Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Options-qua-Options Are Morally Neutral

In an interview with WNYC, Chancellor Walcott said, among other things, that he is "jealous that parents have way more options than [he] had when [he] was a parent of school children." It caught my attention, on my morning commute today, that the Chancellor seems to believe that having options is, in and of itself, a good thing.

I'm not sure that I agree. I'm also not sure that all parents agree. The parents of eighth graders who were until recently shut out of their high school selections might exchange having hundreds of options for having a few good options from which they could choose expeditiously. Some options than some parents might like to have is the option for a large and comprehensive, and also high-quality, neighborhood high school, an option that is being taken away from many of NYC's parents and students.

As many of our regular readers know, I have certainly had mixed feelings about our still-new-ish Chancellor. I think that he believes that he has the best interests of children and parents at heart. His flaw, I think, is not the smug hubris of Mayor Bloomberg; it may simply be an excess of credulity when it comes to his boss's "reforms."

If I could, I would challenge the Chancellor personally on this position and on his unvarying support of the Mayor. I would remind him that more is not always better. I would remind him that options-qua-options are morally neutral, that the options need to be realistic and valuable in order to be good.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Why Wait?" Asks Duncan

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today lamented that only a third of Joplin, Missouri was leveled by tornadoes. "Unfortunately, the fact that so much of the city remains standing will not enable us the opportunity to accomplish what we did in New Orleans." said Duncan. Duncan pointed to the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans, and called the Joplin tornadoes, "a potential game-changer."

Duncan suggested that education was a pressing crisis, and that we simply could not wait for natural disasters any more. "Let's just bulldoze the entire country from coast to coast," suggested the secretary. "Then, we could build an education system that could pretty much do whatever we wanted to."

When confronted with the enormity of such a project, Duncan said he was open to compromise, and suggested that perhaps we could focus primarily on poorer neighborhoods. "Actually, most of my friends use private schools anyway," said Duncan. "The President sends his kids to private schools. So why waste our energy on areas that use private schools?"

A source close to Duncan suggested the possibility of a smart bomb that would target only those making $200,000 or less, or $250,000 for joint returns. "That would really get those scores up, and we wouldn't have those darn nay-sayers blaming poverty anymore." suggested the source, under conditions of anonymity.

Teacher groups strenuously objected to this scenario, but were roundly dismissed by those we interviewed. "What do teachers know about education?" asked former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. "They're agents of the status quo," suggested educational expert Bill Gates. These sentiments were immediately endorsed by Democrats for Educational Reform and Educators4Excellence. Oprah Winfrey invited Klein, Gates, and Michelle Rhee to an education roundtable on her new network to discuss Duncan's revolutionary proposal.

President Barack Obama said the proposal was worth looking into, and told teachers, "We won't do it to ya, we'll do it with ya."  While NEA leaders pointed out they'd heard that promise before, they declined to withdraw endorsement of the President.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested the plan would only work if he were given the option to fire teachers whenever he felt like it.  Chancellor Dennis Walcott pledged, "I will fire all those teachers as soon as possible, but I will never treat them with disrespect."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

To Pass or Not To Pass?

That's the question NYC teachers have to ask themselves, and surprisingly, there's another worthwhile column in the NY Post which ponders the question. I don't know how many times I've spoken to teachers who've told me they were judged by their passing ratios. Is it the fault of crazy supervisors? Perhaps, but they're under the same ridiculous pressures we are--if you don't perform, they close your school, ship in better students, and send the troubled ones to the next school on the hit list.

So you try to get kids with the program. You call, you beg, you send them to get help? If that doesn't work, do you hold tight to your academic integrity and fail kids who don't show, don't work, don't care? Or do you pass them because your supervisor says, "Here at Generic High School, 80% of kids pass."

The thing is, even when you stretch yourself as thin as possible and push the kids through, the Post will put up stats on how many high school grads need remedial courses, and once again it's the fault of those crappy high school teachers who pass everyone simply because their schools will be closed if they don't.

If you uphold your standards, you stink because not enough kids pass. If you pass everyone to please your boss, save your job, save your school, you stink because your kids end up in remedial classes.

It's a pretty tough choice.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Every few days I get spam comments. Often they're from some sort of essay-writing company that helps kids or college students cheat. I don't much care for companies like that, and if Disqus doesn't delete these comments, I do. Here's the most recent:

I appreciate you.I think we should have to change our education system.Teachers encourage the student to think and learn.Teachers should update them self.

Here's another:

I like reading your kind of post, thanks for sharing it with us, i will look
forward for such type of great info.

Personally, I have to wonder what sort of person would ask writers like these, who clearly don't know English very well, to take care of their term papers. We know, for example, that this sort of person doesn't actually want to do any work, and wants credit for things others actually did. But isn't it pretty clear that these spammers ought not to be writing for you?

