans. We're saying if you want access to these vast numbers, we don't want to support huge bonuses while you say you aren't for profit.

Chapter leader stipends--LeRoy Barr--We will work figures for what people get credit for, and we'll publish them soon.

Mulgrew--Covid came in the middle of this. We'll be able to do this better during regular school year to recognize great work chapter leaders do for our city.

Thank you, hope you have a nice week, will be 80 degrees.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Joe Namath and NYC Retirees

There is a really disturbing report suggesting that all city retirees could be relegated to Medicare Part C, which is essentially privatized medicine. I know this well, because whenever I wake up in the middle of the night and turn on the TV, there is Joe Namath, telling me I need to sign up for his super-duper medical plan.

You can get all these things, if you listen to Joe. He'll bring meals to your house. He'll drive you to the doctor. He'll come over and bake a cake for your birthday. How could anyone possibly resist such a great offer? Maybe Joe will come over and let you wear his Super Bowl ring. 

For weeks last year, Joe said I needed to sign up before the deadline in December. Otherwise I would lose out on all these fabulous benefits. Then the deadline came and went, and Joe was still on TV telling me I needed to sign up. 

Times must be tough if retired sports stars need to get on TV 200 times a day to sell me stuff. Worse, I don't much expect to score a gig like that when I'm Joe's age. Joe says I should go with his company rather than the government. America is a great country. We have privatized schools, privatized prisons, and even privatized medicine. Someone is getting way rich off of us, whatever we do. But despite Joe's assurances, not everyone is jumping up and down over this prospect:

“The city is going to save money by making seniors pay more for their health care,” Zewde said. “These are people who worked an entire career under the promise that they would have good health care later on.”

Privatized medicine is essentially a cancer, and I've had cancer. When I had cancer, I remember getting a bill for thousands of dollars from a hospital, thinking I should not be getting this bill, and paying it because I simply did not have the energy to fight over it. That was bad, but plenty of Americans have it way worse, up to and including dying for lack of health care. I've personally known two people who'vc lost their lives this way, and that's what guides my belief that we need something like Medicare for All.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but whoever signs up with Joe is paying for not only the benefits he touts, (and who's to say what the quality of those benefits may be?), but also Joe himself, whose name and image I don't suppose comes cheap. And as expensive as Joe may be, there is a whole layer of other people who aren't health care providers profiting off of this plan. There's the ad agency that hired Joe, the people who do his makeup, some CEO, and a whole bunch of people whose job it is to decide whether or not you get coverage for this or that.

I have friends who have Medicare, and they tell me they can choose any doctor they wish. I don't know anyone who complains about Medicare. On the other hand, if you have Part C, or privatized Medicare, the doctor you need may be out of network, and too bad for you. Make no mistake, this can be a serious limitation. And here's another little tidbit from that article:

That was when he ran up against one of the least understood implications of selecting Advantage when you enroll in Medicare: The decision is effectively irrevocable.

It's really hard to see the Advantage in that. And it's really disappointing to imagine that Bill de Blasio or union leadership would want to paint us into a corner like that. De Blasio, an ostensible progressive, and we as unionists ought to be moving to make insurance a public service, not a profit center. It's a national disgrace that there is no public option for all Americans to have health insurance. Removing that option from people who've served the city for decades is moving in precisely the opposite direction of where we and America need to be.

It's one thing to ask new hires, many of whom won't be around for long, to use HIP for a year. It's quite another to tell people who've served the city for decades, people who are far more likely to have serious health problems, to seriously and irrevocably limit their medical care options. Both de Blasio and the unions, all of whom support national health care, ought to go back to the drawing board and find an ethical and acceptable way forward. 

Joe Namath ain't it. 

Update: In the Chief ($), the city seems to confirm that it's seeking an Advantage plan, but swears up and down that it will include all the services of government-run Medicare.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Is Remote Learning Here to Stay?

A Daily News article explores that this morning.  It works for some families, evidently:

“When they’re home, they can be one on one with you,” said Livingstone, a single mother of a fourth and eighth-grader who doesn’t work because of a disability.

I can see how it would appeal to people who have no issue staying home and supervising their kids. These days, though, that's likely a relatively small group. I can also imagine how supervised students might function better in online classes. If my kid were in an online class, I wouldn't allow her to place a cat picture up in Zoom and nap through classes. (Alas, a good portion of my students lack that level of supervision.)

And indeed the article covers drawbacks in online education:

“It doesn’t replace the magic that being in a classroom does, either instructionally, or just taking care of kids,” said Nate Stripp, a teacher at Middle School 50 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who’s also completing a masters degree in educational technology.

I don't know who Nate Stripp is, but I agree with him. I am acutely aware that what I've been doing for the last year does not compare with what I've done for most of my career. I'm constrained in many ways. For one, I simply do not trust the notion of giving tests online. I can't imagine why someone, especially someone hiding behind an avatar, wouldn't a. look up the answer on Google, b. text a friend for the answer, c. check classwork for a solution, or d. all of the above. 

More importantly, I don't believe that subject matter is the only thing we provide students. We are role models. On a fundamental level, every student who sees us sees people who get up every morning and come to work. They see people who've gone to college to acquire career qualifications. Beyond that, I certainly hope we model reasonable behavior, not to mention the joy inherent in this life we're fortunate enough to have. It's so much harder to get that from a computer screen. 

