Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nothing to Hide

That, according to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is what American teachers have.  Therefore it's OK to post their students' scores in newspapers, clearly suggesting they are solely responsible for whether or not they pass, fail, or fall somewhere in between.  Duncan, who failed miserably in Chicago in his effort to improve schools, is imposing his tried-and-failed methods on the rest of the country just for the heck of it.

For Arne Duncan, it doesn't matter that you, or I, or your Aunt Sylvia's name gets plastered all over the papers, as though we were serial killers or pedophiles.  After all, he's in the public eye, and when he falls flat on his face, he's praised by tabloids and promoted to national prominence by no less than President Hopey-Changey himself.  In fact, he doesn't even know anyone who opposes his policies.

This is what happens when you live in a bubble, when you have no idea what life is like for ordinary people, and when you don't give a golly goshdarn about finding out.  Most Americans won't know your student failed because there's no electricity in his apartment, because he's homeless, because he's had interrupted formal education, because she has a kid, because her mother and father are kids, because she's learning disabled, because she's pregant, because she's addicted to Facebook, to Xbox, to crack, to sex, to sloth, because he works after school, because he's been in school 12 years and never learned how to read, because he's obsessed, because he's out of the country, because he doesn't exist and was invented by a computer with a sense of humor.

All the fabled Joe Six Pack will know is you, the teacher, suck, you failed, the kids failed and it's your fault.  Your name will be in the paper like the Scarlet Letter.  You're Hester Prynne, Willie Horton, Charles Manson--a social outcast, an undesirable, a bum.   What's to be done?  Naturally, you have to be fired.  Being publicly humiliated for factors beyond your control isn't remotely enough for the likes of you. 

Perhaps then you can lose your home, like so many Americans, and end up living in an Obamaville.  Remarkable that, in a time like this, a Democratic President thinks what we need is more job loss.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day After Day

There's a drumbeat demanding that teachers be judged by value-added measures, or student test scores.  The fact that such scores had been juked for years in NY State did nothing to slow down the drum.  People just said we have to do it more, and sooner.  Despite the fact that such logic is one step this side of insane, it just kept coming.  Another day, another study suggesting there's no validity to this.

Meanwhile, we're represented by a union that a few years ago, was adamant that value-added measures not be used to determine tenure.  Now they're jumping up and down to make sure that we get extra money specifically to enforce such measures.  In the comments at Gotham Schools, a Unity bigshot rationalizes that it was coming anyway, we couldn't stop it, we're powerless, so let's make sure we get a seat at the table.

And somehow, this same union has the audacity to claim that, because you will only have 40% of your evaluation tied to a wildly inaccurate and unreliable metric, this is a victory, since the AFT pushed for and got 50% in Colorado.  What you won't read in NY Teacher is what percentage of principals will look at anything but test scores.  Let's say yours, for example, suck.  Perhaps your principal will say, "Yes, but you're a great teacher the other 60% of the time."  On the other hand, it's entirely possible 99.9% of principals will say, "You suck and you are therefore fired."

I read somewhere that up to 40% of teachers could be fired baselessly.  To me, that's 100% unacceptable, and the entire reason we have a union is to preclude such happenstances.  But that's just me.  Do you think there is any possibility these evaluation measures will be used fairly?

Or is it more important to dump teachers right or wrong if that's what makes Bill Gates happy?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trojan Horse Not Required

Arne Duncan's walking right through the door to discuss his Race to the Top with NYSUT.   Duncan famously said he hadn't met anyone who opposed his programs and he's not likely to encounter any such individuals at NYSUT either.  After all, they repeatedly rose to their feet to applaud Bill Gates, whose baseless meanderings and bountiful billions essentially fueled this entire exercise.

And yes, communication is good.  Exchange of ideas is healthy.  But I've yet to see a scintilla of evidence that union participation consists of anything other than appeasement.  That's a flawed strategy, particularly considering that every time the union cuts off yet another appendage, the tabloid editorials simply condemn them for not having given up more.

The UFT's claim that test scores will be used in only 40% of teacher evaluations instead of 50% is less than impressive when one considers value-added has 0% validity and that hundreds, thousands of working American teachers could end up fired for no good reason.

Friday, August 27, 2010


"A Canadian is an unarmed American with health care."  Yesterday, I personally traveled to Ontario to investigate whether there was any truth to this.  If I discover anything to confirm or deny that rumor, I'll report it here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Hedge Funds

Since so many hedge fund operators are writing about education, I've decided it's about time to return the favor.  For a long time now, educators have had no voice on hedge funds.  That ends now.

I know a lot about hedges, as I had hedges around my home when I was young.  Frankly, they were a pain in the neck.  We had to trim them on a weekly basis, a task often relegated to yours truly.  Back then, of course, there were no power clippers.  We had to do it by hand, with a huge scissor-shaped clipper.  I wanted to play with my friends but there I was, cutting hedges.  I tried the Tom Sawyer thing but all of my friends had read Tom Sawyer and weren't persuaded.

Now, of course, you can get an electric trimmer and it's quite a bit easier.  But you still have to clean up the hedges after they're cut, and that's not my idea of a good way to spend a summer day.  Of course, I understand those who run hedge funds are very wealthy, so they probably just have a gardener do it for them.  This notwithstanding, it still seems like extra work.  

