Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From NYC Educator's Mailbag

I can't vouch for their validity, but here's a list of excuse notes that were supposedly given to teachers.

Have you seen notes like these?

1. My son is under a doctor's care and should not take PE today. Please execute him.

2. Please exkuce Lisa for being absent she was sick and I had her shot.

3. Dear school: please ecsc's john being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and also 33.

4. Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.

5. Please excuse Roland from p.e. For a few days yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.

6. John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.

7. Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part.

8. Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.

9. Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side.

10. Please excuse ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels.

11. Please excuse Lesli from being absent yesterday. She had diahre dyrea direathe the shits.

12. Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea, and his boots leak.

13. Irving was absent yesterday because he missed his bust.

14. Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault.

15. I kept Billie home because she had to go Christmas shopping because I don't know what size she wear.

16. Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday. We thought it was Sunday.

17. Sally won't be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.

18. My daughter was absent yesterday because she was tired. She spent a weekend with the marines.

19. Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well.

20. Please excuse Mary for being absent yesterday. She was in bed with gramps.

21. Gloria was absent yesterday as she was having a gangover.

22. Please excuse Brenda. She has been sick and under the doctor.

23. Maryann was absent December 11-16, because she had a fever, sorethroat, headache and upset stomach. Her sister was also sick, fever an sore throat, her brother had a low grade fever and ached all over. I wasn't the best either, sore throat and fever There must be something going around, her father even got hot last night.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Revisiting Steinbeck

One novel that gets taught a lot is The Pearl by John Steinbeck. It's a very simple story about man vs. the establishment, and sadly, man does not win.

On an essay yesterday, though, at least half a dozen kids explained to me that the protagonist, Kino, was a hero since he managed to save his family in the end.

"But the baby dies," I told one kid. The kid was shocked.

"But I read it twice, Mister."

"I'm sorry to tell you, then, that you didn't understand it either time," I replied.

Later on, a girl in another class told me the same thing. She not only read the book, but she saw the movie too, and in the end, the baby was still alive.

"Then it was a terrible movie," I told her.

Later, the girl told me that her former English teacher had read much of the book aloud to the class. When the teacher tired of doing this, she simply showed the film. It's so much easier than actually making kids read, I suppose. And then the girl explained that they never got to the end of the book.

I'm not really happy with a teacher who presents half of an American classic and then opts for the movie version. It's particularly egregious since this movie, which I've neither seen nor heard of, apparently plops a Disney ending onto the story. It's even worse considering how very, very short the story is.

This reminds me of those people who take Beethoven and tack on a disco beat. They belong in jail. And don't get me started on Demi Moore and what she did to The Scarlet Letter...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mr. Klein Names a School

NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is naming a school after incumbent Republican State Senator Frank Padavan. Why bother with all that time-consuming and costly campaigning when you can just have your buds name buildings after you?

How Much Do Suburban Schools Pay?

You have to wonder, what with frequent UFT claims we've caught up to the suburbs.

A few years back, I wrote a post comparing Nassau salaries to NYC salaries. Nassau teachers get credit for 60 credits beyond the MA, and often for a doctorate as well. With our much-vaunted 5% raise bringing UFT maximum to 100K, I thought it would be a good time to compare salaries as of November 2007 in Nassau. I'm using the measure of 60, not 30 beyond the MA as comparison.

Most of these districts pay a few thousand extra for teachers who have doctorates, so factor that in if you're one of the few and the proud. I think I have the MA plus 60, I'm certain I'm at least close, but I'm sure I'd have it if I were paid, and I'm assuming you would too. For MA plus 30, you can deduct a few thousand from most of these.

Bear in mind that these are only the latest figures I could find, and that they may have gone up by now.

Right now:

NYC 43362-95285

As of May 19th:

NYC 45530-100049

What were teachers earning last November in Nassau? I'll tell you:

Bellmore 49632-108208
Bellmore-Merrick 50842-115864
Bethpage 49018-111529
East Rockaway 50784-110989
Farmingdale 45292-109928
Floral Park 50834-110387
Franklin Square 47312-107757
Great Neck 51801-120632
Herricks 51207-115841
Hicksville 48677-105723
Island Park 53685-123221
Lawrence 47528-117767
Levittown 51579-111745
Locust Valley 52797-119054
Lynbrook 49603-112941
Malverne 52304-112976
Manhasset 53378-119224
Massapequa 50526-115280
North Merrick 47015-116763
North Shore 50115-118861
Oceanside 54797-113785
Plainedge 50956-115916
Port Washington 51449-115760
Seaford 45874-103762
Sewanhaka 50140-107909
Wantagh 49710-113382
West Hempstead 45790-111396
Westbury 47788-110443

Saturday, April 26, 2008


That's what you'll find in the Daily News, where hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson is once again sharing his expertise with us, the bootless and unhorsed. At a time when working people in this country are losing their jobs, their homes, and living hand to mouth, Mr. Tilson suggests fewer options for them is the way to go.

Naturally, it's those goshdarn unions again. If only working people would stop demanding pay, demanding rights, and demanding benefits, we'd have a utopia. The specific problem today, according to Mr. Tilson, is that it's simply too hard to fire teachers.

Mr. Tilson gives the UFT Charter School as an example. He praises the UFT for having opened it, but laments the fact that a teacher grieved being fired, and was reinstated. He hopes the UFT will thus learn the folly of protecting working people. And Mr. Tilson certainly puts his money where his mouth is, investing heavily in companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's, which have rich histories of exploitation. Mr. Tilson muses that government should follow in the footsteps of his highly profitable investments:

...I do hope that everyone involved takes the opportunity to learn a critical lesson about what makes charters - and, indeed, all public schools - successful: that principals need the authority to manage their schools, especially the ability to hire and fire all staff. At times, this can lead to conflict with teachers' "rights" tokeep their jobs, but in such cases, it's the manager's job - and should be his or her right, within certain boundaries - to make a decision and stand by it.

A key difference between Mr. Tilson's outlook and mine, I suppose, is his utter disregard for facts in evidence. Perhaps Mr. Tilson is simply unaware that all public schools in nearby Nassau County are unionized, and that all teachers here are also subject to state tenure laws. Perhaps Mr. Tilson is unaware that, unlike the city, existing tenure laws are actually enforced here. More likely, he consciously chooses to ignore these facts, as does the Daily News.

Mr. Tilson goes on to cite Green Dot as an example of a school with a more reasonable contract. Here, he's got some support from the UFT aristocracy. But neither Mr. Tilson nor libelous Leo Casey has been able to provide a single example of the Green Dot contract protecting a teacher. In fact, since Green Dot proudly rejects both tenure and seniority rights, I've yet to hear a single example of their "just cause" clause ever having been exercised. Doubtless Mr. Tilson delights in a contracts where working people can be discharged "just cause" it suits the administration's whims.

