Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Is Social Justice?

I think MORE, if it wants to prominently label itself the "Social Justice Caucus," might benefit from telling us what that means. Perhaps they already have, and if someone will point out where, I'd be happy to acknowledge it on this page. The name seems to have frightened some people on my pal Chaz's blog, and it's drawn comments suggesting that MORE may take a public position on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. Personally, I've seen no evidence they have, or will.

A problem with that label, in my view, is that it fails to differentiate MORE from the opposition--unless they explain themselves well. Whatever I may think about Unity-New Action, I have no reason to find they discriminate based on race, religion, age, or anything like that. As far as that goes, I fully support them. On its surface, social justice sounds great to me. I have no problem with it at all. Social justice, though, has to entail more than just lack of discrimination.

I don't speak for MORE, but I'm fairly certain they'd agree it's not remotely social justice to close schools. Schools are community centers and ought to belong to the communities they serve. I live in Freeport, NY, and when we were hit by Sandy we regularly held meetings in our schools. In fact, we actually have a recreation center which now serves as a contact center for FEMA. Social justice, to me, suggests more community involvement, and getting folks like Bloomberg and his BFF hedge-fund pals the hell out of neighborhoods.

Social justice suggests we should be proactive about helping the kids we serve, rather than simply testing them to death. It suggests we not judge our students simply by the grades they get. It suggests we look further into why they are getting such grades. In fact, the world doesn't need an entire society focused on academics. If kids don't like this sort of thing, and have talent for plumbing, carpentry, or whatever, we ought to be helping them into careers. If we're judging by test scores, we might as well judge by salary, and my plumber makes a lot more money than I ever will.

It suggests we seek out root causes for failure and yes, that we somehow push our society toward dealing with poverty, if that's what causes it. In fact, many teachers already do such things but are being moved away from them because of the ridiculous focus on test scores. How is it the teacher's fault if kids have an unstable home life, or no home at all? How is it the teacher's fault if kids have not yet learned English? Again, we need to look at kids as something more than test scores.

Social justice suggests we vehemently oppose things like mayoral control. Having a fake school board controlled by the richest man in New York is undemocratic and unacceptable. A union that believed in real social justice could not possibly support such a thing. Social justice suggests we support democracy, and oppose top-down mandates not only from our government, but from our union as well.

Also, if we are to have social justice, we must oppose teachers being judged by value-added, which is nothing more than junk science. It's unacceptable for working teachers to be evaluated for factors over which they have little or no control. It means due process for working teachers and working people, something I believe will be strongly diluted under the nonsensical new evaluation scheme.

Social justice means we do not write laws enabling such nonsense. It means we take care of all our members, fight school closings, and do not allow capable working teachers to fall into the awful Absent Teacher Reserve. It means we place each and every teacher in the ATR before we hire a single new teacher.

It means we care for the kids it is our honor to teach, and treat them with respect. It means we show them how to do the same for others. It means using common sense (which I realize is the least common of all the senses). It means an awful lot of things.

And frankly, I can't think of a single one of them that involves radical politics. Unless you consider caring for our fellow human beings to be radical. If you do, you probably shouldn't be teaching.

Because that, to a very large extent, happens to be our job.

Update: Mike Schirtzer from more says their vision of social justice is laid out here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How Do We Engage the Apathetic 75%?

It's humiliating that 52% of the union vote came from retirees. That we cannot muster more than one of four working teachers to take an interest in who runs our union is on us too. Retirees are certainly important, and I hope to become one someday.

Retirees should be represented, and are, with their own chapter. Should the union have a Florida office? If we've got a huge percentage of retirees in Florida, why not? But here's a fact--retirees have different interests than working teachers. Should retirees be voting on who's the VP for high schools? VP for Elementary? Middle School? Absolutely not.

Yet they do. Only high school teachers should vote for high school VP, and so on. It's insane that we are required to let teachers from other levels help us. It's just as insane that retirees get a say. Why on earth shouldn't they get their own VP, and select him or her by themselves?

Working teachers should select their own reps, and frankly, anything otherwise is an affront against democracy.  Functional chapters? What's a functional? Secretaries should select a secretary rep. Guidance counselors should select a guidance rep. Social workers, nurses, and anyone should pick their own reps. Why are so many on the UFT Executive Board "at large?" What the hell does that even mean?

Let's have real representation. Let's have everyone represented by people who actually represent their interests. Let's have an executive board that represents the UFT, not the caucuses.

Let's let schools decide who goes to conventions, and not caucuses. And let's see proportional representation. A school with 12 teachers may merit less representation than one with 250.

Retirees ought to select a portion of the Executive Board, a representative for themselves, and help select the UFT President. But their vote for President ought not to outweigh the votes of working teachers, who are facing incredible challenges right now. The system we have now is neither democratic nor rational.

I'm sorry if it's inconvenient for Unity-New Action to entertain other voices. It's high time they learned to do so anyway. Trotting out a fake opposition to mislead the members is disgraceful. Pandering to retirees when the opposition cannot even make a case to them is unconscionable. And the resultant apathy, cynicism, and that three out of four working educators can't be bothered to write an X in a box is just awful.

We can do better, or we can maintain the patronage mill until it shatters under its own weight.

I vote for the former.

Correction: A commenter points out that 83% of working teachers did not vote.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Unity Loyalty

There's a thread on Gotham Schools that's interesting not so much for its content, that Mulgrew won, but rather for its comment thread. Particularly interesting is the Unity fan, one "Les Vegas." Les has strong opinions about MORE.

...you were running a slate of unqualified candidates, several with radical practices.

This is a theme that comes up whenever anyone has the temerity to oppose the Unity stranglehold on power. They're unqualified and incapable. I remember Unity calling New Action, "No Action" back in the eighties when NA was really an opposition caucus. Of course, no one will ever be qualified to run the UFT but Unity, because we, lowly teachers, apparently know nothing. Then, of course, Les drops the bomb:

Not your two Socialist organizers. 

Oh my goodness! Socialists! In a union! They might support subversive practices. Like trade unions, for example. Socialist is a loser of a label in the United States, which is why our corporatist President is repeatedly called one. But Republicans and Democrats have been pretty awful to teacher unions lately, and I'm much more worried about them lately. I mean, I've yet to see a "Socialists for Educational Reform" group. In fact, it's most recently the GOP opposing Common Core, though likely only because Obama supports it. Les continues:

Not your several high school "I'm an intellectual" bloggers.

That could be me, for all I know. I'm part of no caucus, and was not on the UFT ballot, but I am a blogger. While I don't much care whether or not people find me intellectual, I'm a little concerned about people who attack teachers for the offense of thinking. And with Unity supporting value-added and mayoral control (twice), what this union needs is more thought, not less. A well-informed union would not welcome working teachers being judged by junk science.

It's true you don't see many Unity bloggers. In fact, Unity members have signed a pledge to support all Unity positions in public, and question Unity policy only within the caucus. There is zero chance they would substantively dissent from the party line. Were they to do that, it's no more free trips to conventions, and no shot at the Holy Grail, a gig working for the union.

What surprises me most about Les, who calls people names, who gleefully tries to out another commenter without revealing his own identity, is this:

...someday I should write the detailed story that my girlfriend shared with me. She's the chapter leader at our school in Queens.

I don't know anyone who's passionate about Unity who isn't working for them. I know someone related to a Unity big shot who will do little things for them. Anyway, it's possible this Les simply has a girlfriend working for Unity. But I doubt it. For someone to repeatedly attack people on multiple blogs, there's got to be an incentive. For someone to defend almost five years without a raise, there's got to be a reason. For someone to support the new evaluation system, which Mulgrew says will cost 7% of teachers poor evaluations, there must be a personal stake.

