Monday, December 31, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg Redefines Negotiation

Mayor Bloomberg is shocked and stunned that teachers want more money. How dare they make such frivolous demands when he's trying to enact a junk-science-based evaluation system? Clearly they don't grasp the nature of the emergency in city schools. Mayor Bloomberg simply cannot fire enough teachers under the current system, and unless he gets a legal basis to fire them for no good reason, he won't be able to fire them for no good reason.

Bloomberg is aghast that the UFT would claim teachers haven't had a raise in four years. Don't they get step promotions for experience? Aren't they raises? Just because all other city employees got 8% between 2008-2010, does that mean teachers should get it too? And those uppity teachers, rather than bow down to his financial superiority, say things like, "Cops and firefighters get step increases too."

It's difficult being mayor when people throw things like that in your face. Over at the Panel for Educational Policy, what passes for a Board of Education in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has 8 of 13 votes and can pretty much do whatever he goshdarn pleases. And collective bargaining, to Michael Bloomberg, means he tells you what you're going to get, you take it, and then you shut the hell up.

So Bloomberg has made a complaint to PERB. If he can't have a system that will hold teachers' feet to the fire, and that can be monitored by the public, he won't agree to anything. Let's ignore the fact that state law expressly prohibits public monitoring of these evaluations. For now, we'll also ignore that the law appears to have no teeth, and that parents will almost certainly be able to leak the results to the press. Bloomberg is not concerned with quality teachers or quality education. He simply wants to get rid of teachers and privatize, so his rich buds can benefit from the all the money that goes into education.

And all this posturing to the press is nothing but a never-ending temper-tantrum, from a megalomaniac surrounded by sycophants who enable and encourage the disease Michael Bloomberg mistakes for educational expertise.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Who's Accountable in Mayor Bloomberg's New York?

Mayor Bloomberg loves talking about "accountability." That's what teachers need. It's important, therefore, that we establish parameters that will ensure they are fired for no reason. This, of course, is why we're having conversations about judging teachers by test scores. The methodology is absurd, and does not reflect on how good or bad teachers may be, but at least it will guarantee some of them will lose their jobs.

It's another thing altogether when the fickle finger of fault is pointed toward Mayor Bloomberg. For one thing, he has all that money, and if that's the case, how could anything he does be considered "wrong?" When parents say, in the mayor's own survey, that class size is the most important issue to them, he conflates it with other issues and obfuscates the inconvenient truth with sheer nonsense.

And, when the NYC crime rate goes up, that's not his fault either. The crime rate went up, quite simply, because there are too many Apple devices on the streets, and people just can't keep themselves from swiping them. Apparently, these are otherwise honest, trustworthy citizens, and were it not for the abundance of iPhones on the street, they'd be pursuing one of the many minimum-wage, no-benefit jobs available at the many fast-food franchises that pepper our fair city. According to Mayor Bloomberg's conclusion, they would not be stealing your wallet, your car, your computer (unless it's a Mac), or your big-screen TV. They are driven to theft solely based on that Apple logo.

Oddly, when Mayor Bloomberg closes schools, it's no excuses. You can't say, "Gee, we've got a hundred alternate assessment students no one expected to graduate, and at least we trained them to work a job." That's unacceptable and your school must be closed. And where will those alternate assessment kids go? Well, not to Eva Moskowitz's joint, that's for sure. She doesn't buy into the nonsensical demands that her schools actually represent the population of the neighborhoods into which she's bullied her way. After all, that's how the schools she wants to replace get closed in the first place.

So ask not at whom the finger points, unionized teachers. It points at YOU.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Have You No Shame?

"Reformers" are having a field day criticizing Diane Ravitch. Apparently, she had the audacity to not only call teachers from Newtown heroes, but also to mention they were unionized.

Therefore, she has a political agenda. Therefore, she's saying that non-union teachers are not heroes. Therefore, she's pursuing her own agenda and exploiting this tragedy for her own selfish goals.

And yet, I've been reading everything that crosses my desk about education, and here's what I've learned about teachers:

1. They are lazy. They don't want to do whatever it takes to make sure kids learn get adequate test scores. Why won't they work 200 hours a week, like they do at KIPP? If they did, all kids would be passing, and no child would be left behind.

2. They are greedy. Teachers only care about money. That's why they're always asking for more. Probably, that's why they became teachers. We know teachers are greedy because hedge fund managers, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walmart family say so.

3. They have too many benefits. Lots of Americans work without health or dental benefits. That's not fair. They only way to make things fair would be to take them away from the teachers. That way, only hedge fund managers, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart Family will have health care. And that's fair because they're all so rich none of them actually need it.

4. They insist on due process before they're fired. Many Americans don't have that. For example, Americans who actually work for the Walmart family can be fired for any reason, or indeed no reason. But teacher unions are always whining about no, you can't just call me a pervert, you have to prove it.

