Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolved to Destroy Your Enemies for the New Year?

These fingerprint-proof trash bags may be just what you need, and they're on sale.

Uncle Jay Explains 2008

Thanks to Schoolgal

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buy Your Own Senate Seat...

...for as little as 35 bucks. Take that, Rod Blagojevich!

Mr. Bloomberg Addresses Class Size

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared that all kids are in classes by themselves, and that class sizes are, therefore, now as low as they can possibly be--one student per class. The trick now, Mr. Bloomberg suggested, was to get teachers to utilize differentiated instruction for each class, so that no students would be left behind. To accomplish this class size revolution, the mayor enlisted the assistance of UFT President Randi Weingarten, who was all too happy to accomodate.

"This is a banner day for city teachers," declared Ms. Weingarten. "We've now got a historic agreement to keep class size down to one, and what's more, we've procured a one-time bonus payment of five hundred dollars for city teachers."

Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Weingarten explained that teachers would now be in charge of 200 classes a day, and, due to time constraints, would now be teaching 40 classes at a time. In addition, teachers would continue "small group instruction" four times a week. As there are no longer "groups" the instruction would consist of only 34 classes at a time.

In addition to the five-hundred dollar one-time bonus, Ms. Weingarten was able to negotiate zero-percent raises for teachers, to be paid over a three-year period. Union sources stated this was a great victory, as Mayor Bloomberg had initially demanded a twenty percent pay cut.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Qualifications, Shmalifications.

Caroline Kennedy, famous primarily for being Caroline Kennedy, wants to be our next US Senator. Her qualifications? Well, she's co-written a bunch of books, and it's entirely possible that she actually wrote some part of those books. I mean, some people put their names on books they didn't actually write, but there's no proof that's true in Ms. Kennedy's case.

Over at Accountable Talk, Mr. A. lays out her qualifications neatly:

1. I am a Kennedy.
2. I have written a children's book, which got published because I am a Kennedy.
3. I have raised funds for education, mostly by virtue of being a Kennedy and thus able to put the bite on other rich people. ("Hello. I'm a Kennedy. Would you care to contribute tax-deductible funds to my cause?")
4. I am a mom.

Now there's nothing wrong with all that, of course. But if Ms. Kennedy's boss, Mayor Bloomberg, weren't shoveling kids into public schools like sardines so as to make room for non-unionized charters, perhaps her work wouldn't be necessary. In fact, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice suggests she was not precisely as accountable as unionized teachers are expected to be:

For months after she started, even some high-level education officials said they were not quite sure what she did. In an interview about eight months into her tenure, she would not say how often she worked at the department headquarters or how many hours she spent on the job, saying only, 'I put in as much time as I can.'"

Can you imagine what your supervisors would have to say if you reported with that attitude? I doubt you'd make teacher of the month anytime in the near future. And it appears her best buddies, Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein, are juking her stats just as they do standardized test grades and dropout rates:

Klein "credited her with bringing in a $51 million gift from Bill Gates's foundation," according to a Times piece yesterday, but a top former Klein aide told the Voice that the Gates grant "was totally put together" by Michele Cahill, senior counsel to Klein who came to DOE from the Carnegie Corporation and has returned there. Though Klein has praised Kennedy in the past for raising $65 million for an entirely different initiative--the Leadership Academy--he's never attributed this Gates grant to her, the largest ever for the school system.

So here, in the era of accountability, is yet another poser who's accomplished nothing and trumpeting her alleged qualifications. Very Michelle Rhee of her. And what does she say about education?

Ms. Kennedy would not say, for example, whether she supported proposals to abolish tenure for teachers and offer them merit pay instead.

To sum up, she said absolutely nothing. Frankly, I'm unimpressed by people who claim to have expertise on public schools but refuse to send their kids to them--people like Mike Bloomberg, Joel Klein, and Caroline Kennedy. And while Ms. Kennedy has eluded that she'd support a Democrat for Mayor, there's no law saying Mayor Mike couldn't run as a Democrat (If there were, he'd ignore it, just as he ignored two referendums on term limits). Has she got any disagreements with Mayor Bloomberg's policies? According to the NY Times:

But when asked how she might differ with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg or with Governor Paterson, who has sole authority to make the Senate appointment, she demurred.

“I’m not going to talk about my disagreements with him,” she said. “You’ll find out over time.”

In other words, "Trust me."

But how on earth can we trust anyone who asks us to do such a thing?

Thanks to David Bellel

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The New WMDs

I've been following the adventures of J. on Mildly Melancholy lately, and apparently the latest trend at her school is knitting. Oddly, kids at her school just can't get enough of it. And there are certainly worse ways kids could occupy their time.

I once taught special ed., and there was a clique of women in my department who knitted furiously every free minute they had. They frightened me a little for some reason. But they never caused any trouble, as far as I knew.

I can't help but wonder, though--if kids at my school got caught carrying sharp knitting needles around school, they'd probably get in trouble for carrying potential weapons. I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be if kids in my daughter's schools were carrying long pointy implements around. How many years has it been since metal butter knives in school cafeterias were replaced with plastic? Perhaps they did that for expediency rather than safety, but a knitting needle could potentially do more damage than a butter knife.

So am I just paranoid about this, or is it a perfectly healthy pastime for kids in school?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Poetry Corner

For this, the day after Christmas, we humbly offer enlightening lines from some New York teacher-bloggers.

First, Accountable Talk offers a little ditty about The Klein Who Stole Tenure.

Over at Have a Gneiss Day, we get a teacher's eye view of The Night Before Christmas.

Not technically poetry, but frequent poet Jose Vilson offers ten ways to channel your inner grinch.

To round it all off, Trashman's Disposable Reader gives us a first peek at The Night Before Inaugaration.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hey - Get Back To Work!!!

What are you teachers doing take Christmas off?

How dare you lazy, coddled, tenured ne'er-do-wells take a holiday?

Don't you know kids are being hurt by your union-protected laziness?

Don't you know charter schools had a half day of school today where kids got to read the classic Dickens tale A Christmas Carol and take a standardized test quizzing them on content and vocabulary from the story?

Don't you know we must never miss ANY opportunity or day to educate our children to reach education checkpoints set by the Great Gods of Tammany Hall/Tweed Courthouse?

Don't you know there is a periodic assessment with holiday content created by the mayor's buddies at Random House your students could be taking right now to help them prepare for a life of part-time toil, poverty wages and overwhelming debt in our Depression-era America where the top 5% own 99% of the wealth?

Don't you know that Uncle Joel Klein, Mayor Moneybags, Arne Testmeister, Michelle Media Darling, Mistress Eva, Whitney the Hedge Fund Shyster and the rest of the education "experts" know what is best for schools and students and parents and kids and they ALL say days off are bad!!!

So next year I hope all you lazy, coddled, tenured ne'er-do-well teachers in unions will accede to what the education experts say is "good educatin'" and work a half day teaching your students how to bubble in circles and take endless batteries of useless test prep created to enrich the buddies of Uncle Joel and Mayor Moneybags at Random House.

But since you're probably feeling a little guilty just now for taking the WHOLE day off, why don't you take a few hours away from celebrating the holidays with your families and friends to grade some papers, analyze some student data on the mayor's vaunted ARIS computer system, plan some lessons and/or take part in some professional development.