I love computers, and my little MacBook is like an extra appendage. I'd use it in class whether I were home or in the building. That said, it's not at all a substitute for being face to face. Right now, I don't even know what a third to even half of my students look like. At a parent teacher conference, I saw the face of a young girl whose forehead I'd been looking at all year. I had actually imagined what the rest of her face looked like, somehow, and I was shocked to see her face looked completely different from what I'd imagined.

In fact, it's not all that important for me to know what her face looks like, especially if she chooses not to share it. She's shy, which is why she wouldn't show her entire fact onscreen. This notwithstanding, I knew she was in class every day. I knew she would answer questions addressed to her, and I knew if I assigned work she would do it. I can't say that for all of the students who leave up avatars. Years of practice have compelled me to ask questions of everyone, and every day I lose precious time questioning students who aren't there. Maybe I should give that up. (Maybe I will, and maybe I should've done so months ago.)

Certainly, given the vaccine, many more students will be in buildings in September. However, given the vaccine is not yet available to anyone under 16 years old, it won't be 100%. Given also the year we've had, I'm sure remote learning will be around in some form or other. One encouraging thing is to hear Bill de Blasio make a statement that isn't insane on its face:

“Either a kid’s in school five days a week period, or they’re remote five days a week, no more blended,” he added.

That makes sense. Hybrid is kind of the worst of all possible worlds. We don't have enough teachers to do two things at once, and it's more a stupid idea than a compromise of any sort. Maybe there are teachers who enjoy teaching remotely. I know I'm not one of them.

There is no substitute for live, face to face instruction. We faced an emergency and did the very best we could under the circumstances. This notwithstanding, unless we find a way to keep our children safe, i.e. get them a vaccine, we won't be able to return to what we consider normal in September.

These are interesting times indeed.

Monday, April 19, 2021

UFT Special Delegate Assembly April 19, 2021--UFT Endorses Scott Stringer for NYC Mayor

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Thanks us for participating in mayoral endorsement question. Apologizes for short notice, was working through weekend. Will be resolution to endorse Scott Stringer.

Pays homage to members who gave hours of personal time to vet candidates, do interviews, look at campaigns. Over 440 volunteers, we owe them a debt. Not just about popularity. Who is best suited for needs of union and can win race? Over 50 endorsements at this point, and process was used every time. Thanks political action people. 

Everyone has an opinion. All candidates say they're here for us, but in the end much of that is just words. Political committees were open to all, and thanks to 440 who did the work, 12K who participated in forums. 

Eight years ago, no candidates looked like potential UFT enemies. We don't see that this time. UFT was only union to hold five separate town halls, to cover so many topics. Some have better policies, but less viability, while some have worse policies but better viability. Volunteers analyzed and decided. Members front and center in entire process. We have more after this. 

We are working under rules of COVID. Would like to suspend rule limiting discussion for five comments for this DA. Should allow more people to speak and let body decide when to close. 

LeRoy Barr--Motion has been sent out and I would like to make the motion. 

Mulgrew--Automatically considered second. Motion is debatable. Requires two thirds.

Dina--Don't think we should limit it to five, based on number of candidates and ongoing debates. People would like to weigh in. Should allow more to express thoughts.

Anthony Zelax--Thinks we should allow more than five.

Alison Davis--Asks that limit be suspended. 

91% yes. Passes.

Mulgrew--We've collected candidate comments, plans, and monitored whether their predictions are realized. Will be PACs involved, more money than ever involved. Groups had tried to infiltrate unions for own political agendas. Therefore we went through everything people said and did and what did and did not come true. We look at education, social justice, city post pandemic, consulted with our political team and looked at what is in best interest of union and school system. We protect the school system. We also look at health care interests. Many of our members care for people and we need to know what our city and health care system will look like.

We need people with policy and viability. Hard to find together. Mayor has to try and work with us and we are a big part of this. Last Friday, met with volunteers and discussed process. Will let them speak. Anyone could have volunteered and took part. Our system needs to remain and be built upon. 

There was no consensus in beginning, but they wanted to explain how they came to it. We have a long standing relationship with Scott Stringer. Our volunteers felt very strongly we needed to move with him. It was clear that this union and those involved with this process decided he was tried and true, tested, and that we should endorse him. 

Press will make story about candidates. Story for us is about changing things for the better, and having thousands of us looking at race. Very proud of union for taking up this challenge amidst pandemic and getting it done.

Julio Gomez--Rises to motivate and support Stringer. Ed. policy, always in corner of public schools, unions, supported us with retro, demanded anti-covid safeguards, has run races starting way down in the polls. Has ability to raise money, to lead, record of delivering for us. Saw first hand how collaborative and fair endorsement process was. Strongly recommends support. 

Katie Moylan--Since January been involved in screening process. Saw hard work and strategic planning that went into endorsements. Didn't agree with everything at first. Objections were welcomed and answered, Learned a great deal. Endorsement not about me, but about candidates supporting us. Am surveying colleagues, as modeled by UFT. Final four chosen based on feedback of campaign events. Can't please everyone. Some candidates didn't do homework and proposed untenable policies. There are also exceptional candidates. Decision was very tough. We're backing someone who will have our back and who has supported us. Proud to join other labor leaders and communities to support Stringer.

Ellen Wein--Was also included in panel at mayoral town hall. Asked questions directly of candidates. Our union had reps from all boroughs, not just teachers or CLs. We listened to all voices. Spoke with members at my school about which candidates we should and should not support. Supports Stringer, who has track record with us, sends own kids to public schools. Has watched kids use online and remote learning. Opposes charters. Would recruit and retain teachers via smaller classes and adding positions. 

