Saturday, March 31, 2007

It's Apathy Day!

To celebrate her grand victory, UFT President Randi Weingarten has decreed that tomorrow, April 1st, will hereafter be known as "Apathy Day." Ms. Weingarten is particularly grateful to the overwhelming majority of teachers for not voting.

A grand celebration has not been arranged at UFT headquarters tomorrow, and many famous celebrities will not be appearing. The legendary rock and roll band, The Rolling Stones, will not be there. The original cast from Annie will not be singing the inspiring ballad "Tomorrow." And the Beatles will not be performing "Yesterday" either.

Ms. Weingarten wants to personally assure duespayers that hall patrol will not be repealed, seniority transfers will not reappear, the ATR corps will not be discontinued, the punishment days in August will not be cancelled, mayoral control will not sunset, and Mayor Bloomberg will not give up in his plan to make it even less attractive for principals to hire experienced teachers.

We'd break out the champagne, but the patronage mill drank it all at borough headquarters yesterday. Let's celebrate what made Ms. Weingarten's victory possible.

Let's make tomorrow the best Apathy Day ever!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Congratulations, Ms. Weingarten

If emails I'm receiving this morning are correct, Unity, as expected, won the election, and though ICE-TJC outpolled fake opposition party New Action, Unity's cross-endorsement has given it the high school seats, the only ones, frankly, that were ever in play. Preliminary figures in high schools:

Unity 2183
ICE-TJC 1524
New Action 521

This means Ms. Weingarten will no longer have any opposition whatsoever on the executive board, having rid herself of the only six people who opposed letting PERB design the 05 contract. It also suggests the overwhelming majority of high school teachers, like all teachers, didn't even bother to vote.

That may have something to do with the AAA snafu, but not that much, so shame on us all.

It also suggests, however, we are well within striking distance. And as for the other branches, a well-informed electorate is no friend of the Unity machine. Preliminary figures indicate Ms. Weingarten may have received only 12,000 votes total from working teachers (of 70,000), including 1500 from New Action, many of whom were undoubtedly unaware they were voting for Ms. Weingarten.

Meanwhile, New Action's leaders can claim victory, quash the voice of the real opposition in the Executive Board (which is precisely why Ms. Weingarten keeps them around), keep their patronage jobs and pretend they aren't beholden to the Unity Caucus. They can make believe they were elected rather than rubber-stamped by the Unity patronage mill. They can pretend they want change.

They can pretend not to have supported the 05 contract, even though its leaders were part of the committee that unanimously endorsed it, and even though they played no part whatsoever in the very lively discussions all over the net.

Whatever they say, Unity-New Action has brought us:

  1. permanent hall patrol
  2. punishment days in August
  3. the end of guaranteed placement
  4. the end of the UFT transfer plan
  5. 90 day suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations
  6. mayoral control
  7. the end of high school teachers selecting their own VP
  8. a phony, diversionary "opposition" party dedicated to fooling rank-and-file
  9. over 30 years of no progress whatsoever in reducing the class size of 34
And I know, I've said this before and I'll say it again, but they did this (and more) for less than cost of living. I was there when we took two years of zero-percent, two years in a row, for the end of hall patrol. It was bad business, and lazy negotiation from a tired, entrenched, cynical and outdated leadership.

These figures are very rough, and very tentative. But if ICE-TJC turns out to have gotten only one vote, it was mine.

We will continue to tell the truth about the rampant corruption that swirls around the spineless, disingenuous and self-serving UFT leadership. We will explore new ways to get our message out, and we will be in the faces of those who've repeatedly sold us out every step of the way.

We have time on our side, and we have the truth on our side. Apathy, Unity's best friend, is not ours. We must reach out to the overwhelming majority of rank and file who did not find it worth their while to vote.

And we will do precisely that, beginning now.

Thanks to Norm

Thursday, March 29, 2007

If All Government Leaders Were Women

"There would be no more war. Women don't like war."

"What if you were attacked?"

"We wouldn't be. Women don't do that. We're smarter than that."

"But lots of women have been heads of state, and there's always been conflict."

"That's because men controlled the other countries. Men are always running around doing all kinds of stupid things."

"Okay, fine. Men are crazy and just make problems. We can't do anything right. But if that's true, why do so many women like men? I mean, if women didn't like men, we wouldn't be here. Why do women go on dates with men, and get dressed up, and marry them, even?"

"We just want to help you."

The Carnival of Education.... up and running at Ed Wonk's place.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Casting the First Stone

UFT President Randi Weingarten, I'm told, is upset because in the middle of a contentious election season, the opposition did not abandon its campaign in order to jump on her class-size bandwagon. That's an odd accusation to make, as the opposition absolutely supports lower class sizes, and has demanded for years they be part of contract negotiations. Of course, they were voted down on a regular basis by the lockstep Unity patronage machine (which no doubt feels it ran a positive campaign).

The very first post on this blog was about class size.

And let's be very clear--our classes run up to 34 (often surpassing that), and Ms. Weingarten's machine has failed to do anything whatsoever about it for almost 40 years. Based on that record, I'd be loathe to criticize anyone. It's clear, having bought off her original opposition with patronage jobs, it would be quite convenient for Ms. Weingarten if her only genuine opposition pranced about singing her praises.

Politics aside, Ms. Weingarten's got many reasons to focus on class size, and a good many of them concern getting rank-and-file to stop thinking about the unconscionable givebacks of the 05 contract. Unity thinks if they ignore them long enough, people will simply forget where they came from (and they may be right, for all I know).

Yesterday, as I was walking the permanent hall patrol Ms. Weingarten negotiated for me, I had time to consider that contract. I was certainly thinking about it on the punishment days in August she'd thoughtfully negotiated for me. And I'm sure many of my colleagues think about it during their 37.5 minute classes, which Unity claims are not actually classes.

If Joel Klein's plan to have funding follow students becomes a reality, senior teachers will be pariahs, albatrosses around the necks of principals who need to fund their schools. Is there anyone who doesn't believe that Klein envisioned precisely this when he got Ms. Weingarten to agree to the worst contract in our history?

Joel Klein is by no means my favorite person. Still, he certainly knows what he's doing. Ms. Weingarten made the first step toward enabling Mr. Klein's vision it by supporting mayoral control. Another huge mistake was going to PERB and accepting the odious 05 contract, the implications of which seem to have utterly escaped her (and still do, for all I know). Perhaps Ms. Weingarten sees Mr. Klein's new funding proposals as mere coincidence, and not a direct result of her collaboration.

Regardless, as Ms. Weingarten eyes the AFT presidency, the dual AFT-UFT presidencies (following in the footsteps of both her Unity predecessors) or a position in Hillary's white house, she leaves the rest of us--students, parents, and teachers, to pay for her utter lack of foresight.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mr. Allworthy and the Birds

Mr. Allworthy was a fine principal. He had attended the Leadership Academy, and studied at the feet of Jack Welch. His appearance was immaculate. Every day his suit was perfectly pressed and his tie perfectly knotted. He could walk into any teacher's classroom and find fault with everything and anything that was happening. He had a framed commendation from Chancellor Klein on his wall and took great pains to wear his hair precisely as the chancellor did.