Most chapter leaders are Unity, and it's entirely possible they persuade people to vote for them and their slate. But those who passionately defend it all over the place are, at the very least, planning a free trip to California next summer. That's the very bottom rung of the Unity gravy train.

Some people like these people, and that's how they become chapter leaders. Or perhaps they're the only people in their school crazy enough to want the jobs. But regardless, all these Unity chapter leaders were unable to rouse more than 25% of membership to even vote.

Most working teachers simply don't give a damn, or have given up and don't think filling in a box is worth their time. MORE failed to sufficiently get the word out, and while that's unfortunate, there's only so much a brand new caucus can do. They made a strong showing in the high schools, and if I were Unity, I'd be very nervous. They also managed to kick New Action's sorry ass all over the place, and that's an achievement.

If New Action were smart, they'd join MORE, reclaim their independence, and genuinely win seats in the next election. Of course, it's my understanding that their most prominent member has a 15K part-time gig over at 52 Broadway, and things like that ensure continued loyalty. That's the sort of thing that makes chapter leaders applaud Bill Gates.

But here is the bottom line--no one who is not receiving something from Unity is passionate about it.

No one.

And that, my friends, is an epic fail, election or no.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The United Federation of Retired Teachers

BREAKING--Today I was at 52 Broadway conducting business, and I ran into a particularly loquacious union rep, who shall remain unnamed. We discussed the UFT election, and he confided union leadership's plan for the future. I surreptitiously recorded the whole thing on my iPhone.

"As you know, 53% of our voters were retirees. Some people criticize us for that, but the fact is, these are reliable votes for Unity. As we move into our fifth year without a raise in salary, an evaluation system under which teachers will be judged by junk science, and a second decade of mayoral control, we're a little nervous.

This year, MORE came within 160 votes of unseating our high school Executive Board, and if we hadn't bought out New Action, we might actually have to deal with those radical punk socialist commie hippie pinko weirdos. In fact, MORE and New Action combined got more votes than Unity. If New Action ever decided to be a real opposition, the high school teachers would really be trouble for us.

We'd thought we were finally able to take care of those high school teachers by making VP elections open to all. Now, someone like the old Mike Shulman will never get in again. But we really need to protect these seats. We thought buying off Shulman and New Action would make that happen. We really don't like those guys all that much, but when we need our cars washed, or someone to go out for coffee, they come in handy. Where was I?

Oh yes, the high school teachers. We can't let them make the wrong decisions, so what we are going to do is limit future votes to retirees. The thing about retirees is they aren't prejudiced. If we do something like support mayoral control, they're not all over the place screaming about how unfair Bloomberg is. They're sitting on a beach in Boca, sipping on a UFT pina-colada, and leisurely walking over to the lunch buffet, where they're greeted by the UFT President. You will never see Julie Cavanagh pressing the flesh in Boca because she's off somewhere teaching every day. And honestly, teachers have a pretty skewed view of what goes on.

Sure, Mulgrew has said 7% of working teachers will be rated ineffective under the new system. Now there was just an article in the NY Times saying only 2% of teachers in Florida were rated poorly. Now we're starting to get phone calls from teachers asking us why, if the law we negotiated is so much better than those around the country, will their failure rate be 350% higher. I mean, who the hell do these people think they are, asking us these questions? Why can't they focus on the 93% who won't be rated ineffective?

Also, I'm pretty tired of hearing about how every city union except us got 8% in the last round of pattern bargaining, and how we agreed to the new evaluation system without negotiating a contract. Picky, picky, picky. Why aren't they talking about our SESIS victory? We keep writing about it in NY Teacher and no one seems to notice.

That's why we're going to have the DA, the highest decision-making body of the UFT, vote on making retirees only select union officers. The new UFRT will be better than ever, because Unity-New Action will win every election, forever. Who cares if James Eterno gets up and cites Robert's Rules? We haven't yet figured out how to stop teachers from voting for chapter leaders who insist there are two sides to arguments. But we can certainly make sure they have no say in who runs the union, and once we do that, we can figure out how to get these people to shut the hell up, as well they should.

This is very hush-hush. We in union like to keep this stuff in house--you know, what happens at 52 Broadway stays at 52 Broadway. I'd hate to read about this on the blogs before we have all our ducks in a row."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Invasion of the Talent Coaches

I'm hearing stories all over about the DOE's agents doing practice observations with administrators. Armed with their adapted Danielson rubrics, with the three domains they have determined are inevitable, they do 15-minute observations. During these 15 minutes, they determine whether teachers are highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. The fact that the evaluation system does not yet exist deters them not at all. The fix is in, they figure, and Reformy John (King) will grant them whatever they ask.

So teachers even principals think are great get rated developing because they went seven and a half full minutes without having students turn and talk. Some of them used the much-praised workshop model, gave a mini-lesson, and because the talent coaches neither saw nor cared what followed, they just didn't hit the mark.

Another problem is lesson plans. Article 8E of the UFT Contract reads as follows:

The development of lesson plans by and for the use of the teacher is a professional responsibility vital to effective teaching.  The organization, format, notation and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are appropriately within the discretion of each teacher. A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization, except as part of a program to improve deficiencies of teachers who receive U-ratings or formal warnings.

You'd think that meant teachers had wide latitude over how they planned their lessons. But the DOE knows better. Your plan is to be rated separately from your lesson. I understand that kids say and do really interesting things, and I will let them steer my lessons into interesting places. I love when that happens. Of course, I'm not (yet) teaching a course that culminates in a Common Core exam that will determine whether or not I get to keep my job. I'd certainly view things differently if I were, and my lessons would certainly suffer for it.

However, were I a supervisor seeing good things going on, I would not waste my time demanding a plan. I would say, "I loved this class," write it up if appropriate, and be on my merry way. But under the paradigm I'm observing, a teacher could give a great lesson and still be criticized for a crappy plan. That strikes me as idiotic, but I didn't write the rubric. In fact, I haven't examined it against Danielson's original, so I have no idea.

I'm hearing that the three domains the DOE is using were accepted by the UFT for the pilot program that took place in the "turnaround" schools. As we all know, that pilot was an abysmal failure and ended up with lawsuits forbidding Bloomberg to defy laws and close the schools. I have no idea whether or not UFT leadership is still favoring these domains. Nor does the DOE.

I know there is much within this junk science VAM plan to be negotiated. I also know that no negotiations are taking place. So it's entirely likely Bloomberg's DOE is betting Reformy John will side with them and back whatever vindictive baseless plan that will help achieve the goal of firing as many teachers as possible.

On the positive side, it will now take two years to fire a teacher. So if you're a new teacher, and you happen to be the worst teacher that ever walked the earth, you get a second year with a validator to decide whether or not you indeed suck as badly as reputed. Unfortunately, if you're a vet, and you don't shine during your 15 minutes of fame, the validator could decide you are no good either.

Now it's possible a validator will be able to determine who is and is not a good teacher. It's also possible the validator could enter with the DOE rubric/hit list and say you stink. That will be bad for a tenured teacher, who will then face the largely impossible burden of proving competence. In the past, at 3020a hearings, the DOE needed to prove the teacher was incompetent. This will now be the case only when the validator determines the teacher is OK.

But take heart. Though Walcott routinely rubber-stamps adverse ratings, the UFT has negotiated that 13% of said ratings will go to an independent arbitrator for a fair hearing. The other 87% will go to a biased arbitrator for an unfair hearing.

