Friday, April 29, 2011

Same Old Story

The New York Post is engaged in yet another series of articles on the perfidy of teachers. This series basically tells the world that teachers have too many job protections. It does this by giving examples of teachers who have jobs despite the fact that, for example, a dog the teacher owned killed someone. This teacher's boyfriend went to prison for this, but the teacher herself did not. This suggests to me the state felt her boyfriend responsible, but the Post is not persuaded. None of this innocent until proven guilty nonsense for Rupert Murdoch.

In any group, you can find examples of outrageous behavior, or at least behavior a tabloid can claim to be outrageous. You can always air accusations about individuals, even if courts and/ or arbitrators have determined them to be without merit. So why limit such stories to teachers?

We could target racial groups, and say, hey, look at this guy. We could target religious groups, and say hey, look what someone says this woman did. Of course, that would make us bigots. In fact, that's the MO of bigots pretty much everywhere.

So if Rupert Murdoch engages in despicable manipulative behavior with his propagandist rag, would it be rational or justifiable to paint all publishers with the same brush?

And when the New York Post blatantly stereotypes teachers, tarring the whole group with the actions of a small group, are they any better than racists or bigots?  Why or why not?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Network for Closing Schools: Uh, Thanks?

Chancellor Walcott yesterday announced the formation of new "Children First" networks that would specialize in giving guidance to schools that are about to be closed.

Just that sentence alone ought to give you pause. I know it had that effect on me.

Schools that are being phased out have typically been troubled by a variety of challenges. In many cases, these schools have not received adequate support for these challenges despite asking for it many times, sometimes over the course of years. The strange case of P.S. 114 is one that shows that, despite steady improvement in test scores and parents who want to school to remain open, the DOE does what it does, for reasons that are occasionally opaque at best.

I'm not sure I can praise this move on Walcott's part. Obviously phasing-out schools do face unique challenges. But how much better it would be to make a renewed commitment against closing schools? For the Chancellor to state, "School closures are terribly disruptive to communities, and we're going to focus on giving lots of extra support to schools that need it, rather than close them" would go a long way in building trust with stakeholders.

Instead, Walcott is so committed to continuing the same old (ineffective) policies that he's throwing life preservers after the man overboard has already drowned--or, more accurately, been thrown overboard by the captain and the first mate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Public Service Announcement


In front of Francis Lewis High School, Friday, April 29th, at 4 PM.

Guest speakers will include:

Assemblywoman Grace Meng
State Senator Tony Avella
Leonie Haimson
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Mayor Bloomberg is sitting on a 3.1 billion dollar surplus, and insists on reducing the amount of working teachers by 8.2%--to fix a deficit that doesn’t exist.

The most overcrowded school in the city has gotten a little relief, and was hoping for a little more next year. With fewer teachers, that will be tough, if not impossible.

Kids deserve better—reasonable class sizes, decent conditions, and a stable learning environment.

The last time this happened, in the 70s, there was a real financial crisis. Nonetheless, the system was thrown into chaos and we lost thousands of teachers who never returned. 

Come to Francis Lewis High School, 58-20 Utopia Parkway, Fresh Meadows NY 11365 at 4 PM on Friday. Send Mayor Bloomberg a message that putting Children First does not entail laying off their teachers when you're sitting on a huge budget surplus.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Can Be Done for Saquan?

I really loved this column from Joe Nocera in the Times, even if it made me a bit sad to read it on this last day of spring break. Nocera points out that a young man named Saquan came close to experiencing academic success at the Bronx's M.S. 223, only for his teacher and principal to see much of their hard work slip away when Saquan moved back to Brooklyn.

It must have been discouraging for his obviously involved and compassionate teacher, Emily Dodd, to see Saquan go after the extra hours she put in with him. M.S. 223's principal, Ramon Gonzalez, must have felt it too. Gonzalez, from what I have read of him in the press, reminds me of my own principal: a good leader who cares about running a great school and helps everyone in the school community feel "on board" and valued, while still a skeptic of some of the cornerstones of so-called "education reform." It's helpful to work for someone who is at least willing to point out that the emperor's socks are mismatched.