So I'm afraid I'll have to take a firm position against hedge funds.  Despite whatever profits they may produce, there's really not much benefit to having hedges.  Personally, I don't understand why anyone would want to fund them.  If you see things differently, of course, please feel free to enlighten me.

In the coming weeks, I'll try to provide other teacher viewpoints about hedge funds in these pages.  Since hedge fund magnates have offered so much advice about our field, the least we can do is return the favor.  Please feel free to offer hedge fund magnates the benefit of your experience in the comments.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Slow and Steady Loses the Race

OMG, you guys, New York is a Race to the Top winner! Like, yay! It's going to be totally awesome! I, for one, am super-excited that we'll be hearing from more consultants who have possibly never been in a classroom and getting more principals who ran screaming from classrooms. I think it is awesome that we'll be getting more feedback about why we suck.

Sorry to sound bitter. I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that the first day of school is two weeks away. I'm actually pretty excited about getting back to work. No, the bitterness isn't really personal.

I just can't get excited about this business. Even if it didn't represent so much of what is wrong with education today (which it does), I don't see why it's such a good thing that all of the responsibility for change is out of the hands of teachers, kids, and parents. I don't see why people are so thrilled that we're getting all of this money if it seems like pretty much none of it is actually going to go into a single classroom or building. And I suspect that teachers and kids who are doing just fine (which is not all of them, but more than, say, the Post would have you believe) are going to be forced to change a lot of things, maybe even good things that shouldn't be changed, to comply with RttT requirements. Slow and steady, it seems, doesn't win this particular race.

Well, whatevs, you know? NYC teachers are used to mandates being dropped in our laps from above. I'm going to have a glass of wine and maybe buy another pack of markers. Because, in other news, it's school supply season, and if this post got you down a little, visit Mrs. Mimi's blog and revel in all her pretty postings about children's books and her love of folders. It will make you feel better. Heaven knows reading more about **hallelujahchorusing** RACE TO THE TOP won't.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Listen Up

At 9 PM tonight, you can hear Bronx Teacher's magical radio show right here.  Should you wish to participate, call in at (917) 932-8721.

Stereotypes Ahoy

That's what I see in New York Magazine, and ironically, it's in a column that calls itself "Intelligencer."  But the intelligence is lacking on multiple levels.  The column almost revels in teachers being stereotyped and reviled, calling them the "new lawyers."   While this column came out in early July (before the state acknowledged its inflated scores), it asserts, " test scores have been encouraging."

They were only encouraging, of course, if you didn't read Diane Ravitch, whose BS detector had identified the problem at least three years ago.  I suppose you could forgive the so-called Intelligencer for going with the mainstream myth, incorrect though we knew it to be, but then he goes and says this:

Bloomberg’s chancellor, Joel Klein, got teachers’ pay tied to test scores in exchange for pay raises.  

That's patently incorrect.  First of all, pay is not tied to test scores.  No such exchange was made.  Test scores became part of ratings as a result of a deal UFT President Michael Mulgrew made in Albany.  Up to 40% of teacher ratings can be tied to test scores (and UFT reps proudly boasted how much better it was than the deal Weingarten crafted in Colorado, which went to 50%).

Nonetheless, that statement reveals the "Intelligencer" doesn't bother reading the local papers.   The writer continues:

Then a funny thing happened. Klein’s talking points went national...

If you've read Diane Ravitch's book, you know these notions didn't originate with Klein, but this writer, clearly hasn't, and can't be bothered to find out where these ideas originated.  The most offensive determination this writer makes is this conclusion:

The teachers are trapped. The more they defend themselves, the more recalcitrant they seem. It’s permanent detention. 

This is the sort of thinking that's kept people sitting down and shutting up since time immemorial.  And anyone who follows history, even in the most cursory fashion, knows that common people have never accomplished anything with such thinking.  It's reminiscent of the racist rationale, "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones."

It's certainly an uphill battle for us nowadays, with not only Bill Gates, Wal-Mart, Eli Broad, and other heavily moneyed interests lined up against us, but also the President and some of our own leaders openly collaborating with them.  The writer of that article shows no evidence he's even heard of these folks.

Should teachers keep their mouths shut so as not to appear "recalcitrant?"  Or would that be dereliction of duty?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Save the Burlington Coat Factory

So says Curmudgeon, in an ironic but cryptic post.  It doesn't look like much of a garden spot, does it?  But this, it turns out, is the "hallowed ground" on which alleged evildoers wish to build a ground zero mosque, evidently to spit in the face of all Fox-watching good Americans.

Only it's not at ground zero.  It's two blocks away.  And it's not a mosque, but an Islamic center.  Having heard about the ground zero mosque ad nauseum in a hotel that played Fox in the lobby, I had no idea of either of these things.

So not only are Americans getting all riled up about a major religion exercising a fundamental right, but they're doing so under false pretenses.  Fox thoughtfully gave a free airing to a commercial by NY gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio, who's exploiting this non-issue to give racist galoots added motivation to vote for him.  

As an elementary student, I was taught this country was founded because people were seeking freedom of religion.  One would hope we'd still have that freedom in place, and that we could exercise it no matter how uncomfortable it made Sean Hannity.  Frankly, there are few things more disgraceful or embarrassing than seeing people who'd deny that right to others.  There are so many more important things on which we could focus, like the economy, or the ongoing fraud that passes for education policy in this city or country.

