Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rick and Morty and Unity

I have a confession. At night I watch cartoons on Adult Swim until I fall asleep. One of the most bizarre cartoons they show at night is called Rick and Morty. It's about a grandfather who's some kind of scientific genius dragging Morty all over the universe.

The other night, there was an episode about a group called Unity. It's this being or consciousness that's constantly replicating itself. It does this by vomiting in the mouths of its victims and taking over their bodies. See the video below for an example.

You may not be surprised that I saw parallels to our union, what with the organization having the exact same name. The pale looking guy in the middle is Rick, and all the blue people around him are Unity. So that could be me at a chapter leader meeting, except for the scientific genius part. Of course this episode took it a little further. Evidently Rick was having an affair with Unity, seemingly in the form of the young blue woman to his left, your right.

Now as far as I know, signing up for UFT Unity does not entail having someone vomit in your mouth. Rather, it entails signing this loyalty oath, which used to be available on the Unity website. For some reason, they took it down after PJSTA posted it publicly. The best way to advance in the union is to sign it. If you don't, well, that pension consulting gig might elude you.

I'll tell you the truth--I really like some people in Unity. I'll tell you another truth--I really don't like some other people in Unity. They don't seem to have a code about how they treat non-Unity members. So some people in Unity are reasonable and open, while others are kind of defensive and proprietary. I figure it's better to be reasonable and open, particularly if you purport to represent the union, but that's just me.

Now I understand forming a political caucus. I'm part of one, as a matter of fact. I also understand espousing a particular series of values. I share a lot of Unity's ostensible values. I'm absolutely pro-teacher and pro-union. I don't believe in abuse by administrators, and I think we need to take a stand against Boy Wonders  (even if they're girls).

Sometimes, though, I'm not sure. I don't understand why we supported mayoral control, ever, and I'm not sure why we didn't oppose it vehemently when it came up this year. Though it hasn't been as bad under de Blasio, there's no guarantee he'll be around forever. We suffered through 20 years of GOP mayors here in deep blue NYC, Also, de Blasio's mayoral control has been far from absolute, as the state did an end run around it, forcing him to pay rent for charters. (Of course, my bursting at the seams school has 4728 incoming students, and no one's forcing him to pay rent for us.)

I certainly understand the argument that, in times of crisis, we need to pull together. The only thing is, I can't recall when we were not in crisis. It wasn't time to oppose when we were facing Bloomberg, or Cuomo, and it isn't time to oppose when we face Trump, or "the Presidential Election," as Unity calls him. I can only suppose it wasn't time to oppose when we faced Giuliani either, though I wasn't involved with union politics back then. Is the answer, then, to keep your mouth shut forever and ever and just hope for the best?

Of course not. Unity is wrong sometimes. The Democrats, with Unity's early endorsement, lost the last national election because they presented the populous with a warmed-over agenda that consisted largely of, "We aren't Trump." In fact, I voted for Hillary in the general precisely on that basis. But I enthusiastically pulled the lever for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

We're gonna have to pull out all the stops after Janus. It might not be good enough to say, "Well, you still have a job," when you're sent out to teach subjects you don't understand and rotate schools week to week. It might not be good enough to say, "Well, we did the best we could," when Moskowitz takes over your school and places a non-union test-prep factory in its stead. It won't be good enough to hear "Fifty years ago we sacrificed money for class size regs," while you stand in front of 50 kids in a trailer and try to persuade them that anyone other than you takes them seriously.

And whether Unity knows it or not, that's why a vibrant opposition is necessary. There are voices that need to be heard, and with three out of four teachers not even voting in union elections, I'm not highly optimistic union is a prime concern for them. We all sink or swim together, and I'll work toward the latter. If we want everyone to pay union dues, we're gonna have to stop pandering toward a privileged class. That's the sort of thing that empowers the likes of Donald Trump, and it ain't gonna work for us.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Under Assault

Truer words never spoken. We don't have children working in coal mines and factories around here. But it doesn't have to stay that way. We've heard GOP pols like Newt Gingrich trash child labor laws, saying that kids ought to go to work cleaning their schools. If you think Newt is worried about your children or mine, I have a bridge to sell you.

Sure, Newt just wants the kids to clean up a little in school. And sure, the Supreme Court will just free up Americans to not pay union dues. No big deal, right? Well, not really. It's a slippery slope with child labor. Pretty soon you'll be right back to where Utah Phillips said we used to be.

And make no mistake, Donald Trump's Supreme Court is not worried about how much extra change is in the pockets of working people. Withholding union dues while living with union privilege is shirking responsibility. It's selfish, it's undemocratic, and it's an essential revolt against community.

I regularly wonder what I will do as chapter leader with people who opt not to pay union dues. One UFT official told me we would still have to represent everyone. I am honestly not sure how I will do that. I can tell you I will have little or no respect for anyone who thinks they should be carried on the rest of our backs. I have options, though.

I remember a chapter leader I once had, and how he used to handle things. Whenever you would approach him, he would listen and say, "Put a letter in my box." Once, he confided in me that 80% of the people to whom he said that didn't follow through. It didn't make a whole lot of difference, though. If you tell me to put a letter in your box, I'll put a letter in your box. To the best of my recollection, he gave the same attention to you whether you put a letter in his box or not.

I never tell people to do that. I have an email I use for school UFT activities, and I am very good about getting back to people. Some problems are easy, especially after I've seen them repeatedly. Sometimes I look up answers at UFT.org, copy and paste, and people think I'm a genius. I also have a whole network of people who will help me with questions, some of whom work for UFT and some of whom don't. Sometimes I copy my district rep. if I think he can help.

So I'm wondering what I do with non-dues payers. Should I treat them like everyone else, and hope they come to their senses? In our school, we have a Sunshine Fund. My least favorite activity, as chapter leader, is collecting for it. I generally assign committee members to help and sometimes play cleanup. But people who don't pay don't pay. It really doesn't matter if I win grievances for them. I'd be surprised if these people paid union dues, but I'd respect them a lot more if they did.

But what if they don't? Is it put a letter in my box time? Should I devote my energy into teaching them the virtue and meaning of union? Will I be able to make that $1300 speech? Would you?

What do you think?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Reformy War on Teacher Professionalism Continues

Are you seeing a pattern here? Moskowitz and her pals don't want to bother with all that messy certification nonsense. They want to do it their way and take whoever they want. And why not? Their teachers aren't unionized and don't last anyway. When this one goes, just open another can. Reformy Bellwether Education wants to do away with pensions because they're supposedly unfair to the people who quit after five minutes. Now here's a piece saying do away with certification altogether.

This is not a new idea. Self-styled education expert Nicholas Kristof suggested this years ago. Evidently Merryl Streep and Colin Powell were unqualified to teach.The fact that neither one of them had any desire to teach was neither here nor there. New York City students were being deprived of imaginary teachers, and we needed to address this crisis immediately! The new arguments are not much better, actually.

Funding per student has been rising sharply for decades, resulting in lower class size, but such expenditures seem not to have succeeded.

I don't know what planet this guy lives on, but here in NYC, the opposite has occurred. In fact, there's a lawsuit right now trying to change it. We are the largest district in the country, with the highest class sizes in the state. The writer should be delighted to learn that maximum class size is now pretty much standard. Doubtless he'd revel in our busting-at-the-seams overcrowded school.

The key to successful education is to attract good teachers. We can try to do so by raising teachers’ salaries (as commonly advocated). But this strategy also seems to fail, partly because higher incomes go to both good teachers and bad, giving bad teachers as much incentive as good ones to become and remain teachers.

I don't remember much about economics, but there is the whole supply and demand thing. In fact, as you'll see, it's pretty much the crux of this writer's argument. But it doesn't apply, evidently, when it comes to, you know, paying teachers. The fact that half of them walk before they hit five years is neither here nor there. Then there's that bad teachers trope. Evidently they are everywhere, though there is little or no evidence to support this supposition.

