Monday, February 28, 2011

If You Believe the Mayor...

Because he hasn't yet created sufficient fear and loathing, Mayor4Life Bloomberg has released a list of schools in which layoffs will occur. It's very important to panic not only the teachers, but kids and parents as well.

This is a man who's made his motto "Children First." How does he put children first? Apparently, by letting them know precisely which of their teachers are to be fired. Likely he will explain how getting rid of an objective layoff system will reduce the layoffs--by targeting higher-paid teachers he will be able to retain a higher number of them.

Bloomberg has never been fond of the contract. Though he was successful in negotiating all sorts of givebacks, they are not enough. This mayor wants teachers to be at-will employees, and he's specifically requested the right to to discharge teachers on an "arbitrary and capricious" basis. In an Orwellian moment, chief Bloomberg propagandist Natalie Ravitz "described so-called “last in, first out” layoffs as “an arbitrary standard” that punishes schools that have chosen to hire teachers who are new to the profession." Bloomberg himself asked for such a standard. Were her statement remotely accurate, Ms. Ravitz ought to be dancing in the streets.

Make no mistake, LIFO is an objective standard, that circumvents racism, nepotism, ageism, undue favoritism and the very cronyism that elevated utterly unqualifed Cathie Black to chancellor of the largest school system in the state. The bill in the Senate and Assembly would enable all of the above, despite its nonsensical presentation.

Above you see the Brooklyn Bridge. If indeed you believe Mayor Bloomberg or Natalie Ravitz, I can make you a very good deal on it. In fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if the mayor privatized it before I got the chance.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sing it, Scott

Here's Hosni Mubarak singing My Way. When Scott Walker does the same, every teacher will be able to walk like an Egyptian.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Fine Day for a Sellout

With the myriad of anti-teacher crap pervading the headlines, AFT President Randi Weingarten thinks it's a good time to discuss faster ways to fire us.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Our country's awash in nonsense. Here is America, grabbing torches and pitchforks, united against evil teachers. How dare they spend decades working for less than similarly educated individuals? How dare they actually use the job security they got in exchange for giving up all that money to keep their jobs? Who the hell do these teachers think they are?

In Providence, they're simply firing all their teachers, no ifs, ands, or buts.  We all know that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the guy who answers to the billionaire Koch Brothers (and demonstrates its literal truth in a prank call) is off maintaining he needs to close a budget, and therefore needs to kill collective bargaining for teachers and nurses. The fact that they're ready to give in on all economic issues does not persuade him otherwise.

Closer to home, some poll says 85% of New Yorkers oppose LIFO. The fact that there is no objective system to replace it did not enter into that poll. People just assumed there was, and that was good enough not only for the people giving the poll, but for its unquestioning participants.  Yet once again, the bills coming up to address that situation deal only with New York City teachers. How on earth can a Suffolk County state senator seriously introduce a bill that affects only teachers outside of his district? Only in America.

Mayor Bloomberg has laid down the gauntlet. Let him fire teachers, and let him select which teachers to fire. That's it. Let principals give U-ratings, for any reason or no reason, and you're gone.  Screw the contract, and screw people who've spent decades teaching. If you're principal is crazy, or a Leadership Academy automaton,  too bad for you. When Walmart comes to the city, maybe you can become an "associate" and wear one of those cool polyester vests made by someone in China making 18 cents an hour.

Bloomberg has been threatening layoffs for three years running. Were he to get rid of LIFO, you better believe they won't be mere words. You will see senior teachers dumped to the curb. No more pesky chapter leaders. You'd be crazy to take that job (unless you just took it to get a period off, go to conventions, and not actually do anything). Oppose the principal, get a U, and get fitted for that polyester vest. Contract, shmontract. They can and will do whatever the hell they want, because you can bet there will be layoffs each and every year, whether or not they're warranted.

The most incredible thing is the Fox News-fueled phenomenon of the watchful American, making sure that no one whatsoever has decent working conditions. I've been saying this for some time, but I think Diane Ravitch said it particularly well in her column the other day:

"As for pension and health-care envy, it is a sad thing when working Americans complain that someone else has benefits, instead of agreeing that everyone should have coverage for their health and old age. It reminds me of an old Soviet joke where a peasant says, "My neighbor has a cow and I have none, I want his cow to die." We should not join in this race to the bottom."

It's amazing that people don't realize the futility, the stupidity of such actions. It's like we're all out in the streets of Egypt demanding an even more repressive dictator.

There's a hysteria against taxes--they are evil. We pay too much, goes the myth. Never mind that paying more taxes could improve our quality of life, as Europeans and Canadians know. Never mind that such changes could end up making us more productive, stimulating our economy, and actually bringing up salaries. And never mind that all these various crises could be averted by rolling back tax cuts on the rich. President Obama caved and continued the idiotic Bush tax cuts. Governor Cuomo refused to continue a tax on those making over 200K a year.  The results are cuts to education and health care for the poor. Our priorities are insane.

There is hope. I leave you with the clear and simple voice of Cynthia Nixon, speaking truth to absurdity. I only hope someone is listening.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thanks, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert!

In these dark days, it's nice to know that we still have some folks on our side. First, this clip from The Colbert Report, featuring Randi Weingarten, who, whatever your opinion on her, is at least sticking up for our friends in Wisconsin:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Less Perfect Union - Randi Weingarten
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Then, Jon Stewart points out the absurdity and vindictiveness of Gov. Walker and his cronies who are trying to strip public sector unions of bargaining rights despite the fact that they have already agreed to major concecssions:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - Revenge of the Curds
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

So yes, it's nice to have friends in high places, even if they're comedians. For any of our readers outside NYC, myself and NYC Educator are on vacation this week due to winter recess, so I'm actually able to stay awake late enough to watch Stewart and Colbert when they're originally on instead of catching up on the DVR the next day, and it has lifted my spirits considerably, since few other things have been doing that lately (except being on vacation). It reminds me that a lot of reasonable people in this country still believe in doing right by public servants.

