Friday, August 22, 2014

The Lathe of Heaven...or Hell?

In Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, the main character, George Orr, has the power to change reality through his dreams.  A psychiatrist attempts to harness the power of his dreams to create a better world, but every attempt backfires in completely unexpected ways.

The premise of the story reminds me of the predicaments we will find ourselves in if left in the hands of some educational "reformers."  There are those with well-meaning intentions, loads of money and political pull; and then, there are others, only too happy to do most anything if there is profit to be had.

Just as the side effects of Orr's dreams create terrible nightmares, so, too, do the plans of ed. reformers, wearing thick blinders to unintended consequences.  Some abbreviated examples follow.

The federal and state promotion of Charter Schools has

1.  led to co-location, strangling and starving  NYC public schools
2.  led to the exclusion of some students with special needs from these "special" schools and the over-suspension and expulsion of others who do not make the grade.
3.  forced the City to pay charter-school rent when public schools are strapped for funds.
4.  led to Test-Prep mania to please donors with high scores.
5.  led to increased segregation.

If tenure or due process is eliminated:

1.  Teachers will be more fearful than ever to point out policies that endanger the community or threaten the legally mandated rights of students.
2.  Academic freedom will be squashed.
3.  Teachers may be run out of town by patronage-loving principals.
4.  Older teachers may face more fluffed-up charges so that cheaper, less-experienced teachers may replace them.  We have witnessed how cheap labor filled vacancies in schools while older ATRs languished as subs.
5.  Teachers may be subject to written or unwritten loyalty oaths--like those faced by our Unity "reps" who will rubber stamp probably even a rubber chicken to retain their privileges.

The promotion of the Common Core has

1.  attempted to make us march in lockstep to the tune of destructive and sometimes inane test questions.
2.  replaced the love of learning with nonsensical and dull test prep.
3.  made so many supposedly civil servants deaf to the pleas of parents, teachers and students.
4.  turned so many teachers off from the profession by ignoring so many needs and interests of students and teachers.
5.  made me wonder which planet we're living on, where one set of standards supported by a power elite academically massacres the majority and pulls down even the successful.

Obviously, there is always room for improvement, but when one set of copyrighted standards by an SAT-worshiping crew is seen as a golden solution for all, it's time for everyone to remember that we live in a democracy and that young people need something more than Stanley Kaplan and his test-driven curriculum as their teacher.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Revive NYSUT Leadership Takes Care of Revive NYSUT Leadership

 It was inspiring to a lot of people when the Revive NYSUT ticket appeared last year. Naturally, there were frustrations with NYSUT, and a few people I respect explained some of them to me. In fact, when I first saw them, I thought it might be a good idea. Like most UFT members, I had little contact with NYSUT, but I knew UFT needed a revival, so why not try this? It wasn't until weeks later I discovered that UFT leadership was actually behind this movement. I was recruited to run for Executive VP of NYSUT, and I traveled all over the state going to forums. I learned an awful lot about NYSUT.

For one thing, it's clear new NYSUT leadership follows UFT in every way. UFT makes up 28% of NYSUT, but has a 34% voting bloc, because many locals simply cannot afford to spend a weekend at the NY Hilton. Therefore, they get no vote. Of course all UFT reps have signed loyalty oaths. They vote as Mulgrew dicates or risk not only a punch in the face, but also expulsion from the elite, invitation-only Unity Caucus and all the privileges membership entails.
This is ironic because one of Revive NYSUT's biggest cheerleaders criticized the old leadership for belonging to the Fort Orange Club. NYSUT claimed membership was 15K a year, that the membership preceded their tenure for decates, and that the space was needed. Current Secretary Treasurer Martin Messner, in particular was vocally livid about this "perk." Not only this, said Messner, but NYSUT officers were taking first-class flights. He was gonna get to the bottom of this and make sure there was transparency, and no more perks! NYSUT could hold high-level meetings at Starbucks, suggested Revive, and save these crucial member dollars. Ya think they invited Cuomo to Starbucks to discuss endorsement plans?

Here's the thing, though. It was tough to recruit people willing to run for NYSUT office. You see, the UFT has a deal with the city that while its members work union jobs, it compensates the city for salary. Full disclosure--I'm chapter leader at a large school, and I get one period off to take care of union business. I believe UFT covers 20% of my salary. For those who do more work, or even all work for UFT, their salaries are covered too.  Even more full disclosure--I don't think it's a bad idea.

Of course, I didn't run for office bitching and moaning that current officers had too many perks, were living like kings and lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. In fact, I ran demanding representative democracy, saying there was precious little of it in UFT and that this model was not one we ought to emulate. I ran complaining about anti-teacher legislation, particularly APPR, Cuomo's punishing tax rule that districts need a supermajority to help kids, and Tier 6 pension. I was amazed to see the APPR labeled as an Iannuzzi bill, and  that no one from Revive seemed to remember their staunch supporter Mike Mulgrew taking credit for it.

 Anyway, while NYSUT leadership can't oppose Common Core, while it can't oppose Cuomo, while VAM is still enshrined in law, and while pension is still severely diminished for members, it managed to quickly and quietly get legislation passed to make sure leaders Magee, Messner, and Pecorale have their pensions covered. Unlike Iannuzzi, none of them have thirty years in. Now NYSUT will make sure that if they resign or retire, or even if they get blackballed by Mulgrew, it will be like they were at their old jobs.

When is Martin Messner gonna take a principled stand, resign his old job, and demand a salary cut from hard-working NYSUT members? When is he gonna protest that this bill was passed so surreptitiously and demand transparency? Personally, I suggest you sit while you wait for that to happen. 

