Friday, October 09, 2015

The Magical Twelve ESL Credits

In New York, children from other countries are supposed to learn English via magic. That's about all I can conclude from the mandates that have been issued by Merryl Tisch and her gang of geniuses up there. Since I started teaching ESL, beginning students have been entitled to three periods a day of instruction in English language. Because Merryl knows better, now they only need one period per day.

The other two periods can be math, social studies, chemistry, or pretty much whatever. The teacher of those classes will pick up the magical 12 credits of ESL cheap via NYSUT or UFT, and then magically teach not only chemistry, but also English! And this magic teacher will do both those things in the same time it takes all the other teachers to teach the American kids! Because it doesn't matter whether the kids know a lick of English, whether we teach them a lick of English, or even whether they want to learn English. Once that magic teacher gets those 12 magic credits, all those problems will simply disappear.

And even better news--once the kids become high beginners, they only need to study English half of the time. And once they hit intermediate, they don't need to study English anymore at all! Do you see the beauty of that? The magic teachers, with no extra time, will teach them not only how to pass that troublesome Global Regents exam, but also basic conversation, listening skills, and reading and writing. And they will do this while covering the same textbook and giving them the same assessments that kids who've lived her all their lives take.

Not only that, but in New York, we've overcome a basic tenet of language acquisition, i.e., the older you are the harder it is to acquire a language. In fact, after puberty, the ability to acquire language drops precipitously. But that doesn't matter in New York, because anyone with the magic twelve credits can squeeze English out of the most reluctant individuals. It won't matter if they've been dragged here from China kicking and screaming. It won't matter if they've left their families and friends behind. It won't matter if they've missed years of formal education. It will make no difference if they are illiterate in their first languages.

Once people take those magic twelve credits, they will overcome these and all other obstacles via sheer grit. They will impose rigor on these kids, and with rigor and grit the English language will be no obstacle whatsoever. Sure, when they go to college and know little or nothing about English structure or usage they will have to take costly remedial courses to learn what they could have learned in high school. Sure, they will be unable to actually pass tests that are wildly inappropriate. Sure, they will spend extra years trying to graduate, and schools will be penalized, closed, put into receivership, and whatever.

But the important thing is we'll have all those magic teachers, and all those magic credits, and New York will be a magical place to learn English. Because if you can't learn English via magic, you just haven't got any grit. Just ask Merryl Tisch. She's just full of grit.

Or something like that. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Kids Can't Be Bothered with the Niceties

So it is when you are a teacher. Teenagers have no use for diplomacy. Once a thought comes into their heads, it comes out of their mouths. As someone who's gone to many meetings and listened to many people expound at great length about absolutely nothing, I  have great respect for that quality.

I teach two double-period classes this year. My morning class has about thirty students. My afternoon class has eight, but one has never shown up, and another was so traumatized by the notion of the first test that he didn't show. Upon his return, I asked where he was and he told me he'd cut class. Not the very best excuse for missing a test, but you have to give him credit for honesty.

It's odd to have two such widely different classes. My morning class has a few very strong personalities, and they announce themselves at every opportunity. Sometimes I feel they announce themselves at every moment, but I'm kind of OK with that. However, what happens is I get through more activities with my relatively quiet PM class. Everyone there is very cooperative, but thus far none of them are inclined to speak until spoken to. It's as though I step on different planets in the AM and PM, and yet I'm in the very same room.

Having a little extra time, I asked the kids in my PM class whether they liked smaller or larger classes. Most of them liked the smaller classes. They said you can talk more, and that the teacher could help you more. One said she liked it because it was quiet. Oddly, I hate quiet. I like activity and this is a tough group to make that happen.

But two of the kids had different responses. One girl was in my class part of last year, and left for reasons no one has seen fit to share with me. What I remember most about her is her phone cases. Last year she had one with rabbit ears, and another one that was also kind of striking. This year she has one with what appears to be a bronzed door-knocker. I complimented her on it the first time I told her to put it away. She kept it out for a moment to show me it could be used as a stand. I complimented her again and told her to put it away again.

She says she likes bigger classes because she can use her phone. So it is, in fact, me who is ruining her young life by teaching her English. There's a whole world on that telephone and by spending 90 minutes a day with me she can only explore it for 22.5 hours a day. Clearly I am a monster.

A guy in that class said he liked larger classes because you could sleep. I'll grant you sleep is important for teenagers. I spent a lot of time explaining to my own daughter why staying out until all hours and going to school or work the next day was less than optimal. Yet teenagers don't see it that way. Why sleep at night when you can catch some Zs in English class? Who knows what that teacher is blathering about?

Diplomacy doesn't seem to be born before the twentieth year. Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Julio's T-shirt

Man's best friend is an awesome spectacle. He protects your home. He barks at canines ten times his size with no fear, until and unless they get up close and personal and common sense takes over. He's proud and independent, except when he isn't. But there is a dignity in being part of the pack, and I question whether or not it's damaged when he's wearing a shirt emblazoned with the picture to the left.

Last week my wife and daughter decided to go to Florida to see Mickey Mouse, and some other friends. It was kind of a win-win for them because I had to work, and consequently there was someone to care for the pooch. So he and I, just a couple of wild and crazy guys, spent the week together. As a gift, my daughter bought him that shirt.

I don't know. I mean, it's actually true. Julio adores my daughter, and every time she walks through the door he jumps up and down, runs in circles, and appears to be on the verge of a massive coronary. I come in and he's like, "Oh. It's you. Yeah, I guess you can give me some food. Yeah, I guess you can take me out a few times. Maybe I'll let you take me in the yard so I can run around like a total maniac while you have no hope whatsoever of catching me."

Anyway, I thought the t-shirt was a little much, but I didn't pay a whole lot of mind. But on Sunday, we went to Petco, where a young trainer is trying to explain to us how not to have Julio run around like a total maniac while we have no hope whatsoever of catching him. (Yes, I'm a teacher, so of course I take my dog to school.  And don't go giving me any guff about how it's a private school. Today, in 2015, there are still no public schools for dogs, and if there were the Koch Brothers would be donating millions to crush them.)

What really irked me was when we were leaving the class there was a new class coming in. There, Julio ran into another dog who looked very much like him, but was wearing some kind of tutu. For me, that was beyond the pale, but my daughter was all, "Oh, look, how cute!" I said, "Well, I'm not walking him if you dress him like that."

The woman with the dog said, "My husband doesn't mind walking him when he's dressed like that." I retorted, "I'm not her husband," which I suppose gives me that right to decline walking a dog in a tutu. Julio's a macho little guy. Now, if she'd dress him in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, and get him a little motorcycle I could see it. This would be a win-win, in my opinion, because with the motorcycle he might not need to be walked at all. I mean, who puts a leash on a dog with a motorcycle?

Anyway, in my opinion, just because you're a dog doesn't mean anyone has the right to dress you in a tutu. There are limits, and there is common decency. The United States may treat teachers like dogs, but that doesn't give us the right to treat dogs like that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

It Could Always Have Been Worse!

You might have been surprised to see former N.Y. State Ed. Commissioner, John King, promoted to U.S. Secretary of Education.