Better yet, why don't you lazy bastards do all of those things today?

After all, in the feudal state that is Depression-era America, school AND work are never out - unless you've been laid off, of course.

To All

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the entire staff here at NYC Educator.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tumbling Down

The stock market is open for a half day and the folks at CNBC are covering the day's trading.

Erin Burnett just asked a guest the following question (I'm paraphrasing):

"It seems the last 8-10 years of economic gains - home sales, increases in stock values, consumer sales, everything - was ephemeral...built on debt with people spending money they didn't actually have. Does this mean we have to go back to 1998-2000 levels of wealth before we finally bottom out in the economy?"

The answer is, we'll be lucky if we only retrace to 1998-2000 levels of wealth before this economic mess is all over.

Let's look at the latest economic news to see where we are so far:

Existing home sales fell sharply last month while inventories increased. Home prices fell at a record rate - in the last year, the median sales price of existing homes fell 13.2%, the most since the Great Depression. Existing home inventories are at a 25-year high. Mortgage applications did increase last week as mortgage rates fell but most of those are refinancings, so we shouldn't expect those home inventories to fall or prices to stabilize any time soon.

Many on Wall Street and in Washington were hoping that modifying mortgages for homeowners under duress would help stabilize foreclosures - only it hasn't happened and homeowners with modified mortgages continue to default at alarming rates:

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- More than half of mortgages modified in the first quarter were at least 30 days delinquent after half a year, and it's necessary to figure out why so many modifications are not preventing re-defaults, regulators said Monday.

The proportion of modified loans delinquent by 30 days or more was 55% after six months, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision. Modified loans that were 30 or more days delinquent after three months stood at 37%, the agencies' data showed.

"One very troubling point is that, whether measured using 30-day or 60-day delinquencies, re-default rates increased each month and showed no signs of leveling off after six months and even eight months," said Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan.

On the jobs front, the economy has lost nearly 2 million jobs since December 2007. First time applications for state unemployment benefits are at the highest levels in 26 years and according to Marketwatch

The jobless claims report shows businesses are laying off workers at a rapid pace, and finding a replacement job is ever harder for those who have lost their job.


The insured unemployment rate -- the proportion of covered workers who are receiving benefits -- was steady at 3.3%, the highest in 16 years.

Initial claims represent job destruction, while the level of continuing claims indicates how hard or easy it is for displaced workers to find new jobs.

The initial crisis in the housing market was creating by banks handing out adjustable rate mortgages and so-called liar loans to people who weren't credit worthy and who started to go belly-up when their ARM's adjusted to higher rates. But with unemployment accelerating, some analysts worry that even homeowners with good credit will default on their mortgages (as is already happening) and eventually lose their homes to foreclosure, further exacerbating the housing crisis and plunging home values well below the 2004 levels they have currently hit.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that developers of commercial real estate are begging for government bail out money as thousands of office complexes, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial buildings are headed into defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Manhattan has been hit very hard, with the office rate hitting 10.9%, the highest in two year and 3 percentage points higher than last year. Hotel occupancy rates have fallen nationwide and delinquency rates are increasing.

The stock market slide has stopped for now, with the Dow hovering at 8400, down more than 36% this year. Plenty of market prognosticators are calling a bottom to the market, but you can bet the Dow would have fallen well below 8000 had taxpayers not bailed out financial firms like Citigroup, AIG, Goldman Sachs and the like and you can bet that as the housing and unemployment pictures continue to worsen and the financial firms blow through the TARP money and come back for me that the markets will fall again.

And who knows what inflation rates are going to be like in the years ahead as the trillions of dollars the Federal Reserve has printed and circulated into the economy fan prices. Remember the double digit inflation of the late 70's and early 80's? You shouldn't be surprised to see that again in a few years. Sure, it's possible the boys at the Federal Reserve will figure out how to pull that extra cash out of the monetary system before rampant inflation hits, but they surely haven't inspired confidence in the way they have handled the financial crisis so far so I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it.

So 2008 comes to an end, a year in which we saw the socialization of risk for investment banks, commercial banks and other financial firms (total cost of TARP bailout and other Federal Reserve "infusions of cash" into the system - $8.5 trillion dollars) even as the privatization of profits for these firms continues (pay back the bonuses based on phony profits from past years? NOT!!!). Home values are at 2004 levels and look like they will continue to plunge further in the next year. Job losses are accelerating, further trouble for the housing market as even solvent homeowners default on their mortgages after they lose their jobs. Ponzi schemes like Bernie Madoff's little venture are being exposed and the costs calculated even as people who are tied to these schemes end up in the morgue.

While all this carnage listed above sounds terrible, I think it's about time that the go-go Bush years - built on the accumulation of trillions of dollars of debt, overleveraging, the socialization of risk, greed and a lack of accountability at ALL levels of society but especially for the top 1%, the so-called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE - fade and a new era of humility, accountability and a less is more attitude be ushered in. As Todd Harrison wrote on Marketwatch this week:

It's long been my belief that a stealth recession has existed for many years, masked by the lower dollar and skewed by the spending habits of a slimming margin of society. That created a de-facto two-class society of haves and have-nots that persisted until the age of austerity arrived this year.

The combination of involuntary thrift -- when people can't afford basic necessities -- and voluntary thrift - when folks with money choose not to spend -- created a perfect storm for the consumer and industries dependent on them.

The conspicuous consumption that once defined our immediate gratification society has passed as flashy rides and outrageous lifestyles now serve as hollow reminders of misplaced priorities.

And that is my hope for this holiday season - that the misplaced priorities and immediate gratification that so many of us have seen as our entitled legacies as Americans shift to a more humble, spiritual way of living less concerned with accumulation of wealth and more concerned with gratitude, service and love and care of others and this earth we live on.

This is an abundant universe we can avail ourselves to if we stop allowing ourselves to be blinded by short-sighted greed and selfishness.

But since the new stewards of our economy look pretty much like the old stewards of our economy, I guess I shouldn't hold my breath.

Happy holidays everybody.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Joyous Holiday Season to All

It's pretty exciting to be off for a week, isn't it? If you're a teacher, you're just as happy as the kids, and who can blame you? What are you going to do? Are you going to visit your long lost relatives? Are you going to go to Hawaii and search for the meaning of life in a pinacolada served in a coconut shell?

I certainly hope you've got an equally worthy plan. Or if you just want to sit around filing your nails and plotting revenge against your enemies, well, that's your right too. Of course, if that's how you think, you might be able to find a higher paying job at Tweed. Or maybe you could plot to take over the world with another political organization. I hope the end result is some sort of improvement.

Are you going to improve the world next week? How do you propose to achieve this?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bailout Nation (Continued)

U.S. taxpayers have bailed out AIG, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, BoA, Goldman Sachs and other financial firms to the tune of at least $700 billion dollars while these firms continue to hand out dividends to their shareholders and Christmas bonus money to their executives.

At the same time, these financial firms refuse to say what else they have been doing with the bailout money other than hand out dividends and bonuses.

They say it's none of our business.

Are they lending any? Are they packing it under the mattress?

Who knows - the government certainly doesn't because these financial firms don't have to tell regulators anything at all.