Seung Lee--speaks in favor (I am in queue and miss much). Data supports him. Overwhelmingly best choice for this union. You're here to rep members. I want to rep all of us, and this is about endorsing, By many metrics, our endorsement will help members and the city.

Nicole Puglia--In favor. Been on SI political team, was panelist at town halls. Were relevant and fair. Listened carefully, Many didn't understand accountability. Only Stringer spoke of reopening in September. Yang didn't even look at plan. Obvious Stringer has plans for upcoming obstacles. 

Ilana--Move to suspend rules and amend resolution.

Mulgrew--Out of order

Ilana--Opposes. While we have heard how democratic process was, appalled Diana Morales, former teacher was not considered. We should've used rank choice voting.

Rafael Tompkin--Rises in support. Scott Stringer has proven record, legislatively and as partner to union. We have a choice to endorse or not to endorse. With all due respect, there is no third option. Stringer most viable, has shown over again in our process, is going to truly be our ally, One of only candidates with plan. 

Andrea Polite--Even though I'm happy to contribute to COPE, I didn't have time to volunteer. Thanks members who did. In favor of Scott Stringer being our candidate. Members of committee gave hard hitting follow up questions, pushed them on non-ed issues as well. Only candidate at final debate who did HW were Adams, Wiley and Stringer. Very disrespectful of candidate to say didn't do HW. Glad to say that Stringer understood our five point plan, stood with us and will stand with us again. 

Phillip ?--Against resolution. Heard it said it's important to make reso--also important to include all members. 12K only 6% of membership. Urges no vote. 

Mulgrew relinquishes chair to LeRoy Barr.

Mavis Yan--Rises in support. Was part of one forum, and final four. Hears criticism, but this is first time union did what it did. We weeded out skeletons, put people to test, had 40 page questionnaire. Not only about who we like, but also about who can win, No union has open and transparent process as ours. Stringer has a steady hand, and comptroller experience will help him know what to do with money. Public school parent who supports teachers. Others support us to our face, but back away in public. He gets it, respects it. Only one who said he'd have asked teachers about reopening. He respects us and our profession. This is the easy part, Real work is getting out there and getting him elected.

Michael Mulgrew--Supports. Recognizes we are all elected leaders. Everyone on this call reps colleagues. Endorsement must be in best interest of union and profession. That's what we do today. Thanks volunteers. Has to be about all coming together to build consensus. They came to this conclusion. We know this candidate will do the work, has told us the truth. Committee decided. Stringer was elected to Assembly in 1990s in Washington Heights. Very good to us, always public schools. Supported us and children. At same time, Eva Moskowitz got very popular, held hearings attacking UFT. Took contract out of context. Parts of city loved her. I went as CL, and testified, as she made herself popular and viable.

Shortly after, she ran for borough president of Manhattan. Was way out ahead, pushing charter schools. Looked like a sure thing. Then, Stringer came to UFT and said, "I want to be your candidate, Can't allow this to happen to my borough.' People laughed, was behind in polls. But he won. 

He could've not ruffled feathers, but picked Patrick Sullivan for PEP. Sullivan constantly spoke truth to power. Stringer paid a political price. 

Eight years ago, didn't want to run for mayor. Eliot Spitzer decided to run against him, with big name recognition and money. Stringer said no, after his history, and he won that race. As comptroller, he divested from fossil fuels, Spoke against mayor and for us when mayor wouldn't work with us. 

Process was completely open. He does his job, does it well, and when people say he can't do it, he does it. 

Full support.

Marcus Harrison--calls question.

85% yes. Question is before body. 

Barr--Question whether to endorse is before body.  

90% yes. Carries. 

Chair back to Mulgrew.

Mulgrew--Thanks us for taking this time. Now hard work starts. This race is a tough one. Hopefully we will get our candidate where he needs to be, which is in city hall. When we make our candidate the mayor, we will have a partner to help us, our families, and the children we've dedicated our lives to. 

God bless, be well, and be safe.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

What's With Kids Who Hand Us Nothing?

I honestly don't understand why anyone would take the time to submit a blank page, or nothing whatsoever, on Google Classroom. I have to say, while I (relatively, at least) don't much like teaching online, I have made my classes easier than they have ever been. 

Because I've heard so many complaints about students being overburdened with homework, I've taken to doing it in class every second or third day. All my students have to do is write down the answers we've agreed upon in class, and that's 100%. I'm not sure what's more convenient than that.

I haven't given a test in over a year. I give writing assignments instead. Anyone who actually writes four paragraphs, if that's what I ask for, pretty much passes and usually does better. I've taken ten points off for late work. In the past, I probably wouldn't have accepted it at all. Despite this, students hand me nothing, and expect credit for it. Now this would probably be fine if I didn't, you know, read the stuff students give me. But they pay me to do that, so I do, even on a Sunday afternoon. 

Today I got three blank papers. One is from a student who usually does all the work. This student took the trouble of writing "Exercise One," "Exercise Two," and "Exercise Three" in big green letters. Maybe he thought that would be good enough. After all, I had said to do exercise one, two, and three, and who's really to say that this wasn't it? We all have different interpretations of what exercise means. I might take long walks, and you might go to some macho gym and lift weights and stuff. It's all exercise, right?

Another was from a student who doesn't usually do homework. Maybe, by saying it's blank and giving a zero, I'm discouraging that kid. Perhaps if I gave 100 for that, the students would hand me another blank paper for the next assignment. After all, isn't something better than nothing? Well, in this case I'm just not seeing it. Wasn't it Billy Preston who said, "Nothing from nothing leaves nothing"? Personally, I better understand students who just don't do homework and make no qualms about it.