And then the writer goes on to the main point--that certification is keeping out good teachers. To his credit, the writer doesn't mention Streep or Powell. Here's the point:

How can this be? Despite much research, nobody can say what skills, qualities, or training good teachers need. 

So therefore, let's drop requirements altogether.  That's what passes for logic in this piece. So, now that we've given up certification requirements, how do we weed out those bad teachers wandering the landscape like a zombie plague?

By far, the most effective way to improve teacher quality is to require administrators to selectively retain, after the first few years of experience, only the more effective teachers. The biggest barrier to improving teacher quality is therefore union contracts that block such selective retentions and, with lock step pay, eliminate success-based compensation.

Okay, let's examine that. Given the plague of zombie bad teachers, we need to address this crisis. But on the other hand, who hired these zombies? My guess it was the administrators, you know, the ones we're depending on to weed out the bad teachers. Who failed to get rid of this plague? Right again, the very same administrators. And wait, isn't there already a means of firing teachers for performance? Haven't we just enacted not one, but two laws to accomplish that in New York? And didn't Race to the Top insist on teacher certification requirements in all the states that took the money?

Let's take a look at "success-based compensation," otherwise known as merit pay. In fact, merit pay is an old, old idea that has never worked anywhere. Let me tell you something--I've outlasted many trends and one thing I can tell you is I've never made a whole lot of money. I'll also tell you I don't work for tips, and suggesting that I do, or that anyone does, will not stem the tide of teachers walking out the door.

The notion that it is difficult to get certified is pretty ridiculous. Hey, if it's too much trouble for you to get twelve education credits, maybe this isn't the job for you. The notion, propagated by this writer,  that colleges don't require certification is equally ridiculous. For me to work as an adjunct teacher of English as a second language, I needed a master's degree in applied linguistics. I didn't just grab it off a tree like an apple. If you want to work on a tenure track, for the few that are still around, you'd better have a doctorate, and not one of the ones you buy online for $169.

I don't know about you, but I'm a little concerned about who gets in front of my children, or yours. I'm not remotely comfortable with Eva Moskowitz, who keeps kids in test prep until they pee their pants, getting to decide. I'm not comfortable with abusive teachers who lack the common sense of salad vegetables.

So I'm sorry, but inconvenient as it is, I think we need standards for teachers. If the ones we have are too difficult, or not relevant enough, we can amend them. The notion of dumping them is part of a larger pattern, a pattern designed to eliminate career teachers and make us replaceable cogs.

We devote our lives to teaching American's children, and we deserve better. And for those who blather on about placing children first, our children deserve better too.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Lesson for Neil deGrasse Tyson

I've had great respect for Neil deGrasse Tyson ever since the first time I saw him on Bill Maher's show. I mean, here's a guy, smarter than me, smarter than you, an astrophysicist, an acknowledged expert in his field, speaking the unvarnished truth. Climate change is science, and science is real. Disagreeing with it is like disagreeing with gravity. Then one day, he posts this:



Now there are certainly better interpretations of this statement. After all, there's no context here whatsoever. Is he targeting teachers? Is he targeting the system? Is he questioning Common Core, which claims to create critical thinkers but actually gets kids so accustomed to tedium they might spend several decades working at Walmart without killing themselves?

Frankly, those aren't the first thoughts that came into my mind.



How long have we been reading nonsense from Bill Gates? Does it precede the nonsense from Donald Trump? It's hard to say, but for me it's like stereo. Gates nonsense in the right ear and Trump in the left. A frustrating cacophony of garbage, spread through the entire United States. And not by teachers, but rather by a strangely incurious press. In a country where Fox passes as news and millions view it voluntarily, we have issues. But were they taught that in schools? Aren't teachers regularly vilified for being too "liberal?"



Teachers in the United States are expected to singlehandedly overcome impossible home issues. Gates pretty much gave up on poverty, saying he couldn't fix that, but rather he could fix education. Of course he couldn't do that either. And what he's left us with is a junk science system under which we are judged by standardized test scores, a system deemed invalid by Tyson-level experts like Diane Ravitch and the American Statistical Association. Of course, Tyson himself doesn't seem to know that.



Hey, everyone else does. Go ahead. Put out that statement, offer no context, and let everyone see it. You're an expert so you must be right. Never mind that it's well out of your field of expertise. Who could possibly take it the wrong way?



Really, Dr. Tyson, when you write things like that, you may as well be part of Team Trump. They're going to bend or break union so that working people can't organize. Do you seriously expect quelling teacher voice to ultimately benfit education? And just in case it's escaped your attention, teachers are pretty much the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States.

I can't read your mind, but a whole lot of people read your tweets. If you don't provide context, people will fill it in for themselves. In fact, poverty accounts for a whole lot of America's educational standing. Despite the nonsense propagated by Gates, and blindly promoted by Obama in the form of Race to the Top, education alone will not solve the issue.

And with all due respect, Dr. Tyson, if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Where Have All the Computers Gone?

Reformy Chalkbeat NY just ran a piece about how a lot of computers were missing from city schools. I'm not remotely surprised. I've been teaching since 1984, and I've been hearing stories like that almost since I started. My first exposure to computers, if I recall correctly, was that year, when we were sent to some PD to observe some crappy computer program that seemed a complete waste of time. Fortunately, I saw better things shortly thereafter.

The thing that hooked me on computers was the word processor. When I was studying for my master's, we were assigned to do groupwork for a course I was taking. One of the women in my group had a Commodore 64. She showed me the editing capacity of the included word processor and pretty much blew my mind. We did this project according to what we were good at--One woman designed and administered the project we were to write about, I wrote about it, my friend typed it on her magical word processor, and the other woman did nothing whatsoever. We all got As.

When I worked in John Adams, we had rooms full of computers. They were very expensive. The computers needed air-conditioning, unlike the humans, who were left to swelter and suffer in summer months. I remember being sent to the computer room once a week. One of my students identified a washing machine as a washing machine, but the computer said he was incorrect. It was a "clothes washer." How ignorant of us not to know.

Of course, ever since computers have been in school, there's been theft. My dad knew someone who worked for the DOE back then, when it was the Board of Education. He told me how his friend walked into a school, looked for 40 computers the school had been given, and didn't find them. He told them he'd be back the following week, and the computers had better be there too. And waddya know, they returned.

There are a million stories like that, I'm sure. I'm particularly sure because I knew no one back then, and the chances of someone like me hearing a story like that, were it isolated, were very low. I have a better one. A friend of mine was working in a large Manhattan high school in the late 80s. One day, two guys walked into the auditorium and said, "We're here for the piano." They walked out with a grand piano. No one asked them for credentials, and no one knows what happened to the piano.

Of course, those were the bad old days of community school boards. You know, the people would get elected, and they would steal all that stuff. Maybe the grand piano is in the home of some former board member. Who knows? Now, fortunately, we have mayoral control, and that doesn't happen. Instead, someone else steals the computers. You see why de Blasio and Cuomo and every reformy on God's green earth battles for mayoral control?

Technology is a very bad investment, actually. The shelf life of a computer is not long, maybe a few years. I don't know how many thousands of dollars I've wasted on them. For the last decade or so, I've been buying Macs. While they cost a little more up front, they last a lot longer and crap out a lot less.

And with all due respect, school computers suck for a whole lot of reasons. I certainly don't blame admin for buying them, and they'd be remiss if they didn't. But school wifi is incredibly buggy. You never know when or why it's gonna go down. Also, there's always competition for school computers. You never know when your colleague is going to need one, and you don't want to throw some student off a computer, saying, 'My work is more important than yours."

One of the best things I've ever bought is the Macbook Air I'm using right now. I bring it to work with me every day. I don't have to fight anyone when I need to write a PowerPoint. Sometimes at lunch, if I'm lucky, I can sneak off and write the blog. If I'm giving a test and a student doesn't show, I can look up the student's phone number without flashing it on the screen in front of the class. And when the school wifi drops dead I can tether it to my phone and use it anyway.