That's fair, isn't it? After all, the only thing at stake is your livelihood.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reclaiming Our Precious Nouns

Michael Fiorillo wrote a great piece about the "choices" city residents have for their kids. The corporate geniuses who make all the decisions about education have determined, since vouchers have never been popular anywhere, to get into the charter business. Of course, by the sole criterion with which they are measured, test scores, they aren't really any better than the neighborhood schools they displace.

But everyone wants Choice. You can go to the neighborhood school, if they haven't closed it yet, and if it isn't drained of space and resources you may do OK there. Of course, there could be three or four small schools, or maybe a Moskowitz charter, and you may feel like a second-class citizen as the Moskowitz school gets refurbished and yours doesn't. And, of course, the Moskowitz school doesn't take all those inconvenient special education and ESL students, and they oppose any bill compelling them to take a mix that reflects the neighborhood. Better to dump them on the neighborhood school, watch their test scores plummet, then take it over when it gets closed.

Still, I wouldn't send my kid to a charter on a bet. I've seen films by Doug Lemov showing the regimented nature of schools he finds excellent, watched the teacher pass out paper so quickly that not one moment of instruction was lost, watched kids marching quietly from one place to another, and saw no joy, no inspiration, nothing I want my kid to be part of. For me, of course, Choice would be sending my kid where Bloomberg's, Klein's, King's, or Obama's kids go.

So there's no Choice for us. And now, there's no excellence either. Excellence has become the province of the reformy, hence Educators for Excellence, and now Parents for Excellent Schools, funded by the fine folks who brought you Walmart. Of course, there's a whole lot of hoopla about how these are grassroots groups, and a whole lot of talk about how they are independent, but it's crystal clear what their agenda is:

The group’s top priorities are school choice, teacher evaluations, and ensuring that charter schools have access to public space. 

Just like the faux-teacher grassroots group that preceded it, they just happen to follow exactly what Bill Gates wishes them to. So, the second word they've usurped is "excellence." Evidently, those who oppose "choice," junk-science evaluations, and the degradation of neighborhood schools are opposed to excellence.

One of the great things the GOP has done over the years is phrasing things--the "death tax," for example, which means a few zillionaires have to hand over a few bucks before inheriting the extra zillions. "Obamacare" was a pejorative, but the President took possession of it and turned it to his advantage.

Can we take these words back? Can we think of better ones? We'd better hurry, while some good ones are still left.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who Chooses Our Choices?

by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

The sadomasochistic ritual known as testing season is upon us, and for some reason that makes me think about Choice and the lack of it.

So-called education reformers fervently believe parents should have Choice. By that, they don’t mean parents are members of a community with rights and a voice in the education of their children, but that they are utility-minded consumers in a marketplace, a giant educational supermarket. They’re supposed to be homo edu-nomicus, discerning shoppers walking down the bright, carefully orchestrated aisles, impressed by the color and abundance.

In reality, it’s more like what Michael Pollan describes in his books about the American food and agricultural system: much of that apparent variety and choice is mostly processed, genetically-modified corn or soy, with a lot of sugar, salt and fat thrown in.

Sure, the sign on the door of one of Bloomberg’s new schools may say “Academy of  Legal Performing Arts and Criminal Justice Business Studies,” but too much of it is variations on a theme of Test Prep.

What they call school choice is in fact a gigantic loss of democracy, community stability, institutional memory. And with the neutralization and intended demise of the teacher unions, it’s a big decline in living standards, going years forward into the work lives of today’s children.

The billionaires who’ve altruistically decided to buy controlling shares in  US education have a peculiar definition of choice. In their selfless magnanimity, they’ve chosen our choices for us, and they’ve also chosen what we cannot choose.

Closing public schools and replacing them with charters and teacher-free i-Things is Choice.

Equitably supporting all neighborhood and community public schools is Not a Choice.

Common Corporate Standards are Choice (don’t ask how, but take it on rigorous faith).

An enriched curriculum for all students, including art, music, physical education and play time, is Not a Choice.

Tests, more of them, on everything, are Choice.

Opting out of the tests is most definitely Not a Choice.

For teachers, speaking out publicly and critically about the tests is supremely Not a Choice, as our very own union warned us.

When it was time for most so-called reformers to send their own kids to school, they made an emphatic Choice to give them a very different education than what they’re imposing on other people’s kids.

That will give those parents and teachers No Choice but to fight back for what’s left of their children’s public education.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gotham Schools Defends High-Stakes Testing

Today, Gotham Schools saw fit to run a "principled" defense of standardized testing. As corporations continue to massively profit off of our children, as Pearson makes preposterous, indefensible and humiliating errors, someone at Gotham decided this was a good time to run this piece.

First of all, it's interesting to read the writer's claims:

I have no stake in testing itself, beyond that of a taxpayer and an educator privileged to work with teachers and schools. 
And then there's this:

One of the amazing things I get to do for a living is help schools design performance-based assessments that ask students to do something with what they have learned, not just recall what they’ve learned.  

While that's a qualifier, it's pretty clear to me that this is someone who designs assessments for a living. And last time I looked, tests were assessments. Furthermore, one of the things I keep hearing about Common Core is that it promotes thinking skills beyond mere recall. And it better, since kids taking it this year are largely unprepared for it, and likely to fail in huge numbers. (And let's not even mention how much money there will be in local assessments with the new junk science VAM law in NY State. How could that possibly motivate an assessment-designer to support assessments?)

There is a lot of talk about policy makers and test designers. Yet it certainly appears to be billionaire Bill Gates who set up this system, and Arne Duncan who forced states to accept it by tying Race to the Top to it. And you'll pardon me if I fail to be impressed by all the people with doctorates working for Pearson--they don't know my kids like I do and I've seen no evidence they can teach better than I can, let alone that they know better than I what my kids need to know.

The history of assessment design has some parallels in the evolution of the medical field. 

And yet, medicine is tested before it's used on the public. Common Core was not. It's remarkable someone so fond of scientific terminology can neglect such an obvious fact.

A hundred years ago, doctors were boring into patients’ brains to relieve migraines.

And this year, all over the country, teachers are being rated by student test scores. That's been proven valid absolutely nowhere, and it's brought to you by precisely the same great minds that are now forcing Common Core on our children.
Security does not mean secrecy. 

And yet, if teachers reveal the test questions to the public, they will be fired and lose their state certification. It's pretty clear to any objective observer that they do not want a repeat of the pineapple question fiasco. And again, if these professionals, psychometricians, and doctors are so much more qualified than lowly teachers, why do they have such crap questions, and how did Pearson screw up so badly with the G and T test? Sorry, but the fact that they got caught does not restore my faith in them.

How many things did they fail to catch?

Public accountability is part of the social contract.

Here, the writer chooses to quote GW Bush, who tanked the economy and got us into a disastrous Iraq war. Unfortunately, the writer does not quote precisely, "Is our children learning?" And here, the writer makes a very unscientific argument, apparently in defense of VAM (though the rambling nature of this piece makes it kind of tough to follow). Apparently, science is what the writer argues sometimes, but when science does not support her case, she makes a moral argument. And that is precisely the argument GW made when he wanted to know whether or not our children "is" learning. GW, you may recall, was much celebrated for the educational "Texas Miracle," which turned out to be a complete fraud. I've seen no evidence Common Core will work any better, but of course we've never tested it, so how would anyone know?

It appears the writer failed to consider potential school closings, degraded neighborhoods and teachers losing jobs for no good reason. Too bad for them, I guess.

Our state takes pride in having one of the longest standing departments of education. 

