Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Good Life

It's nice to live near the water. People love it. Cities pop up near the water, civilizations begin around it, and a lot of property near water carries a premium.

However, there is a down side, as most of Manhattan knows, and those of us on Long Island's south shore were reminded, with a vengeance, Monday night. We ran away, like chickens, to my sister in law's house. But my stalwart neighbors who remained mostly regret doing so.

My mother in law was pretty freaked out by the prospect of the storm, and spending it with no news or electricity, so she got the bright idea of going to a hotel. My wife then picked up on it, and I said there was no way we would find anything. But within moments I found rooms at the Hampton Inn in Garden City, a little pricey at $199, but what the hell, if we could avert mom-in-law having a heart attack, it seemed worth it.

So on we went, a caravan stuffing into two rooms. Within an hour, the hotel had lost power. Did they have an emergency generator? No. No hotel has one. Except the Hyatt, right next door did, and it was easy to see because their wifi channel never went out. All our hotel had was some way to keep the exit signs lit until it got dark, and then it was on you to wander up and down the stairs if, like me, you were curious and stupid enough to want to see what was outside. Hotel staff kindly provided flashlights when it was finally light out. Almost certainly we'd have been better off staying at a shelter.

Next day, back home, my wife stayed at sister-in-law's house. Intrepid daughter and I decided to try to visit the old home place. We were able to drive right up to the corner you see, where the crazy guy on the motorcycle, our neighbor, had no problem whizzing through the water. I had reservations about my car, so daughter and I went back to get rubber boots, which proved no match for the water.

We met two Newsday reporters who photographed us and told us they were taking picture of family photos in the water. Imagine my surprise when I saw my own baby pictures out there. Apparently we'd had a bag of old photos in the garage, which the storm decided not only to open, but to rip through entirely.

Our neighbors, who hadn't evacuated but wished they had, told us the flood had hit six feet where we were, enough to inundate our ground floor and run a foot of water through the living room, kitchen, and dining room of our split level. Looks like we'll need a new washer, dryer, hot water heater, gas furnace, refrigerator, and perhaps dishwasher and stove. Won't know until electric is turned on, Saturday AM at earliest. Actually our town has its own electric company, which could turn electric on, but is afraid houses may blow up or something if it does.

Meanwhile, we're camped out with sister-in-law, who probably won't get electricity for over a week. I wonder if Mayor Bloombucks will open schools tomorrow. I feel lucky to have bought gas on Sunday, because lines in the handful of gas stations open in our area were all the way down the block at 7:30 AM. I shudder to think what they're like now.

How did you fare? Better than us, I hope.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

For Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg Is Putting Children First Again

That wacky DOE is at it again. I just got an email from Dennis Walcott saying that emergency workers should report at 8 AM tomorrow. What are emergency workers? Well, emergency workers are pretty much any city employee who volunteered to be one. I got 4 or 5 calls and several emails asking me to be one.

However, at the bottom of the message was this:

At this time, we expect City government and schools to open on Monday. 

So not only are those teachers who volunteered to help expected to do so--they're also expected to report to their regular jobs. That way, apparently, they can be at two places at once. Pretty impressive feat for people denied the raises all other city workers got between 2008 and 2010.

But that's not the only thing these visionary leaders have planned. If people report to these shelters, they will be there along schools in session. I suppose having dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers milling about while children are supposed to be studying does not pose a potential problem for Mayor Bloomberg. After all, his kid didn't attend a public school anyway, so why should he care?

The other thing that has not crossed Mayor Bloomberg's mind is the unpredictable nature of nature itself. What if everything is fine Monday morning, but the storm picks up later in the day? You know, when the kids are walking or taking public transport home? That, of course assumes there will even be public transport. Does Bloomberg think it's a good idea for students to use their own schools as shelters, grouped with their school friends rather than their families?

Why not? Neither his kids, nor the kids of his rich pals attend public schools.

All agency employees are requested, beginning after 11 p.m. on Sunday night, or on Monday morning, to watch local news, or check or the agency's web site, for the latest information before leaving for work on Monday. 

That's very considerate. As I live in a flood-prone area, I don't even think I'll be home tonight. I don't know whether I'll have electricity, or internet, or the latest information. But like all of New Yorkers, even if I did, I wouldn't be able to plan for what could very well be the most significant storm of our lifetimes.

And neither will the children Mayor Bloomberg puts "first," or any of their families.

Update: MTA will begin shutting down at 7 PM tonight, and will be completely shut down by 3 AM this morning. 

UPDATE: City schools CLOSED tomorrow!

