Friday, August 31, 2012

GOP Convention Best Obama Ad Money Could Buy

I've been tuning in and out of the convention for the past three nights. It's really mind-blowing how much these people hate teachers. Of course, they'll say we don't hate teachers. We only hate the unions. The teachers are fine, but those magical elves and wood-nymphs who populate that awful union really get on our nerves.

They trotted out people who don't fit into the Leave it to Beaver world, the Pleasantville that never was, which they long to get back to. They expect we'll believe their constituencies will be represented by a Romney administration. Actually, they will, as long as they fit into the 1%. They conveniently forget the tax rates on the rich that were around back when we were pretending Ward and the Beav represented what actually went on in our country.

I watched Clint Eastwood talk to a chair, then saw Romney talk, and couldn't decide, given an either-or contest, whether I'd vote for Romney or the chair.

I'm leaning toward Green candidate Jill Stein right now. I like her. She has reasonable ideas. Of course, I don't give her much chance of taking the election. A right-wing friend and I were having a conversation, and he was glad to hear it. "That means you won't cancel me out," he said.

Later in the day, I saw him and pointed out that NY State would almost certainly go for Obama. We then, in a moment of rare agreement, determined that it didn't make any difference who either of us voted for. Thank goodness for the wisdom of our founding fathers, who created the Electoral College!

If Barack Obama is depending on my vote to win, he may as start packing his bags and catch the next plane back to Chicago. However, the Republicans are so outrageously disingenuous and odious, I'd seriously consider voting for the highly-flawed Obama if I lived in a swing state.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting Ready to Face the Trailer Again

Well, September 4th is soon approaching, and it's around this time I start to get nostalgic for the old classroom. There's no place like it.

Mitch Jayne from the Dillards once said all country music is about either being home and wanting to leave, or being away from home and wanting to go back. Teachers may feel the same way.

Sure, we spend a lot of time looking forward to the break, just as the kids do. But then we miss all the hubbub of work. We are what we do, after all. Of course, we aren't really where we do it, because we don't choose to do it there.

That would be, in fact, the choice made my Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2007, he promised to rid the city of trailers by 2012. To analyze the value he added, we'd have to look at the number of trailers there were back then. It was about 400. But now, with Mayor Bloomberg's invaluable contribution, the one Christine Quinn's City Council changed the twice-voted-upon law to enable, there are 400.

And if you are what you do, what is the man who gave city schoolchildren all those trailers? Is he the guy who says he puts "Children First. Always?" Or are the people putting children first always the ones who go to that trailer, that area, that building, and face each and every kid, no matter what needs they have, each and every day, no matter what?

Just asking.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You're Never Just a Teacher

As the new school year approaches, I'm sure we're all starting to write lesson plans and welcome letters.  Maybe some of us are stopping by our school buildings this week to check on classrooms.  And that's all well and good, and incredibly important.  But have you taken some time to remember how you're going to take care of yourself this school year?  You are, of course, never just a teacher.  You are a friend, a son/daughter, sibling, parent, or spouse.  Maybe you are also a yogi, a writer, a dancer, a tennis player.  Do you have a plan for nurturing your entire personality for the coming year?

One thing I did this week was to lay out a daily agenda for myself that leaves me time to do the things I care about, like exercise and work on my creative writing.  I make time for that just like I make time for grading papers and cooking dinner.  A really easy, quick, and free way to do this is with Google Calendar.  I block out time for what I consider to be non-negotiable on any given day to be sure I'm not wasting my discretionary time.  I want to make sure I can spend time on what gives me a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day.  If you want, for example, to spend 3:30-5:00 every day on your paperwork, you can enter that into your calendar once and set it to repeat every weekday until the end of the school year.  If you find yourself distracted by, I don't know, obsessively reading our wit and wisdom here at NYC Educator, you can use programs like Freedom or Self-Control to make sure those 90 minutes of grading are really 90 entire minutes of grading.  I like to set an alarm on my cell phone because I feel like it frees me up to really work.  I'm not constantly glancing at the clock to see if I need to leave or stop to make dinner.  

Start getting up early again this week, too, if you have been spending summer vacation catching up on your sleep.  Set your wake-up time back 15 or 30 minutes each day until you're back to your school year wake-up call.  Make sure you're DVRing The Daily Show or whatever your particular late-night poison is.  (Colbert was priceless last night.)  Stock your cupboards with good breakfast food.

Most of this may sound obvious, but I know I always end up walking into walls in, say, March, because I've lost sight of all of this very reasonable advice.  I'm going to try to actually make it work for ten consecutive months this year.  And leave your suggestions in the comments!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Another Day, Another Sliming

It seems like not a day goes by that we who teach the children of this country are not trashed in the media. In my school, free tabloids are all over the place, and I'd open them in teacher rooms to discover what fresh perfidies we'd committed this week, this day, this hour. We are perverts. We are incompetent. Our jobs are protected forever. We make too much, work too little.

