Monday, April 30, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg's Secret Weapon

Reorganize your city's school system from top to bottom. When you fail to produce viable results, just do it again, and again. What would you pay for a manual that showed you how to do that?

Don't answer yet. Reorgs can show you how to get taxpayers to finance every bit of your program, and make it appear that you know what you're doing.

Want to stay in office based on your educational "achievements?" All you need is this book, enough money to finance your own campaign, and the most inept opponents on God's green earth.

Here are just a few testimonials from satisfied customers:

Mike from Manhattan says:
Boy, this book is the bee's knees. I didn't know a darn thing about governing a large city, let alone making people think I was improving schools. This book has been well-worth what the taxpayers shelled out for it. I'm gonna have them send copies to my buddies in LA and DC pronto.
Joel the K. says:

Before I got this book, I had a tedious, demanding job. Now I hobnob with rich people, go to gala luncheons, and journalists everywhere want my opinions. Thanks, Reorgs. I'll never have to read another book again.
Available at finer bookstores everywhere. But get 'em quick, before your political opponents horde all the copies for themselves.

Coming soon: Statistics for Mayors

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Apathy Rules

In Mr. Bloomberg's New York, many parents are so disheartened that they don't even bother running for his school parent council. At candidates' forums, many of those actually running don't even trouble themselves to show up. It's remarkable that this mayor has been able to alienate so many genuine stakeholders in city schools.

But really, what are parents to do? The last major challenge to the mayor, the May 9th rally, was unilaterally canceled by UFT President Randi Weingarten and her rubber stamp executive board, which was itself selected by fewer than 20% of working teachers ("Why bother?" reasoned the rest). Several parent groups, in fact, seem to have backed Ms. Weingarten in her continuing commitment to let this mayor do whatever the hell he likes.

This accomplishes two major objectives: Mr. Bloomberg can continue his wildly ostentatious pretense of meaningful reform, and Ms. Weingarten can continue to position herself as a political "moderate" with whom even conservatives can feel comfortable. You won't see Ms. Weingarten making inconvenient demands on behalf of those she supposedly represents, and no one can call her a socialist. Perhaps if Hillary makes it, she'll be comfortable enough to name Ms. Weingarten US Secretary of Education.

For substantive reform, parents are going to have to stand up and demand what works--good teachers, smaller classes, and decent facilities for their kids. There is no substitute.

Ms. Weingarten, in front of God and everybody, endorsed a plan that does nothing but hurt teachers, a plan which blatantly encourages principals to look at price tags rather than quality. It's her primary job, supposedly, to protect teachers. If she's unwilling to do even that, it's highly doubtful she gives a damn about parents.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


George Bush's figures on violence in Iraq do not include car bomb attacks. Things sound a little rosier when you hear only what suits your agenda:

"Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.

And Mayor Bloomberg's dropout figures don't include students who've taken GEDs:

In the reports on New York City, students who receive a GED are counted as graduates. The benefit of earning a GED, according to national research, is just a slight improvement over dropping out. On the other hand, there is a tremendous difference between earning a GED and earning a bona fide high school diploma.

Federal law requires that in calculating graduates for the purposes of No Child Left Behind, you look at students who graduate from secondary school with regular diplomas. The federal requirement does not count GED students, and the graduation rate is the percentage of students measured from the beginning of high school. Not counting them if they haven’t been there two years is just something that the State of New York has made up.

The state has now agreed to that change, and backs up the city's rosy figures.

That's what's behind the city's highly touted 50% graduation rates. Note that the Times, in its zeal to fawn all over this mayor, makes no mention of that. It's not all that hard to mimic achievement by fudging your statistics.

In fact, in this city, with this mayor, it's politics as usual.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Didja Hear the One About the Teacher Who Ran for Congress?

Me neither, till I read this column by Sam Freedman in the Times. Tim Walz took a leave of absence from his job as a high school history teacher, and waddya know, he actually got elected. It's good to know there's at least one real teacher making decisions about education in Washington.

Mr. Walz has mixed feelings about NCLB:

When Mr. Walz speaks about No Child Left Behind, he balances his praise for the ideal of accountability with criticism of its testing provisions as too rigid. Mankato West, for instance, is considered out of compliance solely because several dozen special-education pupils out of a student body of 1,200 did not make “adequate yearly progress” on math.

But what inspires the congressman’s greater frustration is something subtler, that only a teacher would notice: How the emphasis on standardized tests has narrowed the intellectual range of teaching. He had to forgo the time-consuming studies of crime in St. Paul in favor of drilling students on state capitals. He had to reduce world history from a yearlong class to a four-week unit.

But I was really struck by his comment about his high school classroom:

“I can tell you for a fact,” Mr. Walz told the lingering students, “there have been far better debates held in rooms like this than on the floor of Congress.”

