Monday, April 30, 2012

Go Knit a Scarf

That's what I want to tell Governor 1% Cuomo's brother in law, Kenneth Cole, after reading about his teacher-bashing bulletin board the other day. A friend of mine set up a petition to protest this nonsense, while another says we ought not to give him the attention the billboard seems to demand.

It could indeed be that Cuomo's brother in law simply wants attention for his product, and that he hopes this blows up into some controversy. But I wonder how this would look if he pitted one racial or religious group against another, rather than simply pushing the tired motif of teachers vs. students. This is pretty much the standard playbook of "reformers," who trot it out as children first, students first, and Governor 1% calling himself a student lobbyist.

One thing all these demagogues don't tell you is that teaching conditions and learning conditions are often identical. Hence, the folks who put "Children first, always," dump my students and me into a trailer. Bloomberg, in 2007, said he'd get rid of trailers by 2012. He later clarified and said he would not. In fact, there are just as many trailers today as when he said he'd get rid of them.

Another thing they forget is that our fondest wish for children in our care is that they grow up. If they trash and degrade the jobs facing them when that happens, they're hardly doing anyone any favors. Perhaps Mr. Cole would like today's children to work under the same conditions as those in his Bangladesh factories. Maybe he'd like to see our unions treated like theirs.

Now I can't read Cole's mind. But short of a public apology, I won't ever spend a dime on anything with his name on it, and I had no problem signing the petition.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not to Be Missed

Diane Ravitch has a brand-new blog, and she's opened it today with a defense of teacher tenure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

You Don't Need the Amazing Kreskin Today

Yesterday morning I watched NBC 4 announce that Mayor Bloomberg would replace 50% of the teachers in the schools he was closing. Actually that's President Obama's model. Bloomberg has opted to follow the model in article 18D of the contract he negotiated with the UFT, which states that 50% of most senior qualified staff must be retained. Does that mean 50% of working teachers will keep their jobs? Not necessarily. But the folks at NBC 4 couldn't be bothered to look up details.

They also commented that this would be decided at the PEP. It's kind of incredible that they would not bother to inform their viewers that 8 of the 13 PEP members are selected by Mayor Bloomberg and vote as he says, or are fired before they get a chance to dissent. It reminded me of things I read and saw when I was in East Berlin in 1984. And it's pathetic that it's what we get in mainstream media today.

There was also a comment about federal funds available via turnaround. But the good folks at NBC couldn't be bothered to look into the fact that this was based on Obama's model, which Bloomberg is no longer following.

I called and complained. The woman who answered the phone said they couldn't possibly comment on how the PEP could vote, despite their 100% record. She had no response for my remarks about 18D vs. federal turnaround plans. She said I should write up something and send it in. I told her I couldn't because I had to go to work.

The woman said she was already working. I pointed out that when I worked, I actually had to do things. Then I wished her a nice day.

But for our colleagues at two dozen schools, and their debased neighborhoods, it's far from a nice day. I'm very sorry they have to go through such pointless nonsense simply to appease the megalomania of the richest man in New York, who considers NYPD his army and the DOE his personal fiefdom.

I wrote this last night and set it to post this morning. For me there's no mystery whatsoever about the PEP vote.

This is what happens when you give the richest man in the city absolute power. How could we not have predicted this?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Othello, the Mohawk General of Venus

The scene: Miss Eyre's students are writing essays on Othello.  Miss Eyre is helping a student we'll call Brandy revise her essay.

BRANDY [in essay]: Othello, a Native American, was a great Venusian general.

MISS EYRE [to Brandy]: So, Brandy, I didn't know Othello was Native American.

BRANDY: Wasn't he?

MISS EYRE: Um, no.  He was a Moor.

BRANDY: Oh.  So he was African-American.  'Cause Moor is black, right?

MISS EYRE: Well, kind of.  But this play dates from the seventeenth century.  So there was no America.

BRANDY: Oh!  So I should just put that he was a Moor?

MISS EYRE: Yes.  That will work.  Also, you might want to rethink your spelling of "Venetian."  That's the term you mean for someone from Venice.


MISS EYRE: Well, you spelled it "Venusian."  That means he's from Venus.  Like the planet.

BRANDY: Oh!  Right.  [giggles] Oh, miss, you know I didn't mean that.