But one day, the president of the PTA presented him with a gift. It was a pair of parrots in a cage, to represent the relationship between school and parents, or so she said. He thanked her, and gratefully accepted the gift.

The next day, when a very important visitor from Tweed dropped by, one of the parrots said, "We're hookers. How about a good time, sailor?"

"First one's a freebie," chirped in the other one.

"What is the meaning of this?" asked the bigwig from Tweed, very much perturbed by the spectacle in Mr. Allworthy's office. "What if Chancellor Klein were to hear this?" Naturally, Mr. Allworthy was horrified by the very thought of this.

Mr. Allworthy wondered what to do. He couldn't return the parrots, since he had express instructions to behave as though he valued the feelings and opinions of parents. The wisest person in the school, of course, was Mr. Solomon, the assistant principal, and an ordained raabi to boot. Mr. Allworthy went to seek his advice.

"It's your lucky day, Mr. Allworthy," said Mr. Solomon, clapping his hands together with delight. "It just happens that I too have a pair of parrots. But my parrots are much better behaved. They spend all of their time reading the bible and praying. They know all the prayers, and are fluent in Hebrew. Why don't you bring your parrots by after school and have them spend some time with my birds? I'm sure they'll be a wholesome influence."

After school, Mr. Allworthy, with much trepidation, took the birds to Mr. Solomon's home. He was surprised to see Mr. Solomon's birds wearing yarmulkes and prayer shawls, and earnestly chanting prayers. But as soon as he put down his birdcage, his first parrot said, "We're hookers. How about a good time, sailor?"

"First one's a freebie," said the other.

One of Mr. Solomon's parrots looked up and opened his eyes very wide. Then he turned to his companion and said, "Shlomo, you can stop now. Our prayers have been answered."

Thanks to Schoolgal

Monday, March 26, 2007

Good Books

Well, you can't do your research assignment on Henry Miller anymore at Terrel High School in Texas. They've determined Mr. Miller's books are unsuitable for high school kids to report on. I read one of his novels a long time ago, and if I recall correctly, it was largely about Mr. Miller's sex life. Should high school kids be reading about sex? I don't know, but they'll be thinking about it regardless. Sometimes I think it's good if they read anything whatsoever.

A student who does service in our office regularly comes in with novels entitled Bitch, or Blood on the Sidewalk, and various others of this ilk. She says her aunt has a collection, and she seems to finish several a week. The list must be endless. Is it doing her any good? Who knows? But at least she's reading. I have to admit I like that.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I'm looking for sex and depravity, I really enjoy Charles Bukowski. I just reread his first novel, Post Office, and it's incredible. It's remarkable to think there are, or ever were, people like Bukowski. But I watched a documentary about him recently, and I'm convinced Bukowski was really Bukowski. If you've ever wondered why people "go postal," you have to read this book.

Would I want my high-school kid to read this book? Now that's a very good question, and I'm afraid I won't be able to give an accurate answer for a few years. Right now my kid is more interested (much to my relief) in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Explicit sex and extreme violence grace the pages of many books approved by New York City. Is that a bad idea? Is it a good idea? Will it get kids who wouldn't read otherwise interested?

What do you think?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Who's in Charge Here?

A few months back, I wrote about the blue ribbon panel, which determined private companies should run schools, and that teacher pensions should be eliminated.

Yesterday, UFT President Randi Weingarten was on another panel discussing those recommendations. Ms. Weingarten objected when Mr. Klein proposed sacrificing pension for salary.

However, Ms. Weingarten's caucus once boldly trumpeted the end of lunch duty and hall patrol. It once felt teachers were innocent until proven guilty, and shouldn't be subject to 90-day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations. It once felt teachers in schools closed by the city were entitled to placement rather than purgatory. It once felt inaccurate letters in the file and observations should be challenged before teachers were actually facing dismissal. It once felt five classes a day were enough.

Given Ms. Weingarten's demonstrated willingness to give up anything and everything for less than cost of living (as long as nothing upsets her patronage mill), it's difficult to give her objections much credence.

Ms. Weingarten, full of upward aspirations, appears determined to show the world she's no old-time socialist union boss who just runs around seeking improvements in the workplace.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Guilty Till Proven Innocent

Updating a story that ran yesterday, the Daily News now says the 58-year-old custodian accused of molesting an 8-year-old child was falsely accused. Apparently the child was an abuse victim and had accused others as well.

This brings to mind the current United Federation of Teachers contract that allows for teachers to be suspended for 90 days without pay based on just the type of unsubstantiated allegations that landed this unfortunate working man in Rikers. Thus far, I've heard of two teachers falsely charged under this clause and no case in which the charges were sustained.

Fortunately, neither UFT President Randi Weingarten nor much of her army of patronage employees will never have to worry about such things. Their jobs do not require them to spend much time interacting with schoolchildren, so such accusations are unlikely to affect them as they sit doing whatever it is they do there at 52 Broadway. That's why they have no problem adding such odious clauses to the contract.

Thanks to reality based educator who blogs about this right here.

The Talent Show

Look, there's a girl wearing a shaved-head wig, pretending to be Britney Spears. And there's a kid with a guitar, singing a convoluted and sensitive song no one wants to hear. And there's a young woman singing the theme song to Titanic, and what a shame she can't hit those high notes.

In Wilton, Connecticut, a group of kids wrote a serious play about the Iraq war, and the principal has pulled the plug, saying it's too controversial.

Bonnie Dickinson, who has been teaching theater at the school for 13 years, said, “If I had just done ‘Grease,’ this would not be happening.”

That's certainly true. Doubtless the kids involved in the production have learned that and more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Has Some Splainin' to Do...

Well, there are liars, damned liars, and then there's the blue ribbon panel with Rod Paige, Joel Klein, and Mayor Mike. While he hasn't gone all out and fabricated a miracle, as Mr. Paige did, Mayor Mike's figures are highly suspect.

A few months back he was failing to count dropouts among those who failed to finish high school, resulting in a discrepancy between city and state figures. However, he appears to have negotiated a more favorable interpretation, so that accountability can continue to apply only to teachers.