U.S. taxpayers have also bailed out U.S. automakers to the tune of $17.4 billion, although that dough has been handed out with express instructions on how it must be spent and when it must be repaid:

According to a Fact Sheet issued by the White House, the automakers must provide the government with "warrants for non-voting stock," and agree to such conditions as "limits on executive compensation," the elimination of "perks such as corporate jets," and grant the government the power to "block any large transactions" over $100 million.

A series of "targets" are also listed, though it doesn't appear that they're mandatory. These include eliminating the controversial "jobs bank" that allows laid-off auto workers to continue receiving a portion of their salaries, and enacting both "work rules" and wages "that are competitive with those of transplant auto manufacturers by 12/31/09."

Ironic that the union workers who make cars have to take pay cuts in order for the government to help the car companies with bailout money while banks can borrow money at will, never say what they're doing with it and never have to pay it back.

Guess which industry has more juice (i.e., payoff money in the form of campaign contributions and cushy post-politics jobs for retired politicians) - U.S. automakers (and the union workers who make those cars) or the financial industry?

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that commercial real estate developers are about to go belly up from overleveraging and overbuilding and they too want bailout money from taxpayers:

With a record amount of commercial real-estate debt coming due, some of the country's biggest property developers have become the latest to go hat-in-hand to the government for assistance.

They're warning policymakers that thousands of office complexes, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial buildings are headed into defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcies. The reason: according to research firm Foresight Analytics LCC, $530 billion of commercial mortgages will be coming due for refinancing in the next three years -- with about $160 billion maturing in the next year. Credit, meanwhile, is practically nonexistent and cash flows from commercial property are siphoning off.


To head off some of the impending pain, the industry is asking to be included in a new $200 billion loan program initially created by the government to salvage the market for car loans, student loans and credit-card debt. This money is intended to go directly to help investors finance purchases of securities backed by these assets. If commercial real estate is included, banks might have an incentive to make more loans to developers since they'd be able to repackage and sell them more easily to investors with the assurance of government backing.

As part of their lobbying efforts, some industry representatives have asked lawmakers to explore the idea of setting up a separate program aimed at boosting lending to commercial real estate only.

"We've been urging Washington to put this as one of the top priorities in dealing with the economy," says Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, underscoring the need for the government to help spur commercial property lending either directly or indirectly.

I wonder if the same lawmakers happy to hand out the cash to their banking buddies but only grudgingly handing out money to the car companies after UAW workers agree to work for non-union wages and give up their health and pension benefits will suddenly revert to a "How Much Do You Need?" philosophy when it comes time to help the commercial real estate industry?

I guess it will come down to whether the CRE industry can take care of Washington lawmakers with campaign contributions and cushy post-politics jobs.


Some things happen that really make you feel good, and sometimes those things actually happen to me. A foreign language teacher of my acquaintance heard a couple of her kids have this conversation:

"I don't know what I'm gonna do about the English Regents."

"You have to go to the department office and ask to be in Mr. Educator's class. It's horrible. You'll have to write every day and you'll hate it. But you'll pass the test."

It was very gratifying to hear that. And I agree with the kid's assessment that the class is awful. Honestly, I love teaching English to newcomers, and I really believe learning a language can be fun. On the other hand, I hate the English Regents because it doesn't actually test what I'm supposed to teach these kids. Not only that, but a good section of these kids haven't learned what I'd like them to know, having arrived in the US five minutes ago.

But someone has to help these kids pass this test, since they can't graduate high school without it. It might as well be me. It's no fun at all, but it's very gratifying that some kids have detected the method to my madness.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bait and Switch

Given the way Governor David Patterson lies, cheats, and sticks it to working and middle class New Yorkers with a straight face, he really ought to be a Republican in the Bush administration or the Bloomberg administration.

Last week he announced draconian tax increases totaling $121 billion dollars for such items as ipod downloads, haircuts, clothing, soda (but not Mayor Bloomberg's favorite "health drink" - the highly sugared, highly corn syruped Snapple!!!), and lots of other things people in New York use on a daily basis.

He refused to raise taxes on people making over $200,000 a year, however.

It seems rich people are not making enough money these days, what with the stock market down 35% and financial companies like Citigroup, BoA, Goldman Sachs and others needing hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money in order for them to pay dividends to their stock holders and million dollar bonuses to their management level executives this Christmas.

But as for you working class and middle class New Yorkers - the governor thinks you need to carry more of the state's financial burden.

And that especially goes for you free-loading SUNY and CUNY college students and your families.

This week Patterson also announced that tuition at the State University of New York and the City University of New York would increase by almost $400 a year.

Patteron says that tuition has not increased at the state or city schools in over four years and now students at the schools and their families will have to shell out more to help the state in these dire times.

While it is true that tuition has not risen at CUNY or SUNY schools in the last four years, back door increases of "student fees," "activity fees" and "library fees" have ensured that students at the schools are paying hundreds of dollars more this year BEFORE the tuition increase than they were four years ago.

So the governor is full of it when he says students and their families need to carry their share of the revenue burden after enjoying four years of no increases.

Nonetheless Patterson announced new student loan programs that will help students cope with the tuition increases.

Isn't that nice?

The governor's buddies at Chase, Citigroup, BoA and other financial companies who make hundreds of thousands or millions a year not only DO NOT have to pay higher pay roll taxes at a time when the state needs higher revenue and the governor is asking middle and working class New Yorkers to carry much of that burden, they're going to get new business as students from low income families take on even more debt to finance their education.

It's a win-win for Patterson and his wealthy buddies on Wall Street.

With "Democrats" like David Patterson in charge of things these days, the rich and well-connected surely don't need Republicans anymore to stay rich and well-connected, do they?

Get on The Wire

Buy the complete series at Amazon for 89.99. Simply the best TV show ever.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

President Bush Creates Economic Stimulus...

...for a shoemaker in Istanbul.

Kids Dropping Out of Your Charter School? Teachers Quitting in Droves?

With these handcuffs at less than ten bucks a pair, you can fix that in a jiffy.

Students Losing Focus?

Maybe the problem is they're spending too much time chewing on pencils. But it's your lucky day. Now you can get them pre-chewed pencils, so they'll be sinking their teeth into all those triangles their math teachers have so meticulously crafted, or the Magna Carta, or whatever it is they're supposed to be focused on.

There's also good news for all those "reformers" out there--they're completely untested and there's no evidence whatsoever they'll have any effect whatsoever. So here's yet another place to put your megabucks, Bill Gates and Eli Broad. This could be your next big breakthrough!

Best of all, "reformers" could blame unionized teachers for not having provided kids with the pencils in the first place. Perhaps Joel Klein and Al Sharpton could make speeches about this reprehensible situation, and make sure new academies have a healthy supply of prechewed pencils. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than reducing class sizes or relieving overcrowding, and as Mr. Klein's minions often respond to my questions, "Well, at least it shows we're doing something."

The only drawback is they don't have erasers, so "reformers" will have to use their own in the consequent juking of the stats.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou, DC37?

The Unity folks have been at my school, and my colleagues tell me they're predicting gloom and doom come contract time. The city is certainly going through a rough patch, there's no money, times are tough, so batten down the hatches.

Still, I can't help but recall that back in 05, we were told we had to follow the pattern set by DC37. It was 2%, or some such nowhere-near-cost-of-living figure. The rest, we were told, would be purchased with givebacks--severely weakened seniority, no more UFT transfers, permanent building assignments, meaningless punishment days in August, no grieving letters and a litany of hard-won rights Randi "Everything is on the table except vouchers" Weingarten agreed to sign away--and she still managed to do so for less than cost of living.

