Friday, December 19, 2014

We Are the Bearers of Hope

It's a reformy world. All sorts of money seeks and follows demagogues like Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz. They get in the media and spew their blather unchallenged about whatever they like. Always, the bottom line is unionized teachers as scapegoats. The only solution is more and more selective test prep factories. If they can pick the best kids and get rid of the undesirables, they can post better test scores, which in their world is the sole factor that determines whether or not a school merits existence.

But we won't shut up. Big voices like Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson and Carol Burris are out there, loudly proclaiming the truth. When Eva Moskowitz attempts to spout her nonsense in a fair forum, multiple voices of reason stop her dead in her tracks. There are more of us than there are of them, we love our children, and we will not give up no matter how much money they fight us with.

In our own schools we are dispirited by the junk science evaluation system, terrorized by the whims of imperious supervisors. Mulgrew, displaying no connection to what we feel, boasts of how few teachers are rated ineffective. Talk to one of those teachers, facing job loss, and you'll instantly see how little consolation it is. At the same time, Mulgrew boasts to the DA that John King finds our system among the best in the state because so many of us are rated developing and are on improvement plans. You see how that works? It's good because so few teachers have adverse ratings, but it's also good because so many teachers have adverse ratings. It must be a greatly comforting to reside in the Unity Caucus echo chamber.

Everywhere I go I see teachers afraid of their own shadows. They're terrified they'll get poor ratings for no reason. They're afraid their small-minded vindictive supervisors will target them. They won't sign grievances because they fear that will make them targets. Consequently the Contract means nothing. You want me to put up a bulletin board and include a rubric that parents will neither comprehend nor care about? Fine. You have no time for me to do it? That's fine too.

Mike Mulgrew still thinks the evaluation plan is the best thing since sliced bread, and it's likely as not because he's never tried artisan bread that you cut with your own knife. After all, he took part in the creation of the law. He's proud to have made junk science a factor in teacher evaluations. Though he, like just about everyone, doesn't understand the MOSL, he has people who do, and while none of us actually understand it, the formula somehow worked, spitting out only a tenth of NYC teachers as sub-par.

Of course the consequences for those teachers can be draconian. If your supervisor gave you decent ratings and you're on a humiliating "improvement plan" simply because of junk science, that can be incredibly demoralizing. Of course if you were rated ineffective, and face 3020a dismissal charges with the burden of proof on you rather than DOE, you're facing the loss of your very livelihood. And yes, junk science can be the deciding factor placing you there. Then you're at the tender mercies of some UFT member who saw fit to join the rat squad.

Mulgrew, unlike working teachers, has nothing to be afraid of except an election that's heavily rigged in his favor. He well knows that most teachers find it so ridiculous they throw their ballots in the trash.

That's where we are. But there's no advantage in being afraid, I'm afraid. If indeed your supervisor is a bully, tolerating abuse won't make him any less of one. I've seen people who have opted to keep quiet so as to avoid retaliation end up the subjects of retaliation anyway.  There's no upside to fear, be it justified or simply garden-variety paranoia.

Those of us who see the truth must speak it. Those of us who see what's right must preach it. We must prop up our brothers and sisters who are fearful and oppressed. We must point to others who say the truth. These are tough times and there are those who'd leave us for dead.

But we're far from it. And for our own sakes and for those of our children, we can't give up. The fight's not easy, and the fight's not fair. But we have the numbers and we will prevail. There is simply no other option.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Revive NYSUT--Do As We Say, Not As We Do

It’s certainly interesting to read about how Cuomo wants to deunionize a thousand workers who supported Zephyr Teachout. NYSUT, of course, is outraged. After all, we didn’t support Teachout and he wants to screw us anyway. But that’s not really what they express outrage about. How dare the governor take people out of a union? After all, unions support union, don’t they?

In fact, in the case of NYSUT, they don’t. Even as NYSUT takes exception to the governor's latest juvenile snit, a whole lot of NYSUT employees are not unionized. Most of them are, but there’s a glaring exception. To wit, it's  Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta’s staff.  Most of them are not unionized, and have no bargaining rights.

The justification given, I'm told, is that legislative staff must be available 24/ 7 during budget time and other crucial times. So what does that suggest? Are they to have no rights, to ignore their families, or not even have families? Lots of people, myself included, work extra hours all the time. That’s a by-product of having a job you love. But were they unionized, NYSUT says, these folks might not be available when needed. That’s a pretty poor excuse, in my view at least.

If I recall correctly, that was the same justification GW used to not unionize homeland security. So Revive NYSUT, once again, finds itself in great company. Certainly GW's bro Jeb would share Karen Magee's passion for Common Core, and might even agree with her that the alternative is total anarchy. Sadly, they're both wrong.

Now you might say, “Sure, NYC Educator, but Andy Pallotta’s a swell guy, and he would never fire anyone, because we union folks just don’t do stuff like that.” And I’d hope you'd be right, but you wouldn’t be. In fact, after the contested NYSUT election in April, I’m told a female staff member they deemed insufficiently loyal was fired with no due process. Of course, not being in a union, they don’t really need a whole lot of reason to fire anyone. In Andy's defense, I'm told he didn't want to get his hands dirty, so he had someone else do the actual dismissal.

