Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's Torture...

...but only when other countries do it, according to the hand that feeds Jay Matthews.

Surprise, Surprise

In case you need another reason to oppose mayoral control, the NY Post has just endorsed it. If you look at the Post editorial and op-ed pages, you'll find it consists of 100% right-wing points of view. So if you happen to be a big fan of O' Reilly and Hannity, this is the place for you.

Rarely do they find anything worthwhile in anything or anyone remotely connected to the Democratic party. Notable exceptions have included the disastrous 05 NYC teacher contract, the one that set us back 20 years and failed to meet cost of living, and, of course, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan's pronouncement that mayoral control is a huge success.

"I'm looking at the data here in front of me," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells Post readers in an interview published today.

"Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up. Social promotion was eliminated. Dramatically increasing parental choice.

Clearly, though, examining the data is beyond the capacity of Mr. Duncan. Mr. Duncan has no notion of Tweed's recurrent efforts to pass everyone regardless of performance. He hasn't read Diane Ravitch and has no notion of what the NAEP scores mean, or why test scores rose most before Bloomberg's programs even kicked in.

It's pathetic that we won the election, and now have an Education Secretary who's incapable of examining data any more deeply than Rupert Murdoch's despicable one-sided rag.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Lesson for Bill Maher

It's always illuminating to hear things from people who have not the remotest notion what they're talking about, and as a teacher, I get to hear things from all sorts of people. For example, you get folks like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walmart family, who toss money about to make sure unionized employees are marginalized, all under the guise of "protecting the children. "

Never mind that when the children grow up they'll have to choose from the crappy jobs Bill, Eli, and Wally World have left them.

Then you get lower-level hedge fund guys, like Whitney Tilson, who invest heavily in companies like MacDonald's and Walmart, and want to make sure we have a ready crop of low-salaried drones to keep pumping bucks into the pockets of rich people. All together, they form odious groups like the "Democrats for Education Reform," which push non-unionized charters to exploit teachers, one of the last bastions of organized labor in the country.

It's very disappointing to find someone like Bill Maher lining up with these demagogues. Maher, as you may recall, was dismissed from his ABC show in 2002 for making controversial remarks. You'd think he'd have some empathy for teachers who could find themselves in the same situation. Maher thinks unions need to be broken, but it's pretty clear what can happen to teachers without unions. It's also clear that folks like Joel Klein and Al Sharpton are fine with working people being treated like that, but I'd think Maher would question the privatization of education, particularly given what he said about the Bushies for eight years.

Personally, I'm not much enamored of bad teachers, and I'm afraid I have little sympathy for them. On the other hand, teacher unions neither hired them nor granted them tenure. What does Maher have to say about the administrations who did? What does Maher think about Chancellor Klein going to Albany to plead for the right to retain 14,000 teachers who couldn't pass a basic competency test, some of whom had failed it dozens of times? While these tough times may allow cities the luxury of denying employment to these folks, the fact is they'll drag them back as soon as the economy looks up and they need to continue paying the lowest wage in the area.

And personally, I value tenure a great deal. A few years ago I identified two kids in my ESL classes who were fluent in English but could not read. I remember one of them had remarkable listening skills, and was very good at participating on the basis of what he'd heard, but was unable to identify words like "house" and "mother" when I wrote them out for him. I found out he'd been kicking around the city system for years, and when I called his mom, she knew about it and asked me to help him.

At the same time, I'd been communicating with a NY Times columnist who wanted to use this info. He asked if he could use my name, and said it would be OK if I had tenure. This in itself suggested without it, I couldn't have told the truth.

Nonetheless, when the writer used my name in a fax to the DoE, I got called for a marathon session in the principal's office, in which school leaders of every stripe made sure their posteriors were covered, and not one word was uttered as to the welfare or future of the kids I'd identified, both of whom had somehow stopped attending by the time things hit the fan. This was regarded as a positive thing by some, who claimed it provided additional cover. I was later told by an uninvolved administrator there were no programs available for such kids.

And I found myself unable to get textbooks for my students for over a year. Ironically, when some geniuses from Tweed came and saw my kids sharing the decrepit books I kept in my classroom, they complimented me for utilizing cooperative learning. Still, I have no question I'd have been fired if I hadn't had tenure. And lacking Mr. Maher's celebrity, I've no doubt my teaching career would have ended right then and there if that principal had half a chance.

Where I live, teachers are thoroughly interviewed before they get to set foot in a classroom. And tenure is not granted as a matter of course. But teachers who bother to question the often preposterous things that occur in places like Mr. Bloomberg's New York, teachers like me, we need tenure.

It's sad that Bill Maher has opted to join the ranks of the wealthy and ignorant, who can't be bothered with those of us who need to support our families, let alone our kids, who will need to support theirs as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pole Dance

Makes you wanna get down, don't it?

Up the Academey

You gotta love the schools that visit you, but don't appear to know how to spell their own names.

Personally, I get upset when other people misspell my name. But if I were the one misspelling it, what do you suppose the teacher bashers would be saying?

Probably that I should be shucking oysters, and that we need more charter schools.

Thanks to David Bellel and Dr. Homeslice

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nick Kristof Rides Again

Check out Mr. Kristof's column in which he posits that experts (like himself) don't actually know what they're talking about. Of course, we knew that a long time ago.

Rising College Costs?

Why not sell your virginity online?

It Takes a Classy Person...

...to buy a cup of coffee for 38 bucks.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Vivian couldn't find her sunglasses. They were brand new, and her aunt said they were expensive. And when Juan lost his I-Pod touch, it was as though the world had ended. Not only that, but two cell phones had disappeared. Sure, they shouldn't have had them anyway, but could Mayor Bloomberg have really had them disappeared through sheer billionaire willpower?

And where is that 7-dollar chalkholder I've been boasting about all these years? What on earth would anyone want with that? Well, it could be another teacher. After all, I've been walking around telling people my 7-dollar chalkholder clearly demonstrates I'm a better teacher than they are, not to mention a better human being. As I've repeatedly told my reading classes, these things and worse come of hubris.

On the other hand, what's the deal with Steven? A kid claimed to have seen him with a Swiss army knife the other day when he was leaving the trailer. And when I went to his next class, another kid said she saw it too. And even though he'd already called it quits and left school, when we called his house his mom said she was missing her Swiss Army knife. Not having proof, though, there wasn't much we could do.

But what really took the cake was when he sat in a crowded office and slipped a box of cookies into his backpack in front of half a dozen witnesses. When an adult confronted him and opened the backpack, he said the cookies had fallen into the bag and the zipper had shut by itself. How do people even think of this stuff?

And short of becoming Governor of Illinois, Mayor of NYC, or Bernie Madoff, how can you get by acting like this?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who Wants That Job?

One of my colleagues overheard a bunch of smart girls trying to decide who to invite to the Arista installation. That's a group that lets the smart kids know how smart they are by letting them join a whole group of smart kids.

"Someone has to invite Mr. Educator," one of them said.

"But he's a pain in the neck," said another. "You can't make him do anything."

"Last year he had an excuse. He said he was working," offered one girl, with a knowing nod.

"Do you believe him?"

"Absolutely not," one of them replied instantly.

"What about you, Linda? He won't say no to you?"

"Why not?"

"Well, I've never seen him scream at you or anything."

"Okay," said Linda. "I'll ask him. But I'm not making any promises."