Bloomberg certainly took pride in it when he bought that third term. Of course, it turned out the test scores he'd trumpeted in his "Keep it Going, NY" campaign were utter nonsense. Diane Ravitch was ridiculed for pointing that out months before it was revealed to the public. Ravitch, who actually seems to believe in science, looked at the NAEP scores and saw something was not right. She was proven right then, and I fully believe her opposition to Common Core will be proven correct as well. It's truly unbelievable that we're foisting anything thoroughly untested on an entire nation of schoolchildren and hoping for the best. NY State's record is nothing I'd boast about, particularly given their decision to follow billionaires rather than science or logic.

Test designers don’t control what happens in the classroom.

That's true, but the fact is people like Bill Gates, who enabled and pushed this untested mandate on us, absolutely wishes to do so. And when teachers are rated on test scores, it's pretty much like putting guns to our heads. Let me tell you something--if teachers are going to lose their jobs based on these test scores, they are pretty damn important. There will be an awful lot less teaching love of literature to kids when jobs depends on how well they can read train schedules and menus.

Doctors have come beyond using leeches to bleed bad humors from their patients. Science is not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than the nonsense and voodoo we're inflicting on our kids. When I say our kids, I'm referring to those in public schools, as opposed to the kids of John King, Mike Bloomberg, Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, and Joel Klein.

Because the crap they're giving our kids, the crap being pushed in this article, is not good enough for their kids.

That's why they just sell the stuff. They don't use it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reformier and Reformier

The Daily News is all excited about the advent of the Common Core. Never mind that it has never been tested anywhere, ever. The vital thing is that we implement it immediately. Doubtless the editorial writers, should they ever fall ill, would want to be treated with experimental medicines that have never been tried on anyone, and hope for the best. Because that, in fact, is pretty much what they're advocating for our children, amazingly, as "just what" they "need."

The hero of their story is reformy John King, who's not afraid to do whatever it takes to bring more testing to our children. The villain, of course, is that awful teacher union, which wants to delay it. Apparently, NYSUT, full of radical unionists, is not of the opinion frustrated unprepared children are a net plus.

The News, though, says King is "fighting the good fight."

It is conceivable that the pass rates could fall well below 40%, with some local districts down even into the single digits.

And this, to the minds of the Daily News editorial board, is somehow helpful. Of course, since teachers are now to be judged by test scores, it could be. If your goal is to dump as many unionized employees as possible, you could really give your cause a head start. Doubtless kids will be better off without all those teachers anyway, what with TFA McTeachers available at a moment's notice to take their place (at least for a couple of years). 

The reason will be that although the kids are as smart as they always were, they are nowhere near as smart as they need to be.

Apparently, to the minds of the Daily News editorial board, test scores represent how smart kids are. It does not represent how many answers they have memorized, or how well they can guess. I'm just a lowly teacher, but I'd argue it is not our job to make kids smarter. I'd argue it's our job to inform and prepare them. I'd argue it's our job to awaken or inspire their passions. I'd argue it's our job to make them love this great gift that is our lives.

Of course, I'm not John King, I haven't got his three years of teaching experience, and I'm not in any position to make decisions about education. I'm not even permitted to grade the tests John King makes my students take, the ones that represent the good fight, the ones my kids will fail, and the failing of which will somehow make them better-prepared for college.

All I can do is ask this--if these tests are so wonderful, so vital to character-building, why on earth doesn't bold, innovative John King see them as suitable for his own child?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thought for Today

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Authentic Assessments

It's remarkable that the geniuses at NYSED came up with new tests replete with product placements. They're very proud that the materials are all authentic. Perhaps this will teach our children how to more accurately process the next Diet Coke with Bacon ad, or the next coupon they find online.

It will certainly help our kids if we are able to tell them, "Buy one, get one free," is advantageous to "Pay for two, and get one." Now I was personally never taught that, and as a result, I had to learn it on the street.

We can teach kids all sort of useful information, like how to read a train schedule. Not that a whole lot of city kids do that, what with subways and all, but you never know when Mom and Dad will pack up and move to Omaha.

You'll want the kids to know how to read menus too. They'll need to differentiate between food items and prices. After all, you don't want your kid bringing a chicken into the diner and demanding $11.95 for it. That could prove embarrassing. But the whole product placement thing is another great idea. After all, it's all over the movies, TV, and the internet, so they'll have to get used to it. With the state placing products and saying they just happen to be there, kids can get used to passive advertising.

When McDonald's comes out with their new Ratty McCheeseballs, they can place an ad in the state test. Not only will it offset the expense of using ridiculous outside companies to produce tests teachers could produce as part of their regular jobs, but it will also get kids right into the consumer market we're preparing them for. No more of that Shakespeare nonsense for us. If it can't be advertised, bought and sold, who needs it? There's no Common Core if we can't make our kids eat the apple it comes from.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Latest Unity-New Action Mass Email

I just listened to Keep ‘em Separated, by The Offspring, and I cannot help but to think of the contentious vitriol circulating about during this current election cycle.

Interesting to know what your spammers listen to. You can imagine how much I must care. Vitriol? Is that like when Unity-New Action types condemn MORE candidate Julie Cavanagh for staying home and taking care of her sick baby rather than going to a DA?

We’ve been fighting with ourselves for so long, and cutting down one another’s political party that we’ve hand delivered King Bloomberg the best present ever, a union that is weaker because of all our conflicts and battles. 

Doubtless we'd be better off if folks who disagree would just shut up and sit down. Is that why there was no debate between the candidates? Are we supposed to just assume that everyone wants the right thing?

I truly believe that the men and women who make up MORE are just as concerned with the vitality, future relevance and success of this union as are the Unity caucus members. And I wish the specific nature and intent of this letter was solely meant to address the strengths of our union, but I need to focus on the election that is underway. 

Wait a minute--you are going to disagree with someone? If we're going to disagree, why don't we just have a debate and discuss the issues?

I am not going to spend time finger pointing; that is counterproductive, childish and will ultimately lead to a greater chasm between all rank and file. 

I want you to remember he said that. We are not finger pointing. Finger-pointing is bad.

At this juncture, 

(That means now.)

...our union has so many other pressing issues, that it is an utter waste of manpower playing the blame game with one another. 

Again, no finger pointing. Remember that. We are too busy using our manpower.

We need to utilize our collective resources to contain and quell the ever-rising tide that is directed at the public school teacher. All of us have the same common set of adversaries, and they are the usual suspects: Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Eli Broad, Bill & Melinda Gates, KIPP, The Walton Foundation, and the list goes on, ad nauseam.

It does. And yet, Bill Gates was the keynote speaker at an AFT convention, and he gives money to the AFT.  We partner with him in studies that yield working teachers trashed in the media, with the NY Post labeling some poor woman the worst teacher of the year.

Fighting amongst one another will yield one outcome, a more disenfranchised union.  Please do not mistake my pragmatism for an irrational naïveté, I know that MORE will continue to challenge Unity; therefore leaving us all the more vulnerable. 

Wait a minute. That sounds like FINGER POINTING! YES! It's finger pointing, and you said that was bad

When a political party makes a power grab under the guise of reform, then we all have to ask what will the net effect be?  I'm sure our brothers and sisters from the Windy City truly believed that they too needed new leadership. What has their uprising gained for them? This is not a political cheap shot, but rather a political reality. They are weaker than before and they face the possibility of mass layoffs. 

And this, of course, is the fault of Karen Lewis and the intrepid CTU. It has nothing to do with the deterioration of working conditions under those who preceded her. I'm talking about the union leadership in Chicago that not only allowed ATR status for teachers, but also allowed them to be fired after a certain time period. In fact, this was happening well before CORE took over the CTU. I can only suppose our Unity spammer did not bother doing homework before sending this out. And hey, isn't that finger pointing again? And when you say, "the guise of reform," doesn't that mean your opponents are liars?

