Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Superbug In Schools

Brooklyn middle-schooler Omar Rivera died last week after contracting the MRSA bacteria that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics, including methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

Three other New York City public school children have contacted the drug-resistant superbug.

These children attend Public School 3 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, PS 101 in Bensonhurst, and PS 48 in Washington Heights respectively.

In addition, a female freshman at St. John's University has contracted the bacteria.

An estimated 94,360 people had a serious MRSA infection in 2005. 18,650 died. The bacteria is mostly contracted in hospitals and other medical settings but is becoming increasingly common in schools and other places not historically linked to MRSA bacterial infections.

Mayor Bloomberg, with his usual flair for the personal touch, told people fears about their children contracting the bacteria in public schools are "misplaced" and said that schools are doing everything to keep children safe:

"We do not think that this is an epidemic, and there's certainly no reason to keep your child at home," Bloomberg said.

I dunno about your school, but as far as I can tell, nothing special has been done at my school as a precaution.

The custodians, never the hardest working people in the building (although they are the hardest partying, as the scent of fresh alcohol that emanates from most of them attests), seem to be doing the usual stuff (like ducking out of the building for a quick 40-ouncer, hitting on the same three female staff members who seem to welcome the attention, snarling whenever you ask them to add soap or paper towels to the men's room) and not much else.

So perhaps Mayor Bloomberg is right to say that any fears you may have about you or your kids contracting the MRSA bacteria in schools are "misplaced," but my experience in the public school system has taught that a) few places are dirtier than a school building and b) few places are cleaned less than a school building.

Now I keep hand sanitizer in my classroom and I use it often during the day. I sanitize before I eat and I try not to touch my face or eyes while I'm working.

Since I see hundreds of people per day as part of my job, I just figure it's good policy to try and stay as clean as I can.

I do this because I don't want to catch a cold, not because I have great fears about contracting MRSA.

Nonetheless, the more I educate myself about MRSA and the more I listen to the mayor tell me about what schools are doing to protect students and teachers from contracting the bacteria, the more hand sanitizer I'm using.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Imperial Principal

The side-effects of mayoral control are many. While a lot of people, including UFT President Randi Weingarten, thought it was a great idea to reject checks and balances, it's questionable whether this has benefited teachers. One undeniable consequence of Mr. Bloomberg's "reform" agenda was placing more power in the hands of principals.

In fact, principals can apparently dump entire departments into the rubber room nowadays. You don't like that Spanish department? Are they playing with castanets when they're supposed to be utilizing the workshop model? Are they arrogantly using words you don't understand? Those bastards.

Even if you can't sustain the charges, at least you get rid of them for a few years. They won't even know what you charged them with for months on end. Some of them will be so forlorn from sitting in the room that they could resign. And by the time they come back, perhaps you yourself will have retired.

And if they do get out early, you can always just send 'em back. It's not like the high-stakes tests that determine your merit pay bonuses are in Spanish. Who the hell do they think they are with all those accent marks and squiggly lines anyway?

Thanks to Schoolgal

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Teacher as Processed Sandwich

Isn't it odd when four years in, you find yourself the senior teacher at your grade level? Perhaps not, in New York City. There's not a whole lot of sense of continuity, and perhaps that's par for the course nowadays. But what happens when you're stuck in such a place? Ask Jules from Mildly Melancholy:

I have no friends at school, I have no trusted colleagues to talk to about my teaching, I don't feel like I'm a valued member of the department, I don't feel like I am an important part of the school community.

This doesn't bode well for teacher retention. Now folks like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and UFT President Randi Weingarten pay lip service to teacher retention, like class size reduction, but rather than address it, they focus on "reforms" that reduce prep time, eviscerate seniority privileges, and pile on extra work. Oddly enough, the theory that teachers leave because the work is too easy and the pay too high does not appear to hold water, and worsening working conditions does not make teachers want to stay:

I've been pondering next year for weeks already. This good year with the kids is encouraging, but I'm exhausted by all the internal change at my school--everything has changed, yet things remain the same. And I think it's going to be time for me to be the new blood. The West is calling...

And unfortunately, the cookie-cutter "reforms" imposed by Bloomberg and tacitly approved by Weingarten do not appear to encourage teachers like Ms. Malarkey:
When BloomKlein took over and Balanced Literacy became the law, our literature anthologies and class sets of novels were taken away.

Can you imagine such a thing? Taking away novels and literature so as to impose a particular methodology? Taking away the teacher's choice as to what kids will read? How can you make kids love reading when you're prohibited from sharing literature you love? What happens when you take such options away from conscientious teachers?
I’ve begun to ask myself how much longer I can do this. I suspect that the more frustrated I get, the less effective I am as a teacher. After more than ten years in the city, I’ve finally started to ask myself if it’s worth shelling out a small fortune in gas money to come here.

This, actually, is precisely the sort of thinking the mayor and the chancellor revel in. The more of us leave, the less they have to spend on teacher pensions. They've just reaped a bonanza by taking back 1.85% of teacher salaries for pensions, and it's highly likely they'll keep the majority of these funds, while frustrated would-be teachers head for the hills.

Clearly experience is not valued. A recent agreement between Weingarten and Bloomberg allows entire faculties to be disbanded, with 50% of said faculties dumped into the demoralizing, dehumanizing ATR brigade--anything to discourage and dissuade people from making it to their pensions, thus diverting funds which could be used for sports stadiums.

The picture above is not a real rib. Real ribs take time. It's some sort of processed McDonald's food product painted with barbecue sauce and made to look like a rib. In Texas they call such things faux-Q. Fake ribs and disposable teachers are becoming all the rage.

I don't take my kid to McDonald's, and I don't want her to have McTeachers either. We owe our teachers better, and more importantly, we owe our kids better.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Sunday, October 28, 2007

No Lobbyist Left Behind

The NY Daily News reports today that Mayor Bloomberg's top aides were aggressively lobbied by former Bloomberg aide Anthony (Skip) Piscitelli just days after Piscitelli left city government to join the city's most influential lobbying firm, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker.

The Daily News spent six months investigating Piscitelli's lobbying of pending legislation for clients that included the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Bankers Association of New York, a racetrack partnership called Excelsior Racing Association, a taxi company and the League of American Theaters and Producers.

They found that Piscitelli had at least 127 email contacts with members of the mayor's staff lobbying on behalf of his clients.

Piscitelli received $697,000 this year from those clients for his lobbying efforts.

Piscitelli - who often referred to Mayor Bloomberg only by his initials MRB in his communications with Bloomberg's aides - says in one email the Daily News obtained that the goal of lobbying the city is always to get to the "right people" to gain advantage for your lobbying clients.

He sure got to the right people in the Bloomberg administration:

City officials are strictly prohibited from lobbying their former colleagues for a year after leaving public service, but Anthony (Skip) Piscitelli started up days after leaving city government in November, internal e-mails The News obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

The e-mails reveal that Piscitelli gained unusually free access to the top levels of the Bloomberg administration, especially to his former boss, Kevin Sheekey, deputy mayor for governmental affairs and Bloomberg's top political adviser.


At one point, while discussing with Sheekey a campaign to keep tax loopholes in place for bankers, Piscitelli even paraphrases "The Godfather," stating, "Never let someone outside the family know what you're thinking."

