Thursday, June 04, 2020

Non-Teacher Says Go Ahead and Open School Buildings

Over at the Washington Post, they've got an epidemiologist to write about schools. It's ironic, because when UFT got 108,000 signatures to close Covid-infested schools, the chancellor said we should get 108,000 epidemiologists instead.

The Post, though, settled for only one, Daniel T. Halperin, and he makes an interesting case. He says we should reopen schools. That, for me, was his first error. Schools are already open. I know because I already taught one class today, and I have another coming up soon. It's the buildings that are closed.

But hey, he's an epidemiologist, so why should he have to know that teachers are still working all over the country? That's not his area of expertise. Over the years, I've become used to hearing about education from people who know nothing about it. Evidently, anyone who has money is an expert. Bill Gates. Eli Broad. The Walmart family. Oprah. Those actresses in those anti-union films. You know. Experts.

Why should we reopen schools, according to the epidemiologist?

Of about 360,000 covid-19 deaths worldwide, only about two dozen children are known to have died. For all the recent reports of serious complications among young people, these are statistically rare and, if detected early, most afflicted youths recover within weeks.

You see? It's simple. I mean sure, a few die, but not that many. So if one of them happens to be your son or daughter, well too bad. You pays your money and you takes your chances. But there's more:

There is evidence, however, that as with the earlier SARS outbreak, children who have covid-19 are less contagious than adults. Many children with covid-19 are asymptomatic; in the absence of coughing and sneezing, they emit fewer infectious droplets. Remarkably, contact tracing studies in China, Iceland, Britain and the Netherlands failed to locate a single case of child-to-adult infection out of thousands of transmission events analyzed. A review of studies from several Asian countries identified few cases of children bringing the virus home, and a recent analysis of covid-19 interventions found no evidence that school closures had helped contain the epidemic.

You see?  We did all this for nothing. It's perfectly fine to send all those kids to school. They won't infect each other, and if, by some chance they do, they probably won't get sick. And it's rare that children cough or sneeze, right? And those that do always use tissues and cough into their elbows, and never contaminate anything with their hands. After all, this guy says so, and he probably went to school thirty years ago, so he remembers better than those of us who've been doing it every day of our working lives.

But hey, there's this. A very recent piece in NY Times kind of contradicts this guy
If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

So I guess it's about who you believe. Do you believe Colombia University researchers, or Halperin? Should I discount the teachers I know who've carried the virus? Should I make believe that some of them did not actually end up hospitalized? Should I ignore the fact that working UFT members can and have gotten sick and died from this awful disease? Or should I believe Halperin and hope for the best?

It basically comes down to whether you believe case A or B, and whether you've decided to err on the side of caution or accepting Halperin. What do you think? Should we all go back and hope for the best? Should we accept his findings and ignore the fact that students actually do sneeze and cough all the time, or that they touch everything? Should we let Covid-infected children go home to older parents and elderly grandparents?

Also, should we let them get on buses and subway trains that may or may not be clean? Should we let them eat in cafeterias that resemble nothing more than the prison mess? 

Will Halperin's message be sufficiently accepted that parents will let their babies go to school? Or should Trump, Cuomo and de Blasio wave it like a flag and say, "Look, you see? It's not our fault that your mother/ father/ grandmother/ grrandfather/ brother/ sister/ uncle/ aunt/ child died?" Will you believe them?

It's all in the eye of the beholder. My eye says this is written by a non-teacher with very little understanding of what goes on in schools. I have extensive experience with such people and their ideas, and none of it is good.

For now, my best instinct is to throw Halperin and his article on the same slag heap we've placed Bill Gates, Common Core, school closings, the ATR and other failed notions.

What do you think?

Update; The school openings in Israel are not working out very well. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

On Union in Apocolypse Times

The other day I read a post on Facebook that asked what our union was doing about the outlandish work/ PD day we have tomorrow. It continued to say something like, "I don't want to hear any of that we are the union crap." This member, like a whole lot of us, sees the union as a separate entity. When you're in trouble, the union should come riding on a white horse and untie you from the railroad tracks.

Of course someone should get you off of those tracks. But first, you have to be on them. You have to be somewhere. The truth is you aren't some helpless innocent at the mercy of whatever bad guy twirls his mustache. You can set your own course.

Tomorrow is more of a nuisance than anything else. It's wasteful, it's stupid, and it's poorly conceived. Truth be told, though, the DOE was supposed to put up work yesterday that required no correction or input from teachers. (Maybe they did. I haven't checked.) It's not like they're oppressing us. They're simply wasting our time, and that of 1.1 million schoolchildren.

So tomorrow, a lot of teachers will go to some crappy useless PD brought to you by people who have no idea what we actually do. I'm going to teach. We don't have that much time left, and as much as I want to hear from the people who brought us two extra weeks in overcrowded, Covid-infested buildings, I'm pretty sure that the kids I serve need English more than I need another PD session. I've been taking PD from the DOE for 35 years, and so far the most it's ever been useful has been never.

Leadership has not taken exactly my position on this, but they know what it is regardless. I haven't been shy with it. They know the DOE failed to plan, and they know tomorrow is nonsense. Beyond that, it's insulting to working teachers. We do not just give busy work.

There were things I really liked about the chancellor. I've seen him speak well of teachers, and I've seen him stand for students I serve. That said, I've found him disappointing of late. I was shocked that he rejected our petition to close the schools, demanding 108,000 signatures from epidemiologists rather than working teachers. We, working teachers, were standing up for health and safety, and that of our students. We were absolutely right, and days later the chancellor's boss acceded to our demands.

That's what happens when we, the union, stand together. The union is you and me. It's not just Michael Mulgrew sitting on a throne on top of Mount Olympus or something. It's all of us, bringing our voices to bear. If your strategy is to sit around and wait for Mulgrew to do something, you've got it backwards. Any power Mulgrew has comes from us. Without us, he's just one guy standing there.

When the chancellor makes a boneheaded decision, saying that tomorrow will be both a school day and a PD day, you can tell him what you think if you're so inclined. I know I was.





