Saturday, August 27, 2022

DOE Promotes Nelson (While We Watch)

Just when you think things can't get any worse, Chancellor Banks, perhaps suffering from geranium in cranium syndrome, finds one of the very worst principals in NYC (that's saying something), and promotes her. That would be Namita Dwarka of Bryant High School. Dwarka has been repeatedly accused of grade-fraud, social promotion, and other Big Fun things that, if you were accused, you'd find yourself facing dismissal charges. 

For years Dwarka has lingered about, like a stench you just can't wash or spray away. I've gotten messages and emails, heard stories, but nothing seemed to happen. Now something has, and if you didn't think Mayor Eric Swagger was Bloomberg 2.0, let this be your wakeup call. He took six million dollars from the charter lobby, and you can consider Dwarka's promotion a small down payment on what he owes back. 

I'm told that Dwarka managed to raise test scores via whatever methods. I'm also told that teachers there are rated lower than anywhere else, and that they're regularly terrorized. The Bryant chapter leader is quoted in the Post article:

Teachers were “intimidated by the tone” of emails they received from supervisors. When asked to “provide support,” Lignou wrote, “what they hear is ‘We want you to pass this student.'” In a common practice citywide, teachers would give failing students a few last-ditch assignments to pass them “with much less work than what they required in class.”

Certainly this is one way to bring scores up. Of course, fudging the data doesn't ultimately change much, and doesn't always work well. Teachers who participate have often faced awful repercussions, and prosecutors actually used RICO statutes to go after 11 teachers in Atlanta. So when your insane principal asks you to do whatever you have to in order to pass kids, you have to weigh the inconvenience of the principal harassing you against the real possibility of that racketeering conviction. Oh, and principals can be charged too (though less likely under Mayor Swagger).

We share the guilt here. UFT has never fully embraced the discriminatory, unreliable nature and miserable quality of standardized testing. There is the assumption, among reformies like Bloomberg, Swagger, and Soaring High, that teachers are all lying crooks who will simply pass everyone if there are not tools like Regents exams standing in their path. Therefore, we must use only those tests only to judge them. The irony is that those same reformies, when placed in leadership positions, will use every means at their disposal to juke the stats. This is Campbell's Law at work.

I recall distinctly when Mike Bloomberg was crowing about increased test scores, and how his unique genius made that possible. Diane Ravitch compared them to unchanging NAEP scores and determined the tests were dumbed down. Bloombergians ridiculed her. Until, of course, a few years later, when overwhelming evidence proved Ravitch correct. Then, the tests were, ridiculously, aligned to the NAEP. Of course, the results were twisted to indicate that UFT teachers were some sort of collective antichrist. I don't recall who it was who said that standardized testing measures nothing better than zip code or home size, but I certainly agree. 

And, giving credit where credit is due, let's face it--It was an egregious error for us to endorse Mayor Eric Swagger. Sure, he was a shoo-in once he won the Democratic primary. Sure, it was possible, on some astral plane, that he would ignore the suitcases of cash that came pouring in from Eva's BFFs during the primary. But it was highly unlikely, and a bad bet at best. 

This mayor has said no city worker gets raises without production increases. Evidently, inflation doesn't affect his world, what with that free mansion and all those gala luncheons. In a time of unprecedented prosperity, he's cut public school budgets. And he's fought tooth and nail against any measure to lower class sizes. Now he can talk all day about test scores, and promote those who finagle them by hook or by crook. We all know that our kids need more role models, more attention, and that the only way to give it is to lower class sizes. Just how bad is this mayor? He would happily fire us all, sell all the school properties, and have kids learn on Zoom in classes of 400.  Even Bloomberg only advocated for classes of 70

What can we do about this? For one thing, we have to be more visible. Why on earth was it not the United Federation of Teachers bringing the lawsuit to reverse budget cuts? And why, once it appeared, did we not join it? Could we have been worried that Swagger would be mad at us? Given the promotion of Dwarka, one can only conclude that he already hates us and everything we stand for. What, exactly, have we got to lose? His offer of zero-percent raises? Every teacher and UFT member in the city can tell him exactly what he can do with that. 

It should be us out there asking the mayor questions as he walks our streets, hiding behind all those men in suits. It should be us forcing him to answer questions. So far, I've seen him walk away in full Donald Trump mode, ask those who bother him to pray, and calling them, us, again in Trump mode, clowns. 