And don't forget, we have Fake Rahm Emanuel (MEGA NSFW!!!) on our side too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Makes Gotham Schools (and What Does Not)

In many ways I love Gotham Schools. I read it all the time. I particularly like the morning feature, which gives me all the local headlines, and the nightcap, which selects blog posts and opinion pieces. They can be valuable time savers for the busy teacher-blogger, constantly searching for things to write about. But I've also gotten a lot of email about a slant there, and indeed I'd miss a lot if I didn't regularly look elsewhere. A UFT source complained loudly to me that they were "bought and paid for." Yet when I looked up their funding, they particularly mentioned Ken Hirsh, an avid charter supporter, and the AFT.

I contacted my UFT source and said if Gotham was bought and paid for, we must not be getting what we bought and paid for. (In fairness, the AFT invited Bill Gates to its convention, so perhaps, in a way, we're getting exactly what we paid for.) Gotham has also run some very good stuff, including stories about how the DOE loaded closing schools with high-needs kids. If I recall correctly it's also acknowledged the connection between Gates shills ERN, E4E, and DFER, what I'll call the axis of evil.

The last few days, Gotham has provided some very interesting links. Here's one informing us that Michelle Rhee is campaigning against LIFO. To me, that's a little dog bites man. There are two more links to the Post, and it seems to me that every anti-union screed, every boneheaded editorial the Post puts up gets a link. Yet the NY Times lead editorial about the union-busting tactics of the GOP was not deemed worthy.

Last night's wrap-up, unsurprisingly, contained a link to Ruben Brosbe's blog. Gotham has featured Brosbe making wildly inaccurate claims about multilingual materials available to ESL families. He's also made outlandishly uninformed statements about teacher sabbaticals, and written stories about his students vomiting, noises he heard while eating lunch, his sick day, and other topics equally banal or distasteful. Gotham linked to a charter supporter who found the notion of taxing those who made over 200K per year quaint and outdated. Better to fire teachers, further overcrowd classrooms, and reduce health care to the poor, one can only suppose.

Last night Gotham neglected to link to its own columnist, UFT Chapter Leader Stephen Lazar. It somehow managed to miss two excellent pro-teacher Diane Ravitch columns, here and here. It's also entirely overlooked this NY Times profile of the billionaire Koch brothers who not only funded Governor Scott Walker's campaign, but also support his current efforts. Doubtless they plan to spread the Wisconsin model to the rest of the country--they are important and noteworthy. But for some reason, Gotham Schools doesn't appear to share that view.

Again, if Gotham wishes to be objective, it behooves its writers to portray voices from all sides, even those not favored by charter supporters. If I get 100% of the crap from the plainly biased New York Post, I fully expect to see 100% of Diane Ravitch's expert analysis too, at the very least. While excluding Ravitch may follow in the footsteps of Oprah, and NBC's so-called Education Nation, it's not remotely objective.

Wisconsin--Not the End Game

Being middle class, or maintaining a middle class for our children, will be a tough battle, even if Wisconsin's corporate puppet Governor Scott Walker gets his comeuppance. (Wakening voices in our country suggest it's coming.) Still, you'll hear a lot of arguments from reasonable-looking shills like NY Times columnist David Brooks--here's how it goes--private workers need a defense against bosses who want to maximize profits. Public workers, he suggests, have no such need.

This is utter nonsense. Politicians like Walker indulge in Shock Doctrine. Walker not only took advantage of a crisis, but actually created it by initiating a tax break that caused the shortfall he claims, with a straight face, he must eliminate collective bargaining in order to close. He's also heavily financed by New York's Koch brothers, a fact even the staid New York Times editorial board arose from its slumber to note this morning.

Brooks speaks softly, wears a tie, but gives the appearance of reason by deliberately withholding vital info from his readers. He fails to acknowledge, for example, the tax breaks that created the crisis, and fails to note that the legislation not only cripples unions, but also allows Walker to sell public utilities via handy no-bid contracts. There's also implicit criticism there, more explicit elsewhere, that because folks like Walker are democratically elected, they're somehow beyond reproach. This is the same canard Bloomberg trotted out when he complained of loud protests at his thoroughly undemocratic PEP meetings. In fact, as Paul Krugman points out, moneyed interests dominate our society, caused the economic meltdown, and now manipulate politicians like Walker with ease.

One argument that I keep hearing from even people like Krugman is that we must give back something, usually meaning a reduced pension. It wouldn't be necessary to give back anything if the wealthy, partying since Ronald Reagan came to office, would pay their fair share. Yet people say, "Gee, why should public workers have a decent retirement and health benefits if I don't?" A more sensible question would be, "Gee, why the hell don't I have a decent retirement and health benefits?"

And the attack on LIFO is the same thing. The fact, as most readers of this blog know, is over our careers we've made less than our equally-educated private sector counterparts. In fact, city teachers have made far less than our suburban counterparts for most of our careers. I remember meeting a Long Island teacher with ten years fewer experience than I had who made 10K a year more than I had. Perhaps the disparity is no longer quite so outrageous. But that's not the point. What is?