Of course the chancellor was talking about the unrest in the city, and I can't argue with that sentiment. Our kids should have every right to thrive. It's hard for me to see, though, how giving them busy work squares with anything but wasting their time, demeaning them and us. It's even harder for me to see how driving an SUV through a crowd of protesters supports anyone's right to thrive. But Carranza's boss, Bill de Blasio, defended that, pretty much counter to everything I ever thought he stood for.

I once thought Carranza stood for education, for teachers, for students. Yet now, after the epidemiologist nonsense, he's taken a cheap opportunity to pretend to parents that education is going on tomorrow even as he wastes our time with PD. Here's a fact--no one at Tweed, up to and including the chancellor, has done what we are doing, and no one at Tweed is qualified to help us do it. Tomorrow is a wasted day for most.

This pales in contrast with the issues of systemic racism and state-sanctioned murder. Like most people, I can get through one day of nonsense. On the other hand, it's unconscionable that this mayor condones police violence at this time. Our union took a stand on that Monday night.  I support it absolutely and voted for it.

As for tomorrow, I've made my voice heard. I've let people in leadership know how I feel. One wasted day is not precisely the hill on which I want to make my last stand. But I absolutely offer and advocate for my viewpoint.

If your idea of activism is getting on a Facebook page and asking what the union is going to do about this or that, you are part of the problem. The fact is you are part of the union, and the fact is you can make your voice heard. If your chapter leader sucks, there's an election next year. Run and win the job. If you disagree with a union position, let leadership know. Let the world know.

A chapter leader I know once told me, "There are two problems with the union--the leadership and the membership." We, the membership, need to let leadership know what we are thinking. We need to be active. If we're just sitting around waiting for Michael Mulgrew to read our minds, we aren't doing our part.

We can do better, and we can make ourselves heard. I know what works for me. Something works for you, and I'm afraid it's on you to figure out just what it is. September is coming up and we need your voice. We can't just sit around and expect de Blasio or Carranza to do the right thing.  

Monday, June 01, 2020

UFT Executive Board June 1, 2020--We Pass Resolution on Killing of George Floyd & Propose Day of Mourning

Roll Call 5:50

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us. 5:59--Minutes passed, resolution on killing of George Floyd passed, will be an amendment, resolution in support of school librarians passed,

Mike Schirtzer--add Resolved, the UFT supports a day of mourning in NYC for George Floyd, and will advocate with the DoE, the mayor, and other unions and community organizations to set such a day this month.

Barr--proposes we vote on amendment, send out new resolution.

Multiple seconds for day of mourning.

No questions or comments 
Amendment carries.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Thanks us for passing resolution. Had to be done quickly both here and at AFT. Maybe this will wake everyone up so they say enough is enough. Elections really matter. We're in the middle of a pandemic, economy in shambles, people dying. Very tough time.

Mulgrew reads names of six UFT members, five retirees and one in service, and adds George Floyd to be recognized.

Moment of silence.

Mulgrew--We have one piece of good news in all this craziness--We were able to get something for families who've lost loved ones. Worked for a full week for this. We got an extension of health coverage for families, and now, we have a death benefit so that their statutory beneficiaries will receive the pension at 50%. 33 of those who passed were pension eligible. Affects 71 people going through a tough time.

Frustration with DOE is growing. Can't even get Brooklyn Queens Day right. They said there would be no engagement, then said it was an instructional day. We still can't get them to move on how to open a school in September. There was an agreement that it was a PD day. People need to do their jobs competently.

Still no planning for end of school year, and not expecting much on PD for Thursday. I know they have prepared a few things, but I think it will be a frustrating day. Hopefully I'm wrong but my faith is dwindling.

We finally have a meeting for tomorrow with CSA and DOE. Principals programming like normal school year with no projected enrollment or budgets. Will see what happens tomorrow. Hopefully we will have more answers by DA June 17. Hard to be good partner when there's no one to work with.

Testified in governor's and mayor's task force. Message is we're behind and we need to move now. What is criteria for medical accommodation? We can't get answers from DOE.  Many questions need to get answered, things we've been discussing for months.

We continue to do our work. We know that today is dentist day, even for non-emergencies. Welfare Fund launched new system to deal with this today. You can call now, will go to center, and you can get answers you need. Processing for forms now faster.

Focus on federal package, safety of students is on how we open, if we open.

Anthony Harmon--We discussed engaging membership in campaign to tell feds education is a lifeline. It's time for teachers and first providers to receive one. 8,000 members have volunteered to help lobby Congress for this. They will take action on togetherness Tuesdays to help get this package passed. NY Senators are championing this on national level.

Members can go to UFT website, sign parent petition schools need to be safe for all, and call people in states where senators need a push to act. We're focusing on nine states. A lot of New Yorkers are from somewhere and may have contacts in targeted states. If you know people in red states give them a call. Points are on website, along with a hotline number provided by AFT directing calls to appropriate senators. Tomorrow we thank NY Senators for doing the right thing.

Mulgrew--We're working across country doing everything in our power. Hoping before end of June. DOE doesn't want to give enrollment numbers before budget, but we need them.

Question--Can we encourage parents to go to UFT website and use this?

A--No because they have to sign in.

Harmon--Nick Cruz will send email blast to parents on our contact list.

Mulgrew--Safety and livelihood are our focuses, so this is important. Discussed hybrid instruction with chancellor. We now have a small group advising both DOE and AFT on this, what it really looks like. Thankful we have those people.

Speaker said he expects Assembly back in Albany to do bills on law enforcement and civil rights. Very important and we will monitor it. Maybe we can finally move on this.

Been a rough week. Medical professionals freaking out. Demonstrations could spread disease.

UFT Central is ready to reopen as we can. Not same as seeing people in person. Will be strict protocols in place. Building is super clean. Can't have more than three people on any elevator. Important for us to do that, informs us on how to help schools do the same.

Summer school, at least, finally posted. Will be crazy, with civil unrest and pandemic. Some states reopening as Covid numbers rise. We have to figure out if we can open buildings, and if not, how to open buildings, how to do observations. We will need a temporary contract, because not all complaints can be operational.