But despite that, there's yet more bad news for Mayor Mike, presented by the formidable Diane Ravitch, who's cast a highly critical lens on Tweed's much-ballyhooed claims about test scores:

...the first state test results that reflect the mayor's reforms were reported in 2004. Since the mayoral reforms began, there have been three state tests from 2004 to 2006. So what has happened to scores since the mayor's package of reforms was installed? Instead of a 12 percentage point gain in fourth grade English arts, the gain was 6.4 percentage points (from 52.5% meeting state standards to 58.9%). Instead of a 32 percentage point gain in fourth grade mathematics, there has been a gain of 4.2 percentage points (from 66.7% to 70.9%). Instead of an 18 point percentage gain in eighth grade mathematics, there has been a gain of 4.5 percentage points (from 34.4% to 38.9%). Only in eighth grade English was there an appreciable gain, from 32.6% to 36.6%, but the score is only 1 percentage point higher than it was in 1999.

And that's not all:

None of the gains, by the way, match the test score gains in the city schools that occurred the year before mayoral control began...

I wonder what would happen if the tabloids ever printed the truth about Mr. Bloomberg's educational revolution. I suggest we all sit while we wait to find out.

To Push or Not to Push

It's parent-teacher conference time here in the Big Apple. Invariably, all the parents of our students with averages of 95 and above show up (often as not to inquire why they haven't earned 96 and above). I tell them their kids are great, and often ask what their secret is.

I'm confident that if I could identify and bottle this secret, I'd become so fabulously wealthy I could quit teaching altogether. I could then spend my time cultivating the odious vices I've always aspired to.

So what's their secret?

One parent rolls his eyes upward and points toward heaven, refusing to take personal credit for his daughter. But a succession of others tell me, "You have to push them. That's the secret." Some, when presented with minor flaws in their kids, who have received 90 or above, negotiate with me. "You push them to do this, and I'll push them to do that." I agree, and make mental notes of who I have to push to do what.

Others, however, see things differently. "I want to push him, but if I push him too far, he'll fall down." I'm always cognizant of a young Korean woman who attended one of my college classes. She told me her parents had pushed her to practice piano 2 hours a day for ten years. She could play very well, she said, but the thing she loved most about being in the United States was that she didn't have to play at all.

It wasn't until she came here that it dawned on her she absolutely hated playing the piano.

Don't Miss the Carnival

It's over at The Education Wonks this week.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Arm of Coats

It's morning, and the trailer is cold, cold, cold. Fortunately, we have a thermostat. I get there early to turn it on, but no one appreciates my efforts.

Bob, sitting in his $400 North Face jacket, supplemented by a heavy sweatshirt, complains it's too hot. His neighbor, Maria, wearing an arctic parka, a heavy wool sweater, and a long scarf (she's removed her floppy-eared woolen hat in deference to school rules), concurs. "Ay, meester, turn the heat down."

They're shocked when I tell them to take their jackets off, and they sit there as though I'd just instructed them to eat ten pounds of dirt. I don't have my coat on, and it's still a little cold in there. I stand my ground and damn the consequences.

On principle, they refuse to take off their jackets, and appear sullen and disappointed for much of the period, particularly mid-class, when it starts to get really warm. Perhaps there's no point in having a $400 coat if people don't see you wearing it every waking moment of your life.

With changing weather on the horizon, though, they may soon have little choice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Modern Times

We're doing a dialogue and I'm trying to cast a male part.

Jenny begins waving her hand frantically, saying "Me, me, I'll do it!"

"But this is a man's part, Jenny. You're not qualified."

"Oh, mister," she says, "Things aren't like that anymore."

Mr. Klein Ponders Life's Mysteries

Mr Klein welcomes contributions. That's why he finally allowed some angry parents to speak the other night. You can be sure that he will pretend to listen to each and every one of them before ignoring them utterly, as always.

After all, he's now paying one of them $150,000 a year. It appears, though, that increasing numbers of parents are finally unwilling to sit down and shut up, as they've been doing for thirty years. Mr. Klein will find this highly inconvenient.

Where's the love? Where's the gratitude? After all, didn't Mr. Klein have all seven of his investigators check out the 3,547 complaints about bus service?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ms. Weingarten Supports You

Well, another day, another Daily News editorial trashing the teachers' union. They seem to feel the only voices this mayor should obey are the ones in his head. Those are the same voices, of course, that told him to send 6-year-old children out with metrocards, and the same ones that told him the dead of winter was the optimal moment to cancel bus service.

They're the same voices that told him to refuse to contribute dime one to CFE, resulting in a two-thirds reduction in funds headed to NYC's 1.1 million children. As usual, blame is laid at the feet of UFT President Randi Weingarten:

She has two issues. First, that Bloomberg would deny tenure to probationary teachers who fail to raise achievement by measurable standards.
Actually, it's the city that's failed to enforce existing tenure rules for over 30 years, trying to artificially pump up supply while continuing to pay the lowest salaries in the area. I don't think bad teachers should get tenure. In fact, I don't think they should be hired in the first place.

However, the city is absolutely free to deny tenure to probationary teachers, just as it has always been. It's plainly the city's failure, not Ms. Weingarten's, that it failed to exercise its options. If the city truly wanted good teachers, it would have insisted on hiring and retaining them long ago. Actually, years of intergalactic searches, lowered standards and 800 numbers strongly suggest the city is concerned only with getting teachers at bargain-basement prices, and cares not one whit who teaches its children.
Second, that his budget proposal would crimp the ability of senior teachers to congregate in schools with the easiest workloads.

This is not at all the case. In 2005, Ms. Weingarten gave up the UFT transfer plan, which allowed teachers to select schools in which they wished to transfer. She also gave up the right of excessed teachers to guaranteed reassignment in order of seniority. And furthermore, she did all this for a compensation increase that failed to meet cost of living.

It's true that if Mr. Bloomberg gets his druthers, it will be even more unattractive for principals to hire senior teachers. Of course, they're no longer under any obligation to hire them now, so the point is moot.

Senior teachers are, as always, less pliable, and less willing to put up with abuse. Principals now have the absolute right to deny them placement. Senior teachers will soon, perhaps, cost these principals double the salary of new teachers, making them even less attractive.

Once again, the city can focus on cheaper teachers, and if it can turn them over quickly enough (it now loses about half in five years), it won't have to bother with those nasty pensions. Ms. Weingarten, by granting principals absolute veto over who gets hired, and not even demanding cost of living in return, has been an absolute boon to those who support this mayor.

The Daily News should stand up and applaud her. If the editorial staff has the courage of its convictions, it ought to be down on bended knees begging to touch the hem of her garment. Without Ms. Weingarten's cooperation, there would be no mayoral control, and none of their professed desires would be remotely within reach.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Idiots of March

New York City, in its infinite wisdom, required me to take a course in special education in order to keep my job. It might have been nice if they'd made me do so before it compelled me to actually teach special education, but that would be asking too much, I suppose.

Professor Hindenburg was highly, deeply, profoundly knowledgeable on the topic of his daughter's computer, and became sorely upset at discovering various class members had failed to purchase the same model. There was simply no comparison, he had read all the consumer magazines, and we should all have known better.

