Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Ladies and gentlemen...wait..I take that back. It should be everybody, each, or all of you. Otherwise, you won't pay attention, according to the indispensable training I received yesterday.

It's also important to tell students to close their eyes and imagine things, to promote "covert" learning. I once taught a college writing class next door to a teacher who was forever making the students close their eyes and touch hands. Within a week, half of his class transferred into mine.

But I digress. When you teach, think "IRAQ."---that's Information, Response by students with feedback, Activities, and Questions. Then don't forget "TEMP"---that's Time, Expectations, Materials and Proximity. Without IRAQ and TEMP, you will be lost.

Also, don't ask individual students questions anymore. That's ping-pong, and that's bad. Instead, ask "everybody." Have them put their thumbs up for yes, down for no, and pointed sideways if they don't know. That way you'll be able to guage the understanding of the entire class.

You're assuming, of course, that all kids answer honestly, which every teacher knows they invariably do. So if they all say "thumbs-up," they understand, and you need not review anymore. (Review is bad.) If your question is not of the "yes-no" variety, I suppose they'll have to put those thumbs elsewhere.

Finally, have the students ask each other questions. That's volleyball, and that's good. They will surely benefit from the trust you place in them. They're young adults, eager to learn, and they must express themselves whenever they feel like it. They know where to steer the conversation. You, on the other hand, are incapable of independent judgment and need to be instructed how to do everything.

And you'd better get it right, because if you get it wrong we'll set you up with a mentor, who will not review (that's bad), but reinforce (that's good).

Thank goodness the city spends millions on these activities rather than squandering tax funds on useless frivolities like good teachers and small classes.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Solemn Promise

Due to several horrified comments today at work, along with one here, I've agreed to post no more photos of rotten teeth. I apologize in advance to all the dentists who stumbled across this blog in search of a challenge.

To Play or Not to Play?

There's a lively discussion over at Ms. Frizzle's place about the best ways to treat student athletes. In her school, kids have to earn points for the privilege of playing. That's a good idea, but systemwide, standards are certainly lower.

I have great respect for coaches who demand academic performance for their kids, and outright disdain for those who help them avoid the consequences of failing in school.Our school soccer team, for years, was run by a guy who'd get athletic scholarships for talented athletes, ignoring the fact that they had no chance whatsoever to graduate.

He used to come in my classroom uninvited, this aged, greatly overweight, baseball-capped, whistle-carrying character who could no more play soccer than fly, demanding I release students who did no work whatsoever in my classes. Upon my refusal, he'd tell the players to take the bus, promising to delay the game for them. Upon the principal's receipt of my letters of complaint, he denied this in writing. The principal would quietly tell me she agreed with me. Hopefully, she wasn't telling the coach the same thing.

Kids with good coaches can learn far more than just sports. Also, if you have a kid passionate about sports who's not doing well in your class, there's no motivation quite like a talk with that kid's coach.

I had a great, talented baseball player in my class. At some point, he started slacking off in his schoolwork. When I spoke to his coach, the guy asked permission to speak to the kid. He then dragged him into the hall and read him the riot act, leaving no doubt that no matter how talented he was, he would not be playing baseball unless he passed English.

That's being a coach, a teacher, and a positive role model. They should have cloned that guy when they had the chance. With Bloomberg in charge, that's never gonna happen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Finally, Some Good News...

Stewie, the British-accented, diabolical, football-headed little tot from Family Guy is going to have his own talk show on the internet later this year.

First, Family Guy is brought back from the dead, and now this. Could Futurama be far behind?

It probably could. Hope springeth eternal, though.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Public or Private?

If you wish to keep your child away from the bootless and unhorsed, private schools are certainly the way to go.

However, if the bootless and unhorsed were ever to find their way into the private schools (which, for various reasons, they will not), the supposed advantages of private schools would cease to exist.

Much-ballyhooed private school teachers would be predictably clueless in dealing with the general population. Also, without public schools, there would be no place to put all our kids. Wealthy, tax-cut craving right-wingers who cry endlessly for vouchers are well-aware of this, and would not hesitate to dump the undesirables out on the street. It makes good economic sense. NYC could be the next Bombay or Rio, and tax-cut savings could be used to erect tall fences.

Why not? Their kids don’t attend public schools anyway. Rudy Giuliani wanted to force welfare recipients to work in public schools, reasoning that people chronically unable to find work were adequate role models for kids like mine, who attend public schools.

All things being equal, this study shows little benefit for private and charter schools other than de facto segregation. Those who don't wish to hear the results, like the government that commissioned the study, can simply ignore it. That’s what GW’s government tends to do with inconvenient facts anyway.

Shame on this country for turning its back on public education for so long. Shame on politicians who promote vouchers, knowing full well they don’t give a damn about kids like those I teach.

Charter Schools Rot Your Teeth

Actually, there's no evidence of that. But a large scale study suggests that public school students with comparable backgrounds do as well or better in math than those attending private schools. Furthermore, the study indicates no benefit for those attending charter schools either.

Government representatives vow to plod on with vouchers and charter schools regardless, citing the need to spend as little as possible on public schools in order to place less pressure on Steve Forbes' tax bill, as well as the importance of disregarding data that fails to support the preconceptions of their constituents.

So I may as well conclude charter schools rot your teeth.

Who Let the Cat Out of the Bag?

Uncharacterically, it was this parrot.

An unfortunate computer programmer found out his girlfriend was cheating on him when the parrot kept repeating her paramour's name.

The broken-hearted computer programmer dumped both girlfriend and parrot in one fell swoop. You can't tell lovers anything.

Friday, January 27, 2006

124K for Teaching One Class

That's what you get if you work for Unity. Plus you get two pensions: one from the DOE, and another from the UFT.

Didn't you wonder what that dues increase was paying for?

The UTP has made a film about it. Go watch it right now!