Maybe we ought to do something about that too. He's got my vote.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Goes Green

Well, he hasn't precisely done so yet. But if he does, you'll certainly notice. He has this habit of leaving the lights on all night in city buildings, even those that haven't opened yet. This is an odd revelation, particularly since Mr. Bloomberg just chided New Yorkers to pay 8 bucks for the privilege of driving through Manhattan.

Personally, I'd pay 8 bucks not to drive through Manhattan. Are you one of those people who, upon hearing there's a water shortage, leaves the shower on all night to test whether or not it's actually true? No? Then why on earth did you select this mayor?

The Education Department paid $172,000 in the most recent fiscal year for lighting, elevators, air conditioning and heating for the Court St. building.

If the department stopped running its lights at night, it would potentially save a third of that cost, or about $57,000 a year. The city could hire one new teacher at the average starting salary of $42,512 or two new cops at $25,000 each.

The still-vacant courthouse in the Bronx required $78,000 of electricity in February, said Paul Bergdorf, a spokesman for the state Dormitory Authority, which is constructing the courthouse for the city.

The city is paying for the building costs, including the electricity. Turning the lights off at night in February could have saved city taxpayers as much as $26,000.

Wow. Maybe we ought to take care of those things before we charge Queens residents 8 bucks to go to Manhattan. And maybe we should try hiring good teachers, reducing class sizes, and constructing decent facilities for the city's 1.1 million schoolchildren before we engage in draconian privatization schemes.

Or maybe we should just continue to ignore common sense and hope for the best.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thinking About a Charter Gig?

I just got an email from a charter school teacher. Two teachers at the school just found out their insurance lapsed. Apparently, the charter had only contracted the company until March.


They only discovered this when they got bills. Fortunately they had some money saved, as being on call for parents for hours after every work day pretty much precludes costly and wasteful social activity.

As Mayor Bloomberg moves toward charterizing public schools, with the explicit blessings of UFT President Randi Weingarten, perhaps your principal will one day choose and pay for your health plan too. Expect little growing pains like these.

After all, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

All New Carnival

Over at EdWonk's place. Open now.

Hurry before all the good seats are taken.

The Family that Sings Together...

On Saturday night, sadly, I was in New Jersey. While there, I met a mother of ten who travels with her husband and kids in a bus. One Sunday, she told me, they sang in a church and made more in tips than the husband had been making at his job. Now they sing at churches, radio stations, and basically anywhere they can.

The thing that stood out most about them, though (to me, at least), was that Mom is homeschooling the eight school-age kids. You'd think having ten kids wasn't a monumental task in itself. Mom also plays guitar in the band. Dad drives the bus, and walks around dressed like Colonel Parker. Or maybe Colonel Sanders.

I have a lot of respect for people who take on the task of homeschooling their kids. I have only one kid, and I don't think I'm up to it. In fact, when my daughter wanted to study the violin, I paid a teacher rather teach her myself. Perhaps it runs in the family--when a light fixture burned out in my grandparents' home, my grandfather, an electrician, famously instructed my grandmother, "Call an electrician."

My kid loves school. She would kill me, I'm sure, if I ever attempted to homeschool her. She's very social and thrives on interaction with her peers. These kids, however, have playmates all over the bus they call home. They seemed very happy to me.

That mom is my new hero. I couldn't do what she does in a million years.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Everything's Bigger in Texas

Maybe that's why a fourth grader felt the need to bring a grenade to his school.
"The boy wasn't mad at anyone," Cpl. Mike Bedrich of the Southlake Department of Public Safety told the media. "He just thought it would be cool to bring it to school."

Dallas CBS television station KTVT-TV was told that the child got the grenade as a souvenir from someone who had recently returned from Iraq.

Grenades as souvenirs? What ever happened to t-shirts?

Monday, April 23, 2007

How's About that Day Off?

Today might be a good day to ask your boss for a favor. After all, your AP just got a substantial compensation increase. On top of that, if Uncle Joel thinks they do a swell job, they can pocket a cool 25K above and beyond.

However, they might be a little cranky about that extra 15 minutes a day they agreed to put in. Also, they gave up the practice of bumping themselves into schools, much like the UFT did.

Under the proposed contract, the city will have to help find a position for any assistant principal left without an assignment, and offer a severance package or the opportunity to return to teaching to any assistant principal not offered a post. In addition to the general wage increases, every union member who is active in the school system as of June 27 this year will receive a lump sum payment of $4,000 in August.

Beats the hell out of 750 bucks. More importantly, they haven't given up nearly what UFT President Randi Weingarten presented to Mayor Bloomberg on a silver platter back in 2005. There's no hall patrol for APs. Nor have they agreed to 90 day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations. I see nothing about reforming grievance procedures to the city's advantage, or teaching extra classes.

Here's what my pal reality-based educator says:

I would assume this is a preview of our next crappy contract, minus the bonuses and lump sum payment. Basically 3.2% a year (not even a COLA) and more minutes (if APs are working 8 hours and 15 minutes, teachers can't remain at the 6 hour and 50 minute day, can they?)