I don't know where the computers go. I don't know who steals them. I can only tell you it isn't me.

I realize, of course, that this narrows it down to a field of many.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wolf in Bernie Sanders' Clothing

The Post pointed out that our good buddy Andrew Cuomo is taking a ton of cash from charters, and that's public record. Of course that's not the image Cuomo has been pushing lately. He's our good buddy, I hear at the DA. He's making nice.

Now it would be nice if we could take credit for that and say that Public School Proud caused a complete turnaround. I have to say, though, that opt-out, which we've failed to support, is a big factor. Parent activists kept their kids home from Cuomo's stupid tests in droves. They forced him to put off counting the tests for their kids. In fact, some of them didn't even count against teachers in Cuomo's junk-science based evaluation system. But not all of them, as all high school teachers know.

Not only that, but he just came up with a program under which NY residents can go to college tuition-free, under certain circumstances. You have to live here for a while, and you have to make it through on time, and a whole lot of people don't do that, but there you are. It's a whole lot better than nothing, which was the previous plan.

He's also standing up on health care. He's very much against the GOP plan to dump Obamacare, give a tax break to the uber-rich, and screw tens of millions of Americans, New Yorkers included. Oddly, like UFT leadership, he doesn't mention Trump by name. This is in stark contrast to Bill de Blasio, who seems to be running a winning campaign against Donald Trump. No one even seems to know who his opponents are.

After Hillary managed to lose the Presidential election to the least popular politician in human history, Governor Andy had to rethink his image. After all, he started out by saying he would go after unions. Now, as we face Janus and some serious survival issues, he's moving to make union dues completely tax-deductible.

Governor Andy has presided over two education laws that affect us all. Every teacher in New York City is dancing around the Danielson Rubric and trying to be highly effective. With the first law, Cuomo actually stood up for us as our good pal Senator Flanagan, the one to whom we actually donate money, tried to reverse seniority rights for NYC teachers only. (Evidently the teachers in his district don't like that sort of thing.) Cuomo opposed it because his new law was going to fire teachers. When it didn't fire enough of them, he called it "baloney" and worked on a new law.

Make no mistake, these laws are designed to fire teachers. That was Cuomo's explicit demand. UFT leadership can dance around that as much as they wish. They can cite stats of how few teachers are rated ineffective. They can ridicule those of us, like Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch, and the American Statistical Association who say these things are nonsense. But if you're a poorly rated teacher, that's cold comfort. In fact, the pressure is palpable on those of us out there doing the job, no matter how we're rated. Morale is at an all-time low and this Janus nonsense could not come at a worse moment.

In case it isn't clear, here's the thing about Andrew Cuomo--he's an opportunist who will say absolutely anything to advance himself. Cuomo supports the millionaire's tax these days but opposed it before. But perish forbid you should raise it, says Cuomo, because they'll leave New York. Snowflakes. Let them move to Utah and watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir instead of the opera.

When Cuomo said he would go after unions, I decided not to vote for him. Of course I didn't vote for his opponent, frothing-at-the-mouth Carl Paladino. And last time I didn't vote for that creep who supported opt-out but opposed the Triborough Amendment. Both times I voted for Green Howie Hawkins. And last time in particular, I wondered how things may have been different if we'd supported brilliant, pro-teacher Zephyr Teachout in either the Working Families or Democratic primaries. We'll never know.

I think that UFT and NYSUT will endorse Cuomo next year. I think they will do that largely to come to some agreement on Janus, if such a thing is possible. But Andrew Cuomo is a despicable worm. I don't know about you, but it would take something very close to a miracle for me to support him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Picking a Supervisor

There's a Bronx teacher contending he was passed over for promotion because of his sex. He offers evidence, and will be going to court to make his case. It will be interesting to see what happens.

I've been to many C30 meetings, at least one for almost every administrator in our very large building. That's the process under which principals and assistant principals are selected. We sign documents agreeing not to discuss about what happens in particular meetings, so I'll just discuss the process here.

Basically, a group representing the school community, consisting of teachers, parents, supervisors and a rep from DOE meet. If it's an AP, I ask someone from the department that AP will supervise to come. If it's the principal, that's a wild card. (It happened only once since I've been chapter leader, and I invited a music teacher.)

We agree on questions to ask each candidate, and come to a consensus on both that and who will ask each question. Then the candidates come, we ask the exact same questions of each candidate, and we rate their answers. We then add the scores together, and determine who scores highest, lowest and in between.

These meetings take hours. Of course it depends on how many candidates there are, and how long it takes us to conduct our business and tally scores. For an assistant principal, the principal kind of runs the meeting. For a principal, they bring in some Very Important Person from the DOE. We, the committee, make our recommendations.

After that, the principal, or the Very Important Person, takes our recommendations, and does something or other with them. I guess it would be unfair for me to say the person then just does any damn thing with them. If would be much more reasonable to say the person takes our recommendations into consideration before making a final decision.

So then, the question becomes just how fair the process is. Since we've asked all the same questions with no variation, we didn't really treat anyone differently. However, you only get to ask these questions of candidates selected by either the principal or the Very Important Person. Anyone who doesn't make that cut isn't heard at all.

The question then becomes this--does the school community truly have a voice, or is this a pro forma exercise? I suppose the only way to get a genuine answer would be to look into the soul of the principal or Very Important Person who makes the final decision. I mean, you could simply ask, but that would be a violation of the rules. You're sworn to secrecy. In any case, cynics might suggest that even principals or Very Important People might tell a fib now and then.

Of course, Lily Tomlin says no matter how cynical you get, you just can't keep up.

In the United States, we all go out and vote. After that, Donald Trump becomes President even though We, the People, chose otherwise. Here in NYC, we have a fake school board called the PEP. They get together, hold meetings, and the public gets up to speak. After that, the PEP votes any damn way the NYC Mayor says, because that's what mayoral control is. Then we have this C30, where we get together and make a choice, in full knowledge it can be roundly ignored.

It's the American way, evidently.

It's odd, though, because all the supervisors who are picked via that system are expected to follow the Danielson Rubric when rating teachers, which values student engagement pretty much above all else. Though I do not subscribe to the Danielson Rubric as used, I personally value student engagement a great deal. It's what I'm looking for every day.

It's ironic, because the system that mandates Danielson is a top-down piece of crap that contradicts virtually everything it claims to stand for. It's not coincidence that so many supervisors have no idea what their jobs entail, to wit, supporting teachers. They manage to get promoted anyway.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In a Shocker, Campbell Brown's Website Attacks ATRs

Over at Campbell Brown's blog, to which I will not link, there's a hit piece on ATR teachers. Evidently it's a disgrace to pay teachers who don't teach, but it's also terrible if they're allowed to teach. It's written by a lawyer who has never taught, and who boasts of helping to write the 2005 Contract that enabled the ATR, the one he's ironically so worked up over.

The lawyer then musters the gall to call the forced placement of ATR teachers as "the dance of the lemons," which is how he interprets placement based on seniority. This was a favorite phrase of the reformy stinker Waiting for Superman, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it since. You see, every teacher who wants placement is terrible.

In fact, I'm a case in point. In 1993, before the horrible practice was finally ended, I used the UFT Transfer Plan to go from John Adams High School to Francis Lewis. I did this because my supervisor gave me an ultimatum--I was going to teach all Spanish or she was going to put me on a late schedule, precluding the second job I needed to pay my new mortgage. This was not precisely because I was the terrible teacher Campbell Brown's article proves I am. (Nor was it for the good of the students, because both she and I knew I was better at teaching ESL). It was, in fact, for her convenience, because she was tired of the current Spanish teacher sending kids to her office. Because I never sent kids to her office, this was my punishment.