Actually, what makes good schools successful is not a principal's option to fire whomever he pleases. In fact, it is these very principals who've been routinely assigning tenure to anyone with a pulse. And while Chancellor Klein can complain from now till doomsday about tenure regulations, existing rules work much better in schools where they're actually enforced. Would Mr. Klein do better with better principals? Perhaps. But his track record makes it doubtful he has the remotest notion what a good principal is.

Mr. Tilson is certainly free to admire the Wal-Mart/ McDonald's model. But he's sorely mistaken about what constitutes a good school. Good teachers, reasonable class sizes, and decent facilities, not "reforms," make up the recipe. It's tough for principals, however good they may be, to rise above a lack of ingredients.

Endless work for little reward may have pleased feudal lords, but working people today need more, not fewer options. And it behooves us not to degrade the job of teaching, but to improve the jobs of working people everywhere.

Our children deserve a future with options well beyond those of simply enriching the likes of Mr. Tilson.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Friday, April 25, 2008

Counting Votes is Too Expensive

So sez the GOP.

Buckle Up

It's a funny country we live in. The President is firmly anti-abortion, dedicated to protecting fetuses worldwide. Once the beloved children are born, to help them get on their feet, he denies them health insurance. It's too expensive. After all, we're already borrowing 3 billion a week to fight the Iraq war, which is much more important than keeping our children healthy, apparently.

Conspicuously absent from the NY Times today is the story about British teachers and other civil servants walking out today, in a one-day job action. Working people taking a stand for themselves appears to be of no consequence whatsoever to the United States of America. But the British feel differently:

"We're tired of inflation going up and our salaries not meeting that rise," said Leanne Hahn, a primary school teacher from north London, one of the several thousand who marched through the capital's streets waving placards saying "No to paycuts" and "No extra unpaid hours."

"We're struggling to get mortgages and to get onto the housing ladder. We just can't afford to live," she said.

However, Councillor Ivan Ould, chairman of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers, said children and their parents would suffer as a result of the strike.

"Children so close to their exams will lose out on invaluable study time and parents will lose out as they are forced to take unnecessary holiday to look after them," he said.

I'm always touched by the arguments about the children. Apparently they're the British government's first concern. When they grow up, and their real salaries have declined, and they can't afford the same standard of living as their parents, well, then they can go to hell, I suppose. The government will be worried about their children then. With luck they'll have learned to sit down and shut up, much as American workers do.

Here, there's little worry about strikes, or even one-day job actions by teachers, since there are so few unions. For those that somehow remain (like us), penalties for strikes can be draconian. In the United States, the concept of working people standing up for themselves is just pure evil. In fact, George Will seems to feel that teachers negotiating contracts represents the end of civilization as we know it:

After 1962, when New York City signed the nation's first collective bargaining contract with teachers, teachers began changing from members of a respected profession into just another muscular faction fighting for more government money.

It's always illuminating to be lectured to about money by prominent pundits who make many times what we do. Apparently, it sets a bad example for the multitudes when working people stand up and say they need to be paid a living wage. If such trends were to continue, perhaps everyone would demand a living wage. And that, of course, would be bad for the children. The ones we love. The ones we teach toughness by denying them health insurance.

Not only that, but what have we got to show for all this collective bargaining?

...shopworn panaceas -- larger teacher salaries, smaller class sizes -- were pursued as colleges were reduced to offering remediation to freshmen.

Well, we've got larger salaries. But we've also got a larger workload, and with energy prices having quadrupled (not to mention prices of everything else), those larger salaries lag well behind cost of living. And here in New York City, despite all the talk, we've made no progress whatsoever on class size (not that this concerns Mr. Will).

Mr. Will believes, aside from the perfidy of teachers, that families are to blame:

No reform can enable schools to cope with the 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children today born out of wedlock, which means, among many other things, a continually renewed cohort of unruly adolescent males.

It's refreshing that Mr. Will rejects "reforms." It's odd, though, that he blatantly rejects collective bargaining for working people. You'd think a better standard of living might make people's lives a little more stable, and might even result in their behavior becoming more stable as well. It's tough to live the pristine lifestyle Mr. Will might prescribe when you have mortgage payments and crushing medical bills.

It's even tougher when you can't get debt relief for catastrophic medical emergencies, the no. 1 cause of bankruptcy in these United States. In Canada, where there's a social safety net, I've seen people place locks like those on my bathroom doors right on their front doors. I don't know anyone in New York who'd do such a thing.

And as long as the likes of George Will, George Bush, or, yes, John McCain are dictating social norms in this country, you'd better get a good strong lock for your front door. Consider barring your windows as well.

You can't be too careful these days.

Thanks to reality-based educator, Greg, and Abigail

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baltimore Jonny and the Rest of Us

Stories like this one (if you use that link, scroll down to see it) are beginning to seriously freak me out. World-class fiddler Jon Glik from Baltimore had been ill for quite a while. Online appeals for medical funds and benefit concerts had popped up to help him, but it's really tough when you don't have medical insurance in the US of A, and it's not easy for people who work as musicians to afford insurance.

Now sure, you might say, people shouldn't be musicians, and they should work in factories or oil drawbridges instead. I'd argue that musicians add something to our society even if they don't make as much money as, say, hedge fund operators. So as I encounter these various tales of ailing musicians, and I hear plenty, I feel ashamed that we're the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't routinely take care of our own.

Jon Glik was lucky. As a much-beloved musician, he'd met someone at a square dance (of all places) who was able to help him out. Also, he qualified for a state program that helped him out when he was set to get the liver transplant he needed. A few weeks ago, I worked with a musician who was not so lucky. He'd been having chest pains, and he ignored them (having no health insurance). Several days after I saw him, he had a heart attack and died.

And you and yours (and me and mine, and our neighbors) might not be lucky either, if you haven't got insurance. If you're middle-class or anything close to it, you'd have to divest yourself of pretty much everything you have before you qualified for Medicaid. Also, catastrophic medical emergencies are now no longer grounds for debt relief under bankruptcy, thanks to the credit card companies, the US Congress, and George W. Bush.

Some argue against national health care. Some point out shortcomings in the Canadian and European systems. I've no doubt there are shortcomings. But we can do better than this. It behooves us to do better than this.

Listen to Jon:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If You Can't Beat 'em, Buy 'em

Or "When in doubt, buy it out."

Those are a few of the homilies that grace the Bloomberg breakfast table, and Mayor Mike likes to practice what he preaches, sometimes. That's why he's contemplating the purchase of The New York Times. After all, weren't they the ones who printed the story suggesting Bloomberg didn't fare well with test scores he couldn't manipulate? Aren't they the ones who had the originally had the temerity to print Mike Winerip's column suggesting good teachers plus small schools equals quality education?

Not only that, but there's that awful Sam Freeman who actually writes about the rampant overcrowding in high schools. If enough people find out how much of that is really going on, they may begin to doubt the well-circulated Bloomberg myth about "Children First."