So for them to lower expectations at this point (Given their track record, it would be tough to lower mine) is remarkable. A pattern, in fact, has been set by DC37, and it calls for 4% raises over each of two years. It would be highly hypocritical of Ms. Weingarten if she were to inform us that, during tough times, we can't actually get the pattern. I can't say whether these folks were advised to say this, or whether they were just running their mouths without previous instruction. In any case, it's a particularly stupid position to take before negotiations, whatever else is going on.

But nothing Ms. Weingarten does or says surprises me anymore.

Related: Here's a noteworthy anonymous comment:

Any idiot can get the pattern; it's already in the city budget. Randi wants you to think they won't offer it to the teachers and then when she gets the 4 and 4, she claims victory. Why are you falling for this?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That Goshdarn Shop-Rite

They don't want to inscribe a cake for young Adolf Hitler Campbell. Go figure.

You Gotta Be a Football Hero..

I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of hearing administrators compare teachers to professional athletes.

"NFL players don't have excuses."

"You don't see A-Rod bitching about tenure."

You don't see me running halfway around the world to sniff around Madonna either (and given the opportunity, I wouldn't bother). More importantly, you don't see the NFL recruiting via bus ads and 800 numbers. You don't see job fairs and international recruiting because the NFL isn't willing to pay the prevailing wage.

Right here in NYC, there are over 80,000 teachers. That's way, way more than the number of pro football players in the world, let alone the city. I can't remember the hearing about the last time a football player came to work to find his locker full of garbage, as my desk was a few times last week.

Ask yourself what sports would be like if we made the pros play in trailers and bathrooms, rather than facilities so expensive they preclude spending enough to give our 1.1 schoolchildren facilities and conditions like those enjoyed by kids in suburbs ten minutes away

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vested Interests One, Working People Zero

In light of the appointment of "reformer" Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education, that's where it stands. People are saying this is a compromise appointment, with Joel Klein being the pick of the lunatic fringe and Linda Darling-Hammond the choice of reasonable humans, because Mr. Duncan is looked at as acceptable by part-time AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Regrettably, Ms. Weingarten has enabled "reform" as much as Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, or just about any "reformer" who tramples upon unionized workers while posing as an advocate for children. And while Bill Gates, and Eli Broad, and others toss around their cash to ensure these children won't have worthwhile unions, job security, health care or other frivolities enjoyed by those awful socialists in Canada and Europe, Ms. Weingarten shakes her head, enables them all, and says, "What a good girl am I." And indeed, Ms. Weingarten has gone far with her accomodating attitude. After all, were she actually standing up for working people, how on earth could she treat the Presidency of the largest teacher local in the country, the UFT, as part-time work?

On the other hand, President Obama can still stand up for working people by passing card check. Other moneyed interests, posing as protectors of working people's rights, are campaigning against card check, stating it deprives them of a secret ballot. Pardon me, but when was the last secret ballot at Wal-Mart? This bill will make it easier for working people to exercise their right to unionize, and that's why forces who don't give a damn about us are so up in arms about it.

This, along with health care, will be a good measure of whether or not Obama is really an agent of change. I'm afraid the appointment of Arne Duncan, approved by anti-teacher, anti-labor, anti-working person Joel Klein makes him nothing more than an agent of status quo.

He's going to have to do better than that, or the future of this country will just as doubtful as it's been under GW Bush and cronies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

From Parentalcation:

President-elect Obama chose not to send his kids to Chicago Public Schools, and then chose the head of the Chicago Public School District to be his education secretary.

Reminds me of that old saying...

What's not good enough for me, is good enough for everybody else.
Greg Palast on that and more:

Indeed, although he plays roundball with Duncan (who was captain of the Harvard basketball team), State Senator Obama was one of the only local Chicago officials who refused to send his kids to Duncan's public schools. (The Obamas sent Sasha and Malia to the Laboratory School, where Duncan's methods are derided as dangerously ludicrous.)

So, if The One won't trust his kids to Duncan, why is he handing Duncan ours?

The answer: Duncan is supported by a coterie of teacher-union hating Republicans. The vocal cheerleader for the Duncan appointment was David Brooks, the New York Times columnist; the REPUBLICAN columnist.

Hey, didn't those guys LOSE?

Tenure on the Table

The LA Times is talking tenure again. They're against it, of course, and their poster child for its abolition is Green Dot Schools, which is currently in partnership with the United Federation of Teachers here in New York:

Charter schools have done away with such practices -- and that includes Green Dot Public Schools, whose teachers are unionized -- with no widespread reports of unfair treatment.

In fact, it's hard to determine what entails "unfair treatment" for Green Dot teachers, as they enjoy neither tenure nor seniority, and has only been in existence for eight years. Is Green Dot's handful of "unionized" schools a good enough reason for part-time AFT President Randi Weingarten to begin dealing away tenure to union-buster Michelle Rhee in DC? Her internet mouthpiece, unelected UFT Vice-President Leo Casey, certainly seems to think so. Here's Mr. Casey explaining yet again just how well Green Dot teachers have it:
The standard for dismissal in tenure cases is just cause — the school district has a burden of proof that the teacher either has engaged in some overt act of misconduct or is failing to meet minimum standards of performance. The Green Dot schools have this same standard — from the moment they are hired and not after three years of probation — and an independent arbitrator to hear a case for dismissal.

Mr. Casey, as usual, pointedly ignores Green Dot teachers' lack of seniority. Apparently, we duespayers are supposed to ignore the fact that under this system, a twenty-year veteran can be dismissed before a newbie hired ten minutes ago. Still, though, there's a problem with Mr. Casey's contention. Even when we are good little teachers and ignore the seniority issue, Mr. Casey consistently fails to provide a single example in which this process has been utilized, let alone protected anyone's job.

It appears that we're supposed to trust in the good graces of Steve Barr, who does not hesitate to vilify unionized teachers and union leaders using language that would get tenured teachers fired if they were to be caught using it in class.

It's a disgrace that Mr. Casey takes us for such fools that he'd repeat such claims without answering fundamental questions about them. It's even worse that Ms. Weingarten, without whose approval such claims could not appear on Edwize, is placing the tenure of DC teachers on a table she shares with Michelle Rhee.

Ms. Weingarten has truly earned the reputation she covets as a union leader who embraces "reforms." It's unfortunate that she cares not a whit what it costs you, me, or future generations of American working people.

Thanks to California Teacher Guy

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Won’t Be Christmas…

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

Two of my students came to school early a few days ago to finish up a project that they were working on for my class. As they put the finishing touches on their work, one girl remarked that she was putting up her Christmas tree that night.

“When are you putting up your Christmas tree, Stacey?” Tiffany asked. (Not their real names.)

“Oh,” Stacey said softly, “um, I don’t know.”

“I thought we were late!” Tiffany exclaimed. “I guess you’ll probably be later than us.”

“It’s not that,” Stacey said. “My dad said we might not have a Christmas tree this year.”

“Why?” Tiffany asked.

“He says we can’t afford one,” Stacey said. “He only gets paid when he works, and he isn’t getting work, really, right now. Like, one or two days a week only, sometimes.”