It's not clear enough for some, I suppose, because the spam keeps coming. Maybe too much New York Post and Fox News has really moved us backward. Because anyone who bites on one of these ads is backward indeed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Charters 4-Union 1

That's the score at Gotham Schools.

On Wednesday, May 25th Gotham let us know there was going to be a charter school rally. After that, they told us the charter school rally forgot to mention it was targeting the NAACP, because evidently no one could figure out it was actually targeting union and public schools.

Then, Gotham told us that there was not only going to be the charter school rally they'd twice told us about, but also some others as well. After those three stories, they ran one the next day, in case we hadn't yet gotten the point,  to tell us there had been a charter school rally. Gotham says the charter rally attracted 2,500 people.

On May 12th, the UFT held a rally that attracted 10,000 UFT members, and 10,000 other union members. It was spectacular, and Miss Eyre and I were there. On May 11th, to prepare us, Gotham Schools ran zero stories to get us in the mood. The following day, Gotham Schools ran one story about it, vastly underestimating turnout (until corrected by multiple sources).

In fact, Eva Moskowitz had her students and their parents attend the rally in lieu of school. She told the parents to escort their kids to school afterward for safety reasons. I suppose that precluded work for these parents. That's OK though, because Eva Moskowitz can do whatever the hell she feels like. Why should kids be in school when they could be out rationalizing Eva's hefty six-figure salary, and exploring ways to raise it? What is the importance of parents' jobs in comparison with that?

Why did Eva take her kids out of school? So they could demand neighborhood schools be closed, more free space for her lucrative business, and also that a lawsuit trying to save schools be stopped. Gee, do ya think Tweed could've taken any part to encourage a protest against the lawsuit facing them?

What do you suppose would happen if Mulgrew told public school parents to take their kids out of school, urged teachers to take the morning off, and asked parents to take off work to help?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scrubbing the Curious Practice of Scrubbing

If you hadn't heard already that the state has officially banned the process known as "scrubbing," your principal has probably already had nightmares about it. Scrubbing refers to the re-scoring of borderline Regents exams to see if a failing exam might possibly be a passing one, or a mediocre exam might turn into an honors exam. One or two extra points on an essay, for example, on the English Regents can make a difference. You're never directly asked to violate your academic conscience, but if you can find it in your heart to give, say, a 4 instead of a 3 on the 6-point English rubric, well, that kid and that kid's teacher would really appreciate it.

I'm pretty sure that every single teacher who has ever scored a Regents exam has been asked to scrub at least once. I certainly have. I think the intentions were once noble; e.g. let's make sure a kid who's on the borderline isn't suffering from simply having the strictest grader on the team looking at his essay when even a slightly more generous grader would have boosted it a point. (You would think that the use of a uniform rubric would make this impossible, but there are gray areas and fuzzy borders in the rubric, too.) But obviously, in today's test-score mania, some administrators and department chairs order scrubbing en masse. And who can blame them, really? It's easy to mask the anxiety with the aforementioned noble intentions, and then everyone feels better. Seems like a win-win situation. Until, of course, the kid goes to CUNY community college 2 years later, having pulled out a 75 instead of a 74 on the English Regents so as to be exempt from remedial classes, only to find out that he or she is not really competent in 11th-grade reading and writing at all.

I've never liked scrubbing and I'm glad that the practice has been unambiguously ended. I wish I could say that I refused on principle to scrub; I didn't. But the pressure to do so will now be gone.

What are your thoughts on scrubbing?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moving Ever Backward

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has very publicly promised to speak of teachers with respect, perhaps hoping to strike a contrast with his recent predecessors and the Emperor. I'm all for that. I don't believe in screaming fights, mostly because they're not altogether effective. Of course, after a never-ending decade of PEP meetings in which the public is routinely and entirely ignored, I understand how things can get.

Chancellor Walcott, after working behind the scenes all this time, understands very well. Unfortunately, it's tough to ratchet down the tone when he rolls out the same tired old nonsense we've been hearing all along. For example, as Miss Eyre ably documents, his new way of showing respect to teachers is looking for a way to fire them without just cause, make them guilty until proven innocent, and place the burden on them to show the firings are "arbitrary and capricious." Short of looking into the souls of administrators, or at least those who have them, that's a tough row to hoe.

Another sign of Walcott's newfound "respect" is that he once again pits us against the children we serve--them or us. Children should have more rights than adults, apparently, until they grow up. Then they can go to hell with the rest of us, every parent's dream.

Of course, Walcott's cordiality is nothing new. 200 years ago, when public education was just getting started in New York City, it was essentially a group of rich people deciding what the rabble needed to know. We decide, you follow. Class sizes were very large. Teachers were very poorly paid and could be fired for offenses like marriage, pregnancy, or the whim of employers. There was none of this collective bargaining nonsense, and pay was determined by employers, who granted promotions and raises when they golly goshdarn saw fit.