September will be a new thing. We will negotiate through summer. Still no agreement on APPR, but not too worried, since if they insist on it, we don't have measures than law requires anyway. As far as we're concerned no one should be harmed. Anyone who developed a remote learning class should be highly effective.

Questions--(some just answers--Not all questions were read fully, and some were too fast for me.)

We will have to work out observation plan. We have it on our radar and will see how we observe hybrid situation.

Can we prioritize students and members who have prior medical conditions in September? We will have something in place for medical accommodations. Some teachers may just do remote learning. We may have grade teams in elementary. Some in person, some remote. We'll see how it goes. The more time that passes, the less creative we can be.

Can we lay to rest rumor we'll end early? Cannot do so yet.

Will get back to you on summer observations.

What does teacher have to do on final grade of NX?  I don't believe there will be a standardized form. We are meeting them and discussing this. If they came up wth a form it would be something. NX is up to summer school teacher, or if there is valid credit recovery, would be up to teacher running it.

Parents still upset mayor and governor dropped ball on Covid---Elected officals act like they've never done anything wrong. Greatest challenge is whether people are trusting and willing to send kids back. If they don't see we're working on it, it's tough. When mayor says we have plenty of time, it's frustrating. Waiting so long to plan will have adverse effect on people's feelings about safetly. I remind them, and they don't want to hear it.

Layoffs--No discussion about layoffs. If fed package doesn't come through, we can get through this year. Package will get us through another.

If we stay in remote learning, we'll need more centers,

DOE is supposed to supply school with meaningful work. They say it will be out by tomorrow PM. You don't have to supply lesson and do PD.

Early retirement? There are conversations with Municipal Labor Council. Don't think it's happening, but we are discussing it. Please don't count on it. I don't think they'll be able to get it done.

Can staff update DOE machines remotely--We will bring it up.

Couldn't get into last DA--Is glitch fixed? We apologize. Had to use different system. We have a team working on it. We think we know problem.

Barr--Lines were insufficient. We will have people call in early. We will put several things in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Mulgrew--We will try new procedure at Exec. Board before DA

Pre-existing conditions--Is there a focus group of members with mitigating factors on returning to work?

Mulgrew--Will set up this focus group and figure that out. That will be tough. Not everyone will get answer they want. Will have 10-15 people.

I will be proud to go to Mayor and ask for a day of recognition for George Floyd. We will honor him and say enough is enough. Thank you for coming, and hopefully we will get answers from DOE. 6:47

Roll call for latecomers. We are adjourned 6:50.

Resolution on the Police Killing of George Floyd

WHEREAS, George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, while he was handcuffed and lying face down on the road; and 

WHEREAS, Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng also helped restrain Floyd, who is Black, while officer Tou Thao stood nearby and looked on; and

WHEREAS, the killing was recorded by bystanders and those recordings show Floyd pleading that he couldn’t breathe; and

WHEREAS, Floyd’s death comes on the heels of the deaths earlier in the year of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot multiple times during a no-knock police raid on the wrong house, and Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man in Georgia who was chased, shot and killed while jogging by a retired police officer claiming to perform a citizen's arrest; and

WHEREAS, a National Academy of Sciences report found in 2019 that African-American men and boys are two and a half times more likely to die in an encounter with the police than their white peers; and

WHEREAS, the senseless killing of George Floyd has sparked widespread outrage and calls for justice nationwide; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, the United Federation of Teachers stands in support of George Floyd’s family and the thousands who have engaged in peaceful protests across the country; and, be it further

RESOLVED, the UFT supports the American Federation of Teachers, which condemned the killing on May 27, and asks whether this would have happened had Floyd not been Black; and, be it further

RESOLVED, the UFT demands the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of Floyd’s killing be thorough, complete and independent, and the union further avows that the nature of these acts require serious charges; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the UFT supports a day of mourning in NYC for George Floyd, and will advocate with the DoE, the mayor, and other unions and community organizations to set such a day this month.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Idiots at Tweed Expect Us to Concurrently Teach and Take PD

Evidently Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have determined that teachers now have plenty of time even as we offer remote learning. That's why, just yesterday, after schools like mine had already begun planning for next Thursday, they decided that we could somehow teach even as we were taking whatever PD they'd placed on their website.

My students expect me to give them classes, and I'll be there doing so. Let them put a letter in my frigging file. I'll frame it and hang it near awards I've received.

I'm a language teacher, and verbal and aural interaction, for me, is non-negotiable. I have students who've studied English for years in China, passed, and arrived here unable to speak. It's my job to help these kids with what they need. Who knows better what that is--me, or the people in air-conditioned Tweed offices?

I won't set my kids up with busy work, which would be what not showing up would entail for me. Even if I could figure out how to make that click, the assumption that any teacher can somehow offer something of value that involves neither time nor work is insulting, demeaning, and astonishingly ignorant.

My students expect me to check the work they send in, and I'll be doing that too. The chancellor, evidently, thinks after doing whatever work he wants me to set up, I have time to read his PowerPoints, or whatever crap they have posted up at DOE. I'm sure it will be as useful as the sexual harassment seminar we all wasted our time with after having spent months trying to even get in.

Other teachers may not be offering live classes, but are nonetheless providing assignments, communicating with students, and checking and correcting their work. I suppose this is what the chancellor expects of us. For me, that model doesn't work. However, if it did, I'd still be expected to do not only my regular work, but also attend whatever crap the DOE has posted. Unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable. Despite what the chancellor may think, any worthwhile activity entails time and work from teachers.

It's ironic, because we could've taken the day off from teaching, given our students a much-needed break, and done something worthwhile. I'd been negotiating for some of my colleagues who are expert in Google Classroom to help teachers like me, who are not. I'm not a Luddite, but I pick up on computer programs via trial and error. For example, I've observed while grading submitted work that I can actually watch the students as they write.

This is a big deal for me, because if I could arrange assignments they could do within Google Classroom, I could recapture my practice of watching students do work in real time. I could offer tips as they write in my virtual class. I didn't even know that was possible until I stumbled upon students doing homework assignments in real time.