This is hypocritical not only because they, particularly Messner, were so adamant about not taking perks and being transparent. It's also hypocritical because former Secretary Treasurer Lee Cutler was denied the transition pay that ex-officers receive, and NYSUT is fighting to make sure he doesn't get it. Not only that, but Cutler resigned from his position to work with NYSUT. Neither Magee, Messner, nor Pecorale are showing this level of commitment, even as they work to make sure Cutler isn't compensated.

Current NYSUT leadership takes good care of current NYSUT leadership. You and me? Meh. Why do they support Common Core, despite explicity promising they were against it? Why do they support Jeff Klein? Why won't they oppose Governor Cuomo in favor of pro-teacher, pro-labor Zephyr Teachout? Why did Governor Andrew Cuomo sign a bill that protects NYSUT leadership when we have such a hard time getting substantive pro-education bills realized? Why is Tier 6 good enough for new members?

I'll leave that to your imagination. You might also be interested to know that, far from a principled salary cut, NYSUT Board of Directors voted a 2% raise for officers, already making at least 250-300K or more. And why not? What does 250-300K even buy nowadays?

I can't be sure. I only know it's a hell of a lot more than most working teachers will ever be able to afford.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All's Fair in Love and Teacher-Bashing

I'm a teacher, so I write about education. But if I were a NY Times columnist, I could write about hedge funds. I probably wouldn't write very well about them because I'm not really clear on what they are. But, like NY Times columnists, hedge fund guys are education experts no matter what, and turnabout is fair play, so there you go.

Frank Bruni used to be a food writer. I'm sure if you want to know where you can get a souffle, he's your guy. Now he's writing about tenure. Here's how he begins:

Mike Johnston’s mother was a public-school teacher. So were her mother and father. And his godfather taught in both public and private schools.

What Mr. Bruni has here is an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy designed to make us accept an argument whether or not it has merit. And there's more of that here.

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, praised the decision. Tenure even drew scrutiny from Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show “The View.” She repeatedly questioned the way it sometimes shielded bad teachers.

Well, if they think so, then it must be true, right? After all, they're famous, so they must know. Is that a good argument, or another appeal to authority? Or is it the bandwagon fallacy--Everyone's doing it, so it must me right. Let's take a look at the background of Colorado State Senator Johnston, on whose say-so Bruni appears to have determined tenure is no good:

Johnston spent two years with Teach for America in Mississippi in the late 1990s. Then, after getting a master’s in education from Harvard, he worked for six years as a principal in public schools in the Denver area, including one whose success drew so much attention that President Obama gave a major education speech there during his 2008 presidential campaign.

There's an expert for you. After all, he spent two whole years as a teacher. (That's almost as long as Reformy John King, who spent two in a charter and one in a public school.) Now me, I'd suggest that's not nearly enough time to be a qualified principal, let alone an expert on teachers or tenure. The fact is most teachers love the classroom, and want to be there. I know I do. I question the dedication and ability of anyone who needs to get out after two years.

Take a look at how vague that paragraph is. Six years as a principal, including one that was, supposedly, very successful. First, he was not principal of any single school for six years. Second, who knows how long he was principal of this successful school, who knows whether he was principal when Obama showed up, and who really thinks Obama, who hired DFER stooge Duncan as Education Secretary, knows or cares what a good public school is? Doesn't Obama send his own kids to Sidwell Friends, where they aren't subject to the reformy nonsense he and Arne impose on the rest of us?

And isn't this entire paragraph yet another appeal to authority--authority that is plainly questionable? Isn't TFA a political organization that sends five-week teachers to public schools, an organization that happily sends its young dilettantes to take the positions of Chicago teachers who've been dismissed by Rahm, an organization that got Arne Duncan to declare its five-week wonders were "highly qualified?" I'm left questioning not only Bruni's appeal to authority, but the authority with which we're presented. Let's take a look at what passes for actual argument in Bruni's piece:

“Do you have people who all share the same vision and are willing to walk through the fire together?” he said. Principals with control over that coax better outcomes from students, he said, citing not only his own experience but also the test scores of kids in Harlem who attend the Success Academy Charter Schools.

We've already explored Johnston's experience. Now let's take a look at the Moskowitz academies he so reveres. They have fewer kids with special needs than public schools do, and when kids don't meet expectations, they simply get rid of them. If you let public schools pick and choose, their test scores will go up too. What neither Bruni nor his expert understand is that we serve all kids, we take them as they come, and we don't dump them simply because they struggle, or misbehave, or whatever.

“You saw that when you could hire for talent and release for talent, you could actually demonstrate amazing results in places where that was never thought possible,” he said. “Ah, so it’s not the kids who are the problem! It’s the system.”

And yet, even disregarding Johnson's limited experience and poor grasp of Moskowitz schools, as well as his and Bruni's total lack of documented evidence, this entire concept is an anecdote. We don't even know what he bases it on. But it's the same reformy boilerplate--no excuses. We'll ignore poverty and just focus on the test scores. Was Johnston's school consistently successful? If so, how? If so, why? Who knows?

We need to pay good teachers much more.

Note that it's not "teachers," but rather "good teachers." There are several assumptions implicit here. One, of course, is that of the zombie plague of bad teachers that threatens both mom and apple pie. The other, of course, is that we need merit pay. This indicates that Bruni has not bothered to research merit pay, which has been rearing its ugly head for a hundred years and has never worked anywhere.

Here is Johnston's brainchild, the model to which Bruni sees us aspiring:

I sat down with Johnston, a Democrat who represents a racially diverse chunk of this city in the State Senate, because he was the leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado. To earn what is now called “non-probationary status,” a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

This is entirely based on value-added, judging from what Bruni says. This method is dubious at best, and junk science at worst. Regular readers of this blog know I see it as the latter. Bruni also bemoans job protections many Americans would envy. I don't blame them. I'm reminded of the story where one farmer says of another, "He has a cow, and I don't. I want his cow to die." For goodness sake, wouldn't it be better if both farmers had cows? My favorite argument in the column, though, comes from newly self-proclaimed education expert Whoopi Goldberg:

“Parents are not going to stand for it anymore,” she said. “And you teachers, in your union, you need to say, ‘These bad teachers are making us look bad.’ ”

This reminds me of nothing so much as the favored argument of bigots. "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones." Why not apply the same logic to criminal justice? Some of those criminals are just bad, so no due process for them. Just toss them in jail without any costly and inconvenient jury trial, because Whoopi Goldberg and Frank Bruni think it's OK.