And the same people who spout this nonsense every day of their miserable lives are now up in arms that Diane Ravitch pointed out the heroic teachers of Newtown were unionized. Apparently no one is allowed to say that. Perhaps they should issue a book of rules on what people can and cannot say.

Personally, I can't wait to ignore it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Percentage of Crap is Appropriate?

I've been following a thread on Diane Ravitch's blog about the Common Core standards. This is written by a teacher who was "leary" of the standards. Perhaps this refers to Timothy Leary, who urged us all to turn on, tune in, and drop out. I myself am somewhat leery of this practice, as I fear the use of hallucinogenics might detract from my teaching. But I digress.

Apparently, it is vital that high school students read 70% non-fiction. This, of course, is because 69% is not enough and 71% is too much. David Coleman has reached into his extraordinarily gifted hind quarters and pulled out the perfect number. This is because students must be prepared to read things like train schedules and quarterly reports, and can't possibly do so unless we give them overt training.

I suppose that I am the exception to this rule. I can read all that stuff with no problem whatsoever, and none of my teachers showed me how. In fact, none of my teachers showed me context clues or any of the other things I've been compelled to teach over the years.

Here's what I have--I love to read. When I was young, I started reading comic books--Spider Man and Batman, and all sorts of nonsense like that. Then I found books lying around my house and read them too. In high school, I now realize many of my English teachers were simply awful. We did things like read novels aloud one page at a time, changing readers with each page. I read Silas Marner and The Old Man and the Sea like that. It was my practice to pay attention only when the girl in front of me was reading, and then to read the next page perfectly. I don't remember what I did the rest of the time.

Likely I was reading a book. I read intensely in high school, but almost never what was assigned. Actually, very little was assigned. I remember only having to read a handful of books, as my hippie teachers did things like play Neil Young's Little Cowgirl in the Sand and initiate tedious discussions over what it implied. I found it tough to participate, marveling that a man with a voice like that could make a living singing.

When I get a chance to teach literature, I pick only books that I love. My goal, simply, is to make the kids love these books as I do. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. But I almost invariably choose fiction, because that's what I love to read.

Here's why--there is an abundance of great fiction. For fiction to be successful, it has to be well-written. Otherwise, no one will read it.

There's great non-fiction too. I love Frank McCourt and David Halberstam, for example. But when I was in school, no one ever asked me to read them. In fact, most of what I was required to read was crap. I read books full of bad writing, sometimes written by professors who made me lay out 30 bucks for the one book in the world that printed their single published essay, unreadable though it was.

What got me through that nonsense? My love of reading. I can plod through crap and, usually, pick out what matters and ignore the rest of it.

If I can make kids love to read, they'll take that with them. They'll read in their free time and put up with whatever crap they're forced to read.

But if I have any choice at all, I will select precisely zero percent crap for my kids.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hurry Up, America!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Redhog Rides Again

I was very surprised to find a piece written by Ron Isaac in Diane Ravitch's Blog. The piece addresses the language of "reformers" and the nature of propaganda. He laments how language can be twisted and manipulated to serve the purposes of those who have a different message altogether.

What got me active in the UFT was the 2005 contract. I found it incredible that we would give away so much for so little. While, at the time, it appeared to me the worst aspect was the extra time--that it would ultimately entail a sixth class--it turns out the worst thing was the surrender of seniority rights. This created the Absent Teacher Reserve, which has brought incredible misery to thousands of working teachers.

I know many ATR teachers, and some have emailed me saying they were resigning rather than endure the degrading conditions they're subject to. Others have toughed it out, emerging stronger and more resolved---if they can deal with this, they can deal with anything. UFT leaders defend the system, saying there are more transfers now than before, an argument I find weak indeed. There were many more givebacks, including giving up letter in file grievances, and sending teachers to patrol lunchrooms and bathrooms.

In any case, here's another piece Mr. Isaac wrote. Though he'd favored the pseudonym "Redhog," he abandoned it for this particular piece. A note from the editor later attributed the piece to Isaac, contending its omission was to encourage discussion.

I'd argue it was precisely the sort of propaganda Mr. Isaac now appears to bemoan. While I find the piece more turgid and stilted than skillful or convincing, it certainly had the same goal as the nonsense spewed by Students First, DFER, E4E, and all their various clones--to persuade people to act against their interests.

In retrospect, this is the most interesting part of this piece:

I am, by the way, an active teacher with years of service “in the trenches.” In Klein’s empire I’ve been in more of a tin-pot cell than an “ivory tower.” I have neither sought nor been given any perk or sweetheart deal in exchange for bought loyalty. That goes for both the DOE and the UFT. 

In fact, Isaac retired at the end of that year. He was then given a job by the UFT writing for the union paper.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mayans Were Right After All

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

 I opened my DOE email today to see the message below. You can imagine how thrilled I must have been.

It's very gratifying to know that I'm among the few, the proud, the elite, selected by my principal to grade the papers of abject strangers. It will be really exciting for me to contribute to the grades of kids I've never met, and likely never will.