A good leader would point out that these terms reflect the last rounds of negotiation, not the coming one. Unfortunately, our leader indulges in givebacks even when contracts are not being negotiated. Ms. Weingarten just agreed to Klein's funding plan, which, despite some cosmetic changes, plainly rewards principals for hiring lower-paid teachers.

I'm told that the New Action folks, before selling their souls for part-time union jobs, used to say, "Randi Weingarten never met a giveback she didn't like."

Where's that "On" Switch Again?

Out on the left coast, they're having a few computer glitches, and LA teachers are now in the unenviable position of having to sue their school district to get paid. It appears the 95 million dollar computer system needs to straighten out a few kinks before it's roadworthy.

Meanwhile, NYC is looking at a mere 80 million dollar system to track student progress. Now that appears kind of chintzy, particularly when compared with LA. But its potential is still impressive.

Will the class clown get that full scholarship to Harvard, despite his 45% average? Will the school valedictorian end up taking night classes at Queensborough Community College?

Will Chancellor Klein close Stuyvesant and Bronx Science for failing to meet standards? The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stop the Presses

Well, we don't actually have any presses, so perhaps that's overkill. But it appears that NYC Educator has been selected best education/ homeschooling blog of 2006 by Best of Blogs.

I want to thank everyone who voted, particularly a few friends from Staten Island who seem to have actually organized a campaign (too bad they weren't around for UFT elections). Also, thanks to Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes for the nomination.

Doubtless all are worthy, but I'd like to call attention to three of my very favorite blogs that were in the running: April May, Today's Homework, and California Teacher Guy. I don't miss 'em, ever, and neither should you.

Anyhow, thanks very much. The entire staff here at NYC Educator appreciates this.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Book

Ms. Lee and I are talking to a student about his cutting problem. He tells us he lives above a church and that his parents, out of the country, pay the church to take care of him. He then names a half-dozen kids I know, male and female, who are doing the same. It's clear this church's concept of remote parenting entails letting the kids do pretty much whatever the hell they please.

Ms. Lee is horrified.

"You have to watch them like a hawk, especially in this city," she tells me later. Ms. Lee's three kids have all gotten into elite NYC high schools. When she talks parenting, I always listen, hoping to stumble upon one of her secrets.

"Who's going to help these kids?" she asks. "Nobody, that's who."

"It's not just the obvious things, either," she continues. "You have to watch everything. One day my son came home and told me he wouldn't have to do science homework all year."

"Was he just lucky?" I ask.

"Not with me," she replies. "I went to the school and they told me they didn't have enough books, so he couldn't have one. They had given it to someone else."

"How did they decide who to give books to?"

"They told me my son was a good student. They said his partner really needed the book. You're punishing my son because he's smart, I told them. That's unacceptable. He'd better have a book this week, I said."

"What happened?"

"He got a book the next day. What are these kids gonna do without parents?"

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mr. Paige Loves Ms. Weingarten

Ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige has a new book. Naturally, I can't wait to hear what he has to say. The book is entitled The War Against Hope: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education.

Mr. Paige is widely known for presiding over the "Texas Miracle," which helped ex-Texas governor George W. Bush ascend to the presidency. Later, it was found that most of the miracle resulted from Mr. Paige having cooked the books to make dropouts magically disappear.

Mr. Paige's next great achievement was calling the NEA a terrorist organization. Sure, I too have often failed to see the distinction between mass murderers who blow up buildings and groups of people who teach our children.

Mr. Paige's last dance with President Bush occurred soon after he used federal funds to pay off journalists who promoted his programs. How does someone with such a history retain any influence whatsoever?

Still, Mr. Paige doesn't hate all union leaders.

The book actually praises the president of New York City's United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten. It says she is among those union leaders who "have exhibited the unique ability to achieve, or at least to strive to achieve, the proper balance between the interests of the public education system and the well-being of the union's members."

Mr. Paige perceives, correctly in my view, that Ms. Weingarten (who is not a socialist) is a new kind of union leader. Ms. Weingarten has no compunction about halving the prep time of her teachers. She has no problem punching holes in their seniority rights. Ms. Weingarten doesn't think twice about allowing NYC teachers to be suspended without pay based on unsubstantiated allegations. She doesn't hesitate to give back 20 years of hard-won gains, on a silver platter, in exchange for a compensation increase that fails to keep up with inflation.

And, of course, if she hadn't supported and enabled mayoral control, we wouldn't even be discussing the latest incarnation of Mayor Mike's reorganization. It appears after whatever tinkering she and Mr. Blomberg have done, senior teachers will be as unattractive as ever to prospective employers under the "open market" plan. Even after the changes they've made, principals have every incentive to hire only inexperienced teachers and hound them into quitting before five years pass. It appears Ms. Weingarten, once again, has opted for a quick fix while the city has demonstrated long-term vision.