I'm not trying to use a cliché ruse to sway you with fear, 
Then why are you so blatantly misrepresenting the truth?  Here comes the important word:


I had a Shakespeare teacher in college who said that was a very important word. Once anyone says but, you can forget everything that preceded it. I tell my students when their girlfriends or boyfriends say, I really love you but, it's time to find a new one. Forget about love. And forget about all that nonsense about not tricking us too.

I just want all of us to be on the same page. A rebellion does not always yield the promises and guarantees that it is supposed to deliver. 

It's true. CORE cannot magically undo everything done by those who preceded it. Of course, they neither promised nor guaranteed it either. Naturally I'm too stupid to grasp the implication that voting for CORE was a mistake, so voting for MORE is also a mistake. So let's not even get into that.

Running a union of the UFT’s magnitude cannot be achieved through idealistic endeavors and misdirected angst. There is a certain degree of diplomacy, and politic savvy that is required, dare I say requisite. 
I'm way too dense to note this implies that MORE is a bunch of contrary yahoos who are too confrontational to achieve anything. I'm grateful the subtlety of this writer precludes me from noticing the continued finger pointing.

And that is why I believe so many of us endorse, and continue to support Unity.

Because teachers love mayoral control, patrolling hallways bathrooms and lunchrooms, and getting sent week to week from school to school when our schools are closed through no fault of our own. They love going almost five years without the raise virtually every other city union got.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the writer's groovy trips to conventions on our dime. I'm really glad we have people like him fighting for us, people who signed an oath to support whatever leadership supports without question. It's good to know there's no thinking involved, so there will be none of that awful finger pointing we hate so much.
If, from the last letter, you had asked to be removed and I did not comply; please do not interpret this second letter as an act of hubristic recalcitrance, there are just too many names attached to this mass e-mailer; I apologize for any inconvenience.

In other words, it's too much trouble for me to look up your name and delete it. I wonder why he's so goshdarn busy, yet can rattle these notes off at 5 AM. Actually I responded to the first email by asking where he got my email address. It was also too much trouble for him to answer. Today I wrote pointing out I'd never met him, that I regretted he was too busy to answer my email, and would he kindly refrain from using it in the future.

He wrote back offering to introduce himself. Oddly, I think I know this guy fairly well already. And yet, he still didn't tell me where he got my email address.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Will Union Help You When You Sue Over a Bad Evaluation?

Teacher Ken has a great piece about the awful Florida evaluation system. Apparently, a teacher of the year was rated unsatisfactory. One more rating like that and she'll be putting on a Mickey Mouse costume for 8 bucks an hour. And the NEA, as well as the Florida Education Association, are parties in a lawsuit with 7 teachers. Apparently, they're all great teachers, hooked by the VAM monster.

Value-added comes to NYC next year. If the intrepid UFT leadership can't come to an agreement on a junk science system with Mayor Bloomberg and his minions, reformy John King will get to impose one on us. Will it be awful? Or will it be even worse than awful? Well, with Common Core coming down the pike and the expectation of 30% lower grades, it could even be worse than that.

Now of course teachers receiving bad ratings for no good reason could sue in NY too. However, given that the union negotiated this piece of crap system, don't count on them joining in on the lawsuit. What are they going to say? That they signed off on a bad law and now they feel bad about it?

It's hard not to wonder whether we'd be better off if we'd just have let the state impose whatever crap it wanted to on us.  What would have happened? Would it be 50% crap instead of 40? At least we wouldn't have a trail of union reps singing the praises of the system. When you're suing to get your unjust bad rating overturned, how will it look when multiple UFT sources are cited calling the junk science a fair system?

We can certainly argue that the union kept the percentage of crap down to 40, and that other states have 50% crap. Therefore, you will be subject to 10% less crap than some state that likes crap even more than we do. Of course, it's evident to just about anyone with a job that the amount of crap on which we should be judged is optimally zero.

Today's question--how can the union support teachers suing over a system said union had a hand in creating?

Monday, April 15, 2013

What 240 Thousand Bucks Buys

We're going to hear an awful lot about how great the Common Core is. That's because some unidentified rich person, maybe Bill Gates, is putting up a bunch of cash to advertise it as though it were Coca Cola or Ex-Lax. And that is, indeed, how to sell stuff to people. That's how they sold New Coke, the Edsel, and that great new Windows phone that everyone is clamoring for.  Bill Gates and Microsoft are clearly as expert on smartphone buyers as they are on what public schoolchildren need.

Is Common Core an Edsel? No one really knows, because it hasn't been tested anywhere at all. Who knows how much it will help kids to teach them to read vital train schedules and menus rather than wasteful literature and drama? In any case, they just got a bunch of very smart fellers to whip up something Bill Gates thought would be a swell idea, like merit pay and VAM, which have never worked anywhere. But, ever optimistic they keep brushing them off and tossing them out anyway, as
we in America all "Race to the Top."

And as America increasingly tries to make education a business, what we get in lieu of science (you know, where they test things and stuff before using them on millions of kids) is an ad campaign, straight out of Darin Stevens and Mad Men

Honestly, are we that stupid? Can an ad on a subway persuade us we need to teach our kids only one thing, a thing that's never been tested anywhere? Just because it makes gazillions for textbook
companies, does that justify using millions of public schoolchildren as guinea pigs? And why doesn't Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Mike Bloomberg, Rahm Emanuel or Joel Klein let their kids go to schools that practice the untested nonsense they deem fit for ours?

Is it a good idea to do this concurrently with the rollout of a completely new, and also untested teacher evaluation system? Is it even worth mentioning this system happens to be based on wishful thinking rather than science, and will likely identify teachers as ineffective based on nothing but random placement rather than quality?

Most importantly, are we really going to let faux-expert, faux-philanthropists who know nothing about education except how much they can profit from it toss their cash around and force untested nonsense on our children? What on earth is more precious than our children?

Ask Bill Gates.

Because you'd better believe they aren't his children.

Being Reformy Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Reformy Rhee is besieged by suggestions Erase to the Top was bigger and badder than she'd ever acknowledged. The smoking memo has been released, and she's all Scarlett O'Hara: "What? Little old me? Well I never saw any blessed memo. Let them look at it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day."

Apparently, her successor, Kaya Henderson never saw the memo either, yet now deems it to be flawed. One of the great things about being reformy is this--whatever goes wrong, it isn't your fault. It was an emergency! Children were suffering. We didn't have time to do any stinking research! How could we possibly have anticipated people would cheat?

And that's a good question. After all, they had choices. They could raise test scores and get bonuses, or fail to raise test scores and get fired. In Rhee-world, there are No Excuses. How could she possibly have anticipated that people would cheat and get bonuses rather than tell the truth and get fired? After all, she not only never saw the memo, but she also never heard of Campbell's Law.

Who would've thunk principals and teachers would invest heavily in erasers rather than get fired, lose their health insurance, be homeless, and get the jobs at Walmart for which Rhee and her minions wish to train our children. I say our children because Rhee's kid, like Bloomberg's, like Rahm's, like Klein's, like John King's, goes to an elite private school where nonsense like this does not apply.

In a perfect world, Rhee's DC would get a thorough investigation just like the one conducted in Atlanta. However, with Rhee BFFs Obama, Duncan, Gates, Broad and the Family Walmart, I'm not altogether optimistic we'll see one anytime soon. It's ironic, because a big Rhee theme is no excuses. Too bad if your kids don't speak English, if they have learning disabilities, if they have no support at home, if they have no home, or whatever. Thus spake The Great and Powerful Rhee.