Kevin Sheekey, btw, is the political genius behind Mayor Bloomberg's independent 2008 presidential bid. Other Bloomberg aides involved in Piscitelli's lobbying efforts include the mayor's director of operations Jeffrey Kay and the deputy mayor for economic development Daniel Doctoroff.

The mayor's spokesman claims nothing wrong occurred between Piscitelli and the mayor's top aides, but the Bloomberg administration nonetheless referred the Daily News stories to the city's Conflicts of Interest Board.

Now I don't know if Piscitelli actually had any influence on Bloomberg's positions on legislation affecting Piscitelli's clients, but I do know that he got access for his clients that you or I wouldn't have gotten.

I'm sure this kind of access happens at all levels of government all of the time. That's why they have laws that restrict lobbying by former government employees for a period of time after they leave government.

I do know one thing, however. The mayor is planning to run for the White House in '08 as a fresh, independent, non-political politician who can get things done and will change the cozy "business as usual" environment of corruption that afflicts much of Washington D.C .

But ironically the Bloomberg political aide who helped develop that Bloomberg campaign theme, Kevin Sheekey, is also the aide former Bloomberg lobbyist Piscitelli went to most when he wanted illegal lobbying access to the Bloomberg administration.

If the mayor makes good on his threat to run in '08, the press better take a closer look at the Bloomberg campaign's claims that Moneybags will change "business as usual" in Washington since it seems the Bloomberg administration seems to work just the way so many politicians in Washington do.

While they're at it, they ought to take a look at the bank accounts of the mayor's top aides too.

Just because they work for a billionaire doesn't mean they don't pay to play.

Ms. Weingarten on the Air

This morning on channel 7 UFT President Randi Weingarten was interviewed. Toward the end of the interview, she was asked, "What's next for Randi Weingarten?" Ms. Weingarten replied, "I won't say no again if I'm asked to do something else."

Since Ms. Weingarten has now publicly promised to do what she is asked, what else would you like her to do?

Remember, she's publicly agreed not to say no. Now I admit this blog has often been critical of Ms. Weingarten. But in all fairness, it's refreshing to see her publicly admit she does what she's told.

So go ahead and tell her.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bull@#$% Market

If you were just paying attention to the financial markets and the official government statistics, you would surely think the American economy is zooming.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the week at 13,806, just a few of hundred points off an all-time high. The S&P 500 Index finished the week at 1535, just 60 points off its all-time high. The Nasdaq is nowhere near an all-time high, but it did finish the week at 2804, the highest level since the crash of 2000-2001.

With the the Federal Reserve set to cut its benchmark interest rate next week by either a quarter or a half point, the equity markets are sure to go even higher in the near-term.

The government says unemployment remains well under 5% and core inflation (inflation stripped of food and energy costs) is running at 1.9%.

Wow - everything is great!!! We've got low inflation, low unemployment, relatively low interest rates that are set to go even lower, and the financial markets are near all-time highs!!!!

What a great economy!!!

And yet a new LA Times/Bloomberg News poll finds that 2/3rds of Americans are very sour on the economy and expect a recession within the next year. That finding jibes with an August Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that also found 2/3rds of Americans believe the nation is either in a recession or soon will be in one.

Both polls found Americans have little-to-no confidence in political leaders in either party, in corporate heads in the financial, energy, insurance or real estate industries, or in Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to handle future economic crises. Many Americans feel they are getting screwed as they have to work longer and harder to make less, but pay more for the things they need like food, housing and gas. As Journal/NBC News pollster Peter Hart said:

"There's a combination of anxiety and loathing," Mr. Hart said. "There's a sense that every single one of these institutions is totally out for their own betterment, versus the public they serve."

What's going on here that so many Americans can be so pessimistic about the future and gloomy about the direction of the economy while unemployment and inflation are so low and the financial markets are doing so well?

The answer lies in two rarely stated truths:

The first is that the economic gauges/numbers the government uses to measure unemployment, inflation, home sales and the like are rigged and manipulated to make conditions look better than they really are.

The second is that Wall Street doesn't need the people on Main Street to be doing well financially to do well itself. In fact, Wall Street tends to do better when people on Main Street are getting screwed (for example, watch what happens to a stock when a company announces lay-offs or wage cuts; also watch what happens to stocks when the government announces consumer debt has increased and savings decreased...)

Let's take a look at the first rarely stated truth - they're funking with the numbers to make things look better.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count people as unemployed if they are not working for pay and have no interest in finding a job. Homemakers, some retirees, incarcerated people and students fit this description and since they are not willingly looking for work, it is apt.

But BLS also does not count workers who have stopped looking for work because they cannot find any or because they cannot find any that they are willing to take. Middle-aged workers who have lost their jobs to downsizing or outsourcing constitute a fair amount of the kinds of workers who are unemployed but are not counted in the unemployment stats because they are no longer looking for work. Almost certainly, unemployment numbers would be higher were workers who have lost good paying jobs but refuse to stock shelves at Walmart or sling coffee at Starbucks counted in the statistics.

Another problem with using the unemployment rate to measure the overall health and wellness of the economy is that it only measures whether people are working, not whether they are working and making good pay.

The American economy has seen a steady erosion of good-paying manufacturing and tech jobs over the last seven years due to outsourcing, downsizing and other factors. Many of those good-paying jobs have been replaced with lower-paying service jobs. While it is technically correct to say that the country has replaced lost jobs with new ones, is it correct to say that a lower-paying job in the service sector is equal to a better-paying manufacturing or tech job?

No wonder Americans are feeling so insecure about the future. Many worry that they will reach middle age and lose their jobs to downsizing or outsourcing. They worry that they will have to take a lower-paying job that lacks benefits just to make a paycheck every week. They worry that just because they give their loyalty to a company doesn't mean they won't be part of a corporate downsize or exercise in belt-tightening. Yet, this anxiety is not measured by in the official stats.

The way the government calculates the inflation rate is also particularly deceptive. The government looks at two measures of inflation - headline inflation (the rate at which the cost of living is rising) and core inflation (the rate at which the cost of living is rising minus food and energy costs, which are considered volatile and subject to rapid fluctuations.)

When you see a headline in the paper or hear a talking head on TV say "Inflation is in check," they are talking about the headline inflation numbers. Currently, headline inflation is in check - the cost of clothes, computers, electronics, cars, even houses are rising at a very low annual rate of inflation. In some cases, prices are actually falling (housing in many markets, for instance.)

Now if you were able to live by just purchasing clothes, computers, electronics, cars, et al., you could say that inflation is pretty much in check. But you can't. You need food and energy and that's where inflation is really increasing. Currently oil is at $91.86 a barrel and expected to go even higher after the Federal Reserve cuts rates next week. The price of oil has gone from $18 a barrel in 2001 to near $92 now, an increase of more than 510% over that time period. While the increase in oil prices hasn't filtered through to gas prices at the station pumps yet, it will soon enough. The all-time high for oil, adjusted for inflation, was $101.70 dollars and it came in 1980. We are less than 10 bucks away from breaking that record in 2007.

Food prices are also up over the last year. While the price of corn has fallen since the summer, wheat, soybeans, coffee, and livestock are either at highs for the year or near highs for the year. When I went to the farmers' market this week to buy produce, the prices of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and fruit were all up - in some cases as much as 50%-75%.

