Friday, December 31, 2010

Parody Is Serious Stuff

Yesterday Mr. A. Talk wrote a very clever parody of Bloomberg's handling of the snow. Basically, he suggested Bloomberg wanted to blame the teachers for everything that went wrong. This looked pretty far-fetched, of course. Most teachers were snowed in, having the misfortune to not live on Mayor Bloomberg's block.

But a Daily News editorial yesterday made the same point, and they were dead serious.  Apparently, what needs fixing is "lavish pensions," and last in first out layoff for teachers. I could actually retire today if only I could figure how I'd live on that lavish pension. Other Americans have no pension at all. When they read things like that News editorial, not to mention similar nonsense written by "reformers," it makes them understandably angry. Yet rather than asking, "Why the hell haven't I got that?" the question becomes, "How can we take this away from public employees?"

And this is the time to do it, in the eyes of the ever-more--wealthy "reform" crowd, set on getting even more public dollars into their deep pockets. For most of my career public employees made less money than most others. Now many of those who cleaned up while we toiled away are out of work altogether. And now that the geniuses who ruined the economy are setting out to work their magic on the rest of us, Americans see potential savings in making former teachers eat cat food. Naturally, tax cuts for the uber-rich are out of the question, and the GOP is now putting forth the preposterous notion that any new programs must be paid for with cuts elsewhere, but tax cuts need not be paid for at all. In other words, screw your pension, you need to pay so Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch can party.

Bottom line? There is no attack on working people so absurd that some politician or editorial writer won't propose it with a straight face.

Thanks to Ricochet

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kristof Rides Again

In the Times today, Nicholas Kristof suggests American kids need first to learn Spanish, and then to learn Chinese. Kristof, notable for his outrage that Meryl Streep and Colin Powell  couldn't become NYC school teachers (never mind that neither has expressed the remotest interest), leads with a joke:

If a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, and one who speaks four languages is quadrilingual, what is someone called who speaks no foreign languages at all? 

Answer: an American. 

Last time I heard that, the Dead Sea was still sick.  Kristoff says everywhere he turns people are asking how their kids can learn Chinese. This is what happens, I suppose, when you breathe the rarefied air of a NY Times op-ed columnist. Everywhere I turn, people are asking how the hell they can get their cars out of the snow.

There is one reason, and one reason only, why Americans are such notoriously awful language learners--we live in a big country where English is spoken by almost everyone. For our kids, there's little obvious practical advantage to speaking a foreign language, so we have to work very hard to encourage them. It's true Spanish is very popular and practical, with something like 20% of Americans speaking it. For that reason, Spanish is an awful lot easier to learn and practice. That's why even a gringo like me can pick it up with a little effort.

But to get kids to speak Chinese we'll need more than Kristof and his preposterous billionaire-sponsored notions about "reform." We'll need to move away from the drill and kill, math and English-focused test prep being inflicted on our children by Kristof and his likes. We'll need small classes where kids can get individual attention, and trained teachers rather than Streep or Powell. We'll need experts who can motivate kids to not only study, but also practice a language. And we'll need to set up regular opportunities for kids to do so, ideally with native speakers with whom they can identify and relate to.

As for Kristof, he gets to not only sit around and pontificate on topics about which he knows nothing, but also get paid for it.

Surely it must beat working for a living.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cathie Black In--Bloomberg Asks New Yorkers to Shut Up and Enjoy It

From NY1 on Twitter:

Just In: State Supreme Court Upholds Appointment Of Cathie Black As New Schools Chancellor
half a minute ago via NY1headlines

Thanks to Queens Teacher 

Update: Story is now here. Money quote from Mayor4life Bloomberg:

"This decision should bring an end to the politicking and grandstanding and allow us all to focus on what matters most: continuing to improve the quality of education we offer New York City’s public school children..."

No doubt he'll give those 1.1 million schoolchildren the same attention he gave the snow around their homes.

Mr. Bloomberg's Neighborhood

I'm struck by the simplicity of Fred Klonsky's blog post, visually contrasting Mayor Bloomberg's block, pictured at left, with that of his daughter in Brooklyn. Almost no words, yet it says everything. It's like comparing an Eva Moskowitz charter school to the public school in the rest of the building. Or comparing the vast majority of city schools to the hundred-million dollar building being prepared for charter boss Geoffrey Canada, who clearly knows Mayor Bloomberg's New York. After all, he gets a half-million a year while the principal of the most crowded public school in the city takes home a fraction of that.

And Mayor Mike made the egregious error of showing his real feelings this week. Where was that regular guy, "Mike," who appeared in his campaign commercials? Where was that character who jovially spoke the worst Spanish I'd ever heard, with no shame whatsoever? He was gone.

In his place was some character who ridiculed the struggles of everyday New Yorkers, some callous manager who had no regard for those he managed. He looked an awful lot like the guy who's been running the school system eight years, the guy who nominated someone totally unqualified to continue doing so, the guy who nominated a second with educational experience to support her, got her in, and then announced she would make all decisions by herself anyway.

