Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg Revamps Merit Pay Plan

In a stunning turnaround, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced fundamental revisions to his proposed merit pay scheme.

"I've been reading the NYC Parents Blog lately," said the Mayor. "It turns out that test scores don't actually determine who is and is not a good teacher, and that none of this stuff is proven. Not only that, but merit pay has been kicking around for a hundred years, and it's never produced any results whatsoever. In fact our merit pay trial in NYC didn't work either, and I don't even know what made me want to do it again. Maybe one of those recently graduated education advisers. Who knows?"

The Mayor went on to explain that he'd been getting most of his information from pro-"reform" sites, and was dismayed to learn that the commenters he'd relied upon for information were largely motivated by the prospect of gift cards for free footlongs from Subway.

"How the hell can you rely on people who write things only because they want free sandwiches?" mused the Mayor.

The new plan will save money by making merit pay totally arbitrary. A wheel will be installed at Tweed, which will then be spun to determine the schools in which merit pay will be distributed. Then, lucky merit pay winners' names will be pulled out of hats in their respective schools.

"It's as good a method as any," said Bloomberg, running to meet the SUV that drives him to his preferred subway station. As we waited for the room air-conditioner to be installed in the SUV window, the mayor confided, "We'll save a lot of money and time this way. No one really understands the data, it's completely unreliable, and I personally hate the little weasels who have the patience to plod through it anyway."

Asked why he didn't simply give teachers the raise all other city employees got for the 2008-2010 bargaining period, Bloomberg said the expense was prohibitive, and pointed to the 80-million the city wasted on ARIS, due to be scrapped for a state system very soon. The mayor intimated that the entire notion of merit pay was specifically designed to spare the city the expense of raises, and he hoped that other unions would embrace it so as to make it easier to provide tax cuts for speculators, investors, and his neighbor Cathie Black.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Good Day AFT

As Vice-President of the United States, I'm pleased to address all you teachers! I know you're here because you have a calling, a dedication to teach our kids. Otherwise, why would you be facing pay cuts, additional fees for pensions and health care, and be buying supplies out of pocket?

When President Obama and I see the things Republicans are doing to you, we're horrified, and that's why we're out there every day, paying teachers valuable lip service. And let me assure you that, when and if President Obama finds his comfortable shoes, he may or may not be out there with organized labor, protesting the loss of collective bargaining rights!

Now I can see there are those of you who object to some of our programs, specifically Race to the Top. Sure, you say, it brings more testing, and that your very jobs depend on getting better grades on those tests. While that is certainly true, remember that our priority is to make the United States the best educated country in the world. That's why we do whatever Bill Gates asks us to, whether or not it's been tested or disproven. After all, if he didn't know about this stuff, why would he have all that money? And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that President Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he wanted less testing! So what more do you want? For Chrissake, he's the goshdarn President of the United States!

Remember, the President's kids and my grandchildren go to the Sidwell Friends School, where there is less testing, so we're putting our money where our mouth is, and anyone else who wants to can just move to DC and pay 33K a year to send their kids there too! This is the land of opportunity!

So don't be a Gloomy Gus! Some things we do may not please you, but the important thing to remember is that the things Romney will do may be even worse! He doesn't care about class size! Arne Duncan cares deeply about class size, which is why he said class sizes should be raised just one week after Bill Gates said so. And I know you all admire Bill Gates, since he was the keynote at your last convention! Can I get an amen? No?

Well, anyway, I realize the whole merit pay, teachers getting fired for no reason, and school closing thing doesn't resonate among teachers, and I truly regret that those troublemakers from Chicago are actually saying so out loud. Honestly I was not prepared for that. So let's put our differences aside and take a real look at what I've done since I arrived here.

As I look around me, I notice many of you are smaller than me. In fact, I've seen many of you walking down the stairs, and I chose not to push any of you. Not only that, but I saw several of you walking by the fountain, and I didn't toss any of you into it. This was my choice. Could you say the same for Mitt Romney? Nobody knows, right? Let me tell you something about Romney. He supports high-stakes testing, charters, merit pay, privatization, decreased teacher voice, and vouchers. Let me make one thing perfectly clear--President Obama and I DO NOT support vouchers! That is a promise.

So God bless America, God bless teachers, and remember, when you're in that voting booth, Joe Biden has not pushed any teachers down the stairs, as far as you know. And thank you, AFT, for endorsing us without asking us for any concessions whatsoever! Those goshdarn LGBT and Latino communities actually pushed the President to change his positions, and that was pretty freaking inconvenient!

So believe me when I say this administration really appreciates teachers!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ravitch in Detroit

Extraordinary. I rate her highly effective.