I once had a student I'll call John. John was from China. He told a long story once about how rugged it was going to school in China. He said, "In China, homework is a mountain." All my other Chinese students nodded solemnly in agreement. Evidently, this was a saying. It really hit home to me somehow, I asked him, "How did you deal with that?' He said, "I just didn't do it." This provoked a lot of questions from the other Chinese students. "Didn't your parents kill you and stuff?" But there he was, proof positive you could survive that educational system without doing homework.

Now in my class, John never missed homework. Granted, my homework was not a mountain. Still, I had hoped I'd somehow found the secret sauce to touch kids who were otherwise untouchable. This year, I learned otherwise. 

I have another student, now, who is failing every class, and has been doing so all year. A few weeks back, he started attending the class. He even started handing me homework, albeit blank. I told him he could possibly pass, but he needed to start actually doing the work. The next time he handed me a blank paper, I called his parents. Sadly for him, I spoke their language. He handed in one homework assignment that contained work. Since then, it's back to submitting nothing on Google Classroom.

I don't understand it. What do you achieve by handing in nothing? There must be some sort of thing that motivates students to do it. But what keeps them doing it after you've made clear there's no point?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Portrait of My Student

This is one of my students. She's lovely, isn't she? Or he? Or them? I don't have the proper pronouns. All I have is this avatar. 

What do I know about this student? Well, I know he, she or they likes cute kittens. Or perhaps Pokemon monsters, or whatever this thing is. I know that this student is likely a fan of bubble tea, which is what appears to be in the cup. 

That's enough for any teacher to build a productive relationship, I guess. Or I'm supposed to guess. I'm told I'm not allowed to demand that students show their faces online. It's a privacy issue. 

That's hard for me to understand. I do understand I ought not to be able to see my students' homes if they choose to keep them private. However, there's an easy fix for that. On Zoom, you can be in PeeWee's Playhouse, or the Batcave, or on the moon, or anywhere. If I can set up a background, every student can set up a better one. 

In fact, I have a bunch of students who only show their foreheads. Maybe they're shy. I don't give them a hard time about it. I appreciate that they show themselves at all. At least I know they're there. When I call on them, they answer. The bubble-tea-drinking creature pictured here? Who knows? I will call on bubble tea, and I may or may not get a response.

In fact, I call on quite a few icons, quite frequently, just to ascertain whether or not they are a. there, b. paying attention, or c. none of the above. It is quite an outrageous waste of my time, and that of the students actually in attendance. But that's what happens when the gutless DOE decides to protect the rights of students to pretend to attend. Honestly, they may as well allow sleeping in class. There's little or no actual distinction. Whether the student is asleep, playing a video game, watching a movie, or doing things of a more questionable nature, the result is identical. 

Personally, I've bent over  backward to accommodate my students in these times. I've abandoned actual tests. Honestly, I could not blame students tempted to look up the answers on their phones, and it would be quite unfair to those who don't. My tests are now writing projects. My homework is now done entirely in class as a group. All you have to do is hand it in. Remarkably, or not, many students do not. They tend to be the same students who float icons and never, ever participate. I check their grades and they are failing absolutely every class, not just mine. 

It's hard to see why my time is well-spent calling the homes of students who have single-digit averages in every single class. It's particularly frustrating because I am requiring less outside time than I ever have. I'm not a big fan of homework. I will give only 10-15 minutes of it daily during normal times. During these times, we complete it in class. I'm not sure what else to do.

I'm sure of this, though. We don't allow students in live classes to show up with paper bags over their heads. There are very good reasons for that. There are also very good reasons, absent truly extenuating circumstances, to require cameras be on during online classes. Anyone who argues otherwise has never been an online teacher.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

UFT Delegate Assembly April 2021--Retirement Incentive, Planning for Future

UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomes us 4:17 PM. Thanks us for coming.

Federal--infrastructure package important--There is agreement that a good % of it will support energy efficient, carbon free schools. This is a good opportunity to improve buildings.  Solar panels, ventialation, retrofitting, etc. We need this support for our schools. We argued for dedicated funding for education in last bill and won that argument. 

Last April we focused on safety first, fighting for it on basis of medical guidance. Secondly, we had to protect our livelihood. Last April we were looking at massive layoffs for 2-3 years. Economy was wrecked. One year later, we aren't looking at any such thing. 

State--Elections matter. Our endorsements are in the interests of our profession and livelihood, and then people make own decisions. We are looking at best state budget in 20 years, though it's not yet official. Not yet signed by governor. There is an early retirement incentive in NYC. Nothing changed about it. Legislature approved in for non-uniformed employees. We now have to negotiate with this administration on terms and conditions. Will likely not be easy, but it's been over 20 years since NYC had this. State had one nixed by Bloomberg for NYC. As soon as it's signed we will get it out to all members who could qualify, basically people over 50.

We have been fighting for years for CFE. This year, we finally have it and state is finally meeting its obligation. This is a big deal, although overshadowed by pandemic. Incredible achievement to get state to recognize this. This is why elections matter. Finally, governor had no choice but to deal with these issues, and we finally had veto-proof majority. We've raised revenue by taxing ultra rich. We have two CARES Acts, American Recovery Act, and we will have new revenue for quite some time. Tough because it took so long. Thanks those who worked on it.Teacher Center, and other of our projects were funded. Thanks all those who were politically active. It made a difference.