This is the vision of Chancellor Dennis Walcott, mirroring that of Emperor Bloomberg, mirroring that of Bill Gates, who seems to tell President Obama what to think about education. After all, the President was recently in Memphis, praising a school that miraculously raised its graduation rates. Turns out, the school dumped 25% of its lowest-performing students to accomplish that miracle. In fact, the charters that President Hopey-Changey so adores often shed their troubled students in just this fashion, dumping them into public schools that end up closed.

With a President and countless other politicians doing the bidding of billionaires rather than representing us, cutting taxes for the wealthy and declaring emergencies that entail cutting back on education and benefits for working people, we're on a rapid return to the 19th century, before the now-quaint 40-hour week and pensions for dignified old age infected the system.

The longer we wait to wake up ourselves and our country, the more uphill our battle will be.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"The Rights of Adults Should Never Trump the Rights of Our Children"

So says Chancellor Walcott, testifying in Albany regarding a(nother) new teacher evaluation system. It's hard to argue with some of what the Chancellor proposes. It probably doesn't help anyone for 3020-a hearings to drag on for months, and we can all agree that convicted sex criminals should be removed immediately from classrooms. These are no-brainers.

But his statement referenced in the title troubles me. The rights of adults should never trump the rights of children? Be careful with absolutes, Chancellor. For while every child certainly does have the right to a quality free and public education, the adults educating that child ought to have the right to work in safety, if nothing else. And I don't mean "safety" as in "a job for life" (as some misinformed folks like to call tenure); I mean basic physical and mental safety. Teachers should not have to work under conditions of constant fear or anxiety while the inmates run the asylum, so to speak. For some adults, the rights of children certainly have trumped the rights of adults--and quite completely, such that some children's right to an education has been placed above the safety and health of their teachers. Students who have been physically violent against teachers and students are not removed from classrooms. Students who continually and willfully disrupt the educational process continue to come to class and disrupt day after day with no consequences.

This is why I feel that statements such as Chancellor Walcott's about the rights of children versus the rights of adults are, at best, presenting a false choice. And at worst, they perpetuate the pernicious stereotype that unionized public school teachers are living off the fat of the land while mindlessly crushing the dreams of children through terrible teaching and/or abject cruelty. Children have rights, and among the most important of those rights is the right to a good education. But those who would argue that that right is more important than any right of adults should ask themselves if we expect our teachers to be physically and mentally equipped at the same level as, say, SEAL Team Six. Or if they should have to be. I tend to think not.

A successful school is one in which children feel supported and respected, for sure. But in that successful school, the adults would feel the same way.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Always Easier to Ask Forgiveness than Permission

I've long lived by those words. A few weeks ago a kid asked whether she could plug her cell into the classroom outlet to charge it. "Of course not," I replied. Kids aren't allowed to have cell phones in school. Of course we all know many if not all have them anyway. If they don't use them to text, or pick them up and talk (that freaks me out), I ignore them and all things are as they should be.

On the other hand, I saw a girl pull her phone out of the wall at the end of a period on Friday and said nothing. This kid plugged it in when I wasn't watching and simply assumed she had an absolute right to do so. So how could I argue with her? Is it unfair? Am I lazy? Or is it that I just don't give a golly goshdarn?

All of the above, I suppose.

I like things as simple as possible. Do you think I should have said something to the girl I saw charging her phone? Am I encouraging her to do things behind my back? Or am I teaching her to keep her mouth shut and avoid trouble whenever possible?

On the other hand, Maybe Mayor4Life will take a gander at the electric bill, close a firehouse, fire another thousand teachers, give his rich buds a tax break, and declare himself even more of a financial genius than he felt he was last week.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Singalong End of the World

UFT to the Rescue?

In Long Island City High School Wednesday night, there was a PEP meeting. I was very surprised when Chancellor Dennis Walcott got up and spoke of a UFT lawsuit. Walcott decried the timing of the lawsuit, citing the inconvenience it would cause kids planning to go to school in September. This was the first I'd heard of it.

Now Walcott is absolutely correct that this suit will inconvenience the kids. Of course, closing their schools didn't exactly help them very much either. If Walcott is truly concerned about these kids, he can simply stop closing schools, start fixing them, and the mean old UFT will leave him alone.

Meanwhile, I know for a fact the city is doing nothing to help closing schools. They send people who give ridiculous useless criticism and pay them big bucks, while improving facilities only in parts of the building the endangered schools have already given up. They pay lip service, but nothing more.