And it turns out I'm not working that night, for the first time I can remember, so now I have to go. I hope they have donuts. I think smart kids deserve donuts at the very least.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?

Well, if you happen to be inquiring about the NY State Board of Regents, as of April 1st, that would be Meryl Tisch, from one of "the city's most philanthropic families." That's important, of course, because in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, only rich people have the insight to dictate to poor people what sort of education they need.

For just one example, last year NYC's public school parents selected smaller class sizes as their number one concern. Fortunately, chief "accountability" officer Jim Liebman was able to conflate their number two and three concerns, and let parents know that class size wasn't their number one concern after all. That's what "accountability" officers do when they aren't literally running from public school parents.

Back to Ms. Tisch, one might ask where all those "philanthropic" funds came from. Well, a good deal of them came via the sale of Newport cigarettes, which they gave up last June. Apparently, the Tisch family was uncomfortable with selling such an odious product, which explains why they flirted with the idea for a mere forty years before renouncing it. As for Ms. Tisch personally, her philosophies seem ultimately very much in sync with billionaire Mayor Mike, according to Elizabeth Green of Gotham Schools:

Though Tisch has been a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, she has also occasionally criticized him and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. She told the Times last year that she disagreed with Klein’s request for looser regulations on state funds. “Nobody appointed him czar,” she said. She also testified to a committee that mayoral control of the schools, which Bloomberg strongly supports, should be curtailed. I reported her testimony, which was originally secret, at the New York Sun

Yet Tisch’s plans for the state’s public schools, which she laid out in a long statement accepting the new position, sound many similar notes to the Bloomberg administration’s work in New York City. It also echoes the Obama administration’s plans for education.

It's unfortunate that Ms. Tisch is so profoundly unaware of what's going on with public school kids that she'd dally with such preposterous and counterproductive "reforms." In her favor, it appears that unlike Chancellor Klein, Bill Gates, Jay Matthews, Randi Weingarten, and the other "experts," Ms. Tisch has actually spent several years working as a teacher. So perhaps there's a glimmer of hope somewhere.

If I could ask Ms. Tisch one thing, I'd ask her to stop requiring kids who arrived in the USA five minutes ago to take the English Regents. That way, folks like me could get back to the business of teaching them English, which personally, I've found very useful.

What would you ask Ms. Tisch?

Thanks to Greg D.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Old Bag

No, I'm not talking about some idiotic remark from Andy Capp or The Lockhorns. I have this great bag that's functioned pretty much as my office for the last seven or eight years. It's been dragged through every nook and cranny of our building, every half-room, every trailer and every office I've been through. I leave it in back of my car almost all the time, and I depend on it absolutely.

It's full of Dr. Grip pens and pencils faithfully purchased through Teacher's Choice, and every thing is in its place. There are erasers, there's a legal pad, and best of all, there are three rings right there so I don't have to shlep around a Delaney Book. This saves Mayor Bloomberg thirty bucks right there, as NYC is way too smart to buy 99-cent binders from Staples.

But from a corner, it came. The remark. "You need a new bag, Meester."

Oh no. Could it be true? I asked a girl on the side of the room who looked objective.

"You have to get rid of that thing," she said. "It's old."

What could be worse in her eyes? Sure, it's got two compartments, with two zippers on each, and one zips only to the right, while the other zips only to the left. I guess I could get them fixed for thirty bucks at the luggage store that fixed it last time. But then I'll be without it for days.

Or I could go to Staples and look for a new one. But I'll miss that old bag if I do.

Should I listen to the kids and replace that dilapidated piece of junk? Or should I respect tradition and preserve this valuable antique?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Target Practice

I've been following education news for years now. I'm consistently amazed at how teachers are such a convenient scapegoat. The same people who make sure city kids are taught in oversized classes in trailers and bathrooms and hallways are all over the press, crying about the terrible things teachers are doing. It's an easy sell, too, if you don't look at the whole picture, which not even the President bothers to do.

If AIG weren't so prominently in the news, maybe we'd be the ones ducking the press. One difference, of course, is AIG's leadership at least issues instructions to survive angry mobs. Here in the city, part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten can't wait to get on the anti-labor bandwagon, saying everything but vouchers is on the table. Oddly, she says that in the context of DC schools, where there's already a voucher program. So what is sacrosanct?

Meanwhile, Ms. Weingarten couldn't wait to bring Green Dot to NYC, with its phony union that offers neither tenure nor seniority rights, and its "just cause" provision that, for all I can tell, has never been tested, let alone protected a teacher job. Still, its hapless teachers pay dues, as will their replacements, so honestly, who cares? Plus, the embrace of charters makes Ms. Weingarten a "reformer."

The news media is awash with coverage of charter schools, which cover a very small percentage of real live kids. Protecting or improving public schools is beside the point, and not even Ms. Weingarten, who moonlights as part-time AFT Prez, will stand up and state the obvious.

It's pathetic that the United States, particularly at this point, can persist in the outrageous fiction that unionized working people are responsible for our decline. But if you want an alternate point of view, you'll have to look to those of us dodging the slings and arrows.

You know where to find us. The truth is, though, most people don't.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

AIG Sues Us

We've given them 200 billion, and own 80% of their company, such as it is. But apparently, we didn't allow deductions for its deals in "offshore tax havens," so AIG is suing us for 306 million it paid in taxes.

No wonder its executives have to issue instructions on how to survive an angry mob.

Help Promote Literacacy

Stolen from Miss Cellania

Teachers For CEO Merit Pay

Because sabotaging the world economy shouldn't earn you a bonus, no matter what Treasury Timmeh and Chris Dodd think.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Free Money For Rich People

The Obama administration has leaked details from the troubled mortgages and "toxic" assets plan that will be announced on Monday. The Times has a rundown on the details:

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department is expected to unveil early next week its long-delayed plan to buy as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and related assets from financial institutions, according to people close to the talks.

The plan is likely to offer generous subsidies, in the form of low-interest loans, to coax investors to form partnerships with the government to buy toxic assets from banks.

To help protect taxpayers, who would pay for the bulk of the purchases, the plan calls for auctioning assets to the highest bidders.

The uproar over the American International Group’s bonuses has not stopped the Obama administration from plowing ahead. The plan is not expected to impose restrictions on the executive pay of private investors or fund managers who participate.


The plan to be announced next week involves three separate approaches. In one, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money that those partnerships will need to buy up troubled assets that banks want to sell.

In the second, the Treasury will hire four or five investment management firms, matching the private money that each of the firms puts up on a dollar-for-dollar basis with government money.

In the third piece, the Treasury plans to expand lending through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a joint venture with the Federal Reserve.

The goal of the plan is to leverage the dwindling resources of the Treasury Department’s bailout program with money from private investors to buy up as many of those toxic assets as possible and free the banks to resume more normal lending.

Calculated Risk, one of the folks who has been right with his commentary on the economy, says the plan is awful, just another giveaway to investors:

With almost no skin in the game, these investors can pay a higher than market price for the toxic assets (since there is little downside risk). This amounts to a direct subsidy from the taxpayers to the banks.

Paul Krugman says

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

To this end the plan proposes to create funds in which private investors put in a small amount of their own money, and in return get large, non-recourse loans from the taxpayer, with which to buy bad — I mean misunderstood — assets. This is supposed to lead to fair prices because the funds will engage in competitive bidding.