The billionaires who sponsor these things are the same ones who attack LIFO. And the goal is the same--to get rid of employees who make too much money and keep a low-paid work force. Said work force will have no collective bargaining and be in constant fear of being fired for speaking out. This is clearly the agenda of the Koch brothers, and it's reflected in Fox News, the New York Post, Mayor Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee, DFER, ERN, E4E, and whatever other offshoots billionaire money creates.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Wake-Up Call for Rahm Emanuel

Rahm, oh Rahm. I used to be a big fan. I thought you were awesome. What can I say? You were the bad cop to Obama's good cop, the snarling, foul-mouthed attack puppy backing up the eager golden retriever that was all that hopey-changey stuff. But that was back in 2008, when I was excited about your old boss's election and not wondering how I'd make myself hold my nose and re-elect him over Candidate Palin/Paul/Romney in '12 like I'm wondering right now.

And today, Rahm, you disappointed me again. The real you and not the hilarious Twitter impersonator. (OMG, one of my Chicago friends posted that on a Popular Social Networking Site and it probably destroyed three hours of my winter recess. I could not stop laughing. I wish you really were having a beer, cheese, and pool party in solidarity with the exiled Wisconsin Democratic state senators--how awesome would that be?!) No, unfortunately, Rahm, you made a boneheaded statement during one of your mayoral debates (since that's what you're working on these days) that just made me mad. But, fortunately, it made some quick and impassioned Chicago public schools students more than sad; it got them moving.

You see, you're under the mistaken impression that the top-performing Chicago schools are charters, when in fact they aren't. And, moreover, public school kids aren't too thrilled that you're missing the point and not planning to help out their schools--which, though they are certainly struggling, are certainly not failing. I think, speaking as a teacher, that if kids hear something that doesn't sound right, question it, do their own research, and prepare a reasoned and strong response to it, that sounds like those kids are actually being educated pretty darn well.

It's not too late for you, Rahm--after all, it looks like you're going to take this election tomorrow, so your second chance is right around the corner. Work with public school teachers, parents, and kids to improve your public schools, not continue the (fruitless, pointless) march towards all charters, all the time. Clean up the language when you visit an elementary school (the middle and high school kids have heard it all already, though, so no worries there!!!).

Failing that, go ahead with the beer/cheese/pool party with the Wisconsinites. It couldn't hurt.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Far Is Wisconsin?

The spectacle of the anti-union, anti-middle class governor of Wisconsin openly trying to break public unions is something I'd never expected to see, even after years of Fox News brainwashing the American public with pro-corporate nonsense. Yet there it is. Walker got his ducks in a row by precluding negotiations with the lame-duck session that preceded him. His first instinct was not to push this legislation, but rather to simply decertify unions. Nonetheless, with the legislation he proposes, unions would have so little power they'd be irrelevant.

Oddly enough, union leaders have already accepted the notions of increased contributions to pensions and health care benefits, claiming they just want to preserve their right to collectively bargain. Of course, giving into these demands before any bargaining process may have rendered collective bargaining, in this instance, a moot point. Nonetheless, Governor Walker says there will be no compromise, and is busing in thousands of idiots from the Tea Party to bolster his principled position--that he can do whatever the hell he feels like and working people can go screw themselves.

One thing you don't read about very much is that Walker issued a tax break that pretty much equals the savings he's trying to recoup on the backs of state workers. It's kind of a Robin Hood thing, except the money goes to Walmart instead of the poor, and takes from the middle class instead of the rich. Another thing not often mentioned is that, under Walker's bill, unions would have to be recertified on an annual basis. Think about Walmart, and how it's managed to avoid union all these years. It closed a store in Canada rather than admit union.  When meat-cutters in a Texas Walmart decided to unionize, it cut meat cutting from the entire chain. It took nine years before Walmart even discussed this. Can you imagine having to face a Walmart-style intimidation campaign on an annual basis?

And this, clearly, is the model Walker likes. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama failed to keep his campaign promise to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Such an act would have made it far more difficult for sleazeballs like Walker and the charter-loving Walmart family to continue thwarting the efforts of working people. Having waited past the point when the House turned GOP, the legislation is pretty much dead in the water.

But we need to keep an eye on Wisconsin. This is clearly the GOP template for the rest of the country, and while a corporatist slimeball like Andrew Cuomo won't yet openly embrace such tactics, he's also declined to continue a popular millionaire tax that could substantially ease our budget gap, preferring to cut schools and medical aid to the poor. He's also stated very clearly he plans to go after unions.

Could it happen here? Not right now. But Wisconsin is a flash point, a place where collective bargaining for public unions originated. Half a century later, look how things have changed. While Cuomo doesn't yet openly embrace Walker-style tactics, and NY's legislature wouldn't likely support him right now, his rhetoric is not all that foreign from Walker's.

There's an apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

I'm afraid the interesting times are unfolding right before us. We've done our part to enable them by voting for Bloomberg, voting for Cuomo, and voting for the 2005 UFT Contract. UFT leadership has helped by endorsing numerous deals not in our interest.

High time we all wised up. Otherwise we may as well all get jobs at Walmart.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Not to Be Missed

Jeff Kaufman has read and analyzed the E4E "white paper." (What the hell is that term supposed to mean?) His analysis is sharp and revealing, and it's right here.

Billionaire industrialist Smellington G. Worthington III condemns the Wisconsin protests, claiming they are not good for the wealthy.

Over at Schools Matter, they tell you who's paying for the counter-protesters.

Fred Klonsky was there, and has photos to prove it.

A principal tires of attacks on teachers.