Of course, if Michael Bloomberg buys the paper, the likelihood of finding stories like that will decrease substantially. And with Murdoch owning the Post and trying to buy Newsday, the likelihood of New Yorkers encountering writers like Winerip and Freeman may substantially decrease as well.

Don't Miss the Carnival...

...of education, this week at The Education Wonks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Mascot

Perhaps they should've used a dancing bear instead. The Warboys Community Primary School in England is giving up its symbol because they say it's discouraging potential teachers and students. Though the village was the last in England to hang witches, the emblem is no longer the selling point it once was.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

Go directly to the rubber room. That's what the city told Harlem math teacher Mike Thomas last week. Mr. Thomas received some unexpected support from his students, who demonstrated outside the school in protest.

"He's very dedicated, will stay after school. He's always there for tutoring, organizes the chess club," said student Stevon Garcia.

A source told NY1 that Thomas and another teacher are under investigation for possibly looking at certain school records without permission...

Does that allegation sound like something that requires immediate removal from the classroom? Are they worried Mr. Thomas might look at other records? Couldn't they just lock the file cabinet?

I know of someone who had to sit in the rubber room for a year for the offense of using a DoE fax machine. She was eventually sent back to work, but it does seem wasteful to have made her sit there. The costs of the investigation seem a little over the top as well. Perhaps they could've simply billed her for the call (and even for the wear and tear on the machine). I'm fairly certain she would've willingly parted with a quarter, or even a dollar, to avoid sitting in limbo for a year. The city could've turned a neat little profit on this incident, rather than wasting a year's salary.

Now perhaps Mr. Thomas is a modern-day John Dillinger, posing as a schoolteacher during the day to collect health benefits. Who knows? But if that were the case, it may have been better to notify the police (even if it adversely affected his school's grade). Meanwhile, Mr. Thomas' students have no idea why their teacher is gone, and it's entirely likely, despite NY 1's source, that Mr. Thomas has no idea either.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to require the DoE to at least tell people why they're in the rubber rooms? It seems somehow un-American to order people out of their workplaces without even letting them know why.

Thanks to Just a Cog

Monday, April 21, 2008

It's Your Lucky Day!

Download The Living Sea to your PC for free.

Freedom of the Press (and Zit Cream)

Personally, I'm all for it. In fact, I often wish reporters would wake up and take advantage of it.

For example, if you were visiting from another planet, and watched recent Democratic debates, you'd think that the biggest issue facing the voters was flag lapel pins. You'd think, like Charlie Gibson apparently does, that a typical middle class income was 200 thousand dollars a year. And of course, since inflation is apparently not an issue in this country (nor is health care, the mortgage crisis, the war in Iraq, or disappearing jobs), Charlie, out of touch as he is, may soon be right.

Closer to home, we see our local press napping rather than thinking. The coverage of the city's bombastic claims about tenure is a good example. Let's give an entirely hypothetical scenario and say we have three dermatological patients--Nassau, Suffolk, and Joel. Each of them suffers from zits. The dermatologist prescribes a zit cream that costs a hundred bucks. Nassau and Suffolk use the cream and the zits clear up. Joel says the price is too high and refuses to buy it. Six years later, his zit is bigger than his head.

Joel then calls a news conference to declare the zit cream, the one he's never used, is totally inadequate. The press prominently covers the news conference, and rails against the zit cream. Joel then demands untested surgery for any future zits he may get, and the local op-ed pages applaud him. They deplore the hypothetical governor, whom we'll call David Paterson, for opposing the untested surgery. And no one asks or wonders why Joel didn't or shouldn't try the zit cream.

Let's get out of our entirely hypothetical scenario, and take another look at a more recent event, to wit, the hugely hyped opening of Eva Moskowitz' new school. From what I can glean, 3,600 kids applied for 600 openings. It was a huge event, attended by Joel Klein and Governor David Paterson. The press, of course was there, and pronounced in articles and op-eds how wonderful and marvelous it was.

Now let's say, for the sake of argument, their apparent assumptions are correct--that the schools in Harlem are so awful that children need desperately to escape. Let's say that Ms. Moskowitz' school, which hasn't even opened yet, is a fantastic alternative.

This would clearly suggest that Chancellor Klein has failed over 80% of the applicants to the Moskowitz Academy. It also means he's failed all the other residents of the community, the ones who didn't apply. It also begs this question--what on earth has he done to fix those apparently awful schools he's stuck these folks with? Aside from cutting their budgets, it's tough to say.

And maybe NYC parents need consistently good schools, rather than a highly-rated PR game show in which the odds are strongly stacked against them.

Why do none of these things cross the minds of our crack press corps? Maybe it's too much Sominex.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Don't Miss This

Here's my favorite ex-presidential candidate making me wonder, once again, why anyone ever voted for anyone else:

When the Angels Sing

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some People Look For the Quickest Way Out

Some don't read between the lines. Others just read very selectively.

I specifically told Kevin Carey of The Quick and the Ed that the city has been negligent in enforcing existing tenure rules for over thirty years, that neighboring districts do things much differently, and that it was entirely within the city's discretion to do as its neighbors. I'm disappointed he chose to ignore that, using my post on bad teachers to bolster the entirely hollow argument that Chancellor Klein needs more ammunition to enforce tenure.

Chancellor Klein can enforce existing rules today, and could have done so the day he walked in, but opted not to. In fact, despite all his bluster about tenure and quality teachers, Mr. Klein went to Albany where he successfully lobbied for the right to hire and retain thousands of teachers who'd failed a basic competency test, often dozens of times. For Mr. Klein to now try to place the onus on the UFT for the teachers he himself hired and granted tenure is the height of hypocrisy.

If he chooses not to do his job, it's on him. And the truth is both he and his predecessors have neglected it for decades. Shame on the chancellor for obfuscating by demanding new tools while pointedly ignoring those at his disposal. It's disappointing his defenders fail to see the obvious--that this city, its frequent finger-pointing notwithstanding, was and is indifferent to how it treats kids. Rampant and unconscionable overcrowding is just one little extra way Tweed expresses its priorities.

My kids and I work every day half in a vermin-infested closet and the other half in a dilapidated trailer. This would not happen in my home district, and not a single one of the teachers I described would be hired in my home district. Furthermore, where I live, if some blitheringly incompetent administrator were to neglect the Prozac and hire one of these people by mistake, the mistake would be corrected long, long before any discussions about tenure ensued (I'd refrain from placing any bets on that administrator's tenure either).

Those who accept Chancellor Klein's public position on tenure either don't know what goes on in Mr. Bloomberg's New York or don't care to find out.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The 50 Worst Songs Ever Written...

...are here, according to Blender. I actually like a few of them, but agree for the most part.

But how did they miss this one? There's a story about the late, great jazz violinist Joe Venuti. It seems he rarely asked for requests, but one night he did. Someone shouted, "Play Feelings!"