Not surprisingly, New Yorkers tend not to like this character any more than teachers and public school parents do. It's one thing to be officious and imperious, but quite another to let everyone know it. Bloomberg's downsized sanitation department is a disaster, and it's now apparent to all.

It's fairly clear that he plans to use that same template with the schools. For anyone curious as to how that will work out, try getting your car out of a side street in Flatbush.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peer Review

Fellow rich guy Smellington G. Worthington III defends the Mayor Bloomberg's handling of the snowstorm at Billionaires for Educational Reform.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Caution--Principals at Work

Kids are annoyingly perceptive. This can be disturbing, forcing us to confront issues we'd rather avoid.  Some pedantic sorts cannot deal with such things at all. Thus, kids are reprimanded, disciplined, shut up, put off and made to express themselves in different ways. Potentially worse for said pedants, though, is when others find out what's been done to the kids and act on their behalf.

At Jamaica High School a group of students representing not only Jamaica but also Queens Collegiate (one of the push-in schools designed to undermine and eventually kill one of New York City's most historic and impressive institutions) got together and wrote a play, a take-off on Antigone that criticized Bloomberg's corporate agenda, and the separate and unequal treatment resulting from it. Their principals, being very smart fellas, forbade the play's performance. As a result, the play was published in the Washington Post. And now the teacher who ran the group that wrote the play has told his story at Huffington.

Thus, many more people are familiar with the play than would have been were it simply performed at the school. It's hard to believe the principals who killed the play had that in mind when they did so. More likely they were deferring to Lord Bloomberg, Mayor for Life, Master of Time, Space, New York City Schools and More Money than Anyone Else in the City.

If these principals are like others I've seen, they regularly preach to teachers about how they need to bring the best out of kids. This notwithstanding, when these kids show originality, creativity, and productivity, it's unwelcome. This is particularly true if it disturbs the neat little political agendas of these principals. Sadly, like Mayor Bloomberg, the education of these students does not seem high on their list of priorities.

There's something very gratifying about seeing their plans blow up in their faces. And this story isn't over. We'll be hearing more about it.

Mike Bloomberg's best buds might own the editorial boards but some people will find and see the truth anyway.

Especially kids. They are the future and will not be stopped.

Winter Wonderland

Nah. You've heard that already. Here's a Christmas song that's new to me, at least. Might make you feel better about having to shovel all that snow, if your day was anything like mine:

Friday, December 24, 2010

From NYC Educator's Mailbag

A Letter from Santa

Dear Teachers,

I have been meaning to write this letter for a long time! It is a letter that I feel is long overdue and with the elves getting all ready for my long ride, I finally found the time! I have been watching teachers for many years and I am amazed at the work they do. I have come to a conclusion that the teaching profession, like my own, must be filled with bits of magic! Please let me provide ten statements of evidence for my belief.

1. I travel the world one night of the year visiting all the boys and girls of the world. The teaching profession works with every boy and girl all year long. This equates to each teacher fulfilling educational needs for 30 – 200 children each and every school day. Seems like magic to me!

2. I deliver presents to all the boys and girls. From my Toy Repair Shop statistics I find many of these gifts are broken or no longer garner a child’s interest within months! Yet teachers find inner gifts in every child. Teachers nurture these inner gifts until they develop into true presents that will last a lifetime. These kinds of gifts sure seem like magic to me!

3. I keep my naughty and nice list for every child. Some people believe this job is pretty amazing! Yet when I look at the teaching profession, teachers provide a constant evaluation of all their students! Their list covers all the aspects of developing and learning which they report to children’s parents and to the children themselves! This evaluation is based on a wide variety of observations, data, and student performance. Teachers will then use this list to help improve each and every student! Wow, keeping track of every student’s ability and prescribing ways to be successful must really be magic!

4. I leave presents to students who are on the nice list and who believe in me. Teachers work with all children because they believe in every student. Teachers continue to do so, even when students stop believing in the educational system’s ability to help them achieve. That type of persistence has got to be magic!

5. I have operated my workshop using the same technology for hundreds of years and it has worked for me. Then again, I work with children when they are asleep, delivering presents in my own way. Teachers work with children when they are awake and they have spent time learning how to engage children using googles, blogs, phlogs, glogs, prezis, and all these other words I really don’t know! Being able to teach, transform, and accommodate for this new digital generation must really be magic!

6. I have made it a practice to leave coal behind for children who do not make my good list! It seems every year the same children always get the coal. Teachers refuse to leave coal, in fact, they are working hard at making sure their students have those 21st century skills. To work towards a goal that their students are ready for the real world is a true act of magic!

7. I read the news and I am always so thankful to read all the nice articles about my work. It really does provide me with motivation to keep up my vocation. I read news articles about the education profession and it seems that most articles are unsupportive. Yet, teachers keep working hard at providing success for their students! These teachers must be operating on a little bit of magic!

8. I have thousands of elves, of course the reindeer, and the community of the entire North Pole to assist me. Teachers work every day, many times by themselves, as they provide new opportunities for their students! Carrying that load alone must be much heavier than my bag of toys. It must really be magic!