It is dishonest to measure inflation stripped of food and energy costs and declare inflation under control. And yet, that is how the Federal Reserve looks at it. Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin said this week that inflation measures that exclude food and energy costs are a "better guide'' to underlying changes in prices because they strip out volatility. Part of the increase in food prices is due to higher energy costs, of course - it costs more to produce food and transport items - but since oil has been on a long, steady climb since 2001, it's not as if anybody should expect energy costs to decrease soon and cause wild fluctuations in prices. The price of energy has gone all one way - up.

The only reason to publicize the core inflation numbers over the headline numbers is because they look better. But people who buy food and use energy know better.

One last piece of data that the government manipulates that I'd like to look at is the new home sales numbers. This week the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development released new home sales for September 2007. The government reported that new home sales increased by an annual rate of 4.8% from the previous month. The news media, particularly the business press, wasted no time in hitting the news wires with stories like "Has Real Estate Hit A Bottom?" and "New Homes Sales Rebounding," but as Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture noted on his blog, the increase in new home sales for September needs some context to be truly understood.

First, the July and August home sales numbers were revised downward, making the increase in September sales marginal at best.

Second, year-over-year new home sales were down 23.3% from September 2006 to September 2007 (margin of error 8%, therefore statistically significant)

Third, the margin of error for the 4.8% September increase in new homes sales was 10.3%, making the increase statistically insignificant.

Fourth, new homes sales are subject to major revisions in coming months - July and August, for instance, were both revised downward. September's sales contain some questionable stats (38% increase in new homes sales out West, for example) and if those numbers are revised downward as expected in coming months, September new homes sales will actually have decreased.

Finally, cancellations of new homes sales are not calculated in the statistics. As Barry at The Big Picture notes, cancellations of new home sales are huge:

Cancellation rate for Quarter
Centex (CTX) 35%
MDC Holdings (MDC) 57%
KB Homes (KBH), 50%
Lennar Homes (LEN) 32%
D.R. Horton (DHI) 48%
Beazer Homes (BZH) 68%
NVR (27%)

Add all this together and you can see that the real estate market for new homes is not getting better. Yet how would you know this unless you dig deep into the stats for the context? You certainly cannot count on the veracity of the government stats or the news media to provide the context for you.

As for existing home sales, they were released on Tuesday and they were dismal. Sales of previously occupied homes in September dropped 19% from the same month a year ago and The Wall Street Journal's quarterly survey of housing-market conditions in 28 major U.S. metropolitan areas showed that inventories of unsold homes are still rising in most areas, prices are falling and overdue loan payments are piling up.

Take a look at the default rate in California to get a good idea of where things stand in the housing market:

Remember that many of these mortgages that are in default are backing bonds owned by investors, hedge funds, pension funds, etc. Just yesterday, Moody's downgraded $33 billion dollars in CDO's (collateralized debt obligations) backed by sub-prime mortgages to junk bond status (some of these CDO's were rated as high as AAA, but today they're garbage.)

As defaults and foreclosures continue to increase and problems in the mortgage industry spread (and they will - see this Associated Press article from today for some reasons why), you can expect even more CDO's backed by sub-prime, Alt A and even some prime mortgages to be relegated to junk status. Yet so far, investors on Wall Street have chosen to focus on the coming Fed interest rate cuts and continue to bid up the financial markets.

Apparently only the people on Main Street are worried about the economy.

And they should be. Because Wall Street does not care one whit for how people on Main Street are doing. So long as the people on Main Street are kinda employed, paying their credit cards and mortgages on time, and continuing to fuel the economy with consumer purchases, Wall Street is happy.

Which brings me to my second rarely stated truth: Wall Street does better financially when Main Street is not doing so well.

70% of the U.S. GDP comes from consumer purchases. Corporate profits are clearly driven by the people on Main Street. But Wall Street doesn't really care if the people on Main Street can actually afford the consumer purchases they are making, just so long as they are making them and making their credit card bills. It's only when bankruptcies and defaults start to rise that Wall Street worries. And then, they can always count on the politicians in Washington to rewrite the bankruptcy laws or come to the rescue with a government-sponsored bail-out to save investors from harm.

And as I said earlier, there is no better move a company can make then downsize its workforce if it wants its stock price to increase. Countrywide Financial saw it stock rise 32% yesterday despite the problems in the housing and mortgage industries primarily because they have promised large job cuts and increased productivity in the next quarter. Boston Scientific, plagued by weak sales and debt problems, saw its stock rise after it announced thousands of lay-offs last week. Circuit City laid off 3,400 hundred "overpaid" employees back in March of this year in order to cut costs and make Wall Street happy. It didn't work - Circuit City stock has plunged since then - but the move often works for most other corporations.

Lay-offs are great for Wall Street, not so good for Main Street.

Crushing levels of debt are also bad for individuals but good for investors. This is why the housing boom of the last few years was so good to Wall Street. Investors were happy to see many Americans refinance their home mortgages to adjustable rates in order to splurge on home improvements, vacations, or cars. Wall Street likes it when people borrow money in order to spend money. So does Washington. Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan urged homeowners to switch to adjustable rate mortgages and of course President Bush famously told America it was their patriotic duty to go shopping after 9/11.

But the results of all this spending are very, very bad. Currently the total credit card debt of all Americans is equal to 100% of GDP. Total credit market debt (credit card debt, car loan debt, mortgages, government debt, etc.) is equal to almost 325% of GDP. The savings rate in this country is negative (and has been for a while.) The dollar is at an all-time low against a host of foreign currencies. We are financing two foreign wars completely with borrowed money (adding $1-$2.4 trillion dollars in government debt.)

We are a nation of debtors living on borrowed money and borrowed time. At some point, these debts will come due, but we do not have the money or strength of currency to pay them.

And yet, if you were just looking at the official government stats and the state of the financial markets, you'd think all is well.

To which I say - bull@#$%.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

A lot of GOP faithful are regularly disappointed as their candidates march around the country, promising an end to Roe v. Wade and constitutional amendments against flag-burning. Year after year, they fail to deliver on these promises, but deliver only tax breaks for the rich and super rich and war. And while it's true of my GOP friends will passionately defend these tax breaks and wars, the fact is they never really receive what they're promised.

I know how they feel, because my union, year after year, promises smaller class size. They're even willing to publicly declare victory when a piece of obviously toothless legislation promises to reduce by a fraction of a student per class, with no consequences for failure to deliver even that. Year after year, they promise to do something about the conditions in schools. But what do they deliver?

Well, this year they've delivered a merit pay program that promises to have little or no effect on anyone or anything. The newspapers herald Michael Bloomberg as a visionary who gets things done against enormous odds, and Randi Weingarten as a "reform-minded" union leader. Still, my school's at 250% capacity and the class size of 34, the highest in the state, is routinely violated.

In fact Ms. Weingarten visited my school one day to point out the unconscionable overcrowding. What was the result? Nothing whatsoever, in fact. Sure, she looked good standing there talking. But when push came to shove she did nothing. And she couldn't even get the 25/55, purchased with the worst contract in our history, without ceding something extra to the mayor and blatantly screwing the new teachers she claims to worry about retaining (who will have their salaries cut, despite an overwhelming possibility they'll never receive the pensions they're being compelled to pay for).

And what happens? Mayor Bloomberg loudly proclaims victory (and why not, since a good part of teacher salaries will now support much-needed stadium seating). Ms. Weingarten declares victory (and why not, since as a "reform-minded" union leader, everyone knows she's bound for greener pastures).

