Friday, November 22, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly November 2019--DOE's Instructional Leadership Is a 33% Solution, at Best

Special thanks to Jonathan Halibi for taking notes this month, while I went home to catch up on sleep.

Michael Mulgrew--Welcome to the November DA

Moment of silence for Lila Ezra, who played important role in starting Member Assistance Program

Election. Lousy turnout in NYC. But UFT member turnout high. All UFT endorsed won.

Welcomes Melinda Katz. She thanks UFT. Calls out Mulgrew, Dermot Smyth. Kept PS42 and IS53 open. Got a principal at Townshend Harris who we want. Got rid of principal at Forest Hills.
Need to change C30.  Need all the resumes, not just the five the superintendent sends.  And Common Core? Talks about her kid crying over math, which should be the international language.  Safety depends on getting kids programs they need. We can manage together to keep kids out of the system.

Empower Organize Engage
Political Action Teams for each district. Anyone here – or anyone in your building.
City Council term limits – high turnover coming up. We want to get UFT members running for those seats.

AFT – national presidential forum in December in Pittsburgh. We are going to continue to wait. Asked us to wait until after big forum in December.

New York votes the right way. Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida – that’s the whole race right now. Our retirees do great work. We will help in Florida. Pennsylvania. Ohio is used to us calling in.

Personally, opposes DeVos. There are people who support the current administration. But not of them, when he asks, support DeVos. We are about public education.

NYSUT – this is the last year we should be using common core in NY City. They claim every teacher has been trained in Next Generation standards. We know it is not true. Next year test will be based on NG standards. We have to get trained.

Says NYSED Used teachers to design new standards. State is forbidden to give us curriculum. Each LEA has obligation to supply curriculum.

We have to be trained what the standards are. We need curriculum to math standards. Haven’t had this in NYC since the 70’s.

City has already put out the Instructional Leadership Framework. We approved three pieces of state plan. Instructional Leadership Framework. Advanced Literacy. Culturally Sensitive Training.  City only did the first, and only did half, and left out curriculum and training. CSA complaining along with us.

Once we raised concerns about what had not happened at DoE, some of the folks who were responsible starting sending emails.

Show of hands who has had admin tell them they must align lessons to NG standards. (Scattered hands, maybe 30 – 50%).

Sick and tired of principals who don’t know what to do, or who make it up as they go along. When they ask the folks who should support them, they get a “why are you bothering us?”

Goal was to have all class size done by Thanksgiving. Last official arbitration day will be next Tuesday. They are all done. One school, usually 50 a year, down to 4, and they have a remedy on the table.

66.1% of schools have done real consultation. You should give yourself a round of applause. Last year we barely got to 60%.
(Mulgrew is discussing reporting, not consultation.)

Call Center. “Building a Community” Will build a “Chapter Leader Community”.  Going to be built by what CLs tell us.

Class size. Check.
APPR. Long way to go
Curriculum – got a plan
Special Ed – have to fix it. Things in corrective action plan – some of them being fixed.
Changing IEPs
Common Planning

We did not say every school should supply every service, because that is not possible. Joel Klein program. Klein incentivized pushing kids into ICT. Our responsibility to push kids to less restrictive environment. Teachers used to hold kids where they were doing well.

Homeless population. We need to do something.

Teachers Choice soon. $250 for teachers. Date under discussion (2 choices).  Submit the receipts. We all need to spend the money,

Wishes us all a nice thanksgiving. Off to a good start, much more to do.
Report ends 5:12

Leroy Barr
In the 50 building right now and after the DA, Free flu shots

Support LBGTQ empowerment dinner tomorrow

Ongoing coat Drive, please donate hats, scarves,

Coalition for the homeless holiday party December 7, please bring unwrapped toys to the children in the city. There are 110000 homeless kids in the city.

Kwanza celebration--4 – 8 pm 12/9 Brooklyn office

January 6 three kings celebration. Details TBA

Raised funds for hurricane Dorian relief funds. UFT delivered goods to student sheltered at Hampton University. Thank Black Caucus

Raised over 5k to support families on the border

Change in citywide para rep meeting from November 21 – November 26. 52 Broadway

Next DA 12/11

Wishes us happy Thanksgiving.

Question period

Yonah Adikah – SRP, Special Ed. Tonight you said Least restrictive environment. I remember back to Jeol. Klein. Seemed like precursur to discharge. Not a fan of holding on to kids who don’t need service. How do we ensure that Least Restrictive is Most Appropriate

This is the whole fight right here. We are going to find the balance.

Teacher from D79, adult ed
Students come without IEP. We accept any student who comes to our door. Administration says “we do not have special ed”.  So we teach kids who we know are special ed, but not classified. Can we have training? Can we have special ed education for ALL teachers?