So be it. We are many, and we should make this mayor see clown cars everywhere. They should, in fact, haunt him right up to the crack of dawn each and every morning when he crawls into his coffin to sleep.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Medicare Mess Multiplies

I've been observing the bungled NYC Medicare deal for months now, and I'm no happier about it now than I was when I first heard about it. There was a plan, to be administered by Emblem Health, to save money for unions. Staying in standard Medicare would have cost 200 a month per member. 

I read a lot of negative stories about that. They may or may not have been correct, but we'll never know. This plan is effectively dead, and Emblem Health has pulled out of the equation altogether. But the spectre of privatization isn't gone, and the necessity to cut costs somehow seems to remain. NYC workers may soon pay health care premiums for the first time ever. 

The city is in court trying to roll back the lawsuit that prevented the privatized Medicare plan, and we'll see where that goes. Since Mayor Swagger shows no inclination whatsoever to support those of us who keep the city going, it's doubtful we'll be getting any aid from him. It's going to be very tricky to find a solution that works for us, and the people responsible for filing this lawsuit appear to be concerned only with themselves. Don't believe me? Here's a quote from the President of the group that brought the lawsuit:

“The unions shouldn’t be taking this out on current retirees. Their changes should be effectuated on active employees or future retirees,” Pizzitola added.

So, evidently, they should get theirs, and screw the rest of us. This is a little upsetting to me personally as I've chosen to stay in service longer than I really needed to. I could be a retiree, along with her, but now my active and future benefits should be reduced while hers ought to stay the same. No one wants reduced benefits. 

I was not too uncomfortable with Emblem Health administering a city plan. I had cancer around 15 years ago, and they were very good about granting me whatever tests my doctors requested. I'm a lot less sanguine about Aetna, which now that Emblem has walked away, is the next contender to administer the plan. I think they administer our dental plan, and they haven't been helpful at all when I've had issues. I wouldn't be happy to be dumped into a plan they administer. 

I wrote back in March that there may be a negative side to this lawsuit. And indeed, there are possibilities we could see our dental, vision and hearing benefits rolled back. We could see premiums spike, effectively rolling back our compensation in highly inflationary times. It's going to be hard to find a good solution to this issue, and it's going to verge on impossible to find one that satisfies all parties.

I don't have one. It's unfortunate the rollout of this plan was so poorly planned and thought out. It's unfortunate that the MLC didn't even see fit to recruit doctors before rolling out this plan. It's also unfortunate that the people who brought the lawsuit now contend only they should be held harmless while the rest of us should pay. 

The only real solution to this is single payer, pulling our unions out of the health care business altogether, and taking care of all Americans the way most countries take care of their citizens. Given the abysmal state of American politics, that's not happening anytime soon. 

I don't envy the MLC right now, but I certainly hope they think things out better than they did when they engineered the disastrous rollout of the now-failed Medicare Advantage plan.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Beware of Swagger Bearing Gifts

It's clear to me that Mayor Eric Adams doesn't give a golly gosh darn about public schools. The Mayor is all about being photographed in the right places, tweeting about how wonderful he is, and hurling juvenile insults at anyone who dares question his divine judgment. He called people who criticized his school budget cuts "clowns," and continues to remind me of Donald Trump in more ways than I wish to consider.

Now, facing a lawsuit that has thus far halted his draconian cuts to education, the mayor is graciously allowing schools to use stimulus funds to pay teacher salaries. Don't get me started on why schools ought not to be responsible for salaries in the first place. Since they are (another great innovation from Mike Bloomberg), it may be helpful to some schools struggling to retain staff. Of course, as the article points out, said staff may already have found other placement. I'd be happy to leave a place that deemed me expendable enough to get rid of me, and I've no doubt others feel the same.

This mayor does not act to help schools. Altruism is not his thing, unless it involves the police, who do no wrong ever in Adams world. This may help him a little in his PR war, which, from everything I read, he's winning nowhere but the NY Post editorial page. They'll say, see, we've allowed them to use these funds for this, and therefore our decision to cut funds when we're rolling in dough is not so bad after all.

The first thing, though, that came to my mind when I read this, had nothing to do with school budgets. It had everything to do with contract negotiation. Don't doubt for a minute that Chancellor Soaring High, after making videos about just how much he appreciates teachers, will say oopzie, the federal funds have run out, so we have no money to fund raises for teachers. 

Now sure, you'll say, they are a bunch of bumbling idiots, blathering about this and that, and haven't got the capacity to plan for anything. That's true, but Adams took six million dollars from a charter PAC, and deteriorating public schools are a good thing for Eva Moskowitz. And what's good for Moskowitz is good for Adams' campaign war chest. Maybe, in a few years, someone not insane will not only oppose him, but also persuade New Yorkers that she isn't insane. Stranger things have happened.