But NYSUT doesn’t affect us NYC teachers, does it? Well, in fact, the EVP in NYSUT has always been a UFT member. There’s a sort of power-sharing agreement there in which the EVP represents the UFT. Some people have told me the EVP pretty much ran the show until Richard Iannuzzi showed up claiming to be President, simply by virtue of having been elected President. The audacity! It's likely that's why UFT propped up Revive NYSUT. Now that they've dumped Iannuzzi and put in their BFFs, it's quite clear who calls the shots in the state union.

Actually, much of UFT staff is not unionized. While they are UFT, they can be fired from UFT positions and dumped back into classrooms at any time. Thus many of them are fiercely loyal to whatever they’re instructed to be fiercely loyal to. After all, why would they want to turn down all those junkets and gala luncheons and be sent out to work with us lowly teachers? You don't think they want to be evaluated by junk science as we are, do you?  I’m told the clerical staff at UFT is unionized, but they, of course, are not the ones with the all-important task of pimping the latest piece of crap contract, 2-tier due process, Common Core, or whatever gets us this week’s Seat at the Table.

NYSUT leadership will preach no perks, but then pass legislation to benefit their leadership. NYSUT leadership will say they oppose Cuomo and fail to do so. They'll say they oppose Common Core but then support it.

NYSUT leadership can be union, ostensibly support union, but concurrently deprive their very own employees of it. It's an abject disgrace.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To Bi or Not to Bi

I'm not an expert on bilingual education, but I often wonder how much English gets used in bilingual classes. I've started thinking about this a lot since, the other day, a mother accompanied her daughter to my classroom door. Mom was upset. Her daughter had been placed in a bilingual program, so why the hell was she in an English class. My patient student translator, who I dragged out of his seat especially for this occasion, calmly explained that everyone had to learn English.

Mom was not happy, but as we did not present her with an alternative, she left

My kids are often shocked I won't let them speak their first languages in ESL classes. They don't see it as a thing, and as they spend much of their day speaking their L1, or first language, they’re shocked by my unreasonable demands. But the only way I know to teach English is in English. I remember well high school teachers teaching me Spanish almost exclusively in English. I learned very little until I spent a few summers in Mexico, where English was simply not an option.

I enforce a policy that we will respect one another, and I see using a language we all share as a facet of that. I can speak Spanish, but I don't do it in my classes. Personally, I think that would be favoring the Spanish speakers, and more or less actively discriminating against everyone else. Unless I'm prepared to speak every language in the room, which I simply cannot do, I think I need to stick to English.

I know some other teachers have different approaches. I do understand the need to help out kids in their own languages sometimes. I will drag Spanish speakers in the hall and speak to them. I will take a more advanced student out with a rank beginner, as I did with the girl and her mom, and have the kid help me. But even that is a little unfair. For example, I have one girl who speaks Arabic. She came several weeks ago and I haven't got another student to translate for her.

For her, I'm lucky that someone else in the building shares her language and will help her out. But even that's not a given.

I studied dual language programs in college, and enrolled my daughter in one when she was in first grade. It was great for her. I had spoken English to her and my wife Spanish, but we failed to make her respond to my wife in Spanish. My daughter went to Colombia one summer with my wife and was shocked when she answered people in English and they didn’t understand. It worked with Mom. For goodness sake, Elmo and the Teletubbies spoke English. What kind of place was this South America anyway? After  her first grade class, she started speaking Spanish again. I was driving with her mom and her abuela and I almost crashed the car when I heard her do so.

I also remember my niece from Colombia, at the age of 6, was in a first grade class that used no English whatsoever. I watched her struggle to spit out English in the playground and took her and her mom to the school, where I had to fight a secretary to get an audience with the principal. We got her placed in an ESL program and she made rapid progress with kids from all over the world rather than only those who spoke Spanish. 

I like the idea of bilingual education if it's done right. And actually the notion of half L1 dominant and half L2 dominant kids supporting one another, like the program my daughter attended in elementary school, appeals to me a lot. It seems to me a win-win, and I have no idea why it isn't utilized more often. Our newcomers have a lot to offer us, and that certainly includes their languages.

If you've got a school full of Spanish or Chinese kids who need to learn English, why not group them with English kids who want to learn Spanish or Chinese?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Sounds of Someone Who Shouldn't Have to Worry About Being College and Career Ready

The Music Man : Ron Howard : The Music Man : Photo 5497865
Have you ever stopped to just appreciate the sound of a little kid's voice? As long as there's no trouble brewing between siblings, it's the sweetest sound imaginable with its pitch, rhythms and cadences.  Listen to the words.  Some seem brilliant.  Others seem plain silly.  It's a fine line twixt the two at times.

Stop and ask yourself:   Why must "reformers" set their hearts on making little children like these, but not their own, college and career ready?  Why must "reformers" pressure teachers to prep for their own professional life?  Why must "reformers" work so hard to strip away the joys of childhood?  Prepping a little kid for a college (that may prove too expensive for many) or a career (that may prove nonexistent, low-paying or across some border), seems little more than a distraction from the real problems at hand.  What a shame it is at the expense of childhood!