MISS EYRE [to herself]: I sure hope not, or my teaching of Othello was more confusing than I thought.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Presto Chango

What on earth is the point of Bloomberg's turnarounds? Why is he closing 26 schools, renaming them, and taking in all the same kids?

The first reason is fairly obvious--to humiliate and inconvenience thousands of teachers by forcing them to reapply for their own jobs. This will certainly be a miserable experience for all of them, whether or not they succeed in getting their jobs back. That's how folks like Bloomberg build morale. As a side bonus, the numbers of ATR teachers are likely to explode. Though it's an incredible and idiotic use of city money and their time, he can use them as a convenient scapegoat while dragging his filth through the NY papers.

Another reason, I'm told, is this--if XYZ high school needs to make a certain graduation rate next year so as not to be closed, all we need to do is change the name to ABC high school, and voila! They don't need to meet that standard anymore! Michael Bloomberg has magically arranged for them to meet some lower standard and he isn't "accountable" anymore.

Of course, even if he were accountable, he could always blame those darn unionized teachers. They want classrooms instead of trailers. They want blackboards instead of hammers and chisels. Look, here's one demanding a computer instead of an abacus! Is there any end to their gall?

Smoke and mirrors. Bloomberg's got nothing more to offer. The turnarounds will not improve the education of the kids who live in those neighborhoods. It insults the heritage of these schools, and the neighborhoods that they're in. But Bloomberg doesn't care. Because now, even though fewer kids graduate, he may be able to meet arbitrary standards that are now lower than they'd have been otherwise.

It's endlessly ironic that this mayor has staked his reputation on education, he knows nothing whatsoever about it, and doesn't even care to learn. He's expert at PR, and it appears nothing else matters.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We Want to Go on Trips! No, Wait, We Don't

I've blogged a number of times about how valuable I think field trips are.  Not only can they be educational, but they present wonderful opportunities to build relationships with your students in new and unexpected ways.  We in my grade at TMS2 have been hearing our students' (loud, insistent, shrill) pleas for more field trips, and we are embarking on our second one in a month in a few days.

However, there's just one problem: only about 75% of the slots available for the trip are filled.

The trip is free, by the way, lest you think financial difficulties might be holding students back.

One of my colleagues who teaches a different grade is in an even tougher position.  She's hard at work putting together an overnight trip, this intrepid gal, and more than half of the invited students haven't returned so much as the permission slip, let alone the medical paperwork and trip fees.

I'm starting to think that what the students really want is a few attendance-optional school days, since the students not going on the trip naturally aren't in school.  It really seemed, at one point, though, that the students really liked the trips themselves.  They liked hanging out with each other and, God forbid, their teachers, going somewhere new and learning something new outside the classroom.

What's going on here?  Why will students beg for trips, only to have interest levels hover somewhere between 40%-75% when they actually happen?  And in what universe don't students want to go on field trips, anyway?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Don't Know Much About History

Is NY State right to abolish the Global History Regents exam? Lots of us have had our fill of standardized testing, and would like to see far less of it. Of course that's not the case, as the state plans all sorts of nonsense, largely to assess teachers. Kids will be spending hours of potential learning time indulging in nonsensical junk science, to appease those who wish to fire teachers by any means necessary.

The problem with this proposal is not that there will be one fewer test. The problem is the rationale behind eliminating it--that too few students pass it. As the test with the worst record, it needs to be eliminated, disappeared. There is a counter proposal to make two tests rather than one, but that will cost more money. It's kind of amazing where they choose to make cuts--like the January Regents exams that not only allowed kids to graduate on time, but also boosted school stats.

That, of course, was a huge waste of money, as the notion here is to close as many schools as possible. This global exam, though, not only made the schools look bad, but also made the state look bad. That is unacceptable. So, like Geoffrey Canada dumping an entire cohort rather than deal with scores that make his school look bad, the state is exercising its absolute power rather than deal with a problem.

