Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ms. Palin Clarifies Her Support of Mr. Buchanan

My last post mentioned GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin said she supported teaching creation science in public schools. An astute commenter pointed out that Ms. Palin "clarified" her statement the following day, stating she did not support teaching creation science in public schools.

As Mayor of Wasilla. Alaska, Ms. Palin attended a Pat Buchanan rally in 1999. At the rally, Ms. Palin wore a Pat Buchanan for President button.

However, Ms. Palin immediately wrote her local paper maintaining that her actions were not to be mistaken for an endorsement. Apparently, she went to the Buchanan rally and wore the Buchanan button simply to be friendly and welcome him.

For many, going to a campaign rally and wearing the candidate's button is perceived as a show of support. It's odd that anyone, particularly a professional politician, would be unaware of that. Nonetheless, that's what Ms. Palin expects us to believe.

Now some may feel that people with little or no awareness of what their words or actions imply make brilliant leaders. I don't know anyone who actually feels that way, but there may indeed be some.

In any case, Mr. Buchanan remembers things differently:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We Should Teach Creation Science in Public Schools

So says Sarah Palin, GOP candidate for Vice-President.

Eight Isn't Enough...

...not for Mayor Mike anyway, who is toying with ways to overturn city term limits. How many times has Ms. Weingarten told us that 07 was the last time we'd have to "negotiate" with Hizzoner? Let's hope, despite her monumental lack of vision, that she was right for a change.

Hitting the Big Time

I'm getting a lot of email about whether or not NYC Educator, The Chancellor's New Clothes, and EdNotes Online have been banned on DoE computers. Certainly, it could be dangerous if Tweedies ever found out there were points of view contrary to those spouted by Mayor Bloomberg and the op-ed pages, so I understand. I mean, who hasn't seen video of a robot whose head blows up when faced with contradictory information?

If we've indeed been banned, we're contemplating a badge proclaiming "Banned by the DoE," "Banished by the Chancellor," or something, maybe with a thumbs-up symbol. But this, perhaps, is the fruit of the "Truth Squad," funded by city dollars to ensure as few people as possible garner any exposure to the truth.

After all, if people find out what Mayor Bloomberg has actually been doing to the schools all these years, the truth could hurt.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Certification Issue

Personally, I'm horrified. Why do they toss so many hurdles in our path? The US, what with mass firings and rampant outsourcing, has become a nation of career-changers. And the American Medical Association stubbornly stands in our way--Oh, if you want to become a doctor you have to go to medical school, oh, you can't practice medicine without a license.

Picky, picky, picky.

What if some young journalist gets it in her mind to be a doctor for a year and report on it? I mean, you could become a teacher and report on it. So why on earth can't you become a physician? You never get a journalist's POV on what it's like to be a doctor.

What's more, what if truly creative folks like Meryl Streep and Colin Powell decide they want to be doctors? Wouldn't it be cool to have a really famous celebrity remove your appendix? Or whatever they happen to find when they open you up?

It's all the agenda of those medical schools--they want medicine practiced in a certain way just to fulfill their narrow agenda, and they don't want newcomers to bring a fresh outlook, which is certainly what is needed. I mean, the other day I was in a doctor's office and all there was to read was Arthritis Today. Do you honestly believe Meryl Streep would lay out a magazine like that as the sole way for her patients to pass the time?

It's time for an alternative licensing procedure, and I certainly hope that whoever becomes President uses the bully pulpit to promote this idea. America is a nation at risk, and therefore needs to take more chances on unexamined and unproven reforms. And if they're proven not to work, we need to not only expand these programs, but add even more unexamined and unproven reforms.

It's the American Way.

Isn't it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Right Now

At Mile-High Stadium, they have a bluegrass band on stage. They've got my vote.

Professional Development Materials

Today is the first day of school for teachers.

As so many commentators on my last post noted, it's important that teachers come prepared for today's long day of professional development meetings.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Contract or No Contract

UFT members just keep on giving back.

First Day Jitters?

Here are some helpful hints from Miss Malarkey. And in case you missed it, here are a few from me (and at the bottom of that post you'll find even more).

The Teacher Agenda

by special guest blogger Yo Miss! (formerly in Bushwick)

Recently, at an event dubbed “Ed Challenge for Change,” certain Democratic politicians had a fine time denouncing teachers’ unions. Most curious, I thought, was Colorado State Senator Peter Groff, who complained that when the adult agenda meets the children’s agenda, “the adult agenda wins too often.” This statement led me to ponder what, exactly, is the “adult agenda” in education.

