Thursday, December 31, 2015

Chalkbeat Doubles Down on Reforminess, Asks for Money

I just received an email message from Elizabeth Green, who runs Chalkbeat, about her favorite stories of 2015. Topping the list was one vilifying Mayor de Blasio for not being reformy enough. According to Chalkbeat, the mayor was shooting for one year of "improvement" over a three year period.

The officials insisted that the Renewal schools, which serve a disproportionate share of needy students and have struggled for many years, require the extra time to reach their final targets. Several people who work in the schools — which could face closure or other consequences if they fail to achieve the goals — said they agreed, calling the targets “reasonable” and “reachable.”
“I don’t know where those numbers came from,” said an administrator at one school, “but we were pleased that they were as low as they were.”

Chalkbeat concluded by asking for money, and then sent me a separate email, asking for more. Ever on the cutting edge of reforminess, Chalbeat condemned City Hall for (gasp!) setting goals it could reach. Better, evidently, would be an aim for goals that were impossible so as to enable more school closings and more broken communities. Personally, I'm amazed that after three terms of Mayor Bloomberg's uber-reforminess that things are not Perfect in Every Way. But you won't be reading about that any time soon in Chalkbeat. For them, it's an outrage that the mayor is setting realistic goals. And Chalkbeat has unearthed even worse consequences:

Other schools started this school year having already hit their 2017 targets.

For instance, Brooklyn Generation School’s final four-year graduation target is 67 percent, yet it posted a 68 percent graduation rate this June. And the middle-school students at the Bronx School of Young Leaders earned an average English score of 2.2 this spring, even as the school’s 2017 goal is a 2.19 average.

That's simply horrifying. How can we, the taxpayers, put up with targeted schools that actually meet their goals early? What does that imply? Does it mean we'll have fewer schools targeted for takeover by Eva Moskowitz and her reformy pals? Thank goodness Chalkbeat is on the case to alert us to this dire emergency.

You can count on Chalkbeat NY to ring the alarms whenever the city does anything so outrageous as to set reachable goals for city schools. It's always vital that we ignore the fact that every single "failing" school is full of impoverished, learning disabled, non-English speaking high-needs kids. That's because not only Chalkbeat, but also its supporters, like Gates and Walton, have determined to ignore that. Rather, they focus on privatizing public schools, decimating union, and firing unionized public school teachers. That's the prime directive.

That's one reason why my contribution this week, once again, went to Class Size Matters rather than Chalkbeat. I urge you to join me, and you can do so right here.  Support a real grassroots organization, one that actually works for city schools and supports things that are not insane. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Principal Carmen Fariña

Here's an old piece about Principal Carmen Fariña. You know her better as current NYC Schools Chancellor. She's working for Bill de Blasio, and by virtue of that alone I like her better than Klein, Walcott, or what's her name. She's been good about not abrogating union contracts by placing city schools under the draconian receivership plans we're now seeing in Buffalo, but I haven't seen her move the pendulum as close toward rationality as I'd like.

I'm very curious about this article, which professes she worked wonders on the elementary school she headed. How did she do it?

Carmen Farina is the principal everybody loves to fear. She runs her school -- Public School 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just a block from the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- with a no-nonsense style and gets results through Darwinian selection. She has taken a school once known for serving the children of janitors and doormen and made it competitive with the city's top private schools and attractive to those who can afford them. 

So Fariña made the school attractive to people who could afford private schools, and utilized "Darwinian selection" in the process. You have to wonder, then, where the hell the "children of janitors and doormen" ended up. And what, precisely, constitutes "Darwinian selection?"

Last year, about 200 children applied to P.S. 6, going through an interview intended to detect a certain spark, and about 1 in 7 made it, Mrs. Farina said. At Harvard, the ratio is 1 in 8.  

Okay. This is not a knock on Fariña, though it may appear otherwise. But what the hell is so remarkable about making a school do well when you tell the overwhelming majority of applicants to go elsewhere? The Times is quite specific.

For the winners, admission means a free, top-flight education; for the losers, it often means paying $15,000 or more in private school tuition. 

Clearly the children of janitors and doormen were utterly out of the mix. From the article, I can only conclude that Fariña's school, in addition to improving via taking only the best candidates, also accomplished the dubious public service of saving thousands of dollars for those who least needed them.

So Fariña kept out the riff raff, and the community, with a 1999 median income of 226K, flocked to the school. I'm not sure that's the best way to utilize public schools. Evidently the rich will utilize public schools if we get rid of all those poor people. But a public school ought to be a place where all kids can thrive, not only those who already have all the possible advantages. Fariña's school held a different sort of appeal:

''My private-school friends -- I don't want to call it the Chanel set, but I guess that's what it is -- some do look at me in horror and think I'm possibly some kind of misfit,'' said Ms. Lenz, senior vice president of Sotheby's International Real Estate. 

Wow. I don't see my students, having just arrived from El Salvador, Afghanistan, China or Korea getting much of a shot in a place like that.  It's Dalton without the tuition. What else did Fariña do?

Since her arrival in 1991, Mrs. Farina has replaced 80 percent of her staff, a rare feat in public school, where teachers have tenure and the right to transfer by seniority. She did it, she said, by persuasion. ''Once you create a climate in a building that is hard-working, people will find out whether they are comfortable with it or not,'' Mrs. Farina said. ''And then they have decisions to make.'' 

Of course there is no more seniority transfer, thanks to the 2005 contract that "scrapes the skies," according to Edwize (may it rest in piece). Still, I have to wonder what the hell Fariña means. How did she get rid of all those teachers, really? And why did she need to turn over 80% of her staff in order to make a highly selective school do so well?

Sometimes we see miracles. More often, we see sleight of hand. In the case of the school in the article, we really see neither. It's no miracle at all when you hand pick the kids and the scores improve. It's no miracle at all when you take affluent children and make them do well.

I'd be a lot more impressed with someone who took a straight look at poverty, high needs, special education, ESL kids, and met them where they are. I'd be more impressed with someone who didn't just slam the door in their faces so their affluent students wouldn't be inconvenienced. I'm assuming Fariña ran her place better than some no-excuses Moskowitz test-prep factory. Still, I find something fundamentally wrong with a public school that has to be so selective.

We serve everyone. That's portrayed in the media as our weakness.

Actually it's our greatness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Everyone Needs a Break

I know firsthand that all work and no play makes NYC Educator a dull boy, so I'm very grateful for this time off. In fact, a study shows Christmas break is essential to a teacher's well-being. I can understand this, as teaching is a pretty tough job. Those of our relatives who make snide remarks around the holiday table probably don't understand this. After all, you work less than seven hours a day, and all you do is talk to kids all day. You tell them two plus two is four, and whether or not the kids remember it you still draw a paycheck.

Now I can understand why people believe that. Our governor, self-appointed student lobbyist Andrew Cuomo, has spent years trying to "reform" our evaluation system so he could fire more teachers. And when system A didn't result in enough teachers being fired, he moved to Plan B, the Heavy Hearts 50% Junk Science Plan. But unless they're regular readers of a blog like this one, your family cannot be expected to know that. But there is this heaviness we're all feeling, and don't delude yourselves, the students feel it too.

Now your relatives will argue that they don't get a break, so why should you? They could be fired for a bad haircut, so why shouldn't you? Of course, your first thought will be questioning your haircut, but once you've done that, you can move on to the main issue. That, of course, is the old story about thw two Russian farmers. This first farmer says, "My neighbor has a cow, and I don't. I want his cow to die."

Your family members, the ones who curse and ridicule you for your time off, your health benefits, or whatever, are very much like the first farmer. It would make a lot more sense for him to ask, "Why the hell don't I have a cow, and how could I get one?" But he doesn't think that way. And I suppose if I were reading the op-eds in the New York papers, including the Times, I wouldn't think that way either. The perfidy of teachers is a given, and all things reformy need to be done immediately, whether they're unproven or proven false (and most are the latter).