And teacher Chaz is free at last!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Week Off... all my fellow hard-working teachers. Yesterday, while I was driving home, a DJ on Little Steven's Underground Garage informed me this was the coolest song of 2009. It was certainly the coolest song I'd heard all day, so I'm gonna share it with you. Here are the Noisettes, with their retro hit Never Forget You.

How cool is that singer, and the live string section?

Friday, February 18, 2011

What Your COPE Dollars Buy

We all know, as teachers, that we have to be careful what we say and how we speak to children. The register we use amongst ourselves may not be acceptable when someone reports us as having used it with kids. That's hard for someone like me, whose tendency is brain to mouth unedited, but I've learned. You really have to be careful who your audience is.

When you're a public figure, you have to be even more careful. Look how hubris sank Eliot Spitzer and Gary Hart. Look how it mired Bill Clinton in unproductive nonsense for years.

That's why, when I read something like this, I'm amazed how freely people disregard history. Paul Egan may go where he pleases and eat what he likes, but it behooves him to know he represents the UFT everywhere he goes.  Making scenes in restaurants and refusing to pay $1800 checks is not precisely good PR, and suits only second-tier celebs like Paris Hilton. A political director should know better than to draw such attention,  whether or not it involves portion sizes.

Such nonsense leads to boneheaded editorials like this one, stereotyping New York teachers as a bunch of self-indulgent louts. We all do stupid things sometimes. But a political leader must display restraint and diplomacy in public. Though what Egan did really reflects on him alone, we don't need this sort of publicity. He should know better. I'm a lowly teacher, and I know better.

This notwithstanding, I pay into COPE. I pay half what they ask, because while the UFT has supported great causes (like the election of Tony Avella), it's also supported the re-election of George Pataki (who vetoed improvements to the Taylor Law) and Serphin Maltese (who was responsible for breaking two Catholic school unions).

I had no idea I was buying quail dinners, satisfactory or otherwise, for Paul Egan, who earns 50% more salary than any working teacher. This is not the sort of thing that makes me want to pay what the UFT asks; rather, it makes me want to withhold support altogether.

I won't do so now, but it's high time for Mr. Egan to focus on his job and start eating more meals at home. He can learn to cook if necessary. Like most working teachers, I don't give a golly goshdarn about what sort of service people receive at $1800 dinners (even though we're granted the dubious honor of picking up the tab).

What I'd like to see from Mr. Egan is the kind of self-control demanded of working teachers every day. It's time to halt the sideshow, immediately, decisively, and forever. If he feels like a lavish meal, let him reach into his own pocket.

That's what I do.  That's what 80,000 working teachers do.

But mostly we don't, and Mr. Egan ought to bear that in mind as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"You Didn't Do Anything Wrong"

I have a challenging new class on my hands for the spring semester, a class chock-full to the brim with second semester seniors who have long since checked out on school, desperately need a credit for graduation, or possess the especially fun combination of both. Although I had made some inroads with the class in the first week and a half of the semester, I realized on Tuesday that those inroads were completely illusory because they had been made during the semi-long-term absence of two of the most difficult students in the class. Those two difficult students, to be called Frick and Frack for our purposes here today, decided to make an appearance as Mr. Helpful, a colleague who is also an administrative intern, paid a visit to my class.

Naturally, I was mortified by the mess these two children quickly and easily made of what should have been a perfectly good lesson. Frick told me in no uncertain terms to Frick off (without using the word "Frick") while Frack loudly and repeatedly wailed to anyone who would listen that I, this Fracking school, and the entire world was mean and unfair for calling her mom after she Fracked off out of class without a pass or even an ostensible reason last week.

Mr. Helpful tried to help. He tried to talk to Frick after I, unsuccessfully, tried to talk to her. He tried to get Frack's group back on track for the activity I had planned. And then he did the most helpful thing of all: He left.

But then Mr. Helpful did something else. He came back later in the day to ask if we could talk about the lesson. We sat down and talked. And he opened the conversation with the most Helpful thing he could have said: "You didn't do anything wrong."

He explained that he had taught many of the Fricks and Fracks I had assembled before me, including Frick and Frack themselves. He acknowledged that they are tough kids who have told many well-intentioned, reasonable adults to Go Frack Themselves before, including Mr. Helpful himself. "There are no quick fixes for a group like that," he said. "There was nothing wrong with the activity or the way you ran the class. I can suggest one or two small changes here and there, but you've got it right, for the most part. Just keep doing what you're doing and they'll come around."

I felt, during this conversation, enormously relieved and decidedly not judged. I got a few Helpful pedagogical pointers to help me re-engineer some upcoming lessons for the group. And I got some understanding from a colleague who hopes to be a principal one day that Fricks and Fracks aren't made overnight; they're bringing in years of personal and academic baggage that one teacher cannot hope to change in a couple of class periods and, in Frick and Frack's cases, dozens of fine teachers had not changed in nearly four years at what is considered to be a top-notch school.

Obviously this post raises as many questions as it answers: Why can't all post-observation conversations be this positive and, well, helpful? Why are Fricks and Fracks hanging around our classes when they clearly cannot handle being there? And why are kids who have clearly been off-track for graduation for quite a while not getting some more intense and personalized interventions? Still, a terrible lesson was turned into something good--for me, for Mr. Helpful, and for my kids. And maybe that's as good as it gets on a Tuesday before winter recess.

By the way, y'all, enjoy that. My relatives and friends in other parts of the country think it's hilarious that we get a random week in February off, but hey, I'll take it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm Shocked, Shocked

Just as Claude Raines was, I'm amazed that Educators 4 Excellence, funded by Bill Gates and Joel Klein's new plaything, Education Reform Now, has submitted its shocking conclusions to Mayor Bloomberg. Who would've thunk they'd tell Mayor Bloomberg to just do whatever he wanted to do?