Let’s assume that the “adult agenda” is roughly the “teacher agenda,” as I cannot imagine what else Sen. Groff could possibly mean. I doubt that he means the “parents’ agenda” or the “janitors’ agenda.” So what is the “teacher agenda”? Now, I haven’t been a teacher as long as some readers and contributors to this blog have, but I think I have a good sense of what the “adult agenda” is. We want to have the supplies and facilities necessary to teach children. We want to be able to contribute to school policy and curriculum. We want our concerns to be validated and eliminated. We want to use our education, expertise, and humanity to educate the children charged to our care. And we’d like to have all that for an honest salary, comprehensive benefits, and a reasonable working day.

Sounds pretty shady, this “teacher agenda.” We want to act and be treated as professionals, right? We want to do our primary, number-one job, which is to educate children, correct? I did cover all that. I’m not sure what’s so terrible about this “teacher agenda.” Hmmm, what could it be? What’s worth attacking so vigorously, Sen. Groff?

It must be that last bit. You know, that whole part about salary and benefits and work hours. It must be those unreasonable demands of ours for a work day and week that actually, at some point, ends. It must be those crazy rants about being able to go to a doctor and able to afford a decent place to live. Maybe that’s that whole wacky “teacher agenda.”

Here’s the problem with your objection to our wild agenda, Sen. Groff: A teacher’s work day does not begin when the students walk into the classroom, nor does it end when they are dismissed. Nor, for that matter, does our working year begin in September and end in June. Teachers must negotiate for clear boundaries with respect to their time in the classroom or the school building because their work does not begin and end there. No teacher I know works the six-hour, fifty-minute day mandated by the DOE, at least not on a regular basis. Oh, maybe we’ll saunter in casually on that last day before Christmas vacation, and maybe on the occasional Friday we’ll nip out right on time. But who among us never takes work home? Probably only the people who come in early and stay late to make sure they’re staying on top of grading and that their lesson plans are in shape.

No teacher—particularly no teacher with a family—can possibly work the mandated day, plus tutor, plus coach a sport or advise a club, plus serve on a committee, plus attend lengthy series of meetings, and still complete the professional duties of grading, planning, keeping records, and staying in touch with students’ families without having either his or her personal or professional life suffer. It is not hard for a teacher to rack up fifty, sixty, or more hours in a given week doing work. For that reason, administrators and other higher-ups must respect our time, and we must not feel guilted or ashamed about standing up for our time, and by extension our sanity.

This is not an “agenda.” This is not about teachers holding onto an antiquated model of education that does not work for students. Students still need time with their own families, to play sports, to explore the arts, and, of course, to do homework and rest. Keeping students or teachers in school ten or twelve hours a day will not solve our educational problems, and, in fact, supporting the insidious “adult agenda” keeps the people whose job is to educate children healthy, happy, and in control. I’m not sure how having burned-out, frazzled, depressed, unhealthy teachers in our classrooms is supposed to make education better. But hey, maybe Sen. Groff knows something I don’t.

So I leave you with this question: How, exactly, is the “adult agenda” so harmful for children? Because, from what I can tell, the only “adult agenda” that sounds bad for children is the one that strips school of all joy and meaning, the one that deprives children of play, sport, and art, the one that would demand that their teachers be soulless, bloodless automatons—in other words, the one supported by, um…you, Sen. Groff? You, Chancellor Klein? You, Mayor Bloomberg?

What’s your “adult agenda”?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Constructive Education Reformer

Randi Weingarten spoke to the Democratic National Convention last night.

The speech may have been televised by C-Span but I would rather stick a pencil in my eye and twirl it counterclockwise than voluntarily subject myself to either the sights or (gads!) the sounds of Dear Leader Weingarten giving a speech, so I managed to miss it.

Frankly every time she opens her mouth to issue some self-serving jive about education or how swell a labor leader she herself is, I always think about that moment in the Marx Brothers' movie A Night At The Opera when the mayor of New York is about to give a speech and Groucho grabs the paper, tears it up, summarizes the speech in a total of 5 seconds and ends by saying, "The Mayor's going to give another speech later at City Hall. We can tear that speech up when we get there."


But I know that Ms. Weingarten, as former Secretary of Education Rod Paige's favorite labor leader and as the teachers' union leader who has sold New York public school teachers out on a whole host off issues from merit pay to charter schools to an extended school year to a sixth class to grievance and seniority right losses, is a Washington power broker who had to be given a spot to speak at the convention.

Let's face it, if you list all the givebacks and concessions Ms. Weingarten has given Mayor Moneybags and Jolly Joel Klein over the years, you can see just how successful she has been working for the interests of Tweed over the interests of the working teachers who pay her salary and the expense account she is no doubt putting the cost of the Denver trip onto.