Tiffany clearly felt terrible about leading Stacey into discussing such a sensitive issue. “Oh,” she said, retreating into jotting some notes on the script of the skit she would be performing during her social studies class later that day.

Stacey didn’t say anything for a minute or so, then changed the subject to something funny one of their classmates had said the previous day. Tiffany, relieved, responded, and the two struck up a lively conversation as though nothing had happened.

Stacey’s admission stuck with me all day, however. I was riding the train with my husband later that night and asked him, “What would you do if a kid told you that her family couldn’t afford a Christmas tree?”

“Oh, you’re kidding,” he said, knowing that I wasn’t kidding at all.

“Maybe I should put up a tree in my classroom,” I joked, knowing that my husband knows how much I hate decorating. It’s enough work for me to keep up with the nine (that is not a typo) bulletin boards in my classroom.

I told him what Tiffany and Stacey had said in my classroom that morning, and he sighed and shook his head. He’s heard many “tales out of school” during my teaching career in this fair city, but ones like this break both our hearts all over again. It might not be the saddest story I’ve ever heard from a child, true—this young lady has an intact, loving family and she is clearly cared for well. But I don’t think anyone can argue that the idea of young children without a tree at Christmas is just a little upsetting.

As this girl’s teacher, I don’t know what to do. I know that many families are going to be experiencing very lean holidays this year, that many families will count themselves lucky if they have a home and food to eat this year. I know, too, that I am in a luxurious position inasmuch as I can do a very small something about all of it—I have a steady paycheck, my husband has a good job, and no one in my family is suffering too badly. I could go on ARIS, look up this girl’s address, and mail a C-note anonymously. And believe me, I’ve thought about it. I don’t care if it’s “appropriate”—a kid whose family can’t afford a Christmas tree is inappropriate, too. And I know I can’t do this all the time for every child, but I can’t get this girl out of my head. Is there a right thing to do in these circumstances?

The first chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women begins with the famous lamentation, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” This girl doesn’t even want presents—she just wants a frickin’ tree.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Imperial Mayor

From AfterEd, here's Diane Ravitch discussing mayoral control, in NYC and elsewhere. I mostly agree with her, but if I need to nitpick, I'd disagree that Mayor Mike is actually holding kids "accountable." Though he's paid a lot of lip service to holding kids back, he's also terrorized administrations and teachers into passing everyone with the threat of bad grades, withholding of merit pay, and school closures. Furthermore, Tweed has come up with the preposterous concept of giving kids credit for "seat time."

So they have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they can claim they're cracking down on the miscreants who fail to meet standards. On the other, they can juke the stats relentlessly and claim the "reforms" are working.

This notwithstanding, the entire facade crumbles when confronted with the facts, as you'll see below:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No Library for You

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to place "Children First." That's why, when the budget must be cut, they're the first to feel the ax. Now placing children first entails placing them anywhere and everywhere, and whether or not there's space enough to accommodate them is of no consequence whatsoever. That's why there's no space for school libraries in some of the poorest sections of the Bronx.
"We don't have room for one," said Lureta Jones, PTA president at Public School 16 in Wakefield. "We have so many kids, we have to use the space for classrooms."

After all, there's no money to build schools, and no money to rent space. This is perfectly logical. The city's already spent a bundle on a new Yankee Stadium, and has 500 million tied up in Willet's Point, so someone's got to suffer.

As usual, in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it's "Children First."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

A piece I wrote about the "it" girl of union busting, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, appears in the Speakout column of NY Teacher. It's on page 20 of the paper, right here on the net, or in its unedited glory right here on the blog.

Oooh! Ooooh! Call on Me, Uncle Dave!

Governor Paterson has a big problem right now. Unlike Chicago's Governor Blagojevich (who sounds more and more like a cartoon character, Daffy Duck perhaps, with every new revelation) he doesn't appear to be selling our US Senate seat to the highest bidder. So who will be the next junior Senator from the great state of New York?

Well, he could pick Caroline Kennedy. She's certainly got the name for it. And she's done something or other for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch Democrat, Republican, or Independent (depending which day you catch him). However, Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement suggests to me there must be something amiss with Ms. Kennedy. I don't know what it is, but I'm not remotely anxious to find out.

Or he could pick part-time UFT Prez Randi Weingarten. She's ready to do the job. Plus she could probably do it in her free time, when she's not being President of the UFT or AFT. Or perhaps she'd give up her part-time job as UFT Prez, which would leave us with a chance of negotiating a reasonable contract sometime in our lifetimes. Conventional wisdom, though, suggests Ms. Weingarten would find someone equally impotent to take her place, and that no change whatsoever would take place for either kids or teachers in the Big Apple.

However, the official NYC Educator US Senate endorsement goes to actress Fran Drescher, former star of unwatchable sitcom The Nanny. But NYC Educator, you ask, why would you want an actress like that representing you? Well consider the classic Drescher whining voice. She'll stand up and demand what New Yorkers want, and she'll ask again, and again, and again.

What will GOP Senators faced with the prospect of hearing Ms. Drescher yet again do? Well, they're human after all, and my guess is they'll fold immediately just to avoid further abuse of their eardrums. Forget about Alaska getting all that pork. Let's make New York City pork city, and we'll start by having the Feds fund reasonable class sizes for the city, rather than bailing out gazillionaires who've made bad bets.

Who do you think should be NY's next US Senator?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Do or Die

Here in Fun City, it's good grades or face school closure. Even worse, bad grades may adversely affect the merit pay of principals. So naturally, people will go to all sorts of extremes to ensure their passing rates appear as they should. From the very top, when Chancellor Klein mandates kids deserve credit for "seat time," to the AP's who pit teachers against one another, claiming teachers who pass more kids are intrinsically superior to those who don't, to the lowly teacher, terrified of failing the kid who simply cut 47 times, these are strange times indeed.

Still, the Tweedies are shocked (shocked!) when they find one AP altered the answers on Regents exams. How could anyone do such a thing?
The school system's special commissioner of investigation, Richard J. Condon, calls it an isolated incident.

Oddly, I recall an AP doing something very similar in a school in which I used to work. And I've heard similar stories from other teachers. It's odd that Mr. Condon, having caught one offender, simply assumes there are not others.

But Tweedie logic does not reflect reality. Of course, if the AP in question hadn't been following Tweedie logic, and instructing her teachers in it, there'd have been less need for her to alter the answers in the first place.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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

SuperSub is holding court in the teachers' room. The young teachers come in, discussing classroom problems, and he knows just what to say.

"Back in the junior high school, if a kid talked to me like that, I'd tell him to go *&%! himself. He wouldn't know what hit 'em. We didn't take any guff from the kids back then."

Another new teacher is worried not about a kid, but about an observation. Apparently it didn't go as well as he'd hoped.

"Back in the junior high school, when they did that to me, I told the supervisor to give a demonstration lesson. I never heard boo from him again, nosir. He never bothered me again, and if he did, I'd just tell him to go *&%! himself. They could never find anyone else to do my job. We didn't take any guff from the supervisors back then."

Another teacher discusses a problem with the principal. Apparently he did a walkthrough, and was not happy with what he saw.