After all, the mayor would have done whatever he felt like anyway. Certainly that goshdarn term limits law, twice affirmed by city voters, had to go when the richest man in New York City decided he needed a third term as mayor. And that awful Board of Education was out of the question, since it contained independent voices that might not tell him to do whatever he wanted to do.

So now, we have the Panel for Educational Policy, 8 of whose 13 members are hand chosen by the mayor. They do whatever he asks, and he fires them before he lets them do otherwise. I watched a politician at Brooklyn Tech tell them they'd sold their souls, and that since the job didn't pay they'd done so for nothing. He said he hated to think what they'd do for ten dollars. Me too.

There we are, at hearings where we know no one listens, listening to decisions we all know were made in advance. Everyone in the room knows none of the 8 people can be swayed by reason or logic, and when people protest or make loud noises the mayor calls it an affront to democracy. So what was lacking?

A teacher group, of course. And when you're the richest man in New York City, with friends like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, you don't even half to buy off the group yourself. You have Rupey buy off you ex-chancellor, the one who couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag, and get him a gig running a front group. Then, have that front group and Bill Gates pay get a couple of people out of the classroom. Finally, have them pretend they're concerned teachers, and hoodwink people into signing pledges of support with the lure of free drinks.

You have to wonder what those people would do for ten dollars. I shudder to think.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Children First"/"It's About the Kids": Stupid, Immoral, or Both?

I really enjoyed this blog post that is at turns about layoffs, teacher attendance, and the poor philosophy behind political sloganeering. As if we didn't all know already, of course, "Children First" as Bloomberg et al. have always seem to have understood it is typically code for, among other things, Reason Last, Data First, Cost-Cutting First, and, yes, Screw Teachers First. So while the post was not surprising to me, it made a lot of sense.

I'm thinking about that post and also thinking about the TV commercial from Education Reform Now, purportedly featuring real live New York City teachers who have already given up the ghost on trying to prevent layoffs wholesale and are campaigning with Joel Klein and Friends to change seniority policy. And I wonder, as I always do, why "It's about the kids," as all of the teachers in the commercial earnestly explain, is taken so much at face value. Dishonoring agreements and cutting back on reasonable job protections and benefits hardly seem to be in the interest of children, and the statement sets up an unspoken but obvious straw man in the form of teachers who dare to question to the brave new world of education "reform."

I wish I could respect these folks for sharing their opinions so publicly, but I can't help but wonder what else they feel they have to gain. I wonder if, in some sense, they feel that they're saving their own skins by jumping over to the other side. And there's no shame in wanting to protect one's own skin, of course. But when you're cloaking that desire in "It's about the kids," well, I fail to see how that's any better than being honest about it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Abolish the Middle Class

That's what the Wisconsin Governor wants to do. He's basically living the Republican dream--rolling back that costly and inconvenient 20th century. Governor Scott Walker is pushing a bill to wipe out collective bargaining for public unions, except regarding salary. However, they'd only be able to negotiate increases that matched consumer price index.

Therefore, the best they'd be able to do is keep up with inflation (unless local voters approved a larger increase.) However, with the immediate 5.8% deduction Walker is imposing to fund pensions, as well as whatever it costs for 12.6% of their health care, they're unlikely to even stay where they started.

Not only that, but unions will be prohibited from collecting dues, and dues will be optional. This will pretty much preclude unions from mustering the resources to fight back. And should they try, Walker's prepared to call out the National Guard. Perhaps this is the new paradign, what we can expect from our corporate-friendly government. Haven't heard a peep about this from President Obama, fresh from his recent shout-out to the business community. Perhaps he's too busy helping Michelle advertise for Walmart.

Here in New York,  it doesn't seem time just yet for Andrew "take on the unions" Cuomo to resort to such tactics. After all, the legislature is still controlled by Democrats in NY, and some of these Democrats, unlike Cuomo, are still really Democrats. But Wisconsin is the wave of the future if we don't look out, stand up, and be heard. Democracy itself is in peril when working people are simply shut out like this. And while I applaud recent events in Egypt, I wonder what it will take for America to awaken and rise up against those who'd do the same. For folks like Walker, and Bloomberg, dictatorship is simply a more efficient way to get things done.

Perish forbid any of them should restore or continue taxes on those who can most afford to pay them. What on earth does it take to wake the sleeping giant known as America?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bullish on Wisconsin

Billionaire industrialist Smellington G. Worthington III is enthusiastic on recent goings-on in Wisconsin, which plans to all but outlaw unions.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't Call the Police for Marijuana Advice

A Connecticut man learned that the hard way. It appears if you call the police to ask them whether or not your marijuana plants are illegal, they will come over to your home and check personally. This can land you in trouble.

In a related matter, some guy named Arne Duncan applied similar foresight, ran a failed program in Chicago, and was elevated to US Education Secretary, where he's busily replicating his unsuccessful plan for an entire country.

Believe it or don't.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How to Get Free Publicity

1. Make friends with Michelle Obama, wife of corporate friendly, faux-Democrat Barack Obama.

2. Stock some healthy items, along with the aisles of cheap crap for which you're renowned.

3. Place these items somewhere in your megastore, next to the stuff made in some third-world rathole by people who work for 18 cents an hour.

4. Get her to talk about it in front of your logo, making it appear the American government endorses your company. Point out to President such a move will make him appear business-friendly, rather than the socialist Glenn Beck keeps saying he is.

5. Make sure she gets onto NPR, so all the liberals who don't realize Obama is a corporatist will flock to Walmart for baby carrots.