Still, Nocera's point is that school, even a great school with great teachers, can't overcome everything. Even well-intentioned and loving parents, as Saquan's mother seems to be, sometimes find themselves in difficult circumstances that take quite a bit of time to unravel. So Saquan goes to another school, where a new teacher will start from the beginning with understanding his challenging behavior, finding his talents and smarts, and working with him painstakingly to keep him involved and invested in school. Even if we could guarantee that 100% of the teachers in this city have the time, capacity, and intuition to pull off such a task, there is no similar guarantee that Saquan won't be uprooted again, or go through something as tragic and frightening as homelessness again. And as teachers and support professionals work hard to just bring Saquan to the table, time for actual learning is draining away very, very quickly.

What could be done for Saquan? Things that no one has the political willpower to do. Keep him and his family in a subsidized home near M.S. 223. Work vigorously with his mother to help her avoid homelessness and subsequent trauma that inflicts on a child. Make sure he lives in a safe neighborhood. Put him in small classes where a teacher would have time to get to know him, work with him, and bring out his best qualities. But there's no willpower to do all that right now; whether that's because there is no money or lack of money is just an excuse is unclear.

There are a lot of Saquans out there. Heaven knows I know, and have known, more than a few. And neither I nor any other teacher nor even 80,000 superteachers could save them all. This is not to say that it isn't worth trying, but it is to say that refusing to admit this fact keeps us as teachers in the position of forever castigating ourselves for not doing more.

Monday, April 25, 2011


The NY Times declares that new Chancellor Dennis Walcott has a knack for conciliation. Certainly Walcott is charming and well-spoken. And he has asked for a new tone, something that would go a long way toward easing the toxic relationship between Tweed on the one hand, and parents and teachers on the other. Unfortunately, and not noted in the three page article, Walcott has been part of this administration every step of the way.

Furthermore, he's embraced Mayor Bloomberg's insistence on sidestepping the contract by eliminating reverse-seniority layoffs. In case you're on the fence on this issue, note that the city is sitting on a 3.1 billion dollar surplus, ridding the city of 8.2% of working teachers will save only 369 million, and there is, in fact, no need to lay off anyone at all.

You wouldn't know that from reading the article. After 9 years of failed programs from Bloomberg and company, do they really merit yet another puff piece? Shouldn't the press alert us to these things?

A free press ought to be a bulwark against billionaires like Mayor Bloomberg and their propaganda. When I read pieces like these, I wonder where the analysis is.

Feel free to offer your own.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Learn From Us

I've been reading Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath this week, something I've meant to do for decades, and I can't help but notice that the entire theme of the book is being played out today, all over the United States. The richest people, despite having more money than they and their descendents can possibly use, are determined to keep it all, get more, and the hell with everyone else.

And the wrath of the rich is directed against those who organize, those with voices. In Steinbeck's book, anyone who stood up was labeled a "red." They were dispatched to jails, their camps were destroyed, they were tossed out of town. In these United States, union is rapidly becoming a foreign concept. Since Reagan destroyed PATCO unions have been waning, and working conditions have gotten worse. The road to middle class is tougher every day, to the benefit of no one, even the rich folks who think they've got it made:

"And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed."

- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 19

We're not yet at that point, of course. But Scott Walker of Wisconsin has pushed us one step closer. And one day the galoots who vilify teachers are going to realize the folly of complaining because we've got decent jobs. The idiocy of depriving us, our children, and their children of decent jobs, of crying "My job sucks so yours needs to suck more," is a national disease.

America needs to stand up. We, the teachers, are the last vestige of vibrant unionism in the country, and that's why we're under such vicious and constant attack. America needs to learn that, rather than take away protections and benefits for teachers, it needs to demand them for everyone.  When I'm face to face with billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who'd just as soon reduce us to serfdom as look at us, I'm very pleased that 80,000 working teachers are standing by my side, whether they know it or not.

Actually, we have the right idea. We have the idea that America needs to emulate. Join us, America. We're ready when you are. You can trust us. Why?

Because we're teachers, and it's our job to share worthwhile knowledge with everyone we can.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

The school choices I hear the most about these days, having made the leap to teaching high school, are those that my school's seniors are busy making as they sort through their college acceptances. I got a bit of nostalgia for my middle school days as I read this article from GothamSchools about the convoluted high school admissions process here in NYC. Unfortunately, for someone such as myself, it raises more questions that it answers.