I did not bother to call Francis Lewis to ask about the position. A favorite motto of mine is, "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission." I thought it would be awkward if they told me there was, in fact, no position, and I got it anyway. I thought the possibility was high that they would protect the position rather than bring me, an unknown quantity, on board.

Of course, Campbell Brown's lawyer friend knows I am terrible, because every teacher who wants to make a move is terrible. (Not to be outdone, the Wall St. Journal calls us "perverts, drunkards, and ofther classroom miscreants.") Naturally, only principals can judge whether or not teachers are good because they are Mary Poppins--Perfect in Every Way and teacher judgment is always unreliable. Never mind that the recently dismissed principal of Townsend Harris was reviled by students and staff, or that she had a horrendous history at Bronx Science. Never mind that CPE 1 Principal Monica Garg placed the UFT chapter leader and delegate up on charges that were not remotely substantiated. And never mind the other abusive supervisors all over the city.

Better we assume that principals are always right, and teachers are always wrong. Who cares if the DOE was unable to sustain charges? Isn't it enough that they were charged in the first place? I, for one, am glad there are lawyers like this around. What, you were charged with a crime? Well then you must be guilty.

Doubtless if his family or friends were arrested for crimes, be they major or minor, he wouldn't make a bunch of phone calls and urge they get representation. Surely he'd advise them to plead guilty and request the maximum sentence. In fact, a whole lot of people in the ATR were not only charged, but also went through a process. In fact, they were found not to merit removal from their jobs.

That's not enough over at Campbell Brown's place. Once you're charged, you're guilty. No one should have to give you your job back, and if you don't get a job you should be fired. Never mind that you're walking around with a black mark on your record advising nervous principals you may be trouble. And never mind that all the principals need do if they don't want the ATRs back is give them a rating below effective.

It occurs to me, but not the lawyer, that vindictive principals would certainly take advantage if there were a time limit to the ATR. I can name supervisors who would be much happier were I not around. Of course they're entitled to feel that way, and it doesn't mean they'd necessarily act on it, but we all know supervisors who would place inconvenient people up on charges whether or not they merited them.

While I have not been accused of being a bad teacher, I can imagine a lot of reasons principals would refrain from hiring me. There's this blog, for one, There's the fact that my presence can be inconvenient on other levels too, as an activist and chapter leader. I can't really blame them if I'm not on their A-list. I also can't blame a whole lot of ATR teachers for not being in aggressive pursuit of jobs they're hardly likely to win.

But I certainly blame Campbell Brown's writers for suggesting that I or my ATR brothers and sisters are a bunch of lemons. That's a blatant stereotype, and I'm not at all sure why stereotyping teachers, or anyone, is still socially acceptable.

Evidently that's the price we pay for devoting our lives to teaching the children of New York City.

Monday, July 17, 2017

UFT and the Politics of Identity

A little over three years ago, I ran for Executive Vice President of NYSUT. It was an illuminating experience on multiple levels. One thing I learned was that there were a whole lot of unions that didn't run like the UFT. I'm gonna count that as a positive, because real union power comes from the bottom up, always.

My coach in that campaign was Beth Dimino, who was the President of PJSTA. One of the things she first suggested was specificity in how I spoke of the UFT. There's leadership, and there's membership. A whole lot of us fail to make that distinction, and speak of UFT as though it means Michael Mulgrew. In fact, Mulgrew corrected a member at the DA who said UFT did this or that by saying, "You are UFT." There's a point on which we see eye to eye.

Of course, though Mulgrew said that, and though I agree, I understand quite well why people don't feel it. Leadership makes decisions in a bubble, and feels it ought not to be questioned. With seven high school teachers on the Executive Board unshackled by loyalty oaths, that's become a little more difficult. It's now part of their job to answer our questions, and that is what they spend much of their time trying to do at the otherwise largely humdrum UFT Executive Board.

A problem arises when their decisions appear arbitrary, but they overcome that through numbers--there are 95 of them and seven of us, so we cannot win a vote. However, that's not the only problem.

If you look a little deeper, you'll see something more serious and pervasive. Essentially, they cannot offer a believable rationale for some of their actions. I'll refer you to the UFT High School Executive Board Blog. There, you can see their arguments against us when we proposed resolutions against abusive administrators, and against excessive class sizes. You can see our resolution in favor of CPE 1. You can see how we questioned the ATR agreement and asked for member voice. You can see how we demanded Trump's name be included when we condemned the bigotry for which he and his minions opened the floodgates.

It's certainly possible that they have a rationale they cannot share publicly. Maybe they share it at top-secret Unity Caucus meetings, but I doubt it. It's one thing to have a justification with which reasonable people may disagree. It's quite another to make up the best nonsense you can muster off the top of your head with and hope for the best. And here I will share the next level of the problem--Unity has promoted an awful lot of people based on loyalty rather than ability. As a member and chapter leader, I've seen this in action for years.

How many times have you called the borough office to get inaccurate or terrible advice? How many people have gone to retirement consultations for the same? Do you think it's a coincidence that members opt to pay people for retirement consultations rather than chance UFT advice? How many chapter leaders have gotten bad advice from District Reps until they looked up facts themselves?

I've watched UFT hires come to borough offices and say outlandishly stupid things to groups of chapter leaders. I've had Unity chapter leaders admit these things to me privately, but not one would stand up at a meeting and say it. I have to respect that they'd go even that far, because a whole lot of them will not. I've had Unity chapter leaders complain to me at meetings, and then leave me hanging in the wind when I got up and repeated what they complained about.

I'm not surprised when I field face to face personal attacks from UFT employees. I'm not surprised when they contradict me without knowing what they're talking about. I'm not surprised when they tell me what I must think, fully expecting compliance. I'm not surprised when they recoil in shock as I tell them to go ahead and dump me from Unity Caucus. I'm not surprised when I'm publicly ridiculed at chapter leader meetings for calling VAM junk science, even though both Diane Ravitch and the American Statistical Association side with me. (Now I'm reminded of Trump supporters who deny global warming.)

But it's a big problem when people who can't or won't think for themselves are promoted solely for loyalty. It's a big problem when lazy minds who've simply faked their way through are placed in positions of authority. It's not a surprise when they rationalize anything no matter how absurd, nor is it a surprise when they glibly lie to do so. (And again, look at Donald Trump for exhibit A.) This needs to stop.

I will also say that I have encountered some very smart and capable people in leadership. I've seen a handful of people who really belong there. I always hope to find more people like that. Leaders have their own voices. They are not just parrots, repeating what they are told, and they are not weasels, rationalizing whatever they are told be it right or wrong.

Mulgrew was right--you are UFT, and I am UFT. We live UFT, and we breathe and bleed UFT whether we know it or not. If we wish to make UFT stronger, we speak the truth. We stand up for ourselves, and in doing so, stand up for our students and communities. We measure and monitor when leadership is right, and when they are wrong. If leadership builds a brick wall to keep us out, we have no choice but to kick it down. But if they build a bridge, we can cross it or meet in the middle.

I can go either way.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Poor Are Lazy, Suggests UFT-endorsed Fernando Cabrera


Right now Donald Trump and the froglike creature who heads the GOP in the Senate are trying to take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans so that they can give a tax break to the very richest people in the country. This is a game we've been playing in this country for decades. It's not really something we invented, but we're taking the ball and running with it.

I'm a Democrat. I used to be a Democrat because I thought we stood for working people. Now I'm a Democrat so I can vote in the primaries now and then. Hillary Clinton is a Democrat who told us we would never, ever get single payer health care, a Democrat who criticized Bernie Sanders' idea of free college for all. This is a philosophy that resulted in her spectacular defeat at the teeny-tiny hands of Donald Trump.