6. Then, sit and count the pile of money you've made after paying your non-unionized workers the pittance they get, largely as a result of decades of preventing unionization. Try not to publicly dive into pile headfirst, a la Uncle Scrooge.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No One Man Should Have All That Power

Who's sick of talking about Cathie Black? Me, that's who. I'm solidly convinced that the woman has, at least for now, no business being schools chancellor. We're all in agreement, so I'm officially over the topic for the moment.

Let's switch. Click with caution, the link below is NSFW (although, since it's YouTube, it won't work on DOE computers anyway):

This is maybe a bit of a Jose Vilson-style blog, so I hope that Jose will forgive me in advance for taking a stylistic page from his book (blog). If you don't read Jose, boy, you are missing out. There are few teacher bloggers whose work is more compelling and productively, provocatively, intellectually controversial than Jose's. I rarely comment at his blog because I don't often feel like I have anything to add, and I hope he doesn't think that means I'm not reading, becauise I am.

Anyway, I've been listening to the tune in the music video above, Kanye West's "Power," quite a bit lately. There are some good reasons to think Kanye is a bit of an ass, but one of the many levels on which this song works is Kanye poking fun at Kanye. The verses are riffs on the materialistic success West has enjoyed, but spit with such sarcasm and cut with the caustic refrain, "No one man should have all that power." Not all of the lyrics are appropriate for a family blog, but here's an example:

My furs is Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in
Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic(...)
I just needed time alone with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind, but couldn't open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity, and honesty
Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catchin' up with me
Takin' my inner child, I'm fighting for it, custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond-encrusted piece, thinking
No one man should have all that power

Now of course some of us (like, um, me, for starters) hear that line and think about Mayor Bloomberg and the like, shaking our head at how the rich and influential among us have lost their collective ways. And that's one way to look at it.

But it also makes me think of the tendency of this job to stifle our own creativity and love for our subjects that we naturally possess as teachers. We do, after all, have a great deal of power. We don't pursue it in the way that kings and tyrants, media sycophants and business moguls do. But, like it or not, we have a great deal of power to influence the young people with whom we work. And just as West's refrain, backed by a wordless and slightly eerie Greek chorus, ends up sounding like the stuff of nightmares, this job can keep us up nights, can make us think that we don't want this particular cup, that no one man (or woman) should have all this power.

I don't have an answer. If one of my students handed in this blog post for a grade, I'd probably take a lot of points off because it doesn't have a thesis statement. Maybe it's just a reminder that there are two kinds of power (at least), and we have a kind that Mayor Bloomberg and Cathie Black can never dream of having. And that can be a burden or a gift, depending on the hour of the day (or night).

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Rate Mayor Bloomberg "F"

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, obsessed with rating everything and everyone but himself, may be learning that only 23% of NYC high school grads are college ready. Naturally, he'll interpret this to mean the teachers are underworked, overpaid, and in need of being fired at will. The truth is this has much wider implications.

What it really says is that the test prep, test now, test later mantra of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg and the other zillionaire educational experts is utter nonsense. Gates can roll out Finland as the model, but the fact is they don't use standardized tests there, they---get this---rely on teacher judgment. They don't vilify them, threaten them, hold them to ever-increasing AYP and other impossible standards. Of course, I can't imagine only 23% of their high school grads are college-ready.

Figures like these indicate that the 10 year corporatization of NYC schools has been an abysmal failure. We all know what Michael Bloomberg likes to do to schools he considers failing. Well now his system of mayoral dictatorship has been in place for 10 years. It clearly does not serve our kids. It's time for him to be accountable, man up, take responsibility, or whatever expression billionaires use when the screw up royally.

The only fair solution is to phase out Tweed and replace it with new, smaller academies. We could have one for the arts, as kids are not automatons, created simply to take tests. We could have one for hands-on science, so that we could once again have NYC entries in the Intel science contest. Perhaps we could have another for history, which Mayor Bloomberg and his cronies are so hell-bent on forgetting.

To change things around, lets put teachers and parents in charge, so people who really care about kids can help them, rather than promoting unproven, ineffectual, and pointless programs initiated by self-appointed education experts like Michael Bloomberg. In view of his utter failure to accomplish anything of value over a decade, what advice would you offer the mayor?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Miss Eyre Does Not Get Cathie Black

Well, GothamSchools beat me to it, but I'd still like to say something about New York's surprisingly good profile of Chancellor Black. I get a mysterious print subscription to New York; I cannot, for the life of me, remember purchasing or otherwise opting in to receive the magazine, and yet it comes to my house every week. (Actually, two copies come to my house every week, because, again mysteriously, Mr. Eyre also gets a copy in his own name.) Whatever. So I read it.

Anyway, I enjoyed the profile of Ms. Black very much, if only to have confirmed by a real reporter what I've been feeling for the last couple of months; namely, what is up with Cathie Black? The New York reporter, public school parent Chris Smith, doesn't seem to get it either. The woman has been on the job now for, unofficially, two months, and I still have no insight into why she wanted the job or believes she can do it well. Again, as always, I truly don't want to cast aspersions on her character so much as I really, sincerely don't get it. Don't get her, I guess.

The reporter seems similarly flummoxed by her success in publishing, though he more or less takes it at face value. And, okay, I can get that. Clearly she rose very high in that field, which is fine and all that. But Mr. Smith also points out that Ms. Black seemed genuinely shocked by how very different the demands on a public servant are from her old position. And a former colleague of Black's confirms what many of us in the blogosphere suspected: Ms. Black never faced real, angry, one-on-one, in-person opposition in her old job, maybe never in her life for all we know.