As an aside, why did the UFT exclude every member who'd publicly say what she did about value-added from attendance or participation? When will we get a voice in the AFT?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Modern Problems

Friday, July 27, 2012

If Diane Ravitch Were UFT, She Wouldn't Be at AFT Convention

This week we've been examining precisely what it takes to represent the UFT at a national or state convention. The prime requirement, of course, is to be an invited member of the elite Unity Caucus, and to do that you must agree to support all union positions in public. Ravitch, though I like her very much, fails to meet the standard. Here's why.

1. She publicly opposes mayoral control. UFT supports it, and this alone would disqualify her. It's a long tradition to expel Unity members for failure to conform. In fact, Albert Shanker used to expel people for opposing the Vietnam War. Mayoral control is what brought us the rubber-stamp PEP, and I've seen high-ranking UFT officials get just as frustrated with them as most of us are. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and placing all that power in the hands of an elitist billionaire, let alone anyone at all, was a huge error. We ought to stop pretending otherwise.

2. Ravitch vehemently opposes VAM, and has publicly labeled it for the junk science it is. She does not support using it for teacher evaluations, not at any percentage. Standard union argument is that principal's judgment can be flawed, and therefore other measures are needed. I cannot really argue that point, nor the one that there are plenty of crazy principals out there, but adding random nonsense to the mix hardly helps. In fact, if you have a small-minded principal, it's likely this person could work to see your value-added scores scour the depths of whatever underworld whatever remains of the soul of Joel Klein has been relegated to.

3. Ravitch fails to support Common Core, contending it should be tested before it's put into effect. This makes perfect sense to me. In fact, with the AFT circulating a petition against excessive testing, before supporting it, wouldn't it be a good idea for us to find out precisely how much testing it will entail? The spectre of nine tests a year, to me, hardly bodes well. I'm upset by Common Core in that it does not differentiate between ELA for American-born kids and ESL for my students. To me, that's patently idiotic. Issues like these ought to be addressed before we throw our support to any program.

4. Ravitch is highly critical of union-endorsed President Barack Obama, going so far as to say he's given GW Bush a third term in education. UFT members won't be talking any of that when Vice President Joe Biden addresses the crowd in Detroit. When Obama's people applaud entire teaching staffs being fired, when Arne Duncan states Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education, Obama says nothing, but Ravitch is not impressed.

I could go on, but you get the point. I commend the AFT for selecting Ravitch this year. She's a much better choice than Bill Gates.

On the other hand, it's not particularly admirable that UFT leadership has excluded absolutely every New York City teacher who publicly supports her ideas.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Those Who Can, Teach, Until They Don't

I am doing some professional development this summer.  At one of these sessions, I heard from a professor at one of our city's great universities, who has done some work with high school students over the summer.  This gentleman was lovely and learned, and very respectful of and attuned to his audience, which was composed almost entirely of New York City high school teachers.  Nevertheless, I couldn't help but listen to this man's remarks and feel like a bit of a chump.

This gentleman was very proud of the work he did with his high school students, as well he should be.  His syllabus was rich and challenging; the samples of discussion we heard and writing we saw certainly looked rigorous and engaging.  And the students themselves were lively and focused.  All well and good.

This gentleman caps his class at fifteen students.  All fifteen of those students have to apply to his class. There are no grades, only written and oral feedback from the professor and his three assistants (for fifteen students) throughout the course.

He emphasized that, of course, work like this is made much more possible under his circumstances than ours.  And fair enough; I have no personal beef with him.  But surely some idiot from the DOE could come to his presentation and say, "Well, look, he's working with New York City high school students, and look what he can do!  Look what they can do!  Why can't you lousy unionized public school teachers do it?"--forgetting, of course, that he is working with fifteen highly motivated, hand-picked students and three (three!!!) assistants.

I persist in my work as an educator because I feel that it is important, and I am good at it, and I am generally treated fairly at work.  Don't cry for me; if I really wanted to do something else, I could and would.  But that's precisely the problem: Many of us teachers are bright and motivated and talented enough to do something else.  Is it any surprise that many of those of us who feel underappreciated, disrespected, and powerless move on, in the face of the challenges we face, in the face of the paperwork and the bureaucracy?  When the students and the paperwork pile up with no assistance, no extra time or space or money, and no end in sight?

We'd all like to teach in his situation, and I think, and at the same time I can accept that I probably never will.  Still, maybe we, and "the system" in general, should look at it as a goal, rather than a pipe dream.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Strong Union Embraces Diversity

UFT has just scored a victory against Mayor4Life, conclusively establishing that even those as rich as Bloomberg need to listen to voices other than those in their heads. CTU has just provided proof that a determined and cohesive union can negotiate a win-win. However, there's work ahead on both fronts. In NY, it's likely an embittered mayor will move toward more traditional school closings, because he needs what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. And Chicago, just like NY, still has not agreed upon a new contract.