Another argument bigots favor is, "I'm not a bigot. I know some of those people."

And waddya know, Johnston has teachers in his family. So he must be totally objective. And Bruni writes for the NY Times. So he must also be objective, with no ax to grind whatsoever. Doubtless it's mere coincidence that he was a guest at the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Campbell Brown, and that he failed to disclose it.

After all, Campbell Brown herself forgot to mention that her husband was a bigshot at Students First, so stuff like that raises no question whatsoever in what passes for journalism these days.

Update: From Leonie Haimson--you left out the most pathetically outrageous thing Johnston said: 

"[Tenure] has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.” 

You see, tenure is what hurting teacher morale, see, not widespread teacher bashing by policymakers and the media, and their insistence that bad teaching is to blame for low student achievement, and/or the concomitant move to diminish their autonomy, disrespect their expertise, and take away their job security, pension, etc.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NYSUT Opts for Ignorance

This year, NYSUT once again declined to endorse Andrew Cuomo, and now the AFL-CIO, for the moment at least, is doing the same. All over the Twittersphere NYSUT patronage employees are trumpeting their great victory. From where I sit, a bold move would have been endorsing Zephyr Teachout and taking a principled stand against Cuomo's crippling anti-public education policies.

As Perdido Street School pointed out yesterday, a truly bold move would have been getting behind Teachout's bid to get on the Working Families ticket. In fact, UFT, which controls NYSUT, was discussing pulling support from WFP over the spectre of actually nominating a pro-teacher candidate. Threatening the status quo of pols who hate us and everything we stand for was unacceptable to our leadership. As always, leadership could not be bothered consulting with those of us who actually work in classrooms and trailers.

Yesterday, Beth Dimino, President of the Port Jefferson Station Teacher Association, rose to speak in favor of a Teachout endorsement. Sergeant at arms told the chair, who refused to recognize her. Obviously, the decision had already been made, and there was no point whatsoever in allowing the other side even to speak.

Revive NYSUT compared Cuomo to Scott Walker in its campaign literature, but won't even go so far as to endorse his opponent. This reminds me the great victory UFT enjoyed when it declined to endorse Bloomberg's opponent term 3. Some of you may recall going 6 years without a raise and finally getting a contract that was not only inferior to that of other municipal unions, but also seriously compromised due process for ATRs.

Revive NYSUT's primary selling point, of course, was that it was against Common Core. Karen Magee became President with 34% of the vote coming from the UFT machine. At the AFT convention, Magee suggested without Common Core, the entire country could become be the Wild West, with cowboys testing whatever they wanted. The notion that there are no standards without CCSS is not only preposterous, but downright insulting to those of us who've done our jobs for years before it even existed.

Perhaps the most revealing Common Core talking point, though, came from NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn. Though the Newsday article that printed this quote has been revised, I have the original text:

“The vast majority of test questions released appear to be educationally and age-appropriate. Unfortunately, we can’t tell if that is true of all test questions, because only 50 percent have been released. We reiterate our call for release of 100 percent of questions.”

NYSUT is happy with what it saw in tests that failed 65% of our children. Are you? Are the parents of the children you teach?

I'm chapter leader of a very large school, and I'm accustomed to hearing complaints. For the most part, I get complaints about programs, observations, carelessness, and various things that trouble people working in schools. Lately, though, I get an inordinate percentage of complaints from young parents. Why is my third grader reading about genocide? Why does my daughter no longer love to read? Why is my little boy spending three hours a day on homework? Even administrators with whom I'm often at odds ask me these questions.

And here's the thing--we, UFT and NYSUT, are behind the curve, on the wrong side yet again. I don't know exactly what supernatural senses union leaders have that bring them regularly to the wrong side of pivotal issues, but they're uncannily accurate. Cuomo isn't gonna help us. Teachout would stand by us, but we won't stand by her.

Our natural allies in the fight against corporate reform are public school parents, and rather than stand with them, we cower away and place our heads in the sand. We tremor in the faces of Bloomberg and Cuomo, accept a third-rate contract from a labor-friendly mayor, fail to oppose the man who set up a system in which those who say no to children have more say than those who say yes. At the same time, we threaten violence on anyone who dares question the corporate reform that labels our precious children as failures.

We are behind the times and behind the curve. It's time for us to pull our collective head out of the sand and get our eye on the prize, which entails helping children rather than failing them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Take the Money and Run

I'm friendly with a pretty savvy ATR. I won't tell you his name, I won't tell you precisely who he's connected with, but I will tell you he knows people. In June, he met with a financial adviser and decided to take the ATR buyout. This way, he told me, he'd get not only the 19K or whatever it was, but he'd also get the retro pay that isn't retro pay. (It's explained a little here--not calling it retro in the actual language is how UFT and DOE rationalized excluding those who resigned, were fired, or moved into admin.)

I was pretty surprised when he told me last week he'd changed his mind, and had decided not to take the buyout. I asked him why and he told me he was no longer taking the deal. He told me that he'd come to the conclusion Bill de Blasio's second term, at this point, was not precisely a sure thing. He'd decided that if de Blasio did not make it to term two, the person who defeated him could be particularly vile, up to and including Eva Moskowitz.