Walcott is a gifted speaker, a smart person, and personally, a large improvement over his two predecessors. Nonetheless, he's determined to carry on destructive and hurtful policies that benefit no one but charter operators looking for extra space. I applaud the UFT for taking them on, and strongly suspect this wouldn't be happening unless they'd thought things through more deeply than the Tweedies, who have all the management skills of the Keystone Kops, pictured at right. Those are the much-vaunted New York State test scores you see slipping away from them.

I only hope the city will finally be compelled to take responsibility for what it classifies as such a massive failure. Whose fault is it if every Bronx high school had to close, or be restructured, or redesigned, or whatever it is they call whatever it is they do? In fact, if there's that much failure after almost a decade, it's time for heads on high to start rolling.

As well as Walcott speaks, he's been part and parcel of every act this administration has taken. If he's as smart as he appears, it's very difficult to conceive of how he could sincerely believe Tweed is on the right track. If they really want to improve education, they will stop vilifying teachers. Unfortunately, while Walcott's pledge to stop trashing us in public is a nice gesture, he'll need to also match it with deeds.

With overcrowding rampant, with people fighting tooth and nail over limited space, with a 3.2 billion dollar surplus, a 2 billion rainy day fund, and a billion in ed. consultants, it's plainly unconscionable to even contemplate laying off one single teacher. So, Mr. Walcott, we'll give you a chance.

But it's time to walk the walk. In the very likely event that doesn't happen, it's time for the UFT to save what's left of the school system.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Counting the Days

With all the drama surrounding teacher evaluations and Regents exams over the past few days, maybe you've forgotten that summer is sneaking up on us pretty quickly...

HA HA! Of course you haven't forgotten! You've not forgotten, if for no other reason than your increasingly restless and/or sullen students remind you that they are counting every second of every minute of every day until they don't have to show up anymore. And if you teach seniors, God bless you. I know those who are sure of their graduation from my school are mentally and, in some cases, physically checked out already.

I continue to agonize over my lessons; more so, in fact, because my students are getting harder and harder to engage. They need to have rigorous and meaningful work to do for these last couple of weeks; if we as teachers cop out and go along with their creeping ennui, it just creates a vicious circle. That's not to say that the students will thank us now or even in July, but eventually they'll appreciate being challenged right up to the last day. I hope.

But those of us who teach high school are down to less than twenty instructional days, and I can't imagine I'm the only teacher in the city desperately trying to figure out how to keep my babes awake and not killing each other for this last stretch. What do you think? What keeps students hooked in as summer's siren call grows louder?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thank You Sir. May I Have Another?

Over and over, we lie down with dogs, and marvel at the ensuing fleas. We invite Bill Gates to investigate what makes teachers "effective." He comes in and tests cameras in classrooms, because everyone knows those foul teachers cannot be trusted unless you monitor them every second. We invite him to speak at our convention, and the following week he attacks the wastefulness of those bloated teacher pensions, wondering aloud why we can't eat cat food like other elderly folk who aren't Bill Gates.

We endorse mayoral control, because who knows how bad it can be, and besides this Bloomberg fellow goes to baseball games with Randi Weingarten. He must be OK. Then after it turns out to be an unmitigated disaster, we make a list of improvements we'd like before we'll accept its renewal. When we don't get them, we support its renewal anyway.

We allow them to get rid of seniority transfers, and give power to principals to have absolute veto over incoming teachers. We design an open market that allows anyone to transfer anywhere, as long as principals think it's OK. Who woulda thunk that principals preferred malleable new teachers at half salary to grizzled old opinionated veterans? After all, just because those are the only people that get hired in the suburbs, why should it apply to us? And when thousands of teachers end up rotting in the Absent Teacher Reserve, demoralized and demonized, we are shocked, and state because more teachers transferred in the new program than the old, it is an unmitigated success.

We make a deal to reduce class size. The deal is so full of holes a tank could drive through it, but we declare victory anyway. When class sizes go up anyway, despite our deal and almost a billion dollars in CFE funds, we wonder how it could've happened.

Finally, we make a deal to allow value-added be part of teacher evaluations. Sure, it has no validity, but everybody's doing it, so where's the problem? We cleverly allow it to be only 20% of our evaluation, while other states are making it 50, and declare victory yet again. When the state passes a law allowing it to be double, we say, gee, how the heck did that happen? And Governor Cuomo, our good bud, is gonna do a Race to the Top and withhold money if we choose to exercise our option to negotiate, and turn down whatever abysmal offer Tweed comes up with.

Gee, how could this be happening? I thought we'd had it all taken care of.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teacher Evaluations: Don't Judge the Mayor by Test Scores, but Teachers Are Fair Game

Hey, don't blame the Mayor or the Schools Chancellor when state test scores plummet, like they did in 2010. Standards are tougher now than they used to be. If the kids can't cut the new mustard, the thinking goes, it can't possibly be our fault, or so the thinking goes.