Friday, October 26, 2012

If We Could Put that State of Mind in a Bottle, We'd Be Rich

Yesterday a girl in my class got a 44 on my test. It freaked me out a little, because the test was fairly easy. In fact, it was a multiple choice test, which I don't usually give, and she filled in eight "E" answers, though the options were only A, B, C, and D.

This is the third test I've given this year. She was absent for the first one, and was out for three days in a row. In the rush of beginning the year, I failed to follow up on that. But the second time she missed a test, I got a guidance counselor who spoke her language to call home. Since then, she's been early for class every day and hasn't missed a single moment.

However, I have 34 kids in that class, and being the last one in, she's been happily seated in the back. I walk around and look at the work kids do, and have been correcting her a little more than I should be at this point. My class is level 2 ESL, meaning near-beginners, and I was thinking of moving her down to level one. But when we checked, we found she'd been here for three years. It's remarkable to be a teenager in a country for three years without acquiring the language. Usually it's either someone who was not educated in L1, or someone who was dragged to the US kicking and screaming. Sometimes it's both.

I found she was in an AP's class, and the AP also spoke her language, so I went in and asked how she was doing in his class. She seemed to be doing OK, but he teaches in her native language. He called her in and asked why she marked so many "E" answers on a multiple choice test.

"I was indicating none of the above," she responded, serenely.

I started banging my head against the wall.

"Look," said the AP. "You're giving Mr. Educator a heart attack."

"That's nothing," she replied. "He has heart attacks all the time."

She's right, of course. I am melodramatic from time to time. But the fact that she was so quick to observe that shows me she has a little sense of humor, or irony, or something. I wonder how she manages to keep such a placid demeanor while she's doing so poorly in a basic English class. As I walked her back to class I asked her what she thought she could do here without English. Was she planning a career in dishwashing? No, she was not. How does she maintain that Zenlike composure in the face of such appalling results?

"Maybe she knows something you don't know," commented my supervisor. She certainly must. I wonder what on earth it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who Decided to Have this Meeting?

Article 7, Q, 6 of the UFT Contract reads thusly:

Faculty conference agendas shall be set in consultation with the UFT chapter committee.

When was the last time anyone asked you what you wanted to discuss in a faculty conference? I've been on several chapter committees, and only very rarely did this topic even come up. So is it our fault if we sit through meetings on the vicissitudes of what Good Teaching is this week...

Remember, you must have a motivation. Kids will not do any work unless there is something sexy attached to the assignment. But for goodness sake, don't mention sex, and don't refer to it, even obliquely, or the guys in suits will be here and you'll be up on charges.

...or why students should not be late?

Remember, if they come in late, tell them lateness is very bad. Make sure they know it will affect their grade. Fail them for being late, and tell them that's why you failed them. But for goodness sake, make sure they aren't late, and pass them all no matter what!

So how do these decisions get made? Does the principal sit in his office, thinking about the Next Big Thing in education and how he can get those crazy teachers on board with it? I once had a principal who did nothing but that. He got all excited about every new thing that came down the pike, and somehow his enthusiasm was less than contagious.

Of course, there are always people who will get excited about that sort of thing. And there are a great deal of people who will never object to anything. I suppose that sort of person could become a supervisor by making the right move at the right time. I've even met chapter leaders who aspire to be administrators, and I can only suppose they're the worst possible chapter leaders anyone could have. It's hard to see how someone trying to move up in administration could do a good job representing the staff.

Do you get any say in faculty conferences? Would it make a difference if you did? Or are they a lost cause, another reason to be pointlessly lectured on why kids should not be late every month, every year, every decade, until you retire and take those rumba lessons you've always dreamed of?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Not Who You Know. It's Whom You Know

For several weeks now, I've been writing about the new program my school has been using to keep track of student data. It's called Skedula, and it's largely unpopular in my building. It just seems like you always need to do three things instead of one. Furthermore, though most of my colleagues use ipads, there is no ipad app. The rep came to our school several weeks ago, and assured us we'd have one in two weeks. Now I hear the real roll out date is sometime in December.

If that's the case, Skedula ought to refund half of whatever they charged us. If they knew their program wouldn't serve our needs and sold it to us based on an app that wasn't even out yet, shame on them.

But there are other questions I have. For one, I'm hearing schools Mayor Bloombucks tried to close were required to use Skedula. Perhaps this program was seen as having the ability to make ESL students speak English and special ed. students overcome any and all disabilities. Or perhaps someone thought it was a good idea for its parent company, Datacation, to make money. I mean, sure, it's not Eva Moskowitz, but it's always important for The Right People to make money. Of course I'm not talking about educators, the only city employees Mayor Bloomberg did not see fit to give an 8% raise for the 2008-2010 bargaining round.