Some of my students have programs they use to type answers onto worksheets I give as homework. One told me she had to pay for that program. Are there free programs that enable them to do this? I don't know. Could our school sponsor paid programs? Could the DOE rechannel its gala luncheon funding and support a program like that? I don't know that either. Does the first year teacher who trained me in Zoom and Google Classroom know the answers? I'll bet he does, and on Thursday I could've probably got him paid to share his expertise.

Are there other teachers who know even less about these programs than I do? Certainly. I know one teacher who actually pays someone to help with Google Classroom. How many of us were trained to use these programs? I'm glad I stumbled into it, though I'd prefer it weren't accompanied by a pandemic.

What other things are available that I don't know about? What possibilities are there that my colleagues have never imagined? On Thursday, we won't find out. The DOE, of course, has no idea how these programs worked. They've never used them, and a whole lot of the geniuses in Tweed skedaddled out of the classroom the first chance they got.

Did they engage experts to support us in our efforts? Of course not. They tossed us to the dogs, and told us to hope for the best. On our scheduled break, they told us to work on. High holy days? Screw you and your religion.

That's the kind of support we know to expect from the DOE--none whatsoever. The best thing teachers can do is depend on themselves and one another. For myself, I'll be calling my first year teacher friend and asking him to help me out a little. I'm sure he will.

That's just one reason he'd never fit into the DOE and their agenda of sitting around their offices while we lowly teachers do the actual work. As the DOE plans for an entire summer of online education, not to mention almost certain continuation for September, actual training for teachers in dire need is of no importance whatsoever. I have absolutely no faith whatever the DOE has is of value, and in the highly unlikely event it is, they've given me no time whatsoever to use it.

It's criminal that de Blasio and Carranza are contemplating budget cuts to schools as their worthless minions in Tweed sit around, twiddling their thumbs and pulling preposterous decisions like this one from their overly ample hind quarters.

Friday, May 29, 2020

I Fail a Test

For months, as the pandemic approached, I worked in the most overcrowded school in the city. We've got 5,000 people walking around in a building designed for closer to 2,000. Getting through the halls is a skill.

One day I was walking down the hall from the cafeteria to class, and worried about making it on time. A math teacher of diminutive stature cut in front of me and ordered me to follow her. "I'm from the Bronx," she declared, and I made it on time.

I took a group of students to see a Broadway show in early March. We took the train back to Queens, and then a bus back to the school. On the train, one of my students made a point of giving me some of her hand sanitizer. I thought it was very kind. Like many of my students, she'd never been to Manhattan before that day. Her mom only let her come after another teacher on the trip, one who speaks Spanish better than I do, assured her we would personally bring her back to the school.

Less than two weeks later Bill de Blasio closed Broadway. Evidently it was too risky to sit in a theater. Of course it was no problem going into school buildings and fighting your way through hall passing. It was only the day Broadway closed that I began to consider how really risky our behavior was. How could we not be at unacceptable risk if it was too dangerous to sit in a theater?

The next week I made my last visit to UFT at 52 Broadway. I drove to Forest Hills and took the E train to World Trade Center. For half of the ride I was the only one on the train. It was a little spooky and very odd. At the DA, I looked around and it was over half empty. I've never seen so few people at one of these meetings. I'm pretty sure it was only a few days before de Blasio was finally pressured into closing up school buildings.

Of course, once the buildings closed, that wasn't enough for the mayor. The mayor sent us back to them for three days of training, which was a great idea. Why not have random administrators, none of whom had ever done online teaching, train us how to teach online? Just to make sure things went well, the DOE gave no guidance whatsoever. Evidently, though the closing by then looked pretty much inevitable, they had done no prep whatsoever.

We sat around a lot, went to hastily prepared PD sessions here and there, and got some firsthand experience using Zoom. A first-year teacher sat with me and taught me how to program Zoom meetings. He showed me the rudiments of Google Classroom. Over the last few weeks, I've learned how to use it better. When I want to get really good, I'm gonna call the first year teacher and have him walk me through it. If I wait for the DOE to help, I'll never learn anything.

On the subject of not learning anything, on one of the last three days I was sitting at a table with three of my colleagues eating lunch. We were not yet social distancing. In retrospect, we were all careless and crazy One of my colleagues said, "You know, I'd like to give a workshop on Zoom."

"Have you ever used it?" I asked.

"No," she answered. "But that doesn't matter."

I'm sure she'd have given a great workshop, and figured out whatever she needed to before having done so. And that is precisely what sets her apart from the DOE, who would set time aside, prepare nothing, and hope for the best. (The best, to them, entails being as blameless as possible.) Teachers face impossible situations fairly regularly, and we do the best we can to deal with them. That's why my colleague had such confidence.

Another woman at that table is on our consultation committee. We've been meeting frequently during the apocolypse. She recently had occasion to tell me she took an antibodies test and tested negative. I was really surprised. All that close contact, well after we should've known better, and this was the result.

I understand, of course, that there are like 500 antibodies tests and we have no idea how reliable they are. Those who work to deny our brothers and sisters health care tell us this is the best medical system in the world, and such is the state of things. At least we no longer have to sneeze in the face of a rich person to find out whether or not we carry Covid.

Anyway, one day this week I went to a doctor I regularly see for a checkup. It was an adventure, the first time I set foot out of my town in months. I decided to ask the doctor, since he was taking blood, to test me for the antibodies.

And I also tested negative. The only actual result is I'm no less paranoid now than I was last week. I'll walk across the street to avoid human contact and continue to stay at home. And if September rolls around and the idiots who run the city and state decide once again that it's okay for us to risk our lives and those of others just so they can open the schools with no drastic modification since everything is now fine, I won't be leaving my little town to help them out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

BREAKING--Chalkbeat Discovers Teachers on Frontlines, Gets Brand New Charter Leader to Write About It

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I've been speculating on what September will look like for some time. And if you've been on Facebook, Twitter, or following other teacher blogs, you know I'm far from the only person doing that.  