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but for Hillary in the general. She wasn't really what I was looking for, but unlike Fernando Cabrera, she looked fabulous next to Donald Trump. Trump's a despicable bigot, and I have little regard for such people.  He also snookered a lot of Americans into believing that he cared about them. The policies he pushes clearly favor the privileged at the expense of working people like teachers.

So I was sorely disappointed when union leadership saw fit to endorse Cabrera. Cabrera seems to have great regard for governments that pass anti-gay laws. He seems to believe that religion has a place in government. In a city as diverse as New York, that's particularly disturbing. I have no idea what religion Cabrera is, or whether he properly represents it. Nonetheless, I don't want to live by the tenets of any religion that endorses bigotry, and a whole lot of New Yorkers agree with me.

Recently, Cabrera went and outdid himself. He expressed the sentiment that it was harder to be rich than poor. Evidently, with all that money comes a whole lot of pressure. Poor Donald Trump is so boxed in by that pressure that he needs to take a golf vacation at our expense just about every weekend. Bill Gates has things so tough that he needs to impose his worthless ideas on the entire nation's education system. The Koch Brothers have to spend all their energy just making sure they don't have to fritter away any of their billions on nonsense like paying taxes toward a living wage for Americans. I could go on.

I'm not exactly sure why Cabrera is a Democrat. Democrats are supposed to at least pretend to care about the poor. Cabrera suggests that people who aren't rich just can't take the pressure. After all, it's a walk in the park to support your family on two or three minimum wage jobs. All you have to worry about is paying the rent, buying the food, or getting a little sleep here and there. You don't need to fret over your trust fund or portfolio.

There's a great Steinbeck novella called The Pearl. I teach it sometimes.  In it, the priest tells the churchgoers that God has a castle, and we all have positions in God's castle. Those who are meant to be rich are rich, and those who are meant to be poor are poor. Those who question these positions are heretics, in defiance of God.

It's hard for me to see how Cabrera is different from that character, and harder for me to see why UFT leadership sees fit to endorse him. Jonathan Halabi spoke forcefully against this endorsement at both the Executive Board and the DA, but leadership said he wasn't that bad. The thing is, he is that bad and worse. He's reprehensible. I'm proud to have opposed him.

In fact, the biggest problem with our country is that people like Cabrera are in charge. People who don't respect the poor want them to stay that way. They therefore oppose their organizing. They oppose unions and that's why we're likely to become a "Right to Work" nation.

It boggles my mind that we support politicians who think like that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Here Come the Mayoral Candidates

Circus clown/ Arby's pitchman/ mayoral hopeful Bo Dietl is on Twitter making statements about what things will be like when he's mayor. There's some teacher at John Adams accused of allowing a student to sit on his lap, and Bo is outraged.



Kind of ironic that a guy who does Arby's commercials claims not to be for sale. Bo also says teachers caught having sex with students shouldn't be paid. The only problem is that this teacher has not been caught having sex with a student, and no one is saying otherwise. Inconvenient for Bo, though, is that allegations have to be proven here. You know, there's that whole innocent until proven guilty thing in the United States. Bo has had it with all that mollycoddling, evidently, and just wants to declare people guilty of whatever. As for drug tests for teachers, I don't support them, but Bo has got another thing wrong here:



But hey, why should a celebrity do fundamental research? That would take time, and politics in the United States are about who can tweet the most nonsensical claims and get Sean Hannity to support them. Here's my initial response:



What's interesting, in the times of Trump, is that a whole lot of people look at him and freak out, what with Donald Trump having conclusively won the presidency by every conceivable measure (save that of votes cast).  Of course, there's one thing Bo neglected to do:



Now I wouldn't say total ineptitude ruled out political success, but running on the Arby's Sliced Meat ticket is likely not the key to electoral victory either. I'd also argue that New York City is one of the bluest areas in the USA, and that Bill de Blasio has picked a winning strategy--running against Donald Trump.

I was an ardent supporter of de Blasio the last time he ran, but my enthusiasm for him has cooled considerably, as he failed to get rid of the Bloomberg education folk who inhabit Tweed like a cancer. However, I do not see a better candidate for working teachers. It's certainly not Bo Dietl, or progressive politician turned GOP Lite Tony Avella. Both of them look to be in the Snowball's Chance in Hell category, and I have no idea who else is even vying for the gig.

I understand why teachers might be upset with de Blasio. If you're looking for a reason to reconsider, consider all the deferred pay we're due over the next three or four years. Next October we get a 12.5% payment, and three Octobers after that are 25% each. If someone like Bo, or Tony, or Eva were mayor I wouldn't want to depend on getting those payments.

As things are, with the city owing us a heap of money, I have no idea how we'll be able to successfully negotiate a contract. I always wondered how the hell we were supposed to do that, but I'm just a lowly teacher and as such can't be trusted to consider Big Things.

One thing I have considered is this--we're in deep trouble when voters who actually know how to read trust people like Bo Dietl or Donald Trump.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Placing the ATRs

It's actually a good thing that someone's thinking about having ATR teachers, you know, teach. Now I'm not suggesting that having them teach twelve years ago wasn't a good idea either. I found it incredible that we gave up seniority transfers to place so many of our brothers and sisters in limbo. I do know, at the time, that UFT leadership thought it would be a temporary situation. On the now-defunct UFT blog, Edwize, I think it was UFT's "City Sue" who contended that it had been done before.

Evidently no one counted on Joel Klein hiring new teachers while thousands of current ones wandered around in purgatory. But he did indeed, and so did his successors, while ATRs carried the Scarlet Letter in one form or another, shunned by principals and fellow UFT members, vilified by the papers, and with chances of placement that were less than optimal.

So they say now, if positions aren't filled by October, ATR teachers will fill those positions. They will likely do this by "mutual consent," which, in NYC means the actual teachers get no say in it whatsoever. Usually it means the principal decides, but in this case it evidently means Big Shot Educrats decide, and the only way the principal gets rid of these teachers is by rating them below effective.

This is problematic, of course, because principals could very well be prejudiced against incoming ATRs they had no voice in placing. Now theoretically, everyone is treated fairly now that we use a rubric to judge, because there can be no variation in human judgment once you use a rubric. On this astral plane, however, I have seen Boy Wonder supervisors write up things that did not happen and fail to observe things that did. There are plenty of Boy Wonder supervisors out there listening only to the voices in their heads, and if principal's voices enter the mix, that could potentially be even worse for ATR teachers.

I'm not saying all principals or APs are like that, but some are, and anyone who's been reading about CPE 1 or Townsend Harris this year knows some are even worse. I have to add that this is not true everywhere, and in fact four members of my own department are former ATR teachers.

But there are yet other considerations. In a whole lot of schools, teachers have "emergency" coverages and teach six classes. The pay can be very good, and having five of these classes still costs less than hiring certain teachers. So what if, for example, in my school there were 70 such classes? Would that mean there were five openings to be filled by ATR teachers? Or would it mean there were zero openings and 70 teachers were running around juggling six classes?

And what about class sizes? Oversized classes are becoming part of my DNA. If there are thirty oversized classes in my building, or yours, why on earth can't we hire an ATR or two so as to reduce them? A lot of principals might say, "Oh, that teacher might not be good enough."

I have to say, Mr. Principal, placing 35 students in a classroom isn't good enough. We have the highest class sizes in the State of New York, and violating our already too-high class sizes is simply unconscionable. Instead of making a thousand teachers wander around like Bedouins, we ought to place them and give them the same chance we'd give any working teacher.

Once we start doing that, we won't need to have this discussion anymore. While there is one opening, while there is one oversized class, there should not be one ATR, ever.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Like My Grandfather Did

I hear a lot about how students don't need English instruction."My grandfather came here and he didn't need no stinking ESL. He built a company and made a million dollars. He had 14 children and loved my grandmother until her dying day. She stayed home and cooked and cleaned for Grandpa and the 14 children. Too bad their meth lab blew up."