We are going to start that process, not just in adult ed. We see higher proportion of D79 kids with special needs. Are they being shunted there?  Happens out of NYC in BOCES. You have to have the proper support to teach anyone no matter who the student is.

Kate Martin-Bridge. CL Schuylerville Prep.
Project enrollment 338. Actual 430. Down to 400. We have to deal with budget projection, all the OTC, and haven't got the staff.

Principal can move the numbers. We have a state funding problem and a City problem. Mulgrew Testifying about CFE. Will emphasize 110000 homeless students and Problems with state formula. More affluent districts have more clout, more money. Need to deal with it.

City level. Fair student funding. Schools should not be billed teacher cost.
OTC, there are budget people who should figure things out.
Programming is omplicated. Services are tough, and even tougher when people from above say,  "You – figure it out."  Bad practices become regular.
About one third of principals think it is normal to change IEPs.
Funding should be for class, not for child.

Huge fights at state level and at the city level

Marjorie Stamberg, Delegate, Pathways to Graduation. DACA, at the supreme court. We have children (and members – MM), I think we need to pay some special attention. In my school we had UFT committee to defend these children. We need to do this

Mulgrew - Likes idea of getting an information tree. Working inside of multiple coalitions on this issue. Working on other related issue. We have teams each month going to border. This issue is being used to get people to fight with each other.

Mulgrew - Sidebar – NYC was the worst in census last time. Census funds programs. We lost 1.3B in Title I. Pushing politicians to encourage participation. We need to do better.


Fran Myers. Delegate Adult Ed.
Resolution about U-ratings, based on 2007 resolution.

Mike Sill speaks against. U-Rating reso still in effect. Modified with contractual changes, but still in effect.


Mulgrew comments, sorry that Fran did not realize the reso was still in effect.


Janella Hinds. Resolution to support victims of Hurricane Dorian. Nicole Smith from D16 came up with the idea for providing resources to students who were displaced from the University of the Bahamas to Hampton University. Paul Taylor from the UFT Brooklyn Office drove boxes and boxes to Hampton.

No discussion.

Passes unanimously

Anthony Harmon rises to support reso on the census. Not about citizenship, but about a count.

No discussion.

Passes unanimously

Sterling Roberson. Resolution to support NYC Transit Workers. They are 6 months without a contract.

No discussion.

Passes unanimously

Ann Goldman. Reso on UFT strike anniversary.
George Altomare speaks in favor. Still talking.  19 is walking out.


Founders stand for applause.

Janella Hinds.  Musician union asking for support against Disney. Evidently Mickey is a rat.

No discussion.

Passes unanimously

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Al D'Amato, Education Expert

Last week I wrote about how the NY Post had yet another article trashing teachers who've been reassigned. I've read this article a million times. First it was Campbell Brown, on her mission to save the world from the perfidious individuals who teach children. This was covered quite a bit by then-education writer Ben Chapman in the Daily News.  This week former Senator Pothole, Al D'Amato, wrote essentially the same thing.

Here's the recipe--You take a few extreme cases, outliers at best, and paint them as though they're typical. After that, add a few dashes of union and teacher bashing, and then, no matter how little you know, paint yourself as an expert. Now D'Amato's piece has a title that suggests otherwise--We have a lot to learn about education's cost and quality. Unfortunately, Al is pushing the same old anti-union nonsense he did when he was a Senator. That's probably one reason he was voted out.

I'm not sure how many people read the Herald, but I'm glad Al didn't manage to get his story into something like Newsday, with wider circulation. Al's source appears to be the Post article, which I suppose is as good as any when it comes to teacher-bashing. Al, of course, is himself a paragon of virtue, so he can say this stuff. After all, he was cleared in the whole Roosevelt Raceway sale, even though it stunk to high heaven.

Hey, does that remind you of anything? It kind of reminds me of the teachers who were reassigned. They were never convicted of anything. Yet Al says the system sucks and needs to be changed because they got away with something. Now usually, when someone says you didn't do something, you're considered not to have done it, and therefore you aren't punished for it. That's exactly what happened to these teachers. In fact, that's exactly what happened to Al as well.

So let me ask you this, Al. Should you go to prison for a role in something you were acquitted of? I'm not familiar with the case, but I think you might be guilty. Maybe you had a fancy lawyer I wouldn't be able to afford, or maybe you got off on a technicality. Maybe the jurors believed you but you were lying. You see I don't know, just like you don't know about these teachers. Nonetheless, here's what you said:

But since he was a tenured teacher at the time of his disciplinary hearing, strict union rules prevented him from being fired.