I just wish MSNBC would have left Ms. Weingarten's visage out of the video of Ted Kennedy's stirring speech to the convention.

Here I was, feeling all sentimental and sad about the passing of the torch from the Liberal Lion of the Senate to Barack Obama and suddenly I'm hit 50 seconds in by the sight of a cheering Weingarten looking slightly buzzed on either power or white wine spritzers grinning like she's just been named Secretary of Labor by President Hillary Clinton.

Really ruined the moment for me. Yeah, I know she worked with Teddy over the years on education issues and NCLB and all that, but as a real working NYC public school teacher, I'd rather not be reminded of Ms. Weingarten's "achievements."

The ironic thing is that while Ms. Weingarten is partying at the convention, real working teachers are going back to school this week because Ms. Weingarten and the rest of the UFT leadership agreed to make the already long NYC public school year even longer by adding two days of "professional development" before Labor Day.

So while all day Thursday Ms. Weingarten will be enjoying the sights of Denver anticipating Al Gore's introduction of the candidate and Obama's nomination speech Thursday night, real working NYC teachers will have endured 6 hours and 50 minutes of professional development that will be so useless and boring that you'll wish Groucho Marx was still alive so he could tear the damned PD agendas up and say "We can tear the next PD agenda up when we get to it..."

Unfortunately Groucho is long gone, but Ms. Weingarten is here with us to stay.

I can't help but wonder what concessions Ms. Weingarten and the rest of the Weingartenistas at UFT headquarters will devise for us in the next contract.

Loss of tenure? Paying for health care (remember the "cost containment initiatives" clause from the last contract?) Three more days of school in August? 10 more minutes added to the school day? Canning of all the ATR's in the ATR pool?

Gee, I bet all of those concessions will be on the table - just the way loss of seniority rights, loss of grievance rights, loss of Circular 6R rights, and the addition of a sixth class were on the table back in 2005.

Except that Ms. Weingarten doesn't call those things concessions - she calls them helping "to reform education in constructive ways."

Well, I guess one person's concessions are another person's "reforms."

At any rate, if you're watching the TV the next few days after sitting through 6 hours and 50 minutes of PD and you see Ms. Weingarten at the convention, just remember, you're part of the "constructive education reform" that helped make her a Washington power broker in the first place and gets her invited to shindigs like the DNC party.

Be proud that you, as a real working NYC public school teacher, have helped to further Ms. Weingarten's career as a "Constructive Education Reformer" and look forward to giving up even more concessions, er, reforms in the next contract or two.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Don't Blink...

...or you'll miss the Carnival of Education over at Bellringers this week.

I almost missed it too, but I'm out of the country at the moment. Thank goodness UFT President Randi Weingarten set up those two August conference days, or I'd have to stay through next weekend. I've no doubt whatsoever this year's conferences will prove just as valuable as the ones we had last August.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Startup Tips

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help.

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school, and great advice from a new teacher at Syntactic Gymnastics. Here are a few tips from my pal Jose Vilson
and some new ones from Catching Sparrows.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Clean Air For You

That's a photo of the cafeteria at P.S. 256 in the Rockaways, a school for children with developmental difficulties, autism or severe emotional disorders.

According to a report in the NY Daily News, the rest of the school building isn't in much better condition than the cafeteria. The peeling paint, crumbling plaster and broken tiles in the building contains asbestos, lead and other dangerous substances.

Now I'm no scientist, but if the rest of the building looks even half as bad as the photo of the cafeteria, I'd have to say the place sure isn't safe for use.

Apparently the Department of Education doesn't feel the same way, however. The Daily News says education officials "toured" the building in July and "made note of the disrepair" but continued to allow 60 staff members and 120 children to finish out the summer session at P.S. 256, which ended on August 15.

Gee, that makes sense. Kids with developmental disabilities need continuity, you know? You wouldn't want to upset them by moving them midway through the summer session.

DOE officials haven't decided what to do with the school yet, but the Daily News says they are meeting today to "review the situation."

I suspect now that the News has done the story and the photos have made it into the press, the school will be closed for a bit and the kids and staff will be moved somewhere else.

But you know that if the story hadn't made it into the papers, Chancellor Jolly Joel Klein and Mayor Moneybags could have cared less if kids and staff at P.S. 256 were breathing in asbestos every day and carrying the fibers home on their clothes to friends and family.

Now if these kids were attending a charter school or one of Bill Gates' small schools, that's a different story. As NYC Educator noted yesterday, the DOE has been pushing regular schools out of spaces in their buildings in order to place newly formed charter schools.