They'd be much better off fighting for better conditions for themselves, but if Bill O' Reilly (or a NY Times op-ed writer) said otherwise, it's an uphill argument. Who cares if pretty much everyone in Europe has these rights? It's just not the American Way, and that Bernie Sanders is some kind of a socialist, and even the teacher unions have endorsed Hillary.

Of course our friends and family ought to be out with torches and pitchforks demanding better working conditions for all. It's easier, though, for tinhorn politicians like Andrew Cuomo, and yes, Barack Obama (via Arne Duncan) to stoke outrage against teachers, the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States. That's just what's happening, and it's tough to fight demagogues bolstered by a sleepy mainstream media owned by said demagogues.

Another thing our relatives forget is that we took this job kind of as a trade-off. We knew we would never get rich, but we kind of expected to have other benefits in lieu of the money our friends and relatives would be making. We fully expected better job security, for one. Now that that's disappearing, so are a whole lot of teachers. I've seen inspired individuals walk out of relatively good jobs, and that troubles me. It's certainly not good for our kids.

And they need a break as much as we do. Rigor and grit has the ring of a dog food. We can do better by our children not only now, but also when they grow up.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Common Core: Children as Work Product

It's always interesting to get other points of view. Fortune has a piece about how business got schooled, and it's interesting on multiple levels. Of course, those of us who've seen Common Core as a top-down corporate takeover of public education are interested in seeing business fail here. That's the main point of the piece. But it's tough to ignore the incredibly crass nature of its proponents:

...Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

The Exxon CEO didn’t hesitate to extend his analogy. “Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?” American schools, Tillerson declared, “have got to step up the performance level—or they’re basically turning out defective products that have no future. Unfortunately, the defective products are human beings. So it’s really serious. It’s tragic. But that’s where we find ourselves today.”

Our children, evidently, are products, and if they can't work for Exxon, the world's number one climate change denier, they are defective. This begs the question, is Common Core designed to churn out fodder for corporations? Is Exxon, a corporation that places profit over welfare of the planet, the best arbiter of what's good for our children? And if Common Core truly promotes critical thinking, wouldn't that be bad for a corporation like Exxon?

I'm encouraged at failures on the part of people who paint our children as "product." I'm also happy to see opposition to this nonsense, even if it comes from the far right. Sadly, I very much think none of this would be happening if it hadn't been Barack Obama initiating reformy nonsense. The right has to oppose everything he does, even his Nixon goes to China episode in which he opposes union and embraces privatization.

Sadly, the referenced piece fails to question the motivations of Common Core and seems to take for granted all the nonsense it presumes to accomplish. The writer seems unaware that it was never tested anywhere and fails utterly to question its methodology. Nonetheless, it's significant that Gates and his minions have met such a huge roadblock, and there's a lot in this piece that tells us just why the roadblock is so necessary.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mulgrew on Evaluation--Logical Fallacy, Obfuscation, and Omission

Michael Mulgrew is President of the United Federation of Teachers so it's only fair to assume he speaks for leadership. Despite his constant talk of victory in Cuomo's agreement to hold off using Common Core results for teacher evaluation, teachers are still going to be judged by junk science. The only difference is which tests on which we base said junk science.

Informed people, like Diane Ravitch, reject junk science. The American Statistical Association found that teachers account for only 1-14% of student scores. I'd say those who choose to ignore that are akin to climate change deniers. Yet when UFT President Michael Mulgrew is faced with objections to the new 50% junk science system, he asks if teachers want to go back to principals making choices.  In fact, that's a black and white fallacy, assuming there is only one alternative to Cuomo's 50% plan, the one for which Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly. Furthermore, it's an appeal to fear, another logical fallacy. It reminds me of nothing more than Orwell's Squealer asking the animals whether they wanted Jones to come back.

This was an effective argument at the Delegate Assembly, where the overwhelming majority had signed the loyalty oath, agreeing to follow the leader no matter what. But a thinking person has to reject the argument, and not simply because it's a logical fallacy. First of all, if you accept the ASA's findings (as opposed to Cuomo's), you have to concede that this leaves half your rating up to pure chance. While it's possible the junk science could bring your rating up, it's equally possible it could drag you down. And while Mulgrew can point to people who were saved by junk science, I know people who were sunk by it. In fact one such teacher, Shari Lederman,  has literally placed junk science on trial. A colleague of mine likens depending on junk science to suggesting you go ahead and take up smoking, because maybe you won't get cancer.

More importantly, Mulgrew neglects to consider or acknowledge the flip side of his APPR agreement--the DOE no longer needs to prove teacher incompetence in these cases. Under the current agreement, if the UFT rat squad says you suck, you have to prove you are NOT incompetent. That's a huge burden of proof, one teachers are unlikely to overcome. So while Mulgrew can argue there are fewer teachers with twin bad ratings, the consequences they now face are far more dire than before. That there are fewer facing double negative rating does not mean there will be fewer people facing 3020a, or fewer who actually lose their jobs.

Mulgrew can call those of us who oppose him Chicken Little. He can say we're hysterical and illogical. He can call us names. But I know people directly affected by the APPR law he boasted about negotiating. I know the 50% Heavy Hearts Law was designed specifically to fire more teachers, and I know the notion of Firing Our Way to the Top is essentially ludicrous. The best predictor of test scores are income and degree of special needs, and as long as the politicians blame schools and teachers for such things we are not going to fix the perceived problems with test scores.

It's a shame we haven't got a President who addresses this head on. Ours, in fact, seems to prefer his head in the sand.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Wish

I ask Santa to stop closing schools for Christmas. It's among the worst policies ever. Sure I have selfish reasons. I don't want any of my colleagues to become ATRs, and I don't want to be one myself. Despite all the noise and nonsense that swirls around this job, I still love it. While politicians talk smack about what needs to be done, I know what I do is very important. I know a smile from a kid is a more hopeful sign than a good grade on a standardized test, or rigor and grit, or whatever it is the reformies are selling.

A kid's smile shows an openness, a willingness to be there, and a willingness to learn. It's something you treasure, something you can't force, and something you don't tamper with. A kid will follow a teacher who elicits a smile. Wouldn't you? And for all I know, that teacher who makes the kid smile could be in a so-called failing school. What if we have a whole community with low test scores? Does that mean we take the public school, the heart of the community, and replace it with a Moskowitz test-prep factory where kids pee their pants rather than stop filling in bubbles?

Should we trust a politician who says with one breath she wants to help struggling schools, and with the next that she will close them? That's a hard sell, for me at least, because I cannot determine which side of her mouth is credible. Is it a slip when she says she will close all schools that aren't above average? Probably yes. If average is a midpoint, that would mean closing half of all schools, and as Mercedes Schneider pointed out, it would necessitate perpetually recalculating to close even more.

So yes, Hillary misspoke. But that doesn't mean she won't be closing schools. And for those who say the feds can't close schools, I point you to President Barack Obama's Race to the Top, which mandated all sorts of school closures. Sure, it gave states a choice on how to do it, but it became virtual national policy when cash-starved states had to agree or be frozen out. (They don't call it the bully pulpit for nothing.)

So here's the thing--I'm finished voting for Democrats just because they make me puke a little less than their GOP opponents. Would Hillary make better Supreme Court appointments than Donald Trump? Probably. Would she be a better President than him? Certainly. But that's a low bar.

If Hillary wants me to consider voting for her, she will walk back that comment. She will not simply say that she didn't mean to say she'd close schools that weren't "above average." She will not simply says she meant she'd close schools that weren't "good." What does "good" even mean? In reformy, it means high standardized test scores. Anyone taking a good look at the situation knows that test scores are precisely aligned with income. If we were to cure poverty, something politicians assiduously avoid, this would not be an issue.

I ask Santa to support schools rather than close them. I ask Hillary to support Santa.