Oddly, this message, though full of praise, neglects to mention the real reason I'm being shipped off to Bayside High School---I cannot be trusted to grade my own students. Those would be the kids I work with day in and day out, the kids whose papers I carry in my bag, the ones I spend hours correcting.

I can't be trusted to grade their papers because I'm prejudiced. I want them to do well. And NY State assumes I am fundamentally dishonest and will give them passing grades for no good reason. The letter should say, "Because you are a dishonest worthless piece of slime, we have determined you are not only unfit to design tests for your students, but also to grade them."

The actual letter reads like this:



        Your principal has selected you to score the Comprehensive English NYS Regents exam for the January 2013 administration. You were selected based upon your principal’s judgment of your experience with and knowledge of the content area and your ability to perform the tasks required in scoring.

Scoring will take place as follows:

DATES: 1/23,1/24,1/25




QUEENS, NY 11361

Please report to the site listed above promptly by 8:30am for each scoring date.

Thank you in advance for your service as a Scorer for the Comprehensive English Regents. Please contact your principal with any questions or concerns about your assignment.

Office of Assessment
Division of Academics, Performance, & Support

Thursday, December 20, 2012

UFT Comes to Tentative Agreement Over Evaluations

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced that, despite the preposterous demands of Tweed, there may be a road to a new evaluation process after all. Recent outcries in the press have suggested a solution that may be a win-win.

"As you know," stated President Mulgrew, "there's been a lot of talk about arming teachers. We've seen this come up, most recently in Michigan, and we think there may be a compromise here. You've probably heard the expression an armed society is a polite society. We at the UFT believe that an armed teacher may inspire a polite administrator."

An administrator, speaking on conditions of anonymity, confirmed Mulgrew's theory, saying, "I'm not giving a bad evaluation to an armed teacher. If I think some teacher is crazy, and that teacher has a gun, I'll just give a good rating and hope for the best. I don't care what the principal says."

And indeed, there is no talk of arming principals. Personally, I abhor firearms and wouldn't carry one on a bet. But I wouldn't hesitate to say I had one if it would keep some crazy administrator from judging me based on junk science test scores.

Mayor Bloomberg has not yet responded to the compromise offer. Mulgrew was very clear that this was only about arming teachers, and that if administrators were armed as well, the deal was off.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DOE and UFT Agree on Apocalypse Plan

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that, due to the impending Mayan Apocalypse, NYC schools would have to make up whatever school days were lost due to the end of the world. UFT President Michael Mulgrew agreed, sending an email to UFT members that the days would have to be made up, even if it cut into summer vacation.

Bloggers were apoplectic. Mr. Accountable Talk insisted there should be no makeup days without a contract in place, and wrote a parody of a UFT Q and A. . Norm Scott said this proved the UFT was Vichy, and said, "Watch what they do, not what they say."

UFT officials said it was the law, that the law was the law, and that anyone who contemplated not following the law was a criminal. They asked if we wanted post-apocalyptic news accounts in the NY Post to label working UFT members criminal. Representatives of the New Action Caucus stated that they absolutely deplored this action, that it was beyond reproach and reprehensible, but that they were still supporting Mulgrew for President, and anyone who wasn't was a filthy socialist.

Gotham Schools ran a feature about how nine E4E members had signed a petition urging the mayor to impose an evaluation system before the apocalypse, so that it could be put into effect on the makeup days. E4E leader Evan Stone, said he was not satisfactory but excellent, and needed an evaluation system to establish this conclusively. (Gotham neglected to mention that Mr. Stone no longer works as a teacher.)

Michelle Rhee said that it was a shame the world was coming to an end, but that this only strengthened her resolve. "Teachers suck," said Ms. Rhee, "just like my kids suck at soccer. We need to fire them. I'd invite you to watch me fire one, but unfortunately I myself was fired from the job I had firing teachers. We need more charter schools." When I asked her why, Ms. Rhee leapt from the lectern and chased me all over the hall. She had Michah Lasher hold me down while she duct-taped my mouth shut.

Due to the uproar, the UFT will be publishing a Q and A on why teachers would need to come in after the end of the world, and rolled out a plan to establish a post-apocalypse fund for affected members. This plan will go to the Delegate Assembly so as to preclude rank and file voting on it.

HT: Michael Fiorillo

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Those Who Can't Teach

I'm fascinated by this post at EdNotes Online. Norm Scott, who seems to be everywhere doing everything, quotes a Unity chapter leader saying the following:

I gotta be on the side that's going to get me out of this lousy teaching position.

This is an incredible statement, to me at least. I've always been kind of amazed by people who aspire to "get out of the classroom." There are several ways to do that. One, of course, is to go into administration. Another is to seek a job within the union.

Please forgive me here if I seem to be targeting either administrators or union employees, because that's not my intention. I've met both administrators and union employees ranging from brilliant to awful. I try to judge people one at a time.