"Back in the junior high school, we didn't care what the principal thought. Why, if he ever did that to me, I'd tell him to go *&%! himself. I'd look him right in the eye, and he knew just where he stood. We didn't take any guff from the principals back then."

SuperSub has an answer for everyone, for everything. Whatever you're going through, he's been through it, and he knows just how to handle it. We all know what he told everyone who crossed his path in the junior high school. Curiously, after over ten years of insightful war stories, no one tells SuperSub what to do with himself.

Despite all the guff we take, apparently, so freely, and from so many sources, we're too polite.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Adios, Summer School

Gotham Schools reports that, in an effort to save the all-important $400 tax credit for city homeowners, the City Council wants to cut another 80 million bucks from the DoE budget. And since teachers are already overpaid and underworked, they want us to do jury duty in the summer. And no, that doesn't count the two August days in which you get to hear about the evils of lateness and the various reasons why you must pass every child who has a pulse.

So it's goodbye to that cushy summer job teaching all the kids who managed to fail despite rampant lowering of standards. No more fighting over that single functional copying machine. No more 90 minute classes with no break whatsoever in between.

It's time for you to do your civic duty, and no more being subsidized by the city. So what if you lose a large portion of your income? The City Council needs every cent they can muster to buy the votes of homeowners, who don't want to fritter away their hard-earned cash educating the children of this city.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors were given three days notice that their factory was closing. By law, they're supposed to get 60. And that wasn't all. They were told, sorry, but you don't get your severance or vacation pay either. Too bad, but we just don't have the money we've promised you.

The workers have now occupied the factory, and they don't plan to leave until they get what they're contractually entitled to. Why is the company in such dire straits that they need to give employees such awful news? Well, apparently, Bank of America, its creditor, will not allow them to pay their debts. It doesn't care for the monthly sales reports.

The kicker here, though, is that Bank of America just got 25 billion from we, the people, in order to bolster its ability to extend credit. And this is what we, the people, are getting in return.

The State of Illinois has suspended all business with Bank of America until they make things right. If you want to know what you can do, PREA Prez Fred Klonsky can fill you in.

What's in a Name?

Norm Scott wrote a piece questioning whether the UFT really was a "union of professionals" the other day. I wonder whether that's a good thing or not, and Right-Wing Prof commented, "Professionals don't have unions." That's a telling and perhaps entirely correct comment. I've often read commenters opining that teachers ought to get rid of unions altogether and sell ourselves on the open market.

Unfortunately, despite such comments, the open market has proven to be a disaster for experienced UFT teachers, many of whom have been stuck in the ATR for years now. If principals value price more than experience, as they clearly seem to, there's little future for teachers as "professionals."

Don't get me wrong--I think our job is important, and next to doctors, I think teachers are the most vital people who come into contact with our kids. But I don't give a damn whether or not people think we're "professionals." And I won't give up my tenure, which took me years to earn, just to trust in the kindness of strangers who've repeatedly demonstrated the bottom line has nothing whatsoever to do with quality.

"Professionals" don't do what we do. On Friday morning, I walked into my trailer, relieved that the heat seemed to be on. But I noticed that the top drawer was open, filled with a soda bottle that was half-full, which had leaked into the ancient wooden drawer (Though the trailer is less than 15 years old, they managed to find a desk that was older than dirt). The rest of the drawer was filled with a drier variety of trash. I retrieved a plastic box of markers, left there by a colleague, pulled the drawer out of the desk, and dumped the entire contents into the trash bin, after removing it from the top of the desk where the custodian had thoughtfully left it.

Two weeks ago, I found a note scrawled in chalk on my blackboard:

Put trash in the can not ON THE FLOOR!

Apparently, I should've heeded that missive. The problem, though, is that I'm in the trailer in the morning, and whoever left the mess is there at the end of the day. Also, I needed the board and couldn't leave it there all day. The custodians have had it up to here with folks like me, who complain the trailers are filthy and unsuitable for use by humans. The last time I complained, all the papers I'd stored in the desk were thrown out. That would teach me, they supposed.

I opened up another drawer and found it, as well, full of trash. I dutifully dumped it. The bottom drawer, full of another teacher's schoolbooks, was untouched. This made me doubt it was the work of a kid, though one of my students, a kid himself, suggested the culprit may have simply run out of garbage. I don't know.

The custodians have not fixed the sink or the water fountain in my trailer, and refuse to restock either the paper towels or the toilet paper in the filthy bathroom my kids are supposed to use. When I complain, they dump toilet paper and towels on my desk as if to say, "There. Now you do it." And so it goes till I complain again.

Am I a "professional?" Well, it entirely depends what your definition is. This is my profession; it's what I do. But adults in the system certainly don't treat me as such, from Chancellor Joel Klein, to the press, to the crack custodial staff that "services" the decrepit trailer in which my kids are supposed to study.

Now if you listen to Michelle Rhee, the entire problem is that teachers have it too good. But Ms. Rhee is a professional She doesn't do what I do.

And she, much like my desk, is full of garbage.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Of Human Bondage

Wanna liven up that lesson about slavery? Why not bind the hands and feet of your students?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mr. Spitzer Writes a Column...

...but fails to tell us what we really want to know--what on earth does a hooker deliver that's worth 9,000 bucks?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Such Is the Lot of Trailer Trash

I love digital thermostats. In fact, I have one in my house. I put it up myself, to replace the ancient round Honeywell that adorned my living room, I guess, since the house was built. But it doesn't lie.

And neither does the one in the trailer, which read 53 degrees the other morning. I don't know whether there was a wind-chill factor or something, but man, it was cold! I was really glad I'd worn a coat, but I was still freezing, as were the kids. I stole the empty trailer next door, to the dismay of a teacher who was trying to wheel a TV up the trailer ramp. Well, there's no quiet time for teachers or anyone when your building is at 250% capacity.

But the next period, it was back to the icy trailer, with a larger class that was twice as dissatisfied, because I actually had to give up the warm trailer to the guy with the TV. Why couldn't we be in there watching TV instead of freezing to death in here? Another phone call got me an opportunity--there was yet another vacant trailer we could use. But when I went to check it, it turned out to be even colder than mine.

While I was scouting the vacant trailer, a young woman came in and adjusted the thermostat. She explained that she had a class there the following period, and that she came every day 40 minutes early to turn on the heat. Smart. I wished she were in my class, but the heat in most of the trailers seems to be on all night, and all weekend. So much for saving energy.

After several phone calls, a custodian came out and banged on some things, and heat was restored to our little trailer. But I'll tell you, those things are no fun at all when the climate controls are on the fritz.

Good thing Mayor Bloomberg promised to get rid of them by 2012. That is, until he "clarified" his statement, explaining that what he meant was he would not get rid of them by 2012.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Carnival Is in Town...

...and it's at Learn Me Good, which is right here.

What Happens After Too Much Test Prep

"Where's Alice?"

"I don't know, Mr. Educator. I didn't see her today."

"Well I saw her today. I said hello to her and now she's not here. Please begin writing your introduction while I call her house."

I called Alice's house, and got her 17-year-old brother on the line. The students dutifully listened in, and not one began the work I'd requested. How can you write when real drama is unfolding before your very eyes? Alice's brother said his parents were working. I read him Alice's list of absences, and he said he'd share them with his parents.

"How do you know he'll tell his parents, Mr. Educator?"