9. I receive many a thank you and millions of pictures of happy faces as children open their presents each year. Teachers don’t always get the thank yous, or may never see the present get eventually opened. When they do, appreciation may come from decades later! A thank you that appears after many years must be the result of pure magic!

10. I discovered a light in Rudolph brightens up a dark, foggy, or snowy night so that I can deliver joy to all the children across the world. Teachers provide the light that brightens our world in both the darkest night and brightest day! It is the light of learning and knowledge! The ability to keep that light burning bright must take a quite a bit of magic!

You see, I have found that magic does not come easily! It is made possible only by those who work hard and keep believing, and seek what they know is possible! As you can see, there must be a great deal of magic in the education profession! Please continue to keep this magic alive and know that you are all on my good list! After all, I had to learn all that I do from somewhere! So from across the years I know I have many teachers to thank! Last, to all teachers across the world… I really do believe in you!

Thanks for all the magic,


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holiday Break!

Hey, y'all, we made it! Assuming you don't get carried out in a stretcher having fallen victim to a mysterious virus like half a dozen students and teachers from my friend's school did this week, you'll be heading out under your own power today to enjoy the lovely holiday break. I think, by this past Monday, that I was actually counting the seconds, if that's possible. I am totally worn out.

It even looks like we might have a white Christmas. That should throw some creative disruption into everyone's holiday plans, so I might find myself off in the hinterlands with my family of origin and murmuring, "Aw, shucks, guess I'll have to stay another day" as the white stuff falls and sticks to the ground.

So whether you're planning to commemorate the birth of baby Jesus or you're just going to do an Elena Kagan and have some Chinese food and go to the movies, enjoy the well-deserved break. Personally, if I can sleep late even just once or twice, I'll count this one as a stunning success.

Be merry (and safe), educators and friends!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not My Fault, Man

That's what the city now says about the inaccuracies in the value-added data it wants to release. Of course, the city agreed not to release the data in the first place and is now doing precisely the opposite. That's not their fault either. Newspapers are filing FOILs for the data so they can't help going back on their word.

It's largely the UFT's fault for trusting them. You can't make a deal with a snake and not expect to be bitten.

And now they're closing dozens of schools they deem failing. That's not their fault either. If the kids don't get the scores, the schools need to be closed. It's entirely the teachers' fault. By shuffling kids all over the city every time things look bad, they look good. If the new school doesn't work out, they close that too. Close Andrew Jackson. Call it Campus Magnet. When those schools are the same, close them again and name them something else. We're taking action! We don't just sit around. And when we load schools with better kids, we get better schools. Look! One of the five schools we created to replace a large comprehensive high school is working! This proves we were right all along.

Who cares if the other four have the same stats as the big school they replaced. The important thing is we are holding teachers accountable by making them substitute teachers in perpetuity. This proves that we care and they don't.

Passing the buck is a good option when you've got every newspaper editorial board in your vest pocket. It's worked like a charm for the richest man in New York City, Michael Bloomberg, for eight endless years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Suspensions: What Are They Good For?, Part 2

Miss Eyre continues to fight the good fight on behalf of suspended students. This may make no sense. Students who have already proven that they lack good judgment and impulse control by virtue of having gotten themselves suspended multiple times might not be the best test cases for my professionalism and work ethic, but still, something about this situation has got me bothered.

I had a student this past week, for example, who was suspended for five days for fighting. During that time, no other teacher of his sent any of his work to the suspension room. This kid is now a week behind in his classes with no motivation to make up the work. He basically had a five-day vacation from which he learned nothing--nothing academically and clearly nothing personally, since he celebrated his return from suspension by promptly getting into another fight. I have another student enjoying back-to-back suspensions at the moment who also appears to be doing nothing with her time off.

Trying to figure out what a suspension actually entails is difficult. As far as I can tell, it includes wandering the halls with the deans and going home at lunchtime. Little wonder that many of our young people accept suspensions from school with a sense of relief: It's all the fun of getting out of the house with none of the pressure of actually going to class and doing work.

As in my last post on the futility of suspension, I'm not saying I have an answer. I'm certainly not saying that fighting, insubordination, harassment, vandalism, and the like should be tolerated. I'm saying that there's got to be a better solution than weeklong vacations for kids who sorely need discipline, guidance, or academic intervention--usually all three.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Make Profit, Not War

Diane Ravitch just won the 2011 Daniel Patrick Moynihan prize for a lifetime dedicated to improving public policy. To celebrate this, Jay Matthews compared her to a guy who's bullish on companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's, companies that make money by exploiting working people.

Jay Matthews calls hedge fund manager/ "reformer" Whitney Tilson "erudite." Here's a quote from Tilson:

In the article in my last email about Bill Perkins, he was quoted as saying that the rise of charter schools in Harlem has created a system that is “separate and unequal.”  He’s right, but it isn’t a bad thing (and he intends it), but rather a cause for celebration.