We sat in a circle and tried to visualize the best possible education for our students. We closed our eyes for five minutes. I fell asleep. After this, we were encouraged to share our meditations. The student next to me elbowed me awake. We were then asked what we expected from this course. I told Professor Hindenburg, "I want to do the bare minimum amount of work possible and earn a D." That was, indeed, my goal. This course didn't apply to any degree, and six months of teaching special education had conclusively persuaded me that I had no talent for it whatsoever.

In order to achieve my goal, I turned in handwritten, unedited, unresearched, poorly thought out projects. I didn't bother to write them on my computer (Professor Hindenburg had expressed sharp disapproval of it anyway).

At the final class meeting, we all had private sessions with the professor. He showed me my grade--A minus. As it did not meet my goal, I protested. Professor Hindenburg explained that we all expressed ourselves in different ways. Those who did excellent work got As. Those who produced third-rate nonsense, as I had, only got A minus. He had standards.

While I remained disappointed at not achieving my target grade, I was very pleased I hadn't knocked myself out for the A. And come to think of it, the title isn't precisely accurate, as this all happened in May or June.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Marian Swerdlow for High School Executive Board

"There have to be people there who will speak truth to power, and who are not beholden to Weingarten and her patronage machine."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Faith Is Tested

Sandra is personable and charming. She had a cutting problem in September, but she seemed to work it out, and managed to excel in my class by semester's end. I thought we'd solved this problem.

But this semester she's been missing classes with increasing frequency, and recently disappeared for almost two full weeks. The one time we called her house, there was no answer. When she returned, she told me that her aunt's employee had gone back to her country, and that she'd had to fill in for her at the shop. I decided her aunt belonged in jail. So I went to the guidance counselor, who happens to speak Sandra's language (too bad for her).

It turns out Sandra just made the whole thing up. Maybe she figures since she got away with it in September, she can do it again in March. I have to grudgingly respect that she managed to snooker me, however briefly. But with 22 years experience, I'm still amazed she blamed her family with no regard for potential consequences. My grudging respect will not translate into a grade above 40, and her final average will include all the work she missed those 13 days.

I understand a lot of kids think the first marking period doesn't count. They're wrong, of course. But I really hate when they disappoint me like this.

Ms.Weingarten Is Not a Socialist

I was just reading that Al Shanker, Sandy Feldman and Randi Weingarten were all card-carrying members of Social Democrats USA, which identifies itself as a member of Socialist International. But I take strong exception to the voices of ICE-TJC who'd infer that made her a socialist.

First of all, socialists are known to strongly defend workers' rights. If Ms. Weingarten were a socialist, why would she endorse a contract that denied teachers the right to grieve letters in their files? Why would she support a clause that allowed them to be suspended without pay based on unsubstantiated allegations? It just doesn't make sense.

And if Ms. Weingarten were a socialist, would she support giving teachers longer work days and punishment days in August? Would she want us to do "small-group tutoring" plus hall patrol, in perpetuity, in addition to the tasks we'd already performed? Would she support our prescription deductibles going up by as much as 1500%? Sorry, I don't see it.

Would a socialist have supported a contract in 2005 that eliminated key seniority rights of teachers? Do you really think a socialist would have given away 40 years of hard-won gains for a compensation increase that didn't even keep up with cost of living? Would a socialist have supported and enabled mayoral control?

Absolutely not. A socialist wouldn't have done any of those things. A socialist would stand up and demand an end to mayoral control, particularly in view of its ineffectiveness (not to mention its effect on classroom instruction). Do you envision Ms. Weingarten demanding an end to mayoral control? Of course not. So please, please, stop unfairly tarring Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten is not some old-time union boss, who just runs around insisting on better working conditions for her members. She's no socialist, and don't even think about calling her a militant socialist.

That's just beyond the pale.

Friday, March 16, 2007

No Artificially Implanted Memory Left Behind

It appears that NCLB is facing some scrutiny. With President Bush's popularity scraping all-time lows, more than 50 GOP lawmakers are supporting a bill that could allow states to opt out of some testing mandates.

I've been particularly stunned by the insistence by Margaret Spellings that we make virtually no allowances for kids who need to learn English. We can teach them, but it takes time, and I'm afraid that will be true until Ms. Spellings and her team invent a device that will attach directly to the brain and transmit language knowledge to all the appropriate places.

Despite being a lifelong Democrat, I'll be the first to stand and applaud Ms. Spellings' achievement. I'll sign up to instantly learn Chinese and Korean.

However, in the absence of such an achievement, I'll continue to believe it takes two or three years for a typical teenager to master enough English to compete on tests. Naturally, if Ms. Spelling were to go to China and immediately pass such tests in Chinese, I'd have to reconsider my theory.

Till then, however, 20 years of experience tell me it is she who needs her brain altered.

Thanks to reality-based educator

6 to 10 Inches of Snow

That's what we'll be looking at by tomorrow morning. Outside my window right now all I see is rain.

A recent innovation in New York City is the delayed opening. It was initiated by Chancellor Levy, if I recall correctly, and no matter what the weather, it is never, ever used at all. The sole exception was during the transit strike.

I remember, when Saint Rudy was still mayor, driving up the Long Island Expressway one very snowy morning. Cars were crashing to the left of me, cars were crashing to the right of me, and the voice of Saint Rudy himself was coming over the radio, saying don't come to work today unless you absolutely have to. It's terrible out there.

I remembered those words, and posted them on the board as the quote of the day for the intrepid souls who actually showed up that morning.

Drive carefully!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stop the Presses!

According to today's Daily News, the movements of dancers like Shakira can actually be a turn-on.

And here I was thinking that when I saw her on SNL I was captivated by her lyrics. It was something about love, or romance, or body parts or something. It turns out it's the movement after all. Who woulda thunk it?

In other news, Anna Nicole Smith appears, still, to be dead, and Britney Spears appears to continue being bald. Knowledgeable sources contend, however, that this situation may change when her hair grows back.

As always, we will provide timely updates.

Don't Forget to Vote

Several days ago, I ran a post which did not much please Jeff Zahler, assistant to UFT President Randi Weingarten and head of the Unity Caucus.

Mr. Zahler characterized allegations made in that post as "fiction" and stated categorically that "the union would not tolerate" this sort of thing.

It's been an interesting few days, though. First of all, I've now heard the story about Tom Pappas' son-in-law being involved in a UFT real-estate purchase from two other sources. If Mr. Zahler is concerned about this story, he's in a perfect position to get to the truth about it. I certainly hope he follows up.

I've been told that the story of the UFT dumping computers and furniture onto the street was covered by the New York Post, and that it was an embarrassing moment indeed for the union.

Anyone can see that the UFT has a new logo, and it's certainly within Mr. Zahler's purview to find out how much it cost. I mean, if the UFT President's assistant can't get his hands on that figure, who can? Please share it with us, Mr. Zahler.