A time like this is a time for us to stand firm, and stand together. Yet in Detroit, UFT will be represented only by leadership-selected members who have signed an oath to support what they're told to support. This includes mayoral control, the prime source of city school closings, and also value added methodology, now embedded in NY State law. Value-added has been vigorously opposed by a bold group of New York State principals, and also by prominent education historian Diane Ravitch. It's largely regarded as junk science, and that it can cause teachers to be denied tenure, or even be fired for no good reason.

Yet this weekend, at the AFT convention, there will be not one single solitary vocal critic of VAM from the UFT. Can it really be that 100% of UFT members support junk science? Again, it's because every UFT rep has promised to support what leadership supports, good, bad, or indifferent. Regrettably, that's not the sort of thing that strengthens us. Rather, it encourages and increases the sort of cynicism that keeps all too few of our members from active participation. There's a good reason why fully three quarters of UFT members don't even bother to vote in union elections.

As for VAM, the debate within UFT is not whether or not we will be using VAM, but whether it will entail 20%, 40%, or indeed 100% of the final evaluation. That's an interesting conversation, but it ought not to be the one and only one.

As I've repeatedly suggested, the optimal percentage of junk science in any evaluation should be zero, and it's unfortunate this merited no previous discussion, and that there will be no UFT member in Detroit to point that out. I'm very confident large numbers of our members, given enough info (the kind largely unavailable in MSM), would strongly agree. There are not a whole lot of teachers I know who strongly advocate for junk science--I can't think of a single one, in fact. Yet dissenting voices, in a group that applauded for Bill Gates, will get no consideration whatsoever.

UFT leaders need not agree with us. They need not adopt our positions. But again, they ought to entertain them, reason with us,  rather than simply shut us out altogether. Winning hands, like the one just blooming in Chicago, are not achieved by erecting brick walls across the paths of passionate and active unionists.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UFT Wins "Turnaround"

NY Post's Yoav Gonen reports on Twitter judge ruled DOE cannot restaff 24 so-called "turnaround" schools. Big loss for Mayor4Life. All his hopes to revive his flagging reputation now revolve around getting New Yorkers to stop drinking those darn Big Gulps.

To Be an Activist

If you wish to join Unity Caucus, and participate in leadership decisions, you have to agree to support all Unity/ UFT decisions. One of those decisions, in 2002 and again in 2009, was to support mayoral control. Many of us are painfully aware of what that entails--a fake school board called the PEP that rubber stamps absolutely anything our billionaire mayor desires.

In 2002 many members had reservations about giving all that power to any one person. I know I did. Giuliani had always tried to get that sort of control, but he was always pursuing insane lawsuits, like the one to bring him mistress into the home he shared with his wife and young children, and no one took him seriously. Bloomberg, much smarter than his predecessor, made it happen.

By 2009, it was pretty clear what Bloomberg's notion of democracy entailed, given he'd dismissed a couple of members who dared to contemplate voting against him. And, of course, the PEP has approved every school closing, ignoring the cries of teachers, parents, students, community leaders, and absolutely everyone but Michael Bloomberg.

UFT asked for some modifications, but got nothing that substantively eroded what is effectively mayoral dictatorship. However, feel free to correct me if I've missed anything.

Regardless, virtually no Unity member in New York City was able to publicly speak against mayoral control, because that violated the official leadership position. Then, in 2010, they were sent to Seattle to applaud for Bill Gates. While no UFT members were permitted to oppose Gates, some AFT locals apparently had people who did, and those who were vocal in opposition were ridiculed by the faithful as they walked out.

Whatever margin Unity won by, there is a large percentage of UFT teachers who oppose what Gates has done to education. Even if it were solely the 9% that opposed Unity/ New Action, that 9% ought to have a place in leadership. I'd suggest, though, that many more teachers oppose Gates than represented in the percentage that voted for opposition.

It's a far cry from democracy to deny those teachers a voice. We ought not to run our union the way Michael Bloomberg runs his PEP. In fact, by granting zero voice, zero votes, to anyone but leadership-invited caucus members, we're doing worse--at least Bloomberg grants five representative votes to face his insurmountable eight.

To be continued...

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Do You Get Teachers to Clap for Bill Gates?

At the last AFT Convention, incredibly, Bill Gates was the keynote. Personally, I was horrified. Here is this man who's doing everything his billions will permit to eviscerate our profession, and we're inviting him in to tell us about it. Why on earth would anyone want to do that? I have no idea.

