Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Today's Class

Today, after having given our Regents exams, after having finalized and turned in all our grades, NY City high school teachers will face our students. Well, that is, we will face the students who bother to show up. All the students know grades are in. This is an innovation created by Dennis "Waffles" Walcott, reformy extraordinaire.

Personally, I don't believe that grades are everything. I think there's more to education than passing tests. We have a lot of interactions that aren't recorded, and we do a lot of things that are not actually required by contract. Of course we get no credit for these things, not on the Danielson rubric, not on the junk science ratings, and our supervisors don't even know when we work things out for kids. But we're teachers and that's what we do.

Nonetheless, high school students are not coming in today expecting help with non-academic issues. They're not coming in expecting help with academic issues either. In fact, a whole lot of them are simply not coming in at all, and I don't blame them. I mean, it's nice to come and say hello to you teacher and friends. However, when I was a teenager, if you told me that the grades were all in and there were no consequences for my non-attendance, you'd probably find me at the beach.

I teach ESL, and a lot of my students will show up. I'll show up too, because, you know, it's my job and I get paid and stuff. But it's not a productive use of our time. If we all have to come in, and the grades are a fait acompli,  the reformies who devised this should have found a better way for us to spend our time. Maybe they could send us all to a baseball game or a play. Maybe we could visit a college. Maybe there is something we can do other than sit in a classroom when class time is effectively over.

Actually I know they'll never do that, so here's my real idea--why not just push the Regents exams forward one day, and have us teach one day before the Regents exams? Wouldn't a class day be more productive if the students thought it were actually worth showing up?  Now I realize I'm just a lowly teacher whose paycheck is a mere fraction of Dennis Walcott's. And I've never been to a Leadership Academy or even an administration school (though he hasn't either). But naturally, by virtue of his innate reforminess alone, his idea is much better than mine. Still, I have no idea why.

My kids are great, and I'm sure they will pose no problems for me or anyone. But what if they weren't? What if they really didn't want to show and their parents forced them? What if they know their grades cannot be lowered, they can't be suspended, and it's highly unlikely there will be any consequence for any actions that aren't specifically felonious?

Dennis Walcott wasn't worried about things like that, because he wasn't a teacher. Who cares if Johny commits an atrocity in Miss Grundy's class? It's not like the AC was gonna break down in Walcott's  office, or the window air conditioners in Bloomberg's SUV were threatened. It's not like he was gonna have to eat whatever was left over on the last day the school cafeteria was open. And this certainly was not gonna result in bad service at his gala luncheon at the Plaza.

So if you're sitting five periods in a classroom that looks like the one above, consider sending a thank you note to Dennis Walcott. The thing about reformies is they're all about wasting your time. They don't really care about the quality of education. They have their eye on opportunities. After all, Eva Moskowitz is barely pulling in 500K a year, and you can barely buy a house with that these days. There are more charters to be built, and cyber-charters that don't even have to technically exist to rake in the bucks.

If you and your kids have to spend your time sitting around doing nothing for no good reason, well, that's a small price to pay for all this progress.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Charter Logic

It's old news that NY State tends to give Eva Moskowitz a blank check for whatever. First of all, she doesn't need to follow no stinking rules for pre-K. Reformies make a big thing out of talking about "public charter schools," but the only time they're really public is when they've got their hands in your pockets. Once they have your money, they do whatever they damn please.

There's a whole lot of talk about mayoral control, and why or why not Bill de Blasio deserves it. I don't support mayoral control, as it's been an unmitigated disaster for city students and teachers. For years I attended PEP meetings where entire communities spoke in defense of their schools. Bloomberg's stooges sat there and played with their Blackberries as we wasted our breath. Meanwhile, the shell game of shuffling kids from one building to another and closing the schools they entered continued unabated.

When de Blasio was elected, I thought maybe mayoral control wouldn't be so bad. After all, he ran opposing charter schools. But when he denied the Moskowitz Monster increased space, the reformies brought suitcases of cash to Albany and bought themselves a law that NYC would have to pay rent for charters if it denied them space. So basically, mayoral control was absolute with a reformy mayor but modified when anyone not frothing at the mouth took the office.

In short, who needs it? Why does de Blasio even want it? He and Cuomo can complain about how irresponsible it is to have more democracy in school boards, and UFT leadership can join them in that chorus. But teachers and students are certainly not better off with mayoral control. Without it we may not have seen so many comprehensive high schools dismantled rather than improved. In fact, we wouldn't have seen such a weakening in union as schools were staffed with newbies justifiably afraid to stand up.

Meanwhile, the charters needed to get something. So what does Eva need? Evidently, the way to put children first is to get rid of all those inconvenient teacher certification requirements. Why should Eva's teachers have to bother learning how to write lesson plans when they just have them handed to them and do any damn thing they're told? After all, you're lucky if they last an entire school year, and with the incredible churn this makes for uniformity. Better to have someone following a recipe than actually creating a lesson. That's what you want from a role model for your children, isn't it? As long as they pass the tests?

Here's a fact you won't be reading in any of the NY papers--anyone who can't get a job working for the DOE gets one in a charter. Discontinued? No problem. Suspended without pay from the DOE? We welcome you with open arms. Now I'm not saying that people who are in these circumstances necessarily merit them (having seen seen the DOE go after people for no good reason once or twice) . But isn't it ironic that you read all this crap from Eva's astroturf buddies, "Families for Excellent Schools," about how awful we are, and how the DOE needs more power to get rid of us--yet when they do get rid of us, they're the first ones to grab us up and put us to work?

There is an effort to marginalize our profession. That's why outfits like TFA are happy to grab up Ivy League do-gooders and have them educate the bootless and unhorsed for a few years before they get Real Jobs administering Daddy's hedge fund, or whatever. That's why reformy Belweather, under the guise of helping us, unashamedly attacks our pensions with false claims. And that's a good part of why Moskowitz and her BFFs want to hire less qualified teachers even as they claim to be saving the children from the scourge of unionized career teachers.

The other part, of course, is that they don't want to deal with people full of independent thought. Better to grab them right out of college before they develop a voice. And I guess that's good if we're raising children to be complacent Walmart employees.

I want something better for our children, not only now but also when they grow up. That's why I support union and oppose charter schools. Trump and Obama and Duncan and Gates and all the folks who run schools can talk all day about charters and "choice." But the only choice I want for our kids is the choice to send them to the same kinds of schools to which our leaders send their own kids. I want schools with small class sizes, with ample supplies and decent facilities. I want schools that educate the whole child rather than test prep.

It needs to be about what our kids need, not just whatever Eva wants.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Day by Day in the ATR

A lot of us have no idea what ATRs go through. I speak to ATRs frequently, and I have a very good idea of how I'd feel as an ATR. Over at ATR Adventures, Bronx ATR tells it like it is, and pretty much like I thought it would be:

 Everything is taken away from you, except the pay check. 

Many ATR teachers tell me that the answer they get when they complain to UFT reps is that they still have a job. I'm glad for that. But as for me, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in what I do. If I were coming to work every day to teach Chinese, physics, trigonometry, or whatever, I would feel very differently than I do now about the prospect of coming to work every morning.

You will have no routine. You won't know the kids, teachers, administrators, building, or neighborhood. 

That's pretty depressing. We make little connections that make our lives meaningful. Our relationships with our students deepen and blossom over the year and we're eventually able to understand them fairly quickly. Of course, on the first days they're testing us to see what they can get away with. Thus the saying, "Don't smile until Christmas." If you're an ATR, Christmas never comes and every week could be the first week.

You will spend a lot of money in parking garages or on tickets. You will have a new cold every time you change schools, because of the different populations and stress. 

You sometimes need to get the hang of parking. At some schools, people rent driveways so they won't have to spend time looking around. That last part, about frequent colds,  was unexpected. But I do know several ATRs who have frequent colds and health issues. 

You will have to carry everything with you- coat, bag, food, etc.. You will start at 9 in one school, 7:35 at another.