Something You Didn't See in the Times

Here's a comment Norm (Norm Scott, I suspect) left in response to my post on Mike Winerip's column about Jeff Kaufman:

What was really left out of the story on Jeff Kaufman was that he was doing an incredible job defending the teachers at Rikers as their chapter leader and that is why the principal wanted him out.

Then there's Jeff's relationship to the UFT where he has served as one of 6 dissident Exec. Bd members (out 89 total) and has been a thorn in the side of the leadership. They have undermined the people that took his place when he was sent to the rubber room.

His colleagues still consider him the duly elected chapter leader. Not surprisingly, UFT leaders don't see it that way. There's lots more to come on this story.

Don't forget to keep us informed, Norm.

Free at Last

A male student in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, has won his battle for the right to wear a skirt to school.  The American Civil Liberties Union helped the student negotiate an agreement with the school.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


A Brooklyn custodian has been taken into custody, due to a nasty habit of planting cameras in bathrooms. He was charged with planting them at a friend's house, but was also in possesion of over 1,000 tapes made in the bathrooms of Brooklyn Tech and Westinghouse high schools.

The Department of Education "plans to fire him."

I May Be Cheap, but I'm Still for Sale...

Blomberg and Pataki are still pointing fingers at each other over who, exactly, is shortchanging the kids of NYC. It's important , of course, is to have a good scapegoat.

Pataki, hopelessly running for the Republican presidential nomination, is promising a $500 tax credit to all NYC parents of public and private schoolchildren. Way to buy off the populous, Governor George!

Meanwhile, NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren can go to hell. Or to school, such as it may be.

Another Modest Proposal

An anonymous commenter and I have finally hit on the ideal solution to the ever-troublesome problem of underfunded education. Why not combine it with a profit-making activity that will soothe those who complain of school taxes? That way everyone will be happy.

We'll combine schools with Wal-Marts. You would still give classes, of course. But while kids are answering questions, instead of pretentiously fiddling with your glasses, you could fold a few sweaters. Perhaps while lecturing about manifest destiny, you could be mopping a spill on aisle 3.

And the kids? Why should they slide? Once they finish the assignment, they could get out of their chairs and help a few customers. We've been very lax in socializing these kids, and what's more valuable than real-world experience? Times are tough, and kids have been riding the gravy train way too long anyway.

We could call them "Sam's Schools," as the anonymous commenter suggests, and increase productivity all around.

Is that a win-win, or is that a win-win?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Because We Deserve It!

Klein's minions received a 5% increase for 2004-2005, according to the Daily News. He was roundly criticized by UFT President Randi Weingarten for doing so without imposing productivity increases.

Ironically, Weingarten's Unity patronage mill just voted themselves pay raises, along with vague, unverifiable talk of productivity increases.

(via reality-based educator)

Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't Talk Don't Help

In the NY Times today, Mike Winerip writes how Jeff Kaufman got sent to the rubber room for the unspeakable crime of trying to help his students. Kaufman works at Rikers, and was charged with "undue familiarity," though nothing generally regarded improper behavior was alleged, and no one seems to doubt his good intentions.

In addition to being a teacher, Kaufman is an ex-police officer, and a lawyer for the indigent. He's also heavily involved with ICE-UFT, where his writing can often be found.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Charters?

Charter schools are all the rage nowadays—they’re now, they’re wow. But do we need more of them?

Well, Mayor Bloomberg thinks so. So does Governor Pataki. Of course these are precisely the same folks who’ve been having a sandbox battle over who should pay to bring decent schools to NYC’s 1.1 million schoolchildren.

“Not I,” said Governor George.

“Not I,” said Mayor Mike.

A 2004 study by the AFT indicated that public school kids scored higher on all-important tests than charter school kids. And the US Department of Education came to the same conclusion.

It seems to me that fixing public schools is far more important than expanding charters. That’s job no. 1. If charters are to be expanded, however, they ought to be just as accountable as public schools.

A recent Times column suggests that we should focus on the quality, rather than the quantity of new charters. I couldn’t agree more.

A Sigh of Relief

Well, you'll doubtless be overjoyed to hear that someone's finally doing something about that awful liberal bias in the universities. Andrew Jones, and alumnus of the University of California, wanted to pay students to surreptitiously tape-record lectures by university professors, and thus expose their insidious views.

Unfortunately, this appears illegal, so Mr. Jones will have to rely on volunteers. It's good that Mr. Jones is willing to take on this task. With liberals dominating the media, the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court...wait a minute...why are we doing this again?

Monday, January 23, 2006

What's Your Worst Quality?

My biggest problem as a teacher is the all-too-direct connection between my brain and my mouth. It's been causing me problems since I was a child, and while I've made some improvements, I'm not quite where I'd like to be. If I'm not 100%, I don't come to work. If I did, I'm sure I'd say something incredibly offensive, stupid, or both.

I have more sympathy than I should for kids who can't control their mouths because I understand exactly what they're going through.

In any case, as Chaz reminded me, "corporal punishment", in NYC at least, may entail "verbal abuse" or "damaging the self-esteem" of a student. To further emphasize that point, here's an anonymous post I received today:

I came back to school after being out sick, and the students were misbehaving, my lesson plans were not followed by the sub, and I still was sick as a dog.Later that day some children returned late to class and I was upset with them and raised my voice.

As a result, they reported me and now I have a verbal abuse letter in my file. My very first letter ever in over 20 years of teaching.

Sometimes situations are not taken into consideration. It didn't matter I came back to school sick as a dog with little sleep because I wanted to get them ready for the ELA.

Moral: Not feeling well--stay home! No one cares if you made the effort to come in sick.

Too bad Unity frittered away our right to grieve those letters.