Here's the thing, though--people who want to "get out of the classroom" tend not to be good teachers. Otherwise, why would they be so anxious to leave? The classroom is the very best part of my job. I love it. I've got enormous respect for good teachers. Those are the people I want leading us, both in admin, and as part of my union.

When I hear CTU President Karen Lewis speak, I've no doubt that this is someone who can inspire kids just as she inspires me. I don't believe for one minute she got involved to get out of the classroom.

It's my opinion that most people who wish to get out of the classroom ought to follow up by getting out of education altogether. Don't waste another minute. No teacher wants to be judged or led by people who can't teach. That includes the five-minute wonders who run E4E with Gates money, every small-minded fussbudget administrator I've ever met, and everyone in the union who doesn't care to understand what it is we actually do.

Teaching is hard. Not everyone can do it. You have to be thinking on your feet all the time and ready to go wherever it goes. People who are rigid, humorless and unimaginative can't hack it. That's why they have such a burning desire to "get out of the classroom."

So here's my advice to those who want to get out of the classroom--do it, and do it now. Find a job more suited to your talents. Doubtless it's your dream to score a gig with the clueless panelists above.

Do the world a favor--get a real job instead.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rhee Rheedux

Hi, I'm Michelle Rhee. At a time like this, I think it's only fit we redouble my efforts to ensure our reforms reach every student in these United States. After all, people as wealthy as Broad, Gates, and the Walmarts are paying good money for these reforms, and if they weren't very, very smart, why would they have all that money?

Of course every student deserves a good teacher, and the only way to determine whether or not the teacher is good is by the test scores of students. Here at Students First, we don't believe in all that touchy-feely nonsense about role models and self-image. We believe in good teachers, and we have absolute faith in them, except that no matter how good they are, they can't be trusted to write tests themselves. That's just one reason we ignore everything they say or do that isn't related to test scores.

In New York City, where we've just opened up a chapter of Students First, we're pushing heavily for an evaluation system that will get teachers fired if their test scores don't measure up. In fact, rather than spending money on wasteful nonsense like reducing class sizes or paying teachers, we're spending hundreds of thousands in corporate cash to ensure that we have a system that will get teachers fired when they need to be, and that is as soon as possible.

The only real way to keep students safe is to make sure we test them all the time. We know, of course, that this will not reduce gun violence or poverty. But let's be honest--in times like these, we have to do what we can. Our corporate sponsors, frankly, are not interested in widespread efforts to curb these problems. By firing teachers, by weakening their unions, by keeping their pay down and tossing about nonsensical and ineffective merit pay schemes we can keep people from focusing on these things, make millions for corporations that might otherwise be wasted on classrooms, and keep people from thinking too much about how awfully little our sponsors pay in taxes.

That's why I'm able to come to you today and say there are no excuses. If test scores don't go up, heads of unionized teachers will roll and the public will feel something has been done. People who work in Walmart for less than sustenance wages will no longer have to curse teachers for having benefits or reasonable salaries, because we'll put an end to that as well.

If kids are undernourished, if they have interrupted formal education, if they don't speak English, if they have special needs, diagnosed or otherwise, rest assured that we will put Students First by closing their schools and firing their teachers. While this will not actually prevent or discourage any future tragedies, we're certain that people will feel much better if their anger can be redirected at unionized teachers.

Remember, we're here whenever you feel like blaming teachers for education, or indeed whatever you like. Condaleeza Rice and Joel Klein just put out some study saying it was a matter of national security. We have high-priced consultants who can rationalize pretty much anything.

Thank you America, and remember our pledge--we will continue to put Students First right until their 18th birthdays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I’m Not a Hero.

Like most people, I don’t particularly want to be one, either. I can’t express my awe and admiration for the teachers who protected their students in Newtown, and like anyone, I have no idea what I would do in their circumstances.
The closest I ever came to having students in physical danger was about 25 years ago. I was a very green teacher, teaching English in summer school. I had already angered administration by demanding use of the sole and sacred school copying machine after they informed me there would be no books for my reading class. They were very upset when I informed them I would not teach the class without materials, and had no choice but to capitulate.
One day, rocks, or BBs, or something very fast, started zooming through my windows during class. I took all the kids out into the hall and we started searching for a new classroom. I found a vacant one on another side of the school. We took it. I was scolded for acting without proper authority and given a D, or doubtful rating for the summer, despite having gotten a very good observation from the roving English supervisor who’d observed me.
The following summer, I was observed by a principal. This time, I did nothing out of the ordinary, and my students needed no protection. But I was giving a lesson in which my entire class was very much engaged, and things were going well. The principal, wearing a three-piece suit in stifling heat, walked in, looked at my lesson plan, and clucked his tongue several times.
"This plan only fills three-fourths of the page," he announced. "The next time I come hear, I want your plan to fill at least one full page." He did not write the lesson up, as he had seen none of it and had not the remotest notion what it was about. You can imagine how much I valued his insights,
Experiences like these, I'm sure, typify those of many teachers. Here we are, working our hearts out, and we're judged by people who not only don't appreciate what we do, but likely couldn't do what we do if their lives depended on it.