Although the city may be sitting on a surplus, despite Michael Mulgrew telling teachers the "cupboard was bare" when presenting us a clearly substandard contract, there is a longstanding tradition of the city pleading poverty before the surplus appears.

In fact, while Bloomberg, for years, was denying us the 8% raise most other city unions got in 2008-2010 (most of which we'll get, interest-free, in five years), he used his fake budget crisis to rationalize and threaten layoffs. That's why ATR teachers were sent week to week school to school. I couldn't vote for this deal despite assurances from multiple UFT Unity acquaintances that the city was not competent enough to pull it off. Of course, they were wrong again.

My friend envisions a scenario in which the city pleads crisis and welches on the retro pay that isn't retro pay. Should all the other unions follow the pattern we established, the worst in my living memory, that means by 2018 new ones will be needed. And yet, due to our deal, huge payments will be due those of us who haven't resigned or died. This could be cited as a hardship by a hostile mayor, and an unwillingness to pay could either end up in court or in a negotiation with our ever-flexible UFT Unity Leadership Dynasty.

It's not out of the question. Wasn't it Mulgrew, rather than management, who told us retro was "not a God-given right?" Wasn't Mulgrew the guy telling us the "cupboard was bare?" Since we're getting anti-raise talk from leadership already, who's to say they won't ask us for sacrifice in the future, by which time they may have decided we've forgotten, or are meek enough to once again settle for the best they could do?

Remember, this is the very same leadership that includes "punch in the face" Mike Mulgrew, who just mustered the audacity to declare Common Core opponents, who include the likes of Diane Ravitch, to conspiracy theorists who imagined CCSS was concocted by spaceships from Mars.

Is this scenario likely? I certainly hope not. But my friend isn't a lunatic either. I can assure you he keeps a very sharp eye on what's good for him, and he's decided waiting until 2020 is an unacceptable risk.

Our leader now says that retro isn't a "God-given right," which basically means we can't count on the pattern bargaining that's formed the basis for contracts for decades. And this is what he says with a relatively labor-friendly mayor. For six years, screwed by Bloomberg, I didn't see the punchiness. We managed to not only accept a junk science rating system without one, but also to allow it to be dictated by Reformy John King rather than negotiated. And despite largely missing the bus on the rather favorable pattern our other union brothers and sisters negotiated, we managed to also negotiate a huge giveback, to wit, second-tier due process for our ATR members.

Is my friend being influenced by spaceships from Mars, or does history, including breaches of contract for teacher pension and working conditions elsewhere, suggest he may be right?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Brutality of UFT Leadership

Mike Mulgrew's UFT is promoting Al Sharpton's August 23rd march for "justice for victims of police brutality."  I don't know of too many, off hand, who support police brutality.  I'm guessing very few police officers support police brutality.  I hope the march will be one of solidarity, rather than violence--which brings me to my next point.

I oppose police brutality, but I also oppose UFT-president brutality, including the threat of it.  I realize the issue does not parallel the other, as there have been no deaths and I don't forsee any.  But, I'd like to take a minute of your time, nonetheless, to discuss it.

It was only last month, Mulgrew, all fired up at the AFT Convention in L.A., emphatically told the audience that he would punch in the face and push in the dirt anyone who tries to take his standards away.  In other words, hands off his Core.

I can't oppose a rally against police brutality as long as it remains peaceful, but I can oppose the failure of the UFT to mobilize its rank and file on so many other educational issues.  I can oppose the UFT's disregard for its rank and file, to the extent of increasing the weight of the vote of retirees to ensure its iron grip on power.  I can oppose loyalty oaths that close the door to union offices to any person of high integrity who refuses to rubber stamp leadership.  And, I can oppose the intimidation of Unity members by threats to cut the purse strings to double pensions--which turns them into eight-hundred tools deaf and sometimes dangerous to their own constituency as well as that of NYSUT and the AFT (in which the UFT holds a controlling interest).

When Mulgrew finished his punch-and-push-in-the-dirt speech, the camera focused on the beaming face of Randi Weingarten, obviously pleased with Mulgrew as she commended the passion in the room.  For some reason at that moment, I could only think of Dr. Frankenstein.  Weingarten knows as much as anyone, if not more, what a sham the UFT makes of union democracy and she, as much as anyone, is responsible.  I'm sure if she thought more people knew, she would have to be at the very least embarrassed.  I hope someday, everyone knows how the UFT operates.  Not because I'm cruel, but because it's the truth and I love democracy.

So, if you'll be marching across the bridge opposing police brutality with the UFT and many others, say a silent prayer on the lesser issue of threats of UFT brutality, intimidation and tyranny.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

NYSUT Takes a Stand. Or Is it a Sit?

A few weeks ago, at the AFT Convention, NYSUT President Karen Magee, despite campaign promises that her leadership opposed Common Core, said the following:

If not standards, then what? A free-for-all? Everyone does what they please? No common base? No common method to look at what they're doing?

This is a black and white logical fallacy, acknowledging no other option but chaos to the program in which Bill Gates invested billions, including contributions to AFT. Judging from Magee's assertions,  we were having gunfights in the street before Bill Gates and his billions came along to save us. Though Magee went on to offer the boilerplate rationale about implementation being at fault, this is a blatant broken promise. This was followed, of course, by a refusal to endorse Zephyr Teachout or Howie Hawkins, despite a handout that compared Cuomo to Scott Walker.

Not that the English scores have risen a whopping .1%, and math scores 5%, after the cutoffs being lowered, Magee is singing the same old song:

Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers union, said the union is “certainly pleased to see scores rising,” but cautioned that “students are more than a test score.”

From her mouth, this amounts to another empty platitude. Where's the Revive promise to oppose Common Core? Where's the Revive promise to oppose Cuomo, who they likened to one of the most union-unfriendly figures in living memory? Where's the Revive promise to move out of the shadow of UFT, or its face-punching President?

