Friday, February 29, 2008

Lessons Learned at Meetings

"...and the principal has asked that we cut down on lateness. As you know, lateness is bad, and we don't like it when kids come late. Therefore, we've decided to make an all-out effort to make them come on time. So basically, what we're aiming for is less lateness, and more on-time arrivals to class. Any questions?"

Now that's your cue to sit down and shut up. After all, you have 170 papers to grade, and next period is hall patrol, and then you have two more classes, and after that, hopefully, you have a life to attend to. But noooooo. The new teacher, who hasn't yet heard this speech forty or fifty times, requires clarification:

"What if the kid is only late once in a while?"

"Well, that's an interesting question, Mr. Wetbehindtheears."

In fact, it's not an interesting question at all, and now all of us have to listen to a fifteen-minute lecture about the infinite varieties and ramifications of lateness, and there are far too few of us to inconspicuously start grading papers. And after the explanation, another question.

"Well, what if I were to devise some sort of reward system? In the class I took last night, we were discussing the possibility of creating class money, and rewarding students with it, and keeping a record on my home computer, and assigning extra credit, and giving test points, and then, perhaps offering other rewards and incentives, so that blah blah blah blah...."

"Why thank you Mr. Wetbehindtheears, and I think this would be an excellent opportunity for intervisitation. Mr. Educator, would you like to visit Mr. Wetbehindtheears' class and report back to us?"

"Excuse me," I say, only partly feigning nausea, and running from the room. "I'm not feeling all that well."

Kids are rarely late to my class. They know there will be consequences. That's it. I don't need any time-consuming or elaborate system.

And what teachers need to know is this--don't ask questions at department meetings. It just makes them longer, and we all have better things to do. Perhaps there are worthwhile meetings out there somewhere, but 99% of the meetings I've been to have been time-wasters.

If you have a problem, find teachers who've solved it, and ask how they did it. If the administrators running your meeting are still pondering the fine points of lateness after thirty years in the system, it's unlikely they have any worthwhile answers to offer, and just as unlikely they'll listen to or remember any valid responses.

For better or worse, it's the job of administrators to waste time holding pointless meetings. Teachers have more important things to do.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Long Does It Take to Make a Phone Call?

I've spent years assembling a network of multilingual helpers. I speak Spanish well enough to call parents myself, but as far as other languages, I'm pretty much useless. Still, everything was fine, because I knew teachers and paras who spoke every language I'd ever need. I helped them with Spanish speakers, and they helped me with everyone else.

My foreign-born students knew I'd call at the drop of a hat, and they treaded carefully to avoid problems with me. They certainly didn't want any problems to follow them home.

But in one fell swoop, our school has destroyed my support system. Someone in administration got the bright idea to start paying people to make calls. So there are now designated callers for various languages. Only I don't trust just anyone to make calls for me. Even worse, one of the callers told me to fill out a form, and that he'd get to it within 48 hours.

Now I don't know about you, but if I have a problem, I don't want to wait 48 hours. I want to deal with it right now. In fact, as a parent, if my child had a problem, I absolutely wouldn't want to wait 48 hours. I'd find that completely unacceptable, and I'd visit the school to express my displeasure.

But now Miss X., my favorite translator, says go to Mr. Y., because he gets paid to make those phone calls. Sadly, I trust Miss X. much more than Mr. Y. I've been waiting 24 hours for Mr. Y. to make that call, and I guess I'll have to wait 24 more.

It's nice of the school to consider us. But my students and I were far better off when I did things myself. How can I persuade Ms. X. to reconsider?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Listen to the Tweedie Birds

Mayor Bloomberg has no problem cutting school budgets. After all, since kids are being schooled in trailers and closets anyway. how much worse can things get?

But Tweed said 110 million would be cuts to schools, while 70 million would be cut from the bureaucracy upstairs. But it appears that's not true:
As it turns out, most of the cuts aren't cuts at all, but recalculations of what things actually cost. Only $15 million is really being cut from headquarters.

After all, there's important stuff happening at headquarters. There are meetings, and conferences, and gala luncheons to attend to. These things are absolutely necessary, and kids must be crammed into every available space like so many sardines so that we can enable these important functions.

And as for those who'd criticize Tweed for misrepresenting the facts, they're just ill-informed. When they said they were cutting 70 million, they meant they were cutting 15 million. Just like when Mayor Bloomberg said he'd get rid of trailers by 2012. What he meant, of course, was that he wouldn't get rid of them by 2012.

Those pesky parents and children are just gonna have to learn what it means to trim the fat. In any case, the city can't just throw around money educating children. After all, it's got an 80-million-dollar computer system to pay for.

Related: The NYC Parents Blog comments on the Bloomberg budget cuts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Extra Credit Question

Where on earth does the DoE find math teachers like this one?

Bad News? What Bad News?

Take a look at that diagram to the left - that's the Case-Schiller Home Price Index for December 2007.

The Case-Schiller Home Price Index measures the residential housing market, tracking changes in the value of the residential real estate market in 20 metropolitan regions across the United States.

Notice the trend of home prices lately - straight into the toilet. Prices fell 8.9% in 2007 and 10.2% from peak prices.

In addition, foreclosures in the U.S. were up 8% in January compared to December and nearly 57% from January 2007.

Why should you care about falling home prices, increasing unsold home inventories and rising foreclosures?

Because the recession the country is either already in or is about to descend into has been driven by the bursting of the housing bubble and the more the damage from the housing market spreads outward to other sectors of the economy, the worse this recession is going to be.

Just to give you an idea how bad things are already, home prices declined nationally in 2007 for the first time since 1932. Now nobody's saying we're entering another Great Depression, but there surely are warning signs of some serious, long-term problems coming.

For example, Home Depot reported an annual loss sales decline for the first time in its history today. That's a bad sign for a country that relies upon consumer spending to power over 70% of the economy.

Here's another example: the Wall Street Journal reported today that the FDIC is bracing for an increase in bank failures as a result of the fall-out from housing market problems and the credit crunch.

And while the Federal Reserve has decided to address the problem by lowering its benchmark interest rate to near-Greenspan levels, it also is stoking a big-time inflation problem:

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Prices paid to U.S. producers rose more than twice as much as forecast in January, pushed up by higher fuel, food and drug costs, signaling inflation may keep accelerating even as growth slows.

The 1 percent increase followed a 0.3 percent drop in December, the Labor Department said in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of economists was for a 0.4 percent gain. Excluding food and energy, so-called core wholesale prices climbed 0.4 percent, the most in almost a year.


``What you've got is a lot of inflationary pressures building,'' said Roger Kubarych, chief U.S. economist at Unicredit Global Research in New York, who correctly forecast the rise in core prices. For now, ``the Fed will put them in second position in terms of priority until this financial strife settles down,'' he said.