The first and most obvious question is why such a process is necessary to begin with. I know the answer that some people will propose: To give families and students more choice in where the students will spend four years of their lives. All well and good. But it seems to me, having spoken to many actual families and students, that most families would prefer that their children be able to attend a safe and well-functioning school close to home. So many of my students are commuting up to an hour each way to come to school, which is not at all uncommon for many high schoolers in the city. This effect is trickling down to middle school, too; one of my students with a long commute also has a younger brother with a similarly lengthy commute to a middle school. Their mother is extremely involved with her sons' education and clearly wishes to see them succeed, which is wonderful. So why does she feel that her sons cannot be successful close to home?

I wonder if the "creaming" effect some people theorize regarding charter schools doesn't also happen with some of the public high schools, and here I specifically do not mean the testing or audition schools like Stuy or LaGuardia. I mean some of the new small schools in tony or up-and-coming neighborhoods--Frank McCourt is one that immediately comes to mind. Frank McCourt is only entering its second year of existence, yet is already in high demand. While I have no doubt that its faculty and administration is committed to building an excellent school, you can't tell me that the UWS address has nothing to do with it, either. Look at some of the Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that are seeing high demand for their small schools--Astoria, Williamsburg, Red Hook, Cobble Hill--and I wonder what resources are being driven to these schools to continue to drive up real estate demand. These schools will then soak up some of the kids who would have attended the formerly zoned high school, now in a more affluent area, and the more motivated kids from outside the area like the young men I mentioned above. The schools get even better. Meanwhile, the schools in areas that aren't gentrifying get worse, starved of resources and of the best local students.

I'm not a social scientist, an economist, or a demographer, mind you--just a teacher who reads. And the mother I told you about earlier might very well be right that her sons are getting a better education because of the choices she was empowered to make. I am merely very curious as to why she or anyone thought that choice was necessary. After all, her sons now attend schools in which they are still taught by lazy unionized teachers (SARCASM) and supervised by terrible unionized principals (ALSO SARCASM) what's the difference?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From NYC Educator's Mailbag

- by Erma Bombeck
(written after she found out she was dying of cancer).

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been done.

I would have sat on the lawn and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you's' More 'I'm sorry's.'

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it, and really see it . . live it and never give it back.       STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!!

Don't worry about who doesn't like you, who has more, or who's doing what.  Instead, let's cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't Hurt Yourself Trying to Do Us Any Favors

Well, happy spring break, y'all. I'm coming to you live from one of the five boroughs, where I'm staycationing for this particular break. It works for me, though. After all, if I'd gone somewhere, I might have missed Chancellor Walcott's heartwarming speeches from the weekend, in which he promised not to do any teacher-trash-talking. However, in pretty much the same breath, he sounded the death knell on layoffs yet again.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer here. It is, after all, nice to have a Chancellor who does seem to have some foggy notion of what it's actually like to do our job. So I'll give him some props for that. But working very hard and doing all the right things at a job you're not sure if you'll have for much longer doesn't comfort the soul very much.

Let's not forget that the city experienced higher than expected tax revenues and, depending on who you ask, is sitting on a $3 billion budget surplus. This surplus is what made Gov. Cuomo skeptical at best about Mayor Bloomberg's insistence that the city needed from the state both more money and more flexibility on how to do layoffs.

But back to Chancellor Walcott. Having worked beside the Mayor for so long, I can't imagine that he doesn't enjoy some influence at City Hall. Nice words are, well, nice. But even nicer would be if the new Chancellor would roll up his sleeves (for something other than waffle-making) and dig in there with the Mayor. Tell him that now, in a time of economic crisis that has not, for the most part, eased for the middle class, in a time when kids need all their teachers more than ever, now is not the time for layoffs. We can't "win the future" without librarians, who are facing a 15% cut in their numbers. We can't hope to save kids who are likely to drop out without the arts and sports so kids who aren't academically inclined have some reason left to come to school and pass their classes.

Failing any efforts in that area, Chancellor Walcott, don't hurt yourself trying to do us any other favors.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Off the Meter

Welcome to the tenure of Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who bemoans the "poisonous debate" in NYC, claiming it's hurting kids. Doubtless the new chancellor would much prefer that city parents and teachers sit down and shut up, Mayor Bloomberg's preferred mode of debate. After all, Walcott has been an integral part of Board of Education "reform," resulting in a Panel for Educational Policy on which 8 of 13 members either vote with the mayor or get fired before getting a chance to vote against him.