Where's that NYSUT that was going to be led from the bottom up, as promised after its UFT-sponsored victory? It appears that now they're in office, status quo is just fine with them. That's too bad, because outgoing Prez Richard Iannuzzi was beginning to take clear stands against Cuomo and Common Core, and likely as not, that's why he's ex-president.

UFT makes up 28% of NYSUT, but gets 34% of statewide votes. Small impoverished locals can't afford a weekend at the NY Hilton, and there's no mechanism for remote, online or absentee voting. NYSUT still accepts the dues of these disenfranchised teachers. NYSUT also accepts my dues, and those of my members, though we get no voice in the loyalty-oath bound UFT delegation. Of course, if I were to sign the loyalty oath we'd still get no voice, since I'd then be representing leadership rather than membership.

It's clear to me that the current NYSUT leadership is there to maintain status quo, including failure to oppose Cuomo, failure to oppose Common Core, and failure to stand up to total domination by the UFT political machine. The question is whether or not that will become clear to NYSUT membership.

There are those of us here who will work very hard to give city members a voice, no matter how hard Mulgrew wishes to punch us in the face. How many of our brothers and sisters statewide will stand with us?

Only time will tell.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Day 127 Tests Up and Walked Away

Last June, my eyes popped wide and I snapped this picture outside my Regents' grading site.  Students' regents exams were sitting exposed to all in an open vehicle.  It struck me as odd and unsafe at the time.  I didn't think and I still don't think that anyone would steal exams.  It would have to be one desperate criminal.  First, there's no money to be made in it; two, the boxes are very heavy and, three, it surely, in some ways, constitutes a crime against humanity.  I suppose some unschooled crook might have supposed the box to be filled by unmarked bills, but I think it is far more likely that the boxes were lost through carelessness, rather than crime.  My vague sense of foreboding about the situation, unfortunately, turned out to be correct.

The New York Post recently published a piece entitled, "127 students must retake Regents after city loses their exams."  One could not help but feel for the kids at Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education HS, Community Leadership, Hillside Arts and Letters Academy and Jamaica Gateway, all in Jamaica, Queens.  I suppose some people view these students as statistics, but each has his or her own story of hardship.  And, I feel like anyone of them could be my student or my child someday.

Tests have been lost before, but only recently has the situation worsened.   In 2012, seventeen exams from FDR HS in Brooklyn were lost.  Last year, seventy-five tests from Chelsea Career and Technical Education HS supposedly fell off a truck and vaporized.  I have no idea of the statistics before that date, but I would bet the number of lost tests was very low.

It's sad that as "reformers" try to punish teachers, they also punish students.  "Reformers" tie NY teachers evaluations to student test scores.  Then, they craft impossible tests with devilish cutscores.  They observe academic chicanery--which I suspect comes top-down in schools that experience desperate situations, fear of closure under Mayor Bloomberg, and  administrators with sub-standard morals.  So, now, no teacher can be trusted to grade any exams from his or her own school.  Teachers must shuttle themselves around the City as their students' tests are shuttled in an opposite direction.  Teachers often wait in the beginning at their grading sites for tests to catch up with them.  Precious time is lost.

For the twenty years or so that tests were graded in my school, to the best of my recollection, only one exam was lost.  We ran down the hall to the proctors' room.  We searched the garbage cans.  We searched the bathrooms.  We interviewed the proctor.  We called the student, realizing if she had taken the test with her, it must be invalidated, but we could call off our search.  We turned everything upside down again and again.  In those days, teachers often stayed late to help their school community in a time of need.  (Now, we grade on foreign turf and there is a clear division of labor between those who do the official sorting and those who are trusted only to grade exams from schools other than their own).  The poor girl had to retake the Regents.  Happily, she passed.

The test had not vaporized, however.  Months later, it resurfaced.  While checking a class set of scantrons, a teacher jammed the machine.  The screwdriver was brought in and the lid removed.  Lo and behold, there was the missing Regents scantron crumpled up and buried in the recesses of the machine.  The necessary paperwork was completed.  The mystery was solved.  The case was closed.

So, how can we prevent more tests from being lost in the future?  In my mind, the solution would be to give students reasonable tests and detach student scores from teacher evaluations.   But, alas, that solution would show too much respect for teachers and make too much sense in an era when the teacher has a necessary role to play in educational "reform," that of the scapegoat.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

E4E and Union Leaders--Strange Bedfellows

One of the interesting things about the corporate push to #SupportTheCore on Twitter was the E4E do-it-yourself page.

It had all these wonderful suggestions. First it told you how to join Twitter, if you hadn't yet done so. Then it gave you formulas for writing tweets, like I #SupportTheCore because it helps my students think for themselves, or whatever. Because no one wants kids growing up depending on Gates-backed astroturf groups to know what to say, or how to say it.

And yet, the teachers of E4E, the supposed role models, are doing just that. How do you set an example for free thinking when you need help doing it yourself, even when your target is 140 characters? Even more frustrating is who their allies appear to be.

Of course, E4E took the page down, because the truth hurts. But I saw it. I can only assume to them, "excellence" entails following directions rather than thinking. And, I guess to them, those of us who model thinking aren't excellent at all.

It's disconcerting, to say the least, that our unions have taken Gates money just as E4E has. As you saw in both the NEA and AFT conventions, leaders of both support Common Core, though at least NEA isn't punching anyone in the face yet.

Later today, NYC results will be released. A slight improvement is predicted, and this is to be attributed to more Common Core instruction. But the fact that the results are determined in advance, as they were last year, ought to clue any thinking person into the fact that the game is rigged. Gates poured millions and millions into it, and couldn't be bothered with research or testing before dumping it on our children.