I leave you today with the tale of Rhee the Reformer, Dr. Seuss-style, as only brilliant Teacher Sabrina could tell it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Advice from UFT

All chapter leaders should engage principals on all aspects of a new teacher evaluation system. You should focus on the fact that visits by the talent coaches should be supportive, not intimidating for teachers, and you should establish the ground rules and advocate for comprehensive professional development so our members will be ready when the new system is implemented in September.

Well, that's something to think about. Problematic is the fact that the system does not actually exist.

Of course no teacher wants a "gotcha" system. Many feel that's what we have now. And the UFT has stood in the forefront with those who wish to "reform" it, like Bill Gates. We worked on the MET study. We participated in the project that led to teachers being publicly vilified in the pages of the Post. This was but one by-product of our much-vaunted "seat at the table." Who could've anticipated that Joel Klein would break his word and urge news organizations to make public what he promised would not be made public?

That question was ironic, in case it isn't already clear.

And now that we've bought the myth, propagated by the likes of Klein, that there is some horrendous bad teacher epidemic, we've signed onto the evaluation system. And we, the UFT, are going to protect teachers from being targeted. You see, there will now be objective evidence of good or bad teaching, in the form of value-added reports. Never mind that they've never actually worked anywhere, or that this rollout coincides with that of the Common Core, which is widely believed to cause huge drops in test scores. Let's just ignore that, and fight "gotcha" practices.

And yet, why would the likes of Bill Gates push VAM if it weren't a "gotcha" practice to begin with?

It would be nice to have a principal stand up and say, "Even though your value-added stats are terrible, I think you're a great teacher. I'm giving you a good rating anyway." That may indeed happen. But I'm pretty sure if it were to happen on any regular basis you'd be looking at a short-term principal.

So what do we say when negotiating the system that doesn't yet exist with the principal? How do we make an agreement that won't be precluded by the system, likely decided upon by super-reformy John King?

It's ridiculous enough that an education community is rallying around a system that has no scientific basis whatsoever. Even more ridiculous is negotiating how we're going to handle a system about which we know nothing beyond its sheer and utter lack of validity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Very Important Job

It's not easy when you have a Very Important Job that takes all your time. You don't really have time for your kids, because the Job takes up every moment of your time. Sure, it bothers you when report cards indicate they're failing every one of their classes in school, but that's really the teacher's job, not yours, so what can you do?

Still, when you get a Very Prestigious Offer to work in the United States, that's nothing to sneeze at. And it's pretty well known that the teachers there aren't nearly as rough as the ones in your country, so why not bring the kids along and give them  a new start? This way, it's a clean page, and they'll surely excel.

Yet, after all that, coming to a new country and all, the darn English teacher has the audacity to find your private phone number and call you. In fact, he has someone who speaks your language call you, and says The Boy has cut class six times. What can you say? You say the teacher has not been taking attendance properly, and to show you're not to be trifled with, you hang up. That should end things. But no, the teacher gets someone else to call The Wife on some other number. Where does he find all these numbers? Again it's someone in your language, and now he not only wants to talk about it, but he demands someone come to school and discuss it. He says in this country people have to come to school when their children have issues. What's up with that? The Wife, not knowing the ways of the world, agrees to go.

At the guidance counselor's office, everyone apologizes. I'm sorry, says The Boy, for cutting and failing all my classes. It won't happen again. But then, at the following week's parent-teacher conference, the English teacher has the nerve to say the cutting has continued, and The Boy could pass if only he would show up and do the work. Furthermore, he says The Boy has been failing quizzes because he gives them in the beginning of the period and The Boy doesn't show up until they're half-over. Doesn't he know The Boy stays up late?  He's sleepy and can't always make it in on time. You can't send him to bed because you sleep early and you can't wake him because you have to leave early for The Job. You don't have time to waste fighting with The Boy about getting out of bed. Don't teachers in this country know anything?

The only thing to do, all things considered, is counter-attack. You ignore the request and demand bilingual classes in your son's language. What? Your school doesn't offer them? What's wrong with your school? What do you mean you told us that when we arrived? Yes, you told us you didn't offer them, but now we're telling you we want them anyway. You can't do it? You say there are other schools that offer them? But we want them here, and we want them now! Well I never.

But that's not the worst part. On Monday, that same troublesome English teacher notices The Boy is not in class. He knows the language teacher is taking the class on a trip, but he refused to sign The Boy's form, claiming he cut and came late so many times. That's bad enough, but now he picks up his cell phone, right in front of the class, and calls the teacher who organized the trip. Why does he even have the language teacher's number? Haven't these teachers got any work to do at all? He asks whether The Boy handed in a permission slip, and finds out The Boy forged his signature.

Now, it's a conspiracy. The language teacher gets involved. He not only refuses to take The Boy on the trip, but also writes him up, and The Wife has to go to school yet again. This is altogether too much. They're talking about suspending The Boy, just for cutting and forging one little signature. How can you do your Very Important Job with all these teachers bothering you about every little thing? Can't they just take care of this? Don't any of these teachers have anything better to do? Clearly there's something very wrong with this school. They do nothing to resolve problems, but complain endlessly, and about everything.

So you send The Boy back to your country for a few weeks of much-needed vacation, and then bring him back, so you can send him to private school. What The Boy needs is a fresh start with people who will understand his needs.

The public schools in this country are no better than the ones in your own country. What a disappointment.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You Can't Have Too Many Fliers

Check the box for MORE and mail your ballot today.

Dear Colleagues,

We have now gone four and a half years without a raise, and three and a half without a contract. It’s time to let our union leadership know that’s unacceptable.

Meanwhile, while we got nothing, every municipal union but educators received over 8% in raises in pattern bargaining between 2008-2010. It’s time to let our union leadership know that their negotiating technique is not working for us.

Though a rep from the UFT came here and promised us there would be no evaluation system without a contract, we now know that not to be true at all. It’s time to tell our union leadership we want the truth.

Current UFT leadership actually took part in writing the law that will make junk science count for up to 100% of your evaluation. In fact, if you lose the 40% of so-called “objective” evaluation, there is no way you can get an adequate rating. It’s time to tell our union leadership we don’t want to be judged by junk science.

Currently, if you are brought up on charges for dismissal, the DOE must prove you are incompetent to achieve that. Under new regulations supported by Unity-New Action’s Mulgrew, the burden could be on you to prove you are not incompetent. This will render you guilty until proven innocent, a fundamentally un-American concept.

The agreement to make working teachers wandering ATRs is causing misery all over the place. I am in touch with ATR teachers who call me and cry over the phone. Let’s send a message to union leadership that this is not how we want professional teachers treated.

We can do better.

Take your ballot, fill in the X for MORE, and vote for a new union leadership. No one should run anything for 50 years. In Chicago, they voted for change, and they now have a vibrant grassroots union. Don’t we deserve the same?

I’m proud to have voted for MORE, and voted for change. Please do the same, and please do it today.

Best regards,

Arthur Goldstein, UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Rating the Fliers

Since Unity/ New Action persists with the fiction of opposing one another, I've been receiving campaign fliers from three caucuses. Despite my misgivings about New Action, I think theirs was the best, particularly the second one. It had a whole lot of appealing things on the front, and were I not well-aware of who they are, I'd probably vote for them.  They did not mention their deal with Unity at all, and they did not mention they'd endorsed Mulgrew until the fourth page. While I found that disingenuous, I also found it persuasive, particularly to a busy teacher disinclined to read the whole thing through. While I'm no New Action fan, I give their flier an A for effectiveness.