If the state were taking a reasonable approach, like empowering rather than vilifying teachers, we could present history in a way that might actually interest our kids in it. We could incorporate current events, and try to develop involved citizens. Or, we could simply dump the tests, hope interest in history wanes, fire hundreds of teachers who don't contribute to valuable test-taking, and try to raise a generation of citizens who believe people like John King, Mike Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, and Arne Duncan actually work for them rather than zillionaires like Bill Gates.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Everything Is POV

Thanks to Richard.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Kids asleep in class has been a scourge of school since, probably, forever, but for some reason it's really on my nerves lately. I really resent being made to feel responsible for the learning of students who sleep through my class day after day. I know--these are teenagers with no sense of their body's limits, so staying up until 3 a.m. playing Call of Duty or doing whatever it is that they do doesn't sound like a terrible idea.

It doesn't kick in until 3rd period and you're supposed to be taking notes on annotation strategies. Putting your head down for a few minutes sounds so easy and lovely. I'll just rest for a minute, then, boom, the teacher is shaking you awake. "Wake up. Come on, buddy. You're missing these notes. I don't want you to miss this. You're going to be confused later if you don't get this."


The teacher shakes you again. "Come on. Stay with us here."

You pick your head up and scribble a few notes, then put your head back down. So tired. Stupid English class.

When you finally pick it up again, the teacher, having given up on waking you up, knowing that students in a deep sleep occasionally come out of their slumbers with torrents of profanity that will be much more disruptive than letting them sleep, has moved on in the lesson. It's half an hour later. You have no idea what's going on. Well, might as well go back to sleep. Then I'll feel nice and rested for geometry.

And if you're the teacher, you physically can't put a student out of your class for sleeping, because what are you going to do, pick them up and deposit them in the hallway? Calling home for a kid sleeping is pretty damn useless, too, I've found.

There are some decent tips for dealing with sleeping students here, though I can't see my kiddies doing jumping jacks. I might try the "you can sleep if you're standing" trick. But until there's evidence for SleepLearning, we've got to fight the Sandman as well as every other battle in our classes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Common Core, Uncommon Assumptions

I have, in general, been in support of the Common Core. I'd like it if every child in this country had the opportunity to learn from the Core Knowledge curriculum, especially in the early grades; I've witnessed the chaos and despair that results from students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and then receiving substandard educations. Common Core is at least one small step towards unifying curriculum in this country, which, in general and in theory, could be a good thing.

But recently, I started to worry. A few of my colleagues and I sat down with a draft of a "performance-based assessment" that is aligned to the Common Core. This assessment came with a pair of nonfiction texts about "green consumption." A fine topic, but one that would need to be taught carefully and explicitly to many of the students we teach in order for them to be successful with it. I would bet money right now that maybe 2 of my current students could define "locavore." My colleagues and I completed a gap analysis of this task and quickly became overwhelmed and, I think it's fair to say, concerned by the prospect that something like this could appear on a Regents exam, or whatever they're going to be calling the Regents exam, in 2014.

The cultural bias in these pieces was blatant to teachers who teach in high-poverty schools. How many of our students, for example, know what a "thread count" is in a set of sheets, or even know how much a car-seat cover or a pound of pomegranates should cost? Yet all of these assumptions and more were built into the texts. And the assessment that emerged from these texts is the one by which our students, and of course we ourselves, will be judged.

If we're going to take all this time and money and effort to totally revamp all the state tests, can we at least not design ones that poor kids might have a fighting chance at passing?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Modern Fairy Tale

One morning, bright and early, Ms. Finnerty got an email from the principal.

Please come to my office period 2.

Ms. Finnerty was confused. She taught period 2.

Are you sure you didn't mean period 3? I teach period 2.

Moments later, there was a response.

I know very well you teach period 2. Of course we will cover your period 2 class. Please be sure to leave a lesson so the person who covers you can teach something of value that period.

Wow. That didn't sound good. Ms. Finnerty searched her memory for what could be so important her class needed covering, and drew a blank. Period 2 she reported to the principal's office.

"Sit down," said the principal. The principal then started fumbling with her collar. Ms. Finnerty sat down, but was inwardly concerned. The principal only fumbled with her collar when she was angry.

"You came into the building this morning carrying two Macy's bags," the principal announced.

This was true. Ms. Atkinson had two sons a little older than Ms. Finnerty's son, and had just given her some clothes her son could wear.

"How did you know that?" asked Ms. Finnerty.

"Ah!" the principal practically shouted, standing, and beginning to pace around like a detective from a black and white potboiler. "How do I know? Because I saw you!"