Now that our Commissioner-In-Chief, John King, is going to work for the Commander-In-Chief in D.C., he will have the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.  He will have the opportunity to send his daughters to schools that don't just say they buy into the philosophy of the Core.  He will have the opportunity to send his daughters to schools that actually buy into the high-stakes, assessment-bound Common Core which he so avidly peddles.  Will he become a public-school parent or will he continue to send his kids to a Montessori, or another private equivalent that opts out of all of his junk science?  Will he be a Common-Core parent?  If you already think you know the answer, you are probably right!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The King Is Dead. Long Live the King.

In one way, the list to the left rings true, but  in another, King has personally accomplished quite a few things. I've always been fascinated, for example, by the TV show The Sopranos. There you will find grown men sitting in lawn chairs at construction sites, and getting a pretty good salary for doing so. Beats working, you might say. And John King, while he didn't sit in a lawn chair, managed to spend his entire tenure not representing our children. Rather, he represented the moneyed interests that got him his job in the first place. While he didn't actually do his job at all, he did accomplish a few things.

For one, after facing the public for the first time, he labeled parents and teachers "special interests," canceled all future meetings in a snit, and managed to keep his job. Can you imagine what would happen to you if you decided your students didn't have valid concerns, canceled all your classes, and walked out? Do you think you'd get that commendation letter you've hoped for all these years?

For King, it was no biggie. So he made a mistake, He didn't face 3020a removal hearings as you would if you were outright derelict in your duties. That's for the little people. Forced to reconsider and actually face the public, he failed to say a word when a real special interest group monopolized one of the so-called public hearings:

In short, no one at the forum engaged in critical thinking about the new educational standards that are, purportedly, all about critical thinking.

He also got away with an outright lie, contending the Montessori schools his kids attend actually utilize the nonsense he advocates for ours. Clearly they do not. The "Do as I say, not as I do" mantra is a common one among the reformies, from King, to Bloomberg, to Klein, to Rhee, right up to and including our own President Barack Obama, he of the hopey changiness that has completely eluded American schools during his tenure.

John King taught a whopping one year in a public school, and went on to teach two years in a charter. How that qualifies him to head education in NY State I have not the slightest idea. Of course, people with money value reforminess far more than actual experience. That he managed to corral his NY State gig with such paltry experience and hold onto it despite his remarkably thin skin and outrageous hypocrisy is an achievement in itself.

Finally, despite his inability and unwillingness to sustain an argument against a thoughtful opponent, resorting to name calling rather than the critical thinking he claimed to be modeling, despite his woefully meager tenure as an actual teacher, despite his utter lack of helping our kids, he managed to wrangle a promotion. His credentials as relentless fanatical ideologue were sufficient for equally unqualified Arne Duncan to offer him a prestigious federal gig. One might assume he actually had achieved something beyond advocating for those who want to test our kids to death and destroy my chosen profession.

One would be laboring under a misconception, of course.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Teacher Team

Yesterday morning at 7 AM there were quite a few people crazy enough to be at our school well before the first class. I was among them. This is a time when it's highly unlikely that a crisis will arise, or I'll get called to some meeting somewhere.

Usually this is a time I can plan my classes, and the only other person in the foreign language office, where I hang out, is a Chinese teacher also quietly working on lessons. At least that's what I think she's working on. I can't read a single word she writes. For all I know, she could be writing the Great American Novel in Chinese.

But yesterday she was elsewhere. In her place, were two teachers who wandered in for no particular reason. We began to discuss sleep, and lack thereof. I mean, if any of us had any sense we'd probably have been sleeping at that very moment. I myself haven't even got a class until around 9:30, so I've really got less of an excuse than most for being so early. We soon learned we all tend to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder whether we'll get back to sleep.

One of my companions was a dean, and from time to time I'll accompany her on her rounds. One day last year as I did so, both of us had woken up at ungodly hours, and she said to me. "I'm really confused today. For example, I'm not actually sure whether or not you're really here." This comment was greatly persuasive, because at that moment, I wasn't sure whether or not I was actually there either. It wasn't until I faced my PM class, which that year included the loudest young woman on God's green earth, that I was reminded that, yes, this could not possibly be a dream or I would've certainly woken up.

One of the obstacles to sleep is a partner who snores, and the three of us all grapple with that issue to one degree or another. I myself have purchased a white noise machine, this one I believe,  which I found on Ebay for under 20 bucks. It's great. My friend the dean, it turns out, has one too. She, though, being far more classy than I will ever be, paid 80 bucks, and hers has some kind of chip or something with extra sounds. Now both of us, it turns out, used to use fans in wall air conditioners instead. I had to stop when my wall conditioner unexpectedly dropped dead. It was mid-winter and it didn't seem like a good time to have another installed.

Our friend, a physical education teacher, sat rapt at our conversation, taking in every word. Not only that, but he questioned us carefully. He told us how his sleep issues were going, and asked whether or not we thought the white noise machine would benefit him and his particular situation. Should he buy the 20 buck model, or should he go wild and spend 80? What were the pros and cons? What was the Ebay return policy? Could you really trust sellers in New Jersey?