Another thing I wonder, and this appears verified by Skedula itself, is how on earth they got access to STARS, the DOE database usually open only to administrators. I know for a fact that other programs do not have this access. At my school, in order to use Daedalus, administrators constantly had to do updates within the building. How did Skedula get an automatic connection?

So, with favored treatment, and a seriously flawed system, one wonders whether Skedula is the Next Big Thing. For example, I've read that ARIS, the 80-million dollar boondoggle our financial wizard of a mayor is about to trash in favor of a yet-undetermined state system. Is Skedula as crappy as ARIS? So far, I'd say yes. And were it to be imposed statewide, like an epidemic, I've no doubt Andrew Cuomo, the student lobbyist, and his merry band of hedge fund magnates/ education experts could endeavor to make it even worse.

Because when it comes to pointless nonsense, no one takes a back seat to Cuomo and Bloomberg. That's a good thing, because given their massive egos, there won't be room in the back seat of the largest, ugliest Hummer limo in the great state of New York.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Teacher Union Prez Auditions for NY Post Editorial Board

Joseph Del Grosso, head of the Newark Teachers Union, is endorsing a new contract that entails merit pay, value-added measures, and which is "secretive about financial details," though we know it hinges on $100 mill in Facebook bucks, which we don't know to be renewable.

Del Grosso is portrayed in the article as someone who's moved from a young firebrand to someone with a completely different position-- heroic by the writer's highly uninformed point of view, but questionable at best by mine. More disturbing, perhaps, is this quote:

“The teachers who come in early and stay late, and take the job seriously, are offended by the teachers who don’t,” he says. “They are the silent majority, and I think they will overwhelmingly vote for a contract that involves them in their own destiny.”

Can you imagine the things these offended teachers must be saying?

That damn Ms. Smith, always going home to look after her baby!

I hate Mr. White. Who the hell does he think he is, running to his second job at the carwash at 2:30 every day?

I'm a teacher who comes in early and stays late, but I certainly don't go around telling anyone else to do that. For me, it's a matter of convenience, avoiding traffic, and doing things that are more efficiently done on school grounds. Were I an administrator, I would not presume to judge a teacher by hours in building, quantity, but rather by what's accomplished in the classroom, quality.

It's quite disturbing to see a union head suggest that teachers ought to work for free, and that whether or not they choose to do so is indicative of the quality of their work. It's further disturbing to see Nixon invoked in his use of the term "silent majority." This was a rationale used by a criminal to support clearly failed policies.

Also disturbing is the possibility that teacher pay will be linked to whether or not they are "effective," and that their degree of effectiveness will be determined by something as inane as value-added, which has proven disastrous in other venues, most recently Florida. The article writer, apparently unaware of the difference between reporting and editorializing, offers this tidbit:

Workers in the private sector take it for granted that their performance will affect their pay, and that if they screw up badly, they will be fired. Teachers, like many other public employees, have been protected against that harsh, real-world stuff.

This, of course, assumes that teachers are never fired, an utter fallacy. It also fails to consider that value-added has no validity whatsoever. There is a lot of talk about teachers having "a seat at the table," but I heard that talk before the UFT got involved with Bill Gates' MET project, notions of which have been imposed on most of the country well before there was sufficient evidence to do so.

This contract has the "blessing of Gov. Chris Christie." If anyone reading this thinks Christie has the interests of teachers, students, or parents at heart, I can give you a very good price on a bridge in Brooklyn.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Our Hero

Friday, October 19, 2012

Man vs. Machine--Further Adventures with Skedula

Yesterday I had a big problem contacting a student's home. A girl walked in 20 minutes late, like she owned the place, after having arrived just before the ending bell rang two days ago. She had a big smile, looking as though she was expecting to win a prize. At least two times I caught her fussing with makeup rather than paying attention. This was fairly easy for her to do as the only seat in my 34-person class was one in the back.

The girl had written a contact number on the card I gave her, but there was another one on Skedula. I went up to her and asked whether the number she gave me was her mom's number. She assured me it was. But it wasn't. And neither was the number on Skedula.

Personally, I hate when kids come late to my class. My feeling is this--if I have to be on time, so do they. So I went to her guidance counselor, hoping she might have the magic number to send this girl's behavior home with her. The counselor remembered seeing it somewhere, and opened up our old program Daedalus, where she found a note someone had written with the correct phone number.