Is New Action really independent? Well, it's hard not to notice that their love for UFT President Randi Weingarten materialized at precisely the moment their leadership all got patronage jobs. I just finished watching Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. He spoke of a guy who worked for the government, and got a gig with Exxon-Mobil the day after he retired. He offered a quote from Hampton Sinclair--"It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it."

New Action claims to have opposed the 05 contract, but they publicly embrace the person who brought it to us, and their primary leaders were part of the committee that unanimously endorsed it. I believe I voted for them last time, before the 05 contract, when I didn't know any better. I absolutely believe many, many of my colleagues still don't.

The poster who used my real name on this blog was one "Harold Spinner." Mr. Spinner appears to be the alter-ego of "redhog," who's paid to write for the union paper when he's not on the net. Redhog wrote "I have never used the Harold Spinner name. You did not match IP numbers." If you click on the pictures here, they'll become clearer, and you can check the IP numbers for yourselves.

Does the UFT demand truthfulness in those who write for us? It certainly doesn't appear so.

It's one thing to pay people for their services. It's another to have a veritable army of people (like every single member of Unity) who have signed loyalty oaths to a political caucus rather than rank and file. There's a distinct difference between "paid" and "bought and paid for."

We need real teacher voices, and real voices of opposition to maintain the health of our union. I'm told the voices that warned Randi Weingarten not to go to PERB in 05 were those of ICE. Every day, as I patrol the halls, I wish she'd paid them more heed.

The only genuine alternative voices I hear are those of ICE and TJC. If you're tired of being snookered by patronage employees who care about nothing but their second pensions, let the union know with your vote.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Around the Net...

Don't miss the Carnival of Education, currently residing with The Education Wonks. They're focusing some much-needed attention on the food fight over NY pizza, clearly one of the most pressing issues of the day.

My friend La Quijota has begun tilting at windmills, and she'll let you know why there's strength in union.

California Teacher Guy reflects on teaching Anne Frank's Diary. Personally, I find it so deeply depressing I don't much wish to do so again.

Mamacita wonders why Hollywood needs to take classic novels and change them. Anyone besides me who thinks Demi Moore belongs in prison for what she did to The Scarlet Letter?

Unity Think Tank

"Let's say Kit is a socialist."

"But I'm a socialist, and you're a socialist, and everyone involved with the union movement in this country was pretty much a socialist."

"I know, but how many other people do? We could call him a militant socialist, and then people will think he walks around killing people and stuff."

"Like a terrorist or something."

"Yeah, that's good. Do you think people would get mad at us for this?"

"We'll send it out without our name on it, and we won't put a return address."

"Isn't that illegal?"

"Who's gonna know? We'll send out 145,000 copies, and use our first class bulk-mail permit."

"Do we even have a bulk-mail permit? It's illegal for political caucuses to use the UFT bulk mail permit. And how much is this gonna cost anyway?"

"Don't worry about that. It's all taken care of, and no one will suspect a thing."

"A socialist, huh? With all the socialists and communists that have run and worked with Unity over the years, isn't that kind of like the pot calling the kettle black? Don't we have socialists and communists on the ballot right now?"

"Who's gonna know? And let's say he wants to cut beginning teacher salaries."

"But he never said that."

"Who's gonna know? As long as people are thinking about what a bad guy this guy is, no one's gonna think about the things we don't want them to think about, like the 05 contract."

"Well, we got a better one."

"Actually, we got an extension of the last one. The teachers are still doing hall patrol, they're still coming in in August, they're still not guaranteed placement when their schools get closed, they're still teaching six classes, they can still be suspended without pay for 90 days on trumped-up charges, and their pay still doesn't compare with that of suburban schools."

"But does anyone remember that?"

"We'll tell them what to remember. Let's say Kit's only solution to every problem is strike."

"But they've got years of position papers on the internet. Shouldn't we be threatening management with strikes instead of rank and file?"

"When we threatened rank and file in 05, we passed that stinker of a contract, didn't we? Let's go all out. No one needs to know who sent this thing, no one needs to know who paid to print it, and no one needs to know who paid to mail it."

"Isn't that illegal?"

"Who's gonna know?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I just got my ballot, marked ICE-TJC, tore off the front page, placed it in the envelope, then in the other envelope, and mailed it. I urge you to do the same.

Randi Weingarten and Unity let us down. They rolled back every gain I'd seen in twenty years in one fell swoop. They don't understand that time for money is not a raise, and they don't value our time at all. That's why they agreed to pointless punishment days in August.

I do hall patrol every day, thanks to our Unity-New Action negotiators. If they close my school, I'll be a permanent sub, because under Klein's new funding program, a principal would be crazy to hire anyone but a new, replaceable teacher at minimum salary. Unity can boast of no new givebacks in the new contract, but they've done nothing to remedy what they did to us in 05.

In this country, you're innocent until proven guilty. But if you're a New York City teacher, you can be suspended for up to 90 days without pay based on unsubstantiated allegations, and both Unity and New Action's leadership supported this clause. Actually, the only positive thing they offered in 05 was the 25/55 agreement. In case you haven't noticed, in its place, they've thus far offered two years worth of excuses.

Unity can claim the new contract, at 3.5% a year, keeps up with inflation, but the only way they can do so is by consulting a crystal ball and looking two years into the future. At the time they "negotiated" the contract (by taking, once again, exactly what DC37 got) inflation was running 5% in the NYC area.

It's easy for Unity to claim ICE-TJC has no ideas. But ICE repeatedly offered them, and Unity has repeatedly ignored them, preferring to indulge in juvenile, empty invective. In fact, Unity used to write and say precisely the same things about New Action, before it bought off its leaders with patronage jobs and got them to endorse Ms. Weingarten.

There is only one alternative to the Unity-New Action machine. If you think our leaders should go out and negotiate, if you think our leaders should focus on working conditions for real teachers (and learning conditions for real children), if you think class size ought not be ignored for 30 years, if you think the patronage mill should not be the main concern of those who represent us, there is only one choice.

Only one-third of us will even bother to vote. Please join us, and please cast your vote for the entire ICE-TJC slate.

New Action Holds a Meeting

"Let's get started, please. You all know me. I'm Mike Shulman, dammit, and I was the UFT Academic Vice President."

"We know, Mike."

"We changed everything. We were responsible for the defeat of the infamous zero-zero contract, and we..."

"We know Mike. And a few months later we accepted another zero-zero contract, and..."

"You can't talk to me like that! I'm Mike Shulman, dammit! Why, I oughta..."

"What's that?"

"She's coming! Quick, everyone on your feet!"

"MIKE! Where the hell are you?"

"I'm right here, Ms. Weingarten."

"Well, your boys are not doing a good job. Don't they even know how to wash a car? My chauffeur can't see himself in the SUV wheels. What the hell is that all about?"

"I'll get right on it, Ms. Weingarten."