If these folks want that Burlington Coat Factory that badly, let them have it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thought for the Day

Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

-Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Take a Good Look

This week I've been focused on the nonsense that passes for news at Fox.  This would be disturbing in isolation, but the supposed not-insane news outlets, like CNN, are not much of an improvement.  CNN features an education commentator named Steve Perry, much-lauded because 100% of his graduates go to four-year colleges.  What they forget to tell you is that 43% of his students never make it to graduation.  But that's OK, isn't it?

While Fox broadcasts all sorts of thinly-veiled hateful drek about Muslims, CNN is there to report the fallout.  And fallout there is, when a troglodyte Florida minister determines burning Korans is a way to lead his flock into his vision of spirituality.

"We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times," Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week.

I'm reminded of the film Arthur, where the butler tells Liza Minelli, "One must usually go to a bowling alley to meet a person of your caliber."  But it's not all that comic to live in an economically-strapped state where such wackos are granted prominence by an inept and irresponsible corporate media.  And who is this celebrated Pastor Terry?  Well, he's an American, and he's innocent until proven guilty.

Infamous Pastor Terry Jones, known for his activism against the Gainesville Florida mayor, and for his "Burn a Koran Day" has been arrested for possession of child pornography. Wednesday August 4, 2010 Pastor Terry Jones was arrested for sharing pictures of children in various states of nudity over the popular file sharing network Limewire.

So I won't be burning him in effigy or anything.   In fact, though his followers are hateful bigots, I won't even accuse them of being child pornographers, though that's the MO they used to vilify absolutely every member of a major worldwide religion.   Still, it's very disturbing to see the hatefulness that can blossom in this country, and the utter lack of curiosity about who's really responsible for our problems.

After all, who enables this media?  Who elects the people who tolerate and encourage it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The World According to Fox

I'm in Manassas VA, just outside of DC.  To show how all-American they are, the hotel I'm in is piping Fox News on their TVs.  They showed an embarrassing picture of Congressman Anthony Wiener and explained, somehow, he thinks he looks like a woman.  When I first walked in they were discussing how the GOP is going to win in November, and how this had something to do with Twitter.

There was an interview with some guy who said that companies wanted to hire people, but unfortunately the government charged so much they couldn't give people jobs.  I suppose the only thing we can do is offer tax cuts to corporations.

They then interviewed a woman from Canada, who said she was very open-minded about the mosque at the WTC site.  To show how open-minded she was, she said she was Canadian.  However, she spoke to the people responsible for the mosque, and found they were too aggressive in supporting it.  Therefore they could not be trusted.  Furthermore, she wasn't sure what countries may have provided funding for it.

They've also mentioned that GW Bush is now more popular than Barack Obama, and that the Democrats are in big trouble.  But they're really pounding away on the mosque issue.  So this, then, is what people who watch Fox are thinking about and talking about.

At a time like this, it's pathetic that so many of us are so ill-informed we'd regard this drek as news.  And it's not enough to get all snooty and say we're sophisticated New Yorkers--we just allowed Michael Bloomberg to buy himself a third term.  Tough to see how we're any smarter than the Fox viewers.

I gotta run.  They're gonna tell us how much taxpayers have to pay so Barack Obama can campaign for Democrats.  I wonder if they did the same when GW was President. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

While the LA Times beats an insane drumbeat to publicly vilify teachers whose students score poorly on high-stakes tests, President Hopey-Changey's mouthpiece nods his head up and down like Jerry Mahoney, saying what a great idea.  By this time next year teachers will be wearing scarlet letters when they go out, so their neighbors can pelt them with rotten fruit.  It's discouraging for many of us, lifelong Democrats, that our party is run by lunatics jumping through hoops for Bill Gates.

The only positive side I can find is that the Republicans not only support these ideas, but have actually come up with some that are even worse.  They're now spinning the 14th amendment, which allows babies born here to become naturalized citizens.  This concerns them.  That the economy is in a tailspin, that no one knows when it will stop circling the drain, that despite recent news we're still heavily invested in two pointless wars--these are of no importance.  The important thing for Republicans is to establish a scapegoat, someone to hate, and that will be penniless immigrants working miserable jobs for next to nothing.  What's vital, apparently, is to make their lot even worse.

The other important issue is that of a mosque being built on the World Trade Center site.  Perish forbid we should show tolerance for other cultures and religions.  How awful it would be to make a gesture of good will and welcome this.  I've actually read people complaining this mosque is unsuitable because it looks like a building, and the WTC was also a building.  Personally, I find it obscene that there's a McDonald's nearby, as its sale of unhealthy garbage symbolizes everything that's wrong with this country to me.  However, I won't be starting a campaign against them, let alone a campaign against a major religion.  To judge an entire group by the actions of fringe lunatics is stereotypical nonsense.  Were we to apply such judgment to all religions, few if any would come out smelling like a rose.

 So congratulations to the GOP for holding onto its proud tradition of being narrow-minded, diversionary and intolerant.  As useless as the Democrats have become, you still make them look better by comparison.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Self-Affirmation = Better Grades and Student Promotion?