There's quite a lot of pressure on teachers and kids facing that ELA exam. I know because my kid just took it. I really appreciated her very pregnant teacher coming in and working very hard to help her pass. She and that poster did better than I could have.

Who Is Willie Horton?

I am. And you are.

Actually, Willie Horton was a dangerous criminal, trotted out by George Herbert Walker Bush and Lee Atwater to frighten America.

He’s not an altogether handsome guy, and you’d probably hesitate to invite him over the house for spaghetti. But what message was George Herbert Walker Bush sending when he plastered him all over America on TV ads?

There's the standard message of fear, of course. And if you’re inclined toward racism, fear was not quite everything. But nowadays, racism is no longer as chic as it once was. Bob Dole, in fact, renounced it directly at the 1996 Republican Convention.

Then he started trashing teachers. Teachers, correctly perceived as mostly liberal, are very convenient targets. How many of them vote for Republicans anyway?

Moreover, education is supported by taxes Steve Forbes needs not pay. Just last week, John Stossel did a hatchet job on education and teachers in America, and that may mark the beginning of open season on all of us.

In 2004 it was homosexuals and “defense of marriage.” It’s still, apparently, socially acceptable to discriminate against gay people. How on earth will prohibiting gay marriage defend anything? Wouldn't it be more productive to rail against divorce? Or adultery, perhaps?

Well, I suppose as teachers, we'll just have to share the mantle with our gay friends. Perhaps they could be Willie and we could be Horton.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Howdy, Country Music Fans!

Here's a little toe-tapper entitled "I Got Friends with Low Wages."

Learn all about Garth's deal to market his music exclusively through Wal-Mart.

Learn why working people in this country need to organize despite government-sanctioned union-busting activities brazenly embraced by Dick Cheney's favorite company.

And that's our lesson for today, boys and girls. There may be a quiz tomorrow.

(via Miss Cellania)

What Are Those Professors Really Thinking?

Not the cheap imitation plastic instructors who taught you all that impractical nonsense in graduate school, of course, but real ones. The Anonymous Professor tells all.

Thanks to Jenny D. for the pointer.

Fools Rush in...

I've been discussing memorable administrators with Graycie from Today's Homework. Graycie, clearly smarter than me, keeps using her comments as posts on her own blog. Well, an idea worth noticing is an idea worth stealing.

I keep thinking of that quote people have been posting from prominent right-wing propagandist and teacher-basher John Stossel: "If the principal says you're a bad teacher, I want to fire you," or whatever.

There are many, many failed teachers who embraced administration to escape kids. They're not only the worst leaders for kids, but the worst for adults as well.I was once giving a very good lesson in a sweltering NYC summer-school classroom when a man in a three-piece tweed suit walked in, picked up my notebook, and announced that my lesson plan only covered three-fourths of a page.

He told me the next time he came in, I'd better have a full-page plan.He had no idea whatsoever what was going on in my classroom, or what was contained in the plan he glanced at.

Too bad no one told Stossel about principals like that. Of course, Stossel would have simply ignored it and plodded on with his ultra-right wing, media-sanctioned witch hunt.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tired of Endless War?

Well, sure, it's great to blow things up. But maybe there are better ways to communicate. Based in Kuwait, Naif al-Mutawa wants to bring Muslim values to comic books. Perhaps even President Bush will learn something of another culture if Mr. Mutawa has his way.

We've seen American comics, and Japanese comics, but we've never seen anything of this sort from that part of the world. Mr. Mutawa, who speaks perfect English, may provide a small bridge of the sort our leaders have been as yet unable to construct.

Unfortunately, Mutawa's concept faces resistance from both religious and commercial forces. Let's hope he overcomes it and succeeds. We need a few more genuninely smart people involved in the media, and Mr. Mutawa appears to be one of them.

Jonothan Kozol speaks...

...on institutionalized racism in NYC Schools.

Black and Hispanic children make up about 72 percent of the citywide enrollment in the New York City public schools. At Stuyvesant – the most prestigious public school in the city – they make up less than six percent of enrollment.

In fact, the percentage of black kids who go to Stuyvesant has decreased dramatically in the last quarter century. Twenty-six years ago, black students represented almost 13 percent of the student body at Stuyvesant; today they represent 2.7 percent.

I'm not implying that the administration at Stuyvesant is made up of racists – they must be remarkable people to run such a wonderful school. Black and Latino students do not have access to Stuyvesant because they have not been adequately prepared to compete with the other students applying for a limited number of spots. What the racial gap in admissions represents is the devastating end result of the failure to educate black and Latino children effectively from the age of two and a half up to their 8th grade year.

In Today's Headlines...

Well, the suspense is finally over.

It appears Laura Bush will not be voting for Hillary Clinton in the next presidential election.

Klein Allows More Local Discretion

Chancellor Klein, apparently, is going to allow another 150 schools the luxury of less oversight. True, with fewer of Klein's overpaid, questionably competent, meddling, sycophantic minions running around, many schools will be able to discard trendy reading and math programs that don't actually teach reading or math. That's a good thing.

On the other hand, what if your principal is a raving incompetent lunatic? That could work to your disadvantage.

It's a conundrum, all right.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Star Wars Fans

Check out the UTP's version of "The Jedi's Return" (or whatever that film was called).

While Pataki and Bloomberg Fiddled...

Diane Payne, a Queens mother of five, has gone to court claiming that the delay of promised CFI lawsuit funds is effectively denying her kids a basic, sound education.

While George and Mike bicker and point fingers over who is to blame for the city's not having received funds promised by the NY State Supreme Court, 1.1 million schoolkids are not getting the small classes and quality teachers these funds were earmarked for. I can testify firsthand that Mayor Mike is now weaseling out of the much-heralded school construction that was to relieve the chronic overcrowding of Queens high schools in particular.

Ms. Payne contends that her kids can no longer wait for the education promised NYC kids. Governor Pataki had promised to withdraw opposition to the CFI suit, in part to gain UFT endorsement.