Because honestly, who can vote for a politician who opposes Santa? Not me.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Leaving Hillarytown

Hillary Clinton opened her mouth the other day, and said she wouldn't keep open any school that wasn't better than average. She later clarified to say she meant good, rather than better than average. To me, that was not much of a distinction. I work in a good school, even by reformy standards, but I don't delude myself that it's because we are all super teachers. I'd say it's because we have super kids, and that any school with such kids can do well. Just ask Geoffrey Canada, who had to dismiss entire cohorts to make himself look good. Ask Eva Moskowitz, with her "got to go" list.

For anyone who hasn't noticed, there is a direct correlation between high poverty, high needs, and low test scores. Kids like the ones I serve are a drag on any school, because it turns out people who don't know English tend to score poorly on standardized tests in English. Perhaps one day someone will do a study and prove it, and we'll all be amazed. Until then, schools dominated by ELLs will be targeted. For example there was the one in Rhode Island, where they wanted to fire all the teachers. Obama and Duncan thought that was fantastic. (If I recall correctly, the teachers were ultimately kept on, but under diminished working conditions. Another victory for the reformies.)

Despite this explanation in Diane Ravitch's blog, and the convoluted story to which it links, I cannot rationalize this as Hillary having misspoken. While the feds don't directly close schools, they've had massive influence in school closings anyway. For Hillary to even utter such a sentence indicates to me that she has drunk deeply of the reformy Kool-Aid that says teachers and schools are to blame. She does  not seem to have read Ravitch or considered what this reformy movement is all about. It also kind of dashes my hopes that she will advocate for a rational teacher evaluation system. The fact that Eli Broad contributes to her gives me even more pause.

Every day I talk to great teachers whose morale is in the toilet, who casually mention what else they can do for a living, and others who drop hints that they will dump this gig and go work in Macy's or wherever the first moment they can afford it, or the day they're vested. This will have little effect on Hillary or her rich friends, who sidestep the nonsense they impose on public schools by paying to send their kids elsewhere. But you're not gonna see kids I teach at Dalton anytime soon.

I'm also troubled by the viciousness of her supporters. On Facebook I've seen people suggest that those of us reluctant to support her are massive idiots. When the first story about her quote surfaced it was on the Weekly Standard, and there were outraged ad hominem attacks even though the story simply offered the quote. Later there was video, and multiple sources, and crickets from those who attacked the conservative publication.

The irony here is that my vote, beyond the primary, is ultimately of very little importance. If Hillary grabs the nomination and has trouble in New York, she's a dead duck. Personally, I'm not at all keen on voting for candidates of any party who don't support public education. When Andrew Cuomo campaigned the first time for governor, he ran on a platform of going after unions. I voted Green both times Andy ran. And while Obama fooled me once, after he gave GW a third term in education I voted for Dr. Jill Stein, Green candidate, for President. I am not greatly swayed by arguments that Hillary sucks less than any GOP candidate, even though she may. She's still a horrorshow.

It would take a lot to get me to pull the lever for anyone who talks like that. Frankly, with Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Have a Great Week Off

This is it, folks. The last day before vacation. I wish you all a healthy and happy break, and I hope you all do whatever brings you joy. Ignore your relatives who believe what they read in the tabloids. Aside from doctors, you have the most important job there is.

You deserve every moment you get. Those who'd begrudge you aren't worthy of touching the hem of your garment.

Better times are coming, one way or another.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

DA Takeway

I don't know what to make of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. A year ago, he was shaking his fist and telling the whole world he was gonna punch it in the face and push it in the dirt if it laid a finger on his precious Common Core. At last week's Delegate Assembly, he seemed to be not only reveling in its impending death, but also taking credit for it. We did this, and we did that, so Cuomo's commission happened.

As usual, I think Mulgrew is passing out the party hats a little prematurely. Like all things reformy, you cut off one head of Common Core and it merely grows another. I'm much more impressed with the Carol Burris version, which lays out what New Yorkers really want:

A whopping 86 percent responded that New York should abandon the Common Core and return to the former New York State standards. The slow plod toward standards review recommended in the report is hardly the “overhaul” that parents will expect.

Burris doesn't precisely envision the withering and dying of Common Core. While Mulgrew boasts that teachers will help develop the next iteration about the standards, he and Weingarten said exactly the same about Common Core. I can't recall how many times I heard leadership defend CCSS as teacher developed, though sources I trust say otherwise. In any case, involvement has multiple facets. When your principal decrees everyone is working nights and weekends for free and that's that, he may consider it consultation. Those who mark papers all night likely view it otherwise.

It is indeed progress that the new ESSA doesn't mandate junk science. But Mulgrew also says that this is a bad time for us to ask for changes on anything, and as far as I can tell, we're still gonna be judged 50% on it. And it's tough for me to forget Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearts for enabling this atrocity. Whether it's Common Core junk science or garden variety junk science is not particularly comforting to me.

Leadership likes to cite teachers who'd have been granted bad ratings but were saved by junk science. That's nice, but I am personally acquainted with teachers who'd been granted good ratings but were sunk by junk science. To my mind, advocating junk science at 50% is akin to playing Russian Roulette with three bullets in the chamber. Personally, I can't get all excited simply because we've painted the bullets a marginally more attractive color.

Mulgrew asked a member who inquired about the 50% if she wanted to have principals determine 80% of the rating. The DA booed at that idea, but junk science is just a crapshoot. Spin the wheel and hope for the best. That's not what teachers want. That's what reformies want. Anything that results in fewer unionized teachers is good with them. Who cares if they fire good teachers or bad teachers as long as there are more charter schools with no union at all? Maybe we should dump junk science and simply demand rational administrators across the board. Or is that an impossible demand?

Mulgrew says we shouldn't worry about school closings, that they're basically part of life when not presided over by Michael Bloomberg, but I don't buy that either. I love what I do, but I do not envision a whole lot of principals asking me to do it. If my school were closed, I would very likely be consigned to the ATR pool for the rest of my career. While there may be some who are happy there, I'm not one of them. I love to teach, and I can't for the life of me figure why we gave up seniority transfers for the ATR. TNTP did some ridiculous paper on mutual consent, but basically if you're an ATR you have to go where they send you unless the principal doesn't want you. Mutual consent appears to be whatever the principal damn well pleases.

All in all, last week's DA was pretty uneventful and unsurprising.With Friedrichs hanging over our heads, it's tough to stay calm, as Mulgrew urged. But panicking won't do much good either, so I'm gonna have to agree with him on that, at least.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Who's the Next Education President?

There's a lot of loose talk about what's ahead for our union leaders. Friends keep saying Randi Weingarten is eyeing a position in the Hillary Clinton cabinet, and Michael Mulgrew is next AFT President. At least part of that is a good bet, as every single UFT President has moved on to be AFT President. And Randi is certainly waving the Hillary flag, going so far as to be freaked out over the now pretty much irrelevant flap over DNC data.

I was a little taken aback by that, as I doubt Senator Sanders plays that way, and I told her so.

Randi has a response, of course.

I'm uncomfortable with what Hillary has "made clear," as I value action a whole lot more than words. I frequently read tweets and columns from Randi about how people like Hillary and Obama have said this or that. Obama, in particular, has now outdone GW Bush as the most anti-public education President of all time. I also question why, if Hillary is not all that reformy, that Eli Broad would be sending her money. I don't think he does things like that just for fun. 

Would a victorious Hillary place a teacher union leader as Secretary of Education? While I have my issues with Randi, I'd certainly like her better than Arne Duncan, or the execrable John King. My sense is that Hillary would stab Randi in the back in a New York minute. I very much doubt she wants to read headlines in the tabloids and even the faux-liberal NY Times about how she'd sold out to the teacher unions.

But it's a tough time for Hillary supporters, what with Bernie Sanders, with a DNC that appears in the bag for Hillary, with virtually no media coverage, still outpolling her against every GOP candidate. Senator Sanders has not really keyed into educational issues the way I'd like, but I support his overall policies and will certainly vote for him in a primary.