I struggled on my iPad to make a similar note in Skedula. I clicked and prodded. After several false starts, I finally found the anecdotal, which, by default, is academic negative. I tried to change it, but it wasn't all that responsive. Is it negative to leave a current phone number? Well, it would be today. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I touched the window, my iPad keyboard would not appear. So that particular mission failed.

"It's the iPad," said the counselor. "It works better on my computer." So she made the note and then cursed herself because she'd forgotten to change the default academic negative category. Is that the most popular thing we do? Write negative things about kids? When I write about kids on venues like those I try to describe only behavior and let others decide whether it's negative or positive.

Then the counselor told me this girl has been having issues for a few years. I pushed several buttons on Skedula trying to pull up her previous report cards, but had no luck at all. It's very hard for me to fathom what is worthwhile about this program, though I will grant that one member of our faculty had nice things to say about it the other day. Still, the overwhelming number of comments I get are about time wasted trying to do things.

No one ever talked about Daedalus. I never wrote about it. We just used it. It was a handy tool. Teachers can always use handy tools. It's remarkable what we get are arcane, overblown, convoluted programs like Skedula--programs that cost schools up to 40 grand a year. To me, that's potentially the price of an additional teacher, and perhaps fewer classes of 34.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

City Employees Working Together in Mayor Bloomberg's New York

We have a very good relationship with our local precinct. They send a guy to our school who faithfully tickets absolutely everyone the day their registrations or inspections expire, and he comes to meetings and lectures us on all the things we can possibly do wrong, like parking more than 12 inches from the curb on days the streets are hopelessly covered with snow. Naturally, everyone adores this great work.

However, when students hang on the street in front of our school, often creating dangerous conditions, there's not much that can be done. The DOT cannot lay out whatever it would take to put one of those speed signs near our school. They are needed elsewhere, and one single horrific accident over the last few years is not sufficient for them to be stretching much-needed resources. Perhaps they need it in front of Mayor Bloomberg's house. Who's to say?

Our school is on the border of two precincts. A block away from our school is a shop many of us know to be dealing drugs, but the other precinct can't send valuable officers to deal with that. Apparently that's too far away and not enough of a crisis, so they can't send vital officers to deal with that.

What they can do, though, is dispatch officers right in front of that shop to make sure no one makes an improper left turn. Several members of our staff have been ticketed for that offense, which is far more egregious than people dealing drugs near a school. I know this because when the officer was writing me a ticket, I said to him, "You know, they're dealing drugs right behind you, and you're coming after me." The officer had a response. "We've got an undercover operation over there."

It must be a very effective undercover operation, because this officer has enough confidence to tell complete strangers about it. Also, none of us have heard word one about it, though I know there've been complaints about that shop for over a year. The important thing, I suppose, is to raise revenue to support the undercover operations that are publicly discussed, the results of which are apparent to no one whatsoever.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What's a New York Vote Worth?

 There was a debate in New York last night. But it was not aimed at New Yorkers. They were written off months, if not years ago.

Since I first registered to vote, I've been a Democrat. I never voted against a Democrat until Governor 1% Cuomo showed up, peddling a brand of politics that looked to come straight out of the DFER playbook. I don't regret voting for Green candidate Howie Hawkins, since they've now got a regular spot on the NY State ballot as a result of people like me. Cuomo's opponent, what's his name, seemed such a vicious, frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic, that there didn't seem a whole lot of danger of his getting elected.

We live in a very funny country. When Jimmy Carter runs all over the world checking on free elections, you never see him establishing electoral colleges. That's because a widely accepted precept is the person who gets the most votes, wins. But that's not the case in these United States because of some insane rule the founding fathers made.  So when I tell a Republican friend I'm thinking of voting Green, he gets excited. "So that means you won't cancel me out!" he says, joyfully.

It's a nice thought. But the fact is, it doesn't matter who I vote for, who he votes for, or pretty much who anyone we know votes for. New York is already in Obama's column, and if there's a whisper of a doubt about that, we're looking at President Romney. A lot of my friends say they wouldn't want Romney to be President, even though he's got those binders full of women, and I agree with them. That's why I'm not voting for him. Some say that a vote for Green candidate Dr. Jill Stein is a vote for Romney. But it isn't. In fact, another Republican friend says, "If you really don't like Obama, you should vote for Romney." I find both arguments equally unpersuasive.

It might be different if I lived in Florida, or Ohio, or one of the handful of states that will actually decide the election. But it would be very tough for me to cast a ballot for the guy who made Arne Duncan Secretary of Education. I mean, has anyone ever seen him speak while Bill Gates drank a glass of water? How does a Democrat applaud the firing of an entire Rhode Island school staff? How does he get up in front of God and everybody and declare that Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans? Would flooding Duncan's office be the best thing to happen to education in the United States?