You may recall that the UFT endorsed Pataki over education-friendly Carl McCall. Another brilliant, highly productive tactic from the Unity plantation.

Update: You don't have to email about the photo--that's Bobby Hicks . If you're a fiddle fan, check him out and forget about George and Mike.

Implementing Bilingual Education

I've written elsewhere about various problems implementing bilingual education. In my school they're taking a completely new approach.

Our history department has two Chinese-speaking teachers. Nonetheless, they seem to have selected a teacher who speaks only English to teach the upcoming Chinese bilingual class. His qualifications? Your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Toussaint Speaks

..to the NY Daily News, no less. And he says he wants a trial, so New Yorkers can decide whether his actions should be subject to fines or jail time.

It's odd to see something like this in the paper that cried for Toussaint's head:

Although transit workers, teachers and other public employees can be punished for illegal strikes, there's nothing to compel government negotiators to successfully bargain fair pacts on time, labor leaders have argued. City teachers, firefighters and police all have been forced to work without contracts.

Governor Pataki just vetoed an amendment to the Taylor Law that would have forced management to bargain within six months of contract expiration, or face PERB fact-finders. It would have allowed PERB to fine obstructionist parties, like NYC, $10,000 a day. Governor Pataki, whom the UFT supported, felt that was too severe.

Oddly enough, fining the TWU millions per day did not seem to phase him in the least. Apparently, to establish oneself as a viable Republican presidential candidate, it's necessary to take a firm stand against working people.

The Buck Stops Here

The professionals who adminster high-stakes tests to NY State kids like mine, apparently, cannot be bothered to check their own work. A bunch of test papers labeled responses with letters F, G, H and J, left students with options A, B, C, or D, sent out a message for teachers to make announcements, and hoped for the best.

I'm embarrassed when I make minor errors on tests, but the folks who write these tests are (supposeedly) professionals. A spokesperson for the State Education Department emphatically asserted it was not his fault.

That ought to be good enough for anyone.

Then and Now

Unity hacks over at Edwize rallied UFT members to vote for the contract. One of the articles boasted of what a historic opportunity we had for a 55/25 retirement package.

New York Teacher, Unity's printed propaganda sheet, today quotes Randi Weingarten, UFT President, saying "...given the Governor's stand during and after the transit strike, I am concerned that it will be much harder to achieve 55/25 legislation this year."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Location, Location, Location

Where you live presents certain advantages and disadvantages. In India, the NY Times reported a few years back, land is so scarce that some people have their relatives declared dead so as to inherit it sooner. One man started a society of dead people as a support group.

No, they're having other problems. One man showed up in his village, and residents fled taking him for a ghost. Now the village elders are demanding he prove he is not a ghost.

I wonder how you do that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mr. Lawrence's Favorite Song

Mr. Lawrence, of Get Lost Mr. Chips, led me to this inspiring song.

I thought I'd share it with you.

Bloomberg vs. Common Sense

Mayor Bloomberg likes to talk about his fervent desire to improve education. He hopes you'll ignore the facts that he has the lowest standard for teachers in NY State, that he's actively blocked votes on class size, and that he's proposed teacher contracts with no limits whatsoever on the number of kids in a given classroom.

One of Mayor Bloomberg's innovations is placing a parent rep in each school. In my school, for example, thare's one parent rep to somehow keep the school in touch with its 8,000 parents. Does that translate into a larger PTA, or better attendance at open school night?

It certainly doesn't for me. That's because the parents of my students almost invariably do not speak English. As adults, it's very tough for them to learn it.

Here's a great idea--let's provide translators for parents who speak the most common foreign languages in NYC schools. If more than one in three New Yorkers is foreign-born, and 43% of NYC's kids come from homes in which English is not the main language, this could certainly boost parent participation, one of Bloomberg's stated goals.

Oddly enough, Bloomberg, who claims to support this idea, opposes legislation that would achieve it. Not only that, but he's threatened to veto it, claiming it's a state issue. This is the same mayor who has no problem whatsoever defying labor laws until negotiations suit his convenience.

Actions speak louder than words, and this mayor's priorities are nothing if not transparent. If this were about a sports stadium for a billionaire, he's cut through the red tape faster than you could say "What about education?"

(Thanks to Schoolgal for pointing to this article.)

In Other News...

The landmark CFI suit is still being blocked by Governor Pataki, who has failed to mention it in his recent efforts to fashion himself as a potiential Republican presidential nominee. UFT President Randi Weingarten, who supported Pataki in his last campaign, says it's outrageous.

In fairness to the governor, he did offer to fund 60% of the mandate. The judge had ruled that the city could pay part of it, and CFI suggessted it pay 25%. Bloomberg's rep said the city would pay absolutely nothing, and that NYC would say "No, thank you" to the entire suit if compelled to pay any part of it.

So much for this mayor's priorities. Bear that in mind when DOE reps blame the governor.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Another Great Unity Victory

Here's a post Chaz left:

I have been informed that Tweed has decided the following be done for the 37.5 minutes..

A lesson plan is required for the tutoring session. .

2 teachers to the classroom with 20 students are permissable..

Attendance will be taken to ensure student participation..

Teachers can be observed during the tutoring session.

This directly contradicts assertions made by Leo Casey and City Sue on Edwize. When I pointed this out on Edwize, several posters suggested I shut up (one invoking the name of Martin Luther King, no less), but no one suggested I was mistaken. I can only assume that Chaz is right and we've been lied to yet again.

However, it would be nice to to be proven wrong. Anyone know something we don't?

He's the Man

Check out this NPR interview with Frank McCourt, who brought us the great Angela's Ashes, and more recently, Teacher Man.

Put a Little Sizzle in that Homework!