What rules, Al? Is it the rule that you can't fire someone with due process rights for no reason? Is it the rule that when an arbitrator determines you didn't actually do the thing of which you are accused, you aren't punished for it? You see, just like in Al's case, I don't know enough about what happened to make a judgment. It seems to me, Al, that if you aren't willing to go to prison for a crime of which you were not convicted, you ought not to be claiming these teachers should.

Worse than that, you ought not to take one outrageous story and stereotype all of us for it. I fail to see the distinction between that and garden variety bigotry.

What does D'Amato want? He wants more charter schools. He wants no union. He wants teachers fired for any reason or no reason. Offering no statistics whatsoever, he says charters perform better. So what if they toss inconvenient kids out at every juncture and we teach everyone. It's all about saving money in taxes and sending it to rich people, like former Senator Al D'Amato.

One of the great things about this story is you don't even need to write it anymore. Just copy someone else's, add a few lines, and there you are. Instant vilification of teachers.

Monday, November 18, 2019

UFT Executive Board November 18, 2019--UFT Celebrates Supporting Members. DOE Moving Backward

Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.


Barr—Shows photos of honorees—Carmen. Alvarez, Robert Astrowsky, Frank Caruccu, Leo Hoenig, Sandra March, and Shelvy Young-Abrams.

DA Wednesday, LGBTQ dinner Thursday for money for Danny Dromm scholarship fund. November 23rd Queens parent conference, same day middle school Thanksgiving Drive at 52, giving away coats and hats. Next EB 12/2.


Arthur Goldstein—We now have a cooperative chancellor. He’s spoken with us and I’ve seen him at a number of different events. He’s appeared publicly with the President on numerous occasions, notably in the video where he and the President encouraged healthy cooperation between UFT and DOE.

Yet we now have something called an Instructional Leadership Team. This team duplicates many of the responsibilities of the contractually mandated PD committee, yet the principal can determine the membership with no input or consultation with the chapter. Also they get $20-30,000 to fund this team, in contrast with nothing for the PD committee. I also sit on a School Leadership Team, where not only UFT, but the entire community was ignored. We are UFT. Do we or do we not have a voice in the work we do?

Can someone please explain to the mayor and chancellor that this seems much more a Joel Klein thing than a Richard Carranza thing, and further ask them to clarify the notion of cooperation for principals who view UFT chapters as an inconvenience to be avoided rather than a partner with whom to work toward a common goal?

—We will make sure we are part of this group. We need to push to make sure we have the PD committees in place in schools and districts. That’s where we have voice in what happens at school-based level. We are definitely going to push to see our voice is heard. We have a better relationship with chancellor. Some beneath him are not as good.

Reports from districts

Sterling Roberson—Saturday and Manhattan Art and Design, was drawathon, a day of gathering in the arts. We had all levels of schools represented. Was a great event, and thanks everyone.

Rich Mantel
—This Saturday is middle school Thanksgiving event, clothing drive for students with temporary housing. We give them food and clothing. Anything you can give is appreciated. Link on UFT website. Gloves, a hat, anything. 150 coats from district 26. Please help.

Mike Schirtzer—D15 middle schools have integration plan. Was a lot of worry, but no one left. Has been very successful. UFT won a grievance on Regents distributive scoring. DOE still not doing what they should when people are grading. Will make sure DOE adheres.

Rashad Brown—LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner. We want them to know we have a community of educators that support them. Want to raise funds. 75 for members. Can be purchased online.

Michelle Ferarro—Brooklyn parent conference Saturday. Over 400 parents showed up. Thanks to all.

Resolution in support of American Fed. of Musicians—Janella Hinds—I think about my favorite movies, and soundtracks. I think about themes of TV shows that make me focus. Corporations will be corporate, and what we’ve learned from local 802 is that Disney Plus told musicians that music was not important. They make up to 75% of yearly income from residuals. They’ve reached out to us for support, with this resolution. I ask for your support.

Passes unanimously.

President’s report—Michael Mulgrew—We should always remember that we take the time to honor those who have dedicated so much to the union. We are going to unveil major changes in lobby. Have been working all weekend. Thanks to those who designed and did all the work.

DOE on two major initiatives. All arbitration for class size will be finished by Thanksgiving. Thanks all who used new language in contract. Goal, if we do it right this year is to do better next.

We’ve been in some very focused discussions with DOE on lack of focus in Instructional Leadership Team framework. We are now in agreement with DOE and CSA. Tests and standards are changing. There’s been no training. Exec. superintendent says all staff are trained and we are ready. This is not true at all.

DOE is admitting now they have a lot of work to do in short time. They are pushing too much paperwork which is making this difficult. One superintendent did a PD and mandated that every school and teacher has to write curriculum. He put it in a powerpoint, which we got a copy of, and DOE denied knowledge of it.

Bureaucracy is a big challenge. Want to end by saying we will get to honor 6 people We are family community, and we respect each other and rely on each other at all times.