I do know a little about how you get New York teachers to clap, though. It's largely because each and every UFT member at the convention is a member of the Unity Caucus, the group that’s controlled the UFT virtually since its inception.

The caucus is open only by invitation, and there are very particular rules one must follow, when and if invited. You can access the application here by clicking download.

Here’s one part of the agreement:

To express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus;

That’s healthy, of course. If something’s wrong, it behooves you to let people know about it. It’s the next part that, although it pretty much explains everything, is a little disturbing:

To support the decisions of Caucus/ Union leadership in public or Union forums;

Thus, every single "Union activist" in attendance is bound to do whatever they're told. Does this applause for Gates represent the membership? Certainly not those who really know what Gates is all about. 

Would it really be that dangerous to allow UFT members to tell Gates their real thoughts? And would Gates show up if he thought that had half a chance of happening?

Most perplexing is this--how can you be an "activist" if you're sworn not to express any but pre-approved thoughts?

To be continued...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bloomberg Fails, Yet Does Not Get Letter Grade

Stunningly blunt article in the Daily News today on how Bloomberg's signature initiative, school closings, has been an abject failure. It's important to note that the US Education Department favors similar programs, based on Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2012, also an abject failure.

It's pretty clear that high-needs students do not, in fact, disappear, no matter how many schools you close (except at charter schools). Also, poverty does not simply disappear when you treat the nation's teachers like second class citizens.

Since all public schools get letter grades, largely based on how many high-needs students they happen to serve, shouldn't we be giving Tweed one given they've been doing this for a decade and it doesn't work? Will Arne Duncan or Bill Gates read this and determine they've been moving the nation backwards for no good reason?

More to the point, will Daily News readers remember this the next time they read an editorial stating that Bloomberg is a savior and the teacher union is trying to subvert the education of our youngest and most vulnerable?

Only time will tell.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Are You Afraid of Tech?

I can't say as I blame you. Principals can't wait to install another Smartboard, put out another iPad, hook up WiFi to the boiler room, and incorporate computers into everything and everyone.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love computers. I love the internet. It's like the public library right here on my laptop. Why deprive anyone of that?

On the other hand, there are some things we still need to do ourselves--like writing. How many times have you received a paper with the internet address still on top of it? How many times have you googled a sentence from a student composition to find it's copied word-for-word from Wikipedia or Sparknotes? How many times has the next composition you read been identical to that purloined essay?

That's why, especially in writing classes, I demand almost all work be done in front of my eyes. I've given up on assigning writing homework. "My brother/ cousin/ girlfriend/ dog helped me." I don't want to know how your brother/ cousin/ girlfriend/ dog writes. I need to know how you write.

I have nothing against the use of tech in the classroom. For a time last year, by mistake, I was temporarily assigned to a classroom with a Smartboard instead of the barren, too hot, too cold trailer. I used the thing every day. On a computer, I have excellent handwriting, and kids no longer laugh at my miserable indecipherable scrawl.

Scrawl notwithstanding, I don't need the Smartboard. I don't even need my little iPad (though you'll pry it out of my cold, dead hands). They're here to help us. They are tools that extend the activities we've already planned. We'd be silly not to use them. But while machines break down, we don't. We need to be able to do without the machines.

And despite the cartoon, despite the rantings of Bill Gates, machines will never take our place, never be able to answer our students' questions, and never be able to give the guidance we provide--unlike the "reformers," we always look at more than test scores.

It doesn't make you a bad teacher if you don't use tech, even if your admin gives you a hard time. But if you can't do without it, there's something other than tech missing from your bag of tricks.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Status Quo from Quinn

Christine Quinn has a very sharp sense of what's good for Christine Quinn. That's why she enabled a third term for Mayor Bloomberg--it bought her one too. Others, like Tony Avella, declined to continue when Quinn, Bloomberg and company decided to overturn the twice-voiced will of the voters and extend their political careers.

Yet when it comes to others, Quinn is not all that concerned. Should New Yorkers get paid sick days? This, apparently, is not the sort of thing that keeps Quinn up at night. So what if people wake up sick and need to go to work? It's not like Christine Quinn has that problem. So why worry about it?

And that, apparently, is the character of the front-runner for mayor who will follow Bloomberg. It's important that we have a mayor who actually cares about working people. This means we need someone different from Giuliani, Bloomberg, or Quinn. So it's back to the drawing board for NYC Democrats. We have a sufficient number of political hacks from which to choose already.

Let's have someone with character and vision, for a change, if it's not too much trouble.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All Teachers Are Old, Miss

"So how are the ninth graders?" my principal asked me a few days ago.  I'm teaching in the summer bridge program for our incoming freshmen, so I'm in a position to know.