Walcott bemoans the toxic atmosphere that's pervaded city-community relations, failing to note that he's fostered it every step of the way. He fails to see any problem with charters invading public schools, usurping libraries and getting better facilities and favored treatment. He fails to see the animosities his administration has caused by depriving neighborhoods of schools, or by placing five layers of administration in buildings that got by just as well with one.

Outrageously, Walcott has the audacity to push the highly polarizing plan to eliminate seniority rights for teachers while ostensibly calling for civility. In a display of what can only be called chuzpah, he contends that seniority would not factor in layoff decisions under that scenario, ignoring the fact that one of his "reforms" was making salary school based. Somehow, this is labeled "fair funding," and somehow, this boneheaded move was approved by Randi Weingarten's UFT.

If Walcott wants a dialogue, public school parents and teachers would welcome it. If he wants to stand there peddling the same tired old nonsense, insisting on "accountability" for unionized teachers while accepting none whatsoever for the outrageous failures of the last decade, no informed person, no active parent or teacher, and knowledgeable community member not on Bloomberg's payroll will take him seriously.

If you want to do better, Mr. Walcott, we're all ears. Please don't insult our intelligence by placing a ribbon on the same old garbage we've been hearing for the last long, long decade.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Fight to Get Toxins out of NYC Schools

by guest blogger Krista Peterson

For the past decade, it seems like the number of schools, companies, and construction practices have all swayed towards more “green” materials and practices. Even with an overall positive swing in more sustainable materials and practices, there is still some material use that’s having a negative impact, primarily in many New York City schools. From the use of dangerous heating oil to toxic forms of insulation, many NYC schools are in need of a slight makeover.

It’s been recently estimated that around 9,000 buildings in New York are using a dirty heating oil to help sustain heat and create hot water; nearly 450 of them are schools. Essentially, these buildings are burning “sludge” to heat up their buildings. These buildings amount for nearly 90 percent of the city’s soot pollution, heavily topping the releases from all cars. This fuel, also dubbed “No. 6 oil” is essentially leftover petroleum that is extremely heavy and thick. The health problems associated with No. 6 oil include lung inflammation, emphysema, and possible cardiovascular issues.

State government and the city have both passed acts that are geared to clean up some instances of dirty
heating oil, but none affect the use of No. 6 oil, which is widely considered the most threatening and
dangerous. Mayor Bloomberg has even pushed through two laws on heating oil, but neither address no.
6. Luckily, the Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a possible rule that would push out the use of No. 6 oil, forcing a switch to low-sulfur No. 4 oil. Still, administration refuses to outright ban the use of No. 6 oil because of the financial burden that would ensue.

The financial burden would be particularly heaviest on removal from schools. The mayor has plans
to reduce just over 100 schools from No. 6 use in the next 10 years. The problem with removal from
schools is that a number of obstacles present themselves in the process, adding the financial burden.
Before any type of switch to the piping and fuel could occur, asbestos would have to be removed
from the insulation. This is a commonly used fiber throughout the past century that is now commonly
removed because of its connection to diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Having this material
removed before any type of piping work is necessary because of the possible life threatening health
risks to any of the workers, for example, mesothelioma life expectancy can be extremely severe after
repeated exposure and diagnosis.

Essentially, given the price that it would cost to even eliminate the oil from 100 schools, the total cost
for repair in all the effected schools would near $5 billion dollars. Maybe the smartest way to go about
the removal of this type of oil is to keep pressure on the talked about proposal from the DEP, that would
phase out use of the material, instead of an overall removal. In any case, even the proposal from the
DEP has yet to be pushed through. In the end, it will take the help and support of the administration to
get a removal process off the ground, at the least. In the meantime, it seems as if the DEP, Mayor, and
other city officials are stalling because of the possible financial problems that could ensue.

Friday, April 15, 2011

All in All, No Change at All

Newly christened chancellor Dennis Walcott is very smart. He thinks on his feet and speaks very well. He is comfortable before the press and speaking to community members. He's certainly better equipped for the job of chancellor than his immediate predecessor, a preposterous figure.