But it’s immediately obvious, if you think about it, that these funds will have skewed incentives. In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.

Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.

This plan will produce big gains for banks that didn’t actually need any help; it will, however, do little to reassure the public about banks that are seriously undercapitalized. And I fear that when the plan fails, as it almost surely will, the administration will have shot its bolt: it won’t be able to come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work.

What an awful mess.

Have you got that, folks? President Merit Pay is planning to spend $1 trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars he and Uncle Ben Bernanke are going to print to coax investors to buy worthless crap from insolvent financial institutions in order to keep the House of Cards that is the U.S. economy from completely collapsing - only the plan is more likely to bring about the collapse than anything else.

John Cole sums this plan and the potential fall-out this way:

If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

If these guys are right, this will be the undoing of the Obama administration. Better enjoy this four years, libs.

Sure it's just 60 days or so into this administration. But these are not normal times and you only get so many tries at fixing the financial mess that Wall Street, Alan Greenspan, corporate America, and politicians in both parties helped create before the anger over the economy, the bailouts, the deficit and the rest turns REALLY ugly and those chances are blown forever.

Judging by the flummoxed way President Merit Pay and Tresuary Timmeh have been handling this mess so far and the amount of money they have wasted already on "solutions' that solve nothing, they really have no idea what to do and they're just trying anything so long as it involves setting lots and lots of money on fire and handing to really, really rich people.

This is not to say that Senator Johnny would have done a better job at this - his hands-off Wall Street approach was what helped create this mess in the first place.

But that doesn't absolve Obama from his own contributions to this mess.

I once thought if conditions got so bad that people started living in tent cities, we would reflexively call them "Bushvilles."

But now I'm starting to think some of those just might be named "Barackvilles" as well.

"Failed" Presidency

Two months ago, President Barack Obama was hailed as a genius/savior who was going to clean up the mess created by the previous administration, the previous Congresses and the crooks on Wall Street and take us to a new era of post-partisanship and pragmatism where we all could live in golden-hued harmony.

That was then, this is now. After just 60 days in office, the Obama presidency is already being declared a "failure" by many on a suddenly emboldened right and even some on the left.

As job losses have accelerated and the financial markets have plummeted to 25 year lows (though they have picked up some since then), criticism of Obama and his team has mounted. The bailouts of the banks have created a huge populist backlash (though many criticizing the bailouts seemed to be just fine with them when it was Hank Paulson and George Bush doling out the bonus money to AIG, BoA, Citigroup and the like) and the AIG bonus money furor has people wondering just what President Merit Pay and his Treasury team were thinking when they okayed TARP money for bonuses.

Ordinarily I would say the criticism from the right is plain hypocrisy and start looking for instances in the past when the Eric Cantors and James Inhofes went on record saying it's socialism to have the government limit executive compensation even when those same executives work for companies that have lost hundreds of billions of dollars and have needed government money to survive. And believe me, a 15 second Google search will bring those quotes up for you lickety split.

But frankly, I've had with President Merit Pay and his administration too. The tone deafness over the AIG bonuses is just the latest example of why the supposedly "liberal" Obama is at core little different from the "conservative" he replaced.

Here are the latest examples:

On education, president Merit Pay wants to set up a bonus compensation system quite similar to Wall Street's in order to "reform" education. How'd that work on Wall Street, Bam?

On health care, after saying he wouldn't tax people who already have health care benefits to pay for people who don't, the administration has reversed course and said they are open to exactly that if that's what they need to do to get health care passed. How's that for taking care of the working and middle classes?

On the bailout, this president and his clueless Secretary of the Treasury have handed out as much or more free money to failed financial institutions and Wall Street crooks as the previous preznut and his crooked ex-Goldman employee who ran the Treasury Department under him. If Obama had wanted to stop bonuses like the ones paid out to AIG, he could have done so as soon as he stepped into the office. But he didn't make any such executive order. The argument people in the Treasury Department are making in defense of this policy is that they're more focused on preventing a financial meltdown then saving a few billion in bonus money. That defense is ludicrous on the face of it. If this is how the system is set up, maybe we NEED it to melt down - for too long, the crooks and predators in the financial sector have been excessively compensated for doing nothing more than pushing paper around and finding new ways to con people out of their money (and it would have been worse if they had gotten their Social Security reform - reform which President Merit Pay is open to, btw.) We need reform of the entire financial system and keeping with the status quo on compensation sure doesn't engender me with confidence that Treasury Timmeh or President Merit Pay intend to ever take that on.

On the economy, the stimulus bill was horrendous. Where was the money to fix infrastructure, to rebuild roads and bridges and trains and subways? Very little went to such projects and as I take my overcrowded Metro North train in every morning and switch to an even more crowded shuttle train to the West Side to wait for an even more crowded 1 train downtown, I can tell you that I curse the president, the Democratic-led Congress and the scumbags in the Republican Party who ran things for most of the previous eight years for squandering trillions of dollars on bull#$%^ while I take 19th century transportation to work in my 19th century school building. We have fought two wars on the nation's credit card, have added trillions to the national debt and what do we have to show for it? We have no national health care system, the country's infrastructure is falling to pieces, the ports and nuclear facilities remain unsafe and the electronic grid is one thunder storm away from being put out of commission. Welcome to Third World America, everybody! Reagan/Bush-created Clinton/Obama-approved.

Furthermore, the Federal Reserve's plan to reinflate us out of the current economic malaise is going to be a disaster in the years to come. With the trillions of dollars Uncle Ben and President Merit Pay are printing and handing out in bailout money and in buying up "toxic assets" from bank balance sheets, we are looking at 70's style inflation in the coming years that will take whatever money you have left in your 401(k) plan after the bastards at Goldman and AIG looted it and render it worthless. Dunno why Bam seems so intent on sacrificing himself for the sake of these Wall Street fat cats who despise him as a "socialist" (even as the only socialism he is engaging in is providing taxpayer-compensation for them so they can continue to live as Masters of the Universe...) But that's what he's doing with his current fiscal and economic policies. Guarantee you that America is going to REAM him when inflation hits double digits and some Paul Volker has to be brought in to the Fed to raise interest rates to 19% to tame the inflationary dragon.

I know it's only 60 days in. I never expected Merit Pay to clean things up in 60 days. But the tone coming from him and his people, the education, health care, bailout, Federal Reserve and war policies his administration is pursuing, the arrogance with which Merit Pay dismisses the criticism as "Simon Cowellesque," makes me think President Merit Pay just doesn't get it. I know people on the right like to tar him as a "socialist" and people on the left want to see him as one of their own. But after watching him during the campaign and now seeing how he has run the first 60 days, all I see is a guy who wants to triangulate between both sides on every issue, and while he may think he is being pragmatic and post-partisan, it sure seems like he is setting himself, his administration and the country up for failure.

I'm not quite ready to declare him a "failed" president yet. But another couple of weeks like the last few and I will be. As will lots of other Americans. His poll numbers are now down to the high 50's and falling fast. So is confidence in him. And you know what will happen once he falls below 50% - the sharks in Washington and the media establishment will have a feast.

To be frank, maybe they should.

Maybe we need to have both the GOP and the Democratic Party implode and find some alternatives to the current crooks running things. People in both of these parties enabled the last 25 years of crookery and if you look to see who the Bernie Madoffs and the Sir Alan Stanfords gave money to in DC, you'll see Charlie Rangel and Chuck Schumer on the same list as Phil Gramm and George Bush.