Just how bad is that inflation problem?

Well, oil futures closed at a record $100.88 a barrel today. Heating oil also surged to an all-time record. Gas prices are near summer levels. Wheat is also at an all-time high and products from bread to pasta to pizza to bagels have shot up as a result. Overall, consumer food prices were up 4.9% in comparison with January 2007. With all this inflation and bad economic news, consumer confidence has hit a 17 year low this month. And the U.S. dollar has hit an all-time low against the euro on speculation that more rate cuts are coming (which means even higher inflation and higher consumer prices in the future.)

Yes, between the tanking housing market that shows no signs of turning around, the retail industry that is taking a hit as a result of slower consumer spending, the inflation problem, the slowing growth problem, job market problems, the tanking U.S. dollar and worries that some major financial institutions could be in danger of going under, times are tough.

But not for the hedge fund managers and investor class on Wall Street.

The markets rallied again for the third straight day.

Makes you wonder just what economy they're looking at.

Surely it isn't the one the average American is looking at and paying for every time they fill up their cars, pay their heating bills or mortgages, buy bagels at the deli or milk at the supermarket, or fill drug prescriptions at the pharmacy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Something We Can All Agree On

I've had Sirius satellite radio in my car for about 6 months now, and I don't know how I ever got by without it. There are scores of commercial-free music channels, and if you happen to be a polka fanatic, they've probably got something just for you. They have an all Elvis channel, an all Grateful Dead channel, and they've probably got an all Fabian channel in the works. They also have a 24/7 New York traffic/weather channel. I mostly listen to channel 65.

But today, I decided to listen to Sirius Left so I could hear the propaganda I'd been craving (If right-wing propaganda is your cup of tea, they also offer Sirius Patriot). I was amazed to hear a woman with a voice that sounded like a cross between Rod Stewart and Rocky Graziano, with a New York accent that sounded like something out of a 1930s black-and-white gangster flick.

I don't know exactly what she was talking about, as I could not get past that voice. But honestly, whatever your political views, you have to respect someone with a voice like that who manages to make a living talking on the radio. I mean, sure, Neil Young makes a living singing, but you'll have to take my word for it--this woman went above and beyond.

I suppose someone, somewhere, must be listening, and I have to respect that person too. After all, suffering builds character.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Children First

At least they're the first ones to feel Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts, as he cuts school funding mid-year and closes day-care centers for kids of low-income working parents:

Take the case of Nessa Coulibaly of the Bronx. A working mother, she used to take her 5-year-old to the Lucille Murray Child Development Center in Mott Haven every day until it closed its doors Jan. 14.

"This is very hard for me; I don't know what to do," she said. "If I can't go to work, how can I feed my kids?"

Many of the parents of the other 200 children who also attended Lucille Murray must be asking themselves the same question.

Lucille Murray was the fourth child center closed in the Bronx since 2004, and the 16th to be closed in the city under the Bloomberg administration.

It's remarkable that a mayor with such a history can look himself in the mirror and say he puts children first. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who saddles 1.1 million kids with the highest class sizes in the state, who dumps kids into trailers and closets, who shuffles kids from one building to another and claims to have created new schools, has no problem whatsoever.

Perhaps this is how Mayor Bloomberg intends to move these families out of poverty. After all, if the kids stopped lollygagging in day care, perhaps they could go out and get jobs. This could bring in a few dollars for the families, and there's no doubt the city will need lots of people to run those shiny new sports stadiums.

Maybe the children could swab the luxury decks.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Look Out Below

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's, said on Friday that one-tenth of all homeowners in the United States (nearly 8.8 million homeowners) hold mortgages that are larger than the value of their homes.

As a result, many of these homeowners do not have an incentive to try and hold onto their homes and may eventually abandon their properties.

They call this "mailing in the keys" as homeowners simply walk away from their properties and mail the keys back to the bank.

Zandi also noted that a 20% decline in home values nation-wide is now a likelihood.

With new and existing home inventories at all-time highs already, a few million additional homes added to the inventory list will certainly not help the housing market or home prices. As it was, the last quarter of 2007 saw a record drop in home prices (the national median price drop of 5.8%, to $206,200 from $219,300, was the steepest ever recorded by the National Association of Realtors.)

Also on Friday, Tom Eggleston, head of C.P. Morgan Communities, one of the largest privately owned home builders in the United States, said he doesn't see the housing market hitting bottom until the middle of 2010 and even then, recovery will be slow and painful and take years.
Zandi thinks 2009 will be the bottom, but he has already revised his forecasts for home value declines and housing market bottoms before and with the U.S. economy teetering on the brink of a recession or already in one, who knows how bad things can get with real estate.

Of course here in Manhattan, residential real estate is still rising at a pretty good clip. The same goes for the trendier parts of Brooklyn. The rest of the boroughs and the surrounding suburbs have not proven to be immune from the effects of the housing bubble burst, however, and as I blogged in a post earlier in the week, commercial real estate in New York, even in Manhattan, looks to be in distress.

With many adjustable rate mortgage resets still to come this year and with mortgage rates actually rising despite the Federal Reserve's precipitous lowering of its benchmark interest rate, who knows when the market will hit bottom. An economy in recession could really exacerbate things.

Now if you don't have to sell your home and you can make your mortgage payment, then you can hold on and wait for values to rise again.

But if you can't make your payments or your have to relocate and sell your home, look out below.

And you can forget the program put together by the federal government and the banks to help distressed homeowners.

So far, it's all been p.r. and not much else.

Count Your Blessings

The Little Things

As you might know, the head of a company survived
9/11 because his son started kindergarten.

Another fellow was alive because it was
His turn to bring donuts.

One woman was late because her
Alarm clock didn't go off in time.

One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike
Because of an auto accident.

One of them
Missed his bus.

One spilled food on her clothes and had to take
Time to change.

Car wouldn't start.

One went back to
Answer the telephone.

One had a
Child that dawdled
And didn't get ready as soon as he should have.

One couldn't
Get a taxi.

The one that struck me was the man
Who put on a new pair of shoes that morning,
Took the various means to get to work
But before he got there, he developed
a blister on his foot.

He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid.
That is why he is alive today.

Now when I am
Stuck in traffic,
Miss an elevator,
Turn back to answer a ringing telephone ...
All the little things that annoy me.
I think to myself,

This is exactly where
God wants me to be
At this very moment..

I don't know who wrote this, but I really like it. Thanks to Schoolgal for sending it.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Queens is going to get 6 new high schools! Ain't that great? Being as 75% of high schools are overcrowded, that's really what kids need.

Oh, wait a minute. They're not actually new high schools. They're Academies for This or That, and they're just going to shove them into existing buildings somewhere, and that's that. There's not actually going to be any more space devoted to kids.