Ms. Weingarten is a good friend of Mr. Paige and his ilk. The only problem is that leaves 80,000 teachers and 1.1 million children to fend for themselves. If you think Mr. Paige, or other guys who cook the books to dress up their results give a damn about teachers, parents, or the kids we serve, I have a bridge to sell you.

Thanks to Norm

Thursday, April 19, 2007

UFT Settles

I've just received an email from the UFT stating that they've come to an agreement about the latest edition of school reorganization.

I've also received a private email stating the May 9th rally would be "postponed." From the UFT:

UFT President Randi Weingarten said she still has qualms about some aspects of the reorganization. She said, "We believe in additional funds for the kids traditionally left behind, but not at the expense of schools that work. This agreement eliminates all the economic incentives to destabilize good schools."

The devil is in the details, though, and I haven't got them yet. Stay tuned.

Update: NY1 coverage is here.

A Stitch in Time

I was evaluating essays at a local college for placement in writing classes. One student wrote:

Guns are everywhere. Everyone has a gun. I have a gun.
I went to my supervisor, gave him the paper, and told him whatever he decided to do, I would not teach that student. I don't know what he did, but I never saw that student again.

I thought of that as I was listening to NPR, and they mentioned an English teacher who was alarmed by the writing of the young man who killed all those people in Virginia. First, apparently, he killed two people. He didn't begin the actual massacre for another two hours.

So what were they waiting for? Did they think that was that? Now, they say they were following a false lead, but that doesn't seem nearly sufficient.

Acquaintances, roommates and former professors described Cho as a young man so disturbed that dozens of students had avoided attending classes with him; that one professor had warned the campus authorities about him and in turn had been offered protection; and that another had threatened to quit unless he was removed from her class. Several students said they had been saddened but not surprised to learn that he was the killer.

So disturbed they avoided attending classes with him? It seems as though this young man was leaving red flags everywhere he treaded.

(Professor) Giovanni said Cho's behavior had been unnerving and that at one point it caused all but seven of her 70 students to shun class. She eventually told school officials that if they did not remove him from the class, she would quit.

But Cho's behavior, officials said Wednesday, simply had not risen to the level at which they could begin expulsion procedures or take other action.

It seems to take a disaster to bring substantive change. It makes me wonder what it will take before Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein drop their voodoo reforms. When are they going to bite the bullet and insist on good teachers, reasonably-sized classes, and decent facilities for the 1.1 million kids who attend public schools? How many years of mediocre performance and smokescreens will NYC residents accept, and what sort of disaster would it take to get Mayor Mike to do the right thing?

And what sort of disaster would it take before they stopped cramming kids into schools like sardines? My school has grown to 250+% capacity under the guidance of this mayor. God help us if there's a fire.

But that, apparently, is what it would take to make people stand up and take notice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Carnival of Education.... over at DY/Dan this week.

Mr. Klein's New Reform

NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has decided to simply dump the 10 regions that have been controlling the schools. In order to put more control in classrooms, he's going to give principals more choices "After all," pondered the chancellor, "who spends more time in classrooms than principals?"

A reporter started to say something about teachers, but inexplicably choked to death mid-comment.

The schools will spend somewhere between 30-150K a year to join whatever plan the principal sees fit. Hopefully, test scores will improve. If they do not, Mr. Klein plans to point his finger at the principals in question, who will slowly suffocate to death. "Light sabers are overrated," chuckled Mr. Klein, who opts for a personal touch whenever possible.

Assistant principals will be promoted on the spot to fulfill the duties of the departed.

Chancellor Klein expressed empathy for the concerns of teachers and parents, who were not consulted on the most recent reorganization. He assured us, however, that it would be more effective than previous reorganizations. "I know I said that about other reorganizations, he pointed out, "but this time I really mean it. "

The chancellor expressed regret that his efforts were not appreciated by parents.

"Think of all the times I don't point my finger and choke them to death. Think of all the times I don't make them wait for hours on freezing days for buses," he pointed out. "Do they ever thank me for that? Of course not."

Mr. Klein then muttered something under his breath, made some loud breathing noises, and headed off to a gala luncheon with the emperor.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Look

A few years back, my ESL class, capped at 25 by the state (which funded it) went above the city limit of 34. The principal called me into his office and suggested an idea.

He had a special ed. teacher with a hole in her schedule. She could "team teach" with me (meaning I would continue to teach the class, and she would sit there, full of team spirit). Her AP was there, and said, "She speaks Chinese."

"I don't want someone who speaks Chinese," I answered. "I want someone who speaks English."

Naturally, they didn't understand that at all. At the time, I only had 17 books for 35 kids (a Tweed observer, seeing them share the books, commended me on the "cooperative learning" in my classroom). I said I'd agree if the principal would buy me a class set (and I got one too, in slightly less than two years, with the threat of a grievance).

Anyway, the teacher turned out to know both Chinese and English. She was very smart, and very helpful. She graded tests for me and found the stupid mistakes I'd made on the key before I handed the tests back to the kids. She (unlike the administrators) understood I wanted only English spoken in my classroom, and set a good example for the kids. Also, she didn't hesitate to call the parents of Chinese speakers for me.