Today, on the heels of a new evaluation system based on junk science the Daily News bemoans the fact that not enough teachers are labeled incompetent. If kids are still failing tests, or not graduating, it must be the fault of teachers, since they are the sole factor in student achievement. It doesn't matter if they come from abusive homes. If their parents each work 200 hours a week and never see them, that's an excuse. If they came from other countries and had interrupted formal education, a competent teacher would make up for it in a week. And if they don't speak English, so what, they should pass all the tests anyway.

That such idiotic assumptions are placed into writing is bad enough. The fact that few readers receive any information to the contrary is dangerous. The fact that professional writers cannot be bothered to do the most cursory research before asserting baseless nonsense is unconscionable.

Still, the fish rots from the head, and our President, despite recent lip service decrying excessive testing, and teaching to the test, continues to employ Arne Duncan, who gleefully enacts and enforces programs that directly contradict all Obama's valuable good intentions.  Essentially we have Obama as good cop, Duncan as bad cop, and we, the accused, have no actual friends across that table.

It's time to change the conversation. Our friends in Chicago are making good progress, making the ridiculous politicians look exactly as they are.

What else can we do, right here in Fun City?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Focus on the Kids

I've had a few people implore me to do that over the last few weeks. The first time, I was discussing Walcott's scheme to override arbitrators so he could fire teachers based on not only unproven, but plainly rejected allegations. This person said it was unseemly for me, as a teacher, to stand up for adults, and that I should focus only on the kids.

Yesterday I was chided for complaining about politicians and their wacky antics. Why can't I just focus on helping the kids? Why am I so negative?

This seems to be a favorite argument of those who claim to put children first. A huge flaw in this particular argument is the fact that people like me spend our working lives with said children, and we don't sit in classrooms lecturing them about our political views, whatever they may be. Another is the fact that those of us who care about these kids know they will grow up one day. Would it be responsible for us, as teachers, as parents, to ignore the world into which we're sending our children?

I teach 100% high-needs kids, and it's my job to make sure their needs are met. I'm hampered by the imposition of idiotic high-stakes tests that don't even measure what my kids need most. They lose valuable time that could be devoted to addressing their needs, and are likely placed in more remedial college courses as a direct result. There's nothing these remedial courses can offer them that I couldn't give them in high school.

By debasing the teaching profession to a test-prep, low-security, Walmart model we not only hurt teachers, but also children. First, we're offering them lower quality and less dedication. For many of us, teaching is not just what we do, but who we are. We're not here to pad our resumes for a couple of years before we move into making real money. More importantly, by eviscerating what teachers have worked for for decades, we're removing a very viable path to middle class for kids like those we serve.

If we care about kids, if behooves us to take our heads out of the sand and stand up for things that will help ensure their future. That most certainly includes leaving them more opportunities, specifically including the opportunity to serve those who come after them by teaching them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Things I Am Not Doing to Get Ready for the New School Year

Well, folks, it's time we all start hauling ourselves out of the river in Egypt and admit that summer vacation is drawing to its close.  As usual, though, I'm pretty okay with it.  I start to get antsy in mid-August and feel like I'm ready for my days to have a bit more direction.  I think about my kids more and wonder and worry about them, and before you know it, my head is right back in the game. (Sorry if this Pollyanna-ish paragraph is annoying, but I figure I'd start by coming clean.)

This might be the first year ever, though, that I haven't had, nor do I plan to have, a mini-meltdown regarding classroom setup and related issues.  Granted, some of this is because I work in a largely sane school environment that does not sweat such things, but still.  I went in last week to help out with the August Regents administration, and sort of looked around my classroom and thought, You know what?  This is fine the way it is.  I'll go in for a couple of hours one afternoon and just tidy things up and set out what really needs to be set out on the first day, and that's it.  I refuse to drive myself nuts over it.  Previous classroom setup days typically ended in tears at least once.  I think not, this year.

I'm also not going to break out in a cold sweat one morning and drive myself to Staples and buy whatever I can get my grubby hands on.  I always end up with some weird number of folders in June whose purpose I can never distinctly remember.  I inventoried my classroom supplies and, because I'm a hoarder at heart, I'm actually pretty well stocked-up on everything.