—Hope you are wearing solidarity button. Month of November very important in UFT history. We are the strongest, biggest and most forward thinking union in this country. Have a good night. Bar is now open.

We are adjourned 6:08

Sunday, November 17, 2019

On Writing, and Writing Recommendations

Unlike some of my colleagues, I don't write many recommendations. It's not that I don't want to--it's that I'm not frequently asked. This is largely because I teach beginning English language learners. Most of them are freshmen when they come to me, and three years later they have other teachers and other priorities.

It's too bad, because I'm pretty good at writing recommendations. Sometimes colleagues give me recommendations to edit. A few weeks ago I got one written about a student I know well. I was a little disappointed he didn't ask me directly, but I made his a little better anyway. I absolutely understand that students might not want to place it front and center that they are (or were) ELLs.

I've seen some overly flowery recommendations that were not altogether persuasive. I particularly recall one that commented on a student's perspicacity, and then went on to praise her perspicuity. This, among other things, led me to believe the teacher was sitting with a thesaurus when he wrote the thing. I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't know what perspicuity was, and I had to look it up. (Of course, everyone's heard of Perspicacity and the Sundance Kid, so that was no issue.)

Last week I was very pleased to write two recommendations. The first one was for a girl who was in my class three years ago. This girl, however, spent a year revisiting my class one period a day. She was a great help. For one thing, she spoke Chinese. which I do not. She was able to make a few new arrivals feel much more comfortable.

I think this girl's school grades are not reflective of who she is. She's very clever and intuitive. She gets along well with everyone, peers and teachers, and is well-liked. A lot of my students tend to flock only to people who speak their native language. I'm always more impressed by students who get along with everyone, regardless of language. Personally, if I had to work with someone, I'd rather be with someone like that than the student who aced all the exams without those qualities.

I also believe that she, and a lot of people like her, will do better in a college environment. I believe that pretty deeply because I was not a good high school student at all. Despite that, I was a voracious reader in high school, always in the middle of a book or two. In my English classes, we sat and read books one page at a time. Only when the girl in front of me was reading page 152 did I have to scramble to read aloud page 153. In stark contrast to college, there was no discussion, no analysis, and the only benefit was to the English teacher, who got to sit on her ass and reflect on whatever actually interested her. Certainly it wasn't the book in question, which interested no one. My time would have been better spent alone with a book I'd chosen myself.

Nowadays there's not so much of that, but English classes have been seriously degraded by Common Core. I've written extensively about how crappy the tests are.  Students who've spent years on the Common Core hamster wheel tend to be seriously lacking in reading and writing skills. Last year I taught an advanced class of ELLs, most of whom had tested out of ESL and passed the English Regents exam. The last time I'd taught that level, we did novels. I tried to do that last year, and it failed utterly. I had students mystified at the idea of actual reading, and handing me college entrance essays that were utterly incoherent.

Some kids fall through the cracks somehow. I had several who'd somehow transcended the curse of David Coleman, the Common Core architect who decided no one gives a crap what you think or feel, and that you should write with no regard to it whatsoever. What Coleman failed to anticipate, or didn't care about, or didn't know about, was that writing without feeling or passion is crap. I read quite a bit of it last year.

Though I was mandated to teach the English Regents, I started to create my own topics. My students wrote about contemporary topics, e.g. whether teachers should carry guns to school. While I followed the same crappy Regents pattern, at least we were speaking on topics that related to their lives. I alternated those pattern essays with things from my students' experiences, the things Coleman thought they should never bother with. This was very tough for some, but came naturally to others.

One young woman wrote of a near-death experience, and concluded her essay saying you have to really go for what you want now, because tomorrow isn't guaranteed. You don't see teenagers making points like that frequently. Not only that, but she consistently wrote with great precision and clarity, the kind you don't see from a lot of adults. I took her out in the hall one day and told her she was a writer, and that this was something very special, a gift to be treasured.

Yesterday I was very pleased to find, in my DOE email, a request from her for a recommendation. I wrote it immediately. Any college with the foresight to admit her will have made a great decision. I'm very happy if I play any small part in helping her. Of course, students like her are easy to support. It's the ones who don't come to you with natural talent, full of Common Core Crap, who are challenging.

It's a tragedy that New York State, via its abysmal pointless exams that value writer voice not at all, compels English teachers to practice precisely the opposite of what good writers need. If we keep moving in this direction, teachers themselves will mistake this crap for writing. That's when we're really going to be lost.

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Being Observed in an Unheated Trailer on a 21-degree Day

I'm just contemplating how I'd react to this. There are a few reasons that might not happen to me. One is, if I were in an unheated trailer on a 21-degree day, I'd probably say something like, oh, "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!" Now that's just me. Of course, if some teacher sees an observer come in, wearing a winter coat and a sweater and all bundled up, he or she might react differently.