Parents of young children are horrified by CC results, and don't accept Arne Duncan's idiotic remark blaming their children for the abysmal results of his Gates-sponsored social experiment. Actually, parents were supposed to throw their arms up in horror, and decide their public schools suck. As a result, they would have demanded charter schools and made Eva Moskowitz even richer than she already is.

Remember that when people spout nonsense about the implementation. The only problem with the implementation was that thousands of parents independently determined the tests were the problem, rather than their kids or their schools. When the Gates program didn't resonate as predicted, when people independently rejected it, that was a problem.

The response, rather than scrapping the miserable program, was to plod on with it, make excuses, and hope no one would notice it was the same untested, unproven crap. Uber-advocates Gates, Obama, Cuomo, and King send their kids to private schools where they won't be subject to this nonsense. There's no excuse for them pushing programs for our kids they deem unfit for theirs.

Remember that when hearing from Gates-funded shills who can't even come up with 140 characters to push this nonsense. And remember, when our union leader needed an idea to push it, the best he could muster was punching us in the face and pushing us into the dirt.

We can do better.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Support the Core "Hijacked" by Teachers and Parents

Yesterday was #SupportTheCore day on Twitter. A bunch of reformy folks got together and decided this was the day they would persuade all of social media that it was not, in fact, in their best interests either to oppose CCSS or to have Mulgrew punch them in the face. USA Today even wrote about it:

Organized by the Collaborative for Student Success and supported by other groups like Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence, teachers and other Common Core supporters took to Twitter Tuesday to launch an outreach strategy encouraging teachers, parents and other leaders to voice why they are behind the standards.

Wow. So this was an important event. But alas, their best efforts were stymied, as people on Twitter persisted in posting actual thoughts unapproved by Bill Gates, or as Mulgrew would put it, "flying saucers from Mars."

Wow. That's not reformy at all. And others not only disagreed, but also had a kind of an attitude about it.

This can't be making E4E and StudentsFirst jump with joy. After all, it was a great idea to get out there and tell the world what a great job Governor Cuomo and Mike Mulgrew were doing, Or was it?

"What’s been interesting and frankly disheartening is the responses from some of the Common Core opponents have been so vitriolic. I would almost describe it as bullying," says Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports the standards. "Here you have these teachers speaking their mind and standing up for something and they’re getting all kinds of nasty reactions back."

On Twitter, Petrilli was even more direct:

It's funny to see this thought process at work. Anyone who contradicts reformy sentiment is a bully, and disagreeing with it amounts to a personal attack on teachers. The corporate reformers, who say we're all perverts, who want to take away our tenure, who want us fired based on junk science, are standing up for us somehow.  It was all the more ironic because most of the people I saw posting this stuff were teachers or parents.

The notion that those who ridiculed this effort were personally attacking teachers is a ridiculous strawman.When you haven't got an affirmative argument it's pretty simple to assert evil motives to your opponents. Thus there's all this crap about how people who oppose Campbell Brown are sexist. Those awful teachers must be opposing her because she's a woman, and it couldn't possibly have anything whatsoever to do with her stupid ideas.

Elsewhere on Twitter there are other astroturfers bemoaning the tone. It's OK if you disagree with us, but why do you have to be so darn nasty about it?

I didn't actually see people being nasty. What I saw was people who've been ignored for years expressing indignation. I suppose the astroturfers expect thank you cards from parents whose children are receiving tasks that are developmentally inappropriate. Or maybe they think teachers are grateful to be facing dismissal over student test score related junk science. Or perhaps they expect to hear, "Thank you sir, may I have another."

But that's not the reaction to Common Core I hear every day from parents, especially parents of young children. Astroturfers, like union leaders, are not at all accustomed to listening to us. But those of us who have to live with this nonsense see it for what it is. And while they have the money, we overwhelm them in not only numbers, but also in truth. Because we, in fact, do the critical thinking they're always blabbering about, and glory be, they don't like it at all!

Because we, in fact, are the grassroots. We are the people, the teachers, the parents, and the students. We have thought this through, and we know what nonsense it is. We want what's best for the millions of kids who attend public schools and we will fight for it. We know that Common Core was implemented precisely as planned.  We're glad that public perception found the tests at fault rather than our kids when John King saw fit to fail 70% of them last year.

We were supposed to panic and demand charter schools, as indicated by Arne Duncan's idiotic crack about how our children weren't as smart as we thought they were. But we didn't. We knew they were wrong then, and we know they are wrong now.

And Mike Mulgrew can spend today, tomorrow, and all eternity punching us in the face, but it won't save Common Core. He can shut us out of our union, but he can't control us, he can't control public school parents, and he can't control our children either.

We don't support the core, and that's why it will not prevail. Maybe Michelle Rhee's figured it out, and that's why she's gone into the fertilizer business, literally selling what she and StudentsFirst have been offering us all along.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Common Core Holds About as Much Promise as Communism

The Common Core is staked by idealism, a lot of money and, in some cases, the desire for personal profit.  Some of the worst ideas in history have been staked by idealism.  People who love to play in the realm of ideas, but have little practical experience or foresight might think one set of standards spells equality.  In this case, it doesn't.  I would say it sacrifices our diversity to accept one definition of success molded by the power brokers in our society.

In theory, every student could learn the same lesson on the same day, if we relinquish the power of millions of minds to one set of educational dictators.  Then, as the UFT's Leroy Barr envisioned, his son could reluctantly say goodbye to the great state of New York and pick up on the same page in the equally great state of California.

But what is lost?  Freedom, for one; diversity for others, student interests and teacher strengths.  What is gained?  Professional negligence:  If students in one classroom cannot keep up, the train moves on without them.  When new lessons build upon old skills, the students are run over by the train.