And as usual, there'll be a 5-year moratorium on accepting special ed. kids, or ESL students. Miraculously, test scores will be higher, and Mayor Bloomberg can declare yet another brilliant victory.

So, if you're a "reformer," here's your recipe for success--close schools, rename them, shuffle kids all over the city, and if those schools fail, close 'em again and shuffle 'em somewhere else. Control the population, and manipulate the test scores so there appears to be progress. Talk a lot about "accountability," and set up a system where whatever happens, it never sets foot in your office.

As long as you have someone else to blame when things go wrong, you'll never have to build enough schools to accommodate those 1.1 million pesky kids.

Update: Philissa from Inside Schools says Mayor Mike has reconsidered the policy of excluding special ed. and ESL students from the "academies." We'll see whether or not Tweed keeps its word. We'll also see whether or not appropriate services are provided for these kids, as that's not always the case in Mayor Mike's New York.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Your Two Cents

Here's your opportunity to give someone a piece of your mind, and help a teacher at the same time. Our resident poet, talented Abigail E. Meyers, is seeking her Master's Degree, and requests you take a few moments to fill out a survey. Abigail explains:

I'm working on my master's thesis at St. John's, and I'm seeking input particularly from experienced (5+ years) New York City teachers. The survey deals with teaching qualifications and experience and school working conditions in the New York City public schools. The entire survey should take 10-15 minutes to complete, and when you complete it, you will have the option to provide (or not provide) an e-mail address if you are interested in sharing further thoughts about the topics discussed in the survey. Otherwise, all survey responses are anonymous and confidential.
Anyone with questions about the survey can feel free to e-mail me at Thanks!

Please take a few minutes and help her out. I just took it, and I assure you it was completely painless.

Hot Tip for Mayor Mike

If the city coffers are bare, instead of unconscionable midyear budget cuts, why not just sell the teachers on the open market? Since the city's always comparing teachers to professional athletes, notwithstanding the vast salary differences, he may as well trade and sell them too.

Strangely, I don't recall the last time the New York Yankees recruited via 800 numbers or bus ads. But that's just me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Running Hot, Hot, Hot

The government released inflation data today showing U.S. consumer prices rose across the board in January.

U.S. consumer prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4% last month. Excluding food and energy prices, the core consumer price index rose 0.3% in January, the biggest gain since June 2006.

December inflation numbers were also revised upward to 0.4%.

On a year-over-year basis, inflation was running at 4.3% in January. Energy, food, clothing housing, hotel, medical, transportation and drug prices all rose substantially last month. Food prices rose the most in nearly a year.

Given that fourth quarter GDP was 0.6%, the January job numbers were negative, the service sector contracted last month and many economists fear the U.S. economy either teeters on recession or has already fallen into one, the high inflation numbers ought to be cause for concern.

The Federal Reserve keeps trying to jump start the economy, heal sick credit markets and help the housing market by lowering interest rates (they lowered the Fed benchmark rate by 1.25% in one week's time in January), but even as they continue to lower the benchmark interest rate, mortgage rates for most borrowers continue to rise and fall-out from problems in the credit markets continue to spread (here's one example.)

Nonetheless the Fed is expected to lower the benchmark interest rate another half point next month to 2.5% even as oil hit $100 a barrel yesterday, food prices are at or exceeding all-time highs, gold is near an all-time high, and platinum hit a record (all inflationary signs.) Just wait until the panic rate cuts the Fed made earlier this year filter completely through the economy for some really scary inflation numbers.

And yet, as Barry at The Big Picture blogged this morning, the cheerleaders on Wall Street are still calling for Helicopter Ben Bernanke to cut rates back to the 1% Uncle Alan Greenspan had them at for so long back earlier this decade and create some more bubbles to save us from the wreckage of the Greenspan-created housing bubble.

I even heard some shill on CNBC say it might be time to take the interest rate down to 0.5% (as it is in Japan) or even 0% to jump start the economy and save the U.S. from a very scary recession.

Yeah, that will be good for price pressure containment.

You know, given that the U.S. consumer has been living way above his/her means and putting the tab on credit cards or home refis for the last half-decade or more and given that the U.S. government has fought two wars on credit ($800 billion and counting) while cutting taxes and increasing overall spending, you'd have to think that maybe the country is in for a tough economic time for awhile.

It might even be good to have a bit of tough time economically so we can clean up some of the wreckage from the more irrational exuberance of the housing bubble and the other excesses of the Bush years and get back to operating on more practical ground.

Heck, it might even be a good idea to start telling people shopping is NOT their patriotic duty and saving a little bit each month is a healthy alternative to living on credit and from pay check to pay check.

But of course we're not going to do that. Instead, the Federal Reserve, undoubtedly pressured by politicians in Washington uncomfortable with an election-year recession, is throwing caution to the wind and creating a stagflationary environment like we haven't seen since the late 70's/ early 80's.

And as Cunning Realist notes all the time over at his blog, the current crop of politicians are counting on the Fed moves to stave off economic collapse just long enough for another crop of politicians to come into office and take the blame for the mess.

Kinda like how Ford and Carter were blamed for problems that originated during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

In any case, just how bad are things going to get? Well, Nouriel Roubini sets out the worst case scenario in this Martin Wolf piece from the Financial Times.

I hope Roubini is wrong about that, but if you turn on the business channels these days, you can hear some of the panic about the future from even people who used to seem like "permabulls" (check out this Ron Insana piece at Huffington Post for some of that.)

It's a Bird, It's a Plane...

No,it's UFT Prez Randi Weingarten--superdelegate.

Ms. Weingarten, of course, is committed to Hillary Clinton, who took a bath last night in both Wisconsin and Hawaii. If anyone remembers Mayor Mike's first mayoral race, in which the UFT endorsed 3 candidates, all of whom lost, one has to wonder just how valuable our endorsement is.

Sure we helped Governor Pataki, who thanked us by vetoing 55/25 and improvements to the Taylor Law. And we gave a boost to serial union-buster Serphin Maltese. Now we're backing a Republican senatorial candidate who thinks private school parents ought to get tax credits. But it seems we have a pattern of getting behind losers whenever we pick candidates who might remotely support teachers, or public school kids, or humanity in general.

Is the UFT endorsement the kiss of death? I'm not convinced. I'm fairly certain the only thing worse is a monetary contribution from yours truly. But I don't think this country can afford the budget-busting, warmongering, middle-class killing, homophobic nonsense that's been the GOP's hallmark for the last decade. The rich are rich enough already.

I'd urge the UFT to endorse McCain if I thought that would stop him. Unfortunately, when the UFT endorses bad candidates, they tend to win. Perhaps I'll send him a contribution, say 10 cents, and ensure his demise.

After all, it's for the good of the country.