It's probably clear to anyone who reads this blog that I voted for MORE. However, their fliers were not as strong as they could be. I speak to people each and every day, and the thing that troubles my members most is the fact that they haven't gotten a raise in four and a half years. I didn't think MORE faced the meat and potatoes issues as thoroughly as they could have. I also think they failed to target New Action in remotely the fashion it merits. This was a huge fail, in my view. I'm going to give MORE a B- for the fliers they put out. I think they have a powerful case that they failed to make, and that's too bad, because it could certainly be the most appealing to an informed voter. It's a large problem that there's so much on which voters need to be informed. With a union that endorses junk science without telling members what it is, that is an uphill battle indeed.

What most surprised me was Unity. Unity has the deepest pockets, the longest history, but clearly not the best PR people. Their most recent foray into the flier war was disappointing. Fighting for a contract was a pretty weak start, because it's pretty well-known we don't have one. Blaming the mayor seems to work, as Unity's been doing that since I started teaching in 1984. It might be a good idea for an opposition to point out that if we keep waiting out the mayor, we'll all be retired before anyone gets a raise. Most of the Unity flier was nebulous and unpersuasive. I give Unity a C, and that's surprising. I could have written it better. However, the fact is Mulgrew is a well-known figure, and his name carries a lot of weight. Few have heard of his opponents. But they need new writers not only for Unity, but also for the UFT.

Here's the thing about Unity--no one should be in power for 50 years. No matter how good they are, there's too much inertia, too much dead weight, too much self-satisfaction. They need to be hungry, eager, and tricky to deal with a hostile mayor, a hostile environment. Giving in here, selling out there, trying to appear reasonable by giving into nonsense simply does not help working teachers.

Sadly, most teachers do not seem to know what's going on out there. A strong union would tell them, in no uncertain terms, and mobilize them. Unity is not doing this on nearly a wide enough scale. I'm certain that's the vision of MORE, but as an upstart it's not that easy to get the word out. I hope they're patient and determined enough to see this through for the long term.

My Latest Unity-New Action Mass Email

Today's mass email complained bitterly about receiving mass email. In fact, it compared mass email to spam. The fact its sender was doing exactly the same thing was apparently not relevant. Actually, this too came from someone I know and like. Yet it was riddled with misconceptions.

One thing that was true was that there are indeed Unity-New Action people who work hard. You'd have to be a fool to say the union, dominated by Unity-New Action,  never done anything of value or fought for anyone. I've got someone from Unity trying to help a colleague in deep trouble right now. I can't predict the outcome, but I've got faith this person will do all she can.

But there were other statements that were questionable, at best. The first was that this CL was Unity by choice. Now I'm certain this CL chose to be Unity. However, that choice is only extended by invitation. If they don't ask you, you're out. In fact, it wasn't until I started this blog that I even knew anything of Unity practices. I went 20 years without ever having much thought of it.

The other thing I questioned was the story of how this CL toiled away at a UFT job. In fact, UFT jobs are offered only to UFT-New Action members, with one solitary exception I know of. These jobs are clearly given as patronage, or James Eterno would be somewhere working for the union even as we speak. This is the same thing that governs who attends conventions. We speak of union democracy, and of voting, but who actually knows who the hell the 750 names on the ballot are? I've certainly known Unity chapter leaders who were largely asleep, and who did little aside from attending these conventions.

Somehow, the letter failed to mention the fact we'd supported mayoral control twice, enabled the miserable ATR brigade, failed to snag the pattern raise just about every other city union got between 08-10, or signed on to a junk science evaluation system that will almost certainly hurt working teachers. Perhaps the writer simply forgot.

Personally, if I could help the union, I'd do so without hesitation. I was once asked to train for a union job that never materialized. But I thought I could be of service, so I went for the training. I was quite surprised they even asked me to do that. I heard shocking things from other students in the classes I attended. I have no idea why they picked me, but I can assure you some people were not picked on merit.

In any case, I now expect to receive mass email from Unity every day of the election season protesting mass email. Few things could be more absurd.

And here's the bottom line to anyone sending mass email to chapter leaders--I very much doubt a single chapter leader anywhere will be swayed by campaign email.

I know I won't.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Does Unity-New Action Really Want to Talk?

I was a little surprised to receive mass emails from Unity chapter leaders, including one I happen to know and like. Ironically, the first one was written in protest of mass email. It complained MORE chapter leaders had acquired an email list of chapter leaders, and have used it to communicate with them. Oddly, the Unity chapter leaders appear to have used the very same list to communicate with the same group. Apparently that is not objectionable.

One point made in this note was that MORE was too vitriolic in their comments. I was surprised by this. Actually, I've run this blog for years and have regularly deleted meaningless and juvenile comments from anonymous supporters of Unity. They now seem to know better than to try this over here, preferring to focus on the ICE and MORE blogs.

I'm open to discussion with anyone. However, calling me or my friends idiots doesn't cut it for me. Comparing me to Rush Limbaugh because I don't present both sides doesn't much qualify either. This blog is entirely subjective, and has never maintained otherwise. If Unity-New Action representatives want serious debate, they are welcome to it. I'm here every single day.

The email went on to protest a statement that Al Shanker was a strong anti-communist. David Selden's book The Teacher Rebellion mentions that Shanker expelled people from the Unity Caucus for the offense of opposing the Vietnam War.  In case that's not enough, Richard Kahlenberg, his biographer also speaks of his anti-communism. I fail to see why the claim is so outrageous.

It protests calling President Mulgrew "chicken." To me, it appeared the email had quoted a Post headline. I've read many comments criticizing MORE members for speaking to the Post, though the story clearly reached out to a Mulgrew aide, who'd presumably be Unity-New Action. Personally, I speak to just about any reporter who calls me, whether or not they're from the Post. UFT President Michael Mulgrew gave quotes to the Post as recently as last month. I recall Randi Weingarten writing a column for the Post. Does that make us all traitors too?

More to the point, Mulgrew has indeed declined to debate his opponent. That's something that certainly merits discussion, and all this talk about who spoke to the Post, and how awful they are for doing so is nothing more than an attempt to obfuscate the issue.

The email goes on to criticize the failure of the letter writers to differentiate between VAM, mandated in the state law Mulgrew had a hand in crafting, and the "growth model" Mulgrew's advocated from his lectern at the DA. However, I've seen no evidence anywhere that this model works any better than VAM. If there is any, I'd love to see it. I've seen quite a bit of evidence that VAM doesn't work at all. I'm afraid appeals to shut up and sit down are less than persuasive, since I can't help but read Diane Ravitch, Gary Rubinstein, and Aaron Pallas, all of whom understand this better than I ever will.

As a matter of fact, I just attended a session at the UFT about the upcoming evaluation system. I heard a lot of talk about all that needs to be negotiated, but I also heard that no negotiation is currently taking place. Should this continue, it will be reformy John King who gets to dictate what our system will be. I'm fairly certain Bloomberg's proposal will be reformier than the union's, and it's very hard for me to simply hope King would not just accept and impose it. We are in a pretty tough spot.

I'm disappointed to get such messages from someone I respect. It's really just a repetition of the message the UFT has for all non-Unity-New Action members. Central UFT is expert at shutting out voices that differ with it in any way whatsoever. I would be in trouble if I had to depend only on the UFT to get my voice out there. While I can find multiple workarounds for that, I don't know if everyone can.

I will not stereotype union leadership. There are some great Unity people in the UFT, people I rely on and admire. However, neither they nor anyone is well-served by a policy of building brick walls around dissident voices. There are several non-Unity-New Action chapter leaders whom I know to be among the best-informed and most dedicated unionists anywhere.