Clearly I've been remiss in assigning homework, what with tedious essays, grammar exercises, reading, and other useless projects boring my poor students to death day after day.

An Ohio teacher has a better idea. Why not have the kids research pornography on the internet, and then give their impressions about it? That could certainly lead to some highly stimulating class discussions.

The school decided this teacher was "well-intentioned."

I sincerely hope if I ever do anything like that, people say the same of me.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tough Love

Am I the only one who remembers Chancellor Fernandez making condoms available in NYC schools? That, along with a book called Heather Has Two Mommies got him more or less ridden out of town on rail. I mean, it's one thing to actively try to prevent HIV infection, another to urge tolerance of homosexuality, but to do both was too much even for NYC.

I think Fernandez was the potentially best chancellor I've seen in the 22 years I've taught here. Too bad he never got a chance. Carl McCall, then president of the Board of Education, suggested Fernandez may have been "too good" for us. (You may remember McCall as the pro-education candidate for governor whom Unity stabbed in the back in order to endorse Governor Pataki.)

Nonetheless, Tulua, a small town in Colombia has gone even further than Fernandez, fining males over 14 who fail to carry condoms. A local priest complains that condoms are not necessary, and that the town needs more "Christian values."

The 14 AIDS deaths the town suffered last year suggests that "Christian values" have thus far been insufficient. And the epidemic worldwide suggests many priests may have been woefully negligent in getting their message out.

Improving Test Scores, Part 2

Well, if you're too timid to actually show students the test in advance, another sure-fire method for raising test scores is to lower your standards. That's what NY State did when too many students failed its math Regents.

In Missouri, they're troubled with sub-par test scores, but by lowering the passing grade, they seem to have found an ideal solution.

That way, no child will be left behind. Whether or not they can read is another matter entirely.

(via The Education Wonks)

Friday, January 13, 2006

37 (and a Half) Minutes

There’s an awful lot of confusion about the city’s new tutoring program. How will after-school activities end up, with so many different schedules? How will the city come up with millions of extra transportation dollars? What about the hundreds of thousands of children who receive no benefit whatsoever from this agreement?

As you may have expected, DOE officials say everything is going swimmingly. These are the same folks who eliminated training days, then restarted them, had 50 minute training periods, then cancelled them, then renegotiated them, then did something else—frankly, it’s changed so many times, I don’t recall.

Now the city claims to be mandating these sessions. At the same time, the UFT says we won’t be taking attendance, writing lesson plans, or evaluating these students in any way whatsoever. What I want to know is how on earth they are going to get the least motivated kids in the system to spend extra time in school when there are, evidently, no conceivable consequences for failure to do so.

It’s no big mystery. The mayor pressed hard to get teachers to cover an unprecedented sixth daily class. Clearly, that’s what this is, albeit watered down somewhat for UFT consumption. When the next contract rolls around, there’ll be 10 minutes added daily, and a full sixth class, 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The same Unity apologists who sold us this bill of goods will be saying “Come on. It’s only 3 more minutes a day.” They’ll follow up with their theme song: “It was the best we could do.”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

How to Raise Test Scores

Students at PS 58 got to look at the high-stakes ELA test a day early. Apparently the principal found that it prudent to give students the actual tests to practice on.

Principals in NYC can get 15,000 bucks in merit pay if they do well. I'm sure that doesn't promote corruption, and wouldn't do so among teachers either.

Former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who fabricated the "Texas Miracle," would be proud.

Indoctrinating the Young

Yesterday at 52 Broadway there was a meeting in which young UFT members were asked what concerned them the most. Randi Weingarten was there, and according to our school's representative, she told them that before the Taylor Law, there was an even worse rule on the books.

This statement did not sit well with the Tier One sub at our table, who'd struck with the UFT on several occasions. He declared that losing two days pay was far worse than losing one.

It's hard for me to look at it any other way. But I don't work for Unity.

Failing Schools

Michael Winerip writes this week of how bureaucratic nonsense has caused an excellent school to be classified as failing under ponderous No Child Left Behind regulations. Winerip's written about similar problems in the past, and this is certainly not unique.

The federal government, which has never adequately funded this law's mandates, and continues ot offer cuts to support tax breaks for billionaires, has managed to create regulations so complicated that very few people can understand them.

Neocons want simplicity in the tax code to comfort the likes of Steve Forbes, but they're content to make educating kids so convoluted they damage even very good schools.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I'm a Conservative

After reading George Will’s column over at The Education Wonks, I now realize that he is not a conservative. I am. Mr. Will trots out that old “liberal bias” bogeyman, complaining that too many colleges have liberal professors.

He then gives a few examples and concludes all education schools are biased. His solution? Eliminate education schools. That’s a radical notion. Conservatives, like me, think we should simply improve them, making them more practical.

I’ve had several right-wing dentists, but I’ve yet to come to the conclusion that we need to eliminate dental schools. As long as they can fix my teeth, I don’t much care who they vote for.

That brings up a nasty objection. What about all the certified teachers who simply aren’t that good? Why don’t we eliminate certification since, apparently, it does no good.

Of course there are plenty of "trained" teachers who can't teach. There are also plenty of "trained" people in every profession, without exception, who can't do their jobs.However, I have been teaching in NYC for 20 years, and I've seen firsthand what happens when you lower standards.

While certification does not ensure a good teacher, the inability to pass a basic skills test fairly guarantees a bad one.In the 70s, NYC went from the highest to the lowest standard in the state. It employed thousands of uncertified, under-certified, and unqualified teachers, has been doing so for over thirty years, and over that period it's gone from a world model to one of the worst anywhere. Personally, I do not attribute that to coincidence.

Will thinks anyone can teach. He’s wrong right there. I’d like to see him in front of 34 urban high school kids for 45 minutes. Of course, the incredible cut in pay notwithstanding, he wouldn’t do it on a bet. And he couldn't do it if he tried.