I'd have to see it before making a decision. Would Obama still persist with this junk-science based Race to the Top? Would test scores continue to be the only thing determining whether neighborhood schools remained open? Would charter schools continue to be pushed as a silver bullet, even though it's pretty clear they aren't any better than public schools?

Things like that really upset me. A school kind of anchors the neighborhood, giving generations something in common, giving neighborhoods a meeting place that transcends religion and ethnicity. A good public school brings pride to a community. If there are problems, why not fix them instead of figuring out more efficient ways to put money into Eva Moskowitz' ample pockets?

These are the things I want answered before casting my largely useless vote for the likes of President Barack Obama. Romney is simply outlandish, beyond the pale. I watched him talk about "self-deportation" last night. How about those who ruin our economy practice "self-punishment" by jumping off tall buildings? That makes about as much sense as anything coming out of either side of Mitt's mouth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Another Bloomberg Innovation

Mayor Bloomberg has finally solved the problems of overcrowding and class size that have plagued his administration from the start. Critics have relentlessly attacked him as he failed to replace departing teachers, causing sharp rises in class sizes. Others bellyache about how, with all or most classes at maximum, students can even get the courses they need.

Principals are perplexed. Where can they put classes when there isn't any space in the building, and with all the budget cuts, they can't afford to hire any new teachers? Worse, they now have to consider the salaries of teachers they select, and have to pay a premium for experience. With the millions of impending observations they'll have to do with the new evaluation system, not to mention calculating precisely how much junk science VAM to add to the mix, they're at a virtual standstill.

Enter Mayor Bloombucks, with a brilliant solution. Why not simply pretend the problem doesn't exist and hope for the best? After all, if he doesn't tell the public how many kids are sitting in trailers instead of classrooms, if he doesn't tell the public how many classes are oversized, no one will know about the problem, and it will therefore not exist.

By thinking out of the box, Mayor4Life has confounded his critics, and decisively dealt with a problem that's frustrated lesser thinkers. The mayor plans also to ignore poverty, crime, and his rapidly sinking popularity in an effort to creatively take on the issues of our day. Should they be brought up by uppity parents or teachers, the mayor plans to focus on the giant soft drinks that he's managed to defeat.

A mayoral spokesperson, speaking under conditions of strict anonymity,  pointed out that giant soft drinks are not available in public schools, and under the stewardship of the second richest man in New York, will not be available for the foreseeable future. He then went on to say the UFT has taken no stand on this vital issue, and that this proved conclusively that billionaires care more about children than unionized teachers. He then spit on my shoes, walked into a 7-11, and purchased an enormous Coca-Cola flavored Slurpee, which was somehow exempted from the momentous ban.

As icing on top of the cake, the mayor managed to once again place "Children First. Always," by ensuring children are first and always in oversized classes and trailers. Because you sure as hell won't find Mike Bloomberg working under any such conditions.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Full-Time UFT, Part-Time Voice

It's tough getting doors slammed in your face. Yet if you're a UFT activist, it's hard to imagine how to avoid it. You could sign up and join Unity, if, unlike the overwhelming majority of teachers,  you get yourself invited. Yet, if you do that, you have to agree never to speak up against Unity positions. So, as an activist, you'd sign up to support, for one example, mayoral control, which has brought nothing but misery to working teachers.

You also sign up to support VAM, or value-added evaluation for teachers. UFT played a role in the state law that now requires a portion of our evaluation is determined by the all-important junk science without which Washington will withhold federal funds. That's part and parcel of Race to the Top, the brainchild of Arne Duncan, who decided to take his miserably failing Chicago programs national.

The discussion in the union is now largely over how much VAM we will use. Staunch Unity voices have said 20%, though I'm now hearing some say it can go up to 25. Others argue the local measure can bring it up to 40, though that, for now, has to be locally negotiated. Still others say it can be 100, since you can't get a passing grade unless you do well in it. Anyone who's actually studied this process knows the optimal percentage is zero.

It's okay, in my view, to have this discussion. It's okay to disagree. I understand the argument that our system gives us less crap than some others. It's indeed possible this was the best result, though I'm not persuaded.

What's really not okay is having a large faction of membership, some of the smartest and most active teachers in the city, absolutely shut out of consideration. I know some great people in Unity. I also know brilliant, well-informed, passionate individuals who are either part of the opposition or who have chosen not to sign the pledge not to speak their minds in public.

I don't get it. How can you be an activist if you won't speak your mind in public? How can you be a leader if you aren't free to question?