"That's the worst song ever written," said Joe, before launching into Sweet Georgia Brown. Go ahead, search the list. Rack your brain. Is there, anywhere, a song worse than Feelings?

Update: Here's a little MacArthur Park for all you bad song enthusiasts:

The Maven

Wally could help you with just about anything. When Mr. Housepoor's boiler stopped working, the guy from the oil company terrified him. He said the boiler was dangerous, and might blow up the entire block any moment. It wasn't safe for a second in that house, and the only thing Mr. Housepoor could do, if he valued the health of his family and community, was to buy a new boiler for ten thousand dollars.

Wally came over Mr. Housepoor's house with a tool kit, fiddled with the converted coal boiler for ten minutes, and it lasted another fifteen years, right up to the point where he sold it. The person he sold it to, unacquainted with Wally, quickly bought a ten-thousand dollar boiler in order to save humanity and the world as we know it.

Do you want a dog? Papers say you have to pay thousands for certain dogs, but Wally, who knew someone, could get it for you at a fraction of the price. Do you have a problem with your car that the mechanic wants an arm and a leg to fix? Wally will invite you to his house, where he'll fix it for you free. And if you had anything he couldn't fix, he knew someone who could.

But that wasn't Wally's main talent. His best talent was teaching math to kids who couldn't seem to learn it from anyone else. "You don't know anything," he would tell them, "so we'll start from the beginning."

Kids would rave about him. "I sat there in math class for years, and never understood anything. I copied notebooks full of math, and none of it ever made sense. But there in his class, I'm doing it, and I know what I'm doing." I honestly wished I'd had him for high school math.

Now he's retired. He looked at the 2005 contract, decided the job would never be the same, and put in his papers. I miss him a lot. He knew everything, and I've yet to encounter his like.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Runaround Mike

Mayor Bloomberg, in yet another brilliant educational move, has installed trailers in Brooklyn Heights.

"The school has been a victim of its own success," said Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights).

It certainly has, and now Mayor Bloomberg will be able to send scores of kids to this school in perpetuity. When he closes surrounding schools, he can just send more kids to the Heights, and endlessly overcrowd the school just as he's done with 75% of the city's high schools.

Eventually he can run the school to the ground, blame the teachers and close it. Then he can send them to the previously closed but now renamed schools, or "academies," as he likes to call them. The beautiful thing is "accountability" is still laid 100% on those awful unionized employees, and Bloomberg's minions can claim they're "doing something." Never mind if they're not doing anything effective.

When they come to your town, remember this---politicians come and go, but trailers are forever.

A Mesage to the Pope

That's what unionized Catholic school teachers have. They're demanding a living wage, and objecting to the church's insistence they pay 10% of their health benefits. I can't say I blame them, as the movement toward less, rather than complete, insurance for working people is troubling indeed.

On weekends, I play music, and I work with a lot of people who have no health insurance. I met a banjo player last year and we argued about health insurance. He called himself a libertarian, and complained about liberals (like me) who thought we ought to have universal health insurance like every other industrialized country. It was entitlement, it was too expensive, we needed choices, and I don't remember what else he said.

A few months ago, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Apparently, he'd avoided seeing doctors for a long time, and his prognosis is not good at all. He had to divest himself of all his worldly possessions and apply for Medicaid. Last week we played a benefit for him. Here in the USA, you don't get help until you lose your home, your money, your job, and pretty much everything. It's an unconscionable system.

Two weeks ago, I had a job opening for a professional touring bluegrass band. We went out to lunch with them. I sat across from another banjo player (I no longer talk politics with banjo players) and we talked about where he came from, music, and the food at the restaurant, which was pretty good. I couldn't help but notice he was the only guy in the band who wasn't overweight.

Three days later, he had a heart attack and died. He'd been having chest pains, but didn't have insurance (banjo-playing is not the most lucrative job around), and didn't want the expense of seeing a doctor.

The Pope ought to insist that Catholic school teachers get complete health coverage, and that all Americans get complete health coverage. It's preposterous that in this country people can no longer use catastrophic medical emergency, the no. 1 grounds for bankruptcy, as grounds for bankruptcy.

We ought to all have coverage, there ought not to be such a thing as bankruptcy due to catastrophic medical emergency, and the Pope, along with the leaders of every other religion, ought to make universal health care in the US a moral imperative. If we can pay 3 billion dollars a week for an endless and pointless war, we can surely afford to help our own people.

And that includes the Catholic school teachers, of course.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wondering What to Do Next?

The great folks at the Columbus Education Association's blog host this week's Carnival of Education.

Check it out!

They Should Be Shocked. Shocked!

It's funny to read in the UFT paper that they've filed a discrimination suit against the city. Apparently, the Absent Teacher Reserve is largely composed of senior teachers. Amazingly, principals, who now have to pay salaries out of their own school budgets, prefer to hire newer teachers for half the price.

Clearly no one in the UFT anticipated this when they agreed to Klein's third reorganization. This was the reorganization that made principals pay salary lines out of their own budgets. UFT bigshots are shocked that principals snap up newbies at half the price while senior teachers are left to rot in the ATR brigade.

Naturally I'm shocked too. While I and many others repeatedly predicted this would happen, Edwize writers insisted this was the best of all possible worlds and that everything was beautiful. In fact, they praised the "hold harmless" clause, assuming that principals would opt to hire senior teachers rather than grabbing two for the price of one.

Apparently, what with their utter lack of vision and all, UFT bigshots underestimated the bargain-hunting abilities of administrators. Perhaps they simply hadn't noticed that the city has been paying the lowest wage in the area for over thirty years. Or perhaps they did, but attributed it to coincidence. Or maybe they believed Ms. Weingarten's repeated lies about our having caught up to the suburbs.

In any case, in retrospect, perhaps it was indeed an error to agree to this ATR thing. Senior teachers used to be guaranteed placement, and now they're just another financial liability for principals to worry about. Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to have placed them in this demoralizing position without even getting a cost of living increase in return. But what with the UFT's complete lack of vision, I suppose that's too much to ask.

And even with the administration's newfound right to condemn teachers to the purgatory of ATR, the city is still short of qualified science, art, and foreign language teachers. And there are many qualified teachers rotting in the ATR brigade. I know some of them.

But due to the devil's bargain between Ms. Weingarten and Mr. Klein, NYC kids still learn Spanish from gym teachers and science from social studies teachers. The rate is now 9% overall, though it runs up to 25 if you want to study earth science.

In nearby suburban schools, with unions, without merit pay, and without "reforms," the figure hovers around zero--as it has for as long as I've been following education. What can Mr. Klein and Ms. Weingarten learn from this? And is there any evidence to suggest either bothers to learn anything? Or that they have any incentive to do so?

Let me know if you can come up with any answers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Quandary

What's April May going to do?