But the thing that really amazed me about this young teacher with precious little experience was her approach to questionable behavior. If a kid did something unacceptable, she'd just stand up and look the kid in the eye. Invariably, the kid would sit down, shut up, or do precisely whatever it was her look telegraphed.

I'm a pretty good disciplinarian, but my methods are relatively complicated and time-consuming. She just had to give them the look and everything was fine. If I could package that look I'm pretty sure I could put most ed. schools out of business.

Do you know anyone who has the look? What's the secret?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Twist My Arm

Ms. C. from Teach You a Lesson is learning about what it means to depend on the kindness of strangers. Her administrator agreed to suspend a student who assaulted her. That's her arm on the left.

Last I heard, assault was a criminal act. I don't have much sympathy for kids who assault their teachers (or vice-versa), misunderstood though they may be. Apparently, the administration is looking into a "more restrictive setting" for the young person who left her with that memento.

I suggested Rikers. Do you think that fits the bill? Ms. C. has a history already, and her administration's tepid responses have not seemed to help all that much.

When do you call the cops, even at the risk of muddying your administration's figures (or imperiling your principal's all-important merit-pay bonus)?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kids These Days

You mean if we tell kids not to do something, they might do it anyway?

I'm shocked. Maybe we oughta let 'em know about condoms, just in case.

...But I Play One on TV

There's an article in the NY Post today saying that Matthew Broderick, who played a teacher in Election, makes millions of dollars, while a real NYC teacher starts at 45K. I've been watching this story on the morning shows today as well.

I suspect the overwhelming majority of actors make considerably less than beginning teachers, particularly if you discount whatever they make as waiters or taxi drivers. If you're looking to make as much money as Jerry Seinfeld, education was a poor career choice. I hope you aren't teaching economics.

Maybe we'd all be better off forgetting about what celebrities earn. A better question might be whether your compensation increases keep up with inflation.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

On Reading

If you look at the latest issue of New York Teacher, you'll encounter a bold front-page headline:


Wow! Break out the champagne. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Let's see what the story says:

The headline proclaims:

Funds will provide meaningful reform

What is unmistakable amid the reams of detail is the victory for the UFT and parents working to shrink class sizes over the Department of Education’s strenuous objections. This budget requires New York City to reduce class sizes in all grades over the next five years to grade-by-grade averages set by the state education commissioner. UFT President Randi Weingarten called the provision a guarantee of “meaningful class size reform.”

Wow. A guarantee. And a meaningful one, too. I'm very impressed. But wait a minute. What's this? In the second column, I spy:

The legislation does build in some flexibility for Michael Bloomberg and future mayors by not specifying minimum target numbers the city must achieve or amount the city must spend on class-size reduction. The legislation also creates an enforcement mechanism, while at the same time protecting the city from lawsuits over class size by putting enforcement in the hands of the state education commissioner.

What's that? Could you speak a little louder, please? There's no minimum target number? There's no minimum amount on spending? The city is protected from lawsuits? Why would there even be lawsuits, since there are no minimum targets for anything whatsoever?

Let's look at the bottom of the page, and see what the law says:

Such plan shall include class size reduction for low performing and overcrowded schools and also include the methods to be used to achieve such class sizes, such as the creation or construction of more classrooms and school buildings, the placement of more than one teacher in a classroom or methods to otherwise reduce the student to teacher ration;

So let's see. If hizzoner cannot locate additional toxic waste sites on which to construct schools, if he continues closing school buildings, or using school-owned buildings for condos, if he continues to offer the best facilities in the city to charters run by billionaires, there are really some easy ways for him to meet this "meaningful" mandate.

For example, he could reduce class size from 34 to 33 (there are no minimum targets, after all), and place 66 kids in one classroom with two teachers. Consider, though, that this is the same mayor who insisted on 37.5 minute classes. He could reduce class size by .5, and place 67 kids in one classroom with two teachers. Or, he could reduce class size by .33, and place 101 kids in one classroom with three teachers.

Pretty soon some creative "reformer" will determine the extra adults should be paraprofessionals rather than teachers, so as to conserve valuable tax dollars needed to construct sports stadiums.

It's a win-win. Ms. Weingarten can loudly declare victory, and Mayor Mike can pretty much do whatever the hell he wishes, with no viable consequences whatsoever.

Say Cheese

The first time I was ever fingerprinted was when I became a teacher. They didn't test me too extensively, but they did check to make sure I wasn't a criminal.

They're not always that thorough with current employees. In New Jersey, they found one teacher convicted of child abuse, and two on drug charges. They also found 8 employees convicted of offenses that did not merit firing. Maybe a friendly neighborhood holdup, or one of those white-collar crimes where no one gets dirty.

Maybe we ought to check teachers' records periodically. I always knew there was a good reason I never considered living in Jersey (aside from the fact that every piece of mail I'd receive would say "New Jersey" on it).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Those Who Believe in Telekinetics, Raise My Hand

So said Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who just passed away at 84. Maybe you missed it in all the publicity over Imus.