Another win-win, for everyone but the teachers, the kids, and the parents.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Watch Out, New Yorkers

Vice President Dick Cheney is going to do some hunting up in the Hudson Valley this weekend.

Just The Facts

City Comptroller Bill Thompson says he's not so sure Mayor Moneybags' education reforms have helped the New York City public school system.

Thompson, a potential mayoral candidate in 2009 and a former Board of Education member, said "It's kind of undecided as to whether there's been major improvement," when asked if schools are better now that Moneybags and Klein have instituted their education reforms.

Mayor Moneybags hasn't wasted any time firing back at Thompson:

"It's pretty hard to argue with the graduation rates up 20%, math scores up 20%, English scores up," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday. "I know Bill Thompson. I can't believe he would want to insult 80,000 teachers."


"You have a right to your own opinions, but you don't have a right to your own facts," he said. "To not acknowledge progress when you're making it is what keeps you from ever making progress."

Moneybags is correct to say that you have the right to your own opinion but not to your own facts.

The facts are that the math and English score increases he touted yesterday to the press are suspect.

The Daily News has reported that the math tests are much easier now than they used to be.

The NY Sun has reported that the reading tests are also much easier now than they used to be.

The fact is that the graduation rates he touted yesterday are also suspect.

The NY Times has reported that the city does not count special education students or discharged students in their graduation rates.

What better way to increase graduation rates than by not counting pools of students who traditionally pull down graduation rates?

So when Moneybags touts progress in the public school system, it's a special kind of progress with special kinds of facts and numbers.

If you look closely at these special facts and special numbers, they don't actually indicate progress.

No matter what Moneybags says, funky test scores and manipulated graduation rates are NOT progress.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Check out the Carnival

Now playing at History is Elementary.

Democracy, UFT-Style

New York City child care workers have voted to unionize and join the United Federation of Teachers.

Officials of the State Employment Relations Board reported that 8,382 home-based child care providers voted to unionize while 96 voted against.

There are 28,000 child care providers in total in the city.

Less than 8,500 actually took the time to vote.

Under state rules, even though far less than the 28,000 child care providers actually voted in the election, the UFT nonetheless wins the right to represent providers.

While I believe unionizing will help improve working and economic conditions overall for the city's child care providers, I am troubled by the number of providers who actually voted in this very important election.

Just as 75% of New York City public school educators didn't vote in the last United Federation of Teachers election, 70% of the city's child care providers didn't vote on whether they wanted to unionize or not.

The United Federation of Teachers leadership has made a living out of elections where the overwhelming majority of union members (or potential union members) do not vote in elections.

A cynic might say the UFT leadership likes it that way.

When only 25%-30% of members (or potential members) vote, the UFT leadership can easily win elections by turning out the usual cast of party apparatchiks, cronies and mindless sheep.

That isn't democracy, that's good, old Tammany Hall-style machine politics - get your guys out to vote while suppressing and/or turning off the rest of the electorate.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why I Will Never Get Merit Pay

As you no doubt know, "reform-minded" union boss Randi Weingarten has endorsed a new merit pay program. Of course, she says the merit pay program is not a merit pay program, just as she says the sixth class most high school teachers give is not a sixth class.

Why don't I qualify?

It started twenty years ago, when I was a rookie. I was teaching summer school in Queens, when ping--a small pebble pierced my window. Then came another, and then another. I told the kids to pack up their things, and we walked down the hall till we found a vacant classroom. The supervisor was outraged. He called me down, bawled me out and explained that the custodians had already cleaned that room for September. How dare I sully it with my presence.

I explained to him that the pebbles could have put a kid's eye out, but there were rules, and I should have called. Perhaps he's one of the supervisors who decided teachers need approval before calling 911.

More recently, after having lobbied for months to get soap in my trailer, the custodian grudgingly placed bars of Ivory over the heavily stained stainless sinks, bypassing the liquid soap dispensers. Unfortunately, the stains staining the stainless crept up to the bar soap and flourished, growing several millimeters of a black substance that neither the kids nor I would touch. I picked it up with a paper towel, brought it to the AP admin's office, and walked in on a meeting to show how my kids were expected to clean themselves. I received much flak about how I'd disturbed an important meeting to discuss this matter.

As if that is not enough, I refuse to quietly accept unsuitable rooms for my kids. When I am placed in a half-room, with 34 kids, and a cardboard wall through which I can hear every comment made by every kid in the next class, I scream. I complain every day, to everyone, at every opportunity, and I don't stop until I get a suitable classroom (or trailer). The meek teacher who sits in the half room and accepts the unacceptable is far more likely to get merit pay.

When they put me in the worst classroom I'd ever seen, my kids stayed maybe a week.

I once had a class with a door that did not lock. And every day, a kid ran by, opened the door, and shouted "Puta madre!" to my largely Spanish-speaking class. As this was an unsuitable distraction, I complained to the custodian, who sat on the complaint for a month. I'm told you can be fired for doing custodians' work, so two teachers sat by that door, one repairing the lock and another watching for administrators. Naturally I have no notion as to the identity of these teachers. But six months later the custodian angrily rebuked me for reporting a broken lock when the lock actually worked. He complained to the principal, who asked that I not waste the time of our custodial staff (The custodial staff was very busy painting the auditorium. They painted over the crumbling, chipping paint so that the new paint was crumbling and chipping as soon as it was dry).

I work with a teacher who's a very skilled typist. I once walked into her class and a wet paper object loudly hit the board with a plop. She kept writing on the board. I rebuked the kid, screamed at the kid, took the kid's ID, wrote the kid up, and she didn't turn her head. The kid was shocked at being written up for such an everyday occurrence. Though the teacher had only twelve students, her class was bedlam. However, she dutifully reported every day after school to type for the principal, gratis. She was made "Teacher of the Year" that year.

She will get merit pay. I won't. Thanks, Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein, for introducing yet another "reform" that makes the tabloids happy, but fails to address the blatant dysfunction in New York City schools.

The Business Model

Uncle Joel Klein, the man who couldn't do to Microsoft what European antitrust regulators could do (i.e., beat them completely in an antitrust case), writes in today's NY Sun that "pay for performance" is the way teachers should be compensated.

Uncle Joel uses "business" as his model for how to make public education better and schools more successful. He says in business, the following are everyday ideas:

1. Successful firms pay more for what's worth more

2. They create incentives that motivate employees to work harder and more effectively

3. When they're failing to produce results, they shut down.

He says in public education, these ideas are "foreign," and life-tenure, lock-step pay, and seniority rules "stifle
motivation and provide no incentive for teachers to work harder and better."

Uncle Joel's solution is simple - bring business-like "pay for performance" to schools and measure it by
"our sophisticated new accountability system" (i.e., batteries of standardized tests, including the Regents, the PSAT, and the additional 8 standardized math and reading tests added this year as part of his "no-stakes" testing program.)

Because the pay for performance will be school-based and not individual-based, he says this revolutionary change in teacher pay will not only encourage better individual performance but more collaboration between teachers at schools.

Married to his business metaphor, Klein compares merit pay to stock options:

This school-based incentive structure, in effect, borrows an important concept from business — stock options. When companies give stock options to their employees, they attempt to align their employees' interests with those of the business' shareholders. If a company's stock rises, both the people who work at the company and the people who hold stock in the company experience a direct financial benefit. This gives employees an incentive to behave in ways that will enhance performance and thereby boost the company's stock price.