But it sure could be the teachers' fault. The Board of Regents is so sure of that that they're willing to stake up to 40 percent of teachers' total evaluation scores in a forthcoming new evaluation system on state test scores. So if these test scores that certainly aren't reliable enough for judging the Mayor's or the Schools Chancellor's performance happen to plummet, well, too bad. Or if you're teaching a group of students that are already pretty well-equipped so that there's not much room for improvement, maybe you should have thought of that before accepting your job.

It's not so much that I'm 100% averse to state test scores being used as a component of teacher evaluation. As a small component of an equitable evaluation package, they're something to consider. But 40% is a big number over which teachers have variable amounts of influence. I'd hate to think that a teacher who's doing everything right who happens to see test scores fall one year would stand to lose his or her job. Particularly with the state tests on all levels (elementary, middle, and high schools) being in such flux at the moment, this strikes me as an imprudent and not necessarily fair move.

But the Mayor and the Chancellor could fix all that. They could offer to resign if test scores fall by the same amount for the same length of time that it would take to fire a teacher.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Governor Andy's True Colors

Governor Andrew Cuomo looked like a good guy when he opposed the ridiculous anti-seniority legislation that Bloomberg and his lackeys tried to ram through the State Legislature. But he's the first Democrat I ever voted against, and there are good reasons for that. Who the hell needs a Democrat who publicly declares he will go after unions, while declining to continue a tax on millionaires?

We've all been waiting for him to let his hair down, and it looks like the time has come. The UFT was party to a negotiation that resulted in a new evaluation method for teachers. This was supposed to be 20% from "value-added," or student test results, 20% from some sort of local evaluation, and 60% from observation and so forth. I was not happy with this as there is quite a bit of evidence that "value added" methodology has no validity to begin with. And with an preposterous margin of error, and clear evidence that good teachers can be labeled otherwise, it seems to me it ought not to be used at all.

Yet our esteemed governor, who met with DFER leaders to garner support for his campaign, is now referring to value-added as an "objective" measure of teacher quality.  I suppose lack of validity does not necessarily render data subjective, but I'm still disturbed by the governor's insistence that this take additional significance in teacher assessments. Governor Cuomo, in fact, wishes to preclude decent ratings for teacher who don't do well in such measures, and that will certainly lead to labeling good teachers "ineffective."

What must be addressed, of course, is how many careers of good teachers will be ruined, how many good teachers will lose their jobs, and how many will be slimed by the newspapers who can't wait to publish this dubious data. Right now no one knows. But if the governor gets his way, pursuing a career as a teacher will be, at best, a crapshoot.

At worst, it will be a disaster. Honors classes must be avoided at all costs, as kids with 99 averages can fail to get them up to 100, or worse, fall to 98, and it will be entirely due to the failure of their teachers. Likewise kids with learning disabilities may not overcome them by semester's end, and that can be your job. I'm an ESL teacher, and I've seen many kids make little progress while mired in the determination they would return to their home countries. I've seen those same kids wake up, determine this country was their future, and make enormous and rapid jumps. Under Governor Cuomo's plan if they don't make them on my watch, I'm toast.

Cuomo's plan is unreasonable and unacceptable. NYSUT has spoken out against it, and the UFT needs to oppose it by every means necessary. If it goes through unchallenged, vindictive supervisors will be able to deliberately give teachers classes that will ensure their failure, and more reasonable supervisors will do so by accident as well.

I work very hard to make my kids succeed. But I am not magic, and despite what "reformers" may contend, there are certainly things that influence kids far more than I do. If Mayor Bloomberg disagrees, if Governor Cuomo disagrees, that's their right, even though available data suggests they're entirely wrong. I suggest they resign immediately, since by their own standards they're both doing a terrible job.

Update: It's passed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Little Ditty for the Koch Brothers

Robotics Run Amuck

That's the theme in today's offering--Machines, by the inimitable Lothar and the Hand People.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Looking Out for the Common Billionaire

Visionary hedge-fund manager Smellington G. Worthington III is bullish on Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Friday, May 13, 2011

From Wall Street

I went to a rally yesterday with thousands of my fellow teachers. We marched the streets of Manhattan, and it's very clear to me that in numbers there is strength. The more we're out there, and the more of us who show up out there, the less the Emperor will be able to sit in his castle and ignore us. I'm inspired by the spirit out there, and amazed that I managed to run into half a dozen local bloggers, including the elusive Miss Eyre. (I only recognized her because she recited several of her posts verbatim on demand.)

I also noted some oddities, including a guy all by himself on the side of the road waving a sign that said, "We stand together."

There was also an endless chant of, "Enough is enough," accompanied by some very insistent drummers. I kind of wished they would grow a sense of irony, but I suppose it got lost in the crowd. 