I haven't been able to get this article out of my head since I first read it. I picked it up from Kelly Gallagher's website, Gallagher being one of the few "experts" in education I find myself able to like and respect. His tips and tricks for teaching have the advantage of usually being simple, no-frills, and free. I highly recommend his site for some straightforward and interesting ways to liven up your ELA class, and I look forward to reading his book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, which I just ordered from Amazon. But I digress. Back to the article.

The thrust of the article is that One.Simple.Assignment, assigned to students a few times throughout a single school year, showed that students who completed this assignment had better grades and were promoted more frequently than students who did not two years after the assignment was given. I was absolutely dumbstruck by this article and I don't know why it hasn't been the talk of the town among ELA teachers with at-risk populations. The assignment is very simple: Students are asked to write about one or two values that they cherish and why the values are important to them. The designers of the study opine that this assignment, which they refer to as a kind of self-affirmation disguised as a straightforward academic assignment, focuses students on their potential and their strengths, and, renewing this mindset several times over the course of the school year, students' self-efficacy grows.

I know there's good reason to be skeptical. We hear "self-affirmation" and think of Stuart Smalley reminding himself that he's "good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like [him]." Self-affirmation sounds silly, shallow, even narcissistic. But hey, Stuart Smalley made it to the U.S. Senate with that kind of thinking. So is there any good reason not to try this in your classroom? If nothing else, it's a pretty decent diagnostic writing assessment. It will show you if students can organize an essay, if they can use concrete details to back up abstract concepts, etc.
I'm going to give it a shot during the first week of school. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teacher's Little Helper

If you're a Milwaukee teacher, your problems are no longer limited to the classroom.  The school district has now determined that you won't be able to get Viagra on your prescription plan.  In other words, they're doing to teachers something they don't want to encourage teachers themselves to do.  This is a tough break, as I have no idea what the hell else there is to do in a place like Milwaukee.  I mean, sure, there's what made Milwaukee famous, but unless you're a politician, it's not enough to be full of Schlitz all the time.

My advice is this--watch out New York.  Viagra is on the firing line.  Confidential sources advise me that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is upset with it and advocating its removal from the prescription plan.  Apparently, the chancellor experimented with the little pills, but they just kept making him taller.   It appears Viagra's days may be numbered. 

Fortunately, Cialis doesn't appear on the hit list.  Maybe Milwaukeee teachers can make do.  Here's a Cialis commercial you won't be seeing on TV anytime soon.  (Maybe we need to be careful with this stuff.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Say Anything

It's been a trying week for UFT leadership, having just fired writer Jim Callaghan, who refused to go quietly into that good night. Callaghan claims to have been fired for, of all things, his efforts to unionize.  Naturally, brass needs to paint a more favorable portrait.

Yesterday, UFT mouthpiece Peter Goodman was waxing poetic over at Gotham Schools about the democracy that flourishes in the UFT.  As usual, no mention was made of the controlling Unity Caucus.  Said Goodman:

The give and take, the variety of opinions within the union is healthy, the thousand delegates, selected by members in each and every school gather monthly, debate is wide ranging, and usually strongly supportive of Weingarten, and now Mulgrew.

The latter is true, of course, because the overwhelming majority of those present belong to Unity and have surrendered their right to publicly dissent.  In addition, there are a few from the faux-opposition New Action, who are permitted superficial disagreement as long as they do not oppose the Unity presidential candidate (imperiling their patronage gigs).  Then there is a ragtag, disorganized bunch of individuals that truly disagree.  This group is routinely booed and ridiculed by both Unity and New Action.

Goodman contended those at the DA  "may or may chose to belong to a political party within the union."  I responded:

As you well know, Unity is not a choice. It is an invitation-only caucus that requires its members to sign an oath not to contradict it in public.

Goodman called that "almost laughable," and went on to claim,

"I’ve never signed an “oath”....  

This was remarkable.  The defining characteristic of Unity Caucus is its non-negotiable demand that its members represent the Caucus rather than the membership.  Most UFT members are unaware of its existence.  Personally, I never heard of it before I started blogging about five years ago.  That's the way it's supposed to be, of course.  Very few teachers would vote for a chapter leaders they knew followed orders from up high rather than promoting the interests of rank and file--and make no mistake, the 2005 contract, relentlessly promoted by Unity, was not in the interests of rank and file.  I responded to Goodman:

Verbatim from the Unity application, members agree:

To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;
To support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums;

Are you saying you never signed that agreement?

I'm still waiting for Goodman to respond.  I suppose the best approach is to sit while I wait.

In the UFT hierarchy, chapter leaders are routinely bought off.  They sign the Unity oath and are kept in line with free trips to conventions, where they dutifully genuflect before the likes of Bill Gates.  Many live in hope of getting a union job just like Peter Goodman did.  Then they can drop most or all of that inconvenient teaching, earn a second pension, make considerably more than teachers, and get even more free trips and perks.

When UFT chapter leaders sign the Unity application, they agree to be "activists."  In reality, they agree to do whatever they're told without question.

Those who agree are not leaders, but followers.  This in itself is not necessarily bad.  But lately, they're following the dictates of demagogues like Bill Gates and the Wal-Mart family, to the detriment of teachers and working Americans everywhere.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quality Control

I get a lot of nonsense among the comments nowadays.  Often, it's a seemingly innocuous message saying how wonderful and interesting the post is.  Always, such messages contain a link to some commercial enterprise or another.  Here's the most recent comment that didn't get published:

A big thanks for this great information. I have stumbled it and will shortly tell the rest of my online network know. They will definitely think it as interesting as I did.