Tilson can certainly celebrate the fact that some charter schools get attention, money, smaller class sizes, and 100-million dollar buildings. And he can ignore the fact that other schools are neglected, closed, and vilified for the failure of their teachers.  He can ignore the fact that charter bosses like Geoffrey Canada pay themselves half-a-million bucks per year to work their "miracles" while dismissing entire cohorts that don't promise to raise their stats.

Tilson can do such things because he's a propagandist. As such, he gets access to people like Joel Klein that eludes public school principals and teachers. They can have private discussions about the "oppos" who stand up to them, and about "pushback" on the infrequent occasions the New York Times sees fit to print the truth about education.

But Jay Matthews, by comparing a brilliant researcher like Diane Ravitch to a self-serving money manager like Tilson, is a disgrace. Tilson does what he can to move working people back to the more profitable 19th century, while putting on a dog and pony show to convince the shills that charters are the answer. Even the propaganda-laden Waiting for Superman admits only 1 in 5 charters outperforms public schools (actually 17%).

Matthews writes books about KIPP, and certainly profits when people take demagogues like Tilson seriously. Diane Ravitch paints what she sees. What Matthews calls a plea for peace is a thinly disguised request for the foremost voice of reason in education to sit down and shut up.

At this point, there's no reason to regard Matthews as any more "erudite" than Tilson. I'd like to see either one of them try to debate Ravitch.  I suggest you sit while waiting for Matthews or Tilson to muster the courage for such an undertaking.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hazadous Pursuits

I have a girl in my class who's a quick study. At least she's quick. She doesn't get everything right all the time, but she finishes assignments rapidly. She's a pretty good student--I think I gave her a 90 this semester, but she can't wait to finish. Consequently, she looks bored a lot of the time.

The other day, she took out a pair of knitting needles and started making a sweater. I was shocked. I think I've been doing this for 26 years, and I've never seen a high school kid do such a thing. I suppose I labor under the stereotype that knitting is something grandmothers do, and for all I know, her grandmother taught her. But it was one of those times where I just didn't know what to do. It was different, say, than if a kid puts on earphones or takes out a cell. Of course it still meant she wasn't precisely focused on the class.

Then there's the unfortunate fact that the knitting needles are potentially dangerous weapons. I mean, I've never seen this girl run around killing everyone, nor did I much expect her neighbors would be inclined to do so. I quietly took the girl outside the room (not a whole lot of fun as it was freezing out there). I told her she might be better off leaving the knitting needles at home because someone might misconstrue her intentions.

I'm just a little regretful about it. There are a lot worse things kids could do between assignments. Of course, in my continuing efforts to thwart teenagers from having any fun whatsoever, I don't allow those things either. This can't last though, as it's almost inevitable the next iPod touch will allow kids to text one another via pure telepathy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The principal at TMS2 sent out a memo a few days ago reminding the staff that the holidays are a particularly difficult time of year for our students, and asking us to be especially vigilant about emotional and behavioral issues. As I was reading this memo with a colleague, she shook her head sadly. "December is always the worst month for behavior issues around here," she said. "Hands down."

I'm agreeing with them these days. I've had three students on suspension this week, including one who basically asked to be placed on suspension and another who, in light of his issues with New York's Finest as of late, probably shouldn't also be fighting in school. I've had to change seating arrangements four times so far this month to accommodate the shifting allegiances among my darlings and avoid bullying and bad-mouthing that threatens to disrupt every single class.

Then, too, I have a student who just lost a parent three weeks ago and another who is the victim of the aforementioned bullying who continue to do their work, speak kindly, and manage to not act like fools, at least not for the forty-five minutes that I have them. And I admire the heck out of those kids who, if they are not quite leaders, at least avoid the pernicious position of being one more follower.

But it is definitely not the most wonderful time of year for trying to handle students' many issues, both the real and imagined ones.

Are you finding that your own darlings are slightly tough to be around this month?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You'll Never See That Money Again

A tutor. That's what you need, right? Pay someone to help your kid and then you don't have to. You're absolved. Forgiven. Without sin and worthy of praise.

And yet, what if your child is failing my class? When I call, you explain you've gotten a tutor. You fail to explain why your kid does no homework, or why your kid is failing every test, unlike 90% of his classmates. Sometimes, I hear the kid doesn't have a tutor, but attends an after-school academy. My advice? Fire the tutor. Stop going to the academy. You're wasting your money either way.

Sometimes the tutors are barely older than the high school kids I teach. Why would they want to go over homework or practice who knows what when they could just chill and hang out? And who on earth knows what goes on at these academies full of unlicensed instructors and kids who may or may not be inclined toward schoolwork?

It was particularly tough when I was preparing kids for the English Regents exam. I'd regularly get papers my students had clearly not written.

"Who wrote that?"

"My tutor."

"How the hell are you going to pass the test if you can't bring the tutor with you?"

Sometimes kids don't understand that line of questioning. The tutor, being a knucklehead, assumed I wouldn't bother questioning who wrote the paper, despite the fact I'd been reading that kid's writing every single day.