"They seem nice," I said.  "Haven't had any issues.  I mean, the ones who are here voluntarily over the summer probably aren't the tough cases, but the kids who are here are all right."

"Can you figure out who the class clowns are yet?" he asked with a laugh.

"Oh, definitely," I assured him, laughing back.

I enter this real conversation into evidence.  All of this was said in a gentle, joking tone, so no worries that I'm letting the kids dis me before the school year even starts:

POTENTIAL CLASS CLOWN, to MISS EYRE: So what do you teach?

MISS EYRE: English.

PCC: Oh.  Figures.

ME: What do you mean?

PCC: Well, you know, you look like an English teacher.

ME: Come again?

PCC: You know.  Like a brainiac.

ME: Um, because math teachers or Spanish teachers can't be brainiacs?

PCC: No.  Like an English teacher brainiac.  You know, with the glasses and everything.

ME: Well, I have to say, this is the first time I've been told I look like a brainiac.  [Incredibly enough, this is true.]  Usually I just get that I look like a student.

PCC [attempting to be reassuring and failing miserably]: Oh no.  You don't look like no student.  You look old.

ME: Like how old?

PCC: Oh, like old.  Like maybe 30.

ME: I think I liked my old freshmen better.  They said I looked 24.

ANOTHER STUDENT [catching on]: No, she's not 30!  She's like...27.

ME: See?  Now, if I have her, she's getting an A all year.

PCC: It doesn't matter!  You're just old!

OTHER STUDENT [clarifying]: ALL teachers are old, miss.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Whatever Eva Wants, Eva Gets

Mayor Bloomberg, in what may be his last term in office, is determined to leave his imprint upon the city school system. It's certainly true that his endless decade of "reform" has not brought about improvements in test scores, the only thing he actually cares about. And with hundreds of closed schools and the decimated neighborhoods in their wake, we know the quality of life is not anything to jump up and down about either.

But it's important that his good buddy, Eva Moskowitz, gets as much of a foothold as possible into what was once a purely public school system, so Mayor4Life is giving her even more schools to privately manage. One is Washington Irving, scheduled for closure, and the other is the High School of Graphic Communication Arts. The latter was one of the 24 scheduled for Bloomberg-style "turnaround," which appears unlikely.

But nothing nips at morale quite like a two-tiered system within a single building, where private-school students of Eva Moskowitz are treated better than the lowly kids actually served by public schools. There's nothing like seeing your building crumble at the seams, entering through a back door, or having your library disassembled and boxed up to let you know just where you stand. And, with low morale and disillusionment, "failure" and closure can follow closely behind.

It's kind of amazing to have a mayor who cheerleads for failure and closure of his own public schools. But with Bloomberg, it's become sort of a tradition.

Let's hope it ends conclusively next year, and the NY has the sense to vote in a mayor who actually wants city kids to get a decent education, as opposed to the enrichment of hedge-funders and one-percenters enthused about charter schools.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Absolutely Nothing Happened Today

That's the education news, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reports that teacher unions spent a lot of money on causes they support. When the teacher unions spend money on causes they don't support, that will be news.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let's Make a Deal (?)

In the spirit of being reasonable, Bloomberg and Walcott have conceded they may need to follow the law after all. This is a huge step for Mayor4Life, who actually managed to change a law twice affirmed by voters so he could buy himself a third term. After all, what's the point of having all that money if you actually have to follow rules clearly intended for the little people?

Nonetheless, after having one's ass handed to one twice in a row, one begins to wonder whether the third time is a charm. Given the very real possibility they may be compelled to keep all those darn teachers, rather than dumping literally thousands of them into the ATR, it's time to plan for it. After all, the longer they keep their heads in the sand, the harder it is to breathe.

So the move here is to plan for what may be inevitable. But there's yet another wrinkle. Meryl Tisch, state education chancellor, is pressuring Mayor4Life to come to an agreement with the UFT over teacher evaluations, saying 292 million in state funds will be withheld if that doesn't happen by year's end.

I wonder whether that money is earmarked for "reform"-style nonsense or whether it can be used in the classroom. If it's only for evaluation and merit pay and other useless nonsense, she can keep her money. But the public won't perceive it that way since the papers never specify such things. Either way, there are problems with this agreement. Problem one for me is that teachers will be evaluated via VAM, which is total crap. UFT leaders will argue it's only 20% crap, and that they will absolutely not allow it to creep up to 40. Others will maintain it's 100, since teachers cannot get a decent rating without doing well on so-called objective measures.

But before we even have that discussion, there are other issues. For example, two ineffective ratings, and teachers will be pretty much fired, no matter how nostalgic they are about tenure. And UFT negotiated that 13% of ineffective rating will go to an independent arbitrator rather than Walcott's ever-ready rubber stamp. For folks like me, this sucks because 87% of working teachers won't get a fair hearing.