School schedules are notoriously fickle. I think at our school this is the first time in a while it's stayed the same two years in a row. But imagine going from one school to another. Every time you make connections, it's time to leave. In our chronically overcroweded school there are places to hang coats. But bags and such, well, you'd have to be lucky.

And don't forget the rampant prejudice against ATR teachers, by both us and administration. Back when I used to write for Gotham School, where they subjected me to brutal editing, they gleefully posted a piece by a young teacher full of stereotypes about ATRs. I'm lucky that, in my school at least, admin seems to take them one at a time. There are four former ATR teachers permanently appointed in my department, though one is technically an English rather than ESL teacher.

Bronx ATR has some good advice for his ATR colleagues:

  Try to have a positive attitude. Try to exercise more, preferably before work. Watch yourself for depression and addictions ( shopping, overeating, gambling, and any of the more illicit ones). I have several friends who have become seriously ill and quit. Dress in layers - some schools are 90 degrees, others 40. Carry hand sanitizer and earplugs. (Yes, believe it or not, these rooms can get so loud your hearing will be in danger.) Carry some generic class work. Expect no help from the UFT and you won't be disappointed. Pick your battles, because you may win the battle and lose the war. Most importantly- don't lose your head.

I'm going to first say I understand having low expectations. But I'm also going to say that people in leadership do help ATR teachers. I learned this when Amy Arundell, who I did not know at all at the time, called me out of the blue and demanded that I help an ATR teacher get a job in my school. I was pretty happy to get a request like that. It was much better than previous requests, like, "You MUST support this thing/ candidate/ bad idea/ whatever." Those requests were easy to ward off, with, "What are you gonna do if I don't? Throw me out of Unity Caucus?" People who work for the union don't expect to hear that.

Anyway I managed to get this person an interview, my AP was impressed, and this person was temporarily hired. Alas, the principal was not impressed, and this person was gone at year's end. But a year or two later we got a new principal who actually liked what he saw, and now this person is permanently appointed. I was very proud to be part of a loose group of people who found common cause and made this happen.

Of course low expectations mean never being disappointed. I make it a point to enter certain enterprises with very low expectations. The rest of the advice is on point, and I've seen bad things happen to those who don't take it. I'd add that blogger Chaz has a very healthy attitude about being an ATR, and that's worth emulating too.  He strives to find the humor in his situation, and manages to overcome the worries that bother so many ATR teachers.

Be kind to ATR teachers you meet. They're usually in that situation for the crime of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Show them around and introduce them to people. Try to make them as comfortable as you can. Always remember, there but for the grace of God go you, or indeed me.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

At the Skinnies

The highlight of the educational season, of course, is the Class Size Matters Skinny Awards. Leonie Haimson organizes them and finds a whole lot of cool stuff happening in education. In fact, I won one year. People are always coming up to me and saying, "Hey, aren't you that guy who won the Skinny award?" I get all "Aw shucks," before coming around and saying, "Yeah, that's me."

The restaurant was okay, and we got a coupon for a free drink. However, they didn't have tap beer so Norm Scott and I ran down the block and found some. Norm picked up the tab, and I'm thankful, but three years ago we drank fourteen-dollar beers at the NY Hilton and I paid. I'm still waiting for someone to buy me a fourteen-dollar beer. But you can hardly find them anywhere. 

This year there were multiple people and things that bore celebrating. First, of course, were the lawyers who gave their time to Class Size Matters. There were up and down stories, but I was very happy to hear of a victory against one of my least favorite humans, Andrew Cuomo. Though Cuomo claims to be a "student lobbyist," he lobbies for less money for schools that most need it. Wendy Lecker and David Sciarra put an end to that plan.

Another victory was rendering School Leadership Team meetings public, and that was led by Arthur Schwartz and Laura Barbieri. When this first happened, I wondered why it was so important. At my school, SLT meetings are not particularly eventful, and I always kind of thought if anyone wanted to watch, well, go ahead. In fact sometimes people did ask and that's exactly what we told them. But things are different elsewhere, and I'll get back to that.

It was amazing and inspiring to see two student journalists from Townsend Harris. Brian Sweeney, their faculty advisor, had nothing but praise for Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, and it was great to see students honored in a forum that usually recognizes adults.

These particular students worked to expose their then-principal, Rosemarie Jahoda, and I don't suppose she'll be sending them a Christmas card. There is, nonetheless, a never-ending supply of shortsighted Leadership Academy principals with little teaching experience and even less regard for either students or faculty. It's really hard for me to understand why the DOE looks at an administrator who's presided over other disasters and says, "Hey, let's give that person a promotion."

A great moment for me was when the CPE 1 parents were honored. Their determination and dedication is an example for us all. I've watched them for months as they showed up everywhere and anywhere to tell their story to everyone and anyone. They broke into song as they were honored. They represent what can be if we are fearless and determined. They are a model, and given Orange Man's plan to make the USA Right to Work, we're gonna need a good model. They attended not only their SLT meetings, but also the 3020a hearings of the chapter leader, like the UFT delegate, facing charges for no reason whatsoever, according to the arbitrators.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa was there. Diane Ravitch was there. Representing the UFT as far as I could see, other than Norm and yours truly, were Katie Lapham, Jonathan Halabi, Gary Rubinstein, and Aixa Rodriguez. UFT leadership sent exactly no one to celebrate these achievements. At the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly they spoke of what a good job they did at Harris and CPE 1, but it appears beyond the pale for them to either celebrate with or give any sliver of credit to spontaneous and independent education activism. 

I don't doubt that leadership helped with both of these situations, but these things don't happen in isolation. The key factor in both these situations was the actors themselves, to wit, the people being honored at the Skinnies. Leadership's role was one of support. To praise itself while ignoring the incredible bravery of the kids at Harris, or the community at CPE 1, is folly, to say the very least.

Therefore, UFT leadership's absence on Tuesday night was beyond disappointing. Come Right to Work America we're gonna need all the help we can get. Activism will no longer be optional, and we will need to not only celebrate it, but also replicate it wherever possible. If we're too timid and cautious to ally ourselves with those who support progressive education, we're gonna find ourselves out on a limb and all alone. It's sorely disappointing that not one UFT official could show, or even assign someone else to show.

I sincerely hope that leadership can be just a little more forward thinking, beginning right now, and I hope to see someone next year representing the union at large. I'm sure there will be similar events before next year, and in case they want ideas, they know where to find me. As for the Skinnies, if they can't scrape up the money to buy a couple of tickets next year, it's on me. Just let me know.

Little things can mean a lot.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Do Pensions Cheat Teachers?

You'd think so, if you read this article in the Daily News, written by folks in reformy Bellwether Education Partners. Personally, I'm suspicious when reformies start looking out for us. Why are the same people who brought us junk science ratings, charters, and all sorts of other nonsense suddenly so interested in our welfare?

The argument is, essentially, that most teachers don't stay long enough to get vested, and that even those who do, may not make it:  

Even if a New York teacher does stay for 10 years, qualifying for some pension does not guarantee it will be a good pension. In New York, a young teacher must stay 24 years before her pension will finally be worth at least her own contributions into the plan plus interest.

I don't suppose anyone thinks ten years equals a good pension, so I'm not sure why that's a revelation. A problem with the second sentence is that is it's simply not true. Teachers can get their contributions back plus interest even if they aren't vested. Once people make assertions that are blatantly untrue, I find it hard to trust them at all. But that's just me.

A better argument is that they lose out on employer contributions. You retain them only if you stay longer, and you could argue that's inequitable. You could also argue, however, that healthy people pay too much for health insurance because they fail to get sick. That's what the Trumpies seem to be saying. In fact, you could make similar arguments against Social Security. Not everyone receives it, and in fact you DON'T get contributions back if you're unwise enough to say, die before you're eligible for payment.I suppose that could become a Trumpie argument for privatization.

On the other hand, you could argue that this system is designed to reward longevity. Is that a bad thing? It's hard for me to see why. You would hope that, with time, teachers acquire wisdom. You would also hope that, with said wisdom, teachers could enrich the lives of our children. Or you could ignore longevity altogether and worry more about how much money someone who quickly gives up teaching takes to the next gig.