You might marvel how ed. "reform" can so brazenly be forged ahead against the will of the people, or "special interests," as King would have it.  You might marvel how "reformers" never seem to stomach their own "reforms" for their own children.  King's kids have attended a Montessori school, minus all the standardized testing he promotes for other people's children.  You might marvel how ed. "reformers" can fail in one venue, only to be promoted to even greater heights elsewhere.  Witness MaryEllen Elia, recently all but booted out of Hillsborough, only to be recycled in NY State.  You might marvel how ed. "reformers" learn no lessons from the growing opt-out movement, crystallized so strongly against King in NY State, before his departure.  Now, the lightning rod rules at the national level.

You might find inspiration in the looming battles or you might just rub your eyes out of sheer disbelief.  But, whatever the case, just remember, it could always have been worse!

Exhibit A:  Rhee
Exhibit B:  Moskowitz
Exhibit C:  Walmart

Monday, October 05, 2015

Meet the New Boss, Even Worse Than the Old Boss

There's a very interesting piece up at US News by Andrew Rotherham, AKA Eduwonk. I don't agree with Rotherham about a whole lot in education, but I find myself wishing I agreed with a whole lot of this particular column. Rotherham certainly has a way with words, whether you agree with him or not:

It's too soon to fully judge Duncan's tenure. There are lots of strong opinions in Washington and around the country about Duncan. Privately, insiders' views range from "he's the most committed and effective secretary of education in the department's history" to "he's a jock who's in way over his head on policy."

Wow. I wish I agreed with that. But with the entire country embracing Race to the Top, Gun to the Head policies like Common Core, I'm not feeling the love. The high-stakes testing and developmentally inappropriate tasks for our children (and not his, or Duncan's, or Obama's) are intolerable. That's not to mention the junk-science teacher ratings that have been foisted upon us, rejected by none other than the American Statistical Association.

Education is apparently on the president's "Eff-It" list. At this year's White House Correspondents Dinner, President Obama said that he didn't have a bucket list, but with time running out on his administration, he did have something that rhymed with it. The president's choice of John King* to oversee the department after Duncan is a signal he's not that concerned with education politics at this point.  

That's clever, but not precisely accurate. It appears to me that President Obama, who's certainly in a position to say "Eff-it" to pretty much anything, has decided to continue with the reformy policies that are King's signature. While it wasn't clear to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who deemed King suitable as an independent arbiter for our evaluation system, it's quite clear to anyone paying attention that John King supports all things reformy, specifically including Common Core and junk science evaluations.

The education debate is about to get nastier. John King is an accomplished African American educator who helped found a highly regarded charter school in Boston. His personal story is as compelling as any education official in the country. Most reform critics don't want to tangle with him publicly, if for no other reason than they have sense enough to recognize the gross optics of well-heeled white people explaining to an African American man why we shouldn't have demanding expectations for educators serving low-income minority youth.

I'm not sure the education debate can get any nastier. For one thing, our unions are under attack, and SCOTUS may reduce us to virtual "Right to Work" status. For another, accomplished though King may be, I've seen precious little evidence of thoughfulness from him, Diane Ravitch goes so far as to call him "brilliant" based on his academic credentials. But King is remarkably thin-skinned and unable to deal with criticism. He thinks it's beyond the pale when people comment that his signature programs, Common Core and junk science, are not good enough for his own children, in private schools.

Furthermore, John King shows little evidence of being able to play well with others. He actually canceled a series of public meetings when people dared disagree with him. In fact, he went so far as to call teachers and parents special interests. That's what we get for advocating for the kids we love, I guess. In Spanish, they say, "Tiene doctorado pero no es educado."  This means, roughly, he has a doctorate but he isn't educated. In Spanish, being educated means not simply sitting through some classes, but rather behaving well. King's been to Harvard but treats the people he ostensibly serves with a sorely limited scope ranging from indifference to outright contempt.

There is no way to read King's ascension other than as a slap in the face to teachers unions, especially the New York-centric American Federation of Teachers, which has been sharply critical of the future secretary.

If it's a slap in the face, that's not precisely the "Eff-it" Rotherham mentioned earlier. If Obama is "not that concerned" with education politics, why would he bother to slap us in the face?

The thing I'm saddest to disagree with is this:

Look for them to ratchet up the pressure on Hillary Clinton to distance herself from reform in a visible way, particularly in a primary fight where she needs labor's support and her political problems lie to the left.

I've seen no evidence of pressure on Hillary Clinton to do anything but smile as both AFT and NEA endorsed her.  In fact, though we had ample evidence of Barack Obama's reforminess in 2012, we endorsed him unconditionally. This was very odd, as LGBT and immigrant groups managed to extract concessions from him. If Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from reformy Obama policies in any way, I'd love to hear about it.

How about it, AFT, UFT and NYSUT leadership? Is Rotherham right? Have you got any demands for Hillary?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thanks to Sean Crowley for the photo.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Don't Let the Golden Parachute Hit You on the Way Out, Arne

It appears Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, is stepping down. Duncan famously said Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans because all the public schools were closed  and replaced by charters run by his fabulously wealthy BFFs. He also said something about white soccer moms learning their children were not so smart after they were given Common Core tests for which they were not prepared. Arne was the choice of DFER, and thus the choice of the President of the United States, who threw Linda Darling-Hammond under the bus to accommodate their request. Who knows how many suitcases of cash it cost to buy Arne that gig?

In any case, he doesn't want it anymore, and clearly has plans to whore himself out elsewhere. He can go give speeches to the Walmart family, or Eli Broad, or even for the great Bill Gates, who Common Cored the entire country. Well, not the entire country. After all, Bill's kids go to the same elite school he himself went to, and the ideas he sees fit to impose on our children are not quite good enough for his own.

In an exhaustive search to find someone even worse, President Obama appears to have settled on thin-skinned, Reformy John King. You no doubt remember King for having mandated version one of the junk science evaluation system we all love so dearly.  King famously had a listening tour on Common Core that he canceled when he found some New Yorkers dared disagree with him. He called parents and teachers "special interests," and indeed we are. Our special interest is the children of New York State, and it's unfortunate that King failed to share that interest with us.

Like Duncan, he sends his kids to private schools where there is neither Common Core nor junk science teacher rating. King did such a terrible job in New York that people barely seem to notice how execrable his replacement, MaryEllen Elia, is. It's not easy to locate fanatical ideologues with absolutely no knowledge of or interest in research or practice, but both our state and national governments are up to the task.

But the thing with reformies is this--you cut off one head and another just pops up right in its place. King will be an awful education secretary, even with his three years of teaching experience, one of which was in an actual public school. He will continue the corporatist hurtful policies embraced by Barack Obama, because really, you gotta admit they work for him. With a gig like this, he can continue to send his kids to elite Montessori schools while our kids do close reading and learn to hate just about everything about reading, school, and all that we value.

Doubtless E4E, Families for Excellent Schools, DFER, and all the phony grassroots groups are having a field day as we meet the new boss, same as the old boss. They've clearly bought themselves the most profitable education system in these United States.