And there, I think, is the problem we have, no matter who is in office. They're all crooks, all beholden to the same moneyed interests.

Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Unmotivated Kids?

Why not get them involved in steel cage fights? There's more to life than just reading Moby Dick, ya know.

Mike Klonsky on Charters

Interesting talk at Small Talk.

More Expert Analysis from Jay Matthews

It's only recently that I started reading Jay Matthews, as he doesn't write for a local paper, but I must give him credit, as he actually gets paid for writing this stuff. His most recent column discusses the woes of two KIPP schools on opposite coasts.

Now out in California, a KIPP principal was accused of outrageous abuse:

.. slamming students against the wall, placing trash cans over their heads, forcing kids to crawl on their hands and knees while barking, and enforcing unreasonably strict bathroom rules, resulting in students having accidents and vomiting on themselves inside the classroom.

I can certainly understand how something like that might upset people. But the principal resigned, and KIPP moved on.

Here's where it gets interesting. What outrage, according to Jay, started the turmoil at the NY KIPP? The teachers tried to form a union. Without blinking an eye, Jay Matthews continues, effectively classifiying unionization as an outrage tantamount to child abuse.

And what is the resolution here? Well, at least one of the teachers requesting they unionize has backed off, and perhaps more will follow. So KIPP can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief.

They should be thankful they have free cheerleaders like Jay Matthews, who print such outrageous bilge. Not so fortunate are your children and mine, who may grow up in a world where such sleazy vilification of united working people is taken for granted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

5 Million Bucks...

...to repair Mayor Bloomberg's office. Why can't they just push a trailer out back? It's been good enough for my students for over ten years.

Great Expectations

Jonathan didn't show up for my test two weeks ago. This wasn't very unusual for him. He'd missed several last semester, and tended to disappear for several days at a time. In fact, when the Regents exam came last January, Jonathan didn't even bother showing up. This may have helped my stats a little, as I did not expect him to pass. After all, while most of my kids were writing till their hands bled, he was off attending to more urgent matters.

Yesterday I had someone who speaks Jonathan's language call his house, and waddya know, he showed up today. He had a good reason for being absent, he said, and he would tell me after class. No need for that, I told him, and invited him into my office, which was directly outside the trailer. Jonathan told me he'd been having family troubles, and that I could ask the teacher who called his house. She'd set me straight. I told Jonathan that, given his track record, I didn't believe him. I also told him it didn't really matter whether or not he was telling the truth. He was out, he did no work, and he was failing.

I did check out his story, though. The teacher told me his stepmom had come home to find Jonathan en flagrante with his girlfriend, at a most inconvenient moment. I'll spare you the details, but alas, Jonathan was grounded forever, at least. He was only allowed out to come to school. So why, then, wasn't he showing up? This surprised the calling teacher, who said things had now taken an entirely new direction.

As I went around checking kids' work, I observed his blank paper and complimented him for making no mistakes. My student teacher, however, spent a good deal of time helping him. She told me what a nice kid he was, which is true actually. Hopefully she's right and I'm wrong. Perhaps tomorrow he'll have actually accomplished something.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let's Privatize!

The problem with public schools, I've been reading for years, is that there's no accountability. If the school fails, it just goes on forever failing. That's simply not acceptable, say the privatizers. In the real world, when a business fails, it closes. So why shouldn't the same apply to public schools? Of course, that was before the US Government got into the business of massive bailouts, so that AIG execs wouldn't miss out on their bonuses this year.

In any case, in came Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and he began closing public schools right and left. If your school is failing, it closes. That's the way of the real world (or the way it used to be, perhaps). We'll reopen with five new academies, and they'll have all new kids, fewer ESL and special ed. kids, and we'll compare the one that does best with the big school we just closed. Does that make a good 30-second soundbyte or what? Keep it going, New York. Where did the kids who went to the big school end up? Who knows? Who cares?

So if schools fail, they have to be closed. That's the law. Unless they're private religious schools, which must be saved. After all, everyone knows they're much better than neighborhood schools, which are completely worthless. After all, who judges a neighborhood by its schools? It's much better to close them forever than fix them. Anyway, religious schools have much better teachers, who control the kids much more effectively.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that their population has 100% proactive parents, willing to pay for their kids' private education, and nothing whatsoever to do with the lack of restriction they have with discipline, up to and including expulsion. Certainly religious school teachers could walk into public schools and control the most difficult problem children without breaking a sweat.

So Mayor Bloomberg not only wants to turn a bunch of religious schools into charters, he wants to guarantee currently enrolled kids slots in them. This is because, of course, charter schools always select kids by a totally fair lottery (except when they don't). But that's not the only problem with these conversions. While the Catholic schools can take down the crosses and remove overt religious instruction, there are some nasty laws to consider:

For example, the law bars the conversion of any existing private schools -- including religious schools -- into charters. While Bloomberg said that all students now enrolled in the Catholic schools would be guaranteed admission to the new charters, the law mandates that all admission to charters be by lottery -- meaning no one can be assured of a slot. The law calls for 70 percent of all teachers at charters to be certified -- a requirement many Catholic schools do not meet.

So let's see--you can't legally turn religious schools into charters, you can't enroll anyone you feel like in a charter, and you can't actually hire just anyone to teach children. But that won't stop Mayor Mike. After all, NYC voters twice insisted on term limits, and Mayor Mike told the voters in no uncertain terms where they could stick it. If he doesn't have to follow the twice-told will of the people, why should any stinking law apply to him?

And the best part is this--if he fails, he can say, you see? I was fighting for the rights of the common folk to go to private school for free. So what if I closed a bunch of neighborhood schools instead of fixing them? You don't think all kids are gonna get the small class sizes Green Dot schools get, do you? How on earth would I be able to keep closing them if I squandered potential stadium funds on things like reasonable class sizes, decent facilities, or buildings instead of trailers?

How on earth are people like Eva Moskowitz gonna profit if I keep public schools public? Who needs neighborhood schools when you could take a crap shoot at getting your kid in a charter where teachers aren't unionized, work 200 hours a week, and have no job security? Then, one day your kids will get a crap shoot at jobs that aren't unionized, work 200 hours a week and have no security.

It all fits perfectly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patty's Day

A guy walks into a bar in Cork City, and asks the bartender, "What's the fastest way to get to Dublin?"

"Are you walking or driving?" asks the bartender.

"Driving," says the guy.

"That's the fastest way," says the bartender.

That's All I Can Stands, and I Can't Stands No More

Day to day life for public school teachers is something few people know about. Sure, the op-ed writers say we're overpaid, we're underworked, and our unions need to be broken, but let one of them take an 80% pay cut and try controlling 34 teenagers at a time. And it's not the kids who cause some of the most egregious problems. I wrote before about finding my trailer's desk filled with fast food, and about how two of the three drawers were pretty much ruined, being highly sticky from the Coca-Cola that had been spilled in them.

One day last week, I discovered someone had thrown an ice cream party in my trailer. It did not require much detective work, as the desktop had been covered with ice cream and someone had taken the time to stick several paper plates to the stuff. The plates were festively placed over the desktop, giving it a polka-dot theme.