You see, all school students are equal, but charter school students are just a little more equal than others and charter schools must always receive precedence over the needs of regular schools.

After all, this is the mayor's reputation as an "education reformer," we're talking about here, and given the mayor's desire to break term limits and run for a third mayoral term, he's got to continue to show "accomplishments" to make an effective case to voters.

So charter schools must be given every opportunity and every resource necessary to make the mayor and the chancellor (and perhaps Bill Gates or some other corporate "education reformer") look good at year's end. Whatever it takes - space, money, clean air - nothing's too good for those charter school kids (see here for the latest charter school p.r. extravaganza/exercise in self-aggrandizement by Jolly Joel and Mayor Moneybags.)

But you kids and staff at P.S. 256, stop whining and finish your summer session - you're lucky you have environmental contamination at your school. If your school had been safe and clean, they would have stuck a charter school where you are and put you guys into a series of broom closets in the basement.

This is serious stuff, of course. Health problems related to lead show up pretty quickly, but health conditions related to asbestos do not show up for decades, so by the time any of the kids, family members of kids, or staff members are diagnosed with cancer as a result of their exposure to the contaminants at P.S. 256, the DOE and city officials responsible will be long gone.

Nonetheless, if that building at P.S. 256 contains exposed asbestos and DOE officials avoided doing anything about the problem until forced to by negative press reports, they will be guilty of murder when kids, family members of kids and staff members start dying from asbestos-related conditions decades from now.

There ought to be a study set up to track the health conditions of all the people exposed to that building, including family members (even people who have not been exposed to the contaminated site can be in danger because asbestos can be carried away from a contaminated area on clothing and other personal articles.)

The study ought to track how many of these people come down with health problems that can be traced to asbestos and/or lead exposure. That way we will know just how many people were harmed by this mess.

But I bet those will be the one set of statistics that normally stat-happy Jolly Joel or Mayor Moneybags won't want tracked.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg Pays Kids for Tests...

...and fewer of them pass. Good thing we didn't fritter away that cash on lower class sizes and instead are squeezing charter schools into every available nook and cranny.

Bye Bye, Bubby

My daughter's best friend is her cousin. I used to take them to the park when they were toddlers and people would ask me if they were twins. Very early on, I called him "Buddy," and the kids started calling one another "Bubby," which now, at 12, they still do. I've taken him on many or most of our family vacations.

But things have gotten a little tough for his little family. Now they're going to join my wife's brother in Canada. It breaks my heart to see these kids separated, but I understand why they're leaving. Bubby's family won't have to worry about doctor bills anymore. He'll go to summer camp for free, just like my niece. Mom won't have to decide between child care or a job because child care costs next to nothing. And if she gets a house, she won't need a second mortgage to send Bubby to college.

There are issues, of course. A friend of ours had trouble getting in to see a specialist for a non-urgent matter. To remedy the situation, he had to pay seventy-five bucks out of pocket, bringing his family medical expenses to a grand total of seventy-five bucks in fiscal year 2008. With relatively excellent insurance, I've beat that handily every one of the last 24 years.

I hope Obama isn't just blowing smoke when he talks about improving medical coverage for Americans. Reasonable people seem to doubt him. Still, he's the only chance we now have. Certainly his plan sounds better than that of John McCain, who appears seriously intent on making things worse.

I don't really want to bring my family over to join Bubby's in Canada. But if America keeps moving the way it is, I see a trip north in my future. I only hope the arrogant incompetent amoral opportunists who run our country don't manage to lower the dollar's value any more than they already have.

And I really hope that we get a leader whose vision includes making life better for working people. I'm too old to be so naive, I guess, but I just can't help myself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Magical Thinking In The Magical Kingdom

Another day, more bad news on the financial front - unless you're an economic adviser to the John McCain campaign, that is.

But more on that in a minute.

The government reported today that wholesale prices jumped the most on a year-over-year basis in 27 years.

The Producer Price Index rose 1.2% after gaining 1.8% in June. But the core index - prices stripped of food and energy - rose 0.7% after 0.2% in June.

Even with oil prices falling to about $112 a barrel these days, energy prices still rose 3.1% in July, about half the 6% increase energy prices saw in June.

Both the PPI Index and core price increases were much higher than expected by analysts.

In more bad financial news, major retailers like Home Depot, Target, Staples, and Saks reported lower sales, late credit payments and continued expectations for poor sales.

In real estate, housing starts dropped to a 17 year low, sending stock futures down just a day after the American financial markets fell sharply on fears that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will have to be nationalized.