So has the UFT, in fact, and you can see that reflected in multiple meeting minutes recorded right here. Chalkbeat New York seems to follow none of the above. They've just noticed it, and they chose the leader of a non-union charter school who presumes to speak for all of us.

Of course this principal, David Noah, has impressive credentials. You won't really find them in Chalkbeat's cutesy but deceptive little bio paragraph:

David Noah founded Comp Sci High, New York City’s first charter CTE high school, in 2018. Prior, he was a principal in East Harlem as well as a math teacher in Brooklyn and New Haven. He was also a lawyer for a little while, but he doesn’t like to talk about it

Noah's educational career began as an NYC Teaching Fellow, teaching math for a few months or years. Who knows? It doesn't say. He also argued a "landmark" case on some sort of reforminess in Connecticut. What was it? Did he win? No idea. Does he have a degree in school administration? Who knows? But he also worked with KIPP and ran a Moskowitz Academy. Why does Chalkbeat deprive us of that info?

Isn't alignment with Moskowitz and her anti-union, 24/7 test prep philosophy germaine somehow? After all, Chalkbeat is my go-to whenever I want to find out where Eva Moskowitz last sneezed. How much does Noah make for running this school? Who knows? I'd wager it's a lot more than that of my principal, who has a credential and runs the most overcrowded school in the city.

The revelation of Noah's article, evidently, is that teachers will be on the front lines this September. It has occurred neither to Chalkbeat nor Noah that we're on the front lines all the time. We were on the front lines before the pandemic, we were on the front lines as de Blasio sent us into it after having closed Broadway, we're there now, and of course we'll be there in September.

You'd think no teacher was considering what September would look like. You'd think UFT had not had multiple meetings discussing it. You'd think the minutes for most or all those meetings were not recorded right here. You'd think that a good half-dozen of my colleagues were not meeting with our principal this very afternoon to discuss this. Maybe you'd think we were all waiting for some charter leader to face-slap himself and make a submission to Chalkbeat.

That said, I'll grant you that Mr. Noah has a keen perception of the obvious, and it's certainly helpful that Chalkbeat gives him a platform to tell us what every working teacher and thinking parent already knows.

And hey, if you want to work for Noah, he's hiring. There are a few links you can check about their beliefs, and their model. However, it says nothing about working hours. It says nothing about pay. There is a statement that 100% of their students will go to college. That frequently means that 100% of the students who aren't weeded out, dropped out, thrown out, or "got to go" end up in college. It also calls their teachers "empowered." In my work, every single time I have heard anyone use that word, it has meant precisely the opposite.

If you want to work in a job with no contract, no tenure, and a decidedly uncertain future, you should apply. As far as I can tell, the school's been around for no more than two years, as there is not yet a grade 11 or 12. It's co-located at James Monroe "Campus" in the Bronx. A commenter says it has metal detectors, if that makes a difference to you.

And hey, if you want our children to grow up and have jobs where they can arbitrarily and capriciously be fired, where they cannot organize to collectively bargain, where they are judged by test scores or other arbitrary standards that may or may not be valid, keep supporting charter schools. Maybe you can get a piece of the bonanza Eva Moskowitz found for herself, and maybe you too can pull in almost a million bucks a year exploiting working people and hapless children.

If you do, you can be sure Chalkbeat will write about it. Meanwhile, those of us on the ground actually doing the work will be figuring out what the overwhelming majority of New York's children and teachers will do come September.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

College Credit for High School Students? It's Not Working.

So says Professor Nicholas Tampio, of AP courses, and I couldn't agree more. There is a whole lot involved in college courses that may or may not be covered in AP courses. The fact is these courses are a financial bonanza for the College Board, which uses us and our schools as resources, then shares nothing back with our system. My friend Jonathan gives chapter and verse on his blog.

In fact, according to state regulations, there's a whole lot involved in teaching high school that isn't required for college. At Francis Lewis High School we have a program called College Now, given in cooperation with Queensborough Community College. Essentially, a bunch of college teachers unqualified to teach high school students come in and teach high school students. Of course these teachers are not certified to teach high school, and that's just fine with the DOE. Rules are for the little people.

I had to take all sorts of tests to get this job. I had to be fingerprinted. I had to send my college transcripts in to multiple places more times than I can count. I had to take specialized courses in special education, which I don't teach, and a whole bunch of other things so varied I can't even recall what they are. I had to fulfill requirements for certification. When I couldn't get a job teaching under that certification, I had to get another one. In fact, I've got three altogether.

Do you know what the requirements are to teach in college? I'll tell you. The one and only requirement is to get the college to give you a job. I taught for twenty years at the English Language Institute at Queens College. I first heard about it when I was taking my master's. One of my classmates was teaching there. I tried to get them to hire me but they didn't need me that badly. However, they gave me a job as soon as I'd completed my master's.

I also taught for a few years at Nassau Community College. It was pretty easy for me to get that job, having worked in Queens. The money was good, but when I became chapter leader it became impossible to do the extra work. In fact, it became pretty much impossible to do the work I was already doing (and it still is).

I'm not sure, though, that I meet the exacting standards over at Queensborough Community College. You see, they teach very important stuff there, like astronomy. No one at my school is certified to teach astronomy, so they needed to send their own person. (The fact that there is no such thing as certification in astronomy is neither here nor there.) They also teach health, which of course a whole lot of high school teachers could teach, but I can only suppose high school teachers are not healthy enough for the geniuses over at Queensborough.

There were a bunch of people teaching English too, but they were high school teachers. Queensborough, being such a fine institution, fired the lot of them, and now there are far fewer. However, there are a handful of Queensborough teachers still at Francis Lewis, raking in a whole lot of cash to teach high school students even though they are manifestly unqualified. I will tell you something--it's a whole lot easier to teach college than high school. It's a whole lot more important to help the kids we serve than ones who can afford to pay. When my fellow college teachers had severe trouble with shared students, it was a relative walk in the park for me. Still, I know where I'm really needed.