A teacher might think, well, if this person is coming in to observe me, then it must be okay that I'm inside an unheated trailer on the coldest day of the year. The teacher might observe that every single student is wearing a winter coat, so probably no one will die of frostbite. Maybe the biting wind doesn't blow in the trailers because after all, the walls are still more or less intact.

Now if I were a supervisor, and I saw the entire class wearing winter coats, and I couldn't take mine off, I'd probably say something like,  "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!" Of course, I haven't been to principal school, so I lack the training and sophistication necessary to lead a department into glory. Maybe it has to do with the relatively basic way I think.

On the other hand, if you were to bring the class into the auditorium, where every utterance bounces off every wall and it's borderline impossible to teach, it could be the observer follows you in. Indeed, the observer could write you up as ineffective for not differentiating between the students who could and could not hear you. Who knows what could happen?

So you stay there, with your coat on, and the kids write the best they can with their gloves on. You ask a question, they raise their hands, and they answer. You marvel at how cooperative they are. You try to focus on their answers, but deep inside you wonder why none of the kids are saying, "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!"

The supervisor leaves after ten minutes, so you say to yourself it's just one of those formative observations. You've gone through all that stress for nothing. No one has turned the heat on, and it drops dead around this time each and every day. What can you do about it? You can go to the chapter leader. He says, "My trailer was 99 degrees or thereabouts every day in September. I had a student who wore a hijab, and a robe from her neck to the floor. It was so, so hot, and I had no idea what that kid was going through"

"What did you do?" you ask him.

"I got the hell out of there and went to the auditorium. I filed a health and safety grievance that UFT decided not to bring to step two. And what if they did, anyway? Were they gonna build a time machine to go back and fix it?"

I'm not sure exactly what to do about issues like that. If I were the mayor, I'd knock the trailers down, get the kids out of there and put them in real classrooms. We're set to get an annex that might net us 12 classrooms the year after next. That will bring us down from 200% overcrowding to maybe 175%.

At least no one will be in trailers anymore.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Today's Grievances

I have a girl in my class who imitates me. Sometimes she stands behind my back and mimics my movements. Other times, she anticipates exactly what I'm going to say, stands up, and says it before I can. I have to say, I find this very disappointing.

The key issue, in my view, is having teenagers in my class who are smarter than I am. I mean, who the hell do they think they are doing that? Not only are they thinking faster than I am, but they have no reservations whatsoever about demonstrating it to the rest of the class. How disrespectful is that?

Now some of these kids are from a country in which students tend not to talk in class, ever. The teacher just stands up there like some mythical deity and spouts wisdom. They sit there and write down every golden piece of verbiage that falls from his mouth, like manna from heaven. Then they come here, get into my class, and talk faster and more cleverly than I do. What's up with that?

And don't get me started on the students who are taller than I am. I point out that I don't like it, and they nod their heads in agreement. But the next day they walk in just as tall as they were the last time I saw them. Sometimes they're even taller.

Clearly there is a breakdown in communications somewhere in our processes. We spend years carefully giving them tests that value self-expression not at all. We give them English classes in which we gloss over the great body of American literature it's taken us hundreds of years to build. Maybe we do The Road Not Taken. More likely we don't. Perish forbid we should go back to actual English literature, beyond perhaps a Classic Comics version of Romeo and Juliet.

No, we burden them with tedious essays. We make sure they read up on the history of cement, and they get to decide whether or not we should include rocks or shiny stuff among the gravel. These are the issues. We make sure to avoid discussing anything of relevance. Should teachers carry guns in schools? Should all Americans have health insurance? It doesn't matter, because you'll never see a controversial or contemporary topic that actually affects the lives of our students on the English Regents exam. In fact even if you did, there would be two prefabricated arguments and no room for students to create their own.

We do everything we can imagine to suppress their sense of curiosity and wonder and still they show up with eager minds and ready senses of humor. What more can we do to discourage their thirst for making sense out of what they see in this world? It's as though whatever meaningless soul-crushing tedium we inflict upon them has no effect whatsoever.

The only real solution, as far as I can tell, is to tempt David Coleman away from his job over at The College Board collecting an obscene salary for Whatever It Is He Does There. Sure, it will be expensive to lure him away, but he's the only person I know who can stand up in public and declare no one gives a crap what people feel or think. He managed to build that philosophy into a curriculum supported by Well Known Rich Guy Bill Gates. If Bill Gates supports it, it must be a good idea. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

We have to take action now, and make sure school days have no relevance or meaning whatsoever. Also, we have to make sure students come here eager and willing to participate in activities that have no meaning whatsoever, beyond passing tedious exams. How else can we prepare students to work at Walmart or Target, with no benefits, no parental leave, and salary insufficient to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the crappiest part of town?