Ms. Finnerty was getting worried. She didn't know that Macy's bags weren't allowed in school. Why would they forbid Macy's bags? It's not such a bad store. They don't sell narcotics or anything. Well, not as far as she knows...

"That's right, I saw you!" repeated the principal. "And you didn't even say hello to me!"

"I didn't see you," said Ms. Finnerty.

"Let me tell you something, Ms. Finnerty. I am the principal. I am the educational leader of this school.  You walked into this building this morning and did not even acknowledge my existence! That is simply unacceptable!"

From that day on, Ms. Finnerty's professional life deteriorated. In June, she was fortunate enough to find another principal who was happy to hire her. And she would have lived happily ever after, if only Mayor Bloomberg had not decided to close her new school for no reason whatsoever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vacation from Vacation

As I mentioned before my departure, I traveled to exotic climes for spring break this year. And as the vagaries of international travel would have it, I didn't return until quite late Sunday evening, and once I made it through immigration and customs and the taxi stand and what have you, it was after midnight.

Now, I had planned accordingly for this. Lesson plan and materials were already in place for Monday morning before I left, so it wasn't too bad. Although I was tired, I knew I needed to be at school, not just for the sake of saving a day, but to send the message to students that once vacation is over, it's over, and it's time to come back.

However, that message was lost on the one-third of my students who decided to extend their break yesterday, some of whom had also started their breaks early. I have one student who has apparently been in Florida since the last weekend in March and another who has been in Puerto Rico even longer. Don't get me wrong; you'll pry spring break from my cold, dead fingers, and it's important that kids get time to relax and have fun with family and friends, too. But it concerns me how many families seem to decide that they can take multi-week vacations smack dab in the middle of the school year. I especially love it when I'm asked to provide, say, three weeks' worth of work for a student going off to visit relatives abroad in, say, March.

I know, too, it's hard to fault the kids for this when the families explicitly endorse and encourage this behavior. And I'm not talking about a kid with a death in the family or something like that. I'm talking about parents who have told me openly that they're going to visit family and friends and designated break times were simply inconvenient.

Well, bon voyage, my students who I haven't seen since maybe March 30th. Hope you're having fun. But please don't ask for some kind of elaborate explanation as to why you're not passing English.

Monday, April 16, 2012

That Wacky Funster from New Jersey

Governor Chris Christie, though not a teacher by trade, has real class. You can tell, because he's brought his ALEC-inspired war on teachers straight to the classroom. It's one thing to attack teachers. That's pretty common, and has become pretty much as standard as no. 2 pencils. However, His Governorship has taken things a step further:

"There’s a lot of really great teachers in the state," said Christie. "But their union cares more about how much they get paid than they care about how well you learn."

That's why Jersey schools are short of supplies, according to Christie. It's so inconvenient for him to provide teachers with salaries that the only way he can make up for it is by pulling supplies from schools. After all, Christie long ago made sure taxes on the rich were cut, and that cost around a billion dollars. Yet those greedy teachers still won't agree to work gratis. Where is Governor Christie going to get funds to helicopter to his son's baseball games?

Christie, of course, is always concerned with the taxpayer. That's why he killed the tunnel that was supposed to run from Jersey to New York. It turns out that he just lied about the whole darn thing, and now there's no tunnel, and it appears he deprived his state of it just to advance his up-and-coming political career.  President Christie. Emperor Christie. Whatever it takes.

Still, teachers have to be careful what they say to students. It's kind of incredible the governor is not subject to such standards. This particular governor has no problem spouting outright falsehoods to his state, no matter what the cost.

So lying to a bunch of teenagers, for him, is like stealing candy from a baby. And that's precisely what I expect to see Chris Chistie do next.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Friday, April 13, 2012


This photo ran in today's Daily News. I can't remember what the story was about, or who this guy is, but when I saw that this young woman was a student, I was beside myself. This looks like improper touching to me.

As a regular reader of the Daily News, I know that teachers who've committed such acts of barbarism have been labeled perverts. I certainly hope they say the same about this man, whoever he is. Perhaps there's a letter in his file that was thrown out for being baseless, and we, the public, need to know about it so we can shun this man, whoever he is, for whatever it was he was acquitted of doing.