Once I caught a girl I really liked plagiarizing on a critical lens essay. I found the entire thing on Wikipedia. The English AP wanted to let it slide until I mentioned how sticky it would be if such a thing were reported to the state. When I saw the girl I asked her how and why she did it. She'd stored it on her electronic translator. (Thankfully my school no longer allows them.)

"Who told you to do that?"

"My tutor."

Would you let just any fool babysit your children? If not, don't let just any fool tutor them either.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thoughts on Contract Renegotiation

Is this, a supportive announcement from Mulgrew regarding changes in tenure requirements, an opening (or re-opening) salvo in contract negotiations? Tenure procedures are not negotiable per se, but I do wonder if perhaps (FINALLY) some progress might be happening, somehow, on a new contract, even if that progress is solely in the minds of the negotiators. It might show that the union and the DOE can agree on something.

But I'm starting to be a little annoyed by this whole no contract situation. I don't know if Miss Eyre has been living a little too splashily lately or what, but my princely paycheck doesn't seem to be going as far as it used to, especially since Mr. Eyre and I have decided that we'd like to start a family and buy a place sometime before 2059. There are problems in schools that need to be addressed on a system-wide basis. And there are calls from all corners to widen the scope of teachers' jobs dramatically and to lengthen both school day and year. It's essential, in my opinion, that we fight for the changes we need, listen for the changes we can make, and not give anything anyway. There might be bargaining chips other than money, but far too many teachers are stretched far too thin already--emotionally, physically, financially--to yield without also insisting on some goodwill and understanding from the other side.

I don't know if Cathie Black is going to be the person to listen to us on this. I don't know if something like the Generation Schools model, about which I have long been enthusiastic, could scale up to many or all schools. I don't know how much of the benefits we teachers have enjoyed (which, truth be told, are in fact better than those of many of our friends in the private sector) can survive the current economic climate without some serious adjustments. These are questions that can't keep getting kicked down the road.

I'm not, to possibly preempt some negative commentary, suggesting that we should give up anything. I'm saying that it would be great if the union leadership would be willing to think outside the box while remaining tough and fighting for the interests of its dues-paying members.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't Miss...

Superblogger Jose Vilson burns Michelle Rhee at the stake, and not a moment too soon if you ask me.

Geoffrey Canada Not Alone

NYC Educator can now report that Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered the Chancellorship not only to charter school mogul Geoffrey Canada and publishing executive Cathie Black, but also to billionaire industrialist Smellington G. Worthington III.

"I say, what's the fuss?" asked Worthington, while lounging at his club. "Mikey offered it to me first. Cathie says he offered it to her first, but she's clearly mistaken. What Mikey probably meant was that he was offering it to her for the first time, perhaps after offering it to Geoffrey and me for the first time."

Worthington insisted he was the most qualified for the job, and that he would've expanded on the legacy of Joel Klein.  "For the love of Smedley, we have people working at Wal-Mart for minimum wage. Why on earth can't also they train the little urchins to do such things, fold clothes, clean floors, or whatever they do at such establishments? Whitney Tilson encouraged me to invest in Wal-Mart and we've made a tidy little bundle. Why shouldn't we turn the efforts of the rabble toward increasing our profits?"

Worthington said he envisioned a working partnership that would not only bring Wal-Mart to NYC, but also create space for overextended public schools. He said his personal relationship with the Walton family would help facilitate the partnership, and that he'd be willing to finance whatever it took to crush opposition to Wal-Mart in the city.

So why didn't he take the job? "Quite frankly, the salary was abysmal," confided Worthington. He claimed he'd be better able to realize his reforms from his current position. "Confidentially, I don't want to spend too much time with the bootless and unhorsed. Who knows what sort of vermin might be following them? That's why I told Cathie at a party how brave she was to take on such a task. Egads it's bold."

Worthington spoke enthusiastically of his new Facebook page. "I think we will convince the masses that the billionaire point of view is what needs to prevail. We've finally persuaded that Obama chap to give up on removing the tax cuts for people like us. Why can't we persuade the rabble that money is better in the hands of those of us who know what to do with it?"

We asked Worthington why regular people shouldn't get money, but he nodded to several burly-looking fellows in the corner, who then picked us up and tossed us out into the street. We considered a lawsuit, but upon examination of the release we'd signed to get the interview, we noticed we'd given up all rights to pursue any such actions.

"We win again!" shouted Worthington from a window, as we dusted ourselves off and hobbled down the street.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Plagiarize Your Eyes

I once had a young student from Russia, very bright, but not such a great writer. Being resourceful, she compensated for her lack of skill by simply copying things off the internet. Once, she brought me several extra credit papers, one about the joys of Shakespeare.  No, no, I told her, people often think I'm an idiot by virtue of being an English teacher, but I'm not as dumb as I look. Also, I've seen your writing before and this isn't it.

One day, I was in the office and a bunch of kids, for some reason, had a paper she'd gotten an A on. I read it and noted that it was an AP who'd given her the A. I looked up her class, knocked on the door, and pulled her out. I told her I knew she hadn't written this paper, if I could figure it out others could too, and that she could get in deep trouble for pulling such nonsense.  That didn't phase her at all.  She had but one thing to say:

"You aren't going to tell Ms. Clueless, are you?"