That's not to say I haven't done, or am not doing, anything to get ready for the new year.  I've done unit and lesson planning over the summer, and reading.  But I've also done the relaxing and the nurturing of myself outside of my teacher identity that makes me feel like I'm coming back to school as a whole person.  And feeling like I'm basically read to start the school year already, without having put myself through a few days of arbitrary suffering, is the best feeling of all, one that allows me to really enjoy the waning days of vacation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Big Fun at the DMV

Last week I took my daughter to the Motor Vehicle Bureau, and I was stupid enough to think that an American passport would serve as adequate ID. Silly me, I forgot to bring her social security card, simply because no one has ever asked to see it in my living memory. We got sent home, but the woman gave us a pass so we wouldn't have to stand in that line again. And indeed we walked right to the front, where they accepted our documentation and told us to sit and wait until she was called to take the test.

We went into a test room and started waiting. After about a half-hour one of the very efficient DMV employees announced that only those taking the test could stay, and all us pain-in-the-neck parents would have to leave. After all, there were a lot of vacant places in that room and they needed to keep it that way. So I went out and stood in the big room with the other five million people.

After she took her test, she was told to wait again. An hour later, they told her she passed and instructed her to wait some more so that I could pay. After all this waiting, she went outside to use the bathroom. To ensure the safety of New York State, someone locked the door behind her. She had to borrow someone's cell to let me know she was locked out.

I went to the security guard at the door, who informed yes, he had the key, but he couldn't actually open the door. This was a very serious matter, and I would have to go to window 12 and wait for a supervisor. Naturally they didn't waste state money on a bell or anything, and asking whether or not anyone was there did not work, so I stood there until someone came by.

I told the supervisor my daughter was locked out, but that I'd be willing to pay for her permit if it was OK. It was not. The supervisor instructed the guard not to actually open the door, since that might send the wrong message. Instead, he instructed her through the glass to walk over to some special employee door so as not to mislead the public that they could actually get in and deal with whatever issues they might be having.

Finally they allowed me the great honor of paying 90 bucks for their exemplary services, and with the ability to cut the first line, it took us a mere 3 hours. I have to say I was a little surprised as my personal experiences with the DMV have been considerably better over the last 20 years or so. This was the sort of treatment we used to expect.

I can only conclude that when it comes to screwing people over, Governor Cuomo's DMV follows Mayor Bloomberg's revered and longstanding policy of putting Children First, Always.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Journalism, American Style

On Saturday I watched Diane Ravitch's interview on CNN. The interviewer, fancying herself clever, read a poorly written student paper and challenged Ravitch about the state of education. How can education be effective if one single student writes poorly? That would be like me asking how journalism can be effective if one single interviewer asks an incredibly stupid question. Alas, it was not a single question, but a series of them, in a pattern that's replicated widely.

The interviewer asked question after question designed to show how there was no defense for our system, and Ravitch calmly refuted every preposterous assertion behind these questions. In fact, the stupidest of the questions were left out, so as not to make CNN look any more ridiculous than it already did.

Contrast Ravitch's interview with that of Michelle Rhee, who was permitted to spout whatever nonsense struck her fancy, unchallenged. CNN could not be bothered to look beyond the surface of the "reform" narrative for that. In a patently idiotic move, they decided to assert this narrative as absolute truth when confronting Ravitch. This strongly suggested that they hadn't even bothered to read her writing.

Meanwhile, in the NY Times, former food columnist Frank Bruni turned his gourmet eye to education, spitting out arguments right out of the Rhee playbook. This is the paper of record, the state of the art, and I don't think it's much of a boast to say that education bloggers know far more than Bruni about what's going on, no matter how many fancy restaurants he may have reviewed. No stars for him.

Even more frightening is this--here's one area I happen to know about. If you rely on news from CNN, the Times, or any other MSM news outlet, and see how lazy they are in this area, it's not a huge leap to imagine their reporting on national and international issues is equally shoddy. That we accept abject nonsense to dictate how we educate our children strongly suggests that we accept equally shoddy info to dictate how we run our government.

And we don't need a standardized test to determine how little value journalism like this contributes to these United States of America.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Do Now

Watch The Wire: the Musical.

Friday, August 17, 2012

This Is School, and There Will Be No Enjoyment

It's incredible to read that even 4-year-olds are now taking tests, due to the brilliance of common core. No more of this play nonsense, no more discovery, and no more fun for children. Unless, of course, they go to schools like Sidwell Friends, where the president's kids, and the VP's grandchildren go. For the rest of us, it's get ready for a life of sheer drudgery as a Walmart associate, and no wonder the Walmart folks put their big bucks behind this.

My daughter took four days of standardized tests called the Terra Nova when she was in kindergarten. Granted, she was five rather than four, but I was very surprised by it. When I got the results, I was even more surprised. My daughter, who certainly did not know how to read, was deemed excellent in reading. However, she had no English language skills whatsoever. Now I'm not a testing expert, having never actually run a hedge fund, but to my limited understanding reading is an English language skill, and a rather vital one.