Okay, they don't say that last bit. But here's the thing--back when Grandpa had his 14 children, things were different. There are reasons why so few people have 14 children nowadays, and they have little to do with how easy things are. Back when Grandpa was having those 14 kids, there was no Walmart. People didn't work 20 hours a week there on some ever-shifting schedule so Walmart didn't need to offer them crappy benefits. People didn't work 20 hours somewhere else in some equally crappy second or third job to make ends meet.

Let's drop poor Grandpa for just a moment. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, things were different. My friend's father lived across the street and worked at a nearby Taystee Bread factory. We used to love to go to his house for Halloween because they always had cupcakes from Hostess, or Drake's, or whatever company worked with Taystee Bread. He had five kids and a wife who did not work.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that was probably a union job. Nowadays it wouldn't be. For all I know, they make that bread in China these days. But here's what I know for sure--a typical factory worker these days cannot afford to support a wife and five kids on his salary alone. I'd have to suppose that if this guy were around now, he'd probably opt not to have five kids. I'd also have to speculate that he would not own a house. He'd probably have to live in a tree, and not in a good neighborhood either.

I don't see how anyone really makes it without a college education nowadays. Of course there are exceptions. You know, there's Bill Gates, but not everyone is Bill Gates. Some people argue over how responsible Gates was for Windows but I'll say this--If Bill Gates' ideas about computers resembled his ideas about education, he wouldn't be Bill Gates either. He'd likely be hanging out with the factory worker in that tree in the bad neighborhood.

And listen, it's true you can start your own business. Lots of immigrants started businesses around food, because the language demands of a food business are always a little lower. But back then McDonald's hadn't spread like cancer, and there weren't chain restaurants littering every Main Street of every town. Every dollar an American spends in one of those places is a dollar they don't spend for a local business.

I'd argue that the better someone is in English, the better chance that person has to make it. I'd argue that if we can help students acquire English more efficiently and more completely we'd be doing them a great service. I'd also argue that just about anyone wanting a future ought to get a college education, and that English instruction would help an awful lot with that.

And hey, if you think I'm wrong, you're free to hop on a plane to China, not study Chinese, start a new life, and hope for the best.

I Go to a Seven-day PD so You Don't Have To

 I don't know how many times I've heard complaints about PD. For most of my career, at least, PD has consisted of some supervisor or other lecturing us, precisely what they tell us not to do when we teach. The kids shouldn't be late, because lateness is bad. If they're late, fail them and tell them you failed them because they were late. Now let's move on to the next topic of business--how can we pass absolutely everyone no matter what?

Another one of my favorite PD topics is The New Thing. This is the Thing. It is the only Thing. You must do this Thing and no other Thing. Yes I know we told you to do some different Thing last year, and at the time it was the only Thing, but forget about that Thing because it's garbage. This Thing is the Thing, and it's the only way to teach, so promise me you will do this Thing forever. Until next year when there is some new Thing.

This notwithstanding, I'm going on day five of being trained by AFT to give PD. You probably think I'm crazy (and I'm not maintaining otherwise). But a new state Thing is that teachers have to have CTLE hours in order to keep their licenses. After this training I will be able to offer people CTLE hours courtesy of the UF of T.  I actually signed up so I'd be able to offer hours to members in my school, but it appears they may be sending us to other schools as well. There are around 40 of us taking this course, so hopefully one of us will show up at a school near you.

I'm a breathing antiquity, walking around with three permanent certifications, so I don't personally need the hours. If you have a newer license, however, you will need to rack up 100 CTLE hours within the next four years. If you teach ESL, you need 50 ESL-related hours. If you don't, you still need 15 ESL-related hours, and those are the hours we will offer. This is the brainchild of UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus, and here in Right to Work Trumpmerica, it's a good idea. While I may have an issue or two with leadership here and there, actively helping people keep their licenses may underline the value of union. Every little bit helps.

I hate to admit it, but this PD is a little better than what I'm used to. I'm actually very focused on ESL (which someone decided is now ENL), what with it being my job and all. A whole lot of our students are with a whole lot of teachers who may or may not know who they are or what they need. I'm happy to help clear that up, I'm happy to help teachers get credit, and I'm happy to maybe get ELLs better services one way or another.

One thing I notice, continually, as we examine research about English Language Learners, is NY State's Part 154 goes completely contrary to everything we know. Research, as well as common sense, suggests that giving direct English instruction is better than not giving it. It suggests we should continue it until they attain advanced English language ability, rather than offering it year one and then saying, "The hell with it." It also suggests that when schools make English learning a priority, rather than treating it as a mandated nuisance, programs will be more effective.

The most fundamental thing I know about acquiring a language is that it takes time. Part 154 not only takes time away from English instruction, but also has the expectation that newcomers will magically acquire English while studying other subjects. So in the same time an American-born student studies the Magna Carta, the ELL is supposed to absorb not only that, but also basic English.

So I hope the all-knowing, all-seeing NY State Regents are reading this. Dumping kids into classes for which they are unprepared is counter-productive. It's not just that we're setting them up for failure--it's also that we're setting them up to hate our country and language as well. Unbeknownst to the geniuses in Albany, affect is a huge factor in how well humans learn language. We can either set them up to grasp it enthusiastically, or dump them in places they don't belong. NY State seems to favor the latter.

My job, as I see it, is to seduce children into loving English. No, really, I want them to look forward to my class as a place they can use our language and have fun with it. I don't always succeed, but that's always my goal. I'm fortunate enough to be certified in English as well as ESL, so I don't need to negotiate my lesson plan with a subject teacher who may be more focused on American-born students. The notion that learning English is somehow secondary to the goal of studying ELA, social studies, or indeed any academic subject, is preposterous beyond belief. 

We can do a whole lot better in NY State. I don't sit through 7-day PD 8 hours a day strictly for laughs. Maybe we can send this workshop to Albany and get the Regents to start doing things that are, you know, not insane.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Mayoral Control Is a Lose-Lose

I've opposed mayoral control since its inception, originally because it went to uber-reformy Michael Bloomberg. During his seemingly endless tenure, I learned more about it. I think Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System that it was a reformy tool designed to bypass democracy. Unlike Bloomberg and Trump, I believe in democracy.

Now you'd think that having a professed charter foe like de Blasio in office might make mayoral control better. You'd be wrong because to Andrew Cuomo and the bought-off members of the Assembly and Senate, reforminess is almost like breathing. Because NYC has chosen a mayor who doesn't support the people who sent them suitcases full of cash, they passed a law that the city has to pay charter rent even if it disapproves of the actual charter.

It's fundamentally unfair that NYC has to shoulder the mandates of reformy suburban reps who wouldn't build charters in their own district on a bet. This notwithstanding, there was a barrage of pro-mayoral control talk recently, from self-appointed public education experts as diverse as Andrew Cuomo, Arne Duncan and Al Sharpton. The outcry led to a special session to push mayoral control and a two-year renewal. And we were told it was a clean deal, with no givebacks to the charter sector.

That sounded too good to be true, didn't it? Well it was, and NYC is now going to have 22 more charter schools. Reformy StudentsFirstNY is jumping up and down with giddiness, as are all the astroturf groups that represent the hedge funders who care so much about public education. Evidently these were charters that were granted but somehow did not make it as charters.

There's a lot of talk about charter quality, but the fact is they don't simply take a representative cross section of students. The fact is they don't hold on to the students they have, and they aren't burdened with the stats of the students they shed. The fact is all the students they don't finish with end up in public schools, and we are then vilified for their test scores. Even more importantly, the only stats the media regards as significant are test scores. There's something fundamentally wrong with a school that needs to keep extra clothing around for when kids pee their pants. If kids in your class peed their pants from fear, you'd be sitting in a rubber room somewhere, not making a half-million salary like Eva Moskowitz.