Thanks to Sol

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Okay, That's Why I Do This For A Living

I was walking through Chelsea this morning when I saw a former student of mine outside of the Fashion Institute of Technology. I keep in contact with her via email (I have known her since her sophomore year of high school) but I hadn't seen in her in awhile so it was good to meet up with her.

She is in her third year of college at FIT in the Production Management program. I teach two college preparatory classes with some affiliation to FIT so when she got around to making her college decision, I knew that she had her heart set on studying Patternmaking at FIT. She applied early, received her acceptance letter and was thrilled to be embarking upon what she thought was going to be her new career in Patternmaking.

And then the unthinkable happened. FIT closed down the Patternmaking program. She would have to reapply in another major if she wanted to attend FIT. She was devastated. I remember having to talk her down off the ledge and go through the FIT book with her to see if there was another major she would be open to. FIT had suggested Production Management as an alternative and we talked about the pluses and minuses of taking that major as opposed to trying to reapply in the highly competitive Fashion Design program. She wasn't thrilled about Production Management but I told her about students of mine who taken that major and she decided she would give that a try.

Flash forward to three years later. She has her Associates Degree in Production Management and is working on her Bachelors Degree in the same major (FIT breaks the program up into two two year increments.) She is working in her field, she has an internship at a great company, loves her major, loves her school and loves the direction her life is going in.

It's wonderful to see this happen for students. I keep in contact with quite a few of my former students so I know many of them are doing well. But it just warms my heart to see them, see how well they are doing and know that I had a little part in helping them get there.

I take great effort to make sure that my students will be prepared for their post-graduate lives, whether that means they will be going to a two-year school, a four-year school, taking some time off before college or looking for a trade. I also believe strongly in discussing life issues, financial literacy issues and conflict resolution lessons with my students because I believe teaching these kinds of topics will prepare them for life after graduation. I know in the current education climate where billionaire businessmen and short-selling hedge fund managers make the decisions and test scores are all that are valued, helping students with life issues or financial literacy isn't something privileged by the powers that be, but I think they're important.

Seeing my student today with that bright, confident smile on her face on Seventh Avenue today as she makes her way through the world tells me I'm right.

The Happiest Place on Earth

No, that isn't it. According to a 60 Minutes story from last week, it's actually Denmark. I missed the telecast, but heard some people discussing it on the radio. I've never actually been to Denmark, but there are some things about it that make it sound downright attractive. They don't have the best weather, but they don't have a lot of violence or murder either. And education is a little different too:

All education is free in Denmark, right on through university. And students can take as long as they like to complete their studies.

So that PhD may not be so costly after all. A German friend of mine, an MD, told me his education cost about 50 bucks out of pocket, and that his father was actually required to pay it. Compare that to Denmark, where it would have been free. Or compare it to the United States, where it would have represented hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Denmark also provides free health care, subsidized child care and elder care, a social safety net spread the length and breadth of the country.

There's something to be said for not having to worry about those things. A lot of Americans I know are scrambling to keep up with their credit card bills, and haven't got time to even consider caring for their children, let alone preparing for their old age. That's gotta be stressful. I suppose there's always the hope that they may discover the next Microsoft, or strike it rich in the lottery, but things like that don't happen to just everyone.

These benefits are not actually free, of course. The Danes pay 50% of their income toward taxes. Between income taxes, social security taxes, sales taxes, school taxes, town taxes, village taxes, and those weird charges on the phone bill and elsewhere, I'm pretty sure we pay that much too.

So why on earth aren't we demanding similar services? And even if we had to pay a few points more, wouldn't they be worth it?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama Open To Vouchers

Barack Obama told the AFT and the NEA last year that he did not support private school vouchers, but this week he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.

The education "reform" group, Democrats For The Return Of Feudalism And The Six Day Work Week, immediately hailed Obama's flip-flop on the voucher issue:

The executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, said the response was unusual for a Democratic politician, praising Mr. Obama for making his bottom line helping children learn rather than ideology.

"I don't think anyone can call him a voucher supporter out of this, but it is an intriguing response," Mr. Williams said. "It is a different kind of answer than most of us are used to hearing from politicians."

It sure is.

Most Democratic politicians see the private school voucher movement as just another way for the privatization folks to get their hands on public money and continue to privatize as much of the government as they can.

For example, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton see the issue that way.

But not Obama.

You see, he's a different kind of Democrat.

He tells the NEA and the AFT that he supports merit pay based upon standardized test scores and says he now could support school vouchers.

He also thinks the problem with the American economy is not a greedy multi-national corporate system that rewards hedge fund managers, CEO's and the rest of the investment class over the workers but an education system that doesn't educate students as well as India does (never mind that in class-stratified India, only 75% of the population can actually read and more than 1/3rd of the population live on less than 40 cents a day - Obama thinks it's a model for the U.S. to mimic.)

Gee, he kinda sounds Republican-lite to me.

No wonder Whitney Tilson and the other values investors at the Democrats For The Return Of Feudalism And The Six Day Work Week like him so much.

He speaks their language - privatize, standardize, voucherize.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Got Any Cash To Spend?

I walked from Fulton Street all the way up to 23rd Street today and noticed tons of empty storefronts with "Commercial Space For Rent" signs.

Even the venerable Soho shopping district had some, though the area just below NYU around Astor Place seemed pretty hard hit. One block had three empty storefronts and the space where Barnes and Noble used to be around the corner is still empty.

The Barnes and Noble on 6th Avenue and 21st Street is also going out of business in March. I've noticed quite a few other stores with "Going Out Of Business sales (and not the usual scam "Going Out Of Business" sales some stores use to draw in tourists.) CompUSA is closing all their stores including the one on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street and the one on West 57th Street.

According to a store clerk at the B&N in Chelsea, insane rents are putting many of these stores out of business, but with retail sales down pretty drastically the last few months, I imagine lack of customer traffic must be adding to the problem. Even when retail sales numbers increase, as they did last month, it's because of inflation rather than an increase in actual sales. As Floyd Norris wrote in the NY Times recently, Americans are spending 13% more on food and energy this year than last year, which means that

FACED with tightening credit and a slowing economy, America’s consumers are being forced to scale back their purchases, but high prices of necessities are keeping their overall purchases rising at a reasonably strong rate.

We're buying less but paying more for what we have to buy. Not a good trend overall considering consumer spending accounts for 72% of the American economy these days.

Dunno if that is why so many commercial and retail spaces seem to be empty around Manhattan, but something sure seems to be happening around here.

What about where you are? Notice an increase in stores going out of business or commercial spaces staying unrented for long periods of time?

And how about your own spending? Are you holding back from purchases because you're worried about a near-term economic slowdown or buying things per usual?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Those Goshdarn Liberals

The New York Times, our local bastion of liberalism, has come out in favor of a plan to turn Pier 40, 550 acres along the Hudson, into an entertainment center with a theater for Cirque du Soleil. Apparently, Manhattan lacks sufficient entertainment for members of the Times editorial board. They also speak about the revenue this could generate.