We all agreed that a good night's sleep for teachers was in the best interests of our students. We concluded the meeting all feeling that we had learned something useful. In fact, the phys. ed. teacher declared that this was the best and most productive school meeting he'd been to in twenty years.

Nonetheless, I don't think the DOE has anything remotely like this in mind for the Monday and Tuesday Teacher Torture Sessions.

Go figure.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

UFT Leadership Pays Valuable Lip Service to Class Size

The United Federation of Teachers leadership has come up with a brilliant plan. Let's tax the absentee landlords to come up with money to fund class size reductions. All we need is the support of Governor 1% and the newly elected GOP majority.

The fact that they vehemently oppose all those things should be no problem whatsoever. So what if Andy Cuomo takes a "principled stand" against taxing millionaires and has the audacity to compare it to his father's opposition to the death penalty? Anyway, once we overcome that minor obstacle,  in a number of years, maybe we'll have lower class sizes.

It may seem like a great idea to do this via legislation, but all legislation will mean is there will be money, maybe. That hasn't always worked as planned in our state. There was supposed to be money via the CFE lawsuit, but it was delayed for years and we're still waiting on money. I suppose UFT leadership looks fairly caring when they make a big public demand for smaller class sizes. I certainly support them, as do most people who actually care about the education of our children.

But the fact is the only instrument that controls class size is the UFT Contract. Recently, UFT has failed to show any particular fervor over enforcing existing limits. That is really disturbing, and makes me doubt the sincerity of this very public call. In fact, even disregarding the sloppy enforcement of current class size limits, the fact is that UFT has done absolutely nothing to improve class size since I started teaching in 1984. That's quite a record.

UFT will endorse mayoral control, even after it's demonstrated to be an abject disaster, but won't raise a peep about reducing contractual class size. UFT will support charter schools, start and colocate its own charter schools, endorsing the barbaric process of displacing public schools, but won't lift a finger to reduce class size. UFT will fall for merit pay schemes, drastic reduction of seniority rights, degredation of tenure, two-tier due process, dumping staff of entire schools, but won't fight even a relatively not insane mayor for class size.

For the thirty years I've been teaching, UFT has done nothing to reduce class size. Nada. Zip. Diddly squat. Now they wish to appear to care. Don't be fooled.

Decades of evidence suggest UFT leadership doesn't give a fiddler's fart about how many kids are in your classroom. Don't even think about how many kids are in your school, or how many schools are in your building. Last spring when Andy and Eva undermined the democratically elected Mayor of NYC to force him to pay for Moskowitz Academies, UFT leadership said little and did nothing. A very highly placed NYSUT source told me Mulgrew supported this move. While I can't prove that, it's crystal clear he did nothing to oppose it.

It's a nice sound byte for UFT leadership. But if they really cared about class sizes, it would be part of contract negotiations, which has not been the case in decades. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

News Flash

Reformy John King, having done as much damage as he could in New York, is leaving for DC and hoping to drive the entire country into ruin. Clearly President Barack Obama is determined to have a team of hypocritical paranoic fanatical ideologues running education, and won't stop until he's scraped the bottom of every barrel in these United States.

This notwithstanding, I trust Andy Cuomo can find someone even worse to take his place.  He's probably on the phone with Moskowitz at this very moment promising to appoint whomever she likes if she can only sit through a Sandra Lee dinner without vomiting. Some people are worried, though.

We're from the DOE and We're Here to Help

The UFT Contract calls for a remarkable volume of meetings. Most of my colleagues spend 80 minutes after work on Monday, and 70 on Tuesday doing all sorts of things. Those I speak with are not happy. Not even a little. I guess it's good to have time to contact parents, and if only the kids will cooperate by limiting their misbehavior or notable achievements to Tuesdays it may eventually prove to be a good idea.

Of course, multi-session schools like mine are supposed to figure out some other way to enable PD and all its wonderfulness. For months, we didn't. But we finally came to an agreement. We would have monthly sessions that would enable teacher teams, parental contact, other professional work and whatever else the UFT MOA demands. Our SBO passed by a huge margin.

But then we had to provide dates to the DOE. No, not those kind of dates. I know it must be tough for fanatical ideologues left over from the Bloomberg regime to find people who will talk to them, but that wasn't our problem. Our problem was establishing dates we could change our school schedule. It turns out it was too late for us to do this in December, and we could only modify three days per semester. After all, rules are rules.

Who cares if the UFT modified the contract and requires all this extra stuff? We have to follow DOE rules, no matter how nonsensical they may be. Let them bitch and moan that we don't have enough PD, but perish forbid they should bend a rule. It's OK to cut learning time absolutely every single day, but if you do it more than three days per semester the world may come to an end, even if you're demonstrably offering significantly more of it than most schools in the city.

So maybe the PD, parental contact and Other Stuff is not so vital after all. If it were, maybe they'd stop overcrowding schools in the first place. If it were, maybe they'd build us enough space to comfortably accommodate the students we already have. If it were, maybe they'd blow up the leaky moldy miserable trailers and replace them with classrooms that respect the kids we serve.