I filed a grievance demanding that these jobs be posted and offered to qualified teachers. This was several years ago. I'm still waiting for it to go to step two. I have spoken to many people at many levels of UFT and no one wants to touch this. Meanwhile, my people get fired, and the students at Francis Lewis are being taught by utterly unqualified teachers, utterly unsupervised, in violation of state law. Students are getting both college and high school credit despite the fact that these teachers, unlike those of us who did the work, are absolutely uncertified and have no right to grant credits.

Oh, and no one who actually bothered to get the certification has been offered most of these jobs. Queensborough Community College has its own standards, whatever they may be, and following state law is evidently not among them.

There must be a better way to offer college credit to high school students.  I've yet to see it.

Monday, May 25, 2020

How Does It Feel to Be One of the Beautiful Tweedies?

Chancellor Carranza says the budget it cut "to the bone." There's absolutely nothing left at Tweed to be cut. Otherwise, why would they be cutting so much from the classroom?

The city has proposed $827 million in DOE cuts, including slashing school budgets by $285 million. This would reduce arts programs, counselors and social workers in needy districts, and college-prep for high schoolers. The DOE would also put off new classes for 3-year-olds, installation of air conditioners, and rat extermination.

So what is so absolutely vital that our kids need to sit in sweltering, rat-infested classrooms, likely as not during a pandemic?

For those who work in Tweed, there are spiritual considerations. After all, when you're making 200K a year after the budget being cut to the bone, you have other things to think about besides salary. That's why they hired a guru for DOE employees with troubled souls. After all, when DOE employees with big questions need to explore their inner selves, we can't expect them to do so on their own time. After all, the sort of high quality service we've come to expect from them doesn't come easily.

It's not just anyone you can send your college transcripts to who will ask you to send them again because their on the fourth, rather than the sixteenth floor. It's not just anyone who will absolutely lose every single paper you hand deliver unless you get a written receipt. It's not just anyone who will invariably rule against the UFT when black letter contract regulations are violated. Not just any organization could say untimely letters are fine because, "the event was not an occurrence."

So of course, you need to find the right person for a job like that. Of course, you hire a "Director of Mindfulness," and shell out $183, 781 in salary to one Barnaby Spring for doing so. Evidently, this vital job entails informing all the fine people in the DOE about yoga, so that they sit in the proper positions at their desks. After all, when you make almost 200K a year, there's quite a bit of sitting to be done. And while it's certainly true that sitting takes it out of you, there are a lot of other things that being a mindfulness director requires.

One of the first steps Spring took as mindfulness director was to forge a partnership with the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which Forbes in November named among “the best meditation retreats in the world.”

Spring helped arrange for top DOE administrators, including principals, managers, superintendents and deputies, to undergo “leadership resiliency training” at the Berkshires retreat.
Surrounded by 100 leafy acres, Kripalu sits on a hilltop with beautiful views of woodlands, valleys and Lake Mahkeenac. The center offers classes as well as massages and facials, overnight accommodations and a cafe featuring salads and a “Buddha Bar” with legumes, grains and vegetables.

Meanwhile, back on earth, my students are missing school. They miss their friends. They even miss some of their teachers. In fact, about the only thing they don't miss is the school lunch. Surprisingly, they don't have the benefit of a "Buddha Bar." Instead, they get cold pizza, overcooked pasta, and grilled cheese sandwiches in plastic bags.

Instead of beautiful views and valleys, they get crumbling moldy trailers. Instead of massages and facials, they get closets and half rooms. Instead of air-conditioning, they get heat in the summer and rats. This is what happens when the DOE gets to make priorities.

As for the spiritual man himself, I've now heard from multiple sources that he was a much-unloved principal, good only for creating fear and loathing among lowly UFT employees. In fact, he was somehow made an ATR, and I'm suspecting it wasn't because of his sterling leadership qualities. However, one of the really cool things about being a failed principal is you can make the right connections, find a niche that works for you, and go straight from educrat to guru.

Sure it may not actually help students, or teachers, or anyone out here doing the actual work. But the next time someone from the DOE threatens you with harrowing consequences for something that's not remotely your fault, you can rest assured that whatever stress this incident has caused them will be released in the next yoga class up on Lake Mahkeenac

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Week Off, or Makeup Week?

Some districts are ending the year early so they don't have to actually pay teachers for the seven extra days we worked. Is that a good idea? For Governor Cuomo, it was absolutely unacceptable for students to have a week off in April, even though every district in the state had agreed to it with their unions. This was because, he said, it was too risky for young people to be free that week.

According to Governor Cuomo, when young people are at liberty, they get together and socialize. They don't worry about whether or not they're spreading a pandemic. They aren't conscientious like the governor, the model of reason and judgment, who himself failed to take action when it could have saved a whole lot of sickness and death. (And just like Donald Trump, Governor Cuomo takes no responsibility for this.)

Kids are another thing. The governor boldly insisted they not have that week off. Evidently they lack his sterling judgment. This notwithstanding, his actions have given many of them an additional free week in June. So you have to ask yourself what's more risky--giving kids a free week of beautiful weather, or a chilly one in April? Then you have to ask yourself whether Cuomo, who failed to close the state when it could've made a crucial difference, knows how young people think. As far I can tell, Andrew Cuomo was 42 years old the day he was born.

Here is Fun City, we're looking at using the last week to catch up students who are failing, or NXing, as it were. Of course no one wants students to fail. However, it's hard for me, at least, to understand exactly how students make up in one week what other students spent months doing. For example, if I were to pass a student for simply making up assignments I'd given, I'd be saying that every single student who spent months coming to my virtual classes had wasted their time.

In fact, I'd be saying that I wasted my own time giving those classes. Why did I bother doing activities with them when I could have simply assigned homework and grading it? In fact, having heard from my students, parents and UFT that kids were overburdened with homework, I focused a lot less on it. As a language teacher, I really want my students to listen, to speak, to interact. In our department, participation is 30% of the grade. As far as I''m concerned, no one makes up months of participation in a week.