Unlike Will, I believe in old-fashioned family values. I believe we owe every child a good education. I think it’s more important than tax cuts. It’s more important than “reforming” social security. It’s even more important than oil.

Can you imagine what we could’ve done if we’d devoted the trillions of dollars we've spent on the Iraqi war to educating our people? In any case,unlike radical Will, I'd certainly balk at an unprecedented "pre-emptive" war, particularly one with such predicatable consequences. Well-known conservative George Herbert Walker Bush certainly saw this coming.

The only thing more basic and fundamental than education, of course, is health care. As a family-values oriented conservative, I think we need to offer decent health care to all our citizens. It’s the least we can do.

I don’t believe that we need a voucher system. I believe, rather than draining money from the education system that’s made America one of the most successful nations in the history of the planet, we ought to support it and fix it when necessary.

We conservatives do not believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

We like to look at precedents, and at what works. Better education is right in front of our faces. Not to beat a dead horse, but small classes and good teachers, precisely what CFE demands, make good schools. The New York State Supreme Court thinks so too. Radicals like Governor Pataki differ, preferring to save money for tax cuts. That's fiscally irresponsible.

Suburban schools not 5 minutes from NYC are excellent. Hundreds of teachers apply for each opening. They pay teachers well and select the best for their kids. They invest money in school facilities, and place their kids in small groups in clean, modern classrooms. I live there. My kid goes there. Let me tell you—it works.

Radicals, like Bloomberg and Klein, resist these tried-and-true notions, preferring to experiment with untested pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

They cram buildings to triple capacity, break their much-heralded promises about school construction, but lobby endlessly to build sports stadiums for billionaires. They divide overcrowded schools into pieces, and farcically refer to them as “small.” They advertise worldwide for anyone who can meet the lowest standards in the state. They scream about merit pay. They complain about the quality of the teachers their selective process produces, and then blame the UFT, who didn’t hire the teachers in the first place.

Then other radicals scream that the certification process is too tough. Who needs a license anyway? Why the hell should I have to go to college? I want to teach right now!

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe in quality. We don’t think we need to eliminate standards for teachers. We think we need to raise them considerably.

And naturally, we conservatives also believe in the law of supply and demand. We believe if you pay them, they will come. That’s why, when my fellow conservative, Rudy Giuliani, fought his multitudinous lawsuits, he did not hire $35-an-hour lawyers.

We believe in getting what we pay for. And NYC, which has paid the lowest salary in the area, and offered the very worst facilities and working conditions for thirty years, certainly gets what it pays for.

We conservatives want to fix that, and the sooner the better.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Daily Grind

Tired of teaching?

Why not give it up and open a bohemian cafe?

Too much trouble? At least make sure you know how to get the best cappuccino at Starbucks.

Wabbit Season Has Ended...

So sharpen your pencils, everyone, because it's testing season. If you have kids, lie and say you'll love them no matter how they score. No sense letting them know you're putting them out on the street, because if they do well it may not be necessary after all.

My daughter's in fourth grade and it's very high-stakes in NY. If the administrators are to be believed, her entire future hinges upon her performance this week. Though they told me if she screwed up, she might get another chance in four years to get back on track.

I think that's good for a nine-year-old kid, don't you?

But here's the good news--there are now even more opportunities! Now, in NY State, every year is gonna be a high-stakes test year! Evidently, it's impossible for anyone to learn anything without them. Therefore, every year, teachers will dispense with whatever nonsense used to occupy their time, and get to the serious business of preparing kids for tests. They'll learn all the reading skills, and whatever they happen to be calling them this year.

I love to read. I suspect it's because I've never been taught properly.

Those of us who grew up before the testing craze are beyond redemption. Clearly, we are all a bunch of shameless, ignorant yahoos who should move into trailers and practice sloppy housekeeping. That's all we're fit for.

Because how on earth could any of us know anything without having taken all those tests?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Tier One

I sat today with two very senior teachers, one wearing a “Tier One” t-shirt.

They were discussing the best ways to retire.

“The thing to do,” said Tier One, “is take all your sick days until you have only one left.”

“Why do you do that?” asked the other teacher.

“You do that,” Tier One replied, “so you can drop dead on the last day. The payoff for death while working is much more than you get for retirement.”

Teacher two nodded solemnly.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “But you’ll be dead!” I said.

“Yes,” said Tier One, “But your family will have very fond memories of you.”

Nice Work if You Can Get It

Now that all the ruckus about the contract has died down, Unity has voted itself a raise.

While much of what I read on EdzUp is tongue-in-cheek, I'm told by someone in the know that this part is genuine:

Motion: To approve the following:

Raises for UFT Staff (For Period Covering May 2003-October

2005) Resolution

Resolved, that the UFT Staff will receive the increases in the same manner as those negotiated by the UFT represented school system employees.


Note that they did not, apparently, vote themselves extra days. They also neglected to assign themselves extra minutes. Since they do not teach, they will not get an extra class.

Nor, apparently, did they see fit to vote for cafeteria patrol, potty patrol, or hall duty.

They did not seem to restrict themselves in being hired for other postions, nor did they grant their bosses more discretion in disciplining them.

I guess they forgot.

Isn't it great when you can simply vote on what sort of raise you'd like? Don't you wish you could do that?

I'd have to conclude that Unity did a much better job during this round of negotiations. Now, if only they'd negotiate a contract like that for us.

Because despite what they want you to think, we're the ones they're supposed to be working for.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Dave Letterman vs. Bill O'Reilly

Well, it's worth a look.

Class Rules

Ms. Frizzle wrote about the various, and often incredibly obvious ways kids deceive her in order to chew gum. They get caught, and simply deny everything. I suppose denial, nowadays, is the American way, but I’m still largely unimpressed with it.