CL Meeting Takeaway

I took a few notes at our meeting last Tuesday, but I didn't hear anything of world-shattering significance. Mulgrew said he planned to discuss Friedrichs in more depth in October, but that UFT was preparing for it. Basically, they hoped to remedy Right to Work status, if it came to that, with state legislation, but would pursue a federal solution if necessary.

I'm not entirely persuaded of our influence in Albany.  For one thing, they just passed the single most anti-teacher piece of legislation in my living memory. The Heavy Hearts Assembly passed, and rather than outrage they got a big old thank you from UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

One thing that surprised me was his mention of the UFT dementors Rat Squad validators. Mulgrew said they had overturned 30% of principal ratings. This suggests they did not overturn 70% of principal ratings. Mulgrew suggested that we had 60 teachers with double I ratings, and that this was only 10% of the number of double U ratings. Let's accept that as true.

The distinction, though, is that now the burden of proof is on these teachers. Rather than have the DOE prove they are incompetent, these teachers will now have to prove they are not incompetent. That is indeed a high burden, and it's entirely likely as many, if not more, teacher jobs will be lost. I'm never particularly happy hearing leaders boast of how few of us got screwed. Were I among those screwed, I'm sure I'd be even less happy about it.

And let's look at the 30% who had their ratings challenged by the validators. What have they won? Essentially, should the principal decide to 3020a them anyway, they will face the same 3020a they would have faced before Mulgrew participated in crafting a law that allowed teachers to be judged by junk science. They won precisely nothing. But 70% of them lost in a huge way.

At one point Mulgrew mused that if you, as a chapter leader, were not pissing off your principal, you were not doing your job properly. He segued immediately into praise of Carmen Fariña's Tweed. It would seem to me, if one followed Mulgrew's logic, that he was not doing his job properly by not pissing her off. However, Mulgrew logic dicates that you do as he says, not as he does. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Twitter campaign he initiated and encouraged, the one in which he did not participate. Mulgrew is not on Twitter or Facebook, and he boasts that he doesn't read the blogs. This, I suppose, makes his job easier. After all, why should he condescend to talk to the likes of me when there are hundreds of loyalty oath signers who will tell him whatever he wishes to hear?

The tone, mostly upbeat, and the repetition of the old theme of how smart he and his fellow Unity Caucus members are, had very little to do with what I hear each and every day. Teachers, in constant fear of being Danielsoned, are not remotely consoled by how few teachers are facing dismissal this year. Teachers are obsessed with doing whatever they can to not land in that group, elite though it may be.

What most irked me, as an ESL teacher, was that Mulgrew was openly encouraging the four-course, 12-credit, instant ESL teacher formula. In my school, as in every high school, there are fewer ESL courses. That's because NY State, for reasons it has shared with no one, has decided to cut direct ESL instruction by a ratio of 33-50%. Perhaps the state, by cutting ESL, feels they're helping with compliance. Who knows what goes on between the pearl-studded ears of Merryl Tisch?

However, most of my colleagues, perfectly capable of helping ESL students, have been reduced to push ins. All over the city, ESL students are learning English, social studies, math, and whatever. Supposedly they benefit from having an ESL teacher or a dual-licensed teacher in one of their classes, even though they get zero extra time for this enrichment they are magically getting.

A by-product of this is ESL teachers are losing their jobs for not being dual-licensed in whatever area their schools have chosen, and subject area teachers without the magical 12-credit extension are not getting jobs. You'd think that would be a union issue but I see no evidence it has crossed the mind of our President for one solitary second.

Mulgrew boasted of the bus in the new UFT commercial, and pointed out to us that it's a real bus. He said that, if anything good were happening in our schools, we should tell them about it and they'd send the bus. I suppose if I were some Unity faithful anxious for patronage I'd jump up and down and beg them to bring it. In fact, there are a whole lot of great things going on in our school. But I'm not calling for the bus.

I'd settle for a union president with a feel for the pulse of working teachers. I see little evidence of that in the words or deeds of Michael Mulgrew.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Right to a Decent Classroom

Recently, in my school, two foreign language teachers were placed in computer rooms. In our school, there were a bunch of bowling alley-style rooms. You could choose between either ten rows of 3 or two rows of 15. Neither was a good choice. A former principal hit himself on the head, shouted, "Eureka!" and declared he would render them all computer rooms. (Full disclosure--I wasn't there when he had this epiphany, so it isn't a direct quote. But it was still a great idea.)

The problem is that there simply are not enough computer classes, so someone has to work there. If you're a dimwitted supervisor, you might dump anyone with a bad rating there so they can't do groupwork, and then Daniel-slam them for not doing groupwork. If you're a conscientious supervisor, you might lobby for your people or try to make fair deals. Either way, someone gets stuck in the crap room.

There is an article in the UFT Contract, 7R, to be precise, that says teachers need adequate supplies. Here it is:

The Board and the Union agree that schools should provide appropriate and sufficient basic instructional supplies and books to deliver an effective educational program. Basic instructional supplies and books are those that must be provided for use by students without which classroom instruction will be impaired.

In the event a member or members of the faculty believe that such supplies and books are not available to students and faculty, the chapter may request a meeting with the principal. Upon the request of the chapter leader, the principal shall meet with the UFT chapter committee to resolve the issue. If no resolution is achieved at the school level, the district representative and the appropriate superintendent will meet within five (5) school days to attempt to resolve it. If they are unable to do so, the dispute will be forwarded by the Union to the Chancellor for his/her prompt review and response.

I used it once when a principal, angry at me for having spoken with a NY Times reporter, deprived my students of books. I threatened to file a grievance, and voila! We got the books. Now I'm stretching it and asking UFT to claim that, by giving my members inadequate classrooms, they are depriving them of supplies. I mean, how can you teach, especially to Danielson, with an inadequate classroom? Will UFT show any love at step two? Will they enable or push for those meetings? Hard to say.

But it's unconscionable that teachers are expected to use facilities like that. I know well, because I've taught in every crap room in the building. I taught in the music wing next to a teacher who adored playing "Flight of the Valkyries" full blast, every day, and never closed the door. I was reprimanded by his supervisor the one day I walked over and slammed it myself. I've taught in rooms adjoining fragrant dumpsters. I taught in a room with no ventilation and a dance class outside in the hall. You had to choose between hearing or air, because you couldn't have both.

I also taught in various iterations of the bowling alley rooms, they that are now computer rooms. One year, they dumped me in a trailer. I thought, hey, it sucks in the rain, it sucks in the snow, it sucks in cold weather, it sucks in hot weather, but at least there's a full room. Once I noticed no one else liked it, I started requesting it. (A big DOE secret is that when you request something no one else wants, it's pretty easy to score it consistently.) This worked for about a decade, and I got a lot of mileage complaining widely about it. But then my supervisor went and kicked me out of the trailers. I told her I'd been thrown out of worse places, but I wasn't altogether confident it was true. 

I've never taught in a bathroom, but I know teachers who have, one of whom was featured in the NY Times not once, but twice. I know there are kids learning in basements and hallways, and I know there are facilities far worse than those we have to use when 400 extra kids show up unexpectedly. But I can't face that all right this second.