I'm now looking at some practices of my own, and realizeing how short-sighted they turned out. For example, when students show up in the middle of the year, not having had the benefit of months of instruction, I usually excuse them from tests. That is, I have them take the tests, but if they score, say, in the low teens, I don't record the grade. Should they catch up, I begin recording, If not, I try to give them a grade that won't affect their average.

This is biting me in the behind now, as one of those students is doggedly submitting missed assignments. What I notice is that assignments with specific answers are perfectly copied, while those requiring actual writing are borderline incoherent. I expect this student will end with a failing average, but then there will be that last week.

Of course it's different for students who have trouble getting online. Of course it's different for students who have emotional reactions to this crisis. I have one student who had both issues. However, this student had scored high grades all year. I'm inclined to give this student every benefit of the doubt. I have a lot of patience for this student, and in fact this student has recently stepped up and started performing online. Also, this student has consistently submitted assignments online, though it took a little reminding on my part.

I feel differently about students who were already failing on March 17th, or whenever the last day of physical school was. Actually I'm not sure how many of my students, the ones who were failing before the apocalypse, the ones who cut physical classes, will bother to show up the last week. I have a feeling if I run classes, I'll be facing a handful of students. Some will be utterly unprepared to catch up. Others will be quite capable despite having cut school most of the year.

I guess what we do that last week is all about priorities. Is your district focused on passing everyone no matter what, or is it trying to save a few bucks by not compensating teachers for extra work? A lot of suburban districts are closing so teacher won't get additional compensation. NYC seems to want to give students a chance to avoid summer school, or making things up next school year.

Given that our students have until next January to make up this year's work, I suppose a lot of them will pull it off. It will be pretty easy for some other teacher to get paid to look at my Google Classroom and have kids make up the homework and such. I believe anyone who wants to can manage to pass whether they deserve it or not.

This notwithstanding, if I'm forced to spend a week or two facing students who've simply chosen to ignore two months or more of my classes, I'm not going to have them do any of the work my students have been doing. I won't give them credit for copying assignments my regular students had to do. Though it will be a pain in the neck, I'm going to create alternative assignments for them.

Despite the admitted inconvenience, my students who've missed months of class are going to have to do actual work if they want to get past me.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

UFT Virtual Town Hall, May 21, 2020

 by special guest blogger Mindy Rosier-Rayburn

UFT President Michael Mulgrew greets everyone on the call….

Thanks everyone for all that we accomplished.  What we've done is so special and it’s a testament to how we care about our communities and get things done.  

It hasn't been easy and we never know what’s going to happen from week to week. Reviewed all past notes and now look where we are. Things are constantly changing. All the craziness of trying to close schools back on March 1st, all the uncertainty...we got things up and getting up running.  We turned it around and made the largest schools system online. 

Monday will be our first day off since Feb. Everyone deserves that day off. Spring break was such a challenge and we plowed through it. It got ugly, a political fight ensued, and we made our voices loud and clear.  This was a low point. We were at the peak of cases. Members, families, friends, passing away. Lost so many people, 54 retirees, 68  active. We must never forget them and we will honor them. 

We received our raise! You will see it on our next paycheck. Moving forward, everything is about safety and protecting our profession.

Summer school is on and it will be done remotely. 

We need definitions from the DOE for clear language. Everything we are doing right now is to protect ourselves, real labor management work. Remember, all of this emergency planning is only for now. 

Considerations For September….

  1. Will there be a cure ? Probably not
  2. Remain in complete remote learning
  3. Hybrid instructional models

All is being planned for. Focus groups have been going on discussing safety and guidelines.  
We don't know where this is going. Things constantly change. September is currently up in the  air. 

Didn’t know the size of an average classroom but now we do. Eight hundred sq ft can fit 12 children per the CDC social distancing guidelines. We are looking at all options. 

Before we walk into the building…

CDC wants temperatures to be taken, so that's what we will be doing in the school buildings. 

In the end it's the decision of DOE and the Mayor which has been so frustrating because it has been taking them so long to make decisions. This has been very complicated for the DOE to work out. Summer school will be massive. Will the kids come? Will there be teachers? 

End of the school year is approaching, the grading system is in place, we have Memorial day off,  PD's are coming up. We also need to find a way for us to be able to get into our classrooms to close things down or to pick up things for the summer. 

In possible hybrid planning, part time students in school and at home remotely. There are lots of complications. We’ve been trying to set up students as cohorts. All the space will be looked at in the buildings. If students are in schools, who's teaching remotely? Lots of things that must be considered. HS is more difficult to plan.

We are the experts now. Different grades offer different challenges and problems. We’ve been listening to several focus groups of different grades and levels. Paras were applauded throughout. It’s been phenomenal how we put this all together. 

You cannot program all schools from central. All schools are different.  Guidelines will all be the same but should be implemented differently on a school to school basis. 

We have been making sure all information is shared out. Extremely important.

What happens if a child tests positive? What do we do then? Quarantine that student? His classmates? His teachers? Every scenario must be considered for September.

We learned how to remote teach but now we have to plan differently than we have ever done before. We all reach kids differently. How are we going to plan with a hybrid set up? So many things to take into consideration for instruction. We will think it thoroughly through. Won't be perfect at first. We as teachers can adjust. We are not those arrogant people who force things even when they don't work. 

No matter what we are doing in September, it is temporary and safety plans and guidelines will strictly be in place. 

The virus is a challenge but so is the budget. Safety or the economy across the country. We are fighting for safety and livelihood. 

Two teachers testified with Mulgrew with the City Council. We are doing everything in our power to get the Heroes Act to be passed. Safety precautions cost money. 

The DOE has asked, “ what if kids need a new mask everyday?” We have to plan for a child not having a mask. We are not going to send a student home if they don’t have a mask. We should be able to give them one. Costs money. Custodial staff will have lots of cleaning to do. Money for that cannot come out of the school budget. Not every school has a nurse. That needs to change. They are the heroes with all the work they've been doing. We need counselors in every school. Psychologists and social workers too. They need to put up or shut up. Class sizes will need to be reduced. We will need new teachers, but there's a hiring freeze. This is where we are. We need this Heroes act. (Read the bill here.)