The article seems to prefer defined contribution plans, like 401K, to defined benefit plans, like ours. Of course, even the inventor of the 401K plan says it was not designed to replace pensions. Companies favor them because they're off the hook for long-term benefits. But clearly people who receive defined benefits are better off than those who do not. You'll forgive me if I worry more about such people than, say, the Walmart family.

The superiority of defined benefits  applies even to recipients of Tier 6, which sucks compared to Tier 4. Do we want to encourage a gig economy, where people wake up, clean up after horses, drive for Uber, drop off their passengers, and then go to barista jobs to make mochachino for people who work for Bellwether? Do we want to rely on TFAs just passing through on their way to real careers? Or do we want dedicated educators teaching our kids?

In fact, if new teachers want to save more money, they have the option of contributing to TDA. Right now there's a fixed option that would give them 7%. That's 7% more of a guarantee than they'd get with a 401K, under which they could actually lose money. If they want to take more risk, there are a variety of funds they could choose.

Many new teachers do not give a second thought to saving money. I'd argue that forcing them to put away 6% of their pay, as they do in Tier 6, is doing them a service. Young people tend not to be focused on the long-term. In September I had to pretty much bully a young teacher into signing up for health benefits by persuading her she was not, in fact, Supergirl. The only reason I'm in TDA is because a former chapter leader urged me to start at 5%. He told me I wouldn't notice the difference. I didn't, and upped my contributions as I could afford them. I'm grateful for that. 

I'm pretty tired of reading idiotic studies suggesting that teachers don't improve after two years, implying we should therefore replace experienced teachers with newbies. I'm also tired of business owners trying to give the lowest common denominator to working people. I started this job working for $14,000 a year, and that year I turned down an offer of a higher paying job driving a FedEx truck. The first day I taught, a grizzled old vet told me to get out while I could and get a job in Long Island. I decided right then and there that I never wanted to be like that guy, and I'm happy to say that over thirty years later I'm not.

I love this job. I love the kids I teach and it's my honor and privilege to serve them. I could retire tomorrow if that weren't true, and the day that it isn't, I will do just that. But hell, I'm thankful I have a defined benefit plan. I'm very happy that if something were to happen to me after I retired, I can make sure my wife is taken care of. I do have money in TFA, and I've saved as much as I could. But I'm glad I don't have to depend on it.

As for Bellwether, if they're so concerned about teachers, I suggest they take a stand against the junk science ratings that freak us out on such a regular basis. I suggest they take a position against private and charter schools that undermine public education. I suggest, since they're so concerned about quality education, that they push to emulate Finland, where all teachers are unionized and the rich people have to send their kids to public schools just as the poor people do.

And I respectfully suggest, when that happens, education will improve. You'll see better teaching conditions for teachers, and therefore better learning conditions for students. As a direct result, the number of short-term teachers will decrease significantly. Then Bellwether won't need to worry so much about those who don't make pension.

I'm always available for consultation, if they're interested. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

DA Takeaway June 2017

I agree with Mulgrew that the state ought to keep out of NYC business. While Mulgrew spoke of this in terms of mayoral control, I'd argue it extends to a few other areas. I recall when our good buddy Senator Flanagan was pushing the Bloomberg dream bill that would kill seniority rights for NYC teachers only. It was amazing this guy had the audacity to back this bill, which wouldn't have affected his district at all.

Another example of the state pushing its unwelcome nose into NYC issues was when it insisted that NYC pay for charter rent whether or not it wanted said charters. Back when reformy Mike Bloomberg was mayor, he could do any damn thing he wanted, When NYC chose a leader who openly opposed charters, the state needed to supersede the voters. School choice, actually, means you choose to support and enrich the reformies. When you choose otherwise, screw you and the horse-carriage you rode around Central Park in.

I don't, however, support mayoral control. I agree with Mulgrew that the current form is awful, but I have not been altogether impressed with the central DOE. I'd like to see a form of governance that had community voice beyond the ability to get up at PEP and be ignored by all. James Eterno suggests, without mayoral control, we might see that. For my money, mayoral control has been a disaster, resulting in the breakup of many community schools and a weakening of union citywide. I have no idea what it's good for, other than weakening community. Diane Ravitch wrote Gates and other reformies love it, because they don't have to go through all that messy democracy stuff. Patrick Sullivan would shed no tears for its demise.

Of course I'm not happy with the ATR severance package. I'd like to see ATR teachers be, you know, teachers, rather than individuals condemned to wander the DOE desert. I know that if my school were closed it would be very tough for me to find a job, and my observation reports are not bad at all. Yet I'm at top salary, and I'm confident my principal would offer little protest if I were to refer to myself as a pain in the ass. We have known for decades that it was tough for seasoned teachers to transfer into higher-paying Long Island districts. The 2005 contract made it just as difficult for us to move within our own district.

There was quite an interesting comment from an elementary chapter leader who's been excessed after 16 years. Her principal had been told to max out the classes and get rid of everyone she no longer needed. She asked about class size reduction, which would save her job. Mulgrew said UFT was on the case, and I hope he's right. However, at an Executive Board meeting where we pushed class size as a priority, we were told the union sacrificed to place class size in the contract. It wasn't mentioned that it happened 50 years ago, and judging from the excessed chapter leader, it has worked in a less than optimal fashion. Mulgrew, who generally pops in to say a few words and leaves, wasn't even there. Class size needs to be much more of a priority than it is now. There are multiple reasons for this, but if we want to be selfish and look only at how it benefits teachers, that chapter leader is a case in point.

Jonathan Halabi got up and objected to the endorsement of Fernando Cabrera. Cabrera's beliefs, according to this piece, and the included video, are less than praiseworthy, to me at least.

"Godly people are in government," Mr. Cabrera said, referring to Uganda's leadership. "Gay marriage is not accepted in this country. Even when the United States of America has put pressure and has told Uganda, 'We’re not going to fund you anymore unless you allow gay marriage.' And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation."


Mr. Cabrera goes on to praise the nation's socially conservative positions for an alleged rapid decline in the country’s AIDS rate, and says the infusion of religion into government has helped the country's financial outlook.


I can only suppose that I'm not Mr. Cabrera's kind of people. I'd certainly hope that UFT leadership weren't either. A Unity member got up and asserted that what Jonathan said wasn't true, with no evidence as to why not. It's pretty clear to me that Jonathan was absolutely right, and that Cabrera's ties to the so-called alt-right indicate he's not to be trusted.

Peter Lamphere got up and asked for support for FMPR. I went to the Dark Horse pub afterward and listened to FMPR President Mercedes Martinez. I left completely assured she is a badass advocate for Puerto Rican teachers, students and people, willing to go the extra mile for them. They did, however, disaffiliate themselves from AFT at some point, and there's a lot of bad blood. I'd argue FMPR, in its current form, is kind of a union opposition caucus on steroids. Of course, I think there is a need for such organizations.

A big hanging question mark is Janus. I had hoped Mulgrew would elaborate on what the state might do to counter it. Instead I heard that it will depend on what the specific ruling is, and I can't argue with that. It's funny to be a chapter leader, contemplating what to do with people who choose not to pay union dues. It's pretty sad that we live in a country so ignorant of what union means for working people.

Maybe we should move to make the American union movement a bigger part of what we teach in history classes. When I was in high school, I heard not one single word about it. I hear it gets covered somewhat, but I think its importance is not well understood, even within our union. I have issues with UFT leadership, and I may have referred to them here or there on this little blog. But I know exactly where we stand without union, and it's no place I want to be. It's no place I want for my kid or my students either.

Monday, June 19, 2017

FMPR Stands Tall in the Bronx

Saturday night I attended a Bronx forum with Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico leadership. It was organized by tireless UFT activist Aixa Rodriguez. MORE's Jia Lee and New Action's Jonathan Halabi were also in attendance.

If you've been following the news about Puerto Rico, even a little bit, you know it's in an economic mess. They're 72 billion dollars in debt, and controlled by a board that pretty much doesn't give a crap about the people who live there. Pensions have been eliminated for most public workers. Though teachers have somehow avoided that particular fate, funding for them should disappear sometime next year. This is a dire issue, as Puerto Rican teachers neither pay nor receive social security.