Most Common-Core advocates surely don't desire a curriculum made uniform to the extent envisioned by Leroy Barr.  Still, one set of standards poses many of the same problems.  It also fails to recognize that many students have diverse skills which will allow them to soar in society, but only if the Common Core does not hold them down and crush them first.  Will the Common Core reward a student's musical genius, creative gift, or upside-down way of looking at things that might turn a problem on its head to solve it?  No, it looks past these things in the name of standardizing standards.

Common standards fail us because they treat children as interchangeable parts.  Children are distinct.  They possess so many diverse talents.  I have said before people are pieces of a puzzle.  Some fit together and some don't.  All are necessary, however, to complete the full picture.  No two are exactly the same.  Many years ago, I put together a thousand piece puzzle of the English countryside.  I'm not sure who in heaven's name gave me that gift, but it helped me to look closely at shapes.  There were hundred of pieces of green and hundreds of pieces of blue, but each was different, all were necessary.

The resolution adopted by the AFT in July is entitled, "The Role of Standards in Public Education."  No one would argue there is no role for standards in public education.  But many would very powerfully argue that standards should not be standardized.  The resolution exposes the Core's past weaknesses.   Yet, the resolution clings to the Core and advocates for a "support-and-improve" system.  It speaks of "promise and potential."  It advocates an "improvement plan" for a tragically flawed system.

In some ways, the UFT leadership is like a party elite in a communist state.  It views personal reward.  It  surely doesn't have to  suffer under the system like the average citizen.  It represses dissent through loyalty oaths with lucrative purse strings and now, oddest of all, through the supposedly iron fist of its president.  The Common Core may look good to some on paper, but to those who value democracy, it is impractical and intensely hostile.   In the name of "equality," it would destroy us.  The Common Core holds about as much promise as Communism.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mulgrew's Paws (to the tune of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town)

You'd better sell out
You'd better not think,
You better watch out,
Which Kool Aid you drink,
Mulgrew's Paws are punching your face.

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice;
He's gonna find out who's loyal or nice.
Mulgrew's Paws are punching your face.

He sees you when you're voting,
He checks it's Unity,
He sees if you've defied that oath
That you won't travel for free.

The patronage gig, the matching t-shirts,
The fist that will smash your face till it hurts,
Mulgrew's Paws are punching your face.

You'd better support mayoral control
And ratings designed
To fire you all,
Mulgrew's Paws are punching your face.

He sees you when you're teaching
He knows if you talk to MORE,
He knows if you've been bad or good
So support that Common Core.

You'd better pay up
Your Unity Dues
You better shut up
When new contract screws
Members or he's punching your face.

You'd better shut up,
You'd better sit down,
You'd better spread party line all around,
Mulgrew's Paws are punching your face. 

He knows when you are aching
For a second pension job,
He knows you'll vote for contracts
Sight unseen or remain a slob,

When Bloomberg denies
A contract six years,
Sit down and shut up,
He'll buy you all beers.
Or those Paws are punching,
Great big Paws are punching,
Mulgrew's Paws are punching,

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mulgrew on Who Will Be Punched in Face, and When

Good morning dues payers. It's me, Mike Mulgrew, your president. A lot of you have been asking about my remarks at the AFT Convention a month ago. Though we live-streamed them, we didn't really think anyone would watch outside of the convention. We made it a point not to post my remarks over at the AFT website. But that darn Norm Scott came to the convention and filmed the whole thing, including my remark about punching anyone in the face who tried to take my Common Core.

That darn Zephyr Teachout is out badmouthing Common Core. I've got an entire team of UFT employees examining the issue of whether and when I'll have to punch her in the face. Frankly, we're hoping this whole residency thing will blow over, because if I punch her in the face without punching Cuomo in the face it will look like an endorsement. We're hoping to sit out this race and just let AFL-CIO endorse. 

A lot of people have been asking why I didn't punch anyone in the face when we went six years without a contract. For example, I could have punched Mayor Bloomberg in the face. But in solutions-based unionism, you have to look at the consequences. Mayor Bloomberg has a whole lot of money, and could have tied us up in court for a long time. Had I punched him in the face, I would have spent a lot of time in jail, sorely limiting the number of people I could punch in the face. And even if I'd punched them ALL in the face, I'd only have an hour of daily yard time to push them in the dirt. It just wasn't practical.

That's why I made it a point to tell the delegates I'd punch them in the face. Now you have to understand we were only in LA for a few days, so there wasn't a whole lot of time for face-punching. There are a lot of people in the Chicago Teachers Union, and while I'd certainly like to punch them all in the face, I'm not traveling to Chicago simply to do that. That would run at least 500 bucks of your dues money, even if I were to fly Spirit Air or some such thing. And that's not counting whatever the Hilton is charging this week. Just a weekend could run you duespayers 1500 bucks easy. Don't even get me started on that $12 draft beer that you pay for!

Sure, the Chicago teachers were at a parade or something yesterday and I could have punched an awful lot of them in the face, but I was here in NY, saving your dues. Anyway I have Saturday morning earmarked to watch pro wrestling. You'd be surprised at how many talking points you can draw from pro wrestling if you pay attention.

The NYC delegates need to know I will punch them in the face if they oppose Common Core. Since they've all signed loyalty oaths, it's unlikely they would do such a thing. In solutions-based unionism, you value your time. So since I threatened to punch people in the face for doing something they were highly unlikely to do, it's kind of a win-win. Now there are naysayers who will ask, "Hey Mike, why'd you bother to spend two million dollars in union dues to fly 800 people to LA when they aren't even free to decide how to vote? Couldn't you simply have gone yourself and voted 800 times?"

Now that's a good point. But in solutions-based unionism, when you threaten to punch thousands of people in the face, it's less likely you'll have to follow through when you have 800 people behind you. It's a practical thing.