Why on earth won't UFT leadership open the doors to a large group of the most passionate unionists in the city? Isn't it time already?

One way or another, we will be heard.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Skedula Still Sucks

It's funny. I put up a post saying Skedula sucks, and I got dozens of responses from people who'd never posted on the blog before, most of whom had never used Disqus, a very popular commenting platform. One person would say the technophobes love it, then an hour later someone would post saying, "I'm a technophobe, and I love it."

I got multiple posts calling me a liar, and characterizing those who criticize Skedula as Luddites or worse. I took them down, and I will continue to delete such posts, so please don't even bother.

I know many teachers, I know what teachers are passionate about, and I do not know one single teacher, not even a  tech-oriented teacher, who is passionate about a grading program, any grading program. I have read all the comments, and I do have a response.

Several posters insisted Skedula does not, by default, make posts public. They are wrong. When you write an anecdotal, the public box is checked by default, and you must uncheck it. I would not advise teachers to make negative posts open to all. If you've read Chancellor's Regulation A-421, you think twice about what you want people to hear. There's a prominent case of a teacher being fired for writing unsavory things about her students on Facebook. I'd think a school audience would put a teacher at even more risk.

I find it incredible there is no feature for a guidance referral, and thus far no poster, not even the ones saying they are from Skedula, has addressed this fundamental flaw. If you wish to send a message to a guidance counselor, you must then look up who the guidance counselor is, if you have not already done so, then check the name of the counselor. In a school like mine, with a dozen counselors, that's unnecessarily time-consuming. Daedalus selected the counselor automatically in one step.

Yes, I know, you need training, as many posters repeated. As a matter of fact, I've had it, and one of the reps from Skedula was in my school just last week. The first time I mentioned guidance referrals, the rep answered a question, but not the one I asked. When I repeated it again, he said the beauty of Skedula was that I could set it up to do it myself. That was akin to bringing my car in and having the mechanic tell me the beauty of his shop was that I could come in and do the repair myself. There was no discussion of adding this very basic and useful feature from this rep.

Let's look further at training. I'm using the Blogger platform right now. I've had zero training. I also had zero training in MS Word. Last week I edited a film using iMovie, with zero training, for the first time. The teachers using Engrade in my building did so with zero training. An intuitive program is user-friendly, and requires little training. I had zero training in Daedalus, and I've had zero training in any computer program I can think of. But let's go back to our experience with the Skedula rep.

A young tech teacher raised her hand and asked why a screen with our school name pops up every time we log in. She felt it was a waste of time. Could we bypass it? No, said the Skedula expert.
A young math teacher told me it was faster and more efficient to use a Delaney book to take attendance, and that using Skedula ate into valuable class time. In fact, several tech-oriented teachers had already told me they'd found taking attendance with Skedula was awkward, so I haven't even bothered.

Several issues came up about viewing students. Why were their faces blocked? That was because of the iPad. Why do we have scrolling issues? The iPad. But there will be an iPad app, said the rep, sometime soon, that will fix that. Pardon me if I believe it when I see it. Meanwhile, the teachers at my school, almost all of whom use iPads (on which they needed no training), can wait.

Other commenters on the blog were thrilled you don't have to write grades on Skedula. You don't have to use the EGG. Yet the rep was unable to demonstrate it, saying the grades were not up yet. The principal made sure to set up an EGG because our grades are due on Friday. I suppose he could've used Skedula and hoped for the best, but I thought it was a good idea when he bet on a sure thing. Still, maybe when Skedula works, it works. Again, I'll believe it when I see it.

Today I wanted to pull up a student schedule. I clicked "schedule" and got a choice of three schedules. I could view the student's test schedule, if I wished, and there was some other schedule, I don't recall which. Perhaps there is a school somewhere where people commonly need student test schedules, but with only 28 years teaching experience, I don't know where it is. So there I found an extra step, for no particular reason, when I was trying to find something very common--here there should be a default, and it should be the student schedule.

Now I know I will get another mountain of responses telling me how wonderful Skedula is, and how it's changed their school cultures, and their lives, and how birth control pills were a relatively unimportant invention compared to Skedula. But here's a fact. I talk to teachers and administrators all day at my school.

Not one single person has had anything good to say about it. We use it, because the school probably paid 40K for it, and is stuck with it for the year.  I use it every day because I have no choice. I find it counter-intuitive, and not user friendly.

In summary, please review the headline.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Why Tenure Is Necessary

Of course, the papers are full of horror stories about teachers. We have jobs for life. We sit and read the newspaper while our students murder one another. We can't see it because we choose the New York Times, that great big paper that completely blocks our range of view. Furthermore, we're elitist and out of touch for choosing that over the Daily News. Never mind that the editorial board of the Times hates us just as much as that of the News.