Eight years ago I voted for Hillary against Obama in the NYS primary. I thought she was marginally less likely to be hostile to us than Obama. While Obama has been such a disappointment I was unable to vote for him a second time, I'm still only marginally hopeful that she would represent an improvement. The fact that Broad puts his money on her makes that hope even more marginal.

I hope Sanders can accomplish what Obama did eight years ago. American voters deserve a real choice, and while Hillary looks better than Donald Trump, that's really not something worth bragging about.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Group Mania

I was talking to a teacher the other day who covered an ICT class. There was some group work activity going on. The kids were making quite a bit of noise and a supervisor walked in, brimming with pride. "There's a lot of learning going on in here," he declared, and went on his Merry Way. The covering teacher remarked to the other one, "Hey, nothing personal or anything, but it seems to me all the kids are just fooling around." The other teacher said, "Yeah, I know. There is nothing going on here."

That's one extreme of group mania. I'm not opposed to group work or anything, but I generally favor pair work. I teach language, and pairs get more of it in. For me, it's a bang for your buck kind of thing. I haven't done that much work with larger groups this year, but I decided to give it another go anyway a few days ago. It worked OK with my morning class, but my PM class is very small and quiet.

Charlotte Danielson would have given me few brownie points. I kind of broke them up geographically, you, you, and you, and waited to see what would happen. What happened was group one had a grand old time. I have one girl who sits in a corner and finds every facet of life hilarious. She is a joy to watch, because she exudes joy every moment. She transformed the entire group into replicas of herself. Even though they got the actual work done, it took a while because they couldn't stop laughing. Although they got the work done more slowly, they actually talked, and that was my secret goal for this activity.

My middle group was the worst. They were all quiet, and conspired to get the activity done in the worst way possible. Specifically, the worst way is that one person does the work, and everyone else copies it to get it the hell over with. There is no feeling whatsoever for the importance of the project, just a desire to get it the hell out of the way. Whatever work product ensued is Good Enough, and therefore the teacher will likely not scream at you, and hopefully not inconvenience you in any way whatsoever.

My third group was marginally better. Though it had one member who was borderline social, in English no less, some other members had little idea what they were doing. I explained it, they got it, and they did it, but they weren't precisely feeling the love.

Next time I do a group activity in that class I will break up the first group and have each of them lead another. I fear, though, that I will lose the magic I saw the other day and simply replicate the cold efficiency of my last group. Midway through that class I heard a heated discussion in the hallway. I  peered out and saw a colleague lecturing some kid. Evidently, the teacher had told the kid repeatedly to stop talking and the kid persisted in talking anyway. I felt envious.

The only time I really got a rise out of my entire group was when I explained to them, in highly exaggerated frustration, that teachers all over the building were asking kids to shut up, and that I was the only teacher in the building who had to actually beg people to talk. They all found that hilarious. I am quite fond of this class, for reasons I can't precisely explain.

But for me, it's a lot easier to teach my morning class, the one with multiple kids who are almost as crazy as I am.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DA Report December 2015

President's Report

Mulgrew welcomes us to last DA of 2015.  Notes out of order as Mulgrew jumped back and forth between local, state and national.


January 11th SCOTUS hears arguments on Friedrichs. Retirees will be there. Trying to organize labor leaders locally and nationally so our voices can be heard. Says handful of people want to take away power of working folks to organize against billionaires.

ESSA—Mulgrew said we couldn’t do anything until Feds moved. Says UFT worked on this during summer and Thanksgiving. Says it’s all about timing and when there is political climate to do something.

Says Democrats fought for Title One, which was what this began with. Says NCLB came out and for long time there was no agreement to change it. Says it labeled many schools failures. Mentions RttT waiver program that waived certain punishments. Says states who did not take it lost large amounts of Title One funding. Suggests losing it would have cause 30,000 teacher layoffs.

Says AFT took lead on it, demanded Title One funding. Says they wanted federal government to stop mandating student test scores used in education, wanted help rather than punishment. Says quality of schools is no longer only test-based, and that schools now get credit for offering art and music.

Says many people say there still must be accountability, but that we need tests so we know which states are doing well and which are not. Says tests will only be used for informative purposes at state and local level. Says within a ten day period feds finally changed the law and no longer mandates use of test scores. Says this is great win for us.

Mulgrew says when US President says there’s too much testing, it says a lot to the country. Praises president for saying teachers need some respect, and for saying art and music needed to come back to schools. Mulgrew says that is the work of the union.

Mulgrew says think of where we were a year ago. Mulgrew says he was telling us all to prepare for war. He says between Christmas and New Year people were strategizing. Says we educated parents and Bloomberg’s polls went down. Says it’s great achievement that feds are not using test scores. Says this took years of planning, and it was shocking when so much happened last Thursday.


School closures

Mulgrew says we need to relax. Says we’ve been closing schools for 30 years and we only had problems with Bloomberg. Cites Duncan saying he wanted to close worst 100 schools in country, and Bloomberg saying he’d close 200 in NYC alone. Says reporters were unaware, but there was always a school closing process.

Says chancellor is closing 3 schools, two on Renewal list, but for enrollment reasons. Mentions schools with fewer than 200, or 50 students. Says schools cannot work well if they’re that small. Mentions shifting student populations. Says people are moving from residential to industrial neighborhoods and this may cause schools to move.

Says there are areas in crisis for lack of school seats.

Renewal schools

There is a school visit app, so every time a UFT person goes into a school they can make a report. UFT wants documentation on schools it visits, averaging over 100 a day.

UFT says these schools need supports, and politically, there’s a lot of pressure to close these schools. Mulgrew says UFT is upset that plans communities put together are not being followed.

ICT classes

UFT frustrated because there is a problem with rollout of huge number of these classes. Says it helps kids when done appropriately. Says they are not being implemented or used correctly, to smattering of applause. Deputy Chancellor is denying these problems, saying all principals are doing it correctly.

Mulgrew asks us to complete survey. Mulgrew reads questions aloud. I finish well before he does. Many in audience say they did not receive survey, and Mulgrew directs them to Rich Mantel.

Breakfast in classroom

DOE has to monitor how many meals are served each day. They need to know how much is being discarded. 70% of breakfast meals are thrown away. Problematic because we want children to eat. Therefore DOE has pilot program.

DOE wanted to expand to 300 schools, only 30 took training, and program is a disaster. Says kids are being served frozen pancakes and expired food. Says school community is unprepared but told they have to do it. Says UFT will fight this unless it is fixed.

NYC received same communication as LA, was in communication with UFT, and was done very well. Says it’s inappropriate to disparage LA, particularly considering San Bernadino.


Says we had people who could speak to issues. Says commission report said we have to redo standards, says they admitted they had to fix screw up. Someone asks, “Wasn’t that the opt-out movement?” and Mulgrew opts out from responding.

Says commission insisted on time to develop curriculum, including for special ed. and ESL. Says it will take a long time. Says this will require teacher training. Says parents will need to be informed. Says all assessments must be aligned with the work we do. Says teachers will be involved every step of the way. Gets applause.

Says committee took step further and said growth scores could not be used until all this work was done. Says this is all about politics.

Says Albany is going into legislative session, pols don’t want to talk to anyone, want to do their work and go. UFT is focusing on funding. We want CFE money lowering class sizes. Says he wants charters to serve same kids and keep them. Points out Moskowitz is shortening school day, ridicules her for going back on longer school day, which she’d said made her schools better. Amazed she showed sympathy for overworked staff.

Says we will work with local pols, but it’s an election year and no one wants to talk. Says there’s not much we can get done right now.

Says one year ago we knew we had a governor trying to kill us in one fell swoop. Says we still have danger, like Friedrichs. Says this ties to Friedrichs. Can we do all this work it it goes the wrong way? Mulgrew says no.