The link, oddly enough,  was for an online English class.   You'd think they'd at least find someone who could spit out a decent sentence.  You'd be wrong.

On the other hand, their target demographic is people who don't know English, so maybe they've got the perfect person producing copy.   How would they know whether an ad in English is competently written or not?  Still, I'll spare you the source, as it doesn't meet the NYC Educator standard for English teachers.

Call me madcap, but I still think English teachers, whatever other qualifications they may have, ought to be fluent in English.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Death or Charter?

Those appear to be the options Columbus High School is facing right now.  Apparently the principal wants to remain principal, and according to the article has been in touch with the union over this.  There's something patently offensive about the assumption converting to a charter will somehow improve a school--in most cases charters don't do better than public schools.  However, Bill Gates thinks they do, so Obama and Arne Duncan have to think so too.

The Post states that such a conversion would keep the teachers unionized.  An important consideration would be whether the teachers get to stick with the UFT contract, or some farcical parody of it like what Green Dot teachers are saddled with--something that retains neither tenure nor seniority rights.  Another question is what sort of charter this would be.  Would it be run by teachers?  Or would some charter company like KIPP, or demagogue like Eva Moskowitz take over?

Another key question would be whether Columbus would keep the same population.  Columbus is in this situation because nearby schools closed and their would-be students were sent to Columbus rather than the new schools.  Though the city now says new schools will receive the same percentage of special ed. and ESL students as their neighbors, I'm inclined to believe that when I see it.

Charters take public money but they aren't public schools.  Public schools are neighborhood schools that serve our community.  Charters do us no favors by precluding and replacing neighborhood schools.  A neighborhood without a public school, in fact, is not much of a neighborhood at all.

UFT Writer Says He Was Fired for Trying to Unionize

Ex-NY Teacher writer Jim Callaghan makes this claim in today's Daily News.  If this is true, it appears the association with Bill Gates has resulted in the union accepting his methods rather than vice-versa.

In any case, why aren't the writers unionized?  Are they hired and fired via patronage and blind obedience to the Unity/New-Action caucuses? 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Take this Job and Shove It

So sang Johny Paycheck, in a massive crossover country hit that resonated loud and large with the American public.    How many of us harbor secret longings to let it all out?  How many injustices have we suffered?  How many unreasonable demands?  How many smiles have we offered when we intended daggers?

This week, Steven Slater, the real life embodiment of this fantasy, is an internet hero.  He’s Johny Paycheck.  He’s Popeye, who had all he can stands and can’t stands no more.  How many timid Americans go home and dream about doing the same?

I haven’t got an opinion about Mr. Slater one way or the other, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a teacher were to do the same thing.  What if I, for example, the next time a student requested I perform some unnatural act or other, were to drop my chalk and walk out?  Would someone put up a Facebook page offering to help me out?

I think not.

Recently, in fact, a teacher allegedly faked a fall down a stairway to avoid an observation.  (I’ll readily grant that this is not the sort of thing that makes people stand up and cheer.)  The New York Post determined this meant we need stricter accountability measures for teachers.  To me, it’s incredible anyone would come to such a conclusion based on the actions of one individual.  Should we judge all the members of that teacher’s religion, sex, or skin color based on her actions?    If we’re willing to stereotype her profession, why not go all the way? 

I can’t help but notice the Post hasn’t yet made any determination about flight attendants, or how they should be treated on the basis of the actions of a single individual.   But in these United States, in 2010, it's socially acceptable to stereotype teachers.

There are different expectations for us than for the rest of humanity.  We, apparently, are saints.  Politicians aren't.  At the last Democratic convention, GW Bush was not invited to speak.  Nor was Sarah Palin. Rush Limbaugh raised no objection, as far as I know.  The most I ever listen to Rush is never, so if anyone knows better, feel free to correct me.  But I’m pretty sure neither Rush, nor Sean Hannity, nor Glenn Beck said word one on that topic.

Yet Bill Gates spoke at the AFT convention, and not only to teacher-bashers see it as perfectly appropriate, but AFT bigshots think so too.  I’ve read in the comments at GothamSchools that this was by way of ongoing dialogue, that it’s important to keep contact with a personage of such influence.  I agree completely with the second part of that statement.  Of course we should talk to Bill Gates.  We’d be stupid not to.  Perhaps we could persuade him to stop talking such baseless nonsense.  Stranger things have happened.

Making him the featured speaker of our convention, however, sends quite a different message.  First of all, with no Q and A, it’s not a dialogue or negotiation in any sense.  More importantly, allowing someone to speak at a convention indicates respect or approval of that person’s policies.  And sure, if you’re a fan of school closings, merit pay, “value-added” assessments, mass firings of teachers, public schools being replaced with non-union charters, and all the other great ideas Bill has, invite him to speak.

If not, converse with him in private.  Try to get him to see the light.  I won't object.

Still, I'd advise you not to hold your breath waiting for Bill's moment of revelation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Miss Eyre Has Left the Building...Forever

I didn't know how best to make this semi-public to the blogging community, but I figured I had to say it, for clarity's sake, before the new school year starts. Those of you who follow my posts here with any regularity are probably at least dimly aware that I taught middle school. Well, if you start reading posts from me referring to Regents exams and credit accumulation, it's because I'm making the big jump to high school this fall. Yes, Miss Eyre is leaving the Morton School, but, really, the Morton School is more like a state of mind, so my blogging address and name will remain the same.