Maybe he's got Moskowitz people telling him what to do. They didn't give him six million bucks just for the fun of it, and there's more where that came from. There are reasons they didn't just pump them directly into Moskowitz Test Prep Factories. These people abhor public schools, and we be perfectly content allowing our children to roam the streets like the kids in Salaam Bombay

So as we face an expiring contract and a mayor who's already stated he has no plans to offer raises for anything but productivity increases, expect them to say, hey, we had this money, but we won't have it next year. Expect Chancellor Soaring High to say gee, you guys are heroes, but we can't offer you enough money to buy a hero sandwich, let alone housing in one of the most expensive sectors in the country.

If rich people didn't have to pay taxes for public schools, they'd have even more money they don't need. That's what Mayor Swagger is all about, and it's on us to trust him as far as we can throw him. (Also, if you're planning to throw him, please post the video.) Let's not trust this latest phony move from this particular phony leader.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Let's Stop Trashing ATRs

Given Mayor Swagger's unwillingness to pony up and, you know, pay for education, schools are facing tough choices. Hundreds of teachers have been dumped into the ATR pool as a result. 

Why are people ATRs? Frequently, it's a result of being in the wrong place at the right time. Your school budget is cut, there are to be fewer bodies there, and yours is one of them. 

Today's Post attests to that. Where are new ATRs coming from?

About one in five teachers still without school placements were new hires last school year. Less than half were on probation at the end of the month.

This suggests that they were cut in reverse seniority order, as specified by our contract. There are plenty of reformies out there who'd like to change that, so principals or Tweedies could get rid of anyone they felt like. This is typified by Joel Klein's public demand to dismiss teachers on arbitrary and capricious grounds. We cannot afford that. 

I've seen many members get letters in file just because the principal felt like issuing them, and I know one who just ran to another school based on the fact she deemed she had no future in the one where she was, unjustly, given a letter and, even more unjustly, denied a per-session position.  Imagine if they could just dump you for being a pain in the ass. (Under that scenario, I'd have been working at Kinko's for the last ten years, and no one has suggested I'm a bad teacher in decades.)  

What's upsetting is the stereotype of the ATR as a bad teacher. Even more upsetting, the anonymous young teacher interviewed by the post perpetuates it:

“People are ATRs for different reasons,” said the Staten Island teacher, including those let go for ineffectiveness or misconduct, not enrollment losses. “We’ve gotten ATRs who got fired from their position for a reason. I’m not one of them, but now I’m grouped into that category.”

No ATR has been fired, full stop. Teachers who are fired do not become ATRs. What they become, in fact, is unemployed. I know a little bit about excessing. I was excessed from Lehman High School in 1985. I found a job teaching music. out of license, at JFK, and was there a year and a half before being excessed again. I then found a job teaching ESL at Newtown, was excessed again, and found another at John Adams.

I never became an ATR. I was just out of a job. I went to the hiring halls, and was told they could do nothing for me. One secretary brought be to a room full of people sitting in folding chairs. She told me those teachers were tenured, and that she had to place every single one of them before she even thought about placing me. 

The same teacher quoted above explains her situation:

“No one’s calling back,” she said. “I don’t understand. I’m rated well, my principal would say very nice things about me if they call.”

“I can’t prepare, but that’s what I spend my summers doing. Not to be able to plan for next year, and they’re just going to throw me into a position possibly, is ridiculous,” she added.

I certainly understand her frustration. I was in her position more than once, and each time was faced not only with those issue, but also the issue of losing my salary, health insurance, and place of residence. I didn't even have the option of scapegoating ATRs. As much as being an ATR sucks, losing your livelihood is a whole lot worse.

What I did was this--I put on a suit, sneaked past security, and walked into every school and department office that I though might hire me, a known quantity, as opposed to some person sitting around a hiring hall and waiting. That worked for me every time. 

Being able to keep my job without weeks of stalking administrators would have made me grateful. What really doesn't work for me is trashing ATR teachers. I'd feel even more awkward about it if I happened to be one. My job is to teach students from all over the world, and one thing I've learned in this job is that no stereotype is accurate, ever. 

We need to support our brother and sister ATRs. It's not their fault they're stuck in that pool. It's the fault of Mayor Swagger and Chancellor Soaring High. They deserve our wrath, our scorn, and our active protest, just for a start.