Now I don't much use the desk. I usually dump my bag on it, take attendance, and leave extra books in the one drawer that wasn't sabatoged. After that, I leave the desk alone and it leaves me alone. At least that's been our understanding. But since the desktop was no longer usable, I removed the drawer with supplies, enlisted a hearty kid to help, and carried the useless desk outside the trailer. After all, it wasn't like there were paper towels or anything in the trailer bathroom to clean up.

So there it sat, till a couple of custodians came by asking why no one had told them the desk was out there. They had brought a dolly, and asked if they could take the desk. I told them they could do what they pleased with it. They asked if I wanted another desk, and I said sure, that would be great.

But so far, there isn't one. And over the weekend, someone removed the last drawer, along with all the books and supplies that were in it. I don't really need the desk.

But I really wonder what would happen if someone did this to "reformers" like Joel Klein. Or Al Sharpton. Or Michelle Rhee.

Or Barack Obama.

You never hear them complain about this stuff.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Holy Grail

As everyone knows, kids grow all the time, and are always demanding that we accommodate their unexpected bodily changes with things like food and clothing. When my daughter was very young, I made egregious errors like buying her 50-dollar shoes at Stride-Rite, only to replace them 45 minutes later. I always wondered what made people shop at Payless Shoes, but that made me learn fast.

Nonetheless, when they get older, they become more aware, and ask troublesome questions like, "Why are my shoes made of plastic and held together with duct tape, Daddy?" And at a certain age, you can't just smile and offer them a piece of gum. These darn kids get smarter all the time, and there are few things more inconvenient than that.

My daughter's recently become aware that the coolest thing in the world is a North Face parka. As they cost 300 bucks, and as she's still growing, I told her forget it. But my wife, who is not a miserable cold-hearted teacher like me, took pity on her. She was in Macy's the other day, with a bunch of coupons, and as it's the end of the season, managed to find one for 140 bucks. And as she and my daughter are now about the same size, she figured she could take it if my daughter grew out of it.

It seemed to make a lot of sense. The coat was really warm, and in a forest green color, it looked great. But everything is point of view. My daughter looked at it, and said, "I want a black one." Because everyone has a black one. And my wife gave me an imploring look.

This weekend I worked in Delaware, brought my family with me, and my Nuvi GPS kindly alerted me every time we passed a Macy's. Some have the coats, and some don't. In Cherry Hill, New Jersey, there were tons of them at 50% off. But they were all in size large or larger. I tried one on, and it seemed to be the warmest jacket I'd ever put on. Also, it was gray, not black. That was good for me, because I didn't want to look like the kids. So my wife pulled out her astonishingly impressive collection of Macy's coupons and we got it for a very good price.

Alas, my daughter was forlorn and dejected. The salesman claimed his Asian customers had bought all the small sizes. In the women's section, all that was left were a couple of North Face sweaters and a bunch of gloves. It was a sad situation indeed. Would my poor daughter be able to deal with the indignity of wearing a coat in the wrong color?

I guess if I were a good parent, I'd have sprung for the obligatory 300 bucks back in November, when black North Face parkas were springing up like weeds. Perhaps it would have been a bargain. After all, one day she may have to pay thousands for therapy to deal with the reality of her miserable abusive parents.

Hopefully, by then we'll have made some progress with health care.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Merit Pay

Run a company into the ground, have taxpayers bail you out to the tune of 170 billion, then score 165 million in bonuses.

A Question

Over at Edwize, they've seen fit to post an ad seeking teachers for the Green Dot NY charter. I've posted a few questions, which they may or may not publish. In any case, I'm posting them here.

Hmmm...I have a few questions about this. "Come join the Green Dot New York Charter School and help lead the effort to transform public education to ensure that all children receive the education they need to fulfill their dreams!"

Is this to imply that teachers like me, who work under miserable conditions in overcrowded schools with inadequate facilities, perhaps because valuable resources go to charter schools, are
not trying to ensure kids get what kids need to fulfill their dreams?

Wouldn't it be easier if we got the facilities to help them, rather than turning them over to charter schools? Shouldn't our union help us to get those facilities?

Also, Green Dot's website declares its teachers have neither tenure nor seniority rights. Do you think that's a good thing for working teachers? I understand that Edwize has declared their "just cause" provisions are superior to tenure, but it's quite clear Green Dot means to say something else altogether. In fact, Steve Barr declared on Eduwonk that teachers gladly dump tenure to work for him.

In any case, how many times, if ever, has Green Dot's "just cause" provision been tested? If it has, how many teacher positions has it saved? Thanks for your reply. Since you're running this ad on our dues-supported website, it behooves you to let us know what we're getting into.

Thanks in advance for the info.

Of course, I eagerly await their reply.

Q and A

Q: What do you call a person who graduates at the bottom of the medical school class?

A: Doctor.

Q: Why was astrology invented?

A: So economics would look like a science.

Friday, March 13, 2009


On Wednesday, my ace student Maria asked if she could sit in the back of the room to take a test. I said sure, as I'm such a swell guy. Maria wrote her essay in record time, and it really wasn't good at all. But boy, did she get it done quickly. She clearly had something of more importance to get to.

My student teacher, who observes this class, later told me Maria was texting someone back there, and that she'd instructed her to stop. Maria obligingly put away the offending cell phone, only to draw it out a few minutes later. Now the second time it came out, the student teacher was wary of confrontation. Really, she gets paid not one dime, and for that, why should she have to fuss and fight with uncooperative kids who don't listen anyway? After all, isn't that my job?

Well it is, of course. But she didn't relay this story to me until after class, when Maria had already gone her merry way. I regretted not confiscating the phone, which I'd certainly have done if I'd only known about it in time. But I was pretty sure Maria would ask to sit in the back again, and then she'd feel the wrath of a highly uncooperative NYC Educator, in front of whom she'd be sitting for the rest of her natural life, if not longer. What could be worse that that?

But yesterday, just as I was about to dispense justice, I looked around and Maria was nowhere to be found. She'd cut my class, and all the clever remarks I'd prepared for her were alas, for naught. If she cuts today, which she's likely as not to do, I won't see her till Monday, and her texting will be so far back in ancient history that she won't even remember why she's never sitting in the back again.

I truly hate it when the diabloical calculations of teenagers, inadvertent though they may be, thwart my evil plans.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Q and A

Q: What do you call 50,000 geeks playing Monopoly?

A: Microsoft.

President Merit Pay Or How I Have Come To Despise Barack Obama

Barack Obama has decided he would like to turn the entire nation into one big KIPP charter school.

In a speech he gave yesterday, he laid out his education proposals which have "progressive" education writers (i.e., people who have never taught a day in their lives but claim to be education experts) like Jay Matthews
and the editors at the NY Daily News soiling their suit pants.

The gist of the speech was this: Obama believes a longer school day, a longer school year, the end of teacher tenure, a merit pay system tied to test scores, additional standardized testing for students, and the end to charter school caps will solve the "education crisis" the nation is suffering from.

None of this is a surprise. I wrote during the primary season that this was his agenda and this was why I was loathe to support him during the primaries (I was first an Edwards man, then I debated voting for Harpo Marx or Ron Paul...) and held my nose when I voted for him in November. The only reason I did vote for him in November is Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, Justice Ginsburg is ill and I didn't want to see a Republican president get another two or three Supreme Court picks. Nonetheless, I regret voting for Obama then and I would like to officially rescind my vote now.