In the scariest news of the day, former chief economist at the IMF Kenneth Rogoff said yesterday that the worst is yet to come for the U.S. economy and a major U.S. bank or two is probably going to go under before the financial mess is all over:

"Credit market turmoil has driven the U.S. into a recession and may topple some of the nation's biggest banks, said Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.

"The worst is yet to come in the U.S.,'' Rogoff said in an interview in Singapore today. "The financial sector needs to shrink; I don't think simply having a couple of medium-sized banks and a couple of small banks going under is going to do the job.''

The U.S. housing slump has triggered more than $500 billion of credit market losses for banks globally and led to the collapse and sale of Bear Stearns Cos., the fifth-largest U.S. securities firm. Rogoff said the government should nationalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's biggest mortgage-finance companies, which have lost more than 80 percent of market value this year.

So here we have inflation running red hot despite falling commodity prices, housing starts plummeting again even as home values continue to fall, retailers like Home Dept and Target reporting poor sales and late credit payments, and the former economist of the IMF saying a major financial institution or two is going to go under here in the U.S. - it sure sounds like things are bad, right?

Uh, uh - not if you're Don Luskin, financial adviser to the John McCain campaign.

You see, Mr. Luskin, a frequent guest on Kudlow and Company, just visited Disneyland and had to wait on a long line to ride Space Mountain.

Long lines at Disneyland, Mr. Luskin writes, prove that the country is not in recession and everything is just fine economically:

There's simply no way this country is in a recession with people spending money like mad amusing themselves at Disneyland. I've been coming here frequently for years, during good times and bad, having grown up in Southern California. I've never seen crowds like this. Not here, not anywhere — not even on the Tokyo subways.

There were times when the streets of the Magic Kingdom were so thickly thronged with human bodies that one simply couldn't move. Rides were breaking down. Restaurants and snack vendors were running out of food. There wasn't enough staff to get people properly loaded onto the rides that were working. It was bedlam.

It actually would have been a miserable experience, if we hadn't lucked out and been given a rare and highly coveted "Dream Fastpass," a plastic badge you wear around your neck that lets you bypass the hours-long lines at the most popular rides.

Mr. Luskin goes on to write that:

The risks that threatened the economy with potential recession are receding. The credit crisis is now a year old, and at this point is very well understood and contained thanks to smart moves by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. There are still problems in the banking system, and there may be problems for years. But the risk of outright meltdown is now off the table, so these problems will get solved.

The housing crisis is probably near an end. As I wrote then, it hasn't been reported, but by some important measures the national housing market bottomed in February and has been on the upswing ever since.

Gee, Luskin's comments on the economy sound strangely akin to what Phil Gramm, another McCain economic adviser, said about the economy just about 6 weeks ago:

Phil Gramm, a former senator and top economic policy adviser to presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, has suggested in an interview with the Washington Times that the U.S. is in a "mental recession" as opposed to a real one.

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he told the newspaper. "We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet."

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he added. "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline" despite a boom in exports.

"Misery sells newspapers," said Gramm, who argues the U.S. has never been more dominant. "Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day."

While McCain let Gramm go after the above comments became an embarrassment to the campaign, you can be sure the sentiment within the McCain campaign remains that all is well with the American economy and these people who are "whining" about rising prices and falling wages need to just to stop crying and listen to economic experts like Don Luskin tell them just how good things are.

In other words don't believe your eyes or your wallets, believe the magical thinking of Don Luskin (see here for Luskin's dismal track record) and Phil Gramm.

Truly magical thinking in the magical kingdom known as the McCain Campaign.

If you've liked the magical thinking of the last 8 years on the economy, the Iraq war, disaster relief, etc., you'll love the next four or eight years in a McCain administration where guys like Phil Gramm and Don Luskin will be making the economic decisions that impact our lives.

Monday, August 18, 2008

TV or Not TV?

For years, that has not been the question in my house. I've consistently denied my daughter a TV in her room for 12 years, and refused to even discuss it for the most part. Then she hooked me--"Dad, if I make honor roll for the whole year, can I get a TV?"

Kids are smart. They learn quickly how to push your buttons, and even when you deliberately move them around on a pretty regular basis, they still find them. And when your mother-in-law occasionally shares the room, and complains mightily that she can't watch her novelas, it's even worse. So there I was, up against the wall. They had me.

And now, not only does the kid have a TV, but hers is way better than mine, which is a relic of the stone age. Hers is an HDTV, which is pretty much the only kind you'll find nowadays, and my wife and I find ourselves sneaking in there to watch stuff. Wow, it's Bobby Flay, and he's melting that cheese on a wide screen! You can see every speck of that smoked paprika!