Lack of experience is understandable. But lack of humility and lack of growth are not. And if Ms. Black would just come out and say why, other than that "I'm a good manager" prattle, she wants to lead a school system and deeply believes she is the right person for the job, that would go a long way towards fostering a tiny shred of goodwill--because right now, as she at least seems to have enough insight to understand this much, there's not a whole lot out there for her.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Getting to Know You

It's encouraging, on rare occasions, to see major media face reality straight-on. While upstart GothamSchools lingers behind the curve, pushing blather from union-busting billionaire shills, Daily News columnist Michael Daly steps up to highlight the hypocrisy of Emperor Mike lecturing demonstrators about democracy. Having attended numerous hearings, I'm very encouraged to see such a mainstream voice describing them to a wide audience.

I've seen criticism of Mulgrew's remarks comparing Bloomberg to Egypt's Mubarak.  Actually, he was far from the first to make that comparison. Speaker after speaker said it. And sitting there, with what purported to be a panel  (though filled with Bloomberg appointees), one could certainly mistake if for a democratic process. However, if you know that Bloomberg controls the majority and fires anyone who disagrees with him, it's tough to sustain that illusion. Daly writes:

...the folks in that auditorium at Brooklyn Tech had no more real voice than the folks in Egypt.
Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and the ruling majority of the panel on stage are mayoral puppets. They hardly even pretended that whatever the people in the auditorium had to say made much difference.

"Not one person on the panel was actually listening," said Charm Rhoomes, who was there Thursday night as the mother of a student at Jamaica High School and the president of its PTA. "Even Cathie Black. She was on her BlackBerry."

Anyone who's attended these meetings knows the score. There's little immediate practicality in getting up to speak, as you'll certainly be ignored. That's why it's tough to discount the frustration in the crowd manifesting itself in chanting and loud criticism. I'm open to better ways of getting through to the likes of socialite Cathie Black, (whose behavior, it must be said, has been snide and unprofessional, whose contempt for the people whose children attend public schools is palpable).  I haven't got any, though.

I'd planned to go to the demonstration and go home, as it broke my heart to see the school closings, but a UFT contact alerted me to the walkout and persuaded me to stay later. At first blush, the UFT walkout seemed a good idea, showing we knew the futility of staying. I'm now getting messages we should have stayed all night, disrupting the meeting to the point where they could not have voted. Would delaying the meeting a week have really prevented the vote? If so, how? Wouldn't they have simply taken the vote at another venue? It's worth examining. Certainly playing by Bloomberg's rules hasn't benefited schools like Jamaica, blatantly closed on false premises.

Frankly, as someone who gets up at 5 AM to go to work, the notion of staying all night holds little appeal for me. Perhaps that's part of the DOE's plan--wear out the public and then do their dirty work in peace. Last year they stayed until the wee hours of the morning, waiting out most of the crowd. The main difference this year was most of their critics left earlier.

One important thing is what we agree on, and what many are finally, finally, beginning to see--that the dictatorial reign of Mayor4Life Bloomberg is an outright affront to democracy. That's our common ground, and that's what we build on.

The question is simple--what's the best way to do it?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Don't Leave Your Phone Charging at the House You Just Robbed

This is a potential problem for modern burglars. It turns out the police can simply call your contacts and figure who you are. This may prove problematic for young Cody Wilkins, now charged with ten burglaries. While such actions might ease your electric bill, they carry unforeseen consequences.

Nonetheless, there's always a new wrinkle in the quest to become a master criminal. Maybe they should have PD days and do group planning. I see kids all over the building sneaking their phone chargers into wall outlets. I suppose if I can dissuade them from lives of crime this won't prove too much of a problem long-term.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Party's Over

Cathie Black and Mayor Bloomberg's rubber stampers at the PEP met with a raucous welcome last night at Brooklyn Tech. Amidst cries of "Black must go," "Bloomberg must go," and other chants of an even less complimentary nature the fake school board went about its business of pretending there were decisions to make. Of course, everyone in the auditorium knew all the decisions had been made long ago, just as everyone knew at Deputy Chancellor John White's phony hearing at Jamaica a few weeks ago.

The first speaker was an unforgettable Tony Avella, the NY State Senator elected with the UFT's help. Tony was the only Democrat in the state to beat a sitting Republican, and he asked why on earth a hearing over Jamaica High School's future would be in Brooklyn rather than Queens. Of course it was to keep the community out, as they're always raising nasty objections about their neighborhood being decimated---not to mention other things Cathie Black and Michael Bloomberg don't wish to be bothered with.

I've no doubt Cathie Black's snappy remarks about birth control or Nazis murdering children go over very well at ritzy cocktail parties.  Doubtless she's shocked that public school parents, the ones who don't get invited to fetes in Park Avenue penthouses, don't seem to find them that funny. And the juvenile "Ooooohhhh" with which she greeted their concerns about the future of their children the other night did not go over that well either.

I walked out, along with most of the crowd, reluctant to watch the Mayor Bloomberg's odious and utterly undemocratic PEP do their rubber stamp thing. What on earth was NYC thinking when it determined the best thing for the future of its children was to turn it over to the richest man in New York City, so that he could do whatever the hell he felt like with them?

Here's the thing--I've never seen anger like this before, even at these meetings. It's palpable. Several speakers made references to Egypt, rising up against tyranny. Mayoral dictatorship is a bad policy and must end. And absolutely everyone at the meeting last night could see that New York City has had just about enough of it. Those feelings aren't going away, and neither are any of the people who took their time to show Ms. Black she's not in her penthouse anymore.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Cathie Black Does Not Get It, to Put it Mildly

Cathie, Cathie, Cathie. Where do I begin?