Mayor4Life, according to my UFT sources, has a completely different view. He finds it outrageous that even 13% of teachers should get a fair hearing, because he's Mayor Mike, and he should do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. Therefore he will not finalize this agreement during his tenure. Now some of us may conclude we should jump with joy since this precludes being evaluated by junk science.

That's a very valid point. The counterpoint is that any new evaluation system would necessitate a new contract, which would also necessitate facing the fact that all city employees except educators got an 8 plus % raise during the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining. Personally,  I think it's a mistake to take money in exchange for junk science, particularly since our brother and sister unions did not grant concessions this round, none of them are rated by junk science, and even the so-called shield against making teacher ratings public is so full of holes you could drive a city garbage truck through it.

But that's just me. What do you think we should do here?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

School's in for Summer

I've never worked summer school before, but I've also found that a strange entropy seems to overtake me by the second week of August.  I think it's because I don't have kids of my own and Mr. Eyre works in the Big City, so I'm alone for long stretches of time in the summer.  On the surface I don't mind this, but I decided it might be better for my mental health to work at least a little this summer.  So I'm teaching two weeks of summer school.

This is not as bad as I feared it might be.  I'm working a "Bridge Academy" because my genius principal figured out how to afford it, and getting to know the incoming 9th graders is actually pretty nice.  Obviously, the kids who would come voluntarily over their summer vacations tend not to be the hard cases, so it's low-key and enjoyable.

I wish I could say the same for the teachers who are teaching the credit recovery classes.  It just seems to be more of what didn't already work the first time.  Attendance is spotty, motivation is nil, what have you.  I don't know who to feel worse for, the teachers or the kids.

So far, working at least part of the summer seems to work for me.  How about you?  Who's spending at least some of their summer on the great per-session payroll?  Or am I a chump who should be sleeping till noon and chilling at the beach?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To IEP, or Not to IEP?

Diane Ravitch today notes what it takes to build a successful charter school. First, of course, you have to spend money. Then, rid yourself of the regulations that burden real public schools. Most of all, avoid those troublesome high-needs students, the ones who don't speak English, or have learning disabilities.

That's true, of course. One of the most important things you can do if you want those great stats is to get great kids. They pass tests, and you look like a genius.

But not all high-needs kids are equal. If you take ESL students, have they been here for three years, acquiring passive knowledge, or did they just arrive three days ago? There is a huge difference. Yet, for the sake of record-keeping, ESL is ESL. So stock up on the ones that know English already, and take complete credit for them, even if they learned in those awful public schools.

And special education really runs the gamut. You have some kids who just need extra time on tests, and some who need a little help in a resource room. You have others, called "alternate assessment," who are not expected to graduate. I don't anticipate Eva Moskowitz taking alternate assessment kids anytime soon. Not even all public schools take those kids.

So don't look at the stats without looking more closely. If both my school and yours take 10% high-needs kids, they may not be the same.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Who Are We Representing?

At the AFT Convention, the exalted meeting place in Detroit for UFT members who've been invited to join the Unity Caucus, there will be two resolutions. One will be in protest of excessive testing. The other will be in support of the Common Core. Exactly why the AFT needs to support Common Core, as it's already been accepted by many states, is a mystery to me.

But if you're going to oppose excessive testing, perhaps supporting a measure that will see kids tested 9 times a year is not precisely the best way to go. I personally do not support Common Core. For one thing, anything that exists because Bill and Melinda Gates want it is likely not good for working teachers. For another, it's unconscionable that teachers are not trusted to design their own tests and assess their own students. If we're really that unreliable and untrustworthy, we may as well be replaced by Bill's virus-ridden, ever freezing computers.

Are we schizophrenic or something? Do we have multiple personalities? Do we support excessive testing or do we oppose it? I oppose it, and that's another reason to oppose Common Core.

It's kind of upsetting to know that my view will not be represented at the AFT convention. In fact, the only UFT members at the convention will be those who've signed a paper agreeing never to disagree with the Unity position in public. That's hardly representative of working teachers, and hardly helpful to us.

If union leadership wants to support this, oppose that, or even take contradictory positions, that's fine. What is not fine is their apparent disinterest in consulting with those who espouse other points of view. This was taken to an extreme when those who declined to genuflect to Bill Gates last time were ridiculed at the convention. While I don't expect Bill to make a return visit, Common Core is a notion he and his billions have stuffed down the throats of the American people. Quite frankly, it doesn't need any help from us. Supporting it will not cause those who hate and vilify us to stop doing so.