Mr. Vonnegut wrote a novel called Mother Night, where he suggested being careful who you pretend to be--you may just become that person. That's probably happened to many of us, though it worked out more happily for me, for example, than for his protagonist.

In 1984 I walked into a Bronx classroom and pretended to be an English teacher. I didn't fool anyone. But soon thereafter, when the Board of Education made me teach music, I had an AP, a brilliant musician to boot, who told me, "Fake it until you make it."

Maybe it's not the most profound advice in the world, but under his guidance, I came to learn that I could control large groups of kids (music classes run to 50), and actually make them learn.

Now I'm a teacher, and I started by pretending. I wouldn't recommend this course to anyone. But it can be done, it probably happens more often than we think, and Vonnegut knew it. He also knew where society at large was headed when he wrote Player Piano in 1952. He wrote a great collection of short stories called Welcome to the Monkey House, notably including Harrison Bergeron and Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog.

I haven't read a Vonnegut book in years, since Jailbird. But I'm very sad to hear of his passing.

He may or may not be remembered for hundreds of years. But he's a hell of a lot more significant than Anna Nicole, Britany, or Imus. Next time the TV tells you about one of them, reach for one of his novels instead.

Rest in peace, Mr. Vonnegut.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Small School Principals Plan Strategy

"How do we deal with those nasty, time-consuming ESL students? I mean, they bring down your test scores, you have to give them three English classes instead of one, and the whole budget is shot by the time you're finished."

"Well, we could just not give them ESL classes. If the state comes snooping around, just make up a phony class and ask the teacher to sign the attendance sheets."

"But what if the teacher refuses?"

" Now this is just one more reason we need to get rid of teacher tenure. How are we going to get teachers to tow the line if we can't threaten them with dismissal?"

"Good point."

"What if we use those "small-group tutoring" sessions and make them classes?"

"Isn't that against the contract?"

"Contract-shmontract. Who's gonna find out? We'll dump it on some new teacher who doesn't know the difference."

"What if someone with experience finds out?"

"What, you hire people with experience? Are you nuts? Get 'em in green, and make sure they quit before they know any better."

"That's the ticket."

"Thank God for that 05 contract."


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wasn't Gonna Mention This But...

MSNBC has canceled the simulcast of Imus in the Morning.

I think I stopped listening to Imus 20 years ago. I plan to continue not listening to his radio show, but now I suppose I won't need to bother not watching his TV show.

The Carnival of Education... up at The Education Wonks right now.


I've written about good teachers and bad teachers before, but I stumbled across this site where real live kids offer their opinions. To me, they seem very reasonable.

It appears the worst kind of teacher, from a kid's-eye-view, is the one who doesn't care about kids:

My 6th grade teacher liked to start off his lesson by publicly humiliating the students who'd made mistake on their homework assignments. He'd then give us an activity to do for the lesson and rather than teach us or even explain the activity to us, he'd sit in the back of the room and read comics.

I often wonder why that sort of person would choose to be a teacher, yet I've seen many such people grace the ancient wooden chairs that fill our fair city.

Good teachers, according to these comments, are the ones who care, who take time to explain, who have passion for what they teach, and who, often as not, can manage to amuse while teaching.

Well, I think the most important quality a teacher should have is a real, visible passion for the subject they teach. Honestly, in my experience, even if you have a teacher that isn't that likeable a person, it's still hard not to have a good time in their class if they get excited about the subject. That excitement is just catching.

It sort of behooves us to love what we teach, otherwise why on earth did we choose to teach it? I love English, I love books, and every book I force my hapless kids to read is one that I love. I don't actually demand that they love it too, as long as they read it.

I don't believe in doing cutesy activities just for the sake of making them cutesy, but as much as I hate math, I fully expect good math teachers to love it. That's their tough luck, they chose math, and now they have no choice.

What makes a good or bad teacher? Are the kids right? Are they out of their minds? Well, of course they are. As kids, that's more or less their job.

Still, you have to wonder--what do they say about us?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Addresses the Facts

Mayor Mike claims his critics favor a return to "failure, indifference and paralysis." Those are things of the past, claims hizzoner. Consider how things have changed. What about the unqualified success of charter schools? What about his record of achievement?

To buttress his position, Mayor Mike appeared with a completely impartial group of those who understand common sense:

...the group was composed of many people who also have business dealings with the school system, including two former Education Department officials, leaders of nonprofit organizations that are helping to run schools and high-profile donors who have given millions to support the mayor’s work.

That ought to make it perfectly clear his critics lack the vision to privatize public schools. None of them are willing to construct public schools on contaminated sites while concurrently giving Randall's Island to private schools in a sweetheart deal. Which of them would devote a former school building to new condos while sending public school kids to study in brownfields? How many of them have the vision to close schools in the face of unconscionable overcrowding?