The New York Post should camp out on his doorstep, call him the worst whatever-it-is he does in the city, and run a story about it. And the Times should catalog all the instances of anyone in the world having been acquitted of committed such atrocities and run a story about that too.

This looks to me like something for which this man, whoever he is, needs to be removed from his job, whatever that is, and sent to some other place for a few years to await a hearing. Then, after that, if he's declared innocent, it's important that all the papers call him a pervert and demand he be fired anyway.

Because that's not simply justice. It's New York tabloid justice, the best kind money can buy.

Related: NY Times Schoolbook

Related: The ICEUFT Blog

Related: Perdido Street School

Related Assailed Teacher

Related: Pissed Off Teacher 

Related: Accountable Talk 

Related: EdNotes Online

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Walcott Explains This Week's Turnaround Plan

 Good morning New York. I'm Dennis "Waffles" Walcott, NY City Schools Chancellor.

You know, we here at Tweed take the education of our youngsters very seriously. That's why, two years ago, Mayor Bloomberg decided to utilize the "transformation model" for 33 schools in the city. I fully supported this great innovation, as supporting our schools is something it's important for us to do. Also, using the Danielson Framework was helpful. While some people, including Danielson, felt our rubric was kind of a "gotcha" thing, I thought we did a pretty good job, especially since none of us had actually been trained in how to use the darn thing. I fully supported the way we used it.

Now, once we and the UFT were unable to come to an agreement on evaluation, I fully supported Mayor Bloomberg's decision to keep the federal money via the federal "turnaround" plan, which entails replacing the principal and at least 50% of staff. After all, we need that money to enact valuable reforms. When the UFT and the city came to a preliminary agreement on evaluation, I fully supported Mayor Bloomberg's decision to do the turnaround model anyway. After all, the UFT ought to know that we do what the mayor wants, when he wants, and how he wants, and that I fully support this approach.

Mayor Bloomberg also took the step of removing 7 schools who'd received As or Bs in our progress reports. We looked pretty stupid closing those schools, so when Mayor Bloomberg took them off the list, I fully supported him. 

Of course, there is that nasty contract that the UFT insists we use, just because we negotiated and signed it. While I think it's unreasonable, it turns out that the federal "turnaround" model violates the contract, which says we must allow a minimum of 50% of the most senior teachers to keep their jobs. Mayor Bloomberg wisely decided to follow this model rather than face a losing lawsuit, and I fully supported him.

So now it looks like we won't get the federal money after all. That was the main reason Mayor Bloomberg decided to use the turnaround model. But he has decided to go ahead with it anyway, and I fully support him. After all, it will be a nice change for kids to come to a school that's brand new, with lots of different teachers. Why? Because Mayor Bloomberg says it will, and I fully support him.

Sure there are those nattering nabobs of negativity, who wonder how a school will get off to a good start when it can't actually program for next year, or plan anything whatsoever given it has no idea who will be working there next year, and that the school technically will not exist next year. I say, embrace the challenge! Mayor Bloomberg changes his plans all the time, for any reason, or for no reason at all, and all I can say is I fully support him.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To My Student "Melissa," Who Is Transferring

A student who is very dear to me is transferring at the end of the academic year due to a move to a very "outer" region of an outer borough. This is for her.


Dear "Melissa":

I can't believe you're leaving. You were one of the first students I noticed when I came to your school almost two years ago now. At first you just seemed like another scared ninth grader. But as I got to know you over the past two years, I've learned a lot about you that sets you apart from your peers.

Even among many students who had tough starts in life, yours has been uniquely tough. It started when you were born early, disabled, and clinging to life. It got tougher when your dad went back to his native country, leaving you, your mom, and your sister to fend for yourselves in one of the most challenging cities in the world. And it got even tougher when you entered school, finally, and found yourself progressing so much more slowly than the other kids.

But the tough start that shatters so many children made you tough, Melissa. You fought back, maintaining at least an 80 average every year since 6th grade. You refused to disengage even when you were left back, and then left back again. You and your mom learned how to advocate for the services you needed and made sure you got them. You came to school every day, maintaining a 98% attendance rate. And by the time you reached the end of ninth grade, you were a star student in English class, typing out essays on your Blackberry because it was the only way you could type them at home and reading your poetry out loud to your classmates.