But they aren't going to bother with trivialities like that. They'd rather sit around in Tweed. After all, there are vital rules that must be protected.

Another way to accommodate the Very Important Stuff, a way that several of my neighbor schools adopted, is to shorten the classes to 40 minutes and have 40 minutes of PD before or after every single day. I am not hearing rave reviews of this system. One teacher told me she fought an urge to slit her throat during one of these never-ending sessions.

I suppose if I wanted my colleagues to tar and feather me and run me out of town by rail I'd float a similar SBO. But that prospect, for some inexplicable reason, does not much appeal to me.

It appears being reasonable toward those of us who wish to be reasonable is expressly against DOE policy. It's never been done that way.

I'm naive to even entertain the notion they'd help us help them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What Value Will You Attempt to Add to Students' Lives?

If teachers add any lasting value to a student's existence, it probably won't be in the form of an elevated test score.  It will be in the form of opening the eyes of a student to look more deeply (both within and at the surrounding world) and see things in new ways.  It will be in the form of recognizing that goals in life are not standard issue.  It will be in trying to give someone the tools in life to reach his or her individual goals--even if it only means restoring a faith in himself, or herself, or in humanity.

If I add any value to a student's life, it will not so much be in the form of teaching to standardized test answers as teaching students to question.  The lasting value of education lies in empowering individuals to keep asking the questions that move them ahead--no matter what direction it leads--long after all teachers and any tests have exited the scene.  The lasting value lies in a concern for the whole child.  I don't buy into grit (which sometimes implies little more than suffering through hardships which others bring upon you) as much as I buy into promoting the joy that can help individuals find some security and satisfaction in charting their own courses in life.

Monday, December 08, 2014

An ATR by Any Other Name

It's odd to read all the contradictory info about ATR teachers. For example, this piece places the number of ATR teachers at 1, 171. This piece suggests there were 1,890 in September. Have 700 ATR teachers found placements? If so, are they provisional?

It appears that provisionally placed teachers are no longer counted as part of the ATR. For the city's purposes, that may be reasonable. After all, those teachers are seeing the same kids every day, writing lesson plans, and subject to the same junk science rating plan as the rest of us. The real point, for the city at least, is they aren't paying a full salary for people to work as substitute teachers. I suppose this may give Chancellor Fariña boasting rights.

As far as I know, the UFT goes along with this counting method, but if anyone knows better, feel free to correct me. I'd argue, though, that unless the 700 teachers found permanent placements, they are still ATR teachers. Why? First of all, if they are not placed permanently at year's end, they will return to the endless rotation in September. That in itself ought to be enough.

But there's more. Under the UFT MOA, teachers in the ATR are subject to disparate treatment. An ATR teacher removed from two provisional placements is subject to an expedited 3020a process. We don't exactly know what the basis is for a principal to remove an ATR teacher, but UFT President Michael Mulgrew suggested shouting in the halls would be a good reason. I've been chapter leader of the largest high school in Queens for five years and I've yet to see a teacher in trouble for shouting in the halls. In fact, given our chronic overcrowding, I fail to see how anyone in our building could effectively communicate during passing without doing so. Nonetheless, if you're an ATR you'd better keep your head down and mumble, lest they come after you.

If you aren't treated the same as every other working teacher, it's ludicrous to say you're the same as every other working teacher. ATR teachers with whom I speak are well aware that things are different for them. In our school there have been a few ATR teachers who were permanently placed, and I hope to see it happen again, but there have been many more who were not, and from what I hear even the small number who were go against the tide.

Last week my school ran an SBO vote, and an ATR teacher argued with me over whether or not she should vote. I told her she was here, she was a UFT member, and she had every right. She said she would not be staying and it didn't really affect her long-term. We were both right, in one way or another. It would certainly be better if she had a group to advocate for her and those in her position.

My friend James Eterno is actively working to establish such a group. UFT leadership opposes it, as they contend the ATR is a temporary phenomenon. Yet it's now been around almost a full decade. There are functional chapters that address the needs of counselors, secretaries and paraprofessionals. Certainly there should be one to address the needs of ATR members.

Had there been such a chapter during contract negotiations, perhaps leadership would not have been able to degrade their due process and sell it to members as a good thing.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Class Size, Shmass Size, Sez UFT

In our school we had a music class with 37 students. It was a brass and wind class. Because it was not a performing group or a required music class, it was deemed oversized by an arbitrator. To remedy this, our school sent a substitute teacher attend the class every day. Therefore, with 2 teachers, the class wasn't technically oversized.

This was a little silly, as it was ridiculous to expect a sub to know brass and wind. So we had an SBO, recapped the single class at 37, and relieved the music teacher of his C6 assignment. It was a win-win. The school could save a few bucks in coverages, and the music teacher could spread joy and love through music for an extra 45 minutes each day. (Just between us, I happen to know this music teacher is surreptitiously doing his C6 assignment, maintaining instruments, anyway. Don't tell anyone.)