Which of them would jail a thirteen-year-old girl for writing on a desk? And which of them has the courage to blatantly fudge statistics, so as to improve the dropout rate?

But the worst of it was when he went after UFT President Randi Weingarten. Ms. Weingarten supported and enabled mayoral control, gave up guaranteed placement for senior teachers, sent every working teacher back to the lunchroom forever, gave away the UFT transfer plan, allowed her members to be suspended for 90 days based on unsubstantiated allegations, and did all that and more for less than cost of living.

Mayor Mike needs to stop criticizing Ms. Weingarten. Instead, he should place her statue on the dashboard of his limo.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Watching Our Figures

Now I hated gym class, every minute of it. But I went every day, to hear the dulcet tones of my ex-drill sergeant, shaved headed, constantly screaming musclebound teacher announce, "Get down and give me 20," or "Give me 6 laps," or some equally unwelcome instruction.

Out in Lansing, Michigan, those lucky kids are only getting 40 minutes a week. But some spoilsports are claiming that because of the rise in childhood diabetes and obesity, that's just not enough.

"Nobody is looking at fitness scores - they're not on the front page of the paper..."

"The only way to make sure that physical education stays is to mandate it."

Right now they only have a single wandering part-time gym teacher for all the Lansing schools. And that's easy on the school budget.

"If we added extra hours, he would have to be in one building," she said. " We would have to hire him full time."

That could mean benefits, and tenure, and all sorts of inconvenience. And it would probably mean hiring people for those other buildings too. Is there any way for those unfortunate folks in Lansing to show they value physical activity without hiring that old gym teacher?

I mean, it's not like the guy is gonna improve test scores or anything.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Blessed Event?

It's a mixed blessing if you're Heather Zampogna, from Gastonia, NC. Ms. Zampogna was called into her supervisor's office and asked when she was planning to marry the baby's father (who happened to work in the same building). Here's what happens to an unmarried pregnant woman who doesn't produce a timely and satisfactory answer in Gastonia in 2007:
Zampogna...was moved to a tutoring position at another school, where she worked in a trailer without running water or a bathroom. She left in November to teach at a school in Mecklenburg County. Her daughter was born June 30.
The baby's father was not compelled to move, or demoted like Ms. Zampogna, but he did request a transfer. North Carolina is a "right to work" state, so the union, if indeed there is one, is probably toothless, flea-bitten, and using a walker. Ms. Zampogna is pursuing a lawsuit.

Are your marriage plans any business of your employer?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Mr. Blomberg's Integrity Is Called Into Question

Despite Mayor Mike's personal assurances that contaminated land is good enough for New York City schoolchildren, a group of uppity lawyers is taking him to court, simply because he failed to live up to cleanup recommendations.

The organization claims the city has failed to live up to a deal to adhere to recommendations made by an environmental consultant for the $235 million plan.

Mayor Mike's rep says it's "unconscionable" to object to the current plan, as the city and state say it's good enough for public school kids. Next, they'll be asking them to build schools on Randall's Island. Though Randall's Island doesn't happen to be contaminated, it's earmarked for private school kids. It's a well-known fact that private school kids are more sensitive than public school kids, and more susceptible to contamination.

Furthermore, the deep pockets of their parents can make for longer and more protracted lawsuits.

Good Sub, Bad Sub

After the remarkable story of 81-year-old sub Arnold Blume, I knew it was a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.

On the other extreme, out there in subland, is the Cleveland teacher who silenced noisy children by fastening clothespins round their oral cavities. Furthermore, it's likely she wasn't even using the workshop model.

I think if you're going that route, you may as well do the whole routine with a leather mask and handcuffs. Clothespins are kind of tacky if you ask me. Of course, I'm a lifelong New Yorker, and people from Cleveland might just see things differently.

See also: The Education Wonks

Friday, April 06, 2007

No Pain, No Gain

Is your kid spending the week doing 750 thousand math problems?

Last February, I took my family out of state for a week, and didn't realize that my daughter had a stack of projects to do. She spent her last weekend of vacation catching up, and did a pretty awful job too. It may have been my fault, as it didn't even occur to me to ask about homework before dragging her out of town (She went willingly, actually).

But a young Stuyvesant High School student has taken a stand for her, and for students all over the country. No more assigning projects that take up every spare minute of the free time we give our kids. I think that's reasonable. On any given day, I'll give homework that reinforces what I taught that day, and it'll usually take kids 15-30 minutes to complete. On the day before vacation, I give one day's homework. That's it (Of course, that's often the day I make phone calls to let parents know how their kids are doing, so not all my students are happy with me).

Should kids get heavy projects over vacation?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ms. Weingarten's Strategy Pays Off

UFT President Randi Weingarten has decided to shed the stigma of old-time union boss. After all, if her good buddy Hillary takes the White House, she could be the next US Secretary of Education. And if that doesn't pan out, she could just take the AFT presidency. As her two Unity predecessors have demonstrated, running the UFT is just a part-time job anyway.