Doin' the Bloomberg Shuffle

There you are, teaching some class, when a bunch of highly-efficient suits come in to measure the room. Obviously, it has to be improved before a gaggle of Mr. Bloomberg's incredible small schools takes it over. I mean, who could possibly learn in such a dismal environment? That's why they're going to give Mr. Bloomberg's new small school advantages that you and your lowlife kids couldn't possibly appreciate.

They'll just close your school, send the undesirables to some other overcrowded school, and when that school gets as bad as your school was, they'll close that one too. That way they always appear to be doing something. More importantly, they'll always have so many things in flux that "accountability" will never touch their gilded doorsteps.

At Jamaica High School, teachers have taken matters into their own hands, and have now made Chancellor Klein actually look in the eyes of those who'll be displaced by his next big reshuffle of "accountability." Of course, the chancellor tends to be fumfering around with his Blackberry at times like these, displaying his utter contempt for any dissent whatsoever at these meetings and ignoring any unpleasant realities that intrude upon his "reforms."

I have great respect for James Eterno, the thoughtful and active chapter leader at Jamaica High School. It's admirable that he's taking a stand for working teachers. Unfortunately, Chancellor Klein's puppetmaster has already declared it's "Children First" in NYC. To show how much regard he has for children, he dumps them into trailers, onto toxic waste sites, and into unconscionably overcrowded and decrepit facilities. Furthermore, he's repeatedly announced that the needs of non-billionaire adults come last (which is ironic, since the overwhelming majority of the children he places first will grow up and become non-billionaire adults).

Now if he treats the children he places first in this fashion, I can only imagine how much regard he holds for Mr. Eterno and his colleagues, none of whom (to my knowledge) qualify as billionaires. But I wish the Jamaica teachers all the luck in the world. It's certainly not their fault that the current administration indulges in "reforms" rather than good teachers, reasonable class sizes, and decent facilities for public schools.

And it's just another day in Mr. Bloomberg's New York.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life in Mr. Bloomberg's Old Schoolhouse

Mayor Bloomberg, as a great advocate for children, promised to rid the city of trailers by 2012. Later, he clarified this statement, explaining that he would not get rid of them by 2012. So what if they're designed to last ten years and have been up over 15? If NYC kids can deal with schools on toxic sites, and poisons in window caulking, a few dilapidated trailers here and there are small potatoes.

Every morning, when I enter my trailer, the first thing I do is go to the adjacent trailer and steal the eraser. And every afternoon, the ratfink teacher in the other trailer steals it back, thus necessitating another trip for me the following morning. Of course I could get another eraser. But if I were to do that, the kid who leaves offensive messages on my board at the end of every day will just steal it, as has happened on several previous occasions. There's no security in the trailers, and kids who use them need to just hope for the best.

Now my trailer is looking particularly bright these days, as one of my fellow trailer trash teachers has decorated it. In fact, the other day some administrators took a rare trip to trailerland, and wanted to know why the heck anyone would bother decorating a trailer. After all, the same energy could be devoted toward decorating the main building, where important muckety-mucks may actually see it.

There's a lot of controversy in one of the other trailers. One teacher has complained that it's filthy and smells kind of funky, and now the administration is investigating to find out precisely who's responsible. Is it the teacher who complained, the teacher the teacher complained about, or is it some other teacher who's neither complained nor been complained about? Or is is some vile substance that's taken root is the trailer? Personally, I have no idea.

On the positive side, in our trailer bathroom the custodians have removed the mold and rust-encrusted soap bars that no one was hardy enough to touch without a ten-foot pole. Rather than filling the soap dispensers that have sat empty for ten years, the custodians simply installed new ones. To ensure that they remain full, the custodians have cleverly stopped providing paper towels. Thus no wasteful hand-washing will occur, and it may never be necessary to refill the soap dispensers.

This frees up valuable funds for sports stadiums, and it's another win-win in Mr. Bloomberg's New York.

Related: Check out this other trailer.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Buyer's Remorse

Saturday, April 12, 2008

English is Yours!

It's a mystery to most of us when exactly we master a second language. I speak Spanish after having studied it for years and lived in Mexico, but I have no idea exactly when I got a handle on it. I remember I could talk before I understood. My daughter, on the other hand, always understood it perfectly but didn't speak it for years.

Yesterday I spoke with the parent of a special-needs child who speaks English as a second language. She told me she was afraid to speak for many years and used to hide behind her husband. When she went to school she had him check her papers. After the second year he told her she didn't need his help. By the third year he told her she wrote better than he did, and she agreed.

But she still wouldn't talk. Not in public anyway.

She studied and studied everything she could find that affected her child. And once, when she went to a school conference, she began reading a report about her son that she disagreed with completely. She asked her husband to say something, but he didn't understand the report at all. There was no choice but to learn English right there and then.

So she drew herself up, opened her mouth, and objected. She objected specifically to many things in the report, and gave her opinions precisely, clearly, and in some detail. Something she said made the speech therapist cry. By the time she was finished, everyone in the room was quiet.

On the way home, she told her husband, "I can speak English. I could say whatever I want. And everyone understood me. Not only that, but they were afraid of me."

She was delighted. And the next week, when her child had a new and better speech therapist, she was even more delighted. Apparently, once she opened her mouth in English there was no closing it again, and she's been a big fan of English ever since.

As am I.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Get Tough! But Pass Everyone

That's how Joanne Jacobs characterized a piece I wrote about the thrust of our faculty meetings, and the line has stuck in my mind somehow. Apparently, though, this line of thought is far from unique to my building. A New York Times story exposes some of Chancellor Klein's favorite methods of juking the stats.

Did you fail your English class? Don't worry. Write a few papers, and it'll be as good as new. Who cares if you slept through the entire semester? Will the AP even notice you've plagiarized the entire paper? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

I once happened upon a "makeup class" paper from an ESL student of mine that was clearly plagiarized. But Ms. History, the head of the social studies department, had given it an "A." I found the kid in her classroom, pulled her out, and told her privately I knew she didn't write it.

"You're not going to tell Ms. History, are you?" begged the kid.

I told her I wasn't, since she'd already gotten away with it. But I let her know that I would've failed her, and if I could see it, another teacher might see it too. Did Ms. History let her pass knowing she plagiarized, or was she just incapable of differentiating between the work of a professional writer and that of an ESL student? It's a question for the ages, I suppose.

But now that principals are "accountable," they need to get those graduation stats up. And while Mr. Bloomberg can simply ignore dropouts, "accountable" principals don't have that luxury. They have to get those stats up or they're fired. Still, Chancellor Klein says things are just fine:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, in a statement, called credit recovery “a legitimate and important strategy for working with high school students.” He said there was “no indication” that the practice “has been abused more in recent years.”

“If credit recovery is not conducted properly, just as with any other required course, we will take appropriate action,” he added. “We do students no favors by giving them credit they haven’t earned.”

But city officials acknowledged that credit recovery programs are neither centrally monitored nor tracked.