I think it’s very important to have and enforce classroom rules, but I have only two:

1. We will treat one another with respect, and

2. We will use only English in the classroom.

As an ESL teacher, rule no. 2 is the one that gives me the most trouble. I have to constantly reinforce that, or my class will become the same time-waster my high school Spanish classes were.

I won't give kids a hard time about eating or chewing gum anymore, unless they make noise, litter, or otherwise disrupt my class.

If a kid makes a snapping sound with gum, I'll continue doing whatever I'm doing while strolling over to the kid with the trash can in one hand. I'll stand next to the kid, talking only about the lesson, and asking questions of other students, until the gum is spit out.

In our school, many kids have lunch at 8:58 AM. Many more don't have it at all. I let kids bring sandwiches and eat in my class if they like, and if they show up on time.

I suppose if conditions were different, I might behave differently.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Watch and Listen...

..while Jale Shimabukuro plays While My Guitar Gently Weeps on a ukelele, of all things. Very odd and pretty.

via the Reflective Teacher, who's moved.

Do You Talk Good?

There are two models of grammar and language use: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive grammar suggests that everyone must speak precisely as the grammar book dictates. Descriptive grammar suggests than everyone speaks their own languages perfectly, with whatever regional variations that may entail.

I subscribe to the second school of thought, which caused a major disagreement with one of my colleagues the other day. I suggested a student did not belong in ESL, saying, “She speaks English better than me.” The teacher, for whom English was a second language, corrected me, saying “She speaks English better than I,” and gave a long speech suggesting I should not be teaching English, as I was profoundly incompetent.

Nonetheless, “She speaks English better than I,” doesn’t sound right to me. I’m well aware of what grammar books say, having taught them for years. I can accept “She speaks English better than I do,” but without the do, it sounds artificial and pretentious.

I’d say that, whatever regional variations may form their language use, virtually all kids in this country are aware of more of less “standard” American English through mass media. Now Latin, being a dead language, may have stricter rules, but English is a living, evolving thing. No matter how much it breaks our hearts, whom, for example, is probably bound for extinction.

I’d also strongly argue that people who speak by ear are far more proficient than those who need to consult rules of grammar, whatever their languages may be.

Written language is a lot tougher, and there’s far less variation. We all say gonna, but it’s not acceptable in academic writing, which every kid needs to learn.

So what do you think? Let me phrase this as objectively as possible--Was the grammar book carried down the mountain by Moses along with the Ten Commandments, or does language ebb and flow with the tide?

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Good Idea?

Teaching languages at early ages seems a no-brainer to anyone who’s studied language acquisition. But to US Education Secretary, it’s a completely new notion:

Margaret Spellings, the education secretary, said in an interview that efforts to teach such languages as Chinese and Arabic to children as young as 5 were brand new. "We don't know how to do it. This whole notion is in its infancy. But our hope is this is a start, and we can build on it."

That, perhaps, is evidence that hiring education secretaries with absolutely no educational experience can be problematic. The notion, in fact, is as old as human history, and if I can teach Chinese kids English, someone can certainly teach American kids Chinese.

Nonetheless, the notion of teaching languages like Chinese, Arabic and Farsi to young kids is a good one. Young kids are the very best language learners there are, and our policy of withholding language instruction until high school is blatantly idiotic.

In His Own Words

Here's what President Bush said in Buffalo, NY on April 20, 2004:

September the 11th-when the President says something, he better mean it. ..

Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires-a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What to Do?

This morning we had a bomb scare in our school. What do you do in such a situation? Well, our assistant principal of security, I'm told, proposed to do absolutely nothing.

Fortunately he was overruled by the uniformed security staff, who insisted we at least report it to the police.

I can understand not wanting to send the kids out for what is probably nothing. But there's no excuse for refusing to report it simply to fudge the statistics.

Anyone Ever Drag You to a Concert...

...that would never end? Like some ex-girlfriend who forced you to go to a Yanni concert and it felt like it lasted 639 years? Well, here's one that really does.

I'm not going, but if you do, let me know how you liked it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

We Can't Take You Guys Anywhere

It appears criminal prosecutions of public school employees are up 58% this year. While I haven't got figures on conviction rates, I gotta say that doesn't look good for the DOE and its revolutionary new programs.

So let's give it a break,OK? If you've got a bank job planned, for heaven's sake hold off till next fiscal year. To this chancellor, statistics are extremely important. So please try to show a modicum of courtesy, and if you really can't wait, for goodness' sake, don't get caught!

First Class Education

That's the name of a group led by Tim Mooney, a Republican political consultant from Arizona. His idea is a simple one--put 65% of the education budget in the classroom.

NY State already exceeds that figure, according to the article, though I have my doubts about NYC. There are many who oppose it:

The American Federation of Teachers has not taken a formal position on the 65 percent solution, but Ed Muir, the assistant director of research and education services, indicated that the union was skeptical.

"We don't think this should be a battle between the services teachers provide and other services that are necessary for kids, particularly poor kids," Dr. Muir said. "If you have a problem with spending, you should do something about wasteful spending."

That makes sense to me. In NYC, for example, Bloomberg's created several layers of bureaucracy that could disappear without any detrimental effect to kids. These people go to luncheons, give presentations, and make huge salaries without any direct involvement with students.

As Joe Thomas would say, 65% of inadequate is still inadequate. This could be a Trojan Horse--an attempt to keep more money from going into schools by suggesting the only problem is percentages.

As we all know, 72% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Want to Look Like This?

Sign up for an 8-week complimentary Bally's membership. (After registration, print out the pass and take it there on the 14th and you get full unlimited access to the gym.) (via)

Be prepared to listen to 8 weeks of hard-sell offers. If that doesn't make you want to smash that punching bag, I don't know what will.

Hamill on Toussaint

From today's NY Daily News:

Roger Toussaint is no hero.