And as if you haven't had enough on your plate in your young life, it's been a difficult year for you as well. The challenges you've faced are so painful and personal that I don't want to post about them even with your real name and my real name left off this post. And yet here you are, with your mom, at parent-teacher conferences, discussing your (good) grades with me (except history, of course--it's always been your Achilles heel!). Here you are visiting me in the morning before classes start, talking about your dream of becoming a psychologist and writing your life story. Here you are, crying in the guidance counselor's office because you don't want to leave your school. So many kids, you have no idea how many, would have quit long ago. Here you still are.

On the very worst of days, kids like you remind me why I work so hard, because even on the worst days, there's at least one kid that I know for sure is giving everything in terms of effort and focus to make sure she gets an education, in spite of dizzyingly lousy odds. And I have to hang in there for that kid. Because if she can do it, I can do it.

You're that kid, Melissa. I'm going to miss you so much. But you? You'll be fine. If you've made it this far, nothing, nothing can possibly hold you back now.

Miss Eyre

Monday, April 09, 2012

Trash Journalism

The New York Daily News, along with the other papers, has been covering a group of 16 teachers it's labeled as "pervs" because of their alleged sexual misconduct. The DOE removed all these teachers from their classes, and attempted to fire them, but failed. However, Chancellor Walcott has determined that he knows better than any damn arbitrator.

Naturally, this is not his fault, and it's not Mayor Bloomberg's fault. This is because nothing is ever their fault, and anyone who says otherwise, like the thousands of residents who fruitlessly protest at PEP meetings, is wrong. After all, if Mayor Bloomberg was wrong, why would he have all that money? This is why he was able to change a law twice affirmed by voters and buy himself a third term.

Mayor Bloomberg cannot be bothered with inconveniences like due process or anyone superseding his infallible judgment. That's why Walcott, whose job it is to say whatever Bloomberg tells him to, says these teachers need to be removed. Who cares if the procedures they agreed upon were followed? Mayor Bloomberg wants what he wants, he wants it all, and he wants it now.

Personally, I'm acquainted with only one of the 16 teachers. Knowing that teacher, and knowing the case, I know the case was ridiculous nonsense. Were the other cases nonsense as well? I don't know, but the independent arbitrators determined the DOE had not proven what they set out to. They certainly made the right call in the case of the teacher I know.

But reporters don't always fret over truth or lack thereof when there are teachers out there to be trashed. If they learn the truth, why ruin a good story? Some reporters don't worry about calling people perverts when they're guilty of, at very worst, a momentary lack in judgment. The important thing appears to be tossing red meat out there to all the teacher haters. If it's true, so much the better. If not, what's the dif?

These days, racism is no longer as chic as it once was. It's pretty much passe to hate and fear Russia. You can't nonchalantly make fun of gay people anymore. Sure, there are terrorists, but who even knows where they are? So who's left? That, ladies and gentlemen, would be us, unionized teachers. People who read and watch crap need someone to hate. And Mayor4Life, who denied educators the contracts he granted all other city workers during the last round of bargaining, is always pleased when teachers are trashed.

Still, publishers who issue hateful misleading nonsense and call it news deserve to be sued for libel. I certainly hope they get what they so richly merit.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Taking the Assignment to Heart

And likely leaving one very confused social studies teacher.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Michelle Rhee's Greater New York Flat Earth Society

Michelle Rhee has brought her spectacular "Students First" program to New York. This is significant because, with only billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor 1% Cuomo to push endless "reform," it needs more representation. So she's started a group! After all, if Mayor4Life declines his right to change the law again and buy a fourth term, it's possible a candidate who is not insane may emerge.

So Rhee has gathered a bunch of CEOs, whose education expertise, like that of renowned expert Bill Gates, stems from the millions of dollars they've managed to accumulate. Of course she's recruited Joel Klein, who presided over the spectacular rise in NYC test grades that later proved to be completely unfounded, not to mention the no-bid contract from Alvarez and Marsal that left schoolchildren shivering on the coldest day of the year, waiting for buses that never arrived. He also managed to close hundreds of schools he claimed were failing. The fact that these schools invariably had high concentrations of high-needs students was neither here nor there. Joel Klein has a no excuses POV, and he made none as he blamed unionized teachers for absolutely everything that troubled these schools.