It's a photo op here, a limo ride there, and in Ms. Weingarten's case, sign any damn contract that comes down the pike. All the better if it cuts prep time in half, adds an extra class, and makes teaching more difficult, as that shows how contemporary and open-minded she is.

To that end, she's committed NYC's teachers to perpetual hall patrol, six daily classes, hobbled seniority rights, instituted 90-day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations, August attendance (for no reason whatsoever), and she refrains from making any nasty demands for raises, let alone increases that keep up with inflation.

Naturally, the Daily News and the New York Post lauded this agreement. Ms. Weingarten's Unity hacks asked what the tabloids would say if we didn't agree (Oh, no, Rupert Murdoch might not like us). Today's News features a column by Joe Williams (of The Chalkboard) which lays it out fairly well:

It is time to put to rest the tired notion that what is best for union bosses is also what is best for students, teachers and schools.

You see that? Ms. Weingarten showed how open-minded she was by giving away the sun, the moon and the stars, and now (according to those who pimped the contract) the media adores her (and us, the teachers, as well).

What else does Mr. Williams demand? More charters, so working people (the kind kids become when they grow up) can put in 6-day 200 hour weeks like they do over at KIPP. More charters, so more teachers can be fired for mentioning unions, or for no reason whatsoever (and if you don't believe they want that, look at how charter supporters rail against card check and unionization under the plainly idiotic pretense of granting free choice to teachers, as though union reps held an even remote portion of the power employers did).

More charters, so public schools can be drained of kids with proactive parents and, with the mayoral control Ms. Weingarten supported and enabled, perhaps one day be eliminated altogether.

I want to congratulate Ms. Weingarten on her foresight. As I read Mr. Williams' column, and the various editorials that have appeared in the News and the Post, I can see precisely how much the tabloids appreciated her massive and unprecedented givebacks.

It's a win-win (unless you happen to be a public school teacher or student).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Working Class Heroes

There's a great story in today's Times about a very successful substitute teacher. 81-year-old Arnold Blume seems to make history come alive for kids at Great Neck High School, largely by having experienced it. Kids, apparently, look forward to having Mr. Blume cover their classes.

I'm highly impressed by that, being one of the worst substitute teachers I've ever known. I just write whatever the teacher asks on the board (if indeed the teacher leaves anything) and hope for the best. If anyone gives me a hard time I call security and have them removed, which I'd never do in my own classes. But why bother personally disciplining kids I won't see tomorrow?

Subbing is really very hard, I think, and I doubt very much I'll be among those who come back to sub after retirement. There are a few blogs from brave souls who sub regularly, notably Mr. Lawrence and this new guy on the block. You've gotta respect these folks. Next to the special ed. teachers, perhaps, they've got the roughest jobs in the school.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Carnival of Education.... up right now at Getting Green.

Mr. Bloomberg Defends Parents

Mayor Mike is deeply, deeply upset that the charter cap has been raised. Though it's what he wanted, it's not how he wanted it. Why wasn't there a clause in the mayoral control agreement giving the mayor what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it, and as much of it as he wants?

That's what parents want, says Mayor Mike, who's single-handedly halted ballot referendums to lower class size (parents didn't want them, apparently).

There will be 50 more charters here in fun city, but in order to avoid hiring union employees, they will have to keep enrollment below 250 each. I've read elsewhere that they'll have to keep enrollment at this level for the first two years (and then they can avoid unions altogether).

This is a terrible inconvenience for Mayor Mike. Even though the UFT has repeatedly shown itself willing to toss aside the rights of working teachers, and even though it's bought into his "more work for less pay" philosophy, Mayor Mike wants all schools to be able to fire teachers just for the heck of it, no matter how many students they may have. But UFT President Randi Weingarten knows such an arrangement could result in fewer duespayers (and less money, therefore, for patronage).

Still, Mayor Mike is not to be dissuaded. He wants the freedom to offer the best facilities in the cities to billionaires, and right to fire teachers for even mentioning unions to their co-workers.

It's crucial that kids have the freedom to attend charter schools where their teachers can be fired for no reason whatsoever. That way, they can get a fine education, grow up, and get fired from jobs of their own for no reason whatsoever.

That's what parents want, says Mayor Mike.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What Possible Motivation Would I Have?

Let's say you have a government program that costs, oh, a billion dollars a year. Let's say it needs to be evaluated. Who are you gonna call?

Well, in the case of the Reading First program, we seem to have hired the company that set it up in the first place. After all, who knows better than they what's going on? Sure, there have been accusations of corruption, but a company wouldn't lie to protect its own interests, would it?

Let's rejoice that cynicism has not infected those who determine what is and is not good for our children. After all, why would we give them all that money in the first place if we didn't trust them?

I'm reminded of the old Hair Club for Men commercial--"Why would I lie to you? I am the president of the company."

Thanks to reality-based educator

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Due to lack of interest, Apathy Day has been cancelled until further notice.