But I digress. Who is a hero? For one, the young teacher who sacrificed her own life to save those of her young students.
What galled me most after hearing of this tragedy was seeing the reformy types use it to push their own ridiculous programs. I saw paid tweets from Students First pushing the junk science evaluation in NYC. I saw Michelle Rhee, whose idea of classroom control entails taping shut the mouths of children, saying this makes her want to get even more reformy.
These people have no shame. Were it up to them, the heroic teachers of Newtown, CT would be fired for test scores that in no way reflect on who they are or what they do. If they had any dignity whatsoever, they'd crawl back under their rocks for a few days and shut up. I see no more virtue in them than in the troglodyte GOP congressman who now urges teachers to carry assault rifles.
Here's the bottom line--carrying assault rifles or judging people by test scores is precisely the opposite of what we, as teachers, do.
In fact, it's the opposite of what we are, or should ever be.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Lester and Earl

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teacher Tips for the Impending Apocolypse

As I'm certain you all know, the world is due to end a week from tomorrow. Not only that, but if the UFT does not agree to an evaluation that AFT President Randi Weingarten just labeled "junk science," Mayor Bloomberg will impose draconian cuts on the school system, just because he can. After all, mayoral control means he can do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, and if you don't like it, you can just take a hike, pal.

Me, I'm giving a test on Friday. This makes perfect sense to me. I mean, why waste our last day on earth teaching things that, let's be realistic now, will only be of use for less than 24 hours? Better to take a good measure of what we've done so far. Now here's the beauty part. Everyone knows how traumatic it is to fail a test. But no one will fail this test, because guess what? I'm not spending my last hours on earth grading tests.

Plus, Friday is my department's test day. I'm a team player, and I want to make sure my kids are not burdened by too many tests, what with the world ending and all. So, yes, if it's at all feasible, I advise you to give a test.

Also, I'd say it's probably not the ideal day to eat at the school cafeteria, You don't want to go out eating a DOE fish stick. I'd say it's time to make the trip to that pizzeria, or even that questionable discount sushi place you've been afraid to try. After all, there's not nearly as much risk eating there Friday as there would have been previously.

Most importantly, try to be nice to everyone just in case the whole apocolypse thing doesn't work out.

And if that proves to be the case, do the same on Monday. Just for the heck of it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God Bless You, Ms. Weingarten

This page may have had a harsh word or two for AFT President Randi Weingarten, particularly back when she was UFT President. This notwithstanding, we come here today not to criticize, but to praise her. Why? Well, yesterday, she said something that startled me. I like being startled sometimes.

 Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, praised L.A. Supt. John Deasy and union President Warren Fletcher for agreeing to use a rich mix of data to evaluate teacher effectiveness rather than what she called the "junk science" of value-added methods.

Now I won't pretend to understand the LA evaluation system, what it does, how it does it, or how effective it is. Who knows? It will take much smarter people than I'll ever be to figure that out. But it's very significant that our President referred to value-added as "junk science." Who wants to be judged by junk science? Not me.

So when junk science comes to town, we can all call it what it is. When anyone tells you that we're bringing value-added to your evaluation, you can confidently call it junk science. On whose authority? On the authority of Randi Weingarten, AFT President. How can it be good for us if our President, no less, calls it junk science?

Do you support junk science? Do you know anyone who does who will actually admit they do? Neither do I. The more of us who will stand up and speak truth to junk science, the fewer of us will be following Tea Party policies that fly in the face of logic. And yes, the Democrats on education are as nuts as Rush Limbaugh is on everything else. There's a good reason why Arne Duncan's name provokes projectile vomiting in public schools nationwide.

But on this day, let's put that all aside. We need all the pushback we can get. I applaud Ms. Weingarten for standing up and speaking the plain unvarnished truth.

More, please.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What's With Mayor Mike?

Mayor4Life is shooting his mouth off again, saying he won't accept any evaluation system that doesn't hold teachers' feet to the fire. He also says he wants all teacher evaluation reports released to the public, despite a law that specifically precludes that. (Ironically, Mayor Mike is currently applying to the Supreme Court to make sure his correspondence with failed Chancellor Cathie Black is not made public. After all, accountability is for the little people.)

The interesting point, though, is that his combativeness does not actually indicate a sincere desire to rate teachers. Were that the case, he wouldn't be using hit and miss nonsensical junk science like VAM. Sure, a new evaluation system will render tenure meaningless and allow Mayor Mike to fire a whole lot more teachers, but that probably isn't enough. After all, while the wheel of VAM could certainly pick off a loudmouth like me, it could easily hit E4E teachers, all two dozen of whom are liable to go out and speak up for this nonsense.