What I can do is the best I can for my affected colleagues and their students, and right now that's filing a grievance. Maybe UFT won't back me, but in this case I'm not sure it should be on union. Not that I wouldn't advocate for it given how things are, but why should it need to be in a teacher contract that kids can have decent facilities? It seems to me it ought to be a matter of course, and not just for the Moskowitz Academies and their reformy donors. Shoudn't Mayor de Blasio reach into that whopping surplus our contract enabled and refurbish schools and rooms that have grown unfit over the decades?

I ought not to have to complain about this situation because it ought not to exist. But it does and I will. If you have any ideas about how to do so more efficiently, I'm open to suggestions.

What was your worst classroom like?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chapter Leader Meeting Notes

Mulgrew welcomes new chapter leaders. Much noise ensues, most, seemingly, from person sitting directly behind me. Mulgrew says CL job can be tougher than teaching job. Explains his mom asked him to stop cursing since Pope is here, thanks them for taking role. Says they have to be crazy, welcome to nut world, and proclaims himself biggest nut of all. Says he will ask if he can curse again when Pope leaves.

Mulgrew says DA is in October and will be run by Robert’s Rules. Asks we wear pink as we are single largest fund-raiser for Strides.

School Year

Mulgrew says we have more holidays than any other school system but we will still do 180 days. Says we always have at least two days for snow, but this year we have only one. More than one snow day would entail adding day to end of school year. Mulgrew says Lunar New Year is Monday after Super Bowl, to great applause. Says that day is highest absence day in US.

Class sizes

Mulgrew asks us to report classes, but says oversize classes are down. Mulgrew says there is more money in system and principals who cry poverty are lying. Says things may move more quickly as DOE legal is no longer in charge of class sizes. Says chancellor also wants to achieve this. Stresses documentation is key to everything.

Future of UFT

States governor suddenly wants to be friend of teachers.

Mayor Bloomberg—Mulgrew discusses 5-year plan. Says we decided we could not work with former mayor. Says there was no way to work with Bloomberg, and that he wanted to make UFT members at will employees. Says we went to war in streets of NYC. Says we fought back layoffs every year.

Mulgrew says at will employment is holy grail of reformers. Says Bloomberg would have settled contract if we’d have agreed to at will employment. Says legal bills went up over 4,000%, says we stopped school closings, and that Bloomberg’s numbers were never what he wanted. Cites Chicago and Philadelphia, and suggests major initiative to turn LA into 50% charter.

Mulgrew says defined benefit pension fully intact. Says other unions do not have that.

Mulgrew says we were hit, but their plan was to destroy us and privatize public school system.

Perpetual War

After Bloomberg left, hedge funders found new friend in Albany. Shows us pictures of Rhee, Koch Bros., Bloomberg and Moskowitz. Moskowitz is booed loudly. Caption: New Battle Same War. Mulgrew says we know all of their tricks and agenda items. Cites Broad’s academy for superintendents. Says they’ve placed people all over country. Says they’ve taken over legislation, and Dem. or GOP labels mean nothing.

Mulgrew says we effectively went after Senators who opposed us. Says they now plan to fight us through law and we will work with elected officials. Cites Bloomberg approval rating of 21% when he left office as evidence of our success.

Mulgrew says at UFT mayoral debate, all candidates agreed with us. Says it was because city agreed with us and not mayor. Says Albany was our next battleground. Cites Eva’s latest commercial as mistake in media air wars.
Mulgrew reminds us of Race to the Top. Says all of this will be changed if we get ESEA authorized. Calls it pivotal piece for what happens in our classrooms and schools every day. States he wishes to take testing out of teacher evaluation.  Says Senate and Congress now agree federal government should not mandate test scores in evaluation. Applause ensues, but Mulgrew says not to get too happy. Speaks of vouchers, then jumps back to optimistic message about eval.


Talks of new evaluation system this year. Says it is not in effect and we don’t know where they’re going. Says Board of Regents made a change in regs. Says they told commissioner there were problems, and that there is another 30 day public review period. Says union is now pressing for further changes and there will be another review process. Says we are not trying to delay process, but rather make it as fair as possible under terms of law.

Mulgrew cites outliers. Says those who teach at top or bottom will have great difficulty showing growth, and that is why there is a review process. Says it will keep changing, it is not good, but we must do this if we are not happy with it. Says teachers ask him not to change it again.

Mulgrew says union is a democracy and that he listens to different opinions. Mulgrew says we had lowest number ever of low-rated teachers. Says problem is fear that it has caused. Says union job is to make sure people doing job well are not harmed, but that formula is too complex. Says he wants simplicity, getting back to teaching from commissioner. Cites moving back from numerical scores as a victory.

Mulgrew says we have right to apply for a waiver. Says he will not reveal whether or not he supports it, but will negotiate.

School Funding

NYS owes us 4 billion for CFE. They refuse and ignore court ruling. Mulgrew summarizes history of CFE lawsuit and says wealthy districts are funded higher than needy districts. Says this will be huge fight in Albany. Says we want to be best major school system in country. Says we want smaller class sizes. Says we want proper equipment for all members.

Mulgrew says last year Cuomo hated teachers and unions. He says we beat him back on almost everything. Says there are pluses and minuses to new evaluation system. Doesn’t understand why he wants to fight us. Cites his poor polling numbers in education. Says his fight with us hurts him, and hopes for sanity in Albany.

Mulgrew says other people said he met the Pope, and it worked.

Mulgrew says he doesn’t use his personal opinions, but says he expresses what’s best for teachers. Says de Blasio best mayor in decades. Says Cuomo had epiphany yesterday.

Friedrichs and SCOTUS

Mulgrew cites Friedrichs as most dangerous case we are facing. Says he will talk about it in October. Says union may lose agency fee. Abood said that was acceptable, but SCOTUS is making different decisions, like making corporations people until you sue them. Says CA people agreed to lose it in CA so it would go to SCOTUS. Says decision will be between January and June, and that if we lose, NY would be Right to Work state. Says it revolves around one justice.

Mulgrew says if we become RTW state, some legislators will support us, but we may lose others. Says it will change everything for UFT and all unions. Says all we can do is lobby so that we can quickly change NY law. He says we will have to prepare for this scenario. Says we hope to fix at state level but may have to be at national level.


Mulgrew says first months under de Blasio and Fariña we’ve had to work toward cleansing DOE of Bloomberg. Says Bloomberg made that very difficult via longterm contracts. Mulgrew says they’ve been taking some of these things out, but lots of other things haven’t changed. Says there are fewer lawyers at DOE

Mulgrew says superintendents are now in charge. Networks are out. Mulgrew says if your principal doesn’t get mad at you, you shouldn’t be CL .

Mulgrew says we have shot at making NYC best school system, because we aren’t fighting.

Supporting New Teachers

Mulgrew says he wants new teachers to stay, and that they need to feel support. Mulgrew says he wants new teachers to be excited and remain so. Says by September 30th first wave of exits hits. Says he’s trying to reassure and help new teachers.

Mulgrew says there are a lot more resources in our new teacher program. Mulgrew tells a woman to announce we will take care of new teachers. Woman stands up and says it. Cites borough-based events, says he had over 1,000 in August, has collected contact info, and has met with them in chancellor. Says we can’t move forward if 40% keep walking through he door.