Walcott will not make idiotic utterances about using birth control to control overcrowding, as both Black and Klein did. You won't see him making juvenile noises at PEP meetings. He's a seasoned politician, and not prone to blatant stupidity. In fact, for Mayor Bloomberg, he's a huge improvement over both Black and Klein.

I know you're waiting for a "but." Here it is--Walcott is wedded to Mayor4Life's policies, which are abysmal failures. He's been with Joel Klein every step of the way, from school closings, to favored charter schools, to leaving children freezing at bus stops, to spending hundreds of millions on computer systems that don't work, to fraudulent test scores, to taking hundreds of millions to reduce class sizes that ended up higher, to now, where financial genius Michael Bloomberg determines a 3.1 billion dollar surplus is a financial emergency so dire that we need to get rid of almost ten percent of working teachers.

Walcott will look better, but represents more of the same. I was at a UFT rally in Queens yesterday, where State Senator Tony Avella suggested the only solution was a mayoral recall. The crowd went wild, and shouts of "Recall, Recall," punctuated the speeches of every speaker that followed, including that of UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Not a bad idea at all. Is it viable?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This Is Not Building Goodwill

"It's not question of whether there will be layoffs, but when." Thus saith, in so many words, the heir apparent to the Chancellor position, Dennis Walcott. This is how he is going to start his tenure, then; not with a bang but with a whimper, so to speak.

On Tuesday, I pointed out that one way Walcott could instantly build some street cred with kids, teachers, and parents would be to come out strongly against layoffs, to side with those who have pointed out that the city has reserve funds and, depending on who you ask, a budget surplus that would make teacher layoffs totally unnecessary. Human capital is one of our most important assets, Walcott might have realized, and we don't have any to waste. All the technology in the world is no good without good people to run it.

But Walcott, unfortunately, is stepping up for the mayor rather than teachers and families. We need to cut teachers. And we better start with the expensive ones, under the false rubric of "keeping the best teachers in the classroom." A move like this suggests that he is the mayor's man rather than a thoughtful steward-leader of a system on the edge of a major destabilization and demoralization.

I would love to be wrong, but Walcott's support of layoffs is not a goodwill-building stance. Not so helpful to create distrust and fear before the job is even officially yours, sir.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No Waiver for Walcott

Just saw that NY State is meeting to consider whether or not Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will get a waiver to be chancellor. If they've learned anything from the debacle of Cathie Black, or the abject failure of Joel Klein, they will insist Bloomberg select an educator.

However, look for Steiner, having set the bar low enough for socialite Cathie Black, to show no integrity whatsoever and do whatever Mayor4Life Bloomberg golly goshdarn feels like.


That's how this post at NYC Public School Parents blog left me. Nice as it is to read stuff Bill Gates doesn't veto, when you read things like this, you know exactly what journalists are not doing. Why should Leonie Haimson be finding the outrageous contradictions of the Tweedies while tabloid editorial writers, and even some reporters, write ridiculous echoes of billionaire Mike Bloomberg's utterly invalid notions about education?

Can you believe people get paid for this, many times our salaries, and yet the public is like a demented Queen of Hearts calling for the heads of teachers? Newly annointed Chancellor Walcott, though much more articulate and less of an embarrassment than socialite Cathie Black, spouts the same discredited ideas that Bloomberg and Klein have been spewing for a decade. He speaks of the "tremendous job the DOE is doing with our schools," despite the fact that the only prescription they have for improving them is closing them, replacing them, and then closing and replacing the schools they closed and replaced them with.

When faced with the consequences of their idiotic and unnecessary plan to fire almost ten percent of working teachers, they seemed to have no idea how it would affect class size, eventually deciding class size would go up by 1.5. Exactly whose hind quarters that figure came from I couldn't say.

We deserve better from our elected officials. Though Mike Bloomberg bought the office fair and square after weaseling around the term limits law NYC voters twice affirmed, we deserve better from him. And NYC's kids deserve a chancellor who will serve them, rather than the richest man in New York City.

The fact is, this city does not exist for the benefit of Mike Bloomberg. What would it take to make him realize that? A conscientious press corps would preclude this nonsense. Until then, what's a city to do?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Short Happy Tenure of Chancellor Walcott

I was in the teachers' room at school last week when I heard that Chancellor Black was to be no more. The attitude in the room might have been politely described as jubilant. I have yet to meet the real working teacher that was at all excited or motivated by her leadership, and no one I know seems to find her departure to be a great loss.