But what about people who can't cough up several hundred bucks to take their families to Cirque du Soleil?
The other proposal would include a new high school, swimming pools, shops, restaurants and more athletic fields.

Well, I can't imagine a high school would be a great revenue generator. But with 75% of high schools overcrowded under Mike "accountability" Bloomberg, kids are in desperate need of space. And while Mayor Mike would prefer to devote athletic fields to private school kids, regular city kids need places to play as well.

As for me, I'm disappointed that I'm not getting that blatant liberal bias I expect from institutions like this venerated paper. OK, they're good with some things, but honestly, what's more important--educating our kids or watching a show?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not to Be Missed

Diane Ravitch offers a dose of typically relentless truth about the Bloomberg administration in today's NY Sun.

Ms. Weingarten Delivers (in Her Style)

Over two years after having negotiated the worst contract in the history of our union, UFT President Randi Weingarten is finally presenting city teachers with a 25/55 retirement program. That's a great achievement, of course.

Only it isn't actually a 25/55 program. New hires will actually have to wait 27 years before they can benefit from this program. Therefore they, who will soon outnumber current teachers by overwhelming margins, will not receive what the UFT so frequently promised.

It's always instructive to read the viewpoints of Unity patronage employees, many of whom earn double what most teachers do, and all of whom must invariably agree with Ms. Weingarten's every whim or risk losing their jobs and second pensions. On Edwize, one cries about the injustice of the 1.75% cut in school budgets. Concurrently, the UFT feverishly pushes a bill that will cut most teacher salaries by 1.8% on a nearly permanent basis. Some teachers, like me, will have an opportunity to opt in (or not). And though I'd actually like to work past the age of 55, I'll have to buy in as an insurance policy. After all, who knows what the future will bring?

But this program appears to be a bonanza for the city's coffers:

In the latest city budget on page E-117, there is a category called "55/25 Program Savings: Savings generated by increased retirements as a result of the new age and experience retirement policy." For fiscal year 2009 the city will be saving $43,100,000 because of 55/25-55/27; for fiscal year 2010 that will jump to $68,600,000; for fiscal year 2011 it spikes to $87,500,000 and for 2012 the city will be saving $101,000,000.

The city saves over 100 million dollars because current teachers who want to take advantage of 55/25 will have to pay into the system to fund their early retirement while new hires will be required to pay pension contributions for their entire careers, not just the first ten years. The added contributions amount to a 1.85% pay cut for employees not yet hired and they won't be able retire after 25 years of service at age 55 as the contract says they should be able to; they will need 27 years. What did we get in return for allowing the city to save this huge sum of money with their de-facto new pension tier? School-wide merit pay

In fact, according to The Sun, Ms. Weingarten gave away even more. One of her prime bragging points about the awful 2005 contract was that she accepted a sub-cost-of-living increase rather than indulging in the process of "eating our young," or giving reasonable pay increases to experienced personnel at the expense of new hires. But an effective 1.85% pay cut is probably not the best way to entice young teachers, most of whom will be unlikely to work long enough to reap any benefit whatsoever.

There also appears to be a side-deal with the devil, specifically an agreement on the union's part to back a Republican hopeful who supports tax credits for private school parents:

On January 28, the state teachers union announced it was endorsing Republican Assemblyman Will Barclay's bid for an open Senate seat that will be decided in a special election on February 27. The race is viewed as a must-win for Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's conference, which holds a fragile 32- to 29-seat advantage over the Senate Democrats.

In the past, the UFT has endorsed such stellar candidates as Serphin Maltese, a State Senator who was responsible for breaking parochial school unions on at least two occasions. Why? Who knows? Why are they backing Barclay?

The union said it favored the Republican because he had "demonstrated a commitment to public education."

Does that sound as vague to you as it does to me?

NYC teachers paid heavily for that 2005 contract. Many, after that, and after Ms. Weingarten's merit pay deal with the city, will now pay even more. I wish Ms. Weingarten well as AFT President, and I sincerely hope her UFT successor will do everything possible to eradicate the legacy that endears her the the likes of union-bashers like ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Good Ol' Mayor Mike

Mayor Mike is finally proposing to move the trailer school he organized to a permanent home.

But it's in another district, and parents are outraged.

Boy, some people. They want the school in a building, and they want it near their homes. Sheesh! If it weren't for those bothersome involved parents, Mayor Mike could do whatever he wanted.

Though it appears he'll do that anyway, actually.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Don't Miss the Carnival...

...the Carnival of Education, that is, appearing right now at Instructify.

An Even Playing Field?

You gotta wonder. When people talk about charters, they marvel at their achievements, even though their results are clearly uneven. Yet no charter I know of is wedged into a 250% capacity building, as are all my students. Also, no fewer than 100% of charter students have parents proactive enough to select schools for their kids.

Then you find that billionaires like Eli Broad and Bill Gates are supporting these schools, in a manner of speaking. But really, when they earmark their donations to KIPP or Aspire, or whatever private chain comes down the pike, they provide startup cash and stick taxpayers for the rest.

Typical charter schools such as Green Dot, which Broad also subsidizes with what are probably tax-deductible gifts, are privately controlled and run by unelected, self-appointed boards that are effectively unaccountable to the public. The State Board of Education and the state agency that "oversees" charters are now dominated by pro-charter appointees.

That's in California, of course. But here in New York, Green Dot leader Steve Barr has UFT head Randi Weingarten firmly tucked into his pocket, and can continue to boast of "unionized" schools without tenure or seniority rights for teachers who work there. And, of course, when these attacks on the rights of working people succeed, our kids grow up with fewer rights themselves. And though charter schools can fire employees for offenses like comparing public school salaries, they don't appear to serve the same kids we do:

...Through what amounts to a contract with parents and students, they screen their applicants and admit a clientele that, in a traditional public school, would do as well or better than they are doing in the charter school.

If Broad's pet charters had to accept 3,000 limited-English, low-income students from ethnic backgrounds that include a high percentage of single-parent families, with widespread gang involvement and little commitment to education, scores that the charters now trumpet would fall significantly. But working with a select group of students who would score well at any school, Broad's charters garner only somewhat better-than-average test scores - despite the massive amount of public and private money poured into them.

It seems the cards are stacked in their favor. Of course, when you have billionaires and union heads effectively in your pocket, you're not really gambling anyway.

I love it when "reformers" talk about school choice, and pat themselves on the back for their generosity. Meanwhile, the biggest "reformer" of all, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, treats my community public school like an oversized can of sardines, reserving state of the art facilities for charter schools run by billionaires.