I was highly impressed by the guy in front of me who was wearing a pink Barbie backpack. "That guy is a real man," I told my marching companions. I don't think I'd have the nerve to do the pink Barbie backpack thing. (To tell the truth, I favor messenger bags anyway.)

A lot of teachers I know said they had to go home, they had to watch the news, they needed some "me" time....ya know what? Me too. But I went anyway.

So I have a question for those of you who weren't there, and it's very simple.

Why the hell weren't you there? Mayor Bloomberg is bringing us a little bit of Wisconsin, and it behooves us to throw hearty shovelfuls of Wisconsin right back in his smug disingenuous face.

You can see me in the back there. I'm the guy not holding a sign. Am I gonna see you there next time?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bursting, In More Ways Than One

Kindergarteners sure are cute, aren't they? Back when I worked with younger students, my heart would just melt when I saw the kindergarteners, carefully maneuvering hand-in-hand through the hallways, looking like It's a Small World in action. Most of them love school and truly are filled with wonder and excitement. Not many people can look at kindergarteners and feel cynical.

But I can definitely feel cynical when I read something like this. P.S. 19, in Corona, Queens, is full to bursting with kids. A nearby school opened to ease overcrowding has already doubled in size. The school is so overcrowded that those same freakin'-adorable kindergarteners are going home with red faces and wet pants because they don't have regular access to a bathroom.

Young children sometimes still struggle to manage their bathroom needs. At the same time, bathroom independence is powerful for a child that age. Only babies, kindergarteners feel assured, wet their pants. How embarrassing for a child to have an accident, no matter how compassionate and understanding the adults and even his or her peers may be. It still smarts for a kindergarten child to have to change into the spare sweatsuit and underpants or, worse, to ride the bus or take the walk home following an accident.

At my old school, the kindergarten rooms had attached bathrooms. They were new and clean. I don't want to suggest, not for a moment, that P.S. 19 might not be a priority for the city because many P.S. 19 parents are undocumented and therefore afraid to raise too much of a fuss. No. That couldn't possibly be it.

Get Out Your Shovel

Joel Klein has a piece in Atlantic magazine that reeks to high heaven. I'm not linking to it as I think it's bad enough that I had to read it. Spouting the same old nonsense we've heard for the last interminable eight years, Klein blames everyone but himself for what he deems the sad state of American schools.

I'm not quite as concerned about the quality of education as the quality of journalism. Leonie Haimson pretty much let him have it in a Facebook comment, and asked whether or not there are any more fact checkers at magazines anymore. It's not only that, but the fact that typical readers are so poorly informed that they could easily assume Klein is telling the truth.

In fact, if more journalists were doing their jobs, demagogues like Bloomberg and Klein would not be able to exist.  So get out your shovel, bury the article, and then bury the shovel.

After you do that, make plans to join Miss Eyre and me tomorrow at 4 PM. We're marching on Wall Street to ask them to take responsibility for the economy, to pay their fair share rather than dumping the mess on us working stiffs. No more garbage from the autocrats. We've had enough and it's time to tell them, repeatedly, every way we know how, until they get the message.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Don't Rally, But in This Case, I'll Make an Exception. Also: NYC Educator's 3000th Post!

Folks, I don't rally. Something about large groups of people waving signs just doesn't do it for Miss Eyre. I'll blog and e-mail my Congressperson and give money and vote and all that stuff. But I don't rally. What can I say? My claustrophobia kicks in once I'm not surrounded by sweaty teenagers anymore. I can only suppress it for six or seven hours a day.

But somewhere in the crowd this Thursday will be Miss Eyre, Incognito, rallying. I'm rallying for the kids in my class who already get too little of my time one-on-one and who desperately need it, and will get much less once 40 of them are crammed in the same room. I'm rallying for my colleagues facing layoffs. And I'm rallying to get the attention of a mayor who continues to believe that faceless consultants can do more for struggling kids than the caring adults who see them every day. I don't know what good it will do, but we need to use all the means at our disposal to let the Mayor know that this is in no sense the will of the people.

So come on out and rally. I haven't been to one in eight years, and the last time I went to one, I was trying to convince a Governor to stop an execution. It kind of has to be serious to get me out there. So, is that serious enough for you?


Happy 3000th Post-a-versary to NYC Educator, by the way. He wouldn't tell you this himself (when I checked with him, he hadn't even noticed), but keeping a timely and (we hope) entertaining blog going is pretty hard work when you're also a full-time teacher, and NYC Educator does most of the work all by his lonesome. So, along with your Royal Wedding hats Budget Protest Rally outfits, please post in the comments a warm note of congratulations to NYC Educator. I've already budgeted several venti lattes for him out of my forthcoming Starbucks budget. Or so he says.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Educators4NYCEducator Policy Statement

As you know, Mayor Bloomberg has announced his plans to reduce the teaching force by 12%. Many people are saying, oh, this means higher class sizes, and will thus be a disaster. Others are saying it's incredibly stupid to cut teachers while sitting on what is now a 3.2 billion dollar surplus.