If only one employee is successful, the stock price is unlikely to rise significantly, just as in our plan, if only one teacher is successful, a school's students are unlikely to perform substantially better.

Only if many are successful and only if the best teachers help their colleagues identify challenges and improve will entire schools succeed and will teachers then become eligible for more pay. This will encourage individual teachers to do their personal best. It also will encourage collaboration and teamwork, as teachers share both responsibilities and rewards.

Klein finishes his piece by noting that the pay for performance program goes into effect in 200 schools this year (there is no mention of the program being contingent upon the passage of the 25/55 pension change.)

All right - let's look at Uncle Joel's business metaphor a little closer.

First, Klein's assertions that
"successful firms pay more for what's worth more" and "they create incentives that motivate employees to work harder and more effectively" are belied constantly in the business press where you read about the kinds of compensation company CEO's like Citigroup's Chuck Prince or Home Depot's former CEO Robert Nardelli pay themselves.

Currently Citigroup is in danger of going belly-up as a result of business decisions Prince made related to sub-prime mortgages and structured investment vehicles (SIVs). Citigroup may have to take a complete loss on as much as $100 billion dollars in SIVs. Conditions are so bad at Citigroup that Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson helped sponsor an $80-$100 billion dollar bank bail-out with Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wachovia coming to Citigroup's and Prince's rescue. In addition, Citigroup's stock has plunged since Prince took over (losing at least $15 a share.)

Has Prince lost his job at Citigroup? Nope. Will he fail to pay himself a bonus this Christmas? Doubtful. You see, pay for performance is only for the people under Prince at Citigroup.

Certainly Home Depot's former CEO Robert Nardelli never failed to pay himself a bonus (he took home about $200 million in base salary, bonuses, and perks) even though his company's stock was down 13% during his tenure. Nardelli had $3 million of his bonus "guaranteed" annually no matter what happened to his company or his company's stock. He's gone from Home Depot now, but not until he took the company to the cleaners for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Prince and Nardelli are not the only examples of business people at the top receiving gobs of money no matter how they perform. As for the actual workers in business, they're simply cogs in the machine to be laid off at will when companies need to squeeze costs and/or raise their stock prices (in the business model metaphor Klein is Prince/Nardelli and teachers are the workers, of course.)

Klein also asserts in his Sun piece that "when businesses fail to produce results, they close down." But this isn't necessarily true either. As I related above, Citigroup has made huge business mistakes, yet the federal government felt the need to arrange a bail-out for the company.

In addition, last month, the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points in order to help save the financial industry and Wall Street from a self-created global credit crunch that threatened to cause some businesses to go under and thousands of financial workers to lose their jobs. The Fed is expected to lower rates again later this month. Again, if Klein's assertions were true, the Federal Reserve would have taken no action and allowed the free market to work its magic.

Business fetishists like Uncle Joel have a habit of saying publicly that in business only performance matters and compensation is ALWAYS based on performance. But even a perfunctory reading of the recent news in the business newspapers shows these assertions to be simplified at best, completely dishonest at worst.

There are other parts to the school-as-business metaphor I'd like to examine in future posts (like how business these days is mostly short-sighted and stock-driven, privileging quarterly performance over investment and long-term performance.) But for today, let's just note that in business, compensation is often based on cronyism, connections, and position within the company, not merit or performance.

The way the new merit pay program is set up by Klein and the UFT (with a panel of 4 deciding who receives the compensation in a school), I have a strong feeling that pay for performance will also be based on cronyism, connections, and position within the school and not actual merit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Go Green

Edutopia has a go-green database for teachers, and it's right here.

Now sure, you want to carry that suitcase full of toxic waste in case some cheeky administrator gets out of line. But perhaps if you check carefully, you can find ways to seek revenge without damaging the environment.

After all, you have to live here too.

Disclaimer: I drive a Prius and I don't care how ugly it is.

Weingarten and Klein Trick or Treat

What happens when the Unity-New Action goddess goes out Halloween shopping with the Chancellor?

Click here to find out.

Full Of Congestion

The NY Daily News reports that Mayor Moneybags is playing games with his traffic congestion pricing plan numbers.

The mayor is selling the plan - which will charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to drive into Manhattan below 86th Street on weekdays between 6 AM and 6 PM - as a boon to mass transit.

He claims his congestion pricing plan will raise at least $390 million a year for mass transit.

He says this money can be used to offset future fare hikes for buses and subways and/or to improve the transit system around the city.

Of course improvements will need to be made to the transit system if congestion pricing happens because hundreds of thousands of extra people will be taking buses and trains every weekday.

Still, the mayor says not to worry, his plan will raise plenty of revenue and everything will be beautiful.

But the Daily News takes a closer look at Bloomberg's claims and finds them wanting:

Mayor Bloomberg says congestion pricing will raise $390 million a year for mass transit, but that figure is nothing more than an educated guess, a Daily News probe has found.

The expected profit could be swallowed by operating costs if any of the city's assumptions go awry - like how much it costs to identify each car and truck, and how many times a day sensors will spot each vehicle, internal city documents show.

And although the city counts on billing 70% of drivers through their E-ZPass tags, the remaining 30% will be tracked by their license plates - a process that costs much more and fails more often, industry experts say.


In London, a similar congestion pricing plan cut traffic dramatically when it was unveiled in 2003. But it produced far less profit than originally predicted until the daily fee was hiked from about $10 to about $16.

New York's cost projections changed several times from January to April, when Bloomberg first threw his support behind the plan. An early draft estimated that 44.4% of the system's revenue would be swallowed by operating costs, but by April, the figure was down to 35.2%.

The costs shrank, in part, because the city simply removed the cost of chasing down violators from its projections - figuring it would charge fines high enough to recover those costs. And although the city at first projected cars and trucks would pass four of the 340 sensors on each trip, it later cut that assumption to just two sensors - which instantly cut processing costs in half.

While the mayor's plan assumes it will cost $232 million a year to operate the system, just two little tweaks in the model - four sensors per trip, and 75 cents to read a license plate - would raise the cost to $685 million per year, leaving nothing for mass transit. City profit would also be squeezed if the MTA or Port Authority raises tolls on bridges and tunnels, because those tolls are credited against the congestion pricing fee.

MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander says the congestion pricing plan will probably raise about $100-$200 million for mass transit, not enough to cover the extra costs of the added riders taking mass transit.

So if Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan goes into effect, not only will drivers probably have to pay more than the $8 a ride for cars and $21 a ride for trucks, but subway and bus riders will probably have to pay more to take mass transit.

The MTA already plans to raise fares to $2.50 a ride because the mayor has insisted the transit agency spend a few billion dollars to expand the 7 train to 34th Street and 11th Avenue so that his billionaire real estate buddies can turn the West Side into the "Next Big Thing."

What will the fare be after Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan goes into effect - $2.75? $3.00?

The mayor needs to be honest and up-front about the costs and benefits of his traffic congestion pricing plan and New Yorkers need to take a very close look at the plan before it goes into effect.

Since it is clear the mayor refuses to be honest and up-front about the costs and benefits of his plan, New Yorkers should kill this thing right now.

I'm all for reducing traffic congestion and auto exhaust.