Thanks to California Teacher Guy

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


UFT President Randi Weingarten is getting ready to become AFT President. Among the many notable achievements that define Ms. Weingarten's legacy in NYC:

-disenfranchising working teachers to the point that fewer than 25% bother to vote in union elections

-3 extra days so teachers can listen to Klein's flunkies pontificate while kids stay home

-fewer transfer options for experienced teachers

-a sixth 37.5 minute class of "small group instruction" 4x weekly (which the UFT maintains is not a class, while Chancellor Klein maintains we now have small classes in the city)

-no right to grieve letters in your file

-return to lunch duty, hall patrol, homeroom, potty patrol et al on a permanent basis

-UFT silence on the mayoral election as quid pro quo for the worst contract in our history

-bribing New Action, the former opposition party,
with patronage jobs so they'd support her

-failure to oppose reorganizations that hurt chances of teachers being placed in regular jobs, thus sentencing many ATR teachers to permanent substitute status

-enthusiastic support of nebulous class size regulations that achieved nothing

-repeated failure to amend the UFT contract, the only instrument that legally restricts class size, to really reduce it

-partnership with Green Dot Schools, which specifically reject tenure and seniority rights for teachers

-UFT support of mayoral control

-achieving the admiration of Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige, as well as that of various anti-teacher, anti-union editorial boards

-accomplishing all of the above without bothering to achieve even cost of living increases for rank and file

I've no doubt Ms. Weingarten can continue to build upon her remarkable record on a national level. It may prove marginally interesting to watch her and others posture as though she has not already been assigned the job.

Then again, it may not.

Mayor Mike Reaches out to Charters (Neighborhood Schools Need Not Apply)

While my school exceeds 250% capacity, while overcrowding drives my students into trailers and glorified closets, while 75% of high schools in NYC are overcrowded, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is setting priorities.

PS 15 in Brooklyn got an A in Mayor Bloomberg's grading system. To reward them, he's dumping a charter school into the building. It's simply unconscionable that this mayor can leave so many regular schools overcrowded while still finding space for charters. While there will be hearings, in this era of mayoral control Chancellor Klein will make the final decision.

Clearly charter schools are more important than community schools to this mayor. As the mayor gradually destroys schools like mine, he shows marked preference for privately-run charters. Perhaps under the guidance of "reformers" like Mayor Mike, neighborhood schools in NYC will become a thing of the past.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Don't Miss...

Eduwonkette is running a Valentine's Day poetry contest. Who's your secret valentine? EW has some suggestions, but my entry goes out to NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,

My school's over 250% capacity,

Can my 5th period class meet in your office?

I'm not sure about the rhyme scheme, but it's certainly got that je ne sais quoi.

Why not send an entry of your own?

Another Day in Kleinworld

Imagine your kid's teacher gave an "A" on a test, and the next week gave a zero, just for the hell of it. Sure, you could say one wiped out the other, but you'd be upset for sure. I know I would.

That's how a lot of principals felt when Chancellor Klein handed them bonuses, then yanked the rug out from under them by cutting their budgets. Rather than using the money for enrichment programs, much needed improvements in facilities, or reducing class sizes, school leaders are using them to plug holes in their budgets.

Ernest Logan, president of the principals union, put it in blunter terms, noting how the mayor and the chancellor touted the awards a few weeks ago, then "sucked that money right back."

"It was not well thought out," Logan said.

Of course it wasn't. That's why schools with records of consistent excellence got Bs and Cs simply because their test averages went down a few points this year. The remarkably shallow rating system suggests that schools with long-term 65 averages are better than those with long-term 90 averages. Why? School A went from 60 to 65, while school B went from 92 to 90. Therefore, in Kleinworld, school A is improving while school B is going down the toilet. School safety? That's just 2.5% of the score (Keep your eye on your pocketbook in school A, and consider body armor in place of that pantsuit).

In Kleinworld, schools deemed in need of improvement simply have fewer resources to achieve it. Hopefully, they'll fail completely, the chancellor will shut them down, and squeeze 5 "small schools" in their place. Because the small schools will admit no special ed. or ESL kids, scores will go up, and Kleinworld can declare another victory.

Sometimes I have to go to seminars where reps from Tweed give long speeches about what great jobs they're doing. I ask them why they do things that don't really address the dysfunction of this system.

"Well, we had to do something," they say.

I ask why they couldn't so something meaningful.

They never have an answer.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Monday, February 11, 2008

Congratulations to My Students

The New York Sun reports today that foreign-born students are doing better in school than those of us who were born here. There are a number of factors at work here. One of the reasons I so enjoy teaching ESL is that the kids are so motivated. The overwhelming majority of kids who I teach know the importance of learning English, and it's really a joy to help them acquire such a fundamental and necessary skill.

Also, of course, imagine you are a parent who decided to move to another country. After having gone to all that trouble, leaving your home, your family, your career, and everything else you've known all your life, it's almost certainly your intention to see your kids excel in school. When I contact parents, I usually find them very concerned about their kids. My colleagues run into indifferent or unhelpful parents more frequently than I do.

Naturally, since Mayor Bloomberg is such a great proponent of merit pay, I fully expect him to give us ESL teachers a substantial bonus. I'm hoping he just slips us envelopes full of cash so we don't have to deal with all those taxes politicians are always complaining about. I'm thinking low six figures. Frankly, nothing reflects appreciation quite like a realistic down payment on a second home.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where Will the Children Play?

In PS 48 in the Bronx, they need only walk to their schoolyard. That's because principal John Hugues decided it was a priority.

"He got fired up," parent leader Arshel Brown said of Hughes. "If we had more people like Mr. Hughes, we'd all be on the ball."

Playgrounds are a scarce commodity in New York. A 2003 City Council study found that half of the city's nearly 800 elementary schools had no playground at all.

Meanwhile, "reformer" Michael Bloomberg unilaterally attempts sweetheart deals to build playing fields for elite private schools. Fortunately for the kids of PS 48, their principal didn't see fit that they should wait till they could afford tuition at the Spence School.

Hughes got no help at all from Tweed, and tired of getting "the runaround" from so-called proper channels.

When Hughes took over the school in 2001, he sought funding from the School Construction Authority, but with classrooms squeezed into trailers all over the city and 100-year-old buildings clamoring for repair, playgrounds were not a priority.

No one disputes that playgrounds are not a priority in Mr. Bloomberg's New York. In fact, Mr. Bloomberg has no apparent problem dumping a bunch of trailers in a lot somewhere and labeling it a school. In Mr. Bloomberg's New York, the only thing that matters is test scores and accountability. Of course, despite the fact that Mr. Bloomberg has made no progress whatsoever with test scores he can't manipulate, the closest he's come to accountability has been the remarkable spectacle of Jim Liebman, chief accountability officer, literally running away from concerned parents.