More importantly, the UFT will be able to demand fair hearings for 13% of poorly rated teachers. I hear that sticks in his craw. Mayor Mike likes this system, where anyone he says is no good stays no good.

Mayor Mike, therefore, will have a harder time firing simply anyone he likes for any or no reason. This grieves him deeply. Oddly, I worry much more about the 87% of teachers who won't get fair hearings. They are screwed. It will be on them, at 3020a hearings, to somehow prove they are not incompetent. I have no idea how anyone does that. As things are now, the DOE needs to establish incompetence. You are innocent until proven guilty.

Under the new system, you will be guilty until proven innocent. Does that sound un-American? It does to me.

I hope Mayor Mike continues his hissy-fit indefinitely. The new system will not be good for working teachers, and I could not advise my students to pursue a career in which they'd be judged by junk science. Of course, teachers and unions will be blamed for the lack of agreement, and the New York Post has already began saying it's our fault there isn't one yet.

I wish they were right, but as usual, they aren't.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Trying Things First

In this video, you can see a thoughtful young woman testing a concept. She's trying to settle the age-old question of whether or not one can drink cereal crumbs. Had Bill Gates been thinking about this, there would either be no experiment, or an experiment the results of which meant nothing whatsoever. Once Bill decides he wants something, he tosses some cash at it, and then municipalities are stuck paying for it for decades to come, whether or not it has the remotest validity.

There would simply be a decree from the White House that all teachers must drink cereal crumbs, and that those who didn't drink sufficiently copious amounts would be subject to dismissal. The unions would bicker over how much teachers had to drink, but eventually settle on about half what Bill Gates demanded. Rank and file would get no vote on it, Diane Ravitch would write many blog posts against it, and union leaders would declare we needed to focus on more important issues, like making sure we didn't test the crumbs too much.

Mayor Bloomberg would spend 80 million bucks on a computer program to sort data about the crumbs. The NY papers would run editorials and Meryl Tisch would write op-eds declaring we must enact this immediately because we have no time to waste. Extra time would be added to the school day for cereal crumb drinking, and Pearson would develop mandatory manuals on how and where they must be drunk. And that, perhaps, summarizes the state of all things educational in today's America.

They must be drunk.

And yet here, you can see someone calmly trying to determine whether or not something actually works. She doesn't seem overly concerned with whether or not she needs to impose her findings on the entire country. I have to think, though, that she'd at least wait to discover what said findings were before doing so, had she been thus inclined.

This is pretty much a new and novel concept in today's America.

Friday, December 07, 2012

All Aboard the Junk Science Express

It's mind boggling. Everywhere you read, oh no, it's an emergency! NYC can lose 300 million bucks if we don't agree on an evaluation system! The astroturf shills at E4E are rallying! How will the educators for excellent know whether or not they really are excellent if they haven't got a value-added system on which to base their self-styled opinions? Fellow astroturfers Students First NY are putting up wads of corporate cash to push it through. Bloomberg, predictably, blames the union (though it's likely his monumental ego and intransigence preventing the deal).

Here’s the thing, though—if you read, say, Gary Rubinstein, Aaron Pallas, Tim Clifford, Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch, or the hundreds of NY principals who oppose it, you begin to suspect that there may be some fundamental flaws to this “value-added” system. With further examination, you see it has no validity whatsoever. You begin to notice that, despite eloquent pleas for it by very powerful people, it is nothing but junk science.

Now my union is contemplating an agreement with the city, so that we can get 300 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. But what will it be used for? Smaller class sizes? Better facilities? Blowing up the trailers? Even more miraculous, giving city teachers the contract we’ve been denied for four years?
Or, as history suggests, will it be used for more reformy stuff that has never worked and never will? Another ARIS? Will it be used to pay for the junk science evaluations? To enrich those who write the pointless tests on which the junk science is based? Will it be used to fund merit pay, which has also never worked?
Basically, the state is telling school systems, “Listen, you can have this money, but only if you agree to use a cripplingly expensive system that has never worked, does not work now, and is a long, long time away from ever working at all. You will have to fire teachers based on sheer chance and luck, but hey, those are the breaks.”
This is okay, apparently, with not only Obama, Duncan, Cuomo, Tisch, and Bloomberg, but also the leaders of my union. I’m not at all sure why.
But I’m an educator, and it goes against every fiber of my being to use disproven nonsense to judge my brother and sister teachers.
Not for love, not for money, not for anything.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Where Are We Heading?

It’s a tough year to be a teacher. People have little faith in us. I know this because this year we’ll no longer be able to grade Regents exams our students take.