But he's got guts. No, he didn't run into a burning building to save a family on Christmas Eve. But as president of Transport Workers Union Local 100 he stood up for his rank and file in this age of union-busting and walked away victorious.

In the end, after the mayor, the governor and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials branded him a thug and a criminal, after many in the press shamelessly demonized him, he got his workers a decent raise, recovered pension overpayments and sealed a 37-month contract that can only be called a triumph...

Yeah, okay, so the TWU technically broke the Taylor Law when they went out on strike. But, c'mon, this strike was more an act of civil disobedience against an intractable bureaucracy than a crime. To call the TWU strikers criminals is like calling the freedom marchers criminals. Rosa Parks broke the law, too, when she refused to get to the back of the bus. The president of the TWU, as far as I know, wasn't tapping anyone's phone without a warrant, like the President of the United States did.

Toussaint refused to sell out new or as yet unborn transit workers. He emerged victorious in a David versus Goliath battle. That's why, looking back on 2005, Toussaint emerges as one of the people in this city with real guts.

The Gas Wars

Well, no one I know is winning, but I travel 20,000 miles a year all over creation so I'm looking for an edge. To that end, I just bought a new 2005 Toyota Prius. Because it's an 'o5, I got about 900 bucks off the sticker price. An '06 model, with the features I want, would have cost 1800 more at sticker price. Also, they didn't have any.

For purchasing a new Prius, even an 05, (according to my CPA) there's a $3,000 tax credit. Driving as much as I do, I expect to save $1,000 a year in gas if current prices hold, which we all know they will not.

Every Toyota dealer will tell you how lucky you are to see a Prius, and how no one else has them, but I've been to four, and they all had them. All but the one I bought from were asking sticker price for '05 models, which are identical to 06s except for a headlight modification.

If you're in the market for a great, cool car, it's a very good time to buy a Prius. Right now, they're about the same price as Camries. But the tax credit will fade and disappear soon after Toyota sells 60,000 hybrids, which Toyota estimates will occur around June.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Weingarten Accuses DOE of Age Discrimination

Randi Weingarten, UFT President, says a disproportionate number of complaints are aimed against over-40 DOE employees and that this is, in effect, discriminatory.

Sixty-three percent of the teachers' union members are older than 40, but they made up 85 percent of tenured teachers and administrators brought up on disciplinary charges last year.

The DOE denies all charges, and states that it's interested only in Mom, apple pie, and puppy dogs.

Chancellor Klein, however, refused to articulate precisely what was being done with said puppy dogs.

Robot Bartender

A guy walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bar has a robot bartender.

The robot serves the perfect drink, then says to this guy, "What's your IQ?" The guy, not all offended, of course, says, "About 150."

The robot proceeds to make conversation about global warming factors, quantum physics, biomimicry, environmental interconnectedness, string theory and nano-technology.The impressed customer thinks to himself: "This is cool."

But he can't help but put the robot to a test. So he walks out the door, returns, and orders a drink. Again, it is perfect. And, again, the robot says, "What's your IQ?" The guy says, "About 100, I guess."

The robot starts talking immediately, but this time it's about football, NASCAR, baseball, supermodels, favorite fast foods, guns, and buttcracks.Truly impressed, the guy decides on one more test.

He leaves the bar, returns, orders a drink, and, again, is impeccably served. The robot says, "What's your IQ?" The guy says, "Er, about 50, I guess."

The robot says, "So...ya gonna vote for Bush again?"

(From Miss Celania)

A Question of Values

A poster on Edwize complained that I was too harsh on our illustious mayor. "Oldpro" continued:

High School was Algeba, Geometry, and Intermediate Algebra for as far back as I can remember. The one day along comes Sequential Math 1m 2 and 3. New Books, Curriculum, Teacher Training, etc. Now it has been announced that in 2 years it is back to Algebra, Geometry and Intermediate Algebra. Now we need New Books, Curriculum, Teacher Training etc.

Then schools offer the pre algebra, 2 year algebra course and this completes the ACADEMIC math requirement.
Speak about vocational training, after 12 years of math, many students can not compute their hourly earnings,write a check, keep a checkbook or even make change of dollar...

I’ve seen kids in high school who couldn’t read, and I’ve seen this problem passed on, shrugged off, and treated as though it meant little or nothing. I’ve also discovered that NYC has no program whatsoever to deal with these kids, and that many, many teachers can go entire semesters without detecting this problem.

I do not blame Bloomberg for everything. Still, the problems we mentioned don't seem near as important to him as, say, sports stadiums for needy billionaires.

Anyone called "oldpro" ought to know that it’s vital programs be changed every few years so that millions of textbooks can be sold at list price to schools all over the country.

While you can buy a $30 book at Costco for 17 bucks, the city pays full cover price. It's certainly true lower prices could be negotiated for a huge volume buyer like NYC. But canny Mayor Bloomberg finds savings elsewhere, with the highest class sizes in the state, the lowest standard for teachers, and, consequently, the lowest teacher salaries in the area.

There are lots of ways to save money.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The State of the Union

Are you tired of reading namby-pamby, one-sided whining about the UFT at sites like this one?

Start the new year right by getting the other side at EdzUp.

Accountable Talk?

Condoleezza Rice: "[Iraq has obtained] high quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs" and "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." -- CNN Late Edition (CNN television broadcast, Sept. 8, 2002).

Vice President Dick Cheney: "I do know with absolutely certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon" -- Meet the Press (NBC television broadcast, Sept. 8, 2002).

Donald Rumsfeld: "Imagine a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction." -- Face the Nation (CBS television broadcast, Sept. 8, 2002).

Vice President Dick Cheney: ''I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." (CNN television broadcast, May 2005)

President GW Bush: "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on." May 1, 2003, aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, in front of a huge banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."