Mulgrew cites promoting literacy in early grades. Says you move education by getting all children at literacy level by end of third grade.

Building Chapters

Mulgrew says he got teacher voice in new contract, and that national leaders suggest it’s best contract in country. Says we are moving chapter advocacy division into all schools, but that we have 1800 schools. Cites importance of consultation committee. Cites PD committee. Says other locals would love to have them.

Celebrate Our Schools

Mulgrew cites commercial, to moderate applause. Says for 20 years, nothing good was said about our schools. Says those who hate us say, because we teach most challenging students, that we are terrible. Says those who do well cite themselves as best, but that implies those with more challenging kids are not good. Says we must talk about it.

NYC largest and most diverse system in school, with largest number of challenging students. Says we do a great job, but want to do better. Says chapters must take responsibility to consider all opinions. Says we do the hardest job of any school system in the country. Says we can’t wait for others to praise us, and we must speak up for ourselves. Says we put out commercials to celebrate schools.

Mulgrew says he wants to bring bus in commercial to all schools to celebrate what we do well, and that we will have a yearlong celebration of things we do well. Gets applause. Mulgrew says there are a million miracles a day in our schools, cites individual victories with individual children. Says we’re in a war, but should think about celebration. Says it’s right and smart thing.

Mulgrew says UFT does media buy in beginning of every year. Says Eva rushed bad commercial in response to UFT commercial. Mulgrew says retro payment one will be on 15th. Says CLs should not answer specific questions about retro. Says CLs should tell members to go online for inquiry form.


CL Aviation HS—Mulgrew declines to predict what will happen with Friedrichs. Says Right to Work contradicts Taylor Law.

CL asks what we can do about Friedrichs. Mulgrew says most members do not follow or want to know. Says that’s why meetings are important. Says if you read papers, blogs or social media you wouldn’t know what to think about anything. Cites lies and misinformation. Says union will provide info. 

CL asks—if you get two ineffective or developing, does tenure go out window. Mulgrew says people are probably recording him. Says developing not problem. Says we used to average over 600 double Us over year. Says we are at less than 10% of that number. Says independent validators overturned 30% of principal ratings. Says you must go to UFT office and speak of options if you have two I ratings.

CL from Renewal School—Wants to know how and when they are getting paid for extended hours. Amy Arundell says we know this is an issue and we are working on it. Hopes for news in next few weeks. CL says staff wants to leave, anxious for pay. 

Mulgrew says he told Governor biggest problem with struggling schools was teacher turnover. CL cites 12.5% increase in test scores.

New CL—says her school has high turnover—one third in three years as result of new principal. Asks what chancellor is doing. Mulgrew says he will get list of turnover rates from chancellor. Says it is clearest sign something is wrong. Says DOE legal liked when admin was mean to teachers. Says it is improvement that new principals have taught for at least 7 years.

CL—principal always wants new curriculum, maps, etc. Mulgrew says teachers are not supposed to write curriculum. Teachers may do so if they are being compensated. Says CL should talk to leadership.

CL—at Renewal school, says half of teachers left. When do they become hard to staff school and earn more? Mulgrew says Fariña has right to grant extra pay now. Says media must stop saying struggling schools have bad teachers. Says it’s important to state schools are struggling rather than citing bad teachers.

CL—What is our position on opt-out and is there effort to bring back local diplomas. Mulgrew says lot of conversation in Albany, we don’t want to be accused of dumbing down transfer schools. Mulgrew says opt-out is parent’s choice. Mulgrew cites Cuomo saying teachers should be respected and that eval ought not to be a gotcha system. Cites Cuomo saying we have to be realigned, and tests have to be changed. Mulgrew says he wants to see how this plays out. Says Cuomo says he’s trying to understand what we do. Mulgrew says he sent Cuomo a teacher to work on committee. Says she will be only expert on committee.

Mulgrew says it’s easy to always scream no, but we have to move forward. If we can’t kill something, we work around it. Says evaluation is moving along, but it’s taking a long time.

Mulgrew says reason we were able to be so successful against Bloomberg is because we were smart about it. Mulgrew says it’s a fallacy we only care about members, and that we also care about education.

CL—Complains of alternate certification as many traditionally certified are left out in the cold. Mulgrew says one area we’re looking for alternate cert. is ESL. Says this is where we hire people from CUNY and SUNY. Cites TFA and Teaching Fellows. Mulgrew complains of hiring non-locals when there are so many local schools. Says he is encouraging local hiring.

Mulgrew says our biggest challenge is ELL population. Says it is problem when SIFEs sit for exams, calls it child abuse. Says it is same for those with learning disabilities. Says he’s happy we organized 40 dual language schools. Says it’s due to chancellor. Says it does not solve ELL population issue, but it is after 6, and he’s finished.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who is Empowered in this Era of Ed. "Reform"?

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As teachers, we are hardly empowered.  We are seized upon as scapegoats for growing societal poverty.  Instead of being seen as people who try to help sometimes needy kids, we are seen as the ultimate cause of neediness.  With oversized classes, we are over-evaluated.  Experience is a liability.  There are few with much of it anymore and they are costly.  If they cannot work miracles, they will be the first to go as increasing poverty invariably causes decreasing test grades.

As a union member, one might think we are empowered.  Sadly, it is not so.  Less than 20% of active members vote.  Our votes aren't worth much anyway.  UFT-Unity is pleased to win with a majority of its votes coming from retirees, many of whom may have little-to-no idea how bad the situation has become on the ground.

When the union negotiates a sub-par contract, it is sold as a victory.  When people realize the victory seems hollow, a new message is passed down the line:  "The cupboard is bare."  We are told to vote for the new contract or risk becoming #151 in negotations, going to "the back of the line" in the worst elementary-school sense.  Instead of operating from a posititon of power, the union tells teachers to cower.  Beg at the table and hope for some tasty scraps.

When union reps go off to vote, and at great expense, they all vote the same way--and, sometimes, they seem to vote contrary to our interests.  We were told the Common Core empowers us.  Let UFT President Mulgrew grab "it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands" and say, "it's mine"--just so long as he keeps it as faraway from American classrooms as possible!  Let President Mulgrew keep it--only I don't think he wants it anymore either...

The Core has brought misery to a majority of students and teachers.  Where someone seems to like it, there is a strong possibility you can find Bill Gates' money.  Teachers provide test prep in place of learning for life.  Who but Stanley Kaplan really wants to teach to a standardized test?  I don't.

The large teacher unions, and,  here, UFT, NYSUT and AFT, sometimes slowly come round to common sense or popular opinion.  In the meantime, however, they have act as a drag, holding back smaller, more democratically minded unions.  In the opt-out movement, the action is on Long Island.  The City seems to sleep.  We are told by UFT Unity that kids need annual standardized tests.  We are supposed to believe that high-stakes testing is civil rights at work, a path to freedom, an end to poverty.  It can never be.

Sometimes, the same Union that fails to empower teachers tells itself it has our best interests at heart.  It tells itself that 22 domains will protect teachers.  It didn't matter that teachers didn't want 22 domains.  They had to endure them while President Mulgrew gummed up the works of everyone. 