Apparently, because know the kids and want them to pass, we can’t be trusted to grade them fairly. That is bias. Better to ship the tests off to total strangers who’ve never seen or met them. Clearly they can better judge and interpret their work than those of us who see it every day of our lives.
Maybe we should take this to the next stage and forbid parents from caring for their children. After all, parents are biased too, always wanting the best for their kids. That's just like teachers, so how can they be trusted?
The only thing that can be trusted, apparently, are standardized tests. And of course, that's what we’re talking about. We can’t write the tests ourselves because the Regents in Albany know much better than we do what our students need. Again, this is because they’ve never met them and don’t know them at all. Who better to judge our children?
The great minds that came up with these innovative systems of rating kids are now turning their attention to rating their teachers. Likely they’ve determined from the local tabloids that there is a plague of bad teachers, like zombies in our midst, and that this scourge must be eradicated at whatever cost. Bad teachers walk among us, teaching children wasteful literature, art and music rather than vital bus schedules, bar graphs, or how to fold the towels at Walmart.
The only way to put a stake through the heart of these monsters, apparently, is through increased use of standardized tests. If kids blacken the right circles, the teachers are good. If they blacken the wrong circles, the teachers are bad. How do you take a bad thing and make it better?
Evidently, the only way teachers will learn anything is if you threaten to fire them for said circles. That way, teachers will really know what to do. They could, perhaps, invest heavily in erasers.

Alternatively, they could teach to the test. I’ve taught to the test, and I’d surely do it again if someone put a gun to my head. Kids hate it (and so do I) when I do that, but they learn how to pass the test. 

At least that way, a lot of teachers won’t have to fold towels at Walmart. 

Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

In Which I Observe Skedula's Expert Trainer


I observed your training lesson yesterday. The lesson was scheduled to begin at 12:30. You were present at that time, but otherwise occupied, and your lesson did not actually begin until 12:40. At 12:40, you apologized for the fact that many teachers had lost the grades they had entered in your system, blamed the school for it, and promised it would not happen again.

You proceeded to explain how the quarterly marking period grades could be cumulatively averaged. You explained how Skedula could average two numbers in great detail for approximately ten minutes until being stopped by the principal at 12:52. After the principal explained to you that quarterly grades were not to be averaged cumulatively, you dropped the subject.

You then began a lengthy explanation about the grading portal, which was not available. You explained when it would be available. You followed another long explanation about "valid grades:" and the various ways teachers could establish them. You offered to schedule monthly meetings on this topic. It was clear to me that no one was interested in attending these meetings.

After that, you stated that since we offered Castle Learning, we would probably not wish to use the DDC feature. You explained that you would come back to the DDC feature later, after having explained we would probably not wish to use it. You then continued to discuss the DDC feature.

When a teacher stood up and asked what DDC was, explaining that no one had ever heard of it before, you became visibly upset. You answered that DDC was a "data-driven classroom, and offered to come back and explain what DDC was. 

Positive aspects of your lesson:

You were well-dressed, for the most part. The SmartBoard technology was functional, and you displayed competence in its use. You seemed to know your content well.

Negative aspects of your lesson:

You failed to begin your lesson in a timely manner.

Your aim was to familiarize your audience with basic grading techniques of Skedula, and for the most part, your session was unrelated to the aim. You did not consider your audience, all of whom had signed up for basic instruction. You instead spent most of your time discussing administrative matters which did not apply to most of your audience.

As a result, I observed much if not most of your audience engaged in conversation, lesson-plan preparation, reading, and other unrelated activities. You did not seem at all aware you had lost your audience, and simply continued on regardless.

Your lecture on how to average two numbers not well received. I observed two of your audience members discussing the fact that they could calculate it faster than the program, with or without paper or pencil. The fact that the calculation itself was unnecessary to begin with rendered the entire exercise ridiculous, and highlighted your lack of preparation.

You brought up DDC, or "data driven classroom," despite your own verbal assertion that they probably would not need it. You continued to dwell on a subject you yourself had declared irrelevant to your audience. In fact, your audience did not even know what it was. Rather than encourage open discussion, you repeatedly declined to answer a question, until the questioner stood up and insisted you explain the term. You then offered to explain it further, for reasons that were clear to no one.

You had clearly not completed your goal when your time was up. Though you offered to remain and answer individual questions, not only did every member of your audience need to go to another session, but you yourself were scheduled to begin another one. If indeed you answered questions after this lesson, it would have caused your next lesson to begin late as well.

Despite the facts that months ago I heard you promise an iPad app within weeks, this app is still unavailable. Most of your audience members were using iPads even as you demonstrated on a PC. I understand that you are now promising the first iteration of the iPad app sometimes this month, but given your past failure to produce, I am wary.

Suggestions for improvement:

It is our policy to offer bell-to-bell instruction. Please begin promptly and be sure your audience is immediately engaged. One way to do that would be to remain on the stated topic, for which every member had signed on.

Try to be helpful and friendly when fielding questions. Do not show hostility when being questioned, particularly when you've brought up terms with which none of your audience is familiar. This will encourage participation, engagement, and learning. Nonetheless, should you determine such terms are not relevant to your audience, it's far better not to bring them up at all.