But the mayor's plan, which will costs mass transit riders extra money, inundate the neighborhoods above the congestion-pricing zone with traffic and exhaust, add an additional tax to good and services in Manhattan after companies factor in the extra trucking costs, and cost much more than initially stated, is not the best way to do that.

And I say this as a Manhattanite who owns no car, never takes a cab, and either walks or takes the subway whenever I go anywhere.

Surely there are better ways to reduce traffic in Manhattan than Bloomberg's "Big Brother- Cameras Everywhere" congestion pricing plan.

Not to mention that it bothers me that Bloomberg refuses to be up-front and honest with the pricing plan numbers.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Funnies

Click here to see the Unity Hack doing what he does best.

Then, click on his nose to see what happens when he reads NYC Educator.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What About Those Test Scores?

With the New York City Department of Education all set to dole out merit pay bonuses to schools and teachers based on standardized test scores, we really ought to take a closer look at the claims the state and the city are making about their test score results.

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein like to claim they have raised test scores on both city and state tests dramatically since they started their first reforms of the public school system back in 2002.

They like to throw around phrases like "record gains" and "best performance ever" when describing how well students are doing on tests now that they have implemented their reform and accountability movements (see this press release from for a sample of this kind of hype.)

The New York State Education Department also likes to brag how students' test scores have increased in recent years in both reading and math.

But as Diane Ravitch noted in a September 28th, 2007 City-Journal article, the latest federally-sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results showed that the state test score increases in reading and math that the New York State Education Department was bragging about back in May and June of this year were all hype.

On the state tests, the Education Department reported that eighth graders meeting state reading standards jumped from 49.3 percent to 57 percent - a remarkable one year jump considering there had been little movement in those scores in previous years. Similarly, the Ed Department reported the proportion of eighth-graders meeting the state’s math standards increased from 53.9 percent to 58.8 percent.

Yet when the NAEP results were released in September, they showed very different results:

Only in fourth-grade mathematics did New York students post a solid gain, from a scale score of 238 in 2005 to 243 in 2007. In eighth-grade mathematics, where the state claimed big increases on its own tests, the NAEP scale score was 280 in 2005 and 280 in 2007.

In fourth-grade reading, New York’s scale score went from 223 in 2005 to 224 in 2007, not a significant change. In eighth-grade reading, New York’s scale score went from 265 in 2005 to 264 in 2007, again not a significant change.

Ravitch says the NAEP is "known in the education world as the gold standard of testing" and "has been collecting test samples of students in the states since 1992." After No Child Left Behind was passed into law in 2002, the NAEP has become an "external monitor" of the states' own claims for progress on test scores.

New York State has failed its external monitoring test on its claims for test score progress.

Unfortunately few people know about the discrepancies between the state's test score results and the federal test score results because the NAEP test score article was buried on page A20 of the NY Times.

Funny how that works - the "good" testing news gets trumpeted on the front page of the papers while the "bad" testing news gets hidden deep in the National or Metro sections.

Ravitch also notes how the NY Daily News has reported that the 2005 state math tests were much easier than those given in 2002 (and lo and behold, the 2005 test scores went up!) while the NY Sun has reported that the latest state reading tests are also easier than in previous years (and of course those scores have increased as well.)

Ironically, it was a United Federation of Teachers-sponsored analysis of the state's reading tests that found the state is dumbing them down. Randi Weingarten actually told the Sun that:

"It's part of why I keep saying, be careful about data. Standardized test scores can't be used for these high-stakes measures for kids or for teachers," she said.

Of course that comment was issued last month before Weingarten agreed to allow these same suspect standardized test scores to be used to dole out merit pay bonuses to some schools and teachers in the system.

Not surprisingly, Weingarten said nothing about the suspect test scores at the press conference she held with Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein to announce the merit pay program based on test score results.

Bloomberg, Klein, Weingarten, most of the press and nearly all of the so-called "education-reformers" continue to ignore the elephant in the room - the scores on these state and city tests are suspect at best and fraudulent at worst.

If we could get an independent panel of testing experts to look at the city and state tests, I have little doubt that they would find institutionalized cheating at the both city and state level where they are creating the tests and the grading rubrics.

I have little doubt a panel of independent experts would also recommend changing in-house grading for these high-stakes tests. Having teachers and administrators grade the tests their schools are evaluated on and their compensation will be partly based on is like having a baseball team umpire itself.

The state and the city will never agree to a truly independent panel of experts to look at their testing methodologies, of course.

For years, Chancellor Klein refused to create an independent panel of researchers and auditors to look at his education reforms and test scores.

This year he finally did agree to create such a panel, but he stacked it with cronies and hacks:

Critics note that Klein and teachers union President Randi Weingarten will serve on the board.

Other board members will include Robert Hughes of New Visions for Public Schools, a school reform nonprofit organization with many ties to the city schools; Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, and Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition.


Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, said, "The whole thing is a fraud.

"Every one of these people has a stake and an interest in what the research will show," he said.

The whole thing certainly is a fraud - from the merit pay program based on suspect test score results to the school system that privileges tests and test prep over everything else.

And things are only going to get worse before they get better.

This year, Klein and Bloomberg have added 8 additional standardized tests to the curriculum - 4 in math and 4 in English.

The full battery of tests won't be given until 2008-2009 because the NYCDOE moved forward with the additional testing before the actual tests were created by McGraw-Hill, the company that received the lucrative testing contract.

Nonetheless you can be sure these tests will be as suspect as the current battery of city and state tests.

The mayor and the chancellor will nonetheless trumpet the results as proof positive that their constant reorganizations of the school system are working and many in the press will be happy to uncritically publish the stories on page A1. The so-called "education reformers" will agree and call for more standardized testing and more Bloombergian reform to public education.

And then a few years down the road, when all the current political hucksters, con artists and education reform swindlers touting standardized testing, merit pay based on test scores, public school privatization and the like move into retirement, honest people are going to look at the supposed test score increases and so-called improvement in student achievement and reveal them for what they are - dishonest and fraudulent.

And of course the real victims in all this are the students who are now subjected to 188+ days of test prep a year.

I just hope whatever jobs they take in the future require lots of bubbling and pencil sharpening.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Do Some Real Reform

The New York Times looks at how teachers and other educators are assessing the merit pay program that Randi Weingarten agreed to this week for the New York City public school system.

The gist of the article? The money is probably not enough to get veteran teachers to actually move to high needs schools, but "the message that is being sent through the program is the important thing."

And what is that message?

Teachers are unprofessional schmucks who sit on their butts all day and do nothing, so you have to provide incentives to let them know that they cannot just sit on their seniority and education levels for money.

Here are some particularly egregious comments from the usual cast of "Never Worked In A Public School For A Long Period Of Time" education reformers, educators and business people:

Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group that is helping underwrite the effort: “A significant step toward keeping good teachers in low-performing’ll begin to get a critical mass of professionals who feel that it is worth undertaking the toughest challenges, because the world is watching, the world is acknowledging and the world is rewarding you for doing it.”

Andrew J. Rotherham, a former adviser to President Clinton who is now a director of Education Sector, an independent policy group: “We’ll learn a lot through evaluating this experiment about dollar amounts and how people respond...What is actually more important is that it sends a signal that your performance, your effort, your talent, is recognized and rewarded in this industry. That is just a culture change in education.”

Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor at the Department of Education who helped devise the new plan: Says the money could inspire teachers to change schools, particularly in the case of people at the end of their careers, whose pensions are calculated by their final years’ salary. “If it’s not enough,” he says, “we will talk seriously about increasing it.” Mr. Cerf says the bonuses would change the “level of tolerance for truly poor performance” within schools.

Eli Savit, 24, who spent two years at a struggling Bronx middle school through the Teach for America program said he doubted whether the program would have enticed him to stay in teaching, and is now in law school: “If you were designated as a teacher who got paid a little bit more for your efforts, it’s almost like a recognition of a job well done...That, coupled with the money, I think could entice a lot of people to stay.”

Cerf, former CEO of Edison Schools, is clueless if he thinks many veteran teachers are leaving their schools for the last few years to pad their pensions for the kind of money he's offering (especially since none of it is guaranteed and you more likely than not will be worsening your working conditions while receiving the same amount of compensation.)

Rotherham is clueless if he thinks $250-$3000 in bonuses for 15%-30% of the schools in the system will make many teachers feel "recognized and rewarded."

Kathryn S. Wylde is clueless if she thinks there aren't already a critical mass of professional educators trying to do their best in some pretty crappy conditions (like crumbling rat, roach and mold-infested school buildings, like severely overcrowded schools, like schools with 100 degree temperatures and no air conditioning in summer and 100 degree temperatures from the steam heat in fall, spring and winter, like class size problems, etc..)

And as for the Teach For America guy who has moved on from his teaching gig because he either a) couldn't hack it or b) was only doing until he could make some "real money" as a lawyer, why go to him? He says straight up that three grand extra wouldn't have kept him as a teacher. Many of the TFA's only teach for a few years before they move on to their "real jobs" where they can make "real money" (like law, like finance, like business), so for the education reformers to offer this jive that merit pay of a few grand will help keep "professionals" in the teaching profession is dishonest and insulting to people who actually see teaching as a profession and not something to do between college and law school.

And before I finish on this issue, let's take a closer look at the money thy're offering - $3000 a year (at most...the bonus could also be a lot less.)

Let's say I move to a high needs school and actually receive the top bonus one year. After taxes and union dues, I'm looking at $1500 extra bucks. Divide that by 24 pay cycles and you're looking at $62.50 a pay cycle - and that's the most you can receive!

Does anybody at the DOE, in the press, at the education think tanks and at City Hall really think $62.50 a pay cycle is an incentive for anything?

Because if they do, than they must think teachers are even dumber than they already seem to think we are.

If Bloomberg, Klein, Randi, the education reformers, the editorial writers and the think tank people want to keep good teachers in the system, stop with the meaningless jive like $62.50 a pay cycle in "bonuses" and do some real reforms like:

1) Lowering class size in a meaningful way (i.e., lowering it from 34 students a class to 33.7 students a class is NOT lowering class size in a meaningful way.)

2) Fixing the school buildings so that students and teachers learn and work in clean, well-lit, well-ventilated safe school buildings that aren't toxic waste dumps or mold factories.

3) Fixing the overcrowding problem in school (many school are currently at 150%-250% capacity.)

4) Adding technology that works (my school is loaded with old, cheap computers that function as really big and really dirty paper weights.

5) Stopping the constant system reorganizations (the DOE is now on its third reorganization in the last six years.)

6) Funding more after school activities (currently teachers in my school work about 3 hours for every 1 hour of per session money they get paid for after school activities.)

These are just six items I'd like to see addressed by my union, my mayor, my chancellor and all the concerned education reformers.

And yet, I know that those won't ever be addressed because they'd rather roll out meaningless merit pay schemes and other attempts at privatization.

Which is what this is really all about anyway.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wize Liez

UFT President Randi Weingarten and her patronage mill promised us 25/55 as part of the odious 2005 contract, the one that brought us perpetual hall patrol, August punishment days, the 6th class for high school teachers, and the demise of seniority transfers (among other jewels). While they may deny it now, an Edwize post by Peter Goodman specifically promised 25/55 without any givebacks aside from the huge number they'd already conceded.

In the proposed Agreement the Mayor agrees to support legislation to create a 25/55-pension system.

It's hard for me to detect nuance in those words. It appeared if we swallowed the poison pill and accepted the very worst contract I'd ever seen, the mayor would support this legislation. Yet two years later, we are forced into a test-based merit pay scheme in order to earn something which, supposedly, we'd already paid for (dearly). And while the UFT says it will not go to individual teachers, the school committees may indeed agree to give it to individual teachers.

In any case, if you walked into a store that was running a special "Pay for two, and get one," you'd probably interpret that as an offer you could refuse. Who would go for such a deal?

Well, the United Federation of Randi Weingarten, without consulting rank and file, has bought into just such a deal, and are now touting it as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And bear in mind that this benefit is not free. It will cost you 1.85% of your salary, virtually all of the 2% "raise" you just got (the one that didn't even meet cost of living). And this deal is not precisely 25/55, as Mr. Goodman had promised in Edwize:
For future hires, the pension will be improved to an eligibility at age 55 with 27 years of service.

Do they think we're stupid enough to believe 27/55 is the same as 25/55? It appears they do indeed.

Even after paying twice, the Unity-New Action machine fails to keep a simple two-year-old promise. But when more than 75% of teachers can't even rouse themselves to vote in union elections, the patronage mill can do pretty much whatever it likes and get away with it.

Does anyone believe this is the end of "reform" in the city? Does anyone believe merit pay will not evolve into something even worse? Every "reform" enhances Ms. Weingarten's reputation as a reform-minded leader, and that, in fact, is why we pay dues. Over the last few contracts, teaching conditions have become nothing if not more difficult, and issues like class size have been talked to death, but not changed at all.

Randi Weingarten is not a teacher, nor is Peter Goodman, or Leo Casey, or any of her merry band of Edwize propagandists. We are teachers, and it's a disgrace we don't know better than to swallow their perpetual stream of lies.

Rod Paige's Favorite Teachers Union Head Does It Again

As I am sure you know by now, Rubber Room Randi Weingarten, Mayor Moneybags, and Uncle Joel Klein signed off on a plan to bring merit pay to the New York City public school system.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have opposed measures in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law that would require districts to offer merit pay based on test score results.

But Rubber Room Randi and her UFT hacks, working in secret, were agreeing to the very kinds of pay for performance proposals that the NEA and the AFT are both working to have stripped from the reauthorization of NCLB.

Now the UFT argues that the merit pay program in New York City is school-wide and not individual-based, so therefore it is fairer than the kinds of merit pay proposals we have seen offered in the past.

Indeed, Rubber Room Randi insists that the merit pay program is not actually merit pay.

Instead she uses a euphemism - "school-wide bonuses" - to call her merit pay program something else.

Nonetheless, the merit pay will be based upon test score results, so call it what you will, at the end of the day it is still merit pay.

The union is claiming victory in this battle because they say the merit pay program will only go into effect if the legislature passes changes to the pension system that allows teachers to retire at age 55 with 25 years of service and no pension penalties.

However, the NY Times story says the merit pay program goes into effect this year at 200 schools and will be running in a total of 400 schools by next year.

There's no word on what happens if the state legislature - which has passed the 25/55 pension proposal in the past when Governor Pataki was going to veto it - decides they want to be the firewall to kill the pension change this time around.

Remember too that the largest donor to Republicans in the State Senate is Mayor Moneybags (he of the "independent" party affiliation), so if he decides he wants Bruno and Company to kill the pension changes for him on the q.t., he can have it done.