Otherwise, these smart kids will just keep showing up to my class with their humor and ideas, pushing their way out of the corrals we create to hold them, and there'll be absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Why Are Teachers Targeted and What Can We Do About It?

After reading yet another week of press coverage that shows little or no awareness of who we are or what we do, I have to take a moment and look at why we are where we are in the press. There are a number of reasons, and none of them are good. Fifteen years ago, crappy press coverage and too many conversations with people who didn't know what they were talking about caused me to begin this blog.

A big reason, as I said a few days ago, is that we still have union, something lacking in much of these United States. Ronald Reagan painted a big old target on union when he moved to kill PATCO, the only union that supported his election. Yes, he told the country, we will put you all out of work if you move to halt the transportation of the elite. What's more important, working people or rich people taking their vacations? Reagan let the whole country know where he stood on that.

This started a downward spiral for union in America. This is a big reason for the erosion of middle class. When I was a kid, the norm was one-income families. You could buy a home and support a large family if you worked in a factory. If you work in a factory nowadays, you probably can't afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

Teachers stuck with union, hopefully because we're well-educated. A few weeks ago, we faced a whole lot of pushback on a state law that gave us time to vote. Because we're union, many of us were able to take advantage of it. I brought my car into Toyota that morning to rotate the tires. They had no idea. They have no union. It was only the union that let me know about this, and it was me who mostly told the members in my building about it. The law, in fact, says it should be posted somewhere. What are you gonna do when you're an at-will employee? The best answer, in fact, would be to organize a union. (Easier said than done in many environments these days. It's on us to change that.)

Another factor is that we're a union dominated by women. Maybe you think sexism is a thing of the past, but I don't. Teachers and nurses are chronically underpaid, though our work is important to just about everyone. I can't speak much about nurses, but I've repeatedly read nonsense about just how easy it is to replace teachers. Just find an accountant and give him the math book. He'll know what to do.

First, find me an accountant who wants to be a teacher. Let's ignore the likely disparity in salary altogether and go with it. I can hardly thing of jobs more dissimilar. I like working with people, not numbers. I suppose math teachers like working with both. Still, it's a skill to capture the interest of 34 teenagers at a time, and here's something that doesn't occur to accountant advocates--people who work in offices all day are quite likely not to need, let alone have that skill.

Maybe the problem is that newspapers have had to deal with unions, and they hate them. Why should rich guys who own newspapers have to pay working people? That's a major inconvenience. The NY Times is supposed to be liberal. Not only does it have the worst education coverage in the city, but it also has run with reformy nonsense about us more than once. In fact, the supposedly left-leaning columnists have written blatantly ignorant nonsense that could easily have run in the Post. Of course, the Post runs more frequent anti-public-education editorials because the Times is so lofty it often can't be bothered worrying about the education of NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren.

The answer for teachers, Toyota employees and everyone is union. It's getting involved and seen. It's being part of something larger than yourself and lifting up an entire wave of teachers. It's looking at the future and saying you want this to be a better place for our students and children.

Let them target us. We can and will fight back. We have the truth on our side. We have the numbers on our side. Women are more than half the population, and maybe one of them will be President soon. It's about time. The time to be afraid is over.

When the press attacks us we have to stand strong and tell them precisely how full of crap they are. Presidential candidates, including Bernie and Warren, seem to be listening to us. Even Biden, after years of sitting silent about some of the worst education policies I've ever seen, paid us valuable lip service at a recent UFT conference. His wife is a college teacher. Of course she didn't have to depend on it for a living or anything, but they didn't mention that in their comments.

We know what's true and what's not. We don't need to be shy about it. Teachers just tipped the governor's race in Kentucky. Let's do the same in 2020. Let's dump Trump and all his soulless minions, and let's send a message to those who'd mess with us--We aren't messing around anymore.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What Better Measures Student Achievement--Teacher Grades or Crappy Tests?

The NY Post is on the case of students who pass English and math but fail state tests. They ran an editorial about it too. Evidently the only conclusion they can reach is that this is grade inflation. As usual, neither City Councilman Robert Holden, the fraud-alleging complainant, nor the paper has bothered to examine what is actually on those state tests.

The assumption, as usual, is that the state tests are the gold standard. This is odd, since just a few weeks ago, the Post was calling the NAEP the gold standard and saying its results were "final proof" of de Blasio's educational failure.

It's not surprising when a paper's editorial staff is out of sync with its reporting staff. I see it all the time. Daily News and NY Times editorials are generally no kinder to us than those of the Post. But the more I read the editorials, the more I think people who write them just ignore current events and grasp at whatever to support their already well-established prejudices. Good reasons, bad reasons--who cares as long as the points they wish are made?