I went to the school and spoke with the teacher, who told me these results were typical of the class. Apparently, the reading skills test had been given the first day, when the kids were focused. The English skills test was given on the last, when the kids were well beyond their comfort level. The teacher clearly had as much regard for the test as I did, and had no choice but to administer it.

Of course kids at that age should be pushing trucks on the floor, blowing bubbles in their milk, and out playing with their friends. But in this test-oriented society, as we fervently try to erase the twentieth century in our drive to bring back feudalism, that's unlikely to occur.

But it's nice to see pieces like this one by Tim Clifford featured in Schoolbook. Apparently there are people paying attention, wanting to add real value and engagement to education. The more of us who push back against the rantings of corporate-backed garbage designed to reduce our children to automatons, the more likely we are to capture the limited attention of a country more focused on American Idol than the education of its children

These are the interesting times of the apocryphal Chinese curse, but there are those of us who are standing up, and what we lack in money, we have in numbers. Parents, teachers and students have a common cause, and that is what's good enough for Obama's children and Biden's grandchildren--reasonable class sizes, worthwhile instruction, focus on education rather than test and punish nonsense--is good enough for our children and grandchildren too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The TCRWP; Or, How Bad Ideas Survive Even When You Try to Squash Them

As some of my regular readers may know, I have no great love for the Teachers' College Reading and Writing Project; or, more accurately, how the TCRWP tends to get implemented in the city schools.  It has some fine ideas in theory, and it may be appropriate in some settings, but with the populations that most of us tend to teach, it's like giving a violin player a tuba.

So I read, with something like horror, that there is in the world a book called (ludicrously) Pathways to the Common Core by none other than TCRWP's high priestess, Lucy Calkins.  Education Gadfly's Common Core Watch does a pretty good job of calling into question the motivations of Calkins and the book's publisher, Heinemann, who also publishes the Fountas and Pinnell leveling series.  Heinemann and its authors have clearly realized that the arrival of Common Core, while not necessarily an unqualified success or anything, will take schools in a direction away from TCRWP.  Welcome back, whole class texts.  Goodbye, teachers trying to figure out how to work with kids reading 27 different books at once.

Kathleen Porter-Magee at Common Core Watch seems to believe that Heinemann is trying to salvage its cash cows in TCRWP and Fountas and Pinnell, and while she's probably not wrong about that, from a teacher's perspective, there's something more insidious even than that happening.  For whatever reason, and maybe it's more involved than profit, these entities peddled these pedagogies for quite a while, and teachers who had good reason to not buy into these pedagogies (such as, for example, yours truly) were told in their schools to shape up or ship out.  TCRWP really is a whole-school, full-time commitment.  So teachers who had hoped that the arrival of Common Core would bring TC schools in line with a more rigorous pedagogical model might well be disappointed.  Again.

Say what you like about Common Core; while it's not completely without problems, it does allow teachers to make good professional judgments while holding students accountable to meeting high standards and works to solve the problem of students being woefully unprepared for rigorous middle and high school material.  TCRWP, on the other hand, keeps teachers and students in a permanent la-la land of the personal essay and the "just-right book."  And what I dislike most about TCRWP is, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, it not only substitutes the aforementioned la-la land for the real world in which we teach and in which our students live, but allows for no variation that takes the real world into consideration.  I was told, when TC came to my school, that I could no longer implement whole-class texts, even in units that had been successful and even praised in the past.  Any pedagogical model that wipes out good and effective work that has been in the past is designed to breed resentment and half-assed execution among even dedicated and bright teachers.

So while I hoped that TCRWP would die a slow and painful death be phased out in the city schools with the advent of Common Core, this is not necessarily a sure thing while Heinemann and the TCRWP powers that be continue to attempt to milk their cash cow.  Don't be tempted by the title of the book.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bloomberg Adds Negative Value

Poverty is up in the Big Apple. As Mayor4Life runs around stereotyping teachers as sex abusers, and trying to close schools that don't even meet his DOE standards, the quality of life for children is deteriorating.

Bloomberg can't wait to fire teachers. His mantra is "accountability." In Bloombergworld, it's "Children First, Always." And yet, 70% of these children now live in poor households. As Bloomberg stacks the decks against the public schools that might, in some small way, improve the prospects of these kids, as he decimates their neighborhoods by closing their schools, these kids are, indeed, the first to suffer.

Perish forbid that Mayor Bloomberg's rich peers should pay a little more to support these kids. How could the likes of Cathie Black get by with only 199 million instead of 200 this year? Don't the Koch brothers need that extra billion to fight the pernicious scourge of unions?

Schools are crumbling, class sizes are exploding, and the mayor is focusing on soft drinks and depriving mothers of infant formula. He purports to care about the children, but his attitude, that everyone can go to hell when they grow up, is hardly beneficial long term.