I'm fascinated by the saga of union in Puerto Rico. FMPR was formed in 1966 as an alternative to AMPR, which they call a company union. FMPR leadership says AMPR views teachers as professionals, whereas they view us as working people. This is an interesting distinction, because UFT often calls iteself a union of professionals. Does being a "professional" somehow preclude being a working person?

Another thing that makes things a little cloudy is that AMPR represents administrators. I've always thought it odd that administration had a union at all, but being in the same union with them would be awkward indeed. As a chapter leader, I'm generally careful about how I speak with and treat UFT members. I'm a little more direct with administrators. I'm not sure how I'd do my job if I were uneasy about being directly adversarial with administration when necessary.

FMPR is upset because AMPR leadership didn't oppose school closings. Does that remind you of anyone? Under today's AMPR leadership, 45,000 teachers somehow became 32,000 teachers. This is similar to (although considerably worse than) what happened under Bloomberg in NYC as he failed to replace retirees. I can't be the only one who's noticed that 34 students in a class has become more the norm than the max these days.

In 1999, public employee strikes were prohibited by law in Puerto Rico. That's the same year FMPR became the exclusive bargaining agent for Puerto Rican teachers. In 2008, FMPR led a 10-day strike. While they won a raise for teachers, they also incurred the wrath of the government, which decertified them as a bargaining agent. That year, Puerto Rican teachers were given a choice to affiliate with AMPR. AMPR was the only name on the ballot, and managed to lose anyway. (Can you imagine one of those countries who gets a "democratic" yes or no vote on the dictator in which the dictator loses?)

A few years later, again given the choice of AMPR or nothing, Puerto Rican teachers chose AMPR. I suppose they believe AMPR is better than nothing. Now personally, I don't see, "Better Than Nothing" as the optimal campaign slogan. I guess if you have no opponent, though, it'll do well enough.

In 2005, FMPR disaffiliated itself from AFT. This is undoubtedly why we had trouble getting them support at the UFT Executive Board and Delegate Assembly. FMPR did not feel AFT was doing enough for them. On Saturday night they labeled AFT as unresponsive and corporate. I can understand that. I pay dues to AFT, but I have no vote in it, and no one UFT sends represents my point of view or that of my caucus. And it's not just me. 20,000 NYC high school teachers selected MORE/ New Action to represent them, yet not only AFT, but also NYSUT and NEA have only UFT Unity loyalty oath signers voting.

The AFT disaffiliation had other unintended consequences for FMPR. Because their formal name labeled themselves part of AFT, the government was able to follow up the decertification with a 2010 ruling that they were not a "bonafide" organization. I found that incredible. It was as though the government had declared they didn't exist, and expected them to simply disappear as a result. Somehow, despite having been decertified, they were still collecting union dues. That ended in 2010.

However, 4500 Puerto Rican teachers choose to remain with this activist group, and though their salaries run from only 21-40K per year, they choose to pay dues to two groups. FMPR leaders were fired from their teaching jobs, but they persevered, working multiple jobs to get by. These people never give up no matter what the government does to them.

FMPR is still quite active, supporting one-day strikes and various events. I was happy to hear they greeted Arne Duncan with a one-day strike in 2011. When students strike they support them by showing up and bringing them food and encouragement. So far they've been able to sidestep charter schools and privatization, but that may not last, as recent government dictates allow for it.

Activism is a tricky thing. If things are not that bad, activism is often dormant. Puerto Rico hasn't got that problem, because unfortunately things are dire over there. They don't bother paying substitute teachers these days, and just send kids home when teachers are sick. In the face of school closings even worse than those of rabid Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, students may not even be able to get to school. And who will fight for transportation for those stranded kids? FMPR, of course.

I went to the UFT Mayday rally. I saw maybe 20 people from Unity, and about the same number from MORE/ New Action. In Puerto Rico, 60,000 people took to the streets. They're tired of paying debts incurred by banks, debts they had nothing to do with. They're tired of being on austerity because the crooks in the government mismanaged finances and took no responsibility whatsoever.

Take a look at the Orange Man in DC and ask yourself how hard it would be for that to happen here. There but for the grace of God go us. I'm impressed by the passion and determination of FMPR leadership. It's something we need not only to support, but also emulate.

AFT is now excited about the possibility of affiliating itself with AMPR and gaining a boost in membership. I guess, as we face the specter of Right to Work America, that's a smart move. A smarter move, though, would be to foster and replicate FMPR-style activism.

Alternatively, we can sit on our hands, wait until things get as bad here as they are in Puerto Rico now, and continue hoping for the best.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Getting the Song and Dance at the UFT Pension Consult

I’ve been getting feedback of late about end-year pension consults.  I can’t do much about it, not only because have I nothing to do with them, but also because I'm far from an expert on pension. Numbers are not really my forte. But three people who attended a UFT  pension workshop together just reported about their consultations, and all three seemed to wonder over different things. One had a particularly tough experience.

My friend couldn’t get an appointment at UFT Queens for a retirement consult, so she went to Manhattan. She found a coupon, paid $35 for parking and a little more for a roundtrip EZ pass fee. When she got to her destination, the UFT rep went on the computer, and it took her at least five minutes to figure out what my friend would make if she retired in 2020. That’s unusual, since it’s an average, and then a multiple of 2% per year. I don’t like to brag, but I'm a high school graduate and could have figured that pretty quickly.

She then asked how much she’d make if she were to retire now. The woman took another five minutes, and then came up with a figure that clashed with the one my friend had calculated at the UFT retirement workshop. My friend, as instructed, asked the UFT employee to check her W2s. The pension person requested her 2017 returns. This is unusual, as few people I know do their tax returns before the year actually ends. (Maybe Donald Trump, but everyone knows rules don't apply to kings.)

It then took the woman another five minutes to flip through the returns and determine that 2017 was not, in fact, a year for which my friend would have one. Instead of looking through five years of returns, as my friend was asked in a letter, the rep looked only at the 2016 returns and came up with a figure that way. This was problematic because my friend could have made more money other years. In fact, my friend says 2013, 14, and 15 were her best years.

When my friend asked about medical expenses, the woman told her they would be exactly the same. This is unusual, because retirees no longer get prescriptions via UFT Welfare Fund. They to tend to, therefore, incur higher costs. Perhaps the UFT employee didn’t know that. Oddly, I do.

My friend then told the rep that she had gone for a workshop at Queens UFT, attended by 150 people, and that the information she was giving contradicted what she had heard at the workshop. The rep contended the information at the workshop was incorrect. My friend then asked if there was any more information she could give, and the rep said no. The rep claimed said she was correct, and that someone in Queens told 150 people the wrong thing.

My friend then stood up, and said, “Thank you. This consultation is now over.” The rep said, “Look at you. You’re standing up. You have an attitude.” My friend then went outside. The rep followed her and gave her version of the meeting to everyone who happened to be in the waiting room, making certain all present knew about my friend's attitude.

My friend asked the rep to please stop announcing the results of this meeting to everyone in the room, and requested a supervisor. Eventually she got a name. At the appointed floor, someone came out and said a person, not the supervisor, was expecting her. The rep had evidently given her a heads-up. My friend got to give her version of the story to this person. The person apologized for the inconvenience and offered a consultation with someone she described as the top person. My friend asked if they would cover her parking the next time and was told they don't do that.

I'm sorry she has to go again. But I don't blame her for having an attitude. Everyone has an attitude. The best thing to do, as far as I'm concerned, is to adjust it to suit the situation. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

UFT Delegate Assembly June 14 2017--Homophobes Yes, ATRs and FMPR No

Announcements

Mulgrew welcomes us to final DA school year. Discusses PD survey and large response. Says 61% have curriculum. 67% aligned with PD. Little support for ESL teachers. Special education marginally better. Insufficient CTLE PD. 72% have PD committee, up from 50. PD committee, 66% has meaningful input. 12% say superintendent determines PD.

President’s Report

speaks of VA shooting. Says we cannot accept hate at any time, as rationale for violence.