So as usual, we should simply take the word of the administration. Though they don't actually monitor or track the programs, they will abide no nonsense. Fortunately, if any nonsense occurs, they won't ever find out about it. That way, they don't have to worry about "accountability," which, like taxes, is for the little people.

So kids, don't worry about failing those classes. There appear to be few consequences for cutting the entire semester:

At Franklin K. Lane, a large high school in Brooklyn, an advertisement for credit recovery programs offered last year urged students: “If you failed a class, don’t despair ... turnaround your 55 into a 65 in 6 weeks!!! Ask your teacher for details!!!”

Adam Bergstein, a teacher who is head of the school’s union chapter, said the six-week program, which consisted of six classes, had troubled teachers.

“A 55 could be indicative of anything from a 1 to literally a 55 average,” he said. “It’s not a mere nudge ahead; it could be an astronomical leap.”

“It undermines the whole concept of teaching and grading,” Mr. Bergstein continued.

It does indeed. But if you live and die by statistics, people need to cheat. It's regrettable that people are living and dying by statistics, but it's even more regrettable that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, who advocate credit for the nebulous concept of "seat-time," talk so tough while enabling and even encouraging rampant cheating.

Related: Eduwonkette, Inside Schools, The Chancellor's New Clothes, Joanne Jacobs

Thanks to Rhoda and Schoolgal

Time Waits for No One

Sebastian is on his own schedule. He lives two blocks from the school, but can never seem to make it on time. Sometimes he's five minutes late, sometimes ten. Sometimes he's twenty minutes late, and sometimes thirty. I've called his house a few times, and his mom says this will change. Somehow it never does.

Sometimes he's late because it's raining. After all, how can you get anywhere on time in the rain? Sometimes he's late because it isn't raining. It's hard to find those trailers when it isn't raining. There's no water dripping off them, and there aren't any puddles to navigate. Or sometimes it's cold and who can move quickly in the cold?

Strangely, all my other students make it on time. I myself am there an hour before this class even begins, so it's hard for me to be as sympathetic as I should. In fact, yesterday, when Sebastian arrived 40 minutes late, I wasn't sympathetic at all. I was helping another kid, and Sebastian helpfully brought over the attendance sheet so I could mark him present.

"You're absent," I told him, and sent the sheet to the attendance office as a monument to the event.

This sparked a vehement protest on Sebastian's part. Then I was suddenly inspired. In our school, kids who come late are issued passes with their ID pictures and numbers. These passes are generally a waste of paper, and I generally toss them into the wastepaper basket. But a lot of kids just forget them entirely and come to the trailers directly.

"I'm sorry, Sebastian," I said, "but I can't admit you without a late pass."

After that, he was off. And with just two minutes left in the period, I got a call from the attendance office. Apparently Sebastian, tapping into his creative side, asked the ladies in the office if they would mark him present, as his teacher had mistakenly marked him absent.

"He's not here," I told them.

It's too bad a resourceful, quick-thinking kid like this can't direct his energies toward getting out of bed on time. I may not be as imaginative as Sebastian, but if he wants to pass my class, I really can't come up with an alternative.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mike and Joel Spin and Lose

Fresh on the heels of his congestion-pricing plan defeat, the State Legislature has handed Mayor Moneybags a rejection of his plan to award tenure based on test scores. The Mayor's educational mouthpiece, Chancellor Joel Klein, had this to say:

"I am dismayed that the state Legislature would even consider tying the hands of principals and school districts as they decide who gets lifetime job security," Klein said.

It's odd that this Chancellor, who regularly U-rates tenured teachers and brings them to 3020 hearings, considers tenure "lifetime job security." It's certainly better than nothing, which is what most working people get in the US of A. Still, even without using test scores, neighboring districts deny tenure as a matter of course. While Mayor Moneybags and his faithful chancellor can harumph and complain, it's certainly not the UFT's fault that this city has chosen to grant tenure to anyone with a pulse, up to and including this administration.

While it's an ingrained habit of Mike "Accountability" Bloomberg to blame working teachers for everything up to and including the weather, it's the job of administration to select and hire teachers. It's their job to determine who does and does not get tenure, and it's hard for anyone to deny they've been remiss for over thirty years.

Bloomberg talks a big game on teacher quality. But with all his talk about "accountability," he ought to step up and take some responsibility. The UFT neither hires teachers nor grants tenure. It's their job to protect those selected by the city.

And it's not our fault if the mayor has failed to do his job.

Thanks to Sol Bellel for the picture

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

McDonald's Stands Up...

...and becomes a member of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Some religious groups are upset, and take umbrage.

This is the first good thing I've heard about McDonald's in years. In fact, I might go show my support and eat some of their food if it weren't so vile and repugnant.


The number of this week's Carnival of Education, kindly hosted by The Elementary Educator.

Is Your Principal Up to No Good?

Catch him in the act with the world's smallest spy cam, 29 bucks today only at 1 Sale a Day.

Tough Love

A lot of teachers in my school are now required to give lessons about HIV infection. There is a script, apparently, that they are supposed to follow, and there are supposed to be Q and A or dancing or skits or something. These are absolutely the best and only ways to teach the materials so there must be no variation whatsoever. Still, some of my colleagues have their own spin on it.

One teacher, a volunteer fireman, claims he can sum it up very neatly in a single sentence. Every year, he has to go to training sessions and learn about infectious materials. He says, "If it's wet, and it isn't yours, don't touch it." That might work.

Another of my colleagues has broken the concept into four distinct steps. First, she says, is abstinence. Don't have sex, you won't get diseases, and you won't get pregnant either. That's the best approach, she tells the kids.

However, if kids can't follow step one, they have to go to step two. Use protection. Latex condoms are very effective and certainly decrease the possibility of STDs. Don't even think about having sex, but if you do, don't even think about going without one of these time-tested devices.

Now if kids can't follow steps one and two, there is a third route. If they've gotten this far, they could be infected, pregnant or both. Kids at this stage need to speak to someone. It could be their parents, or a counselor, or a psychologist. But they're going to need to speak to someone for sure. Serious problems require serious treatment.

If they fail steps one, two, and three, however, there's only one thing left to do. They need to find appropriate methods to commit suicide, as there is no hope for them whatsoever.

And that's it. I'm sorry if you expected one of these, but no matter how hard we try, we can't always oblige.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Toxins Can't Hurt NYC Schoolchildren

Well, obviously it makes no difference whether they hurt teachers, as Mayor Mike has repeatedly sworn to put their needs last, so what is the fuss all about? Well, according to the Daily News:
Window sills and door frames in dozens of city public schools contain a toxin that can lower IQ scores, causes asthma and is linked to cancer...

That's not so bad, is it? What do the Tweedie birds have to say about it?
...the Department of Education performed its own air and wipe tests in the affected schools. In all but one test, the PCBs in the caulking had not leaked into the air or surrounding environment.