All my daughter's friends have their own TVs in their bedrooms. That never swayed me, as I found the notion fundamentally evil. Have I finally given into the pressures of society and weakened the moral fabric of my own daughter? Or am I just an old fuddy-duddy who's failed to get with the program?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Students Giving You Problems?

Why not start teaching in Harrold, Texas, where you can bring your gun with you to the classroom?

The school district says this is to prevent school shooting. However, your humble correspondent must report that this is technically not a new concept:

Could You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

Well, just click here. Especially if you've got a computer-savvy preschooler. I used to have one of those around my house, but now she's almost a teenager.

If you prefer adult fiction there's always this.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I got an email yesterday asking me why I always complained about the city schools. So you're in a trailer, so you're in a closet. Can't you ever say anything nice about our schools?

I suppose there are certain advantages of not having your own classroom. For one, you don't need to worry too much about bulletin boards, as you aren't in any one place long enough to be held responsible. In the case of oddly shaped or preposterously small rooms, there is often insufficient space to even place bulletin boards. Sure, you sometimes have to engage in extended battles to procure a portable blackboard, but if you fail in that endeavor, no one can complain you didn't write an aim on the board.

My nephew attends a suburban high school, and his teachers all have their own classrooms. He's a very motivated, pragmatic kid--a real problem solver. One of his teachers was frequently absent, and left SAT prep work when she wasn't there. He (and his classmates) considered it busy work. So they decided to take action.

The teacher always left a sub lesson in her top drawer, and the kids had seen it removed by various substitute teachers. The subs, though, often arrived late for first period. So whenever the teacher wasn't in the classroom, my nephew removed the sub lesson plan and replaced it with his own, instructing, "Show a video." There was always a TV with a small library of videos in back of the classroom, and one kid would choose one and insert it into the video player before the sub arrived.

So, if you're teaching in the city, and you're in a trailer or closet, consider how lucky you are not to have your own room, or a TV, or a computer, or a bulletin board, or a blackboard. While these sort of shenanigans occurred in my nephew's school, they will never, ever happen in yours.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Let's see--your company is in the toilet. In fact, it's now being bailed out at the taxpayer's expense. So, what conclusion, as an objective observer, can you possibly come to?

Well, if you're Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City schools, you decide that this is the kind of expertise you sorely lack, so you tap the managing director to be your new chief financial officer. After all, how many people are there who've been so instrumental at running a company into the ground?

It's tough to say whether Mr. George Raab, the person in question, will be able to rise to the standard set by Alvarez and Marsal, who managed to leave city kids on street corners freezing to death on the coldest days of the year, but the utter collapse of Mr. Raab's company certainly suggests he's in the ballpark.

And he won't need to share those ballpark seats with those nasty public school students, either, since city-subsidized ballpark seats can now run 495 bucks a pop. But when it comes to trailers and closets, it's still Children First in Mayor Bloomberg's New York.

Thanks to Annie

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Modern Times

When I read stories like this one, I wonder how people in South Korea put up with the educational pressure-cooker that is their system. I value education, and I teach my daughter that how she does in school is very important. But honestly, I wouldn't want her to endure what the kids in South Korea are going through, and I think she needs time to have fun.

In fact, I think we all do. The model of working one's self to death may appeal to some, but not to me. Kids who go through such systems, which the KIPP schools seem to adore, have every reason to think their work careers may replicate their school careers. And increasingly, in the United States of America, they're right. I fail to see how working more hours and taking fewer vacations than anyone else in the industrialized world is something to boast about, but nonetheless, we're number one.

Our much maligned educational system lags behind that of South Korea in many respects, but, in all the wrong ways, we're catching up.

This summer I taught a group of smart, motivated young people from all over the world, and about half of my class happened to come from South Korea. My class focused on oral communications, and I used a lot of quirky topics to get them talking. They participated eagerly and gave me a really nice card yesterday, the last day of class. It appears they loved this class just as much as I did.

On the other hand, in my high school classes, I drilled my poor kids to death teaching them how to pass the NY State English Regents exam, which is not designed for them, is utterly inappropriate, and no fun at all. While most of them passed, I honestly don't believe they learned anything except how to pass one test, a skill that will be utterly useless to them in every other endeavor they undertake for the rest of their lives.

And this class, I suppose, is the sort of thing a lot of my Asian students are accustomed to. Still, my college students not only had a better class and experience, but learned more, and are better prepared to take regular college classes in the US. They're learning how to be confident and articulate, while my poor high school kids only learned how to pass a single test (albeit one they need in order to graduate).