(Acting?) (Maybe?)-Chancellor Walcott has been in the position, I guess, for a few days, so nothing has really happened yet. Although trying to withhold judgment on Black didn't turn out well for me, I'll try to give him a bit of a honeymoon period as well. I know that there isn't much hope that he'll stand up against the mayor on layoffs, though. What a goodwill gesture it would be to talk to city teachers and tell them he'll do anything he can to avoid even one teacher layoff.

It is great that we have a Chancellor who attended the city schools, and one who seems to be more welcomed by parents. Walcott's closeness to Bloomberg, though, troubles me. So much of what Bloomberg has done and still wants to do to the city schools has been useless at best and dangerous at worst. Should he develop a separate philosophy and principles of his own that are more compatible with the real interests of teachers, students, and parents, I would feel more encouraged about his taking over. As it is, I am concerned that he will simply be a mouthpiece for the Mayor. I would like to see him show some independence.

For now, I'll watch and listen with an open mind. Maybe I won't get my hopes up, but I won't vilify him straight out of the gate, either.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"I’m going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?"

So speaks uber-"reformer" Michelle Rhee to a PBS camera crew. Apparently, this is something Rhee takes pride in. I guess I'm not made of whatever Rhee is. On the few occasions I've known people losing jobs, I found it deeply disturbing. For me, it really had nothing to do with whether or not the people deserved it--as a human being I can't help being upset by seeing others lose their livelihoods.

Rhee has no such reservations. That's a good thing, because under her tenure, almost half of the DC education staff either left or was fired. Diane Ravitch, in reviewing Richard Whitmire's The Bee Eater, points out that Whitmire sees her contract offer, getting the "best teachers" to give up tenure for a raise, as her prime accomplishment. Ravitch further notes that Whitmire seems to have forgotten that 40% of teachers declined her offer, retaining their due process rights.

Had I the patience to wade through a book-length piece of propaganda (and God bless Ravitch for saving us the trouble of doing so), I'd be curious how many of the 60% retained their positions. I wouldn't want to depend on the propagandist for accurate information, though, as most readers of this book likely did.

I'd also wonder how much extra money if would've taken to get them to sell their immortal souls. What's the going rate in a down economy? Surely a competent devil would be making deals left and right. How else can you explain the proliferation of subhuman demagogues like Rhee, or the gaggle of propagandists and wannabe "reformers" who lap at her feet? What do they have to say about scandals like Erase to the Top, perpetrated in Rhee's DC just as the so-called Texas Miracle was touted by another artificially produced education expert, GW Bush?

Here's what the propagandists do--they wait and hope the public forgets. That's proven a pretty fair strategy. Despite what happened in Texas, Americans were all too willing to accept the notion of miracles from Bloomberg, from Geoffrey Canada, from Davis Guggenheim, from Bill Gates, and from Rhee, she who prefers to be identified with her broom, rather than her more relevant eraser.

What on earth will it take for we, the people, to wise up to such nonsense?

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Gift that Kept Giving

Cathie Black, after all the hoopla, has packed it in. It seemed a simple question of just how long Emperor Bloomberg could pretend she had the remotest notion of what the job entailed, and Joel Klein kept spinning pretty much until the last instant. But finally, Cathie Black has gone back to do whatever it is she does when not ostensibly running the largest school system in the country.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will be filling her shoes, or more likely bringing in his own. Those who followed Ms. Black's abbreviated speaking tours will recall that Walcott was there to answer the questions she found too tough (read--all of them.) Ms. Black had innovative approaches to overcrowding--like birth control. This was not warmly received by New Yorkers for some reason. I've no doubt such talk made her a hoot on the party circuit frequented by billionaires like Bloomberg, and I can imagine her with a lampshade over her head amusing the mayor. Alas, such abilities did not translate into popularity, and hers was in the toilet for some time before they threw in the towel.

I can't imagine Walcott making juvenile sarcastic noises when presiding over the rubber stamp PEP. Too bad. It really made this exercise in absolute power appear to be what it really was. Walcott has some very good qualities. He's a product of NYC public schools, and sent his kids to them too.