However, there are other schools with dozens of oversized classes who haven't done SBOs. I personally know of two, but there are likely as not many more. They simply agreed to relieve teachers of C6 assignments. Now it's entirely possible these teachers are overjoyed, what with lunchroom duty, potty patrol, and all the other nonsensical and unprofessional things the 2005 contract blessed us with. On the other hand, 40 kids in a Spanish One class is not particularly conducive to hablando el español.

I wonder what parents would say if they knew their kids were in classes that violated the only instrument that controls class size, to wit, the much maligned UFT Contract. I'm a high school teacher, I've been one since 1984, and not once has the UF of T moved to reduce class sizes. Nor has the city, of course. Despite Mayor Bloomberg's reformy talk, his bright idea was to fire half of all teachers and make class sizes of 70. Of course, his kids didn't go to NYC schools anyway, so why the hell should he care?

I'm a language teacher. I'm fortunate in that I sometimes have smaller class sizes. Last I heard, NY State recommended that funded ESL classes be capped at 25. I think that's reasonable. I'm really amazed that all the reformy folk crying crocodile tears about saving our children, often not their children, never say let's reduce class size. For them, it's about spending less. It's about degrading the teaching profession. It's about getting rid of those unions that are always demanding safe working conditions and prohibiting child labor and all that good stuff they had back in the much-missed 19th century.

Last year, like this year, I taught two double-period classes. I like to arrange my classroom in a U-shape so as to promote conversation. But one of my classes had a chemistry that rendered it virtually off the wall. I'd go in daily, prepared for battle with a little girl with a big mouth and a quick wit. She was a formidable opponent, and because she was in this particular group, with potential allies everywhere, I pushed the kids back into rows to discourage conversation. I managed to avert utter chaos, but only by the skin of my teeth, and only by frequent phone calls and perpetually rearranging the seating. Were there 40 kids in that class no one would have learned anything. 

Personally, I'd rather have a C6 than an oversized class, but it appears not all my colleagues agree. And that's rather dangerous. We already have the largest class sizes in the state. Making them larger is a disservice to both the kids we serve and their parents. I'm a parent, and while I don't think teachers should be doing potty patrol in the first place, it would really piss me off to think my daughter was sitting with 39 other kids just so the teacher could get a period off.

Wouldn't it be better for us to work toward dumping idiotic C6 assignments rather than making deals with the devil? For the life of me, I don't know why anyone voted for that stinker of a contract in 2005. Of course, that set the stage for this year, when we showed ourselves to be sheep, going along with whatever, because it's the best we can do.

Nonetheless, it's disgraceful that we as a union, already saddled with the largest class sizes in the state, can condone even larger classes. It makes the Contract seem like it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Sure, give me a marshmallow and I'll work through lunch. Sure, I'll let you dictate a preposterous lesson plan format if you give me that room I want. I don't mind having 5 classes in four different classrooms, just please don't hurt me.

That's bad enough. But it's an absolute disgrace that we'd sell out our kids to save 40 minutes of the potty patrol we never should've agreed to in the first place. It's an awful precedent, and we ought to know better. Lately I wonder whether we ever know better.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Reformy John Has a Message for Us All

Hi, special interest teachers and parents. It’s me, your old pal Reformy John King, and I’m reformier than ever. As you know, a few years back, we instituted new teacher evaluation systems that use multiple measures, including student test scores. We fully expected to fire a whole lot of teachers, particularly given the whole test score thing, but things haven’t worked out quite as we expected.

It's common knowledge we’ve introduced Common Core tests, and kids are failing in droves. Well, not my kids, who I send to a Montessori school, but rather your kids. Like most of you, I actually like my kids’ school, and their teachers, so I don’t want to see them fired. Naturally, you can send your kids to a Montessori school, or Dalton, or wherever President Obama sends his kids, so don’t worry if you don’t like Common Core. Most of these programs run under 30K a year, so if you have a gig like mine it should be no prob.

Anyway, the rest of you know that only about 30% of NY kids are passing the tests. I should know, because I help set the cutoff scores and can predict how many kids will fail in advance. It’s true that most kids have not been taught using our fabulous new Common Core methodology, the one my kids don’t use, but that’s not really the issue. The issue, not to put to fine a point on it, is how can we match up the failure rate of kids to that of teachers, and therefore fire 70% of them?

Look at this from a taxpayer’s point of view. Most of those teachers are in unions, and are paid considerably more than minimum wage. And don’t get me started about the benefits those teachers get. I mean, there’s the health care, and the days off, and we aren’t even allowed to have them come in weekends to clean up the buildings.

Now if we can fire 70% of the state teachers, and if Merryl Tisch can replace the public schools with charter schools, we can test prep your kids (not mine) pretty much 24/7. No more wasting time with all that literature, music and art nonsense. What we need is a generation of kids who know nothing but a, b, c, or d, a generation that can scan for content and summarize rather than frittering away their time reading for enjoyment.

That’s why companies like Walmart invest heavily in the programs I’ve helped bring to your kids and not mine. With a generation used to tedious time-consuming nonsense, folding towels and stocking shelves should be a snap. And with so much rampant failure and so few rewards, I'm pretty confident they'll get right into the swing of working for eight bucks an hour and applying for food stamps to make ends meet. That's my vision for your kids. Not mine.