I told her no, I wasn't, but that if she ever handed another such thing to me, she would rue the day. I figured if she'd fooled Ms. Clueless, she deserved her victory. But unless you're a politician with big pockets, it's tough fooling all the people all the time.

A few years back a kid in my beginning ESL class showed me a paper she'd written about Thomas Edison.  It was clearly copied from some ancient bio, but she got a B with the comment, "It could use more pictures."  Another day I was sitting in the teachers' lounge and picked up a paper that clearly seemed the work of a hack article writer--but this one had numerous corrections on it by some overzealous pedagogue.  The corrections all seemed unnecessary to me, phrasing things differently but not absolutely better. I'd not have made a single correction, but gone to the computer to try to figure where it was filched from.

How common is plagiarism, and how many of us are guilty of tolerating it?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Overheard: The Importance of Regular Attendance

STUDENT 1: "Hey, wanna buy tickets for the talent show?"

STUDENT 2: "What talent show?"

STUDENT 1: "It's next week. People are gonna be singing and dancing and rapping and all. Should be a good time. Wanna buy a ticket?"

STUDENT 2: "I didn't know about any talent show! I would've tried out!"

[Editor's note: The talent show was announced in October, with tryouts on several school days throughout October and November. Posters have been up around the school for several weeks announcing the dates and performers for the show.]

STUDENT 3: "That's 'cause you never in school! Maybe if you came to school more than once a week, you'd know about this stuff!"

Ah, the importance of regular attendance.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Blah Blah Black Sheep

Well, Cathie Black's been let out of her cage after a good two weeks of Sarah Palinizing and what insights has she gleaned in the hour or two she spent in public schools?  Looks like she's fixing to fire teachers.  There's no better way, apparently, to help city children than by firing their teachers.  Arne Duncan and Bill Gates have determined larger class sizes are the way to go, and Cathie is gonna help them get their wish.

Now when Cathie fires teachers, which she has already determined to do, the way she wants to do it is Mike Bloomberg's way, however the hell she feels like it.  That's why she wants to get rid of last in first out.  You see, teachers with no experience have a lot of enthusiasm and she doesn't want to lose them.  Perhaps, in that case, it would be better not to fire them. But Cathie doesn't think like that.

Since she's already determined to fire people, why not go after the older and higher-paid teachers? That would put a bigger dent in the bottom line. And then she wouldn't have to bother with any of that nasty due process in that inconvenient tenure law. Oh, she wants to get rid of that, too. Perish forbid any American worker should have job security. We'd all be better off if people like Cathie Black could fire us whenever the mood struck them, for any reason whatsoever or for no reason at all.

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that job security becomes more important as you get older. When I started teaching I wasn't married, didn't have kids, and lived in a hovel of a rented apartment. I'm not complaining, but it was a lot easier to lose my job under those circumstances. If they want to get rid of me now, it ought to be for a reason other than the inconvenience of paying my salary. There is a process for getting rid of teachers, and it's not my fault Joel Klein spent years trying to get rid of teachers who gave away watches or used DOE fax machines, making a mockery of the system and failing miserably in his efforts.

But Cathie Black agrees with everything Joel Klein did.  That's fine with me.  Let her go after teachers for nonsense. There's a reason teachers need tenure, and that's to protect us from demagogues like Cathie Black, who get into education for two weeks and have the audacity to behave as though they're experts.

I wouldn't want her teaching my kid.  Fortunately, she isn't licensed to teach, and they aren't yet handing out waivers for that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Little People

I've been criticized (fairly and not unkindly, but still criticized) in this space for my policy of reserving judgment on Cathie Black for the time being. I'm attempting to continue to stick to it. But it's tough when you see or read interviews with the incoming Chancellor, and she says boneheaded things like, "It is about people. They can be little people as young students, or teacher or principals, or all of the other organizations."

Really, Cathie Black? REALLY?

We've already talked about how this is not going well. We already know that you're enjoying being the toast of the town on the cocktail party circuit for your noble undertaking with the bootless and unhorsed in the public schools. I'm still trying really, really hard to believe that you want this job for all the right reasons and that you're going to do positive things in your new job. I really am, and there are others out there like me.

But listen. Using the term "little people" in an interview is just not going to help you. You were in magazines, so you ought to know the importance of choosing one's words very, very carefully. And while I'm 99.9% sure that you meant "little people" to refer to students...well, first of all, the kids I teach are hardly little, and while the kindergarteners and first-graders you've spent most of your time visiting schools with certainly are little, my high-schoolers certainly wouldn't cotton to being called "little people." I certainly hope that among the things you're busy studying is how to relate to kids of all ages.

I want to believe that this wasn't a Freudian slip. So stop doing things that make me wonder what you really think.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Cathie Speaks

First, I'd like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to reach out to your audience.  Now I know a lot of you think I was born with a silver spoon, but that's not true.  I've been working for 40 years and I really know what life is like for a typical person nowadays.   Also, during a recent visit to a public school, I learned that public school children are human beings. This resonated with me. The fact is I've been working with human beings fairly regularly in my publishing business.  Writers are human beings.  Staff is human beings.  Sure, adult humans are larger than younger ones, but they're all human.