"Reformers" like Mayor Bloomberg think the only thing that matters is test scores, and simply ignore the fact that their "reforms" fail to achieve even this narrow goal. Having observed really good schools, like the one my kid has attended, I see three constant elements:

1. Good teachers
2. Reasonable class sizes, and
3. Decent facilities

Despite Mr. Bloomberg's grandstanding about teacher quality, he's done little to address the first element. Actually, I'd say he loves bad teachers, because to him, "accountability" translates to passing the buck. Without bad teachers, he'd have absolutely no one to scapegoat.

As for two and three, it's fairly clear he ignores them completely. His claims of having reduced class size by .2 kids per class are laughable even if they're true. In my school, stuffed several times beyond capacity, class sizes regularly exceed 34, the highest class size limit in the state. And if Principal Hughes school doesn't demonstrate this administrations utter disregard for decent facilities, I don't know what does.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Defy Expectations

What can you do when a kid writes swear words on the board? What if he draws sex-related pictures too? Why not retaliate by flashing your breasts at him?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mr. Bloomberg Improvises

Mayor Bloomberg has been very busy of late. Apparently a bunch of upstart parents challenged his right to unilaterally devote the bulk of Randall's Island to private schools. This was disconcerting. After all, who knows what's best for private school kids? Certainly a parent of private school kids like Mayor Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg knows that private school kids need good teachers, small classes, and decent facilities, like big parks to run around in.

Why on earth can't his critics just get with the program?

Meanwhile, a bunch of uppity parents in the Bronx are making a big stink just because they don't have a school building. This, after Mayor Bloomberg generously provided their kids with a bunch of trailers to sit in. Sure, they said it would be for two years, and those two years have come and gone, but for goodness sake, don't these people have any patience? Mayor Bloomberg will get around to it when he gets around to it. Sheesh, have these people got any idea how much work it is to decide whether or not to run for President?

Didn't Mayor Bloomberg promise to rid the city of all trailers by 2012? Sure, he's since reneged on that promise, but didn't he promise it? And did one of those parents say thank you? Of course not. Ingrates.

Now it's true that kids in this school have no cafeteria, no nurse, no science labs and no gym. But Mayor Bloomberg has generously permitted the girls to go to the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club for gym. Not only that, but he's provided them transportation to get there. Sure, they have to walk back, but he could have just made them walk both ways. The mayor decided one way was enough, and that's just the kind of guy he is.

But still, the parents complain. Some people can't do anything but complain. If these parents are going to continually nitpick, and demand their kids have a school in a building, with facilities normally found in a school, why don't they just send them to the Spence School? After all, that's what Mayor Bloomberg did with his kids.

At the Spence School, class size is 14, and at twenty grand a year, it's a bargain.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

New Math

I've been helping my daughter with her homework a lot lately. She's in sixth grade and has not yet outpaced my rudimentary knowledge of mathematics. But there's still a problem--while I can work out solutions to her problems, I can't explain where they come from. Or more precisely, the way I figure things out is incorrect, according to whatever it is she was taught.

So while I can tell her whether or not she arrived at a correct conclusion, I am no help whatsoever in leading her to it. My methods are just outdated and useless, not to mention totally unacceptable on tests.

Tom Lehrer wrote about the New Math in the 60s. Almost half a century later parents are still struggling with it.

But he can explain it much better than I would. Enjoy.

The "Threat" of Bilingualism

In Grapevine, Texas, they're requiring students to study Spanish a few days a week, and parent Leigh Allison is taking a strong stand against it, sending her daughter Ashleigh to the library instead. She may have a point:

Ashleigh said she knew the day that she enrolled at Timberline that she didn't want to take the required Spanish classes.

"There was a lot of Spanish kids and not a lot of other kinds of kids," she said.

Her mother said: "We were very much the minority. She couldn't understand anybody and really felt isolated."

Now that sounds like an inappropriate class for English-speaking Ashleigh, and I can certainly understand why her mom would want her out of it. If Ashleigh is to study Spanish, she ought to be grouped with kids at her own level, which she clearly was not.

There are a few other views here I find more disturbing:

"On the one hand, we're all for teaching foreign languages," said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of Virginia-based ProEnglish, which works to preserve English as the common language of the U.S.

"But it would be naive to think that the country does not face the growing threat of bilingualism because of the massive influx of mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants. They're coming in faster than the country can absorb them."

Personally, when people start talking about the "threat of bilingualism," they lose me right there. If you want people to learn foreign languages, you must actually encourage bilingualism. If you regard it as a "threat," you may as well outlaw it.

For all the good it will do you.

Language is alive. It ebbs and flows, and while I may equate my grammar book with the Ten Commandments, there's really not anything I can do if people say, "She swims better than me." In fact, I'd view people who say, "She swims better than I," as pretentious. I usually compromise and say, "She swims better than I do."

And here's a fact--American English is the most successful language in the history of the world. While there are more speakers of Chinese and Hindi, we're the most-studied second language in the world (thus providing gainful employment for ESL teachers like me). Furthermore, the French can have their Academy, and pass all sorts of rules about what may and may not pass as French, but they'll never regain the status we stole from them during the last century.

How have we been so successful? It's tough to say. John Adams wanted to make English the national language, but failed due to the preponderance of German speakers at the time. Where have they gone? Who's to say? I studied a lot of German the year I spent in Switzerland, but it doesn't do me any good here.

With American English, we steal words from everyone and anyone. Ours is a flexible and open language, and we don't have a bunch of snooty professors telling us what we may and may not do. Our system of benign neglect has worked extremely well.

And now, of course, 20% of our people speak Spanish, last I heard. If you're going to study a second language, it's your best choice, because you can probably use it. And if over half of your fellow students speak Spanish, it's clearly a best bet. There is no resource like a bunch of peers who speak your target language. While my peers struggle to teach French and other languages, I regularly turn out fluent English speakers. It's not that I'm a better teacher--it's just that I'm working in a much more favorable environment.

They ought to have courses suitable for kids like Ashleigh. But if people are simply determined not to learn Spanish, it's really their loss and no one else's. Spanish will succeed or fail just like every other language.

You can legislate a national language, if you feel like it. You can pass laws, and restrict signs, and do whatever you like. But living languages will continue to do what they like.

You may as well pass laws that it cannot rain on the days you wash your car.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Maybe We're in the Wrong Business

It appears the real money is in being a supply secretary. All that purchasing power, and no one dares enter your office, for fear their next eraser could be the last. Apparently, a few elementary school secretaries pooled their resources to buy a few things of dubious educational value:

...a diamond ring, digital cameras and a portable DVD player - and such mundane items as cigarettes and beer, school investigators charge.

Included among the items purchased by the secretaries between October 2002 and November 2005 were Easter outfits for plastic geese, "Best Grandma Ever" T-shirts, and a doormat that read, "Boucher's Bungalow."