National—believes Senate will pass a version of health care. Says we will not have an issue in NY because we have great Senators, but perhaps they will pass something as they leave for July 4th holiday. Negotiations at night in secrecy. Says person occupying White House now calls House bill mean, but says Senate bill is full of heart and passion.

Betsy DeVos—says he thinks she should be on TV every day. Let her talk. This would be a great campaign. Let people see what Sec. of Ed. stands for. Once again, she keeps saying it’s up to state whether they want to recognize civil rights. It’s actually illegal, and he hopes people recognize.

Janus fast tracked. We assume US will become Right to Work country, and we think it may happen early 2018.

State—Mayoral control—introduced bill for charter accountability and transparency. Press only wants to talk about mayoral control. Mulgrew would trade nothing for mayoral control. Says he doesn’t support this version of mayoral control, but supports mayoral control. Says 40 school boards preclude great education and proper funding.

Heastie says every year there are “self-governing” issues all over the state. They are all passed by Assembly, which supports local control of local governments. When they ask what we are doing Mulgrew said this is a bunch of crap, because we’re the only county that doesn’t get our local control issues. Rest of state works by different set of rules, has to pay price for what it wants. No longer about mayoral control, but rather precedent that NYC has to pay for its local control issues.

Speaker has said he is now not passing any other local issues. If mayoral control sunsets, next May it will go back to school boards. This will be big fight. Doesn’t matter what version of mayoral control because it appears nothing will get done. If they don’t respect NYC autonomy, Assembly won’t respect other local autonomy. If we don’t get something done there will be 40 school board elections and charters will also be active.

Our position is NYC should be treated as all other municipalities.

Regents—We will go from three to two days of testing in grades 3-8. Consultants lost. Pushed back on standards. Board of Regents directs education, and wants work done on ELLs, preK, and special ed. It is a lot of work, due to our advocacy.

City

CTLE—will be summer training. DOE now approved vendor, but not doing it yet. We’re doing a summer training, will increase number of instructors. Also for paras.

One more day to enroll for catastrophic insurance. Over 8,000 enrolled. Recommended by Welfare Fund.

DOE diversity plan—happy it’s recognized, but plan will not be very helpful. We will have further discussion.

ATR severance packag
e—we have contractual provision, we are always trying to negotiate and have got it done. Have sent out to ATRs. Believe it should be quite helpful. 900 eligible of 1100. Not easy, DOE didn’t want to do it. Believes there will be significant changes in this pool by this time next year. Severance is not pensionable, but if you retire you still get retro.

Mulgrew suggests we all have a party with beer. Is greeted with great enthusiasm, but no one follows up.

Decided not to focus on pursuing skirmishes school to school, and rather to look at systemwide improvements.  We will continue individual fights but we want to picket superintendents. We agree with the mayor that schools should strive for supportive, respectful and safe environments. We need to hold supes responsible for doing jobs with principals. City not doing job.

We have anecdotal evidence but at this time of year we have data, had conversations with field staff. Picked one superintendency in Brooklyn. Supe contracted UFT borough rep, had horrible meeting. Lack of info between supe and team. At next meeting borough rep got everything she asked for. Supe acted differently as chancellor was in room. Data was irrefutable. Created team with chapter leaders to meet as advisory committee.

Tenure decisions come this year. What is criteria? Is it about whether supe likes principal or not? Have said there was evidence of that and will move forward. Said supe behavior has clearly been modified and we have ways of fixing things if they move back. We can always picket again, but we want to first implement agreement. High schools there no longer mandated to use balanced literacy.

We had data and an irrefutable case. This gave us ability to make change. We used DOE data. They denied it and we told them it was their own. We hope to move everything this way next year.

Year Roundup—Says it started election day. Was a wake up. Doesn’t know if we would’ve accomplished our goals but election day showed we are now at forefront of fighting for public ed. Not perceived but real threat. Says it’s time to get over depression. Everyone here figured it out and started moving. Participated in women’s march. We then got introduced to Betsy DeVos, made inroads in her hearing. Most well-known Sec. of Ed. in US. We will continue to battle with her.

DeVos budget horrendous. Showed at state level what we were facing. We brought in folks from Michigan, who presented to legislature of NYS. Budget showed protection of public ed. NYS said this is what you do with public ed.

We introduced chapter advocacy program, and pushed paperwork process. We had 313 complaints. 93% were resolved in our favor. Whoever used it knows no principal wants supe to know what happens in their school. Those resolved centrally were not good for those below. Thanks Debbie Poulos.

APPR complaints successful.
Teachers got 4.5% increase in May.

Constitutional Convention vote coming next year.

City Council budget
—presented to them on teacher’s choice. Asked for 20 million, and got 20.1 million.  Number should be in excess of $200 per person.

Community learning schools—results are off the charts. We got 2 mil from state and 1.5 from City Council. Proves solving poverty means coming to UFT.

15 PLC schools. Changed culture, trained everyone. Custodians, cafe staff, everyone comes. Changing culture reduces suspensions.

Next year Constitutional Convention, Janus. Will see what comes from feds. Student achievement and grad rate higher than ever.  We want city and state to protect us and allow us to thrive, and we have achieved our goals. We will still have fights. We will still have to modify behavior of those in middle management.


Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr—

Endorses beer idea. Thanks counselors. Eid recognized, schools closed June 26. Reminds us to set up committees, complete SBOs. Mentions catastrophic insurance. Mentions Hometown Heroes, collaborative event to commemorate educators. Asks for nominations. Says you can nominate principal if you have great working relationship. Wishes happy summer to all.

Mulgrew—Says MLC had to figure out health care savings. Says there was a lot of debate here. Says things we utilize most will drop in price. Says we are only work force that doesn’t pay for health care and we have officially reached our requirement. 5:28


Questions—

CL—Just got excessed with four others there for over 16 years. Last year, principal said was drop in enrollment. Has dropped by half. Had thought they were safe. Excessed because of salary increase from raises, said principal. Says her budget office told her she had to max out every classroom and everyone else had to go. At some point in future, can we achieve goal of lowering class size? Can we put lowering class size back on table?

Mulgrew—already on table. We want and tell NYC we have to lower class sizes. That principal told you that means I have to hear from superintendent what she thinks of that. We will look at budget and find things that need to be cut.  Class size piece always front and center. We have this some places because of gentrification. We have to deal with this. Lots of teachers are embracing mobility. If we are going to have drastic changes, major drop in population, we may need a different system for mobility. Other districts exploding. May have to look at more flexible transfers.

CL—Praises Mulgrew. Summative conferences happening, but many teachers haven’t gotten all observations. What is recourse if principal didn’t do job and rating not good?

Mulgrew—Have to document. Next year is first year of matrix. Matrix is our friend. Waiting to see results. If you haven’t had required number of observations, you have to document it. This is why committees are mandated. 60% of schools in one superintendency didn’t do required applications. CL should report to DRs.

CL—If Janus goes as we expect, what happens to benefits, grievances, will I check list when people ask for help?

Mulgrew—Depends a lot on decisions. What you get in benefits from Welfare Fund is more than you get in dues. What if benefits are withheld? Will depend on SCOTUS.

Q—Many staff members receiving D, not happy. What is their right, what is UFT doing to help?

Mulgrew—District 3 has precious superintendent. We are pulling data. Want to see what else is going on in school, in this district. One member has developing because he couldn’t service ELL kids in his care, but his class had so many different levels it would meet educational neglect level. Asking principal and supe what they are doing.


Motions

James Eterno—Resolution for vote on ATR agreement, meetings and votes for ATRs. Reads, cannot motivate as it is for this month.

Voted down.

Endorsements—Paul Egan—various city council candidates.

Passes.

Jonathan Halabi—New Action—Given what happened in November, people have been strategizing on preventing Trump agenda. We need to be at forefront locally. One candidate, Fernando Cabrera, doesn’t share our values on hate. Key funding from far right orgs. They know who’s most open to those suggestions. On charters, not clear, open to funding things we’d oppose. Open to funding private schools. Boasts he is social conservative, and district is conservative. Worst is he is a homophobe. Believes, preaches, and came back from Uganda, praised jailing gays and lesbians. Not good enough when we know what is in his heart. We know there is real danger of hate, not because he voted wrong, but because he is not with us.