We at Educators4NYC Educator choose not to wallow in negativity, but rather to seek new reforms. For example, Mayor Bloomberg will be saving over 300 million by laying off thousands of teachers. We see this as an opportunity for innovation. NYC is a city of innovation. For example, we're now not only using value-added methods, but fighting to make the results public, despite the fact that the actual results can be worse than meaningless.

We've also created a merit pay program that failed to substantively improve anything. We've devoted a lot of time and money to this plan, and as reformers, the important thing is that we tried. And, of course, there were the incredible test score gains that proved to be nothing but an illusion.

What's the point? The point, of course, is that it's daring and noble for NYC to fearlessly try new things. That's why we at Educators4NYCEducator are now upping the stakes. We'd like Mayor Bloomberg to take a mere 100 million of the savings and donate it to the Educators4NYCEducator Foundation. Our numbers have increased considerably since last week, with 4 or 5 commenters agreeing to sign our pledge and grab a share of the loot promise to uphold our guiding principles. Will this be an improvement to education? Who knows? But it's been amply demonstrated that Tweed will pretty much try anything, and that evidence whether or not it would succeed was neither here nor there.

So please sign up in the comments section. As soon as Mayor Bloomberg signs off on our proposal, Miss Eyre and I will be sending your checks. And don't worry about follow up--Miss Eyre and I both pledge to stop going to work once we get the money an agreement from Tweed so that we can devote ourselves full time to shameless self-promotion the principles that guide us all. And please tell your friends we'd like to buy them off encourage their participation in our noble quest!

And don't forget, we need to keep pressure on the union to poll members on whether or not they'd like the city to give us 100 million bucks. It's always good to have a scapegoat principled argument with which to win over the public!

Friday, May 06, 2011

It's a Miracle!

I have a kid in my afternoon class who's been here three years and managed not to learn English. That in itself is remarkable. Teenagers are naturally social, and it takes real determination to shut out a culture that announces itself pretty much everywhere. Yet this kid never wanted to be here, and only mixes with others who speak his language.

As you might imagine, this has not resulted in what you'd call excellent grades. Yet a month ago, after many calls that went nowhere, the kid's dad showed up quite unexpectedly for parent-teacher conferences. Since then, the kid has not missed a single homework assignment. If I were Michelle Rhee, I suppose I'd loudly proclaim I'm the best teacher ever. Were I to take that approach, though, I'd have to ignore that his test grades are still abysmal, and when asked to complete tasks in class, the kid cannot do it. I said to him, "Boy, it's remarkable you can do this stuff at home but not in class."

What that really means is I know he's copying the homework. But really, should I acknowledge that? Wouldn't it be better to take the Rhee-form approach and take credit for this extraordinary improvement? After all, just a month ago this kid didn't have the motivation to copy the homework, and now he does so religiously. Should I give him extra credit for effort?

Sadly, no. Nor does it seem worth it to get in touch with Dad. Since this kid wasted seven months learning nothing, and an eighth month trying to trick me into thinking he's doing something, it's pretty much impossible he'll get to the point of passing in the next six weeks.

The best I can do is hope that next year Dad will be responsive in September rather than April. If that happens, the kid can really catch up. Despite what you see in Davis Guggenheim films, and despite how much I'd like to credit myself, there are no miracles.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Citizenship in an Era of Standardized Testing

As someone who loves history and civics, I was saddened (though hardly surprised) to note that most American students failed a recent standardized civics exam, and the civics exam scores are better than those in history. I can't say I'm surprised, though. When I taught middle school humanities, social studies was easily the class that got shortchanged the most in terms of instructional time. Social studies classes were, it seemed, expendable. My students received only four periods a week, compared to five periods of science and eight periods each of math and English.

We are certainly reaping what we have sown. In an era in which we are more consistently being misled by people in power, a discerning and critical mind applied to questions about the life of a citizen is absolutely necessary. I think I've done and continue to do my part, but, as I observed earlier this week, it's not something that one teacher can do alone.

"During the past decade or so," says Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, "educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more on developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen." Think about this quote for a minute. We may indeed have developed workers, but by all accounts, far too many children remain unprepared for promising careers of the future. With few marketable skills and little sense of citizenship, the conditions are ripe for the development of a permanent underclass that can only consume or destructively deviate.

I regret, I suppose, the Hobbesian tone of this post, but I think all teachers start to feel a little Hobbesian by May.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The New Spirit of the DOE

It's a new day in NYC. We have a new chancellor, who's publicly declared that he will not say anything bad about teachers. I'm certain you won't hear him do so. Walcott is a seasoned politician, and anyway, he's got the NY Post to do all the dirty work.