Boxes of Marlboro Lights cigarettes and 12-ounce cans of Coors Light beer also surfaced amid the shameless shopping spree.

Well, working in a public school is hard work, and you gotta unwind somehow after a full day of defrauding the taxpayers. What's better than sitting down, putting on your free diamond ring, and having a nice cold one?

It's like winning the lottery without having to hassle with buying all those tickets.

It's Truth, Justice, and the American Way

I heard a story on the radio this morning about some Iowa politician proposing a law that American flags be made in America. Search though I did, I couldn't find any reference to it on the net.

But it looks like they're not the first. As of January 1st, 2008, no American flags can be sold in Minnesota unless they're made in the USA. I guess I'm not the best role model in the world, having driven Japanese cars for the past 20 years, but it never even crossed my mind that the American flag would be produced abroad.

One of my colleagues today stated that military uniforms were made overseas, but apparently that's not true, as the Berry Amendment states the Department of Defense to American manufacturers when purchasing food, clothing and other items. There's been some controversy about it, but it appears to remain alive and well.

There's a perverse irony to the notion that American flags would be made overseas. I have no problem requiring American flags to be produced in the USA, even if it means I can't buy them at Wal-Mart for 49 cents anymore.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How Can I Cheat Thee?

Let me count the ways....

Thanks to David Bellel

Calling Linda

Mr. Greenberg was having a rough week. His class of 42 was going to stay a class of 42, and worse, his classroom didn't really fit 42. Kids were sitting almost in one another's laps. There were no rows, there was no semicircle, just a bunch of kids sitting well within copying distance, and how on earth was he ever going to give a test? What about the kids on the windowsill with unobstructed views of ten or twelve papers?

Even worse, Linda, who sat right in front of him, had the biggest mouth he'd ever heard, and broadcasted her opinions on everything on a more or less constant basis. He'd tried talking with her, he'd tried having others talk to her, and now he was desperately trying to contact her home. But she'd insisted she didn't have a home phone, and said since her mother was a teacher, he couldn't reach her at work either.

Mr. Greenberg checked the computer, which led him to a non-working number. He went to the medical office and checked her emergency numbers. Two didn't work, and one led him to a Chinese speaker. Mr. Greenberg doubted anyone in her home spoke Chinese.

The next day, Linda once again said her mom was a teacher, and a much better one than Mr. Greenberg to boot. Mr. Greenberg smiled, said it was probably true, and asked which school Linda's mom taught at. To his surprise, she told him.

"But you'll never get her on the phone," she added.

Mr. Greenberg decided to try anyway. He looked up the number, asked to speak to Linda's mom, and somehow wound up connected with the principal's office. He told the principal of his problem, and asked to please have Linda's mom contact him. The principal said he'd do that.

The next morning, as Mr. Greenberg was preparing for class, Linda's mom came, asked if he was Mr. Greenberg, and proceeded to let him know how things were.

"Don't you ever, EVER call my school again!" she warned.

Mr. Greenberg considered asking for her phone number. Then he got another idea.

"If Linda acts out in class today, I will call your school today. If she acts out tomorrow, I will call tomorrow. Every day she acts out, I will call your school. Thank you for coming."

To Mr. Greenberg's surprise, she walked out quietly. That day, Linda behaved well in his class. The next day, she behaved well yet again. On the third day, Mr. Greenberg discovered Linda had transferred to another school.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What's the Dif?

Actually, Paul Krugman writes there may be an important difference($) between Hillary and Obama:

...the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.

Mr. Obama claims that people will buy insurance if it becomes affordable. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.

No one knows when they'll get sick. Personally, I think we need universal health care, but if we can't manage that, we ought to cover as many of us as possible. And it appears there are significant advantages to one plan:

...a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion. Over all, the Obama-type plan would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the Clinton-type plan only $2,700.

That doesn’t look like a trivial difference to me. One plan achieves more or less universal coverage; the other, although it costs more than 80 percent as much, covers only about half of those currently uninsured.

And while no one knows what will happen with either plan when it goes through the sausage grinder that is our Congress, there could be problems for Obama if he tried to improve his plan. After all, he's already run commercials criticizing Hillary's plan, and they're reputed to be much like the Harry and Louise ads that trashed universal health back in 92.

So if he were to try and fix his own plan, he'd become one of the dreaded "flip-floppers." As you know, that's potential death for a politician (even though they're all probably just as guilty). Unless you're Ronald Reagan, of course. Mr. Reagan signed the largest peacetime tax increase in history, and the whole world simply forgot about it.

Will Obama be able to pull off something like that? Times have changed, and I have to doubt it.

Love and Justice

"Mr. Educator, I'm really upset with my Mom."

"I'm sorry to hear that. What's the matter?"

"Well, my boyfriend is so sweet and gentle, but she just hates him. I can't understand it."

"Do I know him?"

"Well, no, he doesn't go to school here."

'Where does he go?"

"Well, right now he's in Riker's."

"What's he doing there?"

"Well, he's in there for extortion with a weapon."

"Hmm...maybe that's why your mom doesn't like him...."

"No, he's so sweet. You'd understand if you knew him..."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who Taught You That?

Every parent wants their kids to be polyglots. Sure, my kid speaks English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Arabic. I know because I've spent thousands on classes and DVDs and computer programs. An article in today's Times, though, suggests I may have been throwing my money away. Perhaps demanding Oreos in five languages is not quite the triumph I'd thought.

If you think about it, it's not that surprising at all:
The most effective way for children to learn another language is through a parent or caregiver, in an immersion school or even living abroad, say linguists, language teachers and bilingual parents.

All of us know that, don't we? How many of us spent three or four years studying Spanish in high school only to remember ¿Cómo estás? And most of us probably don't even remember what it means. But the kid whose mother spoke Spanish to him spoke better than the teacher. Who even knew whether the teacher spoke Spanish or not?

And if you think about it, how did we learn English? It wasn't in English class, after all. It was talking to our parents, talking to our friends, and watching Bugs Bunny (Maybe kids today seem more polite because they watch the Teletubbies, who barely speak at all).

But what can you do if you only speak one language and can't afford to hire an illegal immigrant as a caretaker for your kid? Well, your best bet is to get your kid into a dual-language program at school. They have them in several districts in Nassau, and there are a few scattered through the city. It's not quite as good as having a caretaker who speaks the language, but if your kids are around other kids speaking the target language, they'll warm to it more than a computer program.

It's remarkable that so many locales still cling to withholding foreign language instruction until high school, as puberty usually comes with a distinct plunge in the ability to acquire language. But while the national mania for standardized testing makes it less likely we'll address this on a large scale, parents can still stand up and demand it.

After all, if public school parents can beat Mike Bloomberg, they can accomplish pretty much anything.