Here's why:

Yes, his education policy is silly. We've covered this stuff before - the regular school day is already 7 hours. My students travel about an hour or more each way to school. That's 9 hours. Many of my students take part in after school activities or internships. That adds another 1 or 2 hours a day. Then there's an hour or more of homework. The older ones work jobs. Many have single parents, so they have to take care of domestic activities - you know, cooking and cleaning and the like. And that's leaving aside the dysfunctional environments so many come from - I just finished grading 105 college essays written by my juniors. Can I tell you how many of those essays were about alcoholism, child abuse, sexual abuse, sickness, mental/emotional illness and other horrific things these kids have to endure every day? And now President Merit Pay wants to add another hour or two a day to their schedules because he thinks that will help them become better educated? Please...if he wants to raise their education levels, start by fixing the sheer dysfunction so many of them grow up in so that they feel small and insignificant and full of despair and anger.

But that's too difficult, isn't it? It's easier to blame society's ills on teachers and schools - they day's not long enough, the year's not long enough, there aren't enough tests, there aren't the right kinds of tests, the teachers suck, teacher tenure sucks, teachers need to be paid on a Merrill Lynch-like bonus system to make things better.

Uh, huh. Every "solution" to the problems in public education President Merit Pay has proposed is meant to socialize kids to expect to have to work longer and harder to make less money in the future.

Longer school day - well, then they won't mind working 10 hour days when they grow up.

No more school vacations - well, then they won't mind the lost vacation time when they grow up and have to compete with workers in Sri Lanka who get 2 vacation days a year.

Merit pay for teachers - well, then they'll expect to be paid themselves on a bonus system when they grow up. Never mind that it was this very bonus or "merit" or commission system that helped create the financial Armageddon on Wall Street (see Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, et al.) and Main Street (see real estate bubble) that has nearly and may still bring the nation to its knees. Bonuses are great!

Merit pay for kids - well, again they'll expect crap wages and most of their compensation in bonuses when they grow up. Good for the masters, not so good for the serfs! Never mind that we'll never endear a love of learning or reading or improving in kids by paying them every time they go up a few points on this month's standardized tests, the point is to get them to expect most of their compensation to be "performance-based." And never mind just how (or who) gets to measure that performance. You'll take your gruel and like it!

The point is to prop up the status quo, lower the expectations for what young Americans can expect for their futures. I've said this before. Progress for education "progressives" - global free traders all(see Tom Friedman, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, et al.) - is longer work days, longer work years, longer work careers, and a work system in America that mimics Third World standards.

But there are so many other reasons to despise President Merit Pay beyond the silly little speech he gave on education yesterday. Here are a few more:

He seems intent on setting as much money on fire as possible and handing it hand over fist to AIG, Citigroup, BoA and the rest of the zombie finanacial instituions, all the while mortgaging the country's future by either printing that money or borrowing it from the Chinese.

He can't seem to actually hire anybody else for the Treasury Dept. outside of Little Timmeh Giethner and Larry "Misogynist" Summers, which is troubling considering both of these clowns helped create the mess we're in now and have no idea how to get us out of it other than throw as much borrowed money at the problem as they can, inflation be damned.

As an environmentalist and a person concerned about food safety, I can't tell you how disgusted I am by Obama's pick of "Ag Whore" Tom "I'm owned by Monsanto" Vilsack to run the the Agriculture Department. If you're a big agricultural conglomerate, you're going to do well under the Obama administration. If you're a little farmer trying to grow wholesome, non-genetically modified food, you're not going to do so well.

And finally, he's just a hypocrite. Today he signed a bill loaded with earmarks while railing against earmarks. Seriously. That's as bad as GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railing against ear marks while loading that very same bill with earmarks. You know what Merit Pay? If you don't like the bill, don't sign it. You have veto power, you know. Oh, and he also railed against signing statements while issuing a signing statement. When I looked that up in the dictionary, it said SEE HYPOCRITE.

Yeah, I'm done. With Obama. I wanted to give him a chance, but I just can't support him any longer. On education policy, financial policy, food policy, the Afghanistan policy, he's shown little to no break with Bush. And yet, even as his policies actually prop up the right wing consituencies like financial institutions, food conglomerates and the defense complex, he still manages to get stereotyped as a "radical socialist." PLLLLEEEEAAAASSSSSEEEE.

About the only thing radical about President Merit Pay is that he takes smoke breaks when he plays basketball.

Other than that, it's business as usual.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I despise both bosses.

POSTSCRIPT: I attended a Jesuit high school in Manhattan. My school has graduated a Supreme Court Justice, a Mayor of New York City (albeit one who was indicted and had to flee the country), captains of industry, lawyers, teachers, doctors, and priests. This school has a rule that all students must be out of the school building by 5 PM and all after school activities must be completed by then. Do you know why? Because the people who run that school believe it is important that the students go home and, if possible, have dinner with their families. Imagine that? Family time that cuts into the school day. Oh, and summer starts the first week of June and ends the first week of September. And yet, somehow, despite less seat time and (gulp!) a shorter school year, the school manages to graduate some pretty successful men. Hmm...maybe it's not all about seat time?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rabble Rousers

A bunch of troublesome ne'er do wells have started a new one of those blog thingies called Public Eye on Public Schools. Who the hell do these people think they are?

Degrading Neighborhoods, One School at a Time

Mayor Bloomberg has made a great show of closing schools. After he does so, he dumps four or five "academies" in the buildings and calls them small schools. I've seen commercials in which one of the academies is compared with the closed school. Never mind that it's got only 20% of the population, none of the kids are the same, and the "academy" doesn't serve ESL or special ed. kids. The graduation rate of the new kids is higher, so it's a great victory for the "reformers." Except, of course, when they fail (despite valiant efforts to juke the stats).

Sometimes hizzoner doesn't wait to close the school, but dumps an academy right into an existing school. And James Eterno, chapter chair of Jamaica High School, makes a compelling argument that the playing field is far from equal.

It's a shame that Mayor Bloomberg sees fit to shuffle kids around like this. There's nothing that adds value to a neighborhood like a good school. By sabatoging public schools with overcrowding, by closing them rather than fixing them, and by leaving neighborhoods without zoned schools (to accomodate the likes of Eva Moscowitz) Mayor Bloomberg is doing a disservice to neighborhoods all over the city.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Principal and the Cop

The Post had a story today about a principal who had a very colorful drunk driving escapade. It reminded me of this tale, which has very deep political and social import:

A cop stops a principal for driving erratically. He asks him to take a breathalyzer. The principal says, "Oh, no, I have asthma. I can't blow into that thing. I might have an attack!"

The cop says, , "OK, then, you can come down to the station and we'll give you a blood test."

The principal replies, "Oh, no officer, I can't do that. I'm a hemophiliac. If you make me do that, I'll bleed to death."

The cop sighs, and says, "Alright, we'll go down to the station and do a urine test."

The principal shakes his head. "I'm diabetic, and if I do that it could wreak havoc with my blood sugar."

The cop, losing patience, turns to the principal and says, "Fine. Get out of your car, and we'll see if you can walk the white line. We'll settle this right here."

"Oh, I can't do that, officer."

"Well, for goodness sakes, why not?"

"Because I'm drunk," the principal says.