Marjorie Stamberg—When endorsements come up, we have to stop thinking in terms of individuals and think in terms of class. Democrats can’t fight Trump. We need union movement.

Eliu Lara—Disagrees with Jonathan, says he’s not homophobe. Says he spent 18 years as counselor. Says he approves.

Halabi—Point of order—asks for separate vote on Cabrera.

Mulgrew—denies.

Questions called.

Resolution passed.

Contingency Resolution—Paul Egan—Asks for Exec. Board to endorse during summer.

Passed.

Solidarity with AMPR—Evelyn de Jesus—Puerto Rico suffering. Hedge funds want money. Board wants to get paid first, worry about island later. Says AMPR, sole bargaining unit, has reached out for support. Asks for support.

Peter Lamphere—Moves to amend—asks to insert FMPR. Evelyn correct AMPR bargaining agent. Is more than one agent. FMPR led strike, and is reason PR doesn’t have charters. Entire leadership was fired. DA voted in solidarity with them, would like to extend this solidarity.

LeRoy Barr—Rises in support of resolution, against amendment. Says we support all workers. PR under devastation, and all need our support. We have only endorsed this group because they came to us via AFT. National level comes via AFT. This group worked with AFT and disaffiliated. Group does not have right to bargain for PR teachers right now. We’re gonna fight on behalf of injustice. Asking we do not allow res to be amended by something that violates our own process. Let them go back to AFT and get approval.

Question called.

Amendment fails.

Resolution passes.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Three Hour PD

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember Gilligan's Island. The premise was a bunch of people were going to take a three hour tour. Instead, they ended up stuck for years on an uncharted island, eating coconuts and inventing every possible kind of machine you could imagine. Except a boat. I sympathize, of course, especially after being up the creek without a paddle last week in a three hour PD.

I understand it cost a fortune. Did teachers get CTLE credit? Of course not. You don't get credit when a bunch of people come to sell you their program. Here's how it started out:

“I'm super-stoked to be here.”

Oh my gosh. She's twelve years old and excited about it. Then she introduces her colleague.

“a very, very awesome guy.”

There's an adjective I'd discourage my ELLs from using.  Especially more than once. But let's look on the bright side, as stated by the presenter:

“It’s gonna be a fun three hours.”

“I know that everyone was really excited to receive a pen today.”


Oh yeah. I'm super-stoked to have a plastic pen with your company's name on it to walk around with. I can tell everyone how awesome your program is. What are we gonna do now?


“Tell everyone one fun fact about yourself that everyone else may not know.”


Oh my gosh I'm sitting right in front. I go first.

“I live to go to three hour meetings.”

I get the feeling no one believes me. Someone else is more optimistic:

“This is my last PD.”

That one gets applause. The next one sparks a dialogue with the presenter.

“I love dessert.”

“What’s your favorite dessert?”

“Brownies.”

“So that was really awesome.


Not just awesome, but really awesome. A fine distinction from this highly-paid presenter who has come here to teach me about writing. But she has a new message for us.

“After someone shares, this is what we do (clicks fingers).”

This sounds very charter school to me. I am less than enthused. But alas, the loudspeaker beckons. 

“Will Mr. Hatfield please come to the main office?”

The woman who dreamed up this program tells us a story about going to Yale and learning to write. It's ironic, because the entire reason these folks are here is to urge us to teach writing before our students go to college. The important thing is that we now know the woman who invented this program went to Yale. The loudspeaker again:


“Good morning everyone, and please excuse this quick interruption—just want to remind you your ID number is now called your OSIS number. We hope you have an amazing day.”


And now a special motivational message:



“You’re going to experience what hundreds of thousands of people did doing workshops similar to this.”


I can't wait.


“Thank you Alice. (clicks fingers).”

We are then presented with two stories. One is a pretentious piece of crap from some girl whose parents sent her to Paris. The other is a self-effacing and humorous piece from a young man who spent his summers working at a burger stand on the beach.

"We are gonna do story showdown and Brian’s gonna lead us through it."
“Who wouldn’t mind stepping into the role of broadened horizon officer and reading this aloud for us?”

So which do we like better? The amusing story or the piece of crap? Let's reflect and share. The suspense is killing me, but eventually most people in the room prefer the amusing story over the piece of crap. We are left to infer that college admission officers also prefer amusing stories to pieces of crap. Who knew? But there's more:


"All of us have character here. We heard a little bit about it when we were sharing fun facts about themselves.

Colleges look for:

a unique perspective
strong writing
an authentic voice."


It turns out colleges are not looking for the same old crap, weak writing, or a pretentious voice. I'm so glad I came here and learned this. How do we get rid of crap in writing? Since we are all evidently too stupid to recognize it ourselves, they have an indispensable tool that will do it for us:


“Superficialities and stereotypes. These are two things that our software can purge from your writing.”


And there's more to look forward to:


"We’re gonna constantly be with you performing stories (clicking fingers)."

Wow. This must be something special if it got the finger click. The teacher across from me is drawing flowers. They're kind of interesting. Now she's drawing a doggie. I'm very fond of doggies, so she has my full attention. But then this line is spoken:

“So awesome—so when we are listening to stories there are three things that happen in our brains. How many people understand a little bit about what it’s like to eat a goat’s eyeball?”

Evidently I've missed something.  People start sharing. The presenters respond.

“That was awesome, and a true story (clicks fingers).

Fun fact is that our fearless leader Alice is practicing 365 days of writing stories on “the Facebook.”

“Awesome.”

We are treated to a story about a wedding ring from one of the presenters. It merits a review from one of the others.


“Brian’s magnet was awesome. Second his pivot, And third his glow.”


Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking. My mind is about to click its fingers, but they now have something very special for us to do. But first, an important announcement:

“At this time all incoming freshman should be finished with the math placement exam and should be in the auditorium. Thank you."

Now back to the important business at hand, this time from the Yale-educated, Facebook-using leader herself:

“Take a minute and quiet your thoughts, and definitely quiet your talking.”

And breathe in and breathe out. And I’d like you to imagine that you’re at the beach. What are you wearing? Are you there by yourself? Or with somebody else? Is the sun rising, setting? Watch the waves going in and out and in and out. And when you’re ready scoop up a handful of sand and just hold it in your hand for a minute. And I’d like you to think of each grain of sand as one of your stories. And you’re gonna take one and share it with other people. And there’s thousands of grains of sand. And maybe one has sharp edges and you don’t want to share it with anybody. Every moment is a story that you can kind of share with other people to let them know where you’re going and where you come from.

So just take one grain of sand and get to know it and get comfortable with it.

Imagine it’s a year from now and it’s the first day of school and everything is exactly the way you want it.

Just listen to what I said and do it."


This is absolutely what I needed right now. My own little grain of sand. And now we sit around and they tell us to read stories into our phones. Because when students read stories into their phones they speak with authentic voices. I imagine myself trying this in my class. Please take your phones out, read stories into them, and then write them down.

What could possibly go wrong?

“Believe it or not, this just answered common app essay prompt number one!”


I have absolutely no idea what that means. But these people have uncovered the secret sauce for college essays so it must be of vital importance. No more of that old school nonsense where you read them, correct them, give honest feedback on what to expand and what to delete, because now you can simply give them your money, run it through their patented Crapometer and all the crap will be magically extracted.

The meeting ends. I leave the pen on the table.

Monday, June 12, 2017

UFT at Puerto Rican Day Parade

On the left is UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus and me. Evelyn is really cool in that she keeps asking me to do stuff, and I kind of like to do stuff. A few months ago we went to the NYSABE conference, where I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were focused on the kids I work with every day. Last month she dragged me to picket with Lawrence teachers, where I learned that their school district had been taken over by people who had no concern whatsoever for public schools. Yesterday we went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which was amazing for a number of reasons.