You have to know that there were a lot of people--myself included--who were willing to give you a chance as Chancellor. You failing at being Chancellor would no doubt damage schools and kids, something none of us wants. As much as we were skeptical of a total outsider coming in and running the schools, a lot of us hoped (perhaps against hope) that you would nevertheless have a successful and productive run at the job, for the good of everyone involved.

But you don't seem to understand that you are now a public servant, just like everyone you now supervise at the DOE. You are not accountable to stockholders, but to stakeholders, for whom the issues to which you were (maybe?) listening at the PEP meeting on Tuesday night are matters of, if not quite life and death, certainly life itself. Your sarcastic response to a crowd, even one which, I'll grant, was pretty unruly at that point, was not becoming of a professional of your stature. Teachers are frequently warned against deploying biting, negative sarcasm with students; the fact that you don't seem to know this gives your detractors more fuel for their fire of criticism.

Most of the commenters at the City Room blog linked above were pretty harsh, though certainly civil and fair. They characterized the response as unprofessional, inconsiderate, and displaying a certain lack of consideration for the common woman and man. I have to say I agree. I've been unpleasantly surprised, Ms. Black, by how unprepared you seem for this position in every aspect. One could forgive, maybe, a certain lack of finesse with the minutiae of DOE policy and educational thought were it handled openly and honestly and with a strong dose of modesty and consideration. We're not seeing that. Mostly I'm just struck by how the basics of Teaching 101--civility and respect towards the students, patience, humility, a willingness to learn from those gone before, the courage to listen as well as speak--seem to be lost on you. It's hardly shocking, then, that 80,000 teachers wonder how they can respect you as their ultimate supervisor.

So where to from now? It would be flip of me to say that you should continue to let Deputy Mayor Walcott and Deputy Chancellor Polakow-Suransky do most of the talking for you. Maybe for the next week or so, at least. But long-term, you need to come to terms with who you're serving, ultimately--children and their families, not Mayor Bloomberg--and decide if you're the right person to carry out that role.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

NY State Gets Priorities Straight

Governor Andrew Cuomo has a 70% approval rating. This, of course, is because of his incredible judgment. How wise of Mr. Cuomo, facing a 10 billion dollar deficit, to let a millionaire's tax expire, thus losing 5 billion dollars. After all, those millionaires need that money. Mansions don't grow on trees, and good help is hard to find. Sometimes people demand money to work, and if the geniuses in Florida don't reverse Obama's health plan, they may even be forced to provide insurance sometimes.

In any case, our Governor has boldly decided to make up the money he's given the millionaires by cutting things that don't affect them, like public education and health care for the poor.

Planned spending on Medicaid programs and local school aid would each be cut by $2.85 billion, closing roughly half of a budget gap now projected at about $10 billion, one of the largest in recent history.

No self-respecting millionaire worries about that stuff anyway. And Governor Cuomo has had it up to here with that CFE nonsense, demanding reasonable funding for city kids. Let them go to Dalton if they don't like it! The state's coddled them enough.

It's hard to believe that Cuomo, who's vowed to take on the unions, is a Democrat. Isn't it traditionally the Republican role to do that? If Democrats are now the enemy of working people, why do we need Republicans? Does this make them an anachronism?

And actually, if the role of the Democrats is to protect the interests of the rich at the expense of working people, why do we need them either? If they can get away with such nonsense in New York, they can do it pretty much anywhere. Interesting times.

Ain't they?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Young Whippersnappers

I suppose it isn't giving much away to say that I work in a small high school, staffed primarily with younger teachers in the first few years of their careers. I've mentioned a few times already how happy I am with my no-longer-exactly-new position: how much I respect and trust the administration, how much I like and admire my colleagues. We are a hardworking bunch and, dare I say, the work pays off. We have good results in more ways than one. It is a demanding but not unpleasant place to work.

Yet my school also puts lie to the idea that younger teachers, full of our storied vim and vigor and passion for raising student achievement, are necessarily also anti-union. Our chapter meetings are well-attended and our COPE drive was very productive. We have an active consultation committee. Our CL reminded us to grieve any scheduling issues in a timely manner. And during breaks in the PD today, many of us scoffed at Mayor Bloomberg's pathetically obvious posturing regarding teacher layoffs. If anything, the great deal of effort we put into our chosen careers makes us all the more astute about our rights and all the more wary of protecting that for which we have worked so hard.

Yes, our work is for kids and their families. Without them, we would have no work, and, as I have said before, the only real accountability we truly face is accountability to them. But it would be hard to comfort ourselves with all of the achievements of our students if we are unable to afford a decent home somewhere near our work, if we watch our retirements slip away, if we can't afford quality medical care when we are ill. These things matter. To say that they matter is not to say students don't matter; it is to say that we are working, and working well, at a very difficult job, for which we deserve fair compensation under the terms to which we agreed.

Anyway, today just reminded me that to be young is not to be a martyr or to be unconcerned with the politics of our careers. If anything, the younger teachers need to be thinking more about where we will take the UFT and the labor movement when we are running the show. If the union is, in someone's opinion, unconcerned with raising teacher quality or student achievement, how can we get on that without endangering due process, fair pay, and decent benefits--the core of that for which the union has always fought? That should be our question, not eagerly offering up ourselves and our futures for "solutions" that will likely prove, if not illusory, divisive, short-sighted, and ultimately damaging for all involved. Including, dare I suggest it, the children whose teachers will be overpaid, underworked, and inexperienced forever.