In comments posted at this site, I again had the sense that UFT-Unity views itself as a mega brain with the power to decide what teachers want--instead of taking the time to ask them.  Commenter Mary mentioned that she questioned Leroy Barr about the new test-based teacher evaluation system on her first day of chapter-leader training.  TeachNYCkids returned, "Last year I heard that the new evaluation produced "I" ratings at 1/3 the rate of "U" ratings in the old S/U system. So who was right Mary? You or Leroy?"

We are supposed to believe that the APPR system is superior because fewer teachers receive negative ratings.  We are supposed to believe that one statistic tells the story like a standardized test grade.  We do not consider the stress faced by qualified teachers who could be brought down in any year of their career by tests manufactured to destroy, by kids who fail to study or fail to speak English or suffer the dire effects of poverty, by anyone of a number of factors out of their control in this warped world of junk-science.

We do not consider that teaching has become all about testing.  We do not consider that kids hate this system as much as teachers.  We do not consider how many teachers have left the profession in utter disgust.  We do not consider how many kids may drop out of school or fail to come, particularly if music and gym are cut to finance more test prep.  "Without music, life would be a mistake."

I am only empowered as a parent.  And, when times get tough I remind myself of this.  As a parent, my vote counts more than any teacher or union member.  As a parent, I may see Arne Duncan take a few swings, but I will never remain a scapegoat.  As a parent, I am not alone.  I stand with twenty percent of NY State's students.  Our numbers will continue to grow.  Politicians must listen.

Now, I suppose if I owned a hedge fund or if I had tons of money to throw at the Governor or other politicians, I might be the most empowered of all--but I also might know little to nothing about education.  I also might lack integrity.  I might even lack common sense.  I might think you could run a school like a business. I might think that the solution for poverty is grit.  I might think that firing older teachers is a cheap solution.  I might think that measures of quality boil down to a standardized test grade.  I might think I'm doing a fine job.  I might be drunk on my own power and, like DWI, I might be headed for a rude awakening.  History teaches us that power is often ultimately on the side of the right, but sometimes the road is long, almost too long...

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Curious Case of Mike Mulgrew and His Deceptive Piggy Bank

If you're on the UFT mailing list, you probably got the same email that I did. The UFT President wants you to know that you're finally going to see a little bit of the money that most city workers got over five years ago. Mulgrew blames Bloomberg, of course, since it could not possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the lack of negotiating skill of leadership. After all, they are Perfect in Every Way.

Many of us who watched the AFT Convention, when Mulgrew got all punchy defending Common Core, wondered where all that punchiness was as we went years without a contract. In fact, not only did we fail to get one, but we agreed to an APPR negotiated by Reformy John King rather than use it as leverage. After all, it was important to allow teachers to be judged by junk science. Had we not allowed that, we'd have risked losing federal funds to judge teachers by junk science.

Mulgrew's letter explains what a wonderful job he and his Unity Caucus ducklings did in making UFT members "whole." This is certainly true if you fail to distinguish between having money in 2009 or having it in 2020, and indeed Mulgrew's letter ignores this distinction utterly. After all, what's the difference between building a deck on your house this year or eleven years from now? Sitting on the grass isn't so bad, and you're only doing it for eleven years. And, as Mulgrew himself said, retro pay isn't a God-given right, so you'll take what you get, like it, sit down and shut up like good little teachers. What, did you think UFT leadership was going to fight for fairness when they could settle for a substandard contract? Don't you know there are conventions that need to be planned for?

Here's how Mulgrew explains his piggy bank:

Think of it as a large piggybank. If you have been continually employed, you have been depositing money in this piggybank since Nov. 1, 2009 and will continue to deposit money until the two 4 percent increases are fully phased in in 2018. This October, you’ll make your first withdrawal.

Now I have a daughter and I know a little bit about piggybanks. She kept one until she was around eight, at which point I decided she was old enough to have a real account at a bank. After all, money in a piggybank collects no interest. This notwithstanding, an enterprising seven-year-old could finance a lemonade stand with what's inside. Said seven-year-old could buy a gift for someone, or perhaps help finance sporting equipment, a laptop, or even a video game system for herself. She doesn't need to leave all the money in the piggybank for eleven years, or make withdrawals on a completely inflexible schedule made by Daddy.

And that's where the analogy wears even thinner. There is no money in that UFT piggybank. None at all. On October 15th, hopefully, 12.5% of the money that isn't in your piggybank will be reflected in your paycheck. After that, it's two full years before you see a dime.

One of the reasons it took so long to get any contract at all was that the city was having its seasonal financial crisis. This crisis comes up whenever it's contract time. As Mulgrew put it, "The cupboard was bare." (It's unusual that Mulgrew said that, or the remark about retro pay, because those remarks are supposed to come from management.) Of course, as usual, money was found in the sofa cushions at Gracie Mansion, and it turned out the city had a whole bunch of money after all. We didn't discover that, of course, until Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus sold us this contract based on logical fallacies. In this case, it was appeals to fear, to wit:

1. Retro pay is not a God-given right, and
2. If we don't take this piece of crap contract, we have to get back in line behind another 151 unions.

You can bet every one of those 151 unions wishes we weren't first in line, because we dumped the worst pattern in my living memory on them, 10% over 7 years. James Eterno told Mulgrew it was the worst pattern ever at the DA. The ever-gracious UFT President said it wasn't true and turned off Eterno's microphone, but I've yet to see evidence there was ever a less favorable pattern.

If you're on maximum salary, the city owes you about $54,000. That's some serious scratch For a working UFT member, it's a car, or several cars, it's a big part of a down payment on a house, and you will get it in dribs and drabs over the next five years. Goodbye cars, goodbye house. Too bad. You can always pay rent and hope housing prices don't explode more than they already have.

Of course, the contract stretches into the next mayoral term, and Bill de Blasio may or may not win. I'd suppose de Blasio would honor the terms of the contract. After all, despite all the talk about him being a communist and whatnot, he turned out to negotiate the contract with the lowest compensation increase ever for the city's largest union. Sure, some of the other unions managed to do better than we did, but it's still relatively chicken feed.

The thing is, though, that we have to anticipate someone reformy could be mayor. For example, I see Eva Moskowitz being bandied about. Don't you think it's possible Mistress Eva might determined we're having yet another seasonal financial crisis, and that we therefore can't afford the balloon payments to those awful teachers? Contracts have been breached before in times of crisis.

The good thing for Mike Mulgrew, or whoever Unity Caucus puts in his place, is he can always blame the mayor. You know, like he did in that email. It's Bloomberg's fault. It's Eva's fault. Perhaps it's my fault for questioning their judgment.

Because nothing is ever the fault of union leadership, and you can ask any of 800 loyalty-oath signing rubber stamps if you don't believe me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What Seattle Has that We Don't

Seattle teachers just ended a strike. The fact that they would strike at all differentiates them from us. It's risky going on strike. It's also costly. In NY, you pay two days back for each one you strike. That's a side-effect of the draconian Taylor Law, which strips us of one of our strongest weapons. Of course, going on strike could also strip leadership of their right to automatic dues collection. They may lose that anyway in SCOTUS, but those dues dollars are pretty important.