One reason is it was a little controversial this year. A lot of people were upset that they were honoring Oscar Lopez, condemned in the press for acts of which he was never directly accused. Juan Gonazalez says Puerto Ricans should honor anyone they wish, and I agree. As it happens, UFT leadership does too, and I'm very happy about that. They made the right call here. Governor Cuomo, as a result of his perpetual calculations on What Best to Do if I Want to Be President, wasn't there, and I, for one, was glad to not see him.

Not many people know this about me, but I'm not Puerto Rican, not even a little bit. I tried to talk a Puerto Rican teacher in my building to come along, so as to establish some sort of indirect street cred, but she said she couldn't make it. My Puerto Rican friend Aixa was off in Seattle or Chicago or someplace doing Very Important Stuff. But I was able to speak Spanish with some folks, at least.

This thing on the right is a fan, and there were thousands of them on the float. Evelyn said to give them to children and elderly people, who most needed them. I tried to do that, but people are obsessed with free stuff. Sometimes, as I tried to hand these cardboard fans to children, adults would reach and grab them from the kids. One mother grabbed one from her own daughter.

Though the police did not march, perhaps in protest of Oscar Lopez being honored, we gave them bottles of water as they worked through the sweltering heat. In front of a church we met a couple of cops with dogs. I gave one cop a bottle of water, and he opened the cap and poured it into his dog's open mouth. I then gave him one for himself. The other cop, though, was mad about something, and refused water for both himself and his dog. He reminded me of an AP I know. A dog shouldn't have to work for that cop, or that AP either.

If you were in the crowd, this is what you saw as UFT approached. But you also heard really loud Puerto Rican music, except in front of the church. People in churches don't necessarily want to listen to really loud music. There were a bunch of people on the float, mostly dancing, led by Evelyn de Jesus. Now somewhere around 75th Street we ran out of water, having given it all away to cops and their dogs. There was a little less dancing at that point, but some guy on the flatbed of the truck pulling the float danced the entire route. I was duly impressed.

People on the street were very cool, screaming "Maestros!" at us. They were especially happy when they got free stuff. Though I was handing out fans, there were also bandanas, t-shirts, and whistles. You'd think they were made of gold. On the train ride home with my friend Alexandra there were a bunch of crazy teenagers, and I was horrified to hear they all seemed to have UFT whistles. I mean, I didn't mind them having the whistles, but they demonstrated them pretty much all the way to Jamaica. I'm pretty sure I won't be handing out whistles in my classroom anytime soon.

An interesting thing, to me at least, was one of the signs on the UFT float, which someone pointed  out  to me was in Spanish. You see that? Now I may be just some gringo wearing a Puerto Rican t-shirt, but that's the UFT slogan, "A Union of Professionals." Actually, though, that translates to "A union of teachers and professionals." I'm not sure what that suggests. Does it mean the counselors and paraprofessionals are professionals and we aren't? After all, they're paraprofessionals and we're just teachers. Should we be teacherprofessionals? Or does it just mean that English teachers like me can be equally obnoxious and nitpicking when we speak other languages? I can accept that, I guess.


Finally, here's a picture of LeRoy Barr, not in a suit. I said, "Hey, LeRoy, you're not in a suit." He pointed out that it was 90 degrees outside. I was glad we were not at an Executive Board meeting, because then we'd have had to debate it. I was unprepared to argue the point. LeRoy's teenage son was there as well. Like me, he was on fan detail. He was very good at finding kids to give fans to, and frequently got to them before I could. Sometimes I can win arguments with teenagers but I wouldn't want to challenge them to foot races.

This was a very cool event. Not being Puerto Rican, and never having been asked before, I'd never been. But it was a lot more lively and fun than the Labor Day Parade, which I go to sometimes. (I missed it this year, as five people told me they wanted to go, and one by one they dropped out. I think I followed their lead and stayed home and watched cartoons or something.)

But next year, if there's another Puerto Rican day parade, I'm gonna go for sure, and I'm gonna drag some of my Puerto Rican friends with me, whether they like it or not. After all, if it weren't for them I wouldn't even be going myself. And I hope Governor Cuomo doesn't come again, because any day I don't have to see Governor Cuomo is pretty much a good day.

Friday, June 09, 2017

A to Z on CR Part 154 and ESL

A few days ago I attended a meeting at UFT central regarding Part 154. This is the relatively newly revised regulation for ESL students that governs their learning conditions. Honestly, other than a little extra instruction for kids who test out of ESL, I see nothing good about it at all. I'm going to share here what I told a committee looking at it, and what most ESL teachers I know would like to see addressed.

Part 154 demands that we teach ELLs academic subjects plus English in the same time it takes native English speakers to master academic subjects alone. This is absurd beyond belief. If someone is teaching about the Battle of Gettysburg, and it takes 40 minutes to address it, how on earth are newcomers supposed to learn not only that, but also the vocabulary and nuances required by a new language?

It also reduces and diminishes direct English instruction, vital to the kids I serve. After puberty, language acquisition ability declines precipitously. My kids, like all high school ELLs in the state, are losing 33-100% of direct English instruction. The notion that this lost time will be blended in with magical academic classes is misguided, and that's being generous.

Part 154 makes changes that may be well-intentioned, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. Intentions notwithstanding, it place learners in classrooms studying inappropriate materials. Newcomers could easily be expected to read To Kill a Mockingbird, or Hamlet, for example, and this could easily be in lieu of learning how to introduce themselves. Nonsensical situations like these will certainly discourage students. These learners could easily become altogether alienated with both our language and culture.

Were it up to me, I'd place newcomers, particularly older ones, in an intense English immersion program. Ambitious though it is to hand them three-inch thick biology textbooks, such practices deprive children of the instruction they need to more quickly manage not only their everyday lives, but also to aid in those of their parents and other family members. ELLs sometimes miss school because they have to accompany their parents or grandparents to the doctor, or to immigration, or just about anywhere else, to act as translators.

Widely accepted theories of language acquisition and encouraging reading suggest our practices are misguided, and becoming even moreso. The use of high interest materials, at or just a little above student levels, is the sort of thing that might seduce kids into loving reading, or even English. You can frown on comic books, but if kids love them they can learn from them.

The notion of combining our subject with others degrades our discipline, suggesting the English language is somehow secondary to academic subjects. Actually it’s more fundamental, more important, and indispensable to anyone who wishes to master any academic subject. You don't run before you can walk, but the NY State Board of Regents seems not to know this.

Part 154 reduces devoted ESL teachers to secondary figures in classrooms. In many cases it makes them redundant. As principals seek out dual-licensed teachers to save money, dedicated ESL teachers will be out of work. Much as I deplore that situation, it's actually far from the worst part of it. It’s ridiculous and offensive to imagine that someone who takes the magical 12 credits to become dually-certified could do even what we do, let alone teach the Magna Carta and basic English at the same time.

There's an absurd rule that says students in ESL classes may not be more than one grade apart. This makes scheduling impossible even in an extremely large school like mine. If we were to follow the regs that say students may not be more than one grade apart, I’d have one class of 3 and one of 65. Schools with smaller populations have even more difficulty.

In fact, in small schools with one ESL teacher, said teacher is expected to do and teach everything. Go help everyone teach everything. No more frittering your time away teaching these kids English. Go to the science class, the math class, the social studies class, and the English class, and make sure every kid who doesn't understand English gets an A on every test. Also, make sure they get excellent scores on 4-8 math and English. And make sure they get 90 or higher on all the Regents exams.

This is discouraging, to say the least, to potential ESL teachers. A great young teacher in my building, one who first joined my classes as a student observer, is contemplating a career change. I see a lot of discussion as to whether or not young people to be teachers. I love being a teacher, and I particularly love being an ESL teacher. I have often told student teachers it's the very best thing to teach.

But if our role is to stand around with teachers of tested academic subjects and explain what they're trying to do to people who don't understand English, I can't recommend it. It takes a lot to discourage someone like me, but Part 154 does a pretty good job.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Career and College Ready

Queens City Councilman Rory Lancman is upset about college readiness rates in the city. He says that students graduate from high school at twice the rate of college readiness. And if you go strictly by the stats, he's absolutely right. If you read his argument, it's tough to find fault with it.