Is poverty completely the fault of the mayor? Is it within his power to correct it? I don't know. I do know he's done precious little to correct it. I also know that he feels teachers should be judged by the test scores of his students whether or not outside factors, like poverty, special needs, or even their ability to speak English color the results.

So, by his own professed standards, Mayor Bloomberg has failed miserably. And, by his own standards, he ought not to keep his job.

I advise you to sit while you wait for this mayor to apply his very public standards to himself. After all, he's got billions, and accountability is for the little people.

Monday, August 13, 2012

No Reality Needed Here

Rupert Murdoch's money-losing rag, the New York Post, has run yet another illuminating editorial about teacher evaluation, this time criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Let's put aside the fact that VAM, as a part of evaluation, has no scientific validity. Let's forget about the stories of excellent teachers being rated poorly, or wild year-to-year variations with the same teachers. Let's not even discuss the notion that students themselves bear no responsibility for their own test scores, good, bad or otherwise. Because we're so good-natured, we'll also forget about the massive flaws in the standardized tests themselves.

Let's simply focus on the Post's thesis that unions block the evaluation system because they don't want teachers held accountable. I can't speak for every school district in the state, but I'm pretty familiar with the largest one, New York City. Here's one fact about it--for better or worse, the UFT President was instrumental in pushing the plan that made VAM part of new evaluations.

A more important fact is this--it isn't the UFT blocking implementation of this plan, but rather the Post's hero, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was he who introduced a ridiculous turnaround plan to protest the lack of a framework between the city and the UFT, and it was he who persisted with this plan even after a framework was agreed upon. The fact that his plan was very publicly scuttled by the courts is not even relevant here.

The important factor, either unknown or willfully ignored by the Post's crack editorial staff, is that it's Mayor Bloomberg, not the UFT, blocking enactment of an evaluation system. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg would need to write the system into a contract, and that would entail coming to an agreement with the union. I don't suppose it's escaped the attention of 80,000 teachers that all city employees but educators got an 8-plus percent raise between 2008-2010, and that Bloomberg unilaterally declared we alone would not get it.

Meanwhile, the puppets at E4E request that a system be imposed upon us. They care so much about the professionalism of working teachers that they don't give a damn whether or not we ever get a raise. Nor do the saints over at TNTP mention that when they pontificate about the retention of teachers.

Personally, I'm not at all persuaded a raise would be worth taking on the new system. It's hard for me to see how good teachers will not be fired on the basis of junk science. But it's a blatant falsehood to contend that the union is blocking any evaluation system.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

In Which We Revolutionize Basketball for Arne Duncan

Last night, on Twitter, Arne Duncan congratulated the USA Women's Basketball Team for a wonderful performance. But a lot of teachers on Twitter questioned it. For one thing, how do we know they're doing well if there isn't a charter team to ensure healthy competition? And why aren't we doing this right now? Isn't this a crisis that can't wait for solutions?

Also, it's important we fire the bottom 10%, so as to ensure we are truly fielding the best team. And it's not enough that they do an excellent job. Sure, it looks like they're doing well. But how do we know they're doing well unless we give their opponents tests in reading and math twice a year and check the improvements from September to June? We really can't go by measures like whether or not they win games. What does that mean, ultimately?

Let's also make sure that the charter teams get space in the stadiums. I don't think it's fair we allow our teams to practice in courts by themselves. Lets collect a few trash cans, hollow them out, and dump them in the basement for our public teams to use. The charter teams could use the ones upstairs. And I don't want to hear that the players are only three feet tall, or 9 years old, or that they've never played before. We will accept no excuses.

Basketball training will be done by hedge-funders and billionaires who have no training or experience whatsoever about basketball. However, since they've established their success by accumulating all that money, we'll rely on their excellent judgment. We will not bother to study or test their ideas before enacting them systemwide, and we will establish blue-ribbon panels with celebrities and rich people, and not basketball players, to praise the ideas on the media. When they fail, we will close stadiums and replace entire teams.

We will, of course, start an organization called Democrats for Basketball Reform. We will travel around with suitcases full of cash to help persuade legislators. We will start a satellite group, Students for Basketball Reform, to give us the appearance of credibility. Then we will go after those darn unions, and claim they only pursue adult interests. We will show basketball players how cool it is to work without contracts, to get rid of that health insurance, to pay for their own uniforms and balls, and to work in substandard conditions. Finally, we will halve teams so as to save money, and demand equal performance. No excuses.

Because that's the way we do things in America. We have a model, and even if it proves to be utterly without merit, we must replicate it everywhere, immediately, to avert the crisis we contend to be in.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Goodnight iPad

A modern retelling of the children's classic.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Yesterday I took my 16-year-old daughter to take her driving permit test. It's tough for kids her age to come up with suitable ID, but she has a United States passport, which has proven sufficient to cross the border into foreign countries, so I figured that was pretty good.