Petition took off, politicians woke up to it. 

The Governor will be putting out more preliminary cuts because of lost revenue. State is losing money. This has been a huge political game. It's disgusting. Every state economy has been devastated, but they play games. It's about money and power to them.

Parents and teachers from all states understand that we need this federal package with a stream of funding to schools that can't be touched, amended, or anything. No loopholes. Money is there. It would be sent to all states for this fiscal year and next year. This is our shot to protect our livelihood. If we don't get this, a lot of people will be hurt. 

We need to reach out to everyone. Politicians need to bail out the children in this country. They all blah blah blah about education and then take the money away from public education. We can't let them forfeit our children's future. 

We need volunteers. Just like before. We got our message out before and we can do it again. 

Introduces Anthony Harmon

Anthony Harmon: Committee has been doing lots of work to get this Heroes Act passed. We need this lifeline for our children. 

If you'd like to help….

TEXT: LIFELINE TO 30644

You'll receive instructions as to what you can do to help. 

Mulgrew: We need to take care of our safety. We need this to pass. Get this out there. Have friends and families help. We are going to reach out to all organizations. 

They are playing games. Shame on them all. We need everybody to get this done and we keep moving moving moving.

We have experts who have been looking at our buildings, helping with safety. We are responsible for safety and  we continually advocate for it. 

You all should have received an email from us earlier today. We now have a UFT legal plan for members only. It's important that everyone here utilizes this. Make sure you have your health care proxies, your wills, and power or attorney are in place. If you don't, it makes a bad situation much worse. There’s no cost to members. People need real access to legal services. Do it! It's free. Get the papers. They are phenomenal people and they will get it done and then you should  keep the paperwork someplace safe. 

So thankful that we as a union is here for this challenge. I don't know anyone who has done what we have. Specifically, this Heroes Act is about helping the people that kept things going in our communities.  Thank you everyone.

Questions-

Jesse Fuller- Keeping the CDC guidelines and federal recommendations in mind, my school has 3300 kids and over 300 staff. Concerned about the fall and wants to know, when will we have answers?

Mulgrew- Getting frustrated with the DOE. We are a month behind for planning school in September. We are not waiting for those decisions. We are trying to work things out and looking at different models. We all agreed to follow the CDC social distancing guidelines and from recommendations from health care professionals.  If we had to go right now, it would be hybrid. Thirty-three hundred students in schools are a huge concern. There will be some students and staff who will be remote all the time. Hopefully, we will know by 2nd week of June

Rachel Iglesias- Thank you for acknowledging school nurses. For the summer, D75 has the option to work summer…..

Bad connection...request to email

Janice Lynch- I was part of the last town hall and a calendar was mentioned. 

Mulgrew: We agreed upon a calendar and they are reluctant to send it out because of possible changes. Just put on top of the calendar that this can change. Very simple, but they remain reluctant. Schools can still vote on SBO’s.

Amy Winger: Presently a nurse in a rec center.  When will they open? Staffing? Shifts? 

Mulgrew-: We need to get this settled ASAP. We have been able to pull most of our nurse members back. You're going right into a school year where the nurse will be front and center in a school building. You will get your answer. 

Rich Mantel- Working in the summer will be per session and voluntary.  

Mulgrew-: Thanked the 3000 people who already signed up. Pleading, text LIFELINE.

JAMES C: Questioning teacher evaluation or observations tied to certifications. Teachers worried about tenure

Mulgrew-: There are no evaluations. Teachers can still be granted tenure. Less continuance than last year which is very good. SED made it clear that we support their position of extensions and waiting on the Governor for an executive order. It is being closely monitored. If we don't get the waiver we'll go to Albany. We would sit with them and figure something out.

Andrea Polite- Have you thought of a national day of action to email, text , social media, to get McConnell to pass that legislation? We need to shame him into doing the right thing for all of us. 

Mulgrew-- Love your energy! Together Tuesdays. Parents, students, everyone to stand together.  Actions will take place on Tuesdays.  We will keep going after them. 


Sara Friedman- D75 in Sept, with severe low functioning students. For these students, social distancing can't exist, kids will not want to wear masks, sharing materials, etc. How will D75 be looked at for schools opening?

Mulgrew-- We are looking at what is realistic and what is not. We'll be talking to parents about decisions and we'll be talking with the folks who work with them. We have to deal with this situation. 


Corinne B- When it comes to remote learning. We are now seeing checklists. Is that what we are doing? 

Mulgrew-- You have people doing things they weren't trained to do. The tool doesn't work in the way it was meant to. That's why we need definitions. We need to learn about synchronous teaching. It's not a good instructional tool. Kids are on and off. Checklists make no sense. They (DOE) never did remote learning in their life, so how can they tell us what to do? Thank goodness for our teacher center. We must be flexible.  Flexibility is key. Google classroom is a learning platform. Zoom is a meeting place. This is just for this period of time. Teachers have been amazing and creative with what they've been doing. We need you for a whole school year. Don't burn out. Keep that in mind


Nancy Welch- What accommodations for members who have medical conditions for the fall? 

Mulgrew-- There will be a criteria and guidelines set up for those people in determining how we program our schools to set up for September. This has to be dealt with and we are working on making sure everyone is safe

Erica C- Many of us are parents, cohort teaching may conflict with our kids at home. 

Mulgrew-- There's so much to consider and we will work to make sure accommodations and systems are in place. The school cannot be used as day care but only for education. There should be daycares created for these essential workers which is what we will be when we go back. We have been talking with and will continue our teacher focus groups, to discuss the different scenarios. 

Nothing will solve all of our problems, but we can help each other get through this. 

Email questions and we'll get back to you. Don't forget to sign up for LIFELINE.  Sometimes we are going to have to fight people. It's something we will have to do.

Enjoy this weekend. We have accomplished amazing things. When the chips were down, we pulled through. The nurses thank us for supporting them. Don't forget all you have done. Taking care of each other and fighting those who don't have our interests in mind. You have given me the honor of working with such an amazing workforce. Take care.

4:23