I don't know very much about math, and I don't know very much about state math exams either. Perhaps the state math exams are the best standardized exams on earth. I doubt it, though, since they're based on Common Core, exemplified by David Coleman's core philosophy, "No one gives a shit what you think or feel." I won't begin to speculate what that portends for math, but it's extremely hard to see how that philosophy motivates living, breathing students. (People are not very important in David Coleman's world, and I can see why. I, for example, don't give a crap what he thinks or feels, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn he met many people with that opinion in his formative years.)

I'm a lot more familiar with English exams. The NY State English Regents is total crap. It doesn't measure reading or writing. I know students who've passed it with scores in the high 80s. Teaching them, I learned they were patently unable to construct a coherent sentence in English. I know students whose strategy to ace the multiple choice sections is to avoid the reading passage altogether and simply hunt for the answers.

It's hard for me to lend credence to an examination that actively discourages reading. It's hard for me to imagine any worthwhile writing being created by anyone who followed the Coleman philosophy. I certainly wouldn't want to read any such writing, and I can't imagine anyone other than Coleman who would. In fact, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for reading what anyone at all writes on the English Regents exam. It does not elicit student thought or opinion, both of which interest me greatly. It gives two arguments and asks you to pick one. Create an argument yourself? Exercise independent thought? Take a passionate position on something, anything?

Nah. None of that.

Now it's entirely possible that some rogue English teacher somewhere encourages students to express themselves. It's entirely possible, in fact, that multiple English teachers have a feel for what good writing is. Not only that, it's entirely possible that English teachers with a mindset like that actually encourage it in their classes.

This is dangerous for a multitude of reasons. One is that a student might think good writing is something to aim for universally. Such a student could be taking the English Regents exam, have an actual idea, and express it. It's not that unusual for teenagers to have ideas. Some have very active minds and are thinking pretty much all the time. Of course, that can be inconvenient in the world of one-way test prep. What if they decide that you, the teacher, are wrong, and they persuasively explain why?

That very same troublesome spirit, when applied to the English Regents exam, could result in failure. In fact, I'm hearing that teachers seeking certification are now failing the certification test by expressing their opinions. This is not at all in the spirit of Common Core, which all the papers agreed to be the best thing since sliced bread.

We'll see whether the new standards change anything. Meanwhile, as far as I can see, the only thing the English Regents exam measures is the ability to deal with a pointless task. I have to admit, as a teacher, that's not remotely what I want to encourage in my students.

It may or may not be that these schools are juking the stats. I'd argue, though, that state tests and their results are neither here nor there in establishing that premise. To measure that, you'd need a yardstick that measured distance, as opposed to David Coleman's demeaning tinfoil-helmeted theories.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Portrait of Half an ATR

A few days back, I wrote about another attack on tenure, quite similar to many that had preceded it. Someone sent me this piece on ATRs, which somehow eluded my attention. The headline screams, "DOE spends $100M per year keeping excess teachers on the payroll."

The word "excess" suggests these teachers aren't needed, which is far from correct. In my experience, though, article writers don't get to choose titles.

This piece, unlike many others I've seen, doesn't single ATR teachers out for eternal infamy. However, there's quite a lot unsaid. For one thing, this mess was largely exacerbated by Bloomberg and his wasteful, unproductive school closures. Every time that happened, the staff had to reapply for jobs. Had I not transferred from John Adams back when I did, I'd probably be an ATR. It's largely just a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time.

Bloomberg's goal was not building up the ATR, but firing teachers en masse. He was not what you'd call coy about it either. He's spoken publicly of his idiotic notion to create classes of 70 and have the very best teachers run them. (After all, his kids didn't attend public schools, so why should he care?) A major contract demand for him was that UFT set a time limit on ATR teachers. This would've left many to lose their jobs for the offense of being in the wrong place at the right time. I'm very grateful UFT hung tough on that. Bloomberg would've fired half the teachers in NYC just to give Cathie Black a tax break on her penthouse. 

Though I'd rather see them placed, ATR teachers can be very useful. For example, in my school a teacher suffered a tragedy I won't go into. Because there happened to be an ATR available in that teacher's subject area, our students got uninterrupted instruction. When the teacher returned, all the classes had been taught the same lessons consistently, as opposed to having been covered by five different teachers who may or may not have been at the same point.

Every single class taught by an ATR teacher would otherwise have to be taught by a substitute teacher. I'm not a math expert, but if you allowed for the cost of substitute teachers for every single class taught by an ATR teacher, I'll bet that 100 million figure would be considerably lower. NYC pays the highest rate in our area for substitute teachers. (They're worth every penny. I have to cover classes from time to time, and it's more challenging teaching kids you don't know than kids you do.)