If union leadership wishes to consult with representative members, rather than simply put on a show, I'm available, and ready, willing and able to provide many concerned reinforcements.

This notwithstanding, I'm a realist, and I shall sit while I wait.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

SAT Prep Session 46

Friday, July 06, 2012

You Have to Blame Someone

Today, at GothamSchools, I had a conversation with my buddy Reality-Based Educator. We were discussing the abysmal reporting that referred to release from the draconian, unattainable, and ultimately absurd terms of NCLB as being "freed." That's far from accurate. It is true, of course, that these states will not be responsible for passing 100% of their students. But, like everything, this comes with a price.

In this case, the price includes a junk-science evaluation system, known as value-added, or VAM. This means that when students fail, individual teachers will be held responsible. Naturally, it's the teacher's fault if the student didn't have breakfast, has no electricity at home, or doesn't have a home at all. Why doesn't that teacher use that 40 bucks of Teacher's Choice money to rent apartments for all the kids in need? And how dare they complain of not having a raise in four years when we've just promised them forty bucks? That's enough to almost cover dinner for two at a crappy diner! But I digress.

It's important, after a decade of "reform," to blame someone for its utter failure. It's unrealistic for anyone claiming to be "reality-based" to expect politicians to take credit for an entire decade of crocodile tears over education that has borne no substantive improvement whatsoever. So folks like Bloomberg, Gates, and Obama need to pinpoint someone with whom the blame will really stick.

Can you play the race card here? You could, but it's no longer as chic as it once was to wear a sheet over your head and burn things on people's lawns. And in the city, the only people riding horses are cops. You can't really strike fear in people's hearts with your head out the window of a Honda Civic.

You could do the whole gay-bashing thing, but unfortunately corporate politicians like Bloomberg, Cuomo, and Obama have already gone out and rejected that. This makes them look liberal even as they fail to stand up for middle class and working class people, and they're not about to toss that away anytime soon.

So what's left? That's right. Attack the teachers. Their jobs, unattractive to most for decades, look good in this time of recession, and it's pretty easy to tell people that teachers simply have things too good. In fact, Joe Biden had the audacity to get in front of the NEA the other day, and with a straight face told the delegates that Romney was going to go after teachers. Not only did the delegates seem to buy that, ignoring the blatant fact that Obama is already going after us, but lots of them were walking around with Educators for Obama t-shirts.

So why shouldn't they go after us? We lap it up like the most pathetic fraternity pledges, with ample, "Thank you sir, may I have another," thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I'm Trying to Learn About That

So said Bill Gates to Charlie Rose, on the topic of education. I think it's great that Gates is trying to learn about education. I have to wonder, though, whether it would have been a better idea to learn about education before he devoted his life and billions to "reforming" it. After all, the whole small schools thing didn't work out for him, but while we waited for him to "learn about that," NYC closed large schools and opened dozens of new ones.

It would have been nice if he'd learned about that before setting national policy, placing Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan, whose Renaissance 2010 was a colossal failure in Chicago, got to try his failed ideas on a national audience, to wit, our children. My child took a reading test in kindergarten, before she ever learned to read, and this looks like a coming trend.  

And now, of course, Gates is behind the Common Core, which assumes teachers don't know what to teach, and are not doing their jobs with enough rigor. And it's downright frightening to see the models Gates' much-vaunted charter schools seem to be pushing us toward.

One of the very worst things Gates has imposed on us, while "trying to learn," has been the so-called value-added methodology of assessing teachers based on their student test scores. Not only has this never been proven to work, but there are many tales of good teachers victimized by it. In fact, Gates' experimentation with similar ratings were precisely what caused his company, Microsoft, to fall behind rival Apple.

So it's encouraging that, after years of forcing untested nonsense on hapless American schoolchildren (not to mention their teachers), that Bill Gates is "trying to learn." Nonetheless, the fact that he failed to learn the blatantly obvious lessons of his own company's blunders gives me very little encouragement. It's time for Bill Gates to go back to school, read a book, go on a retreat, or whatever, and stop "trying to learn" at the expense of the American educational system.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

That all children are, while of equal moral and legal importance, not all the same;

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;

That among these are, or at least ought to be, life; liberty; the pursuit of happiness; the right not to be treated like cogs in a machine, numbers on a spreadsheet, or pluses and minuses on a teacher's "value-added" rating; the right to learn in a clean, safe, pleasant school building; and the right to be taught by a teacher who is free (FREEDOM Y'ALL) to use his or her professional judgment and store of knowledge to make an enriching, rigorous, and memorable learning experience for all without fear of being judged by an arbitrary checklist or a single number at the end of the year;

And for the support of this Declaration, since we apparently cannot count on anyone else to do it, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes (small though they be) and our sacred honor.