We have a five point plan,  mental health issues, academic challenges, need for robust summer program, smaller class sizes, and making sure we support our graduating seniors with college and career. We're funding this for our members, and we need to recognize social emotional issues in both ourselves and our students. This has been a traumatic experience and we've expanded MAP program. 

Summer program should include socialization as well as academic support. We will push our plan in both state and city budgets as we try to get school system up and running as more students come back, especially in September. These are our advocacy/ lobbying issues beyond regular bread and butter issues.

City--Reinstating meetings between UFT, CSA and city. We are having issues with DOE. CDC put out guidelines changing 6 to 3 feet distancing. This was tested in rural areas. We are discussing this with state and city. Lawsuit filed outside of Buffalo demanding schools be fully open, and in preliminary part of case judge ordered districts had to submit plans to fully open safely. Told state it needed to put out new CDC guidelines. Came out Friday. 

Some provisions say all stakeholders must engage in process. We understood that. Under state guidelines only schools that could go to three feet would be elementary. Later HS and MS may qualify. Mayor told DOE to come up with plans. Now they will have to work with us, as per state. Not collective bargaining, but procedural rights. 

Opt-in--51K opted in, 10K out. Net gain of 41K. Schools have to reprogram by next week. Let us know about operational issues. We have stopped many schools from going to three feet on their own. Tell us right away. No one's doing that until there is a process on how to get there. You have to get them at six feet outside classroom. Eating requires six feet, Signage must be changed and many things must be worked out. We told DOE no one could move yet, and we will meet again tomorrow. DOE has told us they don't believe there are a lot of schools where this will happen, because citywide, we're under 35%.

We are looking at goals--safety, livelihood and profession. Five point plan helps with profession, but we will have a problem if not a lot of students return. If only 35% opt-in, it won't work. For our five point plan, we need kids back in. We know that children are now getting covid and variants. We are still at .6 or below. We know a large majority of membership is vaccinated. We know that's a personal decision and we respect that.

The work we have to do will be more effective if we have kids back in school. City won't get back to normal if schools don't. We have to be out there and make parents understand we're doing the right thing and putting safety first. Students not coming back this year. Better to have children back in classroom in September. We will keep children safe and have a plan. We have to campaign to get that done before September.

On getting rid of non-linked issue, we kept telling mayor same thing. We need linked to school system. With testing and contract tracing capacity we have, we now know a lot about inside of schools. Adult positivity rate going down, children up, but schools are still safe. We have to prevent spreading events. We will shut schools if that possibility exists. If it's spreading inside the school, we will shut the school. 

Vaccination program still open. We will get appointments right away. 

APPR--State did not waive APPR this year. Thankfully, we have an agreement. Very small number, fewer than five ineffective observations from before agreement. They do not count. Cannot be used. Working on MOSL Citywide measure better. 

Standardized testing--What if school is closed? State gave a range of days for standardized tests. School can use different days. If parents want kids to take tests, they have to tell school and students will have to report. We need to know who wants their children to take tests so we can set up safety plan. 

Politics--Not including mayoral, 440 members volunteered and have done interviews of 173 separate candidates. We thank them for this work. We need people to vet these candidates. We owe them a great debt. Of course members will have issues. Every committee's recommendation has been accepted by DA and Executive Board. We can disagree without casting aspersions on candidates. That's what makes this an invigorating but tough process. 

As of two days ago, our political website had over a million views, on mayoral forum over 12K participants. Not yet ready to make mayoral endorsement. Still vetting, Ranked choice voting tough for people to model. We'll know more after this cycle. When it comes time for mayoral endorsement there will be special DA and we will vote. We will look at surveys and viability. We don't have a magic wand, and not all we endorse will win. Would be easier, but not so. 

You're all getting a pay raise May 3. Hope covid and CL updates are helpful. Congratulations, you all earned 3% raise. 

Health care--We've been having issues with hospitals. MLC has been working on this. We negotiate with insurance companies, and they with medical providors. Majority of members use GHI. We're passive consumers, because others are negotiating for us. We think because we negotiate so much, we should be active consumers. We will get involved with hospitals and medical providers. Annual double digit increases do not work. MLC reps 1.3 million lives. This is buying power. 

If we find out you give better rate to someone with 1K participants, we will be upset. We will use our buying power as leverage. For retiree health care, we've told folks we're done with you saying we want a 12% increase but will make it 9. Health care only industry where you aren't allowed to see what you charge or why. We've changed that via legislation, Why should one hospital charge 50 to take temp while another gets 400? We don't want to fund multi-million dollar exec bonuses. You may see this in press, but we want to use buying power to get best prices. 

Hope you all had a good week off, unlike last year. We have a very tight calendar next year. 180 days probably most we will get. We just keep moving along, taking care of safety, livelihood and profession in every aspect. Thanks UFT leaders, and will get support you need. 

Staff Director LeRoy Barr--Thursday met with CLs, sent powerpoint out. Workshops on ranked choice voting April 21, May 6. HS Awards, April 29. Nurse recognition day May 6. Next DA May 12


Q--Told by principal to prep classrooms for 27, three feet apart...

A--Not happening. Contact us.  Principal would be legally liable for all medical issues. Doesn't even know what process is. Get to DR, borough rep and we will take care of this. Principals not medical experts. Doubt 27 kids will fit in room. Come September 3 feet may be rule. Maybe only masks will be recommended. We don't know yet. We rely on guidance from our doctors. We will handle this.