Another important achievement of Joel Klein's was to establish a two-tier school system. Charter schools, largely unburdened by those nasty union contracts, were established. And his BFF, Eva Moskowitz, sits on the committee. After all, if she doesn't get a pro-"reform" mayor, it might be her schools relegated to basements, rather than the public school kids. Klein himself sent his kids to private schools, with class sizes under 15. For regular New Yorkers, they can enter a lottery and hope for the best. Why bother fixing schools when you can just close them, shuffle kids all over the city, and then close them some more?

Then, of course, he resigned, took one of the pensions he claims teachers shouldn't get, and took a high-paying gig with media mogul and master propagandist Rupert Murdoch.

Of course they needed a teacher, to legitimize their enterprise. So where else would they go but E4E, which takes Gates money to support every darn "reform" that comes down the pike. And the teacher they selected comes from an F-rated school. I suppose it's good to hedge your bets so that if Mayor Bloomberg closes your school, you can score some cushy gig with Gates or Rhee while your colleagues shuffle all over the city as ATRs (who E4E thinks should be fired).

And the darndest thing about this whole club is this--none of their ideas--value-added, merit pay, charter schools, firing teachers for the hell of it--have actually proven to help anyone or anything but the bottom line. If I were chancellor, a real one rather than a pawn of the mayor, I'd move to reduce class sizes, retain experienced teachers, and teach kids in real classrooms rather than trailers and closets. But I'm a dreamer.

Still, my ideas, unlike those of Rhee and her corporate whores, are not for sale to the highest bidder.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

"But Someone Has to Make War"

Really, Geoffrey Canada? The author of Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, who really ought to know something about the ramping up of not only violence, but rhetoric?

The title of this post is a direct quote from Canada, founder of Harlem Children's Zone and big-time ed reform mucketymuck, and whose comprehensive approach to school reform brings much to appreciate. But unfortunately, his alignment with Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein hasn't done much to endear him to me, and his comments in this article from the Times about the founding of Students First NY aren't going to help.

This new branch of "Students First" (which I place in quotes, as if somehow making sure that teachers are paid fairly, schools have enough seats for the children attending them, and that budgets are able to meet children's needs isn't putting students first) has formed in response to the coming mayoral election, to do combat with any candidate who might theoretically not be a complete disaster when it comes to the city's schools. Individual merit pay? Publishing teacher data? Stuffing as many students as possible in every class, since class size doesn't matter, only how "effective" the teacher is? Testing everything right down to whether students give up their seats for old ladies on the subway? (Actually, I'll take that last one. I'm "highly effective" in that department. But anyway.) Bring it on and more, they say.

But, since we shouldn't be shocked that our old pals RheeKlein et al. are going to make sure they stay in the headlines even when their ally Bloomberg leaves office, let's go back to the curious case of Geoffrey Canada. The full quote from Canada is this: "Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war. But someone has to make war." This is in reply to the suggestion that many charter schools and advocates are looking at their own schools and making improvements, rather than attacking others.

So someone has to make war? Why? Haven't city teachers borne the brunt of years of largely failed reforms, going the last three years without a raise? Haven't kids suffered in schools without adequate chairs, books, and even toilets? Why can't we focus on making the changes in schools that all stakeholders can support, like smaller class sizes, a wider range of activities and classes to keep kids engaged with school, and keeping facilities and materials up to date?

Evidently not. Canada, who, again, should know something about the perils of escalation, thinks someone has to make war. Color me disappointed with someone like Canada having a foot-in-mouth moment.

On a happier note, happy spring break! Enjoy the time off. I'm certain you've earned it. I'm off to exotic climes indeed for this break and looking forward to it. So I'm leaving you in the very capable hands of NYC Educator for the coming week (except for one quick post from me on Wednesday). Go easy on him in case he has to go to darkest New Jersey.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Chillin' With Mayor4Life

Okay, now, you see that big guy in the picture? That's Mayor Mike. And the beautiful woman? Well, that's us I guess. What are those chains that bind us? Are they mayoral control? The UFT Contract? A stolen third term?

Whatever binds us, it'll be there for a good year-and-a-half. No sense letting him get too comfortable. I was at the closing hearing at Grover Cleveland High School on Monday, and I was just a little bit upset. I may have said one or two uncomplimentary things about Michael the Hut and his band of Tweedies. I could have researched good things about the school and made some kind of impassioned plea, but figured the DOE rep was probably playing a Pacman game under the table and just waiting for the moment he could go home.