The UFT Answer Man

Recently the union has begun sending people to my school to keep us informed. They come in the cafeteria and give speeches about things. I usually mind my own business and eat lunch, but the other day one of them started a conversation with me. He made the egregious error of asking if I had any questions, and I asked him the same one I've asked Leo Casey on Edwize, the same question I've asked several NYC education reporters, the question I've posed to various wonks on the net:

"The UFT is now partnering with Green Dot, a charter chain that announces on its website their teachers have neither tenure nor seniority rights. Edwize says because or their "just clause provision their teachers have something better than tenure. How many times has the clause been tested, and how many teacher positions has it saved?"

"When I was in Nebraska," he began.

"What does that have to do with my question?" I asked.

"Well, you have to understand how things work in the middle of the country. Sometimes these teachers sign contracts, they get raises, and then they don't get them the next year."

"But Green Dot started in California, and now we've brought them to New York. What does the middle of the country have to do with my question?"

He smiled and showed me a form. "Would you like to contribute to COPE?" he asked me. "We've done a lot of great things, like 55-25."

"First of all, it's 55-27 for most. And also, we paid for that with all those givebacks in 05."

"No, it's COPE that paid for that."

"But COPE also paid to support Serphin Maltese, who was instrumental in breaking two Catholic school unions."

"Well, yes we did that."

"And you supported Governor Pataki against Carl McCall. Also, you didn't oppose Mayor Bloomberg when he ran for re-election."

"Well, he was going to win."

"And you supported mayoral control, which has been a disaster for teachers and kids."

"Well, you need to support the union." he said.

"The union needs to let high school teachers select their own Academic Vice President, even if it means they may lose. They changed the constitution to take our choice away."

"Yes, but they won that year."

"Who won that year?" I asked.

"Unity." he replied. Perhaps he was a New Action guy. New Action, you may recall, was the party that ran Mike Shulman, who beat the Unity guy. When Unity insisted on a revote, he won again, by a larger margin if I recall correctly. Unity used to vilify them precisely as they now vilify ICE. Then UFT President Randi Weingarten gave all their leaders patronage gigs, and now (surprise!) they support whoever Unity says should be UFT President.

Otherwise, there go their gigs.

"It's unconscionable," I told him.

"You know what your problem is?" he asked me. I love when people offer to tell me what my problem is. Don't you? Isn't it kind when people get ready to offer you constructive advice?

"You think you know everything," he said. He then went on to lecture me about the virtues of working within the system, and how that was the only way to get things done.

Oddly, I hadn't suggested anything about working outside the system. But I'm very familiar with the UFT system. And I know very well what they've been doing since 05.

We'll answer your questions, as long as they're the right ones. Ask the wrong questions and we'll make nonsensical speculations on what you think. Who the hell do you think you are, being well-informed? This is not how we get people to vote for us, and don't even think about telling anyone else what goes on.

Isn't it ironic when you hear Ms. Weingarten complaining about the top-down management style of Mayor Bloomberg? For all I know, he may have learned it entirely from her.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Be Glad the Kids Won't Eat Vegetables

A store in Ozone Park, Queens, has been selling peppers stuffed with cocaine.

And heavens to Betsy, Joe the Plumber has had it with Michael Steele.

I Had to Do It

I often sit in the office and try to get work done. It's hard, because my colleagues are always marching in and out with the latest gossip, or the most egregious outrages they've witnessed over the last period or two. I'm almost always ready to procrastinate. And then there are the kids.

Every kid who gets sent to the office is completely innocent. Every teacher knows that.

"Why did Ms. Wormwood send you here?"

"No reason."

"She just decided to kick you out for the heck of it?"

"Man, Ms. Wormwood is crazy. Ask anyone."

Usually, I end up asking Ms. Wormwood, who has a very different view of things. And even when kids are right, I try to persuade them it's to their advantage to sit and smile so they don't end up seeing Ms. Wormwood again in September. Sometimes I succeed.

Other times, kids give me stories that are so odd, they must be true.

"Why did Ms. Wormwood throw you out?" I asked a shy-looking boy.

"I told a joke."

"You know you're not supposed to do that."

"I couldn't help it," he says. "The class was really boring. Everyone was falling asleep. Somebody had to do something."

"So what did you do?"

"Well, most people in Ms. Wormwood's class speak my language," the kid said.

"Why is that important?" I asked.

"Well, I know this really good joke, and I knew it would wake them up."

"Did it?"

"Oh, yes it did. Everyone started laughing. That's why Ms. Wormwood is so mad at me."

"Well, you knew she'd be mad at you. I'd probably be mad at you too."

"Oh, no Mr. Educator, I wouldn't fall asleep in your class. You scream too much."

"Thank you, I guess."

"Don't you see? They were falling asleep. Someone had to do something! I sacrificed myself so I could wake up the class. I had to do it. Don't you understand?"

I didn't really. But the kid was so passionate about it that I didn't know exactly what to say to him. Sometimes I'm glad to slide dilemmas like these over to administrators. They get paid the big bucks to figure this stuff out.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Raise the Cone of Silence

Maxwell Smart's shoe phone is finally a reality, and may soon be coming to a foot near you.

Behind The Curve

It has become increasingly clear that Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner has no clearer idea how to fix the financial mess than Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke and the rest of the "Masters of the Universe" who created it in the first place do.

The Bush administration's idea for cleaning up the mess was to throw money at the problem - hundreds and hundreds of billions - and hope for the best.

Anybody see any difference with what the Obama administration is doing? I sure don't.

The Bushies threw tons of money at AIG, Citigroup, BoA and other failed institutions - the Obama people are doing the same.

The Bushies refused to "nationalize" zombie (i.e., failed and insolvent) banks because "we're, uh, capitalists, you know..." - the Obama administration has the same policy.

Meanwhile every week the U.S. government prints more money and borrows as much money as it can from overseas and hands it out to these failed institutions.

And the list of failing "bluechips" keeps growing - the latest rumor going around is that General Electric needs a bailout. If GE goes belly-up, well, that would be pretty bad for the American economy. As Joe Nocera put it in the NY Times:

A General Electric bailout would be a devastating blow to a country that is already reeling. I can’t think of anything that would be more corrosive to our already low confidence, and it would serve as a huge setback for the economic recovery we’re all praying for.
The jobs numbers keep getting worse and the housing numbers are abysmal - the Times reports this today:

Despite tentative signs of recovery in hard-hit areas like California and Florida, the broader housing market is far from reaching bottom, economists say. Across much of the nation, prices are likely to keep falling into 2010.

So this March-to-June season, when most homes are bought and sold, will be bad, perhaps the worst since the market began to spiral down in 2006.

Across the nation, 19 million houses and apartments — nearly one out of every seven — are vacant, the highest percentage since the 1960s. But only about six million of those homes are for sale or for rent. That means millions more could still flood onto the market, depressing prices further.

For would-be sellers, the bad news keeps coming. This week, one new report showed that one in nine mortgages was delinquent or in foreclosure, while another showed that January contract signings for sales of previously owned homes fell at their fastest pace in two years.

Doesn't look like the housing market is getting better any time soon and if the job market continues to dive, well, that doesn't bode well for either housing or the overall American economy, does it?

Nouriel Roubini - the man who predicted the current mess would happen - says world governments are not doing enough to remedy the problems:

The global recession may continue until the end of 2010 as the response by governments to rectify it is “too little, too late,” said Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted the financial crisis.