Q--Retirement incentive--Will we know by June?

A--ERI traditionally would be done by middle of June. We want it ASAP. Will be opt-in period. Will probably occur in summer, end in mid August. Will still negotiate this after bill is signed. Pension dept. on alert. Hopefully done in July. We have legislation. When it's signed, anyone 50 or above will be notified.

Q--September--Are students able to choose remote, and how will we teach, remote, in person, will we need more teachers?

A--City has made clear it will offer remote option. To do our work most effectively, we need our children in. If we get 85-90% back, there will also be some people advised not to take vaccine for medical reasons. These children and adults may not come back to buildings. We may look at remote academies by district. This year was highly complicated. You now see teachers teaching remotely from school and students in buildings learning from teachers at home. We understand we have to change as medical advice changes. This blended stuff is problematic. If you want to be remote, be remote, and we have to figure most efficient way to teach in person. No schools will be in red next year. We can't do what we did last year. We have to get ahead of things.

Q--What do you mean by tight calendar?

A--180 days, not 181. Will have all holidays. All are during school week. We can't cancel holidays. We're trying to figure 2 prep days at beginning of year. Not final until calendar comes out.

Q--683--Mayor mentioned remote options for students. How will that work with staffing?

A--683 are most medically fragile. We will need remote option there. We will have massive expansion of summer school. We will figure this out. All medical accommodations approved through June 30. Not sure about blanket accommodations after that. We've had initial meeting about 683. Majority of summer school will be in person. If city wants to use this to help re acclimate, they can. 

Q--Lump-sum payment?

A--Due this summer. We had no layoff clause as part of that. Should be July, second pay period.

Q--Class sizes--heard a lot about ventilation and buildings--CFE called for class size cpats to be achieved gradually over five years. Could be negotiated in contract with enforcement mechanisms. Could get rid of DOE consultants and move ATRs to classrooms. What is union plan or position?

A--You are also UFT. WE are UFT. Five point plan, one major component was class size reduction. All mayoral candidates believe in smaller class sizes, but when they get job, they say they don't have the space. I remember being able to teach more effectively with smaller classes. We need to start at a local level first. This could be done. Michael Bloomberg always said he wanted it, then said we didn't have space. We have academic loss, social emotional crisis, but we now have money and CFE. Teachers and parents want this. 

Q--Clerical and chancellor's day for elementary--Virtual or in person?

A--Not decided yet, will bring up in consultation. DOE has been flexible. 

Q--Organization, preference sheet on hold, Why?

A--We asked for this until programming is determined. Meeting with DOE weekly to determine these. Once we finalize calendar we can work on SBOs. We want preference sheets to go out once and not have to be reconsidered. However, if we can't preliminarily program we will have to get sheets out. 

Q--Tenure decisions. Were three up for tenure, one got it, two extended under crazy circumstances.

A--We haven't had a lot of that under covid, but some admin comfortable with being nasty even this year. Will bring this to borough rep and my own consultation. 

Q--Capacity for rooms--If we go to three feet, will we have new capacity numbers?

A--Since we now have all square footage in database, DOE should be able to do it. With 3 feet, we can accommodate 92%, using non-traditional space. If I were principal, I would want DOE to tell me what number was. I don't believe anything until I see it. If I were principal, I would be asking them. 


Nat Hookway--Motion for next month--Resolution Senate bill allowing pharmacists to dispense PREP and ?. We need to fight transmission of HIV. Not available to many in marginalized communities, higher risk of HIV. We need DOE to help us eradicate HIV. 

Mulgrew--UFT covers these medications.

Helen Leshinsky--speaks in favor.

96% yes. Passes.

52nd Anniversary Stonewall Riots--Margaret Joyce--next month--52 years ago, Stonewall raided by police, Patrons finally took stand against NYPD, began movement for equality. Work far from done. Please put on next month's agenda. 

Roy Whitford--Rises in favor. We have seen targeting of young trans youth recently. This can help our students. Should know that we see their history, and by extension, them, that they are safe with us.

Diana Gonzalez--Speaks against. For respect, but against commemorating events that make students feel everyone thinks behaviors are okay. If others have right to express views, I should have right to express my point of view, not give others a monopoly. 

81% yes. Passes


Political endorsements--Elizabeth Perez--Great honor and pleasure to present this reso. Political teams worked diligently to select best candidates. Can't say enough of hard work political teams have put in. Asking this body to join me in endorsing these people. 

Carmen Romero--Would like to endorse Alvin Bragg for Manhattan DA. Got overwhelming support of UFT for accountability and transparency. 

Mulgrew--Thank you. Not just about him.

David Pecoraro--Wants to divide Comptroller endorsement from remainer.

Mulgrew--Can't do that.

Pecoraro--Then speaking against resolution. Cannot support speaker Johnson. Favors David Weprin.

Thomas McDonough--Also speaking against motion. Endorsing seven at a time is rushing things,. Should vote individually.  Disagree with several endorsements.

55% no. Fails.

Rashad Brown--40th anniversary of HIV AIDS. Last 13 months, unlike any we've ever seen. Reminded many of us of AIDS epidemic. Has gone unnoticed for some. We've come very far from 1980s. Now people can take a daily pill to reduce presence of virus. Injection treatment being tested. Resolution to remind us HIV AIDS is still a reality. Reminder of HIV positive members, you are not alone. We can provide support. Let's lift those currently living with HIV, remember those who've passed, and make sure that we support HIV AIDS community, support funding, oppose violence. Urges you to unanimously support this. 