In reality, Mayor Bloomberg and his fellow "reformers" wish to fire us for any reason or no reason. Case in point, this young woman, in a story from the New York Post. She's been fired because of photos taken before she started working for the DOE, photos that she claims have been photoshopped for the internet. Apparently, because there are scantily clad photos of her available, now much more widely so because of the story, she cannot advise students on what courses to take, what colleges to attend, or how to be more successful in school.

It looks like the DOE is mired in the illusion that we're all Beaver Cleaver, living in Pleasantville, sleeping in twin beds like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Any teacher who admits to having a body with more sexual characteristics than a Ken doll is unfit to teach. Of course this is absurd on its face.

But we see that the DOE is willing to take this sort of thought to the point at which they discharge someone. Judging from the story, this young woman started out as a teacher and later became a counselor, which would explain why she hasn't got tenure. It would also explain why she can be discharged without due process. In fact, a probationary teacher can be dismissed for a bad haircut. Or even a good one.

I'm certain that many of us would have been arbitrarily and capriciously dismissed if it were up to Mayor4Life Bloomberg. Having tenure is the wall that keeps him from simply dumping every experienced teacher and replacing us with cheap inexperienced newbies. Despite the nonsense spewed by astroturfers like Tim Daly and his Rhee-originate TNTP, there is simply no substitute for experience. Daly and Rhee don't go to doctors who haven't practiced, or hire $30 an hour lawyers.

That they'd want our children educated solely by neophytes belies their nonsensical claims of putting children first. Their goal is to funnel as much money as possible away from our children into the hands of those who least need it. And they attack tenure because paying those of us who devote our lives to teaching children, to them, is a waste of money.

But we must be ever-vigilant. After Bloombucks loses this lawsuit, he will certainly redouble his efforts to weaken and destroy us. We've given him far too much, and can afford to give him not one inch more.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Littlest Soldier

My daughter is the most patriotic American I've ever seen. First thing, when she got into high school, she joined the JROTC, and she's been gung-ho over it ever since. She's on the drill team, the rifle team, in leadership, and she's got a chest full of medals. She'll go in at six AM to do I have no idea what, and stay until 8 PM to continue doing it. She'll go away weekends with them to practice it even more.

One weekend I got a call from her CO. Someone had fallen on her while they were doing some sort of exercise, and she'd hurt her wrist. Could I please drive out and pick her up? I said OK. I got out of what I was doing and started driving. Halfway there, my car broke down. There were all sorts of lights flashing on the dashboard, but I managed to drive it to a friend's house. He was kind enough to drive me to the airport, the only place you could rent a car on a Saturday night.

On our way, I got a call. Daddy, can I stay the weekend? I don't feel so bad. It was kind of embarrassing explaining to my friend, who'd just dragged himself out of his comfortable home, that we didn't need to go to the airport after all. Worse yet was finding myself a ride home. But after I did all that, she came home on a school bus Sunday, and we took her to a doctor the next day. She'd fractured her wrist and had a cast for the next few weeks.

Yesterday she was out on a walk to benefit sufferers of autism. For some reason, this walk entailed the JROTC entering a bouncy house, where yet another girl had fallen on her, this time injuring her knee. I was able to find a walk-in clinic this time, and she's hobbling around on crutches with some kind of knee immobilizer.

She's very upset that I won't let her go to any of these early-morning or late-afternoon drill things until she gets better. When I pointed out that she wouldn't be able to participate, she said, "Yes, but I can go to the meet even if I don't participate." Yet I stubbornly refuse to get up and drive her there to watch.

It makes me very apprehensive. For one thing, in the professional military, there are worse things than people falling on you. But she, at 16, wants to be in the military precisely as much as I, at 16, did not. Teenage rebellion is simply not what it used to be.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Family Vacation

Friday, October 05, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

Actually, in the case of unions, it probably doesn't matter whether the deed was good, bad or otherwise. The editorial pages made up their minds long ago.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote an opinion piece in the Daily News, explaining that it is, in fact, Bloomberg who's blocking the much-vaunted evaluation system that we've all been reading about. Mulgrew correctly points out that there is a framework, and that he was instrumental in establishing it.

UFT sources have told me that Bloomberg is still angry that 13% of working teachers will be able to get fair hearings to appeal ineffective ratings, and therefore won't act toward making it happen. I believe that. It's ironic, because personally, I'm more upset about the 87% of the teachers who won't get a fair hearing.