We've got hundreds of loyalty-oath signing faithful whose activism revolves around going to conventions. These are the ones who treat Mike Mulgrew like a rock star at the DA and hang on every word he says. These are the ones who answer phones at UFT after school, and if you've ever gotten bad advice from one these folks, it's probably because they were hired for loyalty rather than competence. I always tell my members call UFT, but if the person doesn't help you let me know and I'll find someone who will.

What happens when teachers stand on principle rather than patronage?

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

That's remarkable. As a class size advocate, I wonder what would happen if UFT demanded reasonable class sizes. In all the time I've been a teacher, since 1984, the only instrument that has controlled class sizes has been the UFT Contract. And in all that time leadership has not taken a single step to improve it. They say they've gotten us money instead, yet we have to wait until 2020 for money everyone else got over five years ago. In a few weeks, maybe, we'll get a small slice of it. Go to a car dealership and ask if they'll give you a car now if only you can pay for it interest-free in five years.

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Holy crap. That is a major victory.  Here in NY, our union President helped craft the awful APPR law that every teacher I know is freaked out over. And he actually thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly when they voted to make it even worse.  Our brave brothers and sisters in Seattle said they weren't going back to work until they could be judged by something other than junk science.

Would teachers in New York City stand up? Do teachers in New York City even know what a union is? Tough to say, since 79% of us voted for second-tier due process in a contract that settled for raises that were ten years late. Isn't union, you know, when we all stand together? Isn't union when we are all one?

Not here, and not now, apparently. That has to change. As leadership has allowed our union to be so degraded, it will take some time. The cynicism engendered by consistent indifference to membership is pernicious, and will take a long time to reverse.

But I've waited a very long time, and I can wait some more. We need to be what we can be, and there's no reason we can't learn to stand up, just as our brothers and sisters are doing in other parts of the country.

We will get our heart back, no matter how long it takes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Wonders of Classroom Technology

After writing a whole lot of awful things about Skedula, I was asked to work on a UFT committee examining electronic gradebooks. It was kind of cool. I met a lot of people using various different programs, and heard a lot of good and bad things about them. I decided to really assess the program, I had to use it. So for about half a year I used both it and a paper book as backup.

I have to say, while I still find Skedula to be less user friendly than any program I'd buy or use on a regular basis, it was generally convenient. For one thing, as an ESL teacher, I tend to get new students pretty much all the time. A paper gradebook gets pretty messy as you add and drop names, erase things, and white out others. Online, everything is alphabetized, and I don't have to do updates.

Of course if you have multiple sections in a classroom, it gets increasingly complicated. Right now, for reasons I cannot fathom, there are maybe six sections in my morning class. That's not the real problem, though. For some reason someone has renamed the sections and I've lost all my grades. This has happened to me before when one student moved to another section, and I was able to retrieve the grades pretty easily. The other day I sat with an administrator and we managed to find my assignments, but they didn't have any grades attached to them.

I may or may not retrieve the grades I've been keeping these last few weeks, but losing them has made me a little more cognizant of the value of paper. After my first semester keeping records in two places, I've relied entirely on the program. I figure if my school pays them thousands of dollars, it's on them to keep the records. If they can't do something that fundamental, there's not a whole lot of value there.

I'm now entering my second year of trailer exile. For most of last year, I had a SmartBoard that didn't work at all. I used to hang my jacket on it and remind the kids I was using the SmartBoard. When my supervisor came in, I noted that I used it every day and demanded credit for innovative use of technology. (I don't believe I got any.)

Then the principal went and put in an LED screen that actually worked. I was shocked. I mean, there it was, the computer I'd never bothered to use, and it was actually capable of displaying stuff. So I talked to a young Chinese teacher who explained it was great using PowerPoint to display aims, assignments, and teach vocabulary. I looked at her presentations and thought I could do that. But I was much smarter than her, I thought, so I did things differently.

First, I used Apple Keynote rather than PowerPoint, because I read somewhere it was much cooler. But when I tried to open it on the Mac Mini in my classroom, I learned that it was an older version and couldn't read my presentation. A tech teacher showed me how to convert a Keynote presentation to a PowerPoint, so I put the PowerPoint on my thumb drive and was using that for a few weeks.

For some reason, the display in my classroom this year is much harder to manipulate. It's really hard to see the mouse icon on this screen. Also, there's a nag screen that comes up saying IOS wants to make changes and demanding an administrative password that I don't have. That's kind of irritating. More irritating, though, was when the computer stopped recognizing the mouse and turned itself into a useless piece of junk.

It happens I walk around with a MacBook Air all the time. I bought it a year ago and I have no idea how I ever lived without it. So I was able to use my presentation on the 13 inch screen, but it really sucks having to walk around and show it to a large class. (I did it again in the afternoon, and I can tell you it also sucks having to walk around and show it to a small class, though not as much.)

I've had teachers come up to me and complain that the machines in their room were broken, and that it was impossible to do their lessons as a result. A few years ago I thought about how lucky I was that I had no technology and therefore couldn't use it. Now I think how important it is, when you do use it, to have a backup plan, or be able to devise one on the spot.

And here's what the reformies don't or won't realize, when they say idiotic things like, "Let's just make CDs of great teachers and fire all the live ones." The machines break, but we don't. The machines do one thing, but we do everything. No matter how advanced the tech gets, that's not gonna change.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mulgrew Misses Mark in Daily News

I'm reading Michael Mulgrew's piece in the Daily News and agreeing with much of it, but I find myself confused by the great disparity between his words and actions. I agree, for example, that it will not be possible to Fire to the Top, and that getting rid of teachers will not help our students. Mulgrew gives examples of schools that have had tremendous turnover. I can understand why people don't want to work in these places. In fact, as someone who absolutely loves being a teacher, as someone who hates to say this, I even understand why people don't want to teach at all.

Mulgrew advocates fixing schools that are perceived to be broken. A bigger problem, though, is determining precisely what that fix entails. If, for example, we are judging these schools purely on test scores, it's important we get to the source of the low scores. I'm not sure, from the column, that Mulgrew rejects the notion of failure based on test scores. In fact, Mulgrew helped craft the current APPR system, the one that is making working teachers almost universally miserable. Mulgrew not only accepted test scores as a factor to rate teachers, but went so far as to thank the Heavy Heart Assembly for accepting Andrew Cuomo's plan to exacerbate the situation, a plan the governor wanted specifically so as to fire more teachers. Make no mistake, placing the burden of proof on the teacher at 3020a hearings can and will achieve that goal.

Now Mulgrew seems to think the whole firing teachers thing is problematic. Why, then, did he not lay down the gauntlet when Cuomo turned the heat up on junk science evaluation? In fact, why didn't Mulgrew take a position against Cuomo when Zephyr Teachout opposed him in not one, but two primaries? Come to think of it, why didn't Mulgrew oppose him when he ran the very first time, a Democrat proclaiming he would go after unions? Isn't that fundamentally counter to what we stand for as unionists?

Mulgrew doubles down on the assumption these schools are failing, and prescribes the following:

Customize curriculum and instructional practice. Traditional teaching methods and approaches haven’t worked in these schools. The system has to abandon off-the-shelf curriculum, revamp the training that teachers get and focus on delivering lower class sizes, individualized instruction and curriculum that’s tailored to the students’ current knowledge and skills.