Mulgrew brings up woman who was on commission. Is well recieved.

Says we’ve accomplished a lot, federal law has changed, but that starting right now they cannot use state growth scores in teacher evaluations. Says we should relax and urge principals not to do so much test prep. Says president says we should bring back joy of learning.

Mulgrew goes over poll results. Says many IEP have been asked to be changed, teachers are pulled out of IEP classes, most schools don’t cover when co-teacher is absent. 2 of 3 have common planning time. Few have received PD, less than a third. Says that’s inexcusable, and is result of imperial principals.

Mulgrew wishes happy holidays to all. 5:23 PM.

Leroy Barr

mentions giving coats to young people. Speaks of Coalition for Homeless holiday party. Asks we thank Michael and Randi for efforts in ESSA. Mentions 2016 HS awards. Next DA January 13th.


CL—PS 87—What do we tell members about Common Core?

Mulgrew—feds no longer mandating use of CC standards. NYS will develop a set of standards NY specific. Will take 4-8 months, with teachers, will be developed for special ed. and ELLs. Says it will take time to do this right. Says Common Core is going away. Mentions credit for schools that offer art and music. Has not seen specific language

Retiree—Since 2 of 3 men in room going away, how will it impact us?

Mulgrew says everything gets out and we aren’t supposed to electronically communicate. Says it means there’s still a lot of activity, but if we need to get things done, it will be very difficult. Says election year is big question, particularly Senate. Says he’s glad the only thing we need is funding because not much will happen this year.

Queens delegate—Says she has math 8 times a week, but co-teacher only there 5 times. Says AP said it was OK. Mulgrew disagrees. Says if IEP says kids need instruction in ICT class, they need it all the time. Refers her to special ed. rep.

CL—Can Mulgrew talk to Fariña about cell phones. Mulgrew asks what committee decided, doubts process occurred. CL says it didn’t, tells story of bomb threat. Refers her for help in UFT.
Wants to make sure threat is reported.

CL—How engaged are we in process of making sure Renewal schools get what they need?

Mulgrew says they are very engaged, working full-time. Says DOE says everything is great but we know it’s not.

Q—What does it mean if feds don’t mandate use of scores?

Mulgrew says state cannot use state generated growth scores on teacher eval for next year.

Mulgrew says Regents still count toward graduation.

CL—What about teachers rated ineffective due to CC standards?

Mulgrew says they will still stand, but that they used to average 2,000 bad ratings a year, and that we’re now at 700.

Mulgrew asks whether student learning is a test score, projects, or portfolio. Says other part of commission says we must develop other things that constitute student learning. Asks whether test scores are best evidence. Says we must fight to make sure we don’t lose momentum over what learning is. Says he’s project based. Calls time. Allows one more question.

CL—What happens with local measures?

Mulgrew says local measures are still in. We have to talk with DOE, but local measures are in place.

Mulgrew asks should it be 20% student learning and 80% principal opinion. Crowd says no.


Opposing state receivership—Janella Hinds, HS VP, introduces unified resolution about receivership. Speaks of how important it is to show solidarity. Asks to place on next month’s agenda. No one speaks for.

James Eterno speaks against. Says he wrote some of it, but he didn’t get a chance to go back to his caucus. Says last resolved talks about educating members about receivership. Says if we’re not going to go to Albany and try to reverse awful law, that this is meaningless. Says Regents cannot reverse receivership and reverse receivership.

Motion passes.

Reso in support of Chicago Teacher Union for next month.—Stewart Kaplan, CL, says it’s about standing united with Chicago, and about our own future. CTU wants smaller class sizes, 3% increase and pay for snow days.

Motion passes.

Motion period closed.


 affordable housing—average rent in Manhattan 4K monthly. Teachers and paras cannot afford to live there. Rents unaffordable for low income families as people are priced out. UFT wants to increase affordable housing and ensure diversity in our city.

Janella Hinds proposes to strike #2 in resolve.

David Pecoraro opposes striking #2.

Mulgrew wishes to debate. Says he’s a teacher at Grady High School.

Says he’s tired of NY teachers having to work in PA. Says people cannot wait for political process. Says we need space for us to live close by, and opposes amendment.

Woman speaks in favor of amendment. It is now 6:03.

Question called.

Amendment is defeated.

Resolution passes.

Mulgrew adjourns, urges us to relax.

The Walking Unity

They come around here from time to time, with their convoluted rationales about the loyalty oath. They bemoan the incredible sacrifices they have to make to earn their free trips and patronage gigs. They come with weak arguments, argumentum ad hominem, and other logical fallacies they've overheard at meetings. They will be out in force in coming months to defend their miserable record.

They come with personal insults, I warn them once and then ban them. Too bad they can't concoct a proactive argument.
They'll claim it's not a loyalty oath, and that they sit around and discuss all decisions democratically. They'll suggest that they have a voice and do not ask "How high?" when Leroy Barr instructs them to jump.

But they'll have one thing in common, though they may deny it. Every single person who's come here to defend Unity has signed the oath, drunk the Kool-Aid, and is somehow reaping a benefit from our dues money. I recently noticed that one of the dimmest Unity bulbs, who came here and spouted ad hominem nonsense before I tossed him, had earned a position through his absolute willingness to be a lapdog and support whatever he was instructed to support. That's hardly an activist, hardly a thinker, and certainly not anyone I want to pay, but there you go.

There are some very smart people in Unity, but I have yet to see them around these parts. Some of them actually know what argument is, and understand that the entire, "You stink" model is not particularly effective. The smarter people in Unity are not jumping up and down for a chance to defend second-tier due process, junk science evaluation, charter schools, mayoral control, or other abominations championed by Mulgrew and Minions.

I'm here every day, and I'm not at all afraid. A machine like Unity is pernicious and, in its thirst for absolute power, has distanced itself so far from rank and file that it's rendered us almost irrelevant. It's got enough Minions to motivate 17% of working teachers to vote, and that's good enough for them. Of course if Friedrichs wins, there's gonna be a huge issue with the 83% who Don't Give a Crap. How is Mulgrew gonna motivate that crowd to pony up a thousand bucks a year to fund re-election galas at the Woodhaven Manor?

It's an open question. Because even if we escape Friedrichs and have Another Great Victory, reformies have a way of bringing the same old crap over and over. Maybe they'll argue it differently. Maybe they'll amend the Constitution. The thing is, though, even if we lose Friedrichs, it will be a Great Victory one way or the other.

Because we are in the best of all possible worlds, we have the best of all possible unions, and, most importantly, we have the best of all possible union leaderships. And every single UFT member with a vote in NYSUT or AFT will agree or be expelled from the Unity Caucus. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Untimely Death

As awful as our union leadership is, they're our fault because the overwhelming majority of us can't be bothered to mark an X, lick an envelope, and drop it in a mailbox. And with all the bad things I say about them, they are at least better than nothing. Nothing is likely what we will have if Friedrichs becomes law.

I spend a good part of every year trying to collect for our local's Sunshine Fund. We collect 15 bucks a head. With that, we buy gifts for retirees, do lunches, and sometimes buy shirts for members. Some people won't pay. They tell me they have phone bills, electric bills, and all sorts of inconvenient things that, of course, pretty much everyone has. I will continue to pay the union, if we have one, but I dread the possibility of having to go around and ask people to contribute a thousand bucks a year.

And honestly, I don't know whether I would ask. Even if I pay myself, should I bust my ass trying to raise money for Michael Mulgrew to sit at 52 Broadway and have someone write emails he signs telling us how wonderful things are? Should I actively enable all the loyalty oath signers who we pay because they've shown an unshakable faith in all the nonsense our union has supported?  Don't they include charter schools, colocations, mayoral control, two-tier due process, among their Great Victories?