So please, stop complaining about it. I honestly hate criticism. I was so pissed off the first time I heard it that I canceled my listening tour until Tisch insisted we sit through it to make things look good. But honestly, if I were listening to the likes of you I wouldn't really be doing my job now, would I?

So let's get with the program. By degrading teacher jobs and firing them for no good reason I'm setting up a golden opportunity for your kids to have degrading jobs and be fired for no reason. And the best thing about it is ALL kids will have equal opportunities to get placement in these jobs.

Except mine, of course. That's why I send my kids to private school. After all, someone has to tell your kids what to do. How can we depend on the likes of you, who won't even vote in sufficient numbers to tell me what to do?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Expert UFT Negotiators at Work

 by special guest blogger Harris Lirtzman

I worked in New York City and State government and politics for twenty years before I made the late career switch to become a special education math teacher at a community high school in the Soundview section of the Bronx.

While I was in government I learned a lot of tricks about how to "bury" bad news.

Most folks know about the Friday afternoon "deep six": if you drop the press release announcing your conviction for embezzlement on a Friday afternoon around 5 p.m. the news will carry, if it does at all, on the Friday night news and in the Saturday dailies, which are the least seen and read of the week.  If you're lucky enough to have some flexibility and want to announce that you're closing ten firehouses, do it the last week in August or the week between Christmas and New Year's.

But what do you do if you want to "bury" some really good news?

The de Blasio administration has the answer for you.  Let the world know about it the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day. Absolutely no one will find out about the fact that you've just discovered $2.6 billion in the City budget that you didn't expect to have at the beginning of the year.  After all, why ruin anyone's big dinner with great news like that?  Someone might notice.

Just as you were on the way home from work last week ready for your four-day weekend, the City announced that it had found under its sofa cushion an additional $1.1 billion in debt service savings and another $1.5 billion in additional tax revenues for the current fiscal year.  This is serious money, even in connection with a budget that totals $75 billion.

Among the people whom Mayor de Blasio might not want to notice such news is a small group called "municipal labor negotiators."  These people might be particularly interested to find out that the City stumbled across some pocket-change and might be inclined to do something quite awful with all that money.  For example, if those labor negotiators were good at what they do they might want to bargain a contract settlement for their members that includes things such as decent raises, retroactive payments for a round of settlements that other unions received but which were not paid to its members or, God forbid, lump sum distributions of those payments to its retirees on a timely basis and with enough money in the pot to cover the obligations made to those retirees.

These "labor negotiators" might even be the leaders of the United Federation of Teachers.

There were many people in late 2013 and early 2014 who disputed first the Bloomberg and then the de Blasio administration projections of doom-and-gloom about what would happen if they negotiated a "fair contract" with the UFT.  In late December 2013, the City's Independent Budget Office projected a surplus for the current fiscal year, FY 2015, of $1.9 billion.  In March 2014, the City Comptroller's Office, a perennially pessimistic crew, projected that the budget for FY 2015 would be balanced and that there would be relatively small budget gaps in the years to follow.  In January 2014, I suggested in a blog posting on the MORE Caucus website that the City would be rolling in dough over the next few years because of rapidly increasing sales, property and income tax revenue resulting from the boom in real estate and the City's recovery from the "Great Recession."

If you are a member of the UFT, you will remember that our "labor negotiators," negotiated a contract last spring that you approved by a 3-1 vote in May.  That contract included a raise of 0% in 2012 (you got a one-time "contracting signing bonus" of $1,000), 1% through 2016, 2.5% in 2017 and 3% in 2018.  The 8% retroactive raise for the contract rounds that Mayor Bloomberg refused to negotiate will be paid out in chunks through 2020, two years past the end of the current contract. Our negotiators promised an immediate lump-sum payment of the retroactive raise to anyone who retired before July 1, 2014 but only agreed to fund $180 million for those payments.  So many teachers took the bait that the City needs another $60 million to make good on those retiree payments but, thank God, the UFT negotiators included a "re-opener" in the contract and agreed a few weeks ago to allow an arbitrator to rummage around in the contract to find the chump change to fund that $60 million.

I take you on this tour through the back alleys of the City's recent budgets and offer a refresher course on the UFT contract that you approved on the recommendation of union leadership not because I want to bore the pants off of you.  I just want to remind you that there was a large group of people who attempted loudly to warn your own labor negotiators not to believe the City's hype about the terribleness of the things that would happen if it agreed to a fair contract for UFT members. One of the things I did say early this year was "If you don't get a raise or don't get paid retroactively for the last two rounds of contracts it won't be because of the 'economics' of the thing.  It will be because of 'the politics.' And the politics connected with the next round of contract negotiations will be the fiercest in a generation...the people who have run this City are still coming for us and we need to be ready for them."

Your leadership failed you.  You were told that the contract you approved was the best that could be negotiated. You were told that the City couldn't pay for a "fair contract," much less finish paying you the retroactive salary you earned until the beginning of the next decade. You were told that if you didn't approve the contract put in front of you that the UFT would have to get in the back of the line behind 150 other locals trying to negotiate contracts with the City.