This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers, who know that the principal at the Morton School and I did not exactly see eye to eye. I went back and forth with myself for quite a while about transferring as I went on a number of interviews. Some days I was ready to take the first job offered. Other days I was ready to give up on the transfer process. But when the right school came calling, they found me in the right state of mind, and I accepted the offer.

I've always been uncomfortable with trash-the-boss (I mean immediate supervisors, not Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee--trash away, friends!) posts on teacher blogs, and though I've certainly written a few less-than-complimentary posts about my now-former supervisor, I think I've also tried to be a generous critic in acknowledging the challenges of being a principal and admit that I'd never want the job myself. With the comfortable distance of summer vacation and a new job on the horizon, I'm ready to let bygones be bygones, I suppose. PX, as this person came to be known, couldn't take away the actual joy I get from teaching actual children, and the relationships I developed with my past year's students reminded me, in the end, that the kids couldn't care less about the b.s. that keeps us up at night and foaming at the mouth on blog posts. And they, as I like to say, are our real bosses. They are the people to whom we are ultimately--I mean in the really grand scheme of things, the very long run--"accountable." And I can look at the progress my students made last year and, gasp, yes, even at their test scores, and feel like I did pretty darn right by them. This might be more like an early-July than a mid-August post, but so be it. Anyway, that's me, being perhaps a bit more personal than I usually am here at NYC Educator, really putting my posts from 2009-10 to bed.

Where am I going? As usual, to protect my own anonymity and that of my students and colleagues, I won't identify that any further than to say it's a high school, it's not a charter, and it's still here in NYC. And I'll say that I'm pretty excited. I was talking to a teacher friend this past weekend, and I said that I felt like I needed one more week of solid vacation and then I'd be ready to think about going back. But I'm already feeling good about my fresh start for the fall. I hope you're looking forward to more posts about misadventures in teaching English in the city schools, just from a slightly different perspective.

Oh, and if anyone has any advice specific to starting over in a new school, that would be great.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Equal Than Others

There isn't a whole lot of glamor in educating students of special needs.  Perhaps that's why Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has decided to run roughshod over a school for autistic children and devote its space to a charter school.  Or perhaps it's because so many of his good buds are on the board of the charter school.  Can you say "conflict of interest?"

Of course, given mayoral control, it doesn't much matter what you say.  Essentially the law declares they can do what they want, how they want, whenever they want, and that the board that ostensibly approves these things is a sham.   But who knew there was an "emergency" clause that declared Klein could defy orders from the state whenever he felt like it?

Yesterday I went to a demonstration downtown where people stood up and demanded that Klein reconsider.  One can only hope this is the first of many.  Despite the cynical motto of "Children First," it's fairly clear that children are neither here nor there in the big picture--giving hedge fund magnates charter schools wherever they want, and whenever they want.

When people like Joel Klein say "Children First," it really means "Teachers Last."  That's why the city managed to give 4% raises to all but teacher unions, offered less than half to teachers, then publicly reduced the offer to nothing.  They'd fire every teacher in the city and replace them with scarecrows if they could.

Except in the charters the chancellor's buddies control.  Their kids are important.

Monday, August 09, 2010

KIPP Scores Tumble, President Demands More Charter Schools

When you live by the scores, you die by the scores.  Except, here's the thing--KIPP schools are the darlings of Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jay Matthews, and Wal-Mart.  Therefore, they've just won 50 million bucks.  Odd this revelation occurred only days after the award, ain't it?

Schaeffler said her staff was working to determine what the problem in fifth grade might be. "We're looking at everything from teacher turnover to a change in the incoming students." 

They have to look at that darn teacher turnover, because few can maintain the grueling pace demanded of KIPP teachers, the six-day weeks, the long hours, the cell phone at home to answer the demands of parents.   Some teachers, in fact, persist in wanting a personal life, out of the question for those in the super charters.  However, such charters are paving the way for the vision of the American President--an America where all are peasants, working round the clock, never getting ahead, an America in which no one has a pesky union and everyone works for whatever the bosses feel like paying.

It's fairly obvious that Bloomberg and Klein share this grand vision.  Over at Huffington Post, one of their lackeys has written a piece sliming Diane Ravitch.  This particular lackey couldn't even be bothered to formulate a lucid argument, and stated Ravitch was attacking kids when she attacked grades.  This, along with some nonsense about golf, was deemed fit to print.

It doesn't matter that charters don't do better than public schools, despite enormous advantages in selection.  Make no mistake--with 100% proactive parents, the only miracle about charters is that they don't outperform public schools everywhere, all the time.  It doesn't matter if they fail.  It doesn't matter if all the methods the "reformers" use fail, or if both Texas and Chicago, the audition grounds for the programs in place now were failures too.  In fact, they don't even care if their arguments are transparent nonsense.  The editorial boards from the New York Times on down are asleep at the wheel and can't be bothered with the most perfunctory research.