Unfortunately, Friedrichs transcends leadership. I will pay 15 bucks for pretty much any half-decent cause in my building, and so will a lot of others, but when the ante rises to a thousand bucks it's gonna be a much harder sell. That would be the case no matter who was running the union, and that would be the case even if Unity had not stacked the deck to ensure their monopoly.

Even if Unity were to cut down on patronage and fire some of the blitheringly incompetent ass-kissers that pervade union employees, it's hard to imagine that the union would be able to provide the same level of service with significantly less cash. The political clout of union will diminish as its funding does, and the demagogues who hate us and everything we stand for will be in full party mode. If they can get this through the courts, they can get pretty much anything through the courts. After all, they'll have pretty much neutered much of the opposition by effectively defunding public unions. They've already got citizenhood for corporations. Why not further degrade the whole one person, one vote thing by crushing organized labor, the voice of working people?

Of course they can make exceptions for police, like Scott Walker did, because someone will have to guard their mansions when and if the bootless and unhorsed rise up with torches and pitchforks. But that hasn't happened to Walker yet, and considering the distance leadership has created between rank and file and themselves, I don't see UFT members rising up to follow Mulgrew anytime soon.

Make no mistake, we educators represent the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States. Our enemies want this to be the last nail in our coffin. Mulgrew says we will appeal at the state level if it passes, but my faith in his word is sorely limited. The middle class is rapidly disappearing, and the folks bankrolling Friedrichs couldn't be happier.

I can't believe we're left hanging, likely at the whim of one of the lunatic GOP Supreme Court Justices.

But what can you expect in the  face of an incipient oligarchy? Am I overly naive in calling it incipient? Time will tell, if it hasn't already.

Monday, December 14, 2015

You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time, but You Can't Fool Opt-Out NY

Even as UFT leadership breaks out the champagne over NY State's largely meaningless Common Core recommendations, Governor Cuomo ought to keep worrying. Because the fact is UFT leadership has played virtually no part in opt-out. They've delayed and prevented meaningful resolutions, and backed up reformy claims that aid would be withheld if not enough kids took tests that Cuomo himself called meaningless, except for rating teachers.

Even if these tests are temporarily decoupled from rating teachers, and even if they change the name of Common Core, opt-out activists will not simply fold their tents and agree to Governor Cuomo's sleight of hand. Not everyone is willing to declare victory every time a demagogue offers lip service. I have no idea why UFT leadership is so anxious to do so, but their need to label absolutely everything and anything as a Great Victory limits their repertoire of responses.

While UFT is willfully and chronically out of touch, our brothers and sisters in PJSTA keep their eyes open all the time and offer a much different interpretation of the task force recommendations. Their President, Beth Dimino, is a tireless advocate for children. She's been an active participant in opt-out, and had no problem whatsoever speaking truth to John King, even as myopic UFT leadership scrambled for that ever-elusive "seat at the table."

You'd better believe, if Cuomo hasn't fooled Beth Dimino, he hasn't fooled parent leaders of opt-out either. Opt-out claimed 20% of New York's children last year, is spreading by leaps and bounds, and aims to get closer to 50% next year. The fact is Cuomo's committee recommended that state test-based junk science be placed on hold for a few years, but allowed the testing to continue anyway. There's not a whole lot of motivation for parents to allow their kids to sit for tests that have no meaning for anyone whatsoever.

A big argument UFT leadership trots out as to why we need this testing is that civil rights groups endorse it. If that is the case (and I'm not completely persuaded it is), then the remedy is to educate said groups as to what these tests actually do. If we wish to correct societal inequality, we certainly won't do so by ignoring poverty and scapegoating teachers and schools. As long as UFT leadership accepts this preposterous assumption, we are part of the problem. We need to stop buying into false  reformy assumptions so that Andy Pallotta can buy tables at Cuomo fundraisers.

We need to take a stand with the opt-out movement, a true grassroots movement fueled by truth, passion and a desire to do what's right for our children. If Michael Mulgrew and his loyalty-oath signing sycophants are unwilling or unable to do the right thing, they should move over and endorse opt-out activist Jia Lee for UFT President.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

RIP Edwize

I tried to visit the UFT blog, Edwize, this morning, and was redirected to Evidently UFT has thrown in the towel on the whole blogging thing.

Here's this blog's first commentary on Edwize from August 20th, 2005.

Thanks to School of Blog for the heads-up. This could be a good place to turn for contract updates, or perhaps debunking of anti-union, anti-teacher nonsense propogated by the News, the Post, and yes, the Times.

You'll find it at EdWize. Or use the handy link in the blogroll on your right hand side.

In fact I was contemplating writing for Edwize and dumping this blog, as I'd previously written repeatedly for NY Teacher. But alas, that was not to be. I read the details of the 2005 contract and very quickly made the acquaintance of folks like Norm Scott and James Eterno.  I shared their horror at its details and Edwize was no longer interested in the likes of me.

Here's an NYC Educator post from February 17th, 2006, post-awakening.  It's called Unitythink:

I received the following anonymous comment from a Unity loyalist. Unfortunately for them, the topics here are not controlled by the autocratic Unity-UFT management. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see why they're unable to respond substantively on Edwize.

You are a bitter old curmudgeon that has nothing better to do than complain.

While name-calling may pass for argument on junior-high playgrounds, it's hardly a substitute for reasonable discourse.

We do live in a democracy. But that doesn't give you the right to yell fire in a movie theater just because you don’t like the movie.

This, apparently, is Unity's most powerful argument. I know this because I've seen it used repeatedly on Edwize. While they imply criticizing Unity is the same as yelling fire in a movie theater, this point boils down to "Shut up."

I will not.

Nor does it give you the right to defecate relentlessly, anytime or any place you feel like it, at least not without consequences.

That's interesting. Our commenter, no longer content with mere invective, has chosen to emphasize the point (shut up) by resorting to the scatological. While some may consider this juvenile approach colorful, it's hardly a substitute for argument.

What you advocate is not democracy, but anarchy.

It's interesting that Unity supporters, who've changed the UFT constitution specifically to preclude democratic election (so the high school teachers couldn't select a non-Unity VP) regard calls to elect new leadership "anarchy." This, again, is baseless name-calling.

Democracies have rule of law and order.

They do indeed. Too bad Unity won't allow high school teachers the right to choose their own leadership. Too bad Randi won't allow the CCs to select UFT workers anymore. It speaks volumes of Unity's interpretation of democracy.

And most importantly, a sense of decorum.

That's code, again, for "Shut up."

I think your biggest problem is that you aren’t on meds, and you need to be, desperately.

The highly prized "sense of decorum," seems to apply only to others, not this commenter. If that's the best retort they can dream up, it's no wonder the censors at Edwize need to work overtime.

You shouldn't be teaching children in that condition.

The commenter suggests criticizing Unity is tantamount to insanity. What on earth could this person be thinking?

Why, oh why would anyone criticize my cozy little double-pension patronage mill? They should enjoy working more hours for, effectively, less pay.

More interesting still is the commenter's implicit assumption that I treat my young students in the same manner as corrupt, ineffectual, self-serving adults.

One can only hope this poster does not treat kids with the same "decorum" shown here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mulgrew's Minions: When We Win We Win, When We Lose We Win, and When Nothing Happens We Win

That's the message we get from Michael Mulgrew and his Minions in UFT Unity, and it's pretty consistent. Last Thursday I got an email from Mulgrew. Of course it was a mass email, as he's far too important to bother speaking directly to the likes of me (or you). It said that Cuomo's committee had recommended a multi-year delay in judging teachers by Common Core junk science. That was confusing to me.

After all, hadn't Mulgrew repeatedly told the DA that junk science was great? Under a "growth model" everyone would be happy and life would be a dream. Hadn't he told us that before the advent of junk science supervisors could rate us any damn way they pleased, and that we were basically stuck with whatever they said? Hadn't he touted the value of the wholly untested and unresearched "growth model?" Nonetheless, the committee's opposition to it represented a Great Victory.