"And what about my dry cleaning? It took your boy over 80 minutes to get it back to me. That's a 60 minute dry cleaner, and with travel time, I should have it back in 68 minutes, tops."

"It won't happen again, Ms. Weingarten."

"See that it doesn't. I won't be asking you again, and next time, you and your entire gang will find yourselves working at Dunkin Donuts, where there's no second pension for anyone. Got it?"

"Yes, Ms. Weingarten."


"Okay, you can sit down again."

"Didn't I tell you guys you were getting sloppy? How are we gonna bring reforms to this union with your careless attitudes? I can't put up with that. I'm Mike Shulman, dammit, and I used to be Vice President! Did I ever tell you guys how we defeated the zero-zero contract?"

Monday, March 12, 2007

Green Eyed Monster (with cheese)

The Prof over at Right Wing Nation regularly posts great Mexican recipes, and prescribes the sort of comfort foods that you long for, yearn for, but fear to eat for the forty pounds you'd gain by week's end.

Sometimes I go over there and drool, while wondering how the conservatives can get away with eating that stuff. I mean, oh my gosh, I don't actually vote for those guys, but I sure wouldn't mind going to a barbecue with then. Still, my guess is no matter how kindred in spirit they may be, Michelle Malkin does not frequent his place.

Now I don't mind when people trash the Yankees (particularly since, in my mind, they're inextricably linked with Saint Rudy). And I don't get all bent out of shape when people make New York jokes (unless they're from New Jersey, which goes beyond the pale).

But last week the Prof went too far. He besmirched NY Pizza, which has been scientifically proven to be the best pizza on God's green earth (I got your studies right here, pal). Have millions of immigrants graced our fair shores for the weather? I don't think so.

Sure, John's Pizza got closed down by the Board of Health. But that's a by-product of an offense committed by Pizza Hut (an offense in itself, of course), which every true New Yorker knows is not really pizza anyway. And it's well know people of all ages will cheat and steal for NY pizza.

Now it's important to note that this attack (which may yet prove to be a conspiracy) comes not only from the right wing. Last week Bill Maher said the reason folks from Hollywood don't get worked up over pizza is that after paying their mortgages, they still had enough money left over to buy real food.

Whatever your political leanings may be, it's time to take a stand.

I want every red-blooded New Yorker to defend our glorious heritage, and a free pizza, on me, to the person who does it best. The best NY pizza, as far as I know, is a few blocks from where I live (feel free to offer other suggestions), but the only reason anyone would attack NY pizza is jealousy. So eat your heart out, Prof. But if you want real pepperoni with it, you're gonna have to come here to get it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Three Ex-Charter Teachers

You read about them here first, but today Angela Montefinise of the New York Post exposes a charter school that fires its teachers as casually as you and I change our shoes.

Reading, writing - and wrongful firings.
That's the curriculum at a new charter school in The Bronx, where an "out of control" principal axed three teachers in a month, refused to pay the salaries of two and was found guilty of expelling students without due process, according to furious former employees.

While it's undoubtedly true that not all charters follow this policy, it's intolerable that any do. And this, regrettably, is not the first such story. Who knows how many we've never heard about, and will never hear about?

Charter teachers shouldn't be treated like this, playing checkers with faculty members certainly doesn't benefit kids, and charters need to be unionized. I've watched as others bemoaned the protections that teachers enjoy, and my conclusion is still the same. All teachers need those protections, and all other working people need them as well.

"She called the cops on us and told us to get out of the building," Ortega said. "We were more than willing to finish the day and four more weeks to fulfill our contract, but she screamed at us to get out and said we were fired."
"She said we'd never work in a charter school again," said Ray.
Ray and Ortega said they were forced to go to small-claims court for six weeks worth of pay that Lopez refused to give them. Ortega won almost $5,000 on Feb. 6 but has still not been paid. Ray's hearing was postponed.

Some argue against card check as a means of enabling unionization. However, if bosses will fire people on whims, they'll do the same and more to employees attempting to unionize. It's disingenuous and preposterous to compare pressure from unions to pressure from employers, who can cavalierly strip workers of their livelihoods.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Power Corrupts...

...and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I wasn't always so critical of UFT President Randi Weingarten. In fact, I saw her speak at my school, was very impressed with her, and voted for her as a result. I was optimistic about Edwize when it first appeared. In fact, I used to write for NY Teacher every now and then (before I opposed the contract).

But when the 05 contract rolled back every gain I'd seen since I began teaching, I knew we needed new leadership. When I found out that Ms. Weingarten had bought off New Action (the ex-opposition party) and its leadership with patronage jobs, I knew the UFT's lookout was not rank and file.

I just received an email from a very inside UFT source, claiming the following abuses were documented by the accounting department:

1. The lease and purchase of 50 and 52 Broadway were through a company represented by Thomas Pappas' (ex-UFT Director of Staff) son in law (not what you would call an arms length transaction).

2. When we moved downtown all furniture and equipment (computers, printers, desks etc.) no matter how new and usable, were thrown out on the street as garbage.

3. Randi has a car and driver all paid for by the union. This is used meetings as well as for commutation and personal.

4. Her teacher staff regularly cheats on their expenses (lunches, dinners, false receipts for car service etc.).

5. The PM staff paid per session puts in for sessions not worked.

6. More than a quarter of a million dollars spent unnecessarily on a new logo so she can revamp the UFT into the United Federation of Randi Weingarten.

7. Kick backs from the Hilton Hotel to one individual so that events would be held there.

Others have told me about 1, 2, and 6, so they don't surprise me. As for corruption on the part of staff, I find that believable too. Imagine you're a district representative, no longer elected, but hand-picked by UFT President Randi Weingarten. You now teach only one class, receive your full teacher salary, plus fifty thousand dollars a year. Are you going to bite the hand that feeds you?

If you answered yes, I have a bridge to sell you. Ms. Weingarten's minions think they own us, they don't do hall patrol, and they cannot tolerate anyone who questions their authority. How much regard do they have for real teachers? Well, one of Ms. Weingarten's entourage came over here last week and cavalierly outed me, writing my real name in the comments section. What did Ms. Weingarten do about it?

Maybe she had a chuckle with her chauffeur, who I'm told gets paid more than most teachers.

Actually, dissent enables democracy. But it's routinely ridiculed by our union's management. Instead of entertaining voices from the opposition, it presents an "opposition" party that fails to oppose. While New Action claims to have opposed the 05 contract, its leaders were on the committee that "negotiated" it, which voted unanimously for its approval. I was very active in the 05 contract fight, and I can tell you that New Action was absolutely nowhere to be found (unless you looked in UFT headquarters, where they hold meetings).

In an all-out effort to purge the union of the only existing opposition voices, New Action is running a slate for the high school executive board that's cross-endorsed by Unity. They think we're too ignorant to notice.

We'll soon find out whether they're correct.