And it's not like I'm a stranger to what city parents go through.  I mean, sure, I wouldn't send my kids to public schools, because, face it, who really wants 40 kids in a class, and how the hell are you supposed to get any work done with kids living in the house?  For just 45K you could send a kid to boarding school like Kent and be done with it.The point is I haven't had it easy. I've had to take second and third jobs, and I'm no stranger to doing extra things.  I only get about half a million a year for sitting on these boards, but the important thing is I'm able to help people.  I got Dougie Daft an extra 36 million, and Steve Heyer 24 million.  As chancellor, I'll be able to get folks like Dougie and Steve many more millions, not an easy thing in these tough economic times.

And please, don't lecture me about sacrifice.  I just had to sell one of my homes for 1.98 million, and really, it was well worth the 2.35 asking price.  And now I'm down to my Park Avenue penthouse and the place in the Hamptons.  Mike says most public school parents don't have more than two homes, and now I can relate to that sort of life.

And I'm sorry, but these are tough economic times, and they call for sacrifice.  Sure I'll have to fire teachers.  Sure class sizes will go up.  But really, how about growing up?  I took a big loss on that Connecticut home and you don't see me whining about it. And the Kent School is still taking applications, so stop whining about public schools and fill one out if that's what you want.

So let's just go forward together.  You can complain all you want, but Mayor Bloomberg has more money than anyone else in the city, and he's shown the willingness to do whatever he wants no matter what anyone else says.  With all due respect, anyone who disagrees can try to amass more money than he has or shut your mouth.

I hope that didn't come off the wrong way.  Remember, after an extensive search, it was my penthouse Mayor Bloomberg walked across the street to visit.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont

I'm shocked to hear on the news that President Barack Obama is negotiating with Republicans over the Bush tax breaks.  Candidate Obama promised to keep them for all but the top-earning 2% of taxpayers.  He reneged on that promise, among others, and now the tax breaks are going to expire.  If I recall correctly, the breaks were established because we had a surplus, and the GOP said we needed to share it with taxpayers.  They had a sunset because we didn't know whether the surplus would last, and indeed Bush managed to turn it into the worst deficits of our history.

Of course, GOP policy is tax breaks are good when there's a surplus, and also good when there's a deficit.  Now they insist we keep them not only for the disappearing middle class, but also for their wealthy supporters.  President Obama, after spending a year watering down his health care bill in order to earn the support of zero Republicans, is following the same course.

He ought to tell them forget it, let the cuts expire, and tell America the GOP is at fault for insisting their rich friends earn another 800 billion dollars over the next decade, even as unemployment funds run out right before Christmas.  (And he ought to support teachers rather than vilify them, but that ain't happening anytime soon either.)   Lest you think all politicians are slime, here's Bernie Sanders, a voice in the wilderness, but one that speaks the sad truth.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Here Comes Trouble

In a one-sided propaganda piece by Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter, rich guy/ education expert Bill Gates poses several questions about Diane Ravitch:

Does she like the status quo? 

Interesting that Gates can interpret ideas opposed by the US President, Andrew Cuomo, Oprah, Micheal Bloomberg, Whitney Tilson, and hedge fund magnates within US borders to be "status quo." Gates, perhaps, is unaware that historically the ideas of the rich and powerful are status quo.  The fact that teachers and grassroots groups tend to oppose such notions makes no difference whatsoever.  We're the minority, and neither Republicans nor Democrats are standing with us, for the most part.

Is Bill so sensitive that any idea that contradicts his must be ridiculed for no reason whatsoever? 

Is she sticking up for decline? 

I've read Diane's book, seen her speak, I follow her blog, and read everything of hers I find.  I've never seen her stick up for decline.  In fact, when Bill's ideas cause decline, failure, and confusion, she's among the first to stand up and say so.  When small schools and charters fail, when school closings decimate neighborhoods and communities, it's Diane who speaks truth to power.  Or truth to Bill.  Maybe that's why he doesn't like it.  Still, I doubt he's read her book.  It doesn't seem like he could tolerate that level of discomfort.  Fanatics don't much like contradiction.

Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts? 

I don't know.  But since Bill Gates is so prone to speak on topics about which he knows nothing, perhaps she, like me, thinks it would be a bad idea to have the jobs of so many middle-class teachers dependent upon his caprices.  Bill Gates talks about ridiculous clauses in contracts, like principals being forbidden to visit teachers in their classrooms.  I've never heard of such a contract.

More likely Bill doesn't like job security for working people.  He's got his, and everyone else can go to hell.

Does she think all those ‘dropout factories’ are lonely?