You see? As long as you don't touch the stuff, it's no problem at all. And it's a well-established fact that kids are never curious about anything, so they never touch things or disturb them in any way, shape, or form.

City Department of Education officials insist the caulking poses no threat as long as it is left alone.

That's good enough for me. They know what's what. And after all, they always put children first. In my 250% capacity school, everyone is very close. As you'd expect, they never bump into each other, and they never accidentally touch or scratch anything.

Experts say PCBs left undisturbed can still leach out of the caulking into surrounding material or become airborne.

But what do they know? What's a little asthma, or a little cancer anyway? Kids who can't afford 20 thousand bucks a year for private school are gonna have to tough it out anyway, so they might as well get started now. After all, it's "Children First" in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, and there are still stadiums to be built.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The New Diplomacy

It seems to trouble many people that Obama doesn't wear a flag pin. Or that his preacher has made inflammatory remarks. It doesn't matter, apparently, that Obama himself says nothing of the sort.

But no one seems to mind that John McCain "hates gooks." Or that he says he'll hate them as long as he lives. And no one seems to mention this even as we're told ad nauseum about this preacher.

Now I understand that Mr. McCain had awful experiences as a POW in Vietnam. But personally, I see no place in the White House (or in a school, for that matter) for a person who throws about racial epithets with no apparent knowledge of their implications.

Now, perhaps Mr. McCain only hates some "gooks" and not others. Or perhaps he feels the bad ones spoil it for the good ones. I don't really know.

But I do know that's the same old garden-variety nonsense that garden-variety racists have been serving up for years. And even if we disregard Mr. McCain's vows to carry on the unconscionable policies of G.W. Bush, someone who aspires to the presidency ought to know precisely what the implications of his words are, not sometimes, but every single moment.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Helping Those in Need

Submitted by Schoolgal

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Abstinence Only

That's what sex ed. consists of in Florida, where teens think drinking bleach prevents HIV infection and drinking Mountain Dew will stop a pregnancy.

Color Me a Teacher

In a recent puff piece in the New York Times, we learn something of UFT President Randi Weingarten's teaching background:
In 1986, she joined the city teachers’ union as a top adviser to its president, Sandra Feldman. She also took a part-time job teaching history and government at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a position she held for six years and refers to often, and proudly.

So Ms. Weingarten certainly knows what it's like to be a teacher. I mean, sure, she didn't actually have to live on a teacher's salary. And sure, she wasn't actually spending much time teaching. But she did the job, didn't she? Frequent commenter Schoolgal took exception, and said perhaps not, if you've read this Village Voice article:

In urging Klein "to walk in the shoes of teachers" on Saturday, she described how she'd done it, claiming that she "taught, sometimes full time, sometimes part time, at Clara Barton High School for six years." Actually, records reviewed by the Voice indicate that she taught 122 days as a per diem teacher from September 1991 through June 1994, roughly one in four days. She then did what she told the Voice was her only full-time term in the fall semester of 1994, followed by 33 days as a per diem teacher in the spring of 1995.

Strangely, while she told the Voice she was a per diem for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, her records list her as a full-time teacher. Because she was credited with the required two years of full-time service she doesn't even claim she performed, she was given a permanent certificate in September 1996. She has been on union leave since 1997, accumulating a total of nine years of pensionable city time though she only did one semester of full-time teaching.

Perhaps Ms. Weingarten's "experience" led her to believe that what teachers needed was more time on the job, including pointless punishment days in August, 30 minutes extra each day, a sixth class (the one that UFT bigshots declare is not actually a class) and perpetual hall patrol.

This works out well for Ms. Weingarten, as she can declare she's raised salaries by 43%. Of course, that claim assumes our time is worth nothing. It also assumes the extra work she's negotiated for us is worth nothing. And while much of the C6 busy work Ms. Weingarten arranged for us (like doing potty patrol and assisting secretaries) may indeed be worth nothing, it means we have to spend that much more time after school grading papers, writing lesson plans, writing tests, and doing the real work that real teachers have to do.

But now that I've read the Voice article, I understand precisely why Ms. Weingarten feels that our time and work is worth little or nothing. It's because in her six years of "experience" as a teacher, and the nine years of "pensionable city time," she herself was required to do little or nothing.

For real teachers, things are a little different. We have a term for teachers with attendance records like those of Ms. Weingarten.

We call them "unemployed."

Friday, April 04, 2008

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Ever since I began teaching, I've gone to meetings, received memos, and been offered countless tidbits of wisdom about how to deal with open school night. Usually, they're horrifying, and I imagine the parents will arrive heavily armed to threaten our lives. Or perhaps they'll simply kill us all and be done with it. However, even when I taught special ed., that sort of thing never happened.

As an ESL teacher, I don't get that many parents. Perhaps they're worried we can't find a translator. At the table next to mine a woman was explaining to my colleague that she was pushing her son, who'd been here for six months, to become a pharmacist. Therefore, it was absolutely imperative that he score 2100 on the SATs. My colleague kept trying to tell her that perhaps first, he ought to try passing ESL 2 with an 80 rather than a 75.

I had a very different conflict. A very good beginning student of mine arrived with her mom and her brother, who appeared all of six years old. He spoke English very well.

"I'm Charles!" he declared.

I greeted him, and he informed me he had a card, which he proceeded to remove from his hat so I could examine it. It had a lot of Chinese writing on it and I didn't understand it at all, but I told Charles I thought it was a great card. He then happily replaced it in his hat, and put the hat back on his head.

I told the mom that her daughter was doing great work and getting excellent grades, and that she ought to try to practice English more outside of class. I then made the egregious error of suggesting she practice with her little brother.

Charles was livid. "I'm not a little brother!"

Drawing on all the skills I had acquired from all the memos and meetings, I corrected myself. "Maybe you could practice English with your big brother," I said. Charles beamed, and the looming catastrophe was averted.

But it was a slow night indeed. One of my colleagues suggested that she had interviewed five parents, and that any teacher who'd reached this milestone could go home. It took me some time, but I hit the mark. Being a responsible pedagogue, I queried my supervisor about this rule. She said that I needed at least seven, and suggested further that if I did not reach that lofty goal, I'd have to stay in the building all night.

It was rapidly approaching closing time, and this posed a problem for me. Thinking fast, I asked a colleague if she'd lend me two of hers. "Sure," she said. But when I told my supervisor, she said borrowed parents were two for one, and that I needed two more. Fortunately, I was able to borrow them from someone else at the last minute.

But she says next year I'm gonna owe her.

The Carnival of Education...

...can be found, better late than never, at the inspirationally named I Want to Teach Forever.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Education Reporting the Way It Used to Be

If you're interested in absurd nonsense, a New York Times feature on scrappy streetwise UFT President Randi Weingarten may be right up your alley. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of reporting without context. If you're a thinking person, you have to ask yourself why folks like Rod "The NEA is a terrorist organization" Paige and Eric A. Hanushek from the right-wing Hoover Institute support her.