For a long time, if a principal didn't like you, all she had to do was press charges against you, have you go through a pointless 3020a hearing, and then say she didn't want you back. It seems fundamentally unfair to be charged with something, beat the charges, and lose your position anyway. Of course that was the entire point. I'm told that Carranza and Randy Asher have halted this practice, and principals are just that much less imperial nowadays. Superintendents now make these decisions. I'm sure they can make bad decisions too, but either way, that's not the fault of the teacher.

Then there's so-called Fair Student Funding, Bloomberg's idiotic notion that principals have to pay teachers out of the school budget. It actually encourages principals to hire newbies at half the price of experienced teachers. Then there's Bill Gates' reformy notion that no teacher improves after the first three years, and who knows how many Leadership Academy grads have been spoon-fed that nonsense? I can't speak for everyone, but for better or worse I'm the best teacher I've ever been right now. I learn from trial, error, and experiences. In my line of work, teaching kids from all over the globe, I have new experiences every year, every month, and every day.

Hey, if the NY Post thinks all these teachers should be in classrooms, I couldn't agree more. Put each and every one to work instead of leaving them in this outlandish and unnecessary purgatory.  Let's reduce class sizes for public school students systemwide. To create space, I'd be perfectly willing to toss Eva Moskowitz out on her million-dollar ass. How about you, Governor Cuomo? Why not forsake a few suitcases of cash and pull that law that says we have to pay her rent? That's what a real education lobbyist would do.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Accursed DOE Webinar

Once again, we're mandated to take the sexual harassment webinar dreamed up by the geniuses at Tweed. You see, once Harvey Weinstein watches this he will completely alter his attitude and behavior. Once Donald Trump watches it he will no longer spout unspeakable vulgarities about women and publicly fantasize about dating his daughter. In fact, if only they had shown this webinar to all teachers a few years ago, the Post would not be writing about outrageous outliers and trying to tar the rest of us in the process.

Okay, that's not true. I took the webinar last year and I got the message. Report them. Report everyone. Call up and give names and numbers. While I hate seeing members rat one another out over things that are relatively meaningless, I don't have an issue with reporting outrageous behavior. Hey, if President Trump were my colleague, I'd report him in a Mar a Lago minute. Why wait until the Post puts up a piece about how some pervy teacher plans to grab women?

I got in very early today and tried to log in. I waited and waited, and nothing happened. A colleague tried the same. He got some message about timing out. You'd think they'd have learned something from the miserable rollout last year, but evidently the great minds at Tweed can't be bothered analyzing their mistakes from last year. Anything they do is Good Enough, if not Highly Effective. Teachers, generally assumed to be superhuman, are held to a higher standard.

That's not true only in the feeble minds of Tweedies. I myself figure if I have a job to do, I ought to get out of bed in the morning and do it. Not only that, but if I screw up, I look at why I screwed up. I either adjust or eliminate the lesson in which I did that, depending on whether or not it can be remediated. The DOE, on the other hand, is the Great and Mighty Oz, that must not be questioned.

After all, if your mother got you that cool admin job after you taught for two years, you must be smarter than I am. I mean, look at me. I've been teaching for 35 years now. Not only have I never attempted to become an administrator, but I've further never even bothered to go to administrator school.

If the people who ran this had a brain between them, they'd create options for us. They'd offer to show it to groups during PD sessions. That way, people could get it over with. They could get through it in one sitting, as opposed to depending on DOE bandwidth, up, down, in, out, gone and whatever. No one would have to start over again when the webinar failed to keep your place.

The ineptitude of this rollout, along with the total failure to analyze, let alone improve on what happened last year is inexcusable. If I screwed up on a task at work on this scale and decided to do it again, I would not be receiving a letter of commendation from my AP and principal. They would not tolerate it, and indeed they shouldn't. Likely they'd find someone else to do it next year, and they'd be entirely justified in doing so.

It's intolerable and unacceptable that the NYC Department of Education lacks this fundamental level of basic introspection. However, along with tens of thousands of my UFT colleagues, I'm entirely accustomed to it. I sent them an email:

Like last year, like my colleague across from me, and like thousands citywide, I am unable to log in to the required sexual harassment webinar. Last year it took me several months to get in. It's very disappointing we have to waste so much of our time trying to open a link. It's further disappointing you make no allowance for us to watch this in groups during our PD sessions.

Very sincerely, 

Arthur Goldstein

I got a form letter back, just like last year. It did nothing to resolve the issue, just like last year. I'll try and try, waste my time, and maybe complete this thing months from now.

We have a new chancellor with a new vision. But until the mayor allows him to make all the Bloomberg leftovers walk the plank, this is going to remain par for the course.