These United States are becoming one disturbing place for public school parents concerned about our kids' future.  Folks like Barack Obama, who's always sent his kids to private school, have no need to share our concerns.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Protest Klein's Use of "Emergency Powers"

Hidden somewhere in the mayoral control renewal, the one Randi Weingarten supported, is a clause that allows Chancellor Klein to do whatever he likes in the case of an "emergency."  Apparently, an emergency entails Klein being told he can't evict a bunch of autistic children to make room for a charter school.

I'm in Montreal right now, but I'm hoping to make it back by tomorrow.  If I manage that, I'm going to attend a protest of this outlandish abuse of power.  I hope you will too.  Here are the particulars:

As I am sure many of you are aware, Chancellor Klein has chosen to void a recent decision of NYSED Commissioner Steiner in favor of halting the expansion of Girls Prep into space occupied by students with autism who attend a D 75 School, P 94M, on the Lower East Side.

Elected officials, such as Assembly Speaker Silver, State Senator Squadron, Boro Pres. Stringer, Pub. Advocate Bill De Blasio, Council Members Mendez, CEC presidents and CCSE (Citywide Council on Special Education) members, have roundly criticized this move. The Chancellor has chosen to ignore the interests of students with disabilities.

On Monday, August 9, 2010 at 1:00 PM, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer will host a Press Confernce at One Center Street, across form the DOE headquarters at Tweed Courthouse, to comment on this egregious abuse of power.

Please join those of us who support Boro President Stringer and his efforts to bring attention to a blatant misuse of power.

It is importatnt to have as many members of the education community as possible at One Center Street, at 1 PM on Monday, August 9, to demonstrate their disagreement with, and dismay at, the Chancellor's actions.

contact Erin McGill

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Cold Feet?

Why not pick up a little divorce insurance, just in case?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Good Things Happen

A few months ago, a young teacher asked me for some help with her classroom.  She was a subject teacher who happened to be teaching ESL kids, but her classes were out of control.  What was wrong?

I went in and watched her class.  Five minutes in, a group of kids from one country walked in like they owned the place.  She sent them out and made them get a pass.  The kids were delighted.  More time to walk the halls.  More time to hang with their buds.  I told the teacher not to do that anymore.  I told her to call the homes of every one of those kids any time they arrived late, and to begin that very day. 

I also noticed that one kid was the ringleader of this little group.  I told the young teacher to move this kid's seat away from the group.  There was a group of kids from another country who spoke a different language, so I told her to move the kid there, into another country for all intents and purposes.   "But she doesn't speak that language," the young teacher objected.

One of the things you learn when you teach ESL is that you often need to separate kids who speak the same language.  Why would kids from China speak English if they could just hang around with other kids from China all the time?  Things like that may not occur to teachers who don't have experience.  And despite having been there for months, no one had bothered to tell this young woman anything of the sort.

She took my advice, along with several other suggestions, and her class began to run much more smoothly.  I know because:

1. I went back and watched it again, and

2.  We had a mutual student who was more than happy to informally spy for me.

In any case, this was remarkable, as it was pretty far into the year, and newbies who fall that far don't tend to bounce back by that point.  I was happy, and impressed that she acted so decisively and immediately.  What's better than teaching someone something practical and seeing it implemented precisely and perfectly, with tangible results?

Alas, Chancellor Joel Klein enacted budget cuts, so as to save millions of dollars for the likes of the execrable Tim Daly, and the young teacher was excessed.   This is tough, because non-tenured ATR teachers are more or less wearing targets on their back, fired for cause or even for no cause.

But last week this young teacher went for an interview.  She was asked what she would do if faced with kids from multiple language groups, and how she would deal with keeping them focused and on task.  She had a ready answer for them--an anecdote of just how she dealt with a similar situation.  And guess what?

She got the job.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I Want it Now!

In NYC we have mayoral control.  Essentially, this means the mayor can do whatever he likes and if it looks like people on his board of education will vote against him, they're fired before they get the chance.

As a representative of Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein doesn't need to take no stinking orders from the state.  When they tell him not to move a charter school into a building, not to displace or imperil a school for autistic children, that constitutes an emergency, so he does it anyway.

Mayor Bloomberg's approach to education is, "I'm me, I can do what I want, and nobody else is gonna tell me what to do."  This may not be precisely the behavior you're looking to elicit from your students, but when you take into account that both Bloomberg and  Klein actually represent billionaires and hedge fund managers rather than you, me, or schoolchildren, it makes perfect sense.

The Bright Side of Teachers' Choice

Boy, that Mr. A. Talk is one Gloomy Gus.  With him, the glass is always half-empty.  No doubt by now he's downed the entire drink and left nothing for the rest of us.  Yesterday he went on about the cuts to Teachers' Choice.  But of course, that's just one side of the story.

Doubtless you recall when Teachers' Choice was $260, and you could buy notebooks, printer ink, pens and all that groovy stuff you needed.  Then the UFT managed to negotiate it down to $150, a 40% reduction.  This year, it's $110, and that's closer to a 30% reduction.  So you see--this year it was clearly reduced less than last year, and we're moving in the right direction.  Perhaps next year it will be reduced 25%, then only 20, and well, you see.  Eventually it will hit a certain level from which it won't be able to be reduced at all.  Imagine the email from the UFT--You got nothing last year, and this year, after a carefully selected focus group did a study, took a vote, and went to a meeting, we've managed to keep your allotment at nothing.