Of course, the email neglected to mention what's contained here. Thanks to blogger Sullio for sharing this:

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers. During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers.

Reading Mulgrew, you might think there'd be an absence of junk science. You'd think we'd be once again at the mercy of our supervisors. Yet capricious and whimsical though Mulgrew says they are, it would be yet another Great Victory. When they don't have all the power, it's a Great Victory. When they get it back, it's a Great Victory. And even though there have only been recommendations and nothing has actually happened, it's another Great Victory.

But even that may not be a good assumption. If the quote above is accurate, that means the recommendation is simply that we substitute one variety of junk science for another.  The draconian and vindictive 50% test score rating, enshrined in law, still stands, And the fact is it's still only a recommendation, not a fait accompli.

Also unaddressed was  the fact that, under our agreement, any teacher with two ineffectives is still guilty until proven innocent. The DOE no longer needs to bother proving those teacher are incompetent. Rather, those teachers will have to prove they are not incompetent.  Of course, whether or not that happens could very well hinge on the UFT Rat Squad. If they vote thumbs up for the embattled teacher, the DOE will have to prove incompetence, as they did 100% of the time before Mulgrew enabled this system, another Great Victory. And as Mulgrew told us at the DA, the Rat Squad only votes thumbs down 70% of the time. That, of course, is yet another Great Victory.

As you see, no matter what happens, it's a Great Victory for Michael Mulgrew and his army of oath signers. No matter what happens to us, or how we feel, they never lose. The fact that teacher morale is swirling the bowl and has been for almost a decade is neither here nor there. Because as miserable as you may be, as long as Mulgrew's Minions get the word out that everything is fine, there are conventions to attend and cushy union gigs to pick up. And best of all, competence is not a factor at all. All you have to do is show unconditional loyalty, and they don't even care if your school votes you out as chapter leader. Vote as they say and keep your gig.

I really have to wonder how whoever writes Mulgrews emails and op-eds manages to keep spitting that stuff out. Most thinking people would probably choke on it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Blatant Electioneering from Unity on Our Dime

Four months before the election, Michael Mulgrew is reaching out to campaign. Evidently the commercial with the bus did not get membership sufficiently fired up. Of course he doesn't say he's doing that. No, the guy who tells us all to get on Twitter and doesn't bother to do so himself is reaching out in a way only he can--having a gala reception for himself on our dime and inviting us to come.

And in a fashion typical of leadership, they are doing a terrible job. I received the note to the left on December 10th, and the invitation to the gala says deadline to RSVP was two days ago. So there are two possible interpretations. One is that they screwed up by sending the note late. The other, and more likely explanation, is that they did not garner enough interest in their previous efforts, and are now making a last-ditch effort to fill the hall.

I've been a chapter leader for seven years, and in that time Mulgrew has had meet and greets once or twice. In the past, we chapter leaders were actually discouraged from attending. We were asked to send new members who hadn't met him before. The first time I really tried to get people to go, but was met with very little interest. Two or three members from my school went, and I went too. It was unmemorable. I believe there was a second time with which I did not bother at all. I don't recall the first being life-changing or anything.

It's tough for me not to note that I'm the chapter leader of the largest school in Queens and that Mulgrew cannot be bothered to answer my email. I've sent him three or four over the years, and after he ignored the first I cross-posted whatever I wrote him to the blog. It's odd now that I'm expected to take time out, pull out every stop, and drag people to see him talk about the great job he imagines he's doing.

Of course I'm not a typical chapter leader. The overwhelming majority are riding that Unity gravy train and have signed a loyalty oath to do whatever they're told, whether it's good for members or not.

Here's the thing--if Michael Mulgrew had gotten all punchy when we went five long years without the raise everyone else got, I might be dragging everyone to see him. If he hadn't offered to punch the faces of virtually every right-thinking person on education for messing with his precious Common Core, that would help too. If he didn't get up in front of God and everybody and declare that bloggers were purveyors of myth, and talk about how nice he was for not calling us liars, even though that's precisely what he was doing, I might feel a little differently.

If Michael Mulgrew managed to get us the only attractive pattern bargain in my living memory, 4 plus 4 in a tough time, I might go meet him. If he hadn't stretched it out over ten years and dumped the worst pattern in my living memory on our brother and sister unionists, I might go. If he hadn't thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for passing the worst piece of crap evaluation system I've ever seen, I might go to see him.  Or not. But you'd better believe every Unity chapter leader in the city is making copies, talking this up, and trying to drag as many UFT members as possible to praise Mike for all the Great Things he's accomplished.

I'm not feeling the love for Mulgrew, the convenient pre-election meeting, or the rigged election in which elementary teachers will help us choose the High School Vice President. And I'm not lifting a finger to help him as he pretends not to be electioneering. We may have the Friedrichs verdict by then, and win or lose it will be a victory for Michael Mulgrew and his Unity Machine.

One more reason I'm voting for Jia Lee, and MORE/ New Action.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Are You Better Off with Mulgrew?

Ten Years After was a band that played at Woodstock. They had this flashy guitar player who used a lot of triplets. It's also what Mulgrew's one and only contract, the one that hasn't even been placed in writing, gave us. We get paid Ten Years After everyone else.

This was hailed as a Great Victory, because everything the Unity Caucus does is a Great Victory. When we gain something, it's a Great Victory. When we lose it, it's another Great Victory. When Mike Mulgrew eats a grilled cheese sandwich, it's a Great Victory.

Think about the teachers with whom you work. How do they like the Danielson Regime, in which your supervisor walks around, godlike with a little iPad to take low inference notes about what he sees, what no one else sees, and what the voices in his head whisper to him? How do they like being rated on the tests of their students, even though there's no validity whatsoever to judging them that way?

I've been teaching thirty years and I have never, ever seen morale so low. Maybe Mike Mulgrew thinks things are better, but teachers I know who've been rated ineffective over test scores are not jumping up and down over it. In fact, teachers who got decent junk science ratings but were trashed by their supervisors aren't jumping up and down over it either. Particularly disinclined to jump up and down are 700 UFT teachers with back to back ineffective ratings. Mulgrew celebrates this number, but since the burden of proof will be on them at 3020a, they're likely to lose their jobs. Do they deserve it? Who knows? Michael Mulgrew hails it as another Great Victory.  And why shouldn't he? He's got every single delegate at NYSUT and AFT bound by loyalty oath to support whatever the hell he feels like supporting.

Our most recent Great Victory is ESSA, the Every School Sucks Act that, the more I read about it, looks like another bonanza for privatizers. I don't trust anything celebrated by Arne Duncan and E4E, and to tell you the truth, I'm beginning to question the string of Great Victories we've enjoyed under our illustrious leader.

I can't wait to vote for Jia Lee and strike a blow for science, reason, and union. If you, like me, think we need a straight-talking leader who isn't insane, Jia is your choice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

45 Things I Say In Class

The following is a list compiled by a former student of mine. He says I tend to repeat one or two of these statements from time to time. Actually, he says I say them all of the time, and also mix and match them on a fairly regular basis. 

Disclaimers---Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I make no claim as to accuracy or lack thereof, but I do notice quite a few of my current students say one or two of these things. 

Of course I have no idea why.


2:How could you?

3:After all my hard work, all my years of sacrifice...

4:What do I ask? Just a little bit .. a litle bit, an itsy-bitsy, teency-weency, teeny-tiny bit... but  NOOOOOOOOO!

5:I‘m so disappointed...

6:Did I say that out loud ? I thought I was just thinking about it...

7:OMG!T. is cutting again?!How could he? (Actually, T. is in classroom, another student pointed to him and claimed he was cutting.) I almost passed him!

8:OMG!You're late...I'm shocked and stunned.

9:You didn't do the homework? You get a big fat zero (places paper zero on desk).

10: You broke my heart!

11: It's nice to be important, but it‘s important to be nice.