Now a lot of city teachers oppose Common Core, and the overwhelming majority haven't been invited into our Unity club, and thus haven't signed the loyalty oath. This is a problem, largely because of logistical issues. For example, if I were to visit large schools in order to punch members in the face, I wouldn't be able to push them into the dirt unless we happened to be outside. Also, quite a bit of schools are surrounded by grass, and I'm not sure pushing them in the grass will suffice.

But anyway, I won't have to negotiate a contract for at least another few years, so if you oppose Common Core I will be free to punch you in the face sometime soon. Try to have your chapter leader get me into your school, and I'll punch all who need punching. I realize this will take up quite a bit of my time, but a promise is a promise.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Craig's List Ad for Union Leadership?


You've read about NYC teachers recruited through Craig's List-- while experienced ATRs from closed schools search in vain for full-time schools.   Are you inspired by Michael Mulgrew threatening to punch faces?  You may be considering training to become a UFT Unity leader.  Finally, we are proud to offer an accelerated program to meet all your needs.

Become a NYC Union Leader - no experience required! Subsidized Membership in a Boxing Gym. (New York City)

Train for a Year
Bully for a Lifetime

compensation: $250,400+ with full benefits (amounting to more than an additional $25,000)
non-profit organization
The NYC Union Collaborative:
The NYC Union Collaborative is a new, practice-based union residency program that prepares smart, talented individuals to become highly effective union leaders in New York City. Subsequent to signing a loyalty oath, participants apprentice in a New York City union office for eight months (Jan. 2015 - August. 2015) prior to becoming a full-time union leader. During this time, participants experience hands-on training in a boxing ring, and targeted, ongoing coaching in a boxing gym of choice (no further need to waste time, pounding frozen meat) and fight back (in place of feedback) from skilled mentor pugilists and program staff.

Who Can Apply?
Participants come from a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds. No previous union experience or need to democratically listen to workers' voices is necessary. Through practical preparation, Union Partners are able to positively affect the lives of the rank and file while becoming certified union leaders.
Why Us?
  • Top salary of at least $250,400 and full benefits following training experience (starting September 2015)
  • Subsidized Training in a Boxing Gym
  • $25,000 stipend during training experience
  • Practice-based training residency
  • Begins in January 2015!
The Collaborative Experience:
During the training period, participants work as "Union Partners in Residence" in under the guidance of an experienced union leader called a Collaborative Coach (CC). Union Partners also receive training from program staff on key strategies for successfully intimidating opposition via threats of fisticuffs, quelling dissent, and collaborating, when financially rewarding, with educational reformers . Meanwhile, they gradually assume increased leadership responsibilities throughout their eight month training period. Once they begin leading the union in the fall of 2015, Union Partners continue to receive coaching from program staff in the initial months of their first year that is tailored to their specific strengths and needs, including a regimen of drinking raw eggs, early morning runs and pounding of punching bags.

Participants also earn a subsidized Master of Pugilism degree by taking courses part-time while teaching, earning their degree over 2-3 years. The degree program supports participants' immediate work in union offices while laying the foundation for a career in union leadership.
Visit to begin your application today!
  • Unity and New Action "Rubberstampers" only.  No MORE, please don't contact this job poster.
  • do NOT contact us with unsolicited services or offers
post id: 460283286OMG

No contact info?if the poster didn't include a phone number, email, or
other contact info, craigslist can notify them via email. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

The "Cold, Twisted, Sick Hands" of UFT Unity

UFT President Michael Mulgrew claimed he'd "punch" anyone in the face and "push" them "in the dirt" if they tried to take away his standards with their "cold, twisted, sick hands."

The "cold, twisted, sick hands" I see, however, are propping up the Common Core.  One hand shoves it down our throats while the other hand grasps some big bills accepted as grants to promote it.  Would the Common Core be anything less than a shriveled, deflated mess, if we took away all the money pumped into promoting it and the promise of future profits?

One observer said of Mulgrew's speech, "It was scary.  People were saying that he shouldn't be around children."  Educators, after all,  teach children to use the power of ideas, not the threat of physical violence.  In this light, Mulgrew's bully tactics, although popular with some segment of the crowd, were less than reassuring and would certainly land him in 3020a land if the setting had been a school.

But it was not.  And, no children were present.  Mulgrew knew this.  Although I object wholeheartedly to the Core, I'm guessing Mulgrew won't punch me in the face or order a henchman to run me off the road.  If this was his policy, there'd be a lot more people to run off the road.  There might even be more cars in the ditch than on the road.

I do believe, however, that there is another highly disturbing menace, one which worries me far more.  The observer who noted in the NY Daily News that Mulgrew's rant was "scary" "asked to remain anonymous to avoid Mulgrew's wrath."  If you have signed onto the UFT Unity ruling party, you must be loyalty-oath abiding.  If you speak against the boss, you sow the seeds of your own destruction.  Kiss your handsome double pension, lucrative extra-hours after-school job in union offices, and prestigious trips to conferences as a rubber stamp, goodbye!  No wonder the Union favors mayoral control and common standards for all.  They can be used to speak with one voice, that of leadership, like the UFT, and quell dissent.

Even though I doubt the sincerity of threats of physical violence, Unity is no less than a bully.  Unity has no use for people with independent ideas or the will to actually represent a constituency.  In this way, Unity closes the doors to some of the Union's staunchest and most talented defenders.   Integrity is a liability.  Unity doesn't even want its own "lower-downs" speaking at the Mike.  Unity delegates are useful for the illusion of democracy and for holding Mike's place in line for the Mike, but not for much more, certainly not for a fresh opinion.

You might want to blame Mike Mulgrew alone for this mess, but it is far more complex.  You could point to a "culture" of Unity leadership dating back to Al Shanker, but that doesn't do much for us for today or tomorrow.  I'm looking at Randi Weingarten.  If she wanted to address it, she could. Instead, she prefers a sham that sells out the rank and file of all parties, including Unity.