When we got there we found we needed her social security number. I had no idea, but I thought of calling my accountant, who recognized my voice and helped us out. After waiting on a long, long line, we got to the end and the woman demanded a social security card. It was an odd request.

Odd or no, we didn't have it. I haven't used a social security card in decades, I don't know where hers is, and I don't know where mine is.  I asked why the passport, much harder to get than a social security card, was not sufficient. The woman at the window seemed deeply offended by the question, which doubtless she hears a dozen times every day.  I kind of understood, as people question me about stupid policies too, and I never have a good answer either.

Nonetheless, she gave us a paper that will get us to the front of the line in ten days, when my daughter receives the replacement card we waited 90 minutes in the social security office to apply for.

It's kind of irritating, while reading every day about the perfidy of teachers, to spend hours fixing a problem that really isn't a problem at all. Teachers, on the other hand, are expected to fix all the problems the people who maintain this system are hellbent on ignoring, and folks like Bloomberg, Cuomo, and Duncan will ignore them just as long as we allow them to pass the buck.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Students First NY Campaigns for Justice

We met with Micah Lasher, the voice of Students First NY on Twitter. Lasher angrily denied the UFT charge that Campbell Brown issued a "blood libel" by saying UFT wanted sexual offenders in the classroom.

"This is clearly a garden-variety libel," said an angry Lasher. "It's our policy to mischaracterize union positions, but to do so in a straightforward fashion. We strongly object to the hyperbolic statements issued by the union, and demand an immediate retraction."

"Furthermore," Lasher continued, "the attack on Campbell Brown is overtly sexist. Brown is a woman, and it's clear that anyone who criticizes her must hate women. Furthermore, Brown is a parent, so anyone who questions her motives hates parents too."

When asked whether or not this was slanderous, Lasher smiled faintly and nodded almost imperceptibly. "But it's not blood libel," he insisted.

Lasher explained that his organization was encouraged by columns like the one in the NY Post, explaining that unions were no longer cool. He said he hoped this trend would continue. Things like health care, weekends, collective bargaining, overtime pay, due process, minimum wage, and child labor were hampering the economy and he, for one, was glad to hear they were on their way out. Sure, this would be inconvenient for working adults. "But we can't worry about them any more," said Lasher.

"It's for the children," he continued. "Once we change the law to make sure that Bloomberg can fire anyone he likes, on either genuine or fabricated charges, no matter how independent arbitrators rule, we can take a look at the system overall."

When asked what that meant, Lasher replied that judges and juries were not perfect, and that the only way to ensure justice was to leave the final decisions in all criminal cases to experts like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, or the Koch Brothers. In times of crisis, there's no time to bother with studies and evidence, said Lasher, and the only way to help the children would be to allow these experts to act immediately, without time-consuming and troublesome restraints.

"Reform is needed now, and can't wait on red tape," said Lasher. "Once we can get the public off this innocent until proven guilty nonsense, which is also no longer cool, we can start to really get things done."

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Teacher Olympics

Like many of you, no doubt, I have been enjoying the Olympics for the past week or so, marveling at the feats of strength on display, the hideous interesting choices of uniforms on some of the athletes, and the raw, beautiful power of the human spirit.  Which got me thinking, naturally, of another class of superhumans: Teachers.  Of course, we'd need our own Olympics.  It wouldn't be fair to put us up against the Usain Bolts and Gabby Douglases of the world.  They would lose and be sad.

I propose the following events for starters:

Marathon.  How many periods in a row can you go without a bathroom break?  (Edge probably goes to elementary school teachers on this one, who also get the pleasure, in many cases, of twenty-six first-graders right outside the door while it's all happening.)

100-meter dash.  Oh no!  You're five photocopies short for your first period class!  Can you make it to the staff room and back in time?  (And, when you get there, will there be a working photocopier and paper?)

Gymnastics, floor exercise.  There are 37 desks in your classroom big enough to accommodate 25.  How will you maneuver among all the students in order to give them each 17 seconds of your undivided attention?

Shot put.  How far can you hurl the latest binder full of DOE directives?  (Bonus points for style; i.e. how many and how exotic your profanities as you perform said hurl.)

Swimming.  You've said many times that you'd do anything to get away from your crazy principal.  Really? Anything?  This 3.5 mile race in the dead-body-and-petroleum-products-lined East River will prove how serious you are, as you sprint towards the Statue of Liberty and the promise of the open water.

Gymnastics, balance beam (endurance).  Can you pull off a phone call to the touchiest parent you know, couching your concerns about their darling angel's behavior and grades in both gentleness and, well, honesty?

Beach volleyball (upper DOE management only).  Imagine that the ball is the blame for, say, the spectacular shortcomings of the Acuity program.  How long can you volley the blame back and forth until it eventually hits someone square in the face?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

What Does Governor Andy Have to Hide?