Some people think that the UFT leadership doesn't do a very good job.  They think that our beloved union should be more democratic and transparent and that it should adhere more closely to a social justice agenda.  I happen to agree with all of that.  But more than anything else, I think that our leadership should do its most important job and do it intelligently, which is to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that protects the interests of its members.

The UFT leadership did not do that. The UFT leadership failed miserably at its most important responsibility.

Folks, you were had.  And you found out--or maybe you didn't--that you were had on Thanksgiving Eve at around three in the afternoon when all the very good news that the City and the UFT leadership knew about last December finally came tumbling out of the closet.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Question Marks

(c) PhotoXpress
If I teach a student and that student's progress does not mirror my efforts,

1.  am I responsible if Bismarck is confused with Bolivar because someone did not care to study?

2.  am I responsible if the student's texting interferes with study?

3.  am I responsible if the student sees little value in understanding the Bantu migration?

4.  am I responsible if the student has too many tests for which to study, and mine is but one of many?

5.  am I responsible if the student has no quiet place to study?

6.  am I responsible if the student has too little food, or the wrong sort, on his table?

7.  am I responsible if the student has personal issues which interfere with his or her ability to study?

8.  am I responsible if the parent works two jobs to make ends meet and cannot check homework?

9.  am I responsible if a student lacks enough sleep to function adequately on those measures that relate to my lessons?

10.  am I responsible for a million things that could interfere with the ability of my teaching to translate into measurable student progress?

The answer is most decidedly "Yes!"--if you are an ed. "reformer."

The answer is "No!"--if you are someone who bases your life upon reason!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Saint Bill of Students First

It's not been the best of months for funnyman Bill Cosby. He's accused of drugging and raping a whole lot of women, and that doesn't particularly jibe with the whole Dr. Huxtable thing. But he hasn't been convicted of anything, and in this country you are presumed innocent.

Unless, of course, legal expert Campbell Brown and her hedge-fund gang are on the case. This is because the whole innocent until proven guilty thing doesn't apply to unionized teachers. Yet I haven't heard word one from Brown about Cosby, even though the things of which he's accused make all the nonsense she blabbers about teachers pale in comparison.

In this case, Cosby works with Students First, like Brown's husband Dan Senor, and that makes everything okay. I mean, you don't hear legal expert Brown complaining about Students First founder Michelle Rhee, who tapes kids' mouths shut to keep them quiet. And I'm not making a discredited accusation here--Rhee boasted about it to a receptive group she was addressing. They found it hilarious. Here in Fun City a teacher who sought such amusement would be subject to Chancellor's Regulation A-420, which prohibits corporal punishment. 

You might think Cosby might be a target of Campbell Brown because he's associated with education, having advertised his degree at the end of every Cosby show, but that's not the same thing as being some lowly teacher. Cosby holds a doctorate in education, at least somewhat earned via alternate means, like appearing on Sesame Street. Sounds less bothersome than all that sitting in a classroom stuff, but I wonder whether the NYC DOE would consider it rigorous enough to grant you or me a sabbatical.  Frankly, given his ready affiliation with Students First, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to question his expertise on public education.

There are differences, though, between Bill Cosby and embattled public school teachers. The most obvious, of course, is that Cosby is independently wealthy. Sure, he lost his new series at NBC and maybe a few live shows got canceled. But he won't be driving a taxi anytime soon. He won't be selling any of his homes to make ends meet.

It's different for lifelong teachers, smeared by allegations that the DOE couldn't even get past an arbitrator. Letters in their files, dismissed by arbitrators as baseless, are rehashed in tabloid news stories. They're exiled to the Absent Teacher Reserve with scarlet letters on their files, warning principals not to hire them. Celebrities who don't know a classroom from a green room condemn them on national TV. They say the most reprehensible and stereotypical things, like the bad ones spoil it for the good ones, and suggest we strip the "bad" ones (Who decides who they are, by the way?) of due process, so they can be fired for no reason.

Worst of all is when our union leadership accepts such standards, as they did when they wrote a second-tier due process for ATR teachers into the most recent contract. Mulgrew says it will make no difference, but also says ATR teachers can face 3020a for two incidents of shouting in the hall. In my overcrowded school, it's virtually impossible to communicate during passing without shouting in the hall. I know teachers who've lost their jobs for no reason at all, and I worry about them a whole lot more than I worry about Cosby. Their struggles are a whole lot worse than wondering whether or not they'll be able to get another sitcom.

Is Cosby guilty? Not yet, not in the United States. But it's remarkable to watch Whoopi Goldberg defend him while excoriating unionized teachers. She's clearly got a different standard for teachers than she does for comedians. Can you imagine what she, not to mention Campbell Brown, would be saying about a public school teacher accused of serial date rape?

Of course there should be standards for teachers. Of course no one who harms children belongs in a classroom. I fail to see, though, why we should be stripped of our jobs based on innuendo, while we're chided for even discussing allegations against wealthy entertainers who presume to be education experts and role models.