After all, he would still be keeping his end of the bargain (wink, wink, nod, nod) but those nasty Repubs in the State Senate would be the one's reneging...

In any case, education reformers are waking up to a dream world today in which the largest urban teachers union in the country has undercut the two national teachers unions and all the smaller local teachers unions fighting merit pay proposals tied to standardized test scores by happily agreeing to make test score performance for pay a part of the system.

The NY Sun reports that by agreeing to this merit pay program, Weingarten and the UFT have "shattered a stalemate" on the controversial issue and have ensured that merit pay based on standardized test scores will make its way nation-wide.

Weingarten has helped the merit pay people to a nation-wide victory.

And let's not forget that education experts like Diane Ravitch have called for an independent audit of New York's testing program because there are huge discrepancies between the state and city test scores and the national test scores. Even Weingarten herself said the discrepancies conjure up a "cloud" over the veracity of the test score results.

Yet she is agreeing to let these very test score results - the ones with the "clouds" over them because they may be fabricated or artificially inflated - be used for the city's merit pay program.

That doesn't seem to make much sense, does it?

Well, what does make sense is this graf from the Times account:

The plan would not only give Mr. Bloomberg a policy change he has long sought, but also allow Ms. Weingarten, a potential candidate to lead the national American Federation of Teachers, to cast herself as a reform-minded union leader.

There you have it - what this is all about is Weingarten.

She's already Rod Paige's favorite teachers union head (and why wouldn't she be, since she has agreed to additional teaching days, additional teaching time, a sixth class, the end of seniority transfers, grievance procedure changes, the return of bathroom duty, total mayoral control, and changes to the school financing formula that help the city get rid of senior teachers?).

Now she wants to do to the American Federation of Teachers what she has done to the United Federation of Teachers - set the teacher labor movement back decades.

You can bet the next "reform" this "reform-minded union leader" will take on before she leaves for bigger and better things is teacher tenure.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weingarten Surrenders On Merit Pay

What won't the United Federation of Teachers surrender on?

After caving on days, time, grievance procedures, seniority transfers, school financing, and bathroom duty, Randi has given Mayor Moneybags a huge victory on merit pay:

The Bloomberg administration and the New York City teachers union after months of negotiations announced an agreement today on a performance-pay plan that would give teachers bonuses based largely on the test scores of students at schools with high-poverty populations. The plan, which will be phased in, is a major breakthrough for Mayor Michael R. . Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who for years have called for a merit pay system in which high-performing teachers can earn extra money.


New York’s plan is a twist on the traditional concept of merit pay. Pots of money will not be distributed teacher by teacher, but be given to schools that do a good job raising students’ test scores.

This year, about 200 of the city’s more than 1,400 schools that the administration characterizes as “high needs,” based largely on how poor their students are, will be eligible for about $20 million in bonuses. If they meet certain performance goals, they will receive an amount that totals $3,000 per teacher. Next year, officials said, at least 400 schools will be eligible.

It will be up to “compensation committees” at each school made up of teachers and principals supervisors to divvy up the money as they see fit. They could choose to distribute it evenly among union members or single out high performers.

The plan not only gives Mr. Bloomberg a policy change he has long sought, it allows Ms. Weingarten, a potential candidate to lead the national American Federation of Teachers, to cast herself as a reform-minded union leader.

Both the Bush administration and Representative George Miller, the California Democrat, who is chairman of the House education committee, have tried to promote the concept of merit pay. Leaders of the two national teachers’ unions — Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, and Toni Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers — recently objected to draft House legislation to renew the No Child Left Behind law because of a proposal to provide grants to school systems that choose to pay bonuses to teachers who excel in schools with high-poverty student concentrations.

The NEA and the AFT both objected to what Weingarten has agreed to.

No wonder she's Rod Paige's favorite labor leader.

Call the UFT and let them know how you feel.


Ask for the president's office and leave a message.

Where There's a Will...

Imagine kids paying bodega owners $1-2 a day for the service of storing their cell phones. Imagine them burying their phones in nearby flower beds and vacant lots. Imagine them taping their cell phones under subway benches before going to school.

Well, you don't have to imagine, because that's what's happening all over the city as a result of the cell phone ban. It's particularly curious since most kids say they use the phones to keep in touch with their parents. Doubtless many kids have other things in mind, but when my kid gets a phone, I'll pay the bill, I'll see the bill, and if I don't like what I see, there will be no more phone.

It's almost inconceivable that anyone who spent 9/11 in NYC fails to see the value of cell phones for kids, but it's gone completely over the heads of both Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. What do they say?

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Dina Paul Parks, said she could not comment on what students do outside of school. Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens, an opponent of the ban, called the underground market for storage "unfortunate."

Although his opposition to the ban stems from safety concerns, Mr. Vallone said was adamant that city policy should "not involve negotiations between an 8-year-old and a bodega owner."

Mr. Vallone also said he was worried that the ban teaches students to ignore authority. "It's like prohibition," he said. "We're raising a generation of smugglers."

Smuggling brings to mind prohibition, which did not work out all that well. Furthermore, properly used and properly supervised cellphones pose far less danger than alcohol. I'm willing to monitor their use in my classroom, and the simple fact is I'll be doing so whether or not there's a ban. They are ubiquitous, far more so than the speakeasies of yore.

Mayor Bloomberg may as well ban snow. I've no doubt he'd make me drive to work in it regardless.

Testing, Testing, Testing...

Today is PSAT Day in the New York City public school system.

All New York City public school sophomores and juniors are slated to take the PSAT today.

Freshman and seniors are expected to have "a full day of instruction" while their fellow students sit through about 4 of testing.

Last year in my school, that meant freshman and seniors were given Regents instruction while the juniors and sophomores took their PSAT tests.

Then we held 8th and 9th period classes after the the PSAT finished.

PSAT Day was not a fun day for anybody last year.

This year, the school decided to send freshman off on trips with their trade teachers while the seniors receive four hours of U.S. history tutoring in the auditorium. Juniors and sophomores will be taking their PSAT tests. The school is also holding an official period for all students.

The scheduling has been done this way because Uncle Joel Klein insists that PSAT Day must be "a full day of instruction" for all students regardless of whether they are taking the PSAT or not.

Uncle Joel also insists that the first day of Regents tests, when there is no morning test for students, also be a "full day of instruction."

This means that we often hold morning classes for students before the 3 hour afternoon Regents exam.

The poor kids taking their Regents exam later in the afternoon often look shell-shocked after the day is through.

Let's be honest, there's nothing like sitting through 3 hours of classes before taking a 3 hour Regents exam.

Uncle Joel likes to brag how the New York City public school system has the most days of instruction of any public school system in the nation.

Uncle Joel also likes to give as many standardized tests as possible.

In fact, he just added 4 additional standardized tests in math and 4 additional standardized tests in English each year.

It seems all we do lately is prep the kids for their standardized tests and then try and manipulate the schedule so we can have a "full day of instruction" on those test days.

Frankly, it has gotten so bad that I haven't spent any time prepping my juniors for today's PSAT test because I have been spending so much time prepping them for January's Regents exam.

And I suspect at bottom that this is all about Uncle Joel and Mayor Moneybags being able to brag to the nation about how many days of instruction and standardized tests they give in New York City.

See you after the test.