Peter Lamphere--Point of order--Resolution from last month on taxing rich removed from this month's agenda.

Mulgrew--Will check. Thought there was conversation with maker, and since we achieved this goal, thought debate was over.

90% yes. Passes.

Friday, April 09, 2021

What Do We Really Need to Open Buildings Successfully?

Online teaching is so bizarre. I have a bunch of students I've never seen. Do they even have faces? Are they extra-terrestial? It's all a big mystery. How do I know they don't have ringers? Maybe one of my best students is really one of my worst students. There's really no way on earth I could tell. On the other hand, going back in is nuts. Even if we're all vaccinated, students won't be. Every week there is a new strain of COVID, and it looks like some new ones are affecting kids more than older ones. I see people moving to reopen buildings without any modifications whatsoever, screaming on Twitter, quoted in the Times, and the Times doesn't even pretend to be objective anymore. 

I'm fully vaccinated. I don't think I'd be at great personal risk in a classroom in September. That said, I couldn't say the same for my students, most of whom are under 16 and thus ineligible for vaccination. Will their parents jump up and down and demand they go to school full time? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no, they will not. 

Now don't get me wrong, here, I'm not up on my soapbox demanding we stay online next year. I am not a big fan of teaching online. It's better than nothing, but I can't defend it much further than that. I would much rather be in a classroom. However, when I say that, I don't mean in a classroom with a small group of students who are socially distanced and prohibited from interacting. 

So what does that make me? A chronic malcontent? Perhaps. 

Now I can do all these things. I can teach online. I can teach to a small group, bizarrely separated from one another. It's just not the same, and Andrew Yang can lie about us and what we do from now until Doomsday. It will make no difference. There will always be self-important tinhorn politicians out there spinning nonsense about us so as to have someone to blame. 

But this is a health emergency. Pointing fingers is wasted energy. We just all have to, somehow, get through it. 

We are enormously lucky to have kept our jobs consistently through this disaster. I was watching Top Chef last night and a clearly talented young man was speaking of how he had to close both his restaurants. He was grateful for the chance to compete, since he had nothing else to do. That's an entire industry of people falling by the wayside. We managed to keep the schools open, and we did the best we could. If Andrew Yang thinks he could've done better, he's delusional. Money doesn't make you omniscient. 

So I posed a question here, but I don't have an answer. Sure, having a machine like the one pictured at the workplace would make things better. I wouldn't mind having one in my home some days. Sadly, I don't think the new chancellor's mind is open to such bold improvements. 

Meanwhile, we'll just have to take one step at a time, hope that kids can soon be vaccinated, and that we can get back to something remotely resembling normal. 

If you have better ideas, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The DOE Office of Equal Opportunity at Work

The DOE has an Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, commonly called OEO. It's supposed to protect people from discrimination. 

That's a worthy goal. I spend my career dealing with students from other countries. I see them discriminated against, and I find it sickening. Sometimes I can't stand to watch the news. My wife does. I hone in on the weather and tune out the rest quite frequently.

Here's the thing--OEO vies to be the most inept group in the DOE, and that's saying something. If I do something stupid, they have six months to conduct an investigation and come after me. I've been chapter leader of a very large school for twelve years now, and I have not seen them complete an investigation in six months, ever. Not one single time. 

Let's say I do some outrageous thing, make some racist statement, actively discriminate against someone for nationality, gender, or whatever. If OEO can't make a case in six months, I'm theoretically off the hook. I had a member in trouble for something years ago, and a year after the thing occurred, they came around and asked him to sign a "non-file letter." What the hell is a non-file letter?

Your administration has three months after an occurrence to give you a file letter. While they do all sorts of slimy things to get around that, and I've seen them do it, OEO has six months. And what needs to be done here? You interview everyone who witnessed whatever it is. How is it that reporters manage to interview people and get stories out within days but OEO can't do it, ever, within six months? And how valid are interviews that occur years after whatever the incidents may be?

Anyway, if we are out there doing outrageous things, we're likely getting away with it. That, in itself, makes OEO incompetent, an abject failure at its mission. However, that's not the only thing they're bad at.

I know people who've been hounded by them for years about incidents that occurred, of course, years ago. They bring these people in, make them miserable, and place them in whatever it is the defunct rubber rooms are called today. 

Some people think purgatory is worse than hell. Friends of mine in purgatory lived on pins and needles. nervous, anxious, utterly freaked out. The people I have in mind did nothing that warranted anything but a conversation with the principal. They hurt no one.

If I were principal, I'd call someone like that in and say, "Hey, that was stupid. Please stop doing stupid things." I might add or remove words based on the individual case, but that would be my message to someone who harbored no ill intentions and did no lasting harm.

OEO, though, goes after these people. Sometimes members come back from purgatory, are restored to their jobs, and OEO calls them in again. They question them on things that are ridiculous. Why did you look at this person like this? What did you really mean when you said good morning? Why did you come to work ten minutes early? 

It's like they're sitting around with nothing to do, and someone says, "Hey, why don't we take a random crack at this person on Tuesday morning?" "Yes, sure, I have nothing else to do that day."

Their ineptitude is staggering. If you're guilty, you have little or nothing to worry about. If you aren't, though, they can harass you to the point of madness.

And that is incredibly cruel. These people are guilty of precisely what they're tasked to protect us against.