"Well, I don't. But he'll tell Alice, and she'll know to expect a call the next time she's absent."

"Well, he won't tell the parents," said a girl in the corner who seemed to have experience in these matters.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Because if he tells on her, then the parents will know that he was home instead of in school."

"Good point, Francesca. Now please get started on the intro. Try to steal some stuff from the situation box, you know. My teacher asked me to write about blah blah blah. I listened to a speech by blah blah blah about blah blah blah."

"Mr. Educator?"


"How to spell blah blah blah?"

"No Heidi. How do you spell blah blah blah?"

"I don't know. That's why I asked you."

I wrote it on the board for her. I'll have to try to make my suggestions more precise in the future.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

ATRs/Seniority Rights: The Fight for All Members’ Rights

By Angel Gonzalez, Retired UFT Teacher

The October Delegate Assembly (DA) resolution calling for a mass Nov. 24 rally at the DOE was initiated by ATR Ad-Hoc Committee members who were supported by UFT opposition caucuses (e.g. ICE and TJC) and many other delegates who understand that seniority is a sacrosanct union provision. The resolution called for a protest to support the ATRS: “THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the UFT will organize a mass citywide rally to show our unity and strength, calling on the NYC Department of Education to reduce class size and give assigned positions to all teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve who want assignments before any new teachers are hired.”

While Randi Weingarten initially signaled tepid approval for this friendly amendment to support the ATRs, she simultaneously threatened to cancel support--and move the body to reject it--if she did not agree with the argument (the motivator) for it as presented by John Powers. The DA did overwhelmingly approve the call for this “Support the ATRs” rally, with Ms. Weingarten’s subsequent approval.

Perhaps Ms. Weingarten’s reluctance to support such a militant mobilization, initiated at the grass roots, was due to the realization that the source of the ATRs’ predicament lay in our last contract, in which the UFT Executive Board negotiated away seniority transfer rights. For years, the UFT leadership’s strategy has been to lobby government officials for “favors” to our members in exchange for an endorsement from our union. This focus on intimacy at the top has contributed to our leaders’ becoming disconnected from our day-to-day reality in the classroom. Depending upon fickle politicians as opposed to the strength and conviction of our members has served to backfire on teachers and the students and families we serve.

The DA is the body that should direct the UFT Executive Board. If this is so, why do so many delegates feel that the Executive Board has to approve our decisions in order for them to be realized? In truly democratic structures, the leadership fulfills the will of the membership—not the other way around. Our DA saw an opportunity to seize the moment and affirm that reducing class size while also allowing our experienced teachers to continue to offer their expertise benefits students and honors the hard-won rights that our colleagues fought so hard for in years past.

As the Nov. 24 date set for the rally approached, and as rank and file members began to be energized with the feeling that together we were finally fighting back, the UFT Executive Board was quietly negotiating--what can only be characterized as a back-room deal--to temporarily stall the dismantling of seniority and tenure. It is unclear if the motivation for these discussions was to assuage the powerful City Administration who obviously did not approve of an angry rally exposing the outrage of the ATR fiasco, or to quell the spontaneous mobilization of so many members who felt that they were helping to construct a movement to defend our rights.

Ms. Weingarten’s proposal to alter the character of the rally into a silent candle-light vigil would have reduced us to a group of passive mourners, as opposed to a body of professionals rightly proclaiming what belongs to us, while exposing the City’s ill-conceived and costly indignation to which it condemns our ATRs. The DA was correct in indentifying the need for a mass rally, and strong member opposition to a “silent vigil” forced the Executive Board to back down.

A week before the rally, further attempts to squelch it materialized in the “deal” brokered by the Executive Board and the City—again only a temporary band-aid on a gaping wound. This agreement encourages, rather than mandates, placement of ATRs with an administration whose track record has shown unprecedented commitment to eat away at public unions’ power. It is tantamount to having the fox watch the chicken coop. The deal was characterized as a resolution to the issue by the UFT leadership, who decided there was no need for a rally after all.

It would appear that the threat of the rally was being utilized by the UFT leadership to maneuver this deal. This is corroborated by the fact that the Union made no genuine efforts to mobilize or organize in any broad way for this event. However, the passion of the members and our just cause began to take on a life of its own, beyond the leadership’s control. Teachers are tired of give-backs. We deserve more respect than that.

The final blow to this member-driven initiative was the Executive Board’s decision to call for a meeting to celebrate the band-aid “agreement” at Wall Street Headquarters, at exactly the same time as the rally! A leadership that truly supported its members’ needs and aspirations would have instead supported this rally. A subsequent meeting could have announced the proposed temporary stop-gap measure, with the recognition that serious errors were made in the 2005 negotiations—the framework that set these unfortunate events in motion.

Regardless, the ATR rally started at 4PM, bringing out over 200 spirited members -- thanks to the hard work of the rank and file organizers. Many speakers denounced both the City and the UFT officials who created this situation and allowed it to fester so long. Although Ms. Weingarten declared that the rally was unnecessary at the 4pm Wall Street “wine and cheese” meeting, she appeared with a bullhorn as the rally was winding down at 6pm (with about 75 people). She gave lukewarm thanks to the organizers, perhaps to assert a certain level of control or to save face, in light of such strong grass roots sentiment regarding what many have defined as a carefully crafted strategy to chip away at tenure .

When Marjorie Stamberg, a key rally organizer, approached the bullhorn to address the crowd, Ms. Weingarten refused to let her speak, chastising her “for what she did.” The crowd chanted: “Let Marjorie speak!” forcing Ms. Weingarten to relent. After Marjorie spoke, many members began to chant: “Restore Seniority Transfer Rights Now!” Clearly frazzled with the dissidence targeted at UFT leadership, the Executive Board’s contingent left the rally.

This rally was an excellent beginning in our hard battle ahead to restore our contractual seniority transfer rights, to protect tenure, and to bolster and defend our contract. In a truly democratic union, the leadership has faith in and responds to the will of the membership. The “deals” that have been made over the past 30 years to “save” unions have in fact resulted in the dismantling of Trade Unions and workers’ rights across this country.

We cannot abide continued UFT complicity with the City’s plans, which waste valuable qualified experienced educators--and over $75 million annually--while further diminishing the quality of education that our children deserve. Our communities have the right to know that part of this plan results in experienced and quality educators being replaced with less costly, less experienced teachers, thus impacting negatively on the quality of education for their children.

The lack of information, transparency and open debate in our union denies member input into critical issues about pedagogy and historic union rights. An uninformed membership gives even a well-intentioned leadership free rein to function as it pleases. As the economy worsens, we need to take a strong stand in defense of the rights of teachers and communities, rather than to facilitate the erosion of all that has been built over the years.

From the momentum generated by the ATR Ad-Hoc Committee, we could help to build a democratic movement within the UFT that recognizes that our strength derives from our members’ interactions, conversations and mobilizations. Such efforts will require a great deal of work, but the alternative is to passively stand by as we observe the destruction of quality education and ALL of our members’ rights.

We need to build the fight for a UFT contract that promotes and defends:
1. Seniority Rights
2. Tenure Rights
3. Smaller Class Size
4. Against All Merit Pay Schemes
5. Against the use of testing to rate teacher performance
6. Quality and Justice - Not Testing
7. No cutbacks
8. No more privatization schemes (Charter Schools and vouchers inclusive)
9. No layoffs and more.