Please determine what your aim is and follow it. I strongly suggest you engage in planning. I saw no evidence whatsoever you had done so before this session, you had no written plan in evidence, and you clearly seemed to be improvising. While improvisation may be useful as a jumping-off point, you were mistaken in thinking it would sustain an entire lesson. This cost you the attention of your audience, and resulted in largely wasting their time.

In the future, please bring evidence of prior planning, and I will be happy to discuss and review it with you. In this way, you may better engage your audience and more efficiently use both their time and yours.

I strongly suggest you observe the young man who presented Apple iTunes U. Not only was he friendly, well-prepared, easy to understand and consistently on point, but the program he was demonstrating seemed intuitive, simple, and easy to use with little or no training. This is in marked contrast to Skedula, which after several months, still perplexes many who attempt to use it.

This lesson was UNSATISFACTORY.

Monday, December 03, 2012

What Should the Next UFT Commercial Look Like?

Hi, I'm Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers. Recently there's been a lot of news about money the city may receive. It could be up to 300 million dollars, according to what I've been reading in the papers. That's a lot of money, and it would be a shame for the city to lose it.

This money is contingent on an evaluation system for teachers. This system would judge teachers based on the test scores of their students. That sounds like a good idea at first blush, but all available research indicates that there is, as yet, no valid measure of teacher quality based on test scores. In fact, teachers regarded as great have been fired in DC, and denied tenure right here in New York. Believe it or not, one woman who was named teacher of the year got an unsatisfactory rating based on her test scores.

Despite what you may have heard, we very much want your kids to have great teachers. The UFT has always supported higher standards for teachers, and we will continue to do so. But this particular method will cause teachers to lose their jobs at random, and it's tough enough on our teachers right now.

NYPD, FDNY and all city unions got an 8% raise between 2008-2010. Teachers haven't had a contract since 2009, and haven't had a raise in four years. Now we are reasonable. When Mayor Bloomberg asked us to come in and make up time lost for Hurricane Sandy, we immediately agreed.

But now the mayor wants us to agree to an evaluation system that's inaccurate and baseless. That's a problem. He says he wants great teachers, but he doesn't even want to pay the ones he has for the ever-increasing cost of living. Yes, we are reasonable. But it should not be us, alone, working indefinitely without a contract, without a raise, and subject to arbitrary dismissal for factors that may be completely out of our control.

We are, and always have been ready to come to the table and negotiate. But negotiation is a two-way street, Mr. Mayor. If you truly value teachers, be ready to give them at least what you gave everyone else. If that's your intention, we will sit down, and we will work out this evaluation issue like the reasonable people you know us to be.

Gracias a Jorge

Sunday, December 02, 2012

I Do Not Like this V A M, I Do Not Like it, Sam I Am

I'm not much for conspiracy theories. Yet I read that the new Common Core may lower test scores, I see widespread pressure for the UFT to adopt a junk science evaluation system, and I wonder whether or not it's sheer coincidence. It's pretty clear to me, when corporate astroturf groups like Students First NY and E4E (and whatever else they're calling themselves this week) push the new system, that it won't benefit anyone but those looking to privatize education. I can fervently hope the UFT leadership declines to give in, but frankly I can't anticipate any way they could render it workable under the state law they helped negotiate.

The fact that I may have as little as 20% crap in my evaluation is hardly reassuring. In fact, given that neither New York State nor Common Core bothers to differentiate between native English speakers and ESL students, I'm kind of concerned about all my ESL-teaching brethren (and sisteren, of course).  Given we live in a country that doesn't think we should test Common Core before enacting it in over 40 states, a country that has imposed junk science evaluation on many of those same states, I have little faith they're going to do anything remotely rational.

Is this the trifecta for the lowlifes who run astroturf groups? Will they be able to fire hundreds of teachers for no reason, just like they did in DC? Certainly that's one of their goals.

And while I understand the UFT rationale, that we must appear reasonable, it's simply not reasonable to agree to anything that has no basis in theory or practice. That's true even if the NY Post writes bad things about us. In fact, the NY Post will continue to write bad things about us no matter what we do. After all, we are union, anathema to every thing Rupert Murdoch believes in, and tries to make America believe in. In fact, the Post liked the UFT for about five minutes following the miserable 2005 contract, but went back to bashing us almost immediately thereafter.

To my mind, it's a pretty good bet that anything the NY Post, Bill Gates, Chris Christie, or Eli Broad likes is not good for working teachers. And please, don't give me that nonsense that these people put students first. Denigrating working conditions for teachers, or indeed anyone, will not remotely help the kids we serve. They will grow up in the job market we leave them, and it behooves us as teachers, as parents, as responsible adults, to leave it better off that the way we found it.

This task falls particularly hard on our shoulders, as the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States. Either we're going to improve things, or we're going to let them get so bad we will need to relive the 20th century, and the fight all over again for the rights of working people, the ones we surrendered hoping for Rupert Murdoch's approval.

I believe in union, and there is nothing I would like more than to absolutely support mine in everything they do. However, leadership is going to have to help out a little bit if that's what they want from me---and from all of us.