Leo Casey pointed out that Cleveland did not meet the DOE's own criteria for a closing school. He asked what a parent would say if a teacher laid out requirements for passing, the kid met said requirements, and then failed anyway. As a parent, I would not be jumping up and down with happiness.

These hearings will be going on all month. You should catch one, or three, and stand up for the schools Bloomberg is closing in a fit of pique. Maybe if they hear enough of us, something will rattle around in their lizard brains and they'll come to their senses. Probably not. But if they're going to chain us, or our schools, to their repugnance, we might as well make it as difficult as we possibly can.

There's nothing quite like seeing an entire community lined up against Bloomberg "reforms." And there's nothing quite like seeing firsthand Tweed's indifference to education, community, reality, and anything else our billionaire mayor deems inconvenient. Come out. Sign up. Speak. Remember this administration as the abomination it is, and work like hell so history doesn't repeat itself in 2013.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Let's Go to the Field

I had the kids out on a field trip last week. "Miss," one of them said to me, "why is it called a field trip if we never, ever go to a field?" He wasn't kidding, so part of our transportation time was spent explaining the broader meeting of "field."

I do like field trips, though, generally speaking. I like museums and parks and such, and for kids born and raised in New York City, many of our students have never experienced some of the city's great cultural institutions. And we're lying if we say we don't like getting out of the classroom now and again ourselves.

Plus, you get to see a whole other side of the students. One of my more rambunctious boys, for example, showed a great deal of focus and patience during a challenging game, coaching his teammates (including me!) with warmth and positivity. We talked about subway etiquette (today's post image notwithstanding--no "cheese buses" for the high schoolers, please!), and a few of my young men gave up their seats for older women. We made sure to clean up our tables to pristine condition after we ate pizza for lunch. It's all about sending a good impression when you're with 100+ teenagers, who can to the general public sometimes seem like one giant loud messy mass.

Field trips are a great occasion to educate the whole student and bond as a class. Don't overlook them in your plans for the year. And as the weather gets nicer and principals are itching to spend, spend, spend before the DOE takes the money away, maybe it would be a good time for you to plan a quick trip. May is a very long month.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Bloomberg Feigns Generosity

A story in Gotham Schools points out that Mayor4Life Bloomberg, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that "Turnaround Schools" will not, in fact, have to replace at least 50% of staff. In fact, the federal model on which this is supposedly based states schools would "rehire no more than 50% of existing staff."

However, article 18D of the UFT Teacher Contract, to which the city is a signatory, states that "at least fifty percent of the School's pedagogical positions shall be selected from among the appropriately licensed most senior applicants from the impacted School(s) who meet the School's qualifications."

And therein lies the conundrum. Should the Emperor set 50% as a maximum, to fulfill federal regulations and qualify for SIG money, or should he abide by the terms of the Contract to which he's agreed? Given an almost certain lawsuit if he defies the Contract (and likely a losing one), Bloomberg has opted for the latter. After all, even Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch has determined Bloomberg's turnaround plan has nothing to do with helping children.

The fact is, Bloomberg is simply doing this in a fit of pique over his awful evaluation system. I want what I want, and if I can't have it, I'm taking my ball, going home, and closing 33 schools. When you're a billionaire mayor, you can do things like that.

Tonight, in accordance with city agreements, there will be a closing hearing at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens. The school will present its arguments, a panel will pretend to listen, and the panel will recommend closure. On April 26th, the PEP will pretend to listen to arguments and then vote to do whatever Michael Bloomberg has told told them to, because that's what mayoral control means--that no one in the entire city except Michael Bloomberg has a voice.

Panels all over the city will convene to determine which teachers get to stay at their schools and which become ATRs. In schools with hundreds of teachers, this will be incredibly time-consuming. There will be chaos, and it will be appropriately blamed on Bloomberg's juvenile decision to move ahead with this nonsense. Because he's avoided a time-consuming losing lawsuit, there will be somewhat less chaos.

But let's not applaud the mayor for making a boneheaded move marginally less idiotic. I don't expect to see "marginally less idiotic" as a campaign slogan anytime soon.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Articles of Faith