Even so, when you read this, about the DOE's determination to release value-added scores of highly dubious value, you have to wonder why in the world anyone would trust them. I'm sure I questioned the UFT's wisdom in making a deal to study value-added at the time, what with it having no validity whatsoever, and the DOE has made me a genius by reneging utterly on the deal.

Regrettably, we have a history of making ridiculous deals with the DOE, perhaps most egregiously this utterly unenforceable class size agreeement. I am hopeful that we will refrain from making any further such deals, as both demonstrate that the DOE is simply not to be trusted.

Here's the thing, though--we are in the business of educating kids, and it would be advantageous for everyone if we could function in an atmosphere of trust. The DOE, by indulging in such preposterous nonsense, precludes trust.  And honestly, if you can't trust your partner, you can't be a partner.

From a UFT perspective, I hope that all of us, particularly our leaders, understand the toxic atmosphere fostered by Bloomberg, with Walcott taking part in every step, means no deals without explicit written guarantees, with collateral, penalties, and whatever else it takes to compel to keep their word.

From a DOE perspective, it behooves you to work with us, rather than lie to us. It's nice that Walcott refrains from badmouthing us, but if he really wants to change things, he'll have to let us know that his department is not a bunch of lying weasels, waiting for whatever opportunity to slur us for no reason. It can be done. However, reneging on an explicit agreement with the largest teacher local in the country is hardly a good start.

What can Walcott do to tear down the wall between teachers and administration?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Teachable Moments: The Death of Osama bin Laden

A couple of history teachers at my school suspended their planned lessons yesterday and swiftly collaborated on a lesson around the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound that resulted in his death. I was impressed by how quickly they moved, but wasn't planning on doing anything myself; I'm not a social studies teacher anymore, anyway. But as it turned out, one of my classes is an elective in which we deal with a lot of historical content, and many of my students wanted to talk about it.

So, in the spirit of teachable moments, we did. A few of them re-watched videos of Obama's late-night address from Sunday. Another noticed that the Times homepage had been redesigned to accommodate the volume of bin Laden coverage. One or two of the boys wanted to know more about how the raid had happened, fascinated by what the Navy SEALs must have had to do to accomplish this mission. But my favorite moment was between two kids as one wrapped up watching a CNN story about the raid.

"I'm glad we got him," the first student said.

"So what?" said student #2. "It doesn't change anything. The wars aren't going to be over soon or anything. There's still people who are going to be terrorists. I don't think it matters."

"Yeah, but we got HIM," the first student countered. "We finally got the 9/11 guy. I think that's a big deal."

"It won't bring all those people back, though," student #2 returned. "And all those soldiers that died trying to get him and stuff. I just don't think it's this big thing."

Rather than take a position on their conversation, I just watched and listened. They brought out the various sides of the argument well enough on their own that I didn't think I needed to say anything.

Moments like this continue to thrill me as an educator. I love being surprised by what my students know and wonder without any prompting from me. In this instance, I was pleased to see them reflecting critically on the event and pondering what it means in a larger sense. I'm not saying this magic happens all the time--sometimes it's like pulling teeth, it's true--but when it happens, it's profound. And I don't think it's the kind of thing one teacher can teach; I think it takes years of teaching by different teachers in a reflective critical vein to make this happen.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Educators4NYCEducator Press Release

Our new organization, Educators4NYCEducator, has taken a stand for the good of NYC Schools. It is our contention that, should layoffs occur, reverse seniority order is unacceptable. For the good of our students, we need to ensure quality. We therefore propose that, should layoffs occur, that we not focus over who does or does not get laid off. What is truly important is that the NYC Department of Education invest 80 million dollars in the Educators4NYCEducator Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to the enhancement of all educators in the foundation, primarily myself and Miss Eyre.

As everyone knows, a good teacher is a happy teacher. Both Miss Eyre and I vow to be exceedingly happy once the city forks over the 80 million dollars. In fact, we are so confident that this will improve our practices that we are willing to forgo the next year's payment of 80 million dollars if the first 80 million fails to enhance our teaching. We are willing to make that sacrifice, even though we would very much prefer to make the 80 million an annual rather than one-time payment.

Furthermore, we have challenged the United Federation of Teachers to poll its members and find out whether or not rank and file approves of this notion. Thus far, the UFT has declined. We find this outrageous as we think it's the function of a union to fulfill whatever request we make, no matter how preposterous or counter-productive.

We urge you to come to one of our socials. All you need do is sign a commitment to support our goal of getting the city to give us 80 million dollars, and you will get not only a free bowl of peanuts, but also the opportunity to step up to the bar and buy yourselves a drink.

50% of all proceeds will go to Educators4NYCEducator. If you haven't got time to come to our social, please feel free to sign up in the comments section, where we will cut you in on some of the booty make you a charter member.