Curious he uses the same term as Geoffrey Canada. Wasn't he the guy who dumped an entire grade rather than risk bad statistics?  Is that how he keeps his schools from becoming "dropout factories?"  Do "reformers" share their talking points?  It certainly appears so, with both Gates and Arne Duncan coming out the same week for higher class sizes and no credit for teachers who get advanced education or more years on the job.   Interesting that government should get involved in this.  Has anyone noticed how legislators get jobs on committees?  Last I looked, it was by seniority.

If there’s some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we’re all ears.

Interesting he said some "other" way.  The connotation is Gates has a way, which he does not.  If you read about other "reformers," like Rod Paige, he reduced the dropout rate by falsifying statistics.  They called that the "Texas Miracle."  Do you believe in miracles?   Another way to get great stats is to dump the students who aren't headed where you want them.  That's what principal/ CNN education commentator Steve Perry did to get 100% of his students to 4-year colleges.  Never mind after he dumped 43% of them there were really only 57% left.

Either Gates relies too much on paid toadies for info, or he's too lazy to look it up.  I have a suggestion for either Gates or Alter--show the courage of your conviction and demand a public debate with Ravitch.  Find out once and for all whether your overabundance of dollars compensates for your lack of curiosity.

Picture by David Bellel

Update:  See Diane's firsthand responses right here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The First Joel Klein Generation

I'm an English teacher, so perhaps my math is not so great. But, if it's correct in this case, I'm thinking that current ninth graders would have been the first children to spend their entire elementary and middle school careers in schools run, ultimately, by Joel Klein. So let's look at the current ninth graders and see if we can give credence to the claim that New York City schools improved dramatically and unequivocally under Klein.

Today, during a meeting at TMS2, I listened to a ninth-grade teacher lament the state of her freshmen. Looking over some curricular goals, she said that she liked the high expectations, but expressed concern that so many of her students needed well over an hour to read a short story or needed explicit instruction in how to write a complete sentence. High expectations are all well and good, but these expectations seemed, to her, to be quite far from what her students could realistically achieve in the six or so months that remain in this school year. For some of her students, she explained, it would be quite an accomplishment to write a coherent paragraph.

Why, one might ask, is one faced with ninth-graders who can't tell a subject from a predicate or define what "plot" is? After all, if expectations had been raised, if tests had been relentlessly given to be sure that students were meeting or exceeding them, if social promotion had been ended, if teachers were being held accountable, wouldn't we, over the eight years that Klein has served, have seen an appreciable difference in our current ninth graders? What explains the state of the class of 2014?

Could it be because Balanced Literacy is at best one philosophy among many and at worst a complete sham?

Could it be because teachers were forced to teach to a test that reinforced low rather than high expectations, and this test became the be-all and end-all of literacy instruction?

Could it be because teachers were in many cases explicitly disallowed from teaching high-quality texts?

Could it be because the vaunted gains are illusory and that, for many students, real academic success remains far out of reach when they find themselves at such a disadvantage in high school?

It will always be true that students who come from even slightly more privileged families and/or are taught by the creatively subversive teachers will have something of an edge. But the students we're talking about today are coming from schools that were most directly targeted by the Klein/Bloomberg "reforms," and were targeted the entire time these children were in school. Why doesn't there seem to be a difference?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Breaking News

Nathan Saunders and Candi Peterson have won the DC Union election!  Congratulations to Nathan and Candi, who will be great leaders.  I hope that activist union leadership becomes a trend, and that it catches on here.  There could be no more appropriate response to the new Empress.

The Chancellor and Her Guide

"Now remember Cathie, you're in and out of there in thirty minutes. If anyone asks you a question, say you're looking at things, but with all the commotion, you haven't had time to make a decision..."

"OK.  I can't wait to get in.  I've never been to a public school before.  I was at a party last night and my friends said I was brave to take the job and come to places like this.  It's just every now and them, right?  Listen, can we stop in the gift shop first?  I really need to get some Blistex."

"They don't have a gift shop Cathie."

"Well, do they have a Starbucks?  Maybe if I could get a latte..."

"No, listen, just go around and talk to people.  Try to smile.  Act like you're having a good time. And if the kids talk to you, for goodness sakes, pretend they're saying something interesting.  There are gonna be a lot of photographers here..."

"Did they close the Starbucks because of the budget cuts?  Couldn't they manage to turn a profit?"

"Cathie, wave to those people.  A lot of the kids here get free lunch.  They aren't going to..."

"Well, for goodness sake, no wonder the Starbucks went out of business.  We've got to put an end to this free lunch nonsense!  Why would they patronize the company if they get free lunch?  If we could get a Starbucks in here the place could turn a profit, for Chrissake..."

"Listen Cathie, this is the library.  Someone will give you a book and you read it to the kids.  Act like it interests you...."

"OK, but jeez this system is gonna be a lot of work.  What about the principal?  Do I really have to talk to her?"

"Well, just a little.  But don't worry.  No principal in New York City is gonna have one cross word to say about you."

"Tell the driver not to garage the limo.  And I don't want him out of the car for one moment.  Tell him to circle the block till we're ready to get out of this hellhole."

"Sure thing, Cathie.  Smile and wave, then smile and wave some more.  We'll be outta here in no time."