Accountability is for the little people. When Governor Andy 1% Cuomo takes money from people, the public has no business knowing who he takes it from, and it's all perfectly legal. Ethics, shmethics. So who knows whether or not the charter lobby has bought him off. Has the Society for Performing Unnatural Acts in Public Places got the ear of our Governor?

We'll never know. What we do know is, as a matter of principle, this governor killed a millionaire tax while our schoolchildren suffer. Are those millionaires funding his lobbying group? That's none of our business, says Andy Cuomo, who, amazingly, defends his record on transparency.

Apparently there are two kinds of transparency. There's the one that applies to teachers, who are guilty even if they've done nothing, and then there's the other kind, for folks like Cuomo. If you want to know who they're taking money from, too bad for you.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Are Good Meetings

I spent last weekend at SOS 2012, surrounded by people who are passionate about education, people who look beyond the headlines, people who do not take preposterous nonsense at face value. This ought to be status quo, but when you consider that even the New York Times runs editorials that don't consider, let alone bother themselves with fundamental research, it's far rarer than it should be.

When you're with a group of well-informed people seeking real solutions to real problems, real discussions ensue. You learn that democracy is not precisely getting to choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum once every four years. You learn that there is a lot of give and take and coming to a consensus, you learn to listen, consider, compromise, and seek the best answer for the largest group of people. It's not precisely the narrow concept we still teach our children.

You also learn that the discussion does not entail how we can best enact the latest idiotic fancy of Bill Gates, recycled by our billionaire mayor. Somehow, when dozens of teachers are sitting around hearing the latest way to save their school from a groundless closing, it doesn't inspire the sort of spirit that enhances the esprit de corps.

I tend to dread meetings. Many revolve around the latest trendy silver bullet. This is the only way to do it, and the way we told you to do it last year is complete garbage. We all know that next year they'll tell us what they said this year was complete garbage, and that there will be yet another formula. Or perhaps they'll bring back something from five years ago and tell us no, it turns out it wasn't complete garbage after all.

Sometimes meetings are about how kids shouldn't be late. It's bad, and it's not good, and therefore we shouldn't tolerate it. Continue along those lines for forty minutes, and you have an idea of how tedious and mind-numbing this exercise can become.

It's not always the fault of administrators. They're contractually required to put on these meetings, whether or not they have anything to say. But here's the thing--if they are well-informed, smart and caring, they can actually do things of value, and help kids. Understandably, that's a high hurdle when they work for people imposing baseless nonsense on them, us, and the kids we're sworn to serve.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

I'm in DC

At SOS conference. Just listened to Jonathan Kozol, who is absolutely brilliant.

If you aren't here, you should be!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Due Process or Dictatorship?

There's a war on Twitter, stoked by Campbell Brown's recycled mish-mosh of NYC tabloid articles in the Wall Street Journal. The new manufactured crisis is that of so-called perv teachers. The only remedy, according to Campbell and the tabloid editorials, is to give Michael Bloomberg's mouthpiece, Dennis Walcott, absolute power to fire teachers who independent arbitrators have sent back to the classroom. Some state senator has proposed a law to enable this.

Walcott now reviews U-rating appeals, and rejects virtually 100% of them, so we have a pretty good idea what he will do if we give him further absolute discretion. Bloomberg and his fellow "reformers" will do anything to have the unfettered authority to fire as many teachers as possible, and that's certainly what this is all about. It follows his failed turnaround, and there's little doubt in my mind this brouhaha is less than coincidental.

This is a very cute plan. If we oppose them, the talking point will be that we defend sex offenders working as teachers. That, in fact, is what Brown's ridiculous headline implied. Of course that isn't true. If you accept as fact the accusations in these cases, perhaps the teachers in question should not have been sent back. Personally, I'm familiar with only one of these cases, and in that case the accusations were total nonsense. Thus, I'm not at all convinced the other cases have any substance either.

The push is for a change in the law, and the rationale being offered is the UFT gets a voice in choosing the arbitrator, who is therefore biased. However, the DOE gets a voice too, so that's ridiculous. If the DOE does not approve of any arbitrators, they ought not to nominate them in the future.

Sex offenders belong in prison, where they can meet others who share their interests. No one wants sex offenders working as teachers. And yet, in the United States, people are innocent until proven guilty. It's unacceptable to make Bloomberg, Walcott, or anyone from DOE judge, jury, and executioner.

And it's incredibly ironic that a push to do this comes from Students First NY, a group set up by Michelle Rhee. Rhee boasted of how she taped her students mouths shut, and told a group this amusing anecdote, chuckling over it. Rhee herself is unfit to teach, let alone lead a movement.