“Governments are falling behind the curve,” Roubini said at the India Today Conclave in New Delhi today. “This recession can end up becoming even worse.”

The situation can be improved by appropriate policies, including governments taking over insolvent banks, cleaning them up and re-selling them to private investors, he said. The Group of Seven and the Group of Twenty economies “must act together to get out of this mess,” Roubini said.

Roubini says if we continue on our current course, the recession will go through 2010 at least.

Scary times.

And the new bosses don't seem to be doing anything different than the old bosses.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

No Oversight, No Integrity

I couldn't find a working printer in my school last week.

I needed to type and print out a letter of recommendation for a student who was applying to the Presidential Scholars Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She needed the letter by March 9th and she had given me plenty of notice to write it, but due to various circumstances I had let the task go until the end of last week.

I typed up the letter, wrote her a glowing recommendation for the program (she really is a terrific student and an all-around nice person) and pushed "PRINT" on the computer.

Nothing but an "ERROR" message came from the printer in the computer lab on the 9th floor. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out the problem, but I had to teach in 20 minutes so I couldn't play computer technician forever. I saved the letter and ran down to the 7th floor computer lab.

It took me about 10 minutes to get my account logged in because the computers are ancient and overloaded with software - the systems run as rapidly as dial-up works for downloads - but finally got logged in and hit "PRINT".

Again, nothing. Another teacher in the lab told me that sometimes the printer will spit out your print job about a half an hour after you hit "PRINT," but you can't be sure, because sometimes it won't.

Now I was down to 5 minutes before I teach. I could go to the College Office where 8 fairly new computers bought with post-9/11 grant money sit and print the letter there. But my school has 425 seniors and there is always a waiting list for the computers as the kids jostle to check their CUNY application statuses, financial aid information and various other things.

Instead I went back to my classroom and said to my student, "Give me your email and I'll email the letter to you. I can't find a working printer to print the thing..."

Ahh, yes, life in Mayor Moneybags' New York City Department of Education III (we're on our third reorganization, you know!!!) - lots of b.s. p.r. about improved test scores, school safety, improved technology, etc., but the reality never fits the p.r. that Moneybags and his minion Uncle Joel Klein present to the news media and the public.

Another example - my school is 10 floors, we have 1700 students and another 150 staff. Three elevators work. The other three are being fixed. It took years to get the capital improvement money to finally replace the old elevators (which broke down EVERY day) with new elevators (which break down EVERY OTHER day.) I used to live about a mile from my school and I am not kidding when I say that it took me a shorter amount of time to take the train to work then it did to take the elevator up 9 floors. Now I don't even bother with the elevator, I walk up the 9 flights of stairs three or four times a day. Keeps me slimmer than I ought to be in middle age, so thanks Moneybags, you're really helping keep my weight down! The only problem is, if the bell has rung and kids are running up and down stairs, it's more like playing hockey than walking stairs, but no matter. What doesn't kill you inevitably makes you stronger.

Another problem in my school is the heat - we have two settings for the boiler: "OFF" and "HELLISH" - when the custodians run the heat (which is almost all the time...it seems the one budget that hasn't been cut is the oil budget...), the building is about 105 degrees. I'm not kidding - some rooms have thermometers and you can check to see. Now you expect these same rooms to be 105 degrees in June and September (because they are without air conditioners), but not inJanuary and February. And yet, winter, spring, summer - it doesn't matter what the season is, it's always 105 degrees in my school and I'm always feeling vaguely dehydrated, like an extra from Ishtar. Frankly, I'd wear shorts all year round to school except I'd probably catch cold walking to and from the train.

As for after school programs, the only ones funded these days are extended day classes. All the other clubs and programs, if they are still running, are doing so because teachers are volunteering their time to run them. Now even in good times you knew if you worked one of these programs or clubs that you would only be paid one hour for every three hours you worked, but now you're not paid at all. Still, most of my colleagues continue to work these programs and clubs. One wonders if all that "volunteer time" will become expected even after the economy and the school budget improves? I'm betting it does...

OK, so you can see how we need some capital improvements and technology funds to make life a little more tolerable and school staff and students a little more efficient as they go about there work. But that money, hard to get even during flush times, sure isn't coming now that we have ECONOMIC ARMAGEDDON in the country. Granted, my class sizes, currently at 34, probably won't go to 44 now that the federal stimulus money is coming and the mayor says he won't have to lay off any teachers, but the rest of that money will inevitably go into the toilet (i.e., go to Uncle Joel and the Tweedites, where it will be spent on nonsense, administration costs, consultants, no-bid contracts or outside contractors.)

Take this NY Post story from Monday that explains how Uncle Joel and the Tweedites hired an outside firm to look for cost-cutting savings in the system - only they by-passed the lowest bidders and hired the firm that cost the MOST:

City education officials facing severe budget cuts awarded a $2 million consulting contract to a company whose bid was four times as high as the lowest offer.

The contract to hire a seven-person cost-cutting team was won by the consulting giant Accenture.


DOE documents show the average hourly rates proposed by eight other companies for an entry-level "specialist" role was $72. Accenture's winning bid was $200 an hour.

For the role of entry-level project manager, the eight companies proposed an average hourly rate of $88.

Accenture, sponsor of the just-completed golf match in which Tiger Woods made his comeback, bid $323 an hour.

It was eventually cut to $315, but it still will provide a $504,000 payout for the 10-month position.

That's the equivalent of twice the salary of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"That's the highest rate I've ever heard in my life," said a losing bidder. "There appears to be no integrity there and obviously there's no oversight."

Education officials defended the selection of Accenture, saying it was based on "best value" rather than "lowest bid."

Jason Henry, chief administrator for school based procurement, said that Accenture's overall bid for the work - which involves streamlining and cutting the cost of purchasing trade and library books and audio-visual equipment - was at least 10 percent more "competitive" than the second-place bid.

I love that quote from one of the losing bidders who says there seems to be no integrity, no oversight at Uncle Joel's Department of Education - all I can say is, NO KIDDING!!!! Klein and the Tweedites hand out no-bid contract to cronies or hand out contracts to the highest bidders while I can't find a working printer in my school to print out a letter of recommendation, have to walk 9 flights of stair four times a day because the elevators don't work, and have eczema on my hands and arms because the heater works too freaking well.

Yeah, I'd have to agree with that person who lost the bid to cut costs in the NYCDOE to a higher bidder - there is no integrity or oversight at Tweed or at City Hall, not if you're connected to either Bloomberg or Klein. But if you're just a little peon like a teacher, well, then look out. That $80 million dollar ARIS computer system they bought through a no-bid contract is tracking your test scores, so you better shape the hell up!!!!

And now I have to end this post because I have an 11:00 allergist appointment to take care of my eczema. Can't wait until Bloomberg and Klein and Weingarten conspire to raise health care costs for teachers.

I mean, who wouldn't love to have to pay extra to go to the doctor for health care conditions caused by the crappy environmental conditions at your job?

Tax Time

Back when I was a new teacher making almost no money, I brought my taxes to H. & R. Block, which was right down the street from me. Then one year I found out the lazy slob doing my taxes, who probably shucked oysters the rest of the year, had neglected a deduction for what I paid in state taxes. Since then, I've paid a CPA who actually knows what he's doing.

In case you need one, here's another reason to avoid the Blockheads--they might send your refund to the wrong person.