UFT's position is odd. As an organization we favor mayoral control, but not in its current form. Thus there was no UFT presence at some demonstration favoring it. On the other hand, there was no fervent opposition either. We just kind of stood on the sidelines. Thus, it appears that not only is the city getting another 22 charters, but it's also paying more money to charter operators. I don't suppose Moskowitz will have to wait eight years (like we did) before giving herself that hefty raise.

Here's the thing--charters are a Trojan Horse. They are designed to undermine and destroy us, and they hire people to move just in that direction. Jenny Sedelis works for StudentsFirstNY. I don't know what she does, but I know I've seen her name in many, many articles about reforminess. Moskowitz just won a lawsuit allowing her to take city money for preK while ignoring city rules about preK.

It seems to me that any school that wishes to take city money ought to be bound to follow city rules, including chancellor's regs. If I were to treat kids the way Eva does, I'd be in a rubber room. Someone who runs a chain of schools that treats kids like that ought to be in prison, meeting like-minded child abusers.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Class Size and Its Discontents

Class sizes are the sort of things I have bad dreams about. As chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, likely the most overcrowded in the city, it haunts me. When I first took this job, we were running a 13 period day and carried 4600 students. I wrote about it in the Daily News and elsewhere. I haunted education writers night and day, and got us into the Post, repeatedly, and the Times too.

I watched Bloomberg and Klein acknowledge us on TV, mumbling weasel excuses for their blithering incompetence. At that time, then-UFT VP Leo Casey was able to arrange a meeting at Tweed with reps from UFT, CSE, DOE, and our School Leadership Team. We came to an agreement that we would reduce enrollment at Lewis via fewer out-of-district entries and carefully checking that those within district actually lived there. Our then-principal, in exchange for this, gave up some selected seats.

This worked for a while but little by little it began to fall apart. For reasons I won't go into here, repeating what I did in 2009 became untenable. However I had the good fortune to be elected to the UFT Executive Board this year, and when I complained about our renewed overcrowding Ellie Engler was very receptive. She arranged a meeting with the School Construction Authority and we came to an agreement to construct an annex behind our school to not only replace our miserable outdated trailers, but also to provide additional space for our existing students.

And still, while we await construction, overcrowding continues unabated not only in our school, but all over the city. We are fortunate to have great advocates like Leonie Haimson and Tish James, who are now holding the city's feet to the fire over its failure to fulfill its obligations to provide reasonable class sizes for our children. The fact is class sizes have been increasing rather than decreasing for years, and despite Carmen FariƱa's proclamations about the great job she does, this does not leave our children well-served.

There is no substitute for reasonable class sizes. Since I've been counting class sizes I couldn't help but notice that 34 has become the norm rather than the maximum. This is unconscionable, particularly for the ESL students I serve. They need more attention, not less, and I'm grateful and happy that someone other than me notices it and is fighting for them.

The fact is that the city routinely ignores areas and schools like mine, where we are bursting at the seams with no end in sight. I'm very grateful for the support of both UFT and the city in expanding our facility, but I'm far from confident this will be a permanent solution. While the current principal and I will fight to keep our population from expanding once the annex goes up, neither of us will be around forever. We will have to trust that the city and those who follow us will continue to ensure that safeguards remain.

Sadly, experience suggests they will not do that. We need more people like Haimson and James to keep up the fight. And we need UFT leadership to strongly support this too. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

It's Bring Your Gun to School Week in Pennsylvania

If you're a Pennsylvania teacher, you can Make America Great Again by bringing your gun to school. After all, you're a role model, so why wouldn't you want to protect yourself and your students by packing heat? And hey, if you're the kind of teacher who thinks bringing guns into the classroom is the way to do it, who am I to question you? Besides, what with you having a gun and all, I wouldn't dream of questioning you.

And after all, what could go wrong? Cops carry guns all the time, and it's not like people get shot by cops. Okay, well actually there were 498 people, this year, and 963 the year before. Admittedly, cops have a very stressful job. They have to deal with difficult people who don't always do as they are asked. On the other hand, teachers, well, we kind of have to do the same thing.

Personally, I can't conceive of an instance in which I'd have wanted to shoot a student. On the other hand, neither can I conceive of an instance in which I'd have wanted to carry a gun. The thing is, I wonder if someone inclined to carry a gun might be more inclined to use it. Now sure, they say the people who carry guns to school will receive training. I don't know about you, but I get trained in some new and indispensable way to teach each and every year. It doesn't mean I'm gonna use it. I also sat in a defensive driving class with maybe thirty people a few weeks back. Does that mean no one will have an accident?

There are risks involved with having guns in your home. There are higher risks of homicide, suicide and accidents involved with their mere presence. Does anyone think these risks won't be transferred to school? Does anyone think everyone in a school building is immune to bouts of temper, or losing control? I mean, believe it or not, even administrators are human.

I used to teach writing Saturdays at a community college. Whenever I teach writing, the first thing I do is, you know, make everyone write. That way, I can see where they are and what they need. One day, a student wrote something like, "Everybody has a gun. I have a gun." I was working with a senior tenured professor that day, and I told him I did not want this student in my class. He said he would take him. For whatever reason, I never saw that student again in any class.

I didn't know this student at all. I had no reason to believe he was crazy or dangerous. His bad judgment in letting me know that could easily have been naivete. He seemed perfectly friendly and non-threatening. In fact, he may have been boasting just to show me how cool he was. I didn't care. The risk of having someone with a gun in my classroom was unacceptable.

Now I've been teaching for over thirty years, both high school and college,  It's entirely possible I faced students with guns.without having the remotest clue. But the fact is, on the single occasion when it appeared to be a possibility, the first thing I did was say it was unacceptable. I guess I was fortunate that the professor said what he did. Honestly, I questioned his judgment. Perhaps he didn't see the danger I did. On the other hand, perhaps he did something to ensure the student's absence the next week. I would certainly have walked from that job rather than teach a student I knew could be carrying.

Given all that, I find it completely unacceptable that PA schools allow such a thing. Politicians who enable it are a bunch of morons, indifferent to not only education, but also human life. They will say this will reduce the chances of some gunman coming into the school and going nuts. I doubt it. There are simple reasons why homes with guns have more accidents, homicides and suicides than homes without guns. I don't doubt there are responsible gun owners, but neither do I doubt there are irresponsible ones.

I don't doubt at all that allowing guns in school will cause unnecessary and fatal incidents, and that the chances of such incidents are much higher than those of in-school terrorism.

This brings stupid to a very high level, right on par with allowing Donald Trump to be President.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Happy Independence Day

I wish everyone reading this blog a safe and joyous holiday. We call it the Fourth of July but it's really a day we celebrate liberation and independence. This is something we sorely need, what with a raving lunatic in charge of the country.

On this Independence Day, union is pretty much under assault. In Texas, already a "right to work" state, they're moving to stop payroll deductions for those who choose to remain in the union. Note that this is only for teachers, and not for police officers.

This mirrors actions in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott What's His Name eliminated collective bargaining, except for police and firefighters. He rationalized this with some nonsense about public safety being important, which clearly implies public education is not. It's more likely that he was concerned about being protected when the rabble came out with torches and pitchforks. You know, in North Korea a lot of people go hungry, but not the military.

And this is where we find ourselves on Independence Day 2017. Orange Man is attacking the press as fake news with clips from wrestling, a fake sport. This is what occupies our time and our news. It's nice that we have one day a year blowing up stuff, even though in doing so we drive our canine friends out of their minds. Likely, though, they'll get over it tomorrow.

We, on the other hand, are stuck in a more complicated and long-term mess. Our union is already fragile, and national leaders, having expertly stolen the Supreme Court, are poised to push it off a cliff. Our pensions are under attack from reformies nationally, many posing as Democrats. You can hardly tell whether they are fake Democrats or Democrats are real reformies. While I sadly lean toward the latter, it doesn't much matter because we find ourselves in exactly the same place.