If indeed these arbitrators erred, they ought to be replaced, as judges who make bad judgments ought to be replaced. I've never seen anyone argue that our judicial system made a mistake, and we therefore ought to place all judgment into the hands of a single billionaire, or even a non-billionaire politician.

Yet that's what the paid hacks from Students First are arguing. We've never had a king in these United States, and we don't need one in New York City either. Those who make these arguments do not care about the kids. They care about the tax rates of people like Mike Bloomberg, and depriving our kids of decent jobs when they grow up.

We don't need a dictatorship. We've seen firsthand how dictatorship works in our fake school board, the PEP.

Expanding it is unconscionable and unacceptable.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Bloomberg Clarifies Breast Milk Position

In another quick turnaround, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set out to clear up the confusion between public perception and what he claims to be his actual position. The Mayor has taken quite a bit of flack for his restrictions on baby formula. In fact, some New Yorkers are saying this action deprives mothers of a fundamental choice, and that he has no business whatsoever getting involved in such personal decisions.

"It's all a misunderstanding," said the Mayor today. "The press can't wait to put out some sexy story, so they twist my words."

When pressed to explain, the Mayor said, "What I really wanted was to make sure babies are not drinking 32 ounce sodas. It's not healthy for babies to drink that much Coca Cola. Do you know what that stuff is named for? It's named for cocaine, for goodness sakes! Who wants babies around that?"

Mayor Bloomberg went on to explain how Coca Cola use could lead to drug addiction in later life, and pointed to a study by TNTP suggesting that as much as 100% of habitual drug users have ingested Coca Cola at one point or another.

"Why aren't the teachers telling our children about that?" asked the mayor. "I'll tell you why--because they're out buying the stuff themselves!"

The mayor went on to explain that TNTP had further established the overwhelming majority of unionized teachers had also ingested Coca Cola, and had concluded this was as good a basis as any to expand non-unionized charters. TNTP specifically recommended that charter teachers and supporters simply continue to drink the Kool-Aid, and that the city replace teachers based on VAM, which we all know to be utter nonsense.

When asked whether or not it was a conflict of interest for an organization that placed teachers to be involved with the removal of current teachers, a TNTP rep spit on my shoes, uttered an obscenity the likes of which this reporter has never heard before, and explained they would not stop until every last unionized teacher had been removed, calling them a "filthy bunch of replaceables."

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Miss Eyre, NYC Educator, and You: Are We the "Irreplaceables"?

It's funny how much I seem to be thinking about quitting my job over the summer.  Not really, of course.  I have ever intention of coming back for another year of masochism educating the youth in September, really!  But my last post here (title: "Those Who Can, Teach, Until They Don't") dealt with the issue of retention, and, after reading this GothamSchools post, I find myself thinking about it again.  It's long been my chief ed policy interest (sorry, my friends at Core Knowledge, though I promise curriculum is a very close second!).  Eventually I'd like to get into a position where I could actually make a difference in teacher retention, like coaching or (GOD FORBID) administration.  But at least for now, I'm just another no-good unionized teacher, so I'll make some observations from where I currently stand.

One of the findings of the report--a no-brainer, I think, but let's just throw it out there--is that poor working conditions and lousy school cultures push teachers, good ones, out of schools like nothing else.  And, yeah, that sounds about right.  After more-than-one-hand's worth of years in the NYCDOE, I feel comfortable calling myself a pretty good teacher, and the last time I switched schools, it was totally due to school culture going down the drain.  I felt like good work I'd done was being thrown out for no reason and that dissent, even informed dissent in the best interest of kids, was being quashed.  So off I went.

Related: I've been doing a lot of PD over the summer, and today, for maybe the first time ever, I heard a DOE official say something along the lines of, "We're going to just talk for a little while this morning and then give you the rest of the time to work.  You're teachers, you all know what you need to do."  Whoa whoa WHOA, now that's new and different from the DOE brass, no?  IMAGINE THAT, ASSUMING THAT I AM A PROFESSIONAL AND CAN PRETTY MUCH FIGURE STUFF OUT BY MYSELF.  I'm being hyperbolic here, of course, but you get the point.

And so my larger point is that I concur with the TNTP report (yikes, but yeah): You can do a lot to keep your "irreplaceables" if you're a principal or a superintendent--you know, folks like me and NYC Educator and you!!!--without spending a lot of money.  (I mean, money is always nice, though.  I won't turn it down.)  What means a lot is respect, and support, and gratitude, and trust, and constructive feedback.  I don't get paid a dime more for being at my current school than I would if I had stayed put, but you can bet I'm a lot happier and a lot less likely to leave. It's all about being in a good place.

But don't spread this post around.  I don't want my pals at DOE headquarters hearing that I don't REALLY want more money.  If they ask you, say, Yes, you want more money.