Friday, March 09, 2007


I haven't heard of a teacher being removed for witchcraft before, but that's one of the accusations swirling around dismissed teacher Lauren Berrios, if she's to be believed. Ms. Berrios contends that her former principal suddenly got religion and decided witches were not such a good thing.

Unfortunately, there are more sinister stories about suspicious injuries to Ms. Berrios' young son, which I'm afraid (if they were to be sustained) even witchcraft would not excuse.

I wouldn't mind having a witch for a teacher, or even being the teacher who happened to be a witch.

"Take that hat off or I'll turn you into a toad. You remember what happened to Bill yesterday, don't you?"

When you get right down to it, that could be a hell of a lot more effective than referring the kid to the dean. Of course, kids being what they are, it wouldn't be long before they were turning us into toads too.

Mr. Bloomberg Demands Quiet

City parents, ignored for years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are angry. Mayor Bloomberg, who does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, now wants the angry parents to shut up and sit down. His buddy, NY State Regent Merryl Tisch, thinks they need to focus immediately on being quiet.

If she can just get them to relax long enough, the fuss over the Mayor's indifference to schoolchildren will die down, and he can get back to the serious full-time business of ignoring their parents as well. After all, Mayor Mike put a parent in every school before ignoring them last time. Now that he's hired a six-figure parent, he's earned the right to ignore them again.

Why don't you parents take a page from UFT President Randi Weingarten, who accepts whatever crap comes down the pike, praises it, and declares victory yet again when she achieves a contract with no new crap in it? Perhaps you, like Ms. Weingarten, can learn to be satisfied with only the crap Mayor Bloomberg has already issued.

It's simply unacceptable for parents to be messing with Mayor Mike's legacy. Mayor Mike says so, his friends say so, and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ms. Weingarten Contemplates a Debate

It doesn't appear UFT President Randi Weingarten is up to the task of debating her opponent, Kit Wainer. In the long UFT tradition of refusing to acknowledge The Help, Ms. Weingarten banned ICE-TJC rep Norm Scott from the one place she was appearing with her opponent. Not only were the results not videotaped, but the one person who could've easily accomplished the task was banned from the premises.

Ms. Weingarten's supporters have very clever labels for their opponents from ICE. They say it stands for "I Complain Everytime." Do you get it? What they did, see, is they took the initials "I," "C," and "E," and then they started a sentence with those initials. You get it? Not only that, but they took TJC, and said, "They Just Complain." Get it?

They're extremely clever over there at 55 Broadway. It certainly wasn't easy to move us 20 years backwards and then explain why it was a good thing.

Complaining, apparently, is a bad thing. Did Randi Weingarten complain when she sent 80,000 teachers to walk hall patrol? Did she complain when teachers were given six classes? Did she complain when teachers lost the right to grieve letters in their files? Did she complain when we lost the UFT transfer plan? Did she complain about unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations? Did she complain when they halved our prep time?

Of course not. So why won't Ms. Weingarten defend her record to "complainer" Kit Wainer? She could certainly make a strong case that she complains less than he does.

During the 05 contract discussion, Unity folks asked me, "What would the Daily News and the NY Post say if we rejected this contract?" It's painfully obvious what they would have said--the very same things they say now. Ms. Weingarten's efforts to appear statesmanlike by selling us up the river were for naught. They still call her (gasp!) an old-time union boss.

Would that it were true. Personally, I don't give a damn she isn't a teacher. I don't care if she's paid many times my salary. I'd happily pay her double if she'd represent our interests.

The Daily News got one thing right--that's her job.

I don't think she's got what it takes.

Prove me wrong, Ms. Weingarten. Start by debating Kit. You owe us, at the very least, the opportunity to see you debate your opponent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Teacher Strike

In Iran, of all places. With everything going on in the world, who'd have thunk it? You can read about it here and here.

Not a single word is mentioned about this on TV! One of my coworkers says that" If a Palestinian farts in Gaza Strip, it will be given a big coverage in our TV but, when it comes to teachers we are ignored by our government totally.

Mr. Bloomberg Takes on Science

It's time to learn science the Bloomberg way. That's when Mr. Bloomberg puts down his jewel-encrusted cane, declares everyone must teach science this way, there is no other way anyone can teach science, and then spends 80 million bucks on a computer to determine that no one is teaching science correctly. Since Mr. Bloomberg has already worked his magic on other disciplines, it must be valid.

For example, Mr. Bloomberg has already come up with a fantastic curriculum for elementary school kids called Everyday Math. Instructivist (Thank you!) posted a video explaining how that works, and I'm gonna share it with you.

Sure, it may seem more complicated than the way you and I learned. But if Mr, Bloomberg says it's better, it must be. Math must be taught this way. There is no other possible way kids can learn math. If it isn't working, the only possibility is that the teachers are no good, and that's not Mr. Bloomberg's fault either, even though he hires them and grants them tenure.

So make some popcorn, sit back, and learn some math the way Mr. Bloomberg says you must. Remember, there is no other possible way to learn math (unless Mr. Bloomberg says so).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You Can't Read This Blog in China...

...acccording to this test. See if your favorite sites are available before you travel there.

Thanks to Eduwonk.

The Unspeakable

From the bowels of hell they come, picking their way over the fire and brimstone and moving slowly, barefoot, over each inch of white-hot bedrock. They stop for nothing, for no one, they rise till they reach the surface, and when their vile heads see the light of day they wander about, ask directions, and determinedly make their way amongst us until they reach their goal--opening a college bookstore. No mere mortals these.

For when you buy the wrong edition, what human would claim the book is non-returnable, make you buy another, and offer you five bucks for the book that just cost you forty? What mortal would have the audacity to sell a used book for seventy-eight bucks that cost eighty new (bought back for $6.50)?

And what person with heart or soul would forget to stock 2 of the 3 required books for my college class and blame my boss for not ordering enough? It turns out there may be some truth to it. My boss used to overestimate the number of books needed. The bookstore, in order to save the five bucks an hour it cost to get a college student to send back the remainder, started ordering only half what she asked. That's why, for years, they've rarely had what my students needed.

Recently, she brokered a deal with them to order a more realistic number, and now, a month into the semester, my students still can't find their books. My boss called a week ago, I called yesterday, they may have more books next week (week 5 of the semester) and I have had it.

Next semester, I'm gonna pick the books, find them as cheap as I can on the web, and pass the savings onto my students. It's far too much work to further enrich the hellhounds who run this establishment.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Workin' in the Coal Mine Charter School

I just received an email from an articulate young charter school teacher. I'll withhold names for now, but I'll link to this story when it's covered more fully elsewhere. She writes that she'd hoped to be part of "something grand," but she faced a great deal of disappointment, even during the first few weeks.

She'd taken a leave from the DoE to try this out. She was concerned about her pension. Her new employers told her not to worry, because she could simply continue contributing toward it while she worked their school. When she arrived, however, she found that not only had they made no such arrangement, but the school's management had not even researched TRS.