Sadly, he's a former teacher, and holds two master's degrees, so his appointment is not nearly so preposterous as that of Ms. Black, who came from nowhere and went right back. I don't expect ridiculous outbursts on a regular basis, and I doubt he will hole up so reporters can't speak to him. Alas, qualified as he is, he works for Mayor Bloomberg, and has therefore supported his ineffectual and destructive policies. Bloomberg broaches no differences of opinion, since he knows everything. So you can expect more of the same pointless nonsense as we move on.

On the bright side, this is another huge failure for Mayor Bloomberg, who's been caught in a perpetual snowstorm ever since he had his private jet return from whatever exotic locale he goes to when he wishes to avoid the weather we lowly New Yorkers endure as a matter of course.

No one will forget Cathie Black's idiotic utterance about there being many "Sophie's Choices" in education. But neither will they forget that the woman who said it was Mayor Mike's choice. His downward spiral continues unabated, and all his makeup choices and million-dollar ad campaigns are doing little to change it. If anyone remembers him as the education mayor, it will be only for the remarkable amount of time and money he spent accomplishing nothing.

Or perhaps even less than nothing.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

We Can't Help You If You're Not Here

I wish that this article from WNYC about New York's large (and possibly growing) drop-out population had been more detailed, and that it had addressed the problem it discusses more deeply. The issue, as I see it, is not only school drop-outs; rather, it's also the difficulty of working with kids who only pop into school once or twice a week. Chronic absenteeism that doesn't quite reach the definition of truancy is one of the biggest challenges we face as urban teachers.

My school stresses the importance of trying to get these kids into school regularly and then catching them up as quickly as possible. Fine advice, but for children and families who have not internalized the urgency that the situation entails, anything we can do as teachers feels like a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. These are not children with chronic health problems unless you count those vague "stomachaches," "cramps," and "headaches" that some of them seem to always have. Children malingering has been a problem for all of history, of course, but for kids who already desperately need to be in school, the problem magnifies. And calling home doesn't always solve the problem because, I've found, in many cases, the parent(s) know that the child isn't in school. In some cases, the parent(s) have kept the child home to babysit, care for a sick relative, or just chill at the child's request. Add on top of that that many of these children already struggle (perhaps because of years of absenteeism?) and you're talking a perfect storm as far as grades, credit accumulation, and, you know, learning.

Sometimes I feel like, between the kids who can't manage to show up and the kids who show up every day but consistently do nothing, maybe only half of my students are actually learning most or all of what they should be. And I'm not sure how any of us can be held responsible for that. It's this kind of problem that makes me cringe a little at posts like this that stress the "responsibilities" and "professionalism" of teachers. I'm responsible and professional, but is it really my job to teach a fellow adult that their child needs to come to school regularly?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Perpetual Audition

Today I was speaking to a relatively new teacher who expressed gratitude he had reached tenure. "I'm glad I don't have to do what Mr. Newbie has to do. He has to do a whole portfolio, with all kinds of stuff in it. What a pain in the neck."

He's right, of course. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, decided to make a bunch of arbitrary requirements on what's needed for tenure, and if you hadn't been collecting for your portfolio the last two-and-a-half years, well, you'd better start searching those papers in your attic. Maybe there's stuff in your file you can use, but if not, you'd better get searching, or at the very least get fabricating.

But don't be so smug as you chuckle over Mr. Newbie's unfortunate circumstances. There's a new teacher evaluation program coming down the pike, it's a mystery box, and no one knows exactly what's inside. 20% of your rating will depend on some state test that doesn't exist. Another 20 will be based on some district-based assessment, which of course doesn't exist either. A whopping 60% will depend on other things, and it could very well entail some sort of portfolio, with pictures of your field trips, the ones where no one got lost or killed, and the amazing things that go on in your classrooms. Science teachers might include experiments, and those with Leadership Academy principals may want to add a Think and Do Page.

Maybe there will be a modern day variant on Goofus and Gallant, with the good teacher taking the job to help children no matter how bad the salary or benefits, and the bad teacher taking it because the school's across the street from Five Guys and Fries. In any case, you, I, and all state teachers may be doing what Mr. Newbie's doing every year until we retire.