Happy Independence Day, teachers and everyone.

Signed, in electronic Congress on this day, 4 July 2012,

Miss Eyre

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pictured at left, says the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he ruled for the union. The arbitrator, according to Mayor4Life, should not have considered the union's arguments. Evidently, the city feels its opponents have no authority to make arguments, let alone have them heard, and that only the city's arguments should be considered. Listen to our side, ignore the other, and then make an informed decision.

There is precedent for that, of course. The city has a fake school board, called the PEP. On this board, Mayor Bloomberg has 8 of 13 votes, and if he gets wind anyone is going to vote against him, he fires those people before they even get a chance. That's why the PEP has never, ever voted against him. This, in Mayor Bloomberg's view, represents democracy. After all, he has all that money, so how could he possibly be wrong about anything?

In the Mayor's view, evidently, when you enter into binding arbitration, it's only binding if you win. If you lose, the important thing is to loudly cry it's inappropriate, and make preposterous statements like this one:

“These are kids who, if they are there for one more year, will never recover in their entire lives...”

Oddly, these same kids have survived a decade of mayoral control, with Bloomberg having pretty much absolute dominion over the fake school board. Were the mayor's words true, why on earth did he wait until the last possible year? Hasn't  he already had ten years to stop the deadly and irreparable harm that one year in these schools (some of which do not even meet his own department's requirements for closure) would cause?

Sorry, but if this mayor really wanted to improve schools, he'd stop indulging in nonsensical grandstanding, and start reforming things in ways that would really help kids. Instead of cuts to school budgets, he'd offer more money. Instead of whatever Bill Gates happened to pull out of his hind quarters, there would be programs emulating Finland, which offers lower class sizes, teacher respect and autonomy, and by many accounts, the best education in the world.

You've had ten years of failure, Mayor Bloomberg. It's no surprise your arguments ring hollow with the arbitrator, and these days, it's a miracle you're able even to persuade the paid hacks who spit out the absurd newspaper editorials that support you.

Monday, July 02, 2012

What Will a Teacher's "Bar Exam" Do?

AFT President Randi Weingarten is proposing a "bar exam" for teachers. Weingarten thinks this will counter some of the stereotypical perceptions of teacher unions. You know--the stuff you see in the news, the comments you sometimes see on this blog, and the nonsense that emanates from the mouths of demagogues like Mayor4Life Michael Bloomberg.

"They only care about themselves." "We put Children First." "Let's worry about the children in the system, and not the adults." "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones."

Actually I have no problem with higher standards for teachers, be they national or local. UFT has been calling for them for years, so that's nothing new. There are few things more infuriating than idiotic calls to lower standards from the likes of Nicholas Kristof, bolstered by absurd claims that current certification rules preclude Meryl Streep and Colin Powell from becoming teachers. Of course, neither has expressed the desire to become a teacher anyway.

The problem is twofold--one, those who design tests nowadays have shown themselves to be hugely incompetent and self-serving, and are unlikely to do any better for teachers than they do for students. More importantly, prejudice is fueled by ignorance, not reality, and is unlikely to be countered by any such thing as a new teacher test, whatever it may be called. There are already tests to qualify teachers, and that hasn't stopped union and teacher-haters from vilifying and stereotyping us. Attempts to appease our enemies, like the 2005 Contract, or unions across the nation adopting junk-science VAM measures have not swayed those against us.

In fact, nothing will stop those determined to hate us. There is no point whatsoever in trying to satisfy them, because whatever we give them, they will not be satisfied.

Some say that higher pay may be the result of higher standards. However, I've seen no evidence to support this. Here in NYC, we've been without a raise for four years and counting. There is, in fact, currently a national certification process, but, at least here, there is no monetary reward for attaining it.  Personally, I would not object to see union leaders going the more traditional route, and trying to get us the raise that's eluded us for four years. In fact, I'd like to see more talk about more money and less about how much we're cozying up to lunatics who know nothing whatsoever about education.

Meanwhile, we just won one battle, but we are still at war in New York City. Higher standards are a good idea. However, since they won't help us in our PR battle, they need to serve some purpose, the only one of which makes any sense is a genuine improvement of education. To accomplish that, they'll need to be accompanied by a true empowerment of teachers, allowing them to set curriculum and design tests to suit their students, rather than accepting the top-down nonsense endorsed by Bill Gates.  The notion of judging teachers by VAM must be dismissed entirely. And it wouldn't be half-bad if we weren't regularly vilified by the government and press, most of which endorse untested nonsense rather than proven methods like those in Finland.

Unfortunately, as we've learned over and over again, you don't attain real reform simply by imposing yet another test.