Our current UFT leadership has not indicated its commitment to achieve these goals—it is up to the members to make this happen!

For more about the ATR Rally, the ATR issue, the current UFT-ATR agreement with the City and other comments go to:


Teacher's Choice Leaving You Strapped?

We covered the UFT's brilliant coup in managing to get Teacher's Choice checks reduced to $150, from $260. Thank goodness we have Randi Weingarten and her crack negotiating team working for us. I'm grateful we have leaders who realize that in this economy, what working people need is less money.

I don't know what I would have done if I had to worry about spending another 110 bucks that Mayor Bloomberg could be using for his very important $500 million Willets Point project. Thank goodness he isn't frittering away that money on smaller class sizes, or suitable schools for 1.1 million public schoolchildren.

In any case, if you find yourself reaching too frequently into your empty pockets for copies, or construction paper, or books, or whatever, take a tip from San Diego teacher Tom Farber and sell advertising space on your tests:

"Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

San Diego magazine and The San Diego Union-Tribune featured his plan just before Thanksgiving, and Farber came home from a few days out of town to 75 e-mail requests for ads. So far, he has collected $350. His semester final is sold out.

After all, the NEA estimates teachers spend around $340 a year for school supplies. Of course here in the Big Apple, teachers probably spend more. So why not visit the local tattoo parlor and ask them whether they want to advertise that first-time customer discount? Or maybe MacDonald's wants to push their new triple-cholesterol cheeseyomper on kids longing for a break from school lunch?

In these tough times, a teacher's got to make ends meet. And this just might be the way to go.

If your principals object, just offer to cut them in. Call it "merit pay" and believe me, they'll understand.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Liars, Damned Liars, Statisticians, and Tweed

Yesterday's NY Post reports that the student surveys, those hallowed documents with which they judge all the great improvements of Mayor Mike and Chancellor Joel, were steered out of the hands of students who might have made negative comments:

Among the "suggestions" in the document, posted online by a Department of Education achievement director, was to "keep the surveys away from toxic person(s)," taken to mean troubled students.

Oddly, this follows accusations the teacher surveys were fixed. In my school we were urged to fill out the surveys at a department meeting. Several brand new teachers were dispatched to explain how we should fill out the surveys, and how we would earn more points for the school.

It's funny how these things happen. Anyway, as long as the surveys say the right thing, Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg are doing a great job. Watch below, as chief "accountability" officer Liebman, the one who literally runs from involved parents, takes a survey and turns it on his head.

Parents chose smaller class size as their number one priority, but Mr. Liebman conflates a whole bunch of other things and moves class size to second. Mayor-for-life Bloomberg and all his underlings are masters at twisting statistics to support their PR.

What's really sad is this--beyond PR they've utterly failed to make schools better. Maybe when a wall collapses and kids come spilling out the front of my school they'll build us an extension. Until them, it's squeeze 'em in, and the largest class sizes in the state. Why reduce class sizes when you can put signs in the subway saying you've already done it?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bare and Falanced

In Time Magazine's elaborate puff piece about DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, there are quite a few leaps of faith that go unchallenged. First there's this:

Rhee has promised to make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation, a prospect that, if realized, could transform the way schools across the country are run.

It's odd to see people judged solely on the strength of their promises. But how else can one praise Ms. Rhee, who, from everything I can glean, cannot be proven to have accomplished anything whatsoever? I can't think of a politician anywhere who hasn't done an excellent job by this standard. On the other hand, I'd have to give much the same credit to lunatics standing on soapboxes in Washington Square Park. Or working in Tweed.

Here's another leap of faith. Actually, I understand people taking them for religion, but for those of us who've not yet accepted Michelle Rhee as our personal savior, this is a toughie:

Rhee suffered during that first year, and so did her students. She could not control the class. Her father remembers her returning home to visit and telling him she didn't want to go back. She had hives on her face from the stress.

The second year, Rhee got better.

But there's no objective proof of that, despite the fact she was working in a school that should have shouted such an achievement to the rooftops. I'm ashamed to admit that, after 9/11, when W. talked about the need to go into Iraq, and when he and his cohorts said the smoking gun could turn into a mushroom cloud, I believed him. After all, he was the President of the United States, and we'd just been attacked.

Rhee offers not only her word, but that of her principal, the one who neglected to mention this achievement to anyone of note when it was supposedly occurring. Pardon me if I grant him no more credence than our head of state.

And then we come to this tidbit, a gem of objective journalism:

The most glaring example of the backward logic of schools is the way most teachers receive lifetime job security after one or two years of work.

First of all, I know of no one who gets tenure, let alone "lifetime job security," after a year or two. If it does indeed work like that in DC, it's plainly idiotic to assume that it works the same in the rest of the country. As for the "lifetime job security," tell it to the ATR teachers in NYC, tell it to the ones whose schools have been closed, or renamed (depending on whom you're asking) tell it to my colleagues in the rubber room, and tell it to those facing dismissal hearings (and you won't need to remind any of them that their lives are not precisely over--so much for that "lifetime job security"). In fact, tell me, after I faced the wrath of my ex-principal for having the temerity to tell a NY Times columnist that two of my so-called ESL students were actually fluent in English, but were illiterate.

If he could have fired me that day, there's no question that he would have. And in the hours of meetings I was forced to attend afterward, not one moment was devoted to finding assistance for these kids. It was more, "Is your butt covered? My butt is covered," and the like. I wouldn't trust that principal, or Michelle Rhee, as far as I could throw them.
In October, Rhee vowed to purge incompetent teachers through any means necessary. She has brought on extra staff to help principals navigate the byzantine termination process...

Wait a minute. There's a termination process? I thought the writer just stated teachers got lifetime job security after a year or two. Isn't that a boldfaced contradiction? And who was it who gave those supposedly unfitt teachers tenure anyway? Hasn't Michelle Rhee had this job for the year or two it takes for them to earn tenure? Despite her failure to accomplish anything, and despite her lack of a verifiable record, isn't she herself actually accountable for anything that's happened under her tenure?

It appears not.

Will anyone offer a disparaging word, in this long love-fest for Ms. Rhee? Why yes, it appears part-time AFT President (and part-time UFT President) Randi Weingarten is willing to make a comment:
"Michelle Rhee believes in scorched earth," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that has become unusually involved in local matters in Washington. "I am not saying that D.C.'s school system doesn't need a lot of help. But I have been part of a lot of reforms, and the one thing I have never seen work is a hierarchical, top-down model."

Ms. Weingarten is absolutely right, of course. She should know, because the hierarchical, top-down model that is the UFT aristocracy has failed miserably, along with Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, to bring any meaningful reform to NYC, where kids still study in trailers, closets, hallways, and even bathrooms. She supported mayoral control, class-size reforms that didn't work, the ATR mess, and a reorganization that made it worse. She made sure teachers worked more hours and days, and had fewer protections.

In fact, her model enabled Joel Klein, who recommended Ms. Rhee. Ms. Weingarten has not opposed Mayor Bloomberg's grab for a third term, continuation of the disaster that's been mayoral control, the privatization of health insurance for city workers, or even Joel Klein as US Secretary of Education. With friends like her, I'm afraid teachers in DC have quite a lot to worry about.