That would be an incredible waste of time for those of us already immersed in the job. Hopefully the UFT will move to preclude this never-ending audition. There are ways to tell whether teachers do the job or not. Value-added has not proven to be one of them, and I'm quite certain this notion of portfolios would be yet another needless diversion for already hard-working teachers.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Rollercoaster Day

So hey, y'all, I know I usually come at ya in the wee hours of the morning, but situations being what they were today, here I am in the after-school-type hours. It is what it is. Hopefully Mr. Educator won't fire me from this super-cushy gig. I really need the subsidized Blackberry and Starbucks runs.

Anyway, it turns out that this worked out really well, because today was a wild rollercoaster of a day. I prevented a fight in one of my classes today through persistence, speed, truth, justice, and the American way. One of the almost-fighters even made it all the way through the day without getting re-engaged in the drama. I facilitated a discussion among four angry kiddos who all have beef with another (lovely, well-intentioned, hard-working) teacher at my school and promised to help them get to the bottom of things.

Then, in the crowning glory on the day, I sat down with the teacher in question and we had a heart-to-heart. It was great. It seems crazy that I'm now in a position to offer someone else advice, but there you go. The whole time I was listening to the kids complain about this guy, because they need to feel I heard, I'm also stressing that they need to own the problem and figure out their own way out of the situation. My heart was breaking for him because I know him to be a great guy and it was so hard to hear that he was struggling with this group of kids. We're going to work on turning a few of the kids' hearts and getting them to maybe pull along some of their friends in helping the class run more efficiently.

It's tough. Today was, while wild, not really exceptionally different from what I and so many of us do on a daily basis. It's just that it all got rolled into one wacky day today.

Monday, April 04, 2011

All the News that Fits

Providing yet another indispensable morsel, Gotham Schools reveals:

Cathie Black made a joke that proved she understands she’s had a rough start.

What does this, or the Daily News piece it links to, reveal about NYC's Schools Chancellor? That she has a keen perception of the obvious? Or not even that? Actually, it reflects only a single instance of such perception. Had Ms. Black the remotest awareness of what this job entailed, she'd have declined it on the basis of utter lack of qualification. Nonetheless, something, perhaps her experience firing people, perhaps her bubbling presence at cocktail parties and gala luncheons, persuaded Mayor4Life Bloomberg to select her.

You'd think it would behoove someone in that position to find out what works and replicate it, or find out what doesn't work and reject it. Ms. Black opts not to trouble herself with such mundane tasks, preferring to rubber-stamp the failed policies of her predecessor, Joel Klein (who's sold whatever remained of his soul to Rupert Murdoch to seek ways to replace teachers with computers).

There is room for far more in the way of investigative journalism. Doubtless Michelle Rhee's Erase to the Top is simply the tip of the iceberg. If journalists weren't tripping all over themselves to pay homage to billionaire-sponsored shills who accomplish little or nothing we, the people, would know precisely what Gates, Broad, Bloomberg and their ilk were doing to us and our children. In fact these men have an easily discernible agenda. Our incurious and complacent press has largely failed to share it with us, preferring to bask in their glory and lazily report their so-called accomplishments.

How can it be that Diane Ravitch was reporting the unbelievable nature of NY test scores in 2007, but it took the NY Times a full three years to catch up? How, then, can we rely on the nonsense corporate media feeds us now?

I'm just a lowly teacher, and thus precluded from doing the sort of investigative reporting we need. But I've no doubt there is a veritable mountain of scandal out there, and a major factor in keeping reporters from it a trained unwillingness to open their eyes.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Tea Party Icon Ronald Reagan Supports Unions--in Poland

"Where free unions and collective bargaining are prohibited, freedom is lost."

Friday, April 01, 2011

It's My Word, and I'll Do What I Want To

Yesterday morning, one of my kids was complaining about me, and what an awful person I am. I tried to defend myself.

"Don't I call your house every time you're absent? What other teacher does that?"

"Only you, Mr. Educator. You ever call my house."

"I think you mean always."

"No,  I mean ever. I like ever."

"But it doesn't make any sense."

"Yes it does, Mister. What about forever and ever?"

'Well, the forever sort of means always. But ever by itself doesn't really work."

"But I like it. I'm ever going to use it," she insisted.

"No one will know what you're talking about," I said, "and people will ask who the idiot is who taught you English."

"That's right, Mister," she agreed, "forever and ever."