I'll tell you.

Ms. Weingarten supports unpaid suspensions of teachers without health benefits based on hearsay evidence. Presumption of innocence is the law of the land, but not if you're a UFT teacher.

Ms. Weingarten thinks it's important for teachers to come back two days in August in order to sit for two days and listen to absurd speeches about what a great job Mayor Mike and Jolly Joel are doing for us.

Ms. Weingarten has her teachers teaching a sixth class (which she claims is not a sixth class), and receiving merit pay (which she claims is not merit pay).

In a financial bonanza for NYC, Ms. Weingarten (who took a principled stance against sacrificing the pay of young teachers on the various awful contracts she's settled for) has now agreed to have 1.8% of their salaries deducted for up to 27 years, even though most of them will never reach retirement.

Ms. Weingarten has sentenced hundreds, if not thousands, of her teachers to the purgatory that is Absent Teacher Reserve. These teachers receive pay, but are deprived of their jobs through no fault of their own. It is a demoralizing and depressing place for people who love to teach. Due to Ms. Weingarten's collaboration with Mr. Klein in reorganization number three, it is highly unlikely any sitting principal will offer any senior teacher employment.

Under Ms. Weingarten's leadership, NYC teachers now work the longest school year in the area for the lowest wage in the area. Despite Ms. Weingarten's preposterous claims of parity, here's what Nassau teachers were earning over three years ago.

Ms. Weingarten took all the professional gains we'd earned through various zero-percent increases her party had cannily negotiated, and tossed them out the window for less than cost of living. And when she and her paid loyalists brag of the increases, remember they're giving you no credit whatsoever for the additional time and work she negotiated.

And when she boasts of breaking the hundred-thousand dollar mark, bear in mind there are teachers in Nassau who've now passed 125K. Keeping 20 percent behind our neighbors is hardly a bragging point.

When I started 24 years ago, we had lunch patrol, and hall patrol once every third semester. We now have it in perpetuity. Though the UFT offices may be open an extra hour (so Ms. Weingarten's patronage mill can do whatever it is they do in there), don't count on any of them joining you in those halls.

They're sitting in their offices, collecting their second salaries and pensions, and laughing their asses off at fools like you and me who still have to work for a living (thanks to them, harder than ever before).

It's very easy to see why conservatives adore Ms. Weingarten. They've rarely encountered union leaders willing to sell out rank-and-file so thoroughly, and for so little in return. They know a bargain when they see one.

Thanks to Schoolgal

I'll Get You, My Pretty. And Your Little School, Too

Prominent teacher-basher/ charter school operator Eva Moskowitz wants more space. And whatever Eva wants, Eva gets. But PS 123 wants to keep its building the way it is. Apparently, its students like being in a building that hasn't yet surpassed 100% capacity, and don't fancy sharing the facilities with Eva's new project.

Though parents and community organizers have gotten together to oppose Ms. Eva's new school, she promised to bring hundreds of people to confound the will of the community.

Naturally, with 75% of the city's high schools overcrowded and even more budget cuts looming, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have deemed it a good time to open more charter schools. As they need space, the children in those often horribly overcrowded buildings are the first to get screwed.

And that's what "Children First" means today in Mayor Bloomberg's New York.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Planned Pauperhood

As regular readers of this blog know, I think the 2005 UFT contract was a disaster. One reason why is the short-sighted absent-teacher reserve, or ATR plan. Mr. Klein and Ms. Weingarten agreed that teachers who were displaced would no longer be guaranteed employment in the city. Both were well-aware of the city policy to close schools on a fairly regular basis.

A further agreement between Ms. Weingarten and Mr. Klein allowed schools, rather than Tweed, to be responsible for teacher salaries. Therefore, the price of one experienced teacher can buy principals two new ones (or they could get one new teacher and 10 sessions with a high-priced call-girl).

In our school, a colleague came in on a UFT transfer a few years back. He tells me we have a top-notch science teacher who came from his now-closed (or renamed) school. This guy subs day after day, and gets paid maximum salary to do so. From a teacher's or student's standpoint, it's awful to waste his talents like this.

From an administration standpoint, it's awful to waste money like this. Ms. Weingarten may have thought the chancellor wouldn't hire new teachers before full-salaried veteran teachers were placed. Mr. Klein may have thought (as did I) that Ms. Weingarten would simply fold and allow these teachers to be fired, particularly after he snookered her into reorganization 3, which, through effective financial penalties, discourages principals from hiring experienced teachers.

So far it's a stalemate. But it's a terrible waste of talent and money. If the city chooses to close schools and displace teachers, it ought to find them jobs teaching. The ATR system, while it maintains employment for some who've lost jobs through no fault of their own, ultimately serves no one.

Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall, in the end. And Mr. Klein ought to put these teachers to work right now.

Photo by Sol Belell

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

When You're Having Fun...

...time moves quickly. Here is some real-time video of the clock in my
classroom (This is real, believe it or not). No waiting for the bell to
ring for my kids, because they're watching this clock--and due to my
incredible progressive teaching methods, you can see for yourself how
quickly time passes:


The Survey SAYS....

We just received a nebulous message from our principal about the upcoming surveys. I suppose what he wanted to say was, "Write only good things, please," but he was constrained by instructions not to say such things:

Guidelines on the Education Department Web site stress that principals should "avoid even the appearance" that they are trying to sway survey answers.

"Schools may not attempt to influence responses," spokeswoman Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes said. "Most of our principals have done an excellent job communicating to parents and teachers the importance of using the survey to express their honest opinions about their schools."

But not all, it appears:

"Positive survey results contribute to additional funding for our school," Public School 115 Principal Mitchell Pinsky wrote in a March 10 memo. "Positive survey results also help us to maintain our A rating."

Well, I suppose the principal is right. On the other hand, if the results are false, they enable the city, which awarded an A to a school the state classified as "persistently dangerous," to ignore even more problems than it's currently ignoring. Where will the chancellor and his minions even find time to ignore that many problems?

Still, other principals are urging people to write positive things, and using implied threats to do so:

A letter stapled to surveys sent home with students at PS 114 in Brooklyn warns about the steep budget cuts facing schools next year and spells out programs that could be threatened.

"By answering this survey, you could be instrumental in supporting our current programs and saving our school from these budget cuts," Principal Maria Pena-Herrara wrote.

That's certain to encourage parents to openly state their concerns, I suppose. Last year's surveys showed the number one concern of parents was class size. In a brave effort to obscure that concern, Klein's minions conflated two other issues, thus enabling the board to continue to ignore the largest class sizes in the state. Why they bother to solicit opinions they plan to ignore, of course, is a mystery for the ages.

My advice to teachers? Write whatever you wish. The chancellor cares about your opinions even less than he cares about those of the parents.

Thanks to Schoolgal