In fact, while all the other unions got 4% and 4%, we've managed to keep our salary increase at precisely nothing.  Thus far, it hasn't been reduced at all.  Does pessimistic Mr. Talk point out the positive side?  Of course not.  Here you get the full story.

Clearly Mr. Talk is unfamiliar with the fine points of high-level negotiation.  I certainly hope he's learned something today.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Wardrobing the Young Teacher

So I loved this post at a teacher blog I just came across called, pricelessly, Not Much Just Chillin'. "Spot the TFA" instructs rural teachers in how to find the earnest young adult plopped into the midst of their first great adventure in teaching, and it's quite the chuckleworthy post. I love playing Spot the Teacher myself when I'm out and about in the city, and, much like Spot the Tourist, I'm pretty good at it.

But this post also made me think of a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently about a friend of hers who is beginning her teaching career in a Brooklyn charter school this year. I'd let the school remain nameless even if I knew its name, which I don't, because this is hearsay. But she told me that her friend is required to wear a suit to work every day.

Now, I know that other careers, like law and finance, have fairly strict and traditional dress codes. I also know that people working in investment banks and law offices tend to have air conditioning, which many schools do not, and that even young lawyers and bankers typically start off making six figures or close to it. Being in a charter school, this young woman is making a little more money than I did when I started off, but not, I would think, enough to comfortably drop her first paycheck on a dozen or so suits.

I'm an advocate of dressing professionally. Teachers in tank tops and flip-flops make me cringe. But I'm not sure that requiring a suit in a sweltering public school classroom on a teacher's salary is quite the right way to go, either. I think you can look lovely and professional without, necessarily, the whole suit deal.

What do we all think about this?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

From NYC Educator's Mailbox

Here are some test answers an emailer assures me are genuine.  I can neither confirm nor deny that, but it's fair conjecture they would've scored a passing grade on a NY State exam:

Q. Name the four seasons
A. Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar

Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink
A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large  pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists

Q. How is dew formed?
A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire

Q. What causes the tides in the oceans?
A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight

Q. What guarantees may a mortgage company insist on?
A. If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed

Q. In a democratic society, how important are elections?
A. Very important. Sex can only happen when a male gets an election

Q. What are steroids?
A. Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs      

Q.. What happens to your body as you age?
A. When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental

Q. What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A. He says goodbye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery              

Q. Name a major disease associated with cigarettes
A. Premature death

Q. What is artificial insemination?
A. When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow

Q. How can you delay milk turning sour?
A. Keep it in the cow                                              

Q. How are the main 20 parts of the body categorised (e.g. The abdomen)
A. The body is consisted into 3 parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels: A, E, I,O,U..                                                                 

Q. What is the fibula?
A. A small lie

Q. What does 'varicose' mean?
A. Nearby

Q. What is the most common form of birth control?
A. Most people prevent contraception by wearing a condominium            (That would work)

Q. Give the meaning of the term 'Caesarean section'
A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome

Q. What is a seizure?
A. A Roman Emperor.                              (Julius Seizure, I came, I saw, I had a fit)

Q. What is a terminal illness?
A. When you are sick at the airport.                  (Irrefutable)

Q. Give an example of a fungus. What is a characteristic feature?
A. Mushrooms. They always grow in damp places and they look like umbrellas

Q. Use the word 'judicious' in a sentence to show you understand its meaning
A. Hands that judicious can be soft as your face.                     

Q. What does the word 'benign' mean?
A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight   

Q. What is a turbine?
A. Something an Arab or Shreik wears on his head

Monday, August 02, 2010

Miraculous Mr. Perry

There are principals, and there are principals.  But even Leadership Academy grads may admit few actually walk on water.  Yet press accounts suggest Steve Perry has defied expectations:

You probably saw Steve Perry on CNN’s "Black in America 2" special. He was the featured educator who started and runs the Capital Preparatory Magnet school in Connecticut. The high school, over a five-year span, has sent 100 percent of its graduates – mostly Blacks and Latinos - to four-year colleges.

Wow.  100%.  That's perfect!   The only possible conclusion is everyone else is doing something wrong.  I mean, if he can do it, why can't we all do it?  Maybe all the "reformers" are right, and the only factor in education worth a darn is the teacher.  If only I'd stayed up all night and tutored those kids who hung around at the pizzeria instead of showing up to class, maybe I coulda been on CNN talking about what a genius I was...

But wait a minute, what's this? A few weeks ago, 107 kids were gonna graduate, and now there are only 95.  What happened to those other 12 kids?  Was there a typhoon I hadn't heard about?  A crime spree?  An epidemic?  And hey, look here--there are 50 more kids who disappeared before that!  Wow, talk about your sloppy attendance policies.  I wonder what my principal would say if I lost 62 kids.  I'm thinking the whole raise and promotion thing would be out of the question.  In fact, I'd say a teacher who lost 62 kids, well, that goes beyond the rubber room--I'm thinking prison.  For a long, long time.

It's more likely, of course, that these kids are dropouts, or simply landed in default, non-magnet public schools.  But Mr. Perry got himself on CNN, Good Morning America, ABC World News, and in People Magazine before this came out.  In fact, it appears 57% of his students got into four-year colleges.  I can't say whether that's good or bad, as I don't follow such statistics all that closely.

But it ain't no miracle.  And our press does us an extreme disservice by presenting it as such.

Thanks to Nick