An English teacher was absent for two days, and returned unaware of the new copy policy, requiring 48 hours notice. After violating the policy, the teacher received a severe dressing-down. After a long day of complaints being tossed about every which way, both this English teacher and a math teacher tried to resign. Instead they were fired, and forcibly removed from the building.

A biology teacher complained that the facilities did not meet state standards for laboratories, and was fired:

In 24 hours the school had lost 3 teachers. Students would leave, more teachers and staff would leave and by February the students would have had 2 math teachers 2 Spanish teachers 2 English teachers, 3 biology teachers and an assortment of substitutes

This occurred in a school that had a total of six teachers. During her brief stay, my correspondent observed violations in special ed. regulations. She sent me a copy of her complaint and of a letter from the state affirming it.

Shortly after this complaint, she was fired, ostensibly for insubordination (of course, as an "at will" employer, they needed no reason whatsover). She asked me for advice on whistleblowing in charter schools. Here's what I told her:

My very best advice for you is to actively seek a position in a public school, where you will work less time, get paid more money, have superior medical benefits, and vastly superior job protection.

She said that was precisely her plan. If anyone has better advice for her, the comments form is now officially open.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The NYC Educator Diet

I've managed to lose 5 pounds in a mere three days. Here's what you do--first, get so sick you lose your voice. Go to the doctor, get an antibiotic that makes you feel even worse, and get out of bed only to crawl up to the attic and blog in the morning.

Watch a lot of TV, and catch up on all the cable movies that didn't seem worth watching. After you've confirmed that suspicion, turn to reruns of "Matlock," which prove even less surprising than the first time you watched them.

Then, in a Ralph Kramden moment, determine that you were actually made sick to realize the weight loss you'd been hoping for. This is the beginning of a new fad-diet book that will sweep the land, allowing you to become so rich you can forget about dieting altogether and let your appearance go completely to hell.

On the third afternoon, rise once more, climb up the attic stairs, and announce the revolutionary new diet plan. Blogging is an essential component of this new diet plan, compensating for the symptoms that accompany your illness. When you type, no one realizes you can't actually speak.

Let's Rumble

On Friday night UFT presidential candidates Randi Weingarten and Kit Wainer appeared together. I'd read it would be a debate, but people now tell me that each candidate simply made a statement.

The group who hosted the event posted a notice suggesting Wainer was the clear winner, but as far as I know there's no record of the event beyond the photo, at left, of Mr. Wainer and Ms. Weingarten discussing the issues.

Why don't we have a real debate, with the candidates questioning one another, and post it on the net, so all UFT members could watch it? It could be arranged and accomplished in 24 hours.

We could find an objective moderator somewhere that both sides could agree on.

Whichever side you may be on, we do have a choice, it is important, and we ought to be able to compare and contrast the candidates.

So what do you say?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Takes a Beard

The NY Times, of late, has a knack for headlines--Hoping to Quiet Critics, Bloomberg Picks a Parent in Chief for the City's Schools reads one. Note the emphasis on what hizzoner is hoping to do. The mayor's reorganizations follow the same pattern as all his other reforms--they are absolutely necessary, the only possible way to get anything done, and they replace last year's absolutely necessary only way to get anything done.

From the beginning, this mayor has claimed parents would be part of the reform process. After moving along without any input whatsoever from them, a group of parents marched to Albany with the teachers' union to protest. Mr. Bloomberg hired a parent to work in every school in the city, but that didn't avert the public outcry when a private company killed yellow buses for little kids all over the city.

Now, Mr. Bloomberg has hired one parent, a $150,000 parent, to do what? To provide the input the parents already in schools have failed to provide? To draw attention to the overcrowded buildings and the largest class sizes in the state? To point out that non-English speakers are not receiving the services they deserve? To decry the demise of the neighborhood school?

No, I gotta go with the Times--he's hoping to quiet critics. So, if you want to hear what city parents have to say, will you go with the word of Mayor Mike's 6-figure bull-goose parent? Or will you read the new blog set up by real activist NYC parents Leonie Haimson and Patrick Sullivan?

Me, I'm going with the latter.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Where Does Learning Begin?

I've long felt that parental involvement (or lack thereof) is the single most accurate predictor of academic performance. Teachers, vital though I think they are, are a distant second. Still, good teachers are probably the best things we can give kids with indifferent parents.

I was very surprised to see how much I agreed with right-wing stalwart David Brooks. Brooks says a bold presidential candidate will take a new approach to education, and will publicly proclaim that education does not actually begin ($)when the first bell rings and end when kids grab their things and make a mad dash for the doorway.

The bold candidate will admit that kids who don't learn social skills at home don't carry them to school. Kids with caring parents become better students.

Children do have inborn temperaments and intelligence. Nevertheless, students make the most of their natural dispositions when they have a secure emotional base from which to explore, and even the brightest children stumble when there is chaos inside.

Research over the past few decades impressively shows that children who emerge from attentive, attuned parental relationships do better in school and beyond. They tend to choose friends wisely. They handle frustration better. They’re more resilient in the face of setbacks. They grow up to become more productive workers.

Doesn't that make perfect sense? And doesn't it also make sense that if I teach a group of kids with proactive, caring parents and get great results, it doesn't necessarily make me a better teacher than Mr. X., who teaches kids with parents largely absent from their lives?

Now I'm not saying teachers have no responsibility. Of course we need to do the best we can for all kids, no matter what their backgrounds may be. But there's more than test scores that show whether or not I'm a good teacher. What can we do about this? Here's what Mr. Brooks suggests:

...there are programs that do work to help young and stressed mothers establish healthier attachments. These programs usually involve having nurses or mature women make a series of home visits to give young mothers the sort of cajoling and practical wisdom that in other times would have been delivered by grandmothers or elders.

It makes perfect sense to me. What do you think? Will we leave fewer kids behind if we help their moms early on?

Would a serious candidate really say such things? Which party would the candidate come from? Could that candidate win?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ya Vengo

That's Spanish for "I'm coming," according to my venerated Spanish teachers. But I'm surrounded by Spanish speakers day and night, and I've determined that's not what it actually means. What it seems to really mean is, "I'm coming, maybe now, maybe later, maybe tomorrow, or maybe never."

I've made a pretty strong commitment to speak only English in my classes, and I sorely wish we had an equivalent saying. This is particularly true of my writing class, where I run around like a maniac reading everything the kids write. I've had a sore throat all week and I feel like a pile of mud. I just can't seem to get sick enough to justify staying home.

This morning the workshop model looks very attractive. Write on the board for ten minutes, let the kids work in groups for thirty-five, and lock myself in the supply closet for the rest of the period. Of course the bell doesn't ring, so I'll have to come out and dismiss the kids.

"Time to go, Mr. Educator."

"Ya vengo."

I wonder if there's heat in that closet.