How can a chapter leader be prohibited from seriously challenging things like mayoral control, teacher evaluations, or the spectacle of Bill Gates as AFT keynote speaker? How can you make Diane Ravitch the next keynote speaker and effectively shut out anyone who agrees with her?

How could I be a good teacher if I didn't allow my students to question me?

And how can you protest mass email by sending me mass email?

I suppose that's the least important of my questions here. But a union encompasses all voices, not just those who make deals to support the status quo, or those who sign a written promise never to publicly deviate from the party line.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Wondering Why There's No UFT Candidate Debate?

The closest we're going to get appears to be taking place right now on the ICE blog. It's kind of ridiculous, but so is the fact there will be no debate.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

You have recently received several handouts from the New Action caucus touting their opposition credentials. While I support many, if not all, of the goals set out in these handouts, I found it disingenuous that they failed to make clear their ties to Unity, the caucus that has controlled the UFT for over half a century.
In fact, New Action has an ongoing partnership with Unity. New Action cross-endorses the Unity presidential candidate, and in return, Unity cross-endorses ten New Action members for the UFT Executive Board. Opposition has its place. To my mind, though, New Action’s position is tantamount to the Democrats endorsing GW Bush, or the GOP endorsing Barack Obama.
A vote for New Action is a vote for President Mulgrew. If you feel the direction of our union is going the right way, I suggest you vote for Unity Caucus rather than emboldening a false opposition designed to divert and mislead you.
There is in fact only one opposition party on your ballot. That party is MORE, and its presidential candidate is Julie Cavanagh. MORE has modeled itself after the Chicago CORE caucus that recently took over and stood up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. If you feel it’s time for a change, I suggest you choose MORE.
Regretfully, President Mulgrew has declined to debate Ms. Cavanagh. Therefore, if you wish to become familiar with her, I suggest you view her documentary film, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. The film is very informative, and I’ve participated in several panel discussions about it near my home. You may now view it online at this address:
Please don’t throw away your vote, as most UFT members do. Your ballot should arrive any day, and your choices are Michael Mulgrew on the Unity or New Action lines, or Julie Cavanagh on MORE.
One more thing—vote either for an entire slate, or for individual candidates. If you do both, your ballot will be invalid.
Best regards,

Arthur Goldstein, UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School

Who Puts Children First, Always?

I continue to be amazed at the depths to which reformy folks will sink when personally attacking their critics. Now, if you send your kid to a private school, you have no right to criticize charters. This is the new paradigm because charters are the "choice" you get if you aren't rich.

Some choice. I should send my kid to some heavily regimented test prep factory instead of a public school. I went to a Gotham Schools fundraiser where I watched videos by Doug Lemov from his how to be a great teacher book. One showed the amazing teacher who handed out papers so fast it cut into barely one moment of class time. I, a stupid and useless public school teacher, was left to reflect on the 40-page stapled booklet of handouts I gave the kids once, rather than quickly 40 times. Of course the fact that this idea came off the top of my head and was not written about by Lemov rendered it useless. The fact that I'm a public school teacher meant I was part of the problem anyway.

The second video was of kids moving from one room to another. They all lined up and moved quietly. No talking, no nothing. It was like a scene out of 1984. Just the thing I want my kid to know about.

Obama sends his kids to a school with small classes and no high-stakes tests. So does Bloomberg, Klein, and Rahm. Their kids are not packed into rooms like sardines and made to recite idiotic slogans. They're not told to work hard and be nice, and they aren't in the classroom 200 hours a week. In other words, they aren't being prepped for lives as Walmart associates.

This is not about giving us or our children choice. It's about flinging nonsense in front of our faces, depriving us of what is available to the wealthy, and hoping we'll sit down and shut up. If you fail to sit down and shut up, be prepared to have the New York Post editorial page impart its wisdom on the topic of why you should sit down and shut up.

It's time for us to stand up and shout that we don't want our kids treated like sardines, that we want education rather than testing for our kids. And it's time to tell the world that we, the teachers, the parents, are really the ones who put Children First, Always.

Screw DFER and the New York Post editorial board, who would not spit on our children if they were on fire.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Is Gotham Schools Comparing Apples to Reformy Windbags?

 When a true genius appears, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

~Jonathan Swift.

I'm very disappointed when I read something like this from Leonie Haimson. Apparently Gotham Schools has seen fit to write a story about where her kids attend school, days after a similar story surfaced about Michelle Rhee. It turns out she, like Rhee, has chosen to place her children in private school. In this space, you have not seen criticism of people for choosing private school for their children. You have seen criticism of people who choose private school for their children and force something inferior on our children.

 How dare they insist on a system for our kids they deem unfit for theirs?

For example, people like Michelle Rhee, Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein send their kids to elite schools with small class sizes. For their kids, that sort of education is important. Yet our kids should sit in large classes while their teachers are vilified for their failure to reach 100% of the students in their classes. No excuses. Learning disability? No English? Too bad for you. Fire the teachers, close the schools, and salt the earth so nothing will ever grow there. Neighborhood schools? What's a neighborhood?

The schools Rhee, Obama, Klein and Rahm choose for their kids do not test them to death. Yet, these hypocrites think our kids should do nothing but test prep, our kids should be measured only by test scores. They push idiotic data systems on us. They insist teachers be rated by what is, in fact, junk science. The fact that it is garbage dissuades them not at all. I have actually heard arguments that it's only 20-40% garbage, so don't worry.

However, as an educator, I am firmly anti-garbage. I don't teach garbage, I don't write garbage, and I don't want garbage for your child or mine, or anyone's. I had a long conversation with a reformy friend of mine. My reformy friend argued people like Leonie are hypocrites because they send their kids to private schools. I don't think so.

Here are just a few differences between Leonie Haimson and Michelle Rhee. The first, of course, is that Leonie Haimson advocates for small classes for my kids and your kids. She fights so that they are not, in fact, subject to ridiculous tests that establish nothing yet enrich Michael Bloomberg's BFFs. She fights so all kids can learn under optimal conditions.

Michelle Rhee, on the other hand, runs around advocating for schools that relentlessly test our kids, because in her reformy world, nothing else matters. She does not fight for the one thing we know helps our neediest kids, reasonable class size. She walks around peddling the gun-to-your-head no excuses BS that led to the scandal recently uncovered in Atlanta, and the one not yet fully uncovered in her former fiefdom of Washington DC. Her idiotic notion that all kids need the same corporate-style crap directly contradicts the message we teachers always get--you have to differentiate. How on earth can you effectively differentiate instruction when the test is the same no matter what?

Furthermore, who knows how much Rhee gets to head her astroturf group Students First? Not me.  I'm certain she doesn't do it out of the goodness of her heart. I do know it costs 35K plus expenses if you want her to spread her wisdom around your place. 

Leonie does this work because she has a passion to improve education. I know she's working for my child, and for the children I'm privileged to teach. Rhee spouts corporate nonsense that doesn't work and helps no one but the companies that want to peddle useless crap to our hapless kids. There is a huge difference between these two individuals. I asked Leonie to come to our school and speak, and she did, gratis. We gave her a hoodie with the school name on it, but I'm pretty sure she'd have been just as happy if we didn't.

Leonie writes Gotham Schools intended to make the comparison between she and Rhee, though I did not see it directly referenced in their final story. Directly, obliquely, or coincidentally, it's preposterous beyond belief.

Full disclosure: My kid attends public school. She'd like to go to military school (really!) but I'm not going for it.