The question becomes not only where do we go from here, but also how bad do things have to get before we rouse ourselves from our indifferent slumber? Take a look at Puerto Rico, just a little bit farther down the road than we are. Over there they face massive school closures, and they've just been told their pensions are no more.

Could that happen here? Absolutely. And how will we face it? Will we continue to put on a tie and ask for that seat at the table? Will we wear a few buttons that say we're Public School Proud? Or will we take to the streets and tell them no more?

Eventually we'll need to move toward the latter, and the sooner the better. A whole lot of Americans are no more awake than we are. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Why I Support COPE, and Why You Should Too

For those who may not know, COPE is the political fund of the UFT and NYSUT. Contributions are strictly optional. 

I've been chapter leader for eight years now, and each and every one of those years I've received some package or other from UFT urging me to do a COPE drive. In fact, a few years back, I decided to take them up on it. So I invited a Queens rep over to a meeting, but the rep texted me after the meeting had begun asking me what time to show. I was left to largely improvise a meeting, but that was OK because, as usual, these were pretty lively times and we all had much to discuss.

I was interested in supporting leadership at that time because it was hanging tough against Cuomo's insistence we rate teachers on junk science. And when the rep showed up, he said, after we'd gone years with no contract, "Don't worry, Michael Mulgrew is very smart. You'll get your contract, because Bloomberg can't get evaluation without it." Despite that proclamation, virtually every sentient NY City teacher remembers ending up with an evaluation system devised by Reformy John King and no contract. My members still ask me to bring the rep back so they can throw stuff at him. And by the end of that meeting, only one UFT delegate and I had signed up for COPE.

I continued to pay because I felt it gave me marginal cred with leadership, which for reasons I can't fathom, criticized bloggers from time to time. But I didn't see the point in inviting anyone else until very recently, when I heard UFT Political Director Paul Egan speak of the NY constitutional convention vote, coming next November. You probably know that NY State, unlike New Jersey and Illinois, has to pay its share of pension contributions by law. You probably also know that the states I just mentioned, since they don't have to, tend not to pay their share.

This is problematic for those of us who envision a retirement in which we don't have to check prices of canned cat food before purchasing it for lunch. Of course, there are valid arguments against paying into COPE. For one, NYC high schools have absolutely no voice nor vote in NYSUT. For another, COPE has supported some questionable politicians, from Serphin Maltese, who broke two Catholic school unions, to George Pataki, who answered our support by vetoing improvements in the Taylor Law, to teacher-basher Andrew Cuomo, to the execrable Fernando Cabrera.

This notwithstanding, there are powerful forces looking to open a Constitutional Convention, and Egan is not exaggerating when he says they are after our pensions. Upstate teacher Maria May recently sent me this paper describing Reclaim NY, a group that claims to be impartial, but only meets that standard if you believe Fox News is "fair and balanced."

This group is headed by hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, who supports all sorts of right-wing causes, including Breitbart Media, Ted Cruz, and everybody's best buddy Donald Trump (or "the presidential election," as Unity leadership calls him).  Reclaim NY is the very definition of an astroturf group, being 100% financed by Mercer's Family Foundation.

Reclaim NY is very much against taxes, and is suing school districts to try to expose what it deems to be overspending. They seem to have a very reformy outlook, strongly supporting charter schools, religious schools, and our good pal Betsy DeVos. They support a national constitutional convention so it's not a big leap to assume they will support a state one as well. Imagine how much more money New York could devote to charter schools, religious schools, and tax breaks for zillionaires if it simply didn't pay the pensions it's promised NY State teachers.

This is a very real threat, and not just for senior teachers. Our pensions are already under attack by national reformies, and folks like Mercer would probably like nothing better than to do away with them utterly. Right now, the only solid entity I know that's fighting this is our union and AFL-CIO. That's why I went before my staff and made my own pitch for COPE this year, and that's why I signed up another 80-plus members.

I would not be able to sleep at night if I weren't doing my bit to fight Mercer and like-minded reformies. While some of my friends disagree, I will continue to push COPE for now. Hey, if we win in November, maybe we can reconsider. But a country controlled by Donald Trump and his thugs is a very dangerous place for working people. While I frequently disagree with union leadership, this is one area in which I don't want their hands tied.

To them, I say fight this vigorously. Too frequently I see UFT leadership fall down when no one pushes them. They can't afford to do that now. We need to not only support them in this, but also to monitor their actions and progress.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Your Health Care Circa 2017

Commenter Sunny mentioned the other night that there is a change to health care deductibles. Aetna charges have risen considerably, though not being a subscriber, I can't say by how much. Cigna looks pretty high too, but maybe that's how it was before. Like most people I know, I'm on GHI-CBP, and if I read the chart correctly, it doesn't look like much for us.

That's not where I'm feeling the pinch. It's pretty inconvenient to pay 50 bucks to go to an urgent care, but it beats the hell out of waiting for hours to be seen in an understaffed, ill-equipped bargain care, or whatever they call those GHI-affiliated joints that will take you for free. Except in the Bronx, where it's tough luck, we got nothing. All I can say to my Bronx friends is you aren't missing anything.

The problem I have is that one by one, the doctors I see are dropping GHI. Last year an ENT doctor who I've been seeing for ten years told me he wasn't taking GHI anymore. This was pretty disappointing, as I'd actually followed him from a smaller practice the the ENT and Allergy Associates chain. This is a pretty good place as you're able to book online and can generally get in very quickly.

A few days ago I got a letter that the entire chain was dropping GHI, so now my daughter's allergist is now off the list as well. They kindly offered to see us out of network if we would just pay their fees, whatever they may be. Isn't that generous of them, to offer to take my money for performing a service?  In fairness, it may not be too bad, because the ENT doctor told me GHI pays a little better out of network. So once you pay a deductible of $200 for each family member, you might be OK with your $30 copay. Or maybe not, now that the whole chain is out. Who knows?

A worse problem, for me at least, is that my regular family MD is now dropping GHI. I've been seeing him for ten years and I don't feel like changing. On the other hand, holy crap why do I have health insurance if I can't use it where I need to? Is the next step to dump us all into bargain care? It's hard to say. All I know is that we need to begin negotiating a new contract next year, at a time when the city still owes all of us 75% of the back pay we didn't get ten years ago.

My wife found someone closer to home who takes our insurance, but I'm not sure. Maybe she'll be OK, but maybe the doctor will leave town, leave GHI, or possibly both. What I do know is that this system sucks. Part of the blame could go to the negotiators who upped the co-pays, I suppose, but I hope that had the effect of raising the compensation to doctors. Sometimes I hope against hope. It doesn't really matter, because despite higher co-pays, they're still dropping us.

As far as I can tell, the best solution is a move toward what the rest of the world seems to prefer--single payer. Here in the United States, the Electoral College has given us a President who lies outright about better coverage for more people. Instead, we've got a proposal to lower taxes on people who have more than enough money so we can dump tens of millions of Americans out of health care entirely.

There are a lot of reasons why Donald Trump is President. It could be Russian meddling. It could be the media's bias for noise above news. It could be any number of things. But we know Hillary Clinton's message, that we were never, ever going to get single payer, failed to draw enough voters to stop Trump.

I'm big on education, but I can't think of anything more fundamental than health. As long as the Democrats keep spouting wimpy nonsense like Hillary did, and as long as we can't even get single payer in allegedly progressive areas like California, it's gonna be an uphill battle.

UFT passed the 2014 contract before revealing the health care givebacks. After having given back, it's sorely disappointing to see our doctors dropping our plan. UFT leadership no longer has only to sell a contract. It will also have to sell union itself, having failed to elect wimpy Democrat Hillary Clinton. With that in mind, I hope they're not planning more concessions. It's not smart long-term, nor short-term. That's step one.

Step two is pushing for single payer for all. That's an environment in which union could flourish. It's all intertwined and I believe UFT officially supports it. Now if we could only start supporting candidates who support it too.