I didn't receive any thank you cards from my high school kids, although I have to suppose many of them credited not me, but rather a divine miracle that caused them to pass (I don't mean to imply they're mistaken). I don't blame them for not loving the class. They weren't supposed to, and I guess I didn't love it either. We were all just there doing what we had to do.

It's a shame we're taking the worst features of foreign education systems and giving them to our students and children. I could give the same classes I gave my college students to high school kids, and in the long term, we'd all be better off.

The Carnival of Education... up and running, and open to all over at Joanne Jacobs' joint.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'll Have Another Cucumber Martini, Please...

Governor David Patterson announced drastic cuts to health and education programs in New York State yesterday while vacationing in the Hamptons.

Patterson announced a $51 million cut for the CUNY system, a $506 million dollar cut in health care spending, a $250 million cut in local government assistance, and a $132 million cut in spending on new programs.

The governor wants the cuts to address the state's $6.4 million projected deficit for next year.

After announcing the cuts, the governor then finished playing golf and ordered another round of cucumber martinis for he and his Hamptons golfing buddies/hedge fund managers courtesy of New York taxpayers.

Actually I made that last part up, but seriously, couldn't Patterson have made the announcements from Albany?

I understand times are tough and everybody's got to tighten their belts and make some sacrifices.

But why can't "working vacations" in the Hamptons for politicians also be put on the chopping block?

Monday, August 11, 2008

You Too Can Make Money Without Working!

That's right! Be the first on your block to get a no-bid contract from City Hall! Be sure you offer a vital service, like "demystifying" teachers. Mayor Mike and Jolly Joel have had enough of those goshdarn unionized employees being mystified, and they're willing to put up millions of city dollars to put an end to it.

What kind of group did they pick?

The organization, All Kinds of Minds, was co-founded by famed Harvard pediatrician Dr. Melvin Levine, who is facing new allegations that he sexually abused young, male patients.

The group scored a no-bid contract worth up to $12.5 million in 2004 - one of hundreds of no-bid contracts issued by the DOE since mayoral control of the school system began in fiscal year 2003.

According to city-comptroller statistics, the surge of no-bid contracts since then totals $342 million.

But All Kinds of Minds, whether or not it minds a few behinds, has left a few minds behind. To wit, it's trained fewer than one fifth of the still-mystified teachers it had promised to cure. I'm a bit disappointed, as I find myself mystified on a regular basis.

For one thing, what ever happened to checks and balances? How can anyone contemplate the continuation of mayoral control with the abysmal record we've seen thus far?

Thanks to Annie

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Watch Your Step

Emblem Health, which you may know better as GHI or HIP, has resubmitted its proposal for privatization. This is very bad news for the overwhelming majority of NYC employees. Don't count on support from the UFT because Randi Weingarten's prime concern is how much cash the IPO will bring her well-oiled patronage mill.

If you're looking for someone who supports working people, check over here for the coalition to save our health care. They're more than happy to tell you what you can do to help. Evidence suggests that privatization benefits only the shareholders, and does so by passing higher costs onto policy holders, i.e. you and me.

This is the biggest issue facing working city employees right now. In 05 Ms. Weingarten demonstrated her willingness to give away virtually every gain the union had made over thirty years for a compensation increase that failed to meet cost of living. Sacrificing our health care, however, goes beyond the pale.

When her minions come to visit your school, remind them their job is to fence off the cliff, rather than push us over it.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thought for the Day

Friday, August 08, 2008

Spin Doctors

As a high school teacher, I always watch the kids. You never know what the hell they're gonna do next, and they really keep you on your toes. Now lots of us have kids of our own, and fortunately, few things kids do tend to be as sinister or evil as we sometimes fear.

One thing I've noticed over the last few years is that my Asian students tend to spin pens in ways we gringos would never imagine. They're not always as elaborate as those below, but they're consistently well beyond my laughable abilities. I met a woman from Korea a few months ago and asked her about that. She took a pen from her bag, asked, "Do you mean like this?" and proceeded to spin her pen in ways that blew my mind.

"My advice," she said, "is just to forget all about it."

Which I did, for a while at least. It began to bother me that I'd never seen even one non-Asian do this. I've been teaching people from all over the world for over twenty years and I swear, I've seen every single stereotype refuted, and usually on a much-repeated basis. Could it be that you had to be from the Far East to twirl that pen? It bothered me a little.

Until a few weeks ago, actually, when a young woman from France (in my college class, no less) began twirling her pen in a style to rival anyone, thus restoring my faith in humanity, and shattering my last stereotype. If you don't teach ESL, you're likely not to have seen this, so check out the video below.