So Mulgrew put out an olive branch, and told the truth. What does he get for his efforts? Well, this looks like a slap in the face from the News editorial board. The News editorial is superficial, and unpersuasive to anyone who knows the facts, but who knows how many News readers know the facts? There's a larger point here.

It doesn't pay to give in to the "reformers." Give them an inch, and they complain you still have one yourself. The plan to "reform" teacher evaluations is a great case in point. By capitulating to the idiocies perpetrated by Education Secretary/ DFER Stooge Arne Duncan, NY teachers will now be judged by VAM, which is nothing more than junk science. Hundreds of DC teachers have been fired on precisely this basis, and bringing this to our state will benefit no one but those wishing to see more teachers randomly fired.

Precisely how are evaluations improved by adding junk science to the mix? "Reformers" want to fire as many teachers as possible, and this will certainly allow them to hit some they wouldn't get otherwise. The union complains, justifiably, that supervisors can be arbitrary or vindictive when rating teachers. Is there a perfect system? Probably not. Is there a better one. Probably.

But here we are, in 2012, discussing whether it's 20%, 25%, 40%, or even 100% junk science we will use to evaluate the people who teach our children. How much, precisely, do you think junk science will help us to do that?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Skedula Sucks

In our school, we have a new system. It's new and very glitzy looking. And you can enter grades and attendance on it, if you dare. We used to have a system called Daedalus, with which we could look up student schedules, and phone numbers, and things like that. You can do that in Skedula too, with only a few more inconvenient steps.

Daedalus had a big calendar you could pull up and show to parents. All the cuts would show a sea of pink, if I recall correctly. It was a very dramatic thing to show a parent. Skedula does something, but not that. In my school, there are a lot of technophobic teachers. I expect them not to like new systems. This year, it's not them, but the young tech-oriented teachers who are complaining.

In Skedula, if you send a note, it is by default public. This is pretty inconvenient. Several people have written things they did not expect everyone in the building to have access to, but there you are. I like to send notes to guidance counselors. In Daedalus, you'd press a button, write a note, and it would go to the kid's counselor, whether or not you happened to know who the counselor was. That way, at the end of the year, when the principal asked me why the hell I failed that kid, I could point to this correspondence. In Skedula, you have to look up the counselor and do it yourself. You may as well use your email account.

After noting that, I found an option to send comments to Skedula. They don't seem to really want them, because a box that could not have been more than one square inch popped up. I dutifully wrote a complaint, but it didn't go through.

Skedula looks more professional than bare-bones Daedalus. But Daedalus was more simple, more intuitive, more user-friendly. I miss it. Teachers who've adopted their own online grading systems, like Engrade, swear they're better and easier, and lament being asked to swap.

We need not even mention ARIS here, a total waste of 80 million bucks, soon to be scrapped for a state system that will no doubt prove more costly and even worse.

Does your school have an online system? What is it? How do you like it? Is it free so we can use it instead of Skedula?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Filling That Last Few Minutes

My wife steadfastly refuses to drive on parkways. I'm trying to persuade her otherwise, and I was driving her around giving her instructions. "You know, you turn here, wait for the car, and, umm.... then you get on."

My daughter, in the back seat, said, "You know what you sound like? You sound like a teacher who finished the class early and is trying to fill up the last few minutes."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You're improvising," she said. "You have no idea what you're talking about and you're just making it up as you go along."

I was shocked. She was right, of course. I really had little hope of persuading my wife and was just describing my actions. But that my daughter would connect that with what she saw in her teachers really surprised me. I don't think I ever paid enough attention to my teachers to notice them scrambling for time. Of course, when I went to school, teachers would do things like have us read books aloud one page at a time and no one gave it a second thought.

These kids today are watching us more closely than I'd thought, apparently. So what do you do if your lesson comes to an end and you have five extra minutes? Things like that happened to me when I first started, and resulted in things like kids giving a bum's rush out the door a few minutes before the bell. I was very uncomfortable with that.

What I do now is overplan, always. I never finish all the activities I plan, and that's OK. I start from wherever I need to the next day. I actually like the idea of improvisation, of letting the class go where it goes. If the kids or I can take it somewhere interesting, somewhere that grabs their attention and keeps them hooked, that's great. If something funny happens, we can focus on it.

But I would never just leave a blank space to be filled and hope for the best. If inspiration hits, great. And if something I've used before is appropriate for the moment, that's great too. But I don't want repeats of things I didn't like when I was a new teacher, so I always plan too much.

My daughter's comment indicates I've been giving kids too little credit, and that they actually know what's going on. Do you ever have a plan that finishes before you need it to? What do you do when that happens?