But if you look a little deeper, there is an issue, and that issue is how we define college readiness. The way we do it is via a combination of test grades. Here's a report from Reformy John King that likens college and career readiness to rating "proficient" on NAEP. Diane Ravitch argues that this is an absurd interpretation, the same one that the Reformy Waiting for Superman film used to berate public schools. Here's a more recent NY Regents report, full of Common Corey stuff.

Who determines who's college and career ready? Well, it's not really a who, but a what. It's based on test scores. Students who get so many points on this test and so many points on that are college and career ready. Students who get fewer points or fail this test are not. So if we want to make our students college and career ready, how can we do that?

It's pretty simple, actually. We test prep them. And as we all know, there's nothing more inspiring to teenagers than sitting around prepping for some test. That will certainly inspire them. They'll look forward to college and career, because they got to sit for hours in some classroom endlessly practicing exercises designed to show them how to pass one test.

Actually there are studies that show teacher grades are a better indication of college readiness. Unsurprisingly, students who do well with high school teachers tend to also do well with college teachers. Rory Lancman hasn't considered that, since he read somewhere that too many city students aren't college ready. In fact, a whole lot of people read articles like these and assume that students aren't college ready. And honestly, how many people follow closely enough to understand that college and career readiness are just a bunch of arbitrary test scores that some overpaid educrat dreamed up in some cozy office in Albany?

A problem with state exam scores is that they are wholly inconsistent and unreliable. One year it's the English Regents exam and the next it's the Common Core English exam. Which one is better and how do you prove it? Unfortunately, standardized tests are not really standardized as they're subject to whatever trendy nonsense comes into vogue. Next year maybe they'll drop the name Common Core and give the same test under a new name, pretending it's different. Or maybe they'll change a few things and say it's the same. Who knows?

Also the grades don't really mean a whole lot either. They are forever raising and lowering lines. One year they want everyone to pass so as to conclusively establish the genius of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next they want everyone to fail so as to prove every teacher in New York sucks and needs to be fired. Who knows where the lines are this year? Who knows what they mean, particularly when coupled with the ever-evolving test, which Rory Lancman and readers of New York newspapers assume to be perfect no matter what?

There are issues with teacher grades now, too, unfortunately. I myself have attended meetings, the themes of which have largely revolved around how we could pass every student in every subject no matter what. I'm afraid I'm far from alone in this. Teachers understand messages, and not only subtle ones. We get when we're being hit over the head with a sledge hammer. We understand what it means when schools are closed for alleged failure.

If you consider the entire situation, it's very hard to say who is college and career ready. If anyone really cared, or really wanted to know, they'd empower teachers to do what's right and use their professional discretion. Of course, in New York State, that's out of the question. You see, the folks in Albany set cut scores up and down to make them appear any way they wish. That's fundamentally dishonest.

The thing about people who are fundamentally dishonest is they tend to believe the same is true of everyone. That's why they think we teachers are all too crooked to grade the state exams of our own students. As long as the crooks in Albany assume us to be pathological liars, no one's likely to attach any validity to the predictive nature of our grades.

But if anyone really wants to know how kids are doing, and how ready they are, they will empower teachers. The whole vilification thing really doesn't work for anyone at all.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Excecutive Board Takeaway--Being Unity Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

 First, Mulgrew said something very interesting Monday night.. He seemed to suggest that there was some workaround to the Janus decision that would come around next year being negotiated statewide. That might explain why there's all the cozying up to Cuomo and a potential endorsement. But then he said both the country and state would be right to work next year, so it was kind of a mixed message.

I sometimes have issues with what UFT Secretary Howard Schoor says but in retrospect, he said two of the most important things I heard all night. First of all, in answer to my question as to why no one got to vote on the ATR agreement, he gave the only credible and honest answer, stating they don't need no stinking votes, thank you very much. Perhaps more importantly, he unwittingly answered the question that haunted me for much of Monday night's meeting--how could so many people get up in public and say so many stupid things? I'll get to that later.

I sat for much of the evening shaking my head, literally, as I furiously tried to record the statements of the Unity faithful. One in particular shocked me, claiming that he spoke to two ATR teachers who were really excited about the buyout prospect. As someone who regularly speaks to ATR teachers face to face, on social media, via unsolicited email, on the phone and elsewhere, I found that impossible to swallow. It's inherently frustrating to be an ATR, being a teacher yet not a teacher, and I saw little or no understanding of that from Unity.

This buyout is beneficial if you are either on the cusp of retirement or are so frustrated and beaten down you're ready to walk. If you've already filed your papers, hoping to grab a sub license, you're out of luck and probably angry about getting left out. I know one person who took a permanent but tenuous appointment who's not happy about finding this out right now.

However, I also know one person for whom this is tailor made. I won't share her circumstances except to tell you this came at a perfect time for her. While I'm happy she can walk away with an extra 50 thousand bucks, and take a dream vacation, send a kid to college, or whatever, I also know this is a bittersweet moment for her. She's kind of painted into a corner on this. While she will enjoy the money, she's not happy about being pushed into a position in which she has to abandon her career. And if not even she is excited about this, it's impossible to conceive that two random ATR teachers would be.

Here's my exchange with Schoor:

Arthur Goldstein--MORE--Given the near certainty of impending US Supreme Court decisions it seems a good idea for our union to expand, rather than abridge fundamental democracy.

In 2011, there was an ATR agreement voted on by the Executive Board and the DA. In 2014, there was an ATR agreement that was part of the UFT Contract, and of course we voted on that too. This year, we have an ATR agreement that was not voted on by the DA, or any rank and file, let alone ATRs. Clearly there is precedent for us to vote on ATR agreements.

Why was that precedent not followed this year?

Schoor—No obligation for us to have a vote on ATR agreements. I see there is a resolution and we can debate that.

Now this says a lot. In fact, there is not always debate over matters we introduce. More often, LeRoy Barr gets up to speak against it, and everyone in Unity understands they are to vote against it. Schoor knew we would debate it because that's what they planned. They somehow put out the bat signal, texting or emailing a bunch of people to get up and oppose our motion.

What continually shocked me was the sheer volume of people who had nothing to say but got up and said it anyway. Though they got up one after the other and defended the agreement, we hadn't even criticized it. All we asked was that rank and file, or at least Exec. Board and DA, get a vote on this. We pointed out that ATRs had no say in this. Oddly, almost every Unity speaker ignored our argument altogether. They got up in rapid succession and claimed this agreement was made in good faith. Yet no one had claimed otherwise. They said this gave ATR teachers an option. Yet no one had said it didn't. When you argue against something your opponent did not actually say, that's known as a strawman. It's a logical fallacy.

Admittedly, a few of the speakers defended the failure to permit a vote. Schoor, to his credit, was up front about it. Several said we trust leadership to make those decisions. However, it was leadership that permitted ATRs to exist in the first place, an egregious error they permitted in 2005, an error for which thousands of UFT members have been paying the price ever since. And it's the height of hubris for these same people to get up and insist ATR teachers ought not to have any voice whatsoever in their destiny.

As Norm Scott pointed out, it would have been very easy for them to take all the wind out of our sails by holding a vote that very evening. They could then have said, "There. You asked for a vote and you've had it." In their haste, that didn't occur to them. Instead they got up and spouted a great deal of nonsense.

A recent column on this blog bemoaned the lack of positive vision in many administrators. It's a big problem when administrators are focused on nothing but their own advancement. Unfortunately, the same issue exists in the upper echelons of UFT. A mind focused on defending the status quo at any cost is less than productive, and I have met many such people who are employed full time by the UF of T. Instead of looking forward for members, they focus on glorifying leadership. I'm surprised there aren't ten-foot statues of Michael Mulgrew in front of Queens UFT.

I'm encouraged by people in leadership who are smart, who focus on problem-solving and moving ahead. I know a handful of such people and hope to find more. But as long as they keep stocking the Executive Board and district offices with loyalty oath signers who possess little to no positive vision, it's gonna be an uphill climb.