Monday, April 05, 2021

UFT Executive Board April 5, 2021--We Are Back

Academic HS VP Janella Hinds--Herstory event last day before break. Sherry Chan, actuary, new chancellor, Jolene from NYSUT--Women spoke of shattering glass ceiling. Recalled being disciplined for wearing pants to work, and what it was like becoming chapter leaders. April 7, one hour event about women in labor movement will be broadcast live on Facebook.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew-State budget still not done. Every day we heard they needed to finish it. We think all we need is there. Could be best budget in some time. We hope to finish tonight, but we've been saying that since last Sunday. 

Mayor wants to come to an agreement on changing policy. We need approval from Albany. Positivity rate overall has dropped, but in schools it has not. It's about safety first, and we also have a responsibility to keep kids safe. Now more than two thirds of cases are children. Variant from England causing that.

City--Trying to plan robust summer school. Lots of money for it this year. Goal to have 800 buildings open. 683 will run, but we don't know about remote actions. We are discussing it, 

We don't want to move forward with programming until we know what we're going to do next year. 

Final mayoral forum Wednesday afternoon. Zoom will allow up to 10K. Forum will be with small number at UFT HQ. Candidates will be there. We know how many candidates are. We want specific info from them. They all have canned answers so we want to make it interesting. 

Don't believe APPR waiver will happen in Albany. We already have an agreement so it won't affect us as much as other places.

Students can only take tests in person. There are no stakes and it is time limited. SED is only doing it because feds forcing their hand.Majority of folks not opting in. 

Few parents are opting into live school. 26K gain is about 2%. We think opt ins will follow pattern of schools who already have high %.

We have a super aggressive vaccination program. Some states have really screwed this up, so it's impressive we have so many fully vaccinated. Curious how many UFT members have been vaccinated. Wouldn't want names attached. We know over 46K have been vaccinated, but number is much higher. We know vaccines work. They are more effective than anticipated. 

Q--Mayoral candidates--How did we arrive at Yang, who seems anti-union. Eric Adams also pro charter.

A-To not have Yang would be crazy because he's frontrunner in every poll. Would be irresponsible not to have him answer. Not just about policy, but viability. 

Q--Testing--If NYSESLAT not given, ss can't get out?

A--We have a resolution, but the idea that ss can't get out of L classes is something that must be addressed

Q--Students who don't appear?

A--Attendance teachers are now doing home visits. Teachers should report to admin. 

We are back. We have to continue to go forward. Sorry about budget, but there are a lot of things going on. Quite sure we will be happy when all is said and done. Mayor seems to need a press conference every day. Maybe that's the only way people will watch him. Let's work together to get to the end of this school year.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Putting Children First, Always, by Selling them Vapes and Third-Rate Education

Our friend Joel Klein has a new gig. He's working for Juul, selling marshmallow flavored vapes to our children,  This is, at the very least, ironic, I spent years listening to him rail about how evil we were, and how dare we ask for tenure and seniority? Were we righteous, we'd do whatever he decided, and happily be fired by arbitrary and capricious measures. Alas, we failed to jump at this opportunity, as we didn't trust the beneficent intentions of our chancellor. 

On the positive side, Klein has paid valuable lip service to the ridiculous notion that he doesn't want to give our kids cancer:

"I believe the company must continue to play a critical role in reducing the devastating harm caused by smoking," Klein said in a statement emailed to Insider. "To accomplish that paramount goal, Juul Labs must, first and foremost, continue preventing underage use of its products."

So if you take him at his word (I do not), he's merely interested in poisoning adults. There's a role model for us all. I will give no one cancer until they're 18 years of age. What a prince. The problem with this line of thinking is consistent with the rest of reformy thinking. What actually happens to kids if we take good care of them and have a modicum of reasonable luck? Give up? Well, they become adults, and thus subject to people like Joel Klein, who are in the business of selling them cancer. 

I don't smoke, and I don't vape. However, I've had cancer. I can tell you it's not precisely a walk in the park, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, even Joel Klein. However, given his birdlike features, I'm not entirely sure he's human. So there's that. Nonetheless, how this man musters the audacity to lecture anyone on right and wrong is beyond me. 

Klein was a terrible chancellor, beholden to billionaire Mike Bloomberg. Despite his constant righteous lectures, he was clearly in the pocket of Eva Moskowitz, at her beck and call even as he ignored all those of us who bothered to speak to him at PEP. He sat on his Blackberry doing Very Important Stuff. Screw the public, and figure out how to please the gazillionaires who fund the Moskowitz Academies. It seems to have paid off for Klein as he collects big bucks for his loathsome activities, 

Elsewhere, former chancellor Richard Carranza is also trading on his reputation, such as it is, to score a cool corporate give. Carranza is moving to Silicon Valley and jumping on the e-learning bandwagon. Now that there's finally a fair chance our children might be able to come to some reasonable facsimile of learning, perhaps even with smaller classes, Carranza wants to cash in on the clearly inferior practice of having kids learn on line. 

After all, who can forget the support Carranza gave us when we turned to online learning last year? That was, of course, after he and de Blasio resisted closing the schools during the most frightening period of the most frightening event of our lifetimes. What did they do? They asked all staff to come back a few extra days for training in online education. Who trained us? That was a bunch of administrators, none of whom had any experience whatsoever with it at all. 

But I guess if you're Carranza, you can sit there like Jean-Luc Picard, wave your hand, say, "Make it so," and hope for the best. And even though the system is a mess and you've lost the faith of people who once believed in you, you can score a cushy gig lending your name to some dubious product. 

Jeff Bezos isn't the only dude getting rich on the pandemic.