Have you seen this? Can you do this?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

If You Like Joel Klein...'ll love Maverick Johny McCain. In September 2002, he predicted victory in Iraq would be easy. Then he said we could stay for a hundred years. He then made the rosy prediction that we could get out by 2013. With typical foresight (and hindsight), Maverick John is getting into bed with Joel Klein and Al Sharpton.

Now no one can deny that Joel Klein's educational "reforms" have proven just as effective as the Iraq War, and when you consider we're spending 3 billion a week out in the desert, Mr. Klein's 80-million dollar non-functioning computer seems a drop in the bucket. And while Mr. Klein left hundreds of kids to freeze in the streets on the coldest days of the year, at least opposing combatants weren't shooting at them. Not this year, anyway.

Mr. McCain, of course, supports school vouchers, while that nasty Barack Obama opposes them. This, apparently, is a big selling point for Mr. McCain. It's very clear that if we could only dispose of those nasty teacher unions and hire temporary employees for a pittance we could seriously lower Steve Forbes' tax bill. And honestly, if the United States of America doesn't stand for lowering Steve Forbes' tax bill, then what on earth does it stand for?

So forget that Maverick Johny has embraced Bush tax cuts, Bush's war, and the religious zealots he once stood up to. Forget that he was wrong from the beginning about Iraq, and continues to be wrong now. Forget his endless contradictions. Never mind that, despite frequent rhetoric to the contrary, he consistently votes against the interests of the men and women who actually fight the wars he supports. The important thing is he'll get more cash into the pockets of those who have more cash, and he'll oppose unions in education. It's all about giving the poor kids instruction in how to work long days and long hours for little reward.

After all, someone has to serve drinks at Steve Forbes' house. You tend to get thirsty a lot at poolside, even at the indoor pool.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another Brilliant Victory

I've just received an email from the UFT stating that Teachers' Choice funds have been reduced from $260 to $150.

It's a victory, apparently, because it's better than nothing. This represents a great step forward for the Unity/New Action patronage employees who negotiated the 05 contract (which regular readers of this blog may recall, was not better than nothing).

Perhaps that can be the new UFT slogan---"We're better than nothing."

Certainly Chancellor Klein must agree. When the system pulls money out of the pockets of working people, how many union leaders stand up and say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Only the one on the immediate left.

Thank you Ms. Weingarten. If President Bush had you and the Unity/ New Action patronage mill to explain why failure and incompetence represents victory, perhaps his numbers wouldn't be so far in the toilet and he could be out campaigning for Maverick Johny.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tier One Memories

Tier One, proudly wearing a t-shirt that says "Tier One," marches to summer school every morning, as he's done for scores of years. He doesn't need the money, and the older teachers all speculate as to how much money he's losing every day he shows up during the school year. He won't retire and he won't take the summer off. This is what he does, and what would he do if he didn't do what he did?

But he doesn't like the new "pass everyone no matter what" philosophy that pervades a lot of NYC summer programs.

"When I started teaching summer school," he says, "things were different. If kids were out three days, that was it. They were out of the program."


"Yeah, I used to start with 50 kids, say we're doing six book reports, and that the first one was due in one week. 25 of them wouldn't show for three days. Then I'd say let's forget about the book reports, and teach the 25 kids who were crazy enough to go along with me."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

With Apologies to Martin Niemoller

Over at Edwize, they’re getting up on their high horse again, pretending to be the protectors of working people, rather than a bunch of gutless double-pensioned self-serving patronage hacks. I was somewhat offended by their presumption to portray themselves as defenders of working people, particularly since they supported mayoral control and enabled every unproductive "reform" that Tweed has been able to foist on NYC teachers and students.

In case it's not obvious to everyone reading this, their main instrument to accomplish this was the 2005 contract. In any case, I've reworked the verse to something more appropriate:

When the UFT gave up the transfer plan,
I said nothing; after all, I was already in a good school.
When they made my colleagues ATRs,
I said nothing; after all, I was not yet in a closing school.
When they partnered up with Green Dot,
I said nothing; after all, I had tenure and seniority.
When my school was closed, there was no longer anyone who could protest.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

What Happens When You Don't Have Tenure?

Parent Coordinator Charles Woods managed to draw 800 parents to a family night. He's been praised by Mayor Bloomberg, and more importantly, by real public school parents:

"He's been here for my child. Without Mr. Woods, it will be nothing," said parent Shevinah Henderson...

On the last day of the term at PS 11, Principal Elizabeth Hachar fired him.

Tough Times