12: It's very rude to speak when other people are speaking.

13: Don't speak Chinese (any language) in English class.

14: This class room is NYC Educator land... In NYC Educator land we speak only English. Outside this door is the United States where you can speak whatever language you like.

15: If you‘re mad at me you get big fat zero. If I'm mad at you, you get big fat zero (places paper zero on desk).

16: If you're mad at me, you go to summer school. If I'm mad at  you, you go to summer school.

17: Let's do a little bit vocabulary, just a little bit. ..(writes 500 words on board)

18: I heard something no good.

19: Did you say something no good?

20: I 'm just a little worried.

21: I am not scared of Ms. S. (teacher), and anyone who says I am is a big fat liar.

22: beach, summer school, beach, summer school (pointing one student to another, infinite loop)...

23: good, no good, good, no good (pointing one student to another, infinite loop)...

24: T. is my top student. (about any student, good, bad, or indifferent)

25: X.(one of the girls, almost always) is good student. I won't hear a bad word about her. 

26: No thinking, just writing.

27: Real men don't need to think...

28: Thinking is garbage.

29: T. (student) is very shy, just like me (class laughs out loud).

30: Good news!  Test today.

31: Bad news! No homework tonight.

32: Ms. S. has  big fun...but we work like a dog.

33: Real men teach.

34: Don't call me chicken. Nobody calls me chicken.

35:  You called me a big fat liar? You are a big fat liar.

36: I hate New Jersey.

37: I hate that baby, baby, baby oooooh song. Anyone who sings it in class goes to summer school.

38: I don't like  Justin Bieber.

39: You spoke Chinese in my English class??  L. (one of girls who speaks Spanish) never speaks Chinese in my class .I give her extra credit. Next time, ask yourself if she would speak Chinese in English class. 

40:  Boy: New girl hit me .
NYC Educator: New girl. Did you hit him?
New girl: Yes.
NYC Educator: I'll give you extra credit.

NYC Educator: If new girl speaks Chinese in my class, new guy gets a zero. If new girl speaks Chinese two times in my class. Ms.S. will call new guy's house. 
New guy: Why?
NYC Educator: Because there have to be consequences.

42. I hate Barney the dinosaur, and one day you will too.

43.  Sorry is garbage. 

44.  It's hard work being a real man.

45. Don't even think about it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tech Woes

Yesterday I got in early, which I pretty much always do. I have a workbook I use for homework, but I've now reached volume 2 and I haven't got that. Actually the school owns this book, but cleaned out our bookroom and the one next to it. The dual bookroom had a wall removed and is now a JROTC classroom. I think it's awful, but they claim to like it and who am I to argue?

Fortunately, I collected enough books for a class set before the conversion. But I've searched the new locations several times, and there is neither hide nor hair of any book I use. I'm sure the organization system, which entailed having a bunch of volunteers move everything, had some rhyme, reason or both. However, I cannot detect any.

So I wrote my own assignment, on my little Macbook, and tried to print it. But guess what? The printer didn't work. I loaded it with paper and it still didn't work. I went to another department office where another printer didn't work. Fortunately, as chapter leader I share an office with a corded printer that actually works. (I usually only use the office if I have a very private conversation. This happens rarely enough that I'm the best office mate anyone could want.) With my first success of the day, I went and made copies.

Then I went to the classroom to put up my PowerPoint. But my code didn't work on the computer. The little Apple wheel moved round and round, but it wouldn't let me in. Not being one who's easily dissuaded, I tried our generic "teacher" login. After all, I had the password and everything. But the machine, perhaps sensing I was trying to trick it, rejected that login as well.

Then I wrote everything on the board I'd prepared for the PowerPoint, and set out to check who'd completed the homework. I got on my little computer and logged on to Skedula--well, actually I didn't. It turned out the internet was down. Why? Who knows? DOE internet is moody and does what it feels. So I collected the homework, which I hadn't intended to do today, and the students will get it back tomorrow. My marking hand seems to still work.

These sound like little things, but they happen one after the other, and they seem to happen all the time. I'm not a Luddite, and I actually enjoy working with the computer. But the least they can do, if they want us to utilize them in class, is to keep them in reasonable repair and make them readily accessible.

We don't break. We plan every day and are ready for whatever. And for that, we are vilified by the press, the government, and as often as not, our immediate supervisors. What are the consequences for highly ineffective working conditions? Likely as not, someone lecturing the teacher on failure to adapt or differentiate.

Monday, December 07, 2015

ESSA--Now Less Crappy than Before

That's basically the argument for replacing NCLB with a new annual testing mandate. You no longer have to use Common Core. You aren't required to judge teachers via junk science. Of course, a whole lot of states, including ours, already do both. And there's nothing in the bill that says we can't continue to do it.

In fact, despite Governor Andy's recent lip service questioning the junk science he championed and enabled, state law would have to be changed in order to sidestep teachers not only being rated at 50% by junk science, but also being observed by complete strangers who may or may not have agendas.

Then you read things like this, which seem to demand prospective teachers meet junk science requirements before becoming certified. The fact that they are not, in fact, teachers of record is neither here nor there. Aside from that, it seems like a bonanza for private academies that want to churn out teachers with less training, fewer qualifications and less education. Surely there must be some way to juke the stats and make a few bucks. It's troubling that such concerns, rather than the education of our children, make their way into bills that merit serious consideration. Perhaps more troubling is that such things seem to merit union support.

Personally, I'm wary of anything that merits the support of so-called Educators for Excellence. This is a group founded by two former teachers who claim to represent current teachers, but take tons of money from the reformies to do so. Their main aims seem to be more work for less pay, having teachers judged on junk science, and making us as close to at-will employees as possible. They sneak into schools with the blessing of ignorant principals and claim anyone who goes to one of their events as a supporter. Why would a group like that support anything that would help us or the kids we serve?

Naturally, faux-teacher group E4E supports the movement toward taking action against the bottom 5% of schools, which has included things like closure, receivership, and placing teachers in the ATR or unemployment line. I see nothing about addressing root causes of student underachievement, which entail neither teacher nor school quality. I'm tired of seeing teachers and schools blamed for our abject failure to address poverty.

Then there's the shirking of responsibility for students with disabilities.  While teachers are regularly told the reason kids fail is our failure to differentiate, it's really tough to do so when all kids face the same assessment no matter what. In fact UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly that chronological age ought not to be the sole factor in how students are assessed. Yet in their zeal to avoid root causes by heaping blame on teachers and schools, the writers of this bill appear to have done just that.

Aligning standards for special needs kids with state academic content is tricky. I've watched this unfold with the students I teach, who do not speak English. I went to a curriculum-writing session in which I pointed out to the resident expert that there was no provision for me to teach basic grammar or usage to newcomers. She told me I should use first grade standards for my teenage students. This explicitly indicated the writers of the standards had not considered my kids at all.

The icing on the top of the ESEA cake is the limitation of 1% for alternate assessment. This arbitrary limit might be acceptable if there were no more than 1% of students with disabilities, lack of formal education, or lack of English ability. Sadly that's far from the case, so districts with higher percentages of such students will continue to suffer, and will continue to be scapegoated for the myopia and willful ignorance of this law. Charters will continue to counsel out and toss out such kids as pariahs. They will continue to take no responsibility whatsoever for the huge numbers of students on which their alleged magic fails. Public schools will continue to be scapegoats, and will continue to suffer. In New York, collective bargaining agreement will continue to be abrogated as we blame schools and teachers for government's failures.

Sadly, it looks like allegedly progressive mayor Bill de Blasio will cave to the demands of reformy Merryl Tisch and start closing schools again next year. We need education priorities in these United States that entail helping kids where they are, not one that makes the idiotic presumption that 99% of them are in the same place.

And we need an argument more persuasive than "now with less crap." We are educators and we need to demand rationality.

Or is that to much to ask?