Is this not the same Michael Mulgrew who said he would punch our faces and rub them in the dirt if we tried to take his precious Common Core from him? Does Mulgrew actually assume that it is "teaching methods and approaches," rather than outside factors like poverty, special needs, or lack of English ability that cause low test scores? (To his credit, Mulgrew later asks for wraparound services, which actually may help.)

I also strongly agree with Mulgrew that smaller class sizes are key to delivering better education. But despite the valuable lip service provided here, the only instrument that has regulated class sizes for the thirty years I've been teaching has been the UFT Contract. In all that time, and for decades before, neither Mulgrew nor any of his predecessors has even tried to negotiate down what are, in fact, the largest class sizes in the state of New York. Mulgrew may argue that we went for money instead, but we haven't seen a whole lot of that, and what we will get will be ten years after the overwhelming majority of city workers got it.

Here's the thing--history has established there are many ways to raise test scores. You can cherry pick the students. You can dump those who don't work out. In fact, you can dump entire cohorts, like Geoffrey Canada did, and American Express will still pay you to do commercials. Or, of course, as we're seeing more frequently lately, you can cheat.

As none of those options are available to us, Mulgrew is now blaming others for failures. Mulgrew told the DA he had staked our reputation on turning around these schools. But Mulgrew accepts the reformy criteria for failure and success, i.e., test scores. And that is a crucial error.

It isn't the schools that are failing these children, and it isn't the teachers either. It is the nation, the state, and the city that allows them to grow up in poverty. It is a country that pays starvation wages and makes both parents take multiple jobs to make ends meet. It is a country that allows people to spend so much time working that they neglect their families, a country that allows Americans to suffer and die as a result of not having health insurance. It is a country that takes junk science in lieu of education, and it is union leaders like Michael Mulgrew who not only accept but enable and encourage such nonsense.

These are the issues we need to face if we want our kids to succeed and excel, be your standards reformy or reasonable. This is why I turn down perks and jobs to represent members rather than leaders. This is why I decided to join MORE/ New Action and oppose Mulgrew in the coming election.

This is why I'm a teacher, and this is why I'm staying until they shoot me down with junk science.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There are No Oversized Apples for Oversized Classes

This Apple Will Probably Never Make it to a Teacher's Desk...
Ed. "reformers" believe that branding teachers as "ineffective" is the single most important way to improve educational outcomes.  Although driving away experienced teachers with seniority and burgeoning pensions may cut costs, it fails to help students.  Cutting class size, however, so teachers can deal more effectively with individuals, would work miracles.  Too bad, the financial costs of such reform make it prohibitive; too bad ed. "reformers" are more concerned about their personal pocketbooks than profiting students.

I teach three of my five classes in a row.  Each class contains about 37 students; the number will hopefully soon be reduced to 34.  Whether 37 or 34, the numbers are overwhelming.  When I return to the workroom after three periods, I have about one-hundred homework papers in hand.  Let me picture an ed. "reformer" grading that many papers on a regular basis.  Ineffective!

When I collect essay papers, I can get as many as 175.  If I fail to grade the old work before the new work comes due, the profusion of papers mounts.  Try keeping one set straight from another.  It is a profound triumph of organizational skill.  It is time-consuming, not to mention, a literally heavy burden.  Now, imagine trying to read each paper carefully and electronically enter grades.  Ineffective, again!

When students write short responses in class, provided the students are well-behaved, I try to circulate around the room and read as many as I can.  I end up skimming papers, trying to find some further question to ask each student or some grammatical suggestion.  I try to fly around the room before most students are done.  Some days, I feel positively superhuman.  Other times, I just recognize that my students know I am mortal.  I try to call on most students during a given lesson, but in the span of 42 minutes, the time spent with any one child can rarely be anything special.  Ineffectiveness writ large!

If students were chatty or poorly behaved, they would be so much harder to control in a big class.  The probabilities of chaos would increase greatly.  Where students' needs are the greatest, and they are not met, the potential for frustration and disorder are profound.  When students need serious assistance, and the teacher cannot be in 37 places at once, or sustain her help, there may be far greater potential for some kind of "explosion"--or at the very least low test scores.  Fifty percent of your formula now spells INEFFECTIVE!

Imagine all the supplies needed for so many students.  Imagine all the handouts.  Imagine trying to secure enough markers for a project.  Imagine the cost of such supplies.  The chance that such supplies will be stocked in a closet somewhere becomes nil.  The supply lines have been cut.  Ineffective teachers reach into their own pockets.

The more people in a room, the more parents to call, the more papers to grade, the more stress AND the greater the chance of burnout.  Any teacher who tries to give extensive meaningful feedback on a daily basis is probably young, unmarried, without children and destined to look for another job soon.  Such a teacher may sacrifice his or her personal life for a year or two, but no longer.  Teachers with oversized classes burnout fast.  Some will leave while the getting is good.  Some may even become ed. "reformers."  We all know that Rhee and Campbell Brown could never have survived forty years in a classroom.  Perhaps they lack sufficient grit--or, perhaps, they care more about themselves than their students!  And, they will never have their effectiveness "scientifically measured."  Teachers, alone, need to be measured...not the size of their classes.  Only teachers are ineffective, not ed. policy!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Perils of Merryl

Merryl Tisch is concerned about how things are going, or at least how things appear to be going. To remedy this, Tisch has decided not to change how things are going, but rather how things appear. For one thing, she wants to change the name of Common Core. This is part and parcel of the canard that there's nothing wrong with Common Core, but rather the way in which it was rolled out. This, evidently has given the whole Common Core thing a bad name.

So we can call it the Empire State standards, or the NY State Standards, or Merryl's Perils, or whatever. Then everyone will forget that their kids are spending 12 hours a night studying for developmentally inappropriate tests. The rising tide of opt-out will stop dead in its tracks, because well-informed parents will fail to notice it's the same nonsense with a shiny new bow on top. No one will notice that their kids are spending hours, days and weeks preparing for tests even the governor admits are meaningless (except for rating those darn teachers). Bill Gates has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on these standards, and we can't just leave them lying around on some railroad track.

The other big idea is to allow teachers to appeal their junk science ratings. This way, you see, it will be tougher for teachers to take their cases to court and claim the entire system is nonsensical and incomprehensible. That the entire system happens to be nonsensical and incomprehensible is of no consequence. What's important is, with this regulation, some teachers may have their ratings reversed. NYSUT and UFT leadership have praised this, but as usual they've started the celebration prematurely. However they spin it, all the ratings are baseless. How can Karen Magee or Michael Mulgrew get up and claim victory because every now and then logic may trump junk science? The optimal percentage of junk science in teacher ratings is, and has always benn, precisely zero.

No matter how many times you paint over that garbage can, its contents remain the same. It's really unbelievable how many people are paid to run around and rationalize this nonsense. Maybe they should start a cult or something. They could all gather around a Bill Gates statue and pay tribute.

Maybe they could call it a religion. It kind of fits that an organization dedicated to the privatization of a public good would pay no taxes. Perhaps they're rich enough to pay no taxes already, but why not double down?

It's a WIN-WIN!